Wandering Again

Failed Priest
Living in: Santa Cruz, United States
  • Day38


    January 11 in India ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    We've spent the past few days in Jaisalmer, an old trading city at one of the ends of the Silk Road. Once thriving, it boasts a huge sandstone fortress built on a Bluff surrounded by the Thar desert. Many of its inhabitants were wealthy in the time before the Raj. They built beautiful homes called havelis with intricate detailing carved into the sandstone.

    On our first day we wandered from our Kaku guest house up to the fort. The place was filled with Indian tourists. One Jaisalmerian explained that they come to take camel safaris into the desert. They ride camels to base camps in the dunes that are set up with hot water, tents, and cots. "The Indian tourist is not like the European or American tourist, they need their niceties. The foreigners like roughing it a bit." Several Indians asked us to take selfies with them as we sat and people watched.

    Inside we happened on an artist painting meditaively in the doorway of his gallery. He works in a variety of media using antique paper, cotton, and camel bone. Beautiful and intricate work. His pieces take anywhere from a day to several months to complete. We returned on our last day to buy two pieces. One for Grace's 90th birthday in August and one for ourselves. Kamal Swami also holds a masters in sanskrit. The piece that we bought for Grace has a sanskrit border which translates, "A good life is like a lotus flower held in the hand until it opens. If one is giving, then happiness will come to them in the later years." The border on our piece is in Urdu. He said that he had a friend translate it to make sure that it "didn't anything stupid." He talked at length about his art and its purpose in his life. He shared that he'd once been summoned by an emissary of the Majaraja of Jaisalmer to one of the closed galleries in the palace to look at the artwork on the walls and ceilings. He was asked to do restoration of the work. He declined the invitation. "It is not how I work. It is not what I do. Each piece is its own once it is done." Several days later the Maharaja asked him to come to his country house at 10:30 in the morning. He arrived and was "seated on a nice sofa and given chai." "First it was 11 o'clock, then 11:30, then noon. Finally it was lunch time and I expressed my regrets and went home." Later I met the Maharaja at a charity event. He said, "You are the one I have invited twice and you didn't come. I shared what my father had told me; that the light from a lamp in a regular house gives the same light when the lamp is in the palace."

    Grace's piece is a very special work. He changed his approach to mimic the traditional mud wall painting of the Thar. The women mix dung and mud to build mud walled houses in the villages in the area. The color is very deep. They then make paints from crushed minerals in the area to decorate the homes and low frontage walls of the home. Kamal depicted a different setting from his usual work to set off the background. The rest will have to wait until Grace's 90th birthday, but the effect on the subject is lovely.

    Next we're on to Jodhpur. We've changed up the schedule a bit. After a couple of days, we're then off to Udaipur. A few days there and we fly to Varanasi where Nancy will spend lots of time exploring and taking photos while I relax in the Inn that we've booked overlooking the Ganges. Unless I decide to take a special side trip to witness and take part in Kumbh Mela, the greatest gathering of people in human history.

    Could be interesting.
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  • Day37


    January 10 in India ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C

    Bikaner is a late comer among the cities in Rajasthan. It was founded when the heir to the Maharaja of Jodhpura decided that he wanted his own realm in 1488. He took over the barren lands to the north of Jodhpur called Jangladesh. It is now home to the most beautiful city palace fortress complex in all of Rajasthan.

    We spent our nights here at the posh Grand Maharaja Heritage Inn. A hotel based in one of the subsequent Maharajas palaces. Very nice place with soft beds, extensive grounds, and a good breakfast.

    We spent our days touring the city palace and wandering the streets and alleys of the old town. The City Palace was extensive. It is still in the hands of the latest Maharaja and his family and all of the items on display are on loan. At one point a guard asked us if we wanted to see something special. He led us to a gallery of colored Belgian Glass looking over the gardens.

    Entering the streets again required a rapid transition. Seems like rapid transitions and witnessing unexpected and startling things are hallmarks of our time here in India. The streets. Always chaos. Nancy demonstrates her Indian city walking skills here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/B1KxVPAxZnjXCayu5
    We walked through several market areas, one of which was known as the Kot Market, or cloth market. Here's a video of the place with sewing machines all lined up and taking business: https://photos.app.goo.gl/YGeJ2JYjobmLp8BK9

    Later today we catch the bus for a six hour ride to Jaisalmer. Rajasthan's oldest city.
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  • Day36

    Rat Temple and the Carion Dumping Site

    January 9 in India ⋅ ☀️ 19 °C

    As we entered Bikaner we asked our driver Mahendra to make two stops. The first was to visit Karni Mata. It is pretty beyond the pale so I'll let Wikipedia explain:

