Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Beginning of the End

The last leg of my India excursion was a road trip to Rajasthan. Arnab's son, sister-in-law, two nieces, and nephew as well as his nephew's son came along. They names are Jay (as you know from before), Rinku, Tumpa, Kalpana, Babu and Jai, respectively. We took two cars and drove the gloriously paved Yamuna Expressway to our first stop: Agra. Agra, as you probably know, is home to one of the 7 wonders of the modern world, the Taj Mahal. After a quick check-in at the hotel we went to a view-point where we reached the incredible monument just in time for sunset.


The sunset itself was one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. 


The following morning we got to visit the Taj. From the parking lot to the entrance we took a horse-drawn carriage. 



We stopped along the way to purchase tickets and like many monuments before, the foreigner price was laughably (and shrewdly) many multiples that of the Indian national: R750 for me and R20 for Indians.

The Taj Mahal is every bit as impressive as it's reputation, although it is smaller than I had envisioned. The grounds are beautifully groomed and there were lots of people.




There is a platform in front where people with the special entry I paid for could go to take photos close up and straight on, but I didn't want to make our group wait for me and the heat was intense. Before entering the marble grounds of the Taj itself, we were required to wear paper coverings over our shoes.


We hired a guide that spoke Hindi and English to tell us about the monument. We were only allowed to stay inside the packed Taj for about 3 minutes for viewing of the tomb. I am still in awe of the workmanship that went into creating this gorgeous place.


After our Taj tour came to a close we were taken to a marble shop where they demonstrated how the semiprecious stones where inlayed into the marble. 


Our outing closed with a delicious meal at a nearby restaurant. Outside was a snake-charmer who worked his magic on terrified, but confident Jay.



Friday, September 26, 2014

Delhi

When we arrived in Delhi with our many suitcases, we were welcomed by Arnab's second family. Although Arnab's main India office is located in Delhi, the real reason we spent our last two weeks there was to visit the family of his wife who passed away a little over one year ago. Her family is warm and welcoming and was eager to make sure we had everything we needed, especially delicious home-cooked meals.

We took our first outing the day after we arrived. It was a Saturday and the streets were full, but I was pleasantly surprised by how swiftly the traffic moved in comparison to Bangalore. We rented a car for the duration of our stay so I sat comfortably in the front seat, no longer afraid for my life or car-sick like in the back seat of the cabs. 

I was happy that Tumpa, Arnab's niece, agreed to join us for the excursion. Our first destination was a famous market called Chandni Chowk, where it is said to be the cheapest place to by anything wholesale.


After one attempt to find parking nearby, we gave up, drove a ways away and hired a rickshaw to take us around.



Our rickshaw driver strongly recommended that we stay on the rickshaw in the thick of the crowd because pickpocketing is rampant so we complied and enjoyed the high energy movement and sounds all around us. From there he took us to a mosque called Jama Masjid that was very nearby. It is the best known mosque in India and was built 1650 - 1656.



There were places inside where women were not allowed, but we were allowed to ascend one of the towers. Tumpa was given a cloak to cover her shoulders when we enter - it made for a lovely fashion statement. The view from the top was beautiful.





After Jama Masjid, we got our car and parked it at the Red Fort, again not far at all from the market. The Red Fort was the residence of the Mughal Emperor for nearly 200 years. We went there to enjoy a light and sound show and by the time we arrived the sun had set so I didn't get any good photos. I got a shot of my first light and sound show, which is a history lesson with colored lights directed in different structures in front of you and accompanying sound effects to go with it.


It was a great introduction to Delhi. The next day we attempted to see the Lotus Temple, which we later got to see, but there was a very long line that we didn't want to wait in. I got to meet this lovely creature though.


Next on our list was Humayun's Tomb. 


 Arnab was struck by how similar in structure it was to the Taj Mahal.



I particularly enjoyed the various detail inside the domes. 


I also enjoyed climbing this gorgeous Banyan tree.



We ventured to Qutab Minar next. It is an early Islamic monument that stands 238 feet tall and is made of sandstone and marble. 



Before 1981 the general public was allowed inside to scale the 379 steps, but due to a tragic accident it has since been closed. The minar and its supporting structures were built on the ruins of a site home to the last Hindu rulers of Delhi so there was an intriguing mixture of Islamic and Hindu decor.




We got there just before sunset so the views were spectacular.




Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sick

Once again, my blogging attempt was delayed, but this time it was due to illness. 3 days before we left India I came down with a nasty case of traveller's "stomach," (I'll spare you the details). The day we departed I was able to eat again and throughout the 24 hour journey I was okay - not better, but okay. When we got home I spent a day unpacking and sorting, feeling pretty good. Then the stomach bug hit again, full force. I thought I had severe jet lag, but instead found out after a trip to urgent care and an IV, I was severely dehydrated. For the last 4 days I was unable to do anything but lie on the couch or in bed. I was starting to get worried yesterday when I felt no change as I took my next-to-last antibiotic, but, by the grace of God, I woke up this morning feeling like a million bucks.

In the calm before the storm, I forgot to post some drawings I completed before I left Bangalore. I am happy with the direction and plan to do a series of them from the photos I took in India. Any feedback is welcome, dear readers!



Now, I will start piecing together the rest of the trip. More to come soon!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Goodbye Bangalore

I have arrived back in the US safe and sound, but still want to complete the trip here - my apologies for the delay, the last leg of the trip was a whirlwind.

The ride back to Bangalore from Belur was as beautiful as the trip there.



We stopped at Gomateshwara, a Jain temple on a hill overlooking a small village named Shravanabelagola. We walked up 185 steep steps to get there.







Once again the amount of history, the beauty and the sheer scale was overwhelming. The temple dates back to the 10th century AD. The statue of Gomateshwara stands 57 feet tall.




Our last week in Bangalore felt nostalgic. Knowing we wouldn't come back left us seeing it with new eyes again. We had planned to take another weekend excursion to Hyderabad, but decided to stay back and relax. We went to two musical performances. The first was a group called Calcutta Chronicals. The leader, Debasish Bhattacharaya, is a slide guitar player who transforms the instrument into what sounds like a traditional Indian sarod. The group specializes in Indian fusion – classical Indian music with western style influnence. Bhattacharaya's brother played the tabla and his daughter was on vocals. It was mesmerizing.



The second performance we attendend was by world renown santoor player Pundit Shiv Kumar Sharma. It was at a very fancy mall, but the stage was outside with a lot of ambient noise that Pt Sharma was clearly unhappy about. He played beautifully for about 15 minutes and left.



We spent our last days saying goodbye to the bulls, the lizards, the “tampered” auto rickshaws, the colorful, intricate idols and seeing friends.







We had a nice evening and meal at Arnab Basu's house and met his family. Just before leaving our accomodations to catch the plane to Delhi we had lunch with Arnab's friend and former collegue Debajit.




Thank you Bangalore and friends! You were a wonderful introduction to India.