Wednesday, June 20, 2007

L Town sights

I've been living in this city off and on for the last ten months and have yet to see the fun and exciting touristy sights, until the other day. This used to be the capitol of the Nawab kingdom, between the fall of the Mughal empire and the British occupation, and there are plenty of palaces, mosques, gardens and other places to see. The first is from the palace roof looking at the mosque and part of the courtyard.

Here's the main gate, behind the motorcycle.

These are the steps leading down to the queen's pool, whose water level rises and falls with the water table and is seven stories from top to bottom

The entire top 3-4 floors of the palace is a labyrinth and it's almost impossible to get out without a guide.

And here's just a normal sign on one of the walls.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mr. Everest's House

A few weeks ago, I heard that the house of Mr. Everest (the guy they named the mountain after) is somewhere nearby, so this weekend I set out to find it. I got up early in the morning, found a semi-reliable map, which was hand-drawn on notebook paper, and set out on my quest. I had walked for about 2 hours before I came to what I thought was it, but turned out to be the ruins of some other house. I asked a family that was having a picnic at the house I came to where this place was and they said it was on the other side of the mountain. Great. I searched around for another path that might take me the direction I wanted to go and found only one. This one took me through a small market where I asked if I was headed the right way, but no one seemed to know what I was talking about, so I kept walking. I came to another shop a little way's down the road and asked for directions and he told me to keep heading that way and when the road forks, take the higher road and after a little distance, the pavement will end and a dirt road will go way down and then back up again right to the house.

That seemed to work, and when I got to where the dirt road reached the bottom, there was an open field. But the field was filled with at least a dozen military personel carriers. I was convinced that I had made a wrong turn and ended up in some outpost, so I asked the closest soldier if the house was near here. He called one of the higher officers over for me to ask. Told him where I was headed and at this point I had been walking for at least 3 hours without ever sitting down and was content to be turned away. He seemed to be a bit shocked to see a white guy with only a water bottle and a camera by himself in the lower Himalayas and asked "Where did you walk from?" I told him I came from the next closest city, where I was staying. He said he would have to ask his supervisor if I could go. So he stepped away with a radio and came back a few minutes later and said "If anyone stops you, just say I (and gave me his name) said you could go" and pointed up the other side of the valley.

When I got there I realized that there was a graduation or some other school function in front of the house and there were at least 200 or 300 middle- and highschoolers there and apparently the government uses the personel carriers for school buses for field trips. As soon as I got to the top, I heard sever voices yelling with excitement "Angrez! Angrez!" (that's Hindi for "gringo") and dozens of kids running towards me. Not wanting to disturb their meeting and really not wanting 200 kids trying to get an autograph or something like that, I decided to just start the 3 hour walk back. I had a nice walk and afterward I went to sleep.

Monday, May 21, 2007

An awkward situation

The other day, I arrived in a mountain town to go to a language school for the next month and am looking forward to studying a little, hiking a bit more, and staying out of the heat a lot. Last night I met up with some friends at the guesthouse they were staying at to spend some time together and we had a nice time.

Their place was beautiful, and the best part was they have running water 24-7. Mine comes between 6:00 and 6:30 am and that's it. So bathing and restrooms are limited.

Anyway, we had a nice time together sitting in the courtyard talking. Feeling the need to take the opportunity while it was there, I asked to use their restroom. So one of my friends who was staying at this guesthouse said the rooms leading out into the courtyard had been free for a least the last week, so in I went.

I had been in there a few minutes and when I came out, I could not see where my friends had gone. But what I did see was the front door was open and there was luggage in the front. To make things worse, there were six or eight men standing in the courtyard where my comrades once were, and I had to walk past them to leave. One of them made eye contact with me, and instinctively, I did the typical nodding gesture. He at first did likewise, but after realizing that I was coming out of the room he was about to be staying in, his facial expression changed within a fraction of a second from one of a friendly greeting, to one that almost asked what I was doing in his bathroom.

I did my best to play it casual and as soon as I rounded the corner, I couldn't help but laugh as well as walk a bit faster. When I found where my compadres went. I told them the story and we all got a big laugh.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Almost Roadkill

Tonight on our way back from a neighboring city, my supervisor and I got to meet another local. It was not in the manner we expected though. It was about dusk and we were going around a bend when the driver slams on the breaks and both of us, who are about half-asleep by this point, almost fall out of the seats. Through tangled seatbelts and smoke from the tires we look up at this massive beast. It had no trunk and it was too skinny to be an elephant, but we were still looking up at it from our Scorpio suv (about the size of a Ford Expedition). I couldn't tell at first if it was a big horse or whatever it was, but then I saw a small set of horns. It had a small head with a long thick neck and a large, strong-looking body. Then it jumped into the tall grass on the side of the road and into the dark. The other guys in the car swears it was a moose, but I have my doubts.

