Monday morning started early with Yoga Mediation at 7.00am. The instructor told us to Love Ourselves and relax every part of the body, including our ear lobes while we laid down on the floor. Mediation is really not in my psyche and I thought it was hilarious that she walked around the room with incredibly squeaky flip-flops, texting and posing for Instagram photos while everyone had their eyes closed.
After breakfast a Henna artist expertly drew Mendhi paste designs on our arms and hands. I asked for a Lakshmi owl on the palm of my hand but I think she invented a new creature that was part monkey – to balance the chimera I had a fantastical peacock applied onto my left arm.
Everyone spent the rest of the morning relaxing, hand-sewing and in my case, trying to write up a very long blog post about all of the sights and adventures.
It was Pam’s birthday and later that afternoon we boarded our little bus that had been garlanded with balloons and streamers by the driver and his assistant. Our mystery trip was a visit to an NGO orphanage for 25 girls, most of whom were affected by HIV. The matron gave us a tour then the beautifully behave children gave us a concert, showing off their dance routines – to a mix of Bollywood and Western pop music. They presented Pam with a flower garland, cake, home-made birthday card and sang “Happy Birthday” in English. Somehow, Pam persuaded me to perform a Scottish dance and from somewhere in the depths of my memory I did them a clumsy version of a Highland Fling. Afterwards we made friends with a few of the children who could understand some English. They attend a local school like “normal” children during the day and stay in the orphanage until they are 18, after which they are set up with jobs. There is still a stigma about HIV in India, often caused by prostitution, drug use and lack of medical care, so this can be difficult. The ladies in charge were called “Auntie” by the children and they seemed to have a positive, family-like relationship. I was told that my new friend, 10 year old Vashnavi, had lost both of her parents to HIV/Aids by the age of 3 but she is relatively fortunate since she has property to inherit when she becomes an adult. The matron was keen for us to share our encounter with the children on social media in order to raise awareness of the charity, The Aangan Care Home. www.nayasawera.org
After our uplifting and humbling experience at the orphanage Govind invited us for snacks and drinks at his house where we met his family. His wife had been involved in a scooter accident and hurt her knee so his Mum had been busy in the kitchen preparing delicious pakoras. I think she probably had a wicked sense of humour and I wished I could invent an app for instant free-flowing translation.
That evening the tailors returned with my new, improved trousers. The flowery velvet pair has one pink leg and one that is mostly lime green. I have no idea what I will wear with such flamboyant flares back in Scotland!
Our trip was accelerating to an end so on Tuesday we packed in a full morning of sightseeing. I was not sure what to expect at the Royal Observatory, but I was amazed. The Jantar Mantar monument in Jaipur, Rajasthan is a collection of nineteen architectural astronomical instruments built by the Rajput king Sawai Jai Singh II, and completed in 1734. It features the world’s largest stone sundial, which is pretty accurate by the way, and it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The architecture was angular and looked incredibly modern – each sign of the zodiac had a viewing station and flights of steps enabled both astronomers and astrologers the ideal platform for studying the stars. I had no idea that astrology was so important in Indian culture. Our guide had explained during one of his many entertaining stories that if an astrologer came up with a mismatch during an arranged marriage proposal then everything would be called off.
Despite the intense heat of the day our next stop was the nearby Royal City Palace complex, a vast collection of beautiful buildings, courtyards, gardens and museums, one of which contains a wide variety of textiles such as the royal formal costumes, sanganeri block prints, embroidered shawls, Kashmiri pashminas, silk saris and also the voluminous outfits worn by Sawai Madhosingh I, a large chap who was 1.2 metres wide and weighed 250 kilograms but nevertheless, had 108 wives.
In the Diwan-I-Khas or the “Hall of Private Audience”, a marble-floored chamber, are two huge sterling silver vessels called Gangajelies / Ganges-water urns, each standing 1.6 metres tall, with capacity of 4000 litres and weighing 340 kilograms. They were made from 14,000 melted silver coins and hold the Guinness World Record as the world’s largest sterling silver vessels. These enormous pots were specially made for Maharaja Sawai Madho Singh II, who was a highly pious Hindu, to carry the water of the Ganges to drink on his trip to England in 1901. He did not want to commit religious sin by consuming the English water, or indeed contract cholera from the polluted River Thames. Several magnificent Bohemian crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling in an opulently decorated room with a Pashmina carpet so huge that it had to be folded to fit within the space.
