Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Hampi! Hampi! Hampi!

Now the ramblings of this Berkeley prophet all make sense to me. After the recent tremblings in global markets I, too, searched for safer places to store my dollars. Hampi, naturally, is a logical place for us to invest in. The sunsets, rice fields, ancient temples, and fresh air are excellent places for us to spend our quickly devaluing US currency.

hampi bazaar

Below, we find one of many kiosks in the many bazaar. This one is painted an eye catching blue hue. The daughter of the operator is opening the door to join her mum.

kolorful kiosk

I stay on the other side of the river, which we must reach via motorboat. The older boats, bamboo baskets covered with rice sacks and tar, are no longer in use at this crossing. To cross is 10 Rs each way. At 6pm, the boat magically turns into a pumpkin, leaving princesses and unlucky backpackers both in the lurch. Multiple motorbikes are frequent companions in the smaller, older, boats. Below is our hero, bravely crossing the river by motorized boat.

crossing the river

Hampi is much more quiet and clean than Ahmedadbad. India's formidable population must live primarily in the cities, like people in most contries do. The countryside, then, is quite peaceful.

hot on the trail

Here is the initial evidence that we are hot on the trail of the international, but Israeli dominated, backpacker circuit. One can have excellent falafal, schnitzel, Italian, English, and Korean food here. Jachnun, a Yemenite dish, which readers of our blog will remember us eating in Israel, can be found on Shabbat at our guest house restaurant, along with couscous.

view from porch

Above, the view from my bungalow's porch. Below, the guest house restaurant, which is run by some really sweet Nepalese folks.

out of the restaurant


At no added cost, we get some lovely sunsets and lazy mornings with all manner of birds playing around. Below, someone returning home from working in the rice fields.

rice field before sunset

Every evening, we are treated to something like this:

sunset silhouette

Click through for more pictures. I believe that every evening at least 100 photos are taken of this sunset, meaning about 200mb of sunsets per day, times a 90 day tourist season, is, approximately, 2 gigabytes of photos of these palm trees and sunsets in Hampi every year.

hot water

Eager to shower after my long trip, I turn on the hot water and find there is none. I inquire at the front desk, and this steaming bucket shows up. Ok. With the use of a little plastic bucket, whose shape mirrors the large buckets women balance on their heads to transport water home from pumps and wells, I have a hot shower. It isn't as bad as initially expected, and is actually quite nice. One might be cleaner this way, as one focuses first on cleaning, and second on the physical pleasure of hot water. Also, it's nice to be in intimate contact with the physical and material sources and inputs of our lives. Hot water is a luxury for many people on this planet, and it's actual cost and amount consumed is more evident here. The first half of the bucket is for cleaning -- the rest is pure luxury.

cross-century bazaar

One question this man had about Jerusalem is answered, in part, here. Why would people build on top of one another across thousands of years? I mean, really? A look at this piece of documentation, captured on the main drag of the ancient Hampi bazaar, explains a few things. One can see here some contemporary inhabitants of Hampi freely using the architectural remnants of the ancient stone bazaar. This, of course, makes perfect sense. Why build from scratch, when you can just, say, add a roof, and have a home? It's not How Buildings Learn, but How Cities Learn.


On our first outing into the awesome landscape which surrounds Hampi, filled with boulders and 500 year old temples, we encounter this happy family living in a temple. The mom has just returned home with food for her children. Evidence of having read too much Osamu Tezuka manifested, as an entire story instantly sprang to mind. Young puppies, living on the outskirts of town in the shadow of ancient temples, on a mountain top, wait for their mother to return home with milk. Every day they eagerly await her return, and she seeks out the best scraps of foods to convert into healthy milk. Dal for protein, carrots for vision, and milk for strong bones -- she wants her pups to grow up to be strong. Her husband, their dad, died while defending the temple from an aggressive band of exploitive humans and monkeys. She fights criminals in the town, and is, tragically, killed one day. The eldest pup, who witnessed his mom's death, must come to terms with life here, care for his siblings, defend the temples, and continue fighting the evil that invades this holy place.

coconut me yum

I like coconuts. So do monkeys. And I love monkeys.

i heart bike

Bikes make me happy. Here is our happy hero, riding a bike, clad in his new shirt. The shirt is a 3 for 1: it protects me from sun, helps the air circulate undernearth my clothing, and adds more color to our modest blog's photographs. Above, I am depicted biking around to various temples in the surrounding rural landscape, which is filled with banana tree & rice plantations, temples, and pilgrims. Lots of Hindus travel to these temples. I visited one mosque, which was beautiful, and found myself totally alone.


