Whiskey Goes to India
Whiskey Plods Eastward ~ Again!
HERE’S A QUICK photographic rundown of my recent trip to India.
Sitting alone at my desk in dreary, chilly Baltimore, I often dream myself tramping around the crowded, filthy, sweltering streets of Mumbai. But don’t you fear, staid Whiskey aficionado – I’ll return to India this fall. With you, if you’d like.
One of the reasons I visited India – and China last year, which our long-sufferers may recall – was to help plan out the “Two Wonders of the World” tour. Right now, Karim Rahemtulla, Addison Wiggin and I are throwing that tour together. The tour will focus on the cultural, artistic – and of course – financial wonders of the two rising eastern powers.
We’ll visit the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall. And we’ll go to Mumbai and Shanghai, these eastern giants’ respective financial centers…where we’ll get the inside scoop on the potentially massive hidden profit opportunities that these world financial powerhouses hold. Of course, you’re invited on this trip…please look to future Whiskey shots for the full details on what promises to be a stupendous tour.
Until then, here’s a visual commentary of my India journey…
Let’s start with the Taj Mahal.
Shooting – and posting – these pictures is an exercise of sheer futility. Typing these words is a useless exercise.
Why? Because the Taj Mahal is indescribable. And you must see it, hulking in front of you, for you to grasp its sheer beauty. Nonetheless, I’ll imitate the blurry reflection in the above pool by trying to describe this grand place in photos and words.
No other man-made thing, except the Great Wall, has inflamed me with such wonder. When I first gazed at the Taj, the wind slowly drew from my lungs as the heavy beauty of this wonder pressed the breath right out of me. I’m not exaggerating.
The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal in memory of his second and favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She died in 1631 and the Taj is her tomb. Shah Jahan means “the Ruler of the World.” He ruled India from 1628 to 1658. Legend says that Shah Jahan cried every day for the loss of his beloved Mumtaz. He never remarried. One of his predecessors retained 400 concubines.
Legend also claims that Shah Jahan never set foot inside the Taj Mahal and that he intended to build a black Taj even more magnificent than the white one you see above. Thinking Islamic conquest a better use of that much treasure, Shah Jahan’s third son Aurangzeb imprisoned him in Agra Fort. Aurangzeb then killed two of his brothers to take the throne of India.
Here’s the view of the Taj from Agra Fort:
Legend sings that Shah Jahan gazed at the Taj every day, weeping for his lost wife. Then, when his eyesight failed him, he gazed into the facets of his huge diamond ring to cry over the reflection of the Taj. If you look at the above picture, you can see grooves in the sandstone floor almost definitely whittled by the Shah’s tears. Other legends claim that Aurangzeb put his father into a cell where he couldn’t see the Taj…so Jahan’s caretaking daughter erected a complex series of mirrors so that he could gaze upon his wife’s white monument. Those reflections undoubtedly mirrored the reflections in the first picture on this web page.
Huge blocks of white marble form the Taj. The structure is so firm and stable that here you see it hold up the entire sky. 20,000 craftsmen toiled for 12 years to build her. She cost 41 million rupees, or the rough equivalent of $500 million dollars today. 1,000 elephants transported all of that white marble from Rajasthan. Her dome stands 144 feet high.
Makes you wonder how 17th century artisans could create something so enormous with simple tools and scaffolding.
Calligraphic Koran verses surround the above entrance archway. In a slight optical illusion, the lettering grows in size as its gets higher, to fool you into thinking that all of the letters have the same height. You can also see the ornate flowers in the bottom right corner of the above picture. These colorful, intricate flower patterns are precious and semi-precious stones inlaid right into the white marble. Chinese jade, Tibetan turquoise, Afghan lapis, Arabic carnelian, Sri Lankan sapphire and the Ocean’s coral all form the wondrous palette of petals that creeps along the inside and outside of the Taj tomb.
