Streets and Markets of Mumbai

Crawford Market, Mumbai

Crawford Market, Mumbai

Our taxi stops in the middle of traffic and we step out into the mayhem of Mumbai at rush hour. Across the pulsing artery of cars and pedestrians, I see the ruddy stone exterior of Crawford Market with its clock tower silhouetted against the hazy blue sky.

Crawford Market opened in 1865 and in 1882 it was the first building in the city to be lit by electricity. The market goes by two names : Crawford Market (the original name, after Bombay’s first Municipal Commissioner Arthur Crawford) as well as  Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Market (the current name, after Indian activist and social reformer Mahatma Jyotiba Phule).

There’s a bust across from a small shop in the market where we stop to buy water. I have no idea what the inscription on the bust says, but I think this is Mr. Mahatma Jyotiba Phule himself.

The order and color of Crawford Market is a nice relief from the chaos just outside the entrance. Fruit is arranged in piles, big and small. A pineapple vendor is totally surrounded. Which ones are new? Which ones are old? It’s a secret only he knows. The watermelons are bright green and stacked with such precision it seems like removing one would release the whole pile into a rolling mess.

Betel nut seller, Crawford Market, Mumbai

Betel nut seller, Crawford Market, Mumbai

Behind the fruit stalls, the betel nut seller sits on a stone step with his basket full of concoctions. He’s a willing subject when I motion with my camera so I crouch down and see the leaves, the white lime residue and the intensity of his stare. Even now as I edit these photos, I’m struck by the directness — not only in his eyes but in the eyes of a number of men in these photographs. Sometimes people smile with uneasiness when photographed, but in Mumbai there is fearlessness… a willingness to engage. He asks to see the photo and is happy with the result.

I watch the porters who work for hire carrying heavy loads for shoppers and shopkeepers. Dressed in plaid sarongs and sandals, they come and go with their big circular baskets — hoisted up high with one hand, placed on the top of the head or at rest on the ground.

Crawford Market, Mumbai

Crawford Market, Mumbai

In between loads, the porters hang out together. Maybe he’s checking the score of the cricket match.

This is a spice market, too, where we find jar after jar of exotic smelling masala and curry powders. There is no such thing as a teaspoon here. The spice sellers place heaping scoops in shallow dishes and we inhale the complexity: vindaloo curry, chicken tikka masala, green curry, madras medium curry, tandoori chicken masala, hot curry and even just “normal curry.” And then there’s the Special Spice King Masala 96 — a proprietary blend. With their intense, earthy hues, the spice powders look as rich and powerful as they smell.

We leave Crawford Market. The displays of fruits and vegetables continue on the street. We wander through Mangaldas textile market (where a female officer warns me that I can’t take photos) and emerge on the other side. Cows wander the street, a guy roasts peanuts over a fire on a wooden cart, and another guy stirs the pot… making big swoops with his ladle through a steaming pot of dahl while he stares at me with all the intensity of Mumbai.

Flower Market, Mumbai

Flower Market, Mumbai

Big, beautiful baskets of color greet us at the flower market. We duck into a narrow alley where men sit on elevated platforms, fulfilling orders for customers. They string flowers together in fragrant garlands used for festivals, marriages, rituals and to honor deities at temples.

Bees buzz around the piles of blossoms, the aroma of jasmine lingers in the air and life in Mumbai carries on.

Selling Roses at the Flower Market, Mumbai

Selling Roses at the Flower Market, Mumbai

Miscellaneous Photography
2016: A Ski Odyssey

2016: A Ski Odyssey

Somewhere between British Columbia and Alberta, Canada

Somewhere between British Columbia and Alberta, Canada

Winter is almost here, so how about a ski story?

Last March we packed the car and set out on a two-week ski odyssey around British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. It wasn’t just any car. It was a Chevy Suburban of Secret Service caliber — black, with tinted windows and enough room to fit all the president’s men. We debated with the rental car company about the vehicle being TOO big and even drove it back to try to exchange it for something smaller.

When we returned to Budget Rent-a-Car, the irony was thick. Here was a lovely Budget employee from India, about five feet tall standing next to the Chevy Monstrosity, who had never skied a day in his life yet insisted this was the perfect four-wheel drive vehicle for our trip. His enthusiasm was so irresistible, we went with it. And it turns out he was absolutely right. Not only did the Secret Service Ski Suburban (SSSS) accommodate the obscene amount of gear and clothing we had for every foreseeable winter condition, but it also gave us a real sense of setting out on an epic road trip through the Canadian Rockies. We don’t own a car, so suddenly having our hands gripped on the steering wheel of the most massive winter expeditionary vehicle was like … Yes! We are doing this! And it’s going to be awesome.

