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How to deal with poverty and beggars in India?

Monday, October 29, 2012

"Oh no, I don't want to go to India. I could never cope with the poverty, the chaos and the dirt!". You hear that a lot. More so, I used to be one of the people who used to respond this way, when asked if I ever visited India.

This year however, I was in India for 18 weeks, and yes, I survived just fine AND had a good time. OK, I still find India totally overwhelming, tiring and heavy on all the senses, but is IS doable.

I realise that I am very privileged, staying in India in the best hotels and with enough money to go around. Even then it is tough on the delicate minded, weakhearted and fragile healthed like me.

Your heart must be of stone not to be touched by scenes like these:

The people in the picture above at least have a sort of roof over their heads and 'beds' to sleep in.

Islands in Lake Pichola, Udaipur

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Udaipur lies at Lake Pichola and is surrounded by mountains.

This is what Wikipedia says about Lake Pichola:

"Lake Pichola is an artificial fresh water lake, created in the year 1362 AD, named after the nearby Picholi village.[1][2] The lakes around Udaipur were primarily created by building dams to meet the drinking water and irrigation needs of the city and its neighborhood. Two islands, Jag Niwas and Jag Mandir are located within Pichola Lake, and have been developed with several palaces to provide views of the lake.[1][3]

There are four islands on the lake :
Jag Niwas, where is built the Lake Palace.
Jag Mandir, with the palace of the same name.
Mohan Mandir, from where the king would watch the annual Gangaur festival celebration.
Arsi Vilas, small island which was an ammunition depot, but also a small palace. This one was built by one of the maharanas of Udaipur to enjoy the sunset on the lake. It is also a sanctuary catering to a variety of birds, including tufted ducks, coots, egrets, terns, cormorants and kingfishers [4]."

We took a boat tour on Lake Pichola.

Lake Pichola, Udaipur

Friday, October 26, 2012

Udaipur lies along Lake Pichola, surrounded by mountains. In fact there are a few more lakes around.

If you look at my pictures, you will understand why it is sometimes compared to   cities like Venice and Amsterdam. With its buildings right at the waterfront and its bridges, islands and the boats....

Ofcourse there are differences too; I don't think that in Amsterdam or Venice anyone in his right mind would go in the water to swim, play, wash or do their laundry! In Udaipur everybody does. It is very social and lively there at the waterfront, but I wonder if people get sick from the water....

Doesn't it look gorgeous?

Mughal murals in Udaipur

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Walking through the streets of Udaipur you will see that many walls of houses, temples and palaces, are decorated with Mughal-style murals. 

Often around doorposts, depicting elephants, men on horses, maharaja's, the mustached sungod and elegant ladies. Here are some examples:

Jagdish Temple, Udaipur

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Jagdish Temple in Udaipur is part of the City Palace (see yesterdays post).

This is what is written on the webpage of the temple:

"Jagdish Temple is one of the famous temples of Udaipur. Located in the City Palace complex of Udaipur, this temple is made in the Indo-Aryan style of architecture. In 1651, Jagdish temple was built by Maharana Jagat Singh, who ruled Udaipur during 1628-53. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu (Laxmi Narayan), the preserver of the Universe. It is celebrated for being the largest temple in the city of Udaipur.
This three-storied temple is a wonder of architecture that comprises beautifully carved pillars, decorated ceilings, painted walls and lush halls. In those times, 1.5 million rupees were spent to raise this structure. The spire of the main temple is around 79 feet high that undoubtedly dominates the skyline of Udaipur. This shikhar (spire) is festooned with sculptures of dancers, elephants, horsemen and musicians making it truly a sight to behold.

When you approach the temple, you will be welcomed by two huge stone elephants at the entrance. To reach the main shrine, you have to take a marble flight of 32 steps. Here, you will find a brass image of Garuda, a figure of half-man and half-eagle. "

So let's have a look then, shall we?

32 Marble steps...check...

City Palace, Udaipur

Monday, October 22, 2012

Udaipur's main attraction, in my eyes, is it's City Palace. Wow, what an enormous complex with a rich history and heritage!!!

