Let’s Hear it for the Driver

“India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable and most astrictive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only!” Mark Twain

Our 1,122 mile road trip through Rajasthan, India, last year wouldn’t have been possible or remotely enjoyable if it weren’t for this man, Rejender Singh. He was the man behind the wheel, so to speak, our driver for 14 days, covering seven cities.

On the Road in Rajasthan

Of course, we visited many incredible, iconic temples, forts, palaces and museums along our route. The architectural legacy of the maharajas is this state’s signature attraction. Udaipur, Jodhpur, Pushkar, Mandawa, Samode, Jaipur, and then to Agra. There are plenty of large bus tours, but that isn’t out travel style. Having a personal driver and the use of local guides made our trip more flexible. And, having the same driver the entire time allowed for more opportunities to engage in cultural exchanges with each other that went beyond just pleasantries. We couldn’t have been matched to a better driver, and for two weeks you wouldn’t want to have a bad experience. Our personalities and travel styles clicked.

Driving through the cities and the rural roads takes skill, experience, and even guts. It also requires an emphasis on safety. Rejender has all that. He has been driving for over 25 years with this travel company. That says a lot. Knowing that we are passionate about photography, he would pull off for us to see something he thought appealing or would go back if we mentioned something we just saw. He is patient, knowledgeable and has a sense of humor. He also realized we have a sense of adventure.

Upgrading our mode of transport from a Tata to an Air-conditioned SUV Toyota made for a comfortable journey that was well worth the investment.

This wasn’t a trip for dozing off. There was always something of interest to capture our attention while driving through the countryside. A way of life. Long, windy, dusty roads, past small villages with their open air markets and women in their colorful saris.

Unexpectedly, we came upon a parade of villagers in route to a holy festival nearby. They looked somber, but this young lady greeted us with a smile.

On the Road in Rajasthan On the Road in Rajasthan

 

Rejender is an opportunist, and when he saw a man by his well, pumping water by using his oxen to turn the wheel, he stopped for us to see it and to make sure I got a chance behind the oxen. The water was being pumped under the road to irrigate a sugar cane field.

On the Road in Rajasthan     On the Road in Rajasthan

I loved the colorful trucks everywhere, but some were overloaded. See what happens. I hope the driver wasn’t terribly hurt.

On the Road in Rajasthan

On the Road in Rajasthan

On the Road in Rajasthan       On the Road in Rajasthan

Time to get the milk to market.

On the Road in Rajasthan

Road blocks are opportunities to stretch one’s legs as Ron is doing while waiting for a rather long train to pass by.

On the Road in Rajasthan

Sheep are just a way of life and also have to use the roads. Goats, too. Cows, too.

Trucks laden with marble. There are many quarries and the stone is an abundant building material.

On the Road in Rajasthan

We notice brick kilns dotting the landscape.

On the Road in Rajasthan

Another opportunity to stretch our legs. Our first encounter with a camel driver surrounded by wheat fields and another one loaded down.

On the Road in RajasthanOn the Road in Rajasthan

Farm trucks are interestingly home made.

On the Road in Rajasthan

This part of the drive was horrendous, but it was our only way to get to Mandawa. Due to unexpected road construction, the ride took much longer, and Rejender was quite tired when we finally arrived. Many trucks and machinery on the road including tons of red Massey Ferguson tractors.

On the Road in Rajasthan

I loved the arid Aravilli Hills, rocky mountainsides and ridges, including terrain that is harsh and barren. Pushkar is remote and we climbed a mountain pass to get there. Rejender is cautious as we go around the curves, but he seems to have a sixth sense when it comes to driving.

On the Road in Rajasthan

It was a treat to wind up a narrow road to get a glimpse of a lake.

On the Road in Rajasthan

Part of a driver’s time is not driving, but waiting. Here Rejender waits for us to finish touring the Panna Meena stepwell near Jaipur. Regardless of the dust and grime that covered the SUV each day, Rejender somehow wiped it down during his wait time and polished it spotless after each day’s driving. He also made sure the cooler was full of bottled water.

On the Road in Rajasthan

Working with Dream Vacation Pvt.Ltd., to customize an itinerary for us, was also rewarding. Ron had worked with them the year before while planning a trip to Kumba Mela. The team made sure our 50th wedding anniversary trip would be of the best quality and it was. Our thanks to Sudip Sen and Sanjeev Mehra, owners of the company, who came to our hotel in New Delhi to meet us. They referred to us as “the golden couple”. These men had planned our 26 day itinerary, which included Mumbai, New Delhi, Kerala, Munnar, and coordinated all the in-country flights, our overnight train ride to Varanasi, and of course, the details of our memorable road trip. Thank you, gentlemen.

And, let’s hear it for Rejender.

