Notes from Ajanta and Ellola, India

This is Nobuko’s latest travel update. Since I offered to let Nobuko post here, she has become an avid writer. Way to go, girl!

21 July 2012 – From Udaipur to

Flew from Udaipur to Aurangabad (via Mumbai). Aurangabad is a town near Ajanta and Ellola, two registered UNESCO sites for their temples curved out of rocks and early Buddhist paintings. And to make this visit a specially happy one, Pratik, one of the six students from Pune, whom I met within the first days of my trip, also joined me there.

We settled on a hostel around 6pm. Pratik is full of energy, so while I was thinking about just lazying around, he was ready to hit the ground right away. So we took a rickshaw right away and went to see the Poor Men’s Taj. Such an unfortunate name for a tomb built by a prince for his mother.

Never mind the nickname, it is a beautiful building fancied up by curved marble walls – how could they make such uniformed and identical carvings without powered tools? According to Pratik, who has been to Taj, this one is a miniature of  the Taj. On the way back to the hostel, I had my eyes on a grilled sweet corn – this one was grilled on charcoal wood and finished with lime juice and masala powder.It was so good.

The following day we went to Ajanta, some 2.5 hours away from Aurangabad by bus. The side wall inside the bus had stains of streaks that looked like someone had violently puked red vomit. Pratik told me this is from people spitting paan, a kind of chewing tobacco.

Ajanta is set in a beautiful place alongside a river running in a U-shape. The caves themselves, columns and figures were carved out of single rocks. They started chiseling from the front-top section of the cave, and continued in and downward, in the process carving out columns and decorations. Impressive, isn’t it? We found a group with a guide in Cave #2 and joined them.

The paintings are badly damaged from the passage of time, weather, CO2 from our breath, as well as from people touching them. Now there are rails that prohibit people from getting close to the remaining intact paintings. The figures are amazingly well painted – very realistic depictions in regards to proportion and details. Many caves had paintings all over the ceilings as well, leaving no blank space.

Some ceilings looked like a Persian carpet – designs so beautiful and intricate. Through studying the paintings, we realized what a cosmopolitan and international place this one was: we saw figures that looked Far East Asian and African, and people carrying umbrellas that had designs from China as well as the Middle East.

After a guided tour, we climbed to a picnic area/look out point on the hill top across the river. There was a waterfall with seven cascading pools. It was a serene place. We managed to enjoy the view for a while and started our descend back to the caves to admire the paintings once more. But my touristy fate had another happening waiting for me just to puncture the day. A young guy we passed was stupid enough to make an indecent verbal assault in English. He probably thought I did not understand English, and that I was alone.

Are you getting tired of hearing about stories of such incidents?  I am – tired of it happening and retelling in emails. But I am telling it to you this time because I want to acknowledge an heroic act by Pratik. I wanted to ignore the remark, but it was the most distasteful of all that I have heard so far, so I confronted the stupid jerk. After Pratik learned what was going on, he took over and defended my honor, so to speak.

There was a bunch of other people watching the scene, and cheered Pratik and encouraged him to keep going. Pratik said it was probably entertaining for them. Good, at least somebody enjoyed it and got a laugh out of it!  And bless Pratik, he will receive an honorable citizen status in Japan if I ever become the prime minister.

Our second round proved to be worthwhile. We found details that we had missed the first time around.

For example, cave #5 is open to the public, but is also used as an administrative office and houses a small artifacts museum. A Buddha statue is in the sanctum in the back. The guard there showed us that this Buddha smiles! It was true. Depending on where we stand and how the shadow is crated, the corners of his mouth go up and you can see that Buddha is smiling.

The following day we visited Ellola, which is only about 40 minutes away. This one is known for its sculptures, caves, columns and figures, carved out of single rocks. We toured the whole site without a guide. The earlier caves are Buddhist, and a style progressing to Hindu, and eventually to Jain. Buddhist caves are simple and minimalist. Hindu caves are more elaborate and decorative. In place of Buddha, you see Vishnu and Shiva as celebrated Gods. The poses are also much more expressive and somewhat provocative.

