Friday, December 19, 2008
AGRA - THE TAJ MAHAL
The Taj Mahal is perhaps India's most famous sight. It is truly spectacular, especially when seen early in the day when the light is clear and there are not too many tourists. The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, in memory of his favourite wife.
The Taj Mahal is considered to be the finest example of Mughal architecture. In 1983, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Sight. It was described then as "the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage."
While the white-domed mausoleum is most familiar, Taj Mahal is an integrated complex which also includes two mosques and beautifully landscaped gardens. It was completed around 1648.
Pictured in the photos above: 1) and 2) in the grounds of the Taj Mahal, 3) Annette and Paul at the Taj Mahal, and 4) the entrance to the Taj Mahal.
This posting on my blog completes the photobook. Publishing it on the Internet was my initial goal in starting this blog. Only a few days remain before Christmas, and I will be very busy now preparing for the arrival of my son, his wife, and their three wonderful sons. When the festivities are over and my guests have returned to Ottawa, I will have time to consider whether to continue with my blog, and if I do, what sort of travels I will post.
India has many beautiful palaces. The one pictured in the first photo above is in Mehranghar Fort at Jodhpur and was built in the 17th Century. It is now a museum with many interesting things to see from the original palace furnishings.
The City Palace complex in Jaipur, part of which is pictured in the second photo, covers a very large area, and consists of gardens, courtyards and buildings. The Jaipur royal family continues to live in part of the palace.
The Jahangir Mahal in Orchha, seen in the third photo, is a fine example of Mughal architecture featuring typical stone latticework. Construction by the Orchha ruler, Vir Singh, began early in the 16th Century in honour of the Mughal emperor, Jehangir.
AMBER FORT, JAIPUR, RAJASTHAN
The construction of Amber Fort began in 1592 in Rajput style with Mughal influences.
The Jai Mandir or Hall of Victory, pictured in the first photo above, is famous for its inlaid panels and mirror ceiling.
The second photo shows the beautiful view looking down from the road on the way to Jaipur from Amber Fort.
ELLORA AND AJANTA CAVES
The Ellora and Ajanta caves are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Ellora consists of 34 caves dating from the 5th to the 10th centuries. The carving is truly amazing. The Kailasa temple, for example, has been carved from one enormous rock.
At Ajanta, 29 caves depict the story of Bhuddism spanning the period from 200 BC to 650 AD. The caves were discovered accidentally by a British army officer in 1819.
Pictured in the photos from top to bottom are: 1) Lord Siva at Ellora, 2) the Bhudda in Cave 10 at Ellora, 3) looking down on the caves from the appoach to Ajanta, and 4) tourists at the Kailasa temple at Ellora.
MORE INDIAN OCCUPATIONS
India likely has millions of small merchants, one reason for the government's resistance to the incursion of western retail chains. The man in the first photo above, a retailer of knives, is a typical proprietor of a small family-run business. His shop, tiny by western standards but adequate for his needs, is located on the main shopping street in the old city of Jodhpur. He was welcoming, not objecting in the slightest to having his children photographed.
The second photo above is of our tour guide at the Ellora caves near Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat. This man was the perfect guide, very knowledgeable and intelligent, but approachable, agreeable and patient. He took us by bus to the Ellora caves, the Baby Taj in Ahmedabad and two or three minor sites. The entire time with him was a pleasure.
Everywhere in India, it is possible to see children who are employed. Here, a charming boy in Delhi, pictured in the first photo above, is working happily as a shoe shine boy, likely making almost nothing in wages and tips in Western terms.
India has one of world's very best rail services. Trains are safe, clean and reasonably on time. In all stations, there are porters to carry your luggage and find your seat for you. It is essential, however, to fix the price before you set off. Even when the price has already been agreed, the porter may stop midway and try to negotiate an increase. It must be admitted, though, that this occurs infrequently. By and large, the service provided is excellent, and porters, like the one in the bottom photo, are very dependable.
We took six overnight trains in India, one of which was part of a train ride that lasted almost 24 hours. These trains were wonderful. Fellow passengers were kind and helpful, and often eager to carry on a conversation. Clean bed linen was provided and the motion of the train soon put us to sleep. These trips covered long distances economically and safely, saved us the cost of a hotel room, and, at the same time, gave us a chance to interact with Indian people.
