Monday, December 27, 2010

Merry Christmas, Hyderabad Style...

Amy Suzanne and I were thinking about getting out of town and heading down to Kerala for the holidays.  We decided to stay "AT HOME IN HYDERABAD" instead.  I think it was one of the best decisions of the year!!  Hyderabad really does feel like home now...well, mainly because it is!!  Being far away from our Pasadena home feels a little funny...maybe a little sad...but we talked to friends and family both on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on our Magic Jack

I wouldn't say that we were getting "homesick" - - but it certainly has been a different kind of Christmas.  For the record...Amy says that Christmas in Hyderabad is "kind of cheesy".  That's not really a bad thing...it's just that there are not enough people here that really GET Christmas. The population is mostly Hindu and Muslim....with a scattering of Christians of different denominations.  But - there's not nearly the amount of hoopla and decorations in the stores and around town as in the States.  The "Five Star" local hotels put up some nice trees and decorations....and we did a nice brunch for Christmas Day with the Deloitte "Strays".  There are a lot of ex-pats who are "out of station" (Deloitte term for "out of the office having fun"!) - in South Africa, Thailand, the U.S. - - even Beirut, Lebanon!  Those of us who stayed in Hyderabad are now planning a New Year's Eve party out at our landlords' farmhouse out by Gandipet Lake.  Should be a blast!!

I actually broke my long-standing rule about driving a car in India earlier this week!!  Here is that story...you can probably file this under "you had to be there" - but we think it was pretty funny.  It all started when we gave Krishna the morning off to help a friend get to work on his first day on the job....

We woke up early and were both hungry.  Well...in the interest of keeping this blog perfectly honest, I woke up and was pretty fussy.  I actually woke Amy up (no big surprise, there!).  As usual, she was a really good sport!  I was pretty bored and really wanted to get out of the house.  I was so bored that I was ready to risk my life and take an auto-rickshaw (see above in case you don't know what one of these death-trap contraptions is all about!) over to Jubilee Hills and Beyond Coffee.

In a moment of probable insanity, Amy suggested that we take the Skoda.  Now...this wasn't completely an off-the-wall comment.  Just the day before, Amy had gotten in the car and driven us around the corner and down to Stone Valley apartments.  Not a very far drive, but - when we came upon a little traffic, she pulled over to the RIGHT!!  Typical American reaction, of course...but - totally wrong for India!!!

I liked the idea!!  I immediately ran downstairs and grabbed the extra car-key from the "secret" hiding drawer under the statue of Ganesha that Neeraj gave Suzanne for her birthday...and we headed out front to the car.  Now...again to be perfectly honest...when she went to open the gate....I tried to get in the car on the riders' side!!  This still happens to me after over six months!!

With the gate open, I started the car...which caused Jyothi, (our Caretaker Krishna's wife, who was sweeping the upstairs outdoor patio when we were about to leave) to look down in time to see Suzanne wave up at her and say goodbye! 

In less than a split-second, Jyothi was on the mobile phone calling Krishna.  Of course, the conversation was in Telugu, but Krishna told us later that it went something like this:

Jyothi: "Krishna!!  Where are you??"
Krishna: "I am on my way home on the motorcycle.  Why??"
Jyothi: "Sir and Madame are moving the car!!"
Krishna: "Oh my God!!  What??"
Jyothi: "Yes...they drove down the street!!  You have to stop them!!"

Anyway...off we went.  It's a very strange feeling with the steering-wheel on the "wrong side" of the car...and with the gear-shift to your left.  I negotiated the quarter-mile or so of Road Number 3 until my first left-hand turn.  Again...left-hand turns are akin to our "right-hand turns" at home in the States.  It's "safe", relatively speaking, but you still have to be aware of oncoming traffic...and the fact that there is an open-air fruit-and-vegetable stand right around the corner.  There are two-wheelers and three-wheelers and other cars going both ways on a very narrow road!  Thank God it was early in the morning and there was very little traffic.

I made another left-hand turn onto the main-drag (Road Number 2) - doing the same thing I have seen Krishna do a hundred times.  The method:  You barely slow down....you just pull out.  People in other vehicles are supposed to watch out for you!!  As long as you are even centimeters in front of them with your front-bumper.... YOU have the right-of-way!!

"Very good job, Sweetie!" said Amy, patting my left-leg in approval.  We were now fully "out in traffic"....driving toward KBR Park and then to Road Number 36.

Now....you need to know that there are different ways of marking road hazards here in Hyderabad.  Sometimes, it's as simple as a few stones placed in front of the hazard...sometimes it's tree-branches.  If the work (on a pot-hole or sewer-pipe) lasts for more than a few days...the Hyderabad Metropolitan Development Authority (HMDA) will put up a sign.  There are no warning cones or flares...just a sign over the "hole".  This has been the case for some work going on in Banjara Hills for a few weeks now.  I have passed this particular sign with Krishna driving dozens of times!!

I saw the sign as I approached it.  Amy said: "Do you see it?" ...I said "Yep..."

As I slammed the riders-side mirror right into the rusty metal frame of the sign!!  BAM!!!

I was watching my front-bumper...but not the left mirror!! 

"Didn't you see that sign??"  Amy asked, in horror!

"Yeah, I did.  All the way until I hit it!"

My mobile phone rang in my pocket.  "Oh, man.  I know that it's gotta be Krishna calling!!"  I pulled the buzzing Nokia out of my pocket and handed it to Amy... "Don't tell Krishna about me hitting the sign!"


"Hi, Krishna.  Yeah.  We're fine.  No problem!!  We took the car.  We're going to Beyond Coffee.  Don't worry!  No...we are fine.  O.K.  O.K...."

Well....?

"Uh oh.  He's coming to Beyond Coffee to get us!"

And that's exactly what he did.  Rode his motorbike all the way over and waited for us to come out.  He left the bike there and drove us home.  He had Sangamesh, our security man, take him to get it back later that night!!

When we saw him...he was shaking his head.

"Sorry, Krishna.  Sorry, "Dad"... we're sorry we stole the car!!"

Here endeth my driving career in India!!

Our Christmas was wonderful...the best way to show you how wonderful it was is to show you the photos from Christmas Day.  Here is a link to my Facebook Photo Album which I uploaded earlier today.

There is much more blogging for me to do.  I still have not written about our trips to New Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, Amritsar and Bangalore!!

In the meantime...Amy Suzanne and I (and Beloved, too!) wish all of you a Merry Christmas and the happiest and healthiest 2011 possible!!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Our Official Six Month Report from India...

On some days, it honestly feels like I've lived in India my entire life (this is usually the case when I am stuck behind some overturned auto-rickshaw... or even a large herd of goats in Hyderabad, Delhi or Bombay traffic!!)  On other days, when I see something so new and so different from the norm that it takes my breath away...it feels like we just arrived - FROM ANOTHER PLANET!!  The truth of the matter is....we have now been here for six whole months!! As unbelievable as it sounds: 25% of the time we "signed-up for" is now in the rear-view mirror!!  Personally, I told Amy Suzanne that if she wanted to re-apply for a third year, I'm with her 100%. 

Jokingly (but maybe not all THAT jokingly!) - I told her that if she wanted to stay for TEN years, I'd be O.K. with that!!

Say what???  What on earth would make a Southern California born-and-bred boy like me make such a bold pronouncement??  LIVE in India for the next TEN years?  Somebody quick!!  Call Dr. Will Caplan!!  Has Scott "Cheeseburger" (yes, dear reader...there are many more people that call me "Cheese" than call me "Father" !!) Kingsbury lost his bloody mind at last??  No "Goose Creek Golf Club"?  No "38-Degrees" or "Lucky Baldwin's"??  No Servite High football games???  No "Highland Tinkers Triathlon", no "Huck Finn Bluegrass Festival"??  No Sigma Chi Alumni meetings?  No horses for Amy???  No St. Mary of the Angels????  Maybe someone needs to stage an intervention....or, better yet - an intervention along with an air-lift!! 

As Samuel L. Jackson said so famously in "Pulp Fiction": "Well...allow me to retort."

I love India.  We love India!  There is nothing over-stated in the well-worn advertising jingle: "Incredible India!!"

Now, before I launch into my "Ten Points" defending my position on the proposition of a possible "Ten Years" - let me quickly admit that there are indeed some strange things that happen here on a daily basis - things that take a certain getting used-to....some are not so pleasant, some are  just-plain weird!

Here are just a few:

1) It is still very strange to have to close the elevator door(s) by hand before it will go up or down.  Usually a "see through metal collapsing door" - plus another one that keeps you from pulling an Isaac M. Jordan (only fellow Sigma Chis will get that one!)  Also...they are not "elevators" at all...we call them "lifts" here.  Not all lifts are this way...the nicer hotels have regular doors that actually close.

2) Traffic being held up by wandering water buffalo, cows or goats....all within 100-yards of the Deloitte Buildings in HiTec City!

3) A serious lack of understanding of the American/Western idea of having "personal space" in any situation.  For the most part, there is no such concept in Indian culture, and it can get a little annoying (and claustrophobic) sometimes.

4) Another "traffic" comment: Plain and simple... I will never get used to it...period.  And I most-likely will never drive in any of it as long as I am in India (although, our caretaker, Krishna, let me fire-up his Hero Honda motorcycle just yesterday...please...nobody tell Amy Suzanne!!)

5) People being late for appointments.  "I.S.T." is supposed to mean "Indian Standard Time".  Here you quickly begin to understand the concept of "Indian Stretchable Time".

