Rickshaw ride

In Chennai Tati and I took a rickshaw ride to Pizza Hut one afternoon to get a snack. It was about two blocks away but Dana did not want us to cross the wide and unruly busy street we needed to cross to get there so we hailed a rickshaw. We eventually realized that "we should have been there by now" but the driver kept going. We eventually said something and he said said "no entry" meaning the Pizza Hut was on a one-way street. We eventually got there and he tried to charge us way too much (there are meters but they are not used). I argued with him a bit but we still gave him the money. As we were about to climb out he seemed to have grown a conscience or something and gave us half the money back. I have no idea what the price should have been or whether it really was a one way street but I felt a little better that he gave us some money back. After we split our pizza we took our chances and crossed the street. It was definitely scary even with a policeman directing traffic but it was free.

But I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. After my mother asked me last weekend what my favorite part of the trip was I realized it was just driving around Chennai looking at all the bright rickshaws, couples and families on motorcycles, women in saris on scooters, ambassador taxis, oxen, diagonal trees, buses with only men, buses with only women, people walking in the streets even in the few areas where there were sidewalks, little temples, little stands selling something with men standing all around, women of all social statuses wearing beautiful saris and decrepit apartment buildings that immediately reminded me of locations of Indian novels I have read. The road between Delhi and Agra (Taj Mahal) was also fascinating.

So here's the fuzzy youtube video. You may see Tati and me in the rear view mirrors at the beginning and a man with no legs at the end. You may hear me asking the the driver what's up in the middle:

By the way, I am no where near the first person to upload a video of a rickshaw ride in Chennai, India.

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal Day had finally arrived.

Our driver for the day was Ashok. Here is what we know about him. He is from a village near Jaipur. He married a woman of his same caste from a nearby village (intra-village marriage is not allowed). They now live in Delhi and have a son and a daughter. His son plays cricket and his daughter is the top student in her class. He learned his more-than-adequate English from tourists. He has been sober for 6 years and prays to Hanuman the Monkey God every morning.

Ashok and his ride in front of our hotel.

Here I am in the front seat ready for action.

Along the three hour drive to the city of Agra and the Taj Mahal we encountered oxen, camels, monkeys, boa constrictors and cobras. Once in Agra we added elephant to the list. When we stopped at a place to pay tolls we were surrounded by vendors including these animal handlers. Tati gave them some money to take pictures. I tried to ignore the whole circus.

We saw a temple dedicated to Krishna in the distance in the town of Mathura where Krishna was born. It seemed weird to be driving through of town where the 8th avatar of Vishnu was born. I see in the Wikipedia that Krishna and I may actually share a birthday,

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Oxen along the highway. Note the snake behind the monkey.

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I love the picture of the man selling elephant rides and photo ops.

We hired a guide to tour the Taj Mahal for 250 rupees ($7.00US). The entrance fee was 750 rupees. Han gave us very good general facts about the history and architecture and knew all the right angles for pictures. We were lucky in our timing apparently. The week before there had been long lines to get in. We breezed in after being wanded and searched by security.

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Maja and I outside the entrance and my ticket.

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We had to wear socks near and in the main building. Here Tati takes a picture of her "shoe socks".

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Flooring and wall (marble with semi-precious stone inlay) detail

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Han our guide is with me and Maja.

After leaving the Taj Mahal Han said he knew of craft shops that had quality goods and asked if we would like to shop. We were like "Duh???". He was pretty upfront about the fact that he got a 1% commission from these places. I appreciated his honesty. So we headed back to the streets of Agra.

I like the decoration of this rickshaw in Agra. The sari on the motorcycle was also nice.

We went to a place where they made marble similar to the facade of the Taj Mahal. I managed to resist the huge marble table tops they were offering (i can only imagine what it would cost to ship a marble table top) and bought some small items.


We then went to a jewelry shop where I had no intention of buying anything but charming Amit insisted on finding something in my "price range". He started with Star of India rubies, diamonds and gold but we ended with a small Star of India ruby and silver. It is a simple but lovely ring. Maja bought some lovely birthday presents for herself.

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We then took the 3 hour trip back to Delhi, ate a quick dinner and headed to the airport to leave the continent.

Photo Credit: Tati took many of these pictures.


Maja, Tati and I traveled on a different airline than the rest of the group and due to airline scheduling we had to spend a little more than a day in Delhi. On the day of the performance Tati and I called 10 hotels before we found one that had a room for the three of us. We had no idea where it was in the city but the person taking the reservations assured us we were in an interesting section of town. He was right. When we looked on the map we saw that it was near many historic sights and best of all- there were wide sidewalks.

