Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Coming to Vadodara

We rented a car+driver combo to take a short tour through Delhi.  Our driver was super friendly but only spoke some pretty broken English so via pantomime and lots of nodding we hit a few major tourist sites before leaving for Vadodara.

India Gate is a major national pride.  12 people said this to me verbatim.  It must be printed on a coin or something. 

At the Humayun's Tomb we were joined by 6.5 million kids on school field trips.  One of the flickr pictures shows them in an endless line.  As I was walking by one of the little Sikh boys reached up and hi-fived me which I reflexively replied to.  Immediately 400 little arms also went up so I high five-d the entire line like a Jonas Brother which was awesome.

We got suckered into a Kashmiri museum.  You see the Kashmiris have lots of trouble right now so they pay cab drivers and hotel van operators to kidnap people and drop them by to hear about how Kashmiri rugs are awesome and Turkish/machine woven are just offensive garbage .  Oh and by the way you seem interested ma'am, maybe you would like to purchase a handmade shipping?  I knew this little scam existed but thought having the hotel driver would keep us out of the flim flammery.  I now know better.  Also Kashmiris are kind of rude and dismissive of women.  Tina is not down w/ that sort of business.  After sales dude shushed her 1 too many times, I removed the sheep shearing tool she stuck in his eye and we left.

There are some pictures over on the Flickr site but not much was remarkable.  I mostly get bored touring around famous landmark type places.  The fun of travel is in the travel and the people you meet on the way.

Off to the airport w/ our huge stack of luggage which caused a little stir but we convinced Jet Airways that because we were continuing on from an International flight we should get to carry the 40 metric tons of crap in our little trolley tower.  After seeing the plane later I understood why they were concerned.  I think we took the whole carrying capacity of the stupid little prop plane. 

In the airport we just had time for lunch, Sophia and T got Indian.  J got some 'fried chicken' at 4 Fingers according to the signage it has something do with New York, cause you know.....NY makes fried chicken.  The chicken wings were bone in and were the whole wing including the tips.  They were fried and served w/ a huge scoop of plain rice.  Awkward to eat but mostly ok.  I ate at McDonalds.  I don't eat much McD at home but figured I should try it out and see the difference.  Fries are the same, coke is served no ice and kinda warm and there is no beef.  Instead you can feast on the awesome sounding (and > Big Mac) Royal Maharaja Mac Double Chicken Spiced Meat Sandwich.  I also grabbed a paneer wrap which has no analog and was just good.

Flight was fine but we left late because a fat NRI dude inexplicably had to go back and forth from the bus that took us out to the tarmac 3 times.  I learned later that an NRI is a Non-Resident Indian and that this is 'NRI Season'.  Everyone comes back for weddings and such which explains the exorbitant rates on our plane tickets and the general feeling of sold-out-ness I got in booking accommodation and travel.  Most NRIs are fine but a few display a nice blend of rich, pushy Indian and ugly American which is a nuclear meltdown of manners.

We collected bags and were met by the house driver who remembered Tina from previous visits.  He launched into 1,000 kph Gujarati to which Tina replied "Si".  It took her a minute to change gears but thank god she does still speak it fluently making everything smooth for us while in Gujarat.  Tina's cousin is the one w/ the 2 kids having weddings and she is putting us up in an empty flat across the road from her place.  The building is under construction but this one tower seems done and its a nice place.  The shower is a bit mystifying but we have a Western style toilet so by definition are happy.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Arrival in Delhi

292 from ORD to DEL (link,map) is long, longer than I thought it was possible to go in the air.  We left about an hour late after some de-icing which I’ll always gladly wait for.  After take off and all we were served a nice meal, of which T and the kids hardly ate anything so I had like 4 portions because I am a gluttonous idiot.  A few hours later all the lights were shut off and they passed out some sack lunch type things so that everyone could nosh on their own sleep/wake schedule. 

I did manage about 4 x 20 minute naps along the way which for me is pretty good.  The thing is that the seats are not tall enough for me to be able to really settle in and even w/ the super specialized neck pillow I bought it was near impossible to get comfortable.  I made the decision to sit with the family even though I could have gotten an exit row or bulkhead.  That is not a mistake I’ll make again.  I love hanging out w/ T and the kids but sitting in regular coach seats for 15 hours is not something I’ll ever do again.

