Friday, March 29, 2013

A million dollar loris

The kids were sitting in the living room listening to the Bare Naked Ladies classic, "If I had a Million Dollars". As the song ended Liel said thoughtfully, "If you had a million dollars you would be rich. That song is correct."

"Um, yes", said Robert, trying not laugh. 

Zion looked up from his game and said, "If I had a million dollars, I'd buy you a monkey!"

"You'd have to be in Mexico", said Liel, remembering, no doubt, how we had seen a man with a pet monkey in Mexico, and had had a discussion about how cute pet monkeys were, but how they were not legal to keep as pets in the US. 

Zion was undeterred. "OR! I'd go to Japan and buy you a slow loris! There's a guy in Japan who has one and he feeds it rice balls. And even funnier, the loris holds a fork and prods the rice balls!"

"Hmm", said his sister. "I think it's a woman who owns the loris though."

Friday nights at my house rock! 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

At home

I forgot to put this in my last post about Mysore, so I'm giving it its very own spot :)

After 3 hours on the road the other day, we drove back into Bangalore. When we got into our neighborhood, Zion looked up, looked around, and said, "Oh! We're almost home!"

And complete delight flooded me.

Our first few weeks here were pretty rough around the edges, as you may recall. But now, on a near daily basis, I see things that remind me that Bangalore has become our home. And the kids experience that too! And that is what I most wanted in bringing them to live in a brand new country: for them to experience cultural, linguistic, religious, and culinary differences (and many more besides) and to learn to adapt to those, to open up to them, to love them, and to feel at home.

Sometimes it seemed like that was never going to happen. Not that either Zion or Liel complained much, even when things were tough! They've been every bit as patient and flexible as I could have hoped. But everything was just so foreign. It was loud, it was chaotic, it was spicy, there were cows in the streets, and strangers reaching out to pat their heads and faces. Some of this they loved, some they didn't, but for ages it was a thing apart from them selves. They stood apart.

With time, of course, they adapted beautifully. And when Alex came to visit they got to show off their home, which I think really sealed the deal. They loved showing him campus, introducing him to their favorite foods, taking him to temples. They even instinctively look for a shoe minder or a pile of shoes when approaching a temple now, and quickly kick their shoes off and head in! The first time we went to a temple here they were somewhat dismayed at having to take their shoes off on the street and leave them behind.

Now after lunch at Prakruthi, Liel rushes off to wash her face and hands in the communal sink. Liel, who held my hand everywhere, literally everywhere, for the first month we were here. She doesn't even sit with me at the table after we order anymore, but hangs out with Robert and Zion while they wait at the counter for food.

And Zion! Last night after dinner he said he was still hungry, so we told him we'd give him money and he could go up and order himself some more food. And he did! All by himself. And then he gave the token to the guy behind the counter, waited by himself for his dosa to come up, and came back with. He was so proud of himself, and I was glowing!

I love these kids, and I love all of the new vistas that India has opened up for them.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Mysore part 2- Rickshaws and Temples

We didn't just see palaces and perfumes in Mysore. Oh no! We saw temples, too!

First we drove up Chamundi Hill, which is about 12km outside of Mysore. The terrain and vegetation reminded me a bit of Ojai, so naturally I loved it.

At the top of the hill is a pretty big temple dedicated to the patron goddess of the royal family of Mysore, who is also an incarnation of Durga.  The area around the temple is crowded with worshippers, vendors, stray dogs and cows. Moula warned us that people would try to "give" us icons and flowers, and then demand money when we were on our way out, and firmly instructed us not to accept such offers. So we didn't.

After that we stopped a shrine dedicated to Nandi located further down the hill. There was a huge Nandi icon! Much bigger than I'd expected.

We stopped at a scenic overlook to view all of Mysore down below us. I don't seem to have a picture of that...either I failed to get it off the camera or we didn't take one because it was pretty smoggy. I'm not sure which!

But then the real excitement started. Moula asked Zion if he'd like to try driving the rickshaw. Why, yes! Yes he would. Moula is clearly the best ever.

Sensing the waves of envy radiating from the backseat, Moula asked Alex and Robert if they'd like to have a go.

