A Godly Dance at the Taj

I was barefoot like the rest of them.

The day must have been around 95 degrees and as stuffy as can be, but the cool marble seemed to keep me from being drenched in sweat. After a long walk, I had finally made it to the inner core of the Taj Mahal, around the main tomb structure where pilgrims from all over the country had gravitated. The faithful coiled in long lines and snaked their way around the complex, waiting patiently to reflect at the megamausoleum and communing with the god of their choice. How could a billion people be wrong?

When I travel, I actually always enjoy talking to Indians (or whoever) about their religion. Here is a little thing I do… I’m not sure it’s totally ethical since I say the same thing over and over, but I enjoy seeing people’s reaction as a probe a panoply of personalities. Inevitably, when I’m in a taxi or man-powered trike-mobile, there is some sort of deity that is jiggling about on the dashboard or handlebars. It can be anyone from Shiva to Brahma to Vishnu to Krishna to Ganesha and beyond.

So, I always ask, “Who is the god to whom you pay reverence?”

They respond quickly and directly, usually naming one from of the top ten from the pantheon of possibilities.

I respond back, in all seriousness, “Oh! He is a very powerful god!”

To this, they always turn to me and nod gravely.

My guide there was from no from one of the traditional Hindu sects — he was a Jain. The Jain don’t recognize the divine origins of the Vedas (made popular in the US from Oppenheimer’s re-quote after testing the Bomb), nor do they believe in any one supreme deity. They instead revere Tirthankaras who have raised themselves to divine perfection. So anyway, if you ever try out the little trick above, don’t bother with a Jain because they will just give you a funny look and a wobble of inconsequential solitude.

So if any of you get the chance to go, I recommend it.  The people are all nice as can be and very eager to engage in conversation about just about everything.  Or, of you’ve already been, then you know what I mean!

By the way, this comes from my new Lucis Tutorial.

A Godly Dance at the Taj

Stopping for a snack on the way to Agra

The road between Delhi and Agra is really somthin’ else. If you are not swerving around giant potholes, it could easily be a dead cow, a live cow, or something in between. It’s never good to make fun of the cows with your driver, so that is right out.

I’m adventurous on these things… probably too adventurous. I always like to try new foods, and I’ll eat about anything from street vendors. Usually if it looks thoroughly cooked, it generally won’t get me sick…I’ve developed a tough stomach, although I did end up getting a bit sick in Mumbai… but I think that is because I was dumb and let some mysterious ice melt in my cup.

It was a long drive to Agra, and in little towns, the traffic would slow. I occasionally jumped out of the car to get some little snack (and take photos, of course!). Here is one of an interesting chap that had some food I could not pronounce.

Stopping for a snack on the way to Agra

Spending Time Inside My Head

I do tend to distract myself, rather than have ample time to sit around and think about things. Why I drive myself to distraction is another matter altogether, but one that usually has delicious complications. And then I come across men like this one, several hundreds of miles north of Delhi in India. He has nothing but time to sit around and think about things. I wonder if he is able to better figure things out.

Spending Time Inside My Head

The Taj, Framed

I recently gave a few talks here in Austin (one at UT and one at ACC) about photography, this technique, and various other meandering topics on the brain and perception that I hope did not bore the crowd! This is one of the photos that we worked on during the class, so I thought I would upload to share with everyone!

I also provided a link to my tutorial in the class… here it is for those of you that are interested!

The Taj, Framed

The Private Entrance

This red-stoned temple had hundreds of tiny rooms scattered all over the grounds. The light streamed in from many angles to light up the walls and carved details. I only wish I was around 1000 years ago with my anachronistic digital camera… that would have been good, except for the no flickr part.

The Private Entrance

The Red Palacial Tower

Here within the sprawling palace of Akbar, just outside of Agra, is another intricately designed tower. The redness of everything was even hotter in the Indian sun, and the deep textures bled through.

The Red Palacial Tower

Hindu Daily Offerings

I was at a small temple between Agra and Delhi, and spent some time there, walking around and enjoying the sights and the people. Soon, some of these elders came along to make their daily offerings. I nodded to them with the camera, and I got a happy bobble back, so I followed them around a bit with the camera as they glided around the temple.

Hindu Daily Offerings

A Golden Afternoon

This was shot inside a nearly empty palace in the far north of India. As you all know (and probably agree), it is rather annoying to have tourists in these shots… unless that is part of the look you are a-goin for… which I rarely am! Anyway, this place was great…

I was barefoot for about 3 hours as I moved my way through the palace with tripod in tow….

A Golden Afternoon

The Secret Rooms of Akbar’s Palace at Fatehpur Sikri

It was a very long day that I spent in Akbar’s Palace. Early in the day I parted ways with my guide to walk around the grounds by myself. The palace was relatively empty, being a bit out of the hustle and bustle of Agra. Most everyone else tended to go over to the Taj, but I found the most delicate and beautiful parts to be in these oft-neglected quarters.

The Secret Rooms of Akbar's Palace at Fatehpur Sikri

Akbar’s Royal Bathing Chamber

Akbar the Great was quite a guy I am sure. This was shot in his palace near Agra. Most people go to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal, but in my estimation, this is a much more exotic and interesting place to explore.

Akbar's Royal Bathing Chamber

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