Posts Tagged With: concubines.

LOVE AND DEATH AND FORT AGRA.

A shimmering Taj Mahal in the early morning. When we visited the Taj, our guide was a man named Bibi which means dear one. The brochure of our trip did not match what was being said to us by Bibi. He told us about the building of the Taj Mahal by Emperor Jangir who built it as a memorial to his beloved wife, Agumam Bimo. (Phonetic spelling.)  She married at 19 and gave birth to 14 babies. She accompanied him everywhere, even into battles.  She died in his tent from a hemorrhage giving birth to another child. She was 39 years old. She asked two things of him, build me something beautiful and take care of my parents. She was Hindu. Jangir locked himself in a room for a week, then searched for a place to build a monument to the wife he loved so much. He chose the spot on the Yamuna River and began the building. When his sons grew to manhood, his ambitious middle son killed his older brothers and seized control. He put his father in a separate palace across the river where he could always view the Taj Mahal, but he was not permitted to leave.

Today’s Taj Mahal is a tribute to the son,  Khurram, who  named him self Shah Jahan, which means King of The World. He finished the building. It is his wife Queen Mumtaz Mahal who is enshirined there. He aggressively protected his domain as head of the Mughal Empire. He forbade Muslim/Hindu marriages and encouraged destruction of Hindu monuments. He was a soldier but his real talent was in the palaces he built. He was responsible for the jewel encrusted Peacock Throne which was later stolen and moved to Iran.  He designed the Red Fort, and the Jama Masjid Mosque.  ShahJahanabad, one of the seven cities of Dehli, he named for himself. He could look down upon the city from his Red Fort and enjoy his endorsement as King of the World.

The Agra Fort is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is built on the Yamuna River, the seat of power of successive  Mughal Emperors. We crossed a bridge over a moat to enter this huge, sprawling place. It is located a couple of miles north of the Taj Mahal.

The moat no longer holds water except for rain it catches. A woman warrior died trying to make the jump from the fort to the wall you see. Her horse’s front hooves hit the wall and it fell back on top of her, its  back broken. She died trying to get out from under the horse.

Windows are decorated in different styles.

It is unclear to me if people can see through them like stained glass.

The fort presented several different architectural styles, most likely built in stages, or rebuilt for the satisfaction of the current ruler.

A tomb sits before this building of white marble arches. We bypassed it for the main, most decorated palace inside the fort. I’m curious and will try to find out who is buried there.

The four sided buildings face a square. The area now planted in British style formal gardens was once the playground of the concubines, their ladies in waiting, and their eunuchs. The last Emperor to live here was Mahadji Shinde.  He had 60 or more concubines, I’ve forgotten the number. He did not have relations with all of them, they were political alliances. Wealthy Emperors were glad to have their daughters under protection of a powerful Emperor. And the Emperor was guaranteed that his neighboring Emperor would not make war against him.

The queen lived in this building which had unique methods to stay cool in the searing Agra heat.

Open doors and windows facing the river provided some ventilation. The decorations are another incomparable feature of this palace.

The grates facing outside collect every little breeze and it cools as it passes over metal. At night, candles or a fire light up little mirrored pieces embedded in the walls and ceilings.

This ceiling had water pumped into four little nozzles in the ceiling creating a cooling mist as they spun around. Done without electricity.

A clever device, that looks like a shelf or storage place high on the wall. Notice how deep the adobe wall is which also helps keep things cool.

On the opposite side, it is actually an open vent from one room to the other. It lets in light from the lighter room as well. Everywhere, there was water from the river for multiple uses.

The Emperor’s quarters sat opposite the Queen’s Quarters.  The inside sandstone walls had a beauty of their own. Lavish carving, an art impossible to financially duplicate today.

A column foot.

A door with a drain at the bottom to shed water that ran through the  building in narrow canals.

The palace had entrances on all four sides of the building.

 

Such beauty with a closer look.

This is the entrance that we used, the main entrance across the moat.

Every little detail is there to please the senses.

Details like this are easier seen through the camera lens. If you walk in and out everyday, would you even notice something so high above your head?  I guess that is why they are wonders of the world.

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JAIPUR-PINK CITY, AMBER FORT-PALACE

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We fly to Jaipur and eat lunch at a barbecue restaurant before checking into our hotel. The waiters bring skewer after skewer of chicken, fish, beef and lamb to cook at special tables. It seems disconcerting to eat meat without the rice and vegetables we would normally put on our plate at the same time. dsc09677-copy

We eventually get to many wonderful buffet items and enjoy a sumptuous feast. They had great clay pots of lamb, beef, or chicken dahl along with the usual Indian specialties.

