Palaces and pots

Today turned into a relaxed day, starting with the City Palace, so much better preserved than the previous palaces we’ve seen. Jaipur was a planned city, built in the early 18th century, and the palace dates from 1699.  Along with numerous buildings, courtyards, galleries and offices, it houses the royal family.

Here is a touristy shot of me at the palace with two of the royal guards.  Notice my beautiful scarf, a present from Sujata and Amy on our first evening.

Inside are gorgeous spaces, including these beautiful blue rooms.  You can see why this is also a wedding venue.

Other rooms featured mirrors and jewels. Here you can see the group taking pictures like mad, we couldn’t stop ourselves!

Another view

In this room (above) a guide turned out the lights and showed us what it would look like by candlelight.

In the courtyard are beautiful gates, each dedicated to a different season and each beautifully decorated. This is the green doorway dedicated to Lord Ganesha.

And this is the lotus gate.

The peacock gate is especially  intricate.

After lunch and a much-needed liedown we headed to a pottery center with a plan to watch a master potter at his craft. Unfortunately, he was away that day, much to Sujata’s disappointment, and we would not have a chance to paint the pots ourselves.  Nevertheless, we rallied enough to do some shopping and I bought a big vase that when carefully wrapped was big enough to fill half my suitcase.  I loved the colors and the shape…Sadly, the TSA unwrapped it and it arrived in pieces, but I did manage to bring home intact a floral tile and a small head of Durga.

On our way back we had another tourist opportunity, this time to get a picture of the Hawa Mahal or “The Palace of Winds” or “The Palace of Breeze,” built in 1699 and recently restored. Women in purdah could look out of one of the 953 small windows and watch the world go by unseen.

A day filled with colors, sights, shapes, beauty!

A fort, a step well, some shopping

Today (Sunday) wasour first full day together, starting with a visit to the Amber Fort, high above the city. The landscape is entirely different from the flat, dry plains of Delhi and Agra; green, with hills and mountains in sight and the fort at the top of a dusty hill. We got on the minibus to the town of Amber and then took Jeeps up the steep mountainside. We stopped first at the Panna Meena ka Kund stepwell, dating from the 10th century.  Stepwells were commonly used to collect and store water but were also gathering places, especially for women, and provided cool air on sweltering day.  It functioned like a cistern, with steps along the sides so that you could get to the water no matter what the depth, depending on rainfall. The design was graphically strong, very striking and filled with patterns, light and dark. And of course there were monkeys everywhere. Here are Carol and Caron in a little gazebo overlooking the well.

At the top of the hill, we met our affable guide who explained the fort to us, though between being hard to hear and hard to understand it was not terribly iluminating. Though it’s called a fort, there are three palaces here, winter, summer and monsoon, where the princesses lived, with no man allowed in except for the king. Again, beautiful carvings and painted walls. And long walls along the ridgeline to keep out…someone? The winter palace featured mirrored walls to reflect the light on cold winter days.

(Bad hair day, but so it goes!)  (And this was my go-to costume: travel vest where I could put my phone, guidebook or pamphlet, hand sanitizer, tissues, etc., small purse, and backpack for other layers, water bottle, emergency book, etc. etc.  Luckily I no longer care deeply about how I look when traveling!)

And everywhere, beautifully detailed inlaid designs.

There are elephants that you can ride, though it’s not a good idea for the elephants, so we did not indulge.

On the way out of the Amber fort we stopped by a bookstore with an interesting selection.  I’m really liking the Dalrymple book so hope to read more of him when I get home.

After lunch at the hotel, we gathered for a quick intro by each one of us.  Many stories to tell – Pati and her benign optic nerve tumor, M and her debilitating car accident that’s still being litigated, Sujata and her recovery from breast cancer, Amy and her year of refocusing that included a decision to stop designing fabric, Ginger and her story of finding her true love in Saskatchewan, et al.  A great group!

The afternoon was long.  We began by stopping at a new city gate that has been decorated in the traditional style.  It was beautiful and much visited by locals, especially young ones.  Then off to two markets at which point I was beginning to sag.  The first was an outdoor market set up in conjunction with the Literary Festival, where I saw some fabrics that I liked but nothing I needed to own. (This is also where we saw the creepy monkey man.)  The second shop had lovely clothes but I was really dead on my feet by now. Dinner at the hotel around 8 and then fell into bed.

Revisiting England 1995

Inspired by wherethewindblows, I’m going back to old journals to transcribe earlier trips.  Here’s the first, England with Mom and Dad, Uncle Buzz and Weezer 1995.  Note that all photos are from the web.

Cathedral Gate Hotel, Canterbury

We finally got here!  After a mix-up at Hertz about the B&B vouchers which ended happily, we took the M25 and stopped on the way at a place that sold T-shirts proclaiming “I survived the M25!”  I need one.  The car [Toyota van] is easy to drive and doesn’t feel too big, but lots of traffic.  

The hotel is right next to Christchurch Gate and we have views of the spire from our windows.  The way to the room is peculiar but wonderful, including a short stretch on the rooftops, decorated with daffodils in window boxes and a view of the cathedral. [Here is a view of that walk without the daffodils]

Sandwiches and a nap and a walk around.  The car is staying in the car park on Duck Lane and is happy there.  The streets are narrow, half-timbered buildings and alleys, perfect for walking.

