2009 blog
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[NOVEMBER 29, 2009] A JAUNT TO CAVES AT AJANTA WAS JUST THE TICKET FOR THANKSGIVING. A brutal 5am flight left us recovering in Aurangabad our first day.

The second day we visited the Buddhist caves of Ajanta. The 30 caves are cut out of the rock face above a gorge. A long day of cave explorations at Ajanta ensured that the girls both crashed out for the two hour ride home.

The next day we headed to the caves at Ellora, which are a bit different in that they aren't just Buddhist, they include Hindu and Jain sections as well. They are also a bit "newer". The Ajanta caves were built from the 2nd century BC to the 6th century AD, whereas the Ellora caves are mostly from the 6th to 8th century AD.

Robyn was particularly enthralled with the main Hindu temple at Elllora, called Kailesh. Which reminded us both of Lalibela in Ethiopia. We spent at least an hour in just this temple. Zoë had a ball playing hide and seek with a couple of older girls that we were traveling with. What a trip to be hiding in the crooks and crevices of such an ancient place!

Each night we found some good Indian food. Robyn and Zoë's favorite Indian food of the moment is Dosa (from South India). I love it that Zoë loves Indian food. Her standard lunch time meal is dal and rice.


[OCTOBER 18, 2009] A WEEK OF OUTDOORS ACTIVITIES IN THE FOOTHILLS OF THE HIMALAYAS WAS A GREAT WAY TO CLEANSE THE SOUL. For "minicourse" I brought 20 students to the Rishikesh area. We spent two days mountain biking, two days rafting and one day hiking. The activites were all great fun and the kids were great.

My favorite element of the trip was doing an overnight camping and rafting trip where we camped on a beach on the Ganges river that was accessible only by raft.

The camp we based ourselves out of was also great for the kids. A great spot on a swimmable stream, a climbing wall, a great volleyball setup and a great staff.


[OCTOBER 5, 2009] A THREE DAY WEEKEND FOR GHANDI'S BIRTHDAY PROVED TO A GREAT EXCUSE TO VISIT AGRA AND THE TAJ MAHAL. However, we were excited to explore the Agra beyond the Taj as well.

Our first day there we headed down to the old city to do a walking tour. However, it was so crowded that we couldn't make it past our starting point of the Jama Masjid (the main mosque). Apparently, everyone was out shopping for the biggest Hindu holiday, Diwali, which is 10 days away. Anyways, we had fun just getting through the crowds to the mosque. The mosque itself proved to be very atmospheric. A full moon was setting over the evening prayers. There were no tourists, just rows of men in long white cotton shirts and small white hats.

The next day we visited Akbar Mausoleum during the day. Akbar was the greatest of the Mogul emperor's. He's particularly known for his religious tolerance and he is said to have had 3 wives: one hindu, one muslim and one christian. (Although this probably isn't true.)

Check out the photo of the pigs in the trash. This was actually a flock that was being grazed by some shepherds. I found the scene pretty insane: check out what the world is coming to - we graze our livestock in fields of trash instead of grass.

That evening Robyn, Zoë and I headed to the Oberoi for sundowners. The Oberoi in Agra is meant to be the best hotel in all of India. It clocks in at about $700 a night for a standard room. The hotel features an unobstructed view of the Taj. The hotel has made the most of the location by setting up a beautiful stage above a sunken pool. The stage is in the line of sight of the Taj from the bar and every room on that side of the hotel! When we were visiting they had a show of traditional Indian dancing and music on the stage as the sun was setting. It was pretty impressive! Robyn was also impressed with her $10 cosmopolitans!

The weekend also gave us a chance to try out Zoë's new travel vest, which is basically a car seat that you wear. The vest routes a standard safety belt into the correct location on the body. It worked pretty well, but Zoë is still too small for it, so the vest was uncomfortable on her. It looks promising however, for when she gets a bit bigger.


[SEPTEMBER 21, 2009] FOR OUR ENTIRE THREE DAYS IN BOMBAY, I INSISTED THAT ROBYN AND ZOE REFER TO ME AS "BOMBAY BAD BOY", however, Zoë wouldn't do it and Robyn laughed every time she said it. I got the sense she was mocking me!

Bombay seems like the kind of place you should try to be at least a little bad. However, there's only so bad you can be with your wife and three year old in tow. None the less, we had an excellent, if sweaty, three days navigating a happening downtown and a few of the more obscure sites of Bombay.

I was a bit nervous about how our "budget" hotel would work out, and it got off to a rough start when Robyn killed a cockroach 30 seconds after entering the room. However, no more cockroaches were spotted, the location was ideal and anyways, what's a Bombay hotel without a cockroach or two?

We were spitting distance from Bombay's signature India Gate, where Zoë fed the pigeons in front of the burnt out Taj Hotel. The site of the worst part of the Bombay terrorist attacks less than a year ago. It was erie and disturbing to reflect upon those horrific attacks, which also killed many people in the our favorite open air cafe, the Leopold Cafe. That cafe still has bullet holes around the establishment. One is visible above Zoë's head in the attached picture, just to the right of the flash.

