Saturday, January 7, 2012


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.

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