Ranthambore Fort, Game Park, and Khilchipur

November 4th, 2016

Our accommodation near the game park was fabulous.  We have some photos but go to the link for Narhargarh to see a bird’s eye view of the hotel!  Our room was on the right in the second courtyard.

“Surrounded by a 16th century style fortress, Nahargarh is built like a traditional Rajput hunting palace complete with a vast “Char Bagh” or formal Mughal garden.”

 Since it was Diwali we had firecrackers one evening.

We visited the Ranthambore Fort located within the game park.  The massive fort was built in the 5th century.

We also had two safari drives in the Game Park.  It is a park best known for seeing Bengal tigers.  However, no tigers seen on the two drives!  Other wildlife and birdlife were abundant.  However, we didn’t have our long lens so not many photos.

Overseas Adventure is part of the Grand Circle Foundation.  Some of the trip price goes to help a school and a village.  We spent a morning at the school and in the village.  Since this is still Diwali vacation, most of the 300 children were not there.  However, there were a few students who had come for extra tutoring during this time.  We talked with the founder and principal of the school, her husband, and the English teacher.  The school is a private school and is English medium.  The foundation has just begun working with the school but has given a bore well and water filter and is in process of giving benches and solar power.  Our group put on an impromptu skit of taking care of teeth and then distributed tooth brushes.  We were all given paper and pens.  The students drew pictures of Diwali and tour members drew pictures of either Halloween or Christmas.

We walked through the village noting various activities taking place.  The foundation is providing solar power to the village.

We stopped to have tea in a home.

 

We drove to a Women’s cooperative which the foundation is helping.  The foundation is providing water pump, tin roof, and power back-up.  We learned that this cooperative is providing Ten Thousand Villages with tablecloths!  An interesting visit which ended with a lunch.

 

Jaipur

October 31st, 2016

We flew to Jaipur, about 170 miles southwest of Delhi.  Jaipur is sometimes called the ”Pink City” because many of the buildings are painted/washed in that color.  The early city was built in 1720’s by Sawai Jai Singh II, a Mughal.

We visited a  1000-year old Jain Temple.  Here again, we did not know much about Jainism before.  Jainism is a religion of eternity and followers believe their religion is eternal.  Some say it began before Hinduism.  Their main beliefs are non-violence, non-absolutism, and non-possessiveness.  Followers take 5 main vows: non-violence, not lying, not stealing, chastity, and non-attachment.  Interestingly, Gandhi was greatly affected by these beliefs and adopted many of their principles.  (No photos inside)

To Jantar Mantar – an observatory built in 1730’s of masonry, stone, and brass and still used today.  Sawai Jai Singh II built 5 observatories around India but this is the largest and best preserved.  The large stone instruments form a natural artistic sculptural garden.  A “small sundial” calculates Jaipur’s local time up to an accuracy of 20 seconds.  The bigger one (largest sundial in the world) is correct to within 2 seconds.  There is a group of 12 pieces, each of which represents a sign of the zodiac and therefore faces a different constellation.  The instrument is used by astrologers to draw up horoscopes.  Astrology is very important in the life of Hindus.  There were many other instruments which were all fascinating.  (If anyone is really interested, the web site above talks about it more.)

We visited the City Palace Museum.  This has been home of the rulers of Jaipur since the first half of 18th century.  Architecture combines Hindu, Muslim, and British colonial influences.  We saw manuscripts, carpets, musical instruments, royal costumes, weaponry, and miniature paintings.  We even watched an artist who has presented at the Chicago Museum of Art and Indianapolis Art Museum.  He demonstrated miniature drawing using a brush of one hair of a squirrel’s tail and then gave us the drawing in a book which we had bought.

