Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ranthanbhone Tiger Reserve, Day 15

Today was the day we had been looking forward to for most of the trip. Ned and I both wanted to take this safari. I was hoping to get some good photos of the animals, and if we were really lucky, we would see a Bengal Tiger.
A century ago there were over 40,000 tigers in India. Their numbers have dwindled to a mere 1400. None of the reasons for this are good. Urbanization has taken it's toll as the local villagers try to protect their cattle. Poaching may be the largest reason. There is money to be made in the skins, bones, and other body parts of the tiger and used in traditional Chinese medicine. These are smuggled out mostly to China and there does not seem to be a way to stop it. While the Indian government has been trying to do something about it, the Chinese government has no restrictions.

One of the larger tiger sanctuaries in India is the Rathanbhone Tiger Reserve in Sawai Madopur. This area was once the hunting preserves of the Maharaja's of Jaipur. It is now a protected area that houses about 30 species of animals and lots of birds, plants, and reptiles. The reserve is divided out into sections and each jeep is assigned a specific sections for that trip. The guides are very knowledgeable. There isn't any coordination between the vehicles. I would have thought they would all have walkie talkies or something, but they don't. I know there is no cell phone signal in the park but do not know if 2 way radio's would work or not. It could be they are too expensive.

We had scheduled 2 safari's... one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The morning trip was in a 6 passenger open jeep and the afternoon in a 16 passenger open panter (we couldn't get a jeep for the afternoon even booking more than a month in advance). The jeep picked us up about 6:45 a.m, and armed with blankets (it was chilly), a sandwich, and water,  we were off on our adventure. We saw monkeys and tons of birds, sambar deer and spotted deer. We saw tiger tracks but alas no tiger. Turns out we missed the tiger by about 3 minutes. Bummer. The jeeps that came behind us saw one of the tigers. Oh well. We enjoyed the wildlife we saw anyway. Ned was enthralled with the birds... kingfishers, an owl, herons, pond egrets, parakeets, cormorants, and a bunch more who's names I can no longer remember. We were dropped backed off at our temporary digs for a late breakfast. We had a couple of hours to kill before we headed out for out next try.

We were a bit stiff from sitting in the jeep for several hours so we decided to take a walk toward one of the villages we had passed coming in. I had seen a sign for a Women's Cooperative and I wanted to check it out. The Indian government is trying to keep alive some of the local crafts and provide a way for women to earn money. They stay at the cooperative during the day with their young children and make lovely items which they sell. They make quilts, scarves, tablecloths, clothing, etc. I bought a gorgeous hand dyed silk scarf and an embroidered cotton one with the little mirrors sewn in and dangles on the edges. I also bought a nice cotton tunic that I am hoping my daughter can wear before she gets too large. It was a lovely walk and I got to take some photos of the local women before we headed back for a late lunch.

The panter came to get us and unfortunately, we were the last pickup and had to squeeze into the back. Turns out that might have been a good thing as the trail we were assigned was very rough and bumpy. I was wedged in tightly! This was a wild ride. We drove up and down rocky slopes and were rewarded with.... a flat tire!  Yep, really. Not everyone can say they got a flat tire on a safari. We piled out and they changed the tire. I was hoping this would be good luck. We saw lots more birds, deer, monkeys, and a sloth bear... which turns out to be rarer than the tigers.... but no tiger. The trail was so bumpy that I really had a hard time taking pictures... unless we stopped... which wasn't very often. I think our driver wanted to get home. We had a great time anyway... there is always next time.

We were driving back to Jaipur after collecting our stuff. The hotel was terrific and sent us off with.... peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! Seriously, we loved the place and would go back in a heartbeat. The staff was great... and I was getting use to Indian food.

