Monday, 19 March 2018

Day Seven - Bikaner

Outdoors, seated round the fire at Bikaner

Wish I'd bought this dress printed with gold giraffes for my three year old grandaughter

The landscape changed completely as we drove from Jaipur to Bikaner. It reminded me of my childhood in the middle east - semi-desert scrubland, with its scratchy, dry plants becoming more and more arid until it was just sandy desert. Noticeably hotter too.

We stopped for lunch at a restaurant that had had no electricity for two days. But they still managed to give us a wonderful meal under a bright yellow canopy in the garden. A consomme soup with slivers of fresh vegetables in it followed by a potato cutlet, rice and vegetables, potatoes in caraway seeds and hot naan bread. This is what I had, as nearly every meal was a serve yourself buffet, other people chose different things but I avoided curry when I could. We always drank whatever water in jugs we were given and suffered no ill effects, but it was a treat to have a bottled water called Bismeli - recommended if you ever have a choice.

Strolling round the beautifully kept garden after lunch we noticed a fire burning with a billy can of water on it. The gardeners clothes hung over a fence. He lived in the garden we guessed.

After a long drive we came to the Heritage Resort at Bikaner. This hotel in the middle of the desert has two person bungalows near an open air swimming pool. During the black sky night the temperature plummets and fires are lit outside. It was seriously cold and the little electric bar fire in our bungalow stayed on all night. 

I forgot to mention the dress, pictured above. I loved that dress, seen in Jaipur, but money had become an issue, with every cash machine we spotted being out of action up until now. As India has a 'closed economy' you cannot get rupees until you are actually in India. My bank had persuaded me to use a Barclaycard. Big mistake. Our own sterling currency changed  for rupees locally is the best option.

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Crafts in Jaipur

Block printing on cotton fabric
The dye bath the printing block is dipped into
A carpet weaver at his loom
Hand finsihing the rugs
A colourful example of a large finished rug

Jaipur is known for manufacturing or more accurately hand making lots of different things.
We visited a fabric printing workshop first. I've tried printing from those wooden Indian printing blocks in the past and not mastered the technique. 

It was fascinating to watch the skill with which the printer applied one block, let it dry, and then applied another colour with another block on top of it, gradually building up more detail in the fabric design. He had a dye bath with what looked like a fitted piece of blanket in the top of the container. And his expert hands printed the fabric with no smudges or drips.

Equally fascinating to me was the fact that there were people under his printing table hidden by the long cloths around it. I fondly imagined his wife and children hiding, just waiting for those pesky tourists to go away!

The next workshop we visited was where rugs were being made. The rugs are hand-made from start to finish with the loose ends being knotted into fringe by the women sitting in a row pictured above. As we watched the gorgeous printed rugs being thrown down in front of us I thought of my interior designer friend and of how she would have enjoyed seeing, and maybe even buying, some of those rugs.

Finally we visited a jewellery workshop where giant blocks of semi-precious stone were cut, sanded and polished into smaller stones to be set in gold or silver jewellery pieces.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Day Six - The Amber Fort, Jaipur, by elephant

Elephant waiting in the rain to take two passengers up the hill to the Fort
Elephants taking people up the steep hill . You can just see another coming down.
The beauiful Amber Fort at Jaipur
Love this wall decoration in the Mirror Palace
Ceiling decoration

Our elephant was called 'Muskang' or Smile and riding him was like being on a slow-motion rocking horse. The only way up and down the hill to the spectacular Amber Fort is by jeep or elephant and the experience will be a lasting happy memory.

I particularly loved the mirrored walls. The pieces of 'mirror' are curved and probably not mirror at all. Our guide thought it was 'calcium silicate'. Apparently one of the Queens asked if she could sleep under the stars and so these mirrored walls and ceilings were made especially for her. 

The beautiful painting on walls and ceiling was achieved with wet plaster which lasted much longer than painting onto dry walls. The colours were made by crushing and mixing lapis lazuli for blue, malachite for green, turquoise and real gold. You'll see a lot more painted walls later in this blog diary.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Day Five - Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri - a World Heritage site

Red stone pillars with detailed carving
A gardener's paradise - where seedlings are nurtured
Can you see what this lorry is transporting?

