A Travellerspoint blog

December 2010

Bye Bye Bangalore

It was our last day in Bangalore. We had a lot on our agenda, so we attempted to get some of it completed early, since we were up anyway. Around 7am, we walked out of the hotel in search of souvenirs. Nothing was open. So much for that idea. We grabbed something quick, but mostly sat in the hotel until the driver was going to arrive. I watched some Power Puff Girls, just because it was on. There was also some American kid ninja movie, but really, I wanted to see some Indian tv. In general, the shows seemed to be half in English and half in something I didn't understand. While watching a new program, I was amused that the subtitles didn't even match the English that was spoken. Overall, I found the Indian tv a bit confusing. I was also a little upset at the ads. All of the people in the ads were pretty white. Although, on that line I could be mad at ads in the US because everybody is thin. I guess the difference is that people can do something about becoming thin like the people in the US ads, but not much about becoming white like the people in the Indian ads. I'm not sure which is better.

When it was time, we grabbed a cab to Rajah's parents' place. His parents have a very nice double apartment. It even has a swing inside. After a detour to the swing, we started our plans. First on the agenda was my favorite part- learn to cook. Rajah's mom taught me how to make chapati, a type of bread. I got to roll all of them out, and then she cooked them. We all ate them (along with other delicious food) for breakfast. I got quite a few recipes out of her, so I got all the souvenir I needed for myself. Next, we went out. We stopped off at the post office to drop off some post cards. While we were there, we saw the guys light a fire to melt wax so that they could seal something, old-fashioned style. The next item on the agenda was to get some fresh sugar cane juice. There are a ton of little street stands that smash sugar cane and collect the juice, but Rajah took us to a sanitary little shop to get some. With the lime and ginger, it was quite delicious and refreshing. As we drank, we started our shopping- not my favorite activity, but a necessary one. I still needed to get some stuff for some people. We walked around a market for a while, stopping at another store that sold the stainless steel kitchen stuff as well as a jewelry store with a whole wall full of bracelets. Then, we went to a sari store that Rajah's mom recommended. I got my sisters two gorgeous saris that were within my sari budget. While we were out, we saw a ton of neat stuff. We saw monkeys climbing around some house, as well as a store that had typewriters that people could use. It was like an old-fashioned cyber cafe. The most satisfying thing we saw was the trash collectors. Throughout the trip, we saw trash on the streets, everywhere. Finally, we saw a bunch of people with a truck cleaning it up. They were picking it up with their bare hands, and in some cases they weren't wearing shoes. I guess that's why we didn't really see any glass bottles anywhere. Apparently, their job is just to pick up the garbage from the streets. So, people throw trash into the streets to keep the collectors employed. The whole "trash all over the place" thing is actually yet another way to make jobs. At least there was a reason for it. At that point, we were running short on time. I had wanted to find a pickup game of cricket and join in, but that was not happening if we wanted to make our flight. The last fun in India was lunch. We went to some stand that made Indian and (Indian-style) Chinese food. I think I like Indian-style Chinese food better than American-style Chinese food. The Indian-style has more flavor, and seems less greasy. If you're ever there, try the Paneer Manchuria- it's great. We ended up getting a ton of stuff from both the Chinese and Indian menu, all for a low price. The 7 of us ate for what one person might pay in the US for lunch.

I was sad to go, but I can't wait until I get an opportunity to come back to India!

Monkey on house

Monkey on house


Making sugar cane juice

Making sugar cane juice


Garbage Collectors

Garbage Collectors


Bracelet Store

Bracelet Store


Sugar Cane

Sugar Cane


Typewriter center

Typewriter center

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in India Comments (0)

Birds

We awoke, grabbed some breakfast, and were picked up by a driver who then went to pick up Rajah and Deepa. Apparently he was our driver for the day. We ended up covering his gas and paying him $40, which is extremely cheap in my mind, but I guess that is the going rate for a day's work. He headed towards Mysore. On the way, we passed farms of sugar cane, which meant that there were trucks overloaded with cut sugar cane all over the road. Other than that, the drive was generally nice, but uneventful until we passed Mysore Palace. We didn't have time to go inside though, as we had a full day planned.

The first place we did stop was at the Mysore silk factory. Unfortunately, they didn't allow cameras inside. However, they did allow us pretty free reign to go wherever we wanted whenever. The first thing I noticed when we walked into the loom room was that there were no particulates in the air, which was quite a contrast to the last third-world factory I had been in. I'd guessing that is because they have to keep it relatively clean for the fabric to turn out properly. However, there was a strong odor of oil in the air, and at one point, we got to visit bleach vats. This just held up my theory. There were two different kinds of looms that the workers were using. One type had a rolling pattern, similar to the way a music box has a repeating pattern. The lifted pins caused the loom to lift different threads and create different repeating designs. The other type of loom had a long strand of metal punch cards.that caused the loom to create the pattern. Even the technology they used to determine where an error is located is simple, yet effective- they simply use silk that is dyed two different colors, one for each direction. Beyond the looms, we saw areas where they were respooling the silk, as well as the gold threads. The gold threads are actually silk threads that are coated in silver and then real gold. Next, we went into the dyeing areas where they did 1 or 2-color dyeing, as well as bleaching if needed. We got to walk around these large vats of ammonia, or something else probably bad to breathe in, and nobody even thought twice about it. At the end, we saw them iron the finished cloth. On the way out, we stopped at the gift shop. The shop was filled with gorgeous silk items, some of whieh cost thousands of dollars (not Rupees, dollars). We passed on that.

