Readers’ wildlife photos

March 11, 2021 • 8:45 am

Thanks to several readers for responding to my plea for photos. But I can still use more, so, as they say in the Army, “smoke if you got ’em.”

Today’s photos are travel photos taken by Joe Routen, featuring spectacular architecture, old and new. Joe’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Always on the lookout for things that are pleasing to my eyes, I’m often gratified to see beauty in buildings. Here are a few of my favorites.
In France, this is Le Guetteur (“The Watcher”), a building in a mega shopping mall at Dagnes sur Mer. The face is Caesar.

Here’s the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.

The transformation of a train station into Musée d’Orsay, one of Paris’ top art museums.

The Orange Cube, a design showroom and office building, in Lyon, France.

The magnificent mosaic artwork in the Church on the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The breathtakingly beautiful windows of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, France.

The Euronews Building in Lyon, France.

Musée des Confluences in Lyon, France.

Interior of La Sagrada Familia* in Barcelona, Spain.

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*The church where Professor Ceiling Cat was strip-searched by the Spanish cops

More houses from Kenwood and a possum

December 11, 2020 • 2:30 pm

Here are some more houses in Kenwood that I photographed on yesterday’s constitutional. (My previous post on the area is here.)

First, though, here’s a Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana) that ran across 57th Street and crawled through a window grate into a safe space. I took a photo and left it alone, though it may be the one I saw two days ago. I will feed it if I see it again. (I left a banana in the grate this morning.)

Click to enlarge all photos:

Here’s a better view of Obama’s house (or ex-house, as I’m not sure whether he still owns it). I shot over the cement barriers and wire that blocks off pedestrian access.

Moar fancy houses:

 

I’m quite proud of this photo, which is a selfie—I’m right in the middle of the reflection—because it was really hard to take. The sun was shining so bright in my eyes, reflected off the ball, that I could find my position only by standing relative to the red ribbon and the gate, which I could see in the reflection. It also shows the nice houses across the street.

 

A walk through Kenwood

December 10, 2020 • 1:15 pm

My thrice-weekly constitutional used to me down along by Lake Michigan, but that got boring. Recently, then, I’ve been heading up to Kenwood, a “community area”  that goes from 43rd street to 51st Street (Chicago streets are numbered consecutively starting from downtown and going south). Much of the southern part of Kenwood, from 47th Street to 51st Street, was occupied in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by rich titans and moguls: the Swifts, the Armors, and the executives of Sears-Roebuck.

This is also the area in which Bobby Franks was kidnapped by Leopold and Loeb, and where much of Richard Wright’s novel Native Son is set. The southern moiety is included within the Hyde Park-Kenwood Historic District. Some of the houses in Kenwood were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, though early in his career.

And of course this is where Obama lived when he was in Chicago—after he made his nut with his first book. The other day I put up a picture of his house, mostly blocked off by the Secret Service, though he no longer lives here.  The whole surrounding area is full of huge brick mansions, and it’s a lovely walk, though no U of C professor could ever afford to live here unless they win a Nobel Prize.

Here are a few houses and miscellaneous photos from Tuesday’s ramblings. I’ll identify them when I can. Click the photos to enlarge them.

Below is Wright’s 1896 Isidore Heller House. Earlier in his career, he hadn’t yet adopted the sweeping horizontality of, say, the Robie House (1909-1910), which I pass on my way to work every day. The Heller house is more vertical and includes columns and classical sculpture on the top floor.  It was on the market for a long time in the last decade, and I heard it had structural problems and leaks, which plagues most of Wright’s houses here. But it’s still a lovely building, and the “For Sale” sign is gone.

