Monday, December 9, 2019

Fires, heat and hospitality

So while we were all in Shimla, Prince and Tavleen did a bisque firing. In the morning we opened the kiln to see just how good things were. No blowups, a little cracking but nothing major and some awesome pieces.
Bisque results
Bisque results
What followed was a long day getting things glazed ready for a glaze firing on Thursday. This was pretty fast turn around as Katrine was due to leave to head home to Singapore on Saturday and wanted her items to take with her.
It was a pretty hectic day as we had to prep our pieces, clear them of dust, wax where necessary to prevent sticking to the shelves or themselves (lids etc).
I will try and get some pics from the day as I didn’t have time to get some.
All I have is my big pots that didn’t get fired.
From right, vase, teapot, sugar bowl and behind the leaf platter
From left, teapot, trinket box, glazed lid from the teapot and leaf platter behind
It was a frantic day with trying to sort out colours and whether to dip or spray. But we got there in the end only about 45 mins later than expected.
The following morning we kicked off the kiln at 9am
Candling the kiln to drive off any remaining moisture
and let it candle for 1 1/2 hours then applied some heat to two burners.
And off we go
At 700 dec C we lit off the other 2 burners and apart from a change of gas bottle we got a very steady even rise in temperature to 1260 by 5pm and after holding for 15 mins at 1260 we then sealed up the kiln and turned the burners off.
By 10:30am it was cool enough to open after cracking it at 8:30am and it certainly looked different.
Anuja and Tavleen inspect the results
We had a few cracks and splits but nothing majorly broken to disrupt the kiln.
Oh dear, major cracking
Some of Katrine’s work
I was very happy with the few small bits of mine that went into the kiln
Some of my small pieces
and am awaiting the next firing to get my bigger pots and bowls fired.
I am slowly finding my niche and it seems to be geometric shapes.
Geometric Progression - From Circle to Cube
I have been having fun with a number of teapots
Teapot in the making, just need a handle
Teapot,  third try but still not completely happy
and vases as well as geometric sculpture.
Stairway to .....
Meanwhile, on one of my trips to the local village of Manakpur Sharif I had met up with two lovely young men who had shown us around the village. Now suddenly one of them
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Bhapoor Singh found me on Facebook and said that he was heading to Aura on Friday and would like to catch up. Now Bhapoor had said that he had known Anuja’s (owner of Aura Pottery) late husband Atul. Atul had passed away in February this year from a heart attack. Bharpoor and Atul had been working together on a programme of planting many more trees around the village and alongside the road leading to the village.
On Friday when he arrived I was unaware that he was actually at Aura for a meeting with Anuja around using the proceeds of Winter Day to buy and plant more trees around the area.
So Bharpoor had a quick tour of the studio and some of our work and then was whisked off to his meeting.
Latter both Rachel and I get an invitation to dinner at his home in the village, which we accept. So last night, Sunday, we wandered off to the village with a cake Rachel had baked and a jar of our spiced nuts and seeds for them.
Bhapoor met us on the way and showed us the trees that they had planted along the roadside and explained that some of the farmers were not happy as it shaded their crops.
We had another wander through the village, down street and alleys we hadn’t been before. So amazing to think that there are over 3,000 people living in this village.
When we arrive at his home, he explains that most of his extended family live together but in separate houses and gather together often.
Indian families have an interesting reaction when I take my shoes off at the door. I have to explain that it is a cultural thing in my country and I seldom wear shoes inside, and never as a guest in someone else’s home. Bharpoor finally accepted it when Rachel confirmed that I never wear shoes inside the house.
So first up we meet Grandmother who is 82 and quite sprightly. She was sitting on a charpaya (Indian woven bed) if you translate literally it is char: four and paya: footed. She was knitting very rapidly.
