Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Waving goodbye to Bangers

As we wave goodbye to Bangalore and this chapter of our lives, I really don't know what to say. I am so so sad to be leaving incredible India but deep down am happy to be going back to Cali. For now, I am concentrating on the big farewell not the reunions and reconnections.

We have seen so much, done so much, had so many adventures, learnt so much. I can't even think what the highlights were and it's too soon to really assess the lessons learnt. I will so very definitely be bringing some part of India back with me. I have been immersed and entrenched and somewhere deep inside us, this wild crazy place is now part of us. 

It's been like living surrounded by amplifiers - everything is louder, brighter, smellier. Even the emotions.......I've been more frustrated, more irritated, more humbled, more amazed, more overwhelmed, more in awe, more everything. I've laughed more, cried more....whatever you think about living in India - you feel so alive, sometimes frighteningly so!!!!

We have seen the generosity of the very poor, we have seen beauty, dignity and grace come out of poverty and suffering. We have met so many unsung heroes - those that do so much to try and counter the lives of the have-nots. 

The little adventures, life here is sort of a series of them. Only this morning my maid arrived with a car and a friend to take all the stuff we aren't bringing back to US and letting her have to sell or keep, to take back to her house before work. She asked if I wanted to go and see her house. Of course!! I jumped into the back of the vehicle with all the boxes - she and her friend in the front - don't know what security thought!! We drove into some back roads behind Whitefield Main Road and then turned onto a little unpaved track - little box shaped houses -  cars on either side, wing mirrors turned in. This was why I imagine, she didn't think I was up to driving to her home. Then over some flagstones covering a deep ditch and onto an empty space of waste land covered in trees and shrubs but no trash, at the back of which stood her tiny little house. Outside were lovingly tended plants and trees, together with cages of chirping fancy colored birds. A little oasis. The house - yes, ramshackle and tiny, filled with furniture and bits and pieces of which she was incredibly proud. Four rooms one behind the other - a bit of a jumble but her home, her little bit of tranquility. I was touched to have been invited and to have a fuller picture of her life, and to see how, despite all her troubles, she has carved out this little piece of home. A little spontaneous adventure and not even 8.00am.  

The traveling, the trips have all been wonderful.........but there are still lots we haven't done. My "to do" list just gets longer. I am sure that when we are back in Cali we will have the need to travel and see more. We have seen so little of the US. 

There have been so many marks of passage as the boys have grown from a preteen and a little kid, to a taller than me teen and a confident boy. I look at the pic of us leaving San Jose 3 years ago, alongside that of us about to leave India. How they have grown. I just pray they really remember their time here - that the life lessons they have learnt will stay with them - a sense of social justice, a country where we go to church, we wake up to the sound of the mosques call to prayer, and we join in our Hindu friends' festivals. Ads has lived as a minority, Wills where his skin color is the norm. They have seen how huge the accident of birth is, how some of these slum kids are bright, enthusiastic, kind, friendly and generous but will never have the same chance at a future they themselves may have. 

Somehow I have to work out how to go back geographically and logistically while still moving forward. What to do with the new discovered interests, the photography, the writing, the fundraising, got to find a way to make them fit.

And I don't even want to think about leaving the friends we have all made. As I have said in this blog many times, you make friends fast and furious in expat land and we have. Some have left before us, some will leave shortly after and some will stay for the long haul. Hopefully we will all meet again, sometime, somewhere..........

This blog - who knows......is it done? am I done?

Our exit has come round too quickly, things fallen into place too easily (so far) that it's hard not to believe that for us, the time is right.................

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pushkar - up the hill

This was after all a photography trip and in search of sunrise and the 'silhouette' shot we had a 4.30am 'rise and shine' call and a very strenuous uphill hike.

I have to admit tho' not necessarily feeling it the time it was an incredibly beautiful morning. The views as the sun crept over the hillsides were quite phenomenal.

The light was so soft until the sun came out to play in full force....

And the elusive silhouette shot...yep - i am maybe getting there (thanks to a couple of friendly models!!!) - tho putting this into action with the camels later was more successful.

Just to prove I was actually there - despite 3 days of tent living and early mornings having a rather strange effect on my hair.

After a most yummy cup of chai - the easy walk back down the hill for a very well deserved breakfast!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pushkar Fair - The Stadium

From the relative peace of the dunes to the Stadium and all the fun of the fair and then some.  The Ferris wheels towered over all, the strange juxtaposition of the old and the new. The noise of the fair permeated deep into the night.

