We Went to Yogyakarta

So we went to Yogyakarta. Yogyakarta is a city in Indonesia, on the island of Java, a two-hour flight from Singapore. We had somehow never been to Indonesia; everyone goes to Bali, though we’ve been a little scared of that just because things that are over-touristed in Southeast Asia tend to be horrible: if we learned anything in Thailand, it was that. But we will inevitably end up in Bali at some point, it’s just something that happens to you when you live around here, like getting giardia. But this time we went to Yogyakarta. Yogyakarta is sometimes spelled Jogjakarta (maybe this is the name in Javanese?) and often abbreviated to Yogya or Jogja or Djogdja, but however you spell it you always say it with j sounds. It is a city of maybe three million people, but it’s also a big university town and there’s a lot of art. I gather that it’s roughly the Chiang Mai to Jakarta’s Bangkok? Maybe that’s not right.

But what is there in Jogjakarta? Well, there are a couple of ruins nearby, and there is Indonesia’s most active volcano, Mount Merapi. There’s also a lot of good food and a lot of art. But mostly we just wanted to look around and relax, which we mostly succeeded in doing. We did maybe pick the wrong time of year to do this? It’s Ramadan, which meant that there wasn’t as much food on the street as there’d usually be; on Tuesday it was Vesak day, a Buddhist holiday that was a good enough excuse for a lot of things to close, and the day we left was Pancasila Day, a national holiday.

Jogja is probably undertouristed? It seems like there are a lot of interesting young people doing interesting things there. Finding a way in is kind of tricky. A lot of the city is dirty, crowded, and overrun with motorcycles, like a lot of southeast Asian cities. It isn’t the best city for exploring by foot, but it does seem like there are some nice neighborhoods buried in it that one could find with a good guide. We did not have any such guide and so blindly stumbled around, occasionally finding nice things.

Here are some things that happened, though I think I have become worse at taking pictures on trips.


We went to Prambanan first. Prambanan is maybe less spectacular than Borobodur? But it’s also a little less touristed. It’s a complex of Hindu temples – about three hundred or so? – most of which are in disrepair but the main ones have been reconstructed and you can wander around them. It’s a nice place. Here is what is looks like, though other people have certainly taken better pictures than this:

The grounds are large and there are playgrounds and a couple of suburban temples you can look at. There’s a museum, I think, though we didn’t manage to find that. On the way out, we got distracted by a stand offering “traditional Javanese archery” which Harriet decided she was interested in. I am not sure how traditional Javanese archery differs from the ordinary kind of archery, though Harriet weirdly has a knack for it:

She would probably have spent all day there if we had arrived earlier, but the park was closing and we had to leave, to her great disappointment. Next time: arrive at Prambanan earlier. The reason we were at Prambanan so late was that one of the things that happens there is called in English the “Ramayana ballet” though whether the original Indonesian of Javanese actually corresponds to “ballet” I am not sure. But Harriet is a sucker for a good Ramayana performance, and it was the full moon so they were putting on a show. I am confused about exactly how this works but usually they split the Ramayana up into four two-hour chunks performed on consecutive nights; we somehow lucked out and got the whole Ramayana condensed into two hours. This is fine in front fi the temples with the moon in the background.

That is still, it has to be said, a lot of Ramayana. The way it works is that various characters dance on stage while a gamelan orchestra performs behind them; singers in the orchestra sing for the characters. (I think this is in Javanese? I could be wrong.) There are very occasional supertitles which inform the confused spectator who is who, though these appear about every five minutes, and time in between them can be confusing. The music is very nice. The dancing is a little shambolic, though clearly well-intentioned. Hanuman is of course the star, very acrobatic, and the high point is just before the intermission when he burns down Lanka (called here something like “Alengkha”) and immense straw walls are set on fire. This is a terrible picture because it was done with a telephone, but you can see the destruction and not the towers of Prambanan and the moon behind it.

