Where are we now?

View Where are we now? in a larger map Jo, Annie, Miles and I are living in Northport, Alabama and working at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. We've been glad to be in one place for a bit after what appeared to be semi-permanently traveling (in actuality for a period of 2.5 years).We started this blog to catalogue some of the adventures when Jo and I were sequentially conducting our dissertation research in India and Brazil. While we've fallen off the blogging bandwagon somewhat during recent trips to Brazil, we're trying to pick it up again now that we're back in India!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011-Excitement in Delhi!

Once at David and Jo’s in Delhi, we began the complicated process of doing the laundry in their apartment, which requires lots of hands-on involvement at multiple stages in the process or the water will overflow onto the floor – and we had many loads of wash to do.

There is no dryer, so the clothes are pinned on the clothesline that David rigged up on the terrace. Jo and Rita went out to hang the clothes, which dry rapidly in the heat of Delhi, when all of a sudden Jo started screaming, holding her finger, and beginning to cry. I thought she had cut herself on something, but she had been stung by a wasp!

She went into the apartment and Rita continued with the clothes. Although she was very careful to keep her eyes out (or so she thought), she got stung by one or two wasps on her left ring finger.

Since Rita has a severe bee sting allergy, we watched with trepidation to see if she would break out with hives, but she did not. She removed her wedding ring because she wasn’t sure if her finger would swell (more about that later).

Ultimately the wasp nest was discovered, between the glass and the outer frame of the door to the balcony, so that every time that the door was opened, the wasps got disturbed and….well you now know the (part of) the rest of the story!

Now, Jo and Rita headed off to Dr. Marya’s office, where both Jo’s ob/gyn and her husband, an endocrinologist that Jo works with, share space. It was very nice to meet Dr. Dolly Marya who is going to be the physician who delivers NoahBelle (possibly). She listened to the baby’s heart rate and we could hear the heart as well which was very exciting for Rita. The baby is currently in breech position, and Jo is between 27 and 28 weeks pregnant. Mom and baby doing fine.

In the afternoon, we went to FabIndia which is an upscale place to buy salwar kemeez, saris, and men’s clothes as well. Jim wanted to come along so he could “vote” on the potential outfits before Rita bought something Jim didn’t like. He was incredibly patient since we spent about three hours there, trying on many combinations of pants, tops, and scarves. Rita wanted something dressy so it could potentially be worn to a Black Tie function. The outfits we got were pretty but not as “glitzy” as I thought they might/could be. Jo said that “glitzy” is something the nouveau riche do. We bought a pair of black silk pants and stretchy off-white pants that are called churidar which bunch up at the ankle as opposed to salwar which Jim said emphasized every bad part of my body. I also bought a kameez in a wine red, and two pretty scarves and a white kurti which is a separate top. That night I wore the kurti and one of Jo’s black scarves. Complete with my wedding ring (which I put back on so everyone would know I was really married to Jim – more about that later), we were ready to go. All together, very fancy and the churidar pants, the kameez and the scarves will be shown off at a Black Tie somewhere, no doubt.

Then off to Tannie’s and Murad’s for dinner. It was quite amazing. First of all, their house had been highlighted in the Indian House and Garden magazine this spring. It was really neat to be sitting in a room and looking at the same room in a glossy magazine. We also got a tour of the rest of the house, including their bedroom. The dining room was quite large, and was set up with the food all around the perimeter of the round table in the middle. I went into the kitchen to see the food being prepared, and watched them make goat kebabs – which tasted kind of like a pate. Tannie is a cook book author and has written 18 cookbooks – but in her home she supervises the cooking, although she did make the pulao. She gave me three cookbooks which will be a great thing to remember this evening by. The food was FANTASTIC – in fact, it might have been the best dinner I ever ate. There was the pulao, the okra, kebabs, dal, tinda (baked squash with potatoes – baked with cream and some spices in the oven), mint yoghurt chutney to go with the pulao. Mango and ice cream for dessert!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Homage to Coffee Icecream

For anyone who has not experienced the magic that is the coffee and ice cream synthesis, let this brief photo-montage tell the tale of bliss:

The necessary ingredients: coffee (either liquid or instant (and if instant then Starbucks is the IDEAL {thanks Mom!}; and ice cream.

