Sunday, July 26, 2009

Getaway day and the looooong trip home

Getaway day started with one last futile attempt to get the elusive student Visa, but it was bagged early as the embassy said "no way" to a letter which maybe would help with the Indian gov't process. So... since we had Kuldeep to drive us around, by 9:30 we were on to shopping! The tourist trap places on Janpath don't start opening until 10 or 10:30, so we went to Connaught place for a special family member gift, following that it was to Dilli Hat the craft market, where we met many hungry vendors but prices were touristy a little high. Julie found a neat leather wallet and I a pretty yellow embroidered tablecloth for Marian and a periwinkle Dhurry for Ruth. 2400 to 1800 to 1500 but he wouldn't go below that...I offered 1200 then walked off, knowing it's on the way out if nothing else ... we stopped for cool drinks and Kuldeep told me the guy offered him a 10% cut at 1500, so 1200-1300 should be doable. On the way out I glanced over and kept going, he was pretty animated SIR, SIR! I give a look and throw up my hands in exasperation... 1200? or what! He won't come below 1300 so that's where we settle.

We head over to Lajpat Nagar market for lunch at Sai Sarovar (strictly veg)... which was great and about $6 for the three of us... including butterscotch ice cream all around! I pick up another pair of camel sandals and a piece of luggage for the stuff Julie is going to leave in storage, then it's time for a nap and finish packing, settle the hotel bill, a final cold shower and change before Kuldeep is picking us up at 7:00. Our flight is 12:15 just past midnight, allow 3 hours so we're to Haus Kauz Village and Naivedyam South Indian for dinner. Kuldeep joins us we have a really fine meal and pick up 10 packs of bidi's (local smokes, a piece of tobacco rolled up and tied with a string) before 30 last minutes in Delhi traffic to the airport.

An hour and a half get's us through check in and security with an hour til boarding it's diet coke and brownie for Julie and Clausthaler for me then we are on in the economy section only 14 hours to Chicago! Eat, read, sleep, blog, sleep, eat, walk around, sleep, eat, and we're in early at 4:30am! But, customs doesn't start work until 5:00am, so we can't deplane for a while... wait... then we are off with a couple hours til our 7:20 to St Louis. We marvel at the clean bathrooms and WATER FOUNTAINS! and... lots of large people in line at mcdonalds... we haven't seen many overweight people in India. Short jump to St Louis we just have time for breakfast there before we are on the last leg home, and in early at 12:20! Just about 24 hours total... there's Marian and Grace at bag claim and we are home! Wow what a nice place, we really have a fantastic life! I'm down for a nap and Julie is getting her VISA pics and fedexing things off, oh, she has to set up her return air itinerary first so following that the paperwork is in the fedex to Houston and in 8 business days she will have her student visa! I'm planning to go in to work 4 hours tomorrow so I'm abed early and get another 11 hrs sleep.. though still in a funk all day Friday. Plan for the weekend sleep, rest, and that's what happens, Sunday my birthday uneventful except me and M make a trip over to Baldwin park and walk around the little connector lake with the birds in the center and sit for a while... the cypress trees are green again and the lake is full of activity... back for another nap and birthday dinner coming up, then back to work tomorrow. Thanks all for your comments it wasn't easy to make time for the blog some days but knowing people were at the other end meant a lot and made it easier to stick to it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Khurampur village




We're getting nowhere with the VISA thing Julie has decided bag it, buy a ticket back and take care of it in the USA... too much hassle. Our last options dwindle to a spark of hope, and when the guy says first go to the US Embassy and tell them to write a letter stating such and so... we're pretty sure we're sunk. We go to the embassy and they have just closed American Citizen Services for the day, yup, 9-1 is all they are working for us... wonder what our tax dollars are doing the rest of the day... we go back the next morning to be told, nope, we don't do letters, no way, no how. That's it, we're going home together tomorrow night. So now, let's visit Kuldeeps village and tomorrow we'll pack and shop a little if time permits.

I summarize my conversation with the guy on the train and as Kuldeeps face darkens, am quick to say, my feeling is that you are a trustworthy person and I don't think you woud kidnap us or anything, would you? No, no, why do something like that, for what, for money? No, not worth money chance of trouble, worry about get caught, not right to do... you have nothing to worry about, I am not that kind of person. And he calls his wife Radkhi to let her know we're coming for dinner and should we pick up some things on the way.

It takes an hour and a half to get out to Kharumpar village, it's northeast of town out past Gaziabad, and traffic is plugged, cycles get by on the side of the road, by going around, through the shop lots, whatever.. until it is all stopped it is so narrow, 4 "lanes" divided highway, Kuldeep goes onto the other side of the road, 2 lanes of traffic coming at us, trucks, buses, many cars going fast, you cannot believe this, he's driving down the wrong side of the road at speed to get around the jam, hand on the horn, miraculously, buses, trucks, cars, all swerve at the last second around him and keep going... this is too good to be true, and sure enough, there's a Johnny (polic officer) standing on the side of the road with a big bamboo stick (that's how they keep order her, and it works pretty good)... he points the stick at us and motions "ok you've had your fun, now turn around and go back where you started from"... which isn't easy either as about 15 other cars have followed us and are jammed behind us in that lane, and the regular traffic is all crammed into the other lane and shoulder... finally we get turned around and get back to the press again. Eventually we pull off onto a side lane, which is a "short cut to my village" and it's a bumpy mostly paved farm lane road, with the usual pedestrians, cycles, bicycles, cows, dogs, and a few cars sharing. Soon we're surrounded by green fields of rice, millet, and sugar cane, people are out working their plots or diverting water from the canal to them, no monsoon rains yet, just a little bit, and the crops are suffering, yield will be small and the rice grains will be smaller too, Kuldeep says. In a few minutes we are far from the road and crowds and people, animals, and green space is on all sides. Kuldeep pulls over at a vegetable stall at the crossing before the village entry, and Julie goes with him to pick up some 3 or 4bags of things. That's how they do it here, buy fresh just about each day. I stay in the car, I'm tired, sleepy from the heat and hassle of the train station and rushing around town, and watch some boys play a game where one tosses a piece of brick, then the next one, from where he's standing, throws a piece of brick at it. If he misses, the next one tosses a piece at his brick and so on, until someone hits the others brick, then they start over.

The village has a 7 or 8 ft wide concrete lane winding through, with open concrete drains of appx 6" on either side. Most homes have at least one cow or goat, for milk, very important for the kids nutrition. There are dogs, kids, and people visible everywhere. We pull up to Kuldeeps family home, which has a car-port type of space entry, where his father Beetam is resting on a cloth woven pallet. He comes to greet us and offers me his pallet, sit is the sign language. He's dressed in a dhoti, cotton cloth wrapped around his middle and upper legs, nothing more, it's hot at 3:30. For the next few minutes we are being introduced to the family members, some of whom speak english, and walked through parts of the home to a stairway upstairs, where we are offered cool bottled water (they get theirs from a pump and we can't drink it) and try to converse. It's awkward after the 2 college age english speaking girls (Rajni and Jyoti) and one boy (awaiting admission test results) exchange with Julie about their courses and what will she do, where stay, etc. I pull out my picture book and offer it to the closest person, narrating pic by pic as they flip through. It takes a few times through for everyone to see them, and by the 3rd time Kuldeeps neice Rajni is narrating in very good english. She's a smart one, just completed her MS in IT from Delhi U 2 days ago she has just come back to the village. She is searching for a job but its very tough for a "fresher" right now people are taking minimum 10% pay cuts to keep their jobs and new hires are getting 50% of the regular rate, with so many experienced people available at 50% a fresher has not much chance. minimum 300-600 applicants per position it is very competitive.

We're sitting in the 2nd fl bedroom where Kuldeeps family sleeps, there's a small room off to the side with a window overlooking the village, and a toilet room, backing to the street. There are 3 pallet style beds in the room, and also a sofa, a ceiling fan, and a bookcase with family pictures and a few religious statues and paintings on them. Outside the room is a maybe 15' square terrace, where dinner will be eaten and the family will hang out as the day cools and a breeze comes up. It's airy and neat and the windows are full open, no screens. Radkhi makes a few trips up the stairs with plates for me and Julie, and platters with Pekora (fresh veggies fried in a light spicy chick-pea flour) and Parantha, round tasty bread, hot and tasty, couldn't be fresher, delicious. We are encouraged to eat and eat, the high piled platter gradually flattens, and we get a little help, though most everyone else has had lunch a short time ago (they eat lunch about 2, dinner about 8). We thank Radkhi and Kuldeep asks if we want to walk around the village and see what its like. Sure!


We are a great curiousity, as we have read, people around here do not see many white people up close, and the kids especially are intrigued. It takes a few minutes to get out of the driveway kuldeeps daughter Radhka shows us her bicycle with training wheels, and accidently rides over julies foot, bloodying her toe, and I have to get photos of the other kids on the tractor, and the kids next door, and their goats, within minutes we have an entourage of 15 or 20 following. Almost everyone in the village is out tending to the cows, goats, or some chore, most everyone is cheerful and smiles at us and returns our awkward greetings (almost no one knows english, but the little kids, some of whom are proud to step forward and say HELLO, or HI my name is).. and we are shaking hands and greeting everyone with a nod, a wink, a smile, as we walk. Some of the children are too shy or afraid to come close, they keep a careful distance. Once in a while we act like we're going to reach out and grab their hand, and they run away, giggling, with all the other kids and grownups around laughing and encouraging them to take the plunge.


We come to a crowd of men, a few dhoti clad elders mixed in, sitting on pallets and woven cane chairs around a water pipe with a 6 foot stem. One of the elders speaks a little english and he asks me a few questions, they nod appreciatively to hear I work at a community planning firm, but I don't think even the one or two that spoke english understands what we do. He asks Julie a few questions, and offers us water, which we explain we can't drink, or tea, which it's way to hot for. Milk? Somewhere they got the idea Julie nodded, and a fellow runs off, a few minutes later we are each handed a large metal tumbler, filled to the top with steaming warm milk, yellow stuff floating on the top and all... Ohhhh, thanks!30-40 people looking on proudly...... I do my best, and get to the bottom OK. Thankfully a bunch of sugar had been added.... Julie took a little longer... but she got almost to the bottom of the cup. Her bloody toe is covered with flies by now, they are all over the place. I pass around my photo album and everyone likes it... you very lucky man, very happy family, very happy life... oh believe me, brother, I know it, I am so lucky!

