House Warming

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Banana leaves and flowers decorate the gate

Last Monday we were invited to a house warming at the home of my mother-in-law’s cousin. He had recently completed a renovation to create apartments for his two daughters and their families on the floors above his home. In India, buildings begin with the ground floor on street level, and the 1st floor is the level above the ground. This ceremony was for the apartment on the 2nd floor. The pooja (blessing) had taken place the night before, which includes a fire in the center of the hall (living room) and offerings of fruits and flowers. A Hindu priest chants shlokas (prayers) and rangoli patterns are made on the floor with rice flour. Below s a photo of the pooja that was performed for my neice’s naming ceremony in 2014. This is before the fire was lit and smoke filled the room!

image

After seeing the apartment we went downstairs for a traditional South Indian Meal. We begin by washing our banana leaf with water and wiping it off with our hands. There are no utensils given for this meal and it is thought that both the banana leaf and eating with your hands enhances the flavor of the food. I don’t profess to know all about the ins and outs of the South Indian Meal, and it varies from region to region, but I do know that there is a prescribed variety of foods that are placed in precise areas of the leaf. My meal began with a small mound of salt on the upper left and a sweet tapioca paysam on the lower right. Then across the top is a row of pickle, chutney, salad and some vegetable. We we given papdum crunchier on the left side and in this case we were served a baby mango curry. The main course is served in the center beginning with a heap of white rice and some sambar. In this case were were also given bisi beli bath on the left side. Once the sambar is finished we are given rice and rasam and then mosuru, or curd rice. Then desse

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

South Indian Meal – almost finished

Some people fold their leaf when they are finished eating, but I was told by my sister in law that this can have various meanings for different occasions. Best to follow  what those around you are doing.

Did I mention that the meals are served by many shirtless men wearing lungi (South Indian wrapped skirt)? How could I forget? They move up and down the aisles with their stainless steel buckets of food, ladling out each variety before you can say ‘bus’ (enough)! It is only after all the guests are served that the hosting family will sit down to eat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Taking a cell phone break after the meals are done

We are sent home with two bags. One has a coconut in it and we are given banana. The second one has a prescribed set of gifts that vary little. Below, the green package at the top is a blouse piece, to be stitched at a tailor to go with your sari. Underneath is a 10 rupee note that was given by a family member during the meal and an envelope with 200R. On the right is a sweet block of jaggery and betel leaves, and on the left are bags of crunchy snacks and ladu sweets. At the bottom is a packet of betel nut powder to be eaten with the betel leaves, and red and yellow kum kum (to dot your forehead).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Contents of the gift bag

I couldn’t resist including this beautiful Laurie Baker style home with that was next door. Venkatesh has been a big fan of his designs, built with brick open work patterns, for years.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Laurie Baker style home

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Home

Well I’m back home in Evanston but there are some things I never managed to post, so I will continue for a bit. It’s chilly and rainy and a bit too quiet for me here. I am missing my second home – Bangalore. Ashwin said to me, ‘ Aren’t we lucky Mummy? We have two homes.’ and indeed we do – and we are.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Leaf bug

This guy presented himself to us one morning and just look what he can do!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHe flattens himself out and draws his front legs together in front to look like a leaf and stem. We found him in the living room and it looked like a leaf had just stuck to the wall. I spent my morning taking some pictures of the ground floor apartment where my in-laws live. I want to capture some of these vignettes of home before they change. When I think back to my first visit to India in 2002, so much has changed and is now lost.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Plant shelf opposite the side door


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Turned wooden container with lid


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A shelf in Saras Auntie’s room


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Canes and brooms in the corner


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gopal’s Ganesha


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Plates and vessels drying outside

24 Hours

This 24 hour journey begins in the afternoon of a fairly ordinary day, when we take an auto to 13th Cross in Malleswaram to pick up Ashwin’s clothes at Modern Tailors. We began with a short walk on Sampige Road where there are lots of local shops.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Banana stalks

