Category Archives: Villages

Laos: Mong Ngoi and Ban Na

At the end of our long and crowded boat ride the charming village of Mong Ngoi awaited. Only accesible by boat, Mong Ngoi is a small village consisting of a few dirt paths–no cars allowed. There are numerous guesthouses though as the popularity of “getting off the grid” rises with travelers. Because we arrived on the last boat only one place had an open cabin left, but the next day we moved to a cute bungalow with a hammock on a porch overlooking the water. I was still nursing my foot so we took it easy, lounging in the hammock, enjoying the cheap and popular all-you-can-eat breakfast buffets, and taking short walks.

Sheets of seaweed with sesame and tomatoes drying in the sun. This is a popular Laotian snack.

Rice cakes drying in the sun.

Woman doing laundry.

View from our second guesthouse.

Perfect sticky rice.

Fresh fish curry.

You can find US bomb casings like this one decorating homes and restaurants all over Laos.

They come up with some pretty creative uses for them…

The village Temple.

Young monks.

A very pregnant pig.

We became friendly with a couple from Canada who had gotten there a couple days before us and they recommended walking up to some caves near the end of the village. I hobbled along the path to the caves but decided to wait down at the bottom while Manor scaled the steep cliffs where the caves were. No one mentioned that the caves would be pitch black, but luckily Manor met some explorers up top who lent him their flashlight for a few minutes. The caves housed a large stone phallus and were atop a mountain with a beautiful view.

When we got back to the village a pig was being roasted, which although it smelled delicious we did not partake in.

As usual, Manor woke up super early and managed to get some nice shots of our view.

 

 

 

 

I was feeling much better so we decided to make the hike to the next village, Ban Na. At first we followed a defined path, passing bamboo dams and kids on bikes and walking over several bamboo bridges. But soon we found ourselves in a large open field. After wandering around for a few minutes we almost decided to turn back, but then a young Laotian man walked up and when we asked him how to get to Ban Na he said we could just follow him.

Crazy insect we saw…still have no idea what it is!

Oh you know, just walking some pigs.

Criss-crossing the field, which is likely impossible in the wet season, Ban Na was on the other side. Upon arriving we immediately sat down at the small (and only cafe) and ordered food and drinks–we had worked up quite a sweat! We also enjoyed some relaxation time in their hammocks before walking through the tiny village (you can walk the whole thing in about 15 minutes).

Fixing a fishing net.

Ferns drying to be used as brooms.

Basket weavers.

We walked back to Mong Ngoi and enjoyed the peace and quiet there, knowing the next day we would return to Luang Prabang, one of the biggest cities in Laos (which still means it’s pretty small…but still).

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Laos: Another Boat Ride

After spending a night in Luang Prabang we decided to head off again and postpone our time in Luang Prabang for a few days. We decided on Mong Ngoi, following a recommendation from a friend who was there last year. Mong Ngoi is only accessible by boat so after a several-hour van ride to a small town called Nong Khiaw we managed to get on one of the last boats going to Mong Ngoi, which happened to be full of children heading back to their river-side villages after school. It was great to experience some local culture and beautiful scenery–and we got to make use of the cushions we had bought for the Mekong River ride, as these seats really were just thin wooden slabs!

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India: The People and Handicrafts of Kutch

Laundry day.

While the natural beauty of the Kutch region in the state of Gujarat is absolutely astounding, most of the visitors that do come (there are not many), come for the village handicrafts that abound in this area. Different tribal villages specialize in different types of embroidery, terracotta pottery, lacquerware, and other crafts.

A Jat woman embroiders a traditional neckpiece for women.

We knew we wanted to visit a lot of villages, not only to see the handicrafts but to hopefully meet some of the people. When planning our trip I saw in various travel books and websites that the man to see to arrange a village tour was Mr. Pramod Jethi. He can be found in the city of Bhuj (the city where you have to fly or take the train into to reach the Kutch region), at the Aina Mahal Museum, where he is curator and has a small tourism desk there. Mr. Jethi (literally) wrote the book on Kutch and knows everything about its 875 villages and multiple tribes. So, when we arrived in Bhuj the first thing we did was go see Mr. Jethi. After discussing with us what we were interested in seeing and mapping out a 3 day itinerary, he called one of his autorickshaw drivers/guides names Bharat, who came to pick us up there in a matter of minutes. Permission is needed from the police to visit certain villages, but Bharat arranged all of that for us. He was also a wonderful translator and very encouraging of our photography.

Village mosque.

The next three days were a whirlwind of villages, beautiful handicrafts, and generous people who invited us into their homes. And what homes these were! Although small (only one room), it is easy to tell how important artistry is to the people as soon as you see the beautiful painting and mudwork inside and outside of the huts. We were truly amazed at the beautiful mirrorwork  in many homes. Lunch everyday was had in someone’s home–some accepted payment and some did not.

Ceiling of a circular hut in the village of Ludiya.

Mud and mirrorwork in someone's home in Ludiya.

Outside of someone's home in Ludiya.

Just because they live in a desert village doesn't mean they don't have a television! And of course, the television has to be decorated.

But things are still a little old school...

Someone's home in Dhordo.

Storage in a home in Dhordo.

Lunch time!

Rabari women use a mixture of cow dung and mud to make a clay for coating their homes with.

Ingredients...

Hard at work refinishing the floors.

Dishes in a Jat home.

Jat women in their home.

Kitchens are outside; these women wash dishes.

The outside of a home in Khodai.

Detailed mudwork inside a Rabari home.

Not all the homes were so beautifully painted. The region suffered a devastating earthquake in 2010 and many homes were damaged.

Traditional Jat women wear red dresses.

Of course, the children were always fascinated with us and wanted to have their picture taken! In the Rabari village of Khodai there was a wedding going on and we became the unofficial photographers of the groom’s side!

