Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ahmedebad to the Bone

Disclaimer: Below is an account of my recent trip to Ahmedebad.  It is only an expression of my opinions, and I don't wish to offend anyone who has either been to Ahmedebad, or plans to go one day.  Also, if anyone from the Lonely Planet staff, particularly Mr. Lindsay Brown, should happen upon this blog post, please disregard all the mean stuff I said about you.
I love these birds, and apparently they love India, so maybe I love India too?  

Before I begin, let me start by saying that blog title was Matt's idea.  His knack for puns is unlike anything I've ever seen.

Now that that's taken care of, let's get down to business.  This past weekend we took a trip to Ahmedebad (Ahmdevad to locals), which is only about 100 kms away.  In theory, this trip should have taken an hour, so of course it took us three.  We used Matt's driver from the refinery, who theoretically could have taken us for free, but because he asked the refinery's permission, we had to pay.  (In case you haven't figured it out yet, the refinery says no to everything.  Except to Matt working overtime.  This they love.) The round trip cost about $80, but there were four of us, so it was relatively cheap.  Anyway, so even though Matt had printed out instructions and a map on how to get to the hotel, AND wrote down all the hotel's contact info, good old Vinod (the driver) still couldn't figure it out.  We stopped no less than six times to ask for directions, and when we weren't stopped, we had the windows rolled down with Vinod yelling questions at every passerby on a motorcycle.
The random Italian Bakery we found on one of our many stops for directions.
To Vinod's credit, we never had to turn around and backtrack, but that doesn't mean we didn't take the most random way possible to get there.
View of the city from our hotel room. Ain't she fine?

After finally arriving at the hotel, Katie (Jones, UOP) realized she had forgotten her passport.  Not needing to travel internationally, we didn't think this was a big deal, but this is India, after all, so of course it was a monstrosity.  Long story short, she ended up getting a copy emailed to her, which she then had to fax to the police station.  Dumb.  Other than that mishap, the hotel (a brand spanking new Courtyard Marriott) was blissfully clean and bright and all-around wonderful.  Because we were all Platinum members, we got access to their "Executive Lounge" where they had free snacks and drinks (and non-alcoholic beer, of course).  I'm pretty sure we took them for everything they had in that lounge. I drank a lot of their super fancy water.

View of the street in front of the hotel.  I wouldn't call this the "nice" part of town.
Anyway, Saturday we set out in the afternoon to see the glorious city.  Ahmedebad is basically just a big Baroda.  It has all the same stuff, but it's bigger, and a lot more crowded.  So it's basically just another dirty, run-down Indian city.  I'm sure there are lots of other way cooler things there, but we didn't stay long enough to find out.  They had an Ahmedebad Central, not to be confused with the Vadodara Central we have here.  We did go visit the Sabarmati Ashram that Gandhi built, which was pretty interesting.
The man himself.  

 Founded in 1915, Gandhi used it as sort of a headquarters for the struggle for Indian Independence.  The ashram is now a museum, with Gandhi's room as the main feature.

Gandhiji's room. Making fabric was a main duty of the Ashram members, and they have a lot of antique spinning wheels on display there.   
  They have tons of Gandhi info - more than I could ever want or need to know.  I learned a lot (and promptly forgot most of it), but mostly the museum served to point out to me how uninformed I am about Indian history.  Don't worry, I've got lots of time to learn.  Anyway, if you are a Gandhi fan (and who isn't), and you're in the area, the Sabarmati is the place to go.

After that we tried to do some shopping but were thwarted in our efforts by several factors, the most important being that This Is India, and everything is difficult here.  Also, I'm pretty sure that the guy who wrote the Ahmedebad section of the Lonely Planet has never actually been to India, much less Ahmedebad.  The whole section appears to be riddled with errors.  Thanks, Lindsay Brown (yes, that is a guy.  I looked it up).  Anyway, long story short, after an hour and a half of walking in the 90+ degree heat (with 110% humidity), we still had not located the "fabulous" evening market.  We finally gave it up and hopped in a couple of tuk-tuks, only to drive around the corner and pass right by the market!  It was literally about 30 feet away from where we had been.
Evening market.  It's very shiny.  

