Everyone can pick out India on a world map, that distinctive pendant triangle floating on the Indian Ocean and attached to the Asian mainland by what is undoubtedly the earth's most awesome necklace—the Himalayan Mountains.

India's geography is so vast and varied that it is a subcontinent in its own right containing the world's highest mountains and largest alluvial plain, its driest desert and wettest place, and impenetrable tropical jungles. It is home to exotic animals from the tiger and elephant to the king cobra, and to more species of birds than any other country. read more

Its ancient culture cultivated plants that the European powers fought to gain control of: black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger. It produced cotton and woolen fabrics as fine as spiders' webs. Its artistic genius extended from architecture and sculpture and painting to ivory carving, metal work and weaving. It invented, or rather discovered, the mathematical concept of zero and the decimal system.

Yet none of that identifies India's true distinctiveness. Home to a myriad of cultures, languages, literatures, cuisines, kingdoms and races of people, there is one thing, one special quality above all, that has given India its unity, an essence that has been recognized worldwide for millennia—its spirituality.

India is the last living ancient civilization; and Indians, like all members of those other now extinct age-old cultures, live in the company of their gods. They are dancers following an eternal choreography. And they live like this almost without noticing; they are inadvertently spiritual. They lead archetypal lives.

Entirely different from a map of the subcontinent's geography, India's spiritual map is composed of a myriad of subtle channels, pathways of devotional mobility, we might call them, that criss-cross in complex patterns the land mass of the subcontinent. The intersections of these spiritual highways identify places of pilgrimage, power places or, in Sanskrit, “tirthas,” literally fords or crossing points from the mundane world of space, time and matter to the world of spirit, the realm of the gods, and a dimension of personal transcendence.

Journey along some of these “highways” and dwell for a time at some of these tirthas. Realize that in India, images of the gods in every humble home, every tree encircled by colored threads and every river are also tirthas; and more than that, every single individual too is a power place, a ford or crossing point between two worlds.

Delhi — New Delhi, the capital of India, is a gracious city of broad tree-lined avenues, gardens, parks and English colonial “bungalows” (actually sprawling mansions set amid spacious landscaped estates). Here and there are tombs of kings and nobles of the many Muslim dynasties that ruled here, most of them in gardens representing the paradise in which the deceased now dwell; today most have become public parks. In the center of the city is the great imperial British construction, a vast planned capital with domed buildings, a triumphal arch and the enormous Presidential (formerly the Viceroy's) palace, all of uniform design and color (the two-tone buildings of dark red and light tan sandstone are especially distinctive) and set amidst acres of lawn and numerous reflecting pools; it rivals Washington D.C. and Paris in scale and concept. Never mind that a mere 14 years after it was completed and occupied by the colonial government, India gained its independence and the British had to vacate, leaving behind their “jewel in the crown,” which they had expected to rule for a thousand years.

But this modern, vibrant capital is a palimpsest. Scratch its surface and numberless ancient worlds reveal themselves. The 12th-century Qutb Minar, world's tallest victory tower and site of India's oldest extant mosque, was built on top of a more ancient city. Constructed from the remains of 27 sacked Hindu temples, this complex of monuments (a World Heritage site) resonates with spirituality, for the tower is in fact a cosmic axis, a power place where the center of the universe becomes visible on the surface of the earth and where individuals can come to reach the center of their own being. The mosque, constructed by Hindu craftsmen, is the earliest example of the fusion of styles that later would become known as Indo-Saracenic, a remarkable synthesis of two apparently incommensurable approaches to reality (Hindu and Muslim). Here, Hinduism grounded Islam, made it more concrete and earthy, and Islam lightened Hinduism, made it more aesthetic, graceful and beautiful.

Lying to the north of and in striking contrast to the spacious, green new city is Old Delhi, built in the 17th century by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (the selfsame king who built the Taj Mahal). A crowded maze of streets and lanes, its bazaars supply both cities, old and new, with the necessities as well as the luxuries of life from spices to fireworks, chemistry laboratory equipment to poultry, wedding decorations and costumes to optical instruments.

Set on a natural hillock rising out of the warren of streets that is the old town is the great Jama Masjid, the Friday Mosque, one of the world's largest. Built of red sandstone and white marble, it is a wonderful construction of domes, arched gateways and minarets; and it is a spiritual space too: floating, amorphous and non-directional, illustrating in stone the Islamic idea of the omnipresence of God.