Then came a stream of relatives, Father and Mother, Bharpoor’s wife, his Grandfather, Uncle and Aunt and later his brother and his wife and young son arrived.
Bhapoor’s brother, Grandfather, Grandmother, Uncle & Aunt
Uncle, Aunt, Father and Bhapoor’s wife, Aman
It was quite interesting as Grandfather, Bharpoor and his wife Aman were the only English speakers so conversation was fun.
Grandfather had been to the United States in the 80’s and so there was a bit of interesting conversation between him and Rachel.
We were offered the wonderful Indian version of coffee, milk heated, coffee and sugar added and then whisked frothy. Very delicious. This was followed by what I believe was pinni. It was explained to us that his father had made this. It takes around 4 hours to reduce 4 litres of milk down to 1 litre and that it is almost solid at this point. This is then mixed with gram flour, jaggery (unrefined cane sugar), ghee and nuts and seeds. There is a great deal more to the creation of this wonderful winter snack, and I will find the complete recipe when I go back for some lessons with Father on how to make it. It is amazingly healthy and is great for adding missing dietary needs over the winter months.
We were then invited out to watch Mother cook roti for dinner in the outdoor kitchen or bhathi.
Watching Mother shape roti by hand, (no rolling pin) was amazing, beautifully round and even thickness and then cooked on the roti cooker (tawa). This is a two person job as Mother rolled and patted the roti while Aunty first cooked the roti on the top then carefully crisped them up inside the firebox against the side on a bed of coals.
Bhapoor had brought the idea home to apply ghee to the roti then place back in the fire to create super crispy roti and they were! So this was served with saag, a vegetable purée of mustard greens and other leafy  greens. The bowl of saag was then laced with a large dollop of homemade butter (not ghee). The butter is made daily from the buffalo cows that Mother milks every day. At the end of the week and butter left over gets turned into ghee. I still cannot get over the fact that the butter and cream here are white, not pale yellow but pure white. I first came across this on my trip to Florida and thought it was just in America but no it is here too.
So we all sat around the fire eating saag and roti, with a glass of warm water. It was a wonderful experience to have roti so hot that I had to wait for it to cool before I could eat it. Grandfather was hilarious about asking if we needed forks to eat with as his brother who was a professor at a major US university had brought a group of people home and they couldn’t/wouldn’t eat with fingers. A very funny story in the telling.
We then went for a wander around the house, saw the new cow and calf, who had arrived that day but she got a bit upset when we came in and kicked her calf. Mother was trying to get the calf to feed from the cow, so we left them to it. We toured the garden where all the ingredients for saag were grown. After that we went upstairs to the roof where we enjoyed a very quiet time seeing the village at night from the rooftop, observing what few stars were visible and talking about sleeping on the roof tops over the summer. They have temperatures around 50 deg C in the summer months and 2 deg C in winter! Huge temperature differential over the year.
After that we returned to the sitting room and talked about all sorts of interesting things and then instead of us walking home Bhapoor drove us home. On the way we paused to meet a group of young men that Bhapoor was part of who were huddled around a small fire on the street corner.
A group that comes together most nights to talk about non consequential stuff and just relax and enjoy the company. Apparently Bhapoor is the first of the group to get married, so he cannot attend as many get togethers as he used to.
It was a wonderful evening and Bhapoor was adamant that the honour was theirs to be able to host us but it went both ways I felt very honoured to be invited into their home and to be welcomed so warmly and fed with such a meal that was prepared with so much tradition and love.
An amazing experience!
It also seems that I have unleashed the inner artist in our studio help Prince, he is starting to create some awesome work.