 We stopped the tuk-tuks and had them wait for us while we quickly rummaged around the stalls.  It took us all of ten minutes to realize that not only were all the stalls selling the same things, but also, none of it was stuff we were interested in.
I was actually interested in these wall hangings, but ol' Mr. Moneybags wasn't, so we didn't partake.

So we hopped back in the tuks and back to the hotel to drink more fancy water (for free!) and shower.  Later we headed out to a restaurant the hotel staff had recommended to us, in a tuk-tuk (yes, one tuk-tuk... there were four of us...) that the hotel arranged.  The hotel staff told the driver where we were going and how to get there, but apparently the driver wasn't listening, for he proceeded to drive randomly for 15 minutes, and then dropped us of in the middle of nowhere.  We didn't understand that we were at the wrong place until he had already left.  So we grabbed another tuk-tuk and headed back to the hotel... only to pass by our destination restaurant a few minutes later!  (To our credit, it was on a completely different road and we couldn't have seen it from where we were.) So we finally made it to dinner, where the food was less than stellar, but at least it was different from our usual Baroda WelcomHotel fare.

Sunday we awoke early with bright eyes and fresh faces, eager to get to the Calico Textile Museum before it closed (our trusted Mr. Brown from the Lonely Planet said the last entry was 11 a.m., so we needed to make it by then).  It was a 30 minute haul in the tuk-tuks (two this time), but we made it right at 11.  We rushed in, only to be told by the rude (and lazy, and condescending, and a lot of uglier descriptors I won't use here) guard that the last entry was actually at 10:30.  So we missed it by half an hour.  The guy would not let us in no matter how we begged and pleaded, so we eventually left.  We had been planning to spend a lot of money there on random textiles, too.  His loss, I guess.  Anyway, after that debacle, we went to a step well in the middle of nowhere called Dada Hari Wav.
Dada Hari Wav from the top step.  

This well is so randomly placed amid shacks and mud huts that we thought surely we were in the wrong place.  But no, all the people standing on the street (or laying on their bed frames in the middle of the road - they do that a lot here, and it's weird) assured us it was the right place.  For those of you who don't know, a step well is basically an ornately-carved series of platforms, each separated by a series of steps, that is used to hold water (thus the "well" part).
On the second level.  It's kind of hard to look at these pictures because they're dizzying.  Feel free to skip the rest.  

I guess ancient Hindu texts say it's good to build communal wells, so these were once very common in (and unique to) northwestern India.  Lucky me, I got a couple so close to Baroda.  To give you a little more info, I'll turn you over to Mr. Brown (though we all know by now just how reliable he is).  The guidebook says "Often attached to temples so that devotees could bathe, the wells were also meeting places, with verandas where people could take refuge from the summer heat, and stopping places on caravan routes.  ... The wells have been long neglected and are often used as toilets, and so are no longer the cleanest sources of water."  Yum.
First two levels.

View from the bottom to the top.  Matt had to hold my waist while I leaned over an open hole filled with bat guano for this picture.  Anything to get a good shot.  
 Anyway, this one is super cool and way more impressive than that stupid Calico Textile Museum would have been.
We wandered around there for a while before discovering the mosque (yeah, it was a mosque... I thought that was kind of weird too, it being a Hindi step well and all, but as I've said before, I really know nothing about Indian history) behind it.
Front of the mosque.  I think there used to be minarets but they're long gone now.

Actually, I guess the old man at the mosque found us, as he was waving us over and hissing at us for a while before we noticed him.  He was kind enough to show us alllll around the mosque, and then he showed us his collection of monies from different countries, and asked if we had any dollars.  We didn't, but we gave him some rupees, because we're so kind.
View from the roof.  The man in white is our new friend.
After this adventure, we were in much better spirits having finally seen something interesting, so we made our way to the Hatheesingh Temple, a Jain temple built in 1848.
Hatheesingh Temple. 

I learned nothing about it, except that although they are really serious about you not taking pictures, it is relatively easy to do so, and so we did.  A lot.
A forbidden picture inside the temple walls. 

