Ajanta caves

The thing to remember here is don’t come in March, that is unless you really like heat. The landscape is a stunning conglomeration of central Texas meets eastern Washington. Add in monkeys, peacocks, and cobras, and you’ve got it.

Ajanta is inserted into this rugged landscape, carved into basalt cliffs and the whole thing would look like Shangrala except that all the grass is dry and brown. The idea of raging fire wanders through my mind as I notice my guide throwing his still lit cigarette into to brush. India refuses to react to such small slights. A forest in Oregon would already burnt to the ground.

Here I have to apologize. The heat along with jetlag along with my newly acquired bronchitis have resulted in completely antipathy about delivering a solid account of Ajanta’s history. It’s old, very old. All Buddhist temples and some with very poorly maintained paintings from BC some time. It’s a tragedy. And not to be offensive but personally I’m tired of looking at Buddhas in various finger poses. When we gig to the Buddha lying down, it wasn’t without a little relief. Buddha himself was happy too, samsara being over.

Again read this with the heat in mind, but if you compared religions to amusement park riders, and the Buddhists seem to be the ones yelling: stop the ride, I want to get off!”


A woman’s place is …

A little game I like to play with myself when I travel is “could I live here?”

To do this I observe other women and take note of how day to day life operates. Please remember I am not commenting on India in general, just Ellora and Khuldabad, which are predominantly Sunni Muslim communities, where women cover their faces and hair when they go out in public and men get to the mosque at least once a day to pray.

As a middle aged white woman traveling alone, I stand out like a sore thumb here, and generally speaking standing out while traveling alone is not the safest position in any place.

But I’m not exactly traveling alone. I have a host here who has lived in the community his whole life and seems to know absolutely everyone. By virtue of my association with him and his family, I’m treated differently from the average tourist. While last year I was approached and almost mobbed by what seemed like everyone who saw me, this year no one comes near me. People smile and nod, but they are more reserved. No one is running after me yelling at me to pay attention to them. No one is “in my face.”

But I’ve also imposed some restrictions on myself. I don’t walk around alone. I don’t leave my room until someone has come to get me. I don’t browse shops alone. I don’t go anywhere alone at all, ever. This is normal for women here. The men escort their women to the market or wherever it is they wish to go. It’s like a vast society of soccer moms where the moms are men.

As a small test I left my “handler ” and with permission walked around the Ellora Caves alone. Initially I was not exactly ignored but no one approached me. But after a while three guys showed up who are part of the regular hawker crowd and began low key congenial conversations with me. In America this would be nothing noteworthy, but here I’m not so sure. My host showed up within minutes and led me away. Back to safety? Had he been following me?

I’m left wondering what signals I’m sending here. My host has confirmed that women just don’t go it alone here, with the exception of teachers and students. Otherwise, we are to be escorted and guarded, guided and informed. People just feel more relaxed when they know who you belong to. And if you’re alone, then obviously you belong to no one and that makes you fair game for acquisition. Or, so it seems.

So could I live here? There are charms to being taken care of. To having everything done for you, transportation arranged, money changed, errands run. As someone who does it all in my normal life, I like or shall I say “love” being taken care of. But being told what to do and how to do it is wearing thin. Needing an escort to feel safe is too.

I also notice that while women are taken care of here, they also work really hard. They stay home all day. They don’t take a break mid day and go off to the community garden like the guys do. They do get an afternoon nap after the cooking, laundry, and cleaning are done.

Awesome clothes, errands run, great food, afternoon naps….are these tradeoffs worth making for personal security and freedom?

Friends of my host say I would be perfectly fine here, but I’m not buying it. I’m not sure I could live in a place were women are ushered off to the back of the restaurant “to the family room,” when male children sit in the front. Men here come right out and admit that there are different rules for women and men. While this is troubling, the honesty is refreshing.

So sadly, I don’t think I could live here. I think I said it before—Russia seemed less oppressive.

The kids here though are so sweet and engaging. Young women stare at me in amazement and smile so warmly. I know I don’t have things figured out and certainly without better language skills, I’ll never have a clue. I’m left relying on my gut feeling. And my gut has been telling me to run for about a year now. Stupid gut.

