Saturday, November 28, 2009

Nrityagram Dance Village


 Click here for the most recent post Nrityagram Dance Village 

Two weeks ago we were spell bound by their dance performance in Bangalore. This weekend we took a day trip to their village to watch them practice and see where they live. The Nrityagram village is two hours from Whitefield, less-so from west Bangalore.
Leave behind Bangalore and breathe in the fresh air. Whisper, don't break the silence. Follow the winding stone path under trellises and trees. Enjoy the sight of a small statue on a ledge or many scattered atop a grassy pitch.
The dancers practice almost everyday when they are not touring. They are a dedicated group, committing themselves to the ways of village life and dance education...for years. They have toured the world.
The three hour practice starts by taking the dancers through a series of seemingly effortless movements. After half an hour, sweat soaks their clothing and we begin to understand the difficulty and strength required to perform these unique movements.
This day, five women and two men practice. Some are stronger and more experienced than others. They instruct, and help each other. This type of Indian Classical dance is incomparable. I believe they train their brain to connect to every muscle in their body - to move independently of one another - that is how in touch with their body they are.
At one point the instuctor spoke to two of the dancers, asking them to only move their torso: "left side up and down, right side up and down. Only move your torso, it is not necessary to move your neck or lower body."
And then the opposite, "Move only your lower body without moving the upper. They do not have to be connected." And then she quickly stood up and demonstrated the movement with incredible ease, only moving her lower body - upper body still.
Much emphasis is on the eyes and facial expression as the dancers are always telling a story. Fingers and hand movements, and every muscle follows along to do their part and create perfection.
For much of the practice no music is played. The instructor sits on a low chair keeping time by hitting a smooth wooden stick on a stone block. She sounds out the rhythm with her voice, an unusual but captivating sound.
The dancers live in simple surroundings, growing most of their own food. There is a temple, an outdoor yoga center, and of course the dance studio. They live in small round huts. The buildings are architecturally appealing, made of stone and wood. Flowering bushes and trees abound and add to the natural, calming ambiance.
The public can watch the dancers practice Tues. - Sat. 10:30 - 1:30, and can watch the dancers teach children from nearby villages on Sundays. They are closed Mondays. Do phone ahead to make sure they are not touring.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Christmas Decorations

Click here for the most recent post Christmas Decorations

Went shopping for Christmas decorations today. Heard through the OWC grapevine that Safina Plaza, near Commercial Street, is the place to go. Apparently we were too early - "next month." We found one shop selling a few Kashmir baubles, bells and balls to hang from the tree.

Next we went one street down from Commercial Street where we came upon tiny stores that had transformed into Christmas stores. Most of which were piled high with garlands of every bright color, plastic Santa decorations and boxes of Christmas balls and stars. We perused and bought a few tree decorations.

Most of these little stores are Muslim owned and usually sell plastic flowers or party favours. The store in this photo: "Dealers in Ayurvedic Drugs, Chemicals Decorative Disposable Houskeeping Items." Well, not for the next month I guess.

A lady in a sari came into one asking for a Santa suit. She explained it was for the Children's Christmas party at her church. As we walked on we noticed more and more shops taking down their usual stock and putting up Christmas decorations. Nothing fancy here though.

Stopped at a store called Eka on the way home. Highly recommended. A lovely store with tasteful decorations, candles, and angels as well as a few quality pieces of furniture, art and jewellery.

Picked up a few things and between all three stops I'd have to say I have enough to decorate a small tree. Hmm, yes there's still the tree to think about isn't there? Well, it's a start.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Me to We

A good friend of mine posted these lyrics on Facebook:

"There are some things in this world that you just can't change. There are some things that you don't see until it's to late."

A couple minutes later Michael sent me a link "Mia Farrow inspires and moves 16,000 youth in Vancouver's GM Place."

When you move to a country like India you might think that you are going to show people "the right way" to do things. When you get here you realize there are things you just can't change.

When you live far away from human suffering - the holocaust, Rwanda, Darfur, the slums of India - you may think you can't change it or you may not see it until it is too late.

Mia Farrow, the Dalai Lama and many others, spoke to 16,000 youth for WE day in Vancouver, Canada, organized by Free the Children. Free The Children "empowers children in North America to take action to improve the lives of fellow children overseas."

