Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Merry Christmas...I Think

Listening to: Ooh La La from The Dirty Picture

Mood: Matches the beautiful Bangalore sunshine outside

So. Tis the season. Or rather was the season, I’m a bit late in writing this. This year’s Christmas for our family has been a very odd disconnect from Christmas all together. Our stuff wasn’t readily available to us yet, not to mention our not having our own place to live in, so there wasn’t any decorations to put up. Our Christmas tree found a new home with some good friends before we left the states. Halloween passed without much to-do, as did Thanksgiving, so there hasn’t been any build up to the holidays. No strolls through crowded, fully lit, stores begging us to buy anything and everything we could ever want. No slow cooling of the weather into a delightfully crisp cold December, and no planning for family events and parties leading up to the holidays. It’s been rather un-Christmassy if you ask me.

The year I turned 13, my family moved down to the Florida Keys. We didn’t really know many people yet, and obviously the cold weather was notably absent. For one born and brought up mostly in the mid-west, this is considered sacrilege. You just can’t have Christmas without cold weather. This is rather reminiscent of that year, only more removed.  There are days when I feel like my life in the US wasn’t 3 months ago, it was a lifetime ago and all seems rather insignificant now because my experiences in India have been nothing if not very, very different from my life in the US. Now more than ever, I am feeling the almost physical sensation of having one chapter of my life close as I struggle to keep up with a new one. While I am enjoying my time in India immensely and do my best to avoid being maudlin over the US, I do still occasionally feel a bit of wistfulness for the way things are there. I’m pretty sure this is not too uncommon.

I hope I’m not giving the impression that my Christmas was terrible. It definitely was not. We spent Christmas Eve day cleaning and sorting our new apartment like rabbits on meth. After 4 straight days of nonstop unpacking, I was exhausted and SO ready to be done with that. Ahem. Back on track. My sister in law and crew picked us up around 8 and we headed back to her house for some quality family time with them. I have missed them terribly the past year while they were in India, so it’s been absolutely wonderful to see them so often. We broke open some coconut rum, Black dog whiskey, and Indian wine. It was a pleasant evening. I finally met my match for spicy byriani. It was the kind that you curse and swear never to eat again because it was so damn spicy while shoving more in your mouth because it’s just that damn good. Yep. Once I’m in my kitchen, my family is totally turning into guinea pigs. I am getting byriani down if it kills me. Anyhow.

We woke up slowly at 9 and lazed around for a while until hubby’s brother in law’s niece came over to share the day. Now if you know anything at all about the G family, it’s that the adults are night owls and are very jealous over their sleep. We love us some sleep. This has all changed since the husband started work and the oldest girl in the family started school. We now sleep at 11:30 or so (seriously.) and wake up no later than 8 (yep, still not kidding), although we’re usually up much earlier because of my husband’s propensity to turn the alarm on much earlier than he plans to get up.  It was very nice to sleep in for that extra hour.  My daughters and nieces had tons of fun playing together as usual. The other niece came over and we had a wonderfully lazy day that involved some Bollywood movies, lots of chatting, and lots of alcohol. It’s been three months since I had anything at all alcoholic to drink. I know, I know, but try not to fall over about this. So that, combined with the fact that I’ve lost a bit of weight, and that it was Christmas and I missed my family, didn’t bode well for me. I won’t go into it much because the husband issued a gag order along with a threat of dismemberment if I ever get that drunk during the day again. In that respect, this was a first, I never drink during the day. Let’s just say I had lots of fun with some Indian wine, Black dog whiskey (yep, I still love me some wine and whiskey, just not together) and coconut rum. After much silliness, and then worshipping the porcelain god, I have decided once again that I really don’t like being that drunk. There are only 2 other occasions in my life where I have been that smashed. They both involved a friend of mine who can only be described as epic. As much as I love him, it’s probably good that we’re not around each other too much. He’s a crazy bastard and I would probably turn into a drunk. Again with the verbal meandering, pull it together here. 

So that was our Christmas. I miss the other half of my family an awful lot, but I don’t think Christmas has much to do with that, I miss them anyhow. I’m looking forward to the next disconnect that will be New Year’s. I think I’ll take it a little slower though. My sister in law is having a party (and not that kind of party) and I don’t want to be dancing on the tables. J


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The One in Which I Go Stir Crazy

Listening to: Moonlight Sonata - Beethoven

Mood: So content little rainbows and unicorns may as well be shooting out of my backside.

So here’s the thing. I am super content being in India.  I absolutely love it. It has added depth to my life that I never thought I would find and I couldn’t be happier about it. The thing is, and you knew there would be one, I’m bored to pieces. Cue whining session…now. I’m BORED!!! I think the major cause of this, as I mentioned in my previous blog, is that we’re living out of 2 suitcases, most of which was taken up by clothes. We (as in the girls and I) don’t have transportation handy, and most importantly, I don’t have a cell phone as the husband commandeered it. Because you know, he NEEDS a phone. NEEDS. Apparently I don’t.  Hmm. That sounds a little bitter there. Let me clarify that it was more of an eye-roll thing. So no transportation, and no phone. The kids and I are making daily trips to the small store across the street just to get out of the house. We’ve been up and down the blocks in the neighborhood. It’s a beautiful one, but it’s a residential area so there isn’t much to explore. I have no idea where my days go. It’s absolutely mind numbing.

