Thursday, March 3, 2016

India 1990 "What I did on my winter vacation" (seeing a tiger)

[This story was published in the August 1990 issue of "Open Entry" a University of Virginia Library Staff News bulletin, v. 19 #6 p. 41-46]

    I went to India on my winter vacation. It was fun, and work. Two years ago (1988) I applied to the American Institute of Indian Studies for a short term research grant. Last August (1989) the AIIS approved my project. The grant included all expenses for travel to and from India, plus living, travel, and research expenses in India for four months, from early December through late March (1990). An all-expenses-paid working vacation; a dream come true! The whole journey, like most, took on a life and personality of its own - the planned trips and the surprises, the expected and unexpected, the high points as well as the lows.

    My research project had two goals - to supplement my earlier research and writing about the impact of British rule on central Indian communities during the 19th and 20th centuries, and to conduct a survey of the types of historical documents at national, state, and local archives. I was in westernized and cosmopolitan Delhi for two weeks at the first and at the end of my trip, with short week-long visits back for recuperation in mid-January and mid-February. The rest of the time was spent traveling and doing research in Madhya (middle) Pradesh (state) at the state archives in Bhopal (of Union Carbide un-fame) and Nagpur (Snake Town), and then at four local district (India's counties) archives. Madhya Pradesh is geographically somewhat similar to a U.S. state - if you'd combine West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio with ancient, low, worn-down hills between expansive river valleys. In Madhya Pradesh it's the Satpura hills instead of the Appalachians, and the river valleys are the Narbada in the north and the Maha (great) nadi (river) basin in the south-east. In between, in the forested hills, live India's "hillbillies" - some of its tribal population, whom the river-valley farmers joke about and poke fun at.

     Two of my four selected districts were up in the wheat-producing Narbada valley - the bustling commercial and industrial town of Jabalpur, and the sleepy town of Hoshangabad, right on the banks of the wide Narbada. In the Mahanadi basin was Raipur, not too far from the huge Russian-built steel mills. For a hill district I selected Balaghat.

     My efforts at research and survey in local archives got very mixed responses. Bureaucrats at both Jabalpur and Hoshangabad were luke-warm to my searches for documents and sources. Raipur was the worst, with officials sending me from one office to another. Often I had to wait for hours for them to see me. I finally located rooms and rooms filled with documents, maps, and local records, but I was prohibited from looking at any of them. My official guide claimed the records were all confidential, and the official who might give permission was perpetually too busy, at least during my time there. (Continued on next page - page 44)

     Raipur's frustrations were offset by Balaghat's friendly District Commissioner. The Big Man had me over to his house for supper one evening. (He got me to smoke one of the few cigarettes I've had since I quit last August under a U.Va. health program.) He also opened up the district's archives for me on a national holiday (the spring festival of Holi, sort of a Mardi Gras). It meant four clerks (and their families) suddenly had to change holiday plans and work for me. He also made a jeep available to me one afternoon. His assistant, the driver, and I drove back up into the hills in search of the village of the Baigas, a tribal group I had studied. We found a small Baiga village, and had a wonderful hour with them while they showed us how they lived, cooked, etc., and kidded around in front of my camera. [See photos of the Baiga village - click here]

     Besides all the hard work at the various archives, there were side trips and lots and lots of travel. At Jabalpur I took a boat trip through a beautiful mile-long gorge, which the Narbada river had formed through white rock over thousands of years. The British named it "Marble Rocks;" the Indians call the falls at the head of the gorge the "Falling Mists." Some distance from Hoshangabad I watched farmers bringing loads of just-picked cotton into the gin on oxcarts or trailers pulled by their new tractors, and the manager of a ginning mill showed me how they unloaded, weighed, ginned, and baled the cotton. I also visited an abandoned 15th century "motel complex"; a set of travelers' rooms around a well in a courtyard, built as an act of public service and charity by the local ruler long ago. I visited the British built hill-town of Pachmarhi, with its very British architecture and church, and its many beautiful falls and cooling pools. From the highest peak of the Satpura hills, I watched the beautiful sunset with other Indian tourists. I never made it to Agra and the Taj or to Benaras (I had done that route before) but I did get to Khajuraho for the first time. This small town caters to western tourists, and more recently to Japanese tourists as well. The walls of the several temples, built in the 10th century, are carved and sculptured with hundreds of erotic statues - voluptuous women putting on make-up or dancing, and couples in many different positions of embraces depicting the text of the Kama Sutra. By the way, the beer was more expensive at that tourist trap than elsewhere in India (Rupees 30 or about $1.75 a pint in the ABC shop).

