Where are we now?

View Where are we now? in a larger map Jo, Annie, Miles and I are living in Northport, Alabama and working at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. We've been glad to be in one place for a bit after what appeared to be semi-permanently traveling (in actuality for a period of 2.5 years).We started this blog to catalogue some of the adventures when Jo and I were sequentially conducting our dissertation research in India and Brazil. While we've fallen off the blogging bandwagon somewhat during recent trips to Brazil, we're trying to pick it up again now that we're back in India!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

when in the south...

do as the southerners do.

no, that doesn't mean eating grits and bacon, no not marrying your cousing either, but getting religion. Well, sort of. Feeling like i've been completely mired in the quagmire of phdom, i found an escape-the first existentialist church of atlanta. I kid you not. Yes, it is the first (and only) existentialist church in the world. And it's two blocks from our apartment. So this last sunday i donned my bicycle helmet and went in search of some good ol being and nothingness.

what did i find?

the First existentialist church is somehow tangentially related to the unitarian church. Big Surprise! The service was very much the same, although with even less framework, hard to believe i know. There were about twenty people in attendance. At every seat there was some sort of musical instrument, if tambourines and rattles count as musical instruments. The 'minister' was barefoot and the choir book was old hippie songs and bluegrass melodies.....

a very special sunday indeed.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Rats........X 2

Same song, many more fun verses. Well, Jo and I are almost all moved in, but luckily we are not for want of something to do as we have several infestations we are dealing with. The first are cockroaches (or woodroaches or 'palmetto bugs'). We discovered a few on our first night. However, it was when i started uncontrollably itching that i became aware something else was up. Now Jo hasn't gotten any special bites, but I have enough for both of us. So it's time for everybody's favorite game- that's right, name that skin disorder. Two points to whoever can identify whatever critter is leaving its mark on my ankles.

Thursday, August 30, 2007


Well, no, not exactly. One might ask why I have been up since 5 this morning after getting to sleep at 12. No, the answer is not A) I was so excited about schoolwork i couldn't sleep, it could've been B) I was craving coffee so bad i was retching in my sleep, also C) I was dreaming of a sedentary lifestyle, could've been a strong possibility, but no, in fact it was D) there was a cockroach crawling on my face.

Yes, that's right, the pleasures of being a transient grad student, staying on people's futons etc. Now, one has to understand I'm not staying in a dank, decrepit, dwelling of dubious description (now that's descriptive). Rather, the apartment of my friend, who shall not be named out of fear of reprisal, is immaculately clean (as a newbie grad student she has no funiture save a futon and tv).

As i slept I felt something nibbling on me. Seriously. I itched it, rolled over, and went back to sleep. I awoke again to the same sensation; again, rolled over and went back to sleep. Later, at 5 am, i felt it crawling over my face-with a quick flick (i was conscious enough not to swat myself) i through it across the room, turned on the lights, considered the existential implications of killling the little bugger, and then squashed it.

Oh, life as a transient grad student.

and i'm doing this because.....

Monday, August 27, 2007

in transit.....

it appears we are in the final countdown now. until we move into the new apartment that is. We received word yesterday that wednesday would be the big day, but alas that offer was merely a bad joke, and we won't get to actually move in for real until saturday. Enough complaining. While jo and i are really looking forward to the new apartment it has been really great staying with Charrow/JJ, connie, and Rakesh. It is so nice to have so many friends that one could eternally couch surf.....oh wait, there's an idea, forget the apartment, Charrow/JJ we're not moving out. Sorry pandas.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

First week reflections.....

Well, I've completed the first class of my last class, which means I've now had a taste of all the classes I will be taking this semester. Thoughts: the drive to Athens really isn't so bad, it's a good chance to listen to some music, unwind, and be forced not to do school work or play on the computer (I tried but couldn't master the stick/mousepad interface). Oh yeah-reflections, perspectives, brilliant answers to life's greatest questions....not quite there yet. My one impression, and i'm sure this will change by the end of the week, is that i''m not being challenged to the degree that i expected. I'm sure this will change, and i will rue the day i made such a blasphemous statement, but reading is one thing, but really being challenged theoretically to think in different ways is another. I'm sure my cerebrum will be screaming out in existential angst soon enough.

On another note: It's so nice to have Jo home- if only because i was getting tired of cooking for myself. Just kidding. Sort of. Not really. Ok, i was, because i made a darn good eggplant and chickpea pasta dish from our 'Vegetable' wedding cookbook.

Monday, August 20, 2007


0800- Pickup one very special someone

0800-1000- Drink lots of caffienated beverages while in atlanta airport


Thursday, August 16, 2007

First day of school....

Well, i have successfully completed the first day of my ph.d. program.....how many more to go- I don't want to know. I 'TAd' my first course this morning, which essentially means I sat through the ANTH intro course and drank coffee. I don't know how well I performed though. It was by far the largest class I've ever been in, bursting at over 300 undergrads, and I definetly stammered around when i had to get up and give my 'cocktail party story' about who i was and what my interests are. As I have never taken an intro-anthro course before I'm sure i will learn alot (for example whether or not i am in the right discipline). What was really interesting though was that a first year stopped me on the way out and was very interested in talking with me about my interests, anthropology, how i got to where i am, and whether i am leading a study abroad trip (he probably has a crush on me, it's the shirt (see photo) {sorry jo}).