6)  "Getting stared-at".  And I don't mean the occasional head-turning, over-the-shoulder "glance", either.  I mean the full-on stare!!  A problem that is much worse for Amy Suzanne than it is for me, because she's a woman... with very pale skin, blond hair and blue eyes.  Even though Hyderabad is a mostly cosmopolitan city, you need to remember that here in Andhra Pradesh... many men, women (and most-of-all, children) - especially if they're in-town from one of the many surrounding villages), have never seen foreigners....and they just stare at us like they've seen somebody from the moon!!  We have even come up with a joke between ourselves....when people stare or eve stop to take photos of us, we introduce ourselves to them by saying, "Hi, how're you doing?  We're from the Moon, what part of the galaxy are you from??"  In an upcoming addition for my Facebook Page Photo Albums, you will see a bunch of photos taken in Amritsar where we were literally surrounded by over twenty school-kids with their cameras...all snapping pics and wanting to pose with us!!  Amy said "This must be what Paris Hilton has to deal with every day!"  I've lost count of the number of times that Amy has had mothers bring their toddlers up to get a closer-look.  That part is actually quite sweet, especially when they put out their hand (at "mom's" insistence!) to shake!

7) Did I mention the traffic?

8) Painfully slow greens at Boulder Hills Golf Course.  I can guarantee that when Amy and I come home for a visit in May of next year, I will blow my first putt on American greens 40-feet past the hole!!

9) The concept of "decent beer" is totally lost here.  Come on, people!  It's called "India Pale Ale" for a reason!!  Ask for one at a bar here and you will see a look on your bartenders' face that looks like you just ordered dylithium-crystals for your warp-drive.  When "Carlsberg" or "Heineken" become your favorite beers, it's time to get on the next plane home to head to The Blue Palms in Hollywood for a pint of Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA!

10) Last but not least:  There is no decent traditional Catholic liturgy to be found in Hyderabad.  For my Catholic friends - let me warn you that I now firmly and truly believe that one of the levels of Dante's Inferno must include a non-stop Indian Novus Ordo Mass!!  The man who wrote "Why Catholics Can't Sing" needs to write an addendum chapter, specifically on the modern Indian "Liturgy".  It's almost painful to see/hear.

So....we've been here for six months and that's about all I can think of for the "negative column"??  That's not too bad, I have to say!!

Now....let me list the GOOD THINGS!!  I will try to limit these comments to the "top ten" - (don't worry - a four-part blog re: our vacation to the "Golden Triangle" is "in the works"... I know, I know...I have some serious blogging to catch up on...but I'll give this one "excuse":  I got off the airplane from Delhi and almost literally went right into the dentist's chair for two-and-a-half hours of root-canal surgery - - then - yesterday - I went back and got fitted for a temp and a permanent crown (that process is disgusting!!!)  It was a crazy time right after the best vacation ever!!

Here are the TOP TEN REASONS I LOVE INCREDIBLE INDIA!!

1) Reconnecting with my wife!!  This one stands as #1 for a good reason....without Amy Suzanne and Deloitte, none of this would be possible.  I think that we have a good marriage (by all accounts! Twelve years now, and going strong) and we still love each other very much.  But there's something about being alone together, 8700-miles from our home, family and friends.... and on the complete opposite side of the globe... to bring a married couple together.  It's funny....we've heard that there are two different of things that can happen to expatriate married couples when they leave to take-on an international assignment.  They can either succumb to the "pressure" and grow apart...or they can take the entire process as a challenge, one-day-at-a-time, and grow closer together, forming an even tighter bond.  We've definitely been blessed.  It's been the latter situation for both us from the moment we began the process to come to Hyderabad.  This does not mean there have not been pressures and stresses unique to the situation we find ourselves in - but I have to believe that we have weathered the storm well!!  Oh...well, also....Beloved the Lhasa Apso makes it all worthwhile...she's always the best part of every day!!

2) The Indian People.  A country is only as good as its people.  And, while every country has its share of @$$#@!&$ - a wide majority of the Indian people we have met could not be more gracious and kind.  Now, we can hardly deny that being expatriate Americans has certain advantages.  No doubt, we are truly catered-to and - many times, treated like royalty.  Sometimes it can be overwhelming - but - I must say, overall - it's pretty easy to get used to!  Amy said once - "When we go back home, get yourself prepared to be just one of the common crowd again!"  As an unfortunate side-note (I always said that this blog would be the unaltered, unvarnished truth!) - while we certainly feel special and spoiled because of the way most Indians treat us - sometimes it's painfully obvious that often they treat each other like $#!+ !!!  Now, one learns pretty quickly that there are certain class differences that come out in day-to-day dealings with each other - - the caste-system is by no means dead and buried.  But...I did not come here to change India - I was told before I left by a fellow Priest to "let India change you!"  I hope and pray that our experiences and observations here will make us better persons by the time we return home, whenever that may be!!

3) Our House.  And, allow me to add - our wonderful landlords!!  On the night (make that "early morning") when we arrived, our landlords, Hari and Sumeeta, were here in the house waiting for us with a warm greeting...and - more importantly...a cold beer for me!!  It was so hot ... and so bloody humid when we got here...I actually wondered if I was going to be able to survive living here!!  I've probably sweat 100-gallons since we arrived...but the weather now (it's officially "Winter" in Hyderabad...it was actually "brisk" up in Amritsar last week when we were there!) is quite pleasant...today is actually one of the nicest days since we got here...not quite 80-degrees F. and blue skies from here to Pakistan!  If you have not had the pleasure to "see" our house - here is a link to the Facebook Photo Album - "Our House in Hyderabad".  This house is beyond cool.  It's probably nicer than our Pasadena home...and it certainly has more amenities.  We have a full-sized projection movie theater in our "basement" - a semi-indoor pool right outside of our Master Bathroom, more bedrooms than we need (please save your frequent-flyer miles and come and visit us!!)  Great satellite TV service (no Golf Channel and no American Football - - but we were able to watch the NBA Finals and the World Series - albeit at 5:00 in the morning!!!) and high-speed Internet as well.  A fellow ex-pat brought us back a Magic Jack so we can make unlimited phone calls home.  We have a local Pasadena phone number - if you want the number - leave a message in the comments section of this blog along with your e-mail address - and we will sent it to you.  It has voice-mail as well.  Anyway...we love this house and it make living here just that much more wonderful!!  Thank you, Hari and Sumeeta!!

4) The FOOD.  It's almost unbelievable how good it is!!  Before we came to India, Amy and I got take-out (here it's called "take-away" - you get used to differing terminology!) from a well-known Tandoori eatery in Pasadena.  I think we spent almost $70.00 on dinner that night.  For goodness sake, you could feed a bloody ARMY with excellent Indian cuisine here for $70.00 - - that's over 3,200 rupees!!  Hyderabad is such a boom-town right now...it seems like a new restaurant opens every week or so.  The variety of cuisine here is better than home, I swear.  Anything you desire can be found here...we have a few favorites...but - you could eat at a new place every week for a year and never hit the same restaurant twice!!  Tonight it's probably N Grill and tomorrow maybe it will be Little Italy.  Such great choices!!

5) Radha Krishna Pamba.  Who is Radha Krishna?  Well, besides being named after probably the most famous lovers that ever graced the planet... Krishna is our driver.  That title does not come close to describing who Krishna is and what he does for us.  He is certainly our driver.  And a most competent one at that!  He is also our servant (his description, not ours!), Man Friday, house caretaker, Beloved the Lhasa Apso's babysitter, first-rate fix-it man, laundry-guy, light-bulb changer, shopper and errand-runner....you name it - Krishna can get it done.  I honestly cannot speak highly-enough about the man.  Krishna is decent, kind, honest, funny, sweet and a hard, hard worker.  We are paying for an English instructor to come to the house every day for lessons...and his English skills are improving daily (thank you, Kevin Potter, for getting the ball rolling with him during the two wonderful years you got to spend with Krishna - - your advice to us is well-taken - we intend to enjoy the blessings of having this man, his wife and two lovely children, living under the same roof as us...  Radha Krishna is (obviously, from the name) a Hindu.  Based on his actions daily, I'd also say he acts like the most "Christian" man that I know!!  And that includes some noteable Bishops I know!  He truly understands the Gospel admonition to be each others' servants... "For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." St. Mark 10:45.

6) Yoga.  What???  Father Cheeseburger does "yoga" ??  Yep.  And Amy does, too.  It seems so long ago...but - when we first started...I could do none of it!!  Our yoga instructor (yet another thing we would never do at home - - we are definitely living a lifestyle that we could NEVER afford in Southern California!!) gave me a book: "Yoga for Women Over Fifty" !!  I could barely do the poses (called asanas...) from a kneeling position...  Now I crank out the Surya Namaskar (sun salutations) with the best of 'em - but - one knee is still a little dodgy - the beauty of yoga is that nobody judges your style...it's not a competition!!  I am doing stuff that I never dreamed possible.  I even made sure to stay current with my yoga while we were on our recent vacation!!  Even I find that hard to believe!!!  One evening, when Suzanne and I were side-by-side on our yoga mats, finishing a particularly tough pose on our stomachs - she turns to me, sweating from the hairline like Bridal Veil Falls - and says to me, breathless: "What has happened to our lives??"  Only good things, Sweetie...and the best is yet to come!!

