Wishing family and friends a very Merry Christmas from Sri Lanka!
The flight from Mumbai to Aurangabad was pleasant and we had a leisurely discussion about what do. There were quite a few sights to see and we were most interested in the Ellora Cave complex. The most remarkable aspect of the Ellora caves being the “great Kailasa”. This is a large Siva temple that was carved out of the solid volcanic basalt hillside. The complex was carved completely intact during the 7th-9th centuries as a single monolithic structure and took five generations of devoted builders to complete. There are no seams or individual stones.
First the sides of the Cliffside were cut to create the rough dimensions then the entire complex was carved from the top down. The large interior spaces are exquisitely carved out caves and the high ceilings in the main temple required the artist to intricately carve a solid rick ceiling much like Michaelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I’d never seen anything like it.
We spent a long time there because it was so beautiful and peaceful and the light was quite remarkable. The stone buzzed with spiritual energy and throngs of people came pouring through. There were families with children, artists with sketch pads, loving couples, elderly women, all of them had come to see this remarkable place.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
We arrived in Delhi and it was as if we had never left. Our friend and guide Rohit was smiling as we exited the secured terminal area. He held a welcome sign and gave us a a hug. It was so wonderful to see him and to be back in India. The traffic had improved since our last visit but the air quality had not. Still, we laughed and joked and got caught up over the happenings of the last year.
Our first day would be a catch up day, a day to do all the little things needing to be done like laundry, writing and a nap. Also, I wouldn’t be driving again for several weeks which was a relief because I couldn’t imagine driving in India, and honestly I needed a break. That evening we’d have dinner at a fantastic local restaurant “India Accent”. While in India I intended to eat vegetarian. I’ve said that Buddhism made sense and appealed to my head while Hinduism was beautiful and deep and appealed to my heart. Either way, eating vegetarian in India felt like the right thing to do.
Next on our agenda was a flight to Bodh Gaya, to see the Bodhi tree where the Buddha first attained enlightenment. Bodh Gaya was little more than a small rural community thronging with travelers, monks and nuns from all over the world. First we stopped at The Great Buddha statue. We were required to remove our socks and shoes to walk around the site, thankfully the ground was very smooth and comfortable on the feet. We circumambulated the stupa and spoke to a few of the monks. I watched a group of nuns clad in pink walk in and sit to listen to a brief discussion of the site so I walked to the back of the group and sat with them. I’m not sure what was said but I found the experience really enjoyable. On the way out several groups of Indian travelers stopped us and asked to have their picture taken with Christy and myself. We happily obliged and walked the photographic red carpet so to speak back to the entrance.
I’m not sure what I expected the main Mahabodhi Temple complex to be like, maybe like Sarnath and Deer Park where the Buddha gave his first teaching. The complex loomed before us and it wasn’t at all like Sarnath, whereas Sarnath was an ancient stupa surrounded by a ruin, the Mahabodhi Temple was bright and alive. The air vibrated with footsteps and chanting, incense and light.The Bohdi tree was there as well, nearby was a small stupa marking the very spot where Buddha attained enlightenment.
After entering the main stupa, we spent time in quiet meditation. It was filled with devotees and as they continuously filed through, many made offerings of flowers and silks. Inside, a 10th century seated Buddha painted in gold, was having it’s robes changed by a monk as people bowed and made prostrations. It was rare and wonderful to be in an ancient place so alive and active, where you felt as if time itself stood still.
The saffron robes of buddhist monks are gorgeous, but even more beautiful are their serene faces.
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.
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.