Monday, October 31, 2011

Jodhpur, last tourist stop in India

All good things come to an end, and this day was my last of the package tour of India, except for delivering me back to the airport for the long, long flight home. The itinerary called for the tour to be on Saturday, but with an 8-hour drive from Udaipur, it was almost sunset when we arrived so no point in trying to see much.

On the way, Parveen stopped so I could get an action photo of a water pump. The boys drawing water came right over to the car when we slowed down, so I'm happy the camera worked before that. I think the dog stayed where he was.

The tour included the Mehrangarh Fort, with an initial stop at the Jaswant Thada, or crematorium, which includes memorials to deceased rulers and their kin, plus a building not quite a temple, and not quite not a temple. After nearly a week of hearing versions of Hindu history capsules, I had gotten to the point of nodding my head while thinking about something else. No offense to my friends here, but you can understand a tour guide's monologue can be intrusive, rather than instructive, if carried to extremes.

Given it was Sunday, a holiday after Dewali festivities, many people were visiting the historic sites and monuments. I seemed to have gotten farther from the central tourist routes to the Taj Mahal and sites neared to Delhi, so my American/European presence was noted and commented upon. Some people said hello, struck up conversations, asking how I liked India (here's where my practiced Hindi fell out of mind), and were happy to meet me. One guy turned out to be from Northern California (and later in the airport I met two people from Maryland - the SAP hat and bag were a tell-tale). Teenagers, on the other hand, may have said hello, but typically commented to each other about my presence.

When the tour was complete, we went into the city for a market walk. I'm not sure how the tour guide business operates here, whether the word about my likes and dislikes filtered around the network, but I was somehow steered into a textile building with floor after floor and pile after pile of fabrics like blankets, scarves, bedding and tablecloths. My pack is already overweight, and my budget is way over the limit, and after being shown sample after sample I tried to inch my way out the door. The salesperson, while very nice, persisted in asking me if I would buy gifts for families (and the non S.O.) before I could get a card and exit the premises. Everything was beautiful, intricate, seemed reasonably priced, but I was just not interested. I was not even looking, but apparently said "sure" when I should have said "no, not really." I captured a few seconds of his pitch on video, below.

After this shot, these tykes came over asking for money. Can't say I blame them.

Fort on a hill. Apparently Jodhpur and Jaipur duked it out, and the former won. So to speak.

I was struck by how obsolete and useless a grave site is, with a microwave tower for contrast.

City Palace in Jodhpur. Big cheese still lives here.

Makeshift shade. And it's much cooler now in October.

Carrying the laundry; not sure if this is before or after washing?

Good sense of color in the store decorator staffs.

These looked like melons for sale, but I'm fairly certain it is pottery.

Cab stand. "Follow that two-stroke!"

Store, power pole, trash fire. And some ubiquitous two wheel locomotion.

My tour guide said these were jute rope, but I think some may be synthetic.

Jodhpur market

I suspect these chilies are pretty spicy.

Fresh vegetables in the Jodhpur market, near the clock tower.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pictures from Udaipur and environs

I'm in a hotel in Jodhpur, with a band playing Indian folk music by the pool outside, and as much bandwidth as I can muster for four hours. A few images from the past two days, as the hotel in Udaipur had no wireless, and I wasn't interested in sitting in an internet cafe when there were other things to do.


Breakfast on the 26th

Dinner on the 25th

An elephant

Another elephant

Fire dance(r)(s)

Udaipur near sunset

More Udaipur street view

Friday, October 28, 2011

Udaipur tour 28 Oct 2011

India 28-Oct-2011

Traffic getting into the center of Udaipur was at a standstill Thursday night when we arrived; portions of the old city were closed to cars. After driving around, and not driving for portions of time, Praveen left the car on a street and we walked the remaining half-mile or so to the hotel. The streets in the center are twisted, hilly, and narrow.
Once we reached the hotel, I found the room to be elegant yet sparse. The electrical service is controlled by an outside switch (no leaving the iron on, of there was an iron, and enough power to run one). The bathroom has a hot water heater for the shower, which you must switch on ahead of time to get it ready.

In the morning, I met my guide, who was going to be Farooq, but instead was another gentleman, whose name was, um, I forgot to write down. I've now heard multiple variations on the Hindu deity naming schemes. His monologue varied from describing the panoply of supreme beings to the origin of the marble and other building material to a little about current conditions.
The center dome was barely visible behind a large wire mesh, and due to angles, not much was evident outside. The exterior of the building had an unbelievable number of carved figures, and each layer seemed to relate to some power or unit.

