Finally had an Indian train ride; Jaipur to Jhansi. On the platform waiting for our late train:

the fruit and water seller.

We stopped in fertile farming country to visit this woman’s small farm.

And see her stepwheel well.

Powered by their prize possession

Down the road, their neighbors make bricks.

While across the road, theirs the temple of flags honors the memory of a local sadhu.

Lots of people talk about the Taj Mahal being on their bucket list.  I didn’t think of it as  reason to go to India, just a nice thing to do while here.  But then, I saw it!

Okay, so you can’t see it yet.  But after walking  3 miles (all streets were closed to traffic for Agra marathon), seeing this sunrise on the grounds was quite inspiring.

The main gate. It was hazy, my photos will never equal the pros but maybe you can experience a little of what I saw.

 

A view from the side. Can you see the beautiful marble? The Taj was built by Akbar, the third Mughal emperor or India as a mausoleum for his beloved wife. He hired artisans from all over the world and it took 20,000 men 28 years to build. It has a complicated infrastructure which makes it probably one of the first earthquake resistant buildings. The marble is incised and decorated with semi precious stones. This technique was imported from Persia and is still practiced in Agra today. Before the Taj, most buildings were sandstone.

This close up of one small piece of decoration has jasper, carnelian, fossilized stone and one I forget.  The marble was incised, the pieces of stone were cut to fit the incision and then pasted in.  The marble which is much harder than Italian marble, is still translucent and shimmers in the light.  The carnelian used is also translucent and adds a red glow.

Made me speechless from every angle. Tomorrow we go to see the 10th century temples of Khajuraho; some of which feature erotic motifs. Happy V day!

In this small town in the middle of nowhere, is a fort and palace dating back to the 17th century.

The fort was built by the Mughals starting in the 15th century.

The palace inside the fort was a marvel of architecture. Being in such a remote place it is in private hands and part of it has been restored and made into a hotel.

This tile design is original with no restoration needed. There’s a bath in the women’s quarters that had hot and cold running water in the 16th century when we, in America were living in log cabins!

The more than Olympic size pool with an architectural folly in the middle for resting.

An architectural gem in the middle of nowhere!

Going off to a camel fair in the middle of nowhere took many bumpy hours in a bus and meant no access to the outside world for a few days.  We stayed in a temporary tent city, rode camels, looked at camels, watched camel trades and became one of the attractions!

The higher the nose, the more valuable the camel!

These intricate designs are painstakingly shaved into the fur and made this camel the hit of the show!

One of the traders.

Sometimes the family comes too.

Wanna see more??

A whirlwind of sights and sounds and smells during our three days in Delhi.  Here’s some of the sights that inspired me.

After a wild paddy-cab (bicycle rickshaw) ride, we went to the Jama Masjid Mosque; the largest in India, built by Shah Jehan, the 5th Mughal emperor in 1650.

45,000 people can pray here.

Washing in the sacred pool

On to the Mahatma Ghandi Memorial, Raj G’haat, the stately cremation ground with a serene monument containing some of his ashes.

Children dressed for the occasion.

The simple memorial

School girls visiting with their class.

We also went to see Bangla Sahib Gurudwara, approx. 200 year old Sikh temple.  The building is all marble.

But the inspiring part was the kitchen where food is prepared to feed anyone who needs.

More to come…

Well it’s been a few days and I’m actually in Delhi, India but I wanted to say goodbye to Bhutan by sharing some pictures of the people. Everywhere we went people greeted us, smiling broadly. The children were infectious.

The families were multi–generational.

And the monks were inspiring

On our last day we visited a dzong at the same time as the Bhutanese Prime Minister.  He came over to our group, shook our hands and chatted about  Penn State football; he had done post grad studies there.  Although we weren’t allowed to take pictures as we were inside a very holy place, he spent several minutes with us to the astonishment of our guide, Tandy. From visiting a weekly market

to our unexpected encounter, it was  a day of memories.

In this remote kingdom internet access is iffy.  It’s been a few days and with everything Ive done and seen I could probably write 5 or 6 posts.  However, I will just try one as the connection is painfully slow.

Bhutan is slowly joining the rest of the world.   They got cellphones in 2004 and the internet shortly thereafter.  All Bhutanese are required to wear traditional dress at work and when interfacing with the government.  Men wear the gho and women wear kira.  All buildings are limited to 5 stories and must include Bhutanese designs and painting.  Here’s some pics of typical designs:

One of the eight auspicious/lucky signs in Bhutanese Buddhism; seen on clothing, tanghkas, wall paintings.

To ward off all evil

A typical building front

Decorative detail on a dzong, a former fortress now used as a monastery

Tomorrow we hike up to Tiger’s Nest and hopefully Ill be able to share that with you.

Nameste

I’m in love with this  magical kingdom! From the moment we landed my senses have been absorbing every sight, smell and sound.  The air is crisp and clear, the rivers sparkle, the forest are pungent with pure smells and everyone smiles.

This is our guide, Tandin on the left and our young driver on the  right.  Note their traditional attire and the valley behind them.

  • Bhutan has approx. 650,000 people
  • They became a democratic constitutional monarchy in 2008
  • There are no traffic lights
  • More than 75% of the people practice Buddhism with Nepali Hindus comprising more than 20% of the balance

Everywhere you look are monasteries, stupas and prayer flags.

Bhutanese style vertical prayer flag

National Museum formerly a Dzong

A Dzong is a monastery which also functioned as a fortress.  This Dzong in the round was restored and is used as the National Museum. Like most buildings in Bhutan, it is unheated and has very steep steps between the six different levels. No pictures were allowed inside unfortunately.  It is filled with Tangkas from the 17th century, incredible Buddhist statuary, arms and armor, textiles, stuffed indigenous animals, massive urns, teapots, jewelery and stamps!

Turning a Prayer Wheel

From here we drove to Thiampu, the largest city (population 37,000!) and settled in for the night.

After a long but comfortable flight (plane was only partly full so I was able to snag 3 seats) we arrived in the dark to a cacophony of car and truck horns and insane driving! Spent a day touring and biggest impression was garbage and dust.

On the Ganges

As it was a national holiday, families were enjoying the parks and open spaces. A special treat is a carriage ride.

We visited a warren of streets where the business is producing statuary of the gods and goddesses.

But my lasting impression of Kolkata is the noise, dirt and density.

On Monday I leave for Bhutan!  I started planning this trip last summer and now it’s really happening.  Forty plus years ago I spent two months in Nepal and a few days in India.  Finally, finally I am going back to the sub-continent of my greatest fascination. I plan to upload pictures and give them some context whenever the technology permits.  I doubt I’ll be able to do so from Bhutan but will try once I get to New Delhi. Stay tuned….

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