More Bhutan Pics

I’m finally uploading the last set of Bhutan pics from my camera. Before I start on the turkeys.

Speaking of turkeys, some natives, probably already irritated at being mistakenly called Indians fed a group of starving European illegals a turkey and pumpkin and corn on a cold New England fall afternoon. Fast forward a few hundred years and we’ve given the world Trump. Beware of unintended consequences. Happy Thanksgiving.

Back to lovely Bhutan.

The Phallus

I’m not going to be a dick. Pictures first.

While pictures, paintings, and sculptures of phalluses in Bhutan bring out a giggling 11 year old boy in everyone, there is a story. Here’s an abridged version from the official plaque at the Chime Lhakhang monastery in Lobesa.

Lam Drupka (1455 to 1570) [not my typo] was an enlightened Buddhist Master who personified the true essence of the Vajrayana Tradition of Buddhism that is also known as “Crazy Wisdom”. This is the profound wisdom that transcends the mundane cultures of religion. Devotees fondly call him the “Devine Madman” because of his outrageous style of teaching. He indulged in song and dance, alcohol and women, hunting and feasting. He was a social critic who taunted the hypocrisy of established order including the monastic order. The use of his phallus as a “flaming thunderbolt” symbolizes the discomfort that society experiences when faced with the naked truth.

Jo and Vivian bought smaller than life size wooden phalluses as souvenirs. Or to use as flaming thunderbolts.


The Land of the Thundering Dragon! For this post my author is Evan. Here is his essay followed by a thousand photos:

Hello, my name is Evan. I am traveling around the world with my family and Bhutan is the 13th country I’ve gone to so far. Bhutan is my favorite place. Bhutan is a place to the east of India in the foothills of the Himalays and its very very mountainous. It’s between India and China. I went with my Mom, sister, Dad and my dads friends, Sahiti and Sharath.      

The food there is basically anything with cheese and chilies, a lot of chilies.There were red chilies drying in the sun on the roofs of houses everywhere. Bhutan is a democracy but there is a king. He has no power and the prime minister of Bhutan runs  the country .It’s very complicated. Bhutan is also unusual because it measures Gross National Happiness which is how happy the people are.

We went rafting on a river called the Mo Chhu and hiked up to a place called Tiger’s Nest, which is a Buddhist monastery on top of a mountain. We saw a lot of forts and temples too. I liked Bhutan because it was very clean, there were really good views and I really liked hiking and rafting!


Sharath included Kolkata in our travel plans. The name Kolkata is another one of those British Raj mispronunciations, but I admit “Cal” rolls off my tongue better than “Kol”. I wondered why we’d want to spend three days in the decaying dirty city where my parents lived and I was born.

Let’s say I was surprised. We stayed at the Bengal Club, a typical British-era club in post-colonial India. It is next to Park Street with all its restaurants. Within our first hour of being in Cal we were at Flury’s eating deserts that I remember my dad brining back from his business trips. Next morning we walked up to Victoria Memorial and then strolled back along the Maidan. One evening all six of us hopped onto a boat at the ghats and the oarsman took us for a very leisurely float on the Hoogly giving us sunset views of the famed Howrah bridge and the new bridge. Then we took an Ambassador (a type of car) taxi ride tour up the bank, crossed Howrah bridge, drove past the Howrah train station where we used to transfer on our way to Rourkela when I was seven and we moved there for two years, back down the other bank, on the new bridge, and over to Victoria Memorial. We hired one of the gilded buggies there and got a ride around the Maidan in the moonlight. Another morning we strolled along Chowringee to Esplanade and took an aging tram from Cruzon Park back down to Khiddirpore road.

Sanjay took us for a tour of the old Fort Williams and the museum there. Fort Williams was where the East India Company first set up shop from whence they gradually wheedled and then forced their way to rule India. The newer fort at Williams was built after the brutal 1857 Sepoy Mutiny and was one of the most expensive military installations of its time, built to protect the assets of the most profitable corporation of its time. Fort Williams is currently the headquarters of the Eastern Command of the Indian Army, and we also got to see artifacts from the India-Pakistan war which lead to the creation of Bangladesh. There was a copy of the Blood Telegram sent by Archer Blood, US counsel in Dacca, then East Pakistan. A book by the same name is a well written account of what lead to the Bangladesh war of independence and of America and Nixon’s roll in actively supporting genocide. Here’s an article about the book about the telegram (still with me?):

If Nixon and Kissinger are the villains in this book, Blood is the hero — along with 20 members of his consulate, all who considered it their duty to officially state their dissent from the U.S. policy in Pakistan. A telegram was sent to Washington — hence the title of the book. In it, Archer Blood criticized his government’s policy in Pakistan as “morally bankrupt.” He accused his superiors of failing to prevent genocide and supporting a regime that was crushing democracy and slaughtering innocent people. To ensure the widest circulation, he gave the telegram the lowest classification. 

