Tag Archives: sand

The high and the low.

Kate took me to South Mumbai last week to visit some Must See sites, which I’m sure I could write a book about if I only had enough lives to live. I tell you truly, this exciting life with its realms of experience and knowledge that I can only manage to dip my little toe into is wearing me out. My understanding of many things I present here is slight, and my photos are not as good as you can find other places online. But they are what I’ve seen with my own eyes, and we had good reason for going to these spots, and I was so glad we did.

I’ll start my report with one of the High things, the Gateway of India, which is hard for someone as unskilled as I to photograph, looming as it does so huge at the edge of the sea. The British built this monument to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to India in 1911, and it was completed in 1924. When the last British troops departed India, they passed through the arch, ceremoniously relinquishing power.

Kate and I walked all around, and she took my picture in front of this icon of Mumbai, under which one is no longer permitted to walk. We also had our picture taken with various groups of Indian tourists. But then we sped away, because there was so much to see…

The next High thing on our agenda, which often appears in photos with the Gateway, was the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. This five-star hotel opened twenty years before the Gateway was completed, having been commissioned by the Tata group, a conglomerate founded in 1868 by the man considered “The Father of Indian Industry,” Jamsetji Tata. A staircase leads up to a bust of this patriarchal figure.

I didn’t notice when I took my picture of the exterior that I was including a row of men posing for someone else, but I was happy to have them come along! That picture shows the original building and the tall addition, which between them have more than 600 rooms and suites. “The Taj” is the place where John Lennon, Oprah, and Queen Elizabeth stay when they are in town.

In 2008 a terrorist attack on Mumbai focused on the Taj, where the attackers holed up for days, and where many staff were killed. This garden, which has a waterfall not in the picture, memorializes those who lost their lives:

We wandered around for a little while, appreciating the artful opulence. In the restroom each patron has a clean and folded cloth napkin with which to dry her hands. Everything was elegant and serene and orderly.

I could imagine the lovely dresses in the clothing shop, but I was concerned that Kate not get worn out, so we left The Taj pretty soon and went to lunch at a famous Parsi café called Britannia & Company. “Parsi” refers to the Zoroastrian Persians who emigrated to India centuries ago to escape persecution. There is a large Parsi community in the Mumbai area, from which the Tatas are descended, by the way, and much good Parsi food available. Pilau is probably the center of a good Parsi lunch:

In the rankings of high to low, our lunch was not high cuisine, but it was a high point of the day, and Parsi food ranks high on my list. The next places I’ll tell you about, though, are both low in different ways, which I dare not begin to muse on philosophically. It’s another book to be written.

I have to mention that it was in this busiest part of the city that I saw the most cows, three strolling through one intersection alone.

Dhobi Ghat… In Hindi, ghat means “steps leading down to a body of water.” (It also means “mountain,” as in my last post.) Dhobi is the name of a caste of washermen. Dhobi ghat can refer to any laundromat, but in Mumbai, Dhobi Ghat is the giant open-air laundry that Kate and I visited. My first picture above was part of the view as seen from the road on one side; after, we walked down into the area of washing pens and flogging stones, where drying laundry hung in close rows above us.

Our tour was very informal: we entered what in essence is a little village, started looking around, and a young man asked if we wanted a tour for 200 rupees, about $3, each. We said okay, and paid, and then he walked us through very fast and told us some things about the laundry. I missed much of what he said because I was hanging behind taking pictures, and just generally being overwhelmed and spacey from barely believing that I was in this place. I love doing laundry, but it seems ludicrous for me to say that in the context of Dhobi Ghat. These people take the task of washing clothes to a level that is outer space. But the whole affair lies so low as to be hardly noticeable as your gaze is carried upward by the skyscrapers all around.

Our guide told us that 400-500 people live here, and that he had been born at the “laundromat” himself. Internet articles say that their clients are “neighborhood laundries, wedding decorators, garment dealers, mid-sized hotels, clubs, and caterers.” I believe those things. But so much else that you can read, or even hear residents of Dhobi Ghat say in YouTube interviews, is contradictory or contrary to recorded history, so my questions only multiply and are unlikely to be answered to my satisfaction.

