View Full Version : Visiting India's Sunny Clime

06-26-2011, 02:53 PM
Visiting Indiaís Sunny Clime
Part 1

Way back when I was young, one of my favorite poems was Rudyard Kiplingís Gunga Din. Itís important for you to note that I am pretty old now, just in case you didnít already know that from some of my previous travelogues which are posted right here on the LitNet forum. So anyway, since Iím so old, I read this great poem in a book that was printed on old-fashioned paper and it wasnít on anything quite as magnificent as a modern Kindle Reader or an iPad.

Of course the poem was written fifty years before I was born, so if weíre talking about being old, thatís going way back there in time. Things have changed a lot since the days of the British Raj that Kipling captured so vividly on paper - so long before anyone even thought of putting such material into a downloadable file.

Anyway, I suddenly developed a yearning to see the rugged military outpost where Gunga Din served as the regimental bhisti, or water carrier. So in 2009 I met with my travel agent again Ė he was the same travel agent who helped me plan my trip to Paris in 2006, my visit to Holland in 2007, and my journey to Spain in 2008. He told me that in addition to seeing the old British station, as long as I was in the neighborhood, I could also see some of the magnificent cities of India like Mumbai and Delhi and Bangalore and Kolkata. Since I always like the idea of killing two birds with one stone, I was all ears.

Now if you ever studied Gunga Din during your schooldays, you might share my enthusiasm about Kiplingís works, and you might also be interested in exploring some of the places where it all happened. Or on the other hand, you might care nothing at all about Kipling or British colonialism, but you still might just want to know what itís like in India. In either case, I hope I can convince you to come along for the tour.

I was very anxious to dive into the adventures my travel agent was describing because I like to learn some new things every now and then Ė things I canít learn by exchanging text messages with teenagers, or by checking up on whatís circulating today on Twitter, or by watching any of the current spectacular television shows like Wipeout or Donald Trumpís Apprentice.

So off I went to India, landing first in Mumbai. Now Mumbai has a very long and fascinating history, but weíre not going to go way back in time in our discussion here. The Portuguese were the first outsiders to land here, early in the sixteenth century. Once it became evident to the Europeans that there was much to gain by promoting commerce with this part of the world, the British East India Company came on the scene in the mid-seventeenth century. Back in those early days of foreign trade, the interlopers changed the name of the place to Bombay, but in 1995 it reverted back again to the native name of Mumbai just to stress the fact that the days of colonialism are gone forever.

The city got its name from the local Hindu goddess Mumbadevi. She was the patron of fishermen back in the days when there were still seven distinct islands in the archipelago that made up Mumbai. Long ago these islands were merged into a single landmass. Here is the Mumbadevi Temple completed in 1675 to honor this goddess (remember these are public domain photos, which are much better than anything I could take myself):


If youíve read any of my other travelogues here in the LitNet Forum, you might know that Iím really into trains and train stations, so weíll look at one of the most exquisite railroad terminals in the entire world before we get into the other great sights of the city. Hereís what Mumbaiís station looks like on the outside:



And an old shot taken shortly after its completion, long before I made it onto the scene:


Hereís the only good shot I can find of the interior on the internet:


Back in Gunga Dinís day, this Gothic building was called Victoria Terminus because it was completed just in time to celebrate Queen Victoriaís Golden Jubilee in 1887. In one of my favorite Kipling poems, the poet calls the queen The Widow at Windsor, with lines like "Then 'ere's to the Widow at Windsor, An' 'ere's to the stores an' the guns, The men an' the 'orses what makes up the forces, O' Missis Victorier's sons . . .Ē

It took ten years to complete this magnificent building. Back then it served as the headquarters of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway. In addition to the Victorian Gothic overall design, there are many traditional Indian architectural features highlighted with wood carvings, tiles, and ornamental railings made of iron and brass. Now itís called Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, which is usually called more simply the CST and it serves as the headquarters for Indiaís Central Railway System. However, with tradition being what it is, most people still call it Victoria Terminus.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), known more simply as the Municipal Building, serves as the city hall for Mumbai. It is in the Gothic style of architecture, which was selected over an alternative in the Indo-Saracenic style, and was completed in 1893. The Indo-Saracenic style combines features from several unique styles, including horseshoe-shaped arches from Moorish Spain, Islamic domes, and Victorian towers. Weíll see examples of this style later.



Here is the main tower of the structure:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3d/Main_Tower_of_Municipal_Corporation_Building%2C_Mu mbai.jpg

The Asiatic Libraryís Town Hall dates back to 1804, and is based on the old Literary Society of Bombay which was founded by Sir James Mackintosh. The society has gone through a number of name changes over the years, including the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. It now serves as a public library, and hereís what the building looks like today:



You can see that the buildingís faÁade has been modernized and painted, as here is what it used to look like before the glorious ornamental frieze was ground down smooth by some genius who must not have liked that old-fashioned look - what a crime to have lost this:


While Dante Alighieri was certainly not Indian, the manuscript of his masterpiece The Divine Comedy, written on parchment with brilliant illustrations, is held in this building. Back in the 1930s, Benito Mussolini tried to buy it from the society, but the society turned down the offer.

Hereís a suggestion for getting the maximum effect from the pictures Ė none of which I took Ė theyíre all on the internet. You have to read the entire suggestion before you start doing anything, or youíll get yourself stuck and wonít know how to get out of it. The F11 key at the top of your keyboard is a toggle switch that will bounce you back and forth between full screen and normal view. If you hit it once, while viewing a picture, it will give you a full screen display, which makes the pictures much better. But you have to hit F11 a second time to return to a normal display, so you can then close the current picture and return to the story. Donít hit F11 until you understand that you will have to hit F11 a second time to get out of the full screen display mode. Try that approach Ė again, hit F11 once for full screen, and then hit F11 a second time to return to normal display.

Or even better, but it might depend on your computerís operating system and your browser, so keep the above method in mind, just in case this doesnít work on your computer. After hitting F11 the first time and going to full screen, when youíre ready to close the full screen picture, move your cursor to the top right corner of your screen. The top toolbar should re-appear Ė at least it does on my machine Ė and you can close the picture by clicking on the X in the top right corner. In this way, you donít even have to bother with hitting F11 every time Ė at least until youíre finished with the part of the story youíve been reading. You keep getting full screen displays, which you can close by positioning your cursor to the top of your screen and making the toolbar re-appear.

