Stepping back in time

On my recent trip to Prague, I was able to explore  the medieval city of Cesky Krumlov in the southern Czech Republic. This city adds its images to my treasure trove of memories, of Bruge in Belgium and Chester in England, other cities from medieval times visited a long time ago.

The last time I was in Prague for the christmas winter markets, Cesky Krumlov did not cross my tourism radar. But on this visit it was the favored topic of discussion for its beauty, character and authenticity. On my last free day I snagged a lucky seat on a sold out bus and three hours later I fell into the medieval ages. The town was celebrating its Five Petalled Rose Days, harking back to Austro Hungarian times, a feast for the eyes and palate with scrumptious food, elaborate clothing and old world sports.

From the veritable feast offered in the town square I tried a homemade Czech Mokavy Kolac, a semi sweet yeast dough round topped with poppy seed and cream. Though the delicious Kolac sated my culinary pursuits there was lots more for everyone.


Medieval dress and food were complemented by all manner of homemade crafts.



Cesky Krumlov grew around a horseshoe bend of the Vltava River from the 8th and 9th centuries and is a mix of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. It is simply charming with its castle and ancient homes hugging the Vltava. Modern day rafting on the river rapids provide cool relief at every bend of the narrow cobblestoned lanes.


Not to be ignored, Prague is the other famous  jewel in the Czech Republic and the fifth most visited city in Europe. It’s a must see with its cuisine, iconic castle and old town with the astronomical clock gawked at every hour by hundreds of camera toting tourists, as its four animated figures representing the despised ‘vanity, usury, lust and death’ are set in motion by the skeleton ringing the bell.

A short but memorable visit made extra special by the company I had.

Adios till next time!

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Spiritual India

My journey of re-discovery found fulfillment at the Sacred Spirit festival in Nagaur. Under the patronage of the Maharaja of Jodhpur, Nagaur a 12th century Fort in the desert hinterlands of Rajasthan with complex inner layers of courtyards, fountains and palaces has been painstakingly restored to much of its original grandeur. Lit by thousands of oil lamps this fairyland was our tranquil haven for three days from the hustle and bustle of the sub-continent.

Two days of stellar performers from Spain, Morocco, Mongolia, Northern and Southern India, Uzbekistan, Egypt, French Guiana and Greece kept us enthralled amidst venues that took full advantage of the spectacular surroundings.  

  

The fusion of cultures in today’s chaotic world enforced the belief that the arts can lead to global harmony. A tribal dancer from French Guiana dancing and singing  with Indian Kathak dancers and musicians provided one of the most poignant experiences of the festival.


A full moon over three nights and only 250 fellow enthusiasts gave us an intimate and surreal experience.  

The spiritual experience continued with a visit to the shrine of a Sufi Saint from the 17th century. A talk from the current leader displayed an intricate hand drawn ancestry chart that established an unbroken link to his ancestor. Following tradition we all tied prayer strings to the thousands already in place on the tree that forms a bower over his grave. We heard a traditional ‘Qawwali’, Sufi devotional music in a tradition stretching back 700 years.


Also, visits to Hindu and Jain shrines at Osian, a town on the way to Nagaur exposed us to the legend of the revered black ‘Durga’ statue. It is supposed to have risen out of the sands with prophecies for the town’s prosperity. Today long lines of the faithful wait their patient turn to offer and receive benediction.

  


The women of Rajasthan are famous for their bright garb and jewelry. It was truly a rainbow of colors at every turn.


  


  

As I make my way home this week, I am infused with the calm and spirit of our temporary abode in Incredible India. The whole journey has been so rewarding and revealing and I can see glimpses of enlightenment for the path ahead.

Adios till next time!

Ruby’s Tips

>Details of the Sacred Spirit Festival can be found at the website: Worldsacredspiritfestival.org

>The private and intimate festival continues as a public festival for 2 days at Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur (see my post on Jodhpur titled Royal India).  The latter is available through ticket sales to the general public. Approximately 70% of the program carries over from Nagaur to Jodhpur.