7) "Beyond Coffee".  Beyond Coffee is our local hang-out.  One or both of us goes in there probably 4-5 times a week.  It's airy, comfortable, has a variety of art exhibits going on, has terrific coffee (I guess you can figure out that it's a coffee house by the name!!) and really, really good food!!  The salads are fresh, the sandwiches are incredible - - we had them cater our Diwali party...and we'll have them do our New Year's Eve party as well!!   The owners are our friends Vivek and Art - Art is an ex-pat husband (like me!) of a woman who works at Deloitte with Suzanne...they are usually always there for some good times and conversation.  I bouught a new guitar here in Madhapur...and - just about every Thursday I go into B.C. to play (I'm still pretty bad!) - - sometimes we have a few other guitars and voices... and our friend Dan, who works for the U.S. Consulate, he brings his banjo for a little Bluegrass "pickin' session".  Beyond Coffee has really become one of the high-points of living here in Hyderabad!!

8) Boulder Hills Country Club.  O.K. - so it's not Augusta National.  It's not even Goose Creek or Oak Quarry.  But it's our club!  Again....file this under "things we could never afford to do back in the U.S."!!  I'm not sure exactly what we paid for a one-year golf membership at Boulder Hills - but I'm pretty sure the monthly bar-tab requirement at Lakeside or Riviera CC would cost more than our whole package!!  The course is in pretty good shape, overall - the fairways can be a little thin at times, but for the most part, the ball sits up nicely on most of the holes....the greens can be painfully slow at times...and - the inconsistency of the cut is the biggest problem - - it will drive you batty!! It's a tricky course.  I came here as an 11.9 handicap index - - now - at BHCC - I'm a legitimate 18!!  Yeah, yeah....I know - my golfing buddies in the U.S. would (and have!) said that they will not recognize "third world handicaps" - - but I challenge any of them to come to Hyderabad and play this course for a month - - and see if it doesn't add 5-6 strokes to their handicaps!!  The course is sneaky-tough and tight.  Not too long...it can actually be as long as you want it to be...from the tips it's about 7,200 yards!!  And - - if your ball goes off the fairway.... leave it there!!  There are definitely cobras and vipers in the rocks and scrub-brush - - and - even the mongooses (mongeese??) that live on the front-nine can't control all of them!!  Losing 3-4 balls per round is common...I know some people who have lost a dozen or more during an 18-hole match!!  Breaking 90 for me is a real treat!!  My best score is an 85 from the white tees...I've had an 86 from the "gold" tee-boxes...and - my last two rounds were 89's.  I'm still trying to figure the place out!!

9) KBR Park.  Living in Pasadena, we always had many hiking and walking options.  The hills near JPL, Eaton Canyon...and of course, the venerable Griffith Park and Mt. Hollywood trail.  In Hyderabad, we have Kasu Brahmananda Reddy National Park - sometimes described as a jungle amidst the concrete jungle.  KBR Park covers an area of 156.30 hectares. The park established in 1994 to safeguard the biodiversity and richness of the area, is named after late Kasu Brahmananda Reddy, the former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. This picturesque park is unique in its own way. It houses the stately Chiran palace of the former Nizam of Hyderabad and also the other historic structures.


It is meant to safeguard the greenbelt and the existing variety of flora and fauna. It is expected to prevent pollution, replenish fresh oxygen and recharge ground water. It is also envisaged to be the centre stage for spreading environmental awareness among the citizens. Regular nature camps are conducted for school children and a full-fledged environment education centre is in the planning stages.

There is a well-marked (and extremely busy - - my God - you should see the place in the mornings and after work!!!!) trail that circles the inside of the park....exactly 4 km. around (I've done three laps once...that's 12K and plenty of walking for one day!!) - - mostly flat with a couple of hills - - but the real beauty is the plant life!!  The flora is typically representative of southern tropical deciduous forests and the last vestige representative of the indigenous flora of Hyderabad region. According to a website: "...the park has nearly 600 species of trees, shrubs, climbers, herbs, grasses, besides several pteridophytes, bryophytes and xerophytes."  I just say "it's really green and pretty"!!

It is also a home to nearby 113 species of birds, 20 species of reptiles, 15 species of butterflies, 20 species of mammals and numerous invertebrates. It serves as an urban refuge for Jungle Cats, Palm Civets, Wild Boars, Hares, Mongooses, Monitor Lizards, Pythons, Cobras and other snakes. There are uncountable peacocks!!  No large mammals are present in the national park. At least none that I have seen!  Yet!!
And finally....

10)  The Lifestyle Change.  For me, this yatra to India has been a real second chance.  The change in diet, the daily walks, five-times-a-week yoga, working out at Latitudes gym...all of these have been a blessing beyond belief!!  Since we arrived here...I have managed to lose 31 kilograms.  For the metrically challenged (that includes me, by the way!!) - that's 68 pounds in six months!  I still have a ways to go - - I'd like to lose another 25 kgs and get down to 200 pounds (for the first time since 9th grade!!!) - and leave India in the best shape of my life.  It's been hard work, no doubt....this is something that I cannot forget.  I need to focus and keep it up.  I am through with "dieting" - - for me - this must be a lifestyle change.  Both my mom and dad (and - if I remember correctly, my paternal grandfather) died at the age of 66.  That's simply not long enough.  God did not bring me this far along the path to drop dead so young!  I love my life, I love my wife....those are some pretty good reasons to stick around!! 

There are many other things that could have made the list...the road trip with Krishna to Srisailam - (click for my Facebook Photo album of this epic trip!!) - the travel opportunities, writing this blog, our last vacation (see this blog soon for the three-part tale of that trip!!), keeping up with my friends on Facebook, finding St. Mary's Church in Secunderabad, Indian weddings, Hindu temples, the Ganesha Festival (more fun photos there!), the road trip to Warangal - just the day-to-day living in such an amazing place!! 

Here's to the hope that the next year-and-a-half (at least!!) is as wonderful as this first six months!!!

Namaste!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cheking-in From New Delhi....

I'll have to wait to tell the story of our first day of vacation....the cancelled flight, the mad dash to catch a plane...missing it...and then booking another last-minute flight on another airline.  The travel-agency staff was adaptable and fully on top of things...so the day ended up just perfect!  Delhi/New Delhi - and the hotel we are staying at - The Hotel Shangri-La Eros - simply incredible.  The is truly a world-class capital city...a cool blend of new and old.  No doubt that the British were here...the presidential palace, the parliament building, the government buildings...all built-to-last by the Brits.  We'll have some pics up on Facebook when we get back....unless I figure out how to upload them from Amy Suzanne's computer.  Upper-left is a photo thefamous wonder trhat we toured called  Humayun's Tomb.  In the meantime....more sightseeing in Old Delhi today...the afternoon is free to do what we want...then off to Jaipur, Rajasthan, by car, tomorrow!!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Leaving for our first Indian vacation tomorrow....

Hi, everyone!!  Today we are preparing for our first Indian vacation!!  Beloved the Lhasa Apso will be getting a haircut at Paw Prints in Begumpet - then...tonight after she gets off of work (she's teaching a class all day!)... A. Suzanne and I finally begin packing for our FIRST Indian vacation together.  Actually, to be completely honest...this is our first REAL vacation together in almost 13-years!!  We have never been away on a true vacation (at least one that did not involve some sort of horse-show or Deloitte function!!) since we met each other in 1998!!  Amy, of course, has shown horses all over the country and taken me along, and, thanks to my wonderful wife, I've had the incredible opportunity to golf in Scotland and Ireland...plus my yearly Highland Tinkers Triathlon trips.... but it seems we've never been able to "pull the trigger" on just packing our bags and going someplace just for us!!  We go to the Bay Area to be with family for the holidays every other year....but - building and running the mission of St. Barnabas the Apostle (the website is still up for some reason, even though we've been closed now for over a year!!) made it so taking a vacation was next to impossible.  Now that I'm in "semi-retirement" (Priests never really "retire" - hopefully they die at the altar at a ripe old age!) - it's time we started looking after ourselves a bit....so - here we go!!

We leave in the morning from Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad - a really nice modern airport to fly in and out of.  Our first stop is the great and ancient city of Delhi - and the Indian capital city of New Delhi, where we will stay for two days seeing the local sights: the India Gate, Humayun's Tomb, the Qutab Minar, the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid.  We have booked a cycle-rickshaw ride through the bazaar....should be a nice blend of new and old!!

Then, the next day, we drive through the countryside (actually, some of my favorite parts of travel in India are the road-trips - - the sights and sounds of the areas outside of the cities are really wonderful breaks from the hustle and traffic of daily life in Hyderabad!!!) and arrive in Jaipur in Rajasthan.  We will go out to Amber (pronounced ""Amer") to see the Amber Fort (where we will be riding an elephant!!!)...and then tour the great palaces and the Hawa Mahal.

On Thanksgiving Day (this should be a memorable T'sgiving, even without the traditional turkey dinner!) - we will drive to Agra - and after we get settled in the hotel...we will get a sunset tour of the Taj Mahal (see photo, above left).  I am going with no expectation, I really thought it might be just some touristy place (and I'm sure that it is, somewhat!) - but - everybody we've talked to says that the Taj is "all that" - - a really magical place that will stay in your memory-banks for a lifetime.  Despite my first opinion....I am actually looking forward to it!!

The second day in Agra we will see the Agra Fort and the Sikandra ("Akbar's Tomb") and have a free afternoon for shopping.  I imaging we can find some first-rate Taj Mahal souvenirs.  No, John Adams - - since the Taj is a Muslim site...I'm pretty sure I won't be able to find a Taj Mahal shot-glass for your collection...however - - I will certainly look!!

