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While DiploBoy1 was off terrorizing his teachers in Kerala, DiploDad had booked us on a three-day weekend trip over the President’s Day weekend to the Rann of Kutch. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Rann_of_Kutch Our friend, R, knew the owner of a resort up there, Rann Riders http://www.rannriders.com/ and had been several times. She was really the driving force behind the trip, making reservations, contacting her friend, coordinating the side trips and safaris. This was a good thing, because the entire planning phase took place while I was in the U.S., and because I am also the Boss of Vacations, if DiploDad had been on his own this might not have happened.

We were SO excited. Our first trip out of Mumbai, a fun group of people, and a tried-and-true itinerary. And then, déjà vu all over again.

The night before our trip, DiploDad took me out for an early Valentine’s Day dinner at the Club. At 2 a.m., DD was hit with Delhi Belly, and I mean bad. DD does nothing halfway, especially food poisoning. It’s like really bad performance art.

I just stared at him in shock as he sprawled on the bed, completely miserable. My weekend. My time with my family. Not going the way I’d planned. The really strange thing about this is that this exact same thing happened on our first out-of-town trip in Ghana. So what was going through my head was “Are you *^$##)***ing kidding me!!!???” I was beginning to think that DD has some sort of psychological issue that makes him ill before our first trip in-country every single time. I’d be interested to know if this disorder is rampant among Foreign Service folks. I do believe that things happen for a reason, but as I stood in the shower cursing, I was hard-pressed to actually find a reason for this. If you can, then please enlighten me.

Unlike our Ghana trip, however, an airplane ride was involved and a car shared with others, so I didn’t push DD into trying to go anyway and just left him in bed moaning while DiploBoy2 and I headed out to the airport. In my defense, I contacted a neighbor who had charcoal, researched quick remedies for food poisoning online, and left both Pepto-Bismol and Imodium within reach before I left. I am a good wife.

DiploBoy 2 and I arrived at the Indigo Air window for check-in and to change DD’s reservation to later on that day. The man at the reservation window was very helpful, even staying on the phone with the call center on my cell phone when I could not understand the representative and helping me change the ticket. From there, we went through security and then DB2 and I checked our bags and I paid the change fees for DD’s ticket. As an extra complication, I had to show the credit card the ticket was purchased with. DD had the foresight to give me the card on the way out the door, but I realized that DD would also have to show the card. So the representative put some notes into the reservation to make sure he could travel anyway.

Still, I didn’t quite trust the system. Wracking my brain, I realized that R had her driver on Saturdays, so she wasn’t cabbing it like me, and that perhaps her driver could take the card back to DD? A few phone calls later, and DB2 snuck back through security to give the card to him and then came back to us. Mission accomplished.

Landing about an hour and a half later in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, we met our friends, S&S and their daughter, L. (I would so do an S squared thing instead of S&S if I were competent enough with my keyboard to do a power of 2 thingy, but oh well.) When DD dropped out of the mix, R had called the resort and told them that we only needed one car. And as we began to load up realized that she’d forgotten to count herself and account for luggage. Ooops. Luckily, there’s always a way to deal with luggage – it’s called bungee cords.

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The trip to the resort was pretty cool. Ahmedabad is a medium-sized city, but that doesn’t mean that it’s as sophisticated as Mumbai. We actually saw an elephant on the side of the road, hooked up to a cart. And several camels. I love the way you see a modern building and then down the street there’s an ox cart pulling produce. That’s part of the beauty of India; the mix of modern and ancient.

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Arriving at Rann Riders, we were greeted by a phalanx of dogs, much to the kids’ delight. Immediately, they began deciding which dog “belonged” to whom, and giving them names. DB2 named one of his “Wolfthorn”, after the Old Spice bodywash he uses. Yes. Seriously, yes.

Our rooms were wonderful – round-shaped huts with built-in cement shelves for beds and a cement bench for putting up luggage. A small desk. A shower and toilet in the separate bathroom. Five or so huts were in each little grouping with a lotus pond in the center courtyard. A/C for the nighttime. A padlock and chain for the outside to lock when you left and a bar to slide across from the inside when you secured the door at night.

