Kumbulgarh & Ranakpur

  • Kumbulgarh is a giant fort, in the middle of nowhere, on top of a plateau, with huge walls and a series of gates and walls leading up to a castle on a hill on the plateau. Given the fortifications and technology at the time I guessed it would have taken around twenty invaders for every defender to storm the thing. Which begs the question, why would any invading army bother capturing the fort? Just surround the whole plateau and steal all the food and messengers coming in, and you’ve effectively captured all of the land. For a fort to be effective, everyone must have had their huts/houses inside, but there wasn’t that much room on the top of the plateau, to support an army or otherwise. Sure, giant fortifications can keep people out but they can also make it really tough to maneuver.
  • There’s a passage in one of the Michael Crichton books that talks about the eerie silence in the Middle Ages, when there are no buzzing airplanes, cars or electronics emitting ambient noise. Crichton’s wrong on this point, because there are always animals around, and stuff like the wind that rustles trees, but it gets noticeably quiet when you are out in rural areas.
  • There were clearly different levels to the fort, with the palace at the top, so back in the day, you could tell someone’s status really easily by what level of the hill they lived on. People probably went their whole lives without getting to the top of the fort. Now you can get to the top of the fort for 5 rupees.
  • Tourist traps and historical sites can only make so much money charging admission, licensing guides and selling merchandise. I think tourist sites can go further nowadays in selling an experience to visitors, and especially selling exclusivity, to people that demand those sorts of things. Only a Westerner would say this, but I couldn’t help looking around and thinking about how cool it would be to have a giant paintball tournament or other battle-type event at the fort. Take the Tough Mudder competition for example – a 24 hour competition designed to test endurance and strength, and push people to their limits. Tough Mudder sells a story about toughness to people; complete this and you will have higher confidence and something to boast to your friends about. Why hasn’t someone thought to do the same at some of our coolest historic sites (at least the less reputable ones)? No question you could earn more revenue with a 1000-person, 5-day-and-night paintball tournament (biodegradable, washable paint, of course). All it would take is a blatant disregard for the reverence due to history. Historic sites only sell an experience so much; they could do a lot more if they were willing to be a little more entrepreneurial (and less respectful). Maybe I underestimate the tourism options available for the ultra-rich.
  • We hired a cab driver for the day (good decision) but he stopped at a restaurant that was, on reflection, a complete tourist trap. Not only was the food overpriced, but as a restaurant that caters to tourists, the food was geared to the lowest common denominator, e.g. a tourist who hates spicy food. Why people who can’t eat spicy food come to India is a mystery, but the lesson remains; any place that caters to (foreign) tourists is going to have bad food (and a big menu). While we ate the cab driver disappeared in the back, to eat lunch, no doubt. He probably ate way better than we did for about a twentieth of the price. Note to self: In the future, pack lunch.
  • Ranakpur was a series of three awesome Jain temples, in the middle of the jungle. The temples were very beautiful, peaceful, and cool, decorated in marble on the inside and out. The temples were supported by many pillars (again, awesome for paintball); any one of the pillars by itself could have been an extremely valuable work of art, together they were overwhelming, and almost made you underestimate the amount of work that must have gone into any particular one.
  • It’s interesting to see how the ideal human form changes from religion to religion and culture to culture. In Buddhism the ideal is a smiling, fat Buddha; in Catholicism, a lean, suffering Jesus Christ; in Islam there are no pictures of faces. The Jain idols had very wide faces. Maybe this is just a relic of the sculpting style back in the day.
  • The temple is very much still active and there were many ascetics sitting crosslegged, praying and walking around the temple. There were many visitors just watching the Jains. I think it would be difficult to pray, or reach any sort of positive mental state, with so many people watching.
  • Every religion allows people to tell the difference between believers and non-believers. Believers seek out clothing, rituals, audible prayers and other visible actions that distinguish themselves from non-believers. In this case the Jains were wearing white almost-togas. It would be pretty awful to believe in something and not let others know that you believed it.
Photos when I get a more reliable internet connection...

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