Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Road Trip

Ten days in Rajasthan. We went with our driver in our compact Maruti-Suzuki "DZire." The drive took us through 4 cities - Jaipur, Ajmer, Pushkar and Udaipur. On this trip we traveled over 1,000 kilometers - mostly in semi-desert terrain - on India's Hwy 8. The highway is actually in pretty good shape, but has only 2 lanes and many crazy trucks driving North-South. Clean toilets and safe food are often few and far between - but on this trip none of us got sick and we had pleasant weather (Rajasthan can start to get really hot during the day in March). We found some really great places to stay. All of the hotels were mid-range in cost and are recommended by Lonely Planet.

In Jaipur we stayed 3 nights in all at Madhuban. A converted "Haveli," or mansion. The staff were a little grouchy on our last night , but it is run by a lovely family and is very charming. Great garden for tea some snacks and a good book to read. Madhuban has a simple menu for dinner. The kids enjoyed pasta and toasted cheese sandwiches. We enjoyed their veg and non-veg Indian dishes. Audrey has fallen in love with the banana "Lassi," a traditional sweet indian yogurt drink. (more about these later).

Next we were off to Pushkar for 2 nights. It is a small - somewhat hippie town that is famous for its Brahma Temple - the only one of its kind in India. There are many Indians who pilgrimage here each year to see this unusual temple. Westerners - Israelis, Europeans, Australians and a few Americans hang out here for the peaceful atmosphere, clothing and craft shops and the really great food.

Our hotel, was by far the best place we have stayed in India - "Seventh Heaven." Also a converted Haveli. Attentive friendly staff, reasonable prices for food and lodging and the rooftop restaurant, "Sixth Sense" is fantastic.
Our kids really enjoyed the manager of the restaurant who joked and played games with them. We all enjoyed the western/continental dishes for a few nights respite from Indian cuisine. And yes, Audrey loved the banana Lassis - I think she had one with every meal. Because the restaurant is on top floor and the kitchen on the ground floor the hotel uses a dumb waiter on a pulley system to deliver your food.
Our final destination was Udaipur - my personal favorite city on this trip. Although it is a city of 700,000 it has a very small feel to it. Not crowded or crazy like many of India's more urban areas. Narrow winding streets lined with shops and temples. Udaipur is most famous for its "Lake Palace - a large palace that looks as though it is floating on the water. Our hotel here was also lovely - the Mahendra Prakash Hotel. Built in the 1950s it was spotless, traditionally decorated and was reasonably priced. Best of all the Mahendra Parkash has a large, crystal-clear pool! We all swam in this everyday - especially nice in the hot afternoon sun of Rajasthan! And yes, Audrey enjoyed her banana lassi by the pool (Evan had fresh, cold Chocolate milk shakes)! We really like Rajasthan.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Surprise Visitor from Austin!

We had a surprise visitor arrive yesterday - the first brave soul to travel here from our home in Austin, Texas. Flat Stanley has come to stay with us for a few days. Stanley is from Mrs. Stanfield's Kindergarten class at Lee Elementary School in Austin. His friend (and our neighbor from home), Mazzy, aged 6, encouraged him to make the Journey.
While here, Stanley has chosen to wear some traditional Rajasthani clothing - a Kurta Pajama and red turban. He is learning a lot about life here in India during his short stay. Be sure and check out the kids' blog for more details on his adventures in Noida...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cheap Roadside Advice

India, and particularly Noida, seems besieged with road construction activity. With so much business and residential growth here it is understandable that new roads are constantly being built. The old avenues are in need of repair from the traffic pounding they take. And of course what is underneath them - sewers, gas lines, water mains - these are being added or repaired as well.My complaint about all this necessary activity (aside from the dust) is what seems to be a general lack of empathy for the neighborhoods in which these projects occur. Job sites are really disorganized here. Beautiful roads are being built or resurfaced before water lines are completed, before sewers are installed. And once each construction project has been "completed" the refuse never seems to be hauled off. The construction-waste remains piled on the side of the road for months and sometimes years. Piles of broken sewer pipes, dirt, concrete, and unused bricks can be seen everywhere. Beautifully constructed roads never seem fully finished because of all the mess that is left behind.
If development is the goal, it always comes with a price. State and local governments here need to figure out how to coordinate projects in an order that makes sense. More importantly, they must push project managers to make it a priority to clean up after each phase of work is done. Citizens would be safer and happier, and neighborhoods would start to look, frankly, more developed.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


