Holy Cow! – Indian Religious Diversity

Religion in India is characterised by a diversity of religious beliefs and practices. India is a secular state with no state religion but, in the 1911 census, 98 % of the population listed themselves as having a religion (Hindu 79.8%, Islam 14.2% Christianity 2.3% and Sikhism 1.7%). Throughout India’s history, religion has been an important part of the country’s culture. Religious diversity and tolerance are both established in the country  the Indian Constitution  has declared the right to freedom of religion is a fundamental right

Worship in a Sikh Temple in Delhi

Contrast this with Australia where in 2016 the most common  choice was no religion at 26% and all Christian groups tallied 51%. In New Zealand less that half the population now recognise themselves as Christian.

Tell us about those cows please Arvind! It was three days into our tour before our guide spent some time explaining about cows in India. There are a billion cows in India but you can’t get a beef hamburger at McDonalds! 

holycow-457x325Arvind explained that Hindus do not worship cows as they do Gods. Hindus regard all living creatures as sacred – mammals, fishes, birds and more, acknowledging this reverence for life in their special affection for the cow. At festivals they decorate and honour her, but do not worship her in the sense that they worship the Deity. Many, but not all Hindus are vegetarian.

To the Hindu, the cow symbolises all other creatures. The cow is a symbol of the Earth, the nourisher, the ever-giving, undemanding provider. The cow represents life and the sustenance of life. The cow is so generous, taking nothing but water, grass and grain. It gives and gives and gives of its milk. The cow is so vital to life, the virtual sustainer of life, for many humans. Veneration of the cow instils in Hindus the virtues of gentleness, receptivity and connectedness with nature. The generous cow gives milk and cream, yogurt and cheese, butter and ice cream, ghee and buttermilk. The only cow-question for Hindus is, “Why don’t more people respect and protect this remarkable creature?” Mahatma Gandhi once said, “One can measure the greatness of a nation and its moral progress by the way it treats its animals. Cow protection to me is not mere protection of the cow. It means protection of all that lives and is helpless and weak in the world. The cow means the entire subhuman world.”

 Arvind directed our driver to take the bus to visit one of  the more than 3,000 institutions called Gaushalas, maintained by charitable trusts, to care for old and infirm cows and encouraged any of us who wished to join him in feeding the cattle. Arvind, our driver and other locals certainly gave the impression that this feeding of the cows was an act of devotion.


Why the wandering old cows – according to Arvind BLAME THE BRITS!

I haven’t checked this and Arvind is a passionate Hindu Indian nationalist but it kind of makes sense to me . Feedback Welcome!

Until the British East India Company arrived India was made up of more than 200 kingdoms, ruled by Rajas and Maharajas under the loose dominion of the Mughdal Emperor. While the Emperors were Muslim, most of the local Rajahs were Hindu. One of their royal duties was to appropriately bury dead cows and look after the sick and dying ones. Even the Muslim Rajas carried this out in deference to the views of their populations. The European invaders from England used kingdom against kingdom to gradually dominate the entire subcontinent. They amalgamated many of the small kingdoms under powerful  Maharajahs, whom they had entered into a treaty with, leaving them on the throne, while ever they continued loyal to the British.

These cattle certainly didn’t look old or infirm

To ensure this loyalty they  persuaded them to send their sons to England for a British education. Not only were these young men hostages but they came home Anglicised as well.

One of these Princes was so impressed by the milk production of European herds that, when he inherited his  throne, he imported thousands of cattle to “improve”the local cattle.









Unfortunately, in the hot Indian climate the hybrid stock proved less fertile – after 4 calves they were usually sterile, producing neither calf or milk with a decade still to live.

Unable to afford to feed such animals or send them for slaughter because of their protected status, farmers just put them out on the road to fend for themselves – or not.

In the meantime the massive increase in free cows and the decrease in the number of local rulers (and their wealth) meant abandonment of the “duty” to the cows. So India has many starving, protected cows.

Our Driver (a Sikh) helps deliver the fodder.

These Gaushalas, do divert lots of private charitable money

away from other causes to support cows.




Sitting on the Mosque steps were two musicians, an accordionist and drummer and two singers

who loudly sang praises to Allah.

Muslim preacher within the Mosque.

The tomb of a Sufi Saint from several hundred years ago surrounded by chanting devotees with lots of incense.


Architecture in India


Two Thousand Years of Buildings

In India

India is a living museum of architectural styles from the beginning of civilisation. Emerging from Hindu Temple traditions, merging into the Mughal Indo-Islamic period, and since influenced by many European cultures, after Independence in 1947, India has displayed a more international style. These photographs show some of World Heritage listed ancient buildings from Delhi, Jaipur and Agra.


