Monday, February 8, 2010
We came back to our fun little C Park Inn Hotel and had some free time to roam the city. After our plans to see a movie were thrwarted, Rebecca, David, Jonathan, Ethan, and I ended up taking a three-stop trip in a taxi (an actual yellow, New York-style taxi). Making stops in rickshaws and taxis lowers the price of the trip by a lot and you get a chance to come across some cool (albeit more expensive) stores because the drivers get commission from the stores for bringing new customers. So, we first went to a really expensive tourist shop where they tried to sell us clothes, carpets, jewelery, and other items for a pretty penny. Their stuff was really neat and their english was almost impeccable but you could tell they pick on the rich tourists for all of their business. Our next stop was a neat little tea shop where we got to try a really good chai massala and an even better Darjeeling tea. We also got taken to another clothing store where we picked up a few scarves because they were much cheaper. We finally ended up back at our hotel for an easy 50 rupees. It was definitely different than any other shopping experience I've ever had, but was fun because you never know which store you are going to next!
We went to JNU for a university exchange where we did our presentations again and got to mingle with a few more students. They served us these really good samosas and then presented a few of their own works on bioinformatics. The rest of the day was a free do to do some last minute shopping and exploration.
1/26 The Republic Day Parade
This was nuts. The entire city was shut down for this parade and security was very extensive. There were sandbag barriers, lots of soldiers with big guns, and riot police vehicles within a ten block radius of the parade route. When we went to the parade our ricksaw driver had to drop us off ten blocks away because the police had closed all the roads. Thousands and thousands of people went to this parade and each of us were searched and checked with metal detectors because we couldn't bring anything in with us, and I mean anything. We couldn't bring a bottle of water, a cell phone, a camera, or even a pen!
It's really too bad that we couldn't bring any cameras becuase this was a really cool parade. There were lots of military regiments that marched through. One section of them were all on camels, including their band! I have no idea how they were playing wind instruments while riding a camel. They also had floats that told about India's history and culture and weapons that strolled through such as missile launching vehicles and tanks. The President was the first person to drive through the parade route (his appearance was a main reason for all the security). The first finale was the amazing motorcycle show. These people were fantastic! All of the drivers were military personnel and they did crazy things on their motorcycles. One of the first was a guy who had a ladder with four of five rungs on it and he would put his bike on cruise and then put his ladder on his motorcycle seat and then walk up it! He steered by leaning on the top of the ladder. Another one was a motorcycle that had five or six people on it all leaning off either side like a circus act. The last one consisten of five motorcycles riding in paralled about five feet apart and somehow there were 36 people linked together on the top of these motorcycles! It was a magnificent sight.
The real finale was when their fighter planes did a fly-by and then split off in opposite directions Blue Angel style.
We finally got through all the crowds and got back to our hotel for dinner.
We had some complications in flying back to the states which included a 10 hour delay in the Delhi airport due to the fog. This was a bit of a bummer, but we did get to stay in a really nice hotel for a few hours from about 1am to 6am. The 16 hour flight from Delhi was really long but was actually OK since we were all wiped out. It was weird with the time difference though. For instance, we received breakfast on the flight at 10:30am and then were served again 12 hours later at 10:30am the same day! I was curious if they were going to serve breakfast again, but they served us lunch instead. We had about a five hour layover in Chicago and then flew to Seattle and then eventually Spokane. Overall, it was about 36 hour of travel. Not something I want to do again anytime soon, but it was well worth it.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
This picture below practically explains it's self. We're obviously creating a human replica of the Taj Mahal.
Our first stop was the Qutub Minar. This was another ancient site built by one of the first Muslim rulers of Delhi. Basically it's this huge cream and red spire. It's 72.5 meters tall and is the worlds tallest brick minaret. Built in 1311 A.D., it's an astounding structure. It's hard to believe how much work must have gone into it's construction.
Baha'i House of Worship was our next stop. Baha'i is a religion that is supportive of all faiths and believe that the gods from every religion are all manifestations of a single god-head. I spent some time talking to the volunteers that were working at the temple. They came from all over the globe to live in Delhi, and work at the temple. The temple itself was very beautiful. It is often called the Lotus Temple, because of it's distinct lotus flower shape. It is ivory white, and sports 27 petals that make up the structure of the building. Inside there are numerous solid marble benches that can hold up to 1300 people. It was completely silent, and visitors were encouraged to spend time in silent meditation.
On January 16th we went to church on campus at Spicer College. It was a Seventh Day Adventist church. It lasted about 2 hours. After that we were invited to a potluck lunch where we got to meet the president of the college. That was pretty cool. The plan for the day was to visit Sinhagad Fort also known as The Lion’s Fort. The road up to the fort was so narrow that our bus was not allowed to go up to it. So instead we took some jeeps up to fort. Going up the cliffside road in a jeep was a very exciting experience for all of us.
