Faculty Tour of India & Thailand
December 1992-January 1993
n 1992, the Washington State University program World Civilizations sent a group of teaching faculty to India led by history professor Fritz Blackwell. This was the second tour sponsored by World Civ to be funded partly by an NEH grant secured under the leadership of director Richard Law. The idea was to provide teachers of our world civilizations courses first-hand experience with the countries they would be teaching about. This program is a rarity, in that institutional resources were used to promote study abroad that was not aimed at research or international programs, but an enhancing undergraduate teaching.
Because my way had been paid on an earlier trip to China, I didn’t qualify for a subsidy this time, but it seemed like the chance of a lifetime, so we dug up the money to take our whole family: my wife, Paula Elliot, and my daughter, Megan. Altogether seven people paid their own way to join the trip. It was an amazing experience which I continue to draw on right down to the present day. I have remained fascinated by India and Indian culture, and hope some day to return.
Above are pictured the participants. Front row: (l-r): Ernesto Ricks, Susan Wyche-Smith, Terry Cook, Deborah Haines, Mary Gallwey, Mary Watrous, Megan Brians, Paula Elliot. Back row: tour guide, Fritz Blackwell, Michael Myers, Paul Smith, David Thorndike, Roger Shlesinger, Maria Montes de Oca Ricks, Paul Brians, Margaret Andrews. Not in picture: Marina Tolmacheva.
Agra: Fatehpur Sikri & Taj Mahal
More of Delhi
Beginning with white-haired woman on left: Mary Gallwey, Deborah Haines, Susan Wyche-Smith, Paul Smith, Paula Elliot, Megan Brians.
Popular Bangkok department store. Note the Christmas decorations in this overwhelmingly Buddhist country.
Varied modern architecture in downtown Bangkok, shot from the bus.
Contrasting architectural styles.
One of the most popular modes of transportation is the ubiquitous tuk-tuk, a diminutive three-wheeled open-air taxi.
Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck wishing people a Merry Christmas from the windows of the Zen Center.
One of the costs of taking a commercial tour is being taken to emporiums like this whether you want to or not.
We were taken to three Kashmiri rug emporia on our wanderings. For me, it got old fast; I wanted to be sightseeing, and I had read too much about child slavery in the rug trade to be interested in buying; but some folks really got into it. The designs on these rugs are mostly Persian.
Susan Wyche-Smith examining Kashmiri carpets.
Wat Po Buddhist Temple compound, a remarkable labyrinth of mausoleums and temples dedicated to Thailand’s royal family.
In one temple lay this gigantic golden Buddha. Worshippers constantly dropped tiny coins into a series of buckets behind the statue, creating a constant, shimmering, metallic sound. I thought at first it was birds chirping.
Prosperous worshippers can prove their piety by buying squares of gold leaf which are applied loosely to statues, a custom which leaves them looking like they are suffering from an acute skin disease.
Flowers in front of a Buddhist altar in one of the temples in the Wat Po complex.
Part of a much larger Buddhist temple complex.
One of the more splendidly decorated temples in this Buddhist temple complex.
These were often decorated with rather dim and damaged frescoes depicting events in the life of the Buddha. We were told that no attempt is made to restore them; when they become too damaged, they are simply painted over.
Terry Cook, Deborah Haines, and David Thorndike consult with a Buddhist monk in one of the Wat Po complex temples.
This device contains a statue of the Buddha and electric joss sticks which, when a coin is inserted, generate a lucky number for the worshiper to use when buying a lottery ticket.
Lavish golden altar in one of the temple complex halls.
The halo of Nagas (guardian cobras) protecting this Buddha figure are also found frequently in Hindu images of the gods.
After spending the incredible Bangkok rush hour stuck in traffic, some of us some of us attended a rather touristy dinner-and-dance show at Silom Village.
Dancer portraying Hanuman, the monkey-king of the Ramayana, teasing Marina Tolmacheva.
Thompson was an American who made his fortune developing the Thai batik industry for export trade. Many of the designs he created with influenced by Lon Bakst, the Russian painter who gained fame for his stage and costume designs for the Ballets russes. He built an impressive collection of art which remains in his unique house, formed of five traditional Thai houses joined together.
The gardens were rather jungly in appearance.
