23rd – 29th December 2014
Day 124 started with comforting cornflakes and warm milk in the hospitality of Mangul and Henant’s home. Today we would be visiting Henant’s home village, his family farm and his middle school. We were impressed to learn that Henant and his father are still deeply involved in their village community although they now lived in nearby Satara. In fact, they had been integral to establishing the middle school in the first place and Henant’s father was it’s chairman. They were even working towards creating another upper high school in the village so parents would not have to send their children away for higher education. An expense some parents could not afford. First the school visit, which we expected would be a quick, informal visit. Like many things in India – we didn’t get what we were expecting.
Soon we were sitting drinking Chai in the Principals office being introduced to school administration, whilst preparations were being made. Then we walked to the back of the school where the whole school was assembled. We were formally presented with red roses and coconuts plus had to introduce ourselves to the assembled. Then came the presentations, which included the school song, patriotic songs about India and individual student presentations by members of each year group. One we particularly liked was a reading from the paper of all the historical events that had occurred on this day. Cool!
Next came a short tour of the school facilities including a newly established computer room and Prunella dropped in to have a quick chat to the teachers and general staff. We were really touched and honoured to be given the opportunity to meet the members of this small, proud school and to hear of their admirable accomplishments. Such bright, well-mannered, sweet children – the future of India.
Next we visited Henant’s family farm. There they grow mainly sugar cane and bananas and have a few cows for fresh milk. We met their lone farm worker and were treated to a bullock cart ride. It was a first for us and the boys enjoyed taking turns pretending to steer. Then with a load of fresh milk to take back to Satara, we headed to the factory.
Mangul manages the successful small industrial unit which produces casts for an engine block component of Honda motorcycle engines. Each mold has several components and needs to be assembled and adhered together to create the final sand cast. It runs 24hrs a day, the casts are sent to a factory nearby where they are used as moulds and then destroyed. A very interesting visit to see a complex industrial process.
Back in Satara, later that day we did a little Christmas shopping, we visited a mens cloth shop and Prunella tried on a traditional Marahashta sari at a sari centre. Then for a falooda at another of their jointly owned businesses. Yum.
A two hour drive from Satara to Aundh, Pune brought us to the formal function honouring the one year death anniversary of Ranjeet’s mother. We had all met her on her visit to Australia several years ago. A wood and bamboo pergola had been constructed covering the front garden and the caterers were called in. People came from near and far to pay their respects and share memories. All were fed and various religious ceremonies were performed. The well wishers continued into the evening.
Manju’s sister took us and all the kids on a late night drive to search for Father Christmas. First we tried a large department store and although we spent some time looking at toys, there was no sight of him. We finally tracked him down at a local cake shop along with a few other characters and the children were pleased to receive a sweet each. Thanks Santa.
Before going to bed the boys put out some milk and cookies for Santa. Aided by a large parcel from Australia, kindly brought to us by Manju, Prunella worked late into the evenings making preparations for a small Christmas celebration. The boys went to sleep excited by what the morning would hold.
Christmas Day 2013
The boys awake to an early morning contemplation on the meaning of Christmas, presents, a felt christmas tree, some decorations and christmas crackers. We had a small celebration in our room, followed by the giving of some small gifts to our hosts.
Prunella whipped up a large batch of pancakes for breakfast – which our boys had been craving. All the seven children including; Manju’s sister’s two girls, Manju’s two and ours, all enjoyed a picnic breakfast on newspaper in the lounge room. A visit from Mungul and Hermat brought more gifts and treats.
Whilst the children played happily, we went in search of our family gift – a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 and the elusive, huge tome of Lonely Planet India. That brought a huge smile to Graham’s face! Merry Christmas to us.
Bangkok Airport gave us a Christmas present by emailing us that they had found the boys’ stolen backpack in the terminal carpark. Suddenly we hatched a plan to get it back to Pune.
Then we went were invited by Ranjeet’s uncle to a Christmas party at his very swish modern apartment. A Christmas tree had been prepared on the apartment block’s roof and we were treated to Christmas songs by the children. Each made a beaming performance. We were particularly impressed by Hira’s sweet “Jingle Bells” and proud of our Reuben who sang “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” solo. Our little Christmas star!
The long drive to the cave complex and the climb up the hill was worth all the effort. The cave was spectacular.
The Karla Caves or Karle Caves or Karla Cells are a complex of ancient Indian Buddhist rock-cut cave shrines located in Karli near Lonavala, Maharashtra. The shrines were developed over two periods – from the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD, and from the 5th century AD to the 10th century. The oldest of the cave shrines is believed to date back to 160 BC, having arisen near a major ancient trade route, running eastward from the Arabian Sea into the Deccan. Karli’s location in Maharashtra places it in a region that marks the division between North India and South India. Buddhists, having become identified with commerce and manufacturing through their early association with traders, tended to locate their monastic establishments in natural geographic formations close to major trade routes so as to provide lodging houses for travelling traders. Today, the cave complex is a protected monument under the Archaeological Survey of India.
