White Sands and Personal Chef in Maharashtra

 

fullsizeoutput_213Laying on the bed under an open window, listening to so many bird calls, I try to parallel the experience with something else – but I can’t and that makes it easier to ‘be here now’. So much time is lost either going in reverse or fast forwarding. Of course, our environment can help or hinder staying in the present, but for me, the biggest distraction is my own mind. I suspect others are also afflicted with this malady. A few minutes walk from the one lane road, our guesthouse is tucked away among the jungle. Black-faced monkeys leap among tall trees, butterflies glide on the breeze. A tree frog hides in a bucket. Not a vehicle to be heard. The only thing that reminds us we are in India is the barking dogs at night. And of course every paradise has its snake or two; in the jungle, the snakes take the form of mosquitoes.

fullsizeoutput_1f0

When we were in Goa a year ago Gerard had a running conversation with old-timers about where else we can go; Agonda has become too crowded. Someone said there was a small beach town with very few facilities in Maharashtra.

fullsizeoutput_1ff

Last summer Gerard spent many hours on Google Maps to find this elusive place. Eventually, he settled on Paradise Beach; then the task was to find somewhere to stay. No websites, just vague references, but we finally got a phone number and made contact. Arriving at a new location has never been my strong point and Gerard must have felt my rising anxiety because he kept asking me if I was all right. Eventually, I reminded him it took me time to settle in. Walking down the beach, commenting on how few people there are on this long stretch of white sand, I say, “This certainly isn’t Agonda.” Gerard retorts, “And a good thing too, that’s why we came here.” The following morning, when I walked along the shore alone, I felt so happy. Now I’ve settled in!

fullsizeoutput_1f9

The guesthouse owner, Martin, couldn’t be a more agreeable human being. Living here alone, he engages in conversation whenever we encourage it, always with a smile. Martin has an admirable lifestyle without the complexities of failing Internet, noisy motorcycle, problematic AC or hot water heater. He seems to prefer household chores (he has no maid to clean even the guestrooms) and pottering around his plot of land instead of the excitement of Mumbai, where he grew up and his wife and daughter still live. He goes to the market on his push bike. A man after my own heart! In the hot afternoon, I watch Martin sitting serene in the shade of his verandah. He chooses not to complicate his life with the computer, website and Trip Advisor, instead giving the enterprising young owner of the local cafe a cut of the profits in return for bringing him bookings.

fullsizeoutput_202

The first few days we were the only guests and Martin invited us to use his kitchen. Every morning he taps on our door at 8 o’clock with two large cups of masala chai. Not always easy to find in this part of the country. We linger over breakfast on the verandah while he tells stories of his childhood and summers spent here with his grandparents.

fullsizeoutput_1f4

Brought up in Mumbai, he returned to his grandfather’s land and built a guesthouse on the property. The ruins of the family home below the window of our room add a dimension to what could be a scene from God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy’s classic novel set in the jungle of Kerala.

fullsizeoutput_1f5

Even for India, the pace here is S L O W. There seems little ways of making money, beyond fishing and the seasonal fruit trees.

fullsizeoutput_1fc

There’s no farming and the tourist industry is here but not robust enough to support the community. Among the few tourists, the majority are Indian with a dash of Russians.

fullsizeoutput_20c

“How do people manage to eke out a living here?” Gerard asks the waiter. “How long is the season? He replies, “Basically 5 months, December, January in full force.” “Not much of a season. What do you do the rest of the time?” “I do nothing. Just relax!” Maybe that is why everything is so slow here. When there’s not a lot to be had, it’s interesting to see that people can live their life in such a simpler style than that to which we’re accustomed.

The cook has adopted us at the small restaurant across the lane. His only customers, he takes pride in serving us more tantalizing veg dishes day after day. Even if there was an alternative, we have no inclination to go elsewhere. Our immediate connection with Martin and the overwhelming accommodation of the cook are wonderful but in our experience, this happens more than you’d think. A good friend of mine visiting before we left, commented, “You have such a beautiful home, why do you leave it for four months of the year?” My reply was, “Yes, we do have a beautiful home and enjoy living here for two-thirds of the year. Going to India shakes things up. The adventures we have there probably wouldn’t happen in Boston.”

fullsizeoutput_20f

A man in a lowered tone of voice says, “The names and places have been changed to protect the innocent.”

