Feedback comments & review of the "Art & Culture of Northern India Study Tour" from 12/25/06 to 01/06/07 - The first tour of India organized by India Traveller LLC was the “Art & Culture of Northern India Study Tour” that was co-sponsored by the Division of Continuing & Global Education, the College of Arts & Humanities, California State University, Fresno, and the Fresno Art Museum. This study tour group of 33 participants was co-directed by Professor Joan Krejcar Sharma, Department of Art & Design, California State University, Fresno and Brijesh Sharma, owner of India Traveller LLC. It started from Los Angeles International Airport on December 25, 2006 and returned from New Delhi on January 6, 2007.
"I don't know how to thank you for organizing and managing the travel study. I know it was labor of love and took many many hours of your time. But I am sure it went a long way to increase the participants understanding and appreciation of the world."
Dr. Vida Samiian, Dean, College of Arts and Humanities,
California State University, Fresno, CA
COMMENTS OF THE PARTICIPANTS
As I look over our photos, I’m reminded of the diverse two weeks we had in India. Thanks to you both for making it all possible. The visits to the gardens and museums; the walks around the historic sites; and the nights at wonderful heritage hotels. Also you had us sample the various ways of getting around – bus, boat, jeep, train, elephant, and (by far the most fun) Ox Cart! Each day was filled with something new to see and learn. Thank you again for the memorable, incredible India Tour.
Mary F. M. & Paul O.
India was fantastic! I want to thank you both, and Mukul, for making this a memorable life experience. You three make quite a team and add to that Dara (the bus driver) and Kalu (bus driver’s assistant). I doubt that more than a few people would have seen and done as much as we did in so short a time. Brij, your love for India was palpable. I appreciate your and Joan’s efforts for making India alive for me. The Taj Mahal Hotel in Delhi exceeded my expectations. After Taj Mahal Hotel, my second favorite hotel was Deogarh Palace. I loved meeting the owners and the intricate maze of passageways, the views and the general ambience. A highlight for me: horseback riding with Joan, out in the countryside and through small village near Devgarh, that was special.
Kaye B. C.
The reception at the airport on arrival in New Delhi was very nice – we were met by Mukul and each of us presented with a long stemmed rose. The air-conditioned coach driver was excellent and several times had a cheering ovation. His assistant was also more than helpful. The Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi was quite the most luxurious hotel in which I have ever stayed. What a treat for two nights! All local guides were knowledgeable – an asset and valuable part of the tour. Our visit to India was an incredible and awesome experience. India is quite the most intriguing country I have ever visited. To start with I would like say that the tour was wonderful and far exceeded my expectations. I do want to thank you so much for all the thought and effort that was put into it to make it such a memorable experience for all of us.
The reception at the airport on arrival in New Delhi was excellent. Mukul met us and had every thing. The coach driver was excellent and the coach was comfortable. The Taj Mahal Hotel in Delhi exceeded my expectation. Everything was fabulous – the accommodation, service and facility. Deogarh Palace – great sense of history permeates the facility. It was a real treat to have a sit down lunch (outstanding meal) at the Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur. Enjoyed the cultural performance very much, especially the dance troop at the Zoroastrian Fire Temple and Dr. Sharma, the Sitar/Music teacher and her troop (guitar, drummer and the small sitar). All guides met our expectations. Would say that Devinder in Jaipur (Amber Palace Tour) was outstanding. I enjoyed the visit to India immensely and would recommend to my friends, would consider visiting another region of India.
At the airport we were directed to the coach, which was easily identified and boarded with assistance as needed. The driver and coach were excellent. The Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi was excellent, in fact it exceeded our expectations. Deogarh Palace was fascinating, I enjoyed walking down the village streets. The India study tour was certainly very educational. It makes one realize how others live. There are certainly many levels of hospitality in India and the country needs to help its poorer citizens.
The driver was great, very nice and the service was A+ and the bus was good. What can you say about the “Taj Mahal Hotel” in Delhi – the place is beautiful – I could have stayed all week there!! The meals at restaurants were great, enjoyed the restaurants and the service! I enjoyed the India Study Tour very much!! Would have liked to spend more time in each hotel.
