Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leaving Bundi

Today for the third day in a row I had a great bowl of porridge for breakfast.  Here's a photo of the cook with the server whose nickname is Mac.  We've enjoyed great food and service at this haveli.

The porridge is made with Scotch oats in milk and water, then eaten with sliced banana and honey. Yum!

Addendum to this posting (March 8)
I promised to add some other photos of the Bundi Haveli staff...
This fellow always had a smile and friendly greeting.
And at the front desk was Surendra...

After we checked out, Surendra took us to the bus station and enroute showed us another property that he's involved with:  Pratapgarh Haveli a very luxurious place indeed.

An Excursion into the Countryside with Kukki

We’ve had a splendid day about 35 km to the east of Bundi in a very rural area—no vehicle horns!  Not much traffic!  But a very bumpy road!

We were with Kukki (sounds like “cookie”), an amateur and passionate archeologist, who knows every hill, valley, and rock in the surrounding area.  He has roamed these hills since he was a boy, picking up and collecting artifacts from the last 4 – 5,000 years such as arrowheads, flintstones, pottery fragments, coins, shell ornaments, and so on.  Along the way, he has discovered magnificent rock paintings, and that was the primary reason for our excursion.

Kukki asked the driver to stop along the edge of the road, and we got out, following Kukki at a brisk pace across the scrubby grassland.  He complimented me on keeping up to him saying that Indian women don't move very fast (well, how fast can one move in a sari??)  

This is the dry season, and there’s very little green vegetation. 

There was lots of evidence of animal life (droppings and paw/hoof prints of sloth bear, porcupine, leopard, antelope, and gazelle) who come out to graze in the cooler evenings and early morning.  The only animals we saw were some birds, including several vultures (with wing spans of about 1.5 metres) soaring high above in the heat thermals.

Kukki led us to a deep sandstone gorge where we could look out and see the Maharajah’s tiger-spotting tower. This is the reason there are no more tigers in the area—they were wiped out by trophy hunters long ago.

Just above this gorge, and under a rock overhang, we scrambled down to view some wonderful rock paintings that he discovered in 2003.

 These beautiful paintings are from the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods, 3 - 10,000 years ago.

The next stop was a “tribal village”, and just a few kilometres before the village there was a road construction crew—several very colorfully dressed women carrying soil and rocks.  It turned out that these were friends of Kukki’s from the village.  We took some pictures but I won’t post them because I didn’t get their permission.  They were as curious about me as I was about them, but they were a lot braver in touching me, wanting to feel my clothes and understand how I was dressed (pants and top).  This was a little disconcerting!  They were all dressed in skirts and short tight blouses that expose the midriff, with head and shoulders wrapped in large chiffon shawls.  They were particularly curious about my midriff so I lifted up my top and they all said “Ohhhhhh….”!  One of them reached out to touch my zipper fly but I stepped back firmly, clearly drawing the line!  Lloyd suggested they were curious as to why I was wearing men's clothing.

We went back along the very bumpy road to Bundi and stopped at Kukki’s house for chai and to look at the various artifacts that he’s collected over the years.  He’s clearly passionate about local history and has passed along this enthusiasm to his children.

Back to the hotel to see what our new accommodation was like…at breakfast this morning we were asked to pack up to be moved to the deluxe haveli suite at no extra charge for our last night.  We have no idea why this happened and assume that there were guests arriving who needed our particular room.  Our new digs are very luxurious!

And right below our window in the courtyard next door is a massive undertaking—it looks like a banquet for the whole community.  People are seated on carpets and are being served by several young men, one type of food after another.  As soon as they’re finished their meal, they stand up and leave, and another group takes their place on the carpet.  We have no idea what’s going on, except that it sounds and looks very festive.  We're hoping it doesn't get too raucous and that it shuts down in an hour or so!  I'm writing this at 9:15 PM Wednesday--almost my bedtime!

Bundi is also home to many monkeys, in fact many of the buildings have wire mesh on their rooftops and windows to keep them out. 

Cows, dogs, and pigs roam the streets grazing for food in the garbage...and monkeys are on every wall and rooftop....just imagine what the streets are also full of along with the garbage...we definitely have to watch where we step!

