text-only single page format
Specific installments on this page:
December 7, 2000: Day 3, Mumbai (Bombay)
Date: 12/7/00, 1:39 AM EST (12:09 PM in India)
Re: greetings from mumbai
Just a short note to let you know that we're here! We're out doing a bit of shopping and getting adjusted to the sensory overload.
Flight was long but uneventful. We're a bit jet lagged and spaced out. Pollution and crowds are actually not as bad as expected, but it will still take a while to get used to (gasp, wheeze).
More later. Love to you all, Gina and Stephan XOXO
December 9, 2000: Day 5, Goa
Date: 12/9/00, 2:36 AM EST (1:06 PM in India)
Re: Message from Internet
We're in Goa now staying at the Bogmalo Beach Hotel, and have connectivity from a back room off the reception desk. Very cool and spacious compared to the last cyber cafe we tried in Mumbai, where you literally pressed up against the next people over inside a tiny unairconditioned partition, heated by bodies and Pentium processors.
So far we're working on acclimating to the culture, and we're getting there. Our 12 hour train trip down was very interesting due to the scenery and getting a really good look at rural Indian life along the route (often going only 5-10 mph, so you could see a lot). Quite an experience stepping around the 1000's of sleeping people in Victoria Terminus at 5 AM on the way to the track. We were in the best available class but even that is pretty basic... they've discontinued what used to be the best classes because people who can afford that just fly now. But at least there was leg room and the many wallas selling "cha cha cha", "coffee, coffee, coffee", "chai, cha, cha", "coffee, coffee", "col drin" (cold drinks), "waafe biscee" (wafer biscuits, aka potato chips) were interesting to watch... their calls sounded like tree frogs on a summer night to me at times and all but cha (tea) and coffee required translation from english into english, as many things here do. We're still trying to get used to the particular way english is used here.
Then a harrowing 31 km drive in the usual tiny fiat taxi (at least this time with a roof rack so we had fewer of the packs wedged into the passenger cabin). But we arrived OK and are lounging today and resting while Rashmi and Guru are off riding around on a moped (which is insane, we are convinced, having seen how this is done yesterday).
That's about it. The ocean is right outside our balcony, and it's beautiful weather, warm but not too hot, and the food is tasty and safe (so far). We've been doing the preventative Pepto Bismol thing and so far so good... I even had a banana and orange bought on the street and didn't get any immediately evident diseases.
OK, we're going to cut this short. I'm not sure whether we have to pay for this or it's just a favor and someone was working here before we arrived...
Hope all is well!
- Stephan (typist) and Gina (supervisor)
December 13, 2000: Day 9, Mangalore
Date: 12/13/00, 2:03 AM EST (12:33 PM in India)
Re: Message from Internet
Hello from Mangalore, India!
We've just arrived here today, back in the urban fray after a wonderful time lounging at a posh resort on the Arabian Sea, up in Bogmalo, Goa. The weather was just perfect, with beautiful sunsets every day visible from our room and the huge tiled open-air veranda/porch at the hotel.
Since we were letting ourselves adjust both chronologically and culturally, we didn't do too much from there, but did manage a couple of walks from the hotel, and a day trip up to Pangim and Old Goa, where there are many huge old cathedrals built by the Portugese from 1500 onward. These outings also helped us adjust most of the rest of our cultural thresholds on space and cleanliness so that we now fel quite comfortable out and about amongst the smoky cars, rickshaws, mopeds, busses, and everybody else crowding the streets to do their shopping.
Here in Mangalore, we spent some time hiking around and found some of the nicest shop areas we've seen so far... lots of great little stores along narrow winding roads that have little motor traffic. Hopefully our photos will come out, especially my surreptitious aim-and-shoot approximations that I'm doing to try to get some candid shots of the wonderful outfits people here wear (many and varied according to religion, caste, etc).
Although we feel our throats again, the air is still reasonable here and not too terribly polluted (compared to Mumbai anyway; it certainly is worse than the great air we had in Bogmalo!).
We're both actually a bit tired out at the moment because we took an overnight train that was 1 hour late and only got to sleep in cramped quarters from about midnight until 5 AM. We took the so-called 3-tier AC sleeper car this time (3rd class they call it, but that is sort of misleading because it's not what europeans would think that means... no animals and you get a fair amount of lying down space, layered 3 above each other (hence the name). Nothing is immaculate of course, but we felt quite comfortable stretching out and napping without worrying about fleas or other such stuff.
Actually, we had some further delays at our hotel here that prevented us from getting more sleep... they had put us into two grungy carpeted rooms in which housekeeping had literally strewn about moth balls all over the place... with predictable air quality results. Gina and I only lasted about 10 minutes before we fled to the lobby (not only because of the smell but also because of the many mosquitos in the room... the window casing had a 1/2" crack underneath its entire length).
Rashmi and Prasad also did not want to stay there so we asked for a better room and after being shown several other bad ones, they decided to bounce the Jet Airways reservation out of Suite #601, which is a huge 4-room suite with granite tile floor, panoramic view, etc, and no mosquitos, carpet, and mothballs only inside of the wardrobe (which we will just refrain from using). This is quite satisfactory, aside from not having had any hot water for our showers even though we took them within the alloted hot water times. The price is 1600/-- Rs, or about $30/nite!
So that's where we'll be for the next two nights... the Moti Mahal in Mangalore. We'll be visiting with family here with the obligatory and probably quite tasty meals at the various houses (but we'll have to be careful as always).
On Friday we do another overnight train ride (this time in posh 2-tier AC sleeper class, and for a longer more reasonable night). That will take us to somewhere from which we have a car taking us another 3 hours to Alleppi. We'll try to write again after that but as we head further south we don't know what to expect by way of internet connectivity.
Which reminds me that we have real hand-written letters and cards for many of you but we cannot mail them because of a postal strike... in fact we can't even get stamps until that is cleared up...
Thanks to those of you that sent us news and email... we aren't responding to individual messages because of the slow connectivity here. Actually, if you do respond to messages from us, please don't include our message in your reply... when I mean slow, I mean slow! Makes my 56kbps modem at home look like a dream come true!
Well, that's about it for now. Time for lunch... we're both starving and need to figure out which way it's back to our hotel! ;-)
Hope all is well!
Stephan (sweaty typist) and Gina (supervisor trying to stay cool under the fan)
December 20, 2000: Day 16, Kanya Kumari
Date: 12/20/00, 9:37 AM EST (8:07 PM in India)
Re: Message from Internet
We've managed to find another internet cafe in Kanya Kumari... the very tip of India. This is pretty much a midevil town with a bunch of large mediocre hotels overlooking the humble homes of the townsfolk below. The view from our balcony includes a perhaps too-close view/sniff of village life, and beautiful vistas of the sunrise and sunset, turbulent seas, and the two islands off the tip of india that contain a memorial and temple.