Driving during the day in India is an experience... driving at night has no words to describe it. We made it back without incident. We had an early morning flight out to Delhi so we decided to stay in a hotel by the airport. We agreed to a fairly bare bones hotel since we were getting in late and leaving early. On the surface the place looked decent... very much like some of the business only hotels you find by airports in Europe... Oy!. Did I mention it was late? We got up to the room and noticed some empty water bottles and obviously used glasses in the room. There was a separate area that had a small refrigerator, hot plate and sink... the sink was wet. The floor was very dusty and looked like it had not been cleaned recently. I couldn't be sure the sheets were clean but I did check for bugs.... we were very tired. The bathroom was OK. I did make a complaint to our tour guide the next day.

Over all it was a very nice day.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Day 14, Drive to Sawai Madopur and Rathanbone Tiger Reserve

Some things work out for the best. I am happy we were able to drive to Sawai Madopur rather than take the train.... we didn't have to get up so early in the morning either. As usual, the drive was colorful and interesting. We picked up some snacks before we left and some bread for sandwiches so we didn't have to chance the food along the way. Driving is always an exciting sport and this excursion was no different. Ned was very much looking forward to the tiger safari, as was I. We were going to sleep in a tent tonight.... OK.... not your usual camping tent, but a rather luxurious one, nicer than some of the hotels we stayed in!
 As usual, color was everywhere... even on the delivery trucks.

After an uneventful, but not calm drive we arrived at Khem Villas where we were greeted with hot towels, a cool drink and a bindi. Khem Villas are associated with the Rathanbore Tiger Reserve. They own 22 acres of land and have turned the area into a beautiful restful spot and spa if you wanted to indulge. They are a working farm and most of what they serve, they grow themselves. It is strictly vegetarian. We arrived in time for a late lunch. Dinner was not till at least 8:00 so we got a chance to stroll around the grounds and watch the birds on the little lake. There were tons of butterflies along the path and I was able to snap a few of them and a huge grasshopper who was on the path to our tent. Since it is winter there, the days are short and it was starting to get dark. The water lilies were starting to close up. We rested for a bit then joined the other guests around a large fire pit and had a drink.... well Ned did, I had sweet lime juice. We met a lovely British couple who now resided in Australia and asked them to join us for dinner. It was a lovely and restful evening. A really nice break in the trip. The food was superb. Early to bed as the jeep was coming to pick us up at 6:30 a.m.

Jaipur, Day 13

Today was going to be a relatively easy day. We had a planned excursion to Amer Fort and then an "elephant safari" and lunch at an elephant sanctuary. I saw some shops not far from our hotel that I wanted to check out and then a restful evening.

Amer fort is huge and beautiful. They have been doing lots of restoration work and it shows. Many of the designs on the walls can be seen in traditional Indian crafts. Check the gallery for lots of photos.
There are 2 ways to get into the fort.. drive or a short trip atop an elephant. The elephant rides to the fort have become something of a controversy, with animal rights activists trying to call a halt to it and those that realize that elephants are expensive to feed and keep. The compromise so far is that the elephants only "work" in the mornings when it is relatively cool. We did not take the elephant ride as I had something else planned for later in the day. We drove up. The views were breathtakingly beautiful as the mist cleared up. The palace itself is huge and gorgeous, especially with a lot of the restoration being done. We spent the morning enjoying the art work.
Our afternoon activity was to take place at an elephant sanctuary. They are trying to figure out what to do with retiring elephants. They are expensive to keep. Our car/driver was suppose to take us to Der Amer which is about a 15 minute ride from Amer Fort, however, mid ride we ran into local road construction and the way was blocked by a huge pile of sand. Plan B... someone sent a jeep for us. The elephants from Amer Fort are housed in this area and many passed us on the way... some got there before we did!

We fed our next mode of transportation some bananas and then took a 45 minute elephant ride in the local "forest". It was actually quite pleasant and surprisingly comfortable. We then had a lovely lunch under a tent. I felt like royalty... true we paid through the nose for the pleasure but it was for a good cause.
What was left of the afternoon was spent browsing the local shops. We bargained for some inexpensive shawls to give as gifts. We were getting pretty good at bargaining by now. Dinner back at the hotel and an early night.

