Saturday, October 30, 2010

United Voice

United Voice describes itself as a "society of persons with learning disabilities" (same as intellectual disabilities). That simple statement perfectly describes this self-advocacy organization. Its membership and board consist entirely of persons with learning disabilities. When I first visited United Voice in 2008 I met Swee Lan, a non-disabled staff member. She was hired by the board and can be fired by the Board. I fished around for the right term to describe her relation to UV staff members, neither "coach" nor "mentor" was right. She referred to her co-workers as "partners," which captures the equal voices (or united voice) that staff members and UV members have.

On Friday I went on a return visit to United Voice. It owns its own office building - what a difference from the crowded facility I visited two years ago. Downstairs it has a gift shop, workroom, and bakery. Note that the bakers have face masks, hair nets, and gloves. Our timing was perfect – they were baking chocolate chip cookies. The cookies were great. We did not stop at tasting one - we left with a boxful to eat with our coffee. We reminded ourselves of all the great food, and multiple calories, we have eaten throughout the trip resisted the urge to try the cheese tarts - plus we didn't want to eat up the profits. We had coffee at a nearby food court where the owner allows UV to set up a stall to sell its cookies and tarts.

The art gallery is the newest enterprise – the artists get 70% of the profits and UV 30%. Several of the artists have developed an international reputation. Corporate buyers have bought paintings for their holiday cards or annual calendars. The art gallery illustrates UV's business model that financially recognizes the contributions of its artists. (For example, the tee-shirt designers receive a commission for each shirt sold.)Although the art gallery has high appeal, it is the other projects - including cookies, greeting cards, weaving - that employees more members.

I recently read a research paper by Swee Lan on her study of self-advocacy in UK schools. She noted that the teachers tended to stress responsibilities, i.e., "don't do bad things," over rights. As we chatted she pointed out that self advocacy was more than pressing for rights. Rather self-advocacy involves assuring that persons with learning disabilities are present in the community - that they are visable, full participants. Recently UV was invited to go to Australia to give a presentation. The UV members told their staff partners that they (the UV members) pointed that that they perfectly capable of going without their partners and they are! What a testiment to the success of UV's empowering its members.

I have often mentioned UV to people since my first visit there. They really expand one's definition of what it means to be inclusive.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Theater in KL

October 29

This year we were in KL for the theater portion of the Short and Sweet Festival. Last year we saw one week of the two week dance portion - 10 10-minute dances each week. We expected 10 10-minute plays this time. Instead we saw 12! With no intermission, we braced ourselves for a possibility of a mind numbing two hours. On the contrary, the evening went by quickly.

I will not try to summarize 12 plays. The audience was asked to check off its favorite play. We found it hard to choose only one; at least five were worthy contenders. Here are two memorable lines:

An actress preparing for an audition - "What if they say I don't look Malaysian enough." Boyfriend -"You have an international face." [Malaysians come in several ethnic groups and multiple complexion's.]

Woman telling boyfriend what lies ahead (he has just proposed) -"You will have to give all your frequently flier miles to my mother who will spend the rest of her life stalking you."

The plays were in English, but some lines were in Bahasa Malaysian. Of course, they got the biggest laughs.

The major challenge was getting to KL Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC). Last year we went to the train station which was within sight of KLPAC. The nearest entrance involves a 20 minute walk through an area that is dark and desolate. No taxi driver would take us to KLPAC, because it was too close. We walked to another area (further away) hailed several cabs,none of the drivers knew where KLPAC was. This year we found a cab, but again the driver had no idea where KLPAC was, but he knew where the nearby KFC was. (Good thing that Doug remembers such details.) The arts have to do a better job of marketing themselves and to make themselves more accessible to public transportation.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Mandawa, New Delhi

Oct 21
Mandawa, New Delhi

I cannot believe that two weeks in India is almost gone. Only two more days left.

We left Bikaner early, and wound our way to Mandawa. The roads were generally good, although they were only two lane highways. An advantage of an early start is that India does not appear to be an early country. Highways are generally lightly travelled prior to 11am. Now this does not apply to the major cities where highways are packed from morning to past nightfall. Our journey was planned to be 200+ km at about 5 hours. We have discovered that the agency’s itinerary time estimates have been about right, averaging 50 km per hour taking into account breaks for tea, meals, and refueling.

