Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Sunil Gaur, the naturalist who spoke to us at the bird sanctuary in Bharatpur, sent me these recent photos of some of the wildlife we were lucky enough to see when we visited. Sunil welcomes dialogue with Colgate naturalists and wildlife enthusiasts!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

India in the classroom

One of the most memorable experiences I had in India came on the last day, when we visited the Delhi Handicrafts Museum. This is a museum where one can encounter not only works of art, but living artists, who come to the museum from all over India and produce their works and sell them directly to visitors. Visitors are able to meet and talk to the makers of the objects they buy.

During our visit, I noticed that David Dudrick appeared to be having a very intense interaction with a woman standing in front of some large painted scrolls. She was singing and gesturing to the images. David was clearly very moved by it, and I snapped his picture.

I stayed and listened a while longer. I learned that the woman, whose name is Mommi Chitrakar, is a maker of something called a "pat," a scroll that illustrates a song (or serves as an aide-memoire to the singer). She was selling scrolls that depicted a variety of stories, including an episode of the Ramayana (which, naturally, was purchased -- see my previous post, "Shadows of Homer"), as well as one about the Titanic (which seemed to be closely based on the movie). She was more than happy to sing all the scrolls' songs for us. Eventually, she showed us one about the 2004 tsunami. Here is a video taken by Dai Yamamoto of her singing this song: video link

Monday, January 23, 2012

Fire

If I'd been asked to guess before our trip what scents I would remember most from India, I would have been wrong.

I probably would have guessed "curry," which would have been wrong in several ways, not the least of which is that "curry" isn't actually a food category in India; it's a word that's been imposed by Western culture to describe a wide variety of different Indian dishes.

I might have gone on to guess "incense", or, maybe, if I'd been thinking about the more negative stereotypes, "sweat," or, "urine."

Wrong, wrong, and wrong.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chinese in India

I can pass as a local in China,
 but not in India
In her post, “I Am a Good Muslim: I Wear the Veil,” Navine Murshid describes being mistaken for an Indian, and a Hindu.  Although Navine and I wandered through those alleys near Nizamuddin Dargah together, my experience was in some ways the opposite of hers.  In India, I felt like I found out what it's like to be white.

I have traveled in non-Western countries before, but only in East and Southeast Asia, where my Chinese ancestry gives me the privilege of hiding or displaying my first world, Western status almost at will.  In China, where I spent many years working and doing research, in Thailand, and Korea, I could choose to fade into the crowd (or be treated to cheaper prices) by speaking Chinese/keeping my mouth shut, modifying my posture, and inching away from my non-Asian travel companions (including my 6’2” green-eyed husband.).  When I wanted to be treated as a wealthy American (to get good service, or just to sail unquestioned into a fancy hotel lobby to use the toilet), I would lift my chin, put a confident bounce into my step, and (most importantly) chat loudly in fluent American English.

my top 25

Toward the end of our trip, I started asking many of my colleagues to tell me about their favorite moments from India, as well as their "not in Kansas anymore" experiences.  As I listened to their answers, I realized that it is really hard to pick just one example for each.  To process and distill some of my memories from the trip, I decided to make a gallery of just 25 of the many pictures I took in India.  It was really hard to choose just 25...and the exercise made me realize the limitations of photography for representing a place and the range of experiences that one can have there.  But in the end I tried to select photographs and write captions that convey some of the (often contradictory) emotions and encounters from the trip.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Jewbiquity

Early in the trip, we went to Auroville, a utopian community started by a woman called The Mother to live by the teachings of a sage by the name of Sri Aurobindo. Sri Aurobindo was educated in Great Britain, but later renounced his active life and settled in Pondicherry. He died in the early 1950s. His spiritual companion, the Mother, led the community and supervised the building of the shrine you see here.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Processing

Like many of my fellow travelers, I imagine, I have spent the days since we landed re-acclimating, trying to right a wayward stomach, to persuade my circadian rhythm of the fact of Eastern standard time. Many times the past few days I have been awake when I ought to have been asleep (and vice versa, of course) and it is in these waking moments that I have given the India trip my most sustained thought. Much of the thought has been intellectual, but some of it has been purely visceral. I have felt profound relief and gratitude opening the tap and drinking the clean Hamilton water.

If potable water seems a luxury, all the more so a pantry full of food and a warm house whose construction has long been complete. A stable internet connection—something that eluded me the entirety of the trip—seems positively decadent.

I am a good Muslim: I wear the Veil

I have always been a bit wary about people who wear religion on their sleeves. Isn’t religion supposed to be a private matter? Why can’t I be a good Muslim without wearing a veil, or a good Christian without a cross pendant, or a good Hindu wife without the shakha or the sindur? Why is it important that others know what my religion is?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Drawing a Line in Water

Our visit to the dargah (tomb) of the Sufi saint, Nizamuddin Auliya, in Delhi was one of the highlights of the trip for me.  As a scholar of popular Hinduism, our journey into the labyrinthine alleys that lead to the tomb was a trip into another of India's remarkable religious worlds, one that I had only read about it in books.   Dargahs are well-known as sites of religious syncretism in the subcontinent, open to people of many faiths.  It could have been places like this that prompted the Mughal prince Dara Shikoh (1615-1659) to answer, when asked to demarcate the differences between religions, "How can you draw a line in water?" Here, everyone who seeks inspiration can come sit in the presence of the deceased saint's baraka (the healing, empowering divine force that flows from God through those closest to Him).

Monday, January 16, 2012

Adaptāre


In India one becomes used to manifestations. The main gods are Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu, and each has its own spirit: Shiva is the bad boy who acts first and asks questions later; Vishnu tries to maintain the status quo. But even Shiva and Vishnu, along with the Creator Brahma, are manifestations of the one Divine. Each of these gods has many manifestations: Vishnu, for example, is sometimes manifested as Varaha the Boar, who saved the earth from the ocean. The avatars of the various gods vary dramatically in form, but they all maintain the spirit of their god. For example, Varaha the Boar acts to preserve, as does Vishnu and his other avatars.

final pictures

Now back in Hamilton and recovering from jet lag, I've uploaded my final pictures from our last day in Delhi to my photo gallery.  I'm also working on a "greatest hits" gallery of my favorite 25 pictures from the trip, which I'll post later this week.  Let me know if you have any votes for which pics should make the list.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

I've posted an album of photos from the trip. I'll try to add some captions soon:
Reflections from India

Plus, a gracious note from Montek Mayal (Class of 2009), whom we met in Delhi:

Dear All,
It was a great pleasure to meet you all during your stay in Delhi and enjoy the Dargah in Nizamuddin and Karim’s after! Thank you for inviting me to join your experience and a special thank you to Professor Kaimal for making this possible!

