Category Archives: hotels

Record keeping

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The keeping of records is a fascinating issue in India.  Other than the national corporations, many hotels, apartment complexes and banks even still keep records in big old fashioned ledgers.  With power often iffy, no computer can go down and lose the records. And it’s how it has always been done.

I am astounded by the number of sign in books in our apartment complex and those of other complexes. Sign in the little books to go to the gym, to use the pool, to welcome visitors. And I am astounded by the paper trail at grocery stores. Get a tally of the bill from one person, pay another person, and then a third person at the door checks the receipt and stamps it.

Carson’s juice bottle from Cafe Coffee Day (the Starbucks of India). I have no idea what it is supposed to mean, but it sums up well my feelings in India some days!

While such record keeping seems ubiquitous in what seems like silly situations to me, we have been equally astounded by the lack of data bases and record keeping where it matters. For example, most book stores in India, even huge multi-level bookstores often do not have a method for keeping track of inventory. Books are not shelved based on title or author. Sometimes they are shelved by publisher. Sometimes by subject. Sometimes willy nilly.

Even at the big and fancy Mantri Mall this week, my mom went to a very large book store to find if they have books by Amit Chowdry, a famous intellectual in India. Big shot. Big deal. The book store pulled up Amazon.

My mother asked, “How do you know if you have the book if you look it up on Amazon?”

Clerk: “The book might be shelved by title.”

My mom goes to the section and notices that they aren’t shelved by title at all. She returns to the clerk and asks, “How are the books ordered if they aren’t ordered by title.”

Clerk: “It is what it is madam.”

Even more surprisingly than the book store, my parents went to the Museum of Modern art.

None of the personnel knew what paintings were located in the museum. When asking to speak to a more senior person, the man admitted that the museum does not have a database or catalog. Even more surprisingly, though, was that they could not find anyone who knew where the painting by Tagore was located. Tagore is one of the most famous authors/poets in India history.  My parents finally found the painting tucked away on the sixth floor.

We took the kids to the Art Museum in our last days in Bangalore. The kids were not very enthused about the visit until I lucked out with a game that kept them happy. In each room of art, we all had to choose our favorite and then we had to guess the favorite’s of everyone else.  It slowed them down, caused them to consider the pieces carefully, and they had a blast. I will definitely remember that trick for Paris.

Wandering about the sculpture garden, Carson shows off his new gap. The tooth fairy came last night and left both Rs 100 and $1!

The one place where records are watched very closely is in the cricket league which has caught India by storm. My dad watches a match every night. Carson is obsessed as well. He wears his red Bangalore Royal Challengers cap all around town. Below are some of the team logos at the hotel bar in Hospet.  Carson insisted on watching the matches on the big screen in the bar, much to the concern of the wait staff at the hotel!

Hanging out in Hospet

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The kids and I took one final road trip during our India adventure. We drove four hours north of Bangalore to visit the ancient ruins of Hampi. We were so grateful that our old driver, Srinivas, agreed to drive us on this “out of station” trip. Turns out he didn’t dislike us after all, he just didn’t like his boss as much as we didn’t. If only we had known, we could have hired him directly and avoided all of our driver woes that we have had since March!

We stayed at the Royal Orchid Hotel in Hospet, about 20 minutes from the ruins. It was the nicest hotel around. It claims to be a five star hotel. I wouldn’t say that at all, but it definitely had very lovely rooms, a comfortable bed, strong air conditioning, and a lovely pool.

  

Below, view from our balcony of sugarcane plantation.

After what ended up being five and a half hours in the car, an afternoon poolside was very much in order. The kids loved the deep water which allowed Carson to perfect his back flip ‘(Carson is saying in the video, “Dad, this one’s for you!” and Kaden to make great improvements on her dive.

I had hoped to take the kids into Hampi that night when it was cooler, but the front desk clerk advised that we do Hampi in one day with a hired guide. Instead, he suggested that we head over to the Tuna Bhadra dam for the sunset and to see the musical fountain.

The pathway to the dam was lined with quotes in English and in Kannada. Some were famous and others were rather obscure!

    

On the way we stopped to take a paddle boat ride, which they called a coracle boat ride. But a coracle boat is one of those round boats the locals use for transport and fishing–nothing like a big plastic blue swan!

   

In true Indian style, we should not have been surprised that we would not be taking the boat ride alone. Instead, a man climbed on board to do the steering for us. As Kaden put it, “I was kind of hoping it would just be us!” Yep. Welcome to India! He was a nice enough guy. Very helpful. But as Americans, we feel that we don’t need help. We get annoyed by help. Help is not helpful!

