Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Palace, a Bollywood shoot, and an Opium Tea Ceremony

   The morning after the wedding was a slow start at Hem Guest House. I was the first up, and did some yoga on the rooftop.  Our tired hosts (who had come home at 4am) managed to put together chai and toast, and I went off to sightsee for the day.  I spent the day in the fort above the city.  The palace in the fort was the home of the local Maharaj for centuries.  There is still a Maharaj today but he lives in a newer palace on the edge of town.  He and his family have lovingly preserved his ancestral palace and created a fascinating museum within in it .  The museum has art and royal artifacts from the 1500's on.  An audio tour that comes with the ticket explains everything, and tells  anecdotes and stories.  The Maharaj himself speaks on the tour, explaining things.  Here are some pics pulled off the web of the palace.

    What was not part of the regular palace tour was this - a Bollywood movie was being filmed at the palace that day.  There was a cavalry of medieval soldiers, some on horseback, some carrying giant spears and swords, bloodied and wearing full medieval Rajasthani armor,  being filmed marching into the palace complex.  There were medieval princes and princesses watching them from the palace steps.  There was Bollywood music blasting during each take. After the tour I sat in the cafe drinking a lassi and watching the actors.   It was a lively addition to the palace visit.
      I had a mellow evening at the guest house, and had dinner with some folks visitng India from Singapore.  It was interesting to learn about Singapore, which is an English-speaking country full of Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian immigrants.  The next morning my new friends Ering and Peng joined me on a jeep tour into the rural villages outside of Jodhpur.
  This activity known as "Village Safari" brings foreigners into traditional rural villages to see how the craftspeople make their wares using centuries-old technologies.  It is brilliant - it costs tourists just a few bucks, is a fascinating experience, and gives us a chance to buy the crafts from the families that make them. This provides them a living so they can continue to live in their traditional ways.  It was lovely to get out of town, into the trees and fields, and dirt roads.  The simple lifestyle of the villagers was just as I imagined.  Whitewashed mud huts with thatched roof, outdoor kitchen cooking over a fire, food grown and then stored in large clay pots in a cool storeroom.

no microwave oven here!

     These are pictures of a Bishnoi house.  The Bishnoi are a Hindi sect that are known for being especially respectful of nature.  They will not cut down trees, only take dead branches.  The area in which they live is full of healthy, beautiful trees, and antelope and happy cows.  Three hundred years ago, the Maharaj sent his army into the Bishnoi village area to get wood to make his palace doors.  When the army arrived to cut down some trees, a woman ran out and hugged the tree to stop them.  India's original Julia Butterfly.  Except then they cut off her head.  So her three young daughters ran out to hug the trees.  Their heads were also cut off.  After 62 Bishnoi heads had been cut off , the Maharaj caught wind of the problem.  He ordered the army to stop cutting heads, came out and apologized profusely, and promised to protect Bishnoi trees forever.  The subsequent Maharajs have maintained this promise.
  Opium has been used in this area for centuries.  It is not smoked, but taken as tea.  The maharaj would give opium tea to the soldiers before marching them into battle.  That way, they would be braver,  having visions of Paradise, and if they were hurt, they already had pain relief on board.  The Bishnoi people drink opium tea as part of their rituals as well.  We were privleged to participate in an opium tea ceremony at the Bishnoi home we visited.  An ancient vogi prepared it by straining it through cotton filters, and praying and chanting over it.  I am a "when in Rome" sort of girl, so while my friends politely declined, I tried some.  He poured it into my right hand to drink. It tasted very bitter, but I sure felt relaxed and happy for the remainder of the safari...
   We got back to Jodhpur in time for a big meal and then catching my night train back to Delhi.  Now I am here regrouping and taking long shifts of baby-holding for my sister.  I have certainly forgotten how busy it is to have a one-month old baby.  This baby likes to be held all the time...isn't that a shocker!  Tomorrow I am off to Agra for the day to see the crown jewel of the Mughal Empire - the Taj Mahal.  Then on Thurday I will take a night train to Varnasi on the Ganges, the holiest city in India. It is Shiva's birthplace, and where Hindus make pigrimage to bathe in the holy river Ganges.  From there I make pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya, where the Buddha attained enlightenment. That will about just wrap up this India adventure.



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