Crazy Beginning

The trip started with a three-hour delay before we left the airport, morphed into five days without suitcases.

In spite of the mess ups the trip has been very interesting. The first day we went to a vineyard. We tasted several kinds of wine and had a gourmet lunch that was beyond belief. Everyday we have beautiful meals. The most frequently served delicacy is the regional wild boar ( black hair but no tusks) that feed on acorns in the oak forests. The rear legs of the female are packed in salt for several days and then air dried for several months. People buy an entire leg for the family. The lower priced domestic pigs have white feet and the boats have black feet.

We have had the roasted boar for lunch. Every lunch is a gastronomic adventure, hotel diner’s in the evening are very mundane.

One of my travel dreams was to see the Alhambra. It was not as spectacular as I dreamed, the Turkish palace and Harem was superior.

We have visited the Royal Chapel of Isabelle and Ferdinand and the Cathedral of Malaga. The opulence of the church always astounds me.

The highlight thus far is the Picasso museum. Many of Picasso’s eight decades of work are organised by themes. Malaga was his home, his family remained there but he left because of Franco.

We had an evening demonstration of Flamenco dancing. It is one of the few arts that is listed as a cultural heritage by UNESCo.

We have visited several markets. This part of Spain grows fabulous fruits and vegetables that are exported to the rest of the EU.

More Fun, More Whales

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.’” ~ Sylvia Plath

In wilderness, the sermon is delivered by no man, but rather by the rocks themselves, the air you breathe, the plants, the clouds and the sky above.  Scott Stillman wilderness, the gateway to the soul.

A WHALE OF A GOOD TIME

Susan Buchan, Cathy Campbell and I are on a Road Scholars Trip in Canada. We arrived in Quebec on Saturday. We checked into a lovely hotel inside the wall. Quebec is a World Heritage City because of it’s wall around a historic urban city. It is the only one north of Mexico City.

The main purpose of the trip is the St. Lawrence Seaway, Saguenay River and Tadoussac which comprise a whale sanctuary.

On Saturday we rambled aimlessly around the city. We were constantly lost, but we did find Hambourgini which according to Susan has the best Poutine.

Sunday we rented a car and drove to the Basilica of St. Anne De Beaupre. we attended mass and admired the beauty of the Basilica.

On the way back to Quebec we visited the copper museum.

Once back in town we gained our bearings and explored part of the town.

In the evening we met the rest of the members of the tour. Early Monday morning we had an official tour of historic Quebec. After lunch we were off to Taduossac with one stop at Morency Falls, 200 feet higher than Niagara.

Tadoussac is a quaint seasonal village, the hotel is delightful.

Tuesday morning we went on a whale watch, we spotted Beluga, Minkes and fin whales. It is nearly impossible to get a good photo of a whale.

Belugas are in this area permanently. Unfortunately the industrial runoff and hunting has driven them to near extinction. Because of the industrial pollution many of the carcasses of theses beautiful little whales have been considered hazardous waste material.

The other whales come here to feed in the summer. Sperm, Humpback and Blue are also seasonal visitors along with seals, and porpoises.

Varanasi

Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” -Gustav Flaubert

 

Varanasi is the most holy city of the Hindu religion. If you are lucky enough to die here you will go straight to heaven, at the very least you desire to be cremated here. The Ganges River is home to the God Shiva, the destroyer.

 

The first day we walked to the holy ghats to watch the bathing rituals. Hindu pilgrims come from all over the world to preform ritual bathing in the river which will cleanse you of your earthly sins. They offer flowers and diyas- floating candles and flowers to ensure safe passage to the after world.

 

There are many beggars in the town who are provided two meals each day from money collected from pilgrims and mourners.

 

Further down the ghats are the cremation sites which are busy 24/7/365. Ironically the keeper of the cremation site is a untouchable from the lowest caste. He and his family oversee all cremations, the eternal flame which is used to start the cremation fire and sell the wood supply for the fires. There is also a gas crematorium on the site but most people chose the traditional pyre.

