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Indo Inquisition

13 weeks in India

 

Archived

Jul '12 - Jan '13

 
  • The Taj

    And alas we reach the climax, the zenith of a journey and the symbol of a country. When one hears the name India uttered, it is the like image in all minds of which transpires. It comes to rest on travel brochures from here to kingdom come, and is plastered across every tourist office billboard in India. It is the most threadbare, misrepresenting, beautiful photo in all of India, and I shudder to think how many copies of it exist in the world. If one has not the image in mind to which I speak, I applaud ones bohemianism in refusing to ever read a travel magazine, frequent an Indian restaurant or surf the Internet.

    Stone white edifice, grand arches and a colossal dome flanked by four solemn minarets, two of which retreat into perspective. Resting boastfully atop their plinth, as the reflection in her lotus pool lures the mind away from reality, to a dreamy childhood fantasy. Then one meets the shoulders of two Lithuanians, is cut off by a Korean, and told to abandon frame by an Indian. It is a scramble, a bloody war to stand centerfold and snap but one photo. And heaven forbid you wish to take it with no bodies in view. After witnessing such a spectacle I shall call the Reserve Bank of India and suggest they make their currency from pictures of the Taj Mahal, as it would seem their value is immune to hyperinflation.

    One enters the Taj from its south door, aligned yet still with her watery axis, but instead of the elegant tombs in view one finds the most decorated stockade this earth shall ever see. It is a marble screen, or a jali as they say. It is 6 ft in height and functions quite well in keeping weary travelers from plopping down for a rest on Mumtaz Mahal's pseudo-tomb. But it turns the Parthenon into a revolving promenade and removes all focus from the tomb. One may assume also that the glance of thousands of visitors a day shall corrode it into dust, as no clear view is possible through this chain link fence. Yes, the tomb itself is forlorn as even the tour guides glorify the ten thousand varieties of ‘precious and semi-precious stones’ within the fence with no more than a mention of the tomb itself. It’s the noblest obstruction, the most elegant annoyance, the most decorated velvet rope the world shall ever see.

    There is never a lack of guards in India, and the Taj is no exception. They are men of authority, stone cold, and immune to the jest, which is justification enough for ones laughter at their absurd juxtaposition in attire. Their uniforms are of brown and tan camouflage, which helps them blend into the misty white glare of the Taj, a British style beret caps their tops and black army boots help add to the mystique. Their Taj adaptation are the softest yellow booties, worn over thick black leather army boots, and from afar, they appear as teddy bear slippers. If they ever moved more than a few steps in a day, I would think they doubled as the polishing crew.

    According to the pragmatic Indian, it is best if one remains ignorant to the details, as history is seldom more fanciful than what our minds may conjure. It would seem that dear Jahan was quite fond of building, doing so rigorously throughout his reign; for the rare occasion one finds a ‘gem of the palace’ is reason enough to build a monument. The woman to which the Taj is so graciously dedicated, Mumtaz Mahal, was the fourth of seven wives of Jahan, Mumtaz' sister being number five. The legend of her beauty may hold credit in her bearing of 14 of his 16 children, which in my book is a feat worthy of such a grave.

    As I sat on a bench amidst the trees and breeze, I wondered what the people of Agra might have said, if Jahan were to have held a town meeting regarding his plans to build the Taj. Perhaps Jahan might end his pitch with, “and so, because one of my wives was so tremendously good looking, I wish to tax all of you to the amount of 500 kilos of gold for the next 12 years in order to pay for materials from another state and labor from another country." He should have concluded with the assurance that their eternal posterity shall have indefinite employment in the tourism business.

    From the guest house

    The warriors of the photo during the light morning

    A pleasant contradiction 

    From the garden

    The work of her lowliest mason


  • The Ghats of Varanasi

    It's a temple and a trashcan, a crematorium and a food source, a bathtub and a highway, a swimming pool and an art gallery; the local hang out and the workplace, the water fountain and the sewer. It is where the Ganges meets metropolis, the Ghats of Varanasi. Yes, this Ganges is an efficient...


