Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Portrait of India- journey to the Taj Mahal

From lovely, idyllic Khajaraho, we journeyed by bus for 4 hours through the pretty countryside of central India to make a stop at the Orchha palace and temple ruins, then on to catch a train (OMG) to Agra- home of the Taj Mahal.  while driving we passed this sacred elephant named Chandra, meaning frangipani flower, which grow everywhere and which i happened to have in my hair that day from my morning walk earlier- we were able to get off the bus to say hello- boy did i feel in sync with her, another flower girl!

we also took a pit stop at a small wheat growing farm village and were able to visit some of the people-

the indian children are the sweetest- i wanted to take them all home with me, just delightful

this girl with the pet parakeet seemed to have the most clout in the village, a very prized possession

most people go barefoot in the small villages and goats are everywhere

i used to raise nubian goats like this and weaned my own kids on to the milk.  you can see the wheat filed and lake in the background and the farmers working

they were bummed because it wasn't a very good harvest this year

selling garlic

the children work too

women hanging out at the village well

now we leave the small village and pass through some larger towns-

 visit another palace-

and one of the biggest adventures of my life, wait for our train in the station- this was mind blowing.  the numbers of humans squeezed onto the trains was incomprehensible- luckily we rode first class which was like normal coach in the U.S.

i had a hard time holding it together here

children doing acrobatics to earn money
old men begging for money

once again, making it the gorgeous Taj Mahal saved my mental day-

 it is such a romantic, beautiful place- a memorial to love

detail of inlaid semi-precious stone including carnelian and jade

a visit to the white marble palace of love lifted my spirits.  the hotel wasn't too shabby either-

view of taj mahal from our room in the distance

this was my favorite hotel of all the luxury ones we stayed at.  after our visit to the Taj i took a spa day- napping, swimming, and a couple of ayurvedic massages including the warm oil dripping on the 3rd eye continuously for an hour.  a delicious indian dinner, a long sleep in the cozy bed with my sweetie and i was ready for the next city- Jaipur, the gem palace city.  see you next stop~

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Portrait of India- Part 3 Khajuraho's erotic temples

From Varanasi and the ganges river we flew to Khajuraho in central india- a mellow paradise literally meaning the land of palm trees.  the peaceful serenity and quiet, clean grounds of this area were a welcome oasis from the chaos of Varanasi.  the unfortunate part is that i'd used up my batteries on all those pics on the Ganges, but the blessing is that relieved of any pressure to photograph, i was free to revel in the elevated sheer beauty of one of my VERY FAVORITE places on earth.  here are some pics that casey took with his iphone.  can you tell i'm in my element?  i sure felt that way.

 i guess his pics are mostly of us and i wish i could show you photos of the temples but there are lots of images online.  these temples were built over the span of 200 years from 950- 1150 AD by the people of the Jain religion- one of the oldest religions in existence dating back to 900 BC.  these elaborate sculpted sandstone temples of which 25 of 80 remain, were built by the Chandella dynasty using tongue and groove type of construction in which gravity pieces everything together and no mortar at all.  the hundreds and hundreds of highly detailed sculptures of realistic everyday people depict very explicit erotica and are absolutely mesmerizing and amazing and sometimes even funny.  the original tantra yogis.
i felt such a familarity and affinity with this place that i became certain i came from this tribe of people.  the guide pointed out how the women are depicted as educated- reading and writing love letters, athletes doing archery and were equal citizens to the men.  it was only after the moguls came from the mideast with their harems and wanting to keep them hidden away that women in India became second class citizens.  this overtaking of the moguls moved the Jain based people to the north (aryans)  so i very well may be of this descent since my roots go back to Great Britain as far as i know, which isn't very far in the scheme of things.
of course this experience of feeling this connection got me curious about the Jain's who we saw some of in India and who have the most beautiful, elegant fancy temples in the land.  i did a little reading and am happy to learn more about these good people.  even though they are a small minority in India they have had a great influence on both hinduism and buddhism and Ghandi himself was greatly influenced by them. their vegetarian diet and extreme non-violence can be witnessed in the cross over to hindu life.
"Jainism prescibes pacifism and a path of non-violence towards all living beings.   Its philosophy and practice emphasize the necessity of self-effort to move the soul towards divine consciousness and liberation. Any soul that has conquered its own inner enemies and achieved the state of supreme being is called Jina (victor)."
they believe that every living being has a soul and is potentially divine and therefor to be kind to all living beings. every soul is the architect of its own life. there is no supreme divine creator,owner, preserver or destroyer.  the universe is self-regulated and every soul has the potential to achieve divine consciousness through its own efforts.
this approach to spirituality really resonates with me and being a vegetarian most of my life since i was 14  of course i identify with their path of non harm to all beings.
although they believe in non- attachment to material objects, the owning of them itself is okay.  it's our attachment that causes the problems.  in fact, Jains are the wealthiest Indians.  get this- though they form only 0.42% of the population of India, their contribution to the country by way of income tax is an astounding 24% of the tax collected.  They are also the most literate community and preserve the oldest libraries.
another cool thing about them (i could go on and on)  is that they are totally non- judgemental and are completely accepting of other peoples religion- it's part of their their need to be kind.  these are the NICE people- all about peace and love to the extreme.  i am so happy to know the Jains are still thriving after all these centuries and being run out by those nasty violent moguls and that they have come out on top.  Long live the Jains of the Khajuraho Love Temples!

our hotel had a lovely shrine for morning meditation and you can see the top of one of the temples in the background- so close.  lovely exotic bird life too.

i wish we could have stayed here longer.  it's the one place in India i'd love to go back to