Thompson built an impressive collection of art which remains in his unique house, formed of five traditional Thai houses joined together. Our tour guide was a remarkably fluent and literate young woman who told us the story of this adventurer who mysteriously disappeared on a trip to Burma, leaving his house to be turned into a museum.
A stone image of the Buddha in the collection at the Jim Thompson house.
Note the little Santa Claus surrounded by more traditional Thai images.
Paula (right) and Megan (left) bought elegant outfits in this Hmong shop for a fraction of what it would have cost at home. Nearby Megan and I also bought identical Tintin t-shirts.
Megan Brians standing in front of one of many buildings making up the museum.
After a good lunch at Silom Village, we took a long taxi ride (Bangkok is quite spread out) to the National Museum, where we had to race to see as many exhibits as possible before the dreaded rush-hour traffic set in.
We saw striking huge carts used only in royal funeral processions (once), many Buddhas, and some Hindu gods. One room was filled traditional musical instruments, with tapes demonstrating their sound.
Bronze images displayed in the museum.
Images from the collection in the National Museum.
This contemporary painting looks like an interpretation of the traditional subject of the many-headed demon Ravana, from the Ramayana.
The National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum is a remnant of the Asia ’72 exhibition, and features all manner of traditional popular art.
I was impressed enough to buy the catalog. These handmade pottery figures were charming.
The silk department in the famous khadi emporium on Connaught Circus. Khadi is the rough homespun cloth which Gandhi promoted as an alternative to British woven goods during the struggle for independence. His picture was prominently posted in the shop. These fine silks are a different matter entirely, however.
Fritz, anticipating that we might be homesick on Christmas, our first day in India, scheduled some of the most spectacular sites on the trip for that day. we spent more time than we intended waiting at the Agra railway depot. The Shatabdi Express was first-class by Indian standards, passable by American ones; but it got us there on time. However, our guide was not there to meet us. We stood in the sun for over an hour waiting, with Fritz being surrounded by taxi drivers eager for our business until he finally was able to go into the town and secure a guide, largely by good luck.
Faces showing, left to right: Fritz Blackwell, Roger Schlesinger, Margaret Andrews, Megan Brians, Deborah Haines, Paul Smith, tour guide, Susan Wyche-Smith, Michael Myers, Ernesto Ricks, Terry Cook, Mary Gallwey, Marina Tolmacheva. Our guide turned out to be a highly sophisticated and cultured gentlemen who told us in detail the history of the great Mogul Emperor Akbar (akbar is Arabic for “great”) who lived 1542 to 1605, and who built his capital at Fatehpur Sikri, near modern Agra.
Although the sprawling site is impressive, it is very human scaled, not seeking to crush the viewer by its mass like so many European palaces.
Note the delicate pierced screen, carved of red sandstone, like the rest of the building. Fatehpur Sikri was built by the Emperor Akbar as a new capital of the Mughal Empire, but was occupied only from 1570 to 1586.
Part of the sprawling palace complex. Fatehpur Sikri was built by the Emperor Akbar as a new capital of the Mughal Empire, but was occupied only from 1570 to 1586.
Since Fatehpur Sikri was abandoned shortly after it was built (according to one theory, because of the lack of a sufficient water supply), it has never been attacked or ruined. It looks almost as if it had been deserted yesterday.
The architecture is a graceful blend of styles done in native red sandstone, reflecting Akbar’s eclectic tastes. Born a Muslim of Afghan ancestry and influenced by Persian civilization, he was drawn to many religions, including Hinduism and Christianity, and ended by creating a synthesis of his own.
Here Akbar sat atop a central pillar above his petitioners and dispensed justice. Islamic pierced screens blend with the typically Hindu capitols. Fatehpur Sikri was built by the Emperor Akbar as a new capital of the Mughal Empire, but was occupied only from 1570 to 1586.
We climbed up some precipitous stairs for this view.
In the distance, the great imperial gates of Fatehpur Sikri, built by the Emperor Akbar as a new capital of the Mughal Empire, but was occupied only from 1570 to 1586.
Mausoleum of Sheikh Salim Chishti, built of white marble contrasting with the red sandstone buildings surrounding it. The tomb of this holy man is sought out by women seeking to conceive a child. Fatehpur Sikri was built by the Emperor Akbar as a new capital of the Mughal Empire, but was occupied only from 1570 to 1586.
