Archive for the ‘India Diaries’ Category

a doorway to India opens again

you know you are in Delhi when you land… the smell creeps in like a ragged spy and assails your nostrils like a beggar with attitude (and we saw plenty of them)..the aircon  in the car must surely be giving me legionnaires disease , it has that fustiness of old water and old dust combined…but strangely the old India is being supremely kicked into the twenty first century ! still plenty of dust and rubbish I grant you .. but on the outskirts of the heaving groaning Delhi ,acres of shiny new things, new buildings, a new sense of capitalism gone mad ! all linked togther by the scariest road ways you can imagine…. its not just the erratic and seemingly meaningless road “rules” , cars come at all angles with menace and crazed intent, leftside, rightside , oblique criss cross mayhem and woven through it all an unassailable fatalism. No one puts their lights on at night.. .. why would you ?…lorries hurtle along with their accoutrements (scarves , black woolly pompoms,glitter,geegaws) like gypsies shrouded in darkness til they are almost upon you with invisible menace … why no lights ? could it be they are parsimoniously guarding that last rupee to the enth degree or the ghosts are gathering… swathed in smoggy tendrils of mist and gloom we travel through the night and through the plastic unfantastic.

up close and personal with a lorry

But amongst the chaos is some sort of calm, in places , and the Lodi gardens provide a measure of peace.Interestingly they have some ambitious plantings of single coloured dahlias . Flowers which are loaded with bees and are immensely jolly and colourful. Big pollination rules ! The bees are enormous but perfectly intent on their work.Easing along from single flower to single flower with dedicated concentration.sucking out the last pretty piece of nectar before travelling on to the next.It works .. you can see how busy the insects are on this single group where other flowers remain dead and unloved.

bees,dahlas and honey production

And kumquat marmelade is absolutely lovely ! imagine a marmelade made of rich tangarine and you get an idea of the taste.  At the infamous Tikkli Bottom bed and breakfast destination , Annie must be the Kumquat marmelade queen. If you have never been there  : go ! Tikkli Bottom is a haven of peace and utter englishness set within a glorious Lutchenesque house and a voluptuous garden. Martin knows his plants and trees without a doubt ,and we were there to pick his brains and tease knowledge from him like the wiley jackals and leopards surrounding his property. take a slice of England , spread it on toast and serve shaken not stirred ! delightful !

Martin's bees at Tikkli


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Once upon a time  in Febuary, I bought two strange folding story boxes from the toy making capitalof the world Bassi in Rajasthan. We are not talking high tech carpentery conglomerate here. More like one man and his adze. The cricket bat washing things (you know the ones they pound the washing to bits with on the ghats. Intensive cycle) were very much in evidence and obviously a big seller but these storybook boxes were also there and Lottie and I succumbed and I bought two. One a School box alphabet and another a rather more antique (I use the word antique advisedly because I am sure if  I was lucky it had been made a week ago at best) looking one telling the story of the folkloric Ramayana.

Back at home now they sit proudly on the bedroom windowsill with its fellows (dont ask , especially not Paul, I do have others bought on a previous foray into india). Yesterday though I note that a small and strange pile of dust has been excavated  by some  creature obviously living in the box and boring its way purposefully through the core of the wood. Worrying. Hope it doesn’t move on to our roof timbers !

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Bridge of Coos

Bridge of Coos

Moo-ve over darling over Lake Pichola in Udaipur there is a footbridge , like the Bridge of Sighs, but not, if you know what I mean. For a start it is arched but that’s where all similarity ends, because this footbridge is the favourite lounging relaxation zone for all the cows in Udaipur to congregate and chew the cud. So much so that you are indeed sighing with frustration and annoyance at the fact that you have to warily edge your way through a potential lethal war zone of ugly horns and slavering ravening bulls. Except the funny thing is ,they are strangely not doing all that much roaring and pawing the ground like you would imagine bulls in Europe would do. Why is that ? Even if I had had a red cape and donned matador garb those cows wouldnt have moved a muscle.

Anyway thankyou so much to Chris (our fellow traveller from India) for sending this to us today and reminding me of this place !!

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another door, another dollar : at the risk of sounding a bit pretentious it seems to be the case that just as our journey together around the marvellous  and tantalising area of Rajasthan ends , a new journey for all of us is only just beginning. And that is the most wonderful thing for us. Not only have we had such a great time with Lottie and Chris , our dear companions, but we have come to get things in perspective a bit and know that we can really help do some good and make a difference to a lot of people who have a very great deal less than we have been lucky enough to have .

The garden at Disha will be an amazing point of contact and enjoyment we hope for a lot of people there, so it is important we get it right. Now we are back ,we are pulling together all those ideas we have amassed en route and working out the nitty gritty details of how we can actually do it . There are infinite possibilities and the challenge is to juggle all the inspiration and practicalities and cook up  some Indian magic.