While I enjoy seeing all the temples, forts, and palaces, what really interests me are the people and the scenery. I really enjoyed all the drives we took and the chance to take photos of life. India is country of so many different cultures intermingled. One of the reasons for this trip was because I was interested in colors. India IS a riot of color. There is nothing drab about it. From the poorest to the richest, they dress in bright colors.... no drab blacks, browns, and beiges for them. Reds, yellows, oranges, greens, and blues are all around. The women wrap themselves in it.. from simple sari's to the most embellished ones. It is really a treat for the eyes. Even the turbans the men wear are colorful. One of the things I did notice was the subtle difference in color  and dress from region to region. One area I would see more yellow and orange, another area more red and orange. Rajasthan was more colorful than Gujarat or Maharashtra. I saw more blues and greens there. I even saw some purples but that does not seem to be a very popular color. Out in the villages the women wore long skirts and tops with a huge shawl wrapped around them. The sad part in all of this is that because of all the western media that now flows into India, the younger generation wants to wear jeans, not the beautiful outfits of their mothers and grandmothers. They do however wear colorful tops to go with the jeans. Jeans are nowhere near as comfortable as the traditional Indian pants. Maybe they will get over this fad.

Even the goats are interesting

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jaipur, Day 12

Travel in India is always an adventure no matter what your means of transportation. As part of our experience I had booked several train journeys including one overnight in a sleeper car.. more on that later. Train travel is pretty cheap and an efficient means of getting around. India has been modernizing their system and I thought it would save us some time and we would enjoy the more relaxing aspect of it. For today we had to get up at the crack of dawn to be at the train station for our 3 hour trip to Jaipur. It was still dark out when we arrived and the first trick was to find a porter to help us with our baggage. You agree on a price beforehand. Unfortunately, I did not take any photos of this.. too early in the morning and my hands were full! The porters carry the bags on their heads... sometimes 2 piled up... ours was a bit brighter and decided to use the handle with wheels so he only carried one on his head. Next was negotiating a path to the train... you have to step over and around a zillion sleeping bodies. It has also been raining the night before and I think many had sought refuge in the station from the rain.... although I was told it was always like this. On the side of the cars is a list of passengers with reserved seats and their seat numbers. One would think this would negate the necessity for the mad dash when the doors opened. NOPE, think again. One could get crushed in the rush up the steps. Phew, we made it and the porter safely stowed our bags on the top shelf. We paid him and settled in for the ride. This was not one of the new trains but it wasn't one of the old ones either. Other than the cracked windows here and there, it was acceptable. They serve breakfast.. other than tea with boiling hot water we did not eat the food. We had our boxed breakfast from the hotel. We had been very careful about eating food outside of the hotel restaurants and while all the street food we passed looked yummy, we decided to play it safe and not indulge. The trip was uneventful and we arrived safely in Jaipur late morning. There are no porters to unload the luggage so poor Ned had to schlep the heavy suitcases which were getting heavier by the day! We were going to be met by our car/driver and driven to our hotel to check in. Here is where I need to put in a plug for our other tour company... TGS Tours and Nikhil Pandit. He arranged our car transportation starting in Ahmedabad and would handle most of it till we arrived in Delhi. We had excellent guides where we needed them. We decided we did not need a guide for our 2 days in Jaipur and Ned's Mumbai office arranged for a car/driver for us.... snafu... but we didn't find that out till later. In the meantime, Nikhil had been over to my website and blog and saw that I was into textiles so arranged for us to go visit a company that did hand block printing. I had spoken to the owner and set up an appointment for that afternoon.

