Sunday, April 19, 2015

Chennai--Day 9

Tuesday we again got a late start. Warning: TMI--by this time I, too, had a little touch of the burbles--and I hoped we'd be able to find bathrooms if I ever needed one in a hurry. Luckily I never did.

Gracia and I were uncomfortable with the Indian team buying us lunch all the time, since we were not fellow employees. Also, we knew Heenu and Vigna, the female employees, would miss out on training time by touring around with us. So we arranged to meet up with Vigna after lunch time on Tuesday. And then we learned that she hadn't had lunch with the team at work, like we planned. So then she had to grab something to eat at the mall when we got there.
This was a pretty modern mall, with multi-floor department stores very much like a JCPenny or Nordstrom at home. I was intrigued by a sign outside of one store that advertised "Silk Saris, Cotton Saris, Silk-cotton Saris, Cotton-silk Saris." Obviously, there is more going on here than I know about.
Casey requested that I buy him a hat and socks for the practical reason that he needed a hat and socks. I bought him a hat with the colors of the flag of India on it. It became one of the most sought after souvenirs when we took it home to our kids. I also bought Anderson a tie. Gracia bought a tea-cup and saucer for her sister-in-law, and a kurti for Kirby Heyborne's wife.  And some traditional jhumki earrings for more of her family.

Gracia wanted to buy her youngest daughter some Indian music, so Vigna took us to a music store, only to find out it had gone out of business. So then she took us to Spencer Plaza, which she told us is the oldest shopping plaza in India (although the building was built in the 1980's after a fire destroyed the original.)
We came inside from the parking garage past this signboard showing the stores inside.

There were higher end stores fronting the balcony but the majority of stores were along low-ceilinged hallways that radiated away from the central courtyard like wheel spokes. My impression of this place was that, aside from being indoors, it was exactly like being in a busy street bazaar--tiny box stores crowded together with lots of merchandise outside in the aisles between stores. And shopkeepers clamoring to get you to come into their store and buy something. 
So we bought a few things, you know the routine--a carved wooden elephant for one of my kids, a shawl with peace signs on it for Gracia's daughter. The music store Vigna wanted to take us to was also out of business, but we found a tiny store selling DVD's that also had movie soundtracks. I have to say, I think I need to be educated in listening to Indian music--it is too detailed for my ears to follow.
Are you bored of hearing about our shopping yet? I was actually pretty bored of shopping myself, even before this. But I knew I wanted to take gifts to my people at home--it was one way I could share part of my trip with them.

Gracia bought Dan a Star India cricket team shirt. Casey and Dan were actually playing cricket in the back yard of Cognizant with the team while we were shopping. It was hot and humid and they were getting very sweaty.We still had a couple of hours before we needed to meet the men to go to dinner with the team.

When we told people in Chennai that we had also visited Hyderabad, several of them asked if we'd gotten any Karachi biscuits while we were there. A couple of them said they would always have their family bring Karachi biscuits with them when they came to visit from Hyderabad. There are no Karachi Bakeries in Chennai. Out of curiosity the night before, I had googled "Karachi Bakery Chennai" and it came up with an address in Park Town--a part of Chennai that was 20 minutes north of Spencer Plaza. So we asked Vigna if we could go there--we wanted to get some biscuits for the Indian team as a thank you gift for all they'd done to host us (but we didn't tell Vigna that.) The driver was hesitant, and we had to call the number I'd written down to get instructions from the owners before he felt he could find the place. When we got close he told us he'd have to leave us at the corner because regular cars were not allowed inside the area--only three wheeled "tuk-tuks" and two-wheelers.
Just before we got there we passed this old British building that was turned into the central train station in Chennai.

This colorful archway led into the wholesale district known as Parry's--pronounced like the city Paris. Vigna was very game to take us into this warren of streets without knowing exactly where to go. That night when she told her husband where she'd taken us, he laughed.

We wandered around trying to find the Karachi Bakery and getting nowhere. This was the narrowest, dirtiest, most crowded area we saw in India. And still all the women were wearing such beautiful clothing.
Gracia took some pictures of a lady selling Jasmine flowers on the corner.

These guys wanted to pose for her when they saw her taking pictures.  The red tint in his hair is henna. We mostly saw older men use it--on grey hair it turns a bright auburn color just like Clarissa's hair.

