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A Day at the Races

August 10, 2013 Comments off

Horse racing in Pune

Week before I received an invitation from an expat group I belong to, Everything Expats.  Everything Expats provides relocation services for expatriates and as part of that they also maintain a mailing list, host a forum where expats can trade info, and from time to time host get-togethers where foreigners can meet both other foreigners and local folks as well.  The invite was for the running of the Theur Hamlet Cup at Pune Racecourse on Sunday 4 August.  Seemed intriguing, so off we went.

The day was overcast – the monsoon is not quite done – and we had light mists of rain all through the afternoon.  Here’s a view of part of the Member’s Area and the public grandstand beyond:

Race course grandstand

Like many things here, the racecourse has an old-timey feel – one could easily picture Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Harry the Horse, or any other of Damon Runyon’s characters placing a bet at the tote window.  Horse racing has been happening in Pune since at least 1815.  In 1870 a Major General Burnett donated the current race course lands to the West India Turf Club; the race course is in the middle of the Pune Cantonment, a military district established by the British in 1817 and today maintained by the Indian Army.

Nowadays the race course is part of both the Pune social and commercial scene.  The “Theur Hamlet Cup” was sponsored by a local real-estate developer, Theur, who was promoting a new development, “The Hamlet”.  Far from Elsinore in both distance and conception, The Hamlet features horseback riding and also high-end bungalows with solar panels and other eco-minded features.  But the real-estate angle hardly impinged on us, mostly we wandered about, mingled and generally had a nice afternoon:

Pune race course party

Morgan and Kim at Pune race course

Pune race course party

This is a turf club with real turf.  After each race a crew would slowly pace the grass of the track, fixing up the divots made by the race horses:

Race course crew

We all noticed that it was the women who did all the fixing; the men just trudged after dragging their rakes and talking.

What was the financial upshot of all this?  Well, despite losing Rs. 100 on the first race I bet – on a long-shot named Salsa – we had a winner and a placer on the two next races, greys picked by Morgan and Kim named Four-Star General and Hachiko respectively.  In the actual Theur Cup race, Mars was the favorite and Fortune Favors the #2.  Hoping boldness would be rewarded, I put another Rs. 100 on Fortune Favors to win, but it was not to be.  If not for that last bet I would have been up a big, big Rs. 30 (about $0.50).

I should have used a more scientific method, like these guys:

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A Butcher

June 8, 2013 2 comments

Pune Butchershop

While you can get meat at Western-style supermarkets here, local people in India prefer going to a traditional butcher.  There are many such shops here, at different scales; the smallest are streetside stalls where passersby risk spatter from the butchering activities.  This picture is of the shop our driver Rupesh brought Kim to and that I visited first time last weekend.  Here you can get goat, lamb, chicken, plus an assortment of fishes.  On this day I got boneless lamb, which the butcher hacked off a hanging leg, then cubed for me with authoritative whacks on top of the stump cutting board. Price for 1 kg was Rs. 580, or just under $5 / lb.

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Sometimes skill and execution are rewarded by luck …

February 23, 2013 2 comments

scorecard-1

and you get a hole in one.  First one , ever, for me.  I golf on and off back in the USA for 35 years – nothing.  Then I come to India – get my first hole in one.  Go figure.

1st hole, Poona Golf ClubThe Scene: Poona Golf Club, in the Yerwada district of Pune.  I have played there a few times since coming to India last August.  I wanted to show Kim the course so off we went.  On Thursday I called my regular caddy, Ganesh, and he got us a Saturday time at 1:30.

We started on the back nine.  I was playing good for me, starting par-bogey-bogey, until going double-triple-double on 13-14-15.  Then we come to #16, a 3-par of 185 yards.  The hole is flat and fairly straight on, and is bunkered right, left and back.  However the green is guarded by large, branchy trees on right and left – a veritable Scylla and Charybdis of dendritic menace (if you will pardon a perhaps too-florid allusion).  As you look at the green from the tee, there is only a 7-yard or so clear space in very center of the green.  It is possible to loft over the trees, but it is very hard for average golfers to hit shots that are high, carry 185 yards, and then stop.

I played a 5-iron from the blue tees.  Now, my irons are TaylorMade Burner 2 irons.  The lofts on these clubs are stronger than “traditional” clubs – my 5-iron is about the same as a typical 4-iron from even just year 2003 or so.  Anyway I’m happy to be able to say I hit 5-iron 185 yards – though back in the day you had to be an actual golfer to be able to say that.

