Tuesday, April 29, 2008

India's Republic Day and the grand parade!!! New Delhi.

Republic Day-26th January each year:
After a long freedom struggle, India gained independence, on the midnight of August 15th 1947, as a Dominion within the British Commonwealth. But as a gesture of goodwill on the part of the Indian people and leaders, for the fair relationship maintained by the British through the later course of the freedom movement, Lord Louis Mountbatten was made India's first Governor General !!!
That midnight, Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, made a stirring speech that began :'as the world sleeps, India awakens to freedom..............'India became a Republic on 26th January 1950, as per the Constitution, and Dr Rajendra Prasad the first President.
Since then India celebrates its Republic Day by several functions throughout the country, but the principal one, a grand parade of its defence services, para military units, police and home guards contingents, followed by contingents from selected schools and ending with cultural floats and tribal dance troupes from some of the States of the country. The President takes the salute, and there is now a long tradition where the Head of State of a country is invited as Chief Guest.It is an opportunity for India to put on display its military and tecnological prowess and cultural diversity.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The TAJ MAHAL, the other wives' tombs.

Left, floral etchings on marble; below, one of the 4 arches, with Koranic verses which are so etched (see the pic.) that, to a reader below, the size of the letters appear same!

Below right, a miniature showing Shah Jehan and Mumtaj Mahal. Below, the Taj view from the Agra Fort across the Yamuna river.

Although the Taj Mahal, a labour of love, was the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan's eternal tribute to his favourite wife and only true love, Mumtaj Mahal, the outlying area bordering the huge park, fronting the monument, also served as the burial place for Shah Jehan's other wives.
This is not to belittle this great and romantic Emperor for the love he held for his beloved Mumtaj Mahal, it is that this post will serve to correct the impression and the Taj is, besides these two royals, the burial place of his other wives as well.
When I first came accross these details in the guide book available at the outer car-park west of the Taj area, I was also surprised and wondered this great Emperor had other wives.However on reflection, one realises that the traditions and social practices of those times it was just natural to have more than one wife, and Shah Jehan would be no exception.In fact, Mumtaj Mahal was his third wife. But she was his constant companion and confidante and even advised him on all court and political matters.Soon after her untimely death, during delivery of their fourteenth child, Shah Jehan was so uncontrollably grief stricken that he emerged from a few days of seclusion with his hair and beard fully white and looking years older.............
More details about the Taj: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taj_Mahal
hotels: http://www.planetholiday.com/hotels/asia/india/agra.html

I recommend, if you have the time, go shopping for those superb intricately carved round marble slabs inlaid with stones.......or similar wood carved pieces, these can serve as a lavish table top or show-piece in your home. Please bargain the price!!! (check your luggage limits-air travellers- before buying the marble pieces.) Tell your guide to take you to the best shops for these, and the best confectionery/mithai shops for Agra Petha , a very delicious sweet. Please be sure you know beforehand the weekly day the Taj is closed for maintenance. The usual electricity outages/blackouts can occur late evening , so carry a torch with you.


Click on heading for complete post in google earth community.

Above pics: left, Maharaja Sayajee Rao III in durbar, seated centre couch- with English guests; right Laxmi Vilas Palace.
There is a very interesting story behind this enormous palace. The Laxmi Vilas Palace is in Vadodara, or Baroda as it was previously called, this city situated in the western state of Gujarat, just south of Ahmedabad, largest city in Gujarat.

The Baroda princely state was founded by Pilaji Rao Gaikwad, a general in the Peshwa army(the Peshwas were the ministers of the Maratha Empire, founded by Shivaji the Great who was responsible for the ultimate debacle of the great Mughal Empire and who saved India from further islamisation by the Mughal emperor Auranzeb;after Shivaji, the real rulers of India were the Peshwas, the chief minister dynasty under the Mahratta kings.) Gujrat region, now a state of modern India, comprises of Gurati speaking peoples whereas the Baroda royal house, known as the Gaikwads, were Mahrathas and whose native language is spoken by the people of Maharashtra, south of Gujrat, who today are very proud that Mumbai is capital of their state,Maharashtra.