 

A Narrow Escape to India

Just one day before the “bomb cyclone” swooped up the coast and left 15 inches of snow on the city we got out of Boston. The following day the airport was closed. But we got caught up in our own whirlwind that eventually got us on our flight from NYC to India, but for 18 hours it looked bleak. Virgin Atlantic notified us of a small change in the schedule, but one which made our tight layover in NYC yet tighter. Even the slightest delay of our 6 am flight leaving Boston would be cause for alarm. And if we did make the connection, we worried our bags wouldn’t – our train schedule in India wouldn’t allow us to wait for them to catch up with us.

So we decided to take a bus to NYC and stay overnight in a hotel at the airport and pick up the next leg of our journey at JFK the following morning. We threw everything together and managed to book what looked like the last two seats on the next bus to Manhattan. With little time to spare, we tried to get through to the airline to notify them we wouldn’t be boarding the plane in Boston, but the wait time was too long and we had no cell phone service. Nothing to do but leave and call again when we reached NYC. To cut a long story short, this was a BIG mistake.

Going straight to the airline desk at JFK, we learned it was not just a simple matter of notifying the airline staff in Boston we wouldn’t be taking the flight the next morning. Because we weren’t using the first leg of the flight, we were told our entire ticket could be canceled and we might not be allowed to board any other plane! They do not like no-shows. We could try buying new tickets for the next two legs of the journey (JFK to London and London to Delhi) IF there were available seats and at today’s inflated price. There would also be a penalty for not boarding the Boston flight even if we could get through to the airline and tell them beforehand. Further, the rep said, you’ll have to take this up with Chase, who’d booked the tickets. NOT very helpful. (We purchased the tickets from Chase credit card services using frequent flyer miles.)

At the hotel we reached Chase, only to be told they couldn’t do anything because their computer system was down. Without pulling up our record, they couldn’t even call and let Delta know we wouldn’t be on the flight in the morning. “Call back in two hours,” the rep said. We considered turning around and going back to Boston in time to board the flight in the morning. Too late for the airline shuttle, a limo service would still be cheaper than the potential cost of rebooking. But already exhausted, we decided to persevere with Chase. Throughout the night we continued to call every two hours, setting the alarm and trying to snatch sleep in between, only to be told the computer system was still down. Finally, we gave up and headed to the airport early, resigned for whatever fate awaited us. After a lengthy explanation to one of the Virgin Atlantic reps, she shrugged her shoulders and said,”You’re here now, you should just go ahead and check in.” And we did – with no interrogation. Thanks to busy phone lines, downed computers, and unhelpful help desks, we were able to pick up our flight using our existing tickets after all. With relief, I sank into my plane seat and finally relaxed. We were back on track for India!

The rest of the journey flowed smoothly and soon we were back in India in all its craziness, noise and unpredictability. Familiar but still exciting. Aware of how close we came to missing this moment, I loved it all the more. Ravi and Swarn made us feel at home in their new house on the outskirts of Gurgaon. A new development, it was so quiet at night with not even a barking dog, that it was hard to believe we were in India.

india 17 (164)The next day we visited Kamal and Bhushan’s, the house was especially full with Shruti and Arvind and their two daughters, who’ve moved back from Bangalore to Delhi. New baby,Tanya, is so cute and lovable.

P1040623The mood was joyful, no one felt crowded, just happy to all be together again. We turn up every eight months – more mouths to feed – but they always make us feel welcome and ready to take care of whatever our needs.fullsizeoutput_1c0Once again the family came to our aid in getting our cell phone activated. The government is now tracking and linking all electronic activity on different devices which has made it increasingly difficult to get a SIM card. All kinds of identification and verification are required including fingerprinting. It’s possible for a foreigner to get a SIM but it involves documentation – which we had, but it can take days – which we didn’t have. Our train tickets south were booked for the following day. Ravi and Bhushan took off for the Airtel store and came back an hour later with our SIM card!

