Pondicherry wanderings

Walking around one morning we passed a young girl creating a design in front of her house. A tradition in many families, the design is often made from an edible powder, like rice flour, and the designs may be quite ornate or more simple. Not only is it an expressive and creative task, but with the edible powder the idea is that many small creatures, like ants or other organisms, will be able to eat the design, helping the family achieve the auspicious task of feeding 1,000 souls every day as is encouraged in Hindu practice.

Street cleaner

So to accompany the story of the elephant, here is one of the many free roaming cows. He was just wandering around, doing as he pleased (which included eating trash). And yes, I did pet him, and I probably picked up lots of great bacteria and micro-organisms, but I'm hoping that fact that he was holy helped counter that.

Elephant Blessings

At the temple in Pondicherry, after making an offering in the temple, you can take the garland and coconut out to the temple elephant. First though you have to give him a coin, which he dutifully passes to his handler, and then he takes any yummy edible offerings for himself. After deeming your gifts to be acceptable, he blesses you by bopping you on the head (it hurts to be blessed, who knew?) although I did notice that he uses a gentler bop when blessing very small children and infants. For most of my trip, I saw very few temple elephants, which we soon found out was because all temple elephants in India are given a holiday every year and are taken off to an elephant preserve to relax and have fun with their fellow pachyderms.

French Institute and Indian Santa

The library here had huge glass windows overlooking the sea and with that beautiful view I had a bit of a hard time concentrating, oops!
It was very hard to be away from my family on Christmas, especially since we have a great deal of family traditions (like making 72 dozen Christmas cookies) so to try and cheer me up my travel companions took me to a department store where there was a Santa, however he was a little too skinny to meet my New England Christmas cravings. Later that night though, after turning out the light to get into the bed, I pranced around to make my ankle bracelets jingle and remarked to my traveling companion "hear that Ylva? there's reindeer." That along with a great deal of delicious food, and a hilarious Bollywood movie about Mother Mary were enough to make it a memorable and pleasant holiday.


So after a very inspiring time in Darjeeling, we flew to the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. We stayed in Madras for a day or two (where I got sick with what I will only call the plague so as to spare everyone from details) and then drove down to Pondicherry where I would be conducting research at the French Institute. Compared with Delhi or Madras, Pondicherry was quite slow paced and peaceful, a nice place to recover in, and I loved all the pastel colored houses. I also enjoyed discovering that South Indian food is absolutely amazing and unlike anything I had ever had before (I feel that most Indian restaurants in the U.S. serve Americanized versions of North Indian cuisine).


Hot stimulating cafe?

The name here was just too good for me to ignore, however we never summoned up the courage to go in and try the food. I'm sure if we had though we would have found it to be hot and perhaps stimulating, whatever that may mean.

Trains, temples and monasteries ... oh my

Children at the train station
Small prayer wheels
One day we took a little toy train about a half hour down the mountain to visit several monasteries and temples. The Tibetan Buddhism monastery had the most beautiful murals covering all the walls with depictions of different gods and goddesses. At one monastery we were given a great honor and allowed to enter during studies. We sat and watched the young boys learning scriptures and I was captivated by one small boy who couldn't have been older than five or six. He was sitting in the sun and kept falling asleep, such a sweet expression on his face. At this monastery we also entered a room where the large prayer wheels were kept (about seven feet tall) and a monk directed me to a vacant one and had me start spinning it and began to teach me a mantra, it was an amazing experience to be so welcomed in to another individual's faith and religious practice, especially when I was so clearly an outsider.



This was the view from my hotel room, not too bad, huh? The train ride was about 36 hours, a little longer since the train broke down along the way. But in the Indian style, food was brought by every two hours or so, even delicious kulfi at one point (a delicious frozen yogurt that was very creamy). Sleeping on the train was fun since the seats turned into bunks. We spent our time in Darjeeling visiting different monasteries and temples and eating a lot. One morning we also got up very, very early and drove to an observation area where we were able to see Mt. Everest (and by see I mean squint in the distance and go "I think it's that one, yeah, the one the size of my thumb, that's it"). The area we were in though had limited power and water which made it very cold at night and I came to have a whole new appreciation for a hot water bottle to snuggle with!

Taj details

The whole building is surprisingly ethereal for being made out of marble and when you're standing beside it, being surrounded by white marble gives you an odd floating sensation.
Hard to believe that all the intricate designs around the door are stone inlay, there was beautiful work everywhere and the whole building is perfectly symmetrical. The one element that is not in keeping with the balance is the addition of the tomb of Emperor Shah Jahan. Originally the memorial was to only hold the tomb of his wife Mumtaz Mahal and thus her tomb was placed directly under the center of the dome. However, Shah Jahan's tomb was later added besides that of his wife.
We had to wear little booties to protect all the delicate and detailed stone work!

Delhi and Agra

On the road from Agra back to Delhi where we were staying, the drive was beautiful even if the day over all was terrifying. We soon found out that our driver appeared to be narcoleptic. He fell asleep at the wheel every four minutes or so, and it was about a two hour drive one way. I sat in the back seat praying to every god and goddess I know (luckily as a Religious Studies major I know a lot) that we would not die. Also, in addition to visiting the Taj Mahal we went to the nearby site of Fatehpur Sikri which was a Mughal capital and a world heritage site. The place unfortunately felt very dangerous with lots of strange men loitering (this is pretty common all over India) and we ended up spending very little time here.
The main gate at Fatehpur Sikri.
Fatehpur Sikri was beautiful with the use of red stone contrasted with white and black marble and the architecture was just stunning, too bad we rushed through here!