I’ve always been one that does better when she has physical work in front of her that needs to be done, even if it’s just a little every day. Since we’re living in pampering land (someone cooks and cleans for us every day), I find it challenging to find anything to do. I really don’t like trolling the internet all day or watching TV.  Hopefully we’ll get into an apartment soon. I could really use some boxes to unpack and some cooking to do. 

Whining done.


Finding a Place

Listening to: Marching band practice across the street

Mood: So content little rainbows and unicorns may as well be shooting out of my backside.

There comes a time in a man’s life when he needs to find a place to crash. Alright, that time comes for just about everyone, not just the boys. We are indeed at that point. I’ll get into the reasons in another blog, but let’s just say it has to do with a storage/space problem. Our stuff is here and we have no place to put it. Time to put the rubber to the road. Ok, I’m done with the ridiculous quotes and clichés. Promise.

You have a few options when looking for housing in India. The first is buying a house or apartment. Unless you’re the James Bond of travelling or being an expat, don’t even think about using this route. Real estate in India is a jungle of white money, black money, goonda (closest explanation is a rowdy criminal gang member) real estate dealers, shady properties, and general craziness. Seriously. Beware all ye who enter here. It’s also not a cheap option. Unless you buy property out in the countryside by the village people, it’s quite costly. Trust me, this is much less fun than listening to YMCA. You also don’t get the sense of community and easy access to other people/friends for your kids/basic amenities like grocery stores as you do in an apartment. Since we’re not staying in India on a permanent basis, this option just isn’t for us.
The next option is renting. Again, you can go with the renting a house option, but not only will it be expensive, you won’t get as much bang for your buck. The nicer apartment buildings are practically dripping with amenities, security, and maintenance. You also get a sense of community that is definitely missing in freestanding houses.

Now comes the fun part. After you’ve decided which option to pursue, you can start looking for a place. Most of the apartments and houses in India aren’t run by companies.  Most are owned by a person/family looking to rent it out until they are either in need of a place to live or just to make some money. When looking for a place, there are plenty of web sites (like and, and to a lesser degree that you can put a search. As I mentioned in my blog about schools, you should do your homework and make sure you’re not sacrificing your time to get a great apartment. There are plenty of them – there’s no reason for you and your kids to have a 2 hour commute every day. Pay attention to which neighborhood makes sense for you. Drive between your prospective apartment, work, and school if at all possible.  Ahem. Back to finding a place. One way of going to see apartments is hiring a broker. Now I can see the happy smiles on your faces as you think this is a perfectly good solution. Stop right there. As I mentioned earlier, real estate agents here are truly a breed of their own, and not in an only slightly slimy way like US real estates.  Borderline criminals is in no way an exaggeration. They will also charge you a 1 month of rent fee for their services. The upside to this is that you can see tons of properties relatively quickly. If you’ve narrowed your search down to a particular building or two, most of them have a person onsite who would be happy to show you different apartments for rent and charge you the broker fee. This is useful if you want a very specific building and don’t have time to contact different owners on your own. Most of the buildings have apartments with different layouts and décor, so it’s worth looking at a few different ones to get an idea of what you like. It can’t hurt to look unless you didn’t want to pay the broker fee and fell in love with a place anyhow.

The other option is going through the web sites and picking out only the ads that are by owner. Most owners don’t charge fees and are a little more open to negotiation and getting a place rented out. You can also filter the web sites for neighborhoods/complexes to make your search a little easier. The upsides to dealing with owners is that they usually keep the apartments in better shape for showing (more on this later), more negotiating power, and someone that will answer your questions in person, rather than having to get on his phone every 3 minutes if you have a question. The downside is that finding owners usually isn’t a quick process. People work and are busy and scheduling appointments can stretch into weeks at a time.
A few things to keep in mind as you go around and look at apartments. There will be a maintenance fee every month. Depending on the level of amenities, this will either be minimal, or something that could be a deal breaker. Check out the outside amenities. Is the pool sparkling clean? No good having a pool if you’re afraid to go in/send your kids in for a swim lest they get some tropical dirty water disease. This actually happened to my sister in law. They’re afraid to use the pool because the water always looks green, and not in a pretty way. Does the playground look safe? Are the ball fields/courts well kept? No point paying for things that aren’t well maintained. Usually places are more well maintained on the outside than the inside hallways, so disregard outside is a big red flag. Take a look around the inside hallways. Are they clean and well lit? I find it very depressing to have to walk down a dark interior hallway during the day that has no breeze. Pay attention also to how many apartments are on a floor and how closely they are touching each other. It’s a big deal now in India to build buildings with apartments that don’t actually share any walls. This is an amazing thing as you have less to worry about with noise.  

