Friday, February 25, 2011

Ahmedabad

I'm here in Udaipur staying at the Nukkad Guest House.

In Ahmedabad, I was spoiled rotten by Dinesh and Shruti (my friend Sudhi's husband and daughter - Sudhi was still in Canada) and had a nice rest - I spent 3 days (not all in a row) doing nothing but sitting on their balcony, reading, a little computer, and little TV.  I really appreciated the down time.  One day I went into work with Shruti, her driver dropped her off, took me to some stores for shopping and then to Gandhi's ashram.  It as a beautiful, peaceful quite place by the river with a great museum section telling the story of  his life.  His little house; his room with his mattress and spinning wheel.  He must have had spinning wheels all over India as this was the third one of 'his' that I've seen.

Shruti works for the biggest denim manufacturer in India (from the cotton ball to finished jeans for GAP, Banana Republic, Lee's, Wrangler, etc).  She took me to their warehouse store and picky me did find a pair of jeans for Rs 600 ($15), then we went for ice cream (I love Shruti) and then to a beautiful Step-Well. 

Dinesh worried about me alot (I'm sure he thought I was crazy staying home all day and doing nothing), saw that I was very well fed (at some very fine restaurants) and booked my bus ticket to Udaiper for me.  The bus was the nicest, newest in all of India, complete with AC and brand new curtains - a real treat. He also took me on an Old City walking tour and to Lothal - a 4,000 year old archeological site.

I told Dinesh and Shruti that I wll never let them forget the time when Shruti and I walked home from the laser light show (at times not sure where we were) and the time when Dinesh was driving on the wrong side of the road.  I said, 'aren't we on the wrong side of the road' and he replied,'yes.'  But then several motorcycles, also going the wrong way passed us, 'but see, we're not the only ones'.
The dancers

The beautiful Bride and dress!


Back view of the dress (must have weighed a ton) the dancers and band led the way

The band

Bride and Groom

Tilt left - where the wedding ceremony took place.  My pics don't do justice to any of this - all fresh flowers were incredible.

I have more pics but forgot my camera in my napsack - went hiking today, so will upload more laters.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Madurai/Aurangabad


Haven’t had good internet access for awhile. I’m here in Ahmedabad being spoiled by Dinesh and Shruti (my friend Sudhi’s husband and daughter).  They have a beautiful home and right now, am sitting on a balcony that overlooks many trees, using Dinesh’s laptop, there’s a nice, cool breeze, about 25 degrees C.

Leaving the ashram was a bit of a culture shock but it only lasted a day.  I liked Madurai more than Chennai and Mysore, probably just more used to the big cities now.  They have a very large temple here, as I approached a tout came up to me telling me he was an undercover cop (even I didn’t believe that one) should leave my shoes in this particular store where I can get a rooftop view of the temple afterwards.  I left my flip flops there knowing he would get a commission for bringing me in and knowing that I would never buy anything there (have bought a few little things along the way but have not hit shopping mode yet).

Temple was huge with beautiful artwork, as I was leaving I thought that a pigeon pooped on my head, but couldn’t feel anything, so continued on.  Talked to some young women who asked where my shoes were  - the area around the temple is interlocking brick, no vehicles so very pleasant to stroll, I was walking in a square and knew the tout would find me well before I found the store.   Continued going in stores, the tailors, looking around for about 2 hours then on to the Gandhi Museum which was some distance away. 
  
A bicycle rickshaw guy was following me, but he was much older than me so I didn’t want to use him to go that distance, he kept following  and pestering me.  I bent down and that’s when I saw a piece of dried poop in my hair.  He then conveyed to me that it was on the side of my head (guess I didn’t check there). Judging from how hard it was to get a comb through my hair, the bird got me good but I was glad that I was dealing with dry, and not wet poop.  In Toronto I would have run home screaming, to Javex my hair but I just continued on.   I was so grateful for him telling me (must have talked to at least 5 people who hadn’t said anything and had bought flowers for my hair that day so thought I was looking so prettyJ ) so off we went.  

I felt bad the whole way because it was hot, when we got to a little hill, he had to stop, I got out and helped him pull the rig up the hill (only a minute).  When we came to a bridge with an incline leading up to it I though oh no, but he went down under the bridge, past cows and what looked like water buffalo, their tails flicking us as we came slowly by.  I told him no need to wait for me at the museum. It was similar to riding the elephant in Sri Lanka – couldn’t wait to be finished.  This Gandhi Museum was better than the last but my timing was bad - they were closing for the afternoon break so I had to rush through some parts.

Another day, went to the post office to send a package off which took about 1.5 hours from arrival, waiting, packaging, paperwork.  the man helping me asked me to tip the man who had packaged up my stuff indicating that he was on commission, so I did.  He was so grateful he insisted that he buy me tea, so the three of us sat and had tea while the  others patiently waited their turn.

On my way back, a bus load of school children were all hanging out the window yelling and waving at me "Hello, hello".  I yelled and waved back.

