Sunday, December 24, 2023

Got to Fly!

 A bit of a ramble below, but read through

Ideas to save on flights is in there!

I had dinner yesterday with mates that I have hung out with since 1980. It was such a buzz to meet them, then and a pleasure to know them now.
We are not in our day-to-day lives anymore, yet through catch ups every so often we are still in each others lives, and it is great.
So many layers have been peeled off over the years, it is a safe place to talk about any and everything.... and then talk crazy and laugh our heads off.
I am truly lucky.

Two of my mates, who never seem to do social media, got right into coming with me as I explored Uzbekistan. So I got to oooh and ahh over what a stunning place it is. ๐Ÿ˜
A question that I was asked, they want to come join me in April, was how to get there?

That question is a good one, it got me thinking.
I lived in India for years, many things can be a challenge there but flying somewhere was easy.
So many choices of airlines, and really, most places are far closer than when you live in Oz.
Now I live in Australia, it is a long way to fly anywhere, choices of flights seem much more limited AND often the price is a headache.

It was only when they asked how to get there that I realised there is a bit of a trick to it that others might like to know, too.
Takes a bit of searching but good to know.
It is what I generally do, so I had not thought much about it.

I first look on search engines Expedia and
If prices seem fine, I don't make much more effort.

This year though has seen me popping off here and there, and trying to get good flights is a pain.
I wanted to go Sydney- India for 3 days- Ghana[for tour]- Uzbekistan [for a walk through]- India for a week and home to Australia.
Try that in a search engine!! OMG they wanted the shirt off your back.
Looked up Sydney- Ghana-Sydney still a shocker.

Then I looked at Sydney- Delhi return- easy and very reasonable price [long stop over Singapore on return leg]
Fly Delhi- Ghana- OK
Ghana- Uzbekistan with a 12 hr stop over in Istanbul and then onto Delhi.
Worked out cheaper to book ALL these component flights than the first Sydney- Ghana-Sydney ticket quote.

the long stop overs in Istanbul and Singapore are sweet. If you are on Turkish Airlines they will take you on a free trip into town, feed you and sightsee. Anytime you can visit the Hagia Sophia is a good day.
Singapore offers visa free days if you have an onward ticket- trundle through the exit and onto a train [use credit card to swipe a ticket- no fiddling] and have a little adventure. 

Since then I did a bit of a search for Sydney to Uzbekistan tickets- very interesting.

First search on Expedia, and was similar. Around Au$3000
Then [I am using the apps on my phone] I broke the journey down Sydney -Delhi return AND Delhi-Tashkent return. Price came in around Au$2000 on both search engines.
A stop over in Delhi is fine- I have people to visit and the sightseeing is great.
eVisa needed- all online and US$25. 
---Red Fort is the place to go for a day trip- great old monument, wonderful galleries and Craft Centre opened in the old barracks- it is really becoming a great place to visit.

Curious I took a look at Skyscanner
Prices came in around best I could find as a combo.
Skyscanner only compares prices then directs you to sites that do flight bookings.

To be thorough I looked up too [I don't like them, when I have looked at them in the past I seemed to get fiddled around]

The really interesting thing is
I can back to Expedia & on my phone this morning
Expedia still same price BUT offered this option

Look at the price. It was not their offer yesterday. 

This makes me feel like BIG BROTHER is watching my phone activity- play creepy music- seriously!

but for once it seems in my favour.

Notice the latest off has SELF Transfer
What does that mean?
I like that, when I organize flights to connect up on a journey I usually allow a day or two at the transfer point so I don't need to worry about late arrivals.....
This says the booking service wants to make sure you connect. Sounds Good to me.

ALWAYS have comprehensive travel insurance, as well.

The Hagia Sophia is a stunning space, the true gift of this visit was the feeling in the space. So many people of all persuasions in the one place with their hearts singing to be there.
So beautiful.
May you year be blessed with that feeling of love and connection

Friday, December 15, 2023

There are so many great museums in Romania

I do love these two- perhaps little ever changes? 
They feel so modern and fresh and yet have been sitting around since 5000 to 4600 BC

Romania is a land rich in museums, now that might lead you to surmise traditional culture is becoming all dusty and tucked away in them.
Not happening in Romania, the textile culture is vibrant and growing based on traditional pieces.

There are various museum, some have huge collections of built- structures houses and barns and such displayed like a village.
Apparently they are traditional houses relocated to the museum and rebuilt by hands local to their home area. 

You could just imagine the owners have just stepped out for the day.

Many are gorgeous and quaint but I am sure a challenge to live in, in the modern world.  Looked after in a museum the building survives even if it doesn't still burn a home fire. 
These house are full of the furniture and textiles that were local to their areas.
Romania has long snowy winters, time spent inside lead to the development of a rich material culture. Delicious textiles, intricately painted surfaces and fine wood work.
Other museums have great collections of local costumes. Displayed on models, you can't touch but you can carefully get up close enough to see the gorgeous handwork. Swoon.

