Monday, June 29, 2009


In Chris's birthday post you saw about all you need to see of the border closing ceremony and the cozy confines of Amritsar's (the Punjab's?) only 5 star hotel.  

Just quickly though, I think its worth pointing out the differences between the Indian side

and the Pakistani side of the border.  

You can't really see in the photo, but the Pakistani side is gender segregated and the women are all wearing burquas.  And there is next to no one there.  Eerie, especially compared to the raucous Indians.  But I do have to admit that the Pakistanis had a much better marching and bugling routine, despite the low turnout.  

So we did the border crossing the evening we arrived and then the Golden Temple the next morning.  
Waking up 6ish was totally worth it and I found the place every bit as magical as everyone says it is.  Sikhism really interests me and the people we met at both the Golden Temple and the Delhi gurdwara were lovely and incredibly welcoming.  Without kids I would've loved to linger and just watch the whole scene unfold over the span of a day, exploring the kitchen and hospital as well as the temple complex, but with small bellies in tow we had to head to breakfast fa
irly quickly.  

On the way out I did snap a shot of the entrance to the communal kitchen, complete with inspirational sayings that reminded me of farmer friends back home.


So, to catch up a bit, let's review...

Left Pune at the beginning of June and went to Delhi.  Conference, sightseeing, good times (you've seen the post).  

Then it was off to Chandigar, home of the Nek Chand Sculpture Garden.  It is the second most
 visited tourist site in all of India,
behind (of course) the Taj Mahal.  I was alerted to the wonders of Nek Chand by my old knitting teacher and all around groovy Madison artist.  (Madisonians - check out The Green Parasol on Willy St!)  Of all the advice I got about coming to India, her recommendation that I visit the sculpture garden probably was the one thing that contributed the most happiness to my time here.  I LOVED it.

Other people seemed pretty happy there too.

I won't try to describe the place - I couldn't - but I'll leave it to my loyal Nag Champa-ions to follow the link above and google for pictures.  Instead, just a few favorite shots...

Above is a small part of the Third Phase which has a sort of country fair feel to it.  In each of the arches there is a gigantic swing and people are welcome swing to their hearts' content. There are camel rides on offer along the front of the swings, and behind you can wander through the largest house of mirrors I've ever seen.  This is the one place in all of India that Ben has ever asked to go back to.
He literally had to be carried out...  

Unfortunately the rest of Chandigar is unmitigatedly weird and awful in a Soviet-bloc era sort of way.  We found a gem of a hotel WAY out in the Punjabi countryside, for which we were hugely grateful, but 24 hours proved about as long as we wanted or needed to stay in Chandigar.  With the first of a string of great train station experiences we were off to Amritsar...


We're still here, really! There's no internet in Likir and we only get into Leh infrequently. And being in Leh doesn't necessarily mean good internet - we're looking at DSL on a good day, on a network swampped with all the whities that are swampping the town. So, blogging.... well, we're trying!

I have posts in the hopper about our journey up here and of course about life at the monastery too... hoping to post them in the next 24 hours, internet gods and the children willing!

In the meantime, please know that we are thinking of all of you SO often and missing you more than you can imagine. There is a big countdown running on our wall at home and each day we celebrate being 24hours closer to seeing all of you again. Ladakh is truly wonderful and I will love leaving it all the same.

Hug each other for us, stay tuned, and we'll see you SOON!

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Another quick update...

We are in Ladakh, taking a few days in Leh to acclimatize and re-stock before heading up to Likir for the next 2 months. Our mini vacation was full of all sorts of excitement - everything from food poisoning to making new friends at train stations to running into old friends in the most unexpected places to a spin through the most heavily fortified airport I've ever seen. Pictures are forthcoming, but that will have to wait for a more organized internet cafe visit.

Leh is wonderful. Small and right now very peaceful as the tourist season hasn't quite started yet and the whole town is under a 'bund' (strike) at the behest of a local political organization. The weather is divine - highs only in the 60s, crystal blue skies, but with snow showers up on the high peaks - really cool to watch. We're holed up in a groovy little guest house tucked back away from the main road, and having fun playing with the 2 little boys who live there. Ben and Caitlin are already picking up some rudimentary Ladakhi.

Looking forward to the next 2 months!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

We Have A Winner!

Actually, we have 2.

Way back when we put out a call for suggestions of places to visit on our pre-Ladakh vacation.  The stateside representative of Team MH has the glorious distinction of being our second Smells Like Nag Champa contest winner!  She suggested we go to the Punjab and that is precisely where we have gone.  Rock on Team MH!