India Intro

So as promised, we are now entering India week on "Lulu Abroad." Not only am I starting out with the quintessential India image (while it is a must see, with all the pollution the Taj was a bit of a let down) and a little background information on the trip. As I've mentioned before, I was a Religious Studies major in undergrad and my sophomore year I got a travel grant to go and study goddess worship in a temple in Southern India. My research ended up transforming while I was there (as research often does) and I ended up studying more the general temple culture of a specific temple in Madurai. While my research was focused in Tamil Nadu, I was lucky enough to spend my seven weeks traveling all over India and went north into Darjeeling, and all the way to the southern most point of India at Kanyakumari. I hope you enjoy the pictures, and luckily for you, experiencing India through pictures does not carry the same risk of illness that my experiences of India had!


I gave in to the tourist thing

I think the picture speaks for itself...


As an extension built later in Barcelona, this part of town had nice straight roads, wider streets and more light coming in compared to the old part of town that had twisty narrow alleys and hight buildings so no light reached the ground.
This is roughly the route we took to get to Park Guell. There were escalators in the middle of the road in some sections which I greatly appreciated!

Park Guell and my silly TV addictions

Unless I am very much mistaken, America's Next Top Model did a runway show here at one point. While I'm embarrassed to admit that I love that show and am that familiar with it, I'm 97% confident that there was a show here with the crazy bridal theme.

Fairy Tale land

It kept reminding me of a big gingerbread house, all frosted and everything!

Park Guell, like the other works by Gaudi are just pure whimsy, and this really felt like walking into a little kid's drawing of a park.

Park Guell, a detailed look

Some of the many mosaics around Park Guell, they are part of a wall (top image), ceiling detail (middle image), and bench (bottom image).

Park Guell

The extensive garden on the side of the columns and huge terrace. Much of the rest of the park was more wild with cacti.
Why hello Barcelona! From the top of Park Guell we were able to see all of beautiful Barcelona spread out before us. It was quite a hike, and we got lost in a really bad part of town, were almost mugged (after seeing a guy sitting on a bench with a huge envelope full of pot and pills) but it was a worth it for the view that awaited us. Lonely Planet says if you only have time for one sightseeing trip in Barcelona you should go to La Sagrada, but I whole-heartedly disagree and would like to place my vote for Park Guell!

La Sagrada

The rear of the church was more completed and this shot almost looks like I captured an image of the Holy Spirit, no?
Since the church is not finished yet, masses are held outside, and will be until the roof is finished which should hopefully be later this year!
I'm sure it will be quite pretty when it is finished, but in the meantime while it's a bit on the homely side, the carnival like atmosphere around the church was rather interesting (especially since it was Palm Sunday when we were there) and I fear this church will only become more popular and mobbed as it nears completion (sometime in the 2020's)!

An apology

So I am sorry that I am so delayed in providing pictures and travel stories to round up the trip. I ended up becoming sick the last two days of the trip and was pretty ill when I got back to the U.S. however it was nothing that a trip to the hospital, two IV bags, and a good dose of anti-biotics couldn't fix. Now that I'm feeling better I will work diligently to provide everyone with all the travel stories and images you could possibly handle. Enjoy!


Ciutat Vella

Nave of the Cathedral, there was a mass in session when we went in the afternoon on a Saturday (Spain is definitely a lot more religious than the Czech Republic).
Placa del Rei with the Roman and Visigoth ruins in the basement. There was information about how laundry used to be done, where they made the wine and also the fish market where they had large vats to make garum, a sauce from fermented fish.
Courtyard of the Cathedral, the one where there were geese running amok

Casa Batllo

The facade of Casa Batllo created by Antoni Gaudi. It was built in 1877 and Gaudi was commissioned to remodel it in 1905, this is just one of many of his modern buildings that are spread throughout Barcelona. The city also has Park Guell, and La Sagrada Familia, the church designed by Gaudi that is not yet finished and projected dates predict it will not be completed until the 2020's. This house is also known as "The House of Bones" because of the design on the facade.
There are very few straight lines in this home, Gaudi instead worked primarily with curving and spiraling elements so as to mimic nature.
On the roof Gaudi carried out a St. George and the dragon theme with the roof line mimicking the spine of a dragons back.
One of the two spiral staircases leading from the loft to the roof.
At the center of the house the tiles change from dark blue at the top to baby blue near the ground floor. This all feeds into the underwater theme for the house. Also interesting was how Gaudi made sure his designs allowed for the maximum amount of light and air flow with all the doors having sliding vents to ensure a steady flow of fresh air, even with the doors closed.
Ceramic tiles on the back terrace of the house. Gaudi used ceramic mosaics extensively in both Casa Batllo and Park Guell to create colorful and whimsical pieces.

Prettiest train station ever?

So this was the station at Malgrat de Mar, yes it looks out onto the Mediterranean. Sitting in the sun and getting a nice breeze of the ocean Tom and I agreed that this had to be the nicest station ever. Not to mention we had a great view of the ocean the whole train ride, at some points the train had about five feet of land between us and the ocean!