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In the morning, Theo and I are scheduled for a Balloon ride, (optional event), but it is canceled because it is very hazy and visibility is poor. Instead,  our bus takes us through this 300 year old city, the first planned city in India. Our city guide, Vinot tells us Jaipur has wide boulevard Streets, with shopping squares. It is the 10th largest city in India and has a modern metro where certain cars are reserved for women only. Special seats in every car are reserved for women.

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The loads and the streets are just as busy, but the streets are well paved and cleaner it seems to me. The city was planned by a Hindu Maharajah and the color pink was chosen for all major buildings. Jai means victory.

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On the opposite side of the boulevard-elephants in the midst of traffic. They banned elephant traffic in Dehli, but here no one regards it as unusual except tourists.

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Jaipur is host to an elephant festival every year. Vitor tells us that today is an auspicious day for Hindo weddings and that about 10,000 weddings will take place this week in India because of the positive astrological forecasts.

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All are painted it seems. Pink toenails on this one.

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The glare from the window is fearsome but his elephant blanket was so colorful I couldn’t resist. He is preparing to go to his wedding.

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This drover looks as though he carries his bed with him.

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On the outskirts of town is a walled citadel, the Amber Fort-Palace.  We load into jeeps to drive us up a winding road as high as we can go.

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Paul is too tall to fit in the back with the rest of us so he gets a front seat.

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From the open back, I catch my first site of sacred cows since arriving in Jaipur. Ranvir has suggested that to keep people from starving, the cows were religion-ized to prevent the people from killing them all. They can use the milk, of great value as a high protein food, and the cows, in theory anyway, feed themselves.

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The parking lot is steep and Ranvir warned that we would be walking up, up, an up to view the aspects of the Maharaja’s walled fortress that kept his enemies away. It was never besieged and conquered. Theo is not feeling well and decides to stay and sleep in the jeep.

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The place is so vast, it can hold an army in the square to fend off enemies.

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And, those armies, must be fed. At one level looking out, the wall is visible going up over the mountain. It is said to be the second greatest wall next to the Great Wall of China. The well is a lake with floating platforms to grow food augmented by the surrounding forest and wild life.

 

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Some are stairs and some are walkways. As we move from level to level we come to the Ganesh Pol, built in 1640 to honor the God Ganesha.

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This is the gate to Ganesh Pol, with beautiful frescoes and carved marble and sandstone walls.

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A fresco of Lord Ganesha at the base of this arch. The colors are still vibrant because most were made from natural pigments.

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A ceiling fresco.

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Every spot has some sort of decoration.

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Where outdoor light didn’t penetrate, the walls were decorated with reflective pieces of mirrored glass to enhance the candle light.

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Doors are shaped to the architects’ design of the building.

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This is one half of the lock, demonstrated by Vinot,  that could repel any attack.

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Sandstone pillars, if repeatedly polished with a soft cloth, get a sheen and a hard surface that resembles marble. Only a Maharaja could afford that kind of labor.dsc09759-copy

Another set of beautiful arches.

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Formal gardens have replaced the playground of the Maharaja’s concubines. He had many wives and concubines plus he supported their servants. He most likely had no relations with most of them since they were accepted for political alliances. Other kings would be glad to send him their daughters for their care and protection. This large area was where the women visited and played games and entertained themselves under the watchful eyes of eunuchs.

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Kathy had her picture taken with these Muslim men, I think because she is blonde and they wanted the picture? And, I asked for my picture after she stepped away. Anyway, aren’t they a handsome bunch?

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The sparkling mirrored walls do not reveal their true beauty to a camera. dsc09780-copy

A flowered marble slab has two distinct black spots that are holes through which someone could peek, if I’m remembering correctly.

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The walls are decorated lavishly and permanently. The rooms are sparse without furniture except for a bed and maybe a luxurious set of curtains or a bath.

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Gigantic kettles were used by the eunuchs to cook meals.

 

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At the highest point we look down, then turn to retrace our many steps.

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In the parking area, we find the monkeys playing cars.