I just wanted to congratulate on your unique, exploratory and intriguing trip covering the length and most of the breadth of the country. Being an Indian citizen, and moreover, being involved in the travel and tourism business myself I must point out that your itinerary was very fascinating and, though it had its appeal from a mainstream tourism prospective, it went beyond the usual realms of international tourism and covered the aspects of Indian identity, culture and indigenous knowledge. And I must congratulate you on this again!

I believe this stance Colgate has taken, defined in its theme of “Crossing Boundaries,” explicitly identifies the need for students and faculty to investigate and learn international cultures, perspectives, and history. Which I believe is highly important in today’s globalized concept of trade and economy.

As I had briefly mentioned during our meeting – I believe such exposure is highly valuable and I have a keen interest in promoting such a “discovery” of India.

I look forward to the next such trip Colgate plans and how I could possibly add value to the excursion!

Best regards,
Montek Mayal
Colgate Class of 2009

Taj Mahal: Where Love and Death Meet


It is difficult to write something about Taj Mahal that has not been said already. Anyone who has been there knows that the photos and the postcards barely do any justice to this magnificent monument. It is something that must be experienced, not just viewed.

The only parallel I can draw is this: it is the same kind of sensation as you look up at the falls from the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls. The difference is that at Niagara Falls, there are two falls; the wonder of the Taj Mahal is really a series of wonders.

As you enter the first gate, you can’t see the Taj; its dome quietly enters the visual space as you move towards the main gate: the gates of paradise. If heaven could be on earth, it would look like Taj Mahal.

As the structure with the four pillars, with the pool in front and the mosques (one real, one a façade) on the two sides mirroring each other confronts you, you are transported into, yes, paradise! You can only gape in wonder as you move closer and realize how intricate the details on the structures are, how symmetrical the entire composition is, and how much effort, resources, and love must have gone into building it.

Apparently, the popular story about Shahjahan building this as a symbol of love for his wife Mumtaz is a myth; instead, it is for self-aggrandizement. Even if that may be the case, today it is certainly a place where lovers become starry-eyed, and irrespective of whether the true intentions had anything to do with the pain of lost-love, the Taj Mahal has become a monument of love. Yet, it is difficult not to think about mortality. Why do we wait until someone dies to really appreciate that person, and yes, build a monument in her honor?

If you have been able to keep thoughts of mortality at bay until now, you will no longer be able to as you reach the last gate, the gate through which you enter the tombs. The beautiful Arabic calligraphy reads something akin to “get prepared to meet your maker”. It serves as a quick reminder that death is perhaps the only thing in life that you can take for granted. “That and taxes,” as Eliza Kent said.

Food for Thought: How can we reconcile the anti-idol-worshipping stance of Islam with shrines that appear to do just that?
Photo: The Gate of Paradise by JKlein

Other people's religions

On the next to last night, the penultimate night, we went to a Sufi shrine to hear the ecstatic singing that takes place every Thursday. The shrine is at the hidden center of a kind of labyrinth: long, narrow, winding corridor-streets (how many? at least two), lined on either side with exuberant, crowded commerce and people, people, people. I was there with Lesleigh and the two Davids, our task being (1) to meet the group inside the shrine, and (2) stay together. A trail of breadcrumbs? You wouldn't have seen them. So we traveled like this: one David, Lesleigh in a scarf, me in a scarf, the other David. Never have I felt so in need of a body guard, nor so happy to have such attentive and gracious ones.

And then the first corridor came to an end, with the usual set of merchants guarding shoes. Behind them was more dark corridor, but this time something a little menacing. We found out later that it was an exorcism. Go in? Not go in? Timid me, I thought I'd seen enough. The rest of the crew went along--as I said, they are really gracious--and we went to find a second entrance.

Second entrance: another corridor, more people, maybe slightly less impossibly narrow, more beggars. The opening to the shrine was more inviting. We left our shoes, we went in, and there on the edge of the dark mass of people listening to the singing was our group. The singing was in the center of the shrine (men sitting cross-legged), surrounded by concentric circles of listeners. The exorcism was to our backs, behind a screen.

At this point opinions differ. Most everyone, including the scholars of religion, felt comfortable and even welcomed. What I felt was danger--not so much an undertone of menace so much as a lurking awareness of its possibility. This is, after all, an Abrahamic religion, and all Abrahamic religions (I adhere to one myself) have their exclusionary undersides, which don't always remain undersides, and had anything like that happened here, in this atmosphere of ecstatic singing, there would be no way out. Of course nothing of the sort happened. Instead, the singing led into the call to prayer. Visitors started moving toward the corridors. I was relieved, but I also thought: stampede? Again, nothing of the sort. We paid for the return of our shoes and retraced our steps.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

back in the usa!

Half of our group arrived back in the US just after noon on Saturday...we are waiting for our other colleagues to land at JFK and then one final bus ride back to Hamilton. Wow, what a trip...hope you have learned something about India from our reflections here on the blog. Those of us who traveled to India still have a lot to process and will likely all welcome your questions, comments, etc about our adventure and how we can bring India back to Colgate with us.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

photo update, pictures from the taj and dehli

Sorry I haven't posted pictures in a day or two, but Internet access has been hard to get at our hotel here in Delhi. I've posted some new pictures from our morning at the incredible Taj Mahal and our excursions in Dehli yesterday. No time for captions right now, but I will try to post those later. Last day in India...coming home Saturday night!

Poem from Jaipur

At the Sun Temple

India teaches: let go of outcome
(The Stoics from Phoenicia knew this;
they opposed slavery and challenged Aristotle.)
Wealth is not required in the search for truth;
Pursue virtue!

The monkeys watched our climb to the Sun Temple
of Surya Deva
Children, families, sadhus greeted us:
"Hello"
"Hello"
"Namaste"
And after puja, on the way down
more smiles, handshakes, offers of
pakora, rice, halva
"Namaste"
"Namaste"
"Namaste"
"Namaste"

Free of bazaars and shops,
deference and service,
We were stilled for once

Thank you, India

As a human geographer, I am interested in how people strive to improve their livelihood opportunities given various locally-specific circumstances. During the trip, I tried to talk to people who live in India as much as possible. Although I had only short, casual conversations with most of them (and I have absolutely no intention to claim that I understand their lives—not even close), I do want to reflect on what I have seen in and heard from them. Nevertheless, given that we are all a bit sleep-deprived, I would like to leave that task to a latter day, and thought that I would at least post a photo-collage of those whom I met during our trip outside of the structured occasions (e.g., lectures, tours, etc.). To say the very least, they made this excellent trip even more enjoyable for me, and I would like to thank them all here.




Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Breaking down the "Global South"

So we're in Delhi now, in fact it's the morning of the penultimate day of the trip, and several ideas have been percolating in my mind for a while. The one I want to write about this morning, though, has to do with similarity and difference, the general and the particular.

So as I mentioned in an earlier post, for the first few days after our arrival in Tamil Nadu, far southern India, I felt all these flashes of similarity to Brazil.

Shadows of Homer

I've been thinking about the Ramayana shadow-puppet show we saw on the first day of our trip at Dakshina Chitra, the crafts museum of Tamil Nadu. The stage consisted of a large piece of white fabric, behind which were several people who manipulated colorfully-painted, translucent cut-out figures made out of goat-skin leather up against the backside of the screen.

Chris Henke's photo of the show
A bright light was positioned behind them, illuminating the forms and colors of the puppets. The people working the puppets also sang, and a third person played various instruments (a drum, tamborine and a small stringed piece I couldn't quite make out). In this way, they depicted an episode of the enormous ancient Sanskrit epic of the Ramayana, in which the helpful monkey god Hanuman delivers Rama's ring to Rama's beloved wife, Sita, who has been captured by the evil god Ravana. Hanuman then defeats several monsters and assorted bad guys.

It was exciting to see this performance of the Ramayana as part of a living tradition. This troop travels all around the region performing at religious festivals. The expectation is that the audience already knows the basic outline of the Ramayana story, as they will have heard about it and seen performances of it on many occasions; this enables them to enjoy this particular snippet, to appreciate the artfulness of the telling and to fill in the gaps of what has been left out.

I suspect that this is very similar to the way the Homeric epics circulated in antiquity. We teachers of Core 151, Legacies of the Ancient World (formerly Western Traditions), might sometimes feel, or might convey to our students, a sense that Homer's epics are Great Canonical Literature, to be admired and revered and pored over word by sacred word.

This is true in a way, but it is also true that in antiquity, these stories were deeply embedded in the culture. In addition to the recitations of the canonical text at religious festivals, there were all sorts of other performances and retellings and spoofs of the stories as well. The tales would also have circulated visually, as do the stories of the Ramayana.

I have made it something of a mission on this trip to acquire as much Ramayana imagery as I can; so far my collection includes a delicate miniature painting showing Rama romancing Sita in a garden setting, and a series of drawings of various episodes on palm leaves stitched together to form a fan-like object. I also bought two goat-skin puppets made by the troop we saw perform.

I look forward to sharing these materials with my Core 151 students this semester, as a parallel to the way the Homeric stories would have suffused the life and visual culture of the ancient Mediterranean.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Day 7 - Video

Day 6 - Video

Breakfast in Bharatpur

On the cool morning of Day 9, I decided to take a little walk (again) around the hotel in Bharatpur. I began talking to a little boy and his father, sitting around the fire, and suddenly a handful number of children and adults gathered around me. I asked them whether it would be okay for me to walk around their neighborhood, and got their approval. Usual dogs, goats and cows were around, doing their own business. Since I came to India, they were increasingly looking like just one of us—eat, work, sleep, and wonder around. It has become part of the 'normal' landscape to me. I remember David saying, “why isn’t it like that in other countries?” I don’t know, but that’s probably what many Indian people would think when they visit other countries.

Pottering - Jaipur style

On Day 6, I decided to go for a little walk along Man Sagar Lake in front of the hotel before our evening meeting in Jaipur. As I was passing other people, three seemingly-local boys said “hi!” and I returned “hi!” Then we began talking, and I found out that two of them were in college, studying to become jewelers, and another was in high school. Sohail and Ali, the two college students, said if I would come to the old city next day, they could show me the city. We exchanged our phone numbers, and said good-bye.

Next day, after our late lunch at Indian Coffee House near the old city, I called Ali and asked him if we could meet. Finding and meeting with someone on Sunday on a busy street in Jaipur was a bit of challenge. Anyway, after the help of a few passersby, I successfully met with Ali near the Sanganeri Gate (Sohail could not come for some reason). His cousin-brother gave us a short ride to a narrow backstreet, where Ali’s home was located, on a motor cycle. Ali’s younger brother was waiting there, too. Ali said that “I’m a bit busy today getting ready for a trip to Thailand in two days, but my cousin and brother will take you a tour of the town.” “That would be great,” I said.

Day 5 - Video

Day 4 - Video

Fatehpur Sikri Detour: Mazar vs. Masjid

Salim Chisti, who was the Sufi saint who was finally able to help Akbar bear a son, has a mazar by the mosque in Fatehpur Sikri. The ritual there involved a process of tying a holy thread onto the marble screens on the window by the tomb. You are to make a knot and make a wish: one wish per knot. Then you circle around the room with the tomb in it, and then enter the room. You can place clothing items that you want "purified" onto the tomb: a man will recite a few surahs and return them to you (you are to wear them during prayers). You circle the tomb, and as you complete the circle, another man will "bless" you by tapping your head with peacock feathers. All the while, as you go around the tomb, you are to say a prayer or make wishes that Allah can grant you.

We were there when the azaan for Zohr prayers filled the air. To my surprise, not too many people answered the call to prayers; instead, people kept piling into the mazar. I, then, realized that the vast majority of the visitors were not Muslims. They were there not to pray but because they wanted the blessings; they want to tie their luck-thread onto the windows of the Salim Chisti's shrine in the hopes that their dreams will come true. 

Agra Crowds

I may not have mentioned this before, but what had surprised me quite a bit as we travelled around was the lack of people in the sites we visited. Today I sing a different tune. Fatehpur Sikri and the Agra Fort were both teeming with people: tourists, vendors, touts, tourist guides, photographers, professors(!) and so on.
As annoying as they may seem, I didn't quite mind the vendors. After all, I now own five pairs of payals (anklets) and five necklaces, thanks to these 'pestering' salespeople. I also acquired the local-English vocabulary to sell these things: "All five for hundred," "You don't have to buy – please look", "Just touch it", "Feel it, feel it in your hands", "You pay what you like" sometimes added on to "Minimum hundred. You can also pay 200, 300, 500". So, if I don't want these things later on, I know how to sell them!
There was a brief moment of fear, however, when a "student" who was helping tourists around Salim Chisti's mazar and tomb took me to a somewhat secluded area to show me an elephant "just around the corner". "How much will you give me?" he asked. I admit that at that moment, when I looked around and saw no-one around, I felt somewhat vulnerable. Thankfully, money buys everything in this world. 