Here in Old Delhi too, and at the other extreme of religious ideology, is a Jain temple. Richly decorated with gold and marble, its numerous shrines containing statues of the 24 Jain teachers or tirthankaras (literally ford-makers, or those who make possible a crossing over from mundane, profane existence to the world of spirit), the temple also houses a bird hospital that provides free treatment for sick and injured birds of all kinds. Jainism, a small sect similar in many ways to Buddhism, takes to extremes the injunction to do no harm to any living thing. Jains are not merely vegetarians but will eat nothing that requires killing even a plant, so root vegetable are forbidden: they will eat only grains, fruits and milk products. Yet it is a very wealthy sect, for not being able to farm (for breaking and tilling the land necessarily involves killing small creatures and plants), they turned their efforts to banking and business, occupations at which the have excelled.

The roads between Delhi and Jaipur and Jaipur and Agra pass through the heartland of ancient India. Just a few centuries ago this was still thick jungle teeming with wild and dangerous animals: leopards, elephants, tigers, bears, wild boar. So difficult was it to pass through that the ancient migration routes followed the foothills of the Himalayas far to the north, for however difficult passage was there, it was less fraught with danger than these jungles. Nowadays, this is agricultural land dotted with villages, but still farmed in the traditional way with little machinery: bullocks still pull wooden ploughs and the Persian wheel is the most common method of irrigation. Houses are mostly made of earth with thatched roofs and dung is still the main cooking fuel. Some of the roads were once Mughal highways and distances are marked by kos minars, little minarets, the equivalent of milestones.

Jaipur — Paradoxical though it may seem, Jaipur is a “new ancient” city. New because it was founded as recently as 1727, but ancient because it was planned according to age-old principles of geomancy based on the ancient Hindu Vastu Shastra (precursor of the Chinese Feng Shui), a set of texts that prescribe how to design, build and furnish human spaces and structures so they harmonize with the structure of the cosmos and the self. As such, Jaipur is a microcosm with streets laid out in grids composed of nine squares, homologous with the ancient Hindu conception of the universe. On a hill in the center of town is the sumptuously decorated royal palace complex, home of the earthly ruler, as macrocosmically, Mount Meru stands in the center of the universe and is the site of the palace of the god Shiva, its ruler. And to continue the correspondence, a humble home has its household altar creating its center and the human body has its spine as an axis, a subtle channel for cosmic energy (kundalini) to rise through. And the correspondences do not end there: even the widths of Jaipur's streets were determined by cosmically auspicious numbers and are related to each other by harmonious proportions.

There is a uniformity of design and color in the buildings too; all this results not only in a handsome and charming urban landscape, but in a living structure that brings well being and prosperity to its inhabitants, as it places them in a city space that is in harmony with the divine structure of the cosmos.

But long before they built Jaipur, the Kachchawa dynasty ruled from a city located just a few miles away, known as Amber. The place was occupied by a tribe called the Minas who were defeated by the founder of the dynasty, Duleh Rai, who although he was given shelter by the Minas, slaughtered them in a drunken rage and made Amber his capital in the 11th century. The present fort, built on tiers in the rugged hills, dates from the beginning of the 17th century. It is a fairy tale of a palace with beautifully decorated pavilions and water channels, mirrored chambers and wonderful views over the surrounding countryside and of the crenellated walls that snake up and down the surrounding hills. Although Hindu, the architecture and décor of the fort and its palaces show strong Mughal influences, just one example of India's cultural syncretism. It was due to the increasing wealth and population of the kingdom that Amber was outgrown and the city of Jaipur had to be built. Just as kings and dignitaries did in olden times, we too will ride up to the fort along stone-paved rampways and through triumphal gateways into the main courtyard of the palace on the backs of richly caparisoned elephants.

Jaipur's own City Palace is also a harmonious blend of Hindu and Islamic design. A vast, sprawling complex, each building is set in its own garden. Most of the palace is now a museum but the current raja still lives in a part of the complex. The buildings contain displays of finery, the trappings of royalty from textiles, costumes, carpets and furniture to weapons and paintings. The different parts of the palace are entered through beautifully decorated monumental gateways, one of them flanked by enormous white marble elephants. Among the more remarkable artifacts is a pair of silver water jugs. The largest silver objects ever created, they were used to store Ganges water and were taken to England so that Raja Madho Singh II could bathe in holy water every day during his four-month sojourn there to attend the coronation of King Edward VII.

