Category Archives: transportation

Driver woes

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Our driver quit at the end of February. It is very sad and frustrating. All of a sudden a new guy started showing up instead of Srinivas. A guy who spoke little English and slammed on his breaks too hard replaced him. He was nice enough, but no Srinivas.

I don’t think we’ll ever get the full story of why Srinivas left. His boss told us he found a better paying driving job. But then off hand said later that he told another driver that our kids were not sitting properly in the seats and leaving too many food crumbs.  It is hard to have a family in a car that is not hours. Road trips and day to day issues are hard on cars, but when it is not our car it is hard to live comfortably and not show some wear and tear on the car. Like today, as I was getting out of the car, the boss driver told me I needed to please shut the doors more gently on the van. Sigh. I know these cars are their livelihood but it is like walking through a store full of breakables with kids–next to impossible to not have something go wrong if given enough time.  I think we will keep the full time driver for this month and then shift to an as needed basis next month with the kids not in school after the 6th. That will save on costs and reduce the drama of the driver issue. But it will increase the volatility of when a car is available and if the driver knows where to go.

I wonder too if there was a problem with the fact that we actually used the full 12 hours of our time at least a few time a week. The arrangement is that we have the driver for 12 hours and that we pay for 12 hours whether we use them or not. More than 12 hours and we pay more. But the days that we have used the full 12 hours the drivers seemed surprised and a bit annoyed. They act like they have places to go, things to do. Maybe it’s a cultural issue but I just don’t get it. I think part of it is that we are probably not firm enough. Don’t want to offend.

I also often need to go to some strange places. Little schools on dirt roads in the middle of now here. None of our drivers want to be shown a map. They have no patience for a map. They want the village name, the road name, and landmarks. Always landmarks. And then a mobile number when they inevitably get lost. At my last school visit my driver had to stop and ask directions 5 times and finally I got through on the mobile and had the person explain how to find the little place.

To replace Srinivas, the owner of the driver group drove us around until he found another driver who speaks English well. but I think he just gave up trying to find someone good.  The new guy arrived–driver number 6 for us so far. And no, he doesn’t speak English well. And I had to start all over in terms of giving directions for how to get to school, my office, yoga class, our favorite grocery store. I sent him to recharge two cell phones. He came back with only one phone recharged. With six weeks left I just don’t want to have to start over again adjusting a new driver to what we need.

The second day was even worse. I had my friends Kim and Leti visiting from Penn State. We were a half an hour late for yoga because he went to the wrong side of town. Then he tried to take us to the wrong palace for some sightseeing. Then we asked him to take us to Commercial Street. One of the biggest landmarks in Bangalore. He tried to stop at two other streets before we just gave up.

I called the boss man and said that I was not willing to have him drive us again. Next morning, there he was. So I let him drive us to school, but then called a cab for the rest of the day. The boss man came back to drive again for us, but with a huge attitude. Not willing to help us find stores. Not helping to carry packages. Making it very difficult to get trough the day. I finally fired him. He seemed relieved.

We still have six weeks to go. No driver. My friend Vini has graciously offered her second driver while her husband is away. She recommends him, he knows this neighborhood, and he speaks English well.  He is wonderful. He knows the back roads. He is a kind, decent person. I am hoping that this bit of grace will get us through the end of schooling in the first week of April.  With school, we need a driver at 7:30 and again at 2:30 or 3:30, so basically we need full day help. Once the kids are out of school, we can rely on hiring cabs for 4 or 8 our stretches.

I am tired of worrying about transportation!

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Houseboatting on the backwaters of Kerala

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It has been an amazing three weeks. Parasailing in Goa, spotting leopards in Nagarhole. And today we sailed in a houseboat along the backwaters of Kerala. We took a three hour journey. You can go for days, and that would have been wonderful if it were just Todd and me. Three hours was just right for the kiddos.

Absolutely beautiful scenery. The backwaters are canals made to provide water to the rice paddies that line both sides of the water.

   

    

We had a staff of three men to drive the boat and cook us a delicious lunch. We requested plain rice, fresh fruit and French fries for the kiddos. For the grownups, we had delicious Keralan food, including really delicious nutty brown rice, a curried cabbage that was out of this world, dal, curd (yogurt), spiced carrots and green beans, and seasoned seerfish.

  

The highlight of the meal was the large prawns that we selected ourselves. The boat made a stop at a fishery and we chose among the fresh catch of the morning.

  

Carson was fascinated by the crabs in one bucket.

