I loved these places so much, I had to post about them.



Friday, December 14, 2012

Mount Popa, Myanmar

Nat Worship in Burma

We climbed to the top of Mount Popa, 777 steps.

Rendition of Nat spirits at Mount Popa
Some Buddhists in Myanmar, especially those in rural areas, worship Nats.  Nats are uniquely Burmese. They are spirits or guardians and protectors with dominion over people or things.  The worship of Nats  pre-dates Buddhism,  which became the national religion of  Burma in the eleventh century.   Nat worship was a form of animism, especially popular with the hill peoples of Myanmar, but practiced all over the country.
Mount Popa, Burma
Mount Popa, an extinct volcano in central Burma, was  home of the most important Nat, the Lord of the Great Mountain, and his Sister Lady Golden-Face.  In the ninth century they became the guardian gods of the city of Pagan.  Nat worshippers travelled to Mount Popa for a feast at the full moon in December.  Animals were sacrificed,  people drank palm toddy wine and danced. Full moon festivals were common throughout Burma in Nat worship.

Atop Mount Popa, monkey's view of Myanmar.
In the town below Mount Popa
Although pre-Buddhist practices, such as astrology, alchemy and the worship of Nats, were suppressed when King Anawratha unified Burma in the eleventh century and made Buddhism the national religion, Nat worship continued. The King eventually integrated Nat worship into Theravada Buddhism,  added one of his own to the traditional 36 primary Nats, and replaced other Nats with his own dead war heroes. 
Today in Myanmar, Nat worship continues, side by side Buddhism, with pilgrimages and festivals held throughout the country. Nats are similar to Saints, some with human characteristics, such as drinking and smoking. Some protect the environment and dwell in the forest or mountains, and environmental destruction could bring their rath.   Nats are spiritual friends of the Burmese people.



Nats guard Buddha in Bagan. Stop, and look, they seem to say.

Mount Popa is a day trip from Bagan. On the way to Mount Popa from Bagan, we stopped to see how palm oil, palm candy (jaggery) and palm toddy wine are made, the old fashioned way. The drinking of toddy, wild dancing and traditional hsaing music enduce the trance at a Nat festival, and assist in the belief that revellers are possessed by the Nats.



Palm Toddy
 


Grinding to make palm oil
  
Mount Popa, as an important shrine to Nat worship, was an extremely interesting place to visit. Monkeys inhabit the temples, and we enjoyed watching them, keeping our distance because they can be aggressive. The climb up to the top, 777 steps in bare feet, was not too difficult. Mount Popa does not have the beautiful old buddhas, pagodas and temples of Bagan, but as Nat worship is still prevalent in Myanmar, Mount Popa is culturally important.  Before we went to Myanmar, we knew nothing of Nats.  


In Mandalay, Myanmar




Saturday, October 6, 2012

Jodhpur, India

Jodhpur town square at twilight. Look at the activity, even as the day is winding down.
The tailor sewing, customers at the pakora cart. In the background, trucks and
motorcycles rage ahead near cows, and above it all - the ghost of the
British empire, the landmark clock tower. (My favourite picture of the trip).




   

Jodhpur - the Blue City, from the Fortress  the Mehrangarh
Jodhpur, the Blue City of Rajasthan

After an afternoon train ride from Jaisalmer, we arrived after dark at the bustling Jodhpur train station. We were quickly ushered out towards the cabs through the crowds, into the dark, noisy night.  Local travellers were sleeping outside, next to the station. Every free spot of land was occupied. Something was moving at the base of the walls of the station....quickly and rythmically. Rats. Hundreds of rats, running in and out of cracks and holes in the walls of the station - scurrying around the  blanketed sleepers.  It was a startling but mesmerizing sight.  


In the Fort, Jodhpur, India



Busy, crowded, colourful, friendly.....Jodhpur.

Mr. Sharma, astrologer, in Jodhpur, India

The Mahrangarh

With only one full day in Jodhpur, we headed to the Mehrangarh. The formidable, impressive fortress of Jodhpur, the Mehrangarh, rises solidly on rock above the blue city. It houses cannons, gates and turrets, grand palaces,  jewelled rooms  of maharaja royalty and an interesting, popular museum. We  took the recommended audio tour. Famous astrologer, Mr. Sharma, read my palm and astrological chart inside the fortress. Astrology has been valued by the people of India since ancient times, and astrologers are consulted for many matters, including marriage compatibility. What better place for an astrological reading than India? 


The Mahrangarh in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India



In the fortress at Jodhpur
 


   











Markets near the Clock Tower Landmark


We walked around the lively Sadar market and the narrow streets and medieval bazaars of old Jodhpur for a few hours. The marketplace was bustling, with crowds of local shoppers, carts with fresh produce and lunch foods, stores with teas and spices, beautiful bolts of fabrics, Rajasthani crafts, and household dry goods of all sorts. The friendly people of Jodhpur were happy to chat with us.  


Spices and friendly people in Jodhpur, India.


In the old town and marketplace in Jodhpur
  Vibrant Jodhpur

Jodhpur, a city of just under a million people, is rich in the cultural history of Rajasthan. It has a rural feel about it. Jodphur was the most colourful of any of the places we visited in Rajasthan, with its' panorama of blue buildings, dazzling neon fabrics, sparkling handicrafts, and brightly decorated auto-rickshaws, or 'tuk tuks', as we called them.

