March 30, 2017

Wet ‘n Wild: Our dacha for a day

Glory to our great Party!

That’s what I felt like screaming to the blue skies that cloaked us in happiness as we strolled around the Wet n’ Wild waterpark in September 2016, just after we’d arrived in India. Apparently it was India’s first-ever waterpark resort. Like a fallen glamour queen, the years of fun and games were plainly visible but somehow overlooked because the good times that were had along the way were also front and center. Let me explain. 

In September the Rising Family™ was still living in a hotel and eager to explore our new surroundings in Gurgaon. The temperature was still hovering around 35 degrees Celsius outside every day and we needed some aquatic relief. We took the clickbait and decided to visit Wet n’ Wild. It is located several miles south of Gurgaon off the NH.8 Jaipur highway--Google Maps helped us find it.

We hopped out of the van and found the parking lot and entrance area utterly deserted. Was it even open? There was very little signage. We found our way in and were warmly welcomed by the duo of resort greeters in prim uniforms minding the register (3,300 rupees for the four of us). We were the first customers of the day. In fact, we were the only paying customers in the waterpark for the first three hours. 

That’s why I started this post with “Glory to our great Party.” From the beginning we were outnumbered by the drowsy-looking staff. They were initially a bit abashed to see us, but soon were helpful and gregarious, particularly toward the Rising Daughters. I quickly began to understand how relatives of the North Korean Great Leaders feel when they covertly visit amusement parks overseas. Or maybe Brezhnev-era nomenklatura bureaucratic elites getting some sun and surf in the Crimea. “What waterslide would you like to go on next, Dear Leader?”
What happened was that all the pool filtration systems, water fountains, slides and Jacuzzi jets were turned off. The staff would follow us around politely, and when we showed interest in a certain pool or slide, they would cheerfully turn on the water. Once we moved on, they’d turn it off. We’d use hand signals to communicate. Lines were – ahem – not a problem. We first thought this a la carte service was charming. Elena rode her favorite slides repeatedly until even she felt the odd atmosphere without other folks around. The lesson: people need people.

Visualize sun-bleached waterpark attractions that worked fine but had seen better days. Throw in loud music -- 1980s hits that were suddenly cut off due to periodic power outages – blasted to non-existent crowds, and you get the vibe: 1964 New York World’s Fair grounds circa 1975. 

The staff were cool about it all. They went about their duties at half-speed—why rush? The old, out-of-shape lifeguard with henna-orange-style hair was jolly and patient, but still made us obey some basic safety rules in the water. So safety wasn’t something entirely ignored.

All told, we had a delightful family outing but I just could not shake the Cult of Personality air to the place. We had it all to ourselves until well after lunch. Luckily, later in the afternoon a gaggle of teenage boys came along to add some zest to the place, soon followed by a Sikh family. Their daughter joined up with Elena and Marina for a bit of fun in the small family pool.

As we exited the waterpark later that afternoon, I half expected the staff to line up and clap. That would have been just a tad extreme, don’t ya think? All told, though, the Wet n’ Wild experience was simply fun and freaky.

March 29, 2017

Diwali, not Hallowe’en, is supreme

“Sir, no excuses Sir, so far I have been negligent in writing in the blog about India. I will do better going forward, Sir!”

Let’s spend the next few blogs on our India experience. This one is about India’s most popular holiday, Diwali. Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights celebrated every year in autumn. In 2016, it began on Oct. 27 for a duration of five days, peaking on the 31st.
Courtesy of NASA. This is just a cool look at India at night from space
On the 30th, we took advantage of the relative lack of traffic on the long weekend to go downtown and visit some places that we had been planning to see but had put off. First destination was the Dilli Haat, a government-run bazaar featuring goods and clothes from around India’s regions.  It’s aimed at tourists: one-stop, all-of-India represented convenience—even Hilary Clinton had dropped in for peek during a state visit. Because it was targeting foreigners as customers, it featured products like silk scarves, bronzed statues of Hindu gods or lacquered elephants. We enjoyed meandering around and haggling with the store owners. Marina and I bought a small figure of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of good fortune and prosperity, because the vibe just felt right.

After this, we literally crossed the road to visit the Indian National Army Market, which was more in line with our “wild India” image. It had frenzied masses of shoppers frequenting the small shops. Imagine narrow stalls with varying dimensions all crammed into tight, dark passageways, with a soundtrack of squawking chickens in hutches, skinned animals hanging in the air surrounding by buzzing clouds of insects, touts trying to get your attention and draw you in for the kill…err…sale. It was a terrific experience. Colorful, loud, vivid. This is the real India.

But Diwali's Grand Finale was right at our apartment complex. You see, India goes bananas in celebrating Diwali. We had been warned by skittish long-term foreign residents of Delhi to hunker down in the apartment for the night. Psssshaw! No way we were going to miss the real Diwali fireworks. As we have come to expect, the start of the fireworks fiesta began late, but man oh man it was worth the wait. Here’s why…

We live in a very nice block of apartments with a landscaped garden that is zealously guarded by a small army of private security and curious groundskeepers, all of whom address me politely and unfailingly as “Sir.” The residents are invariably well-heeled locals and expats. It is a safe and staid residential complex, and we are lucky to live there.

But not on Diwali. Once the sun set, the banshees came out for a hullabaloo. Normally demure family men unloaded their cache of fireworks and whole families lost their minds. It was true anarchy. Laws? Waazat. Safety concerns? Fuggedaboutit. Grown men and women with jobs and responsibilities had the look of merry mayhem in their eyes and eschewed all semblance of propriety, instead lighting and shooting rockets into the sky, running over and through low starbursts, cackling while lighting screeching circle smoke blowers and big, loud pipe bombs. It was a sight to behold. The Rising Daughters were aghast at the way little kids were empowered to light off these monstrosities. Dads were running around with armfuls of serious-looking rockets and smoke bombs, lighting them, and kicking them around or aiming at the fields. It was like the scene from “2001: A Space Odyssey” where the apes were flinging bones at the heavens. Primal. I wished I had something to make explode. We just kept back to marvel at the whole spectacle.
Courtesy of WSJ
I’ve seen some terrific fireworks in my life to date. I was reared on Canada Day fireworks in my hometown. I have been amazed by the precision and choreography of Japanese fireworks during Obon (especially the Miyajima fireworks festival). But in terms of the sheer spectacle of it all, this was the most fun I have just sat and witnessed in a long, long time. We all enjoyed the pandemonium. As the explosions grew in intensity, through the thickening smoke we could see other nearby neighborhoods were all collectively doing the same thing.

After a long day of sightseeing and shopping, then this visceral show of violence, bright streaks of light and joy, we were all tuckered out. Our Indian neighbors, though, were just getting started. Indians take their Diwali fun seriously—these fireworks went on for hours. I cannot really capture the entire vibe of the evening with words. Joy. Mayhem. Love. Explosions. Families together. The threat of injury. All rolled into one massive, nationwide yelp at the heavens amid the festival of lights. It was a beautiful disaster, a night to remember!