The courtyard leading to the Chandra Mahal, was the most imposing of the palace buildings, where four small gates are elaborately adorned with motifs and carvings representing the four seasons and Hindu gods.
Escaping the heat we stopped for lunch at the very grand Samode Haveli, an oasis of richly decorated rooms and gardens. It was incredible that such a place, now a tenth of its original size was situated within the bustling city.
My fellow tourists decided that they would return to the hotel to snooze or swim but I persuaded Kathy from California to accompany me on an adventure to the bazaar. We were dropped off on the street and wandered into the narrow alleys in search of bargains. We did not exactly know where we were headed, it was a maze of tiny shops, some only 4 feet square. It was overwhelming and not easy to find the small items of haberdashery such as thread, mirrors and pompom trim which were on my shopping list. I did buy a couple of rolls of brocade ribbon that may come in handy one day.
Taking our lives into our hands we managed to cross the street on at least 3 occasions. You just have to start walking, holding your arms out to slow down the relentless beeping scooters and tuktuks. I stopped at a shop that sold metal cookware and negotiated the purchase of a small tiffin tin, spice box, sev cutter and a heavy cooking wok but passed on a milk churn which I did not really “need”. We wandered up a secret alley of tailors and finally found a shop selling shot cottons which I had been looking for all through my trip but was now running short on funds and luggage space. Crossing the street again we found a shop that sold indigo prints and clothes. We hailed a tuktuk and made a chaotic 30 minute journey back to the hotel with purchases stuffed into a flour sack.
Sadly, that evening was our farewell group dinner. Pam and Govind thanked us for being such a friendly, fun group of travellers and hoped we would be inspired by our trip and remain friends on social media.
On Wednesday day morning I made an abortive attempt at packing. I wished I had not bought a large quilt since I was finding it tricky to pack up my metalware and fabric purchases. A brave few ventured back to the bazaar for a last rake around. Amazingly, I managed to relocate the tailors’ alley where more shot cotton was purchases and the indigo shopkeeper remembered me and asked where Kathy was that morning.
We enjoyed a last lassi yogurt drink in a terracotta cup from a street vendor and I bought 2 large bags of henna, thinking that it would be interesting to try block printing with it. As we were loading up the bus with our luggage I realised that I would need an extra suitcase as I would not be able to fit all of my last minute purchases into my hand luggage. We flew from Jaipur to Delhi and from the air could see what a huge city it is. Most of the lights seen from above were from traffic. There were large dark spaces where it was either parkland or areas without electricity. Incredibly, the population of that one city equals the entire population of Scotland. At Dehli we said farewell to our American friends and the Antipodean contingent and myself stayed overnight at a posh hotel 10 minutes from Indira Ghandi International airport. It was a pity that I only had 6 hours to enjoy such luxury before flying out in the morning. Yet again, I was struck that foreign visitors have access to unlimited water for showers, swimming pools and air-conditioning while so many people live hand to mouth on the streets.
It was a bit of a faff getting into the airport without a printed boarding pass but eventually I found myself wandering the airport shops, trying to blow the last of my rupees on a tin of masala chai and trinkets which were far more expensive than those “knack-knicks” dangled in from of us by street hawkers. During the crowded 9 hour flight to London I dozed and half watched 3 Bollywood movies. Even the comedies made reference to corruption and illiteracy. I had planned to sort out my photos on the flight but there was not really enough room in Economy to do that comfortably.
Aberdeen was wet and chilly when I arrived in the evening. Nella, Fergus and Bumble were pleased to see me and I loved the “Welcome Home “ banner that Nell had made with her friends, complete with cut-out paper monkeys, elephants and a Taj Mahal.
On Friday I sorted through my exploded suitcases which took a considerable time. I was pleased with my fabric purchases but wished I had bought more little things. I cooked up a feast of pakoras and vegetable curries, just making up the recipes as I went along. The steel cooking pan worked a treat over my camping gas stove and I can’t wait to have a go at making sev / bombay mix.
All weekend I tried to finish writing up my blog and upload photos of which there are more than 1000. It was difficult to keep up with the blog while in India because we did so much and I was glad that I had at least scribbled down rough notes to remind myself what we did each day. I think I did not really want to finish writing my India blog because that would mean that my wonderful trip had come to an end. I loved every minute of my experience and hope I can return to explore the richness of India in future.
In the meantime, I have unavoidably started a new To Do list, starting with some customer quilting in an attempt to boost my dwindling bank account so I can fund further adventures!