Closeup of the sculptures on top. The Frank Lloyd Trust says this:

Conforming to the irregular shape of the lot, the plan is arranged along a horizontal axis that extends back from the building’s street façade. The horizontal emphasis of the design is countered by the vertical form of the building which incorporates a substantial third floor playroom and servants’ rooms. The arcaded exterior of the third floor displays a frieze of classically-garbed maidens adapted from Wright’s cover design for the Eve of St. Agnes, published by his friend and client William Winslow in 1896. The sculpture was executed by Wright’s frequent collaborator, Richard Bock, who designed integral sculptural elements for several of Wright’s most important Prairie buildings, including the Dana and Martin houses, and the Larkin Administration building.

Below is the former home of Muhammad Ali, who lived in Kenwood for a while.  One site about the historic area says this:

In order to be closer to his Nation of Islam mentor, Muhammed Ali bought the brick mansion at 4944 S. Woodlawn, where he lived for several years in the 70s.

The Tudor-style mansion to the left was Ali’s:

Ali’s mentor was Elijah Muhammad, who lived about two blocks from Ali’s house. Muhammad’s house is shown below, and below that, right across the street, are houses for his associates. As the site above notes:

At the intersection of 49th and Woodlawn, Egyptian architect M. Momen designed five North-African style mansions for Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad and his children and staff.

I used to be scared to walk by this house, as a group of men from the Fruit of Islam, the security wing of the Nation of Islam, would be standing on the sidewalk, guarding the house in suits and sunglasses, arms folded and looking very daunting. That look, of course was part of the job—a dressed-up version of the intimidating Black Panthers look. I’m not sure if Farrakhan lives here now, but it’s surely still owned by the Black Muslims, for one can sometimes see their members congregating in the driveway behind the house.

The four ancillary Nation of Islam homes across the street:

More fancy mansions nearby:

This modern house, fronted by a sculpture that looks like a jack, sticks out like a sore thumb. I’m not a fan.

Years ago, when I took an architecture tour of the area, I was told by the guide that this garage/apartment was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It sure looks like it (note the resemblance to the Heller House):

Other houses in the area:

Two adjoining houses, somewhat in disrepair:

These wealthy homeowners have covered all the bases save for being anti-capitalist! Is this virtue signaling or “starting a conversation”?

I think the “Science is real” slogan really means, “the findings of science are real.”  And no, love doesn’t always win, though one wishes it did!

And I can never forego a selfie when I see a traffic mirror:

The toxic masculinity of architecture: a Guardian article that seems like a spoof but isn’t

July 8, 2020 • 1:15 pm

UPDATE: Reader John sent a counterexample: a hotel in Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, it’s invalid because it was built by Donald Trump! In fact, the Trump Tower Baku never opened. . .

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This is one of those articles so over the top that you don’t know whether it belongs in the Guardian or the Onion.  Unfortunately, it’s in the former, showing that the Guardian, long circling the drain of wokeness, will publish nearly anything so long as it’s ideologically pure.  In fact, this article, by Leslie Kern, is such a stylistic and argumentative mess that one isn’t sure what the point really is, except to press every hot button of the Authoritarian Left.

Click to read and weep:

The article starts out as an accusation of a phallocentric urban architecture that, says Kern, exemplifies in stone, glass, and steel the oppressive tenets of the Patriarchy. To wit:

Glass ceilings and phallic towers. Mean streets and dark alleys. Road names and statues of men. From the physical to the metaphorical, the city is filled with reminders of masculine power. And yet we rarely talk of the urban landscape as an active participant in gender inequality. A building, no matter how phallic, isn’t actually misogynist, is it? Surely a skyscraper isn’t responsible for sexual harassment, the wage gap, or even the glass ceiling, whether it has a literal one up top or not?

That said, our built environments can still reflect patterns of gender-based discrimination. To imagine the city and its structures as neutral places where complicated human social relations are staged is to ignore the simple fact that people built these places. As the feminist geographer Jane Darke has said: “Our cities are patriarchy written in stone, brick, glass and concrete.” In other words, cities reflect the norms of the societies that build them. And sexism is a deep-rooted norm.

