Tuesday, January 14, 2014

An Indian Haze

(below is a very rough jot of feeble memory of a journey to a place that I hope to make again in more deliberate time...)

Sunday, December 15, 2013
Whew! Got in this morning.
Friends met me at the airport at 2:30am.
All is well but internet is sketchy
I'm a bit jet lagged but all is good.

In a nice one bedroom apt with friends who set up this whole experience.  They are terrific folks.
We are about to meet our driver and take a road trip around Delhi and then to a craft fair and then dinner of southern Indian food.

Tomorrow is a tomb and a reception, which it turns out is more official than I first thought but in a good way. 

Monday, December 16, 2013
It is Monday morning here.  
Last night I was awakened at midnight by a marching band going down the road. Really.
Yesterday the driver didn't show up so we took an auto rickshaw to the embassy to get a cab ride from familiar drivers. 

 We went to Panchal MahaUtsav, a culture and craft show filled with nationally honored craftsmen and artists. We met Montu Chitrakar and his family.  He creates painted story scrolls and then sings the story as performance art.  

 His daughter is following in his footsteps. She is 15 and recently married another 15 year old. Yeah I know. Sort of like the Appalachians I guess.  India seems to be trying to juggle old traditions with modern expectations, but most of it is just on paper.

 They had a stage for performers and the daughter sang a scroll she created to tell the story of the Delhi rapes.  It turns out that today is the one year anniversary of a horrid event that occurred on a public bus in the middle of Delhi. There were people crying in the audience.

The daughter has also started painting on clothing as well as making scrolls, and she gave my friends a shirt - green with drum, lota pot, or eyeball looking designs on it, and they gave it to me to wear to the reception. I feel like I will be wearing my car.

We also met Rahindra Behera, who does very detailed paintings and palm leaf etchings.

I also met a friend whose job is to collect stuff for the library of congress and various universities and ship it to them.  What fun!

We went to Safdarjang’s tomb. It looked like a tiny Taj Mahal in form, but was eroded a bit and had graffiti here and there. I cannot do justice to describing the art and architecture.  Look up photos on the web.  There were wild parrots and myna birds, and I saw my first monkeys.

We ate lunch at an outdoor restaurant at the art fair and dinner at a hotel restaurant last night.  I can't remember many names of the food but it is primarily bread with all kinds of ground up lentils and beans and veggies and spices in these different pastes that you spread and eat with the bread and it is good.

I know this is just random jabbering but I am using it as kind of a journal to remember stuff.  I don't expect you to read all this.

India reminds me of Bali's big clunky sloppy brother, but I really can't adequately describe it. 

I am feeling well though, and just soaking it in.

Hoping  all is well stateside.

Tuesday - Dec 17, 2013,
Well it's Tuesday morning here.  Foggy foggy foggy!

The reception last night was really nice, but the ambassador was unimpressed by my presence...imagine that! It was cool though, and my friends ran into a couple of old friends and it was nice to visit with them. 

Yesterday morning we went to the Secretariat and government area and then spent a lot of time in halted traffic as a sinkhole developed in one of the major roads or something.

We eventually made it to the National Crafts museum, which was closed on Mondays! But there were a lot of school kids there on a field trip and we were swamped with little handshakes and smiles and hellos!

The same thing happened when we went to Humayan's tomb.  It is like a small version of the Taj Mahal.  Kids were all over there too! 

There is more but I gotta go!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - Continued

Ok I'm sleepy and have to get up at 4 in the morning to catch the train to Agra and the Taj Mahal so this is short.

It is about ten thirty and we had a full day. We went to a friend's to meet an artist and see his work for potential showing at museums and galleries.  He brought almost everything he had and it took a while to see it all, but it seemed to be worth everyone's while.

Afterword I was dropped off at the craft museum again as it was open today, and I looked at the cool stuff while my friends followed up on my travel plan for Agra for the Taj Mahal. I am getting plenty of guidance from my friends on this venture, with an escort from here with their friend who they have sent visitors with for years, and a guide and driver on our arrival.

