Hawkes Bay NZ Water trail

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Done and Dusted

Some trips are adventurous, others are for relaxation. After India I sort of feel I need a vacation from the vacation. Three flights back-to-back are exhausting. But I made it DEL/CDG/JFK/SEA and I'm grateful to have a house to come home to. Turn the heat on, dump the suitcase in a corner, eat a can of chicken noodle soup, take a shower, pull the covers over my head and go to bed. In a few days it'll be fine, and time to think forward to the next one. It's cold in Seattle and snow is forecast for New Year's Day. But memories like this door at Amer Fort can only help me have a good January back in the classroom.
I feel blessed that I got to do my very own "Passage to India" in the last month of 2016.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Terminal 2E Gate K35 CDG to JFK

Sadly, I'm only transiting through Paris on my way to Seattle, but it's nice to be back in high tech France. Breakfast on the flight was pretty lame, so I'm having coffee and a croissant while I wait, and figure out the free wifi. During this morning's wee hours I woke to see a large city on the Black Sea. Flying over Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan reminds me that I know very little about this area. But their geographical proximity to Northern India explains a lot about the waves of conquest through Delhi and environs. It's wonderful to be able to see history writ large on the landscape.

777 Air France from Delhi

Note to self: Indian airport "security" scanning is chaotic and inefficient, just like everything else in India. Each flight that I take will get better organized and more professional. Why the woman wanding women passengers decides to check your passport and boarding pass is totally unnecessary. A brown uniform appears to confer superfluous duties on the wearer. I suspect they make a lot of stuff up as they go along. Then the clashing perfumes and the duty free obstacle course to the gates is yet another irritant. I thought Sydney was bad. Given how slow boarding on AF is going, we'll leave late. I can't imagine what it's like on Jet Airways. I cancelled my listing on the flight to AMS, because it was unlikely I'd get on the Delta flight to Seattle. The closer we get to New Year's, the fuller the flights home. It'll be nice to be back in a well organized environment. I'm had about enough of dealing with bazaars. The people around me are wearing a lot of stinky cologne. I might need to put my Chinese air pollution mask back on just to survive the stench.

A lovely Bollywood movie

A great movie suggestion for my day of "vegging out" as I wait for another shot at a seat on the plane home. It came from the young guys at the airport hotel front desk. Once they knew I liked Indian movies, well, it was like Christmas! Wonderfully sweet and complex love story about people with physical and intellectual handicaps, but also an homage to both Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, filmed in Darjeeling and Kolkata. It's the unexpected things like this that make adventure traveling so soul expanding.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Unexpectedly staying an extra day in Delhi: silk purse from a sow's ear

Baa humbug. I wasn't able to get a seat on last night's Jet Airways 2:55am flight to Amsterdam, and the knock-on effect meant I had to cancel my AMS to SEA flight home. What a disappointment. Jet Airways had some excitement yesterday, with a jet sliding off the runway in Goa. Not sure if that "black eye" affected its other flights, but perhaps it did. The check in staff told me all the seats on my flight went to passengers from a delayed Mumbai flight. It's challenging to get a straight answer on this type of thing because the staffing levels at the counters at Indira Gandhi are quite different from what I've experienced in places like AMS or back home. So, I just have to practice patience. I did allow a few days' flexibility in my return, and I'm staying at the Holiday Inn Express, which is accessed through the airport. It was a bit challenging being "allowed" to get to the hotel's registration counter, as airport security is very tight. I suppose that's a good thing, although, at 3am, after having been at the airport since 7pm, it wasn't something I'd ever want to do again. Tonight I've standby listed to fly Air France to Paris and then perhaps pick up another AF flight to JFK. From there I'll get home somehow to SEA. A much longer route, but this is how it works. It'll be great when I retire and don't have to worry about these types of deadlines. I'm keeping my fingers crossed about tonight, and will make my enforced stay in a perfectly comfortable Western style hotel worthwhile. I need to rest because the upper respiratory infection I got from Delhi's air pollution is still hanging on. Clean air in the hotel and a room with good lighting and a strong internet signal are all good things. Fortunately, I started doing my lesson planning for next quarter's new ESL class before I left on Dec 13, and left a draft copy in my work email. I was a remote employee for an education provider for 4 years, so that's where I learned to work on the road like this. Sometimes I still do it instead of always using my very small shared-by-5 parttime-faculty college office. I like all my colleagues a lot, but we take turns on the 3 usable desks in the room. I sit at a Starbucks for hours over that single cup of coffee and use the background hubbub as white noise that helps me concentrate. I appreciate that all my Starbucks location understand me. I support a lot of independent coffee houses as well, and if they let me chill for a few hours, I keep coming back.