As far back as 1977, an American poet and professor of architecture named Dolores Hayden wrote an article with the explosive headline “Skyscraper seduction, skyscraper rape”. Hayden tore into the male power fantasies embodied in this celebrated urban form. The office tower, she wrote, is one more addition “to the procession of phallic monuments in history – including poles, obelisks, spires, columns and watchtowers”, where architects un-ironically use the language of “base, shaft and tip” while drawing upward-thrusting buildings ejaculating light into the night sky.

At those point I chortled internally, but then forced myself to continue:

If the sexism of the city began and ended with architectural symbolism, I would’ve happily written a grad school essay about this then turned my attention to more pressing matters. But society’s historical and ongoing ideas about the proper gender roles for men and women (organised along a narrow binary) are built right into our cities – and they still matter. They matter to me as a mother. They matter to me as a busy professor who often finds herself in strange cities, wondering if it’s OK to pop into the neighbourhood pub alone. Ask any woman who’s tried to bring a pram on to a bus, breastfeed in a park, or go for a jog at night. She intuitively understands the message the city sends her: this place is not for you.

Here we see Argumentation from Authority: the citation of two feminist writers to prove the case that skyscrapers are simply phalluses write large. No, they don’t exist because of the limitations of urban space, but to show off the genitalia of the Oppressor. Kern adds a picture of what, to be sure, is the most penis-like building I’ve ever seen. However, she shows the building—the office of the People’s Daily newspaper in Beijing—when it was under construction. Its phallosity declined considerably when it was done.

Kern’s photo in the Guardian article (from Imaginechina/Rex Features). Under construction:

As it looks now, completed, looking more like a toboggan than a penis:

After writing those paragraphs, Kern abandons her hypothesis about architecture and simply goes off the rails, full steam ahead, reciting a boilerplate of grievances that have absolutely nothing to do with architecture. The suburbs, for example, are characterized as a way to turn working women in the city into stay-at-home moms out of town. Even the cities themselves are indicted as places that allow domestic violence, make breastfeeding difficult, and prevent women access to running (or patronizing) businesses.

Poor old Jane Addams is even dragged in as an example of what the city needs, neglecting the fact that her famous Hull House in Chicago was a center for social work, particularly in the immigrant community. It is by no means a typical city building, but the harbinger of an admirable way to do social work.  Kern’s article then becomes completely unmoored from architecture:

The vast majority of violence, including fatal violence, against women and girls worldwide is perpetrated in the home, and lockdowns have exacerbated its every cause. These include stress, financial pressure, isolation, and a lack of interventions from family, friends and colleagues. Women are frightened to access shelter services and have little safe space or time to reach out for help. Not only is it almost impossible to move during the pandemic, loss of employment for many also means they can’t afford to leave anyway.

These problems weren’t created by coronavirus. The pandemic is merely exposing the fact that cities have been content to ignore domestic violence, not seeing it as an urban problem deeply connected to such issues as housing, employment, transportation, childcare, and of course the wage gap. Ultimately, tackling domestic violence may mean unsettling the heterosexual nuclear family in ways that would be deeply disruptive to the status quo – namely, disruptive to the long-standing reliance on the single-family home as a place of unpaid care work, a disruption cities can ill afford given their reluctance to fund childcare, subsidise housing and prevent violence.

The good news is that women haven’t been twiddling our thumbs waiting for city planners or politicians to solve these problems. In fact, women have been coming up with their own designs for cities and homes for well over a century. In 1889, Jane Addams founded Hull House in Chicago, a social settlement for young, unmarried women and immigrants who needed a safe home and a sense of community.

But wait! There’s more!  Not content to leave any Woke trope unmentioned, Kern notes that “Black Lives Matter. . . was founded by black women” (indeed, but this is irrelevant to Kern’s thesis), and of course the cops come in for a beating too (my emphasis):

The current situation offers an unprecedented opportunity for even bigger changes. One possibility comes via the anti-racism protests sweeping the globe: defund the police. Transfer that money to affordable housing, childcare and public transport, all of which would dramatically improve women’s lives in ways that increased policing never has. A second move: all those people suddenly deemed “essential workers” should be paid as if our lives depend on them, because they do. Third: reinvest in the public realm by creating accessible, barrier-free spaces and transport systems that would allow everyone full access to the benefits of city living.