I would recommend the Ramayana Ballet if yours is the sort of family that tends to argue about how exactly Jatayu is related to Garuda, as ours is, or if you actually know that. You should probably not do it if you have agreed to go to Borobudur for sunrise the next morning, as we did. But you can get your picture taken with Hanuman, like so:


Obviously it is a mistake to go anywhere for sunrise, and we should be smart enough to know that. But somehow we thought it would be a good idea to go see Borobudur at sunrise. This meant leaving the hotel at 3:30, which is not so great after you’ve been staying up late arguing about which talking bird is related to which in the Ramayana. Also this is kind of insane on general principles. Borobudur is not actually that far out of Yogya; so if you leave at 3:30 you still get there a good two hours before sunrise? When you climb to the top of Borobudur you discover that everyone is jockeying for position with their enormous tripods to film sunrise in such a way that it appears that no one else is there. The sunrise is beautiful from the top of Borobudur, though not mind-bendingly so. Through a crummy phone it looks like this:

Borobodur is a massive temple – it’s the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Some of us were not doing so well after waking up at 3:30 so we do not have any clean shots of how the whole thing looked, but it is something like this:

Part of the appeal of going there so early might be that even though there are a lot of people awaiting sunrise at Borobudur, there are less people than at other times: Borobudur is Indonesia’s most popular tourist attraction. It was not terrible compared to a lot of touristy things in Thailand.

The Borobodur grounds are large and we wandered them in a dazed state. Eventually we found the museum, which was not so great, though it did have a fish spa in the courtyard, which revived people’s spirits. Also it had this attractive rooster:

There was another rooster too who was black as sin and looked like he might be the very devil in chicken form. But I could not get a picture of him and you will have to imagine how terrifying he was.

Mount Merapi

Because of a series of questionable educational choices, Harriet has been very interested in volcanoes from a young age, and somehow knew, as I did not, that Mount Merapi, the volcano adjacent to Yogyakarta, was the most active volcano in Indonesia, which is no small honor. So she jumped at the chance to go see the volcano. So we took a van to a jeep and then bounced around in that up the side of Mount Merapi:

Mount Merapi periodically erupts, and theoretically Yogyakarta is in danger of being covered in lava. Small towns nearer the volcano have been fairly recently; we were taken to a museum where you could see, for example, what a volcano does to a typewriter:

I don’t know how close to the top we actually managed to get: it was foggy up there, but you can just make out the slope of the volcano in this one:

Never has a child been so excited to see an ex-lava-field:

Also because it was southeast Asia there was a guy with owls who let Harriet meet an owl:

We didn’t actually get to see any lava, so that was a disappointment, but it was still the best volcano that Harriet’s seen.

Yogyakarta in General

And we wandered around Yogyakarta a bit. It is full of cute coffee establishments which Harriet approved of:

The main tourist attraction in Yogya is the Sultan’s Palace, or Kraton, which was a bit underwhelming, even if it is enormous. There is still a sultan, and an interesting succession crisis going on right now; maybe the most interesting parts of the palace are private. There’s also Taman Sari, the water palace, which used to be the sultan’s baths:

Those are nice to wander around, though you’re not allowed to bathe in them. We also went through ARTJOG 2018, the annual (?) show at the National Museum of Yogyakarta, which had a lot of nice art, such as this crocheted seascape:

There are a lot of creative things going on in the city? It does seem like a guide would be useful, there are a lot of young people doing interesting things. We came across a guy who was building this in his front yard:

I don’t know what this is. Maybe it keeps out thieves.

Okay, this is too long. In summary: Yogyakarta is a fine place. The end.

We Wandered Around Northern Thailand A While Back, Part Two

So! Continuing. After we left Chiang Mai we drove down to Lampang, which is a few hours south of there. There is not, strictly speaking, very much to do in Lampang. It is a town on a slow river that is known for its horse-carts, and you can take a horse-cart ride around the town, like so:

There are some pretty old houses and the wats are pleasant enough. We ate at a delicious restaurant which was called something like Aroy Aroy One Baht which was delicious but actually cost more than that. The most interesting thing is probably the Lampang Herb Conservation Assembly (this place seems to have several names, but that’s what’s on the sign) which is outside of town:

I don’t know exactly what the deal is with this place – it seems like they grow a lot of herbs here which are sold in various forms. But they also have herbal steam baths and scrubs, which is why we went. I had a herbal steam bath, which seemed not unlike the way that Nero would have someone killed. Kim and Harriet had some kind of yogurt and turmeric scrub, which they were happy with. After that we left Lampang.

From Lampang, we were going south to Sukhothai, which was the biggest power center in what is not Thailand before the Ayutthaya era. On the way we stopped at Si Satchanalai, which is a Sukhothai-era site north of the main city. It is extremely well-kept; it does not seem to be particularly popular with tourists despite having UNESCO status.

