Archive for 'travel'

Nepali Villagers Forced to Travel Treacherous Roads to Nearest Hospital

Posted on August 10, 2011, by Hanna Ingber, under Health, International, travel, women.

My blog for The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting:

The ride there was actually quite lovely. It was coming back when we realized just how harrowing doing something as basic as driving to town can be for the people of Nepal’s rural areas.

Pulitzer Center intern Anna Tomasulo and I arrived Monday night in Dolakha, a district in Nepal’s mountain region with picturesque mountains and lush green rice paddies. We set off Tuesday morning to visit a small village up in the hills. The area mostly consists of the Thami ethnic group, and the majority of those in this village marry their girls off as young as 12 or 13. We wanted to talk to one of these young women about her experience with early marriage.

Our team included a media officer from the non-governmental organization SOLID Nepal, a Kathmandu health journalist and two local community workers.

We drove as far as we could without getting stuck in the mud and then set off by foot. We only covered about 10 kilometers, but the journey took three hours given the rough terrain – and our fair share of chai stops.

As we trekked, we edged along the mountain, viewing terraced fields and small red homes in the distance. The sky looked like one large cloud, hovering above the mountains. One of our team members pointed to a school on the opposite mountain, explaining that kids in this village had to walk three hours to get to that high school.

We hiked down steep rock paths, carefully watching each step. In front of me, a villager dressed in a red sari and sandals walked down the rocks carrying a baby wrapped in a blanket on her back.

Eventually, we reached the village and found a line of women squatting in a field planting rice paddies. Our female community worker went to talk to the women and try to convince the one who married at 14 to share her story with us. We stayed on the dirt road, enjoying the crisp air and mountain scenery.

The community worker returned: the young woman is busy planting and doesn’t want to talk. If we can give her health care, great, but otherwise, she’s busy.

Thirty minutes later, after the community worker and our NGO media officer convinced the village’s health officer, who convinced the other village women, who convinced the young mother to talk – and after Anna and others from our team offered to help plant – she agreed to sit with us.

The young mother told us she had three children soon after marrying. During her third birth, her labor lasted 48 hours, and her family then decided to take her to the hospital in town. They put her on a bus, but the bus broke down.

Follow updates on the project page to learn this young woman’s story.

Meanwhile, we finished the interview and decided to head back to town. We met up with the others, who did not want to walk back because it would take four hours given the hills. We had tea and waited at the village’s one-stop shop-restaurant-home-bus stop. We waited and waited. The bus didn’t come.

The villagers decided to try to fix a massive truck that had broken down near the shop-restaurant-home-bus stop. Anna and I watched as men squatted on the ground and stuck various tools under the truck. Boys in school uniforms gathered to watch. A bad sign came when the SOLID Nepal media officer, who had no auto mechanic experience, also squatted on the ground and played with the tools.

Will they ever fix this truck, we wondered. And how will it be safe driving along the mountain’s edge back to town? We remembered the waterfalls we passed on the way here. We had watched in horror as a bus crammed full with villagers drove through the waterfall, bouncing back and forth against the rocks and water. How will this truck drive through the waterfalls? I laughed, finding the situation a bit too crazy to believe.

After two hours of waiting at the shop, the bus arrived. We jumped up with glee. Men jumped on top; we crammed inside. The bus was packed full with people, giving us barely enough room to fit.

We set off for town but quickly realized the bus was a horrible decision. We rocked back and forth as it tried to maneuver the muddy road and deep tire tracks. Anna accidentally looked down the mountain, and saw the green rice paddies and fields far below. She forced herself not to look down again. We gripped the railings above. I leaned my body towards the mountain and away from the cliff as I noticed the other passengers’ expressions. One woman in a seat miraculously slept, or at least pretended to, but another standing behind me looked as horrified as I felt. She clenched her teeth and closed her eyes with each turn. I remembered the countless news stories I had read about road accidents involving overcrowded buses in India, and I prayed this would not be one more such story.

Soon, Anna and I decided this was too much. Atul, we need to get off this bus, I said to the Kathmandu health journalist. Don’t worry, he said, we’ll be fine. No, Atul, we really need to get off this bus.