I forgot to mention that we saw the Palace on Wheels, an extravagant train, while we were in Jodhpur.
It reportedly includes a travelling wine cellar. It travels during the night and gives the clients the day to tour the town at each stop. The best analogy is a cruise ship on wheels.

We arrived in Mandawa early in the afternoon. It is a small town, less than 20k population. We took the bypass around the market area. The driver had to stop more than once to ask for directions.

We finally found the Desert Winds resort. We registered and were escorted by a bellman (yes, we cannot carry our bags here, or for that matter wheel them over the concrete walkways to our individual unit/building). The units’ color melds into the landscape. They are round, brown and have what appears to be a thatched roof. The door has a wooden slide lock. Environmental considerations end here. The A/C is turned on and the lights are turned on (but do not illuminate much because they are so dim).
We take a look at the bathroom, and it is huge, with separate rooms for the sinks, wc, shower, and tub. No individual switch for a hot water heater is available (why heat the water when you are not in the room). We leave the room, but I am unable to figure out how to turn off the A/C.

We go to get lunch at the restaurant. It is 1pm but the snack menu is what is being served. Liz and I chose the vegiburger as we are still not eating meat in Rajasthan. The slaw, cucumbers, and tomatoes look tempting but we are being cautious with raw foods. While we are in the restaurant an Indian couple and small child arrived. They appear to be similarly disarmed by the menu and demand soup, salads and other items.

We tour the property. The is a 1950’s right hand drive Chevrolet pickup truck in the middle of the courtyard, and a swimming pool with sun bathing chairs strewn about. Back in the room there are brochures for various massages, facials and the like.

At 4 the guide appears and we are off with our driver to view Mandawa. As we learn this town was a merchant town on the silk road. There were rich merchants in Mandawa who build elaborate Haveli. These are large two to three storey buildings with a public and a private courtyard. The exteriors are decorated with frescos describing the silk trade, elephants, and other scenes. Most of the haveli appear to have been abandoned by their owner ; they may have caretaker families living in them. Our guide is says “explore” and sits on a chair in the ground floor courtyard. (He is moving to Frankfurt, Germany in late January. The weather will be a shock to him.) Since we indicated we did not wish to purchase any crafts we were spared the trip to the sales room. All in all the town was interesting, and we could have spent the day exploring. We were offered the option to have our dinned in a restaurant in town (in the fort), but we declined since we had booked a reservation for dinner at the Desert Wind.

Back at the hotel we notes all the chairs were being placed in a grassy courtyard – an omen of a dinner buffet (suggesting an under-spiced selection). Tourist buses arrive with French, German, and Italians. This appears to be the first stop on their tour of Rajasthan. Video cameras are glued to their eyes as they move through the facility. Dinner starts are 8PM. The aforementioned Chevrolet Pickup truck is now the bar. A puppet stage has been set up and puppets are strewn out in front for purchase (in the dark). An Indian buffet is laid out. Bland is the name of the game here. Indian rice dishes are replaced by Italian risotto, lentil soups and dal are replaced by cream of chicken soup. Naan is replaced by Italian bread sticks. No fresh fruits are available, but we have ginger cake with kiwi sauce for desert. We leave before the puppet show.

The next morning we check out with the most expensive meal bill of the trip. Our driver tells us this will be a difficult drive back to Delhi. For most of the first two hours the roads have one paved lane winding through rich agricultural areas. We see children going to school and school buses. In some places there is no road at all. About 5 hours later we reach the main highway between Jaipur and Delhi. Throughout our driver has been wonderful, considerate, and helpful. Returning to our friend’s home in Gurgeon is refreshing.

Liz has long wanted some Indian tunics. So with Snehal’s assistance we are off to one of the many shopping malls in Gurgeon. Liz finds several tunics and Indian tights to go with them. We visit an expat grocery store and marvel at the amount of European, Asian and North American foodstuffs available for purchase.

The next morning is our last in India and we decide to do a quick exploration of Delhi. The traffic is heavy and it takes an hour or so on the expressway to reach the city. We stop at a crafts area on the edge of Delhi where groups representing various disability groups from each state in India. The area is run by the Association for the Rehabilitation Under National Trust Initiative of Marketing. We eat a lunch of Delhi style chaat…to hell with not eating raw vegetables, riata, and chutneys. It is all good. From there we spend the next several hours driving through the government sectors of the Indian capital. We end the tour with a stop at the craft stores sponsored by the respective state governments of India. The same puppets sold at the Desert Wind to eager tour groups at 2000Rs are sold here for 200Rs

Finally, we end out sojourn in India be being dropped off at Terminal 3 IGIA. The terminal is new, openeded for the CWG 2010 (Commonwealth Games). Not all the stores are yet open, but the food court has some restaurants.

