Sunday, February 26, 2012

A few days at the Apani Dhani

We are now in Bundi, an ancient fortified city south of Jaipur, after an arduous 9 hours by bus from Nawalgarh.  More about that later!

We left Jaipur Thursday morning and travelled three hours by bus to Nawalgarh in the Shekhawati district.  Our objective was the Apani Dhani, an eco-lodge that I had visited just for one night in 2010.  I loved it so much that I wanted to come back with Lloyd.  We didn't have the best arrival--we got off the bus too soon, and so our expected 500 metre walk turned into about 2 km by the time we arrived dripping in sweat at the lodge.
I'm standing in the entrance of our traditionally built bungalow.

We settled in for the rest of the afternoon with knitting and reading...and relaxing...
In the central courtyard 

and then went for a walk into Nawalgarh with the help of a map that is vastly out of scale...and stopped to watch a wood worker creating spindles on a power lathe.  The lathe is at floor level, and he was sitting on his haunches so as to use his feet to support his chisels!  Within 5 minutes he turned a 3 x 3 x 24 inch post into a spindle, using only a variety of calipers to gauge the measurements.

There were other artisans in the town too--we wandered through the pottery section where there were several houses with workshops.  Men were throwing big and small pots on wheels that they got turning by using a stick in a hole.  Enough momentum was created to allow them to make a couple of pots before they had to poke the stick in the hole again to get the wheel up to speed again.

The Apani Dhani offers a variety of activities--we went on a guided walk through the town and were shown some amazing wall art on old "havelis" (mansions) created 100-200 years ago.

This was a very prosperous area--the main trade route between the sea port and Delhi--and rich merchants built these beautiful houses to show off their wealth.

Unfortunately many of these houses are now derelict and empty.  One home that we were shown through has been looked after by the same watchman for the past 80 years (he began work at the home as a very young boy).
The watchman dressed in a long kurta (shirt) and dhoti (long white cloth wrapped around his legs)

It's owned by a family that now lives out of the area but apparently there are 17 children who can't agree on what to do with the property.

On our second day Lloyd and I each took a workshop in the morning--he took wood carving and I did tie and dye.  My teacher was a lovely patient man with a little bit of English, e.g. "like this", "good", "perfect", "what colour", and so on.  He comes from a family with a long tradition of "bandhej" but unfortunately with the proliferation of cheap machine prints, the real thing is no longer appreciated so he makes his living by operating a little convenience store instead.  He showed me how to mark the fabric using a bit of yellow dye (for example, a string dipped in dye is used to mark lines as a woodworker would use a chalk line) and then he demonstrated tying--poking the left forefinger underneath, then grasping the point of fabric with the right thumb and forefinger, and wrapping with thread tightly (the thread is like a thin crochet cotton).  As I started tying he motioned to me to relax and breathe!  I got the message--this is not a race but a mindful activity!  Interesting what a little bit of sign language can communicate.  While I was tying my piece, he was doing a more intricate pattern on another. Within an hour or so, we were ready to start dyeing.   He motioned me to follow him, and off we went to the edge of the property where he built a fire to heat a bowl of water.  First he put in some yellow dye powder (I tried to find out what kind of dye this was, but he only knew that it was "natural"--hmmmm....I'm not so sure with this saturated colour....)  and within about 10 minutes a couple of pieces were dyed yellow.  He masked off the borders and centre on my shawl/scarf/dupatta (it's a big piece of loosely woven cotton) by wrapping them together with plastic and string--these areas were later dyed red.  To create the red dye bath he simply added red powder to what was now the exhausted yellow dye bath, and so the result is a tomato red.   After dyeing, the ties were removed by force--he took one end of the cloth and I took the other and we pulled, and off popped the ties, very quickly showing the results of our work.
The one that I tied is second from the left.

Later that afternoon I hemmed the edges of my dupatta--unfortunately my travel sewing kit didn't have a good matching thread.  When I was almost done, one of the women of the home noticed what I was doing, and came back to me with some red thread.  She also stopped to admire my knitting project, and I so enjoyed this brief interaction.  I realized that I have not spoken with any Indian women since we were in Kerala.  This part of India, particularly rural Rajasthan, is very conservative.  The women stay behind the scenes (hotel staff are all men) and out on the street keep their faces covered. The Apani Dhani provide Guidelines for Travelers both on their website and in a more comprehensive information booklet at the lodge so we were well informed about the expectations, but what I hadn't anticipated is how much we would stand out.  There are very few foreigners in the town, and we were very much the object of curiosity especially by children and teenaged boys. I didn't enjoy this very much and felt quite irked by kids shouting "hello! hello!" and by boys pestering us for money or pens.

Our time at Apani Dhani was not quite as peaceful as we'd hoped.  It's on a main road with lots of vehicular traffic therefore lots of horns.  Plus being an agricultural area, there was a steady stream of tractors all being driven by young men enjoying their amplified pop music, played so loud that we could hear it in the courtyard.  February is also wedding season in Rajasthan, and is a particularly auspicious time to get married due to the alignment of the planets, and these celebrations are extremely loud with amplified Indian pop music ALL NIGHT LONG.  Add to this mix the 5:30 AM call to prayer by three nearby mosques...  We slept much better the second night because we put in earplugs.  Thankfully there was no wedding on our third night!

We left the lodge early Sunday morning and walked directly to the bus stand now that we knew exactly where it was, and soon we were noisily rattling down the road on a bus to Jaipur.  It seemed that every window in that bus rattled.  The transfer in Jaipur to the Bundi bus was easy, so after a quick break for the toilet and food, we were off once again.  This road was terrible.  It's under construction--a two lane highway is being four-laned.  Parts are complete but most is not, so there are multiple diversions and bumps.  Unfortunately we were seated at the rear, and sometimes were lifted off our seats by the "speed breakers", humps and bumps.  One very amusing event was at a rail crossing where the traffic was halted by a train.  Our bus driver moved into the oncoming lane along with other vehicles so as to get near the front of the queue--and this was probably happening on the other side as well, so that by the time the train had passed, there was gridlock with very little room for vehicles to move.  Gradually the traffic dispersed with motorcycles weaving in and out and off to the side...  A similar thing happened at the bus stand in Bundi.  As the bus was slowing to a stop, the doors opened and people started jumping on.  By the time the bus had stopped, there were people pushing their way on.  I couldn't believe it! What were they thinking??  I had both of our day packs with me (Lloyd was behind me with our big packs) and I started pushing back, saying firmly "Wait until we get OFF so that you can get ON", and I actually pushed one woman off the lower step.  People simply looked at me very placidly, and I've since realized that this is just the way it is--there was no aggression is their behaviour.  I was the one feeling aggressive, probably brought on by feeling fed up with being on a bus for 9 hours swerving in and out of traffic...facing on-coming overloaded trucks...

We're taking it easy now in Bundi, and have booked into Bundi Haveli Hotel, a boutique hotel just below the palace, for four nights.  We're slowly winding down our travel adventure and will enjoy walking around this town--no buses for a while!  We think we'll be taking more trains...

No comments:

Post a Comment