     

We made one more stop to see a Catholic church that was over 400 years old. The inside was very ornate with beautiful colors (no photos allowed inside). A woman and a man were chanting inside the church in a way that sounded like Hindu chanting. The blend of Indian traditions and what we expected to see in a Catholic Church was fascinating.

  

We saw beautiful churches, houses, temples.

  

  

People fishing and women bathing, lots of clothes washing.

At this shop we also got some souvenirs for ourselves and others. Kaden got a little wooden Lakshmi for her room (her favorite Goddess). I found a silver and black elephant festooned pashmina. We also got some wooden Keralan bells for our house.

Other than those events, the main task of the trip was to kick up our feet and relax. And occasionally wave at kids along the banks and passing houseboats. Total bliss.

   

       

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!

Looking out the window

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Some images that we passed as we headed into town on Saturday:

Scenes from our local village. This is one of my new fave photos. The water jugs in the back of the photo are carried often quite a distance for families to have safe drinking water.

     Nursing goats!!

In India, Saturday is a working day. Only one Saturday a month is a public holiday, and school children attend school for a shorter day on Saturdays. Here are two sets of school children that we saw getting out of school at lunchtime on Saturday. I love how the girls always wear braids.

We often pass these marriage halls on the way into town. Weddings are HUGE affairs in India. These are two entrances to big outdoor wedding pavilions. We recently learned that BOTH Pap Pap and Dada have a history of sneaking into wedding receptions.  It is an easier task in an Indian wedding because there is no set sequence of events. People eat and visit at their leisure and at some point the ceremony occurs off to one side, but it is not expected that the full set of guests will watch the ceremony itself.

    

   

These elephants are at the intersection of many roads in North Bangalore. On the right, kudos to SIL Janet who observed that the women who ride the motorcycles side-saddle always sit toward the left. All we can figure is that because people drive on the left, by sitting toward the left, they are always facing in the direction of the sidewalk to exit the vehicle.

The buses of Bangalore are a common form of transportation. These blue buses are the local, non air-conditioned buses. Red buses are air-conditioned and offer express service to various points in town. I learned recently that the buses are gender segregated–women sit in the front and men in the back. Doing so protects women from harrasment

 We have noticed many snakes at the base of trees in town–not a custom in Calcutta, so my dad doesn’t have an explanation for it. I asked my driver and he said they are related to Ganesh, the god of home and remover of obstacles. Ganesh had a divine serpent called Shesha that he often had around his neck. Wikipedia gives some other answers. One  is the focus of snakes in Hindu religion.”Snakes seeking shelter from the rains in houses and stables indicated the beginning of the monsoons and thus of the fertile season and fertility in general, hence they were worshipped mainly by women. Their habit to live under the earth related them to the underworld ancestors who were accordingly venerated in the form of snakes… Votive steles with snake images are often erected below trees because people believe that the dwellings of the snakes are situated underneath the roots. The Naga (skt. naga – snake) is usually not the snake in general but the cobra, raised to the rank of a divine being,” says Wikipedia. Snakes hold particular significance for infertile women. Wikipedia says that the stone image is immersed in a pond to be impregnated by the power of the snakes in teh pond and then the woman walks around the Ashavatta tree and puts the snake stone under the tree in hopes of conceiving a child.

I find this to be one of the funniest signs in Bangalore.

   

New neighbors downstairs–no where near the spectacle of the pooja this weekend, but a small ceremony must have occurred.

Dana’s days

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I’m settling into a routine and meeting some fun people these days. It helps that I now have a wonderful, wonderful driver. So glad we got rid of that last guy. During the Mysore trip, he watched me carry at 50 pound suitcase down a grassy hillside without helping. And on the way back to Bangalore, he left us in the car for 20 minutes with no air conditioning while he sat and had a cup of coffee and a cigarette. He cared more about the car than the kids. And he seemed to have anger management issues.

The new driver is Srinivas and he rocks.  He got me across town in under 45 minutes the other day–unheard of! He knows his way around and is always totally calm. The other day I told him I needed to stop to recharge my phone at one of those roadside stalls. He made a phone call and my phone was CHARGED. As we were driving down the road. And I just paid him the money. The man is connected. His English is fantastic and the kids like him. Of course, I am paying more for a monthly driver than for our four-bedroom villa each month. But honestly, it is worth every penny. We live far enough out that getting cabs and autos is very hard. And you just feel trapped when you have no way of getting anywhere. Between getting the kids to and from school, me to work and the regular grocery runs, we were paying so much in cabs that it was necessary. And the van we have can fit a whole lot more people, which is good when a crowd is here like now.

