Friday, November 25, 2011

Well Now That’s Just Disgusting Part II

My inlaws live in a very nice small neighborhood off some decently busy roads that cross Hyderabad. The small grocery store is about 2 blocks away, and the husband and I occasionally walk down there to pick up some cereal, jam or other such things.

As I have already noted, Indian streets are crazy jungles of activity that require the utmost attention to navigate. This goes double for pedestrians as you are the smallest, weakest thing traveling on the road. There are very few places where there are sidewalks, people just hug the edge of the road. There is also the honking method of communication to be considered, but we’ll get into that in another entry. I guess it’s pretty apparent that you need to watch what’s going on around you.

The fun part comes in when you realize that you have to watch the ground in front of you also. There are stray dogs to be avoided at all costs, potholes, mysterious puddles, bugs, and trash, not to mention the people and random cars/autos parked on the side of the street. 

One of these fine evenings, I was walking with the husband and we needed to cross the street. I decided that watching the cars was the prudent thing for my eyes to be doing at that moment. This was where things got hairy. I had not noticed that something had used the bathroom on the side of the street. I turned to cross the street and didn’t notice it until my sandal clad foot had sunk in nice and good. Thank goodness I was wearing heeled sandals, otherwise I might have had Hepatitis nightmares for weeks – after all, I didn’t even know what left the pile of crap in the street.  Husband, after he finished being mad that I wasn’t watching where I was going and then laughing hysterically, assured me it was just from a cow. This is totally reasonable because you do see the odd inexplicable herd of cattle wandering down the street with the cattle herd in the middle of super busy neighborhoods/streets. I just wonder where they keep them…it’s all houses, where do you have space for ginormous cows??

So came home and thoroughly washed off my sandal, thankful that this lesson didn’t come with skin contact or any exotic disease. But still. Ew.


Well That's Just Disgusting

Listening to:  Lit up-Buckcherry

I recently had something happen to me that was so disgusting I never want it to happen again. Before we get into what it was, let me reassure you that India has tons and tons of local bug fauna. Blows the US out of the water when it comes to insects. For example, we have at least 3 types of ants in the house at a time, and I’m not talking about the kind that pinch your cheeks and kiss you lots.  There are small black ants that love sweets and grains. There are teeny tiny red ones that love bread and cereal.  Then there are the absolutely evil red ones that bite. *Shudder* Thankfully, those are mostly more interested in being outside hunting bugs and eating them. Because that’s what evil ants do. Occasionally we see them in the house if a bug has died somewhere. Another thing about ants is that it’s never one or two. By the time you notice them in the house, there are at least 500.

On to the disgusting part. In most Indian Hindu houses, there is either a dedicated room or at least a corner nook with statues and images of some or many of the gods, depending on how pious the family is. In my inlaws house, we have a dedicated room back by the kitchen. It does also happen to be a pantry/storage room. In honor of that being a religious room (a puja room) for the family, any type of shoes are not allowed. Most people (unless you are too poor to afford it, which is more people than you think) wear rubber type slip on sandals (cheppals) all the time, even in the house. This is because things get dusty and by the end of the day, your feet will be black otherwise. One night, I wandered barefoot into the puja room to grab a jar of jam. I did flip on the light but didn’t pay too much attention as I wandered back through the room. 

All of a sudden I felt some odd crunching beneath my feet and wondered what spilled. I looked down and the entire floor was crawling and moving rapidly away from my feet. Someone had spilled a little bit of whole grains in the puja room earlier in the day and the entire floor was absolutely covered with black ants. I literally have never seen so many ants in one place and I stood fascinated for a minute before I realized that I had many, many ants climbing up my legs. This was like a movie type action scene where there are so many bugs moving in one direction it looks like they are just spilling over each other to get away.  Ew. I still shudder thinking about it. It took a good 5 minutes of stamping my feet in the hallway before I got all of the ants off my legs, because I was wearing pants and couldn’t just brush them off. Let me tell you, I look down now before I enter a room.



Listening to: The World I Know – Collective Soul

Moving right along with the travel theme that I have going on is automobiles. Yes. I am aware that I shamelessly stole the movie title. 

Traveling around in cities is pretty easy, if time consuming. You have a few options.  Best option is having and driving your own car or having your own car and a driver. It’s not as expensive as it sounds. The next option is hiring a large car from a service that comes with a driver. This is a bit more expensive and better left for if you need to travel around with lots of people in a group. Option 3 is flagging an autorickshaw from the street. These yellow motorcycles with carts behind them are the quintessential Indian experience. You may find a few honest drivers, but most range from bat bologna crazy to just plain sheisty jerks.  They will however, get you from one place to the other for relatively cheap without running into anyone. Your heart may stop multiple times as they pass inches from other cars and even pedestrians, but they won’t hit anything. They also tend to know the city inside and out, but this won’t guarantee that you won’t be taken for a ride. Be very suspicious of a driver that looks at you blankly when you tell them the neighborhood you want to go to. You should have some idea of the streets or you will be driven around in a circle. The last option is to take a public bus. I would avoid this at all costs unless you are a man that likes to be shamelessly groped by other guys. Women just don’t take the bus for this reason unless they have no choice. Another thing about buses – the drivers are crazier than the rickshaw drivers. The bus only stops if a large amount of traffic gets in the way. There are no bus stops. You grab the handle and jump in, or just hang on, depending on how packed the bus is.

