Monday, February 28, 2011

EBC Trek Day 4...

WHOO HOO! I was so worried that I was a horrible trekker after my difficulties yesterday. But, it turns out that I just need to take more breaks than Srin. The trek from Namche was easier than our "rest day"-that's for sure. We trekked up for 0.5 hour and then laterally for about 1.5 hours and then DOWNHILL for 1.5 hours to our lunch spot. Then, we climbed about 2 hours upwards to Tengboche.

The path was mostly good, though we did encounter patches of ice and snow and some mud. Thank goodness for my trekking pole!!! The only bad thing was the mixed reviews we received from trekkers on their way back from EBC. Some said: "It is so !&@^#&#* cold. It is -40 deg C and I got horrible altitude sickness...". Some said: " is cold but the weather is not so bad. You can do it. The temp is closer to -15 eg C." Believe it or not, we breathed a sigh of relief. I felt encouraged. Though, I am, of course, not naive enough to think I can EASILY handle that temperature. But, at least I am not ready to give up so early.

My favorite part of the day was the moment we arrived. Not because it was the end of my climb for the night (though, that does take second place) but because of the view. We immediately took it in with our eyes, desparately willing our memories to capture the sight like a digital camera. Nuptse, Everest, Lhotse, Ama Dablam, Kantega, Tamserku, and Kongde surrounded us. The sun's warmth made me bring my book outside, and Srin and I enjoyed the life. And enjoy it we should since I am positive tomorrow and the days forward will bring bitter cold that my Texas body has never experienced.

We finished the day off by visiting a Buddhist Monestary, eating dinner, and playing cards as usual. I leave you with one final thought. Climbers often remark that with a "nice" sleeping bag and a blanket, the cold is not so bad. I am here to tell you that they are, in fact, wrong. Don't forget that, Hiroumi.

Our daily stats:
Start Location: Namche Bazaar
Time Started: 8:42 AM
Altitude: 3440m

Destination: Tengboche
Time Reached: 3:35 PM
Final Altitude: 3900m

Total Distance: 11.5km

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

EBC Trek Day 3...

Today was our acclimatization day so we took a side trip around the area. Now, call me crazy but why would you climb on a day where you are "acclimating"? Apparently climbers do a "climb high, sleep low" method. Thus, the so-called "rest day" is not really resting by any stretch of the imagination.

Suffice it to say Srin is a better climber than yours truly. Although I feel as though I can do practically anything (the strongest trait I feel would make me a good astronaut candidate...not that I am biased), on this day, I was certain I should turn back. I mean...climbing just is not worth it if it is not towards your destination. Right? Alas, though, neither Srin nor our guide (Govinda) would let me give up. Govinda's advice was so sound: If something happens later, then at least you can say you saw Mt Everest. Whoa...this whole climbing on my "rest day" leads me to a view of Everest? All of a sudden I had the shakti of 10,000 elephants.

And it was, in the end, worth it. The view was phenomenal. Mostly clear skies, beautiful sunny weather, and Himalayan beauty. We saw Everest rising to the top of the world, accompanied by her fellow peaks Nuptse and Lohtse.

Our plan was to continue climbing to the Edmund Hillary school and hospital, but it was really up to me (the dead weight). I decided we should head back as it was already close to lunch and who knew what the path would be like. Turns out that my pansiness was a wise decision. At one point, I thought Srin looked like Brad Pitt in Seven Years in Tibet. I mean, I have never trekked through snow thanks to my Texas upbringing. Worse, though, was the mud and muck formed from melted snow. Not pleasant but adventurous.

We arrived back to the Buddha Lodge, took our first shower (and last if you ask me). It was surprisingly warm but horribly cold once the water was turned off. We shall assume that my hair will go two weeks without a wash.

We ended the day with a quick walk through the Tibetan and Local markets. I managed to purchase a North Fake jacket thanks to the Tibetans. And from the advice of Govinda, I got myself a trekking pole from the local market. I take it he observed my horrible trekking-in-ice-and-mud skills.