Some of my pictures are dark, because it was dark, especially in a passageway under tarps or some kind of roof, where in the space of five yards motorcycles and a bicycle were parked, a young man was cooking a big pan of potatoes, and an old man was pressing jeans with a vintage iron.

I came upon a man flogging a large wet item on a stone, his back to me, and when he lifted it each time to slap it down again, washwater fell in a shower behind him and on my path. So I timed my crossing, and managed to scoot past between slaps. In places there were little puddles or ditches to hop over, but we got through the busy laundry without getting wet.

It was noon, a clock in my photos tells me, and this man with one hand on the door of a big washer has a small glass of masala chai in the other hand. As we walked the lanes and streets we saw little apartments where the workers and their families live; some of them had a curtain pulled across, but in one doorway a woman was sitting on the floor preparing a salad. In the work area we walked past the occasional man stretched out sleeping on a wide shelf.

 

Dhobi Ghat was built by the British in 1890. Washermen own their wash pens and hand them down through the generations; some of them have installed modern washing machines and dryers. How they manage to keep track of the 10,000 items they collectively process every day is completely beyond me.

I thought the little girls I saw headed to school must be going off-site, but I learned in my research that the residents started their own school after one of their children was in an accident traveling to school elsewhere, and now they also have families from neighboring areas sending their children to the Dhobi Ghat school.

I count it a privilege to have had fifteen minutes in the presence of these hard-working people. When I am home again where I can hang my garments on the clothesline after letting my machines do almost all of the hard work, I will continue to think of them with admiration.

The last stop on our touristy outing was the lowest of all relative to sea level, because it was sea level, Girgaum Chowpatty or Chaupati Beach, a famous beach in Mumbai, but not for swimming. Festivities surrounding the favorite Hindu god Ganesh are held here, and at the end of the yearly celebrations effigies of Ganesh are plunged into the Arabian Sea, unfortunately adding to the trash problem. I found this photo online showing the event:

If I didn’t have a growing sand collection, I would not have taken the time to go to a beach in Mumbai, because a beach where the water is toxic is so disheartening. It’s not just trash, but sewage that pollutes these waters. And did I even want to collect sand from it? We had been trying to fit in a trip to an Indian beach ever since I arrived, and I was grateful to Kate that she insisted I not miss the opportunity.

We didn’t go on to the wet area of the wide beach. I theorized that the dry sand far away from the shore would have been washed by the last monsoons and not be the dirtiest. Nonetheless, when I got a sample home I washed and disinfected the sand with bleach, and then baked and dried it in the oven before filling my little bottle. 🙂

When you read here or elsewhere about all of the air pollution, water pollution, trash, you might think, “Why doesn’t someone do something?” The problems are complex, but sometimes simple baby steps can improve the situation.

We were only on the beach for a few minutes, during which time we were surprised to see big coppery urns — what could they be for? Kate asked a young man nearby, and he said they were waste bins! Many of the trash cans that have been installed all over the city are bright blue plastic barrels, but these elegant receptacles were both functional and beautiful. I did think of how a child would not be able to use them — oops! I guess that’s a design flaw.

While the government and environmentalists keep working on the source of the problems that humiliate the water and the sand, it makes me happy that someone has honored the beach with these trash urns. When I showed Tom my picture of Kate below he said, “Cute wife looking into the greatest trash can in India!”

experiences of sand

A couple of weeks before my birthday, which is today, Mrs. C proposed a trip to the North Coast for a walk on the beach, which we planned to do yesterday. A week ago we noticed that rain was on the forecast all the way to the coast, so we thought we might end up taking a sedentary drive, and eat crab on the way.

We met at her house, where across the road I found sourgrass – Oxalis pes-caprae – in abundance. I didn’t know until I looked up the botanical name just now that it is considered a noxious weed around here. Its bright color drenched with rain made it reflect all the midday light.

 

Mrs. C has peach blossoms by her deck. I’m glad she is the kind of friend who doesn’t mind slowing down while I take pictures of everything. Well, not quite everything.

