Monday, December 27, 2010

All Izz Well

It is cold. I decided today I'm not going outside anymore. We went for a walk in sunny White Rock last week and today we walked around Beaver Lake near my parents house in Victoria. Both days I froze. I don't quite have the best cold weather gear and had to cut the walk short today. We whipped home and warmed up with Mom's hot chocolate with marshmallows. But, I'm not going out anymore.

Last years Christmas in Bangalore will be one that we remember: our Dr. Seus Christmas tree, lying by the pool, steak dinner and Christmas Eve mass where more people wore saris than not.

This year we didn't have our own tree or home for that matter. But we were home in every other sense of the word. We decorated a Christmas tree at Michael's Dads, we ate Christmas oranges and made gingerbread cookies. We drank rum and eggnog. We had the traditional Ukrainian feast at Lynn's. We went to the Ukranian church for Christmas Eve mass together as a family where at an opportune moment a little kid yelled out, "All you do here is yak, yak, yak." Everyone laughed and then the choir promptly started singing Silent Night.

On Christmas morning we got up, opened presents and had a nice breakfast at Michael's Dads. Then it was off to the ferry and to Victoria to visit my parents. We had the traditional turkey dinner with mashed potatos, gravy, stuffing and vegetables. We had desserts galore - pies, nanaimo bars, shortbread, Christmas cake - the works!

Today, the day after Christmas we relaxed - we played games, ate turkey sandwiches and had leftover turkey for dinner. We watched hockey on TV.

Christmas in Canada feels right - even the cold (even though I'm not going out anymore). As they say in India "All Izz Well."

Friday, December 17, 2010

Home for the Holidays

India is about half way around the world to Vancouver. We've gone west through London and Frankfurt and east through Hong Kong and any which way it takes about 24 hours including stopovers.

This time we did the five hour flight from Bangalore to Hong Kong and had a six hour stopover in the airport before the next leg to Vancouver. I must say being in that airport was like stepping onto another planet. Maybe I should rephrase that - India feels like another planet. I'm sure I've said this many times but there is no place like India. It is it's own world of traditions and festivals and chaos and splendour. Hong Kong airport is full of food, fashion and choices galore - all in one little place.

The next leg to Vancouver took 12 hours and we were able to catch up on a few movies. Overall it was a good flight but good to get onto Canadian soil and we were shocked as we flew into Vancouver to see the sun - ok it was only for about five minutes but it was nice. The weather is cloudy and 6 celcius and it doesn't feel as cold as I thought it would.

We were over at Lynn's for dinner last night - great to see everyone there and then Mom and Dad dropped by today on their way back to Victoria. Decorated the Christmas tree at Michael's Dads today and put up a few decorations. Started in on the rum and eggnogs and looking forward to all the friends and family and traditions over the next couple weeks.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Just got back from delivering Christmas gifts to the women at Vision India. Just a super experience, the way their faces lit up when they saw us...and then to receive a gift - wow!

Vision India literally picks women up off the street - homeless, many are mentally challenged, some are pregnant, some have broken bones. They give them food, shelter and arrange for health care and psychological care. Their goal is to rehabilitate them, find their families, educate them about the women's problem and hopefully send them home.

It is a very basic place - no beds, very little furniture or facilities. I am always amazed at the dedication of the people who run these places - they truly give their lives to their cause.

Earlier in the week about 20 of us got together to wrap presents for four different charities. We wrapped blankets, dresses, sweaters, towels, jeans, watches and more - many for children, depending on their needs. And then we added a bar of chocolate as a treat.

Definitely a good way to get into the holiday spirit...of giving.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Kadlekai Parishe - Groundnut Festival

 Click for the most recent version: Kadlekai Parishe - Groundnut Festival

I thought Festival season was over but it just keeps on going...
This week was the Kadlekai Parishe, or the Groundnut Festival. This 3-day festival takes place only in Bangalore near the Bull Temple. Of course there is always a legend to go along with a festival. This one has to do with a bull in the 1500's - every full moon a bull would charge into the groundnut fields and damage the crop. The farmers started to offer prayers to Basava (Nandi) to stop the bull and pledged to offer their first crop.

Subsequently, an Idol of Basava was found close by. It has been said that the Idol was growing rapidly, and the farmers nailed an iron peg on the head of the idol to stop it from growing. Later in the year 1537, a temple to ‘Dodda Basava’ was built on a small hill and the idol was put inside. This temple is known as the Bull Temple here in Bangalore. The bull is black and decorated with garlands.

Every year, farmers from surrounding villages come to the Bull Temple and offer their annual harvest of groundnut as offering to Lord Basava. This is accompanied by the annual fair, which is known as the Kadlekai Parishe.

I went on the third and final day of the festival. There were lots of vendors selling their groundnuts on carts or on the sidewalk. There was a small fair with rides, astrologers reading palms, people selling inexpensive jewellery, bangles, toys and lots of snacks, rice, fruit and sugarcane.

