#10 India, Trip Around India with Jean, July 27, 1998

Dear Everybody,

My friend, Jean, and I met in Amsterdam and proceeded to fly to Mumbai, where we spent the night. The next day we took a domestic flight to Bangalore where I got caught up on my bill-paying, grocery shopping in the market, and scheduling some domestic flights for Jean and me to explore India. Jean enjoyed the trip to the market in an autorickshaw, noting that we were the only Caucasian women in the market or on the streets. At the market I was greeted by Mary who spotted me immediately, even though I had been away from Bangalore for quite some time. She is a ‘helper’ who carries my purchases and helps me find the ‘best’ vendors for each item.

We visited some hand-made paper stores since this is an interest of Jean’s and surprised the supplier when he realized that we came by autorickshaw and not by car and driver.

We went to the ‘Bull Temple,’ where we witnessed a special blessing being conferred on a new motorcycle. The priest used holy water, jasmine, a flame, and prayers, and then placed a cut lime under each tire which were crushed as the motorcycle moved forward. We noted that they didn’t use helmets, though, so maybe they really need this blessing! We went on to a Maharajah’s Palace, and then to the Taj-West End Hotel for lunch.

The next day we were picked up by our car and driver to go to Hassan from which to see the Channekeshava Temple in Belur and the Hoysalaeswara Temple in Halebid, which I had previously seen. These are 12th century temples with nearly every square inch carved into beautiful statues. The next day we visited the Gomateshvara statue, climbing up the 613 steps of the granite mountain to where we watched a ceremony, offering water, milk, and jasmine petals to the statue.

Jean was blessed by the priest who put a red dot on

her forehead.

 

 

 

 

 

On the way back to Bangalore we stopped at a market alongside the road where coconuts, rope, fruits and vegetables were being sold. Right there oxen were being shoed, but we were the main attraction!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next morning we flew from Bangalore to Chennai in the south of India. We proceeded further south to one of my favorite towns, Mahabilipuram. Jean and I stayed at a resort on the beach; there were very few tourists here.  Our

driver took us around to see the shore temples and the carvings on the rocks;

we

especially liked the ‘folk art’ nature of Arguna’s Penance with its bucolic scenes of cows and calves as well as elephants. A nice dinner of prawns and rockfish at Tina’s Blue View Restaurant rounded out our visit.

The next morning we flew to Delhi and got settled in our hotel near Connaught Place. We perused the state-supported craft emporium, looking at crafts from all over India. Lunch at a five-star hotel involved ‘kid encruite,’ which is my favorite dish here, and which Jean enjoyed, too. When I verified that by ‘kid’ here, they meant goat, the waiter answered, “But it is a very small one, madame.”

We decided to make good use of our time and take a commercial tour of New Delhi.

Some of the sights were Humayan’s Tomb (by the same architect that designed the Taj Mahal), the India Gate, the Parliament

Building, the Ashoka Pillar, the sites where Ghandi and Nehru had been cremated, and then we stopped for lunch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After lunch we went to Old Delhi where we saw curb side sellers and sleepers, families living under a tarp, beggars and crowds! There were man-powered bicycle rickshaws and even man-pulled rickshaws and carts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We visited the Red Fort, the Qutab Minar, which is a five-storey tower, completed in 1368.

 

 

And we saw the iron pillar that is supposed to bring good

luck if you can encircle it with your arms. Our guide allowed that the good luck probably belonged to the pick-pockets that pick your pocket while you’re encircling the iron pillar! We stopped at a Kashmir Carpet store where Jean bought three small silk rugs.

The next day we rickshawed to the Indian Arts Museum spending the morning viewing pottery, paintings, textiles and other artwork from all over India.  Jean bought a few souvenirs to tuck into her suitcase.

 

We reached Agra with a quick flight from New Delhi to see the Taj Mahal. It’s fun for me to act as ‘guide’ to some of these highlights that I have seen before, and the Taj never fails to impress new viewers, as it did Jean. It is much larger than people anticipate, all white marble with semi-precious stones set into the surface. Shah Jahan built it in honor of his

wife who had died giving birth to their 14th child. His intention was to build another black matching temple across the river from the Taj, but his son cut this short as he felt his father had been spending too much money.

