“I love Kashmiri sculpture more than anything else,” confessed our guide, Met curator Kurt Behrendt, on a recent gallery tour. “We’ve got, in this tiny room, the biggest collection, outside Kashmir, in the whole world.” Gesturing to a stunning early sculpture, seventh century (he was nonplussed), Behrendt stated that maybe only 100 or 150 examples can be found in a museum anywhere. For more than this tantalizing taste, he reminded us, “you must go to Kashmir. On our tour with the Met this fall,” he continued, “we are going to see all the early Buddhist temples, intact with their sculptures, very rare. The 7th to 8th centuries, after the collapse of the Guptas, was the great moment, not centuries later!”
A popular lecturer, Dr. Behrendt is both the leader and, in collaboration with our team at Arrangements Abroad, the designer of the Travel with the Met tour, Ancient Kingdoms & Glorious Temples, Kashmir, Punjab & Rajasthan, scheduled for October 1-17, 2015.
The Vale of Kashmir is, he said, is a lovely green place—“like an island in the mountains, not very high, maybe 6,000 or 7,000 feet with big rivers and lakes, and rich agricultural land.” Known for its pine trees and rhododendrons, the Kashmir valley a place, Behrendt emphasized, “where everyone through history wanted to go. All the Bollywood films are filmed there.” Off the world stage for decades, the situation in Kashmir calmed down, he explained, about five years ago. “My friends are visiting Kashmir, with their kids,” he added.
We continued to the next room, dominated by a simple white statue of a seated Buddha, perfectly enlightened. This statue, he admitted, was pretty great—and the temple bay above even better. “What they are doing in the Jain tradition,” he explained, “is creating heavens.” The sites we will see in Rajasthan, like the temples of Rankapur, he went on to say, are the very best of the Jain temples, more than hinting that lucky participants would be all but participating in the celestial abode.
Our guide saved enthusiasm for Gandhara—the ancient Buddhist kingdom that was the subject of his Ph.D. dissertation and first book. When India and Pakistan were divided, he explained, the museum in Lahore got half the riches of Punjab and the other half sits in the middle of nowhere in Chandigarh, which Corbusier created as India’s first planned city. The collection of Gandhara sculpture at the Chandigarh Museum, just to give one example, is maybe 40 times that of the Met. We will visit, he noted, at the tail-end of the monsoon season, when the desert is in bloom. All should be green!
The goal of this trip, he emphasized, is to see great sculpture—a very good thing! How could you possibly go wrong, Behrendt added dreamily, with fabulous vistas, 3-D mountains and rivers, great forts surrounded by desert and clusters of great temples dating from the 8th to the 14th centuries? Unlike some parts of India, good roads and world-class infrastructure make life easy. Berhrendt will be leading an optional tour on the last full day to Chittorgarh Fort—one of the largest in India and probably the grandest in the state of Rajasthan. Most people, Berhrendt stated, drive right by. But not us! Chittorgarh was one of the six majestic forts inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013. The tour culminates with two-nights at the Oberoi Udaivilas Hotel. The Taj Majal is included as an optional 4-night postlude. More details in the brochure.
Darsan, Seeing the Divine Image in India by Diana Eck
Kurt recommends starting with this book, “a great short read that frames the big ideas.” A fascinating and rigorous guide to deciphering Hindu symbolism, this book will help you understand and appreciate religious art in India. Despite its scholarly paraphernalia and language, the book (whose title translates as “seeing”) is tremendously useful for the traveler. With a useful glossary.
Indian Art by Vidya Dehejia
A volume in Phaidon’s excellent “Art and Ideas” series, this illustrated book, geared for students, considers the religious and intellectual contexts of three thousand years of Indian art and architecture. It’s particularly commendable for its extensive coverage of modern art — which gets short shift from many such surveys. This very readable book features 250 color illustrations.
The Hindu Temple by George Michell
In The Hindu Temple, considered the standard introduction to the subject and first published in 1977, George Michell explains the cultural, religious, and architectural significance of the temple. He illustrates his points with a profusion of photographs, building plans, and drawings of architectural details, making the book a useful guide for travelers to Asia as well as an illuminating text for students of architecture, religion, and Asian civilizations.