And our first contest, waaaaay back in Varanasi was won by our most frequent visitor, Grampy.  He knew that bhang was dope and threw in a vintage overseas PhD research story for extra credit.  Nice work Grampinator.

I don't think we promised prizes for the vacation contest, but maybe I'll round up some sweet Punjabi shoes so MH and Raisin can match.  And as for my pops, he was promised some Nag Champa soap, but I doubt that smelling like a hippie is his thing...  how about unlimited yak butter tea when we see you in a few weeks?  


Mr Nag Champa polished off 35 big years yesterday, and in damn fine form.  He originally hoped to celebrate in Dharamsala, including a go at open mic night in McLoed Ganj, but somehow managed to make due with Amritsar.

The big day started with a morning train in from Chandigar.  Mr. NC made friends with some khalsa sikhs, 
serenaded all and sundry on the platform 
and then enjoyed a ride filled with reading to Ben, writing poetry and playing Mancala.  Upon arrival Mr. NC got his first birthday surprise, being met on the platform by 3 hotel guys who managed porters and whisked us away to one of the loveliest hotels we've ever, ever, seen.  

Bowled over by the hotel (see the next post) Mr. NC was given a cake by the GM, complete with personalized felicitations in chocolate.  
After a dip in the pool and a late lunch we headed out to the India-Pakistan border to witness hundreds celebrating Chris's birthday/the border closing ceremony
We passed more revelers on the way home.

And then wrapped up with a very late (and only marginally cranky) dinner back at the hotel.  We did the traditional Respection of the 35 Year Old along with a Year in Review and Hopes and Goals for the coming year.  

Can't imagine how we'll top this one!

Saturday, June 6, 2009


We're poking around a bit, doing some touristy things in Delhi while Chris attends the Fulbright-Nehru Scholars conference.   The National Museum was a big hit, thanks to the audio-guide, as was the Bangla Sahib Gurdwara, but both my sense of propriety (no photos of folks practicing their religions) and my stinginess (no way I'll pay $12 to use my camera) kept me from providing you with photos of either.  

The Gandhi Smriti was also a winner, especially for the multi-media interactive displays.  The museum is packed full of information about Gandhi's life and work, but unfortunately it is not presented in such a way that one can really absorb much of it.  Perhaps without a 5 year old or hordes of loud tourists you could glean more from it.  Nonetheless, we really enjoyed
 interacting with all the exhibits and took away at least a very basic overview of Gandhi's major work.   Plus, it all just looked so darn cool.  

The Martyr's Path, tracing the final steps of Gandhi's life was especially moving.  We walked from his home toward the prayer hall along with a large group of Indian tourists, mostly older women, many of them widows (I'm guessing, based on their shaved heads), and from a rural area (another guess, based on the wrap of their saris).  It was particularly touching to see them bow down and touch the ground where he was killed and take it as a blessing.  (Exactly as Hindus do when visiting a temple or guru.)

The path was also lined with many of Gandhi's famous quotes, including this one, which really resonated with me.
Finally, we're rustlin up some good grub.  Two days ago it was Big Chill for lunch and insanely fabulous shakes (and drawing, and jamming out to Tracy Chapman), yesterday 'tea' at a very swank hotel (goat-poop coffee anyone?), a revolving restaurant, and tonight dinner at the US Embassy restaurant.  

I'm going to leave it to Chris to blog about the conference and nitty-gritty of preparing Indian scholars for life in the US.  

Tomorrow we leave bright and early for Chandigar!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

On the road

Just a quickie to let everyone know we survived the big Pune Purge and made it safely to Delhi. We still have way too much stuff but as with many things in this wild and wooly country, that is a problem that can be easily solved by throwing more money at it.

We had a dynamite pucca Maharashtrian breakfast at our landlords', including 3 kinds of homemade chillies and pickles. (Under normal circumstances we avoid such condiments like the plague because they tend to resemble nothing so much as mini Chernobyls happening in your mouth.) But everything was delish and a welcome break from the dregs of our cereal collection. We said goodbye to all and sundry, including the huge Gunpati. (Chris can explain our family's new affinity for the big elephant god, but let me assure you, we loveloveLOVE him.)

Plane to Delhi, blah blah blah. Happily ensconsed in the Fulbright House (where men are building a huge tent out on the lawn as I write, at 10:20pm), with tummies full of diner food, and heads ready to be filled with conference stuff and Delhi sights.

On tap tomorrow: Chris will confer while the kids and I visit a gurdwara, Gandhi Smriti, Khan Market (YUM), and maybe the National Museum. (The museum isn't a maybe, just maybe not crammed into an already busy day... now that I look at the website I think we'll give it it's own day - Faberge eggs and Ladakh photos, plus the standard collection - o my.)

