Rajasthani Heritage

 

Amer or Amber Fort just north of Jaipur in India, is a splendid fortress on Cheel Ka Teela, the hill of eagles.

The fort was built by ‘Raja Shri Maan Singh JI Saheb’ (Maan Singh 1), from 1550 to 1614, from red and white sandstone. The palace can be approached by taking an elephant ride up the ramparts, but this wasn’t for me, because I love elephants.

Palace entrance

Amer has a mix of Rajput and Mughal influences and there is much to see.

Sheesh Mahal

It’s best known for the Sheesh Mahal, Hall of mirrors, a sight I’ve never forgot.

One of the stunning views from the palace’

Garden on the lake

Amer is hugely popular for tourists, and a World Heritage Site, said to be the most beautiful palace in India. Don’t miss it if you go to Rajasthan!

 

 

 

 

 

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Rani Sati

October 2005, I find myself in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan. It’s early evening and I’ve just had one of the most moving experiences of my life. The elderly lady in the photo below has hugged me, put a red bindi on my forehead, and entered the temple I’ve just left.

I’d seen an Aarti ceremony in the Rani Sati temple, after  the congregation offered puja. The temple is at least four hundred years old and was built in memory of Narayani Bai who self emolliated and became Sati Ji.

The ceremony was incredibly loud, with drums and bells reverberating through every cell in my body. Water was sprinkled around, some of the crowd ran heir hands through flames, before circling the central shrine. We were welcome to take part but there were no expectations. Caught up in the atmosphere and the heady incense, I followed, with thoughts of Rani Sati, who was beloved to be an incarnation of the goddess Durga, running through my mind.

I have no words to describe the feelings, my journal that day had a line, ‘if I have to go home tomorrow, then it’s okay because I’ve had the experience of a lifetime’.

This post is for Paula’s Traces of the Past.

 

In Hope, a poem for Thursday

This Thursday instead of Lazy Poet, I’m re-posting a poem I wrote a few years ago, for International Women’s Day. Yes I know that was yesterday, but you know me by now, the other week that I got the day wrong for wordless Wednesday, and the syllable count wrong for LP!

In Hope

Cast aside your veil

Turn your face to the sun

Gather round the hearth

Your work today is done

Your sisters draw near

Feet planted to earth

They no longer fear

The lone walk on the trail

Your children breathe free

The mountains clear air

Well nourished with plenty

And wind blown away care

Your abundance is here

Take love in your stride

Future perfect and clear

Go forward with pride

Cast aside your veil

And no longer hide

Haveli harmony

A haveli is a townhouse or mansion, a traditional style found in India, Pakistan and Nepal. Build with an inner courtyard space, rather like the riads found in Morocco, but with a more attractive exterior. There are very many in Rajasthan, particularly the Shekhawati area. It’s possible to stay in a haveli, some have been converted in hotels and guest houses. Like a riad, they would be a calm haven shut away from the bustle of the towns.

haveli2This one wasn’t a hotel unfortunately, but it was possible to look around and they also sold antiques, some very expensive and some accessibly priced.

Homes like this aren’t created in a hurry, they have to develop their ambience over time, don’t you think?

 

Ten Years Ago Today . . .

. . . I was in India.

When I first heard of the city of Jaisalmer I was entranced, it seemed to me to be at the end of the world. The golden city is  dominated by the fort, a living, vibrant place that has a life of its own, hanging on the edge of the far west of India.

It’s a very commercial town, everywhere you turn someone is trying to persuade you that you need spices you’ve never heard of, saris, wall hangings, ornaments of all types. I expect it’s even more touristy now. But that doesn’t spoil it’s charm, the twists and turns of each cow inhabited alley, gets under your skin and even deeper into your nostrils.

There are several Jain temples, with finely detailed interiors, and a plethora of Buddhas.

The stoneware is so beautiful it’s hard to know where to look.

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But there are quiet spots to reflect,
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And sculpture to wonder at,
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Haveli’s are mansion houses of the wealthy. While some in Rajasthan are dilapidated, many are well maintained and open to the public for a few hundred rupees. This one was a museum come antique shop, I think pretty much everything was for sale at a price, even though it was also a home.


