Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas dear readers!  This will be a short post, but I wanted to write it, as I will be leaving for South India dark and early tomorrow morning, and will be unable to post for a while.  As I am short on time, I will be unable to post pictures yet, as they take a great deal of time to upload.  There are some good ones though, and I promise to post them once I return!

So.  My first Christmas away from home.  Here goes.

I always knew that the percentage of Christians in India was low, and that I should not expect to have a particularly grand Christmas.  Diwali is the "Christmas of India," therefore, that is the most festive time.  For this reason, I almost forgot Christmas was coming until we reached Sri Lanka.  Sri Lanka has a relatively active Christian population, and also plays host to a great deal of European tourists during the holiday season.  Therefore, there were all sorts of Christmas decorations hanging, and music playing.

The Christmas tree in the lobby of the Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel in Colombo Sri Lanka

Upon getting back to Delhi, I was too busy to think all that much about Christmas.  I was forced to think about it however, when I walked into my Principal's office on Tuesday, December 20th to ask her a simple scheduling question.  All I wanted to know was whether Friday December 23rd would be a half day.  I had planned a Christmas activity for my students, I explained, and I wanted all of them, even my Friday afternoon classes, to be able to partake.  Immediately, the Principal said, "Ah, yes, Christmas!  Last year, when I was at the Lodhi Road Navyug School, we had such a beautiful Christmas assembly!  The children sang Silent Night and it was as though we were in a church.  You must teach the children Silent Night and organize a performance.  It will be beautiful.  It is my favorite Christmas song."  I was quite taken aback; after all, I only had two days, and had no idea which students to select, or when and where we would rehearse!  The Principal would not take no for an answer however, so, with the music teacher's help, I taught "Silent Night" and "Jingle Bells" to a select group of singers.  As with Waka waka, I ended up having a lot of fun.  When the big day arrived, I was a little nervous.  I had no cause to be however; my students performed very well, and the Principal was pleased.  Though it was incredibly short notice, I was grateful to again have the opportunity to engage with my students outside of class.

Santa came to Navyug Laxmi Bai Nagar!

Also as part of the Christmas assembly, Rupal, an 8th grade girl with an exceptional voice, sang a beautiful Hindi Christmas song called "Mariam ka beta" (Mary's son).  After this, there were many speeches. Both the Principal and some students made speeches about the origin and meaning of Christmas.  I made an impromptu speech about the origin and meaning of "Silent Night" and Jingle Bells."  The most important speeches of all came after the Christmasy part of the assembly however.  It was at this point that a whole slew of awards was given out.  The prizes ranged from 2nd place in the inter-Navyug volleyball championships, to runners up in the inter-Navyug track and field events, to debate competition winners, to science fair winners, to art contest winners.  The kids clapped and cheered for their friends, and the mood was quite raucous!  After all the awards had been given out, the students clapped in unison and cheered: "L.B.N!!!! L.B.N!!!! L.B.N.!!!!!!"  (L.B.N. stands for Laxmi Bai Nagar.)  It was a lot of fun, both for students and teachers.

Tanya and Dhruv: a brother and sister pair both of whom took home prizes

Cheering students

The girls' volleyball team

The trophies

For this reason, the kids became quite riled up, and teaching classes became near impossible.  When I went to my first class, only about eight kids were in the classroom, as the others had bunked (in Indian-English, "bunking class" means "skipping class").  This was class 8A, my most difficult class.  And the kids who had decided to show up were the most difficult kids.  I saw no point in trying to teach.  As I had my computer with me, I offered to play them some music and show them my pictures, most of which had been taken in India, but some of which had been taken at Haverford, and at Hawthorne Valley Farm Camp.  They loved seeing the pictures, especially the ones taken in America.  They were particularly interested in looking at my Hawthorne Valley pictures, and were very curious about my campers, most of whom were about their age.  The best part of the class however, was when they discovered that I had brought my camera.  Immediately, a photo shoot ensued.  I have to say, I ended up having as much fun as they did.

It's comforting to know that 8th Grade boys are the same all over the world

I want to be in the picture too!