Next we went to the massive Red Fort of Agra, built by Shah Jahan, from which he could view the Taj Mahal, memorial to his beloved queen, from the room where he was imprisoned by his usurper son, the cruel and puritanical Aurangzeb, in 1658.
These massive constructions are evidence of the might of the Mughal Empire.
17th C., built by Shah Jahan.
In this climate, a royal reception hall without walls makes sense. Built of white marble for Shah Jahan across the river from the Taj Mahal. 17th c.
Persian-influenced decorative style marks Mughal buildings. 17th C.
We were led into the secret bathing chamber of the king, where he would sport with his ladies surrounded by hundreds of candles reflecting in the hundreds of mirrors lining the walls and ceiling. Each of the twinkles on the far wall represents a single tiny mirror reflecting back the camera’s flash. Imagine this room lit with hundreds of candles. 17th C.
The setting sun casts long shadows in front of the magnificent gateway through which one enters the grounds. 17th C.
Left to right: daughter Megan Brians, husband Paul Brians, wife Paula Elliot.
17th C. tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, favorite wife of Shah Jahan. To the left, a mosque.
Left, the Taj Mahal, center, a decorative minaret, right: a purely decorative building created as a mirror-image of the mosque to the Taj’s left side. The setting sun turns the marble softly golden. 17th C.
Detail of carved floral relief decorations in the marble walls of the Taj Mahal. Above and below, semiprecious stone inlay work. 17th C.
Detail of the colored stone inlay in the chamber over the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal. 17th C.
The further you penetrate into the mausoleum, the more delicate and rich the decoration becomes.
The armed guard stationed to prevent photography inside the tomb instead passively watched me take this photograph and then extorted 50 rupees as “fees.” On the way out I noticed a sign warning visitors not to pay fees charged by anyone working at the tomb.
Our only other encounter with government corruption was having the armed security guards extort bribes from us as we were screened leaving the country at the Calcutta airport. One of them asked me for a “birthday present,” but I felt I’d paid my dues in Agra and refused–the only one to get through to the boarding area free.
A last look at the Taj Mahal at sunset, with the sound of myriad muezzins crying the call to evening prayer in the background.
A tabla player and sitar player performing in the lobby of an Agra hotel in front of a model of the nearby Taj Mahal.
Professor Linda Stone from the anthropology department had urged Fritz strongly to take us to a rural village. None were in easy reach, but our tour guide sought out this suburban one on the edge of Delhi, where the people welcomed us warmly.
David Thorndike, traveling with the WSU faculty team, charmed the children of this village just outside of Delhi by handing out ballpoint pens as gifts and asking them to sign their name in his notebook.
Village cattle are taken into the city every day to graze and at sunset wander back to their owners to be led back home. In no other country are cattle led into town to be fed; pious Hindus feel an obligation to offer the cows food.
Although children and men were curious and interested in the visitors from WSU, women generally discreetly averted their gaze, though they didn’t cover their faces.
WSU tour members examine village vegetable plot.
Margaret Andrews climbs the stairs to the local well in a village north of New Delhi. Hand-shaped dung patties are drying on the ground and stacked up on the platform ready to be used as fuel for cooking fires.
The small structure on the left under the trees is a tiny temple to Shiva.
View from the roof of the house of a village leader who invited WSU visitors to visit his home. He said that some decades ago Pat Nixon had also visited his home.
These women had been listening to a priest chanting, but happily switched to drumming and chanting songs in honor of the visitors who surrounded them. The priest was somewhat miffed. This was a very lively, stirring performance.
. These women were shy about showing their faces, but eager to show off their singing, which was wonderful. The threshold of this temple was spread with a fresh layer of purifying liquefied cow dung.
Many of us considered this impromptu visit as the high point of our trip.
Then our bus proceeded to the Qutub Minar, a gigantic tower of sufficient prominence that distances from Delhi are measured by how far south, north, etc. they are from it. The bottom of the tower is at the right. These domes on the surrounding galleries are supposedly among the most ancient in India.
An elaborately carved stone archway, typical Mughal-style pointed arch gateway.
