INDIA

BETWEEN MONSOONS AND HIMALAYAS

 

Ralph Shinogle spent five months in India; one camera and one bloated backpack zigzagged together between magnificent temples, over-loaded cities, remote villages, and shells of abandoned empires that are often ALL-TOO  unknown in the west.

 

Starting in southern India, he found himself at a wedding of an alumnus of his alma mater, Kansas state. He knew little yet that the intrigue of the subcontinent would carry him from its most southern point, to its most northern, transversing it on the way.

 

It quickly became evident that INDIA IS a COUNTRY WHERE DIVERSITY IS the Uniformity. It is an agglomeration OF THOUSANDS OF YEARS OF HISTORIES, SOCIETIES, ARTS, and LANGUAGES which have colorfully congealed. RATHER, it is AN ANCIENT melting pot like THE UNITED STATES. as the United states has sewn the opposite sides of the Atlantic and Pacific together, India's subcontinent with its allures and the silk road did the same with the far east and the west. it makes sense that it is this way:  what Christopher Columbus really discovered was a second link to the Far East, the other has always existed.

 

The Hindu culture that has ensued from millenia of challenges is something like molding clay, consistent and adaptable. for this India is POSED TO HANDLE THE MOST EXTREME STRAIN.

 

 

 

A popular highlight for most people that visit Southern India (especially honeymooners) are the backwaters. Essentially a large shallow lagoon filled with traditionally-styled houseboats each pitching relaxing accommodations with South Indian hospitality and cuisine. The still water offers a great place for both the mosquitoes and people to procreate.

The surroundings are beautiful, especially in the morning with the sun casting its first rays on the still water.

There are many waterfowl and undoubtedly many water snakes lurking unseen.

If one is so timely as to visit during the monsoon season, the air feels about like being submerged in the water of the lagoon constantly.

 

 

Kerala Backwaters

Considering everything, ironically the Kerala Backwaters are still a enjoyable place to stay, never mind even if it is the monsoon season. One gets used to the humidity and perhaps, it is even a little bit of the experience. It is a peaceful escape, the locals are friendly and gregarious, and likely there is no better place to enjoy a book.

 

It took thirty something hours to make it from the simple Midwest to the teeming airport of Kochi. One may not expect, but most of the international flights arrive here around 3:00 am, to a chaos that was till then, the likes that this Midwesterner (as the vast majority) had never seen. Outside was one tiny and questionable ATM and kiosks stocked with the last thirty years of product still waiting to be sold. Every sort of transportation specimen graveled past the other; all had the same large curious eyes looking out, in the direction of this one interesting pale specimen and his large heavy bag.

 

 

Arrival

The Padmanabhapuram Palace is a great testament to vernacular architecture of the Kerala region. Constructed in 1600 and again in 1750, this wooden structure has aged well, especially considering the drenching climate it has had to endure.

Exploring it one quickly realizes that is is a massive complex, well-designed, and in-tune with its climate.

Particularly notable is the wide use of passive cooling techniques. Many of walls utilize wooden slats slightly spaced for cross ventilation. Additionally to reduce solar gain, the slatted-walls have a double skin—formed by a narrow corridor separating the interior

wall from direct sunlight. The roof is made up of

 

 

Padmanabhapuram Palace

terracotta tiles to allow the warm air to escape vertically. The floors are concrete-like material that acts as a thermal mass; the material uses eggs as a binder and has held up extraordinarily well with its black glossy finish that to this day with its mirror-like finish looks new.

 

One of the peculiar things about Kerala is that its population is mostly Christian, caustic of Portugal's and later the Netherland's colonization of it. Perhaps not coincidentally this happens to be the same region the Greeks and then Romans traded with the Indian subcontinent long ago.

Despite this, upon visiting Kerala, it seems as Hindu as anywhere else in South India, gastronomically as well culturally. But, come to a friend's wedding and one will find a unique blend of Indian and Western tradition. While in the West we send out invitations for a wedding, here there is really little need since the entire village is going to come anyways. Perhaps a bit similar to a Bollywood production with  numerous photographers and cinematographers running about the place taking thousands of pictures. When there was not single

 

 

Keralan Wedding

photo left to be taken at the house, the party including a whirlwind of saris and all the village priests leave for the community church.