One of the courtyards was used for dance performances and has four exquisitely carved and enameled doorways each with a different theme (including peacocks and banana trees).

Jaipur's most famous monument is the Hawa Mahal or Palace of the Winds. Built in 1799, it is actually more a façade than a palace (it is one room deep) and contains 953 stone screened windows in innumerable styles and designs and cleverly positioned to catch the faintest of breezes. The royal ladies would sit unseen behind the latticework screens and watch the action in the bazaar below. The building exemplifies a major theme in Indian architecture: the repetition of the basic elements of a design, which provokes a hallucinatory, consciousness-altering effect in the viewer.

Just next to the City Palace is the Jantar Mantar, literally the Formula of Instruments. Built in 1827, it is the last “stone age” observatory (in the tradition of Machu Pichu and Stonehenge) and contains monumental and surreal astronomical instruments (uncannily resembling some of the structures in de Chirico's paintings). These sundials and astrolabes can tell time accurately to a fraction of a second, give the positions of various celestial bodies and the time of certain astronomical occurrences like the solstices and equinoxes. This was an improvement on European instruments of the day, for small instruments required very precise calibrations, which were beyond the technological abilities of the 19th-century.

Beyond the planning and symmetry, the forts and palaces, Jaipur is a throbbing, vibrant commercial town, a market for the traditional products that are made, still in a pre-industrial way, both within and around the city: precious stones, jewelry, the distinctive Rajasthani upturned, pointy-toed shoes, and blue pottery; but most noticeable of all, Jaipur colors cloth. Tie and dye and block printed fabric in a dazzling kaleidoscope of colors and patterns hangs in the shops and almost overwhelms the uniform deep salmon color of the buildings lining the streets. But if you can wrench your bedazzled eyes from the cloth and check out the street profile, you'll be charmed by the delightful facades, all planned when the city was built, with their protruding screened balconies and slender-columned domed pavilions. And the monumental gateways to the city, in the same salmon color, are even more fantastic, their details—window frames, arches and turrets—outlined in white.

Agra — All the various groups of people who came to and settled in India were indianized, embraced by this culture, which strives always for completeness. And their divinities too were indianized, integrated into the Indian pantheon, which numbered 330 million gods (at last count). Islam was no exception: it was made mystical; Sufism was born here.

In Agra (the world's only city with three World Heritage monuments) the evolution of Islam's spiritualization is visible in stone and marble in some of the world's greatest architectural creations.

Driving from Jaipur, about 20 miles before Agra, is Fatehpur Sikri, the deserted, wonderfully preserved 16th-century capital city of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. One of the world's great monarchs, Akbar was a “renaissance” man: hunter (he once killed a tiger with his bare hands) and warrior, poet and philosopher (all the more remarkable for he was illiterate), ruler and statesman. Under his rule the Mughal Empire came of age. He consciously strove to unite his domains administratively and even religiously, attempting to develop a religion that would synthesize the subcontinent's two apparently incompatible religions: monotheistic, expansionist Islam and pantheistic, pacific Hinduism. Even Buddhists, Jains and Christians were included (he invited Jesuit priests headquartered in the Portuguese enclaves in South India at the time to discuss theology) in his famous religious debates.

He located his capital here, in what was probably a rare weak moment of emotional exuberance, in gratitude to a Sufi Saint who predicted that a male heir would be born to Akbar and survive to inherit the throne (for all his sons had up to then died in infancy) only if his wife spent her confinement at Sikri, which was then a small village. The city is a wonderful expression of Akbar's personality. The architecture is restrained yet heroic, masculine yet elegant, almost classical in its quiet grandeur and certainly noble, if not truly simple. All in dark red sandstone, the scale of the buildings is majestic but not pompous. They are without the profusion of marble and semi-precious stone inlay favored by his successors but which Akbar would have found decadent.The Hall of Private Audience is a masterpiece of design. The fairly small chamber is dominated by a great pillar in its center (yet another cosmic pillar) carved in a variety of styles representative of the different religions of the empire. Akbar sat on a platform atop this pillar, which is connected to the corners of the room by stone catwalks (or rays of the sun that emanate from the Emperor himself) where members of various religions sat to discuss theology.

