The Taj Mahal
India

Rajasthan and Agra

Happy Diwali! While YiOu took a few days off from our adventure, Sean traveled to Rajasthan. He visited the cities of Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, and Agra (which is actually in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh). Whereas our adventures in Africa felt more, well, adventurous, Sean’s brief tour of this corner of India was more scripted. This is not to say that it was not thoroughly enjoyable; it was. The temples and palaces were remarkably beautiful, and his appreciation for its complex and ancient history was greatly enhanced. Indeed, it is difficult to appreciate the architecture without understanding a little bit about the history of India. What follows is the briefest of summaries of the last few millennia:

People have lived throughout India for thousands of years, but things really started to get interesting in 600 BC when Buddhism and Jainism were born. Jainism is essentially extreme Buddhism. Hinduism is a mixture of ancient traditions dating back even further. The first great Indian empire was that of the Maurya, which dominated from 300 BC to 200 AD and peaked under the reign of Ashoka. Interestingly, the Maurya were Hindu until Ashoka converted to Buddhism. Though his embrace of Buddhism contributed to nearly a half century of peace and prosperity, the shift towards non-violence weakened the empire against external threats and eventually led to its decline. The Gupta Period from 300-500 AD is considered the Golden Age of India. As Hindus, their dominance also spelled an effective end to Buddhism in India. After Islam was founded in 700 AD, the Rajput kingdoms in Rajasthan battled Muslim invaders for several centuries until the last Hindu king was defeated around 1200. Several sultanates followed until the Mughal dynasty took control in the 16th century. They are responsible for the Taj Mahal and many other spectacular palaces and forts. This is considered the second Golden Age. The Mughals ruled until the British assumed control of India in 1858. After nearly a hundred years of British rule, India gained its independence in 1947. Voila!

Now, hopefully, it makes sense why in a Hindu-majority country the most famous building is Islamic, why so many ancient Hindu temples have been destroyed or defaced, and why in the birthplace of Buddhism there are so few Buddhist temples. India is moving forward at a rapid pace, but I enjoyed immersing myself in the history of this ancient country. Let us all hope that the next Golden Age of India is upon us.

Detail of the Amber fort in Jaipur
Detail of the Amber fort in Jaipur
Sean Pont
The hall of mirrors in the Amber fort is impressive but crowded.
The hall of mirrors in the Amber fort is impressive but crowded.
Sean Pont
A street vendor near the Water Palace in Jaipur
A street vendor near the Water Palace in Jaipur
The doorways in the City Palace in Jaipur are selfie-worthy.
The doorways in the City Palace in Jaipur are selfie-worthy.
Sean Pont
Traffic in Jaipur moves at an elephant's pace because elephants are literally setting the pace.
Traffic in Jaipur moves at an elephant's pace because elephants are literally setting the pace.
Sean Pont
The Mehran Fort in Jodphur is the largest in India. But inside the imposing 36 meter-high walls the delicate details are stunning. These windows are carved out of rock, not wood.
The Mehran Fort in Jodphur is the largest in India. But inside the imposing 36 meter-high walls the delicate details are stunning. These windows are carved out of rock, not wood.
Inside the Sahastra Bahu Temple. This 10th century Hindu temple lies some 10 miles outside of Udaipur. The faces of the statues were defaced when the Muslims took over, so it is no longer a religious site. This is why you can walk around with your shoes on and take pictures. I think these two were filming a love scene -- there were more cameras to my left.
Inside the Sahastra Bahu Temple. This 10th century Hindu temple lies some 10 miles outside of Udaipur. The faces of the statues were defaced when the Muslims took over, so it is no longer a religious site. This is why you can walk around with your shoes on and take pictures. I think these two were filming a love scene -- there were more cameras to my left.
Sean Pont
Detail on the wall of the Sahastra Bahu Temple showing various poses from the Kama Sutra.
Detail on the wall of the Sahastra Bahu Temple showing various poses from the Kama Sutra.
Sean Pont
Detail of the doorway to the Taj Mahal. I (like all inhabitants of planet Earth) had seen many photos of the Taj from across the reflecting pool, but up close the artistry is even more impressive. The Sanskrit inscriptions, flowers, and geometric patterns are all stone inlays.
Detail of the doorway to the Taj Mahal. I (like all inhabitants of planet Earth) had seen many photos of the Taj from across the reflecting pool, but up close the artistry is even more impressive. The Sanskrit inscriptions, flowers, and geometric patterns are all stone inlays.
Sean Pont
Inside the main chamber of the Taj Mahal. On the other side of that low wall lie the false sarcophagi of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, for whom he built the Taj. Both are actually buried in the lower level which we were not allowed to visit.
Inside the main chamber of the Taj Mahal. On the other side of that low wall lie the false sarcophagi of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, for whom he built the Taj. Both are actually buried in the lower level which we were not allowed to visit.
Sean Pont