Travel

Jantar Mantar

A World Heritage Site, Jantar Mantar is unlike anything I have ever seen. Located in Jaipur, Rajasthan, Jantar Mantar is a collection of monumental sized astronomical observation instruments dating to the early 1700’s. They were created by the Mughal Sawai Jai Singh during the Raj of Emperor Mohammad Shah.

Appearing at first glance as a modern sculpture garden or perhaps minimalist architectural assortments, the instruments are for measuring and calculating various astronomical features. Varying from ascending triangular towers and staircases to submerged and inscribe hemispheres of white marble, Jantar Mantar is at once mesmerizing and sublime.

The Vrihat Samrat Yantra or “Supreme Instrument” which dominates the site, stands at 27 meters and is the largest sundial in the world. I stood and watched its shadow sweep across the graceful arc of white marble, hypnotized by the movement of the celestial body upon which we exist. The Supreme Instrument can track time with an accuracy of 2 seconds. Astounding!

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The Road to Jaipur from Agra

The road to Jaipur from India brought the first significant hills we’ve seen, as well as my first camel sighting!

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Jaipur is One of my Favorite Cities

Jaipur is simply fantastic. Situated in Rajasthan, Jaipur is one of the three points in the golden triangle, along with Agra and Delhi. Jaipur has much to offer, from dizzying array of historic sites to cultural experiences. Also known as the Pink City, Jaipur is a city of many colors. Of the numerous highlights of our trip, Jaipur provided several, including some of the most spectacular scenery. More on Jaipur to come.

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Fatehpur Sikri

Just to the west of Agra about 40km is the incredible fortified city of Akbar the Great, Fatehpur Sikri. It is renowned for being among the very best preserved examples of Mughal architecture in all of India, and it is resplendent with details. Fatehpur, meaning victory, was built by Akbar in 1569 following the fulfillment of a Sufi saint’s prediction that Akbar would have a son to inherit his empire.

It was here at Fatehpur that Akbar built an enormous palace, complete with royal quarters and his harem courts. It was also here that Akbar sought the advice of extraordinary men. Said to have been passionate about learning, Akbar assembled nine advisors on various religions and the arts, and consulted with them in the Hall of Audiences, an awesome building with an amazingly ornate central pillar atop which Akbar sat when he consulted with his advisors or held private audiences.

Despite the architectural achievements, the palace at Fatehpur was short lived. It was abandoned in 1585 due to a shortage of water and its closeness to brewing troubles to the West.

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The Agra Fort

Only a few kilometers away from the incomparable Taj Mahal is the Agra Fort, a fortified palace built by the Mughal emporer, Shah Jahan. More than a simple military stronghold, the fort is built with a combination of red sandstone and white marble, and houses a palace of incredible architectural details.

Shaw Jahan’s son, Aurangzeb, eventually seized power from him and he was emprisoned at the palace. From the white marbled palace one can gaze along the banks of the Yamuna River at the incomparable Taj Mahal, where his wife is entombed.

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The Taj Mahal

Agra is home to one of the seven wonders of the modern world: the Taj Mahal. It is India’s largest attraction and is the largest tourist attraction in all of Asia. Built as a mausoleum to his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan in 1631, it was designed by a Persian architect.

One sees countless images of the Taj, and one can read about its details endlessly. What strikes me about the Taj is this: it’s shear beauty is genuinely awesome. It is one of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen. It was described by Rabindrath Tagore as “a teardrop on the cheek of eternity” (Lonely Planet). Well said.

I am also struck by its exquisite craftsmanship, and its utterly immense size — something usually not depicted in photographs. As a reference of scale, note the size of the people walking into the Taj’s front entrance. Stunning. Simply stunning.

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The Road to Agra

Heading southward from Delhi to Agra, we first pushed though the bustling commotion of Gurgaon, the southern most reaches of the Delhi metro. Typical Indian street scenes include countless people making their way to work and attending to their daily affairs amid the innumerable roadside stands selling snacks and wares under tangles of power lines.

On the road we encountered many Hindu pilgrims dressed in orange and carrying shoulder baskets decorated with religious symbols. These pilgrims were making their way home on foot, walking hundreds of kilometers from Haridwar in the north where they collected water from the Ganga to bring home with them.

The city streets eventually give way to rural scenes. Roaming livestock along the roadsides and throughout the villages become frequent, and cars must be careful to avoid the cattle, goats, and water buffalo, else risk the wrath of the inhabitants. Agricultural fields, workers, and field quarter made of mud and manure dot the landscape. Colorfully dressed workers dot the green of the rice fields, a enormous cash crop for India.

