Category: Adventures


Ahmedabad (Ahmdavad)

Shortly after getting to India, a bunch of our staff members were at a conference and heard a woman speak about the school she started. The examples she gave of what they were doing and the projects they were accomplishing was inspiring and considerably closer to our philosophy than most other places we have seen in India. We requested a chance to come visit the school and I was one of the lucky staff members who had the opportunity. In addition to the chance to see this beautiful school, this all gave me a chance for a mini vacation. So I got to play the tourist and had an opportunity to visit Ahmedabad (or Ahmdavad).

Ahmedabad is a major city in the state of Gujarat – just North of Maharashtra (the state I live in). Ahmedabad was the capital of Gujarat until 1970. Gujarat shares it’s NE border with Rajasthan (another state) and its Northern border with Pakistan. It appears to have a higher percentage of Muslims (based on observation and number of famous Muslim buildings) than other regions of India. Based on my little bit of knowledge of Indian history this makes sense.

Before they managed to convince the British to leave, India included not only what we currently call India, but Pakistan, and Bangladesh as well. As India gained its independence, the Partition was one of the most deliberated topics and was eventually decided upon. The partition created the Muslim country of Pakistan and Hindu country of India. No matter the intentions of the leaders at the time this did not go as smoothly as hoped. Neither Hindus nor Muslims particularly wanted to be forced to pick up their lives and start over somewhere new. It was a time of anger and bloodshed. Although the animosity between the two religions is generally minimal, the proximity of Gujarat to Pakistan explains the larger communities of Muslims.

Because Gujarat is so close, one of the other people going and I decided to take the train. Long distance train travel is common in India and the train system is quite useful. But I also know that India is big (about 1/3 of the US) and so trains can also be long. But this trip was only 7-8 hrs, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity. Due to various circumstances, I ended up taking the train up by myself on Saturday. The trains have a variety of different classes that you can by a ticket for and variance in amenities to match. I had a ticket for the 2nd level of AC compartment – though I had no idea what that actually meant.

Getting to the train turned out to be a bit more of an adventure than I had intended due to not realizing that there was a separate station for local trains and long distance trains, but a jaunt over the walkways of the normal station and a quick rickshaw ride got me to the correct station in time to find my seat (and far faster than my driver could have made it around). I then had a slightly frantic walk down the platform next to the very long train as I tried desperately to figure out which car I was supposed to be in. But people here are friendly and helpful and through showing multiple people my ticket, I finally ended up in the correct car of the correct class and found my seat. The seats in this class are like cots. There are little sections of 4 seats (2 upper and 2 lower) like bunk beds with their heads near the window. The other side of the isle has just 2 seats (upper and lower) that run parallel to the isle. All have curtains to close them away from others. I managed to find my seat pretty easily and due to my coworker having changed his ticket at the last minute his seat (above mine) managed to stay empty the whole trip. I quickly stowed my bag, thankfully put up my foot (I had managed to break my pinky toe the previous Monday) and get out my knitting as I stared out the window with anticipation.

The trip was lovely. It was 8 hrs of relaxation to the gentle rocking of the train. I read and knit and looked at scenery. There were constantly vendors walking up and down the isle selling chai, coffee, food, and at stations even ice cream. The other seats in my little square were occupied by a lovely Indian couple. They took turns napping and chatting with me. The husband in particular was great company. He asked me questions about education in the US as well as a variety of other topics. I heard about their daughter who lives in Washington D.C. And he often commented on what we were observing out the window. Getting out of the city helped me remember just how arid so much of India is. Quite quickly the vegetation gave way to scrub and cactus, all very brown waiting the last couple of months until the rains finally come. I also got a quick glance (nicely confirmed by my neighbor) of salt making. They somehow trap thin layers of salt water that they evaporate to collect the salt. Gujarat was the home of Gandhi, and where his famous marches to the salt fields took place. It was neat to see a bit of history. I even got snacks as the wife has some homemade snacks she insisted I share.

When we finally pulled into the station it was about 9:30 pm. Even before I got out of the station, a rickshaw driver had claimed me and was leading me out to his rick. It was the most harebrained ride I have had here (which coming from Mumbai is saying something). We jumped barriers that were at least half a foot high, and weaved in and out of traffic and even stopped for gas (which I ended up paying for instead of a fare) but the hilarity of it was well worth the ride and I was nicely deposited at my hotel. I spent the rest of the evening having dinner and pouring over a guide book planning my day of adventures.

The next morning I spent lazily getting ready, packing up and eating breakfast. I was staying at a different hotel for the rest of my stay because it was with the other people coming and much closer to the school we were visiting. If I had been smart, I would have started my morning by going to the new hotel and dumping my stuff, but I knew it was out by the airport and away from everything else and so it seemed a silly choice – so I opted to just carry my stuff.

The evening before I had laid out a whole plan of things to visit all in the same area and the order I was going to visit them in for ease of walking. It included 1 temple, 1 masjid, 4 mosques (masjids and mosques are actually names for the same thing), a tomb,and a fort. I started by catching a rick to my first stop, the temple.

The temple was beautiful. It was huge and had amazing architecture. I took photos of some of the archways and some of the other carved buildings surrounding it. I spent some time looking at the beautiful idols and watching other people praying. And then I was ready to move on. According to the guide book, I needed to walk out of the temple, and down the main road to another main road and take a right.

         

And so I started. But there was no main road. And I quickly gave up on this plan. In typical Indian fashion, I was in a city of twisty, turny, windy roads, all without street signs. And so I let go of my plans (or at least the focus of them) and decided to get lost instead. I had no where I had to be (at least not until meeting the others at the hotel at 7pm) and had a glorious day ahead of me. It was early enough that it hadn’t hit the brutal heat of the day and many roads were still in the shadow of the buildings. And so I wandered. I wove my way through teeny tiny streets. I talked to strangers (they have fewer white people and so I resumed my superstar status of people wanting to say hi to me). I saw cows in the street and kids playing cricket in the street (at least until their ball got grand slammed over the house). And when I got tired, I would get in a rickshaw and go to the next stop on my list.

