Archive for January, 2012

This superb fortified ghost city of  Fatehpur Sikri was the doomed capital of the Mughal empire between 1571 and 1585, during the reign of Emperor Akbar. Doomed to fail as it was constructed a long distance from the nearest river, so water shortages were an issue from day one… not the most intelligent of ideas you may think. So why was this splendid city built? Well the Mughal Emperor Akbar was childless and sort the services of the Sufi Saint Shaikh Salim Chisti – a wise main and prophet, who predicted he would have a son and subsequent heir to the thrown. The prophecy came true so Akbar built his new capital here as royal sign of gratitude to the Sufi who who lived in a cave on the ridge at Sikri.

Below a photo within the Jama Masjid

A white marble encased tomb of the Sufi saint, Salim Chisti (1478–1572) who had given Akbar the prophecy of an heir being born

The city was a melting pot of religions, philosophy and learning, Akhar himself enjoying long discussions in the Diwan-i-Khas (photo above) – Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. He himself advocating that the true religion was a blend of the four. The building having the appearance of a two-storey pavilion, when in actual fact the building is a single space with an particularly clever central carved ornate column that opens out to four walkways to the corners of the structure (photo below.)

It’s architecture mirrors Akbar religious point of view and blends traditional Indian columns, Islamic cupolas and turquoise-blue Persian roof tiles….

Below Buland Darwaza a 54 metre high gate leading into Jama Masjid 1576-1577  ‘victory arch’, built to to commemorate the Akbar’s successful Gujarat campaign. Inscribed over the archway it says,

“Isa (Jesus) Son of Mary said: The world is a bridge, pass over it, but build no houses on it. He who hopes for an hour may hope for eternity. The world endures but an hour. Spend it in prayer, for the rest is unseen”.

Darjeeling –  a Himalayan town – is in the Indian state of West Bengal, prior to the British ‘discovering’ the area it was known as Dhor-je Ling by Buddhists who had built many temples there and practiced the mystic system of Vajrayana (tantric) Buddhism. The British influence dates back to the mid-19th century established by the British and it was originally developed as a sanatorium and a military base.

Later, to challenge China’s dominance of tea production and trade, Darjeeling – with help from tea growers further east in Assam – soon became Indians centre of tea farming. Today Darjeeling tea is internationally recognised and ranks among the most popular of the black teas, many of which I have sampled. The record price paid for premium tea was $220 US dollars for 1kg!!

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was built between 1879 and 1881 and is about 53 miles long and takes climbs from 100 metres above sea level at New Jalpaiguri to about 2,200 metres at Darjeeling. I have wanted to ride the toy train for many years now and was really disappointed to find out that due to recent heavy rain and a subsequent massive landslide the track is currently closed along a section from Kurseong to New Jalpaiguri. However the train does still run from Darjeeling up to the final station at Ghum which i was fortunate enough to get a ticket for!

   

There are diesels that ply the windy, narrow track along the mountain route but I specifically wanted to ride the vintage British-built B Class steam locomotives which are now over a 100 years old.

In the news today…

Posted: January 30, 2012 in 2011 Winter - India, India

One headline that stood out for me,

BHOPAL: Tired of being sexually abused by her ex-lover, a 35-year-old woman chopped off the head of her tormentor with an axe at Amoga village near Katni in Madhya Pradesh on Thursday.

In a country where divorce is almost impossible is this justice or murder??

Sorry about the macabre nature of that story but I was astonished to find in the column next to the business news!

Sat reading the Indian Times over breakfast is rather fun as they tend to use words and sentences that have long since fallen out of use and are now left forgotten, languishing on the proverbial literary rubbish dump in England. The old fashioned syntax and perfectly polite queens English carry my mind back colonial times past; gentleman and ladies, home made lemonade, cucumber sandwiches and summer school.

I have recently re-discovered a love of Belinda Carlisle. Once a favourite for igniting hormonal teenage crushes and wildly over exaggerated the resulting expectations from girlfriend/boyfriend relationships, which inevitably led to broken heart and sleepless nights. I hope this time round being rather older and wiser I can subdue the raw angst and unbridled emotions that come flooding back!!

So, from reading about Varanasi it is the holiest places in India, city of the destroyer god Shiva is where Hindu pilgrims come to wash away a lifetime of sins in the Ganges or to cremate their loved ones (after death in general!)