Looking at pictures

During the next class that I tried to go to, I was pulled out by Sonia, one of the primary school teachers who has always been very friendly and helpful to me.  She brought me to her class 5 classroom, where the children were preparing to have a Christmas party.  They gave me a plate of snacks and we chatted while we waited for the Principal to arrive.  Some of these tiny children actually spoke very good English!  I was very impressed, and charmed, as they were very cute.

Some adorable 5th graders

 When the Principal did arrive, she and I cut the big chocolate cake that Sonia had brought for her class.  Then, the delightful Indian tradition of force-feeding ensued as both the Principal and Sonia pushed cake into my mouth.  Things got a little messy when some of the kids started to smear cake onto my face, but it was all in good fun.

Principal Ma'am and Sonia

The Principal and I cutting the cake

After the Principal stuffed cake into my mouth

During the last two classes I went to, I attempted to do the Christmas activity that I had planned.  My plan had been to give my students copies of the lyrics to "Have yourself a merry little Christmas" with some of the words blanked out.  I would then play the song on my laptop, then have the students listen, and fill in the blanks.  Unfortunately, the speakers were broken.  So I ended up just singing the song, and completing the activity this way.  I got some smirks, and comments ranging from "such a sweet song ma'am!" to "you sing beautifully ma'am," to a slightly snarky "um...interesting sound ma'am..."  All in all though I think that the activity worked out just fine.  As the day ended, I got so many "Merry Christmas ma'am!!"s, so many hugs and handshakes, and just general good wishes.  It was a nice way to end for the holidays.

Now, free of responsibilities, I was able to notice what was going on around me.  When I went to the market the next day, I saw that there were all kinds of santa hats and costumes on sale, complete with really creepy masks.  Also on sale were an assortment of shamelessly tacky plastic ornaments, very fake looking trees, and, perhaps most odd to me, fruitcakes.  I never thought of fruitcake as being something that anyone enjoys, but I suppose that there must be some level of demand...

A typical Indian creepy Santa mask
I woke up early on Christmas morning so I could skype in for the annual Wacker family Christmas Eve Carol Sing.  There were some technical difficulties (apparently the time lag meant that my singing was a couple of seconds behind everyone else's).  It was frustrating at times, and I was a little bit sad not to be squished onto the couch along with my parents and sister.  Still, it was a lot of fun, and it was so nice to still be included.  Thank you technology.

"The twelve days of Christmas:" Four calling birds
Later in the day, my roommates Joanna, Jessica, and I joined Stephanie, another ETA, and went over to the house of Ashley, a fellow ETA, and her husband Gautam.  Gautam's brother, sister, brother in law, and adorable baby nephew were also there.  All were very nice, and I enjoyed being able to practice Hindi with them.  We shared a wonderful Indian Christmas lunch together, then played Taboo and Bananagrams.  Relaxing, yet fun at the same time.

Our delicious lunch

The group

Ashley and her adorable nephew Jitu, who refused to look at the camera
So now, here I am at 10:42 pm on Christmas night.  I am still not sure how I feel.  I miss my home and family, and our Christmas traditions.  I miss going outside and feeling the wintry chill and breathing CLEAN air.  I miss seeing nature.  Still though, I am grateful to have the opportunity to be here in India, and to have met such wonderful interesting people.  I am thankful also for the support and love of those back home.  And to all my readers (I have been told that it's not only my parents who read this!) I hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season.  Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka, I like you...

In the second to last week of school before the winter holidays, all of the ETAs in Central and South Asia packed up and flew to Sri Lanka for a Fulbright ETA Regional Conference.  The week was surreal in many ways; we were staying in a five star hotel with all of the luxuries we could ever ask for (or not ask for, for that matter).  We ate at the hotel’s fancy all you can eat buffet for every meal, and were given tea and refreshments between sessions.  There was a gym that was even better than the Taj’s, and a beautiful swimming pool.  The weather was gorgeous, as was the scenery, prompting some of my friends to occasionally spontaneously sing the line: "Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka, I like you..." to a tune vaguely reminiscent of Annie's "Tomorrow."

We're so official!
India's Fulbright ETAs, 2011-2012!