We hired a driver to take us to Fatehpur Sikri, an abandoned city, still perfectly intact. It was built in the 16th century but apparently lacked a reliable source of water. Akbar, the king of the Mughals who built it had three wives, one Hindu, one Muslim, and one Christian. They each had their separate quarters but apparently things moved along amicably. Arriving back in Agra, we toured the Agra Fort before having dinner at our 1940’s hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

Flying back to New Delhi only took 30 minutes. On the way back to our hotel we observed many men walking out of town carrying poles across their shoulders that were  decorated with tinsel, and were being used to carry water bags. When Jean inquired of the hotel clerk, he explained that they were pilgrims walking to the city of Haridwar, which is next to the Ganges River where they will go to wash the feet of the god, Shiva. This pilgrimage happens every 12 years. Unfortunately the next day we learned that several had been killed as they walked along the highways.

Chandi Chowk was our destination the following day, which we attained by taking an autorickshaw to the Old Fort and then going on foot to Chandi Chowk, an old shopping area in Old Delhi. It was crowded and congested, and we had been warned that it would be difficult and uncomfortable, but we discovered that it was not a problem.

 

 

 

We eventually did succumb to fatigue and took an autorickshaw to look at the gold-topped Sikh mosque and the largest mosque in India, the Jami Masjid.

We flew to Jodhpur, one of my favorite cities in Rajastan.

 

 

 

It has a small town feel about it although it is quite large. We stayed at the Ajit Bhawahn Palace, a converted palace-hotel with many little stone cottages and beautiful grounds.

Leaving Jean to rest at the hotel, I went on a village safari. I saw lots of wildlife such as gazelles, black buck, blue bull

antelope, monitor lizards, and cuckoo birds.

 

 

 

 

 

The safari leader told of a holy man nearby that he knew who had predicted his own death. The leader

claimed to have witnessed the day when the holy man asked his fellow monks to dig his grave, in which he sat after telling the crowd that he would be dead in a half hour, and he was!

Downtown Jodhpur is quite exciting. Jean and I went to the clock tower and then to the fort. The scene near the clocktower was so much fun to observe because of all of the different ‘looks’ of the people.  The women wore beautiful saris and lovely jewelry, and the men wore fancy turbans.

Jodhpur is called the blue city because many of its buildings are painted blue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had lunch at the Umaid Bawan Palace, another palace converted into a hotel. This one, however, is huge, impressive and grand. It was built by the Maharajah in 1923 to ostensibly provide work for his subjects during a serious depression. The staff actually wore white jodhpurs!

We flew to Jaipur, called the pink city because so many of the walls are a salmon color. We

stayed at the Samode Haveli, which was once a house owned by a nobleman and one time prime minister of Jaipur.

 

 

 

Our hotel room walls were almost covered with paintings and gilding and had Persian-style

rugs covering the floors. A little quirk of this place was that when one lit a match and moved it around, the light was reflected in all the tiny mirrors in the wall decoration, which was supposed to make the room ‘dance,’ but we didn’t quite have the touch, or maybe the imagination to see it!

Other Jaipur places that we visited included the Amber Fort, high on a hill overlooking the town.

 

 

 

Back in town in the City Palace we were awed by the pair of huge silver 14-foot in diameter vessels that a maharajah had filled with water from the Ganges to bring along when he visited England. We also stopped at the Jantar Mantar, an observatory built by Jai Singh, who was an astronomer. A series of large sculptures measure the paths of stars, time of day, etc. He built five of these around India, but the one at Jaipur was the best of them.

Jean’s interest in hand-made paper took us to the Kagzi Industries where we witnessed the whole process.

 

 

 

 

 

Beautiful marigold petals, leaves, and rose petals were being incorporated into the paper. Jean bought a few leaves to take home with her, and we were each given a small notebook that had a skeleton leaf on the front and paper inside containing petals.

 

When we returned to the Samode Haveli for lunch, a man was standing on some scaffolding on one of the dining room tables, touching up the murals that were all over the ceiling of the dining room. Lots of other whitewashing and painting was in progress all over this hotel. Keeping up all the beautifully decorated and mural-covered walls must be quite a project!

Flying back to Mumbai finished off our flying tour of India with Jean boarding a flight home while I boarded a domestic flight to return to Bangalore. What a good traveler Jean was, even though India is somewhat daunting for first-time visitors.

Carol

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