Check-in at AirAsia is smooth, the various security checks go quickly, and we pass through emigration without a hitch. The flight to Kuala Lumpur leaves on time and we sleep fitfully.

Our trip to India is over. We shall return. We will again focus on one small area within India, most likely Leh and Ladkah during Eid 2011 (late August, early September 2011).

Jaisalmer and Bikaner

Oct 18
Jaisalmer, Bikaner,

We left Jodhpur early in the morning for our trip to Jaisalmer. About an hour out of Jodhpur we stopped at Osian to visit a Hindu and Jain temple. It was located within the town, but high above the market place. Upon entry we were told by the man at the bottom of the stairs that we needed to register upon our exit. Off with the shoes. This was one of those days that I envied those tourists who brought temple socks with them. We had a long climb up the stairs. There were many side rooms off on both sides of the stairway. As we neared the top we began to be confined to crowd control gates. Since some people had been killed recently in crowd crushes near temples we could understand. At the top we were directed out of the main route to the worship of the Gods. Still there was plenty to see. We descended to a lower level and began to explore a large terrace. At one small temple, we were invited in by a woman and the priest dressing the God.
Every morning in a Hindu temple the priest comes, takes the clothes off the god, washed the god, and then dresses the god with clean clothes. It was interesting to watch. There were at least 10 to 15 small temples on this level, and again a maze of crowd control gates, awning to protect the worshipers (not here on this morning) from the strong sun. There was also a pathway to follow painted on the stone terrace. We wandered some more, and descended back down into the village (after giving our particulars to the man at the gate). I think it was some sort of tourism development survey. As always our driver was there to meet us. Nothing worse than losing your charges on a 13 day tour. The market was lively with many cattle wandering about.

Then it was off into the desert again, roughly following a lonely rail line. What was really interesting was that we were held at two rail crossing for a total of ½ hour waiting for trains (in the midst of an arid landscape). One was a local passenger train, and the other a long freight. This was the line to Jaisalmer, near the Pakistani border and near many large Indian Army and Air Force bases.

As mentioned before, the monsoon was good this year, and the desert was “green”. There were many fields being tended….it appeared to be animal feed (hay). There were many sheaves of “hay” in the fields, and many large stacks of hay being stored for the following year. We say herds of sheep, goats, and yes camels along and on the roads.
I noticed many of the camels had a strange gait, until I say that they were hobbled to prevent them from wandering off.

Five hours later we arrived in Jaisalmer (mid afternoon). The hotel, the Fifu Guest House or hotel is a strange building. In some ways built like a haveli without the large interior courtyard. Some 4 stories tall, the stone building has a central interior staircase. Registration was normal with passports being passed over. The owner was seated with several guests discussing a camel safari into the desert. The owner we discover is quite the entrepreneur.

We are escorted to our room on the 2nd floor (3rd floor north American convention) to a nice room. I note that I cannot lock the door from the inside. About an hour later, a locksmith arrives to repair the door… about service. We climb the stairs to the rooftop restaurant to had tea and our favorite chili cheese toast sandwiches. Then we leave and go wandering in the town.

About 1 km from the hotel we cross a main road and enter Jaisalmer proper. We encounter a merchant who is making blankets. Signs on the wall indicate that the blankets are better than Viagra. Other signs are equally pithy, but the owner implores us not to publish them due to competitive reasons. He has an idea for one about Monica Lewinski and asks us to spell her name. We are not in a buying mood. We purchase some biscuits (cookies for our North American friends). It is then into the town bazaar proper. And there is a “German” bakery. We cannot recommend the coconut macaroons. The merchants are aggressive, but friendly. The will recognize us the following day. After about an hour of walking and in the fading sun, we return to our hotel.

