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21 May 2015 / leggypeggy

Mehrangarh Fort—a massive jewel of Jodhpur

Mehrangarh fort wall

Mehrangarh Fort wall

Mehrangarh Fort

Mehrangarh Fort

Model of Mehrangarh Fort

Model of Mehrangarh Fort

It’s so massive that Rudyard Kipling called it the ‘work of giants’ and it’s easy to see why. Mehrangarh Fort in India’s Rajasthan spreads more than 81,000 square metres across a 400-foot perpendicular cliff that overlooks the city of Jodhpur.

The dimensions are so huge that even though it is officially called a fort, Mehrangarh is sometimes described as the second largest castle in the world.

It has seven entry gates and walls that are 36 metres high and 21 metres wide.

I was gobsmacked to look up at it as we approached and even more overwhelmed to actually go through it. We spent a whole afternoon and could easily have spent a whole day.

Mehrangarh was started in 1459 when the city’s founder, Rao Jodha, moved his capital from Mandore to Jodhpur, but most of today’s fort dates from the 17th century.

Most of the fort’s seven gates were built to mark victories in various battles.

scarred fort wall

A cannonball scarred fort wall

One still shows scars from cannonballs fired in 1808. That was when the maharaja of Jaipur had his army attack Jodhpur. The city was under siege and the fort was surrounded by the enemy. A plaque recounts the battle saying, ‘A tough fight took place where numerous heroes layed down their lives on both the sides. The Jodhpur forces fought gallantly and the Jaipur army ultimately fled.’

To commemorate this victory, Jodhpur’s Maharaja Man Singh Ji built the first entrance jaipol (victory gate) and added a new fort wall in front of the cannonball scarred one.

Another gateway has handprints from ranis (queens) who burned themselves to death on the funeral pyre of their husband, Maharajah Man Singh. Yep, one guy with many wives.

Phool Mahal

Phool Mahal, the flower palace

There are several beautifully crafted and decorated palaces, including Moti Mahal (the Pearl Palace), Phool Mahal (the Flower Palace), Sheesha Mahal (the Mirror Palace), Sileh Khana and Daulat Khana (a gallery of fine and applied arts). These are true showpieces featuring mirrors, intricate paintings, stained glass, portraits, furniture and more.

ornate palanquin

Ornate palanquin

The museum rooms of the fort have collections of palanquins (for carrying noble women and occasionally noble men), howdahs (seats for riding elephants), royal cradles, miniatures, musical instruments, costumes and furniture. There’s even a turban gallery, which we managed to miss, but we did see a demonstration of a turban being wound onto a fellow’s head.

Turban winding

The fort’s ramparts provide an amazing view of the city and interesting overviews of the fort itself. There’s also Kilkala, a preserved old cannon.

View from Mehrangarh Fort

View from Mehrangarh Fort’s ramparts

View of Jodhpur

View of Jodhpur from the fort

13 May 2015 / leggypeggy

Jodhpur—Let’s go shopping

spice shop

If spice is your thing, India is a great place to shop. Saffron is a good buy. This place is called M.M. Spices.

kitchenware shop

I bought my copper dishes here at the fairest price I got anywhere in India

Jodhpur is famous for its Mehrangarh Fort, one of India’s largest. I promise to get the fort soon enough, but today I want to share the wonder of one of Jodhpur’s amazing markets.

Poor John and I spent almost half a day in the city’s main market. After all that, I’m pleased to report that we managed to get out with just one purchase—a set of gorgeous copper dishes for serving curries—I cook a lot of Indian food.

This sort of restrained buying makes me smug. It also means that at the end of the trip, I’ll still able to lift my backpack.

Jodhpur market

Jodhpur’s main market

Jodhpur’s markets are overwhelming for their crowds, noise, bustle, colour, variety and choice. When it comes to choice, every Indian market is a long way from a western supermarket.

You won’t be able to choose from 30 kinds of breakfast cereal , but you will be able to bulk-buy 30 kinds of dried spices. You’ll find jerry cans galore and fabrics in every colour you can imagine. The fruits and vegetables will be the freshest you’ll ever get, and there might even be a few you’ve never seen before.