We drove from Vancouver to Kelowna to Revelstoke to Golden to Lake Louise to Nelson to Osoyoos and back to Vancouver. We skied Big White, Revelstoke and Kicking Horse, and J also indulged in a day of heli-skiing in the Selkirk Mountains. Lucky for us, March was a winter wonderland with great ski conditions throughout the trip and we also enjoyed a couple of snowy days at the Fairmont Lake Louise.

Big White

Big White hulks with mass — it is not a steep mountain, but a heavy blanket of snow transforms the upper reaches into a bizarre and beautiful landscape. The snow entirely engulfs the trees, kind of like that clumpy white flocking on fake Christmas trees. Known as “snow ghosts” with their unusual costumes, the trees resemble everything from dinosaurs to shrimp tempura (bang on description, J). The tree skiing at Big White is fantastic — again, not too steep and not too fast, with dips and dives like little roller coasters off every run. With such beautiful terrain, even riding the lifts at Big White was enjoyable.

Revelstoke

From Big White we pointed the SSSS to Revelstoke. We passed some bighorn sheep along the way and pulled into our hotel in the early evening as flurries began to fly. Revelstoke is an old mining town still clinging to its identity and character. The architecture retains the style and scale of years past, and the shops and restaurants have a friendly, welcoming charm rarely found in bigger cities. No stop in Revelstoke would be complete without at least one visit to the Village Idiot Bar and Grill for great food and hospitality.

We hit the mountain in the morning and although the sun wasn’t shining, the runs were empty and easy to cruise. The slopes at Revelstoke Mountain Resort are much steeper and more difficult than Big White. Off-piste terrain is plentiful and you might even come across a cliff here and there — but they’ll try to warn you with a tiny orange sign. Pay attention!

Eagle Pass Heliskiing, Revelstoke

For J, the highlight of the Ski Odyssey was a day in the backcountry of the Selkirk Mountains with Eagle Pass Heliskiing. They accidentally over-booked and since we had some flexibility with our days, he got bumped to a different day with unlimited vertical and better weather. Win-win. He suited up in an inflatable pack, did about 15 runs with a group of four and enjoyed one of the best ski days of his life. Needless to say, the views were breathtaking and the powder was fresh. (Maybe I’ll join him next time.)

Kicking Horse

After Revelstoke, we drove on to Kicking Horse in Golden, BC. This resort was my favorite of the trip. It’s heavy on the double black diamonds and, with wide open bowls, there are endless lines to ski and lots of drop-ins to make your runs just a little more thrilling. The Stairway to Heaven lift gives a scenic view of the entire Crystal Bowl and the view from the top explains how the lift got its name.

What I enjoyed the most (aside from no lift lines) was dropping into Feuz Bowl and looking back at the massive panorama behind us.

Kicking Horse, British Columbia, Canada

Kicking Horse, British Columbia, Canada

Lake Louise

From Kicking Horse, we hurried over to lake Louise for two days of luxury next to the lake. We arrived on a beautiful, blustery afternoon. After banging around in ski boots for more than a week, it was nice to warm our toes in the comfort of the Fairmont. Winter cocktails and fondue made it extra wonderful. Because who doesn’t love hot cheese in the middle of winter?

Lake Louise Ski Resort is just across the highway from the Fairmont, but with so much fun right outside our hotel door we never did make it to that mountain. Lake Louise was frozen and covered in snow, inviting a walk across to the other end. The Fairmont had also constructed a magnificent ice castle on the lake, inspiring people to play, pose and get outside to experience the beauty of winter. With a sense of adventure and a few shots of Fireball, who knew a frozen lake could be so fun?

Happy winter everyone! Let’s get outside, point our feet downhill and see where the next adventure takes us.

Miscellaneous Photography
Buchart Gardens

Pure Color at Butchart Gardens

An October afternoon at Butchart Gardens, in photos. Heavenly! Are words even necessary? Not really, other than mentioning that Butchart Gardens is just outside Victoria on Vancouver Island. Trails lead through 55 acres of trees, plants and flowers, still cared for by the Butchart family more than 100 years after Jennie Butchart transformed the former limestone quarry into a complex of gardens with regional themes. And the dahlias! My favorite part — a perfect blend of art and science in every bloom. Enjoy!

Miscellaneous Photography

Sea to Sky and Peak to Peak

Storms have been rolling through Vancouver during the past week, so I thought I’d share two recent local adventures before fall turns to winter.

The Sea to Sky and Peak to Peak experiences sweep you up, down and all around the mountains between Squamish and Whistler, B.C. Both outings take you right into the wilderness within one to two hours of the city.