A short letter to Liz Gilbert

So in the evenings when I’m back at my hotel and perhaps feeling a bit lonely, I’ve been listening to Eat, Pray, Love on Audible. I keep finding so much in this book and love Elizabeth Gilbert with all her openness and honesty and insights. But that said, I can’t let it pass, I have a bone to pick with her. It’s about this undercurrent in her book that keeps stereotyping Indian cuisine as somehow lacking. Her friends ask her what she’s going to eat while in India and she says when she visits India the pounds are going to melt away.

Here I have to say that Indian food is amazing and no one here is going to let you starve by any means. Unfortunately there will be a few people in their efforts to please that try to serve you American food, whatever that is. Usually it’s white bread with jam, or some sandwich. Please just say no. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that America does not have a cuisine.

Eat the briyani for crying out loud. Get the palak paneer with a side of yogurt and cucumbers,etc. Don’t let anyone give you white bread when you could get chapati. Have the lassis and the watermelon and cantaloupe. Drink the coconut water. Go down the menu line by line. Eat with your hands. Don’t forget the chai.

Indian food is amazing. Liz could have written her whole book entirely in India.

Caves, caves, and more caves

If you like Hindu, Buddhist, Jain temple caves, Aurangabad is the place to set up camp. Close by are Ellora, Ajanta, Pitalchora, and the Aurangabad caves. What seems impossible to find here is any kind of writing paper. But if Basalt cliff sculptures are your preferred method of communication, you’re in the right place.

Things to watch out for are bees, monkeys, and cobras.

Friends and Acquaintances

Admittedly, I am an oddity here. Tall, white, American, woman traveling without any male relatives, I tend to stand out to the extent that people have been known to run across fields to get a photo of me. What brought me here? Why did I come back? Where is my husband?

I’ve gotten used to the men staring at me. I try not to let them catch my eye. And I try to cut them some slack. I am like an alien from outer space randomly dropped into their world. Yesterday I noticed a camera flashing in my direction. One of the kids somehow related to my host was photographing me, eating.

I want to show all these people to you but I hesitate as I have entered a world where the women veil before leaving their homes. It seems wrong to blast their photos across the internet, so I think I’ll just show the people I’ve met outside and some of the boys, since they aren’t concerned with hiding themselves.

And here I think I can show you my host’s wife, an elegant and beautiful woman, who melts the world with her smile.

What am I doing here, besides struggling with autocorrect? Looking for some answer to some vaguely defined question. Something about trust and humanity. Something about belonging and community. Something about love and honesty. Money and mortality. The question remains elusive and the answers mocking. Just what am I doing here?

And randomly I keep noticing people I feel sure Ive seen before. Their faces grab me. Don’t I know you? But I couldn’t know any of them. Our paths have never crossed before. It even happened with a water buffalo?—I think that’s what it was. I was walking down the street and the animal locked eyes with me and I stood there stunned. What was it about this creature? It seemed to implore me. It seemed to know me. A large animal has never held my gaze like this and then suddenly it occurred to me that this animal was very old. Then sadly I realized that in my country, our large animals (cows) aren’t allowed to get old.

Poor thing was terribly thin.

Hotel Kailas

I tried one cheap hotel in Ellora before abandoning it for temporary lodging with friends and then the Hotel Kailas. My first hotel had a bit of a mosquito problem and after feeding them for a few hours, I gave up. Moral of the story is to always shake the curtains.

The Hotel Kailas has three different types of rooms, with internet, cottages, and single room. My cottage has AC, but I’m not sure if they all do.

It’s plenty hot in March, so given the choice, AC is the way to go. The hotel is walking distance from the Caves, shopping, and food. There are also great views of the caves. If for some crazy reason you don’t want Indian food, the hotel has a restaurant with Western food. I suggest you skip that and go a few shops down for much better chai and a wide variety of dishes.

Haj Ali Mosque Mumbai

While in Mumbai a few days ago I had the opportunity to visit one of the places I missed last time I was here. Right now I’m struggling with finding time to write and having a dependable internet connection.

As I write this I’m in Ellora at a hotel walking distance from the caves, which by the way are still amazing.

So I’m not going to be all correct and give you a proper historical run down of this mosque. Architecturally speaking, this mosque first began to interest me when I learned it was actually built pretty much in the Indian Ocean. There is a walkway that is consumed by the tide every day, so timing is everything when visiting. The area is known for pickpocketing and my guide told me I had been followed. I was completely unaware.

