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Right after he glanced at my bra and sniffed my shoe, but I chased him away with loud clapping and much “Hey, Cow-ing.”

After all the hectic mountain driving of the previous few days, Cheng and I spent a couple of nights recovering at peaceful Trishla Resort in Tirthan Valley.

I even tried my hand at batting during a cricket pickup game with a family from Delhi! Apparently I scored a decent amount of points, but once I almost took out the windows of our residence, I handed the surprisingly heavy bat off to another player.

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On our free day there, we hiked to a beautiful waterfall near our resort.

I took off my pants to float over to a large rock Cheng thought would be a good lounging place and noticed many little tadpoles adhered to that rock. Oops…not tadpoles, but leeches! I freaked out when I saw 2 of them trying to attach to my legs. So I made Cheng use a scarf and act as a curtain rod while I took off all my clothes to check for any more, then put on some dry things from my bag.

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Just as we were about to leave, my foot slipped off a rock and I totally soaked my shoe. Since we weren’t in any rush, I laid the sock and shoe on the bank along with my other clothes from earlier and lounged in the shade across the stream. Sitting up just in time to see 2 cows moseying down the path I watched as one perused my things, but chose to eat the grass next to them instead.

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We feared the cows would block our way back on the narrow trail, so as soon as they left my things, we jumped back across the stream to pack up. Luckily they were more concerned with eating grass than us, so we narrowly squeezed by them (minding their horns) and continued on our way home.

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Receiving oxygen

Receiving oxygen improved my headache almost immediately.

Our travels started out benignly enough when we flew from Hyderabad to Srinigar in Kashmir on a Thursday. Altitude 5,200’ We were inundated with abnormal scads of traffic that our host said was due to Ramadan starting tomorrow, and people were out enjoying their last day before fasting. At one point, he left the car to see what was the hold-up.

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We took a shikara to a quaint houseboat on tranquil Lake Nigeen where we passed a restful night. The ubiquitous houseboats stem from decades past when British citizens occupied the area, but weren’t allowed to own land, thus the water lodging.

Our local host, Bilal (Zubi’s brother, whom I befriended at Shilparamam,) and his cousin Rumi picked us up from the airport and showed us around their lovely city. Later that evening, we joined them at Bilal’s house for dinner to meet his most welcoming family and see the crafts collected and sold by his family. So many amazing, beautiful carpets with patterns so detailed you could spend hours just enjoying it. The truly refreshing aspect is the different shades displayed when viewed from opposite sides. If only we had more floor space at home, I’m pretty sure at least one of those spectacular pieces of art would have become ours.

Both Bilal and Rumi were scheduled to accompany us all the way to Leh, but they were called back to Hyderabad unexpectedly so we made our goodbyes and continued on with the driver they arranged.

Two days of travel with an otherworldly overnight in Lamayuru (Altitude: 11,500’)next to a monastery brought immense delight from the spectacular views of multi-hued rock formations, snow-capped mountains, and frozen glaciers transitioning into rushing waterfalls.

Upon arrival in Leh, Ladakh (Altitude: 11,500’) our driver brought us to purchase our inner line permits, required to visit the 2 places we planned for over the next few days.

Sunday at 7am we left for Pangong Lake with a new driver, Javed, (also a friend of Bilal’s.) 11+ hours round-trip of winding, bumpy roads and mountainous switchbacks made for a long, rough day.

While the colorful lake and mountainous views wowed us, I’m not sure I’d choose to do it again knowing what would happen. Crossing over the 2nd highest motorable pass in the country (3rd in the world) took us up to an altitude of 17,688’

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I’d already had some dizzy spells since Lamayuru and had been fighting a headache since then also, but after that drive, my head felt 3 times its normal size, I began throwing up, and I realized I was truly ill. So we cancelled our proposed trip to Nubra Valley and spent a few hours in the local hospital instead, diagnosed with Acute Mountain Sickness. Before beginning this portion of our trip, I looked up the recommended drugs to prevent AMS, and did not like the possible side effects. I try to avoid any drugs if at all possible. Ironically, the treatment for AMS is the same thing as the prevention, plus a steroid shot and oxygen. The best part about this visit (if there is a best part) is that we got to pre-purchase the meds, steroids, and sterilized needle ahead of time, all for a measly 36 rupees ($0.57) and only paid 200 rupees ($3.15) for the entire visit.  Luckily, the doctor didn’t admit me overnight, provided I rent an oxygen bottle for overnight use and promise to rest for the next 24 hours. Total=$50.90 Done. Cheapest hospital visit I’ve ever had!