Kuldeep takes a seat on the pallet and takes a long draw on the water pipe, coughs, exhales, takes another, and I am motioned to partake. You put your hand over the end so not to touch with your mouth and it takes some suction to get the thing gurgling and get a lungful, but I have two successful puffs thanks to bike commuter lungs and do not embarrass myself by coughing or tearing up. Julie declines. I ask if it's OK to get a photo and 3 or 4 tries later we think we have everyone captured and we promise yes we will get a print to Kuldeep, a big one, and we say our goodbyes. Winding through the street, see a proud family in the yard where a new cow has been born, in the last hour, Kuldeep says, yes OK to take a picture, and we wave congratulations to the husband and wife watching over the newborn. We stop to snap a few pics of the monkeys, cute little baby, then come to another group of village elders. I am introduced to the chairman of the village, who speaks a little english. I'm offered a seat, and Julie is being encouraged to go with the kids, they want to take her home and show her to their parents. After a couple awkward minutes because no one speaks much english... I ask if it's OK to snap a photo, of course, please send a print to Kuldeep they say in Hindi.

Coming to the end of the village I look back Julie has wall to wall kids she's trying to coax a shy one to shake hands, we head out of town, where there is a noisy crowd of boys, 10s to teens, moving and jumping around "snake!" they are shouting and motioning for us to go over, I lead the way with my camera at the ready.... right up on the the mound of dry(thankfully) cow dung they are standing on, and try to keep my balance on the sidehill while my sandal is getting full of dry manure, the other one is sliding, and I'm trying to find the green cobra slinking through the tall green grass... I get a pic and get out of there, stopping to shake out both my sandals. We get to the end of pavement and are in the fields, the sun is going down so people are returning to work, a young girl in a bright orange and yellow sari, maybe 15, takes her basket nearby and starts cutting weeds from among the millet plants with her small hand scythe. She'll carry it home to feed to her goat of cow. Most family's have a plot they work, the ones that don't barter or buy from the ones that have a surplus. Kuldeeps family no longer has a plot, they used to. He points to a village in the distance, that's where I was born and lived til age five, then we moved to this village, I learned to swim in that canal, see that yellow 2 story building that's the school, my mom was a mathmatics teacher there... the sun is setting, and we head back, catch up to Julie and the kids are trickling away now as dusk approaches it's time to be home, with family, before dark.

Back at Kuldeeps we enter the courtyard and are offered a couple plastic chairs, a fan and battery are moved near, the clips attached, and the fan blows directly on me and Julie. The college girls mother Grita is introduced, and their aunt, then Kuldeeps grandmother Gwati comes out from her quarters across the courtyard away from the street. She's 90, slim, alert, in a pink and brown sari, rings on her toes, bracelets, smiling. She says she has a little arthitis in her fingers and toes, and flexes them for us... smiling. Looking pretty good for 90. She asks about us, what do we think of India, what do we like most... what is Julie doing, community service very good, the grandneices tell us she used to teach mostly underprivileged kids and especially women. We're called to dinner upstairs by Radkhi and say goodbye. Each part of the family has their separate rooms, with space between them and the next group. Each has privacy, but also share the common space, well, & kitchen.

We are back upstairs on the terrace at sunset, Radhki is sweating, making numerous trips up the stairs carrying everything to set up for dinner, I carry up a couple handfuls on my trip, and others help out. We are seated, the fan and battery are brought up and put to blow on us, and we eat again! Dal, mixed vegetables, rice from the field, excellent roti or parantha, pickle, and for desert fresh ripe papaya, which is much sweeter than what we get. There are 4 or 5 varieties here, some are better for pickle others to eat. Dinner is great, the kids at the pallet nearby come back for more rice, more papaya, they are 3 sharing off one plate, getting along so nicely, even when down to the last piece of papaya the 10 yrs old daughter carefully cuts it with a spoon so all 3 get an equal part. I thank Radhki for the wonderful 2 meals... and comment about how hard she works. She smiles and nods as it's translated to her. "India wife" says Jyoti, they take great pride in how hard they work. She tells how her sister Jyoti loves fresh butter and Grita mother makes it for her every morning and she eats it all! Every morning? asks Julie, yes, she says, it ONLY takes about 20 minutes work to whip it up from the curd. Wow, they really do work hard.

Soon enough darkness is falling, the dishes are cleared, and we are looking over the terrace wall to see many other families going up on the roof to enjoy the cooling of the day. There are a number of pallets on rooftops as well... yes, many people sleep outside on their roofs because it's cooler, he says. We say our goodbyes and exchange email addresses and promise to keep in touch and we are back in the dark on the road. It takes nearly 2 hours to get back the traffic jam is terrible... an interesting thing we see at the toll booth where there is no lane it's 8 lanes of jam going past the 2 booths and if you don't drive by the booth you, or someone in your car or cycle has to get off and go to the booth to pay and get the receipt... seems like with these thousands of cars there's no way they could tell who did or didn't pay, right? In a few minutes, here come a gang of about 5 guys, carrying big sticks.... going car to car to check receipts! They come right to Kuldeeps window and he puts up his receipt... the guy says no roll down the window give it to me Kuldeep says no, I paid, here's the receipt, and he shifts into gear and moves with the crush again... yes, that's how they make sure people pay, he says, 10 rupees, or stick, he laughs.... I think the 10 rupees is OK for that! We're back to the room by midnight, and we're packing, tomorrow is getaway day!

Night train back from Bodhgaya

Leaving Bodhgaya on the back of our Honda Hero 125 (Sanjeev driving and Ishu in the middle) I had another one of those moments... it's pitch black, we stop for gas, all of a sudden Sanjeev takes off and runs across the road.

Ishu starts up the bike and is beeping the horn we need to go, it's 17 kms, a long way to go on an overloaded 125cc motorbike in the black Bihar night, on the potholed roads with the trucks, speeding cars, other cycles, auto rickshaw's (they are bigger here), and the occasional pedestrian, cycle rickshaw without lights, or dog. We dodge and weave and bump for 30 minutes and enter Gaya.

Traffic crawls the last 2 kms, it takes 15 minutes or so... dust thick enough you feel it in your eyes and every breath, we are stuck behind some trucks and a jam up, 2 trucks can't fit on the town road at the same time, and there are a bunch of them going both ways. While they move over as close as possible to the shops, stalls, open air eateries, and buildings at a snail pace, cycles and cars are trying to slip by at every opportunity.

I am questioning myself why didn't I just get an autorickshaw? It would be as dusty and noisy, but much less dangerous! We inch along, a hair behind a big truck, vying to pass on whichever side opens up with a pack of cycles and autorickshaws, even though it's 9:30 on a Monday night it is crowded everywhere you look. My eyes are feeling the grit, I look at the open air food stalls and shops on the side of the
road you can see the dust in a thick layer on everything, I cannot believe people eat the food being prepared right there, but that's life at normal here. We finally blessedly are turning off and into the train station, whew!

Negotiating the "road" in, there's no pavement, just potholed, bumpy dirt with gravel and rocks, it's just as dusty as the road.

We say our goodbyes at the station entry and it is packed, people laying everywhere, I'm looking for a signboard and find an e-board, all in hindi, but my train number and time are there, and there are the dot-matrix printouts of passengers tacked up on the wall, in english. I don't find my train number, and while my ticket says confirmed, they always tell you that doesn't mean anything until you confirm it at the station. My ticket says a car but not a berth number. There's no listing for my train but a little Tourist help office is open, and the man in there takes my ticket and confirms I have a berth, my car isn't A1 but H1, and I am berth F. Great! Now 40 minutes til train time I walk around the whole station it takes about 5 minutes, there are 2 snack bars, each with a choice of tea biscuit cookies, bottled water, soda, or the chip type things they eat there, a book store with all Hindi books
except one or two Business type english books and some trash novels, and that's about it. People are laying around on the floor everywhere, there's no place to sit and as usual it is too dirty to sit on the ground. I follow the signs upstairs to the "1st class" waiting room, across from the retiring rooms with beds for a small fee, and quickly decide the dirty crowded platform is a better choice, at least there's a chance of a breeze. Back downstairs I walk the building again, buy a pack of biscuits and a bottle of water, and walk way to the end where I find a place to sit. A train pulls in, the announcement is in hindi, the e-board doesn't show the number, and it says Howrah Express on it. Not mine, I'm on the calcutta-Delhi express I think... people start getting on, it's a long one, and the clock says 10:22... my train is due at 10:19, I better check. No english speakers around someone
looks at my ticket and points at a railroad worker. Yes this is the train, your car is all the way at the other end, hurry, run!, and he takes off at a sprint leading the way. I follow, with my loaded backpack and rueing the 2 full bottles of water it's only a minute I'm pouring sweat, and as we pass about 13 cars by my count
get to of course the last car before the engine, where the conductor is standing with his list shaking his head and waiting impatiently. "Is this" I start to ask, Berth F upper, he says, without looking at my ticket, and he checks off his paper and walks off with a sideways shaking of his head. I am winded, hot, sweaty, dusty, tired, with a heavy pack on my back, and as I enter the berth, everything gets nice.

There are red fabric seat/beds, ac, it's spacious and clean. Several stewards show up, one brings a fresh bottle of cold water!, the other has clean sheets and a wool blanket, which he spreads out on my berth. Then they are gone and I am meeting the one other person in there, who owns a textile company (nationwide), lives in Gaya, and is heading to Delhi to meet up with his wife who is with her parents, before flying off to Goa (THE seaside resort town of India)for holiday, and then traveling on for 2 more weeks of business. We chat a while I show him my pics he shows me his
laptop full and starts with the wedding pics. He does things in a big way, has a 40,000 square foot home, had plannned to fly 300 people to Bangkok for his wedding but 11/26 (terror attack on Mumbai) happened just days before so they had to completely replan the wedding for Delhi which they did in 2 days and everything went off splendidly. I MUST go to Goa, I MUST go to this restaurant, it's the best in all of India (it's where Hillary Clinton ate that, or the next day) everything is 5 star this, best in India that. Well I'm really more comfortable in 3 star places and I've had great food everywhere in India, for as little as 12 cents a plate, so ... ah, never mind. Yeah, well, maybe so, but I only have 2 days left and I think I'll just relax, visit Kuldeeps village. "Village, vILLAGE!, why would you want to visit a village?" We've been invited to. "Who invited you?" Our driver, Kuldeep! "DRIVER?!
DRIVER?! You must be very careful, trust me on this my friend, I know what I am talking about, you must NEVER trust ANY taxi driver in Delhi, they are not to be trusted with anything. You must not go to any village with driver, it could be very dangerous for you and your daughter, trust me, I'm telling you, I know this for a fact"... OK, well, we've been hanging out with him for like 3 weeks, and he seems to have been very honest in his dealings with us, he's helping my daughter learn hindi, and he has helped us negotiate a good many things we've required with all the
Visa hassles. I'd be very careful, my friend, trust me on this, I know what I am talking about... OK well, thanks and goodnight. (Later Julie tells me one of her new friends told her "WE don't mix with people like drivers to much", so that partly explains it... the caste/class thing), but still, now I have doubts again....

