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Crashing the Wedding (Not the Plane)

Flying over Pakistan is not currently recommended

sunny 20 °F

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Fabric.JPGPlan a trip to India from Kansas City and you will discover that, unless you fly on United Airlines, there is no efficient way to do it. B4 and I are both “3 Million Milers” on American and “1 Million Milers” on Delta and Zero-Milers on United. As a result, because United is not important to us, we are not important to United--even today as we spend a bundle to fly halfway around the world to be a part of a wedding. It is an understatement to say that this is not our normal trip nor travel plan. Read on to see why.

Today, Tuesday, March 5, 2019, we’re off on our non-stop 12:20 CST three-hour flight to Newark International Airport arriving at 4:15pm EST. United Express 3565 is an Embraer ERJ-170, a single-aisle, 70 seat jet operated by Indianapolis-based Republic Airlines, a regional operator that also flies jets under the banners of American Eagle and Delta Connection—950 flights each day.

Upon arrival at Newark’s Liberty International airport, we must wait--for B4 that means work--for almost four hours.BvacationBegins.JPGUnitedPolarisLounge.JPGBuffet.JPGUnited.JPG (I’m glad we didn’t arrive here on Sunday because that’s the day that two Southwest 737 jets, following de-icing procedures, ever so slightly collided with one another (below, right). I picked this photo up from Twitter; it sure tells the story)

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But, waiting when you are flying in United’s “International Polaris Business Class” means that you get access to the new United Polaris Lounge. Here, you may "dine in the pre-flight dining room" (nothing fancy) or "lounge in the chaise-equipped rest area" (also nothing fancy). Whichever you choose, you are even encouraged to "take a complementary bottle of water with you" as you make your way to the gate (as if there aren’t bottles of water for the aircraft’s business class customers on board?)

From Newark to Mumbai, United 48 is a Boeing 777-300ER which seats 366 people; 60 in “Polaris Business” class, 102 in economy plus class and 204 more in coach class. We depart Newark (code: EWR) at 8:10pm Eastern Standard Time and fly all night long to Mumbai, India, to arrive at 9:40pm India Standard Time the next evening. Mumbai is 11:30 hours ahead of Kansas City. Said another way, from a time standpoint, it is about as close to being precisely on the other side of our globe as you can get.

Our flight is scheduled to take 15 hours. But, currently, it flies a circuitous, non-direct-line route for political reasons. There’s a war on; sort of.

We could fly (see flight map below which is this flight on March 3)

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over the North Atlantic, the northern tip of Ireland, across Norway, Sweden and Finland, over a great deal of Russia, and then out of our way to sharply and abruptly turn back southwest over Mongolia, China, Nepal and then into India. That way, we avoid the shorter route of airspace over Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Or, we could fly (see flight map at right which is this flight on March 2) over southern Europe, then Turkey, just beyond the eastern tip of war-torn Syria, tight-roping down the Iraq/Iran border, over the Persian Gulf, over the Strait of Hormuz, (where I was once ‘buzzed’ [this is a photo from that 2011 encounter] by what I assumed to be a zodiac from the Iranian Navy IMG_2383.JPGmanned by masked sailors), over the Gulf of Oman, over the open Arabian Sea and then into Mumbai. This is the path we take tonight. B4, working, is oblivious as I watch the map and she congratulates top salespersons and managers across her enterprise with handwritten notes. They'll never know these notes were penned and signed over the Atlantic, Europe, the Middle East and finally, the Arabian Sea.WorkingOnUA48.JPG

On Sunday night, 48 flew a still different route as it dipped south and flew over Egypt and Saudi Arabia en route to the Persian Gulf. Tonight, who knows?

United has warned us that we could experience “extended flight times.” Last week the flight we are on was diverted to Frankfurt once and cancelled once. The return flight (United 49) which we will fly coming home was cancelled twice last week and had to stop for extra fuel in Bangor three times and Munich once due to the lengthened flight path. Bloomberg reports that a flight such as ours incurs extra fuel costs of about $90,000 for a delay of only approximately 20 minutes. Wow.

I understand the ‘why’ of all this. Among many issues, the most pressing may be that there is an ongoing ‘crisis’ between Pakistan and our destination India. Last week, these two nuclear-weapon-capable nations were on the “brink of war,” as the New York Times reported. "Tens of thousands of troops have been rushed to the countries’ border, heavy artillery barrages and gunfire have been volleyed across it, and tank columns have been chugging into place for what many feared could turn into a full-blown war.” United did not warn us about any of that.

I am delighted that we are not going to over-fly such a place as that at such a time as this. United is not alone. Pakistani airspace has been closed. Just look at this Flightradar map (below right).

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Bloomberg reports that United along with Air Canada, Thai, Qantas, Singapore Airlines and others have diverted planes and canceled trips because of the conflict. All flights between Beijing and Pakistan were cancelled for a couple of days last week.

Remember, if you will, that it was a mere five years ago this July when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a Boeing 777 similar to this one, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was struck by a Soviet-made Buk surface-to-air missile near Donetsk, Ukraine. 283 passengers (80 of them children) and 15 crew perished. For the record, out flight path is either well north or well south of that location.

Also, for the record, I have not and will not discuss this with B4 unless she brings it up which I fervently hope she does not; nothing good can come of that. She can learn about it all as you just did by reading about it here.

She works through the night--and day--( as she always does) while I sleep (which I almost always do). Even as we vacation, the CEO inside B4 is never far from analysis, leadership, thoughtfulness and dedication. You should have seen her during our recent "vacation" to Cabo San Lucas. While five of us lounged by the pool, B4 was at the dining room table, her laptop open and online, her papers neatly organized and her iPhone plugged in so as to not lose its charge as she waded through call after conference call after text. On this trip, she has a satchel full of papers to deal with along with several projects to complete on her laptop.

But back to our flight. According to Flightaware.com, on Tuesday, February 26, our flight was over eastern Russia on its normal direct route to Mumbai when it was abruptly diverted and, instead of continuing on to Mumbai, flew to Frankfurt, Germany, instead. That is the day that the aforementioned Indian fighter flew into Pakistan and attacked the town of Balakot which the Indian government said is a training camp for terrorists who staged a Valentine’s Day suicide bombing in southern Kashmir that resulted in at least 40 deaths. The next day, Pakistani and Indian fighter jets engaged in the skirmish where one "vintage" Indian "aging Soviet-era" MiG-21 jet was shot down by an US-made Pakistani F-16 fighter; the Pakistanis captured (and later repatriated) its pilot. The New York Times reports that Pakistan's use of the plane, "might have been a violation of the sales agreement," it signed when we sold it the aircraft.

These ongoing tensions are but the latest chapter in tensions that began over 70 years ago when the partition of British India took place. Watch the 1982 movie “Gandhi” (it won eight Academy Awards including one for Best Picture) for a Hollywood (not Bollywood) take on what happened. Also, remember that there is a presidential election coming up in India where India’s prime minister Narendra Modi is up for re-election. Nothing so unites a people as the popular outrage and national fervor that comes from being attacked by a foreign power.

To sum up, for us, flying over a newly activated near-war zone is not recommended. United seems to agree. As do I.

Most of our fellow passengers are seemingly oblivious to all of this, paying more attention to the inside of the plane than to what lies beneath it. Our Polaris Business Class seats (3D and 3G—next to each other in the middle of this two-aisle wide-body aircraft) are two of sixty “Business Class pods” containing a 180-degree flat-bed seat that, when reclined, measures 6’6” long and 23 inches wide. There is storage space, multiple surfaces for “stuff,” A/C power, two USB ports, a 16-inch high-def TV screen, and an electronically operated privacy divider between our seats, mood lighting and a lighted “Do Not Disturb” sign to keep intrusive flight attendants at bay. You can sleep or stretch your legs and walk to the marble-topped bar unit to grab a drink or a snack.

We get a choice of blankets: a Saks Fifth Avenue quilted duvet or a lighter-weight throw blanket. There are pajamas available and “cooling gel memory foam pillows.” And, of course, there is food: two meals. Dinner is offered after takoff on “new china with a signature design” and breakfast/lunch before arrival. That’s a lot of sustenance but we need a lot crossing over nearly a dozen time zones. Our arrival at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, Mumbai, India, (The airport is named for a Maratha warrior king from the 17th century) is scheduled for 9:40pm on Wednesday, March 6—remember that we left at 8:10pm on Tuesday, March 5.

The trick to flying overseas, in my opinion, is to immediately upon boarding the flight reset your watch for "destination" time. That means that as I settle into my seat at 8:00pm, I reset my watch for 5:30am. I tell my body that it is now 5:30 in the morning. I will try to stay awake for a good long time and then take an "afternoon nap" of a few hours. Otherwise, when we arrive at our hotel in Mumbai at 10:30 or so "tonight" my body will still think it is 10:00 in the morning and will not allow sleep. It's complicated, it's hard and it's something with which you must deal or your first few days of a journey to the other side of the world is lost to fatigue and confusion. I'll keep you posted on how the jet lag goes. The most unique thing about the flight, however, is that the seat belts include--for the first time in my experience--shoulder belts.ShoulderBelt.JPG

As we finally approach Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, the lights--or lack of them--reveal that the east end of runway 27 is about 1.5 miles from the beach on the Arabian Sea. At night, the sea is pitch black. The airport is surrounded on two other sides by slums

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Our flight, wheels up to wheels down was a comparatively short 13 hours and 35 minutes tonight. We were aided by tailwinds of up to 152 mph at altitudes ranging from 31,000 feet to 37,000 feet with outside temperatures measured at 80 below zero. Only a couple of times did turbulence become an issue.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj is the 29th busiest airport in the world by passenger traffic (almost 50 million annually) despite having only one runway suitable for widebody aircraft. It accommodates nearly 1,000 aircraft movements per day. That is about 42 takeoffs or landings per hour or, said another way, one every 86 seconds. It's a busy place.

Our Terminal 2 (all international flights depart and originate from this building) has been open for only five years and boasts 72 gates and 76 immigration counters for arriving passengers—such as B4 and me. It is organized and clean and orderly; not at all what I expected.

And, you may finally be asking, why are we doing all of this?

Jewelry CEO B4 is an invited guest to one of the two biggest wedding ceremonies to happen in India since, well, since maybe ever. Your humble blog author is but her “plus one.” Much more will be written about the wedding in later installments of this blog.

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After we collect our checked baggage and present our passports and Indian visas for inspection (as Americans, we must apply for and pay $160 and be granted an Indian visa or we cannot enter the country), we are met outside customs--where B4 is stopped for having too much jewelry to be a mere tourist (these items must be samples says the customs officer--and immigration by a friendly face—that of Aashish Jhaveri of Rosy Blue, Inc., one of B4’s valued and respected vendors and a representative of the father of the bride-to-be. A friendly face is of unimaginable worth as one enters the mayhem that is the rule for virtually every international airport to which I have traveled (and that is well over 100 of them). The surprise for me is that both dear friend Bobby and diamond guru Boris are both there to greet us as well. We have arrived.

Aashish has a car and driver and gets us to our destination: The Hotel BKC Trident, Bandra Kurla. By road the hotel is a mere four miles or so from the terminal; as the crow flies it is less than two miles south of the terminal. This short drive takes 15 minutes. I wonder how long it would take during “rush hour.” As we will spend five nights in a “Club Room” here, I will have more to say about this hotel and other lodgings on subsequent entries in the days that follow. From checking the map, I do note that at this property, we are right across the street from the U.S. Consulate General. The ambassador to India, of course, would be 870 miles north of here in New Delhi, the capital of this country of 1.3 billion people.

Our bodies are confused if our minds are not. It is approaching midnight but we feel as if we are approaching noon. I have written too much. It is time to force sleep. But, instead, a gathering is scheduled for the hotel bar. Joining Boris and Bobby and B4 and I is Elliott and we talk business until nearly one in the morning. Mined vs. lab, carat weights, colored stones, more and more and more.

Posted by paulej4 11:59 Archived in USA Tagged india pakistan united newark polaris Comments (4)

What does one wear to a Mala & Mehndi?