    Karni Mata Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Karni Mata at Deshnoke, 30 km from Bikaner, in Rajasthan, India. It is also known as the Temple of Rats. The temple is famous for the approximately 25,000 black rats that live, and are revered, in the temple. Wikipedia

    It is supposed to be lucky if one of the incarnated beings runs over your feet. We stayed about 20 minutes. We didn't end up being one of the lucky ones.
    Here is a video from the temple.
    And another:

    Next we hit one of my India list items. One of the prime raptor birding sites in the world. The Bikaner Carcass Dumping Site. Needless to say the place is prime territory for carrion and raptors. The nearby Bikaner sewage settling ponds make it prime for all sorts of rare species as well. This site is also a winter migration site so we were there in prime time. We saw lots of Red-naped Ibis and Black Kites on the drive into the facility. Most of the 300 or so birds were in the air at the time of our visit. This may have been due to the arrival of a fresh cow carcass. Most prevalent were Egyptian Vultures and Eurasian Griffon. Among them were several Tawny Eagle, two Imperial Eagle, and the only remaining eagle native of to India, the Indian Spotted Eagle.
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  • Day35

    Pushkar to Bikaner and Planning

    January 8 in India ⋅ ☀️ 8 °C

    All in all we've had a relaxing time in Pushkar despite our run-in with the local clerical representatives. Augie was loathe to eat anything unfamiliar following his recent bouts with stomach issues. This led to finding a really nice café overlooking the lake and a pizza joint with good reviews. Pushkar is definitely on the Amereuro Hippie Seeker Circuit. The day before yesterday we sat at the café listening to a fifty year old self-made guru/psychedelic consultant/film maker, drone on about pretty much anything, everything and mainly himself to a rapt audience of the weak minded at the table next to us for several hours.

    We've been doing some gift shopping in order to send some items back to Santa Cruz with Augie rather than toting them around for the next month. Nancy's been doing the haggling. Been getting pretty good at it. Firmly stating "Unhand me Sir!" when the negotiations got heated and she was manhandled while preparing to take her business elsewhere. At this point I pulled the amount we were willing to pay out of my pocket and told the gentleman that he had a choice. I could hand it to him or to my wife waiting outside in the street. This seemed to work although he then proceeded to reprimand us for 'joking around' and threw the bag of goods on the table when he'd finished wrapping them up. Bollywood. Such a dramatic hustle here.

    Our friends Scott and Suzanne, from the South India Intrepid trip, are currently here in town. We met them yesterday for breakfast. Turns out they will overlap with Augie in Hong Kong for a few hours. Augie's going to bring them into the private lounge on his Priority Pass as guests during their wait. Pretty cool.

    In the afternoon we hiked up a nearby peak to a temple overlooking the city and surrounding countryside. Nancy befriended a ten year old girl from Jaipur on the way up. They compared school uniform colors, monkeys, and 'real' grandmothers (paternal) vs. the unreal (maternal). They also both found their brothers to be annoying at times at that age. This place is big on camel safaris and I took the shot of the camp from the summit with my telephoto.

    Planning. Augie left for his 48 hour marathon of travel this morning. He seemed very happy and ready to go. Visions of burritos and barbecue dancing in his head. We're sad to see him go. He helped us book some flights and cement in a loose schedule for the rest of our time here. For the next ten days we continue to loop around Rajasthan, then catch a flight to Varanasi. After four days in the Holy city we catch a flight to Amritsar, the holy city for the Sikhs. We'll then make our way across the foothills of the Himalayas and fly out of Chandigarh for Delhi before flying home in early February.

    Once again it could be interesting.
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  • Day33


    January 6 in India ⋅ ☀️ 19 °C

    Pushkar is one of the oldest cities in India dating back to at least the 1st century. Pushkar is mentioned in the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas. According to legends, Lord Brahma, believed to be the creator of the Universe dropped a lotus to the ground leading to the miraculous creation of a lake. He then decided to name the place after the flower, and thus the name, Pushkar, or lotus. The city of Pushkar is home to the only temple dedicated to Lord Brahma in the whole world. Hindus consider a journey to Pushkar to be the ultimate pilgrimage that must be undertaken to attain salvation.