Even outside of creature comforts, the Sri Lankan Fulbright commission took great care of us, making sure that we got to experience some of their beautiful country outside of the Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel.  Firstly, they made sure to organize one of the conference workshops in Galle, a town on the Southern Coast.  Galle is most famous for its fort, built by the Portuguese, then taken away by the Dutch, who later lost it to the British.  After our workshop finished, we were given a brief tour of the fort then set free to wander its ramparts.  The architecture was the most interesting mix of various European and South Asian styles, and I enjoyed looking at it.  My favorite part, however, was just wandering around, passing under coconut trees, strolling along the ramparts and staring out to sea.  It was beautiful to see nature again, after having spent such a long time in very urban Delhi. 

British coat-of-arms

Scene from the interior of a Dutch Church

Dutch Church


View from the ramparts, looking into the fort


The reason we were not allowed to swim

Buddhist Temple inside the fort

On the last day, the commission organized a menu of afternoon tours we could choose from.  I chose to visit the famous Kelaniya Buddhist Temple, a site that Buddha himself is said to have visited in the 5th Century BCE.  As shoes are strictly prohibited within the temple, we took off our shoes in the bus, and limped our way over to some stalls selling lotus flowers.  The flowers were used as offerings, our guide explained, as their fragile blossoms symbolized the impermanence of life and earthly "beauty"--a key Buddhist teaching.  The temple itself was beautiful, and very different from other Buddhist temples I had seen before (Buddhism is an extremely diverse religion, and Sinhalese Buddhism is markedly different from other traditions).  The frescos on the walls inside showed scenes from the Buddha’s life, and were incredibly intricate and beautiful.  The carvings outside were equally impressive.  The temple was bustling with worshippers that day, yet still somehow incredible peaceful.  All people were very friendly to us, and happy to let us participate in what was going on.  I ended up receiving a blessing from a priest, and several people in our group collected water in pots and offered it to the Buddha.  Most of the worshippers we saw were Buddhist.  Interestingly though, this temple is also significant to Hindus, as important events from the Ramayana are believed to have taken place there, namely the crowning of King Vibeeshana, brother of Ravan.  Though Ravan, King of Lanka and kidnapper of Ram’s wife Sita, is the villain of the epic, Vibeeshana is seen as a good and just  King, as he saw the wrongdoings of his brother, and supported Ram in his cause.  We visited the shrine to Vibeeshana, which contained beautiful murals.

Lotus flower

Temple complex entrance

Naga carving


Dancing Bodhisattva

Ceiling painting

Oil lamp offerings

Taking water to offer to the Buddha

Hindu shrine

As for the whole reason we were in Sri Lanka, the conference itself?  I found it incredibly useful in terms of some of the teaching strategies that were talked about (giving your kids routines to settle them down, not relying on technology, encouraging critical thinking, taking each day at a time, celebrating small victories, etc.).  It was also both enjoyable and informative to meet the ETAs from other countries.  We laughed at each others’ stories, commiserated over the seemingly rampant laissez faire attitudes towards cheating, and most importantly, shared strategies for improving our teaching.  Meeting the other ETAs made me realize that we India ETAs are dealing with many difficulties, but there are difficulties everywhere.  We have problems with classroom management and a crippling bureaucracy, but our schools at least have desks and chairs.  The monsoon season was certainly tiresome, but at least we don’t have to shiver through a bitterly cold winter—sans heat and electricity—in Northern Tajikistan. 

Most importantly for me, the conference came at a very good time.  I am about halfway through my time as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in India, and I still sometimes wonder what my role here is, and if I’m really making any kind of positive difference.  Though certainly not burned out, I had been growing tired.  The conference re-energized and inspired me, and reminded me why I had applied for this grant in the first place.  Though I know no magic occurred, and there will continue to be hard times ahead, I am excited and ready to go back into the classroom after winter break.  But first: my Christmas celebrations, including my travels to South India.  More on that soon…

Waka Waka hey hey!

Hello again, friends and family.  As we all know, I have been behind on this blog since the beginning.  Much has happened in the past month, but I won’t bore you with minute details.  Instead, I will tell about the most significant event, one that has taken up most of my time and energy, but has also provided me with what I already know will be some of my favorite memories of this incredible year.

