Travel: Ranakpur Apathy

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Our initial plan today was to hire a taxi to day trip to Ranakpur before being dropped back at the airport for our flight to Mumbai later tonight. Unfortunately, our lack of internet connection at the hostel proved to be our downfall.

 

While I had posited asking the staff for advice on taking buses, Nick didn’t hear me, and I was too snuggled into my cozy cocoon to emerge from the warmth. We did not make it to Ranakpur and I regret not summoning the willpower to face the cold. Admittedly though, it was really nice to have an open day with nothing planned.

Credit: Ingo Mehling

Credit: Ingo Mehling

Ranakpur is 91 km away from Udaipur, making it approximately a 1-hour car ride in US terms and a 2.5 to 3-hour travel time according to IST (one needs to factor in traffic, rough roads, and slower speed limits). It is home to a  UNESCO World Heritage Site, a massive, sprawling, Jain Temple constructed entirely of marble in 1437.

imageIt is with sorrow that I cannot speakbout how amazing the structure was, as it has over 1444 pillars that are each uniquely carved in exquisite detail. Additionally, there is a massive rock that is carved into 108 snake heads and tails. The layout of the building is in the form of a chaumukha – four faces in each of the four cardinal directions that symbolize the cosmos.

Instead, Nick went off to meet his Uncle and I found a little cafe to savor coffee in while using their wifi for some net-based tasks. We met up again later that morning to visit Monsoon Palace.

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarmi

The Monsoon Palace was built in 1884 entirely of white marble on the Bansdara Peak of the Aravalli Hill. At a total elevation of 3100 ft overlooking Lake Pichola, the original intent was for it to be a 9-story astronomical centre to track the movement of the monsoon clouds. It would also be a vacation home for the royal family.

 

imageUnfortunately, despite the innovative water harvesting system the building utilized in its underground cistern, the storage capacity proved to be inadequate resulting in the abandonment of the palace.

After the palace, all we had to do was get Nick a shave for the wedding, and find him some shoes. This was surprisingly almost as difficult as finding me a Saree; there’s not much you can do about a gigantor’s foot size when you are on a continent that tends to produce petite-sized humans.

 

Travel: Agra Cantonment

We woke up at 4 AM today, because we needed to catch the 6 AM Shatabdi Express – India’s Fastest Train – to Agra for a day trip. Needless to say, it was a long day as our transit time was 2-hours one-way, assuming that everything is executed flawlessly.

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Agra, a former cantonment of the British empire, is the home of the Taj Mahal, one of seven wonders of the world. It is an eye-catching structure consisting entirely of white marble and its impossible to miss the light reflecting off of its surface as the sun creeps higher in the sky.

 

Its origin story is one of love, despair, and tragedy.

imageIn the 17th century, Shah Jahan, one of the Mughal Emperors, lost his third wife, a Persian princess named Mumtaz Muhal during the birth of their 14th child in 1631. The following year, construction of the Taj Mahal began. Over the course of 20 years, this project enlisted the labor of over 1,000 elephants to transport building materials from all over India and Asia. In addition to the iconic white marble that the building is known for, 28 other types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the ornate design.

 

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As this was a period of prosperity within the empire, a skilled labour force of twenty-thousand workers were recruited from all across India. A total of 37 men were selected to form the creative unit behind the Taj Mahal.

 

There were sculptors from Bukhara, calligraphers from Syria and Persia, inlayers from southern india, stonecutters from Baluchistan, and individuals who specialized in everything from turrets to the carving of marble flowers.

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Not too soon after the Taj Mahal’s completion, the Shah was deposed by his son, Aurangzeb, and imprisoned at Agra Fort. It is said that he was given a cell with a window facing the Taj so that he could gaze at the resting place of his love. Shah Jahan was later buried in the mausoleum next to his wife.

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As a young professional trying to balance the scales of career and ambition between passion and family in the 21st century, it is difficult to imagine the depth of emotion, much less, the hollow shadows that the Shah must have felt on his wife’s passing.

 

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I feel that so much of my generation tends to trivialize the word love, that it’s merely a word to convey feeling, but the term amor speaks volumes more. It means depth of commitment, being willing to compromise, accepting the flaws of your significant other, and most of all, not giving up on your relationship when things get rough. You have to be willing to fight for it.