The karla cave complex is built into a rocky hillside around 60 kilometres from Pune, with large windows cut into the rock to light the cave interiors. The caves are believed to be some of thousands of similar caves excavated in the Sahyadri Hills in the early 1st millennium AD.
The main cave features a large, intricately carved chaitya, or prayer hall, dating back to the 1st century BC. This is among the largest rock-cut chaityas in India, measuring 45 metres (148 ft) long and up to 14 metres (46 ft) high. The hall features sculptures of both males and females, as well as animals such as lions and elephants.
Within the complex are a great many other carved chaityas, as well as viharas, or dwelling places for the caves’ monks. A notable feature of these caves is their arched entrances and vaulted interiors. The outside facade has intricate details carved into it in an imitation of finished wood. The central motif is a large horseshoe arch. There is an Ashokan pillar at the front, with a closed stone facade and torana in between. Wikapedia
Next we visited Uncles country home for snacks, followed by prayers, a dinner and late night swim at the surreal Sai Baba temple.
Graham and Ranjeet had their boys own adventure at Sinhagad Fortress. A spectaclular, crumbling fort high above the lowlands.
Sinhagad, Sinhgarh, or Sinhgad (Marathi: The Lion’s Fort), is a fortress located roughly 30 kilometres southwest of the city of Pune, India. Previously called Kondhana, the fort has been the site of many important battles. It was also strategically located at the centre of a string of other forts such as Rajgad, Purandar and Torna. Perched on an isolated cliff of the Bhuleswar range of the Sahyadri Mountains, it is situated on a hill rising 1312 metres above sea level. Given natural protection by its very steep slopes, the walls and bastions were constructed at only key places; it has two gates – the Kalyan Darwaza in the south-east and the Pune Darwaza in the north-east.
This fort has had quite a long history, It was called ‘Kondana’ after the sage Kaundinya. The Kaundinyeshwar temple, the caves and the carvings indicate that this fort had probably been built two thousand years back. It was captured from the Koli tribal chieftain, Nag Naik, by Muhammad bin Tughlaq in 1328 AD.
One of the most famous battles for Sinhgad was fought to recapture the fort by Tanaji Malusare, a general of Shivaji in March 1670. A steep cliff leading to the fort was scaled with the help of a monitor lizard named yashwanti, colloquially known as a ghorpad. Thereafter, there ensued fierce battles between Tanaji and his men, and the mughal army that had the fort at the time. Tanaji lost his life, but his brother Suryaji took over and captured Kondana. There is an anecdote that upon hearing of Tanaji’s death, Shivaji expressed his remorse with the words: “Gad aala pan sinha gela” – “We gained the fort, but lost the lion”. The name Sinhgad, though, pre-dates this event, and can be seen in written communiques from the era. A bust of Tanaji has been established on the fort in memory of his contribution to the battle. It remains to this day a grand symbol of a great Maratha victory. Wikipedia
That afternoon we set off to visit a lovely Couchsurfer (CSer) Indian family in another part of Pune -Wanawari. They kindly gave us a tour of their apartment, it’s complex and surrounding area before introducing us homemade sweets and the delights of Pani Puri, Jain style. The boys additionally enjoyed a game of Monopoly and a big playground session. We really enjoyed a pleasant simple evening with these warm, open minded locals.
A late night treat for Prunella and Manju to see the latest Bollywood release of Dhoom 3. Cheesy but fun.
We arranged a McDonalds Aundh meetup with another CSer – Harry. We took all the kids and he kindly bought them their meals as we chatted. Harry was awaiting the birth of his first baby. His wife who is 8 months pregnant had recently left to go to her mothers in preparation for the birth. Harry was waiting for his chance to see them all and the new arrival in a few weeks.
Manju and Prunella again set off for a girly afternoon at the beauty salon. Manju had a manicure and treated Prunella to a one hour facial that was so heavenly she even fell asleep for a while. Glorious.
Lost him at Ganesh
On our last day in Aundh, Pune we decided to go into the centre on our own adventure. First the busy and bustling central markets where whilst taking photo’s of a Ganesh temple we lost sight of Graham. Their was a tense twenty minutes without mobile phone ability, until we were reunited by retracing our steps. We decided to go Indian style with dessert often before main. We had a selection of Indian sweets at a famous sweet shop before heading down a alleyway for cheap thali.
Then, hopping on an auto, we headed for the fabled Osho Gardens – not to meditate or visit the ashram but simply to enjoy the quiet beauty of the park. This was a pretty garden filled with small secluded nooks and crannies, we soon discovered all these were occupied by canoodling Indian couples. Love was in the air.
We left Aundh with a traditional Hindu send off complete with Indian outfits presented to us and a photo session. We were overwhelmed by the care and generosity of our hosts and hope to return the favour when they are all in Australia one day. At last a late night drive brought us to our new apartment home with another CSer in Warji, Pune – our last stop before leaving Pune behind. Snug in our beds, we looked forward to soon quietly seeing in New Year 2014 and the year ahead.