We decided not to visit the main temple here on account of Gina and Rashmi's monthly woes (at which time they are specifically forbidden from all Hindu temples) and the fact that I had already gotten myself kicked out of one temple in Alleppey after some miscommunication with the door keepers (Guru asked them and they apparently didn't see my white non-Hinduness until after I'd entered). Gina was a successful imposter, however, at Alleppey and elsewhere as needed... people in general seem to think she's more Indian than Rashmi, partially because Gina is wearing Churidars and Rashmi is wearing shorts.
Kanya Kumari also has a museum about Swami Vivekananda, a famous philosopher/holy man that brought Indian philosophy to the west in the late 1800's. The exhibits amount to a bunch of pictures and a long textual story that you read in 45 installments... but this is actually very interesting.
We also didn't go to the island with the huge statue of Swami V. because of rough seas, but got a good view of it from the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial on the mainland, where we also took in the sunset later in the day (it was a bit less crowded than the beach and square on account of having to pay 1.5 cents to house your shoes while inside the memorial).
Kanya Kumari is a holy place for Hindus so there are thousands and thousands of pilgrims here to visit the temples and immerse themselves in the sea. It was very festive and interesting to watch, and we were amused the number of times today that people asked whether they could photograph us (sometimes at great distances waving and shouting so we'ld pose, e.g., while on the upper platform of the Gandhi memorial).
What we found most interesting the houses and life styles of the local people, who as noted live pretty much in midevil conditions... around a square, e.g., below our hotel at which all come to get water at the one community water pump. There was a wedding going on, while goats grazed the flowers off of the waiting getaway car, and the fishermen were coming and going from the beach in long boats made from multiple palm tree stems tied together, some with interesting conical sails. The markets were also great fun, those that were for the locals that is... very interesting to see the veges and fruits. All this kept us distracted and led us to miss most of the major tourist sites... oh well, we're not disappointed, however...
Tomorrow we take off for Coimbatore and we may write again from there or from Ooty after that, if internet access is available. Our trip up will be 14 hours but should be comfy as we're in 1st class AC, have our own compartment with 4 lie-down berths, and we've got a nice supply of carefully washed oranges, pineapples, and bananas, among other tasty supplies to keep us entertained.
By the way, we had a great time roughing it on the house boats in Alleppey, where vast areas are accessible only by boat. Saw some neat birds, a water snake, and lots of beautifully outfitted people (as are everywhere).
Good food and health continues... down here we're seeing more north indian, so Kanya K has been a change from Alleppey and Goa but it's been good here too.
Better stop now before the power fails!
Hope all is well.
- Stephan and Gina
December 22, 2000: Day 18, Ooty
Date: 12/22/00, 8:15 AM EST (6:45 PM in India)
Re: Now in Ooty, at a different hotel than planned
Hi from Ooty (aka Udagamandalam)!
We finally managed to get sick, from the food in Kanya Kumari, where the choices just were not that good.... Gina did a commendable job tossing her cookies neatly into a barf bag that Rashmi had stolen from the flight over, while we were on our 14 hour train ride up from Kanya to Coimbatore. Rashmi and I also felt sick but were instead obliged to brave the train bathrooms rather more often than we wanted to. Luckily we had our own 2-tier AC sleeper compartment (even tho the train ride was during the day) so we were able to rest and were reasonably comfortable. We're still a bit sick but getting better all the time.
This was the start of a brief (I hope) run of bad luck after every thing had been going so smoothly. When we got to Coimbatore we foolishly believed the Lonely Planet guide's map which showed the hotel to be 400 meters from the train station... and walked more like 1.5 km with our packs, which was at first refreshing and then very tiring.
After that we ordered room service, which came with live cockroach frolicking under the plates and coffee instead of tea... we just sent it back and stuck to our crackers.
Today we took an amazing taxi ride up more than a vertical mile, much of that on a very steep almost cliff like area with many hairpin turns and hair raising near-collisions. More bad luck: The toy train is no longer running between Mettupalayam and Ooty, due to a landslide (but we may be able to go on a shorter stretch just for fun later). The good luck was, I suppose, that we made it up here alive.
On the way up we saw lots of amazing views as the sun rose, with beautiful mist on the mountains. Also lots of monkeys and partidge-like birds in and around the road. Even saw a capsized truck that luckily we were able to fit around and weren't near when it went over shortly before we arrived at the scene of the accident.
More bad luck: Our incompetant travel agent confirmed only one room in the Savoy here so we are at the Sullivan Court, which is also very nice and run by Sheraton (but not as nice as the Savoy). This is OK tho because we'll mostly be out and the price we got at the Sullivan Court is about 15% of the Savoy (mainly because they thought we were indians and not US people when we called on the phone). Boy, traveling with indians definately has some strong advantages. Now when we negotiate a taxi rate we always send Guru ahead while we hide... this got us a 550 Rs rate up here (1 1/2 drive) where most pay 1000 Rs.
After settling in and washing the prodiguous quantities of dirt off our skins (we've not had hot water in a hotel since I dunno when), we went for a walk in the beautiful botanical garden here, which was started by the british and is one of the few british gardens that is still being maintained in india. It's very steep and took us a while as we gasped for air (remember we went up more than a mile this morning in one hour). However, we did make it to the top.
The reward was the small tribal village that is normally closed to the public, located outside of the top of the garden. Because one of the people there spoke Kanada (as does Guru), we were allowed to go in and see the houses and the temple. This is a beautiful building made of stone and thatch, with arched roof. We were not allowed inside or even that near it but sat for quite a while talking with one of the elders and a few other men about their beliefs, what they now do for the living, etc. This place was basically something straight out of 10000 years ago... the temple with it's standing stone circle around it and incised petroglyph rock art, the round livestock enclosure, the large boulder nearby that they worship as a god. And what a view they have! Beautiful vistas of the terraced tea plantations all around, and the mountains in the distance.
These people are the Toda, who believe they are descended from five Pandavas who had a fight with some cousins and settled here as a result of a settlement of some sort brokered by Krishna. Which basically means they've been here a long long time, as far as I can tell from seeing some of the signs in the culture and buildings we saw. They actually used to have a lot more land in this area but much was taken by the british and this is now a reservation of sorts (but it is one of their original locations and the temple has been there basically forever).
In the end we bought some amazing embroidered shawls from them and gave them a donation for the temple maintenance. We even got invited to a wedding in a small village 15 km from here, where we hope to go tomorrow (they will send someone to our hotel to ride with us in a hired car, since this place has no address). This should be really interesting if it pans out and we'll have more to write on this later.
