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!

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.