Jaipur is known as the Pink city because most of the construction was out of pink sandstone. It is a lovely color. After checking in to our hotel and having some lunch, we headed out. Turns out our driver was not the brightest bulb in the box and when we tried to explain where we wanted to go, there was a disconnect at some point. We were ultimately going out to a suburb of Jaipur called Sanganer which is by the airport, but our first stop was to be at the offices of TGS travel in town to settle our bill. Up till this point (although they had our credit card info) they had not processed the payment. They needed us to sign. No big deal. We told the driver we wanted to go TGS travel and see Nikhil Pandit.... somehow he missed part of the conversation and heard only Nikhil and Sanganer. Turns out he knew A Nikhil in Sanganer who ran an export business.... we were not in the right place.... but lucky for us, Rangotri, the block printing place was close by. No harm done. We got a tour from soup to nuts. We saw how the original designs were turned into carved blocks for printing, then saw how they sequenced the printing. This is an art form. Everything has to line up perfectly! The fabrics go through several steps to get all the colors on for the complete design. They are then dried and put in an acid bath and rinsed several times and dried again. Then they go for ironing. The fabric is then checked for accuracy. They do 5 meter runs at a time. Next the fabric is sent out for sewing into what its final form will be and then returned and checked again for workmanship. It then goes to wherever. Mr. Joshi, the company's owner has just set up a cooperative with other block printers and is building a new factory... one that will be more ecologically and worker friendly. They DO NOT use child laborers here. They are setting up a system to recycle to water from the acid bath so it can be reused. The workspaces will be well lit, etc. They are really making an effort here. When I asked about protection when using chemical dyes, I got a blank look... oh well.. it's still progress. It was very gracious of them to allow us to visit during work hours. This firm is a wholesaler and now ships worldwide. He just had an exhibition in Paris and his products apparently sold like gangbusters. I wish him and his new venture much success. Back to finding the right Nikhil's office. Everyone in India has a cell phone. We put the driver and Nikhil in touch and instructions were given. We found the office and paid up. Nikhil then invited us to his club for drinks later.

We spent the rest of the afternoon seeing the sights and driving around. This city was also spiffing up for the upcoming Nuptials in a few days. The streets were alive with people and color.

City Palace, Jaipur

Now comes the possible disaster in the trip. Ned's office was supposed to be booking our train reservations. Unbeknownst to me, I could have (and should have) done them myself... live and learn. Turns out they sat on them for a week before finally ordering them. This being Diwali holiday time, and everyone off for vacation, everything books up quickly. Our next stop was in Sawai Madopur at the Rathanbone Tiger reserve for a mini safari. We were going by train from Jaipur and then on to Delhi on the night train. Because of the delay in ordering tickets, Ned got a confirmed seat on the first leg and I was waitlisted. On the night train from Sawai Madopur to Delhi, we were both waitlisted. We were ASSURED of seats and would know 2 days in advance. In this case 2 days for the first trip was our first day in Jaipur. When we called the booking agent to check we were now told.... oh, they don't release the waitlisted seats till 4 hours before train time!!!!! This was not my idea of fun. Nikhil to the rescue!!! He suggested we drive to Sawai Madopur from Jaipur and back and fly from Jaipur to Delhi. Sounded like a plan to us. We got on the computer to book the tickets to fly and had some issues with connectivity. By the time it went through the price went up. Seems like the Indian airlines can change prices at will without any notification. The fare doubled in price in a matter of a few minutes. We grabbed the tickets at that point. When we met later with Nikhil at his lovely club, we asked him to set up the rest of it, including a hotel for our short nights stay before flying out. Done.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

In the midst of joy, there is sadness

Sammy: June 14, 1993 - November 27, 2010

As many of you know, Sammy, my Tonkinese kitty has been in failing health. He was diagnosed with Chronic Renal Failure. He managed to rally once last March, but it seems he did not have another life tucked in there. We had to put him down this morning. He had stopped eating several days ago, and had developed several other problems. It was time. He wasn't really well when we left for India and I think he was just waiting for us to return to say goodbye. He was the most loving cat I have ever known. He was a friend and companion to me for 17 years and helped to get me through some really rough times. I will miss him terribly. Needless to say, I have been a mess of tears all day.

Jodhpur, Day 11

We arrived at hotel in time for dinner ( I might mention that dinner is not before 7:30 anywhere) and decided we needed a change of pace from the buffet which was the usual setup in most hotels. The hotel had a Chinese restaurant so we decided we would try it. I was hoping for less spicy (read less hot) food. Ned and I each ordered a dish and I specifically asked for mine to be mild. Not to be. Ned got a lovely fish dish that was wonderful that we shared.... portions are huge anyway so one would have been enough. I do have to say that the staff in the restaurant was willing to give me something else.

