Tuesday, 31 January 2006

Trip to Rajasthan: Dear, crocodiles and birds of Ranthambore

Last stop on our trip to Rajasthan was the National Park of Ranthambore. We saw many different animals of which I will show some here. All of these animals are wild although in the two last posts you will see some individuals who have figured out how to benefit from the human presence in the park. I am however saving the best for last - that will appear in my next post.

A little island with some temple ruins and even more interestingly two crocodiles sunning themselves on the shore. The biggest one is lying just below the left-side edge of the tree in the right side of the picture. The smaller one is lying just below the barren tree with all the birds.

A big deer running - however casually - away from us.

Me feeding a very colourful wild bird. Notice also the one flying just over my head. I apologize for my weird 80s hairdo, but we had been driving around in an open, windy canter for hours - okay?!

Rikke and Ramu the Deer. A beautiful and curious animal who has been under the protection of park rangers since his mother was killed.

In my next post it gets even better - prepare for some picture of the real king of this jungle!

Sunday, 29 January 2006

Trip to Rajasthan: Bundi

Bundi was the last regular town on our itinerary in Rajasthan. It is a somewhat sleepy but charming little town.

In Bundi we stayed at a beautiful old haveli. Havelis are old rajasthani houses with a great central courtyard (where the women could live a life shielded from the general public - rajasthanis were and are very protective of their women), and often they have been converted into unusually charming hotels. Here you have a direct view to Bundi Palace.

Here is a view in broad daylight of Bundi with the palace in the background. Normally I don't believe in physical punishment, but an exception should be made for the man who decided to raise the big concrete tv-antenna on the hill!

A painted mural from Bundi Palace. Look closely at the picture and consider which of the two animals' head it is you see: The elephant's or the the camel's? Not so easy, huh?

Another picture in my recent series of pictures depicting - by my mother's request - a less idyllic side of India. Not that this picture couldn't have been beautiful. It shows one of Rajasthan's amazing and legendary stepwells. A series of steps leading almost endlessly far down to the water sources that once existed there. It sure beats the western style bucket-on-a-rope wells in terms of aesthetic value. What ruins the picture is the incredible amount of garbage and human urin and excrements that are deposited in this stepwell. It is sad that the local population don't preserve their cultural heritage better. But then again - when you are homeless or living in very basic facilities without access to proper sanitation, the aesthetic value of a stepwell is not the most pressing issue on your mind.

Me at the bottom of a different and more well preserved stepwell: The majestic and imposing Queen's Stepwell. A true piece of art.

Saturday, 28 January 2006

Trip to Rajasthan: Udaipur to Bundi

The drive from Udaipur to Bundi developed into another interesting and beautiful journey:

In the middle of a very barren area with large rolling hills, we suddenly came across these shallow waters with some meadow covered, curiously shaped peninsulas. A wonderfully striking contrast to the surrounding environment.

One of the peninsulas froma different angle. Notice the contrast between the very sparse vegetation on the large slope down towards the lake and the green and yellow medowlands at water level. Beautiful sight!

A temple (you might have to enlarge the picture to see it) towering over a wonderful canyon we stumbled upon in the backyard of a lunch stop restaurant. Their sandwiches were the worst I have ever tasted but this sight made it worth it.

Many monkeys live along the roads of Rajasthan.

Another example of inter-species teamwork (I earlier had a picture of monkey deer teamwork from Panna National Park). This time humans and birds had a strange teamwork going - we saw these big white birds surrounding villagers working in the fields many times along the way. I think the humans turn over the surface of the ground, which enables to birds to take various insects, worms and other pests. I regret that this was the best picture I could take, but I wanted to illustrate the concept, so I bring it anyway.

Friday, 27 January 2006

Trip to Rajasthan: Udaipur (The lake)

Second part of the pictures from Udaipur. This time from the enchanting lake with all its palaces around it and in it:

The City Palace Gardens seen from the lake.

