A Little Closer to Heaven

We left the lowlands of the Ganges valley a few days ago and used taxis, planes, SUVs and even a little train to make our way into the foothills of the Himalayas.  Our first stop was for 2 nights at an eccentric and kitschy old hotel known as Cochran Place.  The  hospitality was warm and we felt strangely at home in a through-the-looking-glass sort of way

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This is also where we tasted our first cups of local Darjeeling tea.  Definitely our idea of heaven!

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After filling ourselves with tea and looking at all the cool stuff in the hotel we managed a good walk in the impressive countryside.

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Huge conifers somehow dignify the insanely steep slopes.

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Just to prove we were here.  And yes, those are native rhodies blooming behind us.  And on the roadside below:

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If you’ve seen the documentary about the Indian railway you might remember that the Darjeeling area has one of the last small gage railways and a few working steam engines as well.  The ride we took was using a diesel engine but was a kick anyway.

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So, we chug out of the station- oh, and the tracks are just on the road long with everything else.

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Taken out the window  of the train, see what I mean about sharing the road?

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a tea ‘garden’ as the plantations are called.  the workers below are actually weeding, not picking.

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But here’s some fresh green tea.

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The air up here is clean but there’s been fog and mist every day.  Yesterday AM we were amazed to look out the hotel window and finally see the Himalayas.  Um, well, if you squint and stare at the sky above the trees you might see them!

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We’re in Darjeeling for a full week so we’ve gotten into a routine long walks in the morning and kicked-back afternoons. here’s what we see on our walks:

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The population here is largely Tibetan and Nepali as well as Indian.  The other evening there was a ‘Free Tibet’ vigil below our window-

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In a few days we make our way out of the hills and on Monday will fly to London.

It’s been fun sharing our trip – thanks for all the comments and good wishes.  We’ll gladly show you the other 300 photos when we see you all back home!

BATHING IN THE GANGES!!!!!

Just before we dive into the Ganges (Ganga as its known here) I realized that we’ve been sending a very pretty picture of India, you know, the Taj, fancy forts, Maharana’s palaces etc etc. So here’s a couple of ‘real’ pics just to let you know that its not all sweetness.P1030357 - Copy

If you look carefully there are a couple of wading birds picking their way among the trash.

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Cow dung pattied into rounds, by hand, and dried in the sun. Used as a heat source for cooking. Good reusing!!!

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Yet another common sight, cows or water buffalo any where and everywhere converting grass into cooking fuel.

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Another common sight. Hard to see but there’s a little snack bar behind this family of porkers

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We are in a motorized rickshaw, 3 wheels, a noisy polluting engine ( unless you are in Delhi where they are all natural gas!!) and  an even noisier horn. All wing mirrors are folded in or lost on cars and trucks. You just use your horn. I’m usually pretty game to drive in any country (especially after Bangkok) but I wasn’t even tempted.

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The road belongs to anybody who is on it. Noisy but it seems to work, no rules apply just don’t hit each other.

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A Puri stand.

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Huge amounts of diary are consumed here (most are vegetarians). This is fresh paneer and in the background are sweets (very popular).

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Alleys abound. They make great short cuts or really long ones if you don’t know where your going (we usually didn’t!!).

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We are in the dry season and so it will shrink a little more before the rains hit.

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The water level gets up to about the top of that white paint in the middle of the pic.That’s about twenty feet above what it is today.

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Doing the laundry, beating my clothes on the rocks sure shortens the life of them.

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Now we get to use the dryer.

It so happened that it was Kumbh mela. This is one of the holiest and biggest Hindu celebrations. It happens at four different locations every twelve years. The main one was at Allahabad but Varanasi is a pretty popular place to be for it. Its a gathering of over 60 MILLION people. A lot were at Varanasi, hotels were full and charging double and triple what they usually get, everywhere was crowded. In to this walk Mary and Peter, the two country mice. We, of course, had no what was going on till later.P1030455 - Copy

Bathing at the ghats  ( steps). You might spot somebody you know in there, washing his sins away.

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Sadu’s in boats, Holy women, Holy men, Babu’s this is all part of Kumhb Mela.

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Just a few of the 60 million.

