A Travellerspoint blog

Amber Fort and Mantar Jantar-1.05.08-CG

sunny 22 °C

Jaipur. The pink city of India. Sand and stone. Beautiful yet rough.

The Maharaj still lives in the City Palace - a descendent of the kings that built these magnificent palaces. We are staying in a lovely, romantic hotel called "Shahpura House". It was the abode of a Maharaj (a Haveli), which was now converted into a small boutique-like hotel. The staff all wear Rajasthai costumes, even though many seem to be Nepalese!

It is a shopper's paradise, but everyone wants to push you into buying their wares. Very annoying. If you have a driver take you to a shop, and the shop owner knows, then he adds a commission to the items and gives the driver a percentage. So tomorrow we are taking the auto rickshaw (with Ali Baba) to do shopping in the center city. And Ron will tell him to drop us on a corner.

Today, we had a driver, Papuu take us to the Amber Fort:

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This is one of the main places where people can ride elephants, but I decided not to. I love elephants too much to support this tourist practice. One elephant after another, trudging up and down the hill. Some with lotus blossoms and flowers painted on their trunks. When we left I gave an elephant two bananas and petted her/his trunk. It was amazing to be so close to such a great creature.

The Amber Fort is a photographer's dream - interesting angles, intricate details and a delicacy that is rare in royal buildings.

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And it is very entertaining to watch the monkeys eating, climbing and romping around. We were advised to steer clear of them because they steal things from you and refuse to give it back until you give them food - and enough food!

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Then we stopped briefly to photograph the Palace on the Water (Jal Mahal), which was the king's "picnic" spot.

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I told Papuu that the palace is beautiful, but the road where we photographed had a terrible smell - camel dung?

There are camels everywhere...with riders..or pulling wagons, chomping lethargically on shrubs and viewing the traffic indifferently. They learned this from the cows!

The astrological observatory, Mantar Jantar, built around the late 1600's (?) looks like a modern sculpture park. Very strange and fun contraptions which have an uncanny accuracy in mapping the heavens. Ron and I tried to understand the astronomical terms and descriptions for each "machine" but it was way too obscure for us. But here is Ron inside one of them:

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On our way back to the hotel we stopped at 2 ATM machines to find one that worked with our cards. Street kids and their mothers accosted us at each stop. When we started giving packs of biscuits, then more would appear from nowhere. Destitute teenage mothers, with naked screaming babies. Heart wrenching.

We went to a "department store" and bought more packs of biscuits to carry with us. We don't want to give money, because many of these beggars are pimped by others for money.

The event of the day: I bought a Swarmandal from a music shop off a side street. Swaarmandal is an Indian harp. The shop worker told me that it was interesting that he sells mostly guitars and Western instruments to Indians, and Indian instruments to Westerners. I responded that we are all fascinated by the unfamiliar and the world is growing smaller. I bargained him dowm from $325 to $260, which was fine, it would cost $450 in the US.

Posted by petalsong 03:32 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Arriving in Jaipur - 1.04.08 - Ron

sunny 18 °C

We left Delhi this morning for a +/- 5 hour bus ride to Jaipur. The trip was uneventful and we had a chance to nap a little on the ride. The bus stopped at a rest stop at about the half way point and Christine and I bought some Indian music CD's at a stall at the rest stop.

Upon entering Jaipur we knew that this was going to be a special place. The energy had a very good feel to it. We took a taxi to our hotel and, in fact arranged for the driver to be our tour guide tomorrow. 800 rupees for the day (about $32 USD). His name is Papu and speaks english relatively well. Upon arrival at the hotel we were pleasently surprised to see how lovely the place really is. It is an old Haveli (Palace) converted into a hotel. The staff wears traditional Rajistani dress and were quite efficient and pleasant at our check-in.

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Christine settled in quickly (as you can see). the decoration and ornamentation are truly representative of the architecture and period of the place.

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The grounds around the hotel are beautifully decorated and still have the Christmas decorations up! Lots of interesting artifacts and paintings hanging throughout. It didn't take fifteen minutes and we decided that we needed to explore the city a bit.