To pass the time I watched a pile of movies but most notably my first 2 real Bollywood productions.  I had seen pieces before but never invested the time to actually sit through one start to finish.  Up first was Dabanng (link) and it was great.  I don’t mean great as in actually great but great as in I was equally entertained and puzzled for like 3 hours which on a flight like that is what you want.  Dabang is about a cop with RayBan Aviators (amazingly similar to the ones I brought), a top button unbuttoned to show off his muscle-y hairy chest and one of the top 5 mustaches of all time.  As far as the story goes, I don’t have a clue what happened really.  He may have been a dirty cop, or a slightly less dirty cop but I know he took money from robbers and shot people sort of indiscriminately.  There were some good ‘bullet time’ action sequences and the big main theme song has him doing this dance w/ his belt that you can find here:.  Since I have the sunglasses I will do the dance for you upon request (link note the pit stains starting at :39, :55 begins the very very very famous belt dance, 1:12 he dispenses some foot-race justice and it just keeps going)

Up next was a movie I enjoyed un-ironically.  3 Idiots is silly and good without being too much.  Not gonna go into the plot cause it doesn’t matter but know that there is plenty of the quirky 'Indian' english, lots of singing and a big kiss scene at the end.  If you are going to watch a Bollywood flick, watch this one.  The English is great and full of ‘the needful’ but my favorite was rusticated.  I took it to mean expelled but it could have meant constipated, no way to know.

The girls behind me were white, 16, in a church group and silly in a very familiar way.  Evangelical Christians teens are awesome in their hardcore earnestness and loud declarations.  All that scripted language about being a servant, maintaining purity blah blah blah and truly believing they have the world figured out.  Without commentary on religion I'll just say that Christian or not, 16 year old humans are ridiculous.

With 3 hours to go we passed over Iraq and Afghanistan and it kind of tripped me out to think there were wars going on 35,000 feet below me and I said a little prayer to the flying spaghetti monster that the Mujahadeen didn’t have any SAMs left over from the Charlie Wilson days.
Breakfast was delivered about 2 hours before landing.  Some clever chef came up with a orange, white and green main dish (India flag..get it?) that I think had some green beans, paneer and some dahl or such.  Again, the family ate a fraction so I finished everyone’s food.  We got the customs forms and were glad to find that we didn’t need to declare anything.  Passport control was no problem and getting our bags took some time but no trouble.  The 3 trolleys loaded w/ the baggage were an impressive sight and we rolled through the ‘green lane’ at customs without even a second glance from the very bored looking old man taking the forms.

In the reception hall we found the Hilton representative holding a sign w/ my name and the drivers took over from there handling all the bags.  We had some tug of war over who was going to carry what but in the end I just relaxed and let them do everything.  It’s a tough thing for me to just let people handle stuff but I am making a commitment now to try.

We wheeled the carts around and tried to check them in w/ Jet Airways but Jet had just cancelled/rescheduled a bunch of flights and had no interest in holding onto our bags.  Fortunately the Hilton people brought 2 mini vans and with a bit of engineering everything got loaded.

Out of the airport I finally got the first taste of India, and it tasted like smoke.  Despite being 11 PM there were people everywhere and the constant din of horns honking.  I'll do a whole article someday on cars and driving but the shrill little 'beep' that every rickshaw and bike uses to signal all manner information is the soundtrack for this trip.  The Hilton was super nice and as with everywhere we've been in India, the service was totally over the top fawning by 3-4 people at all times.  Security is very tight, they checked our cars throughout when we came in the barred front gate and all our hand luggage went through an x-ray machine.  Surprisingly there were Christmas decorations including giant snowmen in the lobby and a snack shop decorated as Santa's workshop selling gingerbread and paneer panini.  The room was great and we all loved the shower room walled in with glass that faces in toward the bedroom.  Curtains are there for modesty but its odd and we agreed it must be setup this way to allow someone to watch TV while shampooing.  I also loved the 'magic' button on the phone.

