Today is our second day in Jaipur, which is the largest city in Rajasthan. We got here yesterday, after a stop to see the only Brahma temple in India. There are three main gods in Hinduism, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. There are temples everywhere, but only this one for Brahma. We've learned that Brahma only has one temple because he is the creator, and creation only needs to happen once. Vishnu, however, is the protector and helper, and he's got a lot of temples. Shiva is the destroyer (necessary for new beginings), and yes, there are also a lot of temples for Shiva too. In fact, this morning we saw a temple at the Amber Fort that was dedicated to Kali (another name for Shiva). This morning, there was an active worship service going on while we visited, and we were right in the middle of the chants and prayers. It was colorful and flower-scented as we tried to get a view of the Kali idol at the front. By the way, the other god who we seem to see around a lot is Ganesh, the god who blesses new journeys. Every house and city gate, every hotel, almost every building has a picture or painting of Ganesh by the front door. Ganesh is the son of Shiva, and has the head of an elephant (long story). But we have kind of adopted Ganesh as the symbol for our trip. Appropriate somehow.
And as for elephants, we in fact all rode elephants this morning on the long walkway up to the Amber Fort. On the one hand, it was a really interesting experience to be riding in a carrier on the back of an elephant. On the other hand, the elephants didn't really seem very happy. All in all, it was worth experiencing, but I think some of us have some mixed feelings.
Yesterday, after we arrived in Jaipur, we went to see the Observatory. This was an amazing and fantastical place, with huge stone instruments that precisely measured all kinds of phenomena. Using a 17 degree angle, there were at least 4 giant vertical sundials (one of which must have been 5 stories tall!). Each of the sundials could measure with very precise accuracy the time. There were also large two-story zodiac dials to measure the progression of the constellations, one dial for each sign of the zodiac. There were large inverted bowls in the ground, with lines in the inlaid stone slabs, which could measure how the constellations moved into each zodiac sign. There was a huge circle made of rock slabs, looking sort of like stonehenge only much more regular and complex; this circle somehow could track every single movement of all the visible stars at night. The Observatory was all outdoors, like a giant monument park made up of fantastical stone machines. (And you might be able to tell that some of us geeked out a bit while we were there)....
We saw the Amber Fort this morning, up in the mountains outside of Jaipur. We have seen a number of forts and palaces, most from the Moghul time period of India history. But we could see, from the Amber Fort, the ruins of the fort built by the previous rulers, which dated all the way back to the 11th century. The Moghul time period brought a lot of Islamic influence to this part of India, so we have lots of examples of Purdah (with amazingly beautiful carved marble screens to keep the women hidden). We have also noticed that this style of architecture (technically called Indo-Islamic) looks very much like what we might call Spanish style, with large courtyards ringed with covered walkways and doors opening out onto the walkways and into the courtyards. There are also a lot of arches and tile-work mosaics. It's given us an appreciation for how the Spanish (and by extension, Californian) style must have been influenced by Islamic architectural ideas. We have also noticed how traditional Rajasthanti folk dancing has elements of Middle Eastern dance blended in. India is such a multi-cultural place, with so many cultural traditions mixed into something amazing!
After the Amber Fort today, we stopped at a textile "factory," in order to observe traditional wood block print work on textiles, and watch rugs being woven by hand on giant handcarved looms. It was really amazing to see how much work goes into rug-making (and block printing!). And it was also interesting to be so close to the creation of some of the things we might buy in the US. It isn't often that most of us can purchase something from the actual person who made it.
We went to McDonald's for lunch today, which seemed to make us all happy. Most of us had a lot of fun with the in-store advertising and the menu options (a Chicken Maharajah Mac? the McVindalo? Veggie Cheeseburgers?). No beef, of course, but lots of vegetarian types of burgers and chicken. Fries tasted just about the same, as did the soft serve ice cream. It was good to experience, lots of photos were taken (including a series of shots of one of the professors--nameless--trying to assess and then eat a Maharajah Mac. The attempt was a spectacular venture. Literally.)
We have had free time this afternoon, and some of us went to the common market (not the tourist market). It was huge! And crazy! (Crazy, at least to the American experience. It was loud and crowded and dirty and there were people and animals and traffic. Color everywhere!). Others went to the local mall, which is fascinating in itself, with a blend of Western and Indian shops--a Subway sandwich shop and a Sari shop. A DVD/CD music store and an incense store. A gorgeous sari was purchased there, with a handmade top sewn in a matter of hours.
Many of us are now back in the hotel, which is part of an old palace/house (I'm not sure which). It is large and beautiful, with marble and tilework, small passageways and couryards, a pool with a carved fence, archways in the doors and rooms, balconies, flowers, and best of all, air-conditioning! This place, the Shahpura Hotel, is one of the nicest places we have stayed. Last night, dinner here was served on the rooftop, with candlelight and singers and dancers. The stars were out, the music was lovely (even the Indian blended version of Frere Jaque/the Macarena. Yes, it's true). After all the intensity of our travel experiences so far, it is very nice to have a whole afternoon and evening off. Swimming, shopping, and I suspect, some serious repacking of suitcases to fit all the new purchases. Napping too.
Happy Mother's Day! Moms have been a major topic of conversation today.
We move on tomorrow. We'll post again when we can.
Martha and Andrea