Chennai Journal
Sunday, February 26, 2006
An Indian Wedding
On Saturday night I went to the reception and on Sunday to the wedding of one of my employees. This is my fourth or fifth Hindu reception/wedding since coming here, and all of them have been slightly different. I am told that the customs depend on the caste and traditions of the bride and groom's family, and also vary significantly by region. In this case the reception took place before the wedding, which had to be at the most auspicious timing of between 7:30 and 9 a.m. this morning. The ceremony took place under a great canopy, almost like a chuppah, where the parents washed the couple's feet with milk, followed by a ceremony with fire and pans of rice, coconuts, and other grains and fruits. These were passed around by the priests so that everyone could touch them. The bride and groom fed each other sweets, and the groom also washed the bride's feet--for what the man next to me joked was the first and last time. .

In other news.....we sold the house!!! It has been sitting on the market for over a year, and we took a bath, but we are rid of it. I won't be buying any more real estate in the Detroit area even when we go back---it's just too hard to unload it with all the downsizing in the auto and other sectors. Even Ann Arbor is in the dumps from what we hear.

As a followup to the our North India trip, an interesting and random tidbit about the Taj Mahal. Last week, I gave one of our employees who missed the bus a ride into town, and he was telling me some fascinating stories. One of them was about the architect of the Taj Mahal, who you'll recall from my last post had his hands cut off by the Emperor to prevent him from duplicating his feat. According to the story, the architect knew that this would be his fate, and when the Emperor called him to the palace, he said that there was still one finishing touch he needed to put on the Taj Mahal---would the Emperor permit him to do it first? The Emperor consented.

After his last visit to the site, it was noticed that whenever it rains, water forms on the casket of the queen, which is located in the very center of the Taj. Attendents had to start wiping the casket during and after rainfall. Yet--to this day--no one has been able to discover where the leak is coming from. It was the architect's final act of genius.

Saturday, February 18, 2006
More on Travels North--and South

After visiting the Taj Mahal, we drove to Jaipur, where we toured a famous fort (a letdown after the Taj) and visited the market, a several block area lined with shops selling textiles, gems, jewelry, and tons of other stuff. It is filled with colorful scenes of local people (see the picture) also shopping for foodstuffs and clothing. Harry managed to buy most of the jewelry so there wasn't too much left over for the rest of us! We enjoyed one of the two hotels we stayed in, the Raj Mahal Palace which is a converted palace dating from British times, displaying pictures of visits by Jackie Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth (also photographed on an elephant, which was a hoot). We stumbled onto it after a miserable night in another hotel called the Jaipur Palace, which was anything but...

Arriving back in Delhi we had only a couple of hours before nightfall, and decided to visit the Bahai temple located on the ring road on the same side of town as our hotel. You may recall Bahai from the 70s, when they did a fair amount of proselytizing in the States (not to be confused with the airport jinglebells of Hare Krishna, which is a whole different group). Bahai is an offshoot of Sh'ite Islam, and preaches universal brotherhood--somewhat similar to Unitarian Universalism. The temple, in the form of a lotus, is open to visitors but you have to deposit your shoes before entering. It is a peaceful place and conducive to meditation---no talking is allowed once you enter.

Harry and I tried to fly to Trivandrum at the very south of India on the western coast the next morning, but Delhi was socked in by fog and altogether we had a 7 hour delay arriving at our destination, Somatheeram. Somatheeram is one of a series of ayurvedic resorts in Kerala and Goa, and it was beautiful. The entire resort is made from restored Kerala homes, which are ornate wood structures using interlocking boards instead of nails. (The picture below, which doesn't really do the place justice, is a shot to the entrance of one of our rooms.)

An observation o f Somatheeram is that it is something of a European enclave---the place was filled with Germans, French, Italians, and only a very few Indians. I talked to a co-worker when I returned and he said that the situation was similar at another resort he visited in the same area. The couple that shared the room next to mine was from Belgium---he was a retired director of European Parliament, and he and his wife, who were in their late fifties, had come to Somatheeram for three weeks of Ayurvedic treatment. Most of the other guests were there for a similar duration--we were among the few weekend guests.

Part of the philosophy behind Ayurveda is healing through the removal of toxins from the body and the methodology classifies people into three body types, Vata, Pitha, and Kapha. In reality most people are a combination of the three, and an Ayurvedic doctor will prescribe different dietary measures, massages, and herbal medicines to adjust the balance and do healing for whatever type you are (and the nature of any disorder). There is not much they can do for you in two days, but both Harry and I had massages and I had a treatment called Shirodhara, where they drip warm oil on your forehead for 30-40 minutes. This was very relaxing and almost put me in a trance, but also turned my hair into butter--it took several washings to get the oil out.

Sunday, February 12, 2006
Travels North--The Taj Mahal

Nothing prepares you for the Taj Mahal. The picture shown here, proving that Marty, Harry, Roberta and I were there, is but a prosaic representation of the testament of love, called by one writer "a tear on the face of eternity", that attracts visitors from all over the world. It's truly awe inspiring.

We arrived in Agra at night, and rose before daybreak to visit the Taj at dawn--and to watch its hues and colors unfold over the next three hours or so. Like other visitors, I probably have a hundred photos from various angles, but all of us also took time just to enjoy the experience of being there. Later in the day, we viewed it from across the river, enshrouded in a gentle mist that had descended over the city.

So many words have been written that there are few that I can add, but I think what makes the Taj Mahal so compelling, in addition to its great beauty, is the sense of the emotion, sacrifice and sheer logistics in its creation that seems still to permeate the place. The passion of the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, who commissioned the Taj as a tribute to his dead wife, the genius of the architect whose hands were cut off so he could not duplicate his feat, the 20,000 men, many of them skilled stonecarvers who had to be brought from Iran to labor for 20 years--the Taj was created by the love, intelligence, sweat and brutality of men, but there also seems to be a spark of the divine in a thing of such beauty.

From Agra we went to Keoladeo National Park where we spent a peaceful morning bird watching on the waters and woods of the park and then to Jaipur. From Jaipur we drove back to Delhi where Marty and Roberta returned to Chennai and Harry and I went to Trivandrum to the Somatheeram Ayurvedic Resort--more on these in the next post.

Saturday, February 04, 2006
Travel to the North
You may have read about the airport strikes in Mumbai and Delhi, as the government airport workers are protesting plans to modernize both airports. When I left Chennai on Thursday afternoon, there were sit-down protesters but no disruption to the flights or problems arriving in Mumbai where I'm spending a couple of days for a conference and visiting our regional office. The strikes are supposed to end today.

Harry arrived in Chennai early Friday morning and we are all going up to Delhi for a several days travel in the Golden Triangle--the Taj Mahal, Jaipur, etc. Harry & I will also fly to Trivandrum for a yoga weekend....

Will write more when back in Chennai.

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