Monday, November 23, 2009

The Top of the World, or Pune at least

This week I climbed Parvati Hill to visit the temple and the Peshwa Museum. The steps are very steep, and a real workout. Sadly, no photos were allowed inside the museum, and postcards are not available for sale on Sundays. The museum was fascinating, located in the old mansion of the Peshwas, the ruling family of Pune. They built the palace of Shaniwar Wada which I visited earlier. The museum had some beautiful idols on display, rifles and swords, jewelry, and daily use items like serving spoons and betel nut cutters. I tried a temper tantrum when the power went out, but it was really only to make my friend Yogesh laugh. The power goes out almost every day here, but it's only a problem when I want to take a bath and I can't heat the water. Even so, it's not usually out for long.

Parvati is the goddess of music and learning. I went into the temple complex just as the sun was setting for some wonderful photos. The temple is a heritage site built on the highest point in the city and overlooks all of Pune. I didn't take any photos of the city specifically because it was very hazy on that day. You can climb the walls of the complex, but you need to be careful because there are no railings. You'll have to be patient with my photos if they look a little similar. I couldn't decide whether I was taking photos of the temple or the sunset.

I'm posting some photos of my wedding dress... just kidding!! (That one's for EC!) One of my flatmates showed me her bridal lengha from when she was supposed to get married, and then had me try it on. So fun! The skirt and dupatta together are very heavy because of all the beautiful beadwork. Both of my flatmates are moving, so it will be very different around here starting next month.

Here I've also included a photo of the Mula-Mutha River. In India the distinction between urban and rural isn't quite as sharp, so I look out my window and see women harvesting crops, this week men were catching pigs in the lot behind the neighbourhood autorickshaw stand, and buffalo roam the university campus and graze along the river running through the middle of the city. (Haven't seen deer or antelope yet, sorry.) I also tried to capture something else that appears all the time: people playing cricket. You can probably find people playing cricket in other photos on my blog too!

As a side note, I also realized that my trip to Kashid last week also marked the occasion of my third ocean. Now I've been in the Atlantic (both the North American and the European shores), the Pacific, and the Indian Oceans.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sun, Sand and the Arabian Sea

This weekend some friends who ride with the Big Wheels Motoring Club invited me to the Konkan Coast. So I grabbed a helmet, packed my swimsuit, and got up at six thirty in the morning to get ready to meet. Then we waited for a while until the sleepyheads made it to the meeting point.

Finally on the road, with amazing views riding through the Maharashtrian ghats, on the back of Yogesh's bike. (Thanks to Nipun for this photo!) I didn't take nearly as many photos as I wanted, but it's a little difficult to do that on a motorcycle. At the halfway point I moved to the car since the roads were so bad, I'm an inexperienced pillion rider, and apparently riding is a real full-body workout.

In Kashid we hit the beach just after 5pm. I swam in the Arabian Sea!! The water was actually perfect: clean, warm, and nice waves for swimming. The beach was also very quiet. Sadly the sun went down too soon. I could have spent at least another hour in the water, although I think I made everyone a little nervous swimming out so far. In India, appropriate swimwear for women is shorts and a tshirt, so my bikini only played a supporting role.

Then back to the hotel to eat, drink, and relax. We spent most of our time on the balcony, but I did lay around in a hammock for a while. Jealous yet?

In the morning I took some photos and picked up some stones and shells on the beach. I also chased these tiny crabs for a while. They dig holes in the sand, are really fast, and blend in with the sand perfectly. I only spotted them when they ran.

Early afternoon we headed back. We took some better roads, so it was much more enjoyable in that sense. On the other hand, about halfway it started pouring rain, and didn't let up through the rest of the ride. A cyclone off the coast was responsible for the heavy rains in Pune this past week as well. By the time I got home I was soaking wet, cold, and exhausted because I also rode past my endurance ability. Even so, biking is terrific fun, even if it's only as a passenger!

I'll post photos for the Big Wheels Motoring crowd on Facebook as soon as I can.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Shaniwar Wada

I've been busy this month so far! I started by going to a friend's family party, where I was again told that it's not safe to take an autorickshaw home late at night. Sometimes I wonder whether all these cautions are to keep me safe, or to keep me from being too free. I also realized that I have learned a lot during my two months here, and should probably write two or three papers. It's not so easy to go sit in the library to write for 8 hours like I do at home though! My finances were sorted out after about two months of work to get a bank account here. Finally, I was introduced to the Royal Enfield.

This week I visited Shaniwar Wada, the major landmark of Pune, with a university friend Kranti. This was a palace built by the Peshwars, the rulers of the capital of the Maratha Empire, in the eighteenth century. Hundreds of people lived in the palace and city within the walls. Unfortunately it all burned down. Now only the foundations of the walls and some fountains remain. There are a few signs around the grounds which give information on who lived in the rooms, and where the altar was kept, but it would be really nice to have a tour from a historian. I kept wondering where they cooked, where they kept their bathrooms, and where they threw their garbage.