The next morning, Liz has problems with the hot water in the shower (it just takes a long while to get there). We go to the rooftop for a good breakfast. What is interesting is the owner tells Liz (who had not complained publically) that hot water is not a problem. (The stone walls are thin.) We are off to our tour of yet another fort. This one is not a UNESCO site, so it is still a living village. Many vendors, a small bazaar, and many small hotels occupy the heights. We visited a small Jain temple while our guide waited outside. Upon exit we noted a sign saying only Jains could use the bathroom facilities. It seems the farther we are from New Delhi, the fewer children go to school. We took a guided tour of the bazaar and other haveli.
We purchased some tea and expressed an interest to see areas where “the professions worked”. That lead us to sections of the community were leather workers gathered, and goldsmiths and silversmiths worked. Out guide, a Brahmin, pointed out where the untouchables lived. The caste system lives on.
Later in the afternoon, we travelled out 45 km into the desert to see the sunset. We had specified to the tour company that we did not want to ride camels (they are smelly, have ticks, spit and bite). What we encountered was a mass of domestic Indian tourists. Hundreds of camels were ferrying people out on to the dunes to watch the sun set. We walked, and watched. We returned to town for a late dinner.


The next morning was a long drive to Bikaner, about 6 hours through the desert with few towns along the way. We arrived at our hotel in the early afternoon. At 3pm we left for our tour of the fort.
This fort was not on a bluff above the town, and had a moat (filled with crocs when attacked). It appears each generation of the Raj family extended the palace adding new rooms. Included in one room was a fighter aircraft from WWI.

Then it was off to the Camel research center. We were greeted at the gate by two camels fully decked out with decorations and riders in beautiful uniforms.
They were expecting an official delegation (it was not us). We availed ourselves of the opportunity to have camel ice cream. I can report it is an acquired taste (somewhat salty) and very yellow (mango color). We learned of breeding techniques, camel erections, and training. We saw camels coming in from the fields and finding their paddocks. Back to the entry gate in time to see three HM Ambassador sedans roar up and the official delegation arrive. The official jumped out of the car and rushed up to see the camels. Flower petals were released over his head and everybody laughed.

It was back to the hotel and art deco era building. We ordered tea and it was served in solid silver tea pots at London prices. Dinner was interesting with few patrons. We had tea delivered at 7 in the morning followed by breakfast in the main dining room. Upon check out I paid my bill. The hotel manager did not have change and had to get it from the porter (his tips). And we were off to Mandawa next.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

What I have learned about KL thus far

We have been in KL three days. This is what we have learned thus far

1. If you tell the NC State Employees Credit Union where you are going and when doesn't mean that you will be able to withdraw money when you get there! (Too detailed and bizarre to explain, but this isn't the first time this has happened to us.)

2. I went looking for a RM10 (RM ringgit the monetary unit valued at RM3.08 per US$)watch and found one for RM9!

3. You can get a Touch & Go pass for RM10 which works as an Easy Pass on KL's buses and LRT (Metro). A tourist can get a 7 day pass for RM50, 5 days for RM25, and 1 day for RM10. The pass is good for 10 years as long as we use it once a year. (Doug has an India phone number that is good for 10 years - so we are set until we are older and tottering.)

4. KL taxis use meters - or at least that is what their doors say. We haven't tested it out.

5. Apparently giving floor numbers is out at upmarket malls. The Galleries at Star Hill has floors designated by names such as "Muse," "Reflection," and "Relish."

6. Although good traditional art is easy to find in Malaysia and India tracking down contemporary art takes a bit more work. We have been impressed with what we have discovered thus far. We visited several galleries on the above mentioned muse floor. We especially taken by the painting by Penang artist Eston Tan and Bangladeshi artist Kanak Chanpa Chakma.

7. One can see a cow on the streets of KL. She was plumper than an Indian cow. We saw her Sunday near KL Convention Centre but by today (Tuesday) she was gone.

8. We always eat better when friends order the food. (This wasn't true in India where we found some great meals, especially the stuffed tomatoes at Hotel Fifu.) Still I got a pretty good cendol on my own today.

9. As Heinz stockholders we can happily report Heinz is well represented by more than ketchup in super markets.

10. You can't get baby (81 mg) aspirin or Vitamin D except in combination with another vitamin or mineral. Calcium and multi-vitamins were more expensive than US prices (so future house guests you know what you will be asked to bring.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ranakpur, Jodhpur

Oct 16

We left Mt. Abu early in the morning. Unfortunately, by the time we reached the desert plains below the day had begun to heat up. Not much to report on the scenery as we proceeded northeast toward Jodhpur. About 3 hours into the trip we turned off to go to Ranakpur, a large Jain temple. The road started out nice but turned into a bumpy nightmare. Everyone we talked to over the next several days indicated the problems resulted from a very generous monsoon season and the roads departments are struggling to catch up.

