Archive for March, 2009

Jantar Mantar

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

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This is the sundial at the Jantar Mantar, the 18th century observatory in Jaipur. There’s a calculated offset posted every day- (38 minutes on January 21 when I shot this). A tour guide jumps in to explain the whole thing.

“…our watches they may be wrong but this watch cannot be wrong, sir, any season, winter, summer, spring, autumn, we can read the local time, sun time solar time…”

Nothing a rock and a stiff brush can’t fix

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Now that I’ve been home for a few laundry cycles, I’m even more impressed with Indian laundry. The scent of India that hangs most easily on clothes- that faintly barnyard undertone that’s present in even the most industrial, polluted areas- that sweet hay scent is long gone, but I can still smell the Indian laundry service on my clean clothes. It’s an organic smell, more like oats or wallpaper paste than soap. Maybe it’s just laundry starch, but I would have thought that would wash out. All I can say is, everywhere I went clothes came back carefully folded and wrapped in the largest item- usually a pair of jeans- and cleaner and crisper than anyplace I’ve ever done laundry, either self serve or drop-off. In Rishikesh, I saw a guy scrubbing away on one of the stone benches that lines the road from Swarg Ashram to Lakshman Jhula. Nothing a rock and a stiff brush can’t fix.

Line-drying on the Ghats by the Ganges, Varanasi


So Where Is The Damned Waterfall Anyway?

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Note: Later I passed this way with Bergen Moore who had a working odometer, last I saw of him.  The Garur Mandir is 3.3 km from the circle at the east end of the bridge, Lakshman Jhula. The pathway to the small waterfall is just behind the temple, leading up from this sign:

This is just to keep the crowds down.  They must mean inhabited. There’s a little house in past the first rise and nice people living in the woods.


Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

At about 4:30, I rode my fifty-pound rental bike out of Lakshman Jhula looking for the fabled waterfall 3 km out north of town. On the way out I met some friends on foot returning who’d walked for an hour and not found it. I was sure they just hadn’t gone far enough. The Lonely Planet couldn’t be inaccurate, could it? Anyway, I was on a bike, so it seemed easy enough to prove them wrong before sunset. I grossly overestimated the speed of a fifty pound bike, but I still thought I could do it, and happily pedaled off up the road, which winds along about a hundred meters above the Ganges. Half an hour later, I hadn’t found anything that looked like a waterfall or a path to a waterfall except a trickle of water crossing the road at one point. Here I asked two Indian guys on a motorbike, who said it was further on, but why would I want to go there now, when it would be dark soon? It suddenly occured to me they were right- the steep cliffs I was admiring of course meant that it would feel darker sooner, but I didn’t really care because it’s such a beautiful mountain ride.

I pressed on for a bit, then hesitated at the top of a long slow decline, thinking of the return trip without the benefit of multiple gears. In fact, I could picture it, as a guy on a nearly identical bike huffed as he cranked up towards me. Halfway up he had to dismount and walk the rest of the hill. I nodded to him and he nodded back, his face mostly covered by a gray balaclava wrapped in a dingy gold wool scarf. I asked him in Hindi where the waterfall was, and he did a hilarious double-take, nearly dropping his bike. “You speak Hindi!” he said, then he launched into an detailed explanation of where the falls were, plus another larger one further on, all in rapid Hindi. Oddly, though I only barely speak a few phrases of Hindi, I understood him perfectly as he told me the entrance to the path for the first waterfall was behind the temple in the second village I would come to, and about 1km above the road. I should not leave my bike unattended and why the hell did I want to go up there now, when it was almost dark?

Ok, I said. I’ll go tomorrow. I just wanted to see how far it was. I asked his name and what he did. Madan, (which with his accent sounds like Modern) is the puja wallah at the Garur Mandir- the temple by the path to the waterfall. I’m not sure what a puja wallah is- most ceremonies I’ve seen are run by young priests, but I guess in a small temple it’s kind of like the caretaker.

Madan asked if I smoked. I looked down as I said no, and saw that he already had two bidis out, extended towards me. He was crestfallen, actually slouching in response, so I said thanks and took one. He cheered right up as he lit us both up and I took that first weedy puff, ready to enjoy a little headrush and a chat in the mountain air, dismissing the memory of the palm-reader in Jaipur who looked up from my hand with a grave expression and told me I should never smoke. But Madan hopped on his bike and called out, “Jalo!” as he pushed off from the crest where we met, towards Rishikesh, with his smoke sticking out of his mouth.

Well all right then. I scrambled to get on my bike before he was out of sight. Smoke and ride, might as well face up to the contradictions. The saddle is a lot bigger than I’m used to, so I slammed my knee on it in my haste. The Jaipur palm reader, had also told me to take care of my knees- they are my weak spot. I thought about this as I easily overtook Madan. Not terribly worried about the smoking warning, as I can’t really stand it regularly, but point taken.

We rode through a small troop of langurs on the road, who I yelled at to beat it, in Hindi, just to show off and entertain Madan. He scolded me though. “Hanumanji!” he called out, then gestured to the forest reaching up the cliffs on either side of the river. “This Hanuman forest” he said in his first English sentence to me. “These Hanuman friend.”

For the rest of the ride, Madan compared my ‘very nice’ bike to his, which needs 200Rs. of work, which he demonstrated by kicking his pedal loose then back into place. Nearly all of my conversations with locals took this financial swerve towards the end, and this one was pretty gracefully done. I pulled out some cash and stopped him before we parted company, but he refused it with a wave of his hand and rode off to the market. The next day, I found the waterfall and saw him again at the temple. I invited him to take a glass of chai with me, but he said he was going to town again, let’s get it there. We rode a second time, and again he refused to take anything, chai or money. I saw him a couple of times on trips out of town, and he showed me the temple, offered me some sweet coconut that was there for offering, and seemed earnestly unconcerned whether I donated or reciprocated.

The day before I left, I stopped in on him one last time, on my way back from swimming in the Ganges up at Phoolchatti. I went into the temple again and he told me that Garur, the eagle god, is Vishnu’s ride, basically. I asked if he had anything to do with travel in general, since I was flying home in a couple of days. Maybe, he said, but mostly general well-being for me and my family, and possibly some cosmic endorsement for a return trip. If I wanted to leave a donation, Madan promised to offer some chappatis to Garur the next day. Which he must have done because I had an incredibly smooth return flight.