You can buy a steel wool scraper, a bracelet, a single clothespin (peg) or get a bicycle repaired, but it’s a lot easier if you know the local word for what you want or if you can sketch it.

A quick sketch has helped me to buy clothespins all over the world.

Today I can bring you pictures of Jodhpur’s main market, but I can’t sketch in the sounds and smells.

fabric

Saris, fabric and scarves—colours in abundance

6 May 2015 / leggypeggy

Loving and living with art—and lots of it

tiger watercolours

Watercolours by Banvari Sharma—I bought these two

Our house and garden overflow with art, and most of it has been purchased on our travels.

We’ve found wonderful paintings in Burma, Thailand, Ethiopia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Egypt, Mexico, the UK, the USA and more.

We’ve lugged home amazing textiles, ceramics, sculptures and carvings from those places, as well as Turkey, Germany, France, Italy, Bolivia, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Greece, Lebanon, Palestine, Mali, Iran, Russia and Uzbekistan. I wonder which place I forgot?

A few years back, airport security in Colombo was concerned about a black, roundish lump in one of our carry-on bags until we showed them it was a plump elephant carved in ebony.

Most of our purchases haven’t been too hard on our wallets. Physical labor is under-valued in most of these countries, so we’ve often paid for supplies but almost never enough for time. I always feel bad about that, and have a personal policy of not over-bargaining for art. You might remember the mask I wished I’d bought in Papua New Guinea. That artist should have received much more for his magnificent piece.

These days we try to restrain ourselves, but we did buy a few pieces in India. Luckily, they weren’t for us, but for our daughters. Our house is already too full and I’m still trying to off load some pieces to the girls. These pieces went straight to them. Just like that amazing skirt I bought for Libby in Peru.

The tiger watercolours we bought were painted by artist, Banvari Sharma. We first met Banvari in 2013, and then again this year. We were pleased to see that he now has a shop/studio/gallery where he displays his art as well as pieces by other aspiring artists.

art gallery near Pench

The new gallery with Banvari, Anand and Deepti

The gallery is on the right just before you go in the park’s main gate. Drop in if you ever get to Pench. Prices are reasonable and quality and creativity are excellent. And Pench is where we saw tigers very close up.

Stay tuned for a post on how and why I bought a magnificent piece of Bhutanese weaving last month. And let me know if you’d like me to give you a tour of the other art in our house.

And be sure to check out what’s cooking on page 32.

30 April 2015 / leggypeggy

Three walls of pickles—my kind of heaven

pickle store and owner

The shop owner adds labels to the jars

Pickles of all kinds are at the top of my food chain, and I’m happy to eat ’em, cook ’em, make ’em, mix ’em, steal ’em, promote ’em.

One of my favourite sandwiches—I have no idea how, when or where I learned this recipe—is good bread with thinly-sliced dill pickles and a generous spread of peanut butter. Go on, try it. You might love it as much as Poor John and I do.

Poor John used to tease me about this unusual combo until the day I sent him off to work with that exact mix in his lunchbox. That was when I was still making his lunch (a service that didn’t last much longer).

He came home raving about how delicious it was. Duh, he could have believed me from the outset, but I had to prove it sneakily.

So you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover Pickle Heaven (not its real name) in Kalimpong, West Bengal, India. This was serious pickle-dom, and the woman who runs the place makes all—well almost all—the pickles herself.

All kinds of vegetables, chillies and meat are done up in various sizes of glass jars and plastic packaging, and all crammed into a narrow shop on Kalimpong’s main street.

Obviously, I wasn’t going to buy anything to take home. Glass and liquid aren’t good travelling companions, and Australia’s quarantine regulations prevent many foodstuffs from being brought into the country.

But I was determined to buy/try some. The owner graciously offered to open jars to let me try, but I had a better idea.