On arrival at the temple we paid our camera fees, shed our shoes and then were frisked to make sure no leather was smuggled in. Once in, it was sheer amazement with the carved marble columns, wall reliefs, and domed ceiling works. While photos were allowed, you could not point a camera in the direction of the central god figure. Doing so would result in shrill police whistles being blown. While I did not see it there is one of the 114 columns which is purposely build off perpendicular.

After about a hour we left the temple and wandered down a tree lined street. We turned to see another temple and saw a monkey family. I stopped to take a picture and was threatened by one monkey, teeth bared. Evidently she did not want her picture taken. We entered the temple with the guard telling us to look for the Kama Sutra carvings. All I can say is, it must have been Kama Sutra light, or we were moving so fast over the hot marble plaza surrounding the temple reliefs that we missed it all.

Another 45 minutes back to the same road followed by a long delay due to a horrific accident involving a bus and a lorry. The side of the bus was ripped off. We arrived in Jodhpur close to 6PM.

We met with the guide, Raj, at 8:30 in the morning. When we expressed an interest in contemporary art, we deviated from the “programme” to visit the new palace. Supposedly as large a Buckingham Palace, it is a very large structure. The descendents of the royal family live in one portion of the building, another portion is opened as a museum, and the remainder is a luxury hotel (starting at 10,000 Rs) per night. This was the first place we heard the name Richard Geer mentioned, but not the last.

The next stop was the site of the royal cremations. High on a hill, it overlooked the old city.
A beautiful mausoleum, dedicated to the husband is adjacent to a lake and the monuments to other member of the royal family. We spend some time discussing burial practices among Hindu’s. We were also serenaded by local musician, including childhood French ditties. It is better than having “jingle Bells” sung when I wear my read polo shirt.

It was on to the Jodhpur Fort. We took the elevator to the top. It took them 2 years to chisel out the elevator shaft. Otis provided the elevator which took us up 12 levels. Upon arriving we hear music reverberating from below. A parade was forming to lead people to the grounds where Ravan was to be burned…..celebrating the victory of good over evil in the Ramayana. This was a festival observed throughout India for the previous 10 days. From the ramparts were saw the blue buildings that Jodhpur is famous for. Each city we have visited has had a different color. Jaipur is pink, Udaipur is white, and Jodhpur is blue. I wonder what colors we will see next.

We toured the fort high above the city. We noted the Persian pumps ( a series of buckets on a circular rope or chain), and huge reservoirs of water. Above the ramparts, we visited the now familiar women’s quarters separate from those of the Raj. We wondered how the women viewed the world through the carved marble screens. Fabulous murals are painted on the walls. We also viewed the Raj’s quarters, the courtyard where the Raj heard the pleas of the common man, and the other places of government. All in all the Jodhpur Fort is a magnificent building. Again the fort is held as a charitable trust as are most of the properties of the old Raj kingdoms.

We then went into the main bazzars where we visited a spice market and a textile merchant. We purchased in both (some garam masala, and tea spices) and a shawl from a Jain textile merchant. Here is where we heard the name Richard Geer once again. He reportedly made a major purchase of wollens in the shop. Since we are not Richard Geer, we only purchased on shawl. We then wandered around the market, and found the left goods section. We thought used clothing or remainders from shops, but the goods were the possessions of the recently deceased.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Animals of India

We knew we were in India as our car headed for Agra and negotiated around buffalo and cows We are now used to seeing them wandering down the street, crossing the street, sleeping or resting in the median. Our guide in Jodhpur pointed out that the city’s slanted (think an inverted v) shaped medians kept the cows from just laying about. We were assured that each and every cow has an owner.

Unexpected were the herds of sheep and goats we saw throughout our trip.

Rajasthan is a heavily vegetarian community (and Pushkar prohibits the serving of meat, fish, and eggs within its boundaries) we were especially surprised by the goats - we saw lamb on most non-vegetarian menus. While goat meat is eaten the more usual use is goat’s milk. Similar to the cows the goats and sheep seemed unbothered by vehicular traffic and stayed on course. We also saw a small donkey herd – we assumed that we would see one later in time for a picture but we never did. So we have to settle for this solitary donkey.

