While travelling in India, I became fascinated with the variety of patterns in its architecture. Historically, they’re mostly a legacy of the Sultanates and the Mughal Empire, and Islam’s tradition of non-figurative art. But interesting patterns can also be found in Jain, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and modern architecture, and also in natural forms.
These galleries collects all the photographs of patterns I took during my visit. I’m releasing these into the public domain. They are far from comprehensive, and others can be found in various places such as Wikimedia Commons.
I really enjoyed my trip around India. This special edition of the Hate List does not represent my overall opinion of the country and its people. For a balanced view, it should be read in conjunction with my Highlights of India blog post.
People loudly belching in the street.
People loudly hacking up phlegm and spitting it out in the street.
People chewing paan and spitting it out in the street.
So, that’s almost it for my India travel blogging. I got back to Delhi, visited a few more tombs, the Ashokan Rock Edict and the second Ashokan Pillar, did a bit of gift shopping and accidentally ran into a demonstration for the establishment of Gorkhaland state. They don’t want an independent country. They just want part of West Bengal to be detached into a separate state within India. Can you imagine getting this worked up about local administration boundaries in the UK?
Gorkhaland protest in Delhi
At Indira Gandhi Airport, I thought I’d made it, and the insanity was over. Until I got held up by the most absurd piece of airport security nonsense I’ve ever encountered.
While I was in India, I grew to hate Delhi with a passion, and by the time I left for Bikaner I’d already spent more time there than any visitor ever should. But since I had to return there after Lucknow for my flight home anyway, I thought I might as well add a few more places to the Delhi Tomb Review (original review here and first update).
I’ve been lucky enough to spend Diwali in Delhi with the family who’ve been hosting me. It’s the biggest festival of the Hindu calendar and is often described as “the Indian Christmas”. I was interested to see how it compared.
The first thing I noticed was a certain similarity in the days beforehand. First lots of lights are put up all over the buildings. Then friends started popping round to bring gifts, and we also went calling on people to give them theirs. But there were differences too. In the UK, Christmas lights tend to be themed: the best ones replicating icicles hanging from roofs, or the stars, angels and trees of municipal lights; the worst being the garish neon Santas and snowmen in people’s front gardens. In India, Diwali lights are just themselves, some white, mostly coloured, covering every building. From flats, people hang loops and strings from the balconies and windows – the apartment blocks look like they’ve vomited light from every orifice.
There’s a difference with the present-giving too, in that the presents are always opened immediately, in front of the giver, even though it’s not Diwali yet. In the UK, of course, the rule is that you can’t open presents until Christmas Day, so although people bring them round in the days leading up, as they do here, you stack them unopened beneath the tree, which adds to the anticipation of Christmas Day itself. Here there didn’t seen to be anywhere near as much build-up and excitement before Diwali, so I was wondering what the day itself would be like, when the presents are already open and there’s nothing much to do. Would it be a bit of an anticlimax?
If you’ve read my post on Amritsar, in which I criticise Sikhism for its tendency towards idolatry, then you might be wondering how I feel about Hinduism, the most idolatrous religion of all.
Actually, I have a bit of a soft spot for Hinduism. Obviously, it’s just as wrong as every other religion. But you’ve got to love the way it goes all out, celebrating life and sensuality and excess as sacred.
Also, it wasn’t idolatry per se that I had such a problem with regarding Sikhism. Idolatry is a basic human instinct. It’s craven and misguided, and should be resisted, but it’s just a particular way of doing religion. What I really hate about the religious practices of Christianity, Islam and Sikhism, among others, is the hypocrisy: they were all founded on the basis that idolatry was wrong, but then descended into it themselves. Hinduism doesn’t commit the same hypocrisy, as it never denies that there’s anything wrong with idolatry in the first place. On the contrary, it rejoices in it.
As you can tell from the previous few posts, our tour of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra included a lot of visits to tombs, forts and palaces. Throw in a couple of mosques and museums, and you’ve pretty much summed up the trip.
Except, that is, for the Jantar Mantars.
A Jantar Mantar is a uniquely Indian artifact: a set of giant, building-sized instruments for taking precise astronomical measurements. They were built in the 1720s and ’30s by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur in several cities, including ones in Jaipur and Delhi, which still exist.
How to get there: Take the yellow line metro to Qutub Minar. Then try to get one of the autorickshaw drivers there to take you. They’re only interested in the lucrative Qutub Minar metro to monument shuttle run business, so they won’t want to. Also they probably don’t know where it is. Find an old man who speaks a bit of English and tell him where you want to go. Let him explain to the suspicious auto driver. Agree an extortionate rate for the return journey. Set off at a snail’s pace, because the auto has a punctured tyre, which the driver forgot to mention before you agreed to the deal. Pull over at a tyre shop. Take the spare wheel, which also has a puncture, to be fixed by the tyre wallah. When this is done, replace the punctured wheel with the newly fixed spare wheel. Don’t bother with a jack; the driver can just lift up one side of his vehicle while the mechanic replaces the wheel. Set off again, this time at a more reasonable speed. Stop repeatedly the entire way to ask for directions from locals, most of whom have no idea where it is, either. When you see an unsigned dirt track through a wasteground, take it. Ask some more locals hanging around a building site / slum. Turn around and go back the way you came. Take a different unsigned dirt path which forks off the first. If you’re surrounded by overgrown scrubland and piles of rubble, and you’re wondering where the hell you’ve taken yourself, keep going. Now you’re there.
Hauz Khas’s calligraphic decoration is in dire need of conservation work. But you can get a good thin crust pizza next door.
Where: About 10km south of central Delhi. The yellow metro line goes to Green Park or Hauz Khas stations but both are 10 minutes’ walk to the complex itself. Have fun asking people for directions, as the whole area is called Hauz Khas as well so you’ll just confuse them.
Tomb features: The tomb is part of a larger archaeological site, the remains of a complex built by Sultan Alauddin Khilji (reigned 1296-1316) and renovated by Firuz Shah Tughlaq. So there’s a whole bunch of old ruins to look at. And a stagnant reservoir. Next to it there’s a modern complex of upmarket boutique shops, bars and restaurants, which I think is the main reason my friend who took me there likes it so much. And beyond that, there’s a deer park. The tomb itself isn’t much to look at from the outside. The ceiling’s ok, with some painted calligraphy, but it’s a poor state of repair.
Summary: If you like to combine your tomb viewing with a bit of clothes shopping and a latte, this is the tomb for you. Otherwise you can give it a miss.
One of the annoying phrases I’ve grown used to in India is, “I’m a guard, not a guide.” This is the start of a sales pitch by a security guard for tour guide services in the place he’s supposed to be guarding.
Actually, it’s not the start of the sales pitch. The usual opening is for the guard to just walk up to you, and without any request or agreement, start talking to you about the site or exhibits. Usually he’s not going to add anything that isn’t already written on signs and labels, and any information that does go beyond that is of questionable accuracy anyway. So you don’t want him to do this, since he’ll expect some kind of payment afterwards if you go along with it. It’s when you first tell him, no, you don’t want his information, that he assures you he’s a “guard, not a guide”. That’s when he’ll start haggling for the price of his guide services.
If you’re providing guide services, and expecting payment for it, you are a guide. And while you’re guiding, or touting for it, you’re clearly not being a very good guard, either.