We have an early breakfast on Saturday morning before the drive back to Delhi...where we will catch our flight to Amritsar and the Sikh Golden Temple (one of the few places I told myself I would not leave India without seeing!!)  We will see the Guru Granth ceremony that night...and have most of the next day to explore the temple grounds and see the site called Jallian Wala Bagh - where the infamous "Amritsar Massacre" took place.  If you saw the movie "Gandhi" - this was the horrifying scene where British General Dyer led his troops into the square and indiscriminately shot men, women and children...resulting in the deaths of 379 souls and injured more than 1,200.  We'll see the Ram Bagh....the garden named in tribute to Guru Ram Das - along with the museum there. 

That evening - we will make the short drive to the Wagha Border (with Pakistan) to see the flag-lowering and border-closing ceremony.  This ceremony is another of the things I promised myself I would see while I am in India.  I hope that Amy Suzanne is looking forward to it as much as I am!!

We will certainly have a blog-report.... and many, many photos to share when we return....  Also to come... on 2 December 2010 - we will have been here six whole months!!  I can hardly believe it!!  I'll have my Ten Point Report on our first half-year in Hyderabad.  Amy asked me if it was O.K. for her to ask for an extension and stay for another year (for a total of three years!).  I told her that if she wanted to stay for TEN YEARS, it would be just fine with me!!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Final, Final Mumbai Post...

Amy had one last day of interviews at the India School of Business - - and this was to be the longest day...she figured she would be there the entire day (about 8:15 A.M. until 5:30 P.M.).  There was no way that I was going to spend the entire time sitting in the hotel room - - even though the thought of going back out into Bombay's ridiculous traffic was starting to give me panic attacks!!  Aims got a ride with one of the other Deloitters, so - I had Ganesh, our driver, take me from the hotel back downtown.  There were three things that I wanted to see:  The main train station (at the "end of the line" - a beautiful English masterpiece known as the Victoria Terminus, see photo above left - a building that looks like it belongs in a backdrop for a movie set in London!), Gandhi's House (where he spent much of his time when he was living in Bombay), and the old Prince of Wales Museum.

The traffic began right outside of the hotel.  The biggest trouble with the Mumbai traffic (besides too many cars and too many people!) is the narrowness of the roads.  As you leave the Ramada Powai driveway, you find yourself on a narrow road, which it seems is the only way out!!  I knew from the day before that the main road that takes you south and into downtown Mumbai was not too far away...perhaps 3-4 km.  But that morning, it took us 45-minutes to get to the road.

The actual main-road traffic was not too terrible (that's about the best thing one can say about it!) - - but there was a stalled bus on one of the roads near the Gandhi House.  That'll mess up traffic anywhere...thank God that Ganesh knew what was happening up ahead and he was able to find us a clear(er) route to my destination!

The Gandhi House was really interesting...and quite moving.  Despite it being a museum now, it remains pretty much unchanged from the days when The Mahatma lived there...not to make too much of it, but - you could actually feel his presence there!!  The place was pretty crowded...there was a whole group of school children and their parents there...they were putting on some sort of reenactment/drama.  I wish I had gotten a photo of this...but the room was so packed I couldn't really get a good angle.  The kid who played young Gandhi had a painted-on mustache - - and he was pretty cute, I must say!  Some of the exhibits were hard to see because the kids were using the various rooms as dressing/staging areas - - and - I had to keep moving large stuffed backpacks from in front of signs so I could read them.

It was not air-conditioned in the building...the the higher floors were unbearably hot...so I cut my trip short.  There was no admission charge, only a box for donations...so I put in Rs. 100.00 and the man behind the desk seemed pleased.  Ganesh had waited outside the gate for me, and it was a good thing...I had attracted a crowd of hawkers and beggars - sort of like running a gauntlet.  I got to the car unscathed, and we took off toward the Victoria Terminus. 

I don't know if it was because of President Obama's impending visit, but there was literally no parking anywhere around the train station.  Ganesh told me that there was a parking lot (sort of - I think they would like to discourage people from bringing their cars downtown!) - but it seemed like a hassle to get to it - - so - I saw this next landmark in "drive-by" fashion.   It's really quite spectacular, but there's no way I could risk an hour of getting stuck in round-a-bout for an hour....

Then Ganesh took me to the museum...  also spectacular...but I gotta say, by Indian standards, it was a little pricey for tourists... For Rs. 700.00 you got admission (Indians got in for Rs. 50.00!) and a pretty good audio tour-guide.  The building is four stories...the first story had the coolest stuff - - old carvings of gods and goddesses - of course, taking any photos cost another Rs. 200.00 - so - I was told to put my camera away.  As you went up the stairs, however...the fact that the museum only had electric fans and no A/C became obvious.  By the time I got the the third floor (too bad...this was the floor with an entire collection of paintings of Lord Krishna and his life... ) - it was hot enough to soak my shirt with sweat!

I bailed on the fourth floor.  The time to leave the downtown area was at hand...and - sure enough - the traffic was horrific.  I got back to the hotel and waited for Amy to get back from her long day.  I took a nice shower...knowing that when Amy got home, we would have 2 1/2 hours to get to the airport.  The drive to the domestic airport was supposed to be 45-minutes.  No problem...right??

Sorry.  Wrong again!!  We were stuck in virtual gridlock for an hour and a half.  Even the flyovers were jammed with cars!!  By the time we got near the airport, there were businessmen in suits bailing on their cabs and running for the terminal.  I swear...if we had known where the terminal was, we would have grabbed our bags and run for it, too.  We waited at one signal through six full red-light, green-light cycles!!!  With a little bit of luck the traffic began to move, and the terminal was finally in sight.  We got to the Air India door with five, maybe ten minutes to spare....but there was a long security line (of course!)...and everybody gets a secondary search.  Looking at my watch and the departure-board, I could see that the "boarding" light was not lit.  I got through the men's line (the security lines are segregated by sex!) - - and Amy got stuck.  They ran her carry-on bag through the x-ray machine two times.  I walked over to her...and she was telling the security women that she was going to miss her flight if they did not hurry up!!  We had already called Ganesh back and told him not to leave the airport...we might just be needing a ride to a hotel nearby.  It was looking like we were going to have to spend another night in Bombay!!

Finally she asked a lady who looked like some sort of supervisor...just what the problem was.  They asked her if she had "any wire-cutters" in her bag?"  She said no, of course she didn't - - but they proceeded to take everything out of her bag.  Right about now...Amy looks about as p.o.'d as I have ever seen her in 12+ years of marriage - - especially when they took away the offending item - her nail clippers!!!!  To top it off, they left everything out of the bag and Aims had to put everything back.  She told me to run for the plane and tell them to hold the door!!  I ran down to the gate.  The plane was late!!

Here endeth the tale of our Mumbai trip.  It was my first - - and it shall be my last.  I'm pretty sure that Amy Suzanne feels the same way!!!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bombay - The Final Episode...(maybe...)

Despite all of the traffic-related trouble getting there...Elephanta Island is a pretty cool place.  I was told by more than one person that the ferry-ride from the Gateway of India docks to the island was "thirty minutes".  Once again, "India Stretchable Time" was at play.  It was almost an hour and a half from dock-to-dock.  It looks like there might be faster boats out there on the journey (I'm sure for a price!) -  I don't think it's even possible to go any slower on a boat and not sink!!

The deck-hands on the ferry sold bottle of chilled Kinley water (bottled by the Coca-Cola Company) and Diet Cokes (there are a lot of American tourists in India!!) and snacks.  They also strictly enforced a "no photos" rule...the Mumbai Harbor is filled with large oil tankers...and I guess that the "no photo" rule has to do with an anti-terrorism campaign.  Evidently, terrorists are fond of posing as tourists for their reconnaissance runs and take picture of their potential targets.  This was the case with the terrorists the took-over, shot-up and set-fire-to the Taj Mahal Palace back in 2008.  If you got caught taking a picture, you got yelled-at.  I have a feeling that if you tried to sneak a second picture after your warning, you might just see your nice digital camera sailing overboard into the harbor waters!!

When we arrived at the docks on the Western side of the island....there were probably 12-15 almost identical ferry boats lined up at the dock...and they were three-deep!!  Our crew tied-up along side one of the other boats and we had to step gingerly onto the old tires hanging from the port and starboard side of the boat-hulls to walk from boat-to-boat sideways to get onto dry land.  The landing-dock is about 1/2-mile from the actual beginning of the trail up to the "caves" (a series of temples dedicated to Lord Shiva, carved out of the solid stone of the island.  It was never clear to me if the caves were natural or they were carved out of the actual mountain...but the stone-workmanship was amazing whatever the case!!)

Instead of walking...most people opted to pay Rs. 5.00 and ride this old and rickety train to the trail-head.  Before I could reach the ticket-shack, a nice Indian fellow who was born, raised and lives on the island (and his kids go to school there - in the one village on Elephanta Island!) walked up to me and offered to be my guide.  He seemed like the type of guy who would not take "no" for an answer...so - I let him do the "guiding" for the rest of the afternoon.  I'll tell you now that at the end of my day on the island, I gave him Rs. 1,000.00 - a little more than $20.00 U.S.D. - - and it was the best twenty-spot I've spent in a long, long time!!

He told me that there is no running-water on the island....electricity only flowed through the primitive wiring during certain daylight hours...and the drinking water that they do have comes from the natural island caves collecting rain-water and other home-based rain collection systems.  My comment to my guide: "For and American, that sounds more like 'camping' than 'living'..."  He also said that his father was raised on the island as well...I can only imagine what THAT must have been like!!