From Wikipedia:

"City Palace, Udaipur, is a palace complex in the Indian state Rajasthan. It was built by the Maharana Udai Singh in 1559. It is located on the east bank of the Lake Pichola and has several palaces built within its complex. Udaipur was the historic capital of the former kingdom of Mewar in the Rajputana Agency and its last capital.
The City Palace in Udaipur was built in a flamboyant style and is considered the largest of its type in Rajasthan, a fusion of the Rajasthani and Mughal architectural styles, and was built on a hill top that gives a panoramic view of the city and its surrounding, including several historic monuments such as the Lake Palace in Lake Pichola, the Jag Mandir on another island in the lake, the Jagdish Temple close to the palace, the Monsoon Palace on top of an overlooking hillock nearby and the Neemach Mata temple. These structures are linked to the filming of the James Bond movie Octopussy, which features the Lake Palace and the Monsoon Palace. The subsequent publicity has resulted in the epithet of Udaipur as "Venice of the East". In 2009, Udaipur was rated the top city in the World's Best Awards by Travel + Leisure."

Let's have a look, shall we?:

What a glorious sight, lit up by the sunlight!

Chunda Palace, Udaipur

Saturday, October 20, 2012

So after our stay in Jaipur we arrived in Udaipur, another city filled with palaces and Maharaja heritage.

The hotel we had chosen was the Chunda Palace Hotel.

It looks beautiful, inside and out; very richly ornamented and decorated. Totally up my alley, but maybe too much for others.

Let me show you around:

Quite impressive, isn't it?!

One hour in Pushkar

Friday, October 19, 2012

We decided to break up our drive from Jaipur to Udaipur by making a small detour to Pushkar and look around there.

From Wikitravel and Wikipedia:

"Pushkar is a holy town in the state of Rajasthan famous for the Pushkar lake, various ghats and temples spread all around the lake.

The word 'Pushkar' means blue lotus flower, which is said to be the seat of Brahma, one of the Hindu holy trinity, who is worshipped as the creator of this world.  Pushkar is the only temple city for this important deity (Brahma) in the world. 
It is often called "Tirth Raj" - the king of pilgrimage sites - and has in recent years become a popular destination for foreign tourists.

Pushkar is one of the oldest existing cities of India.  The date of its actual origin is not known, but legend associates Lord Brahma with its creation.

Pushkar has many temples. Most of the temples are not very old because many temples were destroyed during Muslim conquests in the area. Subsequently, the destroyed temples were rebuilt.

Pushkar is also famous for its annual fair (Pushkar Camel Fair) held in November, and for camel safaris and shopping."

My pictures illustrate the above:
temples (blue), priests (orange), camels, tourists and shopping;-).

This mural encompasses the essence of Pushkar well: orange priests, light blue from the facades of temples and buildings, and lots of cows. Maybe the guy with the ghettoblaster stands for the tourists?

From Jaipur to Udaipur by car

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The distance between Jaipur and Udaipur is only 400 kilometers, yet it takes about 6 to 8 hours by car.

Fortunately we did not have to drive ourselves. We hired a car with driver; what a luxury! Seated comfortably, with air-conditioning and a nice and safe driver; what more can you ask for?

It took us a bit longer, since we decided to make a detour via Pushkar. (More about that in tomorrow's post.)

Frits was able to work on his laptop and phone for hours, I just looked out of the window and took pictures, 8 hours long. Ofcourse taking pictures in a speeding car through the closed window does not result in the best possible images. But they still give a good impression, I think.

The road led us through a beautiful scenery.

An hour in Amber Town

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The hour between our visit to Amber Fort and our afternoon at Elefantastic we spent at Amber town.

We had a look at a gorgeous temple, where we both received a bindhi from the 'residing' priest there. And we looked around the streets.

Let's first look at he Sri Jagat Siromani Ji temple, dedicated to Krishna and beautifully decorated with stonecarvings:

What a glorious entrancegate with all those beautiful carvings!

Elefantastic; up close and personal with elephants

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Being a huge animal lover AND THUS being against all animal cruelty, I tend to stay far from tourism or attractions that exploit or abuse animals.