By this time, we were hungry, so we stopped for lunch at some hotel, and then continued on our way until a cop pulled us over. According to him, we "jumped a light." Only problem was, there wasn't even a light at that intersection for us to jump. I guess he was just trying to get us the experience of Indian corruption.

When we got to the bird sanctuary, we experienced another bending of the rules, this time in our favor. They charge one rate per Indian, one rate per foreign tourist, and one rate per camera. The guy at the gate decided not to charge us for everything. Nice! At the sanctuary, we walked through the gorgeous trees and down to the water. We got a "special' boat ride. (No, it didn't involve fruitcake fruits.) It meant that we got a boat and paddler to ourselves and didn't have to share with another group. For quite some time, the paddler steered our boat around so that we saw crocodiles close up, got good views of birds, and just generally got to relax. He knew the names of all of the birds and pointed out the various herons, kingfishers, and spoonbills. I really don't know birds, so I was really just enjoying the relaxation part. However, for bird watchers, I'm sure this was a paradise.

After the calm ride, we headed over to the Sri Ranga Patna fort. At this fort, a Muslim Sultan tortured the Brits who were trying to take over India back in his day. We went inside the fort, and saw what we could see, but a lot of the tourist part was already closed. We did get a reasonable view of a temple right next to a mosque. On the way out, a couple of touts came up to us to try to sell us stuff. We said no. Then, we said no for another 30 feet. Then, another. All in all, I think they may have followed us for a quarter mile, despite the constant stream of "no" coming from our mouths.

We got back in our car and headed back to Bangalore. For dinner, we had Bhal Puri at Gandhi market. (It was delicious as usual.) Finally, the driver took us back to our hotel. It was a full day and we had definitely made good use of his services. I was happy we had done so much, but at the same time, wasn't quite ready to leave.

Lady feeding a cow

Lady feeding a cow


Bird

Bird


Bird Sanctuary

Bird Sanctuary


Croc

Croc


Touts at Fort

Touts at Fort


Bird

Bird

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in India Comments (0)

Karnataka Temple Tour

This morning, the taxi was on time- American time, surprisingly. It took us to the bus stop where we got on our tour bus. The first place the bus actually stopped was the gas station. I was amused to watch the station attendant pump gas. I noticed that everybody paid cash. I also noticed a guy who was sweeping. Like everybody else I had seen sweeping, this guy was using a collection of some dried plants that were tied together and he was bent over as he swept. I don't know if sticks are just expensive or if they just don't care about their backs, but either way, I felt sorry for the guy. Of course, I don't really think the sweeping was doing much beside moving dirt around.

After the fill up, we were on our way down a road that was under construction. There were diversions so that we were in the other lane, but we saw no construction workers or tools, just piles of dirt.

The tour itself was run by the Karnataka government, so the place we stopped for breakfast was run by the government as well. We got some dosas that came with raita. The raita was a risk, but as we had made it past the wedding and I figured that the government would have done something if tourists were getting sick, I had some. (Knock on wood) I still haven't had any Delhi belly. Phil also took this opportunity to pick up some snacks, such as Indian-flavored chips.

The drive was great, which was good because most of the tour was driving. The city turned into fields, and the fields turned into coconut groves. We passed areas with 1-2 houses and villages of cement houses, some of which seemed quite nice. A bunch of the houses had large piles of coconut shells out front, probably for burning or making into rope. I also adore that many of the houses were brightly painted and that the most popular color was a bright green that would make my neighbors upset if I painted my house that color. I found out later that they are pained those colors because the Indian version of Feng Shui dictates that those colors are the better, luckier colors.

In the yards, there were all sorts of livestock, which surprised me a little. Most of the animals were chickens or goats, so I guess that makes some sense. And, there were cows galore. The cows were just wandering about, some eating the trash on the side of the road, and some just chilling. Our timing was also perfect to see a bunch of school children, all decked out in their school uniforms. A few were working some hand pumps and getting water. Everything was so rural!

After hours of driving, we got to the first Jain temple, Shravanabelagola. The driver told us that we had an hour and a half to see it and then the bus was leaving. Also, he told us that we had to leave our shoes on the bus. So, we hopped off, and headed up the mountain to the temple in our bare feet. Two breaks and 660 steps later, we were at the gate. These steps were much taller than standard steps, which surprised me as most of the locals seemed much shorter that I am. It was worth the hike though. The view from the top was great. We wandered around the temple site, trying to go to the temples that the groups of school children weren't in, so that we could avoid the crowd and get good views. We worked our way up to the main temple that contains the "piece de resistance," a very large statue of one of the gods. Once in the main temple, a priest came up to us and offered us a private tour. While the school children and other tourists looked at the series of god statues through some gates, the priest took us in back so that we were close enough to touch the god statues. His English wasn't so hot, so mostly he was just telling us the name of the god in the statue, and then waiting for us to take a picture before he told us about the next god statue. At the end of the tour, we tipped him a few rupees. On the way out, we also were asked outright for a donation. We gave the guy 15 rupees (about 30 cents) and he made us wait while he wrote up a receipt for us.

