Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Taj Mahal

A little background on the Taj Mahal - it was built between 1631-1654 by the Moslem Emporer Shah Jahan as a tomb for his beloved wife Mumtaz, who died giving birth to their 14th (yikes!) child. Apparently the Emperor was devastated at her death - a court chronicler wrote that "before her death the emperor had but twenty white hairs in his beard, but thereafter many more".
The Taj Mahal truly has to be seen to be believed (it sounds cliched, but it's true). Words don't do it justice, so I'm not even going to try, and even as I look over my pictures, it doesn't seem real. One thing that still seems real to me, however, is this little monkey that was crawling around behind the main building and launched itself at my face as I was clicking pictures of it. Isn't it cute?

Pictures pt.II

Ok, for some reason I couldn't load more than 3 pictures onto that last post, so I'll be doing this in installments, I guess. actual snake charmer! I had no idea that they really existed. We were all sceptical as to whether the snake was real - it looked pretty stationary and kind of plastic-y - until he stopped playing and it lunged at a nearby tourist. Cool turban, no?

This is a view of Jodhpur, the "Blue City". Back in the day, goldsmiths were required to paint their houses blue. This picture should give you an idea of the roaring jewelry trade in Jodhpur back then.

This picture is from one of my favorite places on the trip. Palaces and forts can get pretty boring after a while, so I really liked this outdoor observatory built by a Jaipur maharaja in the 1700s. It was almost like a sculpture park, filled with all sorts of kooky big instruments for telling time, the positions of the stars, and zodiac stuff. This was the highlight - a 90-foot sundial that still tells time suprisingly accurately. I believe it was only about 30 seconds off.

This is a photo from within a mosque at a monument called Fatehpur-Sikri which we visited en route to Agra. For about 10 rupees, you can buy a small piece of this sacred red and gold thread and tie it to the carved marble window, making a wish at the same time. You can't even see through it anymore at the bottom - it's completely choked with threads.

Next stop - the Taj Mahal!

North India trip

Hello everybody - I've just returned from a trip around North India and I have pictures galore for you all. First, we visited Rajasthan (the name literally means "land of kings"), a state bordering on Gujarat that is famous for its palaces and forts. It's also a land of camels, and with that in mind we went on a desert "safari", with everyone riding into the desert on camels and playing in the dunes. Here's me and my friend Sam on a camel named (I'm not making this up) Michael Jackson:

Note the coats - it was freezing! Hooray for cold! Because I'm a big fan of Rajasthani turbans - huge bulbous creations in neon colors - I snuck a picture of this guy through the window of the bus. (Hence the water bottle.)

In Jaisalmer, there are tons of old buildings like the one below. The area around the open windows is made up of intricately carved marble screens, so that people inside can see out, but no one outside can see in. This is due to the purdah system, which was prevalent in Rajasthan for hundreds of years and dictated that a woman could not be seen by any men but the ones in her family. In fact, when the queen of Jodhpur (a nearby city) visited England in the early 1900s, the British media went crazy trying to get a picture of her, as she was always completely covered in veils from head to toe. When a photographer snapped a picture of her bare ankle as she was getting down from a car, it made the front page. The outraged royal family immediately bought up every copy of the paper in the country.
The purdah system has been mostly abolished in Rajasthan, and is now seen only in villages. While we drove from city to city, we occasionally passed through small towns with women passing ghostlike through the streets, their faces covered in veils.