Safe travels everyone.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Toy Train to Shimla

In the midst of all the Winter Day excitement, Rachel
Anuja and Rachel
had a birthday and we celebrated it with two (yes 2) cakes. 
Rachel and 2 cakes

Rachel and Anuja’s present and awesome shawl

So a quick day on Monday to get all the pieces I wanted fired organized for a bisque firing on Tuesday, which unfortunately we will not be here for as we are all heading off for a day trip to Shimla. This was brought forward due to Katrine leaving Friday so we needed to get things done bisque and glazed before she left.
Tuesday morning at 3:30am the alarm goes off and we all troop out to the front gate at 4pm to get into our Uber ride to Kalka to get on our train. One of the first drivers who actually sticks to the speed limit. 
Did you know that in Chandigarh there are red flashing LED's on both sides of the motorway showing the edges.
At around 5 we arrive at Kalka after driving through the pouring rain and head off to try and find our train. 
Entrance to Kalka Railway Station
Again have to scan our bags through security.
Bag scan at Kalka Railway Station
Once on the platform we headed towards Platform 6, but went the wrong way and found the over bridge under construction, so headed all the way back
Platform 1 Kalka Railway Station
Kalka (note time)
Railway engine Kalka
and found that we didn’t have to go far
Kalka Shimla Railway display

Pt 2 of Kalka Shimla Railway display

as the train to Shimla
Our ride up the hill

Kalka Shimla Toy Train

First Class all the way!
is a narrow gauge of 2ft 6” (NZ is 3ft 6”) and has a separate line.
Indian Railways currently has four different gauges: the 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) broad gauge, the 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) metre gauge, and two narrow gauges 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) and 2 ft (610 mm)
Shimla or Queen of The Hills was established as the summer capital of the British Empire in 1863 but the issue was accessibility as the only way there was by bullock cart. So in 1903 the Kalka to Shimla railway was opened. The current Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon was on that first train.
The track has 20 picturesque stations, 103 tunnels, 912 curves, 969 bridges and 3% slope (1:33 gradient). The 1,143.61 m Bagot tunnel at Barog immediately before the Barog station is longest, a 60 ft (18.29m) bridge is the longest and the sharpest curve has a 123 ft (38 m) radius of curvature. The train has an average speed of 25–30 km/hr Which is why it takes 4 1/2 hours to traverse the 96km of track.
It was dark as we left the station so didn’t get to see much apart from the occasional level crossing with trucks and cars waiting and rear of buildings. It wasn’t long before we started to climb out of the city
View from the train
and into the hills. 
Town nestled into the curve
Trees in the forest

There is a lot of forrest on the hills and when the sun rose you could see just how high we were and how steep the hills are.
Looking down one of the many valleys
Precariously balanced
A snack was served not far into the journey, a cup of tea with two round wine type biscuits.
Early morning snack, excuse the blur
At the halfway station of Barog breakfast was loaded onto the train
Breakfast
and we had a chance to stretch our legs. 
Katrine at the doorway

Rachel and Kyle on a walkabout at Barog

Barog Station with the longest tunnel in background

Underway again we continued to climb and twist our way up the hills. It was amazing to pass the same place sometimes three times, each time at a higher level as we zigzagged our way upwards.
Perched on the side of the hill
Same town different height
And again
It was very difficult to catch the view as the auto focus on both my phone and camera was enough of a delay that by the time the picture was taken a tree was in the way! 
Trees get in the way!
Breakfast was served at some point on the trip.... two vege rolls (very tasty) with a nice sauce and two pieces of bread with butter and jam. 
Breakfast
At around 11am we arrived at Shimla Station
Shimla Railway Station
Shimla Railway Station
Shimla Railway Station Points House
Turntable for engines Shimla Railway Station
Looking down on Shimla Railway Station
and what an amazing place it was. Clean and tidy to a fault.
Very clean and tidy
On posting the pics to FaceBook, friends commented around “Are you sure you are in the right place”, “Not the India I remember” and similar. 
We then wended our way
Heading up to The Mall
Revers view from the above picture
towards The Mall, which is the main upmarket shopping street
Map of Shimla
and on the way came across numerous lookout points
Looking towards the northwest

Looking northerly

View to the north

and it became pretty obvious that this was a university city, loads of university students, heads down on their phones. 
Students....
There were heaps of monkeys on the roofs
Mother and baby
Grey Langur Monkey
and in the street,
Rhesus Macaque
as we headed for the Mall.
The Mall is essentially a road in Shimla with shops on one side
Looking towards The Mall
and walls on the other. I saw that there were sleeping dogs halfway up these walls with no apparent way up or down.
Dogs everywhere
These dogs were everywhere!
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie....