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We hired an autorickshaw whose drivers name is Ali Baba, that's right, Ali Baba. I couldn't resist but ask where the forty theives were, and he said that he believed that two of them were in his rickshaw (ha, ha, I deserved that).We took an hours ride through the center city. Wow, what in incredible place. Bustling, crowded, stores and shopping beyond what you can imagine. The streets are filled with people, many of them tourists browsing from shop to shop. Sunday will be our day to shop this city. We did stop at one Gov't store just to check the types of goods available and to get a sense of the pricing. Christine purchased a bed throw and looked at some incredible silver and bronze pieces. We may go back to this shop on Sunday and see if we can "negotiate some". A discussion evolved about Indian music and I convinced Christine to sing a little for the sales people. They were floored by her ability to sing in Hindu and her voice. Again, I was told that I was a lucky man, and once again I had to tell them that I knew just how lucky I was!!

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We havn't seen any elephants yet, but we've only been here a couple of hours. Plenty of camels and beautifly outfitted horse on the streets. Tomorrow, we plan to visit the sights farthest from the city (Amber Fort, Monkey Palace) and Sunday we've hired Ali Baba to take us around the city for shopping.

We returned to the hotel for dinner. Another great meal of grilled chicken prepared several different ways,eggplants covered with yogurt and an incredible dish of fried spinach (Wow!!!). During the meal there was entertainment. A puppet show accompanied by a young boy playing a dholak (drum) and two young girls dancing Rajasthani style, fully dressed in traditional costumes.

I think we're going to like Jaipur, very very much.

Posted by petalsong 08:34 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Delhi Nat'l Museum & Indian Classical Concert - 1.03.08 - CG

semi-overcast 18 °C

Yesterday we went to Agra, to visit Akhbar's tomb, Old Fort and the Taj Mahal. It was a long day in which the guide somehow got us off our original planned tour and into his friend's stone workshop/store! All the guides are connected with stores in which they get commissions when a tourist purchases something. We were caught. The place was interesting though...hand worked marble pieces with fine inlaid colorful stones (lapis, carnelian, malachite, etc.), and beautiful patterns. Ron intended to by a nice piece of furniture in India, so the tour guide got very lucky. Ron bought a gorgeous medium sized table. White Indian marble, with stone inlays of flowers. It has about 5400 pieces of semi-precious stones in it. Crafted apparently by the descendents of stone workers who worked on the Taj Mahal. The table is being shipped directly to us.

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The trip was exhausting, so today we decided to go to the Delhi Nat'l Museum and to an Indian Classical Concert at the India Habitat Centre.

The museum has an extensive collection of miniature paintings, which I love.

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Ron and I were mesmerized looking at the finely detailed figures...in passionate embraces, holding lotus flowers, playing instruments, smoking hookahs and riding elephants. All painted with ground semi-precious stones and water. Amazing.

A group of school boys were very curious about us, and stopped to ask questions (and take photos with us. They took turns on their cameras and I got a few shots in with mine:

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It was fun speaking to them - some had been to New York, and all spoke with varying proficiency in British English. As we parted, they yelled out to us "you are very nice partners!!" Ron and I smiled, we have been having a strong response from people who like how we are together, and how we relate to the world around us. It's very sweet.

When we entered the Buddhist section of the museum, I came across a gold stupa. It holds the remains of Buddha. That's right - the remains of Buddha are sitting in a museum, in a room crammed with other objects. I was stunned and felt that if it is placed in a museum, the museum should at least make a separate shrine where people could sit in silence, or reverence in front of it if they choose.

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When we were leaving the museum, we stopped in the auditorium where there was a talent show/audition of people who did traditional Indian dances. They were being judged one by one. Some were quite good, but most were awkward and nervous. But it was fun to watch the process.

We had Krishna as the driver again, and boy was he lost. Not only that, but he had a flat tire that he just finished fixing when we left the museum. As the evening continued, he got increasingly frustrated - even though we picked up food for him while we went to the concert.

