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!

Final shopping marathon on Commercial Street and beyond.

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Mom and I set out to finish our shopping in what turned out to be a marathon day. We were out there so long that driving into town I texted good night to Todd. By the time we returned home, he had slept through the night, gotten showered, and had gone into work.

First stop: Safina Plaza for some fabrics and pillow covers.

Second stop: Dispensary Road, to our tried and trusted cranky lady to get some  ultra soft linens with elephants!

Time then for me to hit Commercial Street and stock up on some bangles.

While I am still not a professional bargainer like some of my friends, I did succeed with a new technique. I talked one guy down to his lowest price, then walked across the street and said to the next guy, “That guy will give me xxx rupees, what will you give?  (but I really said less than what the first said).” Was the most effortless bargaining of the day.

         

After a brief respite at KFC in the air conditioning and stop in Fab India, we discovered this lovely gem of a store called Kasmir House. Actually it is three shops–two brothers and a son. Each shop is more like a closet. But great prices and amazing treasures. We were bad. Very bad in this store. So many things to buy.

Then down the road to my favorite fixed price man. His prices are so reasonable and he is so cute. And he puts bubble wrap on everything. And I mean everything.

He even sent us down the alleyway to find even more bubble wrap to bring home for packing up!  That was a lot of bubble wrap mom was viewing!

On the way home, we stopped at Bamburi’s to get the best beef in town and some darned good looking eggs. Plus Swensen’s for ice cream, Reliance for veggies, and then to a tailors. For $4, I got three shirts altered.

Two days later, Kaden and I had our own final celebration–getting a little India bling on our toes!

And on a commercial note, I finally figured out why my cell phone plays this Kannada song. For four months, it has been playing the same song. I have no idea what song because I never call myself. But at this point my mom can sing it by heart even though none of us know what it says. Turns out the messages I have been getting for my HT service weren’t related to texting as I thought. Instead it was the monthly renewal of my Happy Tunes service! Rs 30 a month!

And on a second random note on commercialization in India, I am completely amused by the Disney channel in India. They have turned all of the popular Disney Tween shows into Hindi shows here in India. The other night Kaden was watching “Best of Luck, Nikki” in Hindi with no subtitles, and she was able not only to tell me exactly what had happened so far, but started eerily predicting what would happen next on the screen. Turns out the show is an exact knockoff of the show “Good Luck, Charlie.” Kaden knows the show so well that she was able to share with me that the exact storyline was repeated on this Indian show. So exact that Kaden would say things like, “Now a girl is going to come around the  corner. Next a stuffed dinosaur will fall out of the air.” It’s not the only show that has been adapted to a Hindi format. “Suite Life with Zack and Cody” is “Suite Life of Karan and Kabir.”  Of course, the sociologist in me is fascinated to learn what they changed on these shows. With the attempt to make such a parallel formula–what was perceived as not funny or not appropriate for Indian audiences?

Lunch under a mango tree

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We got out of the hundred degree heat to head to the most famous restaurant in Hampi–The Mango Tree. It is the only restaurant in India that I have visited where my driver, the kids and I could all sit down and order exactly what we wanted at prices that we could all afford and with the peace of mind that the food was safe to eat.

You find the restaurant by walking through a banana plantation. On the way, the tour guide pointed out these little miniature ferns that would close up when you touched them (much like sea anenomes). They made Carson very happy. Below, right, the restaurant is located in the backyard of a family’s house.

    

The setting was to die for. Lovely lounge like seats under a shady mango tree.

I had a traditional thali veg lunch, hummus and veggies, and then I ended my meal with rice pudding garnished with fresh coconut. And I mean fresh!  The kids ordered french toast, fried rice, french fries, and watermelon slices. They loved the food!  Carson had a nutella crepe for dessert.

  

We gazed at this view as we ate. Or rather I did. The kids gobbled down their food and then happily scampered about the complex under the shady trees until I was ready to go.