>There are many fabulous hotels in the area, many of which are converted palaces. Google is a good friend to find a hotel that suits taste and budget. As mentioned, Nagaur is only accessible if staying at the Fort. The website provides all details.
 

 

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Royal India

What better occasion to celebrate a next to momentous birthday than to attend  the World Sacred Spirit Festival in Nagaur, Northern India under the patronage of the Maharaja of Jodhpur and Sting. Since it involved a bit of a trek from Bombay, we made a celebratory event of it with a few days in Jodhpur, a city that represents the third leg of India’s golden triangle of Jaipur, Udaipur and Jodhpur. Ruled for centuries by the Marwar clan of Rajputs from the 13th to the 20th century this land truly represents Royal India.

The massive Mehrangarh Fort dominates the landscape for miles around. This is a land of ruined fortresses and restored palaces. But Mehrangarh has a special grandeur. I had last seen it 28 years ago and time had not diminished my memories. Built in the 12th century as a protective and family home for the Marwar Kings, it also served as protector for the king’s subjects living in the blue city below. It rises and is one with the stone mountain on which it sits in solitary splendor.


 

   

Inside lie marvels of palace rooms glittering with mirrors and ornamentation in which the Maharaja received dignitaries and his harem lived in seclusion high above the populace amongst scented bowers cooled by gentle  breezes.



Elephants and porters were the only forms of transportation and the beautifully curated treasures include palanquins meant to be carried by both, centuries of royal cradles, ivory boxes and paintings.



Centuries later, reminders of a grim past live on in the hand prints of Maharanis on their way to immolate themselves on the funeral pyres of the Maharajas and iron gates studded midway with nails to pierce the tough hides of invading elephants in frequent territorial wars.

  

A short distance away lie the cenotaphs of the kings, Jaswant Thada. These funeral grounds were moved closer to the fort in 1895. Previous to that, the citadel of Mandore served as the cremation grounds for the Maharajas since the 12th century.

Jaswant Thada   

Mandore


Since the 1930’s the splendiferous Umaid  Bhavan Palace has served as the primary home of the Majarajas. A division of the palace is a beautiful hotel where I celebrated my birthday. Viewing the mighty desert at sunset from the back of its ponderous denizen, the humble camel completed a perfect day.

  
My journey into spiritual India began the next day. I close this missive with my favorite sight of Jodhpur.


Adios till next time!

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Rural India:eternal love affair 

While the stories on India focus on its crowded cities, Bollywood and the myriad issues and problems of this fascinating country, I rediscovered an India where the majority of its 1+ billion population spend lives far removed from the hectic pace and bustle of the big cities.  The simplicity of life is marked by the rhythm of everyday, and memories of my formative years in the sixties and seventies filled me with nostalgia.



  
Village shops and eateries focus on the essentials and the offerings are  tempting and hard to resist!  

Coconut husks with sweet water.

‘Ber’ fruit also known as Indian Plum or Chinese Apple or Date.

‘Singhara’ or Water Chestnut. 

Street side food stalls.

(Don’t miss the juxtaposition of the T-Shirts to the setting 😊)

Transportation reflects the dichotomy of old and new as in all aspects of life in India. While camel carts plod along with loads of straw and brick, the human body is also a source of carriage as is overloaded trucks with kids and youth hanging precariously off the top, sides and back to excitedly join rallies in support of India’s 67th Republic Day.


Images of ornate shrines, modern artwork reflecting the phases of the moon using rice and metal balls, colorful vegetation and flocks of birds in the vast rural landscape leave a lasting impression and force reflection on India’s long and diverse past.

       

The famous Gujarat Kite Festival on the 14th and 15th of January marks the advent of summer and is an indication to farmers that harvest season is approaching. Though I was not there to see the exuberant festivities, remnants of the festival remained marooned in trees a week later.  



Inspired by my experiences on this trip, I continued to ponder the meaning and course of my life. Watching my young niece rock a centuries old bed reminded me that the cycle of life continues regardless of my musings and need for control.

Adios till next time!
 

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Ancestral India

A year later and I am back in India. Bombay welcomed me with open arms. Jet Lag and disorientation could not diffuse the excitement and energy of being back. After a day of bleary vision and lethargy we set off on a nostalgic four day journey of ancestral India.