Can we make a change? Of course we can, we know we can. We just have to make an effort. To quote Mia: "The world is a dangerous place, not only because of those who would do evil things, but because of those who look on and do nothing. I think our own feelings of helplessness are our own worst enemy. We are not helpless."

I love her analogy of the "ripple within (the audience)became a wave...keep shouting and this mighty wave will become the tide that can shape the course of history."

Craig Kielburger started Free the Children when he was 12 years old. I think at 12 one does not feel helpless, they feel like they can do anything. That is why his organization targets children - educating children to help other children - to change the world. At 12 he felt a ripple. Today children around the world benefit from the wave.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Five Months in Bangalore

What do you call a Canadian who lives in Bangalore - a Canalore? a Bangadian? Crazy?

It's hard to believe we've been here five months. I think I am actually starting to feel settled. We had a good period lately. The electricity is working - we have to remember that 40% of the people in India do not even have electricity and those that do, experience major outages. We are lucky that our backup system kicks in almost immediately when there is an outage.

We switched from cable to satellite and now when I turn the tv on, it actually works and there is a clear picture. The internet works. The fridge and dishwasher have both been serviced since we've been here and they work now. In other words I have not had to sit around waiting for people to come and fix things or deliver things lately.

Someone said to me recently, "When people ask me what I'm doing in Bangalore, I say, 'I'm waiting!' "

How true! So much time in the first few months was spent waiting for the delivery of furniture or for people to fix things. The best thing I did was stop waiting. I would give them my cell number and say, "call me when you get to the house."

There are some things we've given up on. The bank, for instance is unbelievable. Michael opened up an account as soon as we got here. A guy came to his office and had him sign a bunch of forms. That night Michael got a text saying the manager rejected his signature because they didn't match - even though someone from the bank witnessed him signing.

A few weeks later I signed forms to make it a joint account and Michael signed forms to get a credit card. I was told a bank card would be couriered with in a week. Three months later still no bank card for me and Michael receives his credit card - with the wrong name on it! The guy tells him he should write a letter requesting a name change. He cannot seem to understand that this is not a name change - it is their mistake.

I write a cheque which is rejected...because the joint account was never put through. The guy comes to the house and has me sign a bunch of forms again as though I'd never signed them before.

Four months later, still no credit card and no bank card. Thank goodness the only thing they are efficient at is transferring money. We transfer money to our Canadian account and use our Canadian credit cards.

Are we used to the traffic? Not completely, but you learn to time things and learn what to expect. The biggest problem is that Bangalore has grown at such a fast rate that they are playing catch-up with the infrastructure. Everywhere you go the streets and sidewalks are being torn up and construction is going on. At the same time they are building a skytrain so that adds to traffic slowdowns and detours.

Grocery shopping is hit and miss. Don't get me wrong - you can get almost anything here in Bangalore. There are a couple of big supermarkets like Spar where I go once or twice a month and load up on cheese, nice breads, cleaning products, biscotti, etc.

Around the area we live I have four different small grocery stores - Namdhari's is best for fruit and veggies, Food Zone or Food World for canned goods and staples, 'Sorbet, the Gourmet' store for tortilla wraps and tortilla chips (finally found them but had to stop buying/eating them), salsa and much more. Once in a while there's always a little shock when you walk into a store and they are out of a staple like butter - for weeks. Once they were completely out of toilet paper and last week - no milk. So, off you go to another store.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the lack of seasons. But what do you know - a week later the rains came and it actually got chilly. Even though today I'm sitting outside in a sleeveless dress, we've had some long sleeve weather and I even wore socks once.

It's been overcast and although it is certainly not as cold as it is in Vancouver, the rains have put me into "fall going on winter" mode and I've been thinking about Christmas. I've heard there is a store near Commercial St. that sells decorations so I'll have to check it out next week. Not sure what to do about a tree. Michael says "bring in a palm tree" but I don't think that is going to work for me.

The kids are doing well at school. Craig is always in a good mood and is really enjoying field hockey and socializing with all his friends. Alanna is still determined not to like anything about India (except for the mall and the chocolate shop). However I know she has made friends at school and my spies tell me she is "friends" with all the teachers, chatting away to them.

Michael seems to be making some progress at work. He went on a team building weekend to one of the National Parks. He enjoyed getting back to nature (except for the mosquitos), camping and doing all sorts of survivor style "challenges" with his co-workers.

