The Hindi word garh means fort. Mehrangarh, with its sheer walls, is one of the most impressive forts I’ve seen. It was built in the late 15th century by the Rathore ruler, Rao Jodha, who moved the capital here from Mandore, which is about 10 kilometers to the north. The old “blue city” of Jodhpur is contained within its walls, but the modern town lies outside and below the hill on which the fort stands. The estate is managed by a trust headed by the descendants of the old rulers. We found the audio guide very useful.

The outer walls of the fort are chiseled from the underlying volcanic tuff, so that the fort seems to be a part of the hill. During the incredible five year period when Sher Shah Suri captured the Mughal kingdom, he also attacked and captured Mehrangarh. The tall walls of the keep inside the present-day outer walls were built in the 16th century to the order of Raja Maldeo in response to this defeat. Today a lift takes you up to the top of the keep. We took this, and walked down. The inner palaces and their delicate jharokhas were built in the 18th century during the reign of Ajit Singh. This gallery shows photos of all three phases of this structure.

Autumn flowers

Autumn is a glorious time in Germany. Leaves change colour; the green of forests slowly give way to gold. The sky can be overcast, but when the sun is out, the light on the leaves is a wonderful sight. I loved walking at this time. All my friends told me to look out for mushrooms. My city eyes did not catch even one. But I stopped to look at mosses and at flowers. I find the variety of autumn’s flowers strange. I never thought that there were so many until I walked out with a camera looking for them: first in gardens and then in wild patches. I can’t name even one of the weeds.

If you know any of these, I would love it if you leave a comment with the name of the flower (in German, English or any other language).

Street artists in Berlin

There is a Paris that I never saw, but one which is celebrated in books and paintings, movies and memories. This is the Paris where artists from around the world gathered and talked to each other, while creating new works. There were hundreds of artists, of whom we now remember few.

Berlin today seems to be a vital place like that. The fall of the wall has given a space, probably temporary, for artists to flourish. We walked through a crowded galleries full of fashion photography cheek by jowl with exciting experiments. Artists from all across the world seem to gather in Berlin today. We came across bookstores which carry eclectic collections of books on art: from slim self-published volumes to glossy magazines.

And every now and then, outside these art-spaces, we would come across people painting on door and walls. There was graffiti in German, English, Turkish and Arabic. We found young (and not-so-young) artists painting large and ephemeral works on walls, others doing signboards and doors. The atmosphere reminded me of artists’ collectives in Shanghai a few years ago.

Berlin is edgy and exciting today. A great place to retire to.

Hamburger Bahnhof

It was a stormy day over northern Germany when we decided to wait it out in the Hamburger Bahnhof. Built in 1846, this railway terminus became am exhibition hall in 1906. It was massively damaged in the second world war. Although it lay in the British zone of Berlin, it was given to the East German government at the end of the war, but passed back in 1984. The current building was made to the plan of Josef Kleihues in 1996, when it opened as part of the Berlin State art collection.

The oldest pieces of contemporary art on display are probably the pieces by Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg. We moved from these into more recent works, notably a few of the more interesting works by the German conceptual artist Josef Beuys. Our eyes snagged on an incredible work by the Chinese artist Qin Yu Fen. There were some remarkable works by Raimund Kummer on display in a special exhibition.

One of the most interesting works by Beuys on display is the piece called Tallow, which is a cast of the bottom of a pedestrian overpass in Muenster made in mutton fat. The physical properties of this medium were unknown since they had never been used on this scale before. Physicists were brought into this effort to compute the cooling rate and stresses on the framework made to contain the material. The disassembled pieces on show have thermometers inserted into them which indicate that your body heat changes the work slightly.

It would take more than a day to see everything here. So we made our departure from the place as usual when we found our legs beginning to ache. The storm had cleared, but it was decidedly colder outside.

My name is not Alice but this was Wonderland

The Family walked into a dark courtyard in Berlin, and I followed. Coming off the brightly lit Rosenthaler Strasse, we seemed to suddenly fall into a hole in the ground and find ourselves in wonderland. There were paintings on all available surfaces. In a variety of styles. Some lit, others not. Some bathed in red or blue lights. Others with well-placed white lamps emphasizing some special feature of the work.