Eventually I think the guard heard our camera shutters, because he came running over to point at us and shake his head.  He did this maybe ten times, and then he went back to his post, and we went back to taking pictures.  We're awful.  As Danielle recently told me, I'm pretty sure in my next life I'm coming back as a cockroach.
Details on the columns outside.  

I guess that about does it for our Ahmedebadian adventure.  I can't say for sure that I'll go back, but possibly, just to stay in that Courtyard again and look at some other temples and wells.  I know this is an inexcusably long post, and for that I apologize.  I finally saw some of the "Incredible India" I've been waiting for, and I thought it worthwhile to write about it.  In immense detail.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Little Bit of Chicken Fried

There are many things I miss about Amurca.  Among them: a little bit of chicken fried, cold (or even warm) beer on a Friday night (or any night), a pair of jeans that fits just right (I could probably remedy that by finding a tailor here) and the radio up.  (Yes, these are song lyrics, and yes, I am aware of the irony of putting song lyrics into my blog, but this song has been stuck in my head for a couple weeks now, and I think maybe by writing it down, only then can I fully let it go.  Nerd.)  
Matt's first (but not last) Indian haircut.
I have done nothing since my last post, but since I left a few things for later, I will tell you about them now.  First of all, Matt got his first Indian haircut last weekend.  It cost 100 rupees ($2), including tip, and it was awesome.  I'm not kidding.  I was really impressed with this guy.  He did the whole thing with scissors and made it incredibly precise.  Also, he cut out all of Matt's weird bushy/curly hair that gets all frizzy in this Indian monsoon-season humidity.  I should mention as an example of the kindness of Indian people, the guy getting his hair cut next to Matt was nice enough to translate for Matt exactly what kind of haircut he wanted (medium short was the settled-upon term), and then he hung around after he was finished to make sure Matt was satisfied.  All in all, a very unexpectedly pleasant experience.  I expect Matt will go back in two or three weeks whether he needs another cut or not.  For $2, why not?
I was going to take more pictures, but I got embarrassed when everyone started laughing at me.  I'm sure I looked like a proud parent documenting one of baby's "firsts".  That's pretty much how I felt.  

Centre Square.  Fanciest mall in town. So fancy, in fact, they they spell center like the Brits do.
Later in the weekend, we went shopping at the Chroma electronics store, which was having it's annual "Non-Violent Sale".  Don't know exactly what that means, but I for one, fully support it.  We also went to the center mall where I was treated to some shoes, a scarf and some small pants.  ("Small pants" is a term the Russian advisor, Sveta, came up with when she couldn't think of the word for leggings.  I liked it so much that I have decided to use it in place of "leggings" for the remainder of all time.)
It is the most peaceful sale I've ever seen.
That is pretty much all I've got for today, and none of it was even about today.  Oh, Wednesday was Katie's birthday, and we had a small (and fairly lame) party for her.  We tried to make it exciting, but what with "Mocktail hour" (they have it every Wednesday, and we get a letter about it every Monday.  We've been once for a total of 10 minutes... that's how long it took us to realize 1. there is no alcohol, 2. the mocktails look and taste like toilet water, and 3. they probably are toilet water.) running late, we didn't get anything started until 9 p.m., and our food didn't arrive until 10 p.m.  The quickest way to a bad party is to shove a bunch of irritable and sober people into a room, and don't feed them for three hours.  I'd like to take this opportunity to point out the fact that while none of this was directly my fault, I was the only person who had time to make a great party and I didn't do it.  So of course I feel guilty.  Also, I didn't take any pictures.  Just imagine 10 people sitting around a table staring at each other and not talking, and you can pretty much see it.
Different-looking bulls.  I don't know what kind they are, but they're way bigger, and look at those snouts.  These guys command attention.   
This weekend we have big plans to go to Ahmedebad, which is only about an hour (in theory) away.  I don't really know what's there and I imagine it will be a bigger version of Baroda, but I hear from a very reputable source (Mary) that it has a really nice market AND an arcade, among other things.  It should be interesting.  And that's all I have to say about that.  My blog posts are seriously declining in content and relevance, I know.  Maybe after Ahmedebad I'll have something better.  In conclusion, I will leave you with some random pictures from our walkabout on Saturday.  Please enjoy.