We paused at The Wake and Bake
Wake & Bake view from the 3rd floor
for coffee and a bite to eat.
Updating FaceBook
I had a very good coffee and a vege omelette which tasted much better
Vegetable Omelette

than it looked. The eggs are very pale here and the butter and cream are white. Couldn’t get across the fact that NZ butter and cream are yellow and cream coloured. 
On going to the washroom I was confronted by the open window overlooking the next door roof. Nice view while seated! 
Room with a view 4th floor
While we were paused there was a film crew setting up in the area below us.
Film Crew in Shimla Square
They were using a Red camera on a gymbal mount.
There were some interesting statues on the Mall. This one Is labeled The Dancers but I cannot find out much about it. 
There are
The Dancers
interesting signs all around the city “No smoking”, “No spitting”, “No plastic bags”, “Keep Shimla Clean” and it all works.
No Smoking 200 fine
No Plastic Bags ₹5,000 fine 

So clean and tidy, rubbish bins everywhere

The place is amazingly clean and tidy. 
So shopping with the girls was interesting and loads of scarves, shawls, and wraps purchased. Food was high on the priority list as well, with a great assortment of sweets tried and all were wonderful. Especially a hot Channa Puli.
Channa Puli
A hot sweet in syrup that resembles an elongated donut hole.
Unfortunately by this stage it had started to rain which put a bit of a dampener on the day as it became very very cold. If it had been much colder i believe it would have been snow! 
and the rain came.....
We had been trying to book seats on the bus back to Chandigarh all day but none of us had been successful and when I tried again our bus was full and wasn’t available any more so we decided to pull the plug and wander back to the train and get the next train home. The couple of things left on the list involved going to the giant statue of Hanuman Ji
Hanuman Ji statue at top of ridge, gondola to left
and a trip to The Ridge. Both involved the views which by this time were non-existent. 
Following Google Maps back to the railway station was an interesting time, we actually found a really cool part of town
Cool part of town with rain!
More interestingness 
with some amazing shops and stalls, food, clothing, everything you can imagine and then some.Tiny shops racked and stacked cheek by jowl and all scrambling to protect their wares from the rain. 
still more rain and interestingness
We realized just how far we had travelled when Google Maps told us that we were 35 mins away from the railway station!! So it was a 35 min walk in what’s was now pretty heavy rain, dodging umbrellas, people running and growing puddles and rivers of water flowing off the roves and awnings.
Walkway overhanging the drop off...cantilevered
On our arrival at the station we headed to the window and managed to get tickets eventually and the price was ₹200 so we all hauled out our ₹200s each but were told ‘Nayhee it is ₹200 for all 4 of us.’ Now on the way up the price was ₹2235.40 for 5 of us. Ellen had booked a return train earlier so it was just the four of us and it was ₹50 each for the return trip. Granted it was in general class, but it wasn’t that much worse than the first class trip up, apart from being bloody cold!
Interesting meal before heading homeward
Also the train stopped at all 20 stations,
East Shimla at night
complete with hot food vendors, popcorn and snack vendors two of whom nearly came to grief as the train started moving and they were late getting on. The screams were luckily heard by everyone and the door was opened and they scrambled themselves into the train. One of them looked like he had possibly been injured but he shrugged it off.
Barog Stationmaster
So we all dozed, read, listened to audio books for the nearly 6 hour trip back.
Reminds me of the NZ film The Navigator
Heading homeward
On arrival at Kalka it was persisting down and luckily our Uber driver was waiting for us and we all piled in for the return trip to Aura. Arrival was around 1:30am so a huge day.
I have decided that I would like to return to Shimla and have a really good look around the other layers of shops and visit the statue riding in the gondola. Maybe later in Dec when there is snow up there.

Signing off for now and will get the next post up asap! Am behind by at least 1!

सुरक्षित यात्रा
surakshit yaatra
Safe travels