When you get in an apartment, take a walk around to get the layout. Bigger/more rooms=more money. Make sure you look out the windows and see what your view will be. Do you want a courtyard or a city view? Take a look at the walls and the floors. If you decide to take the apartment and these things are dirty, you will need to negotiate cleaning. The closets aren’t the same as in the US. Most of the closets here are freestanding wooden units called Almirahs that usually take up 1 wall of a room. There will not be much hanging space, but you should have plenty of space for your clothes. Another thing to ask about is the geezers (individual water heaters).  There should be one for each bathroom (1 bathroom for each bedroom is standard here) and will be either gas or electric. The benefit of gas is that is isn’t subject to power outages. You will not get a bathtub unless you rent a super posh place. Most have showers. You should pay attention also to what direction the apartment faces. Unless you are deaf and very, very dirty anyway, you should avoid taking an apartment that faces any major road. The noise and dust just aren’t worth it. Another thing to notice is air conditioning, especially in the winter. The weather will be really pleasant so you may forget to look, but come summer, you’ll be wishing you had it. Most of the air conditioners are of a type called split air conditioners. Small holes are created in an outside wall and the air conditioner is fitted to the front and back of the hole. As long as the apartment already has these holes in place, it’s not a big deal to put in an air conditioner and you can negotiate it into the rent agreement. If the holes aren’t in place (here, there are usually only holes in the master bedroom and possibly the living room) most owners don’t want the cost and mess of creating them. Trust me, come April you will be thankful for the air conditioning, especially at night.  If you’re looking at a complex, there should be security that stops every single car and person trying to come into the complex. Another thing to notice is cabinet space in the kitchen. While this may seem like common sense, I saw quite a few places with minimal kitchen storage.  You should try and contain your excitement too if you find a place you really love. Being too excited about it lowers your bargaining power.

So. You’ve found the place you want, now what? If the owner is there, you can hammer out a rent agreement then and there, or at least give them an offer to think about. If not, you will start the long process of phone tag for this offer and that. Bargaining is a part of the process and you should be absolutely shameless in using it. Know what the apartment is worth (this is why you see quite a few of them!) and know what additional things you want (air conditioners, cleaning, a guarantee that rent won’t go up the next year, move in date). While you’re bargaining, remember that this is not an exercise in getting EVERYTHING you want for nothing from the owner. Try your best to be tough but fair.  You’ll have more leeway with a place that has been on the market for a while.

Move your stuff in and enjoy your new home!


Monday, December 12, 2011

Finding an Institution for the Kids

Listening to: Random Indian cartoons
Mood: Happy

Finding a school (yep, that kind of institution) for your kids in India can be challenging, to say the least. It’s even more challenging when you have someone moving to India with kids already in school and not used to the Indian system.  Most people here get all manic crazy about sending their kids to excellent schools and turn into, well, I won’t say psychos for civility’s sake but you get the point, about preparing their 3 year olds for nursery school entrance exams. No joke.  Depending on where you are in the economical hierarchy, you try to send your kids to the best school you can afford right from the beginning. This is especially true of those who are on the lower spectrum. If you can afford for your kid to go to school and not work, you do everything possible so that they can possibly have a better life.  Ahem. Back to the point here. Most people choose a school for nursery school and do all the work of entrance exams (and the extra first year fees to be sure) when kids are 4.

There are a few different options for school here. The common man’s option is a traditional Indian school.  These range from bad to very good academically. Most do not have the money to hire well educated teachers and offer lots of extra-curricular activities.  The good ones are very good with academics, but not so good at life balance. My husband went to a school of this sort. They may turn out super smart, super hard working students, but they tend to not be well rounded as all of the emphasis is only on academics. Most of these schools do not take students half way through the year  (June – April) and may be extremely picky about who they admit, especially the schools with excellent reputations. Most of them are very cost effective. One caveat for these schools: Unless your kid is exceptional in academics in every subject or you have tutored them to 2 grade levels above their age, they will suffer. American schools, even the best of them, do not cram knowledge into little heads like these schools do.

The next option you can choose is a hybrid school. This is the option that we’re currently looking at for our daughter. These schools also can range from meh to excellent. The difference is that they often have a lot of additional activities kids can participate in (sports, clubs, lessons). Accordingly, the better the reputation and the more options they offer, the more expensive they are. The better the reputation, the more likely the school will be picky about mid-year admissions (most will be full) and giving exams to get in.  While not as cheap as the local state schools, these are much more affordable than the true international schools, which we’ll talk about next. We’re looking at Delhi public school for our daughter. It’s worth noting that since they ask for more money to send your kid, they have nicer, bigger facilities, and slightly better teachers. Finding and retaining good teachers in India is a challenge because there are tons of positions and teachers tend to bounce around depending on who is offering the best rates. They also have a half western approach to teaching (i.e. the teachers don’t throw chalk at students, they are more patient, the learning is less listen and repeat style).  Your child will have an adjustment period, but shouldn’t struggle for too long to catch up.