I hope that those of you who have enjoyed or endured , (or both) , reading this India Diary blog and have enjoyed reading of our experiences will help us with this project. In fact I know you will ,because if you come to India and help us plant the garden you cannot help but be touched and charmed by the sheer zaniness of it and the heart touching stories and experiences that come out of it on every side.

Be afraid , be very afraid : We will be writing more about this project on this blog and on our website as it rolls forward. Make a diffrence , it is Time to live your days as tigers !!

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the puppet show

the puppet show

The Raven Charitable Trust aims to provide reguar childrens clinics and implement vaccination programmes in local communities and provide an understanding of the importance of good health for existing and future generations.

We are hoping to make a start on at least trying to raise awareness of the value of health care on this day and to show a little bit of what goes on in this new hospital in this rural location. It will the first of many ice breaking events in this community and certainly will be the sort of thing with which  the gap year programme will be getting involved when it gets off the ground later on . 

How the garden can help as a venue for other camps and events is clearly demonstrated as we sit down with the children armed with colouring books and crayons to start to do some drawing with them. It is a bit mad at first as we grapple with our lack of hindi .. but with the wonderful intervention of all the hindi speaking helpers who have come along to assist , we manage to communicate. In a way it is not difficult as the children are like sponges for attention and input and are desperate to get to grips with our nursery rhymes and silly little songs, like the inimitable ‘Wheels on the bus’ . You are immediately struck by actually how little they all have in comparison to us and how just interacting on a very basic level and doing some silly things with them can spark so much learning even on the most basic of levels.

Paul’s brilliant idea of making the paper fortune teller games is a real hit and making them with the children and trying to explain the principles is a bit of a riot ! Even the teachers want to learn about making them. One of the most useful helpers on the day was the driver from the Oberoi hotel. He was there with Corinne, the managers wife who was also an amazing help. This sergeant majorly but kindly man, came dressed in his hotel uniform, blue coat and trousers with a line of brass buttons from right hip to left shoulder. He looked like something from the 9th Hussars in1820! Paul  tried out the “fortune tellers” on him, with translations for the kids. When the first attempt names him “Camel Breath,” he was fleetingly angry before the hoots and laughs of the children restored him to his usual good humour!! Much to Pauls relief,as he was about 6’2″ with a handle bar moustache!

Meanwhile Dr Deepak manages to file everyone through the clinic and carries out a simple health check on all the children. It is a good start for the project and gives us a big learning opportunity. 

On a garden level we need shade big time ,and areas where you can sit in small workable groups or even bigger groups. There is a puppet show organised which will build into its programme some basic health care messages. We need quite a big space for that so all the children can sit and watch comfortably.  And later on having our own puppets designed specifically for the hospital messages would be a good idea.

The visit finished up at around 2pm. Corinne invited us to the Oberoi for lunch. The contrast between the opulent luxury of this amazing hotel, within a few hundred metres of children with one set of clothes to their name, really brought home the contrasts and problems of India. If we can put our minds to trying to redistribute this is in some small way, it could be the start of great things.

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Knocking on a Heavenly Tent door : its very early at the tented camp and the camp boys have brewed up some masala chai to wake us up and see us on our way. Sunrise is up and at it again and the birds add their voice to the un hushed shouts of the chai boys. There are other guests at the camp and I bet they have been rudely awoken. Susan , if you are reading this , sorry if we woke you up ! Prakash is amazingly chipper and ready for the road back to Udaipur. A long journey ahead across country to the main (death) highway. Deer skulk along the roadside and the vultures plus rabid looking dogs work assiduously at that carcass along the way.

Pop up Poppy Fields : sultry white fields stretch tantalisingly in all directions. It is poppy heaven ,starkly and virginly lovely.They go on for miles.And are strangely calming as we once again brave the horrors of the indian highways. I wonder how long you or I could cling onto the back of an overloaded tuk tuk with fingernails of steel and fighting considerable wind resistance and the ad hoc swerves of the erratic drivers.

The wurzels ride again: it is at a truck stop where we catch up with the combine harvester crew. Smiling and jovial the sihks are affable enough and bemusedly let Lottie up on to their monster combine  machine. And so the germ of an idea , a crazy one, is planted in our four minds.How about if we did the same trip with the combine harvester from the Punjab to Gujarat to raise funds for Disha hospital and garden –! The combines travel down the 1400 miles over the course of 7 odd days always at this time of year to gather the harvest down in the far south and then they trundle all the way back again after 45 days of working on the harvest. Now this type of trip is guaranteed to take in some adventures en route , particularly with Lottie and I at the helm ( we are trying to promote womens health and participation in health issues after all ….. ) and both Chris and Paul seem thoroughly keen tooand immediately begin planning logistics and support vehicles and all things practical .I am thinking more about what sort of outfits to wear, what factor suncreams and toilet stops ! This could be a huge successful sponsorship possibility . The journey continues back to Udaipur with great and gleeful plottings, speculations and ideas from all sides.And the soundtrack to hopefully our film of the trip has to be the Wurzels combine harvester anthem!!!