It is a much nicer than Delhi which was just one big shabby, grubby, frantic and over run  effluent pit. Don’t get me wrong it is still pretty frantic and dirty but offering a more of a colourful, charismatic or ‘spiritual’ retreat for Hindu pilgrims who visit the ghats that line the shore of the Ganges.

The city represents,

…beating heart of the Hindu universe, a crossing place between the physical and spiritual worlds, and the Ganges is viewed as a river of salvation, an everlasting symbol of hope to past, present and future generations…

I must admit that watching my first human public cremation was both rather exciting and surreal, although the white English gentleman in me couldn’t help to find the whole experience rather pagan. Dancing, singing, music, wailing, flowers thrown, etc. Mind you, it definitely beats being put in a box, slowly lowered into the ground with lots of tears and somber words. Although the ceremony is done in public it is not polite or acceptable to take photos, each one taking about 3 hours and the ghat is in operation 24 hours a day.

I spent a good few hours wandering along the very busy side streets trying not to get run over by rick shaw or scooter drivers weaving around piles of cow dung. You may be surprised to know that Hindu’s think cows are sacred and not only do they not eat them, but traffic in general will actually give way to them crossing roads! They also think monkeys are the animal of the creator god Brahma and offer them food treats as they scamper around on telegraph wires and rooves, hoping that god will bless them in return.

By the way they have a third god called Vishnu who is the maintainer or preserver, thought I would complete the trio rather than leave the uneducated amongst you hanging.

    

So, a quick reminder for myself… eating beef or monkey is bad, where do I stand with chicken rice!? Hungry now you see, photos will be added tomorrow

Heavy bread anyone?

Posted: January 21, 2012 in 2011 Winter - India, India

Today I had the most substantial slice of bread with my scrambled eggs. As most of you know I enjoy my food, but this bread almost beat me. It was as though I had tried eating an entire loaf of  ‘normal’ bread… HEAVY man 🙂 Off to pack my bags before my first night train to Varanasi.

It is always a major culture shock when arriving somewhere new for first time – it takes a couple of days to ‘get into the swing of things.’ Although I was not the only one adjusting as Delhi over the last couple of weeks has been experiencing an unseasonably cold spell. Obviously being English I tried to explain that it really wasn’t that cold and wore my flip flops in protest… Admittedly I did get cold feet but I’m pretty sure I proved to them a thing of two about true British grit.

New Delhi’s airport is much the same as most others, frustrating long cues with lack of any real motivation on the part of immigration employees to get you in and stamped in a hurry! I was met by my prearranged driver and headed for my hostel – New Hostel King off the main bazaar in the old city neighbourhood.

First stop a trip to the see the ‘Red fort‘ or Lal Qila started by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in 1638, the construction of the massive fort took 10 years! Delhi became Emperor Shah Jahan’s new capital. However he was never able to complete the move himself as he was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb back in Agra who ruled in his place…

Reading about the lavish embellishment, silver ceilings, massive marble water features, private steam and bathing block, a solid gold peacock throne (which was encrusted with 230kg of precious gem stones and used 1150kg of solid gold) that the palace once boosted in Mugal days, it is a rather dowdy skeleton of its former glory. Most of the treasures were carted off by various marauding pillaging kings, namely Nadar Shah in 1738, and although it is now UNESCO listed the buildings are to a greater or lesser extent crumbling away 😦

File:Inside Diwan-i-Aam, Lal Quila, Delhi.jpg

Packed, ready and raring to go…

Posted: January 12, 2012 in India

So,

*I have noticed that today’s youth seem to use the word ‘so’ to start virtually every sentence and felt like dipping my toe back into the world of youth speak/popular culture*

what am I doing this weekend, my last before my next adventure in India?

Well I am rather excited to be sampling some of my friends home brew, although his ‘Salt-smash ale’  is only around 1% proof, so it would take 20 pints to tranquilize a Dartmoor pony. His beer production technique however has come along way since his first batch which tasted somewhere between battery acid and effervescent pipe cleaner.

Will be staying in Saltash over the weekend and travel up to London on the legendary ‘mega bus’ which is an experience in itself. Tickets costing a quarter of the regular price Great Western trains of National Express it has quickly become the mode of transport for unwashed, spotty, drunken, foul mouthed students and degenerates of all kinds – I joke not, the level of conversation is similar to that you would expect in the proverbial gutter or brothel… and as for the smell!? Why then do I choose to travel in such crud, truth be told I should of booked advance apex train tickets but postponed and the price tripled. Let that be a lesson to you Mr Franklin.