Sukhothai-style ruins are characterized by the lotus-shaped tips of the chedi.

There’s been a fair amount of reconstruction and rebuilding in this site (as in the main Sukhothai site), and it can be hard to tell how much of what you’re looking at is original.

It’s a pleasant site, though it feels a little sterile compared to similarly aged ruins in southeast Asia.

From Si Satchanalai we kept going south to Sukhothai, which is both a modern town and a very large ruined city. It gets a lot of Thai tourists, slightly fewer foreign tourists. Our hotel turned out to be infested with rabbits:

The modern town of Sukhothai isn’t particularly excited (though it is the source of delicious Sukhothai noodles). The ruins are pretty nice though. The site is large enough that the best way to get around is via bicycle – ones with a back seat were conveniently available:

The site is very well manicured – Sukhothai plays an important role in Thailand’s image of its history – and it’s full of canals, ponds, and islands:

Like at Si Satchanalai, there’s been a great deal of reconstruction; however, the buildings here were grander to start with:

Khmer influence is pretty apparent on some of the buildings – this one was clearly Hindu:

Harriet works on something:

A few miles north of the main site is an iconic Buddha that seems to be used by almost every Thai wedding photographer:

And that’s what’s at Sukhothai! Oh, there’s also this pottery place, where Harriet painted a little cup:

Also it turned out that our hotel was infested with frogs and toads in addition to rabbits:

(If someone could figure out what kind of frogs and/or toads these are, that would be great, thanks.) Maybe the best thing about Sukhothai, however, is its airports. One does not often come across a lot of praise for Thailand’s airports, generally for good reason. The one at Sukhothai is pretty great though: in addition to large numbers of free snacks, it also has a zoo with a herd of zebras and giraffes. I did not, alas, get any pictures of this, but it is almost certainly the best airport zoo you ever saw.

And that is what I can remember of our trip to northern Thailand whenever it was that we went there. We had a pretty good time. I will try to be better about documenting things in the future.

We Went to Chiang Mai and Some Other Places and Mostly I Forgot to Write About Them

So at some point soon we will not be in Bangkok, we will have been in Bangkok, and we felt slightly bad about not wandering around Thailand as much as we might. There are a lot of other places to see around here, and somehow we only rarely think about going other places in Thailand. So this time we decided to go to the north of Thailand. We’ve been to Chiang Mai twice before, but both trips were underwhelming, and we felt like we were maybe missing out. So we went back. This was in February, actually. At the time I had great plans about how I was going to write up our various adventures, but then I forgot to do that, and now I am trying to reconstruct what happened there from notes jotted down outside the herbal bath place in Lampang and the photos that were on my phone. But probably this will not be particularly accurate, so don’t go making any big life decisions based on what is in here.

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Harriet wanted to take the train up (she was still upset that our last trip to India hadn’t included overnight trains), so we took the overnight train from Bangkok. (Kim was in Singapore, so she flew up.) We have taken the trains in Thailand precisely once before, on a weekend trip to Ayuthaya which was not, perhaps, the most pleasant journey in the world. But Thailand just got some new trains from China and they were supposed to be deluxe and exciting. So we bought two tickets and went to Hua Lamphong, Bangkok’s old railway station. Here is a mechanical fortune-telling man in Hua Lamphong:

You give this old man ten baht and he gives you a printed fortune. The fortune was in Thai and I managed to lose it before we could translate it which was probably not the most helpful thing that could have happened.

Our train was, of course, late; we briefly panicked that there had been some mix-up and we’d gotten a train without beds, but after an hour we did get a new train with beds eventually. The train and its beds were extremely pleasing to Harriet – we got a top and bottom bunk, and Harriet was excited about sleeping on the top bunk and went to bed at seven. One has rarely seen anyone so excited about trains:

But the problem with these trains very soon became apparent: there are extremely bright fluorescent lights in the corridor right next to the upper bunks. Harriet assured me that we should switch because she couldn’t sleep with such a bright light. I assented. This was a terrible mistake. The trains are so new and modern that the lights never go out. So we arrived in Chiang Mai the next morning, Harriet well-rested, me less so.