We thought this was really funny, only because when Sveta bought jewelry here, she couldn't get more than 2.5% off.  Now they're literally giving the stuff away.
Little Italy.  It's a chain, but it's by far my favorite restaurant in town. 
Mmm, ants on Indian bread is a delicacy in Baroda.  I'm making this up.  I think.
Super Bread.  

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Are You Not Entertained?

Yeah, I know, I'm slacking on the updates.  Only posting once a week is not really considered slacking in the blog world (at least out of the blogs I read, but all those people are super lazy) but for me it's pretty much inexcusable.  However, I have been finding less and less to write about since returning to India a little more than a month ago.  I don't do much, and what little I do do (ha, doodoo), I wouldn't expect most people to find very interesting.  Nonetheless, I didn't sign up for this free blog for nothing (that doesn't make a lick of sense), so here I am... writing another worthless post.  Feel free to stop reading now.  Obviously this post is taking a dastardly turn.

I believe I have already updated you all on the fact that we got a new hotel room.  I finally took some pictures of it yesterday to give everyone a little taste of the Indian bliss that you're missing.  Again, I'm posting way too many pictures, but this way you can compare this room to the dingy old one.

Living room.  
Storage under the couch.  

Whole room.  

Office.  Yes, that is a picture of Shahrukh Khan, seemingly the most famous Indian in history (or at least Bollywood history), that Matt was kind enough to make as my desktop background.  

Kitchen.  We even have a drawer for food! 

Office/kitchen/den combo.  (Please note how I have cleverly hidden the kitchen behind those doors, giving the room a much more pulled-together feel.)

Bathroom, complete with shelves AND a mirror above the toilet!


Shower.  Still won't be using the bathtub because the water is still the same, but it's prettier to look at.  

His and Hers closets.  

A special place for the blankets when we're not using them!  How grand.  Also, this is where we put the hot plate when we cook.  

And last but not least, our "garden view".  I'm almost certain this thing isn't actually a garden, but there's no way out there, so I can't find out. 

Anyway, I think this will satisfy your curiosity, as I've shown I'm nothing if not thorough when it comes to showing you my living conditions.  Also, this satisfies my conscience, for I've been concerned that you were all on the verge of aneurisms worrying about me in India.  

In other news, I have come to the conclusion that I'm not going to find spiritual enlightenment while in India.  Mostly because I'm not really looking for it.  I feel like I should be, because isn't that why people travel to  India?  For a higher understanding and a better relationship with the All Mighty?  (At least this is what I'm getting out of my second go 'round with "Eat, Pray, Love".  I just finished the "Pray" section, which I guess is pretty obvious.)  Possibly people come for other reasons, but I'm pretty certain mostly it's for spiritual journeying.  Anyway, while I have been praying more than usual here (I don't really want to get into the particulars, but suffice it to say I've had some things to pray about), mostly I don't feel any sense of spiritual connection to this country.  Probably because I rarely leave my hotel room (for obvious reasons... I mean, look at it), and when I do, I am too busy trying to dodge both traffic and the beggar children to look for religious experiences.  Maybe this should be a new project for me in India:  Form a better relationship with God.  Shouldn't be too hard considering the only relationship we have now consists of me saying "Good Lord" on occasion.  Wish me luck on my endeavor. Probably I will forget about it within the next half hour.

I actually do have some other stuff to update you on, but none of it is very important, and I've run out of patience with blogging at the moment.  Also, I feel I should probably save some stuff for later in the week so I can get my posting numbers up.  I'm only at 67... Mary made it to 100 forever ago!  I'm not too worried, though... she just got back to India so surely her will to post is rapidly declining.

Monday, August 16, 2010

It's Been A while...

I know, I'm slacking in a pretty big way on the blog updates.  You should all count yourselves lucky, however, because nothing of note has been happening here since my last update.  I've been telling everyone I see about the bird eating the lizard, as it's my only news.

Two weekends ago we had a huge thunderstorm with lots and lots of rain, and very little drainage.  Matt and I watched the drama unfold from the top floor of a restaurant right next to the biggest, most congested intersection in the city.  The rain poured down, eventually flooding the streets, especially the intersection.  We delighted in watching the tuk-tuks (and then the cars, and finally the people) float down the road as they tried to make left turns.  We did not see any cows, however, because it seems they have more sense than people when it comes to rain.  Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of the road-river, but I got a few from a little further down.
RC Dutt Road, right in front of the hotel.  The water was thigh-high a little further up the road, but I was too lazy to walk back over there.  