Workers shaping replacement stones to repair the Qutub Minar. The tower was completely rebuilt in the 19th century after it had been destroyed by an earthquake.
Gupta-era iron column (6th C.)
The National Geographic never seems to show the scaffolding which appears in so many of my pictures. The Qutub Minar tower is now closed to visitors for safety reasons.
Snake “charmers” pull the fangs of their cobras and then drug them to slow their reflexes. This one was so groggy its owner had to hold it up while he played his been, or punji, traditional raucous reed instrument of snake charmers.
We ended the day by shopping. I picked up recent anglophone Indian fiction and some comics depicting episodes from the life of Krishna, based on the Ramayana. In the evening Paula, Paul Smith and I attended a marvelous vocal concert by Prabhakan Karekar, singing traditional Hindustani ragas to tabla, two tamboura players, and a harmonium. One of the tamboura players sang echoes to his phrases in a haunting manner I had never encountered before. There was a small but appreciative audience in the Shakuntalam Theater at the Exhibition Fairgrounds built by Indira Gandhi. On our way to the concert, we encountered a gorgeous wedding party accompanied by musicians as it processed into a restaurant for a lavish reception.
On December 27, we had a Sunday tour of the quiet city, shrouded in the constant haze of pollution. We saw the presidential palace and parliament buildings, the Birla Laxmi Temple (shown above–built by industrialist R. D. Birla with Gandhi’s encouragement as an interfaith place of worship 1936-1938). He insisted that people of all faiths be allowed to worship here.
Gateway to the beautiful tomb of Humayan, the second Mughal emperor and father of Akbar
The beautiful tomb of Humayan, the second Mughal emperor and father of Akbar. His Persian widow hired Persian architect Mirak Mirza Ghiyuath to build it from 1562 to 1572; he brought the style of his native land to the task.
Women do all sorts of difficult jobs. This one is trimming the lawn in front of Humayan’s tomb with a pair of hand shears.
This snake charmer and his three cobras doesn’t seem to worry the group of men behind him as he plays on his been, traditional instrument of snake charmers.
This simple slab marks the spot where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated. It is decorated simply with flower petals. The donation boxes in the foreground accept donations to aid Gandhi’s beloved Untouchables, whom he called “harijans”, “Children of God.”
A small part of the vast Red Fort of Delhi, home to generations of Mogul Emperors, and for many of them marking the full extent of their empire. The last ones did not venture outside its walls.
This model village was created for the Asia ’72 Exhibition, now part of the National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum.
We had trouble finding a cab to get back to the hotel from the crafts museum, and walked quite a distance, past the Gate of India, commemorating the Indian soldiers who died fighting for Britain in World War I. Designed by Edwin Lutyens and built in 1931. Many Indian families were out enjoying the Sunday holiday. Lots of cricket being played.
This stand’s splashy decoration resembles the ads for Bollywood movies.
Megan Brians buys a shawl from a street vendor whose features reflect her probable origins in the Himalayas.
On the morning of December 28, we were welcomed at the national Ethnomusicalogical Archives by Shubha Chaudari, with whom I had been corresponding thanks to the introduction of Laurel Sercombe, our Seattle ethnomusicology friend. While Paul Smith viewed field recordings of been performers (he had ordered one of the instruments made for him and ended by buying three), Megan and I viewed the first part of an excellent documentary about the traditional temple dancers of India. Unfortunately, our visit was ended by a power outage, and Shubha kindly sent us back to our hotel in the Institute’s jeep.
Our entire family jammed into a bicycle rickshaw propelled by a very hard-working but seemingly fit young man for an hour’s tour of Old Delhi. The ancient walled city is a Muslim enclave many of whose inhabitants seldom venture out; but it is also the center for the publishing industry. Most of the storefronts are relatively modern, but shuttered balconies like these are not rare. They look very much like similar balconies in the Middle East.
Cows wander unmolested because of the respect in which they are held by Hindus, though many modern Indians resent the traffic tie-ups they cause.
Typically crowded street scene in Old Delhi.
The largest mosque in India is the Jami Masjid (Friday Mosque) in the old part of Delhi. Built by Shah Jahan, 1650-66. Photograph made from a pedicab going through the streets nearby.