The others insisted we’d stop at the waterfall and get off there. No way were we going to drive with this bus along that waterfall. Don’t worry, the team said again and again, we’ll get off before the waterfall.

But as the waterfall approached, it became clear we weren’t getting off. It was too slippery to stop the bus.

Eventually, after what was probably 10 minutes but felt like an hour, the road improved, and we successfully convinced the driver to stop.

Our team jumped out – relieved we were still alive – and began to hike back to town. And then, it began to pour.

After a couple more hours, we made it back safely. It was a terrifying experience being on the bus, and difficult to trek in the rain. But as we hiked, one thought returned to my mind over and over: the young woman in the village did that trek nine months pregnant and after 48 hours in labor. I don’t know how she mustered the strength.

Go to the Pulitzer Center site for photos from our trip.

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In God’s Own Country

Posted on January 24, 2011, by Hanna Ingber, under India, International, travel.

The first night my mother and stepfather arrived in Mumbai, I stuffed them into an auto-rickshaw and took them to my local Bandra (northwest Mumbai) hangout for a bite to eat, washed down with the obligatory Sula wine. On the way back to my apartment, my mother leaned her head out the rickshaw and stared in wonderment at the tiny shacks lining the road. She turned and whispered to me: “This is all fascinating. But, you know, I’m a little disappointed. We haven’t seen a cow yet.”

And from there our weeklong adventure began. Them seeing India through my eyes, and me seeing it through theirs.

We spent two days in Mumbai so they could get a sense of where I have been living for the past year, as I’ve worked as a GlobalPost correspondent. We did the tourist must-sees – the Gateway of India and Taj bathroom stop, National Gallery of Modern Art, Jehangir Art Gallery, a view of the Queen’s Necklace from Dome. After eating butter-pepper-garlic crab at Trishna, we took a rest outside the majestic Prince of Wales museum.

As we sat on a concrete divider, my mother took photographs of Indian families with their anklet-clad children, and Indian families took photos of us. We never made it into the museum.

Continue reading and see photographs from our trip to Mumbai and Kerala at India Abroad. (Use the zoom function at the top to read it.)

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Touring the Old Bandra Villages in Mumbai

Posted on December 31, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Culture, India, International, travel.

Mumbai’s popular suburb Bandra today boasts a happening night life, cosmopolitan feel and abundance of shopping choices. But Bandra was originally a collection of 25 quaint villages, traces of which can still be found.

Travelers to Mumbai can take a walking tour of these villages and see the charming lanes, Catholic churches and picturesque cottages that remain — but face the threat of decay and demolition, thanks in part to new high-rises.

A recent tour, led by Father Larry Pereira, a local priest, began at Bandra’s oldest church, St. Andrew’s (at the corner of Hill and Chimbai roads), which Portuguese Jesuits built in the 16th century. We then walked east on Hill Road and made a right into Varoda Road, directly across from Apostolic Carmel High School. Ranwar village begins at St. Jude Bakery, which was originally a traditional home.

The villages were built on rocky areas surrounded by fertile farmland, according to Father Pereira, who grew up attending St. Andrew’s. The homes were built huddled together without care for order or symmetry. “Haphazard is the old and planned is the new,” he said.

Continue reading at NYTimes.com.

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How to Navigate Mumbai’s Train Culture

Posted on December 24, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under India, International, travel.

Mumbaikars complain about one thing more than anything else: traffic. With more and more cars, potholed roads and endless honking, trying to get from point A to point B in Mumbai can be a nightmare. And don’t even bother during rush hour.

Travelers to Mumbai, though, can zip between the south and north by taking the commuter train. It costs a fraction of  the price of a taxi, provides fabulous photo opportunities and gives visitors an authentic taste of the city. If you can handle them — more on that below — the trains can be an excellent way to see the city.

Take note: traveling on the trains should be left to the adventurous: no pregnant ladies, no weak of heart. You must be willing to push and shove, and you can’t mind having the occasional elbow thrown into your ribs.

Continue reading at NYTimes.com.

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Photo Show Recalls a Calmer Mumbai

Posted on December 17, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under India, International, travel.

