...and the sari stayed on!
19.10.2010 - 05.11.2010 30 °C
Back in Incredible India! This is my 4th trip in 2 years and it's a very different visit for me, being shorter and more socially-driven. With sightseeing not being a focus, I’m finding it a very relaxed trip so far.
I arrived ridiculously late on the 19th of October with a mission. Find the perfect sari for the Canadian High Commission’s biggest social event of the year – the Thanksgiving Ball. This would be my first attempt at wearing the fantastically beautiful garment that Indian women wear so easily and gracefully throughout the country. While men in India have largely adopted western attire, many women still wear the sari. Tied in different ways depending on regional areas and traditions, and made of a variety of fabrics and colours. Sparkled, painted, patterned and plain, the women add an incredible array of colour to the landscape in India. Whether walking the streets of the bustling cities and markets, working on the roads, construction sites, fields or home, it is done with incredible grace and beauty in the sari.
So... all of you who know me, can understand my nervousness at doing the same – grace and beauty not being the first 2 adjectives that come to mind! Still, I don’t often let fear stop me from trying something new. So, off to Sarojini Nagar to shop with Sabrina, my friend Lynn’s housekeeper. This sped things up considerably, since she was able to quickly tell if the shop didn’t have the very specific colour I had in mind and I didn’t have to spend 20 minutes as shopkeepers pulled out every colour and fabric type completely opposite to my requests, all the while nodding and assuring me they did indeed have that colour/fabric… “one moment madame”... before ultimately throwing their hands up in frustration at the foreigner who quite obviously didn’t know how to pick the right colour/fabric for the sari she wanted to wear.
So that was Wednesday. Thursday saw me heading to SouthEx and Ahujason’s to pick up a shawl for cooler Rajasthan nights, as I was heading to the parks on the following Monday. Then the embassy to get my guest pass set up and of course Hanuman Mandir, to my favourite bangle stall, to get the bangles to complete the ball outfit. After a Friday at the spa, a stop at Mr. Mogha’s in the Meridien to pick up some suitably sparkly rings, Lynn and I were off to a pre-Diwali party hosted by an embassy client.
On Saturday, we went to DLF mall and the Inglot store to have our make up done. As someone who prefers a more natural look with make-up (read too lazy to deal with cosmetics), I was a bit leary but figured I could always wash it off and start again. I was in luck – the young man who worked on me was an artist! Using colours I never would have picked in a million years. I think that I must keep him with me wherever I go from now on, the results were almost unrecognizable.
Wrapping a sari seems so complicated and precise, but the lady who came by to wrap us made it seem so simple and I was bundled up in a matter of minutes. Panic started to set in tho when I realized that she put in only 2 safety pins – one at the shoulder and one to keep the front pleats together. I kept asking if I should put more pins in, like every inch or so, only to be reassured that it wasn’t necessary! Oh boy!
All done up and off to the High Commissioner’s house, where the ball is hosted. So beautiful! The tables were set up throughout the garden, fairy lights strung through the trees, the air warm and sultry. And to top it all off, a full moon pushed valiantly through the Delhi smog to add a glow to the glittering guests. Of course, a complete turkey dinner crowned the evening. We danced and laughed till 1, then moved to the Taj’s nightclub and finally a house party in Vasant Vihar. Back home at 5am, feet a tad sore, but sari still securely on! Major mishaps avoided and what a fantastic night.
Sunday was spent doing absolutely nothing, resting up before heading out on Monday for a wildlife fix. This time of year starts off a bird migration period in India, so I was excited to visit the UNESCO park, Keoladeo Ghana National Park. Had a comical drive from Delhi, with a driver who couldn’t seem to go anywhere without getting lost, even with specific instructions. He had a seemingly uncontrollable urge to take “short-cuts”, whether he’d done it before or not/ whether it was shorter or not/ and whether it was even heading in the right direction or not. Funny… after the fact!
We stayed at a wonderful lodge, run by a highly respected Indian birder, The Bagh. It was set in a 4-hectare former royal orchard and was so lush and filled with trees that you often couldn’t see beyond the next building. The naturalist provided by the lodge, Mr. Rajveer Singh, was similarily exceptional.