Coming Next: Taj Mahal Musings

The Tourist Economy

Posted on behalf of Carolyn Hsu...

When we first arrived in north India, it was easy to be impressed.  The streets between Jaipur's airport and our hotel were wide, clean boulevards, unlike anything we had seen in Tamil Nadu.  This surprised both Maureen Hays-Mitchell and myself because we both knew that, according to World Bank statistics, Tamil Nadu is actually much more economically developed than Rajasthan (the state where Jaipur is the capital).

After a few days in Jaipur and Agra (in Uttar Pradesh),  we have solved this mystery.  These are places where the economy is built on tourism, whereas southern India's wealth comes from industry.  If you look past the wide avenues, hotels, and tourist shops, poverty is hidden in rural shacks and urban alleys.  A few blocks from the lovely hotel where I type, fires burn so that homeless people can huddle around them as they sleep on the street.

Birds

After what was an intense drive through traffic and narrow streets peppered with water buffalo, rickshaws, tuk-tuks, goats, cows, dogs, and plenty of honking, we arrived at our hotel in Bharatpur. We quickly dropped off our things and hopped back on the bus to go to the Keoladeo National Park, a world heritage site and bird sanctuary. It has a large lagoon in it's center, originally put in for hunting by Maharaja, which supports about 1000,000 birds per year, ~400 species. ~300 birds are resident and the other 100 are local migrants, from within india, or full migrants, from beyond India.

Reading Indian signs

As an English professor, I spend a lot of time thinking about how language works as a system of signification. When I knew that I was going to visit India, I decided to try to learn some Hindi. I bought several items in the Teach Yourself series, but made woefully little progress with spoken Hindi. (I believe that I could confidently ask someone whether he or she speaks English, but that's about it.) However, I did manage to benefit from an excellent book by Rupert Snell called Read and Write Hindi Script. Through its good offices I have been riding along in the north of India a little more aware of my surroundings than I otherwise would be.

Dung Fires

We left Jaipur and arrived at Bharaptur. For miles we saw areas where cow/water buffalo dung piles were laid out to dry. They were laid on the ground, on the roofs of thatch huts, and any surface on which they could dry. We also saw dried cow pads piled up in spirals the size of small cars. Some of the piles had walls with thatched roofs for storage. The walls themselves often decorated and an opening left to access the pads. These structures are called Betara. The dung is used for home fires and, we suspect, for many kilns we saw on route for firing bricks.


It is cold right now in Bharatapur and the air noticeabely thickened and smelling of smoke. All around us, families are cooking and eating over their dung fires (those who have wood also use wood). The poor air quality is a reminder of the many (approx. 70 percent in India), who are dependent on home fires for warmth and cooking and a leading cause of pneumonia and death for children under four years of age. These fires are also linked to devastating ecosystem impacts, including deforestation, nutrient deposition which alters nutrient cycles, and increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

How to address the negative impacts of these home fires has been the work of many. Of note is the Global Alliance for Clean Cook Stoves (http://cleancookstoves.org/) initiated by the Clinton Global Initiative and supported by UNEP. The initiative supports clean technology in homes to reduce emissions which has both human health benefits as well as natural resource benefits. Right now, when surrounded by thick smoke and thousands of small fires, it is hard to see how it could happen. However, I have worked in countries that have made the transition, for the most part, and know it can be done. I imagine the rate and efficiently will be determined by local governments as well as by local people.

To see some pictures:

keoladeo national park

On Monday we left Jaipur and traveled four hours to Bharatpur, home to Keoladeo National Park. Formerly a hunting grounds for the British colonizers, it is now a bird sanctuary that hosts as many as 400 species, depending on the time of the year. I rode with Cat in a bicycle rickshaw, pedaled by a very capable guide, and we were amazed by how many species of birds and other wildlife we observed in just a few hours of touring the park. A few pictures of what we saw are up on my gallery.

Monday, January 9, 2012

my hero, zero

Our trip to Jantar Mantar on Sunday gave us a chance to reflect on the importance of Indian science and technology, especially the historical importance of dialog between Indian, Muslim, and European scientists and mathematicians. If you haven't seen the pictures of Jantar Mantar yet, it is an amazing kind of astronomical garden or park, as Alice described it a few days ago, built by Sawai Jai Singh II between 1728 and 1734.

From Chris Henke's India Photos
Its structures are meant for astronomical and astrological calculations, and we had a nice conversation at Jantar Mantar about the confluence of these two ways of observing and using the heavens during the era we think of as the rise of modernity and the scientific revolution. Kings and emporers sought to control and expand their empires through the predictive possibilities of astrology, and astronomy developed in tandem with these royal desires. Though today many of us would look back on one type of science and identify it as legitimate (astronomy) and label the other as superstition (astrology), these distinctions did not exist at the time, and point overall to the historical contingency of scientific thought. Sure, we make progress, but it makes one think about what we might consider true "science" and "superstition" down the road.

The other point I find fascinating about the sites we have been seeing in Rajasthan are the signs of influence and transaction between Indian and other cultural systems of belief and knowledge. Perhaps the most interesting of these transactions is the invention of zero, which seems pretty obvious, but eluded European mathematicians until the fourteenth century. According to India scholar Thomas Trautmann, the idea of zero was conceived by the Indian astronomer Aryabhata, who lived circa 500CE. Though we often think of many of our modern mathematical concepts as coming from Muslim culture, Trautmann describes a movement between Indian and Islamic scholars well before the advent of "globalization." Therefore, although we use the arabic name "algebra" for the use of variables to solve equations, Trautmann notes that Muslim scholars termed this method the "Indian reckoning."

Sources: Trautmann, Thomas R. 2011. India: Brief History of a Civilization. Oxford. See especially Chapter Seven.

Via YouTube: My Hero, Zero

Jaipur: Descent from Sun Temple

View of Jaipur from Surya Mandir Temple

Sunday, January 8, 2012

warning: low memory

Some great recent posts by my colleagues about our time in Amber and Jaipur on Saturday and Sunday. If you want to see some more pictures to illustrate the adventure, look here.