On any given night in Mumbai, odds are relatively high that you can find people drumming, singing and dancing barefoot through the streets as they celebrate a wedding or religious festival. With its endless buzz of people, cars and street parties, this city throbs with energy. But a new exhibition at Gallery BMB (Yantra Annexe, Queen’s Mansion, Ghanshyam Talwatkar Marg, Near Cathedral School, Fort; 91-22-6171-5757; www.gallerybmb.com), running through Jan. 10, shows photographs from the 1930s and ’40s that portray the city in a different light: notably, calm and peaceful.

“When It Was Bombay” consists of about 20 photographs of the city, taken before its name changed to Mumbai and its population reached upwards of 16 million.

“It’s such a big difference now,” said Kanchi Mehta, the show’s curator, as she looked through the photographs. “Every time I look at these I’m like, ‘Wow, what must life have been like back then?’ ”

Continue reading at NYTimes.com.

Follow Hanna on Twitter @Hanna_India.

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India: Train Etiquette No Laughing Matter

Posted on November 21, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under India, International, travel.

MUMBAI, India — There are rules to Mumbai’s trains, and rule No. 1 is don’t take a Virar Fast train if you’re not going to Virar.

The women on Virar trains have long commutes and they hate it when other people try to invade their space. If you do manage to cram yourself in, and then get off at an earlier stop, the Virar women might block the door and not let you off. Or so I heard. They are tough, these women.

But when a Virar Fast train pulled into the station on a recent afternoon, I told myself it wouldn’t be so bad. It had been a really long day, and I was soaking wet from the rain. All I wanted to do was get home quickly and put on some dry socks. The platform looked relatively empty and, well, I went for it.

On board, it wasn’t so bad. I had to secure standing room, but the car wasn’t packed — by Mumbai standards at least. There was some pushing and shoving, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Heading north, though, out of South Mumbai, the train filled quickly. As we got closer to my stop, Andheri, I realized there were about 20 women between me and the door, squished together bosom to back.

Continue reading at GlobalPost.

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In Mumbai, Finding the Perfect Fit

Posted on October 31, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under Culture, India, International, travel.

Walk through a market in Mumbai, and the brilliant colors, intricate designs and variety of fabrics on sale at even the smallest stall will captivate you. India’s clothes — like the countries’ bangle-clad women — sparkle and dazzle.

And luckily for travelers, with its low cost of labor and raw materials, Mumbai is an ideal city to have high quality clothes made at a fraction of what they would cost in the West. Here’s a short guide to finding your perfect fit.

For custom-made formal wear, try the designer Rahil Raja (B-205, Raj Mahal Building, Off Yari Road, Versova, Andheri West; 91-986-724-3355). Mr. Raja specializes in making traditional Indian outfits like saris and tunics with Western touches such as ruching or asymmetrical necklines. When he designs Western evening gowns, he often uses Indian fabrics.

“I kind of blend both to create something more contemporary and chic,” said Mr. Raja, who also designs costumes for Bollywood productions. His eveningwear creations begin at 10,000 rupees (about $220) and take about 10 days to make.

Continue reading at NYTimes.com.

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Mumbai’s Jewish Culture: Small but Unique

Posted on October 11, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under India, International, Religion, travel.

I’m going to be writing for the NYTimes.com’s travel blog. Here’s my first piece, with photographs.

With at least seven synagogues, each with its own unique design and history, Mumbai has no shortage of Jewish sites to visit. But given the city’s tiny Jewish population, trying to get a Shabbat minyan at each poses a bigger challenge.

Sitting in the office of the Magen Hassidim Synagogue (8, Mohomad Shahid Marg, Agripada; 91-22-2309-2493), Abraham Samson and Daniel Soloman Waskar, the synagogue’s president and manager, recalled the community’s golden years in an interview conducted before the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. During the British era, the synagogue, with its high ceiling, upper level for women, hanging eternal light and tebah (the Sephardic term for the bimah, the elevated central prayer area) would become so crowded that people would gather at the door.

Beginning in the 1950s, though, most of the city’s Jewish community left for Israel or the West. Mr. Samson and Mr. Waskar rattled off each member of their family and where they now live. “Now from my family,” Mr. Samson said, “nobody’s here.”