Sadly, it was overcast when I visited so the light was not very good for photos. I'll have to visit another time. Right now it is winter in India, which means that it is very dry, and the hills and fields around my flat have turned brown. Apparently it also gets "cold" but I think that means something different than it does in Canada! But in Pune, it has rained the past two days! I think my circadian rhythms apply to seasons as well.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Gujarat Part IV: Bhuj and Ahmedabad, The Journey Concludes

After an overnight bus, I arrived in Bhuj at 5am, and checked into a hotel for a few hours sleep in a bed. In Bhuj my primary goal was shopping!!! Bhuj is in the Kutch region, famous for textile work, so I was looking for embroidery and mirror work, Gujarati tie dye work, and jhumka, or jewelry in both silver and beadwork. This bag is an abstract design, with the Meshwar style of embroidery. I watched some artisans making silver jewelry, and had a personal exhibition of antique gold jewelry. I can safely say that I was successful in shopping. I spent more than one third of my travel budget in Bhuj, and here I stayed in one of the cheapest hotels (and nicest) all week.

I also visited the palace complex that was badly damaged in the earthquake that devastated Bhuj in 2001. Only a few of the latticework window carvings survived, and some buildings were damaged beyond repair. The ballroom of the Prag Mahal is the creepiest place I have ever been, with dusty broken chandeliers and crumbling taxidermy. I also had a sudden urge to call people "chap" and and to make toasts to Empire after coming upon a photo in the dining room, of an Indian gent wearing a pith helmet and standing with a dead lion. In the Bhuj bus stand I was also amused and delighted when an old man said to me in Hindi: "Hey Whitey."

In Ahmedabad I spent some time trying to find a hotel with a room, and even more time trying to find a bus to Pune. I was offered a non-AC bus for Rs 1000 which is a ridiculous price--that's more than the normal price for an AC sleeper bus! I managed to get the last seat on the state transit bus, which was also non-AC and non-express, but had a fixed price which was much more reasonable.

I visited one of the old city gates, and the Teen Darwaja. The triple gateway once led to the Royal Square, and is now surrounded by an immense street bazaar! I bought a little costume jewelry, including some glass and metal bangles, and some anklets. These women were sitting just outside the courtyard of a temple, opening lotus buds to sell for puja. Bhadra Fort was underwhelming.

Ahmedabad was founded as a Muslim city in the sixteenth century, and has many historical mosques, many of which were unfortunately damaged in the 2001 earthquake. I visited Rani Sipri's mosque--notice how the carving in each section is unique--and Sidi Sayeed's mosque, with a beautiful lattice of a tree. Sadly, I didn't manage to visit any of the mosques with "shaking minarets."

Jami Masjid was very striking, and I arrived just before the 5pm prayer. In Gujarat hearing the call to prayer brought good memories, of my time in Istanbul, Turkey.

After eighteen hours on the bus, a young girl sleeping on my lap, gorgeous views of the Maharashtrian hills, and some excellent practice on Hindi, I arrived in Pune. I'm pleased to say that I am nearly as fit for this crazy type of travel as I was in Europe. Since then I've gained a knee injury from running, which sometimes causes problems, but otherwise I think I could keep up with myself of 5 years ago. This week also made me realize how much I love travelling; I probably enjoy sitting on the bus and going somewhere almost as much as I enjoy seeing the sites.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Gujarat III: Junagadh, History Heaven

I visited Uparkot Fort, which was originally built around 300 BCE, but extended many times since. It's said that it was once abandoned for three centuries. This photo is the Kadanal gun, which was probably left in Diu, a Portuguese settlement, in the sixteenth century. I wandered around the fort, which has amazing views of Girnar Hill, another major pilgrimage site. I didn't visit the hill because I'd climbed enough stairs for a long time... and this site had 10,000!!

Inside the walled city I also visited two stepwells; Adi Chadi, which is cut deep into the side of the cliffs, and Navaghan Kuva, which has steps circling the inner well, with windows cut into the stone. Both are just too large to capture in a photo. Gujarat is a dry state: it is both drought prone, and drinking alcohol is not allowed. I'm finding it a little difficult to get used to the dry winter here; even the driest summer in Canada is more humid.

Next I visited the Buddhist caves, built around the second century CE. Inside the caves several pillars with carvings supported the roof, and niches were cut into the walls.

The Jama Masjid is a mosque built from a Hindu temple, and the sun looked lovely shining between the columns inside. With some care for my head (thinking of Palitana) I climbed the stairs to the roof for more views of Girnar Hill.

From the fort I walked toward Girnar Hill to visit a huge boulder with Ashokan edicts cut into it in the Pali language. This stone was first carved in 250 BCE by Emperor Ashoka, the central leader of the Mauryan period, who was responsible for the peak of Buddhism in India when he converted.

Finally, I visited the gorgeous Mahabat Maqbara, and drew an increasing number of young Muslim boys who wanted their photos taken. This mosque was built in the Indo-Islamic style in the mid nineteenth century. I declined to climb a broken ladder to the roof of the mosque, but I did climb one of the four minarets with spiral staircases. At the top, I could actually feel the minaret sway! I also had a great view of the functioning mosque beside Mahabat Maqbara, and the lot behind the mosque, where Muslim men were playing cricket wearing this traditional dress.

At the bottom again, I met a French couple travelling, and so spoke to the first white people since arriving in India. It was interesting to hear their experience of having arrived only a week earlier; they were dismayed by the "bucket bath" and curious about how I managed, travelling alone as a white woman. I can honestly say I've had only the most minor of problems in this sense. While I'll always draw attention for being foreign (and travelling alone), I've also settled into a different culture of living. However, I can remember the steep learning curve too. My strategy has generally been to avoid trying to understand, and just trying to accept... except for Hindi; I'd really like to understand that better!