The bed is great! It's big and wide and pretty soft, I can stretch out, I doze off by midnight, to be awakened by the berth door slamming open and the light coming on an hour later. 2 more men drag their bags in and the other berths are prepared noisily in bright light, I stay under my pillow and don't even look, eventually the light goes off and I'm back to a fairly restful sleep. Awakened about 6 the door slams open Times of India is handed to me and I'm offered Juice. Breakfast is grand, cornflakes with hot milk? veg patties and fries, toast and orange marmalade, a ripe mango, and 2 tea bags and a hot pot of water, served on china, real silverware. The 2men aren't up yet so I take breakfast on the upper and avoid conversation with my downstairs neighbor, who sleeps late too, when he get's up we nod a good morning and that's good enough.

We crawl into Delhi the last 1/2 hour takes forever we go so slow
through the sprawling city. Julie and Kuldeep are picking my up at the station at 10:00, and we are in at 9:55, precisely on schedule. I follow the crowd up and across the concourse to the terminal building, but, it doesn't look familiar! Did I get off the wrong place? No, the train terminates here, this must be it. Down to the terminal which is not what I remember from buying my ticket. I got outside and no Kuldeep and Julie... hot beating sun, crowds, about 30 touts and taxi drivers persist, no, no, no, no... no where to sit down outside and no shade is uncrowded. I find a tiny piece of signpost shade and squint to read my phone text in the blazing sun. "We are here in front but don't see you" reads the text from Julie... it takes a few minutes of back and forth Kuldeep says I must be on the Paharganj side? Oh, the station has 2 terminal buildings, one on each side? That must be it... wow... what a place, this side is just as crowded as the other. 10 minutes later I've walked all the way back up the stairs and across the whole station, down again, and out to the street and find them. What a trip!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bodhgaya sights



A fitful sleep, I wake at 8:00, late. Room service omlet, toast, and coffee (they don't do coffee very well here), and I head across the street to the Japanese Temple... but, "Hello Sir!" I hear from the shop a couple doors down it's Ishu, he leads me over to where Sanjeev is milking a cow in front of the shop. I say later I'll go around and go to the Temple, it's a great quiet peaceful place, awesome, plenty of pilgrims coming and going, and there's also a school next door with about 100 kids, ages 3-5, all in uniforms, the boys red the girls blue, they are all smiling and happy and could be a kindergarten anywhere. I snap a few photos and head around to the other side of the complex, where there is a free medical clinic, a line of maybe 100 people threads along the several building front sidewalks. As I'm coming out of the gates, there are my buddies, and they insist on guiding me today. Again I'm skeptical, what are these guys after?

We walk a long block in steamy hot to a small, simple, serene Butt Shinji Temple, featuring a wood Buddha carved by Masahiro Maeda, born 1973, his caption "I'll pray you, Sakyamuni, to lead all the people to live cheerfully, honestly, and peacefully. I pray with all my heart. Can this really be what all the people here are thinking?

Next is the large Buddha statue, 80 feet or so tall, in a nice park, surrounded by statues of disciples. The walls have the broken glass stuck in the top of them to keep people out, must work!

We pass the Daijokyo Vocational training school, sponsored by a Japanese charity, where young people learn to type, make cloth, or cook if there's no university in the future, and that means 95% of the locals.

On the same street is the Daisokyho Buddhist temple, high tall flight of stairs in front, 4 old beggar women and a crippled young man dragging a leg with his hand greet you on your way in and out.

Next door is the Tibet temple, built by the Bhutanese but named for Tibet as a tribute to the many Tibetans in exile living in India. It is an exquisite work of art you have to see and ponder a long time to absorb, colorful art inside and out.

Now Sanjeev rejoins us and says let's take the bike (cycle) for a few places out of town... OK...I'm thinking about all the dacoit (robbery/banditry) in Bihar I read in the guidebook, but what the heck, these kids seem honest. The 3 of us pile onto the Honda Hero 125 and head down the craziness that is a rural india road... past working farms of rice patties, goats and cows milling all around, people working everywhere, doing everything by hand, and into a complex with a huge golden buddha statue under a metal barn type structure, it's maybe 30 feet high, and not finished yet, in the middle of a field down a peaceful path with trees and flowers along the way. A goatherd passes by outside the fence with about 20 goats, and he shouts something to the 3 girl/women hand weeding the field, they laugh and shout back happily. Everyone is happy here, if they're not begging or hawking...

Sanjeev says "now to the Sujata Temple!" one of the oldest, most important temples... we are going through back road villages, and I am getting scared... the "street" is maybe 6 feet wide, houses both sides, no electricity don't even think about running water, dirty clothes on everyone, kids with no pants, I see my first hermaphrodite kids... then we cross a river and we are going out in middle of nowhere, looks like a good place for a robbery! I'm thinking... but the kids are good as gold, we pull up to an old, decrepit site, with unkempt buildings, about a dozen beggar old women and kids at the gate... we push past and see the shrine, at the site Buddha sat for 6 years and did not eat. There are many buildings here and I go to take a picture, no pictures! Shouts an old man, there are about 30 of them under a pavillion, making designs on floor, sweeping, meditating. A string of them is heading down to the river with dishes in hand to wash them. We are not feeling welcome here now they are saying give money, give a donation! Ishu says you do not have to give them anything, pay no mind... and we are out of there. Now it the last village was scary... the next one I am sure I am not coming out... Sanjeev makes a bad turn and we are now on a dirt "street"... although there are no vehicles and the dwellings are about 6 feet apart on each side, a drain between each building has to be negotiated by the 125 cycle with the 3 of us on it, we get stuck once, stall once, and it is looking like a dead end! Luckily there was one more turn off and we see pavement again. One more stop, where Buddha stopped before crossing the river to Bodhgaya... the river is shallow enough people are walking across it and you can see the Mahabhodi temple over there, so thanks Sanjeev, I'm walking back!

Ishu walks with me and we talk, on the Bodhgaya side is a palace a king used to live in, now it's fallen into much disrepair but still has a beautiful shrine with a lion head resting bed in the center, where the king used to hang out maybe. Only the caretakers live here now, and they are again making us feel unwelcome and asking for donations so we are out of there and back up the hill to the Mahabodi temple. A good hour milling around the grounds and sitting peacefully on the marble floor under the Bodi tree and I'm done sightseeing for now, Ishu gets on the phone and Sanjeev drops me at an internet cafe, after a quick stop at the shop for cold club soda and to meet his dad (I didn't get his name it's in Hindi and he spoke no english at all)... Sanjeev asked what time is my train and do I want a ride on his cycle and I say yes sure, I would pay an autorickshaw 100 rupees I'll give him the same! He likes that.

No luck uploading pictures but I will try again later. Tonight 10:22 my train is due in Gaya to Delhi overnight again, but 1st Class AC this time, my first... it cost 1300 rupees to come out 2nd AC, 2600 first class! The ticket seller said the food will be excellent, it's included in the price. Now it's 2:45 hot as blazes black monsoon clouds building maybe a cool breeze will come with the rain that hopefully will fall soon, then lunch, a cold shower and fresh clothes and back out for the last few hours. I love this place... all that worry for nothing, the people are just as they are supposed to be by Buddha's teaching, peaceful, honest, helpful, and totally trustworthy... though I'm still skeptical, its starting to sink in.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Friendly Bodhgaya





After a "room service" meal of clear veg soup, aloo, roti, rice, and cold coffee I'm off to explore Bodhgaya on foot. I make friends quickly, everyone want to know where you are from, will you help me learn english, help me get the money for school, etc. The touts and hawkers are thick and just as aggressive as Delhi, but, and this takes some getting used to, some of the people are genuinely friendly and honest as possible, due to the heavy Buddhist influence.

Most of the schools in the area are run by foreign help groups or through the monastery's, so all the kids are getting some education up to level 10 or 11, then choices slim to vocational school to learn to type, weave cloth, or cook, and the dream of many is somehow to get to university for studies, but money is a huge obstacle their families are living month to month just enough for food and rent. 3 young boys from the orphan school hung around with me for a while and at the end asked me to buy them a book... i'm thinking this is a scam of some sort but go to the bookstore and a Merriam-Webster English-Hindi dictionary is the prize possession they want, 950 rupees. I buy it, just like I would for a Fern Creek mentee, then ask the trio "you're not going to take it back for money are you?" Oh no... no sir, this is what we need to learn english, this is very important to us, and you can tell they are sincere. The three will share it and take it to school tomorrow. My other unofficial guide Ganesh is after someone to fund his 5,000 rupee entrance to university, then 5,000 a month, his family can only afford 2,000.

We have a cup of chai in a roadside place with maybe a 12 yr old girl and her little sister and brother. The chai is cooked over a clay bench with a hole in it, the fire is underneath sticks. Dirt floor, one plastic chair, which I am offered... the chai is excellent, then we chat as the monsoon rain starts and mom comes in, there's also a schoolteacher from Gaya, googly eyed Ganesh says he is drunk... it rains heavy for about an hour and we talk much.

Walking down the road back I stop for a bottle of water and another group Ishu, Sanjeev, and Ashish are met at the Sujata General Store, an open air counter about 8 feet wide the same depth. I talk with them a good while and they see my photos of home and just shake their heads "mindblowing" is the word they use, over and over. I buy 20 packs of chocolate creme biscuits to give the beggar kids I see (you never had anything snatched from your hand so aggressively). They want to guide me around tomorrow and I say OK I will meet up in the morning, what time? They get up at 3:00 (it's the buddhist training), mediation 3:30, jogging/pe til 5:00, then the work day starts. I say we'll see how it goes and retire. Sleep is difficult thinking about all the kids and how needy they are and there should be more that can be done for them, I call Marian to talk but she's overdue for a nap so I wanted to be on my own in Bihar here I am!

Bodhgaya and Bihar, another overnight train

The train ride was great, 2nd class ac... I couldn't get the Delhi-Kolkata express from New Delhi Train Station so had to shift (that's what they call moving here) to the Old Delhi station which also left 2 hours later, so I had 3 hours to kill in Old Delhi... it was of course over 100 again and sweltering, Saturday so the market was packed... found my way around the Chandni Chowk but didn't score any bargains. Ate a great meal at Haldirams topped off with 2 red slush drinks (risked the ice&water)... so finally was able to stop sweating. The Old Delhi station makes the new station look like a palace... unfortunately you cannot take pictures inside there the machine gun toting guards frown on that... terrorism these days coming from Pak you know..

Picture the orlando amtrak station x12 platforms, strip off all the paint, put corrugated metal up over the platforms, and cram the platforms as full as a crowd leaving a sellout basketball game, add 100+ 90% humidity, and piles of fly covered you know what on the tracks in-between the platforms... absolutely the only breeze is when a train comes by...you cannot sit down anywhere except the ground and it is so filthy even though I had dark brown pants on I didn't want them to get THAT dirty. So you stand and sweat is pouring off... bandana on my head down to my eyebrows with another one to mop off my face and neck below that. Soaked through shirt and uwear. The bottled water is the only relief, it's just cooler than 100.... finally our train shows up, it's on time, the Jarkharand Express, and YES! the AC is on in the ac car... not at first, the train was starting fresh, but after about 10 minutes. I got a nice berthmate couple of students from Tokyo, Ray is studying Native American literature at Tokyo U, his partner Meg is into Public Health. We had good talks about native american books, authors, etc, and also Rays dad is a cyclist everywhere around Tokyo! So we had a good time and although they got off 7:00am at Varanasi, while I was still groggy with my head under the sheets, they each left me very nice notes. Ray will get his dad on liketoobike.com and converse with me.