We also got to see the Instrument of Surrender by which Pakistan unconditionally surrendered its armed forces in East Pakistan to the Indian army which led to the end of the war and the birth of Bangladesh.

I don’t know how much of all this Vivian and Evan absorbed but it was a great refresher for me. If I were a history teacher and had a lot of resources I’d let museums do some of the teaching.

But most of all we ate with friends and friends of friends. We ate Malayali home cooked food, Punjabi lunch at Kwality, late night sizzlers at Trinca’s with a live band, prawn toast at the Bengal Club, French and old-school continental at Mocambo, chelo kebabs at Peter Cat, the epitome of Bangali sweets – nolen gurer sondesh at Balaram Mullicks, and a full Bangali lunch at 6 Ballygunge Place. And one evening after a few drinks, Sharath I were daft enough to try mutton rolls at Kusum’s. Street food at its best and we lived.

How did you eat at all those places in three days you ask. I did think about that as they had to wheelbarrow me to my flight. And that doesn’t include the deserts, ice creams, brownies, and cakes that Sharath and Sanjay were buying for Vivian and Evan around every corner.

Oh, Kolkata. Oh, what fun.


Orissa, now (and before the careless mispronunciations of the British Raj) known as Odisha, is a state in India famous for its ancient temples. In Old Bhubaneswar, there’s a working temple or the archeological ruins of a temple around every corner. The temples are beautifully constructed in the Kalinga style, with a tall beehive / sugar loaf shaped main sanctum, preceded by three pyramidical roofed outer halls, and a huge surrounding courtyard, all made out of intricately carved sandstone. Here’s a picture of the Rajarani temple we visited after sunset on our first evening in Odisha. It was built in the 11th century and is an archeological site now.

The star attraction for me is the Konark Temple. The Lingaraja temple and the Jagannath temple are visited by many more pilgrims and are in far better shape, but they are off-limits to non-Hindus. No one asks unless you don’t look Hindu. Jo doesn’t.

The Konark temple was built around 1250 CE to the Sun god. Most of the temple is gone but what remains is still definitely worth visiting. It was built on a huge stone platform with stone wheels and horses to resemble a gigantic chariot. Alu and I visited Konark with my parents when I was a bit younger that Evan is now. I still recall the amazement I felt.

We get there late morning and it is already hot and humid. Sharath secures a guide and we dutifully pretended to listen to his rambling but distinctly non historic history about the construction of the temple. Then we proceed to get a guided tour around the massive stone chariot base in a clockwise direction.

And then things get tricky. Many of the carvings are from the Kama Sutra. Our guide proudly says “man and woman making love, polygynous, polyandrous, lesbian, everthing”. I wonder how my parents navigated the visit with two prepubescent boys 49 years ago. I’ve never heard a word about sex or anything of a sexual nature ever pass my mother or father’s lips in the presence of their children. Then we get to this sculpture.

And the guide said “69”. To which Evan say, without even caring to look at it, “Wow. There are so many sculptures and he knows this is the 69th one. Why is this one famous?”. Jo replies that he would need to be a bit older before he understands. Behind poor Evan’s back we joke about the moment he gets it. “Oh – that’s why the guide said 69!”

We wander past twenty foot tall walls laden with carvings of long phallused men and sensual women in every imaginable sexual position. This temple was built as an offering for fertility which may explain why. Vivian is quite stunned by the display. The guide is subtle with his descriptions till he finds Sharath and me alone, separated from the women and children for a few minutes. Pointing to a carving directly in front of our eyes he starts “and here she is sucking his penis while the other woman is….”. I hurriedly rejoin the women and children.

Konark, in spite of, because of, or independent of the sexually explicit carvings, is beautiful. After Konark we have a nice lunch at a breezy beachside restaurant – tandoori whole Bhetki (red snapper) and beer and rice and prawns. Then the non-Hindus 😂 return to Bhubaneswar in one car while the rest of us (😂😂) proceeded to Odisha’s most sacred site – the Jagannath temple in Puri. That is a cultural experience and a whole blog post by itself. Late evening we return to the mall in Bhubaneswar that belongs to Sharath’s friend who planned and hosted our trip and stay in Odisha. I got the kids some food to go from the food court (momos and masala popcorn chicken) and bought myself a pair of pants that they re-hemmed in 10 minutes. It’s nice to walk around a mall where you’re a friend of the owner. The day before, we even sat down for 10 minutes of a movie in a luxury three-screen movie house on the second floor.