This evening we visited with an eighty year old jeweler/curator/art collector friend of theirs who had us over to his son’s very fine home for dinner.

I would give details on how good the food was and how beautiful the home was and how enjoyable the man and his family was, but it is time for sleep!

Thursday, December 19, 2013 –

It's Wednesday night or Thursday morNing about 2am just getting in from seeing thE taj  in Agra it has been a hck of a 26 hour day details after nappy poo…

Friday, December 20, 2013-

All is well and I understand if you don't read all this stuff. I am using it for my journal.

I just looked at my e-mail from day 4 and noticed that I signed my name "Mel". So if anything else doesn't seem to make sense blame it on autocorrect or jet lag.  Also I am just going to crank through writing this so forgive grammar and punctuation errors. I also would not be surprised if my emails are being screened by the kind folks at the NSA and the like.  I blame them for inserting phrases that make me sound ignorant. 

We are in Udaipur but I am going to drop back two days to write about the trip to Agra.  

My jet lag has been waking me up about 12 midnight but I have been going back to sleep about 1. But I woke up at midnight Wednesday morning and did not go back to sleep for the four hours until I had to get up to meet my cab to take me to the train station.

On the way we picked up a friend who my friend’s wanted to travel with me to make sure I would not get into trouble.  She was their housekeeper when they were in India and they have been looking out for her and her family ever since.  

When we got to the train station people were sprawled out all over the place.  We found our train without a problem. It was the first class train with seats similar to old airplane seats, metal meal trays and footrests.  It was foggy. Really foggy.

It was so foggy you couldn't see the grounds outside the train window. The train was slowed, so we were 3.5 hours late. A two hour ride was 5.5 hrs. 

The fog eventually broke but since we were late we had to defer to the trains that were on time. On the way we had to slow and pull over to allow other trains to pass several times. When we did I noticed it looked like folks were shitting all over the train tracks for some reason.  I thought it might be the place the local folks would go, but I had been seeing them squat wherever they felt like along the way.

When I had to pee I noticed a signed that asked you to refrain from using the toilet when at the train station.  Then I see that the toilet is just a tube that opens into the tracks below. So now al the shit is logically accounted for.

When we got to Agra our driver was there waiting on us. You really have to look at the photos to see how we drive through crazy crowded narrow streets through cows donkeys dogs people ....

We pick up our guide and head to the Taj Mahal .  He is just a tiny bit sleazy but nice enough.  He didn't tell us anything I hadn't already read in Wikipedia .  

The taj was incredible of course.  The locals dressed in beautiful saris and the weather was sunny and clear.  I sent the guide away because he kept wanting to leave to take me to the crafts men's shop who makes inlays just like the taj.  

We walked around the taj and grounds for a couple of hours and then drove for an hour though crazy villages...yes video and photos are required here to get an inkling of an idea....to get to a palace/mosque that I am too lazy to properly write because I am writing this offline and can't google it, but it is named Fatehpur Sikri.

It sat In the middle of the countryside on a hill and again, photos are in order.  It was beautiful and created by a fellow named Akbar or something like that who wanted to combine all religions and did so thought the architecture.  Of course he wanted to be the god of all these religions.  Hell, who doesn't?

We left there at sunset to drive back though the crazy villages with dogs and cows and donkeys and goats and people and wagons and bicycles and scooters and trucks and trucks and trucks swirling in and out of lanes and passing all the way, only this time in the dusky dusty darkness of night and oncoming headlights whenever the oncoming vehicle was lucky enough to have headlights.

The guide dropped us off at a "hygienic" restaurant and bade his farewell.  We had some spicy mutton soup paste stuff and bread and it was the first meal to give me diarrhea since coming here.  I have now had diarrhea for two days but I can control the timeliness and place of release so far. I know you wanted to know that.

When we got to the train station we found that our train was running three hours late, so instead of getting back at 10:30 we would get back at 1:30am at best. But there was no guarantee the train would be only three hours late, and based on the morning's experience of multiple pull overs, it could be an all nighter.

