|A happy group of villagers going to a wedding. |
The groom is on the right behind the driver.
Weddings are a huge event here, and we are now right in the middle of the wedding season. All marriages are arranged between the bride's and the groom's parents. They only occur within families from the same caste, and in Chandelao, marriages never occur within the village. Parents must always find a suitable match from another nearby village. In addition, although dowries are officially illegal, they are still very much a part of the overall negotiations between the two families. We have not attended a whole wedding – they go on for days – but we have seen and heard many bits and pieces.
A few nights ago there was a huge commotion in the street with lots of drums and cymbals. A local lady from the musicians' caste was getting married, and all her female friends and relatives were celebrating before the groom arrived. Each group in turn – children, unmarried women, married women – were dancing while the older men held 10 rupee notes above the best dancer's head. At the end of the dance the money was given to the musicians. It was a wild scene with people jostling, young ladies in their spectacularly colored finery, loud drumming and clanging, older ladies singing, and clouds of dust. This was the start of several days of intermittent partying, fireworks, and singing and dancing at odd hours of the day and night.
The groom arrived on a horse through a hastily built, decorated archway the next day. He looked very serious and hardly cracked a smile. The wedding ceremony itself was very brief and took place at 11:15 pm – a time that the local astrologer had determined to be the most auspicious. We had been invited, but could not keep our eyes open that late. I am sure that we will regret it later. The following day there was more partying, after which the groom took the bride away to his village, where the newly married couple will live with the groom's parents. By this time the groom was looking a lot happier. Now the archway and the party tent have been dismantled, but there is still a lot of singing going on in the house of the bride's parents. Perhaps they are lamenting the loss of their daughter, and the huge expense of getting her married in the proper style.
Birds and Animals
|Large male nilgai -- a "blue bull"|
We are constantly amazed and delighted by the wonderful bird and animal life here. So far in Chandelao, I have seen 47 species of birds, most of which are new to me, and many of which are spectacular and/or rare. There are many more that I have seen but have been unable to identify. The complete lack of chemicals used in agriculture, the lakes and ponds, and wide variety of vegetation encourages diversity. Most exhilarating are large flocks of elegant cranes soaring overhead, honking gently on their northward migration towards Siberia.
|Elegant blackbuck with corkscrew horns|
Yesterday, we played hookey in the afternoon, and went on a “jeep safari” from the hotel along dusty tracks to some even more remote villages. Some of the villages are inhabited by Bishnoi people who have been protecting the local animals and plant life for centuries. As a result the animals are quite unafraid of humans. We stopped to take pictures of camels, and large numbers of nilgai, huge antelope that look like a cross between a cow and a horse, with spindly legs and black and white socks. They are supposedly quite dangerous if crossed. More special were the blackbucks, a threatened species that used to be relentlessly hunted for their spectacular black and white skins and their long corkscrew horns.
Rug weaving and pottery
We also watched a rug-maker at work, using a huge loom to weave strong camel-hair carpets that can take from two to six days to complete, depending on the size.
The potter made his work look easy, but even spinning the heavy stone wheel with a stick was a challenge for the brave tourist who tried it, and her clay pot seemed to have a mind of its own and detached itself from the stone before completion.
|Elderly Bishnoi pours opium|
Elderly Bishnoi gentleman in this part of the world are partial to opium, which has been part of the culture for centuries and is not illegal. They take it in small quantities dissolved in water. The last stop on our jeep safari was at the house of a wizened 82-year-old who demonstrated how the opium is prepared and taken. The whole procedure is ritualized and formal. First a dark red syrup is mixed in a wooden “Aladdin's lamp” with water, then the mixture is poured through a conical cloth filter, then the liquid is poured into the palm of the hand and after a quick offering to one of the gods, is noisily slurped and the hand is then rinsed clean. The darker red the opium solution, the stronger it is. Sandy tried some of the pale yellow stuff – very weak. It had a bitter, distinctly chemical taste, and no palpable effect.
A German lady is currently staying here for three weeks as part of a project she has started to help the village make money through the sale of postcards, a calendar and eventually a book, based on photos that local children have taken. You can find her previous assignment in Zanskar, Ladakh at http://www.kamerakidz.com.
|One of the "camera kids" photos.|
Go to www.kamerakidz.com for more information
She arrived equipped with thirteen cameras donated by German people, and has worked with children in Class 8, showing them how to take pictures of their families and activities, like milking a cow/goat, preparing food, playing games...They select the best photos each day, to encourage further creativity, and the results have been really promising. It is refreshing to see the children using cameras, instead of chasing the tourists yelling “poto” and being disappointed that they can not get instant copies when they are snapped.
The hotel and craft-center staff, teachers and school-children all participate in the effort to teach us Hindi words, though we can't always distinguish Hindi from Marwari, and we certainly need constant repetition and practice. Sandy has become adept at reading signs and is less likely to get lost than his language-teacher wife. We now have a wider food-vocabulary, and hope it will serve us well when we are studying menus and conducting basic conversations.
|A "classroom" in Lin's school|