So, there I am with my 5-iron back on #16 tee.  The pin is on the left, about 1/3rd of the way from the edge of the green.  I figure I’ll aim at the pin and try to hit a full, high shot.  The shot is full and high alright, but pulled a bit left – into the compass of one the aforementioned trees.  It was hard to follow and I assumed my ball pinballed back and forth amongst the branches and dropped on the left side of the green or just off.

However when my caddy Ganesh and I arrive at the sinister side of said green – no ball.  Five minutes we search, in the bunker, short, long, another fairway … nothing.  Finally Ganesh declares my ball must be lodged up in the tree somewhere. I am of course irritated.  That was a good shot, and if this leafy Rakshasa had not taken it, my ball would be on the green.  I put down a ball and proceed to play from where I figured my ball probably would have been.

My chip goes long, towards the back edge of the green.  By now Kim has also played a 2nd shot onto the green and as we are lining up our putts, Kim’s caddy goes to tend the pin.

Hole-in-one ball

“Sir, sir!” the caddy excitedly demands my attention. “You ball is here sir!”

“You have got to be kidding me,” I reply.

No kidder he. We all gathered round the cup to stare skeptically downwards.  Sure enough, there was my #3 TaylorMade TP Black LDP golf ball.  We all agreed the ball had indeed caromed around through the branches, but for some reason – will of the golfing gods, intercession of Lord Ganesh, or plain dumb luck – it happened the ball should roll into the hole.

Now Ganesh and his fellow caddy, Bundu, were convinced this good fortune should be laid at Kim’s feet – “Because Ma’am is with you first time today,” they explained.  Maybe so, but how much pressure can one woman stand?  Mother of my children, helpmeet, business partner, muse, obligatory laugher-at for my jokes, and now, golfing good-luck charm?  Oh, heavy burthen.

Anyway, that is the story of my first hole in one.  The rest of the round was pretty good, with three more pars and a chip-in birdie on #5, totaling a not-too-shabby 86.

We did capture some photos.  Here’s Kim and myself with the hole-in-one ball (now to be an heirloom of my house), and our caddies, Ganesh (on the left) and Bundu:

golf-pic

I end with some golfing poetry I found:

To hole in one

or at last let go of your boy
on his new bike as he makes it
the length of the drive, down the hill,
along the carriageway,
between the weighbridge and the bottle bank –
just a dot now –

and through the gates of the big school without
falling.

Ok, so it is only golf.  But I can now say a hole in one is kind of like that, something you send on a long, uncertain journey then – against expectations – in one motion arrives somewhere great.

Now, according to the ancient tradition, I go to buy drinks for the house … which in this case is just Kim and me. Till next time.

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The first I have seen …

February 16, 2013 2 comments

Elephant in Pune

My first elephant here in India, that is.  We came upon this calm, apparently easy-going fellow driving in the area of Lakshmi Rd. here in Pune.  Only as I was posting this picture did I notice the cruel implement leaning to the driver’s left.

I took this from our car.  You can’t really see but this elephant passed to our left, even though you drive on the left in India.  That is because here, elephant always has the right of way.

Stay well, elephant.

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Won’t be eating here … not for a while.

January 25, 2013 1 comment

A restaurant

This restaurant is next to the barber shop I patronize here in Pune.  I haven’t mustered the courage to examine the menu.

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Karla Caves near Pune

January 13, 2013 2 comments

Kim at the Karla Caves

No, Kim is not scrutinizing the posture of a literally statuesque Hindu dancer.  She is instead looking up at this unexpected feature of the Karla Caves, namely, beehives:

Karla Cave beehives

Yesterday we decided to do some sight seeing and the Karla Caves seemed like a good destination.  Since reading about the rock-cut architecture of India I have wanted to visit one of these caves.  Karla, at 50 kms or so away, is a convenient destination, so we set out early and arrived at 10:30 am or so.

Before saying more about the actual caves, for the benefit of fellow visiting foreigners let me say a bit about guides, helpers and touts.  India is fraught with such characters and tourist destinations especially so.  As soon as an obvious bunch of Westerners arrive you will be accosted by “guides” who offer to help you with local knowledge.  Their usefulness is marginal, but by knowing the details of these places they can save you a bit of aimless wandering.  For me the main appeal of these fellows are the ridiculous prices they will ask and the opportunity for bargaining.  At these times, if you want the help of a guide, be prepared for something like this:

“Sir!  I am expert on the caves!  I show everything, only 700 rupees.”

