20
Dec 17

Reflections of Udaipur, India

Lakeside. Udaipur, India. 2017

Udaipur lies in the southern region of Rajasthan, or as our friend Rohit says, it is Heaven. Having spend a few days there I can’t disagree. In addition to being Rohit’s hometown, Udaipur is a resort destination for both domestic and international travelers. It’s appeal was immediately clear.

Carpet. Udaipur, India. 2017

When we arrived, we could see just how lovely the city was with it’s many lakes, rolling green hills and beautiful architecture. Also the air was fresh and the sky was blue. Across the lake from our hotel we could see the City Palace spilling down the side of a hill like a giant layer cake until it stopped at the waterline.

Mirror. Udaipur, India. 2017

Visiting the City Palace was fun and it similar to many other Indian palaces we had visited except for the view which was really spectacular. I also really loved the shadows and light playing off all the lovely marble used in it’s construction. Windows of colored glass and mirrors showed off the shapes of the rooms and the columns.

Cool. Udaipur, India. 2017

Jumping on a boat it was really a pleasure to be out on the lake, tour around and watch the sunset. A few films had been shot at locations around the lake here and I remembered seeing the scenes. Rohit had us over for dinner at his house and we enjoyed an amazing home cooked meal as well as meeting and spending time with his family. I especially had fun sharing calligraphy with his niece. She showed me her notebook and pen and I showed her mine, inky fingers unite!

Spirit. Udaipur, India. 2017

Our most profound experience In Udaipur however was spiritual. For me it was somewhat unexpected since I consider myself very grounded spiritually. This was something new and I think it something to do with the cumulative effect of spending so much time in India and being in so many powerful spiritual places. I’ll be telling that story soon.

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18
Dec 17

Step Wells and Star Wars In Delhi, India

After a week in the jungles of Central India we returned to Delhi to catch a plane to Dharamshala. Unforunately the weather in Dharashala was bad and our flight was delayed several hours. We decided to stay in Delhi, see a few sights and catch the new Star Wars movie.

Step Well. Delhi, India. 2017

One of the sights was the second oldest step well in Delhi called Agrasen Kibaoli dating from approximately the 10the Century. It was massive and deep with several levels build into the walls and a long descending staircase. When we arrived voices and shouts were echoing off the walls. A group of students were there, perhaps on a field trip and from the looks of it, they were having a great time. It was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen.

Up. Delhi, India. 2017

After the step well we continued on to the movie theater which was in a suburb of Delhi. Pulling into the parking lot I looked up and there were blue skies! Blue skies near Delhi! It was a very new theater with IMAX 3D and we had reclining chairs in the back, very nice indeed.

A peculiarity of watching movies in India is that you have to stand for the Indian National Anthem at the start of the film. The sound system loudly declared “Please stand for the Indian National Anthem” and respectfully we did. Another thing is that there is an intermission in the middle of the film that lasts about 15 minutes. The first time this happened I thought there was something wrong with the projector but now I know and kind of appreciate it as a good time to get up and take care of personal business.

Christy and I have enjoyed seeing films in other countries because it’s fun to see how other cultures go about the same familiar rituals as we do. It was a great time.

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07
Dec 17

Exploring Kolkata India

Resident. Kolkata, India. 2017

Kolkata, formerly Calcutta, was exotic and unique in a whole new way. Even from the air, as we arrived by plane, I could see a tree growing out of the top of an abandoned brick smoke stack. There seemed to be a tension between human habitation and pressure from the encroaching natural world. This tension was palpable in a way I had not felt since staying in Yarkand in the Taklamakan Desert of western China.There, the ancient city was awash in sand as it was being consumed by the desert. In Kolkata as we drove and walked the streets of the old city was being consumed by vegetation, plants and trees. Once grand temples and theaters, homes and palaces were dissolving into beautiful faded ruins.

Devi. Kolkata, India. 2017

This city was once the British capital of India, a wealthy thriving port city centered on trade. Kolkata sits on the Ganger River and after some distance, this flows out to the Bay of Bengal. According to our local guide, the city began to fall onto hard times when the British moved their capital from Calcutta to Delhi. And yet people continued to come to this city which had a reputation among the educated and learned and it’s intellectual community thrived. So too it’s spiritual community and we visited very beautiful shires dedicated to the mothers Kali Maa and Durga. I found I had a special connection to Durga while Christy reaffrimed her deep connection to Kali Maa.

Kolkata Women. Kolkata, India. 2017

The British have left their mark on Kolkata and the Victorian section of the city contained wide Boulevards and large buildings, many still in pristine condition, but here too many have been shuttered and fallen to nature.The Queen Victoria Memorial was a highlight to be sure and we visited it close to sunset. The orange orb of the sun hung low over the building and the sky also radiated a deep orange glow. It was gorgeous.

Victoria Memorial. Kolkata, India. 2017

Kolkata is the city of the goddesses Kali Maa and Durga and we visited many shrines dedicated to them both. We were fortunate to receive a blessing at the main temple to Kali Maa which was built in the early 19th century. Inside the main shrine resides the tow of the goddess which was said to have fallen to earth in ancient times and is so sacred that not even the main priest is allowed to view.

The remaining sacred sites we intended to visit were down river so we boarded a riverboat and pushed off into Mother Ganges. The Ganges is a very rapidly flowing river at this point whose depth changes several feet from low to high tide. We were traveling as the tide was rushing in. Along the banks we could see small barges and boats, hulls pressed into the mud, waiting for the rising water to refloat them. Also along the banks were the many “Ghats” or “Gates”, entrances from the towns and cities for people to freely walk, each with steps which led down to the water and each with a white temple of Shiva.