Some time around the beginning of November, I was standing in the courtyard of Navyug School, Laxmi Bai Nagar, watching assembly as usual.  Then the gym teacher came up to give an announcement.  I expected it to be one of the usual kinds of announcements: our boys had won the inter-Navyug football match; only the volleyball team was allowed onto the field during zero period, etc.  But that day, the announcement was something different.   The gym teacher explained to the students that the annual inter-Navyug sports day was coming up.  On this day, selected students from all of the Navyug schools would come together, and perform for one another.  A number of important people would  be in attendance, including the chairperson of the Navyug Educational Society, and some New Delhi Municipal Corporation Officials.  We, Navyug School Laxmi Bai Nagar, had been selected to perform an aerobics dance routine.  All 8th, 9th, and 10th, graders would participate. 

When I heard this news, I was quite excited.  Maybe I’d get to watch some rehearsals, or even learn the dance!  Before I’d even fully understood what was going on though, the gym teacher run up to me and grabbed my arm.  “Abby, you are a dancer,” she said.  “I am no dancer, and will need help.  You and I will teach this dance together.”  After spluttering something incomprehensible about how I wasn’t really a REAL dancer, but I would do what I could, and would be happy to help, we got down to work.

The month that followed provided some of my most favorite moments of my time at the school.  It was not always easy: school organized aerobics routines tend to feel dorky to most adolescents, and getting cool teenagers to be enthusiastic about dorky school activities can be quite a challenge.  To begin with, the gym teacher and I taught the basic steps to all two hundred of our dancers.  We soon realized that it was impossible to teach two hundred restless teenagers at once, especially in a courtyard that could barely hold them.  We were also having problems with music: The teacher picked a song with a good beat called “Miami Beach.”  Unfortunately, closer listening revealed that the singer was in fact not saying “Miami Beach” but rather “Miami something-else-that sounds-a-lot-like-beach-but-is-actually-far-less-appropriate-for-a-school-function.”

To combat the first problem, we elected a “core group” of dancers: nine enthusiastic, gifted 8th grade girls who would learn the dance first, then help us to teach the others.  In answer to the second problem, we picked a new song: Shakira’s “Waka waka.”  The first few rehearsals with my dance captains were some of the best times I have had in the school.  We quickly worked out a routine that the girls were happy with, and were soon ready to teach the other students.  To make things easier, we called them to us in “small” groups of forty.  As you might imagine though, it takes time to move large groups of adolescents around a school.  This meant that my dancers and I usually had a good amount of waiting time between rehearsals.  We had the school’s yoga studio, a boom box, and a Shakira CD all to ourselves.  So, during our breaks, we did what any sane group of people would do: we had dance parties.  These were a source of great fun for us, and great confusion for all passersby.  

Slowly slowly, all of the students learned the routine, and everything began to fall into place.  Some children had to be eliminated (sad but necessary) but still remained involved as music system caretakers, audience members, or general rehearsal disrupters.  I was excited and proud of my kids.  Then, the news came: the sports day was to be held on Monday, the 12th of December.  I would be in Sri Lanka for a Fulbright Conference, and therefore unable to come.  I was extremely disappointed, but continued to work hard on the dance’s finishing touches.  As a kind of consolation, I was told that I would still be able (and required) to attend two dress rehearsals at the performance venue: Navyug School, Sarojini Nagar.  Sarojini Nagar was actually the first Navyug School, so it is highly regarded within the Navyug community. Another interesting fact: this happens to be where my roommate, Joanna, teaches. I was excited, not only to be a chaperone and to see my kids rehearse in a more official setting, but also to see this other Navyug School that I had heard so much about through Jo’s stories. 

The first thing I noticed about Navyug School Sarojini Nagar was its size.  It is noticeably bigger than my school, with a full football (soccer) field, and a basketball court.  The building itself is three stories (or perhaps more?) high, and there seem to be many more students than at my school.  The day that I went it was even busier than it normally would have been, as groups of children and teachers from nearly all of the other Navyug schools were also in attendance.  As I had come with the P.E. teacher, in her car, none of my students had arrived yet.  She took my arm and led me around the school, introducing me to her friends.  It was very nice to meet the other Navyug school teachers, all of whom were very friendly.  