The Sea to Sky Gondola lifts off from Basecamp (at sea level) to the Summit Lodge (885 meters) in about ten minutes. I made the trip on a dreary day, but the views from the top were still vast and breathtaking — especially from the suspension bridge. If you’re really up for a challenge, you can bypass the gondola and go by foot from the parking lot to the Summit Lodge. Three viewing platforms are within easy walking distance from the lodge and a trail network leads to the surrounding mountains beyond.

Just up the highway from the Sea to Sky Gondola, the Peak to Peak Experience takes you from Whistler Village to the Top of the World Summit, across the valley to Blackcomb on the Peak to Peak Gondola and back down to the village on two final chairlifts. I made this journey on a much sunnier day and it was an absolute blast to see the resort in a season other than winter, without my ski goggles. Getting to the Top of the World Summit is a precarious ride past cliff faces and up steep slopes still covered in ice from last season. But the view from the top is spectacular.

Then the fun really begins — going back down on the Peak Express chairlift. Not for the faint of heart or fearful of heights!

At the bottom of the Peak Express, transfer to the Peak to Peak Gondola — a massive operation that takes you all the way across the valley between Whistler and Blackcomb.

I looked for bears in the riverbed below. According to a guide who was riding in our gondola, they are often visible — about 60 bears live around Whistler/Blackcomb. I didn’t see any of them but the bird’s eye view of the river through the trees was unexpectedly cool.

After a pit-stop at the Rendezvous for a glass of wine with my hiking buddy, it was time to descend back to the village, above grassy slopes and wildflowers.

On a sunny summer day, the Peak to Peak is a fantastic mountain adventure. With a day pass, you can ride the lifts either direction, as many times as you want. But you’ll have to wait until next year … the Peak to Peak experience is closed for the season and the snow has arrived!

Miscellaneous Photography
Carnaval, Santiago de Cuba

Carnaval: Into the Heart of Cuba

 

Carnival, Santiago de Cuba

Of my recent trip to Cuba, I can think of a hundred ways to tell you about my experience that make more sense than where I’m choosing to begin my story. I could write a logical day-to-day account from start to finish, or prioritize the sights I saw in a narrative path around the island. But Cuba isn’t linear and exploring the country is more akin to falling in love than to following an itinerary. That’s why I’m starting my story in the middle, taking you straight into the heart of Cuba through the experience of Carnaval.

Getting to Carnaval isn’t quite as fun as being there. Carnaval takes place in the city of Santiago de Cuba, but all flights are booked so my husband and I, and the two close friends we’re traveling with, sardine ourselves into the “big” and “comfortable” taxi booked for us by the host of our casa particular. We depart Havana at 6:00 a.m. and drive all the way across the island, arriving in Santiago de Cuba after an epic 13-HOUR trip. In Cuba, affordable taxis are never “big” or “comfortable,” so the journey is a meditative exercise in patience, yet it allows us to see this gorgeous country (and all of its potholes) from top to bottom.

We dive into Carnaval on our second night in Santiago de Cuba. Carnaval lasts for a week, but very little information exists about what happens each night so we decide to just show up and see what happens. Our taxi driver drops us at the port around 9:30 p.m. and the spectacle begins to come alive.

Carnival, Santiago de Cuba

The evening starts with a parade of muñecones (papier-mâché characters) and a curious dance with the devil. Sensual, suggestive, intimidating … Carnaval is not shy. Yet the kids are not at home with the babysitter, either. No wonder an entire city of people — young to old — know exactly how to step their feet and sway their hips when the primal rhythm of a comparsa goes thumping down the street. Cubans have been doing this for a very long time.

Carnaval traces all the way back to the 17th century, and what happens in Santiago de Cuba these days is likely an interpretation of past summer festivals called Los Mamarrachos. Mamarracho translates to “sight” or “mess,” and Carnaval is certainly both in grandeur and color. As the night goes on, the costumes get bigger and more ornate. By 11:00 p.m. the early parade of novel characters has transformed into an extravagant runway of creativity.

In between the flowers, wings and ruffles, out come the big drums and percussive ensembles that beat me back into the elemental bliss of feeling the rhythm of Cuba. This alternating between congas and paseos — groups of musicians and lavishly dressed characters — keeps bringing the whole experience back down to earth, while building the anticipation of what comes next. As much as I love the fanciful costume designs, the drums and the passion surrounding them are my favorite part of Carnaval.

