18 March, 2011

Indian Odyssey, Xmas 2010 (Part 2 of 4)

In the exciting first episode our heroes braved Bangkok, cruised Calcutta, went to a wedding, navigated Nagaland, dallied in Darjeerling, Agra, Khajuraho and Varanasi. Please join them again here as they go gaga in Goa...

Goa - welcome relief from the cold of Darjeerling.
Now for a week's 'holiday-from-a-holiday' at the Portuguese-tinted state of Goa - much warmer and definitely more of a tourist 'scene', although numbers are well down this year due to economics and the recent Varanasi bomb. We chose this Christian state for the Xmas period (even though we're not at all of a Christian persuasion) because we just wanted to observe how locals celebrated... and also needed a break from the cold.

Illuminated stars are all the rage here during Xmas. Goans hold an annual
crib competition. In this photo, onlookers check out Mary and Joseph, the
Three Wise Men, and (of course) a model Portuguese galleon listing heavily
to one side. But wait! ...the crib is empty!  Fear not, Ye Doubting Thomases,
a holy plastic doll (presumably male) will magically appear by Xmas morning,
so no brainwashed kiddies need be disappointed.

 Everywhere there are crumbling 500 year-old churches:
...one of which is the St Francis Xavier Church. Uncle Frank gazes imperiously down at you from the row of glass peep-holes provided for him in his private loft:

Close by, incongruously, the Francis Xavier General Store trades busily. Crucifixes painted on prows of beached fishing boats. A quarry truck named Infant Jesus. Hotel named Villa Immaculata... Sunset walks along peaceful Benaulim Beach, a refuge from the doof-doof younger scene of the North Goan beaches. Tourists go paragliding: we sense a slow-burning tension between the fishing and tourism industries here. Cows sleepily chewing their cud on the beach - between the lifesaver flags, sensibly. Toilet pigs... don't ask.

Marie alternately toasted on the beach then dipped gingerly in the surprisingly cool Arabian Sea, and I retreated to a cancer-free muzak-free zone to sample some Goan kingfish curry and mango lassi and to scribble down more music. In due course we fully expected to encounter some 17th century Portuguese soldiers with rusty muskets, or at least some rogue colonial spice traders driving locals in chains...

Our quest led us to Goa's Anjuna Market with all its hippies (mostly Western) still trapped in the 1960s and ageing disgracefully in tragic period outfits. The tourist-targeted stalls were, of course, charging lethal prices:
Sign on a market stall:
Customer is King.
King never bargains.

No need to travel to Rajasthan - it all comes to Goa.

Where's Wally?

...and there were a lot of well-preserved old Portuguese-era houses:
(Note the tres cool name above the window arch.
To biggen the photo, click on it. After, click your 'Back' button).

No glass. Window panels were made of slivers of sea-shell to admit light. I recalled mediaeval windows in Sussex which used stretched rabbit skins for the same purpose:

 ...and we sent another parcel back home to Chiangmai, this time the winter clothes we would no longer need. Here a tailor at Margao stitches the required cloth wrapping over our scrounged cardboard box:

Mumbai Saturday Sunday Mumbai Tuesday...

Announcements from crew of Jet-Lite flight:
mm "Dee aeroblane is being helmed by Gaptain Zanjay..."
mm "Blease upright your zeat, sirrh".

The 'Fort' district of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is an island museum brimming with stunning (if now sometimes shabby) architectural relics of the British Raj era. It's almost as if London's Leadenhall Street district (the Wall St of the 19th century) had been convicted, picked up bodily, and transported to India to atone for colonial atrocities committed by its own Royal Evil East India Company:
Yet even London can hardly compete with the flippant magnificence of Mumbai's old British High Court with its playful corkscrew towers, or the deliberate gothic extravagance of the Victoria Terminus railway station. These were clearly intended to be psychological tools of colonial intimidation, massively overwhelming anything built previously by Indians. "Take note: we are now your new bosses... see, even our railway stations are more majestic than your puny Princes' palaces":

Nearby, Mumbai's millions seem flatly lifeless as they ply zombie-like through the choking smog of the streets. They have dead eyes even though they can see, dead spirits which accept that stinking squalor and eye-stinging pollution are their binding destiny. But hey, I also found my first excellent coffee since arriving in India a whole month ago. And one might spot an occasional silver Mercedes coupé ostentatiously strutting through the honking herds of cheap yellow & black taxis. Yes, in Mumbai (India's financial nerve centre), those who can afford to pay can have it all - while hundreds of thousands of others sleep on gritty pavements amid their own excrement. Money is their god, the street their temple. But unlike Varanassi, there are no itinerant cows allowed here - they've long since been encouraged to graze their way out to rural areas where they won't dent as many car doors and raise insurance premiums.