Gracia loved getting pictures of the kids in India. Meredith wanted us to bring her an Indian baby, but we had to settle for a carved elephant. 
Vigna was asking her fourth or fifth person for directions when a man who happened to be on his way to the Karachi bakery himself overheard her and offered to lead us there. 
We went down an alley, then a narrower alley, and then into a building and up a narrow staircase. Gracia later told me she was starting to get really nervous, then we arrived. We removed our shoes to enter--maybe the owner's family lived there? It wasn't an actual store front, it was a distributor who sent the biscuits to local hotels. But we happily bought as many boxes as we had cash for. And they very kindly gave us a couple of canvas bags to carry them away in. We had to get a picture of the nice people in the shop.
Vigna, the shop owner, the man who helped us find it, and Gracia

Then the shop owner's wife and mother arrived. (Isn't she an elegant and tiny person? She reminds me of my great grandmother.) And Gracia dragged the two young women working in the back into it, too. 
The nice man who had shown us the way there asked if we'd brought our children to India, too. We said no, it was too expensive. He then speculated that it had probably only cost us $5000 for a plane fare. I didn't know what to say--it was closer to $2000, but the assumption that $5000 would be an "only" for us . . .
He was kind enough to lead us back out to the area where we had come in. He kept suggesting that we might like to try some fresh juices they were selling along the side of the road, and I felt rude for refusing, but we really needed to hurry at this point--it took us an hour to get back to our hotel with evening traffic. Dan and Casey had gone back to the hotel to change out of their sweaty clothing, and we were nearly an hour late meeting up with the rest of the team for dinner. But we'd had an adventure!
We had dinner in a hotel, of course, at a restaurant called The Great Kabab Factory.
They brought us a series of different kinds of items served with different sauces--either veg or non-veg. Most of us went with non-veg. The restaurant lighting was dim, so the pictures I took of the team didn't work out, but I love this one of Dan hamming it up behind Casey. 

The end, of day 9.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Chennai--Day 8

The Grand Chola also has a breakfast buffet. They even made me a dosa. It didn't quite measure up to the Westin, but I still looked forward to breakfast there.
Casey and Dan went to work on Monday morning. One of the two women from the Cognizant team had agreed to go around with us to help translate and guide for us. Her name is Heenu.
We got this picture later, because we forgot to on Monday.

We got a late start that morning. Gracia wasn't feeling great, a left over from yesterday's lunch, perhaps? 
Unfortunately most of the historical and cultural sites near Chennai are outside of the city itself. The team planned to take us to some of those later in the week, so we went shopping. Heenu took us to a mid-range shop where I bought a couple of saris at about $15 dollars each. I plan to use one of them as fabric. They are both a beautiful peacock blue that I just couldn't resist. I also got a couple of scarves as presents for my babysitting sisters at home.
Gracia had to request a bathroom while we were there, and was taken outside to one that had to be unlocked for her. 
Heenu took us to lunch at a hotel where they had a buffet--veg or non-veg. Less than 30% of the people we associated with in India were vegetarian. But I really enjoyed the veg buffet, especially the sweet jalapeno nachos. (Yes, another encounter with Mexican food in India.) Plus they had a great dessert section--fig ice cream was a new one for me. Gracia decided to skip lunch. 
During lunch we asked Heenu a lot of personal questions about her life--I hope she didn't mind. She is currently waiting for her parents and matchmaker to find her a husband. She hopes he'll be from her church and from Chennai. Speaking to some of the other team members we learned it's not uncommon to be matched with someone from another area. They might not even speak the same home language, so they would have to have a shared second language. It also makes it harder to visit family.
Heenu told us that when she is presented with some candidates, she will definitely check out their facebook pages. That shed some light on why the unmarried team members we'd met the day before had taken so many pictures. 

After that we went to a store that was four stories high and sold all kinds of clothing. It was early afternoon when we got there and Heenu told us that it would get more crowded the later it got. By the time we left it was hip-to-hip women, with us the only foreigners in the place. 
 I missed my chance to take a picture of the clerk when she got up on the glass counter in her bare feet to get down a stack that was too high for her to reach.

Kurtis for little girls.

As far as I can remember, we just stayed in that night. Didn't have dinner. We watched a little cricket. The World Cup of Cricket was going on while we were in India. They showed it on televisions in a lot of the hotel restaurants where we ate. Australia knocked India out of the running while we were there. 

Here are some more pictures of our fancy, fancy hotel:
 The "cloakroom"--for when you are eating at one of the restaurants or waiting in the lobby

A wall mural near the spa

The view from our room onto the roof terrace. Dan and Gracia's view was of the city=not so fancy

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Chennai--Day 7

We flew to Chennai with Air India. For some reason they put all our bags under my name and charged us for the extra luggage. We suggested they split the bags between the two of us, but the man said that would cost more? Whatever, we paid it.

The flight attendants on Air India wear saris. Have I said yet that saris are the most beautiful clothing on the planet? Really, they are, even when they are a uniform.

They fed us dinner on the one hour flight--a long white bun filled with mayonnaise and cheese and ketchup for dipping. Our fellow passengers all used their ketchup, but I just couldn't. It didn't feel like I was missing out on an authentic Indian experience, either.
Gracia eyed the bottled "diet water" with suspicion and the man next to her assured her, huffily, that it was perfectly safe. 
The man in the aisle seat next to Casey and me fell asleep before we even took off and slept the whole time, aside from dinner. Yes, he used ketchup on his bun.