Carnival, Santiago de Cuba

Carnival, Santiago de Cuba

Carnival, Santiago de Cuba

The corneta china squeaks out its distinct horn sound all night long, sometimes in ear-piercing blurts over the sound system. The instrument was introduced to Carnaval in the early 1900s. If I close my eyes and listen to the horns and the drums, I can imagine being at Thaipusam in Singapore. The corneta china adds a worldly dimension to this uniquely Cuban festival.

Carnival, Santiago de Cuba

Just as we think the evening might be nearing its end … nope. Carnaval kicks it up another notch. We’ve migrated from the grandstands to the staging area and a new parade of the night’s most elaborately dressed characters begins to appear from out of nowhere. I love this vantage point — in the middle of traffic, in full contact with the pride and joy of these amazing performers.

And then we see it — the first float and the dazzling men and women standing on it. There has been so much to look at, we haven’t even noticed this new addition to the parade approaching us from the far end of the route. A man with a flame shooting from his head marks the beginning of the next phase of Carnaval.

carnival81

By 1:00 a.m., the sensuality and decorum of Carnaval is fully revealed, and the heat of Cuba manifests itself in a non-stop display of scantily garnished performers on floats. Even the dancers from earlier in the evening have stopped to revere these celebrities, perhaps aspiring to someday achieve what seems to be the pinnacle of Carnaval.

Carnaval, Santiago de Cuba

Carnaval, Santiago de Cuba

Carnaval, Santiago de Cuba

Carnaval, Santiago de Cuba

Carnaval, Santiago de Cuba

carnival84

carnival85

Are these Tropicana performers we’re seeing? Guantanamera, I think they might be. The Tropicana has a long history in Cuba, and cabaret dancers remain an iconic part of Cuban identity as a symbol of liberation. Here’s an interesting (if somewhat poorly edited) read about the Tropicana, the role of Santería in its performances, and a note about the post-show disco that’s “hot enough to cook the pork.”

By 1:30 a.m. our pork is cooked and our minds are blown. Our evening taxi returns to shuttle us home from one of the most memorable nights in all of our world traveling.

As an American, I arrived in Cuba with the naive expectation that the country would be barely developed, hardly getting by, in dire need of help. As I saw from our 13-hour taxi ride, this is true by some standards — infrastructure and transportation among them. But by the standard of human spirit, Carnaval shows me that Cuba is flourishing, with an old soul that’s more expressive and better company than many of its closest neighbors.

***

Up next, the music and magic of La Habana Vieja.

Festival Photography
Japan Snow Monkeys

Snow Monkeys of Japan

03monkeys

If you’re visiting Japan, thumbs up for the snow monkeys. Take the train from Nagano to Yudanaka station. Inquire at the information desk outside, and you’ll be politely directed to the bus for Kanbayashi. Once there, walk two kilometers down the trail to Jigokudani Monkey Park. If you’re visiting in winter, wear some boots — the snow-covered trail is quite slippery.

The macaques at Jigokudani Monkey Park are some of the northernmost primates in the world. They are unique among all macaques in using the surrounding hot springs to stay warm throughout the winter.

The monkeys look serene and meditative as they warm their bones amidst the busy tourists and cameras around them. They doze off, their hair kinks as it succumbs to the steam, and the whole scene is a lot like what you and I experience if we dip into a public hot spring or onsen. Except for the youngsters — they fixate on the tripods and trekking poles at the water’s edge. One places a hand on the other’s arm as if to say, “I know you’re curious, George, but please be careful.”

I visited Jigokudani Monkey Park last February while skiing in nearby Myoko Kogen. This week, I questioned the appropriateness of a blog post about monkeys. But here it is, because it’s winter and we can’t stop loving the world. We must keep celebrating the good, the beauty, all there is to see and wonder about here on earth — including the snow monkeys. But with all the recent events among humans, I find myself wondering … are they perhaps a nobler species?

01monkeys

Miscellaneous Photography

Autumn at Stanley and Pacific Spirit

The beauty of Stanley Park and Pacific Spirit Regional Park speaks silently. An entire season’s story unfolds in broad strokes of fall color knit with smaller discoveries like spider webs and mushrooms. Walking the quiet trails, it’s easy to imagine what the native landscape of Vancouver looked like a few hundred years ago when the Squamish and Musqueam people lived here on their traditional territories. Much has changed since then, but the golden hues of autumn remain and feeling tiny among tall trees surely holds as much magic for me as it has for every person who has ever explored these lands.

Miscellaneous Photography
Gardens by the Bay

“Earth laughs in flowers.”

Supertrees and Skyway at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Supertrees and Skyway at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Earth laughs in flowers.” Here’s a gallery of laughter in honor of Earth Day, photographed at Gardens by the Bay in Singapore. Enjoy!

Click on any photo to view larger as a slide show.

Photography