My tux would be inappropriate...

sunny 82 °F

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At a recent Kansas City Saturday morning manicure, needing a break from balance sheets and sales numbers over which she daily pours, B4 picked up a copy of People Magazine and was grabbed by the headline: “Beyoncé performs at a wedding in India.” The December, 2018, wedding was that of Isha Ambani, the daughter of India’s—and perhaps Asia’s—wealthiest man that, said the magazine, cost an estimated $100 million to stage.

That story hit close to home as B4—and I as her +1—are invited to this week’s March, 2019, Mumbai wedding of Isha’s twin brother Akash Ambani to Shloka Mehta, the daughter of B4’s longtime friend and Indian diamond mogul, Russell Mehta. (He is a "diamondtaire: an expert in the cutting of diamonds into gems, or, a member of a successful diamond-dealing family or group." Local media calls him: “Diamondaire.” They are referring to him as being wealthy from the diamond business)

The Times of india reported that Akash and Shloka hosted a bachelor’s and pre-wedding party for 500 of their closest friends in St Moritz, Switzerland on February 23, 24 and 25; two aircraft were chartered as transport. Unable to attend (and not invited) on those dates, we were instead on the beach in Cabo San Lucas with four of our closest friends: Sam and James and JoAnn and Chuck; we too rode on two aircraft to get there. Somehow, however, it’s different.

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But, never fail, we are nonetheless here now to visit the absolute wealthiest of India’s 1.3 billion people.

B4 received our wedding invitation—the one that was reported on in India Today as follows:

https://www.indiatoday.in/lifestyle/celebrity/story/akash-ambani-and-shloka-mehta-wedding-watch-unboxing-video-of-grand-invite-1455502-2019-02-13

Invitation

Invitation

Really, watch the video. That’s the publicity over the invitation itself. The formal invitation is headlined with the words, “Om Ganeshaya Namah,” a mantra to remove all hindrances and obstacles that prevent one from reaching his or her desires and goals and “Om Mahaviraya Namah,” a mantra to get all types of success in life.

It is under this backdrop that B4 and I, both reasonably successful but comparably poor against the wedding party and embarrassingly wealthy compared to tens of millions of others here, arrived, jet-lagged but well-rested in United Airlines lie-flat business-class seats, in teeming, mysterious and even troubled India, now emerging as the world’s largest and most vibrant democracy to attend what may be second of the world’s two most-expensive weddings.

But now, finally, on to the "What To Wear?" title of this entry. Our invitation notified us that appropriate dress would be, on Day One, Indian Traditional; on Day Two, Indian Ceremonial; and on Day Three, Indian Formal.

What to do? Upon the advice of the aforementioned Aashish, weeks ago, we employed the services of Rashmi Singh at Carma Online Shop. http://www.carmaonlineshop.com Rashmi and B4 communicated at length. At one point, we trekked to my tailor to have extensive measurements taken so that Rashmi and her retinue could create appropriate apparel for us.

Two boxes of clothing were delivered to our Club Room at BKC Trident today for a final fitting and necessary adjustments. Not a moment too soon. Our first event, “Mala and Mehndi” at the Dome, NSCI, Worli, is tonight. We will reveal our outfits day by day. Tonight we’re peachy.

Suffice to say, we appear to be--to us at least--spectacular. To native Indians, we may appear to be--at least to them--ridiculous in our attempt to fit in. We will never truly know.

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To help us get it right, it is noted on a document handed to us upon check-in, "Salon Facilities: The Club offers hair & free draping services." There, B4 is properly draped.

We are, of course, in every way, honored to be invited guests to the marriage ceremony of Shloka, daughter of Mona and Russell Mehta and Akash, son of Smt Nita and Shri Mukesh Ambani.

Shloka (born July 11, 1990) and Akash (born October 23, 1991) met while studying at Dhirubhai Ambani International School in Mumbai. One other source, however, reports that they first met as children. Shloka studied anthropology at Princeton and received a law degree at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She founded ConnectFor, a charitable organization that matches volunteers with NGOs in need of talent.

Akash graduated from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, majoring in economics and now serves as Chief of Strategy at Reliance Jio, India’s third largest mobile phone network in India, tenth largest in the world.

DovRussellElliotB4Paul1.jpgShloka’s father, Russell Mehta, here with Dov and Elliot and us, is a longtime friend of B4’s, is managing director of Rosy Blue India, the Indian arm of the family-owned Belgian/Indian diamond company Rosy Blue which trades in rough diamonds, manufactures and distributes polished diamonds and jewelry and is one of the largest diamond traders worldwide. Russell and Mona have three children of which Shloka is the youngest and a director of the Rosy Blue Foundation.

Akash’s father, Mukesh Ambani is the Indian business magnate who chairs Reliance Industries Limited, India’s most valuable company by market value. Reliance refines petrochemicals, is the largest retailer in India and a provider of telecommunications services through subsidiary Jio. He is said to have a net worth in the neighborhood of $49 billion making him the 19th or 12th or 10th richest person in the world, depending upon whose list you look.

The Mala & Mehendi is at The Dome, National Sports Club of India, in the Worli neighborhood, City of Mumbai, a 45 minute drive in traffic from the Trident.

Built on the site of a 1957 era outdoor stadium is the 5,000 seat indoor sports stadium built in 2002 called The Dome but formally named as the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Indoor Stadium. It is the largest indoor venue in Mumbai. Vallabhbhai Patel was an Indian freedom fighter and politician whose name also adorns an international airport and the national police academy.

So, on this long-planned Thursday, 7th March 2019, we gather for the Mala and Mehendi, the traditional private pre-wedding ceremony organized by the family of the bride in the presence of friends, relatives and family members where the bride has the red-orange mehndi—or henna--“stain” body art applied to her palms, back of hands and feet. Tradition says that the deeper the color of the bride’s mehendi, the happier the marriage will be. Designs are symbolic indicating the blessings of luck, joy and love. We are told that the groom’s name is often hidden somewhere in the intricate patterns. Typically the ceremony is strictly limited to women who often opt to have henna applied albeit in a less elaborate pattern on a single appendage—“to be mindful of etiquette.” Some men participate so, I jump in.B4Hennaed.jpegf6dc6ba0-413a-11e9-8820-79fdccac81b3.jpegB4Hands.JPGPaulHands.JPGPaulB4Hands.JPG

Mala is the Hindi word for garland and here the garland usually consists of flowers bunched together on a string, similar to the familiar Hawaiian lei. Tradition dictates that a variety of colorful flowers including roses, carnations, marigolds and orchids are used representing excitement, happiness and beauty on the string which signifies the marital union itself.

The evening is highlighted by dancing performances by family and friends set to Indian Rock Music. For some unknown reason, B4 and I, standouts by being two of the very few caucasions at this event, are seated in a place of honor in the midst of the Mehta family. We are honored beyond words.

The elaborate and tightly arranged if not performed dancing, which no one photographs or videos at the explicit request of our hosts is wonderful to watch. We, then, will record only images of us and not of the bride and groom nor of the entertainment provided. Imagine a Bollywood movie and you have a mental picture of what we were privileged to witness.

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Youtube has a video. Here is a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pg2zyyecKEY

The lavish dancing presentations are capped by a lavish dinner—nearly all of it B4 and I cannot identify. There is no meat nor fish nor fowl and no alcohol.

Did I mention that dress for the evening is “Traditional.” We are anything but that. We know a few folks included in the two thousand or so here, among them Dov and Elliot Tannenbaum with whom we cluster, taking it all in. PaulB4ElliotDovCrowd.jpgNever have we seen anything like this and, probably, never will we see it again. But, wow.

Posted by paulej4 19:13 Archived in India Tagged henna mala mehndi Comments (4)

Mumbai Money

Nonstop. Our flight and our lives.

sunny 80 °F

In his book, The Portuguese, A Modern History, Barry Hatton writes of the “discovery” of Mumbai, this harbor city, by Vasco da Gama in 1497. “The Portuguese came across a wonderful natural harbor on the Indian coast which they called bom bain, meaning “good little bay” in sixteenth-century Portuguese. The Portuguese later gave the settlement to the English who anglicized its name, making it Bombay.”

Centuries later, in 1995, the Indian government officially changed the English name to Mumbai after a political movement to strengthen the ethnic Marathi identity demanded it. Some argued that Bombay was just a corrupt English mangling of the name Mumbai and served as a reminder of the despised legacy of colonial times. Regardless, the three-letter airport designation for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport where we landed remains: BOM.

Home to a metropolitan area population of over twenty-one million people, it is the capital city of the Indian State of Maharashtra where the “highest number of Indian millionaires and billionaires” reside and where one of the largest slums in Asia, Dharavi, is located. Seven islands in the natural deep harbor make up the city which was the original home of the ethnic Koli people.

As I am with Aashish and overhear him arranging this and that for us, I hear him switching languages mid-sentence. English is spoken here but the official language of the state is Marathi. Of course, Hindi is widely spoken but, I am told, so is Gujarati, Kannada, Telugu, Konkani, Dangii and Varhadii. Aashish tells me his “switching” is mostly between English and Hindi with a bit of Marathi thrown in, depending upon to whom he is speaking.

The world’s second most expensive home is located here and we drive by it often (the most expensive, according to Architectural Digest, is Buckingham Palace). It is owned by our groom’s father, Mukesh Ambani. The 400,000-square-foot “$1-2 billion Antilia” on Mumbai’s Cumballa Hills’ Altamount Road has been passed by but not visited by us several times on this trip. Six of its twenty-seven floors are dedicated to garaging a fleet of automobiles. Chicago-based architects Perkins and Will designed it to include three helipads, Australian construction company Leighton Holdings built it and a staff of 600 maintain it. It was formerly the site of the Currimbhoy Ebrahim Khoja Yateemkhana Muslim orphanage and the land’s acquisition was said to have been illegal pending a still active court case.

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Ambani is said to have not yet moved into the high-rise structure, allegedly because the building doesn’t conform to the ancient doctrine of Vastu Shastra which caters to the importance of “directional alignments to create spiritual harmony.” That may be idle gossip—in this day and age who knows? Hillary Clinton reportedly attended one of the many functions of Akesh’s sister Isha’s wedding that was held at Antilia in December.

Here, destitution and opulence compete but neither vanquishes the other. In India, you can simply soak in the chaos while you ponder it. The wealth gap here is pronounced, visible and assaulting. People's money and the lack of it drive my perception of the place. I ramble too much in the next many paragraphs because wealth here conflicts me. I hope you will tolerate and forgive as I write too much. Should you wish, skip ahead; you will have lost only my bewilderment at the reality of India.

What of the economic arguments currently offered by U.S. politicians Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? They offer sketchy plans to tax extremely high levels of earned income at much higher levels and tax already amassed vast wealth of the super-rich. If these plans are to punish the wealthy, then I reject them. If they are to aim at perpetuating and advancing while enhancing a civil society then I think they must be the source of analytical thinking and perhaps endorsement.

“Abolish Billionaires” is an argument that is, I think, poorly stated and most certainly stupid. Princeton University moral philosopher Peter Singer’s book, “The Life You Can Save,” offers the idea that the rich should be doing more to improve those who are mired in extreme poverty. To me, that is obviously true. But the question must become: should that philanthropy be voluntary or mandatory?

I suppose that, at some point, one has more money than one can ever spend, and, at that point, the amassing of even more money is about the ego exercise of getting your name higher on the “wealthiest persons” list than anything else. “Look at me,” one might say, “I am the world’s richest person.” The Sanders-Warren-Ocasio-Cortez philosophy, if only it could be properly framed by someone savvier than they might instead be, “Look at me, I am the world’s most generous person, doing the most good for humanity.”

It is estimated that there are 2,200 billionaires in the world. Five hundred of them are in the United States. Just under 200 of them have signed “The Giving Pledge” created by B4’s Warren Buffet and Microsoft’s Bill and Melinda Gates. But, it is also significant to me that the “Pledge” distributes their money only after they have held onto it for longer than they could have ever made use of it, negating the work it might have done if philanthropically distributed earlier.

I have always believed that money in circulation is “good” while money amassed in sums beyond a plan to deploy it is “bad.” It is bad because, without deployment, money does no good but sooth the anxious ego.