Tomorrow we take the bus to Kota where we're going to spend the next four days on a dairy farm. I stayed there for only two nights a couple of years ago, and I'm looking forward to meeting the Singhs again.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Our first two days in Bundi...

We're enjoying our hotel.  Here are a couple of views of our room where we spend a lot of time!
We have a very large room.
So large, that there is an extra space for lolling about...

And just outside our room is a nice little sitting area:
This is where I'm sitting right this moment.
The hotel has some interesting textile art on the walls--everything from framed embroideries to old carved wood blocks.
These are in an alcove just outside our room.

Bundi is a small town that bustles with energy--the markets are busy and the streets throng with people, although there are many young men driving their motorcycles at breakneck speeds, fingers on their horns, making it challenging for us foreign pedestrians.

Plus lots of cows and pigs grazing in the garbage.

The view from the rooftop restaurant of our hotel:
Bundi Palce, built in the early 1600s
Bundi Palace, lit up at night.
We visited the palace and fort today.
This huge elephant gate was built in 1607
The elephant theme continues in many parts of this decaying palace.

Some rooms have magnificent murals, floors and ceilings.
Ceiling of the Badal Mahal--Chinese inspired petal shapes and decorated with peacocks and Krishna.

A beautiful inlaid floor in the same room.
Looking above the palace to Chitrasala Fort (built in the 1700s) abutting the palace:

This has a beautiful garden courtyard.
Above the stairs at the back of this courtyard is a room with beautiful paintings.
The voyeur-king watching one of his wives getting dressed.
In the afternoon we visited a beautiful step-well, 46 metres deep.
It's nice to see that this has been restored and cleaned up, unlike the description of it in our  2009 Lonely Planet as a place for pigeons and bats!  

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...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Jaipur, Day Two

We started off the day by going to the post office with a couple of tote bags of stuff to mail home, and I once again enjoyed the process of watching a man stitch a bag to enclose the parcel.  Being mainly fabric and no books, it only cost 1700 Rs (just over $30) to send by SAL post (which stands for Surface Air Lifted, and will go by boat or air, whichever is cheapest).

From there we hopped on a #5 bus which took us up to Amber Fort, 11 km north of the city.

We took the audio guide and enjoyed wandering around from room to room--such an architectural marvel from the 17th century.

After a quick lunch in the village market (vegetable pakora and samosa), we went to the Anokhi Museum of Blockprinting.  I had visited this museum two years ago, and wanted to go back.  I wasn't disappointed!  I did some blockprinting with the help of a very patient printer who kept saying to me "perfect!" and "good!"  which is very good for the ego!

We took a very crowded #5 bus back to the city and it was with a great deal of relief that we emerged at the right stop, right where we wanted to be at the Hawa Mahal, a palace built for the royal women in purdah.  It's a fascinating place full of beautiful jali screens to shield the women when they wanted to look out over the street below.  

Lloyd enjoyed looking at all the interesting architectural details...

After leaving the palace, we decided to try and find a bar for a beer...had to walk MANY blocks before we finally found a restaurant with a liquor licence outside the old city walls.  The first restaurant we went into didn't serve alcohol, but the matre d' very kindly escorted us a few doors along to a place that did.  We continue to be amazed at small acts of kindness like this.  We are also distressed at some of the antics of young men and boys who view tourists as easy targets for money...little boys who ask for 10 rupees or a pen or's not always easy walking these streets. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Jaipur by Auto-Rickshaw

We arrived in Jaipur mid-afternoon, and checked into Hotel Madhuban which is where Wendy and I stayed when we were in Jaipur before.  We are in a standard room, not one of the deluxe rooms pictured on the website, but clean and comfortable.

We engaged a tuk-tuk driver for the day yesterday. Our first stop was Iswari Minar Swarga Sal, a tower built to commemorate a victory in the mid1700's.  It's an easy walk up to the top on a ramp rather than stairs and good views from the top.  It was early in the day and there was only one other visitor in the tower.  When we returned to the base, the ticket-taker motioned us to come with him for a good vantage point for a picture.
Goofy tourists!