Unfortunately it is not always clear or visible how the animals are treated. What happens to them when no tourist or spectator is around?

In Malaysia we visited an elephant resort, Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary,  initiated by someone who is into rescuing and relocating elephants into the wild. It sounded like a good cause and tourists visiting the elephant place get a nice experience, while their money is helping the elephants. 

It was a nice day indeed, feeding the elephants, and going into the river with them. We enjoyed that. It was also not expensive.

What did bother me were two things: the number of visiting tourists per day turned out to be quite large. Massiveness is never a plus for any experience. But moreover, the realisation that the there present elephants had to work every day, to entertain so many people, hurt me.
I DO understand that a number of elephants  pay the price this way, in order for the organisation to be able to rescue others (and these elephants as well, of course), but it still gave me mixed feelings.

This time, I stumbled via Tripadvisor upon Elefantastic in Jaipur/Amber where it is reviewed as the nr 1. attraction. 

I checked out their website and the reviews and it sounded good! Very expensive, but it seemed that thanks to that money,  tourists have a personalized close contact with the elephants and in return the elephants have a work- and care-free life. A win-win-situation. Fine with me!
And that the owner of this elephant farm, Rahul, maybe earns quite a buck on this? No problem with that. Tourism is a good, reputable business, as far as I'm concerned, as long as it is of good quality, value for money and scam-free. So far so good, so we signed up for a day (in fact a half day).

This is what it was like:

We could have been picked up in this beautiful horse carriage, but we came by a very normal autorikshaw;-). Many aspects of the Elefantastic experience are borderline cheesy (or even over the top;-)), but I find it colorful and charming as well. I don't mind at all !

Amber Fort

Sunday, October 14, 2012

We spent our second day in Jaipur in Amber, also called Amer. Amber is the former capital of Jaipur state.

The main attraction in Amber is the Amber Fort, so this is where we went in the morning.

From Wikipedia: 

"Amer Fort ( also spelled and pronounced as Amber Fort) is located in Amer, a town  11 kilometres  from Jaipur. It is one of the principal tourist attractions in the Jaipur area, located high on a hill. 

Amer Fort was built by Raja Man Singh I and is known for its artistic style, blending both Hindu and Rajput elements. With its large ramparts, series of gates and cobbled paths, the fort overlooks the Maota Lake, at its forefront.

The aesthetic ambiance of this formidable fort is seen within its walls on a four level layout plan (each with a courtyard) in a well turned out opulent palace complex built with red sandstone and marble consisting of the Diwan-e-Aam or the "Hall of Public Audience", the Diwan-e-Khas or the "Hall of Private Audience", the Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace) or Jai Mandir, and the Sukh Niwas where a cool climate is artificially created by winds that blow over the water cascade within the palace. Hence, the Amer Fort is also popularly known as the Amer Palace. The palace was lived in by the Rajput Maharajas and their families.

This fort and  Jaigarh Fort, located immediately above, are considered as one complex, as the two are  connected by a subterranean passage. This passage was meant as an escape route in times of war for the royal family members and others in the Amer Fort to shift to  Jaigarh Fort."

We did not visit Jaigarh Fort, since our time was limited. We had other plans for the afternoon. (More about that in tomorrow's post.)

Let me show you around in Amber Fort:

There it lies, Amber Fort, reflected in the lake in front.

Jaipur: City Palace and Hawa Mahal

Saturday, October 13, 2012

As I promised yesterday,  I show you now Jaipur's main attractions; Hawa Mahal and the City Palace.

From Wikipedia:

"Hawa Mahal (translation: "Palace of Winds" or “Palace of the Breeze”), is a palace in Jaipur, India. It was built in 1799 by Maharaja Sawai Pratap Singh, and designed by Lal Chand Ustad in the form of the crown of Krishna, the Hindu god. 