Qutab Minar

The Qutub Minar is a minaret 73-metre tall tapering tower of five storeys containing a spiral staircase of 379 steps.  Construction started around 1192. 

The tower has five tapering storeys, the lowest three fluted cylindrical columns of pale red sandstone, the fourth column is of marble, the fifth is of marble and sandstone. The darker red sandstone, is engraved with Quranic texts and decorative elements. 

The tower contains a spiral staircase of 379 steps closed to the public for safety reasons.

Old columnated buildings in the complex, very much decorated with complex carvings.

This is a remnant of the earliest arches with a cast iron base for the masonry. 

Humayun Tomb

This view is from outside the tomb  looking back through the gardens and fountains towards the gatehouse

This tomb is a precursor to the Taj Mahal but with many more rooms and multiple burials

Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib Sikh Temple


Taj Mahal

Agra Fort

This is taken from the Drill Square where the Maharajah reviewed his troops. This building housed his wives on the top floor.

This is the view the wives had down the steep slope looking back to Delhi.

A different wife enjoys the view now

Decoration in Indian tradition with a combination of elephant trunks and lotus flowers

The fort marks a transition in architectural styles of archways from Hindu

to Magdal in style and materials.

With ornate ceilings

The door to the Empress’s bedroom is hobbit size, not because they were small women but as a defensive measure, in case the palace was attacked.

Exterior of an ancient temple, still used for worship.

Interior decoration of the temple.

One of hundreds of statues of gods and goddesses that adorn the temple.

Jaipur – the Pink City

Hawa Mahal – the Palace of Winds

Palace in the centre of Jaipur where the royal ladies could watch the busy pink city without being seen themselves. Its design reflects the shape of the Lord Krishna’s crown.

Patrika Gate


There are eight gates through the original walls of the city of Jaipur. The Patrika gates are a tall pink structure standing surrounded by trees and lush gardens, in the Jawahar Circle – the biggest circular park in Asia on a traffic signal!

Fatehpur Sikri

Twenty seven miles outside of Agra is this isolated, long deserted city, considered to be the most ambitious architectural achievement of the Mughals after the TAJ MAHAL.

This city was considered to be a synthesis between Hindu and Muslim cultures



































Colourful India

Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow

on it – Vincent Van Gogh

A Gallery of colourful things photographed in a week in India.


Colourful clothing on mannequins in street markets in Old Delhi

Colourful people, in this case a fakir charming his snake for Sam.

Colourful gardens in the Fort

A colourful local family out for a day of sightseeing

The Carpets are as colourful as the carpet sellers, waiting in vain for a sale

This soldier volunteered to remove and unwind his colourful turban to demonstrate how quickly he could replace it. There was 10 metres of material and it took 10 seconds. After a tip he was happy to pose for us.

Colourful bikes and posters

Colourful jewelry

An elephant arrives at the Fort in Jaipur to unload his passengers still wearing his colours from Holi Day yesterday and his colourful cloth

Colourful fabrics

Flowers in the lobby of our hotel

A colourful family selfie taken by a local family in the gardens of the Taj Mahal

Travelling in India

Travelling in India

Leaving Delhi Airport at about 10pm, we were about to leave the experience  of international jet travel to spend 8 days travelling by a variety of transport modes, ancient and modern. Here a bus, shot through the windscreen of our bus, is about to tackle Delhi in the 1 hour trip to our hotel .

Speaking of buses, here’s a transport, a small bus, air-conditioned and with a driver and bus boy. We are about to leave a modern hotel and drive through the streets of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. A different world for 10 tourists from Australia.

India has more motorbikes than any other country (37,000,000) and most of them are produced locally. They are mostly low engine capacity but that does not reduce the passenger load. We regularly saw 4 passengers, 2 parents and 2 children.Helmets were rare.

Julie asked our guide “why are Red Lights optional?” as we watched streams of traffic cross intersections against the lights, clogging up intersections. Arvind took the microphone, informing the bus that “Unfortunately in this country there is a lower value placed on human life than in yours. While we have laws they are rarely enforced”.

Who says trucks are for industrial use when you can use them for passengers as well.

Our rickshaw ride through the back streets and lanes of Delhi was exciting.

Bikes are used for carrying for carrying large loads. Heavy loads of building materials require help from pushers to get up the steeper streets.

Horses and carriages are mostly used for the tourist trade, in this case to the central Mosque in Delhi 
Labour is cheap in India, so deliveries on foot, with loads carried on the head are still seen in the biggest cities.

