Monday, November 23, 2009

He said- She said- Part 2

As with the last "He said- She said" (See Nov. 4th blog post) this one consists of a portion of Staci's excellent travel journal. I think she's very good at capturing the feel of a place. She prefers to keep her writing private but, with her computer passwords so easy to figure out, I'm considering it public domain.

For my part, I'll just follow along and type snide comments under my breath in lovely blue Cambria 14 point.

You can click on the pictures to view them full size, by the way.

Nov 6th - Friday

We’re on a very long journey today. Currently we’re riding a train across the country to see the temples that the Chandelas constructed. (You remember those nice Chandelas? They were at Glen's dinner party?) Later we’ll fly to Varanasi and ride down the Ganges river. (For the last leg of the triathlon we have to bicycle across the Himalayas...) It’s a good time to catch up with journaling.

We spent a couple of days at the Naharghar Hotel (Apparently named by Ralph Kramden after having a bowling ball dropped on his foot...) near the Ranthambhore National Park. After driving several hours over bumpy roads (many of them were dirt roads) we saw a giant white palace looming in front of us like a mirage.

It turned out that this was the hotel we were staying in. (Actually, it turned out that it was a mirage but we'd already showered and ordered dinner in so we stayed. This confused the hell out of the neighboring goat herders)  It was wonderful and put some of our American hotels to shame. So far, all of the hotels have really been incredibly nice - a stark contrast to the huts and tarps that line the streets just outside some of the hotel gates. (Probably why the tarp huts just aren't getting the drive-by tourist business.) All of the hotels have staff that greet guests with a tray of powders and water (I think) that they use to place a dot between our eyes (I'm pretty sure that's how they identify who's allowed in the buffet line...) and a small glass of something colorful and cool to drink (usually rose water or soda pop of some sort). (The guys get beer...) A few of the hotels also greeted us with flower garlands made of marigolds and roses.  (Again, the guys get beer; later on when no-one's looking...)

All of the hotels have tall, mean looking fences and gates and almost all of them have many armed guards posted all over the place (especially in the city). We even had to walk through metal detectors every time we entered a few of the city hotels. One afternoon, a few of us decided to use the pool during some free time. We had the entire pool area to ourselves. At least that’s what we thought until one of our travel companions went off to use the ladies room. When she rounded the corner she found that there were a couple of guards equipped with rifles who were keeping watch over us. (Actually, those were guys I hired to shoot that godawful woman from Indiana if she made a move towards the pool again.  Shudder... All the guys at the pool experienced severe shrinkage far beyond what was attributable to the cold water (You could actually hear "popping" sounds as all the little elvis's "left the building", so to speak. Took 2 days, some string and a piece of cheese to lure mine back...  I still start whimpering when I remember her taking off that coverup and (Pop...) Oh, great...)
While at Ranthambhore, we visited the tiger preserve on a photo safari. We went through the park in the morning and again in the afternoon. We saw peacocks, wild boars, spotted deer, sambar deer (the bulls are very large and blue),  (Yep, I know how they feel...) nilgai (antelope), ("Some humpty-back camels and some chimpanzees"... Extra credit for this subreference...) mongoose, (I'm still all at sea about plural here; mongeese? mongooses? Nothing sounds right.) monkeys (they are everywhere, even in the towns), (They're taking our jobs, dammit!!!) a variety of birds including two sleeping owls, but I’m sad to say we never saw a tiger. I was really surprised to see the owls.. I could hardly believe my luck when my eyes came across that owl!  It looked just like they do in the story books.. perched in a hole in the middle of the tree trunk.

Deadly cannibal spotted deer finishing off his victim (That or chewing on antlers for calcium)

Happy as a monkey in a monkey tree...
Click here for video

"What the hell kind of flavor is vinegar mesquite for potato chips? I hate you guys..."

When we left the area to travel toward Agra, we made a couple of stops. The first stop we made was at a local school that is supported by our travel company, OAT (Overseas Adventure Travel). (Not "Old-Ass Tourists" as I had originally guessed...) When our bus pulled up, we were greeted by a few kids and a couple of adults. They walked us to the school and along the way other kids from the village joined in.
When we got to the steps of the school we noticed that there were piles of shoes and flip-flops outside.