I might have to be a little more judicious in my picture taking, since I'm running out of space on my memory cards and am having trouble finding them here. Bad timing...among the most photogenic sites in the world is on our itinerary for Wednesday morning: the Taj Mahal.

The Tamil Nadu vs.Rajasthan Treatment

I am in India with a group of what they would call firengis or safeds. In Tamil Nadu I felt like one of them: no one talked to me an extra minute just because I looked like them. My Tamil experience can even be termed somewhat superficial and distant, which I realized only after coming to Jaipur where people automatically assume that I am one of them or at least 'on their side'. Let me explain with the help of some observations.

Instruments of calculation

Spent the bmorning in Jaipur's Old City, called the Pink City because of its pink stone, walking from one extraordinary palace to another. 
yes, exactly that–an astronomical garden called the Jantar Mantar, which means Instrument of Calculation.

One of the maharajas in the early 18th century was interested in astronomical measurements, so he gathered all the knowledge he could and constructed a garden for instruments: huge geometric shapes with brass (I think) fittings and finely etched notations.

The shapes are covered in plaster painted an imperial yellow–I say imperial because I recognize this yellow from St Petersburg in Russia, another city planned by mathematically-inclined or Enlightenment monarchs (that would be Peter and Catherine, roughly the same period as Jai Singh).

As for Jai Singh's shapes, Dave McCabe said that being in the park was like finding yourself in a Di Chirico painting. If you look closely, you find another great thing: the Hindu prototypes for our Arabic numerals. Most of the numbers have changed a bit, but 2 is a 2.

Thanks Be To Surya

Kite Festival Jaipur
Kite Festival in Jaipur
Next week, as we return to Hamilton, Jaipur will host a kite festival. Boys all over the city are preparing for this fierce competition, and the skies over Jaipur have been peppered with tiny, frenetic kites throughout the past couple of evenings. According to one of my colleagues here, kite-flying is popular among young boys throughout northern India and Bangladesh (not to mention Afghanistan). It's popular not only because it is cool-looking (which it definitely is) but because many of these kids live in cramped conditions, and kite-flying is an activity that allows a person with limited side-to-side space to "go up."

Beautiful flowers

Here are two pictures taken at the Amber Fort in Jaipur. I must admit that I know so little about the historical and artistic significance of these architectural and decorative objects. Nevertheless, the fort still took my breath away, and I did gain some appreciation about the technologies, religious meanings, and details embedded in this cultural landscape. These flower arts are amazing.



The next picture shows a man re-painting the flower designs (sorry, I don’t know what they are called) on the wall near the entrance to Jantar Mantar (observatory) in Jaipur. I don’t know if they are accurately reproducing the ‘original’ colors and styles, but there is nothing wrong with modifying or altering them (i.e., staged authenticity) based on their needs (tourism, for example) in my opinion. They are still pretty.


Now here is a set of three pictures of ‘street flower arts’ (again I don’t know the proper name for them) that were ubiquitous in places we visited in Tamil Nadu (the photos were taken in Pondicherry and Mahabalipuram). It appears that they (seemingly always women) draw, using color chalks, these flower arts, usually in front of their own house. I don’t know the meanings behind these designs, but they seem all unique and are so beautiful. In my mind, the fact that these flower arts are so ephemeral and are drawn by living, ‘ordinary’ people as part of their everyday lives makes them even more beautiful and precious.


Three kinds of beautiful flowers, but my personal favorite is the last kind.

Jaipur: Three Anecdotes

1: Hati-wallah (HW) or the elephant driver who took us up into Amber Fort told the story of a princess who was always escorted by a driver. As would happen in Bollywood movies, the princess fell in love with the driver, got married, and then moved into the city. Love 1, Royalty 0.


2: The auto-rickshaw wallah's ancestors came from Sindh (Pakistan). During Partition he was 10 years old. His father was a jeweler. The move to India had cost them financially.

Auto-rickshaw wallah (ARW): Sixteen people live off a single stove in my family (with a smile).

Me: That must be fun.

ARW: Sixteen people – how can it not be?

I find it fascinating how people still talk about Partition and the misfortune it brought to their families; how life before Partition was prosperous. And yet, he seemed sincere when he said Main  bohat khush hoon (I am very happy) with a huge smile that made him squint his eyes.

David McCabe wanted to give him an extra Rs. 100 to keep his eyes on the road.

 

3: Jai Singh's 500 concubines and 12 queens lived in Hawa Mahal, our guide told us. All the windows have concrete screens to maintain purdah – the women could look outside, but no one could see them through the screens. There were, however, small windows which they used to throw baskets down into the market below to do their shopping. Were they used for shopping purposes only, Eliza and I wondered. We couldn't help recall the movie Antarmahal which showed the numerous interactions 'wives' had with different people, including priests and holy men.  

An observation

Here I am finally writing about my experiences and observations from the first couple of days. I think that some of us were quite stunned by the amount of garbage along the roads since we arrived here. Seemingly everywhere you go, you see trash, trash, trash. The first picture was taken on the morning of Day 4 in Pondicherry.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Elephants

The morning started with an elephant ride. On top of each elephant were two Colgate faculty members. All the elephants were named Lakshmi. Lakshmi is the goddess of prosperity (she is also, for the rare reader who will get this, the mekhuteniste, that is, my daughter-in-law's mother). So I have a tender feeling for Lakshmis in general, and the elephants all had soft lovely ears and a kind of goofy ponderousness. A sign read: no tipping, no photographs. Lakshmi's driver bargained for his tip, and photographers were stationed every couple of feet. The elephants went one way, up the hill to the Amber Fort. And then down with their drivers, five trips a day, and then an elephant nap.

The Fort could not have been more different from the exuberant carvings of Mahabalipuram. This was a different kind of magnificence--Islamic shapes and patterns, marble columns, elegant open spaces, a Rajput palace. Here's what struck me: the evidence of trade with western Europe (mirrors, part of a wall design, imported from Belgium), the amazing technology (heating and cooling, a water system, a dumbwaiter) and what looked like a seamless merge of Hindu and Islamic visual styles. By which I mean: there were no depictions of human forms, but it you looked high up above an arch, there was a perfect, elegant Ganesha, the elephant god.

At the end of the day, we went to a temple on a hill. There was a festival (other people will write about it). On the path up to the temple, two lines of people sat and ate a meal that had been prepared for them on the road. And they sat on the road, which they shared with monkeys, goats, boars, and cows. It was impossibly messy but also harmonious.