Our first camel sighting, again on the road to Agra, seemed exotic. The camel was pulling a cart. We were reminded that camels are a beast of burden. We saw them pulling loaded carts, heading a rickshaw, or transporting individual and families. We rejected a camel safari as part of our tour, because they smell and spit. Early in our trip the correctness of our decision was confirmed. On the horse and buggy ride in Agra we found that bumping along a road gets tiring very quickly. On the elephant ride at the Amber Fort we found that being up high and swaying even on a short ride isn’t all it is cracked up to be.
22 October When we headed for the sand dunes outside Jaisalmer clearly many people found the opportunity to ride a camel appealing. I assume that it assures the camels employment (and survival) and the trainers income.

In Bikaner we visited that camel research center. Note that the staff statistics were summed up as “Category Wise Staff Positions.” Also, the sign implies as 6.5 hour work day – 10 to 5 with a half an hour for lunch. As we left the two decorated camels at the door went into action. The cars were stopped for the arrival of a visiting dignitary and as he entered the research center he was given a bouquet of flowers and showered with flower petals.

(A note to all who receive a bouquet – he gave them to the camel rider. We saw Steven Hough, a pianist, make a similar gesture in Prague – he handed his bouquet to a startled member of the audience.) Based on our visit we can down distinguish among the Gujarati (black) camel, the Pushkar camel, and the Jaisalmer (sandy colored) camel. They have different colors, different facial features, and different tasks. We also learned about camel sex – the act takes 25 minutes and at the end the male is collapsed over the female and is pushed off by the trainers. The research center has a dairy where one can get camel milk, camel ice cream, coffee or tea with camel milk. Doug and I shared camel ice cream – sharing was a good idea. I can’t describe the taste beyond saying that once in my life was enough.

Our most memorable animal subject was this monkey at the Jain temple in Ranakpur. We had just turned down two young girls who offered to let us take a picture. As Doug snap a picture of the monkey I asked if the monkey would expect money. Instead the monkey turned and tried to attack Doug. A short and unpleasant encounter.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Signs of India

This sign seems to capture the spirit of India - it is not what you see but how it makes you feel. The sign us to look at other for signs to share.

When we traveled in Vietnam in 2002 we were fascinated by the list of rules everywhere. Most were in Vietnamese and hence a mystery to us. On the train, however, the lists of rules for the railroad company, the train staff, and the passengers were read in English. Our ticket also had a list of rules including one that passengers could not bring "dead or radioactive bodies" on the train. Thus, we became fascinated with rules. Below is from a Jain temple.

Reminiscent of Vietnam is he Desert Boy's sign illustrating the belief that if your business isn't listed in Lonely Planet it is totally ignored.

Some signs left us puzzled. We don't know what an "non touristic" safari is. Similarly, what constitutes a Jain bathroom is a mystery. Several Jain temples are closed to non-Jains but I don't think that is the case here. Also, Jain temples prohibit giving money directly to holy men - perhaps the same applies to the tips given to bathroom attendants.

There are also the "public service announcements." Most signs are in Hindi. We assume that the English signs are to communicate with tourists. Here is two from our collection.

Taj Mahal Tricks

18 October

The spell of the Taj Mahal is broken as folks from all over the world stand on a platform twisting their body.

The most talented are stars in pictures that have them holding the Taj in their hands. My effort showed less talent (less strength?) and the best I could manage was to put my hand on the top and try to lift the Taj.

Next our guide asked Doug to put on sun glasses. You can see the result.

Of course, nothing beats an undisturbed reflection of the Taj.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Oct 13 -15 Udaipur, Mt. Abu

Oct 13 -15 Udaipur, Mt. Abu


Getting to Udaipur was a long journey. After leaving Pushkar on a mountain road we decended into Ajmer. A relatively large city, it was filled with lakes, parks, and lively markets. It had a large temple which we whizzed by on our way to Udaipur. The good roads disappeared for several hours. We used single lane highways as major roads as we tried to get back to NH8. When we finally made it, it was a two land highway with large construction works. They were changing it from a two lane highway to 6 lanes. Near noon we pulled over to eat. Nice restaurant and we had our normal fare: vegetable curry mix with rice and flat bread.

An hour or so later we left the main road on our way to Kumbhalgarh a large mountain fort well back from the main highway. We stopped briefly in a small village to visit a temple to Shiva. The marble flooring was so hot we could barely walk across it in the hot sun. After this temple it was an hour long drive through “dry forest areas”, extremely small villages as we wound around the mountains. It was clear there had been a concerted effort over the years to build a large number of water catchment areas….small dams. Rajasthan has suffered major droughts every 20 or so years and this is an adaptation to try and mitigate the issues. We are always aware of “water”.