For me, the OWC has been a great way to meet people and get involved in different events whether it is charities, cooking classes, lunches, or wine dinners. I've been writing an article every month for the OWC Rangoli magazine and entered a photo contest. Keeping busy is the key.

The upside to all the socializing is getting to try lots of different restaurants, eating great food and meeting and learning from some of the cities top chefs. The downside is that it really is possible to gain weight in India. Now I have to fit the gym into my busy schedule!

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Precision. Strength. Passion. Grace. Control. Beauty. Magic.
I could go on and on, yet I cannot find the perfert word to describe the Nrityagram dancers who performed tonight. Three dancers took the stage at Chowdiah Memorial Hall to perform Odissi, a classical Indian dance.
Odissi is described as "a synthesis of the ancient and exotic and modern and intellectual. Odissi creates an illusion of sculpture coming to life."
These dancers captured that desciption perfectly. This dance troupe tours the world and they certainly are world class. I have never seen such precision; they are as one.
The dancers live together and practice daily two hours outside of Bangalore in Nrityagram village. The public can watch most days. We plan to visit soon.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Booking Rajasthan

After a week of emailing and phoning hotels, airlines and India Railways I think our plans are in place for Rajasthan just after Christmas. We've kept the train travel down to three days. One day we will have to arrange for a car/driver. Many hotels are booked so it took a lot to find something decent and at a reasonable price. We tend to go by Tripadvisor as they have advised us well in the past. Now to sort through all the emails and figure out where we booked and in what city.

We decided against Pushkar (famous for it's camel fair) as the beautiful lake has completely dried up and thus is just a big hole in the ground. Apparently the governments attempt to clean up the lake and make it deeper went awry.

We are looking forward to travelling and seeing a different part of India: palaces and forts, camels and desert, and the brilliant colors of the nothern sarees and turbans.

Of course we had the initial problem with IndiGo airlines cancelling our tickets because Michael's name on his passport and visa are different (Michael/Mike). Then yesterday we noticed that their prices for the same flight had gone down by 8000Rp/$200Can. (for the four of us).
So, Michael got back on the phone with the airline and this time we gladly paid the cancellation fee ($15), then rebooked at the lower price. Saving $200 feels good!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Trains, Planes cont...

...Travel Woes Continued from earlier.


Managed to get through to the airlines about the return trip from Udaipur. For some unbeknownst reason that booking never went through either. So neither bookings were made and now we start from scratch.

We were going to rebook and fly into Jodhpur but all the trains are booked from there. Now we have gone back to the original booking, flying into Jaipur and out of Udaipur. We used my credit card as it has the same name as my passport. So far it looks like the bookings have gone through. No rogue texts as of yet.

Immediately went to "Make My Trip" website to book train tickets but the website is not connecting...


Resolved to hire a taxi from Jodhpur to Udaipur at the end of the trip. Still not sure about the road but apparently it is scenic and we will be able to see the Jain Temples at Ranakpur on the way. It will be a full days drive.

Had a difficult time with the trains as I really wanted to be in the desert at Jaisalmer for New Year's Eve - but apparently so does everyone else. Long waitlists for the trains prior to New Year's. So we ended up finding seats available on the 2nd and returning to Jodhpur on the 5th.

Still haven't decided the first leg of the trip - Jaipur to Pushkar or straight to Jodhpur? Looks like lots of availability so we'll look into it tomorrow.

Booking Airline Tickets - Simple...or Not

Want to book airplane tickets? Go online, find the flight you want, give credit card info and click "buy now." Simple right? Apparently not.

Last night we decided to book our flight to Rajasthan for the two weeks following Christmas. We had it in our minds that we would fly into Jaipur and fly out of Udaipur, taking trains to all the cities inbetween. So, that's what we did - we booked IndiGo Airline to Jaipur. And booked through "Make My Trip" home from Udaipur.

Then we started looking into train travel and noticed a bit of an error - there is no train from Jodphur to Udaipur which meant that we would have to back-track alot to get a train to Udaipur or hire a taxi. But we have no idea how the road is on this part of the trip. It would have been better to fly into Jodphur and start from there.

Then Michael gets a text from IndiGo Airline saying they have cancelled our Bangalore to Jaipur tickets because his passport and credit card have different names - one has Michael, one has Mike. He phones and explains that both are one and the same. He's booked flights through other airlines in India with no problem.

