Talk Description to Me

Episode 42 - Three Wonders of the World: Niagara Falls, the Taj Mahal, and Angkor Wat

March 13, 2021 Christine Malec and JJ Hunt Season 2 Episode 42
Talk Description to Me
Episode 42 - Three Wonders of the World: Niagara Falls, the Taj Mahal, and Angkor Wat
Chapters
1:24
Niagara Falls
8:02
Taj Mahal
19:22
Angkor Wat
Talk Description to Me
Episode 42 - Three Wonders of the World: Niagara Falls, the Taj Mahal, and Angkor Wat
Mar 13, 2021 Season 2 Episode 42
Christine Malec and JJ Hunt

We've all been cooped up far too long. Let's get out and do some exploring! Today, Christine asks JJ to describe three Wonders of the World: Niagara Falls, the Taj Mahal, and Angkor Wat. Join us for some description-rich virtual travelling!

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/TalkDescriptionToMe)

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

We've all been cooped up far too long. Let's get out and do some exploring! Today, Christine asks JJ to describe three Wonders of the World: Niagara Falls, the Taj Mahal, and Angkor Wat. Join us for some description-rich virtual travelling!

Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/TalkDescriptionToMe)

JJ Hunt:

Talk description to me with Christine Malec and JJ Hunt.

Christine Malec:

Hi, I'm Christine Malec.

JJ Hunt:

And I'm JJ Hunt. This is talk description to Me where the visuals of current events and the world around us get hashtag in description rich conversations.

Christine Malec:

The idea for today's episode came from our live event last December and there was a huge interest in talking about some of the wonders of the world. And it being Spring, and experiencing a certain amount of restlessness thinking about travel, we thought we would focus on three today. And so we're going to talk about - I'll just give the spoilers now - we're going to talk about Niagara Falls, the Taj Mahal, and the temple of Angkor Wat. Part of the reason I wanted to name all three of them in one sentence is because JJ, you've been to them all, which is absolutely awesome. So we're gonna start with Niagara Falls. And it's funny because in the event, a few of us, myself included, said, okay, it's embarrassing to admit it kind of like, you know, jazz hands or something. But I don't actually have the big picture of Niagara Falls. And I always act like I do, but the truth is, that I don't, so we're gonna we're going to tackle Niagara Falls, but we're not going over in a barrel, we're just where should we start?

JJ Hunt:

So Niagara Falls is actually three distinct waterfalls, there's the Horseshoe Falls on the Niagara Falls, Ontario side, that's the Canadian side. And then the American falls and the Bridal Veil Falls, which are side by side, on the Niagara Falls, New York side. But really all of them are best viewed from the Canadian side. So that's where I've visited, that's been my point of view in the past. If you look at a satellite image, I went to Google satellite images so that I could get a solid understanding of the geography. And there's a relatively narrow strip of land that separates two Great Lakes, Lake Erie in the South, and Lake Ontario in the north. The Niagara River connects those two lakes bisecting that strip of land and the from the satellite images, it's pretty clear, you can see that lake, pardon me that river, connecting the two lakes, and that's the border. So on the east side of the Niagara River is the US, New York State. On the west side is Canada, the province of Ontario. And the way that that river, the Niagara River travels, it actually splits into two to go around a large island that's on the US side. And then when it comes back together, it's quite wide and fairly powerful. You've got this split, it come back together, it's wide, it's powerful. And then it narrows again, and comes to a very significant drop in the landscape. This drop is anywhere from 70 to 190 feet, that's about like 20 to 60 meters, those are the falls. And right at that drop in the landscape, there are a few more islands. And so some of the water, just before it goes over the drop, cuts to the right. And that's a smaller channel that leads to the lower drop off of the American falls. But most of the water cuts to the left of these last little islands. This is the much higher much more dramatic Horseshoe Falls. And what's interesting about the Horseshoe Falls is that the land has eroded into a very distinctive horseshoe shape or a U shape the water in this distinctive horseshoe or U shape instead of just falling over a straight edge like it does in most waterfalls. It falls over all of the sides of this U shape and it's really significant. It's so much large, the edge of the waterfall is so much larger because of this shape. The actual the mouth of the river at this point is only about 1000 feet wide. But because of the way this U shaped cuts into the land, you end up with 2700 feet of curved waterfall. It's so much more dramatic because of the shape. A lot of water pouring in. You can imagine water pouring into a sink rushing over the edges. But instead of just rushing over one surface, it's rushing over on three sides, this U shape. So it's really that's why the Horseshoe Falls are so very dramatic. So the water that's rushing over creates this very smooth lip. And it's a never ending stream of water. So the water comes over in sheets, a perpetual sheet. It just rolls along the top, rolls over that over the lip, and then comes pounding down to the river below. And that's how the water travels right over the edge rolls over the lip crashes down below. But it's it's the amount of water because of this U shape. And it's the power with which it hits the the river below is extremely dramatic. The mist is everywhere. This is a roaring sound, it's incredibly powerful.

