Sunday, January 30, 2011

January 30,2011 Final Final Thoughts on India

Well, I am home and have worked my way through two loads of laundry, cleaned the house and ran to the market for some groceries.

The best part of getting home was sitting with my family, both in Atlanta and Davenport, and reliving the travel and going through all the gifts and souveniers I brought home. I did a lot of shopping and it seemed everyone was pleased with what I picked. I will send Aaron's off to him tomorrow when I go to the post office to pick up 5 weeks of mail.

Final thoughts on India.....Devika Sharma is a dream travel companion. India is well worth seeing and I know I want to go back and see the rest of the country. I feel privileged to have met so many people and seen so much of the country.

I still wonder about the whole cow thing. If cows are so revered, why do they let them eat garbage on the streets? Having said that, there is a reverence for all animals, including pigeons. They are everywhere. Dogs here are well fed and cats have their paws full keeping the rats under control!

The Taj Hotel is beautiful. I would strongly recommend anyone traveling to Mumbai, spend a couple of hours and an couple of thousand rupees and have tea. It is relaxing, delicious and such a treat to get 5 star service. And, a view of the harbor and the Gate honoring one of the King Georges.

The people of India were so gracious to me whereever I traveled; except of course, whenever we had to stand in lines. Indians are line jumpers and totally rude whenever they are concentrating on getting ahead of the line. Fortunately, the daily contact I had with Indians in all the places we visited, far outwieghs any rudeness I encountered in lines. People were generally repsectful and glad I was there.

Devika shared her friends with me and I feel like I have new friends now. I hope I get the chance to host them in this country.

The historical places we visited were awe inspiring. Some were 1500 years old. The blend of cultures from the orginal inhabitants, the moguls, the British and the Portuguese is fascinating to see in the buildings, dress, food and even in the language, especially in Goa.

So ends my travelogue on India. Go see it for yourself. You will not regret it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mumbai, India January 26, 2011

Well, my trip is nearing its end. We spent yesterday seeing the Elephant Caves, having tea and getting some last minute shopping done at FabIndia.

The Elephant Caves are located about 10 kilometers out in the bay. Somewhere around 450 A.D to 750 A.D, the local tribe literally carved out caves and chiseled statues of Hindu gods into the rock. The largest is around 70 feet deep, with many carved pillars and has the story of the Hindu trinity carved into base relief statutes along the back wall. There is also a huge statue of the god Shiva (which is just a man part). The other caves are lesser in size and have had most of the carvings removed by the Portuguese when they arrived. It was amazing to see the level of detail and work that went into building these cave temples.

As usual, we shopped. FabIndia was started in the 60’s by a very forward thinking person. They now have about 25 shops all over India. It has the most beautiful selection of Indian fabrics, clothes, furniture, jewelry and other accessories. Both modern Indian and traditional Indian items can be found as well as some of the best tea I have had here, Tulsi Ginger tea. I did buy some napkins, dish towels and an item of clothing for each of my grandchildren, modern clothes, not traditional. The shop is not large like an American department store, but it is larger than the usual store here. The one in downtown Mumbai has a coffee shop in it as well.

We did tea at a restaurant around the corner from FabIndia and ate some traditional street food. One item was a delicious little thing filled with yogurt and three different curries that you pop into your moth all at once. The other was a dish of yogurt with small bites of potatoes, peas and spices. It was slightly sweeter and it came with toasted bread much like pita to scoop of the mixture.

We also got together with one of Devika’s friends last night and sat around a lounge, relaxed, had gobs of girl talk and ended up having a very late dinner of Iranian food before coming back to the flat. It was a good evening and Priti owns her own business and specializes in leather fashions for the Amsterdam market. I saw her shop today, met her work crew and saw some of her samples. Her products have extraordinary workmanship. If they were affordable to me I would have bought one of the beautiful thin leather coats or stylish jackets in very rich tones of brown and blues.

Today I went spice shopping for myself and daughter-in-law and joined Devika and her friends from a book club for a movie and girl chat. I also made mac and cheese for Devika’s neighbor, Indian style, which simply means heated up with some green chilies!

India has been a great experience, but I will be glad to be back in the USA. India is a country under construction in more ways than one and sometimes it was difficult to tell if they were building something, tearing something down or just left something unfinished. With so many poor people (estimated around 421 million living below a subsistence level) and so many people under the age of 30, change must come and will come. What change and how it comes, is the mystery to be unraveled with time.

Tomorrow is high tea at the Taj Hotel and then off to Manju's for for a nice viist and dinner before heading to the airport.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Last Impressions of Goa, January 23, 2011

Well, here we are getting ready to shower and pack to leave paradise. As we made our morning walk I started cataloging good and bad things about Goa. First on the list of good is the beach life. It has been wonderful to sit on beach beds and be catered to by people who are there to make sure you get plenty of shade or sun by adjusting your umbrella, massages and even food and drinks. Many of the tourists here are wintering at Goa. They come for several months to escape the cold of the UK. While I have loved my beach time, I cannot picture myself devoted to only swimming, sunbathing, dining out and shopping. Great for a few days, but I would need to find meaningful work here. I also do not know how the long term tourists stay away from their families for months at a time with no greater purpose than to stay out in the sun.