So I opted instead to pay another $100 to take a cab back to Dehli. The guy getting us the cab must have made his younger brother drive us because he did not seem happy about it. The cab owner told me it would take about two hours because of the expressway.

On the way through the roads of aforementioned villages the driver stopped at a vendor stall to get what looked like energy powder packets and water.  Oh shit.

The "expressway" was akin to driving down old hwy 41 with potholes along the whole way.  We were in a car similar to a Suzuki alto by the way...yep..bumpy back seat of the alto the whole damn way.

On the way the driver opened the door to vomit at least twice while we were going down the road.  He didn't stop, he just opened the door at 80km per hour and puked. I was gals that he was an efficient and speedy puker.

After that I noticed he would nod off whenever there was not any oncoming traffic or anything to pass in his way, so I kept asking my friend to ask him to pull over and take a break, but he always said he was fine...even the times his eyes closed and we started to slow down and veer off the road.  At least his foot rested when he fell asleep.

When we got to Delhi we saw a horrible accident where a cargo truck had run over a passenger vehicle. A crowd was scurrying to try to release the passengers while the ambulance and police were arriving.  I thought about how lucky we were to have made it this far.

We made it though.  He took us to the US embassy cab station where we could be taken to our respective abodes.  We got there about 1:30am and all the drivers were asleep, so we woke up a turbaned Sikh driver who was willing to take us.

I forgot to mention that the whole four and a half hour ride I had to pee, badly, but I was afraid the driver might drive off without me or something, so I sat with boiling belly and bloated bladder misery during that time. When I got to the embassy cabs my body expected some relief, so I had to ask him to pull over so I could at least pee.  He did not understand English so I had to pantomime drinking water and holding my pecker.

He pulled over and I pissed on some country's embassy grounds, but I don't know which one.  Sorry about that.

So I got in at 2 am.  26 hours awake. 
But it was an incredible day.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Thursday morning we packed up for the airport. I was in a fog from the lack of sleep and diarrhea but making a go of it.

We went to the National Gallery of Modern Art.  It was a really fine museum and had a comprehensive current exhibit and collections that gave me a good background on Indian Art. 

(I am sorry not to include more academic info, but I'm just not that adept.  I was soaking in the ether, and important details and historical structure seemed too hard to hold in my listless lazy mind...or notebook)

The Dehli airport is really very large and nice...really nice.  I couldn't tell it on the arrival but it is very modern and huge.

We had a pleasant flight to Udaipur and the hotel had arranged for a taxi to meet us.  The town roads were narrow.

We stayed the first night at the Anjani Hotel.  It is an old timely place in the middle of the tourist scene.  It had a roof top restaurant with great views of Udaipur.

Oh yeah, they filmed "Octopussy" here and parts of "The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel".

We went for a walk and looked at the typical (for here) shops and such. We stopped at an art/antique place that was right across the street from the hotel. Hamaan was the owner, and he pulled out paintings (miniatures) from all over the place to show my friends.

We ate a late dinner on the roof.  My room was cool. And there were monkies!

Friday we changed hotels because we found out there were available rooms at the place they usually stay.  The Anjani folks weren't happy but we paid up and checked out.  Well, we had to return to pay the taxi from the airport, but...

The new place could pass for a working version of the hotel in the aforementioned movie.  We were now at the Rangniwas Palace Hotel.

My friends took the simple room and I opted for the $45 fancy suite, the only original room in the hotel.  It has been renovated a bit to split rooms, combine rooms, fancy it up and such. My room has marble inlaid everything, 3 rooms, old timey furniture, and a bathroom with a western toilet, a squat toilet, a bathtub, a bidet, and a shower. And it has a large balcony that opens onto the courtyard with a swing and lounge chairs and table and such.  It is more cool than my first room.

So Friday we went to the Mewar Palace.  The hotel we are staying in was built for guests of the Raja I think, and it is just down the road from the palace.

I am running out of steam on descriptions and will wait for pics, but it was impressive for sure.  That afternoon my friends went to meet with an art dealer and I took a walk around the town.  I haven't been buying much stuff.  