The last option are the truly international schools. They have western standard facilities, teaching style, and charge accordingly. If you are earning in rupees, this usually amounts to paying an arm, a leg, and your first born. There are no discounts for siblings. As per the crazy school fee, they offer tons of extracurricular activities and air conditioned busses. Only the truly rich (think rock star or really rolling expat executives) send their kids to these schools. This just wasn’t for us for obvious reasons. The standards are still high at these schools, but the feel is less one of making kids feel bad to be behind and more of a let’s help you catch up quickly type.  One important thing to note is that no matter where you send your child, unless they speak/write Hindi, they will struggle with that too. Hindi is not at all the same as the romance languages (English, Spanish, French, Latin, etc)

After you sort through the plethora of information on line (and there is indeed too much info, very, very little of it helpful) and decided your price range, you will need to stop a minute and think about your child’s birthday. As mentioned, the school year here is June – April. Your child must be 4 by June of the year you intend to send them to Lower Kindergarten.  You can count up and do the math yourselves for the rest of the grades. The reason for this is that at the end of 10th grade (the end of highschool here) kids must be 16 to take the exam to pass out of highschool.  Unfortunately for my kids, they have November and December birthdays. This means that even though my eldest has completed 2nd grade and almost half a year of 3rd grade tutored at home, she still has to go to 2nd grade for the remaining 3 months of the year because her birthday didn’t fall before June this year. I think I’m much more traumatized by it than her, but only because I feel that she’s smart enough to be in 3rd grade. We don’t want her to be the youngest in her class though, and we don’t want her to struggle academically while she’s adjusting to a new school. I’m saying this like we have a choice – I assure you, we don’t. We argued the point with the principal for a while, saying that she had already completed 2nd grade +, but nothing doing.

The next thing you need to consider is where the school is in relation to your house. If at all possible, decide on a school first, close to your work, and then find a house or apartment. Indian traffic (especially Bangalore) is brutal. I’ve heard horror stories of people who have had 1 hour commutes to work and 1 hour commutes for their children to school. The reason this happens is because they underestimate how long it will take to get from point A to point B during rush hour. Take the time and test drive it if you can. Most of the bigger schools here have busses that wander around the city, especially to the bigger apartment buildings. It pays to live close to your chosen school. We are trying to get a house in an apartment complex that is 10 minutes from my husband’s work, and 3o minutes from my daughter’s school. It works out very well for us.  One more thing to check, especially midyear is whether the bus will be able to pick up your child. As with classes, busses fill up quickly, especially those that travel to large apartment complexes. Unfortunately for us, the busses are full to the complex that we are trying to get in until next year. That means I will have to bring my daughter to school in the am and pick her up in the afternoon. Because my youngest daughter doesn’t meet the cut off for lower kindergarten, they wanted to put her in nursery school for these three months. Nursery school has different hours than regular school. There was no way on earth I was making 4 half hour trips to the school every day, so we’ve decided to keep her home for these three months and admit her next June.

You’ll then need to go and visit the school, because everyone has all different kinds of things to say about every school and doing online research is pretty useless. I’d put aside a whole day for this, especially if you’re going around to more than one school and need travel time too. Our visit to Delhi Public School North took 3.5 hours. There’s paperwork to fill out, wait times to take entrance tests, wait times to find entrance tests for your other children, and wait times to see the principal. In the end, if you’re willing to pay the fees,  it smoothes a lot of things out, but like with everything else in India, it will probably take some time to get done. After you pay your feels to your school of choice, you can enroll your child.


A Few Thoughts on Floating

Listening to: Stand Up – Ludacris and Shawnna
Mood: Calm – for the minute

We’re closing on 3 months since we left the US. 3 months of exciting/frustrating/exhilarating floating. As I mentioned, our stuff went onto a ship and we stepped on the airplane with 4 large suitcases and 2 carry-ons with what we hoped would be all we needed until our stuff came. All in all, our planning worked out well and we didn’t miss too many things. For the first 2 months, we were staying with my inlaws and were very, very comfortable. After that, we left for our vacation with 2 suitcases with a much condensed version of what we needed, planning to ship the rest of the suitcases after landed and got settled in Bangalore. Who wants to carry 6 suitcases on vacation?? Not me, that’s who.  Vacation was a little more complicated in terms of having stuff. 

Things that we thought were standard (hello hotel hair conditioner) were pretty much nonexistent, leading to meandering trips to find a grocery store. It was indeed an interesting experiment to see how little we would be comfortable living with.  Just as I can confidently state that I am not in any way a minimalist, we also get along fine for the most part with less. Clothes also turned out to be a problem. It’s winter in Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur right now, so we packed all long sleeve shirts, sweaters and pants. Once we landed up in Bangalore, it wasn’t all that cold. We only brought 1 weeks worth of clothes, so I feel like I’m doing laundry ALL. THE. TIME.  After we got here, my husband’s company put us up in a guest house that is kind of like a condo building. There are different apartments with 3 different bedrooms in each that are rented out with a shared kitchen/living area. I’m so thankful they have a washing machine here! I guess it was more of a long term planning fail.  We still don’t have our suitcases and it’s wearing on all of us. The kids don’t have toys to play with and consequently harass me constantly to either watch TV or play video games. I have yet to find any outdoor space to take them to play.

