Monthly Archives: April 2012

Summertime and the living is easy…

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We have one week left in Bangalore. And it is HOT here!  April and May are summertime. Schools are closed. Vacations planned to get away for the heat!

My ambitions seem to falter with every increase of mercury as the temperatures go  up and up. My processing speed now seems to mirror our painfully slow dial up/data stick internet. Thinking quickly, getting work done efficiently by U.S. standards just doesn’t even seem comprehendible. Checking email is a 20 minute process just to open the messages.

Maybe this slowdown is a blessing. I have completely reevaluated my expectations of what counts as a productive day. I take one task at a time and I am grateful if I accomplish that task.  Perhaps I can take this new normal back with me in the U.S. and help to use these measures to carve out a more “normal” pace of productivity at home. Lightning fast internet speeds, access to information right in my pocket is fun. But it also creates its own exhaustions. Doing one thing at a time has its merits.

The kids have slowed down as well, and they seem quite happy to “do nothing” with much less exclamations of “I’m bored” than I hear at home. Being out of school, they have been sleeping late, staying in their PJs until the afternoon.

Granted I am letting them play on their screens more than usual. But I know that they are awaiting the punctual 5:30 knock on the door from the neighborhood posse for the evening game of Cops and Robbers. Or an occasional night swim, game of cricket or football. The whole neighborhood seems to come out after dark, really. Sitting in the courtyard visiting with one another. The puppies come out to play. The heat is just too much during the day.

Sanskriti, Pratham and Mehir came a knockin’ this evening to round up the kiddos.

The festivities end when Mehir and Sanskriti, the oldest kiddos at 14 and ethical compasses of the group (well, usually,), decides that it is time to for everyone go home. Usually that end point doesn’t happen until after 9 at night. Carson comes home so tired  that he often falls asleep changing into his PJs and before he has had his dinner.

When we go out, evening excursions  are more appealing as well. The other night we headed to UB City for a bite at Café Noir.

Carson had fun with this poster at the UB City Entrance

The kids had fun getting soaked in the fountains.

  

Then we drove past the lit up parliament buildings on the way home.

With a stop at Baskin and Robbins for some ice cream. We stopped to watch a few minutes of the cricket match that had the city at a standstill—the Bangalore Royal Challengers versus the Rajasthan Royals.

Below, weddings are still in full force during the summer months!

We also finally got my kids together with my friend Priya’s kiddos. They are the exact same age and gender. Our schedules didn’t connect until this late date. We went over to their house for some swimming. The kids got along great, but unfortunately Kaden developed a tummy bug when we were there and spent most of the visit on the couch. Carson got it the next morning and both kiddos spent the day on the couch. Nothing as serious as the Dehli Belly, but enough to put them out of commission for a while.

At bedtime, sleep is a challenge in the heat. While luckily it does cool down in the evening, not enough for the house to cool well. We have just one bedroom with an air conditioner in our place, and we put it in my parents’ room where they and Kaden sleep. It didn’t seem worth it to spend $400 US Dollars to buy another one when we are here for so short of time. Carson doesn’t seem to mind the heat of our bedroom.  We bought a small oscillating fan for $40 US Dollars. Couldn’t find any box fans at all. And can’t believe the cost of fans in general!

But the oscillating fan broke with 2 weeks left here. I can’t take the heat anymore,  so I have started to sleep on the outside patio on our roof. The first two nights I accumulated 11 mosquito bites on my face, so it was time to get some mosquito netting and make my bedroom a permanent fixture. Very hard to find, mosquito netting. It’s not used much anymore here. But I finally found some for the hefty price of $20 US dollars. I’m just amazed at how much these things cost here!

I just got everything settled tonight in my open air bedroom. And the skies opened up. Our first rain in four months!  The monsoons won’t arrive until June, so hopefully this was a fluke, and I can return to my outdoor sleeping plan tonight.  I have enjoyed the majesty of taking deep breaths in the fresh air and looking up at the stars as I fall asleep.

