a gathering place for the words, images and momentos of the world of adventures i've adventured, the stories i've wandered through. curriculum bella vita...a resume, of sorts, of the good life.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

And two weeks later...

Hair? Still pink.
Nails? Still pink.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Hikes Around Hyderabad: Bhongir Fort

"Trek" three with the Great Hyderabad Adventure Club: An evening hike to the top of Bhongir Fort. And the first where two colleagues tagged along, Matt and Gloria were eager to both get out for a hike and meet some BEP-friends.

Fifty kilometers east of Hyderabad, one of many giant monoliths on this part of the Deccan Plateau. A giant rock, more than 500 feet tall, jutting abruptly out of dusty plains. Perched high atop the rock, a 14th century fort/palace and the long staircase snaking its way to the top. (We only half-used the convenience.)

Admission: 60 rupees. Bring your own water. Begin descent not long after sunset. Beware of troops of monkeys.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

When to Plan YOUR India Trip

Now, I haven't lived in India for a full calendar year yet, but borrowing from a variety of sources, the best time to plan a visit to Hyderabad -- and most other parts of India -- is October through February, although you can usually get away with March and September, too. Weather should be a factor in your travel plans. April and May, go the rumors, are too hot to be pleasant. June, July and August are that unpleasant combination of hot and wet. Steamy. Blame the monsoons.

But depending on what you'd like to see/do, there might be more specific suggestions:

Sightseeing in Northern India's "GOLDEN TRIANGLE" (Delhi, Agra and Jaipur)

If you want to hit the Taj Mahal, the ancient and modern palaces of India's capital and Rajistan's beautiful desert capital, plan to avoid the hottest months of the year, unless 50 degrees celsius is your thing. The "winter" months of November through February are most pleasant.

Hiking in the HIMALAYAS

From west to east: Jammu and Kashmir* (Srinigar), Ladakh (Leh), Himachal Pradesh (Dharamsala, Simla), Nepal (Katmandu), Sikkim* (Darjeeling), Bhutan*, Arunachal Pradesh*

* Some restrictions apply.

In Ladakh, weather is extreme. Think Colorado, except next to Kashmir. Most passes don't open in late June. Summer season for hiking is July and August. Autum trekking extends from September to the first half of October before it gets too cold again.

If you're hiking out of Darjeeling or into Sikkim, plan around the monsoon. Spring hiking is possible between March and May. Fall hiking is possible in October through December.

Relaxing along the coast and backwaters of GOA & KERALA

The beaches of Goa are best savored between October and March. April through September just aren't as pleasant.

Keralan houseboats are good any time of year except the June and July monsoons. The peak season is the December through February winter.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

How to Get a Visa to India

It should come as little surprise that the Indian embassy as outsourced much of its visa processing. Luckily, Travisa makes the entire process pretty easy at their website.

Americans can get a visa to India in 6-month, 5-year or 10-year increments. The later two, of course, cost a bit more: $73 versus $163. A visa gives you permission to enter a country – so don’t get a six month visit more than six months before you intend to travel or you’re out of luck! Once you’re at the border, they’ll give you up to six months (180 days) to enjoy the country. If you leave and want to come back, you have to wait two months, unless you get a permit* or carry a careful itinerary**.

* Sounds like it’s asking for a bribe...

** Sounds like it invites trouble. I’ll relay information if I hear of anyone making a successful excursion, for example, to Katmandu during their visit to India.

In short, you complete an online application and mail four documents to Travisa, which relays the package to the Indian consulate in Chicago (assuming you live in Wisconsin): a valid passport with at least 6 months remaining, two pictures, a photocopy of your birth certificate and a photocopy of a document that serves as proof of address. Two weeks or so later, you get your passport back with a nice shiny Indian visa in it.

You can also apply in person and get a visa later that day, if your trip to Hyderabad is THAT pressing...

Friday, March 25, 2011

Monday, March 21, 2011

Holi Goodness

Holi's one of those things you hear about India. Taj Mahal and temples. Cows and elephants. Divali and holi.

It even took a starring role in Outsourced. So much build up that I prepared to be a bit underwhelmed.

The holiday, in short, is a celebration of color to mark the arrival of spring. Of course the high temperature hasn't dipped below 70 since i got here, so spring takes on a new meaning. No spring showers -- it's rained only twice since i arrived in January. And the temperature this week -- 95 -- hardly feels like "spring."

And as a HIndu holiday, the day marks the celebration of a god who -- after praying to VIshnu -- didn't get burned alive when he sat on a fire. His demon sister, on the other hand, didn't pray to Vishnu and died on the same pyre. So it goes, when you sit on a fire.