In the afternoon of October 20th,we went wandering around the streets. As in cities all over the world, groups of men gather on street corners and squares to play cards and board games, while the women are hard at work trying to feed their families.
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The fort is one of the biggest in the world, built high on a hill with three layers of walls and ninety nine bastions. Here is a view from one.
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In time for sunset, we went just outside the town to see the fort change colour, by day it’s the colour of a lion, but at sunset it turns to a honey gold.
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Although the sunset was disappointing, traveling friend and I were happy to be all dressed up in our finery, in the most mesmerising city at the end of the world.

jais17Jaisalmer is around 800 kilometeres from Delhi, and it can be reached by train, an overnight journey. Better still, try a slow journey and stop along the way. Rajasthan is wonderful and the people are warm and friendly, who are justifiably proud of their heritage.

Writing from a prompt

This was written in response to a prompt from a member of my writing group, Word Central. We meet twice a month and I’ve been going for a year now. I love it, everyone is friendly, good fun and encouraging with their feedback. Anne-Marie said ‘Write about the worst holiday you’ve ever had’. I’ve never actually had a bad holiday, but I wrote anyway. So with apologies to Madhu and my other followers on the Indian sub-continent, and my tongue quite a way into my cheek,

Missing Jodhpur and Climbing Savitri

Have I ever had a bad holiday? No, only holidays during which I was sick, sick again and then sick some more. The most annoying of those holidays was the one where I completely missed the two days I had in the blue city of Jodhpur. Of course it was Jodhpur that make me sick with its spicy lime juice. Or perhaps it was the malady of enrapture, the one where I fell under India’s spell and briefly lost all common travel sense.

I’d survived the rigours of a night in the Thar Desert, where my friend was nearly paralysed by her camel, so I thought I was on the home run. It was enchanting to sit in an exotic courtyard, surrounded with moist greenery, after several days of scorching my nostrils every time I inhaled. Amazingly the mosquitos were kept at bay by the strategically placed candles, including the ones under the table, flickering dangerously close to the pants of my salwar kameez. The lilting sounds of unnamed instruments kept me entertained while the lime juice quenched my thirst, but if only I’d stuck with the lassi, I might have been saved. If only we hadn’t lingered so long on the road that afternoon we might have reached Jodhpur in time to see some of the promised blue.

I was woken from a blissful sleep a few hours later, my friend was ill and I rushed to help her. The emptying of her stomach seemed relentless. Half an hour later so did mine, and we were in danger of dehydration. We both slept and vomited, vomited and slept, through the whole of the next day, and every few hours our driver Muggan Singh would knock on our door, his face lined with concern that his two madams were so poorly. He arranged for us to move to a new, clean room, away from our infectious cave, supervising the hotel staff personally as they moved our every possession.

The next morning we were unable to travel on to Pushkar. On one of Muggan’s visits to bring us the bottled water that that was beginning to stay put, he brought some medication with him. The local cure was apparently Ayurvedic, small brown pills that had a vile smell and were very difficult to swallow. The western remedy we had ‘gone prepared’ with clearly didn’t work and I have faith in traditional medicine. Convinced that we had dysentery, we were desperate enough to get them down. Shortly after taking them we began to feel better.

We still didn’t manage to see any of Jodhpur. Teasing glimpses of Mehrangarh fort peered at us from its high perch, but spreading ourselves out in the four wheel drive vehicle, we had little energy to return its gaze. We had to let Jodhpur go, goodbye, maybe next time.

If we hadn’t had air conditioning that 120 miles would have seen us off. Neither of us wanted to have to use a squatter in some godforsaken roadside café, so we’d had as little water as we dared, and no breakfast. We couldn’t tell if poisoned belly or empty belly was making us feel so lousy.

After Jaisalmer, Pushkar was the place I most wanted to see, but we could only stumble around in a daze when we arrived. There were temples, there was without doubt a taking off of shoes and much to ooh and ah about, but I have little recall if so. We dutifully sat at a table in the Sunset cafe, admiring the sunset, pushing masala omelette around our plates, trying to digest Muggan’s announcement as well as our first solid food. We had to get up at 5am, he said. You need to climb Savitri Hill and be there for sunrise. To argue with Muggan was futile, besides we’d found that trusting his knowledge of Rajasthan made sense, he was a proud Rajput through and through.

