21 Feb 2014

The drought is here

I can't believe it - just 2 months ago we were worried about floods. Now we are worried that it hadn't rained for so long  - 2 months to be exact!  The weather has been playing with us for so e time now . In November, during the examinations season the prolonged rainy days brought on floods in almost every state. People had to be evacuated from their homes and schools were closed. Today there is a disquietening piece of news- some parts are so dry that fish are left struggling in the dry river beds and many have died. Paid fields are dry and turning brown in the northern part of Malaysia and some parts of Selangor already have water rationing taking place. There are news  of bush fires everywhere. Yesterday when I sent to the tailor I had to pass a bit of forest reserve which I noticed was very dry and brownish in colour. There was a family of monkeys at the roadside. Usually you hardly see the monkeys near this road because there were enough fruit trees in the reserve for them. Now I guess they are looking for food - poor things. I didn't have anything with me otherwise I would throw some food  to  . I  wonder  how they survive if this drought is prolonged. I sure hope that it will rain soon.Right now I hear we are buying water from Johor, a neighbouring state which has many large rivers. Malacca is so small and we don't even have any real rivers or lakes! 

We have had no rain at all for the last two months . For a country that is so used to getting rain every other day, this is unbearable. Not only is it hot and dry, my plants are dying and we are told to conserve water. I buy a huge container to store water , just in case rationing starts in Malacca. In KL water rationing has already begun.

17 Feb 2014

The Taj Mahal

I think most of us know the history of the Taj Mahal. According to our guide Taj means a crown and Mahal means Palace. So translated the Taj Mahal meant Crown Palace. It was built by the emperor Shah Jahan who was the grandson of the man who founded the Mogul empire - Akbar the Great . Shah Jahan had three wives and any number of concubines but his favourite was his beautiful first wife- the lovely Mumtaz, or sometimes known as Noor Jahan or the light of Jahan.Together they had 14 children. The King loved her so much that he could not bear to be separated from her even for a day, so the story goes. However at the age of 39, she died while giving birth to her last child. The grieving king himself was still in his early 40s but he never remarried and he vowed that he would house her remains in the most beautiful palace in the world. 

And so the Taj Mahal was designed - as a palace to put his lovely queen. It was made completely of white marble obtained from a all over India and the architect was imported from Persia.  It took him almost 22 long years to build it with thousands of workers from all over India and also from Persia and from Bukhara were hired to design and build this most magnificent  palace for his wife as her final resting place. But the story did not end here, nor is it a beautiful story. In fact it was a very sad tale. 

The King's third son, Auranzeb, angry at the wastage of public funds by Shah Jahan his father,  deposed him and placed him under house arrest. The now sickly king no longer took interest in the kingdom anyway and spent his final years in what is known as The Red Fort or Lal Qilla , gazing longingly at his wife's  mausoleum opposite his palace just across the Yamuna River. After the Taj Mahal was completed Shah Jahan planned to build a similar mausoleum for himself but this time using black marble as his own resting place. However his plans were never fulfilled. 

The Taj Mahal itself is not just a beautiful building - there is simply no words to describe its splendor and it's magnificence. Built totally of white marble it's colour changes hue at different times of the day. We were there just about the time of the setting sun and looking at it one realises why it is called one of the 7 wonders of the world. 
The Taj Mahal 

REpin in front of the Taj Mahal 

Agra, and the most romantic gestures of all time

The Taj Mahal seen from the main gate
( above - view of Taj Mahal from Northern gate) 

The mosque on the east side of the Taj Mahal

 From Jaipur it took us more than  6 hours to reach Agra. Like the road to Jaipur, the road to Agra wasn't really a highway. It was slightly better in that there were fewer camel caravans on the road but it was congested nevertheless. We started out very early in the morning- it was very foggy and cold too. So foggy that there wasn't much of a view. In some places the visibility was so bad that you could only see about 50m ahead. There was much honking of horns as usual. We stopped at a rest area for a bit of hot chai - masala chai has now become a favorite of mine. Even Zaiton who wasn't really fond of tea became an enthusiast. 

At 12.35pm we reached Fatehpur Sikri an ancient town built also during the time of the Mogul empire. It was a huge complex of buildings which included ruins of a palace, a masjid or mosque, a Dewan where the king held audiences and also a fortress. However our visit was spoiled by the dozens of ragged boys, young men and even women, young and old , trying to peddle goods. They carried bangles, fridge magnets, necklaces, and all kinds of wares and were so insistent and determined that it really spoiled my enjoyment of this ancient city complex. They followed us all around, pushing their wares at us even though we said No. 

