2011 blog
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Mid-month we headed to Ranthambore for a 3 day weekend. We were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get there - just a three hour train journey after school. We stayed in a classic old government hotel that was a 150 year old hunting lodge. It was on a hill in the reserve and had great views. We saw lots of deer and wild boar just around the hotel. Our first night there the hotel workers saw a leopard while walking the two kms from the hotel to the main road. Our last night we caught a tuk tuk back to the hotel. The driver said he would drop us at the gate to the property because he didn't want to drive the 2 kms through the reserve because he was worried about tigers in the dark! (But we were supposed to walk that same stretch? We got out and took a car!)

For Thanksgiving, we flew to Calcutta. Robyn and I had last visited 18 years ago, when we were just out of college. Our favorite part of Calcutta was the Fairlawn Hotel - a classic old British place in the traveler ghetto of Sudder Street. The lady running the place (Mrs Smith) is 91 years old. She was fabulously entertaining with stories. Her husband fought in Burma during WWII with the British 14th Army and her family has owned the hotel for most of the last century. She said that during WWII it was used to house Canadian Army officers and that the enlisted stayed in the Salvation Army dorms across the street- where Robyn and I had stayed 18 years ago! The hotel was full of colonial bric a brac (think pictures of the queen) and the garden was a great place for sun downers.

Around the corner from the hotel is the wonderfully decaying Indian Museum. It's somewhat a museum of how museum's used to be: high ceilings with twirling fans, falling apart mummies and an evolution display that looks like its out of a 1890s textbook. Another day we walked from our hotel to the Taj Mahal meets the US Capitol looking "Victoria Memorial". Despite being in the middle of a city of 14 million people, our walk took us through the large urban parkland called the "Maidan", where herders grazed flocks of sheep and we took a couple breaks under some magnificent trees. After a look around the Victoria Memorial, we got some great Bengali comfort food at the nearby classic Bengali restaurant of "Kewpies."

After two weekends away, home was a good place to be, but we couldn't pass up an all day biking and birding trip on the outskirts of Delhi. So, last Sunday we got up early and got our bikes and Chariot out to near Sultanpur, where we spent the day biking a long a canal that had a fantastic variety of birds.




[OCTOBER 29, 2011] OKTOBERFEST, DIWALI AND COOLING WEATHER MADE OCTOBER A GOOD MONTH. As the weather has cooled, Robyn, Zoë and I have been getting out more and more on the weekends, exploring the more obscure parts of Delhi. We are continually amazed at the surprisingly inexhaustible number of places there are to explore.

This year I helped organize a fun Oktoberfest on the campus housing playground. Lots of good beer! Last year I had an Oktoberfest in our apartment, but in the last year at least 6 people have taken up brewing, so we enlarged the event and moved it outside. Each brewer brought at least one of their beers and we had a bit of a potluck and bbq (bratwurst of course!). We had Raju our tailor make lederhosen for all of us, which was very funny!

Unfortunately, this year we were not in India for Diwali, because we were traveling. However, Robyn, Zoë and I got to help paint some of the huts in the jhuggi as they spruced up their digs in preparation for the holiday.

  [SEPTEMBER 5, 2011] TYPHOID! The first five days I had rolling fevers up to 103 degrees, massive headaches, and alternated between my teeth chattering and lying in pools of my own sweat -- yikes! I was hurting! I didn't eat for 3 days and even water made me nauseous. Easy to why why it's 20% fatal if untreated, you'd be bumming if you didn't have access to air conditioning, clean water and good doctors (most of the world.) More alarming to me was that it is 1% fatal if you are treated- that sounded kind of high to me! Anyhow, I'm about to start my 3rd course of antibiotics and am on the mend. No more fever and I have my appetite back. After a week+ out of school, I'm looking forward to getting back!
Kicking back on the upstairs deck of our houseboat with mountains in the background.
Typical scene along the side of the lakes in Srinagar.
Our friend Khorum happened to be in Srinagar the weekend we were there. So, he showed us the five million dollar plant he has built to help modernize the apple industry in Srinagar. It sounds like it is having a big (positive) impact on the local farmers.
The houseboats were romantic!
The first time Zoë has seen snow!
[APRIL 24, 2011] PLAYING LED ZEPPLIN'S "KASHMIR" EVERY NIGHT AT DINNER WAS, ADMITTEDLY, A BIT CHEEZY - BUT IT WAS FUN getting into the spirit of things. We took a couple of days off school and spent 4 days exploring Srinagar and the nearby ski resort of Gulmarg. It was fun staying on a houseboat in Srinagar and taking small boat trips around the lake to check out the area. We were very lucky to link up with our Kashmiri friend, Khorum, who showed us around town. The tour included some of the very interesting work that he is doing there. (He's helping modernize the agriculture sector by creating modern fruit storage and processing facilities.)
Princess Zoë on a shikara (boat) ride around the lakes of Srinagar.
Zoë checking out the view from the deck of our houseboat.
Robyn and Zoë test Khorum's Kashmiri apples outside his storage facility -- they were yummy!
Keeping ourselves warm in Gulmarg! The heat of Delhi seemed a long way away at 8500 feet in the HImalayas.