One evening we went to the Birla Hindu Temple.  The same family that built the large temple in Kolkata that we visited, also built this one.  It is more recent (1988) and did not seem as elaborate.  However, it did have some stained glass windows.  It has three domes – the first in the style of Islam, the second in the style of Buddhism, and the third in the style of Hinduism.  The sculptures around the outside include Hindu deities as well as great historical figures from all religions, including Socrates, Zarathustra, Christ, Buddha, and Confucius.

We stopped in front of the Palace of the Winds.  This isn’t really a palace but an elaborate wall from where women could look out on life and not be seen.  We stopped at a “milk market.”  Farmers bring their milk in, buyers come to buy.  There is a “tester” who sticks his hand in the milk and tastes to determine the quality/amount of cream.

We visited Amber Palace, begun in 1592, built of red sandstone and marble.  Amber Fort is located on an opposite hill.  There is elaborate relief work and glass which helped in the heating and cooling of the palace rooms. There are four levels each having a courtyard.

We stopped at a textile place where they demonstrated block printing.  (We have seen this elsewhere! Indonesia & Ivory Coast)  They also were making rugs but these were from wool—often camel’s wool.

Diwali is the most important festival in Hinduism, celebrated this year on Oct 30.  It is the festival of lights and reminds us of Christmas in the U.S.  Everyone is shopping; decorations are everywhere.  It is auspicious to buy something new two days before Diwali.  There is variation in regional practices and rituals of celebrating Diwali but they all signify the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair.  In this area Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and prosperity and wife of Lord Vishnu is celebrated especially.

We walked through a local market one evening.  It was extremely crowded, and yes, everyone was buying.  New clothes, new kitchen utensils, even new cars are bought.

On our last afternoon we took a balloon ride.  Fun.  We flew over rural areas and often just at tree tops.  Children especially, liked to wave.  Farmers were not so happy since we scared the cattle and goats.  Erosion was clearly visible.

We had supper with a local Indian family which was very interesting.  She had artistic and craft talents and he worked in the government.

And then there are some photos from various parts of our visits that don’t fit anywhere!

 

Delhi

October 28th, 2016

Our visit to Delhi began with a visit to a Sikh Temple – Gurdwara Bangla Sahib Temple.  We had never been to a Sikh Temple and in reality, knew nothing about Sikhism.  It is a monotheistic faith founded in 1469.  A Sikh believes in One God and the teachings of the Ten Gurus which are enshrined in the Holy Book.  There are 5 distinct principles represented by 5 symbols known as five K’s –

  • Kesha (long & unshorn hair) – the way you were born is the way you are
  • Kangha (a comb) – be presentable in life
  • Kara (a steel bracelet) – remind self of what you are doing
  • Kachha (pair of shorts) – self-control of human nature
  • Kirpan (a sword) – not to harm but to protect humanity

To enter the temple, shoes and socks must be removed and all heads must be covered, even men.  We entered the temple (no photos allowed) and sat and listened a bit to the chanting & explaining of the scriptures.  Outside the temple was a large “holy” pool.  Sikh temples have a high flagpole with a saffron flag flying to show followers where the temple is.  This temple also has a gold dome.

The temple featured a Langar (common kitchen) where food is provided to everyone.  It is a symbol of equality, fraternity and brotherhood.  Rich and poor, educated and ignorant, kings and paupers all share the same food sitting together in one row.  We participated.  It was quite astounding to see it working.  They feed close to 10,000 people a day.  We also visited the kitchen where Sikhs and volunteers prepare all the food.  Sally Jo even helped form some chapattis.

We then visited the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India which was completed in 1656.  It was quite different than any mosque we have been in.  There is only a small part under roof and the worship area is a big open space.  All the women in our group had to wear colorful gowns to make sure our legs were not showing, but we did not need to cover our head.

We took a short rickshaw ride and then a short walk through the Chandni Chowk bazaar.  Our guide wanted us to compare the Muslim section (many meat shops, auto mechanics, and more intense activity) with the Hindu section (vegetable stalls, silver & brass artisans, and a calmer atmosphere).  They don’t usually live together but they work together.  Lots of decorations for Diwali festival (Hindu festival of lights).