At 6AM I settled into my comfortable berth in the Shatabdi Express and we clacked, chugged and ate our way to Nadiad in the neighboring state of Gujarat. The sun was rising as we crossed Vashi creek connecting the islands of Bombay to the mainland and the fishing boats setting out for their daily catch waved a breathtaking farewell.

  

At Nadiad, we settled in for a comfortable car ride to my ancestral hometown of Kapadvanj. Enchanted India served up a constant panorama of images.


I am the 7th generation of a clan that migrated to Bombay years ago. But ties to Kapadvanj remain strong. My last visit was 21 years ago with my parents. My father loved his ancestral home and it felt as if I was paying homage to him with this visit. The village I remembered and that my ancestors grew up in is now a bustling, prosperous market town. Exploring the streets and narrow alleyways revealed the old way of living is still alive and we enjoyed authentic food in the bazaars.
We started with a Gram flour savory, Khaman Dhokla, soaked in sweet lime juice and covered with hot green chilies served simply on newsprint. I guess our answer to the ubiquitous fish and chips in England!    

And to cool down, one of my favorites: Jalebi. A crispy concoction of wheat flour deep fried in pretzel or circular shapes soaked in sugar syrup. Yum Yum Yum!

To walk off the feast and reacquaint ourselves with the tranquility of life that lingers on we wandered the narrow lanes of a bygone era: observing a wizened old crone supervising her fish purchase, vegetables being sold from the comfort of a day bed, little shops selling snacks to neighborhood kids, arched gates leading to secluded courtyards, beautiful old buildings crumbling from lack of care and maintenance.

  


It was a wonderful day and as night settled its dark blanket over our exhausted psyches I was jerked awake by loud haunting music. It reminded me of Easter processional music in Spain. As I peered into the crisp moonlit night a happy group danced and pranced into the night. They were celebrating a young boys rite of passage. It was a fitting end to a rather wonderful day.


As I sat in contemplation of life past, present and future at the peaceful sanctuary below and pondered my next visit, the words ‘Que Sera, Sera’ came to me.

Adios till next time!

 

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Munich Re-visited

My journey began and ended in Munich and the city I returned to was different than just 10 days ago. Then it was summer,  warm blue skies and the closing frenzy of Oktoberfest. Lederhosen and Dirndls were everywhere amid a festive joyous atmosphere as countless scores of visitors and locals downed giant steins of beer and brats and pretzels. I came back to autumn and somber gray skies. What remained the same was scores of visitors, street chestnut vendors cheese, fruit and vegetable stalls and lots of delicious street food.


  

The Viktualienmarkt near the heart of old town Marienplatz is famous for its diversity of mouthwatering specialties. At times like this I wish I possessed an inexhaustible appetite, but after a week of over indulging I could only feast with the eyes and sparse what the mouth could take in. 😢


  
  

The crowds were out in force and it was tremendous fun being swept up in the Joie de Vivre! With the beer tents of Oktoberfest gone, preparations were  underway for the holiday season and the winter markets.


  



A visit to Munich is not complete without the moving reminder of Dachau and walking the haunted grounds brought home the current state of events in the world.  The Camp is stark and impinges on the mind, body and soul with its empty spaces and the simple memorial  ‘Never Again’.
 
I leave my journeys behind with an image of the central mountains of Croatia shrouded in ribbons of fog and a last memorable meal.

Adios till next time!


  

 

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Mountains, Lakes and Waterfalls

On my last day in Croatia, I ventured far from the Dalmatian Coast to the central mountains and Plitvice Lakes National Park. An area of stunning natural beauty, 16 lakes cascade in a natural descent through the mountains creating hundreds of waterfalls from the upper to the lower region.



The autumn colors were glorious in their reds, bronze and yellows and after days of torrential rain the bright sunlight created an artist delight.



The pleasure of a rainbow caught for eternity in a waterfall and jade green streams made it ‘the’ perfect moment in time.


Driving away to Splits and an impossibly early departure from Croatia, Plitvice was forever engraved on my mind.

Adios till next time!

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