[MARCH 22, 2011] WITH THE END OF THE YEAR FAST APPROACHING, I ORGANIZED A BOYS TRIP BACK TO JILLING ESTATES. Without kids, we were able to travel on the overnight train both ways. We stayed in Jilling for 2 nights and 3 days.

I chose the time of year because the weather was just perfect! Also, many of the trees were flowering. We spent most of our time just hanging out on the main porch, which has great views of the surrounding hills. Kemper brought his guitar, which was great, and we came up with some innovative ways to play frisbee on the adjacent (steep) terrace. When throwing a frisbee, we quickly discovered that it was best to be higher up on the hill -- the person lower down spent a lot of time chasing frisbees that went way down the hill!

We took a couple spectacular, if tiring, hikes. The guy taking care of us was named Daya. Eli and I knew Daya from our previous visit at Thanksgiving. Daya took us through his village, where we stopped at his house and had a fantastic meal! His kids greeted us by touching our feet. On our last day, every one slept in except for Phil and I. Daya took us on another hike along the ridge above his village. Phil managed to sit in a patch of stinging nettles. However, Daya came to the rescue by rubbing a local herb on his ass!




The next day, I left for a week long bicycle tour in the foothills of the Himalayas with 17 kids. The kids were totally awesome and the bike trip was fantastic! We had great weather. The first couple days were pretty tough, but the views and remaining days made up for it, including several days of free lance camping along our route.

  [FEBRUARY 21, 2011] A WEEKEND TRIP TO CHANDIGARH IS A LOT MORE FUN THAN HOURS OF PICKING OUT HEAD LICE, WHICH IS PRETTY MUCH WHAT WE'VE BEEN DOING LATELY. So, we moved the nit picking operation to the capital of Haryana and Punjab (still haven't figured out how one city can be the capital of two states). Chandigarh is a quick three hour train ride from Delhi. We weren't expecting much, but were pleasantly surprised by the benefits of the planned city, including relatively clean air, lots of green space and traffic that actually moves.

Chandigarh was created in the 1950s to replace the state capital of Lahore (now in Pakistan) and help create housing for some of the millions of people displaced by partition. It looks a bit like a throw back to communist cities in eastern europe, and was created in the same spirit of socialism that was current at the time. We appreciated the long empty side walks that facilitated meandering. The city was created as a collection of "superblocks", each of which is meant to be a self-contained village.

We spent a day wandering around the deserted (on the weekends) government buildings, including the modernist High Court with its signature colored vertical supports. Zoë was unimpressed and more interested in collecting rocks for her rock garden, inspired by Nek Chand's Rock Garden (also in Chandigarh), which sports 25 acres of statues and art created from recycled urban waste, such as broken bangles. Zoë had studied Nek Chand's statues at school, as we have a significant collection on campus as well.

  [13 FEBRUARY 2011] YESTERDAY AFTERNOON THE WEATHER WAS PERFECT FOR A STREET FOOD TOUR OF OLD DELHI. WE HOPPED AN INSANELY PACKED METRO AND MET UP WITH A FEW FRIENDS AND A TOUR GUIDE. Our tour guide, Sureka, led us on an entertaining jaunt around crazy crowded small allies. Sureka led us to her favorite street stalls, being careful to get only fresh and usually hot food. We tried a wide variety of sweets deserts and savory snacks. Some of our favorite snacks were some unusual samosas (filled with lentils instead of potatoes) and aloo tikki, a fried potato ball. Sureka told us that this last one would come from a "hole in the wall" - she wasn't exaggerating! A guy had set up a wok in the recess of a 300 year old gate. We pinned ourselves to the sides of the gate to avoid being crushed by hundreds of people as we jockied for our share of aloo tikki.


On a completely unrelated note, this weekend some of the kids I tutor in the slum across the street from us invited me to there school. I dropped by thinking I would visit them for a a few minutes, but found myself as the honored guest of the 1000+ person event and responsible for giving a speech "to encourage education". Yikes! It took me two hours and an improvised 5 minute speech to make my escape!

  [7 FEBRUARY 2011] ON SATURDAY MORNING WE TOOK THE SALAAM BALAAK TRUST STEET TOUR. FORMER STREET CHILDREN LED US AROUND THE DELHI TRAIN STATION AREA. They described some of the reasons that children end up on the street (some just get lost at crowded celebrations!) and some of the problems they encounter on the street. The trust is named after a movie a few years ago that was about street children in Bombay. The trust creates shelters for the kids. At the shelters they can get food, schooling, medical attention etc...

The tour has become very popular as NPR did a segment on it a couple of weeks ago. Another film crew from somewhere else was on our tour.



[19 JANUARY 2011] SUNDAY WAS A BEAUTIFUL DAY FOR THE MUMBAI MARATHON. I flew down on Friday night, stayed in a hotel near the start and finish line and spent Saturday meandering from cafe to cafe in Mumbai while grading school work. It was my third visit to Mumbai in two years -- I like the city a lot. It's much more walkable than Delhi- smaller distances in the downtown area, lots of cafe's to stop in and big sidewalks.

The weather was good for race day; a bit cooler than last year. The race was reasonably well organized. Although there must have been 30,000 runners doing the various distances, there were less than a 1000 doing the full marathon, which made it feel surprisingly intimate. I clocked a 3:56, which is pretty good for me. The race results show me finishing 61 out of 991 runners. So close to that prize money!