That’s what Shah Jahan did. Although Mumtaz was long gone from the world, she stayed alive in his memory. He wanted to commemorate her significance in his life, and the empty space left in his world by her departure.

The Taj Mahal was truly a tribute to the joy they shared.

imageNot too far away, is the Agra Fort, a towering fortress where the throne-less shah was held captive. A fort has stood at this location since the 11th century, although the current structure was built by the Mughal Empire. Spanning a total area of 94-Acres, the red sandstone is a staunch guard that dominates the skyline.

As the stories say, Shah Jahan was actually held in the Muasamman Burj, a tower with a marble balcony facing the Taj Mahal.

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After our visit to the fort, it was time to catch our train home. This took a large amount of patience as, despite our 6 PM tickets back, our plane was consistently delayed. First it was by 40 mins, and then it was 1-hour. This soon changed to a 2-hour delay, and progressed further to a 3.5-hour delay. Eventually, we bought another set of tickets for the Shatabdi Express (which is always on time), and managed to get back to Delhi around 11:30 PM. Whew!

Travel: Hinduism and Peace

The one thing about traveling in a foreign country whose citizens are predominately one ethnicity or skin tone, is the complete incapacity for me to blend in. Much like a blonde friend of mine who studied abroad for a semester in Hong Kong, I am a curiosity to the locals. More so an anomaly, because it seems that East-Asians do not often visit India.

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Credit: Juthani1

It is a little strange to feel eyes on oneself everywhere I go. This was best exemplified today when we went to visit the Akshardham. A toddler baby pulled my hair as we were going through security, and an entire school trip of boys all shouted hello and goodbye as we walked past their orderly line. One even ran up to me to shake my hand.

 

. . .If only they had been a few years older, it would have certainly been a major ego boost. 😛

The Akshardam is a massive complex with a Hindu temple, devoted to Swaminarayan as its central focal point. Swaminarayan is the founder of one of the sects of Hinduism. Originally born in Chhapaiya, Uttar Pradesh, India in 1781, he began a 7-year pilgrimage across the country on June 29, 1792 at the age of 11 after the death of his parents.

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Credit: Juthani1

He traveled across India and Nepal in search of an ashram that practiced what he considered to be the correct understanding of Vedanta, Samkhya, Yoga, and Pancaratra, the four primary schools of Hindu philosophy.

 

 

Finally, in 1799, Swaminarayan’s travels as a yogi concluded in Loj, where he stayed as a disciple of Ramanand Swami, and took over leadership as guru after Ramanand died. Swaminarayan passed away on June 1, 1830.

The Akshardham, although a more recent structure that was just completed in 2005, is designed according to ancient Vedic text, and features a blend of architectural styles from across India. It is not supported by steel nor concrete, but is constructed entirely from Rajasthani pink sandstone and Italian Carrara marble. Pictures can’t even begin to illustrate the ornate detail and craftsmanship that was invested into each microscopic niche of the temple. It’s truly an awe-inspiring piece of architecture.

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Credit: Stanislav Sedov and Dmitriy Moiseenko

 

To quantify, the main monument is 141 ft high, 316 ft wide, and 356 ft long. There are 234 intricate pillars, 9 domes, and 20 0,000 murtis and statues of Hinduism’s sadhus, devotees, and acharayas. It also contains 148 scale-sized elephants. This total building weighs a massive 3000 tons.

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

In stark contrast to the elaborate and jaw-dropping Akshardham, Raj Ghat is understated and simple, as one would expect of the burial place of Mahatma Gandhi.  Its difficult not to be overwhelmed by the legacy this great man left behind.

 

 

Not only did he free his nation through peace, but he also inspired countless movements across the world. You can see his influence span from the American Civil Rights Movement to the Occupy Wall Street Moment. So many of the leaders we admire today have used Gandhi as there guiding light, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama are but a few.

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 

Our last stop of the day was Humayan’s Tomb, the inspiration behind the Taj Mahal, and the resting place of Emperor Humayan.

 

 

 

I shall leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

“Be the Change  you wish to see in the world” ~ Mahatma Gandhi.