The wealth gap in this nation and at home in America may very well one day backfire on us. A “French Revolution” could and will again occur when those with nothing are taunted by a social media frenzy quoting the “Let them eat cake” perceived or real insensitivity of the super-rich. It is inevitable.

When one’s basic human needs are unmet and one is armed, violence will follow. That violence will be targeted at the perceived source of selfishness that one blames for one’s suffering.

The argument becomes: if the billionaires of the world won’t give their money away, should we then take it (tax it) away? That answer must be, as one of my classes on ej4 opines: “No, But, If.” “No. But, their wealth will grow even larger if they spread it around and, by having done so, it comes back to their businesses and investments in even greater amounts.” Wash, rinse, repeat.

As more people have more disposable income, business and industry thrive because they sell more goods and services in exchange for that disposable income. The employees and shareholders of those businesses ultimately benefit because they do more business. Ours is a consumer society where one becomes super-rich by selling other people more things to consume. Those things bring them happiness (if consumed in moderation) and the wheels on the bus go round and round and round.

B4 and I are off to the HDS office. There is always work to be done, employees to be made to feel proud and a valued part of the team and stones to be seen. We meet with Bobby and Boris and Vaibhav and Scott and others discussing strategy and plans and tactics galore. Our wedding venue is just off the office balcony and preparations are hectic. Money is being spent and that is a wonderful thing because that's all its good for.

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Selfishly, I want the billions to come out of storage and into use. If only we could, as a society, begin to admire, even if grudgingly, those who spend (and thereby spread) their wealth rather than hoard it.

To come full circle, I applaud the spending of $100 million on a wedding and on a bachelor party in St Moritz for 500 because those events require that money be put into circulation rather than hoarded. It ultimately goes into the pockets of working people who then spend it to, first, satisfy their own basic needs and, second, spend it on some luxury of their own choosing.

So, “eliminating billionaires” (which shouldn’t really happen) in this way creates hoards of “thousandaires.” That, I proffer, is a better thing for everyone. Economic inclusion just might facilitate racial, ethnic and religious inclusion. Fear and hate would then atrophy along the way because there is no group to envy or blame. More jobs mean more earned income, less crime and more happiness.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” If only there were words surrounding that adding something about “certain unalienable Responsibilities, that among these are philanthropy, even if selfish.”

So, it is with great honor that we, B4 and I, are at the wedding of Shloka Mehta (Ambani) whose mission in life is not diamonds or wireless communications or real estate. Her mission is Philanthropy. You go Shlo. Akash, keep making money so she can use it to make the world a better place. That is what capitalism, when it is at its best, must and can do.

So, this India that we visit is a fascinating, confounding and mysterious place. Nine hundred million Indians are under the age of 35. For reference, the entire population of the United States is but 325 million. Let that sink in for a moment. Think of the number of new jobs that must be created each year to support the vast numbers of young people entering the job market--at a vastly greater velocity than older people leaving it. Why do we obsess about growth? That’s why; our population is growing.

A recent study described India’s economic situation thusly: “India’s new “lower-middle” class lives on $2-$4 per day (vendors, maids, carpenters), the “middle-middle” class is anyone living between $4-$6 a day while the “upper-middle” is categorized as anyone living between $6-$10 a day. “Affluent” are categorized as anyone living on $10 or more a day. Now let that sink in for a moment.

One cannot, of course, relate these figures to the cost of living in the United States. In India, a monthly high-speed data smartphone plan costs as little as $2.25. However, the McKinsey Global Institute says that if India continues on its current trend line, average household incomes will triple over the next twenty years making the country the world’s fifth-largest consumer economy. That means more people with discretionary income able to buy more non-necessity items.

But, today, more than half of India’s population depends, as in former times, on agriculture to survive. Under a new tax proposal here, small-scale farmers would receive annual supplemental payments of about $85, equivalent to “about a month’s earnings.” Reports indicate that “thousands of farmers, despondent over dwindling yields and seemingly endless bills, commit suicide.” This distress is caused by a variety of factors, among them shrinking plots of land, high prices for fertilizers and climate change.

To supplement the cost of their survival, rickshaw pullers, bricklayers, tea sellers, maids, drivers, watchmen and millions of others are also slated to receive government bonuses under the plan.

The ubiquitous wealth dichotomy is nothing less than stunning.

Indian President Narendra Modi was elected five years ago and is up for reelection in balloting the New York Times reports is “likely to be held by early May.” For foreign visitors, election season always adds potentially sensitive drama, particularly so in a nation the size and complexity of India. This vote was recently considered, “A walk for Mr. Modi (but) now seems too close to call.”

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This is in a country where, in the last election, more than a dozen political parties elected Parliamentary representatives divided by region, religion or caste. No party will, it is predicted, win the outright majority vote needed to control Parliament forcing strategic alliances to be made. Yet, still, I read that the old adage is perhaps certain: “Indians don’t cast their vote, they vote their caste.”

The 3,000-year-old caste system was banned my lifetime ago soon after India’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1947. Stemming from original Hindu teaching, the system divided Hindus by occupation with priests and scholars at the top followed by warriors, traders and laborers and finally by untouchables—night soil workers. For 72 years the system is claimed to be dead. I cannot know the truth of this and our surroundings call it into question.

Remarkably, In November 2016, the current government moved to eliminate not caste but cash. Called “demonetization,” the move was designed to crack down on “illicit cash transactions.” Six months later, the government implemented a single tax: the “Goods and Services Tax.”

Arguments leading up to the election abound: is the current unemployment rate skyrocketing to 6.1% or not, is the economy enjoying robust growth at 7% or not? One disputed report says unemployment is at a 45-year high. Another says it is not. But, understand that with the rapidly growing population, India needs to create 1,000,000 new jobs every month just to keep up.

Meanwhile the Indian government has proposed Chinese style internet content restrictions, banning posts or videos that are deemed “libelous, invasive of privacy, hateful or deceptive.” On the other hand, the Indian Supreme Court belatedly but laudably decriminalized homosexuality last year.

According to the U.S. Department of State, “Indian authorities report rape is one of the fastest growing crimes in India. Violent crime, such as sexual assault, has occurred at tourist sites and in other locations.” British Broadcasting Company reports that male Hindu College students in Delhi hang condoms filled from water from “The Virgin Tree” and then pray for virginity ending “curvaceous goddesses” to appear…within six months. Female students protest this ritual.

The U.S. State Department also reports, “Terrorist or armed groups are active in East Central India, primarily in rural areas.” In February, 40 or more Indian forces were killed in a suicide attack in India-administered Kashmir—an area Pakistan describes as “Indian Occupied.” The air force skirmish I wrote about in an earlier post resulted in the aftermath.

For your reference, wedding site Mumbai is located far from there on India’s central west coast. Nonetheless, we are warned that security will be tight. We seem armed guards, both in and out of uniform, with advanced weaponry at the ready. As recently as last Monday morning, we were again requested to “urgently” send copies of our passports and Indian visas to the wedding organizers for, we assume, security purposes. (I had already sent them but re-sent them regardless)

We have RFID wristbands for ourselves and cards for our driver’s car for admission. We will carry copies of our passports and visas as well.

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When they scan these wristbands, they look up and call us by name. That's a new experience for us.

And, if all of that were not enough, amazingly, Science Magazine reported in February that since 2014, Hindu nationalism here is on the rise. “Experts” supporting that native pride have been telling the uneducated and ill-informed populace that Indian scientific advances preceded those of the west. Evidence of the fact is that the internet, spacecraft and nuclear weapons existed in India in ancient times, long before their supposed discovery by western cultures centuries later. Fake News? Ah, one supposes so.

Tonight we dine at the Taj Palace. We are exhausted and I drift in and out of sleep at the dinner table as the unforgiving reality of an 11.5 hour shift in my body clock relentlessly reminds me that it may seem to be one time while it is actually quite another.

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We walked through downtown Mumbai this afternoon with a guide. The cacophony and chaos of the place envelopes you. Tuk Tuks (three wheeled mini-taxi-type scooters) race here and there dodging motorbikes and vehicle taxis. Some traffic signals are referred to by our guide as merely "suggestions." A symphony of horns assaults you and, eventually, becomes simply background noise, honks to be ignored as they become ubiquitous. It is hot but not too hot; everyone comments that the weather is quite mild. We eat Chinese food for both lunch and dinner because we know what it is. We consume no ice in our drinks. We are mindful of our surroundings; I keep nothing in my back pockets. Women are colorful, always dressed to the nines. Men dress in black and white, mindless of how they look in their short sleeve white shirts and dark trousers. Street vendors abound, food is cooked, sugar cane water is offered for sale, freshly squeezed, phone cases and socks and books and more are offered to everyone who passes but most don't buy.

As the wedding is now upon us, we absorb it all with the clear and stark realization that we aren't in Kansas any more.

Posted by paulej4 19:11 Archived in India Tagged mumbai billionaires Comments (2)

Trident; Clothing Optional

Beautiful, modern, exquisitely staffed, perhaps too minimalist

sunny 88 °F

The Trident, BKC, Bandra-Kurla; Mumbai’s choice for nudists. Or, Mumbai's choice for those who travel without an extra change of clothes.

This ten story, 412-room, 24-suite hotel is contemporary to a fault. The bathroom/toilet has glass walls separating it from the bedroom. A motorized sheer curtain shields it on one side and the glass is frosted on the other side.

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However, this is of little value when, in the middle of the night, a seventy-something guest needs to use the facilities without bathing his sleeping companion in light.

There is not a single drawer for unpacked storage of clothing other than a couple of painfully shallow sliders—and they are mostly filled with hotel items. The closet offers about 18 inches of hanging space. The two of us are spending five nights here needing space for three complex Indian wardrobes along with our regular western clothing. Needless to say, it all doesn’t fit.

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When asked, the staff said they would promptly send up a clothes rack. The rack is very short so, to hang longer garments on it, one must place the rack atop a table. That solution, however, allows long garments only on the very ends of the rack. It’s hard to explain; suffice to say there is no space in our room for clothes. When staying here, it is recommended to bring no clothes.

The staff at the Trident is the most gracious, accommodating, polite and solicitous group I have ever encountered in any hotel anywhere in the world. The waiter for our first-morning breakfast greeted me as “Mr. Paul” (traditional in a large part of our planet for an older gentleman such as myself)—and remarked that he was dedicated to making us comfortable for our extended stay here. He was not a manager—he was a waiter. "Please, how is your stay?" he asked. I, with a smile, commented that I had no place to hang all my wedding clothes.

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Three days later, this appeared outside our door. It was his doing; nobody else at the hotel knew of our lack of hanging space. Remember; he's a dining room waiter. It took three days, but still... Check in for our room was handled...in the room. That's a first.

I would love to know how training works here because I’ll tell you this: Wow.

As an American, I am accustomed to tipping. In our room, there is a table tent on display: “Should you wish to leave gratuities for staff, please place the gratuities in a sealed envelope and leave the envelope at the Front Desk. We do not encourage gratuities to individual members of the staff.”

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Rates here start at 12,000 rupees per night, breakfast included. That translates to just a tiny bit over $170.00 US. Our club room with breakfast and complimentary airport transportation can be had for $217.00 per night.

Beginning on Friday, March 8, every room and suite, all 436 of them, is reserved for guests at this wedding. The ceremony itself is held a short walk from the Trident’s front door at Jio World Centre, Bandra Kurla Complex. We can see it out our tenth floor window (which is, unfortunately, cracked).

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On the adjacent side, we can also see the U.S. Consulate where visa applicants line up. It's not the only lineup visible out our window; pigeons love to queue up along the window ledges. But, I shouldn't have shown you that. I'm not supposed to take photographs out the window. I didn't know that until after I had already taken them. Last, especially for the wedding, there is this special room service menu. A note accompanied it: "Dear Guest, Greetings of the day! We trust you are having a comfortable stay with us. Please be apprised that your room, taxes, buffet breakfast, spa, selected in-room food and beverage, laundry and sightseeing will be taken care of by the organizer. Any incidentals over and above would be on a direct payment basis. Warm regards, Team Front Desk." Our hosts have provided us with a car and driver which we have used but not as much as the driver would have liked. Our host Aashish has been accommodating in every way making certain that we're perfectly served; it is clear that we are his charges for this event. I've seen wedding parties take over hotels but not at this level. I am told that the Ambani family owns this property. They make the guest feel as if he or she owns it. My praise vastly exceeds my critical observations.