“700?  For that price I expect you to carry me up to the temple.”

“Sir?”

“700 is too much.  How about 50?”

“Sir!  With all my knowledge?  For you I give special price, 500 only …”

And so it goes.  The amounts really don’t matter to Westerners.  But there are many hard-working Indians who are lucky to make Rs. 500 (or less) in a 12-hour day of actual labor.  For that reason I’m loathe to give the same amount to some fast-talker who will spend 30 mins telling me stuff I already know from my wikiPedia reading.  Yesterday after a few minutes of haggling  I engaged a man for Rs. 200.  Ultimately he didn’t have any special insights to impart, but it helped the local economy I suppose.

On to the caves.  Karla is at the top of hill.  You go most of the way by car, but then there is a winding path of steps that takes you the remaining few hundreds of meters to the top:

Path to Karla Caves

The way up is lined with stalls like these:

Shopman at Karla Caves

Many of these sell refreshments and souvenirs, but a great many sell marigolds, spices, coconuts – the necessary materials for a puja that Hindus will perform at the temple at the top of the hill.

Karla is a very old place, dating from the 2nd century BC.  Here is the outside of the caves:

Outside Karla Caves

The upper galleries you see are closed off from visitors.  Anyway 2,000 years ago this space in front of the caves was a village-like affair, a stopping point on the Buddhist trade-routes that criss-crossed ancient India.

There are 2 main features of the caves, the first being the prayer hall:

Prayer Hall

At the far end is the stupa, a dome-like stone housing relics and adorned with inscriptions.  This hall magnifies sound; the favorite activity of the many school children visiting was to shout slogans and hear them echo.  Again, it was intriguing to imagine 2,000 years ago, the hall full of seated monks and their prayers reverberating.

The second feature are the smaller caves with meditation cells for individual monks:

Meditation Cell

These spaces inside are only a few feet across.  Seated in such a place I can see how there would be little distraction – assuming one could get over the distraction of sitting, that is. 

Hearing of these cave-cells I jokingly asked our “guide” if I could see Bodhidharma’s shadow in this place.  The guide replied that indeed many Chinese people visited these caves.  Sigh.

Between the prayer-hall and the meditation cells it’s rather amazing to consider these vast spaces were mainly cut by hand out of solid stone.  As I read here, the main technique used was to create small crevices in the stone, push in dry wood, then apply water – the expansion of wet wood fractures the stone.

In the centuries since its founding Karla has become more of a Hindu destination than a Buddhist one.  Outside the prayer-hall is a small temple to Ekveera, a goddess revered by Koli people who live mainly in Mumbai.  We all went inside and while we could take no photos, for Rs. 40 we all received a ceremonial dab of red dye on our foreheads together with, presumably, the goddess’ blessing.

Finally it was time to go, but not before obtaining a souvenir of our visit.  At the bottom of the path was a man selling minerals.  I selected these 2 pieces:

Minerals from Karla Cave

Minerals seem an appropriate keepsake for visiting a cave.  The piece on the right is calcite, perhaps two pounds in weight.  On the left is what I think is an apophyllite, a common crystal found in Maharashtra.

Once again it was time for bargaining.  The shopman started at Rs. 2,500 – “These minerals come from this very mountain!” he confidently declared.  I was very happy to see his consternation when I suggested 400.  I walked away from the booth two times – in one of those cases remarking “I had plenty of rocks back in the US” – only to return to hear more offers.  Walking away the 3rd time the shopman came after holding the minerals and we agreed on Rs. 600.  As is usual in these cases you have no idea how well you really did – he probably got these pieces for 5 or 10 – but the experience is half the fun.

All in all, a very engaging visit.  We’d very much like to go on a longer trip to a place like Ajanta Caves, one of the foremost cave temples in India.

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Never Hurts to be Precise

January 12, 2013 Comments off

IMG_0284

This helpful sign we saw at Rajiv Gandhi Zoological Park, here in Pune.  Based on the detailed description, we all assumed that perturbing, enticing, needling, nagging, riling and rankling probably would be Ok.

Of course, when the representative animals are like this:

IMG_0289

it is probably best to leave sleeping snakes lie un-rankled, as it were.

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