Its unique five-storey exterior is also akin to the honeycomb of the beehive with its 953 small windows called jharokhas that are decorated with intricate latticework
The original intention of the lattice was to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life in the street below without being seen, since they had to observe strict "purdah" (face cover).
Built of red and pink sandstone, the palace is situated on the main thoroughfare in the heart of Jaipur’s business centre. It forms part of the City Palace, and extends to the Zenana or women's chambers, the chambers of the harem. It is particularly striking when viewed early in the morning, lit with the golden light of sunrise."

Let's have a look at this unusual structure:

Five stories high, shaped like a crown and with almost 1000 tiny windows.

Jaipur, the Pink City, in fifty pictures

Friday, October 12, 2012

Since our trip was a short one, we only had two days for Jaipur and neighbouring Amber.

Today's I present to you Jaipur, the Pink City, in fifty pictures.

It is Northern India's first planned city, built in 1727 and painted pink in 1876. Pink is traditionally the color of hospitality and the then reigning Maharaja with this gesture welcomed the visiting Prince of Wales.

Even today, all residents of the Old City are compelled by law to preserve the pink facades.

In my pictures the color may appear to be orange or ocre, due to the sunlight (and my camera), but in fact the color is more 'old pink'.

We found ourselves a nice auto rickshaw driver. Although he compared me to his mother AND quickly determined me as the boss lady of the couple....hahaha.....

Rambagh Palace Hotel, Jaipur

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Our trip started of in Jaipur, where we stayed 2 days at the Rambagh Palace Hotel.

This hotel from the Taj group -untill quite recently- was one of the palaces of the Maharajah's and it still has it's royal grandeur. It aims to treat it's guests accordingly and succeeds pretty well in that;-).

First a bit of history about Rajasthan and it's Maharajah's:

Also called 'Land of Kings' Rajasthan is filled with forts and palaces that belonged (and partly still belong) to the Raiput rulers. 

Although known for their bravery, due to weakening squabbles between clans, the Mughals (see my previous posts about Delhi and about Agra) managed to conquer the Raiputs.

They gradually succeeded to regain their powers, but then the British took over India. The Raiputs decided to ally with the British in exchange for keeping their positions, economic powers and possessions. They even got sort of subsidized!

So under the British reign, the Raiputs no longer needed to protect themselves from enemies, which permitted them to lead their lives in peace and luxury. Indulging themselves in travels and sports like polo.

It also meant that they no longer had to live in forts high up in the hills, but that they could move to palaces in lower areas, near lakes, etc.

After Independence however, Mahatma Ghandi at one point decided to stop the priviliges and sponsoring of the Maharajah's, which made many of them turn (a part of) their palaces into luxury hotels in order to be able to afford their lifestyle.

This brings us to the Rambagh Palace as hotel nowadays.

Let me show you around:

The hotel pick up from the airport was perfect; fast, comfortable and stylish.

Rajasthan; five days in fifty pictures

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

We just returned from a five day trip in Rajasthan.

This blogpost is the kick-of for a photographic documentary in ten parts about that trip.

Today I give you a preview-in-fifty-pictures of this beautiful region. 

Land of forts and palaces, of mountains and lakes, of heritage and nature. The sarees of the Rajasthani women have the most intense colors, as do the turbans of the men. Everything that can be adorned is decorated, it seems. Not only the people, but also their houses, animals, rikshaws and trucks.
People and animals live side by side; cows are everywhere, as are dogs, buffalo's, goats, pigs, camels, elephants, donkeys, monkeys and what not.

It is breathtakingly beautiful and utterly fascinating; I absolutely loved it!!! I hope you do too.

Street Vendors in Pune

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A documentary series about our trip to Rajasthan is about to start in a couple of days.

Let's have a look at some street vendors today. 

Ganesh gave us a good look at a whole range of small items for sale on the streets. My plan was to buy some here and there, but I got the flu and I could not go for a shopping 'session'. 
At least I have the pictures to enjoy.

There are flutes....

Ganesh Chaturthi 2012, Pune, Immersion Day

Monday, October 8, 2012

Well, if you have followed my blog over the last two weeks, you have seen a lot from Ganesh Chaturthi. You may even feel you have become some sort of an expert.

