Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Around Jaipur

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Just a few of the memorable sights of Jaipur.

Just outside the Amer Fort, these vegetable vendors paid particular attention to setting up attractive displays.
The "pink" building in the background makes it Jaipur (the "pink city"), but this scene could be anywhere in India: Vegetables for sale in the street market, trash, and a cow.
Block printed textiles is a traditional craft in Rajasthan (as well as in Gujarat). The top panel shows a carved wooden block. The middle panel shows a three-color print. The bottom panel shows the resulting colors after they have been "set" into the cotton cloth.


Monday, 15 September 2014

Vapi is hardly anyone's idea of a tourist destination, but Lon and I had a good time showing off our Indian hometown.

After a morning visiting MWV's Ruby Macons sites in Vapi and Dadra, we headed to the Toral Dining Hall for a traditional thali lunch. AAJO!

This is the only photo I have of our lunch. I know David got some better photos, so I hope I'll be able to substitute shortly.
It was still the end of monsoon when we started the trip. Storm clouds gather behind our lunch group that included Paro and Pinky from Spice Academy, and our driver, Sachin.
No visit to India is complete without at least one traffic video. Here is one from our bus, heading towards the Fortune Galaxy Hotel.

An after-dinner photo with the Nathani family -- former owners of Ruby Macons.

Kanheri Caves (Mumbai)

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The first day of our two-week trip. Everyone arrived from the U.S. and Germany overnight. After a leisurely start, we headed north from Mumbai to Vapi. Kanheri Caves in Sanjay Gandhi National Park are along the way. These caves are some of the earliest Buddhist caves in India -- mostly from the 1st and 2nd Century CE. They are no where near as elaborate as later caves, but there are over 100 in this area. Since this is the only opportunity we will have to see such structures, we made the short detour off NH8.

The first three photos just show an overview of cave entrances. As you can see, the caves are a popular destination for Mumbaikers.

The caves are connected by paths that wind up the mountain. It seems that there are always more caves just beyond the bend.
Here you can see the tall buildings of Mumbai's northern suburbs in the distance.
Buddha in a variety of poses carved into the wall of a cave.
Detail from the top of a column in the main stupa hall.
The largest cave contains a large stupa.
Everyone's here!
The caves are popular with monkeys, too -- mostly attracted by the edible trash left behind by humans. This young monkey was sliding down a tree trunk.
A baby monkey catching a ride with mom.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Festivals and More Festivals

As I write these posts, I'm listening to Navratri music in the distance. Even though it's well over a km away, the music is loud and clear.


August is the beginning of festival season in this part of India. With a few exceptions, Indian holidays are based on a lunar calendar, so they move every year.

Actually, this year, it began with the Muslim holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr -- the end of Ramzan (Ramadan) at the end of July.

August brought Raksha Bandhan on the 10th -- a day for brothers to honor their sisters. Independence Day is on the 15th. (That's one that doesn't move!). Followed by Krishna's birthday (Krishna Janmastrami) on the 17th, Parsi New Year on the 18th, and Ganesh Chaturthi on the 29th, along with the Jain festival of repentance and forgiveness that concluded on the same day.

The Ganesha festival continues for 5 or 7 or 9 or 10 days (your choice) -- more on that in an earlier post.

September brings Navratri: 9 nights of garba dancing starting on September 25. The festival honors Durga. Other areas celebrate Durga Puja (most notably West Bengal and Kolkata) at the same time. Same god, same festival, different way of celebrating.

Navratri ends on October 3. Eid-ul-Azha, another Muslim holiday, is on October 6. Gandhi's birthday is October 2 (another non-moving date). Then comes Diwali -- the festival of lights, and the biggest holiday in India -- from October 20 to 25. In Gujarat, the day after Diwali is New Year's Day, and the celebrations are deafening.

Then it's all over. Monsoon is gone, and the weddings begin. Here in Vapi, Christmas is an asterisk, and New Year's Day (January 1st, that is) is just another work day.

Daulatabad Fort

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Between Ellora and Aurangabad is the impressive Daulatabad Fort. Built as a strategic fortress, it lacked many of the creature comforts of the palace-forts (e.g. Golconda). And it does have an impressive collection of defenses -- both military and psychological.

The tower in the middle is part of the outer wall. The "minor" on the left is a "victory" monument. The fortress itself is the hill in the background. The bottom of the hill has been sheared off to present a vertical face.
The road from Aurangabad to Ellora goes through the "Delhi Gate" in the outer-most wall.
The psychological tricks start from the very first gate -- the larger, more impressive door leads to a dead-end. The smaller door that looks like a service door is really the main entrance. Of course, there are zig-zags so that elephants cannot get up good momentum, and a number of narrow spots where attackers have to come through single-file, and turn to the right, so that the weapons in their right hands are less effective.

