Saturday, August 25, 2007

granite, rain, monkeys

Local granite
There are several HUGE granite quarries which produce prodigious quantities of granite slabs, which become fences and vineyard stakes, among many other uses. Driving down little side roads, one is surrounded by granite walls, behind which are healthy grape vines (which produce mediocre wine) propped up by four-foot-tall posts made of solid granite and in the distance are immense granite boulders leaning against the sky. Granite granite everywhere! Granite temples. Granite tables. Granite picnic benches. Granite bus-stop shelters. Granite tomb stones. Living in granite, dieing in granite. Granite flakes in our shoes. Granite dust in our eyes. Granite mason by the roadside produce mortars and pestles so we can grind our grain and eat microscopic pieces of granite.

Monsoon season
The rains have been inconsistent, but when it rains, it pours. We went over a week with nary a drop, and then the last two days have made up for it. All the roads are thick with mud and I am glad I have my military boots. The timing of monsoon season is rather like Camelot: it only rains in the late afternoon, so everybody has plenty of time to take care of shopping and errands before the torrents chase people indoors. Of course some poor sots are still out in the downpour, and so they fight over taxis or just huddle in doorways until it blows past. There have been SERIOUS floods in the north (where it often rains for three days straight!), but here it is a minor inconvenience. I have not heard of nearby villages swept away by mudslides nor mass evacuations like the reports from the northern states near the Himalayas.

More Fun than a Barrel of Monkeys
Well, maybe not, but it tickles my fancy to look up in the trees right in my neighborhood, and there sits a little tiny primate. I have taken two trips now to Nandhi Hills Station (about 40 km north of here). This is a place with a bountiful herd, pack, pod, exaltation or barrel of monkeys. They beg for food and even snatch it from those who let down their guard. They preen for photos. They sit on cars, and even urinate on them. I don’t know if anybody considers this a blessing; I would not! They chase each other around and have as much fun as a barrel of monkeys. Here in my apartment complex they hoot and howl at dawn and dusk, waking the local canines and inviting them to join the bestial chorus. It’s all dogs and monkeys: no elephants in these parts, but I am pretty sure we will take a bit of a journey soonish to see giant pachyderms in the wild. Stay tuned…

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

india at last!

We are really here in this once faraway fantasy world.
It is actually mind-boggling that every morning we wake up and go outside and there are monkeys and cows in the streets, women wearing saris but no shoes, people carrying water in jugs balanced on their heads, and on and on just like in the guidebooks and travel movies. This region north of Bangalore is hot and smelly; but the air is actually clean relative to the wretched pollution in downtown Bangalore proper.
My school is around three kilometres away, but the road we take to get there bends around a lake and wiggles through olde town Yelahanka, so it is more like eight km from door to door. I have found a funky path that goes the other direction around the lake (sun-wise instead of widdershins) that makes it more like three km, but the path is often too muddy and I have been repeatedly warned of “hooligans” and snakes. I still walk to school fairly often, but by late afternoon, it is too hot and I am too grimy: I want to go straight home and jump in the swimming pool.
I am living in a swanky gated compound, which I would find gross, except that the sports facilities are excellent and it is actually quite nice to escape from the throngs of people on the roads and in the shops. The compound is quiet and clean— in huge contrast to the India outside the gate.
I have bought a motorcycle, so I can go outside and explore at my leisure. Sometimes Hansa comes with me and sometimes I go alone. I have found some gems already, but my camera is not behaving well, so I will leave my comments for later when I have some pictures to guide the descriptions.
The motorcycle I own has a story attached. I looked on to see if I could find a Royal Enfield bullet, which is still made in India according to the specs of the British Enfield of 1960 or so. The only one listed was a 500 cc bike, while most Enfields are 350 cc. So I thought it would be smart to try to win the eBay auction for this big bike, because I am a big guy and I plan to do a lot of riding with Hansa on board. So I bid and won! But the owner was around 800 km (500 miles) away. He had promised to ship me the bike by train after I deposited a thousand dollars in his bank account.
Being the trusting soul that I am, I dutifully deposited the money (a HUGE sum for an Indian) and he responded by coming along with the bike to help me through the paperwork etc at the train station. So he travelled twelve hours EACH WAY just to be helpful to a stranger. I am convinced that Doctor Muhammed Ahmed Mohiuddin Ali Khan was nice to me because I so readily trusted him, and because he was curious to meet an American.
It is a magnificent motorcycle, with amazing power. It feels like a massive bull surrounded by little dogs.
The traffic here is ridiculous: autorickshaws, cars, motorcycles and buses all aggressively pushing to pass one another with machismo well beyond the expected levels. And there are cows and bicyclists and pedestrians thrown into the same soup, but nobody collides: none of the vehicles have any scratchmarks. All the drivers pray to Ganesha to remove obstacles and He guides the drivers through the thick traffic with no harm. I have seen only one aftermath of a collision; a bus had hit a cow near the main bus station in old town Yelahanka. The cow was dieing and a crowd had gathered around it. Some were chanting, some were just watching. Somebody had placed some grass under the cow’s head to ease its suffering.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

new zealand

after a few days in the Big City of Auckland, we rented a van and have been driving around the north island, visiting the gorgeous natural sites: the Bay of Islands, the geothermal region of Rotorua. we had a few days here and there with hansa's sister & her husband and their two little babies.