Once outside the temple, we were in the midst of the group of school children all shouting at each other, despite the "no shouting" signs. One of the girls came up to me and said "Hi. What's your name?" I answered her and asked her name. After that, my intentions were to start heading down the mountain as we were running short on time, but then the rest of the girls swarmed around me and all of the boys swarmed around Phil. Everybody was trying to shake our hand and ask our name. Only after we had shaken everybody's hands were we able to start the descent. Each of us was surrounded by our own "fan club" the whole way down. My fan club was teaching me Kanada (their language) most of the way down. At some point, after both giggling at and complimenting my Kanada, they asked me how I got so white. The only thing I could come up with is that I was born this way, although that seemed a little bit patronizing. One girl wasn't ok with that answer and let me know that she wanted to be white like me. This made me so sad. Here in the US, there are plenty of people keeping the tanning salons in business, trying to be darker like these kids. And, I feel sad for both the people who tan and the little Indian girls as they should be able to feel comfortable in their own skin and not be pressured by society into wanting something else. Upon reaching the bottom, we said goodbye to the kids, but hello to the touts. There were a bunch of them trying to sell us postcards, figurines, and other souvenirs. Boy, were they persistent! Our bus was parked about a block or so away and they followed us the whole way, even though we were saying no the whole time. We got on the bus, and they were blocked from the bus by the driver. That didn't stop them from knocking on our window from the outside, still shouting new, lower prices and trying to bargain with us. When the allotted time was up, there were only 3 people on the bus- us and a lady named Danielle, the other US citizen on the tour. The bus driver looked anxious to leave, but none of the Indian families who were on the tour were back. He started honking. Eventually, they all came back and we left for the next place. I wish I had known that everybody else would be late, as an hour and a half was not really enough time to fully explore the temple.

On the road, we passed a bunch of smaller temples on our way to lunch. Lunch was at a government-run kitchen that was actually very clean. Again, I attempted to order using the "what's your favorite thing?" method. It failed miserably. The guy wouldn't pick just one thing. He kept saying "we have this and this and this" and pointed to the whole menu. Eventually I settled on Aloo Matar, just to see how different it would be from the Aloo Matar you can get in the US. It was different, but most certainly identifiable as the same dish. This time, the bus started honking early and left pretty close to the time that it said it would.

The next temple we went to was Belur. Here, a guide got on the bus and took the whole lot of us on a tour of the temple site, again barefoot. He took us into the main temple and showed us the interior, which included a large carved stone pillar that used to rotate, but had some issue with the ball bearings so it didn't any more. There was also the equivalent of an ark with some important god in it. It was very busy as everybody else there was trying to get to it, so the guide skipped it and told us we could come back to it. Then, he moved us outside the temple, which really was the most impressive part. The temple was made of soft sandstone pieces that were put together. The guide explained to us that much of it was ruined and then restored. Every inch was covered with some sort of carving, so I can't even imagine the man-hours that went into making the original carvings, and then the restored ones. There was a parade of 644 elephants that reminded me of the elephants on parade in the Jungle Book movie carved all around the whole temple. On another layer, there were mythical creatures, and on another just gods. As he walked us around the temple, he explained to us who each of the gods was and a little of their stories. I couldn't understand his English too well, but I did pick up on some of the lecture. For a while, he also shooed away groups of school kids that were trying to talk with us. At some point though, there were just too many interested kids for him to keep shooing away. As soon as he would get rid of one group, another group would come up and cleverly just listen to his lecture, slowly creeping towards Danielle, Phil and me. Or, the kids would scurry past, touching my elbow as if it would grant them good luck or something. Of course, all it took was one of them to get brave enough to say hi. At this point, I was past the point of just trying not to be rude. I was extremely amused by their fascination with us. I would respond and shake the first kid's hand. That was the end of the standoff. At that point, the rest of the kids who had been hanging back would emerge from everywhere to get their opportunity to shake our hands and get their pictures taken with us. I felt like a celebrity. At one point, even some adults were getting in on the game. One mother made us stand with her children and take a picture with them. I was happy to comply as these people seemed genuinely excited to be in our presence. The last feature of the temple was a lone monolithic pillar towards the front of the complex. The pillar was balancing on only 3 corners. We paid the tour guide what he asked for, something like 20 Rupees (about 50 cents), and started to walk toward the bus once we noticed that other people on our tour bus were headed that way. Again, the touts descended. This time though, Phil was about to get a deal on a souvenir. The seller wanted only 50 Rupees vs the 100 Rupees that somebody else had paid for the same little god carving.

