Accidental Expat: Returning Home…Gurgaon….INDIA

The regular work hour traffic pile up on Delhi-Gurgaon road

Returning home is anxiety raising its head like a ‘jagged ominous rock exposed by the receding tide’ with every step taken on disembarkation and walking the extended airport walk to the waiting chaos of Indira Gandhi International Airport.

The question ‘Now What’ ricochet around me as neighbours barge into our still to be cleaned dust-laden apartment wanting us to sign a petition against a proposed petrol pump in the green belt of our colony, DLF-1. It is a reasonable demand and we sign the petition, but then the intrusive-icy is a nothing-new novelty.

A week later home is no more a transit place as we settle down to daily routine of morning walks, time out for chores, writing, reading and meeting with friends and relatives. The cricket fever is in full swing with the ongoing World T20 (limited overs) match and we desperately contact our cable service provider to renew our connection. We get the connection with a caveat… have to lump the streaky visuals and disappearing vocals. The company boys troll the house but to no conclusion and finally end up with asking us to get a complete wire changer. One small mercy….. we can continue with our old television set.

The city/country is simmering with reservations, nationalism and sedition condiments. The reservation cauldron will soon run over if attempts are not made to contain it. Our neighbor informs us that during the  Jat quota bill agitation, whence basic supplies were disrupted, people subsisted on rationed water, delivered via water tankers. The Jats are residents of Haryana state and  they feel they need special seats in education and job markets. The pugnacious lingering reservation policy for different castes and communities is going to the death knell of any progress. The lower castes, the Dalit and others need special favours but at the rate everyone wants to be part of this creamy layer is anyone’s business. As a friend remarked that probably India is the only country where people want to be considered backward.

Maybe the intentions were good when the concept was inaugurated but increasing demands and misuse has eroded the very concept of reservation. I recollect how a classmate in school was complacent about her medical college entrance as she was applying through backward hill tribe. She was studying in convent school, her father was in the Indian army but she preferred the easy route.

When my children were applying for professional colleges in India we decided to send them to USA simply because we did not want to pay capitation fees or make them go through the grind for limited seats. We have crossed the bridge but seeing newer parents quibble over the educational options of their children, I am glad of the past. As someone commented that at this rate ‘soon the upper castes, Brahmins will be agitating for their share of the quota.

Add to this headache the engulfing surround sound of anti national and intolerance debates and cause of frayed tempers and ‘stressful existence’. Reading and listening to news about Jawaharlal University, Hyderabad University, about Indian colleges ‘on boil’, The continuous blame game between the Left, Right and Center political parties and their followers appears to be more of personal agenda than thought of sufferers.

I had studied in a Convent school and am grateful to the nuns in helping mould my thought processes. I willingly followed whatever we were taught or told and now when I think about it we, including our parents, were too much in awe of ourselves studying in English medium schools to question anything. The present generation, our children and grandchildren,  decide what is right for them, to accept or reject the Brown Sahib attitude, to imbibe what is best of both cultures. There are loose canons, people, who indulge in intimidation and arson, giving vent to their complexes sometimes aided by governmental ineptness, changes and detours.

Living out of country makes you more In-your country and though frazzled by non-working Internet, phone services and general maintenance, the emotional bondage makes you look at the discrepancies through impassive eyes.

Glimmer or sparkle of hope is through fiction. I was given   “KITTY PARTY SANYASINS’ written by a friend’s friend Ananya Banerjee, a tongue-in-cheek account about ’40 plus’ five friends getting together over brunch to talk sense and not gossip, to ‘catch up on their lives’.There are tales within tales with a golden-haired, green-eyed Indophile lending a semblance of maturity to their meetings. The group reminded me of 19 year olds, undergrads of Allahabad University, India, (1970’s) who would spend intense  hours over coffee and bowls of chicken chow mein and chilli sauce shredding relationships. It was the impact of the Women’s movement and though we did not have a nom de plume. I suppose it set the tone for our future gender interactions. Thank you Ananya for the memory jog..

Another fiction I am reading is THE BOOK OF GOLD LEAVES by Mirza Waheed. The story, set in Kashmir valley during the political strife of 1990’s, is about two young lovers and their reactions to the engulfing violence. Few pages into it I am beginning to understand the emotional strain/strand of violence threatened relationships.