Harriet and I had a day to ourselves in Chiang Mai so we predictably went to the zoo. The Chiang Mai zoo is maybe the best in Thailand, or at least the best in Thailand that is not at an airport (more about that later). Mostly there are a lot of animals to feed. In rough order:

¶ Sheep:

¶ An emu (or maybe a rhea? Someone check this):

¶ A sea lion:

¶ An elephant:

¶ Some kind of hornbill:

¶ A crocodile:

¶ And obviously a lot of fish:

Also there are plaster animals to sit on:

The Bangkok zoo is maybe superior in its selection of plaster animals, but I think that’s the only way in which it’s better. There’s a very nice aquarium which I didn’t take any pictures of. Maybe my phone’s battery died? You will have to imagine how wonderful it was.

After we went to the zoo Kim showed up and probably we went to a hotel and had dinner. Who knows! I didn’t take any pictures of that and I forget what happened. Evidently the next morning we went out to the Maiiam contemporary art museum:

That afternoon, however, we went to Chiang Mai’s most exciting museum, the Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders:

It is quite a Museum!? – possibly this is the best Museum!? in all of Thailand and certainly it is one of the world’s great Museum!?s. It was started by a Thai mosquito scientist and his wife and it is full of wonders. Many of the wonders are mosquitos or mosquito-related, but they are not constrained to this. The mosquito scientist took up painting to get his message across:

There are a lot of these painting which illustrate moral and ecological precepts in nightmarish fashion. There is an admirable collecting impulse on view:

Mostly the labels are perfect:

The mosquitoes of Thailand have a president even if the country does not:

I think about these scenes sometimes:

Always historicize:

And giant mosquitoes outside:

It is a profound disappointment that this museum does not have a catalogue for sale – it would be fantastic. This museum is basically the reason you should go to Chiang Mai: most of the rest of the city is hippy nonsense, but this museum is great.

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Let me see, what else was there in Chiang Mai. The wat next to our hotel was devoted to puppies:

Maybe it was actually a museum of puppy figurines, I don’t know. The wat also had a museum of old stuff, and that’s also worth visiting:

It is the kind of museum where the only reason that you know you’re not actually visiting someone’s attic by mistake is that there are labels on things. Some day there will be no more fans and people will wonder what they were and they will go to this museum and they will find out. It’s good to be prepared for such a time.

We did some other things in Chiang Mai and I can’t remember what they were any more and they probably weren’t that interesting or I would have taken pictures of them. We ate some delicious food, I guess, though there are plenty of pictures of food in Chiang Mai already. After we went to Chiang Mai we went to Lampang and then Sukhothai and some day I will get around to writing about them. Maybe tomorrow!

We Went to India, Part 6: Udaipur

Okay. Now. You thought I’d forget to finish this, and I almost did, but I didn’t quite. We are almost done with this, bear with me while I continue to tell the seemingly interminable story about how we went to India. So we went from Jodhpur to Ranakpur and then from Ranakpur to Udaipur. Jodphur is off in the desert-y direction, but Ranakpur and Udaipur are not like that at all, and the scenery gets lusher and more hilly the closer you get to Udaipur. Udaipur is not very much like the other parts of India we have been to, mostly because it is a beautiful city. The foothills of the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh and Darjeeling are beautiful, but the towns themselves are not so nice. Parts of the Andamans are extremely beautiful, but that is because they are remote. Calcutta has a lot of beautiful things in it, but I don’t know that anyone would argue that it is a beautiful city. But Udaipur is a genuinely attractive city.

It is entirely due to accident (also generally poor planning) that we ended up visiting Udaipur after Jodhpur and Pushkar and Jaipur; if it had been the other way around, we probably would have been incredibly disappointed. Udaipur is built around an enormous artificial lake in the middle of the city which has been there for a long time. Weirdly, the lake is still beautiful. This was the view from our tiny balcony:


Without Harriet in the way it looks like this:


And looking the other way – the big island in the middle of the lake is a fancy hotel accessible only by boat:


Here is the view at dawn:


We stayed in a haveli on the lake which was full of pleasant little spaces:


Like other havelis we stayed in, it was full of stairs and courtyards, though it also had an extremely large German shepherd puppy that Harriet was very interested in:


Harriet about to have a scenic breakfast:


Because of the afore-mentioned poor planning, we were not actually in Udaipur as long as we could have been, and I suspect there are a lot of nice things that we missed because Harriet was dragging us off in search of chandeliers or audioguides. However, we did see some nice things, mostly by accident. One of the nice things to do in Udaipur is the car museum. We had intended to go to a dosa restaurant run by quarrelsome waiters, but when we arrived there the dosa restaurant was closed because it was not late enough for dinner. However, we were invited to go to the car museum, which is where the maharana of Udaipur keeps their collection of cars. They have a lot of cars there! The guy who looks after them is extremely excited about cars, and told us a great deal about them. Also he was very interested in posing us in front of the important cars in such a way that it would look like we were touching the cars even when we were not:


(It is possible that this is the only family portrait of us that exists?) I don’t know if that’s actually a car or a carriage. The important thing is that we are not actually touching it, it just looks like we are. Here you see the man’s technique:


He is a true master. I am not sure that I have ever been to a car museum before so I cannot tell you how it compares to the other car museums, but it was a fine experience. They certainly had a lot of cars in Udaipur! Eventually the dosa restaurant opened up and we had dosas and they were delicious.

Udaipur does have cows roaming the streets, like other Indian cities, but the cows somehow do not make a mess and they are also more decorated than is usual:


The big thing to do in Udaipur is to visit the City Palace, which is enormous and still belongs to the maharana. It is a lovely palace, though most of the exciting things were off-limits to photography, so I didn’t take many pictures. Here, however, is the maharajah’s horse, dressed up as an elephant to confuse the enemy:


Enemies back then were, one suspects, generally dumber than they are now. But also they might not have noticed the poor disguises of the horses because they were dead afraid, as in this astonishing(ly poorly photographed) painting:


You will notice, in the upper left, the horse’s elephant costume. What is not clear because I had to take this picture surreptitiously is that the enemy and his horse have just been chopped in half with a single blow:


We spent a long time in this museum, in part because we had to take Harriet to part of it called the Crystal Gallery which was said to have the second-largest chandelier in India; the Crystal Gallery also had an audioguide, which slowed our progress down to nothing. They were very strict about people not taking pictures in the Crystal Galley, which consists of the maharana’s seemingly endless collection of crystal things, as well as a selection of awards not unlike those you could see in the National Museum of Libya that Qaddafi had been awarded. The maharana has a lot of sets of crystals. That said, the views from the palace are still very beautiful.

The other thing we did in Udaipur was to go the Haveli Museum, which is an enormous old building on the water that’s been turned into a museum full of exhibits attempting to explain a lot of things. There were, for example, a lot a Rajasthani puppets:


As well as what was said to be the biggest turban in the world:


(it is unfortunate that this picture makes it look like ground beef) as well as a very systematic presentation of the different turban styles of India:


Who can imagine what this man’s whiskers are made of:


And there are a lot of balconies on the lake:


In conclusion, Udaipur is very nice and you should go there. Other things happened there too, but who can remember them.

After that, we flew back to Delhi, and after that we came back to Bangkok, and that’s where we are now. The end.

We Went to India, Part 5: Ranakpur

Okay, we’re getting to the end. We got another guy to drive us from Jodhpur to Udaipur, stopping along the way to see the Jain temples at Ranakpur and then have lunch. Ranakpur is a tiny town not that far outside of Udaipur, but it does have some very attractive temples in it which I did a basically terrible job of photographing. Here is what the main one looks like from the front if you are a little bit tilted:


The interior is incredibly intricately carved columns and domes:


There are a lot of little courtyards:


And this is up in the hills so there are trees all around. Off in the distance (this is from a balcony) you can see a smaller temple:


I was immediately grabbed when I went into the temple by a fellow who claimed to be the high priest of the temple. Probably he wasn’t! He claimed he was better than the audio guide (I missed out on these again) though I have my doubts on this and still cannot really explain the architecture of Jain temples whereas Harriet probably can. But he took me on a whirlwind tour of the place and pointed out a lot of things very quickly, possibly because he was trying to avoid the authorities. He did give an address for the Jain temple in New York that seemed reasonably accurate, and I was impressed with that. You would do better to go to Wikipedia, which describes the place in some detail and has pictures of the best parts. Evidently each of the temple’s 1444 columns is individually carved and you could spend a long time looking at them all if you were so inclined.


The grounds of the temple are kept up beautifully and it’s pleasant to wander around: there are a couple of smaller temples as well.


This is one of the smaller temples:


Also the place is infested with monkeys. Here you see how the monkeys here have long tails:


And here another monkey considers his options:


I don’t understand why every single picture I took in Ranakpur seems to be tilted:


Maybe I was coming down with something? It doesn’t make any sense. None of my other pictures are tilted like this.