Yes, we got photos and we'll take more at the wedding (they already OKed this). We'll of course tell you more in the world premier of our slide show, assuming we manage to get all the photos home safely!
That's it for now.... some bad luck and some amazing luck too!
Stephan and Gina
December 23, 2000: Day 19, Ooty
Date: 12/23/00, 10:13 AM EST (8:43 PM in India)
Re: Message from Internet
Thought I'd stop to describe our amazing experience today witnessing a Toda tribal wedding. As noted yesterday, we spoke with some Toda villagers in the small settlement near the botanical garden here in Ooty, and bought a bunch of their hand-embroidered shawls from them. Apparently because we asked them so many questions about their temple, religion, life style, and so on, they invited us to a wedding that took place today in a tiny village about 17 km from here.
We ended up accepting the offer and hired a car for the day to take us and a guide from the village here out over some amazingly bumpy roads through a beautiful landscape of terraced mountainous tea plantations, potato and cabbage fields, and small villages nestled among the hills. Gina took some Imodium since she wasn't quite well enough for this trip (but how could she pass it up?) and Rashmi strapped on her motion sickness zapper bracelet and we bumped along for about an hour or more very slowly.
I have to admit that at first I thought this might be staged or a front for robbing us somewhere in the boonies, but no it was the real thing. We came into the village and all the little kids swarmed around us, one taking my hand to lead us up to the area behind the groom's house where tea and food was being served (we ate only some packaged biscuits since we're all still a bit quesy). It was immediately clear that their offer for us to join this event was completely genuine and friendly in a way that is hard for us americans to understand. This all seemed like something straight out of national geographic to me!
They even encouraged us to take photos, and helped us by taking some photos for us, and later even practically dragged us down to the front during the ceremony so we could photograph it along with the hired professional that they had there! It seems that the Toda are very mellow and friendly and strict only about a very few things, like no outsiders inside or near their temples, which unfortunately some tourists do not respect (the village by the botanical garden used to be more open to visitors, but they had a lot of problems so put up 'no visitors' signs, and now only let people in selectively upon request).
The village where the wedding was held had maybe 8-10 houses, most in the new concrete style but at least one with the arched traditional style thatched roof similar to that on the temple we saw yesterday, with a tiny doorway about 2x2 feet in size at one end. This one was a house, however, and there were very cute kids playing just inside the doorway as I passed.
Once in the reception area, we were introduced to the bride and groom, their parents and grand parents, and many others. The elder from the village by the botanical garden explained to us that this was actually one of several wedding ceremonies for this couple. The first one happened about 8 months ago and is followed by another once the bride is 6 months pregnant. If this never happens, then the bride may be sent back to her parents and is free to remarry. Otherwise, they do the ceremony we saw today to seal the deal (and another at 8 months or so, but I don't know the details of that one).
After talking for a while, everybody (about 200+ villagers from this village and others around the area) walked down about 250 yards to the forest where the ceremony was held on the edge of a buffalo pasture, under a large tree. Many were dressed in the traditional Toda shawls, and there were also many others in fancy and beautiful saris and other traditional indian costumes (these were neighbors and friends). Rashmi, Gina, and Guru wore the shawls we bought yesterday just for fun, and this was a source of amusement for all. After some obligatory picture taking and being-taken, we went down to the big tree to see the niche that had been carved into its trunk for this ceremony. Each wedding adds a niche to the tree, in which an oil lamp burning ghee is placed during the ceremony. Clocks and stainless steel cookware of all types given as gifts were placed all around the trunk.
After some time the groom came down the far hill (everything is hilly here in a very picturesque and steep way) with a bow and arrow freshly made in the other forest above. This was then given to the bride later in the ceremony as the final symbol of the union, sort of like rings for us.
But before the actual ceremony, first the bride and groom circulated among the guests to pick up presents (mostly cash; the rest were piled by the tree). We gave 100 Rs to each, plus two of the new 1$ coins, since it's traditional in much of india to give 101 or 51 or 1001 or 10001 of whatever one is giving (instead of round numbers because the round numbers would be viewed as less generous).
Then there were two dances with chanting by the men, who circled in an ever-increasing circle singing good wishes for the bride and groom while the children stood in the center of the circle (just for fun, we were told, because they like doing this, not because this has any significance). Then a similar dance by the women, and finally the ceremony. I held back a bit so didn't see too much of what went on but relented to their insistence that I go down front to take a couple of photos right when the freshly made bow changed hands (and everybody clapped).
[I should stop to note that while I type this the power is turning on and off in this internet cafe and they are struggling to bring back up their internet link... luckily I typed this in Notepad and saved to disk!]
After that, everybody went back up to the village to eat. We declined and sought out some bushes for other pursuits, both as a result of lingering illness and a wish to avoid more diseases in the future. We waited around for an hour just enjoying the beautiful vistas and fresh air, while our guide joined the eating. Then back into our car and another bumpy ride home.
Can't say that the above really captures the experience, but it was worth a try. Our slides should help to explain in more detail what we saw, and I'll have to try to make more detailed notes on the many things we learned about Toda life from our clean cut and intelligent guide, and from the village elder, and from the somewhat inebriated guest that talked to us for quite a long time. For example:
Well, I better stop... my head is spinning and Rashmi and Guru are waiting for me to finish.
Hope all is well!
- Stephan and Gina
December 27, 2000: Day 23, Hassan
Date: 12/27/00, 11:39 AM EST (10:09 PM in India)
Re: Ooty to Mysore to Hassan
We're in Hassan now, which is about 70 km north of Mysore and near Belur and Hallebid, the sites of two ancient temples.
Since we last wrote, we did a bit of walking around Ooty to take a closer look at a tea plantation and a terraced farm area where a family was growing western veggies for hotels (brussel sprouts, artichoke, red lettuce, oregano, and things like that). We ended up getting invited into their house for tea after we asked about the crops, and they showed us the orders they get from hotels looking for an Indian source of these crops. They definately made pretty good money compared to other things they could grow. We asked if they ever try to cook with these things, but they just laughed and pointed to us and said "no, only people like them eat these things!".
We also took a drive up Doddabetta, the highest mountain south of the Himalayas, but that was a bit of a tourist trap.
On our last day in Ooty we tried to change hotels to the Savoy, because Gina had the romantic notion of a fire place on christmas eve... but that was a bust as they were quite unfriendly, the room was dirty and ugly, the fireplace of questionable use, and there was a huge spider in the bed, which I (Stephan) heroically killed. So we paid the ripoff taxi amount they wanted to transfer us back to the Sullivan Court (200 Rs) and took a nap instead. This was actually pretty stressful because of the way they treated us and it underscored the fact that attempting a trip to India without some experienced fellow travelers is not necessarily going to be much fun.