Tuk-tuk splashing through.  

I haven't seen this puddle dry since we got back here.  Usually someone drives through it and splashes me, and then I yell at them.  Once, someone said sorry.  It was the best day.  

Last week I watched two movies that I would have had absolutely no interest in had I been almost anywhere else in the world: "Predators" and "The Expendables".  Both were kind of dumb, but what they lacked in plot, they made up for in action.  I've decided I'll probably have to stop going to the movies on Saturdays because it's too crowded with Indians on cell phones.  The guy in front of me last Saturday actually called someone during the movie.  Also, (and I know I've alluded to this before) Indian people laugh a lot at movies... but not at funny parts.  I don't understand this, therefore I get really irritated when the whole theater is laughing.  Maybe they're laughing at me... "Look at her white skin and light eyes... and she's not even on her cell phone?  Stupid laowai." (Laowai means foreigner in Mandarin.  I don't know any words in Gujarati or Hindi, or I would insert them here to show my foreign language prowess).    Next time maybe I'll wait for Sunday.

While we're on the subject, I would like state for the record that while I really enjoy having a movie theater here, there are only so many movies a person can watch in a period of time.  The movies I have seen at the theater here are (in order): "Inception", "Salt", "Twilight: Eclipse", "Predators", and "The Expendables".  (I had also already seen "Inception" AND "Eclipse" in America, so those I watched for the second time.) That's five movies in three-and-a-half weeks. This doesn't sound so bad when you consider I've got nothing else to do, however, this is not including the hundreds of movies I've watched on TV or on my computer.  I guess my point is, I'd like to have some other form of entertainment besides movies.  Like bowling.  Or a bar.  Or a bowling alley that had a bar in it (and maybe a KTV downstairs... ahh, how I miss Dushanzi).
A classic picture of Tom's impeccable bowling form in Dushanzi.    

Classic picture of Krishnan and Tom drinking at the bowling alley.  Danielle and I always split a bottle of wine... or two.  Can you tell I'm struggling with the lack of alcohol here?

On another note, I was thinking that maybe this job would provide a really nice break for my liver, seeing as how I can't drink as much as usual.  However, recently I've discovered that Malarone (the malaria pills we have to take every day) are really bad for your liver... so I guess there's no rest for the weary (the weary in this case being my liver).  I guess it will get a good long break when I'm pregnant.  But not before.

Oh, I almost forgot about the best news of all!  After weeks of badgering the front desk staff and sales managers about the inadequacy of our room, Matt and I finally got upgraded to a nicer room!  It's still nothing super fancy, but it's so much better than before that it feels like the Ritz.  Even the bellhop appreciated our switch by saying "This room is much better. Good bed, good A/C, garden view."  As there isn't really a garden here, there isn't really a garden view, but I can overlook that minor detail.  Let this be a lesson to all you other roadies... with a little persistence, and A LOT of annoying of the hotel staff, anything is possible.  I haven't taken any pictures of the new room yet, but don't worry, I will.  I have to leave myself something to blog about for later.

Independence Day gift from the hotel.  
Yesterday was India's Independence Day, which is a pretty big deal. According to the flyer housekeeping left in my room, "The midnight of August 15, 1947 is memorable for every Indian on Earth, as it is the time when India gained independence from the stranglehold of the mighty British."  We were invited to a "flag raising ceremony" Sunday, which we didn't attend because it was at 8 in the morning, AND the dress code was "Smart Casuals".  We didn't feel like getting our smart casuals on, so we stayed in bed.  We saw one firework while we were outside playing frisbee.  Probably they did other stuff, too, but we didn't really get in on the fun.

I just got back from the coffee shop that we just discovered yesterday.  It has coffee that actually tastes like coffee, and it isn't too dirty or fly-filled.  Ryan and I just spent two hours drinking coffee and chatting.  Consequently, my fingers are now shaking from my caffeine surge, and I probably won't sleep tonight.  Ahh, but it's a small price to pay for a new activity.