My next stop was the Jama Masjid. The masjid had arched walkways around the outside and a large stone courtyard in the middle. Along the walls of this outer square beautiful Arabic writing was painted on the walls. In the middle of the courtyard was another covered structure with a pool of water with fish in it. At one end, there was an indoor structure with rows of pillars that looked like it was often set up for prayer. I walked around and took pictures (and posed with the random strangers) and tried not to burn my feet. I forgot how hot stone is in the sun. I don’t quite understand having large areas of open stone where you are supposed to be barefoot – it hurts (and my shoes heat up outside).

     

From Jama Masjid I was close enough (with many helpful points) to walk to the tomb of Ahmed Shah. Ahmed Shah was a Sultan who founded the city (and named it after himself) supposedly based on the auspicious happenings of a warren of rabbits fiercely defending their territory against his hounds. The tomb is the resting place of not only Ahmed Shah but his son and grandson as well. From there, various people directed me to Rani-ka-Hazira the tomb of his queens. The guide book had mentioned this location but had also mentioned that it was mostly overtaken by the market. Had people not so nicely directed me there, I probably wouldn’t even have bothered going. It was a strange cross between the masjid and the tomb in construction and was pretty to look around though I didn’t stay long due to some girls who were getting annoying when I wouldn’t take more pictures of them. As I wandered around this area, I unintentionally went shopping. Gujarat is known for its textiles, and so I took advantage of that. I ended up with some beautiful silk (for saris though I’m not sure there is enough) and some regionally traditional fabric. Two of the styles that are “Gujarati” are tie dye and block print/batik. I wandered into a lovely shop of tie dye fabric where unlike our “tie dye” they tie tiny knobs all over the fabric in patterns with string. The affect is the same because when you remove the string, the circle where it was has remained white. All told, I ended up with material for 2 full outfits, a couple of dupattas (scarves) and a couple of yards of a lovely block print fabric.

From there, I grabbed a rickshaw to go find the Bhadra Fort. When I got there, I followed the crowd of people and ended up in a temple instead (much to my surprise). It was a temple to the goddess Durga.  My original plan to observe unobtrusively didn’t work out nearly so well. The space was quite confined space and a lovely woman “helped” me toward the front where I was presented with half a coconut with a flower and a sweet in it. I said some prayers and then tried to figure out what I was supposed to do with the things I was given. I later learned from an Indian friend that I was supposed to eat some of the coconut and the sweet after saying my prayers. As I left, I added an extra prayer and left my flowers at the base of a Saraswati goddess. She is the goddess of creativity and knowledge and is one of my favorites. I gave myself a tikka (red dot) as I left and then went to actually find the fort. I later learned that this was the Bhadra Temple (not really surprising being attached to the Bhadra Fort). I found the entrance to the fort a bit down the road (in the direction I had come) but was nicely informed that it was closed because it was a holiday (ie any day off). I forgot that because the fort now houses municipal offices it was closed on Sunday.

At this point, it was about 1and I was very hot and tired and I decided it was time for lunch. I caught a rick to one of the places mentioned in the book that sounded tasty and turned out to be at one of the fancy hotels in town. I enjoyed my respite of sitting in the shade and the fans and eating spicy samosas and hand churned saffron pistachio ice cream.

As I left I planned to head to Sidi Saiyad’s mosque. It is famous for its intricately carved Tree of Life screens. After an amusing conversation with a rickshaw wala, I realized that it wasn’t around the block, it was directly across the street. But the sounds of prayers made me realize that it was not an appropriate time to be a tourist and so I skipped it and headed to my next destination – Subarmati Ashram or Gandhi’s Ashram.

We crossed the river and eventually wound our way up to the beautiful riverside location of the Ashram. This Ashram is where Gandhi spent much of his time in his later life and where most of political struggles he helped orchestrate originated from. When I first entered, I was a bit miffed because I expected this to be a tourist location and knew there was a museum there but found nothing in the way of people, sign age, or guidance. It turns out that I entered at the wrong gate and that this portion of the area was used by an NGO that does education projects so I got an extra stop talking to some kids and taking pictures of monkeys.

Eventually I made me way over to the public portion of the Ashram. The simple buildings are preserved to show the places where Gandhi spent so much of his time. Additionally, a lovely museum has been built with artifacts, information, and amazing pictures and portraits that are housed (there is even one portrait done as a mosaic of tiny rectangles of roasted nut shells). I spent some lovely time walking around, learning about Gandhi, seeing in the buildings, watching parrots (they are native here), and looking at the river.

         

At the house where Gandhi had lived, there was someone demonstrating using charkas. A charka is a spinning wheel for cotton. In addition to the salt movement (why should we pay British taxes on salt when we can make it) one of Gandhi’s other big movements had to do with textiles. He felt that since cotton and spinning wheels were so traditionally Indian, that Indians shouldn’t be paying to import textiles. He worked hard to bring spinning back as a common activity. The upright charka is the image at the center of the Indian flag – showing the importance it had in the independence movement. In addition to the normal Charka, Gandhi developed or at least popularized 2 more mobile versions of the charka, the box and book charkas. They are both horizontal charkas that fold away into carrying cases. When you open the case, you have two wheels on one side (connected by a belt) that then connects to the spindle by another belt. One of the wheels has a handle. You turn the handle with your right hand and pull the cotton with your left. The box charka is about the size of a brief case and the book charka is book sized. I knew I wanted one, so I asked the woman demonstrating. She wrote down the name of where I could buy one (just down the road) but they were of course closed on Sunday.

At this point in the day I was pretty done. I was hot (I’m guessing it was in the high 90s) and by this time my backpack was feeling heavy. I decided that my day of tourist was done and headed back to the hotel.