  • Khajuraho

    India is riddled with temples. Their locations are recurrently amidst dwindling towns and cities, the remnants of ancient empires. Khajuraho is as unequivocal an example as any of this trifling phenomenon. She rests in the state of Madhya Pradesh, the geographical center of India, and was...


  • Forts of Rajasthan

    If Rajasthan were as flat as a lakebed the aeries of stone and lace would loose half their height and matching palatial guise. They occupy only the rocky protuberances of her greatest cities, their thrilling palaces hailing precedent to strategic military propriety. I would like to meet a man...


  • Spaces of the Working Class

    On occasion one may sense a genuine sincerity from the multitudes of infinite jabber excreted from these Indians, and one must act accordingly when this is found. A simple three-minute gab is all one must endure before chai is posed, and the docile little shop boy shouts away towards some unknown...


  • Anti-monument: The Stepwell

    Although Stepwells in Western India are somewhat trite, few exist in reputable condition. A visit to three of India's best may quench the thirst, so to speak, of said particular desire. Quite simply, to ensure year round water supply in the aired West, wells were dug, and stairs placed for ease...


  • Gandhinagar vs Chandigarh

    The lineal dogma of Corbu is a pervading one. Although it can be traced into the hearts and minds of all designers, (consciously or subconsciously), it would seem those in his immediacy received a more potent dose. After apprenticing under Corbu in Chandigarh, planners Prakash M. Apte & H. K...


  • Doshi's Ahmedabad

    A number of jewels reside within the confines of Gujarat's former capital city. After independence in 1947, strong squalls of design impunity caught the trousers of some noteworthy wielders of the T-square and pencil, and drug them halfway around the world. The denouement is a sprinkling of...


  • Ellora

    One may not utter the name Ajanta without mentioning its younger and more illustrious counterpart, Ellora. She may not carry the breathtaking panorama, but her grandeur lies elsewhere. Many of her temples are so grandiose in scale they dwarf all the temples of Ajanta! Her miscellany of temples...


  • Caves of Ajanta

    A solid wall of rock, 200 ft tall and in my fair judgment 2,000 ft long. Bent a full 180 degrees and punctured with 30 elaborate, hand carved caves. The elders date back to the first or second century BC and are attributed to the Hinayana phase of Buddhism, and the younger from the Mahayana...


  • Kanchanjunga Apartments

    The power of the architect card floats further here in India than any other. After roaming the caverns of the parking garage of Kanchenjunga Apartments, searching for an open service elevator or stairwell, I followed protocol and attempted my presumptuous stroll past lobby security. It was at...


  • Antilla

    Along the western coast of Mumbai is Cumballa Hill, a district of mixed socioeconomic classes. It is here where millionaires and billionaires live harmoniously together, and it is on the crest of Cumballa Hill where the world’s most expensive single family home rests. Mukesh Ambani, the...


  • A Hampi Revelation

    The architect's home- a manifestation of his accumulated knowledge, a reflection of his ideology and philosophy bound by the wills of no client, and often the epitome of his career (think Kings Road House, VDL House, etc.) The architect’s house is omnipresent, dwelling in the back of the...


  • Hampi

    I thought it falsity upon first glance. Surely no place on earth exists with such vigorous beauty, such vibrant materiality, and such august structures! She came into view from across the Tungabhadra, her high gopura set juxtaposed against the aphotic monsoon clouds beyond. She was Virupaksha...


  • Chennai's Colonial Residuals

    The city of Chennai is wrought with old English bones. Her skeletons- abashed at times, Zelig-esk, & effete- are filled with program of the most considerable kind, of which, at times concurs with its original intent. By trial and error, it seems architects searched for the proper edifice in...


  • Spencer Plaza

    The original Spencer Plaza, the first department store in India, burnt down in 1983. Its replacement is a massive 8-story block of granite, in which one million plus sqft of retail and office space have been carved. Spencer Plaza’s whole is an accumulation of three phases, each phase given...


  • Vipassana Meditation Center

    One does not search for misery, does not set afoot bound for the depths of hell, or make haste for the dwelling of pain. This sentiment however, befalls upon the advent of my first 3 days of the 10-day course. For 10 days one must live like a monk, saying goodbye to one’s beloved steak and...


  • Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple

    The main attractions at the Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple are, of course, the four large gopuras (pyramidal gates) to the north, south, east and west. Consequently, they are the only means of access through the towering exterior walls. These gopuras are covered with stucco deities painted in...


  • The Golden Temple

    If the tower and cathedral of Pisa were the holiest of monuments for the Catholic faith, I would consider its sister city Amritsar. Among a vast heap of urban disarray, nestled between souvenir bazaars, vegetarian-only restaurants, and shoe and bag shops, lies paradise for an entire religion...


  • Chand's Rock Garden

    If, for whatever reason, an artist wishes to build a gallery to host his work, he should look first to the Rock Garden of Chandigarh. This three-phase collection by Nek Chand, a former road inspector, is a totalitarian labyrinth of sculptures and masonry work, complete with waterfalls, caves, and...


  • Corbu's Suburbia?

    If one ever wished to dabble in India, to have just a teaspoon, one should sample India Lite, aka Chandigarh. It has all the taste of India, with half the beggars, trash, and touts. The result of a 1950's one-night stand between East Berlin and suburbia USA, Chandigarh is like no city I have...


  • Chandigarh's Capitol Complex

    From a design standpoint, I have nothing but praise for Le Corbusier's Capitol Complex. All three structures sit in a sea of green trees and fields, more rural than urban on any account. The High Court possesses a close relationship with the outdoors, is easily navigable, and from what I have...


  • IT Park

    In the advent of the technology boom in India, and accompanying an emerging middle class, comes an architecture of which is foreign to Chandigarh. It is here, in IT Park, where emerging companies place their monuments. These structures stand against the traditional concrete and masonry...


  • Hauz Khas Village

    The cab driver stopped at the gate and motioned to me that he could proceed no further. Hauz Khas Village was reserved for pedestrians only. It was a narrow street filled with alternating boutiques, restaurants, clothing, cafes, art galleries, etcetera. An alcove in the rhythm turns into a narrow...


  • Monuments of the Mughal Era

    A number of Delhi monuments are slightly out of reach from the metro and economically unrealistic for singular rickshaw transport. I opted, therefore, to hire a car and driver at the staggering price of 23 US dollars per day. I would see five monuments within two days, all of which are greater...


  • Old Delhi Alleys

    A thin, dark cavern is carved through the dense urban skin of Old Delhi. The array of tandoori ovens and open burners turn the alley into a furnace at times. Whole chickens are displayed on skewers, flys buzzing from the reshmi kebab to the seekh kebab and back again. An old man sits alone...


  • Laxmi Narayan

    Traveling by foot, I searched for Laxmi Narayan, a Hindu temple in the heart of Delhi. With bad directions, and a pinch of luck, I stumbled onto another small Hindu temple. An old grey man, who insisted that I take the freshly sliced banana from his outstretched hands, greeted me at the bottom of...


  • Jantar Mantar

    Almost 300 years ago, an astronomer by the name of Sawai Jai Singh II built 5 observatories. Jantar Mantar, in Delhi, is the largest of the five and now stands as a park in the middle of the business district. The Samrat Yantra, or 'King of Instruments,' is essentially a gigantic sundial. Its...


  • Connaught Place

    Finished in 1931 and designed by Robert Russell, Connaught Place is a striking contrast to the bazaars surrounding. The buildings are broken radially into two tiers, divided again by 7 bisecting streets, and then labeled a block letter from A to N. The plaster colonnades provide shelter from the...


  • The Backstreets of Delhi

    The buffet of olfactory stimulation could almost be more descriptive than my eyes in Delhi. First the distinct smell of rotting trash, pungent enough to remember for life. Then, as you walk past the street eateries, you're hit with chicken tikka masala, and not just the smell, but the feel of...


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About this Blog

An Indo Inquisition is a thirteen-week train expedition across India. The journey will document the influences of international modernism and British occupation, as well as compare the effects of wealth accumulation, culture, religion, and poverty with economic growth and their effect on the built environment.

Authored by:

  • amlocke

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