Continue reading at NYTimes.com.

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My Maroon Velvet Cave to Goa

Posted on June 1, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under India, International, travel.

GOA, India — For 800 rupees ($17) I got a spot on a sleeper bus from Mumbai to Goa. I’ve taken an overnight train in India with sleeping compartments (see my story on unintentionally joining India’s masses and peeing on train tracks). But before this trip to Goa, I didn’t even know so-called sleeper buses existed. I could not imagine what they looked like or how one could create a bed on a bus.

Thanks to Google, I got some photos before my trip to help me visualize the dreaming while busing experience. And thanks to Twitter, I got some input before the journey. @dhempe confirmed these sleeper buses exist and wrote, “yup thr r sleeper buses which r very comfortable.”

But then @aparnaandhare chimed in: “except when the driver decides to speed around a corner and you are terrified of falling!”

Eek, maybe this was a bad idea.

@SudhaKanago added: “I had also heard about shady things that go on in the dark :-)

@AndrewBuncombe, the Independent’s Asia correspondent who was recently shot while reporting from Bangkok, wrote “That counts as brave. Will you be able to Tweet from the bunk?”

My transportation choice to the beach was not supposed to be “brave.”

But I needed a break for a couple days, and the pina coladas on the beach were calling.

The bus arrived at the Bandra long-distance bus station — which consists of a couple benches by the side of the road — and my brave mode of transport did not look particularly impressive. The windows were tinted black so I couldn’t actually see inside. I ran over to the man checking tickets, eager to be first on line, and then hopped onto the bus, peaking my head around the driver’s seat and into the vehicle of mystery.

Neither the Google pictures nor the friendly tweets had prepared me for the real thing. I don’t mean to be cheesy, but there’s no other way to describe it accurately — a sleeper bus is super cool.

Mine consisted of two layers of beds, like bunk beds, on each side of the aisle. Everything was maroon and velvet. Maroon velvet cushions, maroon velvet curtains on the windows, maroon velvet curtains blocking out the aisle, maroon velvet ceiling.

I climbed up a metal ladder on the side, awkwardly plunking myself, laptop, camera and beach towel into my compartment. I wrapped a metal chain around my camera and laptop (and, with no where to hook it, around me), spread my beach towel over my legs like a blanket and lied down.

To my surprise and delight, a sleeper bus is incredibly comfortable. Arguably more comfortable than my own bed. Resting my head on the built-in pillow, I glanced at the ceiling and curtains, ran my fingers along the bedding and felt like I was in a super soft maroon cave. As a lay in the bus horizontal, I pulled back the curtain and watched the Mumbai traffic as we headed out of town.

From this view, even the traffic seemed lovely.

Ten hours later, when the bus driver would only pause at the roadside for the men to pee and refuse to stop at a public restroom, and the little boys would repeatedly bounce up and down in the aisle, popping their heads into my compartment every six minutes, I saw the sleeper bus a little differently.

But those first 10 minutes were delightful.

This was originally published on True/Slant.

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Matheran: A Retreat from Mumbai Madness

Posted on January 20, 2010, by Hanna Ingber, under India, International, travel.

I found a beautiful, quiet place to sit outside and relax. And it only took me six weeks, a taxi, two local trains and a “toy train.” Check out my travelogue with photos for True/Slant about visiting a hill station near Mumbai.

Some friends and I recently took a day trip to Matheran, a hill station about 100 kilometers from Mumbai. Let me clarify a few nouns in that sentence. I went with Yehia Houry, a young Lebanese man who recently moved to Mumbai to work as a fellow for the Acumen Fund. We met in line — no, not online — at the Indian consulate in New York when we were applying for visas last November. This was the second time I had seen him in Mumbai, and even though the first was work-related, two encounters definitely counts as a “friend” when you first move to a city.

The other “friends” I went with are British backpackers who have taken a year off to travel around India and Southeast Asia. (Yes, they do carry backpacks.) This was the first time we had met, and I probably won’t ever see them again, but I am knew here — and happy to claim as many “friends” as I can.

Continue reading here.

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