City palace museum
The Palace is no doubt a great building, with wonderful courtyards, terffici vistas, and an ancient art collection, as well as more recent historic artifacts like photos and mementos of the ruling family. Sadly, we did not see or enjoy much of this due to the crowds from Diwali holiday visiting at the same time. It was an experience to be in lines that channeled into a single small doorway, that led down to narrow winding steps. Generally everyone was patient, except for one person who decided waiting was not for him, pushing through the crowd to reach the bottleneck.
People were extra friendly to me, saying hello, with one gentleman asking me about my travel to India.

No boat ride
I told my guide I was not interested in a boat ride to any of the lake palaces, given the likelihood of long waits, crowded sites, and my general dislike pf boats. He seemed hesitant to change the plan, since it was paid for and he appeared to be ready with more monologues. After a week of seeing 500 year old buildings, I wanted to visit something more topical. Heritage is great, but what about the world we will live in tomorrow?

Water garden
We skipped the boat ride, driving to the water garden (the name escapes me, but one photo geo-location says N 24d 35m 14s, E 73d 41m 50s ). This was less crowded, cool with fountains, and had pleasant greenery, as well as few if any pushy potential guides, trinket sellers or mendicants.

Lunch - Aroma restaurant

For lunch, we stopped at an outdoor restaurant. While the food was good, I felt a bit off for some reason. Maybe the waiter didn't think much of me, or the feeling of eating on a card table under a mildewed tarpaulin, or the lack of other patrons save one gave me a strange feeling. But the food was spicy and filling, and I won't need to return soon.

City market walk
After being dropped off near the city center, my guide directed me through blocks of outdoor and indoor markets, explaining which areas sold which goods, how the businesses were handed down throughout the families, and a bit about how the city architecture has evolved from mud and brick huts to cement and steel structures. I took a few photographs, but with no hotel wireless and limited bandwidth to upload through my phone, the images will need to wait. I sent one through to Facebook, and one to Twitter, I think, so check one of those.
One area I skipped through lack of interest was the gem and stone market. This area is a world exporter apparently, and there seems to be plenty of consumers for those goods. I was able to get a replacement watchband, installed, for what could be considered a bargain. Again, photos later.

Dinner - Ambrai restaurant
Nice place, not too far a walk from the hotel (with a guide, as I don't think a map would suffice). Outdoor setting, live music playing, and more spicy food (mutton sagwala this time). But seeing a rat scampering among tables was a big let down (oh, look, it's Scampers!). The lakes look nice, very reflective views of the surrounding buildings, but the amount of trash I saw on the swales below the locks was enormous, and included at least one live big rooting through it. I hesitate to think what the water quality of such a contained reservoir would be. Probably worse than Baltimore's Inner Harbor?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Concepts and continuations - in Udaipur India


* water

The first thing, and often second, third, fourth, and fifth things a traveler is told is "don't drink the water" when visiting a foreign land. I had generally hear that phrase in the context of Mexico, though it was said to me a few times about India. Certainly one does not want to risk being ill when far away from home, but how would I reconcile my convictions against drinking bottled water with avoiding stomach illness? People compromise when faced with such decisions, and I admit I have added to the waste stream with more non-returnable bottles. In most of the hotels, I found tea kettles, which let me boil the water and sterilize it, at least as far as pathogens. No ill effect from this procedure. The taste has varied according to my location, as the water is definitely more salty (with who knows what other minerals) in Agra. In the hotel in Jaipur, no kettle, since this is a "heritage" hotel that possesses wonderful architecture, interesting door knobs, great water pressure (and heat), but I would not stress the electrical circuits much.

My driver, Praveen, said recent monsoons have been lower than historic amounts. We visited one city that had been abandoned hundreds of years ago due to drought, and though the site is a historic monument, it is surrounded by development that appears to have sufficient water. During my road travels, we passed rice paddies, which definitely require adequate irrigation; Praveen said once we pass Jaipur we will see agriculture with less water, or maybe desert.

Another aspect is the danger of disease spread by insects requiring water, such as malaria via mosquitoes. Guide books and medical advice was to minimize contact with repellent, and staying indoors. I saw more mosquitoes in the first few days, around Kolkata, then in the last fee days south of Delhi. I know it is important to narrow the risk factors, and while I am not living dangerously, I am less obsessed about seeing bugs that I was initially.