We had a very nice dinner at a Spanish tapas place and shared delicious bites after a pungent curried parsnip soup.  We’ll all have breakfast at our own pace and meet tomorrow at 9:30 (after Uncle Buzz goes to 8:00 communion) for a cathedral tour.

We made it!

Wednesday, April 19

Toured the Cathedral this morning, an impressive building – Norman, so very massive, but with many side chapels and a large undercroft and cloisters.  Then we followed a walking tour around the cloisters and other buildings.  Thomas a Becket was murdered here most horribly and there is a powerful memorial to him where he was killed.

After a so-so lunch in the Queen Elizabeth restaurant (nicely decorated plaster ceiling of her era), we parted way for naps, etc.  I went back to the Cathedral for the audio tour and enjoyed it.  Then we all went to the Canterbury Tales, somewhat hokey but fun [and now closed after 35 years], and to Evensong.  Beautifully sung by a mixed choir, and we prayed for law enforcement officers (a policeman was killed last night in East London).  Then supper at a pub that advertised Old English Fayre and featured nachos and “Tennessee toffee pie.”  Called AO and determined that all is well.

Canterbury is filled with school groups, many of them French, so it seems crowded, but outside of the main streets it’s busy but charming.

Thursday, April 20

A long day.  Booked our rooms for Salisbury this a.m. which took a long time.  Then off to Dover (only 16 miles away) to see the Castle.  Impressive but brutal, perched on a steep hill overlooking the Channel.  Must have been frigidly cold and damp.  A chapel to Becket – Henry was very penitent once the deed was done.

Jacket potato lunch at the castle and then down to the town for a view of the white cliffs from the docks.  We got a bit mixed up but did see them.  [I’m sure we didn’t get this great a view!] 

First we went to Hellfire Corner, the caves under the cliffs first used in Napoleonic times, then during WWII to plan the Dunkirk evacuation and then up to the 60s.  It must have been cold and stuffy!

Then set out for Salisbury, which took forever.  It was 4:00 by the time we left and it took four hours.  Parts of the drive were beautiful – flat through Romney Marsh, then over the downs and finally to Salisbury.  The Byways Guest House on Fowlers Road [still there in 2020 tho it seems to be apartments instead of rooms], soup for dinner in a non-smoking pub, served by a funny and quick man, then thankfully bed.  I have a single with shared bath but it’s right next door.  All worked well.

Friday, April 21

A nice breakfast and then to Salisbury.  Parked at the Cathedral and had a tour from a wonderful guide who had us five alone.  Salisbury is more open and brighter than Canterbury and set in a lovely expanse of green lawn.  Inside it’s simple and elegant and has no choir screen so it all seems more beautiful.salisbury cathedral

The Chapter House chapter househas a stone frieze all around it telling the stories of the Old Testament – beautifully done – I wish there had been a book or postcards of it.  [Adam and Eve]adam and eve

Also, of course, the Magna Carta [on display above].  The guide told us that for years the librarian – who lived in the Close as one of the perks of her job – took it home with her every night for safekeeping – up until 1975!  Unbelievable.

We had lunch at the Haunch of Venison, recommended in Fodor’s and The Good Pub Guide.  Delicious sandwiches in an upstairs room overlooking a church. haunch I booked our rooms in Wells at the TIC – they’re all en suite – and then we drove to Avebury, stopping briefly along the way at Stonehenge, just long enough to see it from the road.

In Avebury Museum, a wonderful National Trust man told us about ancient stone circles and how Avebury had sites older than Stonehenge.   Then we walked around the stones.  They’re all higgledy-piddledy in among people’s houses, quite incredible.  An exhilarating walk along a ridge above the stones.avebury

Then drove to Wells, again longer then I thought – 1 1/2 hours not 45 minutes – so Mom and I left without dinner to meet Silla and Bruno at the plane in Bristol.

We drove like mad through Cheddar and north – the chef at the Red Lion who gave us directions said we’d know when we got there because there are signs along the highway that tell you to stop your car when lights are flashing to let the planes go by!

S & B were among the last to get off the plane because their luggage was left in Brussels but they seemed unconcerned.  Silla looks great, and Bruno is very affectionate with a nice sense of humor.  We drove back to Wells and had a supper of yougurt and pasta salad before bed.

Saturday, April 22

A grim start because it’s pouring down rain, the hot water kettle doesn’t work and I left the hair dryer in the car – oh, and the shower never got too hot.  But one must soldier on.

A nice breakfast of muesli and toast and then we all but Weezer went to the Cathedral (she is feeling tired and cranky and stayed behind to read).  wells cathedralAgain, we had a wonderful guide, and Wells is beautiful.  The decorated ceiling, scissors arches and Lady Chapel are particularly wonderful.  wells interior

 

 

 

The guide pointed out a number of wonderful carvings, as well as the clock and the stream of steps up to the Chapter House with its beautiful ceiling.

wells stairs

We had a soup lunch at the Crown Hotel, where William Penn was fined for preaching without a license.