Same palace seen from further away. The waterfront of the palace can be seen in the beginning of "Octopussy".

Eating at a restaurant situated on an old palace island in the middle of the lake. The service was absolutely horrendous - in fact the worst I've ever experienced - but the view was magnificent. To the left of Rikke you can see the famous and very exclusive Lake Palace Hotel and between her and Jacob you see the City Palace in the distance on the shore. This particular veranda can also be seen very clearly in a scene in Octopussy.

Rikke and Jacob near the City Palace with a view to the Lake Palace. At the top of the hill in the background you can just barely make out a white building by the name of the Monsoon Palace. In Octopussy James Bond is held captive there - it is the only part of Udaipur which is mentioned by it's real name in the movie.

Udaipur is nicknamed "The White City". If you scroll through the pictures again, I'm sure it's clear to see it's not way off. As you might remember I have earlier visited the Red City of Jaipur and the Blue City of Jodhpur, both also in Rajasthan. I have not yet made it to the Golden City of Jaisalmer further to the west.

Thursday, 26 January 2006

Trip to Rajasthan: Udaipur (The city)

After a beautiful drive from Jodhpur we reached Udaipur, often described as the most Romantic spot on the Indian Subcontinent. Even to many westerners Udaipur might be more familiar than they know - you see, it was the setting of a very large part of the 1983 James Bond movie, Octopussy. Many of the cosy and athmospheric roof top restaurants in Udaipur screen the movie daily, and we did have the pleasure of seeing the slightly idealised version of Udaipur in the movie and comparing it to the real thing, which is not so bad itself. And less dangerous!

It is indeed a wonderful city - especially when seen from the enchanting lake around which the citiy's life revolves. I will however start out with a few pictures from inside the city. Don't worry however, I will shortly get back with pictures from the lake.

The beautiful City Palace seen from our hotel. It is even more beautiful from the lake as you will see in a few days.

Rikke & Jacob eating breakfast at out hotel's rooftop restaurant. In the background you can see the imposing Jagdish Temple. An extraordinary view we had right down to the temple (looks a bit like a star cruiser from "Star Wars". The downside was the quite loud prayers starting at 5.30 in the morning. Especially Rikke and Jacob with their room facing the temple got their sleep disturbed.

This picture has absolutely no aesthetic value whatsoever. It is exclusively here to please my mother who complains that my pictures are too idyllic and don't show the real India. Well here it is: A bit messy, chaotic and all sorts of animals running all over the place (I still think the palaces, beautiful monuments and the wonderful nature is just as real though).

Republic Day - spotting a President and a King

Today is Republic Day in India, so we went to a huge parade down the old imperial boulevard, Raj Path, leading from the President's palace to the India Gate - a huge arc de triomphe honouring fallen Indian soldiers of WWI. The parade every year celebrates Indian culture and military tradition. It was a pretty great experience - which unfortunately I couldn't document with pictures, because cameras were not allowed. There were tanks, fighter jets, helicopters, missiles, camels, elephants, marching bands, dance troup├ęs, flags, baloons and children with newly received bravery awards. Quite a spectacle. We sat close enough to the section of the main dignitaries to be able to see the President of India and the King of Saudi Arabia, who was the guest of honour for the day. A nice event.

On a different note, I have been reading a book on photography. This has made me realise that an automatic camera like the one I am using will often get light settings wrong. It has also taught me that this can be digitally corrected afterwards, which I have done with the latest picture series. I have also taken the opportunity to clean up a couple of pictures from the blue city of Jodhpur (scroll down to see them). Hopefully they look better now?

Wednesday, 25 January 2006

Trip to Rajasthan: Jodhpur to Udaipur

After our stay in Jodhpur we drove towards the next item on our itinerary: Udaipur. However on the way we drove through one of the most curious landscapes any of us had ever seen. Everywhere the landscape seemed to shift. Then there was a little hill, then a little valley, then a series of little lakes, all separated by stone fences. Then suddenly a bright yellow mustard field, before a tiny little creek and another little hill. It all eerily reminded us of a model toy landscape. The pictures probably won't do the landscape justice, but it might give the general idea:

An example of little lakes, surrounded by little hills.