Sometimes it takes a few seconds for the toolbar to re-appear, so don't give up too quickly. But if you wait a while and the toolbar doesn't re-appear, just hit F11 again.

We will continue with more sights of Mumbai in our next episode.

07-04-2011, 07:33 AM
Visiting India's Sunny Clime
Part 2

The Asiatic Libraryís Town Hall, which was described in the previous episode, is located in a district called Kala Ghoda. Weíll check out some of the other sights in this district now. Itís interesting to note that Kala Ghoda literally means Black Horse, referring to a black stone statue of Albert, the Prince of Wales at the time the statue was completed, mounted on a horse. This son of Queen Victoria went on to become King Edward VII after his mother died in 1901. In 1965 the statue was moved to the storehouse of a museum so it wouldnít continue to serve as a public reminder of the British Raj.

The General Post Office of Mumbai is built in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture, and was completed in 1913. The most notable feature is the great central dome.




The David Sassoon Library was built by Albert Sassoon to honor his father David, a great philanthropist, and was completed in 1870. It is built using yellow Malad stone, which weíll see again in other buildings. Here is what the library looks like:


I think the libraryís look could be much improved with a more subtle sign for the library itself, as well as less jarring signs for the two business that share the building, but I guess itís just a matter of personal opinion. I didnít care much for the glaring sign on the Asiatic Libraryís Town Hall either - it just didnít seem to go with the architectural style.

Here is a statue of David Sassoon, inside the library:


And a nice arcade at the library:


And next door to the library is the neo-classical Army-Navy Building; it was a department store in colonial days, but now it serves as the headquarters for Indiaís military forces:


And here you can see the Army-Navy Building alongside the David Sassoon Library:


The Mumbai Police Headquarters Building has been housed in a gorgeous Anglo-Gothic revival building since 1896. Before that, this structure served as a home for British seamen. Hereís what it looks like:



Watsonís Hotel is the oldest cast iron building still standing today in India. It was completed in 1863, and was considered the plushest hotel in town back in its day. Itís rather run-down now, but there is supposed to be a restoration effort in the near future to bring it back to its former glory. Hereís what it looked like when it was new:


Itís in such sad shape now that Iím not going to post any pictures of its current state. Hopefully the restoration will remedy that tragedy.

The Flora Fountain dates back to about 1860, when the British were trying to improve the sanitation in the city. It is named for the Roman Goddess of flowers and the spring season. Here are a few shots of what it looks like now - incredibly itís been painted, which I would think is a rather unusual treatment for sculpture.



And hereís what it looked like long ago, with an earlier post office providing a lovely backdrop - note that the post office in the picture below was replaced in 1913 by the General Post Office building with the central dome that we discussed earlier:


Elphinstone College was started in 1856 and is one of the oldest colleges comprising the University of Mumbai today. It is built in the Romanesque Traditional style of architecture, and is named for the Honorable Mountstuart Elphinstone, a former British Governor of Bombay who had a particular inclination toward education. Here are a few views of its very lovely campus:



A closeup of some magnificent details which are marred by another unfortunately-designed sign - I donít know who the Indian Minister of Building Signs is, but he should be replaced:


And a beautiful reading room in the library:


What used to be called the Prince of Wales Museum is now called the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, and it was finished in 1915, having been built to commemorate the 1904 visit of the Prince of Wales who would later become King George V. It is built in the Western Indian and Indo-Saracenic styles of architecture, and also incorporates other Indian styles such as Mughal, Maratha, and Jain. It displays mainly items of Indian history, but includes some foreign relics as well. Itís divided into three sections, namely, art, archaeology, and natural history.




Two views of the interior Ė the columns on the upper floor are Maratha style, and those on the lower floor are of the Jain style:



If you would like to check out the museumís displays in detail, you can go to their website:


I'd suggest that you try to check out a few individual displays - the website is very well designed and it's easy to see the displays, which are accompanied by excellent descriptions and explanations.

The Bombay High Court was opened in 1862, and its current home was completed in 1878. Itís of the Gothic Revival style of Early English architecture and is quite a glorious building. It retains the name of Bombay today, despite the fact that the city itself changed its name from Bombay to Mumbai.

A distant perspective of the courthouse - it's almost a shame that the trees mask it:


And a closer view:


We will continue with more sights of Mumbai in our next episode.

07-12-2011, 06:31 AM
Visiting India's Sunny Clime
Part 3

The Horniman Circle Gardens is a large park in the city area weíve been exploring. During the days of British rule, it was known as Bombay Green. After India attained its independence in 1947, it was renamed for Benjamin Horniman, editor of a newspaper and an Englishman who supported Indian independence. Here is the entrance to the gardens:




And the gardens themselves:



Nearby is the financial zone. There are several buildings here, but weíll just breeze through discussing couple of representative samples. Hereís a comprehensive shot of the district, showing all modern buildings.


If you have seen any of my other travelogues here on LitNet, you might already know that I have a distinct aversion to modern buildings, so weíll just discuss a couple of them. Iím sure they are very functional, but if you want to see any individual pictures of these modernistic highly-creative things, many of which look no better than shoeboxes, youíre on your own.

The Bombay Stock Exchange is the oldest stock exchange in Asia, dating back to the 1850s. Itís now the fourth largest in Asia, as China has surged so dramatically in the financial world in recent years. The Reserve Bank of India is the central banking agency for the entire country and controls Indian monetary policy. It was established in 1935 while India was still under British colonial rule.

The Gateway of India is located at a waterfront site, and as its name implies, it was meant to be what newly-arriving passengers would see first when approaching the city. It is constructed using an arch in the Muslim style, adorned by decorations in the Hindu style. Hereís what it looks like:



The monument was built to commemorate the 1911 visit of the newly-crowned British King George V and his wife Queen Mary. If you have excellent eyesight and can look closely at the inscription in the first picture above, you will note that the monument calls her Queen Mary rather than the Queen Mumís Mother-in-Law, because there wasnít room for the latter inscription, and besides, she wasnít yet the Queen Mumís mother-in-law at the time of the visit. The Sassoon family Ė remember the David Sassoon Library that we checked out earlier Ė was one of the larger contributors to building this monument, and construction was completed in 1924. Here is a photo of the ceremony celebrating the 1924 opening of the Gateway:


When the sun eventually set on this part of the British Empire, the First Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry marched through this very same Gateway on their way out as the last British military unit to leave India, in February of 1948.