The rest of the park had a very small aquarium. I told the kids not to get their hopes up, but they were pleased to see a snakefish, and Carson promised me that I will be taking him to a REAL aquarium this summer (add Baltimore to our summer plans!).

  

The park also had an aviary-read large pen with peacocks and pigeons in it.   Plus it had an enclosure for deer, who must get feed by the visitors often because they all came up to the fence to beg for food.

   

We then headed over to the main attraction–the purported finest musical fountain in all of Southern India! Here is one clip of the show.   It wasn’t that bad. But we were done after a couple of songs. To sum up our experience, Kaden said, “This place is pretty cute for India. I can tell they are really trying here. In the United States, it would be really disappointing. But here, it’s not that bad!”

    

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!

  

Kaden’s lens

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It has been fascinating to see what Kaden finds interesting in our travels in India. Here are some of my favorite shots that she has taken so far.

Swimming pool at the Lemon Tree--our home for the first 10 days

Dada waiting for Rafiq the driver at the Lemon Tree

Ice cream at Baskin and Robbins. One of her most favorite places. She especially likes Cotton Candy, Banana and Strawberry, Cupid's Delight

Playground at Cubbon Park

    

Majarajah's Palace in Mysore

   

More scenes of Mysore

Colors at the Devraj Market in Mysore

  

Goa

  

Baby Caur in Rajiv Ghandhi National Park on safari

  

Hammock outside of our villa in Goa

Waterparks, safety and childish men

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Todd went home on Monday the 12th of March. We had promised the kiddos that while Todd was here we would go to an amusement park. I had some people on the Ex-Pat website recommend Wonder La, a huge amusement park on the way to Mysore. We looked at the rides and discussed what we would do. Then I told my yoga moms about the plan and they told me I was nuts. The water at the park is dirty and the crowds are too big for safety.  Last week a 12 year old girl drowned in two feet of water during a school trip due to the crowds and lack of supervision. So, we nixed that plan.

   

Instead, we found Club Cabana-a resort very close to our house. You can buy day passes to resorts in B’Lore. For $20 US Dollars for adults, $10 US Dollars for kiddos, we had admission to the park plus lunch and high tea. And if we wanted,  we could add bowling, archery and other attractions. We just stuck with the water park. The facilities were clean and well-functioning. The park had three water slides, a wave pool, a lazy river, and a waterworks. Plus shaded little cabanas for resting. Perfect! It wasn’t five star luxury but everything was in good shape and running order.  The kids had a blast on the slides. The food was good. They even made French fries for the kids. They came home tired and a little sunburned and I am quite certain we will return before we leave India.

  

      

We were the only family there on a Saturday. The place was rented out by corporations that arrived in large luxury busses. We though the corporate execs would be busy in meetings and team building activities (Saturday is a work day in India). But by lunchtime they had all moved over to the water park.

I have decided that male Indian corporate types are the bane of my existence. When my  dad asked how things were, I told him “Fun place, but there were 400 corporate men there.” “Yuck,” he said. “They are the worst.” Indeed.   My children acted far more mature than they were acting. Imagine a group of six year old boys. Or a drunk group of 16 year old boys. Total chaos and annoyance.  I saw grown men playing in the waterworks area.–swinging on the swings, sliding down the slides. And while people may do stupid things like that in the U.S., if they saw actual children heading their way toward a child-oriented activity, they would step aside. And maybe act a bit embarrassed. Not here. They’ll elbow my kids out of the way. We encountered them on our Safari acting just as juvenile.  Here is a photo of the kids trying to climb the nets and the men taking them over.

Mom thinks that part of their childish behavior might be due to the fact that they never had waterslides when they were kids. Or climbing nets on a safari. Even if they came from wealthier families, such locations simply didn’t exist a generation ago.  I think it also has to do with being boys in a culture that spoils them rotten. In a traditional Indian family, the boy eats first, then the father, the mother and then the daughter.

While times have changed, the gendered roes in India seem to be the last to shift. For example, a recent Penn State grad acquired a tenure-track position in a business school here in town. Top of her class, great job, rising star in her profession. And all her family does is nag her about when she will get married. The pressure is so intense that she is considering moving back to the States just to get away from the pressure. The need to “marry off” a woman continues to persist even when they have Ph.Ds.

At the water park, thankfully the male corporate exec tended to move in clumps, so when they went to the wave pool, we went to the slides and vice versa. But they were obnoxious. And many were quite drunk.  They shrieked like children as they came down the slides. Kaden thought they were hilarious. I heard two nodding in Kaden’s direction and saying “American’s are quite brave, aren’t they?’ as Kaden came barreling down one of the slides without a peep out of her mouth.

