Wind Blown Travels

Wind Blown Travels

Music, bikes, art & puppets with Heather Featherdale

Udaipur, Octopussy and the Elephants!

Udaipur was one of our favorites. It was pretty glam!  Fancier, cleaner, really beautiful, and we splurged for another world class hotel room (oh AC!! Save us!!). It also had an impressive view from the roof of the river, and the famous palace. There was an island with a VERY expensive resort on it - where the James Bond Movie Octopussy was filmed, which made this town particulary famous. But I assume it already had quite the reputation and lovelyness to attract movie makers. 

 
The palace at night

Hotel rooftop... scene for the monkeys dressing as waiters to steel the bear's snacks

 

   
Soggy duck caught smoking!                        This was taken on the walking bridge

 

 
Jagadish Temple

Our introduction to Udaipur was good food in a tiny mom and pop restaurant (they were sooo old they were adorable.. and there were only 2 tables in the house.. and it was ther house!!!). While we were waiting for our food we look out the window and see an elephant walk by!!! But no cameras in hand!! She looked so impressive and amazing walking down the tiny cobblestone city streets. Our time in Udaipur was mainly devoted to filming special restaurant scenes of the puppets on the roof of the hotel with the river in the background. We alo got to check out a puppet maker's shop, we saw two traditional puppet shows, visited the Jagadish Temple and were taken to a special place where the elephants live. I got to hand feed the mom and the baby a couple of bananas. OHHH sweet!!

 
Welcome to the puppet shop!
We film Teddy and Ms Mouse (look in the bottom left corner!) watching the performance of the dancing puppets 

The puppeteer asked my help in getting his P3 visa! He has been invited 2 years in a row to bring his puppets to the New Mexico Folk Market and both years denied visa. I feel lucky to have the mobility to travel where I want as an American.. but it also feels strange... why should this very modest, talented artist be denied entry to the US?

 

 

 

 

The Ride through Rajasthan... on the rabbit fish ...

 

Jodhpur  and  Mt. Abu -  May 2 - May 7
I have begun to lose track of dates. We are passing through places quickly, filming scenes in unique and interesting settings, seeing sights and getting background footage and trying to stay healthy. Jodhpur, Mt. Abu and Udaipur; Thus begins the whirlwind of Rajasthan! The mission for going to Jodhpur is to visit the famous Fort of Mehrangarh one of the biggest forts, and most well stocked museums in India.
    

 

 

The Blue City - Blue is the Brahmin color
 

That looks like a banjo she's playing!

This fort was truly amazing! The art and architecture blew my mind, the old relics of Rajathani's royal past. We stayed in a 500 year old havali - right next to the famous fort. The room we stayed in had multi collared stained glass windows and was decorated like a perfect Rajasthani royal movie set, we decided to shoot a scene where Teddy and Ms Tickle Mouse were introducing Rajasthan while decked out in fancy Rajasthani outfits that we bought in one of the Deity clothing shops from Vridavan. (People put various sized deity figurines on their altars which they dress in flashy, sequined mini clothes traditional to the Rajasthan). 

 

 

 

 

 
The man on the right is displaying a hookah in the museum ( a live display ) for the sake of explaining the uses of opium in the high courts of Rajasthan. You could sit down with him and puff a smoke (just tobacco) to try it out. 
On the right is an elaborate palanquin that used to be carried by 12 men and carried the king and queen.

 

 

In the old days... screens were carved out of rock and clay... look close if you can to the red clay walls on the left.

 

 
 
Mt. Abu

After exploring the fort we moved on, jumped on a train to Mt Abu, on the border between Rajasthan and Gujarat. Mt. Abu was a tourist destination for many people in Gujarat because drinking alcohol is illegal in Gujarat, but not Mt Abu. We arrived just in time for the Summer Festival, which was advertised to have traditional dancing, music, and activities. The activities included a giant tug of war with the whole town, a race for women balancing urns of water on their heads (like the famous Rajasthani dancing called Bhawai which we saw that night).

