Friday, February 25, 2005

Great Goa

This has to be quick because I'm due at a tailor's shop soon. I'm not getting suits made or clothing fitted, although I just noticed that my only long sleeve shirt has a huge rip in the sleeve. Things fall apart.... Today's big goal is getting a new dog-bone shaped pillow made.

For whatever reason, pillows this shape help me sleep without crunching shoulders and neck all night. The pillow I've been traveling with has been loved to death and it's time to make a new one. Yesterday I found some interesting fabric, and this afternoon the challenge is going to be in explaining to the tailor how to sew the pieces together to get the unusual shape. Hopefully the dissected remains of the last pillow will be a good enough model.

Since last writing, I spent a great week in Goa. Such a wonderful place. Most people come to the state for the beaches, but I haven't been able to pull away from the inland capital city of Panaji. Colonial Portuguese buildings, delicious food, huge river, laid-back people. In a lot of ways, it feels like home.

Instead of writing, I spent too much time reading Midnight's Children and watching old episodes of the Gilmore Girls on cable. Added to that was all the trips to the camera repair shop to get the replacement camera fixed. Turns out the much waited for camera was also broken. Bad camera karma going around... But it's fixed now, and the original broken camera will be sent off to the appropriate repair center once I am out of India and certain that no outrageous amount of duty will have to be paid. Picture taking has recommenced.

After a week of laziness in Goa, I left for a few days to go to Hampi, a town a few hundred kilometers SW of here. Hampi was interesting, but somehow not what I expected. The landscape is very dry and full of granite boulders, except where the river has turned swathes of land green with coconut palms and terraced rice fields. There are ruins of ancient Hindu temples in every direction, some on hilltops and others hidden along the riverbanks. I've discovered in the past few weeks that I am not such a great fan of Hindu temples. Ones in ruins are good because I can concentrate on the architecture and sculpture, but living temples make me so uncomfortable that I feel suffocated inside. The smells of rancid oil, smoke-stained Shiva lingums, sadhus offering blessings in darkened corners... all make me want to run back out into the sunlight. So, no more Hindu temples, for now.

After a couple of days in Hampi, I returned to Panaji in Goa. It's so nice to be back. There's not so much to do here. A full day is just wandering around the neighborhoods and talking to people. Tomorrow's the last day in Goa and then off to Mumbai, the most populous city in India. Hurray for Bollywood.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Ransom Paid

So ends the saga of the box...

Yesterday, while I was busy on the computer, the shipping company was phoning the hotel with its ransom demands. Arriving back at reception, Mr. Rajoo handed me a phone number. "They've got your package. You should call them."

Calling the number, a woman's voice told me the package could be dropped off as soon as I paid government duties levied against the contents. No problem, how much? "Well Madame, It will be 5800 rupees."

Oh my god.

Five-thousand eight hundred Indian rupees is $132.66 USD.

To put 5800 rupees into local perspective. A meal at an all-you-can-eat South Indian thali restaurant costs between 20-50 rupees. One night in a basic hotel is 150 rupees. A hotel with hot water, room service and a TV is about 400. Riding an interstate sleeper bus for 14 hours is 350 rupees. Taking a local city bus for half an hour costs around 4 rupees. A cup of good chai is 5 rupees (23 rupees at swanky Barrista). Groups like SEWA are campaigning to raise minimum wages to 125 rupees a day. If people worked at that minimum wage 365 days a year, their monthly incomes would be 3802 rupees. 5800 is a lot of money. Here.

Mr. Rajoo told me to fight. "Offer them half. See what they tell you." I tried, but haggling over government imposed duty is time consuming. The goal is to get out of Pune! Since I'm not from here and don't earn local wages I can afford to pay the ransom. Grudgingly. Had to wait a couple of hours until the electricity came back on so that a bank machine could dispense the necessary funds. I finally called the captors and told them the money was ready. "All our couriers have gone home for the day so you will have to wait till tomorrow for us to deliver your package."

Insult to injury. Went to the "delivery" headquarters to pay the ransom and pick it up my self.

My dog friend stood me up too.

But there is a happy ending. I have a functioning camera. I have the documents necessary to get the other one fixed. Whoohoo! And I have a little tin of wasabi. My head is feeling much better. I don't want to pull it off and chuck it into the wastebin anymore. Thanks Ma and Pa.

Tonight I'm on the sleeper bus to Goa and looking forward to waking up someplace else.

Friday, February 11, 2005

When It Absolutely Positively Has to Get There Overnight

It's day seven in Pune. Still no package. No camera, no warranty, no little canister of wasabi.

Yesterday I got to a "whoohoo!" level of excitement because online tracking showed the long-awaited package had reached Mumbai at 8:10am. Mumbai is three and a half hours from Pune. Surely the package would arrive before evening and I would be free to make arrangements to go somewhere else.

Twenty-eight hours later, still no sign of Fed Ex. What are they doing? Playing cricket? If so this could take weeks...

In the meantime, I've settled into a routine here in Pune. Get up, ask for a bucket of hot water, wait an hour, take a bucket bath. Wash the allergens away. Go to Cafe Mahanaaz and have scrambled eggs (why are cooked eggs in India always white instead of yellow?), toast with salty butter, and a cup of chai. If the electricity is on, head to Jet Net and check to see where the package is today. Weave through manic traffic back to refuge at the Grand Hotel and Beer Bar. Read on the stoop and watch the birds fly around. Nap off sinus headache. Find a place for dinner. Go to bed and sweat out the fever.