Drivers race ahead in the clear, even stretches of road, but these segments of the journey are punctuated by the many steel gates cars must zig-zag through, designed as speed controls. The many toll gates and numerous potholes are equally effective yet, Indian drivers press on at breakneck speeds.

Tax collection points, of which there are many, provide ample opportunity for hawkers to sell their goods. Jewelry, bottled water, illustrated tourist books, and food items are common, especially when tourists are waiting in their car while their driver goes into the office to pay the tax. At one location, a teenage boy approached our car with a basket. Fortunately, the door was locked and the window rolled up because the boy opened his basket to reveal a cobra flaring his hood! He was seeking payment for photographs of his cobra. My wife recoiled at the sight of the cobra, and the boy soon left when he understood I was not interested in paying for a photo. No sooner did he leave than we were startled by a langur on a leash which suddenly hopped up on the edge of the car door and pressed his face against the glass, fogging the window with is breath. His owner was also looking for payment for photos.

Colorfully painted trucks dot the roadway. Truck horns offer a somewhat musical phrase while various cars announce their presence or intentions with an array of sharp tones, from beeps to blasts.

Traveling the highway to Agra is tiring; the surging speeds, fast lane changes, and frequent breaking wears on you, even as a passenger. It must be exhausting for a driver. After a few hours, we welcomed a washroom break (where a tip to the attendant for paper towels is expected), and lunch. The rest-stop owners know they have a captive tourist audience headed to Agra — the charge for a cold can of Coca Cola is 160 Rupees, or about $3.00!

Eventually the roadway reaches Agra, another busy city with clogged roadways, and home to a Mughal Empire stronghold, and one of the seven wonders of the modern world — the Taj Mahal.

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Amazing Delhi

Delhi has provided an amazing four days! My #HHTeacherTrek is off to an incredible start. I have found myself speechless multiple times for a variety of reasons

The people we have interacted with are profoundly friendly and helpful, the historic and cultural sites are rich with history and stunningly beautiful, and the cultural experiences are deep in intensity. Color abounds and cultural variety is everywhere including Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, and tribal traditions. A variety of flavorful food can be found easily, reflecting the rich cultural heritage of Delhi’s dynamic population and long history due to the country’s role in the spice trade.

The city, and India for that matter, are not for the faint of heart. It is a place of extremes and of paradoxes. The beauty of the many cultural, historic, and residential sites is juxtaposed against widespread, extreme poverty and the unsanitary conditions the poor and working classes endure. Traffic is extremely challenging with cars, bikes, motorcycles, auto-rickshaws, mopeds, buses, & trucks forever pushing forward to their destinations. Traffic lanes, although painted on the streets, are merely suggestions. And always present are the honking of horns used as a simple and frequently warning to communicate one’s presence or intended direction in the jostling commotion.

Delhi’s historic and cultural site are numerous, many bearing great significance. Multiple locations are World Heritage sites. The historic importance of many Delhi locations reflect a long history of Hindu and Muslim influences. The establishment of the Mughal empire in the 14th century has resulted in Persian influences through the present. But Delhi is not just steeped in ancient world history. Sites of contemporary significance and reverence can be found at locations such as India Gate — a WWI Memorial, and the Raj Ghat — the place along the Yamuna river where Ghandi Ji and other revered figures were cremated.

Delhi’s Khan Market is a bustling and hip urban center. Fashionista’s can satisfy their cravings at trendy boutiques. Western and Indian styles meld together amidst streets teaming with motorcycles filled with colorfully dressed women in flowing, silk saris riding side-saddle behind their boyfriend drivers. Khan Chacha provides flavorful kabobs and other street-foods in a clean and inexpensive setting, accessed through a narrow alley that is distinctly Indian.

Religion is a very significant element of daily life in Delhi, and all of India. It is a subject worthy of many additional posts. Of course, Hinduism provides the major religious current in India however, Islam is present throughout, and a fast-growing tradition. Although India is the home of Buddhism, they constitute a small minority. Jainism, a religion with roots in Hinduism, can be found but is a minority presence as is the Sikh tradition.

One could go on and on about Delhi, but this will have to suffice for now. As time permits, more posts about individual topics will follow.

Namaste.

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Angelou on Travel

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”

– Maya Angelou

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