After numerous empirical tests and statistical analyses, we found the following results: Testers (Jo and I) prefer, statistically significant at p <.01, Mother Dairy's vanilla ice cream "scheme" (a scheme used in this context means a "deal" or "sale", as in, this is a 2-for-1 scheme)

So there you have it folks: coffee and ice-cream a combo that everyone loves...except for Alan who apparently had a traumatic coffee ice-cream experience as a child..but we won't go there.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Tuesday May 31st: A Plane Trip to Remember

As David said, we knew what kind of a day it was going to be when Jim asked if I could take a look at his foot where the leech had attached yesterday. The Doctor agreed to have extra office hours, and set to work cleansing the area, and then used her sophisticated surgical implements (a sewing needle, a match, and a pair of eyebrow tweezers) to fully explore the wound. Overall, I think the patient is doing well. I can’t personally attest to the current status of the leech, however.

Then, after we took a few more pictures of The Orchid Retreat, we were off on our adventure to the airport and then on to Delhi. We had a luxury vehicle (i.e. with airconditioning and shock absorbers) and headed first to St Theresa’s church, which is a church built to look like a Buddhist temple. Apparently the apostles all have faces that look like Buddha, but unfortunately we could not get in to see. There was a very interesting cemetery that we looked at briefly. The town of Kalimpong as we left actually looked very interesting with lots of shops on little streets and alleys. Jim and I could have happily spent several hours looking around.

Enjoying ourselves in Kalimpong the day before

The ride to Siliguru/Bagdogra Airport was truly sensory overload for me. First of all the driver, although Jim thought more competent than the others we dealt with, still took a lot of chances while driving and there were a number of “close calls” (from my standpoint) and lots of honking. However the ride was pretty smooth; we saw some interesting agriculture along the way with people growing vegetables (primarily corn) in terraces on the side of the hill, as well as periodic groups of shacks where people sold one or two vegetables that were all the same such as tomatoes or corn.

We went through a few towns about the size of Kalimpong, with busy streets filled with shops. However as we got closer to the airport, we began to see some of the different economic strata of India – people clearly living by the side of the road, people bathing in what undoubtedly was a polluted river, people drinking from it, small shops selling the same items, with an occasional fancy resort with manicured grounds interspersed amongst the rest. There were fancy car, autorickshaws, people on bicycles, cycle rickshaws, taxis – all crowding each other, with incessant honking and the smell of gasoline. Quite overwhelming.

On to the airport for yet another experience. The terminal was very very very crowded. We were later told that the airport could handle four hundred people – and 1200 were there! We stood in one line, then we were routed to another. Finally we got our baggage where it was supposed to be (after we had taken it to security), and David noticed that our tickets showed the the time of the flight had been moved up by an hour and a half! Luckily we were there early enough. So, we got into this incredibly slow line with kind of an alternate merge approach to get our carry-ons screened. The bag I had with my needlepoint and the food was held for further inspection. Ultimately they gave them to me to open for the airport security staff. First they looked at the bag with the needlepoint – and confiscated every needle that I had. They told Jo that the needles were dangerous, and that you could hurt someone! Hard to believe, they let me take the laying down needle which actually could probably do more damage. Then they looked in the bag with the Nutella and the Peanut Butter which Jo and I had joyfully acquired the previous day in Kalimpong. A little had been eaten out of each jar. The security staff refused to give them back to me, stating that something could be hidden in them. Jo was outraged and tried to persuade them that this was ridiculous. The security staff was firm – no. We returned to where Jim and David were waiting, and, upon hearing the story, David took the spoon I had brought along and the loaf of bread and stalked off to the airport security people.

After some time, he returned bearing multiple sandwiches heavily laden with peanut butter and Nutella, and said that he had used the spoon to eat what was left in the jars. Although the combination of Nutella and peanut butter was not one we would have chosen, we all ate the sandwiches in honor of David’s bravery, determination, and chivalry, It is a really good thing that we ditched the knife we had brought to eat our mangoes in the trashcan BEFORE we attempted to go through security or we might still be standing in the Bagdogra airport.