The groom is in the middle.

I don't have to tell you how awesome this guy is.

This guy is equally as awesome, in a different way. Wedding attire? Sure!

We interacted with several different tribes: Dhanetah Jat, Gharacia Jat, Harijan, and Rabari. Mostly, the men work in the desert grazing cows and sheep while the women take care of the home. They each have their own specific type of embroidery that they wear. Some are nomadic or semi-nomadic and they ended up in Kutch from places like Jaisalmer, Iran, and maybe even Afghanistan.

Check out his ear holes.

A Rabari woman demonstrates the tools attached to her solid gold necklace: a toothpick, earpick, and nail file

A Rabari mother and daughter outside their home.

A Rabari woman demonstrates her traditional ear piercings.

This man is part of a nomadic Rabari tribe.

The nomadic Rabaris travel with everything on their camels' backs.

This mother and daughter belong to the Harijat tribe.

Harijat woman in Bhirendiara.

Aside from the various types of embroidery, we also got to observe and learn about some pottery making with very unique painting on it, handmade copper bells (the Kutchis use them for their camels and buffalo so they can find them), the dying art of lacquerwork, and rogan–Nirona village is home to the last family that creates handmade rogan.

This woman paints a terracotta plate by rotating it on a stand to get an even, circular pattern.

Handmade pottery from Khavda village.

Broken pottery.

Beadwork.

Embroidery.

Detail of a Jat embroidered dress.

Lacquering is an intricate process. The crafter operates the lathe with his feet, spinning the item he wants to lacquer in this case a spatula) back and forth, first cutting grooves into the wood.

Next, he takes a colored wax stub and holds it against the rotating object. The heat created melts the waxy substance onto the object, coloring it.

Other colors are added, usually in stripes.

Finally, designs are added using various techniques.

These women sell handmade dolls and stuffed toys.

The ancient art of rogan painting is created with boiled castor oil that has turned into a gooey paste. Colored powder is mixed into the oil and an iron rod is used to paint half of the design onto fabric.

After one half of the painting is finished, the artist folds the fabric in half and a mirror impression is transferred to the other side.

A finished rogan painting. How insane is that detail?

Iron bells with copper coating are also made by hand in Kutch.

The crafters don't use any welding to create the bell, it's all done by connecting notches and hammering down the top to attach to the cylinder.

They make them in all sizes.

The bells are used by Kutchis on their cattle so they can find them when they stray from the flock.

During our three days of village exploration we spent one night in Bhuj and one night at the Shaam-E-Sarhad Village Resort in Hodka, a lovely village with a tribal owned and operated hotel. The hotel used traditional mud huts and “eco-tents” that they updated with modern amenities and are actually quite luxurious. Plus, you get a nice group dinner buffet and traditional live music around a bonfire after the meal.

The eco-tents of Shaam-E-Sarhad in Hodka.

Inside our eco-tent.

Even though the bathroom was technically outside it was super nice!

The lobby/dining area.

Our visit to Kutch was our favorite week in India. While we saw many beautiful places throughout the country, Kutch is an environment like no other. The combination of natural magnificence, fascinating culture, and friendly people came together to create a truly magical experience. And, we were certainly lucky to get such an excellent driver/guide who definitely enhanced our experience.

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India: Camel Safari

One of the most popular activities to do in Rajasthan in general and in Jaisalmer specifically is a camel safari. They can be as long as several weeks (although we only heard of one person doing that!) or as short as an afternoon and evening. Most people do an overnight, but after our overnight train ride and impending overnight bus ride, as well as the prospect of a rather chilly night, we opted to  just do the afternoon to evening outing.

Inside the fort of Jaisalmer there are dozens of travel companies offering camel safaris. We opted to go with a company called Ganesh that was recommended by Lonely Planet, which they publicize quite loudly on a large banner near the entrance of the fort. The owner was definitely a good salesman and the three of us were very excited for the journey as we set out in a Jeep through the Thar Desert.

This overturned rickshaw is an unfortunate example of some of the reckless driving so ubiquitous in India. But luckily, we weren't in it and it seemed no one was hurt!

We were supposed to stop at some villages, but after the first one we told them not to stop at any others because the “village” was extremely disappointing. As soon as we got out of the Jeep a bunch of young children immediately started asking us for money. There was nothing to be seen of the village; it was unfortunately just a few poor families who have grown used to tours coming here and have taught their children to beg in a very aggressive manner. When we politely declined to give them money the children began to grab and poke us and we basically had to run back to the car. I hated being made to feel like a snob, but I refuse to give money to beggar children because it simply continues the cycle of parents or others using children to get money. Of course I feel terrible for the children and the poor families, which is why I am glad that I was able to do some positive volunteer work while in Mumbai.

When we finally reached the place where our camels were waiting we climbed aboard and were led through a very lovely desert walk. There of course isn’t much to see in a desert besides sand, cacti, and other camels, but it was very peaceful and even somewhat meditative. My camel was somewhat enamored with the guy on the camel in front of me (we went with three other people) and kept nudging his head into the guy’s legs and waist.

After a couple hours we reached some sand dunes where we saw a gorgeous sunset and then had a simple but yummy dinner cooked over a bonfire. We were hoping to stay a while longer to lie under the stars before heading back, but for some reason the driver insisted on us leaving almost immediately after dinner.

We had fun having Manor act the part of being stranded in the desert.

We kept seeing weird tracks in the sand and then we found this creature, who was the one making them.

So we got a quick peek at the expansive, star-filled sky, but we all wished we had been able to stay a little while longer–although it was getting very cold! We were indeed happy to get back to our warm beds at Hotel Tokyo Palace in Jaisalmer.

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