Sorry, but they aren't going to budge, they have to cancel the tickets. Oh, and by the way they've already charged our Visa, and now there will be a 720 rupee cancellation fee - per person (four of us). What?!! That's about $65 total, PLUS whatever we loose out on with the exchange rate.

Michael kept saying "this is unacceptable, put me through to your manager," and the guy was like a recording, "sorry sir but my manager will tell you the same thing." Finally the guy put Michael on hold and came back on within ten seconds, "OK sir, we will not charge you any cancellation fee."

So, now we have the trip home booked and we think maybe this will turn out ok because now we can rebook (with my Visa) and fly into Jodhpur. Checked the flights, looked good. Then checked the trains - everything is booked with 20 or more on the wait list. Not so good.

Now it looks like the flight home from Udaipur may not be booked as we thought either. Stuck on the phone trying to get it sorted out; on hold, listening to Kenny G...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Transportation Part 2

"Transportation" continues with guest blogger Terry...

Having graduated from foot traffic, it is necessary to investigate the most versatile vehicle in India. It is used as transport for people, goods, long distances and short ones. We have seen families, older folks, and young'uns using them: business people, delivery folks, boys, girls, men and women. You may have guessed, this is the motorcycle.

As a people transporter, the cleverest usage is to transport entire families on the highway or through town. You will see in the photo below, the Indian version of the motorcycle/ minivan. Child one sits on the gas tank, dad at the front of the seat, child two and three behind dad, and mom riding side-saddle holding the baby. Yes, you counted correctly, there are six people riding on the motorcycle. The number of people we saw on a motorcycle maxes out at six. But we are sure somewhere out there is a record seven people on a bike, cruising India.

Bikes range from old, beat-up scooters to units that look like western crotch rockets. On closer examination however, the biggest engine we saw on one of those testosterone chargers was 185cc and most of them are 125cc or smaller. For those of you who are techno weenies when it comes to mechanics, the speedy bikes in Canada have 1000cc up to 1200cc. So, the India bikes are about 1/10th the size of the engine as Canadian chargers. And the Indian ones can carry six folks down the highway. Gives a whole new meaning to easy rider!

OK, so they carry people, what else? You name it, we have seen it. Photo attached shows one carrying a load of plastic bottles. We have seen sheets of glass 3 x 5 feet tall being carried by the passenger on a motorcycle in busy city traffic. Sacks of rice, wood, sheets of plywood, the list goes on. We tried not to be too near the guys carrying the glass but they seemed quite OK with it all.

Now, safety is certainly a concern on motorcycles and so in many, but not all places there are laws that the men must wear helmets. One of our guides told us women are exempt as the helmet would ruin their hair. He was serious about this explanation. Nevertheless the women often wore their saris or a scarf over their head and/or face. They also rode side-saddle. I suppose it is not too easy to straddle a bike in the five meter long wrap of cloth known as the sari. The bikes have a special foot rest and grid to provide comfort and prevent clothes from catching in the wheel spokes.

How do they drive these 125cc multi-purpose machines? Frankly, any way they want to. The adherence to the laws of the road range from being a strong suggestion in Delhi, to vague recommendations in Jaipur, to the ultimate "you mean there are rules?" in Bangalore and Varanasi.

As in Europe, bikes all crowd to the front of traffic as traffic lights or slow downs are experienced. They then take off en masse zigging and zagging. They drive VERY close to cars, trucks and each other, squeezing through gaps they may or may not fit. It appears to be a competitive sport! There is no regard for lanes by the bikes. They often go the wrong way down a road to progress.

We saw them drive on sidewalks. We saw them ride two, three or four abreast. We saw them scoot between cars and trucks. We did not however see them hit anything. Well almost never, one pesky bike scratched the side of Michael's driver's van. A discussion ensued with the biker clearly arguing he did nothing of the sort and the scratch must have occurred at another time. Shoulders shrug and off we all went into traffic.

On the highway in Canada you are likely to be passed by motorcycles racing well above the speed limit. In India they have such small engines that they drive well below the speed limit which is a pleasant and welcome change. And yes, they are carrying minivan sized passenger loads or goods piled high.

Passing is an art here, for any vehicle. Vehicles in the city drive so close together that the rear and side mirrors are aimed at allowing the driver to see only 2-4 inches on either side. No hyperbole here folks. We have seen vehicles so closely packed that they had to fold in their side mirrors to get through the gaps without scraping each other. With mirrors only showing the driver the sides of their vehicle, they can't tell if anyone is behind them, let alone wanting to pass. To address this, a modern language has been developed which is eloquent and highly functional: this language is the beep of the horn.

