Sunday, August 06, 2006

Rajasthan journey - early July

As usual, it has been awhile since the last update, so here it goes. I have no pictures yet but will try to do so soon. Work has been incredibly hectic as I finish up my internship. I will be home in a week!

The next trip we went on was to a bunch of cities around Rajasthan, with our first stop being Kumbulgarh. Kumbalgarh is another very large fort and palace in the middle of nowhere. The fort wall is the second longest wall in the world, second only to the Great Wall of China. There are over 300 Hindu temples in the fort complex, of which we only saw about 30. Unlike in the U.S., where guards or railings are everywhere, the palace was completely open for exploration. Although it is not kept up very well, it was very exciting to open closed doors and walk down dark hallways to see what was at the other end. We didn't take any significant risks, but it is still exciting to explore a huge abandoned palace. The views from the roof were amazing too. Afterwards 3 of us got lost looking for a group of temples. We found a paved path and followed it for about an hour. At that point we ran into a group of stonemasons laying the exact path on which we had just been walking! From then on we trekked across some farms until we finally reached the temples. At the temples we found the correct path back, which took only 10 minutes rather than the original hour.

After Kumbalgarh we went to a huge Jain temple complex. The largest temple, Ranakpur, has over 11,000 columns, all of which are uniquely carved. It was absolutely amazing and leaves all other temples in the dust. Jainism believes that all life is sacred, therefore they are strict vegetarians (with very good food I may add) and also do not eat potatoes, carrots, or other plants that require tilling the soil (insects can be killed as the soil is tilled). Very strict Jains sweep the ground ahead of them as they walk to ensure that they are not stepping on and killing any ants or other insects. This temple complex also had a few temples carved with scenes from the Kamasutra.

After these temples we went to another large city in Rajasthan called Johdpur. That night we had a good meal and then played drinking games back at the hotel. It was fun, and no one drank too much to stop having a good time. The next day we went to a mausoleum and another large fort/palace complex. This fort was never defeated and it can be seen why. The walls were incredibly thick and the fort was very well constructed. The complex was not as large as Chittorgarh or Kumbalgarh, but the fort itself was massive. This fort has been very well kept up and the furniture in the rooms was original. It was very impressive, and once again I will send pictures later. One practice that is revered in these forts however is called Sati. In the past, when the Maharana died, he would be cremated. In was then expected that all of his wives would then throw themselves on his funeral pyre and commit suicide. This was seen as the honorable thing to do and encouraged until just a few decades ago.

That afternoon, 7 of us went on to the city of Jaisalmer. This city is very near to the border with Pakistan and on the way to the city we passed the location where India tests its nuclear bombs. Initially we drove through scrub desert, lots of short trees and some cacti amongst rocks and dirt. As we drove closer to Jaisalmer, this become true desert with lots of sand and fewer plants and trees. All of the villages here are made from cow dung mixed with sand into beehive-like rounded huts. Apparently these keep cool, even in the 130 degree heat common in the summers. Fortunately for us the temperatures were much lower, unfortunately however, this was because of a large dust storm that was occurring. In fact, blowing dust blocked the sun for the entire 30 hours that we were in and traveling to Jaisalmer. I have never felt that sandy and my camera broke because of the sand, but that's another story.

That night we went to an Italian restaurant and I had some spaghetti, tomatoes, mozzarella, and wine! The hotel we stayed was very nice and just outside the fort walls. On the way back from the restaurant to the hotel we were accosted by a few packs of wild dogs unfortunately. While no one was bitten, the growling, stalking and barking was quite disconcerting and everyone got pretty freaked out. Once we would leave the dogs' territory they would leave us alone, at least until the next pack caught our scent.

The next morning, we woke up at 4 AM and drove out to the desert for some camel rides. We were first dropped off at some true sand dunes in order to watch the sunrise. Unfortunately, because of the dust storm, we did not see the sunrise, or any sun all day for that matter. We did have a great time jumping off the sand dunes and otherwise playing in the sand however. This is when I broke my camera by getting sand into the gears behind the lens. It is fixed now. After 2 hours of dunes, we were picked up by a bunch of camels and camel drivers. While it was a fun experience, I was sore for a few weeks afterwards. We walked through the desert, had breakfast, and then went to a small desert village. It was actually so peaceful and relaxing riding the camels that many people almost fell asleep while riding!!

