P is for Parasols.
These beautifully embroidered parasols were popular souvenirs, particularly in Jaipur. I was very tempted to buy one, but didn't quite know what I would actually do with it, lovely though they are, so contented myself with taking photographs instead.
Q is for Qur'anic Script.
The Taj Mahal is influenced heavily by Islamic architecture, and around many of the arches you can see Qur'anic script. This is all created using inlaid stones, and it has been incredibly cleverly done - the script gradually gets larger the higher up the building it is, and this cancels out the natural perspective so to the observer standing at ground-level the script all looks to be the same size.
R is for Ranakpur.
Our drive from Jodhpur to Udaipur took us on a dramatically winding road that rose higher and higher into the hills. As we drove higher the land became greener and we found ourselves feeling strangely as though we had entered the tropics. Hidden away in a wooded valley, we found the Jain temples of Ranakpur. This area had a completely different feel to it to anywhere else on the rest of the journey. Damp and humid, it felt just like home!
The main temple (above) was built in 1439 according to a strict system of measurement based on the number 72 (the age at which the founder of the Jain religion achieved nirvana). The temple pedestal is 72 ft square, and it is held up by 1440 (72x20) individually carved pillars. There are 72 shrines and a 72 inch tall statue of the main deity, Adinath. I didn't worry about counting though, I was just blown away by the sheer beauty of the place.
The pale stone, the coolness and peace inside the temple, the soft natural light, the intricate carvings... a few moments of tranquility in this hectic country.
Ranakpur was also where we photographed these beautiful black-faced monkeys, who posed most obligingly for us.
S is for Saris.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then here's the equivalent of a small novel!
S is also for squirrels. Well, they're what're called chipmunks in Canada, but the Indians call them squirrels and they're everywhere! Legend has it that Lord Rama stroked the back of a squirrel, and his fingers left the stripes in its fur, explaining why squirrels are sacred in India.
T is for TATA Trucks.
TATA is a company that dominates India. They seem to have a hand in everything from mobile phones to coffee, insurance to hotels; but the most visible TATA presence is on the roads. Everywhere we went the main roads were filled with TATA trucks, but far from being the ugly brutes that you find on the roads of Europe, these were all brightly painted and highly individual. Despite the noise, pollution and traffic hold-ups, I began to feel quite fondly towards these vehicles.
I wish I'd taken more photos of them as they became quite an iconic symbol of our trip, but a quick internet search revealed that plenty of people have snapped them, and I'm cheekily borrowing this wonderful montage by Nancy Allen, found here, because I think it's just beautiful. Thanks Nancy.
All the trucks invite you to blow your horn - horns in India are not used in anger, simply to tell other road users that you're there. The noise, as you might imagine, is constant!
T is also for thali, the cheap and cheerful 'sampler' dish that can be found in restaurants and cafes everywhere. I had this one in a cheery diner in Jaisalmur. There were free refills too!
And T is also for Trains. We pondered doing part of our journey by train, but once we'd arranged a driver it seemed a bit unnecessary. Not sure I'd have fancied travelling like this...
If that's second class, where is third class?!