Thursday, September 22, 2016

It’s like doodling….but on skin

For many years I have looked at Henna tattoos and thought that the designs and color was beautiful, and on this trip I had decided that I wanted to get one to see exactly what it was like. 

I talked to the hotel reception desk and they organized for me to visit a local beauty parlor to have the tattoo (also called Mehndi) applied.  I learned that the dye is prepared from leaves of the Henna plant which is a tall shrub or small tree.  Since it is difficult to form intricate patterns from coarse crushed leaves, the leaves are normally powdered and then a paste is made adding a liquid such as water, lemon juice or strong tea.

So, with very little information, I sat in the chair and calmly presented my arm to Midhila (By profession a Nutritionist for a local Diabetes Clinic) for decoration….. IMG_8679

…..and off she went.  The Henna paste was in a small tube….


….and I was amazed at the intricate details that she could draw.  The pattern quickly grew…..


…and I was greatly reminded of some of the Zen Doodle patterns that I have played with over the years.

She would first outline the next shape and then use various fill patterns or shadings to add interest.   After a short while, it looked like this…..


….and I was pleased that there was a Peacock included in the design!!

She kept on painting down my finger, ending with a spiral of dots on the finger nail itself….who knew!!


We sat and talked for about 10 minutes while the initial design dried…..IMG_8719

She then turned my arm over and was off again……



….continuing until she reached the tip of my index finger…..


It was a fascinating process…..

 This VIDEO is at the start


This VIDEO is on the other side of my arm and she is almost finished.


The women at the “Glamito Hair & Beauty Hub” were so kind, even going out and bringing Pineapple juice for us to drink.

A final photo…..


….and now we had to figure out how to keep my hand wide open and my arm in the air for the next 2 hours!!!  We had planned to take a Tuk-tuk back to the hotel but were afraid that it would be too bumpy so we called the hotel and asked them to send a car.

Midhila had told me that it would take about an hour for the henna to dry and then to make a lemon juice and sugar mixture and daub it onto the dried henna.  Let that sit for at least another hour and then scrape the “mud” off.

The hotel was magnificent in helping me obtain everything I needed.   As I walked back in I asked for some limes and an oil of some sort and immediately a bowl of cut limes arrived and two small tubes of Coconut oil.

We followed the procedure……IMG_8767and were soon scraping the henna off, using a spoon and fingernails…..IMG_8773

When I first saw the results, I was really disappointed as it was just a dark orange color (and not a particularly pretty color )…..


But, in the next 24 hours, it turned to a much more pleasing deeper brown color…..


The design on top of my hand and arm never got as dark as I would have liked, but I think was a mixture of the color of my skin and that I  probably didn’t leave it on long enough…..


But overall, I was pleased with the result and very glad to have gone thru the process.   If I do it another time, I think that I will have it placed on my lower leg and ankle so that I can wrap it in saran wrap and let it sit for 4+ hours.

The design normally lasts for 2 – 3 weeks, depending on how long you leave the paste on.    Since I didn’t leave it long enough, it faded pretty fast but I enjoyed it while it was there.

I am hoping to try to recreate it as a quilting design sometime!!!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Padmanabhapuram Palace (say that 3 times fast)

On Saturday morning we were picked up by our trusty driver.  We finally asked his name and he shyly told us that it was Vinod.  Through the day, we found out that he is married and has a 15 year old daughter.  He has been more than a driver, playing the part of caretaker as well.  When we shopped for groceries, he showed up at the check out line and carried our bags for us, when we arrived at the Palace he parked the car and went with us to purchase the tickets 

But, the funniest story was a few days later when Michael needed to go to an ATM on the way back from work.  Vinod stopped in front of an ATM vestibule where there was a woman inside and 2 younger men waiting for their turn.  Michael stood back a bit to allow the young men to go first, but Vinod rolled down his window and said something sternly to them.  When the woman exited, the men motioned for him to go first…obviously Vinod had told them that Michael had the priority!!!   It was a sweet gesture, but made Michael VERY uncomfortable!!!IMG_8659

I have mused over drivers in India.  They have to be so vigilant as they drive because you never know when someone is going to pull out in front of you, whether a car, truck, pedestrian, motorcyclist, bicyclist, Tuk-Tuk, or cow.    Added to that, you have to keep a wary eye out for potholes and road construction sites and there are LOTS of those!  All of these pavement issues makes for some uncomfortable riding as you are always having to shift around in the seat to keep balanced.