From Fatehpur Sikri it should have been a short drive to Agra but we had to make a detour because of some roadworks. By the time we arrived at the hotel in Agra, it was way past 4.00pm and lunch was long over. The cafeteria staff though were kind enough to prepare for us a lovely and sumptuous meal and we ate hungrily. It had been a long time since breakfast and even at the rest area we didn't eat anything. 

The guide told us we would have to hurry to see the Taj Mahal as it closed its doors for visitors at 5.30 pm. So after a hurried meal and and clean up we were taken to see the Taj Mahal. 
The Taj Mahal seen from the Western gate
We arrived just before closing time. It was really lucky for us because there were easily thousands of people once we were inside. Traveling into the huge grounds was by electric tram. It deposited us just outside the gates and security was really tight. In fact there were 3 levels of security checks - before the entrance, at mid entrance and just before the gate itself. Even the gate ( there are 4 gates - east, west, north and south) was most impressive. It was really huge and once inside, the grounds were sprawling. In the distance, one can see fountains and reflecting pools, right in the middle of the Taj Mahal. 

I think it is the most glorious monument I have ever seen in my life!  Glowing white and pink in the light of the setting sun, here is this grand gesture of a love that is lost which has lasted for centuries. 

10 Feb 2014

Jaipur- City of palaces

A drummer welcoming us into the hotel 

A warm welcome into the hotel lobby

Repin at Jantat Mantar, an astronomical laboratory
A warm welcome was given to guests at the Golden Palace hotel - a boy was beating a drum and puppets as well as a person playing some traditional instrument greeted us we stepped out of the van. After a journey of 5+ hours, this was indeed welcoming. Checking in into the hotel was also done in quick succession and we were soon ushered into our cool spacious room. Freshening up quickly and after our afternoon prayers we then walked to the cafe for a quick lunch, which was capatti , dal, chicken in some herb sauce, vegetables, rice and another kind of curry. 

 Next on our intenary was a visit to a Mogul palace as well as an observatory designed by one of the Kings of Rajasthan. It was called Jantar Mantar and had really accurate timepieces all made of stone and marble.  Just imagine it was made in mid 14th century - and a person with some knowledge of astronomy and mathematics could calculate exactly when the new moon would appear or know when was the next lunar eclipse and where!  There were also the 12 symbols of the zodiac - and you can see me here standing g next to mine - Libra ! 
Looking at the exhibits in the astronomical lab of an Indian king 
Me pointing at my star symbol, Libra

A short sojourn in India

A busy road in India
I had always wanted to go to India . To me, the word India resonates with all things mystical and romantic. And I can say that after more than 20 years of wanting to go I was suddenly told that our trip was booked and we would be flying on the 27 January! I was so excited that I began packing almost immediately !

Our flight was at 6pm Malaysian time and there was another family going with us - my husband's colleague and his wife and their 18 year old son. We met at the airport and once we had checked in browsed around the shops there while waiting to board. Soon we were up and away ! The seats were quite comfortable though it was a semi budget airline - Malindo Air. However the flight was delayed by almost 40 minutes : someone had checked in but did not board the plane. So the flight attendants and the ground personnel had to get his luggage back out, which I'm sure was not an easy task! 

The journey took us almost 6 hours and we arrived in New Delhi around 9.30 pm Indian time- still early by all standards, in spite of the delay. A representative of the tour agency was waiting for us once we cleared Immigration and took us to our van - a 12 seater Ford Traveller which was our transport throughout our stay in India. The drive to the hotel was long - it was situated in the outskirts of New Delhi.  

Our tour started the next day. We were going to Jaipur , a city about 250km away and took us the better part of a day to reach. Along the way we saw so many interesting and fascinating sites. The road was not an expressway though the driver said it was. Oh by the way his name was Samsar and he would be more or less our guide as well as our driver, throughout our stay ion India. 

The traffic outside Delhi I suppose can only be said to be horrendous- for almost one hour it was a bumper to bumper crawl and I grimace every time the van was manoeuvred into any line that seemed to be moving. That was an experience by itself, I tell you. If you can drive in New Delhi you should be able to drive anywhere! And the noise - honks everywhere . To us who are not accustomed to noisy driving it can be a bemusing experience. In fact on the backs of all trucks and buses one can see the sign -" Please honk! "

the words "please honk" on the backs of trucks
We finally arrived in Jaipur around 2.00pm in the afternoon, just in time for lunch, a quick freshing up and then we had to get out again to see the sights in Jaipur, which is the capital of Rajasthan.