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Carved jaggery

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Construction site temple

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

New clothes are ready at the tailor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Malleswaram flower market has moved out onto Sampige Road.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Banana leaves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Plastic buckets at the stainless steel shop

I found these beauties in the morning. The beetle is dead but the spider is very much alive. I didn’t want to get too close! I have never seen a spider make these heavy zigzag lines before. There was one for each leg position.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A hibiscus opens on the roof terrace

I had time to do a little drawing, so I drew some of Tata’s treasures. It felt good to sit and look at something closely.

image.jpeg

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mangoes on the window sill

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lunch with family friends

This 24 hour day ended with a nice afternoon, enjoying a meal with friends of the family and mangoes for dessert. They are so sweet, they taste like candy.

Tranquil

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tea wala on the way to Tranquil


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tools of the trade

We stopped for tea at the edge of Bandipur Tiger Preserve, on our way to Tranquil.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Treehouse

Tranquil was such a beautiful spot. The food was fantastic and I felt a lot of the day was spent eating. Everyone at the resort was so gracious and made sure that we were comfortable and having a nice holiday.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tranquil’s open air dining room, surrounded by beautiful gardens.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lush gardens at Tranquil.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Traditional cooking pot, and mortar and pestle in the garden.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Veranda for the garden rooms.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Terra cotta posts on the veranda.

On Our Way to Wayanad

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe took a train to Mysore and spent the night with Venkatesh’s, sister’s, in-laws for the night. While there we went to see the Mysore Maharaja’s Palace. The King of Mysore (Wodyar dynasty) lived in this palace and even continued to rule during British  control of India until 1950. His family continues to live in a portion of it, and the rest is controlled by the State of Karnataka.

While there it began raining, so we decided to go inside the palace, but everyone else had the same idea and it became quite crowded. When we realized we had to remove our shoes and check our bags to go in, we lost interest and left. We  waited on the sidewalk for Venkatesh to call an Uber to go home, when a black and white cow started heading straight for us. It stopped right behind V to eat some garbage under a tree and I thought we were fine, but then it decided to move on. I began telling Venkatesh to move but I wasn’t quick enough. The cow budged him to the side and people near us started saying ‘EXCUSE ME, EXCUSE ME’ to get us to move, but we couldn’t move fast enough. I had Ashwin and my niece with me, so I grabbed their arms to yank them aside as the cow passed within an inch of us. Sila fell over and she thought the whole thing was very funny. She couldn’t stop giggling and talking about it. ‘What that cow do Mardy Auntie?’

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mysore Palace

The next day we hired a taxi to take us to Tranquil Resort, on a coffee plantation in Wayanad, Kerala. We drove through Bandipur Tiger Preserve on the way and were very lucky to see an elephant family, as well as spotted deer, peacock and rhesus monkeys.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mama elephant in Bandipur Tiger Preserve

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We stayed in a beautiful treehouse and were woken up on the first morning by a curious monkey who was trying to peek into our room. He jumped on a deck chair and nearly knocked it over, then when he couldn’t see well enough through the sheer curtains, he climbed up to look through a small window above our slider. We just checked each other out for a bit until he ran over our roof and disappeared.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After breakfast we took a long walk through the estate. During the monsoon season we were told to watch out for leeches, so we wore socks and sneakers. When Ashwin heard his Auntie Vinuta talking about the leeches, he absolutely refused to go hiking, until Uncle Ram offered to carry him on his back. We walked through intermittent rain and sun, looking for wildlife and saw many birds, including a beautiful Greater Racket Tailed Drongo. Of course, right about that time I felt a slight itch on my calf and when I lifted my pant leg, there was a leech attached. Luckily, Vinuta was prepared with a bag of salt and she got the leech to release from my leg.