A short beep says, “I am behind you,” perhaps a couple to say, “I am passing.” At a corner, they beep to let any oncoming traffic know they are there. They beep to say thanks for moving over when they pass.

The one beep we hear so often in Canada was actually rare here: the "you dirty rotten so-and-so why did you cut me off?” yelling at the other driver kind of beep. For the most part drivers of all vehicles just trundled along with little road rage evident.

Back to the motorcycles. To pass a pedestrian they move over a bit and go by with a little beep. They seem to do this regardless of what is coming up beside or behind them. Ditto for passing bicycles, other motorcycles, cars, etc. The effect is a fluid sigmoid path, arcing through the roadways of the worlds’ second most populous nation; a veritable ballet on wheels.

Lanes are generally respected in Delhi until traffic gets busy. Everywhere else the preferred position for driving is directly on top of the dotted line. This allows the driver to shift left or right depending on what is happening around them. Alas, in other places the dotted lines are a serious waste of paint. One lane will have three cars wide - bikes, rickshaws and everyone else vying for their place on the road.

In all of the cacophony of beeps, swerves and maneuvers, we managed to safely traversed the cities and highways of India.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Transportation (Part One)

Guest Blogger, Terry, tells us his experience with transportation in India:

Getting around is a key part of any world and in India this is truly a unique experience. The first mode is walking, as we and the Indians have progressed past the crawling stage. Traffic in India, however, has not yet progressed past this crawling stage in many cases.

Walking would seem to be pretty simple: lift your right leg and place it in front of the left. Transfer weight, and repeat with alternating legs and enjoy the world passing by. Not so fast though. First of all in India, one must make careful navigation of the terra firma. The first priority is to dodge the ubiquitous cow pies. Apparently it is good luck to have stepped in one, but our guide confirms it is better luck to avoid them.

Then there are the remnants of similar “movements” of dogs that roam the streets in India. Garbage is pretty widespread in most locations and that also needs to be avoided.

Looking down, there are cracks, potholes, missing tiles and holes in the sidewalks, roads and pathways. Some of these are from the aging walkways, many of which are centuries old! Some are from construction, which seems to be consuming every inch of Bangalore. And some are just from wear and tear.

Ok, so now you are placing legs in front of each other, navigating the terra firma and you decide to look up a little. There is a clue in the cow pie discovery; low and behold there are cows at every turn. They believe they own the place and sit, walk and do what cows do, with ‘The King of the Road’ as their theme song.

As you try to move past the cows, a crowd of people squeeze past, stand around or push forward. All of this must be anticipated and avoided. There is also a low regard of personal space and people are quite comfortable being glued to your back. They confidently stride forward, sweeping you along.

Just when you have this down, a motorcycle whizzes past, then an auto rickshaw, then a car and there is yet another thing to be aware of and beware of! All these vehicles are constantly beeping their horns. It becomes as much an experience of sound as it is sight. The motorcycles are everywhere. In small laneways that are 3 people wide, you hear the beep of a motorcycle horn and you gain the instinct to quickly move to the side because the bike certainly doesn't move aside as it passes by you.

Ok, so terra firma covered, dodging motorcycles and people covered, and you inevitably need to cross the street. Look to the left, take a step and OOPS they drive on the left here so you were supposed to look right to see oncoming traffic. Once that becomes habit you realize that driving rules are merely suggestions. In reality cars, motorcycles, auto rickshaws and trucks routinely drive on the wrong side of the road, moving in the wrong direction. Add this to the sheer volume of vehicles and one has a veritable maze of hardware to negotiate.

Lastly, there are all of the sights you want to see. Stores and stalls selling all possible goods and food, people in interesting clothing, buildings that are gorgeous and ill kept (often at the same time). There are smells of cooking and of those pesky cows and their by-products.

By this point you are scanning the ground avoiding pitfalls, navigating people, vehicles, crowds, traffic, sights, sounds, smells and voila you are actually walking down the street and enjoying India up close. Your head is also spinning and we were literally left feeling dizzy at times in the early going.

Now we are almost expert and have spent much time using our newly developed Indian style on foot. As you can tell, not all is a bed of roses. An auto rickshaw ran over Lynn's foot and broke her baby toe which is healing slowly. Other than all that, walking here is a breeze.