 

 

Frog rock (left) and (right) Dennis checking out a tree for the baba monkey scene until a local 12 year old walks by and says "snake" and points to the tree.... needless to say we were out of there pretty quickly. 

We were almost interviewed by the news reporters at the festival music performance after being let into the VIP area, but we declined slightly annoyed by all the attention we got just for being white skinned foreigners. White is such a big deal here. Practically every facial product offers skin whitening abilities. Here in the states people are always trying to tan. I guess the grass is always greener.  

Why do people take pictures of us non-stop everywhere we go? Well, we are doing documentary filming, so why not, seems fair. But sometimes people were just plain rude and inconsiderate, interrupting conversations or bombarding our dinner table, laughing and pointing at our clothes, and then for example a group of 5 people each want their own picture while we are visiting a temple where everyone is supposed to be silent. No photos were allowed in the temples.... but Indians ALWAYS had their cell phones and mini cameras ready to take pictures of us while we were in there. They would come up and interview you in silent temples. Baffling. And annoying. One of those cross cultural misunderstandings that lead to thinking things like "Wow! people here are so rude and annoying!!!" People take no hesitation touching you, pushing you, coughing in your face... Then I had a great conversation with some guys who offered their sincere perspectives which helped me a lot. "We want our picture with you because we really like you! Indians really look up to Americans mostly because we have dreams for success like the American is able to acheive. I am a computer programmer in Gujerat and come here on vacation but I sleep outside in the park because I cant afford a hotel. My dream is to move to New York and get a better job. We take our picture with you and its like a positive omen for the future that we are a little bit closer to this dream." We talked with them about religious beliefs and the general questions everyone asks (are you married? do you have kids? what do you do? how much money do you make? how much did you pay for that?...), but I was touched by his sincerity and could relate in the random way that I use certain symbols and events as positive encouraging omens in my life, as silly as they might seem to state them out loud, we all have our methods for personal motivation.

 
 
              Goats!! and Cows!! Everywhere!!!

Women dancing and singing circle songs

  

The bird who lived in our guest house room, making a nest

 

Boys playing cricket.. they all stop and pose when we pull out the camera.

  

Rock houses where the sadus of the lake side Monkey Temple lived. As with most Indian cities, there were many temples in the area, this town was also well known for the Brahma Kumaris Temple, which works with the UN to promote education, equality and preaches the beliefs of all religions.

We also did a puppet show for kids at the boarding school next to our guest house! Yay!!! So fun.

 

Teddy got to meet some of the performers in the Summer Festival performance

 

 

I love this picture... people reeeeally liked that we were walking around with a bear (they kept saying dog) dressed in Rajathani clothes. 

 

We even took Teddy for a bike ride through the middle of town... you can't see very well here.. I usually pull the two strands of fishing line which make the pedals on the mini bike spin and the bears feet, connected with magnets, look like they are pedaling. But here we are on a hill, so I'm intending to try to catch the bear before disaster takes him under the wheels of a moving car!! This was one of my favorite public interactive moments. Who doesn't smile when they see a babu (toy) bear on a bike.

 

 

Pushkar - The Lotus Hand

April 26-May1

Arriving in Pushkar was such a welcomed change to the hot, dry, overcrowded, aggressively demanding merchants and rickshaw drivers. People were a bit more chill here. It is after tourist season in most places we have gone, which makes hotels cheaper, temperatures are hotter, and sometimes the merchants are much more desperate, they pull you off the street into their shop, if they see you looking at something, theny make you look at 20 other things, they offer you chai, they even chase you down the street saying "this is good, why you not like?? Or why you not buy??" In India, I feel like a walking dollar bill. Oh! But the wandering eye is SO inevitable with so much to look at!