Check Out   *Jat Quota Bill: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jat_reservation_agitation

*indianexpress.com › india › india-news-india › Haryana Jat Quota Stir

Accidental Expat -2 Hong Kong

DSCN2888‘…. travel is, deep down, about the real confirmation of very unreal dreams (PICO IYER…’CAN A TRIP EVER BE AUTHENTIC’)

2000-2008…a period of hibernation, of re-locations from Muscat to New Delhi to Gurgaon, Haryana. Property boom and strong industrial base had transformed Gurgaon, a sleepy village with affiliations to Mahabharata (one of the religious tomes of India), into a New Delhi clone. We were lured by green vistas, pollution- free air and manageable traffic, little realizing that few years down the line the ‘Dream city’ would emulate New Delhi’s traffic congestions and unruly constructions.

IMG_0410Not surprisingly the seven-year itch surfaced and 2008 found us jetting our way to Hong Kong, another country and another accidental expat experience. In between there were vacations to USA (meet with children), Singapore, and Thailand and cities within India. Every time we returned, Gurgaon would dip one notch lower in pollution index. The blue skies were fast disappearing to be replaced by perpetual grey, haze and smog.

Hong Kong: Sultanate of Oman and Hong Kong are on different trajectories: one a traditional laid back nation and the other glitz, glamor and restlessness. Hong Kong’s  lingering British influences amidst ‘Red’ mish-mash of opportunism is probably what lures visitors, us included, to its crowded streets embossed with glass fronted buildings. The British came in 1789 to what was then ‘Fragrant Harbour’, a sobriquet derived from the scents of trees and flowers that once adorned the hills and shores. They liked what they saw and stayed on finally being reminded of their status as over-stayers in 1997. One cannot blame them as ‘Some can just jump right in, others take their time and watch from the sides for a while… ultimately to succumb to the allure’ and continue to stay on. For millions who followed over the years, Hong Kong continues to be a dream destination despite being swamped by constructions, traffic fumes, odorous exhalations of raw meats and cigarettes and political shenanigans.

We came to Hong Kong in 2008, for a year, and found ourselves queuing at the Immigration office to get our extensions stamped for two, three, seven and permanent residency. There was no single reason for taking root in this neatly packaged multi dimensional concrete locale balanced by yan ching mei ( essence of humanity) but combination of these assets that presented Hong Kong as an exotic experiment. Maybe, I was waiting for such a change.

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Cuisine Trap: A clichéd way to knowing a country is to step on its food trail and my introduction to local cuisine was through Chin-India cuisine, Chinese cuisine flavored to Indian taste. The surprising part is that I am not a food person but differentiating the fake (Indian –Chinese) from the real was a choice I willingly made and splurged on the rainbow additions to my culinary choices. Other ‘food’ firsts were the squirming fishes in restaurant water tanks, different species and hues, and till date I ask a table farthest from the mini tanks. Wet markets were another self-imposed banned areas till my helper asked me to accompany her once,  Nose scrunched I followed her to realise that I had missed out on the color riot of fruits and vegetables.

Another reason for hopping onto to the food cart is that writing about Hong Kong is similar to being repeatedly pushed through topic shredders. The Island city is prodded and pricked with every alphabet and the F word is way out of the maze. The choice is unlimited from Michelin star, five-star or simply neighborhood open-air food stalls or the once popular Dai Pai Dongs, book cafes and fast food outlets.

ChinaDragon Boat festival The ‘food trail’ facilitated tasting of the esoteric and exotic such as Snake soup, whole pigs or fish varieties and talking about it.

One year down the line the ‘Chinese Takeaway’ in words of Betty Mullard (KOWLOON TONG by PAUL THEROUX) became more than food exploration; it became a way of life. We changed residence from service apartment to a fully furnished apartment in Laguna Verde, Hung Hom, along the waterfront. My days followed a set pattern; morning and evening walks along Tsim Sha Sui (East) promenade watching ‘still’ fishers and seniors risking cold water dips in the Bay; walks in Hutchinson Park to gawk at feisty seniors in coordinated tees swinging to ‘Sugar…Sugar…Honey… Honey’; afternoons and evenings were leisure and writing times, social outings and television viewing. I discovered South Korean serials, watching most from start to finish.

Communication, as in Sultanate of Oman, was/is without bumps or lumps except when faced with unblinking faces in crowded MTR, the mute cashiers at general stores, the gruff fruit sellers at wet market stalls expecting  exact change or the ‘No cheap’ commenting shop assistants of brand showrooms because you happen to be from the Sub-continent.

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In seven years my discoveries multiplied, in step with the burgeoning verticality as I walked streets, alleys and subterranean air-conditioned walkways, checked on numerous eating-places metamorphosing with drop of chopstick, watched tenacious seventy year olds, bent back tiptoeing on tiny feet, pushing carts stacked with cardboard boxes through crowded pavements. My initial response was to help, but one withering look and I backed off. In a way it was an inspiration to step out of my comfort zone of ‘non-labor’. My glance went to her feet, tiny, but not the ‘iron feet’ of Chinese girls we had read in geography books, in school in India.

DSCN2641Talking with friends I learnt  that ‘iron feet’ was ‘lotus feet’, a custom of ‘applying painfully tight bindings to the feet of young girls to prevent further growth.’ This excruciating custom had originated from the upper classes, court dancers of Imperial China (Song dynasty) and percolated down to the masses, a status symbol of beauty and sexuality for a prestigious marriage. Dorothy Ko in ‘Every Step a Lotus: Shoes for Bound Feet (2002)’ writes that the Han Chinese women were bowing to social dictates of the time wearing embroidered and colorful symbols of prosperity. By seventeenth and eighteenth century the custom had percolated down to the masses. In 1887, Alicia Little, had referred to bound feet  ‘six year old girls instead of hopping, skipping or jumping like little girls in England, were leaning heavily on sticks taller than them or being carried on a man’s back or sitting sadly crying’.

I do not have ‘Lotus feet’ but my feet size is 4 and it was a joke in my hometown (India) that ‘ you will find your size only in China’. But I have a hard time finding my size amidst the present large shoe sizes of Hong Kong.  I see dainty, normal size feet and it is a relief that human frailties and their callous results consigned to the past.

 

IMG_3057Explorations and Visitations: 2008 onwards was also a period of acclimatization and exploration. Weekends saw us boarding ferries and public transport for surrounding islands (Cheung Chau, Peng Chau, Lamma, Lantau), walking commercial streets and alleys, visiting temples, libraries, museums and to watch commercial and residential areas turn into grand commercial carnivals of decadence and expectations. The trips were ‘mystical flashes of belonging’, of windows opening to another life, of feeling confident about our move to an island country existing in different time zones.

Selfie sticks in Sham Shi Po market

The journey continues and when someone asks me ‘Don’t you miss your country’ my answer is ‘Why. Even after seven years of stay, Hong Kong never ceases to exist’. (John Le Carre “When you leave Hong Kong,” …”it ceases to exist.” in The Honorable Schoolboy’.

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Vibrant…

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Kumbh Mela, Allahabad, India 2013.. When the riverbanks turned into effervescent, mythical and mystical religious pageant of million voices, chiming temple bells, strains of prayers and discourses against the backdrop of rising sun.

DSCN4967Allahabad is my hometown and in 2013 I joined nearly 120 million, from all over the world, congregating to purify themselves with a dip in the confluence or sangam of Ganga, Yamuna and the invisible Saraswati.

Mark Twain, American author, had visited the Kumbh at Allahabad in 1895 and like him, I too, marvelled at “…the power of a faith, that can make multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love, or it is done in fear; I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination….”

 

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According to Hindu mythology the origin of Kumbh Mela centers on the legend of Samudra Manthan, (churning of the waters), in search of the pitcher or Kumbh filled with holy nectar or amrita. The Devas (gods) and Asuras (evil people) both claimed the pitcher and to prevent the Asuras from drinking the holy nectar of immortality one of the gods flew away with the pitcher and in process four drops fell on earth, Hardwar, Allahabad, Ujjain and Nasik, deeming them holy places.

IMG_1877The Kumbh Melas are held every 12 years in rotation: River Ganga in Haridwar; the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati at Allahabad; the Godavari at Nashik and River Shipra at Ujjain (Central India). The Melas stretch over two months with auspicious bathing dates, though one can take a dip in the sacred waters everyday, to purify themselves of worldly sins.20130312-203538.jpg

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Accidental Expat.

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River Ganga, Allahabad

Growing up I would envy friends whose father’s had transferable jobs moving to different cities, within country and abroad. Ours was a business family and this necessitated staying in one place and one residence, a family property, in sleepy, culturally and politically rich town of Allahabad on the banks of River Ganga, the holy river for Hindus.

I immersed myself in books, no limits on genre, waiting for the day when I too will have the world in my palm, because in words of travel writer Pico Iyer ‘‘…travel is, deep down, about the real confirmation of very unreal dreams”. My dreams were about ‘traveling the world and seven seas’, of becoming a successful novelist/journalist/writer,  and penning my thoughts.

Travel was a family weakness (my father had traveled to Europe by the P&O liner in 1959) though in my case it surfaced late. The opportunity came with marriage (1978) when I took up residence in New Delhi, an opportunity or step closer to other lands. We covered the length and breadth of India and Nepal in first year of marriage as husband was in Sales and Marketing and I accompanied him when ever I could. I preferred the lazy somnolent train travels of the 80’s, irrespective of often-grimy stations and unhygienic train bathrooms, to latter-day air travel. The arrival of children bought a lull to frequent travels that were gradually replaced by vacations to nearby hill stations and family outings to my hometown, Allahabad.

The real expat change came when husband accepted a five-year assignment in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, an unknown land in the Middle East. Apprehensions sidelined I did not mind being a “trailing spouse” (term coined in 1981 by The Wall Street Journal’s Mary Bralove) sacrificing a career as I had opted out of long-hours of journalistic work for freelance writing, reading, exploring and meeting with people. My husband’s position as General Manager of his company and Director on the Management Committee of Indian School, Muscat, insured us the luxuries and privileges of social and cultural life of Muscat. School holidays took us to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Cyprus, travel within Oman, while my husband jetted to USA, Europe and the Far East on work. Life was on an even keel, our daughter left for the USA, joining college in Massachusetts after high school and son followed a few years later to Purdue University.

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Dhofar…land of frankincense and camels

Oman was an unknown shoe-shaped land; our then 6-year old son had refused to live in a shoe on hearing about our move, probably thinking about the “Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe”. The country was a challenge, not for language or adjustments, but accepting the similarities between India and Oman. There were no language issues, close ties between Oman and the sub-continent had guaranteed that, except for following the laws of the country.  English and to certain extent Hindi was the common bond and the younger generation was keen on following what an Omani friend dubbed as ‘India’s export of English –speaking workforce’.

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Muscat Souk and the Corniche

Oman was Indian, as far as its history goes ‘with one foot in India’ during British rule in the subcontinent. Muscat was an enclosed city with no main street, a maze of narrow winding alleys leading to a central compound. The heavy wooden gates would be closed at night, about three hours after sunset, allowing only authorized vehicles within the city boundaries. Pedestrians were let in through a small door in the main gate and that too if they carried the lantern provided by the law. A Omani friend told us about how there were few automobiles in the city and the proud owners would take pains to salute passing motorists, who, very often happened to be friends or family. Over a passage of time, with the exercise getting a bit tedious, cardboard hands replaced human hands to be waved from the windows. It did sound a bit far-fetched. In present Muscat it is impossible to look sideways for fear of being hit from the rear or side. With discovery of oil in the 1980s, progress stepped in and today Oman enjoys a stable and peaceful environment under a benevolent Sultan.

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1997, Salalah, Dhofar

I spent time in libraries reading about Oman, its close ties with India and in free time walking the souks and the lanes, the beaches and restaurants and parks, meeting with other expats and reveling in concerts and art exhibitions. I took up freelance writing assignment with Khaleej Times (Dubai) and this opened up vistas to meet with Omanis. The women were friendly but men, a slight reserve and respect. I was intrigued and impressed by the women, their restrictions and freedom, and work opportunities.  In Salalah, capital of Dhofar on Southern tip of Oman and bordering Yemen, I met with a Omani family. The wife was expecting her sixth child and wanting to know how many I had and was surprised by my answer .She placed her hand on my stomach and whispered  ‘only two-khallas’. I wanted to tell her that I had a choice to decide, but refrained being guests of the family and the country. Oman was/is not a ‘Purdah’ nation, though women did wear the Abaya and covered their heads, as women enjoyed freedom to work, to drive. Being the first or fourth wife did not frighten most as I gauged from my conversation with a girl soon to be the fourth wife of a moneyed man. She awaiting to enjoy a life of luxury. There must be a different side to the story to.

The five years, 1995 -2000, were a learning curve for the family. But then changes happen and we decided to return to India, empty nesters starting anew.

To be cont: Accidental Expat …fresh pastures

Winter Fun–Calgary

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Year 2013…Downtown

2015: We alighted in frosty, flaky Calgary in mid-November to experience Christmas cheer against a backdrop of white fluffy snow. But, then how do you spend your time? For locals the first snowfall gets them scampering for their skis, sledges and winter goodies.

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Banff Town

I listen to my son’s friends weave weekend plans around feather-lite powdery snow, the thrill of careening down a slope and consoled with ‘age is no barrier, you too can try it out aunty’. Is it a smirk or genuine concern because as residents of a ‘hot’ country, we (my husband and me), are aliens to snowy cosplay of poles, brain buckets (helmets), bunny slopes, chocolate chips not as in cookies but rocks peeking out of snow and other related ski terms. Alberta has its share of some of Canada’s awesome ski runs starting with in-house Canada Olympic Park, site of 1988 Winter Olympic and now a practice run for beginners and professional,;the Iconic, legendary and breathtaking Lake Louise ski slopes; the unassuming Nakiska, 45 minutes from town; Banff and Jasper National Parks; Mount Norquay to list a few ski runs.

So, when our Indian friends point out that Calgary is not a sleepy, sprawling, mid-western town I agree. But what they fail to realize that for us it is the weather and not willpower that is the restraining reason. We have to work out the logistics of daily commute as even a short walk in sleet and slush can numb your senses. Secondly coming from warm country investing in high duty winter-wear is nudging the budget a bit. The answer to last statement is ‘if you choose to come in winter then you pay for it.’

I get the hint and brace myself for resourceful activities or simply follow ‘In Rome do as the Romans do”. There are attempts at stepping out of the house, to practice my penguin-waddle and generally get the better of weather.

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My list of 2015 winter activities:

1Heritage Park, the family fun place for shopping and celebrations, buggy and train rides and viewing vintage cars at Gasoline Alley. If a history buff, like me, then the largest living history museum in Alberta, is the place to spend time in. The Heritage Park Historical Village started in 1964 and since then has become popular tourist destination.

 2. Canada Olympic Park on the city outskirts is a legacy venue of the 1988 Winter Olympics. The park is home to North America’s fastest ‘zipline’ where riders reach 140km/h after launching from the ski-jump. No harm in going for a look around.

3. Walk the Malls especially on days when the temperature dips to minus 31. There is choice, depending on area where staying, from themed CrossIron Mills, Chinook Plaza, South Center Mall and others to spend entire afternoons and evenings walking along the length and breadth of inner space flanked by brand outlets and showrooms, restaurants, pubs, coffee slots and children’s play stations.

mail4. The Trendy Strip or the stretched 17th Avenue between 2nd and 14th streets SW is a lively retail and entertainment strip close to Downtown and Stampede Park. The snow can be a spoil sport but there are kinky diversions, from personalized boutiques to cuisine options, to camouflage wintry blues.

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An interesting option winter option is the +15 Core walk, an overhead 16 km, climate controlled pedestrian walking experience and reminding me of the underground Downtown pedestrian PATH in Toronto. I prefer the Calgary Core as you can watch the street scenes down below and at same time revel in crowd-jostle, the tantalizing aromas of fresh coffee, food court offerings mingling with book stores, salons, boutiques etc. One can start from TD Square and follow the meandering passages cozying to snazzy shops, offices, boutiques and the cool, calculated refreshing Devonian Gardens, an indoor sprawling tropical greenery on top floor (above 2 Street SW and 3 Street SW). After a break continue  towards Holt Renfrew upscale store. The Garden has recently re-opened, after renovation, and I hope to visit it soon.

From here step down, ground floor, to Stephen Avenue the pedestrian mall/ walk in center of Downtown. Past and present comes alive with cafes, street musicians and vendors, cultural shows against the backdrop of restored buildings flaunting architectural styles of the 1800s to 1930s. The Avenue was declared the National Historical District in 2002. Calgary is referred to as ‘The Sandstone City‘  because of the sandstone buildings replacing majority wooden buildings after the devastating fire of 1886. The Old City Hall, east end of Stephen Avenue Walk, is Calgary’s showcase building. The upscale Teatro restaurant, on 200-8 Avenue, is housed in the former Dominion Bank building that was an example of Beaux Arts classicism. The Avenue walk can be divided and sub –divided into segments to appreciate and savor the settings. One can break the classicism monotony by loosing oneself in the nerdmania of INDIGO on 7th Avenue or the innaneness of Winners or Dollarama stores.