Christine Malec:

As a spectator, where the best place to view this from? Where's the popular viewing spot?

JJ Hunt:

So on the Canadian side, there's a footpath that's all along the Niagara River and it extends a fair distance kind of before and after the falls. So you can kind of go before the falls and watch and watch the water approach. Or you can move a distance from the falls and you can and then you can take in the falls from a distance and therefore see the whole thing a little bit better. This footpath is beside a major road. And on the on the footpath, there's an old stone wall that's maybe waist high, that's right along the edge. And you know, after the falls, there's a fairly steep drop off on the far side of that waist high stone wall. And in normal times this trail is footpath is packed with tourists, like there's tons and tons of people, people sitting on the wall leaning over to take pictures and whatnot. And so this path comes very close to the edge of the falls if you want to position yourself it's it's a it's a crowd, you kind of have to wait your turn to get right to the edge. But you can get yourself up to what feels like only a few feet away from the rushing edge of the waterfall so you can get right up there and experience the precipice where the water rushes over the edge. And then again, because it curves in it's indented as you say. You can you can feel surrounded by this water even though you're not in the middle of it. There's something about the way it curves around. It makes the sound travel in a particular way. It makes the mist rise up and gather in at the bottom in the where all the waters crashing down into the river below. The mist that comes up from there is really dramatic. And I think it's because of this horseshoe shape.

Christine Malec:

Let's move on to something a little less natural, but equally grant the Taj Mahal I have zero sense of what this looks like. So dive in.

JJ Hunt:

Awesome. Okay, so it was a long time ago that I was there I visited in my like, serious backpacking days in the late 90s. So I don't remember much of the detail. So my descriptions are based on image searches YouTube videos, and a little bit of my memory. So the Taj Mahal is an ivory white mausoleum. It's in the city of Agra, which is just south of New Delhi in northern India. And it was commissioned in 1632 by the Emperor Shah Jahan to house his the body of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It's amazing because it's a piece of architecture that seems to be aware of its own beauty. It was built to be viewed from certain angles. It's so everything about the Taj Mahal is brilliantly planned and brilliantly executed. The landscape, the backdrop, the approach, it really is an architectural masterpiece. So the best way to approach is through what they call the great gate and the great gate really is a masterpiece in its own right. It is red sandstone with some white marble inlay. It's about 93 feet tall. It's a gate with an open passage through the center, but it's also a building. It's actually square with turrets on each corner, so it's kind of got a castle like layout. And it's symmetrical with two stories of large arches on either side of the giant arch in the middle, and these arches all have pointed tips, as if someone took the top and kind of the And pinched them up very graceful. It's a hint of the fanciful. What this building does this gate does is it blocks your view of the Taj Mahal. So when you're standing on the far side or on the near side of the wall of this gate, I guess, and you're approaching, you can't see the Taj Mahal behind it. And as you walk into this giant archway, which is kind of carved out of the inside of this gate building, like if you took imagine like a solid sand castle, and then you scooped out the entranceway, that's what it's like, as you walk into this giant archway, there are a series of arches inside the archway, and then right at the center at the bottom ground level, there's an open archway with no closed door. And it also has that pointed tip, and it's very, very dark in there. And so what you see is the light on the far side, and as you walk through this gateway, the Taj Mahal starts to come into view. First, what you see through your archway is the arch of the Taj Mahal, and it's perfectly in line with the main gate arch so one door leads directly to the other. And then as you go further through the your arch, the gate arch, then you get to see the rest of the main building of the Taj Mahal, with its bulb shaped dome in the center, flanked by two smaller domes, then you keep going through and then you see the four minarets on the platform of the Taj Mahal, to at the front corners to at the back. And then you exit this gate, and you find yourself in this wide open garden with green lawns. This distant row of trees between you and the Taj Mahal, that it's cut this this tree line is cut, so that it frames the Taj Mahal it breaks so that the Taj can stand between these, you know, these two rows of trees. There's a long rectangular reflecting pool that leads from the gate straight to the base of the mausoleum. And the exterior of the Taj Mahal is all white marble. Everything is white marble, and so it has the effect of making it look, solid marble is solid, heavy material, but it's also delicate, it's pure white, so it's very solid and yet delicate at the same time. And the architecture, the landscaping choices, they create optical illusions, and every element of the design of this space is used to absolute maximum effect. So for example, the minarets, there are four one at each corner of the platform on which the Taj Mahal stands. Each one is about 40 metres tall. They're tapered, and they're topped with open arched lookouts, and then a thin ornamental finial at the top. And an element of perspective is that things that are far away appear smaller than things that are close to us. And so the two minarets at the rear corners appear smaller and closer together than the two minarets at the front. And what this does when you take in the Taj Mahal from this gate, you can see the elegant symmetry of the Taj and these and these minarets, so the outside corners have the tallest minarets and they're tapered, tapered, minarets make them look tall and straight. In fact, they're actually pointed outwards to compensate for another optical illusion, which would have them looking like they were falling in. So they're taking everything into account. And then when you move from the outside toward the center, you have the you have the tallest minarets, what seemed like the tallest minarets on the outside, and then what seemed like smaller minarets on the inside. And then in the center is the mausoleum with its symmetrical arches, the small corner domes flanking the large bulb bulb dome in the middle, beautifully symmetrical and designed to be taken in from this one perspective. It's it's really remarkable architecture and design. And the other thing that's amazing about this is it it's been built with nothing behind it. There are no buildings, there's no large trees, there's nothing behind it but wide open sky. And so it is set off against whatever the sky looks like. If it's a beautiful blue sky. If it's sunset of its sunrise, you've got pinks and purples or yellows in the sky, even if it's cloudy, whatever it is, it's a backdrop to this white marble structure with the minarets at the corners. It's It is designed in such a way to be presented to you to to whoever's taking it in, and then when you get closer, then you can start to see some of the detail work that they've done on it. So the marble that has, you know, that the entire building is made out of is is carved, intricately carved. So there are carved vines and floral patterns around the arches. There's red floral inlay on the plinth and coffins inside. That densely packed with straight lines and curved strokes, right that all of the carvings and some of its full relief and some of its just in lace, that's when you know, there's two materials, one material laid into the other all marble, there's a lot of Islamic calligraphy carved into the facade. And again, this really interesting thing they do with the architects and designers did with perspective. So you've got this calligraphy on either side of the of the doors, if you're standing right at the arches, and you're looking at this calligraphy, it's two stories up that these, you know these arches, so the calligraphy that goes all the way up the side of the building, the front of the building, it would be smaller at the top than it is at the bottom, because it's farther away. In order to compensate for that they actually made the inlaid calligraphy at the top, larger than the calligraphy at the bottom. So when you're standing and looking straight up at this, at this calligraphy, it actually looks uniform, it looks like it's all the same size. This is the kind of attention to detail, that the designers and artists that made this building put into it. So yes, from from a distance, it's all about the shape. And then when you get close up, it's all about these carved details.