Something that nobody told me about the trip to Elephanta Island is that...after the brief choo-choo train ride....there is a trail/stairway that goes up the side of the hill...probably 150 uneven steps - straight uphill.  You walk past row after row of souvenir stands selling everything from trinkets to bangles to statures of your favorite deity...there are some pics on my Facebook Page Photo Album.  By the time I got to the top...I was a little winded...but the island humidity caused me to sweat so much that it looked like somebody had turned a hose on me!!  I never fully cooled-off until the ferry-ride back to the Bombay mainland where I paid Rs. 10.00 extra to sit up on the upper-deck where the breeze was blowing!

My guide asked me if I wanted to stop at the top...and I said that it was the best idea I had ever heard!!  After I caught my breath, we walked toward the first cave...and I realized how essential having a guide would be toward my enjoying my tour of the island temples.  This fellow (you have probably figured out by now that I have completely forgotten his name!!) knew the details and history of every single temple carving in the caves we explored.  I'm now to the point where I can say that I am pretty well-versed in the Hindu gods-and-goddesses - and that certainly helped me to understand everything.  But the sheer numbers of carvings of idols and Shiva lingam in the caves - not to mention the architecture, engineering and workmanship on the pillars that still support these structures after all these centuries...would be overwhelming if I was to "go it alone"...  Again, the photos tell a better tale than I could do with mere words...

We explored four of the most important cave-temples before we sat down for a break.  Here - the island monkeys were pretty aggressive and - a little scary.  One man was walking by with a plastic souvenir bag...and a fairly large monkey thought there was a snack inside the bag....  The man ran like... well - he ran like a man who had a crazed monkey was chasing him... and it was a good thing that he was a little faster than the sprinting simian!!  I had regained my wind and noticed that the time of the boat I had chosen to take back to shore was going to depart in about a half-hour - - and I still had the small museum to go through.

It was stiflingly hot in the museum...so - my tour of the inside was not overly long.  There was an... errr... let's call it an "unfortunate unflushed overflow" in the men's rest-room - so - I was evidently a braver soul than most of the island visitors...I was the only one on the inside!!

My guide walked me as far as the train...then - took the ride down to the boats.  He made sure that I was safely on-board...and I thanked him profusely.  He gave me his mobile number in case I ever came back...but - I really can't imagine wanting to brave Mumbai traffic ever again.  Wild monkeys are one thing...wild auto-rickshaw drivers....that's another thing all together!!

To be continued.  Next edition...The Gandhi House and Museum...and the trip to the airport!!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Our Trip to Mumbai Part 3....

If there are three words in the English language that can wreak more havoc on a diet than "Complimentary Breakfast Buffet" - - I don't know what they are!!  Amy Suzanne had an 8:30 A.M. call to meet Ganesh, our driver, out in front of the hotel.  I was dying for a cup of coffee, so I went downstairs first and read the complimentary Times of India newspaper.  I took a look at the breakfast buffet...and opted for a nice, safe omelet...then I saw the other end of the line and all of the Indian specialties...paneer, roti, dal, dosa...  I may have over-loaded my plate a bit.  Amy came downstairs, studying her slide presentation (not really certain if she was going to use it or not...) and had a bit of breakfast as well.  It was really quite good...the Indian choices were outstanding and the omelet-bar ladies knew what they were doing!!

We climbed into the back of Ganesh's car and Suzanne's stop was to be first.  We told the driver to take us to "The Indian School of Business" - - which, it seems is universally known as "ISB".  Evidently this is not known in Bombay.  We told Ganesh "ISB'...and off we went.  The traffic was bad...but not deadly-bad - - we wound our way around the "residential district" where our hotel was....and - - Ganesh stops the car and says "We are here, Ma'am..."

Well...as Suzanne pointed out immediately, this was definitely NOT "the place" unless Deloitte has begun recruiting students who are very young!!!!  Walking up the steps to a place clearly signed as "ISB" - were dozens of small Indian children in school uniforms, with their huge book-bags strapped on their tiny backs (I call these "self-propelled backpacks!!") - - and each one had a badminton racket sticking out of the top pouch!!  "Ganesh, I don't think this is the right place!!" said Suzanne...with a puzzled sound to her voice...

I chimed-in:  "Yeah, Ganesh....I think this is the "Indian School of Badminton" !!"

Ganesh gets out of the car and goes and asks one of the parents (who were standing outside this "ISB"... busy getting their kids inside for class) for directions.  NOT a good feeling when your 8,500 miles from home and your DRIVER doesn't know where the hell you are!!  It must have been a common question, because another man began pointing straight and then gesturing to the right.  It seems that the proper "ISB" was very close by!  And it was.  We got Suzanne to her destination on-time....I gave her a good-luck kiss and in she went!

I told Ganesh that it was a day to do sightseeing for me...and that I first wanted to go to Elephanta Island.  He said "No problem, Sir" (the most common phrase that a driver must learn in "drivers school"!)  And, while it really wasn't a "problem", per se...I don't think that even seasoned-driver Ganesh expected that it was going to take just over two hours to get to Downtown Mumbai!!!

The stop-and- go traffic was simply some of the worst I have ever seen in my life (and I have lived in Los Angeles all of my life!!)  Almost beyond belief!!  It was far more "stop" than "go" - - we crawled along, barely ever getting the car up to 20 KPH...even on the flyovers.  There was a big backup at the Rajiv Gandhi Sea Bridge - also known as the "Bandra-Worli Sea Link" (see photo at the top of this article) - where we stopped to pay a toll.  This is a relatively new bridge which was just opened this past June.  India’s first open sea bridge, the bridge is a 5.6-km cable-held engineering marvel that was expected to cut travel time by 80 percent for this city’s harried commuters!!  If this is so....then I daresay I would have slit my wrists driving in this town pre-bridge-opening!!

We arrived at the appointed drop-off place (at a park surrounding the Gateway of India monument) - - and I told Ganesh that I would like to be back in the car and headed for the hotel before the afternoon "rush hour" (as if there is any difference!) - which I had heard begins at 5:00 P.M.  I thanked him....and was immediately descended upon by 4-5 people telling me that I should buy my ferry tickets to the Island from them!!  Being totally lost...I chose the guy who seemed to speak the best English....and followed him to a row of ticket-shacks (I'd use the term "booth" - - but - that's really not what they were.)  I paid my 200.00 rupees, which included my ferry ticket to Elephanta Island and a little photo and guide book that had a rudimentary map of the area.  That's about $4.00 total in U.S. dollars.

The nice man who walked me to get my ticket told me that I had just missed the 11:00 A.M. boat (remember....it had been a TWO HOUR PLUS trip from the time we dropped Amy off at the REAL "ISB"!!  It was now after 11:00 in the morning!) -   but not to worry....there would be another boat on the half-hour and every half-hour until 5:00 P.M.  In the meantime...he offered to "show me around"...  I knew I was going to have to tip him for this "service"  - - he was good company and knew his way around the square....but I should have known there was some sort of ulterior motive to his spending "quality time" with some American tourist like me!  It seems there always is in these tourist destinations...you just sort of need to get used to it!!  We walked around the park where the Gateway of India is - - and there were many Euro and American-looking tourists snapping pictures...and for every tourist - there were 25 Indians... all selling something - post-cards, trinkets and bangles, balloons, photo and printing services (I did this at Warangal and got some good photos from the experience....they take the pics...and sell you copies)  The very best thing about having my "guide" with me was that he kept the hawkers and beggars away from me.  Well...all but the really hard-core salesmen and women who simply did NOT know the meaning of the words "No thank you, I really don't need a 10-pack of balloons today!"

There were some beautiful old banyan trees in the park....lots of people sitting and enjoying their wonderful shade.  While it was not "summertime-hot" during our short visit to Bombay - - it was plenty warm....and waaaaay more humid than on the Deccan Plateau where Hyderabad lies.  It was pretty steamy by 11:15 A.M.

My new friend and I began to leave the perimeter of the park and headed up a small side-street.  While I felt perfectly safe (this guy was really protective of me!) - I kept an eye out for the way back to the docks where the ferry boat was due to leave from in a short fifteen minutes.  We made a left-turn and then a right turn....and - then he said the words I should have known were coming:

"Please, step into my shop!"

To be continued in the next two parts ...."Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Kashmir Rugs (But Were Afraid To Ask!)" - and - "The Boat to Elephanta Island"

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Our Trip To Mumbai (Bombay) - Part Two

Waiting for us outside of the terminal, in a group of other taxi and other professional drivers, was our "designated driver" for the week, a wonderfully competent man by the name of "Ganesh".  I don't know what it is about us and our drivers....but - they always seem to be named after some very important gods!  "Our" Ganesh had a little bright orange plastic idol of his namesake on the dashboard of his Toyota...so - along with my constant litany of Our Fathers and Hail Marys - I figured that we were covered across the wide Indian deity spectrum.  You learn very quickly that fervent prayer while in the midst of Mumbai traffic is not a luxury, it is a necessity. 

I never thought I'd say this....but traffic at home in Hyderabad is a smooth and easy as a merry-go-round ride compared to the streets of Mumbai.  The lines painted on the street, while all-over-India are merely "suggestions" rather than actual "lane markers".  It was in Mumbai that I finally figured out why it is that there are fairly high stone-and-concrete median-walls in the middle of roads to separate traffic going in opposite directions.  If these walls were not there....whichever direction the most cars are heading in would win the battle and take over - - literally pinching everyone else off the street!!!