And looking a bit further ahead, we're hoping to see more Delhi spots and the Taj Mahal (we're here til the 7th) before moving north through Chandigar, Amritsar and Dharamsala on our way to Ladakh. Plenty of vacation posts to come!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Look to the right...

Did you spot it?  The countdown til our return to America?  We've got the plane tickets and canNOT wait to be back in the motherland.  

And for my money, you couldn't pick a much better way to spend roughly 68 days than hanging out in the Himalayas.  Countdown til Ladakh is roughly 10 days, and til leaving Pune, roughly 10 hours.  (HELP.)

Can't wait to see you all!!!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Comprehensively stuffed

I always sort of dread these--we got invited to dinner. A few things here are absolute mainstays: the food will be entirely too spicy for Ben, 97% so for Caitlin, the children will watch at least two hours of horrible TV, we will be out way past bed time, and Ben's behavior will rapidly deteriorate to an ongoing struggle to injure any and all around him in any way he can.

Then we go, and yes, all those things do happen, and did tonight. But for pete's sake, people act like we're visiting from heaven. They're overjoyed to have us in their homes, and they invite all five of their sisters over to make dinner, and wring their hands if we don't constantly gush praise over the food. There must be pictures with any and all relatives present. Cousins from downstairs and across the hall and the next county over are dragged in, sheepishly grinning, one after another to meet us. Tonight Seetakshi stood over us and tried to give each of us more of whatever we'd just taken a bite of, and wouldn't take no for an answer. Then one of her sisters insisted that we come to HER house to see the new baby.

[We had to wash our feet at the door to leave 'pollution' outside. The baby is 16 days old, sleeps through everything including mom and aunties holding it up and saying, loudly, 'A sundarā, utthāro!' (come, beautiful, wake up!) and had black spots on its forehead and left cheek, hand, foot, and side of the navel to ward of the bhuri nazar, evil gaze. We each held the baby twice and got our picture taken with it.]

Then people get our full biographies and want to know all about everything, and are almost always positively elated that I can speak Hindi like a four year old. Every new family member gets a precis of the proceedings upon arrival (he speaks really good hindi. Studying sanskrit. They didn't eat enough. [this, frankly, is a total falsehood.] Three years he's been in India. No Marathi. Children don't go to school. Madam sahib helped make the bread. Yes, they all do look very handsome, don't they?) to which the inevitable response is a series of impressed and approving nods and murmurs.

We always spill something, usually multiple somethings, Ben often remarks out loud that he doesn't like dinner, and people apologize over and over again for THEIR insufficient hospitality.

I always walk out of these things feeling very full, and not a little ashamed, 1. that anyone should make a fuss over not so very important me, 2. that I spend the whole night talking about myself and not learning and asking questions, and 3. that I have never, but never treated a guest to my home in any such way, nor ever acted like it was such a consummate privilege to do so. I told one of the girls that she had no accent and that that told me that she must have had good teachers (which could be a really left handed compliment, now that I think about it) and she practically exploded from smiling.

Tonight it was actually enunciated, atithi deva bhava (I think the actual original Skt should be atithirdevo bhava, let the guest be [as a] god [for you]).

The real tragedy is that these people should be feted like this by me, and that without them and hundreds, nay, thousands of others, my work could never get done, and they will never get to read the meager thanks I can give them in an acknowledgement section, or here on SLNC. Perhaps worst of all, all I can think on my way there is 'this is going to take a long time and inconvenience me.' Ingrate. Poverty of riches.

In other news, let saying of having told me so begin, I wiped out on my scooter today. I'm blaming it on Chase Visa--if the credit card had gone through the first time, I'd have been five minutes earlier, going slower, and not taking a turn too hard trying to avoid an oncoming rickshaw. It was a spectacular wreck, but I was going all of 15mph, and I have 6 smaller-than-a-nickel spots of road rash, plus 2-3 sore spots/bruises. May whoever runs the skies and rivers be praised, I was alone. I would probably still be beating myself up next Tuesday if Ben or Caitie had taken the spill with me.

Also, 4 nice men packed up 235.6kg of our stuff today, and are sending it back to America for the paltry sum of rs370/kg, roughly $3.90 a lb.

At that rate, my stuff will cost more to get back to the US per pound than us, though it might be admitted that the stuff will be directly delivered to Blackhawk drive.

Last: speaking of flying home, save the date. Aug 9, 10:50 a.m., Team SLNC arrives at OHare. I am going directly to the nearest soda fountain and getting an enormous Coke with a ton of ice in it.

You heard it here first.