10:10 we pull into Gaya, I am in Bihar, the poorest state in India! A dozen kms from Bodhgaya, and it is absolutely way way hotter than Delhi! You walk up a long ramp to get out of there, it's a dusty dirty open air station, and it's pretty full of people waiting for local trains. Not a person with clean clothes in sight.

Before I get out of the platform concourse I have 3 auto rickshaw drivers fighting over who is going to take me to Bodhgaya, it's an 80 rupee ride, says Lonely Planet guidebook.
The first one starts at 200 and I give a loud laugh, the second one is 150, and I push past him "no thanks, buddy". The last guy says what do you want to pay and I say 80, he says OK, and the other guys are hassling him I saw him first, hot, dusty parking lot... then as I'm getting in the vehicle "100 0K?"... yeah, yeah, you take me all around Bodhgaya and take me to 3 hotels. That's just what we did and you read about they will steer you someplace they get a commission in this case the Hotel Tokyo(!!!) Vihar... offered at 600 rupees, was not far behind the quality of the Sujata, which Lonely Planet calls "top range"... they want 3600 and won't deal after I see the room, as I'm walking out no thanks he's "how much you want to pay"? game, too bad. Everything works at the hotel I get a cool shower and change to fresh clothes the go out to explore Bodhgaya... I make friends quickly here...oh they are closing up the internet cafe so I gotta go, more tomorrow!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Going to Bodhgaya

We've decided it will be good to split up a couple days. Julie was on her own for 4 hours yesterday and really enjoyed not having dad around... and my time is short, and the one place I really wanted to go besides the Taj Mahal is Bodhgaya, where the Buddha became enlightened beneath the Bodi Tree.

There are several overnight trains leaving tonight, and of course, the online booking system, after a long time of pages not working, found the train, a 1st class sleeper spot, and let me put in my name and age but when I try to pay for it too bad, nope won't work and by the way I may get downgraded to any class seat if not confirmed at the station... so I will go up to the station 2 or 3 hours early. It leaves at 5, it's 11:50 now.

I'll get to Gaya, 12 km's up the road from Bodhgaya about 4:30am... don't know what I'll do then. Also, the online booking for hotels shows no accomodation available, except at a couple "budget" places.... still at $60 USD per night! Now we've seen what are called "posh" neighborhoods and places, and to us they are hmmmm well, imagine the worst part of any city you have ever been in... now, imagine all the garbage get's piled in the street, people pee etc not behind bushes and trees but on the sidewalk, dogs and cows roam freely, and there are masses of people everywhere all staring at you... that's a posh neighborhood... so a budget hotel I think I'd rather be on the train back but don't want to do overnight trains 2 nights in a row, they tend to not be the most restful, especially with a 3:30am wake up call.

So this may be my last post until Tuesday, it's Saturday morning here now... we will see if I see an AC internet cafe somewhere along the way I'll be in there for an hour.

Meanwhile, on the Visa front.... one last hope tomorrow is dimming, it looks like Julie will be required to travel back to USA for a week to get her Student Visa, then return in the 3rd or 4th week of school (they started 2 days ago here). So she will probably come home with me Thursday morning we fly out of Delhi 12:15am and with the 9.5 hour time dif, going west, after changes in Chicago and St Louis, get to Orlando about noon Thursday! That will give us back the day and a half we lost on the way here.

It's hot and going around 100 again today, monsoons would cool things down again and they tell me the further to the east you go the hotter it gets! But I must make the pilgrimage and chill for a day or two before saying farewell to India.

Oh we had dinner at Ashok and Alka's last night, Ashok is Julie's Rotary host here in India and Alka his wife. They have a very nice house in the southwest part of the city, after a wonderful veg dinner topped off by creamy vanilla ice cream atop fresh mango we were pushing 11:00 when Kuldeep showed at the gate to drive us back, about 20 miles. It was still crowded on the roads and streets everywhere even as we got back at midnight. There are huge Krishna processions going on where hundreds of devotees got water out of the Ganges up by Rishikesh, and they walk all the way back with gaily colored orange and gold banners and decorations by the hundreds, then they pitch large tents on the side of the road and you see them all stretching out in there with lit up palm trees and like christmas lights strung up all over the place... they are just on the roadside and apparently many temples send their people to do this we saw 3 separate parties going on during our drive back. When they get back to their temple they pour the water on their krishna statue and maybe something else, it's confusing all the things they do and who they are worshipping...

That's what confirmed for me to go to Bodhgaya, I like the Buddhist religion for it's simplicity, not too many rules, worship as you wish, live and let live. I look forward to hanging around the global mecca for buddhists from around the world and absorbing the laid back peaceful vibes... more to come.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Up in the air, but shopping is good

We don't know what's happening with the VISA... but at the Rotary District meeting last night, where all the leadership was changed, everyone got gifts and bouquets presented to them, the new leaders were installed, the waiters came around with hors deurves and whisky, a little beer... we had a good time. We were dressed right in the middle, not as nice as the dignitaries and award winners, but nicer than most of the friends and family attendees. I was so glad we went and bought nice stuff they announced our presence and asked us to come up on the dais as they presented Julie with a bouquet so everyone (about 75-100 people) could see what we look like and take our picture. They are doing a lot of great stuff here for community service, Polio eradication is their number one goal, and Bill Gates foundation has stepped up to donate 350 million american dollars, if the Rotary matches 200 million... so there's that drive, they have gotten polio down from 1000 cases a day to 50 and the goal is 0... india is one of 4 countries in the world where polio still exists and we see many people sitting on the road begging, peddling bicycle rickshaws with their hands, and walking on their hands with deformed legs, etc.

Aside from that project they are funding and operating a vocational school in rural area's to teach farmer (mostly women) job skills, and also a program to teach computer literacy (MS OFFICE), so they can aspire to get a job as a clerk rather than menial labor or peon work. After the meeting, over drinks (I got some hard looks when I declined the straight wiskey with water as they all were drinking)... there was a great buffet line of veg things and some meat as well, and the deserts were strange... some white balls of curd like stuff flavored, kindof gritty, and YOU MUST TRY THIS! Ashok tells me as he piles something that looks like scalloped potatoes then puts on a white gravy... and then some ice cream may have been pistacio...

we hear from many people about the visa hassle they have all heard of it by now. Some say that should be no problem, to others who say what a mess you are in!

Anyway, we agree to dinner at Ashok and Alka's home an hour out of Delhi Friday night at 7:00 and say our goodnights, it's nearly midnight as we leave and the meeting is still going strong with the food and drink, but we have had enough. Kuldeep is waiting outside in the lot and we are in by 12:30.

Thursday, July 16. Article in the paper this morning Delhi U colleges are opening some holding their first days of class, others orientation as they open at different times over the next 2 weeks. Julie is a little disappointed she isn't starting school and settled by now, we've been here over 2 weeks and still don't know if she will have to travel home and back or what, we're finally adjusted to the time difference it's day when it's night at home and verse visa. Ashok calls this morning and 3 ways a call with a high ranking man we met last night who has a connection somewhere, and asks us to scan and email copies of all the documents to him so he can see what can be done. Mind you, this is where there are no office max's or kinkos, not in this part of the city anyway, photstat or fax is the best you can do and they are usually open air with mininum 10 year old equipment. We walk quite a while and it is hot again, though the monsoons have started just one day and the next 3 no rain is expected, we stop and ask several places and get pointed down the road or to Nehru Place, so we flag a tuk-tuk and start for there then see the place I saw the other day "RK Document Filing" We stop in and in a few minutes are sitting in an office with a guy on a pc while another meeting between 3 men takes place on the other end of the desk. 15 minutes later it's all done and we cash out for 100.

We celebrate by stopping in Narulas for a Fanta Ice creme soda and fries, then take a tuk-tuk to Greater Kailash market, which is supposed to be THE market in this sector of the city. We are greatly disappointed it is mostly clothing and jewelry, upscale for Delhi, higher priced than we are used to, and most of the stuff is plain ugly. An article in the paper this morning about the "Freshers" Freshmen girls at the Lady SriRam College just up the road "you must have different stuff" and they are all shopping at places like this for plaid capri's, denims (jeans), and tshirts with american slogans or ads on them... Julie thinks this is hideous and you can be different by being yourself so we flag a tuk-tuk and head for our favority market Lajpat Nagar. No word from Ashok so we pick up a few things and cannot find a Ganesha statue in wood, only brass, someone suggests Connaught place, so after back to the room to unload and cool off we will venture back up north to Connaught place, where we can also catch the metro on to the Chandni Chowk, the biggest best market in all of Delhi, in my humble opinion.

Oh I picked up another 3 india kurta tops (super lighweight, loose cotton with a pocket), and 2 pairs of the elastic waist loose cotton pants that are so lightweight you can wash them all out in the sink and hang up and within a couple hours they are dry and ready to wear again. Julie's ready to go so more tomorrow, it's 2:10 in the afternoon which means it's what 3:40 in the morning Thursday back in Orlando, so when I write again tomorrow Friday morning it will be Thursday night for you all!

We hope to have good news for the Visa by tomorrow so we can make a trip somewhere this weekend, if not I may have time to dash out to Patna and Gaya next Tues/Weds before I am coming home next Thursday.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

VISA cannot be changed ! ?

For those of you who have heard that China and India are going to pass us up soon and be ruling the world... you do not have to worry. This is not possible within the next 50 years at least, more likely to be 100. We had a day planned to get Julies tourist visa changed to a student visa. We have all the necessary paperwork and a letter from the university saying she will be admitted as soon as she is issued a student visa.

So we plan to first go to the Home Ministry Affairs office, where they will give you the application, and then provide you with a sealed envelope with their decision, which you will take to another office miles away, the FRRO Foreign Registry whatever, then we should be getting the visa application processed. Here's what happens... we hire a driver for the day, and get to the Home Ministry office promptly at 10:00, as applications are only accepted between 10:00 and 12:00 each day. The driver drops us at the guarded gate, and we walk in, the guard shak guard waves us over to a table where 3 other guards wave us into the reception office. Once in here, we wait in the line for the reception desk, where the "reception officer" asks us what are we there for, who are you? to me, and to see Julies paperwork and passport... all looks good, so he pecks into his keyboard for a minute, and then scrinch, scrinch, scrinch, scrinch, he tears a fresh green form off the dot matrix printer, with her name, and other information from her passport. He then rubber stamps the form with great applomb, and puts his initial on it. This form, from the Department of Reception, allows us to go back out to the guard that waved us into reception, and after searching our bags, waves us to the main building to the visa processing office, which we find on the 2nd floor (they call it first).

