India — the highlights

I’ve been putting off writing about India until I got my head around it. It was intense. Perhaps taking a two week trip to spend five nights in the country of destination isn’t the ideal way to get acquainted, but neither do I think five weeks of residency (my original plan) would have been an ideal alternative. There is no “perfect way” to see India, just like there’s no “perfect way” to dance with an elephant. The fact that you are doing it at all should be notable.

I’ll start with the places that made the biggest impression on me, the ones people read about in guidebooks and that are listed on the itinerary.

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One of the places that moved me most was the Ghandi Museum in Delhi where walls are filled with photographs, biographical information and quotations from the physically diminutive spiritual dynamo who transformed India, and still wields transformative power in the lives of anyone who will listen.

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I wasn’t familiar with the culture of khadi. How could this be, when I was raised in a family dedicated to making cotton better?  It is the whole reason India has a spinning wheel on its flag. I photographed volumes of information. I could have spent a whole day here instead of just the few hours. So much more to learn!

The Birla Temple in Delhi, one of the few Hindu temples which opens its doors to people of all faiths. They don’t, however, allow photographs. Sorry! But here’s a link where you can see the outside. We entered in mid-morning, leaving our shoes in an anteroom and walked barefooted over red and white veined marble floors, immaculately clean under intricately carved ceilings. The walls, spires and towers were red sandstone trimmed with white and gold paint. Shrines within the temple – dedicated to Ganesha, Vishnu, Shiva and others — were decked mostly in marigolds, which reminded me of our Mexican Day of the Dead. It is colorful, color-filled worship.  Guadalupe has nothing on this pantheon.

 

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The glow of the Taj Mahal in morning’s first sunbeams is magic. It is essential to get here early, to see the extensive gardens, stone work, pools and fountains that lie between the entry gate and the main attraction before harsher rays and teeming hordes dilute the effect of pure radiance.

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Obviously, it was undergoing some restoration work when we were there.

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The glory is all outside in the intricate inlays and stone work, the amplitude of the gardens and fountains; the interior of the exquisite building is claustrophobic, confining. After all, it’s a tomb.

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The vast empty spaces of the abandoned colonial capital of Fatehphur Sikri. All of the Muslim engineering skills that have attracted millions to the Alhambra in Spain are present here, but without water the artistry is lifeless. Canals and fountains are filled not with liquid, but with the dry pollen of pepper trees. The elaborately carved red sandstone facades look out on vacant plazas.

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The Muslim influence is seen not only in the water engineering, but in elaborately carved screens. They let in light and air, but keep out the sun’s harsh rays.

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It is a ghostly place.

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The Amber (also Amer) Fort, crowning some of the hills surrounding Jaipur, provided me another time warp.

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I rode an elephant to get up to it, the last of our group to step elegantly from a stone platform onto the twin bed contraption that bore us onward and upward.Never mind what we left behind us.

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All I could see of the elephant was the top of his head beyond the turban of Ali, the driver.  The hordes of clamoring vendors had followed the main body of the tour group far ahead, and Ali, the elephant and I were left behind plodding and swaying our way up the medieval road in silence. In my mind I was a maharani; there was nothing outside to contradict the illusion.

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We had a long time to explore the many nooks and crannies of the Amber Fort — which is essentially a palace.But there were palaces within the palace for different seasons of the year and different slants of the sun.

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The designs made me think of the interior of the churches we saw last summer in the south of France.

That is the rundown on the tourist highlights. As impressive as they were, they did not have as great an effect on me as India itself did. For that I will write further.

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