Sunday, April 13, 2008

Trekking in the Hill Country

Saturday, Vijaya, Aman, Abdul, and I headed for the hills. We start at 7:00 in the morning and traveled North from Chennai. After a few hours of driving we arrived in a small village and turned off on a back road. Parts of the road were so rough that Abdul asked us to get out and walk. We reached the trail head by 11:00.

Behind Abdul, you see our destination, the valley between the cliffs. It wasn't a steep hike, but the first half had no shade and was hot. Before we got to far, we decided to stop for lunch. We had brought food some from Chennai, but not enough as Vijaya and Abdul had skipped breakfast. We found a nice shady spot to eat near a stream. We hadn't been there but a few minutes when a couple of monkeys show up.

I quickly grabbed my camera and started taking pictures. The monkeys circled us and inched in closer towards the food. When they got close, Vijaya repeatedly advised me to be careful. The closer they got, the more anxiety was in his voice. I was naively oblivious to any danger. Aman and Abdul were holding the food and when the monkeys approached them, they surrendered our lunch. This I didn't understand, they're just cute furry little animals. But to be fair, the monkeys were more willing to bite Aman, then he was willing to bite them. From then on, we armed ourselves with sticks and stones.

We were able to recover most of our lunch and moved to a more populated spot to eat. We made several stops along the way. We weren't sure how far away our destination was or what we would find there. It took some convencing to keep out troup moving forward. Once we got into the shade, our spirits were higher.

The trail followed a stream. At a few spots along the way, we stopped to dip our feet.

At the end of the trail was a great swimming hole and a small waterfall. It took us approx. three hours to reach it.

The waterfall is just around the bend. You can only get to it by swimming. I couldn't take the camera, sorry. It was very relaxing sitting underneath the falls and letting the water give me a natural back and shoulder massage.
The water is very deep, except for a ledge where this group of college age kids are sitting. Most of the local are not strong swimmers, so the falls were very private.
It was still a long walk followed by a long drive home, but it was worth the trek.

Cold Showers for Naught

I was gathering up some of my clothes from the back 'washing' deck when I discovered a small hot water heater above and behind the door. Turns out each bathroom has it's own hot water heater. The heater for my bathroom is turned on/off by one of the fifteen switches in my bedroom. Yes, the switch for the hot water heater is on the same panel as the bedroom lights and ceiling fan. I turned it on Friday morning expecting a nice hot shower on Saturday. No luck, while I was at work Friday, someone, I assume the housekeeping crew, turned off the switch. Sunday, my last week in India, I had a nice long hot shower. The fact that I never discovered this before, or bothered to confront the management about the issue, reveals a little to much about my intelligence and character flaws.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Aman's Apartment

Aman lives with his parents in a three bedroom flat on the fifth floor of an apartment in Besant nager. It is the penthouse. It is three times the size of the flats on the floor below. It has beautiful panoramic views of the Bay of Bengal. The ocean breeze and sound of the surf make the two large patios a perfect place to relax.

I had a jovial conversation with Aman's mother about the selection of a bride for Aman. She's researching and taking resumes for four to ten girls per week. So far, she hasn't found one that suits Aman. He's looking for the complete package. Good education, good looks, 5'4" or taller, right background, etc. His mother thinks his expectations are to high. They both expect to find the girl within the year. Aman and his bride will live in the apartment with his parents. That is pretty common here.

For a cultural experience, Aman took me to two local temples. Taking pictures of the idols was not permitted, but I was allowed to take pictures of the structures and the priests. People came mostly to pray, but a few offered food sacrifices. The priest would take the food to the idols, wave it around in the candle smoke, say a prayer, and most of the time, return the offering to the giver. When the offering is returned, it is considered a gift from god.

The second temple was the temple for the goddesses of wealth. There was a long queue to get to this temple, but if you pay a small fee, you can go to the front of the line.

Afterwards, Aman and I hung out at the beach, went to a nice restaurant, and talked about different religions.

Friday Nite Movie

To demonstrate how desperate we are for entertainment, Friday night, Vijaya, Aman, and I went to see the movie D-War. It was the only English movie playing the late show, following our meetings at work. I had very low expectations of the movie, but it was worse then what I had imagined. Clearly one of the worst movies I've ever seen. It is the kind of movie that my boys would want to see. I think they might even be disappointed with this one.

The Theosophical Society

Saturday, Aman and I took a trek through The Theosophical Society. The aim of this society is to "form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color and to encourage the study of comparative religions, philosophy, and science. It was founded in the U.S. by Col. Henry Steele Olcott. There was not a lot of activity there, but the buildings suggested that this place could be used as a retreat center. It was very serene and very different from the city just outside the walls.
Primarily, we went to see the park grounds. A British woman, Anna Besant, who the surrounding area is named after, fought to preserve this area from urbanization. This is one of the largest Banyan trees in the world. It is a single tree. i.e. single root system that extends 238' North to South and 250' East to West.

Another Banyan tree in the park was filled with bats.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Dinner at Jacob's

Wednesday evening, I was invited to the Jacob's for dinner. Mr. Jacob and I drank cognac and visited while his wife, Achamma, cooked. She would come and sit with us for a while, but she is very reserved and more comfortable in the kitchen. We talked about many things, but mostly about our families and about the difference between America and India. Mrs. Jacob prepared a meal for my tastes. At the end of the meal my lips didn't hurt and the back of my neck was not sweating. For them it was very bland.
Mr. Jacob owns six flats in the building where I stay. That is his only income, but I think he does O.K. since property values in Chennai are increasing rapidly. Shaji, my cook, also manages all of Mr. Jacob's flats, so I'm not sure what Mr. Jacob does all day. I asked Achamma what she does during the day. She goes to mass daily and spends four hours in prayer.

POWRTRAK Team Celebration

Last week, the POWRTRAK Best Shore team finished six weeks of knowledge transfer training. The training consisted of daily three hour class room instruction followed by hands on assignments. The class room instruction was facilitated via the Internet by the team members back in the States. (I stand out, since I'm the only one wearing yellow.)

The Great Kabob Factory

We celebrated with lunch at the Great Kabob Factory. This restaurant is located within the Radission hotel. It is a five star hotel equal to any in the States. The gentleman on the far right and the gentleman second from left are new team members, Gopinath and Ashok. (Can you find Flip?)
The menu choices were few: Vegetarian or Non-Vegetarian. Both options consisted of an eight course meal. Maybe you recognize some of these dishes? I did not, but I now know that 'Tikka' means spicy. Murgh Peshawari is a fancy way to say chicken leg. It was all very tasty. The last item was ice cream served in a mud pot.