 

When a loved one dies the oldest son takes care of the arrangements. The family washes the body and clothes it in white cloth. It is covered with at least one shroud, perhaps more if friends give as gifts. Once the family arrives at the cremation site they bathe the body in the river and then allow the it to dry. Meanwhile the son dresses in white after bathing, has his head shaved by a priest and offers prayers. The wood pyre is arranged with 2/3 of the wood on the ground, the body and another 1/3 of the wood on top. It takes about four hours for the body to burn. The family is given some ashes and the rest go in the river in hopes that it will break the reincarnation cycle. Children who have not yet grown teeth may not be cremated..

 

In the evening, we returned to watch the evening prayers. They are preformed every night by seven priests. This ceremony is full of chanting, incense burning, burning of dried cow dung and camphor, flames of ghee soaked cloth, tossing of marigold petals and smoke. It was a very moving scene.

 

On Saturday, the last day in Varanasi we drove to Sarnath, deer park, the most sacred Buddhist site. It was here, after reaching complete enlightenment that he delivered his first sermon to five disciples. The park has a stupa the contains some of Buddha’s ashes.

 

On the way back to the hotel we saw many wedding processions.

Agra

Agra is the home of the beautiful Taj Mahal. The love story behind the construction of mausoleum is beautiful. The mausoleum holds the body of the Queen and her King. It was built in memory of herby him so his position is subservient to hers. It is built of white marble with carvings and inlays throughout. If you are interested in the love story behind the Taj Mahal read Beneath a Marble Sky, by John Shor.

The first night in Agra we went to the gardens to photograph the the back of the hall. The next morning we walked to the main entrance early in the morning. There was a thick fog covering the city. It was not conducive to photography but the mood it created was romantic and memorable. It was if the heavens were embracing the site.

There have been several unusual weather events along our journey. The heavy rains of the summer monsoons are well known, the winters are bone dry. Three times since we arrived there have heavy rains, totally unexpected. We have had two flights delayed and one night of thunder that is a rarity here.

We drove back to Delhi and flew to Varanasi.

Jaipuru

Jaipur is a large town, 4.5 million, and our accommodations are city center. We are staying in an old house that has been part of the family for three hundred years. It is built around a courtyard. Our rooms are on ground level, with interior balconies.

Our host is from the noble class and the most gracious of all out hosts. Over a glass of wine he explained the problem of having a 32 year old unwed daughter. She is a professional so it has been difficult to find a proper match in spite of several astrological readings of all the family charts. The last astrologist told them that something will happen this spring. They have convinced the daughter to give up her job and come home to wait. As part of the bargain they will allow her to manage the family horse farm. He went on about the financial obligations of the wedding, 21 dresses, Jewellery, several days of parties….

Later the host took us to shop for the food we would need for our cooking lesson. When we returned from market we began to cook a special Indian meal. The first part of the meal was cooked as one would on a camping trip in the desert. The fire was made with camel dung, mutton was cooked in a coconut and bread was cooked in the embers. We also cooked several dishes in the kitchen. It was an unbelievable experience.

In the morning we visited Palace of the wind inside the city walls. This was an addition to the city palace that allowed the 13 wives and concubines to view the happenings in the city and not be seen by the people on the street. The structure is made of pink stone as is the wall around the city, thus giving it the name PINK CITY. It was inside the city’s walls we saw snake charmers coaxing cobras in baskets to sway to the music of their pipe.

The next stop was the Amber Fort, high on a hill, that is home to the main palace and military. You travel up the narrow roads by Jeep or elephant. Following local style the interior court yards are surrounded by rooms of inlaid marble, fine mosaics and wall paintings. Now a museum, we visited textiles and clothing displays. We were most in awe of the clothes of the large ruler who was seven feet tall and weighed over 350 lbs.

The last stop was the amazing observatory built by the king. It’s large sundial is accurate within 2 seconds every 200 years. Many of these large instruments track the sky for astrological purposes which are important in the Hindu culture.

Our nighttime entertainment was a marionette show.

On Tuesday we visited the town of Bagru, once textile designer for the king, now famous for its block printing and all natural dyes. the community is generations old, everyone is related and involved in the business. This tour was very educational.

We attended a Polo match in the afternoon.

Narlai Udaipur, Barlow

We drove from Jodhpur to Narlai. The places we stay are old forts or estate houses that have been turned into hotels. This allows the families to stay in the house, earn some money and employ the people from the town. Most have a gift shops and a nice restaurant. The town of Narlai has a large step well that stores water during the year for the people of the town. As an attraction the estate offers a dinner event at the step well. We were taken by bullock cart through the town. The steps of the well were decorated with hundreds of lanterns and candles. We were served traditional food and serenaded by throughout dinner. It was very festive.

