Travel: Ancient India

Today, Nick and I learned the true meaning of IST ‘Indian Standard Time.’ We went to Vodaphone with the intent of acquiring pre-paid SIM cards. Needless to say, 2.5 hours later, we finally had our SIM cards, however, neither of us have managed to get service.

imagePart of the challenge was that regulations for foreigners to acquire SIM cards are much more stringent than it has been previously due to the 2008 Mumbai Attacks – 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting over four days by the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

image

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

With our errands over for the day, we were finally able to explore part of Delhi’s ancient past. Delhi has been home to a total of seven previous dynasties, and as a result, retains unique heritage structures that illustrate the diverse differences between each kingdom.

 

As we cut our way through the bazaar of Connaught Place, one of the largest commercial, financial, and business centers of New Delhi, we went from the Inner Circle, Rajiv Chowk, to the outer ring, Indira Chowk.

image

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Nick managed adopt a little girl along the way. We were both confused and laughing at the time, because we simply did not know how to react. Truthfully, it was heartbreaking. She couldn’t have been more than 5 years old, and she just latched onto the corner of Nick’s polo, and followed us for a few blocks.

 

It was at this moment that I understood why some are proponents of Child Labor. While it may seem like a travesty against human rights, it does provide a means for children in developing countries to earn an income, and provide essentials for their survival. It’s a sad reality, but a necessary truth.

Outside the Rajiv Chowk, lies the Jantar Mantar complex. Built in 1724, it comprises 13 astronomical instruments. This site is one of five built by the Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur, after he was given the task of revising the calendar and astronomical tables by the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah.

image

 

The Mughal Empire lasted for over 300 years, and spans the timeline from 1526-1857. Babur, the founder, had turned to India to satisfy his political ambitions after being ousted from his ancestral domain in Central Asia.

 

The towering instrument that greets us as enter the grounds is the Samrat Yantra, a giant triangle that is essentially a massive sundial. The 128-ft long hypotenuse is parallel to the Earth’s axis and points toward the North Pole. Each side has a quadrant, with graduations that indicate hours, minutes, and seconds, turning the basic instrument, into a precision tool.

image

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

We next came across the Jayaprakesh Yantra; A hollowed out hemisphere with cross-wires stretching out between points of the rim. An observer at the center, could align the position of a star with the various ribs.

 

 

Then, we came across the Misra Yantra, a tool used to determine the shortest and longest days of the year in addition to the exact moment of noon in cities and locations worldwide, regardless of geographical distance from Delhi.

imageDescending even deeper into time, the Qutab Minar is the 2nd tallest Minaret in the world at a total height of 73 meters. It is made of red sandstone and marble, and has a diameter gradient that begins at 14.3 meteers at its base before narrowing to 2.7 meters at its peak. This sprawling tower has five layers, and despite construction beginning in 1192, was not complete until 1368.

You will often see minarets as an iconic feature of muslim mosques. It is from these spires that Adhans, the call to prayer, are issued five times each day.

imageIf you look closer, you can see the islamic influence in the shape of the Muqarnas that encircle each tier of the tower. Remniscient of stalactites, they take the form of small pointed niches stacked in radially symmetric tiers that project outward. The number of unique tiles is limited by N-gonal symmetry, or the equation N = N/2 -1.

imageWe then stopped by the Dilli Haat, a market that hosts unique handicrafts from each of India’s 29 states, and snacked on some Momo’s, which are essentially dumplings. This makes sense, given that this ethnic food is from north-eastern India near the Chinese border.

 

.

Advertisements

Travel: Omniscience of Meteora

The earliest ferry in this morning did not arrive until just before noon, so we slept in a little before hailing a taxi to bring us to the port.  After successfully rendezvousing with the crewman, and completing the license hand off, we headed to the airport to pick up our rental car. Unfortunately, the company mixed up our reservation, so it took us longer than anticipated to secure our transportation (2 hours). By the time we were on the road, it was around 2 pm.

2013-06-10 10.42.10We drove to Meteora as fast as we could (the average time is just around 5 hours), and arrived in the valley just before sunset.

The name, Meteora can be broken down into the greek word Μετέωρα, which translates to “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above.”

It may be logical to then extrapolate that this is the same origin from which we derive “Meteorite.” As one of the most significant Eastern Orthodox complexes in Greece (second to Mount Athos), it is a breathtaking view as all of the monasteries are carved into natural sandstone rock pillars.

2013-06-10 10.59.25

 

While the exact establishment of these buildings is unknown. A rudimentary monastic state, the Skete of Stagoi, formed in the late 11th and
early 12th centuries. This centered around the existing Church of Theotokos – “Mother of God.”

Athanasios Koinoviti brought a group of followers to the region in 1344, and from 1356 to 1372, they constructed the Great Meteoran Monastery on Broad Rock. – The common legend is that Athanasios did not scale the rock, but was borne there by an eagle.

2013-06-10 11.36.36

This was an ideal location for the monks, as it perched them above the reaches of political influence and interests. Only those within the complex had control over whom entered and exited as the only means of admittance was by climbing a long ladder or being hoisted by large nets, which the residents could draw up when threatened.

As the Byzantine Empire‘s 800-year reign over northern Greece became increasingly threatened by Turkish raiders in the late 14th century, the hermit monks found the naturally defensive rock pillars to be an ideal refuge. More than 20 monasteries were built.

2013-06-10 12.28.17

In the wise words of UNESCO,

“The net in which intrepid pilgrims were hoisted up vertically alongside the 373 metres (1,224 ft) cliff where the Varlaam monastery dominates the valley, symbolizes the fragility of a traditional way of life that is threatened with extinction.”

Today, only six of them remain; four house men and two are occupied by women.

Due to our extremely tight schedule, we were not able to reach the attractions until after visiting hours. We grabbed dinner at the nearby Kalabaka before heading further north to the foot of Olympus and spending our night in Litochoro. We also had to trim Delphi from our schedule due to the license confusion.

2013-06-10 12.27.40