Monday, May 28, 2012

Police Invoke the gods

In the South Indian city of Vellore, police have tried another method to help solve a recent spurt in theft crimes. A local Hindu priest was invited to the police station to perform a pooja (religious ceremony) for warding off the "evil eye" from the station. Pumpkins were also smashed by the police a couple of days ago to ward off the evil spirits that they believe are preventing the crime fighters from success.
As an additional measure, extra patrols were added in the area.

Natural is Better

Since I showed you the painted Texas houseboat the other day, here is one of the unpainted ones - which in my opinion enables one to appreciate the natural woodwork. Which do you prefer?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Texas, Srinagar

On Dal Lake in Kashmir, one can find some beautiful houseboats which are favorite places for tourists to stay while in Srinagar. Some had more "honeymoon" names, but this one proudly displayed bold (how else would one print the Lone Star State name?) red and blue letters of Texas. Personally, I liked the more natural wood colors, but this one did stand out....

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Haystacks in the Trees?

One of my favorite visuals of western Serbia was the large haystacks piled in the fields. In Kashmir, they not only piled it up on the ground but I also saw some in the trees. I wonder why....

Friday, May 25, 2012

All Too Soon

All too soon, the day arrived where it was time for me to return to Chennai. My Srinagar family urged me to stay longer, asking me if it was possible to change my flight. How nice not only to be welcomed, but asked to stay longer! The mother had already prepared some Qahwa tea when I came down to the kitchen that morning. Along with the usual visitors including the local imam (the youngest son had Koran lessons), some other relatives came over. One cousin who spoke English very well exclaimed how she had been looking forward to meeting me, ever since I had arrived. It was such an honor and privilege, she added. While I was giving the youngest son some portrait drawing lessons, the mother was busy preparing a special early meal for me. In addition to the usual rice, she had purchased a special long, narrow sausage normally reserved for wedding celebrations.  The family gathered around as I ate, reminding me of parents who nostalgically watch their college age child’s last actions before departing for the semester. Knowing how much I enjoyed the Qahwa, the mother presented me with a bag of whole almonds. I thanked her but said that the carpet I had purchased had filled most of my suitcase, and there probably wasn’t room for it. To that, the daughter went to my suitcase and ensured that it did fit. Then the uncle came and brought me a second bag! Such generosity. After some hugs and kisses (even from the generally solemn grandmother) and invitations to return soon with my parents, I bid my Srinagar family adieu. What a wonderful, unexpected experience I had. In a span of less than a week, this family in a narrow alley of Srinagar had etched themselves as one of my favorite memories during my four years in India.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Laundry day

Like my friend "Bibi" I enjoy taking laundry pictures. This one is in a small village in Kashmir. To think how laborious it must be to wash one's clothing by hand that way. To think that we complain when we have to place laundry in an automatic machine and either plunk it in a dryer or hang it on the line!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Zari Embroiderer

While sitting in the kitchen one cool morning, the mother gave me one of her pherans to wear. Just like the grandmother’s, hers was embellished with swirling silver designs around the V neck and sleeves. So uniformly sewn, surely it was done via machine. With Kashmiri pride, grandmother pointed out in her limited English that this was hand done. Later that morning, the mother took me to the shop where her Zari embroidery man worked. Sitting on the floor against the wall nearest the shop’s picture window, the embroiderer in his neutral-colored costume was engrossed in his detailed work. Slender silver-coated thread dangled across his shoulders. Using the couching stitch, he secured the tight silver swirls onto the “V” neck of the midnight-blue woolen pheran. Seeing how enamored I was, he showed me a maroon-colored wedding pheran, executed in a highly elaborate, skillful manner. Considering the high cost of the thread and length of time required to complete each order, it was not surprising that the elderly man’s son was not following in his father’s footsteps. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Shikara in Srinagar

Like any respectable tourist who visits Srinagar, my visit was not complete without a shikara boat ride on Dal Lake. My Kashmir friends and I boarded one of these narrow pointed boats with a roof covering our cushioned seating. A young smiling man agreed to row us around the lake, including past the beautiful wooden houseboats serving as luxurious hotels. Most of the houseboats had intricately carved façades - like an embellished Victorian home.  The interiors would be equally as fancy, decorated with Kashmir carpets and other ornate items. Considering the cost of some of the rooms in these houseboats, I found it a bit incongruous to find floating snack shops next to them, selling items including ramen noodles. Still early in the season, the lake was still rather quiet, with only a few other shikaras and no flower or produce sellers around. Likely though, it was their absence that made the ride more tranquil. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Tulips for the Masses

Our last tourist stop for the morning was to the Tulip Gardens. To my delight, Its had just opened up the day before for the spring season. Asia’s largest tulip garden, the 90 acre facility was able to hold quite a few tourists who came in buses and cars. It was the first time on the trip that I had seen non-Indians in any number. Young and old, men and women alike were captivated by the nearly 1.3 million tulip bulbs in over 70 varieties. Although paths were neatly laid out at very manageable intervals, sweater-clad Indian tourists found it too irresistible to traipse through the middle of the tulips in order to get a good photo of themselves. To that, the security personnel would blow their plastic whistle and scold the offender to get out of the flowers. I loved all the colors and types of tulips; the scale of the place with its rows of tulips even made it more impressive. How beautiful it must look when the tulips are in full bloom!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Chasma Shhi, Srinagar