Four symmetrical minarets stand on each corner of the main tomb. At a height of 131 feet, muezzin voices reach for miles to call the faithful Muslims to prayer. If you look closely, you can see a black bird circling the above minaret. I wonder what prayers he calls. To complete the symmetry, two identical buildings stand on each side of the Taj, one a masjid ( mosque ) and the other a royal guest house. Below you’ll find the mosque…
Now, even though the Mughal Shah Jahan hailed from Persia, and was thus a follower of Muhammed, his mother was Hindu. That’s one reason why you see distinct Hindu influences in the Taj architecture. The prominent domes, for instance, hail from Hindu temple architecture. And the finial atop the dome on the main tomb consists of a heaven-facing Islamic crescent held up by a spire, which makes it resemble Shiva’s trident.
Furthermore, most Mughal buildings used red sandstone, which you can see above in the Masjid. Shah Jahan opted for the Hindu building art that utilized cut and polished marble blocks. And finally, the numerous lotuses and other flowers that grow all over the building in pietra dura splendor originate in the Hindu tradition.
A large square garden called a charbagh lies in front of the Taj. Water drawn from the Yamuna river irrigates the formal garden. The Yamuna flows right behind the Taj. A picture of one of its feeder tributaries follows below.
The Mughal mystic writings often portrayed Paradise as a walled garden, fertile and abundant. Normally the tomb marks the middle of the garden, but the Taj sits on one end of the charbagh. But, some scholars have postulated that the black Taj, destined for the opposite bank of the Yamuna, would make Mumtaz’s tomb the center of a massive garden and memorial complex. Who knows? Before the English re-made the garden in the formal English lawn style, it held a profusion of roses, daffodils and fruit trees. Above you see some crimson bouganvillea blossoms – the prickly, vengeful bane of your managing editor’s past tree-trimming career.
Here you see the nearly interminable rows of red sandstone columns that help form the outer wall of the charbagh near the gateway to the Taj that you saw above. These columns also originate in Hindu temple architecture. Three sides of the large rectangullar complex are walled off – the Yamuna river protects the fourth side.
Now, let’s return to Agra Fort, Shah Jahan’s lonesome prison.
For some reason, I just think that’s a neat picture. Shah Jahan’s grandfather, Akbar-e-Azzam, captured Agra Fort from the Lodis in the late 16th century. Akbar moved the capital from Delhi to Agra during his reign. And so he built up Agra Fort to a small extent, but Shah Jahan made some major additions to it. Now, 1.5 miles of 68 foot tall red sandstone walls encircle this sprawling fort. In fact, the Indian Army’s 7th Rajputana Rifles Brigade still inhabits a large portion of Agra Fort. And so, unfortunately I couldn’t see the entire thing. But I did see an enormous palace that housed hundreds of concubines…and a large crocodile pit into which criminals got hurled under the nervous eyes of the masses.
And, finally, one last picture to bring us back to earth:
We walked along this riverbank after visiting Fort Agra. You can see the Taj in the top right corner. As we approached this festering bog of feces, trash and animal corpses, our friendly guide pulled out a handkerchief and covered his nose. “Dang,” I thought, “this is gonna be bad…” The smell was unbearably foul. We could barely stand it long enough to shoot this picture. It became painfully obvious that India’s got a long way to go in the water infrastructure sphere before she can rightly start the climb to first-world status.
In fact, this picture paints a pretty accurate pastiche of India. Repulsive filth within clear sight of one of the most impressive and beautiful structures in the world. Take from that what you will, but I must inform you that my friends Eric Fry and Aussie Joel over at the Rude Awakening are putting the finishing touches on a “Water Emergency Report” right now. It’ll show you how to play the non-renewable liquid that’s more important than oil…so keep reading your Whiskey to get your shot at that report.
I apologize – I will have to post the rest of my India pictures next weekend. It’s late and I’m tired. And, until then, you might ponder the majesty of the Taj – and the wonderful, profitable quandary that is India. And hopefully you’ll join Addison, Karim and myself on the tour this fall.
Good night and warm regards,