Then did a mild driving tour, stopping at Chewton Cheddar Dairy for cheese and then to Chew Magna, ancestral home of Thomas Minor.  A nice church and a small town set among beautiful green hills with trees silhouetted along their ridgetops.chew magna

Chatted with a woman in the supermarket who told us most people now commuted to Bristol or even to London (2 hours by train).  Then back through Cheddar Gorge – very dramatic, especially in contrast to the soft Mendip Hills, and on to Wells.

Dinner tonight at the White Hart – garlic and mushrooms and lamb and red wine – with a funny waitress, small and dark and sharp.  Walked back by the Cathedral – not lit as dramatically as Canterbury – and so to bed.

Sunday, April 23

glastonbury torA bright day, so we drove south to Glastonbury andc climbed the Tor – very dramatic, rising out of the landscape, with the tower on top and sheep grazing all around.  Windy and bright and wonderful views.  Then we drove south to Street, said to be a beautiful village though it escaped us.  But we went to the Shoe Museum and found enormous 17th century jackboots and the huge boots worn by peat workers.  [Closed last year but incorporated into another Trust to do with shoes!] Lunch at The Mullions, a very nice pub down the road, then back to Wells.

Silla and Bruno and I decided to go for a walk.  The very nice people at the Tourist Information Center recommended Ebbor Gorge, and it was great.  Bluebells and anemones and primroses along the path, a steep climb up the gorge, then at the top we followed the footpath across the sheep fields towards the TV transmitter on Pin Hill.ebbor gorge

Silla and Bruno are wonderful together.  He told a funny story about trading Africa stories with Papi and telling how he contracted a disease in Africa that resulted in a discharge from his penis!  Papi was interested from a medical viewpoint while Mami kept asking if anyone wanted more potatoes. Fabia said later it must have been the first time that word was ever spoken on Ottoplatz!

It was a great walk, very invigorating even though the sky was overcast and a light wind was blowing.  Great views over the Mendip Hills.

Dinner tonight at the Fountain, a restaurant near the Cathedral.  We celebrated M&D’s 47th anniversary, Dad’s 74th birthday, Weezer’s 42nd and the reunion of all of us.  A very nice dinner and then walked back through the Cathedral Green.

Monday, April 24

A gloomy day.  We drove to Mells, said to be one of the most beautiful villages in Somerset.  A wonderful church with a seven-foot-tall embroidery designed by in the style of Burne-Jones.  burne-jones embroideryThen on to Castle Combe, most beautiful village in England.  castle combeVery nice.  Had lunch at the White Hart where they, unbelievably, could not make tea because the kettle wasn’t working!

Then a mad rush to the airport at Lulsgate-Bristol, where signs on the road warn to stop when lights are flashing so the planes can go by!  Goodbye to Silla, who wept when she left us…

We drove on through Cheddar to Priddy, where school was just letting out.  The church has a 12th century font and was filled with huge bouquets of daffodils.

Back to Wells.  I walked to the Bishop’s Palace and then followed the footpath to Dulcote, 1 1/2 miles away on a paved path.  A church was for sale, obviously not used as a church for some time.  Rain off and on – back around the moat to Vicars Close, quiet and peaceful, and back to the hotel.

Dinner at the Star.  We started out at the bar, which quickly filled with a huge after-work crowd, and then ate starters only in the restaurant, and so to bed.

Tuesday, April 25

Drove through Cheddar and then through the Quantock Hills to Dunster.  A hazy but bright afternoon.  dunsterDunster is a fairy tale castle from the road: high on a hill, with turrets and surrounded by gardens of tree peonies, rhododendrons and palm trees.  The house was less full of stuff than most English great houses, and from every room was the most beautiful view of the surrounding hills and pastures.  We had a picnic lunch under a huge oak: cheddar from the Chewton Cheese Dairy and cheddar with Guinness from the supermarket in Wells.

Then on to Tintagel.  The NT guides were leery of such a long trip at 3:00 in the afternoon, except fror one young woman who agreed that she drives the way I do and that I could make it in three hours.

Exmoor (before Dunster) was beautiful and even more so after Porlock Hill, so steep I couldn’t bear it Porlock-hillJPGand instead we took the scenic route which was perfectly steep enough.  At last we’re in wild country and Dad is happy.  We stopped at the Information Center for Exmoor at the County Gate car park.  exmoorStark views down the moor to the East Lyn River, hillsides covered with sheep and yellow gorse.  Then along the coast, in and out, to Boscastle, occasionally very steep hills, especially up to Boscastle, but not so bad as Porlock.

The B&B is Trerosewill Farmhouse, very modern.  trerosewillThree of us in the bungalow at the bottom of the hill and I’m in the main house, a room under the eaves with the shower and sink right here in the room so I can watch TV in the shower.  A pub dinner – chicken curry – at the Napoleon Inn.

Wednesday, April 26

A slow start to the day.  Cloudy skies and a good breakfast, carried Mom up the hill at 7:30.  Then Dad and I walked down the steep hill to Boscastle in search of information.  A slow walk up the hill following the village guide that points out interesting buildings.  Then off to Tintagel around 11:00.

Uncle Buzz and I walked and the others took the Land Rover down to the mouth of the harbor.  Who knows if King Arthur ever set foot here, it’s a glorious setting.  Steep steps up to the top of the headland, where low walls are the only remains of the 12th century castle.  Truly exhilarating and filled with primroses, violets, thrift and something white – cow parsley?