…Naresh asked me early in the morning on my way to the market area in touristy Manali. In the US, when someone on the street asks me the time, I’m leery about pickpocketing. In my experience in India, it’s an icebreaker, quickly followed by “Where you from?” After many long seconds of getting-to-know you questions (i.e. exchanging names,) he pops the question.

“But we just met (literally)…why do you want to be my friend?”

“Well” he pauses, “I don’t have any friends from US.”

Ok, perfectly reasonable right? But I wonder what ‘being friends’ entails.

“We share tea and spend all day together seeing the sights in Manali.” Whoa there, partner. As enticing as you are with your humble, aging-history-teacher vibe and white slacks, I’m not so much interested. However, I’m willing to see where this goes in the interest of story-telling. After many Cheng/husband references we had tea. Then he found me an internet cafe. He tried to pay for that internet. He told me ‘thank you’ was unnecessary and rude between ‘friends.’ I finally found a way to be rid of him by arranging an afternoon time to meet for temple viewing and an evening time to meet for disco dancing. He didn’t want to leave me saying “I am feeling very bad leaving you.” Um, probably because you sense I won’t be keeping either of those meetup times? To be honest, I tried to keep the afternoon time, but lunch with Cheng ran long and when I checked the designated place, Naresh wasn’t there. I wondered if he disco-ed without me?

Wandering around the fairly small town of Leh is a mix of Indian nationals and tourists from all over the world. Filled with craft shops from Tibet, Nepal, Kashmir, etc as well as high-tech trekking gear from North Face and Lammer, it’s a strange combination of modern and ancient. Menus from most restaurants have sections including: Indian, Nepalese, French, German, Italian, Continental, and Chinese. Although, it’s necessary to be open-minded about what you might get. Last night, Cheng’s lasagna was a bowl of layered cheese, tomato, chicken, and roti bread. He made the astute revelation, that bread is really almost the same as pasta anyway!

And everyone wears hats! The air is cool, but the sun is hot. Given the multi-ethnic crowds, there is a wide variety of traditional and modern hat choices. Cheng and I found a neat little shop selling handmade jute hats from Nepal, but we ended up buying funny animal hats with ears and tassels. And even better, we spent quite a while chatting with the proprietor, Deetesh, who was from Nepal, but had studied computer science in Singapore before opening a restaurant in Penang, Malaysia and then this store here. He had so much to say about love and relationships and was very curious about Cheng and me and what kept us together. He seemed torn about his own life, insisting on his belief in making a traditional arranged match, but also longing for that one true love, sharing his trials and tribulations thus far including a few heartbreaks along the way. It seems to me a difficult thing to mesh: a worldly education with a traditional upbringing.

Not the famous lock bridge.

Another lock bridge near Notre Dame, but not THE famous lock bridge.

“Locks of Love Taken Down”

In early June I left Cheng to toil away in Hyderabad and traveled to Paris, meeting up with 5 of the Ultimate Frisbee Windmill crew (Sam spent time with his Amazing Grace and joined us later.) I wasn’t interested in doing the expected touristy things, and told Cheng as much beforehand, but lo and behold…I did all the touristy things.

Early on I found French difficult to pick up. Coming from a place where I had somewhat mastered the art of greetings and ordering food in Hindi, my long-learned Spanish kept bubbling up to get in the way as I searched my brain for the basic French I’d been practicing on Duolingo. But I woke up early my first morning there (3.5 hrs behind India) and wandered around looking for breakfast that wasn’t a croissant, roll, or crepe. I stumbled on the Sunday market near the Bastille stop as they were setting up and began practicing my limited vocabulary (Bonjour, merci, au revoir) until I felt quite comfortable making myself understood.