We visited the Qutb Minar built in the 12 century.  The mosque was built where Hindu and Jain temples had been originally.  There are Hindu panels among the Islamic domes and arches.  The 73 metre tower is the tallest brick minaret in the world.  It was amazing to think about and see this work – done with only hand tools.  A 4th century nonrusting iron pillar is a tribute to ancient Indian metallurgy.

To Mahatma Gandhi’s final home.  He spent his last 144 days here and was assassinated here Jan 30, 1948.  It is now a museum.  It was very well done — very informative with photos and explanations of his entire life. What an inspiration.

Our last stops included a Kashmiri carpet maker (beautiful works of art), a drive around the government buildings (security didn’t allow walking), and the India Gate (war memorial).  India Gate honors Indian & British soldiers who died in WW I and other wars.  The eternal flame is burned in memory of the 1971 Pakistan-India conflict.  An interesting note – facing the gate is a cupola where once stood a statue of King George V.  This statue was moved to another spot.  At one time it was suggested that a statue of Gandhi be placed here.  However, it was decided that since this was a war memorial it was inappropriate to place someone representing peace.

Kolkata

October 25th, 2016

We had a short stay of only two days in Kolkata, India.  We stayed at the MCC Guest House with the MCC Reps serving as our hosts.  We walked to the “flower market” our first morning.  We walked through small streets in the early morning as vendors were setting up their wares.  We stopped at an old Armenian Church.  The original wooden church was built in 1688 but burned down; the present structure was built in 1724.  The church and its grounds reminded us of the Armenian Church in Old Dhaka.  Flowers arrive in the morning and vendors buy and take to sell in other parts of the city.  Flowers are used in many aspects in the Hindu religion.  We stopped by the Hooghly River which is a branch of the Ganges through this part of India.  Crossing the river at this point is the Howrah Bridge, the third longest cantilever bridge in the world.  Across the river is a huge train station.  We brought a tram back to the Guest House.

We had a good walk in the Botanical Gardens.  The main attraction is a mammoth banyan tree thought to be at least 250 years old.  The main trunk rotted away in 1925 but it continues to live with its aerial roots.  When the trunk was removed it was 50 feet in circumference.  The present canopy occupies more than 1500 feet in circumference.  It is huge!  We also saw the giant water lily pads—like we saw in Chiang Mai.  They can be up to 1 feet in diameter.

We attended St James Church Sunday morning, a high Anglican service.  Afterwards we visited St Mother Teresa’s Mother House.  We visited the museum and her final resting spot.

We roamed the Victoria Memorial.  The grounds are well-cared for “colonial British” gardens.  The marble monument was completed in 1921.  We could only visit the first floor and photos were not allowed inside.  There is a large gallery of oil paintings and watercolors from the 19th century illustrating the lives and time period of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.   The other half of the museum tells the history of Kolkata from mid 1600’s to the partition of India in 1947 and on through to the 1970s.  A fascinating collection but far too much information to retain!  There was even a life-size diorama of a street in Kolkata in the late 1800s.

We stopped in at St Paul’s, the Mother Church of the diocese of Kolkata in the Church of North India.  The architecture was very different than we normally see.

 

In the evening we visited Birla Mandir, a Hindu temple built of marble in the late 20th century by an industrialist family.  Again no photos but a fascinating temple and especially beautiful at night when it is lit up.  Inside are statues to several of the deities – Krishna, Radha, Durga, Shakti, and Shiva.  There were many people paying their respects and/or just enjoying the site.

 

Botanical Gardens … and more

October 7th, 2016

We spent a wonderful morning with an MCC office colleague.  We often complain about the noise and chaos of traffic and people here in Dhaka.   But this time we were in the Botanical Gardens far away from traffic noise and among the tall quiet trees.  Our morning included a few other places.