I will always have wonderful memories of India because of you. Thank you for showing me a new culture and a better understanding for my Indian students in my art classes. The Taj Mahal Hotel in Delhi exceeded my expectations. I loved the Devgarh Palace Hotel the best. All meals were delicious and the service was great. My most memorable experience e in India was the journey to Amber Fort. We had taken planes, trains, busses, taxis, boats and oxen driven carts to get to and around India. But in Amber, we sat tall on platforms on top of elephant’s backs. Swaying from side to side, the strength and massiveness of these animals was felt with every step. Gently and quietly these large animals ascended to the Amber Fort and I, for one, felt humbled by their grace. India is place that I will remember, however, for its heart. I was thrilled to see the Taj Mahal for its architectural design but more amazed that this building was not a palace but a mausoleum for one person, the emperor’s queen. This is a real love story. It was worth waiting to see it and appreciate its lore. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to India. I would consider another region. All in all, the trip was more than I expected – it was incredible. Thank you.
Thanks so much for the all your hard work in making the India Trip happen. It was an amazing experience! I also want to say thanks especially for making Tamela’s birthday such a gala event. That was very special. Thanks again. Nice Coach, fast driver.
Autumn S. L.
We felt welcomed in India on arrival at airport in New Delhi. The bus driver was great. The Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi was memorable. Hotel Carlson in Jaipur was excellent. With the meals in restaurants we got a good taste of India. The musical entertainment was fun. Each guide was familiar with their area. It was a great, well organized.
Larry and Kay L.
In many ways Chaturmukh, the four-faced Jain temple at Ranakpur in the Aravali mountains, was the high point of the whole trip. Though there were many foreign tourists present, it seemed to be a real living temple. There were limits on the tourists. A distinction was being made between the general architecture and statuary (which we could take pictures of) and the sacred idols (which we could not). Also there seemed to be ordinary Jains coming in to make small offerings and perform ceremonies. Our guide was a 17th. generation priest of the place. If I remember correctly, the temple was founded in the 1400s. Could this be the original family of priests? After relating some of the history and some of the meanings of the sculptures, he gave us all a blessing, then his uncle chanted prayers for our safe return. There were one or two other men wearing the orange and red clothes of the priests who sat meditating beside some of the thousand pillars. The interior was like a forest with multiple levels and canopies and different entrances for the light. ....... Another prominent place of religious activity is the dashboards. Buses, cars and 3-wheelers are all equipped with miniature shrines for fervent prayer. Our Sikh bus-driver was no exception, keeping pictures of gurus up front, and saying a quick twilight prayer while driving through mountains. Driving in India seems to be fundamentally different than driving in America. Luck is more important than law; the horn is more important than the steering wheel. After all, when your bus is on the wrong side of the road passing another bus, with a third bus head-on, your steering wheel only controls your vehicle; the horn encourages the other two (or three) to move. Luck should be obvious. The relationship of luck to shrines is beyond the scope of this paper.
With all of our reasons and quests and interests we landed in New Delhi and over the course of the next 15 days proceeded to see vast portions of Northern India and Rajasthan, including Agra, Mathura, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Ranakpur, the village of Nimaj, Udaipur, Deogarh, Ajmer and finally back to New Delhi. One of the highlights of the trip was our journey to the Taj Mahal, it was absolutely breathtaking at my first glimpse of the silhouette at 6.30 am - the sheer beauty and magnitude of seeing the Taj from the courtyard actually took my breath away. We spent over three hours at the Taj Mahal, watching the sunrise over the massive white marble dome, walking around the gardens, courtyards and fountains, and going inside the main burial area of the Queen Mumtaj and Emperor Shahjahan - the sheer presence of the Taj Mahal is overwhelming. I am ready to travel back to India, more prepared than ever to bridge any cultural gaps, ready to travel to different states and different climates; ready to explore more of the diversity that is India.
S. Sky Sweet
REVIEW - ART & CULTURE OF NORTHERN INDIA STUDY TOUR – December 25, 2006 to January 6, 2007.
The University Journal (of the California State University, Fresno) issue of May 2006, Volume 9, number 9 in the ARTS section had published a brief article about this study tour. The “Collegian” newspaper of California State University, Fresno, ran an article “Fall trip to India to include elephant ride” in the, May 3, 2006 issue. A very interesting article by Guy Keeler was featured in the “Life” section of the “Fresno Bee” on Monday, May 22, 06.
The 13-day study tour began from the parking lot of Conley Art Building in Fresno with boarding the coach to Los Angeles airport. The Air India flight arrived at the Indira Gandhi International Airport New Delhi where our local representative in India greeted and presented each participant with a long-stemmed rose. After a short drive, we arrived at the “Taj Mahal Hotel” – one of India’s finest hotels where each group member was greeted with a Jasmine and Rose garland and offered a welcome drink in their café. The five star deluxe hotel is decorated with fine marble screens, fountains, beautiful woven carpets and massive enamel wall panels. It was one of the accommodation highlights of the tour. This is one of India's most and world's most luxurious hotels.
