India Delhi #3 In search of Baoli

 

Not being one for organized tours, and this, my sixth visit to India I am feeling pretty confident about finding my way, even learning a basic smattering of Hindi. Helpful? well not really as we found out on a visit to Nizamuddin.

Nizamuddin Baoli


Most monuments and shrines are easy as long as you are respectful and follow the rules, that’s not a big ask. Whilst researching some of the less visited parts of Delhi the stepwells came onto my radar. A stepwell, or Baoli  is described by famous French photographer, traveler Louis Rousselet ( 1864) as  “[a] vast sheet of water, covered with lotuses in flower, amid which thousands of aquatic birds are sporting” at the shores of which bathers washed, surrounded by jungle greenery. He was not describing a lakeside scene or one of India’s famous riverside ghats, but an ancient well.

So that was the mission for today. Dehli has over 30 stepwells, and I had three on the list to see. This article describes more of the history of these beautiful feats of architecture that make up part of India’s rich history.

A walk through Lodhi Gardens after the rain is peaceful and beautiful amid the relentless traffic of Delhi. Nizzamuddin is where one of the Baoli still intact is a short walk from the gardens. If you intend to go there on your own ( without a guide) be aware this is absolutely not for the faint hearted. Most information I read blithely says, slightly to the north of Nizamuddin Mosque, what is not apparent is that the Baoli is directly at the entrance to one of the most important shrines for the Sufi faith, Hazrat Nizamuddin Darga. Having visited Ajmer Sharif Dargah in

Having visited Ajmer Sharif Dargah in Rajasthan in the company of a family who kept me under their wing the experience was wonderful and enlightening. Not so today. The walk through the market place is confusing and confronting with many places openly slaughtering animals for sale in incredibly unsanitary conditions. The entire marketplace is hot, dirty where it need not be. Poverty is one thing but is that an excuse for the mess and filth this place was?  this was another level altogether.

Probably at this stage turning back and revisiting with a guide was a good idea especially for female western tourists. We fell down the rabbit hole and after being pushed and shoved,  purchasing flowers and offerings ended up within the shrine where a large sign proclaimed Shariah Law. You need to come here with an open mind, check…an open heart- check…..What we didn’t understand or appreciate, in a place of worship was the pure looks of disgust aimed at us, mostly from women and the need to actually protect ourselves and belongings. We needed to leave now, but no,  that was also not going to happen with out the requisite filling out of the “visitors book” and extortion of money. We paid some money just to get out. the prescribed amount seemed to be in the realm of 5,000 rupees. Only carrying small sums of money we simply did not have this and felt very intimidated.

Sufi music is undeniably hypnotic and this shrine has a big night on a Thursday I would love to have gone to, but no way were we stepping back in there. Of course, now I read reviews and see some warnings, in hindsight this was another instance a guide or a small tour would have been a good idea. Self-doubt has crept in somewhat after today…

So did we see the sought after famed step well? YES and it was every bit as amazing as I thought, some eager children happily diving into the pure green water with big smiles on their faces. We left quickly and quietly.

 

 

 

KYOTO: Shoguns and Geishas Part 2

As I approached Nijo-jo castle I seriously had tears in my eyes. Ever since studying Japanese history I have dreamt of visiting this castle. Excited is an undestatement!

DAY TWO. NIJO-JO CASTLE AND FUSHIMI INARI-TAISHA SHRINE.  This is the second of two posts on Kyoto, the first one you can read here .

Kyoto needs more than two days, I discovered, so in the interests of learning more about one of my favorite periods of history I chose to visit less rather than more places.  I think this gave me insight into a part of Japan well worth a second visit.

NIJO-JO CASTLE

Nijo-jo Castle has witnessed some of the most important events of Japanese history. It is an impressive sight to behold and the stories of the Nightingale floors surrounding the inner sanctum held me fascinated to learn more about the Shogun era. The first shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu unified Japan ending the civil war, ushering in a period of over 260 years of peace and prosperity although shut off completely from the western world. That is an impressive 15 generations of rule. In 1867 the castle was also the backdrop and place where the 15th Shogun returned the political rule to The Emperor and began the Meiji period from which Japan developed rapidly from a feudal society into the modern democratic nation of today.

 

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Nijo jo castle is an imposing structure surrounded and fortified with huge stone walls surrounded by deep moats. The tranquil gardens within the walls are also, as most Japanese gardens are, sublime and beautiful.

Hiring the audio tour was excellent and the entire visit not overly expensive. I recall the ticket included tea at a tea house within the walls but forgot this, unfortunately. The nightingale floors in Nijo jo castle literally sound like birds chirping. The noise of these warned the shogun and his minders of any approaching intruders. I have long held this as a romantic type notion only to have it crushed whilst listening to the recorded tour !! They do indeed make this noise but it was by accident rather by design that this occurred! The entire interior has large flamboyant and detailed pictures mostly depicting  scene of nature but including ferocious animals such as tigers , all showing off the power and strength of the Shogun.

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Check out the size of this moat! The grounds and gardens leave a person awestruck by the majesty of this place and the history behind it. Set aside three hours to comfortably see this castle.

FUSHIMI INARI-TAISHA SHRINE

I can’t even think where to start with this amazing place! Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine is just a must see when you visit Kyoto.

Again I used insidekyoto to guide me through this incredible place. Google maps are awesome to guide you to the relevant trains to get here and once you have reached the destination the magic unfolds.

The shrine is dedicated to the gods of rice and sake. There are over 5000 bright orange tori gates the wind up a hill stopping at a magical lake with graveyards and smaller shrines on the way.

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At the start of the walk is the major temple. Here, there is a small shrine to the right with thousands of peace cranes made of origami folded by students praying for luck in exams.

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Oigami peace cranes

All through the shrine and the walk are a lot of foxes with keys in their mouths. The Fox is the messenger of the god of grain foods, Inari, and the keys in the fox mouths are keys to granaries.

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The Fox is the messenger of the grain god Inari.

The most stunning part, in my mind, was the meandering walk through the gates.  Apparently some of the gates date back to 711 A.D. Some say there are 5,000 and other info I read say over 10,000!!
These gates are entrances to shrines in Shinto religion, these ones are a bit different as they have been donated by people and organizations to give thanks for prosperity and hopes of more good luck. So as you walk up the gates are solid red and the names are engraved on the back. I walked up through the winding path to an amazing lake at the top full of huge koi and turtles which were a real surprise. If you get the opportunity please visit this place… indescribable might be my best word to try and describe this sight!

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Hello from Kyoto