Our first official taste of a Bombay Traffic Jam (a good name for a rock-band, I'm thinking!) came on the way to the hotel.  The domestic airport (the smaller of the two in Mumbai - - the other being the International Airport a little further up the road) is pretty-much in the central area of this enormous city of almost 14-million people.  "Downtown" - the Old City - is to the south and on a peninsula - surrounded on three sides by water...on the east by a bay known as Thane Creek and the Arabian Ocean along the other two.  Our hotel - the Ramada Powai - up in a more residential area and with its own "convention center" - was further to the north.  Looking on a map you might think a 15-20 minute drive, tops.  You WISH!!

There was stop-and-go traffic (more "stop" than "go"!) all the way to the hotel.  Frankly speaking, the streets are simply too narrow in Bombay...but there's not a whole lot they can do about this because of the crowding...they have tried to build a few strategically-placed "flyovers" (long "bridges" of highway that run over some of the main streets and roads - Hyderabad has sucessfully done several of them ...and they seem to work...) - but even the flyovers are packed during peak traffic hours.  "They" say it's 45-minutes to the hotel from the airport.  It was 1.5 hours before we arrived.

We stayed at the Ramada Powai - - which really was a nice hotel...no complaints!!  The restaurant was nice...the bar was really nice...and the breakfast buffet was complementary - - three things to always look for in a hotel!  We called Krishna at home to makes sure that Beloved was O.K. - - and that our friend Aubrey had some by to pick up her dog, "Loki" the Yorkshire Terrier that we had been watching the week before.  Krishna gave us the "Bee is good, sir" report that I always like to hear.  And then we went to sleep.  Amy had an 8:00 A.M. pick-up time for her recruiting trip to the Indian School of Business - and I was planning my day around going to Elephanta Island to see the caves and the enormous Shiva temples carved out of natural stone on the island. 

Here are the photo links to my Facebook Albums:

Our Trip to Bombay 2010

Our Visit From Loki the Yorkie

More to come in parts 2 and 3 - - next: "The Indian School of Badminton and Elephanta Island!"

Friday, October 22, 2010

Our Trip To Mumbai (Bombay) - Part One

In case the news has not traveled - - Amy's trip to the U.S. was more than just a little successful.  After her trip to Orlando for some training with Deloitte - - she made her way to the Capital Challenge Horse Show in Maryland.  This was an extremely important horse show for her...she was leading in the National points standings for the World Champion Hunter Rider overall title since just before we left for Hyderabad - - and her lead held-up even after four months of living in India - and not riding a decent hunter the entire time!!  The biggest problem in her mind was that she was completely out of practice.  She got to Maryland and did her best to get tuned-up in a hurry for the show.  If she was going to win this year (she was the defending champion and nobody expected her to show up all the way from Hyderabad!) it was going to take a lot of skill, a good horse to borrow, a little luck, and the stars were going to have to be aligned just right!

Well....she did it....she rode just as well as she could and kept her lead throughout the show - - and was once again the World Hunter Rider series champion!!  Here is the  link to the news... In a nutshell - here is what it says:

"Amy Brubaker, who now resides in India, returned to the Capital Challenge to collect the WCHR Adult Amateur National title."  and.... "Adult Amateur 36-50 division reserve champion in the division was El Raymond, ridden by Amy Brubaker for Jamie Donovan."

It was time to come home.  As she usually does, ASB "hit the ground running" just as soon as she returned to Hyderabad...I literally had to talk her out of going straight to the office when we picked her up at the airport at around midnight on the morning of the 12th!!  During the next week-or-so, (as the jet-lag slowly subsided) - she asked me if I wanted to go to Delhi along with her on a Deloitte recruiting trip.  While that trip fell-through - - we did schedule a three-day-two-night trip to Bombay for the same purpose.

The story of that trip follows:

We were due to fly out on Monday afternoon at around 3:00 P.M. Keeping me happy by actually arriving an hour early for the flight...Suzanne and I did some poking around the Hyderabad International Airport and the shops inside. We were flying on "JetLite" airlines - - and - as it turns out...there is only one class of seats on this type of flight: "Economy". Think "Southwest Airlines" on a 737 - - with even LESS leg-room!!!

We got on the plane...and Amy drew the short straw.  Not only tight-quarters - - but the dreaded "middle seat" was hers as well!  Before we even got started complaining about the lack of leg-room....the people in front of us crank their seats back and begin crushing our knees.  Before I could get adjusted to the pain and the cramped seating arrangement...my loving wife said, fairly loudly (she was in no mood, I can tell you!): "Would you please not put your seats back...you're smashing my husband's knees!!

Now...you don't need to have been living in India for very long to notice (and, believe me, this will come as NO surprise to my Indian readers...) that there is no concept of "personal space" in this culture.  Other corollaries to this law of the land to are to be found in Indian auto traffic ("If you hesitate, you will never move!") and...my personal favorite: the concept of "standing politely in line" is virtually unknown here ("If you don't watch your spot or hold your place with aggression - you will lose!!")

Amy was ignored just long enough for her to grab the back of the lady's seat ahead forcibly push her forward!!  I did not know that this was even possible.  The lady looked back and Amy said to her: "Your seat is not supposed to be reclined at takeoff anyway (we were taxiing toward runway along the tarmac by this time...) Hey. it's not my rule...talk to the airline!"

There was a tentative truce until we got off the ground.  The lady put her seat back again...but adjusted it forward about an inch.  Her male travelling companion turned around and asked if this was O.K. - and Amy didn't really answer him...she just glowered at him...

We had picked up a copy of The Times of India (one of the actually decent newspapers here) at the bookstore...Amy began to read it...but not without some malice aforethought.  With the lady's head tipped back toward her extended newspaper...Amy made sure that - every time she needed to fold the paper back or turn pages...she would thwack the woman on her head 3-4 times!!  It was a thing of beauty!!

The flight was without incident - except for when the flight attendants announced it was time to "return our seat backs and tray tables to their upright and locked position" once again...Suzanne gave the lady's seat back a good, solid and purposeful shove with her knees.  She folded her newspaper (with a quick thwack-thwack, just for emphasis!!) and we landed in Mumbai.

As we were leaving the plane...the Indian "no personal space allowance" became even more (violently?) evident...the man in the window seat literally began to climb over Suzanne's legs to get to the aisle where I was standing...  The plane unloads from both the front and the back...so - I announced that we'd be heading out the back-way and that I would see her on the tarmac.  It's the kind of airport without jetways...you board a bus that takes you to the terminal - - the personal space on the bus is laughable...it's indeed very "personal"...but with absolutely no "space"!!

As the people in front of me began to slowly make their way toward the door...I had to pause to let a very small girl, wrestling with her over sized backpack, get into the aisle in front of me.  All of a sudden, I get two hard shoves in the back from this squat little Indian fellow who was evidently in too big of a hurry to make his connecting-flight to offer any common human courtesy.  The little girl struggled in front of my knees, drag her backpack, and was beginning to head for the door.  And I get another hard shove in the middle of my back.

My reaction was instantaneous - and - perhaps a little bit louder than I wanted it to be.  Suzanne said she even heard me, back in our seats about ten rows up from where I was.

I turned around and bent slightly at the waist so I was eye-to-eye with the man.

"YOU'RE &%$#%$ KIDDING ME, RIGHT????"

He just looked down and mumbled, "I am sorry sir!"

Amy was still a while getting off the plane...and - by the time she got onto the tarmac, the first bus had left.  This was O.K. with us - - because the final bus was much less crowded...and the people traveling in the seats in front of us...and the sawed-off little man who was shoving me...made a mad dash to the crush of people who were sardined-onto the first bus!

Amy decided that a cappuccino would help the situation...so - we walked over to a small coffee-stand in the terminal.  There was one man in front of me in line.  As he left...another man came along my left side and began to order and pushed his money toward the coffee cashier.  I calmly (but forcefully) cut the guy off by putting my left elbow and forearm across his ribcage and gave him a bit of a hip-check.  When in India....act like an Indian, I guess!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Road Trip #2 - - Part Three (Inside the Temple!)

Sorry for the delay - - Amy Suzanne and I just got back from a Deloitte recruiting trip to Bombay (to be honest, the name "Mumbai" has not caught on with everybody!) - - and - we slept the night through.  It's now Thursday afternoon as I write this.  Where were we?  Oh, yes...we were in the anteroom outside of the Shiva Temple Sanctuary...waiting for the ceremony to begin!

Before the temple "band" was to begin...the doors opened to the actual Sanctuary (or, were they curtains?  I forget!)...and inside there were four red-dhoti-clad Shiva Priests.  Standing on either side of the room, they were quickly chanting a litany of sorts - - all in Sanskrit...it was probably something that they have done 1,000's of times...and it was hauntingly beautiful and strange to my Western ears all at the same time.  In just a few short moments...my ears were never to be quite the same again!!

All of a sudden (from my vantage point, it was a strain to see all the way into the inner-sanctum) - some curtains opened and two Priests come out with five-wick ghee lamps and begin the Aarti.  An older Priest (I guarantee this poor old fellow must have lost his hearing several decades back!!) began pulling on a rope...which served two functions.  It was the rope that rang a huge (LOUD!) "church bell" - - and - at the same time was connected to an old Rube Goldberg-like mechanical contraption that also operated two huge drumsticks which pounded out an irregular beat on a GIANT tom-tom drum.  The drummers from the band had removed their skins from their backpacks...and began playing along with the big-drum's back-beat.  A cacophony emanating from the two Indian "bagpipe-chanters-only-twice-the-size" (I'm sure there is a proper name for this instrument...somebody Google it and let me know!!) was at a pitch that could sterilize cats at 150-feet....combined with the bell, the multiple drums, the chanting....the smell of the burning ghee and incense....the sight of the semi-disembodied floating lamps burning before the Jyotirlingam (which, due to my angle, I still could not see...) - - all five of my earthly senses were experiencing complete overload!!  Was I being transported into the Presence of the Divine here?  Or was it all just so loud that I couldn't think??

