Monday, July 20, 2009

Shower Head

The shower head in the guest bathroom broke last week. It was a cheap plastic one. A seal split open while Lesa's sister Heidi was taking a shower. She didn't realize it at the time so water shot everywhere up and over the curtain soaking the entire bathroom. I was just glad she didn't get an electric shock (having had my past experiences with Indian wiring).

I searched for over a week to find a new shower head. Our driver helped me find one in a local market for about $1. This didn't fit. I found another - a plastic chrome head- in an Indian Department store for about $10, but I couldn't see spending that much on what is essentially my landlady's shower head. Finally last night our cook brought one that her husband found (odd that he is conveniently a plumber): $2. Feeling satisfied, I screwed it into place and turned on the valve to test it. The plastic end of the head promptly blew off with a blast of water - smacking the opposite wall of the shower stall.

One of our toilets also broke last week. Water stopped filling up in the tank. There was pressure, it just wasn't getting from the wall to the toilet. Toilets (western style) are similar to the ones you find in the US, but the valve mechanisms are different. I was afraid I might break it if I tried to take it apart so I called the ATS plumber, Jaymaal, to fix it. He showed up in about 30 minutes.

After making an incredible mess and still with a broken toilet he told me (in Hinglish) that the mechanism was clogged. Jaymaal gave me the price of a new part and disappeared. That was four days ago. I called the maintenance office again this morning. Two plumbers showed up. Jaymaal and his supervisor.

First I had them "fix" my exploded shower head. They used plumbers tape on the front of the head and screwed it back on. It worked. They told me to just turn the valve on slowly so the water pressure wouldn't blow it off again... Then they moved on to the toilet, dissecting it and spreading all of the slimy parts onto the floor and sink. That was when the 3rd plumber showed up. They all managed to crowd into that little humid bathroom, clean and unclog the slim from the parts and then reassembled the commode. With a little fanfare, the toilet was flushed and it began to refill.

I thanked them, gave them a little tip and off the trio went. Since my bathroom was still a mess I went to the guest-shower to rinse two hours of sweat and frustration away. I undressed, stepped into the shower stall, turned the valve... and was promptly pelted in the forehead by a blast of water and the plastic end of my newly-repaired shower head.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Golden Temple

The highlight of our trip north to Amritsar was the famous Sikh Golden Temple. Built in the 17th-18th Centuries, it represents the spiritual soul of the Sikh religion. We actually visited the Temple at different times during the day. It is most beautiful at dawn, as the sun begins to strike its golden surface. The dome is supposed to be covered with 750KG of pure gold - most of the main temple (Hari Mandir Sahib) is actually covered with Copper. It stands in the middle of the "pool of nectar" (Amrit Sarovar) and is surrounded by white marble complex with beautiful clock towers and watch towers. Pilgrims are constantly strolling clockwise around the parameter of the pool. Men are bathing at the edges of the sacred waters. Families are sitting in the shade visiting, or mediating.
The philosophy of the Sikh religion is wonderful - their doors are opened to all. At this Temple, almost everyone working is a volunteer (hundreds of men, women and children are working all over the complex). My favorite place here was the kitchen (Guru Ka-Langar) where it is said the Temple feeds 40,000 visitors a day. There is a giant common dining room where travelers and pilgrims sit together and enjoy a simple, but delicious meal. Some of the kitchen volunteers called me over and invited me in to watch them cook. They were preparing the largest vats of dal (lentils) I have ever seen!
Although it was a hot day in Amritsar, being at the edge of the Temple waters and watching the families and pilgrims pass-by was a wonderful, peaceful experience.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Border

We spent the weekend traveling up to the Punjabi town of Amritsar. This small city in the northwestern corner of India is only 30 km from the border of Pakistan. The trip was fun for us because we went with Lesa's sister, Heidi, and traveled for the first time using the Indian train system.

The train ride took about 5 1/2 hours and was really very easy. Tickets are booked and printed out on-line, the train was on-time, fairly clean. We enjoyed some nice meals and had plenty of water and tea. We traveled in an A/C chair car on the express (Shatabdi) train from New Delhi to Amritsar.

The two big attractions for travel to such a hot, northern place are the famous Sikh "Golden Temple" (more on that shortly) and the daily gate closing ceremony at the nearby India-Pakistan border crossing. For obvious reasons, there has been quite a lot of tension between Pak and India recently so we were excited to see this daily cross-border celebration and shouting match.

Crowds from both countries (as well as many foreigners) flood to the ceremony each evening and to view the theatrics. Soldiers on each side shout over loudspeakers to one another, and a caller rouses the crowds like a cheerleader. The crowds on the India side of the board roar :"Hindustan!" Quickly followed by the roar of the crowds across the border yelling, "Pakistan!" This goes on for quite sometime.

It was hot in the summer sun, but the spectacle was fun. The whole circus was accompanied by loud Pak-Indian pop music, flags waving, and enthusiastic, very high-kicking soldiers marching to the border in repeated shows of defiance to their counterparts on the other side of the gate.This all culminated in the meeting of the 2 sides' commanding officers. The formally dressed soldiers strut, shout commands, and finally salute one another as the two nations' flags are jointly lowered to signify the official closing of the border for the day.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Its Hot Outside and You're Really Bored, Part 1

This post is what I'd like to think of as a first installment in the posting-series: "101 Things to do in India When its Really, Really Hot."Ingredients: Sunshine, adolescent boy, magnifying glass, and a dry, crumpled page from the "Times of India."

Monday, July 6, 2009

4th of July

We have our first guest here for a visit from the US. Lesa's sister Heidi has joined us in the steaming heat of Noida! The timing was perfect because she got to join us for an evening at the US Embassy to celebrate the 4th of July (US Independence Day). All Americans (US Passport holders) were invited to the event. Defintely had a blast - there was American food (hotdogs, beef hamburgers, fries, Tex Mex), a great live band, fireworks, cake and competitions.. There was even a US Marine Corps honor guard. One of the highlights for me was watching forty young kids beat ten off-duty Marines in a tug of war. The next day, Heidi got her first big taste of sight-seeing in the steaming heat of Delhi. We took her to the famous Chandi Chowk neighborhood to see the massive Red Fort .
The fort was built between 1639 and 1648 by the Mogul Ruler, Shah Jahan. The fort is a World Heritage site. We also headed across the street to the large Jain Temple in Chandi Chowk. The Temple is famous for its bird hospital where birds of all types are brought for recovery. The Jains are known for their reverence of nature and protection of all living creatures.
Heidi will be "swimming in india" with us for several weeks... she is in for quite a fun, albeit warm, adventure! Stay tuned.