That evening, with the rest of the crew who flew in, we went out to dinner. We ended up at the other restaurant at the hotel where I had lunch. It was a lovely Thali place. Thali is the perfect meal for the indecisive. It is already decided for you. You get a large metal plate with a number of small metal bowls along one side. Each of the bowls is filled with a different item. You get breads in the main part of the plate. You just eat what you like and they bring you more of it. We all ate ourselves full on the delicious food. At the end we were served paan which I had heard about but never tried. A lot of the paan – especially what you find on the streets had tobacco in it and so people end up spitting all over the streets. This was tobacco free paan which was a combination of sugar and anise and other mouth fresheners all wrapped up in a leaf. You just pop the whole thing in your mouth and chew it up. I didn’t mind it as much as some, but I’m not searching for it either.

Monday was our lovely trip to the school. They have an beautiful space tucked back into nature on the outskirts of the city. Their school is full of amazing spaces designed for lots of learning outside and a variety of opportunities. It was a pleasure to go visit. Since it is tucked so far away from main roads, we decided that the easiest way to get back at the end of the day was the school bus. I had one of the most random kid conversations I have had in a while while on the bus. The lovely girl we were talking to suddenly looked at B and I and asked “what do you do at church?” It was obvious that because we were white, we were automatically Christian, and so we did the best job we could trying to explain to her what happens at church.

That afternoon a number of the people who had just arrived the evening before were interested in going to Gandhi’s Ashram and I wanted to go back to try to buy a spinning wheel, so off we went. When we got there they went off to see the Ashram and I headed off down the street on my own adventure. As I walked along, I would show people the name of where I was trying to go and they continued to point me down the street. Eventually, someone pointed me down a side street. Once on the side street, someone pointed to a gate. Throughout Ahmedabad, most signs aren’t even in Hindi, they are in Gujarati. I enter the gate and find a guard who points me around the corner. I turn the corner and am surrounded by a bunch of warehouse type buildings, most of which looked empty and a central courtyard filled with beautiful green raised beds of plants. Eventually I found a building with an open door and went in. It was one of the paper factories (somehow associated with the Ashram). I found a person and said spinning wheel and he nicely led me to a different office where there were people who could sell me a spinning wheel. They nicely demonstrated the box charka (they always make it look so easy) and I figured out that I could get it with or without finish, but knowing how moist it gets here, I opted for finish. He seemed really excited that I was even interested in getting on. I didn’t have a real good idea how much it was going to cost and my whole walk to the places I had been deliberating on how much I was willing to spend on it. I know trying to get one in the states would cost between $100 – 200. I finally came to an unspoken conclusion that Rs5000 was about what I was willing to spend ($100) and that I would have to think about it a bit if it was going to be more than that. When the man finally told me how much it was I ended up repeating it number by number just to make sure I had understood correctly. For the more expensive varnished version it cost Rs550 ($11). By the time I was done, my bill was actually up to Rs650 because not only did I get the box charka, I also got an extra belt, an extra spindle, and 400g of cotton to spin – for the ever so expensive $13. And then I walked back to the Ashram with a silly grin on my face the whole way.

On Tuesday, most of the staff had an early flight home, but the train Z and I were taking didn’t leave until 2:30. I had my plan of things I was attempting to see my final morning before leaving. The night before on our way to dinner, A had managed to find an awesome rickshaw driver who was not only honest, but also amazingly helpful. So we called him up and he was my escort for the morning. My morning didn’t end up at all how I planned, but it was awesome none the less.

A couple of nights before, we had passed a beautiful temple all lit up. MJ and I had tried to find it on our way to dinner the night before thinking that it was the only other temple listed in the guide book the Hatheesingh Temple. Although the Hatheesingh temple was beautiful it wasn’t the one we were looking for, but with the rick driver’s help, I ended up at the Swami Narayan temple – Shahi Baug. My driver was amazing. He got out and walked me around the temple. He carried my backpack and told me where I was and wasn’t allowed to take pictures and explained who the various idols were.

          

         

And then there was some confusion that lead to an adventure. I was hoping to go to a step well which are these giant buildings built for trapping water, and then to the textile museum. But some how my notes were confusing. Instead of the Dada Hari step well, we ended up headed to the Dada Hari Temple. This was mainly an adventure because this temple was at least 30km outside the city. So I saw some beautiful scenery. It was nice to get outside the city a bit.

On the way we stopped at another temple –  Vaisnadevi Temple. I think of this temple as the amusement park of temples. It was obviously a local tourist destination. It was a temple built into a fake mountain. You had to check all your electronics and really we checked everything. You followed the metal rails up the narrow path of the fake mountain. It was a a lovely white mosaic path. And it wound through the whole structure. There were times that you would go into a tunnel only to come out on the other side of the metal railing from where you were. Some of the tunnels were so short I had to crawl on hands and knees (not the best with a broken toe) and some had water at the bottom. Eventually we ended up in the inner temple where we went up to the priest who put a tikka on my forehead and handed me some flowers and a good luck coin. And then we followed the path back out. As we were leaving I got mobbed to have my picture taken (I’m guessing not many white people end up at that temple). But the best part was that suddenly there was a man with a cobra in front of me. I got to take a picture of the cobra and he nicely draped it across my chest (which my boss later yelled at me for) but it was such a beautiful snake and I’m glad I got to pet it.

        

Our other stop on the way to the Dada Hari temple was to have cane juice. I see the stands in the city but have never stopped. It probably wasn’t the best idea (and may have accounted for my gastronomical distress the next week) but it was worth the adventure. The boy fed a couple of pieces of sugar cane through the press over and over again until it was just dry husk and ready to be discarded. Then he poured it through the strainer and into the cups and topped it off with some pink salt. I wasn’t fond of the salt part, but the cane juice was tasty.

