Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Indian postal services...

Yesterday we made a visit to a paper making factory in Sanganer just south of Jaipur--had a great tour of the process from start to finish. They use fabric to make their paper--this is where Anokhi sends all its scraps. And at the end of the tour were two great big tables around which women were attaching handles to the Anokhi shopping bags which seemed very fitting for us. These are not just any old paper bag; the paper is sturdy and attractive. I'll be bringing a couple home with me.
We then went to the main post office in Jaipur to mail home some of our purchases. I decided to lighten my load considerably by sending everything I don't need from now on...first we had to line up at a wicket to get it all weighed and costed. Then we took our various bags to "customer service" which was a man standing behind a table in the lobby. It was utterly fascinating to watch him at work. He started by stacking my shopping bags to create a fairly uniform cube (I had tried to do it in advance on a corner of the table, and he stopped me, "No madam, I'll handle that", and sure enough he managed to create a uniform shape with newspaper and string. Next came the custom made bag. He was using old sheeting, and he measured and ripped a piece of cloth that he sewed with a very quick running stitch into a bag. Then my goods were slipped into this bag and he stitched it shut. I asked if I could take his photo, and he said "sure, why not?" He's probably been a source of entertainment for tourists for years. I then had to line up at yet another wicket to send it. This package weighed over 11 Kg and cost me about 3200 Rs (around $80) to send via SAL post.
We spent the rest of the day shopping! Can you imagine...
Today we move onward to Ramthambore national park and hope to see a tiger early tomorrow morning. That'll be a nice change from the shops!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesday in Jaipur

Another wonderful day...we spent the morning at the Anokhi Farm which is where all the production of Anokhi clothing takes place (as well as where the vegetables are organically grown, and the bread and cakes are baked for their cafe). We were shown around by a very affable and knowledgeable manager who entertained all our questions...for example we learned that while tailors are traditionally male in India, Anokhi is making an effort to train women. Cutting is computer controlled--a state of the art machine that marks with a laser and cuts through multiple layers. Block or screen printed cotton is the most common fabric--Anokhi has been responsible for encouraging and supporting traditional block printing in some of the surrounding villages. I won't go into all the details of the process here, but we were sure impressed. We had lunch with the founders, John and Faith Singh, in their lovely home, and then it was off to the Anokhi Museum of Hand printing which is in a restored haveli near the Amber Fort. I spent a blissful hour or so reading all the texts and labels, and inspecting all the fabric, before finally trying my hand at block printing. And of course no visit to a museum is complete without a visit to the shop where I bought 4 lovely small books on block printing--essentially catalogues of previous exhibitions. Back in Jaipur we dropped into yet another textile wholesaler but I must admit to feeling supersaturated and didn't want to look at anything more, and certainly didn't have the energy to bargain. There was a skirt I was interested in, however his starting price was Rs 1500 (I thought he said 1000), and so I said 500. "No, madam, that is less than my cost! 1500 is a firm price!" I pointed out how none of the seams were finished and showed him that I like to finish my seams (I had on a pair of pants that I've made), saying that if I were to buy it I'd spend a lot of time finishing the seams. "Yes, he said, that's why the price is what it is--there are many panels and 10 metres of fabric!" I didn't feel like arguing, and said I understand this would take a long time to make, but no thank you and walked away. He didn't come after me so I wonder if he was insulted. I was so tired I didn't care!
We tried South Indian food tonight--just a snack of doasa which are like crepes made from rice served with a variety of sauces--one was a sweet and salty, another coconut, and the third hot and spicy. It was okay but very oily. I enjoyed the beverage I'd ordered along with it--a refreshing "salty" lassi (meaning not sweet).
Returned to the hotel (Diggi Palace) where Wendy and I enjoyed a 375 ml bottle of Indian red wine (they've sold out of the white) while we browsed through all the printing books I bought today. Tomorrow I'm going to mail a couple of parcels home--one of books and the other of fabrics. No point in carrying all this stuff because I'm going to be stopping off in Britain on the way home. I don't relish the trek through the London underground fully loaded. I will be much happier carrying as little as possible.
We're also planning to visit a paper making workshop where Anokhi send their scraps of fabric to be turned into sturdy paper for shopping bags.
After almost three weeks here, I find myself somewhat insulated against the stuff I found difficult at first--the noise, the beggars, the dust and grime... I'm now more able to see the beauty, and am thankful for the privilege of being here in this magical place. This morning we awakened with the birds and the morning calls to prayer at about 6 AM--I don't know where the mosques are in relation to us, but there are at least two if not three close by. It's interesting that they don't all start at the same time, nor are they on the same notes! None-the-less, Wendy and I really enjoy this dawn chorus. There has been little need for an alarm clock!
Thanks for reading, and I enjoy your comments!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Shakespeare at Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur

Last night we went to a fabulous performance of Macbeth in the gardens of Mehrangarh Fort, and what a fabulous evening! After paying our 40Rs, we walked down the stairs to be greeted by durries (flat woven rugs) and big bolsters on the lawn, but even better there was a bar!! I had a glass of white wine for the exorbitant price of 360 Rs (about $9) but I DID NOT CARE. That sounds very much as tho' I was yearning for wine, and it's true, I was! As for the play, it was wonderful. The cast is a young troupe from the UK, and they had shortened the play to about 1.5 hours. Most of the soliloquies were handled by a beautiful singer (a capella) with a very haunting and ethereal voice, so perfect for the setting. The acoustics were terrific--the singer's voice rang out around the ramparts, and the actors projected every vowel and consonent beautifully.
We left Jodhpur around 9 AM, and after a long car journey (about 6 - 7 hours) reached the outskirts of Jaipur. Again the roads were very interesting--lots of transport trucks (highly decorated with fancy lettering, e.g. "Please honk", "Wait for side", "Use dipper at night" and lots of tinsel and dodads hanging off the side mirrors. I wrote about Indian traffic in my first post--I found it very challenging then, but I'm much more relaxed now. I've come to appreciate the graceful choreography of it all! Best of all, no one gets enraged about being cut-off or stopped. It all feels very calm. We have yet to witness any crashes, altho' we have certainly felt that there have been close calls. Our driver Kan Singh, is very sedate and we feel like the royal family being driven hither and yon.
Just on the outskirts of Jaipur, we stopped at the village of Bagru to find the block printers. We found one workshop very quickly (it was well sign posted), and sure enough, this is the same workshop patronized by Maiwa of Vancouver...Charlotte Kwon was just here a few days ago. We were shown the whole process, from the bales of undyed cotton cloth to the block printing (many layers), mud resist, and indigo vats. Interesting that they still do a lot of chemical dyes for the inernal Indian market because Indians want bright colours, whereas they export the fabric made from natural dyes. Charlotte Kwan has had a lot of influence in creating this market for them. I of course bought a several metres mainly of indigo block and mud resist prints...
Tomorrow we will be visiting the Anokhi farm and workshops ( and I'll write more then. There is a great computer room here at the hotel (4 computers) .
Thanks so much for your comments. I love knowing that I have readers!

Sunday, February 21, 2010


We moved on from Ahmedabad via overnight train to Udaipur. The train was slow and gentle but of course not exactly restful. I was surprised at how much sleep I probably got! Udaipur was a restful tourist spot--very scenic--and our hotel was right on the lake. We had our meals on the roof top terrace. Yesterday morning Wendy and I awoke to several calls to prayer at 6 AM--it was hard to pick out individual voices--and then the birds started their dawn chorus! And then the dogs! So, we decided to get out there and join them...walked along almost empty streets and over a foot bridge to the other side of the lake where we stood on a "ghat" near a temple watching the sun come up. With that, the streets started to fill up with people carrying buckets of clothes, and the morning ablutions and laundry started. We returned to the hotel on streets that were now bustling with kids in school uniforms, waiting to be picked up by auto rickshaws. It's an amazing sight to see about 10 kids piled into one of these three wheeled vehicles (normally seats 2 adults comfortably but 4 can cram in as we did on a few occasions) with their school bags and packs on hooks around the outside of the canopy.
We were picked up by our driver Kan Singh to drive to Jodhpur via a fabulous Jain Temple complex, where we enjoyed a simple pilgrim's lunch for Rs 35. We were all given an aluminum tray and then two Al bowls were plunked down...wet from the rinse they'd rec'd under a tap...and then the servers started to put food in front of us, ladled out of small vats. We were expected to eat everything served, thus if we didn't want something we had to indicate that. I took everything of course with the hope that my intestinal fortitude would withstand any unusual germs! It was all delicious, and so far I haven't experienced any tummy upsets.
Enroute to Jodhpur we tried to find a Durrie weaving (flat rug) co-op in a village called Salwas, but no luck. Then back to the main highway, and there it was on the road! They'd moved about 10 years ago and the Lonely Planet hasn't updated its instructions. Some beautiful work. I was tempted but didn't budge. Most of the rugs are woven with chemical dyes altho' some natural dyes are being reintroduced. One of the reasons we had such difficulty finding this co-op, in spite of our driver stopping to ask many people, is that the weavers belong to the harijan caste. In the rural areas the caste system is still in place.
This morning we spent at the wonderful fort here in Jodhpur, and tonight we're going back to watch Shakespeare's Macbeth! In such a beautiful setting!
Thanks for all your comments, dear readers!