Food here will make the top of anyone’s list. One restaurant not very far from our room makes any dish you ask, even if it is not on the menu. Devika and I have not had anything we can complain about and much that we can brag about. Almost all dining is outside on patios or covered concrete slabs. Music varies from place to place, but the quality of the food is pretty consistent. Indian ice cream is divine and I am bringing home the recipe!

On the list of annoyances is the constant calling to me by the term mama. I know they are trying to be respectful, but after awhile, I just want to scream I am not your mama. Also on the annoying list is how old women and young children are utilized to beg from tourists. Primary school here is free and I have a tough time putting myself in the place of parents who choose instead to have their small children working on the streets begging or selling things. It is hard not judge but I am working on it.

On the top of the list is also the shopping. Everyone thing Indian can be bought here and many things from outside of India as well. The quality ranges from one time wear dresses to fine clothes and jewelry. Handicrafts can be handmade by artisans or assembly line stuff from China. Whatever your price range, there is something here for you. One of the funny things is the use of brand names like Jimmy Choo or Polo on things you know cannot possibly be real. A shopper here has to remember that Indians are the kings of knock offs.

Our accommodations are terrific. I highly recommend Rosa’s place. It is clean, well maintained and lacks only for an air conditioner in the very hot season. Fortunately, we are in the cool season and sleeping at night has been nice. We have checked out another place here and they have nice rooms as well, a swimming pool, AC and TVs. It is 1,000 more rupees a night, which is about 22 USD.

That brings me to the other nice thing about Goa. It is totally affordable. Compared to the Caribbean islands, you get more for your money here. Food is fairly inexpensive. We averaged less than 10 USD for meals and that often included a drink before dinner or dessert afterward.

Goa is one of the cleanest areas of India we have been in and yet it still needs lot of improvement. Tourists will throw trash in receptacles if given the opportunity and certainly Goans can take more pride in their general community. People do keep their own personal spaces clean, but throw their trash in the streets or empty lots. The other threat to Goa is the noise level that has invaded the small streets of these beach towns. Between scooters, motorcycles, taxis and tourist buses, the streets are clogged with noise and vehicles for most of the day. Sidewalks are sporadic and add to the pandemonium of navigating around the area.

The ocean is warm and beautiful with waves that will knock you on your butt from time to time. The undertow varies but is manageable. The pace of Goa kind of matches the movement of the water. There is an occasional rush (like the night market) but mostly it is slow and easy and very relaxing. It is a tourist spot that if you go see the spice farm or churches, okay and if not, that is okay, too.

All in all, it is a wonderful day to spend a few days. Mumbai, you are now beckoning us to return to your frantic activity and life of a very large metro area.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Saturday Night Market, Goa, India, January 23, 2011

Last night we went to see what all the fuss was about. Everyone talks about the Saturday Night Market; and, with good reason. Our taxi driver told us that over 15,000 people show up every Saturday night during the high tourist season. Many of them travel 2 hours or more from South Goa. It is a veritable flood of people coming and going out the many gates available for entry or exit.

We had no idea what to expect. We donned some festive clothing since tourists in this area are fond of dressing up a bit for evening meals and activities. What we encountered was so not the India we had been seeing for three weeks!

About 15 years ago an English tourist who stayed here for the winter months decided to start the market. In the American world, we might call it a gigantic flea market, but it was so much more. It was well organized, had plenty of bathrooms scattered around, bars, food from every country imaginable and stalls after stalls of everything and anything. About the only thing missing were kitchen items.

Many of the vendors were westerners who come to Goa just to work the market. They were selling jewelry, western clothes, Indian collectibles and some very unusual stuff! One Aussie had a stall that sold the big music pipes used by Aborigines. The local craftsman also had stalls and some vendors selling cottage industry crafts. The Indian products represented every area and tribe of India. It truly was amazing.

We arrived early in the evening, around 6:15 M. By 8:30 PM the place was so packed you could barely move around the aisle ways and the food lines were 20 people deep. As we were leaving, Devika commented that she was so amazed anything like this could be done in India. It was much too organized, very clean and well done for Indians to have put it together. That is when we found out it is actually owned and run by the Englishman! It beat the Dilli Haart market for sheer size and cleanliness and the entertainment.

They have live music playing all night and the beer flows freely. So, the longer you stay, the drunker you become and the more you end up buying. The music featured is predominately western rock, pop and jazz (which was what was playing while we were there). There were vendors selling all different genre of music, much of it Indian. Many Indian tourists were more interested in the stalls selling western items and the western tourists gravitating towards the Indian craftsmen.
It was a very pleasant experience and something that should not be missed by any tourist to the area.

Our evening ended on a slightly scary note for two puny women afraid of cockroaches. We discovered one in our small kitchenette when we arrived home. Anyone observing us would have been laughing their fannies off. Just locating it after it scampered off from our first encounter and then deciding who was going to be brave enough to kill it caused quite a bit of frantic energy to be produced. I found it, Devika killed it and neither one of us wanted to scoop it into the trash. So we covered it nicely with a piece of paper and left it on the kitchen floor to be dealt with by the house help. Before going to bed, we secured the door to the kitchenette telling ourselves it would keep other cockroaches from invading our sleeping area. I never got used to cockroaches in Kenya and apparently I am holding true to my pattern!

