Chandni Chowk and Jama Masjid in New Delhi

Chandni Chowk and Jama Masjid in New Delhi

Chandni Chowk and Jama Masjid in New Delhi

I apologize at the start for misleading you a little bit with my head photo above.  Obviously, this is neither Chandni Chowk nor the Jama Masjid.  This is a picture of my lovely wife Therese’s newly-hennaed hands.  But you see, she got the work done the previous day during our leisure day in Udaipur.  And anyone who has had henna work done before knows that you have to wait about a day for the crust to peel off and reveal the intricacy and beauty of the work, which will then last I guess about a couple of weeks.  So that morning at breakfast on our first full day back in New Delhi was my first chance to see Therese’s henna hands in all their glory.

After breakfast, we were off for a full day of sightseeing in India’s capital.  And if you have been reading these posts since the beginning, you may remember that on our first time in New Delhi, which was really just one day, our guide Preem mapped out a plan for sightseeing in New Delhi.  And he assured us that he would inform our guide for these last two days of the plan, so that he would pick up where Preem had left off.  Well, this worked out very well, since our new guide was none other than Preem’s brother, Vijay.

We started out the day with a drive to the Presidential Palace.

The Presidential Palace is not of that much interest to me.  It was built during the time of British occupation, and thus represents that to me more than it’s continued use as the home of India’s president.  But there is a grand street that leads up to it, and it has a feeling very much like our White House. So there it is.

After that we left the British, new part of New Delhi, and went north to the old part of the town.  Specifically, we visited Chandni Chowk, which is where the markets are.  This is where the Red Fort and Jama Masjid were built by our old friend Shah Jahan, the Mughal Emperor who also had the Taj Mahal built.  This section of Delhi was his capital, Shahjahanabad, which was built in 1639.  Now it appears on the one hand incredibly old, on the other hand terribly dilapidated, but it continues to be one of the most vibrant parts of Delhi.

We couldn’t get much of anywhere in Chandni Chowk with our driver, so we left him and Vijay directed us to a place where we could get a bicycle rickshaw.  For most of the rest of the day, until we left the Chandni Chowk area, that was how we got around.

First, we went through the markets, that look a lot like the souks we had seen in Marrakesh.  Then we drove to a spot, and got out and walked to the Golden Horse Tea shop, which is one of the great sources for spices in Delhi.

Golden Horse was a treasure trove of spices, and we spent several minutes picking out different marsalas and cumin and curry powders and some darjeeling tea.  We bought them and the check out clerk sealed our purchases in a small plastic pillow, I guess so that we would be able to get it through customs.  We were pretty excited about our purchase, and went on our way.

Our next stop was at Karim’s Restaurant, which is famous for its Mughal-style food.  It is said that the cooks there are descendants of the people who worked in the kitchens of the Mughal emperors.  I don’t know if that’s true, but it certainly is popular.  Rather than a restaurant in the way we think of it, it is more like a series of rooms surrounding a courtyard – one room is the bakery, one is the kitchen, one is a dining room, and so forth.  And like much of Chandni Chowk, it is a sight – there are bundles of electrical wires hanging off of buildings, crumbling stone, the occasional ancient looking doorway, but where the food is made and where you eat is immaculately clean.

The food wasn’t bad.  The fresh nan bread was probably the best part of it.  My tummy was still up and down at that point, so I steered clear of spicy food as best I could, munching on a little fatty lamb and a little chicken.

Part of the reasoning for eating lunch at Karim’s was that it is very near to the mosque in Chandni Chowk, the Jama Masjid.  When we had first arrived in Chandni Chowk, it was time for prayers at the mosque, so we had gone and seen the spice store and so forth.  But now we were allowed to enter, and so we walked over, and I paid a fee for a photo permit, and we entered, removing our shoes as usual, and we entered.

There is no question that the Jama Masjid is an incredibly beautiful sacred space.  What strikes me about it, though, is that the vast majority of the space where the faithful kneel to pray is concrete, and completely open to the elements, with no roof over their heads.  It’s like a vast courtyard, with a covered section only large enough to hold a small handful of people.  That being said, even though it was not prayer time, there were still a huge number of people there, demonstrating that the mosque is part of an active community.