The main path between the outer wall and the inner defenses. Across from the minaret-like victory monument was a mosque. The creature in the foreground is a langur -- a type of monkey.
The mosque with the top pavilion in the background.
More psy-ops: The stairs after this gate are deliberately uneven, so that attackers had to keep on looking at the ground rather than ahead.
This is probably the most devious defense of the fortress. Originally, this part was covered with a roof -- the stairs on the right have been added to make it easier for visitors to navigate the fort. The room was entered through the small entrance (about 1 meter square) near the middle of the photo. The next few chambers are in total darkness, and feature uneven and missing steps, blind curves, and ways to fill the chamber with poisonous gases or drop hot oil on attackers. There are chutes that send disabled attackers straight to the crocodile infested moat below. Guides take visitors through remaining totally-dark passages that are very difficult to navigate with a flashlight, and would be impossible without some illumination.
The fort is very popular with the local population. As a rare "western" visitor, I was constantly asked to have my picture taken with families. Here one returned the favor.
One family brought a picnic lunch and had their meal in the pavilion near the top.
From below, it looks like the pavilion is near the top of the mountain -- well, not quite. You have another 100 ft climb to get to the real top. All-in-all, it's nearly 600 feet from the bottom of the hill to the top of the last structure.
A view of the outer wall from near the top.
In the distance is another fort and temple at the top of a hillock. The name of this structure is Bhangsi Mata Gadh, and the temple appears to be modern and in use. There is no information about this structure in any of my guidebooks. The Internet has a few pictures, but no information.
The tower in the fort above is clearly a temple tower. It looks to be fairly new, and the flagpole atop the tower suggests that it is an active temple.

Ellora Caves

It's been a while since I've added to the blog. We were on a two-week tour of India with our family. I've got enough material now to cover many posts!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Lon took a day trip to Aurangabad -- it's a short 45 minute flight from Mumbai (but a 7-8 hour drive). I went along to visit the Ellora Caves and Daulatabad Fort. (Ajanta Caves and Lonar meteor crater will have to wait for another trip.)

First stop were the Ellora Caves -- a series of Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain "caves" carved into a basalt cliff.

The 12 Buddhist caves were carved in the 5th through 7th Centuries. They are mostly monastery structures, with one large temple.

Temple cave with Buddha preaching in front of the stupa.
The Hindu caves (6th to 8th Century) are the most impressive. The centerpiece is the large Kailasa Temple carved from a single block of stone.

The modern entrance to the Ellora complex showcases the Kailasa Temple.
Looking down the left-hand side of the temple. The main structures are in the middle, with pavilions carved into the mountain along the sides and back.
Looking back towards the entrance.
A sculpture of Shiva in the Kailasa Temple.

The final set of caves are Jain caves, carved in the 8th through 10th Centuries.. In the typical Jain manner, they are far more subdued than the Hindu caves, yet have very intricate and detailed patterns in their artwork.

Typical Jain-style pillar.
The Jain caves also have some paintings, although most of them have faded to the point of near invisibility.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Family Relations

Relationships (of all sorts) are a big deal in India. Family is even more IMPORTANT (Bold, All-Caps). It's important to keep all those relationships straight. Hindi has a number of "aa-ee" pairs for various family members, where the "aa" is male and the "ee" is female. (However, "mother" is an "aa" noun.)

First some basics:
Mother, Father:  mata, pita  (Parents: mata-pita)
Son, Daughter: beta, beti (also lurka, lurki  -- actually, officially ladhka, ladhki, but it's pronounced closer to what I wrote first. Also bachcha, bachchi for babies and toddlers, or bachche for children more generally.)
Brother, Sister: bhai, behan

Maternal grandfather, grandmother: nana, nani  (Maternal grandparents: nana-nani)
Paternal grandfather, grandmother: dada, dadi  (Paternal grandparents: dada-dadi)
Also, baba/babi/babu can be used as a respectful term for a grandparent or elder.

Now the fun begins -- with the aunts and uncles. You've got to keep all those connections straight:
Father's brother and his wife: chacha, chachi  (kaka, kaki in Gujarati)
Father's sister and her husband: foofi, foofa
Mother's brother and his wife: mama, mami
Mother's sister and her husband: mausi, mausa

So for our children, who have two "Aunt Chris/Kris" and "Uncle Jim" combinations, it would be totally clear: Mausi Chris and Mausa Jim, and Chacha Jim and Chachi Kris. (Got that?)

Cousins can get just as complicated, as in chachere bhai. Literally, uncle (father's brother) brother, meaning brother through uncle (father's brother) and so forth. (Substitute behan for female cousins.)

