Sunday, February 21, 2016

We Stay at a Palace and the Prince Delivers Lunch

Amar Jhoti Singh Dao is the eldest son of the current Maharajah.  Centuries ago, his ancestors were mercenaries who came to India to fight for one of the tribal warlords.  They aided in his victory, and were awarded seven square miles of land and the kingship of this area.  In the early 1500s, construction was begun on this palace.
   The family has lived here for nineteen generations, ruling their kingdom.  When India received independence in 1947, the royal families had to give their land to the new state.  They were allowed, though, to keep their homes and the adjoining land of their estates.  This family had increased its kingdom over the years, and gave up over two thousand square miles.  They kept the palace, a beautiful old building that is slowly decaying.
   There are hundreds of royal families like this one.  Some of them squandered the family money, driving around Europe in Rolls Royces and living a luxurious life.  Other families held on to at least some of their fortunes, but maintaining their palaces and supporting the family and the royal way of life is difficult.

This is Amar Jhoti.  Not too many years ago we would have been required to refer to him as His Highness.  Now, we were told to call him "sir," or "Mr. Singh," or even use his name.  Charllotte, who has known him for a long time, calls him Amarji, a nickname based on his two given names.
   He is a lovely man, humble with a wry sense of humour.  He welcomed us to his home, helped make sure we were comfortable, and gave us a tour of some of the family areas.  Many years ago, his family held a meeting to decide who should be in charge of maintaining the family home.  His father, the current Maharajah, is a politician and lives in Delhi.  Other siblings moved to New York and London.  It was decided that the oldest son would be responsible for the family name and estate.
   I don't think Amar Jhoti had much choice in the matter.  He lives with his wife in Calcutta half the year.  His children are grown now, but they and their children often come to stay at the palace.  The Rani, his mother, sometimes lives at the palace, too.  But maintaining this building is expensive, and like some other royal families, Amar Jhoti has opened much of the palace as a hotel.
  Make no mistake, this man is royalty, and will become Maharajah when his father passes.  When he delivered our lunch, we were at a village a few miles away.  Some of us were watching a demonstration of natural dying, while others were looking through woven items, silk and/or cotton, that were for sale.  As soon as the Prince arrived, the villagers stopped what they were doing and focused on his needs.  We observed, examined some of dye pots more closely, or picked up another beautiful shawl to consider adding it to our collections, while we were abandoned.
  Charllotte brings her India tour group to the palace once a year.  When this started, there were fourteen rooms available.
  Melissa and I had a bedroom, sitting room, and bathroom.

Each room is different, with different furnishings and views, but all are spacious and comfortable.  There is no air conditioning, but ceiling fans help keep the rooms cool.  We used mosquito nets, provided by the palace, at night.

This is the hallway leading to the rooms on the second floor.

Below is the room in which we ate.  It may have been a servants' dining room in the past, because it was next to the kitchen.

Below is one of the sitting rooms.  It holds what Amar Jhoti referred to as, "the elephant in the room."  More than a metaphor, this animal was a rogue, which killed people, until his grandfather shot it.
  The family used to have their own elephants, which were used for transport and estate work.  They still have cattle, and all the yogurt, butter, and other dairy foods we ate came from them.
   There is also a golden retriever named Jack, a fat and happy dog.

The Prince is active among the villages of his kingdom.  He is especially supportive of local culture, encouraging the different forms of artistic expression.  The night we arrived, dance troupes from two villages entertained us.
In these photos, you can see the faded glory of the palace, but there is still beauty and a palpable sense of history.  Paintings and photographs of Dao ancestors are everywhere.  All the items on display or used in everyday life had stories of their own.
  We saw the former audience chamber, where the Maharajah would meet with his people and hear their petitions.  The raised platform where the King sat was later turned into the stage, one of the first places in the area where plays and other entertainments were seen.
   For centuries, the women of the family were kept in purdah, unable to go outside where they might be seen by other people.  Amar Jhoti's grandmother was the first to change this long tradition.  She was active in the British Girl Scouts and in 1935, held a jamboree at the palace.  She insisted that all the guests be free to roam the beautiful gardens.

Amar Jhoti wants to maintain his family's history and its role in the communities, even as he adapts to the changing times.  Our stay was lovely, peaceful and interesting.  Charllotte's is the only group that has stayed here, but other travelers come, tourists, researchers, businessmen and others.  And when they do, they find a piece of ancient India.

Below is a temple, dedicated to the ten incarnations of the god Vishnu.