     Probably the high point of my side trips, however, was going to the game preserve, the Kanha-Kissli Park, on New Year's Eve. It was there I saw a tiger. I joined two families of Swedes in jeeps early on New Year's Day, and saw many different kinds of deer, birds, and even wild buffalo (these look like water buffalo).
Elephant ride
Riding an elephant - looking for tigers

      Finally after waiting for about two hours, we received word around noon that a tigress had been spotted, and we waited a little longer until it was our group's turn to drive to the area, climb up on an elephant with three others and the mahaut (driver) and ride, rocking back and forth, the quarter mile in to see Ms. Tiger taking an afternoon nap in the cool shade of some trees. Our guide said the elephant's scent overpowers the human odors, so the tigers are unaware of any human threat. It was amazing, and indescribably breath-taking - the size, colors, power, beauty of the animal! Wow! (Some of you at Alderman may have seen one of my photos of the tigress which I sent to Garth.)

Tiger resting in the afternoon shade    

    Kanha Park has become a center of controversy in the past months. A group of communist extremists (called Naxalites) have encouraged the local tribal population to reclaim their land, which was taken away from them by the government to form the Park in the 1950s. There have been many fires in the Park recently, and forest guards have been stripped and humiliated by some tribals.  The tribals may be reviving their agricultural system of slash and burn. Not too unlike the conflict of the spotted owl vs. the loggers in the American northwest, this conflict may be between space for tigers to live vs. land for tribals to live and grow food.

     As I said, I did lots of traveling, and one trip could be considered the low point of my journey. I traveled by all sorts of vehicles - the taxi three-wheel rickshaw scooters in Delhi, cycle rickshaws in other towns, also taxis, buses, trains, and planes. At one point, I tried to rent a bike to ride around Jabalpur, but got completely frustrated - the young bike shop employee wouldn't rent a bike to me because he didn't know me, but he finally agreed to rent me a bike if I gave him a deposit equal to the price of a new bike. Then I didn't trust him! I was afraid that he'd run off with my money, since he didn't know how to write and wouldn't provide me with a receipt. I also had much fun traveling on a narrow gauge train up and down the Satpura hills a couple of times. But the low point - oh, yes. I planned to fly from Jabalpur to Raipur one Monday at noon, and took a taxi the twenty miles out to the airport. The flight was delayed by an hour, even though they had shooed all the cows off the Jabalpur runway. Then it was announced that the flight was cancelled for the day; maybe it would come the next day. Well, I still had to get to Raipur, and I finally arranged for a front seat on a new private bus; overnight for eight hours from Jabalpur to Raipur up, over, and down the Satpura hills. The bus left on time at 9 P.M. packed with forty-five people; in a half-hour the inside lights were out and we all began dosing (except the driver), bumping along shoulder to shoulder in our seats. Suddenly, at about 11:30, we woke up. I looked up at the huge front windows which looked like an enormous TV screen. In slow motion the dirt road was going from side to side in the headlights as the speeding bus careened down the winding, mountain road. We screamed (in our various languages) for the driver to put on the brakes, but he had lost complete control. Collectively we all went "ahhh!" as the bus headed for the cliff, and then another "ahhh!" as it headed for the mountainside, and then a long "ahhhh!" and even a sort of "wheeei" (as if we were on a roller-coaster) as we headed for the cliff. The bus SLAMMED through the two foot retaining rock wall, went airborn, SMASHED through the trunk of one huge tree which hit dead center on the front window's dividing post, and then BANG into a second tree. For a split second we hung motionless, until WHAM the bus dropped to the hillside and then KERPLUNK it rolled over onto its side and onto the only exit door. There now was a collective moan, followed soon by screams and yells - I had fallen on top of others as others fell on me, and we lay in a clump for a moment. Then everyone pushed and shoved and scrambled to the front of the bus, as we smelled leaking fuel. Somehow, miraculously (because we were so packed together?), we all survived, and no one was very seriously injured. We walked back up to the road and sat down to collect our thoughts and emotions, and check ourselves. We then waited about another hour on the lonely moonlit road, until luckily a State Transport bus came, and we hopped in even though it was packed. It also was going to Raipur, and I was lucky to get a seat on the back bench at the next town when some people got off. I think I was even able to doze some between bad bumps - when all of us together were lifted off the bench and then rudely slammed down again. Raipur at least had one fairly modern hotel. I checked into it at 9 A.M. after having the rickshaw driver stop at the government's English Wine Shop to buy some beer. I don't think I ever had a nicer warm shower and beer. Then I fell exhausted into bed.