We all had pasties in the little cafe and then drove on to Bodmin Moor.  We stopped in Camelford (camel on the church tower  city hall weather vane) for directions and went through Tor or Monter as they call it.  Dramatic and empty but we stopped for just a quick look (it was starting to sprinkle).

Then on to Bolventor and Jamaica Inn via Altarnun, a small village with a church known as the Cathedral of the Moors – 16th century carvings on the “bench ends.”  [thanks to giftsofthejourney.com for the image]

Blisland 2010

Jamaica Inn had a fire going with tremendous logs in the fireplace.  We all had cream teas at 3:30 and felt much better.  The sun was even shining!

Then we drove on to Dozmary Pool – not too much there – and then to Minions to see the hurlers, a stone circle inhabited by cows who were scratching themselves on the stone, and the Cheesering, a natural stone outcropping some distance away.  The wind was blowing and we really felt we were on the moors – a bleak place in February!

Then home, and all but Dad (who was full of clotted cream) went to the Wellington Hotel in the bottom of the village for dinner.  Vegetable curry and lemon sole and the pub cat, tabby, who came to visit us because of the fish.  Also Murphy, the pub dog.

Thursday, April 27

Sunshine!  We got a fairly early start and went to Port Isaac [which I now know as Portwenn in the Doc Martin series].  Parked at the top of the village, and Dad and I walked along the coast path looking at gulls nesting in the cliffs.  We could see the other side of Tintagel from there.  Daddy started talking with a couple – the man had been in Norfolk during the war.  They both love St. Ives and told us we should go there.

Port Isaac had colorful but steep alleys between stone or whitewashed houses.  A real maze and hard to find your way back except by going up.

Then we drove straight through to St. Ives.  We missed the turn-off to get the trolley into town and ended up driving through incredibly cramped streets into a car park with barely enough room for the van.  Very stressful but then we went to the Sloop Inn and had a nice lunch.

After lunch we separated and I took a walk around St. Ives with a brochure from the Tourist Office.  Up to a high point overlooking the harbor and a brisk wind, the sea splashing on rocks below.

Then across to St. Michael’s Mount, very close though the other side of the peninsula.  We took a ferry across, that is, a 12-passenger boat bucking up and down in the waves.  Mom was very brave and we all helped her in and out.

St. Mary’s Mount is very romantic, rising out of the sea.  Uncle Buzz and I went up – straight up! – to the castle and took the tour, including a model of the castle made out of champagne corks by a former butler.  As Dad says, they parody themselves!

A dramatic view over the terrace almost straight down to the sea crashing below, and semi-tropical gardens terraced along the sides.  I sat next to the Lord on the ferry across – Mom noticed his beautifully made shoes – and we met him again on the tour.

We all met for tea and found that the National Trust director was meeting with the Lord and the staff of St. MM for tea.

By now it was 5:00 so we headed back to Boscastle.  Bread and cheese and wine in the family room for dinner.  And so to bed.

Friday, April 28

It’s grey again but not raining.  After breakfast we drove across to Forrabury Church and Dad and I walked across the Common to the tops of the cliff where we saw crashing waves and caves below.  Then across the moor to Launceston and then to Tavistock and so on to Dartmoor.

What a wild and wonderful landscape!  We got out of the car on top of the moor and felt the strong, wild wind blowing and could see for miles.  Wild country!

We drove on to Princetown,[home of Dartmoor Prison, scheduled to close in 2023], where the Dartmoor National Park Visitor Center is, and looked at their very good exhibits. I got a list of recommended pubs along our route from the very nice ranger.

We took the tour from the notebook starting at Twin Bridges going east.  We stopped a few times for views and moorland ponies and then came to the Rock Inn at Haytor Vale, where we had a most wonderful lunch – white vegetable soup and shared smoked salmon and prawns with Royal Oak ale in front of a huge  fireplace.  Quiet and elegant.

Then got directions to a nature walk nearby.  The others napped while I walked the three-mile woodland trail.  The booket focused mostly on the management of the forest.  I heard birds and saw ferns, primroses, bluebells and the granite tracks of a railway used to haul granite down the Teign River.  Some good steep hills and a few great views.

Then on to Exeter.  Getting into cities is never fun but we made it to the Clock Tower Hotel, only to find that the owner had decided, rather than have three there and one in another place, he would send all of us down the toad to his son’s place, Highbury.

Not a great place.  The owner was sweet and shy and his wife was friendly and not bright.  The house was freshly painted but the rooms lacked niceties such as hand towels and soap.

We had a picnic dinner in my room after Daddy, Uncle Buzz and I made an expedition to Sainsbury’s.

Saturday, April 29

It’s raining!  After a plonky breakfast – the first time we’ve had baked beans for breakfast – we drove to the TIC and decided to go to the Cathedral.  Walked through the High Street pedestrian area, relic of the Blitz, a newly built area with not much character.

After Wells, no cathedral can seem quite so wonderful.  Exeter is known for its length and its colorful bosses (including one of Becket’s murder, we can’t escape him!),as well as surviving the Blitz.  The close is small and pretty.  We walked back to the car and then had lunch at a not great pub recommended by Frommer’s, down by the quay.  Saw some huge swans chasing each other, they really almost walk on water as they try to take off.  Then looked at the movies but nothing suited so dropped everyone back at the hotel and I went into town to shop.