Worse than the childishness, they didn’t follow any modicum of safety. Not that there seemed to be any rules or at least no enforcement of rules. After riding down a water slide, they would sit in the pool at the bottom and float in it, often right in front of the slide.  At one point there were ten men floating in at the bottom of the slide. Then a monkey ran buy and scurried UP the edge of the water slide. Ah, India.

   

I hollered at the “life guard” to get the men out of there. But let’s be realistic. The “life guard” was a man in navy blue trousers. The only thing he seemed to be policing was making the men take off their shirts to go down the slides. Women could wear whatever. Most had on t-shirts and pants. Some of the men seemed to be in their underwear. But as long as they took their shirts off they were okay.  And the lifeguards/staff were few and far between. They let the kids and I slide down the tubes holding hands—something strictly forbidden in the U.S. My cousins and I got thrown out of an amusement park in Ocean City for doing just that years ago. This Club Cabana was mostly an unsupervised water park. Which is fine since we watched our kids closely. It was really fear of others making stupid decisions that worried me.

Todd commented, reading my mind, “The reason why we have such safety standards in the U.S. is fear of litigation.” And a lack of a justice system that would allow the park any real authority to throw people out/give many consequences for in appropriate behavior. I think the U.S. system is way too litigious. People sue for anything these days and we all pay the price for it. But India shows the other extreme—whither some fear of sanction there is little incentive to monitor safety issues closely. No wonder that girl drowned at WonderLa. And the park still keeps running. Nothing was shut down for an investigation. Is a modern society necessarily a litigious society? No so in many European countries where trust is much higher and community is strong. But with trust being low here anyway, I suspect that the litigation will continue to increase as the infrastructure is built for the justice system to enforce concerns.

Fulbrighters unite in Kochi

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We arrived in Kochi (Cochin), Kerala for my Fulbright conference. All of the South and Central Asian Fulbrights were brought in to share our ongoing research and to network with one another.  As the website says, “Sponsored by the United States Department of State,  Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Fulbright Program provides funding for students, scholars, teachers, and professionals to undertake graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and teaching in elementary and secondary schools.”  I am a Fulbright-Nehru scholar, a special partnership between the U.S. and India that brough over 200 of us to India this year. A handful of us are senior scholars like me. I am here to do research. Others professors are here as lecturers. The bulk of the grantees are graduate students here doing dissertation research and young things just out of college here as English Teaching Assistants.

I learned during the opening remarks that Hillary Clinton had hoped to come to India on a Fulbright right after graduating from Wellesley College. They shut the program down with Indian that year due to political issues, so she went to Yale Law School Instead (where she met Bill, of course).

We stayed at Le Meridien, which is actually two hotels. To get to the main building, we have to take a ferry down the river. It is charming about two times and then a bit annoying when you are trying to get somewhere or you leave something back at the hotel room!

We saw lots of coracle fishing boats as we sailed to our room–especially early in the morning.

   

Kerala is hot. Like south Florida in the summer hot. Tons of humidity even in the evening. It makes us truly appreciate the mellow climate of Bangalore where there is hardly any humidity at all and the nights are cool and crisp. After the long bus ride from the airport, we all wanted nothing more than to jump into the pool and order a drink from the swim up bar.  It is a strange pool, with multiple layers. The tiles on the pool were falling off, to the great delight of the kids. They really enjoyed collected the blue, red and white tiles as treasures throughout our stay.

The kids and Todd even enjoyed night swimming while I was at my sessions. Not a bad way to spend a few days!

Brindavan Gardens and rice paddies

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On our way to Mysore, we saw lots of beautiful rice paddies.

  

We  spent the night at Brindavan Gardens. The place was a summer palace for the last maharaja. IT was built in the 1930s after the dam was completed. The gardens are located about 45 minutes north of Mysore. There is a hotel in the actual former palace and that is where we stayed for the night.

The view from our balcony!

   

We had a spacious king sized bed and cot for all of us to fit and we had one of the biggest rooms in the place. I wonder if the prince ever slept there!

Most people go to the Brindavan Gardens at night time when all of the fountains are lit up.

We took a ferry to the other end of the gardens to see the musical fountains do some Bollywood dancing. The show was about 15 minutes long and reminded me of tacky Las Vegas scenes. But the huge crowd seemed to love it. Thousands of tourists came for the three song snow, but most left before the third song had barely began. Go figure. Back at the hotel, we set the kids up with a movie in the room and then enjoyed a drink on the second floor balcony bar overlooking the gardens.