The next morning we called Uber on our newly activated iPhone; The driver arrived almost immediately and skillfully navigated the traffic across town to the train station in plenty of time for us to catch the Rajdhani Express to Shiroda Beach. It really is an Express – not in terms of speed, but the number of station stops. On our 24 hour ride, ours was only the 5th stop. And there’s complimentary meals; for train food, it’s not bad. We took off exactly on time and were a mere one hour late in arriving. As my friend back in the US says, “You two are charmed!”

 

 

Christmas in Maine

Snapshot - 2

Our nephew Thomas cautioned us, a snow storm was coming and we might want to leave a day early for Christmas in Maine. But we had things to do on Christmas Eve and chose to take a chance. On Christmas morning, it was raining in Boston, nothing to worry about. But aware it was snowing heavily north of the city, we called to see if the bus was running. “Yes,” said Greyhound customer service, “but the bus is sold out.” Sold out? We couldn’t believe it. So many people traveling on Christmas morning? “Get to the station early,” he said, “they always keep a few seats.” So we hastily packed up and called Lyft. The car arrived within a few minutes, its driver a cheery Jamaican in a Santa suit complete with white beard. On the way to South Station, the rain turned to snow.

When we got there, the Greyhound ticket counter was empty. Suddenly a helpful young man appeared out of nowhere and efficiently processed our tickets, saying, “ There’s plenty of room. I fail to understand why they like to say the bus is sold out?” In fact, there was hardly anyone on the bus. A tired-looking family from San Diego and an even more exhausted woman who’d spent five days crossing the US on Greyhound and the last ten hours in the chilly bus terminal. She was scared of flying. What we do to celebrate Christmas!

By the time we left the bus station it was a whiteout. The windshield wipers were encased with ice. The driver didn’t dare to stop to clean them off because the visibility was so low. He was such a cautious driver that there was no need for concern. The only stop before our destination was Portsmouth, where the bus stop is halfway up a steep hill. Stopping was no problem, but the driver tried for several minutes to get traction to continue up the hill before giving up and backing all the way down to the flat ground before finally making it back up the hill. We gave him a round of applause.Finally, two hours late, we arrived in Kennebunk. Thanks to our Lyft driver, the attendant at the bus station, and of course the bus driver, these three (wise) men got us there. 

IMG_4426

We arrived in time to work on a puzzle and eat delicious appetizers prepared by Allison and her daughter Isabelle.  After the meal, course, the dogs had to be walked The sky had cleared, the moon shone on the new snow and frozen ponds. As Billie Holiday sang, “Oh, what a little moonlight can do!” It was a wonderful day with the Wiggins family and with full stomachs, we retired to our Lodge down the street.

IMG_1041

The next morning we woke to dazzling sunlight and blue skies, the fresh snow sparkling like diamonds, the evergreens bowing under their heavy white load. To add to the spectacle, the ice storm from a few days before had encased the hardwoods with a thick coating. The sun’s rays broke into miniature rainbows on the ice. It really was a sight to behold. Perhaps being absent from such winter scenes for so long had some bearing on our wonder of it all.

After having lunch with the family, thanking our hosts Thomas and Allison, and wishing everyone Happy New Year, we headed down to the train station. We hadn’t taken the Downeaster before, and we were impressed. It was on time, clean, well organized and we had a buffet car. And our senior discount made it a real give away. Little towns and countryside that we sped through were mesmerizing in this winter wonderland.

The temperatures have continued to drop further through the week. When we got up this morning, it was 4F ( -15.6 C). On my way back from working out at the YMCA at midday it had risen to a balmy 12F ( -11C). I fantasize about Maharashtra’s Shiroda Beach with temps in the mid-80s (around 29C), just a little more than a week away!

 

 

 

Another Festival in Vashisht

DSC_1493

Last year, we asked for an electric fire in the guest house. Now, we’re peeling off layers, wishing we hadn’t left our summer clothes in Delhi. The temperatures are unusually warm and the snow is rapidly melting, but still spectacularly beautiful here. Apple trees in bloom, wisteria, irises popping up everywhere. Kullu Valley is now much narrower than in Naggar, and the mountains higher. The craggy peaks seem to be within one’s reach.