After plodding through the furnace-like heat to my first graduate level course, i entered a different world. Well, not really, it was just up the street, and engaging essentially with the same subject, but on a clearly much different level. The foundations of ecological/environmental anthropology course is taught by my advisor, Pete Brosius, who has done his fieldwork among the Penan in malaysia (http://www.anthro.uga.edu/people/pbrosius.html)

The class was interesting, he gave some broad background on anthropology as a discipline from an ecological/environmental perspective, and some perspectives on starting the ph.d. process. This was our first meeting as a cohort, and i'd have to say it was like a middle school dance; no, it wasn't awkward in a gendered way, but in the sense of 'oh, my-these people will become close friends and colleagues over the next X years.....' anyway, so an exciting day, let's see what tommorrow brings.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Not in Kansas anymore.....

Well Toto........

it's a different world down south. My second pre-pre day of school. Reflections: UGA is a very different institution than any I have ever attended. As opposed to a hike up gap mountain, we had an orientation sponsored by verizon wireless, where rubber beer coasters with important academic websites were passed out (something UGA student's couldn't misplace). Unlike Antioch's predominantly crunchy bearded folk (which applies to all genders, and everything in between), there are the air-brushed blondes and abercrombie-beer-can-crushing-on-head student body. Ok, i'm being way too judgemental. maybe. not.

I did register for classes today though....in the lineup is

Foundations of Ecological Anthropology (taught by my advisor)
Human-environment interaction in anthropological perspective from the eighteenth century to the present. (ok that is a horrible description of a class that i think will be extremely interesting)

History of Anthropological thought
The development of anthropological theory. (wow! ditto)

A proseminar (no description)


New Geographies of Conservation

This Graduate Seminar will help to deconstruct nature conservation in contemporary narratives of cultural landscapes. The main goal is to expose graduate students to the current literature on biodiversity conservation and the human predicament. The analyses of classical works on wilderness, of challenges to ideas of an uncommon ground to study the place of humans in nature will help us to construct appropriate descriptors of cultural landscapes with four major pillars: a) cultural reactions and conceptions of nature, b) degradation and restoration cycles of the environment, c) ecological time and footprint, and d) ecological forecasting and geographical scenarios of sustainability.

The first 3 weeks, we will be exposed to theorizing the objectives of nature conservation in a globalized world. We would analyze the metageography of continents to frame conservation scenarios in a North-South vector, with spatialitites of sustainability and transfrontier conservation. We will also identify the constraints of designing protected areas with the idea of wilderness and our definitions of paradise as archetype of the governance of conservation in a central protection scheme. We then construct our narrative for the human dimension of place worth conserving, namely a cultural landscape. The following weeks will bring a dynamic discussion based on students' presentations, and a final videoconference with the main actors of political ecology and conservation science available.

ok, i cheated on that one (don't tell the academci honesty gestapo) and copied it from the instructors course description.

Anyway, so i'm sure it will be interesting. Tommorrow, the pre-pre-pre first day of school, or would that just be one pre as the first is on thursday!, i will be meeting with the professor I am TAing for to discuss tactics for indoctrinating the minds of the young.

Expropriation station

Well.....i hope no one minds, but i found this very interesting description of a trip from new castle to atlanta online. It seems to match our trip amazingly well-so i just copied and pasted it. I hope the author never finds out.

The trip to Atlanta was quite interesting -- and very very hot. I felt like I was at yoga. At least my clothes were as wet as they are after yoga. My body was a little stiffer after sitting in the car for so many hours. We saw Uncle Burt and Aunt Midge for lunch on the way down, and eventually made it to Debbie's for the night. Then off to Atlanta, in the 103 degree weather (and the unairconditioned LHS pulling the U haul it). We saw the apartment which is in a house on a beautiful, quiet, tree-lined street. It should be terrific for David and Jo. It is close to Emory, but Athens and the UGa are FAR away. Not going to be a fun commute for David. Lots and Lots of time in the car -== maybe gift certificates for Audio Books are appropriate birthday presents. Anyway, we got all of the stuff unloaded to a Uhaul storage area, and then went to Charrow's to put the top layer of the wedding cake (and a "new House" chocolate zucchini cake) in her freezer until David and Jo's apartment is ready. David's introduction to Teaching Assistant registration was a little confusing, but he meets with the professor whose course he will be TAing in tomorrow and will get more details re: expectations and what the work will be. I took a bus tour of UGa campus -- could put around 25 Colby's in the space (4 miles from one end to the other). Then David and I headed off to Calloway Gardens, which has many lakes as well as many different types of trees, etc. hiking trails, and a beach on a lake == which was welcome since it was 103 to 104. The next day we went to Warm Springs, and the Little White House, which was FDR's retreat. Very interesting and well worth a trip.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Last photos from Scilles

Here is the link to the last of the photos from the Scilles
this might work, this might not


Last entry before re-entry

Hard to believe that in just two days I will begin the multi-stage return trip, leaving St. Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly for New Castle. It has been quite a trip to date, especially amazing when I remember Jo and I left essentially the day after the incredibly hectic wedding weekend. We have both seen and experienced so much over the last two months. When is it we will finally have a chance to relax? Here are the last of the pics....

Well, considering I am somewhat marooned on a psuedo-tropical island, and acknowledging that life will only become more hectic once we return, I decided to take a day off and enjoy the brief respite from the rain. I took a boat over to the island of Tresco (one of the 5 inhabited islands, and 00’s of uninhabited islets and rocky sea mounts). As part of my research I felt the ‘need’ to go on a wildlife walk with a naturalist, and so was able to pick his brain a little while looking at birds and the exotic plants from all over the world that had been brought over to Tresco (which has a world class outdoor gardens, see posting below). Going on walks with skilled naturalists is such a pleasure, it really makes the world come alive to see someone identify all of the various birds, plants, and insects. Even if I remember the name for only a nanosecond, it is still really amazing to be able to see the islands through someone who really knows about their ecology. It’s interesting, because with the research that I am doing here (on people’s understanding of biodiversity), I realize to what large extent I have become separated from my knowledge/interest in the diversity of the natural world, going on an amazing walk of this kind reminded me of the myriad ways that I value the environment, the various ways that are so hard to put into words, which makes me take pity on my ‘research subjects’ who I relentlessly question, asking them to be more specific about why the environment is beautiful.

