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Destination: India {part 1}

April 28, 2011

India is overwhelming and utterly defined by its contrasts.  So much of my experience of the country and people can only be recounted in dualities. It is luminously beautiful, garrish-ly rich and totally accessible. It is darkly dirty, impossibly poor and so much lives unsaid and unexplained to a foreigner’s eye. Unlike any other country I’ve been to, India resists my attempts to classify, to summarize, to neatly compartmentalize my experience there. Even the dominant religion – Hinduism – is more or less based on the idea that you get to choose what god speaks to you and how you want to worship him or her. The only unifying thread I can verbalize is that it is a feast for the senses, a place where one simply has to give-in: Give-in to the raucous clamor of the streets and the temple. Give-in to the unidentifiable spices on the tongue at dinner time. Give-in to the sweet, simple act of inhaling fresh flowers and to the less attractive smell of animal husbandry. Give-in to the massively overwhelming grandeur of what can be built with unfathomable quantities of human labor, princely pride and royal fortune. Which brings me to the reason we went to India.

My husband and I trade off Big Vacation Destination selections each year. This year India was my choice and the question that everyone asked me was why? My gut reaction answer: well, that’s where the Taj Majal is and I mean seriously, it is literally a monument to Love. I, like a lot of people, have seen countless photographs of the building, studied it in Art History class and know that its a giant tomb monument dedicated to the third wife of a long dead king. But I also know that most places that make it to the top 10 photographed monuments in the world list are probably there because they are just that freakin’ cool. (Okay, I don’t know if there really is a top 10 Photographed List, but surely the Taj Majal is on it – way after the Eiffel Tower but somewhere before the Golden Gate Bridge. After all there are 1 billion people in India alone and from what I saw a solid chunk of them travel domestically and take their cameras with them. But that, oddly, is the subject of another post.)

Back to the Taj. Nestled on a river bank away from the crazy streets of Agra we approached on foot in the dark before sunrise. Hidden behind massive gates and at the center of some seriously gorgeous landscape and architectural symmetry, the Taj is revealed to visitors in the early light of sunrise and it made me sigh, stare, cry a little and sign again. And best of all, as long as one dons these horrible little hair nets for shoes it can be explored up close and personal. Am I gushing? I think I’m gushing. But that’s because it was the catalyst, the inspiration, The Reason,  for our trip and it did not disappoint. For someone who loves love like I do it felt a little like going to the source.

The Taj is visible across town and from many lookout points. The day grew hazy after sunrise, but I love the thin cloak of mystery that such haze adds to the image above. Hinduism and its practitioners made the largest cultural impact while we were in India but India’s Islamic past was very present in many of the sites we chose to see.  The Taj was built by an Islamic ruler and many Islamic sites – from giant abandoned minarets to working mosques preparing for Friday prayer – were on our route.

Each string represents a wish or prayer and is tied to the stone latice-work of the mosque.

 The Islamic sites seemed rather frozen in comparison to the Hindu temples and sites we visited. Hindu prayer can be a loud, messy affair accompanied by bells, clapping, singing and incense. All at the same time. It was a little startling for me at first coming from a Methodist and now Quaker tradition (I guess you could say I’m trending to the quieter end of the religious spectrum) but ultimately India struck me as a place where energy rules. So why wouldn’t it rule worship, too? My favorite temple was the Monkey Temple outside of Jaipur where we had close encounters with animals of many kinds and were blessed by a Hindu priest.

Are you dizzy yet? From love to prayer to monkeys, I’ve taken this post all over the place. Just like India pushed and pulled me around until I finally I just gave-in and went along for the ride.

Next time: Prayers to the River Ganges


11 Comments leave one →
  1. April 28, 2011 8:21 am

    So cool, Heather. Jealousy abounds. 🙂

  2. April 28, 2011 8:53 am

    Very VERY beautiful images Heather. Looks like an amazing adventure.

  3. April 28, 2011 9:06 am

    So very awesome. Travel always inspires me in so many ways. Getting to see new things, talking to people with different perspectives. It looks like you had quite an inspirational trip. Favorites for me… the third photo, black and white, framed up so lovely, and the light is fantastic. For some reason I always enjoy photographs where someone is taking a photograph… Also really love the birds (1011), such great movement and light.

    Fantastic work, hopefully the inspiration will carry with you for a long time.

    • April 28, 2011 2:36 pm

      Travel certainly does inspire and helps get me out of any habits I might have developed in a long wedding season. Thanks for telling your faces – the birds really cooperated on that one!

  4. Jody permalink
    April 28, 2011 9:24 am

    I’m glad you gave in and I sensed that with our brief discussion. Awesome pics. Lovely story. Cool Monkeys. There is a tingling in my toes as I learn to love to love again.

  5. Molly Michel permalink
    April 28, 2011 1:14 pm

    OMG Heather, O.M.G. I have no other words. I knew I was going to be jealous when you finally posted pictures, but I might be looking for tickets to India tonight. :0) Beautiful work and an amazing trip choice!

    • April 28, 2011 2:34 pm

      You would be in photo heaven in India. Light can be a little hazy but there’s so much to look at with a photographer’s eye. Thanks for checking itout. More to come!

  6. Linda Elliott permalink
    April 29, 2011 9:55 am

    Beautiful photos! When we can’t be there with you, I always love going ‘along for the ride!’

  7. Tracy Nursey permalink
    May 1, 2011 4:12 pm

    Love the photos! Beautiful.

  8. May 10, 2011 7:53 am

    Dear Madam,
    Its really great site and i like your way to do the work and with photograph.
    My best wishes always with you

  9. Josie permalink
    May 23, 2011 8:51 am

    Amazing! Your pictures are beautiful!

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