My hardest task was deciding which locations we would visit.... so much to love, so little time basically.
Here are just a few highlights of many, haha
Cluj-Napoca Ethnographic Museum might just be my favourite- it was hard to tell I almost swooned from overload. You can only sigh and so "Ohhhh" so many times before you become lightheaded.
You were not allowed to touch but you could get up very close to see the details- wonderful recourse of stitch.
These are all regional variations of Traditional Costume, there was also some stunning Hungarian Written Thread work - A large part of Transylvania, now Romania was once Hungary and there are a lot of cultural traditions still here.
Metallic inserts amongst silk stitch

Angel shirt? If I had had my wits about me I could have used Google Translate to read the info sheet- Oh well, next time.

How to assemble a blouse
The detail
The Apron

and then there was more!
Samples of weaving and garments found at Barsana Monastery.
Barsana Monastery dates back to 1390, the oldest church here was built in 1711 and until recently was the tallest wooden church in the world.


Found second hand at a local market- I have the vendors number and she is happy to do a private showing for us.- Dangerous, I'd say :)

There has been big news since I was last in Romania

from UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage site

Inscribed in 2022 (17.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

© Video Art Studio, 2021/Ghenadie Popescu 2020

The art of the traditional blouse with embroidery on the shoulder (called altiศ›ฤƒ) is an essential part of Romanian and Moldovan folk dress for men and women. It juxtaposes a simple cut with rich and colourful ornamentations that are stitched using complex sewing techniques. The blouses are white and made of natural fibres (flax, cotton, hemp or floss silk), and the complex stitch combines horizontal, vertical and diagonal seams that result in a specific pattern and texture. The styles and techniques vary according to the region and the wearer’s age, as well as to the skills of the women who create the blouses. The motifs and ornamentation are also varied: from geometric and stylised registers to organic shapes, and from sombre to vivid colours. Traditional blouses with altiศ›ฤƒ are made entirely by hand, and recent attempts to mechanize certain steps and to simplify the ornamentation and techniques constitute deviations from tradition. The craftsmanship is exclusively female and generally passed on within families, although some organizations, museums and schools organize camps and courses. Today, interest in creating these blouses is steadily increasing, with the practice viewed as a means of relaxation and of affirming one’s national identity and maintaining visible ties to the past.

Download© Valeru Ciurea, 2018
A lot of effort and research would have gone into this submission over many years.
Keeping an eye on the internet as I do, I have found a lot more images and chats of stitching traditional blouses, classes to make blouses, meetings and societies celebrating the blouse than were apparent  5 years ago when I started closely researching Romania.

I like this article that describes the value of the blouse to Intangible Heritage- it was not just an article of clothing but a history passed through women's hands, it was time spent sitting in groups to stitch so much more than just a garment.

To gain a UNESCO Listing you don't have to just prove the value of the tangible or intangible item you also have to have a plan for how you will look after it.
I know in Ahmedabad to get The Old City on the register took years of meetings and workshops to work with the residents of the Old City to build pride in their old homes: education and funds in how you might improve the comfort of your home whilst retaining its valuable historical aspects. 
so many levels of planning from the grassroots up to erudite documentation and applications

You need to have a community on side and VERY supportive. This is regularly inspected by the UNESCO committees to see if is being upheld and true.

How do you protect something as intangible as a blouse? the true one must be handstitched?
Either you spend a lot of time to make your own or you spend a lot of money to buy a handstitched blouse.

There would be 'clever' people who would like to make them by machine and sell at a lower price point- can you see where this might spiral out of control? It could become a nightmare to protect the integrity of the true Romanian Blouse. This article talks of some of the problems they now face.

And there was recently a wonderful exhibition - I think the name in translation is "I sew for a Cause" 
The Romanian Blouse and traditions of stitch were used as a canvas to express concerns about valuing the environment and traditions. My friendly blouse teacher Anca kindly sent me these photos.
So beautiful.
I look forward to learning and seeing so much more next trip ๐Ÿ˜„

Thursday, December 14, 2023


I have been researching the history of Shekawati which sent me digging through old photos- it is always an area that has boggled my mind. Amazing old houses, so richly built and decorated, seemingly abandoned and falling into ruin.

Shekawati is a region in the northeast of Rajasthan.
It is semi-arid to desert. Charming summers with the temps getting up to 50' C- think a lovely 122'F and not a drop of humidity- some days it is hard to drink enough fluids to replace what leaves your body.

It might not sound like it but it is quite a magical place.

