Tuesday, September 21, 2010


It’s nice to have an international businesswoman for a sister. The other week, said sister traveled to Mumbai for a week of meetings, providing a perfect excuse for me to visit the megacity (and the sister). A local friend much increased our enjoyment of the city, showing us the sites and protecting us from unscrupulous henna saleswomen on Chowpatty beach. In our few days of tourism we visited the Gateway to India, various shopping districts and hotspots, and stuck our heads into the Taj Palace Hotel, one of the sites of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. What a beautiful hotel! In the bathroom an attendant lady in a grey sari helped me wash my hands (a little weird but why not) and in the courtyard pool a very polite but very firm security guard suggested we should return the way we came.

Mumbai is a massive city, population over 14 million at last census. One thing that struck me as I rode in taxies around the city was the number of street-sleepers – people who at dark just spread a bit of sheet or cardboard wherever they are on the street or doorway and go to sleep. Mumbai has a major lack of affordable housing, and the people drawn to the city from rural areas in search of jobs often have no choice but to sleep wherever they can in proximity to their jobs. The work done by these street-sleepers is mostly menial and temporary, yet still represent greater opportunity than can be found in the villages from where they came.

Monkey menace

Upon my arrival in Mussourie, riding up the hill for the first time in a taxi, I was very excited to see a little brown monkey sitting on a wall on the side of the road. Over the next few days, I saw many more, both the brownish rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta), and the slightly larger grey langur monkey (Semnopithecus dussumieri). Handsome beasts they are, but my initial excitement has given way to some annoyance and trepidation. They are not at all afraid of people or vehicles, and can be quite aggressive if they see food, as I discovered as I made the elementary monkey mistake of walking out of my house with a sandwich in my hand one morning. A few days later, I looked up from my morning chai in time to see a macaque dashing out the front door with a loaf of bread from the kitchen in its hand. Although I give them a wide berth these days, they are endlessly entertaining to watch!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Landour Language School

It’s been about three weeks since I arrived in Mussourie, in Uttarakhand State. I’ve been studying Hindi at the Landour Language School, an almost-100 year old institution housed in a church and old monastery complex. This is just about the busiest time of the year for the school; about 50-60 students of all different nationalities are to learn Hindi for a whole variety of reasons, from personal interest, to study abroad programs, to professional development. The classes are fairly intense – one-on-one for four, one hour sessions a day. That combined with 3-4 hours of homework and self-study makes for a decently full workday

Life up here in the cloud bank is persistently misty and rainy. September is the tail-end of the monsoon, but locals claim that this year’s monsoon is lasting weeks longer than usual. This week much of Uttarakhand State has been plagued by flooding and landslides. Many locals I've talked to claim that this is the longest and most intense monsoon in recent memory, and have cited climate change. Anecdotal evidence of climate change in action.