Steps

November 21st, 2012

I'd never heard of a 'stepwell' before reading about the one at Chand Baori in India.

Chand Baori is the oldest stepwell in Rajasthan, having been constructed in the 8th-9th centuries A.D. It is 19.5 meters, or roughly 64 feet, deep. The overwhelming majority of its surface area consists of steps – thousands of steps – all of which lead down to the water table, turning weekly water-gathering trips by local families into a communal spectacle, a social event framed by this extraordinary act of excavation and architecture.

'Extraordinary' is absolutely the word for it:

Chand Baori

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The Mains

November 1st, 2009

Indians take becoming a civil servant very seriously:

If the thought of memorising the bathing habits of the one-horned rhinoceros or the virtues of the Wild Ass Sanctuary of Gujarat leaves you with a feeling of mild vertigo, the Indian Civil Services examinations might not be for you. In fact, if you happen to be sitting the exams over the next three weeks, as some 12,000 eligible Indians across the country will be, you'd better hold on to your table tightly. Questions on topics as diverse as folk dances, constitutional developments, religious and social reforms and the usefulness of camels, or even the type of winter northern India would experience in the absence of the Himalayas, could crop up in one of your exam papers.

Forget "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" – this is India's toughest contest. And the potential prize is greater than anything money can buy. While a reference to the civil service in some countries will elicit a yawn, for many young Indians a career as a civil services officer sparkles with the allure of status, job satisfaction, government accommodation and top-notch marriage proposals. But much more than this, the civil services are an institution of critical relevance to society and social change in India. As a newly qualified Indian Administrative Officer, for example, your early postings will include the position of Collector in your assigned district. Far from fermenting in an office, you will be out in the field, perhaps surveying the land, picking up after a train crash or putting into practice a program of social uplift whose results will unfold before your eyes. Imbued with the authority of government and the omnipotence and benevolence that accompanies it, you might, quite literally, find yourself king of the district. […]

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Holi

March 14th, 2009

The Hindu festival of Holi (a.k.a. The Festival of Colours) prompted an exceptionally vivid Big Picture post.

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