En route to the pink city of Jaipur we stopped at the former residence of the Emperor Akbar - Fatehpur Sikri (pronounced Fatty-purr-sickry). Akbar moved here from the Red Fort in Delhi, and used the same craftsmen to build the palace from the local red sandstone.
The gardens were completely weed-free and we were invited through a padlocked gate to admire the seedling beds - so neat and perfect. The elderly gardener hoped we had some English coins for his children who collected them he said. And actually we British were made to feel so welcome that I can imagine Indian children wanted to collect our coins - even the copper ones. 

Many Indians are grateful to the British for re-designing the country after it had been under Muslim rule for many years. The British initiated the railways and condensed over 500 states into just 29 and, by the example of English wives, encouraged women to come out of their homes and become better educated. Although there is still a way to go with more boys being educated than girls, especially in the villages, our guide felt that things were generally improving for females in Indian society.

Continuing the drive to Jaipur we saw this lorry pictured above. Can you see the elephant in the back? It is being taken home after attending a wedding.

We stopped for lunch at 'Lake View Hotel'. No lake, but a perfect meal under a vast canopy in the garden.Rice and dhal with mixed plain vegetables and hot naan bread. 

The attached shop was where I selected three silver rings with stones for just £3 each. I was mighty pleased with these and it was the first thing I bought in India. I would have liked to buy a string of square cube lapis-lazuli beads but I didn't ask the price and as usual, it's the things you don't buy that you regret!!

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Warm sun and flowers

I've never been abroad in January before but it was a real treat to feel warm sunshine (23 - 33 degrees in the daytime) and to see flowers you either don't see in England or only see at the height of summer. 

As you step into some hotels a garland of French marigolds is put round your neck and your forehead touched with red or orange dye. This looks beautiful on Indian ladies but made some of us British look as if we'd just been shot! 

At this stage of our trip we stayed at the Lemon Tree hotel at Jaipur, a particularly nice place to stay. As well as the usual garland and bindi we were given a lemon-scented damp hot muslin flannel and the foyer smelled of lemons. There were all lemon toiletries in the rooms and some of the best meals of the trip. I was still struggling with finding curry alternatives (I managed to lose over half a stone on this trip!) but here I enjoyed baked yoghurt (yes really!) and halva which was ground nuts and chopped dried fruit with honey. A delicious breakfast!

I'm not good at naming flowers and I don't want to get it wrong. But we saw a lot of bourgainvillea from deep pink to orange and deep red, pictured fourth photo down.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Day Four -The Taj Mahal

Loved these lights in the hotel foyer
First sight of the Taj Mahal made us gasp in wonder. It's so big and imposing. So white and glowing. The pride of India and one of the seven wonders of the world. A monument to the love Shah Jahan had for his wife.

 It took 17 years to build from pure white marble, and the toil of 20,000 men,  to house the remains of his beloved wife. For the rest of his life he could gaze at the beautiful building as he remembered her.

Security is strict as you can imagine. My notebook was confiscated and I was told it would be thrown away in spite of all my pleading. That was on the way in. Luckily our guide managed to get it back on our way out... 

I took the pictures of beautiful examples of inlaid white and black marble at the marble workshop we visited, not at the Taj Mahal.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Day Three - Agra

By train to Agra. Noticed the sign Differently Abled - a much nice term than our Disabled...
The vast red sandstone Agra Fort
White marble embedded with  semi-precious stones
Beautiful examples of carved and inlaid white marble inside the Fort
View from the Agra Fort of the haze hidden Taj Mahal

This morning we went to the crowded Delhi train station to catch the train to Agra. I saw people carrying sacks of produce on their heads and chai wallahs selling tea from clanking cans.  En route we saw makeshift shanty towns by the side of the railway line, and lots and lots of wandering cows.

In Agra the biggest employer after the tourist industry is marble work. We visited a marble workshop to see white marble being inlaid with blue lapis and green malachite, both imported from Iran and Afghanistan, together with local red carnelian and mother of pearl.

The marble is gouged out with a tool like an old dip pen, the semi-precious stones shaped by grinding and sanding them down and then a 'secret recipe glue' is applied to keep them secure in the marble. The resulting table tops, coasters and vessels were not my taste but I noticed other tourists buying them.
We were warned that pens might be confiscated when we visited the fort and the Taj Mahal the next day, as they could be used to steal these precious inlays or to write graffitti on the monuments.
I couldn't imagine anyone being barbaric enough to spoil the beautiful handiwork inside the Agra fort, pictured above.