When India and Australia were facing off in the semifinals of the ICC Cricket World Cup. Anand and I promised to buy a present as a consolation prize for the loser. Not only did Australia beat India in that game, we won the entire competition. Sorry New Zealand, because we wouldn’t have minded if you’d won because it was the first time ever that New Zealand made it to the finals.

The whole cricket competition was over and I still owed Anand his present. How about I take you to Kalimpong’s pickle emporium and buy you five kinds of pickles—your pick?

He couldn’t believe there’d be five kinds of pickles he actually wanted, but then he walked into the place.

Anand may be Indian, but he’s not vegetarian. And there, on the shelves, he found jars and bags of goodies such as pickled beef, pickled chicken and pickled pork. Choosing his five ‘prizes’ was too easy and I bet he’ll shop there the next time he’s in Kalimpong.

If you’re a fan of pickles, chutneys and sambols, you might like the mint sambol recipe on my cooking blog.

On a sad note, Kalimpong is close to Nepal and the devastating earthquake that hit there earlier this week. Three people are confirmed dead in West Bengal and some buildings have collapsed. I can’t imagine the shelves of pickles fared well.

pickles galore

A wall of pickles

16 April 2015 / leggypeggy

Hey fellas, what do you suppose they’re asking? And how would you answer?

sign for gents toilet

I wonder who decides?

The Mirik Sports Association runs the men’s toilet by the lake in the village of Mirik in West Bengal, India. I suppose they run the women’s too, but I couldn’t find it so can’t share any signage from it.

But the men’s sign says the price, in rupees, varies according to size. I’m still wondering whether the size—short versus long—refers to the time spent, the size of offering or the ‘equipment’.

A fellow traveller reckons he’d declare ‘long’ every time. Never mind the expense! What do you think?

P.S. Five rupees is about 10 Australian cents.

P.P.S. Don’t forget to stop by my cooking blog.

15 April 2015 / leggypeggy

The fauna in Bhutan can be deadly

tents with dog

Two blue tents for sleeping and the toilet tent perched near the edge. See the dog waiting in the road below?

Bugs love me. In 1971, I landed in the Middle East for the first time and about two million mosquitos zeroed in on me singing out Dinner is served.

Generally, I do my utmost to avoid the biters and stingers. Bug repellent and I are good friends. So much so that my mother predicted that my adult perfume would be a scent called Eau de Bug Spray. And it’s true that I wear more Rid than I do perfume.

Our overland travels always present certain challenges for me. If there’s a risk of mozzies at night, I cover up with long sleeves and long trousers. I also carry multiple bottles of Rid, Australia’s tropical strength +antiseptic insect repellent, that I roll on daily.

I managed very well during our 10 weeks in India even though were we camping at least half the time. Got maybe one or two bites a week.

But my guard was down in Bhutan. Good grief, it was freezing. It’s supposedly spring here, but I’ve been wearing closed shoes, woolly socks, long pants, three layers of merino tops, a beanie, gloves and a puffy jacket. Some nights the temperature has dipped to 2–3°C (or 35–37°F).

Surely there aren’t any mozzies about. But I forgot about fleas.

Every single campsite (we aren’t in actual campgrounds) has been overrun with dogs.

Having been bitten in 1986 by a dog that later became rabid, I have a personal travelling policy of not touching dogs I don’t know. Never mind how much I love dogs, I still remember the series of injections I needed back then.

So I have not honeyed up to these camp dogs. Nevertheless, they make themselves at home around the camp. All day they lie curled into tight balls, perking up when the dining tent shows some activity or as soon as the sun goes down.

camp dogs

Camp dogs sleeping off their night of barking. I assume the fleas are sleeping too

Nightfall brings on their barking frenzy. They race round and round our tents and weave back and forth across the campsite. Too late it dawned on me that their patrolling was also scattering fleas everywhere.

A swarm of those fleas found me. And based on where most of the bites are, it’s obvious that I was caught with my pants down, literally.

Our camps haven’t had a toilet, per se, but a toilet tent. That means a rectangular hole dug in the ground with a small tent set up over it. The dug-out soil is spread around the edge of the inside of the tent, so you can kick dirt over your ‘offering’. It’s functional, basic and your knees have to work.