Otherwise it’s a very peaceful place, and so far holds top rank for the best cup of masala chai I’ve had to date. Not an easy feat.

Conversations in the airport

The Portland leg of the trip was the most relaxed as I got to “relax” for six hours while I waited for the plane to show up. There was a major storm on the East coast so I assumed that was the hold up, but in fact the plane had been delayed because it had gotten beaten up during a previous flight through a lot of turbulence. I decided not to dwell on that.

As I waited I had the opportunity to meet a man from Liberia and one from Armenia. The Armenian and I hit it off quickly as we seemed to have the old Soviet Union in common. He had never heard of Dovlatov or DDT, so points off. But he did tell me how his family had been forced to move under the Soviet regime, a common practice that I had learned about in school but got to talk about with someone who actually experienced it as we killed some time waiting. I told him about my fear of Russian policemen when I was out walking alone, and the Liberian seemed to take offense to this and asked in a mocking tone if they had been mean to me. I tried to explain how I often had trouble getting away from people back then when they found out I was an American, a real oddity on the deserted streets of nighttime Vladimir.

Later the Liberian confided that he had been in the US for five years and still felt very isolated. He missed having friends and the welcoming nature of his countrymen. He almost started to cry and I felt compelled to get him to think about all the fun he was soon going to have at home. I told him how lonely and isolated I felt too and we speculated for a time about different cultures and degrees of welcoming.

I’m getting very far behind on my posting, but I wanted to share William’s story here. Now that I’ve been in India for several days and have witnessed how connected my host is, I come back again to the value of community, the necessity of belonging in some way. I told William that Americans’ comparative lack of hospitality comes from bad diet and a priority on work over friendships, but actually I’m still grappling with why we are how we are. Perhaps it has more to do with class differences and the miserliness that wealth tends to inspire. It’s the difference between being in this together and recognizing the need to help others when and how they need it and being in this on our own where another’s loss is potentially our gain.

I reminded my cab driver of Durga

Appropriately enough for the beginning of a trip to India, I had quite the existential conversation with my cab driver who drove me the hour an a half ride from my home to the airport, where I now sit.

Waking Life. It was like that for me. Lots of deep thoughts from the cabbie. Lots of listening from me. The guy loved Bill Moyers, The Mahabharata, Joseph Campbell, and many others whose names escape me at the moment.

He told me that life is all a game devised by a bored God. That’s why there is both good and bad in the world, and also why we need to embrace life fully.

I came away from it all feeling quite enlightened. When we got to the airport he said he had told me everything he was supposed to. Did I say it was very Waking Life?

Delayed until 12:45 a.m.

The Starbucks in the airport closes at 9:30 p.m. It’s now 9:54 p.m. Sigh.

I’m reminded of the movie The Out of Towners in which Jack Lemmon doesn’t eat and then loses his chance. Lots of whining ensues.

My story. So, let me begin this way. It has come to my attention that my tour guide/friend from India and I have hugely different ideas of what acceptable accommodations are, begging the question of just how well do I know this guy?

Still in PDX

Going to India requires commitment, I’m finding as I continue to sit in Portland. My flight was delayed due to a big storm in New York.

It’s 9:42 as I write this and passed my bedtime. Going to India isn’t for wimps.

I’m trying to ignore the possibility that I could miss my connection in New York and then what?

So anyway, I guess I have some time to begin my story. I hate typing with my thumbs, btw.

Sorry to leave this post on a cliff hanger, but my Word Press app isn’t cooperating.

Indian telephone number

It can make things a lot easier to get an Indian phone number while traveling in India. It’s helpful for arranging cabs and nice for when you meet people. Also, if you are visiting friends in India, having a local phone number can make communicating cheap and easy.

Ok, so how do you do this?

Basically you’ll be replacing the SIM chip in your unlocked cell phone (the key here is that your phone must be unlocked, not all phones are and as far as I know you can’t unlock the phone yourself. You buy a phone that is “unlocked.” Sorry, that’s the extent of my technical knowledge on that subject.)

I went to the concierge at my hotel to get the SIM chip. The brand I got was Vodaphone. It didn’t cost a lot, maybe ten bucks and was well worth it.

I had to show my passport and the phone number for India was set to automatically expire when my Indian visa expired. It was all very neat and tidy.

