Thursday, March 26, 2009

More Udaipur, Horse Safari, Kumbalgarh and Ranakpur

We stayed a cute little guesthouse run by a European lady and her Indian husband. This is one of their workers holding a recently-born Great Dane puppy.

Taking a walk through the gulab bagh, or rose garden, a beautiful city park in Udaipur.

Udaipur is famous for its many lakes. But light monsoon seasons in recent years have caused lake water levels to drop, or in some cases to dry up altogether. Local boys use this dry lakebed as a cricket field.

Adie on a horse! We went on a horse safari for a few hours at a ranch outside of Udaipur owned by the same people who owned our guest house. This is the beginning of the ride. You can tell because Adie is still sitting up straight and looking energized.

These are some of the sights we passed while winding our way through the arid country roads.

Stephen's new camel friend. He was parked in one of the villages we passed through, just hanging out.

The beautiful horses we rode.

One day we hired a car and took a day trip to Kumbalgarh (a fort) and Ranakpur (a Jain temple), several hours away from Udaipur. On the way we passed this really neat old-fashioned well. A man rode a cart and drove oxen around in a circle, which turned a crank and raised up a series of water buckets from a deep well.

Some of the people we saw along the road.

View of Kumbhalgarh fort, surrounded by 36 km of walls - the second-longest fortified wall in the world after the Great Wall of China.

We walked up to the top of the fort and this was the view from part way up.

View from the top. Easy to understand why they picked this spot for the fort - the view goes on forever. This was one of our favorite places we saw on the whole trip.

Monkeys hanging out along the road between Kumbhalgarh and Ranakpur.

Inside of Ranakpur temple, one of the holiest and most famous Jain temples in the world.

Ranakpur is famous for its carved marble pillars. Over 1400 support the temple and no two are the same.

Devotees at Ranakpur, their clothes covered with brightly-colored dust like the kind used on Holi.

Stephen making friends with a gigantic cow outside of Ranakpur. The bigger they are the more he feels the need to pet them and feed them. Luckily they are gentle creatures.

We were sitting when all of a sudden a dog friend came to Stephen. He attracts all sorts of wild animals.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mostly Udaipur

Okay, so this post is cheating a little, for two reasons. One, Adrienne is already back in Pittsburgh (as of April 3) and Two, we uploaded these pictures two weeks ago and so the blog date is wrong. But better late than never :)

Between Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, we spent a day in Delhi waiting for our night train. We took this picture from inside an autorickshaw - a three-wheeled taxi with open sides which is something like a large golf cart. These little girls are two of the many children who weave in and out of traffic asking for money, especially from tourists. They happily let us take their pictures.

The Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur on Lake Pichola. Some may recognize it as Octopussy's floating palace from the James Bond movie.

A small representation of Vishnu, we are pretty sure. Any of our Indian friends who read this, please correct us if we are wrong.

Tailor's shop near our hotel. His iron was awesome - gigantic and literally made of iron. He flipped open the top and we saw that it was heated by glowing hot coals.

Small temple near our hotel.

Rajasthani puppets. We bought some like this to sell at craft fairs back in the States and give as gifts.

View of Jagdish temple and the Udaipur skyline showing the traditional local architectural style.

Occasionally in India you may see an elephant walking down the street. These guys are big and kind of scary up close. Cute too, but BIG.

Getting down to let the passengers off. Those familliar with Bollywood will notice the ultimate Indian movie star, Amitabh Bachchan, on a poster in the background. This guy is super famous and his face is everywhere - movies, music videos, Cadbury chocolate ads, deodorant commercials. There is even a temple dedicated to him near Kolkata.

The driver has spotted us: You want ride? Notice the food in the elephant's mouth. As the elephant ambled down the street, he stopped every few feet at each produce cart that he passed and took whatever food he wanted - unpeeled bananas, raw potatoes, bales of wilted greens. Not surprisingly, the owners of the food stands didn't try to stop him - some handed the food up to him.

Local kids outside a Chamunda temple on a festival day. Inside the temple many colorfully-clad women gathered for a ceremony.