Christmas day we left Ooty as planned, with our driver Ravi who is still with us until tomorrow evening. Unfortunately we were delayed until 2 PM (instead of 9 AM) and the ride turned out to be somewhat hellish and very scary. The reason our driver was late was that the Indian FBI had closed the main road into Ooty in order to engage in a military shooting match with a bandit that lives in the hills around there. If you listen to NPR, you may have heard about the kidnapping of a famous Indian film star... that was done by his gang, who also smuggle sandal wood, elephant ivory, and other banned endangered resources. They are a pretty violent and merciless bunch and are generally feared, especially in the towns that they control entirely.
I should note that the Toda wedding was in the opposite direction, although also in areas they sometimes are in. The risk was pretty low, though, or so we were told... and we like all travelers avoided the towns that the bandit "owns"... more or less anyway!
Anyway, after all the delays (the bandit was apparently injured but so far has gotten away) we took off from Ooty on a smaller road down the west ridge into the valley where Mysore is. The road was in incredibly bad condition and very windy both up and down and right and left and into huge potholes and out of them. On the left was a cliff face going up, on the right another going down, and little by way of guard rail. To make matters worse almost the entire length of the already narrow road had a trench dug along it for a fibre optic cable that will supposedly be laid at some point in the future, so much of the road wasn't more than one vehicle wide. Why they dig the entire 25km trench first and then lay cable, rather than doing sections is a mystery to us, but may have something to do with the fact that it was being dug by hand by laborers with pick axes.
Anyway, we nearly died about 3 times when busses refused to move over far enough for us to stay on the road, apparently because our plates were Karnataka and we were still in Tamil Nadu. We couldn't even enjoy the incredible vistas, most of us were either car sick or terrified, or both, and we got no photos, not even of poor Rashmi tossing her cookies by the roadside one of the two times we stopped. We were scared to linger too long on the road anyway since we were in bandit country... although we knew he was probably somewhere else, we had to guarantee of that.
Luckily road conditions improved after we dropped down about 3/4 of a mile, and we came through the incredibly beautiful Bandipur national park, a wildlife preserve that is home to elephants, tigers, peacocks, buffalo, several types of monkey, some antelope of various types, and many other critters, and amazing huge trees that tower over the semi-open savanna like grass and bush terrain underneath. We saw some monkeys, including a rare black faced variety, peacocks, and some elephants (but only ones being trained, no real wild ones).
Unfortunately, still quite shaken from the previous descent, I didn't get the driver to stop to capture some of the beautiful old growth forest, but I did manage to photograph some elephants perhaps from a bit closer than I should have been (but the poor things were hobbled so I could outrun them easily).
Well, it was all still too rushed and would have been great if it hadn't been for the bandit... darn it! We were also rushing to avoid driving after dark, which we ended up doing anyway because the ride was simple too long and we didn't let our driver drive like an Indian (90 km/hr on a single lane road, passing on curves, and stuff like that).
Eventually, we got to Mysore and managed to find our hotel, which was a beautiful old palace-in-miniature built from some daughters of the Maharaja early this century. This place is run by a non-profit group based in Britian, and was the first that matched my naive ideas of India still being more like it was when the british were here... that is somewhat manicured, organized, and clean, with a certain worn charm. The hotel wasn't perfect but it was the nicest place we've stayed, just for the atmosphere of it all. It's a nice plus that it's a non-profit aimed at preserving the building, providing non-exploitative employment, and helping to train people in hospitality jobs, while being environmentally sound (solar heated water and such).
Actually, speaking of exploitation, we learned that our driver gets only about $20/month base pay and drives often 22 hours per day for multiple days in a row. Once he drove 55000 km in 22 days. He told us he feels like he's on vacation because we've kept such a relaxed pace. We'll definately tip him well since he's also taken care of errands for us like fixing a watch band, getting a ripped bag sewn, getting Gina's birthday cake, and so on. Man, we'ld like to take him home with us!
In Mysore we started our day (Gina's birthday) with a nice breakfast on the lawn of the hotel, and then got our driver to take us to see the huge Maharaja's palace which is in surprisingly good condition and very beautiful. Got a guide so we had the VIP bypass-the-line treatment and we learned more even though he rushed us a bit. One thing they have there is some very interesting wall paintings that contain a clever optical illusion to trick the eye into seeing the painting's perspective differently at different angles. Lots of amazing carving and inlay, and the floors are in great condition because no shoes are allowed inside! It was definately packed, so Mysore met our expectations not just in the hotel but also in the full crowd immersion experience at the palace. And oh, yea, they have a lot of gold here... thousands of kilos if you believe the guide.
If you're confused about palaces, note that Mysore has many of them, including also the famous Lalitha Mahal (also a hotel now) which we didn't see. We also didn't see the Chamundi Hill with its huge statues, the musical fountains, or the famous market... just too much to do in one short day (remember, the bandit detained us so we lost about 1/2 day).
But we did see the art museum, which is quite nice but unfortunately with it's open windows in this pollution is not a really great place for preserving the works of art...
The last thing we did for Gina's birthday (other than eating dinner and cake back at the hotel) was to attend a Bharat Natyam dance performance at the university nearby. This included a solo artist and then a group performance, and was done with live music and lots of real gold and real jasmine and other flowers (instead of the recorded/fake substitutes we americans end up using all too often). The performance was one of many that happen here in a relaxed atmosphere created by dance teachers that want their students to have performance opportunities. Although a man sitting in front of us seemed to lament the decline of interest in classical dance, the hall was full (on a Tuesday at that) and the fact that this program exists made us hopeful that he's just being pessimistic.
OK, then today we went on to Hallebid and Belur, two towns with some ancient temples. Again delayed a bit while the car's wheels were taken off to repair the brakes in a tiny town enroute, we luckily had enough time in the end. Hallebid, which we saw first, is carved with an intricacy that is hard to describe except to say that it's about as intricate as anything possibly could be. The huge columns were turned on a lathe powered by elephants, and the Nandi statues must weigh 100 tons each. It was really interesting to see the hairstyles and fashions in such detail, in the context of the story lines for just about every Hindu god. We even saw some of the stories depicted last night in the Bharat Natyam dance (which for those that don't know are temple dances, originally used for ritual purposes only). We even could see the dance spaces in the temples, raised platforms where the dancing would happen.
Belur, because it predates Hallebid, was much less ornate but also very beautiful. Belur was a finished temple, so all the various associated sub-temples and the plaza area and wall are there, while Hallebid was stopped after 190 years of construction when the king at the time fell to the invading muslims. At Hallebid the partial completion is noticable if you look, because you can see some roughed-in carvings that were never finished and ornamentation stopped mid-stream.
Luckily photos were allowed inside and out so we have two rolls of details for any interested parties...