     Well, I still haven't told you about some wonderful Indian meals and food; my trip back to my high school in the Himalayas; my failed speech at the State Political Science Association (Continued on next page - page 46) Conference at a women's college with a large audience of beautiful Indian women; my getting a three-Red-Salutes greeting from comrades at a meeting of Jabalpur's communist workers union; or my ensuring that I was doing research in Nagpur on the 24th of February for my 49th birthday at my birthplace. (Why didn't I plan better and make it there on my 50th? Well, maybe I'll get there on my 100th!) Anyway, perhaps those and other stories are for some other times.

     That's some of what I did on my working winter vacation. It was fun. It was even fun getting to India and back, going through London on the way and Paris on return. I visited Cambridge University for the first time, and renewed an acquaintance with an "old" (from 15 years back) girlfriend, now married, on the way to India. At least her weekly letters almost kept me sane during my solitary journeys in India during those four months. My daughter, Julie, guided me around Paris for five days, as I knew no French and she was studying it in Lyon. One street crepe lady complimented Julie and me as a wonderful couple, and even after we explained we were father and daughter she seemed to say, "Oh sure! But you still make a nice couple," (or its equivalent in French). Though I had a PanAm ticket back to Dulles on April 1, the airline rescheduled all flights and flew none that Sunday, frightened about their ability to handle bomb threat crank calls.

     Arriving in Charlottesville the evening of April 2nd, I was greeted by new life, and a new role for me which I still don't want to deal with-there were my twin grandsons, born a month earlier, and I was a new grandfather. I am hopeful that the fun of life is not over yet, even though I'm back from my exciting journey to India and am trying to catch up with my backlog at Alderman Library.

[by Philip McEldowney, August 1990 in "Open Entry" University of Virginia Library Staff News, v. 19 #6 p. 41-46]

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Beach 2013 June

Back down to South Nags Head for a week - at a different but 'old' place.  Sun, sand, surf - but fairly cool air and warmer water.  Nice relaxing week again.

At the beach again

The 'old' place is the large beach house where we have been about 4 years ago - it sort of funky with a huge single room for TV, relaxing, long dining table, and nice sized kitchen. We liked the wonderful Wi-fi which was non-existent previously.  Also the large TV allowed us to figure out how to use the DVD for watch the Jame Bond Skyfall, and our Roku worked well for watching Netflix - Deej is now addicted to MI-5 episodes (we are in the late 50s of about 90 episodes).  The kitchen lacked a steamer for cooking shrimp, and cooking it in water for only 3 minutes still made the fresh shrimp a little tough and rubbery.  So, we bought another steamer! The house is called Ocean Adventure, though its sign has started to peel off, so it looks more like "clean denture"!
Clean denture

It was nice and sunny, but too often very, very windy - think stingy sand on bare legs.  We got out to our own beach area, just a block away from out the screened back porch and across the little spillway bridge, across the road, and straight down the houses' dead-end block to the beach.  Shelling was not very good, even at low tide.  The best was the northern most Ocracoke public beach area - thousands of shells. Also pretty good at Pea Island beach, but very windy there. Jumped in the water 3 times during the week - the waves were pretty strong each time, fun, but hard to stay in for a long time - the water was not too chilly and easy to get used to after initial shocks.