All Along the Watchtower

Amber

Amber Fort

Day 3 - Video

day six in india: jaipur and amber

Every day seems to bring ever more amazing scenes, encounters, and experiences from our travels in India. Today we visited Amber (pronounced Amm-er), the former Rajput capital and home to a gorgeous blend of Hindu and Islamic architecture. It's no exaggeration to say that I could spend our whole trip in this charming town, wandering its streets and exploring every corner of the vast Amber fort and palace that we briefly visited this morning. Plus, apparently it's a pretty great place to get a hair cut and a shave (see Dan's post below...).

New pictures are up if you want a look.

Am(b)er Haircut

Ok, this morning we went to this little town Amber (pronounced "Am-er") just down the road from out hotel and had a lot of wonderful little adventures in a really brief period, including elephant rides, touring this amazing fort/palace complex, and various commercial escapades in the town. I'll have to share more of these later, but just wanted to drop in some pictures of the high point of the morning for me:

A few random pictures from our 3-temple day

This is me in Auroville on the road to Certitude. It's taken me 35 circles 'round the sun, and as some know, I've had some twists and turns, but now I really feel like I'm headed the right direction.
Poem from Pondicherry

Everything cobbles itself
on the rubble of ancient cities
You crib your divine
from village gods, fierce and fickle
Even now kuta and shala
are counted and copied
But the plant that eases labor
is never etched on temple walls
And did  you know
that milk of water buffalo is rich as keer?
The Pondicherry sun scorches paths
to garlanding priests
One's divine is work,
The other's,  happiness.












Back a couple of days


So we've been in such a whirlwind that it's been hard to find the time to describe everything, and now I will go back to I guess it was Wednesday or Thursday to describe a few things. We saw this wonderful site, Auroville, on Wednesday, as part of our "three faces of Hinduism" day. It was a community founded by someone called The Mother, the spiritual consort of a daring young Indian nationalist, Sri Aurobindo, who took refuge in French Pondichery sometime in the first half of the 20th century and left politics, more or less, for a contemplative ascetic, spiritual life. Long after he died, The Mother set out to found a city for their followers, and received land to do so in the late 1960s, with many Indians as well as westerners who, in the words of one of the foremost ecological planners (a gardener he calls himself) of the community, "wandered out of the '60s". By the late 1990s they had completed the central institution of the community, seen here.

I don't know if you can tell, but it's pretty gi-normous. I was impressed the first time I ever saw "The Egg" in Albany (which was, incidentally, when I went to see TMBG play there). This structure beats The Egg like it's making meringue. The whole community seems impressively organized and progressive, especially ecologically. It claims not to be a religion, though in some ways it seems born, at least, of a kind of Hinduism. To increase the Brazil-India parallels (which, as it turns out, for me at least seem confined to South India--more on that in a later post), it totally reminded me of a much more organized analog (with totally different religious roots, though, of course) of the Vale do Amanhecer in central Brazil, which I visited in 2003. Both have an element to them that some might call "wacky," and if that word could be excised of negative connotation, I probably would use it as well (although I should say, I saw no Egyptian head-dresses or ancient Phoenician rituals in Auroville--in fact, nothing like them). The other difference is that, as opposed to all the other Brazil-India distinctions I've noticed thus far, the Aurovilleans really seem to know what they're about, as far as organization, orderliness, while the community at the Vale do Amanhecer seems much more disordered and haphazard in its layout, practices, timeliness, commercial aspects, etc.

I don't have good pictures for the second two types of Hinduism whose sites we visited, but the second one was the most impressive and moving. It was a very old temple dedicated to a god that I guess was a combination of Aiyanur, a local deity in that area of Tamil Nadu, and Ayyappan, a sort of mainstream god in Hinduism who is the son of Lord Shiva (an extremely virile god, it seems) and Vishnu. Vishnu, we should remind ourselves, is normally a male deity, and perhaps we might be doubly impressed by Shiva's virility in being able to father Ayyappan with a male counterpart, but Vishnu in this instance was taking on a female form, Mohini, in order to help defeat a demon whom Shiva had hot-headedly granted the ability to turn anyone into ashes with his thumb. Clever Mohini outwitted the demon by demanding he wash himself before she allowed him to take her, and in the end, she tricked him into turning himself to ashes. After this, Shiva & Mohini produced Ayyappan, or Aiyanur (perhaps someone will correct my telling of the story). In any case, the temple we went to was in a sacred grove that was Ayyappan's birthplace, and we went deep into its inner sanctum, a cave-like (even womb-like place, by design in most Hindu temples as we learned from Padma Kaimal, one of our leaders) were blessed in our families and in our work by the priest in pooja, the main ritual, apparently, in Hindu temple practice, which involves the blessing of a flame and a priest rubbing some colored ash on the forehead.

The last temple visit was brief (partly because we were all starting to flag), and seemed a much more modernized style of Hinduism--it was a temple to the saintly Sai Baba, a sage who recently died. This seemed much more like visiting a working church somewhere in America, with flooring and lighting and construction all vaguely reminiscent of contemporary places of worship I've been in in America a thousand times. I don't remember if anyone did pooja there, but it felt like the most mainstream of the three experiences.

Two videos

Two little videos:

1. A little bit of the puppet show at the craft museum on day one, featuring Hanuman, the marvellous monkey god:


2. A very short clip of a possession of priests in front of the Mamallapuram rock reliefs:


Friday, January 6, 2012

Religion and "Intentional Community"

The Matrimandir of Auroville;  Wikipedia (Santosh Namby Chandran)
The Matrimandir of Auroville
Two days ago we visited a famous "intentional community" that was created in the late 1960s on the outskirts of Pondicherry. As I looked through the itinerary of our trip, I have to admit that I wasn't captivated by the prospect of a visit to Auroville; I waited with much greater anticipation for the visits to the various Hindu temples. Within a few moments of our tour, however, I was thoroughly intrigued.

The idea of an intentional community -- a community, as the name implies, that sets itself to the task of carefully thinking through the logic of its self-creation and self-maintenance -- is actually a fascinating idea. It is fascinating not only in its own right, but in the way it forces us to think about the chaotic, ad hoc, unjust, and bloody societies -- our societies! -- against which such a community defines itself.