    Our experience so far has been a bit different. While still a beautiful place, the lotus flower no longer grows in the sacred lake. Also, I made the mistake of accepting a flower from a guy outside of an ATM near the bathing steps. Next thing we knew we were being invited to a 'special sunset blessing'. Nancy and Augie just followed along thinking that I knew what I was doing. So, we descended the steps to the lake where three 'priests' split us up and seated us next to separate pools. They then commenced by asking us to repeat a mantra requesting prosperity for all of our family and dropping the flowers into the lake. About four fifths of the way through my guy started to mention donation amounts that would ensure that the blessing would take effect. "$100, $200, $500 whatever you feel is appropriate." Selling indulgences to fulfill a prosperity gospel. Effing great. Just up my alley as a 'failed priest'. I told the guy I make my donations elsewhere and handed him a 500 rupee note for his trouble saying this would cover it for our whole family, Nancy and Augie included. Package deal. Meanwhile, Nancy and Augie were being strong-armed for separate donations. I mean literally. There were guys grabbing at us as we made our way up the steps. One guy even told Augie that he'd call the police if he didn't fork over the voluntary donation. No wonder early Buddhism didn't thrive here if prosperity is the central message, must have freaked them out.

    This morning we've been seeking a bit more peaceful scene here in Pushkar. Wandering the colorful streets of this ancient market town and sitting in a café overlooking the lake. Fulfillment found.
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  • Day32


    January 5 in India ⋅ 🌫 18 °C

    Our final evening in Jaipur we decided to go to the infamous monkey temple. The temple has been abandoned and now hosts thousands of red monkeys and langurs. Our hosts had recommended against the visit as one of their British guests had been bitten while visiting. I was concerned that we might have to cut our trip short should things go bad. But, as per usual since she entered her sixth decade, Nancy decided that she just had to go. It was pretty intense. They were moving all over the temple and running right around right next to us. Augie and I were terrified. Augie bailed early, but I bravely albeit foolishly stayed with Nancy until it was dark and she was quite finished.
    Here's a link to a video of the monkeys moving across the hillside at dusk.

    Our last night in Jaipur we decided to go to the movies. Not just any movies, but a Bollywood blockbuster at the Raj Mandir Cinema that seats over a thousand people. Wild thing was that they opened the doors for seating just as the film started. Fifteen minutes in and people were still stepping over one another to claim their assigned seats. 'Simba' told the story of a young boy who sees his dad pay a bribe to a corrupt police officer and instead of taking the lesson of seeking justice, decides to grow up to be the best corrupt police officer ever. He grows up, gets a chief of police job at Miramar Station in Goa, plays favorites, and takes bribes. It all goes according to plan until he meets a sweet and kind Indian woman who sweeps him off his feet and leaves him with choices to make.
    Here are a couple of clips.

    The next morning Nancy and I made a rush trip for photos to the Wind Palace Hawa Mahal. Caught a nice shot of the Gandhi Art Palace anf Puppet House from the window. After checkout the three of us caught an Uber to the desert and holy lake town of Pushkar.
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  • Day31


    January 4 in India ⋅ 🌫 20 °C

    Sophie is gone back to Bolinas. :(

    Our crew left Mumbai and headed to Jaipur with the Panagos clan, plus nephew Nial. We were late leaving the Grand Hyatt which resulted in a relatively hectic trip to the Mumbai Airport. All eight in our group made it with the help of a security guard who switched us to the Premier Flyers line. We were among the last to board. The flight was fine. There were seats taken out to accommodate a stretcher. First time any of us had seen this. We Ubered to the Bnb, Bhola Bhawan. Nice place. Very congenial hosts and accommodations. We even have use of a kitchen.

    John and family went out to the City Palace for the light show. They ended up dining in the same room the newly installed 20 year old Maharaja of Jaipur and his school chums from England. Nancy, Augie, and I walked the streets. Along the way we met up Prakash who is a social worker at a Catholic run orphanage that houses and schools 10,000 street kids in Jaipur. Guy was drinking out of an Andean maté cup. He invited us to teach sometime over the next few days. We made it to a natural foods grocery where we purchased a jar of Ragu™ Pasta sauce and a whole pound of spaghetti. Hit the spot.

    Next morning we spent some time planning our day. Jules had a whole list of possibilities and options. The hotel owners helped us choose a couple of guide/drivers for the day. We left the hotel around noon. The first spot was the Junter Munter Astronomical Park. It is one of four such facilities built by Rajput king Sawai Jai Singh II some three centuries ago. Next we headed to the memorial tomb sites of the royals where J had a faceoff with a langur. Then it was on to the Amer Palace in the mountains north of Jaipur. Beautiful palace. We stopped at the water palace on the way up and the wind palace on the way back.

    Last night was J and Varsha's last in India, so we treated the crew to a nice meal at the Peacock Rooftop. Beautiful scene with a traditional Indian trio playing and good food to boot.
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  • Day27

    Bird Excursion & New Year's Eve Gala

    December 31, 2018 in India ⋅ 🌫 24 °C

    Our 30th Anniversary arrived!