Unfortunately by the time the cab dropped us off it was already after 4:00 and would be dark soon. Fortunately along the way we saw some of the sites that we had hoped to walk to if we had gotten there earlier. So instead of site-seeing we shopped at a great area just down the street from the hotel in the Sunder Nagar area. This is where I bought bronze, wood carvings and some beads.

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The Shops of Sunder Nagar

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The bead/wood carving store was run by a father and son who were quite nice.

We ate three meals in the hotel restaurant due to time constraints. The food was pretty good but the beer was not. The selection wherever we went was, like, one brand - either black label or Kingfisher. Kingfisher was the best we had.

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Trying to get out of Chennai

So we left the hotel around 6:30 AM for the Chennai airport. Our flight was delayed by more than an hour due to fog which was a bummer since we wanted to do some sight-seeing in Delhi before it got dark.

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Fog at the airport and drinking coffee next to the men's bathroom and the announcement booth.

Here is an example of Engrish that we laughed about while waiting.

This is possibly a shrine on the runway

We liked the idea of flying on an airline called Spice Jet but Indian Airlines had nicer, cleaner planes and free food.

Breakfast Indian Style

I promise the emphasis on food here on out will be minimal but I had to show you breakfast and one of my favorite foods - these little rice patties called idly served with a coconut sauce. The papaya, pineapple and little bananas were also quite nice. The breakfast at the hotel was served in the hotel's chinese restaurant.

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Performance day

We arrived at the theater about 10:30 and we were there until after the performance. My duties included security detail, last minute music CD production, videographer, and Master of Ceremonies. As Master of Ceremonies I stood in the dark using a light on the lighting board to read a description of each dance, the poems some of the pieces were based on, and the names of all the dancers before each piece was performed. The hardest part was the names of the Indian dancers but I practiced the pronunciation with the dancers before hand so I think I did OK.

John Britto had some huge posters made up to place outside and inside the theater. The dancers were quite flattered. after the performance we all got T-shirts and a nice plaque that mimicked the posters.

The performance went really well and there were several nice reviews in the Chennai papers.

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The posters

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Dancers warming up and me in my new lace blouse and official John Britto crew badge with Shu-Chen and Katie

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Tati with Apu who was so helpful. Maja and I with John Britto and company

A Day of Mostly Eating

We spent Saturday morning in the studio while Maja went to the theater to get everything oganized for a run-through. There was a television crew at the studio to film class (with Dana's and John's dancers and me) and rehearsal.

Some of John's dancers. Here's Vijay on the left - a good dancer with a nice moustache and pony tail, then Vasanth - the best dancer in the company, Nanda - another good dancer who wore cool sunglasses, Johnson in the back - he was awesome helping me bargain with the tailor and Sachin - an aeronautics engineering student.

Before going back to the hotel we stopped at a little store near the studio where I bought a lacey white blouse for $5. We had lunch back at the hotel at Meenam where I had the Indian equivalent of the Pu Pu Platter - Vegatable Thali. It was actually quite good. I also had lassi!

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The company coming out of the clothing store (note the lack of sidewalks) and lunch

I took out my iPhone to calculate how much to pay for the bill and the manager and his waiters (there are usually twice as many waiters than in the US - all men) were all over it. I showed them some of features and used it to take a picture

Things were not going well at the theater so there was no run-through although everyone sat around at the hotel waiting for it.

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Shah Rukh Khan on TV and on the street, the Shiva temple in the hotel parking lot and a view from the room

When the word came that there was no theater time it was time for dinner so Tati, Miyako and I went to dinner at the other Indian restaurant at the hotel. I had aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower), Tati had a stuffed green banana dish and Miyako had a cheese and veggie kabob which she threw up later.
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Temples, Stalkers and Fortunes

Thursday was a run-through of the performance from about 10:00-2:30. I took the company class and then videotaped some stuff and worked on my computer. Around 2:30 Dana taught a class for some college strudents from Loyola College. They were all on a dance team and most have never taken a modern class. Results were mixed. After class Dana's dancers demo'd some pieces and then the college students danced their hip-hop dance for us. There were very funky and enthusiastic.

Very few women do any type of dance except classical Indian dance. As I mentioned before there is a real separation between men and women. It is rare to see a woman on the crowded buses that we see during rush hour but there are "women's buses". The maids in this hotel are all men as are the waiters and the hotel clerks. But there are plenty of female business women here. They just don't take the bus.

After we left the studio and got showered Tati and I took a wild rickshaw drive to the Pizza Hut. I took a movie and will try to post it to YouTube soon.