The concert...all I have to say is that I had the opportunity of seeing and sitting close to Ustad Zia Fariduddin Dagar. A famous Dhrupad musician who is now in his late 70's/80's and is the 20th generation (yes, 20th generation) of Dhrupad musicians. He was the guest of honor at this concert at the India Habitat Centre (a really nice cultural complex). The concert was of a Rudra Veena player (Suvir Misra) and Hindustani Classical singer (I forgot the name). But it was moving to see how people came to praise the Ustad, touching his feet and being moved in his presence. I wished there was a way to greet him, but there wasn't the right moment. And Ron was falling asleep in the chair next to me! So we left after the singer finished a very fine rendition of Rag Yaman...

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This photo was of him receiving an award from the Centre. For those interested in more info on him and his family tradition, go to this link:

http://www.dagar.org/Fariduddin.htm

On the way home, Krishna drove very recklessly, honking at cars that had no place to go and squeezing in between cars and lanes. I got very nervous and yelled for him to slow down. When we got back, he was quite sullen (even though Ron gave him a nice tip). Oh well.

Tomorrow we are off to our next stop - Jaipur. We will have internet access, but not with our own computer, which means that we'll be able to post updates - but not photos. We'll see.

Posted by petalsong 10:19 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Further observations of Indian Life - Ron

semi-overcast 18 °C
View India Dec. 07 - Jan. 08 on petalsong's travel map.

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The people of India are some of the most beautiful that I have ever encountered. Not just their physical beauty, but there is an inner beauty that is conveyed in their gestures and facial expressions. Initially I thought it was just being in what is an exotic place, but it is not just this strange and fascinating environment.It is the people themselves and their humility.

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The ride to Agra was one I will not soon forget. The small villages we past showed life in its most simple and primitive form. The overwhelming sense of sadness that I feel when I see the poverty and hunger on the faces of the children will stay with me the rest of my life. It's incredible that in spite of their circumstances, they still have moments of laughter and joy.

Their are such paradoxes one sees in these villages. The local inhabitants use dried cow dung, molded into perfectly rounded discs to fuel their fires, while their tattered tents are outfitted with color televisions connected to satellite dishes. This truly shows how the world can be connected across oceans, continents and social classes. I still have not gotten used to seeing the camels and elephants rambling down the roads and highways. In New York I would be accused of drinking way too much alcohol if I told anyone that I saw an elephant "dancing" down the expressway!

I don't think I can get used to howver, seeing many, what appear to be tribal men carrying shotguns and rifles in the streets. This is probably what life was like in the "wild west" of America in the 1800's. There really is no way to put into words what one sees in these small villages. Its hard to imagine what life will be like in these rural areas as India becomes a major international powerhouse.

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The Taj Mahal is a magnificant sight to behold. 20,000 men worked for 22 years to construct it. All materials were transported via camel and elephant. What is interesting, is that the view of the Taj is most impressive from a distance. As you approach the building, you lose the perspective of its grandeur. Up close, it seems more simple in it's detail than many other world reknowned structures and buildings. The interior, although having some beautiful marble filigree panels and intricate inlay marble detailing, is overall quite simple in design.

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Well, like I said, I probably drank too much wine if I was seeing elephants following our car!!!

Stay tuned for the next episode...

Posted by petalsong 12:35 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Craft Museum & Mahajan Party - 1.01.08 - CG

semi-overcast 18 °C
View India Dec. 07 - Jan. 08 on petalsong's travel map.

After the party last night, we decided to sleep in and take it easy. Ron really wanted to go to the Craft Museum and it was a perfect afternoon plan. The craft museum is a complex that brings structures, crafts and art from villages throughout India into one place. It is maginificent, and an absolute must-see for all who visit Delhi. Tranquil grounds filled with large banyan trees, terracotta statues, thatched huts, and a museum with the most beautiful pieces of Hindu statues, textiles and crafts. There is also an area for crafts people to sell their goods.

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This quiet place was a welcome respite from the onslaught of horns, traffic and the intense human experience of these streets. We could breathe easily and I felt more comfortable here than anywhere outside our "home" here in Delhi.

