Saturday, December 29, 2012

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Eve Starlight

In a gap between rain last night, nipping out to sprinkle the Reindeer Dust (a higher percentage of glitter this year - we assume this is to help Santa land in the low-visibility weather conditions we've been having), we noticed that there was a clear patch of sky.

And then the clouds came back...

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Putting the rabbit back together again

When I was an undergraduate some thirteen years ago, we watched an educational video in a "practical" physiology class. The reason it was a video was for animal welfare purposes: by recycling a video made in the seventies, various instructional things could be demonstrated without the need to unnecessarily dissect other critters. Anyway, in this video a much younger version of one of our lecturers took the fluffiest whitest bunny rabbit I had ever seen, anaesthetised it, shaved it, hooked it up to various life-support systems, and opened it up to demonstrate the workings of the contents.

At one point in the proceedings (I think it was at the point the lungs were removed) I had a sudden horrible realisation and turned to my neighbour and said "They're not going to be able to put the bunny back together again, are they?" Until then, I'd been kind of assuming that at the end of the demonstration, everything would be popped back inside the rabbit who would be stitched back together and given a carrot.

Anyway, the concept of not being able to get the bits back in the metaphorical bunny is something I frequently use when describing films. For instance, in The Departed, there comes a moment when you realise that there is no way out for certain characters, and a happy ending is impossible. So next time I'm watching a film and say "I don't think it's going to end well for the bunny", that's what I mean.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Pretty lights

Last night I went and hung around Southbank and Somerset House with Auntie C, and we accosted people with our cameras. She concentrated on people, and I aimed for long-exposure blurs:

My photographic mentor
Next time someone asks me what travel-sickness feels like, the answer is this!
The ghostly skater

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bundi and Beyond

After Karauli, we moved on to Bundi, a rather pretty (and friendly) little town. We stayed in the Bundi Vilas, which had (as we later discovered) amazingly helpful staff. Not only did they leave us in charge of the Rooftop Terrace Anti-Monkey Defence System (a rifle) when they went downstairs to retrieve more gin, but when Tim decided (in the best of colonial traditions) to take to bed with a fever, they arranged the doctor's visit, and offered to let us stay as long as necessary until he was recovered. In the meantime, I explored the town alone.

View from Bundi Palace

Lots of the children only knew the English words "Hello! Photo! One rupee!" but these two girls were polite and just wanted to see their pictures on screen.

Whilst Tim was ill, I made a new friend who fed me chai.

This is what he was working on. Can you see the signature?

...there it is! On the ear-ring.

The artist at work

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Motherlode!

After lunch, back in Bhanwar Vilas Palace one of the family offered to show us around the estate (and guesthouse, and polo ponies with a serious biscuit habit). But first, I went butterfly-hunting. 

I didn't find much in the way of co-operative butterflies (there were some beautiful swallowtails, but they kept their distance. What I did find, was a small hole in the ground which was jam-packed full of TEH CUTE

Mummy (I think)
Wibbly legs
Intrepid Esplorer!

Three curious mongoslings, close enough for me to consider using my macro lens, with mummygoose keeping her distance and wondering when I'd let her back near her babies.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Karauli - not long enough to esplore

The next day, I awoke with my head ringing. Y'see, as we were leaving the Taj Mahal the day before, there had been a loud drumming and a rush of people leaving the river, running into the town waving scarlet-and-gold flags, and carrying an effigy of the goddess Durga riding a tiger. Our guide explained at the time that it was the beginning of Navrati - a nine-day-festival in honour of the goddess's nine incarnations, and people would celebrate by chanting and fasting. And boy, did they chant! I had fallen asleep with the sound from the local temple ringing in my ears, which began to suffer auditory hallucinations. After a few hours the chanting had morphed into Guy Pearce singing "I Don't Care if the Sun Don't Shine" from Priscilla, briefly flirted with being "Old King Cole", before settling back to Priscilla for the rest of the holiday.

Flutterbys, roosting

See the lack of tail. On an unrelated note, I have a lovely peacock feather collection now.
Mongoose! Carrying a beetle.
Painted Pheasant (a pet).
After an early morning mongoose-and-peacock-hunt (also squirrels: did I mention the squirrels?),  and breakfast, we walked into town with one of the estate staff as a guide. It was the morning, and quite a lot of children were on their way to school, and were all eager to be photographed and look at their picture on the screen. And it wasn't just the children - this woman (in the yellow and pink sari) came running over waving and smiling and asking me to photograph her and her child and friends:

The sari across the face is for protection from dust and sun.