In Delhi, Brijesh guided the group through Qutub Minar – the ancient Hindu capital that was conquered by Muslim rulers in the 12th century CE. The monuments in this area were constructed with red sandstone. Unique carvings of Arabic calligraphy, created by Hindu artisans, adorn the walls and pillars in the complex. The Baha’i Lotus Temple, one of Delhi’s most photographed buildings was our next stop. We also visited the tomb of the second Mughal Emperor, Humayun. Architectural structures at this site resembled similar features that are in the world famous Taj Mahal in Agra. This mausoleum may have influenced the architects of the Taj Mahal. That evening we witnessed a selection of Indian classical and folk dances in the community hall of the Parsi Anjuman (the Zoroastrian fire temple of Delhi). We visited the National Museum in New Delhi that houses a fascinating collection of miniature paintings and manuscripts from India’s medieval period. It also has a wide variety of sculptures and architectural decorations from various regions of India. We saw the relics (Ashes) of Lord Buddha stored in an urn that was excavated in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
On the way from Delhi to Agra, we stopped in Mathura at the archaeological museum famous for its sandstone, marble and metal sculpture from the period of Kushan Dynasty that ruled northern India in the first century CE. The Kushans were originally Han Chinese who migrated westward towards Afghanistan during the second and third centuries BCE. In Afghanistan they married people of Greek origin who remained in the area after Alexander the Great returned to Macedonia. Over time their facial features began to resemble those of the Greeks and they converted to Hindu and Buddhist religions. The sculpture of this period depicts Buddha and a variety of Hindu deities. It is very notable that during their reign statues of Buddha had Greek features and were clad in flowing Greek robes.
Before entering Agra we visited “Sikandara”, the mausoleum of the third Mughal Emperor, Akbar. Beyond the main gate of “Sikandara”, vast geometric gardens are laid-out in typical Mughal “Charbagh” style. The main gate is more impressive than the mausoleum itself. This gate was added to the building complex during the reign of the fourth Mughal Emperor Jahangir. His Queen, Noor Jahan, of Persian origin influenced the design and architectural decorations on this gate. Noor Jahan was the aunt of Mumtaj Mahal, the queen for whom the fifth Mughal Emperor, Shahjahan, built the world famous Taj Mahal mausoleum. In Agra the study tour group stayed at Jaypee Palace Hotel, one of Agra's 5-star hotels. A classical music concert was presented in the exclusive conference hall of another 5-star Taj View Hotel, including three musicians: Dr. Lovely Sharma playing the Sitar, Prabhat Vashishtha on Tabla percussion instrument and Dr. Debasis Chakroborty playing on Slide Guitar, an Indian version of the Guitar.
The following day we left the hotel at the pre-dawn hour of 5.30 AM to witness sunrise over the Taj Mahal. As the rising sun illuminated the sky and warmed the air, the Taj Mahal glowed as it gradually emerged from the fog. It continually changed color during our three hour visit. Several participants were quite moved by the Taj Mahal. Brijesh guided the group in Agra and between the various cities in our itinerary. After touring this breathtakingly beautiful monument, we stopped at a factory where the descendents of the artisans who worked on the Taj Mahal more than three hundred years ago continue to create beautiful works of art in marble and other stone using similar tools and techniques as their forefathers. Before leaving Agra we stopped briefly below the white marble palaces in Agra Fort where the fifth Mughal Emperor, Shahjahan, was kept a prisoner during the last eight years of his life by his own son, Aurangzeb.
About one hour’s drive west of Agra is the other “World Heritage Site” that includes the palaces and the mosque of Fatehpur Sikri. The third Mughal Emperor, Akbar, established this capital in order to enjoy the company of a Sufi spiritual master, Sheikh Salim Chistie.
To express his appreciation he ordered the construction of a beautifully carved mausoleum for him. This Sufi saint had earlier prophesied that the emperor would have three sons. The architecture of this capital reflects the emperor’s exceptionally tolerant and liberal religious philosophy. According to Robert Finch, a British visitor to Emperor Akbar’s court in Fatehpur Sikri, no cities in Europe matched affluence of this Mughal capital. At its prime Fatehpur Sikri was larger than London during the same period. On the way to Jaipur the study tour had dinner in the courtyard of the heritage Laxmi Vilas Palace Hotel, a former private residence of the Maharaja of Bharatpur.