Associate Curator in the Department of Asian Art, Behrendt is curator of the current exhibition, part of the celebrations of the centennial of the department, One Hundred Years of Tibetan Art at the Met, and Sacred Traditions of the Himalayas, for which he is giving gallery talks, free and open to the public with museum admission, on Monday, May 11 and Tuesday, June 2 at 10:30. Go if you can! He’s among the most engaging speakers we’ve met in a while.
Known for exotic spices and stunning textiles, Kashmir has some of the best shopping in India. “Carpets, pashminas, papier-mâché, walnut woodcarving, and metal work are the finest crafts of Kashmir,” says tour director Christine Pagnani. One of the many pleasures of our October program to Kashmir, Punjab & Rajasthan is the opportunity to browse for handicrafts in Srinagar’s shops and markets. Here are some of our favorites!
- Suffering Moses for exquisite papier-mâché boxes, bowls, animal figures, and more. This well-tended shop, with the atmosphere of a museum, was founded in 1840.
- Cottage Industries Emporium for crafts of all kinds, reasonably priced and authentic
- The small shops specializing in dried fruits and other sundries along Kukar Bazar
- The venerable Mughal Darbar Bakery for its atmosphere, aroma, and local treats
Historic Zainakadal Market, a wholesale trading market, for copperware, spices, and tilla tailors (embroidery on fabric)
- Andraab for hand-woven Kashmiri pashmina, embroidered bedspreads, scarves, and other exquisitely wrought textiles
Gwenyth Lloyd started working at the Academic Arrangements Abroad New York office in 2003, and is now a remote graphic designer after moving to the UK. “I’ve worked for the company for 11 years now, 7 of them remotely,” says Gwen. “My current responsibilities include creating both print and web marketing.”
Before joining Arrangements Abroad, Gwen worked at the Center for Book Arts and Condé Nast in New York City (interning in the photography department at the New Yorker and working freelance at Vanity Fair). Before moving to New York to pursue a Design degree at Parsons, she achieved the position of Headbrewer at a microbrewery in Cambridge, MA.
What is your hometown?
I grew up in Townsend, MA, a typical New England town with a town common and gazebo. Band concerts on Thursday nights in the summer with the local military band. I loved growing up there, but had a British father who traveled to far-flung places through his work in geophysics, so I was always aware the planet was a very big place and that I’d like to see as much of it as possible.
Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul: Memories of the City, was a treat to read as I visited Istanbul. Vladimir Nabokov’s autobiography, Speak, Memory, is a wonderful account of his childhood in St. Petersburg. And who wouldn’t want to explore Paris after reading Georges Perec’s Life, A User’s Manual?
City you most recommend to friends
I usually find something to love about any foreign city, but my favorite destinations so far are: Mumbai, for the energy, amazing sights, and sounds; Dubai for the diversity of the people and the architecture; and London (always London!) for people watching and wandering the South Bank, Hampstead Heath, and Shoreditch. It thrills me to live in the dynamic city of Bristol, just a train ride away.
City you would drop everything to see
Florence, Italy, in the summertime. There’s something magical about the light in Tuscany, and I enjoyed an unforgettable cone of profiterole ice cream there.
The assignments are always changing, and the design work is very interesting and challenging. Working as a designer for a travel company allows me to armchair travel through researching destinations and map-making. Have loved meeting our travelers while accompanying trips to the Baltic and the Caribbean. And, last but not least, my outstanding colleagues, who make me feel like a valuable member of the team despite the distance!
Am a mother to a spirited, adorable four-year-old son, also am a painter, seamstress, and keen cook (when I have the time)!
Most visited websites
The Guardian, Pinterest, and BBC Radio 4
What is something about you that surprises people?
Am able to count time to music pretty well for a non musician. After my first attempt at playing the drums with a band, my friend commented my timing was “like a clock!” Hope to take up learning to play the drums again someday.