British style stone fences and an ever changing landscape where no portion is particularly big or particularly flat. Notice especially the tiny rolling hills in the extreme back of the picture.

Suddenly a wonderful yellow mustard field. Felt a bit like home, if not for the palm trees hanging above it.

Getting water the old fashioned way. By ox driven water wheel.

Saturday, 21 January 2006

Trip to Rajasthan: New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve was spent in Jodhpur. The city is not exactly known for a bustling night life, so we were not too optimistic about finding anywhere to celebrate it, but in a local newspaper we saw an add for a hotel, which held a rooftoop party, so we decided to attend it.

Here Rikke and Jacob are at the beginning of the night sitting in the hotels little garden restaurant next to a fire. They couldn't actually serve us any food, but we decided to stay there and talk and relax a bit before joining the noisy party upstairs.

After the garden restaurant we sat in the 5th floor bar. We took a look at the roof top dance floor but decided it was a bit too hectic to stay at before midnight. Here Jacob is talking to a local student.

After midnight we are dancing in a private room that we had been given, due to the fact that we (especially Rikke, but also me and Jacob) had attracted so much attention at the rooftop, that it was virtually impossible to stay there. In my previous post at this weblog I wrote about issues of personal space and privacy in India. The problems do not get less when you are the only westerners at a party where people have drunk quite a bit in a place where few foreigners come. We simply couldn't move around, because we constantly had a flock of 20-30 people wanting to greet us and talk to us. The dancing guy in the left of the picture is the manager of the hotel. When we first arrived he promised us that the party crowd would be very civilised and that his employees would be there to take care of us. He was right about the second part, but the civility was slightly lacking. Not because people meant to be annoying, but it just got a bit too much. But once we got back to our private room with a couple of guards outside and only a few selected people inside, it was fine.

Friday, 20 January 2006

Personal space and privacy in India

Due to popular demand (i.e. from my mother, who complains I don’t have enough pictures of people going about their daily lives in the traffic and on the streets) I have decided to try to describe the everyday culture that meets a traveler from the West on his first trip to the subcontinent India.

The very first thing that strikes you is that there are just incredibly many people in India. Compared even to a fairly urbanized country like Denmark, you will just see people everywhere. Even on a quiet residential street in the middle of the night you will inevitably see some people moving around, riding bikes etc. And when you get into crowded markets, the density of people can become so high as to be almost unbearable for a Scandinavian boy such as myself used to plenty of space to move on.

Of course living in a country with such an incredibly densit
y of people affects the culture of that land. For instance Indians just don’t have the luxury of being particularly fussy about concepts such as privacy and personal space. Their standards are simply worlds apart from ours in the west. This can be seen for instance when standing in line. It is not as in e.g. China where there is no line and people just hustle and push each other to get first to the bus/train/ticket counter or whatever is being waited for. No, the Indians do keep the line (most of the time). The problem is that the line will be so compressed that the guy behind you is literally glued to your back. This is of course understandable in a situation where there is severe scarcity of space. But he will be glued to your back, even if you and him are the only two people in line! And furthermore once you get to the counter he will not wait behind you, but go up right next to you, so he can follow everything that goes on and also put forth his money and wave it in front of your face so the clerk can see he is next – and again he will do this even if you are the only two people in line. That sort of behaviour is completely acceptable in India, but can very quickly get on a westerner’s nerves.

The missing concept of personal space also means it can be hard to have conversations with ordinary Indians (of course this doesn’t apply to Delhi upper middle class, who knows all about interacting with westerners and largely have adopted or de
veloped many cultural practices similar to ours). They will simply lean over so close when talking to you, that if you stick out your tongue it will hit their nose.

