View from a minaret
View from a minaret. The dense city extending as far as the eye can see.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, I like to think I possess billions. This maiden trip to India yielded stuffed memory cards and heaps of experiences. Want an out of this world experience? Try visiting Old Delhi. Take a walk through the meandering small shops-lined streets and maze of bazaars. A rhapsody of cacophony, sharp scents and incessant traffic of trishaws, animals and humans. All drenched in the humidity of late summer.
That’s all I’ll be posting about this trip to India. The rest will be posted on my other blog.
Till the next trip.
This has to be the most-photographed tomb in the world. Apart from the pyramids of Giza perhaps.
I always wondered what is the purpose of building mega monuments of tombs. Of learning centres, public libraries, sports grounds and even religious places, I understand. But tombs? Superb architectural achievements and craftsmanship are part of the human heritage. But what tangible difference does a mega tomb, for a privileged few, and that takes up so much resources, make to the general population’s lives?
There is no doubt that the Taj Mahal is, today, a iconic symbol for tourism in India (even though India itself is such a diverse country with many interesting places and different traditions). In that sense, there is tangible impact. But I wondered whether Shah Jahan, when he ordered the building of the Taj Mahal as the resting place of his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal, ever thought that one day this tomb would become a top tourist attraction.
A few people asked me whether it is worth going to the Taj Mahal. Quite honestly, if I weren’t sharing a car with 3 other friends while we happened to be in Delhi, I probably wouldn’t have gone. (The Delhi-Agra car journey itself is quite an adventure.) But there is a reason why the Taj Mahal is on the postcards. It is a colossal monument, all the more stunning in a palatial compound. Up close, the geometry and intricate details – though not as interesting as the mosque right beside it – are still quite a marvel. It is a world heritage that is testament to a Mughal emperor who (egotistically?) conceived the idea, and the unnamed architects, engineers, carpenters, labourers who helped built it.
Taj Mahal Mosque
Shrouded in the smog of Agra.
Polo ground in Leh, Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir State, India.
Under a bright blue canvas on a sunny day, I stumbled upon this broad ground. Crowds were already gathered purposefully on the fringe. Stopped to ask someone what is going on. A polo game was about to start in 5 minutes. And then I recalled that earlier on a passer-by at the market asking me where was the polo ground. I didn’t know at that time.
At the blow of a whistle, the ball was given a hard knock. Within two seconds of the game, the ball came rolling past my ankle, followed by charging horses that looked frightfully close to mowing down the couple seated right in front of me. The thundering hooves reverberated across what felt like a mini battle ground.
Post-trip I read that polo originated in Persia (Iran). The polo game was originally part of the training of the cavalry. Apparently at times warlike tribesmen used to play it almost 100 to a side! Polo was introduced to Ladakh, where it is hugely popular today, from neighbouring Baltistan around the 15th century.
It was the Ladakhi army playing against another team, the name of which I didn’t quite catch. The game was held as part of the Ladakh festival, against the stunning backdrop of the mountains.
The impenetrable mountains span across the arid landscape. Like silent giants of lore, they bear witness to the ever-changing skies. Every shadow a testimony to the moving earth. Every valley a potential for a bountiful summer. Every river a precious source of glacial water.
Roads are strewn across the Ladakh range like noodle strips. I uttered “How amazing!”. To which a venerable traveller responded, “Even more amazing are the road builders”: deceptively insignificant in size against the magnitude of the majestic mountains, the roads are the product of labourious task. At times, female labourers were seen removing rocks by hand while tending to their children in the wind and sleets of summer snow. In the mercurial and harsh weather, road building is difficult and dangerous.
Even as a convoy of vehicles meander through the zig-zaggety roads, the sense of diminutive solitude is evident and magnified by the great expanse. The backbone of the earth, pushed, moulded and contorted by the laws of geology, protrudes into the skies. Here high up in the mountains, some say roof of the world, we passed by scenes after scenes of majestic greatness.
And while we were ensconced in comfort and in the safe hands of our experienced driver, people were attempting the seemingly impossible by cycling up to Khardung La in the sleet. The Ladakh marathon will end up here a few days after we left. Here. At about 5000m above sea level.
Imagine riding up all the way to Khardung La to be greeted by this sign. Up here amongst the clouds, looking upon the deep valleys, surrounded by rolling mountains and feeling on top of the world.
It has been a while since I came back from Ladakh. And yet the crisp fresh air, the dramatic mountains, arid landscape and its miraculous summer bloom, dazzling blue skies and cotton white clouds constantly come to mind. Summer is fleeting in Ladakh. And by the end of our journey, temperatures embarked on a dive, leading on to winter in October. A recent message from Leh indicated that it’s now freezing at night. The ephemeral nature of the changing seasons only emphasises the impermanence of beings.
And with modern day contraptions like cameras, we capture the flitting moments. So that the visual imprints attempt to preserve memories of the past. A summer that is short, but sweet and glorious.
Apples in the sky. At Leh, Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir State, India.
Gorgeous sunflowers against the setting sun. At Leh, Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir State, Ladakh.
Barley, often made into tsampa which is a staple for Ladakhi people.
Barley field. Each household would normally have a barley field for own sustenance. Barley made into Tsampa is a common Ladakhi staple. At Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir State, India
Apricot trees and poplar trees dot the valley plains. At Tingmosgang, Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir State, India.
Drying apricots in the sun. Apricot season in Tingmosgang, Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir State, India.
Gorgeous oasis. On the way from Leh to Nubra Valley, via one of the world’s highest mountain passes, Khardung La. Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir State, India.
The plains of Diskit, at Nubra Valley. On a clear crisp morning. At Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir State, India.
Just came back from a most memorable trip to Ladakh in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, India. Photo taken on the phone camera while travelling from Nubra Valley to Leh via Khardung La, one of the highest passes in the world. The mighty Karakoram range is breath-taking, both figuratively and literally. The sheer might and majesty of these gigantic mountains inspire new perspectives on the minuteness of our beings.
More of Ladakh in the next post.