Again, we rode for several hours to get to the next temple, Halebeedu. The scenery was more or less the same as the scenery to the first temple and between the first and second. Again, a guide got on the bus and took our group around the temple. While the first two temples looked nothing alike, this temple looked pretty similar to the second. The tour was pretty similar as well. I couldn't understand a lot of what the guide was saying and was extremely distracted by the kids. At some point, I just gave up listening to the guide and periodically checked in with Phil to get the Cliff's notes version. I was enjoying making the kids happy and garnering tidbits of information from them. The routine was the same as each group of kids passed us. Some kids would stand at a distance, trying to non-chalantly take pictures of us with their cell phones. Then, one would break the ice and the swarm began. I tried so hard not to laugh, because I thought that the whole concept was hilarious. A short while later, the teachers who were chaperoning the field trip would swoop by and guide them away, giving me a few moments to check back in with Phil and listen to the guide. One of the neat stories that I was able to catch involved some god that had to hide inside an elephant for a while and then broke out of it. (This reminded me of that scene from Star Wars where Luke is out in the cold.) I got that one of the reasons that it was not just a rectangle shape was so that there were more corners, which meant more room for more god carvings. I was also able to catch the guide really pushing the temple. He was comparing it to the Taj Mahal and saying that as more people discover it, it will become a world heritage site and surpass the Taj as far as number of visitors. I'm not quite sure he'd ever been to the Taj, the way he was comparing the two. The temple was great, but not that great, and it is most certainly not as unique as the Taj, at least based on the other temple we went to earlier. This temple had the same parade of elephants that absolutely fascinated me. It had the same mythical animals that had the trunk of an elephant, the tail of a peacock, the ears of a cow, the stomach of a pig, and some part of a monkey. Also, some of the temple is unfinished. There are some areas that haven't been carved out yet. On our way out, the kids lined up to shake our hands. The guide was ushering us out to try to get us back on our bus, and 30 kids were waiting for us. We shook every one of those hands. Again, we tried to tell the touts that we weren't interested in buying, but they followed us several blocks to our bus anyway. As I was looking out the window of our bus, I began to notice that when we would pass children with their parents, it was quite common that the children would start to tug on their parents' hand and point in our direction. Often the parents would try to hush or calm the children. Now that I knew what the kids were looking for, I would wave to them. That would make the kids go nuts! They were so excited to be waved at.

Eventually, it got too dark outside to really see the countryside well. The ride back was several hours, so I passed out for most of it. We did make a quick stop for dinner. This time, my "what's your favorite" method worked- sort of. He just chose the most expensive thing on the menu. I didn't really care though. It was still only a couple of dollars, so I got the "special dosa," as recommended, not having learned the lesson on "special" food from last night. They were actually quite good. They were completely filled with the standard potato filling (instead of the usual half-filled) and the outer part was rolled like a burrito. The whole dish was cut and arranged nicely, with about the only garnish I saw on the whole trip. Of course, it had some "special" beyond that. They were also sprinkled with some of those fruits from inside a fruit cake. Regardless, it was delicious. It filled me up enough for the whole ride back, the taxi ride to the hotel, and up until I went to bed.

Little House with coconut shells

Little House with coconut shells


The climb to the first temple

The climb to the first temple


The view from the top

The view from the top


The large god statue

The large god statue


A god from the back room

A god from the back room


Our fan club

Our fan club


Belur

Belur


Elephants on Parade 1

Elephants on Parade 1


Carving at Belur

Carving at Belur


Elephants on Parade 2

Elephants on Parade 2


Extra room for gods

Extra room for gods


a Belur fan club

a Belur fan club


Mythical creature

Mythical creature


god climbing out of elephant skin

god climbing out of elephant skin

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in India Comments (0)

The Wedding

In the morning, I awoke to the sound of the band already playing. It was good they were able to wake us as the guys who were supposed to wake us at 4:45 weren't even up then. I ventured out of the room in search of somebody who could tell me what we were supposed to do next, including what to wear. A bunch of the family members were slowly getting up, getting their coffee, and beginning to get ready for the day. I found one guy- I think he was an uncle and asked. The initial response I got was to just wear what I was wearing- grubby pajamas. The logic was: yesterday you wore Indian clothes, today we want to see you in American clothes. I was not convinced that my dirty pjs were appropriate, so I went into another room to double-check. The women in the room were already in full sari. Apparently, they had been up since 3 am getting dressed. Based on that, I went back into my room and got my sari on- mostly. When I went to ask for some help, they were very impressed at how far I had gotten on my own. One cousin started to finish dressing me, when an aunt picked up on the fact that I had worn that sari the night before. So, I was given a new sari to wear for the new day. Additionally, they offered me a bindi and seemed surprised that I was game for anything. They also decided that I needed some jewelry. After several tries with bracelets that were too small to physically fit me, I was able to squeeze my big hands into some. Now, I was officially dressed- full Indian-style.