At least you get a sense what it was like to lurch through Ranakpur. I don’t remember lurching that much, but can the pictures really lie? I don’t know.

After we went to Ranakpur our driver took us to lunch at some place nearby where they had an ox-driven irrigation system that seemed to exist for the entertainment of small girls:

It was a pretty good time. Then we went to Udaipur.

We Went to India, Part 4: Jodhpur

So! Continuing. We left Pushkar for Jodhpur. Pushkar is not that far from Jodhpur, but the roads between – or at least the roads our driver took – were far and away the worst we ran into on this trip, and it took a very long time. Looking at the map, it might just be the route we took – if we’d gone back through Ajmer (which would have brought us up to 2/7ths of a pilgrimage to Mecca) it looks like we would have been going on less bouncy roads. Who knows! But because of this we arrived in Jodhpur relatively late in the day.

Because of last-minute changes in our itinerary, we ended up in Jodhpur a day earlier than we had imagined we would; we had already booked a hotel for the night we were going to be staying, but then it turned out they only had the room for one night so we got a room at another hotel. A lot of Jodhpur turned out to be admiring the insane old hotels of Jodhpur, which is fine. Our first hotel was not the finest place we stayed at, but we did have an extraordinarily large room, which consisted of a bedroom, another bedroom, a bathroom larger than the bedroom with a bathtub larger than the bed, and an enormous living room which we were not entirely sure was part of our room, seeing as there were many doors and only one lock. I think it was? It was hard to tell. Also that hotel had a swimming pool, which is not something one sees very often in Rajasthan, and it was nice to go swimming after a morning of riding camels.

We basically failed to see anything of Jodhpur the city, though I’m not entirely sure that we wanted to see that much of it. We went out and a lot of bangles were bought and then we wandered around and the touts kept telling more and more elaborate stories about the qualities of the markets there as opposed to the qualities of the markets here (touts speaking English makes traveling in India much more complicated than traveling in Thailand, as the main focus is on starting conversations and becoming your best friend rather than shouting the few English words one knows) and we eventually just gave up and went back to our splendid hotel room and lazed about there. Eventually we went off and had a fine dinner at what would actually be our hotel the next night, which is meant to have the nicest restaurant in the city; it’s on top of the hotel and has a fine view, though my phone is terrible at taking pictures of things at night:


That’s the big fort, Mehrangarh, which is perched above the city. During the day it looks like this – this is from the top of our first hotel, I think, which did not have quite such a nice view but then it was the morning and you could actually see things. Constraints, constraints, constraints. Ki was feeling somewhat under the weather the next morning, so we took it slowly, but we did go up to the fort, which is enormous. Here is near the entrance:


And this is a little further in:


And shortly after this our progress basically came to a halt because when you buy a ticket to the fort you get an audioguide and it turns out that Harriet is enormously interested in audio guides – that of Mehrangarh is narrated by the current maharajah – and listening to them to the very end.


So there was a lot of listening to audioguides. I did not have an audioguide so I cannot tell you anything about Mehrangarh except that the current maharajah is said to be very good at describing things. But the palace is pretty splendid.


It’s possible that I didn’t take pictures of some of the most exciting things because we weren’t allowed to? That was certainly the case in Udaipur and it might have been here. Mostly I didn’t know what was going on and whether to take pictures of things because no one would tell me anything. There were a lot of howdahs and some swords. Oh, also a lot of Rajput miniatures, which wouldn’t really photograph well. That was what they had.


The fort is very high and when you look out the window there are all sorts of birds of prey circling. I think these are kites, though maybe they’re eagles. Probably the audio guide would have explained this.


Here are some more kites flying over a courtyard:


I think at about this point we were accosted by the official palmist of Mehrangarh who gave us a brochure about reading palms with a lot of testimonials at how good he was and Harriet immediately became interested in palmistry and her life line and for most of the rest of the fort I had to explain that to her and thus could not take pictures of things. Here is a room with some nice colored glass light:


(I am not the first to notice how this is reminiscent of what Luis Barragán did in Mexico.) Somewhere around here we ended up in a performance of music for meditation where we were offered two hours of Indian hammer-dulcimer (I know, I know) music though I wasn’t sure that Harriet was up for that though we did make it through five minutes of it and it was restful if not exactly meditative because Harriet kept trying to use the audio guide to make it more interesting.