Having experienced Shah Jahan’s mosque, it was time for us to get back on our rickshaw and rejoin Chotu, and then head back to the New Delhi Oberoi.  It had indeed been an eye-opening day.  Not since our time in Marrakesh had we seen a market place that was so vibrant while appearing so close to utterly crumbling into the dust.  Remarkable.


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Travel from Udaipur to New Delhi

Thursday, February 12th was taken up with our travel from Udaipur to New Delhi.  Which is not to say that it took us all day to get from one to the other.  Actually, quite the contrary.  But with, at the point, 10 days in the country already under our belt, and an extraordinarily exquisite hotel all around us in Udaipur, my suggestion was that we spend a day relaxing and enjoying the hotel.  And that is what we did, for the most part.

If you’ve read my post about that hotel, the Oberoi Udaivilas, you’ve already seen the photos I took of the hotel that morning of leisure.  But to revive your memory, here they are again.

Okay, now that we’ve gotten all that sumptuousness out of the way!  It was indeed a leisurely day, a great day to catch up and not have to worry about doing anything in particular.  But eventually it had to end.  We had to get ourselves to the airport, and fly to New Delhi.

The flight left at 4:05 in the afternoon, and landed in Delhi about 5:25p.  And it was cheap, about $53 per person.  And – they offered an in-flight snack and beverage.  But – the snack was nasty.  How nasty?  This nasty.

In-flight Snack on Air India

In-flight Snack on Air India

Some sort of mystery cake that I couldn’t trust to not have dairy in it, a roll of bread made in a laboratory with some laboratory cheese product on it, and some shreds of carrot on the side.  Then a container of mayonnaise, and a bottle of spring water (hooray for the water!).  I gave Therese my cake, peeled the cheese nasty off of my bread, and had a mayo and carrot sandwich.  Enough to tide me over until what promised to be a satisfying dinner at the New Delhi Oberoi that night.  Otherwise, pretty high on the nasty scale.

So, in conclusion, not a very memorable day.  But one of my favorites.  I mean, you go on vacation, and you spend serious money, and you want each day to be full of memorable things.  But it is a vacation, and when you can take a break and just let yourself be, and enjoy the beauty of your surroundings, I think that is a good thing.  Especially when the beautiful surroundings are on the incomparable scale of the Oberoi Udaivilas.

Now we move into the final phase of our India trip: the last two days in New Delhi, and preparations for our return to home in New York City.

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Udaipur Old Town and Monsoon Palace

Udaipur Old Town and Monsoon Palace

Udaipur Old Town and Monsoon Palace

On our third day in Udaipur, we went for a walk with our guide RV through the creative chaos that is Udaipur Old Town.  Then we did a little shopping before returning to the hotel for a late lunch.  We concluded the day by meeting up again with RV in the late afternoon and drove up to the top of the hill west of Udaipur, to the so-called Monsoon Palace (it was an alternative palace where the princes of Udaipur spent the monsoon season).

Rather than give you an in-depth description of all that we saw in Udaipur’s Old Town, for the most part I will give you some photos so you can see for yourself.  Let’s start with the Old Town itself, and the food market within it.

The Old Town is not far from the center of Udaipur, the Chetak Circle, with its monument of a former prince’s favorite horse Chetak, who saved him in the midst of a battle.

There are gates through (or around) which one enters the Old Town, either by land or by sea.  The latter is called Gangaur Ghat, and can be seen from Lake Pichola.

As we made our way through Old Town, we saw numerous sacred spaces.  RV had told us that there are many temples, mosques and even Christian churches very close to each other – while the vast majority of Udaipur’s people are Hindu, there are very active (if small) Muslim and Christian communities.  Besides temples, one sees frequent small shrines to Hindu gods like Ganesh and Hanuman; one also sees shrines to local folk deities (heroes to the local people who have died and then become popular as the focus for people’s prayers).