The Baroda royal family has a very interesting history. Baroda State was always in the forefront of development.But the builder of the Laxmi Vilas Palace, Sayajeerao III,who was an adopted son of the previous ruler,( see:http://www.uq.net.au/~zzhsoszy/ips/b/baroda.html....and adoption is done from family with the same distant ancestral roots.) was a very proud man and an ardent nationalist, viewed the British Empire of India with much reservation. When King George the V came to India and was facilitated at the Delhi Darbar(audience) , all the Maharajas had to bow before the King and walk backwards from the royal presence. But Sayajeerao simply nodded his head and turned and walked back to his chair....
(to view these forts and palaces and know a little about the people whose presence lingers on is worth the few lines here.)Maharaja Sir Sayajeerao III was recepient of an LLD. from Benaras Univ. and made Baroda a progressive state, with many achievements such as an University for Baroda; Maharaja Sir Pratapsingh Rao's daughter majored from Iowa Univ. USA., a qualified dietician and PHD. Maharaja Fatehsingh Rao II was a member of the Indian Parliament, a Minister of Health, Gujarat Govt, and President of Indian Cricket Board. The present ruler, Mah.Ranjitsingh Rao is also an elected Member of the Indian Parliament, and is a Doctorate from the Royal College of Arts, London, and a Indian classical music vocalist, he has succeded his elder brother, Fatehsinhrao.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baroda -details on Baroda, history etc.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Princely States of India.

During the heyday of ascendancy of some 900 odd Princely States in India, a pretty long period from around the 17th century right through to the end of the British Raj in the mid 20th century, their total wealth was most probably unmatched  anywhere else in the world.        

When the British left the shores of India, those Princes who did not have sufficient resources and could not 'adjust' to changing times, found themselves slowing being pulled down to impoverished conditions. Fortunately, some led the way to

make good use of their properties, converting their palaces to heritage hotels, their forts and other grandiose monuments became tourist attractions, their huge land reserves, with forests and fauna, continued as protected reserves opened to tourists.

The 7 Islands of Bombay

Click on the heading for link to read full post in Google Earth Community:The 7 Islands of Bombay: Bombay, now Mumbai, more correctly Greater Mumbai, started out as seven small islands with villages of Kolis, the local indigenous people of this part of Western India. Their main means of living was from fishing and their goddess was Mumba Devi from which modern Bombay was finally renamed Mumbai.

Greater Mumbai includes the northern large island of Salsette or Vasai which remained a Portuguese territory for a longer time whilst the seven islands became English regions after 1661.

Some of the most ambitious reclamation ever undertaken in Asia involved joining these islands that now comprise the island of Bombay and Salsette, by reclaming huge parts of sea separating the islands, as well as vast empty tracts of water along the shoreline of the various islands. There were seven islands when the Portuguese ceded these to the British as 'dowry' for the marraige of the English King Charles II to Catharine of Braganza of Portugal, in 1661.
Mumbai (Bombay) needs no introduction; it is the commercial capital of India with head offices of most of the major Indian businesses, with international banks and businesses having offices here. Mumbai is the political capital of Maharashtra state; it has a large presence of all communities from accross India and is the centre of bollywood films.
Major places of interest are: the Gateway of India and the Taj mahal Hotel, and sighting some of the best classical buildings between Hutatma Chowk (Flora Fountain) to Colaba Causeway and The C.S. Railway terminus( the Victoria Terminus) to the north of Hutatma Chowk (flora fountain), the old Churchgate offices building to the west, the Elphinstone College building, the Bombay Museum and Jehangir Art Gallery on the route to Colaba Causeway. Other must see are the Hanging Gardens and the Parsi burial -the Towers of Silence, both on malabar Hill, the Crawford market and Zaveri Bazaar, the Marine Drive, and Chowpatti beach, Nariman Point and the Oberoi Hilton Hotel and the cluster of high rises there. The world heritage site of Elephanta caves of 1st century B.C. Buddhist art are accross the Bombay harbour, connected by daily motor crafts from the Gateway of India/Appollo pier.
Facts on Mumbai/Bombay: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mumbai
everything you possibly want to know: http://www.lonelyplanet.com/worldguide/india/mumbai/
Wide range of hotels, see link:
Please be cautious on the choice of hotels in India, in Mumbai and most other cities there is a hotel rating....please ask fot the rating before making a choice.