A shrine to Hanuman, the powerful monkey god. This one is right in the middle of a bustling fruit and vegetable market.

Okra! very popular in India. Also known as lady's finger, or as Stephen has mistakenly called it, widow's finger.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Babas, Monkeys, Tailors, Churches, Man-Eating Lion-Gods, and an Unhappy Holi

Since Haridwar is considered a holy place, many saddhus come here. Saddhus, also called Babas, are Hindu holy men who live a wandering lifestyle, often begging food to sustain themselves and following ascetic practices. Some accomplish amazing feats such as rolling on the ground for thousands of miles to reach a pilgrimage site, holding one arm in the air for decades, or sleeping on a bed of nails. Others seem to mainly enjoy smoking hash and hanging out on the banks of the Ganges. I can't think of anything analogous in American society - these guys can be either holy men or shady characters and are often both at the same time.

After Haridwar, we spent an uneventful night in Dehradun and then went on to Mussoorie, a hill station at about 2000m. India has many hill stations, all built by the British to escape the harsh summers. Nowadays these function mainly as tourist towns and honeymoon retreats. While in Mussoorie, we met really nice family who ran a small tailor's shop / convenience stand. Above is the eldest brother, with his sewing machine.

This is the younger brother, who spoke excellent English and offered to help Stephen learn Hindi.
The Landour Language school, founded by the British in 1870, is a well-known place to learn Hindi. It's about a 3 km walk from Mussoorie, up on a hilltop - very peaceful. Stephen may study Hindi here for a few months after Adrienne goes home.

This man invited us into his home for chai and showed Stephen a nearby flat that he may rent.
We arrived in Rishikesh on the eve of Holi, a rambunctious Indian holiday where people throw brightly colored powder at each other and generally act crazy. On the morning of Holi, we thought we could just walk a few minutes to have breakfast without suffering too much abuse, but we were wrong. A few steps from our front door we found out about the ugly side of Holi - it's not only color that people smear on you, sometimes it's car oil. Not nice at all. After that we stayed inside until it ended.

The next day we went out to explore the town. Here's a view of Rishikesh, also a holy site on the Ganges.

There were a ton of monkeys hanging around a suspension bridge across the Ganges, just waiting to snatch food from passersby. We saw popsicles taken, and chips and biscuits devoured. This little guy's already a pro.

A half-lion avatar of Vishnu named Narasimha. He represents divine anger, and is connected to the Holi festival.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ganga Aarti and Haridwar Part 2

The view of Haridwar and the ghats from the roof of our guesthouse. The area behind us is where the Ganga Aarti service is held every night.

Adrienne posing majestically.

Stephen looking pensive.

Every night around 6:30 the Ganga Aarti service is held along the river. An idol of the goddess Ganga is brought down to the water's edge, and Brahmins perform a pooja (prayer service). Music plays, fires are lit and swirled through the air, and banana leaf boats filled with flowers and ghee candles are launched into the river.

Towards the end of the service, people carry sacred fires through the crowds. It is customary to touch your hands to the fire and then touch your head as if to purify yourself. Some of the fire-bearers seemed to be official Brahmin pujaris, while others seemed to be beggar children.

More fire-bearers.

We took a walk along the river past the main ghats of Hardiwar and came across a settlement of people who we stopped and talked to for a while. This guy wanted to make sure that we got his chillum (hash pipe) in the picture with him.

This woman had an impressive collection of rings -- all on her fingers at the same time.

Stephen's first full shave in many months - the barbers here are great.

Some craftsmen making Hindu statues in a shop.

After Haridwar, we spent a day in Roorkee, a town about an hour away, with our new friend Abhishek (next to Stephen). He invited us to his home where we met his family and his mother made us a delicious lunch of dal, gobi, curd, rice, chapathi and tomatoes. Then Abishek and his frend took us on a tour of the town. We walked around the grounds of a famous university, drove along the Ganges, and saw a neat bridge built by the British. He even took us back to Hardiwar afterwards so we could catch our bus out. Thank you Abhishek, we had a great time!

Here's Adrienne after her typical nighttime ritual: read a page and a half of a book or magazine and then fall right asleep.