Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Tiger Safari

When I learned that tiger safaris were available in India, I knew it was something I had to do.  So I jumped on the opportunity to join a group trip earlier this month.  Although everyone was pumped to see tigers, we also saw lots of other interesting animals along the way.

One was the rufous treepie.  These orange and black birds were bold and fearless around us.  We first encountered them when our vehicle was stopped and one of them landed on our vehicle's side-view mirror and then hopped over to the window sill.  He peered inside as if he was inspecting the dashboard guages.  Maybe he should have looked harder because the driver had to try several times to get the engine to turn over when we were ready to move along.  Later that morning, we took a rest stop and I pulled out some coins to pay for the toilet.  Suddenly I felt something on my head.  It was a rufuous treepie who mistook the coins in my hand for food!

The perfect perch for a hungry rufous treepie

I had learned during my safaris in Africa that although everyone gets excited about the big cats, the most common type of animal to see is antelope.  This didn't bother me because I think they are graceful creatures and I enjoyed using my safari eyes to distinguish among the various types of antelope.  True to form, we saw several different antelopes on this trip.  The most common was the spotted deer.  Our guide joked they are called that because they are so populous that everywhere you look you can spot one.  Hardy-har-har.

Spotted deer grazing under the trees

We also saw several groups of grey langurs.  Thankfully, these monkeys weren't as friendly as the rufuous treepie so we didn't have any close encounters.  But we did get to watch them chase each other and hang out in the trees.  

Love this langur's perfectly straight l-o-n-g tail!

When we set out on our afternoon safari ride, we had barely entered the reserve when we saw a group of vehicles stopped on the road ahead of us.  We pulled up and looked out excitedly as the guide told us there was a tiger!  We watched as the tiger appeared and walked through the trees alongside our vehicle.  Our driver executed a three-point turn and followed her, stopping so that we could again wait for her to approach and snap photos as the tiger walked past.  We did this again until we encountered more vehicles on the road.  Those drivers didn't have space to turn around, so they ended up driving backwards as our growing convoy continued to follow alongside the tiger.  I would guess the tiger came as close as 25 yards at one point!  We followed the tiger for close to 30 minutes before she hunkered down in the brush and we got tired of waiting for her to start walking again.

Tiger sighting!!

We were so excited about the tiger, but our safari ride had only just begun, so we continued our drive.  We saw more rufous treepies, spotted deer and langur, as well as peacocks, crocodiles, and other birds and antelopes.  And as we were leaving a few hours later, we saw the tiger again!  Our guide said it was the same tiger, who had continued on her walk.  How lucky we were...not only to see a tiger at all, but to see one up close multiple times!!

Erica and Karime with the beautiful Rajastan landscape

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Adventures in Transportation - Moto

Sometimes in Delhi, getting to your destination is half the adventure.  Recently, a friend and I decided to check out a new restaurant.  We found the location in Uber and set off.  As we neared it, we found ourselves in a busy market district, so we hopped out of the car, figuring it would be easier to search for it on foot.  We walked up and down the street, and down a back alley, but found no sign of the restaurant.  We asked some shopkeepers with no success.  Eventually we called the restaurant, and embarked on a fruitless conversation of trying to explain where we were with very few landmarks to go from.  Finally, we looked up the restaurant in Google Maps and discovered it was 1/2 kilometer away on a different street!  It was a nice enough night, so we decided to walk.

After a couple blocks, the restaurant called back.  We said we were now next to a metro station.  The restaurant said "Stay there, we will send someone."  Not sure who we should be on the lookout for, or how they would identify us, we stayed put until we saw a guy approach on a moto, looking like he was searching for someone.  He was our ride!  The two of us gingerly climbed on the back.  The driver s-l-o-w-l-y turned the bike around, but lost his balance and nearly tipped us over on the side!  Now pointed in the right direction, he again s-l-o-w-ly accelerated, and as we reached cruising speed and left the side access road, followed the shoulder directly into busy oncoming traffic!

This feels perfectly safe!

Luckily we only traveled like that a couple blocks before turning off onto a quiet street and pulling up to the restaurant.  Our fearless driver humored us with a photo.  Then we enjoyed a nice meal, which was uneventful after the journey of getting there!  