Phil and I wandered downstairs, as per our previous instructions, the wedding was about to start. Nobody else was in the wedding hall room though. Apparently, the wedding was starting on "Indian time." It did mean that we got the privilege of seeing the pre-wedding preparations that Rajah was going through, so the lateness was ok. Rajah was wearing some strings and explained that they indicated his status as married vs. unmarried. Also, he was wearing some yellow ones that indicated that the wedding ceremonies MUST go on, no matter what. I asked, "what if you got hit by a car, lost the arm the strings were on, and had to go to the hospital?" The response was that he'd have to get married within the 2-day time period anyway. anyway. Those are some powerful strings! Since he wasn't allowed to take one off without putting a new one on first, there was a priest in the room helping him get dressed and ready as well. Eventually, everybody was ready to start. Rajah's family gathered around him. Then, they opened and umbrella and started to walk out. I was confused. Somebody explained to me that he was walking out of the wedding, declaring that he would like to remain a bachelor and go back to school. I was more confused. I was thinking "WTJ? What about the yellow strings? Plus, he had somebody pay for this gorgeous wedding, dragged us across the world, and he's not going to get married?" When Rajah got part of the way out, it was explained to us that this was ceremonial, which calmed the nerves and made sense. Deepa's parents had to now give chase and tell him about her. They were supposed to explain to him how wonderful she is and all of the reasons he should marry her. Eventually, they "convinced" him and he brought his family back into the wedding hall.

But, it wasn't quite time to tie the knot yet. First, Rajah and Deepa were lifted into chairs and played some sort of game where they tried to lasso each other with flower leis. Then, they had to sit in a swing together. The women in their families washed their feet with milk, to symbolize something or other, then carried sweets in a circle around the swing. Everything was happening so fast that I wasn't quite able to keep up with it all. I do remember that at some point they lit a fire, and at another they threw food at and around the couple. It was actually quite humorous watching grown women scatter whole plates of donut holes on the floor- inside.

After all of that, it was finally time to move to the stage and get the next part started. Just like yesterday, the priests were in charge, telling everybody where to stand, what to do, and what to say. One priest kept signaling to the band, waving them to play and stop. I still didn't get what they were all about, until it was explained to me. There are certain moments that are "auspicious." If somebody wanted to curse the marriage, those would be the right moments to do so. In order to drown out any potential curses, the band was playing loudly at those moments (kind of like why we shake graggers on Purim). And "playing" is a relative term. I don't think they were playing any songs, just notes. It sounded more like the band was warming up for thirty seconds, taking a break for a couple of minutes, and then warming up for a few seconds again. However, now that it was explained to me, it made sense. In between the band playing, I was able to catch some of what was going on in the ceremony, although none of it was in English, so I didn't really understand too much. It was still pretty amazing to watch though. There was so much going on. The parents were busy giving gifts and clothes (which, of course, meant Deepa had to do some more quick changing and missed some of the ceremony). We threw some petals. People were moving all around. People were putting strings on other people. There was so much activity, I know I missed plenty. At some points, I was distracted by one of Rajah's cousins who taught me a secret handshake. I did, however, notice when they lit the fire in the middle of the canopy area on the stage. (May I remind you it is indoors?) At first, I figured that there would be some incense or candle-type fire. Then, they threw on the cow patties. Now, I understand that cows are holy and the cow dung is traditional fuel, but we were inside. And, they didn't just let it burn. The priest fanned it around so that the smoke was dispersed throughout the room. The weather condition inside that building now matched the smokey weather in Delhi. With the haze in the air, the ceremony kept going. We touched a sari, somebody washed somebody else's feet and finally it was time for Deepa and Rajah to be officially married. Rajah led Deepa around the wedding canopy 7 times, each time stopping her to stand on a stone. Again, I'm not sure what all of the significance was, but I'm sure there was some as they kept stopping at people and saying stuff while making their circuits. At the end, the families welcomed the new couple and Rajah roped Deepa. They were married. That didn't mean the ceremonies were over though. Next, we threw rice at them and Rajah tried to catch it in his clothes. This was followed by relatives bringing him money. The two of them just sat there as a whole line of people gave them wads of cash.