“So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his rounds. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked.” Mark Twain

 

 

 

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Saris in the Breeze

“It is the lives we encounter that make life worth living.”  ~
Guy de Maupassant

Saris in the Breeze, Udaipur, India

Standing on the raised platform of the ancient Sas-Bah temple at Nagda in Rajasthan, we looked once more at the barren landscape in the distance. We noticed a procession of women in colorful saris walking single file toward an area dotted with palm trees. Why? What were they doing? Where could they possibly be going? No crops in the field to harvest. No buildings around. We asked our guide. He wasn’t sure. Our curiosity was too great to just let this cultural moment flutter away in the breeze like the image of their saris. We asked him if he would take us to them.

“No! I won’t escort you. It would be better for you to go yourself. Just walk down that dirt road and you will come to a path, and then you can catch up with them.”

After a check with our driver and the time constraints we were under, it was agreed we could go. “Just don’t take too long,” they reminded.

Our escort would be little children that appeared instantly, hands out, smiling and saying, “ten rupee.” One little boy handed me a yellow dandelion. Getting to the path required us to climb over a crude rock wall, overgrown with vines and brambles. Ron first, then holding my camera and hand, I climbed over while holding my skirt up. Giggles from the children.

Once on the path, we realize we are intruding on a couple of women who are cooking on an open fire. No house, few belongings. We smile, bow and say, “namaste.”

Rushing to catch up with the procession was my priority, while not stumbling over rocks and twisting an ankle. There was already blood dripping down my leg from scratches encountered climbing over the wall.

Those at the end of the procession now see us and stop. The others slow down, turn, and just watch these crazy people approach.

What a moment. A mixture of shyness, smiles, cautiousness, curiosity and perplexity among the group.

Saris in the Breeze, Udaipur, India

Some gather with Ron and others around me. We ask if anyone can speak English and a few laugh. I point to women with gray hair and point to my gray hair and call them Mama and Grandmother and jester to myself. They seem to know what I mean and banter with each other. The group relaxes.

We ask to take photos and many allow us. A few are still cautious. I respect that.

And then, on cue, the women once again get in their processional and leave us to ponder the same questions we had originally.

Saris in the Breeze, Udaipur, India

Was this a religious ritual? Was it an observance to pay respects to the recently departed?

As we watched them leave, they began singing. It was solemn and spiritual.

They carried no babies, no food, and no water. No small children accompanied them. They were taking time out from their domestic responsibilities. Obviously, these women were bonded and committed to something of meaning to them. Hindu traditions and social identities are complex, and I knew we had witnessed something special.

Women, dressed in their finest saris, fluttering in the breeze.

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Enigma, Spirals and Salvador Dali

Salvadore Dali MuseumThe new Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, was intentionally designed to reflect the mind of Dali.

A walk up the spiral staircase isn’t just a means to get from one floor to another. It was created to emphasize Dali’s obsession with the double helical shape of the DNA molecule. To him, the very basis of life would prove to be spiral. His art would reflect this principal. Note how the concrete spiral continues upward beyond the stairs representing Dali’s thoughts on infinity.

Salvadore Dali Museum

Once on the third floor, you are now in an area that erupts into a large free-form geodesic glass bubble known as the “Enigma” named after a 1929 Dali painting. Made up of 1,062 triangular glass panels it opens the museum to the bay and sky while forming an atrium roof that draws in natural daylight. This is the first use of this type of free-form geodesic geometry in the United States and no two glass panels are alike. Amazing.

Salvadore Dali Museum

It’s a photographer’s play house. Angles. Shadows. Shapes.

Looking out at the beautiful bay is the Mathematical Garden which allows students and visitors to experience the relationship between math and nature. Also, there is a labyrinth or maze in the southeast corner which invites exploration.

Salvadore Dali Museum

The building itself is known as the right-angled Euclidean “treasure box” because of Dali’s fixation with geometry. The architects also had their own requirements. Build a museum that would withstand a category 5 hurricane, hence the thick concrete walls and industrial shape look from the exterior.

Salvadore Dali Museum

Internationally recognized architect Yann Weymouth, who also served as chief of design for I.M. Pei for both the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and for the Grand Louvre in Paris was responsible for this fantastical and surrealistic design for the HOK architect firm.

The gift shop is a destination in itself. The Rainy Day Taxi is a Rolls Royce with a diver behind the wheel as he is covered with water. One can’t help but notice the praying mantis and colorful Dali umbrellas suspended from the ceiling.

This museum houses the most comprehensive collection of Dali’s art outside of Spain.

We planned this trip in December to coincide with the special Picasso exhibit entitled, Two Legends Side by Side.

Even though the work by these two artists was thematically grouped, Picasso’s art was dwarfed by the magnitude of the Dali collection. However, the self-guided audio tour provided much detail into the mind and art of these two unique men. We weren’t able to take photos in the combined gallery, but were able to in the main Dali gallery.