Though the community church was quite large, having a village as an entourage means there cannot be enough room to accommodate everyone inside. There really need not be. There is plenty of room outside, and the awnings were wide to keep most of the perpetual rain of the monsoon season off of the observants. The windows under the awnings were filled with large brown eyes, trying to catch whatever glimpses they could of the ongoing event.

After the nuptials, some more rain, and of course picture the guests spilled out to share a large generous dinner for the village.

It is unfortunate that for a country with so much tightly-packed culture and history, there is little that offers any sort of broad survey of India in the west; Indian (or non-European history generally) is extraordinarily mute in the American history books.

Beyond its previous empires and the treasures they have left behind, India has been a cultural melting pot for thousands of years, much before the idea was ever formalized by the USA. Its diverse populations exist together unfettered by one another.

     In the West, people are often too quick to put off India. The United States is the second largest democracy in the world to India and shares many common interests and values. Albeit being half a world apart, the future hints at a growing importance of each to the other.

 

 

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Landing in Madurai without expectations sets the stage for one to be blown away. In Southern India, this temple-city's heart is demarcated by towering fifty-meter edifices of colorful statues, the proper noun for which: Meenakshi Amman Temple.

The buildings of the temple seem to disappear under the sculpture that covers them; in particular, the four main gopurams or gateway towers that are the tallest components, each veiled in an army starting with of around 1,000 figures. Every twelve years the figures are ritually repaired and repainted.

Entering the complex is something like a spider entering a new bedroom—a large one with many dark nooks to to hide and explore. This stone bedroom is on the scale for a god of course, and has many niches where deities rest, a large hall of hundreds of columns, a nectar pool, and all the appropriate embellishment. It is a place to feel small and reverent. It is the destination of pilgrimage and the sustenance of Madurai.

 

 

Meenakshi Amman Temple - Madurai

The Meenakshi Amman temple temple has been Madurai's existence for its 2,500 year history. The current temple was built in the 17th century and rests in the center of the city. The city plan in turn is arranged by streets that form concentric rings that radiate from the temple.

The city is rather typical of the region dominated by Tamil culture. It is busy, hot, dusty, yet not unpleasant. It has a market of course, a main train station (to usher in the masses for the city's numerous festivals), and a 17th century palace.

 

Visiting Thanjavur with the Brihadeeswarar Temple is impressionable. This massive temple rises sixty-six meters (216 feet if one still insists on the imperial system) and is made entirely of intricately carved granite hauled from some sixty kilometers away. The apex of the temple is a bulbous piece of granite that is estimated to way eighty tons. Completed after five years of construction in 1010 CE by Raja Raja Chola I it is an intriguing reminder of a bygone empire.

Interestingly it was built using the angula measuring system who's origins can be traced back

 

Brihadeeswarar Temple - Thanjavur

to the Indus Valley 4,000 to 6,000 years ago.

Experiencing the temple is hard to describe,  and perhaps photographs are the better means to convey such an edifice. This aside, watching the numerous pilgrims queuing to prostrate, one is only left to imagine what this must have been like a thousand years before when the population existed to construct it. Today the large numbers must still be a trickle compared to what it was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tiruchirappalli is both famous for Srirangam having the largest temple complex in India and Rock Fort with its temples on top (something like the acropolis in Athens).

Maybe the best part of the city is the daily life at the river and the lively streets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tiruchirappalli

Hoysala Temples

The Hoysala Empire reigned between the 11th and 14th centuries during the thick of the Europe's Dark Ages. What is left of it are some arduously-carved and intricately-detailed temples.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The city Shravanabelagola is home of possibly the world's largest monolithic stone statue. That is  seventeen meters of the exhibitionist Bahubali who has been holding his ground overlooking the city below for over a millennium now. The promontory which he presides is one of the main pilgrimage sites in Jainism. Every twelve years thousands of Jains flock here for Mahamastakabhisheka, a festival where Bahubali is anointed in ghee, saffron, gold coins, et cetera.

 

 

Shravanabelagola

Varanasi

Varanasi is something comparable to Mecca for Hindus and to some degree, Jains. This is an age-old city and one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on earth. Evidence of habitation dates back to the eleventh or twelfth centuries BCE (though as is typical with everything in India, it could be much older with claims up to 5,000 years).

