Category Archives: kids

Saying goodbye…

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On May 1 at 2 in the morning, our Lufthansa plane lifts off from Bangalore and we head towards home. We have a layover in Frankfurt where we are getting off the plane and heading to Paris for a few days before we return home at the end of the week. That little stopover seemed a lot more logical almost a year ago when we booked the tickets. We’re now realizing we’ll have to pay double baggage fees plus storage in Frankfurt for that choice. But, hopefully Paris will be worth it!

The blogs will continue throughout the week, as I still have more to share about our Bangalore experiences! And I will share our Paris adventures when I can find wi-fi in Europe. It HAS to be faster than what I have here :).

Our last days in Bangalore were spent at home, packing, packing, packing. And spending time with neighborhood friends. When putting together a list of what we will miss most about Bangalore, the kiddos and I unanimously agreed that we would miss our new friends the most.

I will miss my yoga mommies and Astha, our fierce but friendly yoga teacher!

      she’s doing the lion pose here!

   

After our last yoga class we had a delicious lunch at Jashn!

    

Kaden had her school friends over for one final fling.That’s Sophie from Signapore, Marian from NJ, Kaden, Monisa from Massachusetts, Caroline from Denmark, and Kaya from Virginia (Ester from Denmark came a little a late).

      

Dear Mr. Yadov, the head security guard of Almond Tree, stopped by and happily joined in the festivities. We will miss his cheerful greeting, said all in a jumble, “How are you fine thank you!!”

     

At one point, Yadov officiated the swimming races. “One! Two! Three!” He shouted and laughed out loud. Such a fun spirit!

We also bid farewell to the sweet teenagers who did our ironing every Sunday–for the equivalent of 16 cents per item. They both have completed school through 9th grade but their father said they must now work instead of going on for further schooling.

Even more than school friends, the kiddos will miss their neighborhood evening fun–especially their nightly Cops and Robbers games in the courtyard!  In this picture, below, all had  been invited to the clubhouse area for Diya and Ecta’s party.

I love the way this neighborhood is a community. The kids all spill out into the courtyard and play together. Whoever is out, that’s who plays. No cliques or “so and so can’t play right now because she has a friend over….”  Every one plays together. If you have company, they join in the mix. That’s the way it is here. The way it was when I was a kid. I wish it was this way  back home.

The whole neighborhood was also invited to the latest birthday party, which happened in the courtyard/swimming pool area. And all of the moms pitched in. One ran the games, the other manned the music. Everyone worked together.

I also found it fascinating how cultural traditions are the same/different. It seems fairly universal at the parties that we have attended for the birthday song to be sung in English but with clapping throughout the song. At this party, after the singing, the girls fed cake into the mouths of their friends, like Americans do for weddings. I checked with the other neighborhood kiddos and they confirmed that’s a normal custom. Kaden was so glad we don’t do that since she rarely likes the cakes at parties!

    

Below, who wouldn’t want sweet Angel to join in the fun! She is getting so big

Below–cops and robbers being played in earnest!

  

On the final night we had pizza for all the kiddos in the neighborhood (pizza in the background, intense trading of WWE wrestling cards in the foreground!

On our last day we had a final meal at the Movenpick Hotel’s yummy buffet, including a final round of fresh lime soda–sweet!

    


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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!

Blessed by an elephant in Hampi

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Bright and early, we set out to explore Hampi–the capital of the Hindu Empire from the 14th to the 16th century AD. The name of the ancient city was Vijayanagara. What is striking about Hampi is its vastness. You can look in any direction and as far as the eyes can see, the ruins of the ancient city continue. 10 square miles of ruins and counting. Archeologists worked to uncover the city in earnest beginning in the early seventies and they are still at it today, unearthing markets, palaces, and buildings of all kinds beneath the mud of banana plantations and present-day buildings. It was a fascinating place to see history uncovered even now.

We started our exploration of Hampi at the Mustard Seed Ganesha, located on the foothills of Hemakuta Hill.