Other noteworthy buildings abound, including a palace with five recessed stories designed to catch every stray breeze, and an open-air dance hall where the dancing platform is an octagonal stone island in a reflecting pool.

Fatehpur Sikri bears the imprint of one man, Akbar, but Agra's “Red” Fort is the legacy of the three greatest Mughal Emperors: Akbar, Jehangir and Shah Jahan. Here we see the evolution of Mughal style from the restrained buildings in red sandstone favored by Akbar to the elegance and opulence of white marble with semi-precious stone inlay and cusped arches of Shah Jahan's buildings.

Inside this vast space, surrounded by double, beautifully striated red sandstone walls with two moats between them (one for crocodiles, the other for tigers), we move through courtyards, each containing a palace and garden. We compare the earthy vision of a rugged man of action (Akbar) with the refined, delicate tastes of his cosseted, sybaritic son and grandson (Jehangir and Shah Jahan). The marble inlay work in Shah Jahan's palace here is as fine as anything ever made. The sweeping curved roofs of his daughters' twin palaces flanking his own are bold strokes. One courtyard contains a gigantic tub carved from a single block of stone with steps both outside and inside so that Nur Jahan (wife of Jehangir) could get in and out of her bath. Here, it is said, she bathed in rose petal-scented water, which led her to invent attar of roses, the rose perfume still widely used in the subcontinent.

The beauty and perfection of the Taj Mahal, like that of the Great Pyramid at Giza, the only other monument with which it can be compared, has become a cliché—until you confront it head on, that is. A monument to a mortal wife and eternal love, the Taj defies the laws of physics, for it is at one and the same time an enormous and massive marble monument, yet as light and insubstantial as a dream. Floating above its reflecting pool, it is a shimmering image of purity and radiant beauty.

Seeing it for the first time, framed by the enormous gateway that is the entrance to the spacious garden in which the Taj reposes (and which would be a world-class monument in its own right if not for the superlative presence to which it leads), it appears truly ethereal, weightless, unattached to earth and almost diminutive, until you spot the figures on the monument's parapet and realize that those specks really are people and that if they appear so small then the Taj must be enormous, and it is. Then you realize just what a weighty, massive pile of marble this is, and you are viscerally struck by that tension between lightness and weight, insubstantiality and massiveness, the perfection of a miniature and the awesomeness of enormity.

The Taj's symmetry is unrivaled. It is identical from every side. Even the buildings in the garden mirror one another. For example, to the left of the Taj (and facing Mecca) is an exquisite mosque; to the right and just as beautiful is its “echo,” identical to the first but serving no purpose (for it would not face Mecca and so could not be a functioning mosque) except to maintain the symmetry of the overall design.

With the Taj Mahal it is not only the big picture that is stunning. There is beauty and perfection in every detail too, from the low reliefs of foliage, in which every marble leaf seems ready to shimmer with the slightest breeze, to the semi-precious stone inlay where flower blossoms are composed of 64 pieces of carnelian in shades just right to produce the effect of dappled sunlight. But whatever the stone—turquoise, coral, tiger's eye, lapis lazuli, malachite—all the inlay work is miraculously precise, as if the marble itself were colored that way. The overall effect is unbelievably naturalistic. Yet all the colors of the Taj and of the structures in the complex are due to inlay: not a drop of paint was used anywhere.

A tomb for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died at the age of 39 while bearing her fourteenth child, the entire complex is a representation of paradise and is modeled on the Koranic description of heaven, which is a garden divided into four parts by water courses. The Taj's dome symbolizes the vault of the sky. It took 20 years to build and employed a work force of 20,000.

Khajuraho — If a temple is a cosmic (or microcosmic) mountain, then Khajuraho is an entire range of great peaks. Originally, at least 85 temples existed here in what once was once a great capital city but is now just a small village. Today 25 remain, and even that is a miracle. The dynasty of kings that built these architectural and sculptural masterpieces faded from history after the 14th century. The site was overtaken by jungle and so escaped the depredations of the various Muslim invaders who swept across northern India between the 11th and the early 18th centuries and left in their wake the rubble of countless masterpieces of Indian art and design.