Before I leave you, I will be honest-the climb dwindled my confidence and I sleep concerned if I will make it forward. We'll see!

Our daily stats:
Start Location: Namche Bazaar
Time Started: 8:45 AM
Altitude: 3440m

Destination: Everest View Hotel
Time Reached: 12:00
Final Altitude: 3900m

Total Distance: 2km each way

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

EBC Trek Day 2...

Today was definitely much more difficult. We climbed to 3440m where the village of Namche Bazaar has become home for an acclimatization day. That is, we must get used to the "thinner air" of higher altitude before continuuing upwards. This prevents what they call altitude sickness, which can manifest if the form of headaches, nausea, dizziness, and in extreme cases, death. The only cure is to descend, and the most common cause is climbing too high too fast. So tonight and tomorrow, we stay put! We will hike in the area to see the Edmund Hillary school and hospital. You do know who he is right? Shame on you if not! He is the first person to climb Everest, way back in the 1953. He returned to the West (he was a New Zealander on a British Expedition) and collected donations to go back to Nepal and establish these facilities.

As for the trek today, it started off well. A great breakfast from the See You Lodge in Phakding put us on our way. The first four hours were relatively easy, minus the ice patches through which we slipped n' trekked. Thank goodness for the good human nature of trekkers in making sure I made it through the ice! The second two hours were our uphill climb...or rather up-mountain climb. They were...ummm...not easy. But, not terrible either.

Feeling good now, we just finished playing cards, trying to warm up, and eating dinner. I have started my new novel: The Immigrant by Manju Kapur. And that's it for tonight.

I leave you with one last thought: can altitude affect eloquence? I sure think so...

Our daily stats:
Start Location: Phakding
Time Started: 8:30 AM
Altitude: 2600m

Destination: Namche Bazaar
Time Reached: 3:45 PM
Final Altitude: 3440m

Total Distance: 12km

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Friday, February 25, 2011

EBC Trek Day 1...

We trekked from Lukla to Phakding, which was a pretty easy three hours down 230 meters. I know-confusing since our goal is to go UP! But remember it is a mountainous region here in the dreamy Himalayas so you can go up and down depending on your path. For reference, Kathmandu is ~1300m, Lukla is 2840, and Phakding is 2610m. We will climb to EBC at 5364m but to a maximum height at Kala Pathar at 5555m (where the view of Everest is spectacular).

We saw so many "hills" and mountains, the distinguishing feature of which is apparently a cutoff height of 6000m. The first so-called mountain was called Numri and next to it was Kongde Ri. A few kilometers later was Kusum Khangkaru (6367m), which is composed of four distinct peaks.

We arrived in Phakding around noon where we stopped in a quaint, not-very-fancy-looking guest house. We were served daal bhat and thakari (saac), and it totally fit the bill. Warmth and flavor. Combined with my hot lemon tea, day 1 was a great start!

Thereafter, we spent the evening playing cards and learned a Nepalese game called Dhumal. Why? Well, because we decided to trek in the Himalayas in February-March, and it was of course snowing all afternoon. Beautiful though. As our guide told the company manager, "If they don't mind it being a bit more adventurous, of course we can do the trek." So here we are cold but inspired. The best part? We have almost the entire path practically to ourselves. It's so quaint-just as I feel something so majestic should be. I am SO glad I didn't come in peak season.

Our daily stats:
Start Location: Lukla
Time Started: 9:15 AM
Altitude: 2860m

Destination: Phakding
Time Reached: 12:15
Final Altitude: 2600 m

Total Distance: 8km

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You are my...



We just took flight to begin our journey in finding the base of Mount Everest, the top of the world per se. That is after we initially departed and turned around when I convinced the pilot we had to return so I could blog! Or maybe it was the clouds in Lukla. Who knows.