Alex was the best driver of the three of them. Actually, Zion did just as well, but he had more help from Moula because he couldn't reach things as well, and of course had never driven a vehicle before. I think it's pretty rad that the first thing he drove was an auto rickshaw in Mysore!

The next day we went to the village of Srirangapathna to visit a 9th century temple. It had some scaffolding on it for repairs, but was really impressive nonetheless. And also really uncrowded!

The carvings around the top were amazing. And there were elephants!

The inside was pleasingly ancient feeling. Kind of dark, and solemn, and pious.

There were also some really gorgeous icons inside, and beautifully carved columns. But they were all in places where pictures aren't allowed. We did get one of this guy though, before the picture-less world began!

There were some nice laws on the side, and a pool of some sort.

And finally, here's Alex on the way out, with a bindi and a prasad ladoo.

I really loved this temple. The priests were really nice-- all of them (around the different icons) made an effort to make sure that we understood what was going on, and what we should do, and to bless us. Highly recommend a visit here!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Mysore part 1-- Palaces and Perfume

(Note: as I am typing this my brand new baby niece is working on being born!)

While we had a great time showing Alex around Bangalore we thought it would be nice to see some other part of south India as well. So we organized a trip to Mysore, a city about 150km from Bangalore and known as the cultural capital of Karnataka.

First of all, let me just say that 150km (roughly 93 miles) takes a lot longer to cover here than I'd hoped. There are two main reasons for this: the speed bumps and the towns. Traffic moves incredibly slowly through the larger towns we passed through just due to heavy road use and congestion. And then, on the stretches of road where we could move faster, there are regular speed bumps to ensure you can't go more than a few minutes without slowing to a near halt. Most drivers on the road seemed to regard the speed bumps as a challenge, and accordingly they would drive as fast as possible up to the speed bump, and then apply the brakes very firmly and insistently so that they slowed to about 5mph, move daintily over the speed bump, and then hit the gas so as to get going again as quickly as possible. Between this driving behavior, the somewhat bumpy and slightly curvy roads, plus the fact that he was reading in the very back, Zion threw up after an hour on the road. It was an inauspicious start, but luckily it was also the worst thing that happened to us on the trip!

At any rate, it look us about 3.5-4 hours to get to Mysore. The scenery was pretty cool- lots of dry plateau desert, farming, and villages witha  few larger towns mixed in.

There were lots of billboards for shoes and sandals-- more of those than any other. But the best billboard award clearly goes to this one:

Meety lingerie! Just what I always wanted!

When we got to Mysore we checked into our hotel, Parklane. If you're looking for a mid-range hotel rec in Mysore I was pleased with it. Good central location, perfectly acceptable rooms, and helpful staff. They give you a toiletries kit too, which has everything in it from talcum powder to matches and a  disposable razor. Liel was quite taken with the kits.

Then I called Moula. Moula is the husband of a friend of a friend, and he takes people around Mysore on his off day (his brother is a rickshaw driver, and since he doesn't drive on his off day, Moula uses the rickshaw to get folks around). I cannot say enough good things about Moula! He is super friendly, knowledgeable, patient, and speaks great English. If you, or anyone you know is going to Mysore, I highly recommend giving him a call! His number is 8904025971 (and yes, I asked him if it was OK to post that here).

Ok, so, I called Moula. He was having lunch, but when I asked him if he had a suggestion for where we could eat near our hotel, he sent his brother to meet us and lead us to a nearby restaurant. And that place was delicious! We had south Indian thalis, which are one of my staple lunches here in Bangalore, but which were even better in Mysore. So much deliciousness. My one complaint was that I wanted more mango pickle. When I mentioned this to Robert today he pointed out that I could have just asked for some more, which hadn't occurred to me at the time. Ahem.

After lunch Moula met us and loaded us into the rickshaw. Our first stop was Mysore Palace, the home of the Maharaja of Mysore. Though most of the palace is now a museum, the Maharaja and his wife still live in part of it. It is an amazing place!

This is a temple inside the palace grounds.

Here are the 4 of us posing with a flower garden and the palace in the background.

And, the palace itself.