   

In the morning, we had the gardens to ourselves and the few other hotel guests. Lovely!

       

In the morning we had breakfast on the back summer porch. I had a traditional masala dosa breakfast—spicy potatoes in a crepe with mint and tomato chutneys. But I like to mix in scrambled eggs! Plus a hot chai tea with milk and sugar please!

    

The kids played outdoor chess and practiced their putting skills on the little putting green. In typical India fashion when I requested the putters, two men came out to help us with our putting. One held the flag and another insisted on giving Carson some tips. He would have been happier without the advice, but that’s the way it goes here!

   

Jeep safari

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Nagarhole/Kabini area–the location of our first safari trip!

We settled into Kabini Jungle Lodges and Resorts for our two day safari adventure.

  

We arrived at the resort early–plenty of time to play on the climbing nets and tire swings.

We also explored a termite next close up.The nests are huge  It feels like rock and we didn’t see any termites! To exit the nest the digging type of termites opens holes out of the nest and the the flying termites head out–usually at dusk or night time and only at certain times of the year.  The photo to the right I think is of a termite nest that has been opened up.

  

Finally, it was time for a safari. Our first day safari was a three hour jeep safari in the late afternoon in the Rajiv Ghandi National Forest.

Our \naturalist guide was sexy looking Indian guy named Charles with a monster telephoto lens. A British lady was sitting in the front seat and told us we were in luck because he was the best tracker around and she had come for the past three years. On our way to the forest we had to meander through some villages. And a herd of cows!

The naturalist said that the jeep was required to follow a precise route and every jeep followed a different route and they couldn’t deviate.

He felt that our route had a lot of underbrush making it hard to spot tigers and leopards. He sees a tiger or leopard once in every 9 to 10 safaris so not to get our hopes up.

As we entered the forest we saw lot so long tailed monkey. Very different from the kind that we see closer to home. And a caur/bison crossed the path of the jeeps.

     

We also very quickly saw lots and lots of spotted deer.

And quite a few peacocks. Turns out that hits peacock mating season so the peacock will only have those fancy fathers for a few months.

We then came upon a herd of caur, which look like bison but are even more massive. They are one of the few animals in the forest that can kill a tiger. This massive herd was actually blocking our way on the road. Here is the bull of the herd. There is usually one male and a pack of females.

  

Above is a photo of our naturalist in his usual position–half out of the jeep. And the caur blocking the road. They have little to fear because they are so massive. They are one of the few animals in the forest that can kill a tiger.

The herd included a little baby. It was very rare, “very special” said the naturalist, to see such a little baby up close. Plus nursing kiddos.

   

We learned a lot about how to track leopards and tigers. You listen for the calls of the potential victims—the spotted deer and the larger deer as well. Monkeys call too and the boars and the flying squirrels. The calls are based on smell. They haven’t seen the predator but can smell it and they call out to warn others of an imminent danger. We tried to track the calls to find the predators. We even found a leopard paw print once!

   

And the jeep that was just ahead of us scared a leopard away two minutes before we arrive don the scene. But no leopard or tigers for us. Just a spotted deer at the watering hole now.

Instead we saw something that as much more rare. The naturalist said he has seen 30 or 40 tigers but only 4 sloth bear during his safaris. We saw a sloth bear with two baby cubs at a watering hole. When they saw us, both cubs jumped on its mommy’s back and scurried away. It all happened very fast. I saw a big black blur and two little ones. But we all saw it, even the kids. Way too fast for a photo but the naturalist was beaming like he won first prize and bragged about our sighting to every jeep that we passed. Here’s what these bears look like (photo from internet). They are very shy and tend to only come out at night.

After three hours of literally bouncing around in the back of a jeep, we were hot and tired and hungry. We headed back to our lodge. It is a beautiful place that is actually run by the government. Porters were on hand to offer us coffee and tea and soft drinks and beer when we returned back from the safari. Todd and I enjoyed or coffee/tea and watched the sunset from our porch before we all headed off to see a nature film on the surrounding area and to have a nighttime outdoor dinner.

J and K’s last day

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We all went to a buffet lunch at the Windsor hotel for J and K’s last day here (which was Feb 20). Everyone enjoyed the buffet except for Kinj who was still recovering from a bout of the Dehli Belly. Not fun! Ran discovered that the chef was Bengali and asked him to fix something gentle for Kinj’s stomach. He was served rice and dal. But the dal was very spicy, so he skipped that.

The Windsor is a very traditional British Raj hotel. In fact the dining room is called the Raj, and check out the bathroom doors.