Here, though, is what I consider the most fascinating thing of all: Aroville's charter is emphatically anti-religious. In the midst of a region steeped in one of the most all-embracing and syncretic religions in the world, Auroville asserts that, "[w]hile Auroville respects religions and has nothing against their practice, they divide the people of the world."

As a scholar of religion, I have heard more versions than I can count of the "religion is responsible for the wars and violence in the world" argument. I simultaneously agree and disagree with this argument. What strikes me about Auroville, however, is the question of what the vast numbers of Hindus in the area must make of its claim that religions divide the people of the world. What must they make of the specific prohibition, laid out in an introductory video in the Auroville visitors' center, against devotional practices such as the offering of food and the burning of incense -- practices central to the religious practices of so many Hindus?

Another thing that strikes me: the Auroville community has been drawn to India as a place offering a promise of freedom from religion. This simply amazes me, given the astounding ubiquity of religion in this country -- religion that juts up from the skyline of every single town we pass through, and that seems to lurk within every shady grove throughout the countryside.
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I write from Jaipur


After a wonderful last day at Mamalapuram seeing the monuments (including my favorite Siva, letting his hair down),






as well as the famous Goats of the Dawn, and one last quick dip in the Bay of Bengal,

we had a long day of travel that brought us (at least the Etihad 12) on three planes (only two of which were capable, in the end, of flying) to Delhi and thence here to the Trident Jaipur, where in cooler weather we took rest and now rise with the sun (though the sun rises later here than in the south of India, at this time of year) for a quick breaking of the fast, and then on to new adventures!




Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sunrise, Mamallapurum

Sunset at Shore Temple

pictures from mamallapuram

Just posted a bunch of new pictures from our time in Mamallapuram, a small town on the coast, roughly between Chennai and Pondicherry. In Mamallapuram Prof Padma Kaimal took over and gave us a wonderful art history lesson in Hindu rock carvings and temple complexes, of which this area has many.

Later today (Friday) we travel back to the airport in Chennai to fly to Jaipur and begin the northern leg of our trip.

The Bay of Bengal

It is magnificent with its multifaceted traits - angry yet calm, treacherous yet playful, evoking fear as well as exhilaration. It is a living being and you will know it as soon as you step into it. Addiction alert in place.

Mahabalipuram

Walking home last night from the Shore Temple, seeking truth, Lesleigh, David Dudrick and I got caught between insane incoming traffic and a herd of street cows.

Learning Plants

I had to leave my minor plant collection in my hotel yesterday, but I am delighted that I was able to identify many using Dr. N. Logonathan's book on medicinal plants. It is written in Tamul, but has pictures and latin names!

These are all familiar plant groups from tropical regions: Fabaceae (bean family), Sterculiaceae (cocoa/chocolate), Clusiaceae (Hemiepiphye typical of tropical forests), Moraceae (Ficus/Fig family, Banyon tree), Araceae (palms), Rosaceae (Rose, apple), Rubiaceae (Coffee), Euphorbiaceae (poinsetia), Meliaceae ( Eucalyptus), among others.

We have now left the south with it's familiar and relentless heat, and the plants with which I am most familiar, and gone north to Jaipur where it feels as if everything has changed! We landed in the dark so I am excited to see what today brings--unlike Tamul Nadu, I can hear birds from my window. I think the lack of birds may be an after effect of the hurricane or the aggressive nature of the Common Grackle (crow) which, as we have seen, often predates nestlings of other birds.

Later today I will post more about the flora and fauna.



Pondicherry: Last Day


Spirituality was certainly the theme of the day as we trekked to Auroville, to a Tamil village mandir, and then to a Sai Baba temple.

Visiting Auroville I realized that the picturesque image I conjured up of Pondicherry was applicable to this place of 'progressive humanity'. Despite the destruction from Cyclone Thane, the massive expanse of forests within which grew the various meditation domains, especially the Matri Mandir, seemed perfect for bonobash or living in the forests. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I made some friends on one of our visits to a temple site.

1/4/12

Photos

I have finally managed to post a few photos.

https://picasaweb.google.com/100707643390403168184/ReflectionsFromIndia?authkey=Gv1sRgCM3r8bvvgMe0pwE

pictures, from wednesday the fourth

We visited three different sites today, each a kind of Hindu temple that Prof Eliza Kent chose for us as examples of pretty different forms of Hinduism. It was hard in some cases to get actual pictures of the temples, especially the inner shrines, but I have posted more pictures from our day.

https://picasaweb.google.com/102838864130127911289/ChrisHenkeSIndiaPhotos

Day 2 - Video

Blessed by an Elephant

Yesterday morning Liz and I were blessed by an Elephant. If is sounds surreal, that's because it was. Liz, Alan and I were talking a lovely walk through early morning Ponducherry when up ahead we saw an elephant walk by with a man on his back. We ran to take a closer look and saw that it was beautifully painted and had green eyes, but why it was there walking down the street was a mystery.


Day 1 - Video

Forests

The last two days have been thrilling! On Tuesday we learned about the research going on at the Ecole Francaise de Etreme Oriente and in the evening we had talks from Joss Brooks, the director of the Pitchandikulam Forest which is part of Auroville--a sustainably envisioned community--and from Dr. N. Loganthan who is a Medicinal Healer/Botanist and 11th generation healer.

Religion and the "Intentional Community"

Two days ago we visited a famous "intentional community" that was created in the late 1960s on the outskirts of Pondicherry. As I looked through the itinerary of our trip, I have to admit that I wasn't captivated by the prospect of a visit to Auroville; I waited with much greater anticipation for the visits to the various Hindu temples. Within a few moments of our tour, however, I was thoroughly intrigued. The idea of an intentional community -- a community, as the name implies, that sets itself to the task of carefully thinking through the logic of its self-creation and self-maintenance -- is actually a fascinating idea. It is fascinating not only in its own right, but in the way it forces us to think about the chaotic, ad hoc, unjust, and bloody societies -- our societies! -- against which such a community defines itself.

Here, though, is what I consider the most fascinating thing of all: Aroville's charter is emphatically anti-religious. In the midst of an area steeped in one of the most all-embracing and syncretic religions in the world, Auroville asserts that, "[w]hile Auroville respects religions and has nothing against their practice, they divide the people of the world."

As a scholar of religion, I have heard more versions than I can count of the "religion is responsible for the wars and violence in the world" argument. I simultaneously agree and disagree with this argument. What strikes me about Auroville, however, is the question of what the vast numbers of Hindus in the area must make of its claim that religions divide the people of the world. What must they make of the specific prohibition, laid out in an introductory video in the Aroville visitors' center, against devotional practices such as the offering of food and the burning of incense -- practices central to the religious lives of so many Hindus?