This picture illustrates a typical Hindu temple, and gives a sense of what the surrounding landscape looks like. I find the endless hills with boulders on them geologically inexplicable. Well, I have some theories, but they aren't worth sharing.

cut cut 2

Many boulders have these markings on them, both on hills, and in structures. Evidence, I think, of how they were cut.

razor ok

We seek out medical tourism. Here is our protagonist, after having undergone a procedure whereby a large red growth was removed from the facial and cranial parts of his body. The operation, as one can clearly see, was a success. The barber, at right, is 21 or so, and has been working as a barber since the age of 7. The other man let me interrupt his treatment, which can take 30 minutes or more, on account of the meticulous nature of hair removal, massaging, oiling, and so on, so that we could talk. He is a local business man, aged 28, and unmarried -- a bit late for an Indian. But, in a joint Hindu household, the family arranges the marriage, and since it means bringing in a wife and kids, the entire economic circumstances must be considered. Arranged marriages make more sense in this context. A tech worker from Google in Hydrabad informs me, however, that this type of family structure is out of date in most parts of India.

the scene across the river

The main Hampi area, and even across the river where I stay, is a bit of a scene. It is filled with backpackers from all over the world, and small children asking for money, candy, and pens. We are hounded by locals for services and goods at every moment.


This woman is demonstrating how most people here do their laundry. In the main bazaar, long canals run alongside both sides of the road, directly below the stone arcade. The stone this woman is working on crosses the canal.

ooh photo

Here we are, then, at a more remote village, Anegundi, that is a bit more calm, and free of commercialism. The villagers here are taking part in a common ritual, where we take photos, they examine the digital replay, get excited, and ask for more pictures. This can go on for 10 minutes, easily, and is quite fun. Initially, I photographed them filling up bags of rice for market.

Some small children in Hampi have learned to ask you to take their picture, and then ask for money, chocolate, or other goods. One must be wary of cute 8 year olds asking you to take their picture. Above, Cynthia of Florida, shows a picture to some village ladies.

64 gamblers

Here is a temple of 64 columns. At the center we have a group of men playing with cards and money. I tried to capture the very cool scene for readers of this blog, but was discouraged from doing so. "Illegal activities," someone waved me away. Readers are encouraged to use their imaginations. Pretty neat, how the columns obscure vision into the temple's center, no?

drying laundry

Down in the river, people bathe, and do their laundry. Here, two women dry something colorful.

lakshmi bracha

Above we have a most remarkable phemomena. While my physical form might appear, as some would say, blurry, my spiritual form is in fact crystal clear. My physical form visibly vibrates with the emanations from my inner being. I have just received a blessing, or bracha, as the Israelis behind me said, from Lakshmi, the temple elephant. She is, at 20, very young. She likes to eat bananas. To receive a blessing, one must hand her some money, which she grabs with the tip of her trunk. After giving the money to her handler, she delivers a blessing, in the form of a tap, to your head. Highly recommended to all travellers, aged 9 to 90.

boulder man

Hampi is well known for its bouldering. Here we are, about to undertake an expedition into the hills of Hampi, a crash pad on our shoulders, and gear in hands. Our team of forensic experts are still hard at work, trying to determine the meaning of this body language. Beggum is a nice lady who has a small house at the end of a lane, and serves some of the most delicious food ever, along with renting out used climbing gear. Some might call the shoes abandoned, as they are in disrepair, and what isn't terribly distressed, certainly won't fit well. Climbers are advised to their own shoes. Duh. I trekked around the hills and met some really sweet climbers, and realized I was seriously out-classed here, in terms of difficulty, shoe quality, and experience climbing outdoors. Luckily, crash pads also make excellent portable couches. Dan, a doctor from England, who also happened to be a sports medicine expert and climber, looked at a climbing injury I sustained in Berkeley, and gave me some exercises to do. Thanks Dan the Doctor!

