Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Some respite in the countryside

We're now in Agra for the next few days, having arrived here late on Monday by train from Kota via Jaipur.  The journey was long but much easier than the bus.

We had a wonderful three days and four nights away from the urban hustle and bustle on a Rajasthani dairy farm just outside Kota.  Col. Sudhir Farm is the home of Victoria and VJ Singh.  Vicky picked us up in the farm jeep in Kota after our one hour bus ride from Bundi.  The first event was afternoon tea, and we felt as though we'd been transported to an English drawing room drinking black tea as we're used to with milk (and lots of sugar for Lloyd--VJ commented on how much he had to refill the sugar during our stay, reminiscent of visiting my parents' home...)

The Singhs have three terriers, and one of them, Misty, had puppies on February 25.  Misty is 1/2 German Shepherd and these puppies are 3/4 fox terrier and 1/4 shepherd.
The puppies are wonderfully soft and fat!  This is her first litter and she is a very attentive mother.
On Saturday morning Lloyd and I went for a wonderful walk for about three hours along the canal which is about a kilometre away from the farm.  The dike is dusty but there are mature trees for shade much of the way and there wasn't much traffic, just a few motorcycles and tractors hauling stones and soil.  This was a pleasant change from city streets.
One of the farms along the canal.  We think these fields are being prepared for rice.
Further along, there is a lake on which there is a former summer palace of the Kota royal family.

We reached the second bridge where Vicky had suggested we could cross and return along the other side of the canal.  We chose instead to turn down a small road past some houses and try and return across country.  We could see the summer palace in the distance and thought it shouldn't be too difficult...  Well, there were a few obstacles in our way, namely gates and walls, through a cattle yard, and quite often we were walking along the little dikes dividing the fields...
We were going to turn back when we saw this gate made out of thorny acacia branches, but realized it was simply tied closed with a strip of fabric on the right.  So, we went through and then carefully retied it. 
The people in the fields didn't seem to be perturbed about us wandering through, and Vicky said they probably all assumed that we were staying with "that foreign woman" (her) anyway.  We never really got lost because we could see the dike in the distance and knew we just had to keep that on our left.  We did try to get directions to a path a few times, and most people just waved us along.  The very best directions were from an old woman who, when I asked the way to the canal, very assertively instructed us to go left and and then right in her language but with clear hand motions.

We went into Kota with Vicky Saturday afternoon to check out the Chambal Adventure Festival which had an arts and culture component.  We were thrilled to meet up with Kukki again who had been invited to come to the arts centre with his slides of rock paintings and his collection of artifacts.  He greeted us like long lost friends.  I also asked Vicky about yarn shopping...haven't seen any for sale anywhere in India.  Do you know what the secret is?  It's sold at shops which also sell underwear!  The selection was small--mainly acrylic baby yarn and chunky acrylic for sweaters, however there was some rayon and cotton crochet cotton which is similar to what I'm using for my current shawl.  I bought some rayon in bright saturated yellow, pink, green and blue--exactly the colours I see in the saris on the streets.

We went back to the festival on Sunday because Vicky is on the arts and culture committee.  They had a painting workshop planned and were hoping to draw in lots of families to participate.  This kind of activity is fairly new here and the committee didn't know what to expect. They rolled out a long sheet of paper on the floor and set up pots of paint (lots of saturated colours of course--this is India!) with brushes. Within a few hours the place was humming nicely, and there seemed to be an assortment of people with paintbrushes in hand on the floor...everyone from established artists in the community to whole families which arrived on motorcycles, and also some street kids from just up the road.  These grubby little boys were initially sent away by the men at the door, but someone on the committee brought them in and they seemed to have fun too.  Then they suddenly disappeared, only to reappear an hour or so later with several more of their friends.

Lloyd and I were mentioned in the local Hindi press the next day as the foreign artists in attendance!  There were so many people painting that we didn't even try to get near the paper.  I guess we were the foreign colour.

Leaving the farm was a bit of a wrench--we're now back in the urban noise and pollution.  Our patience is wearing thin and we're thinking about home a lot...and feeling very fortunate to live where we do.

We were met at the Agra Fort train station by a driver sent from the hotel, and while we were very grateful that he was still waiting for us at 11 PM (the train was 1/1/2 hours late) he turned out to be a very aggressive young man.  He wanted to know what our plans were, and he would drive us everywhere...we kept saying "no decisions tonight!" and he kept pushing...  We were glad to get to the hotel, and while it was clean and comfortable enough, the room was noisy and hot (being above the kitchen) and we couldn't have any extra pillows because the hotel was full...  Breakfast on the terrace above the road on the 2nd floor was a very noisy affair--it felt like we were eating right on the road.  And then to top all this off, the driver met us as we were leaving the hotel to walk the neighbourhood:  "where are you going?  I'll drive you anywhere!"  With that, we decided we were moving!  We're now at the Rajrani Residency but don't be fooled by the website!  This is definitely a three star hotel, and not as luxurious as portrayed on the site.  The bed is comfortable, and the place is (sort of) clean--our room could do with new paint...  The service has been excellent and there are no pushy drivers outside the front doors.  Dinner last night was excellent and we're just about to have breakfast.  On the down side I was awakened at 5 AM (foolish me not wearing ear plugs like Lloyd) by an Indian tour group being roused out of their rooms, presumably to visit the Taj at sunrise.  There must have been two different groups because an hour and half later--I was up by this time and starting the blog posting--our door handle was rattled.  Of course it was a mistake--the tour leader thought some of his group were in here...

We had a good day of sightseeing yesterday to Agra Fort and to the Taj at sunset.  I'll post images later today.

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