Towards the end of my trip I had the opportunity to travel southwest to the small city of Thiruvannamalai. I hadn’t known much about it before I went and found it to be a really interesting place to visit. It was pretty busy, and boasts a large temple in it’s center. Tourists also come from all over to visit the famous ashram, Sri Ramanashramam, there. One of the reasons we went there was to check out a school located on the outskirts of Thiruvannamalai called, Marudam Farm School. It’s an open concept school, and founded on the principles that the students guide their learning.
It takes about 5 hours to get there from Chennai, but you travel through some really interesting spaces. Lots of history and old mountains. Some forts and also some of the prettiest countryside you can see in this area. There wasn’t a lot of traffic when we drove and it was a really pleasant journey.
If I had known about this place sooner I probably would have made an effort to spend more time there to really get to know it. I loved the area, the energy and the people. It seemed like a very laid back kind of place, with lots of chances to view extremely important historical sites. If you look at a map, it’s just west of Puducherry, and really easy to get to.
Here are a few pictures of the area, I’ll post more about the school later:
Tanjore painting is really hard. There are lots of steps and you need lots of patience to create one. I took a Tanjore class in Chennai for about 6 weeks and I didn’t even finish. I can see how this art is looked on with great respect. Everything about the painting needs to be perfect from the very beginning. I spent hours on this painting and I didn’t even get to the painting part. I have my work, and will finish one of these days. This style of painting is still practiced, but they are very time consuming and it takes professional artists hours and hours of painstaking skill to create one that is masterful and full of beauty. My teacher’s work was amazing. You could instantly see that his work was of high value and really special. His paintings were also four times as big as the small one I didn’t finish.
At times when I was working on this I thought it was really labor intensive, but I had to remember it was also meditative. You could do nothing but focus on what task you were doing. You had to pay attention to only that part, or else you would probably make a mistake. Oh– and I made plenty. Some days I was there for 4 hours working on the placement of the stones, or putting on extra putty to make them stick. By the end of the class I felt like my back was stiff, my arms were stiff, and my fingers were going to fall off!
But I still worked at it, it was a great challenge for me to undertake, just so I could see what it was like to create such a piece.
I also met some great people along the way. The arts center was a fun place. At the times I was there, I always talked with the other students and teachers. It was a great environment to be a part of and I thoroughly enjoyed working there.
I just realized, I don’t have a picture of the rest of the steps. I’ll have to post a finished piece when I have it finally completed. As you can see, there is a lot of work that goes on in creating a Tanjore painting. It is a dying art and it’s hard to find masters that can teach you the proper steps. It isn’t to be rushed, you can’t finish this kind of piece in a few hours, and it takes time to perfect. I was glad to have the experience and to understand how much work it takes to complete just a small one.
The other people who were in this class with me were creating pictures for their homes. People who create paintings such as this have great respect for the art, but also the art serves as a function for people who practice Hindusim, it is a blessing to have one of these paintings in your home. As you may guess, there are popular images. Many of Ganesh, like my example, but also Krishna, Durga, Rama and Sita, and others.
Hip hop has become the go-to style for many kids around the globe. It represents a lot to those who listen to the music and adopt the lifestyle. A lot of people understand that hip hop is a culture, a way of life. There are four main parts– MC, DJ, graffiti, and break dancing. In India, I saw a lot in the way of dancing, and break dancing, or hip hop dancing was definitely the mode by which hip hop culture has assimilated into the lives of youth there. Not to mention the attitude and style that goes with it.
I happened upon this group one day as I was walking back from my art class on a Sunday afternoon. It was busy in the park. People were exercising, chatting, playing. It was super hot, too. I could hear the faint music trickling out on to the sidewalk, and decided to stop and take a look. At first I watched from afar, not wanting to interrupt their flow or seem like a crazy tourist. But they invited me to sit down and watch. I sat next to a couple of kids who spoke some English and we talked about hip hop, and dance. One of the guys said that the group who was dancing were taking classes and come here almost weekly to hang out and practice. And that’s what they were doing. There wasn’t even a lot of talking happening, just dancing. It flowed as the music changed as they were just trying a variety of movements out.
I talked to the guys some more and asked them if I could take some pictures and video. They seemed ok with that, so I did. After they finished a long session of dancing, I just thanked them for letting me watch and chatting with them. They were super excited.
Dancing has a long tradition in Tamil Nadu. Mostly known for a particular South Indian style that merges with storytelling and pantomiming. Hip hop is a freedom of movement for them, a chance to experiment with their own style. Because if there’s one thing that hip hop culture allows, it’s: personal style.
I tried going back to see if I could catch them practicing again, but I never saw them again. I wish I had, because they were so fun to watch. But, it was getting super hot throughout March, and I never ran into them again. Here are a few videos that showcase the guys just hanging out, practicing, and trying their best to move to the music.
Going back to Jaipur I had a second change at a lot of things. I got to take some unexpected pictures of things that I missed the first time, or I just wanted to get that “perfect” shot. It was actually a pretty quick visit, but the crowds were gone, which meant pictures without tons of people and waiting— waiting some more to get an unobstructed view.
In this part of the trip I went to City Palace, Hawa Mahal, and Jantar Mantar. It was really hot, so we moved quickly through the spaces, and sat in the shade. I even listened to some of the recorded guides (some good, others…were something else). It was nice to have a second chance.
After a quick change and a quick “shower” we had quick break and headed over to the elephants one more time. We were led around a little area where they take the elephants for a walk. You meander around a desert area that makes a trail through the property. It’s quiet, you can hear dogs barking in the background, no cars, no hoards of people, and some occasional cows wander through. I had never ridden on an elephant before, and it was a very calm experience. You kind of sway side to side and just slowly move past the scenery.
So after we painted our elephants, we walked them over to a grassy area with long hoses and washed them down. The elephants took turns drinking from the hose and splashing themselves with the water from their trunk. We scrubbed a little bit and they the handlers allowed us to sit on top of the elephants. Little did we know that we were about to get washed ourselves. They said,” Make sure you leave all your electronics with us”. Uh-oh, that could have been the tell-tale sign. Good thing I brought a change of clothes.
We walked over to another grassy spot and got drenched. The handlers let the elephants fill their trunks with water and splash us. It was cold, wet, and amazing. They got us pretty good. We couldn’t stop smiling.
This will probably go down as one of the best experiences I have ever had. It’s really no secret that one of my most favorite animals is an elephant. They are beautiful animals in almost every way. I’ve seen elephants in zoos when I was a kid, and became hooked on their massive presence. I had the opportunity to see elephants on safari in Tanzania, and that was the most thrilling experience to witness the massive quietness of their movement. These animals radiate a special warmth and some how gentleness that you cannot overlook when you are with them.
Elefantastic is a special business that takes care of elephants. It is located outside of Jaipur. Before we took care of the elephants we had a tasty vegetarian lunch prepared for us by the mother of the owner of Elefantastic. It was super delicious. Then we spent the day feeding the elephants, painting the elephants, and washing them clean. After that we had a lovely ride through the desert, trying relish the entire experience before driving back to our hotel.
These next few pictures are taken from the first part of the day where we fed them and got to know them a bit better. We were encouraged to be close to them and talk to them, and feed them before we did anything else. It was amazing to look the elephants right in their eyes and feel the weight of their trunk as it pressed against us when we were close. It was clear that this is their life. They eat, get cleaned, walk and sleep. They aren’t forced to labor people up and down Amber Fort or be chained down. These were happy elephants.