Docent-led tours are educational and entertaining. This woman was decorated for the part.

Salvadore Dali Museum

I know very little of Dali’s background, but I learned that he incorporated Euclid’s math into some of his art. Known as the Golden Ratio or what photographers call the rule of thirds, he found this pleasing in art and represented the natural world, like the grouping of seeds in the common sunflower, an ordered and methodical arrangement which he felt is very appealing to our human eyes. The Sacrament of the Last Supper hanging in our National Gallery is a good example of mathematical structure.

Dali, one of the most famous Surrealist artists, was known for his wild art and public personality to match. He once said, “It is not necessary of the public to know whether I am joking or whether I am serious, just as it is not necessary for me to know it myself.”

The Surrealist art movement opened the doors to a style of art that the world had never before seen. Odd techniques were used to paint and interpret images of the subconscious and the dream world to bring metaphor and meaning to their work.

During the 1930’s his style of surrealism is depicted in:

Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in Their Arm the Skins of an Orchestra

Salvadore Dali Museum

Dali and his wife Gala fled war-torn Europe and lived in the US from 1940-1948. It was during this period that he no longer considered himself a surrealist. Instead, he turned to classical art and realism. His oil on canvas, Eucharistic Still Life painted in 1952 shows his interest in the Renaissance. This piece I could understand.

Salvadore Dali Museum

In 1931, he painted his most famous painting, The Persistence of Memory which illustrates melting watches. However between 1952 and 1954 he painted The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. He said he was inspired one hot day while working in his studio when he noticed some runny Camembert cheese.

Salvadore Dali Museum

It is not clear why these melting watches are so startling and memorable, but they do suggest several powerful associations. According to art analysts, they illustrate how time can be fluid, as in a dream. But a more essential and threatening association concerns our dependence upon clocks. The world runs by the clock – scheduling events is essential for life to function normally. If clocks melt, time becomes meaningless, and there is no way to control activities, leading to chaos.

Reacting to the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Dali began to focus on religious themes. In the early 1950’s he referred to his work as the principles of Nuclear Mysticism. He wanted to reanimate his art with spirituality as can be seen in the following. But, of course, he drew himself into the picture.

Salvadore Dali Museum

One of a number of large paintings Dali completed in this era was The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus which stands a massive 14 feet tall by 9 feet wide. The painting was commissioned by Huntington Hartford, an American businessman, who was heir to the A&P Supermarket, for the opening of his museum, Gallery of Modern Art, in New York. The museum was located on Columbus circle, hence the inspiration for the subject of the painting. As a devout Roman Catholic, Dali portrayed Columbus as the Christian savior, bringing the true church and salvation to the new world.

Salvadore Dali Museum

In the 1960’s Dali experimented with Pop and Op Art, as well as Abstract Expressionism, which eventually led him to creating holographs during the 1970’s.

Can you make out Abraham Lincoln’s profile in the following?

Salvadore Dali Museum

We are so glad we visited this museum which is located only a couple of hours away from us, making return trips easy to do in one day. It is on Florida’s Top Attraction’s list and I can see why.

“Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure – that of being Salvador Dali.” ~ Salvador Dali  

 1904 – 1989

Salvadore Dali Museum

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Joy is…

Joy is...Varanasi, IndiaJoy is taking time to play.

An early morning boat ride along the Ganges in Varanasi will always be one of the most significant travel memories for me. This ancient and holy city in India draws thousands of devotees daily to wash a lifetime of sins away in these sacred waters. Watching this ritual itself was spiritually cleansing, but to my surprise (and joy) was seeing a soccer ball being thrown around by a small group of guys. They were having a good time while life was going on around them. Quite a juxtaposition.

This post is linked to Kan Walk Will Travel who has created the Joy is…Challenge.

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Bad Timing ~ Woes of Travel

Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.  ~Charles Kuralt, On the Road With Charles Kuralt

Travel Woes

Holiday travel can be most frustrating. Canceled flights due to lousy weather or icy roads making driving hazardous. After spending a delightful Christmas in Raleigh with family, we knew there would be traffic on our return home to South West Florida but were shocked at the epic proportions. Driving south on Interstate 95 through South Carolina last week was like driving in a parking lot. It was stop and go for eight hours with speeds of 5- 10 miles an hour for miles and miles. Thank goodness we made reservations south of Savanna well in advance because, we were told, there were no rooms anywhere because of the traffic. It was a combination of post holiday travel as well as the exchange of our national demographics. This means the snow birds are returning to Florida for the winter. This yearly ritual clogged the roads to a standstill and we were caught in it. I believe Montréal had the record with the most RV’s caravanning together. Lots of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Illinois tags to count.

The good news is that it wasn’t raining. We had plenty of snacks and water, and mostly time to discus the past, present and future many times over. We took turns driving when we dared get off the interstate and then take a number to get back on. What torture.