Besan ke gatte, karati bhindi, khoba roti at Lota Cafe

My "larger" plate vegetarian lunch of steamed chickpea flour dumplings, which are log shaped, almost like gnocchi, and simmered in yoghurt gravy, spiced crispy okra and a pretty wholewheat flat bread. It came with a little dab of sweet spicy carrot relish. (350 rupees). I finished it off with an extra bread order of pudina paratha mint sprinkled, cooked in a tandoor, (70 rupees) and cold kaapi, milk, sugar and ice blended with a shot of filter coffee (85 rupees). Gosh, I wish I had enough room to try one of their desserts: halwa (black carrot pudding with condensed milk and golden cashews), or apple jalebi, or patisapta: rice flour craps, (sic) - ha ha, I'm not the only one being stymied by spell check, stuffed with shredded coconut and nolen gut (whatever that is). Definitely another plate licker for my last day in Delhi.
The Indian food I've had here has been generally high quality and with unique flavor profiles- a highlight of the trip for sure.

Rajasthani mural

I'm back at the Craft Museum to have a good last Indian lunch at Cafe Lota. It might be some time before I eat so well.

Bougainvillea at Rajghat

A familiar tough and beautiful tropical flower.

One of the mahatma's great statements


Mahatma Gandhi's cremation site. Something I've saved for my last day in Delhi. I'm letting various auto rickshaw wallahs take me from point A to point B, and just get a final look st this dusty crazy ancient city.

Monday, December 26, 2016

M Block Market Greater Kailash

I've been coming here almost daily to exchange $US20, and thus ensure I don't have a fistful of 2000 rupee notes to deal with. The daily rate has ranged from 65 to 67 rupees per $. Of the 2 stores here, I prefer the money change storefront run by a large Sikh family. The girls now recognize me. You get to see others exchanging wads of cash. Today the woman in front of me received a wad of 2000 rupee notes that was almost 1cm thick. I suspect she was exchanging $100 bills. In theory there are limits on how much you can exchange daily. The official daily limit for ATM withdrawals is 2,500 rupees ($40). Hard currency is a different thing entirely. The Indian government hasn't been able to print New currency fast enough, so the December 30 deadline for all old 500 and 1000 rupee notes to be swapped for new 500s isn't going to happen. I got my first two new 500s today. At least the notes are clean. Some of the 10s and 20s I've received have been almost transparent. Those are the ones you get rid of first. It's really a case of kicking the can down the road.

The "Let Delhi Breathe" campaign

I hope this initiative from The Times of India succeeds.

Today's reported traffic fatalities in Delhi

"Lack of protective headgear and disregard for traffic rules," is the Times of India's typical description for traffic fatalities and injuries. How about inexperience, distraction, and plain old stupidity? Hmm. So sad for the families.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

