Bigger Than Life: India

MORE LIKE A CONTINENT THAN A COUNTRY, INDIA IS A WORLD UNTO ITSELF. PROJECTING INTO THE OCEAN LIKE AN ENORMOUS CRYSTAL, THIS LAND EXHIBITS ALMOST ALL THE KNOWN CLIMATES AND GEOLOGICAL FORMATIONS AS WELL AS BEING A BOUNTIFUL HOME TO ALL LIVING CREATURES.

Every facet of this amazing crystal represents a different culture, language, faith or ethnicity. All the vortexes of human history are seen here. There is no shortage of those who claim to have found the secret of life in these lands. Tipped to become a superpower in the near future, India also exhibits all the world’s known forms of poverty as well as wealth.

Its big cities are faced with internal migration. The number of families living on the street is gradually increasing amidst growing criticism of the unjust apportioning of the nation’s resources. But despite everything, the most striking contrasts melt away in the ordinariness of everyday life. It is not unusual to find calm resignation right alongside the most glaringly self-indulgent glitz.

Powerful and powerless, well-fed and emaciated, cruel and merciful, all co-exist in this world of dichotomies, where life and death follow each other as naturally as day and night. And for that reason, sunset like sunrise is cause for modest celebration. Every place under the sun is different from every other, and so are its people. Languages collide, religious faiths are disparate, cultures divergent.

Eighteen official languages and thousands of local dialects are spoken in this country. According to the holy books, there are 330 million deities in the Hindu pantheon. The greatest, and the sole creator among them, Brahman is represented in diverse manifestations in both painting and sculpture.

The Himalayas stretch from end to end across the north of the country. Lying in the southern Himalayas under the influence of ancient Tibet, and dividing the Indian Subcontinent from Central Asia, is the Ganges Basin, one of the world’s most important centers of civilization. Flowing through a broad plain until it empties into the Bay of Bengal, the Ganges feeds not only India’s fertile soil but also its rich mythology.

Besides millennia-old religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, other, newer religions like Sikhism are also widespread in India. Spiritual center of the Sikhs going back to the 15th century, Amritsar and the Golden Temple are located in this region.

And in the same region, Agra, south of the capital Delhi, was one of the leading centers of the Mongol Empire, deriving its true fame from the legendary Taj Mahal. In the state of Bengal in the eastern part of the basin, the city of Kolkata, considered India’s capital of culture, is known for its artists, intellectual legacy and scientific achievements.

Stretching across the southern part of the Ganges Basin is the Deccan Plateau. Here, the country’s most important gateway to the west, the port city of Mumbai was transformed from a small village into a global metropolis in just a few centuries. This region harbors rich vestiges of the Hindu and Muslim dynasties that were founded and toppled here countless times throughout history.

Under the influence of Islam, which began to spread here in the seventh century, India has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world today. The Dravidians, who once lived all over India, withdrew to its southern regions under the impact of Aryan invaders in 1500 B.C. Transforming the Indus Valley Civilization that had grown up around 2200 B.C., these war-like Aryans laid the foundations of Hindu philosophy as well as of the caste system that still survives today.

A person can see and experience whatever he wants in India. This country brooks no ordinariness and in the blink of an eye can shatter the hubris of anyone who claims to ‘know’ India. For understanding India is the province of no mortal. A lifetime would not suffice to know India, and if those who want to see it are satisfied only to look with their eyes they will be disappointed. Perhaps that is why India is an eye-dazzling crystal projecting into the ocean. Whatever a person experiences there he will never forget.

Artists embedding precious stones in a slab of marble they have incised using steel stylos.  Inspired by the designs on the Taj Mahal, useful objects are produced at Agra and decorated by the traditional handicrafts.

Morning cleanup is under way in the garden of the Digi Palace at Jaipur. Mahajara palaces and palatial homes built for the city’s once prominent figures have been fitted out as boutique hotels in several touristic cities. Natural tranquility reigns in these venues, which have been converted without destroying their historic texture.

Women taking long walks along the Indian Ocean on Goa’s endless sands. Delhi Gate is at the same time the symbol of the capital, New Delhi. Municipal buses carry passengers at Rajasthan, but goods are widely transported by camel cart.A tropical fruit, papaya is cheap and plentiful in India. Its taste is like a melange of honeydew, pumpkin and cucumber.