We took the long trail through puddles and muck and when we finally reached the end, we realized the trail wasn’t a loop and we had to turn around and go all the way back. The trail was truly beautiful, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful for this experience, but I also don’t want to gloss over the reality and paint a perfectly enviable picture. When I found out that we had to retrace our steps and risk picking up another leech, not to mention the fact that Ashwin was now walking and I was worried for him, I was not feeling happy. So when Ashwin said ‘ When are we going to leave this fucking forest’ – I cracked up laughing because he was speaking my exact thoughts. Anyway, he did end up finding a leech on his leg too, and he handled it in a very calm manner. I was very proud of him. We also saw a peacock on the way back, that we had only heard on the first leg of the journey. We even saw him take off in flight, with a surprising flash of orange on his back. It was truly beautiful.

image.jpeg

Happy 50th Birthday Venkatesh – this trip was his gift.

 

Life and Death

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have thought about this almost every time I visit India, how death is so close to the surface here, and yet India is so full of life. In the West I feel that we gloss over so many things that are difficult to deal with; from where we get our meat, to illness, and death. We want to package things up neatly and we don’t want to discuss our true feelings. But India is not neatly packaged. Perhaps this is a stretch, but I think this can be compared to our sense of smell. These are the tropics, and with heat and humidity everything smells more pungent.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tranquil Resort, Wayanad, Kerala

I began writing this two days ago, but as I sit on the porch of a tree house at Tranquil, a coffee plantation resort, I am continuing to think about it. How do I put this into words without insulting anyone? I don’t think it’s very polite to discuss the way  someone’s home or country smells, yet I want to be honest and record my impressions.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s monsoon season and I am listening to a rushing stream down below as I sit on our deck in the tree canopy. It continues to rain this morning but I am enjoying the storm. I woke up to a rhesus monkey peering in our window and everything smells lush and green. How much better does it get? This is life and I feel lucky to be able to experience it. But underneath the freshness of life is danger, decay and death.  My son fears snakes, but it’s the leeches we have to look out for as we walk the trails. India is messy. We actually took a walk today. Ashwin and I both got leeches but Vinuta Auntie was prepared with salt and they came off easily. See? Not so bad after all. They are also just trying to survive.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThinking back to Bangalore, when we landed in the early morning in the dark and quiet, there was the telltale smell of damp and spice. Gopal, at 84, is there to meet us as usual. We drive through the streets which are already busy at 3 a.m. and smell early morning fires and exhaust from vehicles. The streets already have a fair amount of traffic. Upon entering the ground floor I’m faced with the smell of dog, Bubble has become old and smelly. We walk up the stairs to the Cloudhouse for a nap and as we walk by the door to the apartment on the first floor I smell cats. While eating breakfast there is the smell of death on the breeze. There it is – death, never far away. An animal is decaying somewhere on the property next door. We know that Saras Auntie died in the room off the living room. That room also had a pungent smell when she was alive, and Ashwin is still nervous to enter. Then there is the smell of compost. It’s all vegetable matter breaking down, but it smells like the manure that’s spread in the fields of Indiana when Gopal turns it over. It wafts through the living room. Then suddenly, a strong smell of ripe mango as the breeze blows across the fruit basket on the window sill, or jasmine growing outside the kitchen window. The strong smell of incense is suddenly on par with everything else, not overpowering as it is at home. Does any of this make sense? I’m not sure. They are just my thoughts and this little corner of the India I know.

 Dubai


While traveling to India this time, we flew Emirates through Dubai Airport. The first leg of the journey was over 13 hours but it worked out well. Once the dinner was over and the lights dimmed, we still had plenty of time left to sleep for the night, and it didn’t feel like we were jolted awake at 3 in the morning. I was very excited to see Dubai from the plane and although we didn’t have window seats, our plane had cameras that we could access on our movie screens. One view pointed directly down to the ground and one showed the pilots view. We watched as our plane went over the downtown area with all the skyscrapers, and we watched the buildings dwindle in height as we flew toward the airport. Eventually random squares were dispersed in the desert, some filling with wind driven sand.  Most areas were sandy with scrubby brush, then a bright green rectangle would appear, or one filled with trees and plants in a line. The highways from above looked very orderly and geometric, with many roundabouts.