   Srinivas! Will get a better picture of him for a future blog.

I’m still going to yoga Tuesdays and Thursdays at Helen’s house. Five women from the Ex Pat group (all of whom have kiddos at CIS) join in with a power young teacher named Ashra, who is getting a Ph.D. in yoga here. The moms are from Seattle (but previously Greece), the UK (but previously China), Germany (but previously Switzerland), India (previously Australia and Seattle), and then me.  These are well traveled people! They all have lived here for several years, though, so they provide good advice.  From there, I head to work usually until its time to pick up the kids.  In addition to these days, one day a week I’m trying to do field work, one day I save for errands and then a day of sightseeing if possible!

A few nights ago I had the chance to have drinks and dinner with the Profesional Women’s group–an arm of the 1200 strong Overseas Women’s Club. It was an amazing group of women at a rooftop bar in the center of the city.

What I liked about this group is that they mainly weren’t trailing spouses, but here for their own purposes. So they had a lot more energy and excitement. They had 10 women stand up and talk for 5 minutes about themselves. I met a women who had come on a Fulbright and is now staying on to write novels and work as a writing coach. Another woman is the head of dermatology at a local hospital. Another works for the Shell Oil company but volunteers in slum schools on the weekends. Another woman had just arrived from the Netherlands. Her job is not what she expected  and has been sick since she’s been here. I just wanted to give her a hug.  I left with a new school to visit, several people to see for coffee and perhaps a lead on a good, cheap massage north of town!

Later this month I’m going to a wine tasting night and an ayurvedic cooking class through the OWC. Looking forward to those events! Todd may be able to join me as he is flying here as I write this and will be firmly established by the time the blog posts.  He took 24 hours in England to break up the trip and toured Windsor Castle while he was there! We all leave for Goa (The beach!) on Thursday.

Elephants!

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The next morning was not as tranquil.  Breakfast did not begin at the resort until 7:30, and the elephant camp was an hour away, which in India means an hour and a half. The hotel staff kindly agreed to have breakfast ready for us at 7, and I provided a list of our requests. Getting the kids up there for breakfast was a challenge and we got there at 7:10. No breakfast was ready. I call to make sure the driver is ready for us, as we had discussed in detail the night before. Clearly, I wake him up. Great. Then we didn’t get out of breakfast until 7:45. I still had to get our luggage down the hill and check us out. I see our driver standing on one of the paths. He watched me lug a 50 pound suitcase plus three backpacks and pillows down the hill all by myself. I was not pleased. Then check out took another 10 minutes with a dot matrix printer giving me my final bill. Then the kids had to go to the bathroom. We fall into the car at 8. Go go go! Oh right, we have a driver. He ambles into the car. Sits there a while. Puts on some chapstick. Sits a while longer. Finally I ask what is going on. He points to the condensation on the window and says, “Water fungus. I am waiting for the heater to turn on.” I ask him to wipe it off. He gives me a dirty look. Then he goes on to complain that the driver accommodations were terrible and that he slept in the car. So why did I pay him for accommodations to go elsewhere if he chose? We finally leave by around 8:15. We get about 10  minutes down the road and I can’t find my cell phone. I have the driver call it and it is sitting back at the reception desk. We finally leave for the elephant camp at 8:30—the time when we are supposed to be there.

The whole drive there, I am holding back sobs. We drove all the way out to that Resort, had a super stressful morning, and we weren’t going to get to the camp until 10, which is when the whole elephant deal ENDS on the schedule.

We finally get there, after getting lost twice. Lots of other cars are arriving too. That’s promising. To get to the Elephant Camp, you have to cross the Cauvery River in a boat. Luckily from my research I learn that you don’t have to wait in line for a ticket or anything. As is true with many things in India, just push ahead and grab the first boat that you can. We were heading across the river almost immediately.

As we are heading across, I see the elephants being given a bath. The start on their way back up the hill just as we pull in. We missed it.

So we head to the feeding, which was packed with people jostling to touch the trunks, feed the food, etc. The kids enjoyed getting up close with the animals but also like many things in India, the crush of people was overwhelming. After the feeding was done, I wasn’t sure what to do. We had told the driver to come back in 2 hours and maybe it was all over by 10:15?

    

 

The baby elephant tried to eat Kaden’s hair! The baby could reach up its trunk but not see what it was trying to eat!