Apparently the kids are not allowed to wear them inside the school. The principal met us on the front steps of the school and gave us an overview of what we were about to see. (I got detention, dammit..) Our group had many questions and he patiently answered each one. The school looked like it was a large brick box, two stories high. Inside, the air was still and thick. I was glad that we were there at the coolest time of the day, as I’m not sure any of us could have handled it much warmer. The first floor had 5 rooms all packed with kids sitting on the floors. (To be fair, they could get more kids in there if they stacked them properly.) Kids were in the rooms by age/grade. In one room, the class was learning world history. Another class was learning social studies.

Our group split up and took turns visiting the classes. All the kids seemed excited to see us and had big smiles on their faces. (Anything to stop the incessant learning!!!) When we finished with the first floor, we headed up to the 2nd floor where the older kids were having classes.

Just as we reached the top of the stairs, we found that they were using the hallway as a classroom. I couldn’t get over how many kids there were and how cramped they seemed in this small building. The majority of the older kids were boys and they were eager to try their English out on us. (There's something filthy in that line someplace but I just don't have the heart to go there. Let's have a contest! Add your double or single entendre response as a comment at the end and the winner gets a nice prize. I brought lots of cheap trinkets back with me. Bob, you start. )

The teacher showed Denny and me the book they were using in class. It was an English reading book, something along the line of “See Spot Run”.(Spot had better run. The traffic here is insane and his non-sacred doggy ass is grass and then some if he doesn't keep moving.) He handed the book to Denny and asked him to read to the class. Denny read a couple of paragraphs while they all followed along. From the looks on their faces, we could see that they enjoyed hearing an American read to them

(Actually, I ignored what was in the book, telling them instead that evil men were planning to come to their school and steal their shoes and flip-flops during second period. When they don't show up, I'll blame British Intelligence.) …. Lots of smiles. We were allowed to ask questions of the class and they were very open in answering them. (Only had to waterboard the one...) They said that they all enjoyed school and wanted to continue learning. One young boy wanted to become a Bollywood star. A couple of the boys said that they were already married, at the ripe old age of 13. Because one girl’s family couldn’t afford to feed her, she was already living with her husband’s family. (That's how Staci got me. By the way, are you going to finish that chicken?) Vishal said that in the villages it was not unusual for the young marriages to happen and that most of the time the girl would continue to stay home until she was a bit older. When it came time for the girls to live with her husband, she would move in with her husband’s family and they would continue to all live together. (That's for one given value of "live.")

Our last stop at the school was to see the preschool kids, who were sitting on the ground outside under an aluminum overhang. They were adorable. (They were just cute as anything...)

They sang a song for us and then we sang two songs for them, ABC’s and Old McDonald. As we were making the animal sounds in the song, the kids were getting strange looks on their faces. It turns out that we make animal sounds very differently than they do in India for the same animals. (Yep, everything here goes "Moo" in the hope of not getting eaten.)

Once we finished with the school visit, we continued to walk through the small village. We walked along dirt paths and passed small huts. Some of the huts had what appeared to be cement platforms in front of them that they used as porches.

Vishal explained that the material used to make the platforms was actually camel dung that they piled up and patted down real hard. (Then they set it on fire, ring the doorbell and run like hell!) They even used white paint of some kind to outline and draw very pretty designs on it. The only problem with a porch made of camel dung is that it deteriorates quickly and must be replenished every couple of weeks. (Yeah, that's the only problem...) They also used some colorful paint to spruce up their homes.

They use color to ward off evil. (Or to just perk up a blue Monday...) At the end of the village we stopped at the home of a woman and her family. They gave us tea and cookies and we visited for a bit. (The lesson of dung's versatility not having been wasted on me, I stuck with just the tea...)  Two of the women had their faces hidden by the long colorful scarves that went with their saris. Vishal explained that when the husband dies, the wife is thought of as having been bad luck for the man. If she continues to live with the husbands family, she has to keep her face hidden (some sort of respect thing). Vishal further explained that in some places the widow is expected to wear only white and is therefore easily spotted by others (We saw some of this at Varanasi). We also noticed that some of the little kids and babies had black circles drawn around their eyes made with kohl. Vishal explained that they do this if the child has a cold or is sick. They believe it wards off evil and will help the child. But in fact, the stuff they use is very harmful and can cause permanent eye damage. (They'll probably just blame it on someone's widow, though...)

(To be continued on next exciting posting!!!)

1 comment:

Bill Harris said...

Did you get a chance to stop in at the International Tarp Hut of Pancakes?