The most famous temple in the Old Town is probably Jagdish Mandir.  RV had originally offered that we could see it on the inside; but since there are dozens of steps to get to the main level of the temple, we elected to just see it from the outside.

After getting a full taste of the old town, it was time to do a bit of shopping before we left for lunch.  RV took us first to a shop specializing in silver, which apparently is a popular medium for artistry in Udaipur.  We looked respectfully at what they offered there, but our main area of interest was in miniature painting.  Going back to the earliest days of the Mewar dynasty, miniature painting has been a specialty (and other parts of India, for example, the Mughal Empire, had artists skilled in the genre).  RV took us to BG Sharma Art Gallery, one of the studios that possesses the books of painting patterns used for the royal family before India became a country in the late 1940s.

One of the young artists showed us many different styles of paintings that the studio creates.  We were most attracted to a classic style, of painting on camel bone.  The subject matter is Udaipur itself – the painting we picked out shows the City Palace, the Lake Palace and the Monsoon Palace, and in the foreground is a procession of the Prince and his royal family.  The photo I took doesn’t do it justice – the detail is extraordinary, and of the tiniest sort you can imagine – you have to look at it with a magnifying glass to appreciate how exquisite the artistry of this painting is.  But here is my photo to give you an idea of the painting.

Our Miniature Painting of Udaipur with the Prince's Procession

Our Miniature Painting of Udaipur with the Prince’s Procession

After our shopping, it was time to take our afternoon break.

When we rejoined RV and our driver Chotu, the day was beginning to cool, and the afternoon sun beginning to wane.  Chotu expertly drove us along treacherous hairpin turns up the side of the hill to the top where the Monsoon Palace lay.

Having already seen the City Palace, the Monsoon Palace seems spartan by comparison.  There are several rooms open to the public inside, with at present a series of exhibits describing how the building was built during the 19th century, but most of the building is still owned by the prince and therefore off-limits to the public.

What is perhaps most appealing about the Monsoon Palace to the visitor is its location on top of the hill.  From there we were able to see incredible views of the surrounding hills and of Udaipur below us.

As we were there, as planned, the sun began to set.  It was absolutely a breathtaking sight seeing it from that incredible vantage point.

Sun Setting From the Monsoon Palace

Sun Setting From the Monsoon Palace

And within a few minutes the sun was gone completely!

Sun Completely Set from the Monsoon Palace

Sun Completely Set from the Monsoon Palace

With that it was time to return to the Oberoi Udaivilas, say goodbye to Chotu and RV for the night, and get ready for the dinner with music and dancing that I previously described to you in my post about the Oberoi Udaivilas hotel.  Wow, what a day!

Posted in Countries, India, Markets, Monuments, Temples, Travel, Udaipur, Walking tours | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Overview of Vienna and Krakow Dairy Free Traveler Trip 2015

Overview of Vienna and Krakow Dairy Free Traveler Trip 2015

Overview of Vienna and Krakow Dairy Free Traveler Trip 2015

For our summer trip this year, Therese and I picked out one old favorite of Therese’s, and one place that neither of us had ever been.  And for the first half of that trip, to Vienna (the old favorite), we invited along one of Therese’s best friends (and one of mine), Faith.

In the posts (and weeks) to come, I will do my best to get all of our adventures, as we used to say, down on paper (paper? what’s that?).  To see which posts have been completed about which days, keep checking back here to this post.  For it’s here that I will give a day by day list of the places we visited day by day, and the hyperlinks to those several specific posts.

So without any further ado, here is that list.

