Monthly Archives: February 2016

India: Taj Mahal—Monument to Love

 

In a faraway land called India, a great emperor named Shah Jahan adored his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. When she died giving birth to their 14th child, he built her the most magnificent tomb in the history of the world—the Taj Mahal.

Agra 597 “We’ll meet at the bus at 5:30am,” our India tour guide informed us the night before. “We want to be first in line.”

Ugh! Near the front of the line, we stood in the dark for what seemed like forever, waiting for the gates to open. Luckily we were squeezed between “stand in line” railings, so I had something to lean on in my groggy condition.

When we finally entered at sunrise, all sleepiness disappeared, and we were struck by the ethereal beauty of one of the world’s most beloved edifices. Consistently named one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the ivory-white marble tomb takes your breath away when you see it up close for the first time. Its name is Persian for “Crown of Palaces,” and so it is, reigning on a marble base, or plinth, at the far end of a narrow reflecting pool, and guarded by a minaret at each corner.

The tomb was commissioned in 1632 and finished in 1643 using materials from all over Asia (white marble from India, jade and crystal from China, turquoise from Tibet, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, sapphire from Sri Lanka), and it’s thought that more than 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials. The rest of the 42-acre complex—finished between five and ten years later—includes a mosque, guesthouse and formal gardens. Total cost in 2015 U.S. dollars—$827 million. The project employed some 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects. In 1983 it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India.”

Clever subterfuge: To protect the building during WWII, the Indian government erected scaffolding around it in anticipation of air attacks by the Japanese Air Force. Scaffolding was again used during the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971 to mislead bomber pilots.

To this day, the Taj Mahal still stands as a symbol of love. Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore poetically described it as “the tear drop on the cheek of time.” And so it was for Shah Jahan. When he died, he was laid to rest in a sarcophagus next to his beloved Mumtaz.

Categories: Architecture, Art, Asia, India, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Touring India—the Road to Ranthambhore

Ranthambore 432

The troop-carrier jeep bounced along a dirt road carpeted with large potholes that looked like they’d been blown out by meteorites. I tightened my grip on side railings and those attached to the back of the seat in front of me, but still, every pothole sent me careening in four different directions. Twice, my mouth connected with the side bar, and once, while I was looking up, the bar behind my head rose up to crash into my skull.

We were in the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, on safari, looking for wild tigers. So far, we’d spotted a lot of sika and samboor deer—including two young bucks testing their fighting mettle by locking horns—and several birds. But no tigers. Where the deer were, the tigers weren’t, which makes sense from a deer’s point of view.

To give you some background, the Ranthambhore Reserve covers an area of 1334 square kilometers, was started in 1973, and is home to six species of cats, three species of mongoose and marsh crocodile, an estimated 38 species of other mammals (the deer would fit in here), 315 species of birds and 402 species of plants. Whew!

The road wound up and down, crossing streams and the aforementioned potholes, through a thickly forested underbrush area categorized as tropical dry deciduous. If the tigers had been there, we might not have been able to see them in the tall grass. I was disappointed—and a little banged up. So, to avoid the whiplash affecting my lower back, I opted out of the next morning’s safari. My husband did go, though, and we were both happy about the results. Not only did they spot a tiger, but also a marsh crocodile, monkeys, and different birds.

Tigers are king in Ranthambhore, and tiger images are everywhere, including at a craft shop known as the Village Women Crafts, where sari-clad women (sometimes with a small child nearby) sew and weave beautiful designs into wall hangings, clothing and other fabric items. It may be a woman’s craft center, but men, it seems, are the ones painting tiger images. All the work is exquisite.

Another craft center again offered the vibrantly colored fabrics India is known for, as well as camel-pulled carriage rides. It was here that a group of sassy local barely-teenage boys (the girls are much more reserved) presented themselves to me to have their picture taken, and, wanted to take their picture with me. It was a delightful international exchange, and we all had fun. For me, this is one of the big perks of travel—random exchanges between people. It helps us bond with people of other cultures—and they with us—and reminds us that we are really all the same, despite different skin colors, religions and customs.

To see the slideshow, just click on any photo and use the arrows to move back and forth.

 

 

 

Categories: Animals, Asia, India, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized, wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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