I love my pictures from Jodhpur - some of my favourites of the entire trip. We stayed two nights in Jodhpur, as planned. It's a place worth spending some time in on any trip to Rajasthan.


  
Decorated and colourful tuk tuk in Jodhpur - behind a belching truck ...

....loaded with bright fabrics.


 


Negotiating a tuk tuk ride in Jodhpur. Only two passengers- that's the rule.



Jodhpur




 Next stop......Udaipur via Ranakpur and the renowned Jain temple.




Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dieppe, France. A Soldier's Story from WWII

clipping from the Windsor Star, August 1942.

The Dieppe Raid: August 19, 1942

Of the 6100 assault troops to land at Dieppe, 5000 were Canadians, many from Windsor, Ontario. Dieppe was a nightmare - over 900 soldiers killed, 2000 captured, hundreds more wounded. Here is my father's story. He was one of the lucky ones to escape the slaughter at Dieppe on August 19, 1942.

My father, Henry Charles Read, and his younger brother, William George Read, from Windsor, Ontario, were both at the Dieppe raid. They were Sergeants with the 11th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers. As engineers their job in the Dieppe raid was to get into the town, set explosives and blow up their target, I believe it was a factory. They landed at Dieppe in the dark, before sunrise and before the majority of the troops came ashore. The Germans were waiting for them, and there was heavy gunfire and shelling. My uncle was injured shortly after landing. His arm was badly wounded and he was evacuated back to a hospital in England. My dad continued on with other engineers into the town of Dieppe where they set and detonated the explosives, as ordered. Eventually, the word came down the line from the Canadian command that they were to surrender to the Germans. My dad and a few of his buddies would have nothing of that. As he said, he wasn't going to sit out the rest of the war in a German prisoner of war camp. Instead, they surveyed the land and the beach and found a spot where they 'went into the water'. They waded way out into the English Channel, where a Polish destroyer picked them up a few hours later, and they were returned safely to England.

For pictures of the day on the Dieppe Raid

A link to video of the Assault on Dieppe

A link to video footage of the Aftermath at Dieppe, August 19, 1942


Dieppe now......
The pebbled, rocky beach at Dieppe. Was it any wonder the tanks got stuck?
We travelled to Dieppe a few years ago.
Arrived by train
Dieppe, France, from the cliffs. It was evident that Dieppe could be easily defended by the Germans.
On main street, Dieppe, France.
Canadian War Memorial on the beach at Dieppe, France


Poppies growing near the beach at Dieppe, France
  
On August 19, the sun shines through the maple leaf on the momument, to match up with the maple leaf on the ground.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Jaisalmer, Rajasthan

Inside Fort Jaisalmer, view from a patio
Station in Jaipur

Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, India  is near the border with Pakistan in the Thar desert. For security reasons, the airport isn't open. The remote location of Jaisalmer attracts fewer tourists, and this is part of its' tranquil charm. We left hectic Jaipur for Jaisalmer by train shortly after midnight and awoke next morning streaming through the Thar desert, with glimpses of peacocks along the tracks and wind generators in the distance. 

We arrived in Jaisalmer, the Golden City, around noon. Fort Jaisalmer, built in 1156, rises on a sandstone ridge high above the desert. A third of the people of Jaisalmer still live in the old town inside the Fort. We stayed outside at the Hotel Fifu.
Jaisalmer Fort from Hotel Fifu

Hotel Fifu is in a rural neighbourhood within easy walking distance of the Fort. Above the guest rooms of this superb small hotel are several levels of comfortable dining and relaxation terraces with stunning views of the Fort and the surrounding desert. 

In the Jain Temple
 

 

Jain carvings
 
Jauhar handprints






 
We found Bobbi's Craft Shop on a narrow street on our first day.

 
  
Mr. Fifu hooked us up with local guide, Vivender, for a full day walk through the historic sites of Jaisalmer. We toured the Fort, old havelis, exquisite Jain temples, attended a Hindu celebration, and climbed up a  turret to a patio for tea and views of the Fort and the desert beyond. What an interesting day.

  


Jaisalmer lies in the heart of the Thar desert. This is the land of snake charmers and camel caravans, where women wear bright neon scarves and dance with fire pots on their heads. The music is lively, crafts are colourful, the architecture medieval, and the people are friendly and unique with a rich culture.  


Village near the camp



Mr. Fifu organized a safari by jeep through the desert, where we slept in canvas tents, with camels nearby, ready for trekking. We watched the sun set over sand dunes, an entrancing, peaceful experience. After dark, there was energetic and beautiful Rajasthani folk music and dancing around the campfire by local Kalbelia folk artists - a highlight! 

(I copied a video from Youtube of  Rajasthani gypsy dancing below. Check it out, it is similar to what we saw).

Talented dancer at our campsite.
  

We visited Jaisalmer in early March, midway through our 3 week trip through Rajasthan. There is an annual performing arts festival in Jaisalmer in early February, which would be spectacular to attend. Jaisalmer is fascinating in so many ways, and Hotel Fifu, too, was a special place. Summer is brutally hot in Jaisalmer, so check out the climate before you book - but go.



Our tents in the Thar Desert


 
After sundown, we were treated to fabulous local talent.
 
Thanks to Trivat Productions for the 'borrowed'Youtube video below.





Thar desert near Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
Rajasthan  Music and dance around the campfire.