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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Elephant ride at Amber Fort

video
Early morning elephant ride up to the Amber Fort in Jaipur.
Incredible, amazing, fantastic.....just a few of the adjectives my father-in-law used to describe the experience. I am so glad we were able to arrange it for him and the rest of us too. The Taj Mahal is one of the man-made wonders of the world, but for me the Amber Fort was so much cooler.
More detail on the Amber Fort soon.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Fatehpur Sikri

Once again, I am thankful to some great advice from a friend. She said, "When driving from Agra to Jaipur you MUST stop to visit Fatehpur Sikri." She must have told me this at least four times.
Why wouldn't we stop to see it?
1) It is a bumpy ride off the highway.
2) A man came out and practically jumped on our car trying to get us to take the turn off to the fort and pay him to be our guide.
3) We were all packed and seven of us had finally found comfortable positions in the van.
4) The day before our oldest had claimed she would, "see NO MORE forts."
But in my head I kept hearing my friend almost pleading and saying, "Really, it is great and so interesting and just cool." So, stop we did.
And yes, it is "interesting and just cool." The guide, although his means of getting our attention were annoying and somewhat dangerous, was very educated about the fort/palace and really made the visit for us.

It was built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1570. Akbar was an intellectual who was very interested in art and religion. He had four wives, one Hindu, one Christian, one Jain, one Muslim, and built a separate part of the complex for each wife.
Today, but for the tourists, it is deserted but amazingly well preserved and a testament to the architects and builders who planned it.
Walking among the red sandstone was quite a drastic difference from the day before and the bright whiteness of the Taj Mahal.
From Wikipedia, "Diwan-i-Khas, or Hall of Private Audience, is a plain square building with four chhatris on the roof. However it is famous for its central pillar, which has a square base and an octagonal shaft both carved with bands of geometric and floral designs....It is here that Akbar had representatives of different religions discuss their faiths and gave private audience."
The craftsmanship was just incredible and amazing to see.
From Wikipedia (yes, again) "Diwan-i-Am or Hall of Public Audience, is a building typology found in many cities where the ruler meets the general public. In this case, it is a pavilion-like multi-layered rectangular structure fronting a large open space."
Off to the side is the mosque or Jama Masjid. From, you know where, WIKIPEDIA, "A Jami Masjid meaning Friday Mosque was perhaps one of the first buildings to come up in the complex, as its epigraph gives 1571-72 as the date of completion." There is a school in the mosque for local children who can't afford an education. We met one young boy on the steps selling his wares. He said a percentage of his sales go back to the school. His father went to school there just as he does four hours a day. He and his father now sell crafts, jewelry, etc to feed the family and help the school.
As with any tourist attraction in India and worldwide, there are shops on the way back to the parking lot. The brilliant colors of India still capture me every time. India does color and bling better than anywhere else or at least better than anywhere else I have found.
At the end of the tour, we were all happy. I learned more about Mughal history. Little one picked up some bling that she is very proud of. The in-laws were just in awe of it all...the crowds, the history, the architecture, the culture. Even Daddy and our oldest were glad that we stopped at Fatehpur Sikri.
From now on, I won't question when a friend says, "This is a MUST-see."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

street scenes

My in-laws were visiting recently. It was incredible to see India through their eyes. So many of the scenes and day to day views have become "normal" to our family. Watching Grandma and Pop Pop wide-eyed with mouths open as we drove around reminded me of our first days in India. In many ways, they seemed to enjoy our trips between home and school, to the grocery, and running errands as much as the big planned adventures.
rickshaw drivers in Old Delhi
women marketing outside Jama Masjid
chai wallah and rickshaw repair
cows causing a little traffic jam in Gurgaon

people waiting for bus and random vendors along highway between Agra and Jaipur
the "cool" seats on the bus
we always wonder if those riding on the roof get to pay less than the ones inside

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Made in Marble

After an early morning visit to the Taj Mahal, our guide took us to what some would call a tourist trap. An excuse to get tourists to buy wares or not, it was very interesting. There was a short film about Makrana where the marble used at the Taj Mahal originated. Then some Agra locals showed us how the semi-precious stones are ground down for use in marble work.

The girls were able to use the tools and feel how it is actually done. Little one could have stayed here at the wheel for hours helping them.