So far so good, we get upstairs to the office, where we wait in line to talk to the 2 women at the reception desk. One of them asks to see the green form, then hands us two photocopied applications which Julie needs to fill out in duplicate. The forms ask the same information as is already printed on the reception form, name, passport number, etc, with the additional question, VISA APPLIED FOR. She fills them out and checks Student, then gets back in the line to turn them in. By now it's 10:30 and already about 30 people are waiting for "the interview". The interviewers, however, don't start until 11:30... they are in the building, maybe, doing who knows what, but they won't start giving interviews until then. Once you complete your interview, then you must come back after 5:00pm, when they dispense the stamped and sealed envelopes that give the disposition of your case, and also the place you are supposed to take it to. So you cannot go to the other place today in any case, that will take at least another day. The fellow sitting next to us has been here 5 times before and he hopes today is his lucky day.

One interviewer starts doing interviews about 11:20, and Julie is the 2nd one called! Wahooo! It is a short interview, and I see her shaking her head and saying, you mean there's no other way? The interviewer shakes his head... she comes walking out... I have to get the visa processed in person, in my home country! So we have a valid passport and valid tourist visa to visit India, but must leave India, travel to the US, to apply in person to get the student visa, with the letter from the university showing their intention to offer her admittance if she has a student visa.

This is so crazy we are stunned... beyond belief. We ask the driver to take us to the market. Meanwhile, we're invited to the Rotary Club meeting tonight, and we don't have the address yet... so Julie calls Ashok her Delhi sponsor to find out about that and let him know what's just happened. It's at the Habitat Center, the big International arts and meeting place in the center of Delhi.. kind of like the Kennedy Center is to Washington DC, and it's formal attire, black suite, maroon tie preferred! And by the way, your dad is also invited..... I have khaki's, a "washed" (what they call used here) white shirt, and my scruffy brown suede shoes I've been wearing out here in Delhi they are filthy! Julie planned to wear a white shirt and khaki's as well.

So we are back to Lajpat Nagar market and do some decent shopping in 2 hrs we have clothes, my new black pants have been altered to fit, and I have a fresh haircut from the street barber who gave me the most thorough haircut, shave, head rub, face massage, neck and shoulder massage, back alignment, and neck crack I have ever had.

We get back to the room and try on our clothes and Julie' pants are a size too small... she told that guy 32 and he have her 30... oh is she steamed... and it's naptime we have a late night coming we must be there for the reception at 7:30 and dinner is 9:30... then the program?

While Julie naps I flag down a tuk-tuk in the pouring rain (did I mention the monsoons have started?) it's nice and cooler now... go back to the store slipping like crazy on the marble sidewalks now soaked in my slick new camel leather bottomed sandals. A thousand apologies from the guy at JCD department store that committed the screw-up... I said you are lucky Julie didn't come back here... she was too mad! They made good and there was a 1 rupee adjustment in the price for the larger ones... then I pick up a black belt and grab my favorite dish coconut rice at Sai Sarovar, with a veg chow mein to go and back on a tuk-tuk to East of Kailash. We pass the scene of the metro distaster where the column colapsed and the cranes got all messed up and the 200 tonnes of concrete and metal are all there they are cutting everything apart and removing it piece by piece... no shortage of bystanders either. So now we have 45 minutes to get ready before the driver shows up to take us to the habitat center for the big district meeting of Rotary International... more tomorrow... we don't know if Julie will have to come home to get a new visa or not... hard to imagine the government of India does not have the ability in it's capital city to issue a student visa, but we'll find out and report soon!

I am due to fly back next Thursday, Julie the following Friday, we set it up that way because we expected she would need more time to find out when she will finish school next year and change her return flight... anyway... things are very fluid here and my tour of India is not looking like it will happen we will likely be trying to get this thing straightened out here in one line or another begging for official receptionists and the like to stamp our forms and please help us find some sanity here!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Back in Delhi... still no admittance

We're on a turbo prop plane back to Delhi on Jet Airways, it's pretty uneventful once we clear security at Udaipur. A beautiful brand spanking new airport, clean as a whistle, 3 gates, only 2 flights happening anytime soon, ours to Delhi at 6:20 and one to Mumbai at 7:40. Security is extremely tight.. you drive up to a police checkpoint (they give Arunesh a good long lecture for rolling the police stop sign... yes sir, yes sir, I know... sorry sir... then there are two more checking passports and tickets to get into the airport.

When you check in, every bag gets a new bag tag, so they can rubber stamp it when you go through security. The first security guys check your id, ticket, and that you have a bag tag, then through the scanners and metal detectors, a thorough pat down, then they go through your bags and stamp stamp, your boarding pass is stamped twice. We wait to go out and board the plane (it's a small airport the airplane is parked on the tarmac you just walk out there and up the steps into the plane). But not so fast... your boarding pass is checked and you walk outside, another security checkpoint, this will make 3... and this one is the most thorough, inside your bag, body frisk, metal detector, and a screened area where women get a more thorough body frisk by a women officer... only then do you get the final rubber stamp on your bag tag. Monica is travelling with us and she questions the officers about why they are taking so long to look through Julie's bag.. and the next thing you know there are 4 officers in the conversation as they start boarding the plane! Finally the situation mellows out and we board. They pass out cool Limca to drink, the salty lime drink, then we are airborne. One thing about india i like, when it comes time to food, the options are always "veg or non-veg"? And the veg meal... now get this, comes with real silverware, including a metal knife! We're getting our bags checked for things like paper clips and ink pens then they give us knifes and forks on the plane! Crazy, after dinner read for a while we cruise at 21,000 feet for 1:20 and we are in Delhi. No security to get out with your bags, though the machine gun guys are everywhere... and there's Kuldeep waiting on the rail waving us over. We drop off Monica and arrange for Kuldeep to drive us all day Tuesday, when we will again attempt to get the elusive "Admission Certificate".

We're back in our old room at F4 East of Kailash by 10:00, and we laugh when we try to use the lift and for whatever reason it doesn't work and we hump the bags up to the 3rd (they call it 2nd) floor. While the guys put our bags back in the room and change the single bed into two doubles again we head down to fast food city for a pineapple cake and orange soda, and walk down to see the around the clock spectacle
of the elevated Metro section collapse... people galore watching, 6 cranes trying to pick up the 4 cranes that went down trying to lift up the concrete and steel girder that went down due to the cracked concrete cantilever.


Tuesday 14th: Breakfast at 8:00, 8:30 Kuldeep picks us up and we're across town to Delhi U and the foreign student registry office by 9:15, except, they don't open until 10:15 and probably won't see anyone til 11:00. We debate and Julie decides to wait it out, she was supposed to get an email today or yesterday but no nothing yet. While she waits I send Kuldeep for a couple bottles of water and wait outside, noticing through the iron fence the sewer is backed up and filling the courtyard to the left of the building with a bad smelling liquid. Kuldeep comes back and I run the water up to Julie, she's ready to leave it's so frustrating... the office workers start trickling in between 9:30 and 10:00, there is already a line of kids waiting, Julie and a Chinese fellow at the front. This is going to take a while so I have Kuldeep take me to look for some sandals but the shops are not open yet so we come back and I figure I'll go wait with Julie, as I get to the stairs Julie calls she needs a copy of her passport and visa, so I go back down the stairs and in the wall across the road from the Office there is a hole in the wall I see a sign copy? Yes, believe it or not... 1 rupee for each then I'm back with Julie... and we wait...
it's hot in the hallway, this is so exasperating! We first applied July 1, it's now July 14th, this is our fourth trip to this particular office... all we hear is "first you must obtain the certificate of admission, before you can apply to the college, or sign up for courses, or buy books, or apply to a hostel" 2 days still school starts. Finally, a little after 11 Julie comes out with a paper in her hand...

Nooooooo, it's not the certificate of admission, but it's a letter stating she will be admitted once she meets the following 3 conditions, among which are a student visa, which you can't get until you've been admitted... but this letter should help get that from the US Embassy... and the letter has a rubber stamp! even though it's dated July 10 they didn't email us or lett us know... so Kuldeep navigates the Delhi traffic from north Delhi to southwest Delhi... 35 mins of so, to the American embassy, we go through security yes we are american citizens so get the short line and the clerk happily gives us a sheet with the 2 addresses we need to go to, no they do not do anything with visas here... so we are off to the India Foreign Registry R something office, FRRO for short, where we enter a packed room of foreigners speaking all sort of languages and jostle up to the reception counter where we are told we first have to go to the other office and get a brown envelope with a stamp on in, before we can come back to this one and apply for the student visa. Unfortunately the other office closes at 12:30 and it's now 1:15, so we will have to go there tomorrow morning, then back to the FRRO (they are in the same area of Delhi, but not close together), then we will have maybe the right papers to take back to the University to get the Admission certificate. Remember, school starts Thursday! So my plans to have Julie in housing and all set for the first day of school so I could make my journey to Bodh Gaya and Patna and Kerala... may not be happening, the letters also tell her she may have to go to her home country to get her student visa processed?! And also to plan on making her own living arrangements changes are negligible she will be able to get into on-campus hostels.

We have Kuldeep drive us out to "Gurgaon" the new city, where Microsoft and Oracle and all the american companies are building the new office buildings and shopping malls and bowling alleys and liquor stores and stand here drink beer on the side of the road shops... we drive about 1/2 of it and we've seen enough, this place is sick get us out of here... we head to Lajpat Nagar, one of the best market area's in town, and at Sai Sarovar I have a great coconut rice dish with Panatte and Raisa's, with the chutney and spicy and cool sauces and a lime soda... great lunch then we shop and Julie gets shoes and earrings and a shirt and i finally find a decent pair of sandals that fit me in a style i can live with... genuine camel hide... 595 he says, ha ha ha, come on... do I look that stupid?... he misses the joke, after a few back and forths we settle at 400 i won't go a penny higher i start to put on my socks and old shoes and get up to leave and OK OK we're done and they're in the bag.

We're back to our room after an ice cream stop Kuldeep sees a vendor sleeping on his pushcart so we wake him up and he sleepily gives us two butterscotch cones (kindof like a nutty buddy), collects the 32 and goes back to sleep on top his cart. Monica is expecting us for dinner at 7:30 she's at D20 Pam Posh Place just time for a nap and we'll have more great adventure tomorrow. Kuldeep is driving someone to Agra to see the Taj so Raj will be driving us tomorrow, 9:00 pickup and we go insearch of the stamped envelope, student visa application, and admission certificate!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Udaipur - Rajasthan

Udaipur July 11 & 12
Udaipur is a really cool place! Yesterday we went up into the hills to the Monsoon
Palace up on top the mountain, it is surrounded for miles by wildlife and nature
preserve so the views are unspoiled and it's very cool. They are in the process of
restoring the Monsoon palace but we saw a little of it and on the outside and entry
chamber it was really cool with fountains in both entry hall room bordered with 4"
high marble ledges. We enjoyed the views and cool breeze we are laughing to remember
how sweltering it was in Delhi now.. although we'll be back there in a few days! We
watched a huge storm dropping rain in sheets coming towards us as we sat on the
outside patio overlooking the valleys all around, til we felt the first drops then
scampered down the hill to the car just as the big drops started. We saw huge monkeys bounding across the road... Leugans or some such they were plentifl, also lots of goats, cows, water buffalos, donkeys, an elephant, some camels, as we drove around the lakes and hills.