Eventually, we ended up at the Dada Hari temple. It was a huge beautiful white temple. It was beautiful as were the idols inside. We walked around the inside for a few minutes and then went to the museum on the man who had it built and watched a video titled “The Science of Happiness” all about this man who had an epiphany sitting at the train station one day and went on to dedicate his life to helping people find happiness.

        

After that we headed back to the city. I had one last shopping venture at the law markets (named after the law gardens they are near). I managed to get a outfit for the Navratri celebration that happens in the fall in pretty purples and shiny mirrors and and lovely bedspread and my rick driver was awesome at bargaining.

And then I got dropped off at the train station. The train ride back had fewer types of compartments, so we ended up getting first class tickets. It was a lot more like an airplane. Normal seats with tray tables etc. The best part was that they fed us every 1 ½ hours or so. But I missed putting my feet up and meeting my neighbors that the other compartment had offered, but it was a great trip home. For just a couple of days, it felt like such a perfect mix of relaxation and being a tourist. It was nice to finally see somewhere that wasn’t Mumbai.  

Holi Hai!

The holiday of Holi seems to have many stories and explanations connected with it. The most common is the story of Holika and Prahalad. Prahalad was the son of the demon king Hiranyakashyap. Holika was Hiranyakashyap’s sister. Hiranyakashyap fancied himself ruler of the universe and more powerful than the gods. He was frustrated and angered by his son Prahalad’s faith in Vishnu. He tried to get Prahalad to renounce Vishnu, but Prahalad wouldn’t and told his father he was only a king. Hiranyakashyap tried many ways to kill his son, throwing him over a cliff, trampling him with elephants, having snakes bite him and soldiers attack him. But Prahalad survived all of these things. Completely frustrated, Hiranyakashyap asked his sister Holika to kill Prahalad for him. Holika had been been granted the ability to survive fire by the gods, and she came up with an idea on how to kill Prahalad. She had a large pyre built and she held Prahalad in her lap in the fire – knowing herself immune but that he would burn. But the Gods were angered by Holika using their gift for evil. They removed her ability to survive fire and she was burned to death, but as a thank you for his loyalty, Vishnu kept Prahalad safe.

Holi is celebrated the evening before the “holiday” by burning large bonfires that symbolize the triumph of good over the evil. The main celebration, the festival of color, is the next morning to celebrate the coming of spring. People spend the morning throwing water and color all over each other. Holi is generally celebrated in the morning and most of the partying is over by 1 or 2 o’clock when everyone naps and things start to open back up around 3 or 4.

I wanted a chance to celebrate, but had gotten numerous warnings that it is a holiday that gets a bit rough. It is a holiday that often involves alcohol as well as bong, which is a spicy drink containing marijuana. There are stories of people filling balloons with pee, poop, eggs and rocks. Not to mention that a lot of the color is smeared on and sometimes people take advantage of this to make contact that is not normally allowed. Based on this advice, I was a bit leary to experience this holiday.

B got invited to a party by one of her Indian friends, but one who tends to collect Expats, and she was nice enough to extend the invitation. This seemed like a safer option and I’m glad I went and played Holi.

B’s friend was nice enough to email instructions to all of her “gora” (white) friends. Three of us, B, E, and I met at 9 to start our preparations. Preparation involved eating breakfast, dressing in clothing we didn’t care about, painting both finger and toe nails, and oiling as much of our body and hair with coconut oil. By the time we finished, I had ice blue nails and smelled like a macaroon. We had smartly hired a cab that was there by 9:45 to drive us to the party. We could tell it was a holiday due to the lack of traffic. The drive down took us about a half an hour, but normally would have been an almost 2 hour drive.

When we arrived, some of the residents were just starting to play and we were some of the first guests to arrive. The party took place on the podium,an area below the building where cars normally drive to park under the apartment complex. Immediately after giving hugs to the lovely lady who invited us, we proceeded to have buckets (little ones) of water dumped on us and a hose sprayed over us. Within the first 2 minutes of being there, I was soaked to the bone. Then someone came up with a handful of red powder and nicely smeared it all over our faces. And Holi had begun.

Thus followed many hours of water and color. All of the color came in big bags of powder in bright colors: red, pink, yellow, green, blue, purple. It was about the consistency of flour. You would grab a handful of it and toss or smear it on people. Faces, necks, heads, shoulders were the favorite places to attack, though I ended up with color pretty much from head to toe. They had an inflatable kiddy pool set up that generally had some level of water in it. The hose was running most of the morning. They set up some bamboo scaffolding that they attached to a sprinkler system so that there were 3 rows of water sprayers that you could stand/dance under neath. There were water guns – everything from the teeny tiny ones that you had to refill every 5 minutes to giant supersoakers, even with backpacks. And there were water balloons. There were a couple of what we would normally call water ballons, but these weren’t super common. Mostly what you had were little plastic baggies turned into water bombs. Kids (mostly) would fill them with water – and often color, then they would spin it over itself a couple of times so that the top twisted and tie the two ends into a knot- insta-water balloon.

Throughout the whole time, there was food drink and music. They had a DJ set up on the lawn (mostly out of the firing range) with giant speakers playing pop/dance (especially Bollywood) music for hours. They had a full open bar that regularly churned out both drinks but also shot glasses of colorful (and unknown) shots and there was the alcoholic watermelon full of straws that people would bring around. They had people making samosas, fresh idli, fresh dosas, and sev puri – more food than I needed for sure. Food and drink are often very communal here and this party was an extreme example. I had more food handed to me or fed to me. And drinks offered, or shared as frequently as I wanted them.