Shopping- only forgot one cable, this for my small gps device (Radio Shack came through, again).  Deej got some great bargains when she went to Tanger mall one evening. Since public schools were still in session, the traffic was not as crowded as it will be next week and the rest of the summer.

Our main, new Garmin (nĂ¼vi® 2597LMT) gps was not great, as it seems to be only the North American City map, which does not recognise simple places like Coquina Beach or Bodie Lighthouse (too non-city places?).  We got to both of those anyhow -  long walk south on Coquina, and took the 45 minute tour to the top of Bodie. The Garmin otherwise does great generally on the highway and around cities - it told us about the 33 minute delay on our return, which seems to always happen leaving Va Beach area and going toward Williamsburg - as 5 lanes goes down to only 2 lanes.  Went through about 15 minutes of heavy downpour also during that same delay area.

Food - found the Sugar Creek restaurant the first night (Saturday), after not getting in to the Blue Moon Beach Grill.  Good food and view.  Went back the Blue Moon Monday night and got in after 45 minute wait - shared a fantastic bouillabaisse, overflowing with local seafood.  And Friday's noon BBQ sandwich with fried okra was fantastic at Sooeys. Otherwise our own cooking of shrimp and mahimahi was very tasty and satisfying. And I got my favorite blackberry cide on the way down and an even bigger jug on our way back at Morris' Market - yummy.

Computer and other equipment worked pretty well, and I got to experiment with the new GoPro camera and the Sonny Handycam. 

As I say the weather was pretty good - except for the even higher, long lasting winds as the tropical storm came through on Friday.

Philip visiting Barb in Richmond
It was nice visiting my sister Barb in Richmond, for about 40 minutes, on the way down on Sat. late morning.  I think we helped get her more acquainted with how to use her tracfone.

We got down to Ocracoke for the sunny day Wednesday - the ferry had to take a hour huge U route, because a storm had filled up sand along its usually short 20-minute route.  Saw dolphins on the way down on the ferry. Also got the new Jennettes' Pier at about 16.5 mile post.  Did not get over to Manteo or up to Duck

- oh, well. Overall another nice, relaxing week at the beach.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Seattle 2012 July

The great Seattle trip - the Woodstock School alumni reunion, Sunday evening cruise, Barb's brunch, Monday Pensione, Tues and Wed sailboat even over night, Wed's Needle and Chihuly glass museum, Thursdays' express clipper day trip up to Victoria's Butchart Gardens (in Canada) and back,  Friday's Public Library, and red-eye back home. 20-28 July 2012.

The reunion and the week in Seattle went well.

Got up at 3:45 AM (EST, but 12:45 AM West Coast time) and left Friday morning (20 July 2012), landing in Seattle around 11 am, meeting classmate Gail and taking a shuttle in to the Reunion site at the Seattle University.  No one was at the Emerson dorm, but Nathan Scott and Dan Lind helped me to get to the WOSA registration office about 3 blocks away up steep streets and got keys, etc. Back down Gail got into her dorm room, though Deej and I were at an apartment complex about 5 blocks away. We waited for her to get briefly settled, noticing that she was yelling from her 3rd floor - so I called her on my cell phone - she was locked into the stair well.  I was able to go up the elevator, find her stairwell, and open the door up. We went off to our apartment rooms (which had a kitchen, living room, 2 bathrooms, and 3 bedrooms!), and then to late lunch at a nice Thai place.