That evening, Terry and our family had dinner and visited with Vijay and Sarita Aggarwal in a Delhi suburb–old friends from their time in Pullman. Our inexperienced taxi driver had a terrible time finding the address, but we had a very pleasant evening’s conversation. Like all the Hindus we spoke with, Vijay insisted that the recent “communal” violence had been the product of unscrupulous manipulation by politicians and that Muslims and Hindus still regarded each other as friends.
We did not get to hear any Muslim opinions; but clearly educated Hindus were deeply ashamed of the violence, though a few showed signs of not entirely disapproving of the goal of tearing down some major mosques to rebuild ancient temples: they just wanted it done peacefully. Indian unity still seems a long way off.
Because of a pilots’ strike, Indian Airlines could not take us to Lucknow, so we set out on December 29 at 5:00 AM by train. Clark’s Avadh Hotel had an excellent restaurant, and our room had an excellent view. A large crowd of pilgrims eventually gathered on the opposite bank for some religious observance.
One of the many theaters showing “Bollywood” films–popular films made principally in Bombay.
All of them contain musical numbers which are the main source of pop music in India.
World Music professor Paul Smith and sidewealk flute vendor.
For some of us the most memorable experience in Lucknow was sampling the sweets at ChowdhuryÕs, some of them topped with silver leaf.
December 30: An arch in the ruins of the old palace of the Nawabs of Avadh or Oudh, built in 1784 by Asaf-ud-Daula called the Bara Imambara..
The grand mosque on the grounds of the Bara Imambara.
Some of the elaborate decoration on the roof of the mosque.
Megan gives a sense of the scale of the arches. In the distance, the roofs of Lucknow.
View of the other portions of the Bara Imam Bara and of the city from the roof of the great mosque.
Paula Elliot buying little slippers made of cigarette wrapper foil. Tour leader Fritz Blackwell said he had bought identical ones from a similar little girl a generation ago, perhaps her mother.
One of several old city gates of Lucknow.
The Chota Imambara, smaller than the Bara Imambara, but in somewhat better repair, and still actively in use for religious purposes.
Built by the third Nawab of Avadh, Muhammad Ali Shah, 1840. Also known as the Husainabad Imambada.
The ruins of the Residency, where the British were besieged by rebellious Indian troops in what the former called the Sepoy Mutiny and Indians call the First War of Independence (there was no second). Built 1780-1800.
An elaborate example of eccentric 18th-century architecture, built for wealthy eccentric Major General Claude Martin (d. 1800). Now a school.
A gigantic classical column built for decorative purposes by wealthy eccentric Major General Claude Martin (d. 1800). To get a sense of its size, note the cattle grazing nearby on the left.
Roger, Paula, David, Megan, Marina, Michael, Margaret, and Terry waiting at the train station early in the morning of December 31.
Megan Brians and Deborah Haines waiting for the train to Varanasi. The train was long delayed, probably because we were to pass through Ayodhya, the town where the current riots began, and a major demonstration was planned for mid-morning. The train ride to Varanasi was uneventful.
Varanasi (or “Benares,” as the British called it), is the most sacred city of Hinduism. The goal of many is not only to bathe here in the holy Ganges, but to die in the central part of the city (known as Kashi) and be cremated on the ghats (water steps) and have their ashes thrown in the river. Because a major confrontation was expected at noon on this Friday between Muslims and Hindus worshipping at a contested site, we took a very early morning tour of the mist-shrouded city which was almost depopulated: fearful pilgrims were staying away to avoid the anticipated trouble.
Flowers and clay pots for collecting sacred Ganges water for sale on the ghats (steps) by the river. Shot on a foggy morning in winter.
This Brahmin priest takes the ashes brought to him by bereaved survivors and kneads them into balls with Ganges water which are then thrown into the river, bringing merit to the deceased spirit comparable to that of being cremated on the “burning ghats” themselves. Shot on a chilly, foggy winter morning.
These ghats (riverside steps) are usually crowded with worshipers seeking to bathe in the sacred waters of the Ganges; but on this foggy winter morning there were few.
Worshipers bathing in the holy Ganges on a foggy winter morning.
We saw some more bathers as our boat made its way along the ghats in a mist so thick we couldn’t make out the tops of the buildings on shore. A water-borne huckster clung to our boat and tried to sell us souvenirs.
