Sunday, March 29, 2015


Lon has business meetings in Mumbai tomorrow, so we're spending the "weekend" (that is, Sunday) at the JW Marriott on Juhu Beach -- one of Mumbai's northern suburbs.

The beach wasn't unbearably crowded, but it was full. In addition to innumerable cricket games, the beach is used for a lot of worship rites ("puja"). Yesterday was "Ram Navmi", a major Hindu festival in some parts of India (pretty low key in Gujarat), and this is some of the leftover offerings.
In our walk along the beach, we saw a number of people in private puja -- making offerings to the gods. Bodies of water figure prominently in Hindu worship.
Another private ceremony. (The family gave permission for this picture.)
There is effort to clean up the beach. This truck is hauling off last night's garbage. Another piece of machinery gathers the garbage, and women transport the garbage to this truck in large, shallow pans such as the one the woman on the left is carrying. Note the crows picking through the garbage on the truck.
The out-going tide made these drainage patterns in the sand. We thought they looked like a modern-art forest.
Juhu is more than the beach. It's an up-scale area where many Bollywood stars have their homes. Among the amenities in Juhu:

We did not know that Krispy Kreme had a presence in India, much less Mumbai. Dunkin' Donuts first store in Mumbai opened last December. This Krispy Kreme looks like it's been around a bit longer than that.
I loved the garland of oranges and pineapples at this juice stand.
This knife-sharpener has a belt that attaches his grinding wheel to the back wheel of his bicycle, and he pedals to put it in motion.
Juhu is home to a major ISKCON ("Hare Krishna") temple. The flowers in the foreground are floating on the water of the temple tank.
As you might expect, the JW Marriott hotel is stunning.

This is the side that faces the pool and the ocean. Just about every room has a glimpse of the Arabian Sea.
Top floor here is the lobby. Bottom floor is the restaurant.

Monday, March 16, 2015

If it's Sunday ...

If it's Sunday, it must be time for new photos from Vapi. So here are a few sights from our wanderings around Vapi this Sunday.

This bungalow has been under construction for years -- at least the entire time we've been in Vapi. It's almost ready for living, and an electric meter and a nice garland "(toran") of marigolds and mango leaves have been installed.
A closer look at the garland.
This looked to be a fairly new truck -- more decorated with add-ons than most. (Although the doodads never show up as prominently in photos as they do in person.) I particularly like that the front garland wove through the windshield wipers. (Monsoon is still several months away.) You can tell that the trucks don't move fast enough for all these accessories to fall off or reduce gas (well, diesel) mileage. I did not take photos of the "cheesecake" photos glued to the diesel tank -- beautiful women in gorgeous saris -- no "skin" to speak of.
And now it's "Critter Time". No cows or dogs this week.

I've heard two cats in the neighborhood, but didn't know that one was a kitten. The cats are very secretive. I usually only hear them and see them in the shadows at night.
They run away and hide as soon as they see people.
This is a vegetarian region of a (largely) vegetarian country. I can't recall seeing bones in the street before, much less a skull. I presume this is a goat skull, since it was too small to be a calf. (And the teeth are also well-developed.)
And finally, from our kitchen:

I was cleaning the kitchen counters when I noticed and unusual "bug" moving on the counter. It kinda looked like a tick or a beetle. Turned out it was a watermelon seed being carried by four ants.
These photos were taken with a microscope attachment (ProScope Micro Mobile) on my iPad. It was hard to get things in focus, because everything was in motion. You can tell that the ants' antennae are moving quite fast -- they are always blurry.
So that's what you missed in Vapi this week.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Chandigarh - Nek Chand Rock Garden

By far the biggest tourist (and local) attraction in Chandigarh is the Nek Chand Rock Garden. (They claim that with an average of 5,000 visitors a day, it is the second-most visited site in India, after the Taj Mahal. I couldn't verify that claim. The fact that 5,000 visitors a day is considered huge tells you something about tourism in India.) The garden alone is worth the trip to Chandigarh.

The 18 acre site is the masterpiece of Nek Chand, a highway department employee who over 60 years has created an eclectic fantasy sculpture garden from cast-offs, mostly demolition/construction debris. For the first 20 years, it was hidden in the woods behind his office, and was definitely unauthorized. Fortunately, when it was discovered, his superiors were taken with the project, and did not destroy it. There have been several subsequent attempts to close/eliminate it, but support from around the globe has kept it open. It is now officially run by a foundation with mostly volunteer labor. Nek Chand turned 90 in December 2014. You can find out more about the garden at