I'm not sure which one of our expressions is best, but I'm voting for Jo

Off to David and Jo’s in Delhi, and the beginning of the complicated process of doing the laundry in their apartment, which requires lots of hands-on involvement at multiple stages in the process or the water will overflow onto the floor – and we had many loads of wash to do. There is no dryer, so the clothes are pinned on the clothesline that David rigged up on the terrace. We then ordered in food from the restaurant we had eaten in before which offers both North Indian and South Indian selections, all of which were tasty but perhaps too heavy for dinner at 10 pm!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The King of Fruits

India, as you may know, has a lot of national (and regional) pride. Like many countries, it also has a lot of national "things": a national bird (peacock), a national anthem (Jana Gana Mana), a national animal (tiger), a national emblem (the four lions of Sarnath), a national flower (lotus). India even has its own national fruit (we don't have one, officially): THE MANGO.

Mangoes lined up in a scientific fashion befitting the king of fruits

No one can agree on the number of varieties of mango under cultivation in the world. Based on my cursory research, there are at least 1200, of which India alone produces at least 1000. In India, the mango is known as the "phul ka raja"--the "king of fruits." Asking someone about their mango preferences is like bringing up religion or politics; it's controversial, heavily tied to one's geographic origins, bound up with personal pride, and is sure to generate at least half an hour of lively conversation. India is the world's largest producer of mangoes, yielding around 14 million tons per year. Each state, and even certain cities within states, has its own specialty mango.

According to Hindu mythology, the mango is a consolation prize given to us by the gods as an apology for the lousy weather of the summer and monsoon seasons, when it matures. While cursing the sweltering temperatures, Dave and I have been reveling in the consolation of mangoes since early June. We've calculated that we generally consume about 2 kg of mangoes per day between the two of us. By now, in other words, I've nearly eaten my weight in mangoes. My pregnant weight, for that matter. By the end of the season, it's likely I will have eaten double that.

Don't touch my mango or you'll come back with a stump...

Before the monsoon, the primary mango in the market was the Safeda, a large, bright-yellow not-too-sweet mango known as the "poor man's mango" because it's cheaper than most. These babies can weigh up to a pound or more per piece and really won a place in my heart during June. Another winning point of the Safeda is the fact that its peel contains low levels of urushiol, the compound that makes poison ivy poisonous. Too much lip-to-peel contact with a high-urushiol-content peel can create a nasty case of contact dermatitis. I've experienced this more than once, unfortunately. All mangoes contain some urushiol, but some more than others.

The monsoons arrived promptly in early July, and since then, the number of mango varieties in the market has proliferated. Gone are the days of the Safeda, so we decided it was time to branch out. A few days ago, we did a mango tasting. We included the 5 most easily-available varieties at our corner market: the Dasheri of Lucknow, the Langra of Banaras, the Neelam of various parts of South India, the Chaunsa of Punjab (Pakistan) and Uttar Pradesh, and finally the Malika, a hybrid of the Langra and the Neelam. As you can see, they vary in color, size, shape, texture--and, of course, taste.

We devoured all the mangoes you see here in under 5 minutes, with a brief swig of water to cleanse our palates between varieties.

Yes, that is water in the gin bottle in the picture, and no at 9 months pregnant Jo is not chasing her mango with gin (it would after all interfere with the empirical testing of the mango). For anyone who hasn't had the joke pulled on them yet, you have now...we were left a plethora of pretty gin bottles in the apartment and thought they made excellent water bottles when cooled in the fridge to the perfect temperature....

Each mango was rated on a highly scientific scale consisting of marks for texture, citrus-y-ness or acidity, sweetness, and overall deliciousness. The results were surprising.

Mango-licious carnage

Neither of the most popular of the varieties we tasted, the Langra and the Dasheri, beat out the competition. Slightly musky, a bit fibrous, and tangy, the Dasheri had good taste but poor texture. The Langra, with its saccharine pineapple-ey taste, didn't do much for me. The Malika outstripped even the Langra in terms of sweetness, but carried some appealing floral notes. Its smooth texture reminded Dave of "a walk at the bay" (whatever that means), but it reminded me of cotton candy (and not in a good way). The Neelam was a bit of a letdown because the one we included in our taste test was unripe, but subsequent tastings have left me relatively satisfied with its citrusy, mild, and not overly sweet flavor. But the best? By far, the rather obscure (at least to us Westerners) Chaunsa. We agreed on this one hands down. It's tangy and citrusy, yet has a green, piney aftertaste that reminds me of a good sharp cheese or a freshly mown lawn.