That means plenty of shoes for sale in the street markets

There is a lot of homelessness amongst the 25,000,000 population of Delhi with entire families sleeping on the roadsides

Yes Julie and I had an elephant ride up the very steep slope to the Red Fort in Jaipur. For my friends concerned about animal abuse – there were several hundred elephants, who would otherwise be put down, several hundred drivers earning foreign currency and the elephants work a maximum of four hours a day with a rest break after 2 hours. Our guide told us we were in India to support their economy!

Traffic is chaotic in Old Delhi. Narrow roads, too much traffic, no one follows the rules. It took us an hour to travel half a km through this.

After the Festival of Holi (colours), these four up on a motor scooter were keen to show off the hues they had been pelted with in the morning.

The Taj Mahal

“The world believes it was built by love, but reading Shah Jahan’s own words on the Taj, one could say it was grief that built the Taj Mahal and it was sorrow that saw it through sixteen years till completion.” 

Aysha Taryam


Arriving at our hotel in Agra the young porter said he had a surprise, dramatically throwing wide the curtains to reveal a recognisable spot on the smoggy horizon  – the Taj Mahal.


Taj Mahal & Pool

5:30 am wakeup,  6am in the bus and at 6:30 the warmth of the sunrise rims the building Aldous Huxley described as  ‘perhaps the most beautiful building in the world.’  It is listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

The Entrance gates facing down towards the tomb. In the right corner, is the bench where everyone gets photographed, to prove they have been here.

Bill Clinton once said, `There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who have seen the Taj Mahal and love it and those who have not seen the Taj and love it.’  I hope with my photos and words I can help you agree with a President of the USA on a least one thing.  This place is all about symmetry –  laid out in a rectangular grid, 42 acres with water fountains and gardens and reflecting pools along the Yamuna River, including  a mosque, a guest house, an enormous entrance gate, four minaret towers and the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, Shah Jahan’s wife.  It has been described as “the soul of Iran incarnate in the body of India” because a Mughal (Muslim) despot, ruling a Hindu nation, used a Persian architect and local materials, to construct an edifice designed to last forever.

“The most impressive in the Taj Mahal complex next to the tomb, is the main gate which stands majestically in the centre of the southern wall of the forecourt. The gate is flanked on the north front by double arcade galleries. The garden in front of the galleries is subdivided into four quarters by two main walk-ways and each quarters in turn subdivided by the narrower cross-axial walkways, on the scheme of the walled in garden”.   UNESCO


The Tomb is three stories on a raised plinth so it is visible from everywhere in Agra. This is the second floor entry to the crypt which required a full security search, because of threats made by terrorists to blow up the monument. The only lighting inside comes from the high windows on the four facing walls. They are covered by ornately decorated, carved marble screens.

Photography is forbidden within the tomb for practical rather than religious reasons. Taking photos slows things down and the single file of tourists has to be kept moving. The lack of light means that amateurs will let off flashes (horrible!) and professionals will want to use a tripod! I set the camera on 3200 ISO Automatic exposure, lens wide open and put it down on any solid surface, taking a time exposure. Nobody noticed I took 8 images, 4 of which were usable . The pictures are much brighter than reality-the equivalent of a bright moonlit night.

In the centre of the crypt is the casket of Mumtaz Mahal, the Empress Consort of Shah Jahan, Mogul Emperor. Her remains are not in the casket but in the crypt underneath.  She married at the age of 19 in 1612  the Prince who 11 years later became. Shah Jahan.. She was his second wife.  Mumtaz and her husband had fourteen children. Mumtaz Mahal died in 1631  during the birth of her fourteenth child, a daughter who survived and lived to 75. Mumtaz was a talented and cultured lady, well-versed in Arabic and Persian and a poet, She was reputed to have a combination of modesty and candour, a woman warmly straightforward yet bemusedly self-possessed. Their’s was a passionate marriage. His other two marriages, in contrast were politically motivated and each only produced one child.

In the dark the security guard  uses his torch to demonstrate the translucent marble of the screen and the luminance of the semi precious stones used for the decorations.

The Taj has been described as having been “designed by giants and finished by jewellers”.

The Mosque. On the other side of the Taj is an identical building. It is not a mosque though. It was believed to be used as a guest house, but it purpose was to make the Taj Complex perfectly symetrical.

The outer porch of the mosque, magnificent arches, towering ceilings with jewel decorated panels.

Ceiling of the porch to the mosque

Fine detail of the ceiling of the mosque

View of the Taj Mahal through the archway of the mosque

When the British conquered India and first saw the Taj Mahal these gardens were wooded with groves of many kinds of trees, especially fruits.

They were cleared on orders of the British  to give an unimpeded view of the magnificent buildings.