Oops - I need to get to an overview and away from these details.
This is a PDF of the reunion schedule

Friday evening was our first dinner at the cafeteria, then a welcome session with singing, and a movie of the Dan Terry (alumni dentist killed in Afghanistan) and discussion, and greeting classmates, etc

Saturday's general meeting wasn't bad, with a 4 minute video from the Principal, etc.

David Rugh gave a fascinating presentation of his 30 years work monitoring whales in the off shore Washington area. With an afternoon talk by Dorothy Riddle - interesting, ideas about non-person beings (plants, animals) and our relation with them. I went to the first choir rehearsal, then chai.  Never got to any of the Happy Hours and nearby bars (the campus is dry). But Deej and I took off walking with  Helen Arnott (class of 1960) to see the Fremont troll under the Fremont bridge, about a mile away, returning in time to dress for the Khana dinner, with Pete Wildeman singing some pretty interesting songs he's written.  The evening movie "Palayan - a Story of Exodus" was interesting - how Himalayan villagers are faced with the exodus of young people and the adjustments.  No Fremont Pub Crawl for us (or for anyone as far as I know)

Sunday was a second rehearsal, this time with Vance George, having just arrived from conducting choirs at the Bellingham (WA) annual festival.  I set up and taped the Sunday Service as the choir sang 4 songs, Jack Day gave a talk on Stewardship (the theme of the reunion), etc. You can see photos and watch some of the videos from links at this web page which I set up

Had a nice lunch with most of my classmates and with Vance.  The afternoon talks on women's health around the world and sustainable forest products was interesting - by two experienced and enthusiastic speakers. Had a quick supper and then walked down to the dock (about a 30 minute walk) and got on a small cruiser for our Wine and Desert Cruise around the lakes and back harbors of Seattle - seeing rich houses (but not Bill Gates') and watching the lights come on around the town of Seattle.

Monday morning quick packing and a ride with Jack and Fran to Barbara Judy Bowes' house in the far north woods of Seattle where she gave us a great brunch for a class and friends, and her brother Jerry and wife. Jack got us back into downtown near our bed and breakfast place - the Pensione.  A very pleasant place with a lounge overlooking the harbor - small bedroom (no TV) with 3 bathrooms down the hall. We went down to Pike Place Market and got some lychees, also down to the Waterfont and supper at the Pink Door (nice Italian place).

Tuesday going to go sailing on Lindsay and Dana's sailboat with classmates and overnight. Pack, grab our things and a little breakfast from 8-8:10, in order to jump on the 8:14 bus for an hour ride to the Vashon ferry docks in southern Seattle, getting there just in time for the 9:05 ferry, with Barb, her brother Jerry and wife, and Li waving at us as we walk to the ferry.  Hardly start eating our breakfast sandwich and drink coffee before the ferry seems to have arrived at Vashon Island already (15 minute trip?). Robert and Suzanne were to meet us as we called them on our cell phones.  They had spent the night on the Island at a Bit 'O Island cottages on the Island.  Ride with them to the harbor, down to the sail boat as Bonnie, Li, Barb, Jerry and wife join us on the sailboat.  And off we go, sailing or motoring around the south and then west side of the island most of the day - very pleasant, cool , sunny.  Good lunch.  Then dropping off Barb, Jerry and wife, as Lindsay rowed them ashore in a dingy to near the ferry dock. More sailing and a spaghetti super as we decided to return to dock for the night (no more dingy stuff). Pleasant rocking night on the  boat - the rocking stuck with us for 3 or 4 days.

Wednesday back to Seattle and the Needle and the Chihuly glass works. Packed and ate a nice berries breakfast, with Li giving us a ride to the ferry and then on the other side to the bus stop. Which had changed two blocks away up hill because of construction.  Caught the bus back and went to our other, less fancy (no morning breakfast) Moore hotel - but at least down town.  A touristy day - the monorail to the Needle, to the top and the 360 views; to the amazing and colorful glass works museum,
and delicious lunch, and back to our hotel, and a walk to Pioneer Square and a fascinating tour of the Seattle underground.

Thursday was our quick day trip to Victoria's Butchart Gardens. Rush over 10 blocks and and down to the Express Clipper docks, line up and load on to the boat with about 150 others.  2.5 hours up to Victoria, a 1/2 hour bus ride, 2.5 hours at the garden, 1/2 bus back, and 2.5 hour clipper back (going through US customs, of course)

Friday we walked to the lovely, new, 10-story modern public library (it has an amazing all red 6th floor)
did more walking, ate at the main chowder restaurant at Pike Place, and then went on frantic bus trip to U of Washington where I thought I'd try to make contact with a fellow South Asia librarian, but we got there about 4:15 on a Friday afternoon and she was already gone.  We did see much of north Seattle again.  Back for some more walking around the Waterfront and a supper at Ivar's Seafood Restaurant and Chowder

The a rush to collect our luggage, walk to the light rail underground and catch the hour-long ride through far southern Seattle suburbs in the fade twilight to the airport.  We made it in fairly good time so that we were through security and waiting to board at 9 pm for our 10:10 pm flight.

The overnight flight seemed to be very short though it was over 4.5 hours long.  Arriving in Charlotte Saturday morning around 6 am east coast time and waiting 3 hours for the Charlottesville flight.  We were glad to fly into Charlottesville, fairly quickly get our bag, and to our car, parked near to the parking lot elevator, and on home. Went out to the overgrown garden, picked, especially okra, and made a great chicken and sausage gumbo for our first night home.

What a great trip - reunion, cruise, sailboat, Needle and glass art, another fast cruise to the fabulous Victoria gardens, public library, pretty good hotels, seeing and being with old friends again, seeing new sights and places, having new experiences, eating great seafood.

The Beach 2012 June

Back down to Nags Head south for a week - at a new place.  Sun, sand, surf - but fairly cool air and warmer water.  Nice relaxing week again.

Toronto AAS 2012 March

Traveled to Toronto for the Tibetan and South Asian librarian meetings and the Association of Asian Studies annual conference. And I actually was the chairman AND discussant for a panel.  Great fun.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer Adventures 2011

My summer trip at the end of July took me to Julie's in Iowa for a few days (Thursday 21st July to Sunday 24th July), then on to meet up with Akiko in Denver for a day (24-25 July), on to Christopher's in Colorado Springs (Monday 25th-Friday 29th), and back north to Fort Collins for the weekend WOSA reunion (Friday 25th to Monday 1st August), with Jan picking me up on Monday (we might also see Bruche H) to take me to an afternoon flight from Denver to Charlottesville.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Beach 2011

This year's trip to the North Carolina Outerbanks beach was the second week of June 2011. But it began with a day trip to the Duke University library to physically access and view their Collection of South Asia pamphlets on Friday the 10th June 2011. Then Saturday was a drive straight east, near the end through (surprise to us) the burning peat fire of Pains Bay in the Alligator River park, just before going over the bridge to Manteo and our rental house in South Nags Head.

Then the week at the beach, hanging out at the south Nags Head beach, Coquina beach, a beach near Pea Island, one near Frisco (Sandy Bay), and the beach nearest to the town of Ocracoke. Thursday we had a nice trip to see the Art Show at Avon's Hatteras Realty, with Stephanie Kiker, Scott Gibb, Nancy Costanza, and other artists.

We cooked great evening meals of fish and shrimp from Bill's, Austin, and Whalebone seafood markets, as well as dining out at Sooey's BBQ, Nags Head Pier, Thai Moon, and Sugar Creek restaurant.

The water was very cold in the north, but much warmer on the southern beaches; shells were almost nil. We had smoke in our area the first 3 days, but not later when it shift south or was dispersed by Friday morning rain. That was new - and Deej kept a watch on the smoke situation via the Internet.

Then the trip home Saturday the 18th June 2011, on very crowded, bumper to bumper Interstates (but it kept moving along most of the way).

A nice vacation.