KhajurahoTemples, India- temples to beauty and love. India

Click on the heading for the full post in the Google Earth Community.

The temples at Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh State, in Central India, an UNESCO World Heritage site, were built between 950 and 1050 A.D. These were profusely carved temples, commissioned by the Chandela Rajputs (Rajputs are originally from the 'state of kings'-Rajasthan), and the central theme of these temples was the depiction of the human form, of beauty and love.

It must be remembered these are temples, used for worship; but the exterior, and in some cases the interior, of the temples have these carvings etched in stone, with great aesthetic sense. Of the 80 temples only 22 survive, but in these the carvings are in very good condition. The human figure, both men and women, are in very realist and sensual form without any hint of vulgarity, although it is erotic in many cases.

More details on Khajuraho: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khajuraho and

Khajuraho, in north-central India, east of Allahbad and Rewa, near Chhaterpur, is connected by air from New Delhi; wide range of hotels; link:

Mt Abu Dilwara Temples, India- in marble for the value of gold dust.India

Click on the heading for link to read the full post in Google Earth Community.

The Dilwara Temples in Mount Abu (to the south of Udaipur) , Rajasthan, India, have some of the most intricately carved interiors, the carvings in full marble, that one can see anywhere in the world.

These are Jain temples, which were built between the 11th and 13th century A.D., and the legend goes that the king told the mastercraftsmen he would pay them in gold dust in return for the marble dust left from the carvings!!!
The Dilwara Temples are located in the scenic hill town of Mount Abu in southern Rajasthan, north of the border with Gujrat; it is connected by road from Ahmedabad to the south and Udaipur to the north; these temples are a must see.
Wide range of hotels at Mount Abu; link:
Facts on Dilwara temples: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dilwara_Temples

Whilst in Mt Abu, don't forget to visit gowmukh ( cow's stone head sculpted around a spring water from the rocks, and source of a river) , you have to climb down several hundred steps, and start early because the climb up to return can be very strenuous and you are likely to be confronted by a bear etc. Eating out at some of the restaurants in the town center, especially to taste a generous vegetarian cuisine of Gujrat/Rajasthan can be a great experience. At the Dilwara temple gates, you are to leave your cameras with the staff there, make sure the receipt details the make of your camera. Drive up to the highest peak for a stunning view of the Rajasthan plains.

The unique Dabbawallas of Mumbai.

Click on the heading for link to the full post in Google Earth Community.

The dabbawallas of Mumbai, an unique institution in this city, gather here in spacious vacant areas, such as this sidewalk, to exchange the food tiffins they have brought from thousands of homes in the suburbs of Mumbai, so home cooked food (many Indian homemakers still remain home, enabling them to send fresh home cooked food to their husbands at work) is reached, daily on work days, to your place of work and well in time for your lunchbreak!!!
Here, and in many more similar places, the 'exchange' takes place so your dabba(tiffin) is transferred to the right dabbawalla(tiffin carier), whose area of delivery includes your office!!!
Its hard to imagine this: thousands of sealed food tiffins, three or four deeply rounded aliminium boxes closed with a cover on each, and inserted into a deep round box which is also sealed, are picked by by your dabbawalla, from your home at around 10.00 a.m. and delivered to you at your office, by around 12:30 a.m. And, never, never, is a wrong dabba placed before you.............woe unto the gods that be!! A south Indian Hindu vegetarian would shudder to open the wrong tiffin and find spicy meat/chicken cooked for a Punjabi or Goan!!!........................
to view the dabbawallas in action go to the Churchgate station, west of Hutatma Chowk (Flora Fountain); you will find them accounting and exchanging dabbas(tiffins-see pictures) ( at or after 11:30 a.m.) on the sidewalk opposite the station and below the Western Railway offices which is a Victorian-Gothic building in black stone.
Facts on Mumbai/Bombay: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mumbai