I call a retest!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Monday May 30, 2011: Leeches!

Today was action-packed, from beginning to end. We started off with breakfast with a grits-like cereal, eggs, pancakes (much doughier than the ones we are used to), toast.

Then Ganesh, the father-in-law of Honey who runs the Orchid Retreat Hotel, agreed to give us a tour around the orchid greenhouses and the gardens that he started 48 years ago.

The land was his ancestral land, but he is the one who started the current business. Apparently, he challenged his daughter-in-law to see if she could turn the two guest cottages on the property into a Bed and Breakfast. Now they have ten cottages and she is in charge of the hotel end of the business. He talked to us at dinner last night and told us that the road the hotel is on is the road that has always been used for Tibetan travel. This road used to be the road that the Tibetan mule trains rode on.

We walked in the gardens, Jim asked questions, and Ganesh answered them. He knew a huge amount about all of the plants and their appropriate names and classifications. He explained to us about how they did hybridization of orchids, and discussed some of the many different varieties with us. They were spectacular in color and variety.

Some were very tiny, clustered many on a branch; some were very large and showy. The colors were so intense from white to brilliant deep pink to dazzling yellow and orange. The foliage in the garden is also spectacular with huge philodendron leaves, palms of many varieties, tree ferns, rhododendron trees. It was really like being in a rain forest in terms of the variety and size of the plants. As I mentioned to Jo, this is Jim’s favorite – to be able to spend one:one time with a true artisan is one of life’s true pleasures for Jim.

We had booked a jeep and a driver for our full-day explore. The intent was to go to Lava, which is the site of a National Park. However, one can’t get into the park without permits and the process for doing that wasn’t going to work. Martin told us that we could do a walk from Lava to Rishap which was about 4 km in each direction, but was muddy. We were going to do that until we heard that there was a tree canopy in Lolygoan, which was about an hour from Lava. That sounded good to us, so Rita, Jim, and David headed off. Jo decided to stay on the veranda and “chill”, and to enjoy the Nutella and chocolate bars and mangos that we bought in Kalimpong yesterday.

The road to Loligoan was nothing if not incredibly curvy, narrow, rocky, and perilously close to the cliff that it perched on top of. Apparently, no one in India sees automobile safety as a high priority since none of the cars we have rented have had seat belts, there are essentially no traffic lights, and two or three cars get to an intersection at the same time – and no one seems to have the right of way. Rather there is a lot of honking and, depending upon where you are and the philosophy of your driver, either one driver backs up and makes room for the other one to go, or neither “side” decides to move. Great fun, and certainly challenging for the ears.

After about an hour and a half, we arrived at Goliloan and the tree canopy walkway. It was pretty dark and gloomy due to impending rain, but we set out into the forest. We reached the tree canopy in about five minutes, and saw that the access/egress ends of the canopy ladder were removed, and “closed” signs hung on both ends. It looked pretty rickety so David and I were not sure that it was such a bad thing that we couldn’t get on it.

Also, it was only a few feet higher than we were anyway, so it would not have afforded much of a different viewpoint, as opposed to the one we did in the rain forest in Costa Rica.

So it was kind of wet and damp, and we were walking further into the forest when all of a sudden, David gave a yell, and started jumping around and saying “there are leeches here and one is on me – no, two – three –five – eight – ten!” By then he was trying to kick off his Crocs and get the leeches that had crawled through the holes in the shoes off his feet. I looked down and saw that there were tiny inch long wriggling things on my shoes too! I began to yell and jump around also. The leeches were crawling under the net covering of my walking shoes – and disappearing into the fabric of the shoe. Jim was wearing his new Chacos which are very much like Teva’s, and he said that none of the leeches were on him because they couldn’t get purchase on the material of the shoe. By now David and I were running from the forest, and I was stopped by an Indian gentleman who said he wanted to take my picture. I was yelling and said I could not stop to have my picture taken, but he took one anyway and showed it to me. I had my mouth open with a petrified look on my face, which made the “gentleman” laugh. David then started lecturing him with “Do you know it is very rude to ask people from the United States if you can take their picture?” In retrospect, this sounds like a sitcom so this would be a good place to take a commercial break.

