Of Camels, the Taj Mahal, and Moot Court Competitions
Hello GW Law!
I have been remiss in writing to all of you over the last few weeks. They have been busy and they have been exciting, and I am finally getting a moment to begin to fill you all in. Because a lot has happened in a number of different areas of my law school life – the moot court competition in India, running for SBA president, and starting the clerkship search in earnest – I am going to split it up by topic and put up multiple posts. It also happens to go in chronological order as well.
The trip to India was fantastic. My moot court partner – 3L Christy Milliken – and I left for India on February 2. We had a direct flight from Washington to Doha, the capital of the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, and then a second one from Doha to Ahmedabad (pronounced Amdavad), the major metropolis of the Indian state of Gujarat where the competition took place. By the time we arrived in India it was about 5:00 am on February 4. We spend the night in a hotel, getting a chance to explore the city a little bit with stops at the Jama Masjid, Sidi Sayyed’s Mosque, and a long stroll through the old city that included a sighting of monkeys. The powerful Sabarmati River was also a sight.
That night we flew out to Delhi, and stayed for a night in a small hotel in one of the bazaars. The next morning we arranged for a car to take us to Agra that day, from there to Jaipur the next, and then back to Delhi the day after that. The ride through the rural areas of the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajastan was fantastically interesting, and also allowed us to get some work done. Both states are in some ways quintessentially Indian (although each state is different and has its own culture and charm). Uttar Pradesh is the largest state in India with over 200 million people (2/3 the size of the United States). Agra, the sight of the Taj Mahal, is in Uttar Pradesh. Rajasthan is the state that has the fairy tale cities of India with castles, forts, and the stunning Pink City of Jaipur as highlights. It also has an extensive desert, and the sight of camel-drawn carts was something.
The Taj Mahal is simply stunning. The large minarets towering over you, and the beautifully manicured gardens setting the scene as you walk up to it. As I wrote at the time:
“The region around Agra – in present day Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan – was part of Ashoka’s great empire over 2,000 years ago, in an era when Buddhism was the predominant religion in the area. According to Lonely Planet [which I should thank for much of this information], ruins from the time of the great Ashoka can be found at Varanasi and Sarnath. After the spread of Islam, which began in the 11th century, the region slowly fell to Muslim rule and was incorporated in the Mughal Empire in the 16th century. As the Mughal sun set, the Persians, and then the nawabs of Avadh, took over the region, moving the capital from Agra to Lucknow (it had previously also been at Delhi and Fatehpur Sikri). Nawab rule ended with the arrival of the British East Empire Company in 1857, leading to an uprising now known as the First War of Independence. The area was named Uttar Pradesh after Indian independence, and has been one of the most significant states in politics, with more than half of all prime ministers coming from the states, many of them from Allahabad. However, the state remains poor, largely illiterate, and often has brown- and black-outs.
Agra itself has less than 1.5 million people, but over 3 million tourists go there every year to visit the legendary Taj. The city is ancient – dating back to pre-Mughal times, over a millennium ago. Sultan Sikander Lodi made Agra his capital, but the city fell under Mughal rule in 1526, when Emperor Babur defeated last Lodi sultan at Panipat. It was during the reigns of Akbar, Jehangir, and Shah Jahan that the city was in its golden age, lasting from the mid-16th through mid-17th centuries. It was in that golden age that the Taj and Agra Fort were built. In 1761, the city fell to Jats, who looted it, and then lost it to the Marathas a decade and a half later. The British arrived in 1803, and shifted the administration of the region to Allahabad in the early part of the second half of the 19th century. Agra then became a major manufacturer of chemicals and other industrial products until tourism to the Taj became the main source of income for the city.
After that first sighting of the magnificent domes, we continued on from there as [our guide] explained the inlay work done on the Taj – the first verse of the Koran is written in black stone upon white marble around the gate leading from the first plaza into the gardens around the Taj Mahal. It was something else – surreal looking, despite the throngs of tourists jamming the area. When we finally passed through the gate, there it was, standing before us, the waters of the fountains reflecting the 90 meter dome, and the manicured gardens completing the picture-perfect view. We descended into the gardens, and made the 900 foot walk, the minarets towering over us as we got closer. Interestingly enough, they were built angled out, so that if they were to fall in, say, an earthquake, they would not fall on the glistening dome.
When we got closer, we put on the coverings for our shoes, and climbed the stairs towards the main entrance to the mausoleum. There is no electricity inside, so it is quite dark, but once you push your way in (literally) and your eyes adjust, the high dome hovers far over your head, and the tombs of Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal laid out before you. The mausoleum is really the ending of a love story – when Mumtaz Mahal died in childbirth in 1631, Shah Jahan was so saddened, that he decided to build the most beautiful building for his third wife to rest eternally in. Begun in 1632, it was not fully completed until 1653, and over 20,000 workers from across India, Asia, the Middle East, and even Europe labored on it. Within months of its completion, Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan’s son, overthrew him and imprisoned him in Agra Fort until his death in 1666, when he was laid to rest next to his wife in his heavenly mausoleum. The site was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It had major restorations in 1908 under the direction of Lord Curzon, the viceroy in India at the time, and was cleaned in 2002 using mulani mitti, a blend of soil, cereal, milk, and lime that is quite ancient.
