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.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I Guess I Just Have Big Feet

This week I decided that I needed a new pair of flip-flops to wear around the house. And on Wednesdays (today) there is a big flea-market type thing within walking distance from my house, so off I went to find a new pair of chappals (sandals). After going to a few different stands to ask if they had my size, I received a few different answers ranging from a mixture of "no"s to strange looks and confused faces. Most of the places I went to stopped at men's size 8, and being that I wear a size 12, this would not do. More than one vendor gave me a puzzled look, paused, and leaned over his table to get a look at my feet. I guess to see if I was telling the truth. I did, however find a pair of baby blue size 9's that the guys insisted I try on. My heel hung over the back about an inch or so and that was the biggest pair I found. With no luck, I returned home determined to one day find a pair of chappals that fit.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

trip out of town

It's been a little busy the last few weeks. After making my visa run, I came back and hit the ground running. A few days after coming back, I had to go visit some friends in another city. I had only met them once before, so I was anxious to see them again. We spent a few days together with seeing their homes and them introducing me to their families and after that, they asked if I wanted to see the fort in town. I had only seen the top of it over the trees a few days before so I was anxious to see it. So they told me they would pick me up at 12. A few hours after they dropped me off at my hotel, they called back and said they would come at 9. I was a little anxious to sleep in that day, but if that means I get to see more of the fort, then great.

When they picked me up, they said we were going to a bigger fort about an hour away. And away we went in our full-day-rental auto rickshaw. When we stopped to get out, I immediately began taking pictures of all the old run down temples strewn about, but they insisted we keep moving. We walked around a hill and there was a few bigger temples lining the nice clean river and a palace that had been used a few hundred years ago. We ran around those for a bit and took pictures and all the fun stuff. Then one of them said we should get to the fort pretty soon, before it gets too crowded. On the way to the fort, it was starting to look a little more touristy and then we started seeing westerners here and there. Then we got to the fort, which was much bigger than I had expected. It was definitely the tallest structure around. On every side you could see for miles. Then after a bit, you could start to hear a slight rumble avery once in a while, and one of the guys said we should get going. And on our way out, we discovered the rumbling was tour buses shoveling people into the fort. I can say that they had perfect timing in getting in and out.

What really got me though was every time we passed a foreigner, my friends would ask if they were from my country. Some sounded like they were speaking German, so I said not them. Then there was a group af maybe 50 -60 from east asia with their video cameras and everything and they asked if they were from my country. I don't know if it sounds all that funny, I guess you just had to be there. But all in all, we had a good time.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Happy New Year!

This week I had to leave the coutry because my visa only permits me to be in the country for a certain amount of time. The plans were to leave on new years eve and arrive in the morning, but that was just the plan. Everything went smoothly going from our first flight to the capitol with the international airport and we even got on the plane with plenty of time to spare. But after an hour or two sitting at the gate the captain said we would be delayed a bit. So we started a movie on my computer, which died within 30 min. After a few more minutes, the captian said that the fog was too heavy to take off and the flight would be cancelled. Usually when something like this happens, they would make an announcement saying to go to a certain desk or even say when the flight is scheduled to resume, but all the captain said was something to the effect of "the crew needs to rest for the flight tomorrow, see you then." No instructions, no appologies, only the assurance that the pilot would be awake for the flight the following day, the time of which was still unknown.

After we got off the plane, I interrupted a group of airport employees' conversation to ask where we were to go and one casually pointed to one direction then went back to talking with his coworkers. We asked a few other workers on the way to wherever it was that he pointed to with no avail. Finally we found a line with people who looked familiar and hopped in. While in line, several people pushed their way into the line wherever they pleased (this is common here). after some time we heard a half-hearted cheer from within the group/line and we assumed that it was the new year.

Once in the front of the line, an employee stamped our tickets. We had to ask someone else where to go and they said a bus would take us to a hotel. Once on the bus a woman from first class asked if they fed us while on the plane, we laughed... and sighed. After we got to the hotel, we discovered that we ended up on the same bus as the first class flyers and the hotel was the nicest one i have ever stayed in in my life. It even beat the Waldorf Astoria in New York! When we arrived, there was a really nice meal for us and in the morning we had the breakfast buffet which if you were to pay for would be about $20 per person. From then on, everything was on time and we arrived at our hotel we were intending to be at about 12 hours late, but the free hotel room made up for it.