All through the trip so far we had unseasonable weather. It was hotter and more humid than normal for this time of year and it rained almost everywhere we went. The skies were hazy and overcast. The air has a lot of dust particulate and in some places the pollution does nothing for the air quality. This particular morning was no different and I was sort of disappointed. I was hoping to get some good photos but it wasn't till later in the day that the skies cleared up. I did the best I could.

Jodhpur is also known as the Blue City. You can see why in this photo. Many of the houses are painted blue. Most of these are owned by the Brahmin caste members. It really is a beautiful view.... add a windmill and it reminds me of Mykonos with their white houses and blue shutters. 

Our first stop was the royal crematorium and the memorial cenotaph for Maharaja Jaswant Singh II which was built in 1899. Both are built of beautiful white marble with intricate lattice work. This crematorium is ONLY used by the royal family. It sits on a lovely lake which is a necessity as part of the Hindu tradition of purification. Ned is into birds so we have been learning about the local species as we go along. Women seem to be the groundskeepers and musicians play using traditional instruments. If  I can figure out how, I will set up an audio link. I recorded some of it.

Our next stop was Mehrangarth Fort with its beautiful palace. There has been extensive restoration work done here and you can see the gorgeous wall paintings and textiles. The museum here has a nice collection of old carriages and cradles used by the Maharani's. The opulence is jaw dropping. We got a great demonstration on turban wrapping and if I can put it in a slide show to go fast it will be great. There were musicians playing here as well. They were preparing for the marriage of the Kings daughter next week to a prince of Jaipur and everything is being spiffied up.

The new palace, Umaid Bhawan, was built by Maharaja Ummaid Singh ji who ruled from 1911-1947. It took 3000 people 15 years to complete. The region was suffering from economic hardships and draught conditions, so the Maharaja decided to find employment for the locals. Too bad it was so misty this morning.

One of the things that Rajasthan is noted for is their miniature paintings on silk and rice paper. They are done with a very fine brush (usually one bristle) using natural dye pigments. I had bought similar ones in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul several years ago and decided to add to my collection. One is fairly recent done on silk and the other is quite old done on rice paper. We got to watch a demonstration. It can take an artist weeks to make one of these depending on the detail. They use real gold and grind their own pigments. This seems to be an art form for much of Asia as you see this technique even in the small glass perfume bottles from China. Obviously, there are decidedly different styles for each region.

Our next adventure was about to take place at the warehouse of one of the Maharani art exporters. Lets say we went a bit overboard at all the textiles. I bought Pashmina shawls, bed throws, antique silk quilts, quilts done by the gypsy women, and an antique wall hanging that was made with gold threads... they weighed the thing to decide the cost. I managed to spend 2 hours in the place and Ned was patient. We hadn't even yet gotten to the special visits we were making to the villages beyond.
India is trying to keep alive its crafts and so helps to subsidize these artisans. Many of them have formed cooperatives. They are off the beaten track so you have to know to ask to go. They live in huts and still farm their land.

The first place we visited made pottery. Wish we could have gotten a large piece but they are heavy. I settled on a small vase and a painted Ganesh. They do the pottery on a hand wheel that they spin. No foot petal. We had a fantastic demonstration...he made it look easy.

Next place were the weavers where we ordered 2 Dhurrie runners for our hallway. They are doing it up in the colors I chose and will ship it in 2 months. I think there are about 25 families as part of this cooperative. They even have a website! The head of this group spoke about 16 languages. Don't let looks deceive! Their huts were beautifully decorated. The water buffalos and cows resided outside the main walls.