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Jantar mantar and other final explorations

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On our last morning in Jaipur, we said goodbye to the Varvarigos family. They would be continuing on for four more stops in Rajisthan. We  were going to head home. That morning, we had a few final explorations of town. We were sleepy from our theme park fun the night before, but we didn’t want to wait too long to head out due to the heat. So we made our way to Jantar Mantar.

The Jantar Mantar site was built the the Mahraja Jai Sigh II between 1727 and 1734. It is a collection of architectural astronomical instruments and is really fascinating.

       

Above is the largest sundial in the world, accurate to two seconds.

We hired a tourguide (shown below) at the front gate–a must for this site or else it would be hard to make sense of the machines. He clearly had a presentation and wanted to make it his way. But I kept stopping him and re-explaining the scientific principles to the kids. Since the kids had a solid grasp of earth rotation and revolution, they were able to understand the structures and remained very engaged, despite the heat.  Below right, Carson checks out one of the instruments.

   

Kaden was most taken by the astrological instruments. Indian astrology is taken very seriously. One’s birth day, year, time and place of birth can be made into an astrological chart. Often this chart is matched with a potential spouse and compatibility can determine the wedding date and in traditional settings, even if the marriage will happen at all.

   

After the observatory, we stopped in on a Jaipur institution–Lassiwalla. We tried a sample from the original, the oldest shop in Jaipur. He only offers one flavor–plain in a (disposable) terracotta cup. The lassi is a sweet yogurt drink. The stand next to him offered mango and banana, so we got one of the mango as well. I thought they were delicious, but the kiddos found them to be too strong. So then I had two for me.

I was looking forward to taking the terracotta cups home as souvenirs. But when we stopped in the Anokhi shop (below) for some snacks and some shopping, the taxi cab driver had cleaned the car of the garbage. He couldn’t understand why we would possibly want to keep the cup!  

We found Jaipur to be a beautiful, colorful, and very HOT city!! Ready to catch our plane, though, back to the Garden City of India!

The hidden surprise of Chokhi Dhani

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On our last night in Jaipur, I decided to take the kids on an adventure. Very little was written about Chokhi Dhani. Some guidebooks called it a resort, some a simulated village, and Lonely Planet even called it a theme park. One thing was certain–the website did not provide enough information. It didn’t even say when it opened!

Luckily, we were delighted with what we found. If Disney were to design an India section for Epcot, this is what it would look like–a lovely Rajisthani simulated village, lighted by lamps, with sand under foot. (The place is only open after dusk due to the heat during the day being too much!). Below is the view from the ferris wheel.

Our biggest thrill was riding a camel! But we could have also ridden elephants, horses, camel carts, bullock carts and more.

Let me emphasize just how very tall camels are. And to get up from a seated position, they must first lift their back legs, which causes you to lurch forward. Then up go the front legs and you feel like you are way high in the sky. I was thinking it would be like riding a horse, but I felt twice as high. Carson was happily snug between mom and sis, but I had to hold tight to Kaden so that she was not afraid of falling off. They don’t strap you in or anything! The ride lasted about five minutes. That was enough! Glad we did it, but we didn’t go looking for another ride the next morning like we had planned.

Thatched huts dotting the park with music everywhere housed all kinds of performers. We saw everything from fire dancing to puppetry to magic.

  

     

We visited a  lovely artisan village with absolutely no pressure to buy. Artisans sat outside each of the displays demonstrating the crafts that were for sale. It was late though by the time we got over there, so things were starting to shut down.

We all wanted to get mehndi tattoos, but the woman doing the art had a limited repetoire.

Carson said, “Do you do monkeys?

“No, peacocks!”

Carson: “How about dragons?”

“PEACOCKS!”

Kaden: “I just want a peacock feather.”

“PEACOCKS!!!”

So, Kaden got a design on her leg. I got one on my arm. As you can tell from her face, she was not happy that it was the full peacock bird rather than just the feathers. And Carson opted for nothing. But I was happy with mine.