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We bought some folk paintings from a family in which a woman with stunning eyes and presence makes the color paintings. Ron and I asked to take her portrait, and he has a wonderful photo of her which he will post separately. She was shy, but appreciative of the acknowledgment of being a painter. We took their address to send the photo when we have it printed out - we did the same with all the crafts people we photographed. It seems to be the most ethical way of dealing with photographing people.

I spent time talking to a miniauture painter from Jaipur. A young man who was exhibited in NYC and who carries a review from the NY Times with him. We bought 2 paintings from here, which are made on old government stamp paper. Detailed painting with swirls of calligraphy around it. Delicate, and precious. The painter showed me how he grinds the minerals/rocks into pignent, blends it with water and uses tiny brushes. No magnifying glass! As a token of thanks, he gave me a piece of the blue pigment. I really appreciated this, and was amazed at his skill. His forte is painting life-like irisis with natural pigments, surrounded by gold leaf. It takes days, or months to complete each piece. I took a number of photos of him, and will send him the prints.

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After the craft museum, we returned home - where preparations were underway for the evening party at the Mahajan house. This party was one of the most profound experiences, which will take a lot of time to write about. So I will stop here for now, and continue this section tomorrow...

SECTION CONTINUED:

Even though it is a few days later, I would like to write about the wonderful party at the Mahajan House. They invited another couple, Chai and Grace, who are originally from Taiwan - but who have lived in Delhi for 7 years. They are returning shortly to Taiwan to start a B&B/resort. Another guest was a man named Pami (like Mansi's father). He is a spiritual teacher, who leads various workshops in India and Pittsburgh (!) A very interesting person, who asked us all to pray before and after the meal. The prayer was more like a transcendental prayer than one of a particular faith. Mansi's and Suhani's friend - Dominick was also there. A very friendly young man who has just started working in production for ESPN.

The Mahajans lit candles in the living room and in the garden. It was a magical atmosphere. Barbeque in the yard. Chicken Tikka (which Ron and I almost fainted over), grilled fish, then palak paneer, dal, rice and kulchi breads. Wow. Chai and Ron discussed life in Delhi. Chai is a very open, friendly and communicative person. Grace is a warm, quiet but very deep person. And a yoga teacher. Her posture and movements reflected that training.

It is difficult to put into words how special this night was. The atmosphere, food, the loving kidness of the Mahajan family, the interesting diversity of the guests....

I was asked to sing. I pre-recorded the backgrounds I need to sing Ragas (tanpura and tabla). So I sang Rag Bageshree, surrounded by candles. I also sang Edes Anyam, as well as a fragment of the Ave Maria from Sardegna, and Un Pom Ramurat. Everyone sat absorbing the songs. Grace sat in a pose of meditation, Bela and Pami with big, warm smiles, Pami with an inner recognition of the energy of the songs, Mansi and Suhani with appreciation and surprise, Chai with meditative self-reflection and Ron - with deep love and awareness of how much the moment meant to me.

A connection happened between all of us. And then....I was asked to dance salsa. It was a tough transition! And I asked if everyone was ready to go from the spiritual to the carnal. The response was an assured "YES!"
So I plugged in my mp3 player, and started the salsa.

Ron and I danced for 2 songs, which was a lot of fun. The ladies all gasped and hollered at his Cuban "rooster" move! I think he was very happy about that! Then we took each person and taught them some salsa moves. By the end, we were all laughing, sweating, and dancing! Salsa in India! Chai even picked up the rooster from Ron and they did it at the same time, which got us all howling in delight. There is something about dance that connects people instantly. And it was wonderful for this to all happen so unexpectedly.

After the energy started to settle back down again, Chai told us that the evening inspired him so much that he wanted to share a Taiwanese lullaby with us. He has a wonderful, sweet voice. And Grace joined in softly towards the end of the song. It was so beautiful and meaningful.

After eating the second course, Ron and I realized we had less than 4 hours before being picked up to go to Agra for a day trip. We scurried off to bed. But we exchanged contact info with everyone and we feel that we will all cross paths again.

We have officially adopted the Mahajan family as our relatives. The caring they are giving us is unlike anything we have experienced outside of our own family. I hope that they enjoy our presence as much as we enjoy being in their presence.

Posted by petalsong 11:33 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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