Next stop was to the Bishnoi villages. The Bishnoi may be the original world ecologists and environmentalists. They have very firm ideas about the treatment of animals and vegetation. They will not cut down trees and will not harm or kill an animal. They have given their lives to protect both. They are an agrarian society and vegetarian. The women are gorgeous in their very bright sari's and jewelry. They are very welcoming to strangers... we arrived as they were about to eat dinner.... which was being cooked using traditional fuel.. dried cow dung. Don't turn up your noses so fast! This does not smell like you would imagine. It actually has a sweet smell and is quite pleasant. I liked it... sort of like the smell of a camp fire. A daughter was back visiting her family as she had just given birth to a new baby and they will reside with mother for at least a month before going back to her husbands family. The baby was in a basket hanging on a tree and covered with a a bit of silk to keep out any flying insects. They offered us dinner! We did not want to impose and we did not want to insult them, so we had a small sampling. The food was very good and fresh, but to me very spicy. Ned loved it. They grow and grind their own spices fresh... they wouldn't dream of buying them already ground up. Their huts are whitewashed and painted with designs. Everything was clean. The animals were kept outside the courtyard area.

Back to the hotel for us.. we had a wonderful day. I am sorry I did not plan for more time in Jodhpur.  I will return there one day. Our next adventure is a train ride in the morning to Jaipur. We had to be up at the crack of dawn for a 6:00 a.m. train. We asked the hotel for a boxed breakfast to go.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sound Bites: Religion and Caste

While India is a secular republic, most of its citizenship practice some form of religion. 80% are practicing Hindu's, 13% make up the Muslim population, Christians about 2.5%, Sikh's about 2%, Jain's 0.5%, and Buddhist's 0.7%. The Muslim population is the 2nd largest in the world after Indonesia. Zoroastrians and Jews are numbered in the thousands and are tiny minorities. India has always had a religious tolerance policy and for the most part everyone seems to get along. You cannot walk or drive anywhere without spying a temple or mosque. The Hindu pantheon has thousands of deities to which small shrines are dedicated. Priests have full time and hereditary jobs of ministering to the many gods and goddesses. If they drove better they might not need so many!

The caste system in India is a hot political point. It goes way back. There are 4 main groups: Brahmins (warriors, merchants, and priests), Kshatryas (rulers, nobles, and warriors), Vaishyas (bankers and buisnessmen), Shudras (artisans and laborers) , and the untouchables, now called Dalits. It is predominantly a Hindu practice.  One's last name usually signifies what region you come from and what caste you are from. Movement out is difficult. One way around is to convert to another religion such as Buddhism, or as someone suggested (sorry, I didn't pay enough attention to catch his name).... change your name! While caste barriers have mostly broken down in the large cities, they still persist in the rural areas of the country where 72% of the population resides. The barriers mostly refer to job opportunities, education, and politics. They are still very much seen in the social fabric of India.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Day 10 Drive to Jodhpur via Ranakpur and Kumbhalgarth

Today we drive to Jodhpur via a stop at the fort at Kumbhalgarth and the Jain temple in Ranakpur.  The drive through the country side  to get there was a feast for the eyes. We shared the road with herders and their flocks of cows, water buffalo, goats, and sheep. We passed water buffalo taking a cool dip in the river and farmers irrigating their fields using the old Persian water wheel and oxen to draw the water up from the cisterns.

First stop is the Fort at Kumbhalgarth. It was built between 1443 and 1458.  It is still inhabited by descendants of the old villages that were within the protection of the walls. There are several temples within the complex mostly dedicated to Lord Shiva. The Lingam stone is one of the representations of the Hindu deity Shiva. The Lingam is said to be a symbol the male creative energy or phallus.

Lingam stone representing Lord Shiva

Next stop is the marble Jain Temple in Ranakpur. Over 1444 marble pillars, carved in exquisite detail, support the temple. The pillars are all differently carved and no two pillars are the same. It is believed to have been constructed in the late 14th to early 15th centuries.
Jain temple in Ranakpur

The rest of the day was spent in the drive to Jodhpur.... my favorite of all the cities we visited.

Addendum to Days 6 and 7

I added some stuff to the post on November 24th regarding 2nd day in Ahmedabad. We visited the Calico Museum. Re-read post for the details. Sorry... memory is not what it used to be!

