7) The Touristy Stuff
This section will be brief as possible; it’s a collection of the touristy places we went. As one could easily do this with a Google search, I will mark anything noteworthy. I will say this: there’s no way one should ever try to completely book a trip in India to the hour. You are going to miss a train. Your car will break down. You’re gonna require the toilet just that liiittle bit longer. I think it makes sense to just list a bunch of places you hope to get to, and then do just that: hope you get to them.
Also, I will touch on this in the last section “The Idea of India,” but the touristy stuff highlights this amazingly. I noticed very quickly that very few of the landmarks are “Indian.” A lot of the ones still standing were built by the Mughals or by the British. It is Islamic or Protestant in nature, and not Hindu. It doesn’t look like what I expected of “Indian” buildings. But you realize very quickly, that his doesn’t have any real meaning. India was and always has been a mix of cultures. So those Muslims/Mughal structures are just as “Indian” as the remains of stone Hindu temples on the roadside, just as “Indian” as the old British ministries (in a way). So, the collection I present here should be as eclectic as the nation has always been.
Starting in New Delhi: We first saw some of the British-built stuff, and first up was the India Gate (not to be confused with Bombay’s Gateway of India). This was built in honor of the Indian soldiers who died in The First World War, and is highly reminiscent of any European arch. Surrounding it is a long, narrow stretch of green one which locals eat, play and chill, leading all the way to the Viceroy’s House, where, not surprisingly, the viceroy used to live in colonial times. This stood adjacent to numerous extravagant buildings that belonged in the UK, but had virtually no governmental nor architectural cohesiveness with the rest of Delhi.
Next in New Delhi is the Mughal stuff. First up was Humayun’s Tomb, the inspiration for the Taj Mahal that some say is even more impressive given its red stone walls (in addition to the white marble). However, it’s definitely smaller, and humans tend to like big. After was the Red Fort, built by the Mughals with red stone as the emperor’s residence and used by the British as a fort. They were super clever in naming it.
And the last notable one was Qutub Minar, a minaret built by the Mamluk Dynasty, from Central Asia, and again not by people originating from within India’s contemporary borders. This is probably the most impressive monument I saw in India, in my opinion. I was fairly awestruck (oxymoron?) by how unique and beautiful it is.
Of course we saw loads of other monuments in New Delhi including Jantar Mantar, a centuries-old astronomy playground (basically; google it), and some step wells. But we’ll move on.
From New Delhi, we then headed southeast to the Taj Mahal, which photos will tell you is a giant white marble building. The neat thing though, is they clean it up every 8 years or so, meaning it’s always shiny; the not-neat thing is this was that year, so unfortunately scaffolding tightly hugged one of the minarets. (The historian in me didn’t mind
Afterward, we headed westward, interrupted only a few times by cattle in the road. We stopped at Fathepur Sikri, a mosque/Islamic center where the locals used some pretty desperate tactics to coerce us to donate money (being the day before Eid). It was a stunning place, but being cornered by a dozen people in a religious area asking you to pay 30 bucks for two pieces of fabric you couldn’t keep definitely left a bad taste in my mouth regarding that village. Next along the way was the Chand Baori, a truly stunning step well, kinda like an upside-down pyramid but in the ground, and with nothing inside. In fact, our driver was loath to even take us, which would’ve pissed me off royally. Fortunately, he did and the groundskeeper willingly talked about the place for 15 minutes with us. (Only time I gave a tip to someone not expecting one.)
Next up was the capital of the state of Rajasthan: Jaipur. Bursting with its own unique culture, food, architecture, history, landscape, everything, this place was the first to make me eschew my preconceived notion of the idea of “India.” The entire state is half covered by desert, and Jaipur itself was dry and hot, sandy and rocky, brown and….tan? We headed out for the Amer Fort, but stopped at the Water Palace first. It was named after a Legend of Zelda temple, and built to stay cool during the brutal Rajasthani summers, as they would literally sleep in rooms below the surface of the water. The Amer Fort area really had three separate forts along the ridge of a mountain range overlooking what once was a reservoir, but is now the world’s largest Beyblade’s™ arena. One of the forts even includes what was once, in 1720, the world’s largest cannon on wheels and could shoot 50lb. cannon balls 22 miles, with what one can only imagine was pinpoint accuracy.
Last up was the South: the city of Bombay and the state of Goa. The former was mostly gorgeous, situated on the Arabian Sea with a smattering of British-inspired buildings. The train station and old administrative buildings served as a reminder of the not-too-distant yesteryear. Others were repurposed, and we even found ourselves being awkwardly stared at by government workers manning metal detectors wondering why we were gawking up at the ceiling of the highest court in Bombay and taking pictures. Well, it’s pretty. Sorry…. But the most unique thing to the city has to be its mosque out on the water, called the Haji Ali Dargah. A narrow concrete bridge connects the islet to the coast and it’s open only for so many hours a day. We walked for about an hour to even get there, just to find high tide made accessing it by the small bridge impossible, lest we wished to be washed away.
And then to Goa, the not-as-tiny-as-you-think state, once a Portuguese colony. As such, there are three huge churches in the old center, two stunning and one somewhat gutted. The one you think is the cathedral is not. The one that is the cathedral doesn’t appear so from inside, outside, or any other angle that isn’t directly underneath. (I suppose all churches look the same from underneath.) Beyond this cluster, other churches were left to disrepair and are thus now ruins. There are hints of the colonial past everywhere, but nowadays Goa is a giant beach town with clear Indian dominance, and few historical sites.
In any case, this was the mostly normal stuff you could just Google. I decided to juxtapose this section with the next, hopefully for maximum whiplash.
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