Indians are by and large a dour lot when you pass them on streets or run into them casually. Bank tellers, immigration officers, or retail store cashiers see no need for a forced professional perkiness. When I first arrived in the US more than three decades ago and spoke to the AT&T operator (that’s how long ago) I was always surprised by her sincere-sounding but fully-scripted gratefulness for my “using AT&T”, which at that time had a virtual monopoly on long distance international calling. Back at home the implied attitude would have been “fuck off and don’t disturb me again”.

But Indians who you may meet even indirectly through someone else’s friendship are your friends. They invite you in to their homes and dinners and parties and vacations with a sincere and genuine friendliness that is unique.

At the end of our visit to Odisha, I think Vivian and Evan will remember that more than the temples. That and the 69 carving.

Diwali in Hyderabad

Back in 1912, Sarojini Naidu described the bazaars of Hyderabad beautifully.

In The Bazaars of Hyderabad

What do you sell, O merchants?Richly your wares are displayed.Turbans of crimson and silver, Tunics of purple brocade, Mirrors with panels of amber, Daggers with handles of jade.

What do you weigh, O ye vendors?Saffron, lentil and rice.

What do you grind, O ye maidens?Sandalwood, henna and spice.

What do you call, O ye pedlars?Chessmen and ivory dice.

What do you make, O ye goldsmiths?Wristlet and anklet and ring, Bells for the feet of blue pigeons, Frail as a dragon-fly’s wing, Girdles of gold for the dancers, Scabbards of gold for the kings.

What do you cry, O fruitmen? Citron, pomegranate and plum.

What do you play, O ye musicians?Sitar, Sarangi and drum.

What do you chant, O magicians?Spells for the aeons to come.

What do you weave, O ye flower-girls? With tassels of azure and red? Crowns for the brow of a bridegroom, Chaplets to garland his bed, Sheets of white blossoms new-garnered To perfume the sleep of the dead.

What do you code, O ye developers? In Ruby, Python and R.

What do you sell, O ye Apple Store? The iPhone 11 is a star.

How are you, O ye Hyderabad? The traffic runs amok. The air quality isn’t great. But we are in luck. ‘Cause it’s better than Delhi’s. So nobody really gives a fuck.

Not withstanding my poor rhymes things are getting better in my original hometown. The metro is running which has taken some traffic off the roads and most importantly the busiest streets aren’t dug up. The air is better at least around Diwali time. And the younger generation does give a fuck.

With Jo and my style of no-planning-ahead planning, we could have ended up anywhere on Diwali but we really did try and it worked out. The kids were here for Diwali back in 2011 when my Dad was still alive but they don’t remember that any more.

The sheer quantity of firecrackers are a fraction of what they used to be. They pollute the air so the next generation of Hyderabadis are using them sparingly. The noise is a sheet of continuous rolling thunder for hours instead of days. The sky is lit up in flashes now instead of solid mid day at night. The air, while cleaner, is still full of celebration. We started the morning with Laxmi puja and ended after midnight at Kali pujo.

The Choudary’s gave us new traditional clothes for Diwali. Partha helped Evan set off firecrackers. Jo played DJ and showed off her cool moves, aided by a nice bottle of wine. The kids convinced Sharath (pretty easily) to buy them Budhi-ki-Baal (old lady’s hair, or cotton candy) at the midnight Kali pujo fair. And Messi is the only dog I’ve known who didn’t give a shit about fireworks exploding everywhere.

Happy Diwali to your family from ours. May your days be filled with light and happiness.


A few days before our Nile cruise was to end we searched for where to go next. Rain was forecast in Goa, Kerala, the Maldives, and Seychelles. So we booked tickets from Aswan to Cairo to Athens to Mykonos where it wasn’t raining and spent a week doing nothing on the beautiful Cycladic island.

There is something fishy going on between cats and the Greeks. Athens was full of thousands of the cutest cats. We found cat food carefully put out on street corners. It was the same at Mykonos. Our neighbor and landlord had several beautiful kitties. One particular fellow sat outside our door or on our kitchen window for a week, meekly coming in a few times.

Desert Ramblings

As we slowly sailed up the Nile propelled by gentle warm breezes, the kids had the opportunity to observe life in and around the river. Geographically Egypt is simply the desert plus the Nile. There is a drastic and sudden transition from one to the other, from fertile greenery to stark desert.