Looked at Dillon’s for J. Herriott’s Yorkshite – o.p. here too but the clerk was sure it wou ld be re-issued now that he’s died.  Peeked in a jewelry store, too, but nothing was right.  Saw a wonderful exhibit of photos of Dartmoor from the last 10-15 years, looked as if they could be from 100 years ago, people killing hogs, plucking chickens, herding cows.

Drinks in my roon and then we went to the Taj Mahal Tandoor – very nice!  but too much food.  Kebab and samosa and lamb and chicken, etc.  And so to bed.

Sunday, April 30

[The diary stops here, so I can only imagine that we somehow turned in the van and made our way to Heathrow and home.  I do have pictures but since they’re only analog, I have filled in with pics from the web.  ]

 

 

The long, cool spring of horrors

The horrors, of course, are the many manifestations of Covid-19, aka the coronavirus, aka the pandemic, the global pandemic, the quarantine, etc.  Starting around March 13, when everything shut down with only a few hours’ notice, we have been living a different life from anything we were imagining before.  No socializing, library and schools closed, businesses shut down, restaurants only providing takeout (and several with groceries available, too), curbside pickup at stores, no going out to eat, listening to music, having meetings. Don’t even think about traveling, not an hour up the road to Washington or across the ocean to Vienna, as was our plan for September.  It’s not so bad for people like me who have money and access to food and supplies, but it still wears a person down, especially given the criminal negligence of the government.  But that rant will remain unwritten here.

On the other hand, it’s been a lovely spring.  The cool weather has persisted with none of the 80+ degree days in April that cook the tulips.  Instead, long stretches of cool, sunny weather with even frost warnings a couple times in the last week.  We’re down for the year, but for the month our rainfall is right on track.  I can’t complain!

Narcissus ‘Sunlight Sensation’ and ‘Baby Boomer’ not only bloomed prolifically but lasted and lasted.  This is ‘Sunlight Sensation.’  Would definitely buy more next year to strew under the maple tree.

The tulips were a bit meager this year, with a few exceptions.  The ‘Happy Generation’ tulip that was supposed to bloom with this ‘Pink Charm’ narcissus barely grew a leaf or two. Tulips in pots seemed to be particularly weak or non-existent.  Voles??

On the other hand,  these dark pink tulips seem to be perennial (so far) and dutifully bloomed at the same time as the viburnum (just out of the frame).

The unfortunately named tulip ‘Bud Light’ was particuarly beautiful, though I don’t have a good picture from my garden.  Here’s one from Jackson & Perkins, and it’s just about how it looked for me, too.

Another one I’d buy again.

The oak tree garden, as always, was an absolute delight, starting with the winter aconites in January.  Here they are on February 9th, interspersed with snow drops. 

And a wider view, on April 11,

when the aconites are gone except for their foliage, and the bluebells, star of Bethlehem, columbine, Japanese roof iris and bleeding heart have taken over.

A closeup of the bluebells in late March: 

Not to forget the hellebores!  They bloom so early, last so long in bouquets, and are so incredibly lovely that I don’t mind that they breed like rabbits and self-seed everywhere.  This one was blooming on February 9th. 

So many beauties that I had to make a slide show for you.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But wait, don’t forget the peonies and roses!  This was a hand-me-down from my friend Susan Hepler, known to me always as the Hepler peony.  The ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ has tons of buds but no blooms yet.

‘Zepherine Drouhin’ is one of my favorites, though it seems to have a fainter scent this year.  Maybe because of the cooler weather?

The ‘souvenir de Ste. Anne’ is an Earthkind rose, the very palest of pale pinks.

Then there is this neglected part of the garden:

The oakleaf hydrangeas that were supposed to grow six feet tall and help to obliterate my view of the neighbor’s shed never did grow very tall.  Then last year we had lots of rain at one point, and this corner of the garden tends to get soggy.  I think they have given up the ghost, and a great culling will happen here soon.  Edging, obliterating the hydrangeas and forsythia (at least some of it) and cutting down the maple saplings that have taken root.  What a mess!  Welcome to spring in Virginia!

A fort, an introduction, a monkey

Today was our first full day together, and it was a good one!  After breakfast – a buffet filled with delicious Indian food as well as hearty English fare – we piled into two minibuses for our morning out to the Amber Fort (above pic is from the bus).  We transferred at the bottom of the hill to several jeeps for the steep ride up.

But first, a famous step well, built 400 years  ago to collect water during the rainy season. The structure is well-known for its Escher-like stairs.  Some claim that you can’t go up and down using the same set of stairs unless you’re a local. I didn’t dare try!  Another view:

It was also a gathering place for women (as it was for us!). 

Carol and Caron sitting in one of the little gazebos at the top.

And of course, the ubiquitous monkeys.

Back in the jeeps for the final stretch up the steep hill to the fort or palace, another UNESCO World Heritage Site and an example of Mughal-Indian architecture.  Once inside, you enter a series of beautiful courtyards.  (Thanks, Getty images.)

We met our guide who explained the fort to us, though between the noise of the crowds and his strong accent,  it was not terribly illuminating. There are three palaces here, winter, summer and monsoon, where the princesses lived. No man was allowed in except for the king. Again, we marvelled at beautiful carvings and painted walls. Inside the palaces were more decorated walls, the winter palace with inserted mirrors to reflect the light on cold winter days.  This one featured sparkling inlaid glass in intricate patterns.

and more beautiful carvings and decorations.

