Thursday, 28 February 2013

Old Cochin Paradesi Synagogue

When James went to Cochin last winter, he didn't get to take photos inside the city's long-surviving Jewish synagogue. On a separate trip, Sarah was fortunate to be allowed to snap a few pictures inside the little building that's on the tourist trail of Cochin.

The area's Jewish community is too small these days for regular services, but the synagogue, built in 1568, is still lovingly maintained.

The alley that leads to the synagogue. The actual temple is not the building at the end of the lane, but through the door on the left.

Inside the lovely, little synagogue, a mix of elements from many architectural styles.

Lighting is eclectic, a collection from various time periods, including chandeliers from Belgium. The collection of old torahs in the temple's ark.

The 18th century Chinese floor tiles are great, in the classic Asian porcelain style featuring nature scenes.

Gravestones dot the courtyard that surrounds the synagogue. A tablet from another Cochin synagogue, now gone, is embedded in the wall of this temple.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Ajanta Caves, Part 2

The Ajanta Caves are so vast and offer so much to explore, they require two entries.

Part two of the exterior view, this time looking back toward the beginning of the cave route.

The cave with the most impressive entrance. Besides the beautiful and detailed facade, take note of how set back it is from the original rock face. That's a tremendous amount of rock removal!

Inside, a beautiful and elaborately-carved hall and a stupa - a mound-like structure where Buddhists meditate - at the end of it.

Also in the same hall, detailed painting between arches.

Taking a little break outside.

The cave with the best carving, heavy in detail and intricacy.

Another view of the carving and a reclining Buddha in yet another cave. The Buddhists were busy!

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Ajanta Caves, Part 1

Outside Aurangabad, the Ajanta Caves date all the way back to 200 B.C. and are remarkable examples of ancient Buddhist architecture. The roughly 30 caves are a mix of temples and monasteries, where Buddhists did their meditation and their daily living, overlooking the Waghora River.

The caves required centuries of work to construct - and some were built as recently as the 5th and 6th centuries AD - and are incredibly well-preserved, especially considering their age, with some of the original paintings still visible. But they were forgotten for years and only rediscovered by a British tiger-hunting party in 1819, which found them when a tiger disappeared into one of the then brush-covered caves. Tourists have been able to visit them for the past 50 years.

Behold the impressive string of caves!

Remember, the temples are carved straight into the mountainside, no empty spaces later filled with stone. These columns seem innocent enough holding up a front entrance, but every empty space you see is removed stone. And then you walk inside and the accomplishment becomes absurd. Two hundred years of hand chiseling to create one of these chambers.

Ho-hum, when's lunch? The most impressive painting in the most impressive temple. Such fluidity and volume, hundreds of years before the Renaissance. You could have been huge in Europe!

The caves are on the outside of a big horseshoe bend in the river. This view is looking away from the center section of the caves toward the other side of the river. Quite a bend. And probably quite a river during monsoon. Yes, we were there during the height of the dry season.

Buddha is present in about a third of the temples. Another impressive detail of the paintwork.

Not all the temples are finished. Peeking into an unfinished temple gives you more respect for the effort needed to carve out a chamber. All the mounds in the photograph are sections still to be removed (but now never will be).

A final look out from inside a temple, a nice view.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Riding Royal Enfield

Royal Enfield is a motorcycle company based in Chennai, India. Obviously with "Royal" as part of its name, the origins of the manufacturer go back to Britain. They started in 1890, produced bicycles then moved onto motorcycles until ceasing production in 1970.

But many years before the company dissolved, it licensed Enfield to India and another company there started making motorcycles. By 1995, the Indian company bought the rights to the full Royal Enfield name and it's now the only place in the world that makes the Royal Enfield motorcycle. They're still so popular that there's a new factory being built, they export the bikes around the world and if you want one, get your name on the list and wait a year.

They're classy-looking bikes, the Harley for the subcontinent. Chennai has the only factory in the world that produces Royal Enfields. They offer tours a couple of times a month, a great chance to see a piece of Anglo-Indian history come to life.

The entrance sign, showing the classic font.

The complex is, shall we say, humble? It's small and old-school, maximizing Indian labor to put the bikes together.

Inside the factory, putting handle bars on.

Final inspections and a run on the dynomometer. That logo is impressive.

The pee-wee test track. Every new cycle gets a few laps.

The bike comes in a pseudo Indian army version, a nice look. A real Indian biker dude, looking just like a Harley rider.
Macho seal of approval. "Let's ride!"

Sunday, 24 February 2013

A Train Reservation In India

When you buy a train ticket in India, they like to know the name and age and gender of the passenger. They give you a paper ticket back with all the usual info of time, date, etc... and also an "M" or "F" and the age you gave. No name, but at least enough so the conductor can make some sort of match. We guess.

The best part of the system comes when you actually go to board the train. Cars and seats are reserved, so you need to stand at the right place on the platform and hop on the correct car. How do you know? Cars are labeled A-C, 1-4 or so. Maybe you're in car B2.

You get to B2 and it looks like this:

Hmm, it looks like there's some sort of paper pasted to the car by the door. Why?

It's the passenger manifest for that specific car. Really, with your name on it?

Yes! So funny. Here we are, traveling with James' sisters. A slight name miss-spelling, but there we all are, months after purchasing the tickets.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Rabbit Re-Color

Spring is just around the corner in Chennai, what better time to roll out the latest Rabbit fashion?

For this year's Rabbit trend, we proudly unveil our hero, re-colored in baby blue.

Looking good with new Tar-Heel ears and feet. Or had Rabbit been a girl all this time and now we finally meet Mr Rabbit? So confusing. And the penguins are in on the color change as well. It's a runaway trend!

A red Rabbit is still out there, hiding in miniature.

Oh, now we see. It's the goats that get to wear red. So hard to stay current in India!

Friday, 22 February 2013

Taipei's Longshan Temple

What's a visit to an Asian city without a temple trip? In Taipei, the place to go is the oldest temple, Longshan Temple. Originally built in 1738, Longshan has been renovated and partly rebuilt after bombing during World War II. It's a Buddhist temple, but plenty of other deities are also present.

The front courtyard, as classic as Asian temple architecture gets.

Another classic touch, a hanging lamp at the entrance. The atmospheric vibe inside.

Lining up for prayers.

One of dozens of alcoves available for prayer. On the right, a sample of a typical offering. The gifts can be substantial, as if someone emptied several bouquets of flowers and a shopping cart.

Two more looks at the busy prayer scene.