I think overall, the hardest part of floating is the mental aspect of it. It was a lot worse before my husband found a job because we felt like it would never end, even though we knew it would. I’ve tried to be very zen about the whole process and just accept things as they are, but there’s only so much Zen Buddhist a person can be before it makes you crazy. Even now, it’s a struggle for me to find stuff to do and not retreat back into my mind and start missing the friends, the freedom, and the Target.  In my mind, I belong neither here nor there. There’s no community, there’s no identity as of yet, it’s just floating. There’s also the feeling there that we’re drifters. Our stuff has kind of gone off into a mental black hole and the world consists of 6 suitcases, 4 of which we don’t even have right now.

I was teasing my step dad that I’m officially old now because I miss the routine and structure that comes with running a house. In the beginning, it was completely beautiful because I really, really needed a rest after the exhausting previous year and wrapping up our life, but that wore off a lot quicker than I expected. Funny as it sounds, I began craving a bathroom to clean and a kitchen in which to cook my own toast, thank you very much. At least in my mother in law’s house, I had the comfort of knowing them and asking if I wanted something. If I wanted a cup of tea at 12 am, I made one.  The place we are living right now is like a hotel, only better/worse in some ways. Depends how you look at it. There’s a front desk man who knows every time I step out of the house or do laundry. A cook comes every morning to see what I want cooked for the day. The cleaning guys come every afternoon to change the sheets/towels, sweep and dust. It’s like living in someone’s house without it being the comfort of a relative’s. If I want a cup of tea at 12 here, I don’t call and ask for one because I know someone else will have to get up and do it.  

This is a beautiful house, and very comfortable, but it’s not ours. This is the hazard of floating.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Hospital Fun

Listening to: Chicken Little

Although fun is probably a misnomer, there was indeed a hospital involved. A few nights ago (after we landed in Bangalore, thank god!) the husband got a 103.3 fever. We took a cab to my sister in law’s house so I could watch her kids on their day off and because he was sick. We took him to the hospital in the morning because his fever was so high. We went into the casualty/emergency department because there were no general doctors at the hospital that day. We got right in and they took his temp/heart rate.  A random nurse (that I thought was a doctor) wanted to admit him overnight. He didn't want to stay because first day of work was the next day. Not realizing that she was not a doctor, and this particular hospital has a tendency to admit people to make money, I told him he should. I was sent by myself to the admission desk with a note from the doctor.  After assuring the ridiculously rude girl at the desk that no, I did not want a deluxe private room, she sent me over to the counter to pay for the room, because you pay ahead of time here. This led to finding out that 10,000 rupees were required as a deposit for a 1 night stay in a semi private room. After assuring them no fewer than 8 times that no, I did not want a delux private room, the cash only rule was introduced. Since no one walks around with 10,000 rupees, I had to find some money.

I called my sister in law to let her know what’s up. This led to me wandering around in Marathahalli (my sister in law’s neighborhood) looking for an ATM who's location was sketchily described to me as down a gully (small alley) after a restaurant. After walking for 45 minutes, asking about people in English, Hindi, and Telugu if they knew where it was and getting blank stares and shrugs, I finally found a sign for it, only to discover I had forgotten our pin. The good news, you can use your card at any ATM in India without getting a fee for using a different bank.

Back to the hospital, cursing up a storm the whole way. Back to ATM, only to have my sister in law call me in a panic because she had called me 17 times and was sure I had been kidnapped because I didn't hear the phone ring. The bad news – this was a ghetto ATM that didn’t work anyhow. My sister in law walked down to the ATM and then told me the admitting thing was crap and probably only because I was white. 1 hour later, more attitude from the girl at the desk, and 1,000 rupees later, we freed my husband from the hospital and went home. It's rather funny now that I think about it, so not funny at the time. Calls were made to Hyderabad to get some medical advice from family.

They sent us home with a lot of complaining about how we couldn't take care of him at home and some industrial strength tylenol.  Husband’s fever did come down, but he got Delhi belly anyhow, leading to more calls to Hyderabad.  He went to work anyhow the past few days and is doing better. He has some antibiotics, which will hopefully solve the problem.

I ended up getting sick yesterday too. I had a decent fever, some vomiting and Delhi belly too. More industrial strength Tylenol and I’m back to almost normal today, although I am taking it easy on the spice, which is totally disheartening, because I was really enjoying it after all the blah food on our trip.

What I will say is that this particular hospital was clean and modern. It's just a shame that the trust in medical professionals just isn't there.


Temporary Lodging

Listening to: Chicken Little

As my husband has got a job with a company that will remain unnamed (in the event they don’t want to be named, I don’t want any lawsuits!), we were given 4 weeks in a guest house so we could find an apartment in Bangalore. My husband’s work is located in the northern section of Bangalore, so that’s probably where we’ll settle down too. Our guest house is set up like a house with different apartments, divided into different rooms that can be occupied by different people with a shared living/kitchen area. There are 2 beds upstairs and 1 downstairs with the living/dining area. We are in the upstairs apartment with 2 of the bedrooms. There is no one in the downstairs bedroom, so we pretty much have it to ourselves. There is a cook that comes for the day if you want to order food, or you can be supplied with pots/pans if you want to cook yourself. I made my first foray out to the grocery store by myself the other day. I can totally do this.  Anywho, we’re really happy with the place, but haven’t been there all that much. More to come on this later.