And looking up from the fort, long walls along the ridgeline to keep out…someone?

Elephants were seen everywhere, including in real life (though one is advised not to take a ride for the sake of the animals’ health).

It was a fascinating site, though I felt very much like a tourist. But it’s a great memory to invoke when I next read about the Mughals.

On our way back, here’s a glimpse of the small town of Amer from our jeep.  I was trying to capture the incredible traffic and the millions of small food stands and shops though I missed the elephant lumbering along, so you must just imagine it. 

After the Amber fort we stopped by a bookstore with an interesting selection. I’m really liking the Dalrymple book so hope to read more of him when I get home.  Here we are waiting for the rest of the group:  Pamela, Janice, Marty, Carol, Lucie, Caron and Cathy.After all this glory, we took the minibuses back to the Trident for lunch and a brief break. After lunch we each introduced ourselves to the group. There were many stories to tell (some on the bus ride from Agra, and some here):   Pati and her benign optic nerve tumor,  Sujata and her recovery from breast cancer, Amy and her year of refocusing that included a decision to stop designing fabric, Ginger and her story of finding her true love in Saskatchewan, et al.  It is an amazing group of women!

At this point, we were supposed to visit the Jaipur Literary Festival (William Dalrymple is one of the organizers!), but Sujata and Amy got word that it would involve big crowds and lots of waiting in line, so instead we went into Jaipur and visited the Patrika Gate.

This is a modern tourist attraction that opens out to a park right in the middle of Jaipur.  The arches and ceilings are covered with beautifully detailed paintings of local heroes, sites and mythology.

As always, the patterns and colors were mesmerizing, and I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

After this, we stopped by a local crafts area that was here as part of the Pink City Festival. 

The craft booths were mildly interesting, but this creepy monkey man was the most memorable. 

He just looks odd here, and people are certainly laughing, but he was very creepy, and some of the children were really scared of him.  He scurried around just like a monkey and tried to steal things from people.  I think he must have been a version of Hanuman.

Our final stop was to a popup shop that catered to the not-me audience, lovely things like shoes, purses and clothes, but I was really dead on my feet by now.  Home, late dinner and then fell into bed.  A rich, full day!

Agra to Jaipur

Our next stop on the way to Jaipur was a rug cooperative in Agra, which was fascinating.  On the main floor we saw people actually knotting the rugs.

Apart from admiring their skill, I could only think of the strain on their eyes and especially on their legs, sitting at an angle like that.

Then we went downstairs, where a world of carpets awaited us.  I had not realized that we would then spend hours buying carpets! But who am I to talk, since I bought one, too. There’s a story, of course.  The original was in the Taj Mahal and now lives at the Met in New York.  This shop has exclusive rights to reproduce the rug, only 60 copies (I think) in two sizes.  (Another blogger bought this, too, by the way, not long before before I did, apparently…)  I looked it up later, and there it is in their collection, though not on display currently.

There was lots of bonding during this experience, from falling into the piles of wool  to discussing possible purchases with each other. I think that most of us bought at least one rug, and several bought multiples.  These are savvy shoppers!  But it took forever and we did not get on the road until close to 1:00.

But first, a visit to the Agra Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (check another off the list!), and the home of the Mughal emperors until 1638.  Built (or rebuilt) of red sandstone, it was more like a city than merely a fort.  The Indian military still uses part of it.

Some lovely architectural details:

We had been scheduled to visit a step well, but we were obviously way out of time, and there’s another one on our itinerary in Jaipur.  So we hit the road and  enjoyed a late lunch at a lovely garden spot (visiting the small gift shop where I bought an Indian edition of Kipling’s short stories). Finally, the long trip to Jaipur. We arrived at 8:00 just in time for an elegant dinner at our hotel, including this welcome laid out in marigolds, this delectable dessert, and music.  The musicians kindly invited me to sit down and join them, so I did, strumming the stringed instrument with more enthusiasm than skill.  We also met everyone, very important, but, typically for me, I have no pictures of the group.  But more to come later.

The trip before the trip

After breakfast we hopped on a little bus for a tour of Delhi.  Our first stop was the spice market, which was almost as crowded and narrow as the souks of Morocco. There was so much traffic, so many overhead wires, and so many little shops that I had to take a video in hopes of getting it all in.

And over our heads the monkeys were navigating along the wires, just the way squirrels do at home.  Here’s a look at the market where we got a tour of the various teas and spices and how to use them.  I ended up with several varieties, some for presents and some for ME.

A few more views, of hot peppers for sale and a dried fruit stand. 

We walked back through the market, where I noticed this broom, which I was to see often as women swept the streets or sidewalks in front of their stores.

From here we got into auto rickshaws, or tuktuks, for a little tour of the streets.  This is Carol and her sister Lucy traveling next to ours.   Our rickshaws were actually larger than the usual ones.  The smaller ones are used by everyone: three wheels, open sides, often crammed chock full of people and belongings.  Here’s an image taken by someone else.A wild ride and you have to hang on tight!

