Musings

“What country?” Is the question most asked of us by everyone from our waiter bringing us the steaming basket of butter nan, to the adolescent boys we pass on the street, and people we meet at the usual sightseeing places. We used to answer U.S., but now I just smile and say “Obama!” Everyone gets it. Everyone we’ve met loves him as much as we do.

Perhaps it’s that we’ve traveled off season, or to unusually remote places, but more often than not we are the only westerners in sight. The next question after “what country?” is “picture?” This does not mean they want us to take their picture. It means they want to have their picture taken with us. David is a good sport about it, I usually mention that I’m in the witness protection program.

I’m writing this post from home. It seems so weird that 36 hours ago I was standing at the edge of the Arabian Sea where a bunch of guys were doing astonishing things with a soccer ball.

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…and now I’m trying to sort through almost four months of mail.
We returned yesterday afternoon. Suitcases are mostly unpacked. The laundry is piled up ready to be dealt with. I’m trying to remember which gift is meant for which person. (Who did I promise this to?)

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The refrigerator is empty and we need to do some food shopping. I guess David was serious about retirement because he hasn’t talked about going to the office.
Instead of running around taking care of any of these things I am sitting here writing. That this blog has run its course makes me almost as sad as having the trip come to an end. After the initial frustration and negotiation with the learning curve, I have came to enjoy writing it very much. It was great to have David weigh in when he had something to say (having nothing to say never held me back). I am playing with the thought of continuing it on another subject and a soon as I find one that might remotely be of interest to anyone but me, I’ll throw it out there and wait for your feedback. I still have photos I want to post, so we won’t be be totally out of your lives. I am so grateful to you for reading the blog. Your comments and feedback created such an important connection to home for both of us.

For right now take good care and remember that’s there’s a whole, huge world out there, ready for your exploration and enjoyment.

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Lora

The Long and Winding Road

David: We’ve mentioned the amazing roads around the hill stations, but the road from Mandi to Shimla is worthy of special mention. It is of the same nature as the roads to Dharamsala and Manali, but it is longer, steeper, and has more hairpin turns than the others. And unlike the others, the road to Shimla is a major truck route. Driving it gives a small sense of what it must be like going over the Khyber Pass with all the military supply convoys heading for Afghanistan. An unending stream of overloaded lorries laboring to get up the mountains and then down the other side. On the way up there are many stretches where the lorries struggle to keep pace with a person strolling leisurely along the roadside. And on the way down, their brakes are a constant shriek of metal-on-metal as the drivers try to hold the speed back as they negotiate the succession steeply descending hairpin turns.

Mixed in with all the lorries are busses, cars, vans, motorcycles and motor scooters that want to pass the lorries, and each other, at will. There seem to be two rules of the road for passing. If you do not see any approaching traffic (even when you are entering a blind hairpin curve), it’s ok to pass because the road ahead is clear. And if you do see oncoming traffic, it’s ok to pass because the approaching driver sees you and knows what kind of evasive action is needed to survive the encounter. All this with an almost vertical drop of 1,000 feet if you misjudge where your tire hits the road. As our son Max observed when he first visited India 20 years ago, all the drivers are good because all the bad drivers are dead.

The lorries themselves offer a visual treat. Many are the British lorries of World War II design that the Indians continue to produce, and some are slight updates of those old designs. It is as though time has been frozen over the past 60-70 years. Also, the lorries have exuberant personalities created by the over-the-top idiosyncratic artwork that covers them. Photos are the only way to describe their appearance.

The only hairpin turns we have seen more severe than those on the road to Shimla are those on the road going up to the monkey temple that sits on the highest peak overlooking the town. The only way to negotiate the turns at each end of the many switchbacks on that road is to make one, and sometimes even two, three-point turns.

The road down from Shimla to Chandigarh, where we caught a plane to start our flight home, is more of the same with one difference (“same, same, but different” as they say in Luang Prabang); the change in elevation is even more severe because Chandigarh is all the way back down in the plains. A parting phenomenon before leaving the mountains was the Timber Trail Resort. You have to picture this from words because it is impossible to capture an adequate image by camera. The road runs the length of a narrow valley, half-way up an extremely steep mountainside that must rise no less than 1,500 feet above the river. On top of the opposing mountainside is the Timber Trail Resort, which guests access by cable car that soars, in a single span, high across the river from the road to the resort. They are building a road on the opposing mountainside to provide better access to the resort, and the construction has created a non-stop rockslide from the top of the mountain to the river. We stopped to watch and wonder, how did they build the hotel in that impossible location, and why.
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Lora: in addition to the hairpin turns and ‘hold your breath and pray’ driving styles, there are other constants. Namely tea stalls. Indian people like to eat and they make sure there’s always food available. Thus, even in the most remote or unexpected place you will find small shacks where you can buy, in addition to tea (chai), candy bars, packaged cookies, fruit and cigarettes. Typically there are groups of men standing or lounging around, shooting the breeze. You never see women there – our guess is that they are working. You can find these stalls in the most ridiculously remote locations – at the top of a mountain, for instance, or down in a dusty valley village. They are adjacent to temples and shrines, and as you enter and exit parks and national monuments. We developed a taste for small packages of Oreos (fewer bad ingredients when they come in small packages, I am certain) and Cadbury fruit and nut bars.

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Food carts are as ubiquitous as the black crows that hang out waiting for someone to drop a morsel of anything edible. To score a whole momo (fried vegetable filled savory pastry) is a very big deal.