Its history stretches back into the mists of time, it was said to be part of the Matsya kingdom. 
In Iron age times  the kingdom stretched from the mythological Saraswathi River to the Chambal River which is in the east of Rajasthan. 
The Saraswathi is a river now gone,  but was said to be part of the Indus River system. The Indus Valley Civilisation prospered until the monsoons that fed the rivers diminished around 5,000 years ago and the Indus River Valley civilizations [some of the world's earliest recorded agricultural trading societies] were thought to have left cities and moved to more farming lifestyles about the time of climate change and drier conditions.

Since the late 19th century, numerous scholars have proposed to identify the Sarasvati with the Ghaggar-Hakra River system, which flows through modern-day north-western-India and eastern-Pakistan, between the Yamuna and the Sutlej, and ends in the Thar desert. Recent geophysical research shows that the supposed downstream Ghaggar-Hakra paleochannel is actually a paleochannel of the Sutlej, which flowed into the Nara river, a delta channel of the Indus River. 10,000-8,000 years ago this channel was abandoned when the Sutlej diverted its course, leaving the Ghaggar-Hakra as a system of monsoon-fed rivers which did not reach the sea

I loved throwing in the bit about the area tracing its roots back to a civilization about 10,000 years ago, nothing like a bit of heritage.
By the 1400's it was basically a land of bandits, who made a good income pilfering from the overland camel trains that came through.
The Silk Road Trade Routes connected the Muslim empires, Europe and India and China via overland routes. Many of those trading with India came through this way.

Maha Rao Shekha Ji (ruled 1433-88)Maha Rao= big king, was the founder of the kingdom to be named Shekawati when he stopped paying tribute to his overloads in Amer/Jaipur and proclaimed himself King in 1471.
Through trade and taxes this dry desert kingdom prospered, due to the overland trade routes.
They traded opium, spices and cotton especially.

With the arrival of The East India Company many of the land routes were superseded by sea transport and so the traders moved to markets further away. 
This area speaks Marwari and the Marwari became great entrepreneurs all across India from early 1820's onward.
The Marwari accrued so much wealth it was said at one point around 80% of all taxes paid in relation to trade in India came from Marwari hands.
On our Bengal Tour we visit a fine home and garden in Mushirabad built by four Marwari Traders.

Indians always remember the village their family came from, family members and memories will still be there.
Marwari traders started to build vast mansions back home. 
The mansions are known as Haveli.
The havelis served as status symbols for the Marwaris as well as homes for their extended families, providing security and comfort in seclusion from the outside world. The havelis were designed to be closed from all sides with one large main gate
The construction of the richest havelis is rather ingenious.
There are shaded courtyards, one through the grand entrance gates where male guests and business would be entertained. 
Often there were discrete screened verandas above so the women of the family could watch, perhaps report what they had seen.
Women lived in strict seclusion further inside the haveli around another courtyard which was generally in a two story complex.

The connection between Courtyard one and two would be through a twisty alley or chamber so their was no chance of anyone getting a glimpse of the women.

The ingenious part is it the construction of the outer walls.
In some of the richer havelis there would be two walls with a narrow, narrow alley between them something like eighteen inches- this created a layer of insulation keeping the sun's heat from penetrating the buildings.

How did they become painted?
I haven't found any written references but I guess if you build the biggest and best house around and the neighbours build something just as grand you have to look for a way to out do them and let everyone know how successful you are.
They started to have murals painted first the insides and then the outsides were completely covered in designs.
In some of the havelis I have visited it seems the Gods and their stories are at the top of the walls and then as you come down there are more everyday stories.
perhaps the star crossed lovers Dhola and Maru- Rajasthan's Romeo and Juliette tale, 
Trains and soldiers referring to what was happening in the wider world.

Fascinating places....
Although some of India's wealthiest families claim Shekawati as the native village- families like the fabulously wealthy Birla's- times have changed and these treasures are mostly falling into rack and ruin.
Perhaps a Chowkidar= caretaker with a camp set up in one corner, perhaps a local family with their cows living inside what was once a grand courtyard.

My first visit to the area was in 2006. The only way to get inside was to be cheeky and knock at the front door and ask to be let in, if there was only a caretaker and you offered a 'gift' = bribe there was a good chance you could get inside and poke around.
2006- the 'gift' worked

Oh wow?? Oh yes.

Taken in 2006 in Fatehpur

Same place in 2018- the only improvement to see is the quality of my camera.... tried knocking on this beauty a number of times, never got past the Ladies [ Queen Victoria, actually] on the verandah-  yet!

Thankfully today a few people are investing much love, care and rupees into restoring some of these places and their beauty is flowering again. Now seclusion is not the order of the day and you are welcomed to come and visit, perhaps stay.
Le Prince Haveli is a favourite - the amount of care and research that has gone into it's restoration is amazing.
Just look at the size of the place- imagine the painstaking work that goes into restoring the details.
The walls are frescos, pigment imbedded in the plaster. You can't use a bit of modern acrylic to fix them up, the colour quality is wrong and it peels off.