On the way out we met these Rajasthani musicians.


Everyone was having a fine time and there was dancing and we had some tea with them and it began to look like they would adopt Harriet into their troop but then Kim was feeling like she was about to die so we went back to our new hotel and that was the end of that. Our new hotel was not so much of a surprise because we had had dinner there the previous night but it was a lovely old building and we had a very grand room though the bathroom and bathtub were normal-sized and it did not have a swimming pool.


Then we went to bed. The next night we drove off to Udaipur by way of Ranakpur but that will have to wait for later.

We Went to India, Part 3: Pushkar

So after we went to Jaipur we got a guy to drive us to Pushkar. Initially we had been planning on taking trains all over Rajasthan but poor preparation meant that we ended up taking only one train. But: because we didn’t take any trains we got to go to Pushkar, which you can’t really get to by train. It is, however, between Jaipur and Jodhpur and it seemed like it would break up that drive nicely. So we went.

Pushkar is a town of 15,000 people, except for the first week of November when there’s the Pushkar Camel Fair and 100,000 people and their camels descend on the town to buy and sell camels. We missed that, which was convenient, though we did see a bunch of tents they were setting up to house the camel fair visitors. Pushkar is near Ajmer, which is a much bigger city. Visiting Ajmer evidently counts as 1/7th of the way to visiting Mecca; I don’t know if it counts if you drive through, but we did spend a lot of time driving around Ajmer while our driver tried to find the way to Pushkar, the normal road having been closed down by the police for reasons that never became clear. I am sure there are nice things about Ajmer, but we mostly saw goats.

Pushkar is a Hindu pilgrimage site; it is most notable because of its temple to Brahma. Brahma had some trouble with his wife in Pushkar and because of this he doesn’t get a lot of temples in India; he does, however, get a large number of shrines in Thailand (notably the Erawan Shrine). But Pushkar is full of temples; it also gets a lot of foreign tourists, some of whom seem to be there for a while. It’s a small town encircled by hills:


In the center of town is a lake:


There are a lot of cows wandering around Pushkar, of course. But there are also a lot of feral looking pigs who fight the cows for the most delicious trash:


Maybe there are so many pigs because Vishnu appeared here in the shape of a wild boar? I don’t know. We had a man take us around and tell us about the town though I missed a lot of what he was saying. Later he took us to his house and his wife and daughter-in-law gave Harriet some very complicated mendhi:


Pushkar is on the western edge of the Thar Desert, which stretches east into Pakistan. This was not immediately obvious when we were there, as we arrived just after the rainy season had ended and everything was pretty lush and green. But you can’t throw a stick in Pushkar without hitting a camel, and the hotel we were staying at offered overnight camel safaris, so we decided to to take an overnight camel safari. We were sent to the camel parking lot across the street and got two camels, who were named Jimmy and Krishna, as well as two camel-minders. They took us out of town; along the way, we got into this ridiculous traffic jam:


It is really hard to take phone pictures from the top of a camel, so these pictures are not so good. If you were taking an advanced sort of camel safari, you could have a little cart. We did not have any carts, we just had camels.

After a lot of honking, we made it out of town. The landscape quickly becomes beautiful:


Here are Krishna and Jimmy taking a break in a sandy patch:


Krishna was the more spirited camel; Jimmy was more relaxed. Getting on camels can be a community affair:


Maybe two miles out of town we came to a sandy area and our camel drivers explained that we would camp for the night there. They started making an extremely elaborate dinner that was only finished well after it was dark and Harriet had fallen asleep. In the interim, Harriet did some digging:


Krishna was not impressed:


Later we went to sleep:


Then in the morning we woke up and went back to our hotel where we had breakfast and also showers to get rid of all the sand. Eventually we drove off to Jodhpur, but that’s for next time.

We Went to India, Part 2: Jaipur

From Delhi we took a train to Jaipur. Originally we were going to take trains all over the place, and end up sleeping on them I think three nights, but we were too slow about this and didn’t have a fixer to procure the right tickets for us, so this was actually the only train we took. This was kind of a disappointment but probably actually a good thing because sleeping in trains for three nights would probably have made everyone but Harriet crazy and also we would not have been able to visit Pushkar. The train from Delhi to Jaipur is six hours and we were traveling first class AC starting at six in the morning, so it was not a very exciting journey, but it did get us there and also no one went crazy.