Some of the lovely ladies of class 8b

Navyug School, Sarojini Nagar

When the Laxmi Bai Nagar students arrived, we quickly got to work setting them up in their formations.  Fortunately, there were lines drawn on the ground to help us in this task.  Our dress rehearsal was one of the first, and it went quite well.  This allowed us to sit back for the rest of the day, and just watch the other routines.  These were quite entertaining.  There was a militaristic march, an adorable Rajasthani folkdance, a judo routine, a dumbbell workout set to music, a yoga demonstration, a bhangra dance, and various calisthenics performances.  All were quite impressive, but many of the teachers there were talking about our aerobics routine, and about how well done it was!  I was so proud of my kids. 

Waka waka!

A yoga demonstration

My dancers!


Adorable Rajasthani dancers

Several days later, we had another dress rehearsal, so we all packed off to Sarojini Nagar once more.  The rehearsals went pretty much as they had the last time.  What was new was that many of the kids from the other Navyug schools recognized me.  They waved, and shouted “MA’AM!! WAKA WAKA MA’AM!! WAKA WAKA!!!!”  Funnily enough, this is exactly what my students have been shouting at me ever since I began teaching the dance.  This isn’t too much of a problem on the sports field, but it can be a bit trying during English class.  Oh well, now I have not only my own students, but an entire school system singing Shakira at me.  I’m okay with that.  After all, far worse things could happen to a person.

Fortunately, Joanna was able to come out, watch some of the goings-on, and chat a little.  I even got to meet some of her students, who call her “Johana ma’am.”  They were all very cute, and very eager to show off their knowledge of my roommate: (“Do you know where Johana ma’am is from, ma’am?  CHICAGO!!!!” etc.) 

I also had a great time just hanging out with my kids.  The best times were when the Bhangra school were having their rehearsals.  As soon as the music came on, my 8th grade dance captains were up and dancing, and pulling me into their group.  I wouldn’t say that I am the best bhangra dancer yet, but I had a great time, and hope to get many more opportunities to dance! 
And then, just as school spirit was at its highest, and I was most excited and proud of my babies, I packed up and flew to Sri Lanka (this trip merits its own post, which is coming soon, I promise!).  I was sad to miss the big day, but shook off my disappointment, in order to make the most of the jam-packed week Fulbright was providing for me.

My first day back in school, all of the teachers and students rushed to me, asking how my trip was.  They exclaimed that the dance had gone so well; the Navyug Association Chairperson had been so impressed; we had received so many compliments.  Nicest of all, both students and teachers told me how much they had missed me on the big day.  In assembly that morning, the P.E. teacher called me up to the front, and all the students applauded.  She also had me make a short, impromptu speech, which was a little embarrassing, but I was glad to be able to tell my kids how proud I was of them.  Most of all, it was really nice to feel appreciated and a part of the school, and I hope to be able to help out with more functions like this in the future.  This insane yet wonderful experience reminded me that, as crazy and chaotic as life as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in India can be, I truly do love my kids, my fellow teachers, my school, and most of all, this amazing country in which I feel so lucky to be living right now.  

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Jaipur Jaunt

Namaste friends.  Once again I am playing catch-up, and writing about an event far in the past.  When I was finally given a list of school holidays by my principal, I was delighted to discover that my birthday (a Monday) was a holiday this year.  I decided right away that I wanted to travel somewhere.  My roommates and I went back and forth for a while about where we wanted to go.  Himalayas?  No, too cold and far.  Amritsar?  I’d already been there.  For a while we were pretty sure that we’d be going to Pushkar to see the famous camel festival, but due to some procrastination, were unable to get tickets.  So we decided to go to Jaipur.  I had already been once, but my last trip had coincided with Rajasthan’s election day, so I had been unable to see many of the most famous sights.  This fact, coupled with the fact that the trip would be Krish, Jo, Jessica, and my first trip as a roommate group, was very exciting.  Also helpful was the fact that Krish had spent three months in Jaipur during the summer of 2010, so he was quite knowledgeable about the city.  As if that weren’t enough, our landlord Manish had lived there for four years, and had plenty of recommendations for fun things to do in Jaipur.  It promised to be a good trip.