This is India at its noisiest, craziest and at play! People are selling, entertaining, socializing, watching......

The competitions were totally and wonderfully silly. Best mustache - is yours the best twirled, thickest and longest? The pot race -foreigners welcome - though not I'm thinking expected to win - but win this blond girl did and I'm sure is now posted on many blogs and FB pages!

The best and longest competition was the dark v the pale male human pyramids. Aim to knock a clay pot suspended high above the ground off its perch. The foreigners plotted and planned their human pyramid with an engineers precision. We amused ourselves trying to guess their nationalities - strangely I think, not too generalize too much, but when away from their home turf people exhibit more and not less give away signals telling from whence they came. The Brits become more British, the Germans more German etc. - trying to cling onto who they are in a distant land.  Any way while the foreigners practiced and kept a focused eye on the end game,  the locals lounged and chatted - their wiry but strong sinewy muscles betraying the message that they weren't really taking this too causally.

The whistle blew and the clambering began. The Indians with speed and agility quickly climbed on top of each other and to a wild cheer from the crowd knocked the pot down. The foreigner's pyramid wobbled and trembled as it grew higher and eventually, before reaching its apex crashed and burned. With true fortitude, as the Indian team watched on, regrouped and rebuilt and to an equally wild cheer eventually unthroned its clay pot. All entrants got a certificate - and the foreigners a good over dinner story to tell.

The kid gymnasts child labour/exploitation of just families trying to eek out a living in the scrub of the desert the best way they can?

The closing day of the fair drew folks from far and wide----all dressed in their best, the vibrant reds, oranges and yellows of the sari's complimenting the turbans in every color of the rainbow - it was time for them to party and us to leave....

These pics are pretty terrible being taken from our bus back to the airport - but you can maybe get the impression of the melee and the mass. The kids below are on top of a train - they were laughing, playing, jumping about - not a care in the world.......

This trip to Pushkar had everything, absolutely everything I love and admire about incredible India, an appropriate last journey before we return to Cali.......but be warned I will be back!!

Pushkar Fair - The people of the Dunes

The camel herders/owners who bring their camels to market set up home for a few days on the desert dunes while they go about their business. Watching these folks was maybe the highlight of the trip for me.

Before we even moved to India, safely closeted in San Jose, I watched the bollywood movie - Jab We Met, a Hindi romantic comedy with Kareena Kapoor.  Its a typical easy watch happy movie which has a wedding scene in the heroines home town in the Punjab. My absolute favorite scene is when the males of the wedding party dance to 'Nagada Nagada'.  Indian guys can certainly dance and these Punjabis in their wonderful turbans take it to a different level.  Even since then I have had a thing for turbans - in Pushkar I was in my element!!!

These are just a few of my favorite turban pics......

and of course real men can wear pink! Even in the desert everyone has a cell phone.

Turban wearing does I guess make dressing a little more complex in the mornings!!

And these three guys hanging out all in red probably had me down as a stalker by the time I had finished taking their pics every which way.

And this guy with both turban and a beautiful mustache of which he was suitable proud really was something else.

Moving on from my turban fetish and back to life........to make your morning cup go chai your need milk and where best to get it warm and fresh......

Make a fire and your brew is nearly ready

 Time to sip your cuppa while someone else starts kneading the bread while the camels just wait.

Pushkar, it's camels and its people are of course a photographers mecca. So many of our potential photographic masterpieces were bombed by other folks with lenses at least twice the size of mine - but I'm sure we did likewise!

Strangely my fav pic has nothing to do with camels or turbans but this little old lady, her face, teeth and clothes tell a story of a life of toil and hardship but her eye still  twinkles and in her piercing stare an inner strength shines forth.

Pushkar Fair - Cavorting with the camels!

We drove along straight flat roads (I think its a Bangalore thing - the Brits talk about the weather wherever they go, Bangarloreans the roads!) from Delhi, through little towns and scrub to Pushkar Fort.  This would be our (me, another dozen or so photo buffs and our leaders - plug here for Hema Naraynan - teacher and friend) accommodation for the next three nights, tents for two. Posh tents that is, with a bathroom (sort of) and proper beds. With an extra cover and my cleverly remembered camping blanket it was actually quite cozy when the desert had cooled down for the night.

The purpose of the the trip was to do photographic justice to the camels and peoples of the Pushkar Camel Fair. An annual melee of camels to be traded and peoples to buy, sell, socialise and of course  party!

