Saturday, October 20, 2007

Chennai (Madras), Nemaste (Hello);We had glassy seas on our approach through the Bay of Bengal. 7 Forward was closed off so I went aft and with students and the Frankel children (Jake, Sarah, Ellie, Mom Rachel, Dad, Steve) we saw green sea turtles, a ray, flying fish and spinner dolphins to complement the pilot whales yesterday. On arrival this morning, there was a fog, really a smog. Outside there were house crows and dragon flies. We parallel-parked to the wharf which was “used” and lined with warehouses. I was able to change money for rupees and get ready for my FDP (Field Directed Practica). I should also mention that yesterday, Dr. Linda, RN Karen and FNP Diane and I played ping pong and had a blast, a real fun time. We will have more fun.

Anyway, I got my landing card and customs declaration and digitally photographed my Visa, passport and landing card and customs declaration. Two vice conulars, Jessica and Chris, both women, came and talked to us. Then, with my binder and first aid kit, was the first of the passengers to set foot on India. I went to my bus and with Field Office Sarah’s help, was able to get all who wanted on board. Our guide was Anandri, a 68 year-old gal who gave us lots of info. The bus took us through lots of traffic, not as suicidal and other countries and we went past Marina Beach, small basilica (St. Thomas), a memorial to Gandhi and through the new silicone valley…lots of buildings going up. In the city of 8 million is a 70 acre farm. Arun was the owner and we were greeted on a lawn and then fed lunch. After, a walk to see how he uses his small dairy to help his fodder to help his coconuts and then his eucalyptus. Then, in a Brahma Bull cart, we went to a local village. We just walked through, took photos, switched so others walked and really saw a developing India. Then back on the bus, where cattle were in the street, laying down in the center divider, having the right of way as female cattle live in heaven and is the second mother.

The Taj. Up at 3:00 am and met in the Union for the trip. We went for about 45 minutes through the mostly sleeping streets of Chennai to the airport. We received our boarding passes and got on Kingfisher Airlines. It was clean, modern, gave out a goodie bag with headphones and red pens, nice little meals and back of the seat multi channel TV. On one flight to Mumbai later, we even got to see out take off and landing through a special forward belly camera. Definitely the best airline I have flown so far. We landed in an airport out side of Delhi. Apparently New Delhi is older than Delhi and there is an old city gate and part of an old wall system. We were tired on arrival and had what was supposed to be a city tour. Our guide, Rick, did not speak well and did a lot of pointing out of the windows. Then we had lunch at the Sahara Restaurant. There were Indian musicians and a boy dancer to entertain us.

We went to a temple structure I believe was called Kuta Mirar Ahuan. It had a tall tower and Rosalyn parrots and striped squirrels that looked like our chipmunks. I got some nice video of the birds. I also had fun with some school boys, showing the SAS postcard with the ship and they repeating the names of the countries we were visiting.

Then we went to the train station for our train to Agra from Delhi. We got off the train into a sea of humanity. We were cautioned about pickpockets and one tried for a student’s pack ahead of me, then left without anything. We clustered at out "first" class car (it had fans but was broken and dirty), then entered a 10th class world. India is filthy and dirty, with people defecating and urinating where they want. People sleep everywhere. They root in the piles of garbage. They drive nice cars and wear suits and live in nice homes. They ride mopeds or bicycles and work in the IT sectors. They are the most extremes of people. They waggle their heads in response to many inquiries and conflicts, and women wear saris and men sometimes nothing but a loin cloth. The train was old and decrepit and we made the best of it; especially when we received word that a cargo train ahead of us broke down. We ended up over 6 hours on the train.

The morning of October 17th, we rose early to see the sunrise at the Taj Mahal. Off of the buses, we got to the intersection and walked a half mile past vendors, beggars, Rhesus monkeys and camels! At the entrance we were given booties to wear as the Taj was 100% marble. We were also given a bottle of water. Then into the line, separate for men and women, and were frisked. No food or knives or cigarettes of matches were allowed. Then a 100 yard walk with a left turn and through a red sandstone arch was the Taj Mahal. The sun was not quite up but it was light and there were lots of folks but not at all “too many.” It was magnificent…more than I ever imagined. Then, after many photos, I walked to the Taj, over the many small canals and past the reflecting pools. No videotaping past the sandstone steps. There were Rosalyn parrots as well as hornbills and the ubiquitous Black Kites and pigeons. Also, later, there were some cattle egrets and swiftlets. I walked to the far side and then up a landing. At the marble steps I put my booties on over my shoes. Then, up to the sepulcher. The Taj was a tomb, built by a royal ruler after his wife Mahal died giving birth to their 14th child. The orange rays of the rising sun came through the side lattice work and sprayed the inside of the tomb area. The inlay was incredible and the mall is immense. Outside it was overwhelming. The Yamuna River ran the back side and I could hear traditional music from afar. The students I ran into were equally stunned. It was just so huge, and perfectly plumbed and square and three dimensional and I am running out of words. Wow.

We left too soon and drove north to a fortress called Fatehpur Sikri. The main road was blocked so we drove down old city streets. We saw the true India then with slums and a mass of humanity. It was incredible. We were stopped at a railroad crossing and I saw a horse-drawn cart, a bullock-drawn cart and a camel-pulled cart. Then I saw a pedal rickshaw spill a mom and child, but they righted it and went on. When the train went through, men jumped off running, it was so full with bars across the windows. On our return we had lunch at the hotel.