During my break from driving, I decided to capture the moment. Obviously, I was bored.

I also turned my attention to the clouds. How unusual I thought. Looked like contrails of planes zigzagging across the sky. So, I cloud gazed and took pictures while occupants of cars creeping along gave me a smile or a thumbs up. A few others began looking up.

Travel Woes Travel Woes

Later on, as the sun began to set, unpretentious color revealed itself; almost the end of an imperfect day. Or was it? We observed no major accidents and we eventually arrived home safely to greet a new and meaningful New Year.

Travel Woes Travel Woes Travel Woes

We look forward to more travel and adventures… abroad, and on the back roads (and yes, interstates) of this beautiful country we live in. And in between those times, I still reminisce about previous trips and the rich cultural experiences Ron and I have shared together.

Where ever life leads you this year, enjoy the journey, the moment, friendships, family, good books, good health, new recipes, laughter, and don’t forget to study the clouds.

Our forecast today is 84 and sunny. No snow here in Paradise.

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Discovering Paris ~ One Bridge at a Time

“Follow the river and you will find the sea.” ~ French Proverb

Bridges of Paris

Paris is a river town.

Walk along the banks of the Seine. Stroll over its historic bridges. Breathe in the iconic views. No one is in a hurry to get across. The ebb and flow of human traffic reflects the flow of the Seine itself. Slow and methodical. Romantic and magical.

No wonder it is an attraction and has been for poets, artists, writers, lovers and now tourists.

Bridges of Paris

Paris has 37 bridges or ponts across the Seine, many of which were built in the early 1800’s. Earlier than that, if we count the Medieval bridges that once stood. The architecture varies, some more sumptuous than others.

Two of my favorite bridges are the Pont au Double and the Pont Alexandre III, two distinctly different bridges, each with its own history and unique architecture.

Adjacent to the Notre Dame is the Pont au Double. It was completed in 1634, and was built to carry patients to the Hotel-Dieu hospital on the left bank. The bridge derives its name from the toll that was charged, a “double” denier, used to pay for the construction. The bridge collapsed in 1709, two more were built and in 1883 the Pont au Double was replaced by a one arch cast-iron bridge.

Bridges of Paris

To appreciate its beauty, one needs to admire it from below. Its bronze arch is simple yet appealing and almost glistens in the afternoon sunlight.

It is on the lower bank that one can observe life on the Seine. Its barges and tour boats get a very close look at the bridge. It appears they can almost touch it.

Bridges of Paris

Looking across, one can observe the people sitting on the steps watching the river traffic.

Bridges of Paris

Couples have a little more privacy.

Bridges of Paris

And, it’s a good vantage point to get more photos of the Notre Dame.

Bridges of Paris

In complete contrast is the Pont Alexander III.

Considered to be the most ornate and extravagant bridge in Paris, it was named after the tzar and was to symbolize Russian-French friendship. His son, Nicholas II, laid the foundation stone in October 1896.

Bridges of Paris

The Beaux-Arts style bridge connects the Champs-Elysees quarter with the Invalides and Eiffel Tower quarter. It opened just in time for the Universal Exposition of 1900 together with several structures that still stand today like the Gare d’Orsay, the Petit Palais and the Grand Palais which were located on both banks of the Seine. The exposition attracted an impressive 50 million visitors.

Bridges of Paris

The bridge is lavishly decorated with lampposts and sculptures of cherubs and nymphs.

On each end of the pont are two large gilt-bronze statues on 56 ft high granite pillars. Each of the ornaments on the bridge was created by a different artist and each represents a different “fame” or subject. On the right bank are the Fame of the Sciences and the Fame of the Arts. On the left bank are the Fame of Commerce and the Fame of Industry.

Visitors flock to this bridge to have their photo taken. I don’t know how many times we were asked to take someone’s photo for them and were glad to do so. Ron is obliging a young couple in this photo. Can you blame them with a view of the Eiffel behind them?

Bridges of Paris

This young couple was having wedding portraits made and I couldn’t help but take one myself.

Bridges of Paris

Different bridges. Different views. All part of the magic and romance of the Seine.

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Look Who Just Flew In ~ Paris Streets

Man and MachineSurprise! Surprise! Surprise!

One never knows who or what waits around the next corner or what will catch your fancy while walking down the street.

We were quite accustomed to the many street performers in the town squares or along the Seine. But this was unique.

The first time we noticed him, he was in the Marais,  two blocks from our hotel. The next time was in Le Halle’s and then again in the Latin Quarter at night, his carriage all lit up. Didn’t get a picture of that one. His horn has an unforgettable sound, and you know it is he before you see him.

See what one can do to a three wheeled bicycle? Must visit the scrap yard, soon. I may be on to something.

Have a great week.

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