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There are even sources of nourishment that have you staring in wonder:

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Homeward Bound: Chandigarh – Mumbai – London – Boston and our friend Ellen Grossman

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Dear friends and faithful readers,

We are are in Mumbai for night, waiting for our early morning flight nome and I am thinking about stuff. I foresee only a couple more posts after this one – notably our drive yesterday from Shimla to Chandigarh – as we are on our way back home. I need to sort through the thousands of images both on media cards and on almost 30 rolls of 120 film waiting to be developed, Then I’ll know whether or not I was able to capture 12 images that I can be proud of. Or was it 10, or 8?

So often on this trip we were reminded how incredibly lucky we are to be able to realize this dream of extended, slow travel, taking almost four months together to explore places in both Southeast Asia and India (and of course Taiwan as well).

The most heartbreaking reminder to follow your dream, not just dream about following your dream, arrived via email last night when we received word that our friend Ellen Grossman had died. Seeing the words ‘died’ and ‘Ellen’ in the same sentence was totally inconceivable to us. Then the flood of emails began to arrive from people on the Cape and in Boston confirming the news that Ellen had died on Sunday night.

We saw Ellen and Rick in Provincetown in early October. She looked as vibrant and energetic and, of course beautiful, as always. Over dinner the four of us talked about our upcoming trip – especially about what kind of photo equipment I should bring along. Seeing her that evening lighting up the room in her inimitable way, it’s impossible to imagine that she would receive a diagnosis of cancer shortly thereafter and then die only 4 months later, leaving Rick, their children and extended family and friends totally devastated.

I can’t help thinking that it was almost a year ago to the day that our mutual friend Judy Salzman died suddenly. Rick and Ellen took tender care of her husband Carl during this terrible time, supporting him emotionally and (knowing Ellen) culinarily, in their typical loving way. I can imagine that now those roles are reversed with Carl (battle-scared as he is) helping his friend Rick and his children through the same sad passage.

In one of the emails I received last night from Ellen and Rick’s daughter Erica, was this advice:

“Life is short don’t waste it on the unimportant stuff!! Hug your family, tell them you love them…and eat dessert first because you never know what the next minute will bring!” Ellen never wasted a minute on the unimportant stuff, and I distinctly remember when we sat down for dinner that night at Devon her asking to see the dessert menu before ordering an entrée. We’re on our way home to hug our family and hope there are some good desserts to eat. And then to plan the next adventure.

By the way those flowers are growing in someone’s garden on the road from Shimla to Chandigarh.

Stoned! The Chandigarh Rock Garden

We have forgiven American Airlines for not letting us add a long stop over in London to our around-the-world tickets. We had thoughts of going to Cyprus – not such a good place to be right now it turns out. Our only choices were to either spend the last month of our trip in India, or go home early. Luckily we chose ‘stay’ not ‘go’ which is how we found ourselves visiting hill stations in the north as well as having an extra day to spend in Chandigarh, an almost brand new modern city created right after Partition and designed by world famous architects such as Le Corbusier and Maxwell Fry. We visited the stunning High Court Building (sorry, no photos allowed) usually closed to visitors but fortunate David had a business card which identified him as an attorney. So we were allowed inside to stare opened mouthed at the soaring inner space made entirely of poured concrete. The building (designed by Le Corbusier) has stood the test of time and remains a stunning master piece of modern architecture.

Our very favorite visit, however was to the Rock Garden created by Nek Chand. It practically defies description. And the pictures I took (see below) hardly do it justice. Because I was totally enchanted with the small figures modeled from spare parts I spent time taking pictures of just a few of the 1,600 on view in the park.

Wikipedia says it better than I ever could:
The Rock Garden of Chandigarh is a Sculpture garden in Chandigarh, India, also known as Nek Chand’s Rock Garden after its founder Nek Chand, a government official who started the garden secretly in his spare time in 1957. Today it is spread over an area of forty-acres (160,000 m²), it is completely built of industrial & home waste and thrown-away items.

The garden is most famous for its sculptures made from recycled ceramic and completely built of industrial & home waste and thrown-away items.

Waterfall at Rock Garden, Chandigarh
It is situated near Sukhna Lake. It consists of man-made interlinked waterfalls and many other sculptures that have been made of scrap & other kinds of wastes (bottles, glasses, bangles, tiles, ceramic pots, sinks, electrical waste, etc.) which are placed in walled paths.
In his spare time, Chand began collecting materials from demolition sites around the city. He recycled these materials into his own vision of the divine kingdom of Sukrani, choosing a gorge in a forest near Sukhna Lake for his work. The gorge had been designated as a land conservancy, a forest buffer established in 1902 that nothing could be built on. Chand’s work was illegal, but he was able to hide it for eighteen years before it was discovered by the authorities in 1975. By this time, it had grown into a 12-acre (49,000 m2) complex of interlinked courtyards, each filled with hundreds of pottery-covered concrete sculptures of dancers, musicians, and animals.

His work was in serious danger of being demolished, but he was able to get public opinion on his side, and in 1976 the park was inaugurated as a public space. Nek Chand was given a salary, a title (“Sub-Divisional Engineer, Rock Garden”), and a workforce of 50 laborers so that he could concentrate full-time on his work. It even appeared on an Indian stamp in 1983.The Rock Garden is still made out of recycled materials; and with the government’s help, Chand was able to set up collection centers around the city for waste, especially rags and broken ceramics.

When Chand left the country on a lecture tour in 1996, the city withdrew its funding, and vandals attacked the park. The Rock Garden Society took over the administration and upkeep of this unique visionary environment.

The garden is visited by over five thousand people daily, with a total of more than twelve million visitors since its inception.

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