Our drivers invited Andrew, Gloria, new friend Jordan and I to their homes on Saturday. We were welcomed, warmly, as guest of honor into a foreign world. First, Narasaiya's home. Not palatial india, real india. A small three room hovel, warmed by life. Stacks of bags of rice. Puja nooks instead of puja rooms. A pinching reminder that the $200 we pay our drivers every month really does support a family. All their needs, all their rice for what some people back home pay for cell phone and cable bills each month.

So much, in short, that I take for granted. You can't fill water balloons with running water at everyone's home...

After a simple, delicious meal, we joined the warfare in the streets. Polite face painting evolved into color schmearing. Colored water splashing tipped towards full face plants. Minutes later, we found ourselves trading water ballons filled with colored water. Barrage after barrage, until we admitted defeat and i strolled through the enemy forces offering handshakes and "meeru gelicheru"s to buy the others enough time to get in the car to make our get-away. Amazing. Awesome.

Afterwards, Krishna's house, not far from the consulate. An older, more experienced driver. A slightly bigger, more comfortable home. One more plate of delicious food by Telugu-only wives shyly hiding in kitchens while husbands and children laughed with us in the main room. We returned to the dusty streets for round #2.

Teenagers smashed eggs into our hair, adding a whole new level of schop and stickiness. I felt like I was cultivating salmonella over half my body, but I couldn't tell if it was the green, the yellow, the blue or the red speckling my body. Wild. Wonderful.

We retreated to Alcazar and took turns in the shower by the rooftop pool. A rinse round, a scrub round, a lather round, a shampoo round and a rinse round before being clean enough -- although still stained pink -- to jump into the pool. wo much color. It's be easy to argue too much color. I collapsed onto my white sheets and woke up in sea of pink streaks

On Sunday, the color war continued at a coworker's family's house. I only went because i thought it was going to be more tame. A gather of adults. Professionals pleasantly at play. How I underestimated.

Again, the interlocutors started with measured color sprinkling. But ten minutes later, folks were plunked into 55-gallon barrels of red sludge. Glitter paint slobbed over any exposed skin. Little sprinkles of color floating atop glasses of beer and other drinks*. Hours of tomfoolery in all colors.

After a third delicious meal and a dripping retreat, another multi-round of showers, minutes more soaking in the pool. But still pink. Even a sunflower oil shower and a coconut oil bath. Still pink. Hair? Pink. Bedsheets? Pink. Pillows, pink. Camera and car? Pink. Swimsuit, goggles, sandals? Pink. Contact lenses, pink.

And a monday morning at work? Pink, but thankful for invitations. And tarps conveniently stored in the dickie**.

* Would have later consequences.

** Indian for "trunk."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Sporting Chance

I hate to go on and on about how important I am...but it’s kinda true.

Case in point, the 2010-11 sports season in Wisconsin.

Here’s my theory: the farther I get away from the great state of Wisconsin, the better its sports teams do. This is a theory that started taking shape many years ago, when my arrival at Madison was matched by a sudden downturn in Bucky’s fortunes. The years right before I transferred, two consecutive Rose Bowls and a Final Four berth. The next three years, not quite the same grandeur. Let’s examine the recent evidence behind the theory:

I move to Washington DC, pretty far from Wisconsin.

Brewers come to town. I go to a game with Josh and Amy. Brewers lose. 8-0. Next day, of course, they win a barnburner 11-7.

Packers come to town. I go to a game with Gloria, Ken, Bargey and Beth. Packers lose. In overtime. To the lowly Redskins. Packers go on to have a good season.

Badgers march all the way to the Rose Bowl. I go to the Rose Bowl in January? Yup, Badgers lose.

So I move to Hyderabad, India, about as far as you can get from Wisconsin without being in the middle of an ocean.

Sure enough, Packers win three straight playoff games on the road, then go on to win the Super Bowl.

And soon enough, March rolls around. The Badgers march on to the Sweet Sixteen behind stellar play from Taylor, Leuer and the role players. Marquette has already won their first round games in the NCAA tournament. As I’m on the far side of the planet, its not too much to expect a UW-MU championship game.

It’s getting so absurd that at least one wise diplomat has started taking the trend into consideration:

Sunday, March 13, 2011

TIME on their hands

In the bookstore earlier today, i started flipping through the magazines. they'll sell you a variety of american and british magazines for a dollar or two, amongst the many Indian options, too.

i picked up time, even if i usually get the Newsweek because it's a bit cheaper, because the cover was so provocative.

i flipped through, debating the purchase, when i was drawn to a nice little map in the middle. all the world, in a variety of color categories, relaying socio-economic prosperity levels. North America, Northern Europe and Down Under all proud in red. Japan and Europe next in orange. The southern and eastern parts of europe yellow, inviting Uruguay, Korea and Taiwan into the ranks. Further east, further south --and Chile -- green. My current India is deep purple...