The Scilles are an amazing place. The landscape and the people are so dynamic. The flora and fauna are constantly changing, what was last week a bed of purple heath is now magenta studded with gold flowers. The puffins, which draw the tourist in droves, have left for their breeding grounds. The demographics are also constantly changing. In September the family visitors will leave, making way for the ‘twitchers’, strange individuals who fly in from the UK for the day to see rare birds (see below). The communities here are also amazingly close knit, everyone looking out for each other. The Scilles are truly magic, and I can understand why families come back year after year after year (for some this was their 70th season!).

It's a shark...no it;s a twitcher

It’s a shark! No, it’s a twitcher!

The other night I went out ‘sharking’. A friend is doing (or trying to) his master’s research on blue sharks, and how they are affected by changes in ocean water temperature. He was going out on a tagging boat, where they try to catch the sharks, put little metal tags on their fins and release them (much like the sea turtle research I did). It was truly a mini-epic voyage. It was a stormy night (isn’t that how all stories start?), with 15 foot waves and very strong winds. Our 5 ½ hour boat trip took us 9 miles out into the sea (only what 3000 odd more miles and we would have reached home?) The guys started by filling a net with mushed up mackerel they had caught and left in the bottom of the boat for a week to get extra smelly, and than threw that in the sea, bobbing it up and down like a tea bag, trying to tempt the sharks. Unfortunately, we were unlucky on the shark front (we were only looking for small sharks, not the great whites spotted off the Cornish coast).

However, midway through our voyage we spotted a small black bird which darted across the boat. The various passengers went absolutely out of control, jumping, hugging, and kissing each other. The reason-they are twitchers, people who travel from as far as Norway to come on these boat trips in hopes of seeing “rare birds”. This little black bird whose name escapes me (don’t tell them or they’d be outraged) had never before been seen in Britain. SO when they saw it they were excited to say the least, they called the bird hotline, much like the bat signal, text messaged their ‘mates’, and paged all other twitchers; the rest of the night their phones would not cease going off, their pagers beeping and so on, they had set the birding world astorm, and I had no idea, or interest, in what was just observed-not only because it was just a black fleck that was only visible for three seconds, but because, and here is what I think is the strangest part, it is not like the bird is truly rare, or incredibly colorful or exotic, but only rare to Britain, for our North Carolina colleagues they can see thousands of these birds in their backyards, it is just the very very lost bird that somehow manages to show up in England. And so during the month of October, following a certain type of storm that often affects the North East US during that time (they definitely know more about our weather than I do), some birds get lost and end up in England, and with them a stampede of twitchers flies down for the day (now that’s an expensive hobby) to try and catch a glimpse of them before they keel over, knackered to the point of death. What is also interesting about this strange breed of humans is that they’re not particularly interested in the bird per se, it is really more of a weird game where they literally have a list which they are constantly adding to in competition with their mates. As my mom would say, at least it keeps them off the streets (and I would add-and in the air).

Tresco Gardens

Tresco Gardens-

I have been over to the privately owned island of tresco three times in the last two days ‘doing research’. On one of those visits I went to see the renowned Tresco Gardens. The reason these gardens are so famous is that, although in England, they enjoy the Mediterranean climate and constant sun (really?) and so are able to grow plants quite easily from all sorts of other exotic locales. It is quite a beautiful place (I’d have to say longwood is more impressive), filled with plants from south America, south Africa and the Mediterranean. As I was walking along it was virtually impossible not to continuously snap photos of all the incredible plants that I came across. At one point I had to tell myself I wasn’t going to take any more photos, and then I would come across another plant the likes of which I had never seen. Some of these photos I have included in this latest link.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Photo link

sorry, this isn't a very exciting entry, but i didn't include the link to the photos from the Isles of scilly in the last one, so here it is. also, the indian security guard in the photo from the previous entry worked at jo's apartment in jaipur, and for some strange reason really wanted a photo of himself with me before i left for the airport. anyway, cheerio, brilliant, blimey and a host of others as well.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Isles of Scilly

Well, I'm 'enjoying' an unfortunately rainy day here in the Scilles, as in India, the weather defines life here. Although it is slightly different living in an underground bunker where you have no idea what the weather is until you step 'outside'. The weather has been quite tempermental; we haven't had the constant rain and flooding that 'mainland' england has had, but we have had some nasty weather over the last few days. The first week i got here though was gorgeous every day (actually the sun is just coming out again). My time here has been quite like the weather. The first few days the research didn't really seem to be going anywhere, but after that it really picked up, and now halfway through i feel like i could leave and be satisfied with the results.
The scenery is so gorgeous here and conducive to exploring. There are walking trails everywhere, and beautiful cliffsides and turqoise waters (which are nice to snorkel in albeit slightly cold {even in a wetsuit!}. Over the last 2 weeks i have been enjoying biking and running literally around the island, and yesterday i went for the big one and ran the whole way around the island-11 miles! I hadn't been planning on it, but the weather was so nice and the bunker so uninviting that i just decided to go for it.