This vendor of musical instruments demonstrates his wares on a cold, foggy winter morning, at the top of the bathing ghats of Varanasi.
Shrines are everywhere in Kashi, the Ganges-side area of Varanasi. This one honors the monkey-king, Hanuman.
Members of the WSU tour group explore the narrow streets of the sacred city. Left to right: Maria Montes de Oca Ricks, Mary Gallwey, and Terry Cook.
Varanasi is the most holy city in India, attracting throngs of worshippers; those throngs also attract thousands of vendors of everything from flower garlands and water pots for sacred Ganges water to food and clothing.
The roots of this tree have almost swallowed the wall beneath it.
It was too misty to get a clear shot of the Golden Temple of Shiva. It lies immediately adjacent to this mosque, built on the ruins (and actually incorporating parts of) an earlier Hindu temple, and which Hindu extremists wanted to tear down. The wooden barriers in the foreground had been erected by the soldiers (seen to the left) sent to guard the site of this Muslim mosque in the most Hindu of cities. They did so effectively, we heard, keeping the two crowds of worshipers from tearing each other apart this time.
This mosque is immediately adjacent to one of the most important Hindu temples in Varanasi, the most Hindu of Indian cities. Armed guards with machine guns were standing watch against the possibility of interreligious conflict at the site; the Ayodhya riots had taken place not long before.
The Mughal pattern of destroying Hindu temples explains why there are relatively few really old ones in North India, where their influence was greatest. It would be wonderful to go elsewhere to experience traditional Hindu architecture, but our tour itinerary didn’t allow us to see much of this sort of thing.
The Durga Mandir (temple of Durga).
The goddess Durga is here pictured here riding on her “vehicle”–a tiger.
Worshippers entering the sacred temple of Durga ring the bells hanging overhead as they go in.
In a state emporium where various crafts are demonstrated and sold.
This one a silk emporium where Paula had a shirt made for me
Megan Brians models a sari.
The Dhamekha Stupa at the left is the base of a vast column which was begun but never completed, and which is considered a sacred site by Buddhists.
The Deer Park at Sarnath, just outside Varanasi, is considered the birthplace of Buddhism. Here the Buddha preached his first sermon, and later an enormous monastery was erected. When Buddhism died out in India, the site was forgotten, but it has since been thoroughly excavated. Most Buddhist visitors either come from the far north or from abroad.
Fragment of a pillar erected by the famous Buddhist Emperor Ashoka at Sarnath, originally topped with four lions, like all his pillars. Almost all the figures were destroyed by iconoclastic Muslims. Ashoka was the third monarch of the Maurya Dynasty in the 3rd century BCE.
Several of us seeking a dance performance found one at yet another Kashmiri rug emporium, this one handsomely housed in an old palace.
Megan Brians being served tea at a Kashmiri rug emporium, Calcutta. Terry Cook waits his turn.
Tabla player, harmonium player, and dancer performing at a Kashmiri Rug emporium in a converted palace.
This salesman at the Kashmiri rug emporium sold us this carpet as being an antique over 140 years old which once hung on the walls of a maharaja’s palace. Checking with an expert when we got back home, we determined that it is new and worth about ten percent of what we paid for it.
View of a village on the road between Varanasi and Patna.
Mary Gallwey buys bananas from a vendor on the road between Varanasi and Calcutta.
Paula Elliot, Paul Brians Megan Brians by the fountain in the Oberoi Grand courtyard.
Ironically, it was in Calcutta, famous abroad for poverty, that we stayed in our most luxurious hotel: the Oberoi Grand. Unfortunately I was running out of film at this point, so I can’t document its splendor here. This is our family happily posing in the hotel courtyard at night.
Swimming pool at Calcutta’s most luxurious hotel.
A tourist-oriented sampling of folk dances at the Oberoi Grand Hotel.
Leader of the WSU World Civilizations trip to India in the courtyard of the Oberoi Grand.
Several of us went on to develop further our scholarly interests related to India. We were not always comfortable on this trip, but it was fascinating, and remains one of the most memorable trips I’ve made.
First mounted August 5, 2003.
All photos copyright Paul Brians.