Before leaving Belur, we got the movie star treatment bigtime when Gina and I were discovered by some highschool groups visiting from Bangalore. We had literally hundreds of people around us in a huge circle interviewing us about where we were from, what our names were, our itinerary, wanting to shake our hands, get photos with us, and get our autographs and address. We've had people want photos with us the whole trip since Kanya Kumari but this was nuts... we literally had to wave and do a rushed getaway while people were waving pens and paper at us and yelling "photo please, photo please". To complete the scene, we got into our luxury car (which has very deeply tinted windows) and escaped the area while kids tried to peer through the windows between cupped hands.
Tonight we're in Hassan and will drive to Bangalore in the AM to do some shopping and inspection of the high tech boom there. At night we fly to Chennai/Madras, then onto Bubaneshwar the next day, from where we will surely write again.
Until then, hope all is well, and that everyone had a merry xmas, good holidays, and will have a happy new year!
- Stephan (mindless typist) and Gina
January 1, 2001: Day 28, Bhubaneshwar
Date: 1/1/01, 10:04 AM EST (8:30 PM in India)
Re: Happy New Year from Bhubaneshwar
Happy New Year from Bhubaneshwar!
Since we last wrote, we traveled from Hassan to Bangalore, then flew to Chennai, and after one night there (because of lack of connecting flights), continued on to Bhubaneshwar.
Bangalore was interesting and homey, in that we visited "IT Park", which looks almost exactly like any corporate building park in the US, except that there are about 100 companies sharing the three buildings. But the complex was much larger than we expected after what we saw in the rest of India and contained two banks with ATMs, a cafeteria, and fountains, smooth pavement and side walks, and very little trash. We looked at the directory and saw a few familiar companies like Lucent, Medsite.com, and Hewlett Packard, but most were Indian conglomerates that we'ld never heard of before coming here.
In Bangalore, we also visited MG Road, which is the hangout for the rich techie crowd and the thousands that come to gawk at the rich techie crowd. This is a fairly nice area but very crowded with men trying to feel up western women, who are in short supply so Gina and Rashmi got plenty of attention and practice on their defensive tactics. Actually, once we started to walk behind them, things calmed down and we had a nice dinner at a Pizza Hut which was nearly indistinguishable from the US variety. This was such a welcome surprise that Gina nearly burst into tears and we ordered way too much food. We're already planning to check out a McDonalds in Delhi but I've determined that actually ordering something there is a sure sign that it's time for us to go home!
Next we flew on to Chennai (Madras) where we stayed in the soggy dripping carpeted hotel from hell, and Guru had a rough night with allergies and we all worried about getting Legionaires disease from the damp smelly A/C air. Smelly is the word that best describes this place and of course there wasn't any hot water either. Rashmi's comment was "I can tell that if I stayed in Chennai any amount of time that death would become immanent". It was a choice between musty yuck in the room or the mosquito infested lobby (even the taxi back to the airport was filled with them)... nowhere clean or nice to go!
OK, but we lived and got to the airport plenty early just to get the heck out of there and made it to Bhubaneshwar.
Our first day here we just hung out, relaxed, recovered, and went to dinner at the Hare Krishna restaurant nearby (this is the area where those strange chanting orange-robed white guys go during the winter, in case you were wondering). The restaurant was however very good despite being very empty, and is run by the organization as the name may imply. I had some excellent stuffed stewed tomatoes, which I thought was the best vege meal I've had that actually has nice juice not-entirely-overcooked veges in it.
Next day we went to the somewhat overwhelming Orissa State Museum and for 1 Rupee each had four hours of entertainment looking at the sculpture, local arts and crafts, various stuffed flora and fauna, contemporary painting, and tribal artifacts. 25% of Orissa's population are tribes living more or less in their original state in the very remote areas. We are not planning to visit the tribes here because a trip out and back takes about 7 days. But, yes, India still has real tribes... or we'll take it on faith from the dioramas.
After the museum, we wandered around to the sparse tourist information office, with its mouldering piles of paper from 1995/96 that apparently list registered guides and such (got generated and never used by the looks of it). Here, we inquired about details for the State Youth Festival, for which we saw a notice but no information in the newspaper. We had also asked at our hotel but it took the Assistant Tourism Officer to convince us that yes we really needed to go in person to the stadium mentioned in the newspaper to get the program information. Of course the stadium turned out just to be where the youth were sleeping, not the location of the festival, but we managed to find it in our precariously packed auto rickshaw (we've gotten in the bad habit of riding all four of us in a seat made for two). Here, at the Soandso Institute for Education, Unit 9 to be exact, we met the Mr. Haak we'ld heard about from the Tourist Office, and found out that we'ld lucked out again and the Odissi dance competition was going to be in the morning and we could come and watch it for free!
That pretty much wore us out so we just came back and had a nice Orissan dinner at our hotel (we had to order 8 hours ahead of time to get it, but it was very good). Some of the local specialties are Kichiri (sp?), which is rice with dal and coconut, a special squash with mustard sauce, and a tasty chicken with rich tomato gravy. Yes, we can tell the difference by taste but I realize that the description here sounds like all the other food we've eaten and reported on... the ingredients are very similar but there are subtle spice and other differences as we've traveled around.
Next day we had another great cultural experience at the above- mentioned Youth Festival, where we got the VIP treatment, front row seats, tea, and attention from all the key people (including the videographer, so we've been immortalized as well). There were about 15 dancers, 2 of them men, the rest women, all with a time limit of about 15 minutes. We stayed from 10 AM to 2:30 PM, the music getting progressively louder and louder all the time, ending with the climax of an argument among audience members and performers about the treatment and prioritization of female over male dancers in the festival (an issue we had also read about in the paper). Of course the arguments were in Oriya so we didn't really understand the finer points, assuming there were any, and we couldn't tell whether it was time to run for cover before a riot. But things calmed down, the hammy over-politicized dancer that started the row did his piece, and the show wrapped up on a positive note with the lone Kuchipudi (sp?) dancer that showed up (all the rest were Odissi). Gina was happy to recognize many dances, including two presentations of Battu, and about nine versions of Das Avatar. Guru Kulchuran Mohapatra, who we recognized from a performance in Boston, was also there to support his students that were performing. In the end we left quite satisfied having seen some really excellent dancers, but we don't know who actually won to go onto the Nationals because the awards were only later in the afternoon.
Then we attempted to go to some of the temples here in Bhubaneshwar but pooped out after we saw that they charge 5 Rupees for Indians and 5 dollars for foreigners (47 times as much). Rashmi and Guru hung on a bit longer but were very disappointed with the very dirty and run down state of the temples, so we were glad to have stayed home to nap.