Zion posing with a mountain lion statue that he was quite fond of.

Then we went in the palace, and pictures aren't allowed inside. But there will be more palace pictures later, as we came back that night.

Oh, here's a random shot of me and the kids. That probably makes up for the lack of indoor palace pictures, right?

Then we stopped at St. Philomena's church, which Moula told us is the second biggest church in all of India (the biggest is in Goa). It was very churchy.

Next we took a brief turn around one of the markets. It was rather like the market in Malleswaram, but older looking, and with more variety. It was very hot, and most buyers and sellers were waiting for the heat to break.

Then we went to this little street near the downtown.

Our destinations was Yam Herbals, a shop that sells all natural incense and essentials oils. The sign on the wall says they've been in business since 1936!

An old woman was sitting near the door rolling incense.

 Ali, the owner, told us how she makes the incense. The base is charcoal, mixed with almond oil and honey to form a very pliable, clay-like paste. This is rolled around a thin bamboo stick, which is then rolled in powered sandalwood. Then the sticks are left to dry in the sun. When they are completely dry they're soaked for 20 days in whatever type of essential oil that batch will be scented with. Then they're dried again, and ready for sale!

Then I got to try making incense!

It was super fun, and not something I ever thought I'd get to do! I'm sure it would be a lot less fun if my job was to sit and roll incense all day, but then again, that's true for many things.

Then we sat down and smelled and tried on a bunch of the different essential oils that Yam Herbals produces, while Ali told us about their various medicinal and cosmetic uses.

I wanted to buy heaps of them, but we didn't have that much cash with us, so I only got a couple, including the most amazing neroli oil I have ever smelled EVER. I love it.

Then we had tea.

Alex declared our visit there, "very relaxing", which it was. It was also one of my favorite things I've done lately! And they even let us refill our water bottles with filtered water before we left.

We went back to the palace that night because on Sunday nights they palace gets lit up, and I read that it was super cool and not to be missed. But first, here are some pictures from around Mysore.

When we first returned to the palace it had some lights on, but wasn't what you might call "lit up". It was really pretty though!

Then, as darkness fell, the real lights came on. The crowd (and there was one!) gasped and then started cheering wildly :)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Nandishwara Teertha temple

Today we went to yet another temple in Malleswaram- the Nandishwara Teertha temple. We'd saved it to go to when Alex was visiting, so today was the day!

The old woman guarding the shoes outside the temple was quite delighted with us. She smiled, blessed kids, and smiled some more. I took it as a good sign.

This temple is dedicated to Shiva and Nandi (his cow mount) and was discovered in 1999 according to the few online sources I've found. It was buried, and when the plot of land was excavated the central pool and steps surrounding it were discovered. The source of water that feeds the pool is considered to be a miracle. Here it is, as you enter the main shrine (the temple complex is much bigger than just this shrine).

And a close up:

What you can't see is that the stream of water that feeds the pool is issuing from the mouth of the black cow, Nandi, in the center of the picture. This pic is a little better, but not a lot. But hey, we're not photographers here ;)

You also can't see the turtles that live in the pool.

But now you can!

The kids love, love, loved the turtles. They sat in the sun and watched the them for quite a while, and were delighted when, right before we left, one they'd been watching struggle to leave the pool and sun itself finally gained the bank.

There weren't a lot of other people at the temple. It was so quite and peaceful and the atmosphere was...really religious. I mean, I'm sure that sounds kind of obvious (it's a temple, right?), but this space seemed to have more divine energy to me than other temples we've been in. It felt pretty amazing to be there.

After we'd been there for a little while two women in their early 20s approached Liel and said hi to her. They were so sweet, and really excited about her, which is a rather common occurrence here in India. Liel attracts admirers wherever she goes. At any rate these two chatted her up, asking her name, where she was from etc, then left to be blessed by the priest and drink some of the holy water. Then, to my surprised and delight, they returned bringing a small leaf bowl of sweet rice, which they gave to Liel. We all shared it and it was delicious!

On the way out the shoe minding lady beamed at us all again and shook all of our hands.

We all loved the temple, and plan to go back at least one more time before we leave Bangalore!