At some point, eventually, this was all over. It was something close to noon maybe and I was starving as I was too enthralled with the pomp and circumstance to bother to go down to the dining area and grab some of the non-stop food. I grabbed food and then went up to change. I was glad I was wearing somebody else's sari as the whole thing reeked of burnt cow dung- not so pleasant to shove into luggage with other items. On our way out, we got to see Rajah and Deepa feed each other and eat their first meal together as a married couple. They were then going to go to Rajah's parents' house for some sort of "over the threshold" ceremony. We, on the other hand, were going to go to Gandhi market. We grabbed a tuktuk taxi to the market. Again, we got an opportunity to people-watch. One thing I noticed was that there were a bunch of people cleaning with short brooms. They were collecting the dirt, and then just dumping it into the street. When the taxi arrived, we just got out wherever and walked around. My main goal was to absorb the sights and sounds of the market. I am always interested in what types of items are for sale, especially what types of foods (even though I know I can't eat most of it). There were a ton of food vendors selling all sorts of fresh vegetables and fruits. Most of the foods were relatively common, even in the US, but they did have these interesting little mini-bananas as well as whole tamarind pods. The real beauty of the market was not only the arrays of colorful foods, but the flowers as well. The vendors had large baskets of picked flowers as well as baskets of strands of flowers, just like the ones that decorated the wedding hall. They were so bright and abundant that it made you ignore all of the trash all over the place. We also ducked inside a few shops that seemed interesting or might have some stuff that we were looking to buy. One bookstore had a little table full of cute children's books- titles such as The Terrible Serpent, The Death of Narakasura, and The Abduction of Aniruddha. Most of the shops were clothing shops, though, many of them sari shops. After trying a couple, I was able to get a great deal on some saris to bring back to people at home. I also got some of the stainless steel bowls they use for sambar. While I negotiated for those, I still paid a pretty American price. To be fair- the price was way less than they would have cost in the US, but was probably double what somebody from around there would have paid. I was ok with this though, as they were very inexpensive. Phil got the deal of the day though. We passed a suit store with a sign out front that seemed too good to be true. It said that they would tailor a suit (pants and jacket) for you for about $60. But wait, that's not all. For that low, low price, you also get a free second set of pants, shirt, belt, tie, and handkerchief. He picked out the fabrics; they took his measurements; and we got instructions to come back for a fitting later in the week. Of course, the most exciting part of the market wasn't the flowers or the deal. It was the cows- talk about the concept of free range. These were more like free reign. They were just hanging around wherever, lazing about as if this was their own personal beach resort. I do have to admit that I was pulling a Cosmos- taking a picture of every cow I saw. They never ceased to amaze me. When we thought it was almost time for the next of the wedding activities to begin, we grabbed a taxi back to the wedding hall. Again, we ate lunch on a banana leaf. One of the lunch items, sweet pachadi, was one of the most fabulous foods I ate on the whole trip. (If anybody knows a good recipe, please let me know.) After lunch, we discovered that the next activities were starting on "Indian time" again. We should have known by now that if we shoed up to things at the times people told us, we'd be doing a lot of waiting. So, in the meantime, we got a much-needed nap. When we woke, we went downstairs and the fun began. It was explained to us that, back in the day, girls would get married at 8 and boys at 13. In order to get to know their new spouses better, the kids would play some traditional games with each other. First though, Deepa had to sing in order to get Rajah to play, another tradition that harkens back to the old days. The first games they played were on the floor. One involved crushing crackers into the hair of the other person. The family members would try to defend their person and keep the food out. They also played that game with some rice they threw. Next, they rolled a ball back and forth and played some sort of keep-away with it. Afterward, it was sing-along time. Rajah's brother had various movie snippets played on the tv in the room and people sang along with the movies. One movie has a scene where the man is trying to win a girl over by singing to her form outside. His friend does the singing, while he moves his mouth. To this song, Rajah's brother sat behind him, singing, while Rajah lip-sang. Another song chosen was about how bad marriage was- at least they have a sense of humor. Towards the end, we all got up and danced to one of the songs, Indian-style. It was so much fun!

But, the fun had to end. We started to get into the taxi that would take us back to the hotel. Rajah was going to come with us and make sure that the hotel guys were straight, but he kept getting delayed because Deepa's mom was crying. When we did eventually get to our hotel (which was American clean), we were pretty worn out from the day's events and slight lack of sleep, but we did want to grab some dinner before hitting the hay. We wandered to this place across the street that advertised that they had burgers and pizza. Phil was craving some meat, so we went in. I don't think I saw any burgers on their menu, and they definitely turned out to be a vegetarian restaurant. However, they did have a whole pizza section of the menu. I asked about what was on the "Washington DC Pizza," and I think I heard something about peppers and onions, so I ordered it. It turned out to be mushrooms, peppers, onions, and tomatoes, so I just picked the mushrooms off and ate it. Phil asked about what was on the "Special Pizza." The guy had a hard time explaining it to us, so Phil just ordered cheese pizza. We also attempted to order bottled water, but the guy was not understanding us and so we went without. The guy obviously didn't understand Phil either, as he ended up bringing out special pizza. And boy, was this pizza "special." It had peppers, tomatoes, onions (pretty normal so far), but then it also had cashews and little pieces of fruit like what you find in fruit cakes. It was definitely special. Also, the pizza sauce tasted like ketchup with tamarind and some spice mixed in, but definitely not Italian spices. It was certainly an experience. Part of the experience also came from the napkins. I had noticed that napkins in India weren't absorbent like in the US. They are made of some sort of thin plastic and are not very good for wiping pizza sauce off of your hands. About 20 napkins later, we were cleaned up from dinner and decided to go for a walk to see what else was around, and hopefully find a cyber cafe. We found one and used the internet for dirt cheap. The computers were old and slow by our standards, but they were pretty popular in India. The first cyber cafe we went to was full, and directed us to another one further down the block. For most of the time were were there, that one was also full.

By the time we were done, we were pretty exhausted as today was a very full day. Knowing that we also had a full day ahead, we retired to our rooms to get clean and go to bed. That is when I discovered that there was no hot water in my room. Too tired to call the front desk to complain (especially since I hadn't been expecting it anyway) I just took a (short) cold shower and went to bed.

