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First Class Camping

I’m learning that getting anywhere in India redefines hassle, but often, there’s luxury waiting at the other end – even if you are camping – and so, the hassle of travel becomes a necessary means to a vacation.

Our Thanksgiving camping trip on the banks of the Ganges River in Uttarakhand was book-ended by busy train stations and harrowing mountain drives – but the three days spent romping in white sands, rafting through exciting rapids, and lounging river-side with wine, campfires, good food and friends old and new was well worth the travel excitement.

Here’s a photo of our crew at the train station.  I would say that after traveling by train in China and Vietnam, India could use an upgrade in equipment.  Fortunately, it wasn’t hot, so we didn’t need AC (there isn’t any) and the chilly morning air diffused the stench from the bathroom which contained an open hole to the tracks below.  We passed fields of sugar cane and old villages, and lots of people having their morning constitutionals by the tracks.  It’s difficult for me to judge the chaos of the train stations here since I think that I’m becoming accustomed to it and the sad display of poverty.  Homeless camp in the middle of the stations and simply hang, hoping for handouts and an odd twist of fate, I assume.  Or maybe there’s no hoping, just simply accepting.  Either way, it’s a tough sight and one that my children have silently digested.  Lala seems most moved and scared and disconcerted by what she sees.  The boys – I’m not sure how what they see informs them yet.

Workers were literally blasting the side of the mountain beside the river as we were traveling along it to get to our camp site.  I ‘m not much of a nervous nelly, but there were a few moments on the bus ride when I had to turn my back to the window and lean to the other side of the bus, as though my leaning would stop the bus from toppling over the edge of the cliff into the river below!  You can see that some areas of the road didn’t have barriers and this was particularly worrying when two cars had to pass at the same time.

But this is what awaited us:

We had two tents outfitted with cots and quilts, a mirror, table and candles.  The bathrooms were eco-friendly holes in the ground with wooden seats and a pile of sand mixed with lime to throw on top of your business to hasten decomposition.   As usual, the Yardley clan spread itself conspicuously:

Honestly, with all that sand and water, we couldn’t keep the kids dry or clean… but who cares really?  The sun was hot enough during the day to dry our sopping clothes and to roast bodies chilled by the frigid nights and the cold, wet runs through the rapids.  We had such a blast though running the river – and no major flips or accidents.  It was all such a thrill and a great way to salve my post-London Delhi blues.

I love this photo of the little guys.  They joined us half-way down a run after the boats had passed the big waves.


Even mommies pick their noses – or so my family likes to tease.  I argue that I’m having an insignificant scratch, but if it pleases my kids to think that I, too, mine the caverns, then let it be so… ( I stop short at snacking though!)

This is camp central, where lovely Nepalese cooks served us yummy meals, and where we built bonfires, shared wine and other libations and made new friends….

George, my paddling grump-meister and lovely Lala…   George was quite good in the kayak and paddled happily – as long as he had the BLUE kayak.  I’ll spare you the photos of him  limping in a red one, seething with anger and refusing to have fun.   I see summer camp on a mountain lake in his future…  three long weeks of it!  Camp couselors, beware…

And a two-family shot with our dearest friends here, Nathan and Kristi.  We have been playing together for five years  – in China and now in India.  One of my fondest memories is of our boys playing with a long string and an empty plastic coke bottle for an entire weekend on the steppes of Mongolia.  Kristi and I have grand plans to discover India together – quick dips into various places without the kids…  First stop: Amritsar and the Golden Temple.

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NOT slumping through the slump!

I’ve had a few interesting conversations this week – spurred by my desire to understand this place.  The first was with a person who has been in and out of India for two decades and who now lives here and works for an international news organization.  He describes himself as an Indiaphile but has grown disillusioned over the years.  He thinks India is an unforgivably cruel place to live for its own citizens and that corruption and caste are to blame.  He shared one story that particularly galled him:  he met a family whose daughter had disappeared – most likely abducted, a not-too uncommon crime here.  When they tried to file a police report, they were asked to pay a sum of money that was well-beyond their capacity to pay.  Without the payoff, the complaint would not be filed or investigated.  This type of shakedown apparently leads to continued requests for money at each bureaucratic checkpoint.

Hoping for insight, I shared this story with an Indian friend.  She shook her head and agreed that yes, this sort of thing happens all the time.  Part of the problem, she explained, was that police are not paid but a pittance for their work – which leads to scenarios like the one above.  Corruption feeds itself and the system and police pay is never addressed because  payoffs have solved the pay problem. Other types of payoffs include regularly paid bribes to allow mildly illegal activity, like unlicensed businesses.  Jim’s colleague wrote a first-person harrowing account not long ago about the death of his brother in a car accident.  Look it up – it’s a story of one corrupt roadblock after another.  The family even had to pay to get the death certificate.

I’ll save discussions on caste for another entry.  It’s a topic that I’m still trying to understand.  Legally, one’s caste is not, supposedly, a barrier to upward mobility, but prejudice passively and maybe even aggressively limits opportunities for many here.

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On the lighter side, here’s a picture of my local turkey.  It’s not quite a Butterball, but I haven’t indulged in such a pleasure for seven Thanksgivings and have forgotten what there is to miss!  This Hindustan hunk of bird is sitting in a briney bath  – in hopes of softening up what I predict could be a tough chew!

She won’t be eaten with all of the traditional fixings this year.  We’re heading to the holy city of Rishikesh on the Ganges river, where we will camp and raft and fish and freezes our tushes… so I think bird will be most conveniently consumed in sandwiches.  That, and mulled wine is my contribution to our shared feast.  (mull it, grog it, ANYTHING to make the wine taste better here!)

Happy Thanksgiving all.  Let me know if this new site works better for you…