Take a look at this photograph.
Krishnagiri Fort at Gingee
See those imposing walls? That massive, two mile long, curtain wall is still complete and still mostly in good condition, not having been torn apart for building materials, succumbed to developmental stress as in European cities or having been perforated by “heritage hotels” as was the fate of the fort in Jaiselmer. That moat is 80 feet across. Once upon a time, it was home to numerous crocodiles and snakes to ward off attackers. It is probably still home to many snakes. Places like this are where the stereotype of a crocodile infested moat come from. See the fort up on the rocky hill? That is Krishnagiri; the queen’s fort. Rajagiri (the king’s fort) and a third fort, called Chamar Tikri, are on a hill a kilometer to the left and behind the camera respectively.
Welcome to Gingee!
The fortress complex at Gingee was originaly built in the 9th century and considerably upgraded in the 13th century. It was self sustaining. In the 17th century, the invading Mughals required a seven year siege in order to capture the fort. Father Pinments, British visitor in the 18th century, called it the “Troy of the East”. One can easily spend a full day here and not see everything.
What don’t you see in that picture? People!
Strangely enough, while Mahabalipuram, two hours away, is mobbed with tourists, Gingee, despite its scenic delights and colorful history; is empty. That is something that I’ll never understand about this country.
On to a much earthier subject for today; with an appropriate warning that this entry is not for anyone eating lunch. 😛
When you enter an Indian bathroom –that is their take on a modern, western style bathroom, you notice a couple of oddities. Firstly, there may not be a bathtub. In fact, here may not even be an enclosed shower, but rather a part of the bathroom that can be curtained off. It is actually quite practical as the whole bathroom floor has a slight downward slope to the shower and you can hose down the whole bathroom floor if you want. It is all much easier to clean than a western bathtub or shower stall.
Where would you find such a hose you might ask… well right next to the toilet of course. There always seems to be a hose with a flip trigger right next to the toilet. Indians don’t traditionally use toilet paper and in fact hotels sometimes tell you not to flush toilet paper down as it can clog the pipes. Whatever they do with Lincoln log situations, I do not know and I’m not sure I want to know; though I’m pretty sure the kids would be fascinated and there is probably a profession of people who stand around all day, waiting to hande such situations. For this reason, the toilet paper roll (if available) is often in some ergonomically impoverished location (such as smack up against where the shower curtain meets the wall), almost as if the bathroom designer wants you to use the butt hose. This is not the kind of wimpy little hose jet that you see on American kitchen sinks either; it is a full bore industrial strength sprayer. Imagine for a moment that you are sitting on a toilet and you need to clean yourself. Now as you are sitting, it is the bottom side of you bottom that needs a good hosing; which naturally means the hose needs an upward angle. The kids tried this a couple of times; until we banned them from using the hose.
The Butt Hose
Now this hose carried over from the more traditional toilet. Most lower and middle class homes still have the traditional one and our house has one as well behind the kitchen. It amounts to a hole in the ground with footholds that you squat over. That’s right, you squat. You never squat with western toilets. Even in makeshift backcountry outhouses in wilderness areas of the Adirondacks, you sit on a wooden plank with a hole in it. Even in the more makeshift (read wall-less) outhouse that I encountered at a campsite in Algonquin Park in Ontario, Canada, you sat. Sure, there was something gigantic (a bear? a moose?) moving in the brush less than a hundred feet away. Sure you had a flashlight in one hand, TP in the other and a gigantic Bowie knife between your teeth; but you sat by golly! Traditionally, Indians have found western style toilets uncomfortable.
I’m still puzzled as to how you avoid brown slurry wall painting disasters in traditional bathrooms.
One of the many uses of a pooja room is as a kid jail. I think I see a renovation in store for our house in Rotenberg. 😉
There are a three architectural oddities that houses in India have. The first is the servant’s toilet, which I’ll talk about another time. Another is what I call the butt hose, which seems to be a common feature of bathrooms. The last is the pooja room.
The pooja room is prayer room/alcove. It is a place set aside to have an altar. Hindu’s – Brahmans at least – are very religious; religious enough to want to have an idol in their very own in-house temple rather than schlep down to the neighborhood shrine. There is apparently a whole science to pooja rooms. Ours is in the auspicious northeast quadrant. The whole room is marble and arguably the fanciest in the house.
It also has a power plug. Consider for a moment the ramifications of having a power plug in the pooja room. Considering that some of the Ganesh idols in vehicles can rival Christmas trees in terms of sheer blinkiness, I can only assume that there are pooja rooms that emit a multitude of flashing colors. The only thing better than your own Ganesh is a blinking Ganesh! I have seen clear proof that what constitutes good taste is clearly cultural. (and do Indians find the austere taste of westerners cold?)
What in the world will we do with the room? If it wasn’t so pimped out (and did not have a glass door), we’d use it for storage; which is what most westerners do and anyway, I’d be concerned about defiling it and annoying any Hindu visitors. Perhaps I can string some Christmas lights on the boxes…