So, we got back to the car, and there was a lot more jumping around, and we discovered a few more leeches on me, and one on the inside of the window of the car where it had probably landed when I was throwing my shoes around! It was now pouring, so we drove on, and then the weather cleared. We stopped and walked along this high ridge road back to town. went to the town of Goliloan and sat there and had lunch (yum – peanut Butter, (stale) bread, bananas, mangos, oranges, etc. ) It had stopped raining so we decided to go out for a little walk on the road leading to this little town, and off we went.

Dave checking his crocs for leeches
A few minutes later Jim noted that he had some blood on his foot, so he stopped to see what had happened. A BIG FAT LEECH FILLED WITH JIM’S BLOOD WAS ATTACHED BETWEEN TWO OF HIS TOES!!!!!!

Well, then we really started jumping around. Jim got the leech off his foot, and we noted that one half of the body was fat now but the other half was still very skinny. Jim took a stick and punctured the leech, and this pool of blood ooped out. The leech then slid away….We then went back to the village and had our fantastic lunch of peanut butter, (stale) bread, mangoes, bananas, and oranges that we bought in Kalimpong the day before. Well that was an afternoon that none of us will forget. We agreed that this would probably become the stuff of a family story, to be repeated for many years. David has decided that when he tells this to NoahBelle, he will start off by saying: One day when your mommy was carrying you in her belly, she was so smart that she decided to not come with me and your grandparents on a trip…”

By this time, the weather had begun to clear and get sunny. However, we decided to skip Lava and Rishap, and head back to Kalimpong stopping at some sites along the way.

Initially we went to the Tonza monastery where we saw the most amazing panels and pictures on the walls of the temple. These depicted Buddha in almost every scene with fantastic combination of colors.

There was also a panel that had the planned picture drawn in pencil in incredible detail but none of the colors had been filled in.

Some of the other panels were not completed so they were mostly finished but there were still large areas where the pencils lines were still present.

This monastery was very small, isolated, and quiet but it was quite lovely; at each of the outside corners of the building were explanations of different forms of meditation, such as walking meditation.

Our driver then took us on a harrowing ride through the narrow lanes of Kalimpong to try to find St. Theresa’s church (wrong church) and then to the Tibetan fabric store where David got cut-to-order red, green, white, and yellow prayer flags and Rita saw the beautiful Tibetan silks lining the shelf -- fabrics unlike any I have seen before. I wish I knew how to sew and could create a spectacular outfit that would show off the amazing fabric.

Then we went to the Durpin monastery, which is the largest monastery in Kalimpong. Little did we know that this would lead to one of the most outstanding memories of this trip. To get to the monastery, we had to drive and drive and drive through a military establishment, where the roads were in perfect condition (quite amazing!), the lawns were beautifully tended, the buildings all well-maintained. We began to wonder if we were on the road to the monastery, which sits at the top of spectacular Durpin Hill. Once we left the military compound, we were back to the roads we have come to know – bumpy, rocky, in poor condition…and then we came to this fantastic building. When we pulled into the parking lot, we began to hear this incredible chanting and beating of gongs and began to smell incense.

We walked up to the door, first passing by many prayer wheels mounted on the building.

Dave turning the prayer wheels...

The room was filled with monks, mostly young with a few older ones leading the service. One monk was at the end beating the gong with this incredible curved stick we had seen when we were walking in Darjeeling.

The room was filled with the smell of incense.

The walls were covered with amazingly detailed murals, all depicting Buddha or evils or other symbols important in Buddhism (sadly we did not have Hamsa or Jo with us to explain the meaning). It was such an out-of-worldly experience, that I thought it felt like we had turned a corner and found ourselves in the middle of an Indiana Jones movie set…A mystical, magical, spiritual experience.

As we left the building, we noted a row of gilded stupas next to the building. The stupas were overshadowed, however, by the large telephone tower positioned right behind them.

As we looked to the other side of the parking lot, we saw the dormitories for the monks, and right next to them was the playing field where the military were playing a game. A juxtaposition of ancient and modern India…

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Fennec Fox Fun

"What IS this adorable creature?" you may be asking yourself. Well, you should be. It's a fennec fox, Vulpes zerda, possibly the cutest animal I have ever come across. Weighing in at only 1-1.5 kg, the fennec is the smallest member of the canine family. It's got a mostly white-to-light-orange colored coat and has a black tail tip. The soles of its feet are furry. Its giant ears are adapted to allow it to hear prey scuttling around underground. And it looks like a Gremlin.