Today is a lazy beach day and then tomorrow we head back to Mumbai. We have promised ourselves pedicures . All the hiking around has taken a toll on our feet.

Postscript, January 22, 2011

Well, our walk to the fort was long and mostly uphill for much of the last 4 kilometers. It started as a nice slow climb and then went straight uphill! It truly was worth the walk, though. It was built by the Portuguese in 1542 and is very different in layout and design from the ones built by the Moghuls and other kings of India. It had two levels; one close to the sea and one rising far above it. The fort sits at the cusp of where the river meets the sea and any intruders can be seen for miles.

I have had a geography lesson as well. It seems that the Arbrian Sea comes down to meet the Indian Ocean and this part of Goa and even Mumbai is technicaly considered part of the Arabian Sea. I am disappointed, not because I got my geography mixed up, but somehow felt nostalgic to think I was on the other side of the Indian Ocean from Kenya; which it turns out is much farther south. Oh, well.

Our walk today was quite lengthy, maybe 10 kilometers all together but we were fortified with a huge carb loaded breakfast at a cafe called Chocolate. It is the same one we got the carrot cake at and they make a great homemade whole wheat bread. I had mine with eggs and Devika had hers made into french toast. Yummy!

We have showered, read some novels and will now prepare to go to the Saturday market festival.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Candolim, Goa, January 22, 2011

We had the most relaxing day yesterday. We slept well and got up an had breakfast on the beach at one of the “shacks” and then promptly rented two beach beads and an umbrella and lazed away most of the day on the beach.

The beaches here are brown sand beaches but quite clean with little or no seaweeds. Shells are not as plentiful as on the Florida coast. The really nice big ones have some kind of sea life still living in them. Almost every shell I picked up had some kind of life in it. Even so, I did manage to find some treasures and they have been soaking in dish soap and water to clean them up.

The beaches here start to get crowded around 11AM and each of the three beaches in our area have a slightly different crowd. Our beach is made up almost entirely of Europeans primarily from the UK, Australia and Germany. The different English speaking accents were like a little chorus. Once family was definitely from Ireland and the momma kind of adopted two of the little kids who were selling jewelry and fruit on the beach. She must have given them quite a bit of cash for them to sit and play with her little girl, swim and waste valuable selling time.

A huge difference from other international beaches I have been privileged to sunbath on is the overwhelming amount of people selling things on the beach. Almost every 3 or 4 minutes someone is trying to sell you everything from massages, clothes, fruit, beads, henna, ice cream etc. Particularly depressing is th enumber of small children who should be in school now working to help support their families. That is very depressing.

Devika and I did partake of the massages. The young man, Sanjay, is in business for himself and gives a foot and upper body massage right on the beach. The cost was less than 10 dollars for about 40 minutes. He did a great job and after our long walk the day before, it was a great way to kick off the day and move into a very relaxed mode.

We ended up ordering our lunch and eating right on our beach beds. We had biryani, which I have not had since I left Kenya. Biryani is basmati rice, a wonderful blend of masala and at the very last, three colored powders are added to the rice so some of the rice is red, orange or yellow. It is a very pretty dish and was very delicious. Devika ordered hers with hard boiled eggs buried inside.

Late afternoon we showered and headed off for tea at a place Devika and her friend Sharmistha had carrot cake in the past. I was a skeptic about carrot cake in Goa, but sure enough, it was almost as good as my own homemade. We started to walk the 3 kilometers to the Goa Fort but got distracted by a lovely little department store hidden back off the street. We must have spent almost an hour looking over all their treasures. I may go back today and buy some nice little cloth baskets and a table runner.

Today’s agenda is to actually walk to the Fort, enjoy another lazy afternoon and then go to the Friday night market in a neighboring town. It is suppose to be more like a festival. We shall see. I may have to “dress up” and wear a skirt or local sundress from one of the vendors.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Candolim, Goa, India, January 20, 2011

We arrived in the Miami Beach of India yesterday afternoon. It is a series of beaches in the state of Goa that have small tourist areas attached, much like the drive from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale, only much more rustic. We are staying in a lovely rooming house very near the beach. It is quiet and peaceful here. Our view is of a lovely garden with a huge jackfruit tree. It is much different than the bustle of Delhi and Mumbai. And, it has relatively clean streets. It reminds me very much of the south coast towns and the north beach town of Malindi in Kenya.

Goa has two big rivers complete with barges, casinos and boating; much like my own area on the Mississippi. It is famous for growing cashews, mining iron and magnesium, salt fields and some spices. The tourist trade is huge here with a lot of diversity in the travelers.

This morning we toured old Goa. It was the center of the Portuguese reign in this part of India. Interestingly, Goa did not join India until the Portuguese gave up control in 1961. India became independent from the UK in 1947. The area is predominately Catholic (and Hindu, of course) and boasts many cathedrals that were built with much vigor and flourish to entice the locals to become Christians. It was amazing to see the golden altars and ornate work in the ones we visited today.

My Catholic upbringing springs to life at times like these. I had an overwhelming urge to genuflect and be more somber than the hoard of Indian and international tourists would allow. One of the strangest things to see was a life size statue of the crucified Christ replete with smeared blood and the Indian tourists posing for pictures in front of it, next to it and basically all over it. I stood back mesmerized by the activity and all the time a song of the church playing in my head. I am not sure I know the name of it, but the chorus is “If ever I loved thee, my Jesus it is now.” It was impossible to see such a life-like statue, even with the photo fever around it, and not to be humbled by His death for me.