Bangladesh is getting ready for the Hindu festival – Durga Puja.  We stopped first at a Hindu temple where we saw several of the gods.  However, the main god will not be unveiled until later in the day.  An interesting encounter was with the man who explained the temple; he knew MCC!

We then went to the Gardens.  Our colleague is a bird watcher and knows Bangladesh nature.  He told us the names of birds we heard or saw and the plants/trees.  Fascinating.  However, we don’t remember all the names.  We have only one photo of a bird (we didn’t have our long lens) but we saw beautiful woodpeckers and orioles, along with more common birds.  We also saw and heard a colony of bats.  Huge bats – wing span of a meter

We then went for a ride in a small boat/canoe on the river.  Fun

We traveled from our flat to the various places by CNG, the 3-wheeled “box” — if you could reach through the window grates, you could touch the vehicles beside you.  (CNG stands for Compressed Natural Gas – their fuel.)

Chiang Mai

October 4th, 2016

The Asia Leadership Team (ALT) had their semi-annual meetings in Chiang Mai, Thailand, the last week of September.  ALT is made up of MCC Reps from Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Viet Nam plus the two area director couples.  This time three persons of the US and Canada offices joined. There were 2 ½ days full of meetings, plus another ½ day and other scheduled individual meetings.

The meetings were held in a resort which was beautiful.  We had a half day “field trip” to a botanical gardens.  The two of us also visited the neighborhood Buddhist Temple. The last night together we dined at a restaurant next to the river.

We had a good time visiting with colleagues and enjoying the various trips.  Oh yes, we didn’t take photos but we did visit the night market one night and another night we had a Thai massage.

Trip north (2)

September 17th, 2016

From Bogra we drove to Mymensingh.  (See map of previous blog.)    We met with the leader of Pobitra, an organization we had previously visited.  Pobitra works with 20 women (former sex workers) for a year in helping them learn life skills and trade skills.  We are not allowed to show faces so only have photos of the “teachers.”  Sometime I hope we are there to see the women at work.  In the evening we took a walk along the river front in Mymensingh—the Brahmaputra River.  There were many people socializing and relaxing and/or taking boat trips along the river.

The following day we drove to Baromari Catholic church.  Again we were welcomed by singing, dancing, and beautiful flowers.  MCC has partnered with this church for many years, especially through the Global Family program.  We visited the school and Ron had fun at the blackboard in their math class.  We also visited the girls’ dorm and talked with them briefly.

 

MCC is beginning a new five-year project in this area which will focus on food security and health and peace education.  We drove to one of the communities where a women’s group is just being formed.  They gave us a grand welcome with singing accompanied by various musical instruments and flowers.  The group told us how they are organized, what they hope they learn, and some of their concerns.  After the formal meeting, Sally Jo asked to see the harmonium.  This instrument is often used here in Bangladesh but we have never had a chance to see it up close.  That led to the women singing more traditional songs and dancing.  (You may have seen the Facebook post of Sally Jo dancing. )

 

The women also showed us some of their water pumps.  There is a problem with water in this area because of a rock bed.  The water pipes need to be drilled to about 50 metres or more because shallow pipes can bring up water which contains arsenic.  They also showed us a homestead where elephants have come and damaged their crops.  At this point we were only 1 or 2 km from the India border and elephants don’t seem to understand international boundaries!  We missed taking a photo of the “Watch out for elephants” sign!

We drove back to the Catholic Mission for a hike and lunch.  We were accompanied the whole day with four armed policemen for security.  We didn’t ask for the protection, but it is their job to make sure foreigners are safe.

At the mission the Catholic Sister said to follow her.  She didn’t really say where we were going or what we were doing.  We ended up hiking up a hill following the fourteen “Stations of the Cross.”   (It was a good hike—more exercise than we have had in the last three months!  It also was extremely hot and humid.) At the end of the hike we saw the huge statue of St. Mary which was created by a Muslim artist.  At the end of October, about 10,000 people come to pray and celebrate in this area.