PS: Namaste, over and over and over. It is used both for salutation and valediction. Namaste is usually spoken with a slight bow and hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, thumbs close to the chest. This gesture is called Añjali Mudrā or Pranamasana. In Hinduism, it means "I bow to the divine in you". And we bow to you, Trident Bandra Kurla. Nicely done.

Posted by paulej4 02:50 Archived in India Tagged mumbai complex bandra trident kurla Comments (3)

Make Haste to the Hasta Melap

Love is what brings us together

sunny 88 °F

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My favorite movie of all time is “The Princess Bride.” In the film, at a climactic moment, a wedding—or almost a wedding—occurs. The impressive officiant, who lisps, has these lines: “Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam… And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva… So tweasure your wuv.” For fun, watch the scene here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEe1cTDbXHU

B4 and I have come to a “Love Marriage” rather than an “Arranged Marriage.” It is ‘tru wuv” that has brought us all together. Parents didn’t arrange this match; love between Shloka and Akash created this match. You can see it.

Today, the ornate invitation card says: “wedding Ceremony.” Baraat Swagat & High Tea 6:30pm. Hasta Melap 8:01pm. Followed by Dinner. FYI: Our attire is Indian Ceremonial. We are excited to be here, honored and agog.

Baraat means "Procession." Swagat is "Welcome." It is said that "You only get once chance to make a first impression." This is that.

Hasta Melap literally means: Joining of Hands. The Hindu marriage ceremony, conducted by a priest in the ancient Sanskrit language, is consecrated in accordance with the sacred scriptures of the Hindus: The Vedas.

Here, the marriage is more than the joining of two persons, it is a larger joining of two families. There is much that happens. A Welcoming of the Groom, Prayers, The Arrival of the Bride, A Garland binds the two together, The Joining of Hands, The Bride is Given Away, An Exchange of Garlands, An Offering to the Fire, Steps Around the Fire, Seven Vows (more on that in a second), The Sacred Necklace (and, in a modern touch: RINGS!), The First Meal Together and, finally, Blessings from Their Elders--and from us as friends.

One of the elders blessed was Russell Mehta's father, Arunkumar Ramniklal Mehta. We had a fine discussion with him before the ceremony about the diamond and gem adorned buttons on his sherwani (jacket). He was so pleased at my praising of those buttons that he high-fived me. Twice.

The Seven Vows are: We will respect each other. We will care for each other. We will be patient with each other. We will be honest and faithful to each other. We will be together in sorrow and happiness. We will travel this journey of life with love and harmony. We will keep our family happy, healthy, and strong. Good advice, say we, for Hindu, Jew, Christian, Muslim; everyone.

It is quite something and quite beautiful and quite over the top; no, not over the top...over the top of the top's top. We have, frankly, never seen anything even remotely comparable to this. B4 says William and Kate have nothing on Shloka and Akash. This is even wilder than the fireworks I sprung for at the wedding of my daughter Megan and son-in-law Eric and that was really something to see. I am not really sure where to begin; except at the beginning.

First, we dressed up. Way up. My stole is worn as did royalty of yesteryear; I am of yesteryear so it seems fitting. B4's gown is petticoated to such a degree that getting into the car was a chore.

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My shoes hurt. They really aren't shoes; they're slippers worn without socks and, by night's end, worn nearly without the nail on my right big toe. Our car picked us up and shuttled us and Aashish the half-mile or so to the first event ever held at the newly completed (yesterday) Jio World Centre at the Bandra Kurla Complex. Owned and developed by the Ambanis, we are told this was constructed to be ready for this event--in six months time. That, to me, is not possible but I am assured that it is true. a98494f0-42ab-11e9-a236-4b5450487830.JPG77fb27a0-42ab-11e9-a236-4b5450487830.JPG795e6120-42ab-11e9-a0dd-f784a0070666.JPGB4ReceptionHall.JPG9f8c52d0-42dd-11e9-9172-730735fcc32b.jpgThey worked 24/7 and just squeezed it in. And you don't have to squeeze in because it is cavernous. And everywhere what is normally raw concrete is iced in flowers. Millions of flowers are covering every surface imaginable. Even the metal detectors were garlanded. The procession of the groom--and a zillion other men--is rowdy and loud and celebratorily testoronized with much puffing of chests, high-fiving and all around adolescent behavior which is tamed by females who remind the groom that he is soon to settle down. It is theatre, loud and bawdy and quite fun. Golf carts--or 'buggies" as they are called here, whisked you down wide corridors flanked with fresh flowers made into various delights including a motorized peacock who displayed every few seconds. You could, if you like, stop at various stations offering tidbits of food and drink or sweets. We didn't but many did. Security.JPG01576c00-42ae-11e9-a236-4b5450487830.JPGDivided into three separate thirds, the center reception hall greeted you with fountains in front of a waterfall. Again, flowers dominate. There is food and drink here as well. Remember, no alcohol and no meat or chicken or fish. Nobody misses any of that including us. On the left is the wedding "chapel." This room is elevated with risers hosting stuffed chairs and couches, each seat equipped with a goody bag containing a program of sorts, a bottle of water, a snack and a silver whistle/tamborine device used for noisemaking at appropriate times. We quickly located our reserved seats...on the front row. Our friends from Israel, the Tannenbaums, beautifully attired, were close by. But then, everyone was beautifully attired. At home, elegant black would be worn. Here, other than Elliot's magnificent Indian tuxedo type sherwani, black was seldom seen. Instead, a cacophony of color and pattern and hue, elegantly wrapped with nine-yards of fabric needed to create a sari was the rule. American women could take a lesson from these Indian fashionistas and boutiques from coast to coast would find their sales soaring. Duppattas (the over-the-shoulder shawl often seen) would be a major accessory additional item used to increase the average transaction size (me: once a retail consultant, always a retail consultant). Men too; elegant tuxedos pale compared to what we men sported. It would also be good for the salon industry. Prior to leaving the Trident B4 and I visited the draping and hair preparation salon to ensure that we looked our best in our unfamiliar finery.

We would learn later that cues on when to shake the aforementioned tambourines were provided by beautiful cheerleader-type maidens who artfully led us to perfect timing. On the right is the massive dining room. There one finds--later on--various food stations hugging hundreds of tables set with flowers and candles.

FrontRowSeats.JPGAmbanisAltar.JPGbd525b10-42ac-11e9-b194-5d080a34e271.JPGSecurity.JPGSecurity is tight but not as tight as were the flowers sculpted together in seamless renditions of parakeets or, my favorite, elephants. aa0bed60-42ab-11e9-b194-5d080a34e271.JPGShlokaMobileWide1.JPGc75fb590-42ab-11e9-a0dd-f784a0070666.JPGWe got seated for the wedding around 8:00, moments before the 8:01 announced start time. But, we quickly learned that the time--chosen because of priestly calculation to assure maximum good fortune--was for something else; not the actual Hindu wedding ceremony. Time passed so B4 stepped out to stretch her legs and chat and more time passed. Mr. Ambani also passed between us and the "altar" several times. The 8:01 Hasta Melap misled us regarding timing. The bride did not arrive in her floral "Shlokamobile" for the commencement of the actual ceremony until 10:15. A quick hour or slightly more of ceremony--which we could follow with our program--later and we were headed for dinner. All thousand plus or so of us at once.

A vast buffet of foods of all types--as long as they are vegetarian (I couldn't stop thinking about ej4's Mandy who would have been in Heaven here), were on offer and stretched for a football field of length. We opted for European cuisine (way in the back) enjoying Mushroom Wellington and Onion Pizza Tarts. Next to that was an Indian dish best described as mashed potatoes with a mozzarella-type cheese and truffles. (I thought of neighbor Sam). The chef apologized for having only six kilos of truffles on hand but that didn't stop him from shaving them robustly and generously. Asking if that wasn't enough he remarked that he used twenty-six kilos at the Academy Awards. While plenty of money was spread around the local economy, the globe benefitted as many of the chefs and their staffs were clearly imported. Stars with stars I think.TrufflesSixKilos.JPG We chatted with friends and others and finally sought out Russell and Mona to make our thank-you's. Expressing the honor of being invited to an event such as this is expected but what was not expected was Russell's heartfelt talk of the honor he felt that B4 would come all this way to honor his family. Namaste after namaste followed, respect being exchanged across the room and across the globe.

On the way out we strolled beneath the upside-down flower gardens hung from the ceiling, we posed by the floral violet peacock and we stopped by the "parting-gift chocolatier" who made up custom to-go boxes of amazing confections to accompany the silver candle favor that was handed to B4 as we departed. There was a coffee bar/tea bar on one side and ice cream on the other side--among various other offerings and all of that was after we had eaten a delicious meal. Even the pick up area for our chauffer-driven BMW was decked out in lights strung to make an electric tunnel for boarding and departing. Surrounding streets and trees, closed by municipal authorities for the event, were festooned as well. The roadside was decorated with light strands hanging from every tree illuminating more garlands of flowers wishing us a safe and prosperous trip home and beyond. a8684f80-42ab-11e9-a0dd-f784a0070666.JPGUpsideDownFlowerCeiline.JPGChauffeurPickUpTunnel1.JPG

These words and photographs do not do justice to the event. Live music from two separate Indian orchestras and another Indian band kept us entertained and embraced every step of the ceremony itself. Staff was everywhere providing whatever needed to be provided. Water? Here you go. Juices? We've got many types. Coconut water was a favorite among these Indian revelers. We are told that "thousands" of staff were needed to place the flowers and set up the venue. The event team (many of whom were also in St. Moritz for pre-wedding festivities) all signed Non-Disclosure Agreements and shouldn't have even told us that they signed the Non-Disclosure Agreements about which I just made unattributed disclosure. I'll take the fifth if asked.

In front of our seats at the wedding ceremony itself--front row remember--was a group of eight young folks who each held wicker baskets with linen linings. We would learn just prior to the ceremony that those baskets were to hold the shoes of the wedding party when they mounted the alter which, it appears, was a "barefoot" zone.

Bollywood movie stars were everywhere and mostly easy to spot as they strutted with sunglasses or inappropriately attired in too-casual designer jeans. Everyone else--everyone--was dressed to the nines. Diamonds the size of lifesavers adorned necks and foreheads and earlobes. Emeralds and rubies glittered. Our guess is that most of it was real. There were many multiples of diamonds in many necklaces, as B4 notes, "all appeared to be of the highest color grades." Mrs. Ambani's necklace hosted diamonds so large that we needed sunglasses to handle the spectral reflection even at our medium-distance audience perch. Many of the women, Mona Mehta and Shloka included, sported impressive diamond nose rings (nathori, I think) which are quite the rage but to our western eyes are less appealing--other than the fact that they increase sales of diamonds which is always a good thing. And, of course, there is the gold or gem bindi (Hindi from Sanskrit bindú), meaning "point, drop, dot or small particle" worn on the centre of the forehead. I wished that B4 had one. All the beautiful young--and not-so-young--fashiionistas wore them.

We know some folks with lots of beautiful diamonds (Shirley, are you reading any of this) but these ladies would make Gideon (our NYC diamond guru-extraordinary) gasp. B4 was in a state of disbelief more than once, be sure of that.

Oh, did I mention that we had a nice chat with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair? Well, we did. Or that we had another chat with Google CEO Sundar Pichai and his beautiful wife, Anjali? We discussed B4's PhD son and his AI and machine learning experience as Sundar's eyes widened a bit when we mentioned by whom Edward is employed. We send a big "thank you" to our friend Sam for teaching me the technique to get those conversations to happen.
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I noted that former US House of Representative member Eric Cantor (you may recall he was stunningly defeated a couple of cycles ago) was working the room but we didn't stop to chat with him. I suppose his vice-chairman seat at investment bank Moelis & Company has to do with his attendance at an Indian billionaire's son's wedding. He was dressed in western clothing and stood out because of it. One other western clothes wearing gentlemen sported a fine tuxedo but he fit in because he topped it off with a colorful turban. We felt at home in our Indian Ceremonial attire and are wondering when we might get an opportunity to sport these duds again.