As I mentioned, traveling in the city is pretty easy.  God be with you if you decide to drive yourself, you should also know the streets. Idle autorickshaw drivers are surprisingly helpful at pointing you in the right direction if you ask in Hindi. Hiring a driver is also great because while they’re not as good as auto guys at knowing neighborhoods, they do have a decent idea of the city layout as this is what they do. Some are better than others because some only drive part time.  Due to sheer volume and chaos, driving across town takes about an hour. Some drivers are more aggressive than others too, and I guess what you want depends on how much craziness it takes to make your hair stick up. I don’t mind a crazy fast/aggressive driver as long as he’s not hitting stuff.

Driving in the countryside/highways is totally different. Huge construction trucks (called lories) and diabolically insane buses rule the road. They do not stop, they do not yield, even if they hit you. The roads will most likely be in very poor shape (I recently ventured out of town in a rented van with a driver and there were potholes larger than me. Seriously.) and drivers are inclined to slam on the brakes quite often as the car in front of them will have just discovered a ginormous pot hole right before they fell into it.  Avoid this if at all possible. But maybe do it just once to assure yourself you never want to do that again. I sure did.

I’m pretty sure I’ll have much more to say about driving in India. After all, I’m moving to Bangalore – one of the worst cities in the world in which to try driving. I do plan to learn though. I just got my drivers license!



Listening to: Crazy Train – Ozzy Osbourne. Love me some Ozzy too!

A week after we came to Hyderabad, we decided to take a trip to Bangalore and see my sister in law and her family. My daughters had been missing their cousins a lot, so we decided to go. Of course, in true G family fashion, we decided this long after train tickets were not available any more. A few things about long distance travel in India. Planes are easiest, but you really pay for the convenience. Trains are cheap, mostly safe and comfortable, but take a long time and require some planning unless you’re very lucky – more on this in a minute. Unless you are butt monkey crazy, you just don’t drive a car long distances in India. If cities are the jungle to drive in, interstate roads are Mad Maxx apocalypse types. It just isn’t worth it. 

Ahem, back to our trip to Bangalore. So after deciding to go, we needed tickets that were sold out weeks ago. Enter the Indian side door route. There are a certain small number of tickets set aside called Tatkal. They are set aside for people like us who need to travel last minute. As I mentioned, there are very few, and they are very hard to obtain. You have to physically go to the train station at 7 am and stand in line and hope you are close enough in the line to get the class of seats you want. It ranges from miserable (sitting on a bench in a non-air conditioned car with no personal space to speak of) to luxury (one coach with one bed with air conditioning).  If you’re a man and really desperate, you can also fight your way into the unreserved last carriage and fight your way to a seat. Totally not worth it. Husband brought along Daddy G to the train station because he qualified for the senior citizen line (or que according to the natives). This got us the 2nd air conditioned class we wanted. This basically boils down to 4 fold down bunks for sleeping per  coach. We managed to get three as our youngest doesn’t need one to herself, nor should she be by herself.  Most trains involve some type of overnight adventure, so securing a bunk for yourself is totally worth it.

Our train left at 6 pm and arrived in Bangalore around 9 am (it was a bit late). If you are interested in staring out at the country side (which I am to a ridiculous degree) you should pick a train early enough to leave some time for that. One of the best things about the trains is the snack vendors who wander around. We got some samosas (pastry filled with spicy mashed potatoes and peas and deep fried), deep fried chilis, tea, mango juice, almond milk, and coffee.  We decided to pass on the pani puri because we’re just not insane or have a death wish. Pani puri are very thin fried dough with a hole in the center. You pour in some totally questionable, hot, flavored water and pop the whole thing in your mouth. If you want the experience, you go to a decent restaurant, you never go to a street vendor or train vendor. That’s how people get typhoid son! You also should bring your own food and snacks and a huge bottle of water if at all possible. Sealed containers are best as I killed a few roaches trying to share with us. We ate our dinner from home and settled in to watch the scenery.  The Indian country side is very, very nice, especially between Hyderabad and Bangalore. We saw various cows, goats, sheep, lots of hills, and small villages. One less positive thing is that the railroad tracks are a bathroom for most people. First thing in the morning, people will be lined up shamelessly on the tracks peeing and pooping wherever. These are mostly people who don’t have running water at home. After a while, we folded the bunks down. They are the perfect size for an average adult without having extra space or being too small. When I say bunk, it means a metal shelf with a plastic coated foam mattress.The train provides 1 pillow, 1 sheet for putting down on the bunk, 1 sheet for putting on yourself, and 1 heavier blanket. With the AC on, it does get quite cold. You may want to bring sweaters.  From what I could see, the sheets and pillows are pre-washed and neatly packaged. The heavier blanket is a bit shadier, so be sure to use the top sheet. 