 

The name Pushkar - comes from Pushpa - lotus petal and kar - hand, and the legend is that Brahma, who created the universe after he emerged from a lotus flower that grew out of Vishnu's belly button, was fighting a demon to save his children using a lotus flower as a sword. 

Where the flower petals fell, a lake sprung from the ground. This is now one of the most visited holy cities in India for pilgrims to visit to jump in the lake (clean your sins and your skin diseases). Until about 50 years ago the lake had resident crocodiles that sometimes got the swimmers. It was considered a blessing to go that way though… 

 

 

 

 

     

a cow looking for her daily chapati hand out

We filmed every morning from our guest house rooftop, through alleys, on the back of camels. And we even got a singing lesson for Ms. Tickle Mouse inside one of the temples where a group of kids brought us to their "music school" where kids were teaching each other music lessons on harmonium and drums, singing and practicing.  They LOVED the little mouse puppet and wanted us to come back everyday. There were many kids who followed us around town saying "monkey!" or "when you filming more?" they would crowd around when we took out the bear puppet that rode his bike, we even let some of them pull the string, pulling him around town, passed the cows and motorcycles. 

 

 

 

Sonu, the boy in plaid, recognizes us from the second floor of the temple complex and yells "DENNIIIIIIIIIIS!!! COME HERE!!!  COME TO OUR MUSIC CLAAAAAASSSSSS. Sou liked us because we let him pull the puppet on the bike and he helped us direct some of the other kids to follow the bike down the street. Every day they asked "when will we do that again!!!???"

The girls teach each other singing exercises and sing songs while the boys play drums, SO cute, but completely chaotic... :D

 

 

 

On our last day, we hiked up to the top of the tallest hill in town, an hour hike up big stone stairs, passed hungry monkeys that stand as high as my waist, to visit the lovely Saraswati temple. There were about 20 - 30 black/grey languor monkeys hanging out waiting to get handouts of snacks since they sell you little food offerings and incense at the base of the mountain to leave as offerings at the temple. One of these bags of snacks was nearly swiped from my hands by a 3 foot tall grey monkey. He was gorgeous. I instinctively pulled back and hid my offering, but we ended up giving most of our food to the monkeys in the end… rather than leaving it to rot on an altar. We were told that they will steal your water bottles, they know how to take the top off and they gulp down the water right in front of you. The view from the top allowed us to see the whole tiny town. 

 

 

   

from the hilltop temple                                                               Saraswati Temple on the hill

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

And the camels!!

 

Dennis gets a shot with the puppets on a camel ride... they fall off almost every time the camel stands up

 

 

 

 
                          They LOVE rolling in the dirt

 

Romeo and Juliet

They are so cute their smooshy looking faces look like you could cuddle and kiss them... but look closely at their mouths...

grOss. Green, moldy looking teeth and blackish tongue... that can't be healthy :P  

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 20-22: Agra and the Taj Mahal

 

 - 5am arrival at the train station and a motorized rickshaw driver picks us up with a sign that says Htather, he's our most jovial rickshaw driver yet, singing and being quite silly, but saying sorry for some unknown reason every few minutes (for the bumps in the road maybe?). I had trouble with our hotel because it seemed to faintly ( or not so faintly) smell foul like sewage throughout the hotel - probably because of the tiny cesspool gutters on the street with stagnant, putrid water. This is Agra - the city that makes millions of dollars annually on the entrance tickets to it's world heritage sites such as the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. There are about 300,000 residents here and annually they have over 600,000 visitors from around the world. Tickets for Indians are about 20 cents, and for Americans its about $15. Which makes sense. Hard to swallow in the moment when you are so used to spending $4 on hotels and $1 for dinner. Inside the walls of the Taj was the only place in India I have seen yet that had manicured, clean grass, no trash on the ground, and right outside the gates its the cesspool dirty gross again. Couldn't that world heritage site income go into the surrounding town maybe? Makes me sad. Why not make it a better place for everyone instead of some of the people having all of money and tossing the scraps to the beggars outside ankle deep in the putrid water grabbing your arms for donations as you walk by. 