Christine Malec:

So the the sort of tricks of perspective, and architecture, what do they do to your eye in mind? Is it confusing? Or is there a one overall effect? Or is it a series of many effects? Like I don't, it's hard. That's a really abstract one for, for to understand. So what's the effect of those those tricks.

JJ Hunt:

So there are a couple of effects. I mean, some of them I can explain. And some of them I can write like the first of all, you arrive and your eye is told where to look all of these, like these, the reflecting pool that leads straight to the to the Taj, the rows of conical shrubs that leads straight there, your eyes told where to look. So some of the illusions are just about pulling your eye, then there's a really interesting thing. And I don't know how to explain this. But when you approach when you then walk toward the Taj Mahal, it starts off looking quite large. And then as you get closer and closer and closer, you would expect it to look larger, but in fact, it starts to look smaller. Oh, I don't know how that's done. So really does mess with you. And then there are elements of it that I again, I don't I don't understand, like the fact that the minarets at the corners are actually pointing outwards. You can't see that like that. That's, I intellectually understand I've read that in several from several reliable sources. But it's really hard to take a picture of because they've done such a good it's an illusion that they are they are tapered in such a way that they look like they're straight, because you're the human eye wants to imagine them leaning inward. And by tapering them out. It makes them look straight. I don't.

Christine Malec:

But what's the point of that one? What's the point of that one?

JJ Hunt:

Well, there were two one point was for safety, so that if there was an earthquake in the minarets fell, they will fall away from the main building. Oh, but the other side of it is the designers didn't want it to look like they were pointing in, that would disrupt the perfection. They wanted them to look straight. And so the only way to get them to look straight was to compensate for this thing that the I did, which is make it look like they were all leaning in. So instead, they made them actually lean out so that they look straight, drippy. And that's I think why this is a wonder of the world. It's not just because it's a beautiful building. There's something about the perfection of the design, and the attention to detail and the framing of it. And all of that, I think is what makes it a wonder of the world.