We made it through our first Holi festival yesterday. We all had a blast! Holi is a festival celebrating color, joy and friendship. It also marks the end of spring and the beginning of summer. People "play" holi by essentially dousing one another with colors. Our society had a big celebration - probably several hundred enthusiastic participants! We "played" holi in the morning. This is an anarchy of colors, water, friendly greetings and conversation. Everyone uses either dry powdered colors or dyes mixed with water. Colors are thrown, wiped, and shot through water guns or "pichkari." These are like large syringes that shoot a good 25 feet!
We had fun with our neighbors and met and got acquainted with many other residents at ATS. In the afternoon we had an informal lunch by the pool. It was great way to celebrate the change of seasons and the start of a new Hindu year. Holi helps to mark the end of the Hindu calendar year and start of a new "brighter" one.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cowboys are Indians

We spent Saturday with our American friend, Kate at Connaught Place (CP)- doing some shopping and enjoying the atmosphere. CP is a central hub in Delhi, originally laid out by the British. It is now a place where many travelers (and locals) go to shop, meet and eat. Good bookstores, clothing, emporiums for local arts and crafts, and many, many restaurants can all be found here.
We wound up going to a restaurant known as "Rodeo." It is on the inner-most circle of Connaught Place. Rodeo is famous for its Tex-Mex menu (with a dose of Indian masala).
We had a blast... We walked in and Hank Williams, Jr was blasting out of the jukebox. All of the waiters and waitresses had on cowboy boots and hats. Some of the waiters even had six shooters (albeit cardboard) strapped to their belts! The adults in our crew were in hog-heaven - ice cold Margaritas!When the real salsa, cheese nachos and tacos were placed on our table the kids were in hog heaven! It was a great night of cowgirls, cowboys, and Indians - a little taste of Texas (sort of) all right in the middle of New Delhi.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sariska National Park

Sariska was the second stop on our mini-trip to Rajasthan last week. It has been billed for years as a "Tiger Preserve." But as most of the current travel guides note, all of the tigers were apparently poached in 2005. The good news is, the Indian government and an NGO have been working to restore the population. As of last week, 2 females and 1 male tiger have been relocated from other areas to Sariska.
We stayed in a place called the Sariska Palace - it had beautiful brochures and a very beautiful website. Sadly, it is not what it seems . Bad food, overpriced rooms with bad service. The Palace itself could be politely described as "faded glory." I got sick from the food the night before our Safari. Not a good way to prep for a bouncey 3 hour jeep ride in the woods.
The Jeep Safari is the reason to come to Sariska. Jeeps (Maruti "Gypsy") are rented right at the park entrance which opens as early as 6:30 am. The fees are reasonable and our jeep driver was very good and spoke some English. Our driver, Chauhan came with us so we had no need for the extra guide the park offers (for an additional fee).
Tiger sightings are very rare, but there is plenty of wildlife to be seen. We all enjoyed spotting the Langurs which are plentiful and very entertaining. Lesa and I really love the Kingfishers. You can easily see both the common and larger varieties here. Crocodiles, Peacocks, Samber (very large deer the size of an elk!) spotted deer and even the occasional stray water Buffalo. Both Audrey and Evan are good animal spotters!

The weather is cool in the morning so it was a good time to view animals - as in any park like this, the wildlife is active in early morning and dusk.
Sariska is little out of the way, but we had a pretty ride through small villages and farms and got a chance to see the many abandoned forts (or "haveli") that dot the landscape throughout Rajasthan.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Farmer's field

If you have been following the blog you may remember the photo of the train engine that was part of a farmer's home. A neighbor and I returned to the scene this past weekend to get a closer look at the locomotive and try to find its owner...
We got a good look at the engine - both inside and out.In the photo above you can see how close it is to the road. The engine is a narrow-gauge train. The mystery, though, is that there are no railroad tracks anywhere in this part of Noida. This is a very heavy machine - we have no idea who got the engine to its current location or how it was moved!
Since my neighbor is a native of India and is obviously fluent in Hindi - we decided to take a little trek back through the open farm fields to try and find the land-owner and see what else we could discover.

We met villagers along the way who were harvesting and cleaning vegetables (radishes, onions, tomatoes, cauliflower and flowers).

This odd contraption - its owner taking a nap - is seen around town hauling everything from lumber to produce. It is a homemade hybrid. Part motor-scooter and part bicycle-rickshaw. Although we never found the owner of the train, everyone we met was very friendly, helpful - and a little curious about us. It was a beautiful day for a hike - right here in our own Noida!