Taking refuge in the shade on the shore of the sacred lake at Pushkar, an old man is trying to while away the hot hours with the animals in the environment. Myriad different living creatures live side by side almost all over India.

While the cow that carries Shiva is considered the most sacred animal, everyone respects the other animals’ right to live. In India as throughout the world, burgeoning cities are occupying more and more natural areas and destroying the natural habitat.

The Taj Mahal is reflected in the Yamuna River at dawn. Shah Jahan intended to have a mausoleum of black marble built for himself opposite this magnificent mausoleum which he built for his wife Mumtaz, and the loving couple were going to meet morning and evening in the reflection. But Shah Jahan was deposed before he could realize his dream.

Getting a henna tattoo is a popular tourist activity in India. Squeezed on the skin from a special tube, the color lasts for two weeks. The evening ritual is getting under way on the banks of the Ganges at Varanasi. Held every evening on the terraces leading down to the river, the ceremony keeps alive a millennia-old tradition.

A girl acrobat at Jaisalmer performs on a tight rope strung in front of the castle gate while her father collects money.Hanuman Temple at New Delhi welcomes visitors every hour of the day. One of the leading figures of Indian mythology, Hunaman is also known as the monkey man.

Recognized for his assistance to the gods and his ability to fly through the sky, Hanuman is known for ensuring the continuation of life.All the temples light their lamps in the early hours of the night at Pushkar, which boasts the only temple bearing the name of Brahma, considered as the greatest of the deities.

Walking around the lake and taking a purifying dip in its waters as the sun rises, Hindus continue to worship all day long in the presence of Brahmins reciting sacred texts.  Silence permeates the temples and the hills around the lake shore.

In addition to a range of starred hotels, there is also an array of accommodations from converted historic palaces to more modest boutique hotels and bed&breakfasts.

The magical ingredient of Indian cuisine that offers different tastes in the same bite, masala is a special blend of spices. The vegetable-filled masala dhosas of the south are a must-try.

Jaipur in the northwest has precious and semi-precious stones, while Varanasi in the east boasts silk textiles. In the north meanwhile Kashmir is known for its eponymous Cashmere, and the south for its woodwork and marble.

This country like a continent has three seasons: hot, rainy and cool. The winter months from November to February are best for visiting India.
There are good hospitals and competent physicians in India, and pharmacies stay open late. When traveling it’s a good idea to drink bottled water and to eat freshly prepared foods and fruit that can be peeled.

There are regularly operating subways in most of the big cities. But the most practical form of inner city transportation is the three-wheeler motor rickshaw. These vehicles, which accommodate three or four passengers easily, go to even the most remote districts at a reasonable fare, and without getting stuck in traffic.

INDIA ON AN ELEPHANT’S BACK
The relationship between man and the elephant goes back to the earliest times. A few day’s journey by elephant in one of India’s national parks will show you what a rich experience this can be. The astonishing sensitivity of elephants and the relationship they form with the person on their back will earn your admiration.

Everyone knows that seeing the Taj Mahal, one of the world’s most visited monuments, merely with one’s eyes is not enough. The Taj Mahal  is a venue of love that must be touched with the heart and soul.

A Camel Market is set up every year in the town of Pushkar on the edge of the desert. With its merchants, musicians, jugglers and acrobats, a veritable festival atmosphere reigns at the market in which 200,000 people and 50.000 camels take part.

Fish is caught by traditional techniques from rustic piers in the old fishing town of Cochin on the Indian Ocean. One never tires of watching the fishermen gather in their nets as the sun goes down.

The Darjeeling tea plantations in the northeast of the country grow some of the world’s best tasting tea. Brewed by traditional methods, these special teas are worth their weight in gold.

Ocean-going vessels ply between the coastal settlements in Goa. A short journey by these boats that skim across the ocean waves is an interesting experience.

AJMAL MAHARAJ  - Painter

“One of the world’s largest Muslim populations lives in India, which is like a gallery of religious faiths. The Dergah Sharif at Ajmer is considered the Sufi capital of India and the Far East. Here are the tombs of the important figures who brought Islam to India. This is also where Husret Fatih Ali Khan, the father of Kavvali music, grew up. Huge crowds worship to the sound of music every evening in the Dargah courtyard.”