Somehow, the Symphony Ball doesn't seem like the right place. But; you never know. You never know.794ef7d0-42ab-11e9-a236-4b5450487830.JPG

Posted by paulej4 18:10 Archived in India Tagged wedding Comments (10)

The Celebration coup de grâce

There's a party goin' on right here A celebration to last throughout the years So bring your good times and your laughter too We gonna celebrate your party with you

sunny 90 °F

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Tonight's the night. Icing upon the cake or, better here, the chutney on the veg empanada. In any event, it is our final night in Mumbai celebrating with Shloka Mehta-Ambani and Akash Ambani along with Shloka's wonderful and gracious parents, Russell and Mona. We have greeted and been greeted by Russell and Mona multiple times and we are sympathetic to the pace they have been enduring. We are so appreciative of being included and treated like royalty.

After breakfast and sending in some laundry and dry cleaning (so we can begin with a clean slate tomorrow as we head for Jaipur) B4 has a facial and we lunch with Dov, Deb and Elliot Tannenbaum and Anna Martin. There is much industry talk here over the The Indian Express news story headlined: 039a7300-4302-11e9-a551-451a6e6a77f9.JPGChoksi firm most likely sold lab-grown diamonds, not natural stones: US probe. And, of course, there is more: “Nirav Modi and his maternal uncle Mehul Choksi are being investigated by Indian investigating agencies after the Punjab National Bank reported that it had been cheated of Rs 13,600 crore through fraudulent issue of letters LoUs and foreign letters of credit (FLCs). Modi (not the Indian Prime Minister) made international headlines again in early October 2018 when Los Angeles entrepreneur, Paul Alfonso, filed a US$4.2 million lawsuit in Los Angeles against Modi and two of his now defunct companies namely Firestar Diamond Inc. and A. Jaffe Inc. According to court records from the Superior Court of California, Modi fraudulently sold two custom diamond engagement rings to Alfonso that turned out to be lab diamonds. The value of both diamond rings were US$200,000. So, even at a wedding halfway round the globe, business follows B4.

Before we can depart for lunch, however, the ever-consciencious Trident staff--this time from the laundry, informs me that a part of the embroidery from one of my garments is missing. We'll see what that's about upon its return but it could help me to decide whether or not to ever wear it again.

After lunch I am off to the car and a ride with Anand to see "the real Mumbai," TukTuks.JPGbut, since it is Sunday, the real Mumbai has taken the day off. There aren't even many tut tuks on the street. I decide Anand should take the day off too and he returns me to the Trident where B4 has continued her business. And, of course, lots of business she does. Today's story on the Shloka/Akash Wedding (with photos) in The Sunday Mumbai Mirror says, "Bollywood stars, top celebrities, corporate honchos from around the world, politicians, former statesmen, world leaders and prominent artists were among the grandees who attended." While they didn't mention B4 by name, I knew to whom they were referring.Headlines.JPG

The inaugural performance at the Ambani Theatre at the Jio World Center is tonight, introduced by Mr. Ambani himself.

TridentRoofFireworks.JPGPaulB4Outfit3a.JPGIt feels like Cirque de Mumbai and is a water spectacular topped off by fireworks. Then, we're off for dinner with a couple thousand friends and business associates; conversation about labs and centers and fashion and forehead jewelry in America and jewelry for men (me). We ride on the "World's Largest Passenger Elevator." c95fc3e0-4372-11e9-8997-93bd635c9f13.JPGAlso cool I guess.

Then we retire to the massive convention center where we are again treated to foods of the world, still vegetarian and open bars galore. I have both champagne and cabernet sauvignon with my meal. Conversation with Ragin, who runs Rosy Blue in the United States, is again enlightening and stimulating and most enjoyable. He is both affable and intuitive and I could sit with him and chat for hours. I make a point to honestly praise Aashish who has parented us for these few days.

Later we move to the other side of the facility where we're joined by Adam Levine and three other Maroon 5 members doing a hastily put together acoustic set without the benefit of drums. Their first time in India, Levine said, as he struggled to get the crowd to come alive. He sort of did and sort of didn't.

The band that made "Moves Like Jagger" (with Christina Aguilera), "This Love" and "Harder to Breathe" seemed, well, marooned here, jet lagged and confused. But, that's just me. The venue was uncomfortable with no seating and nowhere near the capacity needed to handle the crowd. Lucky for those who couldn't get in there were multiple closed circuit TV screens in the lobbies.

c9628300-4372-11e9-b67a-65cd0203e0fa.JPGB4atMaroonFive.JPGWe tire of the accommodations on the floor--or the bottom step to it--and, noting that the vape bar is beginning to send its ambiance our way, exit the scene. PannCompany.JPGPannCompanyProcess.JPGPaulB4TreeLights.JPGWe stop for a Pann Company mint leaf concoction and then walk the two blocks, beneath festively decorated trees, back to the Trident. The night is wonderful and the weather is perfect. It is 1:00am when we get back to our Club Room.

We need to pack for tomorrow's travels. We do. We have three more outfits of clothing than when we entered India. I brought extra suitcase capacity but I hadn't really counted on how much room a crinoline petticoat can take up. We have two.B4PaulFlowersTridentCU.jpg

Posted by paulej4 14:22 Archived in India Comments (0)

From Peacock to Feather Duster

I'm using her slogan for our problem

sunny 88 °F

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B4 often says about things well planned that collapse, "You can start as a Peacock and come out as a Feather Duster, or vice versa." She is saying you could be doing great and then things go south. We are south.

Up early, packed early, fed early, ready to go, set to go, gone to the airport. Our Jet Airways flight from Mumbai to Jaipur is not listed on the departures board. We have no boarding pass so we cannot go inside the airport to the ticket counter to inquire but Jet Airways has a customer relations station out on the driveway island. We queue up and are told that our flight has been cancelled. "When?" On February 26. Today is March 11. Back on February 26, I was vacationing in Mexico.

Why were we not notified? "That's your travel agents job." Our travel agent, Sandeep Bathija - Destination Globe, booked the flight and accepted payment from us for the flight. However, Destination Globe did not notify us.

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So, we stand on the sidewalk. Were it not for Aashish, I don't know what we would be doing at this juncture. Aashish, so valuable to us during this journey comes through again. He gets us rebooked on a later flight; Unfortunately much later. He gets us boarding passes. He helps us to notify our Jaipur hotel.

We enter the airport, search for the JetAir (that's 9w) business class counter, can't find it, still can't find it, and then finally do find it. They tell us that we can't check in because we are too early. We explain that we are not early; we are on time, IF the flight had not been cancelled. "Can't you help us," I ask. "We didn't cancel the flight."

Oh, yes. They can help. But, "You cannot use the business class lounge because the time to use it is limited to three hours prior to the flight and since you are on a later flight, you are ahead of the three hour time limit." Really? Fortunately for us, we are, courtesy of credit card issuers to travelers such as us, members of a thing called Priority Pass. The lounge accepts Priority Pass cards. But, when we present the card, we are told again about the three hour limit. A nice man in a suit comes up from behind and reminds the receptionist that we have business class tickets which allows for three hours and Priority Pass membership which allows for three more hours and suggests that should be quite enough.

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After much pondering it is decided that is enough and we are admitted.

Instead of 2:05pm to Jaipur we are scheduled for 6:55 to Jaipur. Instead of arriving at 4:00pm and heading off for our specialty hotel stay and a specially arranged 6:30pm dinner for B4, we will arrive at the airport at 8:50pm, at the hotel around 10:00--too late for a dinner of any sort. Since we are being picked up at 8:30 tomorrow morning for the long drive to our next hotel, the luxury experience at the Rambagh Palace is wasted. Thanks, JetAir.

B4's peacock? Feather Duster. Thanks, Destination Globe for the heads up.

What are we missing out on? Built in 1835, the Rambagh Palace was, before becoming a Taj Hotel, populated by maharajas outside the walls of India’s “pink city” of Jaipur. Described as holding a “unique character that is quintessentially Rajput”, is the gateway to all of Rajasthan—a place across which, in late December, 2011, I spent a week aboard train known as “The Palace on Wheels,” and rode an elephant piloted by a “mamout” to The Amber Fort. The word Rajput refers to “the son of a king” but here that includes any of about 12 million landowners of multiple clans, mostly Hindu but with a significant minority of Muslims as well. There are many more poverty dwellers here than sons of kings.

In 2011, I wrote these words in my blog: “In its day, Jaipur was described as the best planned city in the entire world. The Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II founded this, “the Pink City” in 1727. By law here, there is but one color to paint your house.” That was eight years ago.

As for the hotel—where Jacqueline Kennedy once stayed but I have not—it is described as a royal experience. There are 79 rooms or suites: three “Grand Royal Suites,” five “Royal Suites,” 23 “Historical Suites,” 41 “Palace Rooms,” and five “Luxury Rooms.” We have a Palace Room. We will sleep in it.

For an in-depth look, view one or more of the thirteen videos posted on YouTube by searching, “Rambagh Palace Jaipur.”

Many if not most of those who asked about our plan after the wedding remarked, upon hearing that we were spending time at the Rambagh Palace, “Oh, you’ll love that place. It is amazing.” What they didn't know was the definition of "time." Again, thanks Destination Globe.

I fear I may be too subtle in my writing here. I am highly displeased with Destination Globe and only slightly less so with Jet Air.

Now that I have levied criticism upon Destination Globe and Jet Air, let me take some blame for myself. I certainly could have re-confirmed this flight, much as I did every flight I took--twenty years ago when that was necessary. But, this is India. I should have thought about it; I should have known, I should have acted on my instinct. I am now "shoulding" all over myself because, truth be told, I am ultimately to blame.

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To paraphrase Jimmy (not Warren) Buffet:

Wasted away again in Mumbai Airportville
Searchin' for my long cancelled flight
Some people claim that there's an agent to blame
But I know, it's my own damn fault
Yes, and some people claim that there's a agent to blame
And I know it's my own damn fault

They should change the logo at the lounge (did you see it in the picture above?) from a Peacock to a Feather Duster. That's what I am.3689ec00-43de-11e9-8add-f50e2db139c9.jpg

Posted by paulej4 02:17 Archived in India Comments (3)

Rambagh Palace

Almost missed it

sunny 80 °F

Thanks to Jet Airways, we very nearly missed The Rambagh Palace. What a shame it would have been to not spend even the ten hours that we were able to salvage. This is a truly spectacular place.

Upon arrival, at 10:00pm, our Mercedes (arranged by Aashish) was greeted by two turbaned attendants who motioned us to the staircase where we were literally showered from above by rose petals. Our photograph was taken after which we climbed a few more stairs to be festooned with forehead bindis (among countless namaste) and a flower garland. The staff were well aware that we had been detained and were solicitous as to how they could help us enjoy our time regardless. RambaughPalace304QueenFootbathWide.JPGRambaughPalace304RoorJPG.JPGRambaughPalaceCentralCourtyard.JPGRambaughPalaceB4Waiter.JPGRambaughPalace304EarPlugs.JPGRambaughPalace304LivingRoom.JPGRambaughPalace304WelcomeLetter.JPGRambaughPalaceB4Dinner.JPGRambaughPalace304Bed2.JPGRambaughPalace304Soap.JPGRambaughPalaceLobby.JPGRambaughPalace304Bathroom.JPGRambaughPalaceDinnerGarden2.JPGRambaughPalace304Queen.JPG

Helping to make that happen, we were upgraded to a Historical Suite. The published rate for Suite 304 is just a tad under $900 U.S. per night. But that does include breakfast and free WiFi. We left our luggage in this impressive suite and immediately headed for the Rajput Main Dining Room's verandah. I had some fettuccini, B4 enjoyed a piece of salmon and we shared a bottle of Italian prosecco, basking in the cool evening air surrounded by candle light and accomplished waiters and wait staff. The Executive Chef, Sameer Shah, still working at this late hour, came to greet us and have a chat. Because I had eaten only half of my fettuccini, he was concerned that it was not to my liking which, I assured him, was not the case.RambaghPalaceQueenDescending.JPGRambaghPalacePeacockAtBreakfastStrolling2.JPGRambaghPalacePeacock.JPGRambaghPalaceDeparture1.JPG

In bed by midnight we got our few hours of sleep so that we could be showered and at breakfast at the same place by 6:30. Chef Sameer was back, greeting us once again. Peacocks strolled the garden and as I saw how much B4 was enjoying the experience, I felt restored from feather duster status. Once again, the staff showered us with service as we departed, and were happy to help us with a photograph.