The fort itself rests on a hill about 800 meters high. It played an important role in major battles throughout the years but the most important battle was the battle of Singhad in 1670. The way it was taken was very interesting. The Maratha used monitor lizards with ropes attached to climb up the walls of the fort. Once they made it up to top they used little children to climb the ropes since they were lightweight and they had bigger ropes attached to them so the soldiers could climb them. Then the Maratha soldiers climbed up the ropes but after over 300 of them got to top the rope gave out and those who were still climbing up the rope fell to their deaths. This whole plan took place at night so they took the fort completely by surprise.
We are currently in Delhi for the last bit of our time here in India. It’s been an amazing trip so far with plenty of crazy and amazing experiences. We have all started to acquire the Indian head bob while talking to other people and now require our food to be extremely spicy in order for it to taste right. We have all pretty much become seasoned professionals at snagging a good deal with the rickshaw drivers and bartering down the prices at all the shops for as much as 1/50th of the original price. India is a totally different culture than what we are used to, and it has been so fantastic to be able to start to blend in here. Well, we will always be stared at as we walk down the street in a single file line as the only white people in the entire city, but we are starting to get much more confident in knowing where we are going and what we are doing. Only a few people have had collisions with motorcycles while trying to cross the street, and I managed to get head butted by a cow yesterday, but we’ve all managed to make it without injuries even though we’ve had a few close calls. Oh how we love India.
We’ve been incredibly busy exploring everything Kent has planned for us to see, it’s been somewhat difficult to keep the blog up to date, so I’m going to write a little bit about one of my favorite places we got to visit here. On January 15th we were in Aurangabad and went to visit a place called the Ellora Caves. These 36 caves were built between the 7th and the 9th century, and were carved out of solid rock from the side of a mountain. Caves 1-15 were Buddhist, 16-28 were Hindu and the rest were Jain. We spent several hours running around the caves and exploring all of the dark rooms and tunnels full of bats. We climbed any staircase we could find, hiked up the mountain to see the view below and took pictures of the many detailed carvings. The most magnificent cave was cave 16 which is a giant Hindu temple that is so huge and so detailed it’s almost impossible for pictures to capture. We had an amazing time exploring these caves and it was a definite highlight of the trip for everyone.
Thursday (1/14) we hiked through Daulatabad Fort in Aurangabad. I say hiked because the fort's walls begin over a quarter mile from the base of the main fort, a small mountain probably 400 to 600 feet high. The fort's original builders cut the sides of the mountain away, so that it stands on 100 feet of flat rock on all sides. It took us a few hours to reach the top, but even if you didn't stop to site see, it would take most people at least half an hour to get from front gate to mountain top on foot. We were all amazed.
Kent told us about a Marathi leader named Shivaji. At age 19 he began to fight the Moghuls, whom his father had served, using guerilla tactics. Kent told us how he conquered one fort, thought impenetrable, using monitor lizards. At night, they attached ropes to the lizards, which then climbed over the flat walls at the rear of the fort. Then the soldiers pulled on the ropes so that the lizards got stuck, and boys climbed up and attached more ropes for the men. Shivaji swiftly conquered several sea and mountain forts using only small forces and lots of cunning, establishing a kingdom that continued for 100 years after his death.
Daulatabad was conquered at least once by a Persian ruler. He built a 110 foot tall minaret called the Chad Minar, or Victory Tower.
Daulatabad has many layers of defense, beginning with two outer walls which enclose an impressive section of land. Then there are several towers and walls along the route to the top. After that you have to cross the enormous moat surrounding the high walls I mentioned above, and get past a small inner fortress, which includes stairwells that are dark without torches. I imagine they could have put out all lights during an attack, and speared attackers -unfamiliar with the passageways- in the dark. (We also saw many bats hanging from the ceilings and heard them squeeking. Some of us found them ugly or creepy, but I thought they were cute. However, they did make the air very unpleasant, and Jonathan was the victim of some of their, err, refuse.) Then there are more stairs in the open, until finally you reach the summer palace (built by some of the intermediary owners). Of course there is one more small tower higher on the hill. Maybe it was a watch tower.
There were many cannons lying around the fort, some of which were probably brought in recently just for looks. (One cannon, someone noticed, was from Amsterdam.) There was also a very large, ornate cannon lying on top of one of the towers. We discovered that it was perfect for a bench, plus it was cold. It's comparable in size to many modern cannons. If it was ever used to defend Daulatabad, it must have been pretty destructive.
In some places, high on the facade of the royal prison (one ruler was held there under house arrest for some time) for instance, you can still see some of the designs that used to cover many structures in the fort. Nearly all the fort is now dark grey, and trash covers the ground in many places (though they keep most of the fort pretty trash free where possible). Probably more impressive is the surviving wood in the summer palace. As some of us said over and over as we walked through the fort, it must have been breathtaking in its hay day.
Another feature that was interesting was a giant, square, stone hole inside the second wall. It was filled with water at one time, and guards were trained to do aquatic combat so they would be prepared to fight inside the moat. The moat used to be home to dangerous animals, so defending it would have been an interesting operation.