Stark Contrasts

India is a nation that defies definition; its incredible contrasts are what characterize memories I always revert immediately to. Following last year’s jarring return to the ‘developed’ world, I was somewhat psychologically prepared for the starkly different realities I was about to traverse. Leaving India yesterday (or today technically) was an illustration of that disparity. Beginning with my ‘last meal’ in India, which I enjoyed with my friend Shubra at a fairly upscale Delhi restaurant, I slowly separated myself from the India that I have experienced, joining the queue behind the extremely affluent Western tourists at the airport (who had undoubtedly ‘experienced India’ a different way via the weekend Delhi-Agra-Delhi tourist triangle). As expected, the reality truly sunk in when I landed in Amsterdam’s airport, and boarded a city hopper to London. The airplane was filled with European businessman (and one busineswoman) {and one very smelly tired tourist}. All, aside from me, were dressed immaculately in suits that could easily cost more than…..welll……what a village family will earn in year or two or ten. That was what really struck me- the way these people so effortlessly hopped from city to city to do their business-the culture that they are ensconced in, and the completely separate reality in which they revolve. Of course, the reflective lens has that (un)fortunate tendency to spin, and I am all to aware that my ‘buisness’ is essentially the same at this moment-well, sort of, instead of engineering multimillion euro deals, I will be researching how people internalize/externalize environmental beliefs concerning biodiversity, but regardless of that justification, I am still expending considerable quantities of physically resources as part of an effort to conserve/preserve those resources.

Anyway, ruminations aside. I have successfully reached Penzance (which I finally had to go to the map to locate where it is-it’s the most southwesterly point in England) after a 6 hour bus ride, numerous rickshaws, two international flights, three subway trips (my first time in the Tube) and two different England train trips-all in the space of 48 hours-or something like that with time zones. All that is left before I reach my endpoint is a two hour ferry ride tomorrow to St. Mary’s, Isles of Scilly.

As cheesy as it may sound, I had a really exciting time traveling in the train from London down to Penzance. I have only been to England once before, and that was only for a night layover in Highschool (my two memories-how amazingly green the grass was-even at night, and the McDonald’s veggie burgers). Well, the grass is still green, although I haven’t gotten the chance yet to taste McDonald’s finest. The contrasts I mentioned at the beginning of this entry were so evident as I traveled south towards the coast. The day before I had spent six hours in a bus from Jaipur to Delhi, watching how the desert scenery transformed into the cityscape of Gurgaon, and ultimately Delhi. Today, I watched it in reverse, but with a twist. Leaving the cityscape of London, I traveled through the most beautiful landscape. Perhaps the view is merely shaped in contrast to Rajasthan’s stark desert environment, but the lush grass, trees, wildflowers, creeks, fields…..etc etc etc seemed so unbelievably beautiful, and with the continual England rain- felt right like some strange hybridized illustration of Heathcliffe’s roaming grounds come to vivid life.

Monday, July 9, 2007

A note from Jo....

Hello everyone ! I am finally getting around to a quick post with some photos from a wedding that I and some friends recently attended. One of our teacher’s older sisters was getting married, so she kindly invited all of us (yes, all 50-some students plus our host families. I was told that the guest list exceeded 1000, so I guess we were just a drop in the bucket.) As many of you know, Indian weddings are always a big to-do, and this was no exception. Besides the 1000 guests, there were something like 40 dishes to choose from, served out of temporary stall-like tents set up around the grounds. The bride (of whom I couldn’t get a good picture) was so laden with jewelry and her heavily embroidered sari that she looked like she might fall over, but no injuries were sustained. I got to eat some of my favorite foods, including dahi bada (which we had at our rehearsal dinner, too) and pani puri (a street food snack that normally spells tummy trouble, but is safe to eat in enclosed spaces).

One of these days I’ll take a camera to the Institute so that you can see what my classrooms look like—Dave is heading off for England in just a few days, so I’d better get cracking if it’s going to happen at all. I miss you all so much and can’t believe it’s already mid-July…

Love, Jo

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Recent Wanderings

Well, life has somewhat settled down here in Jaipur (for us at least). Over the last few days the monsoon has really come in full force, turning Jaipur into a fetid river of special surprises (jo got a good taste of it as she ran home through sideways rain yesterday). (The picture to the side is of me indulging in our nightly desert-three mangoes! Usually I end up as I appear in this picture-content and covered in sticky mango yumminess)

We have both been pretty busy. I recently finished a semi-final draft of my thesis, and am now working on another project associated with my job from last semester. Jo is busy, as always, with her language program work. On Thursday I leave for England with mixed emotions. The white sand beaches and turquoise waters of the Isles of Scilly do sound slightly more pleasant than the 'natural' environs of Jaipur, but the company I'm sure will be lacking (Jo is much more engaging than sea gulls, most of the time at least).

Over the last few days we've explored Jaipur on foot, walking, instead of rickshawing, to some of our favorite decadent respites. On Saturday night we went to the Rajmandir cinema, which is considered the most extravagant cinema in India. It was an incredible experience (the movie was absolutely aweful, as most cheesy bollywoods are). The building is a mix between Disneyland and some sort of Frank Gehry meets Salvador Dali meets a pastry chef. The outside is normal enough, but when you enter through the lotus shaped doors the mystical majesty of the inner floyer take your breath away. I have included a photo that sort of adds some illustration to my poor description, but the theater itself was more incredible than it indicates.

It was cavernous, seating at least 600 people. It was decorated like a merangue cake, the walls covered in giant enormous moldings like cake frosting. Luckily it provided me something to look at while i sat dumbly listening to jo's running narration of what was happening in the hindi film (easy enough to follow, dance, romance, dance-the usual).

