aboutWe are Akila and Patrick. Our minds (and waistlines) expand as we travel, cook, and eat our way around the world with our two dogs.
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Tag: Temples Artifacts
airavatesvara temple
beauty in kumbakonam

Gopuram in Kumbakonam

Temple in India
Upiliappan Temple Upiliappan Temple

Kumbakonam Adi Kumbeswara and Upiliappan temple interior

"What should we see in Kumbakonam?"  I asked my cousin, as we planned our family excursion through South India.  There would be 13 of us traveling, ranging in age from my 94-year-old grandfather to Amara, our not yet 1 year old, packed in a mini-bus to see the best of Puducherry, Kumbakonam, and Tanjore in one week.   

"Temples, of course," he responded.  Kumbakonam is a town of temples so his answer was no surprise.  Almost 200 temples are packed into this 25 square mile town at the intersection of the Kaveri and Arasalar Rivers, deep in Tamil Nadu, the most southern portion of India. 

Adi Kumbeswara Temple

Detailing on the gopuram of the Adi Kumbeswara Temple

My cousin reeled off the names of temples, each with both historical and religious significance.  But, there was one I found in my Internet research that he never mentioned.  "What about Airavatesvara Temple?" I said, stumbling over the long word. 

"I don't know it," he responded.  He paused for a second and said, "It must not be very important.  It is named for Indra's white elephant --- the steed that carried the Lord of the Devas."  My grandmother whose earliest childhood memories are swimming in the Kaveri River and going to school in Kumbakonam, didn't know the Airavatesvara Temple.  No one in my extended family --- most of whom visit South Indian temples on their holidays --- had heard of Airavatesvara, either.

But, I insisted that we go and visit.  It was listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Wikipedia page made it sound interesting and, after all, it was only a few miles away from our hotel.

Adi Kumbeswara Temple

Elephant blessing at Adi Kumbeswara Elephant blessing me and Amara

Elephant blessing at the Adi Kumbeswara Temple

We reached Airavatesvara after a long day visiting temples, temples, and more temples, each blending into the other.  Amara was tired and annoyed and both Patrick and I were pretty unimpressed by that point. 

There's a difference, you see, between visiting temples for their religious value and visiting, as we did, for purely the aesthetic and archaeological interest. 

Airavateswara Temple sunset

Airavateswara Temple sunset

My extended family is religious in a way that I will never be.  It's something that I think comes with growing up in India whereas growing up in the United States.  Religion in India is not optional.  There is no delineation between church (or temple) and state.  Religion is integral and integrated into every part of every day life in India.

Tanjore Temple
Tanjore Big Temple Tanjore Big Temple
Tanjore Big Temple Tanjore Big Temple

Tanjore Brihadisvara Temple

In Chennai, we woke in the morning to the sound of bells clanging at the temple.  Our auto rickshaw drivers had small pictures of Vishnu, Lakshmi, or Shiva on their dashboards.  Every store has a small shrine in it, as does every home have a puja or prayer room set aside.  My extended family avoids garlic and onions on certain days of the week and avoids meat altogether.  Muslims are equally devout at their mosques as are the Christians at their churches.  It is a country where religion pervades every moment of every day.

And, Indians are passionate about their temples.  At the busier and more important temples, such as the Tanjore Brihadisvara Temple, the packed crowds suffocate me.  One of my earliest memories of India is a frantic devotee pushing my seven year old self to the ground inside the Mysore Chamundi Temple so that she could get a closer glimpse of the Goddess.  Even now, as an adult, though I use my elbows to mark my own space, the press of unwashed, undeodoranted people in the stifling interiors nauseates me.  And for what?  The crowds come together for a momentary glimpse of a tiny statue or figure in semi-darkness.

Amara at the Tanjore Big temple Amara at the Tanjore Temple
Patrick and Amara at the Tanjore temple Patrick and Amara at the Tanjore temple

Patrick and Amara at the Tanjore Temple

Devoutness to the point of fanaticism does not appeal to me, which is perhaps why I have never truly appreciated the large South Indian temples.  I can admire the gopuram, the intricately carved exterior pillar at the top of the temple, and the exterior painting.  But, in most temples, the interior has been built on the original structure, over and over again, so that the ancient beauty of the temple is lost in expansions of cement and ceramic tile.  Others are rarely cleaned, leaving grease marks at the bottom of my feet as I walk through their interiors.

Airavatesvara Temple Airavatesvara Temple
Airavatesvara Temple Airavatesvara Temple

Airavatesvara Temple

But, then, we arrived at the Airavatesvara Temple.  It flew in the face of everything I've ever known --- or thought I've known --- about South Indian temples.  It was built in the 12th century by the powerful Chola empire, who ruled much of present day India and many of the surrounding islands from their headquarters in present day Tamil Nadu.  The Chola empire might hold the record for the longest dynasty in history: this family ruled southern India for almost 1,500 years, beginning in the 3rd century BCE until the late 13th century AD.