The Taj Mahal is a building built after tragedy and completed in conflict. The tradition amongst the Mughal Rajah’s was for the sons to fight amongst themselves for the throne. Mumtaz Mahal’s third son, Aurangzeb, ultimately succeeded his father as the sixth Mughal Emperor in 1658, having defeated (and executed) his three brothers. He then imprisoned his father Shah Jahan for eight years in the Agra Fort on the opposite side of river from the building where his wife lay. This was the view from his prison quarters. On his death he was buried beside her.

A Traveller’s Gallery

You’ll be the same year after year except for the people you meet, the books you read, the films you watch, the places you travel, and the new things you do. ~Lomin L Lee

This  post is a portrait Gallery of the people who went on the trip, our leader and support staff and some on of the locals we met. Text will be confined to the captions under the images, which will tell you something of our trip.

Arvind smallThe crucial person on any tour is the Manager/Guide. In India we were fortunate in this being Arvind Sharma. His 30 years experience gave him a wealth of knowledge. Living in Jaipur made him a local. His passionate Indian nationalism made him an interesting leader for us all. His desire to learn about Australia was a bonus.


We really appreciated the services of an excellent driver who deserved a medal for bravery who also helped out feeding the sacred cows.

Bus Boy

Our young Busboy, on his first trip, helped with luggage, handed out the water bottles regularly and even tried his hand out taking group photos.

Denise Angela Taj Maha 1 smallDenise and Angela at the Taj Mahal at Dawn

Gary & Julie Taj MahalJulie and Gary at the Taj Mahal at Dawn

Sally Judy horse ride smallJudy and Sally going for a horse and carriage ride in Delhi

4 housies Taj Mahal 2 smallPeter, Sam, Phil  and Danish at the Taj Mahal at Dawn

Danish & Iman 2 smallDanish spoke the local Hindi language having migrated to Australia 25 years ago so the Iman of the Mosque engaged him in animated conversation.

Phil & Sam with Turban smallAfter demonstrating how to tie a turban this soldier was happy to stand guard with Phil and Peter

Happy boys on the streetIndians seem to be generally happy – smiles were common and wide.

stair sarisStairs full of Saris in a Selfie

Street MarketersIn the centre of the city this marker extended for nearly a km with opportunity to buy all kinds of clothing, textiles, shoes. watches and trinkets

Rickshaw riderOur Rickshaw driver was leading the other four vehicles and proud of his pedal prowess. He was calling on his mates to catch up.

Wedding serversWhen we “gatecrashed by invitation” a Hindu wedding, we did  enjoy meeting the bride and groom but passed on the entrees.

Train stationThe new “Metro” is French designed  but travels above ground level. Patrons are generally middle class with the poor living alongside the tracks.

Sam barters for the shirt small

Sam is bartering for two custom made shirts to be made and delivered to our hotel that night while Peter and three shop assistants watched the bargaining process. While I took the photo, Julie bought a tablecloth.


Why India?

 “Travel – the Worlds most powerful learning Tool”

― Keith Bellows

Many people asked us, before and after the trip “Why go to India?” and it’s a good question. People think of the massive population, overcrowding, poverty, noises and smells. Several people however told us that visiting India, more than any other single country, is a life changing experience. We agree.

Julie and I travelled to India in March 2019 on Cathay Pacific and spent 8 days/6 Nights well looked after by SNA Tours.

Heavy TravelTraffic is chaotic. At one stage our bus took an hour to travel 100 metres. This photo was taken from our rickshaw, just before we turned into a lane not much wider than our vehicle, and just as crowded.

Happy in Traffic

We were all stuck together but those in the next vehicle were happy to see us. Road rage we never saw in India and, when I tried to explain the reaction that such situation provokes in Australia to our Tour Director, he just couldn’t believe it. Patience is important here.

Bride & groom

Arrival at a Hindu temple coincided with a wedding with hundreds of guests – the ceremony over and the feasting about to start. The mother of the groom invited us in, insisting on Danish being photographed with the bride and groom. Hospitality is important here.

Holi colours shared with Tourists

In Jaipur it was the Holi festival, which is all about spreading colour on everybody and everything in the morning, with quieter gatherings with family and friends to show off the colours later. They were keen to share the joy with our group.

The population of India is 1.35 billion. In an area half the size of Australia. The capitol Delhi’s population is over 25 million and it is only the third biggest city. Everything in this country comes down to the people. What they have done in the past, are doing now and will do in the future is going to have a massive impact on our world in the future.

This is the first in a series of posts I will make that illustrates my view that we learn when travelling is that ‘”People Make Places”.

My current plan is to write about and share my images in no particular order on the subjects:

  • Why India?
  • Travelling in India
  • Taj Mahal
  • Forts and Temples from Hindus to the British
  • Sacred Cows and lots of Religions
  • Legacy of Maharajas
  • Bequests of the British
  • Politics and India
  • Colours of India

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