It was only in 1838 when a man named T.S. Burt, a British official traveling through the region in a sedan chair, was told by one of his bearers about a fabulous group of derelict temples a few miles off his route in dense jungle. It was his fateful diversion that brought these architectural masterpieces to light.

The name “Khajuraho” may mean “date palm,” for these trees have always grown in this region, but more suggestively, it may also mean “scorpion bearer,” the scorpion being a symbol of “poisonous lust.” The Shakti cult, one of the most important tantric sects, was present in Khajuraho. Their philosophy held that through certain rather extreme practices and rituals a devotee could gain a shortcut to enlightenment. Now enlightenment or (in Buddhist terms) nirvana is literally an extinction of the individual ego, one's individual identity, either because it merges with absolute oneness or plenitude or is extinguished in the void that is the highest reality. All Hindu and Buddhist spiritual practice is directed toward this “goal.” Whether through rigorous discipline of mind and body (raja yoga), by dedication to work and ritual (karma yoga) or by devotion to a personal god to the point of identifying oneself with it (bhakti yoga), a seeker eliminates all trace of individuality from his being.

Tantra employs rather more extreme and controversial practices to attain this end. The self is held to be nothing but desire or craving, so the goal must be to overcome or extinguish desire, the source of all existence and all misery. Conventional Hindu practice (and that of most other spiritual traditions, both Asian and Western) involves renunciative disciplines and asceticism, but Tantra does not renounce or deny (which, as Jung thought, just makes the renounced object or desire more attractive), but rather aims to satiate the seeker, to transcend desire by satisfying it, to transmute it into spiritual awareness and so eliminate it.

The Khajuraho temples are famous (or should I say infamous?) for the erotic sculpture that adorns their surfaces, much of it startlingly explicit. And indeed it seems that sexual rituals were performed in many of these temples, rituals that involved the copulation of a male worshipper with a “slave of the gods,” or a temple “courtesan.”

Without this background, the temples at Khajuraho seem senseless. “Yoga is Bhoga,” it is said in Sanskrit: “Union [with the divine] is delightful.” That union is symbolized by earthly sexual union, and so with right practice and discipline, divine delight can be achieved through sexual intercourse, and the surfaces of the temples overflow with depictions of that divine delight, which is not to be conflated with sexual pleasure.

The Chandellas, the Rajput dynasty under whose patronage these temples were built, was founded by one Chandravarman, child of a brahmin's daughter who was seduced by the Moon.

The temples of the Western group, the most magnificent and well preserved at Khajuraho, all sit on high platforms so perhaps they were built in a lake—floating islands of sacrality.

From 900 AD, the Lakshmana Temple has very detailed carvings of scenes from everyday life arranged in the form of processions around the building's plinth; the shoulder-high stone elephants are especially beautiful. The temple's walls are jam packed with sculptures of gods and goddesses and of “loving couples” in relaxed sinuous poses, all carved in high relief and nearly life-size.

In the interior of the Lakshmana Temple one moves through a series of porches to a large hall. Here is a raised stone platform for the performance of tantric rituals and dances. The carving here is perhaps the finest at Khajuraho—stone made viscous. Windows placed above eye level admit light, but do not allow the devotee to be distracted from sacrality by the profane world outside.

The inner sanctum, entered through a narrow doorway, is raised two very high steps above the floor (so you cannot take for granted this passage into the most sacred dimension of reality) and contains a four-headed statue of Vishnu, the preserver god.

If the Lakshmana Temple has the finest sculpture, the Kandariya Mahadev Temple is the height of structural perfection. Built between 1025 and 1050 it is the largest, tallest, most artistically mature temple at Khajuraho. It makes a restless, strongly vertical impression, yet that restlessness is pervaded by a sense of the building's overarching unity. The shikhara or tower is over 100 feet tall and clustered with 84 subsidiary shikharas, replicas of itself. This is a massive structure: the volume of its stones virtually equal to the amount of empty space enclosed by them.

The sculpture is of mature style; the figures are tall and slender, and portrayed in highly accentuated postures, twisting and turning in space, adding dynamism and movement to the restlessness of the entire structure. And they are profuse in number, 600 on the exterior and 200 inside the building. In fact, in the Kandariya Mahadev Temple sculpture dominates architectural form.