The first thing we did in Jaipur was to leave it – we went out to the Amber Fort, which is in a town now called Amer. There’s a museum devoted to the block printing tradition there and we went to look at that. There are a lot of enormous old houses in Rajasthan called havelis; some of them have been turned into hotels, some people still live in, and some, like this one, have been turned into museums:


The courtyards can be very pretty. Also it turns out that not a lot of people turn up at museums devoted to block printing. But upstairs they were happy to show Harriet how to do it:


She is enthusiastic but probably not the most helpful worker. After we did that, we went to go look at the Amber Fort, on a nearby hill:


The fort is pretty enormous:


And it has nice views; many of the nearby hills have smaller forts on the top of them.


Inside there are courtyards and a huge number of rooms. A lot of people wanted to take pictures so we took pictures with them:


The next day we went to see the palace in town, where the Maharaja lived. (Maybe still lives? I don’t remember.) This palace is grand, though it seems like I mostly took pictures of the chandeliers, under Harriet’s direction. They were pretty grand:


Here is another chandelier and a decoration made out of guns and spears:


And here is a picture that does not have a chandelier though it does have an ornate doorway:


The whole thing was pretty grand and I probably should have taken pictures of things that were not chandeliers but I did not. There were a couple of enormous silver urns used to transport water from the Ganges to London at some point. You can imagine what those looked like.

After that, we went to see the Jaipur Jantar Mantar, which is even grander than the Delhi Jantar Mantar:






It might have been nice to visit at a time that wasn’t high noon? But that’s what happened. I don’t know if you can go at night.

After that we wandered around and did some shopping. This seemed to upset our driver because he was very excited to go to Pushkar – he seemed to think Pushkar was much nicer than anything we would find in Jaipur – but we told him to hold on, we needed to go look at things. Here is the Palace of the Winds:


I would have had better pictures of this but I was accosted by a young man who wanted to talk about wrestling, so there you go. After that, Harriet met some goats:


Also we had some extremely good lassis:


And we bought some shoes and bangles, and then went back to find our driver and told him that we could finally go to Pushkar. But that’s for next time.

We Went to India, Part 1

So we went back to India again. Thus time we flew to Delhi – not Calcutta as we’ve been doing – and then wandered around Rajasthan for a week before coming back to Delhi and flying back to Bangkok where everyone is wearing black and being mournful.

We went to Delhi eight years ago but that was an odd trip and for one reason and another we didn’t actually see much of the city, mostly because I was having a fine time being mildly sick in a house with a lot of servants. Also I got a haircut. Delhi is kind of like D.C. if D.C. were ten times as large which means that you are constantly taking cars down long avenues to get anywhere. I am not sure we managed to see much more of Delhi this time (we have still failed to go to the Red Fort and the Gandhi museums, and I did not get a haircut) though certain things looked familiar and we felt like we could pick and choose what we wanted to do. I think I would say that Delhi seems pleasant enough but Bombay is more exciting and Calcutta is more interesting? Though maybe Delhi is less complicated to get around than either of those places.

But let me see what we did before I forget entirely. We got into Delhi very late Friday night and left extremely early Sunday morning, so we had one day there. In the evening was the Canadian Ball, which I don’t know anything about. In the morning, we went to see the Delhi Jantar Mantar. The Jantar Mantars are observatories built in the eighteenth century by Jai Singh to calculate important dates; there’s one in Delhi, a bigger one in Jaipur, and a couple others elsewhere in India that we didn’t see. They are full of immense curved structures with steps. A guide could probably explain what exactly each thing did, but they’re nice to ignorantly wander around:




There’s a very nice book about these (and also the lifecycle of eels) by Julio Cortázar if you are interested. After that, we went to the Agrasen ki Baoli, an old step well that is now inhabited by bats:


This is looking up from inside:


There are a lot of bats:

We had lunch, which was delicious, and I don’t remember what else we did. There was the Canadian ball. Then we went off to Jaipur the next morning, but I am going to post this now because otherwise it will take me eight years to post everything.

We Are in India

So Elvis finally left the building, and we are in India. These two things are not actually connected. We won’t say a lot about the former here because who knows what might happen; and the internet here is pretty slow, so we might have to wait until we get back to Bangkok (should Bangkok still exist) to fill you in on that. Right now we are in Pushkar, which has a lake, a lot of camels, and an extraordinary number of wild pigs. We are having a fine time.