There is a statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji near the Gateway. You might remember this as the current name of the elaborate railroad station that was originally called Victoria Terminus, the one we looked at in Part 1. The Prince of Wales Museum is now named for this same person. This man is an Indian hero who lived in the seventeenth century and led the successful resistance to gain freedom for Hindu natives from an oppressive Muslim Sultanate imposed by outsiders. We donít want to dive too deeply into all the history surrounding this, or weíll get bogged down and never finish our tour, but we do want to at least mention the man, since heís commemorated by the railroad station and by the former Prince of Wales Museum, as well as by this statue:


The Elephanta Caves are on an island near the Gateway to India. There are very intricate sculptures in these caves, which include five Hindu caves and two Buddhist ones. The Hindu caves feature sculptures cut right out of the rock, which represent the Shaiva Hindu sect and are dedicated to the god Shiva. There are no explanatory inscriptions in the caves, so historians have had to guess their age. Itís estimated that they date back to sometime between the fifth and eighth centuries AD. Hereís the entrance to the caves:



And typical sculptures in the caves:


The Royal Taj Mahal Hotel, which is near the Gateway, was well known even before the terrorist attacks of November 2008, but now itís even better known. This Indo-Saracenic masterpiece opened in 1903 while India was still under British rule. It served as a hospital during World War I. Some of the famous guests who have stayed here include the Beatles, Bill Clinton, Roger Moore, Mick Jagger, and the Duke of Edinburgh. I guess I could have added my name to that list, but Aunt Shecky says Iím not nearly famous enough yet.

One story says the hotel was built by an Indian who was refused rooms at Watsonís Hotel, the cast-iron hotel we saw earlier which was for Europeans only. Another says it was simply an attempt to show the British that the Indians could come up with something grand on their own. If thatís the case, they certainly succeeded. Hereís the side which faces the harbor:


And a closer look at the central tower:


And hereís a view that shows both the Gateway of India and the hotel, so you can see where they stand in relation to one another:


Mani Bhaven was the home and center of Mahatma Gandhiís Mumbai political activity from 1917 until 1934, so it is now preserved as a memorial to this great leader. Hereís what it looks like from the outside:


And an inside view:


If youíre a big shopper, there are lots of places to catch your interest here in Mumbai. Iím not nearly as big on shopping as most people, and I have even given up on collecting coupons for the grocery because I always forget to bring them with me when I go to the store. If youíre one of those who always remembers to bring your coupons, you will probably be more interested in some of Mumbaiís shopping areas than I was ‒ and you donít even need coupons here.

The Bhuleshwar Bazaar contains lots of places to unload your money, and lots of merchants willing to help you do just that.


Crawford Market was named for the British Municipal Commissioner Arthur Crawford, and now has an Indian name to remedy that anachronism, but everybody still calls it Crawford Market. Itís across the street from the Police Headquarters building that we looked at earlier. The building is quite nice and was completed in 1869, and one of its main features is its Clock Tower, which is adorned with Victorian carvings. Here is an overall perspective of the building:


And a closer look the frieze above the main entrance, which shows Indian peasants working, and which was designed by Rudyard Kiplingís father Lockwood:


There are several other markets and bazaars, but Iím so anti-shopping that Iím going to pass up any further discussions on this subject.

A glorious example of Victorian architecture is is called Majestic House, but I could never find out what its original use was, nor what itís used for now. Itís still worth looking at, just for its splendid architecture:


The last sight weíll explore in Mumbai is the Haji Ali Dargah, which contains the tomb of a Muslim merchant dating back to the fifteenth century. It is a combination of Indian and Islamic architecture. Hereís a fantastic photo that someone put onto the web, in beautiful sun conditions which really highlight the splendor of the building:


In our next episode we will visit Delhi.

07-21-2011, 11:12 AM
Visiting India's Sunny Clime
Part 4

Delhi ranks second only to Mumbai in the nationís population, and has been inhabited since the sixth century BC, but weíre not going to cover all that history in this little document. I did overhear someone in my hotel lobby say that Kosher corned beef sandwiches and bagels with lox were first developed here in this city, sometime in the third century BC, but I couldnít get verification of that anywhere.

Delhi was the capital of a major sector of the nation before the arrival of outside colonists. But when the British East India Company came to control large parts of India in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Calcutta was made the capital. Calcutta remained as the capital even when the British government took colonial control away from the British East India Company after the Great Mutiny in 1857, but in 1911, King George V moved the capital back to Delhi. When India gained its independence in 1947, the capital was established in New Delhi, a suburb a little to the south of Delhi, and that is where it remains today. We will include New Delhi with this discussion of Delhi.

Archaelogists have discovered the remains of seven distinct cities that have occupied this site over the centuries, but I get really confused when I have to plow through all that history so you donít have to worry about getting deluged with a timeline of everything that ever happened here.

The Rashtrapati Bhawan is in New Delhi, and is the official residence of the President of India. During the British Raj, it served as the residence of the Viceroy and Governor-General. For the present at least, it is the largest residence of any chief of state in the world. It was started in 1911, when the capital was moved back from Calcutta to Delhi, but it took 19 years to finish as the Great War intervened and extended the construction time considerably. It was first occupied by a Viceroy in January, 1931, and reflects many architectural features unique to India.




The India Gate in New Delhi is considered to be the national monument of India. It commemorates Indian soldiers who served with the British Indian Army in various wars, and itís now the site of the Indian Armyís Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.