Just as quickly as it all started...it all quickly and abruptly stopped!!  The curtain remained open...and two dhoti-clad Priests began to kneel next to the Jyotirlingam, and poured water and coconut water and clay onto it.  The ladies who had paid for the special pooja entered the sanctuary and knelt around the lingam and touched it with their hands....some pressed their foreheads to it.  They were dressed in their "Sunday-go-to-meetin'-saris" - - and they were getting wet and dirty at the worship.  Slowly...the line of men I was in crept forward.  What I saw was amazing!!

Most lingams that one sees in India's Shiva Temples are about 3-4' high...and perhaps a foot-or-so in diameter.  This one...a very, very special one, indeed...had been there and had hands upon it with untold millions of gallons of water and honey and clay from the Ganges River poured onto it...it was worn away to the point that it was perhaps 8-10" tall now...carved from black basalt - - I had to chuckle (no offense meant!) - because the Shivalingam is said to be a symbol of Lord Shiva's male power to procreate (yeah...it's a phallic symbol - - don't let any enlightened "scholars" tell you otherwise...it's a stone penis!) - - and the fact that it was worn away to a mere nub of its former glory struck me as amusing.  "Common male problem at such an advanced age - even for the great Lord Shiva!" was my sacrilegious thought!!

Before I knew it, I was being asked to step to the far side of the platform where the lingam was.  Sangamesh and Krishna, being good Hindus (and Sangamesh being a Priest of Lord Shiva himself!) were kneeling and touching the stone...while other Priests were pouring on clay and water, making sort of a thin mud like substance.  Other men were on their knees, chanting words I did not understand....(there was a constant buzz of mantras and whispered prayers!) and pressing their foreheads to the lingam!  They all motioned for me to kneel - - but - this is something I would not do.  You know me...I'm all for interfaith dialog, but I pretty much draw the line at kneeling before the Lord Destroyer's muddy phallus!  I did bend at the waist to touch it, just so I could say I did (I will probably never be back to Srisailam in this lifetime!) - and they wanted me to smear the mud on my forehead as a symbol of devotion.  Again...I motioned that I needed to pass on this one....and wiped the mud on my pants when nobody was looking.

We walked outside into the pure - but hot and muggy - air.  Krishna said to me with a wide grin that he was "very happy" - - because on three occasions he had been to the temple here...but had never gotten to touch the Jyotirlingam.  I was very happy for him!!  Both he and Sangamesh sported foreheads smeared with the mud from the darshan...while I only had the red dot of kumkum tilak placed there by some holy-man when we walked through the gates.  I thought it was sort of like getting your hand stamped at a dance club - - so - there it was - making me look again like I had taken a .38 slug to the forehead!  (See the photo at the beginning of this article...that's me on the left, in case you didn't know!) 

We walked around a little bit, and soon met up with Sangamesh's nephew, the Shiva Pujari, who then gave me permission to snap a few photos and took us all around the temple grounds.  I stopped in the courtyard to hear one of the Priests delivering a lecture (in Telugu or Hindi, I don't know which one - but - strangely enough - I was sort of able to follow it!) - on the joy of pure love and the love between Lord Krishna and his Consort, Radha-Rani.  My guess was it was directed at the girl who was to be married...it was a good time to sit and cool off...and allow my ear-drums to heal from the Aarti ceremony!!  But by now...my poor bare-feet were about to give out!!

We went to all of the temple shrines...and - once stopped to witness a very jubilant procession with the deities of Lord Shiva and Parvati on a flower-decorated cart being pulled by and equally-decked-out real-life replica on Nandi the Bull - - I tried to sneak a video of it - - but - it didn't come out because it was so dark outside.

After the procession passed, I told "the boys" that I needed to start back toward the shoe-station and begin the trek back to the hotel - - or I wasn't going to be able to make it!!  I'm sure they were disappointed and wanted to stay around the temple until "closing time" - but I was done.  We got our shoes and walked through the outer-gate and back toward our "home" for the night....all the while, listening to drumming and chanting and all of the spiritual goings-on from the temple....blaring from loudspeakers all the way back to the hotel!!

To Bee Continued....Final Episode Coming  Soon!!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Road Trip #2 - - Part Two - Srisailam Temples

The hotel room at the "Punammi Resort" was NOT "five star"...as a matter of fact - - I don't think there is such a thing as a "half-a-star" hotel...or, if there was one - - the venerable Punammi would get a "quarter star".  The bed had no box-spring...only plywood (or was it granite???) - covered by a 3" thick piece of foam.  The bathroom had no bathtub or shower...it was my first time using the time-tested "bucket-and-pitcher" method.  The A/C worked well-enough - -but - it leaked pretty badly...you had to be careful getting out on the left-side of the bed or you could slip break your neck on the wet marble floor.  Keeping Beloved's food (and water) on the floor as usual proved to be a problem, as - the bugs found it in the middle of the night.

In other words...I was extremely glad that Amy Suzanne was not along for this road trip!!

However, after the long drive down from Hyderabad, any place to lay our heads was a good place.  Sangamesh and Krishna got the room next-door - - and - as the day went on and the tourist buses kept arriving - - I'll be darned if the Punammi Hotel didn't fill to capacity by the time I got up from my nap.

The Temple opened again at 4:30 P.M.  You could tell this was happening because the loud drum-beats and chanting (live from the inner-sanctum!) began being blasted from the loudspeakers around town...especially the one on a pole right outside the hotel.  Directly across from the hotel, an older, dreadlocked sadhu had set up a mini-shrine under a large tree - and there in the shade on the stone tree-well, he had placed a small black plastic shivalingam (I think it was purchased from one of the gift-stands outside the temple!) some old, faded-but-nicely-framed icons of Lord Shiva, a photo of Sai Baba (the bad one - with the Afro and the orange robe and dhoti!) - a few old orange flowers, assorted broken-open coconuts, banana leaves, red and saffron-colored kumkum powder...and a few sticks of pungent burning incense...

As the drumbeats from the loudspeakers began to pound even more frenetically - the three of us began to make our way, with a few-hundred other pilgrims and local devotees, up the street toward the temple gates. We walked past the many wooden stands which were selling assorted colorful pooja supplies, C.D.'s and gifts.  Outside the actual temple gates, there was the customary place to "check your shoes" (for a mere 10 rupees!) so you can enter the grounds freely discalced.  I don't think I have walked around barefooted this much since I was a beach-kid in Venice growing up!!  We passed through a rudimentary metal-detector and by some serious-looking uniformed and armed (AK-47's!) security police...and Krishna and Sangamesh asked one of them for directions.  Directions to what, I don't know - - I was completely at the mercy of my beloved caretaker and security man...which would usually be comforting - - but - as it turns out, they were both by my side the night I got my pockets picked at the Ganesha immersion (I know - - I said I wasn't going to dwell on it - but - it still stung!!) - so - I was very aware of my surroundings!!

We made our way to a "holding area" where - - this is sort of hard to describe without photos - but I'll try.  A big part of Hindu worship is the darshan.  This can be as simple as walking by and seeing the deity - - or touching it...or prostrating oneself before the idol.  To get inside of the sanctuary can sometimes take literal hours...and - this means standing in lines (or, queues, as they call them here - - just like the English)  There are iron railings (mostly under some sort of roof or cover - - here at Srisailam, it was corrugated steel) that snake around some part of the temple grounds.  Kind of like the back-and-forth lineups for rides at Disneyland - - only - - much more dingy and tightly-packed.  I'll tell you right now...that if a crush of humanity, along with people who are a part of a culture that has absolutely NO sense whatsoever of "personal space" - - inside of tight, squished quarters, in semi-darkness - - if these things are not for you --- then - do yourself a favor and stay out of Hindu temples at darshan time!!!!

The "free" line (the line to get into the sanctuary at no cost) was already beginning to form under the steel roof.  I got waves of claustrophobia just looking at the line - and there were less than fifty people in it!  We found the line for "pay tickets" for the aarti and darshan for the evening.  There were only about 0.01% of the people in the pay-line - the three of us, one single lady and a young couple.  The ticket booth opened at 5:30 - so - there was a bit of a wait.  That's one other thing about worship in Hindu temples...you have to be willing to wait around.  Krishna and I walked up to where the actual line for people who had tickets was...and - we were standing along a wall that had carvings of scenes from the Mahabarata on it that were over 1,000-years-old.  Along the chain-link fence that separated us from the "free line" and an area where you could tell was a gathering area for pilgrims when the temple gets really crowded (Krishna tells me that you can wait 4-5 hours during any festival . . and at the time of Maha Shivrati - forgetaboutit!!)

Sangamesh got our three tickets (Rs. 600.00 total - about $12.00) and joined us at the front of the line...and at about 5:45 P.M, we were allowed into a sort of "viewing area/anteroom" for the "Holy of Holies".  There were iron railings, again forming "corrals" for throngs of people...but - there were very few "paying customers" today - maybe fifty of us.  There was a group of about 25 women - - all in traditional saris - as it turns out - we were told that they had paid a special fee to be at the front for the Aarti and Darshan tonight... it seems that one of their group was having a daughter get married and it was a special occasion for them.  Unfortunately (more on this to come) - the actual inner sanctum can only hold 25 worshippers, elbow-to-elbow.  That meant all of us guys could only stand outside the door and get a narrow-angle glimpse of what would be going on inside.

