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India 2007

Dear Ones,

For years, Rebecca had been planning to study abroad for the first half of her junior year of college. When she chose Delhi University as her destination, Stephen and I knew that we had the perfect opportunity for that very special trip we had been dreaming of to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.

And, of course, this would be a nostalgic trip for me because it would include a visit to Woodstock School in Mussoorie – where I spent my junior year of high school in 1973-74.

It was a fabulous trip – and I hope you will scroll down to read about it, and to view some of the many pictures I took (despite the fact that I temporarily lost my camera and discovered later that it had been run over and damaged – but still worked!)

What struck me most about India during this trip was the jarring juxtaposition of modernity and decay. In Delhi in particular – with its overwhelming population of nearly 16 million – the infrastructure seems to be rotting away before your eyes. Buildings are literally falling apart, and many a building with collapsed roofs and missing walls are still inhabited. There is also a paradox about cleanliness: shopkeepers will sweep the dirt outside their stores until it virtually sparkles, and yet nobody seems to mind the piles of garbage and rubble that abound in every direction. (Rebecca swears that people just wait for the garbage to be consumed by the huge population of cows, dogs, monkeys, pigs, etc. that roam the streets at will.)

On one of our car trips, we saw an almost inexplicable sight: just outside the crumbling city of Old Delhi is rising a fiercely modern city of glass and steel and almost futuristic architecture. Ominously called simply “DLF” (apparently after the real estate group that is financing it), this city is meant for housing and offices for the new elite class of Indians working in the super fast growing technological industry (read: call centers).

Even Mussoorie is affected by this juxtaposition. The same shacks that were there 33 years ago are still (barely) standing, but painted on almost every surface is a sign advertising internet and email access. The streets of the bazaar are just as narrow as ever – and yet are now filled to overflowing with cars and motorcycles (which were banned from those streets in my day).

What struck Stephen the most was the traffic. Not just that it is very heavy – which, of course, it is. Or that it is incredibly varied – which it is. (check out my montage below of some of the modes of transport generally found on the streets). The streets literally teem with overloaded trucks; buses with people sitting on top and hanging out of the windows; private cars; three-wheeled scooters; bicycle rickshaws; man-powered rickshaws; motorcycles; bicycles; carts drawn by cows, donkeys, camels, and elephants; pedestrians; beggars who run up to your car at every intersection to perform tricks and bang on the windows asking for alms; and, of course, animals wondering around untended – especially cows. But what really got to Stephen was the honking. The fact that you see signs posted saying “Lane driving is safe driving” will tell you that staying in your own lane is absolutely not the norm. The accepted style of driving is to head for any opening you can see, and lean on the horn until the slower moving car, bus, truck, motorcycle, or person ahead of you gives way. Most of the trucks actually have rear bumpers emblazoned with “Use horn” – indicating that they will not move out of your way unless you honk. And so, there is a constant wall of noise to accompany the constant wall of humanity and animal life. Even in peaceful Mussoorie, the sound outside our rooms was reminiscent of a New York City street on a crowded day during rush hour. On a recent trip to Long Beach, Stephen was really struck by the fact that he was on a road where everyone stayed in their own lane (pretty much) and no one was honking.

But overall – we had an amazing time seeing the beautiful sights and eating the mouth-wateringly delicious food. And, of course, seeing our beautiful daughter who has made herself right at home in this diverse and colorful country.

And we hope you have a good time reading about it below!

Much love,

Elise (and Stephen and Rebecca!)

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DAY 1 – DELHI

We arrived in Delhi on the evening of Wednesday, August 29th (after almost 20 hours in the air) and went straight to bed at the Siddarth Hotel.  

Watch the slideshow to the right to come with us (and our driver, Kishoor, and guide, Anand) on a tour of the old and new cities of Delhi that included:

– a Hindu temple, and its kiosk for buying flower offerings

– the Indian governmental buildings

– the cremation site of Mahatma Ghandi (visited by many school children!)

– the imposing Qtab Minar; a red sandstone tower built in the 13th century, and surrounded by ancient buildings with beautiful carvings.  

(Note:  I made a big mistake photographing the snake charmer and his cobra.  He instantly demanded money for the picture, and we didn’t yet have any small bills.  He didn’t want to give us change – and as you can see in the final picture – his “colleague” followed Stephen for quite a while – demanding quite a bit more money than our guide thought was appropriate.  Our first of many experiences of the Indian version of the hard sell!)

DAY 2 – UDAIPUR

From Delhi, we took an overnight train to Udaipur (founded in 1559 when the Maharana flooded the area and created Lake Pichola).  We had sleeper berths in the train, and met a young couple who live near Rebecca.

Our hotel in Udaipur was the Fateh Prakash – which is part of the palace of the hereditary Maharana of Udaipur (who still lives there).  Our room was almost totally made of marble, and had a spectacular view of the Lake Palace hotel in the middle of the lake (a location used in the filming of the James Bond movie “Octopussy”).

