Colorful ripples reflect our boat’s passage under and past this remarkable color-and-pattern-changing bridge on the Yangtze River.
Remind you of anything?
I wanted to climb the steps, but it was not allowed, and a guard stood by to ensure everyone followed the rules. Still, the idea of climbing on the giant edifices tugged at me just as it does a child who steps into an enchanting playground. And that’s what this place looked like—a playground filled with odd-shaped structures that begged to be climbed.
In reality, though, we were at Jantar Mantar—an astronomical observatory built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, a soldier, scholar and ruler with a lifelong interest in math and astronomy. He founded the city of Jaipur in the 1720s and built five Jantar Mantar observatories in northern India.
Jantar Mantar means “instruments for calculation,” or “magical calculations.” The Jaipur observatory consists of 18 devices for measuring time, predicting eclipses, observing planet orbits; calculating the lunar calendar and predicting the start of the monsoon season. It’s main purpose, though, seems to have been casting horoscopes, which require a precise knowledge of the positions of the sun, moon, planets and stars at the moment of birth.
The largest instrument (with steps leading to its top) is a sundial 27 meters high, its shadow carefully plotted to tell the time of day to an accuracy of about two seconds. You can see the shadow moving at 1 millimeter per second, or roughly the width of a hand (6mm) every minute.
Influenced by the Islamic school of astronomy, Jai Singh also incorporated elements of early Greek and Persian observatories into his designs. The Jantar Mantars, however, are more complex, on a greater scale, and contain some completely unique designs and functions.
They were made almost entirely of masonry, with some engraved metal rings and plates set into masonry foundations, and they were built large because the larger the scale, the more accurate the measurements. Once finished, they could not be corrected or improved, and observations were limited to those involving the positions and motions of heavenly bodies that are visible to the naked eye.
Over the years, they’ve been restored from time to time—partly because they are tourist attractions, but also to keep them useful and scientifically authentic. Local astronomers still use them to predict the weather for farmers (although the accuracy is questionable), and students of astronomy and Vedic astrology are required to take some of their lessons at the observatories.
Because of their size and inflexibility, the Jantar Mantars were obsolete even before they were constructed and were soon replaced by smaller machined brass instruments and telescopes that proved more useful and accurate. Still, they are amazing reminders of ancient innovation and man’s quest to understand the universe.
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.
“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.
In my previous post, I took you on a visual tour of Lake Pichola in the India city of Udaipur, district of Rajasthan.
Today we embark on an exploration of Udaipur’s City Palace, which is one of the architectural marvels of Rajasthan.
Indeed, Udaipur City Palace on the banks of Lake Pichola is the most-visited tourist attraction of Udaipur and the largest palace complex in Rajasthan. It was started in 1559 and not completed until the 18th century because each new ruler kept adding on to it using granite and marble in a surprisingly harmonious blend of Medieval, European and Chinese architecture.
Inside its walls are eleven palaces, including Manak Mahal (Ruby Palace) that features figures of crystal and porcelain, Bhim Vilas and its collection of miniature paintings, and Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors). Other palaces hold Chinese and Dutch ornamental tiles, murals, wall paintings, silver art, inlay, and an amazing amount of colored glass.
There is also an arena where elephant fights were staged, and an area of marble arches where eight times, maharanas were known to weigh themselves and then distribute their weight in gold and silver to lucky locals.
In addition, there are bird cages and carrier-pigeon boxes in tower rooms; glass mosaics of peacocks representing the three seasons of summer, winter and monsoon; ubiquitous Indian scalloped arches, and towers that look out over the city on one side and Lake Pichola on the other.
Check out workers cleaning the palace walls while perched on bamboo scaffolding, which is really amazing when you remember that bamboo is a grass.
My apologies for the blurry photo of the palace gate. It was a grab shot as the bus was driving past, but I did want to show you the gate’s spikes. They were installed to prevent the enemy’s elephants from pushing through the gate.
Click on any photo below to enlarge, and then use the arrows to move back and forth. Likes and comments are always appreciated, and if you’ve been to India, I’d love to hear about your travels there.
Last September, we embarked from Shanghai on a 17-day cruise that made port at Nagasaki, Japan; Busan, South Korea; Taipei, Taiwan; Hong Kong; Vietnam; Bangkok, Thailand; and finally Singapore. My story (with photos) of the journey is featured in the Spring issue of TravelWorld International magazine, starting on page 6. http://issuu.com/travelworld/docs/_twi_magazine_spring_2015/1. Please enjoy the tour.
In 1956, actor Yul Brynner, as the king of Siam, sang and danced through a gilded palace in the movie, “The King and I.” The country of Siam has since changed its name to Thailand, but its Grand Palace in Bangkok is still something to sing about.
The older Thai capital at Ayutthaya in the North had been destroyed in 1767 during a war with Burma, and newly proclaimed King Rama I ordered his men to remove bricks and other materials from the forts, walls and palaces (but not the temples) of this ruined city and send them by barge down the Chao Phraya river to the new capital city of Bangkok. Not only was he updating his wooden palace, but to solidify fortifications around his riverside capital, Rama I dug canals along its eastern edge, turning the city into an artificial island.