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The grounds were lovely, with an open and airy dining and social area and gardens.

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The pool wasn’t filled however, as “winter” had just ended. (Nothing in India is winter to me or anyone who was raised in the U.S. or Europe – “winter” means 70-80F.)

After lunch, we had a few hours to kill before our first adventure. Ah, naptime. Not properly appreciated by toddlers and children, for some bizarre and frustrating reason.

At 4 p.m. we all gathered at the front entrance to begin our first adventure: A Camel Cart Ride through the local village. The kids were fascinated with the camel, and noticed in particular that he was most definitely male. Every time they walked close to him, he, um, wiggled a bit, sending them into gales of laughter. And here I thought they’d miss Cartoon Network.

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We climbed aboard and began the trip into town, waving to passing cars and motorbikes. The ride was bumpy, but fun, and it was a great way to take photos and see everything. We bounced along through town, waving at small children, smiling at curious onlookers (who are these strange people?) and taking photos of some of the hidden beautiful buildings.

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After some time, we stopped in at a small house and were welcomed by a young lady who spoke perfect English.

She and her mother were part of a co-op of women who did native embroidery. They showed us their collection of materials, and a few things for sale.

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I couldn’t resist. I bought three over-the-door hangings, including one that said, “Welcome” in Gujarati. (OK, truth be told, it could say, “some idiot lives here”, but I am trusting.)  Even more fascinating than the embroidery, however, was the older woman.  She was a work of art herself.  She wore the traditional markings and jewelry of her heritage – piercings, ear lobe expanders, and intricate tattoos.  It was rare, ancient, and beautiful.

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Sadly, the new generation does not do this, and the tradition will die out.  I feel privileged that we got to meet her and that she was kind enough to permit us to capture her image to preserve this memory.

After leaving the ladies, we took a slow trip around the lake to watch the sun begin to set

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and then headed off to see some local weavers. It was similar to what I’d seen in Ghana with the Kente weavers. I suppose technology is similar world over.

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Right before we left the weavers, a group of children gathered around us and we went over to see them. They were curious, and had even brought a few of the very small kids in their arms to come look at us.

All was going well until I made the mistake that I sometimes do . . . I took off my sunglasses. Sigh. A small child about the age of two started screaming at me. Then, DB2 came over to see if he was OK and THAT was even worse. Two beings without souls. The blue eyes. Freaky. Sometimes, the idea that was pounded in my head about making eye contact when talking to someone is definitely not a good idea. We hurried off quickly, back to the camel cart after that.

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Our final stop was a gypsy encampment. Don’t get all PC on me – that’s what the locals call them, so I will too. The ladies all had an array of talismans and jewelry spread out on cloth. They were very persistent, and I wound up buying a set of anklets, a necklace and a pair of earrings. Metal, not silver, but cute enough, and it was fun bargaining with the ladies.They were dressed very differently than the women we see in Mumbai. Not really saris in the sense of the wrapping, but shawls and scarves. Lots of nose piercing, and BIG noserings. Lots of mirror work on the clothing and a ton of bling.

After we arrived back and inhaled a wonderful dinner, DB2 and I passed out, ready for our first safari in the Rann the next morning.

Up early and ready to go, we headed out to the Little Rann of Kutch, in search of deer, wild foxes, and most of all, flamingos. We were in a small jeep with the top and sides open, which meant that every four or five minutes one of the adults was informing some kid to “put your hands/arms/head/leg back in the jeep!” Fun times. It wasn’t too long once we’d entered the Rann when we came upon some antelope. We watched for a few minutes and then headed off on our real quest: Flamingos.   About 500 feet from the edge of a lake, we stopped, the flamingos in sight. We got out of the car and advanced slowly, trying to stay out of the muddy patches while creeping up on the birds.  Sadly, my real camera died out, so I only was able to get some on my smartphone, which were lacking.

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We saw several animal tracks near the water. Even though the ground leaks salt, the water is left from the rains and is freshwater, so animals come to drink.