Soon after school on Friday the 4th of November, the four of us headed to Old Delhi train station.  After a light dinner at a 24 hr McDonald’s/generic Indian food stand (for the record I did NOT eat the McDonald’s food, blech—dinner for me was a veg thali) we boarded our train.  Now, when I traveled around India as a study abroad student with my student friends, we pretty much always traveled on sleeper class.  Sleeper class is non-AC crowded, and far cheaper than the AC classes.  Because I was familiar with this class, I forgot that others might not be.  I felt a little guilty shoving my friends into this situation.  Fortunately, they are all great people, so they took it all in stride, and we were able to laugh at the many bizarre occurrences that went on during our journey:

Bizarre occurrence #1: When we first boarded the train in Delhi, we found our berths and squished onto the benches that we had reserved.  Soon, all the other berths filled up as well.  But the people just kept on coming.  Soon the train aisles were packed, and people were climbing onto the upper berths, and fighting to squeeze into seats.  I was very confused; I remembered sleeper class being crowded, but not quite this crowded!  After a few stops, it was really starting to get uncomfortable, and I wondered if our entire five hour ride would be like this.  Then, at one particular stop, the train basically emptied.  The aisles cleared, and people jumped down from their perches on the uppermost bunks.  It was a sort of exodus.  A number of new people did board the train, but nowhere near as many, and only the assigned seats seemed to be taken.  We were all confused until the train began to move again.  At this point, the conductor finally came around to check tickets.  All of the extra people had simply been bumming what they knew would be a free ride to that particular station.  We enjoyed the rest of our journey in relative comfort.

Bizarre occurrence #2: First, I must rewind to when we first boarded the train.  As you will recall, we were squished into our seats, while the unlucky standers packed into the aisles.  One such unlucky stander had placed himself very close to Krish.  We were all very used to the lack of personal space in India.  Unfortunately, the close proximity was not the only problem.  This man happened to be carrying a power saw, with the blade very close to Krish’s face.  There appeared to be a safety guard over the blade, but it was still alarming.  When the man saw Krish’s (admittedly quite amusing) horrified face, he grinned and waved it around, only adding to Krish’s discomfort.  Fortunately this man got off before the conductor came around, so we didn’t have to deal with him for too long.

Bizarre occurrence #3: This third occurrence is, in my opinion at least, the most bizarre of all.  When we reached the exodus station, the face of a man appeared in our window.  He said something in Hindi to one of our seatmates, then handed his bag through the window.  At first, this didn’t seem too strange to me; clearly, he did not want to deal with dragging his bag through the crowds of people as he boarded the train.  As I thought about it more though, the situation seemed more and more unusual.  The bag was not that big; smaller than my backpack in fact.  Why did he shove it through the window?  And how did he know he could trust the people in the train?  By this point all of us were alarmed and wondering about hidden bombs.  Our seat partner obligingly searched through the bag and found nothing untoward.  As he was still rooting through this stranger’s belongings, the bag’s owner appeared.  “Aapka bomb check ho gaya,” (your bomb check is finished) said our seat partner sheepishly.  The bag’s owner seemed unfazed; he simply took his belongings and sat down.  A great deal of time passed, and eventually, the bag’s owner reached his destination.  He got up, waved a cheerful goodbye to us, then exited.  Without his bag!!!!!!  We searched the area, and could find it nowhere.  As we wondered where it could possibly had gone, we saw its owner’s face in our window again.  “Bye bye!!” he said with a smirk.  After some discussion, we decided that he must have been involved in a drug deal.

We reached Jaipur late at night.  After a long, confusing rickshaw ride, we reached our hotel and fell into bed.

