WANDERLUST IN INDIA
By: Rumana Akoob
India is known for its rich culture and fast growing economy. Some of India’s cities are expanding at accelerating rates and some date back to thousands of years before Christ. India’s contrast in culture and development is mirrored in the States of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. During spring, the country is bright and it is the most beautiful time to visit, if you can survive the heat.
India’s capital, Delhi, is the fourth largest city in the world with 22 million inhabitants. Tuk tuks, cars, buses and trucks constantly hoot each other and cows out the way. The roads are relentless and always noisy, this city never sleeps.
Delhi always looks full; men wander in their sandals chewing on beetlenut, students waiting for buses and the immense amount of traffic. Walking through the streets of India, you have to be fully aware- beetlenut spit, cow dung and dirt are things you don’t want to walk into.
The city dates back to 300 BC and has tales of every different ruler that reined and was concerned in the city. The first mosque built in India is in Delhi. Alongside it, was built the Qutb Minaar, a victory tower built by a Persian emperor over 800 years ago. Middle Eastern and Indian architecture were used on the 72-meter high building. Quraanic inscriptions are engraved into the red sandstone walls of the mosque.
Modern temples like the Lotus Temple and Akshardham Temple are both unique in their architecture. The beauty of the Lotus temple is its structure which is shaped as a Lotus Flower, the inside is a hall used for meditation. Security is tight at the Akshardham Temple, no sharp object or electronic devices are allowed in and no exceptions are made. Much like the Lotus Temple, the outer structure is large and beautiful however very detailed. Their well maintained green gardens extend into the distance and with many statues of Hindu dainties shading worshipers.
The state of Uttar Pradesh borders Delhi and is well known for its old world charm. Its rich diversity between Islamic and Hindu culture come together in many buildings designed by both faiths which make them unique to this area. The history of many cities in Uttar Pradesh dates back to before the birth of Christ. Muslim cities like Lucknow are closer up on the time line as Persian invaders only came to India after the 11th century.
The most logical mode of transport to Lucknow is via an aeroplane. A roadtrip is out of the question as India’s roads are poor. Lucknow is in the heart of Uttar Pradesh and the capital of the state. It is famous for its many Middle Eastern buildings. The city is laid back, however rules of the road seem nonexistent. The banks of the rivers are colourfully lined with clothes. Men washing these clothes are called dobies.
Bara Imambara, a place of worship for Muslims was built in the 1700’s. The architecture of the roof amplifies sound, making it easy for holy men to give talks. The main hall of the mosque which is about the size of two basketball courts has no support structure besides the four walls. The gates to the yard of the Imambara extend for meters. Hundreds of domes adorn the building. It was built in a time of great famine as relief and provided jobs for them.
Within the building, a labyrinth was built in case an escape needed to be made by the king who built it. Warning signs are put up and it is advised not to go in unguided. Many people have gone in and were never found again. One tunnel in the labyrinth leads to a city kilometers away.
Many other mosques like this were built by Persian rulers around Lucknow.
From Lucknow, a connecting flight via Delhi has to be taken to get to the holy city, Varanasi. Coble stone roads, cows and street vendors that line the narrow course between buildings with architecture used in ancient India creates the atmosphere of walking through a time long passed. The roads are so narrow, tour buses have to stop a distance away and visitors are taken through the city by rickshaw.
River Ganges curves through the holy city of Varanasi in the shape of a crescent. According to historians, Varanasi dates back ten centuries before the birth of Christ. Hindus believe their dainty, Shiva resides here.
On the West bank of the river, bodies of the dead are covered with white cloth after they are carried into the river on wooden stretchers by their sons and bathed in it. Cremation takes place at the rivers banks: the process requires about 350 kilos of wood. After four hours the ashes of the body is scattered into the Ganges.
At dawn prayers are performed after devotees cleanse themselves in the river. Hindus believe their sins are washed away after amercing themselves in the river. A barefoot girl walked around selling marigold flowers to pilgrims, her fingers were clasped over the edge of her basket, which was pressed against her side for support. Many men and women call the banks of the river home. The old come to die at the banks with the belief that they will taken to heaven in the life after. Some lay asleep on sandstone blocks into the morning covered with thin cloth. Deep chimes of bells from temples and singing groups performing prayers fill the air.
The evening puja(prayer) is performed by several Hindu priests. People are shoulder to shoulder at this time as most of the city’s inhabitants as well as pilgrims partake in the evening devotion. By boat, the view of the coast is electrifying. Thousands hold lamps illuminating the banks of the river. The prayer is performed to “put the river to sleep” and thank the river for the life it gives with its supply of water.
American author, Mark Twain had said, ” Banaras, the old name for Varanasi is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”
Agra is a four hour drive from Delhi and bearable in an air conditioned car. The city is world famous for one of the Seven Wonders of The World, the Taj Mahal. It was built by emperor Shah Jahan after his wife, Mumtaz Mahal died during child birth. It was built around her grave and her beauty is captured in each marble slab of the Taj Mahal. A long walk through the garden must be taken to get the main attraction.
The Agra Fort, which was built out of red sandstone held Shah Jahan captive after he was overthrown by his sons. Here he spent his days looking out the tower of the fort at the grave of wife until finally he died after eight long years and was buried next to her.
India is a huge country to wander through, every street has history in the walls of the buildings. With a population of 1.2 billion and her array of diverse history makes Mother India incredible.