At this point I mercifully draw the curtains on the article, though you can read it if you want. It’s not that women don’t have legitimate grievances; it’s that Kern manages, in a confusing Joyceian mind-dump, to drag them all into a piece that is supposed to be how architecture mirrors the patriarchy. And she says absolutely nothing that hasn’t been said before.

 

h/t: Simon

Temples: Halebidu and Belur

March 26, 2016 • 12:15 pm

We honored the Good Friday holiday (it is a day off in India) by visiting two famous and ancient Hindu temples, perhaps the most famous in the state of Karnataka. The temple of Hoysaleswara in Halebidu (Halebid) dates from the 12th century CE, and was built in a mere thirty years. What’s remarkable is the quality of carving, and the fact that the stone was black basalt—very hard to work. It’s in remarkable shape and is dedicated to the god Shiva.

The Chennakesava Temple, 35 km away, dates to the same era, and is dedicated to a form of the god Vishnu. The linked Wikipedia articles should be consulted for more photos, detail, and history. Here are a few pictures I took:

These are low, star-shaped temples with inner sanctums containing effigies of the gods (and Shiva’s lingam at the Halebidu Temple, shown below):

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Closer inspection reveals some of the finest and best-preserved temple carvings I’ve seen, especially because they’re almost a millennium old.

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A lintel above the main door:

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Nandi the bull, Shiva’s mount:

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Narasimha (lion man): an avatar of Vishnu:

Narasimha (lion man): an avatar of Vishnu

A mythical but oft-seen animal that appears to be an amalgam of an elephant, a crocodile, and a horse:

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A group of colorfully dressed ladies admiring the sculpture:

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A corner of the temple:

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It’s bloody hot here, and people took refuge from the sun where they could:

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The ladies of Karnataka are famous for wearing flowers in their hair:

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A green-coconut stall was doing a land office business in the heat. They chop off the top and you drink the sterile and refreshing coconut water:

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The Chennakesava Temple at Belur:

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The carving is equally intricate, but has become more eroded and effaced than that at the Halebid temple:

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The lion-man incarnation of Vishnu:

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A beautiful dancing apsara, one of the finest I’ve seen in India. Remember, these sculptures are almost a thousand years old:

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Arjuna the archer, whom you’ll have encountered as the confidante of Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (one scripture that I really enjoy reading):

Arjuna the archer

Krishna lifting the Govardhana mountain:

Krishna lifting the Govardhana mountain

A priest of the Belur temple. The string looped around his shoulder indicates he’s a Brahmin, a requirement for priesthood:

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I encountered my first Indian toll roads on the drive to the temples; here’s one of the local toll-takers

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And finally home to dinner, where Goonda (“rowdy”), Mr. Das’s favorite cat, occupied his privileged position in the kitchen. Goonda is about 8 or 9, and came to Mr. Das from a rescue organization several years ago. At that time he’d lost one eye, presumably in a cat fight.
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The three most beautiful places on Earth

August 11, 2015 • 12:00 pm

I have by no means traveled all over the globe, but I’ve probably traveled more widely than most people, and have made a deliberate attempt to seek out spots highly touted for their beauty. There’s a lot more for me to see—I’d like to go to Antarctica, Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia, and Pacific Islands like Bali, for instance—but today I feel inclined to list the three most stunning sights I’ve seen in my life:

  1. The Himalayas, including Mount Everest and Ama Dablam, seen from the Tengboche Monastery, which sits atop a big hill in the Solo Khumbu region of Nepal. There’s a wide gap between this (and the Himalayas as whole) and #2:
  2. The Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru viewed from the mountain Huayna Picchu that soars right above the ruins.
  3. The Taj Mahal by night under a full moon, when the whole marble structure seems to float above the ground like a giant, pale-blue sculpted pearl.