Sunday, August 9: St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Hoher Markt
Monday, August 10: Leopold Museum
Tuesday, August 11: Hofburg, St. Peter’s Church and Ruprecht’s Church
Wednesday, August 12: Art History Museum and Dinner at Nikolaihof
Thursday, August 13: Yamm and Academy of Fine Arts
Friday, August 14: Belvedere Upper Palace, Restaurant Sperl, Votive Church and Rathausplatz Film Festival Food
Saturday, August 15: MAK (Museum of Applied Arts)

Sunday, August 16: Main Square, Cloth Hall, St. Mary’s Basilica
Monday, August 17: Kazimierz (Jewish Quarter), Soya Cafe, Jesuit Church
Tuesday, August 18: Jagiellonia University, Cracow Free Tours Food Tour, Morski Oko
Wednesday, August 19: Wawel Castle, Stained Glass Museum Workshop

Vienna and Wachau Region
Thursday, August 20: Rathausplatz Film Festival Cuisine Redux
Friday, August 21: Melk Abbey, Danube Boat Ride, Krems an der Donau
Saturday, August 22: Krems Old Town

I will, before I leave you, offer some observations that colored our experience a bit, and may lurk in the back of your minds as you read my posts.  In preparing for our trip, we knew that we would see many paintings by artist Gustav Klimt, and we were aware of the recent movie Lady in Gold, based on the book of the same title by Ann-Marie O’Connor, which concerns one of Klimt’s most famous paintings (which was on display in Vienna for decades, but now is in New York).  Therese and I thought that reading O’Connor’s book would give us some insight into both Klimt and the disposition of Klimt’s artworks.

That untold Viennese families suffered at the hands of the Nazis during World War Two because of their Jewishness or connection to Jews we knew.  What is shocking in O’Connor’s book is how recently there are – and I say ARE and not WERE because some of it undoubtedly goes on – how recently there are people and institutions and governments in that part of the world that are still largely in denial about what happened.  There are still innumerable art works and other possessions that were stolen from Jewish people by the Nazis that have yet to be restored to the families of the original owners.  And Viennese institutions have recently been and probably continue to be at the center of this issue, this unresolved immense atrocity.

So as we saw so many incredible things in Vienna, we sometimes found ourselves asking, “is that something that was stolen?”  For example, when we were in the Leopold Museum, the more we read, the more it seemed very likely that Rudolph Leopold, whose collection forms the basis for that museum, turned a blind eye to where most if not all of the things he collected came from.  We know for sure that some of his purchases in the 1950s, for example, were of paintings and other valuable articles that had been stolen by the Nazis at one time.

How did this make us feel?  It made me feel conflicted sometimes.  I was glad to see the incredible artwork that I saw.  Even after all the artwork is returned, Vienna will still have an incomparable artistic treasure in its museums that comes from its history as the Habsburg capital.  But I was sad that one more aspect of the policy of the Nazis continues to cause so much grief even to this day.

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Introduction to Krakow

Introduction to Krakow

Introduction to Krakow

OK, this is going to be a quick one.  I just wanted to give a quick update which can also serve as an introduction to Krakow, Poland, where we are right now.  First, to cut to the chase, we today had our first day in the city, it was a perfect one, and we expect that the next 3-plus days will be similar in fun and quality.

Now that that’s out of the way.  As many people say, Hotel Kosciuszko, where we are staying, is full of character, very romantic in fact, but a bit of a hike from the Rynek Glowny, the center of Krakow’s old town.  So we envision ourselves taking lots of taxis back and forth, to our mind, a built-in expense.  Oh well.  Otherwise, we love the hotel.

We spent most of today in and around Rynek Glowny, and believe me, we haven’t seen everything yet.  There is shopping.  There is good (and not crazy expensive) food.  There are churches (wow!) and museums.  There is more for us to see around there, and we will see it soon.

Coming up: a trip to the Wieliszka Salt Mine (maybe), visits to the Wawel Castle and Kazimierz neighborhood (aka Krakow’s Jewish Quarter, made famous by Stephen Spielberg’s movie Schindler’s List), a culinary walking tour and a stained glass workshop (yes, we are going to learn how to do it, and bring home whatever we make!).  And more good food – I actually found a couple vegan restaurants, including one that serves great desserts and ice cream, and I will undoubtedly try them.  In short, thus far the food has been really good – I had a goose leg with cherry sauce for dinner, for example, and loved it.

OK, that’s it for now.  See you again soon with more from Krakow (and yes, I will tell you about our week in Vienna, which was also incredible).