Jaisalmer itself is a complete tourist trap, but well worth it. It is a golden fort rising out of the surrounding desert, and is really very impressive with 20-30 turrets all around it. Being exhausted, we went into the fort, ordered lunch, then went shopping and site-seeing while waiting for our food (it's a relatively small fort too). I learned a lot about textiles, Jonathan learned the going rate for silver, we again had some good Italian food (it is the only thing they serve there since they only cater to tourists, although it seems like they all received the same recipe book for Christmas one year), and we did lots of bargaining being virtually the only tourists in the entire city. Unfortunately, due to the sand storm again, we could see nothing beyond the fort walls. On the way back to Udaipur, the road from Jaisalmer had been completely covered by sand in some places, even to the point of being 2-3 feet thick. This made for some extreme speedbumps!! The rest of the 11 hour ride was uneventful. We played some poker, sang to Journey and Styx while listening to our iPods and played the movie game for hours. We finally all tried to get some sleep once it got dark, but our driver hit one pothole so hard that we all slammed our heads into the ceiling and had splitting headaches for the rest of the ride home. Overall it was a good trip, but incredibly exhausting.



Two weeks ago we went to a rain dance party. This was really just a dance party with a bunch of families on the rooftop terrace of a local hotel. One of the organizers of my program invited us to the party, as it was held by her friend. They played lots of very loud Bollywood music and sprayed water down onto the dance floor through huge sprayers, needless to say we all go soaked and had a great time. At the end of the party we were videotaped and interviewed on national Indian TV, a cable station. Apparently this is the second or third time we have made Indian news, but since we don't watch much TV we haven't seen the clips. Jonathan's Blog has some great pictures from this party.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Chittorgarh



2 Sundays ago we went on our first true tourist trip to an old fort called Chittorgarh. I don't have the book with all of the historical data with me at the moment but some of the temples and palaces in this fort were built in the 8th century. We took a bus from Udaipur to Chittor, 2 hours, $1, comfortable seats and good roads. The image on the right is the town of Chittor, taken from the fort. The fort is actually a 10 square km plateau in the middle of the desert plain. They built a wall around it and many gates on the 3-4 paths up to the top. It was absolutely incredible. Most of the palaces are now ruins but it is clear that they were huge. The one remaining palace is now used as a secondary school. There are also many many temples and 2 victory towers commemorating battles. The temples were fairly standard, but old and with incredible carvings. The towers were amazing. The Tower of Victory was 40 Meters tall and had stairs that could be climbed to the top. Within the staircase, which was incredibly narrow, there are many alters depicting various scenes from Hindu texts. Everything was also carved with designs and sculptures.


Outside the tower we had fun with a ton of monkeys. They are there to beg for food and pick up picnic scraps, much like squirrels in the US. One monkey tried to steal a mango from a girl in our group, then grabbed onto her bag when she put the mango back into it. One of the FSD interns, Ryan, is an amateur photographer. He went in for a close up of a monkey who stayed completely still for the photo. However, as soon as the camera clicked, the monkey lunged and hissed at Ryan. Ryan jumped back almost 10 feet and knocked over a group of children who had been watching him.













A view of Liz and the battlefield and path up to the fort; the ruined palace where 10,000 women committed suicide rather than be captured by the enemy army:













The rickshaw drivers ripped us off but we were a bit at their mercy considering we had no other way to get back down from the fort to the bus station. Things are overall cheap here, although we often haggle mostly out of principle. Once you get to a certain price they just won't sell to you, so we know that they are at least making some profit off of us. The tourist price often starts at 4-8 times the local price.
3 of us had some cooked spinach in cream at lunch, and all 3 of us were very ill on Monday. It is very tricky sometimes to figure out what you should or should not eat at restaurants, but I am definitely not touching spinach until I get home, unless my host mother cooks it.

A sunset that night in Udaipur:

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Finally some photos!




Okay everyone, I hope that I have finally figured out the picture issue. On the right is a picture of Humalyan's tomb in Delhi. On the left is a picture taken at the Qtab Minar, an old ruined Mosque. The tower and columns below are also at Qtab Minar.

Below is a picture of Delhi gate, an arch near the parliament buildings in Delhi.