Click on the heading for link to read the full post in Google Earth Community:
I, AND MANY MORE LIKE YOU and ME, HAVE STAYED HERE!!! Governor's Residence in Mahableshwar.
The British 'discovered' or rather developed these hill stations to escape from the heat of the plains. So, Mahableshwar and adjoining Panchgani to the east a few kilometers, were developed, both with resorts, hotels, schools,parks, and ofcourse the Governor's Residence.
These government estates were passed on to the Indian authorities at independance and are still used by the region's Governor, in this case Governor of Maharashtra..........but with a difference!!Any citizen can apply, in advance, to stay here, apply at the Government Secretariat( Sachivalaya), at Mumbai, and if the available rooms are free and no VIP has booked to stay there at the time /week you wish to be there ......and you are off to spend a lovely one week at this fabulous resort-palace deep in the woods....................
Mahableshwar is connected by road from Mumbai and Pune; from the Mumbai goa highway a detour by road marker at Mahad takes you through the hills to around 2000 feet elevated plateau of mahableshwar-panchgani, a very scenic wooded hill/mountain area. Hotels to suit all budgets; link: http://www.indiahotelreview.com/destination_mahabaleshwar.htm

I recommend, in Mahableshwar, you must visit all the scenic points, both on the east and west side of the plateau because each point has its own charm. Don't miss buying, from the market, good quality honey, well rounded dark good quality salted channas( gram) and strawberries. Be sure to visit adjoining Panchgani town. If you have the chance go horse riding and boating on the lake, but of late the area around the lake is overcrowded with tourists. From any hotel, a walk down the adjoining dirt roads is enchanting and can put you in a calm mood.

The Parsis and the Fire Temple at Navsari, India

click on the heading for link to read the full post in the Google Earth Community:
The second holiest and sacred fire site, in India, for the Parsis (Parsees,) after the fire temple at Udvada.(see my placemark and notes for Parsee Fire Temple at Udvada,Gujarat State,India.placed in GE Community -Peoples and Culture.- MOderated. ) is this temple at Navsari.
The Zoroastrian religion enjoins that the sacred flame be enshrined in a ritually prepared place in an inner sanctum sanctorum in a temple built for this purpose. The flame is tended by priests who enter the inner sanctum only after a vigorous ritual self- cleansing and prayers said over a period of 9 days in seclusion. Thus, once a team of priests have undergone the required state of purity, they remain in the temple for around 15/20 days, accepting sandalwood from pilgrims, entering the inner sanctum and offering this to the fire. A fully ordained priest, but who has not undergone the cleansing ritual, cannot enter the sanctum !
Navsari is a commercial and trade centre, connected by rail from Mumbai or Ahmedabad and Baroda; it is situate a few miles south of Surat. A modest number of Parsis reside around the temple area. Some very delectable Parsi packed food can be shopped near the temple area. Any number of budget hotels in Navsari.
some facts on Navsari: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navsari

I recommend, if you choose to visit this town, do not miss shopping for Parsi snacks, savories, condiments, biscuits from the shops around the temple.

The Parsis and the Fire Temple at Udvada, India

Click on the heading for link to read the full post in Google Earth Community:

Udvada, is a small town, a few miles north of Daman a one time Portuguese enclave, on the west coast of India, north of Mumbai/Bombay,and in the southern part of Gujarat State. Udvada is home to the foremost Zoroastrian Fire Temple,The Iranshah Fire Temple.......
the Zoroastrians known as Parsis (Parsees), are the descendants of Zoroastrian-Iranian settlers who moved to India in the 9th/10th century A.D.to preserve their ancient faith from the ongoing Islamisation of Iran-a sad and tragic period for them.

The sacred fire was kindled in around 950 A.D. and as per their religious custom has never been allowed to go out and will continue to burn- fed with sandalwood and low burning wood, on a bed of white ash 'enthroned' on a large metal vessel, attended by priests (the magi of the Bible fame)- until the Parsees survive as a people. (They reached a peak in numbers in around 1940s at 1,40,000 and are presently around 1,00,000- a highly educated community with a very low birth-rate.)

