M is for Marble

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.



Makrana marble
weathers time, smog, pollution.
Defining beauty.


L is for Lake Palace

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.

K is for Kites

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.

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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.


J is for Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid was one of our must-do items on the first day of our visit. It is one of the largest mosques in India. As with the Taj Mahal, it was built by Shah Jahan in the 17th  century. The history of the mosque in modern times has seen it threatened with demolition in the 19th century during the occupation by the English and more recently two attacks in 2006 and 2010. It survived each of these.

This was another example of the wonderful way in which red sandstone and marble have been combined to create beautiful designs.

On entry to the mosque, I was provided with a gown to cover my day clothes. (I was wearing trousers and a tee-shirt.) Men wearing shorts were given a sarong so that their legs were well-covered. Everyone was issued with slippers. It’s a small concession to make to show respect in a place where one is a visitor and unfamiliar with the social mores that dictate dress and behaviour.

Wherever we went in India, we heard the beautiful Adhan, or call to prayer, inviting Muslims to participate in the salat,  ritual prayers.  As we left Jama Masjid, the call began to ring out for Friday Prayers. An English translation for the Adhan can be found here.


Jama Masjid mosque,
A place of peace and beauty.
Adhan calls faithful.

I is for India

My intention to visit India one day was born fifty years ago when I wrote to the High Commission in Canberra for some information about a particular issue to inform an assignment I was doing for school. I’ve long since forgotten the topic, but I do recall the beautiful calendar that was sent to me along with more material than I could have hoped to use.

For me, my positive feelings about India were born then. It reflects the old truism that people don’t remember what you say, little of what you do, but always how you made them feel. The person who was tasked with responding to my request, made this little feathered duck feel valued and special. India must indeed be a wonderful place, I reckoned.

India is half the size of Australia in area, but it is still a large country, and we saw but one small triangle of it. India has a population of 1.34 billion people compared with Australia’s 24.6 million. Other comparisons offer stark reading.

The level of traffic in the cities was intense and negotiating a journey required our driver to have spatial awareness of his vehicle to within a centimetre. He brought us through unscathed.

Large numbers of cattle roam unchecked, and lie on highways in odd places. Our guide explained that this happens because people stop and drop food to them – a Pavlovian response, I guess.

Then a beggar woman holds out the tortured arm of an infant as she solicits aid and sparks that awful dilemma of do I help the child, or would I be condoning what may have been done to her to extract the sympathies of tourists.

In stark contrast is the opulence of other sections of the place, the majesty of the palaces, the ease of access to all things technology, the development of cities to reflect the inexorable march through the 21st century – they all combine to make India the marvellous country it is.

And talking about India, in general, gives me the opportunity to use some photos that don’t fit anywhere else.



Ancient and modern;
Traditional and trendy –
India’s dyads.

H is for Humayun’s Tomb

One of the many benefits of visiting a different country and culture is learning a whole lot about things that you didn’t know you didn’t know.

This was particularly true of our visit to India. The India we had learnt about through the years was that of an India under English colonisation and since. The India we came to know on this trip was of centuries old battles and disputes,  and changes of rule between warring groups.

Historical figures from each period continue to be recognised by people in India, and their contribution to what has become the India of today is appreciated and respected.

Humayun was one of these. He was the second Mughal Emperor and ascended to the throne in 1530. He died in 1556. During those 25 years, he lost, regained and expanded his empire.

Construction of his extensive tomb was begun in 1565 by his senior widow, Bega Begam. The palatial mausoleum was completed in 1572.

It is reportedly the first significant Mughal structure in India and is set in a garden atmosphere with the four water channels of Islamic Paradise representing honey, wine, milk and water.

As with many of the relics of India’s past that we saw, the details in the tomb are magnificent. It was built of red sandstone and white marble giving it a beautiful, peaceful feel.


Tomb of Humayun –
Majestic place as befits
Mughal Emperor


G is for Gems

Jaipur is a city well-known for its gem trade. We went to the gem centre and watched artisans cutting and polishing precious stones like emeralds, rubies and sapphires – a feast for the eyes. Of course, the pieces that most appealed to me were well outside my budget so I was content to marvel at the display.

Aside from the jewellery grade stones, we had seen semi-precious gems inlaid in the marble work at the Taj Mahal – carnelian, turquoise, lapis lazuli, onyx and malachite. There are a couple of photos of the inlay below. And, as you can see, the colours remain beautiful.

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The other way in which gemstones are used is to crush them into a fine powder  and then to use them as paints. We saw this employed at Amber Fort where the gem paints were used to create pictures. While the colours around the paintings were long faded, the gemstone paintings were still vibrant, hundreds of years on.


My nod to buying gems came outside Jama Masjid Mosque in Delhi where I purchased, from a hawker, a string of red stones that may or may not be garnets. It’s a subtle addition to my collection. If they turn out to be faux, then they’re still a souvenir!

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Jaipur is the place
if you have a yen for gems –
jewelry heaven.




F is for Fatehpur Sikri

The detail in the architecture is what caught my attention at Fatehpur Sikri, a walled city outside Agra. The buildings were constructed of red sandstone and, in the morning sunlight, had a welcoming glow about them. The columns and entry points had intricate designs carved into them and I’ve included some photos for you below.

The history  of the place spoke of attitudes  of the time. The wife of Akbar the Great who produced a son was feted and had a magnificent palace built in her honour. The wives who produced daughters were much less highly revered. (Probably not my kind of guy.)

The place became the capital of the Mughal Empire in 1571 but was abandoned about ten years later as Akbar went off to fight wars in other parts of the Empire.


Red sandstone palace –
a monument to Empire:
Fatehpur Sikri.



E is for Extraordinary loads

I could have chosen elephants for my E word, but we saw only a few of those in India and they were at Amber Fort, ferrying guests up the hill from the road below. So I chose to focus on the extraordinary loads that were carried on motorbikes, trucks and a camel-cart.

Motorbikes carry whole families at a time. In the picture I’ve chosen here, the man is driving the bike with a boy perched in front of him. Behind is the woman with a girl wedged between the two adults. It’s probably not an extraordinary load by local standards, but for me, the thought of more than two people on a bike is a worry.

Speaking of family transport, the photo of the white vehicle shows four men standing on the running board at the rear. Inside is already packed with people, so if the men want to ride, then the backboard is the only option.

I was fascinated by the effort that drivers made in adorning their trucks. They made a colourful display on the highway.

Tractors, too offered a different take on loads from what I would encounter, even on country roads, here in Australia. Don’t you just love the photo of the tractor piled high with bagged straw?

And I threw in the pic of the camel cart just because I liked it, and again, because it’s outside my normal daily experience at home. And that’s why we travel – to see the world through different eyes, to understand the lives of others and to marvel at the ways in which people build an existence by stretching the boundaries of what is to hand.


Making it work with
extraordinary loads –
balance and design.





D is for Dung Cakes

Travelling along the highways and byways near Dausa, Rajasthan, we saw quite a lot of dung cake production. The dung cakes are made from buffalo dung or cow dung. Our guide explained that fresh dung is collected by the women, mixed with a little water and, depending on availability, with some straw. The sludge is formed into flat cakes and allowed to dry completely so that they can then be used for household fuel. Once dry, the cakes are stacked and then covered with another layer of the material to form protective fuel huts. The photos below show a pile of dung cakes and a couple of the dung huts – each with its own unique design.



Labour intensive,
though cost-effective fuel –
Dung cakes make cheap heat.