Smoking. Kolkata, India. 2017

As we journeyed down river we passed under a cantilever bridge built by the British during WWII and it remained in outstanding condition, continuing to see heavy use. We arrived by boat at the Bellur Math, the monestary for Rama Krishna Paramhansa and had a walk around this very spiritual place. Then getting in a car and driving across the Ganges we came to the Durga temple where Christy would walk downtime Ghat and plunge herself into the river. She had been wanting to immerse herself in the Ganges for quite some time and this was the perfect location. Changing into a sari she went down the steps just as a rope was strung across to close it off. High tide was coming and the water was rapidly rising. She had to be quick and with the help of a local she sat and plunged five times under the water, an auspicious number. A visit to the Durga shrine finished our time in Kolkata and we were off to the airport.

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14
Dec 16

Visiting the Taj Mahal

We spent the afternoon in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. I didn’t realize it until I got to the Taj, that it is part of a huge complex of grounds and buildings. Photographs have a difficult time conveying the sheer scope of the place. What sets it apart from other sacred Islamic sites I’ve visited isn’t the size, it is the quality of the workmanship and materials, the craftsmanship, and the carving and ornamentation of the luminous white marble. The Taj Mahal really has to be seen to be believed, it is exquisite.

Taj Mahal. Agra, India. 2016

Taj Mahal. Agra, India. 2016

The light was soft and beautiful and I wanted to photograph the classic view. Three of the minarets had been cleaned and were gleaming white. The fourth minaret was in it’s scaffolding waiting it’s turn. I don’t think it detracts from the photograph, rather it shows that the Taj, no matter how seemingly perfect, is imperfect.

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12
Dec 16

Exploring Delhi India

It’s taken me a few days to wrap my head around India so I’m going to take a deep breath and begin. We flew into New Delhi from Rome. Our takeoff had been delayed for 3 hours due to Delhi’s “fog” and as our plane descended, visibility was really poor with a veil of yellow hanging over the city. Clearing passport control, we greeted our guide, grabbed our luggage and headed outside.

India Arch. New Delhi, India. 2016

India Arch. New Delhi, India. 2016

I expected it to be humid but it was cool and pleasant, however that doesn’t begin to describe the air quality which was chokingly thick smog flavored with exhaust and wood fire smoke. Leaving the airport, the traffic stopped almost immediately and it was bumper to bumper, blaring horns all the way to the hotel. Rawboned women in ragged sari’s stood at our car windows, tapping on them and begging for food or money. This was a tough introduction to what is perhaps the most beautiful, spiritual and friendly country in the world.

Street. Delhi, India. 2016

Street. Delhi, India. 2016

The next morning we saw the sights of New Delhi. It was built by the British over a twenty year span from 1911 to 1931. It is the location where India gained it’s independence in 1947 and where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in 1948. It now serves as the nation’s capital. We visited the India Arch, government buildings and universities. We went to where Gandhi spent the last days of his life, fasting and spinning thread in his little room. Around New Delhi monkeys were everywhere, large ferocious monkeys and we were told not to make eye contact or they might cause us serious injuries.

Gandhi's Path. New Delhi, India. 2016

Gandhi’s Path. New Delhi, India. 2016

As the day wore on we moved to the older section of town simply called Delhi. Delhi has a rich history with the narrow streets, stalls, shops, and deep stacked buildings you’d expect to find in an old city. In many ways Delhi is reminiscent of Fes in Morocco, but Delhi is so much more lively. The people are friendly and this is where I learned my first lesson. I began to understand that the Indian soul is a joyous soul.

Barefoot. Delhi, India. 2016

Barefoot. Delhi, India. 2016

We traveled through the old market in bicycle rickshaws which was a great time and allowed us to see much more of the district than we could have on foot. We stopped at the spice market and it was bristling with activity. Spices hung heavily in the air, some people had cloth masks covering their nose and mouth, probably a good idea. We climbed, explored, chatted and photographed. We’ve been to so many city markets, spice markets and bazars that we’ve lost count. None of them have left so remarkable an impression on us as the one in Delhi.

Vegetables. Delhi, India. 2016

Vegetables. Delhi, India. 2016

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06
Dec 16

A Day at the Vatican

Vatican Mass. Vatican City, Rome, Italy. 2016

Vatican Mass. Vatican City, Rome, Italy. 2016

We spent the day at the Vatican and as a history nerd, I was in heaven. It wasn’t just the art but the architecture and context. It was overwhelming, beautiful, gorgeous, magnificent. I loved the work by Raphael and Michelangelo particularly the Last judgement in the Sistine Chapel. St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest church in the world but it’s difficult to appreciate just how big until you’re standing in the middle of it. Also, it was a little weird to see real pope mummies in some of the side chapels but I understand that these are holy christian relics. I’ve seen body parts in reliquaries before, most notable at St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.

I couldn’t help but compare Rome and the Vatican with Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) and Hagia Sophia. After the Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople in 330 A.D., his new city surpassed the glory of Rome becoming the wealthiest and most powerful city in the western world.

Hagia Sophia was built by the Roman Emperor Justinian in 537 after rioting in the city led to the deaths of thousands of citizens and the destruction of a significant part of the city. It remained the largest and most important church in the christian world for centuries until Constantinople was captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

Byzantine Mosaic. Hagia Sophia. Istanbul. 2012

Byzantine Mosaic. Hagia Sophia. Istanbul. 2012

In St. Peter’s, there is a circle on the floor of porphyry marble just inside the entrance that was reused from an earlier church which was demolished to make way for the current Basilica. It was on this exact deep purple circle that Charlemagne knelt and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by the pope during Christmas mass in 800 A.D. Thus the rivalry was established between the Byzantine Romans and the newly created Holy Roman Empire. Ironically the porphyry marble sarcophagi that once held St. Helena, the mother of Constantine as well as that of their daughter are both on display in the Vatican Museum.

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