The Red Fort of Delhi was completed in 1648, so it has absolutely nothing to do with Communism or the ex-Soviet Union or any of those other places to which the color red is attached, because most of those red things didnít really come to fruition until the twentieth century. Besides serving as an actual fort, as its name implies, it also once housed the imperial family of India, and it served as the capital of the Indian Mughal Empire until the Great Mutiny of 1857. After the mutiny, the British clamped down quite hard on the locals, and the Emperor was exiled. Here are some shots of the impressive Red Fort:



Chandni Chowk is the main thoroughfare in the old walled portion of Delhi, and the Red Fort is actually within these walls. When I heard that it used to be one of the major markets in India, I got out of there as soon as I could because of my aversion to shopping.



Humayun's Tomb, as you might surmise from its name, is the tomb of an important person, in this case, the Mughal Emperor Humayn. It was commissioned by his wife, and dates back to the sixteenth century. It is believed to be the first structure in India for which red sandstone and white marble were used together to a great scale, and you will probably agree that they go quite well together:



Here is Isa Khan Niyazi's mausoleum, within Humayun's Tomb complex. This smaller mausoleum actually predates the larger Humayunís Tomb.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fa/Isa_Khan_Niyazi%27s_mausoleum,_within_Humayun%27s_ Tomb_complex,_Delhi.jpg

The Akshardham Temple of Delhi is the largest Hindu temple in the world that is in use today. The famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia is also a Hindu temple, and is even larger, but is no longer active. Note that Hindus comprise 80% of Indiaís population, and Muslims about 10%.

Amazingly enough, this is a splendid new building - officially opened in 2005 - and it doesnít seem to match the obscene functional-but-hideous architectural styles which are devoid of any ornamentation or creativity, and which have been so frequently used over the past fifty years. Hereís the exterior:



A view of some great exterior details:


And a wonderful interior:


The central dome, viewed from inside the temple:


The Jama Masjid is the the major Muslim mosque of Delhi; it is the best known and the largest Muslim mosque in the entire nation. The building was commissioned by someone named Shah Jahan, who also built another notable structure that weíll see a little later Ė in Agra Ė not too far from Delhi. The buildingís construction was completed in 1656, taking 5,000 workers seven years.



And in a watercolor from 1852:


The Qutb Minar Complex is a group of monuments and buildings in Delhi. There is an ongoing restoration effort to make sure that these precious structures are maintained, and about forty monuments have been refurbished to date. Here are some representative examples of the many monuments here.

The Alai Darwaza is the main entrance to a mosque from the fourteenth century. It is quite colorful, being built of red sandstone inlaid with nicely-contrasting white marble decorations. Here is a closeup view of the entrance:


And with the Qutb Minar itself, which is a brick minaret, the tallest one in the world:


And a closeup of the glorious artwork on the minaret:


Raj Ghat is a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, the man most responsible for achieving Indian independence from the British colonial rule. A black marble platform shows where Gandhi's cremation took place back in 1948. The road on which it is situated is now called Mahatma Gandhi Road.




The Feroz Shah Kotla Fort was built as a fortress in the fourteenth century AD. It contains a sandstone pillar which goes back to the third century BC, which was built elsewhere and was moved here to Delhi in 1356 AD.



Hereís a view of the fortís west gate, which was destroyed early in the nineteenth century, but which gives you an idea of the former glory of this structure:


In our next episode, we will look at Kolkata, which used to be called Calcutta.

08-08-2011, 10:11 AM
Visiting India's Sunny Clime
Part 5

Kolkata was known as Calcutta during the period of British colonialism, and it now serves as the captal of the state of West Bengal. During the British Raj, it was the capital for a considerable period, from 1772 until 1911, when Delhi became the capital. Kolkata lies on the east bank of the Hooghly River. While the city’s documented history doesn’t begin until the arrival of the British East India Company in 1690, archaeological finds indicate that it was inhabited for at least two thousand years.

The city was a focal point of the British East India Company commercial operations during the nineteenth century. The British built so many splendid buildings in the early nineteenth century that the city came to be known as the City of Palaces. We’ll now check some of the architectural masterpieces that contributed to this name, including several that came much later.

In 1702, the British built Fort William as an outpost for its troops, and Gunga Din may have served here somewhat later, around the time of Rudyard Kipling’s arrival on the scene in the late nineteenth century. I did check for carvings on the walls saying “Gunga Din was here” or something to that effect, but came up blank.

The fort was named for King William III of England, whose reign went from 1650 to 1702. A guard room in the fort later became known as the Black Hole of Calcutta from the incident in 1756 in which 146 British and Anglo-Indian soldiers and civilians were held overnight in very cramped conditions after the Nawab of Bengal’s forces captured the fort.

Here’s what the fort looked like in 1866:


Here’s a view of Calcutta as seen from Fort William:


St. Peter’s Church was built inside the fort’s walls, but it no longer exists, which is a shame because it was quite beautiful:


The New Fort William is located near the site of the old fort, and is used by today’s Indian Army, where 10,000 soldiers are stationed.

The Victoria Memorial Hall was dedicated to Queen Victoria and was completed in 1921. It is built in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture. You can see its grandeur here:


And a little closer:



The building is now used as a museum and still contains a collection of exhibits on Queen Victoria and the British Raj. There is also a royal gallery with portaits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. After India gained her independence in 1947, several additions were made featuring portraits and relics relating to Indian independence.

Here is a statue of the Queen inside the building - indoor statues of people associated with the British Raj seem to be more acceptable than outdoor ones. Most of the outdoor statues have been carted off to storage:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d2/Queen_Victoria%27s_statue_inside_the_memorial_in_K olkata.jpg

St. Paul’s Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral, and is now the seat of the Diocese of Calcutta. It was completed in 1847 and is of the Gothic Revival style of architecture that was very popular during the British Raj. Here is the lovely exterior:



A view of the interior:


The cathedral has some fantastic frescoes of the Florentine Renaissance style, but I can’t find any pictures of them on the internet.

The Tipu Sultan Shahi Mosque is the most elaborate mosque in Kolkata. It dates back to 1832, and was built on the orders of a son of Tipu Sultan.



The General Post Office occupies the site of the Old Fort William, and is said to stand atop the original site of the Black Hole of Calcutta. It was built in 1864, and it distinguished by its high dome and Ionic-Corinthian columns. It also houses a postal museum.