The garden tour follows a labyrinthine path with surprises at every bend. At times the path is a very narrow canyon. At other times, it's a fairly broad street. At all times it is captivating.
The garden must be amazing in monsoon! All the water on site is rainwater-harvested and continuously recirculated through the waterfalls.
There are many small doorways to go through. The stated goal was to make you feel humble to enter the site. The effect, though, is to make it seem like you are in a children's dream fantasy castle. At times, like this one, the doors are so small that you think you are approaching a dead end because the people in front of you totally block your view of the passageway.
The landscape is mostly "interactive" -- you are invited to climb and explore. In only a few spots (mostly near water) are visitors prohibited from leaving the path. (And a few other places have fences to keep sculptural pieces from being vandalized.)
Many trees were left in place. Some of the roots became sculptures. Other "roots" really are concrete sculptures!
I think these small houses look like Hobbit homes.
In some places, the structures resemble medieval castles.
More castle-style architecture.
Ceramic electrical parts are embedded in walls.
Many of the large ceramic tiles are actually cast-off bathroom fixtures. In fact, the largest collection of Nek Chand art outside India is in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in the Kohler Arts Center. (That's Kohler, as in Kohler plumbing fixtures. The Kohler family, through the Kohler Foundation, is a huge patron of the arts in Wisconsin.)
More interactive playfulness in Phase III -- huge swings available for anyone to use.
The project started with figures made of ceramic debris, terra cotta, rocks, and cement. This is just one of the many displays of thousand of such figures -- humanoid and animal.
Possibly the most famous figures in the garden -- made out of broken glass bangles.
These were probably my favorite set of figures. Their simplistic elegance "spoke" to me.

This is just a sampling of the over 200 photos I took here. It was difficult selecting just a few! I've posted a larger collection on Flickr:

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Chandigarh Miscellany

Since it is basically a government town, Chandigarh was pretty deserted on Sunday. It came alive on Monday.

Outside the official offices for the Union Territory of Chandigarh was a block-long set-up of notaries and advocates (lawyers). Here you could get basic legal work done: wills, birth/marriage/death certificate applications, notarized documents. All was being done with manual typewriters at desks set up outdoors.

I spent part of the afternoon in the hotel lobby while Lon was in his meetings in a hotel conference room. And found out why the elevator was "undergoing maintenance. Please excuse the inconvenience." It was being used as a platform to dust inaccessible parts of the lobby atrium.

And finally, from the airport:

You gotta love a city that flies "Alchemist Airways"!

Chandigarh Museums and Rose Garden

Lon had to go to Chandigarh on business, so we made a weekend trip of it (weekends meaning Sunday). Chandigarh is an interesting place. It is a planned city to replace the capital of the Indian state of Punjab after Partition and Independence. (The capital had been Lahore, but that city went to Pakistan.) Since then, Punjab has been split into two states: Punjab and Haryana. Chandigarh is the capital of both.

The final plan for Chandigarh was set by the French architect Le Corbusier and is a set of rectangular "sectors" that are separated by major thoroughfares. All structures are reinforced concrete and have that 1950s-60s aesthetic that hasn't worn particularly well. India's extremes of heat, moisture, and "dust" have also taken their toll. But the city has plenty of green space, and the interior of the sectors is reasonably pedestrian-friendly.

The layout of Chandigarh is found on every manhole cover in the city.
On Sunday, we visited the Government Museums. The art museum has a nice collection of antiquities (stone and brass), miniature paintings, textiles, and some contemporary art. The architectural museum is really a "History of Chandigarh" and told the story of its planning and construction. The natural history museum is an eclectic mixture of natural history art, fossils (esp. dinosaurs), and evolution of man artifacts.

The textiles gallery had a nice collection of pachisi ("Parcheesi") "boards" -- highly decorated textiles that could be easily stored in a small space. Pachisi has been played in India since at least 500 CE.
The natural history museum had a large gallery of these bird embroideries. Think a hundred Audubon-style bird portraits embroidered rather than painted. The detail was astounding.
Monday morning we walked through the 30-acre Rose Garden that was just across the main thoroughfare from our hotel. The Rose Garden is part of the greenway that surrounds one of the small rivers in Chandigarh.

The Rose Garden. Our hotel is the building on the other side of the street.
Another view of the Rose Garden.
Rose-ringed parakeets and a pigeon avail themselves of food set out for them. Squirrels were helping themselves to the grain as well.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Back to Vapi

We just got back from a short two-day trip to Chandigarh. More about that in the next few posts. But in the meantime, Vapi has not been standing still!

I'll start with electrical items. Unpredictable electricity is one of the frustrations of life in India. For example, while I was trying on clothes in Fabindia in Chandigarh on Sunday, the power went off no less than 5 times in 20 minutes. The flashlight feature on my phone came in handy!

I suspect that this damaged power pole along Gunjan Road in Vapi was the cause of one of our recent outages. Repair work has started with the typical vegetation "traffic cones".
I'm not sure if this is a failure of the concrete in the pole, or was the result of a vehicle encounter. Nonetheless, the rebar did a nice job of holding the pole together.
I took this picture three weeks earlier -- directly across the street from the power pole photo above. It's not unusual to see electrical line splices protected with this type of "insulation".
From electrical safety to fire safety.

This is the standard fire suppression equipment at Indian petrol stations. I'm not sure how well four buckets of sand would do against a major gasoline fire. This was also the sole type of fire protection in the museums we visited in Chandigarh -- just a rack of sand buckets in the galleries.
And finally, the world of American fast food in India. For better or worse, American fast food is rapidly expanding in India. Vapi alone has Pizza Hut, Dominoes Pizza, Subway, and (two!) McDonald's. Of course, the menu adapts to Indian sensibilities. For example, the only animal protein available is chicken and eggs. (Milk products are considered "veg" in India. "Pure veg" even.)

This photo is not from Vapi -- I think Lon took it in Baroda --  but all McDonald's have two kitchens, so that their veg food is not contaminated with oil and equipment used to cook non-veg food.

Dominoes delivers -- with motorcycles.