Anyway, despite alllll the hardships of this place, (and I think you know there are many) Matt and I are doing just fine.  Tonight is "Top Chef Monday" which we celebrate by making pasta on the hot plate and watching "Top Chef" (several seasons behind) on AXN at 8, and then "Top Chef Masters" at 9.  Feel free to be a little jealous.  I would be.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Across the Universe

Warning: This blog post includes descriptions as well as photographs that may be unsuitable for young children or squeamish adults.  Stop reading now if you fall into one of the above categories.  Or if you're about to eat lunch.  

Sometimes I think the universe is trying to tell me something.  Today I think it was saying "get the hell out of India."  But to really understand this message, I guess I should begin at the beginning...

I really love lizards.  I always have.  Ever since Jen brought Giggy, the 4-foot-long iguana, home to live with us, I have had a soft spot for even the biggest and most vicious-looking lizards.  (I don't think I'm alone in my hatred for snakes, however, and I really don't consider them to be in the same grouping at all.) My love for lizards extends even to the little Indian lizards that live in the courtyard of our hotel.

One of the smaller guys.  
 I don't know what kind they are, but they seem to be some sort of cross between a chameleon, iguana and newt.  They look mean as hell, but they are small and after much observation, I have deemed them to be relatively harmless.  Sometimes the big one (he's probably only about a foot long, including the tail) tries to scare me off by doing some sort of push-up maneuver right in my path.  Only after several seconds of pumping up and down will he decide that this isn't working and then scamper off into the bushes.  Then sometimes he will reappear, sitting on the wheel of my rolling lounge chair by the pool.  See, we're buddies.

There he is, just chilling.  I wasn't lying.  Sometimes I look down and he's right there, and it kind of scares the crap out of me.  
So, back to my message from the universe.  (This is where it gets graphic, folks.  This is your second warning.) This afternoon, while watching True Blood on my computer, I couldn't help but notice a big bird dancing around right outside my window.  I could only see the top of it's head, so I moved closer to get a better look.  'Ahh', I said to myself, 'it is a big ugly brown bird.  And ohh, he has a little friend with him.'  The friend was one of my friends.  A lizard!  'Any friend of a lizard is a friend of mine, so that must make us friends!' I said to the bird.  'Don't count on it, sweetie pie,' said the bird, as he proceeded to poke out the eyes of the lizard.
(Third and final warning: Don't look at this picture, or any of the other pictures.  They are disgusting.)
I told you not to look.  Pretty bad, no?
'No!,' I screamed.  'This can't be happening!' but the bird kept going, deaf to my pleas for mercy.  Naturally, I grabbed my camera to document the moment, for as grief-stricken as I was, I was still kind of amazed that this little drama of life and death was happening right outside my window.  (Also, the irony of watching one creature eat another creature, while also watching a show about vampires was not lost on me.)
Oh good Lord.  Only I would take pictures of a bird eating a lizard and then post them on my blog.

I watched, appalled, as the decidedly unfriendly bird ate the head of my little buddy, before closing the curtains and letting him finish his dinner.  When I opened them later to check, there was blood everywhere.  Only when I looked closely could I see the message scratched into the blood, surely the work of a bird's beak: "Leave India... or else."
Sorry, buddy.  

Okay, okay, this last part I made up.  However, the rest of it was true, aside from the blood part (the bird covered his tracks well, leaving no traces of his crime behind) and the message scratched into the blood part.  However, the universe does seem to be telling me to leave India, or it will kill the things that I love, starting with my little lizard friends.  What's going to happen next, both the new treadmills at the hotel will break?  The brand new Body Shop will stop carrying my chapstick?  They will replace my all-natural vegetable soap with some chemical-laced death bar? (They have actually already done this last one.  Pissed me off something fierce.)  It's too horrible to even speculate.  This is why I've made the decision to leave India.  I am currently planning to go visit my friend Danielle in Thailand in September.  Never mind that I already started planning this trip before I saw my friend get eaten, and never mind that I've always wanted to go to Thailand, and I was kind of already planning this trip before I left the USA.  The universe has spoken, and I, for one, am listening to it.