Kankara we are home again: back at the Kankawa havelli in Udaipur we really feel we have come home again to our haven of peace and tranquility. Paul and I have a even more lovely room (if that is possible !) at the top of the havelli overlooking the lake. And we are soon up on the terrace tucking into a hearty lunch/breakfast special shared with the ever present cheeky chipmunks.I also come up with ideas for the Disha birdboxes which could be fun and that we could sell alongside our new birdboxes at sussex prairies this year.

India Flower/Plant books the search goes on : we do a trawl of the local bookshops again and find nothing very useful …we already have the tree and shrub book which is good …. eventually decide we will go and do a blitz visit to Kew on our return to Uk. It is difficult to identify plants here. They seem to have a variety of names or are unrecognisable to us … so it is a bit of a lottery. But I think we have all the material we need in the form of photos and ideas scribbled in our notebook so it is with very much excitement that we know we will be returning to Disha on the morrow to suss out any last minute design criteria.

Walkabout with (Chris) Walker : we head out into town, skirting hordes of unruly cows and trying not to get gored like Chris did in Bassi. There is a bridge full of cows which people negotiate with care for reasons of cow poo and twitching murderous looking horns. We come across a beautiful little walkway along the ghats just stuffed with temples and the like, haphazardly piled one on top of the other. It is strangely quiet down there but it is hot and we make tracks for the pineapple juice stall. Whatever you do, do not look at the juice machine or fruit cutting knife when you partake of juice at a wee stall like this…. I hope we are getting immune to germs there… The juice is very good and the stall holder most jovial.

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Going wild in the country : next stop ,the Bijaipur luxury tented camp at Pangarh Lake Retreat. The same Maharajah as Castle Bijaipur has set up this wonderful campsite on the edge of the mesmerising Pangarh lake (a lake that apparently has never dried up for the last 1000 years). Firstly head down a vertical rock slope to get to the lakeside.Once your heartbeat haseturned to normal there are more english country garden flowers in a very tasteful border by the tents and a view across the lake to the ruined fort beyond. We have already seen Syrus cranes (well i can see a vague speck in the far distance , they could be birds or stuffed aubegines with my binoculars. I am assured they are indeed the real thing .Paul can see them perfectly with his better binos and Lottie has probably got close up pictures !!

Tents, and camping a la luxe: firstly you notice the teak deckchairs and handy drinks table outside and you think hello , this is impressive!! inside the fully plumbed bathroom (loo , fitted wash stand etc )is a shock but the shower would be a step too far , even though we are assured it has hot water !! it still is cold at night and first thing, and the very idea of taking any layer of clothing off is unthinkable ! plus the fact that your silhouette is illuminated like an awful shadow show by a very bright bulb and you would provide the next village and beyond with an impromptu striptease .The blankets are a bit suspect though and despite piling the fusty old things on during that night I wake up a lot.Dreaming of scorpions and snakes doesnt help.

Life on a lake : if it wasn’t for the constant thrum of a generator pumping up water all through the day this would be a peaceful place. There are guys sculling to and fro on dug outs going where ? and why ? we never find out.Plus there is a crazy building site in the further village. They are building something big which looks like a temple. Working on bamboo scaffold and in flip flops it is a real health and safety nightmare. Despite all that ,the birds are pretty super .

Bassi brides and the big brass sound: yes of course there is a wedding at the Fort of Bassi. We get involved somehow and up stage the groom (miserable and moody- so no change there) the ladies are sweet and want to be filmed , in a whirlwind of colour and noise (sort of mad jazz on speed) Bassi is of course famous, although it takes a bit of finding , for its woodwork and wooden toys. Really handmade. Their storybook boxes which sort of fold out and tell a story will be super things to make and have for the children at the hospital. We saw a cupboard size version in Udaipur at the museum.

Bassi fort is crumbling like a teetering wedding cake into sad bits and shards and there don’t appear to be any guests. We met a french couple who have just arrived to stay and who are in a state of shock and horror . They scramble back into their taxi and demand to be taken to somewhere more lively and happening .Very telling.

We do see a fabby stone trough which would be super in large size at Disha.. Imagine it filled with dark water lillies…

Sunset scramble : Prakash rounds us up and we fire back to the lakeside for a screamingly snazzy sunset . They are always so dramatic and pulse with all the colours imaginable in the paintbox. Wildlife scatters as we zoom back through the villages, passing shepherds with herds of their unwoolly sheep/goat mixtures returning for the night and ladies struggling back with half a tree on their heads and bundles of fodder for the cattle. This scene is unchanged and probably has been thus for so many millenia.

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