It features a beautiful rotunda, but I couldn’t figure out who the postman is – and I couldn’t help noticing that he carried a spear in addition to his mailbag - maybe the dogs are even more vicious in India than they are here in the US:


The Writer’s Building got its name from serving as an office for writers of the British East India Company, and was completed in 1889 in the Neo-Renaissance style of architecture. It features a Corinthian faÁade and has a statue of Britannia over the main entrance. It is used now for government offices. I told the guard that I was a writer and asked if I could come in, but he said I didn’t look like much of a writer to him. Here’s what the building looked like when it was new:


And what it looks like now:




We’ll continue exploring Kolkata in the next episode.

Jack of Hearts
08-10-2011, 07:20 PM

Slowly making headway through this... but yesterday, this reader was able to talk with someone about Mumbai because he read the first few parts. The gateway to India, indeed.

Will finish soon.


08-19-2011, 09:39 PM
Visiting India's Sunny Clime
Part 6

The Calcutta High Court is similar to what we call a state Supreme Court in the United States, in that it serves a portion of the entire country. This particular court serves the state of West Bengal. While the cityís name has been officially changed to Kolkata, the court still retains its former name. The building was completed in 1862, and is a replica of the Stand Haus or Town Hall in Ypres, Belgium, a place which lots of British soldiers got to know a lot better than they wanted to during the Great War from 1914-1918.

The Town Hall of Ypres stood adjacent to the even more famous Cloth Hall, and both were destroyed by the German Army in the early days of the Great War when the Germans were intent on demonstrating to the rest of the world that there were severe consequences to resisting its onslaught through Belgium and onward to France. When the original Stand Haus was to be rebuilt after the Germans levelled it, the plans for the Calcutta High Court were used to make sure the building was re-created exactly as it stood prior to its destruction. Iím not sure what served as the model for rebuilding the Cloth Hall, but it too has been restored.

I didnít see any violent protests in front of the High Court like the ones we always have in front of the United States Supreme Court all the time, so I guess they must not have as many contentious issues raging in India like there are in the USA. Either that, or they donít have as many contentious people in India as we do. Hereís what the building looks like, using that fantastic combination of red sandstone with white trim:



The Indian Museum of Kolkata is the largest museum in India, and was the first museum of its kind in Asia. The Asiatic Society of Bengal was started by an Englishman, Sir William Jones, in 1794. This puts it into the category of being one of the oldest museums in the world. The beautiful building in which itís now housed was completed in 1875. Hereís what it looks like:


And a fabulous courtyard:


It is a natural history and art museum all rolled into one, as it has tremendous displays of antiques, fossils, an imported Egyptian mummy, various skeletons of wild animals, and paintings. The museum recently acquired some very ornate Chinese porcelain pieces, but I couldnít find any pictures that would do justice to them, so youíll just have to take my word on that.

Here is an elephant skeleton, which gets lots of attention:


The museumís website, if you care to check out some of the exhibits:


When I heard there was a place called the Marble Palace in town, I was really anxious to see what that was all about. The reason for this is when I was a child growing up in Texas before we had modern things like television sets and video games that kids have today, we played a lot of marbles, along with lots of other outdoor activities. As a related sideline to contrast with our outdoor experiences so years ago, one of my grandsons these days is very adept at playing baseball with his new Wii device in front of his TV set, but he hasnít the slightest inclination to touching an actual baseball bat or glove. Along these lines, a recent cartoon in my local newspaper showed a football coach standing in front of the two quarterback candidates who had been battling for the starting position over a two-month competition, saying ďWeíre going to give Wiedermeyer the starting job because he has more friends on Facebook.Ē But I shouldnít really get going on side issues like these because weíre supposed to be touring India right now.

So anyway, I figured that my childhood marble games would somehow be recalled when I set foot in the Marble Palace. I was quite distraught to learn that its name simply derives from the fact that the building is made predominantly of marble. It was built as a personal residence in 1835 by a wealthy Indian merchant who liked to collect art. Itís still used as a home by his descendants, but it also has lots of items on display for the public. The building is Neoclassical in style, but it has courtyards that are of the local Bengali style, and many of the interior furnishings are Indian. On display here are Western sculpture and Victorian furnishings, as well as both Indian and Western paintings. Hereís what the building looks like:




The National Library of India is in Kolkata, and itís the largest library in all of India. During the British Raj, the libraryís current home served as the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, but thatís all in the past now. As an institution, the library dates back to 1836, but the current stately building wasnít taken over as a library until 1903.

Hereís the entrance, which emphasizes the Indian approach to making signs with which Iím in violent disagreement. Iím also against painting stone structures, but the Indians are running the place and Iím not:


And hereís the magnificent building:



And some details at the main entrance:


The Birla Planetarium was completed in 1963, and is patterned after a stupa for Buddhaís disciple Sanchi, with a stupa being a mound containing religious relics. Hereís what the Stupa of Sanchi looks like, so you will understand the design when you see the planetarium:


Hereís the planetarium, from which astronomical research is conducted, and there are daily shows explaining the sights one sees in the heavens:


And hereís what it looks like at night, which is a much better time for observing the stars:


Rāj Bhavan is Bengali for Government House, which dates back to 1803, where the Viceroy used to reside when Calcutta was the capital of British India. Now that the British are gone, the Governor of West Bengal lives here. The building is patterned after Kedleston Hall back in Derbyshire, England. Quite surprisingly, there are no really nice pictures of it available on the internet, and hereís the best I can find:


Hereís what it looked like back in the days of the British Raj:


The Dakshineswar Kali Temple near Kolkata is an impressive Hindu temple, situated on the Hooghly River. It was built in the middle of the nineteenth century.



And if you have trouble seeing this one, you probably need glasses.


In our next episode, we will move on to Bangalore.

10-06-2011, 08:43 AM
Visiting India's Sunny Clime
Part 7

Prior to my arrival in Bangalore, the only thing I knew about anything with this name was from the Bangalore Torpedo, which is an explosive weapon used to breach barbed wire emplacements and to clear mine fields. But on my reaching the city, which by the way is in the state of Karnataka, I learned a lot of new things here, in what is called the Garden City - or also the Silicon Valley of India. Like all the other major cities of India, Bangalore has a long and distinguished history prior to the arrival of the British, and lots of things happened here that have nothing to do with torpedoes, but we’re not going to delve into all that. Of more recent note, Bangalore was the first city in India to be provided with electricity – back in 1906. I never found out why it was the first, when there were other more dominant cities at the time.