This journey began in my imagination in 2003 and has finally become a reality due a long life lesson learned. I can still remember when I initially heard of Everest Base Camp. I was a first year graduate student, sitting at a friend's Uncle's house. This Uncle is amazing-he has often climbed Everest-WITHOUT oxygen! And he often prepared trips for young ones to make this journey to the base of the top of the world. I can picture the conversation as if it were yesterday. My friend and I had arrived to visit, her cousin was having a snack (cucumbers to be exact!), and Auntie was brewing tea. The greatest dog ever (after Shorty and Dax, of course) was at my feet, in huggable form. Uncle arrived and the conceivable part of this once-unimaginable journey began to form in my pea-sized brain. I said to him, "Uncle, you must plan a trip for all of our friends." He said, "Of course. We plan to." I replied, "Please tell me about it. I will be 100% certain to join. No matter at all the cost." A promise all around the table later, I was certain I would make this trek among great friends. Little did I know that God would ensure I would make this trek with someone even more special-my brand new husband. Four years later after that conversation, the trip was being planned, but I would only learn this much after-the-fact. For a while, I was sure I would never make my wildly imagined picture a reality. I am unsure why I was so intimidated to plan it on my own, but I was. It was from this experience that I learned to never trust your dreams to anyone but yourself. And, with the powerhouse of the mind (and the internet), anything is possible.

Before that moment in Uncle's house, seeing Everest was something in textbooks for me. I never thought I would be on my way. And here I am. Once and for all. Thus, you will be subjected to every moment, documented despite inevitable mountainous-induced energy drainage.


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Discovering Your Roots

I am Mamta's guest blogger. As we leave India, I wanted to talk about the main theme of this trip to the "motherland": Family

Growing up as Indian Americans in the States, we hear from our parents about how close families in India are... like the Corleno family in the Godfather (except we don't make people "sleep with the fishes"). We are certainly close with our immediate family and we are somewhat close with our cousins and aunts/uncles that have also settled in the US, but America is a big country and seeing each other periodically is very different than growing up together.

I've been fortunate to have visted India seven previous times, and each time my bro and I were treated as rock stars. Couldn't ask for better aunts, uncles, and cousins. And although we don't have the type of relationship as if we had grown up together, you can see the respect and love runs deep as they talk about how "Naga uncle or Mali did this for me back in..." So on this trip, with my parents, I wanted to see where my father's lineage started (Channapatna) and see my grandparents' houses, which I somewhat remembered from my childhood.

And this didn't happen to just me in Bangalore. In Gujarat, we visited countless of Mamta's family, extended family, old friends of her parents, etc. And that same sentiment came out over and over. In Mamta's case, it was even stronger since she hadn't been to India in 25 years. So strong that it made her cousins and aunties instantly cry at seeing her. Spending those days visiting gaams where her parents grew up, sharing meals with family, and catching up on the last 20+ years was priceless to Mamta.

And so this was the main point of our India visit: discovering our roots and learning about your significant others roots. Because we weren't just born in the US; there is a long fascinating story of how we got here. And there is something to be said about never forgetting where you came from.

And I'm out.


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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Reason...

It is for these reasons that I came to India. Not solely, of course. But, certainly my best souvenirs.

Chagankaka, Dad (note the only smile in the pic), Mom, Dada's sister, Manjumahi, Dada, and Ba. And of course my HEMBEN!

Chagankaka and Dad (background)

Dad and Chagankaka

Kaki, Manjumahi, Hemben, DAXABEN!, Prabhaben, and Ba

Chagankaka, Hemben, Bhulamama, and Daxaben (going to America for the first time to be reunited with Mom and Dad and the newly born ME!)

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'Charming' redefined...

Gaam (village) life is quite different in 2011 than when my parents labored in modesty in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. The silence of locked homes is louder than the grunting of wild bulls in the streets. A walk through the village with Manumama (my mom's uncle...Ba's yougest brother) is littered with descriptions such as "...and they are in America...and they are in England...and America...America...and they are back from America for three months...". Forty years since the beginning of an exodus of legal Indian emigrants has brought growth back to the rural areas of Gujarat. For these young laborers sought opportunity in a far away land and now rejoicing in the fruits of their American diligence, they have returned over the last decade to build new homes and install gaam-wide water filtration systems.