There was street art in all sizes. The gallery below has all the large works. There were smaller pieces everywhere. In the semi-darkness it was difficult to see them all. The photo above is of a section of a wall where many of them appeared next to each other.

The courtyard was not empty: there was a cinema (Kino Central) and a bar, which was well-populated. We had no desire to leave these paintings. We had not read anything about this collective at all till then. When I searched later I found some mentions, including the fact that Banksy had been here. Did we miss his work? We saw so much which was wonderful.

The place was darker than it seems from these photos. I had to lighten the images. Some looked entirely dark in the camera, and required a bit of work to recover. The lion painted on a door with light streaming out of a viewing slit took some work, as you can see from the granininess.

Art on Heinrich Heine Strasse

The street art of Berlin is too diverse for a single post. Nor am I enough of an expert to be able to classify it into styles or periods. Instead I will post by areas. The photos you see here were taken just around the northern exits from the Heinrich Heine Strasse U-bahn station. The mural by Case McClaim is famous and probably the oldest in this set. The others were found opposite it and in the subway entrance just around the corner.

When Berlin was a divided city, this area contained a border crossing. At that time it was built up with cheap pre-fabricated housing, one block of which you can see in the general view of the area. The three chimneys belong to a modern (post-unification) power plant at which generates about half a gigawatt of electrical power. The plant simultaneously generates slightly more than this in useful heating supplied to the area. The plant was designed by the architect Jochem Jourdan. We did not have time to visit the artworks which are integrated with the power plant.

A miniature world

Autumn is supposed to be the time when life shuts down, trees dry up, the land turns barren. Demeter is supposed to withdraw from the world to mourn for Persephone. These are stories and suppositions, which my new macro lens puts a lie to. A dried bush (see the featured photo) becomes home to mould which germinates and begins to spread its spores. This world is spring, as far as the mould is concerned.

After a long spell of continuous rain, I walked to work on a sunny morning and stopped to admire a six century old rubble wall. In hollows and cracks in the stone, between the flakes of mortar, and against the sometimes-dry-sometimes-wet stone, new life is burgeoning. “Winter is coming” is a slogan for life in this miniature world.

This is a green and brown world which I had paid no attention to earlier. Now that I have a macro lens, I look continuously for new subjects to photograph. What a difference a new tool can make to your whole worldview!

Graffiti 0521

I walked around the neighbourhood of a high school which was dense with graffiti: layered on top of each other. There is so much new that is happening today in this art space: the teenage gangs and their signatures remain, but there is also brilliant nature-inspired artwork. Internet and the TV continues to bring images of nature right into our homes; the tapir and jellyfish are perhaps a sign of that. There was also an underpass wall which looked like Persian calligraphy to me, but, on closer look, was not.

Rilke country

This is my favourite time in northern Germany. The cold has not yet settled in. The weather is fickle: sunny and warm one day, foggy another, and cooler with rain if you are unlucky. But through it all there is the glow of leaves turning colour.

As for the final fruits, coax them to roundness.
Direct on them two days of warmer light
to hale them golden toward their term, and harry
the last few drops of sweetness through the wine.
–Rainer Maria Rilke

I think of this as Rilke’s country, where lonely people sit under the golden trees writing long letters and reading a little. I will post more on this through the season. Here are a few photos through my first day here.

Diwali shopping

Tomorrow is Diwali, and today will be the last day of shopping. In most years I would have refused to venture anywhere near a market in the week before that. But, as a street vendor told me on Sunday, “The market has no colour yet.” I finished my photo walk on Sunday afternoon, when the crowds were thin, and my shots were not continuously spoiled by people jogging your elbow. I walked from the shops selling Diwali lights, to the ones which sell flowers (plastic flowers!), past vendors selling bubble guns and coloured boxes, toys and sweets and even a street-side barber.

Now looking at the photos I see that I concentrated on the universal language of trade: customers trying to choose between options, trying to strike a bargain, or looking at merchandise which is beyond their price bracket, vendors who look desperate to sell, some who are doing good business, and a boy selling plush toys who wanted to have his photo taken. I made his day when I took his photo, and he made my day.

Happy Diwali to everyone.