Christine Malec:

That's wild. Are there any elements from there that show up in Angkor Wat?

JJ Hunt:

Yeah, quite a few acts. I mean, the approach very much takes that into account. There's kind of some of the basic layout and design with Angkor Wat with the the corner towers and then the one tower in the middle.

Christine Malec:

That's Cambodia. Right. So completely different.

JJ Hunt:

Totally different totally. Well, I mean, not that totally different. They were still there was a lot of you know, Buddhist influence and India had very strong influence in Southeast Asia. At that time. the ruin of Angkor Wat looks dry. radically different than the than the beauty the white marble the perfection, because it's made, it's been maintained and core was founded in 802, the city of Ann core,

Christine Malec:

what was your experience of visiting there? What's it like to be a tourist there?

JJ Hunt:

I was in Southeast Asia exactly a year ago just before COVID went global. And we were, we visited Angkor for three days. And honestly, it was one of the highlights of my travel life. So the anchor was the capital city of the Khmer Empire, again, founded 802. And the ruins are located near cm rip, which is a in an area that's largely forest and farmland. And of course, you know, most of us, we think of Angkor Wat, we think of the one temple, which is like a 12th century temple. But ng corps as a city, as a complex is infinitely more than just the one temple right, the site that Angkor Wat is on is massive, 400 square kilometers, like it's comparable in size to modern day Los Angeles. And there are like, there are over 1000 temples on this site that range from piles of ancient rubble that are half buried in the forest with trees growing over them the roots of like, you know, 200 year old trees that are, you know, surrounding these crumbling walls. And then there are other temples that are significantly restored, like Angkor Wat, which is more restored. Obviously, I can't possibly describe the entire site, frankly, even trying to describe all of Angkor Wat is way beyond the amount of time that we've got today. But it's important, I think, to keep that scale in mind, because one of the things that you're that you're that is amazing about Angkor Wat, is the scale, you're not just visiting one building, you're visiting a city and one of unprecedented size, like ng Corps was the largest city in the world until the Industrial Revolution, like a population of a million people in the Middle Ages. And it's just, wow, unbelievably large. Hmm. So, for me, you know, getting there is always half the experience. And and it really is the case, I think, to describe Angkor Wat appropriately, you have to, you have to imagine getting there because getting there is so important. We hired what's called a remark, which is like the Cambodian took to travel around the site. It's such a massive site, you can't just walk you've got to have some kind of vehicle and a remark is a is a small covered carriage that hooks onto the back of a moped or a motorcycle. So imagine a two wheeled carriage like a horse and carriage. Except this one has like vinyl bench seats that are facing one another like a diner booth that has no table. And it's open on the sides with you know armrests that keep you in and there's a canopy over top to protect you from the really blazing sun. And the driver is on the front on his moped and pulling you around. And so you start your day really early in the day as the sun's coming up. And it takes about 20 minutes to get from town in you know, onto the site. And first you travel on a small highway. There are there's farmland on the outskirts of the city. And then the farmland begins to fade away. And the trees become taller, the canopy grows thicker, and pretty soon you're in the forest, you know what we often would call a jungle on this long, quiet road. And then when you come out of the forest, it's because you've entered this series of enormous dirt parking lots, filled with buses and rented cars. Because Angkor Wat is an incredibly popular tourist site. And so your driver drops you off. And you have a bridge to cross. Because Angkor Wat is surrounded by a moat. It's a squarish moat almost square, and in the moat is 600 feet wide. It's about one and a half kilometers long by 1.3 kilometers deep. So the moat has a perimeter of three and a half miles. Again, scale. Everything is massive Hmm. And you cross the bridge and then you get to this main gate that serves a very similar purpose as the Taj Mahal gate. But in this case, it's not a giant building. It's a moderate building, but it's got like corridors that extend along the front of the moat on either side to the right and to the left. But you walk through this through this gate and then Angkor Wat comes into view. And you are inside a courtyard that is not dissimilar in concept to the Taj courtyard, this lush landscape, sometimes it's in some parts, it's kind of manicured. But mostly it's its forests. It's this jungle all around. And the watch the temple before you really is enormous. It's the largest single religious monument in the world. So Vatican City, it's four times as large as Vatican City. It's the size of 300 football fields, it's enormous. And the temple design is in Khmer architecture, is based on the idea of a temple mountain. So these are concentric near square galleries, or like corridors have connected rooms, one inside the other inside the other. So a near square outer wall, with a near square gallery inside of that, and then another near square gallery inside of that, and then a perfectly square gallery right at the heart of the building. And each one of those galleries is built higher than the last. So what you end up with is this mountain effect where it gets smaller, but taller, smaller, but taller. And that's how it builds up. And again, it's got these Angkor Wat has four corner towers, and then one central tower, which represents Mount Meru, the five peak mountain that's known in Hindu and Buddhist cosmology. And these, these towers would have been really ornate when they were first built, and they still look ornate. But of course, they're severely weathered. So now what you see are the layers of block that build the towers, and you get some idea of the carving that's on them. But But you don't get the full grantor of when they were first carved. And everything in in Angkor Wat is built out of sandstone and laterite. Both materials have this, this kind of rusty red, this dusty, Rusty red color. And everything is built out of this. It's in some cases, it's really dark and weathered. So it's blackened in some spots. So these towers, you know, on four corners with the largest tower in the middle. So imagine a tall woolly hat that comes to a gentle point. But this is like a chunky cable knit hat, not a really fine woven hat and chunky cable knit hat. And that's kind of what these the tops of these towers look like. Because it's chunky, everything's weathered. Everything's knobbly. And when you get really, really close, then you can start to see that there are carvings of deities in their carvings of kings in there. Maybe only partial, maybe parts of them are broken away. But it's still nobly because there are all these platforms and places for these carvings to have once been on now they're just all weathered. You can see every block in the structure, every block of sandstone every block of ladder, right. It's kind of like a giant Lego structure. You can discern all of those different blocks. You can feel them they feel like they are they they are just stacked one on top of the other.