One of the churches had a small art gallery of that pictured the life of St. Francis Xavier in huge paintings and one archway that was painted with the most beautiful representation of the trinity I have seen. St. Francis Xavier was kind of foreshadowing of Mother Theresa. He ministered to the poor and the lepers of Goa. Of all the original structures built by the Portuguese from the time Vasco De Gama landed here in 1492, only the churches and one other large house are still standing.

Our agenda for the next few days is to spend some good beach time, relax and eat well. I must also comb the beaches in the early morning before the tourists descend to grab up some shells from the Indian Ocean for granddaughter, Guthrie, and a family friend, Nana Loree. I suppose sooner or later I will also be enticed into buying T-shirts. We will see. I hope to arrive back in Mumbai for my trip home, rested and tan.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Delhi, Last Day, January 18, 2011

We spent a lovely day today on an all girl adventure. We had a dish called sadudana this morning for breakfast. It was soaked tapioca that was then stirred into crushed roasted peanuts and various spices and cooked. The texture was not so rubbery as tapioca pudding pearls and more like bulgur wheat.
After a lazy morning, Sharmistha and Devika and I finished up a little shopping and then we devoted our afternoon to spending time with Sara. We had lunch at the mall, bought her a few princess’ gifts and played in the park. All of our heavy sightseeing is behind us. We leave in the morning for Goa and the beaches of the Indian Ocean. Believe it or not, as I sit here blogging, Devika is watching CSI on Fox TV! Oh, India, how things are changing!

Agra, India January 17, 2011

Today started very early with a pick up for the trip to Agra at 6:00 AM. We rented a car and driver for the trip and it took us 4 hours to get there. The trip there was full of small surprises and excitement. First, we saw beautiful green rice fields everywhere. Visualize the corn fields of Iowa and then substitute rice paddies. Brown scrub dirt everywhere, except for these lush green sprouts growing in small rectangular plots. I first thought it was winter wheat coming up it was so vibrantly colored.
The second surprise was Devika herself. The driver stopped when we entered Uttar Pradesh and paid an entry levy or something. This made Devika suspicious and even more so when the driver came back with 50 less rupees than he should have had for us. I always knew Devika was a strong woman and does not tolerate dishonesty or conniving. She questioned the driver and he said that was all they gave him. So, she jumps out of the car, grabs the receipt and stalks off to the little office the road officials were sitting in. She must have had the look of someone not willing to put up with any crap because they gave her 50 rupees back to her without so much as an explanation of why they were so blatantly cheating people.
The third surprise was breakfast at McDonalds. We were driving through Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna and home to many oil refineries, when I spotted the McDonalds out the side window. While they did not have a breakfast menu, they serve lunch 12 hours a day! I had a veggie sandwich on the famous sesame seed bun with lettuce and mayo. It was very tasty and was made from carrots, peas and whatever other secrets McDonalds added. I do believe they could sell these in the U.S.
How to describe the Taj Mahal? Of all the monuments and sites of India, this is one definitely worth seeing. It is an engineering feat of excellence with perfect symmetry, illusions in the arches and Koran writings and inlaid semi-precious stones in the marble. The Taj Mahal was built as a tomb for one of the rulers as a testament to his undying love to her. She died after 18 years of marriage and giving birth to 14 children. Go figure. He was obsessed with the project and upon its completion cut off the hands of all 20,000 workers to help to build it so they could not replicate the work. It is the best maintained public heritage site I visited and the gardens were beautiful as well.
We also visited the palace and fort in Agra. The British pretty well finished decimating the place and turned it into an armory. So much history lost.
On our back home, we stopped in a city outside of Delhi to visit some relatives of Devikas that she has not seen in many years. I was tired and not feeling like it, but it was worth the time we spent. The level of excitement flowing out of her aunts and their family was energizing. To say they were thrilled by the visit is a gross understatement and after a short visit they sent us off with a box of sweets and dried fruits for the rest of the ride home.
One site was consistent with what we have seen in other parts of India. The towns springing up and literally littering the roadside between the big cities is unbelievable. India is a country under construction. Everywhere things are in some state of growing and that brings along all kinds of issues with services to the area. In some areas it looked like they started to build and stopped and started somewhere else down the road. It is an interesting view of the rapidly changing face of India. Over half the population is under the age of 30. In one generation they shall be forever changed in housing, dress and family obligations.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Delhi, India January 15, 2011

Our trip to Delhi was uneventful. We had a slight delay at the airport for takeoff and then again to land in Delhi. The city was covered in winter fog. The climate here is much the same as Atlanta, Georgia; very warm most of the year with about 6 weeks of temperatures in the low thirties. It is winter right now, but the temperature has been rising steadily and today it was in the high 50’s. Delhi is a proper city. The streets are well maintained, the cars and drivers are almost respectful and there is very little petrol fumes in the air. The city has waged war on smog and emissions and has been quite successful in making considerable change the environment. Delhi is huge. Over 20 million people live in the metro area. And yet, it seems less crowded than the 20 million people crammed into the small islands of Mumbai.