Experiencing Varanasi requires little more than stepping out of the guesthouse and starting to walk. Loosely following the streets that parallel the river one will come across a plethora of human existence that is unlike anything one may have ever imagined—add to that numerous cows, monkeys, dogs, and unfortunately a couple rats. Crowding the ancient streets with the aforementioned: mystics, merchants, beggars, laborers, priests, a few westerners, eunuchs, and occasionally a deceased getting sprinted to the funeral pyres.

Along the river are two open funeral pyres—one of which the flame is said to have been lit 2,000 years and maintained since. Hindus believe that by dieing and being cremated in Varanasi, one's soul will be released from transmigrations.

"At the cremation grounds, a pyre is prepared where the dead body is laid. The chief

 

mourner, who is usually the eldest son, walks five times around the body to represent the five elements (fire, earth, water, air and ether) which should be given back to their source. He sprinkles Ganga water across the body, puts some sandalwood on it and then lights the fire. To burn a body, about 360 kg of wood are needed and the cremation lasts for three hours." – waterandmegacities.org

It is serene. The bodies burning at the water's edge with their flames casting a warm glow on the holy river below. Slowly the body is reduced mostly to ashes (sometimes the women's hips remain as do the men's shoulders). The men watch in silence without shedding a tear, as the circle is completed.

This city's life revolves around the holy river Ganges in all senses, particularly her ups-and-downs.  The Ganges's swelling is what changes the city more than anything; during the monsoon season the river rises fifteen meters (fifty feet) covering much of the ghats and the temples, shrines, and local establishments  built on them. When the dry season arrives the river recedes, revealing the primary part of the city which had been engulfed in the water. With this the  begins the annual excavation of mud and debris deposited by the river, cleaning, and repainting. These ghats, that form the heart of the city are perpetually exposed to be covered again... it is a cycle of rebirth for a city on a scale unlike any other. Could it not be more appropriate that happens like this in India's holiest city?

 

Sarnath

The Dhamek Stupa in Sarnarth is believed to mark the spot where Buddha gave his first Sermon in deer park, to his first five disciples.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kolkata (Calcutta)

As a crumbling provincial capital, Kolkata maintains a worldly undertone. Formerly one of the world's greatest cities, it owes in-large its existence to the British Empire that created it. Anymore it is a curiosity of a bygone era.

Today, like the rest of India it is an over-populated metropolis with an infrastructure mostly unimproved since the last days of British Raj. Since then, political turmoil has slowly eroded what the city once was, eventually allowing Mumbai to surpass it economically. In spite of all its tribulations, Kolkata is back on a gradual upswing. It is still the intellectual capital of the country (albeit a touch flustered).

Among Kolkata's main features is the Hooghly River bisecting the city and leading to the Bay of Bengal. Like many cities, Kolkata was founded on the river for trade. Still important, the Hooghly River hosts India's third largest port. Along its edges one will find pleasant ghats and parks, the most famous landmark

 

 

along it is the Dakshineswar Kali Temple, made famous by the 19th Century mystic Ramakrishna.

Exploring Kolkata's streets one will come across the old tram cars chugging along past the Victoria Memorial, a monolithic memorial of regal grandeur, regretfully maintained. There is the old Howrah Station, New Market selling every imaginable kitchen utensil, sari, trinket... but most interesting is the old meat and vegetable market—there are no refrigerators used here, as everything rotates quickly.

For a city that gets monsoon rains, Kolkata is cursed with a flatter-than-Kansas geography and even more cursed drainage infrastructure. Fifty kilometers from the city center the elevation does not increase to more than ten meters above sea level. The monsoon season brings accidental deaths and does little to make life more enjoyable. On the streets it is never a bad idea to hail a bicycle rickshaw to avoid walking through a foot or more of rain. There really should be

 

no more requirement here at the office than a swimsuit.

But, before one starts complaining about the monsoon too much, it allows a country with four times the population of the United States and one-third the landmass to feed its population without need for imports.

 

Durga Puja - Kolkata

Any Indian celebration is bound to be like none-other in the West—and Durga Puja in Kolkata is no exception. This six day festival celebrates the Goddess Durga's victory over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura; it is the victory of good over evil. This victory, celebrated all over India is especially dear to Kolkata where the city comes to  a standstill and the streets are walled off to make room for the pandals, massive temporary buildings that spring up to house murtis (idols).