It was an amazing cross age adventure as everyone from the parental (or older) generation took part – though often in a calmer way, to kids who looked to be no older than 5 who were having fun throwing balloons at the grown-ups. There was a decent pack of boys who looked to be in the 10-12 range who were really out to get us and managed to stay wet but mostly uncolored for many hours. They were particularly good at pelting you back with a waterballoon with so much color it almost looked like you got hit with paint. Throughout the morning, people kept showing up. Every time new people arrived a chorus of “clean people” went up and everyone took advantage of the opportunity to color them – sometimes gently sometimes a bit more agressively.

By the end, I had color from head to toe (though mostly from the shoulders up). It was smeared all over my face and hair. Apparently my face was such a lovely color of reds, pinks and purples and my eyes were bloodshot enough from getting powder in them that I apparently looked rather demonic – my eyes contrasting green against all that red. I also spent some nice time in the sun (to stop from shivering from all the wet) adding a layer of sunburn (though I didn’t realize how much till I managed to extract my skin from all the color).

Overall, everyone was pretty appropriate. There were definitely some people who were a bit more drunk than they needed to be, but no one worse than they might be at a bar back home and I never felt unsafe. I trusted the things I was being hit with to be at least as clean as the water (which isn’t always saying a whole lot), though I’m not always sure about what I was drinking, or even how clean it was. I did manage to have a bag of milk as well as 2 beers and a mixed drink poured over my head. And I got an awful lot of color powder in my mouth (it tastes awful).

But it was fun. It was so much fun. It was hours (about 3) of water and color and dancing and laughing and trying to beat a super soaker with a tiny water gun and silliness and food. I am so glad I found somewhere to celebrate Holi and I wouldn’t miss it next year for the world. I fully intend to make it a tradition when I get back to the states, come on it is an excuse for a color and water fight. (Though depending on where I live, there might have to be less water – the thought of being soaked in early March in Seattle does not sound appealing).

We finally left about 2-2:30ish. (Sometime after they managed to get the cops to not shut down the music). Our cabbie was nice enough to let us call him to pick us up – even though we were soaking and dyed. Upon getting home I took some photos before jumping in the shower. (Thankfully I left my hot water heater on before I went to the party). Upon stripping I realized a couple of things. One, I should have put more oil under my clothes. Two, my white undies were now pink on the front and purple on the back. I jumped into the shower for as long as I could make my intermittent hot water last. I know that I lathered and scrubbed myself head to toe twice, shampooed my hair twice, conditioned it once (I ran out of conditioner in the shower), washed my face in the sink with face soap once, and used cue tips to dig purple out of my ears. I am now mostly Cera colored. My skin still has some pink hues to it – though it is hard to tell what is dye and what is sunburn. I know some of it is still dye. My shoulder blades are still a bit purple, but the are hard to scrub. The insides of my finger nails are a nice dark shade of purple that I haven’t figured out how to get off (I tried sharp objects). My hair still has some color streaks in it, though I won’t know how much till it dries. My scalp is definitely still colored. My face in particular still looks a bit off color. I think a lot of it is that the area around my eyes and eyebrows is still rather red. (It didn’t occur to me to oil my eyelids). My eyes are less bloodshot though they are still creating lovely goobers. (I am amazed at how well adapted eyes are to protecting themselves from the crazy things we do to them.)

Pictures from the Holi party:

               E, B, and I

Pictures taken before jumping in the shower:

        

And post shower:

Happy holi!

Vacation Fail!

So this week is Diwali – the Hindu festival of lights – where people light lights and open doors to guide Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth, to your household for the coming year. Due to this holiday, we got a week off. My first chance to go on an adventure.

 

I decided to vacation to Kerala – the southwestern most state in India. It is known as God’s Own Country, and is supposed to be lush and green and full of hill stations, national parks, houseboats, and elephants. I bought my plane ticket and picked out where I wanted to visit. I would end up with 2 days in one of the hill station towns, 2 days in a national park – with crocodiles, elephants, and tigers, a night on a house boat, and a day in one of the cities.

 

Shortly before I left, my boss was very worried because I hadn’t booked where I wanted to stay yet. So I spent some time and finally found places to stay everywhere I was going. It was mostly inexpensive hotels, home stays, and a couple of nicer places – like one of the hotels in the national park, and a houseboat.

 

Saturday I flew down and was picked up by a taxi to go to my home stay Home stays are amazing. It is essentially someone how has turned their house into a hotel/hostel type place. They don’t seem to be elaborate, but are often inexpensive and often include at least 1 meal a day. They also have the added benefit of letting you interact with the other people staying there – generally over meals. I got there about 8 and got settled. At dinner there were 4 lovely ladies from Spain as well as another woman from Mumbai and her mother. They were also headed to Munnar (a hill station full of tea plantations) and we made arrangements to hire a driver together and stop along the way to see elephants and possibly help them bathe.

 

After dinner I decided to head out to the bank because I wasn’t carrying a whole lot of cash – and it doesn’t get you very far here but is often needed. It was a beautiful evening out. It was still warm but there was a nice breeze. Everything was quiet and there were insect sounds.

 

I was walking along the street because the sidewalk seemed to often be filled with cars and trees and there weren’t really cars on the road. At one point, there was a car coming toward me and I realized that I was hard to see, so I stepped up onto the sidewalk ……………and down into the sewer.

 

Some lovely guys on motorbikes stopped and helped haul me out of this hole of much (not sure it was actually a sewer – may have just been a hole of mud, leaves, and such). Overall, it smelled a lot like the marsh mud I used to have to play in Georgia – so not as bad as it could have been. They banged on the door of the house we were in front of until the man came out. He was nice enough to let me use the outside spigot to at least dump a couple of buckets of water over my head and rinse off my face. One of the guys gave me a ride on his motorcycle back to the home stay I even rode sidesaddle like a proper Indian woman.