Since we were in Bombay for a three day weekend on the account of Eid, we visited the atmospheric Haji Ali mosque for iftar (breaking of the fast). You approach this mosque via a causeway that floods everytime the tide comes in. We sat for half an hour in the mosque, waiting with families, for the call to prayer. The sun set over the Arabian Sea as the call broke the fast. I loved it! I hadn't realized how much I missed some elements of Egypt.

Rounding off our tourist agenda, we visited Elephanta Island, where we visited 1500 year old caves carved with Hindu gods. This morning, we also visited the "Dhobi Ghats", where hundreds of Bombay's hand washers wash clothes all day long. Finally, we stopped at an amazing restaurant called "Goa Portuguese" on the way to the airport. When they say "hot", they aren't kidding!

  [AUGUST 8, 2009] AFTER INITIALLY HESITATING, ROBYN RELUCTANTLY SNIFFED THE TURD. SHE'D SPENT HOURS TO GET TO THIS POINT. We've been meaning to visit Delhi's Toilet Museum for almost a year now, a friend told us it was her favorite museum in the city. A week ago we spent an hour driving to the museum before discovering it was closed. This week, we were more successful.

The museum was bizarre! A self appointed guide took no money but screamed at us in rapid fire unintelligible English about exhibits showing toilets throughout the ages in different parts of the world. We learned about ancient toilets in India, expensive toilets on the space shuttle and Thomas Crapper's contributions to the development of the flush toilet.

Outside, a scientist from the research institute took us around a collection of outhouses, explaining exhibits that demonstrated how sewage was being used to create fertilizer, electricity, cooking fuel and gray water for plants. It was actually pretty impressive!

  [MAY 19, 2009] A GROUP OF MY FRIENDS AT SCHOOL HAD A "WILEY WHISKERS" COMPETITION, starting at the beginning of Spring Break in April. We decided to not have any previously arranged competition categories, so we wouldn't inhibit each other's creativity. The five week growing period concluded on May 15th. We decided that everyone had to shave their stachios the day before the competition - and wear them to school! The kids loved it! A few of them ran between our rooms, inspecting the results. In the end we were all judged as "winners".

Robyn get's special kudos for her brilliant shave job that left a small patch of triangular shaped hair on my forehead -- it looked truly ridiculous!

  [MAY 19, 2009 ] MAKING COMMITMENTS LATE AT NIGHT AT A PARTY CAN BE DANGEROUS! In our case, we committed to learning guitar! (or trying to!). Our friend Gene made an even worse commitment - he agreed to teach us. So, for the last six months, our friends Jonathan, Julie and Luke have been joining us each Monday after school for a guitar lesson. Gene took us to a local guitar store to buy a guitar, and lent us a second guitar.

It's been fun learning how to play, though, I'm so musically challenged that it's been slow going and must be painful for Gene! I know it's painful for Robyn, because she doesn't let me use a pick when she's in the house- she can't bear my playing at anything but the softest volume!

  [FEBRUARY 19, 2009] VARANASI ISN'T PRETTY, BUT IT'S DEFINITELY INTERESTING. It's the most holy city in Hinduism. Millions of Hindus come to the city each year to bath in the river. It's also a very auspicious place to be cremated, two 'burning' ghats (sections of riverbank) are dedicated to that purpose.

Robyn and I visited Varanasi on our first trip to India in 1993. To this day it's the most exotic place we've ever visited, so we were keen to return to it and see how the place seemed to us now. We decided that it hasn't changed much, however, we have!

Varanasi certainly isn't a typical family destination and we saw almost zero tourists with children. However, Zoë was a trooper and seemed to enjoy herself. We spent most of our time walking the length of the river along the colorful ghats, sometimes walking one way and then hiring a row boat to bring us back the other way. We also enjoyed getting lost in the very narrow back alleys of the old city. We paused whenever we could find somewhere to sit and just people watched.

One of our more unexpected surprises was a nice dinner at a garden rooftop restaurant. The waiter saw us playing with Zoë on the grass, so he went and got a sheet and served us a yummy Indian meal picnic style -- fun!

  [JANUARY 25, 2009] OUR 14TH ANNIVERSARY SEEMED LIKE A PERFECT REASON TO TAKE A COUPLE DAYS OFF SCHOOL AND CREATE A 4 DAY WEEKEND IN GOA. The weekend was a great escape from (northern) India, we felt like we were in Thailand. We headed for the furthest beach from the airport, where we found a couple cute eco lodges (translation: pit toilets, bucket baths and only partially enclosed -- keep that mosquito net over you!).

The 2nd place we stayed in was right on the beach. It was run by a British couple and had the best food we've had since being in India. Throw in a large space to relax, sand every where, funky music, friendly travelers and a couple other 2 year olds running around and we had a great place to relax.