Here are some photos taken from the Internet; my own photos are on slides, taken in pre-digital days, and I can’t reproduce them here.

Tengboche Monastery. Ama Dablam is to the right, while Everest is  (photo from Himalayan Wonders) the small triangle (with the snow plume blowing off the peak) about a quarter of the way from the right. The monastery has a rudimentary guesthouse where you can stay for almost nothing. This is by far my favorite place in the world (so far); one cannot begin to describe how high and majestic these mountains are compared to the many other big peaks I’ve seen.

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Huayna Picchu rising above the ruins (picture from Wikimedia)

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The view of the ruins from Huayna Picchu. It’s far more glorious than you can judge from the photo (from Wikimedia). All around the ruins you see uninhabited mountains, making the ruins seem marvelously isolated, as they indeed were. Of course civilization is not making incursions into the area, which one has to reach by train from Cuzco.

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This photo (from Top Images) may be Photoshopped or otherwise altered, and the moon isn’t full, but this is what I remember the structure looking like, especially the illusion of the tomb’s levitation:

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And of course this post is calling for readers to name their “most beautiful spots.” Feel free to list a few of yours below.

 

Philomena returns!

March 14, 2015 • 2:45 pm

The Cunk is back, and with another episode of “Moments of Wonder.” My diligent searching of YouTube led me to find this week’s episode of “Weeky Wipe” with two—count them, two—sketches by our favorite British comedian. The entire half-hour show is below, with the salient time marks as follows:

From 0:33- 02:58, Philomena and Barry Shitpeas discuss two Sunday evening television shows.

From 24:05 to 28:15 (the end), we get Philomena’s “Moments of Wonder”, with this week’s episode (the last of the season) on “What is architecture?”. She completely befuddles Architecture Man with incessant questions about a television show. It begins with her narration, “For centuries of millennia, man lived outdoors. . . “

 

Holiday snaps: India, Khajuraho

January 21, 2015 • 8:23 am

Khajuraho, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a group of temples, both Hindu and Jain, about 350 miles south of Delhi. My hosts and I travelled there on the overnight train from Nizamuddin Station in Delhi (a hellhole; I was standing on a filthy platform in the cold, waiting for a train that was six hours late, as it turned from 2014 to 2015) to see these amazing buildings.

These are among the most stunning temples of India, more impressive than the ones at Bishnipur that I wrote about the other day, and rivaling the marble Dilwara Jain Temples at Mt. Abu in intricacy. (I saw those on my last trip to India.) What makes the Khajuraho temples even more amazing is their state of preservation: though they have been deliberately damaged in some places by both Muslims and collectors of artifacts (each small sculpture is worth a fortune), a large portion of the original carving is preserved.  That’s amazing given that they date from the 10th and 11th centuries, and are thus a millennium old, and are also made of sandstone.

The buildings themselves are spread out over a wide area, but I’ll show photos of the main group in the town, which is amazingly untouristed given its world-class attraction.

The temples were, amazingly, built without mortar—held together only by skilled fitting and by metal joints. I show an original joint below, photographed at a temple outside of town that is being partly restored.

Some of the temples in town:

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How did they build them? The sandstone was quarried nearby, dragged to the site, and then, like the pyramids, the buildings were constructed by starting at the bottom, and then building up earthen ramps as the temples grew taller. After completion, the earth was removed from around the building.