Golden Triangle Part 3: Jaipur

Listening to: My daughters and nieces playing

Jaipur was easily my favorite part of our trip.

Fatepur Sikri

We left straight from Taj Mahal and drove an hour until we reached Fatepur Sikri, a dead city.  Our guide met us in the parking lot and walked us around, telling us about the history and some of the unique sites. One of the neatest things for me was the combination of religions in the architecture. Akbar, the builder, had 3 different wives (one catholic, one Hindu, and one Muslim) and incorporated elements of all of these religions into the buildings.

After we got into Rajasthan, we stopped at another tourist trap for lunch. This food was really good. We got Lal Maas, which is a peppery Rajasthani curry with more naan.

This was our room

This is a snap of the hotel

 Another hour and we had reached Jaipur. Our hotel was: the Dera Rawatsar. This hotel was also my favorite also. It wasn’t really even a hotel, it was a bed and breakfast. There were a couple little courtyards, Indian art on the wall, and a huge room with arches and curtains, a window nook big enough for the kids to sleep on, and colorful bed spreads. I could go on and on about this. We ate at the restaurant that night. Unfortunately, the food was awful. It is totally geared towards western/European palates and has absolutely no spice. Indian food without spice is not Indian food.

Hawa Mahal
Jai Mahal

Amber Fort

The next day, we ate breakfast and met our guide. She brought us past Hawa Majal. You can’t go inside, but we saw from the sidewalk. We drove out to Jai Mahal – the palace on the water, and then drove up to Amber fort.  I enjoyed Amber fort a lot too. It had a totally different feel than the other fort and tombs that we saw. Totally worth seeing again! After that, the guide took us on a driving tour of the city and pointed out that it was a planned city on a block system. We drove through the old city, enjoying the gate, walls, brightly colored saris, and bazaars. Totally romantic and I think I’m in love. We stopped for lunch in another tourist place where the food was just so-so. We went back to the hotel for a short nap and then headed out again. We drove out of Jaipur and into the countryside to a farm type thing called Dera Amer. The hosts met us at the door and handed us bananas and asked us to feed them to the elephants. The girls loved it. We then climbed up onto a high perch and on top of the elephants. Two mahoots (the guys who steer the elephants) rode on the elephant’s heads. The eldest daughter rode with me, the youngest with the husband. We took a good hour long lumbering ride on Hema and Lakshmi, the elephants. It was wonderful. It was dusk and we saw different birds, rodents, and such. After the elephant ride, we went for dinner across the lawn, which I’m told can be rented for elephant polo matches. 9 elephants lumbering around on a lawn. That is beyond awesome. Anyhow. They seated us around a fire and gave us assorted bits of grilled meat.  After that, we went into the big, open tent and sat down. They fired up two huge open fireplaces because it got quite chilly. We ate, buffet style and then stuffed in some dessert too. It was wonderful.  We headed back to Jaipur and went to sleep.

Elephant Polo Yo. That's just awesome!
 One of the elephants

The next morning, we ate slowly, lounged around, and then caught our flight to Bangalore.

A note on Jaipur: Jaipur is a pretty with it city, even if it still is one of the more conservative places in India. The women still walk around with their saris draped over their faces. They also use a lot of saffron yellow dye for saris, so lots of bright yellow clothes. Tourism is a major source of income here, so they really do see a lot of different people.  Rajasthan is such a romantic place. The women with their bright saris, all of the beautiful mirror worked clothes, umbrellas, purses, etc. I will definitely be coming here again!

You see women like this everywhere


Golden Triangle part 2: Agra

Listening to: My daughters and nieces playing

Our driver picked us up early and we headed out to Agra. It was a 5 hour drive and much better than I had thought driving long distances in India would be. I redact my crazy mad max comment.  The kids however got totally bored and bothered us the whole way.

On the way, our driver stopped at the tourist trap that had guaranteed clean bathrooms and overpriced knick knacks. We had the most awful tea I have ever tasted and then pretty much ran out of that place. My eldest daughter had some canned juice that made her sick on the way to Agra. L

Akbar's Tomb

We stopped at Akbar’s tomb on the way.  We didn’t go in, but stopped to wander around and take pictures.  After the tomb, we went and dropped our stuff at our hotel, the Sarovar Portico (same chain as Delhi). This hotel was a bit older, but decorated more in an Indian fashion rather than modern. We ate lunch at the hotel restaurant. The food was not all that good here.

Agra Fort

Our guide came and we headed out to Agra fort.  The kids were bored again as they wanted to run around a lot and the guide wanted to stand still and talk a lot. Again, being the nerd I am, I enjoyed learning about the history.

After Agra fort, we headed to a garden on the opposite side of the Yamuna river from the Taj Mahal. This was by far a favorite evening of mine. The garden was totally deserted and we got some great pictures. Since Shah Jehan, the builder of Taj Mahal was completely compulsive about symmetry, it doesn’t really matter which side you take pictures from, they all look the same. We also got to take pictures in the evening light, which was nice. We headed back to the hotel and got ready for dinner.

