Sunday, November 6, 2011

Farewell to INDIA

All good things must come to an end and such is the case with Count Down to India. Throughout the course of this blog we have covered a lot of ground (I do not need to recap you can go back and read each glorious entry). To conclude Count Down we are going to cover just a few more points, our India tours and how to “tie” a saree…then it will all be history…

I put the word “tie” in quotations because a more fitting term could be how to “construct” or "dress up in” in a saree or how to “adorn one’s self with” a saree or even how to “drape” a saree, but since I am not that good at putting one on yet, I will suffice it to say, I pretty much “tied” mine. (More on that later)

First, some highlights from our tours as well as some interesting events that took place while in India:
-While in Delhi, India a hospital was bombed. Luckily no one was killed, but several people were injured. We were amazed at the calmness of the people about what seemed like a very big deal to us. When we asked our tour guide in horror if we were in danger, he looked at us with a tranquil, subdued face and said, “It’s no big deal, that was several miles from here.” We pressed for more details of which he had none or did not want to share. He assured us again, “There is no need to worry, everything is just fine.” My husband and I looked at one another and shrugged our shoulders and decided to follow his nonchalant lead. If he wasn’t worried we were not going to either. That proved to be a wise choice as he was right, there was nothing to worry about.  We were safe and we had a remarkable time.
- As if bombings were not enough, there was an earthquake while we were in India as well. This catastrophic event did, unfortunately, claim many lives. The death toll was just above 80 when we left for the states. Again we remained unscathed since the quake happened way up North in the region of Sikkim, near Bangladesh and Nepal, an area we did not visit. Our prayers are still with the people who lost their belongings and loved ones.
-Every day was an amazing tour, whether it was driving the country side or shopping in Bazaars, the India experience is like no other. Of course there are points of interests that should receive an underscore in a land that is truly on big highlight. My favorite topic, if you haven’t guessed, is the Taj Mahal. I will not review all the interesting points about the Taj Mahal (as we have covered it in depth in past installments). I will, however, share some facts that I learned once we finally laid eyes on the awe inspiring monument.
Across the River Yamuna (directly across from the Taj Mahal) remains a foundation that was laid, by Shah Jahan after the completion of the Taj Mahal. It was to be a second shrine built to house his body after death (as the Taj Mahal holds the body of his beloved Mumtaz Mahal). It was to be built of black marble (the Taj Mahal is white Agra marble). Shah Jahan had also planned to have a bridge made of pure gold built connecting both mausoleums. Our tour guide said that if his plans had been allowed to come to fruition, this group of monuments would have rivaled the Great Wall of China in grandeur. Unfortunately, only the foundation was laid and nothing else. Nonetheless,The Taj Mahal still holds ranking as one of the 7 Wonders, but Shah Jahan’s dream would have made it a wonder unrivaled in all the world of “wonders”. Alas, his dreams were thwarted by a devious son who killed all of his own brothers and imprisoned his father to usurp the throne. As a result, Shah Jahan was buried beside his beloved Queen by his devoted daughter in the one and only Taj Mahal.
The view that took our breath away

Back view of the Taj

-The elephant ride was breathtaking. We rode the beautiful beast through the fort (palace) of the young Maharaja of Jaipur, India. The young emperor was spending a restful day at home as denoted by the flag, which flew at half mass if the King was away or full mass if he were at home. The day we rode the elephant the emporer's flag waved high on its pole as we trumped slowly up hill on the back of the elephant. Though sullied by age and weather, the fort was still magnificent to look upon. Sitting on the elephant we could look out and see many rolling hills and the Jaipur country side for miles.
Rolling hills
The Maharaja legacy is a rich one filled with twist and turns but the most recent one happened in April of 2011.  Just before his death, the previous Maharaja adopted his grandson Kumar Padmanabh Singh (the current Maharaja). He had no sons of his own and to keep the royal line intact he took the son of his daughter to be his successor.  

Where the Maharaja lives

The interior of the Maharaja's fort

The young Maharaja was home...see the flag?

Sawai Bhawani Singh, Kumar’s grandfather, was the last "true" Maharaja as he came to the throne before British rule ended when the royal family still held power. Although Kumar's Maharaja-ship is that of just a figure head he does carry on his grandfather’s royal name and lineage and it was a pleasure to experience an elephant ride through his royal kingdom.
Our beautiful elephant
So on to the saree:
As mentioned previously in Count Down, there are two spellings of the word saree (sari) but while in India I saw it consistently spelled saree (so that’s how we will spell it from now on).