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


Needing to escape the wicked witch of Jaipur, Jo and I sought out the guidance of the Lonely Planet to help us pick a weekend retreat. We were sold by its description of Udaipur:

Whimsical and serene, surrounded by misty, ochre-shaded hills, Udaipur is Rajasthan’s most romantic city. Intricate, bone white buildings edge Lake Pichola, at the center of which lies the icing on the cake: the extraordinary Lake Palace- by day a wedding confection dreamed up by a feverish imagination, by night a spotlit mothership.
When the monsoon is poor, the lake is left half empty, leaving the Lake Palace sitting in muck. Udaipur is packed with palaces, temples, and havelis, and nowhere better testifies to the Rajput passion for fantastical and fairy tale.

So we were sold-off to Udaipur! However, what seems like a small jaunt on the map necessitated a 12-hour overnight train ride. But our experience there was certainly worth it. I will pepper the lonely planet’s description with my own.

Lake Pichola is amazing, and the entire city of Udaipur is nestled around it. The lake itself is encircled by a ring of hills trying hard to become mountains (upon one rests a 5-story castle which never reached its fifteen story completion). Lake Pichola is a somewhat man-made lake, enlarged by Maharaja Udai Singh II. Although it is 4km long and 3 km wide it still dries up during droughts. Luckily for us the monsoon has just started, and so we witnessed Udaipur and its Lake Palace in all its splendor.

Even more so than the lake, the Lake Palace is Udaipur’s most prominent feature. The Lake Palace completely covers a 1.5 hectare island, Jagniwas islands. Built by the Maharaja in 1754, it was formerly the royal summer palace. Today it is the ultimate in luxury hotels. So ultimate in fact that nonguests are not welcome unless they pony up $50 for a meal (an astronomical sum by Indian standards). As if its architectural splendor wasn’t enough, the palace earned its fame as it was where the James Bond movie “Octopussy” was filmed (don’t ask me, haven’t seen it). In fact, one can watch the movie every night of the week at any number of the million guest houses (see photo).
Udaipur also has a “normal” palace, which Jo and I got a chance to walk around. As this was our vacation we chose to take it pretty relaxed, eating good Indian food, shopping for our new apartment!, and doing some very leisurely site seeing. We also took the opportunity to watch some traditional dances at a cultural show. Besides the marionette who lost its head repeatedly, the highlight of this show was a women’s dance in which every time the dancer went around the room an attendant would put another pot on top of her head (symbolizing the fact that women have to carry numerous pots of water at a time on their heads). By the end of the dance she was wheeling around the room with 11 large pots ontop of her head! They weren’t actually filled with water (and I think they were not terracotta, but magnetic) but still the dance was pretty impressive.

Udaipur did live up to its reviewer’s accolades: it was amazingly romantic. All of the million hotels have rooftop terraces where one can eat dinner and watch the sunset over the mountains, which lights up the lake, and the lake palace in an other worldly glow. Perhaps my most favorite memory from this trip to India has been sitting together on one of these balconies at sunset, the warm light on our faces.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Camel Safari!

My purpose in coming to Jaisalmer was to engage in the essence of desert tourism- the camel safari. Most of these trips last between three and five days (as was the one Jo did a few years ago). However, I had less than 24 hours so I did the abbreviated version.

I started out taking a jeep ride for about two hours through the desert to a small village. The desert surrounding Jaisalmer is most some variety of scrub desert (I'm sure there's a technical name). Most of it is sand (of red, gold, and brown colors) punctuated by small thorny bushes or trees.

The village we stopped at was fairly small, populated by camel drivers and farmers. Their mudstone houses were really interesting looking, seemingly derived from the beginning of the Star Wars movie. It was in the village that I met my camel driver. I had though beforehand that it would be some grisly old man, but instead it was a 13 year-old kid (who did speak some English). Together we rode Andrew the camel for about 3 hours that first afternoon.

For those who are inexperienced, camel riding is an 'interesting' activity. It is not necessarily comfortable (especially when the camel is moving fast towards a leafy bush), but an appropriate way to amble along through the desert. Luckily, the weather was on my side; there had been some rain that morning so it was still overcast and there was no wind (apparently the blistering sun and howling winds are two of the greatest bains of desert life).

The ‘point’ of the camel safari is to take the tourist out of the scrub desert to witness and experience the flowing sand dunes that movies and photos illustrate. On my abbreviated safari I did get the chance to experience this natural wonder, and I now understand why tourist are always clamouring to spend painful days on a farting beast of burden while traipsing through the desert sun.

The landscape is so intriguing. From first appearance one feels surrounded by scrub desert, and then there appears a solitary golden dune in the distance. It seems as if there is some spatial phenomenon at work, because the distances between us and the dune seemed enormous when in reality they were quite close. We would plod towards these ‘distant’ dunes only to reach them in minutes.

The dunes were truly beautiful in a sublime way. Soft, yellow undulating waves of sand, they flowed onwards for a few kilometers and then petered out into the scrub desert. Little scarab beetles would dart back and forth along the sand. We made our camp for the night on the dunes. Hopefully these photos will at least give you an idea of how beautiful the area is:

The best part of the trip for me (wonder where I get this from?) was walking along the dunes (and running down their steep slopes causing sand avalanches, which quickly disappeared as the wind filled them in). After arriving in the afternoon I spend a while plodding (gingerly courtesy of Andrew and his desire for sweet green leaves) along the edges of the dunes. It was so beautiful how all the crests rose and fell. I sat for awhile on the edge of one dune watching how the wind would blow the sand over the edge, or how (opposite to the waves at the beach) the wind would carve the sand out from around my feet. In the morning I awoke as the wind was whipping over me (as I was sleeping on the edge of the dune, see photo). I took advantage of my early morning wake up, and walked along the dunes, enjoying the cool air, dark skies, and absolute quiet (a rare occurrence in India).

