Indian Treasures – Part I

These will be very periodic posts because we are on a random mission to collect special items from our stay here in India and, more broadly, Southeast Asia.

In Jaipur we were lucky enough to visit a wonderful shop that has a wide variety of merchandise (as do most Indian stores), but they, in particular, go into small villages and purchase heirloom handwoven and embroidered wall hangings, which I consider art.

We watched as they unfolded one after another and could have purchased most of them. Many times you can see how an item was used and loved in a home, but because of financial necessity it has been sold.  We figured we could provide a new, loving home to one such item.

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This wall hanging measures 45 in. wide x 77 in. high and is from Kachchhh bhuj which is in the western part of India, in the Gujarat state Pakistani border.  It is probably over 100 years old (they preserved the delicate fabric with the red border and backing), but the rest of the history has been lost.

Details below. Every time I look I find another bird!

 

 

Jaipur Environs – Talabgaon and Lalsot

Welcome to Talabgaon Castle.  This 200 year old Heritage fort is located in Talabgaon village about an hour from Jaipur.  The family that owns it recently converted it to a lovely hotel with pool, lots of out door seating and dining and polo grounds.  You can see the horses being trained in the back grounds, and, if you are lucky, even watch a polo game during the tournament that takes place in April each year.

The serenity and beauty at Talabgaon cannot be described, but need to be felt.  After the clamor of Indian cities this is a welcome respite.

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Entrance

Each room is unique and beautiful.

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There are many peacocks on the grounds.  They were pretty shy except at sunrise so, instead, this is some of the lovely art on the walls at the pool house.

This is one of the polo horses being exercised.

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Many of the people who work at Talabgaon Castle are from the local village.  We were fortunate to get a tour by some of the local boys.  The thing that we most noticed is that people seem so happy with what they have.  The pace of life is slower, the days much the same (so we were really a treat and gained quite the following during our walk.  It helped that I was giving out candy to the kids.) but there is joy.

Observation: Indians are nothing if not creative.  Transportation is expensive and people have found that they can construct a Jugaad, or truck made of wooden planks, a tinkertoy engine (my words) and miscellaneous jeep parts.  You see them all over the countryside moving people or supplies around.  They don’t have a lot of oomph, but boy are they pretty!

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Our final visit of the day was to Lalsot, a nearby larger village of about 30,000.  My guess is that Talagbaon has about 6,000 inhabitants.  Note most of the young people leave for the city as soon as they are able to and don’t return.

Here are some of the images from Lalsot.

One of the very cool things we witnessed is two men making the lacquer bracelets.  They start with a stick of what looks like wood, color it and then start melting and forming bracelets.  One does the first part and the second guy takes the strip of lacquer and forms it into a round.  Once cooled they will apply lots of lovely sparkly gems.

And what the final ones look like.  India is all about sparkle and color.

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Jaipur – Jantar Mantar, City Palace and Chand Baori

Look at my earlier blog post on Jaipur for a refresher on the city.  Our day started by heading into the old city to an incredible

Jantar Mantar, which wikipedia says: The Jantar Mantar monument of Jaipur, Rajasthan is a collection of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments, built by the Rajput king Sawai Jai Singh, and completed in 1738 CE. It features the world’s largest stone sundial, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This is the Jai Prakesh Yantra, or an upside down Earth divided into two parts so the scientists could walk between the fingers and do calculations.

I’m going to do an awful job explaining what a brilliant scientist Jai Singh was, but this is a site not to be missed.  He was smart enough to understand that things don’t work out correctly the first time so you’ll see models of the different instruments that he used to improve the final product.  Small then large.  Honestly, you have to go to understand how he was able to accurately predict sun position, time, the equator, etc.

There are also astrologic instruments.  I’m Scorpio and Eric is Gemini (and also wearing his new Indian cotton shirt).

The City Palace was where the royal family lived (and some still do in parts), but has now been turned into a lovely museum.  It was the primary residence of the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II and is beautiful both for its art and architecture.  It houses his court, his outfits and many of the fabulous gifts he received during his reign, including this enormous silver urn which was made by melting many, many silver coins!

And so begins my elephant photos.

Chand Baori is an incredible 1000+ year old stepwell in the village of Abhaneri, about 2 hours from Jaipur.  The village is incredibly poor, but houses  a destroyed temple and this gorgeous stepwell.

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You are looking towards the stage (if people were seated all around on the stairs) but there were also ingenious baths housed there for the royalty.  The symmetry.  The amazing structure.  Unfortunately many of the beautiful sculptures which used to be at the entry have been destroyed by invaders and have not been restored.