   

The food was pretty good overall, but what was AMAZING was this dessert–Shahi Tukra. I went back for thirds. I felt pretty sick though after I realized what I had just inhaled–deep fried bread soaked in syrup, then covered in a cream sauce.  Totally delicious. Totally heavy!

After lunch, Todd and Ran went back with the driver to pick up the kids. The rest of us set out to do some last minute souvenir shopping.  We started out at the government emporium store–a place where you could buy anything beautiful and Indian–scarves, rugs, furniture, jewels, statues, paintings, clothing. But you pay quite a premium. We even saw the rug that Bill Clinton bought from that very store–$40K silk that literally changed colors as you walked around it. The softest thing I ever felt.

Then we wanted to get to Commericial Street to do some cheaper shopping. So all four of us (me, mom, Kinj and Janet) crammed into one little rickshaw and headed across town. The driver took one look at us and said “20 more rupees for four people!” He was still giving us such a fair price that I gave him a bit extra after we all piled out of the car like clowns in a circus. He looked at me funny, but I am so grateful when an auto driver doesn’t try to rip me off that I give extra.

We found a wonderful store where Janet and Kinj got some brass statues and I got a wonderful rug from Kasmir. I will be taking friends back there! But as we are gleefully shopping, we get a phone call from Ran. Neither he nor Todd has a key to the house. They have the kids and are stuck outside the villa. The security doesn’t have a key either. So the driver needs to make the 45 minute trip into town to get us and the keys and then back out again.

We get back with Baskin and Robbins ice cream in hand (to lessen the complaints!). By then, Todd has climbed two bamboo ladders tied together to get into the villa. Since the keys must be used even to get out of the house if the door is locked, he mainly managed to get swim suits, cold drinks, and snacks for the kiddos. On a hot day, that was a great call! Always an adventure!

Goa!!

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To make the most of the time during which Todd, Kinjal and Janet were here at the same time, we planned a family trip to Goa–one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

To get to Goa, we had to take an hour long flight. I snapped this photo as we were entering the airport. All of these  folks for the most part are drivers or someone picking up someone. The photo definitely highlights the common dress here for drivers and for most working men of any strip–a white button down shirt and dark pants!

 

Carson and Daddy LOVED studying the airplanes together. Todd made use of his aerospace engineering degree describing to Carson how the planes take off and land, why the wings are shaped the way they are. They studied the diagrams in the magazine. They took careful notes outside the window. I on the other hand took a nap. I was up until the wee hours getting everyone packed for this adventure!

here is a photo of our entourage all tanned in the front lobby. We stayed at the Taj Holiday Village–a gorgeous resort right on the Arabian Sea. My parents have been to this resort twice before, and Derek the guest manager  has become a good friend. We had some fun extra touches as a result like a delicious chocolate cake on arrival. Also when Kinjal got sick during the trip (the Dehli Belly strikes the first one of us!), Derek arranged a doctor to arrive quickly and the hotel staff even brought a get well basket to their room. The house call plus all medications came to just $20!

   

Here is a photo of our cottages. Janet and Kinj had one right behind our two.

This view is perhaps one of Ran’s favorite places on the world–a table at the edge of the deck at the main restaurant. Ran would spend most of the day here chatting with waiters and sipping coffee

  

  

The kids loved this room the best–the Jungle Jam, which catered to the younger crowd. As in, the served PB and J, french fries, smoothies and fried shrimp all day long! Plus the kiddos could play their favorite game of Carroum while waiting for their food! We even needed to get a “to-go” order for the shuttle ride back to the airport on the last day!

The kids had fun poolside, and especially with Daddy. Here, being the techie family that we are, the three of them were all playing a game together by connecting all of the devices using Bluetooh. I don’t really understand it, but they LOVE doing it.

  

While some fancy hotels give you towels that look like swans, here they give you a towel that looks like Ganesh! How can you tell it’s just not an ordinary elephant? The special placing of the little dots of flowers.

The kids loved scrambling among the tide pools on these rocks. Carson loved finding the crabs and Kaden liked to stick her fingers into the sea anenomes and feel them close.

  

The beach was just down the  stair case and it was a beauty. Very flat, which made for good running for me in the morning. Although I did get chased by a dog. That was scary! The dog came running right at me barking. I froze and panicked for a minute, then I channeled my inner Papa Joe, turned and faced the dog and growled in a loud deep voice, “Get out of here!” And to my surprise, the dog turned on its heels and ran away quickly. I then noticed that all of the Indians out in the early morning were carrying sticks. So I quickly found one and ran with a stick the rest of the time!