    Johan had arranged a birding trip to two local reserves. The trip was led by a local ornithologist Asif N. Khan who works for BNHS, an area conservation agency. Jules joined us for his first ever birding excursion. We spent the morning birding on the edge of the Western Ghat in the Karnala bird sanctuary. The early afternoon we visited a wetland saved from by development by Asif's organization. No easy feat as 95 percent of the mangrove wetlands and islands around Mumbai have been filled in. I sighted 31 separate species, Johan probably double that. The mountain highlight for me was a scarlet minivet. The water highlight was a flock of 48 flamingo.

    We made it to the New Year's Eve celebration at the Bombay Presidency Golf Club last night. It was also our 30th anniversary so Nancy and I ducked out at 12:01. Another amazing evening. This morning we treated ourselves to a room service breakfast at the Grand Hyatt here in Mumbai.
    Here's a link to a countdown video from the evening: https://photos.app.goo.gl/1ZZAGTnRyd4E8Zah9

    Tomorrow we're off to Jaipur in the morning.
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  • Day25


    December 29, 2018 in India ⋅ 🌙 26 °C

    Another night, another gala.

    Nancy and Augie were still recovering this morning so Sophie and I headed down to the old part of town to take a look. We were accompanied by Johan and Mirtha. We caught an Ola (Indian Uber) and headed for the Chor Bazaar, or Theives Market. We walked through several city blocks of metal fabricators to get to the antiques and brass items. There were shops filled with old telephones, shops with old signs, and this being India a whole corner dedicated to the sale of automobile horns. Sophie found a place dedicated to drawer pulls and made some purchases. Around that time Mirtha was wondering where the clothing shops were and so we caught another Ola and headed to the Colaba Causeway where Sophie found a few more items and we were good to go.

    By evening Nancy had begun feeling a bit better and was up for attending the reception banquet. Augie was again laid low and stayed behind as we made our way back downtown. We stopped at the Colaba Causeway again so that Nancy could buy a dress. We then walked over to the Taj hotel, the grande damme of Bombay's old luxury. The hotel is opposite the Gateway to India monument so we strolled by there as well.

    Around 8pm we caught another taxi over to the reception venue. Several hundred people were in attendance. The reception was held within a military compound. Dhiman, the groom's dad had served in the Indian military and retired as a lieutenant colonel. Our family had given additional ID documents and filled out additional security forms to be allowed entry.

    We arrived to a glamorous scene right out of Hollywood. Everyone took a turn getting their photos taken on the red carpet. There were film directors, actors, and a chantuese in attendance. There was even a military Scottish style regimental band complete with bagpipes. Again the buffet was brimming and drinks were liberally replenished. To top it off there was a huge roller spool of ice cream! (there you go, Don)

    Hopefully Augie will be back up to snuff by New Year's Eve.
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  • Day24

    Maharashtra and Bengali Blend

    December 28, 2018 in India ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    The wedding day arrived and found Augie and Nancy ill and confined to bed. Augie is still down some three days later. Yikes! This left Sophie and I to represent. And represent we did! Before we'd left the States Dolly requested our measurements so that she could have traditional clothing made for the occasion. We represented in style!

    The wedding was really interesting. The groom takes his place seated in an arched mandap at the front of the hall with the priest and close relatives looking on. After quite awhile the bride is lifted by her relatives and carried up to the front. She is holding her hands in front of her face and the groom has not seen her for some 12 days before this moment. He is lifted up by his relatives and the couple meets while seemingly floating on air. (this is all really apropos as they are both airline pilots) This is really no easy feat with a groom who tops out at 111 kilos. For the next hour or so the couple remain seated under the mandap with a Brahmin priest giving advice to the couple from the ancient traditions. The couple then make offerings and walk around the fire in the center seven times. Once this is done, they are official. The whole zeitgeist is really different from a western wedding. Most of the time the several hundred attendees aren't focused on the ceremony. They're milling about, socializing, and even getting a head start at the banquet table. Photos of the wedding can be found here: https://photos.app.goo.gl/kCmZHJFUJ5c19AJD7

    In the evening Johan and Mirtha were the first of our crew to head back to the hotel as Mirtha was also feeling a bit ill. Sophie and I sent them back with some electrolyte fluids and bananas for Augie and Nancy. Unfortunately we spent our last rupees on the food and forgot about having to secure a taxi back for ourselves. Fortunately a couple of guys from the bride's side noticed our predicament and went out of their way to deliver us safely back. The next morning Varsha commented, "It's India. This is how things are done here." Lovely.
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