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.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Very Bekes Christmas

Avid readers of Hungarian Goulash might remember that “bekes” is Hugarian for “peaceful.” And thanks to friend-of-a-friend Laura, my first Indian Christmas was extra “bekes” this year.

Laura and I had only met once, years ago at Cooper Amy’s wedding. Sadly, she claims no Hungarian heritage. She quit an NGO consulting job not too long ago and decided some time in Asia is what she needed next. When I heard she planned to spend a few months traveling India, I was quick to put out the invite. India and this apartment, simply, are more fun when you’ve got someone to share it with.

For two months she hiked Nepal, circling Annapurna and climbing to Everest Base Camp. By the middle of December, though, she was getting cold in the mountains, so I recommended she arrive in time for a Zakir Hussain concert at the Chowmahallah Palce. A glorious evening of tabla in the nicest nighttime setting Hyderabad has to offer. And the drive back offered the mood-lit Charminar at night, a first for me.

Another first? The Andhra Pradesh State Health Museum. Tucked into a small building in the Public Gardens just up from the Andhra Pradesh State Museum, between L.B. Stadium and the Assembly. The three-chambered exhibit is an honest-to-goodness time capsule, transporting you straight to 1991. Nothing’s changed. The dust, the exhibits, the population figure: 790,000,000. The information is an amazing glance at health propoganda from a rural country emerging into modernity. Free and worth the visit, although they don’t allow anything other than sly pictures.

After a quick trip to Goa, Laura was back in time for Christmas. Complete with a quaint little tree in the living room, we opened packages and wined and dined with consulate friends.

And Boxing Day brought my first visit to Snow World, one of Hyderabad’s other best kitsch hotspots. For 300 rupees, you get to suit up and set into a giant freezer, a paradise at -5 degrees Celsius. The best part, of course, is the people-watching that comes with seeing local folks feel winter for the first time. Ever. And below Snow World? Some surprisingly good go-karts. With a track built into a cave, as that makes the most sense.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Controlling Off

Sometime in the grind of a visa mill, it's pretty easy to imagine myself as just a bureaucrat and forget that i've got a pretty sweet job. Not so wednesday, my first chance to be a control officer, coordinating a big-shot's visit.

I have a small note card, written many years ago during a bout of career planning angst in either Green Bay or Madison, that says: "DREAM JOB: right-hand man to the ambassador to India." it's debatable whether that imagine best matches with a staff assistant role or the far more important Deputy Chief of Mission, but what's not up for debate is that India's current Deputy Chief of Mission -- the number two guy at one of the most important embassies in the world -- is an outstanding diplomat and a fantastic leader. And a wonderfully easy-going guy to work with.

Duties du jour? Coordinating the schedule on short notice, wearing a suit, looking good in a suit, expediting airport arrival, balancing conversation and blackberry time during drive-time, explaining fish-shaped buildings next to the airport flyover, facilitating meetings, touring manufacturing plants...and answering visa questions.

The coolest part? First time i've ever seen everything go according to plan for an entire day in India. And it was my plan.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The More Fortunate Enclave

Fun consulate-sponsored AIDS awareness concert at the Public Gardens friday night. wish more people could have enjoyed it, but the set-up was great. cool stuff to listen to.

Double fun birthday party saturday. A pushing-the-boundaries-at-11:30-pm dance party, a reminder that we have such a great consulate crew. really really lucky.

and a big dose of dog-sitting, laugh-sharing, driving-teaching, turkey-eating, movie-watching and other verbs a plenty with new friends. really really nice.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Nagarjunakonda Roadtrip

The list of things I miss about America is long. It's topped by Chipotle, of course, but somewhere not to far down the list you'll find "good ole-fashioned roadtrips."

Not too many "tourist destinations" within driving distance in this chunk of India. Guidebooks usually call Andhra Pradesh, in a variety of diplomatic phrases, something along the lines of a "subtle charmer." I've broken out on wheels just once, a bus trip to Laknavaramu with the Adventure Club. (Treks out to Bhongir only count as a mini-excursion, i've decided.) Atop my to-do list of regional destinations, higher than even noted Wall Drugs of the Deccan like Medak, Nizamabad, and Bidar, was Nagarjunakonda.

I got antsy sitting in Hyderabad since coming back from Nepal, so I convinced coworker Sarah* and new friends Aliza* and Mandy* to load up with Raghu and I and two burned CDs. We set out on the three-hour (150km) drive to Nagarjunakonda, a relatively pleasant drive down a relatively decent road.

The earthen dam itself is pretty impressive, and the reservoir'll the best looking body of water i've seen in months. I was allllllmost tempted to jump in. The valley was an international hub of buddhism back in the 200-300 AD range. The site was excavated in the 1930s, but was threatened when construction began on the dam in the 1960s. the ingenious solution? dig up the ruins and plop them on a hilltop, set to become an island in the new reservoir. The result is a pleasant island park, gardens and paths linking museums and reconstructed ancient buddhist structures. The one-hour ferry and entrance fee combine to about $5 a head, not an unreasonable price for a pretty pleasant out of doors experience. Worth the three-hour trip, if you've got time to kill in the Hyderabad metropolitan region. Two-and-a-half stars out of five.

* Denotes an awesome individual.