So I took my SIM chip back to my room and then realized that I didn’t have anything to use to open my phone so I could switch my existing chip with the new chip. That’s when I thought of my earring, and this worked perfectly.

Aurangzeb’s tomb

It’s a simple resting place for the sixth Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb Alamgir (1658 -1707). Said to be one of the most controversial figures in Indian history, the Muslim emperor Aurangzeb remains a bit of a mystery. He ruled for 49 years over a population of 150 million. He was fabulously rich and even possessed the Kohinoor diamond, which now rests in Queen Elizabeth’s tiara. He built the Bibi Ka Maqbara and one of the largest mosques in the world, the Badshadi Masjid in Lahore, Pakistan.

But his final resting place is an open air grave in Khuldabad, Maharashtra, India.

I wasn’t going to visit it. Why, after all? But then I met several people at the Ellora caves, hometown men from Khuldabad, eager for me to see the resting place of this great ruler.

Aurangzeb is the namesake of Aurangabad, the city where my friend got married. He and I have at least one thing in common; we have both explored the Ellora caves, well according to Audrey Trusche’s book. The Ellora caves were lost for a while and then found and all these dates are escaping me.

The place is special to me, not so much for the emperor who lived back then, but for the people who live in Khuldabad now.

Indian Food

I’m back in the States now, but there are several more points I want to cover, so I’ll be posting for a few more days. Tonight I celebrated being home by visiting one of my favorite Indian restaurants here on Oregon. This evening I woke up with that old familiar feeling, heart aching, general malaise, and mild depression. Welcome back to America, the land where we are killing ourselves with food.

I’ll admit that I was a little freaked out about the prospect of eating in India. This is because of everything I had heard about the poor quality and sanitation of the water in Mumbai—from books, websites, and my travel Doctor. I left the U.S. not really knowing what or where to eat. My main guiding principles were 1) don’t eat meat, 2) don’t drink tap water, 3) don’t drink alcohol, 4) eat things that have been cooked at high temperatures. I still think these were good guidelines and I kept to them, well, most of the time.

Coming back from India after two and a half weeks, I felt like myself again. My blood pressure went back to normal (just had it taken at the dentist’s office) and I felt sane again. After eating traditional Indian food, I felt energized instead of how I normally feel here, which is worn out.

So what’s different? I’m actually not quite sure. I think we Americans don’t need to eat as much meat as we do and I think we eat way too much sugar or foods that have a very high glycemic index. While I did eat potatoes and flour in India, I also got a lot of green vegetables and spices. I also am pretty sure I went without MSG, high fructose corn syrup, and canola oil.

On a cultural note, Americans seem to have established a bad reputation for not liking Indian food. Everyone I met was super concerned that I would not like the food. And pride in the food seems to run very deep. My advice is that if it’s a green purée, dive in. It will be delicious!

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai

I think that when you travel to Mumbai, this hotel is a must see. A landmark in its own right, the Taj was built in 1903 by a man who was not allowed in other hotels because of the color of his skin. He vowed to build the grandest hotel in Mumbai and surely he accomplished that goal.

People who have stayed here or graced these grounds are numerous and humbling. Duke Ellington, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Oprah, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Ghandhi were all here.

I suggest staying in the Tower wing. It is newer and cheaper but most important it gives you an excellent view of the older part of the hotel which is stunningly beautiful.

Visa for India

Right before my trip, I had some concerns about how to get a visa for India. I contacted the travel office where I work and was instructed to go through a third party as they didn’t recognize the website I had found. The third party was expensive and was going to take some time. This is their website: https://www.g3visas.com/ Sorry, I’m just going to say it. This was bad advice.

That might be a great website for getting a business visa to India, but for a simple tourist visa, there is a much faster and easier way. In fact, by following the instructions to the letter, I received my e-Visa to India (and it worked) in 24 hours. Here is the website for that: https://indianvisaonline.gov.in/visa/index.html

One more tip. When you get your passport photos (I got mine done at a local FedEx office), get several copies. The other copies will do for your visa and then once you get to India and you want to get an Indian phone number, a passport photo comes in really handy because they will want a photo of you when you get your temporary Indian phone number. More on that in a later post.