I first noticed an ink splotch on the opposite page, wondered about the purple ink for a moment before i looked at the map. sure enough, a big purple stamp, right over the top of the map. "The External Boundaries Of India As Depicted in The Maps are Neither correct nor Authentic." Awesome...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Great Moments in Time...

...500 pounds of crapola -- and a couple ounces of the best damn beef jerky ever -- arriving via slow boat.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Lovely Laknavaram

I joined an adventure club, as I’m want to do.

One of my first memories of Madison, a pair of Hoofers outing. In Heves, in the absence of an adventure club, I formed my own. (Sadly, the Green Club never adventured, as the kids didn’t have sleeping bags.) And here on the Deccan Plateau? The Great Hyderabad Adventure Club.

I felt out the club in January with a trip to the deer park with the smiling orphans. A little heavy on the software engineers – as any group of more than a handful of people in this city must necessarily be – but full of friendly, interesting young professionals.

Until I get some experience under my belt, the idea of adventuring off the beaten path (at least with the ability to return to work on time come Monday morning) is a bit daunting. The train system a bit intimidating, buses even more so. So I figured the club’s a great way to hit the ground running.

First trip? Laknavaram.

On a map it’s not the far, maybe 200 km, just a little bit past Warangal, the nearest “big city” outside of Hyderabad, the epicenter of the Telangana agitations. The road between here and there is “under construction.” Sometimes a two-lane divided highway for a kilometer or two, then a one-lane dirt detour around an irrigation pipe or whatnot.

It’s slow going. But the most noticeable thing about Indian roads is the stunning variety of speeds on each an every road. Fastest: huge trucks barreling over/around/through any obstacles. 2nd place: huge buses, much the same, except they occasional slow – not stop – to let passengers hop on or off. 3rd. Personal cars. 4th. Motorcycles. 5th. Mopeds. 6th. Autorickshaws. 7th. Bicycles. 8th. Stray dogs. 9th. Pedestrians. Last place? Cows. The totality means lots of passing, lots of swerving, lots of jerky braking and accelerating.

The moment we left Hyderabad, the countryside was pure ride paddy and cotton fields, speckled with huge monoliths every once in a while on the horizon. Beautiful, amazing countryside, dotted with villages and locals hard at work in the fields. Five hours later, our private mini bus reached our destination and the 15 of us hopped out. A 12th-century reservoir that’s on the cusp of being a “tourist attraction.” That means the government has built a suspension bridge to an island and locals come picnic here.

It should come as no surprise when I interrupt the story here for a slight jeremiad: India is dirty. It’s a combination of things, of course, but here’s a beautiful spot that’s been blatantly trashed. A whole island covered in shit. Not just a little. A lot. Litter everywhere. Disgusting. Broken glass shards everywhere. Dangerous. Of course there’s no government or private entity that can maintain trash facilities way out in the boonies, an I’m not suggesting it would be the right investment in a rural area where there are massive public health, safety and education needs. More disappointing, I suppose, is the attitude of each and every visitor who comes to a nice little spot in the woods...and feels little to no remorse about adding a popsicle wrapper, a paper plate, a water bottle and a right shoe to the mess. (my new friends, thankfully, were largely exceptions to the rule.)

But once you gloss over the details, the spot was a nice reprieve from the hustle and bustle of Hyderabad. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the water inviting, but we dove in regardless. Most of us, strangely enough, in life jackets. It’s a bit strange coming from Wisconsin, but the majority of the software engineers couldn’t swim. So in the shallows I taught rhythmic breathing. And floating... Also taught on the trip? How to drive an automatic car. How to hold a paddle. How to steer a boat. Things I learned on the other hand? How to cook darn good curry over a fire. How to amuse a troop of monkeys with leftover rice.

We didn’t have the spot to ourselves, though, a slew of locals on picnics came and went both Saturday and Sunday. They don’t see many farengi – foreigners – out in these parts; I created a bit of a stir. Of course I bring most of it upon myself, charming school children on weekend picnics with a few sentences in Telugu, then having to pry myself out of 20 handshakes five minutes later. I tried teaching one school’s worth of kids the merits of picking glass shards out of the rocks, but the lesson may or may not have taken root.

This is the end of the story. It was a nice two-day trip into authentic Andhra Pradesh. It’s just not a good tale, sorry. Hope the pictures suffice.