These murtis made from the clay of the Hooghly River range from life-size and upwards. They represent Durga and her cohorts—Shiva, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha, and Kartikeyak whom are considered to be her children. The whole city, its suburbs, and villages are in a festive mood. In the city

 

facades are covered in lights while neighborhoods and businesses compete with each other to put up the most impressive pandal. By some accounts, it is considered to be the largest openair art festival in the world.

The murtis are beautifully painted and embellished to represent Durga's epic story. Priests make offerings, people amble to find the best Pandals in this carnival setting.

The Indian artisans are very talented in the hand crafts that seem to have gone to the wayside in modern societies: India is filled with extraordinarily talented sculptors, embroiders... artisans on so many levels. Their ingenuity is impressive, if not called for when considering the often limited resources available. It is well showcased for this incredible event.

 

The festival culminates on the sixth day; like everything in Hindustan, the murtis too are a part of a greater cycle. On this day, neighbors visit their neighborhood pandals to feast and celebrate together. Women smear themselves and the Goddess Durga with vermilion and feed her offerings. With dusk, things continue to enliven. Perhaps this is what everyone has been waiting for? Up to sixty or eighty men with long bamboo poles digging into their shoulders struggle to lift to lift each of the Goddess Durga, plus some more to carry each of her heavy clay family members to the streets and on to the Hooghly River. There are around 800 Durgas with her families throughout the city. Each of the highly embellished Durgas and her family members is spun multiple times and... whoosh, submerged into the river so Durga can be reunited with her husband Shiva who is said to live in the Himalayas.

It is not coincidental Durga Puja is so popular in Kolkata, while under British rule Durga came to be identified with the Indian Independence Movement, blossoming into the event that is celebrated today. Since then the festival continues to grow.

Both protected and confronted by the Himalayas, the former Tibetan kingdom of Ladakh owes its humble existence to the soaring peaks that fall from the clouds to form the mostly barren valleys which its populace uses for home. The most notable valley, though nearly a desert and rocky like the surrounding mountains, offers some respite with the Indus River that flows through it; it is the lifeblood of this region.

Leh is the most important city in the region, with a written history that can be traced back about a thousand of years, though remnants of human occupation go back much farther. Leh was founded for its location on the Indus River, a rest stop along major Eastern and Western trade routes.

Leh sits at an elevation of 3,524 meters (grrr...11,562 feet) above sea level, while the mountains reach yet higher forming barricades around this city... reaching it one must cross some of the world's highest passes. After the twenty-four hour journey from Manali, one meets a magical land

Leh - Ladakh

of existence, a weathered and happy population that goes along barely scuffed by the outside world. Internet is spotty, international as well as Indian SIM cards do not function here.

Upon sunrise in Leh, the Leh Palace immediately draws ones attention, as it climbs up the mountain predominating the city below with its weathered ruins. Of much similarity to the Potala Palace in Tibet it was built at nearly the same time (the late 1500's). It follows the same indigenous construction techniques utilizing clay and stone for the walls; at its highest precipices it utilizes twigs to create light-weight walls as not to jeopardize the building's stability with its nine stories.  The floors are supported by wooden beams and rafters, which in turn support lathe-like structure covered in clay forming the earthen floors. To preserve the exterior against moisture, the walls would have been covered annually in lime or a butter-based compound, while the twigs forming the uppermost walls have been charred to protect against rot. The burnt umbers, whites, blacks, and colors of the prayer flags still have a several melancholic beauty, despite it being abandoned in the 19th century; meanwhile its building techniques are a testimony to a culture that knows how to live with its environment.

 

see also: TIBET

 

 

The village of Diskit is especially beautiful with its kind-hearted and friendly residents.

If one is less inclined to to venture out on a motorcycle, there is weekly bus service that one could opt for. It certainly had its selling points after the anything-but-relaxing trip on only two wheels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Motorcycling the Nubra Valley

A popular endeavor when in Ladakh is to procure a motorcycle and rendezvous. Reaching the Nubra Valley one scours staggering mountain scenery in remotely populated Himalayas. The Nubra Valley has small villages dotting the edges of the valley, all picturesque, and all crawling up the mountain walls.