Soon, however, the camel driver and Andrew were rearing to go, so we headed off. My young friend informed me (in quite broken English) that he was doubly happy if tourist was happy, and I informed him that if we went and saw some far away dunes I would be doubly happy, making him quadrupley happy (I think he missed my logic)- so off we cantered, making a last brilliant dash to some golden dunes.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Jaisalmer-at last!

After one failed attempt and nearly 25 hours of public transport I finally reached the desert city of Jaisalmer. The last few hours of the overnight bus trip were really amazing. I had fallen asleep on the outskirts of Jaipur, and awoke to the stark deserts of western Rajasthan. Reclining in the bus while watching the desert scenery drift by was quite an experience. Gone were the city slums, replaced by mud houses with thatched roofs. Women with neon saris and men with equally electric turbans dotted the landscape. I arrived on the outskirts of Jaisalmer proper, from where one can get a real perspective of the grandeur of this fantastic fortress (see photos).

Jaislamer has been described as a sand castle, and between the desert surroundings and the sandstone construction, it certainly fits the description. The old city is a mass of narrow streets. The two most amazing parts about Jaisalmer to me were the havelis and the Jain temples. Havelis are essentially old houses. They are unbelievably ornate are decored with incredibly ornate stone latticework. The other highlight were the Jain temples. There are eight of these temples interconnected within the old city. I was absolutely astounded at the detail of the stone carvings. It was really amazing to climb to the top of the hotel and see temples poking out from amongst the old houses. As I have heard so many complaints recently about the overabundance of 'building pictures' (the outrage!) I will leave my description of Jaisalmer at that- an amazingly quaint (albeit tourist infested) sandcastle, filled with Jain temples and ancient mansions, and another palace, ringed by 99 bastions.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Call it traveller's haze

Well, no matter how well things seem planned (especially in india) there almost always seem to be surprises (or growth opportunities). After my 10 hours of waiting for the train in Jodhpur (see preceding entries), I was more than ready to settle into my AC sleeper coach. Following the protocol I had previously developed to negotiate India's enigmatic rail system, I triangulated the 'correct' trains position by asking the station master and two other passengers which train it was that I needed to board. As they all indicated the same train I decided to board it. I was quite surprised to find my berth occupied, but considering it was nearly midnight, and it was such a nice berth, I figured someone had snagged it and so I chose a different one, and promptly fell asleep.

I awoke the next morning around 5 am just as the training was pulling into "the" station. Perfect, I thought, I slept the whole way, and now I'm in Jaisalmer. I asked the attendant who was walking by to make sure this was the station and not the one before it. Extremely befuddled he said that 'no, this is not jaisalmer, but Jaipur'! (I had left Jaipur two days ago and was supposed to be arriving in Jaisalmer). I'm not sure if one can imagine my confusion, after two nights of sleeping in buses and trains, awaking where I started was quite an unsettling shock! The picture above I think captures my foggy state. Quite perturbed I returned to the apartment, and after some coaxing from Jo, decided to buy another bus ticket---to "return" to Jaisalmer that night!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Jodphur-The Blue City

Well, I guess this entry will equal finally caught up. I am still in Jodhpur an still experiementing with different ways of spelling the cities name. Jodphur is known as the 'blue city', although its name apparently means 'land of death'. I like the euphemism they chose to 'repaint' the city. Anyway, the reason Jodphur is known as the blue city is that many of its buildings (especially in the old section of the city) Once again, I have pasted in the link to these photos.

The reason they painted/paint the houses blue began from a caste perspective. The Brahmins (the highest caste) were the only ones allowed to paint their houses blue and did it because-----something with the material used to color the paint was holy (ok, i got lost somewhere in the audio tour). Nowadays, anyone can paint their houses blue (assuming they can find the paint). The other reason for painting the houses blue, which is more interesting, to me, is that people think the color blue is a deterrent to insects, and so they are using it for that purpose.

So, to back up, I took an overnight bus last night....and so am incredibly tired, especially as I wait for my 11:30 pm overnight train departure. I arrived in Jodphur at around six this morning. I had read that a trip to the blue city would not be complete without a 'village safari'. Probl

ematic, I know, but as a pseudo-scholar of community-based tourism, i thought i'd go for it. On the four hour tour (sorry, i just can't tell a lie, it wasn't three and gilligan wasn't there), we visited six villages, most of which were just one house in the middle of a scrub desert. The different houses were quite interesting, and I included several photos from them. The people lived under very "simple" conditions, in mud houses, where they were busy grinding millet (see photo). unfortunately, i didn't get too much more info as my guides english skills left something to be desired. All of the houses were part of the Bornoi sub-caste. This group is particularly interesting, because they believe that nature (trees and animals) are so sacred that they are worth dying for. We went to the site where two hundred years ago the maharaja had tried to chop down some trees. Local women protested, tying themselves to the trees (the origination of the chipko movement!). Unfortunatley, the raj's soldiers cut these women's heads off. As the story goes (I am slightly skeptical), people kept coming, until 363 local villagers had been killed while trying to protect the forest. Now the area is a little park, complete with Peacocks (see photo!).

Two of the other houses we visited were owned by weavers, who showed me their very interesting looms (and unabashedly continually tried to sell me rugs, luckily for me i learned my lesson last year!) (see photos). The last house we visited was owned by a potter. Here in rajasthan, pottery is used quite commonly for drinking vessels as it remains cool. In fact, the roadside lassi (yoghurt smoothie) stands use disposable terra cotta containers for their drinks, which i guess are then simply recycled into clay. This bloke was making these containers, an interesting process i got to watch.