P1040205

Compared with Naggar, Vashisht is a hustle and bustle of activity. Our timing was perfect to catch the religious festival again this year.  It was in full swing. Each village has its own god or goddess loosely translated into patron saint, but not really. During this festival, a few of the neighboring villages brought their deity to Vashisht to celebrate…we’re not sure what.

P1040212

Off and on, for the three days, one of the goddesses would be taken out and paraded through Vashisht, accompanied by horns and drums. In the evening there was line dancing (reminding us of the Berber dancing in the Atlas Mountains) and games including musical chairs and blind man’s bluff. (Did the British bring these games, or did they pick them up from here?) The last evening, the musicians played without a break for hours. I don’t know if the dancers were in a trance, but I think the musicians were.

The day after the festival the town returned its sleepy weekday routine. On the weekend, the Indian tourists will arrive in increasingly large numbers, now the temperatures are soaring well over 100F in Delhi.

P1040359

Our first walk out of town to a huge waterfall, we bumped into two women we kept running into in Naggar. They live in Vrindavan, where Krishna is said to have spent his childhood years. One is from the US, the other Leeds, England, and they’ve been in India for the past 17 years. It wasn’t immediately obvious, but when directly questioned, they’re Hari Krishna’s. We all thought it was a happy coincidence to meet each other again and they invited us to come to Vrindavan – one destination Gerard’s been contemplating for some time but for one reason or another, maybe because of the lack of accommodation, we haven’t included in our itinerary yet. They assured us of lodging and would be more than happy to show us all of the hidden temples that Vrindavan is known for. The two women had an aura of joy and contentment that was very obvious and we thoroughly enjoyed hearing their stories.

We also ran into for the second time an American our age, who has lived outside of the US for over 20 years. He’s also followed a spiritual path for more than 40 years and we found we have a lot in common. Peter now spends the winter in Auroville (the natural farming community associated with Sri Aurobindo) outside Pondicherry and comes to Vashisht for the summer.  Gerard was impressed that he’s able to live reasonably well in India on his social security check!

P1040361

One early morning, Peter led us on a new walk over to a neighboring village on the other side of the Beas river.

DSC_1578

Every twist and turn walking down the path, there’s a new vista. These mountains seem to be in constant flux without ever losing their presence. As Paul Brunton says in A Hermit in the Himalayas, “The fascination of finding nature in her wildest and grandest form never ceases. As an ancient Sanskrit poet says, ‘In a hundred ages of gods I cannot tell you of all the glories of the Himalayas.’ Whatever one says about it, will never be an exaggeration.”

DSC_1569

Crossing the Beas on a rickety footbridge, we reached the old wooden houses, with decoratively painted doors.

DSC_1611

Down the river valley, through apple orchards, we came to Old Manali, which we had considered as an alternative to Vashisht. But after seeing the chillum smoking, chilled out crowd and all of the cheap knick-knack shops, Vashisht seems the best alternative.

Like our previous two destinations in Himachal Pradesh, this year has been a repeat of the last. It’s often said that you can never return, and with that in mind both of us had some reservation. But fortunately, in this case, we could return. Each stay was a continuation and expansion of the year before. Not to mention meeting up with old acquaintances, each village had more to reveal to us. This past month in HP has been a highlight of our four months in India and even though we’ve missed early spring in Boston, springtime in the Himalayas is also a beautiful season. Tomorrow, we will have to reluctantly pack our bags and return to Delhi with a final farewell to our family there.

DSC_1571

Folklore and Kath-Kuni in Naggar

Moving on to Naggar could have involved three buses and all that entails, but we opted for the luxury of a car and driver. Sapana from the restaurant decided to accompany us; she had never been to Nagar before. Following the Beas river through the Kullu Valley is never boring, and we made a quick stop to walk across an old suspension bridge to a village on the other side of the river.

DSC_1178

When we arrived in Naggar, the father and two-daughter team at Sharma Dhaba warmly greeted us. Like Sapana they serve up delicious but simple food, made to order.

