Friday, May 27, 2011

Der Lämmergeier

{A Week Offline & A Sicknasty Bird Sighting}

We're back online, kittens. And I may or may not have had the most titillating bird-sighting of my life in the mean time. Meet the lämmergeier, aka the Mike Tyson of the bird kingdom.

Let's review:

Species: der lämmergeier
Also known as: the bearded vulture
Wingspan: ten feet
Superpower: Can swallow entire sheep femurs whole and dissolve the bone into mush using its nuclear reactor of a digestive system.
Distinctive features: Unlike most vultures, the lämmergeier has a feathered head, including a cartoonish wispy beard reminiscent of Ethan Hawke's more committed attempts at facial hair in the mid-nineties.
Favorite indulgences: Sucking bone marrow from bighorn sheep bones; cavorting over the Himalayas; covering itself in mud; dropping tortoises/animals from great heights onto rocks wherefore to break hard exoskeletons/bones.

Pretty amazing, right? I'm going to find-all-replace the word "bad-ass" with the word "lämmergeier" from now on.  Heaps and heaps of posts coming your way (yaks! tent camps! the perils of Himalayan driving!) so stay tuned.

Monday, May 16, 2011



You didn't think we just up and left India like that, whiz-bang, did you? Heavens, no. The ATM sighed as we withdrew one last precious, meager wad of rupees and booked two tickets north to eastern Kashmir, to the mostly-Buddhist region known as Ladakh. Not thaaat far from Pakistan. Not thaaat far from Afghanistan. Very much not thaaat far from Tibet. But pretty damn far from just about everyplace else. Ladakh. The unclaimable, untamable mountain desert at the top of the world. Where 15th-century monasteries still tower from their cliffside perches like stone sentinels keeping watch over Time, Humanity. Where Indus Valley apricot orchards erupt in fuzzy bloom this time of year, and higher yet, up in the glaciers of the Himalaya, the last surviving snow leopards patrol for game.

Ladakh. Where one stumbles out of the tiny Leh airport at 11,000 feet out of breath from Thin Air, out of breath from Staggering Beauty.

Ladakh. Heaven on earth. Shangri-la.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

So Long, Jaipur

{Leaving Home, or, Our Last Few Days in the Pink City}

It is always more difficult to Tie Up Loose Ends that one anticipates.

But somehow we managed. We moved out of our flat just as the summer cockroaches started moving in, we savored an epic, food-coma-inducing farewell dinner with our adorable Gujarati neighbors (hullo sweet curried potatoes with raisins, cashew paste and poppy seeds!) and I *finally* finished a purgatorial traditional miniature painting less than twelve hours before we boarded the bus for Delhi with all our belongings. And although there is always more to do, more to see, more to learn, we left the Pink City with nothing but wonder and graditute in our hearts.

So namashkaar, Jaipur. We learned to love you, and you loved us back in ways we never could have imagined.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Skirt

{Driving a Hard Bargain in Bapu Bazaar}

See my new skirt? It's my Make Sh*t Happen skirt. Some of you might remember I only have one pair of pants in India, so what with these 100+ degree days and a lot to get done a breezy skirt is a welcome addition to my strict minimalist traveler's wardrobe.*

Here's the back-story: after a wonderful tour and visit at the local design college, one of the adorable students insisted she take me to chaotic Bapu Bazaar in the ancient walled city section of Jaipur, which is famous for cheap locally-made textiles and traditional Rajasthani shoes. It's also famous for ripping off tourists, but I was intent on proving my bargaining skillz. And after nine months of intense study, I'm getting pretty good at it. The Art of the Indian Bargain is a good-natured if histrionic charade (by both parties) involving theatrical hand gesturing and excessive head-bobbling, and often climaxes with a dramatic, empty-handed storming out of the shop and a final bargain stuck on the pavement. It goes like this:

Me, pointing disinterestedly to a pile of skirts that I am secretly very interested in: Kitnai? How much?
Shopkeeper: 400 rupees only. Very nice. Quality A+ first class.
Me, displaying look of shock, insult: 400?! No no, too much. 
Shopkeeper: Yes, madam, very nice quality. You buy now.
Me, picking up skirt: Look at this stitching! No good. No one will buy this. 
Shopkeeper: Ok I give you good deal, you buy. 350 rupees only.
Me: I don't want it. But I'll take it for 150 rupees.
Shopkeeper, dramatically rolling eyes: Nooo, madam, actually, that is no good. 300 rupees only, last price. 
Me, waving skirt away: 300 rupess, TWO SKIRTS. Final offer. 
Shopkeeper, feigning shock and horror: 300 for two skirt?! 400 only!
Me, clucking with my friend and walking out of shop: No, uncle, you insult with 400 rupees.
Shopkeeper, running after us with both skirts: OOOOKAAAAY FINE! 350 final offer!
Me, head bobbling, releasing dispassionate but secretly thrilled sigh: Ok, why not.

And so. 350 rupees ($7) for two totally wacky geographically schizophrenic South Asian/Southwestern cotton wrap skirts = happy shopkeeper (I still overpaid) and happy me.

* Full disclosure: the collection of textiles I've amassed abrogates whatever minimalist credibility I may have accrued with the one pair of pants stunt.