We are staying with Keertan and Sharmishta and their daughter Sara. Sharmishta had visited me in the US when I lived in Bowling Green. They have a large and very modern flat in a closed compound. It has more square footage than my house and it also boasts 5 bathrooms. My biggest surprise was that Pizza Hut, Dominos and McDonalds delivers take out right to your home. While Devika and I snacked on dwal, rice and roti, our hosts preferred their usual Friday night treat of pizza. I imagined my own son and his family was doing the same thing on their Friday night.
Another huge similarity to the US is Sara’s love of all things princess. She has Disney princess mania even in excess of the same mania that possesses my own granddaughter, Guthrie. I do think they sell more Disney princess stuff here or maybe I just live a sheltered existence from Disneyl fever. Sara has princess Kleenex, hand wipes, phones, hand bag, shoes, floor mats dressing table, etc. Little girls are much the same everywhere thanks to mega-advertising and some great Disney movies. And, of course, Sara has a pink-i-licious room which would be the envy of any young girl.

We had a lazy morning with a big breakfast prepared by Keertan. It even included chicken sausages. My hosts are meat eaters and we shall have chicken curry tonight. Keertan is an excellent cook and made a wonderful vegetable scrambled egg dish that included fresh ginger. It gave it such a wonderful punch on the taste buds.

For our afternoon adventure, we went to the Dillihaat, which is pronounced Delhi heart. It has craftsman from all over India and food courts featuring food from all over India and the east. The pricing on items was reasonable and you could even bargain as well. I did manage to pick up two samples of the embroidered patchwork and a personal souvenir of a hanging fish. I have a few other small surprises and felt quite good about supporting cottage industries from all over India.
Both Devika and I are breathing easier in Delhi and it will be nice to have a few days to recoup from the fumes and sandstone dust of our earlier week days.

One of the most interesting environmental things India is doing is to discourage the use of plastic bags. They have actually banned certain sizes. So, when you shop or go to the market, you may find that your bag is a piece of cloth that has been re-purposed as a tote or it might even be newspapers that have been folded and a handle applied to turn it into a very nice shopping bag. The colors of the small fabric bags are too beautiful and it makes so much sense to use what you have instead of those awful plastic bags. It also provides work for small groups of people to make these unique creations.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jaisalmer, India January 14 2011

Yesterday we rose before the sun, long before the sun, and set off for Jaisalmer by car. Our driver was early. He arrived at 4:15 AM instead of 6 AM. I was already up but the cooks and hotel help were fast asleep. It caused some frantic activity getting our to go breakfast together and making sure we had tea before we left.

The ride was uneventful. Meaning we had no accidents, near misses or general heart palpitations along the way. Daylight comes strangely to this part of the world. We have about a half hour of shifting light in the US before sunup or sundown. The process seems to take much longer here, as much as an hour and a half.

Both Jodhpur and Jaisalmer sits on the edge of the desert. It is a brown desert, not white like the Emirates. Lots of camels, though and about 70 miles of desert separates India from Pakistan in this area. We could see lots of Border Safety Forces the closer we got to Jaisalmer, but there is little or no danger in this area.

Jaisalmer is an active fort. That means there are still people living inside the fortress and primarily working on the tourist industry. Again, it has glorious winding streets going up and down and around. The views are magnificent and the fort and palace exceptional. The royalty no longer lives in the palace but they do put a red light on at the highest terrace when he is in town. The homes in the fortress have been handed down for generations. It is the only one in India, maybe the world, that still has people living and trading and getting on with life inside its walls.

Jaisalmer is known for the patchwork embroidery. The pieces are mosaics of color, texture and grace. The Parsees I mentioned in Mumbai also embroidery but it is done by women. Here it is done by men. Paper Mache is also alive and well here in the form of animals, jewelry and sculptures. I will need to buy some long strings of elephants and camels for my granddaughter to hang outside on the front or back porch.

We visited a workshop started by Mahatma Gandhi in Jaisalmer. Hand loomed woolen and cottons, hand dyed and turned into wonderful garments. I bought a large wool shawl. Devika picked up one embroidered on wool.
I did pick up a camel manbag and ball cap also at the fort. I usually do quite well bargaining, but somehow did not do a good job on this one! I overpaid by about 200 rupees. I wish I had a place to hang one of the embroidered patchworks. They are so stunning.

We have learned much about the staff at the hotel we are staying in. Our cook cannot read or write, but he is making sure his 4 children back in his village are being educated. One of the staff here is from Nepal and others from surrounding villages. Every Indian is looking for a way to improve his situation and in these areas of high tourist traffic, there is plenty of opportunity. Both Jodhpur and Jaisalmer were on the trade routes for silk and spice traders. Today the trade route is all tourism.

It does not take much imagine to visualize how these towns looked and felt centuries ago when the Rajas and traders from Europe and Great Britain mixed and mingled to expand the world’s opulence of goods.

While traditional dress in these areas is still common, it is interesting to watch the mothers dressing their children in western clothing and themselves in modified versions of traditional dress. While I hope the color and sway of the excess fabrics do not disappear entirely, it is being adapted to a worldlier palette of dress.

I have been making efforts to try and send my grandchildren a postcard every few days. It has not been easy finding the post office or getting anyone to agree on what the price of a postcard to the US is supposed to be. I am sure some may never make it there.