The Grand Palace is not one large structure in the tradition of most European palaces. It’s divided into four main courts separated by walls and gates and originally housing royal offices, state ministries, the royal chapel, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, ceremonial throne halls, and the king’s harem quarters. After a second expansion during the reign of Rama II, the palace covered an area of 2,351,000 square feet and was Thailand’s administrative and religious center, with thousands of inhabitants including guardsmen, servants, concubines, princesses, ministers and courtiers. And just like Rome’s Vatican City, the Grand Palace was considered a city within a city, subject to its own set of laws.
Gradually the government ministries grew in size and moved to other locations. The King, too, relocated to more modern palaces. In 1932, a student-launched revolution overthrew the absolute monarchy of King Rama VII, replacing it with a constitutional monarchy. Today, the Grand Palace still serves as a royal ceremonial venue, as well as a museum and tourist attraction.
I found the Grand Palace to be a photographer’s eye-candy wonderland rife with golden temples; bejeweled pavilions; and giant, elaborately painted warriors. I’d love to return, without having to follow a tour guide, and get lost in the visual magic of it all. Have you been to Bangkok’s Grand Palace? If so, what were your impressions?
Click on any image to see the slideshow.
Rong Gao (Dragon Bridge), Da Nang, Vietnam. Built in 2013 and designed by U.S. engineers, this dragon breathes fire and hissing smoke (water mist) each weekend after sunset. Now that I’ve photographed it during the day, returning at night is on my Bucket List.
A mere twenty-one years ago, Pudong—on the eastern shore of the Huangpu River, opposite the city’s celebrated Bund—was a mix of farmland, squatters’ shacks and swamp. Now it has a population of more than five million and is home to some cloud-scrapers even Superman would have to think twice about leaping over in a single bound. As these behemoths neared completion, Shanghai residents gave them nicknames.
Designed by architects in Chicago, the Jin Mao Tower has a pointy top that looks like those needles you stick into eggs that whisk them from inside the shell. Some call it the Egg Beater, others the Marinade Injector or Syringe. As a business center and home to the Grand Hyatt Shanghai hotel, it stands at 1380 feet or 88 stories high. For an entrance fee, you can shoot up at thirty feet per second to the top floor observation deck along with 999 other like-minded people for a stunning view.
Once the tallest structure in China from 1994 to 2007, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower at 1,535 feet (387-foot broadcast antenna included) is no longer the tallest, but definitely the most unique. Its eleven spheres, fifteen observation levels, and three gigantic columns host a combination of exhibition facilities, restaurants, shopping mall and hotel. The highest observation deck, at 1148 feet, is known as the Space Module and has an outside area with glass floor. Its architects designed it to resemble two dragons playing with pearls. It’s called, simply, the Pearl Tower.
Next up is the Shanghai World Financial Center. It’s a sleek, modern beauty at 1,614 feet (101 floors), the glass-and-metal façade reflecting sky and clouds. It, too, has a sightseeing top floor and can survive a devastating magnitude-8 earthquake (good to know if you’re sightseeing on that top floor when the earth shakes). With its distinctive trapezoid hole near the top, it’s easy to see why it garnered the nickname, Bottle Opener.
And at the top of the heap, so to speak, is the almost-finished Shanghai Tower. When completed in 2015, it will stand 2,073-feet high, with five basement levels, 121 floors above ground and five podium floors, and it will be, not only China’s tallest building, but also the second tallest in the world (Dubai’s Burj Khalifa is taller). Since Shanghai is on a seismic belt, engineers poured a twenty-foot-thick underground baseboard over almost a thousand 282-foot-deep foundation piles to ensure stability. And, since Shanghai is also subject to frequent typhoons, they designed the building to twist about one degree per floor to offset high winds. The building spirals upwards like a snake climbing a tree. Because of its twist, it’s called the Screwdriver. Or sometimes the Egg Whisk.
These buildings and many others in Pudong draw attention to themselves in the evening by switching on an incredible, constantly changing and colorful LED lightshow. I admit to sitting by my Bund hotel-room window after dark and watching, fascinated, as the lighting display created a mesmerizing backdrop for the barges, ferries and sightseeing boats plying the river.
The Pearl Tower with its bulbous spheres is easy to spot, but can you pick out the Egg Beater, Bottle Opener and Screwdriver? Hint: at night, the unfinished and lightless Screwdriver disappears in the blackness.
The most delightful maze in the world is not a maze—it’s a 5-acre plot of tranquility in Shanghai’s Old Town. But once you pay your entrance fee and step inside Yu Gardens, it’s easy to get hopelessly turned around amid the tapestry of winding walkways, caves, red pavilions, carp-filled lakes, stone bridges, whimsical doorways and myriad artful rock formations (which I suspect are feng shui inspired). “Haven’t we been to this spot before,” I asked my husband more than once as we wandered around gawking at the aforementioned sights, and peering through different-shaped openings that framed the garden’s treasures.