Following a late authentic lunch prepared by Monica and her cook, we took a nap and
chilled out with the window open and hearing the silence and birds chirping. Dinner is quite late at Monica's as Arunesh is having some friends over and they will drink for a while before having theirs. We are there at 9 and it's decided to wait awhile and meet Arunesh's friends, which we do. Deepak owns the hotel we are in and also a
restaurant and has a contract with the concrete plant for materials. Sundeep and
Krupaj were not real talkative in English, most of the conversation was in Hindi so
after a few minutes we ate and they went outside to drink. We finished up by 10:30 and headed in for an early night of long rest... delightful! See you about 10 for
breakfast!

July 12
It's Sunday, and we enjoy an indian breakfast of tea, cheela's, which are kind of like pancakes made from chick-pea flour with thin slices of onions, coriander, green
peppers, and chilli peppers mixed in... you put a chutney of some sort on them and
they are fantastic! You eat 3 or 4 of those with fresh fruit pears, apples, bananas,
pomegranate and you are good to go! We have a second cup of tea and chat for a while, breakfast stretches out for about 2 hours! By now we decide to take a ride to old town and see the City Palace. Monica's family has been in Udaipur a long time, and her father in law had been the Maharana's family doctor, so she knows the family members going way back.

It takes about 2 hours to go through the palace at a rapid pace, Julie is not big on old buildings so she leads the way quickly, I am the dawdler reading every card and taking pictures of all the doors and archways... Arunesh is very well versed in
history, and he tells me many of the great stories of the Maharaja's of Udaipur, the
oldest continuous rulers in India, going back to say... 745 or so! In the genealogy
hall there are the photos of all of them, and a big chart of when they ruled, etc...
and he tells me the stories of the famous battles, and how the Rajputs were the only
ones not to submit to Akbar when he conquered all of India... the ruler went and lived in the woods until he would overthrow Akbar but he never did and died in the woods.. there was a famous battle where they were outnumbered and Akbar's army was on elephants so Maharana Prata had elephant trunk like things put on their horses so the elephants would think they were baby elephants and not attack the horses... the
elephants had sword blades attached to their trunks and they nicked Maharana Prata's
horse on the leg... the spirited horse Chetak turned around and bleeding, rescued the Maharana from danger and jumped the stream to safety... but, once reaching safety he expired. There is today in the center of town a big statue of the white horse in the middle of Chetak Circle. I know that name is familiar there is a scooter made by Bajaj, the Chetak, I saw one in the market later. A bunch of stories like these as we travel room to room seeing all the unbelievable architecture of white marble, glass, mirrors, inlays, doors, cupolas, little passageways, hidden courtyards, balcony's, fountains... war armor, swords, maces, you name it it's been saved and since the family still owns and lives in part of the palace, (another part is a 5 star hotel) many family photos and artifacts are on display as well.

We stop for lunch in the main courtyard, by now ac is welcome, and at a cool table
overlooking the front lawn discover it's Mexican day! After some insistent pleading on my part Monica and Arunesh allow me the honor of buying lunch, and a 5 course mexican meal follows, the food and service is perfect, and the chef comes out to make sure everything was OK. Following desert we take the car out of the palace and down a block or so into old town where we jump out to do a little shopping in the touristy area. We've seen many tourists today Arunesh says Udaipur is now one of the top tourist destinations in the world, maybe not in number of total tourists, but in the quality and value of the trip. You can get hostel rooms starting at about $1 a night, on up to $1300 for the top places.

It's pretty touristy so our shopping doesn't last long... we're going to do more
tomorrow but we'll go to the regular town market on Monday prices will be better.
Julie spots some headrags like I've been looking for the whole trip so Arunesh pulls
over and I jump out and walk back to the cart, where the guy sheepishly tells me the
large tie die's are 35 rupees (48 to the dollar), and the smalls are 10! 10! I say... 10! Yes he says, well, give me one of those, no make it two, and give me one of the big ones too. He looks at me? 35? this is 10? Yeah, Yeah, give me all three of them... crazy... american prices for lunch now 55 for 3 headwraps a couple blocks
away!

We're back to our room for a nap until dinner at 9 then tomorrow it's check out time, shopping, and to the airport for our 6:20 flight to Delhi, we should get to our room by 10 before enjoying the press and head of Delhi Tuesday morning, when Julie is supposed to finally get her admittance if she is going to, to Delhi U, then she can plead her case for Miranda house college and the on-campus hostel.

Friday, July 10, 2009

It's still 1947

We're convinced we've fallen through a time gap on the plane over, and everything has gone back to 1947. The cabs, the lack of ac anywhere, none of the buildings, sidewalks, or roads have been updated since then. The Brits left it, and it's been straight down ever since. They are trying to do all these new things with the metro and new roads and sidewalks and green city... but just to come to central delhi around connaught place and try to walk down the sidewalk is a major hassle. If there aren't cars or motorcycles parked in the way, there are street vendors cooking or spreading out their wares, or like Julie is rolling her laptop bag along because we're headed for the train in a little bit and all of a sudden you come to an 18 inch concrete wall in the middle of the sidewalk that goes all the way across the parking lot, no way around it... so you jump that and another 10 paces there is a rounded only about 10 inch high concrete dome to navigate... that's not so bad, another 15 paces and the sidwalk turns to dirt, then a muddy puddle, and you have to tiptoe around that... you can see sidewalk, but it's on the other side of the railed off parking lot... aiiiiiii!

We packed up and checked out this morning.. our laundry still damp from the hand wash and press, and thought it would be nice to hang out in a cyber cafe and update our post cards and blogs.... the nearest place is Nehru place, a huge shopping area Kuldeep showed us on the way to the Lotus Temple. As we drove by he commented there was a McDonalds... all new, western shopping area.... so we're thinking AC, relax, post some cards, browse the web.... til the driver drops us off, on the backside away from that side and we could not find it for the longest time. It was so hot, and parking lot was dirt... since we're packed for 3 days on the road by train to Udaipur I have my backpack full, my shoulder bag as well, and Julie has her roller and a backpack. So I'm carrying the bag through the lot til the cars are parked so close together you cannot walk between them, on all sides? Backtrack.... some guy asks if he can help, as the indians will always do... and we said yes we want to find a nice ac place to sit down and eat... he shakes his head, but points over through that gateway, and he walks us to a pathway between the parked cars and a building. Did I mention it's oppressively hot and sticky?

It's cloudy today, which is great to keep the sun off you, but it's still high 90's already by 1:00... and the cloud cover keeps all the pollution down, it is stifling.
We get to the gate, up about a dozen stairs, and into a sweltering hallway of shops... where Julie buys some stationary she needs, and we continue, out into a huge plaza, broken tiles all through it turning to dirt, surrounded on all sides by 6-8 story buildings with all manner of little shops and offices... many eateries, all outdoor, no ac, stand up, and it is not quite wall to wall but throngs and lines and hustle bustle on every side. Julie is getting a little steamed by now, what the heck did we come here for?! Well, Kuldeep said... nice new wester modern... so we press on... see a french boulangerie in the distance, looks like sit down.... but when we get close enough...it's closed for renovation... around another corner, another plaza with a cast of thousands... and did I mention we are the only white people for miles? Everyone stops what they are doing to stare at us, (well not quite everyone, it just seems like it).... around another corner, past a gaggle of beggars laying on the tile screaming at us to give... then getting irate when we don't... and I spot the McDonalds sign. There's a small door leading into a tall office type building, up another 10 stairs or so, inside which is airport security type screening security... I am loaded with 2 bags so is Julie, and the guard is quite thorough... finally we get in, and see a RUBY TUESDAY'S!!! and a SBARRO! Never ever in a million years did I think I would be happy to see them, I avoid them like the plague at home... but AC!!! SIT DOWN SERVICE!!! I maybe can even risk a salad here... I haven't had one since the airport in Chicago 10 days ago.

We have a glorious meal and actually stop sweating... and get full, they had some great little veggie burgers and fries w ketchup, and the salad bar was wierd but some parts like brocolli, lettuce, and green peppers were familiar, the papaya, watermelon, and cucumber salad were hot hot hot spiced... thankfully they brought us a large mineral water at the start, (did I mention you cannot drink the water here?, or use it to brush your teeth, or your toothbrush, or eat anything like fresh fruit or vegetables unless you peel them yourself?) Anyway, it's only been 3 hours and my stomack is rumbling a little, we'll see what happens on the train tonight where another adventure is in store for us... almost time to head for the station... I may drop out for a few days, not likely there will be cyber cafe's in Udaipur, it's hard enough to find in the capital of the country... and Udaipur is not that. It's in Rajasthan, where the guys wear the turbans and grow the huge handlebar mustaches, and I think the women wear saries and salwar kameez...will be nice if the young people actually dress indian not in jeans and stupid looking american tshirts like most do here... anyway, we'll be back to Delhi Monday or Tuesday night, Julie is supposed to find out about her admission on Tuesday... then we'll see what's up with housing before school starts on Thursday and I maybe board another overnight train to Gaya... see how this goes first.

Catching an autorickshaw to Nizammudin station for the 2693 at 7:00...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Has it only been a week?

Thursday morning marks a week in Delhi, and we're beginning to go with the flow a little more. We take breakfast at 8:00, a busy morning agenda will take us to Model Town, way up north by the University, then to the University to drop off the official looking paper the Embassy staff notarized for us, I need to get my phone working or purchase a new one to go with the Aircel SIM card I've purchased. We have to arrange train travel to Udaipur (pronounced OO da purrr, I have been saying YOU Diaper) where we've been invited to visit a Rotary contact Monica, and finally to get back to the market at Lajpat Nagar I need a good head rag and a sleep sheet for the overnight train. Julie needs some baggy legging loose cotton pants and another kurta or two wouldn't be bad.

For whatever reason the autorickshaws nearest our hotel don't ever take us anywhere, just shake their heads? So we walk a couple blocks to the intersection in the center of East of Kailash, were the traffic is brisk and one soon pulls over. 100 to Central Secretariat? Head wobble means get in, this old driver takes a slow meandering way, more shaded, less traffic, took an extra 10-15 minutes too, so we're going to be late for our 11:00 appointment that's clear. We get to the metro OK, it is near the center of the capital government offices, like the area north of the national mall in Washington DC. Lots of government workers getting to work about 9:30-10:00... must not be worries about job security here!