Driver and chariot

Thursday, November 30, 2017

My First Indian Wedding

Last week I went to my first Indian wedding.  The first event I attended was a dance party with the groom's family.  After a long drive across town in Delhi's notorious traffic, we arrived to the home of the groom's mother.  My friend, and groom's sister, Deepali welcomed us and introduced us to all the family members who were bustling around with last minute preparations.

Dressed up and ready to dance!

A large tent had been erected in the courtyard of the housing complex.  When the music started playing, I discovered that the entire neighborhood would have the pleasure of enjoying the loud music whether they wanted to or not!  I suppose one of them couldn't resist joining in because later in the evening, Deepali pointed to an uninvited guest on the dance floor who no one knew!  It was a fun evening of singing, dancing, eating, and celebrating with the groom.

Drummers kept the dance floor lively

The wedding provided the perfect opportunity to buy some Indian clothing.  At first, I thought I'd buy a sari.  But others warned me I might have run out of time to get a sari properly tailored and that if I didn't get it on properly, I risked an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction.  So I hit the stores to look for something else.  After trying on multiple outfits with the help of a very patient salesman, I was able to find an ensemble that fit my price range and didn't need any tailoring.

First outfit I tried on was the winner

On the wedding night, I of course was running behind schedule and was worried I'd get there late.  In this case, it was fortunate that Indian weddings never start on time.  We had plenty of time to admire the venue and eat some appetizers before the couple arrived.  The groom arrived first, making quite an entrance.  A procession of his family and friends, flanked by musicians and lighted umbrella carriers, led the groom down the street in his carriage drawn by a white horse.  After extended singing, dancing, and picture-taking, he entered the venue to await his bride.

Groom with his chariot and lantern bearers

After the groom's grand entrance, I expected even more fanfare for the bride.  But she arrived quietly, on foot, under a simple canopy with select family members.  She made her way across the floor, stopping often for photo ops, until finally reaching her groom, at which point the couple was encircled by both happy families.

The bride's entrance was more subdued

Although the couple would be participating in several religious ceremonies into the wee hours of the night, I noticed that many guest were starting to leave.  Clearly the night was drawing to a close for the guests.  After giving my congratulations to the newlyweds, I took my leave as well.  I want to thank my friends Deepali, Deepti, Yamini, and Sachin for being my cultural ambassadors for my first Indian wedding!

My fabulous wedding dates

Friday, November 10, 2017

Melbourne Cup

Before moving to New Delhi, I had never heard of the Melbourne Cup.  But soon after arriving, I quickly learned that the Melbourne Cup is a pretty big deal, that the Australian Embassy in New Delhi throws a big party for it, and that I didn't want to miss it.

The Melbourne Cup itself is an annual horse race, a bit like the Kentucky Derby.  In addition to the race itself, the day has other traditions and becomes an excuse to party...Aussie style.  First is the attire.  It's an understatement to say that people get dressed up.  Bold, bright colors and big, fancy hats are encouraged...for both men and women.  In fact, the actual race features a fashion show amongst attendees at the racecourse and thus it's customary for other Melbourne Cup celebrations to follow suit.  Here in Delhi, I especially enjoyed the best-dressed men's competition, which showcased some atrociously loud, floral suits.  Equally fun was the competition for best fascinator, those half-hat headpieces I always associate with British royalty.

Best fascinator nominee

After the fashion show was the raffle drawing.  I was at the buffet table as the first number was drawn and the emcee warned that winners had only 20 seconds to claim their prize.  I finished filling my plate, got back to my seat, and pulled out my raffle tickets.  Just as he counted down "3 - 2 - 1 - times up!" I spied the winning ticket in my stack.  Darn, I had missed out on DIAMOND EARRINGS because I was topping off my dessert with whipped cream!

In my garden party best

But the real centerpiece of any Aussie gathering is drinking.  The key race of the Melbourne Cup kicked off at 3:00 pm in Melbourne.  Because of the team difference, that made it 9:30 am in New Delhi.  So the event here was a brunch with lots of wine and champagne that turned into a drunken dance party by 12:00 noon!  Now that I fully understand all the pomp and circumstance of the Melbourne Cup, I have a full year to plan my fascinator and make next year's party even better!

