Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all!
From 2008 12 30

We have decided to stay in India.
This is our new mode of transportation.
From 2008 12 29

If you need to, you can squeeze a family on.
From Traffic, India

This is our new place under construction.
From 2008 12 29

Please send all correspondence to

M & B Farrell
333 Coconut Tree Lane
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India 612345

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dec 25--Never Smile at a Crocodile

On a hot Indian Christmas Day, we did some sight-seeing.

First we went to Crocodile Bank, a large conservation and breeding site for crocodile species from all over the world. Since 1976 the Bank has bred over 5000 crocodiles and now holds over 2400 crocodilians of 14 different species. Many crocodiles are endangered due to habit loss, conflict with humans, and hunting.

Then we went to a site of ancient temples carved during the rule of the Pallavas. Some of them are carved from single large stones.

To celebrate Christmas, we had dinner with some family friends who are Syrian Christian: Nishanth and Archana, Helen and Balaji (Nishanth's parents), Andrew and George (Nishanth's cousins), and Aqueel and Bikram, friends of the family.

Dec 22--Road Trip Back to Guwahati on Crowded Roads

Photos from the road trip back to Guwahati.

From Workers on the Streets

Dec 20 and Dec 21 --Visit to Ishani's Aunt in Tezpur

On the evening of December 20th, we returned to Tezpur and stayed with Bhanti Pehi and her husband and son, Paul. Bhanti Pehi and her husband are both doctors and they work at the State Mental Hospital. They gave us a tour of the grounds and the library.

We stayed overnight with Bhanti Pehi's family, and then we visited the place where Ishani's father is currently stationed. He had to meet with his superior, so we spent the afternoon touring parks in Tezpur--Agnigarh Park (a place where couples meet) and Bishnu Rabha Memorial Park.

Ishani's dad ended up having to work most of the day, so we spent an extra night at Tezpur. That evening, we walked out onto the bed of the Brahmaputra River--which is dry during the winter and then we got some fish and made "burned fish."

We also met and were invited into the homes of two of the men who are drivers for Ishani's father. His main driver is a "man of steel" on the road. We loved meeting his wife, his egg-laying hen, and, later that day, one of his cows wandering the streets.

Monday, December 29, 2008

December 20--Retirement Home in Jorhat

On December 20th, we started the trip back to Jorhat. Ishani's father will be retiring in a year, and they have bought a piece of property where they are building a smaller house for their retirement. Ishani's father is planning to teach yoga and grow medicinal plants--he has his garden already started. While we were there, we saw some women laying out the warp threads for the traditional Assamese red and white towels (gamucha/gamosa). The women in the pictures are laying out enough length for 15 towels. They have a technique for transferring the warp threads to a loom, but we weren't able to observe that. These are used everywhere--for ceremonies, for gifts, for dishes, for headcloths, and for cleaning.

December 19--Tea, Temples & Talking

On the morning of December 19th, we visited a tea estate called Chenijan. The harvest has just ended, so we were not able to see the factory in operation. The workers were cleaning and doing maintenance on the machines. The proprietress, a relative of Ishani's, is also a music teacher and played sitar for us.

We travelled on to Shivsagar and visited some very old temples and ruins from the time of the Ahom dynasty: Vishnu Temple, Kareng Ghar (Talatal Ghar), and Rong Ghar. Rong Ghar is a pavilion where the kings would sit to watch games, dancing, etc. Ishani's dad was responsible for creating a beautiful garden and park around this site. His interest in and knowledge of the area is a perfect complement to his numerous personal & professional contacts (he reminds me of Butch, Mike's dad.) The ruins, the towns, the plants, animals, the development projects--he is a fount of information about all of them. Ishani's father has also been involved in many projects to decrease erosion and improve farming methods and to preserve the natural resources of Assam. It seems that he is well-respected in being able to balance preservation and the needs of the local people to make a living.

Shivsagar is where Ishani's mother spent her childhood and went to college, so we stopped to visit Ishani's maternal great uncle and his family. Mamoni's parents sent her to live with her uncle and aunt so that she would have the opportunity to go to school.
From Ishani's maternal great uncle and his family 2008 12 18

December 18--Elephant Safari

Early on the morning of December 18th, we went on an elephant safari in another part of Kaziranga National Park--the Kohora Range. These Indian Elephants (elephas maximus) have a wide range but are considered endangered due to poaching, habitat loss, and human conflict. The Asian Elephant is from two to four meters (7–12 feet) tall and weighs from 3,000–5,000 kilograms (6,500–11,000 pounds). These gentle creatures constantly ate while they worked, and they responded well to the handler's commands. The 46 year old female we rode picked up a deer antler on command and often had her baby and an adopted baby in tow. A once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Mid-morning we took a second jeep safari. Again, the park throughout its range is spectacular. We were amazed by the variety of wildlife and the frequent animal sightings.