You are probably expecting the fennec to be a native of South Asia, given our current location. In fact, it's not. It's a Saharan animal found from Morocco to Egypt. Why, then, am I writing about it here?

Well, it turns out that the fennec is one of only two species of fox that are fit to be kept as pets. The other is the Russian Silver Fox, native of Siberia. I spent probably an hour and a half this morning procrastinating by educating myself about fennecs as pets. Supposedly, they combine all the best traits of dogs and cats. They make little cooing sounds when they're happy, like to dart around like a cat with the evening frenzies, can be litter trained, and can dig up to 6 feet underground. They're undoubtedly wily.

This all sounded wonderful until we learned that most fennec owners describe their pets' dispositions using phrases like "ferret on crack". Combine that with the fact that you have to have a fence buried 6-10 feet UNDERGROUND to enclose them, and I began to feel resigned. My heart sank even further when I learned that they're highly social animals who mate for life and live in burrow communities, kind of like prairie dogs (another of my favorite animals, incidentally). I don't think I could bring myself to isolate a fennec.

Sigh. Another adorable animal that will never be mine. Perhaps this is all just my mothering instinct coming out, and I won't even want a furry friend once the baby comes?

(Dave's notes: Hopefully (for it's sake) the baby won't have such disproportionately large ears as the fennec fox)...and no, we will not be hoisting off said fennec foxes on any grandparents-to-be, unsuspecting relatives,or friendly friends!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Sunday, May 29th

However, in the morning they had to exit the same window and traverse the same ledge in order to get to breakfast.

They were told that the lock would be removed in the morning after we had returned from our first activity of the day--a hike up to a viewpoint, so off we went.

There was a long road up to the top of a mountain where the views were fantastic. We all set off about 7:30 and began the walk. We saw some very interesting homes, and a number of children sitting outside of them or playing in the yard. It was Sunday and we saw a number of cars heading in the other direction, carrying people obviously on their way to church.

House with prayer flags on the roofs

We passed Doctor Graham’s School, which was started in the early 20th century.

It was initially started by him so that orphaned children of tea plantation workers and other orphans could receive an education. It is primarily a residential school, but some people from Kalimpong go there as well. Ganesh, his son (Honey’s husband) went there, and Honey’s two girls so there as well.

It was pretty far up the road, and Jo and I were wilting a little under the heat.

We kept going for about another 30 minutes and then decided to head back. Jim and David continued on for what turned out to be at least another hour hike (going much faster than they could have with us).

Some photos from their hike:

Jo and I went back to the Orchid Retreat to check on the lock. Not good. The handyman could not get the lock off with his tools. He went back and got a crowbar. Nope. He then got a hammer. Nope. Finally he got a hacksaw, and started…and continued…and continued. By this time, Jo was getting pretty despondent. Finally he got it off, and Jo was able to get into their cabin.

Now off to breakfast to wait for Jim and David. There was one other guest whose name was Martin. He was from approximately 30 miles outside of London. He was travelling alone, and this was his third time to the Orchid Retreat. He asked where we were from and I told him from Delaware, a state in the East of the USA. He said he had worked in Delaware. I said we lived in Old New Castle –and he said he had stayed in New Castle. No kidding. It turned out his company made software for bridge ticketing and he had worked at the Delaware Memorial Bridge and at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. And we were in India; this was truly unbelievable.