The in-laws are equally complex. There are separate terms for husband's elder brother (and his wife), husband's younger brother (and his wife), husband's sister (and her husband), wife's sister (and her husband). Nephews and nieces depend upon whether or not they are children of a brother or a sister.

"Auntie" (spoken as in English) is a respectful term for any older family female friend.

Don't forget that you can append "ji" to any name to show respect.

The combinations seem endless!

And when babies start to babble, just about anything they say is a term for a family member! It's so limiting to have only "mama" and "dada" make sense!

What's with the Monsoon?

Monsoon is supposed to start slacking off in September, with full withdrawal in Vapi by the end of the month. So why have the last two weeks had more rain than most of the previous 2 months combined?

Full monsoon is impressive. The rain comes down at a rate of at least 2 inches an hour. These bursts only last perhaps 30 to 60 minutes at a time, but over the course of a day, it's not unheard of to get 4+ inches of rain (100 mm). Here are some videos I took yesterday. The sound track doesn't really do justice to the experience. It's loud enough to make conversation difficult.

The rain pours off our neighbor's roof onto their carport and then directly onto our "driveway". It's also so loud it can wake us up at night.

Our front "garden" turns into one big puddle, but as soon as it stops raining, everything drains within minutes.

This pretty much shows the entire garden. Monsoon brings out the best in weeds! The large brown things are fallen palm fronds.

I'm fascinated by the standing waves created by the potted plants. The middle plant is the one that has leaves stitched into a bird nest. (As discussed in a previous post.)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ganesha / Ganpati

Today is the last day of Ganpati -- the 10-day festival for Ganesha. It's a particularly important festival in Maharashtra -- especially Mumbai and Pune. Don't even try to move in Mumbai today!

It started on August 29 -- Ganesh Chathurti. Chathurti means that it starts on the 4th day of the lunar month. In Vapi, the first and fifth days of the festival are the most celebrated. There are lots of "pandals" (temporary booths) set up on the street and in apartment blocks. Many people also bring Ganesha into their homes and have special celebrations with family and friends. At the end of the celebration -- whether it's on the second, fifth, or tenth day -- the idol gets immersed in a nearby body of water. In the home, Ganesha is typically 12 to 18 inches high. The larger displays can have a Ganesha that is several feet high and may take a truck to move around.

It's difficult to take a decent picture at night, but this shows a bit of the decorations in the parking area of an apartment block.
This is Sandip's Ganesha before he was fully decorated. It's about 18 inches high. (Photo by Sandip.)
And this is Sandip's Ganesha fully decorated. (Photo by Sandip.)
This is a similar-size Ganesha at Paromitra's house. All the food and flowers are gifts for the god. There's lots of singing and incense during the ceremonies (puja).
Ganesha is an important god in Gujarat -- it's probably the most commonly seen god here, followed by Krishna. In Paro's apartment block, all the doors have this stylized Ganesha on them.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sunday Walk

We didn't do a whole lot of walking today. I was working on a vegetarian chili recipe. Lots of beans and tomatoes. I do miss the meat, but it tastes good and definitely tastes like chili. Garlic, cumin, and chilies are standard Indian flavors, so it's not too hard to do. I added fresh curry leaves from our curry bush to add a bit of herbal flavor. It's definitely a "scratch" recipe -- there are no canned goods in India, so I had to start with dried beans and make tomato puree.

We had to make our way through this small herd of very muddy buffalo. On our way back, they had only made it about 200 m further down the road -- and tied up traffic pretty thoroughly. The road is NH 8 -- the busiest highway in India -- that connects Mumbai and New Delhi through the major industrial areas of Gujarat.
If you've Skyped or FaceTimed with us, you know the trains are nearby and loud. This is taken near the entrance to our "society" (subdivision in 'burb-speak). Typical Indian road traffic: train, cows, and tuk-tuks, also two-wheelers, truck, and pedestrians.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Teachers and Trees

Yesterday was "Teacher's Day". A day set aside throughout India to honor teachers.

Here we are with our Hindi teacher, Pinky, in a "cabin" (aka "office") where we have class. It's tiny by American standards -- probably about 5 ft square.
To completely change subjects. Today was Parent-Teacher Open House at Modern School. Sometime between the time the faculty and staff arrived and the parents and students arrived, this tree fell across the road.

It's not a very big tree, but it effectively blocked the road.

Not only did it block the road to the school, it also blocked one lane of the major road.
It must have fallen all the way across the road at first, since a pole in the median was also crushed. (Or maybe something big took down both the pole and tree?) As you can see here, even though this is a divided road, you can't count on traffic going in just one direction on either side.
Since I haven't seen a cross-cut saw, much less a chain saw in India, this will be quite a job to remove. When we have seen workers trying to remove a tree, they were using an ax. Quite a job!