Eventually, I found amazing rotisserie chicken, fresh cherries, salami, and purple cabbage slaw for breakfast. I chatted up some of the vendors, enjoying myself immensely before making my way back to the Austinite nest for my third coffee of the morning and some stretching yoga.

Later that day, I dragged the rest of the crew back to the market to enjoy the fresh smells, tastes, and sounds I had found earlier.

Practice started off pretty normal with everyone cleating up and throwing around.

.   .   .

Then Om shared the horrible

.

awful

.

scary

.

news.

.   .   .

He had a flat tire! Oh no!

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Om has been lovely, giving me a ride home when practice ends at 9pm so I don’t have to cab it, so the very least I could do was offer some sage wisdom I learned from my dad. Having never actually changed a tire myself, I really only knew how to do it in theory. But just like that time I learned how to ride the subway in Budapest, this all worked out fine.

First we tried a portable air pump Anand lent us, but that didn’t seem to be working properly. Then I let the three of them stare at the tire for a bit before showing them how to use that funny, flat edged tool to pop off the hubcap. (yes, the tire crowbar.) Although I quickly stopped Om from throwing his back out trying to loosen the lugnut by showing him how to flip the crowbar the other way and stand on it.

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Then it was time for these 3 engineers to figure out the jack. I knew it should go on the frame, but I wasn’t sure exactly where. Also, I had never seen this type of jack before so I was all out of advice. After crawling under the car for a while, Om finally went inside and recruited a couple of actual engineers (I just made that up. I’m not sure what their jobs were) to assist in the jack placement.

IMG_3429Eventually, we got the tire changed, did a happy dance, and cheered all around before heading home.

Hi, my name is Negina and I’m an addict. Yes, I’m addicted to Ultimate Frisbee. It’s how I met Cheng, it’s how I know almost all of my friends. I never travel to a new city without researching the local pickup scene. I love playing the game, but even more, I love the community surrounding the game. Anywhere you go, people who play Ultimate are guaranteed to be friendly, funny, and welcoming. Since I first joined that introductory women’s clinic in Chicago way back in 2003, I’ve made it an integral part of my tourist identity.

And Hyderabad is no exception. Before arriving in India, I researched the pickup websites. The online presence seemed a little sparse in Hyderabad, but I networked on Facebook to get contact info for a friend of a friend. After a few failed attempts to find a game (and 6 weeks of withdrawal,) I got down to the nitty-gritty business of in-depth Facebook stalking.

Jackpot!!! Not only did I get a quick fix, but I’ve been riding high 3 times a week since early May! It turns out that most of my earlier contacts have since moved to other cities. When I found profiles of local players (as evidenced by the many disc-filled photos) I also discovered a recurring mutual friend…someone I knew in Costa Rica 10 years ago. Further vindication for not deleting any FB contacts on the off-chance you might want to re-connect one day.

And so my story began with the wonderful folks on team Disc-O-Tech

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Here we are with Shivam, the groom, and his mini-me during a lull in the activities…just before the round of official photos on stage with every permutation of family/friend/guest in serious looking faces.

Earlier in the evening we spent some time at Shivam’s family home dancing and celebrating with numerous traditional activities before parading our way to the bride’s home where all the food, music, tents and elephants were waiting. Ok, ok, it was only 1 elephant, but it was a really BIG elephant, along with many horses and a few lit up carriages. More on that later…

As honored guests, Cheng and I were invited to ride in the groom’s marigold-covered car while everyone else followed in rented, white vehicles.

The bride, Monika, wanted me to be part of the receiving party, so I was dropped off at the bride’s house while Cheng continued on with our camera to join the groom’s parade. Looking back at all this extravaganza, I keep hearing that Aladdin song…”Hey you! Let us through…Make way!…Here he comes!…Ring bells!…Bang the drums!…”

Here are a few more pics taken during the various ceremonies. Cheng seemed to have a little more freedom to wander around. I’m not sure I “officially” needed an escort, but whenever I was alone, a family member seemed to materialize out of thin air to ask if they could get me anything. I definitely felt like a pampered guest!

