More to Mysore than a Palace…Much More

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Apr 192012

Today started early with a temple visit. We are developing more practiced eyes for distinguishing the different styles, schools of architecture and periods.

Somnathpur Keshava temple is an hour drive outside of Mysore. This less-visited temple is a remarkably well-preserved example of Hoysala architeture. Built in the 13th-century It is a symmetrical star-shaped building, carved of soapstone both inside and out with ornate images of Hindu legends and gods. Each of the six points of the star were carved by a different master carver, his apprentices and family so each is a distinctly different interpretation of the same themes. it was only used as an active temple for 100 years because India was over run by the Mogul armies who defaced many of these exquisite carvings just like the Christians did in Egypt.

The drive was almost as interesting as the monuments. A local farmer gave us a tour of his village in his bullock cart. We chatted with local women headed to the river to take their bath and we saw how a local entrepreneur could set up his own temple and promote himself.
Lunch was in a castle, the distinctly European Lalitha Mahal Palace. Built by the last raj in 1915 to house his other raj buds or visiting international dignitaries, it is an attempt to emulate British or European royal palaces.

In the afternoon we took in the ornate, pink marble-domed Mysore Palace, the former residence of the local maharaja’s family The term “Mysore Palace” specifically refers to one within the old fort. The Wodeyar rulers first built a palace in Mysore in the 14th century, it was demolished and constructed multiple times. The current palace construction was commissioned in 1897, and it was completed in 1912 and expanded later around 1940

Intricately carved rosewood doors and ceilings some with inlaid ivory work, marble figurines, collections of caskets, paintings of the members of the royal family and other objects of personal use exude opulence, though age has deteriorated most with fading and discoloration. An abundance of ancient ceremonial objects like glittering gold and wooden frames that once composed an elephant’s train for carrying royalty and other persons of distinction throughout Mysore’s ancient streets.

Cochin or Kochi…

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Apr 192012

Out before breakfast we catch a ferry to start exploring Cochin city proper…

Along with worshippers headed to temple this morning to celebrate the Hindu New Year, we rode the ferry to an island adjacent to where we are staying. We had a good view of Kochin’s signature Chinese fishing nets and the sunrise over the harbor.

Kochi merchants began trading in spices with the Arabs, Dutch, Phoenicians, Portuguese, and Chinese more than 600 years ago. This helped Kochi to prosper and to become the gateway to old India. It was from Kochi that colonization of India started. Kochi was traditionally a potpourri of various Indian and international communities. Syrian Christians started the first wave of immigration, followed by Jews between the 7th and 10th centuries. Arab merchants also made a strong settlement in Kochi in the 15th century, But it was in the early part of the 19th century when the Dutch built a series of check dams and canals still in use today, that the brackish backwater was transformed into highly productive farmland.

The Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1814, forced the Dutch to hand over Kochi to the British in exchange for an island in Indonesia. The British then confined their influence over Kochi, limiting their direct administration to a small enclave of Fort Kochi close to our hotel.

Modern Kochi city really got underway when Sir Robert Bristow, a senior Royal Navy Engineer felt need of a modern large port after the opening of Suez Canal. This made creation of largest man-made island of the country, the Willingdon Island to house new Kochi Port.

The most recent political evolution created the formation of Kerala in 1957 as a part of India. Kochi has been the commercial capital of Kerala

The colonial charms of Fort Kochi with arrays of traditional European bungalows and alleys are testimony to the former British, Dutch and Portuguese presence.
Generally, Kochinites seem to pride themselves on being modern and fashionable. As a city that has a tradition of being a melting pot culture, they show a high level of tolerance with each tradition shown equal respect. It is a festival weekend for the Hindus who are celebrating the beginning of their new year and on Sunday morning Christian churches are filled to overflowing.







Gone to Goa…

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Apr 192012

After an over priced experience in Bangalore we have been delighted by the sights and accommodations here in Goa.

The monuments of Goa that we visited today were great examples of 16th-18th century architecture, sculpture, and painting Baroque art as it spread throughout Asia wherever Catholic missions were established. The churches in Old Goa sought to awe the local population into conversion and to impress upon them the superiority of the foreign religion being introduced. To that end the facades were built tall and lofty and the interiors were magnificent, with twisted Bernini columns, decorated pediments, profusely carved and gilded altars, and colourful wall paintings and frescoes.

Local laterite was used in the construction of the churches. it was then plastered and finished with a lime whitewash. Trims were sometimes of basalt. The colour white was so identified with churches that the local administration ruled that no home could be painted that colour.
Of the 60 churches inventoried in the 18th century before the city was abandoned, seven major examples survive. The Sé Cathedral with its Tuscan exterior, Corinthian columns, raised platform with steps leading to the entrance, and barrel-vault is another example of Renaissance architecture. The paintings in the church were executed on wooden boards and fixed between panels with floral designs. Except for a few statues which are in stone, most of the other statues of the saints, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus were first carved in wood and then painted to adorn the altars.