Thankfully, I was mistaken. Big sigh of relief that things in India are never the way they seem. They did the ‘bathe the elephants, then feed the elephant routine’ many times to accommodate the crowds. Turns out, we really didn’t need to be there until 10. Our elephant experience ticket guaranteed us some time with the elephants away from the insane crowds. I wish that had been explained! So the kids and I joined just a handful of other India families to bathe the next two rounds of elephants. That was incredibly cool. We didn’t like how the caretakers treated the elephants and often they were in chains. But to pet the elephants and touch their tusks and splash water over the, which they clearly enjoyed, was lots of fun.

 

Splashing water on the elephants. they seemed to LOVE that since they don’t have sweat glands. We were helping them cool down!

     

  

Then the invited us to go back up to the feeding area, which the kids didn’t want to do because of the crush we had experienced. But it turns out that the feeding too was private with just a small amount of people. We missed this experience because, in the paradise of the elephant camp, a certain set of siblings got very angry with one another due to splashing and counter-splashing in the river and we had to take a break to sort it out.

But once we rejoined the experience, a guide explained to us all kind of things.

  
Kaden wasn’t so sure about touching the tusk.
  

Kaden and Carson’s top facts about elephants:

  • Female Asian elephants don’t have tusks, but female African elephants do.
  • Elephants at the camp are fed these big black balls of backed millet and beans. The eat 500 kilos a day.
  • Elephants are pregnant for 12-18 months. The babies nurse for over a year.
  • They live in the wild for 60-80 years and for 80-100 years in captivity.
  • The trunk is like a hand with fingers. The Asian elephants have one finger on their trunk and African ones have two fingers. We got very up close and personal when we fed them some bananas during that crushing experience at the beginning.

Sadly, they weren’t giving elephant rides today, but we did climb up on the huge stand that allows you to board the elephant.

Getting back across the river, the kids wanted to wade instead of take the boat back. For Carson, the rock scrambling may have been the highlight of the day. He and Kaden explored the “rapids, ” as they called them (about shin deep and boy did they worry their dad when they called and said they were frolicking in the rapids!). They found snails and generally took a long time getting across! I was amazed how many people of all ages were wading across, despite the boats going back and forth for a very small fee.

  

pretty lichen/moss in the stream!

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

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Today was a day of memorable moments—some of our funniest moments of the trip and some of our worst.   Friday is Republic Day, kind of like the 4th of July but without the fireworks–just a big parade up in Dehli. A big flower show was happening at the Lalbagh botanical gardens to honor the day. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lal_Bagh

The day begin by convincing the kids to leave the house (a common occurrence in the U.S. too I must say. Transitions are not our forte).After the slow start, it took over an hour to get to the gardens due to intense Saturday morning traffic. My mom was only planning on staying for an hour since she and my dad were meeting a good friend during his layover at the B’Lore airport at lunchtime. The traffic was so bad that she literally just turned back around with the driver and headed back home without seeing any of the gardens.  Probably just as well because it was hot, crowded and a LOT of walking. The paper said 100,000 people attend the flower show this weekend (or 100 Lakh is how they say it here).

So, the kids and I set out on our own. We started with the Japanese gardens, including a very cool exhibit of tiny bonsai trees. The kids had fun guessing the ages of the trees, ranging from 13 years to 50 years! This one was the oldest .

We were also blown away by this peacock made out of flowers and also really liked the sand sculptures that we found.

  

Then we climbed this rock mountain. The rock was 2 BILLION years old!

At the top we bought some much needed water, and headed back down toward the main event—the Republic Day flower display in the glass house/conservatory. This display turned out to be one of the worst moments of the trip. The crowds were unbelievable and the display was interesting, but not worth the crush of people. It was hot and claustrophobic and we were ready to get OUT of there. But nonetheless here are some photos of the pretty flowers during our crush.

  

We snuck our way out an illegal exit, despite the guards saying that we had to make our way all the way back through the exhibit. We just couldn’t do it! And we were so hot and bothered that I took a chance and bought us ice cream from a park vender. It was ice cream from a box (like Good Humor bars at home like chocolate eclairs, etc ) and  I could see that the freezer was plugged into permanent electricity rather than a portable cooler. But still it was a bit risky.  It is hard to see all these food venders everywhere and not feel like we can have 95% of what is offered. But luckily the ice cream turned out to be a safe call.

 

Did you know that bananas grow UP?