Phew, it was a long day tho because then we went out again to a new year's eve bash at a hotel nearby, which consisted of a huge buffet, huge crowd, and lots of loud Hindi music and live-action Hindi Movie dancing ensembles. Interesting to see but after chatting with two of the other "white noses" in the crowd (two Germans, one of which works for the red cross here) we fled back to the hotel, ordered an incredibly bad bottle of Indian champagne for $35 and rung in the new year quietly in Rashmi and Guru's hotel room, while yet another party raged directly above us on the roof. This was of course 10 1/2 hours before those of you in EST, so it all felt meaningless despite being the real new millenium this time around!
Today we took a car for the day and saw the temples at Konark and Puri. The former is quite nice but unfortunately in bad shape thanks to the Portugese and Muslims and British, all of whom worked to destroy it. Still very interesting to see, and I'd almost say it was worth paying $10 US each to get in (Indians pay 10 Rupees, again a 47X markup, apparently government-sanctioned here). Then lunch and a bit of shopping at a nice resort near Puri, and on to the temple in Puri, which non-Hindus are not allowed in.
Turns out despite not getting in (or from what Rashmi and Guru say, *because* of not getting in), Puri turned out to be a great experience. We were admitted to an observation deck at the library across the street, and after making a small donation could peer over the wall. What made it really fun was that a man who also works in the temple told us all about it, sang temple songs (Gitagovinda and other devotional hymns) to us, and baby sat us until the car driver, Rashmi, and Guru came back.
We're running out of time so we'll leave out the details of what we learned about the temple, but this is the main temple for Odissi dance which is still done here according to the guide we had, and after extracting some more money from us the guide said he would pray to Jaganath for Gina's dance to improve (specifically by asking for her memory to be strong). Actually, one other interesting hilight was that the god idol here is wooden and is renewed with a new body every 16 years, when the oldest capable priest in the community is selected to carve the new idol. This happens after the Maharaja that lives down the street in a smallish palace has a dream about where the Neem tree that should be used is located. This tree must be free standing without touching another tree and contain no birds. It is then cut down with a funeral pyre ceremony and used in the carving. The idea of selecting the oldest priest is that he will die within a few years, which is significant to the changing of bodies of Jaganath.
That's all we have time for... we've ordered another Orissan meal for 8:30 PM local time!
Hope all is well!
- Stephan and Gina
January 6, 2001: Day 33, Jaipur
Date: 1/5/01, 11:54 PM EST (1/6/01, 10:24 AM in India)
Re: Delhi and Jaipur
Hi from Jaipur!
Gina's back at the room with a back ache (probably due to three hours in the movie theatre last night, watching a crazy Hindi film, plus the bumpy rickshaw rides around town). And I'm here reporting dutifully, also feeling a bit ill again thanks to the Maharashtrian Thali from the other day. I'm now officially done with Thalis... ugh... this is basically too many different foods served in too large a quantity by waiters that circulate with buckets and slap the stuff onto your plate. Actually, it's very tasty but probably prepared a bit too long in advance and having been ill from it, I'm not very enthusiastic about the whole idea now.
Since last writing we flew from Bhubanshwar to Delhi, where we had a 24 hour layover because the 1/2 hour between flights on to Jaipur was (as expected) not enough time to change planes. This was however quite fortunate because Delhi is very nice, with broad tree-lined streets laid out in a radial pattern. It is no longer very polluted at all (contrary to outdated reports we've read, which bill it as the most polluted city in the world), and we managed to meet up with Eliza and Bob for breakfast and a shopping trip to the museum shop of an arts and crafts museum. There, I purchased a good 20 pounds of junk, which Eliza has foolishly (and too kindly) offered to carry back to the USA for us.
It was really nice to see them and compare notes on our experiences so far... quite different of course because we spent most of our time in the south, which is far less developed than up here, and far warmer. In fact, it's really quite cold here now, and I'm regretting ditching my long underwear and wind breaker back in Bhubaneshwar after I foolishly decided that the reports of cold in India were exagerated.
Here in Jaipur we are staying at another small palace that has been converted into a hotel. If they had central heating, this would be the nicest place we've stayed... very clean, comfortable, with beautiful ornate painted walls, nice furniture, etc, etc. What a contrast to these "luxury" carpeted rooms we've been stuck with in various places!
In Jaipur, we spent our first day looking at some of the palaces and forts, which are all far less impressive than the one in Mysore (so I don't know why all tourists seem to want to come here, except perhaps that there is an airport here and not in Mysore). Rashmi has a family friend here, who has been very nice and gave us lots of good suggestions, got us the tickets to the above-mentioned movie, and took us to a restaurant / amusement park set up like a traditional village from this area, where we had more delicious Thali food that in hindsight I no longer want to think about, thank you very much!
He also took us shopping yesterday, and Gina and I purchased a stack of very nice and nicely priced miniature paintings at an artists cooperative run by a friend of Deepak's (Rashmi's friend). Inspired by Eliza and Bob's amazing shopping accomplishments, and being closer to the end of the trip, we're starting to purchase more now. However, we probably should have done more in the south, which is much cheaper, and I distinctly regret not having purchased the amazing miniature painting panel from an artist near Puri in Orissa... actually, the panel was about 24x26 inches in size, with incredibly detailed painting better than what we've seen here... so the moral is buy in small rural out of the way places and not in places like Jaipur, even if you do have a local friend doing the bargaining for you!
Other than that I've been photographing the pink buildings in the old city, the camels and elephants that are much more common here, the colorful shops, crazy huge loads people carry on bicycle rickshaws, and the usual stuff you see around India.
Today we're moving on to Udaipur, and I need to stop writing now in order to try to get this letter to send from this nice but not-so-well-connected internet cafe.
Hope all is well... and thanks all for your letters!
- Stephan (and Gina in absentia)
January 9, 2001: Day 36, Aurangabad
Date: 1/9/01, 10:01 AM EST (8:31 PM in India)
Re: Udaipur and Aurangabad
Hi from Aurangabad,
Thanks for all your letters again... and as usual we can't respond easily to most of them directly due to the poor bandwidth. For those of you that asked for past issues of this news letter, we'll have to wait until we get home to send them because we only have a few of the most recent ones here. Hotmail is stupid in how you can set up mailing lists so we weren't very consistent about our mailings in the beginning before we finally started to cc ourselves and reply-to-all as our way of running this list. Sorry... very disorganized for a bunch of people that supposedly work with computers for a living (this is the vague memory we have about our careers anyway).
Also a small correction: The fatefully Thali mentioned in the last issue was a Rajastani Thali, not a Maharastrian one (which I have no intention whatsoever of trying, thanks, even though we are actually in Maharastra now... yes, Gina is sitting next to me this time, which is why I now know where I actually am).