The metro is a crush after the first 2 stops, most of the way up the yelo line to Model Town, Julie is on the phone with Suresh our agent. Meet at McDonalds... we find it after a hot walk of a few hundred meters, a big sign "NO BEEF OR BEEF PRODUCTS SERVED HERE" I check the menu, righyoh...only chicken on the non-veg side, and veg on the other. We have a couple "large" cokes, with ice, and wait for Suresh to call or show up. A busy intersection outside the windows, I count about 75 people a minute criss cross the intersection one way or another, no lanes or traffic signal so they all weave around one another adjusting speed and location so no one has to slow down too much, once in a while a car or bus or truck will bull there way through in front of others but that's how it works here, most are respectful as long as you don't hinder them!

Suresh shows us 3 apartments, 30 to 45 thousand rupees a month... nice, fairly new, all marble floors, counters, bathrooms with tile walls. 2 3 bedrooms and a 2 bedroom, they are spacious and the one on the 2nd fl, they call it the 1st here... has 2 nice balconies front and back, spacious rooms, it's perfect.. except there's no furniture, no frig or ac, and Julie isn't yet sure whether she's going to get housing in the hostel or not (she still hasn't been admitted to the university, maybe next Tuesday, 2 days before schools starts they tell us!?)

We thank Suresh and before heading back to the metro stop in the McDonalds (next to he and his fathers office) for another cold one and a bit of food....which is no better an idea there than here... the veg patty is smothered in a spicy yelo goo that's just about unedible, Julies veg pizza puff is about the same inside... the coke is good and cold, Julie has a strawberry shake. We recap our housing strategy as I fiddle with my phone and voila the thing unlocks like majic... I've tried about 10 different things and spent hours on the phone with ATT customer service and on the web site trying to figure it out and the instructions are all wrong... there's a simple code to enter that unlocks it!

That done, we're on to the metro to the Vishawavdavalya or something close stop, for the University. I pull out the addresss card and soon have 5 rickshaw wallas jostling and fighting over who is going to take us and what the fare will be. 20-50... we settle on a guy for 20 who says he knows exactly where it is, he is the most foreceful, and we find this is great, he powers the rickshaw with the same vigor up the hill in the hot sun, passing every other rickshaw on the road easily... within minutes we pull up in front of the building and Julie is off to the line... GEOFF! this is so strange to hear, it's Omprakash, the Mathematics student from Nepal, and also Ashita, the local girl that's befriended Julie in the line, Julie's here?! she squeals... yes in the line... and off she goes to find her.. Omprakash says "it was meant to be! How could you be in Model Town and not call me?" we visit and Julie is not in line for hours this, our third time to the line... Mrs Deepa takes her papers, gives a head wobble, and we say our goodbyes and head back to the metro. Next stop Rajiv Chowk, the center of New Delhi, nearby to the train station... but after another forgettable veggie burger at Nirulas and pineapple soda we realize we are too gassed for another outing. Let's ride the metro out to the end of the blue line and cool off, then see how we feel... it's only 4 stops, and we see the slum shantytown, back of the electric power plant, water treatment plant, and cross the river to see the water buffaloes before circling back the same route. No we are done, we get an autorickshaw to the room, we'll try to make reserves on line... After a shower and a nap it is impossible to make reserves on line, no matter what they say it doesn't work. When I finally get to the page after about 20 pages, I see our train is sold out with 29 waitlisted! And like same for next 2 days! We must go to the station to see if this is real (this is more than 30 mins away by autorickshaw, which of course are not ac). But the heat has broken by now and people are out everywhere in the cool evening, all the parks are full, people are out front and on top their buildings, the kites are flying everywhere. We get to the station and run the gamut of seriously agressive touts in your face every few paces... doesn't help we're the only white people in sight, dressed in Indian clothing (they mostly wear plain western clothing, and most people look as though they own on the set they have on). The International Tourist Bureau never looked so good as the 2nd time, the white painted board with the numbers and the pale xerox copy of reservation form. We get our train number and sit on the sofa which is where the line starts. A few minutes later it's all done! Miracle of miracles, they have set asides for International Tourists only the office can print the ticket. He's on an amber monitor typing in the information we put on the form, and a few seconds later 2174 rupees (about $40) for both of us to go 600 kilometers overnight, the dot matrix printer is scrinching out our ticket. Car 1 berth 13 and 14 and upper and a lower. Back through the throng to the pre-paid autorickshaw booth, where we find how much we've been overpaying... 55 to Lajpat Nagar...we've been paying 100 or 150 to get from East of Kailash to the metro or central Delhi... of well...

The market is crowded as always in the last hour, but we bargain and get a few things before dropping into our final autorickshaw of the day. The first driver who is too proud to ask for directions when he gets lost he stops about a 1/2 mile from our hotel and turns the motor off... East Kailash! 50 he says.... No... F-Block, you stop here I'll give you 20! 50! F-block... finally... he starts up and within a couple minutes we are here.

Just time to have shower #3, a quick skype call to home, and blog a bit before lights out, tomorrow is a travel day, check out and get to the train station by 6.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Taj - Agra day trip

6am wake up call, the driver was downstairs waiting, we were off by 6:20, the roads were very crowded already. Faridabad is the first crush we hit leaving the south of Delhi, Palwal the next. So we're on the National Hiway #2, and your thinking like an interstate (at least I was) we'll fly down the 200 km's in an hour and a half or two... but in India things are different. First, while it is a 2 (marked) lane highway each direction, divided in most places, with a wide shoulder, there are no speed signs, and cars share the road with... trucks, buses, tractors, motorcycles, auto-rickshaws, bicycles, pedestrians, bike rickshaws, oxcarts, camels, cows, horses, goats, children on their way to school... you name it.
As we get out of the big city and into the villages, each one a crossroads.. there are lines of people waiting to cross, in a few of the places there were police directing traffic, a couple had traffic signals, and then the rest of them were the most confusing choreography you ever saw. A group of motorcycles & bicycles, followed by cars, buses, pedestrians, and what have you (50-500 people in all) will inch out until they have pretty much blocked both lanes, then they get to the center and inch into the other side and have the whole road blocked... traffic on the thoroughfare honk wildly and press forward as close as possible, motorcycles take advantage and go around every other thing to get at the front of the pack... then, the hiway traffic breaks through and resumes again. This happens a few dozen times on the way down.
At Mathura there's a big Krishna festival going on, maybe 50 or 100 thousand people are lining both sides of the road for miles, tent/tarp shelters are pitched, apparently it's a multi-day festival... here the local police of whoever rolls some portable metal walls out onto the highway and the festival goers criss cross a while, then the walls are removed and we're rolling aqain... most times you are stopped there are beggar children and street vendors tapping on your window doing whatever they can to get your attention and give them money. We handed out some food to a one-legged beggar kid at one stop, he had been pointing to his mouth so vigorously and Kuldeep said no don't give them money that will go to someone else... well, the kid shows it to his two sisters and they through it on the ground like it was a snake! So much for that theory.

About 4 hours later we roll into Agra and pick up the tour guide Kuldeep has arranged for our tours of the Taj Mahal, Red Fort, lunch, and the market.

The Taj does not dissapoint, despite the 750 rupee charge for foreigners to get in, the tickets say 500 but you can't question the authorities selling the tickets... india residents pay 20 rupees, with discounts for children, elderly, disabled, etc.
We take a bicycle rickshaw down the hill, to get past the gauntlet of hawkers, beggers, touts, and others that come at you what seems like 2 per second... we get to the bottom and the rickshaw drivers are trying to get more than the 20 rupees you agreed to, for a short ride downhill, and no they don't have or make any change if you only have 50's or 100's. We finally get in, but then the picture takers are hawking you... and we did purchase a few pics.

Having been to Humayuns tomb in Delhi a few days ago we're struck by the similarity between the outer gates, east, west, north, aligned with the points of the calendar, and the gardens and fountains laid out symmetrically along the ew and ns axises(?). Of course here there are only the three, as the south is bordered by the river Yamuna. The fountains are not on today, the reflecting pools reflect the white marble and sky behind it beautifully. We snap a few shots midway, where there is a raised platform, everything in the site is balanced in 2 parts. 12 architects from Iran Then we are walking up, and there is an optical illusion of the 2 small domes along the front, the one on the right appears to be closer, way closer, but as we get closer, we see they are perfectly even. The little white wall, the plynth the monument sits on, is about 35 feet high. All is white marble, the craftsman, 20,000 of them, imported from Iran, worked for 20 years carving, detailing, inlaying semi-precious stones. We go up the stairs, the details astound. Arabic writing framing the main archway, is larger at the top than the bottom, so from the bottom it all appears to be exactly the same size.

We are given white covers for our shoes, you don't have to take them off anymore, though there is a shoe check...

Up the stairs to the level of the main floor, it's unbelievable as you get closer how much detailing there is... the inlay's of lapis lazuli, garnet, jade, onyx, carved marble flowers, screens in every opening, door entries, running all around at the base the flower panels, edged with cirles, the corners with inlaid onyx v's to give an illusion of the marble itself having a v shape... until you are directly below it and see it is perfectly flat.

All perfectly proportioned, each of the 4 minarets equal distance apart, same exact height, as are the two domes, and each of the 4 arched doorways. The structure is an octagon, 4 sides, 4 corners, all precisely the same, oriented to the compass. The front entry faces north, along the north/south axis, as do the fountains centered in the reflecting pools, in the center of the gardens. At the entry, we stop to see how the stones glow under a flashlight, how the marble is translucent when backlit. It's India marble, very hard, 20,000 Iranian workers spent 20 years building it, and today their families are still there plying the trade. When they finished the work, they were given an option of returning to Iran, without hands, or staying in India with. They all chose to stay. They were imported because they were the most skilled stone workers in the world at that time.