Readers of this blog find themselves in powerful company. Our readership is rather remarkable, in that great world figures are following our journey, step by step. In Jerusalem, George Bush follows hot on our heels, and in Ahmedabad, the Dali Lama isn't far behind. In Hampi, all the tourists are booted for several days so the Indian President can visit the temples. We are bewildered, and wonder what figure will follow in our footsteps, next. Perhaps we will share a Kerala boat cruise with Putin? That would be interesting, Da?

Stay tuned, as we now make our way back to Goa, in order to meet Alex and Yotam, for what is sure to be a great romp with yet to be announced leaders of world politics, spirituality, and commerce.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Ahmedabad Limited, last stop

Time has crossed, phase shifted, and done other strange things. I write to you now, through the usage of advanced computer technology, as if I am in the past, when in fact, I have advanced far into the Future. It is no small thing. We are in Hampi now, which will be discussed later, when the Time is right, but for now, we write in a voice, and read it back, as if we are still in the city of Ahmedabad, where millions of people are going about their daily lives, and I intervene, ever so slightly, in the name of Science and Adventure.

After the Calico tour, which readers with excellent memories will remember from last issue, I set off on a brave walking tour through the old part of Ahmedabad. With the aid of a map whose creative author freely intermixed historic and modern roads, without bothering to distinguish between the two, your plucky tourist made it 80% through the tour.


At lunch, two nice ladies from Mumbai invite me to sit with them, since I am eating alone. They are both interior designers, and the daughter studied at RISD, so we have a bunch of things to talk about. Above, is what appears to be some eco-friendly packaging made from leaves.

A man with a key unlocks a pasage up to the roof of the city's old fortification. I climb up.

fort base ahmedabad fort

This was a major Muslim city at one point, ruled by Ahmed. Here is a peaceful moment in a Mosque.

mosque man in mosque

At a certain point, fatigued and lost, I find my way back to Ghandi Rd., where the services of an auto rickshaw are obtained.

ahmedabad from above

Traffic here is an awesome thing. Pedestrians, cars, motorcycles, cows, bicycles, auto rickshaws, and push carts, among other objects, freely intermingle, navigating around one another. While traffic circles, stop signs, divided roads, and, at times, lane markings, are evident they are, at best, merely suggestions for drivers.

camel cart

It is through a deafening cacophony of horns, nerves of steel, the patience of saints, and the creative resourcefulness of a Cosmonaut that this fluid flow of traffic works. Crossing the street can be a bit of an operation, and decades of video game playing experience are the best preparation possible. Crossing the street is a bit like playing Frogger on Ikaruga's final level.

meal time

Here we are at Shalin's house, enjoying one another's company after a meal. A little more info on the family structure here, which I find really interesting. The children continue to live with their parents, even after they get married, but the daughter moves into her husband's house. Everyone, not just children, show a lot of respect for their elders. Part of the reason this works so well, I think, is that the parents are modeling behavior for their children; the children watch, everyday, their parents interact with their grandparents. Grandparents can give attention to grand-children every day. By pooling resources together everything is more economical. Life here seems far more social and family oriented than in the US. The nuclear family structure I grew up in is very different from this Hindu joint family structure.

Here are some construction workers building in the neighborhood.


This is a clever machine for separating rocks from sand.


Notice how the women carry on their heads. The cylindrical head-bowl adapter is really clever. The cylinders' ends are circular, and circles can be interfaced to (placed on the surface of) spheres very easily, such as the spherical section of a head or bowl.


The kids are hanging out, too, and here is a baby, one of two, in a really clever hammock that seems to have swaddling side effects.

colorful work

Aren't these the most colorful work clothes of any construction worker in the world?

Lots of interesting animals live in this residential neighborhood, most of which are absolutely not the hallucinatory side effects of massive Chai consumption. Here are some monkeys. They are almost as big as people, and can get really loud and rambunctious.

neighborhood primates

Also, I've never heard or seen such a variety of lovely birds in my life, from big hawks and eagles to parrots and preciously small colorful birds. I am, unfortunately, not suitably equipped to visually report on these matters. There are wild peacocks, too, but they don't jump on and damage the roofs of cars like some other prehensile critters might, at times, enjoy doing.