Back on the bus, we traveled through the center of town with some difficulty, since many streets were closed in anticipation of Independence Day celebrations.  Modi had invited Bolsonaro, the Brazilian autocrat, and I can only imagine they had a great time together, plotting how to oppress their people.  We caught sight of several government buildings and of the Red Fort, which, sadly, was not on our agenda.

(Not a great picture, since it was taken from the bus.)  I was reading William Dalrymple’s City of Djinns on this trip and it made me wish that we could have spent more time here.  A reason to go back!

Partway through the tour, our guide tried to explain the difference between Hindus and Muslims. Well!  They (the Muslims) are all terrorists, their allegiance is to jihad not to India, they breed like rabbits while Hindus have only one child, where will the Hindus go, there is no Hindu country, and on and on.  It was quite unpleasant, but at least we did hear the unfiltered views of a man who undoubtedly represents quite of a few of his countrymen.

Our final stop was Humayan’s Tomb, commissioned by Humayan’s wife and completed in 1572.  It is said to be the inspiration for the Taj Mahal.  I fear that I did not fully appreciate the architecture or the setting, but I do know that the building and the surrounding gardens are a an example of Mughal architecture, borrowing from Indian as well as Islamic styles.  Built of red sandstone and white marble, its lovely arches and tiles again reminded me of Morocco.  Our guide took a picture of us standing in front of it. 

The happy crew:  Caron, Cathy, Caity,  Christine, Linda, Carol, Lucie, Pati and me (looking oddly belligerent).

We left Delhi and our guide about mid-afternoon and headed for Agra in a little bus with seats for fifteen, so we each had room to spread out our marigold necklaces, bouquets of flowers, and personal needs (water bottles which are passed out by the guides throughout our trip, purse, phone, guidebooks, snacks, etc.).  It was a long, long drive to Agra through very flat country but worth it in the end. We had a delicious late dinner (not  my  usual  style  but I survived!). It was nicely presented even though we were not sure what we were eating.

After checking in at the very first-world Radisson Hotel, we agreed to meet at 6:30 the next morning to see the Taj Mahal at dawn.

Such a good idea! The light was magical as we entered the site,

and there were crowds to be sure, but not as insane as it will undoubtedly get later.

We entered  through the west gate,which is decorated with elegant calligraphy

using pietra dura, inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones.  (As always, applique designs leapt out at me.)

Our first sight through an archway was the iconic view, with the early morning mist giving it an ethereal look.

It was unexpectedly moving.  Like seeing Michelangelo’s David, the image is so well known as to be a cliche, but when you see it in person it is arresting.

We all kept taking pictures, because the light kept changing.  Here it is with the pink light of dawn.

Inside the mausoleum, you can see the tombs (though they are apparently replicas) and appreciate the beautifully carved stone filigree screens. 

Guides are positioned along here with flashlights so that you can see how the semi-precious stones glow in the light.

We saw lots of birds, including big green parakeets and the iconic hoopoe (not my picture). We wandered along the plinth and enjoyed the beautiful views of the Yamuna River below, with boatmen looking like an impressionistic painting.

Of course, when planning the trip it seemed logical to visit the Taj Mahal since it was so close to where we were going, and I was thrilled when Cathy set it all up for us.  But I had never longed to see it, so although I was expectant I was not exactly excited.  But then we saw it, and it was simply magical.

 

Wildlife and exoticism

This was not a nature trip, but you can’t help noticing the animals everywhere in India.  In my neighborhood I’m likely to see cats, dogs and squirrels, along with robins, wrens, finches, woodpeckers, chickadees, hawks, etc.  But here was a new array of everyday creatures!

Dogs are hardly unusual, but they were everywhere in the streets, never on a leash or seeming to belong to anyone.  This one was enjoying the sunshine while stretched out on block-printed fabric drying in Bagru. 

They appeared healthy and were beautifully behaved, so I asked one of our guides who took care of them.  He said that when you made your chapatis in the morning, you made one for the dog, and when you made your chapatis in the evening, you made one for the cow.  I’m not sure if that was metaphorical or literal…

There were several kinds of cows, some dairy cows and some not. 

This dairy cow was strolling through Bagur.

This beauty was surrounded by words that I can’t decipher.

And this one seems to have been decorated?

Monkeys were ubiquitous, climbing up telephone poles, along the rooftops, and hanging from wires. 

These monkeys were outside of the vegetable market in Jaipur.

This one was strolling along among the tourists at the Taj Mahal.

This monkey is posing with a kite at the step well. (Kite flying is a huge pastime in Jaipur, and we saw these tiny kites in the sky all the time, especially at the end of the day.  When they coat the strings with powdered glass for competitions, they can be a danger to people and especially to birds, but it is beautiful to watch them soar.)

This mama and baby were climbing above electrical wires in the spice market in Delhi.  We were cautioned not to play with them or feed them, and, fascinating though they were, I wasn’t tempted.

We saw a few elephants thumping along the streets, but the only one I captured with my camera is this one, decorated for tourists, along the lake.

Cathy is paying the driver for permission to pet it.

Camels were seen more often, usually as beasts of burden but for tourists, too.  Here’s a glimpse of one in the street in Sanganer that carried a load on its back.

This one was waiting for customers down the road from our hotel who could be tempted into a ride.

