Sitting Ducks

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Here I am at the Taj Mahal – one of the most amazing places to visit in the world. It is so beautiful that I can’t help myself. I take picture after picture. Far away grandeur, close-up details. Photo after photo.

When we take the time to sit and contemplate the beauty before us, we notice something happening. People are looking at us. We couldn’t decide if we looked any more approachable than any other Westerners. But wherever we stopped, we were sitting ducks.

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Some would ask. Some would try to be subtle and act like we just happened to be in the foreground of their photo. Some would shimmy their way in between us and hold each of our hands. When one was bold enough, others would follow suit. Soon we realized that we needed to, at least at a leisurely pace, keep on the move.

This is one girl whose parents had her between us for a photo.

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As we proceeded around the grounds and through the mausoleum, we would periodically stop and sit. After a few minutes of peace, it would start again. Here we were at this monument built by Shah Jahan for the love of his life. It’s absolutely stunning, and they were excited over taking pictures of the Westerners.

At one point there was an elderly woman who wanted her picture taken with us. She got between us and wanted us to look a little more familiar so she put her arms around our backs as if we were longtime friends. Her husband decided to get in on the action and got on the other side of Ruth. Afterwards, he said, “Thanks for sharing our memory.”

I have no idea how many Indians have photos of us from that afternoon. A lot. But as Ruth and I talked and laughed about it, we figured it was the least we could do, seeing as we took photos of them all week.

The Highlight

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The Taj Mahal is considered one of the modern seven wonders of the world for a reason. It’s amazing. We were told that it took 22 years to complete. Various websites and sources differ, so I’m going with 22. It is completely symmetric while being built in a time without the aid of CAD programs or even a simple calculator. It is a mathematical and engineering wonder. Can you imagine the tools available to build this in the early 1600s?

The marble is special in that it contains quartz. This makes it better withstand the effects of climate change and erosion in which other buildings of its era have fallen prey to.  It is incredible to see at a distance, and when you get up close, you observe the detail os semi-precious and precious stone inlay. The lattice carvings of marble screens are incredible. One visit was not enough. The tour group went for a sunrise viewing, but a few of us returned during our free time for a second visit.

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They say that the light at different times of the day makes it worth a return visit. I’d agree. The sunrise light was a softer light. The cooler morning temperatures and smaller crowds made it an unforgettable experience.

The afternoon was hot. I brought my sunglasses and hat this time. As I had already taken more than a hundred pictures, I wasn’t in as big of a hurry to take more. Plus, we had more time. The sun was shining bright. Different parts were shaded, and others brilliantly lit. I noticed some details that I had missed during the morning visit. And I had more time to people watch.

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It was more crowded  than in the morning. But the crowds were definitely bearable. On many days there are as many as 100,000 tourists at the Taj. On peak days around New Year’s it is more like 120,000. Women in saris of every color dotted the grounds – bright shocks of color in places, more subtle hues too. We’re all here to marvel at this beautiful sight. Ruth and I would find a quiet bench or place in the shade and just take it all in.

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Being able to just relax and take in the presence of such a sight is breathtaking. When I travel, it brings me such a sense of wonder and delight. I feel renewed and it helps me to rejuvenate. It truly nourishes my soul.

*Morning photos show the sunlight on the right side of the dome. Afternoon photos show the sunlight on the left side of the dome.

Want to buy a carpet?

I didn’t know I wanted to buy a carpet until I saw this beauty. There’s something about the design that really caught my eye. But, I didn’t get this exact one. This one is made out of silk and is way out of my budget.

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Jaipur Handicrafts has a variety of textiles, including carpets. We were shown the process of how they make the rugs and then shown a wide variety of designs with varying quality. And here’s the caveat: the price includes shipping to you in the US.

The carpets are hand tied. If you’re wondering what that really means, here’s a video to see a man in action. I think he thought I was just taking a photo at first so he wasn’t going at his usual pace. After I say “go fast” he get’s down to business. You’ll notice that he’s got a pattern sitting before him and a tool to cut the thread after the tie has been made.

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Depending on the materials and size, one of these rugs can take up to a couple of years to complete. As an example, a 4×6 ft rug done in pashmina wool can be completed in about three months.

After the rug has been tied and completed, it is given a haircut. It seems to me that they just use an old shears to do the job. You can see the scissors on this carpet and the green fuzz that has been trimmed.

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After the trim job, they deal with the fine fibers that are on the back of the rug. It’s kind of like your arm hair – not a lot, but enough to make a difference. They use a blow torch to burn off the excess fibers on the back of the carpet. This makes it so the rug does not slide on your floor.

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The rugs that we were shown were made of silk, pashmina wool and camel-hair. The silk ones were the most expensive and you could really tell when you took your shoes off and walked on them. They were beautiful. Did I get one? Yep. The photo at the top is the design, but I’m having it made in pashmina wool, which is more in my price range. It will take three months to make and will be delivered in July. By then I’ll probably have forgotten all about it and it will be a nice surprise.

“You’re going by yourself?”

Traveling alone is something not a lot of people do. The two key words are travel and alone. Not everyone is interested in traveling. And many who are, are afraid of the unknown when it comes to destinations unfamiliar. With my love of travel, I’m not going to let a little thing like not having a travel buddy deter me from visiting the world.

When I told people I was going to India I got several reactions. Most thought it was pretty cool. My students thought it was neat. I’m sure some think I’m a little crazy for going so far for only a week. Others have various thoughts about traveling alone. “You’re going by yourself?” The inferred question is: “Are you nuts?”

Ten years ago I took my first “alone” trip. But “alone” doesn’t really describe a tour. You arrive by yourself but you meet people along the way. When I’m by myself I find that I’m more outgoing. I can’t rely on talking just with my travel mate. I strike up conversations with “strangers” much more readily. Just sitting here on the plane, I’ve already met a lovely woman who has given me lots of great information about where I’m going.

When on a tour one meets the others that are “touring.” I’ve met some really fantastic people over the years because of being on a tour. And I hate to admit it, but social networking has made it so much easier to stay in touch.

So when you think of traveling alone, alone is a relative term. Alone does not mean lonely. It just means that you came by yourself and have yet to meet your new friends.

Block Printing on Fabric

Have you ever wondered how they print those pretty patterns on fabric? While in India, we got a demonstration at Jaipur Handicrafts. The dyes are all natural and they use a solution of vinegar and water to set the color. Our demonstration was very quick, so we didn’t see the printing of a piece of fabric. But you could easily get the idea of how it’s done.

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The blocks are dipped in a dye and then set, very carefully, on the fabric. Depending on the colors and complexity, they are done in several steps. At the end, the fabric is dipped in the vinegar and water solution to set the color. It was interesting because the solution actually changed the colors a bit.

Block Printing

There was a work in progress of a fabric with a pattern. Here’s the start and the finish.

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Turban Time

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Have you wondered how they “tie” a turban? While we were at the Amber Fort we got a little demonstration from this guy.

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My skirts!

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In an earlier post I mentioned that I was taking my Tanzania wardrobe with me to India. I did take it but I did manage to get some kurtas and pants while in India so I didn’t need to rely on my skirts from the Tanzania trip. The skirts I purchased at a NE Minneapolis Indian clothing store. You can imagine my surprise when I saw those exact same skirts at the place we stopped for lunch between Delhi and Jaipur. Same skirts, different colors. Gotta love it!

On another note… I know I said that the posts about India were coming soon. But I had to get my taxes done and my 3rd quarter grades were a priority.