They use a natural orange tinted stain on the marble. With this they can better see the designs and chip away at the marble.
Once the design is carved, the gems are placed and glued. Then the marble is cleaned back to its natural, shining, white color.
These artisans complete marble work the same way it was done on a much larger scale over 350 years ago. Watching the labor that goes into the small pieces makes the wonder of the Taj Mahal being built in just 22 years even greater.
There is fine detail in the lattice work and gem inlay on each and every corner of the Taj Mahal.



The experience that is the Taj Mahal

Our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal was through the East Gate. See the small archway in the center? From this point we could see just a little of the white marble glimmering through.
A few steps closer and it was a little more visible.
The way the sun reflects off the white marble is almost blinding.
Walking through the East Gate was amazing. It is definitely one of those things you have to experience to really appreciate.
And there it is....a wonder of the world....a symbol of Shah Jahan's love for his wife....
Taj Mahal

















Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Old Delhi by Rickshaw Part II

Just a snippet from our bicycle rickshaw tour of Old Delhi.
video

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Old Delhi by Rickshaw...the only way to see it!!

From Wikipedia...."Old Delhi, the walled city of Delhi, India was founded as Shahjahanabad by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1639. It remained the capital of the Mughals until the end of the Mughal dynasty. It was once filled with mansions of noble and members of the the royal court, along with elegant mosques and gardens. Today, despite having become extremely crowded and dilapidated, it still serves as the symbolic heart of metropolitan Delhi."

Visiting Old Delhi is a real adventure for everyone, and the only real way to see it is by bicycle rickshaw. You travel slow enough that you can take in all the sights. There are no windows to roll up so you are able to hear all the sounds and hustle bustle of daily life. It is open air so you are experiencing (and sometime being uncomfortably accosted by) the smells, feels, and heat of the city. On a different note, you are up off the street so feel a little safer from the traffic, trash, and uneven pavement that can be quite tricky to maneuver. It is the only way I have found to leave Old Delhi feeling as if I have truly experienced what are the charms of Old Delhi.
Through the help of friends, I found Kalu and his guided tours. He is a petite Nepali man with a group of drivers who give excellent tours ranging from two hours to all day depending on what you would like to see. Our driver calls Kalu and arranges a meeting place where he is always waiting with however many rickshaws are needed for the size of our group. We start out on a main street near the Red Fort.
Then he takes us down Chandni Chowk which is the main street in the walled city of Old Delhi.
He takes us past the shops and markets, and points out all the different points of interest.
After that, things get interesting as we turn down one of the many small alleys that make up Old Delhi. The one below is actually very wide. On many of the other alleys, you can reach out and almost touch the shops on both sides of the rickshaw.
The alleys are known for what is sold there. Shoe street, bead street, wedding street, etc. Fall is the big wedding season in India as the weather is just about perfect. The bride-to-be, her mother, and the "aunties" spend days and hours finding the best and finest sari/saris for the many different wedding celebrations.

I have been told there is a whole tradition and order of events when choosing the wedding sari. The women go into the shop, are offered a seat and a cup of tea, and fabric upon fabric is brought out. It is looked at, touched, held up to the bride, and the negotiations begin.
Up and down the alleys we traveled to find the spice market of Old Delhi. Our guide tells us that this is the largest spice market in all of Asia and spices are exported to the world from this point. The smells and dust were overwhelming. A scarf to cover your mouth and nose along with a bottle of water is an absolute necessity when visiting the spice market.

We wandered up and down among the stalls of spices and down a dark, dirty hallway to a set of narrow, steep steps behind our guide. Yes, he could have been taking us anywhere, but we trusted him and climbed flight after flight past bags of spices.
About halfway up we could see where the spices are stored and how the people are living among the essence o' spice.
At the top we went out onto the roof and looked down on Old Delhi.
Back out onto the street, past the sights, sounds, and smells.
Past the laundry drying on the side of the generator and over the piles of trash.
Past a local vegetable stand and down another alley.
Down the side alley to the Jain Temple and past some beautiful doorways. I could have taken hours of pictures of the colors and painted doors.


And finally a quick stop at Jama Masjid. (from Wikipedia) It is "the principle mosque of Old Delhi. Commissioned by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Mahal, in the year 1644 and completed in 1658, it is the largest and best-known mosque in India. It lies at the origin of a very busy central street in Old Delhi."
We arrived too late to see the inside and were greeted by the beginning of Friday call to prayer.

Thus ends our tour of Old Delhi back at the Red Fort.