When you combine this lack of respect for the +1 meter of personal space that westerner’s enjoy with the enormous curiosity that Indians outside the biggest tourist spots have towards westerners, it can for some people become quite unbearable to explore the roads less travelled in India. If you stand at a small town train station and start reading a book or looking through the pictures on your digital camera, you can be certain that within minutes you will have 4-5 Indians standing right behind you looking over your shoulder. I kid you not!

However, it is important to stress that none of this is meant as lack of respect. This is just the normal cultural standard of the land, and in most cases Indians are as respectful and friendly towards westerners as they know how to be. Their enormous curiosity probably underlines that. In many smaller cities the arrival of westerners is an event out of the extraordinary. It must also be said that slowly I have begun to adjust to the different standards of social interaction and the inevitable stares no longer affect me the slightest.

Of course there are many, many other aspects to India’s rich culture than just the few annoyances I have talked about here. This is however one of the first things a westerner notices and since first impressions can tend to stick these are the main impressions some people come home with. That is a shame, because there is so much more to India. I will try to write about that in a later post.

I include lastly a few pictures to illustrate my point:

Smalltown, Uttar Pradesh. We stopped for a cricket game and quickly found ourselves surrounded by hundreds of people. A totally surreal experience. At this point the crowds have quieted down a bit and we had managed to get out our cameras. But still many stares. As a point of curiosity, this picture was actually taken because a bus suddenly drove over the playing field.

Crowded market. Notice how closely people in the background are actually standing without being bothered.

Thursday, 19 January 2006

Trip to Rajasthan: Visiting the Bishnoi

From Jodhpur we went on a one day trip out to the surrounding villages belonging to the Bishnoi tribe. The Bishnoi are perhaps one of the most conservationistic tribes in the world. Not only are all living creatures holy to them - also trees are to be protected and never cut down! History has it that more than 60 Bishnoi villagers once died trying to protect a tree from being cut down by the men of the local Maharaja. To express his remorse he made the area in which they lived a sanctuary for animals and trees - perhaps the first national park in the world? To this day the area is still protected and the Bishnoi today still live as they did centuries ago. They have not adapted to modern life and its technology. In that sense they are much like the amish in America.

Rikke in a traditional Rajasthani dress at a Bishnoi house

Jacob posing with Rajasthani turban

A traditional Bishnoi home. Apparently scooters are the exception to the rule of no modern technology. Or perhaps they were having a visitor?

Since Bishnoi children are not used to driving in motor vehicles playing in our jeep was a great attraction. But my camera also managed to get their full attention as is very apparent on the picture.

Tuesday, 17 January 2006

Flight of the eagle

Here's one more picture from Jodhpur. I guess it could have been taken anywhere so I make it it's own post. We were eating lunch at a rooftop restaurant, and we noticed an eagle circling unusually close to us. I decided to get out my camera and try to take a picture. Just as I had gotten ready the eagle flew by me at about 2-3 metres distance. I desperately tried to follow it and clicked, having no idea whether I got anything. This is the result. It was flapping its wings but it is caught here in a moment where the wings extend horizontally from its body. However the three main steering feathers of the wing still haven't followed down. I show the original picture, and a close up where you can see a little piece of meat in the birds' beak.

Sunday, 15 January 2006

Trip to Rajasthan: Jodhpur

A couple of days after my sister, Rikke, and her boyfriend, Jacob, arrived we started our grand 11-day tour of the state of Rajasthan. I also took my parents and brother there earlier, but Rajasthan has so much to offer that I was easily able to make a completey different itinerary this time, so I wouldn't get bored with the same places. First we went to "the blue city": Jodhpur.

Me in front of the main fort in Jodhur. Still in the possesion of the current Maharashtras family. All the old monarchs formally lost all power after the independance of India, but in practice they still have a very special standing in their local communities.

A sea of blue! In old times every neighbourhood had it's own special colour. I guess blue won. This picture was taken from the outer walls of the fort.

A close up of the old blue houses. Rooftops are often flat in old indian cities, and are host to a life parallel to the life on the streets - only less crowded and with more air and sun.