JAIN TEMPLES IN INDIA
Jainism, an ancient religion, has 10 million followers in India. Compassion for all life is central to their beliefs. They adhere to a vegetarian or vegan diet, and almost every town and village in India has its Jain animal shelter.
Ranakpur temple, located 60 km from Udaipur in Rajasthan, is famously said to contain 1,400 carved marble columns, all different. Dating the temple is controversial, but there is agreement that it was built between the late-14th and mid-15th centuries. Ranakpur temple is pictured in the first photo above.
Another Jain temple, the Bhandashah temple, shown in the second photo, is the oldest structure in Bikaner. It dates from the year 1514.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
WOMEN IN INDIA
Women in India, even if poor, have remarkable dignity and grace. They almost always wear lovely jewelery and vibrantly coloured clothes. Observing Indian women, we sensed an inner confidence and calm self-possession that we did not notice in the women of other countries we had visited.
In the photos are shown: top, a lady vendor of handicrafts at the Diu city market; centre, a girl who danced in a Jodhpur restaurant; and, bottom, lady visitors at the palace in Mandu.
INDIAN MODES OF TRANSPORT
Highways in India can be very crowded, yet traffic flows reasonably well, if chaotically. On the verge and in the right-hand lane you will find pedestrians, cows, bicycles and even elephants. Next, towards the centre of the highway, you will see auto-rickshaws, camels, bullock carts; then come cars, then, in the centre, buses and trucks. There is constant movement back and forth as vehicles enter and exit the highway at considerable speed and with little room to spare. But somehow, there is order in chaos!
From top to bottom, the photos show: an auto-rickshaw and driver in Diu, a Rajasthan camel, a colourfully-decorated three-wheeled truck such as are seen all over India, and a bullock cart in Gujarat.
MANDU - PALACES AND MOSQUE
Mandu is a lovely town, near Maheshwar in the state of Madhya Pradesh, off the beaten track approximately one day's drive from the city of Indore. The Jahaz Mahal, pictured in the first photo above, is a palace built between 1469 and 1500 in a blend of local and imported styles, one of the latter having come from Afghanistan.
The mosque of Dilawar Khan, built in 1409, is a blend of Islamic and Hindu architectural styles. It is shown in the middle photo.
The Hindola Mahal is called the Swing Palace because the distinctive sloping walls are said to look as though the building is swaying from side to side. The palace has very advanced systems for providing and disposing of water and for heating and cooling. It is pictured in the last photo above.
The government of India appear to be devoting resources to make Mandu a tourist destination. The guide we had was excellent, a wealth of information and very personable. The site itself was very attractive and well-maintained. And extensive road construction was underway in the vicinity to improve access to the area.
MORE FORTRESSES OF INDIA
Golden Fort, so-named for its resemblance to a golden flame in the desert sun, includes Jain temples, a palace, a museum, and one-quarter of the houses in the Old City of Jaisalmer. It was built in the 12th Century and has now been placed upon the World Monuments Watch List of 100 endangered sites. Located in an area of meagre rainfall, the fort was built with a complex system designed to collect rainwater. However, it was not designed to handle the volume of water now necessary to accommodate tourists and has become unstable. It is unclear if anything is being done to contain or reduce the damage. The fort is shown in the first photo above.
Junagarh Fort, located at Bikaner, was built in 1593 and has a very well-preserved interior. Hand-prints, shown in the middle photo above and preserved near the fort entrance, are those of women about to commit suttee after their husbands had died in battle.
Construction of Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur began in 1459 and was completed in the 17th Century. The fort, never captured, sits atop a 125-metre hill. The last photo above shows the blue houses of Jodhpur, the Blue City.
FORTRESSES OF INDIA
Gwalior Fort, situated 100 metres above the town, has a 1,000-year history. It was long considered impregnable. The Mughals held it until 1754 when it was captured by the Marathas. The first photo above is of the Man Singh palace located within the fort.
Devgiri - the entrance through the walls is shown in the middle photo - is a 14th Century fortress standing on a 200-metre-high hill above the city of Daulatabad. It has vertical sides 50 metres high. A very strong fort, it was captured only once after the guards had been bribed.