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From the lot, we can look over the edge at part of the walled city below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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TOPKAPI PALACE

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Above is the kiosk to Topkapi Palace built by a later sultan who wanted to stop people before they approached the main gate of the palace. Here they could wash at the fountain, give their animals a drink or rest after a long journey.

 

DSC04689 (Copy) I’m calling it a kiosk, probably not the right term, but it is a beautiful building, beautifully carved overhang, with gorgeous tiles.  I guess nothing was too opulent for a Sultan.

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The main gate to the palace is inside of a courtyard filled with flowers and gardens. It is hard to imagine troops of the Sultan’s soldiers mustered in front of this opulent place, though in the old days, the walkways were not pure marble as seen here.

 

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And the overhang is embellished with gold not brass. The Topkapi Palace was built on top of and inside the walls of the Byzantines. When the Ottomans overran Constantinople they chose this same safe spot surrounded by the protection of the Marmara Sea, the Bosporus River and the Golden Horn. They had great difficult getting into this site which was considered unconquerable because Constantinople did its business with a great chain across the channel, forcing any would be conqueror to go a long way around and make their way across land, and across the river to get to them. But the Ottomans built skids of timbers and lifted their ships out of the water, slid them across the short end of the peninsula and landed inside the shipping channel to overtake the unconquerable city.

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Through the Royal Gate is a courtyard of surrounding buildings that was not only the home of Sultan Mehmed II, who built it in 1460-1478, but it was the seat of government where they held court, met with other leaders for state ceremonies, kept the royal treasure and relics, and did all the state’s business.

 

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Those treasures and relics are still here at Topkai today. The riches of this museum rival other great museums with priceless treasures. This is only one of 6 or 7 courtyards on the grounds, the only one open to the public. The Library, (under restoration was closed) the arms room, the reliquary, the grand treasures studded with unbelievable amounts of jewels and gold are awesome. A bowl that Jesus drank from, a piece of the real crucifixion cross and other Christian relics are here as well. Very biblical.

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You can buy a book with many pictures of the treasures, jewel-studded chairs, cradles, a bed and then smaller items like pots, scepters, bracelets, belts, armor of sorts. Armor and guns of high decoration from the armory have a separate building.  Portraits of the Sultan’s hang in the portrait room.

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Postcards of the two most famous pieces in the collection, the Topkapi dagger was made famous by a movie, called Topkapi, made in 1964, about thieves who tried to steal this treasure, and the Wooden Spoon Diamond, of 86 carats. It is so-called because a man was bringing a stone he knew to be a diamond to the Sultan as a gift. He was followed by thieves and before they got to him he flung the stone in the palace dump outside the gates. Later, a poor man found the stone and thought since it was in the palace dump it might be worth something. He exchanged it for four wooden spoons. The spoon maker took it to a jeweler who, like the spoon maker, recognized that it was an uncut diamond stone.  A website tells many tales about the diamond, but this is the one our guide told us and the tale the locals apparently consider the true tale of the diamond.

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The priceless blue tiles throughout the buildings are just as beautiful as those of the Blue Mosque.

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No pictures are allowed in the treasure rooms. But a huge book for sale showed the whiskers of a particular saint or sultan. I kept peering into the darkened glass cases and couldn’t see any whiskers. This book shows they were a few simple wiry hairs from a beard or head. A man (several, actually)  in the reliquary room sits and reads the koran aloud for 24 hours a day, endlessly.

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The sultan kept a harem of girls from the country side. Girls from age 6 to 12 were brought to the palace and placed in the harem to learn the language, to sew, embroider, dress hair and learn about perfumes and lotions, jewelry and the baths. Guarded by Eunichs, not all of them became concubines of the Sultan. Many were placed as wives with important men of his kingdom. Some concubines had children by the Sultan, and he could have many wives and could marry a concubine. He also had a tower where he listened to his court conduct business secretly behind a screen to make sure they were following his rules. They knew the screen was there and he could listen, so they adhered to the rules. The Sultan could order people to be executed and they placed the heads by the executioner’s fountain to drain away the blood and to show the people what happened when the Sultan was deceived.

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The only room we could photograph, was the Sultan’s meeting chamber where he held court for visitors to beseech him.  The people could ask favors and get problems solved by his superior judgement.  A building of great beauty, too, with the typical rotunda and arched ceilings.

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Such beauty takes your breath away.

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On the way out, Usla pointed out an ancient cistern that was recently found. They have yet to excavate and examine it more closely.