 

A five hour chartered ride will take one Pangong Tso, an enchanted lake that resting at 4,350 meters (14,270 feet) above sea level that despite its salinity, completely freezes over in winter. The surroundings are harsh and the lake holds little more for life than some small crustaceans. Half of this elongated lake is in China (or Tibet if one may).

Spending the night Pangong Tso is something magical, with the opportunity to stay with the locals whom have learned to cope with the harsh environment. Much of the food is meat-based, and the traditional cooking fuel is animal dung. Living off this land is harsh, and made possible by ages of practice.

Perhaps the one justifying factor to live here is the extreme beauty of the place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pangong Tso

In the surrounding region of Leh are numerous monasteries, climbing up the crags as though the promontories only arose from the earth for each to have perch. Shey, Shigatse, and Thikse Monasteries are wonderful. Interestingly, compared to the monasteries in Tibet, these Ladakhi monasteries seem more authentic; in Tibet much fell victim to Mao's Cultural Revolution and in combination with the ensuing Communist homogenization attempts much of the holiness of Tibet's monasteries has been destroyed or lost.

 

 

Ladakhi Monasteries

Tibetan Wedding

If one ever learns they are going to a Tibetan wedding, be forewarned to be well-rested prior to the event.

Kicking off sometime around 8:00 in the evening, an original blend of music (traditional, Western, un-placeable)  is cranked up. Merry dancing and food is abundant. The older men, not being keen dancers like the women sit in an adjacent room with bottles of liquor they brought along. This seems to go on forever,  as everyone waits for the bride to arrive. 12:00 pm, nope. 2:00 AM, ditto. 3:00 am, same, though the music continuously gets louder to help people stay awake while the most energetic participate in a speed-driven circle dance.

Around 3:30 several gregarious women arrived in full spirits, dressed in the stages of life of a woman. One lady sported a bulbous stomach as if she were pregnant; she rubbed her stomach grinning as she bounced around the dance floor. Another in her posse was dressed as an old woman with a massive hunchback, and the third stuffed her blouse to the degree it appeared she had mammaries to feed a grizzly's cubs.

Around 4:00 am, the bride arrived, with a large headpiece covered in turquoise. Tradition holds that she is not to make eye-contact and appear sad

 

 

to be leaving her home. She barely pulled this off. Getting out of the car she stopped several times to have a customary tea with several people (her family members?). Short fires were quickly lit before she progressed to the next instantaneous tea-time. All the other observants lined her path with bottles of drinks—soda, half-drank bottles of booze, or simply water.

People throw money to the procession help with the new costs of marriage.

Entering she and the groom go to the kitchen space of the building where they exchange vows.

After the vows the congregation drapes the newlyweds in white scarves (khatas) symbolizing good luck and purity as a sign of respect.

The ceremony is concluded with a generous breakfast, pleasantly illuminated by the early morning sun.

 

Leaving Ladakh to Kashmir is a heart-wrenching bus ride through a land that might have been built for the gods. While the ride to Ladakh in the first place has a reputation for being treacherous... this "engineered" road paved and maintained much better was much more to brave. Many times a glance out the bus windows revealed there was little more than a diminishing foot of road between a safe arrival and a tumble down a thousand meters or more. Little  assurance was offered considering the vehicle of choice: when a developed country deems a bus to pass from second-rate to third and no longer fit for habitation they make good on their investment by  selling it to developing countries, like India. Though dictated necessary for economic reasons, maybe part

 

 

National Highway 1D

of the reluctance in India for such transit rests in the Hindu belief system's cycle of rebirth and indestructibility of the soul?

National Highway 1D or Srinagar-Leh HIghway follows the Indus river and the old trade routes along it. Until the 18th century the road was only passable by foot with porters carrying the coveted wool from Tibet to Kashmir. When the Sino-Indian War broke out in 1962 India commenced building the road that exists today.

Though it is now registered as a highway, it remains closed for half the of year with snow rendering it impassable. With spring comes the annual chore of clearing meters-deep of snow and making repairs necessitated by landslides.

 

 

On reaching Kashmir it quickly became evident that they could not have much less in common beyond both being in the Himalayas. Kashmir is Muslim with much vegetation, and not as isolated.

