India 2008 # 3: Centipedes, an Indian John Cleese and Dancing in the Rain

Tuesday morning I was up early in the morning and went up to our rooftop to photograph the squirrels and other life in general going on. The squirrels here are really tiny and remind me of little cartoon creatures as they scurry about with their long furry tails waving like flags behind them. I was lucky – one got very close and I was able to get some nice shots of him. When I checked my photos afterwards I saw he had a very surprised look on his face. I guess he’d never met a one-eyed creature before. I discovered a lizard as well, who also ran about on the roof tiles. Then he’d stop suddenly and pump his front legs up and down like those american cars on hydraulics. Once again, I have seen many creatures here. An especially interesting experience was when I used Rani’s toilet and was able to count the centipedes that were holding a rally about two inches in front of my face. I got up to about seventy something by the time I had finished my business. Never a dull moment.

We had breakfast at the Ram Raja Restaurant as usual and the kids all spilled out to show us that the had been playing with their toys. I got some lovely photos of that also. Then, when I went across the road to photograph a guy who was sharpening Parbhat’s kitchen knives on his bicycle-sharpening setup (like the gypsies used to use in England) I turned around to find an Indian guy photographing me photographing the sharpener. He came over to show us the photo and have a chat. He was also a (Indian) tourist. It’s quite funny to find yourself being photographed for a change. I suppose a white person in a small village makes for an interesting shot.

Indu took us for a ‘nature walk’ later on in the day. He looked just like an Indian John Cleese with his upright stature and furled umbrella. “Come!” he would bark, and we all followed him obediently, meandering through fields and down pathways. Orchha has so many monuments it’s just ridiculous. All of our cameras were heating up by the time we were finished. We saw spotted owls, talked to water buffalo, avoided a seriously over-territorial dog and managed not to find any snakes (yay). Indu told us “Nature is nature. You are being careful in nature. Watch where you stand.” We listened well!

Once again we finished our evening on the “Palace View” rooftop. It is possible to buy alcohol here (black market) – in fact Parbhat sends his young son to go and fetch it. But we drink it in private. This is a village with a major temple in it, so you cannot eat meat or drink alcohol at any place directly lining up with the temple. Apparently just to the side and behind some kind of a wall is fine. Ernie and Leisa went off to their Palace suite (the old palace that we stayed at in 2005) and us peasants hied off to our ordinary rooms to sprawl under fans on the usual two beds pushed together.

I frequently have a giggle in India about the state of their bathrooms. They do nice tidy tile work on the walls and the floors are fitted with marble. They then put two bare wires leading from the water “geysers” (hot water heaters) straight into a plughole in the wall. They bash holes straight through the tiles to put the plumbing through and the basins usually drain through a pipe that leads straight to the floor and washes it. Very efficient really, when you think about it. But the one I couldn’t figure out (funny what you look at when you’re sitting idly) was a beautifully drilled hole in a tile about a quarter of the way up a wall with a rusty nail sticking out of it, being used for absolutely nothing. Rack my brains all I can, I still can’t understand the logic in that one.

Back at the Ram Raja for breakfast again, Wednesday morning (yesterday? Losing track here…) I perused the menu. One of my favourite pastimes, apart from vulture and monkey watching, in this town. I found Veg Bargares (vege burgers), finger cheeps (hot french fries), Auborjin rusted (roast aubergine) and for dessert I could order “Hello To The Queen”. Don’t ask – that one’s beyond me. They serve chai, coffee or whatever, in glasses here. No handles for wusses like us. A bit tricky, particularly pre-caffeine, but I’m getting the hang of it.

Once again, Indu turned up and commanded us to climb aboard his flash new rickshaw, in which he drove us out of the village a bit to do a tour of a paper factory. This is a fantastic setup that employs many local people, more women than men, and gives them decent working conditions and wages. They get material (scraps, etc) in from down south somewhere, separate the cotton from the synthetic, cut it into tiny pieces, pulp it and soak it (no chemicals involved) then form it into sheets, dry it and makes products out of it. They have a little shop to visit at the end of the tour and the products you buy contribute to good local causes. Naturally we did our part there. The products were very beautiful.

Indu then delivered us to the Amar Mahal. This is a brand new palace that has been built here over the last five years and is mindbogglingly beautiful. I’ll make you sick with the photos I took when I get home. We settled into our suite, swanned about in the pool and generally lay around gasping with amazement. Poor Ernie was as sick as a dog thought and the only swanning he did was between the four-poster bed and the luxury toilet. Considering this whole palace thing was all about Ernie and Leisa’s wedding anniversary, it just seemed so cruel that this happened to him. But on the other hand, if you’re going to be sick in India, better that than in a luxury situation than jammed into a train or some such horrible thing.

Later in the evening, we heard some music start up somewhere yonder. Upon investigation, we found that they put on a live show with local Bundhelkandi musicians. Usually there is a dancer also, but unfortunately she was unwell, so we had to take her place. There’s something rather lovely about dancing in the rain doing (or attempting) impressions of Indian dancing with live music backup. The musicians were grinning from ear to ear – either with appreciation of our joining in or because it was the funniest thing they’d seen in a long time – two very damp ferangi twirling and wiggling their hips about as gracefully as a couple of water buffalo. We gave them some baksheesh (contribution) for their lovely music, but they refused to pay us for our dancing. In fact they laughed their heads off when we suggested it. Oh well – lucky I have a job back in NZ huh?

We had to grin later when we took our clothes off to go to bed – Indian clothing is not known well for it’s fixed dye and we had rainbow bodies to go to sleep in.

Finally, we went and dined in the glorious palace restaurant with it’s gold-leafed ceiling and chandeliers dripping with glass. Don’t ask me what we ate – I can’t remember most the names. But it was all really yummy and felt ever so decadent. We even had a Hindi lesson from the waiters, who were ever so tolerant and didn’t even laugh at our accents. Very graceful of them, I say.

Okay, I’ve had enough of writing for now and I’m sure you’ve heard enough of me. It’s really really hot here and super humid so I’m off to sprawl out and concentrate on just breathing for a while.

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