In Cafe Turtle, N Block Market

A good sentiment, but a little ironic as I'm in an upscale Delhi coffee shop attached to the Full Circle book store, a place where I've come to shop.
Like everywhere in this town, it's a dusty, polluted, traffic-infested walk along broken pavement and past squatter's hovels to get here from M Block Market, which is closer to my guesthouse. On a map you'd think it's not that far, but in Delhi, it's not about kilometers, it's about aggravation. Hiring a rickshaw just so you can cross the street is simply annoying. The sun is out after yesterday's horrible gray day, and it's Monday so nearly all museums and historic sites are closed. Last night I read the Indian news section on the BBC app on my phone, and learned that India is second only to China for the sedentary lifestyle disease, type 2 diabetes. I sat next to a very obese Indian guy on yesterday's train from Jaipur. He left me facing a uncomfortable sliver of seat for the 5.5 hour ride back to Delhi. Turns out he was in the wrong seat, and another passenger asked him to move, which he did. That was a relief to me. As a visitor to India I wasn't going to insist on my full share of a seat. I expect to face daily difficulties here. However, I won't say no to someone else providing the solution either. Life isn't going to be easy for him, sadly, because the solutions to his disease aren't easy. God knows, Americans don't easily change their dietary and exercise habits either. Given the trend here towards acquiring bigger and bigger luxury cars being set by Delhi's wealthy residents, it's easy to see that this trajectory is identical to the "out of the frying pan into the fire" scenario prevailing in the USA. Sadly, being forced to ride everywhere in Delhi because it's not safe to walk the short distances is so damned stupid. I wish the Indian government good luck in solving this problem before it reaches the tipping point.

Christmas yogurt in Delhi

Fresh tart yogurt with pomegranate and nigella seeds, green and red apple, and a sprinkling of cardamom. All beautifully presented in a parfait coupe.
I'm such a very long way from both my American home and the woman I used to be. It's barely Christmas morning in the USA where one part of my family lives, yet it's already Boxing Day for the Aussie part. But I feel perfectly connected to all parts, through our mutual love of travel outside the 1st world. My brother is visiting my niece, who's teaching English in Japan. My daughter should be back from working a round trip Xmas eve flight to Havana from NYC. I'm sitting in an upscale "New" Delhi Sikkim Nepali restaurant capping off another day of adventure in India. The Delhi ladies in the metro today were dressed in festive Xmas colors, especially the all-Asia favorite, red, and enjoying this "loaner" holiday from the West. When I walk back to the guesthouse in early dusk, I'll pass the group of laughing Indian guys wearing Santa hats, congregating on the street around a cheerful wood fire burning bright in an old wok. The world can be such a wonderful place in moments such as these.
Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all men.
Make it so.

Main course from the Himalayas

After Sisnu Ko Raas, a clear green consommé of stinging nettles with puffed rice, I had Aloo Tama Bodi Ko Jhol, a Nepali potato curry with fresh bamboo shoots and black eyed peas in a mix of spices that isn't at all like anything Indian. It reminds me of China, almost "stinky tofu" scented, but in a good way. Because it's a wet dish, I had Makai Ko Bhat, the freshest basmati rice I think I've ever eaten in my life, cooked with finely ground corn. The rice alone made me so happy because white rice is a comfort food from my Asian Australian childhood. There's also pork on the menu, a dead giveaway of the Chinese influences. The desert mountains of Rajasthan reminded me how much I'd like to see the snowy Himalayas again. Maybe I'll be going back to Kathmandu again.

Khabzay at a Sikkim/Nepali restaurant in Pamposh Enclave, Greater Kailash, Delhi

A welcome appetizer of deep fried pastry cut into an appealing shade. I haven't eaten anything today except a tiny cup of weak chai on the train from Jaipur this morning at about 7am. So, on this chilly grey unChristmas like day, I've made it from the Sarai Rohilla train station, tuk tuk led for 40 rupees to the nearest metro stop Shastria Nagar. I've hauled my heavy bag up and down several flights of train and metro stairs, occasionally found an escalator or lift going in my direction, hired a rickshaw wallah to take me to my South Delhi guesthouse, Bed and Chai, for 30 rupees. I've checked into my final home for the next 2 days, caught up with Madhu, the Nepali guy who works at the guesthouse, and gone out for my Christmas dinner at a recommended really Northern Indian type place.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