My friend and I took a car to Ranakpur Temple.  It is a Jain Temple of carved marble and is really cooler than the Taj Mahal for me because of its sculptural and spiritual nature.  The drive was two hours each way, and Chotu, our driver was great.

The day was beautiful and clear and sunny and the temple was stunning.

On the way back we stopped at a "resort" so the driver could eat his lunch.  I went to the stream and a boy about 9 or 10 joined me in turning over rocks looking for critters. I was hoping for a crawfish but we found freshwater crabs! 

We continued home on winding roads and then hit the "expressway".  This one was more like a four lane highway than the one from Agra though. 

As we went down the road cars passed here and there, and we passed all kinds of vehicles.  A white car passed us weaving in and out of traffic going fast.

We drove past many cows in the road, women with sticks and bundles on their heads, carts, goats and people offloading from busses.

I looked down the road and saw skid marks ending at a gathering crowd of villagers but no vehicle was in sight.  A man was frantically motioning for us to continue past the scene.

As we slowly drove past we saw the child lying in the curb.  His body was in an impossible position in a pool of blood.

He was gone. 

He looked to be about 9 or 10.

Sorry to relay this sad event, but so is India.

Now it is Saturday evening and we are about to have a simple meal and see what the night brings, probably a stroll around town.

After the beautiful and tragic trip to Ranakpur temple (by the way, Jains are the purest living people on earth if they are sticking to the plan, not even killing gnats or eating vegetables that kill the plant in harvest...) we had a relaxing "snack" of tomato and cheese sandwiches and French fries on my glorious balcony washed down with banana smoothies.

My friends went to their room and I took an evening walk around the walled garden across the street.  Along the way I came across a wedding procession.  

About a hundred folks were collected within a border of extension cords running from a generator clunking away in a van at the rear of the procession.  The generator gave power to the hand held light trees/candelabras that lined the procession on either side. In the lead was a wagon with large silver trumpet horns blasting out amplified sounds from the drums and brass band that followed.  This was the kind of procession I heard at midnight during my first night in India.

Behind the band was the groom decked out in nice raiment riding a white horse with a couple of kids along for the ride.  The women followed behind and giggled as they saw my camera.  It was cool to happen upon.

I strolled on home without event and fell asleep after a few moments of some very funky Indian television.

I had strange dreams.


I woke up to traffic noise and Muslim singing and temple songs and birds and dogs...we had a gentle breakfast of omelets and toast. 

We checked out of our hotel and took a tuk tuk to a mela, a craft and cultural festival.  The best parts were meeting an artist who built large terra cotta figures and said he may be coming to Atlanta sometime in the future.  There was a cool puppet show, and lots of crafts.
We went back to the hotel to meet our taxi.  Traffic was jammed due to holiday Diwali and bumper to bumper on what seemed to me to be a one lane road.  We made it to the airport and back to our Delhi apt without incident though.


My last day in India was spent browsing some government stores and meeting a friend for lunch at the Imperial Hotel. It is deeeeelux man.

We had planned to see the astronomic instruments at Jantar Mantar but there were protests going on against the USA and it was thought it might be too risky.  There is some kind of diplomatic hooha going on about an Indian diplomat not following US labor laws as they pertain to her housekeeper while they are in the US.  Go figure.

We went to visit Mr. Bharany instead.  He is a very kind man and appreciates and collects and celebrates Indian Art.  We then returned to the apartment for me to clean up and pack for home.  

My friends walked me to my taxi at the gate of the apt complex, and we made our farewells.  They are going on to Thailand, but things are pretty hot there.

It's 2 am Christmas Eve and I am at the gate in the Delhi airport ready to board in about an hour for London, then Chicago, then hopefully home by Christmas. 

(....I just had to get up for the second baggage security check-full scan and pat down at the gate, again. I have had my ticket and passport checked at least 8 different times between the taxi and gate...)

India has been a whirlwind of numerous humans and incredible dust, smiles, beauty, stink, aroma, taste, and wonderful friends and incredible art.

Boarding call.  I don't really know how to say "so long" in Hindi.
Some photos are here, but I have hundreds more:

Namaste y'all.