The Taj Mahal has figured regularly in this month’s posts – for the marble and the delicate art forms that adorn it.
The precinct itself was crowded on the day we were there, even though our guide said that it wasn’t as bad as usual.
The beauty of the building itself is unquestioned. What was missing was the sense of solemnity due to such a place. Perhaps this is an artefact of the sheer weight of numbers of visitors (me amongst them) who travel through the environment; the ubiquitous security presence; the jostling of bodies entering and leaving the mausoleum; the scars where some of the semi-precious stones have been souvenired; and selfie-sticks!
It wasn’t quite the haven of serenity I had anticipated. Would that stop me from going again? Or recommending tht others not bother? Definitely not.
The Taj Mahal is iconic, emblematic of a cultural India, a symbol of love lost. For a hopeless romantic such as I, that resonates in its silence far more than the pounding of the thousands of feet.
It’s a beautiful place. Photographs don’t do it justice. They fail to capture the beautiful detail or the way the colour of the marble shifts in the afternoon sun.
It’s a spectacular place and well and truly worth the effort to experience it personally.
Princely Taj Mahal –
That beacon of life-love lost,
A death-cold beauty.
The Sikh Temple, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, taught us much about the culture and commitment of people within the Sikh religion. During our visit we learned that Sikhism embodies many of the tenets to which others pay lip service such as equality between the sexes and egalitarianism amongst people. We learned that it is a sign of respect to touch the top step with your hand before entering a home and that the reason that there is no extant guru in human form, is because the 10th guru decreed that the enduring guru, his successor, would be the collected wisdom of himself and the previous nine gurus in human form.
At this temple, food is prepared for more than 20 thousand people every day. It is wholly achieved by volunteers as part of their commitment to their faith. The people preparing the food were generous in giving their permission for us to photograph their work. Food is prepared in huge containers with some of the work, like cooking the flatbread, done by automation.
Serving the large numbers of people is done by a simple but highly efficient system of bringing a large group into the dining area, providing food, allowing people time to eat and then moving them through to make way for the next group. Everyone is welcome and all are served.
The faithful feeding masses –
no payment required.
Rajasthan is the province in which Jaipur is located.
The highlights for us in this part of India were Amber Fort, which we discussed way back at the beginning of the challenge under ‘A’, The City Palace in Jaipur, the Jantar Mantar Observatory and the carpet and gem artisans.
There was a lot on offer visually, historically and spiritually – especially when you add the pilgrims into the mix.
On another level, ‘karmic’ our driver suggested, one of our experiences was to stop along the highway and purchase watermelon to feed the monkeys. Our driver insisted that, since it was a Tuesday, it was particularly auspicious to indulge in this ritual. Not being very familiar with monkeys and their behaviour, I was delighted by the way they sat patiently waiting to receive our offering, then looked up into our faces, almost to say thank you, before scampering off to enjoy their treat in peace.
Rajasthan road trip –
lots to discover and learn:
Qutab Minar or Qutb Minar was built in 1193 to celebrate the Muslim defeat of the last Hindu kingdom in India. Our guide suggested that it was built as a Divine offering of thanks.
The minaret stands nearly 73 metres high and, like many of the other monuments we have discussed during our perambulation around the Golden Triangle, it is made predominantly of red sandstone.
I don’t have my own photo of the minaret, but you can find more information and see an image of this structure here or here .
A tall, proud tower,
Minar reaches up to thank
As we drove along the highways of Uttar Pradesh and Rajisthan in India, we noticed a lot of people, mostly young men, though a few women too, who were carrying poles decorated with colourful handkerchiefs and baskets with containers. Their mission is to walk the hundreds of kilometres to the sacred Ganges River, collect the water and return it to their homes. There it will be given as gift at weddings, or other special occasions, or used to help those who are ill.
It is part of the Hindu Kumbh Mela Festival during which people dip in the Ganges to cleanse themselves of spiritual and physical illness in a baptism of renewal.
Our guide insisted that it was important for the pilgrims to walk the pilgrimage, but other reports suggest that the journey is also made by car and motorbike. Those that we saw were on foot. Their decorated poles made them easy to spot.
Hindu pilgrims walk
with poles across their shoulders,
carting Ganges home.
One of the truly remarkable places we visited in Jaipur was the Observatory, Jantar Mantar, built by Sawai Jai Singh II which was completed in 1734.