He dropped us in the dark at the bottom of a hill, with handrails and a slope broken by a step every twelve feet. It didn’t seem too bad – to begin with. We took our time and there was no one to witness our walking like two very old ladies. At the top of Savitri is a very sacred temple and as the light began to come through, we saw a couple of very, very old ladies, with skin that looked like a mixture of leather and prunes that only elderly Indian women have. They namaste’d us as they sprinted by, we watched with loose jaws.

The path was no longer smooth and gentle, it was a rocky horror trail and any cool morning air had long since vanished. We sat on a low wall and stared back to our start point, then ahead to the temple. We were two thirds through the one mile climb and had no hope of making it to the top. We waited what we considered was a reasonable length of time to convince Muggan that we reached the top, actually that’s a lie, we sat there until we had the strength to move.

Muggan never did know our secret, we thanked him and said that the view from the top was incredible. Back in our hotel we slept for two hours, dysentery wasn’t far behind us after all.

So was Rajasthan the worst holiday I’ve ever had? Absolutely not, it was unforgettable. To have not been sick would have been better, but hey, shit happens. We did manage to extract from Muggan what the active ingredient was of the ayurvedic pills, it was cow dung.

 

I wish I was this warm

If you’re like me, living in the upper reaches of the Northern Hemisphere, this is the season where we seek out small pleasures to compensate for the short days and chilly weather: fireplaces, down comforters, hot chocolate (or glühwein, if we must…).

Says Ben Huberman for this weeks challenge at the Daily Post, Warmth. The Thar Desert is without doubt the warmest place I’ve ever been, in a midday temperature of 44 degrees, I was hot and happy, even though it felt like the inside of my nose was burning. Dry heat seems to agree with me, here are some photos of my favourite kind of warmth.

Visit https://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/warmth/ to join in.

Writing 101 Two, A Cafe With a View

Take me to Pushkar, drop me down in the sunset café. You already did? Ahh yes, here I am, the sky is still bright and very pink. Inside people, locals and travellers begin to gather, for the nightly spectacle that is sunset over the lake. Neat rows of Formica tables are placed so that as many diners as possible get a good view. The best seats are right on the patio, and I’ve got one, under the curved and ornately painted arches, slightly raised from the pavement. I sink into a rattan bucket seat with a cushion made from recycled saris, red, orange and pink to match the sky. Babu comes to take my order, a mint lassi while I’m waiting for a masala omelette, ‘but that is breakfast madam’ he says giving me that look he gives to crazy English women, a sort of half grin as if he feels sorry for me. I add an ice cold cobra beer, Pushkar is so dry and so is my throat.

The smell of spice is suddenly challenged when two young women arrive, laden with backpacks big enough for their tiny frames to climb into, and with grubby salwar kameez. I don’t like myself for saying it, but I’m glad there wasn’t space for them. In contrast the musicians rock up, clothes gleaming as white as the Persil ads, and making a racket like the dustbin men at 7am. Now I realise why these seats were empty. Two drummers, a sitar player and another with an instrument that looks like a sack, a hosepipe and some bits of rope, sit crossed legged beside me.

The drumming begins, starting slowly and with little tune. It’s only when I look around and see people swaying that I realise I’m doing the same thing. For too long the drums continue, my lassi and omelette are both consumed and I’m on my second bottle of Cobra. They’re twice the size of the bottles at home and a few nights ago Muggan, our driver was horrified and amazed that I could contain one, never mind two.

The drumming is hypnotic and I’ve lost some time, pulling myself together, I put the music to the back of my mind and focus instead on the sky. Taking a photo wasn’t working, heads kept bobbing up and down between me and the view. Stay in the now G, stay in the now and imprint it on your soul. It is every bit as magical as promised. Every warm, glowing colour, that nature can create, is up there in the heavens. There might be sound but all I can hear is the noise of the universe, not even a sound, but a vibration, a distant echo that began light years ago. I’m standing now, we all are. With fairy lights around our heads, we watch as the sun slowly falls on the horizon behind the temple.

I am changed by India.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top

Sara Rosso at the Daily Post says that ‘On top can be a feeling, a perspective, or a physical location’ and asks us to share photos that express On Top this week for the photo challenge.

My photos were taken On Top in Bikaner, Rajasthan,

from the roof of a temple.

This is a photo that I’ve posted before. O don’t what it is about it but it’s one of my all time favourite photos, so I’m sharing it again. It’s the same place as the gallery facing a different direction.

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Join in at http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/on-top/