01 August 2009

Shave & a Haircut, a Few Rupee

got another shave today (in Udaipur, a beautiful city of lakes in Rajasthan), it’s one of the true indulgent pleasures of traveling in India, something for the most part lost to the modern western world, which brings you back to an earlier time. It’s something you can do for yourself, of course, but it’s such a treat to have it done, something i suppose like women going to get a manicure or pedicure. Here’s what happens.
you find a barbershop, identifiable by chairs facing a mirrored wall, with shaving products on display on shelves all around. you tell them what you want, mostly by just saying “shaving”. you tell them you want a new blade, and you point out any facial hair that you want to keep. then you lean back.
he starts by gently massaging your face, to wake up the skin, and to get the lay of the land. then he takes a dab or two of shaving cream from a tube and puts in on your face. he uses an old fashioned bristle brush (probably camel hair) to spread it around vigorously, which also wakes up the skin.
the shaving-wallah (wallah just means anyone who does something; shaving wallah, laundry wallah, etc.) then pulls out his straight edge razor, takes out the old blade, washes the razor with a bit of alcohol, pulls out a new razor blade from a small box of them, and puts it into the razor. he begins the shave, pulling your skin when necessary to make a tight, flat surface. they are so good at what they do, it’s the best shaves i’ve ever had, and it can’t compare to a safety razor like we have back home. he carefully shaves everything, around the chin, the neck, the wispy hairs at the back of the neck, the sideburns, and around any mustache or beard. sometimes he will lather you up and do it all again.
after the shave comes a variety of soothing applications. first he uses a spray bottle of water to remove the rest of the shaving cream, and wipes your face expertly with a towel. he wipes the water from your eyes perfectly, just as you would yourself, with enough pressure but not too much. then he applies some kind of alcohol based after-shave liquid, slapping it on your face, giving a bit of a tingle that you can feel is so good for you, followed by an anti-septic astringent, to close any small cuts (there usually are none) and prevent infection. after that comes liquid aloe vera, which he massages into your skin, even into places not shaved, like your forehead.
after that, if you don’t stop him (and why would you?), you get a face massage. he slathers on an absurd amount of oil, but it doesn’t drip, and he rubs rubs rubs. the oil sounds gross but it’s really wonderful, and he rubs your cheeks, forehead, neck, chin, sides of your nose, ears, and temples. sometimes he will use one of those electric massagers that go on the back of your hand with a strap, and makes your fingers vibrate. sometimes he will apply the electric massager directly and before to long it turns into a full on head massage, including these kind of punctuated slaps or thrusts with the palm onto the head, which are harder to do than they seem (i tried).
finally, there comes another spritz of water from the spray bottle, and a solid but not too hard wiping of the face with a towel. all the oil is gone and your face feels healthy, glowing and alive. it’s both fantastically relaxing and invigorating, an experienced not to be missed.

30 July 2009

why did the mongoose cross the road?

to get to the snake on the other side!
saw a mongoose running across the road today, we had no idea what it was at first, until our driver said "enemy of snake". it was long and tubular, kind of like a ferret.
We spent a couple lovely days in Pushkar, a holy city around a lake, very small, very chill. the travelling has been a little rough. on the way to Pushkar we had about 7 flat tires. On one delay we stopped in a small village and had a great time hanging out with the village children for a couple hours while waiting for our driver to return with a tire, or bolts, or something. took a bunch of great photos, will upload when we can.
i have a bit of a head cold, and heather has an upset stomach, so that's been a little rough too, but it's no big deal, don't worry everyone!! i'd make a joke about it not being malaria, but you at home might not think it very funny. really, it's fine. and we just checked into the Hotel Natural in Udaipur in deep Rajasthan. It overlooks a lake in the mountains; it's quite lovely, so this is a perfect place for a couple days of recovery!

26 July 2009

Living like a Maharaja in Jaipur

We're in Jaipur now, the pink city, in the desert state of Rajasthan. even though it's still a big city, it has a decidedly mellower feel, prices are lower, touts are less pushy, and the people are friendly and colorful.
We just had dinner at our hotel, maybe the best meal we've had here so far, so yummy, AND there was live music and dance, traditional rajasthani performers. the musicians and dancers were all fabulous and we had a wonderful time.
On the way into town, we stopped at Fatehpur Sikri, an abandoned Mughul city built by Akbar the Great. (they abandoned it because it ran out of water.) At it, I had my first ever Muslim spiritual experience. There is a tomb for an old Sufi master; Akbar had no children and needed one for succession, so he went to this Master, and he said he would have a son if he built a city at Fatehpur Sikri. He did, and he did, so he gave the Master a resting place of honor. Because his prediction of Akbar's son came true, you can go there and make a wish. We offered a piece of fabric (which they subsequently use to make clothing for the poor of the village), placed rose petals on the fabric, and then tied a string around part of a carved marble screens (love those carved screens). Then we made 3 wishes. It was very nice. I wished everyone "salaam aleheim" on the way out, and got back "aleheim salaam" from the people. it was very nice to have such a positive experience of the Muslim religion, which gets such a bad rap in some circles. Muslims in India are generally as loving, friendly and peaceful as the Hindus or Jains or Sikhs are.
Tomorrow we tour Jaipur, including the Jantar Mantar, an early 17th century astronomical observatory built by Jai Singh, the founder of Jaipur. They have a 30 meter sundial, and a little room that allows a beam of light in exactly at noon every day (adjusted for latitude and time of year), just like that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. I don't know if we'll get in there, but the whole place is great, with dozens of stone instruments that measure the equinox, eclipses, appearances of venus and mars and the other planets, etc.
ALSO tomorrow i think we go on an elephant ride!!!!!!!!!