This is the outside of the private family area.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

mongooses (mongeese?)

I completely forgot, when I was writing about the tent village.  Before arriving, we were warned that there are snakes in the area, but that we would be safe because there are also mongooses, which kill the snakes.  People were naturally concerned about whether the snakes could get into the tents.  "Oh," we were told, "you don't have to worry about that.  But you need to keep all your luggage tightly closed because the mongooses get into suitcases and eat everything."
   Charllotte told us that the mongooses know about suitcases and that there are good things inside them.  These animals are long and narrow, and can squeeze in if a zipper is even slightly open.  They can also use their noses to push zippers further open.  One once got into her suitcase and ate all her Immodium and ExLax.  At least, we all snickered, the animal's digestive system would be balanced.
  Apparently, they will eat just about anything.  Other medications.  Coffee beans and ground coffee.  Toothpaste.  They also chew on fabric.  This last was a big concern, since we have all bought embroideries, woven items, scarves and shawls.  (Even me, I confess.  I know you are all shocked.)
  I was hoping to see a mongoose, but alas, no one did during our time in the desert.


Ludyia Village is a traditional desert village, where the women are known for their embroidery.  Over the last while, the place has ben mentioned in assorted guide books, and so is more touristy than it was, but the people have adapted, making a variety of craft items to sell.

 The homes and clothing are traditional, and Charllotte arranged with an older local woman to tell us about dowry.
  A note about the people who educate us - Charlotte does not like it when tourists visit a place and then repay the inhabitants by buying their cheaply made items.  She calls this "pity buying".  Maiwa functions on the principle that craft is a worthwhile endeavour, and is deserving of payment for both materials and time.  All the people who spend time with us are paid for this time.  The places we visit that offer shawls, printed fabric, jewelry, and other items, give us a chance to buy quality goods made with artistry, but the time we spend with the local people is considered to be at least as valuable, for both them and us, as are the items we buy and the money we leave behind.

This is a typical house.  It's one room, round, with a conic roof, and is about fifteen feet in diameter.  The cooking area is elsewhere, and is communal.  The white thing with a blue frame around a darker square in the first picture is not an oven, as some of us thought, but is a cabinet.

You can see a pile of quilts in the middle picture, and there are more stacked behind the orange fabric hanging in the first photo.  Quilts are brought out at night, and are used as both beds and coverlets.  I asked how many people sleep in a house like this, and was told eight.

The woman talked to us through an interpreter.  She told us that in her time, a dowry consisted of two to four  hand embroidered blouses, and about the same number of quilts, plus assorted jewelry. Nowadays, though, dowries are much larger, and an entire village provides items for the bride-to-be.
  In rural areas, a woman moves to the village of her husband, while men stay at home with their parents and bring their new wife into their home.  A woman's dowry today will include forty or more fabric items, shirts, skirts, other clothing, and quilts, as well as jewelry.
  Here you can see some of the handwork that goes into making an item.

  The two pictures below show a bag.

Here are some members of our group, sitting in awe as the pile of dowry items grows.

Here is some jewelry.  The women in the desert wear large pieces, anklets, bracelets, necklaces, and nose rings.

These are anklets.


A necklace.


The front and back of what might be a nose ring.

The large ring of this item is a nose ring.  It has a beaded strap attacked that can be clipped to hair, to help support its weight.  I have a good picture of our hostess wearing it.  She rolled her eyes when she saw me trying to demonstrate how it's worn, and insisted on putting it on to show me, but I can't publish the picture here.

This is a closeup of part of the home's inner wall, to show the decoration.  The work is all done by hand, and is freehand.

Below is a view through one of the windows  of some quilts hanging outside.

And here are more quilts.  Most are whole-cloth, and quilted by hand with lines of running stitch.

This quilt is one of the few appliqued ones I've seen

Here are some of the items the people had for sale.

Here are some exterior views of the homes.

Everywhere we've been, we are offered a place to sit and some tea.  Sometimes the seat is a cheap plastic chair, sometimes it's a folded quilt on the ground, but we are always made comfortable.  The tea is usually masala chai.  "Masala" means a mix of spices, and"chai" is tea.  There are different masalas, vegetable, for example, which can be used to make soup or a sauce to have on meat.  The tea masalas vary a bit from place to place, but I've enjoyed them all.  Spiced tea is usually served with milk, and sometimes it's already sweet and sometimes I've added a bit of sugar.  First thing in the morning, or later in the day if I have a dusty throat, a sweet milky tea is wonderful.
  Below is how our chai was made in this village.