The waiting area needs to be described...as NO PHOTOS would be allowed.  Along with the iron railings, there was a large Ganesha shrine as you entered the building.  Again...devout Hindus, no matter what "denomination" - take time to first address Lord Ganesha before any other prayers.  In the photos from the Srisailam Road Trip Facebook Album - the golden "dome" that you see from the outside is built directly over the sanctuary where the Shiva Jyotirlingam lies inside.  There was a knee-high, black basalt statue of Nandi the Sacred Bull at one end of the anteroom - - and he was surrounded by dozens of flowers on the ground (a smell you get used to!) and about 10 sticks of burning incense.  There was an old Shiva Priest in the corner, with a huge basket of cotton...and he was making wicks for ghee lamps that are used at every aarti... He had another basket filled with the completed wicks...he probably had 100+ finished by the time we got inside. 

There were several "backpacks" laying in the foyer....it would have made me nervous - but - among the open piping and duct work overhead (which were all painted black - and in the dimly-lit corridor made for a kind of spooky atmosphere)...there was an old (but functioning) "eye-in-the-sky" camera-bubble mounted to the "ceiling".  I could see the camera-lens scanning the room.  I would think that if anything was out-of-sorts, the security team would have been on it.  As it turned out -  - these backpacks held the "pipes and drums" for the "temple band" which would be beginning to play the cacophony of music for the Aarti in just a matter of moments.

The next several minutes can only be described as a sensual assault - - a virtual explosion of sights, sounds and smells...the likes of which I had never seen in my entire life!!

Sorry...I should have known I couldn't fit this Roar Trip into a two-part blog...Part Three coming tomorrow!!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Road Trip #2 - - Part One - Srisailam

(Intended to be a TWO-PARTER...but ya never know!)  Wow.  Where do I start??  There was still another week to go before Amy gets home from her trip back to the States...so there was time for at least one more Road Trip.  This time, Caretaker Krishna picked the destination.  We would head out south of Hyderabad about 260 Km to the town of Srisailam.  He told me that it was something I just needed to see....a lovely drive (that my dear reader, is a relative term!!) up into the mountains and the forest (now that I have an idea about the difference between a "village", a "town" and a "city" - I need to figure out when a forest ceases being a "forest...and becomes a "jungle" - - it was pretty amazing (over)growth)...to see one of India's most famous dams, the Srisailam Dam on the Krishna River - and finally, at the top of the hill, the temple-town of Srisailam.

I call Srisailam a "temple-town" - because that's what it is...the temple is the center of the town...and virtually all of the businesses there have something to do with the temple or pilgrims or devotees or tourism!

A little more about this fascinating town:

Srisailam is a renowned hill town located on a majestic natural setting on the banks of the River Krishna in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Srisailam is known for many ancient temples, a wildlife sanctuary and a dam. Srisailam hills are very rich in scenic attractions, breathtaking wild life and this hill offers panoramic views of the surroundings.


Sikharam, the highest spot in the undulated hilly regions of Srisailam, is known for its majestic natural beauty, eye catching scenarios and a marvelous temple. The temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is renowned as Sikhareswara Swamy temple. The idol is believed to be the Lord of Sikharam. There is a temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha in Sikharam.

The famous Bhramaramba Mallikarjunaswamy Temple located at height of about 457 meters on the southern bank of River Krishna is a major pilgrim spot in Srisailam hill town. This temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlinga temples in the country. Srisailam is one of the most holy places of Andhra Pradesh. It enshrines one of the twelve Jyothirlingas of India, the only Jyothirlinga of Andhra Pradesh. The Jyothirlinga temple is dedicated to Lord Mallikarjuna Swamy and his consort Bhramaramba Devi.  (N.B.  Please do check out the Wiki link about the Jyothirlinga - - there will be lots of references to it later on!!)

The Nallamala forest ranges with densely wooded trees and diverse flora and fauna (i.e., monkeys as far as the eye can see!!) lies in the proximity to the Srisailam hills. These lusting green forest regions are ideal for adventurous trekking, hill climbing and forest exploration and research. Srisailam is the base camp for Nallamala explorations. It was in this Nallamala forest ranges, that the extremely popular Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Dr. Rajasekhara Reddy was killed in a helicopter crash in September of 2009.

When we plan these trips, we generally try to leave the house at around 6:30 A.M. in order to beat the traffic...and as usual, we didn't hit the road for Road Trip #2 until around 7:00.  This time it really didn't matter, because - unlike the trip to Warangal...this route took us to the south, using the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport flyovers and NOT through the heart of rush-hour traffic.  The roads, overall, were much better going toward Srisailam...my guess is this is because the temple at Srisailam is a major pilgrim and tourist destination (judging by the number of buses along the route!!) and the roads need to be kept in fairly good condition.

The first couple of hours (it took about 5.5 hours to get to Srisailam) were pretty nondescript - -long stretches of not much to look at, punctuated by several small villages and the occasional water buffalo herd walking down the middle of the highway.  The topography began to change as we were gaining altitude...at first there were BEAUTIFUL areas of Andhra Pradesh boulders (similar, as I have said - and Deacon John Yeager had pointed out - to the area of Chatsworth, CA by Stoney Point and north of the 118 Freeway) - - then, the road turns and gains noticeable elevation gain as you enter the forest.  The National Forest is also the Rajiv Gandhi (if it seems as if a lot of stuff is named after him in India - you are right!!) Tiger Sanctuary - but we saw no tigers.  The forest is really, really thick with trees and growth and vines.  Like I said...it's more what I would call a "jungle" than a forest.  Especially when you see the number of monkeys that inhabit the place.  There are many signs posted that clearly state "Do not feed the monkeys" - - but - obviously people break this rule all of the time, because the little devils are keenly aware of automobile traffic and the goodies that get thrown out the windows of cars.  And besides, there are street-vendors along the side of the road selling little newspaper cones of "monkey food" for a couple of rupees each.

There are more buses than cars as you keep heading up the mountain-side...and more monkeys than buses.  Finally, as we reached the crest, we turned sharply to the right and began descending on a road that switchbacks down to the northern bank of the River Krishna...and the very impressive Srisailam Dam.  There are pictures of the dam on my Facebook Photo Album - along with pics of the entire trip!

As we paused at a lookout point to take a few snaps (Indiaspeak for "photographs") - we got soaked from the spray coming up from the two spillway gates along the front of the dam which were opened to release some of the incredible overflow from this years record monsoon rains.  The photos from the far (south) bank of the Krishna River are much clearer and much drier!!!

It's probably only another 7-10 Km. up some winding road to get to Srisailam.  Just outside of the city gate, there is a pilgrim's stop where the dutiful devotee can pick up flowers and bangles and colorful thread-bracelets (tied all over the temple fencing as puja offerings) and coconuts for offering to Lord Shiva.  Also, there is a small shrine/temple in honor of Lord Ganesha - - the elephant-headed god (and son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati) - - where devout Hindus stop first to pray before entering.  I have learned, after a time, and I'm not exactly sure of "why" this is - that you always pray to Ganesha first...then whatever God you are going to visit.  Since Ganesha is Shiva's son...it's kind of like stopping to quickly say: "Hello, Ganesha...I'm going up to see your Dad now...please tell him I'm coming".  The same thing goes for the idols/statues of Nandi, the sacred bull - who serves as both Shiva's vehicle and the guardian of Shiva's temples and his abode in the heavenly realm.  Devotees will stop and ask permission and blessing from Nandi before proceeding into Lord Shiva's Presence.

We got inside the city and stopped to take a few more snaps.  We drove as far as the temple gates themselves (where large signs indicated that "puja vehicles only" are allowed past a certain point) - -and here we pulled over and waited for Sangamesh (our security man) to call his nephew - - who just happens to be one of the senior pujaris (Shiva Priests) at the temple.  When he showed up, it was hard not to notice that he was a very young man (barely 30, if that!) - - he had the distinguishing marks of a Shiva devotee (the three-horizontal-line clay tilaka on his forehead.  His English skills were very few...and he greets you, instead of the standard "Namaste" or "Namaskara" - - with "Om Namah Shivayah". 

It is hard to get an exact translation of Om Namah Shivaya(m)  Thanks to Volume One of The Ancient Power of Sanskrit Mantra and Ceremony for this semi-helpful description:

"This mantra has no approximate translation. The sounds related directly to the principles which govern each of the first six chakras on the spine...Earth, water, fire, air, ether. Notice that this does not refer to the chakras themselves which have a different set of seed sounds, but rather the principles which govern those chakras in their place. A very rough, non-literal translation could be something like, 'Om and salutations to that which I am capable of becoming.' This mantra will start one out on the path of subtle development of spiritual attainments. It is the beginning on the path of Siddha Yoga, or the Yoga of Perfection of the Divine Vehicle."

The sounds of the chanted "Om Namah Shivaya" mantra (and many others) can be heard coming out of loudspeakers all over the city, and non-stop throughout the day, as long as the temple is open.  That means from 4:30 A.M. until 3:30 P.M. - - when it closes for an hour...and then opens once again for evening pooja and darshan at 4:30 P.M. and closes again at around 10:30 P.M. (with much drumming and fanfare!!)

For a taste of something very much like what we heard virtually everywhere we went that first day...check out this very cool YouTube video.

Since it was now approaching the closing hour...it was time to find a place to lay our heads (many of the "hotels" in Srisailam are government-run) for the night...and catch a quick nap before going into the temple for for "Shiva Vespers" (I just made that up....)

To Bee Continued.... "Part Two - The Temples of Srisailam"