The picture of me was taken at Sajjan Garr or Monsoon Palace, on the top of the highest hill around Udaipur. The sunset shot was also taken at the Monsoon Palace. It was ridiculously windy, but still very very hot.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Animal Aid, Western food and new experiences

Last night a few of us went out to eat at a 5 Star hotel just outside the city. It was so nice to eat chicken, mashed potatoes, good cheese for Europe, tomatoes, olive oil, focaccia, and carrots for the first time in 3 weeks. The butterscotch ice cream was pretty good too. Total cost: $22, more than I have spent on food in India yet. My family this morning said, "if you can eat chicken then you can eat anything." Not really, my stomach is still FAR more in tune with chicken then to parantha (a bread fried with onions, very greasy and spicy). I did not eat very much breakfast and lunch was also a bit difficult, but I am slowly getting used to Indian food again since getting sick last week.

This morning we went to an animal hospital called Animal Aid. It is a charitable organization run by a couple of Americans whose sole purpose is to take care of stray or abandoned animals in the region. They have neutered or spayed 6,000 dogs to-date and believe that there are 20,000 stray dogs in and around Udaipur. They also take care of wounded and sick donkeys, birds and cows. It was definitely a sight to see. They even had a little kitten that they were caring for, although the Vet wasn't too fond of cats.

After the animal hospital we went to a tourist trap called Shilpgram. It is an area built to show what a traditional Rajasthani village looks like. While it was interesting to see the teracotta products and learn how to make Sarees, it truly was a tourist trap and a bit of a waste of time. I did but some silk screen paintings in letters that were pretty cool. After that we went home.

My host family is destroying a concrete patio that they have on the side of the house in order to expand the yard. 3 men use pick axes and shovels to break the concrete and rocks below it and move them into piles. 2-3 women then come and pick up the dirt and rocks and place them in large flat bowls which they then place on their heads. The platters are then carried around to the back of the house. It was fascinating to see the whole process, but awkward too. Labor is so cheap that hiring 5-6 people for 3-4 days is a fraction of the cost of renting a backhoe, although the machine could have done the work in less than a day. They also plan on expanding the flower garden, which is really pretty nice. Lots of rose bushes that apparently bloom year round. I also found out that many Bollywood movies are filmed in the garden we visited previously, Sahelion Ki Bari. The flowers there were beautiful and apparently parks like that are relatively rare.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Udaipur and work

Hello everyone, sorry for the delay in postings!!! I am finally getting settled in with my host family and my job, and am realizing more free time.

I am staying in Udaipur, a city in Rajasthan. Rajasthan is a desert state bordering Pakistan in Northwest India. It is a very poor state but has an incredibly complex history and is considered by some to be one of the most romantic states in India. Every city has an old massive fort or two and many beautiful palaces. Any picture showing camel rides through the desert in India was taken in Rajasthan. Because of its location, Rajasthan has been conquered by Greeks, Mughals, Muslims and then finally the British. Because it is south of the Himalayas, Rajasthan was the easiest way for conquering armies to enter India and many battles were fought here. The influences of all of these cultures can be seen today and many Rajasthanies are very proud of their long military heritage. Honor and chivalry come up often in the books that I have read and places that I have visited.

Udaipur (population 400,000) was founded in 1568 by Maharaja Udai Singh after the previous capital at Chittorgarh had been destroyed for the third time. He dammed a river to create 3 large lakes and built his palace and the city on a hill overlooking these lakes. Udaipur is also surrounded by the mountains of the Arivali range, making it easier to defend.

The old part of town is almost completely dedicated to tourism these days with many shops, museums and restaurants. I lived in a hotel in the old city for the first week I was here and was able to tour much of the city. There are 11 people in my program, all working for various NGOs or non-profit groups around town. During that first week, we spent most of our time getting acclimated to India, learning Hindi, experiencing some cultural events and listening to lecturers from the non-profits. After the first week, I moved in with a host family and started going to work.

My host family has been great. I am living in a guest house run by a retired Air Force Wing Commander and his wife. They provide me with a room and 3 meals daily, and have been very helpful when I have gotten sick (twice so far). They have a daughter who is 27 years old and has two sons, one who is 4 and another who is 8. Her husband is in the Army and is stationed in Pune, but they all were visiting for the first week that I was here. My host parents also have a son who is 31 and a captain in the Indian army. He was also here for a week but has recently left to lead 1,000 infantry men in Kashmir, the disputed territory in the North of India. My room is simple, but the water is safe to drink and the food is excellent, which are the key necessities.