We kept walking around the octagonal building, with carvings of Koran verses all around the inside, the pietra dura inlay work that adorned the outside also beautifying the interior. Finally, we left and went through a number of rooms to the back, which looks north over the Yamuna River, which is the holiest river to Hindus after the Ganges. The view was fantastic, with the Fort in the distance, the north-eastern minaret of the Taj built on the very edge of the river. The sun was shining, the sky was clear, and it was a perfect day.”
The day after Agra we proceeded to Jaipur. As I wrote at the time:
“The car ride between Agra and Jaipur is a relatively short one, but the change in scenery is quite marked. From the camel-drawn carts that begin wobbling down the side of the roads to the majestic and enduring fusion of Hindu, Mughal, and Persian architecture developed over the centuries, Jaipur should be a must on any trip to India, no matter how short or long. We hadn’t eaten all day, but as we arrived in the city around 11:00 we had to go and start sightseeing in order to be able to see everything. We drove straight north of the city, to the famous Amber Fort. Amber Fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight, but the majesty of it cannot properly be described. In its own right and way, it is at least as impressive as the Taj Mahal, although perhaps not as beautiful.
Perched at the top of a mountain, the fort is the innermost part of what our guide called ‘Amber City.’ The city is surrounded by a massive wall, extending kilometer after kilometer up and down the hills, in a scene I can only assume is reminiscent to the Great Wall of China. Within the walls there is a town, and above that town on the highest hills is Amber Fort, and above it is another fort, where the family of the maharaja still resides. From the highway, however, our driver stopped and we managed to take some stunning pictures, although they do not convey the majesty of the place.
As soon as we got out of the car, the expansive views of the countryside from the fort were upon us, the town and landscape sprawling far below. The fort itself is an architectural wonder, with traces of Hindu, Mughal, and Persian design vibrantly visible, and yet perfectly melded. As we wound our way through the building, [our guide] was well versed in the history and the architecture, and the interiors were stunning – from the reception hall in which the maharaja received foreign visitors to the winter palace that was covered entirely in Venetian mirrors, to the windows in the women’s balcony that allowed one to look down upon the crowds but not for them to look up at you, the place was enchanting. There were also a number of frescoes that have survived, in some places better than in others, which rival any you could see in Europe. But perhaps the most stunning thing about Amber Fort is its placement atop the hill, the long wall winding its way around it, and the other fort lording over it, the blue sky finishing the scene.
On the way back to Jaipur from Amber Fort, there is a large lake on the left side of the road, and in the middle of the lake is a palace. The palace literally emerges from the waters and stands a good three or four stories high. According to [our guide], there are another few stories located below water. The view is gorgeous – the rolling hills in the background, the shimmering water, and the beautiful palace setting the scene.”
Back in the city, the drive through the old city of Jaipur – called the Pink City – was fabulous. The buildings are all painted different shades of pink or coral, and the effect is incredibly interesting.
Once we arrived back in Ahmedabad, the competition started, and we had the great pleasure of meeting quite a few students from Indian universities. The food at the competition – which took place at the Gujarat National Law University (“GNLU”) – was all “veg” (or vegetarian), and was good, but by the end we were certainly craving a little meat in our diet. The new campus of GNLU is a sprawling, modern, glass and concrete structure that was quite impressive, even in its unfinished state.
The competition was good – but very different from what we expected based on experience with American moot court judges. The judges were aggressive – not just hard. They bombarded you with question after question, pushing you to the edge, wanting to make you break down intellectually and in terms of morale. Moreover, the time limits were pretty much non-existent. One of the rounds went on for almost three hours when it should not have lasted more than one. It was certainly a challenge, but we still won both of our oral rounds before factoring in the brief. Nevertheless, we did not make it on to the final, but did win second (Christy) and fourth (me) best oralists out of the 76 participants, which we could not complain about.
The remainder of the time in Ahmedabad was great – we explored the city, including the Sabarmati Ashram, which served as a base for Mahatma Gandhi for years during the early part of the 20th century. We also spent time in markets, and eating quite a bit of delicious Indian food. We strolled through the city – with the cows and bull wandering the streets untethered – for almost a day, taking the fascinating auto-rickshaws when the distances were too long.
In short, it was a fantastic trip. We returned via the same route on February 12, and I went into full on campaign mode because I had decided to run for SBA President, and the election had already begun. As you know, I lost that election, but it was a great experience, with one of the best parts of it being that I knew that regardless of who won we would have a great SBA President for 2012-2013. Mike Lupetow is not only well qualified, but is a sold individual, despite our policy differences. I look forward to working with him next year as I continue representing the class of 2013 in the Senate.
That’s all for the first installment of what my law school life has been like since early February. Stay tune for other installments that will bring the story up to the present soon!