Priest prepping Rajah

Priest prepping Rajah


The Walkout

The Walkout


Gandhi Bazar

Gandhi Bazar


Woman selling flowers

Woman selling flowers


Flowers at the market

Flowers at the market


Cooking store

Cooking store


Cow

Cow


Singing Along

Singing Along

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in India Comments (0)

Engagement

Agra was a nice diversion, but what we were really in India for was Rajah's wedding. We got a taxi to the airport to head to Bangalore, where Rajah is from. I don't think many of my expectations of the flight experience were met. It was very early in the morning when we got there, so there wasn't a lot open. Our choice was pretty much KFC. Phil reported that the chicken was similar but different to what you get in the US. I was excited because they had some sort of veggie sticks and rice for breakfast. Yay for real food in the morning! Breakfast exceeded my expectations. Security on the other hand, didn't. Apparently, bottles of water (over 3 oz) are completely ok (or at least they didn't care this time), but having extra batteries isn't. I had to dump a 16 pack of AAs and some rechargeables because I wasn't aware of that. Oops. Also, the flight was a little below expectations. We flew Spice Jet. There was no leg room. My knees were up against the seats the whole time. Oh well, we just won't fly them next time.

Bangalore, however, was not below expectations. Most importantly, the weather was not smoke. It was actually pretty nice. At the airport, some guy helped us make a free (plus tip) call to Rajah's brother, who gave us the bus number. We took a fabulous bus ride through the city. The city itself reminds me of Miami a lot, and not just because of the weather. It also had a lot of Miami-style architecture as well as plenty of palm trees all over. There were a ton of street vendors selling everything from coconuts to sugar cane juice. We passed some neat murals including one with dinosaurs. We also passed by the wedding hall. As we passed it, I saw the large, brightly-colored sign out front that had Rajah and Deepa's names on it. Then, we passed the bus stop we were supposed to get off at. And we kept going. We stopped at the next one, though. Thank goodness for cell phones. We definitely had to take advantage of the technology in order to meet up with Rajah's friend who was coming to get us. While we waited, we people-watched. I was excited to see that the women were pretty much all wearing either saris of these long shirts with baggy pants. I saw as many women in American-style clothing as I did in burkas. The men on the other hand, were mostly in 70s-style pants or jeans and wore either t-shirts or guayaberas. The streets were completely littered with trash, but nobody seemed to notice or care. They did notice us, however. We were definitely the only white people around, and I guess we looked pretty clueless. Mostly, people just stared at us, but one guy did come over and offer to help us out. Eventually, Rajah's friend came by on his bike to help us get to the wedding hall. At first, he struggled to get a taxi (all tuk tuks) because the hall was so close that most of them didn't think it was worth picking us up. Eventually, we just decided that we were willing to pay double because we really needed to get to the hall. Just at that moment, he found somebody who was willing to do it for a reasonable price. The wedding hall was still in the process of being decorated, but it was already absolutely gorgeous. In addition to the neat murals on the walls, there were already tons of strands of fresh flowers all over the place. There were three floors that were being used. The second floor is where the bedrooms were. We dropped off our bags there. The ground floor was the one that contained the room where the ceremonies would actually take place. We headed to the basement, which is where the food was. The first thing I noticed is that there were very long, thin tables. The purpose became clear as we sat down. The way the food there works is you sit down at the next empty table. As soon as the row is filled, they walk up the aisle and feed everybody. Then, people start at the next table over, etc, until the last is filled and being fed. By that time, the first table has been emptied, cleaned, and is ready to start the cycle all over again. Because the table is the width of only one place setting, the servers can just plop the food right on your plate. Scratch that, I mean banana leaf. Yes, we ate directly off of banana leaves. Rajah taught us how to sprinkle water on the leaf, wipe it to clean it, and then let the water drip underneath to keep it in place. At that point, the servers came and plopped all sorts of deliciousness down. Oh, did I mention there was no silverware? The method of eating is to mix it all together with your hand (right hand only) and then shovel it into your mouth. (Hint: if your new year's resolution is to lose weight- try eating only with your opposite hand. It will make sure you can only take tiny bites- no mouthfulls, and will ensure that it takes you plenty of time to eat so that your brain send the signal that you're full before the food is gone from your plate.) However, the method did mean that I got to savor every bite for much longer, which was good because the food was delicious. In addition to all of the things I couldn't identify by name, they served rice; medhu vada (like a spicy doughnut); raita; a sweet concotion of milk, sugar, and broken wheat; and a few curried items. The servers kept asking Rajah if they could give us more, which was cute for a while, but as I filled up, just got a bit excessive. After we ate and cleaned up (there's a wash station for washing hands after the meal as well, since you need it then too), I tried to peek into the kitchen to see how they were making things. When the head chef noticed, that led to a full-fledged kitchen tour. He walked us around and let us see all of the prep work, the men cooking in large vats, and the guy carving all of the food art for later. He was very proud of his kitchen-as he should be. At the end, he even gave me his card. I kind of felt like a celebrity, being given special treatment and a personal tour. However, we were exhausted from getting up early and from all of the excitement. We went back to the second floor, where our stuff was in the groom's room. Each of us plopped down on one of the beds and passed out.