I am working for a women-owned and operated collective called Sadhna that makes Indian textile products. Feel free to check out the website at http://www.sadhna.org/. My job for this summer is to market their products to overseas retailers. The quality of the goods is fantastic but I have been performing a market analysis to determine which colors and sizes would be more appropriate for the U.S. and European markets. Some of the bedsheets and quilts are too small for American beds. They also have had very little experience dealing with foreign businesses so I will act as their marketing liaison while I am here. It is not 100% the experience that I was expecting but I am learning a lot about both textiles and marketing in general. All of the goods sold by Sadhna are created by mostly uneducated and all very poor women from the urban slums and rural villages around Udaipur. The organization trains these women in handicraft work and then provides them with orders for products. Sadhna is a member of the Fair Trade Federation, so I have been initially targeting Fair Trade stores as potential customers. Through the work of Sadhna, 400 women now have steady incomes and substantially increased self confidence. This has encouraged many women to participate in their local governments and has improved their quality of life substantially. Please take a look at the website and let me know your thoughts!!! I would be happy to bring some products back to the states if anyone is interested.

We work 6 days a week, from 10 AM to 6 PM. Sundays have so far been used to travel and act like tourists. After work, I often hang out with the other interns in the program. One of the most interesting palaces we have seen so far is called Sajjan Garh or Monsoon Palace. It is a decaying building built on the top of a mountain overlooking the city. The views were incredible. We have also spent some time checking out parks and the restaurants with the best views. In some of the pictures I will post soon you can see the Lake Palace, a large white building in the middle of Lake Pichola, the largest lake in Udaipur. I have not yet visited but it is a 5 star hotel and costs about $500 per night. We plan to visit the palace for tea one afternoon, but even that is very expensive. Although beautiful, in many ways it is just a large tourist trap. The James Bond movie Octopussy was filmed in and around Udaipur and the Lake Palace is featured prominently. There is also a large City Palace on the shore of which I have lots of pictures but have not yet visited. Also in the pictures is a park that we visited called Saheliyon-Ki-Bari. Lots of flowers and fountains and a good place to relax in the middle of the city.

Hope that everyone is doing well!

-Olen

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Finally in India

Hello everyone!

My flight on Wednesday to Newark was cancelled so I instead left for India on Thursday. The non-stop flight from Newark to Delhi was wonderful, I highly recommend it for anyone taking the trip.

Delhi is simply unbelievable. It is an ancient ancient city (apparently it has been destroyed and rebuilt about 8 times, always in slightly different places). Now, it is trying to become part of the modern world and is experiencing some growing pains. However, Delhi has many remarkable historical and modern sites. I went to one of the largest Mosques in India today, as well as the oldest Mosque, both of which are very beautiful. The intricate designs that were etched into cream and red marble (or some other stone) are exquisite, even though the one mosque was almost 1000 years old. Humalyan's tomb was the precursor to the Taj Mahal and this can be seen in the design and stone work. It was amazing. They are doing a very impressive job renovating this and other sites, as these have been included in the UNESCO Heritage sites program. Delhi also has amazing flowers and they are EVERYWHERE, in the medians, on houses, in the tourist areas, and all looked healthy and very colorful.

The roads in Delhi are very narrow and curvy with everything from pedestrians, rickshaws (lots of these, a cross between a 3 wheeled motorcycle and a van, carry people and sometimes products), buses, cows, bicycles, trucks, and cars, all going in every direction. While there is some semblance of order, you still run into people going the wrong direction every few kms or so. The government is attempting to alleviate some of the congestion by creating "flyovers". These are overpasses, similar to freeways, that go over very bad intersections. The catch is that there is no actual highway, these flyovers only last for a km or so then go back to earth and traffic gets messed up again. I was more tense after riding in a car today then I have been in months!!!

The hotel in which I am staying is incredible. One key perk is that they have cars available night and day. The first night I was here I visited the call center at 1 AM. I was able to get there and back easily and safely. I also was able to get a personal car and driver for all day today, which was AWESOME! I don't think that I would have been able to see nearly as much as I did had I not had cold fresh water all day, air conditioning, and someone who knew where everything was and was happy to take me there. I think that managing the public transportation in this city would have been difficult. Auto-rickshaws are commonly available everywhere, but I don't quite trust those vehicles yet!

Next post once I get to Udaipur and find out more about what I will be doing for the rest of the summer.

-Olen

Monday, May 22, 2006

Welcome

This Blog will be used to chronicle my internship in India this summer. No posts yet as I am still getting ready to leave.