The Rambagh Palace is one of this places that one doesn't forget; it is special in many ways. An oasis in the middle of mayhem, it is a place to which I would love to return and enjoy at a more leisurely pace.

Posted by paulej4 02:31 Archived in India Tagged palace Comments (1)

Vanyavilas Vantage Point

#1 in the world?

sunny 80 °F

After an abbreviated stay at the Rambagh Palace we are collected by Vanyavilas' driver for the three-hour, 150 mile trip to Ranthambhore.
Bunty, proud smartly turbaned driver of an Oberoi Audi Q7, collects us at 8:30am to deliver us from the Jaipur Rambagh Palace to our Ranthambhore home for three nights: The Vanyavilas. A driver of both luxury cars to shuttle guests from one venue to another, Bunty also drives on tiger safaris and I hope he is assigned to us on our game drives to come.

The affable Bunty’s English skills are admirable, and his accent is minimal, enough that even B4 gets most of what he is saying. He must be skilled because driving here is an adventure. Lanes are marked but ignored. Rules of the road are mere suggestions of the road. Cows in the street or on the median dare you to hit them. Camels pull carts across bridges. Tractors festooned with garlands and tinsel adornments of every sort tow carts loaded with whatever you like. Trucks overflow with silage or cement or equipment; many sporting signage on tailgates that says, simply, “blow horn.” Women in colorful and flowing fabric stand or walk or dart across lanes of traffic their meager lives in their hands—or ours as we speed by. Vehicles of every sort overload with human cargo taking men and women from point A to point B stuffed together like kernels of corn on a cob. Three’s a crowd elsewhere but not aboard motorbikes in Jaipur. Indian music blares loudly from some transports, exhaust smoke billows from most. The proudest of drivers equip their vehicles with horns that are more musical instrument than beeper or honker, reminding me of an “oogah” horn I once owned as a teenager and later passed on to my son Cianán. More than “make way for me” they play a song of “Look at me. My rig is more colorful, more beautiful, more outrageously adorned than yours and it plays a tune to boot. “

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Motorbikes flit about like mosquitoes competing with Tuk Tuks for the right of way. The road may be smooth, or it may not be, trash lies in piles uncollected now and forever and the occasional brick in the road presents a hazard that no one removes but all try their best to avoid. Nothing is new and nothing is finished but perplexingly there are more people than there are things for them to do. Automation holds no appeal here as the cost of the machine would surely be vastly more than would be the cost of human labor. Roosters compete with pigs for what standing room there is outside open-air cafes, tire repair or barber shops. Mini-marts (with the emphasis on mini and many) dot the roadside and compete for the eye and ear of the tourist and native alike. Herders move donkeys with lambs on their backs up the road while tourists snap photographs of them. Women balance pots or bags or boxes on their heads, walking erect, oblivious to the hazards that race by near their elbows. Here, as everywhere in India, the women are colorful and brightly dressed while the men make a monochrome choice in their attire. Indians are, it seems, the opposite of birds where the male sports gaudy plumage. Chaos abounds, horns honk, speakers blare, herders yell and nobody pays much mind to any of it. It is important to remember here that it is the journey that accessorizes the destination and to make it all the more intriguing. You do not nap in the car as, if you do, you miss the show.

It is theater of transport. A foreigner who opts to drive himself in this part of India has a fool for a chauffeur. We have, I am certain, missed more than we have seen and we have seen a lot.

We stop for the washroom and shopping a bit more than half way to our destination (at the Gangour Palace Restourant). B4 overbuys while I fail to underpay.

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After finally passing through the village of Sawai Madhopur, we turn into the gates of The Oberoi Vanyavilas, Ranthambhore. We are greeted by the concierge, Saikat Misra, with whom I have had prior contact while arranging transportation, game drives and the like. He treats us like valued old friends and explains the lay of the land for us. VanyavilasEntry.JPGVanyavilasCheckIn.JPGVanyavilasBar.JPGVanyavilasMonkeys.JPGEscorted to Room 203 by Shubham, we listened to his explanation of all its features and leisurely unpacked and sent a few pieces of clothing either for pressing or dry cleaning before heading back to the courtyard for a light lunch. B4 was taken by the way the chef sliced and paired the green zucchini and yellow squash. “I can do that at home,” she said, and I am certain that she will. Zucchini.jpegB4AlwaysWorking.JPG

At lunch, our waiter, Jaysuria, tells us (when I inquire about tomorrow’s breakfast hours) that he remembers what his grandfather used to say to him, “Eat breakfast like a king, eat lunch like a worker and eat dinner like a poor man.” Wisdom from and respect for elders is an important part of the essence of India. Being an elder, I am in favor of that.

Oberoi’s boutique Vanyavilas isn’t really a hotel.

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It is, instead, a tiger-safari-camp collection of twenty-five nearly 800 square-foot, air-conditioned tents atop polished wooden floors hosting four-poster beds beneath embroidered ceiling canopies. Each is privatized by individual gardens flanked by lemon and mango trees. A freestanding roll top bath brags in the center of a spacious en suite bath. Ursula-Terrasi-worthy linens, multiple cuisines on offer; what more could you ask?

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In January, it was awarded the number 22 spot in a TripAdvisor ranking of the top 25 small hotels in the world. Vogue ranked it second in its "most isolated hotels in the world" ranking.

There is a spa partially set over a pond. Outside the Ranthambhore Tiger Park, this is an ideal place to commune with nature. During monsoon season (July to September) they close. We're here in March and the days are warm, the evenings cool. The forecast is Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday: 860 660 with patchy rain likely in the morning on Thursday, the day before we check out.

I am looking forward to meeting Lakshmi, for 18 years, Vanyavilas adopted/rescued pet elephant. You know, I do love elephants. Speaking of animals, the following is noted in our welcoming letter from General Manager Ratna Malhotra: "The hotel borders the Ranthambhore National Park. Leopards and sloth bears have been spotted on occasions. Please do not walk unaccompanied once it is dark. Our staff will drive up to and from the main building or to another tent." After dinner, which featured live entertainment, we are escorted.VanyavilasBirthdayCelebration.JPG49c05570-44e2-11e9-8c45-c1fe1d4b82d9.JPG

Posted by paulej4 09:36 Archived in India Tagged vanyavilas Comments (0)

Tiger Pause

We came to see a tiger in the wild...

semi-overcast 80 °F

We were awake twenty minutes before the 5:00am alarm and wake-up call arrived simultaneously to make doubly certain that we met our driver, naturalist and guide at the appointed time. We are scheduled to drive Sector Three of the Ranthambhore National Park in search of what we came to see: a tiger in the wild. Think of Ranthambhore as you would Yellowstone in the United States. There are park boundaries, animals roam free and wild inside those boundaries, there is no hunting nor is there a feeding program. But, when you leave the confines of the park, the animals are, in every way, fair game.

There is a chill in the air but it is not cold. Hot water bottles are thoughtfully provided however and blankets to cover both them and us are put to use as we drive away from Vanyavilas to make the short five minute drive to the park gate. Monkeys gather and watch us as we watch them. B4 loves the monkeys and so do I as long as they don't decide to come and grab something from our hand.

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This is not a place to be holding a croissant. Colorful parakeets thrive in great numbers here as well. Formalities are undertaken, permits shown, authority granted and we drive beneath the gate arm on our safari. The Ranthambhore Fort is high on the hill nearby and pilgrims are making their way to the steps leading up to both the fort and a Hindu Temple. RanthambhoreFortWithSpottedDear.JPGaa661550-455e-11e9-8180-258f63737613.JPGRanthambhoreMonkeyOnMyBack.JPG

We quickly spot an owl in a tree and concentrate on it when our guide excitedly bursts out with, "sloth bear." RanthambhoreOwl1.JPGRanthambhoreSlothBear.JPGThe owl forgotten, we pivot to the other side of our vehicle, a six-seat four-wheel-drive open jeep like contraption to see a black sloth bear fifty yards distant making its way from right to left along the cliffside. Our team of Zeeshan, Bunty and "BL" let it be known that this was a long shot in both the photo to be taken and the odds of having a chance to take it. Nocturnal, sloth bears are seldom seen, they say. This one is seen fleetingly but seen nonetheless.
We drive. Spotted deer, wild boar, more owl, siberian ducks and snakebirds are sighted. But, no tigers. RanthambhoreSpottedDeer.JPGRanthambhoreWildPig.JPGRanthambhoreOwl2.JPGRanthambhoreOwl3.JPGRanthambhoreSiberianDucks.JPGRanthambhoreSnakebirdWithFish.JPG

The road is bumpy and dusty but this is what safari driving is all about.

We do, however, see tiger tracks. The dust in the side of the road reveals recent presence of a large male, a female and a cub. These tracks are recent or they would be obliterated by tire tracks. This is a good sign.RanthambhoreTigerTracks2.JPG4b1a5800-4562-11e9-a6b5-776d33acb7d0.jpgRanthambhoreTigerTracks.JPG

There are more vehicles in the park's zone three than just us of course. We see them and they see us. One tipoff that tigers are near is the alarm call put out by birds and animals alike. Everybody is on their guard when tigers stalk. Vehicles, hearing the calls, hone in on the place they think the animals and birds are pointing and, turning off engines, pause and wait. Sometimes, nothing happens; the alarm calls are real but the cause of those calls does not reveal itself. Anticipation is at a peak. Everyone is silent; I am aware of a quickening of my heartbeat and I grip my camera with too-tight hands. Oftentimes in this situation, nothing happens.
And then, sometimes, the cause appears. We spot a tiger. She is magnificent.

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As one might see on the National Geographic Channel, the female led her cubs to the water's edge, not noticing (as we clearly had noticed) that a crocodile lurked a few feet from the shore. The mother tiger and the crocodile spooked each other at about the same time and all beat a hasty retreat, the tiger and her cubs inland and the croc to deeper water. Certainly the cubs would have made a tasty snack for the croc and the croc would have made a fine meal for the tiger trio. But, that was not to happen this day. For that, all of us are glad.

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Then, quickly, she is seen to be leading a pair of cubs lagging a bit too far behind her for safety. They are four months old; she is four years old. These two, we're told, are her second litter. She lost the first pair she bore to inexperience and inadequate parenting. For these, better care will be taken as she has better learned her job. We are joined by more vehicles who have noted our alarm sound much as we had noted that of the birds. Soon we are joined by a dozen other vehicles, some quite large, some carrying professional filmmakers and most the size of ours with similar cargo. They don't matter much to B4 and me; our eyes and energy are glued to this family of tigers.

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Tigers, one of the most formidable predators on earth, are the largest and most powerful of all the big cats. Over the past 100 years, as their habitat has shrunk, their population declined by 95% but is now rebounding. The World Wildlife Federation estimates that while between five and seven thousand tigers live in captivity inside the United States, only four thousand survive in the wild, 70% of them in India and three of them now lurk before us. India needs to create more space for tigers to live. But, how do you do that and accommodate explosive growth of humans? Probably, you don’t. You are forced to better manage what you have and that can be done through fees and taxes levied upon tourists such as us.

A perfect tiger habitat would be far from human populations, include plenty of water even in the dry season, open grasslands to provide habitat for prey and thicket cover to facilitate tiger-striped-stealth during a hunt. Langur monkeys, wild boar, peacocks and sambar and barking deer all make fine meals.