 

Once back at the home stay I rinsed off more outside before heading directly into the shower. Once I had finally gotten the goop off me and done an initial rinse of my clothes, I started to unload my knitting bag/purse I had been carrying. The amazing woman I was staying with came in and helped rinse off everything that had been in my bag while I dried things and checked to see that everything was ok. The grossest part was cleaning muck out of my eyes. I understand – and greatly appreciate – why your eyes are covered in a slime like layer, but it made pulling slimy strings of black goop out of my eyes extra gross. For the next 2 days I had extra nasty eye goobers.

 

My bag and stuff survived amazingly well. Between things in pockets and bad being empty enough it folded a bit and protected stuff, almost everything survived. I was very amazed. I had my phone, wallet, and passport in one of the pockets. I also had my camera in the bottom which was a bit worse for wear. The case was covered in muck, but once I took the camera out and took battery and such out and let it dry overnight, it was fine the next day. I even had a yarn sack with yarn in the bottom of the bag. The bag got a bit dirty, but washed up fine and the yarn was completely dry. The only things that were worse for wear was a magazine and my knitting book. After being rinsed, the knitting book is clean and still usable, but wrecked enough to want to replace it.

 

At first I thought that the only thing that had been injured was my pride (stupid Cera not paying attention for one minute). As I showered and took care of my stuff I realized that I had done more than just retweeking my sprained ankle and that my foot hurt and was already quite swollen and bruised. After my stuff was taken care off, I asked for some ice to put on my foot. While I iced, the lady went downstairs to where the Spanish ladies were staying (one of whom was a doctor). The lovely doctor looked at my foot and cleaned off the cuts on my toes. She put some sort of liquid on the cuts to make sure they didn’t get infected, wrapped up my foot, gave me good strong European ibuprofen, and off I went to bed.

 

I realized that my foot might be broken (though the doctor didn’t think so), so I canceled my travel plans. The next day the man of the house where I was staying accompanied me to the “expensive” hospital. On the quiet Sunday morning, I was the only person in the emergency room. They asked me check in questions (including taking my blood sugar), took ex rays, gave me a shot of pain meds, had an orthopedist look at it, and proscribed me an antibiotic, antiinflamitory, something in case this affected my digestion, pain meds, and a week of bed rest. Most of the time, I spent laying on a bed with a curtain around it reading my book. The whole trip to the hospital cost me 865 rupees – about $18.

 

Sadly, being Sunday, the crutches store was closed (the hospital doesn’t sell them). I spent Sunday hopping around the home stay trying to arrange a Kerala adventure that didn’t involve walking. The people at the home stay were amazingly helpful even spending the morning with me at the hospital. And since I was there at lunch time, they fed me lunch in addition to the amazing food they served for breakfast and dinner. Finally I gave up and realized that I would be better off going home so that at least I was kicking around my own space and could live in my pjs for the week, so Monday night I flew home (after acquiring crutches and going to the government shop to buy souvenirs). My two nights of stay and 5 included meals ended up costing my 1,200 rupees – $24. They even tried to tell me the tip I gave them was too much.

 

At the airport in Kerala I hobbled around on my crutches (I still don’t like to have to be reliant on people and being limited by it). But I noticed that my hands were starting to get blistered (I forgot how much crutches hurt), so when we arrived in Mumbai, knowing how big an airport it was, I said yes to a wheelchair. What I didn’t realized was that most flights (especially domestic) don’t actually go to the gate. Instead, you unload down the stairs onto the tarmac where the bus drives you the 100 yards to the building (they won’t let you walk – I tried when I first got to Kerala) This turned into the most terrifying aspect of the whole experience wherein 4 men carried me backwards in a wheelchair down the stairs. I tried to get them to let me hobble down the steps, but they had already taken my crutches. There was definitely a point at which they almost dropped me and none of it felt safe at all.

 

Now, I am home safe and sound and hobbling around my own house. It is a combination of getting stuff done in my life that can be done while sitting on the couch with my foot up, and watching movies and knitting, and building my crutches muscles. Everyone has been amazing and my boss, A’s, mom has been sending over lunch for the last two day. My foot is still huge but is turning from a lovely shade of purple to a sickly shade of green. I am hoping that by next week I might be able to walk on it – the 2 flights of stairs at the construction site are going to be a lot of work otherwise.

 

Overall, I really can’t do much other than laugh at myself. If my foot wasn’t still huge it would almost seem like a surreal dream adventure. I think it is one Indian adventure I am happy to only experience once.

 

 

Bubbly Toes

A whole group of us went to a Malaysian foot spa.  The thing that makes this type of spa different than most spas is how they clean the dead skin from your feet – with fish.  We all opted for the fish treatment.  There was a lovely rectangular tank with benches as the edges.  Two at a time, we put our feet into the water and the fish ate the dead skin from our feet.  You don’t really feel it as nibbles – or even what I would expect fish to feel like.  Mostly it felt like bubbles.  The image I had in my head was sticking my feet into the bubbliest champagne. For the first 30 seconds it tickled like crazy and I’m sure I had a silly scrunchy face.  After that I got used to it and felt odd, but not bad. For 15 minutes my feet were softened by fish (one person didn’t quite last the whole time).  After that I opted for half an hour of reflexology.  And all of this was for about $18.

 

    A beautiful photo of E’s feet with fish!

Tourist Day

The administration at the school have done an amazing job at making this one of the smoothest moving transitions I have ever had. The first couple of days were days devoted to sightseeing and getting familiar with the city. Now that I’m a bit more settled and have a bit of free time, I am trying to write up some of the first day’s adventures.

 

Mumbai is a series of islands (built up by the British) Most of the original down town is in South Bombay. It has most of the beautiful old buildings and sightseeing locations. From there, the city has spread in the only direction left – North.

 

The first day, we started with a bit of history and culture by visiting the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, formerly and better known as the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India. It was named after the Prince of Wales (George V) because he laid the foundation in 1905. The building itself was exquisite with grandiose domes and arches and stone work. Inside there were collections of art and history ranging from archeology studies on pre-historic cultures to beautiful stone god and goddess sculptures to miniature paintings.