Don't worry, Mom. I don't need a doctor, just some Japanese horseradish.

I made a dog friend. Despite promises to Mr. Jones, India guru, not to give in to the temptation to pet any dogs or cats while in India (saliva, rabies), this fat dog is irresistible. It's kind of white, kind of grey with a stub of a tail that wiggles furiously when it sees someone that might be friendly. There is no licking. We sit together on the steps to my room, reading and watching the other dogs come and go. I go inside when the mosquitoes emerge. My dog friend runs off anytime there is a cat to chase. It's a fickle relationship.

If there was a Japanese restaurant in town all this waiting would be a lot more pleasurable. My head would be put right with a big dollop of wasabi. Best cure for sinus unhappiness in the world. Maybe today. And maybe tomorrow, fingers crossed, I'll be on the bus to Goa. After a visit to the sightseeing hotspots of Pune...

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Chris is having much more dire misadventures. Pobrecito! Cuidate mucho...

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Happy Mardi Gras

Happy Mardi Gras! What I wouldn't give for a big slice of king cake...

I've been concentrating on style over substance lately and making some cosmetic and structural changes to the blog rather than writing anything. There is now a list of links on the sidebar (thanks Blogmaster Jeff!). I've made titles shorter... and have started adding photos to old posts. If anyone has suggestions or requests, let me know and we'll see what can be done.

About a week ago I got out of Ahmedabad. So happy to leave! My parting memory is being surrounded by a group of nine-year-old boys who, after asking my name, decided to kancho me with a plank of wood. Adults can go to jail for stuff like that.

Aurangabad was the next stop. I could sing the praises of Aurangabad all day. What a great place! Good food. Kind people. Beautiful sights. Gilligan's Island dubbed into Hindi on TV. It has everything.

Not many foreign tourists visit Aurangabad, at least not for any length of time. Some people pass through on their way to the Ajanta and Ellora caves. The staff at the hotel were so excited to have a non-Indian guest that it was a little hard to get some time alone. Three people came to deliver one breakfast tray in the mornings. Whenever I returned to the hotel, the desk staff liked to sit down on the landing and play 20 questions about the United States. Sometimes, if I managed to scoot into the room without being stopped for an autograph ("but I'm not famous!"), there would be a knock on the door. Room service! "But I haven't ordered anything...." The staff always wanted to offer their assistance and kiss my hand, like they've seen done in the movies.

Two small dramas occurred during my days in Aurangabad. The first was sleeping with a dusty wool blanket on the bed. Excepting the time I inhaled a dust-bunny straight up my nose, I've never had a more instant or massive allergy attack. Didn't realize the blanket was the culprit right way. Finally started to recover after quarantining it in a cupboard. That knocked me out for a couple of days.

When my body started functioning enough to go out and explore, I signed up for a couple of all-day tours to see the caves and local points of interest. The Ajanta caves 100 km north were fantastic. Our group had a guide who told us exactly where to stand and exactly where to look. He did a good job of making us feel like naughty children if we strayed from the herd. My head was still full of nastiness and I'd forgotten to eat so I wound up spending most of the tour sitting on the ground outside the caves. Looking up and being pressed in on all sides by our tightly corralled tour group made me feel like I was going to pass out. Stupid body... It was beautiful though - I'd like to go back.

The next day I ate a huge breakfast and was all set for the Ellora tour. First we went to the hilltop fort of Daulatabad. Wow. Such an stunning place. Entry into the fort is as complicated and disorienting as that of a Japanese castle from samurai times. The way in is never in the direction your instincts tell you to go. This fort has the added difficulty of a pitch-black stairway labyrinth that lead up through the heart of the hill. Bats everywhere. Openings to other stairways everywhere. The views of the countryside from the top were spectacular.

Not to mention the monkeys.

The fort is home to a lot of langur monkeys. Langurs, with their silvery-grey fur and black-as-soot faces, are striking to look at. Their tails seem to be at least twice the length of their bodies. Two memorable, accidental sights in India have been blue peacocks roaming wild in the yellow nanohana fields of Rajasthan and a pair of langur monkeys, tails curved like dainty teacup handles, galloping on all fours down a highway. At the exit of the fort there was a langur monkey party in swing. I got close to take some pictures. These were the last photos I took before my camera short-circuited and died.

So dead camera, throbbing sinuses, it's always something.

I'm camped out now in the city of Pune, waiting for the warranty and proof of purchase for my camera to arrive from home. Also in the mail is my old camera so the picture taking can continue. Hanging out in Pune, I've been able to upload photos from Thailand, Cambodia, and India. They aren't in public albums yet, because they're still waiting to be labeled. Click the photo albums link in the link list to see older photos. Labeling of the new photos can only happen when there is electricity in this part of town. Power is off most of the afternoon and all day on Sundays. Only businesses with private generators stay open.

Pune is famous as the home of the Osho Meditation Resort, former ashram of the belated Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Remember him? The sex guru deported from Oregon in the late 80's? Meditation courses at Osho are available, but only to those who submit to an HIV test. Think I'm just gonna go for the free silent tour.

For those of you in places that celebrate carnival, have a great time. May you all catch coconuts.