Today we leave for 4 days in Delhi, the capital of India. We shall be staying with friends and seeing the Taj Mahal as well. I still have some items on my shopping list I am sure can be fulfilled there and if not, when we return to Mumbai.

Jodhpur, India January 12, 2011

Well, still no pictures to share. I have given up trying to find an adapter and will just wait to get home and load some up! Jodhpur has turned out to be quite different than we imagined. First, our hotel reservation was quite mixed up.

When we arrived, the heritage hotel we booked in was full and they tried to switch us to a downgraded property that would put make a Motel 6 look like paradise. Devika, however, was having none of that. She held her ground and we ended up in a much nicer hotel than we originally booked for the same price. It is also what they refer to as a heritage hotel. It has beautiful wide columns, colorful tiled floors and is built of sandstone, concrete and wood, rich with a dark patina. We soon realized that Jodhpur is a dirty, dusty and noisy city.

The palace fort is certainly worth a visit and the museum shops the best we have been in so far on this trip. The new palace, constructed during the great depression and the beginnings of WWI, is a magnificent structure. It took 15 years to build and was the ruler’s idea of putting his subjects to work so they could eat. It is opulence to the highest degree. An interesting wall marker tells the story of how all the new furniture for the palace was sunk by a German U-Boat so the ruler has to settle for reproductions made in India. It described the loss of the furniture as devastating. It seems a strange way to describe the loss of furniture in light of the chaos that was happening worldwide at the time.

The narrow winding streets of old town here are some of the worst I have ever seen. Any charm is offset but the dirt, dust and garbage that clutters every inch. The shopkeepers have only wares that seem worn and torn. We did spy some cottage industry shops when we were fleeing the area. One was a silver making operation for elephants. Three men take scraps of silver and with their own short assembly line turn them into small ornamented elephants. It was a wondrous site.

Devika and I were so discouraged at the state of Jodhpur we decided to cut our stay here short. The city boasts a large sandstone mining operation and most f the buildings, including the new palace and the old fort, are made of sandstone. Unfortunately, the dust from all the new construction has created a huge cloud of dust that hovers everywhere when it is not being stirred up by traffic and street cleaners. We both came here with a slight cough and managed to get quite sick here trying to breathe.

We did manage in all this to find a few souvenirs. The area is known for camels (lots of camel hide leather products), and cottage textiles. Devika picked up a block print silk quilt that is very soft and reminds me of the beautiful work I saw in the silk area of China.
Anyway, we saw all there was to see in Jodhpur in one day and have decided to take a day trip by car to Jaisalmel to see the sights there. An interesting sight on the streets here is the use of black on the eyes and faces to ward off evil spirits. Seeing a little baby with mascara applied quite thick is a little disconcerting to the American traveler!

The highlight of Jodhpur is our hotel cook. It is the best food I have had in India. So tasty, so warm and wonderful without being hot hot hot and he cooks all from scratch. Each day he takes our order and does the shopping and cooks the special dish for us. I can see why people like having househelp. He is soooo acoomodating and attuned to our wants and needs. He makes the best Indian tea I have had as well.

I am on a week without a coffee!. Although, I am sure my consuption of tea more than makes up for th eloss of caffeine.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Udaipur, India January 10, 2011

Well, we are about to end our stay in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India. It is a city built along the Aravalli Range and around a series of lakes. The most famous lake is Pichola where the Maharaja built a summer palace on an island. It is very beautiful in this area as long as you stay out of the city proper. Our hotel is in old town, right on the lake and we have wonderous views from the roof top terrace. It is like a picture on a postard. Tthere is actually a swimming pool on the roof as well, but unfortunately, the pigeons use it as a birdbath. I am sure no amount of cleaning will make the water clean enough to swim in. The young man worked hard this morning vacuuming and scrubbing, but 5 minutes later, 20 pigeons were drinking in it. Bird feathers were floating on top as well. The upside is that I sat and had chai and watched the birds play for a half hour.

We toured the city palace today and were awed by the stone work, tiling and paintings. Our tour guide was full of information and interesting stories about the royals of this area. Everything from a pincess who committed suicide to save her people from war (two different princes were willing to fight each other in Udaipur for her hand) to a Rana who refused to live in the palace until he won back his land from invaders. He ruled and fought the good fight but died before ever living in the palace.

The Rajputs are known for their mustaches. When you see a man with a long mustache curled upward, you will know that style of mustache originated here in Rajasthan. They have even put one of the Sun God, Surea. The Rajput men were famous for wearing earrings in both ears. Rajputs were royals and rulers. Now that the caste system is mostly gone, almost all men regardless of their occupation wear them.

We had a delightfully delish Rajasthan Thali lunch with new dish I had not tasted before. It was a carrot halwa. I am definitely going to make this from my friends and post the recipe on my cooking blog. It is a very tasty, sweet dish made of slow cooked shredded carrots, milk, sugar and dried fruits or nuts. It is almost like a pudding but not a pudding.

I think my palate must be adjusting to all the spicy foods. Things did not seem quite so hot and spicy today. This evening I ate stewed chicken with a mashed onion gravy and cheese naan.