At the airport in Chennai there were four drivers waiting for us. The hotel had sent two, and Casey and Dan's work team had sent two. So we had to send two of them away. The whole time we were in Chennai, we always had two cars in spite of trying to explain we'd be happier if the four of us could ride together.

When we got to the Grand Chola hotel I was overwhelmed with how fancy it was. Good grief. Intimidating.

We were helped out of our cars by this guy.  He bowed with his hands together and greeted us, "Namaste." That never happened in Hyderabad. Everyone who works at the Grand Chola did that every time we passed by. So about a hundred times. I never knew if it would be polite to return the same greeting, or just awkward. All the female staff wore saris.

Note the enormous topiaries of real lillies. 

Side lobby

This hotel wasn't built yet the last time Casey came to India. Surprisingly, it is actually less expensive to stay here than it is to stay in the Westin. And we had a king sized bed. The bathroom was all marble and mirrors. Gracia said it made her dizzy to walk through hers.

The next day was Sunday. We had an adventure getting to church. Our driver didn't speak much English but Casey had told the local manager, Muthu, where we wanted to go and he explained it to our driver. The building he pointed to when he dropped us off was a Christian church, just not ours (huge auditorium, lots of clapping.) Gracia tried using her phone map function to navigate us to our church, but soon realized it was showing us an LDS chapel in Wisconsin? It was hotter and more humid in Chennai and we didn't want to wait around for our driver to come back. So Dan started asking people on the street. That actually worked, to my surprise. We were directed to go one street over, and then found someone else to direct us one more street over, and there it was. Crossing the street in an Indian city is a memorable experience.
On the way we attracted the attention of several beggars. We'd been warned that it was best not to give them anything, but I think I would have if there hadn't been so many of them. Once in Hyderabad, I gave an old woman some money as our car was waiting for a light to change. Instantly there were two other old women there, insisting me, too. 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
in Tamil (official language of Tamil Nadu) and English

It was great to go to Church in India. The power kept cutting during sacrament meeting, but from what the Branch President said, that was a recent development, and they had talked to the power company about it. It didn't happen through the other two meetings and consequently I got too cold from the air conditioning. I saw signs on restaurants in India that said "A/C and Non-A/C." I wish they had that in the States.
The meetings were half in English, half in Tamil. If the teacher didn't speak both, someone else would translate from one to the other. Aside from that, it felt just like a meeting at home.
At the end of Relief Society, Sister Roslyn Maruman (sp?), who was the founding member of the Chennai Branch (30+ years) asked if we could help teach the sisters the bass part (alto) of a hymn they were learning for district conference. Gracia played the piano while I sang the alto part and the Branch President's daughter recorded it on her tablet. Kind of interesting to think they were using that after I left.

Muthu and several other coworkers came to pick us up from church to take us to lunch and sight-seeing. We drove south out of Chennai for over an hour along the coast road. Then to a hotel, of course, for lunch. This hotel was on the beach and we got to eat outside. The servers wanted us to order quickly since we were at the very end of the lunchtime hours. Muthu hadn't expected us to spend so long at church.

Vigna, Hari Babu, Mushtak, and Vibra

The waiter picked me as the Alpha Female of the group and I had to make decisions on what appetizers to order. So, calamari for everybody! Luckily, Muthu took over after I showed enough confusion, and some other things got ordered, too. The best one was a lamb (code for goat) stew with pearl onions and tomatoes. I've always liked goat. Since La Reunion, anyway.
Casey, Gracia, and Dan all ordered steak, but I got mango fish curry. I enjoyed the flavor once I got over the texture. Gracia is allergic to sea food and thought she might have gotten some by accident. She felt a little sick after lunch. 
We walked down to the beach to put our feet in the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. This group always had their phones out to take pictures, as you can see by the shadows. Again, my archaic camera gave them pause.
Muthu, Mushtak, Edith, Casey, Dan, Gracia, Vigna, Vibranarayanin (Vibra), Hari Babu

The biggest puffer fish I ever saw, unfortunately late.

They couldn't say my name, I couldn't say theirs. Well, I could, when I could remember them.

We went farther down the beach to Mahabalipuram, an ancient port city where you can see the Shore Temple and several other temples and carved cliff faces. Stone carving is still the local trade.
The shore temple is dedicated to Shiva, and has a lot of depictions of him and his family. (Vigna explained what she remembered to us when we were there and some of it I learned from the internet after we got back.) It's all been fairly worn down over time since it was built in the 8th Century. Muthu said it was damaged even more during the big Indonesian Tsunami in 2004. Legend has it there were once seven temples here. Some ruins have been found underwater offshore that were de-silted during the Tsunami.