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Rann flamingos don’t look like other flamingos I have seen. They have black-tipped wings, and are a very, very pale pink. It’s almost white looking, especially from a distance. But when they take off, you are treated to a burst of bright pink under their wings, and a beautiful sight. The kids got closer and closer to the edge of the water, closer than R said she’d ever gotten. Then, the flamingos flew off in a rustle of white, pink, and black, and we headed back to the car and on to our next stop.

Gujarat has a thriving cotton business, and a cotton-processing factory was on our drive back, so we stopped to check out the gins. No, not that kind of gin – Gujarat is a dry state. The kind Eli Whitney invented. Running practically unattended with open doors and a hole in the ground where the cotton gets sucked up the elevator and into the machines. In short, an OSHA nightmare.

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The gin was interesting, and we gave the kids a well-supervised look to watch, but the big draw was a massive, fluffy, pile of raw cotton. The kids ran to it, threw off their shoes and were jumping around it in no time.

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I watched for a while, and eventually my Inner Child won out and I joined them in the cotton pile. Turns out that it’s actually hard to climb a mountain of cotton. It’s like sand in that you can’t get good purchase with your feet. It works better if you go on your knees. This has the unfortunate side effect of rendering you the exact height of your children so that they tackle you more effectively. We probably spent a good half hour in the cotton. The highlight was S(Dad) yelling, “cannonball!” and executing a perfect example of it where bolls of cotton flew into the air like so many drops of water.

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Finally, we headed back to the resort for lunch and some rest.

DiploDad pulled up in the resort car just after we’d arrived. I’d changed his initial flight from 7:40 a.m. to 4:20 p.m. the same day. I am an optimist. He was still barfing at the time he would have had to leave for the airport, so he changed it again to the next day, first flight out. He was a much healthier shade of green and was ready for lunch, a nap, and our afternoon safari. DB2 was excited he had joined us and introduced him to Wolfthorn immediately, told him about the flamingos, and informed him that the camel had a “weenus bigger than my head!” A thorough report, all in all.

Our evening safari was in a larger vehicle, and this time we stocked all the supplies for a sundowner: wine (yes, it’s a dry state – BYOB is OK), cheese, sodas, and these killer cookies S(Mom) made that I should never, ever ask for the recipe if I want to maintain what figure I have left.

Our goal for the safari: Find some wild ass. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_Wild_Ass_Sanctuary

That never got old, and we got some serious mileage out of it, especially DD and S(Dad). While technically that’s the term, and the locals call them that, it can create problems later on. DB2 now sees a donkey on the streets of Mumbai and yells, “Look, Mommy, there’s an ass!” Gah.

Anyway, we did manage to find ourselves some ass.

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A whole slew of them, actually.

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We got out of the car and wandered through the acacia bushes. Acacia branches have serious thorns (legend has it the Crown of Thorns Jesus wore was made from Acacia), and both R and DiploDad wound up getting impaled. That thing went right through the soles of DD’s boot. Actually, this was kind of good for DB2, and me because we were stalking ass and getting very close. DD has this pessimist thing going (OMG, the ass is going to EAT MY FAMILY!!), while I am more of the optimist (the ass is going to come over to me like I’m some kind of Disney princess and let me PET him!!!), so because DD was distracted, DB2 and I got real close to the ass. Close enough that they stopped to look at us and give us a stare with their beady eyes. Close enough that even I thought it was close enough.

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After watching for a while, we headed across the Rann to go check out some salt mining. As a saline desert, the Rann is used for salt mining (panning, actually). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salt_evaporation_pond

I have no idea whose idea it was, but at some point during our drive, somebody decided that it was high time the kids had their first driving experience. Because, you know, it’s a great idea for seven-year-olds to do this. S was first up, and honestly, I have to say that he probably did I better job than I did my first time behind the wheel in the Grissom High School parking lot. I think it was due to the terrain. L was next, and could NOT stay on the “road” to save her life. She will be the reason S and DB2 make women driver jokes the rest of their lives. When DB2 was up, he actually stalled the car momentarily. While he wasn’t as good a driver as S, he did just fine. He actually improved once I told him to just pretend he was playing that Angry Birds driver game. Frame of reference, you know.