Arrived in Mumbai around 5 pm, and asked where the prepaid taxi stand was.  These guys said "we are the prepaid stand".  they showed me a list of prices and I knew they weren't because when I phoned the hotel I was staying at the owner kindly told me not to pay  more than Rs 300 from the airport.  These guys wanted Rs. 900.  I told the no but they put my suitcase in their car, I asked them to take it out, they did, and we continue discussing the price.  I kept saying it was too much, they were so insistent and then they put my suitecase in the car again.  This time, in a very loud voice, 'get my suitcase out of the car!'  (ok, I might have been yelling by then) They did.  I walked up to a police officer or maybe airport security guard told him my story.  He pulled over a taxi, talked tot he driver and said 'don't pay anymore than Rs 300.  I thanked him and off we went.  Rs 300 is about $7.50 and the ride was almost an hour through Mumbai in rush hour.  Drove through the city to my hotel near the train station as I was leaving for Aurangabad the next day.  .Saw some of the slums (many with satellite dishes), smelled the smog and stench, happy to do Mumbai some other time. 

I stayed at Hotel Outram on Marzaban Road, the rooms had no bathrooms but since I was staying less than 12 hours I figured I would try it (and it was only $17).  The communal washrooms were not too scary, very tiny rooms with showers and some with toilets.  I got a few odd looks from some men but ignored them.  The room was very clean and quiet. The hotel owner assured me that i would be quite safe walking to the train station 7 minutes away at 5:00 in the morning and offered to have someone walk me there.  I declined, but I did have to wake them up to let me out.  There were many people and dogs sleeping by the buildings but only a few heads raised to look at me, I guess I woke them up with the noise from my suitcase being pulled along the road.

On the train, I met a nice young man named DJ, he was a student on his way to visit his parents for the weekend.  He asked alot about Canadian culture and explained about Indian culture. At one point he was resting his arm on the shoulder of the man next to him and I asked, do you know that man. He said no, but it didn`t matter. He loved India because he could walk up to anyone and start a conversation `they are all my brothers`.

In Aurangabad went to the Ellora caves, decided to try a share-jeep – there were 18 of us (5 in the front, 5 in the back – both old kind of bench seating and 8 in the luggage area at the back, dropped me off at the caves – Rs. 20. On the way home, no jeeps, buses or rickshaws to be had so I approached 2 Buddhist monks who appeared to be in the same boat.  One spoke enough English, after much searching we found rickshaw driver who wanted Rs 400 to take us back.  Monks said too much, we got him to take us to the shared jeep loading stop for Rs 50 (on the way, twice there was a bus behind us so we stopped, all jumped out but the buses wouldn’t stop).  Got ourselves into the share jeep but the guy starts complaining that we are taking up the entire back seat (the monks are big guys) where there should be 5 people at Rs. 20 each.  After much back in forth between the monk and this guy, the monk offers to pay Rs 100 for the back seat and then says to me ‘these Indian people!’ (they were Tibetan, on a 5 day pilgrimage).  We sit and wait, the 7 kids in the front seat (one with his butt out the window) are laughing at us when another guy comes and starts yelling that we have to get out, opening the doors, asking us to exit– all along I’m pretending I don’t understand – the monks sit tight so I do too, this goes on for about 5 minutes, the jeep people give up and we leave.

From Aurangabad I took a tour bus with the locals to the Ajanta caves and was then hoping to catch a bus or a taxi to Jalgon where I take the train to Ahmedabad.  While standing waiting for the bus, some ladies are nearby and I can't help but feel like their talking about me/looking at me.  I strike up a conversation with them and they tell me they were talking about me, noticing that I'm wearing Indian clothes and wondering why I am alone. They tell me they admire me and wish me a good trip.

On the bus, we stop at what I call a Tea & Pee stop - it's a nice restaurant in the middle of nowhere, created for tour buses to stop for T & P. There are several buses there already. I'm standing there, looking around, deciding if I should eat and a guy comes up to me. Our conversation went like something like this:
'Are you Canadian'
'Yes'
'And you want to get to Jalgon today after the caves'
Look of wonderment on my face
'Your rickshaw driver yesterday was my cousin' (the rickshaw driver had asked me what my plans were for the next day)
'Ok, but how did you know it as me?'
'Canadian in a punjabi suit, look around'
I did.  Of the 200 or so people there weren't many foreigners and I was the only one in a punjabi suit (pants and a long tunic).
'Yes, I might need a ride'
He offered to take me the rest of the way to the caves but I declined.

When we got to the caves, he met my bus and offered to take my suitcase, I again declined, went to the caves. I had noticed on the way in that the way to get on a bus was to wait on the side of the road and flag one down (the caves are in the middle of nowhere).  I coluldn't picture myself doing this so thought I would take him up on his offer.  when I was done with the caves, the people who ran the souvenir stalls saw me coming and pointed the way to my driver.  He drove me so far, then another guy met us and I got his car.  This guy wasn't that talkative so it was a long drive (3 hours), i wasn't sure how much English he could understand, so I stared out the window alot, realizing that I wasn't in a licenced taxi, just some guy's old car and had no idea where I was.  Nevertheless, he dropped me at my hotel and waited to make sure I could get a room.