I look at the quantity of work and take my hat off to those with the heart to take it on.

Wonderful place to stay- there is even a modern dip pool out the back now.
Really sad to report, it appears to be closed now. 
Thank you Covid, we were there just before it hit, hopefully it will re-open.
This blog has a wonderful interview about the Haveli and restoration- take a look. Great photos and info.

I think my favourite little corner of all these amazing places are the Chhatris of Ramgarh. 
A Chhatri is like a giant umbrella dome on four pillars, used as roof decoration in Rajasthani architecture and often in memorials for the departed.
The Ram Gopal Poddar Chhatri Complex was constructed in the late 1800s. dedicated to the Poddar ancestors. The complex is maintained by the Poddar family and their priest (caretaker). 
Flights of fantasy tucked away behind a wall in a sleepy little town.

Fascinating that it is believed that Ramgarh Shekhawati in 1900 had the richest per capita income in the world!

A town with eight centres of Sanskrit learning, patronage of the arts, architecture, building technologies, Vastu and Ayurveda, and great Vedic knowledge. It was also known as the ‘Doosra Kashi’! Kashi is another name for Varanasi, implying that this was one of the greatest learning centres of the world.

From an article by Dr. Shruti Poddar. I love the story of how the town came to be- makes the Chhatris seem even more amazing.

The rather small garden is just stuffed with different temples and monuments almost falling over each other. You can see where the caretakers Cow is housed in a beautiful temple. Needs must ๐Ÿ˜Š

Just up the road, in an even sleeper little village is a full blown castle or fort!

It is huge, originally founded in 1768 there is the old part a fort with many newer buildings- think 4 story sprawling mansions built late 18/1900's spreading around it.

Due to large families and inheritance and the complexities of Indian joint families there are now 9 families who own sections of the place and it does not seem they are the best of mates. 

The Thakur [title from Indian feudal times= lord] Mr Singh inherited the oldest part which really is a medieval castle. He told us he was a lawyer in Jaipur and had not expected to inherit the family title and home.... but there you, this is how the Gods wanted it.

There are some stunning old rooms, but not much modern at all, it is not a one person job looking after it or even just living in it. 

Power lines are tacked along the walls, water is hard to get to the different rooms, toilets that flush were not a thing at the time of building.... Mr Singh and his lovely wife have had it open to guests for many years, their hospitality and kitchen impeccable in a crumbling but loved old fort.

The Zenana or women's quarters
The place is huge, if you climb up to the top of the roof you feel like you are almost in the clouds.
The stairs going down almost make you giddy with the Escher-like quality

Finding a fort out there in the desert is extraordinary, but even more boggling is the Sone-Chandi ki Dukan or Gold & Silver Shop just outside the ramparts. The murals painted on the ceilings are so fine it is hard to see them, you need a ladder. Note the more details a mural the more it cost to paint, so although they wanted to tell the story of the Gods, they also wanted to point out how well life was treating them. Apparently the trade was in opium which necessitated a gold store.

Think later Opium Wars with China- English colonial powers like to increase their chance of success by destabilizing populations with intoxicants. Some of the great Mughals and other noblemen were already known for their excesses, too.

Next to the Gold Shop is an old Haveli, it must have once been so beautiful and was renown for its soirees. It has a ballroom with Belgium Crystal Chandeliers, unfortunately now home to bats.

These are just some of the places I have poked through the whole area would take weeks to visit everything that is still there, even longer if knocking at front doors and 'gifts' could get you inside more of these sprawling, amazingly painted structures.

There are lights starting to shine, recent googling shows up a few places that have been or are being renovated into boutique hotels- Yeh!

I can't even tell you where this is.... we were taking a back road, searching out an amazing Women's Enterprise we had heard of.... another story.

Anyway trying to find our way we were driving through what seemed like inhospitable desert when over a small rise this came up.

Stunning!!. No idea who built it or why, no one to ask. It was just a moment of Shekhawat magic.

By the amount of goat poo around it is obviously appreciated by the locals.

If anyone knew it was there I am sure many would drive by to appreciate it's beauty.

Sums up Shekawati region really. I want to tell you about it, but it would be nice if it was our well kept secret.

Yet being pragmatic, it is visitors' enthusiasm that will save it. Visiting and filling the beautiful boutique Havelis that are around will encourage others to love up more of the old beauties.

Progress, some of it is based on loving and looking after the beauty and creativity of our ancestors. They lived out here and lived well in a hot, hot desert before modern electricity and AC. What could we do with our buildings after looking at their methods?

Plan on visiting again in October 2024