After spending over an hour soaking up the ambiance of the Mango Tree restaurant, we had a renewed spirit and energy to see the ruins of Hampi. Our afternoon was much more cheerful than the morning!  To drive to our next destination, we headed past active archeological sites and recently excavated ruins. In the bottom left picture, they plan to excavate the banana fields all the way to the mountain in the distance.

  

Perhaps our favorite stop of the day was the Lakshmi Narasimha temple. There was so much to see, it was hard to focus on any one thing. The statue itself is the largest in Hampi and carved from one piece of granite. The tourguide enthusiastically started telling me the story of this god–half lion, half man–the fourth incarnation of Vishnu.  The story, as told on the official Hampi website. It is such a good story that it is worth repeating:

“Vishnu kills the demon Hiranyaksha during his Varaha avatar. Hiranyaksha’s brother Hiranyakashipu wants to take revenge by destroying Lord Vishnu and his followers. He performs penance to please Brahma, the god of creation. Impressed by this act, Brahma offers him any thing he wants.

Hiranyakashipu asks for a tricky boon. That he would not die either on earth or in space; nor in fire nor in water; neither during day nor at night; neither inside nor outside (of a home); nor by a human, animal or God; neither by inanimate nor by animate being.

Brahma grants the boon. With virtually no fear of death he unleashes terror. Declares himself as god and asks people to utter no god’s name except his. However his son Prahlada (who a devoted worshiper of Lord Vishnu!) refuses. Repeated pressurization on him yields no results for Hiranyakashipu. Prahlada declares the omnipresence of Lord Vishnu.

Narasimha (being a man-lion god form) kills Hiranyakashipu. He comes out to kill at the twilightt (neither day nor night);on the doorsteps of his palace (neither inside nor outside); uses his nails to kill (neither animate nor inanimate); puts him on his lap before killing (neither earth nor in space). Thus making power of the boon ineffective.”

As the tour guide was telling me the story, Carson starts reciting the story with him. He knew the story by heart. So did Kaden. Turns out it is the basis for the Holi holiday.

As fascinating as the statue and the story was, there were just so many other things to see at this site. Long tailed monkeys–a pack of mothers with little babies. The kids LOVED watching these monkeys and Kaden took some great shots of the mommas and babies.  

    

Below, right, one baby monkey kept trying to nurse from it’s mother, and you could tell the mother was just DONE. They were high up on the top of a ledge and she kept pushing the baby away. I was worried the little one would fall but he held on tight!

    

Also located on the same site was a very large example of a Shiva linga. The statue symbolized male and female components and is a place to come to pray for fertility.  The kids were equal parts fascinated and a bit grossed out by this statue.

     

The site was also teeming with local  people as it is an active site for religious worship.  And the kids were playing in the water, and the ladies were cooling off from the heat. And the goats were wandering by. India.

Another site that we almost skipped, and I’m glad we didn’t was the Queen’s Bath  (below). More like a spa retreat, the Queen would come to this structure to have a soak, sun bathe, get her hair and nails done, and more. Below, right, Carson clammored down to where the swimming pool used ot be.

  

The last large complex that we visited included the Lotus Mahal structure–part of a ladies only complex where the women would stay when the men were away. They kept the place cool by pumping water up to the second floor (what Indians call the first floor) and then streaming water over the sides of the structure to create natural air conditioning. 

   

Above, right, watch towers where Eunichs protected the ladies. Below, the gallant elephant stables!

Above, Carson and I pretend to be elephants.

  

We decided to cool off with a fresh coconut near the elephant stables. The electrolytes from the coconut really bolstered our energy! And heck, I paid Rs. 15 for this coconut. I hear Gwenyth Paltrow pays $20 for the same drink back in NYC!

Above is a modern temple near Hampi. The kids really loved the collection of gods and goddesses displayed. We had a long conversation about this temple with our tour guide. Even Srinivas our driver joined in the conversation helping us to identify the characters portrayed.

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!”