We spent the rest of the day on a guided tour of a local Hindu temple (also made out of the marble indigenous to the area); the museum that is part of the grounds of the City Palace; and the Botanical Gardens where the fountains operate using a hydraulic system from the early 1700’s that still works.

After sunset, we went to the lakeside boat “lobby”, and caught the boat to the Lake Palace where we had a spectacular meal to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. 

(Everywhere we went, we were virtually alone.  The high season doesn’t start until October, as most people know better than to brave Udaipur when it is still so HOT!)

DAY 3 – MORE UDAIPUR

Our second day in Udaipur was spent mostly on a peaceful boat tour of Lake Pichola.  We had a great view of our hotel from the boat (the open window on the third floor was our room).

We passed the Lake Palace again, and then had a brief stop on Jagmandir Island, with its rows of elephants trumpeting back toward the city of Udaipur.

After the boat tour, we took a leisurely stroll through the city (no driver or guide), and made our way over the bridge and through some rather seedy alleys to the Ambrai Restaurant (which had been recommended to us).  While we ate, we watched some women doing their laundry on a nearby ghat, and a group of men swimming in the lake.

As we were walking back to the hotel, it started to rain.  We ran across the bridge and took cover under the wide gateway as the heavens opened and torrential rain came down.  We were joined by all manner of bikes, motorcycles, and scooters – and everyone was honking and yelling.  Rather than waiting out the rain, or braving the flooding, we hailed a scooter and had a wild ride back to the hotel in time to catch our ride to the train station for the next leg of our journey (note the glorious post-rain sunset).

DAY 4 – JAIPUR

Our second overnight train trip was a little less comfortable, as we had side berths, and the air conditioning wasn’t working too well.  But everything improved in the morning when the chai walla showed up with his big metal samovar of masala chai (spiced tea).

At Jaipur station, we were met by Kishoor (our driver from Delhi) and a new guide for a day touring the famed “Pink City” – a planned city which was built in 1727 by Raja Sawai Jai Singh (the “pink” referring to the color that all the buildings are required to be painted).

The main site is the Amber Fort, built in the 16th century by Raja Man Singh, which is a blend of Hindu and Muslim architecture.

The fort is high atop a hill, and we got there on the back of an elephant!  The fort itself has some beautiful rooms that are still painted in the style of the time.  

In one of the pictures, you will see a shot (from the car) of a building covered with scaffolding.  That is the famed Palace of the Winds.  The disappointment of not being able to properly see the building was somewhat offset when I was able to take a picture of a miniature version of the same Palace just outside a store we went into!

DAY 5 – REBECCA’S APARTMENT IN DELHI

Bright and early the next morning, Kishoor drove us back to Delhi where we finally got to rendezvous with Rebecca, who is currently doing a “semester abroad” at Delhi University (but was temporarily in Chennai).

She is living in a lovely apartment near the university, in an upscale neighborhood called “Civil Lines”.  It is a 3-bedroom apartment that she shares with six other exchange students.  Rebecca and her roommate Julie have decorated their room with all kinds of lovely local trinkets!

In one of these pictures, Rebecca is displaying the ribbon and plaque she received for helping out with “Flipper Fest” while she was in Chennai.

We were able to take Rebecca and five of her roommates out to dinner at a tasty local restaurant near our hotel.  It’s reassuring to know that she is living with such a great group.

The last couple of pictures are from the metro station right across the street from the apartment – part of the brand new, state of the art system that helps Rebecca get around Delhi with ease – and in air conditioning!

DAY 6 – AGRA

The next day, we all set off (with Kishoor again – who was becoming a real favorite!) for the famed city of Agra – about a four hour drive from Delhi.

The main attraction of Agra is, of course, the breathtaking Taj Mahal, built as a tomb for Mumtaz Mahal, beloved wife of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who reigned from 1628-1658.  It is impossible to describe how beautiful the Taj Mahal is – and no pictures can truly do it justice.  I remember that when I was 17 I came to the grounds at night and watched the moon rise behind the Taj.  According to a sign we saw, there are now strict rules limiting the number of people who can be on the grounds after sunset.

Our next stop was the Red Fort, across the river from the Taj.  When Shah Jahan fell ill, his son Aurangzeb usurped him and imprisoned him in the Red Fort until his death in 1666.  He lived in relative luxury, and had a spectacular view of his wife’s tomb across the river.  He was eventually buried there with her.

At dinner that evening, Rebecca got a chance to try to work a puppet!

DAY 7 – FATEPUHR SIKRI

The next day we toured the lovely deserted Mughal city of Fatepuhr Sikri,  As we were on our way in – I discovered that my camera was missing!  Thankfully, Rebecca was able to lend me her camera while we were on the grounds of this amazing deserted city.  