The importance of knowing Hindi in India 

People will argue with me about this, but I’m going to say yes it is important. Knowing at least a little Hindi will set you apart from all the other foreigners. Just knowing please, thank you, hello, goodbye, etc really goes a long way to showing interest and respect.

And, in my experience here, the people I was most drawn to knew very little English. 

Yes, you can get by without knowing anything. Most educated people will speak English, but you have to remember that their education is a result of privilege. Privilege insulates you from the harsh realities of the world and can even breed entitlement. In my experience people who feel a strong sense of their own entitlement are not only ignorant of the world but down right dull.

To meet all the coolest people, learn some Hindi.

Vipassana Pagoda

This is the Buddhist temple that none of my Mumbaikar friends knew about. It is within view of Esselworld, the amusement park located in the northwestern part of the city. It is quite a drive to get here. Worth it? If you are a Buddhist, I would say yes. After all the tightness of the main part of the city, the openness and cleanness of this area is a great relief.

Mumbai: Things I Missed

Seems like a silly title for my post because of course I missed things here. There is so much to see.

But now on the day that I will leave, I notice in my hotel’s brochure that I did miss some things I wish I had not.

Chor Bazaar, the ultimate market here in Mumbai. But given that it’s hard for me to take several steps on any street without people staring at me and following me, there was no way I was going to enter a frenetic market with money, alone.

Haji Ali Dargah. A friend advised me not to go because it’s dirty and not well maintained with people who will probably confront me. Again, being alone factored into my decision not to go.

Mani Bhavan, the house where Ghandi conducted his political activities from 1917 to 1934. Simply didn’t find the time.

Dhobi Ghat, the open air laundry of Mumbai. Again, being a white woman alone without knowing Hindi factored into my decision not to go.

Here I will take a brief stop to explain. While most people here are very nice, in a city of 20 million there are those who are not. Plus there is extreme desperate poverty here that is hard to comprehend. For Miss Moneybags to walk into an area to tour the toil of people in these desperate circumstances is an insult. People here have no problem at all in asking for money and demanding that they get paid appropriately. There is always quid pro quo.

I’ve also gotten a great gift in finding out what it feels like to be a minority and the difficulty in explaining what that’s like to people who are not and find it difficult to believe that I feel uncomfortable walking down the street here alone in broad daylight. Any street.

I would absolutely consider purchasing a burka next time.

More on what I missed in the next post.

Ellora Caves: Best ways to see

Tips: People tell me the best time to go is in November. This is for lush greenery and nice temperatures. They also say the rainy season is good for the waterfalls that run right past the caves. So that means June on into November. Take shoes with good tread for the rainy season because these rocks can get slick, and I personally would take a walking stick for this weather.

The posh experience: For luxury in India, it is my bet that you can’t beat the Taj hotel and its affiliates. Just be aware that you get what you pay for. These hotels can be as expensive as nice hotels in Seattle and New York City. But their service is phenomenal.

Authentic and more affordable Ellora caves experience: For much lower prices but to still get a safe and enjoyable experience, I have a couple of people to recommend. These guys are “hometown” men and know the region better than anyone. I have full confidence in them and they are who I would contact if I ever decided to return to the region. They can get you an affordable hotel walking distance from the caves! If you want to support local people, this is a great way to do it.

Mr. Sadeek speaks fairly good English. He knows everyone who is anyone in town. People go to him to get their problems solved. In other words, he’s the man.

The other person I met I don’t have permission to share his name and contact number simply because I didn’t ask. This person took me on a wonderful tour of Khaldabad, the resting place of Aurangzeb himself, and he too knows everyone. Younger and less experienced than Sadeek, this man is highly honorable. If interested, contact me via this blog and I can ask him if I can share his contact info.

For the finest cloth I have ever seen, hand spun on looms, you must visit this place. It is fairly close to Ellora caves.

I will be shopping with them online and possibly via WhatsApp.

And for great, trustworthy, knowlegable cab drivers, my choice is:

Late Night Delhi Belly Ponderings

Well, they said it would happen and it has. As I sit here at 2 am waiting for the next attack, I find myself tracing my culinary steps. When did it happen? Was it the water today at Ellora caves? I thought the bottle was sealed? Or, was it the spicy Indian food tonight at the hotel. Was it a little too spicy? Do I in fact feel like vomiting or is that just residual disgust from the cave attendants today at Ellora? Or, at my driver because he obviously wasn’t there when he was supposed to be, as I figured out while sitting with my new found friends, the hawkers. Or, is it the result of the multiple mosquito bites I’ve been getting?

