India & Sri Lanka - Fall 2013 travel blog

Wind Palace

charming the snake charmer

Amber Fort panorama

Amber Fort garden

city view from the fort

summer palace

thieves eating marigolds

Muharran festival

Muharren festival

painted face


street cleaners

Muharren parade

5 on a bike

there's an elephant there

home visit

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Muharren drums

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Muharren floats

Jaipur is known as the pink city. Actually terra cotta is closer to the correct color. When the Prince of Wales was scheduled for a visit, the maharaja had the entire old city painted what was traditionally the color of hospitality. It looked so good he made it a law and the city still sports that beautiful color. Every year monsoon rains wash the color away. Unfortunately they have never found a long lasting paint that exact color and tone, so all the buildings still are repainted annually using the same paint they used in 1876. With labor so cheap the motivation is generally low to find more efficient ways of doing things.

We stopped at the Wind Palace, the delicate honey combed hive that rises five stories. It was built in 1799 to allow the ladies of the court to watch the life going on downtown without being seen.

Then we made the long climb up the hill of the spectacular Amber Fort, towering over the city. Many tourists make this climb on elephants, but Krishan doesn’t like to patronize them since he feels their owners mistreat them. As we climbed, their painted faces and red passenger seats added to the colorful scene. Many of the carvings and much of the decoration of the fort which felt more like a palace is still intact. It was designed to impress and it did. The public meeting areas were decorated with mirrors, carvings, and colorful inlays. There were many other tourists there, but it was built on such a grand scale, there was room for everyone.

But the best part of the day was another one of those spontaneous things we keep bumping into - the Muharren festival. This Muslim holiday mourns the death of Muhammad. It culminates with people whipping themselves with devices designed to draw blood in a dramatic demonstration of how much they wish they could have sacrificed themselves instead of Muhammed. I'm glad we didn't see that part and if we didn't know that was the background, we would have said that what we saw today was a joyous event. It felt somewhat unplanned and spontaneous. Groups of young men carrying drums gathered in circles and beat them as vigorously as they could. Every so often a large "building" made of foil and other glitzy materials was carried on the shoulders and paraded along. They were meant to resemble Mohammed's tombstone and would travel to the cemetery where they would be buried. Some were very small and looked homemade, but others were so big and fancy, the people carrying them bobbed and wove through the crowd as they struggled to carry them. Any family, neighborhood or club can make a tombstone and be part of the festival. Along the streets vendors were selling fast food and trinkets and children with glitter painted on their faces danced by. It all reminded us a bit of Mardi Gras.

As the crowds grew thicker and the drumming got louder, we struggled to keep an eye on Krishnan as he moved forward He kept buying larger and larger trinkets so he could hold them up high and we could see him. I think some in our group found this a terrifying experience, but as long as I could see Krishnan's hand up in the air, I could enjoy the crowds swirling around me, shouting hello, shaking our hands. The young boys got especially revved up. One group kept saying they loved me and another one of us had her bottom pinched. A noel experience for fat old white ladies!

In the evening we went in small groups to a local home for dinner. Our hosts lived in the house where many of their forebears had before them. We could see their photographs on the wall. The hostess had a beautiful local dress, which differed somewhat from the saris we've been seeing. It had a sleeveless blouse over a longer sleeved blouse and she tucked the swirling fabric of the skirt into the blouses, leaving an end which went over her head. Theirs had been an arranged marriage as many of them are, but they clearly were a loving team now. He scurried to help her serve the appetizers and meal and they teased each other as they told family stories. At one point he asked us how many children we had. We said none, the other couple said none, and the single woman in our group said she had never married. There was a stunned silence. It was all he could do to smile politely and keep the conversation going. We felt the same way when his wife went into a complex explanation of how astrology and horoscopes rule all the major decisions in their lives.

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