More than any other, this temple represents a range of mountains with the smaller “peaks” of the porches and halls cascading to the crescendo of the shikhara that crowns the inner sanctum. And inside, moving through the chambers toward the marble Shiva Lingam that is the main object of worship here, the devotee reiterates the reversal of the process of birth, moving along the birth canal back to the womb (and the Sanskrit term for the inner sanctum of a temple literally means “womb room”), toward a condition of pre-individuation, the cosmic unity that obtained before birth. The lingam itself, an erect phallus, is symbolic of that pre-individuated state of pure potency, the greatest amount of power contained in a pre-manifest state of oneness and perfect union.

The only active temple at Khajuraho is the Matangeshvara. Still in everyday use, it gives a feeling of what temple worship is and has been like in India for millennia. Extremely plain compared to the other temples here, it is one of the earliest built. In the inner sanctum is a polished stone lingam about eight feet high. A statue of the elephant god Ganesh, Lord of Obstacles (at times the remover of them, at other times their creator), sits outside, heavily garlanded with fresh flowers by devotees who visit this temple in a steady stream throughout the day. Itinerant musicians, sometimes blind ones, sit outside the temple and play music to entertain gods and worshippers.

Varanasi — In India, rivers are spiritual highways, channels through which spirit releases its creative power. And if you know how, you can reverse the process of creation; then the rivers become flowing stairways to “heaven,” to transcendence, to self-realization. The Ganges is the paradigmatic sacred river and the ancient city of Varanasi, located on a bend in the river's course, where it reverses direction and flows back towards its source, is perhaps the world's ultimate power place, a tirtha so powerful that all of India's other innumerable power places, (which are fords from the mundane world to the world of spirit) locate themselves in Varanasi in microcosm. It is said that even being touched by a breeze that contains but a drop of vapor from the Ganges at Varanasi releases one from countless lifetimes of suffering.

The city of Varanasi lines the top of a steep ridge that along with the river forms a huge sweeping crescent about 3 miles long. Wide, steep flights of steps, called ghats, descend the ridge from city to river. The height of these steps varies greatly, as the river rises and falls dramatically through the year. The river itself, “Ganga Ma” or “Mother Ganges,” is a goddess and so the riverbank is a temple where rituals and devotions are performed and offerings made.

Just north of the main ghat, Dasasvamedh (where ten horse sacrifices were performed during the reign of a long-ago, perhaps legendary king) is the spiritual heart of Varanasi, the Great Cremation Ground. Here bodies are burned 24 hours a day, every day of the year. It is a great thing to die and be cremated in Varanasi, for here death is auspicious, an initiation, a beginning rather than an end, a release from the suffering that is individual existence; so people come here from all over India to live out their last days. The streets and lanes leading to the burning ground are rivulets down which corpses flow to merge, like rivers into the ocean, with the Absolute. Varanasi is only place where the burning ground is right in the middle of the town; everywhere else, it is on the outskirts, far from the center.

But a few steps away from the fires of dissolution is a small pool, unconnected to the river. Here, the god Shiva and his consort, the goddess Parvati, called on the god Vishnu to create the world so they could spend their time dallying on Ganga's bank granting liberation to the dying. Vishnu's first act was to dig this pool, which became full with the world's first water, the sweat of his effort. When Parvati saw the pool she shook with delight and one of her jeweled earrings fell into its depths, and so this place of primeval creation has ever been known as Manikarnika, the pool of the jeweled earring. And the circle is complete: creation and destruction, life and death live in Varanasi side by side in a cosmic union of opposites.

Most of the ghats have palaces at the heads of their great flights of steps leading up from the river, for kings and nobles from all over India longed to dwell from time to time in this holiest of places. Away from the river, the old city is a maze of narrow lanes filled with temples and shrines (for the gods too want to live in Varanasi), homes, workshops and shops.

The paradigmatic tourist town, pilgrims from every corner of the Indian subcontinent and beyond throng Varanasi and the town lives by serving their needs and catering to their wants. The bazaars, in densely packed arcades, glitter with the finery of the East and the town is famous for, among many other things, wooden toys, religious paraphernalia, brilliant and ornate silk brocades, saris and perfumes.

See all of this and more on boat rides on the Ganges, riding in bicycle rickshaws and on walks through the city.