Vidhana Soudha is a building that amazes me to no end. It serves as the home for the state government legislative chambers, but that’s not the amazing part. To me, the astonishing part is that it was completed in 1956, because you don’t find too many buildings in this glorious architectural style built after the 1920s. Its architectural style is called Dravidian, or neo-Dravidian, and it has a lot in common with the classic architectural forms - head and shoulders above all the comical and pathetic modern architectural travesties that have come along in the last fifty or sixty years, and look like shoeboxes and tin cans.




The Karnataka High Court dates back to 1884 during the British Raj, where this building served as the highest court of appeal in the state of Mysore. I’m not a big fan of court proceedings, but I certainly love looking at courthouse buildings, which are usually architectural beauties. This one is no exception, using the red bricks that seem to be quite popular in India. I think they look fantastic - especially when white trim abounds. This building has just a little white trim - in the ornamental frieze above the main entrance:



The Bangalore Palace was intended to be a small replica of Windsor Castle in England. Construction began in 1862, but wasn’t finished until 1944. It is in the Tudor style of architecture, and contains furnishings of the Victorian and Edwardian styles. You can see that it is equipped with lots of turrets to fend off attacks by brave knights in armor, and has never been successfully taken by such knights:


A little closer to the main entrance:


Here is the ballroom, but I couldn’t dance here because I didn’t have a partner, and there wasn’t any music playing anyway even if I could have found a partner:


Besides the piano in the next scene, you can see some of the stained glass windows that adorn the palace:


I don’t know who this guy is, but I guess I should thank him because if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have found another interior picture of the palace.


There is also a Tipu Sultan Palace in Bangalore, which is named for the man who was also called the Tiger of Mysore. He ruled the kingdom of Mysore in the latter half of the seventeenth century. Remember there was a Tipu Sultan Mosque that we visited in Kolkata during one of the earlier episodes, also named for this same ruler. The palace seems to have its roots in a structure built in the sixteenth century, that was later expanded and improved. Here are some views of the elaborate palace. The public domain photos of the exterior all concentrate on details, and I can’t find anything that shows the building exterior as a whole.






The ISKCON Temple is a Vaishnava (a Hindu sect) temple of Krishna and Radha (two major characters in Hinduism). We won’t get into the details of Hinduism in this story - I’ll just remind you I was here in India to search for places Gunga Din may have served during his days with the Army and not to do religious research. While the temple has beautiful traditional carvings, it also has lots of modern glass.



There are lots of other religious temples in Bangalore, but we’ll just peek at one more of them. The Shiva Temple honors Lord Shiva, who was another important character in Hinduism. The temple is quite new, having been completed in 1995.

Public domain photos seem to be limited to the statue of Lord Shiva himself, rather than showing the temple proper.




The Bangalore Public Library is another great building constructed in red stone, which I was surprised to find very attractive. Of course, my aversion to Indian signs on buildings still makes me wonder why they can’t come up with something that doesn’t spoil the overall effect:



The Government Museum of Bangalore is one of India’s oldest museums, and originated in 1876 during the British colonial period. It features historic Indian coins, gems and jewelry, paintings, and sculptures. It too is built of red stone with white trim.




In the next episode we will visit Chennai and Hyderabad.

12-22-2011, 01:01 PM
Visiting India's Sunny Clime
Part 8

When my travel agent told me Chennai was on my itinerary I was somewhat surprised, as I had never even heard of this place. While I had never been to India before this trip, I had at least heard of all the other places he had me booked to visit, so the appearance of this town on the list had me a little mystified.

But when I arrived in Chennai, I learned that this city used to be called Madras, which is a name much more familiar to me because I used to own several shirts with that same name. I had those shirts so many years ago that they are now totally faded and donít even come close to resembling what they were in their prime. But then I guess you could say the same thing about lots of us people as well.

Chennai is home to a large portion of Indiaís automobile manufacturing facilties, and is even called the Detroit of Asia. Given the city of Detroitís current economic demise despite the fact that the American automotive industry seems to be thriving again these days, Iím not sure that Chennaverians (which is what I think they call the citizens of Chennai, unless itís Chennaverites) would like to retain that epithet.

There are several other industries that flourish in Chennai, but weíre here to look at the beautiful buildings and not talk about the computer software thatís produced here, or the information technology boom, or the motion pictures that come out of this place. So onward to the buildings.

The Ripon Building (which I believe was named for the estranged cousin of a man called Ripoff, and actually has nothing whatsoever to do with a Viceroy of India back in the nineteenth century) serves as the seat of Chennaiís municipal government. It is an example of Indo-Saracenic architecture, was completed in 1913, and looks exquisite:



And you should notice that it maintains this exquisite look despite the atrocious sign that proclaims this building to be the home of Chennai Corporation, which is how they call their City Halls over there. But Iím sure youíre quickly getting tired of my constant carping about the signs that detract from the beauty of so many fine buildings, so Iíll stop carping for a while - or at least until we encounter our next glaringly-out-of-place sign.

The main feature of this building as viewed from outside is the Westminster Quarter chiming clock, which has to be wound every day. I didnít get to see the key they use for winding the clock, nor the guy who turns that key, but Iím sure they are both quite impressive. Hereís a closer view of the clock (and unfortunately the sign as well):


Victoria Public Hall was built to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria and was completed in 1890. I recently bought a book about the Golden Jubilee - a very nice leatherbound volume - but I havenít had a chance to read it yet because I keep trying to record all of my travels through India before I forget everything, and that takes more time than I would have thought. But Iím looking forward to the day when I can really delve into that book about Queen Victoriaís Golden Jubilee. This building used to serve as a theater and public assembly room, but now it is the home of the South Indian Athletic Association Club.

