Monday, October 28, 2013

Agra Miscellany

Any day in India is sure to provide some startling and/or amusing sights (and many times sites, as well).

The haze was impressive all day long. In Delhi, the sun is not visible for at least a half hour before sunset -- the haze/fog/smog is that thick. Vapi's air quality is good by comparison(!).
Agra was filled with animal-pulled carts: bullocks (oxen), horses, and camels.
The orange color on this horse is from henna dye.
Henna is a common adornment for humans and livestock alike.
Another in my series of what can be delivered by bicycle.
I'd hate to see the result of a bike spill here!
A major street in Agra: A tuk-tuk, a huge tour bus, a road under construction, and a motorcycle coming on the wrong side of the street -- pure India.
But the real reason for taking the photo was the name of the tour company.
The passengers might panic at the traffic, but I hope the driver does not!
I wonder if they pass out towels embroidered with "Don't Panic" a la "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy".

Agra - Part 2 - Agra Red Fort

Like, Delhi, Agra has a "Red Fort" made from red sandstone. The size is difficult to convey -- it's immense. It is really more of a walled city, with the Emperor's palaces occupying a good bit of the acreage. In it's heyday, over 7,000 people lived within the walls of the fort. Parts of the fort are still in active use today.

The Agra Gate -- one of three entrances to the fort.
The gate itself is protected by walls so that invaders did not have a direct path to the entrance.
Here we're standing in front of the pavilion where the emperor held public court.
A shaded overlook off the emperor's apartments. In the background is the Yamuna River.
The emperor could view the Taj Mahal off to the right, also along the Yamuna.
Air quality was so poor that we could barely see the Taj Mahal, even though it's less than 2 km away.
Floral art at the base of a pillar.
This pattern is typical of the stonework throughout the fort. It incorporates symbols from Hindusim (the swastika), Islam (the 6-pointed star), and Christianity (a cross can be seen in the design centered on the 6-pointed star).

Agra - Part 1 - Taj Mahal

We drove the 200 km from Delhi to Agra in about 3 hours -- courtesy of a brand-new expressway. The old road took almost twice that long.

The main attraction in Agra is the Taj Mahal (literally, Crown Palace) -- a monumental tomb for the emperor's best-loved wife.

Gate into the main grounds of the Taj Mahal. You can just barely glimpse the main attraction through the portal.
The Mughal's architects (borrowed from Persia and Turkey) really knew how to make the most of a presentation.
This makes it look like the Taj Mahal is just beyond the gate. In reality, it's several hundred meters distant.
(It's that big!)
Luminous is the only word to describe the structure. The white marble glows in every light,
and the inlaid stones add color, depth, and the occasional sparkle.

A close-up of a stone inlay.
Just to prove that we were there. It might look "Photoshopped", but it's real.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Delhi Part 7 - Around Town

My last stop of the day was at the Swaminarayan Akshardham -- a modern, extravagant Hindu temple. Unfortunately, all cameras are banned from the site. (That's really a shame, but standard practice at most active temples, mosques, and churches). In addition to the temple, there is a lotus-shaped prayer/mediation garden and an amphitheater inspired by a square stepwell.

Lotus Garden and Stepwell Amphitheater. Not at the same scale. Photos courtesy of Google Maps.

To end, here is miscellany from a day in Delhi.

A parrot claims a niche in a crack in a monument near Qutub Minar.

Elephants on a bridge over the Yamuna River.

The smog is Delhi was particularly bad today. You can just barely see the sun in the upper left.
The domed buildings are only about 1 km (1/2 mile) away. (Photo was taken from our hotel room.)

Delhi - Part 6 - Humayan's Tomb

My next stop was Humayan's Tomb -- another spectacular World Heritage archeological site.

Upon entering the site, the first monument you come across is Isa Khan's Tomb and Mosque. This is an octagonal monument set in an octagonal garden. Really cool.

Isa Khan's tomb

I was thinking this was very interesting, but hardly worth the 250 Rs admission price. (Admittedly, this is only about $4, which would be a real bargain in the U.S. or Europe, but most of these sites have a 100 Rs admission. Indian nationals get a real bargain at 10 to 20 Rs.) But then I started walking through the other gardens.

It takes one wall, and two gates (gates in 20-ft tall walls, that is) to get to Humayan's tomb -- the Mughals really knew how to create views and build suspense (in an architectural sense).

Humayan's Tomb was built in the mid 1500's. It houses about 100 tombs in a maze of rooms and niches.
Some say Humayan's Tomb provided the inspiration for the architecture and gardens of the Taj Mahal.

The grounds have a highly geometric pattern -- the "Char Baghs" or "Four Gardens" laid out around the Tomb. A satellite view (courtesy of Google Maps) shows the layout:

The whole complex is being restored with funds from the Aga Khan Foundation, and the results are amazing.

The restored ceiling in the center dome of Humayan's Tomb.

Delhi - Part 5 - Qutb Minar

My first stop of the day was the Qutb Minar. The highlight of this site is a 72.5 m (238 ft) tall stone tower built in the early 13th Century. Impressive doesn't begin to do it justice.

To get a perspective of the size, note the size of the people at the bottom of the tower.
A close-up view of the first balcony.

A later ruler decided that he needed a tower twice the height. He died long before it was finished, and a 24.5 meter (80 ft) core remains -- it did not even get to the first balcony.

India's history and climate have exacted a toll on many of the surrounding structures.
But this does let you see how the interior is filled with rubble, then faced with exquisite stone work.

One of the niches (mihrabs) inIltutmish's Tomb -- part of the Qutb Minar complex.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Return to New Delhi

After a quiet week in Vapi, we flew back to New Delhi today so that Lon could attend the PaperEx conference. Lon worked; I took a 2 1/2 hour walk around Connaught Place and India Gate.

