Sunday, January 22, 2012

Being Human in India, Incredible India.

Seventh largest country by geographical measure, second-most populous, largest democracy in the world, India is home to 1.2 billion people.   A sea of humanity.  A mesmerizing nation unlike any other in its cultural, historic and religious diversity.  

Our guide in Mumbai

New Year's Day: A taste of 5-star hospitality at the Lake Palace Hotel, Udaipur
Below: greetings at the Oberoi Luxury Hotel in Agra

We took a whopping huge bite of India and chased it with big gulp - covering 9 cities in 14 days between Christmas and the first week in January.   We flew in to Delhi on Christmas Eve - motored to Agra, Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Jaisalmer, then flew to Udaipur (for New Year’s). Then flew to Aurangabad - to World Heritage sites of the Ajanta and Ellora Caves, - then on to Hyderabad and finally to Mumbai. 

A steady progression of colorful tourists dot the hillside at the Ajanta Caves, Aurangabad.
Inside: elaborate carvings and paintings depicting the life of Buddah date from the 2nd century BCE. 
School girls at Ajanta Caves. 

Our guide in the Ajanta and Ellora Caves

With an itinerary jam-packed from day break to sundown, we were whisked to mosques and temples, spectacular palaces, hilltop forts, bazaars, shops and museums filled with the treasures and antiquity. 

Tourists at the Taj Mahal, Agra
It would all go by in a blur, but for the documentation in photographs we brought home with us. 

On the streets of Delhi

Rickshaw ride in Delhi
Kitty with school girls in Delhi

What stands out most in memory?  Against the backdrop of minarets, shrines and dazzling palace domes, past the ancient city gates, the intricate carved stonework, and the lush gardens   . . .  there were the faces. . . youthful, aged,  delightful, beautiful, exotic, veiled, weathered,  bearded, mustachioed, curious, open, smiling...ever fascinating to watch, and a privilege to photograph.  
Sixty miles from the Pakistani border, camel ride to the dunes at sunset,
Sam Desert camp, Jaisalmer

Sporting dueling Canons, my husband and I took more than 4000 shots.  Difficult to choose favorites, but what follows are just a few.  

India is young. More than 50% of the population of India is below the age of 25. 
School children at the Ellora Caves, Aurangabad

India has more than 2000 ethnic groups, with every major religion represented, though 80% of the population is Hindu, 13% is Muslim and 2% is Christian. Indian life revolves primarily around agriculture and small villages, where about 72% of the population lives. 

Traditional Rajasthani dance: evening entertainment at Sam Desert camp.

Peacock feather merchant, Jaisalmer. Postcards for sale below.

Stringing garlands in the flower market, Mumbai
Foot traffic at the Gateway of India, Mumbai
Hospitality: Lake Palace Hotel, Udaipur

Young dancer at Manak Chowk, Jaisalmer Fort

School girls boarding bus at Ajanta Caves, Aurangabad

Photo op at Taj Mahal, Agra

In the workroom, Indigo Carpet & Textile Company, Jaipur

At the steps of the "Sunday Mosque," Old Delhi

Musician at  Mehrangarh Fort, Jodpur

In Mirchi Galli, the spice market, Mumbai

Repair shop, Udaipur

Pottery market, Mumbai

Street fashion for sixteen-something in Delhi

Beautiful Aparna_daughter of close friend of our hosts, on tour with us in Hyderabad

Manjri Varde, artist and close friend of our hosts: on tour with us in Mumbai

Wise words:  Mumbai guide

Our dear friend, and hostess: Jasmeet P.  (Kitty.)

Photos: VHenoch

Friday, January 20, 2012

Kicking Off Our Shoes in India

Unpacking India...

Back home with all my shoes, no small feat accomplishment considering how many times we slipped them off on our  journey.

There’s something liberating,  inexplicably comforting - even primal- to bare one’s soles in India.  With feet on the ground,  boldly exposed,  we kicked off our shoes right and left, out of respect while visiting mosques, temples, tombs, sacred caves. We removed our dusty shoes - please - in shops selling carpets and pashminas -- and of course, in the homes of friends ... noting the cool relief of spotless, gleaming yellow stone floors. 

Ah, the touch and feel of India.  Incredible India. 

Details from Fatehpur Sikri, UNESCO World Heritage Site on the road from Agra to Jaipur.  Palace-city of the Mughals (1571-1585) built of red sandstone, the buildings are an breathtaking fusion of influences: Indian, Persian and Islamic architecture.

The land of sacred ground and sacred cows, ancient stone cities, silks, tapestries, and knotted wool, dirt floors and gleaming marble palace halls.  

The tour books call it the Golden Triangle:  from Delhi (India’s capital city)  to Agra, (home to the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World) we travel to Jaipur, the “Pink City” capital of the state of Rajasthan.  

Guardian elephants at the City Palace, Jaipur

In the City Palace Courtyard stand the giant silver urns commissioned by Madho Singh II to carry holy water from the Ganga on a trip to England.

Outdoor seating in the gardens of "our palace" - the Rambagh Palace Hotel.  

Our dear friend and host, PKR in thought at breakfast,

Rambagh Palace hospitality

Hawa Mahal (built in 1799) a Jaipur landmark.  Below: shops on the street. . .
note the shoes at far right

Clipping carpets.  Rugs, textiles and antiques for sale in Jaipur.
Tours on caparisoned elephants, Amber Fort, Jaipur
Kitty, at Amber Palace
From the "Pink City," it was 6 hours by dusty road. . .on to the Blue City:  Jodhpur.  With its sprawl of indigo-painted houses (to deflect the heat from ancient sandstone walls) Jodhpur is the second largest city in Rajasthan.  Spectacular views atop the glorious Meherangarh Fort, the Sun Fort built  on a rocky cliff in 1458.   

From Jodhpur and a night at the Unmaid Bhawan Palace Hotel, another road trip.  Six hours to Jaisalmer, with a oasis-in-the-Thar-desert rest stop at the Manvar Resort. A perfect setting for a Kingfisher beer. 

Fifth city visit in seven days . . . Jaisalmer, "Golden City" isolated in the far western Thar Desert.  Its days of caravans loaded with silks and spices that inspired its foundation in 1156 . . . long gone. But the vibrance of life in its bazaars... still there. 

Day 7. . . Friday December 30, 2011, in the winding streets of the Manak Chowk - the main marketplace outside the fort gate.   New word for the day: havelis,  the mansions of Jaisalmer's wealthy merchants  - built in the mid 18th and 19th centuries: poetry in sandstone.   Friday night: an camel excursion into the desert at dusk.  Saturday, a Air Spice flight to Udaipur, for New Year's at the the Lake Palace. . . more shoes to kick off.

To be continued. 

Photos: VHenoch