Finally we reached the summit (3,000 ft) and were confronted with Kumbhalgarh Fort . It has very thick walls, high ramparts and gates, and the circular wall is 36 km long. From above it follows the ridge lines as far as you can see. Inside the walls are a small village and several hundred Hindu and Jain temples. We had a guide from the fort who spoke minimal English….however he guided us to the top of the fort. We saw the water supply systems, the canon emplacements, the communal kitchens, the women’s quarters, the King’s quarters, the horse barns, and the elephant barns. Murals on rice paper drawn with single hair brushes showed hunting scenes in the nearby scrub forest. Leopards, panthers, and wild boar were the prime targets. The same animals still inhabit the surrounding forests and if we had enough time we could take off road jungle treks. Of note: we visited a very small temple to Cali within the fort. When I gave a token contribution to the priestess after we had been anointed with small red dots on our forehead, she said “foreign currency”.

From Krumbhalgarh we backtracked some 20 km and struck off to Udaipur. We reached the city near 6 pm after 10 hours of hard travel. The driver looked tired, and we welcomed the Hilltop Palace Hotel. Situated high on a hill overlooking Lake Pichola (one of three major artificial lakes in Udaipur) was brimming with water.
We were told that water was in very short supply last year and the full lake had been nothing but a large mud flat. Such is life in the desert. We had dinner on the lawn, drinking gin tonics and eating our standard fare of vegetable curry, rice, and bread.

The next morning we were met by our guide for an informative visit to the Jagdish Mandir temple. This temple sits high above the street.
At least five representations of gods are found at this temple. We encountered the Indian version of Garuda (the transport of the Hindu gods). In Indonesia, the airline is named Garuda.
We also encountered the working of the temple. It feeds hundreds of homeless and poor people. Contributions to the temple fund this outreach. The kitchen is staffed by volunteers from the surrounding community. Our guide said, if you came to the temple in the morning and had an extra 30 minutes, you could help with the cooking. He also commented that the older women in the temple worshiping were able to do so because their daughter-in-laws were at home making the chapattis.

From Jagdish Mandir it was a quick walk to the City Palace, once the seat of government and home of the Mewar Dynasty.
It had an unbroken reign stretching back 8 or 9 centuries, exceeded in length only by the family of the Emperor of Japan. Although the King no longer has any political power he is an economic power, controlling a chain of 17 luxury class hotels, including two on the grounds of the City Palace.

One of the sights within the palace grounds is the elephant fighting wall. The wall divided the two elephants who then locked trunks. The first elephant to touch the wall loses. (Elephant fighting is no longer done. eos) The rest of the city was interesting. We toured a ladies’ garden area with cooling water features. The puppet museum was interesting and included a short puppet show. We followed that with a short visit to a craft shop. We always puzzle the owners/shopkeepers when we tell them we are “homeless”. Our final stop was a contemporary art gallery. It was magnificent with interesting with statuary, photography, painting, and a fantastic holography work. If we only had 5 figures (US) to spend on a work of art. I think we will return to Udaipur, but probably travel by air or overnight train.

The next morning we were off to Mt. Abu, a colonial hill resort. We had our first taste of desert, or should I say, arid areas. It was a mountainous area as we passed over and through mountains. We finally reached the take off point at Abu Road, a small village at the bottom of the mountains. We noted a large modern hospital and eye clinic in Abu Road. It took approximately 1 hour to ascend the mountain road (approximately 1000 meters about the arid plain).

Our first experience at Mt. Abu was the traffic jam at the toll booth.
The car needed to be parked, the driver needed to note the plate number of the car, and we waited about 10-15 minutes…all for a 20 rupee (about $0.50) toll. With that accomplished we got to Jaipur House, our hotel literally on top of a mountain overlooking the lake below. Several hours later we met with our guide and proceeded to visit an exquisite Jain museum. As with previous guides, we got an interesting religious introduction…this time Jainism. (No pictures were allowed at this temple). Once back at the hotel we ate “tea” on a veranda overlooking the city (Kingfisher beer, and chili cheese toast). The cheese toast brought back memories from a similar dish in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia (35 years ago).