Kumbhalgarh Fort, built in the 15th Century in the mountains 60 km. from Udaipur, stands on the site of a 2nd Century citadel. Due to its inaccessibility, it fell only once after a long seige. Its walls stretch for 36 km. and are wide enough for eight horses riding abreast. Inside the fortress are temples and palaces built by the Mauryas. The third photo is taken at the start of the descent from the fort.
VILLAGE WOMEN IN RAJASTHAN
Although Rajasthan is one of India's more prosperous states, life in rural areas is still relatively primitive. India is basically a country of farmers, and even with many public initiatives, rural poverty remains a major problem.
As depicted in the first photo above, village women in Rajasthan wear the nose ring after they marry. It is considered an adornment that increases a woman's attractiveness. Despite their relative poverty, rural women possess a remarkable a dignity.
Udaipur is a beautiful city in Rajasthan on the man-made Lake Pichola. The Lake Palace, pictured in the third photo above, was built in 1743 by the Rajput Maharana Jagat Singh. Today, it is a luxury hotel.
The Rajputs, prior to India gaining its independence from Britain, were rulers of states within what is now Rajasthan. These states joined newly- independent India, though they had not been part of the British Raj.
The City Palace complex, featured in the middle photo, is the historic home of the Udaipur maharanas. The current Maharana, who continues to reside in the palace, has no political power but is held in great esteem by the people of Udaipur.
The first photo shows beautiful Lake Pichola. It is possible to book a room in a lovely moderately-priced hotel that faces directly onto the lake.
Weddings in India are elaborate, colourful, and last for several days. In most cases, they are arranged by the parents of the bride and groom.
Pre-wedding ceremonies include the engagement and the arrival of the groom's party at the residence of the bride in a procession called the Baraat and pictured in the photos. When the groom arrives, he and the bride meet and exchange garlands of flowers in a ceremony called the Jaimala. Well-wishers then present gifts. The wedding ceremony begins later.
SACRED COWS OF INDIA
Cows are sacred in India. The origins of this belief are lost in history, but, even today, it is forbidden to harm them. Drivers will make dangerous moves to avoid hitting a cow on the street or highway.
Cows are to be seen everywhere: sleeping on the street, feeding in a rubbish pile, or taking a leisurely stroll through a railway station. It is thought that veneration of the cow has its roots in the animal's historic role as an essential support for human life and in being the most valuable possession of most people. The cow provided milk, the bullock provided transport, and dung was the major source of fuel.
Cows continue to play a key role today, especially in rural India. While the animals are able to fulfill these functions, people care for and feed them. Tragically, when they have aged, they are abandoned and forced to forage for their food. Hence, the common sight of the cow on the rubbish heap.
ORCHHA CENOTAPHS and GHATS
The town of Orchha, located on the beautiful Betwa - one of India's cleanest rivers - was founded in 1531. Until 1783, when it was devastated by Shah Jehan, it served as the capital of the Orchha princely state. In the town are temples, palaces and cenotaphs of its former rulers.
We thoroughly enjoyed our three-day stay in Orchha. It is a quiet retreat away from the boisterous activity of Delhi and Varanasi.
The walk along the Betwa above ghats is especially tranquil and beautiful. As you can see in the first photo, ghats are steps constructed on the river bank which enable bathers to access the river.
The remaining photo shows the Betwa River with one of Orchha's beautiful cenotaphs in the background.
DIU SCHOOLGIRLS AND CITY MARKET DAY
Diu is a small island on the southernmost tip of Gujarat. It is connected by a causeway to the mainland. A Portuguese colony until 1961, Diu is now part of India.
The island, almost untouched by tourism, has rugged coastal landscapes and unspoilt beaches.
Diu, like the state of Gujarat itself, is one of the more prosperous parts of India, as you can see from the charming well-dressed schoolgirls pictured above.
The women in the second photo were selling vegetables on market day in the main town of the island.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
MAHESHWAR ON THE NARMADA RIVER
Maheshwar, located on the Narmada River, is not on the itinerary of very many tourists as there is no rail service. It took twelve hours with a car and driver to reach our destination from Indore. The roads were very rough, but were being improved - a good thing, as Maheshwar and the surrounding area are well worth a visit. Within the Holkar dynasty fort there are several temples with wonderful carvings dating from the 17th Century. One example is shown in the first photo above.
As we strolled by the beautiful Narmada River, we were greeted joyfully by several women from Goa who welcomed us to India and invited us to visit them. Some of them are shown in the second photo above.