Cave # 16 is located in the center of the series, and the grandest of all. It has an extensive amount of decoration carved onto any surface people could get to. Pratik told me that Shiva is always accompanied by a bull which is situated directly in front of Shiva, facing him. The bull takes Shiva for a ride, anywhere he needs to go. And Vishnu is depicted reclined with pillows under his head and a lotus flower emerging from his belly button, which capsules his incarnation. Jain figures are nude, but their poses are not so provocative.

After Ellola, we stopped at Daulatabad Fort. We got there at the perfect time, around 5pm, to enjoy the dusk. The crumbled fort looks authentic, because it was largely left to decay, or so it seemed like. There was a dark secret passage way which Pratik wanted to go through. I was enthusiastic in the beginning, but only after a few minutes, light completely disappeared – I mean, pitch dark without a trace of any light.

Bats were flying over our heads. They looked cute, sort of a cross between a piglet and a rat, and they even sound cute. But I am scared of them and their smelly feces. I could not figure how wide or tall the passage way was, so it felt like the walls and ceiling were closing in on me. I felt a shiver of panic run through my body and became breathless. I begged Pratik to take me back to the entrance.

There were a few other Indian guys in the passage way as well and they all encouraged me to continue. But I was so scared.  Pratik took me back to the entrance and went back into that dark tunnel. When I finally got to the exit, Pratik had already beaten me to it and was waiting. Apparently I had only mastered one third of the way.

Once at the top, we went up into the octagonal building. Pratik is so fearless that I envy his guts. He just walked on, out to the beam that protruded from the wall, in his normal stride, and sat himself on the edge of it with a straight face. I managed to get on the beam, but my butt was tingling from the fear of falling, and I sat glued to the wall. While Pratik shifted his body to get the camera out of his back pocket, I almost freaked out just seeing his body sway sideways, on that edge of the beam.  Even afterwards I had a cold sweat running down my back. I am such a coward.

We took a late bus to Pune and arrived past 2 a.m. Pratik was such a gentleman and left me only after I had checked into a hotel (Hotel Surya Villa, nice & clean place).  After getting to know Pratik better, I decided to give him (without his consent) a new nickname. Initially, I could not remember the six students’ names, so I gave nicknames to help me remember each one. Pratik was “Fluffy Hair” because he has lots of lively hair. But after learning how he, despite his young age, carries himself and speaks with such a sense of authority and confidence, his new nickname became “Prince”.

You should see him in dealing with rickshaw drivers and such. I just let him do the negotiations, which he never stretches to more than a minute or two. Then I hop in the rickshaws after the deals are done. And while I don’t understand Hindi or Maharathi, it seemed that rickshaw drivers just end up accepting Pratik’s offer – watching this I got the sense of victory and satisfaction that I so rarely attain on my own.

He should really consider offering workshops for tourists: “How to become a Successful Haggler with Poise and Style in Three Days”.

Notes From Udaipur, India

This is Nobuko’s travel report. From India, with love.