David interjects: apparently he also had an interaction with Jo that went like this, read it in a heavy British accent

Martin: "Does your husband frequently play that banjo?" (referring to my 2 hours of practicing the day before)
Jo: "Why yes, he does"
Martin: "Oh dear God..."
(yes Martin, may God take pity on your soul {no, in all seriousness the banjo retreated until I figured out that my Croc strap functions as an excellent mute!})

Jim and David returned, and after breakfast, we sat on our porches, relaxed (which I don’t do very well!) , and David and Jo went off for a rest. After they got up, we decided to take a taxi into Kalimpong to check out the markets and get some fruit and snacks for our trip back to Delhi. The market was incredibly crowded, and there was yet another opportunity for a hair-raising adventure in a taxi cab. Once we got there, David and Jim proceeded to have a truly unique experience – a shave and a haircut. Part of the haircut includes some “cupping motion” of the scalp, followed by a head massage! Jo and I found a fruit store and got some mangos, chocolate, and Nutella and then Jo and David got ice cream bars to finish out our exciting adventure! Back to the Orchid Retreat for dinner and bed – this time David and Jo could actually get in their room.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Saturday, May 28th: Off to Kalimpong

No one slept well our last night in Darjeeling. First there were the dogs who were barking and fighting outside our windows at about 1:15 am. During the day, the dogs are everywhere in Darjeeling, lying in the middle of the street or in front of shops or houses, apparently oblivious to everything happening around them. I have never seen dogs be so passive, and I asked Jo if they were drugged. It turns out that they are animals who “come alive” at night and form packs which are very territorial. Apparently there was a “West Side Story” interaction between two rival groups last night, and…Jo and David were so aggravated that they considered going outside and either trying to break up the fight or shoot one of the dogs; luckily neither happened. At about 3:45 am, our friendly monk who bangs his gong as he walks up the street came by, followed by the “before dawn” call to prayer for the Muslims…

Jim and Rita were up early and left at about 6:30 am for a walk up and around Observatory Hill where the Windemere is located. As they stepped outside, they saw that the mountains in the distance were visible and Mt. Kanchenjunga towered above the others. Mt. Kanchenjunga is the third highest mountain in the world (after Mt Everest and K2) and is 28,208 feet tall and snow-covered. Its name means “House of Five Treasures” named for its five summits. The sky was blue, there were come fluffy clouds, and the effect was glorious. We walked around and took some
pictures at several of the viewing sites.

After a last breakfast in Darjeeling, we headed out for Kalimpong, after a serious negotiation with the taxi driver contingent. We debated going first to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, which is within the zoo complex, and the Refugee Center, but decided that the priority was getting to the Saturday morning market in Kalimpong which was only open until 12. Well, that wasn’t exactly how it turned out. The ride from Kalimpong was another exciting adventure, with lots of twists, turns, horns, and a stop at a tourist place where he probably visited with some of his fellow drivers. Because of the quality of the road and the traffic getting to Kalimpong, we didn’t even arrive in town until 12:30, so we headed off to the Orchid Retreat--where we were to stay for the next several days--a place run by Honey and Ganesh, her father-in-law. He had started the Orchid nursery 48 years ago, and still managed much of the day-to-day business.

Unfortunately they were not expecting us for lunch, so nothing was available. We had separate little cabins, overlooking the lush gardens. We pooled all of our food bars, but still things were pretty grim. David went up to the main building and pleaded with Honey to provide us something simple to eat, since Jo is pregnant! Soon grilled sandwiches and soup arrived and we sat on our porch looking out at the beautiful scenery – in the middle of a massive rain storm.

It cleared after about an hour, and we all just rested and relaxed. Dinner that night was at the hotel and, although not particularly memorable, it was fine.

Off to bed – at least that is what Rita and Jim did. David and Jo had yet another adventure which made the fourth wedding anniversary weekend one they won’t forget. (First one – not even in the same country. Second one – Rome to Florence and back to Rome; night spent on stone benches outside of the airport. Third one – their first night in the RV in St Louis as we headed out to Jon and Gita’s wedding; about 110 degrees in the RV because we found out that the Freon unit did not have any Freon due to the instillation of a defective unit at the Winnebago factory). Anyway, they went to their little cabin, Jo put the key in the Yale-type lock hooked through the door– and the key snapped in half with a portion in the lock. The Orchid Retreat did not have a spare key to their room (go figure!) and they had no way to get the door open. The windows above the veranda were not windows that could be opened. So David (carefully) walked on a ledge high above the garden below, managed to get a window open, and crawled through. Unfortunately he still could not open the door to the cabin because of the lock on the outside of the door. So Jo carefully walked along the ledge, and David hung out of the window, picked her up and pulled her through the open window. Luckily Jo was only in her 6th month of pregnancy and not at the end of the 9th month! What an adventure!

(note: these are photos of us recreating this!)