Upon returning to Jodphur, I went up to Meharagangh (sp?) fort. An incredible feat of engineering, it is perched ontop of this rocky outcropping that rises above the old city. It too falls into the impressive ornate fort category, sorry i can't give too much more of an accurate description than that! It is an incredible fort, and was accompanied by an equally incredible walking audio tour of 'international standards' (something Indians are big on proclaiming, often falsely). For me the neatest part of the fort experience was seeing the outer walls and how it had a curvy entrance way (to prevent elephants from gathering full steam when they charged the gates).

After wandering around the fort I weaved my way through the incredibly narrow streets of the old city, at its bluest. It was really pretty, but most so from above where you get a birds eye view of how all the blue coalesces. The rest of the afternoon i have spent sleeping on a park bench, and on the internet, two quite different modalities of being, much in keeping with India. ON to jaisalmer!

City Palace

Still in Jodphur and still playing ketchup (oh what i wouldn't give for some realy heinz and not maggie 'sauce'). In an effort to keep remotely busy I have been taking a few day trips out of the apartments into the wilds of Jaipur. On Saturday I went to visit the City Palace, which is where the current Maharaja of Jaipur is living now (the maharajas were divested of most of their authority when the Indian constitution was created, they are still left with quite sizable holdings though). I have attached the link where you should be able to see the photos. If anyone has problems linking to them please let me know (also you can leave comments to the blog posts if you care to).

The city palace fit into that category of another incredibly ornate structure. I am always absolutely astonished with the quality of the stone carving that Indians have been doing for millenia. The lattice work is so intricate. I found the two neatest elements of the city palace the armory and the gates. Unfortunately, the Maharaja/Indian govt. are very paranoid about letting pictures of century-old armory getting out on the web, so they prohibited photography. Thank goodness, as once of those elephant headresses might have inspired the 'others'. The armory collection was out of control though. The soldiers of Rajasthan are known (throughout India at least) as having been some of the bravest fighters (and best polo players). Part of the reason is probably because of their seriously threatening weaponry. Daggers are a big part of the soldiers outfit, stuck into their cumberbunds. The daggers were incredible, double/triple blades out of damascus steel (like my ring but different). The handles made out of ivory and jade and inlaid with rubies and other gems. Besides the armory, i found the various gates to the palace truly amazing. The outer sides were fairly dull, meant to withstand attack, but the inner side was so artfully decorated it was amazing. My favorite was the peacock door, painted with a peacock feather pattern, and completed by clay peacocks jutting out of the wall. Above the part of the city palace that we were allowed to enter was where the Maharaja of Jaipur is currently living. Pretty posh for someone dethroned (the maharaja of Jodhpur lives in a building that looks like a 3/4 size Taj Mahal!).

Friday, June 22, 2007

Amer Fort

Finally! I broke free of the hold the apartment's air-conditioning has had over me, and escaped to do Amer (Amber) fort, 11 km outside of Jaipur. As I indicated before I have pasted in the link to the photos from my little jaunt. Here it is (I think!) http://www2.snapfish.com/share/p=588221182574842968/l=276784297/g=86844910/otsc=SYE/otsi=SALB

Amber is an amazing site; as you come around the hill your mouth just drops. These forts are a prominent feature of the landscape in Rajasthan. It seems as if all of the hills that flank the city are topped by such architectural monstrosities. They are not monstrosities though, but merely gargantuan, as is the quantity of labor that was/is needed to build/repair them. Some of the photos in the snapfish album show walls that snake out along the hills. These actually completely encircled the valley as far as I could see, creating a Great Wall of China effect. The fort was really impressive. Some would be interested by the amazing paintings that were found under layers of paint and are now being restored. Others would be amazed by the ceiling which were covered in intricate mirrors. I was pretty astounded by their air conditioning system, there was a water source that was scented, and than ran through the fort where it dripped down the walls and evaporated. Pretty impressive! Like all of the forts I have been to, Amber (Amer) was once the home of the Maharaja (a pretty big deal), as such it was extremely ornate.
After exploring Amer I walked a 1 km uphill to see the older fort of Jaigargh (sp?), which was in a slightly more decrepit state. The walk up to Jaigargh was strangely taxing. Although Jaipur is not at anywhere near a significant elevation, i was so out of breath by the time i reached the fort that i almost fell over. Probably the heat. Unfortunately, my current (and following) entries will be lacking, as I should have typed them out when i first got back, and also, the ol' once you've seen one gigantic fort on top of a hill you've seen them all feeling is taking over. Well, I'll leave it to that for now. I'm currently in the city of Jodhpur, twiddling my thumbs as I wait for the train to take me to Jaisalmer. Look out for these entries in the near future!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


Well people might or might not find this exciting, but we certainly did last night. To begin with, we haven't really given too much space to explaining our housing situation, but let's leave it to my assertion that our host mother is 'special' (I had to go back and delete the primary adjectives). A recent example:

Context: We have a small balcony upon which there was/is an unbelievable bee hive of the sort I have never seen before. It is constantly covered with bees who are doing what they do- that is, whatever it is that bees do. So, these bees weren't really a nuiscance, as they were so buys preoccupied with being bees that they never bothered us when we went outside.

Setting: Jo and I and Sara (our housemate) our quietly doing work in our air conditioned room, the lady of the house walks into the room (without knocking) accompanied by the doorman who is carrying a smoldering container of cow shit. Of course, one's first reaction: great, the room was really missing something before, i couldn't figure out what it was, oh right! the smell of burning cow dung!