Our guide informed us that the king had a fascination with both astronomy and astrology and the complicated instruments he built were, in some part, intended to help him align the two.
The instruments are monumental outdoor structures and include the world’s largest sundial. The installations ar able to track the planets using a variety of systems.
The science around them baffled me somewhat, but the detailed arcs of planets intersecting with each other, the sun and the moon spoke of diligent recording and dedicated study.
Apart from their direct scientific applications, the systems are also used to predict personal events through astrology. Our guide’s interpretation in this area affected me directly.
As an 18 year old, last century, I told my boyfriend that because our star signs were adjacent, (he Virgo, me Libra), we were incompatible. Forty years on, our guide did our ‘numbers’ and declared that we were only two points short of a perfect match, a fairly rare level of connection. My husband all but crowed his vindication. I felt thwarted. What excuse now for our differences in the cat v dog debates, or milk chocolate v dark, or even fish ‘n’ chips v pizza??
Jantar Mantar reads the world
of planets and stars
When the driver who had been assigned to guide us around the Golden Triangle of India suggested that we should go for a drive after dark to see the city lights of Jaipur, we wondered if it would be worth the effort after a heavy day of sight-seeing. But he had been pleasant and helpful for the week he was with us and we didn’t wish to cause offence, so we agreed.
We were so pleased that we did. Jaipur becomes a riot of colour after dark, and our driver was so proud to show it to us.
There was even a wedding parade in the mix.
City lights of rainbow hue –
Jaipur after dark.
Marble in India seems to have a hierarchy of its own. Our guide informed us that the Makrana marble is the best marble in India but it is no longer commercially available except in relation to its connection with the Taj Mahal. Makrana marble continues to be used by the artisan descendants of those who created the jewelled inlays of the Taj Mahal. Promoting the artisan training has been a focussed attempt by the government to retain the particular skills required to create the beautiful detail.
We purchased a couple of small marble pieces to take home. It is rock after all, and quickly added to the weight of our luggage. One piece was the real deal, inlaid with paua, carnelian, malachite and jasper. A second piece, our guide solemnly warned us, was not from Makrana. It was said in the tone of someone apologising for disappointing us. But it was a piece we loved – a small heart-shaped jewellery box in a rosy marble. We bought it anyway.
The marble is also a wonderful medium for carving and presenting images in relief such as those I’ve selected to show amongst the group in the montage.
The circular piece in the photos below is the one we purchased from the Makrana artisans. The other shots are of the Taj Mahal. It’s fascinating how the zig-zag pattern of the onyx against the marble make it look like the marble pillars are star-shaped. I’ve shown a close-up, too, so you can see that it is a flat surface.
weathers time, smog, pollution.
Okay, I’ll admit to a bit of poetic licence here. In Jaipur, Jal Mahal is actually referred to as the Water Palace so it’s not confused with the other Lake Palace about 400 kms to the south west in Uidapur. That one was built in 1746 by Maharana Jagat Singh II. It is now an exclusive hotel.
I can be forgiven though, because a number of businesses around the shore line of the artificially-constructed Man Saga Lake in Jaipur, which is the one we viewed, are named Lake Palace “whatever”.
Jal Mahal was built in 1799 and has undergone various renovations. Presently only the top level of the castle is visible above the water line. The most recent renovation, in 2000, found that the four underwater levels of the palace had sustained little seepage and remained in good condition.
The Palace is not open to visitors but can be viewed from the road around the lake shore.
Lake water covers
Secret palatial levels.
No visitors please.
The early evening skies in Jaipur were dotted with numerous kites while we were there. The trees around our hotel seemed to be their favourite final resting places. The kites are simple structures of cane sticks and light crepe paper, a bit of glue and long, long rolls of thread. The photo below is of one we rescued from a tree.
We weren’t in Jaipur in January, unfortunately, otherwise we would have been able to witness the International Kite Festival which is held annually in Jaipur.
The Kite Festival coincides with Makar Sankranti which is a Hindu festival to honour the deity Surya.
If, like us, you missed the Festival this year, you can always aim for 2020, when it will be held from the 14th to the 16th January.
You can be heartened though, by the knowledge that you might see the kites flying above Jaipur at just about any time of the year.
Aerial dancers –
Kites fly high in Jaipur skies.
Snatched by waiting trees.