Monthly Archives: August 2008

A Pause

This may be the last update for a few weeks.

My father passed away yesterday.

In a few hours, we’ll board a flight to Philadelphia, by way of Dubai and Atlanta. Dani and the kids will be there two weeks. I’ll be staying a month. I won’t have much to say about India during that time.

Pulling a potted plant from a hat

While we were dodging elephant dung and toutish cows, two potted plants mysteriously appeared on our doorstep.

I had suspected the gardener as he had recently asked about when we will finally get potted plants for our front. The next day, more showed up. The following day, he showed up, beaming. He wanted to know what we thought of the plants. Charlotte loved them. Daniela and I agreed that we liked them, but we would rather have given the go-ahead before he added them. Nevertheless, we figured that there was no harm and decided that three hundred Rupees would probably cover his costs.

The day after that, a dozen more pots appeared.

???

First Trek – Part II

Continued from part I

Snakes Seen: 0
Other Animals Seen: 0
Leopards Seen by Sammy: millions (at least)

After starting up the incline, we left our guides behind. The ubiquitous tracks of domestic animals also disappeared, so I guess the cows were not into rough terrain. The kids probably also thought better of actually making the long trek up the hill.

From there on, we saw nobody! Not a single soul was on that mountain, which is pretty amazing for India. We heard small animals in the brush a few times (mongoose? civets? monkeys?), which Sammy always insisted were leopards. Naturally, he “saw” them as well. Daniela was concerned about leopards. The region does have them in abundance. Last year, a school in the outskirts of Bangalore had a family come onto its grounds and another wandered into a shopping complex in Hosur on a Saturday morning, just to the east of where we were. It is hard to estimate how dangerous they could be. I reasoned that they are essentially mountain lions with spots. The two species are the same size, weight, inhabit the same ecological niche and have the same “performance envelope”. Mountain lions – technically being small cats – can purr, while leopards can roar. So we used the protocol for hiking with kids in mountain lion country; no wandering off alone and keep the kids close (no more than 15m/50ft away) and visible. In the future, it might be wise to ask the locals if they have lost domestic animals to leopards recently.

About halfway up, we stopped for a break on a rock overlook, where we relaxed for a while the kids turned themselves into naturalists, studying the local insects and flowers. We debated having lunch there. Eventually, we decided that if we had lunch there, we’d not make it to the top and the top was just a short distance away. In fact, it took over an hour to reach the top from there. As Nitya later said, if we had known how far we were from the top, we’d not have tried it. As it was everyone was glad we did. Tara’s three year old legs gave out and Ram stoically carried her on his shoulders. I also took her for a while to give him a break. It has been a while since I carried a talkative three year old up a mountain on my shoulders. They are heavier than in my idealized memory.

Near the top, we found dung from a large herbivore. There was some debate about whether it was elephant or gaur (Indian bison), but none of us really knew for sure and had left my Indian mammals field guide at home.

On reaching the top, we were treated to the Ranganatha Swamy temple, one of several in the Cavery river basin. This is a small one, built under a gigantic boulder at the top of the mountain. It only operates on Saturdays and is otherwise deserted it seems. We enjoyed the solitude, ate lunch, lounged and explored the temple grounds. Eventually, we took the hint of gathering wind and thunder in the distance as our cue to descend.

When we got back down to the village, we had one last interesting encounter. There was an old woman who had a burning question in her mind; one that must have been bothering her all day.

Why did you go to the Ranganatha Swamy temple on the wrong day? Today is a Laksmi fewstival, not a Ranganatha Swamy festival.

I’ll make a mental to always hike to remote temples on the “wrong” day.

First Trek – Part I

On Independence Day, we went hiking with two other families (the bus stop crowd) at a place called Ranganatha Swamy Hill. It lies in a largely deserted stretch of hill country just south of Bangalore called the South Bangalore taluk. This is the mythical “nature” that we had been seeking almost since we arrived in India.

One problem that we as hiking junkies and nature lovers have encountered here is that India simply has no hiking culture. This means that when you ask around about the good places to go, people express bewilderment at the very idea of walking in the jungle for fun and then direct you either to the Lal Bagh or Nandi Hills. The former will be a gentle stroll between camera flashes and the latter will involve dodging monkeys and touts in a trash laden tourist trap. Neither was what we were looking for. We eventually found it by scouring the vicinity of Bangalore in Google Earth, looking at maps, asking people and simply beating search engines to death. We had a shortlist of places to try and after reading a blog post trip report for Ranganatha Swamy Hill, decided to give it a try.

