Posts Tagged ‘pune’

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


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:


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

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.”


“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


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:


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

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Cost of Things

December 9, 2012 1 comment

Handmade shirts

Last weekend I went to do some shopping on MG Road.  (Mahatma Gandhi Road, virtually all cities in India have one.)  In Pune MG Road is a great place for shopping; if it’s physically for sale in the city, you can find it there.

A cute knick-knack sort of thing I saw:

Musical Ganesha

A musical Lord Ganesha, with mouse accompanists.  (Like Lord Shiva rides a bull, Lord Ganesha rides a mouse.)

Shops you’ll find on MG Road range from typical Western brands – Adidas, Nike, Levi’s and the like – to a much greater range of Indian shops.  There’s also places like The Bombay Store, that carry Indian goods but cater to tourists or higher-income Indians.

Something that will seem odd to Westerners – certainly was odd to me – is this:


Notice how there are two shoe stores right next to each other?  This is kind of like having an Athlete’s Foot next to a Footlocker in the US.  Why open next to your competitor and give buyers the opportunity to easily comparison shop?  Apparently the logic in India is people won’t bother to make the trip to a place where there is only a single vendor – competition right next door is implicit proof this is a going commercial concern.

I saw a lot of things on MG Road.  I really wanted to just get a sense of what was there, though I did have one idea for buying, namely: Simple things I could bring back to US as presents.  India is famous for textiles, so I thought maybe scarves or simple kameez would make good gifts.  Another thing on my mind was shirts.  I have read several times that garments can easily be custom-made here – one place I read this was in IBM-colleague Bob Carlsen’s book Sacred Dust on Crowded Streets.  That was on my mind as well.

As it happened I found myself in this tiny place:


Like many Indian shops it is very narrow – 2, 2 1/2 meters side to side – but very deep, stretching back 20 meters or more.  This was a cloth store and the shop-man, a Mr. Gobinda, was very excited to show me all he had.  It now occurred to me that kameez was too ambitious of a goal – all the female recipients I could think of would very much prefer to take their own choices rather than mine – but scarves seemed a doable thing.

And there were a lot.  Here are some I ended up with:


These are sheer silk, all with paisley patterns.  I also obtained some shawls, like this one:


These shawls are made of a fine wool thread; the company that makes them is named Oswal; I got 5 different color combinations.

Thinking of shirts I inquired of Mr. Gobinda.  To no one’s surprise, shirts could be had.  Excellent shirts, the very best.  Made precisely for you. Our shirts are famous, famous I tell you.  Observe this cloth, sir, please feel it.  What, the color does not please you?  I remove it, I discard it, I send it far away.  Perhaps these other colors?  And trousers, sir … ?

Excuse me, I digress.  40 minutes, several cups of tea, and one short stroll to the tailor shop later, I had arranged for 3 Western-style business shirts, of 3 colors in simple cotton, and 2 kurta-style shirts, in coarse red and brown silk.  The results you see at the top photo.

The cost of all this?

•  10 silk scarves, each 21” x 72” (plus 1 “for free”): Rs. 1000 ($19).

•  5 fine wool shawls, each 38” x 82”: Rs. 2,000 ($38).

•  Fabric for 5 shirts, 3 cotton (blue, cream & white), 2 silk (red & brown): Rs. 3,100. ($58.50)

•  Sewing of 5 shirts, 2 kurta-style with simple collars, 3 Western style with business collar and cuffs: Rs. 1,000 ($19).

As I recall the cotton was about Rs. 200 or 250 per meter; because I had long-sleeved shirts I believe 3.5 meters were needed per shirt.  The silk was more, ~ Rs. 300 a meter, I can’t recall exactly, but I needed less because of short-sleeves. Off top of my head I have no direct reference points for buying fabric.  But I buy shirts from Land’s End, LL Bean, etc. all the time.  There a single shirt is at least $30 – let alone 5.

Finally …  tailoring for 5 hand-sewn shirts, for $20?  It boggles the Western mind, until you do the math from an Indian perspective.  The tailor has made a great many shirts before, so he knows what he is doing.  As a guess, maybe it took him 2 full days to make my 5 shirts.  If he is able to work at this level 30 days out of each month, he makes Rs. 15,000 per month, as much as a driver or many other average Indian people.  And if because of his skill and experience, it only took him 1 day in all, then his earnings would be Rs. 30,000 a month, even better still.

I’ll let people draw their own economic conclusions.  I’m still thinking of all the scarves and shawls, the tiny 8” x 8” tailor shop, Mr. Gobinda’s cheerful mercantilism, and the straight-line stitching on my new shirt-collars.

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Happy Diwali!

November 13, 2012 1 comment


Today is the official starting day of Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights.  I say Indian because Diwali, while ostensibly a Hindu festival, nonetheless attracts all faiths to its activities of feasting, family-visiting, gift-giving and – as you see above – fireworks.  These are just some examples I was able to capture snapping pix from my balcony.  As I type and look out my office window I see fireworks near and far almost continuously.  Firecrackers – some incredibly loud – have been echoing all around since dawn this morning.  Fireworks of various types have been going off since Saturday, though tonight seems to be the most so far.


I found these used examples outside my flat this morning, a rather heavy roman-candle like thing and an empty box of sparklers.  I guess Batman is somehow a cross-cultural symbol of night – on my balcony this evening I certainly saw enough actual bats.

Diwali is also a time to show appreciation to employees.  I have made a modest tip to the security people at my building, and I hope to do the same later this week for my driver.  The local newspapers feature many stories on public employees and the bonuses they do or do not receive for this holiday.

Ah – a barrage of screamers is zinging past my windows now.  Happy Diwali, everyone!

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Some Local Sights

October 21, 2012 1 comment


Today I took a bit of a walk – 3 kms out and 3 kms back – to look around near where I live.  To the west of me is Koregaon Park, somewhere I know pretty well now, an upscale area (for Pune) of restaurants and shops.  Today I headed east to see what I could see.

There was no shortage of livestock out today. Here a young man was leading a herd of goats. Goat-meat here is called mutton; in US, UK and most western countries we take mutton to be sheep or older lamb.


I saw many buffalos as well, like this large specimen browsing at some trash:


These animals just burst out into traffic, I had to scramble to get a shot as they galloped by:


(Where they ran out of was the access road to the Hard Rock Café.  Perhaps they know something about the culinary practices there that we don’t?)

This station was setup on an empty stretch of the road, apparently a service provided by the government:


An impressive list of ailments, to be sure.  None of the locals seemed to be interested, however.

I passed a playground, with kids playing, and older women in saris sitting by and watching:


A more common sight is this, where kids in humbler surroundings play with whatever is to hand: stones, sticks, an old tire:


About half-way out on my jaunt I saw this lady:


I expect she was coming from the market, which I reached just a bit further on:


There were many fruits and vegetables here, and doubtless more workaday goods in the lanes and stalls further back.

Anyone who comes here will quickly get used to billboards like this:


I have to say I find the juxtaposition of these fantasies of luxury with the day to day reality of corrugated metal lean-tos and goats in the backyard to be more than a little jarring.  I’ll have to do a post dedicated to this; like the sentiment above, “Only the attitude is real”, these Indian ads intensely emphasize pampering yourself, that you deserve luxury, and that indulgence is good.

I’ll close with another ad I saw, one a bit more practical:


Now that is real.

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