The funniest event has been the personal ads I saw in the newspaper. The parents advertise for mates for their children and are quite bold about what they want in a daughter or son-in-law. For the wanna be daughter-in-laws they must be well educated, never worked, "homely" young women. Homely meaning they want someone who will be content to stay at home, mind their mother-in-law and generally not think for herself. They are a riot to read. It turns out it is quite a common custom here in India and is like only with parental approval.

This area of India is known for its silver and marble but it has gathered to together artisans of all types in old town. It also has a good size industry in block printing and the art of tie dying.

We are off to Jaipur tomorrow.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

India January 7, 2011

We spent a day and a half in a flurry driven process of getting Vikram and his Mom ready to leave for the United States. He knew what gifts he wanted to bring home to co-workers and friends, but had postponed shopping to the last minute. So Devika and I made the sacrifice (although not much of one because it fit in perfectly with me seeing and experiencing all the markets of Mumbai). In the end, we actually got him to accompany us and in a short while found the perfect gifts.

As usual with international travel, when there are family and friends on both sides, there is much packing of items supplied by and meant for others. Vikram has a veritable queue of friends coming and going all day yesterday with things to send back to the United States to loved ones. Luckily, both he and his Mom are light packers and 2 of the 3 carry-ons could be devoted to the gifts others were sending.

It also provided me an opportunity to visit with his friends and other family members and hear their views on life in India, the best things to experience while I am here and to share histories of our respective families. It reminds me that people generally have more commonalities than they do differences. We all value good relationships over most everything else, and regardless of circumstances we have a desire to seek out and nurture the important things in our lives. Concurrently, we all get caught up in the rush of our daily activities and encounter the difficulty of prying out time to experience the joys of life. I feel fortunate that Vikram’s friends made the time to re-establish their relationship with him and connect with their loved ones in the United States because it provided me another opportunity to encounter more personally the people of India.

Visually, the streets of Mumbai seem to be endless stalls, buildings and street vendors, looming towers of apartments and corporate offices. Within all this maize of people and structures, small neighborhoods are the building blocks of this massive city. Almost anything you need for daily living can be purchased by just walking in your neighborhood. Shopkeepers know their customers by name and keep records of their likes and dislikes. They extend themselves to meet urgent needs. Devika bought her Mom some almost ready to wear new blouses; meaning the pattern was set into the fabric but still needed to be cut and sewn to her measurements. The tailor happily created two new blouses for her in less than a 24 hour turn around. Not only is our ready to wear different, but the intimacy of the small neighborhood is missing in most areas of the United States I have lived in.

I enjoyed Tipsy Pudding made by Devika’s sister. It is very much like my mother-in-laws fruited custard except Manju’s includes a nice pound-like cake on the bottom of it. Why it is called tipsy pudding is a mystery as it is alcohol free. Although, a tiny bit of rum in the cake part might be a nice add to the recipe.

A big difference for me is ironing. I do not iron at home. Even when I worked, if it needed ironing, it went to the cleaners. Here, ironing is a must. No self-respecting person goes out unless they are neat and tidy including freshly pressed clothes. So, I have been taking an iron to my skirts and some of my shirts when necessary. Yikes.

This morning came not too early. We slept late after a very long day lasting well into the next morning. Vikram and his Mom were seen safely off late last night for their trip to America. Mom wore a western outfit of slacks and a sporty long sleeve Tee. It was a first for her to be out totally in nontraditional clothing. Devika took extreme delight in shopping with her for the new clothes. Even Mom, who is about 20 years older than me, took delight in the process. Never let it be said any of us are too old to change lifelong traditions or habits.

We have booked our travel plans this morning for the rest of my stay and have decided to concentrate on seeing 3 or 4 places well rather than seeing as much as possible. We shall spend time in Rajasthan, Delhi, Goa and back to Mumbai. So much history, architecture and culture to touch and feel in so short a stay in India.

India January 6, 2011

Well, a few days have passed and I am beginning to settle into the sights, sounds and smells of Mumbai. For the uninitiated traveler it could be overwhelming. With 3 times the population in this country versus the United States on 1/3 the land mass, it is people driven in India. The pollution level of cars, cabs, trucks, buses, tut tuts and scooters have taken a slight toll on my breathing, but all in all, I am holding up under the environmental change.

The sight of all those vehicles and lanes of traffic mixed in with the local rail for Mumbai and the people on foot is very energizing. People are on the move here and unlike in the major city of Nairobi, Kenya, they are hustling along. The sense of urgency in the downtown area and the normal life on the streets in the residential areas gives a unique view of the daily sights, sounds and smells of Mumbai.

The noise is deafening. Horns are the steady background noise to everything and people chatter, shouts and yelling children are also a constant. There is no quiet time in Mumbai. Add animals, temple noises and mosque prayer time and it is quite overwhelming.