Since our last email we made it to Udaipur and spent our one full day there mostly sleeping off our various diseases. We did manage a walk in the afternoon through the old town in Udaipur, which has streets as narrow as those in European midevil towns, but with real live functioning surface-running sewage drains (rather than picturesque non-functioning ones).
Udaipur is nevertheless very beautiful, with many palaces and temples overlooking a lake down to which are many bathing/clothes washing ghats (aka steps leading down to water). The air is filled from morning to night with the sound of people beating their laundry clean with wooden paddles (which of course also contributes to the terribly polluted waters, along with the seepage from the town in general).
We spent quite a bit of time sitting on the balcony outside our room watching the light change over time across the water, where the sunset beautifully lit up the city palace. Also entertaining was the filming of a Hindi movie, clearly visible from our sitting area. It's amazing how many takes they need for a group of people walking in circles, chanting, tossing colored powders into the air, a bonfire burning and a perfectly color-matched motor boat circling continuously in the background. As far as we could tell they spent the whole day on about 30 seconds of film, but there could have been more going on that we couldn't see.
Many of you may know Udaipur and some of the palaces here from the James Bond film Octopussy, some of which was filmed here. Predictably, there is an Octopussy Restaurant with live Octopussy Show every day (which we decided to skip). Actually, unfortunately there are entirely too many tourist shops and aggressive vendors in Udaipur, which ruin some of its charm unless you avoid the main roads and walk instead through some of the torturously windy and narrow side roads (which are more smelly but also more fun and certainly quieter and safer due to the lack of traffic there).
In the evening we spent an outrageous sum (even from a US person's point of view, much less from our now-indian idea of cost and value) on dinner at the Fateh Prakash hotel, which is located inside the city palace. This was an OK dinner in a pseudo-european style and was very satisfying even tho it probably would have been most disappointing at home. But this was nice because it gave Gina and I a chance to walk around the city palace and hob nob with the Maharaja, who still lives there. OK, so we didn't really see him but being the only people walking around there, we felt like special guests and got what I hope will be some great night shots of the illuminated architecture.
Next day we left early for the airport to fly here via Mumbai, but our plane was delayed and they shuttled us back to Udaipur again for lunch at another posh hotel, the Lakshmi Villa So and So Hotel on the hill, overlooking another lake. Having been quite ill, we weren't too interested in the food but the tomato soup was good and we got to spend some nice time on the lawn reading and looking at the view. The lake was very low in water, even worse than the Pachola lake (which was the one in front of our hotel), and apparently this ongoing drought state of affairs has really impacted tourism here.
Eventually our plane took off from Delhi, its origination point, where it was stuck in the fog, and we were ferried back to the Udaipur airport from the Lakshmi and even managed to make our connection in Mumbai, where we would otherwise have been stuck most of the day. So this all worked out pretty well because Udaipur was much more pleasant than Mumbai and we even got a private car rather than the Indian Airlines bus due to our dawdling until the bus was full. The latter was thanks to Guru, who caused all sorts of other trouble at the airport as well, first accidentally ripping his ticket in half, then taking photographs, which is prohibited there, and finally forgetting his fleece in his checked luggage, which he was then disallowed to access. As a result we are now famous there, but we got in good with the head Indian Airlines guy who was very nice and managed to get the other jerky staff to honor the ripped ticket despite their drooling over the prospect of charging us an extra $125 for the flight. In the end it cost only 100 Rupees (about $2) to grease the wheels a bit.
It is in fact interesting how people seem to fall into two categories: Those that try to rip you off and those that try to help you. So far we've usually encountered them together in a fortuitous way. For example in Udaipur, a rickshaw driver was claiming I had to pay him $10 for photographing in the old city (which was very transparently BS). Even though I just laughed at him, another driver immediately told off the first guy and told him to mind his own business. Something like this is fairly typical, maybe just a symptom of the general chaos that underlies most things here.
So we finally got to Aurangabad, where Gina ate Wonton soup and Steak Diane in the totally vegetarian (including no eggs) restaurant in the hotel (OK, the steak was a veg cutlet with mushroom sauce). Rashmi ate American Chop Suey, further evidence that we are getting desperate in the food category. This turned out to be exactly what is served as Chop Suey in New England in Chinese restaurants, to the great amusement of Gina who wants me to include these details: It was crunchy noodles over cornstarch thickened sauce with onions, whereas at home "American Chop Suey" is entirely different than Chop Suey (it's pasta with tomatoes and meat, she tells me... this is all New Englands stuff that I've managed to avoid so far in my eleven years in Boston).
Meanwhile, while all this exciting eating was going on, I (true to my character) slept in the room and don't even remember letting Gina when she came in later, happily fed.
Today we had our driver take us out to Ellora, where there are huge Buddhist, Hindu, and Jain caves/temples hewn out of solid rock. We spent several hours exploring them and baking in the hot sun, but opted out of paying the outrageous 10$/person "foreigner pricing" to actually go into the main Hindu temple, which is the larged monolithic carving in the world (which means in it's entirety, it is carved out of the rock without adding any stone anywhere, and it is substantially larger than the Parthenon, just to give you some idea of the thing). Still, we could climb up the hill and get a very close view of it from both sides and behind and so didn't feel like we lost out on much in making our little statement against India's racist law.
The policy to charge foreigners 50-100X the entry fee to such monuments is by the way only 2 months old, and in our opinion a good reason to avoid traveling to India until they change the law to at least something more reasonable like 2-3X pricing, or at least checking citizenship and not just color, which is how they are doing it now... This all means a poor white student traveler now pays the big bucks while rich Indians and even rich Indians now living in the US or elsewhere pay the 10 Rupees (25 cents). Grrr... well, this made us so mad we also skipped the Daultabad Fort, which is located nearby. This is a place where some crazy Moghul once tried to move Delhi, literally marching the entire population the 1100 km over here to build the new city just because it was more geographically central.... in the end they dropped like flies and 17 years later he marched them all back to Delhi, where the capital remained.
But anyway, we do plan to pay the $10/head tomorrow at Ajanta, which is said to be worth it and would otherwise be missed entirely by us... this is yet another series of caves, but older and with better preserved paintings, most of which are gone at Ellora.
So that's it for now... after Ajanta we're on to Savda, near Jalgaon, where we will visit with some of Rashmi's family before heading back to Mumbai and our flight back home! Yay, home!
By the way, as you may be able to tell by all this text, we're feeling much better... interestingly the turning point in our health problems was seeing an old episode of the Lucy Show in TV in Udaipur, and of all crazy things a Jaganath face was on the wall in the background in about 50% of the shots.... this is the Hindu god of Gina's Odissi dance, and the one to whom the priest in Puri was going to pray for Gina! So we did end up having at least one appropriately mystical experience in India, like all tourists should have at one point or another!