Shalin's mother, Smruti, has taken me to a Pranic energy healer, Jajvalya, to fine tune a few things. Basically, we do a kind of meditation/relaxation, and he works on my Chi. I'm a pretty rational guy, but sometimes we have to look a little bit harder for how something works. The second visit, his older brother and wife also help. I sink into a deep deep relaxation, and become attuned to my heartbeat in my hands and body. When I open my eyes afterwards, all is very peaceful.

kshama jajvalya

Above, portrait of a young healer and his wife, at work.

He also suggests Alexander Technique (which I've already found to be helpful), and teaches me some Tai-Chi exercises.


Here is the cute puppy, galu galu (means puppy), who has adopted their family. I'm invited back the next morning, when a club of healers will be meeting for a trip, for more attention. There, I receive healing from their teacher. Your correspondent is reported to be a very sensitive being. The teacher recites some of the ritual in English so I can understand more of it. This is all very interesting to me, and I do feel good afterwards. Some of the practice is comparable to Alexander, but this isn't the place to get into a close analysis, or genealogical speculations. No showering is permitting for 12 hours after the treatment.

da mall

Sulay, Shalin's cousin, and I go to a modern mall. We play games. Owing to our dexterity, wit, speed, and strength, we win prizes.


Parag takes me to Adalaj, a step well that descends multiple flights of stairs into a well. It is 500 years old, and is absolutely beautiful. Intricate carvings are everywhere. Here is a view up the steps, out of the well.

step well, looking up

It is truly amazing. You can imagine lots of travelers resting here, and colorfully dressed women balancing jugs of water going up and down the staircase to fetch water. You don't have to imagine any of that, actually -- you can imagine whatever you want!

looking up out of the step well

Pretty, si? I am standing at the bottom of the well, looking up the cylindrical shaft into the light. I descend down a circular staircase, probably originally for guards, and find my way to the platform on which I earlier saw parrots.

parrots hanging

I begin to formulate an exit strategy. And just like that, we're off, to Hampi, in search of adventure, sport, and fitness. Stay tuned!

Textiles Anonymous

Shalin's older brother, Shyamal co-operates a fashion design house with Bhumika, his wife. Together, they operate Shyamal & Bhumika. Below, is one of many articles about their work.


Here is their storefront. It's really beautiful. Their entire store would fit perfectly into any fancy street in LA, New York, or Tokyo.

Shyamal & Bhumika

The inside, and the clothing, are all blindingly colorful and lovely.


But where do all these clothes, materials, and designs come from? I can share a small amount of information, not because of any particular non-disclosure agreements that may or may not have been signed, but because I know very little.

pick me!

Pictured below is Ishani (Shalin's cousin), a professional textile designer working for the aforementioned concern. She is designing a pattern in illustrator that will be embroidered onto a fabric.


She must consider not only the repeating composition, but also how it will be stitched as a continuous thread. Of course, it has to look nice, too. Embroidery, for those of you filling those shoes I, until only recently, occupied, means that thread is sewn into an existing fabric, creating a design. Those who are not squeamish about prematurely revealed endings, may scroll down to a hand embroidered detail below.

textile design in illustrator

I never realized that nowadays, someone sits down and designs these patterns. I thought there were simply standard patterns that are copied and pasted. Not at all, it turns out. India has a long history of textile design & production. Ishani looked at lots of reference material before undertaking the above pattern. Some are created from her imagination, such as this bed sheet design (below).

a bed-set design

She says that India has a huge library of traditional designs and art to draw from. By way of example, here is a curtain from Shalin's house.


The designer/philospher Christopher Alexander comes to mind, who claims that good designs reuse historically, organically, evolved patterns. The fifteen properties Alexander argues are fundamental to the universe and good design, such as strong centers, symmetry, and boundaries, are all obviously at play here, as well as the traditional Indian visual design language.


Here are our eponymous heroes, hard at work.


