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.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Darjeeling/Agra Day 2

I woke up at 5:00 am to the sounds of the town clock. It was too cold to get out of bed yet and it still looked dark. I wanted to know if we had a view of the Himalayas but it was too early. At 5:30am I heard the sounds of a drum in the distance and it soon got closer. Was someone actually walking around town with a drum? This I had to see. So I got up and peeked out the window and sure enough there was one lone person walking and drumming past the hotel. I watched as he slowly carried on up the street and out of sight.

I looked out of the window and up to see a snowy peak with the first light shining on it. I watched as the sun rose and lit up the mountains looming over Darjeeling. I watched for more than two hours as the sky changed colors every few minutes and more and more mountains came into view. It was spectacular and I couldn't have asked for a better view from our room.

Mt. Kanchenjunga, is the third highest mountain in the world and it seemed so close. Apparently Mt. Everest could also be seen from Darjeeling so (being the Everest experts that we are) we got out the binoculars and looked for it. After scrutinizing all the peaks we decided that we found it - just a little peak, right behind Mt. Kanchenjunga. We were very excited and showed it to the kids and they were excited too. Well, later in the day, we were told that we could not see Everest from our hotel. We would have to go up higher to Tiger Hill to see it.

After staring at the mountains for a long time we ventured out of the hotel and started on our list of things to see around Darjeeling. First, we went to the Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Centre. There is a large population of Tibetans in Darjeeling and it feels very different from other parts of India. At the refugee centre there is an orphanage and men and women knitting and weaving - things to sell to raise money for the Tibetan refugees.

Of course there were Tibetan prayer flags strung from tree to tree and building to building. And Tibetan prayer wheels that get turned as prayers are said.

Next, we went up the hill to Bhutia Busty Monastery. Just as we were walking down the lane a man said to us, "you are very lucky, prayers are just starting, run." Inside we followed the sounds of a drum and chanting upstairs. There was one monk in a very small room doing all the prayers by himself. The four of us sat on the floor in front of him. He chanted, drummed and banged the symbols, poured liquid (buttermilk?) into metal bowls and threw rice. He repeated this over and over for about an hour. An amazing experience for us - the sounds are mesmerizing.

Another cold night and early to bed with hot water bottles. Darjeeling pretty much shuts down by 9:00pm. So far with the mountains and the Tibetan influence we were loving this little town high on the hill top.