This is a problem everywhere. Its super extreme here though. 

The Taj was gorgeous though. Such a monument of love and obsession - Empereor Shah Jahan in the 17th century had a haram of wives, but his favorite was Mumbad Mahal. She birthed 14 of his children, but apparently died during the birth of the last. He was heartbroken and built the Taj as a mausoleum for her and eventually him, it took 20 years to build, and in his stupor of mourning sadness, his son overthrew him, locked him up in the Agra Fort, where he spent his last 7 years staring across the river at the Taj from behind bars. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 10 - 18 Varanasi

 

April 10 - 18 

We left the south of India on a flight to Varanasi, the city of lights, the oldest city in India, one of the oldest of the world, holy pilgrimage city of ghats on the banks of the Ganges River (ghats are steps leading down the the river's edge). On the way, we had to stop for a 6 hour layover in Delhi, and had the pleasure/alarm of experiencing a sudden monsoon from the large windows of the airport. It was actually leaking through the windows. I wasn't sure if the rains, winds and lightning would delay the flight, but I hoped it would…thankfully it did. Once in Varanasi, we were dropped off in the middle of a confusing chaos of cars and winding streets at 11pm with too much luggage and a difficult 30 minute walk through packed alleys, horns beeping, cow dung, merchants yelling… I might write about this a lot… chaos has been an ongoing challenge in this project, moments when I think… how did I end up here??? ha! But we eventually found a good spot in the town and spent a number of days filming kite flying on rooftops, attended 2 nights of the Hanuman Music Festival-Puja at the Monkey Temple, witnessed the Ganga Aarti ritual on the banks of the river, and went out in the streets with puppets meeting folks, visiting sweet shops, and entertaining a milk man's family. Gopal was our favorite yogurt seller. Always a sweet old-man-smile with a sparkle in his eye with some gem of wisdom in broken english. He told me about the history of Muslim and Hindu conflict in Varanasi that lead to the destruction of most of the very old and sacred temples there. The town's residents rebuilt the temples times 10, building tiny temples everywhere, because that way "they can never destroy them all."  There was a really old bodhi tree growing up through the structure of his building, around the 2 nearby mini Siva and Ganash altars, and was a favorite spot for people to leave offerings of incense, milk candies and coins.  

Varanasi is also a famous place for cremations on the river. There are so many burnings on the Ganges daily, and our guest house was right near one of the burning Ghats where the dead are set afloat and burned on sandelwood planks to unite with the river. I developed a nasty asthmatic cough, the air is so thick and hot it gets hard to breathe.  This is an awesome, but very dirty city. I did not bathe in the Ganges here. I just didn't feel the calling. I admire and respect the dedication and devotion that the people here have for the Ganges and the related deities who are responsible for this river and the resources of their lives and livelihoods, and have been enchanted by watching the elaborate nightly Ganga Aarti rituals where little trays of flowers and candles are sent afloat on the river with prayers and dedications attached. My feeling about this is, though, if you have utmost respect and reverence for this awesome body of water - the Ganges - which has been the source of life to this area for thousands of years, why not clean it? Why fill it with pollution every night? I think my concept of dirty is probably pretty different too. Americans hide our trash. We create mountains more actually, we just choose not to live in it (which I personally prefer…) but we have a disconnect from HOW much we make. We think it just disappears. It usually ends up in SOMEONE'S backyard.

Burning bodies, burning flower offerings on tin foil pie plates, people defecating in the water, and 20 feet away someone is bathing or washing clothes or rinsing their teeth from red nut tobacco chew… next to the floating water bottles, next to the dead birds, next to the boat full of tourists snapping photographs. 

 

 

Boats on the Ganges

 

 

 

Ganga Aarti

 

 

 

Varanasi Water towers filtering water from the river for the town

 

 

 

Gopal the milkman

His family enjoyed the puppets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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