The Trials and Tribulations of the Doorman: So the matriarch orders the unfortunate doorman outside where she instructs him to hold the smoldering pot under the bees. Of course, the lad gets stung (to which she feigns complete and utter surprise). Then, despite the copious volumes of acrid smoke emanating from the holy dung the bees decide not to leave. So, our protagonist is undeterred, and sends out the doorman once more to the smoldering inferno (this time with a straw broom) instructing him now to alternatively blow on the smoke (with his head next to the hive) and poke at it, he only suceeds in irritating the bees further. At her wits end, the lady of the house provides him with a trowel to knock the bee hive off once and for all. He does this (getting stung some more) and then comes in side.

The Aftermath: For all their altruistic efforts, we were left with a burning pile of cow shit on our balcony, not to mention a swarm of angry bees outside our door. Thankfully our host mother was looking out for our well being. She was so surprised though when the room filled with smoke. How could these indian windows, which are so airtight, let any of the cow shit-smoke in? Impossible! So with a smoky room we were forced to turn of the ac and evacuate. After an hour or so the scene was essentially the same. Jo then took a bucket of water and poured it on the cow dung, effectively closing the saga- or so we thought.
The Aftermath X 2: We awoke to a scene of utter carnage
Bees lay dead in the drain
Sad honey comb abandoned on the ground
and the kicker!
The Bees have already made rapid progress in building another hive.
Good thing they left the cow dung there!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Happy Father's Day!

Hello there all, get off the computer and go wish your father a happy father's day- or alternatifively, if you're like me you can IM him and do so in real time....from India. So today's entry is dedicated to my dad, the ever-inquisitive one. I have been holed up in our Jaipur apartment for the last few days, working away on several projects. My dad indicated that I hsould leave the comfy air-conditioned confines of our desert apartment and head out to explore the city, and so that is what i did. Braving the 110 degree heat I went and explored the old section of Jaipur, known as the pink city for its walls, which are painted that color and glow in the sunset. There are so many interesting sites in Jaipur, the capital of the desert state of Rajasthan.
Like all of India, it is super saturated with history, and that shows itself in everything from archaic forts to incredible ornate temples. On this day I chose to explore Jantar Mantar ( an appropriate choice for Father's Day, especially knowing mine who would have so many questions to ask we would have all dropped from heat stroke). Experimenting with cross-pollinating media sources, you can check out this link which has the pictures from my explorations. To see the pictures try copying and pasting it into your browser: http://www2.snapfish.com/share/p=55161182004133616/l=254584071/g=86844910/otsc=SYE/otsi=SALB Jantar
Anyway, Jantar Mantar is an astronomical/astrological observatory begun by Jai Singh in 1728. At first glance it looks like a collection of mammoth, bizarre sculptures. Each of the numerous instruments provided a specialized function, allowing JaiSing to measure time using the sun (it contains the world's largest sundial, accurate to two seconds!). There were about thirty or so gigantically bizarre instruments/sculptures, each with a specific function, such as measuring the altitude of the sun or the astrological position of such and such. The incredible instruments (in combination with the extreme heat) left me in quite a surreal state-perfect to return to the bustling streets of jaipur.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Himalayan Honeymoon x 2

Well, the himalayan portion of our honeymoon is over, and now we're onto the rest of our lives (sap sap sap). Currently, we are in the simmering 115 degree heat of Jaipur, capital of the desert state of Rajastan. To get away from that heat for a second, i'll tell y'all (practicing my southern drawl) about the last few days of the honeymoon. After our brief stopover in Manali (see last post), we went on a two-day trek up to an 11,000 foot pass (whose name escapes me due to the heat-induced delirium). It was quite an experience. We opted for the non-conventional (depending on one's perspective), and hired a local person to 'act' as a guide. Luckily, Jo was able to speak hindi with him, for he didn't speak any english. the trip up to the pass was pretty difficult to say the least. we ascended about 4,000 vertical feet in probably 4 miles. The 'campsite' was quite interesting as you will see from the snapfish pictures. essentially a few logs with some tarps thrown over them, it provided simple, yet sufficient, accomodations. luckily, they provided plently of blankets, as we had no sleeping bags, and it was not quite so warm as jaipur to say the least. the next morning we hiked up to the pass, and were greeted by outstanding views (see photos). A beautiful penultimate end to our honeymoon. THe actual end was slightly less nice, some mountain tummy troubles and a bumpy sixteen-hour bus ride did little to leave a happy smile on my face-until i reached the hotel. As i mentioned at hte beginning of htis email, we are now in jaipur, jo is settling into her program, and i am finally )err) getting back to my various academic projects. I will try to update the blo g in the next few days, so look out for report backs on the camels and candy-floss colored turbans-
take care-
David and Joesphine

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Himalayan Honeymoon

Greetings from the town of Manali, situated in the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh. We are taking a break to rest our tired bones and catch up on some email.

We arrived in Delhi a week ago, yet have been travelling or on-the-go almost continuously (big surprise). After meeting at the Delhi airport (we took seperate flights, i had spent the night in heathrow while jo took a direct flight) we took a "rest" day, and then an interminable 13 hour taxi ride to the quiet Himalayan town of Naggar, situated on a hill in the Kullu valley, where we have been staying for the last few days.

We have spent our days hiking in the beautiful old-growth deodar forested hills and passing through beautiful villages. The weather is much cooler than the blistering heat of the lowlands, and every day there is a deluge here around three o'clock (luckily we have missed it every day). The nights are cool, and we have been enjoying delicious indian dishes from the roof top restuarant of our hotel. The surrounding villages are very beautiful, and the houses are built from incredibly intricate woodwork (reminiscent of my travels last year).

We will spend another few days in the area, and then head back towards Delhi and then onto Jaipur. Hope everyone is doing well.

Take care,
Jo and Dave