Flanked by some of my finely attired embassy colleagues

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Call Me...Maybe?

Before arriving to India, I had been warned to expect stunning bureaucracy and unexpected difficulties in accomplishing seemingly simple tasks.  I experienced this in my efforts to set up a local mobile phone number and get it fully operational.

First step was all the paperwork required to buy the SIM card.  I needed to provide a copy of my passport page and Indian visa, proof of residence in New Delhi, and a passport photo.  I mistakenly forget to bring a passport photo with me, but luckily the vendor agree to snap a photo of me with his own mobile phone camera.  The vendor also explained the SIM wouldn't work for several more hours and gave me instructions on calling in to activate it.

After activating the SIM and verifying my Apple ID, I discovered that FaceTime wasn't working.  I poked around online and discovered some trouble-shooting tips as well as a warning that the fix could take up to 24 hours.  The next day, I expectantly opened FaceTime only to discover it was still "waiting for activation."  Some of the trouble-shooting tips had mentioned that FaceTime activation requires a texting plan.  After trying some test texts, I discovered I did not, in fact, have a texting plan. So, I trudged back to the phone card kiosk, in the middle of a downpour, to purchase one.  Even though a one-month prepaid texting plan costs less then $1, it is not part of the standard SIM card purchase in India.  Who knew?

But even though I confirmed that I could now send texts, FaceTime was still not operational.  I contacted Apple Support, and after a long chat session where the rep suggested I try all the things I'd already done multiple times, he arranged for a supervisor to call me to discuss further.  I answered the call and barely suppressed a laugh when I heard a South Asian voice.  There was something ironic about being an American in India, calling an American company for assistance, and being connected to a call center back in India!  While the rep was polite, he was insistent the problem was not with Apple, but with my phone company.  This made zero sense to me, but after some more online searching, I discovered other prepaid customers had solved the problem by depositing a balance into their phone account.

The next day, as I was sharing my tale of woe with my colleague Sandeep and explaining I'd be heading back to the phone card kiosk after work, he offered to help me add the balance online and spare me the walk.  So, after 10 days, two trips to the phone card kiosk, multiple Google searches, a call to Apple, and some assistance from a local, I finally had a fully operational Indian phone number.  Whew!

Sandeep to the rescue!

Happily using my new number

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Indian Expectations

The months of preparation and anticipation have finally ended and the Adventures in India are beginning!  Here are my expectations for the next three years:

  • I will experience some ill effects from Delhi's horrendous air pollution, but hopefully won't get too sick.  Most Americans immediately think of Chinese cities when they think of air pollution, but Delhi also ranks as one of the ten worst cities in the world for air quality.
  • My stomach of steel will allow me to enjoy lots of wonderful Indian food while my spice tolerance increases and I avoid severe cases of Delhi Belly.  I managed to survive Africa and Southeast Asia without serious food poisoning, so I hope that trend continues.
  • I will visit the Taj Mahal at least 4 times.
  • Adjusting to the massive amounts of people in Delhi will require some time.  Delhi's population is over 16 million, while the DC area has just over 6 million, and Portland, Oregon has well below 1 million.
  • I will buy at least 3 saris.
  • While I had assumed India's weather was always hot, I'm learning that Delhi has an actual winter season.  I predict I won't need to unpack my wool sweaters, but will still make use of my winter clothes.
  • Seasoned world travelers have admitted to me that the level of poverty in India was troubling for them to witness.  While I expect to feel compassion in the face of poverty, I don't expect to feel despondent.
  • There seem to be so many activities in Delhi - at the embassy, organized by expats, or in the city at large - that I don't think I could possibly get bored!
  • While I'm excited to visit Hindu temples, after 3 years, I will have had my fill of them.
  • Indian society still experiences many divisions along social, economic, and gender lines.  I hope I can navigate these divisions smoothly and develop friendships outside the expat community.
Keep checking back on the blog as I explore these expectations and report on the outcomes!

My first Indian meal:
dal, shrimp, fish curry, and seafood pulao