The Cholas believed in building, trading, and the proliferation of art and music.  Much of the Hindu art and belief in Southeast Asia, including the adoption of the Ramayana by the Thai, was due to the efforts of traders, artisans, and teachers during the Chola empire.  But, empires crumble and temples disappear.

Airavatesvara Temple

Airavatesvara gopuram

There are three --- only three --- of the great Chola temples still standing and without remodel, reconstruction, or alteration since the days of the Chola kings.  The three temples have been listed together as the "Great Living Chola Temples" as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and include the Tanjore Brihadisvara Temple, the Airavatesvara Temple, and the temple at Gangaikondacholapuram (yes, that's a mouthful) near the Ganges River.  (This has a great list of the Chola temples found in Bangalore though all of these temples have been renovated, refurbished, or repainted, so it is difficult to differentiate what was original versus modern.) 

. . . keep reading airavatesvara temple in kumbakonam after the jump

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acropolis in progress
mammoth construction zone

Acropolis Athens

Acropolis (and partial view of the scaffolding)

I mentioned a while back that Patrick and I weren't all that impressed with Greece.  A large part of that unenthusiasm related to Athens and the Acropolis.  If you'd asked me before I went to Greece what is the number-one-must-see attraction in the country, I would have said the Acropolis of Athens.  Right?  It's the one Greek monument that everyone knows.  It's the one attraction we were most excited to see.

 Acropolis views
 Acropolis  Views from the Acropolis

 Views from the Acropolis

You have to understand that Patrick and I love, love, love ruined architecture.  I can see the place as it once was, so many years ago, with the walls standing, the floors in bright mosaics and tiles. 

Amphitheatre outside the Acropolis

Amphitheatre outside the Acropolis

At Pompeii, we walked amongst the ancient common man, so much like us though long since dead.  At Ephesus, we marvelled at the splendors of the ancients.  And, in the tiny town of Ivailovgrad, Bulgaria, we were amazed by intricate floor tiles created centuries ago.  We love ruins, even when nature takes over, destroying the artistry of man.

Acropolis view
The reconstructed temple View of the Acropolis from the Acropolis museum
Walking up to the Acropolis

Acropolis restoration (note the reconstructed Temple of Athena Nike, with the integration of the original stones)

But, the Acropolis in Athens is no testament to ancient man's work.  Right now, it's very much a work in progress.  Cranes and scaffolding cover most of the buildings and tourists are prevented from entering the interior.  Several of the surrounding temples have been dismantled and are being reassembled.  

Acropolis restoration

Acropolis

Acropolis restoration and scaffolding and a restored temple

There are a lot of issues surrounding the restoration project, not least of which whether or not the Greek government has the funds to finish the work.  So far, the UN has paid for 50% of the restoration project (currently running around $90 million.) 

. . . keep reading standing at the acropolis after the jump

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humbling pompeii
roman living

Pompeii

View of Pompeii Amphitheatre

I've never seen a picture of Pompeii that did it justice.  In fact, before going to Pompeii, I questioned whether it was worth the time and energy to go there.  The architecture looked less impressive than the ancient architecture in Rome at the Pantheon, the Roman Forum, and the Colosseum.  The scenery was less stunning than that of the gorgeous blue and yellow Amalfi Coast.  But, we went because we were staying in Sorrento, were only 45 minutes away from Pompeii, and it seemed foolish to miss one of Italy's most popular attractions. 

Pompeii mosaic Pompeii mosaic
Pompeii walls Akila at Pompeii

 

Walking through the streets of Pompeii

And, I'll be the first to admit that our pictures don't do this place justice.  What's missing from the photography is a sense of the vastness of this place.  Pompeii was a living, breathing city with a population of around 10,000 people in about five square miles before 769 AD.  To put that into perspective, that's about the population density of New Orleans, Sydney, or Montreal today, and more dense than Miami, Antwerp, and Las Vegas.  Of course, our cities today are much larger than five square miles but, when we went there, we could feel how the city once bustled.

Pompeii baking Pompeii ovens
Oven Pompeii Pompeii oven

Cafe/restaurant; bakery and ovens

We started at the less touristed side of the city, at the point where most of the populace lived, and walked all the way to the main public areas at the far side of the city.  Like New York or Sydney or any major city today, Pompeii had places for worship, markets, government buildings, and public arenas and amphitheatres.  It had more than 33 bakeries with huge lava mills, turned by donkeys to grind the wheat, and ovens in which the bakers brought out thick flat bread, cut into wedges and sold to the citizens.  It had over 200 cafes where Pompeii citizenry --- especially the poor --- sat at long bars to eat from food ladled out of large jars set into the marble counters (kind of like a buffet).