I have also found that sometimes driving in India is a lot like playing a game of chicken.  Almost all of the roads are a single lane in each direction and If you pull out to pass someone there is a good chance that there will be a car coming toward you.  The trick is to know when to return to your lane and when to pursue the overtaking!  There seems to be lots of headlight flashing going on during these interactions but I am not sure that it really helps!

Finally, I have decided that Indian vehicles must come equipped with REALLY good brakes!!

It was an interesting drive, made more enjoyable by the stares and double-takes that people did as they saw two white people in the back of the car.  We passed fishmongers in the beach areas and huge speakers with music pouring forth.  Most of those were associated with Hindu temples celebrating Ganesh.


We found out that we were traveling even further south in India, which is pretty amazing considering that we are almost already at the very tip.   We came to a checkpoint, complete with a gate to go thru and asked Vinod why it was there.  He told us that we had now left the state of Kerala and entered the state of Tamil Nadu.   It is interesting to think that you have to go thru a checkpoint to change states….yet another freedom that we take for granted!!

We passed this very colorful open-air market……


Now, back to the palace……As I said earlier, Vinod helped us to buy our tickets for the palace, but was apologetic that an Indian ticket was only 35 Rupees, where a foreigner ticket was 300 Rupees!!! Maybe we should have started shaking our head and pretended to be Indian!!!

After we got our tickets, we started to enjoy this gorgeous complex.   It was built in the 1600’s and refurbished in the 1750’s and is only 20 miles from the far tip of India.  It is considered to be one of the best examples of traditional Kerala style architecture.    It is located in the state of Tamil Nadu, but is considered to be part of Kerala and the Government of Kerala owns it.

We entered the first hall and were immediately directed up a STEEP set of stairs to the second floor……


Many of the women were having serious problems navigating them with their Saris.

The “Manthrasala” is the room where decisions concerning the administration of the kingdom were made.  This first photo is a bit dark, but probably truer to the look and feel of the room….


Closer inspection (with a flash) revealed the beauty in the details of the wood and carvings…..


We entered the next building thru a tiny door……


…arriving at the “Oottupura” which was a dining hall where 2,000 per day were served free meals.  Each floor of this building was designed to hold 1,000 people at a time…..


Although the sheer size of the room was outstanding, I was more smitten with beams in the roof (do you see a quilt design???)…..


We now came to the residence of the palace grounds.  The first thing that I noticed were these cool shutters…..


…soon to be outdone with the intricate carvings inside the palace.  They were a little hard to see in the low light, but the camera illuminated them perfectly….


These support pillars were made from Jack Fruit trees. 

One of the things that we enjoyed was interacting with the other people touring the grounds.   This man posed and waited for me to get the camera set so that we could have his photo…..


His entire body language says “yes, I am the man!!!”.

This was the King’s bed and is said to be carved from medicinal woods to help keep him healthy…..IMG_8581

Most of the windows had wooden screens of some sort and I found them irresistible…..IMG_8586

I also appreciated the profusion of red tiled roofs…..IMG_8588

This is a very simple thing, but it was fun to see this bit of decoration in one of the rooms…..


There was a support beam in one of the walls, and they had added a three dimensional “end cap” to give it more class.

We passed this room….IMG_8593

….and immediately knew what it was, but a woman looked at Michael and said “Restroom….Indian style”.

Many of the beams in the buildings were wonderfully carved, although it was once again difficult to see them…..IMG_8604


This area is called the Ambari Mukhappu and was built for the kings to view chariot races and to appear before the public on special occasions……

IMG_8609The word “Ambari” refers to the seat put  on an elephant’s back during safaris.  This platform is based on the shape and structure of the ambari.

Before leaving this high spot, it was fun to look down on the well manicured palace grounds…..


Our next building included the kitchen that had huge built-in mortar and pestles.  One family was trying to tell us what they were and she decided to demonstrate…..IMG_8625

The final building was the Navarathri Mandapam, a building built from a solid rock.  It was quite a change from looking at the wood……


We enjoyed walking around the gardens before we returned to the courtyard, where we marveled at this set of leaning stone steps…..IMG_8643

The last visit of the day was to a small museum that held various artifacts originally in the palace.   After that we retrieved our shoes…..IMG_8655

…..yes we did the entire tour with bare feet!!!

We decided to stroll down the main street of shops before we called Vinod to pick us up, but he was apparently watching for us from his car because he magically appeared when we were about 1/4 of the way down the street.  We both felt like school kids who had been caught off-campus!!!

Vinod stopped to let Michael take a photo of this”feat of engineering”…..


We just wonder how he can see to drive…..