The following day in Mymensingh we visited Sacred Mark Enterprise (SME) which is a business begun by MCC but now is a private company.  They make seven varieties of soap and various recycled sari products.  (We had visited them on an earlier trip but at that time were unable to see the women at work.)  The owner was part of MCC for 20 years and helped to develop the soap.  The women are mostly former sex workers who have previously spent a year with Probitra.  At first she was worried about taking on the leadership because of the harassment of employing these women.  However, she was encouraged by family, friends, and MCC and is now “family and counselor” to the producers.  She has 33 fulltime workers and about 50 part-time.

We also visited Shanti Mitra “Friends of Peace.”  This organization began in 2007 and is sponsored by MCC and the Taize Brothers.  They work mainly with young people.  (The group of young people meeting when we were there were talking about social media.)  The organization does a lot with interfaith dialogue and peace education through creative art, drama, music.  It is important to work with young people but it is also important to work with the religious leaders who have great influence over the youth.  Shanti Mitra tries to invite these leaders to meetings and dialogues.  (We had also visited here before but each time we learn more.)

It was fun to introduce our International Program Director to some of the projects here in Bangladesh.  This was his first trip to the country.  We think he also was inspired – just as we are every time we visit projects – at what MCC has done, is doing, and hopes to do.  But we also all learn of the challenges.

Scenes travelling

September 14th, 2016

As we travel we see so many fascinating things along the road.  Sometimes we can get a quick photo and sometimes we can’t. Here we have added photos of a few sights from this trip.

On the first day we saw two elephants walking down the road ahead of us.  Even though it was pouring rain, we managed to get a “sort of” photo as we drove alongside it.  Elephants are not very common in Bangladesh except in the border areas with India so it was surprising to see one when we did.

It was interesting to see the change in the rice fields from when we traveled a month ago.  Then we saw mostly newly planted rice.  This time we saw fields of bright green growing rice — beautiful.  We even saw the hills of India!  (The first time we saw any elevation in Bangladesh.)  In one area we passed large areas where they were drying rice.  They usually spread it out on a large concrete area and often walk through it to stir the rice.  They then rake it in to long rows before bagging it.

One day we saw a bookmobile!  What a joy!

When we returned to Dhaka, we were in time to see all the women leaving work at the garment factories at the end of the day.  As you may see from the tags on clothes in the US stores, many clothes are sewn here.  It is a huge industry.  It was reported in a recent article that in 2015 the garment industry accounted for 82% of Bangladesh’s exports.

We saw rivers which were low because India had closed a dam (all rivers come though India.)  And we saw rivers in other places where the water was very high and the brick kilns were surrounded.  In other areas sand was being dug from the river for concrete.

And sometimes we just see interesting things!

Trip north (1)

September 13th, 2016

 

We recently spent six days “on the road” with our Area Directors and the International Program director from Winnipeg visiting several projects.  There were many hours on the road between projects, but that is the reality here.  This map shows where we went.  The red stars are the towns and the green circles are the approximate location of the churches.  We spent our first night in Bogra.

Our first stop was at a Catholic Mission.  We were welcomed by singing and presentation of flowers.  We found this wherever we visited—singing and flowers.  It is a nice welcome!  The St Francis of Assisi Church of Dhanjuri was established in the 1940s.  It’s a beautiful church.  Attached to the mission is a leprosarium and a hostel for disabled children both of which we visited.  We drove down some slippery narrow roads until eventually, we needed to get out and walk to a village.  There we visited a Peace club meeting and one woman who had been given a cow and had bettered her life.  The peace club includes community members of diverse faiths, mainly Muslim, Hindu, and Christian, who meet regularly to discuss common concerns. We spent the night in Dinajpur.  We had a delicious supper of fresh chipatis and chicken kebabs.