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The salt panning was pretty interesting, although the family that ran the panning area was not there at the time, which was unfortunate. We saw a giant pile of salt that had come out of the mine. It’s actually ingenious – flood the area, then allow for evaporation. The Gujarat Forestry Division discourages this for environmental reasons, but I think it will be a long time before this tradition and way of making a living ends.

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After some wine and cheese and cookies so good even the driver and guide were inhaling them, we got back into the vehicle and headed to the resort. The night was on our heels, and the cool evening breeze blowing through the windows as we headed back for dinner and a good night’s sleep.

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The following morning, we packed up, DB said goodbye to Wolfthorn, and we drove off to the last two stops of the trip: The 11th century Sun Temple of Modhera http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Temple,_Modhera and the Rani ki vav Stepwell in Patan.

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The Sun Temple did not disappoint. We climbed down into the recessed pool area (“Suryakunda”), investigating statues and peeking into small temples that were at the corners the pool.

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There are a total of 108 of these small shrines dotting the area, and it was so beautiful that I wanted to see every single one.

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Up at the main temple, we explored inside, looking at carvings, pillars, and to the interest of the kids, the resident bats.

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Photo Credit:  DiploDad

Next to the main temple and sanctum sanctorum, was a small temple dedicated to Ganesha. DB2 and I checked it out and gave an offering.

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I probably should have asked Ganesh to protect us from the local monkeys, because they were all over, and they were aggressive. To be fair, we watched them, and if I were looked at with the intensity that we looked at them, I’d probably threaten to jump down from my tree on us too.

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Shortly after leaving the site museum, we had our first “Giraffe Moment”.  Sometimes, we run into people who have very limited experience with white people.  Or who think the idea of blond kids is the Best Photo Opportunity in the World.  It’s a regular occurrence to have someone ask (or not) to snap a photo of one of us, usually DB2, although sometimes they want to snap me too – sort of proof that blond-haired, blue-eyed women make blond-haired, blue-eyed children.  Generally, the kids are compliant, although any more I don’t force it.  Still, you feel like some kind of animal in the zoo.  Hence, the name “Giraffe Moment”.  Anyway, this family came up to us and wanted a photo of all of us.  Fine.  But I thought it only fair to turn the tables.  They were sort of confused, but I insisted, and eventually I got a photo of the perfect Indian family.

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After wandering about some more, we drove on to the Stepwell. Rani ki vav went missing somewhere in history and wasn’t rediscovered until the 1980s. It’s an odd thing, isn’t it? The idea that something just “disappears” from memory and then one day is found again. How on earth does that happen? Food for thought.

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It’s sort of hard to explain what a stepwell is, so I’ll let Wikipedia do it for me. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stepwell Basically, it’s a structure built to deal with water fluctuations that may have other significance. The Rani ki vav stepwell is considered one of the best of its kind in India. It’s quite beautiful, and many Hindu gods and goddesses are featured in the carvings. DB2 and I had fun spotting them all.

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We had just finished our descent into the furthest part of the stepwell, when we were aware of a group of eyes on us. A young boy, probably 2-3 years older than DB2 and his family were looking at us with unbridled curiosity. The boy was brave enough to venture close and to try out some broken English which I answered with broken Hindi. Rani ki vav is a tourist site, and is not only of interest to foreigners. There were several Indian tourists and school groups there too, and not everyone has seen strange people like us in real life. After a short, stilted conversation, we exchanged names, ages (not me, thankyouverymuch), and nationalities, I ended our conversation with a “Namaste” and said “Hindustan dost Amrika” (India is a friend of America – more or less).

The trip back to the airport and flight back to Mumbai and Reality was pretty uneventful and I was happy to be back in my own bed. Even after such a fantastic trip, there’s really no place like home. But there’s no place like the Rann of Kutch either.

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