Architecture

Great Wall + Indiana Jones Movie Set = Amber Fort: Day 24

A Gorgeous View from Amber Fort

Outside of an intriguing city called Jaipur sits a massive sprawl of buildings that seldom leave people unimpressed. We approached the area and got out on the side of the road to take distance shots of the entire panorama. Brushing off the hats that hawkers placed on our heads for purchase, we clicked the crusting landscape in our viewfinders and prepared for an enlightening, yet steamy day. There are two ways to ascend the hill towards the Amber Fort: walk on foot or hire an elephant to get you there. Seeing as it costs $13 for five minutes on an ellie that gets horrendous care and maintenance, I silenced my desires to roll around on the back of a pachyderm and employed my boots. A couple boys on the way tried to sell us postcards of the site, but never have I been inspired to write a postcard and send it even if it were free…so I moseyed on with them still calling me in my wake.

Touring India on Foot

Touring India on Foot

Our tour leader hired a guide that explained in great detail why we were wandering around on a mountaintop under a blistering sun. The structures boasted both Hindi and Muslim architectural elements, intertwined with a level of craftsmanship not found too often in today’s world. Mosaics caused the palaces to bling, and the intricate stone carving made it possible for the old Mughal inhabitants to develop such things as air-conditioning and one way windows. There were perfume fountains and wheelchair ramps for the royal ladies who couldn’t walk with all the layers of clothing they had to adorn. Every factoid this guide threw at us wowed us, even as our heads were slowly baking in the sun.

Ridin' Dirty...Elephants

Ridin' Dirty...Elephants

Both tourists and Indians wandered the grounds. It wasn’t packed but was easily scattered with interested minds and clicking cameras. It was one of those miracle destinations where the hype doesn’t surpass the reality of the site, and the aspect of tourism doesn’t take away or inhibit the experience from being awe-inspiring. Way to go, Amber Fort, you did it.

In the dead heat of the day, we dropped into the chaos that is Jaipur’s jewelry market, a strip of infinite shops and outdoor informal gem trading that had me thanking my lucky stars I don’t wear jewelry. It’s well known and apparently worthy of hype, but I saved my money and moved on to lunch and the most hilarious movie I’ve never witnessed in a theater. Bollywood, you complete me…

Feeling Balmy and Looking Skyward: Day 22

Chowing at the Sikh Temple

The extent of my knowledge on Sikhism stops at the turbans. That’s pretty sad, which is why putting on a headscarf, washing my feet, and walking up the steps to Bangla Sahib, the Sikh temple in Delhi, was an experience I happily embraced. Red, beautifully woven rugs covered the marble floor completely, and we slinked towards the back, attempting to be discreet, our backpacks bumping into shoulders and blocking the views of those behind us. Within seconds, we were offered a silver bowl filled with a brown, slick, floury, sugary substance that the man scooped into our open hands. It was an offering to be consumed. It wasn’t half bad. Every once in a while, I feel unwelcome and bothersome when checking out a foreign religion, thinking they find this intrusion either disrespectful or amusing and certain that I’m breaking about twenty-nine rules of their godly law. Fortunately, the practicing Sikhs in the room didn’t seem to really care we were there. It could have been over-exposure and the fact that they get lots of tourists following their motions every day. Whatever the case, I basked in the breeze of a hundred ceiling fans and enjoyed the peace of the room that overcame the chaos of the city outside. I couldn’t understand a thing, but being among so many calm presences was satisfying.

A little volunteering of your time in the temple’s kitchen scores you a free meal of lentils, vegetables, flatbread, and other goodies from the Sikhs. And so, we enjoyed. With full bellies and soggy fingers, we then headed to the massive mosque adorning Delhi’s skyline: Jama Masjid.

It was at this religious destination that we felt we were wrong for being there. It was our bad for hanging out in the open prayer area, but the stares were ceaseless and intense. A thick line between them and us was evident. The architecture was imposing and magnificent but hard to appreciate when hawkers nearby were more interested in making us pay for various services and goods than letting us be a part of the moment. And it’s probably necessary to add the heat of the day made us ever-so sticky, which isn’t conducive to a positive attitude towards being a spectacle. But we remained there, with our borrowed coverings billowing in the subtle breeze, hoping to reap from this monument a feeling of awe. If I had any visceral knowledge of Islam at all, I’m sure it would have been a moving experience. I’m not putting Sikhism vs. Islam here, as I really love both followers, but these were two very different experiences and ones I found amusing as an onlooker.