We ended up at the roof bar/grill section of the restaurant because the downstairs dining room was totally full of middle age white tourists and Chinese tourists.  The kids again ate pizza and the husband and I ate some byriani and kebabs that were pretty good.

The Taj Mahal - just in case you have your head in a gopher hole

The next day, we headed out first thing after breakfast to the Taj Mahal. We took the morning ogling the view, taking pictures and listening to the guide repeat himself from the night before about all of the history. Overall, it is a very majestic place to see and totally worth it. On the way out, we got in the middle of two warring monkey groups that lived on opposite sides of the street. You may think monkeys are cute. You would be wrong. When the monkeys are the size of dogs, have bigger teeth, and are trying to destroy each other it's just not cute. We ran out of the way as the guide shouted at the monkeys to get lost. They paid no attention and we made our way out as quickly as possible.

This was actually a monkey from the Taj. Sitting like a boss.

A few things on Agra. Agra is a smaller city who’s only claim to fame is the Taj. There are a lot of uneducated, small town people who look at you like a mark or a circus attraction. You don’t see women out on the street, at all. I would highly recommend women go with a male relative, friend, or guide and make sure you are wearing loose pants and a long sleeve, loose shirt. If you happen to go when there are a lot of groups of school kids, especially boys, they will pester you and stare. It’s best just to ignore them.  I really hope I'm not offending anyone by mentioning this. It's just an impression I got after being in a few different cities here.

We finished around 11 am and set out for Jaipur.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Golden Triangle Part 1: Delhi

Listening to: My daughters and my nieces playing

The husband and I decided to take a trip before he fell headlong into the rabbit hole otherwise known as work. Since my list of places to visit in India is huge and growing by the day, we thought we’d try and get bang for the buck and time on this vacation. We had a week free, so we decided on a 5 day trip. I’m sure we could have spent another 2 days exploring stuff, but by the end, 5 days turned out to be more than enough. The golden triangle is an area in north India comprised of Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. The first stop on our trip was Delhi.

We left my inlaw’s house in Hyderabad at the ungodly hour of 4 am. My apologies to those of you who regularly choose/have to get up at 4 am, but that’s pretty darn ungodly to me. We flew spice airlines. The plane was small and a bit crowded, but the flight was only 2 hours and got over quickly.  One thing to note – there is no such thing as free anything on planes here.  Want a soda? 50 rupees.  Snacks? 50 rupees. 

We were met at the airport by our contact and the driver, who scared me by trying to take my suitcase without explaining who he was.  It doesn’t happen very often these days, but rogue cab drivers used to try and get you to use their cab by just taking your luggage from you and walking towards their cab.  Anyhow, he apologized and explained who he was. The drive to our hotel took about a half hour. Delhi traffic is pretty bad, just like everywhere else in India. We stayed in the Ashtan Sarovar, which is almost in the center of New Delhi. The rooms were almost tiny, but very well decorated and modern. The room had a double bed and they placed an extra mattress on the floor for us, which I have heard is normal in Delhi. No idea. The service was also excellent.

We headed down to get lunch from the hotel restaurant. Hands down, this was the best food we had for the entire trip. The first day we had sandwiches for lunch, which turned out to be pretty good. We went back to the room to chill for a while as we waited for the driver to come back from his lunch.

Qutub Complex

Around 2, we headed out to the Qutub complex. Delhi is full of history from both the British times and older. Being the nerd that I am, I loved it. We took a turn around the Qutub complex, enjoying the ruins, reading signs, and taking pictures. I noticed with a small amount of alarm that the place was just about covered in huge red hornets. While it was disconcerting, they weren’t bothering us, so we continued. We also saw lots of bright green small parrots that are apparently everywhere in the north. We only had the cuckoos in the south, so this was good fun for the kids to see.  As we decided to leave, I brushed my hand against my shirt at my collarbone and felt one. And then it stung me on my collar bone.

Not sure if this is exactly what stung me, but it was huge and looked like this.

That had to be the worst bee sting I have ever had in my life. It didn’t hurt that much when it stung, but the pain slowly built over the next half hour until it felt like someone was jabbing a hot needle into my nerve and twisting it. Every time my shirt or one of my necklaces brushed it, it made me wince. 

Mine swelled up much more than this, but you get the general idea.

While that sucked, I was really glad it wasn’t one of the kids, especially with my younger daughter’s allergies. Since we were done anyhow, we decided to head out.

Humayun's Tomb

We went to Humayun’s tomb next. I really like old tombs, especially those inlaid with different stones and decorated with Arabic writing. They just strike me as incredibly romantic. The grounds were very large, green, and well cared for. While we were exploring some of the rooms on the grounds, Naveen scared a pigeon out of a dark room that ran smack into my legs. I decided I had better avoid any more wild life. 2 animal run ins in one day! We got a very nice view of Delhi from all around the tomb, which sits about 3 stories up. After spending some time exploring here, we decided to head out again.