One interesting thing that I tried from a street vendor was a twelve year old root - sliced thinly, dipped in sugar and lime - delicious! Wish I knew what it was.

There were balloons, and horns and bubbles. It was like a festive street party centered around the Bull Temple where I'm sure most people made their way to give an offering to Nandi (the bull) himself.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Everyday Stuff

Lots going on in the last week but nothing too exciting. The kids are into their midterm exams so I have been doing a lot of Grade 6 studying with Craig. Alanna can study pretty independently but Craig seems to need a lot of help - or maybe he just likes spending time with me? After an entire day of French and History (they had a study day at home today) I finally sent them to their rooms at 8:00pm, poured a glass of wine and broke open the chocolate.

Still writing articles for the Rangoli and going to yoga most mornings. The charity committee is gearing up for the season. Next week we will be delivering Christmas gifts to some of the charities. And letters get sent out to see what each charities needs will be for the year.

Michael and I attended a wine dinner at Fava last week - always interesting people/conversation and nice to have some Australian and New Zealand wine. The Kadalekai Parishe (Groundnut festival) is on for three days in Bangalore so I am going down tomorrow to take photos and see what it is all about.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rags to Riches

The weekend certainly was eventful:  Habitat for Humanity, India Night and Harry Potter.

All four of us got up early Sat. morning and drove to North Bangalore for a Habitat Build. This time the kids got to come and see the village and help out too. The first thing we got to do was go for a house blessing for a house that had recently been finished.

This house has three rooms and two levels. It has an actual kitchen with a sink and running water!
We split up, the kids group went to one house and they got to paint - they were splattered from head to toe. They enjoyed it and had fun together. A great experience for them.
Michael and I went with another group to put a roof on a house. This family has six members and currently live in this one room home!

Habitat lends money to families but they also have to have saved some money. Unfortunately the husband ended up in the hospital and their savings were depleted - they couldn't afford the roof. So our OWC donations from the day went towards purchasing the roof for them and we helped the homeowner put it on.

We lifted the corrugated pieces up to the roof and then we had to carry 20 lb bricks from inside the house, up on top of the roof where they were strategically placed so the roof wouldn't fly off in a windstorm.  Now they will have a larger, two room home with a roof and eventually I think another room will be added on at the front for the kitchen.

Once we were finished with Habitat, Michael and I changed from our work clothes into our formal kurta and sari for an OWC Charity Fundraisor at the Taj West End.

 It was such a nice evening and setting. The first two hours were spent outdoors mingling with drinks and appetizers.
The rains held off and it was warm. The grounds were beautifully lit up with festive lights hanging from the trees. Everyone looked great and there were stilt wakers and henna artists. 

Later we went indoors for dinner and entertainment.
The fun continued for the kids and I on Sunday as we went to see Harry Potter in the Gold Class theater. Huge reclining leather seats, popcorn and drinks served to you at your seat - definitely the way to see a movie!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Darjeeling/Agra Day 7

Our last day of the trip. We left the hotel at 9:30am and stopped across the river to get some shots of the Taj from a different perspective. Unfortunately it was so foggy we couldn't even see it from there. We did come across an interesting scene though.

Down a dirt road we came to the riverside which was muddy and piled with garbage. All of a sudden we hear the sounds of a marching band - about 4 or 5 people all dressed up just like a marching band and playing instruments. A group of people were wheeling a statue of a God (I believe) through the mud to the river.

They made it to the river but didn't stop there - they kept going through the water til they were at least half way across and then they submerged the statue. They were in a very festive state, singing and splashing.

We had to drive back to Delhi to catch our flight to Bangalore. The drive is never boring, you never know what you will see:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Day 6 Darjeeling/Agra

Big day today - the Taj Mahal. Anytime you get a chance to see one of the big wonders of the world it's exciting. Even though Michael and I had been there before it was exciting to see it altogether - kind of like Mt. Everest. In fact, what a trip - Mt. Everest on Thursday and the Taj Mahal on Saturday!

We spent a few hours at the Taj, taking lots of photos of us and all the interesting Indian people. There are lots of "photographers" who will take a series of photos and then print them out within a couple hours. So we decided to go for it (see the first photo).

But then later we were taking photos of the gardeners in front of the Taj and next thing you know the gardener wants to take our photo (with our camera). So he starts positioning us in various poses, quite funny actually. Here's one of his:

There was a huge lineup to get into the Taj, where the tombs are. And initially we weren't even sure if we would bother. Craig said, "I feel sorry for all those people in line." But before he knew it we too were in line.

The line moved quickly despite people butting in and trying to get ahead. Can you believe this entire group kept trying to sneak ahead of us.

Especially this woman:

So I figured I could take their pictures as much as I wanted since they didn't stand in line like the rest of us - all in good fun, we didn't really mind (as long as they stayed behind us).