The largest and most prestigious of its era in Shanghai, Yu Gardens was built in fits and starts during the Ming Dynasty between 1559 and 1577 by Pan Yunduan as a peaceful place for his aged father. It was first opened to the general public in 1780. Despite damage during the First Opium War, Taiping Rebellion, and in 1942 by the Japanese, it was repaired by the Shanghai government and declared a national monument in 1982.
Don’t expect orchids and other floral arrays here, but if you’re ever in Shanghai, Yu Gardens is a must-see. Be sure to go when it first opens to get ahead of the tour busses.
If you’d like to wander with me through this enchanting garden. just click on any photo to start the visual tour. But, as the sign says, “Be Careful,” because here there be dragons.
It’s an ironic story line—after raiding and pillaging towns and villages in countries throughout the north Atlantic, Vikings returned home and went to church.
Perhaps they did, but if so, they didn’t attend services in a stave church—so named for its interior, weight-bearing pillars, or staves. There may be dragons on the roof, but stave churches weren’t built until after the Viking Age ended. That date is traditionally marked in England by the failed invasion attempt by Norwegian King Harald III, who was defeated by Saxon King Harold Godwinson in 1066. Ireland and Scotland note their own dates, predicated on victories against Vikings.
At one time there were more than a thousand stave churches throughout Europe. Most were built between circa 1130 and 1350 AD. Construction stopped when the Black Death started to spread through Europe, and congregating in small spaces became life threatening.
And the stave church is indeed a small space. So small, in fact, that most of its congregation had to stand—men and boys on the right, women and girls on the left. The elderly and sick could sit on benches along the walls.
Today only 28 stave churches survive, and all are in Norway where there is a long tradition of building in wood (remember those sturdy Viking ships). Earlier churches were built on often-soggy ground and succumbed to wood rot. Lesson learned. Stone foundations solved that problem.
While visiting the stave church in Borgund, I was surprised to see that it—like other stave churches—had no windows. The only light entered through a few small portholes high up on the walls. The altarpiece depicts Christ’s crucifixion. Animal masks adorn the south door, and serpents and dragon-like creatures decorate the main-door side panels and lintel. On the roof turrets, Christian crosses and dragonheads keep each other company. Old legends die hard I guess, and it seems that the parishioners were hedging their bets—honoring old gods and new.
I found it interesting that the timber used in construction of the church was most likely seasoned on the root, strategic cuts drawing the tar to the surface before the tree was felled. After construction and during renovations, additional tar was applied to protect the wood.
It was common to bury the dead under the church floor, but that practice stopped at the end of the nineteenth century thanks to the unpleasant smell. However, stillborn infants and babies who died before being baptized could not be buried in the consecrated ground of the churchyard. Tiny coffins were placed under the floor, even in recent times. It seems odd to me that the ground around the church was considered consecrated, but the ground under the church was not.
If you stand inside the church and look up, you’ll see that the roof above the nave looks like an inverted boat with ribs. Hmmmmm! I wonder what inspired that design.
Today, September 21, 2012 is the thirtieth anniversary of the UN’s International Day of Peace. To commemorate this day and its message, Ailsa has asked bloggers to create posts of white—representing peace. Her white photos include a fitting quote by Martin Luther King and the snow-covered Imagine memorial to peace activist John Lennon. http://wheresmybackpack.com/2012/09/20/travel-theme-white/
Here in Hawaii, we look at peace through the terrible lens of war, and nothing exemplifies that more than the glistening white Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, which hovers over the sunken battleship—a watery grave for 2,340 servicemen—reminding us all to put peace above the horrendous destruction of war.
We may take it for granted, but, along with vision, hearing, smell and taste, touch is an invaluable sense. So how can a photographer express the sense of touch in a photograph? I hope the following images will evoke the feeling of touch through texture: the softness of a wool sweater, the rough surface of a cement fountain, the knobbly coldness of sculpted metal, fluffy duck feathers, a fish’s slippery scales. And if you should imagine the twinge of a splinter from rough-hewn wood, or the crisp and salt-crusted surface of a French fry, if you know what these objects feel like, the photos have served their purpose by awakening your own memories of texture and touch.
Which ones are your favorites?
Can you spot the ringer?
While in Europe this summer, our cruise ship stopped at Helsingborg, Sweden, and we spent several hours exploring the town. One must-see on our agenda was The Keep. Once a castle stood on the hill overlooking Helsingborg’s streets, but now the only thing left is The Keep—a walled entrance behind which stands a lone remaining tower. We climbed the steps up to The Keep, and I looked back to capture this image of the town (far) framed by one of the arches (near).
Helsingborg, Sweden is across the narrow Oresund strait from Helsingor, Denmark—a town famed for its Kronborg Castle, which is said to have been the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet.