January 27, 2018

2017: What a trip (Jan.-Apr.)

People form habits and patterns as we go about our regular activities. One of my habits is to kick off the first couple of blogposts of the new year by describing the year just passed. The rearview mirror rarely disappoints. Memories are still fresh and not yet cloaked in rosy-colored hues.

The momentous year-plus the Rising Family™ spent in India deserves more storytelling. We all forged friendships and had life changing experiences. What an amazing country! What wonderful people. And what tremendous good luck for us to have had the chance to go and live there in the first place.
Enough rhapsodic tall talk. 
January: Akshardham” means the something like the divine abode of God. We had heard many great things about it through the expat grapevine and were eager to visit this magnificent-looking temple in South Delhi. Oft described in brochures and online as “an eternal place of devotion, purity and peace,” I had the impression it was yet another old temple. What astounded me was that Arkshardham's construction only began in 2000 and the complex opened in 2005. It is a terrific introduction to Indian culture and Hinduism. The Hall of Values is a cavernous theater featured a movie depicting Swaminarayan’s seven-year pilgrimage as a teenage yogi across India in the late 1700s. The movie highlights his efforts to bring about a revival of Hindu principles. Visitors then take a mechanized boat ride through a water route inside the complex with murals showing India’s history. This provides visual exposure to India’s antiquity and Hindu foundations. The entire visit takes many hours, capped off with a laser light show in the evening. With content and architecture celebrating India’s past, Arkshardam’s slick marketing reminded us we were living in India’s present. Even our easily bored daughters paid rapt attention during this visit.

February: By February, we had settled into our apartment and had a semblance of rhythm to our lives. We wanted to take advantage of the relatively cool winter weather in February (still short-sleeves for me during daylight hours!) to see different parts of northern India. Off we went to visit Jaipur, Rajasthan, some five hours south of Gurgaon by National Highway 8. Sometimes pristine highway, occasionally jittery, bump-filled unpaved roads, we navigated NH8 with our trusty Terrano SUV, local driver “R.” at the helm. 
First stop was the Amber Fort, a huge red sandstone and marble behemoth at the top of a hill outside the city of Jaipur. Oh the history! After that, on to Jaipur, with its Pink City at the center and relentless commercial buzz in the downtown. 
One memory is that I forgot my passport and our hotel’s manager refused to let us check in. As always, we managed some workarounds after some friendly banter and promises of sending paperwork later. “Of course, of course, later is tikke," he said. Tikke is my favorite Hindi word, meaning a blend of “OK, all right, no worries.”

Regular life often hinged on the girls’ school activities. They steadily became more comfortable with English, largely due to their excellent teachers, the support of friends, and their own Herculean efforts in extra language classes. Things began to flow a little easier. 
In February, familiar school events such as Sports Day provided some continuity. Both Lady E. and M. shone in their sprint races. I enjoyed assessing the differences in how the school approached organizing large-scale events compared with the ones I had seen before in Japan.

March was madness! My Dad took the opportunity of our living in Gurgaon to opt into a trip across India’s major tourist sites with a bunch of other Canucks. Upon its completion, he joined us for a week’s visit. I got a day off from work and took him to the Dilli Haat traditional market (but for foreign tourists, wink wink nudge nudge) followed by our usual banter and beers. 
More importantly, we all got some great family time with Grandpa, including some fun at the Worlds of Wonder amusement park in Noida.

Later that month we braved the fierce local traffic and took a few family trips into Delhi and other suburbs. 
One was to Humayun’s Tomb, a huge sandstone mausoleum built in the late 1500s. For us, it was hard to grasp the expanse of time and the history, but the tomb was impressive, the weather warm and inviting, and the grounds seemingly constructed for a family walkabout. It was another shot of India’s rich history for us to ingest.
The Holi holiday is fantastic. It is the way to say goodbye to the cold-ish season and embrace spring. It has cool elements such as flinging water balloons at each other, tossing dry colored powders, dousing strangers with water in a welcome way. General merriment abounded. We all got wet in the warm sun, vanquished the lethargy of winter and got multicolored with our friends and neighbors. Such a terrific holiday—my absolute favorite. I was heartened to hear that small Holi festivals have sprung up in Vancouver and Toronto!

April: How can you not get excited about visiting the Taj Mahal? 
India’s most famous tourist destination, World Heritage site, with the backstory of it being a mausoleum built by an emperor in memory of his wife. And for us, easily accessible via the Yamuna Expressway out of Noida. I’ve already recounted our adventure in Agra here in the blog

Let me add the one anecdote from the trip that I still find amusing but unrelated to the Taj Mahal. We traveled to Agra on April 1, and on that day my company began its new fiscal year. As we were going from Gurgaon to Agra I had a team member, a solid millennial type, announce his retirement from the company via social media channel WhatsApp. It being April 1, I was sure it was an April fool’s joke. I was wrong. 

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