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Lake Pichola Boat Ride Udaipur

Lake Pichola Boat Ride Udaipur

Lake Pichola Boat Ride Udaipur

The highlight of our second day in Udaipur – yes, even more so than our day trip to the Sas-Bahu and Eklingji Temples – was our boat ride on Lake Pichola.  I don’t have too much to say about it, other than that it was incredibly peaceful, and I always love being on the water.  I will just say that in terms of visuals, well, seeing the Udaipur City Palace, the Lake Palace Hotel, and various other things close up from the water is great.  You will see what I mean.

Our ride was courtesy of the Oberoi Udaivilas – being a lakeside property, they have a dock and a number of boats.  We met a golf cart at the entrance to the hotel who drove us down to the dock in the late afternoon, and we were off!

As you can see from above, the first thing our pilot did was bring us across the water to get up close and personal with the City Palace, Lake Palace Hotel, and things like the Bagore Ki Haveli (right next to the City Palace) and Gangaur Ghat, the three-arched gate that leads you from the lake to the Old City.  And with the light of the fading sun on them, they were golden and spectacular.  Well, don’t take my word for it: see for yourself (if you haven’t already gazed at the above pictures).

Once we had done that, he took us for a ride to explore the various nooks and crannies of the lake.  On the bank opposite Gangaur Ghat, we saw a small Shiva temple and a lovely medidation gazebo.  And then we got to see some of the things we had just seen, but from the other side, away from the blazing rays of the sun.

As we were riding around the lake, we saw other boats carrying tourists, including a couple other boats from the Oberoi.

Here, I will offer a short description on karma.  I’m sure you’ve heard of it – it is the Indian equivalent of what we call “what goes around, comes around.”  It espouses the belief that, to use another old Western adage, “you reap what you sow.”  Anyway, that morning at breakfast on the terrace of the Surya Mahal restaurant, we had witnessed a small altercation.  There was a woman at a table with a bunch of other people who was complaining because her toast was cold.  The waiter brought another serving of toast in a basket wrapped in a cloth to keep it warm, and once again, she complained that it was not warm enough.  Well, anyway, one of the boats we saw on the lake had a group including this woman.  And I found it a bit ironic that her trip around the lake was pretty quick – her boat had returned to the dock long before we did.  Whether that was because she once again complained about being cold, we’ll never know, but the point is that she missed out.

We on the other hand, got the full boat ride experience.  After taking us around to see the sights, our pilot took us out into the middle and cut the engine, so that we could watch the sunset in the still quiet of the lake.  What an exquisite experience it was for us!

Then, as the sun disappeared behind the hills and it began to grow dark, we returned to the dock.  They offered as a golf cart back to the hotel entrance, but we chose to walk, holding those golden moments in our minds as we walked over the lawn and back up to our room.


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Sas-Bahu and Eklingji

Sas-Bahu and Eklingji

Sas-Bahu and Eklingji

The major part of our second day in Udaipur was taken up with a road trip out into the countryside to visit Sas-Bahu and Eklingji, two of the most ancient and auspicious temple complexes in the region around Udaipur.  We met our driver and guide after breakfast at the Oberoi Udaivilas, and were off driving outside the city in no time.

While in Udaipur, anywhere you can see for any distance, you see the hills surrounding the city.  As we had learned the previous day, the city is rather compact.  Sure enough, it didn’t take much driving before we were in the countryside outside of Udaipur, with the hills on both sides of us, passing the villages from which many of the city’s day workers commute into the city.  In less than an hour, we had arrived at the day’s first stop, the Sas-Bahu Temple.

Mother-in-law and Daughter-in-law Temples Alongside Each Other

Mother-in-law and Daughter-in-law Temples Alongside Each Other

The Sas-Bahu Temple is actually two temples alongside each other, with several smaller chapels or shrines surrounding the temples as well.  The name comes from Saas which is Hindi for “mother-in-law” and Bahu which means “daughter-in-law” and has a double significance.  When the temples were built in the eleventh century, the nearby village of Nagda was the capital of the Mewar dynasty, and the larger of the two temples was built for the king’s mother to worship in, while the smaller one was built for the king’s wife.  Nowadays, the archetypal relationship between the Hindi mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, in which the older woman dominates the younger one, is well-known. There are popular Hindi soap operas that explore this relationship and all its dramatic and comical possibilities, for example.   From the relative size of these two buildings, it would seem that this dynamic existed as far back as a thousand years ago.