Thursday, February 18, 2010


We've been staying at Heritage House in the old section of Ahmedabad. Find our host's blog by googling Heritage House Ahmedabad (I tried to copy the link here but it didn't paste). This has been an AMAZING 4 days with this family. We've been guests in every sense of the word--they've incorporated us into their space with great grace. It's an extended family in a couple of old houses which have been made into one, and their cousins and other relatives are next door sharing the same entrance courtyard. We've eaten great Gujerati food in the kitchen after watching it being prepared. I have even had a lesson in rolling out chappati. The textiles here have been absolutely fabulous. Our tour escort, Vicky, has a friend here who has been our local "guide". Mala and her sister Bela also run a textile studio with tailors, pressers, and hand-stitchers. We had a great visit today seeing their design processes, samples and the final products. On Tuesday and Wednesday we drove north of the city to visit weavers in villages weaving intricate single and double ikat and mashru cloth. Most of the looms are in the main rooms of their houses and are "pit" looms. And in one home the wife demonstrated how she spins wool, while her husband showed us his weaving. The work is very much separated along gender lines--the women do much of the prep work while the men do the actual weaving. One of the most spectacular workshops was in Patan with the Savli famiy who are the only weavers of Patola double ikat. They have a website which I haven't checked yet. Today we stayed in town and shopped--there is a splendid book store specializing in Indian art books, particularly textiles, and I was helpfully escorted by auto rickshaw by the owner's son to the nearest ATM so I could pay for my purchase. Our final stop was at a stupendous fabric store and I had difficulty buying only two pieces of cotton. There was an excellent selection of block printed cotton and silk using natural dyes, and fortuitously the printer was in the store--he lives in north west Gujerat, near the border with Pakistan, which is quite far.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Greetings from Jaipur

We're now at the Hotel Madhuban having had many more adventures between Agra and Jaipur. We did get to the Taj Mahal the next day at sunrise, but it was cloudy! And there were crowds! And frankly it was anti-climatic after having visited some other similar mausoleums like Humayun's Tomb in Delhi and Itimad-ud-Daulah's Tomb in Agra. We left Agra to drive towards Jaipur, stopping at Fatehpur Sikri (the walled city that the Mughal emperor Akbar built in 1571) where we had to run a gauntlet of young men wanting to be our guides "Please madam, you will be safe with me! I will keep all the touts away from you! I will explain everything and you won't get lost!" And boys and old men trying to sell us cheap jewelry, postcards, books... Our Canadian sensibilities were really tested! And in fact we did get lost in the city...found ourselves retracing our steps and wondering what the heck we were looking at...then all we had to do was attach ourselves to yet another large group of English-speaking tourists (there were many). From Fatehpur Sikri we stopped at Keoladeo Ghana National Park for a welcome respite from the traffic, and spent the next 2.5 hours on a cycle rickshaw accompanied by a naturalist guide on a bicycle. In spite of the drought this area is experiencing, we saw lots of birds (storks, paraqueets, kingfishers, ducks, geese), antelope, jackal, and a python! Best of all there was no one trying to sell us anything. The final destination that day (Wednesday) was the Abheneri Step well, and wonder of wonders we were the only people there! This is quite a ways off the beaten track, and we had a gracious man VJ Singh guiding us. This is a huge well built about 1100 years ago and is very deep, but completely surrounded by stairs down to the water. This would have been a welcome respite from summer heat. We stayed that night at the Bhadrawati Palace hotel and it was rather eery...we were the only guests in the enormous palace!
Yesterday (Thursday) we picked up Yvonne in Jaipur and headed north to the Shakhawati. We enjoyed exploring some of the "havelis" or frescoed mansions in Dundlod, and spent last night in Nawalgarh at Apani Dhani, an eco lodge. Now, this is a place I would definitely return to. You can google the website and see for yourself. The water is solar-heated and guests are encouraged to take Indian baths (a bucket and dipper) rather than a shower. Sure enough I had an adequate bath in very hot water with about 2 litres of water. There are photovoltaic cells for electricity. The buildings are built as ecologically as possible using sun bricks and straw with pampas grass thatch roofs (these have to be renewed every 2 -3 years because of termites). The food is vegetarian and is grown organically on their farm. A portion of the room rent supports various social causes in the area. I wished we were not rushing off!
Today we had a complete change of pace from sightseeing...the castle at Samode was closed due to a wedding and so our driver took us to a 5 star heritage hotel in an old fort at Chomu just north of Jaipur. We had a very luxurious lunch that cost us about 3x our usual fare. We were shown around the property and into some of the rooms--definitely not the kind of place we're staying at!