Then we went to Red Fort. Nice view of the Taj and I filmed a kingfisher on a spire
and Rhesus monkeys in trash cans. Then on to the Taj. Now the world was
there…thousands of people. We spent most of our time trying to get in. Once in, the
dichotomy from dawn to dusk was an order of 10. There were people everywhere. But I
sat and just stared at it for a half an hour, then slowly walked around it again. My
friends, Curt and Karen were on the other bus and we did photos together. It was time to leave all too soon. I never even got into the museum. But it was magnificent.

A quick dinner and then to the train station. This time we took an express to Delhi from Agra. We waited on the platform, and many beggars came by including a boy with foot elephantiasis. I videoed a roof rat in the dark and we finally boarded out train. On the long train ride before, I had some really great discussions with the students. I did so again, but finally dozed for a half hour as we were late again. We had stayed at the Clark Hotel in Agra and now were bused to the Ashok Hotel were we were greeted with marigold lays, as we were at the train station on our arrival.

We had breakfast after a bit of a sleep-in and then off on a brief city tour. We got to the airport through heavy traffic and there was a 31 flavors outside the security area and a McDonalds inside the security area. This McDonalds sold no beef products, so a bunch of us got fries.

Kingfisher was our carrier and I sat with Resident Director Meghan across the aisle and Mike and Sarah on my row. They are all very nice and smart people. We got our goodie bag and great service and I continued to collect the Kingfisher pen. It was neato. Then a stop over in Bombay / Mumbai and then on to Chennai. We arrived home on the buses near 10:00 p.m.

The next day I woke up at 7:00 a.m. and put on my DEET and traveling clothes, which consisted of pocket pants and sneakers, T-shirt, pocket outer shirt and field vest. Then with my Cheetah Conservation bag, I left to see some of Chennai. I walked to the entrance guard station where Anna Gonzalez, the Director of Student Life was escorting a student to the US Embassy as she lost her passport. She pointed Johnny out to me, and I went to him, as he had such a good reputation. He had that waggle head when you talked to him, and we agreed on a price for now until 2:00 p.m. I took a photo of his autorickshaw and my first need was the Malapur Temple elephant. We went over the Buckingham canal which is an open sewer and along Marina Beach. Johnny told me of the tsunami and how he and his family headed to high ground, just a few short years ago. We stopped at the statue of Gandhi and we took photos, then by the college where a mass of police were accumulating, Johnny said for a student uprising, which he implied happened regularly. At the temple, we learned that the elephant was at another place, and while I waited for Johnny, managed to buy a drum from an insistent vendor. Then to another Temple. At the entrance I was instructed to take my shoes off. The stone was wet and filthy and with my pristine white socks, walked into the temple where they were preparing a ceremony. I heard the instruments and rounded a corner to a beautifully decorated female elephant with an older boy on top. Johnny spoke to him and he posed. We then moved for the parade and I went over to pay him and I received the trunk of the elephant over the front of my head and down my back as a good luck gesture/blessing. I paid an old man 10 rupees to get my shoes back and walked on the street to the tuck tuck (aaaaautorickshaw) with dirty feet. Oh well. I put my shoes back on and our next stop was Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity orphanage for the mentally and physically disabled. One of my students spent all of her time there. Julianne came to my Office hours and we talked about things she could look for. We talked about sanitation and fontanels.

At the orphanage, I told Johnny I would be an hour. I found Julianne and we talked, and then entered the orphanage. Several other SAS students were there. I brought Park Ranger postcards and gave them out as they were colorful and you could draw on the back. I held babies and spoke to staff and students. Julianne told me of a baby she had found with a sunken fontanel and had it taken to the hospital for dehydration and saved its little life. I was very proud of her. I gave the students more tips on pediatrics, and I found one baby with a rattling chest and put my ear to it and heard congestion. One of the sisters confirmed it had aspiration pneumonia.

The hour was up too soon, and I went out to my tuck tuck and Johnny. We stopped and I bought us each a soda and gave him a granola bar and had one myself. We then went to snake charmers. We bargained a price and the gentleman assured me he was a third generation charmer, the cobras had no poison for safety, and that they were not from the wild. I filmed and took photos of them and gave him the agreed price as well as my Washington coin gift. He gave me his flute as a gift (but for 200 rupees?) I tried to return it saying a gift is without money request and he gave it back without any strings. I then made the gift of another coin. We then went to a book store where I met a nice lady and got a book on the Taj Mahal, and gave coins. Then we went to a small store, where I got foot powder and tea and snacks and cookies for Johnny. Then back to the ship, where I paid Johnny more than the agreed on price as he was fair and nice and gentle. Finally, back to the Port of Chennai and my check in and I directed students Johnny’s way. I walked the long quay to the ship playing my drum. It made everyone I passed smile.

Back onto the ship where I took a quick shower…water conservation is the word until back at sea where the ship’s reverse osmosis plant can make water. We don’t dare take on water in India, it is too contaminated. We did a face to face with our passports with India Customs and then I went to bed about 10:00 p.m., exhausted and with tuck tuck throat. India was incredible and so full of stimulus for all senses. The smells were piercing at times, the slums visually sad and the constant cacophony of traffic, horns and humanity stressful. What a place! Nandri (Thank you).

Postscript: We are rounding the southern tip of Sri Lanka and I have been watching a pod of at least 20 humpback whales. Neato mosquito!

Posted by Nancy @ 07:46 PM pst