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Usla’s assistant, Owen would hold the umbrella for Usla. The umbrella was held aloft so all of us could see where he was walking. In the crowded Blue Mosque I followed the umbrella, only to find I had followed another guide with the same umbrella. The Grand Bazaar and more tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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GOING BACK TO CHINA

My tendency has been to forge through life, swiftly, do everything, don’t allow a stone unturned.  Say yes!  Let’s go, let’s do it.  Influenced by my partner, Jim, my new philosophy is stop and smell the flowers.  While home in Murphys these past weeks, an unfinished travel journal of my trip to China in 2006, nudged me. Jim says this summer promises to be slower paced,so I think I’ll go back to China.

I traveled with my friend, Michal Houston. After a long flight, we landed in Shanghai tired and weary only to be  shuffled to another plane that took us to Beijing. Our assigned room had one bed instead of two as requested. Her name spelling, Michal translated as Michael. Exhausted, we tumbled into bed and straightened it out the next day.

Beijing was in the middle of changing from a Socialist/Market Economy to a Capitalist Economy back in 2006. Beijing is a modern city of  only thirteen million people. I say only seriously because Chinese Cities can be,  and are, much larger than this home to International Government, political,  and financial centers of China. You find modern condos and 200-year-old homes side by side. Sixty per cent of the people in Beijing work for the government, kind of like Washington D.C.

Tiananmen Square is so huge it dwarfs any mall we have in the U.S. Soldiers on guard are always visible. And, surprising to us, we saw “modern” Chinese tourists; older people visiting their own iconic places and young people with cell phones in their ears.  This is the infamous spot where protests during National day 1989 led to the deaths of students and gave China a black eye over their aggressive policies. The poster of  Chairman Mau in the background looks small. In reality it stands  about twenty-five feet high. We have a group photo taken here and get our first taste of the new capitalism with vendors selling post cards and junky trinkets. Some of them starve on the new system and intrude, shove things under your nose, begging you to buy their trinkets and post cards.

One side of the square is this lovely government building and gardens, always statues and memorials from every preceding dynasty that governed China except maybe the Mongolians. Chairman Mau tore down the old city walls and opened things up with a ring road inhabited more and more by modern cars but  still madly outnumbered by eight million bicycles on the roads, the most common form of transportation in Beijing.

China has a love affair with dragons.  Their most favored and positive sign is everywhere in China.  As it turned out, I was born the year of the dragon.

We move on the Forbidden City where we see soldiers congregated in the square and their boots lined up outside of their barracks which were built in 1406 and finished in 1420. The Palace has 9,999 1/2 rooms. Nine is the supreme number. So, there are nine gates, each gate is nine by nine and has nine knobs. You can extrapolate that process through out the Imperial Grounds and Palace. It has served Eleven Emperors.

The “building” is actually one of the nine gates we pass through to reach the palace. The emperor has a resting place inside the gate where he emerged to address his people. He stood on a stair high above them.  This complex is a series of high gates, (stairs up stairs down)  and open space between them.

The walls here are made from 15 thicknesses of bricks to avoid tunneling into the Imperial Grounds.  There are 18 water pots around the grounds one for each of the 18 provinces. (Notice the multiple of nine.)

One side of the palace wall is made up of four panels of huge tiled dragons, approximately twenty feet tall.  Among the palace antiquities, marvelous gold, huge jade carvings, a gold Buddha, marvelous crystal, precious jewelry and marvelous treasures. I’m unsure why no pictures inside the palace. We may not have been allowed flash photography inside.  At one place we passed the shrine (inside) devoted to one of the Emperor’s favorite concubine. She was forced to jump into a well by the eunuchs of the jealous empress. Inside the court-yard we had a Starbucks coffee and cookies. The Starbucks was protested by Chinese activists and removed after our visit.

These  Chinese lions, one with his left foot on the ball, the other with his right foot on the ball have some significance in their stance which I’ve since forgotten. But, what I do remember is there are no lions native to China and  Chinese illustrators drew what a lion looked like from verbal descriptions of those brave explorers from “olden” times. Thus lions have fierceness, clawed feet, a mane and a ferocious face that much resembles a dog.

We went on to visit a couple of grouchy, lethargic Panda bears at a very seedy looking facility and then do not wonder much why there are only 1,000 of them left in captivity and the wild. The Chinese were not very conscious of environmental concerns in 2006.  We  finished our day with a famous Peking duck dinner. (More tomorrow.)

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