   

The Ganesha above has a snake tied around his belly. He ate too much and the snake is keeping his tummy from busting open from all of the food!  Below, the kids were all smiles as we began our day.

  

It was hot, hot, hot in Hampi. Like almost 100 degrees hot.  Our tour guide (above) had a lot of knowledge about Hampi, but he was not very kid friendly. I ended up listening to his spiel and then giving the kids a 30 second version of whatever I thought they would want to know. You can see their crabbiness even at this first stop! Sigh.  Below, pilgrims visit the many temples scatter about the boulders.

   

The kids were most interested in the little things, like these holes carved into the boulders. They are still used for cooking today when the pilgrims spent the night on the mountain for certain festivals. And right, 500 years ago and more, they split these massive boulders by driving wood into holes and then filling the holes with water. The expanding wood eventually would crack the boulders. Carson thought that was fascinating.

  

We walked up and over the bolders to the Virupaksha temple–the oldest temple in Hampi.   It believed that this temple has been functioning uninterruptedly ever since its inception in the 7th century AD–one of the oldest functioning temples in India!

     

A highlight inside the temple is to receive a blessing from the black elephant, Lakshmi. She is in her mid-twenties and was rescued as a baby after they found her mother dead. She is amazingly well trained. Our tour guide claims that she knows the difference between Indians and foreigners (perhaps by a tap of the stick from her trainer). From locals she will give blessings for a rupee coin. From foreigners, she expects a Rs 10 note. She takes the coin or bill from you, hands it to her owner, and then blesses you on your head. It was great fun.

This crowd was getting a chuckle out of watching the kids and I get our blessings.

  

The temple included some intricate paintings telling famous Hindu stories. To see the paintings better, Carson lay down on the floor of the temple and looked up.

     

Outside of the temple the kids chose hats from a vendor along the street. They were quite pleased with their purchase!

Outside of the temple has historically been the Hampi Bazaar, a street lined with shops, vendors and more. But just six months ago, the government razed the street with plans to dig for more ruins around the temple area. Hampi as a modern town struggles over tensions between the ongoing excavations and the people who have settled and set up their lives in this town. All misplaced businesses and people were supposed to be relocated, but you know how that goes!  I read in a newspaper article, “The government has identified land to settle the displaced families, at a distance of 5 km from the Hampi market. However, since that plot of land has been used as a cemetery, the locals are not willing to move there.” We did find some cold drinks, though. And we got to pretend to be goat herders as we walked down the eerily vacant street.

Next stop: the Vitalla Temple complex. This section of Hampi is perhaps the most famous and the most preserved. The temple was built in the 15th century to honor Vishnu

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Above, right, Portuguese and Tibetan on the temple walls. You can tell by their facial structures and the design of their coats, says our tour guide.  Below, you can see inscriptions on the walls behind Carson’s head. These inscriptions were at the entrance of the temple complex and signified the architects of the temples.

Below, bracelets as temple designs and monkeys on temple walls

   

Below, the most famous building in the temple complex. The pillars sing and they even used to host concerts here based on the different pitches of the pillars. Now you can’t bang at the pillars because they were getting too damaged.

Below, I love this picture of the kids taking a rest in the shade. They had had enough of the tour guide and instead giggled and chatted together while I went around hearing about the site. Of course, within five minutes they were surrounded by Indian tourists wanting to take their picture. As usual!

The part of this temple that they loved was the shapeshifters. Some of the carvings of the temples are actual many animals/images at once depending on how you place your hand.  Carson, below, is making the shape of a lion then moving his hand for it to look like a flying monkey.

   

The Stone Chariot is a the stunning centerpiece of the complex. Considering the best preserved chariot in India, it originally had stone horses leading it. But mogul invaders destroyed the horses and they were replaced by the elephants. A Geruda (half eagle, half man) drives the chariot.

    

To get to and from this set of holy sites, we had to take a golf cart to get up the hill and back down. We were very pleased to get back in the cart and get into the air conditioned van. I told the tour guide–“That’s it!” Take us to a restaurant. We need to a break. We were feeling cranky and dizzy and needed to rest!

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!”

    

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.

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!