Hereís the buildingís exterior (ignore the steps leading up to the main entrance, which could use a little work, and some of the overgrown vegetation) - this building looked a lot better before than it does now:


The Madras Central Terminal (still usually called that mainly from tradition even though the name of the city has changed) is where you go to catch a train or to meet passengers arriving by railroad; it was built in 1873. Itís described as Gothic Revival in architectural style, and was enlarged in 1900.



Kapaleeshwarar Temple is a temple of Shiva which dates back to the seventh century AD. Its predominant feature is the intricate work above the entrance, which must be very difficult to maintain, but they seem to do an excellent job of just that.



The San Thome Basilica is a Roman Catholic minor basilica. It was originally built by Portuguese explorers in the sixteenth century to honor Saint Thomas, but that building was replaced by a British version in 1893. The British version is the Neo-Gothic style of architecture.


And an interior view:


We will now proceed to Hyderabad, where we will briefly run through some of the landmarks in whatís called the Old City. There is also a New City, but if youíve seen any of my accounts on visiting other places, you are already aware of the fact that I have considerable disdain for the more modern things, so I didnít go see any of them.

The Charminar is an Islamic mosque completed in 1591 AD and is the unofficial symbol of Hyderabad. The name means Four Towers, and you can see the four minarets in this view:




This mosque was built in gratitude for the end of a deadly plague that had stricken the area a few years before, which meant that this plague occurred a couple of centures after the Black Death that savaged much of Europe.

Mecca Masjid is another mosque in Hyderabad, and is the largest in the city. It was completed in 1694. Some of the bricks were made from material brought from Mecca - hence the name of the mosque. It can accommodate ten thousand worshippers at a time, but you have to really squeeze them in to do that.





The Laad Bazaar is the only place I know of that has a ten-letter name with no less than half of them being the letter A. Of course I havenít been everywhere, so maybe there are other places that share that unusual distinction. Because of my aversion to shopping, I mention this place only because of its name. If you want to see a typical place in the bazaar, here is one:


Chowmahalla Palace was the seat of the Asaf Jahi dynasty, which must have been rolling in money, because itís rather elaborate. It was begun in 1750, but wasnít completed until 1869. I donít know if the Suez Canal had anything to do with that timing or not, but 1869 is the year whe the canal was completed and opened for ship traffic.

Here are some views of the palace:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8f/Nizam%27s_Chowmahela_Palace%2C_Hyderabad%2C_India. JPG


A very nice drawing room:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/ca/Drawing_Room_of_Chowmahela_Palace%2C_Hyderabad%2C_ India.JPG

I couldnít tell if this is a ballroom or a chandelier room, but whatever it is, itís fantastic:


The Falaknuma Palace was built in 1892, at the height of the British rule, and was designed by a British architect. It was used by the local Indian rulers.

Hereís a view of it in 1900:


And a dining room that serves lots more people at one sitting than Iíve ever hosted in my apartment:


And a breathtaking staircase touched off with some wonderul paneling and intricate work on the marble fittings, as well as some beautiful paintings:

http://www.siennacharles.com/storage/blog/photograph-of-the-week/002%20Taj%20Falaknuma%20Palace%20Staircase%20Hyder abad.jpg?__SQUARESPACE_CACHEVERSION=1320100604574

The palace now serves as a luxury hotel, which seems quite fitting.

The Golconda Fort is the oldest structure in the city, dating back to the thirteenth century. It has been updated periodically since its initial construction.

Here are a few views of the fort:





There are lots of tombs in the Hyderabad area, some of which are quite beautiful. Weíll just look at one of these as representative of what these tombs look like Ė the Qutubshahi Tombs, which are near the Golconda Fort. The tombs are domed structures built on a square base surrounded by pointed arches. The mausoleums of the Sultans of Golkonda, the founding rulers of Hyderabad are truly magnificent monuments. Hereís what they look like:


Next up Ė Simla, the summer resort from the days of the British Raj, and Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, the only major structure in the world to take its name from a Donald Trump hotel, as far as I know.

06-21-2012, 09:36 AM
Visiting India's Sunny Clime
Part 9

My sincere apologies for the long delay between Parts 8 and 9 – I have been doing several other things of late, things that have distracted me from continuing the story of my travels through India. I can’t reveal most of them because that would make me blush, but one of the things has been setting up a Facebook page for my cat, Eleanor, whose picture you see in the upper left hand corner of this post. She wants to join the cyberspace community and waste just as much time with that activity as lots of humans do. So I had to waste lots of time setting up her Facebook page just the way she wanted it. Now she can keep her cat friends posted on what kinds of Fancy Feast she eats every day, and she can find out what they all eat. They also exchange posts about their naps. All Eleanor does is eat, sleep, play with her toy mice, and sit in my lap when I’m in my recliner reading or watching television, so she has plenty of time to waste on Facebook. Anyway, enough rambling – I should get back to the account of my travels rather than babble about Eleanor’s Facebook page – you can check her page out if you want any more details.

Shimla is the city formerly known as Simla which served as the summer capital during the days of the British Raj. The summer climate here was much more pleasant than the stifling conditions in other parts of India, so the British Viceroy and many of the district governors and lots of tax collectors would congregate in Simla to make their lives more bearable during the sweltering months. Of course the military personnel had to remain on station regardless of the season, so Gunga Din and his cohorts were not afforded this luxury.

The British East India Company took control of Simla in 1816, along with several other surrounding towns, after a war waged by the company against Nepal. British-built cottages began springing up, and within ten years there were over a hundred of them. While it was common practice in these early nineteenth century years for British administrators to move to Simla for the summer, the formal move didn’t occur until 1864 when the Viceroy, Sir John Lawrence, agreed that it was a great idea.

Having a great concentration of upper-crust personnel along with their families gave Rudyard Kipling lots of material for short stories that were completely separate from the exploits of Gunga Din. In particular, the wives of the British administrators had all sorts of time on their hands with which they could create scenarios worthy of Kipling’s attention. Of course these wives had to have some help from administrators other than their own husbands in order to spice up these scenarios and make them come to life. But you’ll have to get your own copy of Kipling’s works if you want to know any more about this because I’m certainly not going to get involved in spreading malicious gossip and rumors.

British Simla extended about a mile and a half along the ridge between Jakhoo Hill and Prospect Hill, which were hills mentioned by Kipling in his stories.