When we got back to parking lot, I looked everywhere for my camera – devastasted to think I was going to lose all the pictures I had taken over the last six days.  Just as we were leaving the area, we checked one more time at the gate where a bunch of men were playing cards.  They suddenly remembered someone had turned in a camera – and brought it to me.  It was mine – and it had clearly been run over by a car or something!  The screen was cracked so I could see what was inside – but it was still working.  And thank heavens – although it was difficult to use with the broken screen – I was able to use it for the rest of the trip and all my pictures came out.   Whew! 

The next morning – very early – Kishoor took us to get fresh jalebis at the best place in town – Divram Sweets.  Jalebis for breakfast.  Yumm!!!

DAYS 8/9/10 – WOODSTOCK!

Very early the next morning, we caught a fast train to Dehra Dun (five hours – and they fed us the whole way!), and then a taxi up the mountain (6000 ft) to Mussoorie and the thrilling moment when I stood at the Woodstock High School gate for the first time in 33 years.

There were many familiar sights on the campus: the ramp up to the high school, the quad, the lyre tree, the steep path down to the dormitories; and Parker Hall where Carl Ritchie and I performed in so many talent shows!.  But also many changes.  Midlands – my dormitory – has been completely remodeled and now looks just like a dorm on any stateside college campus.  Computers were everywhere!  (The internet didn’t even exist when I was here.)  

The old tea shop where we used to hang out after school was very much changed.  The shop itself has actually expanded (now the “Cozy Corner Snack Bar”), but the concrete structure where we used to sit, sip tea, and look at the beautiful view is literally crumbling to bits, despite the bright blue paint.

We spent the next day walking through Landaur Bazaar (market) and up to Landaur Language School – where Rebecca had just spent a month of intensive Hindi training.  We then wandered all around the top chukker (the circular path at the top of the hill) looking for the house I used to live in when I was “out of boarding”. 

We stopped for lunch at the Tip Top Tea Shop (“We Now Serve Waffles”), and while Rebecca was eating her second bun & omelet special, I asked the proprietor if he remembered Buena Vista house.  His eyes lit up, and he said “Are you a Baur?”  When he discovered I was related to the Baur family, and had lived with them at Buena Vista, he said “Now we are friends!” and told us that he still had something on his wall at home that had been given to him by my aunt and uncle. (his name was Pritam Prakash – and he asked to be remembered to all the Baurs!)  At a nearby shop, an older woman said she remembered a “Jennie Baur”.  When I said “Do you mean Junie?”  She said yes, she meant “Junie”, not “Jennie” – so I said “That’s my Mom!”

We then headed off for a long walk through the main part of the Mussoorie Bazaar, and even took a ride on the cable car (although it was so foggy from the monsoons that we couldn’t see much of anything!).  The buildings themselves look much the same as they did decades ago – but everywhere you looked there were signs advertising internet and email access!  We really tired ourselves out hiking around the hillside all day, so we stayed in our rooms at the school that night and actually ordered in Tibetan food!

It was sad to leave the hills the next day for the long train ride back to noisy, HOT Delhi.  And even sadder when we had to bid farewell to Rebecca and head for the airport for our trip home.

Below: a montage of traffic scenes from various parts of our trip.  “Traffic”, of course, includes many different animals including dogs, cows, horses, and even an elephant.  (Note the sign that says “Complusary Left”).

Below: a montage of market/store scenes from various parts of our trip.  (Note the store with the tree growing through it, the store with windchimes hanging out front, and our visit to a reservations-only Pizza Hut!)

DEMONSTRATIONS

There is a tradition in India that every tour guide receives a commission for bringing potential customers to the better shops.  So, at the end of each of our tours on this trip, our guide took us to see a “demonstration” of the particular craft of that area.  We were treated like royalty – with private showings and lots of lovely tea – and then the pressure was on!  Here’s how we fared:

– a demonstration of the Kashmiri art of hand-knotted rugs.  (we bought the silk rug shown – VERY expensive!)

– a demonstration of the traditional Mughal miniature paintings.  (we bought a SMALL one)

– a demonstration of the cutting and polishing of precious and semi-precious stones.  (too steep for us – no sale)

– a demonstration of block printing on fabric (we bought a bunch of stuff – including a new bedspread and some pillow covers)

– a demonstration of marble inlay where Rebecca bought a marble statue of Buddha (a small table would have been over $400 …. we settled for a set of coasters)

And we learned a lot!

A Look at “Then” and “Now” – 1974 vs. 2007

The Ramp to High School

“Royalty” to the Girl’s Dorm

Rai Singh’s Tea Shop

Fresh jalebis!

Kwality Restaurant

Vegetable Market

Signage: “Pesturized” Milk / “Complusary” Left

Points to anyone who knows what this image is…