The hotel was the summer residence for the Raj of Jaipur….an escape from the heat of the plains below. Needless to say, we did not stay in the Raj’s old quarters, but a small room off to the side. A pleasant escape from the turmoil and heat of the cities.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Touring India – The first half

17 October
We arranged our tour through Glimpses of India (, which Doug found through the Rajasthan Tourist Development Commission (RTDC). For a reasonable price we could get a good introduction to a part of India (total cost about US$100 a day which covers everything other than lunches and dinner). Our driver and guides were important in building our knowledge of India. Since we did not want to be intrusive our relationships largely developed through the details they shared as we visited various sites. Our driver Rokash is a gem. He handles the potholes, animals, and multi-vehicular traffic with aplomb. He is patient and skillful in traffic jams. His English is limited (and our Hindi is non-existent), but he has thoughtfully pointed out sites along the way and given us some basic information about them.
Each of our four guides has given us new insights into India. Their comments build on each other and confirm our impressions. In Jaipur Dinesh (dineshsoni_70[at] , who gives tours in French and English, introduced us to the flexibility of Hinduism and the goddess Cali, who permits the eating of meat, and another goddess who allows alcohol.
We learned that he gives tours in the Himalayas during the summer. The temperatures in Jaipur and the region are so high in the summer that the tourist industry pretty much dries up. (One guide said that during the summer the guides and hotel workers play cards all day, but the guides we have met pursue other income producing activities.) I mentioned Dinesh is an earlier entry – his wife does not work because she is “not educated.” And apparently his English is self-taught.

In Udaipur our guide was Mukesh (mukesh10dec[at] We started the day at a temple and his extensive knowledge and command of the English became apparent. He was an excellent guide and added details of gods and temple life. The turbaned men who found around the temples are single, older men who spend their day at the temple. Off to the side was a kitchen where meals were provided to the poor – we didn’t see children eating there. (It may have been time of day or children may have other food resources. The schools provide free meals largely in an effort to encourage children to come to school.) Udaipur is a tax-free city and relatively prosperous. The city’s rate of school attendance is over 90 percent. Women n Udaipur may be a bit better off than in other areas we have visited. We saw a number of women on Vespa’s. We visited a contemporary art gallery, Bougainvillaea . Doug pointed out it was the first shop where we saw a woman working in a professional position(she was the gallery manager). We have yet to see a woman working at a handicraft shops and except for the Ramada in Jaipur and the hotel in Agra, women have been virtually missing from the hotel staff. Mukesh mentioned the traditional castes – he is from the warrior caste. From our conversation I understood how our guides could say confidently that a certain handicraft had been done by a given family for generations. Mukesh’s family were tailors; we hypothesized that working as tour guide was a desirable profession for ambitious young men. Mukesh gives tours in English and German and he seems to his hand in several enterprises.
In Mount Abu it was Dalpat. He gave us a complete introduction to Jain beliefs traditional and contemporary. Traditionally Jains practiced “aggressive non-violence.” They went into business and provided goods and services to people who were not in need. To charge people in need for goods or services would be violent. Today Jains are among the richest families in India and known for being scrupulously honest. In an unexpected twist I learned although Jain women are well educated they stay at home and clean everything in the house every day. So floors, dishware, and the like get washed everyday whether they need it or not. Dalpat talked at length about caste and marriage. I have heard Indian mothers described as very strong; still it is disconcerting to hear tales of a mother threatening suicide if her son marries a person seen as beneath him or of a man telling his wife to be very careful if she is in the kitchen with his mother. Dalpat is hoping to complete a book on Jains for the tourist trade. What lies ahead wasn’t totally clear to me, but he has ambitions and talent.
Today our guide was Rajendesa Singh, a man closer to our generation than the other guides.
We had a long conversation about Hindu burial customs. Similar to Muslims and Jews, Hindus bath the deceased immediately after death. This may be done by family members, but if the family isn’t up to it, friends may bath the body. There are also burial societies for persons who die on the streets or in similar circumstances. The body then leaves the house feet first and is carried on a bier to the cremation site. Even to this day only men can attend the cremation. After the body is burned some ashes are gathered to be placed in the River Ganges (I had assumed that all the ashes were put in the river.) Similar to other religions the mourning period is one year during which the family members don’t attend festivals. At the end of the day we wandered through the market with Raj –from our walk we inferred that India has improved. Unlike our visits to Vietnam (2002) and Indonesia (in the 1970s) we weren’t besieged by beggars, cries of “hello mister,” or insistent invitations to take a look. Raj other profession is as a freelance translator; I believe that he translates for researchers who are interviewing local people.

We have learned so much from these four men we can only give a taste of our new knowledge here.