Children laugh and play the same games here as in the states drawing adults and teens into their games. Here, of course, they play around the business conducted on the sidewalks and streets or even play in the hallways of their buildings. Women are busy with their jobs, families and the normal activities of keeping house. All of this is done in the context of close quarters, limited resources for many and with a smile and joy in their heart.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Mumbai is a shopper’s haven. From the high end shops and malls to the street shops to the open markets, shopping is a 12- 15 hour a day event here. Small owned retail shops here are customer driven. A shop owner will unravel 20 bolts of material trying to help you find one to buy. Negotiating price here is not as common in other countries I have visited. Small shop owners have posted standard rates and do not engage anymore in the age old process of haggling. I kind of miss it. Also, it appears to me, that the cost of living here is very comparable to the U.S. for everything. Food, clothing and other things seem to equal out when I apply my rudimentary math skills to the exchange rates. Housing is another matter. Land is scarce and affording buying property is for the wealthy. One caveat to this is that property is passed down generation to generation, and there is still many who live together inter-generationally. This has many benefits including no mortgage payments. Yet as a woman, it means that a wife may never have the opportunity to properly influence and run her own household. Not being able to have equal say in how things are done in the household and, how your own children are raised is a very foreign concept to an American woman.

I enjoyed a lovely meal out with my host family at the restaurant run by the Seva Sadan Society. A wealthy Parsee family in 1908 established it to empower young girls and woman, particularly orphans. They operate an orphanage, schools, which include, primary, secondary, and vocational and a nursing school as well as the restaurant. The Parsees came to India several centuries ago when the Muslims invaded Persia. They landed by boat in the western province of Rajasthan almost 400 years ago. The ruler at the time produced a container filled with milk (or water depending on who is telling the story) and told the Parsee’s religious leader that it was too full to include others. The response of the Parsee religious leader was to add sugar to the water to convince them that allowing Parsees to stay would only sweeten the lives of the Indian people. Today the Parsee are known not only for their worship of the Fire God, but also in banking and business. Worldwide, there are less than 150,000 in the ethnic and religious group known as Parsee.

Anyway, one of the vocational trades taught at the Seva Sadan Society is the art of paper making. The gift bags, note paper and other products were so reasonably priced and beautiful in quality and workmanship. Buying them not only provides quality handcrafted items to the buyer, but supports this great endeavor of growing young girls into confident women.

Alas, I must confess, I have done nothing that will help me to post pictures to this blog yet, but soon, I hope.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Travel and Day One in India

I have been privileged to travel with and visit several of the students that I met while living in Bowling Green, Ohio. This month I am in Mumbai, India with Devika and her brother, Vikram. The airplane trip was almost an entire day and with time changes a day and a half. It was uneventful, which is good.
My friends met me at the airport. Vikram was a surprise because I thought he was in the states, so it was great to get my first hug from him and rejoice that we will all three spend time together before he goes back at the end of this week to teach in North Carolina. Seeing Mumbai at night was a blur of roads, lights and the sea link. It joins the north side to the south side of Mumbai over the bay. Upon arriving at their flat in an apartment complex, I was met by two of the night citizens who scare away the cats who are met to chase them.
We all had a short time of reunion and chatting with Rajkumari, which means Princess in Hindi. She is the mother of the house and has visited me in the U.S., so we were not strangers. My plane landed at 11:30 at night, so bedtime came at around 2:30 in the morning. Waking to the bells from the temple next door and the dogs of the neighborhood singing their own chorus of barks and yelps started a full day for me.
We did a y tour of south Mumbai to include the area where the terrorist attacks were two years ago. Everything is back to normal with buildings repaired and re-opened and some added security. We walked this famous area which includes the Taj hotel, portside view of the navy base and a shadowy view of the Indian Ocean. It was shadowy because the smog and fog had not risen before we took our boat ride around the bay.
The architecture in this area, including the Taj, is remarkable. While the Taj hotel was a private enterprise in response to an Indian man who was refused entry to another hotel during the British occupation, the other government buildings we viewed were a testament to the beauty of Victorian architecture and the sweat equity of the Indian people.
We had lunch at an authentic Indian buffet featuring food from the western area, state of Gujarat; the area where the Patels hail from. Think of all the hotels and motels you have entered staffed and run by Indians and they were likely immigrants named Patel from Gujarat. The food was tasty, spicy with rich texture and plenty of bread choice to sop it up with and it was all vegetarian. And, in keeping with excellent hospitality, it was all you could eat. They even serve you, so, no getting up and searching the buffet line. Gluttony is the rule of day.
Devika and I headed off to see a different area of south Mumbai and ended our excursion at Crawford market which has been in existence for 146 years. We were met outside by a gentleman who tried to endear himself to us as a ploy to take us around the market and earn a little cash. Devika was having none of that and knew exactly where we wanted to go and what she thought we needed to see that day. It is an area she likes to shop in and frequents it often. The market covers several blocks with lanes devoted to certain products, fabric, spices, household goods, candies, fruit, jewelry, gold; the list could go on and on. If it is made or grown, it is sold in Crawford market.
We were looking for scarfs and fabrics made from silk or high grade cotton in traditional designs. We did lots of touching. She did lots of questioning and much fabric was spread out in countless stalls for us to examine. After an hour and a half we decided not to buy until we figured out whether our gifts of fabric would be used to make clothes, curtains, etc.
We ended our day with a special meal made by a neighbor that included a traditional dish called pavbhaji, which means vegetables and bread. Its original intent was to be made of leftovers with the bread right in the mix. Now it is made as a specialty dish. It has the texture of a thick pumpkin soup mingled with garlic, spicy heat, tomato gravy and garnished with raw diced onions on top. As Rachael Ray would say, “Delish.”
Jet lag is catching up, so enough for now.