Lack of local language can impede things. My conversation with waiter:

=== "Is this mutton boneless? ...or does it have bone inside?"
=== "Yes, sirrh" [slight head wobble]
=== "Er... does that mean 'bone' or 'no bone'?
=== "No boneless, sirrh" [increased wobble]
=== "Um, is that "No, boneless", or "No boneless"?
=== "Yes sirrh" [wobble-panic ensues]
=== "OK, I'll have it " [sigh...]

Aurangabad, Ellora & Ajanta Cave Temples

Aurangabad: a generic dusty inland Indian industrial city which has long since squeezed past the confines of its tumble-down city walls. But it boasts hidden treasure - the jaw-dropping complex of 34 Cave Temples near the village of Ellora make the 30km bumpy road trip worth every rupee.
The Kailasanatha (Kailash) Temple
Standing on the hillside at the approximate spot where King Krishna dreamed up the
 idea of this temple, you begin to comprehend just how much rock had to be removed.

Twelve centuries ago, King Krishna stood on the slope of a basalt mountain and imagined an enormous Hindu temple carved out of the rock - right underneath his feet. He marked out the lines and over three generations, thousands of workmen chipped straight down through the solid rock with handtools, cutting out a colossal wedge like a huge slice of pie removed from the side of the mountain. I estimate it to measure at least 80m deep, 90m wide, and 120 metres from front gate to rear wall, About 200,000 tons of rock had to go, they estimate. In the centre the king preserved a massive chunk of rock, one-and-a-half times as high as Greece's Parthenon, which stonemasons began shaping into what is now a multi-storey solid-rock temple representing Mount Kailash, Lord Shiva's mythological Himalayan abode. It is exquisitely carved with scenes from Hindu mythology, and its perimeter guarded by stone elephants:
Looking along the rear wall of the Kailash temple.
(I took the following movie from near the guard elephants)

In this next movie, Marie is underneath the temple building, photographing the Hindu demon Ravana shaking Mount Kailash:

 ...and here is a pan of the Kailash temple from just inside the front entrance... spot the two larger-than-life trunkless elephants, and a cameo appearance by Dr. Marie Livingstone:

Some of the older temples date back to the last centuries before Christ and belongs to Hinayana period of Buddhism in later part of 2nd century AD. Buddha images here at Ellora date from the era when Buddhism first began practising adoration of images. The next photos (and movie) shows an example of whole monasteries, complete with meditation cubicles, dug into the side of the mountain:
 Might this have been a prototype of our Nakornping Condominium??

By contrast, the Ajanta Caves are a series of 33 temples and monasteries dug laterally into the face of a long curved cliff. Like their elder siblings at Ellora, the Ajanta temples were all built by simply removing any unwanted rock that didn't look like temple material:

The deep ribs forming the ceiling of this cathedral-like cave not only offered
strength but a place to insert richly carved wood panels, long since disappeared.
 There are still some traces of coloured paint on the walls and pillars.

On the walls of one of these caves resides India's most ancient Hindu art, kept nowadays in almost total darkness to preserve the remaining colours. This is India's Sistine Chapel ...but the noise level from the hordes of rampaging garlic-breath schoolchildren on the day of our visit was anything but religious or respectful:
Very dark location for this ancient painting? fresco? Difficult to see in situ ...so later
 I light-enhanced the photo a little so I could check for myself what it had looked like.

This facade had a little accident at some point.   Indian civilization had discovered gravity 
some 500 years before Britain's Celts were running around painted in woad.
Might this temple have been India's equivalent of Newton's apple??

Here in India, it was we who were the exotic minority. Countless people wanted to have their photo taken with us, the tattooed lady and the white-bearded giant. One request was memorable: "I vould like to gapture with you".

Delhi ...yes, Delhi again, briefly.

Things are getting greener in Delhi. There's obviously been a push to plant trees and control rubbish. Buses run on LPG. Car horns are thankfully under control. And Marie found an electric rickshaw:

Near Delhi's famous Qutab Minar [sandstone tower], there were many spider-like ricketty structures assembled in almost random patchwork styles by the Moghuls from assorted wreckage of exquisite Hindu temples they had destroyed. More interesting/curious/strange in some ways than the tower itself:

Thus ends Part 2.  Click here to bring up Part 3 in its own window.

In Part 3 you will visit
Mt Abu, Udaipur, Chittorgarh, Ranakpur, Kumbhalgarh,
 Deogarh, Rohet & Manver Camp.

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