Iris Chen ’15
Greetings from Agra, home of the magnificent Taj Mahal and one of the seven wonders of the world! It’s been a little less than a week since my arrival in India, and I can’t believe that I have experienced so much of the country already from both business executive meetings and cultural tourism experiences. This blog post will concentrate on the cultural learnings of India, while my next post will dive deeper into the business meetings at Mumbai and Delhi.
This morning, we took a 4 hour bus ride from Jaipur to Agra where we watched the Bollywood historical drama film “Jodhaa Akbar“, which talks about the 16th century marriage alliance between the Muslim Mughal emperor Akbar and the Hindu Rajput princess Jodhaa. While the film did contain overdramatic acting and a drawn out interaction between the two main characters, Jodhaa Akbar did teach me a valuable history lesson about the rule of the Mughal emperor: he tolerated of all religions in Hindustan, helping shape the acceptance of all religions in modern day India. There are so many Islamic and Hindu influences throughout the country of India and it is fascinating to see two different religions portrayed in a somewhat accurate historical film. One of the organizers informed me Bollywood movies are such an integral part of Indian culture; people from all income levels all over the country will go see the latest Bollywood film in the movie theater. Even if the citizens make little money, they will still save up just to see a Bollywood film. Now I can see why–the movies are such a feel-good and entertaining distraction from real life!
After we arrived in the Taj Mahal, our tour guide explained that the mausoleum was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, grandson of Akbar, to commemorate the death of his third wife Mumtaz Mahal during the birth of their 14th child. Her dying wish? For the emperor to build something to remember her. He did just that, and apparently it took 22 years to complete the Taj Mahal.
On our first night in Jaipur, we went to eat at the Garden Restaurant at the Heritage Hotel. Once we arrived, we were escorted to this beautiful outdoor seating area that was lighted by fire pits. There was a stage for dancers and on the side, a tent set up for a puppet show. One of our very own was drafted by the host to come up to the stage and dance. He even agreed to put on the horse costume and blow the horn while other lady volunteers spun bowls on their head. We feasted on chicken tandoori that was made fresh off the outside grill. Overall, a fun first night in Jaipur.
Yesterday, we went sightseeing around the city Jaipur, the capital of the Indian state Rajasthan. We started off the day with visiting Amer Fort, a structure situated high up in the mountain. There is a serpentine staircase that leads up to the entrance of the fort, and the mode of transportation available to us was to ride the elephants!
Video credit: Cailin Bigham
Our tour guide explained to us the history of the Amer Fort (also known as Amer Palace) – it was used by the Rajput Maharajas as residences for themselves and for their families. Amer Fort is known for its artistic and architectural style of Hindu elements and influences. In the movie Jodhaa Akbar, the princess is from Amer Fort in Rajput and practices the Hindu religion. The fort itself is a work of wonder with so many intricacies in its design and craftsmanship.
In the afternoon, we toured Jantar Mantar, a site with 13 architectural astronomy instruments/sundials. These devices were built in the 17th century and apparently, the world’s largest sundial is located at the cultural site!
Lastly, we ended the day of sightseeing at City Palace, a palace complex that was used by the Maharaja of Jaipur. Currently, the palace houses a museum that features artifacts from the age of the Maharajas.
It’s been a fun couple of days of sightseeing in India! From this trip alone, I learned so much about the history of India. It’s been such an exhilarating trip of a lifetime thus far, and I’m so blessed to spend it with my classmates at Columbia Business School. Almost all of us have never been to India before, and we are experiencing this new and different culture for the first time, together as a group. It’s nice to compare our interactions with the locals (some of the locals and fascinated by and tend to want a picture with the blondes and the red-heads in our group), our negotiation skills with bartering in the bazaars (BATNA anyone?), and the tastes of each local food (be careful: you are what you eat). Tomorrow, we are off to Delhi for a couple of days of business meetings and networking events before the Chazen tour officially ends!