India Adventure #8

Dec 27 – Aubrey deserves all of the credit for this post…

Early morning yoga once again, followed by breakfast. We had to load up with calories as we were going to the build site for the last time, and had a lot we hoped to accomplish. Which is not to say we weren’t loading up with calories every morning, as the food was so good!

After our regular bumpy, twisting, vertiginous drive through villages and farmland, passing many cows and oxen on the street and mostly avoiding the holes in the road and always barely avoiding oncoming traffic, we immediately set to work on the school stair foundation and plastering.

After the first day, we had made a few dents in the one by thirty metre area we needed to excavate to make the foundation. The plastering had barely started. After the second day, the holes had connected and the plasterers had found their groove. It seemed we were making progress. Yet it seemed improbable we would actually accomplish anything tangible towards the stairs for the school and sealing the back of the school foundation wall. 

The pickaxe work was tiring and difficult to maintain for long, aggravated by a high percentage of rocks in the dry soil. Once enough dirt and rocks were loosened, we were able to use our regular or Indian shovels to scoop the dirt and rocks into metal pans, which we carried to the side of the school. The shovelling was really hard with all of the rocks making none of the scoops smooth. The work was tough but fun working as a team. Plus we were only working for about two hours each time. There really was no official marker for the distance from the front of the school or the thirty centimetre depth for the foundation, so we were occasionally advised by one of the community members and twice we made a line with a shoe in the dirt to indicate our border.

Suddenly, a corner was turned and the pit was complete! Large rocks were placed back into the pit neatly created and the masala (technically any mixture, but in this case our regular cement mixture but with rocks in it as well) was poured between the rocks to create the foundation. Whereas over the first two days I had mixed two piles of cement (mostly sifted dirt with one seventh cement), used for plastering the back of the foundation, this last day I mixed six or seven piles of cement mix, now mostly for the foundation. As fast as I could mix the cement, now mostly with unsifted sand and the same one seventh cement, it was shovelled into metal pans and poured into the foundation. And as we finished past our scheduled end time, the first layer of the foundation was complete and the back of the school foundation was plastered.

It struck me how well the local resources had been used in this case. Basically, we had removed rocks and stones and dirt from the foundation area, organized them into piles (as all along we had set aside larger rocks as they were removed from the earth) and then replaced the rocks and then dirt and stones as cement mix masala. Rocks and earth out, then rocks and earth back in. The only difference in content was the addition of a small percentage of cement to a much better organized foundation.

Lunch felt well deserved. Every meals has been mostly Indian food with usually one Italian dish. Apparently the Chef’s specialty is European food, even though his Indian cooking seems excellent.

Without much time for rest, we headed over to Fort Kumbhalgarh for a tour. It was built by Maharana Kumbha in the 15th century with a six metre wide solid wall, unaffected by cannon balls! The fort also boasts the second longest continuous wall in the World: the circumference around the royal land of thirty-six kilometres is only bested in length by the Great Wall of China. The Cloud Palace is also named for its height on the hills. It contains a small village, with most of the people employed by the royal family. The village remains, inhabited by people like Salim, our guide for the afternoon. At one time there were fifteen thousand people within the walls. As well, there is a Jain and Krishna temple from before the 1st century within the walls. 

Kumbha was old when he made the fort. As the story goes, he built the fort and it kept collapsing the next day. He consulted a holy man, who told him that a voluntary human sacrifice had to be made in order for the fort to succeed. None but a hermit (Meher Baba), who was passing that way, offered himself for the sacrifice. He was ritually decapitated and his head rolled down the hill. After his beheading, his headless body walked up the hill and then fell. At one location is the head temple shrine and the other hosts the body temple shrine. They aren’t so close.

Later, his son got impatient for him to die so he killed him. This type of family politics seems typical for royal families at this time and seems more extreme than present day conflicts. The king’s younger son punished the older son and took over. 

One point of interest was the Queen’s courtyard and her meditation room, in which chanting “om” echoes and vibrates the entire room and through your body, apparently giving those present more energy.

We enjoyed the fort, including the enormity of the complex and the encompassed countryside. The fort itself was designated an UNESCO world heritage site in 2013. The government took over in 1951.

We returned to Araveli and began to dress for our evening goodbye banquet. The women attempted to dress each in her saree and the men each put on his kurta. The items had been selected and sized two days earlier and had just arrived. Two local women arrived to assist in the tying of the saree, which involves fanning, tucking and pinning a long length of fabric. They also instructed our women in donning the saree frontwards (instead of backwards). Everyone looked elegant in their formal wear.

Dressing up in traditional Indian clothes, including the men in turbans, brought to mind the recent Prime Minister Trudeau Indian clothes controversy. Was his choice of clothing cultural appropriation or appreciation? We did not ask to dress up; rather, our hosts offered us the gift of this formal wear to celebrate locally. Although not for our daily wear, we are set for an Indian wedding! 

We waiting for all to be ready and then entered along a torchlit pathway to meet the staff and a concert of traditional music by local villagers. One of the men demonstrated and then led us in dancing continuously for about thirty minutes during cocktails. This type of music and dance is part of a typical circle of village men meeting for prayer in the evenings. We were treated to some “Street food” in carts: sugar pretzels (jellabi), poppers, and really yummy crunchy rice piles. This already felt like dinner but was followed by an all-Indian buffet onto a large metal circular plate with side walls in traditional Rajasthani thali style.

After dinner, the kids were pulled from their ongoing spoons game for a song to celebrate and thank the staff, as coordinated by Koren and written with the help of a few others in our group. To the tune of “My Favourite Things,” the staff were all present for the presentation and were surprised (mostly surprised, as printing the song and making copies involved a fair bit of IT work in the tiny administrative office at Araveli) and moved by the words.

We said goodbye to the Talwar family, who get to sleep in tomorrow, and went to bed. Every night we hit the hay at a reasonable hour, but sleep in India is not yet as efficient as at home, and so the morning wake-up seems far too soon. Maybe Zev will forgive us for so many early mornings, if he gets to sleep in after we get home.

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