Path to Pattadakal

Pattadakal was a religious center for India’s 7th – 8th century CE Western or ‘Badami’ Chalukyans (see posts below). It’s located in the state of Karnataka, India, and is close to other important temple sites for the Chalukyans, Badami and Aihole. The many temples of this dynasty are particularly lovely, with wonderful sculptures on the exteriors and in the interiors as well. This picture shows two temples; but what it shows, in addition, is that the Chalukyans, ruling an area that spanned parts of both north and south India, derived architectural styles from both regions. The temple on the left has a curvilinear, northern-style ‘sikhara’ or tower, while the other one has a more pyramidal, southern-style tower.

Chalukyan Temples

One of the great early temple building dynasties in India was the Chalukyan Dynasty. The Western Chalukyans controlled a territory roughly corresponding the the state of Karnataka in India in the 7th and 8th centuries CE. This is the Virupaksha Temple at a site called Pattadakal, a ceremonial center for the Chalukyans. The temples are modest in scale, but stunningly beautiful in design and in their sculptural ornamentation.

Swimming Sisters

These girls had just been skinny dipping in one of the artificial lakes of Mandu, India. They’d shaken themselves off and pulled on their clothes again and yelled at me for a picture. They were having such fun and getting clean in the meantime. The little one was charmingly giggly.

Women Worship

At Khajuraho, India (see posts below) the Chandela Kings and Queens had magnificent Hindu temples built between the years 950-1050. These women, with their beautiful saris, were visiting this temple (Vishwanath Temple) on their religious pilgrimage. It was clearly both a vacation and a journey of religious devotion.

Sexy Sandstone

This is the detail of one of the sculptures from one of the Hindu temples–the Lakshmana Temple–at Kahjuraho, India (see below). It gives a sense of the incredible detail of the sculpture and the complex positions of the couples. Voyeurism is a consistent theme in the erotic panels. Here, both a man and woman masturbate while peeking at the main couple caught in flagrante delicto, for those of you who like a bit of Latin with your sex.

Sensuous Sculptures

The spectacular Hindu temples of Khajuraho were built between 950 and 1050 CE by royal members of the Chandela Dynasty. As works of architecture, they represented a level of complexity and sophistication not seen in earlier temple architecture. Yet the temples are not best-known for their architecture, but for the sculptures that adorn them, particularly the ones representing explicit sexual acts by couples in decidedly acrobatic positions. Nobody really knows their significance in this context. Some relate them to Tantric ideas, which find expression in both Hinduism and esoteric Buddhism. The sexual act is the essential procreative act, and since much of Hinduism is based on fertility and the conjoining of masculine and feminine principles, it might make sense to have such acts on temples. The sculptures also tend to appear at the joins of different sections of the temple, thus suggesting that they might symbolize the ‘joining’ of the temple’s parts. Since the temples were constructed by rulers, and since virility and rule were often conflated in the literature of the time, maybe the Chandelan kings were also equating their sexual prowess with their prowess in battle (battle scenes can be found on some of the temples’ bases).

No Straight Faces

I’m not very good at asking people if I can take their pictures, and it’s a shame because I see so many interesting faces when I travel. In India the great thing is how many people want you to take their picture. These girls were working in a muddy field, collecting stubble in the warm sun. But they saw me tramping through the country trails in search of a 500-year- old tomb. They ran towards me as asked for a picture. At first they posed seriously, but one look at each other and they broke out laughing, luckily, just when I pressed the shutter release and captured their happiness. It always amazes me in India to see women working in the fields dressed in magnificent clothes of the most joyous of colours.

Jahaz Mahal, Mandu

In the ruined ancient city of Mandu (see below) are myriad wonders of 15th century Islamic architecture. This remarkable structure, a palace in its own right, is called the Jahaz Mahal or ‘Ship Palace’, because it’s a long structure rising between two scenic lakes. It was built solely for the harem of the ruler Ghiyas-al-Din Khiliji. He is said to have housed a thousand women in this giant, gilded cage.

