Okay... I just had one of those "only in India" moments... I was riding home from Greater Noida on the expressway when I spotted a piece of farm equipment being pulled by a tractor. Tractors on the Expressway in Noida are a common sight. It was the brand name that caught my eye.
Hmmm. I won't go into the definitions of "putz" here, but I will ask the bigger question:
Does the farmer know precisely what a "PutzMeister" might be?"
Evan and Audrey were off from school yesterday because of the Republic Day holiday (26 Jan). This year marks India's 60th anniversary under the current Constitution, which was ratified in 1950. India became Independent from Britain three years earlier in 1947. (Independence Day is celebrated on 15 August).
To mark the occasion Evan agreed to sing the Indian National anthem for me. The sound is a little low so you might have to turn your volume up. I often here Evan singing Hindi songs to himself while he is playing. "Jana Gana Mana" is one of the first ones Evan and Audrey learned at school when we first moved to Noida.
Here are the lyrics:
'Jana gaṇa mana adhināyaka jaya heBhārata bhāgya vidhātā Punjāba Sindhu Gujarāṭa Marāṭhā Drāviḍa Utkala Banga Vindhya Himāchala Yamunā Gangā Ucchala jaladhi taranga Tava śubha nāme jāge Tava śubha āśiṣa māge Gāhe tava jaya gāthā Jana gaṇa mangala dāyaka jaya he Bhārata bhāgya vidhāta Jaya he jaya he jaya he Jaya jaya jaya jaya he!'
And here is the English translation:
'Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people, Dispenser of India's destiny. Thy name rouses the hearts of Punjab, Sind, Gujarat and Maratha, Of the Dravida and Orissa and Bengal; It echoes in the hills of the Vindhyas and Himalayas, mingles in the music of Jamuna and Ganges and is chanted by the waves of the Indian Sea. They pray for thy blessings and sing thy praise. The saving of all people waits in thy hand, Thou dispenser of India's destiny. Victory, victory, victory to thee.'
Delhi is the only place I have ever lived where the weather forecast is simply listed as, "Dreary." It's the fog. The locals are dressed for "winter." Scarves, winter coats, gloves, stocking caps. From our point of view, the temperatures really aren't that bad. They range from the upper 40s F at night to as high as 70 F during the day... if the fog thins out. If not, the day time temps probably hang in the low 60s F. We usually wear a scarf, a hat and a warm sweater.
At night I feel like I'm camping - minus the sleeping bag. If you've been camping, you know what I mean. The sheets are cold and clammy. The pillow is damp. The air often smells smokey and musty. You need a friend to get warm.
When we get up in the morning we often cannot see 15 feet beyond the railing of our balcony. The buildings across the courtyard are simply not there. "Morning" fog often winds up being just all-day fog.
To be accurate, the fog is really about two-thirds moisture and one third pollution. It seems to be caused by air inversions. A layer of cold air trapping a layer of warm air and moisture. These routine inversions are sometimes experienced in places like Denver, Colorado. The fog just makes the weather seem colder, darker and very, very damp.
Driving is challenging to say the least. Drivers aren't compelled to use headlights in the fog, so cars, bicycles and pedestrians emerge out of the mist like ghosts without warning. The kids' school start-time is delayed in January by at least a 1/2 hour because of the weather. And the malls are really crowded - although this is probably more due to big store sales than the foggy, damp weather.
To me, the swing in Delhi temperatures shows up best in the act of doing laundry. In the summer we hang our wet clothes out on the balcony. The intense, dry heat from the sun gets them dry in literally 20 minutes. This time of year we hang our laundry inside to dry- usually at night. This is when the space-heaters are on. Clothing won't ever dry outside in this "dreary" Delhi weather.
OK, whether you are "swimming in India," or traveling to Thailand (or almost anywhere in Southeast Asia for that matter) there are many opportunities to see, and sometimes interact with elephants. I usually say it's "great for the kids." But really, Lesa and I love watching these very intelligent, gentle giants just as much as they do...
We had the opportunity to see a group of elephants outside of Chiang Mai. Elephant "rehabilitation" centers, training centers, retreats - whatever you want to call them (maybe "tourist-traps?) - they seem to have become something of a cottage industry in northern Thailand.
I do have mixed feelings about participating in this obvious sideshow. My observations have been mostly positive. The Elephant "programs" must have a sizable impact on the local economy around Chiang Mai. Also, the Thai elephants seem to be largely without abusive "training" scars. They seem happy and well fed.
I fear the elephants here in northern India may be less well cared for. Many of the elephants I have seen in India are thinner, and often have obvious scars on their rumps and heads. Perhaps diet, climate and culture all play a role in these apparent differences?
In Chiang Mai, Audrey and Evan both got to feed baby and adult elephants. And of course there was the "show:" a small program where we watched elephants paint pictures, play musical instruments and even play soccer. I think the elephants enjoy these goofy activities much more then their mahouts...At the end we all walked to the river to watch them bathe and drink and then went in small groups for a short ride through the jungle. Without a doubt, these elephants would much prefer the wild to this carnival of sorts. But, coupled with large tracts of National Parks where wild elephants still reside, these tourist-based organizations are raising awareness and are helping to integrate the elephant population into the increasingly modern Thai economy.
If you can believe it, Delhi is typically chilly between 15 December and 15 January... Damp cold and smoggy. As a way to avoid the chill we decided to celebrate the year-end festivities (Lesa's birthday, Christmas and New Year's) in Thailand.
Before we left we managed to squeeze in a bit of early Christmas - we opened some early gifts, hung our stockings, and colored lights then decorated our little tree.
On the 22nd we headed off to Bangkok for two weeks of respite from India. We spent Lesa's birthday (23 Dec) seeing some of the sights in Bangkok. My favorite was the Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha Temple) The image of the Buddha here is massive. As Audrey commented: "his fingernail is bigger than my head!" We managed to find a nice traditional holiday dinner (Turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce) at a local hotel, so we celebrated Lesa's birthday with an early Christmas feast. On the 24th we headed north by bus to Sukhothai - an ancient capital of one of the many past kingdoms in Thailand (12th Century). The park at Sukhothai is a World Heritage site and contains multiple ruins of temples (Wats), palaces and fortifications. There are no cars allowed within large areas of the park, so we rented bicycles to explore its many locations.
On the 26th we took a second "VIP" bus to Chiang Mai where we explored this northern city's famous markets and spent a day out in the country hanging out with some Elephants (more on this later...)
As the New Year approached we returned south again via Bangkok using taxis, buses, an airplane, a minivan and two ferries to get to our final weeks' destination: Koh Lanta. Lanta is a lovely, but quiet island near its more famous sister, Koh Phi Phi (seen in the movie, "The Beach").
We rang in the new year hanging out in the sun with our toes in the sand, swimming in the warm ocean and eating lots of really good Thai food!
Back to reality and our little spot of India again... Noida.