Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

The Qutab Minar site (Delhi): history as syncretism

In March 2006, during the days I spent as Visiting Professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) (Delhi), I had the privilege of paying a visit to the Qutab Minar complex in south Delhi, a UNESCO World Heritage site that movingly embodies the richness and depth of India’s cultural heritage. The site is a short rickshaw ride away from the university, and its minaret is even visible from some of the faculty windows. ** Surrounded by a flowery park that plays home to parakeets and squirrels, the Qutab Minar is dominated by the highest tower in all India, the minaret (‘minar’ in Urdu) that gives the site its name (Qutab refers to Qutab-ad-Din, the Turkic conqueror who was Delhi’s Muslim ruler from 1206 to 1210 CE). The minaret, 73 metres high, consists of five tapering stories. It was commenced under Qutab-ud-Din and completed under Feroz Shah Tughlaq in 1368. The site includes the remains of India’s oldest surviving mosque, the tomb of a Sufi saint, the ruins of a madrasa, the remnant of a never-finished second minaret and much more. Large parts of the complex are the result of the Muslim appropriation of motifs and materials from the earlier Hindu temples on the site, and apsara-like figures thus coexist with abstract decorations and geometrically shaped pillars. ** The oldest element on the site is an iron pillar dating from the very early Hindu epoch, seven metres high and with inscriptions in Sanskrit and Pali stating that it was erected to Vishnu in honour of the conquests of King Chandragupta II (4th century BCE). Tradition has it that those who stand with their back to the pillar (or, today, to its railings) and meditate will have their deepest wish granted. The story further has it that the pillar was put where it is by Bhima, the strong-armed hero from the Mahabharata. Today, the Qutab Minar site as a whole stands as a reminder of the depth contribution of both Hindu and Muslim traditions to Indian civilisation – a symbol of syncretism and intercultural dialogue, for these our troubled times. ** Here too are 6  photos from the site – taken variously by myself or Antonia Navarro Tejero or our guide, Murad.

Ten days at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) (Delhi)

From 2 to 11 March 2006 I had the pleasure of staying at Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi;, as a Visiting Professor by the kind invitation of the School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies. The more academic side of my stay is charted elsewhere on this blog (entry: 15 March). Here I talk about some aspects of my day-to-day life there. ** JNU was founded in 1969 and takes as its founding ideal Pandit Nehru’s vision of a university. The great man’s statue is there at the entrance to the faculties, flanked by a plaque quoting his words: ‘A University stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth’. JNU is a mostly postgraduate institution which also offers courses in the language, literature and culture field for 17 language areas, European and Asian. Both staff and students come from all over India (those looking Chinese are in fact from the north-eastern states): there are also some 100 foreign students at any given time. JNU’s intensive activity in the conference field was evident from the endless numbers of posters on display while I was there. The campus was also plastered with anti-American propaganda coinciding with George W. Bush’s visit to India: among the slogans were the historically resonant ‘Bush Quit India’ and the wittily creative ‘When Bush comes to shove resist!’. ** The JNU campus is beautifully landscaped, with exotic trees and, at this time of year, a riot of bougainvilleas and other flowers, red, pink and purple. Its abundant wildlife includes green parakeets, peacocks, squirrels and – though I never saw one – elusive antelopes. I stayed in the Aravali Guest House, where I took most of my meals. The quality of the food was generally high and I was able to relish puri sabzi (bread fritters with chickpeas) at breakfast-time, fish curry, and varied vegetable thalis. The campus has its own bank, post office, dry cleaners, bookshop and mini-shopping centre. Many of the staff live in purpose-built, on-site accommodation. It is also a relative haven of peace in bustling Delhi, even though I was kept awake some nights by the peacocks’ call-and-response (their cry sounds like a loud cat’s meow) or by the noise of planes from the nearby Indira Gandhi International Airport (one night a convoy of six aircraft in quick succession announced Bush’s departure). ** Located in south Delhi, the campus is about half-an-hour’s rickshaw ride from the centre. The main road opposite the principal gate leads to a modern hotel and shopping centre (the latter complete with McDonald’s and other emblems of globalisation). I sent emails from the Hilltop Cybercafé, perched on a height just opposite the gate and looking down on the vehicles, and donkeys, stray dogs and sacred cows that pass on the highway below. The campus buzzes in its intellectual ferment, yet something in the cows’ unruffled eyes declares that in her heart Mother India never changes. I enormously enjoyed my stay at JNU – not just the academic activity but the day-to-day feel of the place – and it is my hope that before too long Mother India will call me back there, back to the bougainvilleas and the peacocks’ cry! ** Added are photos of: the Nehru plaque and statue; the School of Languages; Aravali Guest House; the park; my friend Dr Jaydeep Sarangi outside the Guest House; and the Hilltop Cybercafé.

India 2002 – Hyderabad: Laad Bazaar

Here is another set of photos from my visit of 2002 to Andhra Pradesh (India), where I had the pleasure of lecturing at Kakatiya University (Warangal) and CIEFL (Hyderabad).  Here are some pictures of old Hyderabad. You can see one view of the Char Minar gate. and four of Laad Bazaar.

My diary from the journey is at:



India 2002 – Warangal: The Temple of a Thousand Pillars

Here are some photos from my visit of 2002 to Andhra Pradesh (India), where I had the pleasure of lecturing at Kakatiya University (Warangal) and CIEFL (Hyderabad).  The photos here are: from the remarkable Temple of a Thousand Pillars, one with a Nandi bull, emblem of Shiva; plus one of the arts faculty; and my profile photo, at the English Department. I believe the Temple of a Thousand Pillars is an extraordinary site with a very special energy. The complex is built on a star-shaped plan. The pillars appear to have an arcane geometrical symbolism, and it is believed that the now-destroyed uppermost storey was used as an observatory. It may well be that the Kakatiya Hindu rulers and their priests were in possession of a special and advanced scientific knowledge. My visit to this temple was memorable indeed.

My diary from the journey is at: 


Benicàssim (Costa del Azahar, Spain)

Benicàssim is one of the gems of the Costa del Azahar in Castellon province in Spain’s Valencia region. Its beach villas are especially distinguished. Benicàssim was used as a hospital town for the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. Visitors in the 1930s included Ernest Hemingway and the Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier, who stayed at the Villa Pons. Here are 4 photos from July 2004, two of them of the Villa Pons.