The next day, we drove through the rose pink city, Jaipur – a capital established by the Hindu Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in 1727. The plan of Jaipur was influenced by the founder’s interest in astronomy and by the ancient Hindu treatise on city planning called the “Shilpa Shastras”. To honor the visit of the Prince of Whales, Albert Edward in 1876, the facades of the entire city were painted with a locally available rose pink mineral paint. This tradition is still continuing, giving the city its popular name of Pink City.
We stopped in front of the “Hawa Mahal” or the Palace of Winds – actually it is not a palace but a viewing gallery that is only three feet deep. The balconies have finely carved sandstone lattice screens. Behind these screens the ladies of the royal family could watch the Maharaja’s ceremonial processions without being seen by the common public from outside. About 20 minutes north of Jaipur is the ancient capital of Amber. Before the new capital in Jaipur was established, the Kacchawaha Rajput rulers ruled from Amber. We rode beautifully decorated Elephants up a winding path to the hilltop palaces at Amber Fort accompanied by a folk musician playing a one stringed instrument.
The architecture of the buildings in the fort is an interesting blend of Hindu styles from Gujarat and Bengal with the Mughal architecture.
The palaces of Mirza Raja Jai Singh are especially interesting for their interior decoration that uses convex mirrors cut into various ornamental shapes and inlaid in plaster.
Jaipur is famous for its City Palace where descendents of the former royal family continue to live today. The public areas of this palace house India’s largest collection of Mughal and pre-Mughal miniature paintings and manuscripts written in Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic languages. Just outside the City Palace is Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh’s astronomical observatory. All but one of the 17 instruments in this impressive Astronomical Observatory still function. The large Sun-Dial here has an accuracy of 7 seconds.
Between Jaipur and Jodhpur, popularly known as the blue city, we savored our lunch in an ancient castle situated on a hilltop and surrounded by a small village named Nimaaj.
Upon arrival we boarded beautifully decorated ox-carts and went in a ceremonial procession, accompanied by a musical band, through the village to the castle. The people of the village lined the streets to welcome us. Later in Jodhpur we visited the famous hilltop fort of Mehrengarh to see relics from the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries.
Dara, our driver very skillfully drove the winding road through the high Aravali Mountains to the lush green valley in which the Chaturmukh Jain Temple of Ranakpur is located.
After our guided tour through the vast temple complex, the temple’s chief priest led our group in a guided meditation and blessings. This temple was constructed in the 15th century out of white marble and granite stone. Each pillar in its courtyards is unique in decoration from the other.
We visited Udaipur, the city of lakes and palaces next. After sightseeing at the Udaipur City Palace, we boarded decorated boats on the shore of Pichola Lake to arrive at the two hundred and sixty-three year’s old, Jag Niwas Lake Palace Hotel.
This hotel is located on an Island in a historic marble palace that served as the summer residence of the Maharanas of Udaipur. We enjoyed a sumptuous lunch in its historic restaurant. That evening a group of very talented local artists decorated the palms of interested members of our group with intricate designs in Henna paste called “Mehndi”. The following evening our group celebrated the birthday of one of our participants. It was a gala evening that included a live band, ceremonial torches in the garden and a massive fireworks that lasted almost half an hour.
A short drive north of Udaipur is the small ancient kingdom of Deogahr. Our group stayed in the beautifully renovated, hilltop castle of the former Raja of Deogahr. Participants commented that they would have loved to remain in this castle for a week. Some participants went horseback-riding throughout the surrounding villages while others explored the village Bazaar. After a drive to Jaipur, the participants boarded an air-conditioned express train back to Delhi to prepare for their return flight on January 6, 2007.
About 70 persons attended the India Study Tour Reunion at Fresno Art Museum on Sunday, April 29, 2007. Many study tour members displayed their photo albums and memoirs on their experience in India. Professor Joan Sharma, co-director of the study tour, presented a very interesting PowerPoint presentation accompanied with classical Indian Sarod music. Another participant, Autumn Sky Lencioni presented a very interesting video film footage taken while our coach was on the highway between various cities. Robert Kittredge talked about the tour while his wife, Diana read excerpts from her grand daughter, Lauren’s letter to her, describing the profound influence the India Study Tour had on her. Lauren could not attend the reunion because she is studying in San Diego State. Brijesh Sharma presented a 10-minute excerpt from his 60 minute film on the “Art & Culture of Northern India Study Tour in 2006-2007. The full film will be available to purchase shortly. Brijesh is working on a series of six films on cities of historical importance in India and these DVDs will be available to purchase in Autumn 2007. The Director of Fresno Art Museum, Carlos Martinez, appreciated that most of the study tour participants could manage to participate in the reunion. India Traveller LLC offered Indian snacks in the foyer of the museum.