During the looooong, official activities that took place indoor, Cheng and I snuck up to the rooftop to sleep for 6-7 hours. The pallu (or scarf) of my sari worked amazingly well as mosquito netting, so I had quite a pleasant sleep once I put in earplugs to drown out the blaring dance music.

Leading up to the all night festivities, we spent time at the bride’s family home. They welcomed us as part of the family and encouraged us to participate in multiple rituals preparing for the big night. During the dancing ceremony the night before, Cheng met his kindred dancing equal, someone who know all the words and all the moves to all the songs. I had two lovely ladies decorate my hands and forearms with intricate Mehndi designs. After that it was Cheng’s responsibility to feed and pamper me while it dried.

The day after the wedding ceremony, everyone just relaxed and napped and tried to stay cool during the hot afternoon. We also got to spend more time just chatting with our new friends.

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We said our goodbyes to Shivam’s wonderful family and thanked them for making us feel so welcome.IMG_3254

.   .   .

*To smile or not to smile? That’s the magic question that arose after reviewing many photos during this trip. There was a funny instance at the wedding when Cheng said “look serious,” but when I glanced over at him, he had this big cheesy smile on his face.

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View all the photos here.

I started my birthday week with a trip to Jewel of Nizam for dinner with Cheng. I thought I should wear something to roll with the “jewel” theme so I chose my blingy-est fancy suit for this special occasion. Sadly, the biryani didn’t impress us as much as recommendations had led us to expect. We did enjoy a tender lamb appetizer and an interesting creamy onion halwa for dessert.

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On my actual birthday (a Tuesday) I had a yummy breakfast of idli, sambar, and chutney. The staff here at Falcon’s Nest has been really thoughtful about making sure I have something gluten-free available for breakfast. If the menu of the day doesn’t offer dosa, idli or uttapam, they will gladly make me an onion omelette. My favorite days are when they make vada, or fried doughnut shaped things made from lentil flour. I really love having so many savory breakfast options!

IMG_3355After work, Cheng picked up my favorite dinner of biryani and fresh flowers for me to wear! We weren’t exactly sure if these types of flowers in these arrangements are considered culturally appropriate for birthday giving, but since fresh flowers fit with our culture, we went with it.

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Then, to cap off Birthday Week 2015, I hosted a puzzle night in the private party room at The Chocolate Room near our apartments.  I think our friends didn’t fully realize what they were getting into, but they performed extraordinarily well for puzzle newbies. I had them split into 2 teams of 3 and 4. Cheng and I monitored their progress and offered hints as necessary. It turns out they were pretty evenly matched because both teams finished within 10 minutes of each other. Wow, the competitiveness in the room surprised me! I witnessed squeals, beatings, and even couch vaulting to hide discoveries.

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Thanks for another memorable birthday week!

*View all the photos here.

  1. People rarely remember to bring water to outdoor activities, but they’ll all want some of yours.
  2. People drink from water bottles by pouring it into their mouths. No touching.
  3. The gym offers communal water bottles.
  4. When Zumba class is scheduled for M,W,F at 8am. That really means sometimes 8, sometimes 7:30, and occasionally not on Monday.
  5. One person’s only job at the gym is to wipe down the mats after each use.
  6. Green mango has to be the best thing ever. It’s wonderful for cooking with okra and better than lemon juice for topping other dishes.
  7. Don’t expect to get a large cup of coffee anywhere unless you go to a western style place.
  8. You can buy pretty much anything you need as long as you can find a tiny specialty store for it. Google maps is almost useless for finding these specialty stores. You have to ask someone.
  9. Tea and coffee are served with lots of sugar.
  10. When you go into a “wine store” looking for wine, it’s a limited selection hidden in the back corner behind all the prominently displayed hard liquor.
  11. When crossing the street, hold out your hand, palm down,  to magically make all the cars stop for you.
  12. Good chocolate is not a thing here. Everything has a high wax content to survive the heat.
  13. Cloudy egg whites are a sign of freshness. Not all the carbon dioxide has escaped the shell.
  14. Even though the “lemons” are small, round and green, they are still called “lemons.”
  15. If you are a woman and choose to wear local ethnic outfits, people you’ve never met will come up to you and tell you how nice you look in “Indian” clothes.

 

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