Tag Archives: autorickshaw

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!

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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.

We find the expats

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This week I have discovered the ex-pat women’s network in town. Very helpful! The Oversea’s Women’s Committee—OWC has a huge membership of over 1000 women, primarily from the US and the UK but also from Germany, South Africa, Denmark, Sweden, Japan, etc. Most of the women in the group are wives of people who have been transferred to Bangalore for 1-2 year stints. As such, most of these women are here unwillingly to some extent. They are trying to embrace the adventure but they didn’t CHOOSE to come here. Nevertheless they offer a wealth of information on everything from driver recommendations to where to find cheddar cheese and fresh meats to finding a place to stay for a weekend trip. They also offer many social activities, including cooking demos, wine tastings, and excursions.

http://www.owcbangalore.org/index.html

The main event with the OWC is a weekly coffee on Thursdays in Leela Palace south of the city. However, every other Tuesday a coffee is offered on the North End of town, just a 20 rupee auto-rickshaw ride from my NIAS office. So I arrived at the Mövenpick Hotel promptly at 11 and eventually 10 women joined the group.  Five of the women have kiddos at CIS like Kaden and Carson and one was even in Carson’s class.

In the two hours that I was there, I learned about how to take an air conditioned airport bus into the city from Brinda (an India woman who lived in Germany for 50 years before recently returning). I also learned from the CIS ladies about some inside scoops on the school.  I found out a woman named Helen from the UK who has lived here for four years hosts a private power yoga class in her house Tuesday and Thursday  mornings on this side of town (yay!). I also got some leads on drivers and some weekend trips. And I even found out the best grocery stores to buy meat, cheese, yogurt, and other U.S. kid-friendly foods. Total score!

A bigger OWC event is on Thursday at the very fancy Leela Palace south of the city—one of the fanciest hotels in the world. Here are some photos of this fancy place:

 

That’s Tay showing off the gardens.

  

   

A woman named Tay who I met at the Tuesday even offered that I could come to her house and then we could head to Leela with her driver. So my mom and I headed down there Thursday afternoon. Tay is from Greensboro, NC and her husband works for Volvo. She has a beautiful 9th floor apartment in Shantinagar—an old neighborhood in Banglore with large trees and actual sidewalks. She has her dog from home and they take walks around the neighborhood every day. She is helping to coordinate the neighborhood recycling effort, which is totally volunteer and just getting off the ground. Interesting stuff!

We arrived at Leela after a 45 minute crawl through city traffic. It was massive. At least 100 women there. My mom came along and we perused a binder full of information on drivers. We bought a book written by the ex-pat group on all the details you might want to know about the city, including shops, directions to groceries, and so on. I also signed up for an ayurvedic cooking class held next month right near my office. We met two women from Buffalo, one from Austin, one from Boston, one from RI, and a smattering from the UK among others.  It was a great resource, despite some of the disparagaing comments of some of the women, like “Why should my daughter have to know how to spell ‘burkha’ as a spelling word?

 

This is the OWC weekly gathering. What a beautiful outdoor room! And on the right, that’s Kathy from Buffalo. She just moved here with her husband and kids 2 weeks ago. Both of her girls go to CIS as well. We are getting officially registered as OWC members.

Tay was kind enough to drop us off back at Poonam’s—the uniform shop. And it turned out that a post office was right down the block. We made our way down some sketchy sidewalks and into the post office. Mailing a letter in India is complicated. Stamps aren’t used very often because people might cut the stamps off of your letters. So, most people go directly to a post office to send something. I needed to send some receipts for reimbursement to the Fulbright office. I had grabbed an envelope from my office at work but noticed that it had no glue on it. When I arrived at the post office, the main pointed to a counter where he asked me to “paste” the letter. Indeed, there was a small pot of paste on the counter with a stick on it for sealing the letter together!   I have also noticed that we do not have a mailbox at our villa. Bills do not happen through the mail either. In this labor intensive society, someone comes around to collect most bills and you pay in cash. Increasingly, internet payment is an option, but mailing options are still not very common at all.

Lastly, we needed to do some serious shopping so we hopped an auto to the Manti Mall—the largest mall in India. onSix floors of insanity.

http://www.mantrisquare.com/

  

On the right in the above photo, you have the only ice skating rink in Bangalore! It ain’t big, but it’s quite an interesting site!

Fitting the typical plan, the bottom floor is a gourmet/ex-pat friendly grocery store. The top floor is restaurants, a movie  theater and an arcade. In between those floors were everything from furniture stores to sari stores to book stores to electronics stores to Crocs, Reebok, and Office Depot! We were starving so we had a delicious late lunch at the “Great Kabob Factory.” A silly name but delicious chicken kabobs. I loved the four chutney choices—pineapple, mint, tamarind and peanut.

  

And the array of Indian desserts was also fantastic.

We got a few floor lamps and a clock to add to our sparse apartment, a data stick to access internet since we are still not up and running with WiFi, and LOTS of groceries. We were delighted to find fresh chicken breasts, strawberry yogurt, a huge vegetable section, and fresh bread and pastries at the Spar grocery story.

Since we still do not have a dedicated driver (although we are getting close), I called a taxi to bring us home. Mind you we had  a U.S. sized amount of groceries—about 8 bags, plus the two floor lamps, the bag of uniforms, and other assorted purchases. We never did find the taxi (which only come if you call a radio taxi service and it takes at least half an hour). So there we were on the sidewalk with fresh chicken, ice cream, yogurt and floor lamps and no way to get home. We debated an auto but wondered how on earth we could fit all our stuff into one. Well, we did. We were like the circus clowns that keep coming out of the car. Mom and I were squeezed so tight in that auto that the loaf of French bread from Au Bon Pain kept hitting my mom in the head. We giggled all the way back to Yelahanka, where we all had to pitch in to prep both kiddos for very tough spelling tests tomorrow!