I give up. India, you win this one. You are actually more overbearing and in my face than Russia. You actually beat Russia! I’ve never felt so watched and monitored in all my life. 

If I tell one person that I need the ladies room, five others will know and not just at the hotel, also at the caves.

I’ve stopped chasing down white people, who will make excuses for the constant needling for cash.

If an Indian asks you if you would like to have something, they mean would you like to buy something. They have no interest in any kind of cultural exchange. They want you to buy something from them, their friends, their friends’ friends, etc. They are not offering you a gift. And when they see you coming and you are white, they don’t see a person, they see a pile of lose bills theirs for the pulling. 

I can’t decide at this early hour who is worse, the hawkers or the cave attendants or my driver or the hotel. They obviously are all in league with each other. Forget about those beautiful Hindu and Buddhist values. Just forget about them. They are as cold and silent as the cave statues that depict them.

The culture here is take it if you can get it. Otherwise move out of the way and let someone else try.

Yep, that’s real nasea. I’ve broken out the Pepto Bismol. 

I’m bummed too because I had a full day planned for tomorrow complete with a trip to the “mini Taj Mahal,” the Bibi Ka Maqbara. This masoleum is dedicated to a son’s mother, while the big one on Acra is dedicated to a favorite wife. Then, there was to be a trip to a banana farm followed by some fresh coconut juice.

It was suggested that I return once again to the Ellora caves, but I just can’t stomach the cave attendants. I worked out a deal with the head hawker to keep the others off my back, and this has worked wonderfully. But once I get into the caves, where the hawkers can’t go, it’s nothing but chatty Kathys. They chew your ear off while you ponder a painting and then they want you to pay them.

I’m supposed to feel sorry for them for forcing themselves upon me and ruining my experience of this magnificent art. I don’t.

Maybe I could if we were not standing directly in front of Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist statues and carvings.

As a white American woman traveling alone in hopes to see a World Heritage site, I feel nauseated. I don’t want to go back to the caves and that’s a shame. They are truly magical and awe inspiring. During the rainy season they are surrounded by waterfalls.

So, I am scratching Ajanta off the list. It’s a three hour drive just one way to be chased around by more hawkers and cave attendants while trying to see and appreciate some of the world’s most historic and magnificent art. No thanks. India, you have won. If you can’t be better to your tourists, I suppose you won’t have that many.

But out of the various groups, the self deprecating hotel staff, the smarmy and tone deaf cave attendants, my robot like driver, and the enterprising hawkers, I find myself sitting with the hawkers, the ones who seemingly caused me the most trouble. I think this was because an understanding could be reached. We could eventually cut the crap and just sit together as human beings.

Maybe. Or, maybe I’m just kidding myself.

Lost my credit cards, bank card, driver license, dollars

Yep, that’s what I discovered on my friend’s wedding day. I frantically tore through all of my luggage, and it was gone.

The driver was coming in 15 minutes and I had to face down the reality that I didn’t have the card to pay for the hotel or the cash to travel around Aurangabad and quite possibly I would miss seeing the caves.

Was it stolen? Did I drop it? Where was I not keeping an eye on it? When was I apart from it? When did I last see it? Think!

I spoke to the hotel manager while the driver waited. I gave them things to do, research bank numbers, etc. No time to cancel anything and besides I could dispute charges. The main thing became:how was I going to pay for my room?

The wedding was beautiful. The bride was radiant. The groom was handsome. It was fun being around everyone and taking part in the action. It was such a happy day.

I knew that somehow my problems would all get solved. I still had my passport. I still had some money though certainly not much. All of a sudden I had friends and I knew I had a place to sleep in Mumbai if I needed it.

After the wedding, I checked my email and the Taj had found it! I think the Taj just may be the greatest hotel in the whole world. When you dare to dream of unsurpassed customer service, it has to be the Taj. The Vivanta Taj in Auragabad is quite spectacular too with its beautiful garden oasis and exceptional customer service. My room is lovely with high ceilings and an attached terrace.

I won’t bore you with the details, but we got things all figured out. I feel like an idiot of course, but I am very glad and sincerely grateful to both Taj hotels.