It's not clear when we'll be able to write again so this might be the last installment from here, but we shall see. Certainly Savda will have no internet cafe because it is a tiny little town...
Hope all is well!
- Stephan and Gina
January 17, 2001: Day 44, Mumbai (Bombay)
date: 1/19/01, 10:45 AM (original message written 1/17/01, 5:17 PM in India)
Re: Last email from India!
[Had to delay sending this because the ISDN line I paid 10$/hr for was slower than any of the shared 64kbs modem lines we used elsewhere in India]
We're back in Mumbai and hours away from departing India. Currently we are camped out at the Orchid hotel near the airport here waiting to take our 2 AM departure. Thought I would take advantage of their ISDN line and spare time to write our last update... we've exhausted our other options with a brief walk through the local slum and having eaten about as much as we can for the time being.
Since last writing we drove from Aurangabad (where the hotel was a comedy of customer service errors, but fairly nice) to Ajanta, yet another set of Buddhist caves. This particular set of caves was covered up with debris from about 800 to 1800 (if I'm remembering the earlier date correctly) so has intact wall paintings of incredible detail in at least some of the caves. We paid our 10 US$ government ripoff price for Gina and I (Rashmi and Guru were 10 Rs each, or about 50 cents total) and it turned out to be worth the money this time. But nevertheless, eventually a Buddhist cave is a Buddhist cave and we left to go on to Savda.
There we visited with Rashmi's aunt, at whose home we stayed. This turned out to be very comfortable, aside from getting used to the Indian style toilet... always a challenge, these things. Savda is a real non-touristy village (to the extent that our walk down the main street virtually shut down all business as if space aliens had landed) and it was great to experience the real thing. Water for washing is heated with an overgrown college dorm style mug water heater, and then mixed with cold before pouring it over oneself with a smaller dipper. I actually found this quite natural, squatting on the raised concrete block, which could be due to the mode of bathing Gina and I had to adopt at home when we renovated our bathroom last year.
The food in Savda was excellent home-cooked, and we also had the fun experience of going on a farm picnic thrown by one of the relatives, where all food we ate had been picked fresh that day and cooked over a wood fire... eggplant subji, chapati, rice, fresh tomatoes (I braved one slice), fresh onion, fresh ginger, and other yummy things. OK, the wheat and rice weren't picked that day but we were told that this family does not ever actually purchase food, and these are among the crops that they grow. Unfortunately the bananas were not ripe and no mangos at this time of year!
Our other adventure in Savda (other than more eating at the house of a friend of the family's) was to visit a local school, where several of Rashmi's family teach. It was very interesting to learn that conditions for teachers are about the same here as in the USA... not particularly good with lots of requirements and very little funding. However, because they get to beat the students, they are incredibly obedient, so the job is perhaps somewhat less trying in the end.
After Savda we went to visit more relatives in Jalgaon, where some of Rashmi's relatives (extended family, of course) have a college/school (both a technical/engineering part, and right now a part for elementary age kids... and interesting mix). Here, Guru was hoping to make an alliance for training and recruiting technical people for IBM and we got a VIP welcome (they picked us up in a car from Savda, and there was a big sign with "Welcome Stephan, Gina, ..." on it, plus a serving of very good Behl (sp?) after our tour. Actually, there was also a photographer and we heard since that our picture was in the local newspaper! Boy, it's going to be hard being a regular person again at home, after all this attention! Hmm, but remembering our celebrity mobbing experience at Belur, I think I'd rather be home anyway...
OK, this is all a bit rushed because the connection (ISDN no less) costs 500 Rs/hr here ($10/hr)... but next we took a very slow train to Nashik, to visit Rashmi's other aunt. Because our booked train was late we ended up bribing some railway officials to get us into regular non-AC sleeper class on an earlier train. This turned out to be quite interesting, very windy and smelly, and definately a true Indian travel experience as we bumped along slowly, stopping from time to time apparently so that people could get off the train to pick fruits from bushes along the tracks. But we did get there and spent most of our time in Nashik shopping for various things and getting Gina's Saris finished. More good food, which I wasn't able to enjoy that much due to the usual rumblings below and a very bad cold that only today I feel like I am finally past.
Then back to Mumbai, where we confirmed our opinion that hotels operated by Taj and inhospitable when they refused to store our luggage while we ate lunch at their hotel (the bad experience in Ooty was our other Taj adventure). So we hired a car for the day and did some good shopping at the government emporium, where I managed to find a really nice stone statue of Gurunda, which I now have to lug around in my carry-on bag all the way back to Boston (among all manner of other things).
That's about it. Unfortunately our hotel last night wasn't that nice and we were unable to stay here at the Orchid, which is a really nice 5-star "eco-hotel" where they not only take your baggage without question but also do everything else they possible could to be helpful and nice (including a free shuttle to the airport later). In short, when ending a trip in Mumbai, stay here... it's great! We did have a nice dinner here last night and then Rashmi took off after another nice meal (lunch) here as well (Guru had already left for family wedding preps in Mangalore after our first day in Nashik).
OK, that's it folks... an abrupt end to our trip, or so it seems to me at the time. Hope these monologs have been somewhat interesting to some of you. We'll send one more note from home so you know we got back safely... but I'm hoping there won't be anything more to tell about, just an uneventful trip back!
Hope all is well!
- Stephan and Gina (who is sitting out in the lobby, since this office is too small)
January 19, 2001: Day 46, Boston
Date: 1/19/01, 11:44 AM EST
Re: Back home again!
Against all odds, we are home again! Just wanted to let everyone know.... this is then the final installment of our little travel monologue...
As you probably saw, I was unable to send our last real message from Mumbai due to problems with the hotel's ISP, so just sent it from here.
We spent our last day just hanging out at a 5-star "ecohotel" called Orchid, since we had pretty much been India-ed out and just wanted to get on with our trip back home.
We basically just read, ate, read, ate, read, walked in the surrounding slum, read, ate, and then caught the free shuttle to the airport... then another 32 hours of waiting until we finally arrived at our door here. I managed to finish the cheesy book that I had bought at the Orchid Hotel -- "Timeline" by Michael Crichton, which isn't worth reading because it's basically a lousy screen play that pretends to be sci-based historical fiction.
Anyway, our trip would have been a bit shorter if the deicing guy at JFK hadn't banged into the plane with his lift and damaged our wing, which then needed repair before we could take off. But I passed the time sleeping on the clean clean floor, something I would never have done had I not just spent 7 weeks in the dust and grime of India.
So that's the end of the trip... hope all enjoyed reading this stuff I've been typing. Boy, I do have to say that I feel like I've got the world's fastest internet connection here at home over my 56K modem! It's amazing how fast these pages are loading!
Over and out,
Stephan and Gina
Top of this page