I have been through a multitude of emotional waves in the last nine days, depictions of which will require multiple posts, photographs, and energy. Before me have been what I like to call old money homes (people who never went to America) and new money homes. Elderly and young. Poor and definitely not poor. Shockingly nice work performed at a next-to-nothing profit. Modesty and happiness. But, what sent my emotions on an upswing were times when I witnessed Ba's and Dada's living alone, with only a caretaker (a young, poor gaam lady who would otherwise probably not have a home). The children in Dallas or Houston or California, inevitably running a motel with children and no time to come back to care for their ailing parents. Earnest and desparate conversation containing the translated phrases of "If only God would take me, life would be better." Flashes of childhood news stories of Kevorkian seep into my mind. And then my emotions take an unexpected sharp turn when I come across another elderly woman, my dad's own mami, who lives contently on her own. 91 years old and no high blood pressure, cancer, eyesight loss, or anything. She has many times visited the US and knew right away life in India was better-as she says-where the doors are wide open and gaam visitors enter at will.

As a calm car ride levels my emotions, my mind wanders to what it must have been like for mom and dad, not to even mention Ba and Dada. No running water. No electricity. Kerosene lamps. Milling their own flour. Lord only knows about potable water. It is all I can do to contain my own curiosity, after barraging my mama with a gamut of questions. Srin and I have had long reflective discussions upon drifting into an acoma-like slumber. One of us remarks "How the world goes round, for India is seeing a large return of young Indian-Americans due to our own economic downturn and the rising of this one's. My mind is baffled at the notion but my heart swells that life has improved for so many deserving human beings. For I believe our economic woes pale in comparison to poverty around this planet. I too have lost thousands of dollars due to the housing market (oh yeah-I sold my house in Htown!), yet I am thankful each day that even in this state, my American status grants me a well paying job, a home, food, and even fashion. Not to mention the sheer ability to travel in style. Not that I mean to be insensitive to the numerous Americans who have lost their jobs (I personally know many), but people still eat out and shop and carry on somewhat normalcy. My travels confirm my suspicions that even in our struggling, we are far better off than millions abroad. It is, however, with a smile that I witness the gaams of my grandmother, mother, and father having surpassed those millions. Having resisted Westernization (not the faintest sight of English within a 10km radius), "domestic" help and social classes remain in tact. Sure, the laborers work beyond diligently for amounts we throw in wishing fountains. But, their skills are used and families provided for. And happiness rings in the gaam air.

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Swaminarayan Mandir near Varad, Ba's gaam
Mom's old high school in Digas

Near Patel's gaam of Khoj

Imagination may be my favorite personal asset...

Reading is the best way to pass time.  I love it.  I am so glad Hemben and Daxaben used to take us to Tom Green County Library.

My latest read (Thanks Rameshbhai!)...

Friday, February 11, 2011

Istanbul it is...

Yesterday, we pre-booked flights from Nairobi to Istanbul and then Istanbul to DC (both direct flights!) on Turkish Airlines.  Get this-we have seven days to review (the price is locked in now) and then can book it with our credit card.  AND we can cancel any time before the flight for NO FEE!  And we will break even on the cost so it doesn't cost us any more to make this detour around Cairo.

So do not fear family and friends...we will not walk like Egyptians this year (though it is a HUGE disappointment).  But, Srin was convinced by my dire need to see Turkey when he found this ticket.  YAY!  So we will end this amazing journey with another unique location. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bombay Rocks!

I love Mumbai!  I want to move here.

We are staying with Ramesh, who is Srin's grad school roommate and certainly one of his best friends.  He is now a professor at Indian Institute of Technology.  Here we are at the Gateway of India, which is where George V and Queen Mary set foot on Indian soil.
 Behind us is the Taj Hotel, one of the attacked hotels (the other was Oberoi) in 2008. 

Farewell Bengaluru...

It's been a good trip overall. Mostly centered around family, it was a time to get to know the cousins, aunties, and uncles. The Century and Cricket clubs gave for good times. And a nice lunch with Srin's mom's side at MTR (a family tradition apparently) rounded out the trip.

On our last night at the Cricket Club in Bengaluru with Vathsa, et al

Sprinkled with bits of shopping (4 or 5 shirts and counting) in 4th block, 9th block, Mahatma Ghandi (MG) Road, and Brigade Road, Bangalore is a bustling city perfect for young and old alike. The weather is phenomenal right now but the traffic stinks.

Uncle's side of the family (mostly all of them)

Some of Auntie's side (Her brother Raja Uncle and his family)

There are rich and there are poor. Developed and developing. Here we checked out the Shastry School for the Deaf and Dumb. As promised on our honeyfood, part of our donation went to this school. They house 35 of their 130 students who cannot hear or speak. They provide education, supplies, clothing, hearing aids, and food free of charge to the kids and their families. In fact, Asha Seattle and Arizona have supported them for 10 years now. One of Srin's uncles set us up to talk to them and we are honored to help them out. Let's hope for some change in this world.

Here are some shots of South India that intrigued me...

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Mysore Majesty...

Well, I have had my fair bit of South India, huh?

 Mmmm...Yummy fresh young coconut.  I love how they cut part of the shell to use as a spoon.  So resourceful.

So much has happened these last few days that I can hardly contain it to one blog. Let's see...where should I start? The government and its laissez-faire-attitude-on-crack? The roads and their ability to make body parts bounce as if detached from whole? The famous Maddur Vadas? I salivate at the thought.

Let's actually start with Mysore silk. Ooooh You see-this small town that used to be its own state prior to Independence is famous for many reasons. First and foremost for me is their silk. Okay and the royalty. Back when India was ruled by rajas (kings), Mysore was home to the royal family in the Mysore Palace.

Moving on...Let's discuss how we finally got to Mysore. Being a fluid plan, it took days to decide among the choices: Kerala was almost a surefire (that was my first choice) until we thought about Chennai, Pondicherry, and of course our eventual choice, Mysore. After numerous dicussion and a walk in Lalbahg, Mysore was chosen (Srin's maternal uncle lives there so that was a plus). The decisions don't end of course! Then there was Bandipur, Mercara, and Kabini parks. Ask one person and get one recommendation. Ask another and get another recommendation (and a stark reason why the previous recommendation was totally the wrong one). Eventually, we landed on Bandipur National Park. Next decision was what time to get there. Go early to get your safari tickets and then hang out-Sounds like great advice right? We check the web and sure enough-there is a safari at 5:00 at 100 Rs/person for the bus and a personal jeep for 1750 Rs. Great-Jeep it is and we will get there around noon, get our tickets, and eat/walk.

This is where the government discussion begins. Ticket counter is closed from 9AM-4PM (prime hours huh?). Nowhere is the information made available except in front of the counter. There is no jeep safari either. Oh and no elephant rides any more (like their website says). Oh and if you do want a jeep, they will "find one" for a mere 5000 Rs. Oh and the entrance rate tripled two days prior-of course the website is out of date. Not that I mind paying-I mean I am all about stimulating the economy as I did in Vietnam and Cambodia. It's just so INDIA!

Nevertheless, we waited our 5 hours and got tickets and went forest-bound in hopes of seeing India's wildlife. We saw one wild elephant, sambars, deer, peacocks, and monkeys.

The day before brought us to KRS, where the city puts on a light show and a dancing fountain. It was very pretty and well kept. Of course, apparently it is not as good as it was in 1986, when there were more lights, etc.

Combined with shopping for a gift of a sari from my in-laws and a visit to Srin's uncle's place, that was our trip to Mysore.
We like to describe our entire trip as a temple tour since we saw so many.  This was our last one at dusk. 

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Top 10 Thoughts from My Trip to Tirupithi...