Next we drove a short way to get to Pancha Rathas (5 Chariots.) These are unique because they are all carved in one piece out of the rock. 
Here are two of the 5 rathas (They were carved to look like wooden temple chariots, like I'm supposed to know what those look like.). There are five of them, plus a bull (behind Casey) and an elephant.
Everyone wants their picture with the elephant.
We are no exception

Note the jasmine flowers some women wear in their hair. 
We saw a lot of women in Chennai wearing these. They smell divine.
All along the street on the way to the Shore Temple there are stone carving workshops. 

This is part of a huge cliff side carving depicting the river Ganges coming down to the earth as a gift from heaven. 

This is known as Krishna's butter ball. It is an enormous rock that seems precariously balanced, but has been there for over a thousand years. In 1908 the governor of Madras (Chennai) tried to move it with 7 elephants, but failed. It's very popular.

We briefly went back to the beach where we looked at tiny, lightning fast crabs as they emerged from their holes in the sand. The team offered to take us to dinner, but we were still full from lunch, so we called it a day.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Hyderabad--Day 6

On Saturday Casey and Dan didn't have work. We had most of the day until our flight to Chennai.
Of course, we had breakfast. I revisited my favorites for the last time--
 dosa with curd and chutneys
Yogurt and baked yogurt (it's cheesecake!) My favorite flavor is mango. They also had a nice fruit bun that usually had some pineapple and sliced fig. Oh, and dragon fruit, which tastes like nothing.

I didn't try everything they offered while I was there, even though I think it would have been an adventure. There were new things every day, and even I wasn't brave enough for some of it.

 This one actually sounds good to me. But I was already full. I love the name.

There was always fresh orange juice and at least one other, like watermelon, apple, or mango. Then they had some really interesting combinations. This one I didn't want to try, it sounds cleansing.

Since Gracia and I had already gone to Salar Jung,  Karunesh, Naman, and Yuvraj took us to Chowmahallah Palace. This was the seat of the Nizams of Hyderabad, sovereigns of the Hyderabad state, until just after India became independant from Britain in 1947. The new Indian Union didn't like having an independent princely state right in their middle, so they annexed them a year later.

Notice the rattan screens over the openings between the pillars. This grand entrance hall was built open to the elements. That means pigeons. One got me on the way through the door.
What with all the chandeliers and other gorgeous decorations, it bothered me that the outer wall was just a set of pillars. But I guess it never gets very cold here, and at least the wildlife can get back out as easily as it gets in.
This covered porch ran around 3 sides of the courtyard. Nice place to relax.

There's a saying by William Morris that I like--"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful." If Morris had been Indian, he'd have said ". . .useful and . . ."

Then we looked at antique swords.

 And stabby/clubby things.

And look how pretty the ground is here. Only in front of the main wing. But still.

We went through one wing where they had early photographs of one of the Nizams and several of his wives and children. No photos were allowed. But there's always the internet!
 They used to wear the sari very differently.

I think this was the official head wife. He had several.

Then we looked at the antique cars that the Nizams had owned. That was Karunesh's favorite part, but I failed to get any pictures. They all were most impressed by the canary yellow silver ghost rolls royce, custom made for the royal family. 

As we were leaving they sent us out by way of a photo studio where you could dress up to look like an old timey royal couple. It cost all of a 100 rupees ($1.60) which is a lot cheaper than you could get it at Lagoon. 

We said goodbye to the Hyderabad team members who came with us to Chowmahalla, and then we had a few hours to kill before we needed to be at the airport. Gracia wanted Dan to see the market around Charminar, so we went back there. 
These were the things that caught my eye the whole time I was in India.

 I mean, talk about fancy!

 They are so colorful! They reminded me of my mom.

We didn't see many women wearing these super fancy kurtees. Lots of fancy saris, though. 

More little girls in princess dresses.

On this last day, I finally went back to the pearl shop and bought a strand of pearls that were much less chunky than what I'd seen before but still that cool silver grey color. It was the single most expensive thing we bought in India. It cost $28.00.

And we went to a Karachi Bakery, which is another of the things Hyderabad is known for, and bought some Karachi biscuits. We'd never tried them, so we each bought a variety pack. From a survey conducted by me, I learned that the cherry ones are very popular with people in Chennai. We liked the chocolate ones best.
We had to go through a metal detector gate to get inside the Karachi bakery. Which reminds me--we also had to go through security gates at the following places, not including airports:  
Our hotel--and they scanned our bags separately every time.
The mall

On our first day in Hyderabad, this ice cream store made me laugh. We passed it almost every day, and Casey finally got a picture of it on our last day.

This was close to our hotel in the financial district. Anthony said they call it "the money mind."

And here is Joseph Anthony.