Rikke & Jacon at the central main square of the city. This picture gives you a good idea of how many people there are in Jodhpur (or India in general). Even though it is rarely reflected in my pictures, India is generally a very crowded place. Here you get the right idea.

Sunset over Jodhpur. The edge of the fort can be seen to the right.

Saturday, 14 January 2006

Visit from home: Rikke & Jacob

After christmas I was lucky enough to have another set of visitors from home. My sister Rikke and her boyfriend Jacob. They arrived on December 27th and stayed with me for 2 weeks - first a couple of days in Delhi and then on a tour of Rajasthan (which is also why I didn't update my weblog in that period).

Along the way on the trip I had a bit of trouble with my nose following the operation (blockage mainly - for the english readers who haven't read about my operation, I had to undergo a slightly traumatic sinus surgery just before christmas). Towards the end of the trip it started getting much better though, and now I'm feeling better and breathing more freely than I have in years. Lovely :^)

Right now I am sitting here writing and exam paper that has to be turned in next week - but it doesn't hurt to think back to the very nice days of travelling in Rajasthan. First I will start with a few pictures from their first days in Delhi though.

Rikke & Jacob in front of the Embassy after the mandatory tour of it.

Exploring the narrow backalleys of Old Delhi. I apologize for the picture being so blurry, but it's more there to give sense of the athmosphere than to show any intricate detail. When you wander about in Old Delhi everything feels a bit like a blur, so the picture should give the right idea.

Going sightseeing after a long flight takes it toll on people. This was in the taxi on their way back. Aren't they cute?

In all fairness - after exposing Rikke & Jacob like that - I'll then include a picture of me in the apartment, not looking very fresh either.

Thursday, 12 January 2006

Panna National Park

On our way home from Khajuraho we stopped by Panna National Park, which reputedly has wild tigers. We didn't see any of those, but it was still an enjoyable one day trip. Here are a few pictures from the park:

At first this looks like just a picture of a deer standing under a tree. But look more closely in the tree - it's a monkey! And this is not just a picture that randomly caught a deer and a monkey at the same place. Notice how the monkey is clearly observing the actions of the deer. And for good reason - these two guys had a great cooperation going. The monkey would pick some strange big, hard fruits from the tree and throw them down to the deer. He would then observe whether the deer noticed it - if not he would throw another. The deer would then go to the fruit, crack it open with his strong jaws and drink the sweet juice inside. After this he would throw the fruit on the ground leaving it for the monkey to climb down and collect in order to eat the meat of the fruit, which requires the monkeys hands to finely pick. Perfect teamwork!

A more standard picture of me in front of a riverbend. Allegedly many crocodiles hang out here, but we did not spot any of them.

A very typical landscape at Panna National Park. A little challenge: See if you can spot the two gazelles in the picture.

Wild boar spotted moving around in the undergrowth of the forest. According to our guide wild boar is rarer to see than tigers and is a sign of good luck. We would have traded this for a tiger sighting though!

Wednesday, 11 January 2006

Christmas in Khajuraho

For christmas we went to Khajuraho. This is a very famous temple city, which however is a little out of the way. This remoteness is probably what saved it from the wrath of the last great moghul, the very pious Aurangzeb, whose fanatical faith in Islam made him hostile to temples like these. That is because these ancient 1000 year old temples are decorated with series of erotic or downright pornographic carvings (of course when it's more than 200 years old, then it's art and culture ;o)

Me being incredibly zen and ethnic!

In front of one of the major temples in what is known as the western group. Here you can find about 10 mainly large and very well preserved temples. Other nearby groups are not in as good a state, allthough you can find some nice temples outside the western group.

Enjoying the sun in Khajuraho. Delhi was very cold at this point, but in Khajuraho it was pleasant and warm.

Here you can see some examples of the eroctic sculptures which adourn the temples of Khajuraho. Click on the picture for more detail!

And somehow I don't think this scene needs any comment...