The Sas-Bahu Temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, and therein lies the second meaning to the temple name.  Vishnu is known as “the one with a thousand arms,” which in Sanskrit translates as SahastraBahu, or Sas-Bahu for short.

Explanations aside, these two buildings and their chapels are gorgeous, covered both inside and out with a host of ornate carvings.  Let us begin first of all to look at the interior of the larger building.

Pretty extraordinary, I’m sure you will agree.  What you may not notice much in these photos is the extent to which the figures are defaced.  You see, eventually the Mewar court moved on to other places, first to Chittorgarh and then to Udaipur, leaving Nagda and the Sas-Bahu Temple vulnerable to vandalism by Muslim invaders.  You probably know that displaying human figures and faces especially in art and sacred spaces is forbidden in Islam.  These Muslim invaders hacked away at the faces and other parts of the creatures carved on these walls, especially on the outside.

Another reason those Muslim invaders probably hacked and smashed is that there are many carvings they probably judged as improper, ones that depict Kama Sutra poses where Tantric Yoga is being practiced.  That’s right, boys and girls, in these carvings people are having sex.  I will show you just one photo of such a carving that survives somewhat intact, but before I do, do you promise to restrain your urge to laugh and act out?  OK, here it is.

Naughty Carving at Sas-Bahu

Naughty Carving at Sas-Bahu

I love how the figure in the middle is putting his/her hands over their face, apparently just as scandalized as we are at witnessing these sexual acts.

In spite of all the damage that was done, there is so much extraordinarily beautiful carving on the exterior of these buildings, that there is still much gloriousness that has survived mostly intact.  Here are some of my favorite details.

The temple’s setting is quite extraordinary, with a lake directly adjacent to it and a picturesque hill just beyond that.

Lake and Hill Across From Sas-Bahu

Lake and Hill Across From Sas-Bahu

As we left the temple grounds, I took notice of the posted sign (which I had mostly ignored on my way in, in my hurry to see this incredible structure), which gives some more insight into Sas-Bahu’s history.

Sas-Bahu Explanation

Sas-Bahu Explanation

The drive from Sas-Bahu to Eklingji was short.  When I say that the latter is a “temple complex” I am making a gross understatement.  Sas-Bahu, with two temples and a handful of chapels, is miniscule compared to Eklingji, with its 108 temples filling many acres of land surrounded by a high wall.  Eklingji is much more tightly controlled than Sas-Bahu.  Part of this is because it contains a main temple which is still used for worship, and part is due to the complex’s antiquity – it was built in 743 A.D.  Yes, that’s right, the eighth century, or nearly 1300 years ago.  Wow, talk about old!

When I say “control” I mean aluminum barriers restricting where we nasty tourists can go. And of course, no photography – none at all!  I took some pictures of the entrance, just so you could have some frame of reference.

The one building you are allowed to enter is the large main Shiva temple where regular worship services are held.  In fact, when we walked in, they were just about to start a service.  We had just enough time to follow the procession of tourists to the front of the temple, peak through the gate at the altar and give some veneration (along with the garlands of flowers we had purchased as an offering) before the service began.  We stood in the back to listen to the chanting for a few minutes, and then headed back outside.  There was one further area through which we were allowed to walk, from which we could see a large courtyard with seemingly dozens of ancient temples.  It was a tease really, but again, I’m sure if I was custodian for some 1300 year old buildings, I would keep the public and their oily fingers as far away from them that I could.

Our visit to these beyond extraordinary monuments completed, we were driven back to Udaipur and the Oberoi Udaivilas.  The rest of the day, we would be on our own, sort of.  We would have lunch on our own at the hotel, and then in the late afternoon, we would go for a boat ride on Lake Pichola, in time to hopefully see the sunset over the lake.  In my next post, I will tell (and show) you all about that.

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