Sarees for sale

More sarees for sale
I had so much fun “trying” to learn how to tie my saree the “right way”. Indian shop owners tried to demonstrate it to me and other Americans who purchased their own tried to show me how to wear the saree (they did a worse job than me in some instances). Some Americans who did not feel to be bothered with the task bought themselves “pre-tied” sarees. These user friendly digs had pre-folded fabric and Velcro to hold it in place and it came with a camisole underneath; an all in one neat package. I, however, felt up for the task and wanted to learn the true authenticity of the art of the saree. (You can be the judge of whether I mastered that art or not, but it was certainly a bunch of fun trying)
Note: I must always disclaim myself by assuring our Indian readers that nothing here on Count Down is to make mockery of the traditions or rituals of the people of India but it is in fascination, admiration and appreciation that we attempt to partake in and enjoy those traditions.
Also note that there are numerous ways to drape and fashion the saree based on the occasion and region.  Below I will be using a basic technique (Nivi style) shown to me by a shop owner that incorporates the 7 pleats at the waist.

Me tying my beautiful bright pink saree

Having fun with my saree

Want to see real Indian people wearing and demonstrating the proper way to show off the beautiful saree, check out these videos on you tube.
Now we must say farewell to India for now as we embark on our next journey. Where in the world where will our travels take us next? Europe! This excursion was my husband’s choice. We are booked to leave for Rome late Spring 2012. We will spend most of our trip in Italy, tasting olive oil and smashing grapes (as you know food is our favorite part of every vacation). We will also see the world renowned Sistine Chapel and I hope to gaze at the art work of Michael Angelo. We plan to see the ruins and the Vatican and finally we will trek over to explore another part of the Mediterranean stopping in Athens, Greece to hopefully see with our own eyes the Parthenon. Until then, travel safely and travel smart!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

India Style

Somewhere, right at very end of 80’s, just at the dawn of 1990, there arose an artist named MC Hammer (ie, Stanley Burrell). He introduced to the world “Hammer Pants”. I’m sure at the same time some Indian folk were looking on curiously saying, “Those look just like the pants we’ve been wearing for hundreds of years!” I too, like most kiddies of that era had three or four pair of Hammer’s so called Pants. I was actually a little shocked to hear his admittance on one Oprah show episode, that he, alas, was not the originator of the style, but that he had “borrowed” the idea. Mind you, I was only 10 years old, for crying out loud!  

Since the rise and fall of Mc Hammer and Vanilla Ice and all those celebrities who dawned the popular attire back then, the look has cycled through many times, with such artists as Janet Jackson wearing a pair to the premiere of Why did I get married?, to stores like the United Colors of Benetton Selling them for astronomical prices. I even ran across an athletic attire site that pegs them as the most comfortable pants to work out in. The actual name of this traditional style of clothing, however, is Harem, not Hammer.

Harem pants or Harem trousers originated in India. They can be worn alone or with a pleated skirt over top. Although many people wear the pants the most notable activity for Harem pants is belly dancing. Harem pants are also worn as a part of the Punjabi suit for women. These fancy pants are actually more of a woman’s fashion rather than a man’s look, so it is ironic that Mr. Hammer adopted it. Of course in the Middle East and Turkey these pants are known by various different names and it is more common for males to wear them there.

I took a special hankering for the baggy trousers in 1990 and my love for them was reignited in their very birth place. I bought three pair while in India. They come in an array of colors, prints and solids, as well as different fabrics and textures. They were sold on the street for nothing more than pennies. One “high class” shop sold me a pair for $15.00. The other two pair I bought at a street bazaar for around four or five American dollars. But don’t even ask me to convert to rupees, my husband was charged with that task. I was charged with the task of buying.

Following are several photographs of Harem pants for those who may not be familiar with the style. $20.00 $120.00

 BCBG $113.00

 Belly Dancing Harem Pants

Belly Dancing Harem Pants
The belly dancing Harem pants above were found at for under $30.00
Unlike most souvenirs collected from vacation, the Harem pants are a memory I can actually use. I have worn them several times already and plan to wear them for years to come!
My Very own Harem pants from Jaipur, India

Count Down to India is almost over...check back for a fun and interesting installment and find out where in the world our travels will take us next! Travel safely and travel smart!