Yesterday we saw cattle being washed in a waterway by the roadside ( and I am sure I have s picture and/or a movie clip). I tired to find out if this is a daily occurrence, and I think the answer is yes, but I was uncertain whether all cattle have such immersion chances. In a lake near the Amber Fort, as well as at other waterways during this trip I've seen people bathing, not to mention the ubiquitous roadside urination everywhere from countryside to high tech office park.

Wastewater treatment plants might be easier to find from the sir than on the ground, unless one can follow the odors. So far, the closest I have been to one was an office building in Bangalore with a sign saying Karnataka Pollution Control Administration.

* electricity and petroleum

India is definitely electrified, at least in the areas I have seen. In some cases, this is limited to a fluorescent light bulb illuminating a shop. In the small village outside Dagrapur, Abesh noted a line tapped from a power main, directed straight into the back of a building. I did not verify electric service was provided to every house, but the fact that circuits were in the vicinity at least suggested it was available.

Dipankar lent me a 220 volt "dongle" to power my US devices while here. It's been absolutely necessary to keep my various cameras and comms from turning into bricks. Abesh said the spark that jumped out when plugging in circuitry was perfectly normal, though I am not sure I can get used to that flash and sound easily. With the dozens of pictures I have taken each day, the rechargeable AAs have worked out great for the camera; I don't think I have come close to needing to switch them during the day.

I think one of my guides said India had no remaining coal reserves, and used petroleum for electricity generation, as well as a small amount of hydroelectric and I guess nuclear. We have passed numerous smoke stack belching visible plumes, not to mention the emissions from the two-stroke "auto-rickshaws", like multi-passenger lawn mowers.

In Old Delhi, my tour guide pointed out the maze of overhead wiring passing overhead, commenting on the availability of power and the lack of regulation or control with such chaos. Maybe it just looks random to an outsider, as do the streets without signs, and the traffic paying no attention to lane dividers, or to the center divider for that matter.

* beggars

I mentioned street beggars on one of the SDN blogs, and received several comments, but did not get a chance to reply during one of my wireless paid-hotel windows of opportunity. The guide books (once again, holy scripture for the mundane tourist) said don't encourage them, don't pay attention to them , keep moving, nothing to see here. Easy for you to say. When a live woman holding a baby steps in front of you, you have to be pretty inhuman not to react. It's one thing to say no, or to ignore, a " hawker" holding sets of jewelry that has no attraction, it's another to deal with someone tapping on your arm, after having eaten large amounts of calories in a restaurant.

The right answer for me is to channel energy and money to charitable organizations that can can help people find ways out of poverty, or improve their health conditions, or otherwise assist them out of the cycle. Can I tell an "honest beggar" from a con artist? Maybe, maybe not. I tried not to take pictures of the snake charmers, monkey handlers, acrobats or other street people, with the idea that I can remember the situation, I don't need to memorialize it.

* design - dome

The evening last week on Design Thinking, which passively participated in, reminded me of the type of brain storming with intense direction I experienced when I heard Buckminster Fuller speak in the mid-1970s. Coming together to solve problems, using technology at hand, and examining the ratios of power use resounded among the teams. So it was a pleasant feeling to see a geodesic dome within a traffic circle in Jaipur. However, pasting the image in the blog post will need to wait until I fire up the PC somewhere on the net as I have not learned the trick of grabbing image URLs on the iPad.

This dome is child-sized, intended for a playground next to a school or in a park. I am puzzled by its placement in a traffic circle, given the difficulty of access, the environmental conditions (road dust and hydrocarbon emissions), and the tight placement. Maybe there is more to that dome than I could see at the time.

* chaos + destruction

Beyond the apogee of my trip, heading for the inevitable splashdown and hopefully a recovery. Several of my guides have attempted to explain Hindu mythology to me, with a triumvirate of birth, life and death being one concept. Knowing the impending destruction of anything can be an impediment to creative thinking and positive energy, so whatever I can get out of this trip, I hope it leads to less chaos.

Everywhere that I saw a street sweeper, a pile of trash on the side of the road, or waste being generated, I tried to compartmentalize and systematize what was occurring. Road side burning of trash that happens in India I have rarely seen in at least 40 years in the U.S., other than maybe leaf burning.

In the end, these are just small thoughts from a small person somewhere in a big world, trying my best.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Agra to Jaipur

25-Oct-2011, "dateline Jaipur, Rajasthan, India"

My tour of India is going well, seeing lots of sights, learning a lot of culture, and only being slightly penned in by the constraints of tour guide routine that has me running into the same Eurolanders in different transports or restaurants. Hotel wireless is un-cheap, and to make sure this post gets out before the clock runs down to zero, I'm hitting "publish" before I am actually done. If the text stops before the "woman in yellow" paragraph, refresh again later.