Monday, February 8, 2010

First posting from INDIA!

Good Tuesday morning from Agra! I am finally in a place where there are plenty of internet opportunities. I'm writing this from a little hole in the wall for telephone and internet opposite our Hotel Sheela. The keyboard is sticky but it's only going to cost me 30Rs for an hour (about 75 cents).
I am going to write in a stream of consciousness fashion as the ideas occur to me...
India is truly an assault on all the senses. I expected as much from my travels in China, but for some reason the pace seems more frenetic here. We are constantly being accosted by people trying to sell things, from pens and postcards to clothing and other goods. And lots of kids at intersections in Delhi begging...difficult to see. Amazing colours in the women's clothing--it's not unusual to see whole families involved in road construction projects, the women with the saris tucked up around their legs. The roads are plugged with traffic--everything from bicycles, cycle and auto-rickshaws, horse and ox-drawn carts loaded with goods and people, families on motorcycles (dad is the driver and the only one wearing a helmut, mum usually has a baby on her lap and is riding sidesaddle as her sari is fluttering, and a young child is either squashed between the parents or in front of dad), small and large cars, transport trucks, buses (Delhi has the "world's greenest public transit" because the buses are powered by CNG which I assume is compressed natural gas) and pedestrians! It's all a dance with vehicles weaving in and out, never seeming to touch each other although most vehicles seemed to have scatches and bumps, and pedestrians trying to cross the street, hopping in front of vehicles, waiting for gaps to jump forward again (we tried it too and succeeded!)...and a cacophony of horns. It's expected that horns are tooted before overtaking. Vehicles rarely stay in a lane--the lane markings are ignored...a supposed two lane road is actually 4 vehicles wide... And this is all happening in right-hand drive vehicles so of course we North American passengers are a little nervous! But very grateful for our wonderful driver who is calm and very good. Okay, that's enough about the traffic. The smells are different too--smoke and sewage predominate. The pollution is bad--blow your nose and the tissue is black. Dogs everywhere, and last night they seemed to bark all night. No cats. Monkeys and cows wander the streets--well, the monkeys tend to stay up on top of houses or walls and are not all that obvious, but cows are all over. Not so much in Delhi, but certainly on the outskirts and on the road to Agra.
We have seen some amazing sights of course--from mosques and tombs to bazaars and fairs and museums. This morning we were going to go to the Taj for sunrise but it rained all night until just about an hour ago. We are here for another night so are going to try again tomorrow morning. We're meeting our driver shortly and will explore other areas of Agra.
I am really enjoying the food and have had Indian, Chinese, and western so far. Our guest house in Delhi was a great place to start from--our host, Nona, helped ease us into this experience by sending a taxi to pick us up at the airport at the awful hour of 5:30 AM Saturday. There he was, a man in a turban, holding a sign JANET/WENDY. A very welcome sight indeed after 2 nine-hour flights (Calgary to Heathrow, then on to Delhi after a two hour wait). And he proceeded to point out a few sights along the way.
The sun is out--we're off to explore a bit. Write some comments, ask me questions, and I'll do my best to respond.