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Next stop a spot of Tea.

THE TAJ and a bit of Birding

As advised, we got up very early to try to beat the crowds and see the Taj Mahal in the light of dawn.  We were rewarded – the first glimpse made me cry. (many of you know that’s not hard to do, but there’s something to said for symmetry, scale, and perfect execution ) Oh, and this is Mary writing, I don’t know if Peter cried…( yes he did. P )
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Yep, there I am, all alone with the Taj.  I then broke into song and was joined by a caste of thousands in a Bollywood musical number.  Wish you’d been here.

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Peter looks good in white marble.

So, that afternoon our driver Dhoni took us to Keoladeo Park, a large nature reserve, and dropped us at a hotel where we said our goodbyes

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We are forever grateful to this man and his trusty Suzuki for 10 good days in Rajastan and daily lessons in how to get along in this very different country.

So, again early the next morn, we were at the park gates by 7, pedaling off on our rented pedals by 7:30.  What we saw was beyond description.  Hundreds of species of birds all so close and so easy to see.  Simply amazing.  Sorry our little camera doesn’t do them justice

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Big egret

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No flipping idea.  Dr. Seuss was here? Camel/Moose/Antelope thing.  We saw lots.

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A whole island of these moody giants.  Storks we think.  Way bigger than they appear here.

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Balancing act

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We were in the saddle for 5 1/2 hours but Peter still looks happy about it here.

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Brick paths made for interesting biking.  Most paths are on dykes so you get right into the wetlands with the fauna.

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Back in town that afternoon we saw several working camels carrying metal and rebar rather than tourists. In the foreground is a hand propelled trike not uncommon for people who have lost the use of their legs.

Driving through RAJASTAN. Part 2

    What a little down time and a good internet connection can do. Here’s Jodhpur. Now the name is the same as those fancy riding breeches that horsy folks wear and I would assume that they originated here along with Polo, pure speculation on my part.
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First of all here’s the fort ( every city has to have at least one ). Then here’s all the people.

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So this Maharana built a pretty impenetrable fort. Only penetrated once in four hundred years and that was for only two days. At the end of his reign he went out and fought the Mughals and lost. He returned to his fort and allowed himself to be bitten by a snake and died. In the tradition of the time his wives and concubines burnt themselves on his funeral pyre. Just a brief historical note!!

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Delicately carved marble and sandstone. Must have been a bitch to dust!!

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The cozy master bedroom suite. The thing above the bed is a fan that was just pushed back and forth to create a nice cooling breeze.

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Elephants were a common means of travel for the Maharanas and this was what they sat on. This was strapped  on top of the elephant. we declined to go for a ride.

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The mausoleum for the Maharanas and this is the current Maharana’s palace.

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A little hazy I know but it was along way away

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A couple of goats dressed for town.

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Getting ready for the next Test Match. ( Cricket, for those of you unfamiliar with the gentlemen’s sport)

Driving through RAJASTAN. Part 1

Well its been a wee while since we last updated this blog. The only reason I can give is that this is INDIA. Everything happens at a snails pace ( the internet connection ) and usually in triplicate, with carbon paper no less. Remember carbon paper??? Any way we have driven to Jaipur, the pink city, and then onto Jodhpur, the blue city. These are all from the Jaipur area, Jodhpur will be next.

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On the road, not an uncommon sight, hay, grain, peanuts or straw we think.

Out side of Jaipur is the old fort of Amer, it existed before Jaipur circa 1650. Perched on top of the hill with great views of the invading armies from other Maharanas.

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Once inside things are pretty palacial, lots of marble, some of it inlaid with different colored marble and stones to create amazing trees and flowers.

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Looking out from one of the many layers of courtyards down to the man made lake and the endless walls surrounding the Maharana’s territory. They literally go for miles up and down hills and valleys.

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The end of the lake showing more terraces and hanging out areas for the various lords and ladies (not together mind you).

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An interior garden.

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An exterior goat.

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Details like this abound in every nook and cranny

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You’ve all seen this before. The Hawa Mahal, or wind palace. The Maharana’s wives concubines and ‘ladies in waiting’ could look out at the surrounding areas, bazars, processions, elephant parades and camel festivals.