          

After the museum we went to a lovely pizza place overlooking the water. All pizza here is thin crust – but if you ask for thick crust it will be as thick as our thin crust, otherwise it is even thinner. Not only do they have fairly “normal” pizza types, they also have very Indian pizza with masala and other Indian spices on them. I am intrigued at the amount of times we have gone out for very western food. I think they are partly concerned about us adjusting to the food, but also haven’t realized that we haven’t been here long enough to miss food from home – we are still excited to eat all the amazing Indian food. After lunch, we went down the road to this unmarked shop that sold ice cream sandwiches. They had some amazing flavors – like lechi, and guava. They took out the ice cream patty and placed it between 2 wafers. It was very tasty. Overall, the day took much longer than intended due to rain. It was raining decently and the traffic reflected it. A drive that is about 30 km (20mi) ended up taking us about 2 ½ hours. We were all ok with this though because it gave us ample time to look around.

 

The next day was our big day of sightseeing. On our way, we we took drove down part of the western coast – including going over the sea link – which is a lovely bridge that lets you avoid parts of the city. We also drove past Haji Ali which is a beautiful mosque built on top of a dargah (tomb) from the 15th century. There is a causeway you walk at low tide to get out to the mosque. It looks so peaceful sitting out off the coast. As we drove along, ‘A’ gave us information about the different things we were passing.

       

Our first stop was the hanging gardens. It is a beautiful park and gardens in a section of town called Malabar Hill. It is one of the older and more expensive neighborhoods to live in – especially since it tends to have some lovely views. On one side of the road, the Kamala Nehru Park over looked a section of town called the Queen’s necklace. It is a circular area called Back Bay with Marine Drive that runs around the edge of the beach. At night when the lights are all lit up, it makes it look like pearls in a necklace – thus the name. This part of the park is designed for kids and one of the highlights is the Old Woman’s Shoe ( she had so many children she didn’t know what to do). We decided that we were just big kids and so climbed around inside even though it said it was only for kids.

     

On the other side of the street was the hanging gardens (Pherozeshah Mehta Gardens). There are beautiful manicured gardens with nice walkways and benches – and shrubbery in the shape of animals and gods. We walked around and enjoyed the flowers, butterflies, and views.

    

From the hanging gardens we headed further downtown. Our next stop was the Taj Mahal Hotel. The story of the Taj, as I was told – though I have heard contradictions – is: The Taj Hotel was created because a wealthy Parsi business man,Tata, was frustrated by the number of hotels that were white only – in particular the Watson’s hotel. He decided that he wanted to create a high end hotel where you could stay regardless of your nationality. He had a British engineer design the grandiose building. It was built in 1903, but the architect never came to see the construction until it was finished at which point it was discovered to have been built backwards. (Some accounts I have read say that it was the way it was supposed to be since it would be easier for carriages to approach from the city.) No matter the true story, it is an exquisite building and I hope to treat myself to a night there at some point while I live here. (Though rooms rates seem to range from about $180/night to $3,800/night depending on the room). The entire lobby area of the hotel is open to the public and we wandered around and took pictures of the fountains and staircases and other beautiful things.

    

From the Taj, we went just down the road a bit to the Gateway to India. It was designed by a Scottish architect, George Willet, to commemorate the visit of king George V and Queen Mary in 1911 but wasn’t actually finished until 1924. The entire area was bustling with people – tourists and people wanting to sell things. I am amazed at the things people were selling – random plastic stuff and the one that got me was giant balloons. Also by the gateway was the statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji. Chhatrapati Shivaji was a soldier who at 14 (or 16) lead an army against the mughals and created a unified Maratha area as a Hindu state.

    

After a wonderful buffet lunch, we kept exploring the downtown tourist district. We went into Jehangir Art Gallery which displays current art exhibits of local artists. We also went to FabIndia which sells traditional Indian garments and I bought my first salwar (pants) and kurta (top). We also happened upon the David Sasson Library because it was pretty and had bathrooms. Not only was the building pretty, but it had a nice semi-secluded area in the back with trees and benches. Then we wandered around the outside of the university buildings. It was a day full of beautiful architecture – though I got in trouble for taking photos there because of worry of bombings.

                           

We finished our day with a trip to Victoria Terminus (which has been renamed Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) which is the large train station downtown. After looking through car windows and rain we decided to brave a look at the inside. The inside was huge and bustling. Picture the busiest rail station you can imagine and then realize that it wasn’t rush hour yet. Our lovely Indian teachers J and N taught us how to punch the tickets so that you could prove you paid (you tend to buy tickets in books and that is how you “use” the ones for the trip) and then we sent them home via the train.

     

On our way through the under road tunnel, we saw a rally for Anna Hazare. Anna Hazare was a man who was trying to get an anti corruption bill passed by the government and ended up getting huge amounts of public support (rallys and marches) and went on a hunger strike until the government ended up passing the bill.

I have plenty more photos – but didn’t want to overload this blog.  If you want to see the other photos from the day, you can check them out on my flickr – http://www.flickr.com/photos/26536211@N08/sets/72157627552223943/

A Lovely Day of Juxtaposition

Today turned out to be full of adventures. E,Z, B, and I had arranged to go have fancy brunch, and discuss some of the different volunteer, workshop opportunities and plans that people have. It was also to experience the amazingness of brunch at the Marriott

 

Just getting there was an adventure, and continues to remind me why I want to learn Hindi. E, and Z got in one rickshaw and got there with no problems. B and I had more adventures. I’m not sure where our rickshaw driver though he was taking us, but it wasn’t the Marriott We eventually had to call one of the Indian teachers so that she could talk to the rickshaw driver over the phone to get him to take us to the right place – definitely an adventure.