A temple
Before we saw the palace, our guide declared that it was prayer-time, and proceeded to give us a tour of his local temple whilst simultaneously making his devotions, which was quite nice, although we were a source of much fascination and distraction to the small clusters of children who were supposed to be attending to whatever is the Hindu equivalent of "Sunday School".

Of the three palaces we saw in India, Karauli is the one I would most recommend. Because it's off the beaten tourist path, we had it all to ourselves and were able to see everything. No room was off-limits - from the rooftop view to the maharani's bat-haunted swimming-pool in the basement (out of sight of any men), we were taken anywhere we wanted. And the guide worked at the palace and was able to point out all the little details, such as the hundreds of holes in the courtyard floor which were actually fountains, and similar water-jets were built into pillars, to spray woven-grass curtains and act as air-conditioning. Sadly, the palace was badly neglected after the dismantlement of the British Raj, and much of the gold-leaf artwork and gold-and-silver foil-backed glass has been looted - not to mention (according to our guide) a fire in the 1970s which saw the loss of the store-room where all the tiger-skins and silks were kept - but it's still a wonderful building.

Maharani-eye-view of the audience chamber. She could see out, but was veiled by the stone latticework.
View from the palace
The current palace inhabitants
Wall-painting of a battle. Note the gunner on the left...
...that's right! It was an equal-opportunities army then!
Karauli camel. Sneering. It's what camels do.

Levitation in Agra

To leave Delhi, we joined the throng of other Western tourists and took an early train to Agra and the Taj Mahal. Everyone has seen pictures, but these don't do justice to the layout of the complex - the symmetry of the first giant courtyard, all stone and gravel and earth, the red sandstone walls with the heat pouring off, and the way that as you walk through the baking hot archway suddenly there are gardens beneath you and there is a cool whiteness with water and green grass, and the pinkish-white Taj Mahal seeming to float in a milky-blue sky on the horizon line.

Like I said, there is no way a photograph could capture all this, so I took the obligatory shot, taken through a lull in the crowds. 

In Agra, we were reunited with Raj, our driver from Delhi, and he took us on to Karauli, a lovely little town where we stayed in the Bhanwar Vilas Palace. This place has History. In the 1930s, the local royal family decided to move out of the 600-700-year-old palace, so built themselves a small* out-of-town place which the family now run as a hotel/guesthouse - as well as being local MPs, providing a free school and medical centre for the town, overseeing the restoration work at the palace, managing the conservation of the nearby wildlife sanctuary, organising a co-operative of needlework and other handicrafts amongst the local women, and of course generally managing the estate and farm which is the source of most of the food we ate. When we arrived, the son of the current Maharaja, a direct descendant of Lord Krishna, was directing the eviction of a mongoose from the dining room. I somehow felt that I would like this place.

Peacock moulting season!

*"Small" as in "Downton Abbey in India" small. It easily absorbed a couple of coachloads of Austrians while we were there, and we hardly saw them.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Quantum Delhi

I found Delhi a weird place. Not as bad as the friend who said "If you find anywhere nice in Delhi, then you're not in Delhi any more" had led me to expect, but odd. It felt like two cities inhabiting the same point in the space-time continuum, but slightly out of phase with each other. One city is one of the wealthiest in the world, full of consumerism, high property prices, obligatory car ownership, middle-class aspirations, brand names, western clothing and shopping mall culture; the other city is a city of beggars, roadside shanties and people defecating in the street. And of course in the middle of all this there are ancient monuments and buildings such as can be found in any large city with sufficient history.

Government employees on the way to work. Srsly: the monkey is a "pest controller".

We were treated to a whistle-stop tour of the city, and saw the points that all the tourists have to see, and had a bicycle rickshaw ride, and all that. I had cunningly arranged my wardrobe such that I would be respectable and decent for the Jama Mosque, but I was still required to don a floral hospital gown over my clothing - despite the fact that my clothing was longer and hanging out of the gown. Our guide Manjit (a former Surrey cricketer) apologised and explained that this was a recent requirement - ever since a group of Australians decided to strip off for a photoshoot in the mosque, all women not wearing traditional dress are made to wear the Gown of Shame. Thanks Oz.

Qutub Minar

I quite liked Humayun's Tomb - partly because it is an impressive piece of architecture, but mostly because there was a family of kites I could watch goofing around together as they tried to build a nest.