Tiger cubs, often four to a litter, are vulnerable for the first two years of life, requiring their mother’s constant attention to survive. It is rare that a tiger mother would be able to raise four cubs to adulthood; typically, only half survive till adulthood. Hunting for food demands that tiger mothers leave their broods unattended for extended periods; tiger fathers, at 700 pounds a third bigger and more powerful than females, have no role in the rearing of cubs. Males will kill cubs not their own, but those they rarely meet.

Sloth bears, leopard, striped hyena, jackal and bengal fox will hunt for dens housing newborn cubs to kill and eat them while mothers are away finding prey.

Tigers are highly territorial and exclusively control their domains which need to be at least five square miles in size to support a family of tigers. As populations grow, competition for space can become violent and intense. Violence between adult tigers is not unusual so they normally avoid each other and respect territorial boundaries. They seem to care not one bit about all of us who care enormously about them.

Bunty, our accomplished driver, maneuvers us and outmaneuvers most of them and we feast on this experience. Just see.RanthambhoreTigerCubCUCU.JPGRanthambhoreTigersAllThreeInSun1.JPGRanthambhoreTigersAllThreeInSun.JPGRanthambhoreTigerCubMuddy.JPGRanthambhoreTigerECU.JPGRanthambhoreTiger1.JPGRanthambhoreTigerCU1.JPGRanthambhoreTigerCU.JPGe78833e0-4564-11e9-bfed-218fcf13dd36.JPGRanthambhoreTigerCUCU.JPG

We also shot a movie or two.

Jackpot. That really says it. It was a jackpot of a morning. We head home.

We're anxious for a chance to clean some dust off and eat a delayed breakfast. Breakfast is my favorite food here because, unadventurous as I am, it is most like home. Eggs. Maybe bacon or sausage. Toast. And good Americano black coffee. We turn into the Vanyavilas driveway and see that one more delight awaits us. It is Lakshmi waiting to greet us. Or, get fed by us. In any event, she is a sight for us as, perhaps, we are for her. PaulLacksmiB4.JPG

After freshening up, B4 finds still another recipe she can make at home: French Toast Sandwiches.VanyavilasFrenchToast.JPG

We separate in the afternoon, B4 to the spa and me to this keyboard. Dinner tonight is earlier and afterwards we stop by the fire pit where more Indian music is being played and after dinner drinks--coffee for me--are being consumed. My love's eyes are heavy so we call for the "buggy" which is required to transport us back to 203. Before today's drive we might have thought it silly to be escorted after nightfall but now, well, it seems prudent. Very prudent.

Posted by paulej4 08:25 Archived in India Tagged tigers ranthambhore Comments (0)

Our 'Quiet' Day

for the birds...

sunny 88 °F

We enjoyed our dinner last night--two deserts--followed by turndown chocolates

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On the morning we could have slept in, our aviary alarm army had other thoughts. Around 6:15, birds began serious honking, bleating, chirping, singing, cawing and otherwise announcing that they were up and so should we be.

Our “tent” is a permanent structure in terms of plumbing, HVAC, floors, doors, windows and exterior walls. What makes it a tent is the ceiling or roof. Inside are two tent poles of about 18 feet in height propping up an interior canvas ceiling at its 15-foot point. Over that, outside, is a less decorative second layer of canvas propped up at the full 18-foot height which makes up the portion of the roof that is exposed to the elements. It did rain a bit yesterday afternoon and the sound of that is quite soothing and wonderful.

At the apex of the roof, between the outside canvas and the inside canvas is a section that is normally sealed off but, in the case of tent 203, has broken seams. Into a vacuum something always rushes; in this case it is pigeons.

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We have one little fellow who wants in so badly that he or she knocks on our windows in succession, making two or more circuits of our tent reminding us at every window that entry is desired. It is, for the record, refused. Our pigeons are proponents of exercise and vocalizing. Inside that space they flap and tap and walk on tippy toes making scratching noises which are, from their canvas coop, amplified and transmitted directly downward. B4 attempted to nap day before yesterday during a meeting our pigeons held.
Sunrise is not for another twenty minutes (at 6:35) but that is a reprieve not observed. Thankfully, we are early risers and would probably be up soon anyway. The pigeons, awake by light or disturbance from the paying customers in their basement, arise at 7:05.

The sound of traffic and the early Muslim call to prayer, called Salat al-fajr (which always happens at dawn, before sunrise) also commenced. We have taken note that the Rambagh Palace and Vanyavilas both offer earplugs as standard nightstand amenities and that I assume, is why. In each case these resorts are surrounded by acres of buffer, but sound waves and prevailing wind know little about walls or other buffer zones.
B4, as she always does, arises in full-on B4 mode. I hear about proposed lease terms for a potential Arizona store, an outdoor lifestyle location, mother’s day creative (I am personally not a big fan of either option preferring an image of a delighted mom over an image of what delighted her), and a couple of personnel reviews—which she takes very seriously—yet to be polished and submitted. By 8:00, she is on the phone to Kansas City offering her opinions about decisions to be made.

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Today is otherwise planned as a quiet morning.B4 has a 10:00am 90-minute hot-stone massage and we will repeat our game drive trek at 2:30. I plan to have another visit with resident elephant host Lakshmi who is on duty at the front gate beginning at noon. The brochure listing enrichment offerings reads thusly: “Indulge into a playful session with Lakshmi and learn how social interaction, training and structured play builds trust and rapport between the mahout and the elephant Enjoy rejuvenating activity of the elephant playing in the mud and taking a dip in a specially prepared mud pool for her. Get a chance to bathe and feed her and learn some very interesting facts about the behavior of our pet elephant Lakshmi.” Lest you be concerned about Lakshmi being exploited, it is clearly explained that she was rescued from a circus and had no hope of being returned to any sort of wild or natural existence.

Indian elephants are significantly smaller than their African relatives with smaller bodies and smaller ears. If you look closely, you might notice that African elephant ears are shaped like the African continent and Indian elephant ears are shaped like the outline of this country.

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The Indian elephant, often tamed and capable of productive work—unlike the less-often tamed African elephant, holds a special meaning here.Hindu Lord Ganesh is the lord of good fortune and provides prosperity and good fortune to believers and places obstacles in the path of those who need to be restrained for bad acts. His image, omnipresent here, is the head of an elephant with an ample belly on a body with from four to sixteen arms. We are told that the goddess Parvati wished to bathe but needed someone to guard the door to her bath chamber so she created a boy for that purpose. When her husband, Shiva, returned from a battle, he decapitated the boy—an act which devastated Parvati. Making amends, Shiva sent his warriors to find and return with the head of the first dead creature they found. That turned out to be an elephant’s head. It was attached to the body of the boy who was thereby brought back to life.

I suppose that this story is difficult for non-believers to accept but then, there is much about most religions that non-believers find inexplicably illogical but believers accept on faith. Let him who is without doubt cast the first stone, however, and you will find yourself in the middle of a rock fight.

At breakfast, as at every meal, we were well fed and well entertained.The artist sports a ravanahatha, an ancestor of the violin, which is an ancient bowed, stringed instrument. The bow is augmented as you can see and hear with symbols. I would like to bring one of these home to my musical daughter Megan but, alas, there is no room as it is too large. But, I'd wager that if I could get it home, she could play it.

Certainly the question on most everyone's mind must be: "What do your hennaed hands look like today?" Here's the fresh and faded, side by side. As with us, not much fading yet.97578170-4616-11e9-829d-df7acb7a062c.JPGB4HandsFadingHenna1.JPG964415a0-4616-11e9-bce2-57fb9e6c92bd.JPGPaulB4HandsFadingHenna3.JPG

Funny; I thought I would have nothing to write about today. I apologize for over contributing; if you, of course, were too bored you wouldn't have made it this far.

We had some time to kill so we decided to go to Lakshmi's House for bath time. I had a ball. For those of you who don't know it, elephants are my favorite non-human creatures. I have visited and photographed them in the wild, riden on their backs and watched them for hours on end but never have i scrubbed one. I feel good about making her feel good.

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Soon after completing our elephant laundry it was time for a second game drive. We seek the elusive leopard. Instead, we find a rich opportunity to see more tigers. Four of them to be exact (bringing our total to seven for two drives) and we are again in tiger heaven. The habitat where we are, Ranthanbhore Zone Four, is remarkably different than Ranthanbhore Zone Three. B4 remarks that we had a tiger encounter yesterday and tiger sightings today. And good sightings they were. RanthanbhoreZone4MaleCub.JPGRanthanbhoreTigerStalking2.JPGRanthanbhoreTigerPlain3.JPGRanthanbhoreTigerStaring2.JPGRanthanbhoreTigerRocks2.JPGRanthanbhoreTigerReclining3.JPGRanthanbhoreTigerBrush2.JPG

We have been fortunate beyond our expectations on this pair of safari drives and we know it. Did we see the elusive leopard? No, we did not. Are we disappointed? No we are not. Is B4 a gigantic safari fan? No. But, she's a fan of mine so she takes great joy in the joy I am taking. As I write this, however, she is on a board call. It's 10:00pm on our final night at Vanyavilas. Her alarm is set for 2:15am when she has another telephone appointment. The work never ends. And she loves it. I am fortunate to be oversupplied with earplugs.

Posted by paulej4 10:43 Archived in India Tagged vanyavilas Comments (1)

Oberoi, Oh Boy

It's the little things that count and the big things too

sunny 75 °F

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Flowers are a seemingly omnipresent part of Indian hospitality. Flower bushes line pathways. Heads of flowers float in pots of water. Garlands are placed around necks; rose petals are showered from above on the heads of new arrivals, for B4 a floral head crown was given--and smartly worn if I may say. Bouquets are placed. Messages of joyful welcome and sad goodbye are spelled out in flowers. The result is one of great warmth and peace.

Other delights occur. B4 was astounded at one in particular. Having python squeezed the very last morsel of toothpaste from her Sensodyne tube, she was prepared to share my lowly Crest. Then, this appeared:ToothpasteGestureJPG.JPGThe staff has been most warm and friendly and anxious to both please and impress. Our game drive crew of Bunty, Zeeshan and BL Meena not only took pleasure in getting us the tiger sightings for which we came but at the delight they saw in us as a result. TeamRussRaffBuntyZeeshanBLMeena2.JPG Front Office Manager Saikat Misra was our primary host (general manager Ratna Malhotra and food & beverage manager Himanshu Dhingra were away early during our stay for conferences but made up for it on our last day with warmth and service). Saikat went out of his way to accommodate early requests I made via email and telephone call and made us feel more like family when we arrived. Smiles outnumbered flower petals.

From dinner music

To experiences (look at B4's face as the video of her interaction with Lakshmi ends)

Doesn't that expression (B4's, not Lakshmi's) make you smile?

Oberoi Vanyavilas receives from us kudos.

After breakfast, Bunty collected us and our luggage for the three-hour return to Jaipur. He both drove and entertained and earned his accolades by bobbing and weaving his way through vehicles and creatures to get us safely to Rajvilas for our next night.

B4 is particularly intrigued by Bunty's explanation regarding the many cows on the street. Cows are worshipped in India and feeding them is an act of holiness. One source I saw wrote: "Cows are considered to be greater than the actual mother who gave us birth." These are ownerless animals, many "freed" by their former owners, partially as a consequence of automation. Tractors replaced them yielding liberation rather than retraining. If only there was a similar fate available for all those made redundant by automation both in the past and those yet to come.

There are many hazards to negotiate between Oberoi Vanyavilas and Oberoi Rajvilas.

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Trains race and crawl by.

After three hours or so of travel, we arrive safe and sounded (there were many sounds to endure on our journey) at the Oberoi Rajvilas in Jaipur. We were greeted as VIPs beyond our station by general manager Abhishek Sharma and his staff. Garlands and bindis and "namaste" galore were presented along with a cool towel and a cold drink. I was astounded when "Abi" mentioned how much importance he placed on training and then commented that we would have that belief in common due to my association with ej4. He had done his homework to the point of having an ej4 edible chocolate morsel waiting for us at our upgraded accommodation--similar to our Vanyavilas tent. Concierge Milan (accent on the MI instead of the way we pronounce the Italian city) escorts us to tent 224 and we ask him to keep an eye on our Air India flight for tomorrow. That, in his opinion, not being enough for him to do, he asks if he might arrange airport transportation for us as well. But of course. large_WelcomeGifts.JPG

We decided that the afternoon would be best spent relaxing by the pool. For me that means this; I write and upload video and photographs so that you can be with here with us and I can selfishly take more stock of what I am experiencing. I take travel less for granted when I write about it and so enhance the experience. For B4, that means ten minutes of reading her Kindle and then setting it aside in favor of her laptop. She does not lack for work nor the drive to do it.

