Thursday, December 15, 2011

On the Road: Delhi

Our final destination: Delhi. The capital of modern India, a former capital of British India and full of dust, dirt and more beautiful architecture.

We visited the largest mosque in India, the Jama Masjid. Its courtyard can accommodate 25,000 people on any given Friday. With just 10-12% of its 1.2 billion people identifying themselves as Muslims, India is the second largest Muslim country in the world.

The photograph above is a rarity- the empty (!) courtyard of Jama Masjid.

In addition to Jama Masjid (and some fantastic Moghali chicken at nearby Karim's!), we visited Humayun's tomb, Dilli Haat and the Red Fort. This evening, for our students' final send off, we'll spend  some time listening to some Sufi singing at a famous Sufi's tomb at sunset.

Thank you, ISPers Fall '11, for being a fantastic group of students. We love you all, we'll miss you, we wish you the best as you travel home and continue to learn and weave your experiences here into your studies, and we hope to see you all in India again soon. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, your space, your ambitions and your laughter with us. Happy travels!

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Monday, December 12, 2011

On the Road: Agra

Taj Mahal! Shah Jahan's beautiful tribute of love to his favorite wife Mumtaz, who died giving birth to the couple's 14th child. If that's not a crazy love story, what is? This site, as you can imagine, was one of the most highly anticipated visits of the entire semester.

(We'll upload real photos (of our students!) after our travel component is over. Apologies for that.)

Moghal architecture is beautiful and intricate. North India (and all of India, of course) has a very rich past filled with invaders, conquerors, kings and marauders. The Moghals here in the north are responsible for some of the most beautiful, and most easily recognizable, landmarks.

Holy men abound in this city, too. 

We visited the Agra Fort and Fatephur Sikri, both of which have tremendous histories themselves. The Agra Fort is where Aurangzeb, the son of Shah Jahan (builder of the Taj Mahal) imprisoned his father after overthrowing him. This way, his father could see the Taj he spent so many years building but never visit it. The whimsical city of Fatehpur Sikri was the site of Emperor Akbar's capital. The city took 15 years to build, but was only occupied for 14 years before it ran out of water. Poor planning, perhaps, but beautiful nonetheless.

Final stop, Delhi!

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

On the Road: Jaipur

Thank you, Rajput Maharajas, for the beautiful palaces of Jaipur!
We've visited the Lake Palace (top photo, above) and the City Palace, both of which were breathtaking. We photographed the Palace of the Winds, or Hawa Mahal and explored the wierdness that is Jantar Mantar, the brainchild of Savai Jai Singh II to aid him in his astrological explorations. 

And today, our students got to do what they were waiting and hoping for all semester: they rode elephants up to the gates of the Amber/ Amer Fort! 

Rajasthani culture is colorful, the food delicious, and the elephants (and camels!) in traffic are a humorous reminder of India's great past and tremendous future.

Next stop, Agra!

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On the Road: Varanasi

ISP students agree: Varanasi is a weird, fantastic, beautiful place. 

As it's currently winter in India (which is, undoubtedly, warmer than winter in the States), it's the "misty season" in Varanasi. When we arrived by train around 4am, visibility was about 10 feet.

The ghats of Varanasi are probably one of the most well photographed sites in the country of India.

In the words of Adam Freed, "there's just something really cool about a 3,000 year old stone city on the edge of a river in the mist."
Varanasi is the city of holy men. Everywhere you look, you see men clad in saffron robes, who have given up the trappings of this life and wear the color of fire, symbolic of taking on the fire of cremation in the life they have here and now.

Varanasi is also Shiva's city, and arguably the holiest city for Hindus in the entire country and world. We enjoyed an evening boat tour to see the Ganga Aarti, or river worship, and set off some floating lanterns with our prayers in the Ganga (Ganges River). We also spent a morning on a walking tour exploring the twisting, old, hidden alleys of this magnificent, ancient city.

One Hindu tradition holds that people who are cremated in Varanasi are released from the cycle of rebirth and skip immediately to moksha, or freedom from suffering ('heaven', if you will.) The burning ghats at Manikarnika see around 34,000 bodies burned yearly, with cremations happening 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. The smoke rising from the pile of wood in this photograph is from a burning body.

Next stop, Jaipur, Rajasthan!

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On the Road: Calcutta

We can hardly believe our first ever semester of ISP is in its final two weeks! Sometimes it seems as though time crawled, and sometimes it seemed to have flown. Tomorrow morning at 8:00 am, we'll say goodbye to our homes away from home and hello to two weeks on the road. 

First stop: Calcutta. Home of Kali, the goddess of destruction, the former capital of British India (one of them, anyway) and Mother Theresa's Home for the Destitute and Dying and the work of Sisters of Charity.

We've got 3 and half days in Calcutta, and are looking forward to visiting sites related to each of these claims to fame. We're also quite excited to be visiting with a non-governmental organization called Sari Bari, which works to rehabilitate women formerly employed in Calcutta's booming sex trade.

To say we've been looking forward to travel component is a tremendous understatement. Many of our students are huge fans of Mother Teresa (or, "Mama T," as she is sometimes known), and visiting Sisters of Charity is bound to be a highlight of our semester!

We'll keep you all updated as we travel these next few weeks. As always, thanks for reading. And romba thanks, Tamil Nadu, for being such a great home state for the past three months! 

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