 

Dal Lake

Market

The Dal Lake market occurs daily at sunrise. It is an old tradition of Kashmiris whom take out their their local variants of the canoe and meet at a particular place on the lake. They trade lotus, cabbages, or beets, et cetera. The mountains disguise the sun initially from the still and foggy water; the Kashmiris boats criss-cross each other as they engage in chatter.

 

Fabled and mysterious, a place or some other curious notion that most people have heard of yet not know what it is is Kashmir. A lush valley tucked away in the Himalayas near Pakistan holds pastoral villages and the city of Srinagar.

Srinagar, with its long history is most notable for being the summer capital of the Mughal Empire and the British Raj. Escaping the heavy heat from much of the subcontinent for a cool city and a pleasant lake is agreeable. Dal Lake, which the city adjoins and uses as a means of transport is a natural lake filled with many houseboats built in the 1920s for vacationing British officers.

Today, these are mostly left to the few remaining backpackers—as the region's reputation is is wrought with enough violence to keep tourists a little on edge to visit. But—maybe that is what is preserves the place's tranquility.

 

 

Srinagar - Kashmir

Amongst the natural beauty of the mountains are three Mughal gardens set alongside the lake. Their water features spill into the lake and are at typical testaments to Mughal architecture.

Getting out of the city, one will continue to find beautiful scenery and nice people, if only the conflict with Pakistan could cool down.

 

 

Formerly the grounds of perhaps quite a few guilty pleasures, the Mughal gardens are a pleasure for all ages today. These consolidated moments of great design are based on geometries and juxtaposed with buildings to form a single whole. They were built as analogies of paradise for the Mughal rulers.

A fundamental aspect of the Mughal garden is the manipulation of water. The use of narrow channels demarcate the primary axes which often flow through the buildings connecting fonts and larger pools. Creating the strong indoor-outdoor relationships the palaces in turn cooled in the suffocating heat. Pavilions are often surrounded with water features, and rooms are centered around fonts. The abundant use of water has left engineers

The Mughal Gardens

today partially baffled to how these elaborate systems worked.

Many details were considered when designing the gardens, flowers were planted not only for aesthetic reasons, but also for their aroma.

Often times the gardens would be part of a larger whole—in Srinagar the gardens form tiers rising from the lake while the water passes from the mountains through the gardens to the lake.

These garden complexes must have been spectacular in their time. Today, despite their disrepair, they are still wonderful as parks for citizens. Leaving all to marvel what they must have been.

 

 

For having one of the world's most beautiful buildings, the Taj Mahal and many other buildings of comparable grandeur, Agra seems like all its energy was consumed by these; Agra is everything aside from a synonym of pleasant.

The inhabitants of Agra seem more desperate than those of many other cities. The infrastructure is decrepit.

What one finds walking around the city are decaying reminders of what the city once was.

 

 

Agra

The Taj Mahal is a naturally wonderful building—a massive marble edifice built by 20,000 people to entomb Shah Jahan's favorite wife after she died giving birth to their fourteenth child. As seems to be reoccurring case historically, great art prospers under dictatorial  leadership, the Taj Mahal is no exception. Today, its many visitors come to marvel, imagining the splendor of the times—in consideration many of their ancestors were likely slaving away on its construction.

To experience the Taj Mahal properly one must wake up early to visit the overrun complex—overpriced, and unfortunately only in mediocre repair.

 

 

   Taj Mahal

The crowd unfortunately acts more like they are on a trip to Disney World which does not embellish ones experience much either.

 The building and its complex are beautifully laid out, to standards as about at perfect as humanely possible.

It is said that when it was first constructed, the pathways were elevated about two meters off the ground, where fruit trees were planted. Walking along the paths one would be able to pick fruit at an arm's length. When the British came the gardens were overrun, and filled in to create a more British lawn.

 

 

The Red Fort in Agra is second to the Taj Mahal—an acropolis where the Mughals lived and held court, it boasts much of the same grandeur of its more famous sibling with the liberal use of semi-precious stone for inlays and intricate carving on a grandiose scale.

The Red Fort is a wearying series of

 

The Red Fort

courtyards, gardens, palaces, and pavilions laid out to run an empire. The many gardens and water elements are used to connect the disperse elements.

Essentially it is its own city, it could be largely self-sufficient hiding behind its massive walls protecting it in the case of siege.