…and as I look at this picture now, I wonder what happens when he meets a big, wide truck on these narrow roads!!!

The trip back to Trivandrum was uneventful, although we did see a man carrying a LARGE goat on his motorcycle.  It looked like a college prank!!

We got stuck in some traffic so I had time to shoot some photos out the window.  These guys waved and smiled happily……


….and, I loved the display in this fruit and vegetable market…..


Those are apples that have been woven together to form the long “cords”.

All in all, it was a wonderful day and we were happy to get to visit one of the architectural wonders of Kerala!!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Returning to Trivandrum

Our last 3 days in Pune were fairly uneventful, although I did find time to do some shopping at the “Bombay Company”.  It was only a few blocks away from the hotel and I enjoyed shopping and carrying my two big bags of stuff back.  I was tickled to see two “Tuk-Tuks” (Auto Rickshaws) slowly following me, hoping that I would decide  to catch a ride instead!!

There was a small mall just across the street which provided the perfect place to buy a small suitcase to get the purchases home!!!   As I entered the mall, I walked thru the ever-present metal detector and put my purse thru a scanner as well.   I was alarmed to see one older lady removing a HUGE knife from her bag but was happy to see it in the hands of guards and not her!!!

I also wandered thru a local grocery store and was surprised that they used a plastic zip tie to close my purse before I entered.  They very wisely advised me to take my cell phone out before they zipped it up, because Michael called me while I was wandering around!!   After shopping, I passed the “take-out” section and bought two Samosas for lunch….wonderful!!!

Our hotel was older but was extremely comfortable.   I read that this area of town was established when the British were still in India and I can totally see where the hotel fit into that context.

The decorations included ribbons stretched across the lobby…. IMG_8484

…and a very cool wall hanging…..


On Sunday night we decided to visit the local Marriott hotel for dinner and drinks.  We had a marvelous night, complete with excellent food, great ambiance,  and a medium size fruit bat flying thru the dining room!!!   The staff did a great job of cornering and removing it with a minimum of distraction, although Michael (who worked on bats for several years) offered to carry it out for them…..they declined!!!

We have grown to love  Kerala and were looking forward to our return to Trivandrum.  Unfortunately, we found out that our hotel reservation had been messed up and we were being transferred to a different hotel when we returned.  We were initially disappointed about this but have really come to enjoy our time at this new hotel.   It is part of the same chain, “UDay”, and has a bit quieter atmosphere.

The staff has been magnificent, first retrieving our stored suitcase from the original hotel, then helping us pay for an item that was being shipped to us, finding someone to give me a Henna tattoo and working to make sure that we are happy!!

The complex is very pretty, especially at night….


It is decorated with 3 dimensional wall murals….


….and is landscaped with some beautiful flowers…..IMG_8502

This butterfly obviously enjoys it…..


Michael’s host, Hema, told him that this is a “Southern Bird Wing  Butterfly” and is endemic to this area in the southern part of the Western Ghats.  Whatever he is, he was huge and beautiful!!!

Michael was supposed to have been working on Friday (September 2nd) but there was a Nationwide strike happening so they closed IISCER down and told the kids in the course to stay home.  Strikes here can often get violent, especially when you are found in a vehicle on the road.  So, we took the advice and stayed close to the hotel for the day.

The strike began at midnight and the  night before we had gone to dinner in town with some of Michael’s colleagues.  As I looked over the ledge of the hotel, I could see the men standing around with torches in their hand…..DSC08892

…sadly, it reminded me of the Ogre hunt in Shrek!!!

On “Strike Day” we did venture out to the beach, about a five minute walk away, however we avoided the corner that had men holding clubs!!    We passed a group of young men playing Cricket…


…the perfect pastime for Strike Day!!!   We enjoyed watching them for a few minutes and could tell that we were the topic of conversation and the source of much laughter.

Michael and I have wondered whether the strike was just a way to get a 3 or 4 day weekend.  Monday is a holiday in some areas as it is the start of the Hindu  Ganesh Festival and in much of Kerala as the start of the Onam celebration.  People certainly did seem to be enjoying themselves!!!

We arrived at the beach, stopping to watch a few fishermen working on their nets….


We new that we had to at least stick our toes into the Arabian Sea…..


……. but Michael got a little carried away…..


One other interesting thing from the State of Kerala….. it is illegal to sell alcohol on the 1st day of each month.   The premise is that, since most people get paid on the 1st, they can protect them from spending all of their money on booze.  Based on the length of the lines on the last day of August, I am not exactly sure that it is working!!

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