Akila at Pompeii Pompeii streets
Pompeii

Houses in Pompeii

We walked for hours.  Hours and hours.  Into and out of houses.  Into and out of mansions.  Through gardens with fountains.  Through gardens with statues of gods and goddesses at the center.  Through places where there were vineyards.  Into mammoth buildings where judges and politicians discussed and determined the way in which the rest of the Pompeiians should live, while those ordinary citizens went about their business, raising families, improving their homes, and generally living the best lives they could.

Pompeii roads Pompeii fountain
 Pompeii

Marble and temples

It wasn't long before we realized that these people --- these people who lived over 1,500 years ago --- weren't all that different from us.

 

. . . keep reading humbling pompeii after the jump

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prague in black and white
timeless grandeur

Prague buildings in black and white

Street in Prague

We don't often do black and white photography largely because I love color.  I love the juxtaposition of bright against light, sky against tree, and strong against weak.  One of my all time favorite photo spreads on our site is this one with the children and balloons, done in black and white, with pops of color, because the color almost springs out of the computer.  And, our penchant for bright and vivid colors is the reason that we're constantly posting about flowers, trees, gardens, and flower festivals.

But, one of the biggest benefits of black and white photography is its timelessness.  If you look at an old photo in color, you can easily determine the decade in which it was taken by the type of color and the use of the lens.  But, the pictures we took recently in Prague in black and white could have been taken a decade ago or longer.  In monochrome, our eyes aren't distracted by the newness or oldness of the camera technology or other camera distortions.  (It's only a small part of the reason why Ansel Adams' gorgeous scenery photographs looks like it was taken yesterday.)

When I started going through our photography for Prague, I realized that I had to do a photo spread in black and white because Prague has this same sense of timelessness.  Buildings and cobblestone streets are perfectly preserved, down to the ruts used for horse-drawn carriage in the Stare Mestro (Old Town).  A little further away, the city becomes stark and square, with odd monuments built to celebrate Communism and the Communist regime.  There are very few buildings (other than the famous Tancici Dum or Dancing Building) that embrace modern steel and glass.  The city seems to have stood still, with parts of it squarely stuck in the 14th century and others in the pre-Cold War era.

 

Prague building in black and white
Prague cathedral Prague clock tower

Prague black & white

Prague in black and white church Prague fountain
Prague Communist monument
 Prague in black and white
 Prague church in black and white 

. . . keep reading prague in black and white after the jump

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June 2012


beyond sultanahmet
istanbul's diverse neighborhoods
June 13, 2012

May 2012


intersecting cultures at hagia sophia
with context istanbul
May 29, 2012

portrait of pisa
leaning and straight
May 4, 2012

April 2012


the abbey of san galgano
beauty in ruins
April 27, 2012

opulent opera house
in budapest
April 10, 2012

March 2012


gaudi's personal cathedral
stunning sagrada familia
March 1, 2012

February 2012


casa batllo
gaudi's genius
February 23, 2012

December 2011


the magic of stonehenge
prehistoric secrets
December 6, 2011

September 2011


weekly photo: bonaventure cemetery
in savannah
September 16, 2011

November 2010


crazy politicians
the terracotta army
November 10, 2010

October 2010


when travel sucks
datong to hohhot
October 29, 2010

progress hungers
yungang grottoes and datong
October 7, 2010

September 2010


favorite world expo pavilions
surprising beauty
September 07, 2010

how to do world expo 2010
in shanghai
September 03, 2010

August 2010


arts and crafts
in beijing
August 31, 2010

1.3 billion people
and beijing
August 27, 2010

rainbow beijing
colors in a city
August 24, 2010

the locals' route
at the great wall
August 20, 2010

south korea in a whirlwind
1 week around
August 10, 2010

July 2010


paper cranes and peace
hiroshima
July 23, 2010

buddha deer
nara
July 18, 2010

12 hours in nikko
day trippin'
July 1, 2010

June 2010


kyoto for free
japan on a budget
June 22, 2010

kyoto in photos
streets and gardens
June 15, 2010

rainy days
in tokyo
June 8, 2010

April 2010


unexceptional wonder
kompong chhnang
April 20, 2010

how to avoid temple fatigue
in 5 easy steps
April 14, 2010

March 2010


art of man, power of nature
at angkor
March 31, 2010

just another city
bangkok
March 9, 2010

how to not be a stupid tourist in thailand
March 4, 2010

February 2010


sukhothai in sepia
filtered ruins
February 19, 2010

January 2010


unexpected funeral
at wat chedi luang
January 26, 2010

pongal
at mahabalipuram
January 22, 2010

December 2009


hobbit hunting
across new zealand
December 29, 2009

July 2009


orvieto
walking in sunshine
July 16, 2009

June 2009


florence
ready to go
June 9, 2009

florence
the duomo
June 6, 2009

florence
overstuffed
June 3, 2009

pisa
when the sun goes down
June 1, 2009