12985 JP DEE super fast double decker express train back to Delhi on Christmas morning

The return trip cost me 485 rupees ($USD 7.15). Doesn't include refreshments, so periodically the "Meals on Wheels" train catering staff walk down the aisle, selling snacks, cup noodles, sandwiches, or cups drawn from big urns of hot tomato soup and Chai with cookies. Everything seems to cost 10 rupees. I'm conserving my small notes as I'll need to visit the money changers again in M Market when I get back to Bed and Chai in Kailash Colony. I get in at around 10:50am. I met a young Dutch solo woman traveler, Ellie, at Khatu Haveli and we shared a table at dinner for 2 nights. It was nice to have a table mate who really understands being female and alone on the road. She'd done several trips to various parts of India. At the end of her trip she's staying at a hotel near the airport to rest from the sensory overload of travel, solo or not, here. That's a very good idea. I'm not sure what I will do for my last 2-3 days in Delhi. It'll be nice to be home for New Year. At this point of my life, I do best when I can balance adventure travel with comforts of having a home somewhere. I also have some meaningful work to return to. I don't tolerate immigrant bashing. 2017 brings to a large part of America a chance to stop the tantrums about social and economic change, accept that women and minoritys have equal right,?and step away from utterly disgusting bullying and scapegoating of the past year. Enough. I expect the new president to lead like a grownup. I will be watching very closely for violations of our constitution. I lived through the Bush presidencies. I can live through this one too.

Merry Christmas solo woman traveler

From a jaali-enclosed room in the women's quarters at Amber Fort. The last 2 Christmases have been waypoints on my unexpected journey to singledom. While it would be nice to have a traveling companion to share the sensory overload and daily annoyances of life on the road, I don't. I'm doing just fine. When I feel lonely I give myself a little pep talk and back off the "must see everything" path for a bit.
In 2014, I spent Christmas in Shanghai, on break from my teaching in Tongling. Last year I was on a plane coming home from a family visit to Australia. I allowed them to enclose me in a big warm hug, which is what I needed at the end of the worst year in my life. This year, I'm exiting the fog of disappointment and regret, and I gave myself a trip to Jaipur. It's what I plan to do with my one fabulous life. My roll aboard suitcase will fly back with me to America next week with pretty much the same contents I brought. It's not stuffed with trinkets. For Christmas I give myself experiences not stuff. The location of this photo, from inside a palace where the maharaja many wives and concubines lived out their lives in purdah is so utterly ironic. I feel blessed that I live in a first world country where I don't have to follow such repressive rules, nor give a rat's about what the neighbors think. The Indians look at me curiously and enquire about my marital status. I take it for what it is: curiosity. They mean no harm. They're not judging. My life as a middle aged foreign woman traveling solo is totally beyond their imagination. India underlines the restrictions placed on women in so many countries of the world. Lucky for me I can happily visit for a while, but not need to stay in it.

Restaurant 1135

A good but expensive lunch served on real silver platters by guys in turbans in the dig-that-location Rajasthani restaurant at the Fort. Food was good but I know that for India it was way too much. I broke my last 2000 rupee note here as they didn't take credit cards. I decided that the money I would save by taking the 20 rupees public bus back the 10km to Jaipur vs. yet another inflated price tuk tuk for rich tourists made it a wash.

I feel underdressed

Detail of Jai Mandir

The blinged out decoration: well nothing I can say, except it works.@

The Sheesh Mahal inside Jai Mandir

Mirror-studded Hall of Victory.

Jai Mandir and Zenana (women's quarters) from a Mughal-style garden

Hall of Public Audience

The Diwan-I-Am isn't exactly shabby either. Double rows of columns with elephant shaped capitals. This is obviously a ferociously hot place in the summer so these breezeways are a brilliant mix of form and function.

Diwan-I-Am from Ganesh Pol

The floral frescoes of the Ganesh Gate are exquisite.

Sattais Katcheri

The colonnades of the revenue records department. Airy and cool with a view of Maota Lake, the saffron garden and surrounding exterior Jaigarth Fort (1726).

Saffron floating garden in Maota Lake

Kesar Kyari Bagh once had saffron planted in its star-shaped beds.