Tirupithi in Andhra Pradesh is home to apparently the world's largest pilgramage site of any religion. The Balaji/Venkateswara Temple attracts tens of thousands (100,000 to be exact) of devotees a day, bringing in earnest donations to Him in faith that wishes and hopes are granted. To my amazement, donations amount to a whopping 3 croes per DAY! That's $600,000 USD. The line to spend 3 seconds in prayer takes up to 24 hours, winding through four levels of "Q" space. If you want a true Indian experience, go to Tirupithi. You will leave behind personal space and take new meaning to "push and be pushed".

And if you do make the pilgramage, follow this advice. Don't say someone did not warn you.

1. Go with a local if you can. If not, go with someone who knows the local language Telegu. At the least, know Hindi. English, Gujarati, Kannada, etc will not suffice. Lucky for us, Srinidhi's dad speaks Telegu, Kannada, Hindi, and English. Phew.

2. The ride can take 7 hours from Bangalore. Don't let anyone tell you 5 hours maximum. Sure, traffic in Bangalore and one small break account for just over an hour but that still misses the mark.

3. It's hot even in winter but cool at nights. Come prepared. But don't wear shorts unless you are not of Indian origin. Western people can get away with it probably (even the sari warning below...that is not for you). Conservative in the States is apparently liberal to them...

4. Get over your fear of foot-fungus-ingrown-toenail-nastiness. You will walk on the same ground barefoot as millions of others, with spit, glass, rocks, and all.

5. If you are female, just wear a sari. Don't mind the rules. Even if they say it is not required. You will avoid questions (or remarks...) such as 'what world did she come from' in languages that may as well be Lao to your ears. And if you choose to defy my advice, just don't wear a dhoti in place of an ohdni (dupatta). It's just wrong. The Goddess of Fashion will judge you.

6. Don't forget to look straight ahead when the pushing gets real (and spectacular). It will be your only shot at seeing Him. After all, that is why you came. And I would hedge my bets you may not come again.

7. Always (always) test your driver's phone and always be sure HE is also topped off. Sure-it is not your job but you will be the one stuck looking for him in a sea of thousands looking just like him. And most likely, your stuff will be in his car.

8. Oh yeah, don't forget to write down his license plate number. Apparently, some Indian police may care just enough to help you find him. Not that we would know any of this from personal experience.... Right?

9. Enjoy the food. It is yummy and cheap.

10. Enjoy the view up and down the hill to the temple. It's amazing. Rolling hills...aerial views of the city...cleanliness...good roads.

Probably my most striking experience was seeing (actually feeling) that people really believe. I mean the faith was palpable. Transfixing almost. Even women readily give their hair (for real...wicked bald) when wishes come true. These people don't know I am watching...this was not an act. They truly have a faith that I have yet to see in the Western world (even having grown up in part of the Bible belt). And it is a benign faith. They do not wish to make you or me believe. They simply believe.

For the record, we only spent 2 hours in line. Thank you to not going during the weekend and paying the max of 300 Rs/person (~$6.50-$7 USD). I may not come again, but I am glad I came once. It seems to be the type of pilgramage people like us make only once in a lifetime.

I leave you with one last thought. Why may I not use my camera to capture the temple? I am pretty sure God is fine with being photographed... Thus, I have no artistic pictures to share with you. Only my sarcasm and written experiences.

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

In Mumbai...

And thoroughly enjoying myself.  More posts about Bangalore, Tirupiti (Andra Pradesh), and Mysore to come.  As for Egypt, we considered so many choices:  Morocco, Greece, and Turkey topping off the charts.  I plan to run the Athens marathon so my choice is Turkey (Casablanca was ridiculously expensive).  The good news?  Even if Egypt Air won't refund us (right now, they are only offering refunds for tickets booked until February 28th and ours is March 19th), we have REFUNDABLE tickets!  Yes!  So it would only cost $200 total to cancel.  Phew.  Will update you all soon!

In the meantime, here is my latest read (Thank you Sathe!).  I totally recommend it-reading it felt like reading my blog almost, except I felt less accomplished.