The annual rainfall is 1 mm. We witnessed a smallish sand storm from our dahabiya. It ended with a few drops of rain. This may be the entire year’s rainfall. Where there is no Nile water, there is nothing. But life around the Nile is lush and filled with water.

A few steps past where the greenery ends, we visited the sand stone quarries at Gebel el-Silsila. On both sides of the Nile, during the New Kingdom, workers armed with bronze chisels and hammers and wooden wedges chipped away at sandstone. Closely spaced chisel groves mark the efforts of workmen 3500 years ago as they painstakingly quarried the desert one block of stone at a time.

When you see a massive ancient structure like the Great Pyramid or the pylons and obelisks at the Karnak temple, you cannot help but think of the engineering that went into creating them. A few thousand years ago the available tools were ropes, pulleys, levers, logs, skids, sledges, and ramps. And humans and animals to power the whole thing.

Nearby, hollowed out rooms in the rock served as offices for accountants. Workers were paid by measuring how much less their bronze chisels weighed. More wear indicated more work. There are inscribed rules for holidays and time off for family weddings and funerals. The pharaohs visits to the quarries from their cities many miles downstream, supposedly to thank the workers for their work, are marked on temple walls. Archeologists are still uncovering burial chambers and worker villages. Burials show carefully preserved mummies along with beer and bread for the afterlife. Similar discoveries have been made in the Luxor necropolis and in Giza at the site of the Great Pyramids. Our guides went into long spiels about how the quarry workers, craftsmen, and artisans felt they were doing God’s work and were held is high regard in society and how they were well paid. There was plenty of slavery during the Pharaohs but the prevailing academic opinion is that the workers were not slaves. Here’s an excerpt from the National Geographic (

Yet these laborers, far from being slaves, were privileged civil servants, and beneficiaries of a number of enviable perks. Analyses show they enjoyed a protein-rich diet, practically unheard of among the rest of the Nile Valley’s inhabitants. Evidence that broken limbs and fractures had been set correctly strongly suggests adequate medical care was provided.

This is in direct contrast to my perception about how the Egyptians monuments were built. I picture thousands of slaves pulling and pushing giant blocks of rock while being brutally whipped by burly taskmasters who ripped away slave women’s clothing while throwing their babies in the air. An exhausted slave falls to the ground and is crushed slowly to death under a giant moving stone block. Another slave stops to comfort and grieve and he’s beaten soundly. The work goes on.

This is the Hollywood Egypt Slave Meme. It turns out that Herodotus, the Greek historian who lived a thousand years after the New Kingdom, could be the creator of the slave meme. And then there’s a certain popular book about an exodus. I have read neither Herodotus’ history book, nor the good book.

The Egyptians are trying hard to change my perception. But calling bullshit on the founding myth of an entire people is controversial.

So I googled it because that’s how you become an expert, right? Back in 2001, a Rabbi David Wolpe who is considered among the most influential Jews in the world said, in a sermon on Passover’s eve (the man had a sense of timing!) that archaeologists had not found evidence in the desert to support the biblical account of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt.

Here’s an excerpt from the NYT: (

In raising this subject, Rabbi Wolpe was hardly revealing a secret about contemporary archaeology. For a decade, a growing number of Israeli archaeologists have been quite public about their work, which has generated controversy in Israel and which includes discoveries that have led to another theory, that the Israelites gradually emerged as a people from among the Bronze Age population of Canaan, rather than militarily conquering the land, as the Bible tells.

Having said that, the good rabbi had to do some fudging with words like “spiritual truth” and “historical fact”. Truth and fact apparently aren’t the same, especially in the realm of faith.

I googled some more and found this on a website called Bible Inspectors. They link 11 articles related to whether Hebrew slaves built the pyramids. Not interestingly the answer depends on your religion and your religiosity, and are neatly categorized as “Christian Answers”, “Jewish Answers”, and “Secular Answers”. I was looking for “Correct Answers” and whatever the opposite is (“Spiritual Truth”, perhaps). Here’s the website:

There are people in this world who deny the Holocaust even when the horrible facts are undeniable. So I wondered if the questioning of the story of the Exodus is like that. But I stopped googling when I started running into Egyptian slave fandom websites (you don’t have to look too hard) and other opinions from the fringe that attempt to explain African American slavery as a side effect of white people enslaved in Africa. This was too far down the google rabbit hole for my poor atheist brain.

So I’ll give up my amateur research and end with some ageless and priceless graffiti I found inscribed on the ancient sandstone cliff walls of Gebel el-Silsila, a sign of thinking men everywhere. Somethings never change.