As we entered Dubai Airport, the first thing we noticed was the quiet – this is a no announcement airport. It is a very sleek , modern airport and we had to take several elevators and a tram to get to our terminal. As we went up an escalator suddenly we heard a soft Namaz, call to prayer, it was soothing and ethereal. I still feel this is one of the most beautiful sounds in the world. This airport was a dream – not crowded or noisy, no lines, and we didn’t have to go through yet another security check. We could go from terminal to terminal freely. I feel that this is the way to travel in future. 

One easy four hour flight and we were in Bangalore. Gopal, my 84 year old father in law, was there to meet us as usual at 3 a.m. Bangalore time. He is truly amazing. So we are now SOD in Bangalore and battling jetlag.

India; what I’ve learned so far.


One thing that struck me this time in India is how comfortable I am there. When I think back to how I was on my first trip and to the questions that many Americans ask me, I realize how far I have come. There are so many things that I can share with those who might be traveling to India for the first time. What I say won’t keep anyone from having to go through their own adjustments, but I do believe I can be helpful. 

First of all, India is so worth it! I often say that everyone should experience India once and I firmly believe it. India is life changing! India has changed dramatically in the past fifteen years. On my first trip to Madras in 2002, it was still difficult to get a phone in your home. If you moved you had to place an order for a phone hook up but it could take a very long time to get one, sometimes years. My in-laws had a home phone, but you couldn’t make long distance phone calls. I remember waking up very early in the morning on my first day and crossing the street, with my husband Venkatesh, to place a call at a public phone. I remember the STD ISD PCO sign for the public call office, a store front always in yellow, with a shop owner that you paid when the call was over. I went to call my parents to let them know I arrived safely and it was the only call I made during my trip. There was no internet and no cell phones at the time. I still carry a ‘dumb’ cell phone and I’m finally tempted to get a smart phone because Uber has now come to India. Everyone in the city carries a cell phone and Uber has made transportation in Indian cities so easy! They arrive in less than 6 minutes and in India this is truly amazing. I remember going to a house for dinner and calling a taxi when it was time to leave. We could easily wait an hour for the taxi to arrive and I remember thinking, shouldn’t we have foreseen this and called at least half an hour ago?

India was an assault on my senses during that first trip. Everything is out there on the streets, all of life from its most mundane; eating, peeing, bathing and rearing children – to its most profound; begging, sickness, mutilation and hunger. I cried often. I went by the book and visited the CDC office to get my vaccinations and anti-malaria drugs before this first visit, but I realized after returning home that the drug made me highly emotional. I never took anything for malaria again and I have now been to India 8 times. Take bug repellant and do your best to prevent being bitten, but guarunteed you will be bitten. Don’t panic!

I have been asked by Americans so many times when telling a story about my time in India, ‘is that a cultural thing?’. I think Americans, or maybe western culture in general, find eastern culture baffling and slightly scary. Yes, some things are done differently, but in general people are the same. They want to be treated with kindness and respect. There are just a few rules to remember when visiting India. The main one, always eat and pass money with your right hand. Indians traditionally eat with their hands and the running joke is that the left hand is ‘the wiper’. There usually isn’t any toilet paper in the bathrooms and it is not only dirty, but disrespectful to use your left hand for anything decent. Also, when visiting friends and family, never go empty handed. This is very much as it is in the west but instead of showing up with wine or flowers, it is best to take sweets or fruit. I certainly don’t profess to know about all of India, I usually visit the South, but I think this is a decent house gift anywhere you go. If there are children or elders in the house, it’s nice to show up with a personal gift. Children always get a small toy or book when you haven’t seen them for a while.