In the evening we went to the Council General's residence which was beautiful. The food was Indian and was quite good. I sat at a table with two diplomats, the head of the dance school John Britto who is responsible for dana's trip here, and 3 members of a classical Indian dance troupe. When I mentioned Shah Rukh Khan the choreographer said she hated him but I made her admit that he did have a certain charm and that he could dance.


Today (Friday) 2 of John Britto's dancers took us to Mamallapuram Temple about an hour south. As soon as we stepped out of the car a vendor was offering to sell us peacock feathers. One guy followed me around trying to get me to buy sandals. I made the mistake of trying them on. They were pretty cool but he really annoyed me. He was hard to shake. The dancers were calling him my stalker. This goat was eating the marigolds attached to the front of a car in the parking lot.


The temple on the beach was very beautiful. It is dedicated to Shiva so there are stone carvings of bulls (his "ride") all about.


There is a narrow passage that goes aroung the center of the structure. One is supposed to go aound it 3 times for good luck. He I am with Tati after my 2nd circuit.


The two dancers that were with us helped us immensely to buy stuff from the vendors. I went into a fabric/clothing store and with the help of Johnson (his real name) I had a long top and pants made of a beautiful silk in one hour. Johnson haggled with tailor for about 5 minutes and the tailor reluctantly settled for ~$20. But there were obviously no hard feelings because Johnson was writing down my measurements for the tailor as he took them.

My fabric is the blue he is working on The orange fabric is a shirt Kelly bought that needed to be taken in.

We then went to an artists' working area where we did some more shopping and many of us had our fortunes read. I had a Tarot card reading that involved a parrot and that predicted that in the future my family won't help me but my friends will. Hey, what's up with that? And I will live to be at least 85. Oh I will also be travelling in the same manner as I am today often.

Here is my Tarot card reader reading someone else's fortune.

Some of the other dancers had their palms read. Here Alvin (his real name) translates for Shu-Chen. Her readings were much more personal. That scared me so I went with the Tarot reading.



Dana's dancer Tati and his lighting designer Maja and I were set to fly to Chicago and then to Delhi but when we got to the AA ticket counter we were told that we would not make the Delhi flight because of a plane delay due to bad weather in Chicago. We were extremely lucky that they were able to get us on a set of Continental flights that get us to Delhi about the same time. The 15 hour flight was long and boring but we made it!.

The food was either american or Indian. I opted for the Indian dinner and American breakfast on the Delhi flight and then Indian breakfast on the Chennai flight. Rush Hour 3 with jackie Chan, the lastest movie with The Rock and several Bollywood movies were showing on the entertainment system. I watched Rush Hour 3 and some of the Indian films. My screen was crappy so I could not read the sub-titles.

We arrived in Delhi around 10:00pm and went through customs. That took about an hour but we were just so happy to be standing up we did not mind the wait. And we talked to a Sikh from Houston who was visiting his family in Punjab. My first unusual experience was the sea of men lining both sides of the walkway leading from the customs area to the rest of the world. There is definitely more of a deligniation between men's and women's activities. Picking up passengers with little cardboard signs is definitely a man's activity


We waited for two hours in the International passenger transfer area. I worked on my computer, watched a family whose son was about to marry his bride-to-be but they had not figured out exactly which bride-to-be would be chosen. The father was very enthusiasc about the whole ordeal- the son, not so much. The guard who checked people as they entered and exited the waiting area had this great moustache. Before we left I asked him and his associate, who had a gun slung across his shoulder, if I could take their picture.

At 2:00am Delhi time we boarded a bus and drove about 20 minutes to the domestic terminal. The shuttle manned by a a driver and an armed guard went through the runway area - we had to stop for a plane at one point - and through various airpot services are. There were lines of planes, lines of bikes, lines of Ambassador taxies, lines of men on a smoking break seen through a smokey haze - all photo ops that I missed because it was just to rough a ride to hole the camera still.

We then sat in the domestic terminal for 4 hours waiting for our flight to Chennai. Luckily the coffee stand was open so we drank coffee, read our books, learned about Eastern toilets and the Eastern version of Western toilets and talked to various travellers - both Indian and American.

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Our flight to Chennai was very comfortable. I sat near the emergency exit so I had all the leg room in the world. Rush Hour 3 was showing again as well as some old school Bollywood music videos. Maja observed they were very "Annette Funicello".

We arrived in Chennai about 10:30 am. Dana, Connie and dancers from the local company met as at the airport The local dancers gave us heavy wreaths of rose petals and marigolds. We are happy to be here!

We checked in and then went to lunch at a nice outdoor cafe called Mocha. Note the hookahs. We then went to a shopping center where I just could not deal with all the haggling involved in buying anything. Some of the dancers bought some nice stuff. we then went to temple dedicated to Shiva. It was beautiful.

Note the hookahs!