We then travelled to Jorhat, Assam, to Manju Mahi's place (Ishani's aunt, her mom's younger sister), where we stayed overnight. Hospitality & kindness in person.

December 17--First Safari at Kaziranga

On December 17 we stopped for lunch at Tezpur and met Bhanti Pehi, Ishani's aunt (her dad's younger sister) and their family. Then we continued to Kaziranga National Park's Bagori Range for an afternoon jeep safari. This 430 square kilometer park is a jewel of India,with habitat for LOTS of animals including the endangered one-horned rhino. The park is not safe to walk in without a vehicle (jeep or elephant) and a guide.

That evening, we stayed at Aranya Lodge, Kaziranga, which is near where Ishani's dad was previously stationed, so he knew the area well.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tea Recipes

Mamoni's Recipe (Ishani's Mom)

for two teacups of tea

--Two teacups* of water, boiling
--Two heaping teaspoons of Assam leaf tea (or more to taste)
--One teacup of milk
--Two or three teaspoons of sugar

Put leaf tea into the boiling water and boil about 2 minutes more. Bring the milk to a boil and pour in the tea. Strain the tea into a teapot and pour into cups. Add sugar to taste.

Note: Teacup size, not American style coffee mugs.

Hyma's Tea Recipe (Murali's Mom)

For 4 teacups of tea

--Two tumblers of water, boiling (around 12 oz?)
--3-6 teaspoons of tea, depending on how strong you want it
--3-5 teaspoons of sugar, depending on how sweet you want it
--about 2 cups of milk

Put leaf tea and sugar in boiling water and let sit for about 1 minute.
Pour tea through a strainer twice. Let tea stand while you bring milk to a full boil. Pour milk into the tea and then pour tea/milk mixture back and forth from pot to pan two or three times so it gets foamy. Serve.

When Murali's mom made tea in Minnesota, she made "light" tea, which means fewer teaspoons of tea.

We're Off to See Rhinos, Elephants and Tigers

On the morning of December 17th, we started out on our journey through more rural areas of northern Assam. We mostly traveled near the Brahmaputra River. We saw all kinds of people catching fish, harvesting rice, and working in the tea fields.

It is incredible to see all the human traffic on the road, competing with the same space as trucks, buses, and cars. People walking, people riding bicycles (many of them loaded), people pulling and pushing carts.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sights in Assam

Today we went with Ishani's father to see interesting sites in the city of Guwahati.

First we went to a family-owned weaving factory and shop. The owners are the parents of Ishani's friend Papori, who is at the University of MN getting a PhD in Women's Studies.

We were able to observe the intricate weaving of silk saris. The workers are extremely skilled. At this location, the weaving of the saris is done, then there is a storefront where customers come and purchase the fabrics. Then there is a small tailoring shop where the saris are finished for each customer. Most of the customers preorder and the saris are custom-made. This is where Ishani's wedding sari came from.

Later in the afternoon, we went to a fishing preserve to see migratory birds. It is still in the city of Guwahati, but it seems much more rural. Most of the houses around the preserve had vegetable gardens including banana trees, mango and papaya trees and things we recognized like green beans, squash, etc.

On the way back, we stopped at a temple called Balaji which is dedicated to Vishnu.

Finally, we stopped at the sweet shop that is owned and operated by Ishani's mom. It is a very busy shop--lots of customers and lots of orders for weddings. We went to the back of the shop to see where the sweets are made. It was not in operation yet because the milk delivery had not come. The cooks work all night making the sweets so that they are fresh each morning. For all our Indian friends, you are right that the sweets do taste much better fresh, but Mike and I still aren't big fans. (We love all the other foods though!

Arriving in Guwahati, Assam

We arrived in Ishani's home town late in the afternoon of December 14. We had lots of delays at the airport in Kolkata because of fog.

Ishani's parents have a beautiful home. Like Murali's parents, they built the ground floor first and lived there for most of Ishani's childhood. Then they expanded and built a larger second floor, where they now live and the first floor is rental. Recently, they added a third floor with guest rooms, where we are now staying. I think they are making room for the eventual grandchildren!