July 2012 Udaipur: Second Round

So now a full circle has been made – I returned to Udaipur on 18 July. I took a night bus from Jodhpur which was by far the worst ride. Throughout my trip, the quality of taking the night bus with a sleeper kept declining. I don’t know why. It left Jodhpur at 10pm and I fell asleep despite the bumpy ride. But a fellow passenger woke me up around 1:30am and said that I had to get off the bus.
I looked around and everyone was gone. Seemed that the bus we were on had broken down and we had to wait for another one. We all sat around – about 2:30am another bus came with passengers on it already, but amazingly we were all able to get in. People made sure that I got a sleeper slot. Only after that, they sat on the floor in the corridor, where there was no seat. This was how all of us managed to stay on.
The temperature in Udaipur had dropped since I visited almost three weeks back. But this time I had to swat at mosquitoes! I stayed at the same hostel, Hanuman Ghat, run by friendly Babaji. Udaipur is well set up for us foreign tourists with bookstores that sell books in English, coffee shops that make great sandwiches (if you are missing western bread and good coffee), and zillions of money exchange outlets that offers a very good rate at 54 R, far better than Mumbai’s 51 R. I found the book Shantaram, a book recommended by many people.
I ran into the two Swiss girls I had met in Jodhpur, where we had been staying at the same hostel, then again here in Udaipur. They left for Goa the next day. After seeing them off, I went to a corner store to get toilet paper (no, I have not learned how to go without paper). The store keeper was a very friendly woman called Vidhya. She told me about a festival that went on by one of the lakes, and invited me to go with her on the day that was reserved specially for women only: No Gents!  Vidhya told me that it was done this way to prevent “gents going crazy”. Yeah, I understand and appreciate it 🙂
On the day of the festival, I arrived at her store and found her dressed in a very nice sari. Her mom, aunt, nieces and nephews came along too. The kids were so cute, and kept me in good company. The little ones swung from my arms and climbed on my back and made me into a playground jungle gym. I am glad that my body held up for such a roughing.
The festival was like a street fair lined with vendors, where people browsed and bought snacks, wind-up toys that made awful noises, and inflated dinosaurs, etc…. A garden, which normally charges an entrance fee was free on that day, and we picnicked there. Vidhya and her family brought home cooked food (aloo, bhindi, chapatti and sweets called sheel). Vidhya wanted to take a boat ride in the lake. We all stood in the ticket line, and maybe because I was with a big family, I was able to buy it at  Indian price (although I was ready to pay the foreign price). I like this kind of inconsistency.
Udaipur is my last stop in Rajasthan. All in all, it is definitely not a boring place to visit. And the forts and palaces are just so romantic. I thought many times that I would never come to Rajasthan again,but I now think that I will come again if I have a chance, hopefully with company to make it more pleasant.

Notes from Mt. Abu, Udaipur, Jaipur, and Pushkar in India

My globetrotting friend, Nobuko, is posting again from her current visit to India.

I have been only a tourist for the past several days, which has kept me away from cyber cafes, and once I was ready to write some updates, there was no cyber cafe or just unreliable electricity supplies. Today is 4 July, Independence day, in the U.S.A.

26 June 26  at Mt Abu

My experience sucked. The only good thing is the cool temperature we are having. Merchants are liars, and the manager of the hostel (Shri Ganesh Hotel – don’t stay there if you go) was very unwelcoming – in general just bad energy – and also lied to me and other guests about bus time – my guess is that he hoped that I would miss the bus so I would have to end up using their transport service.

He knew I had already gone to the bus station and inquired about the schedule. Yet he had a nerve to tell me that the schedule had changed, and I was informed of the old schedule. I ignored him and was able to get a bus to Udaipur as I planned. Anyway, six college students from Pune I met in Bhuj were there too, so I had  great company to dine and walk around the town with.

27 June 2012 from Mt Abu to Udaipur

The students and I shared our itinerary to Udaipur, so we spent some time together there. They found a great hostel called Hanuman Ghat, which is in a quiet area, but has a nice roof top terrace and an awesome view of the famed lake and palace!  The owner Baba is smiley and has a striking resemblance to the God Hanuman himself (I say this in a friendly way)!

28 June 2012  in Udaipur

The students and I visited the palace and hired a guide, which was a great decision, because he was so enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Some parts of the palace are still used as the residence of former royal family, so it was off-limit. One section of the palace is converted into a luxury hotel which costs a crazy amount of money to stay, of course. The Queen’s gGrden can also be rented for a wedding or other events, but it costs $40,000 per night to do so. I am waiting for one of those six students I met to get married there and be invited to the wedding!

The students were due to return home that night. Before we parted, they gave me a farewell gift – they called it a momento (leather bound notebook as a diary)!!  It was a very nice gesture and made me feel so special. Realistically speaking, I should be the one to give them gifts for taking good care of me. I was very moved by it. Thank you, to the students.

I met another wonderful Indian person at the hostel and he was going to Jaipur the same evening. So I decided to hitch along. At 9:30pm, the bus left Udaipur and we arrived i Jaipur at 6 a.m. the next morning. We had sleepers which are like capsules, but you have  privacy, because you can shut a sliding door to sleep while keeping windows open for much needed air.

But the ride was really, REALLY bumpy. The bounces were so big that my body lifted off of the sleeping surface countless time – I prefer going through a turbulence in an airplane.

