// MY NAME IS DANIELAnd after years of dreaming I've sold everything I own and set off on the open road. I've made this site as a sort of photo journal of my travels. The map shows where I've been (red), where I've stayed a month or more (yellow), and where I plan to go (white). And so, armed with little more than a backpack, a camera, and a dream, I now take the road less traveled by. So it goes.
CALCUTTA WEST BENGAL I arrived in Calcutta and rented a small apartment here for a month and a half while awaiting some friends to join me for a cross-country adventure. Calcutta, or Kolkata, as it is now officially known, was founded in 1690 by the British East India Company and a century later became the capital of British-controlled India. It would lose that position in the early 1900s to Delhi and fall into somewhat of a decline (giving it quite the faded glory look) though it remains an important cultural center of India; no less than six Nobel Laureates hail from the city. India can be a difficult country to enjoy; there is no end to the hostile car traffic on every street, unrelenting noise (mostly from the aforementioned cars), chaos, trash, and pollution, but Calcutta turned out to be one of my favorite cities in the country.
VARANASI UTTAR PRADESH Once my friends arrived we took an overnight train westward to Varanasi, one of the holiest cities in Hinduism, for it sits on the sacred Ganges River. As one telling goes, when the goddess Ganga, embodiement of the divine cosmic oceans, fell to Earth, she would have washed away all of existence, but instead Shiva caught her in his hair, which broke her fall, and by running down the streams of his hairs, she formed the rivers of the world, starting with the Ganges River. Worshippers bath in the river to cleanse their sins and some choose to be cremated and placed in the river upon death. It was also here that Siddhartha Gautama gave his first sermon, a sutta on the Four Noble Truths, which is often seen as the founding moment of Buddhism.
BHARATPUR RAJASTHAN We arrived in Bharatpur by a sort of mistake. We were on an overnight train to Agra, to see the Taj Mahal, but when we woke up we were told we were being diverted to the state of Rajasthan, a journey which took nearly 20 hours. I'm not sure the reasons, wether it be an accident or rail construction, or smog and pollution making visibility impossible, or protesters against the government's new religious-based citizenship laws shutting down the rail lines as they had done in other states. Anyway, having overshot Agra and being short on time, we had to cancel our trip to the Taj Mahal. Bharatpur is not a famous city, but it was nice enough. The old city is even surrounded by a moat... guarded by cows.
JODHPUR RAJASTHAN So with the train folly, we found ourselves in Rajasthan (meaning 'Land of the Kings'). While the national language of India is Hindi, nearly every state has its own language and Hindi is learned with only varying degrees of success. In Calcutta the actual language was Bengali, which even has its own script. And here in Rajasthan it's Rajasthani and Marwari. Rajasthan is filled with ruins dating back thousands of years to the Indus Valley Civilization. Based on DNA evidence, it's also believed that the Roma/Gypsies of Europe originated from Rajasthan. As for Jodhpur, the city was founded in 1459 CE and became the capital of the Marwar Kingdom. It is known as the 'Blue City' as many of its buildings are painted blue.
UDAIPUR RAJASTHAN Udaipur is another major Rajasthani city, founded in 1558 CE as the capital of the Mewar Kingdom (Rajasthan had a lot of little kingdoms, apparently). The city is surrounded by seven lakes and a great many palaces and temples. We traveled here by overnight bus, for the trains were sold out. That's not actually a bad thing--- the buses are more comfortable. They have little private rooms with beds, but cost much more. At the very end of the page I've thrown in a few photos of the trains and buses of India.
JAIPUR RAJASTHAN Jaipur, known as the 'Pink City', is the capital of Rajasthan. It was founded in 1727 CE as the capital of the Kachwaha Kingdom. It was among the first planned cities in India, using the principles of Vastu Shastra, which is akin to Hindu Feng Shui. Saddly those planners probably never foresaw the arrival of the automobile, which has annhilated any sense of peace and serenity in Jaipur's otherwise attractive streets.