In the evening, we went to a reception hall where we had a special dinner for Murali's and Ishani's third wedding anniversary. Many of Ishani's extended family came. They had not been able to visit Ishani since her marriage. I meet many more people than I can possibly remember, but I especially talked to Raki, Ishani's cousin, who teaches English in a local school and has a darling 3-year-old. I also talked to another cousin who works with the government health service. She oversees grants to local organizations in the state of Assam. As part of her job, she travels to many rural areas to make sure that the monies are being used properly. She has been particularly working with a program where local people are trained to help pregnant women access prenatal care and delivery at government hospitals. This helps to reduce infant mortality and maternal mortality. She has also been working on government/private health care partnerships to make more health care available to workers on tea plantations.

While I was speaking with the women, Mike was busy getting to know all the kids and finding out about their schools and what they like to do. Later one of Ishani's little nephews told her that he spoke so much English to Mike that his head was spinning.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Out on the Town--Saturday, December 13

Our first day in India, we slept in a bit and then got up to eat some delicious dosai prepared by Murali's mom.

Then Murali's dad took us to see a construction site. The general contractor is a friend of Murali's dad and also built their house. The house he is currently building is a large house and includes an indoor swimming pool and a western style kitchen. There is a lot of building going on in Murali's neighborhood. In front of the building site was a small thatched house made of coconut leaves. I asked what it was for and found out that it was the watchman's house. To make sure that the construction site stays secure a watchman is commonly used. More affluent people also have watchmen and sometimes houses for them on their properties. Here there is quite a mix of dwellings--very large and expensive houses, medium size houses, apartments and thatched huts or one room concrete houses. They are all mixed together.

We rested in the afternoon, and then we went out at night. First we went to a shoestore because Mike did not bring sandals with him. Then we went to Eliot Beach. The drive was definitely an eye-opening experience. There were many people about, and people, bikes, motorbikes, etc., all weave in and out on the road. In addition, there are no sidewalks and people, cows and dogs are all walking along. You will see whole families--mom, dad, and one or two kids riding along on a motorbike. Murali's dad is a very good driver, so I felt secure quickly, but I am positive that I could never drive in India. I would never be brave enough to just drive out into the lane in oncoming traffic, but that's what you have to do or you can't go anywhere.

When we got to Eliot Beach, we got out and walked around. There was a beautiful breeze and many couples out on the beach. Murali said that this is one of the few areas where couples can go and have some privacy and anonymity.

We had some yummy street food--boiled peanuts and corn with lemon and chilies. Murali said basically if you have cooked street food you are safe enough. I went and got my feet wet in the Indian Ocean--the water was very warm and the waves were strong. --Bernie

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Arrival in Chennai, India, & Murali's parents' home

We arrived at Murali's parents' home in Chennai, India at 3:00 AM India time, 32 1/2 hours door to door from Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Temperature when we left Minnesota was around 0 degrees F, and about 80 degrees when we arrived in Chennai.

Murali's folks have a spacious, solid, and beautifully built home, with 3 stories and easy access to the flat roof. The view from the roof is quite nice, with a glimpse of the Bay of Bengal. I think I'd sleep up there if I lived here. The roof is a great place to dry the laundry, and there is a water tank which supplies pressurized water to the house. It never freezes here, so there is no concern for insulating water pipes. The family owns 3 coconut trees.

Murali's parents are so hospitable, and we feel so welcomed and cared for.

Everything is brick and mortar, except for the doors, some cabinetry, and door trim. Normal house voltage is 240, with propane tanks and two burners in the kitchen. Our bedroom is very spacious with a private bath, marble floors, ceiling fans, and air. The floor is a visual delight, and the stained glass windows give it a religious feel. In the bedroom notice the marble floors, the window bars, the tube lighting, and yes, air-conditioning! Although it is winter in Chennai, we still used the air to sleep comfortably the first night. --Mike

We had a superb service on the Luftansa flights from Chicago to Frankfurt and Frankfurt to Chennai. As we were flying over Saudi Arabia/the Persian Gulf, we saw the sunset from above the clouds. That was a tremendous sight.

When we got to India, it was 1 a.m., and we had to stand in line for a long time for Immigration. I felt sorry for the parents who were traveling home with one or two small children. Once we got to the top of the line, we got through quickly, and we saw Murali and his dad waiting for us right away.

I had my first experience with a "squat" toilet at the airport--good thing Murali and Ishani explained the concept before I got there. Basically, you squat down, do your business, and then there is a faucet and a pail that you can use to get water for wiping. You use your left hand for this purpose, so when eating and if you are handing something to another person you are always to use your right hand.

We drove home from the airport in a taxi. Since it was late at night, the streets were very quiet. However, we still saw that in India things like lanes and stop lights don't really mean anything. --Bernie