 

The hotel itself is opulent. The outside is big stone steps and water features and statues. On the inside, we had brunch in their main restaurant which is overlooking the back section of the hotel. The wall of windows looks out onto a manicured land of paradise. The upper area was the swimming pool that looked out to the beach and ocean. The water from the pool fell into water features and a little stream that meandered through the area of green grass and sculptures and coconut trees.

 

Brunch itself was slightly overwhelming. There was a salad bar – with a wide variety of salads as well as snacky type foods like cheese and crackers, pate, smoked salmon and other delectables. In the back there was an entire buffet of Indian dishes. There was a pasta bar where you picked your pasta, sauce, and veggies and it was made right there for you. There was a prawn station where you could have giant prawns cooked up in different sauces. I know that there were other stations too – but there was so much I don’t even remember what it all was. And there was the dessert bar. They had an entire table of fancy cakes and tarts as well as the cooking station where you could get everything from ice cream to baked Alaska to crepes. And of course fruit. We decided to go fancy and ordered the champagne brunch, so our glasses of champagne just kept getting filled. I had at least 3 plates of food as well as an entire plate of dessert. It was all amazing. It was silly expensive, but less so than the experience would have been in the states.

 

By the time we left, it had begun to rain – mostly just a sprinkle. Being from Seattle, it didn’t really phase us, mostly it kinda felt like home, but warm and raining. As we saw the huge number of people in the street, we realized that hundreds of people would be at Juhu beach just down the street to immerse their Ganesh idols (today is the last day). We decided that since we were that close, we really needed to take advantage and go see. We walked down the road to the beach. The beach was covered with hundreds of people. There were giant trucks lined up that had carried the idols to the beach and entire groups would help carry the statue into the water as far as they could. You could see the remnants of previous idols – from earlier days or years I don’t know – littering the beach uncovered by the tide. Even once an idol was immersed, tons of people were just hanging out in the water celebrating. By this time it was raining pretty significantly and we were all soaked.

 

We were also a a big draw in and of ourselves. We started to realize that people were taking our photos. Once we realized, we started to notice it everywhere and it just became kind of funny. It was the subtlety that I found most amusing. People rarely came up and asked to take a photo with us (though it happened some), mostly they would position someone a couple of feet in front of us so that it would look like they were standing with us in the photo or they would slyly be taking them off to the side of us, but immediately put away their phone as soon as one of us looked in their direction. We decided it is our moment to be famous. It was just so amazing to experience this aspect of the celebration – rain and all.

 

I am now warm and dry – though my feet are dyed brown from my 200 rupee (5 dollarish) leather sandals that may not have survived the adventure in the rain. As I sit here and type this, I can hear the drums and watch the fireworks from all around the neighborhood (setting them off in the street happens everywhere – who cares about water for them to land in).

Ganpati Bappa Morya!

 Today is the beginning of the festival celebrating Ganesh’s birthday.

Ganesh, the elephant headed god, is the remover of obstacles. He is the gaurdian of entries and doorways, destroyer of vanity and pride, and a symbol of abundance.

The story of Ganesh:

The god Shiva was away. His wife, the Goddess Pavarti, wanted to bathe, but there was no one to guard the door. She created a son out of the dirt of her body to guard the door. She told him that we was to allow no one to enter until she said so. While Pavarti was bathing, Shiva returned. He was outraged that this stranger he had never met was denying him entry to his wife’s chambers. In his rage, Shiva drew his sword and sliced off Ganesh’s head. When Pavarti saw what had happened, she was devastated to loose the son she had just gained. Shiva did not have the power to bring Ganesh back to life, but he did have the power to replace the head. He sent men into the woods with the order to bring back the head of the first animal they found. His men returned with the head of an elephant which Shiva used to replace Ganesh’s head – creating the elephant headed god.

The Ganesh festivities last for 10 days. They start with bringing home a statue of Ganesh – ranging from relatively small to many meters tall. Often larger statues are bought by a neighborhood or community (our apartment complex errected a whole little pavilion with carved pillars and all to house the large Ganesh and associated activities.) Generally this involves a parade of people with drums walking down the street. The Ganesh’s head is covered. There is an elaborate ceremony during which Ganesh is uncovered and bedecked in flowers (which are decorating the whole area) and I’m not sure what all. There tends to be dancing and singing and all sorts of festivities. It is also a holiday that is about visiting with families. Often this happens on a smaller scale in people’s houses. This continues to some extent (though I think today is the only day people get off from work ) for 10 days. At the end of 10 days, the statues are again parades with drums through the streets to a body of water (river, ocean, etc) where they are immersed.

               

Last night we started to see processions of Ganesh as we went out in the city. This morning, the drums called people down to the celebrations at our complex. I have no idea what was being said (it being in Hindi and all), but it was still fascinating to watch. We got to see the unveiling and the bedecking and even got given a tikka (the red dot with rice). We left before the singing, but I’m sure I will continue to see festivities throughout the week.

          

Here!

I have arrived.

I had a long, but uneventful day of travel.  I slept to Newark – got to enjoy the Newark airport for 5 hours, and then spent 15 hrs on a plane.  I watched at least 7 movies and knit a 1/3 of a pair of socks.

Getting through immigration and customs was ridiculously simple.  They mostly looked at our paperwork and let us move on.  Customs we just got waved through and didn’t need to stop at all.

When we finally made it out , we walked out into this large square that has hip level barracades all around it.  Before Ellie (another teacher) and I even made it all the way out, we saw Betsy waving excitedly.  She (the principal) and Aditya (the CFO) were there with our driver – Monoj –  to pick us up.  The presented us with beautiful flower garlands that hung almost to our knees.  It was so nice to have a familiar face and a warm greeting.  It made the whole process so much easier.

We got back to our new apartments and got a chance to dump our stuff, hook up the internet (with as much regularity as it gets) and crash for the evening.  It is fun because all three teachers who are here so far are in the same complex – though Ellie is a couple of buildings away.  Even Aditya and is family live in the complex.