Archive for August, 2014
Last Friday, K and I went on a hike in Wadi Shab, which is a couple of hours’ drive down the coast from Muscat. It’s a scenic drive, though this doesn’t do it justice.
Wadi means “valley” or “watercourse” in Arabic. Two posts ago I mentioned that it means “hamlet” in Hindi, but I’m guessing it’s Urdu and shares some etymology with the Arabic word. For what it’s worth, I think most of the hamlets in Oman would be found in or near wadis, because a lot of the countryside doesn’t look particularly habitable (see photo above).
Anyway, there was parking and public bathrooms where the wadi passes under the highway, and because it was the weekend, there were lots of people around picnicking and such. To get to the trail, you have to cross this river.
Normally there are boats to take you across for a small fee, but none of the boatmen were working that day and the river is only about waist-deep, so we waded across. I’m not sure what clothes are best for this sort of adventure, but I was wearing hiking pants and semi-disposable canvas shoes that were pretty comfortable even when sopping wet. K said that he would go across barefoot next time and carry his hiking boots (he was wearing sneakers this time), but I was kind of squicked about the squishy riverbed, so I probably will not be doing this part barefoot.
The trail starts in this grove of palm trees on the other side of the river.
Which is pretty and all, but the scenery gets more dramatic as you go into the canyon.
And then the canyon narrows and the real fun begins.
There were tons of people grilling and chilling here, and I noticed that in some spots the draft was as cool as air-conditioning. I’m sorry to report that there was a lot of trash around, too, which is really sad. I’m not sure if a crew comes and cleans up occasionally, but in the meantime, ick.
Still, the water was beautiful.
K’s sneakers were full of pebbles from the river, so we paused at a little pool to rinse our feet.
When the canyon widened a bit, there was a huge boulder field that we didn’t think to photograph because we were still looking for the trail that had disappeared and trying not to break our ankles. After the canyon turned left, we kept going up and up and then realized that the way to the cave K had heard about was through the pools at the bottom, not along the sides. We were probably standing somewhere above it here.
Some of the pools were too deep to wade across so we left our backpack near a pile of other backpacks and began the swimming portion of our outing.
Everything beyond this was essentially a natural waterpark. In fact, I think some waterparks are designed to approximate these kinds of rocks and pools. It’s weird when natural things remind me of fake things.
Kids were jumping off ledges and paddling around, and the water was lovely. We’re used to swimming in the super-salty sea though, so staying afloat in the freshwater required some effort, especially with shoes on. K removed his sneakers to go investigate the cave at the back but I’m a coward and have seen too many scary movies, so I stayed back. He reported that he had to go underwater through a passage about 8 feet long to get in, and that the cave was very beautiful but there was nothing on the walls to grab so everyone was sort of awkwardly treading water as they looked around. Sounds like a death-trap to me. Maybe next time.
When we’d had enough and realized the sun was going to go down soon, we made our way back through the boulder field.
I love bouldering, even in flimsy canvas shoes.
It was definitely getting late as we made our way back.
We really should start these hikes earlier in the day.
Anyway, this was pleasantly tiring (we walked, bouldered, swam, bouldered, walked—almost like a triathlon! or something) and unlike any hike we’ve ever done. It is high on my growing list of stuff to do with visitors, should we be lucky enough to get any. Come see us! We’ll take you to Wadi Shab!
In the middle of our trip, we took an intercity bus (sort of a cross between a Megabus and a Greyhound, I guess) from Mumbai to Pune, where K lived for a few years as a student. It took forever to get out of Mumbai, but once we did, the scenery was breathtaking. There were all these little waterfalls pouring down lush, green mountainsides. Unfortunately, I have not mastered the skill of taking decent photos through the rain-streaked window of a moving bus, so you’ll have to take my word for it.
Taking cellphone video from a moving rickshaw, however, I can do. Pune is much more chill than Mumbai, and there are a lot more young people around. Just imagine the smell of diesel to complete the sensory experience of this next video.
It’s strange that I’ve written two posts about India without mentioning the absolutely insane traffic. This next video gets that across much better, though because it’s in Pune and not Mumbai, it’s not nearly as extreme as it can get. Rather than let the incessant honking stress me out, I thought of it as more casual than hostile, like “Hi! You there! I know you won’t use your indicator or look over your shoulder before changing your trajectory, so meep-meep, FYI, I’m here!” (Also, I realize it’s unsettling, but people cover their faces because of the pollution, not for modesty or banditry, for the most part.)
Anyway, we visited some family friends, walked around Ferguson College, did a little shopping, saw some tourist sites. I’m so behind on this chronicle that it seems absurd to keep going, but for old time’s sake, here’s me standing beside a giant banyan tree.
This was in a park outside a shrine that we visited, which I described in my notebook as follows:
…a basalt cave with straight pillars and swept stone floors. There were a few older women sitting around looking out at the courtyard. There was the smell of incense coming from the shrines, which were smaller, deeper caves that we didn’t enter or photograph.
To be super meta about it, here’s a picture K took of me at the German Bakery, where I probably wrote that last bit.
Whoever designed those mugs was not thinking of the south-paws in our midst, though I guess drinking coffee with your nondominant hand isn’t that big a deal. Our hostess in Mumbai had a set as well, so they are not super uncommon. Anyway, this is what I wrote (later) about the German Bakery:
There was a metal-detector, bag search, and (for K) a pat-down at the door because there was a bomb blast there a few years ago… What makes the security measures especially strange is that it’s a coffeehouse, a small one. We had americanos, served with heart-shaped cookies we didn’t touch because we’ve been overeating so constantly.