Mehndi is henna and is often used to decorate the palms and feet–especially for weddings and religious celebrations (and not just the bride). As you can see on my hand a day later, the henna is darkest on the palm  rather than the arm because the keratin is greatest in this part of the body. This design was very simply–lots of scribbling actually. True mehndi artists do some very intricate and beautiful things!

We  also explored the petting zoo, played carnival games, rode a ferris wheel (okay, the ferris wheel is a bit sketchy). The kids slid down slides. We wandered through a maze. With signs posted saying “please do not encourage tipping” it was so nice to engage with people and wander from activity activity without the stress of figuring out how much to pay. And if we didn’t want to do something, absolutely no pressure at all. It was so weird to not be hassled!

   

My favorite part was the food. While they pushed a traditional vegetarian thali sit down dinner, I knew the kids wouldn’t like that. Plus I have eaten plenty of traditional vegetarian thali dinners for as little as the equivalent of 50 cents. I did not need to pay $10 dollars for one! Instead, we could order from street vendors without worries about getting sick. Such fun! Kaden couldn’t believe that I was allowing her to get cotton candy and popcorn after so many months of refusal. We drank coconut water straight from the coconut. We watched them make “fresh lime soda, sweet!” right in front of us. I got all kinds of chats, including bhel puri and other things I didn’t even know I was eating! So much fun to eat my way across the village!

   Bhel puri!

On the car drive back to the hotel, the kids actually said, “Thank you mommy for taking us there. That was some of the best fun that we had in India!” I agree!

    

Visiting Jaipur–the pink city

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In Jaipur, we stayed at the beautiful Alsisar Havelli hotel. The hotel was originally a palace built in the 1890s. It didn’t feel old though. The place was charming and remarkably clean. The staff was attentive but not pushy and we felt very much at home.

 

Jaipur is known as the pink city for the terracotta buildings of its old town. The last time the old town was painted was for the state visit of Bill Clinton back during his presidency.

Below is the outside of the Palace of the Winds, a beautiful exterior, but apparently too dilapidated for touring inside.

           

Below, these colorful hats were a common souveiner sold in Jaipur

Jaipur has one of the floating palaces of Rajasthan. It also is not tourable, but beautiful to behold. Camel rides were offered right by the photo stopping point for this palace.

Below, these two women were wading through the water near the palace. Our tour guide suspected they were going to swim over to the palace to look for duck eggs laid by the ducks who live on the property. Below right, a streetside vendor of flowers that are usually used for religious purposes.

 

We toured the city palace as a part of our visit to Jaipur. Below is the gate toward the palace plus one of the historic buildings on the palace grounds.

  

The royal family of Jaipur still lives in this part of the palace grounds (below). The flag signified that they were were present in the palace on  the day we visited.  I finally got the answer from this tourguide of why the royals in India do not receive the attraction of royals in Europe and elsewhere. First of all there are many royal families in India, so royalty is a regional thing, not a national one. But even more so, in India, royals get involved in politics all the time, running for office and otherwise. Thus it is in the interest of the opposing parties to not play up the importance of the glamour of these individuals or it could cost them the election. Thus the continuing intersection of politics and royalty make them not a source of universal press interest or attraction. I also think it has something to do with the fact that most of the royal families also were lackeys of the Brits. But my tourguide disagrees.

  

The City Palace is especially known for it’s amazing doors and archways. I thought that these peacocks were incredible!

  

The palace hosted a few small museums, including costumes and weaponry. Carson and Ducky really enjoyed looking at the weapons!

 

  

After braving the heat in Jaipur, we returned back to the hotel for a long afternoon of swimming and a delivery of a Domino’s pizza!