I know this is probably the hardest part, but when walking around or especially visiting a tourist sight, put your ‘game face’ on. If you look like you belong and you don’t walk around looking wide eyed and scared, then you are less apt to be bothered by people who are begging or selling their wares. Also, without having to adopt Indian clothing fully, it is helpful to wear some pieces of local clothing. A ‘kurta’ top in any length with jeans or a shawl make you look like you fit in better. Also, unless you are staying in the center of a progressive city like Bangalore, Indians don’t usually show much leg or chest. Tanks tops, short skirts and shorts are not the best clothing to wear. Indians do show plenty of midriff in their saris, so this not an issue. Again, this is just local custom and showing too much leg just lets those around you know that you don’t belong. Instead of blending it can make you a target.

My family is Indian and when I visit it is usually customary to see all the local elders and cousins nearby. Indians are very social, friendly people. They will always feed you in their homes and food is something to be shared. If you are eating in your own home, always offer food to a guest. You should never eat in front of someone without offering some of what you have. I think these are also good manners in the west, but we have become quite lax about our formalities, whereas Indians are less so. Family and responsibility, supporting your friends and neighbors, and being helpful to others is very important. That does not mean you won’t experience rudeness on the street. That is another story, but for now this is enough. More to come later!


A kolem is a design, usually made by applying rice flower with your hand, as a blessing on the doorstep of your house. This one with flowers and fruit is made for a pooja ceremony, while below the prefab designs are made with stencils.

Ajanta

image

Holy crap! I walk into the first cave at Ajanta and there it is, the stunning bodhisattva Padmapani from my art history books. They keep it in low LED light to help preserve the color. The man below is using a spotlight and shop vac to clean cave 2. My guide asked him to shine the light onto the paintings so I could see better. I don’t really like the term bucket list, but this was definitely at the top of my 100 things to do before dying.

Man cleaning cave 2

Man cleaning cave 2

Many of the ceiling panels look like they are painted in black and white, but with a flashlight one can see Lapis Lazuli blue on the edges of all the flowers and highlighting other areas.

image

Cave 2

Volcanic stone ceiling

Volcanic stone ceiling

Cave 7

Cave 7

image

Cave 9 exterior

Cave 9 and 10

Cave 9 and 10

image

The chaitya halls of caves 9 and 10 are thought to be the oldest, dating back to the 2nd century BC. Stupas, not Buddhas, were the focal point until the death of the Buddha.

image

Cave 10, paintings from the 1st century BC

image

Paintings from portico of Cave 17

Paintings from the portico of Cave 17

The colors in the paintings outside of cave 17 are still so vibrant. The pinks and oranges are surprisingly fresh looking. Conservators have put up white fabric curtains to protect the colors, but for almost 200 years they were only protected by the portico roof and a few posts, (they did spend over a thousand years covered by jungle though).

Outside Cave 17

Outside Cave 17

image

Cave 19 exterior

image

Cave 26 interior

image

image

Cave 26' reclining ng buddha

Bliss

The Back Story

It looks like these posts are turning into more of a travel guide and less of a personal story. For that I am sorry and I hope it hasn’t been too dry. I have wanted to share the fantastic places I have seen, but neglected to include the experiences. So read on for the back story behind my journey to India’s ancient caves!

Juice stand next to bus stand, Pune

Juice stand next to bus stand, Pune

Traveling to Aurangabad by myself was a big challenge. Although that was part of the point, to go out and navigate India on my own, it was quite nerve wracking at times. I booked the entire trip on my own, arranging bus tickets and finding a nice hotel on Booking.com. I e-mailed the hotel for help with the travel arrangements and a guide for my trips to the caves. A woman named Yvette from The Meadows Resort was very helpful. So I was prepared for my trip, or was I?

Two boys posed for me at the bus stop while I was taking pictures of autos for Ashwin

Two boys posed for me at the bus stop while I was taking pictures of autos for Ashwin

I told Venkatesh I would keep in touch by phone during the bus travel, but when I arrived in Pune with my Indian cell phone it wouldn’t work. I had three days of wedding events coming up so I wasn’t worried. Luckily, my father in law, Gopal, was able to fix the service from Bangalore and by the time I boarded the bus it was fine. Thank god, I couldn’t have done the trip without my phone! I’m sure I would have been standing on some street corner after dark, in an unknown city, and hailing an auto to a hotel I didn’t really know how to get to. Phew! Mom and Dad, please don’t panic, I am now home safe, and I didn’t tell you before hand so you wouldn’t worry!