The most elegant building in Simla is what was known as the Viceregal Lodge. Here’s what it looks like from the outside:


In its heyday, the lodge was a wonder to behold, as I understand from the accounts of others. As old as I might be, I’m not old enough to have been around during the building’s heyday. The main hall is panelled entirely in teak and features an immense fireplace which probably didn’t get a lot of use since this building was used mainly during the summer months. I guess the architect felt that a fireplace would be impressive even if it wasn’t actually needed. The British had carved a unicorn above the fireplace, but this has since been replaced by an Indian wheel of progress. There was an elegant ballroom that is now used as a library, as the building has been taken over by the Institute of Advanced Studies. The people running the institute consider dancing to be a frivolous activity so there is no further need for any ballrooms now.

Gorton Castle was completed in 1904 and served as the Government of India Secretariat Building during the summer months, housing the offices of such distinguished persons as the Tax Collector of Boggley Wollah, even though the building came along way too late for the most famous in the line of tax collectors for that area.


The Auckland House School, as portrayed in the photos below, became a school in 1864, although it had been in private use for many years before that.


It continues in service today as a school exclusively for members of the female persuasion, many of whom are totally offended by the idea of schools which are for boys only and are therefore obviously sexist and discriminatory in nature. The school thrives, and has students from all over the world.

The Kalka-Shimla railway line dates back to 1906, and connects Simla with the network of British rail systems. It features over 800 bridges and 100 tunnels, and came to be affectionately known as the British Jewel of the Orient. The railway line is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Here’s an interesting view of one of the bridges, which is quite intricate.


Now on to the city of Agra and magnificent Taj Mahal, which was built for the Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his third wife. Fortunately for his first and second wives, they pre-deceased the third wife, so they didn’t have to be burdened with the knowledge that they were seriously slighted in the memorials department.

Construction was begun in 1632 and was completed in 1652. The tour guides insist that the rumors about how the principal architects were blinded so they couldn’t duplicate this masterpiece anywhere else, is just a bald-faced myth with no basis in fact. The building is an example of Mughal architecture, which is a blend of Indian, Persian, and Turkish styles. There were over 20,000 laborers required to build this masterpiece back then before the powered machinery available to us these days.

Everybody is already familiar with the front exterior view of the building, which looks like this:



But besides this well-known frontal exterior view, you should be aware that the site is an integrated complex of several elements. There are gardens, accommodations, and even a bazaar – just like the gift shops at museums.

We’ll concentrate first on the tomb – the raison d’etre for this structure. The large central dome sits atop a multi-chambered cube with all kinds of geometric properties that start sounding like a Pythogorean treatise or something. We won’t go deeply into all of that because some of us would get sick just from listening. Note the four minarets which frame the tomb area. The main chamber has the tombs not only for wife number three – Mumtaz Mahal – but also for Shah Jahan himself. There are ornamental cenotaphs visible to visitors, but the actual graves are hidden at a lower level.


And here are the actual hidden tombs, well below the visible cenotaphs:


The marble dome is the most noticeable feature of the building viewed from a distance. It’s often called an onion dome, but it isn’t quite as onion-like as the domes of Russian churches, at least in my opinion. There are four relatively small domed kiosks at the corners of the main dome, and each of these kiosks sit atop columns which admit light to the interior. Remember that electric lights weren’t available in this part of India way back in the seventeenth century.

Here is the garden behind the Taj Mahal, as viewed from the main building – you can see the Great Gate in the background:


And the Taj Mahal Mosque, which is a separate building:


An interior view of the mosque:


We could spend a lot more time looking at various detailed portions of the Taj Mahal complex, and if you’re interested, I’d suggest that you use the internet to do that. I’m going to avoid that, based on my expectation that the average reader doesn’t want all the detailed information that is available.

Now if you have a good memory, and can recall the beginning of this story, I didn’t originally plan to visit all these cities; I had only intended to try to find the outpost where Gunga Din served. Seeing the cities and their sights was just an additional thing that my travel agent suggested I might be interested in ‒ as long as I was already in the neighborhood. Well, I’m sorry to say that I never did find an outpost where Gunga Din served. Regardless of that, I still enjoyed my visit to India and I’m glad that Gunga Din brought me over to look around.

Well, that’s it for my tour of India, and if you were courageous enough to reach this point, I’ll say THANK YOU for taking the time to read it all.


And if you got this far, maybe you would consider also looking over one or more of the following tours, all of which are right here in the LitNet Forum. As others have pointed out, these tours allow you to visit lots of places without having to pay a nickel, and without having to go through airport security patdowns either – a double bonus:

A Grand Tour (tour of Moscow, St. Petersburg, London, Rome, Jerusalem, and several others, with pictures)

The City of Lights (tour of Paris, with pictures and videos)

Through Spain by Train (tour of Spain, with pictures)

A Dutch Treat (tour of Holland, with pictures)

A Capital Tour (tour of Washington, DC, with pictures)

It’s a Wonderful Town (tour of New York City, with pictures)

The City of Brotherly Love (tour of Philadelphia, with pictures)

The City by the Bay (tour of San Francisco, with pictures and videos)

Memories of San Antonio (tour and recollections of San Antonio, Texas, with pictures)
[Note that for this one, a website containing many of the pictures has been taken down so those pictures aren’t there. I have an Adobe file of the story with the pictures in lieu of troublesome links, if anyone would like to see it that way. Just let me know by Private Message if you would like one sent to you by e-mail.]

Or maybe even this series of short stories, that started out by finding romance and eating hot dogs at a Washington Nationals baseball game, and kept going from there. These stories are all in the LitNet Forum:

My Baseball Scorecard (first in series of four stories)

Time to Go Shopping (second in series of four stories)

Weekend in Boston (third in series of four stories)

The Dinner Guest (fourth in series of four stories)

Or the serious story of my uncle’s journal that he wrote just before World War II describing his experiences in the Navy:

Or a serious story about Jewish immigrants who came to the USA in the early twentieth century:
Two Crossings

Or a story about one of my Navy cruises to the Mediterranean, including pictures of Athens, Istanbul, and Naples, as well as several other places:
The Cruise