  

Elephant riding at the Amber Fort

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Arriving in Jaipur, we set off at 7:30 in the morning for the Amber Fort–an adventure that turned out to be one of our most favorite days in India! The palace was lived in by the  Rajput Mahrajas and their families. The Amer (Amber Fort/Palace) was built in 1592 during the reign of Raja Man Singh who was in Akbar’s army. Jai Singh expanded the structure

As we stopped on on the edge of the lake to get this photo, were were accosted by so many sites it was hard to know where to look! To our right–a SNAKE CHARMER! With a live cobra and all. I love the look on Carson and Dionisi’s faces as they gasped the cobra emerging from the basket! Kaden on the other hand wanted NOTHING to do with that snake.

  

Instead Kaden went with Gogo to pet the elephant that was waiting at the left side of us. Add in a few vendors and you have a complete circus. Here, the circus is surrounding my friend Kathryn as we try to board the van!

  

Once we arrived at the Amer Fort, we immediately saw the elephants lined up and ready to take us up the hill! So exciting!

We waited in a line in this beautiful garden, watching this beautiful woman water the grounds. And all the time we were badgered by another circus of vendors. After the debacle at Fatehpur Sikri, Kathryn’s husband Satiri turned to the two of us and said, “If either of you buy anything I am not speaking to you!” And he had a good point. Kathryn and I have a weakness for shopping from the vendors. And if we buy one thing, we are surrounded by ten more. It is quite unbearable. So we were on our best behavior despite being tempted by many things in line. Plus, the prices were too high anyway. We thought at first we were getting quite the deal, but then learned they were quoting us in DOLLARS not rupees, which we had never heard vendors do before. So, no wonder we thought we were getting a deal!

  

Finally, it was time to board our elephant and take the 15 minute ride up the hill. Which felt like about two minutes it was so much fun!

  

  

The scenery was gorgeous, and even up the mountain, vendors tried to sell us things from below!

We even called Daddy from the elephant and said, “We’re on an elephant, right now!!”

  

Entering the main plaza was fabulous. Elephants parading in a majestic courtyard. Hidden in the second floor, musicians played the welcome music that was played for the kings arrival.

 

Above, Carson tries out a musical instrument with strings and a bow. Below, one of the most beautiful palaces I have every seen.

 

Before entering the palace, I found a ramp for Carson to get his energy out with his friends in the hopes that our trip through the palace might be a bit less dramatic than the Taj experience!  Here we are heading up the steps to the entrance!

The marble is nice and cool to the skin out a hot, hot day!!!

 

                               

With such beauty around, the boys were most interested in…. pigeons!

  

Carson checks out the main courtyard and the elephants below from the secret space where the women looked out long ago. And to the right–wine, wine wine!

                        

The mountains were spectacular, and the fortress walls offered supply routes and protection for the palace.

   

Above, Kaden’s self portrait in the main courtyard.

 

Just as we were getting to hot to bear it, there, in the middle of the palace–a Cafe Coffee Day. Air conditioning. Cold drinks. Bliss. If only Fatehpur Sikri had a place to cool down and take a break!

  

Enduring the heat while touring the forts and palaces

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On Easter afternoon, we headed to the Agra Fort, also known as the Red Fort. The fort is a walled city from the 1500s.

   

The above right photo is of a bath tub! I remember this bathtub clearly from my visit 22 years ago.

     

Below, the fort was buttressed by not one, but two, moats. The first moat was filled with water and contained crocodiles. The second moat was dry and filled with lions and tigers and bears (oh my!)

  

The most famous part of the fort is the fated bedroom where Shah Jehan sat in house arrest for the last eight years of his life, imprisoned by his son, the current king. From his bedroom window, Shah coudl see the Taj Mahal that he had built for his wife.

  

  

The photo below, captures well the experience of both kiddos at the fort. Carson wrestled with Ducky the entire time and play acted various Shakespearean style fights complete with fake punches. Kaden and her camera kept on snapping.

 

And again, the highlight of the visit? A small, common animal. This time–feeding little striped chipmunks.

We were to stop at yet another location–the Baby Taj–but instead we thought the kids would be happier with a pit stop at McDonalds for french fries and chicken nuggets.