Bhumika is discussing design, and directing her staff. Actually, I have no idea what she's doing, because the conversation is not in English. But, familiar with game production & design, a similarly industrialized creative process, I immediately understood what was going on. Designs were discussed, samples reviewed, feedback given, and direction decided. Bhumika is pregnant, and is still working very hard, despite the fact that the baby is due soon!

prototyping a material

Many of their textiles are hand woven, hand embroidered, designed in house, and assembled in house. From sales to production to design, it's an entirely integrated operation. In a different location is a team of about 70 folks, if memory is correct, building the actual clothes. In house, they have a team of about 5 doing alterations, and prototyping materials and designs. Above, you can see a tailor with a test material he has produced, to be reviewed by the designers. Below, a tailor is assembling some clothing out of a hand-embroidered material.

preparing a hand embroided material

I learned a few more things about the fashion industry. Those catwalks, populated by models, are a critical part of the biz. Right now, this shop is trying to complete a collection that will be displayed in Mumbai, alongside other designers' work. The catwalk is an advertisement for buyers. Buyers will put in orders, and ask for changes -- all in time for seasonal fashion changes.


Above, a detail of some hand embroidered clothing. Some of these wedding saris take 5 people 2 months to make, and the one I looked at cost approximately $600 USD. That's about a year of labor, total. 40 Rs (Rupees) is about 1 USD, and a meal in India is about 40 Rs. Their primary clientèle, I understand, are Indians living abroad.

calico museum

Determined to learn more, Sulay (Ishani's brother, and Shalin's cousin) and I undertook an expedition to Ahmedabad's Calico Textile Museum. Tours by prior appointment. Photography not allowed. Words are, naturally, the wrong medium with which to paint for you what I have witnessed, but they must suffice.

If you find yourself in Ahmedabad, this tour is absolutely worth undertaking. The grounds and architecture of the museum are alone worth the price of admission, which happens to be free. But even if it were not free, the grounds alone would be worth the visit to the museum. I saw parrots, peacocks, and humming birds in the gentle gardens that surround the place.

When I was young, I was always bored by museums like this. Now, using my imagination -- a hard earned Graphics History Visualization Engine (GHVE) -- I find it more enjoyable. If I look at a dull flag, I imagine it bright and colorful, as it once was, leading an army unit of Gujarati warriors, waving in the wind. Kids must be awesome bored here -- you need someone to bring it to life. Our tour guide, and the exhibits, feed my GHVE with enough data to go on. There's so much to see here, we barely touch a fraction of it on the tour, and I describe a fraction of what I've seen below.

We see a long hand painted scroll depicting a historical event. A storyteller, armed with a candle and musical accompaniment, would narrate the events depicted here. Ancient made for TV news drama. Alone, like history, it's just a scroll. With a storyteller, it's magic.

Textiles made in Gujarat were found in the Egyptian pyramids. Apparently, they were exported to royalty in Bali, Japan, and Egypt. Lots of interesting, and time consuming, techniques are used to make these fabrics. Paisley patterns have an Indian origin -- they are the bottom of a clenched fist dipped in paint. Tie-dye was originally, and remains, a technique for patterning a textile by applying minute drops of wax to carve out an elaborate pattern. I saw embroidery so detailed and rich that the detail above looks like a hack job. And some wacky Atari 2600 looking materials made from pre-dyed threads, which are then woven together, producing a pixelated pattern.

Most interesting to me is the link between how humans make dimensional structures, and how nature does it. We are, when we make origami, or spinning thread from shorter natural fibers, sewing, weaving, casting -- increasing the dimensionality of our materials into more and more sophisticated shapes, forms of higher dimensionality. We have devised elaborate technologies for doing so. Computers, which have simple linear memories, use software to fold this single linear thread of memory into complex data structures, three dimensional graphics, and sophisticated organizational structures. All of computer science is reducible, in some way, to this endeavor, much like organic chemistry, or textile production.

We're not too far off from how the natural world does it. In the case of many organic forms, elements are arranged in arrays, coils (threads), and woven into tissues, which are folded and glued into three dimensional organs. When we humans make clothing, we start from natural plant and animal fibers, leveraging what billions of years have naturally evolved for us. We turn these fibers into longer threads, which we then arrange into two dimensional fabrics, from which we create clothing, tents, bags, paper, and kinds of other beautiful and useful forms.