In Zoroastrianism, the sacred Fire placed in an inner sanctum where only a priest who has undergone purificatory rituals can enter, symbolises God's universe, an icon of purity -the scriptures explain fire as the Son of God-"Athre-putro Ahurai Mazdao" Fire Son of Ahura Mazda (Lord Wisdom.)

Udvada on the shores of south Gujrat, is connected by rail from Mumbai; the embarkation station is Udvada Station, around 4 hours journey from Mumbai Central Terminus, in Mumbai. From Udvada station a local taxi or rickshaw (a three wheeler) will take you the 7 kilometers to Udvada town. The sacred Fire was kindled in the 10th century in Sanjan, a few miles south of Udvada,and brought here in the late 18th century. The Western Express motor highway also connects from Mumbai to Udvada thru Udvada Station. There are a wide choice of budget hotels in Udvada, the Globe, Noshirwan, Mek, link :http://www.indiahotelreview.com/destination_udvada.
Facts on Udvada: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Udvada

I recommend, for those who choose to stay 3/4 days in this enchanting small town, to stroll the village narrow roads; it will be an experience to observe the lazy laid back life of the townfolk, watch an elderly grey/snow bearded patriarch, a Zoroastrian priest, with a white head gear and loose fitting white muslin clothes ambling down the town narrow road; this would be a Zoroastrian priest. If you want an all rounded taste of Parsi cuisine, eat at various hotels, ask for Parsi specialities, and the fried local fish, the boi (mullet) is a must.

Parsis- The World's Smallest "Nation"

Click the Heading for my full post in the Google Earth Community: Parsis- the World's Smallest "NationParsi wedding late 19th/early 20th century, notice the organ on the far right." -Discussions welcomed from experts in ethnic issues, anthropologists and those interested, on how issues like rapid decline of population are tackled. Please read this full arcticle on Google Earth Community to learn more about this remarkable community who have survived this far, with great achievements and productive contributions to people around them. Freddie Mercury and Zubin Mehta and UK based Cobra Beer Lord Karan Billimoria are Parsis.

2001 census in India put Parsis (Parsees) at 69,600। There are some 35,000 or 40,000 additionally, mainly in USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. Population estimates in India expect Parsis to come down to 20,000 by 2020. Apart from the UNESCO sponsored PARZOR (Parsi-Zoroastrian) project which is documenting the old Parsi traditions, there is no international-- nor at any other level-- effort (including within the miniscule community) to reverse the declining population.

This the story of a people, who out of a steadfast love of their identity, religion, beliefs, customs and ancient traditions and much more that goes to forming a people/nation, decided they would rather find refuge in a new land, than give up all that was precious and invaluable to them.

These were the Persian Zoroastrians, who after the debacle of the Sassanid Empire and the victory of the Arab conquerors, found they had lost king and country. After the defeat of the Sassanid armies at Qadisiyyah in 636 A.D.( link ) and at Nehavand in 641 A.D.( link ) and the last Sassanid king, Yezdegerd III murdered in 651 A.D.(see the Conquest of Persia here) the way was open for the Arabs, and the Persian Zoroastrian Empires became a thing of the past. (Very ironically, Yazdegerd's son Pirooz became a very senior general in the Chinese army and was allowed by the Chinese Emperor to maintain a court in exile, a sort of king in exile.-( link )

Of the estimated 100,000 Parsis (Parsees) worldwide, some 65,000 live in Mumbai, India; although they live all accross the city, in some of the posh localities and otherwise, they are also to be found in Baugs (enclosed housing with lawns and other facilities-club, gymnasium, playgrounds); Cusrow Baug (see pictures below.) in south Mumbai, running along Colaba Causeway, adjacent to "BEST Electric House" and walking distance from the Taj Mahal Hotel. Facts on Mumbai/Bombay:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mumbai
Below: Cusrow Baug, a Parsi housing with enclosed lawns, gardens, club and gymnasium etc.