P1040194

Since it’s early days for the tourist season, we had no trouble booking the same room we had a year ago with its view of the mountains. We woke the following morning, with the rising sun shining on the snow-capped peaks. Our memory and photographs can’t do it justice.

DSC_1225

Our first day, we walked through the apple orchards to the Krishna temple, high on the hillside.

DSC_1296

In fact, any walk here involves climbing — the town itself is perched high above the valley. There’s more than one temple buried in the forest, some associated with sadhus with mystical powers. Himachal Pradesh and Kullu Valley, in particular, is steeped in folklore. Our landlord, Sumit, says that there was a sadhu who lived where one of these temples is now located.

DSC_1230When questioned by visitors how he kept so clean, no available water in this location, he replied that he went to Manikaran every morning to bathe in the hot springs. This village is in the Parvati Valley, maybe 50 miles away as the bird flies. The sadhu’s visitor said, “How is this possible? The reply was, “Very simple, I just wish it.” Sumit continued, “Naggar supposedly has three or four “portals” to a different dimension. The sadhu was accessing one of these portals.” Sumit, in his early 30s, comes from an educated, well-off local family. Not someone who you would initially expect to be telling such stories, making it all the more interesting.

Nicolai Roerich, the Russian seeker, explorer, philosopher and painter made his home here for many years at the beginning of the 20th C. His pictures reflect the magic that can be found in these mountains. His home is now a small museum with a collection of his paintings that we visit whenever we’re here. Some say he settled in Naggar after hearing such tales of the sadhus.

DSC_1281

On another occasion, talking to Sumit about the different types of trees in the forest, Gerard asked him about a peculiar looking evergreen. First off it’s enormous, but most importantly it flattens out like an umbrella at the top. Sumit said. “It’s just another devdar (tree of the gods), but as you know that one is on the temple grounds where our local goddess resides. The legend is that she receives her energy directly from the heavens that, pouring down from above, flattens out the top of the tree.

P1040189

At night, full moon shining on the snow-capped mountains. Silence – no barking dog, no mosque call, no car horn, not even a distant train whistle. A stillness that we have not found anywhere else we’ve traveled in India. Before dawn, the birds begin to sing softly, then swelling into full chorus. The moon sinks behind the mountains. I think I understand why both Hindu sadhus and Buddhist monks are so attracted to the mountains to do their practices.

It was recommended that we should visit a neighboring village, Ramsu, just up the road. Since the road runs along the edge of another valley, Gerard had in mind that it would be an easy hike. We were told where to turn off the road, to a footpath. Trouble is the footpath went up at a 30-degree angle and Gerard noticed houses on the top of a small mountain. This can’t possibly be where we’re going!

DSC_1256

After nearly two hours plodding up, we finally staggered into the village that was mostly comprised of the old “Kath Kuni” style buildings i.e. combination of wooden beams and stones; livestock underneath, people next floor up. Once there, it was well worth the hike, providing Gerard didn’t spend much time thinking about the walk down…

DSC_1333

Another village, recommend to visit was Jana, only 13 km away and reachable by one bus, leaving early morning and returning mid-afternoon. Jana’s primary attraction is two waterfalls pouring out of the top of the mountain. The bus ride, winding up the mountainside was not only spectacular but also a little hair raising. When I looked out the window, there was nothing in sight except a sheer drop. Exactly where is the road beneath this bus?

Reaching the bus stand, which was only a collection of shacks and unfinished rooms for rent, the waterfalls were still another two km up the road…and there we’d find food. Breakfast was chapati, rice pudding, and very sweet chai, right next to a waterfall. What more could you ask for?

DSC_1358

By midday we were back in the village, which sat below the bus stand, marveling again at the old architecture.

DSC_1302

No one seemed to mind us wandering through the lanes and soon we were invited into one of these beautiful houses for chai.

DSC_1321

Afterward, the man guided us through the village to a spring. He spoke no English so we probably missed the specific significance of this spring. In the back of our mind, we were expecting baksheesh to pass hands, but it never happened.