The Chapel of St Catherine dating from 1510, the Church and Convent of Saint Francis of Assisi (which now houses the Archaeological Museum), and the Church of Bom Jesus where the mortal remains of St Francis Xavier rest, are some of the best in terms of design and style. Also of importance are St Gagtan and its seminary, Our Lady of the Rosary (one of the earliest churches to be built), and the Tower of St Augustine, all that remains of a convent built in 1572. The Church of St Cajetan has a facade decorated with lonic, Doric, and Corinthian pilasters.

The Portuguese explorer Alfonso de Albuquerque conquered Goa in 1510 and the Portuguese ruled the territory until 1961. The colony of Goa, which has its centre in Old Goa (tomorrow’s walkabout) became the capital of the vast eastern Portuguese Empire, sharing the same civic privileges as Lisbon. By 1635, the successive waves of Europeans brought about the inevitable decline of Goa in 1542 the Jesuits, who were driven by the ardour of medieval crusaders, arrived in the city and Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Society of Jesus, rapidly became the patron saint of Goa. a.






To and From Bangalore…Across Karnataka

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Apr 182012

An early morning flight from Kochin to Bangalore was easy and smooth taking less flying time than crossing Kochin in the morning traffic. We landed at an airport built since we were here six years ago. Immediately we noticed drier air and cooler temperatures but the astounding and famous building boom in Bangalore had the biggest impact.

Our comfortable coach joined the mad morning rush hour commuter traffic and negotiated the perimeter road skirting high rise Bangalore and we headed north to Mysore. Braking and beeping we made it through miles of highway construction and morning congestion onto a smooth road headed north through rice fields, sugar cane, banana plantations, small truck farms and livestock. What amazing contrasts!

Lots of delicious street delicacies today! Pooris (puffed wheat bread) served with sambar and chutneys, a scrumptious snack served to us along with lots of Indian families traveling.

As we arrived in Mysore people were heading to market to buy food for dinner and we joined in the bustle. A ride through the the colonial neighborhoods and by the two palaces gave us glimpse into how this mini-London of India pandered to both the Raj and the English who were stationed here or here for the East India Company. (two separate Mysore blogs.)

Two full days in Mysore and our final day of our main trip we were back on the road to Bangalore. Our coach left Mysore after breakfast.  It was a fresh morning with the dust washed off everything by last night’s rain . We made fun stops all along the way. The first was to see the ruined fort where Cornwallis redeemed his American humiliation by defeating the Moguls and bringing India under English/East India Company control. The battle ruins are in a village where we daily village life going on without any notion of the surrounding history–just a daily river bath.

A three day cattle market was well underway, colorful and filled with interesting transactions. Farmers were shopping and negotiating for handsome bullock pairs and stud stock. Offers are made via hand gestures done under a towel or cloth so the price is secret between buyer and seller.

A coconut central market where the farmers brought their harvests to sell and be distributed throughout the region. Local coconuts are shipped via brilliantly decorated trucks to population centers in north that don’t grow them. Small plantation owners bring in their harvested crops and sell them at auction. Coconuts are a staple in Indian cooking for most meals whether curries or chutneys.A small village sugar making process was underway and we were welcomed into observe.

Our final stop was a village Hindu wedding then straight on to downtown Bangalore.

We flew to Goa mid-morning of the next day.

(Double click on the first image to begin a slide show)

Kochin In Extremes…

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Apr 152012

Today began with a sunrise visit to a government subsidized laundry housed in a former British stable. Dalits (untouchables) rent stalls which includes a cement wash tub, running water and a storage closet for storing the clean folded items. Locals and/or hotels and businesses either drop off or the Dalits pick up and deliver the laundry. They wash every item by hand, solar dry on vast lines, fold and deliver. Fifty men and ten women are the last of Kochin’s Dalits to labor in this way washing machines and dryers replace them.

Following breakfast and before the sultry heat overcomes us, we visit remnants of the melting pot culture that emerged here as a result of the spice trade all located in the blend of Dutch and English architecture for which Cochin is known. We started with St. Francis Church, original burial place of Vasco da Gama. We then walked around the corner to the old Jewish quarter, Jew Town, once the center of the spice trade and home today to one of the world’s oldest Jewish populations. The Pardesi Synagogue, which was founded in 1568, today is abandoned as a result of Indian independence and the establishment of Israel. The main sanctuary has a gorgeous Cantonese floor tiled with 1,500 hand painted blue and white “blue willow” tiles laid about 200 years ago. An odd variety of Venetian glass chandeliers hang from the high false ceiling. This odd potpourri was donated by wealthy Jewish families over life of the synagogue.

The Mattancherry Palace, commonly known as the Dutch Palace is a stones throw away and represents yet another caste or group existing side by side. Originally built for the local maharaja by the Portuguese to create a buffer between their Portuguese commercial sea trading interests and the Nair dynastic interests, it has walls covered with vibrant Hindi murals and a fascinating gallery of oil portaits of a series of ten or more Maharajas mimicking European royalty of the same period.

Another informative exhibit explained that saris as they are worn today is fairly recent style in the stifling climate of south India. Before the reign of Queen Victoria, native women and men went bare breasted.