Lake Palaces, Mandu

The most famous Islamic works of architecture in India were left by the Moghuls in the 16th and 17th centuries, but there were other pre-Moghul Islamic dynasties in North India, such as the Tughlaq or the Lodi Dynasties of the 15th centuries, whose magnificent remains are not very well known outside India. One of the great late-15th century sites is Mandu (Mandavgad), in the state of Madhya Pradesh, where a brief dynasty called the Ghuri Dynasty flourished in the 1400s. Spread out over a vast area are ruins of the once great city, including a giant mosque, numerous tombs, a caravanserai, and a palace complex with huge man-made lakes and marvelous pavilions. This is one such pavilion, the Jal Mahal in Mandu’s ‘Royal Enclave’. The pavilion was built out into the lake (arches of an aqueduct can be seen in the background), and was once roofed, so the members of the court could enjoy a swim and stay cool in the shade, caressed by breezes.

Stone Trees, Milan

The interiors of Gothic cathedrals are among the most impressive architectural sights in the world, and one of the most impressive of these is the cathedral of Milan. Its effect is magnified because it’s a five-aisled cathedral, and so has twice as many huge columns as it would have had if it had been merely a three-aisle cathedral (that is, it has a nave and two pairs of side aisles–two in the north and two in the south–as opposed to a nave and only single side aisles). It really does appear as a forest of columns on the inside. You can get an idea of the tremendous scale by looking at the heads of the group of people along the bottom of the picture. Milan is such a great city for art and architecture. You can see Michelangelo’s Rondanini Pieta, the Sforza Castle, the wonderful Brera Picture Gallery (which I prefer even to the Uffizi in Florence), Da Vinci’s Last Supper, and the Romanesque church of San Ambrogio, and of course the cathedral.

Humayan’s Tomb

One of the great works of architecture of Old Delhi, India, is the monumental tomb of the Moghul Emperor Humayan (d. 1556). He was the son of the founder of the Moghul Dynasty, Babur, but internal divisions led to Humayan being exiled in Persia for a fifteen-year period from 1540 to 1555. Whilst in Persia, he saw the magnificent architecture of the Persians, both tombs and mosques, and thus inspired Humayan built the first really grand funerary edifice in India, a sort of granddaddy to the Taj Mahal. The tomb is still surrounded by its walls and large garden, a place of tranquillity amidst the chaos of Delhi, a city of 16 million people. Elevated high on a platform, the domed structure dominates the garden like a massive mountain of red sandstone and white marble.

Arrogant Humility

Over the main entrance door of the great church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, there’s a mosaic that shows Christ enthroned with an unknown Byzantine emperor kneeling down at Christ’s feet. He thus shows his humility before god, but of course expresses this humility in a most arrogant gesture. It’s so high up on the wall that many people miss it as they are at that moment distracted by the now visible and spectacular interior of the church. It’s probably about 1000 years old, yet it still glows with golden light, one of the rare documents indicating how the Byzantine emperors articulated their divine rule with art.

Back of the Bus

Traveling by bus in India always provides adventures and all kinds of surprises. It’s like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. Early one morning, on November 11th, 2016 in a town called Dhar, I waited as the sun rose on a chilly morning for the bus to Mandu. Tea stalls were steaming in the cold, and patrons, including myself, huddled around the tea wallahs’ warm coal fires. I bought a banana from a cart for breakfast. I was wearing all the clothes I had to keep warm, but the sun was warm once it cleared the buildings nearby. The bus arrived and these handsome fellows and I were the first riders. It was going to be a long, rough trip, at times I wished I had four legs.

Street Food

I don’t usually post ‘food shots’, since they get a bit overdone on Facebook and other image-sharing sites. But I wanted to post this one as it’s such a common sort of scene for me when I travel, a quick lunch at some roadside eatery; a sort of Still Life of things on a table. This was the tableau of my lunch at a sidewalk place in Khajuraho, India, on November 8th of 2016. Indian food, alas, isn’t my favorite, so I was happy to find a place that did Chinese as well, so I ordered a plate of Chowmein, which cost about two dollars. I wrote in my journal and watched people go by. One of travel’s, and life’s, great pleasures: a moment of relaxation in some marvelous place far away from the familiar.

Morning’s Music

I get to stay in the world’s best hotels, and count myself lucky to have many wonderful homes as I travel around the world. At the Jai Mahal Hotel in Jaipur they wake you up in the morning by having a flute player play in the gardens from sunrise. It must be the world’s most civilized way to wake up, unless you’re a heavy sleeper, in which case it might be a bit too subtle. This musician was nice enough to pose for early rising tourists as he continued his lovely music in the day’s morning light.