Donut Wallah or the Trip Begins

 Up at 3:45 I packed the truck with 6 suitcases averaging 47 pounds each, 2 moving boxes tied with Dilip’s special knots and filled with gifts and wedding stuff, 3 carry on suitcases, 4 backpacks and 4 x 2.5 lb trays of Costco baklava Jackson had wrapped up in a bag and tied off with para cord to make a sort of hammock style carrier.  Luckily I still have my gold status with American so we got to shortcut a few lines along the way.  The lady next to us was shipping either a small camel or a large dog in a kennel big enough to park a motorcycle.  The old man in front of me turned to the old lady with him and said ‘I can’t believe  she is putting her kid in there’ to which she responded with a medium length tirade about how unsafe and scary that would be for the kid.  I think I understood them to be siblings and from the deadpan delivery I guessed this was not the first time the brother had wound up the sis, either she was playing along perfectly or was very dense and he never delivered the punch line.

A bit of breakfast in the terminal and then the 6:45 flight to Chicago was very unremarkable.  TinaB had been working nearly round the clock for the last 2 weeks to get all her paperwork in for school and the night before we left she worked the whole night through.  She passed out for the vast majority of the flight.  The kids were tired and did sleep some but were so jacked with adrenaline that it took a while before they zonked out.  I never sleep on planes.  It’s a curse to be both tall and unable to turn off one’s brain in the necessary way to suspend disbelief that somehow 2 small engines can produce enough force to keep driving this huge machine full of meat and gear through the air.  I have always believed that it is my will alone keeping us flying and so to sleep would be totally irresponsible.  This of course does not bode well for the long flight coming up.

Knowing we would be in Chicago for 8 hours, the AA Admiral’s Club (link) was an easy decision so we could have some quiet and a little more comfortable place to recline.  A few annoying guys on phones but mostly quiet and we had fun playing board games and eating.  T had our Christmas cards done so we put together an assembly line to stuff, address, stamp  and seal them to be sent from the little mailbox dropbox in the terminal.  During the morning me and the kids wandered up to the food court to get coffee and donuts at the Dunkin shop.  The guy behind the counter was a Patel and had this little sing song Gujarati/English thing going where he would confirm your order and try to upsell everything.  He sang us a song that ended with me getting a free glazed in the bag with a wink and the wobbly head (link, link = about the 11 second mark you'll see 2 of them going together) that means…well….something or nothing, definitely that or maybe.

India for me started at the gate to board the plane, I had several people smelling like body odor and odd spice mixes start the kind of vague pushing and personal-space-crowding in line that I keep telling myself isn’t rude, just Indian. 

Friday, December 03, 2010

India - Mysteries of Elimination

I thank this guy for posting pictures of an element of this trip that has me mildly freaked out and makes Soph threaten bodily harm.  I have so, so many questions.  Among them: do men squat to pee? does one take off all one's clothes so as to avoid any kind of blowback/overspray situation from the provided (I hope) hose? does one bring one's own soap, towel and hand sani w/ one each time? I don't want to know but isn't there a whole female hygenie realm complicated by this system? How do old people w/ lack of quad strength deal with this?

I'm not going to link but there are lots of internet-loud arguments about the advantage of the rinse and wash vs. wipe systems.  I guess I'll soon be able to decide for myself.  Remember not to shake my hand for a while, k?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

India - Interstitial

2 weeks until we leave and we are on schedule for most of the planning stuff.  Christmas gifts are pretty well finished, still not sure how we are going to get everything over there with us but it'll work out.    

There is a about a week between the weddings and so I've put together a little side trip to see some of the touristy spots.  Tina's been to all these places and a part of me didn't want to see the Taj Mahal fearing that it would just be like seeing it in a picture but Jackson wisely pointed out that its a little crazy to go to India and not see 1 of the Wonders of the World so we are going.  

This is what I'm thinking so far.

Good site with train info for US/UK types:

Tuesday 12/28 (evening?)

Leave Vadodara for Jaipur by train
12-16 hours, some of the boarding times are at odd hours of the morning but all would include sleeping on the train.  We definitely want to take a train at some point, its something the kids have never really done.3 nights, the normal sightseeing stuff and something with elephants

Thursday 12/30 play in Jaipur

Friday 12/31 play in Jaipur and New Years

Saturday 1/1 Train to Agra

Train is 4-6 hours sleep in Agra


Sunday 1/2 Taj , Train to Delhi Fly home

We might extend this a bit, but from what I've read Agra can mostly be seen in a day.