But the creepiest of all was this human monkey.  He was roaming around in a craft market we visited.  If I had managed to get a video, you would have seen just how awful he was, coming up behind people and grabbing their bags, racing along on all fours like a real monkey, and in general behaving like a scary creature that’s supposed to be funny.  I think he might have been a representation of Hanuman, a god who is “generally depicted as a man with the face of a monkey and a long tail.”  Although the people in these pictures are laughing, there were a couple of children in tears.

Finally, a note on exoticism.  It’s defined as “the charm of the unfamiliar,” but it can also be a way of distancing yourself from what you are seeing.  In a culture as different from mine as India is, I’m afraid that some of what I saw was just that:  a strange and fascinating way of life that I don’t really understand.  But I’m trying!

So, I went to India!

I must have been on a mailing list from Amy Butler, because that’s how I learned about her workshop. She and Sujata Shah went to India two years ago with three groups, one week each, and 2020 was the return trip. Since none of my usual traveling companions was interested, I just signed myself up, thinking that I would be with like-minded people and in a little bit of a bubble for my first encounter with a very different place. Sixteen of us were signed up for the trip and nine of us went on a pre-trip jaunt to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.  It was exhausting, gorgeous, surprising, beautiful, and overwhelming.

The drill is that you land in Delhi close to midnight and go immediately to your hotel.  Steve from Eternal Journeys had arranged all of our transport and escorts, so we just looked for our name at the airport and trooped onto a minibus that took us to our hotel.  The marigold necklaces and bunch of flowers are traditional, and we festooned ourselves and the bus seats with them for the next few days.

After breakfast – we had our choices of coffee, tea, eggs, yogurt, bread and Indian delights, a spread that would become familiar soon – we took a quick walk around the neighborhood before the bus came, and I saw my first cow in the street.  This soon became routine, but it is startling the first time you see it.

(Those are house crows on top of this cow.)

First impressions: a friendly group of women, a very different place, and delicious food.  Onward!

A leisurely day

One of the joys of revisiting the Cotswolds (and England in general) is that we are not driven to see, see, see, so today was a relaxed day.  We wandered through Stow after breakfast, visiting the market cross in the square (thanks, Alamy), about which more later,

stopped by St. Edward’s church with its amazing door,  said to have inspired Tolkien’s Doors of Durin,visited the pharmacy for AO’s ear (stopped up due to the plane?), a lovely little shop where we bought socks for various people, and the bookstore, where I bought a walks guide for Northleach and area. 

Then I left AO to her own devices while I took a little walk suggested in the Stow Walks booklet. The first part, through town and then along a rough track through the village of Maugersbury, was very pleasant, with beautiful views of the landscape and Icomb Hill,  said  to  have  been  the  site  of  a neolithic  hill  fort.The next bit was along the the ancient Fosse Way,  but in this section the Fosse Way goes along the A429, a very busy two-lane road.  Luckily there was a sidewalk for pedestrians but still, some of those trucks came barreling down the hill at a great rate.  Then away from the highway and through a cemetery, along the allotments with these beautiful dahlias, and then to a confusing bit. A friendly fellow pedestrian offered help, so I followed her through a little ture or snicket or alley and found myself back in the town. 

Fortified with the delicious baguettes we had bought earlier, we set out for a mild little trip to Northleach, where our friends Peggy and Eddie spend a few weeks every spring.  The church is a classic perpendicular, and inside were several brasses featuring worthies standing on wool sacks,  from  which  local  fortunes  were  made.  You  can  see  that  they  are  protected  by  these  rugs  most  of  the  time.Shades of Angela Thirkell! The chatty woman at the info desk has children in the US and spoke admiringly of our country – except for the frequent random murders, of course…  We also stopped briefly near Sherborne, where P&E rent their National Trust house. Doesn’t it look ghostly with the autumn grasses?  You get there down a long, long one-lane road, luckily with a few turnouts for oncoming traffic. Beautiful, but I wouldn’t want to be driving down there in the dark!

Next on to Burford in search of the garden centre that Peggy touted.  The main street was so congested, and we were not sure of the location, that I finally turned on my phone ($10!!) to get directions.  The centre was a mix of high-end home furnishings and the best garden shop in the world.I picked up some seed packets, and Alison found a darling little bird for her windowsill.

Our final stop was Minster Lovell, a small village along the banks of the Windrush, which we would call a creek or stream rather than a river.  Charming, but nowhere to stop and admire it so we went down the road to the church. Small and nice and obviously hard to maintain, with a shrinking number of congregants and an ancient building in need of maintenance.  But the interior seemed well used and busy. No stained glass, thanks a lot, Henry VIII!

Back towards home, planning to stop at a gas station to top up the air in one of the tires, which causes the car to display exclamation marks.  Unfortunately, even though we got the tire up to 32 psi, the car is still unhappy. Maybe tomorrow. We came back to Stow and the promised roadworks meant we couldn’t take our usual route in, so we ended up in Lower Swell (because once you’re on a road, there’s almost no place to pull over or turn around).  Reversing and retracing our route, we finally found our familiar Sheep Street and home. Driving is always harder at the end of the day. Dinner tonight at The Bell was the best dinner of the trip so far: Lamb for AO, sausages and a rocket salad with pickled shallots for me, both imaginatively cooked.