The following day we visited another village.  This time again, the car could not drive all the way to the village but we rode a flat-bed rickshaw for several kms.  We stopped to visit a community training meeting where the women were learning about growing vegetables.  The lesson was on recognizing good and bad seeds.  MCC does not provide seeds but does a lot of education so that women can grow better crops.  Even though MCC has a group of women that we work with especially, the trainings are for anyone who wants to attend.  Men also sometimes come.  Afterwards we stopped at one of the homes of a woman who was given a bull and has been successful.  We learned that though it is culturally inappropriate to own a bull, she is willing to do so. She also has begun to raise rabbits, chickens, grass for her animals, and does composting.

We stopped at Peace playground initiated by MCC.  This one is quite large and is close to a school.  The children said they like to play there.  In one of the rondavels a small Peace club was meeting; they have been meeting for about three years.  Because of what they have learned they are doing things for the community.  They have gathered clothes to give to those poorer than they.  They have helped fill potholes in the road.  They are planning activities for the community for World Peace Day.  It was good to see such an active and excited group.

We had lunch at the Catholic Church with whom we partner in this area.  Again we were welcomed by singing and flowers.

On our way back to Bogra we stopped in Saidpur to see a company called Action Bag.  It was started in 1991 by MCC but is now privately owned.  The owner is doing a worldwide business and has just moved into a large new building.  They were in the process of filling a large order for jute bags for Ten Thousand Villages.  They also make various types of bags from recycled saris.  And they are beginning to do some screen printing.

We took a side trip to visit an 18th century Hindu temple, Kantaji Temple.  This beautiful temple is dedicated to Krishna and his wife Rukmini. It was completed in 1752.  It has beautiful terracotta architecture.  One website describes the terracotta this way:

Terracotta Decoration available in every inch of its wall surface both inside and out depict flora and fauna, the exploits of Krishna, the stories of the Mahabharata (Mahabharata and the Ramayana), favorite pastimes of the landed aristocracy. The amazing profusion, modeling have seldom been surpassed by any mural art of its kind in Bengal. One can observe here a carefully arranged thematic scheme at different levels and spaces on the temple wall.

 

Bronze artist

August 30th, 2016

We visited a brass maker using the “lost-wax” method of producing bronze figures. Fascinating!  These are not mass-produced products; each one is individually created and moulded.  Briefly, the process requires a person to create the object out wax.  (Here they use beeswax and paraffin.)  They then cover it with three different layers of clay.  The first is very thin and is painted on the object.  The second is thicker, while the third is even thicker.  Two air pipes are created in the piece.  The object is then left to dry.  The object is baked in a fire; the wax eventually melts and runs out through the pipes.  At the appropriate time, the object is taken from the fire and the hot metal is poured in through the air vent from which the wax flowed out.  The object cools.  When completed the outside clay mould is chipped off.  It is then that the artist knows for sure what the object will look like.  Various things may go wrong and the artist may lose his creation!  But if the moulding is successful, an original, unique object has been created.  The artists produce mainly Hindu and Buddhist objects.

Beside the captivating process of the art, the story of this Hindu family is also interesting.  The man who is now the owner is the fifth generation brass maker still working in the original home.  However, there have been disruptions along the way.  During the War of Independence (1971), the family had to flee to India.  The mother told of the journey which was mainly by walking and by boat.  She had 6 year old and 25 month old children.  They often walked at night—completely quiet—to avoid conflicts.  They hid during the day.

After the war was over, they returned to their home only to find that their Muslim neighbours had taken over the house and destroyed much of it.  Through a legal process, they were able to get their home back.  However, many of the villagers are still not friendly, and they do live in fear.

They have an additional problem now—selling their objects.  It is very difficult to export because of regulations.  He said that recently, it took 1½ years to get a permit to export a shipment of 100 pieces.  This is original art and is not inexpensive!  They rely a great deal on tourism.  However, since the recent terrorist acts, tourism has dropped dramatically.  They are unsure of their future.