We awoke later, when it was time to get ready for the engagement ceremony. One of Rajah's cousins is a cardiac surgeon, and she put henna on our hands. You definitely need steady hands to apply this. Basically, she had an icing tube full of the henna and was squeezing it out in consistent quantities to complete the design. I got some sort of northern Indian peacock design. Every time I thought she was done, she pulled my hand to apply more. In the end, I had my whole palm, part of the back of my hand, and a bit of my wrist covered in the spicy-smelling paste. Now, I just had to let it dry. But oops! It was also time to get dressed. Not that I wouldn't have needed help putting on a sari anyway, but with one hand I couldn't use, I was extra useless. I felt about 5 years old as the women dressed me (and throughout the night redressed me about 3 times). They kept commenting on how tall I was, as that was mainly the reason that the sari kept falling. *For those who have never put on a sari- the mechanics are basically that a sheet gets wrapped around and then tucked into a waistband. In general, the women have several (maybe 6+) inches of cloth that ends up tucked into the waistband, and the rest hangs out as a skirt down to the floor. As I am about 6 inches taller than a lot of the women, they were struggling to get any tucked into the waistband (which was several inches further from the floor than normal) and still have the sari reach down to my feet (which are also several inches further from my waist than normal).

Once dressed, we headed down to the engagement ceremony. The room was gorgeous, and it was also filled with people. There was none of the standard American "Come in. Sit down. Shut up and watch," going on, though. People kept filtering in from the streets, sitting down in the audience area (or just standing), chatting, talking on their cell phones, or just generally socializing noisily. After a while, they would head down to the food area and eat. Then, they would filter back up and hang out some more. Most of them missed most of the ceremony, but so did Deepa, the bride. She kept coming out to the ceremony, receiving new clothes, and then returning to the bride's chambers to put them on. (Lather, rinse, repeat.) Meanwhile, the ceremony was carrying on without her. The parents were doing something or other with plates of fruit. The priests were doing something with plates of flower petals. And who knows who else was doing who knows what else. I think the only people who knew what was going on were the priests. It seemed like they were telling everybody where to stand, what to say, and what to do. There was even one who was clearly controlling the band. He kept signaling to the band to start playing, but then a few seconds later, signaled to the band to stop again. Meanwhile, the other priests just kept on rolling with the ceremony. The ceremony was being filmed, and the live feed was being displayed on two large monitors at the edge of the stage so that all of the people who were chatting in the audience could see. Pretty much the only people who had a close-up view of what was going on was the family on the stage. Luckily, Phil and I were counted as family or special guests, or something that got us up on the stage. It also got us periodic reports of what was going on from some of the people who knew. I wasn't really sure when the denouement was, but at some point, they switched to a new event.

I took advantage of this transition to run upstairs and scrape the dried henna off. It had been on long enough to leave the correct brightness of color. With the paste off, my hands looked gorgeous. It also gave me an opportunity to sit in the audience area and not just stand on the stage. While in the audience area, I spoke with one of Rajah's cousins. We had a very interesting conversation about the history of the caste system, the transformation from division of labor into a class system, the modern irrelevance of it all, and why she can share these opinions with me, but couldn't declare them in public. I learned a lot and got quite an interesting dose of perspective.

Meanwhile, the reception was carrying on. The "reception" was literally that- Rajah and Deepa stood up on the stage, while all of the people who had been filtering in and out lined up to be received. Rajah and Deepa also received blessings and gifts. They did this for 3 hours straight. After each of the guests was received, they all went down to enjoy the food some more. After ALL of the guests were received and the flow of new guests had stopped, Rajah and Deepa finally got some food. (I think. I was long asleep by then.)

The food was great, again. I may have needed some help figuring out what we were supposed to get when, and I may have struggled to eat it again, but that didn't stop me from loving it. They served a spicy tomato soup with croutons, different breads with various curried foods, and ice cream with a delicious carrot topping called halwa. In general, the food was a spicy sludge or spice-coated vegetables. My palate is not sophisticated enough to be able to pick out all of the different spices, but each dish certainly contained its own delicious farrago of flavors. As we ate, we talked with various family members, some of which were easier to understand than others. I also noticed that there were a few people who seemed to be following us around the room, but not really talking to us. Eventually though, one of the little boys came up to me and asked if we could take a picture together. I said of course, and we did. Five minutes later, he was back, asking about a picture with his little brother who was too shy to ask for himself. Again, I was happy to oblige.

At some point, we were completely full, had spoken to everybody who seemed to want to speak with us, and were getting to the point where we had seen what there was to see. Rajah and Deepa still hadn't made it down for food yet, so we asked what we should do and where we should go. We were instructed to head to Rajah's room and wait. As soon as I got up there, I changed out of the sari into my super-comfy pjs, took the jasmine flowers out of my hair, and got ready to wait. I fell asleep waiting.

Food on a banana leaf

Food on a banana leaf


Kitchen Tour

Kitchen Tour


Wedding hall

Wedding hall


Engagement ceremony

Engagement ceremony


Engagement ceremony

Engagement ceremony


Henna

Henna


Decorating the wedding hall

Decorating the wedding hall

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in India Comments (0)