While Lloyd went off to find a bank and wine shop, I was dropped at Anokhi, one of my favourite Indian stores.  The clothes are well-designed and beautifully finished.  I spent a lovely hour trying on tops, and finally selected one made from organic cotton, indigo dyed, and finished with hand embroidery.  While waiting for Lloyd, I enjoyed a good cup of coffee and chocolate-caramel slice in the cafe before venturing downstairs to CrossWord, a book store that has a vast selection of English books.  I picked out a gorgeous book, The Sari, beautifully illustrated, an anthropological account of what it means to wear a sari.

The driver figured out that I was interested in textiles, particularly block prints, and took us to a business that he favours (he also probably gets a commission in the typical Indian way).  It was a block-printing factory and showroom tucked away in the old city. The owner showed us the block-printing

and screen-printing workshops, as well as the stitching (men on machines and women by hand) areas.  We did buy some fabric which we think we'll use as curtains for the outdoor shower, and I bought a few more tops...  So the task for Wednesday is to ship home a parcel!

Women hand-sewing sequins onto finished garments
Our next stop was the observatory built by Sawai Jai Singh in the 1700s.  He designed and had built huge instruments out of marble and stone for measuring local time and to study the movement of constellations and stars.
We stood and watched the shadow move along the curve--the time is accurate to 2 seconds.  The tower is 27 metres high.
Our final excursion for the day was to climb up to Nahargarh Fort above Jaipur.
At the beginning of the path.  I'm wearing a kurta that I bought at the block-printing factory.
The view over the city was spectacular but unfortunately we could also see how polluted the area is.

In one of the palace apartments

After exploring the palace in the fort, we went to the cafe and enjoyed a beer and tea while watching the sun go down.

Back down to the city, at the bottom of the path, we noticed a couple men carving blocks for printing.

Now for some random street scenes from the auto-rickshaw:

Two young men moving rebar and lengths of metal bars on a bicycle cart.
Lots of camels in the street too...

Jaipur is noisy, gritty, and lively.  

Quick Post to wrap up Bangalore

Here's a picture of our hosts at Mass Residency in Bangalore--two brothers who delight in welcoming visitors and having them leave as friends.
Shakir and Sid, our hosts extraordinairre, who love meeting people from all over the world.
We have been very blessed with finding wonderful "homestay" and guesthouse accommodations, and look forward to recommending them to others.

We arrived in Jaipur yesterday, and have had some wonderful experiences in the last day and half.  Lloyd and I are going for dinner now, and will discuss the highlights which I'll post later tonight.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Quick note from Bangalore

We took an express Volvo bus (an air-conditioned coach) from Mysore to Bangalore--a journey of about three hours.  This was such a comfortable trip that I was able to knit for a while, and we arrived here without feeling that we've been beaten up by the wind!

We're staying in a lovely guesthouse run by two brothers called Mass Residency.  This was a strong recommendation from a Canadian couple we met in Singapore, and are we ever glad we followed up on that recommendation.  We are sorry we're only staying one night!  Sid took us on a walk around the neighbourhood all the while expounding on his philosophy of life (we're of very like minds), Indian culture and politics, and so on.  We visiting two big markets, one is the face of the new India and felt like any super mall anywhere in the world, complete with McDonalds and Subway.  And the 2nd market was much more traditional--from food and flowers, clothing and textiles, to housewares and everything in between.  This one was much more interesting of course.  Both places were full of people because tomorrow is a big holiday, a Shiva festival, and many people have poured into the city from the surrounding areas to celebrate.

The guesthouse residents are an assortment of long-term residents working in the high tech industry for which Bangalore is well-known, and travelers like us.  We went out for a late lunch with one of the residents named Partha, born in Tamil Nadu and working in IT both in Toronto and here.  We enjoyed Gobi Peshwari and stuffed tomatoes (stuffed with masala--maybe chick peas too??), ghee rice and butter naan.

I'll close with a few images of my current knitting project...
It's a triangular shawl using yarn that I bought in Singapore.
Here's a detail image:
I generally am using two yarns in alternating rows, but changing in the middle so as to maintain the Yarn Over edgings.
And finally, here's a view of us relaxing in front of our room at our Sultan Bathery homestay in the Wayanad.
Complete with laundry drying...