We go inside, and the tomb chamber is centered under the dome, which reaches a height of exactly twice that of the arched entryways. The gold spire on top the dome had been solid gold, before the british claimed it, and other precious stones from the site. The main floor is a replica tomb, the real burial chamber is directly below, the architect did this so that the floor above the resting place would never be walked upon. All is screened with white marble, each section carved from a single block of marble. Mumtaz is exactly centered, on the north south axis, her head pointing north, slightly turned to the west, toward Mecca. Shah Jahan lies to the side, he was added to the site by his son Aurengzeb, who deposed, then imprisoned him, in a tower looking to the Taj Mahal, until his death.
We go out the south exit , a large plaza of white marble, overlooking the sacred Yamuna river. It will join the holiest Ganges a few hundred kilometers to the southeast. Today it is very hot and hazy, and the river is filled with water buffalo. Directly across the river, centered on the Taj north/south axis , is a marker, and some foundation work, where Shah Jahan intended his tomb, a mirror image of the Taj, in black marble, to be. The site work sits as it had been started…. Never to be finished.
We slowly make our way back toward the front, stopping to sit on one of the ledges in each of the corner pieces, on the cool white marble in the shade. It is a sweltering day under a strong Indian sun, well past 100 in temperature. We linger, running our fingers over the flowered screens, feeling the curves and edges of the leaves, hard to imagine they’ve survived 350 years in such excellent condition.
Finally, slowly, we make our way down the stairs, and down the long east promenade through the garden, thankful for the cooling shade and greenery all around. A monument to love, and a structure of such perfection, it can never be surpassed.
We go to the marble artisans workplace and see them working as their forebearers did, creating items of incredible lasting beauty by painstaking, difficult physical labor, turning the stone grinders by hand, carving the marble with hand chisels, grinding the semi-precious stones to the exact size of the scribes in the stone.
After a spicy vegetarian lunch in a long established, cool restaurant, we drive slowly past the Red Fort on the way out of town… it’s too hot an afternoon for the several hours it will take to see the Fort properly, but we see the massive structure in red sandstone with white detailing. Aurengzeb’s huge bed chambers high atop the fort, near to the white marble tower where Shah Jahan was imprisoned and died, overlooking the Taj from a mile away. The Yamuna was diverted to fill a double moat in the days of the fort, one to keep out the lions and tigers that prowled the area, the other filled with river crocodiles, to keep out anyone else. I align myself with the tower and face the Taj and snap a picture, and think of Shah Jahan looking there, to the monument of love he made for Mumtaz.
The ride back was much as the way there, differing that now the children and their buses and the oxcarts and camels and Krishna worshippers and cyclists were heading back the other way. We saw great grey clouds that promised rain, but contained only dust and wind. A huge duststorm came up, as it does before the monsoons start, bring sand from the Thar desert to the west. We saw great drops of rain tease for about 2 minutes, but not enough the dampen the dusty roadsides. No rain for at least another 10 days, the paper says. We are again back into the crush at Faridibad, it takes over an hour to get the rest of the way to our hotel in south Delhi’s East of Kailash sector. We had quite a day, and the heat and sunburn and long time in the little Tata subcompact made a body feel good and tired. After a shower and laying down to rest, the memory of the feel of the cool white marble of the Taj somehow made the tiredness seem a fit ending to a perfect day.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I've dreamed of AGRA

Who hasn't, as a child finding out there was such a place, and tomorrow, I will be there to stand in front of the Taj Mahal and get my picture took. I wish I had a few days more to look forward to it, but our apartment hunting appointment for tomorrow cancelled and that's all we had, and after seeing the Delhi train station today there's no way we're making a day trip on the train down there and back, we called Kuldeep he's doing nothing tomorrow 630am pickup and we'll be home by dark. I have just got my indian wardrobe complete tonight, and it's laid out, white kurta (long sleeved, long long shirt, embroidered in white), white pyjamas (loose cotton pants with a drawstring) and 2 large cotton handkerchiefs I've learned to put on my head just so to keep the sun off and sweat from dripping in my eyes, watch for pics.

Today we feeling pretty low energy after the heat and excitment of the chowk yesterday, so after breakfast we called Kuldeep he's open and can be around to pick us up by 10:00, and he is right on time. As we head down to the U.S.A. Embassy (Julie needs to register) I ask Kuldeep what about the budget the finance minister unveiled last night? More money for poor people for food sounds like a great idea, eh? It's to give the poorest couple hundred million people a guarantee of 25kilos of rice per month at 3 rupees per kilo... so about $1.25 per month will get them 50 lbs of rice. That will help them stay alive, anyway. Yeah, but, says Kuldeep, sounds good on paper but if there is 100 rupees in the budget to feed the poor, 99 rupees will go for the minister or this, the commissioner of that, and 1 rupee will end up going for food to the poor, that's just the way it is, sounds good, but the budgets are for the rich people, the ones with money and positions will get it all, for people like me there will be no change. Wow do we have it sooooooooooooo good. This is a smart, hardworking, honest person who earns about what we pay for tv, internet, and phone service a month (maybe less).


Anyway, on to the embassy, where once our driver is banished to the far parking lot, we walk past the machine guns and guards and join the line to find Julie has her camera! You must now go down to gate 5 and leave the camera, then come back says the guard, in not too bad english. So we bake a few minutes down and back, of course trees or any foliage to create shade would also introduce a haven for people to hide, so it's hot sun on hard pavement. Back to the cue, then we're sent into a waiting room (outdoor, no fans, but in the shade), it's only about 100 so far, it looks like the DMV line on a Saturday morning, pitiful as you wait for number 385 to come up now serving number 12... we meek up to the head of the line and get a nice surprise American Citizens? Yes, you don't need to wait, go around the corner there first door on the left. Wahooo! We're there, in the AC room with no line! We do our stuff, and they offer a notarized letter to Julie to help her get into school for only $30... yes back in the good ole usa for a minute, we're paying our driver $20 for the whole day. Can you help us with housing and medical recommendations? No sorry, we don't have any information on anything like that, we have everything we need for the state dept employees right here on the compound... you are on your own, check the internet!

So we are done and back on the pavement to collect the camera and find the driver, which happens before we are too lathered. Now to the Delhi train station, which as it's connected to the new, modern, air conditioned metro at Connaught Place I figure it will be a spectacular marvel like those in Paris... oh.. boy... was I wrong. The parking lot is gravel and dirt and dust, cars parked an inch apart but nobody has cars anyway. People everywhere, it's open air, no ac, not even any fans I saw. The 2nd class cue is like the racetrack betting windows before a big race... packed! Kuldeep leads us past the sleeping people laying around everywhere, dogs, what have you, up stairs to the Foreigners office, where we will get preferential treatment. It is air conditioned! No, no timetable, says the greeter at the door, now this place is a 50 year old office room with scoop type plastic chairs maybe purple brown or some such, yello dingy ceiling tiles and lights, and maybe a dozen people sitting around the perimeter at like folding tables and maybe a desk or two, a couple 20 year old computers I guess they actually print your ticket out, though the reservation form you fill out is a bad faded copy off the copy machine, and the clerks actually are using carbon paper to make receipt copies, by hand! No, no timetables, she goes on... they're going to be changing the schedule. OK, so when will you have schedule books, I ask? She shrugs... and points to a huge white board (that's like board, not whiteboard like we know, it's a board, painted white, with the trains out of Delhi painted on in black (express is painted in red), like with a paint by number paint brush. OH wow... but it works, we decipher the board and get a couple reservation sheets, and Kuldeep points out the boss, so I start over that way to ask "should I reserve on the internet" or not, because on the internet, from the USA it looks like it would work, but here..... I get intercepted by a trio of next in lines, 3 gents working together, and they combine to let me know yes I can book online, and maybe pay online, but maybe not I should fill out a form by hand and come in to the office to confirm my reservation and payment have been properly posted anyway! Ok I am so glad we came here... no way are we taking the train to Agra anytime soon, could you imagine a day trip starting at that train station, hours on the train, a hassle in the heat to get to see the Taj and Fort and Masjid, and then back to that train station to hassle in the heat and dust to get a tuk tuk home? uh uhhhh.

So next we go to a nice restaurant and invite Kuldeep to eat with us, spicy indian food authentic veg great cheap cricket on the tv all is great. Julie buys a soapstone carved elephant from the hawkers outside and I buy a couple post card books, we're on to get a sim card for my phone so to avoid 250 a minute ATT ripoff... but that doesn't go so well either the phones locked no they don't know how to unlock go see samsung or go online thank you bye!

Driving down to the Qtub Minar we stop at the Lodhi Gardens and tomb on the way, it's a beautiful spot but so ungodly hot you move as slow as possible from one shade to another too hot to take the path to the lilly or lotus pond, actually enveying the dogs laying in the puddle the workman is making with the watering hose to keep the trees from dying. Cold water vendor doing a good business we get 3 bottles a litre each and join the traffic heading out of town to the Qtub.

It is so hot there every single person has a cap, hat, hankerchief, washtowel, newspaper, or something on their head... ok not everyone, many indian people have thick black hair... they are doing OK. I love this place it is a fantastic ancient ruin from around 1200 or so it was started, the iron post still without rust the oldest around with this metal technology... anyway, it's tooooo hot for Julie they are restoring the whole mosque that was here, rebuilding it stone by stone, by hand, just the way it was built, tens of workers, hand tools, chiseling, mortaring, heat notwithstanding the work must go on!

And so almost ends our day. A stop for postaqe stamps we're back in the 30's again, the post office hidden back behind a wall off the road Kuldeep drops me off at the gate I walk up it's outdoor, the counter, no ac, a dark little room maybe 10x15... no one there just papers on a desk yellow light, yellowing peeling paint, oho! anyone in there... some guy comes out of the back room I must have woke him up... it takes a few minutes but I get my 20 stamps at 12 rupees each I only have a 500 he uses his desk calculator to figure 240, then the 500..... he only has 2 100's, so the other 60 I get 12 5 rupee stamps... thank you!

Now we are back at the room Kuldeep on his way home but I have to go to Lajpat Nagar to exchange 2 Kurtas I got that are too small for my growing belly... Julie doesn't want to go she'll nap so I put on the one Kurta long yellow with a brown headband and head out, this kurta is below my knees keeps getting wrapped up in my legs as I walk... the tuk tuk boys won't give me a ride give me a dirty look "no, uh!" whatever that mean, OK boy... I'll hoof it a while, up a few block to the main road here's a guy don't know what's up with the others... he get's me to Lajpat Nagar straightaway, Central Market, yes... the market is half dark and shops are closing up it's almost 9 by now and they close about 930 anyway but with the power out to most of the market... now the market goes on for like 10 blocks one way and about 3 the other, and it's not square, it's a big place of stalls and alleys and shops and tents... so it takes me a while to find my place I am sure they re going to be closed but finally I find them I have a good sweat...Kuldeep doesn't think they'll exchange 160 rupee kurtas but I say I have to try they won't fit, too tight. The see the old man, he must be the boss, and the young smily face fellow who sold me the 6 pieces Sunday night (they're closed on Monday). I just love this kurta, I say... smiling, you have great stuff.. yes, yes he nods, as I bring up the bag to the counter and take out the other 2... these 2, are too tight, I motion and say... need the next bigger size and I'm sure I'll love them just as much! Har a hay a yalla yalla tay he says to the boy.. one white, one green I think he says cause next thing you know there they are just perfect the smily guy has them out of the bag holding them up to my back, thees will be OK, he says... smiles all around and he looks at my pants, how you like? Oh I love them too, do you have a pair in navy blue? No no blue, but we have gray, dark brown, kakhi, white, yellow, green, as he tosses a half dozen pairs on the counter in front of me... no blue... one size fits all, he says... these are nice (the grey) nahh... but these greens will go great with this kurta... how much? 160... deal.

I find a cold bottle of soda and have to walk out to the road to get a tuk tuk, everyone is leaving the market now all the tuk tuks are full, rickshaws won't help I have too far to go. Finally get one and I'm home. Marian called to say the plumber has fixed the broken water line to the frig only $100... but a big hassle. Hmmmmmm, well, it's only money and can't be helped... and tomorrow, we'll spend about the same, to see the Taj Majal!