Still in Downtown take the elevator for a bird-eye view of Calgary from the 191-meter Calgary Tower. We were unlucky as it turned out to be a cloudy day. The booking for the revolving restaurant, Sky 360 was already done, this includes the glass-floor walk for a peek down at city streets. The hazy view was compensated by the 60-minute movement (dinner time revolve) for an all round vista view of the city.

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6. Another must visit is the Glenbow Museum (9 Ave SE) one of Canada’s largest museums. The museum houses collection of Eric Lafferty Harvie whose life changed after oil was discovered on his land. My life would change too if oil was found on my land.

7. FORT CALGARY was constructed by North West Mounted Police at confluence of Bow and Elbow Rivers in 1875. It comes across as a mansion, unlike the forts of India, but still interesting to see the reconstructed barracks and life of the people involved in setting up a new city. Close by is Calgary Zoo and during Christmas popular for Winter Lights.

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Elbow River Falls

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8. The frozen Bow and Elbow River walks are fascinating.  Start from Eau Claire and cross ‘Jaipur bridge’ for a stroll along the Prince’s Island Park, stopping at River Cafe for refreshing coffee and sandwiches, and continue towards the vermillion Caterpillar or Peace Bridge, west of Princes Island Park. This is a pedestrian only bridge ‘to nowhere’ connecting southern Bow River pathway and Downtown with northern Bow River pathway.

9. Out of town places on my list are Drumheller located along Red Deer River (Southern Alberta). It is a children’s and adults fantasy world with an interesting collection of Dinosaur fossils from the Alberta badlands housed in Royal Tyrell Museum.

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Ice Sculpture…..Lake Louise with Fairmont in the background …2014

An all time favorite drive, summer or winter, is to Banff and surrounding areas such as Bow Valley Parkway, Moraine Lake valley, Lake Louise and its Ice Sculpture festival held in January, the Jasper National Park and its environs for snow adventure, the Columbia Icefields though winter time restrictions are there. On return stop at Canmore, a quaint villagy town, an hours drive from Calgary, nestled in heart of Rocky Mountains along Bow River. The aerial Glacier Skywalk, an observation platform 918 feet over spectacular glacier-formed valleys and rushing waterfalls on route to Columbia Icefields is closed for winter months.

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Angel Falls, Jasper National Park
Lake Maligne
Lake Maligne, Jasper National Park

10. Another to-do-thing on my activity list is to watch a hockey game at Saddledome, with its unique ‘saddle’ flowing concave roof.  Another may-be is dog sledding and snow shoeing or simply walking in the snow. The easy walks are Heart Creek, a flat easy hike just 45 minutes from Calgary, the Bow Valley Provincial ParkNose Hill and other Calgary parks.

Winter is the time for Christmas and New Year celebrations, time for lights, fireworks and festivals. The places to visit are East Village, Islington, the Calgary Winter festival in Downtown and Winterfest Carnival at Fort Calgary.

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A family effort….in our backyard

Snow is also about snowmen and snow fights and Calgary has snow in abundance to give shape to your creativity.

On blustery winter nights, the best antidote is to curl up in front of TV, watch movies, game shows or anything else plateful of hot crispy snacks in front of you. Or perch on the windowsill to enjoy the dancing flakes from within a heated room and promptly dispatch Whatsapp photos to friends back home.

Check avenuecalgary.com for weekly listing of activities in town.

Happy Holidays. Will post pictures of tasks accomplished.

 

Shannon’s Creative Photo Challenge- Water

‘You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water’…..I did, stand and stare, and so did the sea-gull, contemplative and restless as the waters with no thought of crossing.  Lake Okanagan, Kelowna, British Columbia

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Waterfalls are magic, shimmering, glistening, cascading down rocks to a peaceful flow downwards. In the words of Mikhail Lermontov, Russian poet,painter and writer,” many a calm river begins as a turbulent waterfall, yet none hurtles and foams all the way to the sea”.

Natural Bridge: An impressive natural rock formation spanning Kicking Horse River, west of village Field, is a reminder of influence of water in shaping landscape. The erosive, gushing waters descent through a canyon to join Amiskwi River on way to Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park, British Columbia.

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The frozen Angel Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta

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Water is also peaceful as in my hometown…the River Ganga, Allahabad, India

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Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump…..

IMG_5997Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump…. for a minute you wonder who is smashing whose head and that too over jumping Buffalo or Bison and then you realize that this is one of the ‘world’s oldest, largest, and best preserved buffalo jumps’. It is not literally a jump but a 6000-year-old indigenous method of hunting unsuspecting buffalo who ‘jumped’ over a cliff to the plain below, to their death.