29 June 2012 in Jaipur

It is called the Pink city. And it is really pink. My companion and I stayed inside the old city wall, which made it easy for us to go out into the heat for a few hours and retreat back to the hostel to rest, and repeat this multiple times throughout the day. We found a lassi stand that serves the best lassi I have ever known, and a stand that serves a food called Poha. This I want to make myself – it’s a mix of rise, tomatoes, onions, cirantro, masala powder, and finished off with lime juice. 10 rupees for this tasty snack.

The merchants and rickshaw drivers were lots more aggressive and persistent in Jaipur, and I was the magnet for them. So I purchased a tie dyed scarf. A nice woman showed me how to wrap it and conceal my face. After that, obscured also by my sunglasses, the approach decreased by 90%. Amazing!  And it kept me from getting sunburned and my nostrils clean at the end of the day.

We visited Hawa Mahal (the Wind Palace) where court women used to live (or were locked up, depends on your view). It was a small place, but it was beautiful and offered many spots that just make you want to snap a photo and stroke your ego by making you feel like you have the best eyes for selecting great views.

At night we ate at the Ganesh Restaurant. It is so hard to find as their sign is very tiny and hangs over the entrance to a very small stairway. We looped around and finally found it on the second try. Once we walked up the stairs, there was yet another sign saying Ganesh Restaurant with an arrow pointing to the left, directing us to a dark path on a rooftop.

At the end of the path, we finally  saw lights and there it was! We had a server who looked stern. But he smiled once we ordered Ganesh Special, the spicy Indian way. He smiled once again when he saw us cleaning up all plates. This made us feel like winners.

30 June 2012 in Jaipur

We visited Nahargar Fort at 10am. The rikshaw driver dropped us off 1/3 way up the zigzag path, so we walked up the remaining 1.5 km at a snail speed. Once we got there, we found out that a Bollywood film called Shera (due to be released in November) was being filmed!  There were lots of stuntmen and extras in period costumes, many of whom wanted to take pictures with me for some reason. I think they just were bored of waiting for their turns and also wanted to have an excuse to touch a woman. Now that I think about it, I should have charged them 100 rupees for each photo opportunity. There was a famous movie star name Sanjay Dutt also. It was so much fun hanging out with the crew members and the security guys that we stayed there for several hours.

About the stares – In Jaipur, a touristy city like Jaipur where I would assume they have seen enough Asian faces, men would come directly in front of me, face to face, to stare at me up and down (including my boobs), when I did not cover my face. No discretion here. Open and somewhat gross curiosity, their expressions annoyed me somewhat, so I stared back at them. Sort of a game to see which one would give up staring first. But they continued to stare for a long while.

1 July 2012 from Jaipur to Pushkar

We visited the observatory – Indians have been very keen on learning about  space since a long time ago. My companion Mansoor had to go home on this day, but he accompanied me to the bus station and made sure that I got on the right bus. He was such a gentleman. Thank you, Mansoor.

The ride to Pushkar was supposed to be only 2.5 hours. But it lasted four hours. The heat was almost unbearable – reminded me of the very dry and high heat of the Mojave Desert, it was almost suffocating. When I arrived in Pushkar, I was exhausted. Settled in a hostel with a swimming pool and plunged right in when I finished a registration. No wonder, the temperature here is 43 C = 107 F. If you have been to a Bikram Yoga (AKA Hot yoga), you know how hot it is.

2 and 3 July 2012 in Pushkar (only in my hostel room)

Not much to report on these days. I don’t know if it is the food I ate in Jaipur, or the first dinner I had in Pushkar at the hostel, I suffered from a (nicely put) stomach problem. I only left to get food at expensive, but reputable places, to buy water and toilet papers, and to briefly check email. The air is so hot that all a ceiling fan can do is to spread and push down the risen heat onto my bed. But turning it off was equally unbearable. I kept on drinking ginger/lemon tea which helped.

4 July 2012  in Pushkar (not in the bathroom anymore)

I changed the hostel since the first one was kind of unfriendly. I am now at Aroma Hotel which is close to the lake and bazaar, as well as to the desert stretch at the outskirt of this small town. I have not seen anything here yet. So to be continued!

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