India’s festival of lights has its origins in Hinduism but is really celebrated by everyone. It was wonderful to see our rubbish laden, open guttered and rat infested street sparkle for once. The shopkeepers and residents worked hard to clean everywhere and they rightly took a real pride in the end result, marking the door entrances with ‘rangoli’ patterns and ‘diya’ lamps. In the evenings, the women were dressed in their elegant colourful saris and men in their finest too. They separately formed long queues to get into the temple and afterwards, they paraded down the street and greeted everyone, even us despite our shabby clothes – we felt like the couple of swells of Easter Parade.
Diwali meant a long weekend from work, so we also managed to get away for two days. We went to Mount Abu, the only hill station in Rajasthan . We went to see the awe inspiring 11th century Dilwara temples which were so beautiful that they sent shivers down our spine…alas, no photos were allowed. The town celebrated the festival with lovely park lights, although those were topped by the glorious sunset at the hill station. While there, we also went on a hike into the jungle inhabited by sloth bears and leopards (which kept out of sight). This jungle used to be visited by Rudyard Kipling as a child when he visited his great grandfather who lived there. It clearly inspired him to write The Jungle Book: a sloth bear in Hindi is ‘baloo’ and there was also a true story at the time of a young boy being raised by wolves although that true story did not have such a happy ending.
One point we really didn’t like about Diwali was the firecrackers which, unlike our Western fireworks, produced no colours but made even louder bangs and exploded throughout the night. What made things worse was their impact on the poor street dogs which went even crazier than they usually do with their howling in the night. We actually considered buying a high frequency whistle to help relocate the dogs in typical nimby fashion, but we quickly changed our minds when, looking at a contraption interestingly misspelt “God Repellent”, we decided against it. After all, we need all the help we can get out here! Our resolve to respect the street dogs was strengthened when we made a visit to Animal Aid, a hospital which treats and cares for 500 sick and injured animals and releases them back to the streets once healed. It was an amazing visit filled with both horror and joy. On the one hand, it was shocking to discover how one cow which recently underwent surgery had 20kg of plastic removed from its stomach and how it could not be euthanised despite its intense pain because of the law that cows, being holy, cannot be killed under any circumstances. A different view is taken of buffalo to the extent India is now the largest exporter of beef in the world. There is apparently rampant abuse of animals in the slaughterhouse…so shocking and ironic considering that Animal Aid cannot gently put to sleep a cow which is suffering from its injuries. On the joyful side, we spent some lovely moments feeding injured orphan calves which were recovering to full health.
Our next festive moment was had with our rickshaw driver, Shambhu, who invited us to his housewarming party in a small village 60km from Udaipur. It was our first alcohol free housewarming…and what a nice change it made! We went by bus which took over two hours due to the condition of the roads and which at times felt like a roller coaster as it went over all the bumps along the so called motorway. We felt truly privileged to be at the party and to meet all of Shambhu’s lovely family. Proceedings began with a procession in the street of singers led by a lady in her 80’s on a drum. Prayers continued inside with a priest while the house itself was decorated with ribbons tied to each wall and ceiling in order to spread the positive energy everywhere. We were treated like family and in fact were the only non-family members there. During the day, we ate some delicious dal, pauwa and prashad and, as India is of course the #1 selfie nation on the planet, we spent nearly all of our time having our photos taken! The children were just crazy about selfies but we had breaks to play games and sing songs with them.
Shambu drives us every day back and forth to work. He is such a lovely guy for whom we have lots to thank. Our main gratitude is to keep us alive as driving on the roads is just madness. After a month of living here, we still haven’t figured out which side of the road cars should be driving on as it seems entirely optional. Returning from the office one evening last week, we noticed that a laptop bag was suddenly not in our rickshaw. We figured that it must have rolled out into the street after scrambling over one too many potholes. Shambu quickly turned round and scoured the streets but, filled with thousands of people, there was really no hope of finding it again…until we receive a phone call from a colleague asking us if we had lost a laptop! Some kind soul had handed it into the police and in the bag thankfully was our colleague’s phone number. There are not many places in the world where we would be so lucky. The reunion with the bag was also celebrated by the police who took photos and who will no doubt publish them in their next newsletter.
It sometimes seems like we cannot step out the door of our apartment without coming across a party. This is wedding season, so the festive spirit is especially high. One crazy festival we have seen is the celebration of Muhammad’s birthday. There was a procession of thousands of Muslims all singing and dancing, with some firing guns into the air. We got completely caught up in it while out for a stroll – we were unable to move away from the procession…forwards, backwards or sideways. For the first 10 minutes, we were stunned by the colours and celebrations, but it ended up getting way too loud and crowded for us, so we were in fact really thrilled to escape after an hour of pushing and shoving and piercingly loud music.
Party Antidote – Yoga
We have had hour long yoga lessons every day, Monday to Saturday. We are very clearly the worst in the class, but the postures and exercises are still proving to have a real impact on our flexibility. Positions we could not reach in the first week still cannot be reached…but we are a whole lot closer. It is proving to be both a real work out (in the first 30 minutes) and a great way to focus, breathe and relax (in the last half hour). The teacher and the fellow volunteers who do yoga with us are all very caring and lovely, so it is a real pleasure every day to spend this time with them.
Quick trip to Bombay to meet friends and for a ‘mix’ of things.
See the sights of Udaipur that its tourists come to see.
Complete our work projects and prepare presentations to give to NGO staff.