This village is so poor, but the people so friendly.  I asked the woman hiding behind the post if I could take a picture of her home  She graciously said yes and then came over to show us her pottery.  We declined to purchase, but she gratefully accepted some cash.  The house is for living and working.  Their broken bed rests next to the bikes.  The pots are used for water and curd.  Obviously, no refrigeration.

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Holi – Festival of Colors and Love

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Happy and colorful

We decided to celebrate the  Holi festival where the holiday is at its best – and that was in Jaipur.  We were lucky enough to find a wonderful guide (Annpurna) who invited us to her family home to celebrate.  There is no better way to do it since we were protected from the craziness of the streets, met some wonderful people and really participated in the celebration.  The kids at our party really made it a party! As did the copious amounts of whiskey.

Observation: Wine is ridiculously expensive in India, but beer is pretty good and reasonably priced.  Whiskey is the hard liquor of choice.

We arrived to greetings from this four piece musical group.  They were an important part of the party as we danced the day away.  Alas, they seemed to play the exact same song over and over, but with such joy that one couldn’t complain.

Our hosts were into it as well!

As you’ll see from the progression pictures below, we got more and more into it. Spreading the colorful powders with uninhibited abandon.  We learned that there are many different kinds of colorings – powders (organic and non-organic), temporary and permanent dyes, and then stuff on the streets that can be very caustic because you don’t know what’s in it. Sometimes the powders are mixed with water for extra efficiency.  Water guns are used to spread the enjoyment and then there are color powder bombs (this is only found in Jaipur where they use thin lacquer shells filled with colored powder) to throw at people.  They explode with color!  There are flowers for lovely scents and colored tubes the emit different smoke colors.

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He was enjoying himself

For many the day started early.  As we drove to the party these were street pictures of the guys who were already out celebrating with color – and liquor.

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We did research about what to wear thanks to Amazon.  We were told our clothing would never be the same so off we went to get white stuff.  Mine shirt was bought at an inexpensive store, but we bought a nice linen shirt for Eric at Fabindia.  It turned out to be too nice so he defaulted to an old shirt in his closet!

Julie (I didn’t get quite as colorful as most)

(by the way, my shirt has been reclaimed and is ready for next year!)

Eric – the purple on his head made it into his hat so he continued to reapply color thoughout the weekend.  Eric’s shirt is toast.  I’ll mention that we didn’t think about the color bleeding through our clothing, but my bra and Eric’s underwear are quite colorful.

Clean at last (except for the purple on his head)

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Already planning for Holi next year.  Come join us!

Jaipur – A Brief History

Jaipur is a city in India’s Golden Triangle, along with Delhi and Agra (think Taj Mahal).  It is called the pink city because many of the buildings in the old city have a plaster finish that is then painted pink.

Jaipur, the capital of India’s Rajasthan state, evokes the royal family that once ruled the region and that, in 1727, founded what is now called the Old City, or “Pink City” for its trademark building color. At the center of its stately street grid (notable in India) stands the opulent, colonnaded City Palace complex, which today houses several museum collections of textiles and art.  (Thanks to Google.)

Few cities show the remnants of British rule as much as Jaipur.  The city is incredibly well planned with wide streets, lots of traffic lights (not so in Bangalore, where I think there are about four) and well-maintained buildings that reflect European architecture.  It is a very livable city.

We stayed in an old (semi-well maintained) haveli.  This used to be the home of a wealthy family and was usually hidden behind high walls and was a haven from the dirt and noise of the city streets.  Mandawa Haveli is quite lovely, especially at night when you can’t see the warts.

 

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Mandawa Haveli

The rooms have a classic elegance with high beds and lovely wall art.  Some havelis are better maintained than others.  We booked late and ended up here, but we’d chose a different place to stay on our next visit.

Many of these havelis allow gypsy street performers to come in providing evening entertainment.  They give a lovely song and dance and a puppet show.  They sell the puppets as well.  Their wives have done all the hand work… the puppet heads are made of wood… and you can buy all the same items in the markets.

Jaipur is in the desert so it gets very little water.  And with global warming there has been almost no rainfall in the past two years.  Because of the dry properties of the region there is little farming.  With many people the city had to find alternate businesses and so Jaipur trades in gem stones (there are jewelry stores everywhere) and textiles.  The region is known for block prints on cottons for clothing, bedding and much more.

Clothing is also more colorful in the Rajasthan state than it is elsewhere in India.  The vibrant saris are everywhere and a tradition of women covering their faces (while fading this is still found throughout the region) when in public has made the materials used for saris more diaphanous so the women can see where they are walking!

Blog posts to come: