February 2010

It’s been a long time since I wrote… (and even longer until I’ve come back to finish…)

We’re still alive – and well.  Dave is sleeping off a night train from Delhi, three-tier AC sleeper.  He didn’t get the top bunk, so people kept bumping into his feet that were hanging out into the aisle.  Today is Sunday.  We’re skipping church (I did go while Dave was gone).  Tomorrow is Holi, so being out and about today has some risk of being showered with “color” – powdered paint – and  possibly ruining your clothes.  I’m quite happy to stay put, mostly.  As the interim HR manager, I’ve been putting in lost of hours -till 9 or 10 pm most weekday evenings and 4-6 hours on Saturdays.  My friend Mira’s mother died two weeks ago and I haven’t even talked to her since.  We had three friends from KS visit in Jan-Feb and I haven’t sorted all my photos.  Of course, we are talking a couple thousand pics…

School was over for staff on Dec. 17th.  We had a cousin of Dave’s, Deanne, visiting (with daughter and friend) a few days before, and an American  student staying with us for about two weeks after.  Support staff have less vacation, so I put in another week of work.  Cindy and Darrin, a young couple, traveling the world for a year or two, ended up in Mussoorie, liked it so much, they decided to “take a vacation” from their vacation. They joined the rest of us Mt. Hermonites (Steve, Suman, Dave and I) as we watched movies, played Settlers of Catan and cooked/ate.  Winter is the best time to be in Mussoorie.  Yes, a lot of stores are closed, but the buzz is less crowded, we’re more relaxed, the snows (mts) are out and it’s just beautiful.  Yes, it’s cold.  Okay – I have enough socks now!  Between our daughter Abra, my nephew David, our friend Lori and the ones I had ordered that our friends then brought in Jan., I now have enough socks.  I wore two pair every day.

Our very dear friends from KS – with whom we have had most of our local adventures back home – came to visit: Elena Entz, Linda Shelly and Leroy Hershberger.  Besides their wonderful selves, they brought lots of “stuff”.  Packages from Land’s End and Sierra Trading Post had been showing up on Elena’s porch for the last several months.  They had also rummaged around in our basement looking for specific kitchen items.  Best of all, they brought electric blankets to dry out our beds during monsoon – and socks.  And letters/treats from our Sunday School class back home at First Mennonite Church in Newton.

Leroy came early and made his way to Mussoorie on his own.  He and Dave went with another Mt. Hermon teacher Steve Luukkonen, on a winter trek.  (No thank you, I was not interested in being cold.)  It started snowing here the day they left.  What a sight – three guys walking off with packs – into the falling snow.   With a driver who had never driven in snow before, the taxi got stuck; Leroy got in the driver’s seat and everybody else pushed.    They hiked from just beyond Uttarkashi up to Dodi Tal, but couldn’t get beyond due to deep snow.  Leroy got an extra dose of “local process” before Linda and Elena came in on Sat., Jan 23rd.  We three went up to Delhi to meet them and after much walking around (being told to “move on”), finally got to see the military part of the practice for the Republic Day (Jan 26th) parade.  When was the last time you saw a marching band – on camels?   We spent their first night in a motel frequented by Woodstock staff and were happy to meet Chris and Nicole – who took the extra luggage back to Mussoorie.  After Sunday at the Handicrafts museum (near Pragadi Maidan – wonderful place!),  we were happy that Bryan was also willing to cart some goods back to school for us.

On Monday when most museums In Delhi are closed, we took a train to Agra, spending the day at the Taj and the “Baby Taj”.   For supper, we ended up in a South Indian Restaurant eating a “Family-size Dosa”.  About four foot long, with a selection of sauces, it was fun – and good food.  The next day, we headed out to Fahtepur Sikri and on to Baharatpur for the Keoladio Bird Sanctuary.  Dave ended up riding the camel pulling our cart from the car park to the mosque/museum. Leroy, on his own for awhile, missed the way to the main part of the city and was stuck in the mosque wondering where the rest of us were before heading back to the car park on his own.  Dave and he went back to see the other great buildings – the main attraction – while the women left Fahtepur Sikri for Bharatpur in our taxi; the guys came later by local bus.  Elena, Linda and I headed for Keoladeo,  the bird sanctuary, as soon as possible, walking a couple of miles as it neared dusk.  Saw lots of deer, jackal and wild peacocks. At our guest house, we met up with Darrin and Cindy – who gave us tips on Amritsar.

I just had to move from the sun room to the dining room.  It’s so beautiful out today -downright warm – outside, that I got ahead of myself.  I opened windows – and now I’m freezing.  The house is made of concrete and the cold in all that thermal mass will take a while to dissipate.  I’ve moved back into an inner room, donned a down vest – and lit the gas heater!  Yesterday, I had to stop on my way to the buzz after work to actually take off one pair of socks and a shirt. It’s definitely spring-like.  Supposedly – it will be hot in about two weeks.

After spending most of the next day (Wed.?) at Keoladeo -where yours truly spotted a jungle cat- we took “local process” to Jaipur.  We tried to take a gold line bus, and the bus said “gold line”, but it was definitely not high class.  However, we did arrive in Jaipur and promptly took the wrong autorickshaw… Our driver could not find the house where we were staying.  It was embarrassing to show up so late at our Woodstock colleagues home – 11 pm -but we were very warmly received by Ravi N.’s wife, and parents.  Shashi had cooked for us!  For our two days at their house, we had the most wonderful paranthas and the warmest hospitality!  On Thursday, thanks to Ravi’s father who went to great effort to make arrangements, we had a tour in a van – that followed the official tour bus (full) to major sites.  What beautiful buildings – the “pink city” is named after the color of stone in many of the older buildings.  We saw palaces and forts, riding elephants up to the most famous fort.  These places are huge!  Imagine living in them – it’s like a small city in itself – or at least – a large gated apartment complex in Wichita.  It really is useless to try to describe these places without showing the photos.  Sorry.  Plus, its feels like a long time ago.  Again.  Sorry…

On Friday, we caught a day train from Jaipur to Delhi and a night train from Delhi to Amritsar, arriving mid-morning.  Catching the free shuttle bus to the Golden Temple was difficult with our packs on our backs.  The look of panic on the face of the last woman off the bus – as the crowd surged in – was not fun to see.  Dave and Leroy did some “blocking” to keep her from being trampled.  The temple is a huge complex, including a dining hall with free meals 24 hours a day that would put the MCC sale’s “feeding the multitudes” to shame.  Or at least, there may be something we can learn from them.  Food and lodging are free – if you volunteer, otherwise a donation is appreciated.  While Dave and Elena rolled chapatis and Leroy may have washed dishes, I gave a donation…   We took a room (with lockers for luggage) in the foreign tourist part of the hostel, just so we could lock up our bags for the day.

Finishing up – in April…

The temple is amazing – shining bright in the sun, and lit up at night.  Leroy did the needful – juggling for photos, as he has everywhere we’ve been.  Very useful for keeping the women from being the focus of unwanted attention!  The food is very good – especially the kheer for dessert.  It took about an hour of standing in line to get through the actual temple.  No photos allowed inside.  Went back and ate again.  They have a zamboni-type thing that cleans up afterward.  Everybody sits on long narrow mats in long rows while guys come along with buckets of dahl, rice, kheer, etc.  You have to hold up two hands together to receive a chapati.  Under a huge roof, the noise from the dishwashing/cooking is incredible. No effort is made to be “nice” to the aluminum plates – they are banged against the side of a big tub to get the leftovers off, then dumped into long troughs of soapy water for washing.  Volunteers stand all along both sides washing.   Dishes go though several washes/rinses before being piled in huge carts to dry.  In the back, men are stirring huge vats (6-8 feet across?) of food, while other volunteers are (mostly women) are rolling chapatis or chopping onion/garlic.  Incredible.
We go back out to see the temple at night and take loads of photos trying to capture the reflection in the surrounding pond.  Pick up our shoes at the entrance, go get our bags and grab a taxi/rickshaw to the train station to catch (another) overnight train to Dehradun.

Back in Mussoorie, life now revolves around work for me as I’m partly responsible for some of the planning for the staff retreat.  I use the word “retreat” rather lightly – it was work.  Leroy did some story-telling to take the edge off the technophobia surrounding are move to Ubuntu as an operating system, open source for programs and a laptop initiative for students.  Lots to make staff who are technically challenged to start with – nervous.  Leroy picked up on the theme of change and talked some about that as well.  He also juggled as we dealt with the inevitable glitches while waiting for a series of short presentations geared towards sharing what some staff are already doing with technology in the classroom – or out.  I had hoped to skype Abra on the first (my birthday),. but since we haven’t really been using skype ourselves, had someone else try.  Dave shared a TED talk or two and a prezi (way better than powerpoint).  Dave, Linda, Elena and Leroy were able to take a hike down to Thatyur when I was working.  In the end, we wished we’d had our friends come earlier and while it was great to have them see the school wake up after the break, it would have been much more relaxing to have less hectic time for us.  Leroy had a chance to go to Nepal and missed seeing the school with kids anyway.  Live and learn.  I hope.  Next company – come in Dec.!  Actually – next year, we’re due for a home leave and will be back in the US for Christmas!  We were able to send a few things home for Abra and Phil (daughter/son-in-law), but didn’t even get thank-yous for all of the other gifts written.

I just today (April 6th) finished up the financial accounting for the holidays.  We tried to spend rupees for everybody so that they could reimburse us in dollars.  A way to get a few dollars back into our home bank account.  Thanks to our lovely (but unfinished) basement, we are a bit tight financially.  Unfortunately, this makes it impossible to offer anyone a really good deal on the rent.  Our two young women who started out in our house moved out the end of March, leaving us without renters at all.  The unfinished state of the house and the mess the yard is in, are not conducive to convincing anyone it’s a great little house…  While there are many people who could benefit from a totally furnished house, we have to be very careful – as all of our worldly goods are stored there, and we have to cover our costs for insurance, upkeep, etc.

As soon as our friends left, I started working long 12-14 hour days as interim HR manager.  I had applied for the position, and about two weeks ago, during the spring board meetings, found out that I did not get the job.  It was a disappointment, though not unexpected, given that the board wanted someone with more experience – who spoke Hindi.  My concern is that the HR office will now be all Indian, with no international experience.  The chosen candidate comes from the best HR school in India and has corporate HR experience.  Meanwhile, I’m doing my best…  without knowing if, or what, job I’ll have next year.  Due to budget cuts made during the board meetings, there’s no clear option for me…  Wouldn’t it be weird to go from being a serious candidate for a director level position – to not having a job at all!

The staff talent show is the perfect opportunity to prove how humble you are.  Humble enough to get up and (try to) do a Bollywood-style Hindi movie dance routine.  What a hoot!  Not that we did that…  We were part of the “Fashion Fushion”, in which the less talented staff acted like models and strutted their stuff out on stage – to the cheers and students.  Not having real fancy duds, we did a little do-si-do, balance, and swing before heading off stage.  I had (finally) cut Dave’s hair – so that was our surprise act.
Not loads of real talent on display (it does exist), but lots of good humor and tons of fun.  The kids absolutely go wild.  My video of the final dance number is so long, it’s too big to upload…  We may be busy as heck, not get paid enough (according to some), but we sure know how to have fun!

I had worked enough extra hours in the last couple of months to rack up about 90 hours of overtime.  While support staff normally only get three days off over quarter break, I tried to take those three – and three  comp days as well!  My first comp day, last Thurs., I ended up working till 6:30 pm., but managed to stay away Monday and today.  Dave had to be back at work this morning for parent teacher conferences.

We got off to a slow start on Friday, but walked out our door with packs on our backs, loaded down food for three-four days of hiking.  We headed off down Tehri Road, hoping to make it at least to Thatyur (down from 6500 to 3000 feet)  for the night, then up to Nag Tiba (from 3000 to 10,000 feet) on Sat.  We took the road until just below Pepperpot cave, then headed up over the ridge and took the lovely, shady trail along the backside of that ridge until we reached the ridge that pepperpot “mountain” (okay, hill that resembles an upside down pot) is on. I actually had some stomach cramps, so we weren’t going to fast at that point.  Possibly because the hip belt of my pack was too much on my stomach and not enough on my hip bones.  I didn’t want to give up, expected a good bout of diarrehea would take care of it, so kept on hiking.  (Didn’t happen, but felt better after awhile anyway.)  Took a path on the far side of pepperpot that I had taken 10 years ago down to Thatyur with two senior girls.  I remembered it as fairly level for a long way, then steep zigzags down the mountain.  I had also remembered it as the fasted path to Thatyur – two hours.  Well, I must have mis-remembered some of that…  Maybe three hours – without packs.  Still, it’s a good hike, not as steep down as I remembered.  Got to Thatyur about 5 and ate dahl/chapati at the best dhaba (in our opinon) there, then kept on hiking towards Mangalori.   We didn’t make it that far, but did get to the place where we leave the road, cross a bridge and started heading up the trail to Mangalori.  We were directed to a school where we could camp on the veranda.  It was pretty dark by then, crossed the bridge and set up the tent by flashlight.  Slept fairly well.

Headed up the path, following a stream, towards Mangalori – which is the last water stop until one is back down from Nag Tiba.   Took about two hours to get there.  Filled up with water and then started to head up towards Nag Tiba. This is where there is some confusion…  The villagers tend to direct hikers towards a different path than Dave has ever taken.  This is noted in the hiking book – which says definitely NOT to go left…  I thought, we have time, why not try it?  Well, for one thing… it’s longer.  And – at the end, it’s very steep with a not-very-well-defined path!  It was beautiful.  A lot of it was not hard, but the last bit was really rough.  We came up at stagnant ponds (or former ponds…) where, to our surprise, there were picnic shelters with park benches!  Progress.  I guess.  There was a herd of sheep/goats.  One of the guys came over and asked, “medical?”.  Note: always carry a good first aid kit – not for yourself, for people you meet along the way…   He had gashed his foot cutting wood – about an inch and a half long and maybe a quarter of an inch deep.  It was dried and filthy.  First order of the day, was to try to clean it – without using too much precious water.  He has some, I had wet wipes, soap and finally, an alcohol prep wipe.  Ouch.  Tried to put on a compression self-adhesive bandage (the kind I used for saddle sores while biking) and wrapped his foot with a gold scarf I had tied to my pack – from the Golden Temple in Amritsar.  May not have been an appropriate use…  Before we were out of sight, the wrap was off.  Not sure if the bandage held, as it had started to bleed again when we were putting it on.  Also, not sure the foot was clean enough for it to stick.  They served us tea – which was very nice, and said they had 700 sheet and 200 goats up there.

Then we made a(nother) mistake.  Took the lower path, instead of heading straight up the ridge.  By the time we reached a place to camp, I was pretty beat.  We had been hiking since 7:15 am, it was then 4 pm.  I didn’t think I could realistically make it another couple of hours of hiking – only to get to the top about dark.  Dave set up the tent and I crashed for a bit.  Later, got up to see Dave sitting and reading his Kindle in the sun.  We ate and hit the sack by 6 pm – sleeping 12 hours.  The food we had taken consisted of Prakash’s locally made chedder cheese, Dave’s homemade bread, boiled eggs, nuts, dried apricots and figs.  We also, thanks to friends from home, had jerky, trail mix and dark chocolate!!!  We were each carrying a 2-litre pop bottle of water, plus I had two 600 ml bottles and Dave had one.   When I was ready to take a photo of Dave sitting and reading, my battery was dead.  Turns out, I never did get a photo of that campsite.

On Easter Sunday morning, we headed off after breadfast.  It only took an hour and a half to go the last bit up the mountain to reach to the top about 9:30 am.  It was too hazy to see the views of the snow-covered mountains we had hoped to see, but could just barely make out the TV tower on top of  Sister’s Bazaar in Mussoorie.  Started back down, not exactly sure which was actually a people path, and which were animal paths.  Those 700 sheep, you know…  Stayed fairly high along the ridge and managed, just before reaching stagnant ponds, to connect with the better-known, well-trod path most (smart) people come up when hiking Nag Tiba.  Trooped down, stopping to rest a bit.  Painted the ends of my toes with medical superglue due to the blisters.  Helped a little.  Found water about a half hour above Managlori, when we hit the ridge above the village and a family offered us tea.  Ormilla, with a beautiful smile and two children asked me to take a photo.  People are often happy just to see the photo on the back of the digital camera after you take it!  At 21, she had a 3-year old daughter and a 1-year old son.  We made it back down to Mangalori and were okay on water.  However, we could not have stayed up any longer and gotten down safely.  I once had a girl pass out on my just after reaching this village, on our way down from an overnight hike to Nag Tiba.  She had not drank enough the day  before and I had asked her to share some with another girl who, unbeknown’st to me, had not brought the required amount and had none for the hike down on the second day.  Hilya had some left and shared – and she’s the one who passed out while we were  waiting for the water treatment to take effect before drinking.  We didn’t cut it quite that close – but it’s really important to plan your hike when it’s not the hottest season – and to carry lots of water.

We made it back down to the road and gulped a couple of sodas and made the last couple of kilometers back to Thatyur on the road.  My feet were very tired of walking on rocks!   In Thatyur, we were immediately accosted (yes, that’s the right word) by men offering us a “taxi” up to Mussoorie.  Thinking we had gotten the normal rate of Rs 800, we went to our favorite Dhaba to eat the best dalh fry in Thatyur (better than school food, anyday), and then found out we had violated the Thatyur Taxi union by accepting an offer from a private car…  So, in the end, we came up in an approved taxi – and paid a 100 less.

Spent Monday being somewhat laid back – at least after I had gotten up before Dave and done laundry, dishes, etc…  Had our normal holiday spat: relax versus accomplish something.  Not having the screws to put up the decorative coat hooks bought in Delhi over the winter, gave up on “getting something done on the house”.  Zach, apt. 3, had invited some folks over for a pasta dinner.  Somehow, it all ended up here (maybe because we own more than three plates and chairs) and turned into a wonderful meal.  With a red and a white pasta sauce, and a bottle of wine someone had brought to a Christmas potluck, we had a great meal.  Followed by watching Crazy Heart.  Pirated of course.  Which was very obvious when the sex scene rolled around three times in a row before Dave could get the video past it.  A bit embarrassing when watching with a couple of young single guys!  At least for me…  At least, it wasn’t a real graphic sex scene…

Hah. I’m caught up.  Kinda.  Whew.  I’m sure I missed a ton of stuff.  We did get a few day hikes in on a Sunday, or a Sat that I didn’t work.  Of course, “Wiebe Hikes” are known for unexpected adventures.  Who wants to hike the same ‘ole path anyway… so sometimes, it’s really best if we’re on our own.

When I have a good connection, will try to add links to recent photo albums.

Love,
Cookie

Am now off to the buzz.

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