The building itself - the marble, the carvings and inscriptions - are lovely of course. It is easy to just spend the day wandering around the grounds taking it all in. Great for people watching too!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Day 5 Darjeeling/Agra

5:00am: woken up by town clock
5:30am: woken up by drummer

All is well - the drummer was back! He was like our "snooze button." I have since tried to find out who he was. Only one website mentioned monks that walk around Darjeeling with a drum between 5-6:00am. So I don't know for sure but it is likely true.

Friday was Diwali but it was also our travel day to Agra. Another great sunrise - I never imagined being up so early for so many days on vacation...but it is hard not to - with the view...and the clock...and the drummer.

We set out for Bagdogra airport at 9:00am. A beautiful drive with our last views of the Himalayas but also all the people along the way getting ready for Diwala. Shops were overflowing with flower garlands and fireworks were already being set off.

Our flight left at 2:30pm and we arrived in Delhi at 4:30. We had arranged a driver already and squeezed into his tiny car. Our luggage had to go on top! Off to Agra right away and as it got dark the fireworks started to go off. Homes and shops were lit up with festive lights (Christmas lights), and ladies' saris sparkled.

It took 3 1/2 hours to get to Agra on the holiday (usually takes at least 4 hrs). Got to our hotel, ate and off to bed. The fireworks kept going into the night but we managed to sleep, it had been another long travel day.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Darjeeling/Agra Day 4

5:00: Woken up by town clock.
5:30: Awake but no drummer boy!
5:45: Got up anyway but couldn't help wonder what happened to the drummer boy. Is Thursday his day off? Did he sleep in?

I know I sound like I am repeating myself but it was yet another beautiful sunrise over the Himalayas.
We set off at 9:00am, planning to go to two monasteries but on our way we decided to go to Tiger Hill. It was still clear and we were leaving the next day. Getting up there for sunrise wasn't a big deal to us so off we went.

There was no traffic going up the hill and it took us only about 40 minutes from Darjeeling. Such a great decision - it was warm and no crowds when we got there. Our driver pointed out Mt. Everest right away - just a small peak showing itself in the distance. The Indian Himalayas were giants from this perspective, but it was exciting for the four of us to see Everest. A little different driving 40 min. to see Mt. Everest compared to when Michael and I trekked in Nepal to Everest Base Camp - 2 weeks!
Here is a photo of Mt. Everest from Tiger Hill:

Spent a bit of time up on Tiger Hill and then set off for the two monasteries. First, the Yiga Choeling Monastery is one of the oldest in the area dating back to 1850. One of the few monasteries where you can take photos inside (10rp/photo).

The second monastery that we visited was the Dali Monastery, also known as Druk Thupten Sangag Choeling Monastery. 

200 monks study and pray here and the Dalai Lama inagaurated it in 1993. We were there early in the afternoon and lots of monks of all ages were milling about - at the coffee shop, outside on benches or peeking out of their classrooms.

We ended up going back to the Dali Monastery 4:30 - 6:00pm for prayers.

We sat in a corner while 200 monks chanted, drummed, played the horns and cymbals. We had lots of time to admire the paintings on the walls, the carvings, and three huge Bhuddist statues that oversaw everything. Midway through, some of the younger monks showed up all of a sudden with kettles full of tea. They served all the monks (their tea cups hidden in their desks) and then they kindly came and served us as well.

There is nothing like the sounds of the monks chanting, along with their unique sounding instruments. A part of India like no other - impressive. Here Michael is holding a smaller version of the drum used by the monks:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Darjeeling/Agra Day 3

5:00am: woken up by town clock.
5:30am: woken up by drummer boy.
5:35am: got up and watched the sunrise on the mountains from the roofdeck of the hotel - another clear day.

It was another beautiful, clear morning. From the top of the hotel the view was not much different than our room. We met a woman who had gone to Tiger Hill for sunrise the day before. This seems to be what a lot of people do. They leave at 4:30 (or earlier). She said it was good views but not that much better than from the hotel. And it was very, very cold. But she did see Mt. Everest. We wanted to see Mt. Everest, especially for the kids sake but none of us were very keen on getting up so early and being freezing cold.

Later in the morning we went to Happy Valley Tea Estate. This plantation prides itself on selling all its Darjeeling tea to Harrods in London. We took a guided tour of the facility and it was very interesting. Well, there were a bunch of guys outside who asked to be our guide. So we chose one and he did a good job. He made sure to explain the working conditions of the tea pickers; how much each woman has to pick (determined by which category they fall into: young and unmarried, married, older woman, casual worker); hours of work (8-4); overtime pay etc.

We saw the drying process, the women who pick through all the tea to get rid of the "undesirable tea", packaging and so on.

Then we were shown outside to the tea bushes and although we didn't see anyone picking tea leaves we saw the ladies coming in to deliver the morning load.

There is a separate little building for tea tasting and a very friendly woman showed us several types of tea leaves and explained the difference between the best teas, next best etc. She made us each a cup of tea  - such a happy lady with a sing song voice.