The trailhead was in a village called Konavaradoddi, a few kilometers off of the Bangalore-Kanakapura road. Konavaradoddi is very far off the main road and getting there was an adventure in itself. We stopped in a village market on the way so that Daniela could buy bananas. I went digging in the console for a Karnataka state roadmap. When I looked up, I found myself surrounded by curious onlookers and beggars. I’ve been pestered by beggars before. One only needs to stop for a nanosecond or two at a traffic light in Bangalore for that to happen, but the crowd of curious onlookers was more extreme than anything I’ve seen before.

Finally, we got everything taken care of and were on our way again. A few more miles down a twisty, one lane road led us to Konavaradoddi and the trailhead. Konavaradoddi is remote. In fact, there were no motor vehicles in the village; only cows, goats and barefoot villagers. We must have been a strange sight. As a group, we were made up of a motley collection of Tamils and foreigners of various nationalities. I got the feeling that they did not see outsiders very often and foreigners were even more of a novelty. We parked and started gathering up our packs to head down the trail.

The local children gathered around our cars and started asking for chocolate. We did not have any (we did bring some as part of lunch, but not enough for every kid in the village), but perhaps in the future, we’ll bring some along for local kids. We finished gathering up our packs and started off down the trail, with half of the village children in tow, still asking for sweets. I stopped to adjust my trekking poles and they all gathered around me to watch. Daniela saw this and took the camera out to photograph the scene. As soon as she did, they stopped gawking at me and posed for the camera.

As we walked up the valley to the base of Ranganatha Swamy Hill, we passed through coconut groves and farmland where life has hardly changed in millennia. It was the epitome of rural idyll, thirty miles and a world away from downtown Bangalore.

Three of the kids persevered and after a half kilometer or so, Daniela dug out an Oreo for each. They declared that they would be our guides to the top and wanted to be paid in bananas. Along the way to the base of the hill, we also picked up a couple of cows in our procession.

Finally, we started up the hill and left our multiple species of “guides” behind. To be continued.

Pic of the Day – Culture Clash

Happy Birthday India!

Today is Independence Day in India and the start of a three day weekend. I must confess that my patriotic feels are not stirred on this day (they have it all wrong… the 4th of July is the most auspicious day of the year to become independent from Britain). 😛 In any case, we’re off to a flag raising ceremony.

Here is a photo of the kids dressed up for yesterday’s Independence Day festivities at school yesterday.

Our own little Olympics

We had our own little Olympic experience this past weekend.

We went and ran in the Urban Stampede. It was a 4x5km relay race, for a total of 20km per team. It was a very interesting experience. It was a corporate relay race. All of the teams were fielded by companies in Bangalore; mostly IT firms and Banks. There were 78 teams present from 38 companies. Daniela and I were part of one of the two teams fielded by our company. Both were mixed teams in all respects. Of the 8 teammates, three were female and four were foreigners (American or German).

I was curious to see what an organized race would be like in India. In the west, there is a pretty standard “race” culture and it does not seem to matter what country the race is being held in, or whether it is a run only or a triathlon. We were expecting an organizational train wreck and were not expecting the race to get started until at least an hour after the scheduled start time. In fact it went off on time. In fact, it was just like running a race in the west, complete with the dance music at the start/finish line and the hyping up of the runners beforehand, etc. Both of SAP’s teams ran “middle of the pack”, but everyone had a good time.

The run route itself was a beautiful stretch, through farmland with a nice view of Nandi Hills shrouded in angry monsoon clouds. There was also somewhat of a collision of two Indias. Many farmers and laborers stopped working to watch the race. I wondered what these people were thinking. Here were all of these “techies” (the local term for anyone involved in technology companies) – people with astronomical incomes compared to laborers and who sit in comfortable, air conditioned offices – spending their Sunday morning running around and sweating profusely. Did they find it interesting? Absurd? Inquiring minds want to know!

An online gossip rag called MidDay has a video of the event.