I end this documentary series with some festive and colorful pictures from the last day (Immersion Day) in the heart of Old Pune:

It was crowded.....VERY crowded. Unless you managed to stand front row on on a high point, it was IMPOSSIBLE to see the procession really:-(.

Ganesh Chaturthi 2012, Pune, immersions

Sunday, October 7, 2012

After 10 days of worshipping the Ganesha idols at home, in temples and in the streets, it is time to say farewell to Bappa (another name for Ganesh) and immerse him in the river.

For the official idols this is definitely the scenario. For private and smaller idols there are more possible immersion dates within those 10 days.

The city has arranged for about 17 spots along the river to be ready for the immersions. Next to that it tries to make people choose to do only a symbolic immersion in a water tank and to collect the idols and the flowers and decorations, rather then having that all polluting the rivers.

From the ones that DO choose for the river, often one person of the family or group takes the idol and goes in the river to immerse it. Several people have drowned here last week, doing this, since the river runs fast or they got a heart attack.

I was lucky to have been part of the immersion of the idol from the Westin Hotel, so at the end of this post there is a complete reportage of my experience.

But first some other pictures around the immersions:

It is unbelievable how much work, time and costs are involved in the preparations for a successful Ganesh Chaturthi!!!

Ganesh Chaturthi 2012, Pune: idols on tour

Saturday, October 6, 2012

At one point the idols are driven around through the streets. The Ganesha's, their thrones and decorations are loaded on a chariot, pulled by a tractor. Often some children travel along on the chariot and a couple of men that are holding on to the idol to keep it safe.

Here are some examples:

Ganesh Chaturthi 2012, Pune: saturday night fever

Friday, October 5, 2012

Although many locals warned us that going into town during Ganesh Chaturthi on a saturday night would be a challenge, due to the crowds, we decided to take our chances.

The old city centre was made traffic free and the streets were indeed crawling with people. 

There was all sorts of stuff for sale, people were eating and drinking, many dressed up nicely. 

There were Ganesha's on every corner and we walked from one location to the other, admiring the pandals (stages) with the decorated idols.

Lively atmosphere.

Ganesh Chaturthi 2012, Pune: drum bands

Thursday, October 4, 2012

An important element in the celebrations of Ganesh Chaturthi is the music performed by drum bands and brass bands. 
Idols that are being paraded around, on carts and cars, are accompanied and proceeded by dhol tasha troupes.
Groups of men, though nowadays also girls are seen, dressed in similar outfits, playing (and dancing to) very loud and rhythmical music.

I was fortunate to see several bands during the ten days of Ganesh Chaturthi.

This article gives a lively impression of what  the music bands are like on the last day (immersion day).

Here are some pictures of the bands I saw and heard:

Announcement billboard in the days before Ganesh.

Ganesh Chaturthi 2012, Pune: Pandals, 5

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Another big pandal, (literally) besides Dagdusheth's, is from Babu Genu Mandal.

This one too, I saw getting built in the weeks prior to Ganesh Chaturthi:

Ganesh Chaturthi 2012, Pune: dangers and safety

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

If you read the local newspapers, you get an idea of which safety risks are involved in a big event as this one and what is done about that.

1. A few years ago there was swine flu going around, what tempered the enthusiasme for the celebrations in that year. Many people were wearing mouthmasks then.
At the moment their is bird flu going around, dengue and diseases like that. In principle we are not eating, drinking or touching people downtown, so I think our risk is minimal.

2. Barely two months ago there were 'small' bombings in Pune and Pune has had its fair share of terrorism attacks, so no wonder that the city and police took a lot of extra measures this year.

Ganesh Chaturthi 2012, Pune: crowds, queues and coconuts

Monday, October 1, 2012

In my explanation of Ganesh Chaturthi a week ago, I wrote this: 
Ganesha is worshipped for 10 days. Coconut, sweets,  special grass and red flowers are offered.
The offering of a coconut is symbolic. The breaking of the coconut represents the breaking of the ego, giving room to a purified 'inside' (the coconut fluid representing the spirit and mind).

Well, there were plenty of coconuts to be seen. And lots of people about to offer them. Thus creating endless queues and big crowds!

See for yourself:

They sell coconuts:

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