DSC05964Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump or Estipah-skikikini-kots site is on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains at end of the prairies of Alberta and Montana (across the border). It was a Blackfoot (tribe) food-back-up-supply (depot) to round-up buffalo/bison from their grazing areas in the Porcupine hills and driven along drive lanes to edge of cliff by specialized buffalo-runners dressed as coyotes and wolf. The petrified herd galloped at full speed, unaware of impending doom, to fall down the 300 meters high cliff to immobility and death. The carcasses were dragged to the camp and butchered into pieces with every part and entail used for different purposes. Sometimes human error resulted in death or injury to the hunters, as one learns from the tale of a Blackfoot youth who had got caught in the wave of falling animals and found with his head smashed, under the pile of carcass.

DSC05973DSC05976A walk to this World Heritage Site (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1981) on a blustery windy day is a lesson in history of the Plains People and their courage and fortitude, of hardships endured to subsist on the vast herds of buffalo/bison that existed in North America, of their understanding of buffalo and predator behavior, notably wolf and coyotes, and of life before guns and horses.

IMG_3347One can hike up the lower trail, from the car park area, up to the base of the bluff where the buffalo fell. The place has since filled up with growth and earth but one can visualise the steep fall. The Site was abandoned in the 19th century after contact with Europeans and was later discovered, in 1880s, by Europeans and excavated by the American Museum of Natural History in 1938.

We preferred the second option of walking the upper IMG_3343trail from top floor of the Visitor Center and then walked back five floors for the exhibits and the cafeteria. The Interpretative  Centre, opened in 1987, is built into the sandstone bluffs of Porcupine Hills merging with the landscape of prairie grasslands to give visitors a feel of the past.

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The entrance

The Center showcases archeological evidences highlighting the ecology, mythology, lifestyle and technology of Blackfoot people. The exhibits and the 16-minute narration by a native boy, of his dreams and participation in an actual hunt, is a gripping presentation of erudite technique connecting spiritual ceremony (performed by medicine women and men for a safe and successful hunt), with preparations of ‘buffalo runners’ to locate and herd the animals to the cliff site, the involvement of entire camp in setting up ingenious V-shaped drive lanes snaking their way through ridges, crossing coulees and rising across the tops of high hills to end at the cliff from where there was no turning back. It is a  story of courage, of hardship and survival instincts of both humans and animals. Particularly poignant is the killing of maimed buffalo as Native People believed that escaping animals would warn other herds of the deadly trap.

DSC05989A successful hunt brought in food, dried meat, pemmican, fat supplements from the bones, tanned hides for clothing and dwelling and tools from bones collected. Almost every body part of the animal used to last the extreme winter conditions when the tribe moved to safer regions along the Old Man River and the valleys beyond. .

IMG_3362Chastened and clued-up we followed the steps down to the Tipi exhibit and finally to ground floor at the bottom of a life-size diorama to click selfies where the buffalo (bison) seem tragically close to falling on your head.

Another must watch is the permanent exhibition, Lost Identities: A Journey of Rediscovery, a collaboration of historical societies and museums.

DSC05988We spent sometime at the Cafeteria refreshing ourselves with coffee and apple pie. No bison burgers after watching their butchering. While waiting for family to catch up, chatted with a Native, working at Center. He had greeted us at entrance with a ‘Namaste’ (Indian greeting) acknowledging that ‘we are both Indians, one from the West and the other from East’. His words, ‘India and China had the numbers to claim their land, whereas, his people are just spectators of happenings around’ sounded of lost opportunities. I did not want to show my ignorance of the political and social history of the First Nation and Native Americans and nodded acquiescence to his statements adding my one sentence that ‘maybe they needed a Mahatma Gandhi or a Sun Yat-sen to guide them to channelize their resources’. He smiled.  ‘A head-smashing photo-shoot moment’.

*To get there. From Calgary head south on Hwy. 2 for about 160 km. till you see the signs for Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and Hwy. 785 West. The turnoff for Hwy 785 is about one km north of the major intersection with Highway 3. The Site is located 18 kilometres (15 minutes) north and west of Fort Macleod.

*The Center, designed by Le Blond Partnership, an architectural firm in Calgary, was awarded the Governor General’s Gold Medal for Architecture in 1990