The day of the flea attack, we were supposed to camp at a place called Chendipji, but the flat ground that was supposed to be used for camping had been taken over by a new stupa (those Buddhist monuments scattered all over Bhutan).

So the crew in the van carrying the main camping equipment had to drive on for many kilometres to find a place even remotely suitable for camping. Of course, after much searching they found a place that was ‘remotely suitable’ for camping.

The dining and kitchen tents were pitched beside the road. Our sleeping tents and the toilet tent were perched on a small cliff, which was home to a few dogs, and overlooked the other tents and a vast valley.

Poor John had pointed out some broken bits of glass on our cliff, and I had noticed that the toilet tent was rather close to the edge.

So about midnight when the bladder called, I opted for convenience and safety instead of stumbling toward the toilet tent. Around the back of my tent, I dropped my daks and had a quick pee, disturbing hundreds of ferocious fleas. They were quick, deadly and hungry.

Flea bites take forever to calm down, so six days later I’m still suffering. And I figured if I have to suffer, you can too, even if it is too much information.

cows and tent

Even cows drop by to check the toilet tent. Do they carry fleas too? The kitchen tent is in the right background. The hut in the middle is a shop (like a general store) and the building on the left is the shopkeeper’s house. We are camping (to the right and out of view) in an unplanted rice field

11 April 2015 / leggypeggy

It was probably inevitable—we had a prang

accident scene

The policeman talks to Tek (our guide on left) and the offender. I decided NOT to get out of the van to take the pic

After travelling with Anand and Deepti for more than 15,000 kilometres across India and Bhutan, I suppose a prang was inevitable. Prang being the Aussie slang for a minor car accident.

Now before I go any further, I should say that Anand in a superb driver. He’s watchful, patient, polite and cautious (without being a fuddy-duddy). He observes the speed limit and other rules of the road, which is rare in India. In other words, both Poor John and I feel completely safe with him at the wheel.

That doesn’t get around the other nuts on the road.

While our particular prang was frustrating, the overall outcome was more than satisfying.

Here’s how it played out.

We were on our way to visit the temple/monastery of the Divine Madman (how appropriate) when some knucklehead decided to zoom past us. As he did, he sideswiped our van, startling us all and prompting Anand to pull to the side of the road.

Squeezing through

Anand proves he can get out of tight spots

The offender pulled over too and jumped out of his van to start a shouting match. He was the only one shouting, because Anand and Tek, our Bhutanese guide, kept their cool.

We couldn’t hear the conversation, so I’m guessing as to the exact words, but we got a full report when the fellows returned to our van.

Offender shouting and with arms waving: Hey mate, what do think you were doing? You weren’t even in your own lane.

Anand, calmly but firmly: I was in my own lane. You chose to pass where the road was too narrow and you didn’t even beep to ‘ask’ me to move over. Even if you had beeped, I couldn’t have moved over without hitting the guard rail. Surely you could see that.

Offender still behaving badly: Don’t give me that. You weren’t in your lane.

And then a taxi arrived and out stepped an off-duty policeman, in uniform.

Offender embarks on his rant again when the policeman interrupts: I saw the whole thing. You shouldn’t have passed when you did. There wasn’t enough room. This man, pointing to Anand, was completely legal. You were wrong.

Offender went purple. He wasn’t about to give up so easily and argued on. It soon became obvious why he was so insistent on transferring blame. He was driving someone else’s van and he was going to have to explain the accident and pay for the damage. If only he could shed responsibility.

The policeman said he was unable to press charges because he was off-duty, so if Anand wanted to claim insurance both drivers and both vehicles would have to go to the cop shop.

The offender had a huge scratch down the side of his van and the wing mirror had broken off, but he wasn’t keen to have the accident reported. After a thorough inspection of our van, Anand decided the damage wasn’t too bad, and much less than he feared. So he let to it go.

Besides, we had a more interesting Madman to visit. More about that fellow soon!

van damage

The total of our damage

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