Another thing that strikes me: the Auroville community has been drawn to India as a place offering a promise of freedom from religion. This simply amazes me, given the astounding ubiquity of religion in this country -- religion that juts up from the skyline of every single town we pass through, and that seems to lurk within every shady grove throughout the countryside.

Roads and the bus ride

I am terribly behind in blogging--between sporadic internet and just no time! So I will add these thoughts from two days ago...

Monday was a strange day for many reasons. First–and this not be overlooked in judging my reactions to what follows–is that it was long. We arrived at the hotel from the airport at 5am, jet-lagged and exhausted (always a bad combination!); most of us were down for breakfast by 10am.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

um, where are all the people?

I'm trying to upload new pictures to my photo gallery every day, so keep checking if you want a visual diary of what I am seeing here. (https://picasaweb.google.com/102838864130127911289/ChrisHenkeSIndiaPhotos)

But as you look at what I've posted so far, you might be thinking, "How is it that these Colgate faculty seem to be the only people in India? Aren't there other people there?" The answer is: yes. Like a billion or so.

When I travel, my favorite subjects for photography are architecture and architectural details, flora and fauna, vehicles, and quirky stuff that catches my eye. But I really need to work on taking more picture of people, which tends to be my weak side. I promise to try harder...if you are following this and want to see more people pictures, you should email me (chenke@colgate.edu) and cajole, encourage, threaten, or whatever means you can devise to help me achieve my goal.

Morning sights

So this morning Chris Henke & I made a pre-dawn expedition to the seaside to spy out a red ball of fire emerging from the Bay of Bengal. Is it wrong I felt a little like Conrad? Probably, but it was powerful all the same, and we only saw it for five minutes before it ascended further and was obscured by heavy clouds.

What is this?


Anyone have any idea?

 It looks a bit art-deco, almost, like something from 1930s central Europe--found on an enduring if dirty building on our hotel's street.

View from the École française

Walking through Pondichery


Yesterday after the presentations, I went on a failed quest (the goal of which may be revealed in due course, if it eventually succeeds), traipsing all the busiest streets in the vicinity of our hotel.

 Among many finds I was lucky enough to come across in spite of not seeking them was evidence that Communism & chivalry share something like the same degree of continuing existence, if only just barely in either case.

Finding Connections

Our trip so far has afforded many striking impressions. One has been the great generosity of local speakers in taking time to talk to us as they cope with the devastation of Cyclone Thane.

Some of my other momentary impressions involve recognizing connections of different sorts. As nine of us sat in a stark basement restaurant on Monday night awkwardly eating dosas with our right hands, we realized that the Kinley club soda that had formed the base of our lime sodas was a Coca-Cola product.

On the road to Puducherry, as I watched for the unfamiliar, I caught a glimpse of the "Jesus Tea and Cool Drinks" shop, whose sign features the well-known Warner Sallman image, "The Head of Christ."

But there have also been more complex experiences that open up the richness of subjects that had only a casual presence in my mind. I had heard of Madras cloth, of course, and knew that Chennai was formerly called Madras. The DakshinaChitra textile exhibition, in a small hall at the back of a model weaver's house, explains the cultural meaning of the Madras hand kerchief, the significance of the dhoti, and the iconography of textile design.

It also features a large framework loom, the form of which local weavers adopted from a group of Swiss missionaries from Basel in the 1850s. Walking through the hall I felt the power of a deep-rooted cultural practice and saw a token of the possibility of beneficial cultural exchange.

Days 2-3--Pondichery

This city's trees have been half blown-down by a cyclone, but still it stands, albeit em decadência, as Brazilians might say.

There's lots to remind one of the nordeste, Salvador & São Luis.

 The wet and sweet putrescence of the streets especially reminds me of days & nights in Maranhão.

 There's too much to put it all in one blog post.

 Here we are in a French colonial library (very like some old Portuguese structure that might overlook the South Atlantic, this one is steps from the Bay of Bengal, where I went to watch the sun yesterday morning), which is the heart of the École Françase d'Extrême Orient where we listened about the work of various humanities scholars here in what was once the most important redoubt of the little bits of the subcontinent still called French India up through the middle of last century.

The tranquil Indian Ocean

Waves crashing against rocks

Pondicherry: Day 2 Musings

Walking along the beach early this morning, I couldn't help think that it is the same sea that took away my friend Jalal Alamgir exactly one month ago. Waves crashed against the rocks but beyond that a sense of calm prevailed, as far as the eyes could see. How deceptive the sea can be!

Swimming, acrimony, shopping

On the roof of the hotel in Pondicherry there is a pool whose length is flush with the edge of the building. No fence! Visually it is great, though I did wonder if President Herbst's risk assessment team would have preferred if only half of us swam at any given time. Also Lesleigh said there was an electric light with a cable floating there. I didn't see it, but I am nearsighted.

In the morning at the Ecole Francais d'extreme orient, which is a research institute, there was unexpected, quiet acrimony between an Indian scholar and the French head of the institution, also a scholar. Was it reasonable for an institution to support research in Sanskrit and Tamil manuscripts that is graduate level only? Can't outreach be the responsibility of different institutions? And what about the language of publications? If the publication is in English and not Tamil, does that mean that Tamil speakers are cut off from their own heritage?

In the afternoon we went shopping. The ladies bought Indian outfits, which we show off in Hamilton as weather permits.

Monday, January 2, 2012

pictures from day one

A bunch of new pictures are up in my photo gallery: 


Pondicherry after dark

We arrived in Pondicherry after dark having driven through stunning and seemingly contradictory sites. Of note was a wetland bird sanctuary next to a landfill and new high rise development (pic). The closer we got to Pondicherry, the more impacts from Cyclone Thane we saw--it hit this region a few days ago. There are hundreds of downed trees and obvious flooding. Remarkably, there are still many traditional palm thatched roofs still in place.

En route to Pondicherry

Day 1 reflections

English: The Ripon Building, the headquarters ...
Image via Wikipedia
After arriving in Chennai, India, formerly known as Madras at 5 am yesterday morning (Monday 2nd January) after almost two days of travel, it was time to get moving to explore parts of this wonderful country. It is needless to say that I did not get much sleep last night. I am still jet lagged and I am sure I will be paying for this later today. 


Read more here: From Chennai to Pondicherry