You can see from these photos how the sky was white or gray with clouds. We had our umbrellas with us when we set out.

After we enjoyed our little lunch, sitting in her truck on a bluff overlooking the ocean, we walked down to Schoolhouse Beach, not even bringing our umbrellas, because there was no sign of rain. I know God held the rain off because He wanted me to have a birthday walk on the sand. 🙂

 

And not just a walk, but a look at the sand. We sat on rocks and sifted through the sand that on this particular beach is very gravelly. No grain of sand was too small to hold separately in our fingers. Here is a close-up:

Remember when last month I saw the sand display in Pacific Grove? Soon afterward I did buy some small bottles in hopes of filling them with sand from my explorations. I managed to have two with me, and I collected the first sample at this beach. It even contained a piece of beach glass.

You might notice in that photo above the blue sky in the background. For much of the afternoon we were under a clear and blue ceiling, though we could see fog banks and clouds moving in on three sides of us.

Mrs. C didn’t bring a camera or a bottle, but she made her own collection of some of the larger pebbles.

This beach is dangerous for swimming, as are many on California’s North Coast. It has a sharp drop-off that I think is somehow connected to the frequency of “sleeper” or rogue waves, plus undercurrents that are hard to escape from.  Just last month a woman was swept off a rock here and drowned.

After a while we drove five minutes south to Salmon Creek Beach where the sand was more like sand. The fog and clouds had covered the sun, and the sea gulls were lined up facing the wind. Those birds must have known that we had no food, because they ignored us on both beaches.

We walked even more along here, after I scooped up “plain” sand into my second bottle. Iceplant and sourgrass and other flowers I don’t know are starting to bloom. This one I haven’t been able to identify so far:

It was growing on the edges of a lagoon that has been receding. Salmon  Creek flows through the lagoon on its way to the sea, making always-new carvings through the sand. This was our last view as we reluctantly made our way up the cliff and left the wide views behind us.

It had been a lovely gift of a day. Within a minute of my leaving Mrs.  C’s house, thundershowers began, and I drove through ten or fifteen of them before I got home.

 

I need to put a couple of empty bottles in my bags right now while I’m thinking of it, and start planning my next adventure so as to include sand. 🙂

 

Proteas bloom in Monterey.

p1060859-rockrose
rockrose

The week before Lent I journeyed to California’s Central Coast to visit my son and his family in the busy city of Monterey. Besides being popular among tourists who like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea, the John Steinbeck (Cannery Row) connection, etc., it has military and higher educational value thanks to institutions such as the Naval Postgraduate School and the Defense Language Institute; a state university and a school of international studies.p1060736crp

 

 

But for me, of course, the main attraction is three little boys and their parents! I had two entire days to hang out with them all and read stories, play with Matchbox cars, cook and eat…. Four-year-old Liam and I cleaned up the kitchen together one morning and pruned the butterfly bush the next. He really did work!p1060756

We visited the Pacific Grove Natural History Museum where I took pictures of the boys at the feet of a stuffed grizzly bear, and they played with magnetized glass eyes such as taxidermists use, trying to fit them into the proper skull.

p1060766

p1060739crp-sand-lg

 

 

My own favorite exhibit was of sands from around the world. It made me want to start my own collection, to go with my rock collection. I’ll need to get some small bottles that I could tuck in my pocket or camera bag, and always be ready to save a sample.

 

 

 

p1060737-370p1060744crp-371

Joy made an elaborate picnic that we ate on the beach, and then we spent an hour exploring the sand there, and the creatures that wash up. It took most of the following week to identify the animals as pyrosomes (the long pink things) and Corolla spectabilis pseudoconchs (the transparent roundish ones). A marine biologist friend of Kit’s pointed us to this article on: Tubes and Slippers, which also shows them side-by-side.

p1060829

p1060831

p1060846crp2

The proteas are blooming in Monterey:

p1060850-protea

It was a blessed trip. I’ll stay closer to home now for a few weeks.

Happy March to you all!

p1060836