DSC01290

A new kind of auto in Pune, carries many people like a small bus

I was dropped at the side of a busy road in Pune, by the Royal Orchid Hotel driver and Leah. I watched them drive off to the airport, leaving me to wait for a bus that was almost an hour away. I was pretty sure I was in the right place so I was okay, just thinking – I can relax once I’m on the bus. The bus was ten minutes early, so I gave them my reservation and found my sleeper berth. It was quite clean and I settled in for the five hour journey. At the last stop in Pune, a family came and told me I was in their berth. None of the bus personnel spoke English, but it turned out I was on the bus that comes before mine. I had to get out and wait for my bus at a stop on the edge of Pune (who knows where). Luckily there was a bus office and I could sit in a chair outside and wait for my bus. I felt uprooted and nervous, but there were some nice people helping me. A twelve year old boy wearing a green t shirt with ‘smart boy’ written on the front sat down and started talking to me. He was very curious and sweet. I think he wanted to practice his English and he had a lot of questions about my family and the U.S. He really helped me get through the half hour wait. He even showed me to a bathroom down a narrow alley and filled a bucket of water for me to use. Finally my bus came, not as clean as the last and it felt like I was travelling in a coffin, but it got me to Aurangabad feeling only slightly nauseated.

Busy street market on the way to Aurangabad

Busy street market on the way to Aurangabad

DSC01297 I had arranged for a hotel driver to pick me up at the bus stand, but when I texted the contact person that I was on the bus approaching Aurangabad, I got a one liner back, ‘sorry?’. This is when I began to get really nervous! Thanks to a working cell phone I was able to get the contact person to talk directly to the driver and I had someone waiting for me when I arrived. Another phew! I arrived at the hotel around 10:30 and it was a ghost town. I was worn out from the trip and had a little trouble communicating with the man at the front desk. The helpful Yvette, it turns out, works at the main office in Bombay – not the resort. Maybe things would look better in the morning, I thought, so I settled into my cottage, locked every door and window and went to sleep. In the morning, another man at the front desk pointed me to the restaurant (he spoke even less English than the one the night before). I didn’t see another guest in sight, just some men cleaning the garden. At the outdoor patio there were two men eating, they turned out to be the only other guests at the resort. Have you noticed there were quite a few men and no women? I was given a menu, and when I ordered, nothing was available. After all, how do you keep a restaurant running when there are only three guests? I was given a choice of four items, I picked one and ordered coffee…..

The coffee came out, they called it milk coffee, but it was really just milk. I said ‘where is the coffee?’. ‘This is coffee Maam.’ ‘But coffee is brown, not white’, I said. ‘Light coffee Maam’, said the waiter. They had little packets of Nescafé that had to be added if you wanted to get any kind of a buzz. Okay, a resort without good filter coffee? I would think this would be priority number one! My entire resort experience continued like this. It was advertised as a garden spa resort; with pool, massage, steam room, weight room and hot tub. They showed a wide range of eastern and western foods, and baked goods that they made on sight. I was looking for a little pampering, but this was definitely not the place for it. The room was comfortable, the staff were quite nice, but it was unsettling. Thankfully, my day trips and guide were fantastic. After all, that was the main reason I went. The worst part happened when I went to check out and none of my international cards could be processed through their machine. I didn’t have enough cash and it took two hours of negotiations. Finally, Venkatesh had to call the hotel manager to work something out. By then it was late and I was completely wound up and worried that they were going to kick me out on my last night. I had a 5 am taxi going to the airport the next morning and I was never so glad to go home, to family and Malleswaram. Adventure over!

Ashwin dressed as an auto driver for fancy dress day at school

Ashwin dressed as an auto driver for fancy dress day at school