The next morning, we enjoyed a complimentary breakfast at our hotel, which consisted of some delicious stuffed parathas.  We then set off for Amber fort.  I was quite excited to see the fort, as it was one of the must-sees of Jaipur that I had missed out on during my last trip.  After a long rickshaw ride and a crowded bus ride, we reached the fort.  Amber fort is known for providing elephant rides from the base of the fort to the top.  Though I was somewhat lukewarm about taking an elephant ride, others were more enthusiastic.  So, we followed our noses (literally) and eventually found a large group of elephants and handlers.  The handlers coerced us into taking some pictures with the elephants, then informed us that elephant rides stopped at 11:30 (it was 11:45) so we would be unable to get a ride.  As we walked away dejected, they called us back, demanding money for the pictures we had taken.  It was a typically touristic experience.

Jo and her elephant

After this initial disappointment, we scaled the fort, on foot.  It was quite enjoyable; I scaled many a fort during my semester in Hyderabad, but had almost forgotten how much I loved the fort-climbing experience.  It is always satisfying to reach the top after the climb, and to look out over the city.  And the view is not all; there is always the whole interior of the fort to explore.  Some pictures follow:

One of the entrances to the main fort complex

View from the top

The "women's quarters"

Puppet show

After Amber fort, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Peacock Restaurant, a rooftop restaurant affiliated with one of the better known hotels in Jaipur.  The food was delicious, and the ambience relaxed.

My lunch!

We finished lunch at around 3 o’ clock.  As it was well past noon, we decided to take a rickshaw straight to the base of Nargarh fort, the prime sunset spot of Jaipur.  Nargarh fort was one of the lesser known places that Manish, our landlord had recommended to us, and we were excited to see it.  It was a steep two kilometer climb to the top, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  In fact, it would have been an absolutely perfect walk were it not for the comments and looks that we received along the way from some less than charming gentlemen.  Despite these irritations however, we reached the top, where we enjoyed a spectacular view of the city.  We chatted and played games as we waited for the sun to set.  When it finally did, we watched as the pink city glowed in the dimming light, and listened as a dozen different mosques issued the call to prayer.  The calls to prayer were not exactly in sync, thereby creating something of a cacophonous canon, but it was a beautiful moment nonetheless.



The girls

A demonstration of personal space in India, and everyone's thoughts on it.

When darkness finally fell, we called Pink City Radiocabs, a 24 hour Jaipur taxi service highly recommended by Lonely Planet.  Unfortunately, no one answered any of our multiple calls.  None of us were terribly enthusiastic about walking down in the dark, as we did not want to encounter the same men with whom we had become acquainted on our way up.  A large group of men offered to walk us down, but we declined.  It’s highly possible that they were all very nice, but we decided that it was better to be safe than sorry.  Eventually, we spoke to the ticket taker for the sunset spot.  He was reluctant to help us.  Fortunately, a driver of one the waiting taxis saw us pleading, and came over to see what the problem was.  He told us that he had been hired by two Australians, and that, if it was alright by them, he would be happy to give us a ride back to the city.  Luckily for us, the two Australians graciously allowed us to squeeze into their car, and we were able to talk to them about their experiences travelling around India, and about our own experiences as well.

The next day, we visited the Hawa Mahal, or wind palace.  I had seen this palace my last time in Jaipur, but thoroughly enjoyed it the second time around as well.  The Hawa Mahal has many floors, and a number of narrow winding staircases, passages, and nooks and crannies, which are great fun to explore.  I think the pictures sum up the experience best.

The entrance

A Jaipur street as seen from the Hawa Mahal

Krish and Jo

The girls

My amazing room mates


After the Hawa Mahal, we visited Jantar Mantar: an astronomy observatory which I had not had the opportunity to see my last time in Jaipur.  The Jantar Mantar was constructed by Maharaja Jai Singh in the early 1700s.  Each instrument had a sign post briefly explaining its purpose.  I was grateful for these, as without them, the instruments looked like bizarre sculptures.  Sadly, climbing on them was prohibited, but we did have a good time walking around and looking at the constructions.

Unclimbable observation tower

Jantar Mantar construction

Another structure

Me and my sign

After a great lunch, we went to Jaipur’s Birla Mandir, a beautiful Hindu Temple, and one of the lesser known sights of Jaipur:

Birla Mandir

After a quick trip to Jaipur’s famous bazaar, it was time to go home.  A short trip, but very enjoyable!