Right after the Pari Mahaal, we visited Chasma Shahi. Another terrace garden, Chasma Shahi has the extra beauty of fountains, fed by cool spring water. Its gardens also primed for spring, It was easy to picture the site where people would come to be refreshed as well as enjoy the panoramic views.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pari Mahal, Srinagar

On another overcast day, we visited the Pari Mahal. Located on a ridge in the mountains overlooking Dal Lake, the garden consists of six terraces. It was designed by Mughal Prince Dara Shikoh as a royal observatory. The stone structures lacked any exterior embellishment, leaving me to wonder whether it had disappeared over the years or simply wasn’t as ornate as most Indian royal places. The grounds were prepared for the spring bloom and all trees & bushes neatly trimmed. No doubt their forthcoming colors would greatly enhance the scene. Pari Mahal provided great opportunities for viewing Dal Lake and the city below. On this overcast day, only limited visibility was available.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Hari Parbat Hill and Fort

Having spotted the fort on the hills surrounding the old city, I was glad we would have a chance to go a bit closer. We stopped at the ruins of a Mughal-style building below the fort. Developed by the Afghan governor Atta Mohammad Kahn, the fort was enlarged to its present size in the 19th century. From the vantage point at the ruined building, we had a panoramic view of the old city, with its corrugated tin roofs, mosque pagoda spires, still-bare trees, and Dal Lake. Falcons encircled high above, screeching as they searched for food. 

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Jama Masjid, Srinagar

One of the most active mosques in Srinagar, the Jama Masjid can accommodate over 30,000 people at prayer-time. Built in 1400 AD, it has elements of Indo-Saracenic architecture and a well-kept courtyard that must look quite pleasant in spring & summer. My favorite part was its interior, with 370 smooth wooden columns, delicately towering up to the high wooden ceiling. Natural light emanating from the large pointed arched windows illuminated the wood grains on the columns as well as the carpeted floor.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Sha Hamdan Mosque

Even though we had already been to a number of mosques, my gracious hosts were eager to bring me to one more - the Chanukah Mosque of Shah Hamdan. Although one of the oldest mosques in Srinagar (originally built 1395, rebuilt 1732), it was easily the most beautiful I had seen here. The beautifully patterned wood sections glowed in the golden late afternoon light. The ornamental Pinjrakari (latticework) on the closed window shutters reminded me of jalis found in Rajasthan. Although each let in light and provided ventilation and privacy, these were created in wood, instead of stone. On a few walls and ceilings were covered with papier mâché designs - so beautiful and yet delicate. Even the graceful wooden pyramidal steeple included ornamentation - a feast for the photographer’s eye wherever the lens was pointed!

Friday, May 04, 2012

Tea with the Family

With two days left before I had to return back to Chennai, time was spent in a leisurely fashion, partaking in some of the routines of the family. Mornings always started with a cup of tea. The mother always got up early, preparing the tea (both salt tea and the Qahwasweet tea flavored with saffron and sprinkled with chopped almonds she knew I liked). Sitting on a low stool in the tiled kitchen, she kneaded the dough and deftly transformed it into nearly perfectly round chapatis. A relative comes in the unlocked front door, wearing his pheran and greeting the mother. She offers him some tea, along with some still-warm chapatis. Over the two-burner gas stove, she flips the chapati onto its other side, engaging in morning greetings simultaneously. The grandmother wearing her pheran with zari embroidery enters the carpeted portion of the kitchen, settling into her usual spot with its comfy floor cushions. The father enters and begins the first of many cups of tea. With his government job, he has several hours before he has to leave for work. One by one, the children also come and make their spot in the room. A neighbor comes in and joins the morning tea routine. The pace is unhurried and relaxed, a great time to converse. For Kashmiris, tea time is much more than the contents of a cup - it’s an integral part of their community. 

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Beetab Valley, Kashmir

Just as I was beginning to wonder if I had gone too far, a young man who was walking in the same direction pointed to a driveway sloped sharply downward. Spotting a sign saying Beetab Valley, I thanked him and headed down to the entrance, with many Indian tourists were approaching from their vehicles. A spring thaw was well underway here, the snow covering the valley beginning to melt. Brown patches of soggy grass were peaking out in spots. A shallow river surrounded the park-like area, the still-brown slopes jutting upward at a decent angle. I sat on a bench for a while, enjoying the opportunity to relax and take in the sights. How beautiful this area must look when everything is green and in bloom! I walked past the Indian tourists who were frolicking in the less-than-optimal snow, careful not to step in the puddles formed by melting snow. Walking back to the village, I reflected on what a wonderful morning walk it had been.