My son, my iPad, pencil bag and my sketchbook
Number of trips traveled on
I have been to 26 countries and am now living abroad in the UK. Dual nationality has some perks.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Believe travel is a necessity and a force for good in the world. The more the idea of the “other” is broken down… believing people who are from foreign places are somehow fundamentally different than ourselves…the more our compassion for humanity as a whole grows. Gaining the knowledge that the majority of people on earth, no matter where they are from, want the same things from life as us, is invaluable.
Wandering the grounds of mysterious Chichen Itza. Swimming in the turquoise waters of French Polynesia. Walking among Easter Island’s giant Moai statues. Gazing at the iconic Taj Mahal in Agra. Spotting a lion on an African safari. Witnessing thundering Iguazu Falls. Watching the sun rise over stunning Angkor Wat.
Through luxury tour operator Academic Arrangements Abroad, travelers can experience all of these wonders in just three weeks on a new “Around the World by Private Jet” program. This extraordinary journey will take place from March 5 to 26, 2015. The New York-based travel firm is organizing the “Around the World” program in conjunction with Australian company Captain’s Choice.
“Captain’s Choice has been offering high-end travel opportunities for many years, and we are thrilled to be able to join their program and also offer the services of an Academic Arrangements Abroad Tour Director to accompany travelers throughout,” says Jim Friedlander, President & CEO of Academic Arrangements Abroad.
Starting in either London, England, or Mérida, Mexico, travelers will board a private wide body Boeing 767 chartered exclusively by Captain’s Choice and begin a three-week adventure to twelve of the globe’s most fascinating sites, from impressive Iguazu Falls to the plains of the Serengeti. The jet has been fitted with only 90 VIP guest seats – offering extraordinary space and comfort en route to each destination. This once-in-a-lifetime program includes top hotels, from the world-famous Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro to the gracious Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap.
“We also have a few signature events, which will be presented in select cities on the journey,” says Friedlander.
For additional details about “Around the World by Private Jet” (from $57,250 per person, double occupancy), travelers can contact Academic Arrangements Abroad at 212-514-8921.
Staff at Academic Arrangements Abroad are ineligible for our Adventures Abroad photography contest. However, we have had a few adventures of our own, and lots of talented photographers work here.
Below are a few of our favorite staff travel photos, which were taken in locations around the globe.
Assistant Tour Coordinator Erik Hyman shot wonderful images in China while he was conducting folk music research for the Fulbright program in 2011 and 2012. You can see more of Erik’s amazing travel photographs on Flickr.
Cathy Farber, Vice President, Marketing & Communications, traveled to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands in 2013. During her journey, Cathy photographed an adorable baby seal in the Galápagos Islands.
She also shot a stunning image of the Andes Mountains from Quito. (Scroll to the bottom of this blog post to see the landscape.)
Jim Friedlander, President, took a picture of a crocodile area in a national park in Panama during a trip to Central America in December 2013.
In addition, Friedlander shot this dramatic photograph of Mt. Everest from a plane last November.
Gloria De Luca, Vice President, Communications, captured this image of men in turbans at the Pushkar Camel Fair in India.
Additionally, she photographed this leopard in a tree during a recent journey to Sri Lanka, where highlights included a jeep safari.
We hope you’ll enter your own travel photos in our competition. The deadline was just extended to July 1, 2014, and images entered so far include everything from riding camels in Egypt to practicing yoga on a sunny beach in Puerto Rico. Show us your idea of a travel adventure!
The first-place winner, as selected by our panel of expert judges, will receive $1,000 off any 2014 or 2015 Academic Arrangements Abroad cruise. Second prize is $500 off a 2014 or 2015 Arrangements Abroad cruise, and third prize is a micro luggage scale (handy for avoiding overweight baggage fees).
You can also vote on the submitted images, which are featured in a gallery that can be accessed through the photo contest tab. The most popular photograph will receive a People’s Choice Award and a special prize.
To enter or vote, please go to our Facebook page and click on the Adventures Abroad Photo Contest icon below our name. It will take you to a new page where you can enter the contest or vote on selected entries (or both!).
Be sure to submit your entry before July 1, 2014.