As I write this almost final blog entry from this trek, B4 is next to me and has her Surface Laptop balanced on her knees answering and creating emails and polishing the employee reviews over which she ardently toils aiming for both honesty and insights. Fortunately we are at the pool on shaded lounges enjoying camomile tea (spontaneously presented without request) and--I needed a western break--french fries specifically asked for by yours truly. They don't offer cheeseburgers but they excel in the accoutrements.

A staff member rushes by, momentarily frightening the peacock who has been calmly grazing behind my lounge chair but which soon returned to circle around for a game of Ring Around the RussRaffs. PeacockAtPool.JPG Another staff member came by a while ago and, calling me by name, inquired if I would care to make a dining reservation for this evening and, if so, which restaurant I preferred. We opt for 7:00pm at the multi-cuisine--rather than the Indian--restaurant. We quickly see that the Oberoi service level moves with us from Vanyavilas to Rajvilas. Milan drops by to confirm the ground transportation arrangement he has made and to assure me that our AI flight is--at present at least--operating normally. That is good to hear because that will not be the case for tomorrow's travel (more on that tomorrow). Today is not about the future after all.

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You should stay at an Oberoi Hotel, named--they trumpet--the "Best Hotel Group" by readers of The Telegraph, UK. It won't be easy however. Here is a list of Oberoi Hotels:
The Oberoi, New Delhi
The Oberoi, Mumbai
The Oberoi, Bengaluru
The Oberoi Grand, Kolkata
The Oberoi, Gurgaon
The Oberoi Amarvilas, Agra
The Oberoi Rajvilas, Jaipur
The Oberoi Udaivilas, Udaipur
The Oberoi Vanyavilas, Ranthambhore
Wildflower Hall, Shimla in the Himalayas
The Oberoi Cecil, Shimla
The Oberoi Motor Vessel Vrinda, Kerala
The Oberoi Sukhvilas Resort & Spa, Chandigarh
The Oberoi, Dubai
The Oberoi, Sahl Hasheesh
The Oberoi Zahra, Egypt
The Oberoi Philae, Egypt
The Oberoi, Bali
The Oberoi, Lombok
The Oberoi, Mauritius
The Oberoi, Madina

They have a lot in common but one thing that will prevent them from ever doing business in New York or Chicago or Dallas is that they can only deliver their signature experience in markets where labor costs are extraordinarily low. Look at the list for confirmation. When I sign in to make a reservation with Marriott Hotels I am reminded that I have--and this is unbelievable even to me--slept 2,168 nights in their properties. With Oberoi I have six I think. Three in Ranthambhore, one in Jaipur and two years ago in Mauritius. I am loyal to both in completely different ways.

The experience at Rajvilas includes the results of their guest information research memorialized in chocolates, gifts such as turbans and bracelets (which I think may be the result of the fact that we were the only western guests to wear Indian attire), "Good Night" wishes and excellent paella. PaulinTurbanB43.JPGB4BraceletGift.JPG42cad590-4791-11e9-bbae-7370563d5844.JPGGoodNightNote.JPGPaella.JPG
We will leave you and this chapter of our journey record with a glimpse of the dinnertime entertainment offered to us at our ringside table. The flame festooned dancer exhibited posture not unique among Indian women as I am reminded as I watch her of the many poor women who navigate the roadside not with flames but with sticks to build a cooking fire or bags of food to cook on it. Everyone here cannot be as happy as they appear to be but, for us, the theatre of the evening sends us back to our tent warm and happy in this Oberoi cocoon. B4's boss, Mr. Buffett, is often quoted as saying that those who are born in the United States have won the birthright lottery. The U.S. is the land of opportunity. This, Rambagh and Oberoi imagery aside, is a place where millions have no indoor plumbing, indoor running water, or electricity or prospects for any. Join us in being thankful for what we have and what we have been given merely by being as the accident of birth Americans.

Posted by paulej4 19:43 Archived in India Comments (2)

The Longest Day; our final entry

Time Marches On. And On. And on. and on...

sunny 85 °F

Jaipur Time 6:10am Saturday
Kansas City Time 7:40pm Friday
Elapsed Time: Zero

After what was arguably the best night’s sleep of this entire journey, in terms of “Kansas City Time,” we are awake. In Jaipur, India, it is 6:10 on Saturday morning and our automatic aviary alarm has just sounded; the snooze button reprieve not on offer. The internet confirms that sunrise here is 6:36, dawn is 6:13. Every creature, including us, "up and at 'em" right on time.

India is currently the planet’s second most populous country in terms of humans, in fact we are told that there are 48 babies born every minute. India must be first, though, in the population of noisy birds.

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Tiny body clocks all connected, they rise in body and volume in unison. We happily join them but ours is a swan song because this day, our longest day, is our final in indescribable India. And, fortunately for you, our final entry in this Indian Wedding Crashers 13-chapter blog without end.

The fact that we get out of bed at 7:40pm on our hometown’s Friday reinforces the dichotomy in the battle between body clock and wristwatch.

Hannibal Lechter, Cersei Lannister and Stavro Blofeld are rivaled, I think, by Robert Krups. His coffee machine is the very definition of “evil genius” when I first rise, still groggy and disoriented from sleep and in need of coffee. The power button is unmarked. “American” sized cups are foreign to this contraption and, even though provided by our hotelier, do not fit under the machine’s dispenser and above its drip tray. The machine is noisy should your partner still slumber. The coffee itself, however, is quite good. It is simply difficult to brew.

Our breakfast is assured perfect by Assistant Manager – Food and Beverage Service, Drishti Shrivastav.

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I note that her name tag identifies her as “Certified Departmental Trainer.” We bond. I ask that I might be educated as to what that entails, and she informs me about both behavioral and departmental training. I am engrossed by what she says and the clear result that their training has created. I request contact information for whoever is in charge of this miracle and she sends me contact information for Sangeetha Gandhi of Oberoi Group in Delhi. I will reach out to see if a possible synergy exists when I return to the U.S.

We consolidate packing and are swiftly transported to the airport—again by Oberoi staff—where we are met—again by Oberoi staff-to facilitate check-in formalities at Air India. Those completed in short order we await flight 646 to Mumbai which is happily posted as “On Time.” We relax in the lounge which really isn’t one and then wait in the gate until boarding is called.

The history of this flight is fraught. Our initial Jet Airways flight from Jaipur to Mumbai was cancelled. Then our backup GoAir flight from Jaipur to Mumbai was cancelled. We ended up on this third choice Air India flight which makes one stop at an air force base in Jodhpur before continuing on to Mumbai. Upon arrival at Jodhpur we are warned to not take photos or videos out the windows. Had we done so, I would now be showing you many jet fighters armed with air to air missiles. However, fearing Indian military jails, I followed instructions and looked but did not shoot.

I was last in Jodhpur on January 2, 2012. Looking back to recall what happened to me on that day, I found that I wrote these words in the blog I posted:
“I long for a cheeseburger. A thick patty, or perhaps two, with grilled onions, an extra slice of tomato, crisp lettuce, mustard and ketchup… Ahh. Oh, and French fries. Later, maybe a steak.”

Mumbai Time 6:10pm Saturday
Kansas City Time 7:40am Saturday
Elapsed Time: 12 Hours

Upon arrival in Mumbai, a half-hour late, we made our way to the United check-in counter which, we discovered, wouldn’t open for over an hour-and-a-half—at 8:00pm. We couldn’t check our big bag so we couldn’t clear security to get to the lounge. We holed up in a bar, “The Square” which forbids the ordering of a soft drink unless you also order alcohol. I ordered a vodka which, at this juncture, seemed to me to be a good idea.

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At 8:00pm, the designated hour for United to open their check-in desk, there was already half-a-plane-load of people waiting in line; 28 of them in the business class line. United’s ground staff took the first person in line at 8:13 as we natives grew more and more restless. By 8:45 we were checked in. Instructions to the business class security zone and business class lounge after that were muddled and murky but, after a couple of failed attempts and the joining of wrong lines, we made it through.

We have no pressure to rush, however. Our United flight, as I had learned at noon yesterday, is not on schedule under any definition of that word. This United email hit my inbox: “Your flight to Newark is delayed because we are resolving an unexpected operational issue. We value your time and we're sorry for the inconvenience. UA49 now departs from Mumbai at 1:30 a.m.”

So, our 11:10pm departure has been pushed back to 1:30am. Amazingly and without even the remote possibility of credibility, their communication says the flight will still arrive in Newark at 5:40am. That miracle won’t happen.

The “unexpected operation issue” has been both expected and fully known by UA for some time. UA 49 hasn’t operated normally since February 27 when Pakistan closed its air space. It has been diverted to Munich or Frankfurt or Bangor or been cancelled each and every day (18 days in all) since then. I think that counts as “expected” and I anticipate a friendly chat with the purveyors of the friendly skies on that linguistic point sometime soon.

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But, ultimately, depart we do. We snooze a bit but not too much. It’s the middle of the day KC time and we wouldn’t normally be sound asleep were we there so we shouldn’t be sound asleep here. But we are fatigued so we sleep against our will.

Munich Time 6:00am Sunday
Kansas City Time Midnight Sunday
Elapsed Time: 29 Hours

We are wheels down in Munich. This night UA 49 flies to Munich landing two minutes after “earliest landing allowed time” at 6:02 am their time (1:02 Sunday morning KC Time) taking just under nine hours. We take exactly ninety minutes to refuel and change crew, allow a ground crew to clean and refresh to lavatories and then continue on to Newark. That flight leg takes another eight-hours-and-thirty-six minutes. We fly directly over my son Cianán’s new home in Brussels. Our estimated time of arrival in Newark now turns out to be 11:10am, five hours and ten minutes late. Of course, that means we just “barely missed” our connection to Kansas City which departed at 7:30am, three-and-a-half hours before we arrived.

Newark Time 2:40pm Sunday
Kansas City Time 1:40pm Sunday
Elapsed Time: 40:00

We are wheels up for Kansas City. The ticket United sold us proposed that we would arrive in KC at 11:44am (after making a connection in Chicago). Now, instead, we hop aboard a non-stop from Newark to Kansas City at 2:45pm, arriving in KC at 5:45pm. The trip we took is six hours longer than the one we bought.

It is St. Patrick’s Day. My ancestors are from Ireland’s County Clair; so, the luck of the Irish holds (known to B4 and me as “the Russell luck”) and we are snug at the Alameda Tower come nightfall.

Kansas City Time 6:00pm Sunday
Elapsed Time: 46:30

B4 and I agree that our decision to avoid United, made independently long before we became RussRaff, was the correct one. They haven’t made a good impression on us, then or now or ever. Airline loyalty is a funny thing. For every one of us, there is somebody else who loves United. We haven’t met them but I am certain they are out there somewhere.

Our travel day—the longest day—spanned the hours of nearly two complete days and included landfall in six cities (Jaipur, Jodhpur, Mumbai, Munich, Newark, Kansas City) only one of which was at a place where photography was forbidden.

For the first time in our life together, B4 said to me, “When we get home, I want to go get a steak.” I laughed because her statement was unprompted. As was the case when I was last in India, we’ve not seen beef in twelve days (even aboard our flights) and the phrase “sacred cow” has worn out its welcome. Rare for her, please; medium rare for me. Never before has it occurred to me that there could be a double meaning to the phrase, “rare beef.”

All in a day’s work for global travelers such as B4 and her plus one. Make that two days work.

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Thinking about the entire affair, we're reminded of lyrics:

Well, ev'ry night you drag me where the bright lights are found;
There ain't no way to slow you down
I'm as 'bout as helpless as a leaf in a gale;
And it looks like I've got a tiger by the tail

We shall leave it to the reader to determine who is singing about whom.

Posted by paulej4 16:06 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

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