I stayed at the Hotel Plaza, a small pristine little place with a very friendly owner. The hot water wasn`t working but they offered a bucket of steamy water which you mix with a bucket of cold.  The owner very kindly told me how the train I want often comes in on a different track than what they say and many people miss it because of this.  He was right, I made my train and was grateful for his advice.

Dinesh met me at the train station in Ahmedabad.   Shruti took me to an amazing laser light show complete with water fountains and huge fireballs that projected Shiva onto a screen, telling a Hindu story.  Yesterday, Shruti took me to a wedding which I was so honoured to attend. Pics on next post.

Love you lots Bubba
XXXXOOOO


Detail of Gopuram at the temple in Madurai.  

Ellora Caves - between the sunlight and other issues, my pics won't aren't as good as what we've seen on the internet. I started at the far end so that I had some caves that were not crowded.

Ellora

Tilt your head left - it's hard to keep in mind that all these caves were once covered with 'plaster' and painted. Some still remains.  the white spots are remnants of plaster; white lines are lines of quartz.


Ellora - Buddhist caves





Girls in Aurangabad I was talking to


The Aurangabad caves are not very popular, which was great for me - they're high on a hill, I was the only one there except for hundreds of these green big-parakeet birds with dark red beaks.

  Aurangabad scultures had more of their 'parts' intact than Ellora and Ajanta.

Tilt to the left - Ajanta - the are over 2,000 years old.  Incredible detail considering what they had to work with. Not many pics due to lighting.  Made good use of my flashlight and head lamp (thanks Nick and Marie Noelle!)
Daulatabad Fort - 12th century

The castle had three concentric walls of defence, a dry moat, wet  moat and a bat invested stair well (the only way up).  Again, the lights came  in handy.  From the first gate to the top of the hill, about an hour to climb (only 5 minutes with the bats though, and I accepted from the start that I would be peed or pooped on but had good luck)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ashram - I realized that i prepared this post but never published it, this is in the south at Amma's ashram

The ashram was even more relaxing than Fort Cochi. I think at the time there were about 700 people there, mostly from all over the world.
- no pressure to become an Amma devotee or participate in anything other than seva.  I 'mediated' on the beach with my book alot; walked to the village; walked down the beach road
- food was great - several options - the chow line that was free with accommodation served rice (or rice soup) with two or three side things; combo indian/western chow line that you had to pay for but most I paid for a meal was Rs 40 - Rasputin's long lost relative was in this line - reminded me of the soup nazi - he would get upset if you didnt' have a bowl on a plate (just a bowl or just a plate was no good), slopped it in, then wish you a nice evening; Western Cafe - on my last day had the best ever grilled cheese and fries!
Meditating on the rocks (I was sitting outside ashram property).  Rocks were put here by the government; waves so strong were eroding the peninsula.  Although this is the east side, tsumani still left them 5 feet under water.

John and I went 6 km down the beach road to an old concrete and rocks boat jetty to see the dolphins at sunset; eagles snatching fish out of the water.

View from the 11th floor; ashram is on a peninsula (5 min walk from one side to the other). The boat cruise that brought us here was 4 hours along this causeway.


Beach road

Kanyakumari - walked through little pathways between the houses to get to this boat jetty.
- at sunset, several hundred cranes would come nest in 5-6 trees; always 4-5 eagles flying around that apparently will snatch your toast off your plate (not huge, wingspan maybe 2.5 - 3 feet)
- very basic (again, somewhat like prison) but we were here voluntary and for Rs 200 per day, no one complains - rooms with 2 bunk beds, fan, 4 metal lockers and a washroom; all metal dishes, everyone washed their own using really fine sand; ashramites (yes, that's what their called) where plain white, no shorts; I was on the 11th floor with an elevator so small and so slow I walked up and down most of the time
- for seva I was dishes (the ones used to prepare the food), helped move books - the human chain thing and cut up vegetables
- for the 'hug' from Amma it's  all very organized, remove glasses and hair pins, wipe your face, leave your bags. She presses your face into her breast at the same time she talking to her entourage of about 10 people who are always with her, no idea what she's talking about, puts her hands on your back under your neck.  I was there for what seemed like an eternity, wondering if she forgot I was there, there she said something in my ear, couldn't understand it (funny, they asked what language I spoke), they pulled me up and away I go. Didn't do anything for me but others were crying (perhaps they needed a hug).

 John (the guy I travelled here with) and I had some good laughs, it was really nice to have another person who didn't think Amma was a god.  On my last night we walked down the beach road to see the dolphins swimming by an old pier as the sun went down, it was very beautiful.  We then took a bus back - loud music, incense - it was a nice way to spend the last night there.

Went to Kanyakumari by train, nice little place, saw everything I needed to see and took the buse to Madurai.  Flying to Mumbai on Thurs 10 then train to Aurangabad on the 11th.

Love you
Bubba
\XXXXXXOOOOOOO