Thursday, December 16, 2010

India is color, part 1

Vendor selling fruits in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Most Indians we saw wore long-sleeved shirts and slacks; jeans were a rarity. Perhaps in the searing summer they're dressed more loosely. It's winter now in this part of India--pleasant Baguio weather by day, though it could get really chilly by sundown.

Speaking of Baguio, I suppose this is their equivalent of our man-in-a-barrel: A beautifully caparisoned wooden elephant figurine with a covered pavilion on top that, when removed, reveals a couple in coitus. Very Kama Sutra. I'm guessing, but this imagery might relate to Shah Jahan and his queen, Mumtaz Mahal, in whose honor he built the Taj Mahal to serve as her mausoleum. The Moghul emperors, but especially Shah Jahan, were known to be highly sensual creatures--lovers of wine, jewelry, scents and spices, pageantry, spectacle, glittering palaces. What was unique about Shah Jahan was, while he had several wives and hundreds of women in his harem, he was slavish in his lifelong devotion to his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, with whom he bore 14 children--all of them, except two, born while the wife was accompanying her husband on arduous military campaigns across the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent.

In the first plate, a stylized portrait of Shah Jahan, a vision of opulence in gems, accoutrements, expensive finery. In the second, a romanticized image of the emperor and his favorite wife amid the lush flora of Kashmir, the Shangri-La region that served as the Moghuls' royal retreat. The handpainted plate itself comes from Kashmir.

Typically colorful Indian street scenes--the first two in Jaipur, the third on a highway going to Agra. Note their distinct color palettes. Jaipur is called the "Pink City" because all establishments and buildings along its main thoroughfares are washed in a pink (actually, more like ochre or old rose) color. The wholesale paint job was ordered by the Maharajah of Rajasthan in the 1900s when the then Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII (who would later abdicate the throne to be with the woman he loved, the American divorcee Wallis Simpson) came to India on a royal visit. Now, the city's visual signature is preserved by law and is considered protected heritage. Agra, meanwhile, is a mainly agricultural town. By my already forgiving Manila standards, its road conditions are absolute chaos, though I never saw anyone complaining or in a traffic argument.

Nothing screams color in India more than the sari, the women's traditional dress, here seen against some of the country's priceless monuments and structures: 1) in the abandoned royal complex of Fatehpur Sikri, Agra; 2-3) in the Taj Mahal, as visitors line up to enter the burial chamber, their dresses ablaze against the warm white marble of the mausoleum. Before stepping into the platform base of the building, visitors are required to either take off their shoes, or use soft shoe covers (most in red, but we were given flesh-colored ones) to protect the Taj's marble flooring; 4) in Qutub Minar, a much older royal fort where, for centuries, the world's tallest stone tower stood, built by Muslim invaders who first came to India from Afghanistan. Taller structures have overtaken the tower, but, like the Taj Mahal, it remains a marvel of ancient engineering.

Schoolboys in their striking blue uniforms. It was a Sunday, but schoolchildren were all over the Qutub Minar ruins and park.

The majestic Amber Fort in Rajasthan--its name derived not from the mineral/fossil but from Amba, the name of a local goddess. Dramatically built on the highest point in the landscape, its facade reflecting on the body of water below, the fort commands a sweeping view of the plains around it. The intense blue sky heightens the vision; in the second photo, a monkey scampers on the pale-yellow parapets of the fort.

Night market vendor selling shawls, scarves, bags, textiles in bejeweled colors cuts a handsome Omar Sharif profile. The merchandise is quite cheap, and haggling is encouraged. Those multi-colored bags could be had for 100 rupees or less (about P100)--and they're all handmade!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You write excellent travelogues. They'd be more interesting if you make your photos larger. And oh, I do think your layout needs some serious upgrade. Make it more less cluttered.

;-)

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