Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Chandelao - Week 5

Hoopoe looking for ants in the hotel courtyard.

Animals and Birds
We are regularly surprised about amount and variety of the wildlife in and around Chandelao. With every scrap of usable land given over to agriculture, sparse vegetation and little water it would not seem on the face of it to be a good place for animal and bird watching. Sandy has now identified 63 species of birds, and seen many others that he has been unable to match with a picture in Grimmett's Birds of Northern India. Two rapidly drying up local lakes are frequented by ducks and other water birds, and there are wild peacocks everywhere.
Spotted owlet outside a hotel window
On the furry side of the animal kingdom we have seen 2 kinds of antelope and one kind of gazelle. A few nights ago Sandy was surprised by a large, black, bristly wild sow jumping out of a ditch and squealing down the track in front of him followed by six tiny piglets. Last night we heard jackals howling in the distance, and this evening we caught sight of a mongoose. Some wildlife encounters are less welcome – we hear ominous squeakings and rustlings when it is dark, and one night, Sandy woke up to find a little mouse on his pillow. A little gecko hides out in the shutters, and yellow wasps hatch out in the rotting wood.

The caste system is very strong in this part of India, and we have gradually become more aware of it among the various local people we know. There are about 12 castes represented in this village, from Rajputs (the former rulers and warriors) to shepherds (the most numerous) and on down to musicians, farmers, gardeners, manual laborers, and blacksmiths at the bottom. Even though in modern India the caste does not determine the profession – there are no bus driver or computer programmer castes – many aspects of life, especially marriage, are strictly organized along caste lines.
We see how much of a self fulfilling prophecy is the caste into which someone is born. We find ourselves liking and encouraging the well-dressed, clean, well behaved and educated high-caste children, and avoiding the uneducated, pushy, grubby, badly behaved low-caste children. Some aspects of the system are quite obnoxious and incomprehensible to us. Some of the workmen who came to do some repairs to the hotel refused to eat the meals provided for them because the dishes were washed by a lower caste hotel kitchen worker.
Ding Dong Bell
Local ladies, and water truck collecting
water from the lake.
The school and many of the homes have their own well, which, after the monsoon rain is depleted, is filled by the local water tanker. This week we learned that these wells have to be cleaned out regularly. The low water and poor quality of water from the school's well led to an interesting and distracting spectacle: a barefoot teacher was lowered fifteen feet underground on a thin rope, from where he sent up buckets of silt and mud to the surface for disposal by a chain of young boys. One brave youth subsequently joined the teacher down the well and helped load the buckets. Lin was allowed to peer down into the well and wave to those below. Surprisingly, the teacher and his helper emerged with spotless shirts and only muddy feet, before the tanker was called and the tank refilled. This unexpected mid-morning entertainment was definitely worth recording, but unfortunately Lin did not have her camera with her.
Stars and Planets
The past few days as we dine on the hotel rooftop, we have been treated to a wonderful show in the early night sky, with a pale new moon hanging low in the western sky and a brilliant Venus and Jupiter above. In the east, Mars rises orange. The air is so clear and dry and we are so far from any large cities, that the night sky is breathtakingly beautiful – it is even more spectacular during a power cut.
Things that surprise Lin's chai-drinking lady friends
Lin's chai-drinking lady friends, and son.
  • We have a house with 5 bedrooms, with a bed for each member of the family
  • We have a machine for washing dishes as well as one for clothes
  • We don't have our own cow or goat, or even a dog
  • We get along well with our daughters-in-law, and do not have to nag them constantly to keep them in line.
  • Our sons and their families have their own houses and do not live with us.
  • Lin doesn't keep her face covered and eyes lowered when talking to Sandy, though she has taken to putting a scarf/shawl round her neck, if only to keep out some of the dust.
  • She does not wear lots of jewellery, bangles from wrist to shoulder, earrings, nose-piercings, necklaces and a jewelled headband, to show off her wealth and status as a wife.
  • She is also taken for a widow because she doesn't wear make-up, nail-polish or henna designs on hands and feet.
  • Toddlers in Pennsylvania wear diapers and do not run around outside with bare bottoms.
  • We take walks together for pleasure and relaxation.
  • We allow our lips to touch the cup when we drink water, and are a source of amusement when we spill it down our necks.
Inder Singh - smiling hotel factotum
Things we will miss
This week the hotel will be completely full, and we are being politely requested to leave for 2 nights. This coincides perfectly with a “mid-term retreat”the FSD encourages us to take, so we are going on a two day trip to Pushkar. It is a pretty spot in the hills about four hours from here. It is famous for two things: a camel fair in autumn, which we will miss, and as a major pilgrimage destination. Pushkar has the only temple in India dedicated to Brahma. Brahma was the creator of the universe in Hindu mythology, but due to an unfortunate misunderstanding with his wife he was cursed and permitted to have only one temple. We will stay in a lake-side hotel, and are looking forward to shopping at the famous bazaar that fills the streets around the temple.
When we get back, we will have only one week left in Chandelao, and we are already thinking about all the things we will miss.
  • Fresh home made yoghurt with our cereal every morning, served by smiling men in turbans.
  • Frequent cups of hot, spicy chai.
  • Parrot and peacock wake up calls, along with temple chanting, drums and bells
  • Children shouting “Pratigya” and “Sandee” at us in the street. (Pratigya is Lin's adopted Hindi name, and “Linda” jokes are already long forgotten)
  • Delicious mithai
    Warm, dry, cloudless weather and brilliant night skies
  • Ladies dressed in intense orange, red, pink, green, turquoise and blue native dress, stitched with gold and silver thread, sequins and mirrors, even when working on building sites, cutting wood, milking cows, cooking, and cleaning.
  • Cows wandering along the streets, into courtyards and even school
  • The morning and evening visit from a hoopoe which pecks for ants in the hotel lawn
  • The “no light” warning that the electricity is not working.
  • The “daily dusting” that ensures we are never dust-free.
  • Delicious sweets made of milk, cream, butter, sugar, nuts, and flavorings – and no chocolate.
  • The school kids' friendly chorus of welcome and “See you tomorrow” in Hindi and English.


  1. I can't believe you're leaving so soon! I love reading about the daily parts of life that a tourist wouldn't necessarily get to see and hearing about all the little traditions. The one comfort I can offer is that I have a great recipe for chai that was brought back from India to me by my best friend!
    Lots of love to you both,

  2. I hope you had a nice holi! Looking forward for your blogpost about that ;-)
    I am enjoying my further traves, but missing Chandelao same time....
    Kind regards to everyone!