First stop was the Jantar Mantar, an early 18th Century observatory set up to tell time-of-day, along with solar, lunar, and horoscope observations.

Part of the Jantar Mantar. The colliseum-looking structure in the back is the solar observatory. The foreground structure was used to observer the sun. The bottom was filled with water so that the sun was observed by reflection rather than directly.
The interior of the lunar observatory.

Next, I walked over to India Gate. The hardest part was crossing streets filled with unyielding traffic.

The monument was modeled on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It honors India's war dead.
The Raj Path that connects India Gate and the Presidential Palace was modeled on the Champs Elysee
and the national mall in Washington, DC.
The full size of this monument can't be appreciated until you get up close.
This chain style is used throughout New Delhi. No need to worry about anyone sitting on the chain!

Around New Delhi:

There were a number of dogs sleeping at India Gate.
We saw a number of the school buses. You can cram in a lot more students if their book-bags are on top of the bus!
Strictly speaking, this number of passenger is illegal, but like much in India, it's rarely enforced.
Indian English has its own unique phrasing.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Sunday Adventure in Vapi

On Sundays we take long walks through the Vapi environs. Today we walked a total of about 12 km (7.5 miles). It's hot, but flat. People find it strange that we actually want to walk -- we are offered numerous opportunities to get on a scooter, in a car, or take a tuk-tuk.

We started with a round-trip to our Hindi lessons. After that, we took a tuk-tuk up to Morai (near Ruby Macons' second paper mill), and took a mostly pleasant walk through the countryside back to Vapi. It's absolutely amazing how fast the landscape can change in just a few hundred meters.

The first kilometer-or-so was through an area of textile mills and sewing factories. But once we left the industrial area, it was rice paddies, ponds, and villages. People in the village areas are friendly, but surprised to see us walking along the road. In particular, my short gray hair, which actually looks more blond than gray, and my "stunning" sun hat really draw the stares and smiles.

This bird is some sort of dometicated fowl. There were lots of hens and roosters along the road as well.
We saw storks, egrets, and herons in the ponds, but I didn't bring my good camera with me today, and they were too far away to get good pictures with the iPhone. (No, an iPhone can't do everything!)

Half-way between Morai and Vapi is the Micro Ink campus. You can't see much behind the walls, but it includes a cricket stadium, a stunning guest house, and two modern office buildings. It's hard to believe that such luxury exists in Vapi.

The cricket stadium is behind the wall on the right. On the left are the gates into the Micro Ink campus.
Most of the houses along the road are typical Indian brick huts (one or two rooms), but there are a few nice bungalows, and one rather out-of-place large bungalow just outside of town:

A mural (frieze?) on a bungalow wall in Vapi:

Each segment of the wall had different art work. I really like the modern interpretation of classic themes.

Our final adventure of the day was to cross the railroad tracks under the "flyover" rather than take the official sidewalk on the flyover. Vapi is bisected by the Western Railroad that connects Mumbai and Delhi. There's only one way to get a vehicle across the tracks -- the two-lane "flyover" that is one of the most congested streets in Vapi.

The amazing thing is that the "bazaar" goes right up to the tracks on both sides. On previous trips, we had noticed lots of people ducking behind the first row of booths that line the street, but we didn't realize that it was really easy to cross the tracks here. It's mostly clothes for sale in these booths. Street food is available in more permanent sheds on the roads that lead up to the tracks.

Looking at the west side of the tracks.

"Shops" on the east side of the tracks.

Finally, I've been waiting for this plant to bloom so that I could identify it. The leaves looked like a milkweed to me, but the plant and the flowers are huge. My botanical instincts were correct, though. It's "Giant Milkweed" (Calotropis gigantea) and can grow up to 3 m (10 ft) tall.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Delhi - Part 4 - Ugrasen ki Baoli (Stepwell)

Less than a kilometer from our hotel is the Ugrasen Stepwell (called a Baoli, or bath, in Delhi). This one was slightly smaller than and not as elaborate as the one near Ahmedabad. Nonetheless, it was well worth the visit. If you didn't know it was there, you certainly wouldn't just stumble upon it, even though it's just off busy Kasturba Gandhi Marg. Once you turn the corner into the lane, you've gone back into a different time.

The stepwell is behind the wall on the right. Even at this point I wasn't completely sure that there was something to see on this lane.
You enter the stepwell through this courtyard. The large tree is a banyan.
The well is about 15 m wide, 60 m long, and 30 m (? my estimate) deep from the top of the wall to the bottom.
This well is dry -- no water at the bottom.
Looking up from the bottom. This end of the well is covered, and there is a colony of bats hanging from the ceiling.
While at the well, you feel removed from New Delhi's bustle, but skyscrapers are only a few hundred meters away.

Delhi - Part 3 - New Delhi

Arriving in India via Delhi is like entering a pool in the shallow end -- you slowly go from the modern airport back in time to British New Delhi, then to Old Delhi. It's so "civilized" and planned (especially New Delhi).

Arriving in India via Mumbai is like jumping into the deep end fully clothed. I don't think anything can prepare you for the chaos of Mumbai -- the slums that go on forever in front of gleaming new skyscrapers -- the smoky pollution -- the trash and smells -- the intense mix of traffic from "goods carriers" to livestock. It's so "wild west" and unplanned.

* * * * *

Some sights around Connaught Place in New Delhi.

The main streets (boulevards or "margs") are shady and wide with sidewalks.

There were lots of bazaar shops and booths along the streets.
And in the Delhi Airport:

A life-size carved elephant greets travelers in Delhi's modern airport.