Route up to Fort

One of the extra fortified walls snakes up the opposite mountain ridge.

Amer Fort

An extraordinary complex surrounded by 2 extra forts. Reminds you of China's Great Wall.

150 rupee 3 person share from Hawa Mahal bus stop to Amber Fort

I spent Christmas Eve at Amber (Amer) Fort. The 29 public bus were totally packed with people clinging to the outside step, so I joined up with a Swiss guy and his Australian wife to share a ride to the Fort. The driver obviously wasn't used to tourists and he agreed to a very low price. I ended up giving home an extra 50 rupees because it was a long trip for this natural gas powered extended auto rickshaw.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Palace of the Wind (Hawa Mahal)

Built in 1799 to allow the maharaja's wives and harem ladies a chance to see what was going on in the outside world without compromising their seclusion. Particularly pretty in the early morning light.

Bazaar-ed out

Once I'd walked all the way to Johari Bazaar, I realized that I didn't want to look at any more bangles, sarees, chandelier earrings, padlocks, flamboyant mirror dresses for tiny maharanis, "pashmina t-shirts"😏, foot pedal sewing machines, Rajasthani puppets, tiffin boxes, or slippers with upward pointing ties. I did see a guy up on the 2nd floor of a hotel selling men's striped turbans, but I was just too footsore to cross the street to look them over. Instead I hailed a very poor rickshaw wallah, with a beat up rickshaw to match, and negotiated a fare of 40 rupees to go back to my haveli. The poor man really worked so hard, and he'd obviously never taken a fare to Khatu Haveli in his life, so I gave him 50 instead. His smile was the biggest I've seen in such a long time. Maybe what amounts to paying 75 cents instead of 60 seems trivial to me, a wealthy woman from the west that he can barely understand. I hope he and his family get to eat a little better tonight. Karma means to be subjected to retributive justice for past misdeeds. Maybe this tiny bit of generosity will help balance my account. Who needs any more bling bangles when you have a chance to help another human being? India can give you perspective for sure.

New Gate, Jaipur

In the old city. Traffic is crazy here, too, but in comparison to Delhi, it's walk in the park.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Cycling companions near Tripolia Bazaar

One of the old city's many lovely gates.

Breakfast of wheat croquettes and dal at our guide's family home

Backstreet buffalo cream making business

Not something you see every day.

Elephant-proof gate

The nasty spikes are at elephant head level to discourage ramming. I guess the maharaja had his reasons.

Makes you reconsider the humble marigold

Here's a lavish assortment wrapped in an equally pretty shawl.

Did I mention flowers?

These are sold at one end of the produce market. The buyers then spend the rest of today sitting at sidewalk stalls making garlands for temple offerings.

Morning produce market

On her bike in Jaipur

This is the one speed cruiser I used on this morning's Cyclin' Jaipur Pink City bicycle tour, led by Rajiv and an equally trusty companion. Met at 6:45a, barely light ends ended about 9a.

The sure fire antidote to Seattle's dark and rainy winter

Definitely takes a bit of planning to use India as a winter tonic. But worth it.

Why India?

Winter Blues: 8 Ways to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

8 Ways to Cope with the Winter Blues

Do the chilly, gloomy days of winter make you want to curl up under the covers and stay there until the sun shines again? You're not alone. During our dark and rainy Pacific Northwest winters, we get less of the mood-boosting benefits of sunlight and exercise, which may set the stage for the winter blues. What can you do to beat the winter blues when the short, dark days are getting you down?

Overcoming the Winter Blues

Here are eight strategies for overcoming the winter blues recommended by Group Health physician Amado Daylo, MD (Assistant Medical Director of Behavioral Health Services).

1. Exercise

Bundle up for a walk, swim indoors, or head to the gym. Exercise can be as effective as antidepressants in combating mild-to-moderate depression.

2. Check your vitamin D levels

Sunlight is a source of vitamin D, a nutrient linked to sharper cognitive functioning and better emotional health. Consult with your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement is right for you.

3. Get some light therapy

Give yourself every opportunity to experience daylight, such as placing exercise equipment or your work area near a window. Devices that simulate natural light can also help, like broad-spectrum lighting.

4. Eat a healthy diet

Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains can boost your energy and are important year round. Fruits and vegetables of deep green or orange, like broccoli, kale and carrots, contain nutrients that promote better mood and overall health.

5. Stimulate your senses

Some people find that painting their walls a bright color—or even their nails—can improve their outlook. Aromatherapy with peppermint or other scents can be energizing.

6. Nurture your spirit

Slow down and curl up in a cozy chair with a good book or journal for reflection.

7. Vacation in a sunnier climate

If time and budget allow, plan a midwinter visit to a warmer, sunnier climate.

8. See a therapist

A therapist can help you train your brain to think more positively about the darker seasons, which can make you feel better physically too.

Open Enrollment Ends Soon

Feeling Especially Depressed During Winter?

If you feel more than just "a little blue" each winter, with extreme symptoms such as missing work or struggling with even simple day-to-day tasks, you may have seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or winter depression. For some people, the lack of sunlight disrupts the body's ability to keep its complex chemistry and biological rhythms in sync; the body literally doesn't know when to be active and when to rest anymore. If you find your initial attempts to help yourself feel better aren't working, you may want to see your doctor who may recommend other treatments.

Related Article:

How to Sleep Better This Winter

How to Sleep Better This Winter

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Evening up on the roof

Earlier I heard the prayer call from a mosque, and now, between the bleats of car horns, I can hear music from a temple somewhere close. The air is clear here and I can even see stars above the nearby fort. Most of the kites have been taken away, I'm just up here amongst the lights that outline the haveli's rooftop killing time in the warm evening before having dinner one floor down at 8pm. All I'm missing is a copy of 1,001 Nights.

The first courtyard of my haveli

The little gazebo is the shrine with Krishna's feet inside. In Islamic art, paradise is a garden, and in hot desert places like Rajasthan Islamic art rules. Block out the hubbub of the crazy street outside using big, heavy doors. Retreat to the privacy of a shaded courtyard with water features. It's great to see the style in situ.

Krishna's Feet

There is a little building in the first courtyard of haveli. The doors were unlocked and I found this little shrine.

Sweet in Jaipur

It's called Phirni. It's a Mughal rice flour pudding flavored with saffron, according to the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide I have with me. This one is decorated with almonds, pistachios and what in the photo looks like a piece of chewing gum wrapper, but is actually edible silver leaf. Out of an excess of caution for the foreign aunts, the waiter told me not to eat it. However I know better. I also checked with the group of 6 Indian guys at the next table, and they happily confirmed this fact. I seem to know a lot of things Indian without realizing why. I think it's the family relationship between Australia and India, and the fact that British people who must have lived in India during the Raj, came later to Australia. It's not just chutneys, bungalows and mulligatawny. I immediately recognized the light filtering stone jaali screens in the Islamic tombs here. In my home state of Queensland, the classic wood and corrugated iron "Queenslander" house often has "jealousies," intricate wooden privacy screens decorating both sides of the front door to the verandah. And of course, where did the word "verandah" originate? So many Hindi loan words incorporated now into English. Silver leaf like this decorates special Australian/English desserts, especially at Christmas. I love discovering things like this. That's why I travel so much.

My own kite runner movie

Some kites are coming tantalizingly close to my rooftop perch, so I suspect my presence has been noticed. I hear a couple of kids shouting "hallo!" in my direction just now and done Rajasthani ladies one roof over are giving me shy curious glances. Just now, a pretty purple and green kite got snagged on the lantern finial near by, but I really wasn't sure of the protocol here. Do I reach out and capture it? Or release it and send it back to the kid on the other end of the string? A bit of kite cutting is going on, because I just saw a stringless kite flutter past. Here they are, sailing up towards the 1734 Nahargarh Fort. I guess I now realize what my favorite place in Jaipur is going to be for the 3 nights I'm staying here.