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And original metal fastener between the sandstone blocks, pointed out to me by the supervisor of a temple being put back together.  This is the only one I saw the whole time:

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But it is of course the sculptures that made this place famous, and many are erotic, which are especially titillating to the tourist. I’ll show both types, but first a large-scale view of the decorations:

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You can spot some of the erotic sculptures in the photos below:

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Some of my favorite sculptures. First, Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of good luck:

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Two apsaras, beautiful celestial females. The first one twerks, the second admires herself in a mirror; the third removes a thorn from her foot:

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Woman reading what is apparently a distressing letter, which she holds (it’s a scroll) in her right hand:

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Vishnu and consorts:

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I was told this was unusual in two respects: the god has the head of a felid, and although it is supposed to be a male god, he had breasts to show his female aspect:

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Musicians playing for the king:

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The king:

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Note sure who this is, perhaps Vishnu:

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Large sculpture of woman and lion in front of a temple:

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Woman tugging on her husband’s beard:

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The famous statue of Nandi the bull, Shiva’s mount, in the “Nandi temple”:

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Finally, a few of the many famous erotic sculptures. This is one religion that didn’t demonize sex!

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Our guide told us that this represented a man playing with a monkey to keep the woman interested and thus prolong their intercourse:

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The famous bestiality sculpture: man has congress with a horse while a woman watches in dismay:

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Female masturbation: the woman on the left fondles her breasts, the one on the right her genitals:

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Dismay over “doggy-style” intercourse:

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My holiday snaps: India (architecture)

January 18, 2015 • 8:02 am

One of the day trips we took from Calcutta (now known as “Kolkata”) was to Bishnupur, world famous for its sculpted terracotta temples depicting scenes from the Mahabarata, a Sanskrit epic poem said to be the longest poem ever written (it fills several large volumes, which I can attest to since my host had a copy).

The temples are located here because Bishnupur was the capital of the Malla dynasty (later conqurered by the Mughals), and the temples, which probably took at least 15 years each to build, were ordered built (and financed) by the king. They’re made of terracotta, or sculpted clay that is fired and hardened, and then the sculpted panels fastened to the temple with a mixture of various organic substances including sugar (I can’t remember them all, but you wouldn’t think that, combined, they would form a glue that could last centuries).

The temples date mainly from the 17th century, and given that they’re made of fired clay, have been severely eroded by weather over the last 500 years. But they’re still stunning, and well worth visiting. In a few generations the figures won’t be nearly as nice.

First, there is a “Ganesha” tree in the town, which has a callosity resembling the beloved elephant-headed god. It’s revered and decorated by worshippers:
Ganesha tree

Here are several of the temples, which are spread out all over the town.  I wasn’t savvy enough to record their names, nor energetic enough to look them up now. But it’s not necessary except for history buffs.(UPDATE: in a comment below, reader John O’Neall links to a Wikipedia page that identifies and describes all the temples.) Here are four of the most elaborate:

Temple 1

Temple 2

Temple 4

Temple 5

But it’s when you get close to them that you see that each is covered with a profusion of religious sculptures. I took a lot of photos but will show just a few.

First, when you approach the temples you can see how elaborate the sculptures are:

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Note the deer (or cows) and ducks (or geese):

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The art of making these elaborate sculptures has apparently been lost, though there’s a trade in inferior terracotta pieces for the tourist trade.

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An original Sanskrit inscription. My host, a scholar of early Indian religious history, could read it, but I can’t remember what it says. Is it too much to hope that a reader can translate?

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And a selection of some of the more striking panels:

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Tigers!

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And the effects of erosion on a depiction of Krishna playing his flute. How sad that someday this will all be effaced by the elements:

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Khajuraho!

January 2, 2015 • 9:30 am

I must have about 150 pictures of the temples and their sculptures at this World Heritage Site, one of the most stunning examples of architectural artistry I’ve ever seen. Because the internet is so slow here, I’ll present just a handful, but will show a profusion of gorgeous 10th- and 11th-century art when I return. The temples, are of course, famous for their erotic sculptures, and I’ll give an example below.

A Shiva temple, the largest of the complex:

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A small part of the decoration:

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Two sculptures:

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OMG, what’s happening?

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I’m quite fond of this photo:

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An absolutely typical scene in a small Indian town:

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~