I love the wilder areas of India, and look forward to exploring them, but in most cases, the naturalists are not of a dependably high calibre. So, I decided to hedge my bets and try something new – I hired my own naturalist/guide for this trip. It made such a difference. Rajveer was unexpectedly great, but Sarkiska guides were what I have come to expect. Mr. CV Singh, from Udaipur, is one of only 2 exceptional naturalists I’ve been lucky enought to travel with in my many park visits within India. Luckily for me he began private guiding this year and he immeasurably improved my experience on this trip. In addition to the wildlife aspect, I was able to experience places, foods and insights that I would have completely missed out on without his wonderful company. Helped with our direction-challenged driver too! He was similarily impressed with Rajveer, which says a lot more than my good opinion.
Keoladeo is a relatively small 29 sq km sanctuary made from diverted water by a former Maharaja’s desire to have a ready hunting ground. There is a plaque in the park, which highlights the shooting successes of that bygone time. For a duck, not so much a success. One listing, in November 1938 saw over 4000 ducks shot in a single day.
The area constantly battles to gain access to water these days, which needs to be diverted from a nearby dam. Competition from local farmers and villagers and the highly unpredictable monsoon rains make the park’s water levels virtually non-existant some years, putting the UNESCO designation at risk. Luckily this year the park has water and was lush and green, but the last few years has seen the park dry, which has greatly damaged this important bird breeding ground.
With no motorized vehicles allowed in Kaleodeo, we actually got to walk most of the time, which was such a treat! Can also rent bikes to explore. How wonderful to walk through your safaris. The big excitement in the park while we were there was the tiger! Yep, you heard right! A tiger had wandered over from Ranthambore national park and settled into one of the areas. Must have seemed like paradise to him – loads of deer and antelope, and no other competition! It really was all everyone could talk about. At one point, CV planted some pugmarks on the side of a path to add to the excitement. I knew that’s how those pugmarks got there in all those parks I visited without seeing a tiger! Hah!
So a wonderful 2 days in this park, with loads of birds, massive turtles and the lizard, and we were off to Sariska Tiger Reserve a few hours away. Our driver had received detailed, direct instructions on how to reach the Alwar Bagh resort, so of course we went another way… and got lost…
Alwar Bagh was a lovely, family-run hotel and our hosts were so welcoming. The resort is adding a new more luxurious building, built of beautiful pink sandstone, so the resort was quite empty with construction to be completed this month. Lovely peaceful grounds to relax during the afternoon and have evening drinks, filled with trees and surrounded by the Aravelli hills. A bit of a trek to the park (about 30 min drive) but didn’t become tiring as we feared it might.
Sariska – wow! This park is so beautiful. From the towering, stark Aravellis hills and cliffs; the brilliant greens of dense, old-growth forests; plentiful water holes, streams and lakes; and patches of open grasslands. The beauty of simply driving through it was spectacular.
This park is wonderfully quiet and less travelled, which I loved. Sadly farming and cattle are strewn through the park as well, which doesn’t bode well for its future ecology. After being wiped out a few years back, there are now 5 tigers reintroduced into the park. The absense of tigers helped to make the population of leopards high, and there were pugmarks everywhere. We had a dramatic tracking one evening, following the warning calls of sambar, chital and langurs, accompanied by the very loud growls and calls of a leopard. It seemed only a few feet away hiding in the dense vegetation, but unfortunately remained hidden from us.
Lots of animal action here, but no big cat sightings. Tho did have a beautiful sighting of a jungle cat as were racing out of the park at the end of the last day. Also had a dramatic face-off between 3 Indian mongooses – is that mongeese? – and red-wattled lapwings as they searched for eggs for dinner. Also had a fab sighting of an Indian hare – but missed the shot! followed by the comment that I’d never get a chance like that again :-S Had such a wonderful time on this trip, and loved, loved, loved this park. Oh yeah, and I finally learned to eat curry and rice with my hand! sort of...
Sadly this adventure closed, it was back to Delhi for the Halloween party and to relax with friends before heading out to Sri Lanka for the Diwali weekend.