Udaipur , Day 9

Udaipur, in the state of Rajasthan, is the former historical capital of the Kingdom of Mewar. Jaipur is now the State capital. Udaipur is known as the city of lakes and is called the "Venice of the East". It is known for its Rajput era palaces, many of which have been converted into luxury hotels.

We arrived at the hotel I chose....turns out it was the former hunting lodge of the current royal family of Rajasthan. The current king or Maharani, owns a ton of properties all over the area. When India became an independent country, the Maharajas of all the states didn't do much but cede power to the new government. They had to give up some of their very expansive lands but managed to keep their palaces and other very prime properties. Some of these are open to the public who are charged admission....all the revenue goes into the royal coffers. This is true for every state in India. The kings of some states are better than others and give back to help the people....others don't. There are no state or country rules that force them to share their revenues and they are taxed a very low, flat rate. Parts of many of the palaces have been turned into hotels and are considered heritage properties. This particular king is not known to be the most generous and the road to this particular property needs major repairs. It is said that his son is better.

Back to the hotel....the current king turned this property into a preserve and a working farm. There are deer, peacocks, chickens, cows, etc. He also breeds polo ponies. We got to see some week old foals and the rest of his horses.
I got a private tour! The paddocks were right by where we checked in and I had walked over to where some of the horses were. I went to befriend some of them and they could see that I knew how to handle them. ( I use to own a horse). That was when I was offered a private tour of the stables. My husband says I had this huge grin on my face. I was happy as a pig in shit!  Dinner was quite good and again the staff went out of their way to make sure I had something to eat that I would like. I have found that I totally detest cilantro. It is in almost everything so I now ask that they leave the leaves out. We slept well.

Ned and our guide
Our guide met us the next morning and a new adventure started. Udaipur is a very colorful and busy city. As usual the honking of horns is the overriding sound everywhere. You start to get used to it after a while. We had a good and knowledgeable guide who was also very friendly. We hit some of the historical forts and palaces and you cannot but stand in awe of some of the engineering feats, especially for the times. Security from warring states was always a top priority and cities were built for safety. There was usually an outer wall with gates, a moat, and an inner wall. The gates in the inner city were only 1 elephant wide. The huge wooden doors had spikes on them at man head hight sitting on an elephant. The palaces were usually built over several hundred years so additions were everywhere. There were the kings private quarters, his queens chambers, and an area for his harem. The king was only allowed one wife, although in years of Muslim rule, the Muslim rulers were allowed 3. You can see Mogul influence all over Rajasthan, but they were predominantly Hindu. Every where you go there are small and large temples dedicated to the Hindu gods. Ganesh is all over the place....he is kind of cute. Our first stop was the Sas Bahu temple. These 2 temples were constructed in the 10th century and dedicated to Lord Vishnu. There are 2 temples here and they are known as the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law temples because of their close proximity to each other as they would be in a typical Indian household. These are very elaborately carved and decorated.

local corner store

The countryside is mainly agricultural and the climate is tropical. Farming is mostly done by hand here as well although the larger tracts of land are prepared with a tractor. Harvesting of sugar cane and summer crops is going on now and they are starting to replant the fields with winter crops. Until this past year, India was in a drought but they had a good monsoon season....we have been having some unusual rainy weather the past few weeks and that is both good and bad. The farmers collect the left over corn, sorghum, and sugar cane stalks to feed their cattle..they need it to dry out or it gets ruined. The women seem to do most of the work! There is very little protection from the elements. As I  mentioned earlier, living is pretty much out of doors. It is warm in the winter. It was down in the 70's and the locals were all bundled up in their blankets! I thought I was the only one who thought it was cold when the temp dropped below 80, haha.    

Our next stop was the City Palace. There has been some extensive restoration done here and you can see the opulence and beautiful inlays and painting. Please see the album at top right for a lot more pictures.  We started our minor shopping spree late this afternoon :-).  Dinner was lovely back at the lodge, again with the kitchen staff doing their best to accommodate my pain in the ass palate.