In the morning we left for Udaipur. On the drive the farm areas are neater, the spring wheat is growing and the trees are beginning to bud. There is much infrastructure work being done, new roads, bridges, and fibre optic cable is being buried. In 10 years many of these cities will be different. Women are doing much of the work, carrying firewood, laundry, water and market goods on their head. They also herd the goats, sheep and cows. Women of the lowest caste are digging, carrying cement and bricks in the construction zones. There are produce stands in all the towns.

We stopped at a Jain Temple. Jainism is a sect of Hinduism. The Jains believe in non violence to all living things, they are strict vegetarians. The temple was built from marble which is abundant in this area. The carvings on the pillars and walls are intricate and the floors are all inlaid designs. Outside the temple there were many monkeys playing in the trees.

When we arrived in Udaipur we took a boat ride in Lake Pichola to view the City Palace from the outside. In the centre of the lake is the Summer Palace and high on a mountain outside the city is the Monsoon Palace.

The next day we toured the City Palace. Inside the halls were narrow, the steps were steep and the doors were low. This is a method of protecting the inhabitants. The invaders were confused by the halls and steps they were forced to bend over as they entered a room, this allowed the defenders to decapitate them. When we left the palace we wandered through the city markets. There is always something to buy for the decorators in the group.

As we make our way to Jaipur we will spend a restful afternoon and evening at Fort Barli.

Sorry no pictures today. Internet is slow

Jodhpur

Jodhpur is a six hour drive through the desert. It is either dry and barren or irrigated with rice and mustard crops. The cities are neglected strip malls with trash off to the side. Cows and dogs are lounging everywhere. There are often carts of spices, fresh vegetables hardware and home goods. It is reminiscent of Kenya Africa.

We stopped at Ossian, the site of a Hindu temple, we purchased a tray of offerings to leave at the alter. Mary suggested that perhaps these offerings are recycled and sold again the next day. Given the number and the packaging I would agree,

Our evening was a home visit and cooking lesson. A couple shared many interesting facts about their family life and customs, including arranged marriage for them and their children.

The food was delicious, but very spicy compared to what we are used to. We ate Dum Handi Chicken with yogurt gravy and rice. There was sewaiyy kheer for desert

This morning ( 1/15) we went to a Hindu cremation sites at Mandore. The six widows and 58 concubines of Ajit Singh commissioned marble building that is suggestive of the Taj Mahal. In addition to the memorial they built a lake that supports native waterfowl. Water is a necessary part of a royal cremation, the body must be washed and the participants must wash after the ceremony ends. The entire park is beautiful and well maintained.

The next stop was another fort, Mehrangarh, again a well kept clean site. The fort towers above the city with sheer rock walls. It was enlarged to by two other Rajs. When the state decided to tax the fort and palace it was signed over to the city residents. It is maintained by the government and run for a profit. The museum is extensive, I enjoyed the display of miniature paintings with descriptions of styles and methods. I heard the difference between the Persian and Hindu miniatures, the Hindus only show profiles of people but the backgrounds are detailed with fields and ocean waves highlighted in gold and silver

Jodhpur is also known as the Blue City. The smiths (jewellers) and Nobel men lived inside the city walls but outside the fort. Their houses were painted bright blue.

The rest of the day was spent watching a world class shopping marathon starring Mary and Sally. I just observed and hung tight to my wallet. When I am trying to pare down my possessions at home it makes no sense to buy more to fill it again.

Jaisalmer

Before we boarded the plane for Jaisalmer Mary came down with a case of “Deli Belly” which made for an uncomfortable flight for her. After landing and eating lunch I was down for the count.

By morning Mary was able to go on tour and shop. They saw the fort which houses 300 families with ties to the old royal family. The architecture was beautiful and the motifs were intricate, all preserved. The sanitation not so much..

In the evening we went to the desert for a camel ride. We were about 30 miles from the Pakistan border. From the looks of the age and number of camel riders it must be the hot spot for dates.. John rode a camel and the ladies rode in a camel cart. Today we will drive across the desert to Jodhpur, the blue city.