All that glitters is gold...and Jain

Trip Start Sep 17, 2007
Trip End Oct 08, 2008

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I don't want you to be alarmed, dear reader, but I felt it appropriate that our third pair of eyes, the one and only Emily Newton, write a guest entry.  Let's be easy on her, maybe even give her an encouraging comment or two.  And don't worry, we'll be back after Pushkar and Ajmer. 

Our day trip to Ajmer happened sort of by accident and without much in the way of expectation. It was Travis' day to rest his gastrointestinal tract and enjoy the comforts of a room with a commode. Erin and I were feeling much better and we decided to try and check out the nearby town of Ajmer that wasn't on our original itinerary. Buses left pretty frequently, so we wove our way through the streets back to the original bus stop and found our ride in no time. Figuring out when to get off of the bus was a different story. With our navigational confidence still barely intact, we held on to the optimistic thought that we would simply know when we had arrived in downtown Ajmer. Usually this involves looking for more buildings and congestion than usual, but more often than not we fell victim to peer pressure and just got off when everyone else did. Fortunately, we headed in the right direction when we got off the bus at some random corner with a group of locals. We had to walk along a stretch of highway for a bit, but we were able to find the historic section of town pretty easily.

The Nasiyan Jain Temple was our first destination and we had almost given up on using the small LP map to locate it when we came upon a striking red structure with a walled courtyard. We peeked in and figured it was worth asking about and checking out while we were exploring the city. The woman at the ticket counter gestured for us to go through a doorway that was opposite the courtyard of the temple complex and Erin and I exchanged puzzled looks.

Immediately upon stepping through the doorway Erin looked up at the ceiling and reached for her camera as she let out a small squeal of delight. We were heading down a corridor that led to some stairs and each portion of the ceiling that was built a half a level higher and followed the contour of the stairwell was painted a different bold color and contained an equally as bold painted flower in the center. At the end of the stairs, we saw a longer hallway with stained glass windows on the left and large, protective glass panels on the right. When we reached the viewing area we were totally taken aback. Laid before us was an amazingly intricate and elaborately carved diorama, painted almost entirely in gold, depicting scenes from the creation of the Jain universe.

While we were viewing from the second floor, the display itself took up the entire space of two uninterrupted  stories. Two huge models of structures dominated the display and divided it into halves. On one side was a large tower with a spiraled stairway and on the other was a square palace with a courtyard. Marching, flying, sailing, and parading all around these structures were dozens and dozens of figures. There were beautifully carved soldiers,  townspeople, royalty, holy men and women, atop and alongside elephants, horses, and chariots. Peacock, swan, and elephant-shaped ships filled with musicians and their instruments hung from the ceiling as if they were flying around the tower and palace.

Erin and I spent quite some time slowly making our way around the perimeter of the viewing floor as we tried to take in all the intricacies of the diorama. Even the walls surrounding the display were covered with panels of painted
scenes from Jain creation stories, sheets of colored glass and mirrors. The flying peacock ships were easily my favorite. For an unplanned, unexpected extra side trip, this temple display was certainly a highlight.

We couldn't resist checking out the arrangement of miniature silk paintings for sale right outside of the entrance and ended up picking out a few with the justification that they made great travel-tolerant gifts.

We stubbornly wandered through the streets for a while trying to find the Ajmer museum when we eventually settled on finding a driver who knew where we were trying to go. A modest old fort and palace built by the Mughal
Emperor Jahangir in 1616 had been converted into an equally as unassuming little museum, containing the usual displays of old temple carvings, small paintings, weapons, and some textiles.

We returned to Pushkar in time for dinner with Travis that evening. He was feeling much better and we decided to end our extended stay by committing to some bus tickets to Udaipur.

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