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Just tourists and motorbikes today.

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Here’s the Maharini standing in front of one of her palaces in the lake.

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The builder of Jaipur was an astronomy buff. Here is a sundial he built that is accurate to within 2 seconds!!! The shadow line tells the time on a notched, segmented marble slab.  Pretty amazing for 1600′s. He also mapped all our local Heavenly bodies.

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The view down into Jaipur from the battlements. It kind of out grew the city limits. And some of the other city occupants.

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See You in Jodhpur

India, first steps

We’ve been here in New Delhi for 4 days and hardly know where to begin describing that time.  Unfortunately, much of it for Peter has been horizontal due to persistent  gut problems, the pleasures of giardia (we think) but we  are both feeling good today and have arranged to head out of town tomorrow to begin a tour of Rajasthan and then on to Varanasi in a week or two. A few scenes from our Delhi days:

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When we walk out of our alley we never know if the local street will be calm like this or….

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Chaotic like this.  There is always lots of activity tho and you have to be alert or be run over by the motorcycles and  auto rickshaws which rule the smaller roads like ours.

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And less lucky cows who have to pull produce or whatever.

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We got ourselves out and about on Thursday via public transport (a HUGE accomplishment) to this impressive tomb surrounded by beautiful grounds where we strolled and gawked.

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So on another outing we stumbled on a food festival.  Apart from the grilled cheese sandwiches I couldn’t really tell you what we’re looking at but it looked good.

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We visited another beautiful tomb that afternoon – the great and wealthy seem to have taken great care of their final resting  places.

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Safdarjung’s Tomb

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This one’s for you Vicki – pigeons have been replaced with parrots at Safdarjung’s tomb!!  These green beauties were all over the place and doing some mischief on the stone work – prying away at corners and gaps.

We ended up that evening at Connaught Place, a very strange combination of upscale shops and broken down infrastructure with a bit of carnival thrown in here and there.  We were bemused by the folks lined up for Starbucks at 7:30 in the evening….

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Off to Jaipur tomorrow morning!!.

Good bye to the Land of Smiles

We are now in our last few days in Thailand. We fly down to Bangkok and then to New Delhi and begin a whole new chapter. In the meantime here are some final photos of Panya ( have a look at panyaproject.org to see more details of what we’ve been doing and where we’ve been for the last six weeks)

The view to the west from the new second floor The view to the west from the new second floor

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Our last night at Panya – the interns cleaned up the worksite and we had a pizza party

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The morning after, a few breakfasters thru the roughed-in circle window.  All of the earth bricks will get coats of plaster for a smooth finished look and to protect them from the rain.

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Some serious construction discussion going on. “Do we have the pizza party on the new second floor or keep everybody on the lower level”

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And now, in Chiang Mai, the flower festival parade.

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All theses are made of flowers, and then attached to what I assume is a Styrofoam base. That’s a complete assumption on my part. My Thai is not quite good enough to ask such a detailed question.

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Mary and Ping at the entrance to the Ganash museum outside of ChiangMai. The guards are rodents, friends of Ganash.

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This is Ganash, elephant headed, sometimes more than one, pot bellied and many arms, always carrying various things, like knives, fruit, his broken tusk, bows, leaves and buds. The list goes on, if you need more look at Wikipedia. He’s actually a Hindu god but he is quite popular in Buddhist Thailand, I mean if you find a nice god why not hedge your bets.

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Here’s a bee hive that was also in the museum (on a tree in the museum not in the museum if you know what I mean)

The next few shots are taken at the ChiangMai walking market. It happens every Sunday. They close down the street for about a kilometer or so and street vendors just pack both sidewalks. Four pm till when? I’ve never stayed up that late, well not there.  Clothing, massage, foot and full body, ice-cream, wood carvings, lamps, photos, scarves, hill tribe artifacts, food, food, food. What couldn’t you find there? Its pretty much a selling fest and it usually takes a few hours to work your way down one side and up the other, that’s if you don’t stop for a quick foot massage on the way.

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That’s it from Chiang Mai, Panya and Thailand. Our next stop is New Delhi and so our next post will be from there.

SAWASDEE