DSC_1435

On the way back to Naggar, Gerard saw the most incredible sight and we asked to get off the bus. No doubt commonplace for the locals but this large terraced field with old style farmhouses scattered, looked to us like something from centuries past. Another spot untouched by modernity. They’re getting harder to find but they do still exist.

DSC_1422

Another Room with a View

After a few days rest with our Delhi family (following our hectic rest in Orchha) we set off for the mountains. With no other choice than semi-sleeper overnight bus, we had to get to the other side of Delhi. We knew the metro would be crowded at 5.30 pm but we had not fully grasped the situation. With suitcase and backpack we forced our way on to the metro that we thought was already at capacity. At every stop, more and more people pushed their way into the carriage. It was reminiscent of riding the commuter rail in Mumbai. But what was more unexpected was how jolly the people right next to us were as they engaged us in conversation. The hour-long journey passed quickly and before we knew it we were getting off, with just about everybody else, at Kashmiri Gate. One of our metro companions led us through the throng to the appropriate gate leading to the bus station.

Last year, we made the same journey and had to find our bus in an open space of probably one hundred buses parked with no signage. It was bedlam. This year, we found ourselves in a brand new bus station with digital signs and a helpful information booth. What a difference a year makes! The semi sleeper was quite new, functioning seats and a friendly ticket collector who promised to wake us at Mandi. (last year we almost slept through our stop).

DSC_1145

After managing a couple of hours sleep, we got down at Mandi just before daybreak. Fortunately, the local bus was just leaving. During the hour’s ride, climbing up the mountainside, we watched the sunrise over the snow-capped peaks. The town was still asleep. The little restaurant where we had eaten breakfast on our previous visits was just opening up.

DSC_1157

Sapna greets us, “Come. Sit. Take chai.” Sliding into our familiar bench across the entryway from where she is cooking parathas, we try to converse. Why didn’t I work harder at my Hindi? But she’s speaking more English this year. “Yes,” she agrees, “I learn it from my daughter.”

P1040074

Priya is wearing a new dress to celebrate the first day of Navrati (Hindi New Year) and poses for us. The puffy pastel-colored fantasy of net reminds me of party dresses when I was her age. Sapna feeds us gobi paratha… then refuses payment. “First time, no pay.”

I was disappointed that the spacious room above the Buddhist monastery we rented last year was not available. Remembering the gangs of barking dogs by night and attacking monkeys by day, Gerard was confident we could do better. Last year, Vijay at the other restaurant we frequent, had mentioned he would be offering rooms for rent. He’s just finished the six-room building high up the hill at the other end of town. A steep climb — the narrow pathway and steps (52 Gerard counts) wind around the dwellings below. The rooms are small, but have large picture windows looking out over the town and valley below.

DSC_1153

On our second day, we walked out through the terraced fields. Everything seemed so lush. Other than Goa, everywhere we visit in India is dry and dusty; but not here.

DSC_1147

As we approached the little hamlet, we wondered if anybody would remember us from last year. Urmila greeted us with a huge smile. I don’t think too many white people get out here. Last year we had the advantage of a young Punjabi in tow who provided the translation. This year it’s back to one or two words and sign language, but I don’t think it mattered.

P1040063 - Copy

Everybody was happy to see each other. Of course, tea was served, and shortly after we went around to visit another family we had met previously. Mira recognized us but was supervising work on her house so it was a brief visit. We promised to come back in a few days.

P1040077

Gerard had last year’s pictures on a hard drive and selecting a few, brought them to a studio to print. With photos and biscuits in hand we hiked back out to the village. Stopping at Mira’s house first, her sister and children were visiting.

 

The eldest daughter spoke enough English. The biscuits were a definite success; the pictures were a mixed bag. For whatever reason, it was never clear to us, everyone was in their Sunday finest…gold bangles, black kajal-outlined eyes, braided hair and all.

P1040090

There was lots of picture taking; they were as enthusiastic as us in capturing the moment. And there was entertainment – the young girls dancing, with a combination of both classical Indian postures and Bollywood moves, to the latest popular tunes on their mobile.

