Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Happy Mardi Gras

Happy Mardi Gras! What I wouldn't give for a big slice of king cake...

I've been concentrating on style over substance lately and making some cosmetic and structural changes to the blog rather than writing anything. There is now a list of links on the sidebar (thanks Blogmaster Jeff!). I've made titles shorter... and have started adding photos to old posts. If anyone has suggestions or requests, let me know and we'll see what can be done.

About a week ago I got out of Ahmedabad. So happy to leave! My parting memory is being surrounded by a group of nine-year-old boys who, after asking my name, decided to kancho me with a plank of wood. Adults can go to jail for stuff like that.

Aurangabad was the next stop. I could sing the praises of Aurangabad all day. What a great place! Good food. Kind people. Beautiful sights. Gilligan's Island dubbed into Hindi on TV. It has everything.

Not many foreign tourists visit Aurangabad, at least not for any length of time. Some people pass through on their way to the Ajanta and Ellora caves. The staff at the hotel were so excited to have a non-Indian guest that it was a little hard to get some time alone. Three people came to deliver one breakfast tray in the mornings. Whenever I returned to the hotel, the desk staff liked to sit down on the landing and play 20 questions about the United States. Sometimes, if I managed to scoot into the room without being stopped for an autograph ("but I'm not famous!"), there would be a knock on the door. Room service! "But I haven't ordered anything...." The staff always wanted to offer their assistance and kiss my hand, like they've seen done in the movies.

Two small dramas occurred during my days in Aurangabad. The first was sleeping with a dusty wool blanket on the bed. Excepting the time I inhaled a dust-bunny straight up my nose, I've never had a more instant or massive allergy attack. Didn't realize the blanket was the culprit right way. Finally started to recover after quarantining it in a cupboard. That knocked me out for a couple of days.

When my body started functioning enough to go out and explore, I signed up for a couple of all-day tours to see the caves and local points of interest. The Ajanta caves 100 km north were fantastic. Our group had a guide who told us exactly where to stand and exactly where to look. He did a good job of making us feel like naughty children if we strayed from the herd. My head was still full of nastiness and I'd forgotten to eat so I wound up spending most of the tour sitting on the ground outside the caves. Looking up and being pressed in on all sides by our tightly corralled tour group made me feel like I was going to pass out. Stupid body... It was beautiful though - I'd like to go back.

The next day I ate a huge breakfast and was all set for the Ellora tour. First we went to the hilltop fort of Daulatabad. Wow. Such an stunning place. Entry into the fort is as complicated and disorienting as that of a Japanese castle from samurai times. The way in is never in the direction your instincts tell you to go. This fort has the added difficulty of a pitch-black stairway labyrinth that lead up through the heart of the hill. Bats everywhere. Openings to other stairways everywhere. The views of the countryside from the top were spectacular.

Not to mention the monkeys.

The fort is home to a lot of langur monkeys. Langurs, with their silvery-grey fur and black-as-soot faces, are striking to look at. Their tails seem to be at least twice the length of their bodies. Two memorable, accidental sights in India have been blue peacocks roaming wild in the yellow nanohana fields of Rajasthan and a pair of langur monkeys, tails curved like dainty teacup handles, galloping on all fours down a highway. At the exit of the fort there was a langur monkey party in swing. I got close to take some pictures. These were the last photos I took before my camera short-circuited and died.

So dead camera, throbbing sinuses, it's always something.

I'm camped out now in the city of Pune, waiting for the warranty and proof of purchase for my camera to arrive from home. Also in the mail is my old camera so the picture taking can continue. Hanging out in Pune, I've been able to upload photos from Thailand, Cambodia, and India. They aren't in public albums yet, because they're still waiting to be labeled. Click the photo albums link in the link list to see older photos. Labeling of the new photos can only happen when there is electricity in this part of town. Power is off most of the afternoon and all day on Sundays. Only businesses with private generators stay open.

Pune is famous as the home of the Osho Meditation Resort, former ashram of the belated Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Remember him? The sex guru deported from Oregon in the late 80's? Meditation courses at Osho are available, but only to those who submit to an HIV test. Think I'm just gonna go for the free silent tour.

For those of you in places that celebrate carnival, have a great time. May you all catch coconuts.


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