Upon a little research and a few pictures online, I think I found a match. The local name is the Nilgai, and in English we would call it the Blue Bull Antelope. It just so happens to be the largest antelope species in asia. It's got my vote. But they say, (scientists as well as locals) that a full grown male while even wounded can overpower a tiger and get away and the average adult is not intimidated by a leopard. I don't know, but it didn't even look at the 2-ton pair of headlights that it almost bacame close friends with, I think the animal would have won that fight.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

It Snowed?

A few days ago some friends were headed back to their house in the mountains and invited me to come for a few days. I figured I could use a break and took them up on the offer. They always take the bus that useually is around 12 to 14 hours, but in bad weather it can be as much as 24 hrs. It seemed ok when we left, so we were not concerned. The bus left at 7 at night and was supposed to arrive the next morning.

They usually take a few stops along the way for restroom breaks, but at about midnight we stopped and everyone was asked to get off the bus and gather their luggage. Then another bus pulled up and the conductor told everyone that we would take this bus instead and the passengers on that bus got onto ours. The seating arrangements were different so there were some complications with who had to sit in the back of the bus, but we got under way. A few hours later, my friends had said that it was taking a bit longer thatn normal. Then the conductor told us that there was two feet of snow and the bus could not make it.

So we took a taxi/jeep thing and got stuck in traffic for a few hours so we grabbed our hand-luggage and hired donkeys to carry the rest. (I feel good because I only had a backpack). We walked up hill for an hour and twenty minutes through a little more than a foot of semislushy snow. We got our trek in durring the first day. I forgot to mention I only had sandals with me. The next few days were spent inside, but it was alot of fun do do nothing productive for a few days.

The picture of just the mountain is from standing in their doorway.

Ralph Escapes Again!!!

A few days ago, I was at a friends house along with several others staying with them for various reasons. But this was no ordinary evening. I was in my room minding my own business when I heard a blood-curtling shreik. By the time I got to the scene, several of the others had arrived before me, and after that point, none of our lives would be the same.

Amidst confusion and mass-hysteria, I got the story from an innocent bystander: while a newcomer was in the kitchen cooking dinner, a rodent had reared his ugly head. A crime too heinous to let pass. Shortly thereafter, our small band of 4 men, and 9 women plotted our reciprocation. The plan: Kill the Beast! While armed with small handpowered kitchen appliances and trashcan lids, we set out on our quest to rid the world of this vermin. Or just get him out of the house.

At first, he went behind the refrigerator, then we pulled out the fridge into the middle of the floor, chased him into the hall with no escape and then pinned him under a wicker trashcan. At that point, we needed a moment to stop laughing, and while we did so, the can started to walk away. The next plan was to scoot the can to door, fling him onto the porch into a newspaper and stomp on him. In short, he hit the paper and tore off like he was being chased by a dozen crazed foreigners... oh, wait. He may have been.

I think the funniest part was the differences in the reactions of the girls in the various stages of their 2 year term. The ones that had been here only a month were standing on chairs. 1 year: "you chase him from that side, I'll cover him from here!" 1.5 years: calmly saying "he's too big, he won't fit under your door." 2 years: clamly sitting on the kitchen counter stirring her ramen noodles.

Everything in the story is true except the small appliances and trashcan lids, most of us were even barefoot.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Few More Cultural Mishaps

In the past few hours, I have made two cultural/language blunders: I am taking a course right now and after one of the sessions, I asked one of the guys, who I practice my language with "did you enjoy the class?" He gave me a puzzled look and asked me to repeat myself and I said it again. Then he shook his head, looked around and motioned for me to come over to him. As it turns out, I got the pronunciation wrong and said something else. He said the proper way to say it and the way I said it, but they sounded the same. As it turns out the word for "class" sounds just like the word for "underwear"

Also on the way home from class, our autorickshaw was hit by a waterballoon and me and the other guy with me got a little wet. The driver stopped and I decide to get out and for some reason I chased the kid down. He only runs ten feet or so and stops at his gate, so I called him over and asked him why he did that. The 11-year-old looked back at me from a few steps up and with a cowering voice he mumbles "because it is Holi". Then I said, "well... don't do it again." Holi is a holiday here where they throw water at each other, and later in the day they throw powdered dye and all sorts of other craziness. But it doesn't start for another week.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Home Sweet Home

Some of you have gotten onto me for not putting anything about my appt up. So here goes...

This is my living room (pardon the mess, I wasn't expecting company)

Here is the hallway/foyer - I have no idea how to spell that. The appt is a 2 story with an entrance upstairs. I didn't want the whole thing and had them seal off the steps. So, yes, I have a staircase that leads into a wall.

the bedroom is a mess, so you don't get to see that, but here is the balcony. I'm on the 6th floor, but they don't count the ground floor, so in the states it would be on the 7th floor.

Here is an elephant that was at the front of a wedding parade. Behind him, they were shooting off fireworks that would burst right in front of my window until about midnight the other week.

And these are a few office buildings that were decorated for some governmental holiday.