Journey to Aurangabad

This was a really fun bus ride for me, and the bride’s friends were lovely, just like the bride. 

Interesting things for me:

People drive on the highway just like they do in the city, loosey goosey.

Few more mosquito bites

The terrain in between Mumbai and Aurangabad is like a cross between Texas hill country and Clarkston, Washington.

In Aurangabad there seems to be a large and devout Muslim population. I can hear the beautiful calls to prayer from my hotel room.

Upon arrival, there must have been some big festivity going on.

Our office in India!

I just had to put an exclamation point on that. The community feeling at our company is so strong  and our confidence in each other is so great that we can literally fly halfway around the world on a few days notice and instantly feel at home. 

It may sound like I’m drinking the cool aid, but our values cross international borders and our company culture is strong. Whether I am vacationing by a remote campfire in the Olympic National Forest in the U.S. or meeting a colleague in Mumbai, I continue to hear stories of how our products are the best on the world. It’s something for us all to be very proud of.

And the view is pretty sweet.

Sorry, you have to have a badge to go any further.

The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel has a bookstore!

The Taj has at least two wings of high end shops. I’m not much of a shopper these days, but anyone who knows me knows I have a weakness for books. And the Taj, being the wonderful place that it is, has a very nicely stocked bookstore with high quality reading material.

Since I’m traveling, I only bought 3 books.

Jehangir Art Gallery

The Jehangir Art Gallery showcases the work of local artists, and when I went yesterday, there were four exhibitions. The artists were onsite and ready to explain their work. They were all good, but one stood out above the rest. I think she is nothing less than a great artist and thinker if our time.

Now granted I am a layman when it comes to art and art critique, but as with science I also don’t hold an isolationist or an exclusivist view of the subject. I believe that art and our ability to enjoy and create art is one of the qualities that defines what it is to be human. (Though I could be wrong as some birds so clearly exhibit an artistic bent on dance and nest design).

I believe that art is for everyone and everyone is entitled to his opinion and reaction to art.

Milburn Cherian is a surrealist who paints complicated scenes with acrylic on canvas. I don’t feel knowlegeable enough to describe her work in technical terms, so please visit her website to learn more.

One of her pieces struck me so forcefully that it almost seemed like a memory. Complicated, symbolic, technically masterful, and thought provoking, Milburn Cherian brings a unique and moving perspective into the world. She clearly is comfortable embracing that often terrifying yet exhilarating creative force.

Her website is http://www.cymroza.com
Milburn Cherian

Milburn Cherian Artist Website

Planning my last day at the Taj

Goodness, this blogging stuff takes time, but it is nice to keep a record. The screen on my iPod malfunctions and WordPress autocorrects with sometimes embarrassing words and I don’t always notice it.

 Tomorrow is my last day at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and I am sad! Sometimes a stay can be too long, but not here. I haven’t really even explored it yet!

Ringo Starr and John Lennon stayed here. This is the hotel where John and Yoko didn’t emerge from their room for five days!

Duke Ellington, my most beloved composer, stayed here!

And many others.

So photos are forthcoming.

The swelling on my feet and legs has gone down, but is still present.

This afternoon I will visit my company’s office here. That is pretty exciting,and I already have it in mind to talk shop and ask how my department can better serve our India office. I have a few of my own ideas of course!

Last night I got to meet my colleague and his family, and he was kind enough to bring Epson salts for my feet!

He has a lovely family and they have very generously invited me over for dinner tonight. So I will see another area of Mumbai.

At the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel

But I digress. I was going to write about my plan for tomorrow.

6 a.m. – Rise and shine.

7 a.m. – Grab a quick bite and go to the Gateway of India and take photos of the birds.

8 a.m.  – Swimming pool for the rest of the day!

So I drank the water I was served today and it wasn’t from a bottle. I was assured a few days ago that the Taj is very careful with their water and filters it, etc. So we shall see.

Mosquito Report

Before coming to India, I was warned by the doctor at the travel clinic that mosquitos carry all kinds of diseases, not just malaria. He said: don’t get bitten.

Today at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sanghralaya museum (formerly known as the Prince of Wales museum), I was bitten 10 times. I didn’t think to wear Deet to the museum and the windows were open.

Cool museum though. More on that later.

Cultivating a tourist's POV

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