The ticket collector will shamelessly flip on the light in the middle of the night and demand your ticket. Have it handy and just give it to him. He doesn’t want to be up in the middle of the night either, but that’s his job. He’ll flip back off the light and you’ll go back to sleep fine.  Falling asleep on a rocking train is almost too easy.  Another thing to be aware of: I’ve heard lots of stories about suitcases being stolen. There are spaces under the bunks for luggage. If you are bringing some, they should be as far away from the center isle as possible and turned so the handles don’t face out. Shoes also should be stowed securely, as my husband once had his stolen.  Another word of caution: there are stories circulating about people offering others food laced with tranquilizers. Once the unsuspecting victims fall asleep, the “friends” help themselves to whatever they want from your luggage/person. It’s best not to take food from anyone other than an official vendor. Or better yet, bring it from home and just politely decline and say you just ate.  I spent most of the night staring out into the Indian countryside not sleeping.  Then I had more coffee after landing up. We’ll get to my Indian coffee fetish in another country.

I know you all like pictures, but I forgot the camera-computer cord and it got packed. Since we have 8 of them, my husband is refusing to buy another one. Hopefully I'll get my stuff soon so I can start posting pictures! More on shipping stuff later too.



Listening to:  Fall to Pieces by Velvet Revolver.  Love them.

Pardon me.  I seem to have forgotten I have a blog. Or I’m just lazy. Probably the latter. So no worries, mom, we are all still alive and kicking. 

We have arrived in India (or landed up, as the natives say) and have been staying with my inlaws for the past 2 months. We got lucky, my inlaws have a beautiful old free-standing house with enough room to house us and all our chaos and stuff. Knock on wood, only minor sniffles so far and no stomach flues or parasites or anything fun like that.

We took Etihad for our flight to India. We left from JFK in NYC and made a very brief layover in Abu Dhabi and on to Hyderabad. Etihad was a nice airline to fly on. There wasn’t much leg room, but then again, welcome to airlines when you’re cheap. We weren’t going to buy first class tickets.  Anyhow, the flight went well, the food was good, and went off pretty seamlessly.

The Abu Dhabi airport is crazy clean, neat and orderly, but it was a VERY long walk between our gates.  We ended up not even spending any time sitting in the airport after we got through security. We did go through another metal detector and body search even though we had just gotten off a plane from New York. Whatever, I’m all for planes not blowing up. We were transferred at the gate to a bus that went to our plane. Indian behavior started the minute we got on the bus. We were asked to check one of our bags by a random official before we got on the bus. This case happened to hold all of our passports/important documents/my jewelry. There was no way in Denver we were letting that suitcase out of sight, so we just pulled off the tag on the bus and took it on the plane with us.  This is the Indian way. Some lucky bugger also got a handful of my backside. I wish I would have caught him, but no harm done. We were in Abu Dhabi in the middle of the night, which was rather disappointing. I’ve been wanting to go there my entire life just because the name is so cool, but there was nothing to see beyond some far away lights. The plane from there to Hyderabad wasn’t as nice, but it was a short flight and the food was still good. I ended up eating more lamb biryani (what I had on the first flight) because they ran out of chicken, but it was fine because for plane food, that was some awesome biryani. Biryani is basmati rice with lots of spicy chicken/lamb/beef and sauce all mixed together. It is one of my favorite things on the earth to eat. In the past 10 years of knowing my husband, I’ve become somewhat of a spice junky.

We landed up in the Hyderabad airport, which was completely different from the last time we came because they built a new airport. I’m pretty sure this one would be a lot harder to sneak out of and walk out a back door that no one bothered watching.  Not that we did that or anything. Customs was relatively un-busy as we landed around 4 am local time. The customs agent that waited on us was tired, but polite and quick. Another change from last time – the last guy was incredibly rude and dismissive. All of our suitcases followed us again without a hitch. It still baffles me that they lose suitcases in the US, but we’ve never lost one internationally. We left without being mobbed by beggars and prostitutes too, which is yet another change from last time. A few Muslim girls started talking to me which was a little disconcerting because you always wonder what people want when they talk to you randomly, but I think it was just curiosity and my holding hands with a cute little girl (my daughter).  After an hour ride, we were at my husband’s parents’s home, safe and sound with all our luggage.

Since India is almost exactly on the other side of the world from the US, the jet lag is brutal. It took us almost a full week before we were able to go about our daily lives without randomly falling asleep every time we sat still.