Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Going to Goa

At the beginning of March, a giant sucking sound was heard as Fulbright participants of every description emerged from the crevices of south and central Asia to congregate in the beach-side paradise of Goa on India's southwest coast.  The annual Fulbright conference is a much anticipated event.  Held every year in a different location, it brings together student researchers, senior scholars, visiting lectures and other types of Fulbrighters from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Kazakhstan  Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan for a week of lectures, cultural events, field trips, and excellent networking.  And we got to stay in a Taj Hotel - not too shabby. 

The conference was a great opportunity to learn what other Fulbrighters are up to.  Check out these other Fulbright blogs for an insight into the diversity of Fulbright research.                                                        

Municipal garbage in Delhi:
An artist's impressions of India's Grand Trunk Road:
Black carbon emissions in Delhi:
Painting and photography in Rajasthan:
Solar lighting technology in rural India:
Sustainable food systems in India:
Effects of supermarkets on Indian food consumption:

....and probably the most bad-ass Fulbright project I've ever heard of:  Traditional hunting with golden eagles  in Kyrgyzstan:      Yeah, how cool is that?

Inspired?  Lucky for you, the 2012-13 Fulbright competition is now open. Go to to check it out.

Goa is India’s smallest state by geographical area but only 4th smallest by population.  It’s also India’s richest state, with a GDP 2.5 times that of the country average. About 30% of Goa’s population is Catholic, compared to just over 2% for India as a whole. This can be largely attributed to early Portuguese influence in Goa. The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama traveled around the Cape of Good Hope to first reach India in 1498, landing at the port of Calicut in Kerala several hundred kilometers to the south.  By the early 16th century Portuguese traders were active in Goa, and by 1510 laid siege to the city. Goa remained an overseas territory of Portugal until 1961, when Indian troops invaded and forced the surrender of the Portuguese forces. The cultural influence of the Portuguese is still very evident in Goa's churches, wide plazas, and European architecture. Goa is also known for its beaches and pill-poppin' party scene, which, being an upstanding U.S. State Department-funded researcher, I did not participate in.

Catholic church in Panjim, Goa's capitol

Waterways crisscrossing Panjim, complete with atmospheric rusty ships

Traditional fishing in action: set up the net, wait for the tide to go out, and see what you've got

Beaches of Goa:  No lifeguard on duty

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Words of Wisdom

    When I first arrived in India, way back in August 2010, I was confused, overwhelmed, and a little intimidated by the colorful chaos of this country. People, dogs, cows, traffic and *HONK HONK*.  So on day #3, while sitting in a taxi travelling from Dehradun to Mussourie, I took comfort in a series of earnest signs along the road extolling the virtues of tree-planting and environmental protection.  Despite the somewhat socialist and hippy, circle-of-life-ish implications, here were some sentiments I could relate to. Here's a selection for your reading pleasure.

Tree means water
Water means bread
Bread means life

Make the world a 
happy place for 
the people to live in

Prosperity through forestry

     .....and my favorite:
 Consume wisely
Conserve widely

These sentiments and signs date from the early 1980's, during which time there was a national effort to combat environmental degradation in mountainous regions though tree planting on a massive scale.

Another type of helpful road-side message widely seen throughout India concerns drunk driving.

Speed thrills
But kills

With whiskey
Driving risky

Better to be Mr. Late
Than late Mr.

Well said, National Highways Authority of India.  Well said.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Indian Animal Fashion

       There are a lot of people in India, and possibly just as many stray dogs. Back when it was cold in Delhi (revealing how far behind I am on posts - it's now pushing 100 F every day!), many of these lucky puppies were on the street sporting a variety of bizarre coats.  More dogs than not had some kind of blanket, t-shirt, sheet, burlap sack, etc tied around their midsection, insulating them from the sometimes bitterly cold central Indian winter.   

     I couldn't figure it out - is this some kind of civic service the municipal government provides?  Or were kind-hearted civilians taking it upon themselves to winterize their local stray canine(s). Now that the weather is hot again, the doggy coats have entirely disappeared   Another Indian mystery.

     Another dog fashion I recently encountered comes to us from the middle Himalaya in north-western Uttarakhand state. This fuzzy fella is sporting the latest in massive metal collar.  Why, you ask?  Looks uncomfortable.  Well, less uncomfortable than having your throat chewed out by a leopard.  Leopard predation on dogs is a big problem in many parts of rural India.  Most dogs just have to take their chances, but a special few, like this guy, are valuable enough to a sheep or cattle-herding operation that they get fitted with this kind of protection.

     However I think the award for best-dressed animal I've seen to date in India is this stylin' goat from Agra.  This was during the cold season as well, so as with the Delhi dogs, perhaps some thoughtful person was being kind to the animals. Alternative scenario?  A reincarnated auto driver with bad karma for ripping off too many foreigners.  

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ladakh Wrap-up

Dried-fruit and nut vendor in the Leh bazaar

Mission #3:  Don't Die

Of our three missions, I'm pleased that #3 was not the one we failed to accomplish.  Although there were a few close calls.  The whole walking-over-melting-river-ice thing, for instance.  And then there was the time when I was minding my own business, climbing up a steep patch of scree in search of a snow leopard when I rather suddenly had to throw myself across the hillside to avoid a falling boulder, dislodged by he-who-will-remain-nameless. And then there were the inevitable ice-covered, potholed ledges along the edges of gorges that pass for roads in this part of the world.  At least we had one snow chain.  Um, yeah, ONE snow chain.  Seems like getting two snow chains wouldn't be that much harder than getting one, but what do I know.  How do you decide what tire to put it on?  And let's not forget the uber sketchy zip-line/crate by which we crossed the Zanskar river. R. had a great deal of fun in listing all the numerous ways in which we might 1) get our fingers (or hair, in my case) stuck in the winch, and 2) fall into the river when the re-bar-reinforced wooden box we were sitting in fell apart half way across

While in the Leh airport waiting lounge prior to boarding our flight back to Delhi, a nice young man walked up to us to tell us that he had just skied across Antarctica. I guess he just wanted someone to talk to who would appreciate his experience.  Little did he suspect that we would also be Antarctic veterans, and could totally talk shop with him (although his experiences were a little more hard-core than mine). Not 10 days before he had completed the first Indian army ski expedition across Antarctica from Hercules Inlet to the geographic South Pole. The team of 8 skied 1170 km over 50 days, finally arriving at the South Pole on January 14th.  Being native to Leh, our new friend was better prepared than most Indians for the rigors of the frozen continent. Read more about their expedition here.    

Us with the Indian army Antarctic skier in the Leh airport

For those of you who need another snow leopard fix, check out some consummate snow leopard footage here from the BBC Planet Earth series.  And finally, a few pics of some awesome Leh beasties for all you animal lovers out there.

Blue sheep (or bharal), and preferred snow leopard prey
...and my favorite donkey in the whole world!