It appears that years of technical writing have killed whatever poetry used to inject itself into my notebooks, but the crisp little reminders of moments and moods are fun to collect, and they’re not always quite as dry as these. Also, during those moments and moods, a little scribble break is pretty refreshing regardless of what comes of it, and it’s a break for K as well because it forces me to stop talking for a few minutes.
And this has officially gone off the narrative rails.
I realize this continues to be a superficial account of our trip to India, but I’m very conscious of how my worldview as a Westerner colors things, which makes a deeper account of it time-consuming and fraught. So I’ll continue with the pictures as I sort things out.
A few days into our visit, K’s cousin took us out to his mango farm a couple of hours north of Mumbai.* It’s near a little village called Dhundalwadi, which means “foggy hamlet.” The farm is extremely beautiful, especially in the rainy season, which K and I were very much enjoying after our last couple months in the desert.
We sat on the veranda by the little courtyard chatting for an hour or two.
That is K’s cousin’s wife, Ami. If I learned nothing else from this trip (though I hope I learned another thing or two), I learned that it’s much easier to place everyone on a family tree when you actually meet them in person instead of just hearing their names. This next photo is K’s aunt whom I know as badi-mami-ji (“mami” means that she is the wife of K’s maternal uncle, “badi” specifies that it was the elder of the maternal uncles, and “ji” is respectful—these things get very specific).
She is an excellent person and all of her outfits were as beautiful as this one.
For lunch we drove to a roadside restaurant for kebabs. It was called Parsi Dabba, but K said the food was Punjabi. (I’m not equipped to argue the differences between Parsi and Punjabi cuisine. Someday.) The customers sat under tents in a garden and the server carried a monsoon umbrella to deliver the food from the kitchen to the tables. If I had to choose a favorite meal in India, this one would win for atmosphere. The food was good, too. Paneer tikka is my new favorite thing.
After lunch we came back to the farmhouse and the ladies took a nap while K and I had a couple beers with his cousin, Shyam. (Shyam-bhaiya, to us.)
We were sitting on this… raised gazebo-like thing?
I wouldn’t have noticed that the wood is just a covering on the concrete construction, but it seems obvious now that actual wood would not survive a single rainy season. Wood disintegrates quickly in this climate. Except the live stuff, of course.
You can’t tell from the pictures, but the water came up beyond our ankles, so walking through this was more like wading.
Most people in the area farm the rice-paddies, and this was the big season for that. We could see them at working in the distance. This photo is terrible, but it’s just as well because it doesn’t seem right to post sharp photos of unsuspecting strangers, and this has a sort of impressionist feel that suits the mood of the day.
The conical rain-jackets make sense for this kind of work, and in this picture, you can see them from the back, front, and side. Like in a catalog. This was not intentional.
I’m trying to quit while I’m ahead with this stuff so… More tomorrow! (Famous last-post words.)
*I’ve heard that it’s a very American thing to measure driving distance in time instead of miles or kilometers, and I nearly edited that last sentence to be more precise, but I’m leaving it for a little American flavor.
Our trip to India was more about seeing family and friends than sightseeing, so it’s hard to know what tone to take in this travelogue. I didn’t even bring my fancier camera, ostensibly because it would be raining the whole time, but the truth is, I don’t love taking pictures when I’m traveling in cities, even though I love city photos. So some of these pictures are K’s, because he doesn’t have this hang-up. Moving on.
Our first day was spent meeting and greeting and having tea and such. (Please forgive my glossing over all that in the interest of actually posting something and not just writing in circles, as is my wont.) On the second day, K and I took an auto-rickshaw (more on this later) to the station and took the local train downtown. His family was adamant that this was a terrible, terrible idea, but he convinced them that public trans is of great interest to us, which sounds weird but is true, and after some time they stopped protesting.
I guess what’s most different is that the doors don’t close. This is from the platform at Goregaon East.
People do fall out sometimes. The general sense of what’s an acceptable risk is different in Mumbai, and it is evident in many aspects of the city. It did not bother me as much as I thought it would, which I realize isn’t exactly a good thing.
It was nearly midday when we went, so the crowds weren’t too bad, especially in the first-class carriage. (There’s also a ladies-only carriage, but it’s optional. If it was rush hour I might have separated from Karan to ride there.) You can sort of see through the bars at the back that the other carriage is a lot more crowded.
One thing that amused me was that the stops were announced in Marathi, Hindi, and English, but because all the station names are pretty much the same in each language, it was only the “next stop” being translated over and over again. I’m trying to think of other cities that do this; I’m sure there are a few.
We got downtown and walked around. It was beautifully green, especially after the sun-bleached landscape of Muscat.
We made our way to the Gateway of India.
There were some security measures in place for getting into the plaza. Because of the 2008 attacks, protecting “soft targets” is a priority, which changes the atmosphere of these places. I feel like every single detail I mention deserves its own post. This is hard!
We also went to Nariman Point, where we saw the epic coastline of Mumbai from an interesting vantage.
We were gently scolded for this next one. I wanted to show how big those things are, but I understand why it’s not allowed.
K probably has enough of these sorts of shots for a series we could call “Rachel, For Scale.”
Okay, enough of a photo-dump for now. I think the only way I’ll be able to post more about this trip is to let it be sort of disorganized and choppy. Ta ta for now!