Dilly Haat

We asked the driver to take us to a place called Dilly Haat. It’s a small open air market place with handicrafts and food from all over India. One of the most fun places I’ve been so far. Every week they feature a cultural show from a different part of India. The one that was going on when we went was from Orissa, a state in the northeastern part of India. Let me tell you, Orissa has definitely been added to my list of things I must see before I leave India.  They had a small band playing and 2 young boys were dancing. It was very neat to see and I found it interesting how feminine their movements seemed while dancing. The kids really enjoyed looking at all the bright, shiny stuff and toys in the market stalls and I really wished I had a suitcase or two handy for all the shopping I wished I could do. As it was, both our suitcases were full to the brim (darn you moving!) so I had to pass on the shopping.  This may or may not have been intentional on my husband’s part.   As all of the eating places looked a bit shady, and we were trying to avoid Delhi belly and typhoid, we opted to just have coffee. The kids had juice.  We hit up the Tamil stand for some tea and were a bit disappointed. Usually south Indian tea/coffee is amazing. This was just eh. After dumping in some sugar, we watched some more dancing.

After Dilly Hut, we headed back to the hotel to relax a bit before dinner. Our driver was turning around and managed to almost flatten a motorcyclist who decided that in spite of the loud chime indicating that we were backing up and the fact that the car was already moving backwards, it was a good idea to go behind him anyhow. The driver and motorcyclist had a good 5 minutes of yelling at each other about how stupid the other one was before our driver just drove off.  That was good fun.

We had dinner again at the hotel restaurant as there wasn’t much other choice on the street for food. There was a shady Chinese joint, but again with the food poisoning and typhoid, we decided the hotel was safer. The food and service was great and we went back to the room to crash.

India Gate

The next day, we had a breakfast buffet at the hotel. The food, and most importantly for me, the coffee was good. Our guide was waiting for us downstairs and we took off. We drove to the India gate and got down to walk around and take some pictures. There wasn’t much else there to do, but we later discovered that Aamir Khan had been there earlier taping an advertisement. Just this close to a celeb sighting in India. Phooey.

Oh Aamir Khan, you still remind me of a cute little boy

Back in the van and then on to the red fort.

The Red Fort - It was impressive from the outside anyways

We got down and took some pictures but didn’t go inside, as she told us it wasn’t really all that great to wander around in.

A cycle rickshaw. I wish this guy was our driver. He looks much more interesting

We hopped in a rickshaw of the unmotorized type and headed off through Chandni Chowk.

Chandni Chowk - yep, the by-lanes are really this small and crowded, but fascinating

I really enjoyed this too. It seemed to me like the stereotypical idea of old India. Small lanes lined with vendors in stalls, brightly colored everything for sale, and tons of carts piled high, rickshaws, cows, and pedestrians. 
Jama Masjid

After Chandni chowk, we went to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in Delhi. The guard at the door grabbed all the western women tourists and made us put on Chinese style long sleeved robes, even though I was already wearing long sleeves. We noticed with some amusement that none of the Indian ladies got pulled aside, even if they were wearing saris.  We wandered around as the guide talked nonstop about the mosque. We took a lot of pictures and declined all of the kids trying to get 50 rupees out of us for taking a picture of us. While the begging/harassing tourists to buy stuff seems less than I remember from last time, there is still quite a bit.

Bahai Temple Delhi

After Chandni Chowk, we headed out to the Ba'hai temple. It was absolutely beautiful and worth the drive. The effect of silence inside is a bit altered from the noise outside (it was really, really crowded when I went) but it's still a a wonderful experience sitting in silence inside. I've always wanted to visit a Ba'hai temple, and I'm glad I got to.

After the Ba'hai temple, we were taken to a Kashmiri craft/carpet shop where we were shown how Kashmiri carpets were made and given the hard sell to by a very expensive carpet and some very expensive shawls and saris. We politely apologized for not buying anything and backed our way out the door. I was rather unhappy to have been brought there in the first place, but as we later discovered, this is part of having a guide. They get a cut of whatever you buy, so they steer you towards places like this.  Our Guide dropped us off at a western style restaurant and said goodbye. At first, we were very wary because it looked like a dumpy 70’s style lounge, with Def Leppard of all things on the radio. The food turned out to be quite good though. We got some butter chicken curry and naan, north Indian flat bread. The kids got pizza.

After lunch, we headed back to the India gate to hang out. We saw a children’s park and decided to let the kids run off some energy. Most of the playgrounds in India are rather shady and look decidedly unsafe. We let the kids play for a while and wandered the very nice grounds for a while until the husband got uncomfortable with the looks we were getting and the safety with the equipment. Back to the hotel to pack up and get ready to go to Agra the next day.

A note on the feel of Delhi - Delhi is a totally comopolitan place. I don't think I got any looks at all while we were here. It's the capital of India and was ruled by the British for a long time, so many things are progressive here. A word of caution though. There have been many stories circulating in the news about violence and rape against women, especially foreign tourists. Use your head - dont' wander around by yourself in neighborhoods off the beaten path or at night if you're a woman.

Just a side note: None of these photos was taken by me. Still waiting on my stuff to come. Will share my photos later.