Then it was time to drive an hour to Fatehpur Sikri. During the drive in the car, the kids watched “It’s Easter, Charlie Brown!”

Our trip to Fatehpur Sikri was ill fated. First, a bus accident blocked the road. In the mid day heat, we had to walk past the accident, including this damaged sign, and then take tut tuts up the hill because our van could not get past the chaos.

We managed to fit 11 of us in the tut tut. Even during the drive, local kids would jump onto the back of the tut tut to try to sell things to us. The inside of this tut tut (what they call autorickshaws elsewhere in India), was very colorful.

  

Fatehpur Sikri reminds me of the story of the Three Little Pigs.  Sikriwal Rajput Rajas Last Emperor Maharana Sangram Singh (also known as Emperor Jahangir) had three wives. The first wife was Muslim and was  an arranged marriage. She had a little tiny house, shown through the arches below.  The second wife was Catholic. She was married for love and had a medium sized house. The third wife was Hindu and she was married to end a feud. She produced the son and thus had the biggest, fanciest house of all.

  

                    

  

  

     

From the seat where we are sitting (above), the king would play a game of parcheesi in which he use life women as as the pieces.

    

  

Above, right, is the parliament building where the king held court, high above the ground.

   

Above, one of my favorite shots. Indians area always asking to get their pictures taken with us white folk. Here is one of my favorite ones of my friend’s dad. Above, right, some earring decorations on the vegetarian kitchen of the fanciest wife.

As interesting as all of this was, it was hot. Very, very hot. The little kids and the grandparents were wilting. Plus, the vendors were very, very aggressive here. To get from this palace area to the Muslim mosque we were totally surrounded by people. Sadly, this is as much of the mosque as we saw. It was too hot that day and too oppressive, in terms of vendors as much as the temperature. We needed a place to get a cold drink and recharge. But nothing nearby. So it was time to move on to Jaipur.

Encountering the Taj–a tale of two kiddos

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Our trip to the Taj Mahal was a tale of two kiddos. If only I could have cloned myself into two parents!

Both initially posed for obligatory shots with mom.

  

But Kaden was the kid who really embraced the spirit of the Taj Mahal.

She took at least as many photos as I did, and she was captivated by the designs of the structure and its beauty.

Although we kept swapping cameras, so I’m not entirely sure which shots are hers, these pictures really captured her eye for design and her interest in the details of the monument.

    

   

  

  

When in the Taj Majal itself, we had to either go barefoot or wear these shoe covers. Kaden chose shoe covers, Carson chose barefoot.

   

While Kaden enthusiastically embraced the Taj Mahal, Carson fell apart. The day before, we got up early, took a flight, then drove for 9 hours with many stops. Then the next morning we got up before dawn to see the Taj Mahal. It took just one silly comment from his sister for Carson to have an absolute melt down temper tantrum just as the Taj Mahal came into sight.

He whined, he complained, he cried through our entire visit at the Taj Mahal. And solo parenting, I was in charge of all of it.

    

The only way I could figure out how to deal with his horrible moods was to strategically sit him in various locations and let him sulk and sob while we took in the sites. In this picture up to the right, he was carry on so dramatically that a security guard came up to him to see what was the matter. I told the security guard that perhaps he could talk some sense into him.

   

Then, miraculously, as suddenly as it started, it was over. On our way out of the Taj Mahal, we spotted some green parrots in the trees. After looking at the parrots, we left the Taj gates and suddenly he was fine. Go figure.

With the histrionics, the kiddos differences in the kiddo’s interest continued to vary. After breakfast and a quick swim at the hotel, we visited this shop that demonstrated how the inlaid marble in the Taj Mahal is constructed. Kaden had such  a fascination that she took many photos and asked many questions about the artisan process.

  

 

The above flowers, for example ,are actually up to 40 different pieces of precious stones inlaid into the marble. One person can make only 2 flowers in a day.

While Kaden was learning these facts, Carson was showing his WWE wrestling cards to the store clerks!