 

 

Much as Louis XIV of France built Versailles, the great Indian emperor Akbar did the same five hundred years ago to create Fatehpur Sikri (City of Victory) as a capital outside of Agra for his expanding empire.

This architectural masterpiece of red sandstone has survived the centuries in good repair. Likely in-large due to its quick abandonment after construction (after a mere fourteen years). Though it probably became a big headache for Akbar, visitors today should be grateful for this, wandering the handsome complex will leave anyone with a halfway-mediocre mind marveling. Great minds might be blown away. Fatehpur Sikri is splendid for its a combination of design qualities and aesthetics.

The main part of the city is a large mosque complex and the palace complex that are adjacent to each other—forming a uniform heart of power.

The entrance to the mosque complex is demarcated with a fifty-five meters (180 feet) tall gate (triumphal arch) erected to mark the victory over Gujarat—this opens to a large courtyard,

 

   Fatehpur Sikri

mosque, and several pavilions.

The palace complex is a series of courtyards and pavilions arranged by hierarchy and layed out with axial relationships. The components of the palace include the harem, mint, treasury, drum house, girls' school, bath, stables, et cetera, and the Hall of Private Audiences with its famous column. The pavilions often embrace openness and use rational forms.  Pavilions of greater importance were detailed accordingly. Running water was implemented throughout the complex (albeit eventually a lack of water was a factor in the city's demise). The use of water and and use of openness were methods of passive cooling in combination with other practical uses.

Akbar combined regional architectures of his empire to build Fatehpur Sikri as it was a microcosm of the empire. Akbar with his architect Tuhir Das used architecture as a device to help set the tone of dialogue of a diverse empire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evidently Mathura is the birthplace of Krishna and for it the city is abuzz. Thousands of pilgrims with reverent fervor saunter the streets and enjoy life. Wonderful for its relaxed atmosphere despite the multitudes of pilgrims, this vacation hub offers needed respite from the toils of life in Agra. Mathura is fifty kilometers (thirty miles) northwest of Agra, and like Agra, it rests alongside the Yamuna River.

The city has a rich history, being described by the Greek Megasthenes as a great city in the 3rd century BCE. In 634 CE Xuanzang described the city to have twenty Buddhist monasteries and five Brahmanical temples. Other ancient writers wrote of the city, meanwhile evidence suggests that the city may have been ruled by Greeks for a century or two. Much of the ancient city was destroyed in 1018 CE and again five hundred years later, though its legacy has not died off completely.

Perhaps most striking here are not the temples or really the city in itself, but like so many

 

Mathura

other Indian cities it is something to do with the river. This is most true at night, when the river becomes placid and the only thing moving on it are reflections of hundreds of lamps quivering on the Yamuna's sultry surface. People fill the in the spaces at the temple on the shore, priests emerge to perform the puja (ritual) and make offerings—as bells start to clang a trance-like quality envelops from the noise of the bells clanging and the flames gyrating in the sky as they are swung by the priests.

People observe near and far, many on boats; silent observance leaves one with the impression almost as if this were the original way that humans worshiped—with all the clamor, the priests in ecstasy, taken over by some greater force. And that everything too is part of some greater cycle—going back two and one-half millennia that are documented here—and something forever before that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Golden Temple - Amritsar

A Mecca for Sikhs and properly called Hamandir Sahib the literally nicknamed Golden Temple is a sanctum surrounded by a pool of water, set within a white marble complex crowned with bulbous golden domes surrounded by many dorms, a flowing cafeteria (it feeds 100,000 meals daily), and everything else needed to care for the legions of pilgrims and the centurion of backpackers that visit.

Nearing the temple complex one will initially be struck by the ordered chanting in course with the beat of a drum. It's demeanor, though not quite as tempting as the Greek sirens is melodious, transfixing one's mind as they approach the exterior walls of the complex. Entering, the hum intensifies and the world becomes utopian.

Inside the complex one passes through ankle-deep water (shoes are verboten) to cleanse feet to circumambulate the pool of immortal nectar (holy water) and relish in the tranquility of the setting.