Christine Malec:

So when you say galleries are they connected at the top at all

JJ Hunt:

The galleries are like, like square hallways, right. And so sometimes it's like one room linking to another room linking to another room, there's no, there's no other separate corridor, the rooms themselves form the corridors, and then you would go you pass through them. So either you're gonna walk around in a square, or you decide I'm just going to pass right through and get to the middle and if you pass right through, you get to a courtyard area inside. And then to get to the next hallway or gallery, you're gonna have to climb a few steps. That's how they're raised his yard inside, and then a few steps and then a courtyard inside and then a few steps and that's how you get higher and higher. these are these are covered corridors covered galleries. And in most Washington say most in some cases, the you know, they are still covered, like the roof is intact in some spots is not some spots, it's caved in and it's so big, that some areas they will have focused there are some areas they have focused their restoration efforts in some areas have kind of left it. So what you're left with is a pile of these amazing blocks. Are these, you know, huge carved blocks. And I mean, my kids loved it because it was totally open you you, in some cases were encouraged to explore. And so you could get, you could climb all over some areas and you could explore and feel walls and, and get lost in the sea in Angkor Wat it's a massive structure. You know, it's super organized, right?

Christine Malec:

Yeah,

JJ Hunt:

You would think it's easy to get around, right? You're either going through the middle and cutting across these hallways, or you're walking around in a square, and you'll come back to the same place. But it's so massive, that it's really easy to lose track of where you are. So the way we explored it was to, to get lost, we broke up into into pairs, and we're like, okay, one parent, one kid, go get lost in one direction, one parent, one kid get lost in the other direction. And we'll try and find each other by the end of the day. Like, really a great place to explore.

Christine Malec:

We so before we started recording, JJ, you were saying that you talked to your partner and your kids about this last night and said, What do you think is worth describing? So what did they have to say about that

JJ Hunt:

It was interesting. S Lois, my wife, she said the ap roach. The approach was so ke . Coming into the site, in in t e remark and no matter where y u were going in an Corps, you a e guaranteed to pass a dozen o her temples in various states o Ruin, that you will Oh, we s ould stop there. Or what about t at we should stop there. It's l ke the bounty of ruins and r ches. That was for her what s e really thought we should d scribe, we should we should t lk about my youngest. For him, i was this idea of getting l st, like being in a space that l ke, you know, they talked a out it being like Indiana J nes, right, like, you're in t ese ruins and you can explore a d you can get Lin you can find d rk corners and and then you'll f nd a half like a sculpture or, o a deity that is still being w rshiped at. So there'll be a d ity and there'll be the, you k ow, a bowl with incense sticks a d people bringing fresh fruit a d leaving it there. It's just i the middle of this gallery t at you didn't it's not a focal p int. It's just there. So he l ked the exploring and getting l st idea. And then my teenager, o course, he said, Oh, you r ally have to describe the i formation plaques dad, because t ey always made fun of us for s opping every single i flammation plaque. He's a teena er, I mentioned that, right?

Christine Malec:

You did. Yeah,

JJ Hunt:

Yeah.

Christine Malec:

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Niagara Falls
Taj Mahal
Angkor Wat