Saturday, September 26, 2009

Heart of India -- December 4-25, 2008

As usual, I'm manipulating the dates so that you can view this trip in the order in which I took it. Keep clicking the link labeled "Older Posts" at the bottom of each page to continue along on the trip. Any photo may be clicked to show it larger, if you wish.

My crack traveling companion and I braved the Indian sub-continent for nearly a month, trying to cram in all the experiences we could, not so very long after the bombings in Mumbai (Bombay). As usual, everyone thought we were crazy to go, but also as usual, we had a perfectly safe and marvelous time!

Our first stop was Delhi, Old and New. Old is more interesting, if you ask me. Even when Bombay and Madras were mere trading posts and Calcutta a mud-hut village, Delhi had been the seat of an empire for 500 years. The best way to see the old city is by rickshaw!

It's not really like you could travel any other way in these narrow alleys and when there are two rickshaws coming in opposite directions, best to avert your eyes...

...just don't look up, because the array of power and telephone lines strung every which way above the alleys is pretty terrifying!

No, best to keep your eyes on the display of sari fabric in the windows...

...and the unintentionally amusing signage.

Jama Masjid

After our hair-raising ride through the alleys of the Chandni Chowk bazaar, it was lovely to have the expanse of the beautiful red sandstone and white marble Jama Masjid, which means 'the Friday mosque,' the largest in India, to wander through.

Built by order of Shah Jahan, who also commissioned the Taj Mahal, it was finished in 1656 A.D. and can hold up to 25,000 worshipers

Details of the Jama Masjid

Marble 'prayer rugs' on the floor of the mosque

Raj Ghat

Raj Ghat is a memorial on the banks of the Yamuna River to Mahatma Ghandi and marks the spot where he was cremated January 31, 1948

New Delhi

New Delhi, I was surprised to hear, is largely the product of Sir Edward Lutyens, probably best known in the West for his graceful garden benches...who knew? The pollution in Delhi is truly awful, so the haze does make distance shots a bit dicey.

This is the Indian Parliament building, looking more like a sports arena than anything else:

Qutb Minar

Qutb Minar was inspired by, and intended to surpass, a minaret in Afghanistan; started in 1193, the first Muslin ruler of Delhi was only able to complete the base before his death. A number of his successors added their own bits and pieces. This is an older small mosque on the site, still in use today.

Built on the ruins of a complex that originally include 27 Hindu temples, which were razed and their materials used for construction of the later monument.

Qutb Minar, continued

Islam proscribes the depiction of living creatures, so most decoration on the stonework consists of inscriptions from the Qu'ran

This iron pillar, over 7 meters high, is one of the foremost metallurgical curiosities in the world. It was originally erected in front of a temple to Vishnu about 402 A.D. (although some sources say as early as 912 B.C.E.)., but moved to this complex around 1233 A.D. It's 97% pure wrought iron and has withstood corrosion for over 1600 years in the open air, quite a testiment to the skill of metallurgists in ancient India.
Here you can see some of the beautiful Hindu columns salvaged from the prior complex on this site and re-used in the construction of the Muslim complex.

A beautiful pierced stone screen in one of the windows:

The main point of Qutb Minar, of course, is the pillar itself, variously speculated on as a minaret for calling the faithful to prayer, a victory tower proclaiming the victory of Islam over Hinduism, or a watch tower for defense. It's exquisite, whatever its purpose:

Ala-ud-din Khilji started building the Alai Minar, below, and intended it to be two times higher than the Qutb Minar. Construction was abandoned, just after the completion of the first story core, shortly after Ala-ud-din's death in 1316 CE, and never taken up by his successors. This core would have been covered by dressed stone eventually.

Smitri Gandhi

When in Delhi, Gandhi would stay with his friends, the Birlas, who gave this house to Delhi as a memorial to Gandhi after his death. The Birlas were (and still are) quite wealthy, as you can see from the design and details of the house.

Gandhi's own quarters, of course, were quite spartan, in comparison the the luxury of the rest of the house.
Gandhi was accustomed to meet weekly with his followers in the back garden of the house; on January 30, 1948, a fifth and final assassination attempt was made on Gandhi's life in this back garden. The kiosk below marks the spot of his death.


Gandhi himself was well known as a weaver and largely wore only clothing made from cloth he had woven himself. He believed that hand spinning, combined with weaving on hand looms, was the only logical way for the people of India to become self-sufficient and independent. He would be pleased, I think, to know that they still teach and demonstrate hand spinning at Birla House.

Sikh Temple in Delhi

After an excellent Chinese lunch, our charming guide Prabhu took us to a Sikh temple.

There is a beautiful square marble colonnaded sacred lake at the temple complex...
...where, as you can see, we wore orange headscarves and fascinated the locals.
This is the huge kitchen where thousands are served daily.