The first camel our party saw roadside as we drove into town elicited a flurry of excitement and camera clicks. A few hours later a herd of 20 camels crossing our path much closer would hardly result in a raised eyebrow. How quickly the unusual becomes the norm, the extraordinary, the ordinary.

The best hours for photography are the hours immediately after sunrise and before sunset when the light is softer and kinder. However, this results in some very early mornings and chilly evenings......but in the name of art (ha-ha) we braved the cold and managed our pre-breakfast jaunts to the 'dunes' to see the world coming to life.

Our transport in and out of town and round and about were camel carts - in four of them we bumped along. Our little convey was definitely efficient and as the days passed we got to know the camels by their degrees of aggression and frequency of emissions from either end!!

I have to say by the end of the trip, although camels will never feature in my list of cuddly cute animals they do have a certain dignity and grace and an ability for incredible peace and stillness.

The turbans (I'll be coming back to them) and the camels just filled the sky line.

The early morns were my favorite times - just to see the calm before the madness of the day, the campfires giving some warmth and food to the folks spending the nights huddled in thin blankets huddled under the clear and cold sky or some make shift shelter.

 And the aim of the exercise was business - buying or selling I'm not sure which!

Camels appeared from all directions...

Much as I did grow to find Camels slightly more appealing - the teeth........

and the tongue............never!!!

Except of those of course of best in show, dressed to kill......the best turned out..... Mr Johnson!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Another busy day in Bangkok!

Across the river from the Grand Palace is the Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn.. Again we travelled by skytrain and then river boat and were now feeling like old hands at getting around Bangkok, especially Ads who seems to have an inbuilt sense of direction - not sure where he gets that from - not from either of us!!

Anyway, a sign on the trains you won't see else where - please give your seat up to monks!

The Wat Arun is seriously tall with very high steps - we got up as far up as possible and could definitely feel our thighs later that day - especially poor Wills whose muscles had the shakes!

 The views were pretty good though.

The boys decided to go dress up!

Next stop was Jim Thompson's House. Said man was an American who was employed in Thailand from the US, fell in love with the country and then retired there. One day aged 61 and 5 days he went for a stroll in the jungle and was never seen or heard of again - either dead or alive. We took a tour of the house but our guide seemed to focus primarily on the toileting issues from bygone ages. Apparently Thai's being very hygienic preferred outdoor toilets. However, if there was a call of nature during the night they used well disguised pottys (not so hygienic). A pottery cat with a removable head was designed for the gentleman's usage and a sort of frog with a hole in its back for the ladies to squat thereover. They say if you kiss a frog it may turn into a prince - not sure what the comparable is here. Anyway it was a very nice Thai style teak house!

At Jim's pad, as all over Thailand, there was a little shrines outside. The theory is that when you build a new house you may displace the spirits who were previously resident. In order to escape their wrath one builds a little house outside for them to live in comfort. Food and water is regularly provided for their welfare.

Next stop the biggest indoor market in South East Asia -The Bangkok weekend market. This is a labyrinth of stalls selling everything - from clothes (knock off designer gear), foods, ornaments, pets and clothes for them, scrap booking and crafting stuff, candles and incense, household goods, knives and knuckledusters........

It was very busy - even the approach.....

Luckily Ads is taller than the average Thai, so even when he'd speed ahead, lag behind or wander down a side street as he is prone to do - we didn't loose him!! He was always at least a head above the crowds!!

 Even Simon who hates to shop was entertained in this market for several hours!!

Last stop in Bangkok was the Erawan Shrine - a very active and busy pray center. I do love the way Hindu's and Buddhists -in fact all religions except Christians  it would seem  - can get down and pray wherever, whoever is about and whatever is going on around them.  We seem to prefer the privacy of  cold dark churches. The Erawan Shrine is right below the sky train and an over road foot path.

None of those at pray seemed remotely concerned by the surrounding activity of everyday Bangkok.

There was a haze of incense and some very Chinese looking dragons, and some acrobats, the significance of which I didn't work out.

 The Thai dancers prayed for folks by request, chanting and dancing the relevant prayers while the person requesting the prayer knelt on a mat in front of them.

It was then time for us to pick up our bags and return to the airport on the ever efficient public transport.

Three nights in Bangkok and the Towers family happy
Not much between the temples and all the shopping
I feel a return visit coming to me

OK that is terrible but I don't have time to do any better - Thursday off to Pushkar to take pics of Camels......Camel Chaos, Camel Confusion, Cavorting with Camels....there will be camel blogs to come!!!!!