JAISALMER RAJASTHAN Jaisalmer, known as the 'Golden City', sits within the sweeping Thar Desert which borders Pakistan. The city was founded in 1156 CE as part of the Bhati Kingdom. At its center is a hilltop fort, which houses several palaces and several historic Jain Temples. Jainism emerged from ancient Hinduism as its own distinct religious philosophy around 2800 years ago, making it perhaps the second oldest religion still practiced in the modern world today, behind Hinduism. Along with Buddhism which was established around 2500 years ago and Sikhism which was established around 500 years ago, Jainism is one of the four major world religions that originated in India. While on the topic of religion, it's worth noting that several centuries of colonization first by Islamic (the Mughals) and later Christian (the British) rulers, means there are sizeable minorities of Muslims and Christians in the country as well. Additionally, there is a small number of Parsis (Zoroastrians) in India. Zoroastrianism was the official religion of the ancient Persian Empire but it was almost completely wiped out when Persia (modern day Iran) was conquered by Arab Muslim armies in 651 CE. Many of those who refused to convert to Islam fled to India to escape religious persecution and today India is home to the largest number of Zoroastrians in the world.
THE THAR DESERT RAJASTHAN I've been to a lot of deserts on my trip. The Gobi Desert, the Arabian Desert, the Kalahari, the Namib, the Sonaoran and Mojave, the Atacama Desert. And now I can say I've been to the Thar Desert. We visited some local villages here and had dinner in the dunes as the sun set. A wonderful experience.
KEOLADEO NATIONAL PARK RAJASTHAN Formerly known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, this national park is a wet-land home to 230 species of birds, though as many as 365 species use it as a migratory stop during various times of the year, including rare migratory birds from Central Asia. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has some of the most diverse and concentrated bird populations in the world.
LOHAGAD FORT MAHARASHTRA Taking a local train (for all of 50 cents) to the neighboring village of Malavli we hiked up the hills to see this fort. Other than being under constant attack by gangs of troublesome monkeys (eventually we adopted a stray dog to protect us), the fort was peaceful, a rarity in India, and offered some stunning views.
BHAJA CAVES MAHARASHTRA Near the fort are several caves carved out of the rock by Buddhist monks nearly 2200 years ago, forming a large monastery, with sleeping quarters, meditation rooms, and stupas. Truly amazing. There are Jain caves nearby as well, but sadly I did not have time to visit them.
HAMPI KARNATAKA Speaking of ruins, another overnight trip (of our twenty-one day trip, nine nights were spent on overnight buses or trains, which speaks to just how big India is) took us to Hampi in the state of Karnataka, where the local language is Kannada. Hampi was the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire and by 1500 CE was possibly the second largest city in the world behind Beijing. It was a prosperous city that attracted a steady flow of traders from Persia and Europe. It was a major center of Hinduism as well, as evident in its many ornate temples. However in 1565 CE, a coalition of Muslim sultanates conquered the city, pillaged it, and left it in ruins, which is how it remains today. Now it is a UNESCO World Heritage site, surrounded by tranquil rice farming villages, its former glory gone, but not forgotten.
HYDERABAD TELANGANA Hyderabad was founded in 1591 CE and later become a small kingdom under the Nizams, after a brief period of control under the Moghuls. British India was comprised of many such small kingdoms (called princely states). Theoretically each princely state had its own relationship with England, and when England left India in 1947, it gave the princely states the option of joining the newly created Republic of India, joining the newly created nation of Pakistan which was carved out of British India, or simply be granted full indepedence. Most chose to join either India or Pakistan but a few chose independence, notably Kashmir and Hyderabad, which was perhaps the wealthiest of all the princely states. Well that didn't go over well with India, and a year later the Indian government invaded Hyderabad, overthrew the government, ousted the Nizams, and annexed the country. So it goes.
MUMBAI MAHARASHTRA My final stop was Mumbai (known as Bombay before all the name changes) where I was awaiting a flight to the Middle East. I was here a few days but too exhausted to do much, other than walk around the small fishing village where I stayed (which had been consumed by Mumbai on all sides, a small village completely enclosed by shiny highrise towers and shopping malls). Mumbai seemed nice though. At least there were sidewalks, which is more than I can say for a lot of other places in India.
••• MORE PHOTOS •••