At this point my camera battery died, so the rest of the pics of the day were from Kaden’s itouch. Apologies for the quality. The exhibit opened into the broader Lalbagh Park, which is a pretty big place with pleasant footpaths, cool flower displays and big trees—some of which are 200 years old. We saw a flower clock, a topiary garden, a lake

  

AND…. Monkeys! Our first siting of monkeys! There were at least 15 of them in this massive tree that looked like maybe it was a bamboo stand. Lots of babies, a mom, and what looked like a very grumpy dad/alpha monkey that almost started to chase us a few times. We were so happy to finally see monkeys.

   

  

We have heard some crazy stories about monkeys this week. My friend Tey lives on the 9th story of her building. She has a dog and monkeys have come to her balcony but when the see the dog they don’t do much more than pee off the side of the balcony. But one day when she was taking the dog for a walk, she left her kitchen window open just a hair, with the screen on. She came back to find a half-eaten pear on the counter, her balcony composting pots dumped out and some spices scattered on the counter. Monkey hijinks!

Our Bangalore family has also had encounters as well, on the 13th floor. Mamoni saw a huge monkey coming into her kitchen from her balcony. She tried to chase it with a knife but it chased her instead! Finally she chased it to the balcony where it turned on the water hose and made a big mess of things. So, that’s to say, monkeys sure are cute, but WATCH OUT!

While the monkeys were quite a photo opp. for many park goers, apparently we are a photo opp as well. Two separate young couples stopped to ask if they could take our picture. One wanted photos of the kiddos. We were having a grumpy moment at the time and I told him he could have as a caption, “Grumpy American kids wanting ice cream.” Another said his wife wanted a photo with us. I wonder what they said about the photo—we saw some strange looking Americans in the park today and they let us take their picture? And then another woman selling me water said, “Ma’am, you are very beautiful!” And then later, a 9 year old girl came up to us to practice her English. She was so pleased with herself that when she was done talking, she skipped down the lane laughing while her mother chased after her.

We thought that our adventures were done for the day, but apparently they were only beginning. Since mom took the driver with her back to meet up with the friends at the airport. The kids have been wanting to take an Auto-Rickshaw ride and I figured this would be a good time to take one home. It would be a long ride, but the cheapest and easiest way for us to be back toward home. Ha ha. Fatal last words. I really need to learn to speak some Kannada. The first two Autos were not willing to take us so far. The third guy seemed great. He was willing to use his meter, which is the first sign of an honest driver. Almost all refuse when they see me coming and instead try to triple their fees. But he turned on his meter.

I said, “Airport Road! Bellary Road! Go to Esteem Mall! Go North!” (the kids wanted some Baskin and Robbins on the way home).

“Okay, okay!” He said. He nodded that he knew where to go. Perfect.  Carson was so excited he was positively beaming. Here is our picture getting into the Auto

  

As we were driving, nothing looked familiar, but I thought, well maybe we are going a different way through town. 45 minutes later, we are hot. We are dusty. We are tired of being in this vibrating machine that feels like a roller coaster. He pulls over and motions like we are here. I have no idea where we are at all. Turns out he took us to the OLD airport road, which is south of the city. Basically, he took us 45 minutes in the opposite direction from where we needed to go. We were now an hour and a half away from home. I had the kids with me so I had to hold it together. I called my dad and said, “help!” He handed the phone to his driver who could speak Kannada and explained to my Auto driver where we needed to go. But there was NO WAY we could ride in an Auto for another hour and a half. We were done already. Half hour is pushing it in one of those things. So I had the auto driver take us back to the city center and Ran sent the driver down to find us.

Here are photos at the end of the Auto ride. I literally told the kids, “We fell miserable now, but this is one of those times that we’ll look back and tell stories about someday. And we’ll even laugh.

  

It was a tough drive back into the city. Our legs wobbled as we got out of the Auto, kind of like after riding a roller coaster too many times in a row. But luckily at Mom’s recommendation, we followed our Golden Rule for travelling. When having a rough day in India, find the nearest five-star hotel. So we had the driver take us to the Taj on MG Road. Best decision ever.  The place is so service oriented that you feel safe and cared for after harrying experiences. Kaden got a strawberry banana milkshake and fries. Carson got pasta Bolognese. I had the strongest mojito of my life.

And we were happy again. So happy that we got a little giggly and loud. At some point after the mojito, Carson apparently hid behind a potted plant and jumped out to surprise what he described as a “billionaire with a briefcase.” I’m kinda glad I missed that one. He remembers it fondly as his favorite memory of the day.

  

 

The silliness continued all the way back home once the driver found us. And we got that Baskin and Robbins ice cream as a final treat.

So in the end, all’s well that ends well. And with a Mojito, it’s just a little bit better.