P1040097

Eventually, we bid our farewell and promised to bring back more prints. Mira’s husband is nowhere in sight; working in Saudi Arabia for the second year straight, she says.

After breakfast we walk around a small lake, sacred to the Hindus and Buddhists alike, stopping at a chai shop on the way. An elderly man with cheekbones jutting out from his angular face serves the best chai in town, delicately cardamom flavored.

P1040138

Like a juggler, he pours milk and water from a height into the saucepan and then the finished tea into a brass pot, and finally our drinking glasses. His rotund wife fries pakora to accompany the tea, while his brother, equally angular in features, picks up and washes the dirty glasses.

After having a conversation with a 78-year-old doctor, who refuses to fully retire because he feels he’ll lose his identity, it sparked a conversation between us whether our identity changes when we travel. Traveling in India for four months, we’re neither part of the community or country we’re visiting nor are we part of our homeland by virtue of not being there. This doesn’t bother us, in fact it’s one of the many reasons we like traveling. There’s a freedom in not belonging. Of course, it’s not as though we’re without identity (being from the west, white and everything the Indians perceive that to mean)– but it’s all pretty superficial. Staying in a foreign culture for any length of time helps to remind us that we’re all members of the human race – living in one great mansion, each with their own room but still part of the One.

After a continuous spell of sunny days and warm temperatures, our last two days were rainy and cool. But the upside was the thunderstorms that would roll down the Kullu Valley. Being from the lowlands, we loved to hear the thunder echo across the valley below. At night it was nature’s light show. We spent the days skipping between showers from restaurant to café to guesthouse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heat and Dust in Orchha

DSC_1126

Orchha, in Madhya Pradesh, is a good place to relax after spending more than three weeks in the city. This is our third visit here and we still find the small town with its country walks refreshing.

DSC_1061

The surrounding area is littered with the vestiges of a Rajput kingdom that began in the 16th C, reaching its peak in the mid-1800s.

DSC_1059

The last Maharaja died in 1930, after which the kingdom went into decline.

DSC_1132

What is most attractive to us is not only the palace/fort in remarkably good condition or the two temples in town but also the crumbling remains scattered around the countryside of a once thriving kingdom.

DSC_1124

On this visit, we arrived late in the season, very few tourists and hot during the day — reaching 110F (43C) in the heat of the day. Consequently our strolls out into the country are done early.

DSC_1074

One morning we visited a meadow that we spent a lot of time in a few years ago. Even though the brook had diminished to a trickle, it was still a bucolic spot with goats and cattle wandering peacefully and dogs playing in and out of the stream.

DSC_1082

Another morning, when we mentioned to the guesthouse manager that we were going to walk up to see the huge baobab tree next to Laxmi Temple, he asked if we’d seen the other, one km away. A second one?? He said, “Come, I’ll take you on my motorbike.” And this one was even bigger. Pictures fail to convey their enormity.

DSC_1083

There is only a handful of these trees in India, supposedly brought from Africa beginning as far back as 5,000 years ago. They can live as long as 1,500 to 2,000 years. The ones we saw, there’s no way of knowing how old they are, but they are ancient.

Our last morning here we walk out early around the back of the palace and down to the Betwa River. A stray dog attaches himself to us as our guide. Beside a small plot of wheat already half cut into golden sheaves, sits a simple hut, old cooking pots on the threshold, a satellite dish atop a broken monument, the ultimate in recycling.

DSC_1135

Aimlessly wandering into a gift shop we got into conversation with a father and son, transplants from Delhi. Like on many other occasions, we were cautiously quizzed on our feelings for Donald Trump. A lot of Indians are better informed about American politics than vice versa. Of course changes in the immigration policy is pertinent to them. And for us, it’s hard to know what to say other than we’re not looking forward to returning to the U.S. and facing the reality.

P1040005

We retreat back to the relative coolness of our room and listen to some cool Miles Davis from the 50s. Gerard is reading his autobiography, which he picked up at the used book stall in Mumbai. He hesitated all of this time because of the continuous swearing. Come to find out, he says, it’s the best thing yet he’s read about Miles.