Everyone is taken care of, and takes care of everyone else. It has a  strong communistic feel as

 

 

one of the central beliefs of Sikhism is forgoing the ego. As such, everyone is fed together, cleans the temple, and performs the variety of chores together. It is easily plausible to find a banker cleaning dishes next to a street sweeper. It seems as if Karl Marx gave communism a non-worldly deity it could have worked.

The Sikhs are good people and trustworthy. Openness is a important aspect of their religion: one of the dorms is reserved for non-Sikhs which is where all the backpackers stay. The room is carpeted with cots, forming unintentionally one large communal bed. They ask for nothing in return, though one may make a donation if so desires.

 

In 1947 India left the British Empire and divided to form its current self and Pakistan. The predominantly Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India have since had a turbulent relationship—breaking into armed conflict on more than one occasion.

Today this intricate relationship is staged nightly at the Wagah Border Closing Ceremony.

Guards on the Indian and Pakistani sides put on on a dramatic performance of nationality, amplifying their country's music and culture while passing disgruntled notes for the other.

Bleachers are ubiquitous on both sides for the thousands of bystanders that make a special trip to see the show. On the Pakistani side the crowd is divided, a

Wagah Border Closing Ceremony

 the show. On the Pakistani side the crowd is divided, a large portion, mostly dressed in white while the other is quite colorful—men and women. On the Indian side it is quite mixed up.

The situation is sad, the performances highlight this in how similar they both are. After all the two sides lived together for many years and speak nearly the same language never mind they use different scripts largely to emphasize their differences. Many have relatives on opposite sides of the border whom are difficult to access. They are like two sisters that quarrel about the other's misgivings when they both possess the same ones. Today there is plenty of spite going both directions.

Sanchi, the home to the world's oldest Buddhist sanctuary, a stupa measuring nearly twenty-two meters (seventy feet) tall, with a base diameter of thirty-eight meters (120 feet) quietly marks the place where the relics of Shariputra lay, a disciple of the Great Buddha.

As typical of ancient Greek temples, Buddhist monuments are often placed in naturally beautiful locations. The Great Stupa of Sanchi sits on a picturesque hill overlooking undulating hills of interlaced with Buddhist monuments.

The stupa, was first commissioned by

 

The Great Stupa of Sanchi

Ashoka the  Great in the Third Century BCE as a brick

stupa, with construction overseen by his wife Devi; in the subsequent two centuries it was expanded with stone and the balustrade and gateways were added.

There is not much for greater extremes than the peacefulness of Sanchi and the aggressive overnight bus ride it took to get here. This "sleeper" bus's normal (paved) route was closed from a busted bridge—the alternative route was down the semblance of a gravel road made up of fist-sized rock. The chauffeur on this fifth-rate road was able to cut time from the original route.

 

A diverse country with some of the largest and densest cities it also home to some of the remotest populations.

Malana, tucked away on a mountain in the Himalayas is only accessible by scaling the natural edifice which it has perched for an indefinite number of years.

The villagers believe they are Aryan descendants, though like much in India, much about their village is shrouded in mystery.

They have their own religious beliefs, and their language is unique to their village of crudely 1,500 inhabitants.

The Malanis are proud of their heritage which is tied into their unique religious and political beliefs. Most interesting for foreigners is the locals' belief that foreigners will contaminate what they touch—that is their buildings or the villagers

 

 

Malana

themselves. In occurrence of such a travesty, a special ritual is carried out to purify the soiled subject, with a large fine levied on the perpetrator.

To mitigate such a dilemma, a foreigner ordering coffee tosses their payment on the shop floor, the change is returned likewise, and they will be ushered to a nearby rock where the coffee will be served.

 

These three books are an essay of photographs portraying India. They work to offer a broad glimpse of the country finitely on its many levels.

They were authored by Ralph Shinogle.

Though three books, they are a singular composition partitioned for only for printing requirements.

 

 

 

Thank you,

 

Traversing India is not always easy or enjoyable, but the friends I already had from there, and the ones I made there eased the trip greatly,  certainly making it more delightful. Kalyan Chakraborty and his family in Kolkata were the kindest people one might ever expect to meet. Their hospitality was something wonderful and I can not express my gratitude. His friends were  generous hosts too. Meenakshi Sharma's family in Vadodara as well shared great hospitality and were a treat to stay with. Shantanjay and Preeti in Lucknow were another two great hosts. As were so many other people I met along the way.