Spent the evening in Agra, after another hotel dinner, and then a breakfast. But on the road early, Agra fort is close to the lodgings, and spotted lots of monkeys around the outside of the fort. This is not something we see often in the U.S.

The third shot of the fort below silhouettes a visitor near the mosque, I believe, though I was turned around a few times due to the enormity of the structure. Rais, my guide, said most of the grounds are off limits as they are occupied by the military. Apparently, the buildings are in good enough condition to serve hundreds of years after being constructed.

The next shot is just one of the many street vendors who were selling flowers for Dewali. It's a big holiday here, meaning traffic Wednesday could be even busier, if that is believable.

After the flowers is a shot of me on the bus. The gentleman next to me wanted to get up, but I said he need not bother to move. I know I take up a lot of room, and this angle confirms it.

Inside Fatehpur Sikri, a World Heritage site, I explored the palaces, harem rooms (read: youth hostels of the 16th century), courtyards, balconies, and other palatial digs, or what is left of them after multiple successive ownership. It's amazing what remains today.

Rias kept wanting to take my picture with big buildings in the background, and I'm glad he obliged my desire to get the drinking water and local visitors with me in the same shot. It means more to me than a palace or castle!

Lunch was more Euro-Indian food (Indian dishes, served mainly to European tourists). I did get to see cows afterward in the place next door.

On the road to Jaipur, we started seeing hills after an hour or two, and I spotted castles or forts on a few of them. The shot below juxtaposes an ancient fortress with a more modern communication tower.

As we entered Jaipur, the road became steeper, and then more crowded. The last shot, of the woman in yellow, is one of my favorites from the trip. The car was moving, she was moving, and I took it with a cell phone camera. The new term for this hobby, I learned on this trip, is "phonography" (you could look it up in your Funk & Wagnall's).


14.03.00 ?





Delhi to Agra, and points in between


Came down to breakfast to see playing an Indian version of MTV, I guess, with gyrating guys and girls. It was switched off in favor of other channels, with news, and mostly sports, prevailing. I had Jeera Aloo and corn/mushroom something, which were both good, and hash browns, were predictable (no hidden chili peppers).

Then, after repacking into smaller bundles, I met Praveen at 8 am for the drive to Agra. Traffic was busy in spots, and Praveen commented about the commuting workers, particularly those packed 10 deep in auto-rickshaws.

The distance to Agra is something like 250 km (check), and while we were to be on a national highway (number 2) the amount and variety of traffic was unlike an interstate in the US. I am not sure the pictures along the way can describe the access and egress patterns, the range of vehicular motivation, and the sounds of drivers alerting or informing their fellow travelers.

After having a touch of sore throat Sunday, Monday I felt like sniffling and sneezing and coughing was taking over. Despite the weaving traffic, I fell asleep a couple times along the way.

We stopped for an early lunch (10:30 - check name), which seemed to be a resort in name, but a diner in form. I arrived ahead of a couple tourist bus crowds and had the place to myself. Tailored for the tourist trade, the menu included multinational fare, but not exclusively, so I ordered a vegetable samosa and a mango drink, shying away from fresh squeezed juice with. Bit of regret.

For me, it was nice to be stopped near a major rail line, as I spotted both freight trains (goods wagons) and passenger lines going by, in both directions. Praveen said he had tea and snacks in the back. I guess the caste system prevails in a way. I should get him to have a meal with me, or I should follow him to the "guest house" where drivers and "servants" are served.

South of Delhi is an industrial area, Faribad, which seemed to include not just chemical and manufacturing, but technical schools, street markets, villages, and the usual repair stops.

We stopped at a wayside border crossing so Praveen could pay taxes to the government, whereby hawkers and beggars approached the car, pleading and tapping on the window. The offerings were strings of beads, carvings, trained monkey shows, and who knows what else, as Praveen told me to roll up my window and ignore them.

I missed photos of the Moghul "watchtowers" or milestones, by the side of the road. These seemed to be under 10 feet high, grey stone or stucco, with a few slits I the side. Praveen said that messages would be passed by drum from tower to tower.

The plan was for a short stop at the hotel, then a drive to the Taj Mahal, where it would be close to sunset. We picked up another tour guide, Rasi, who explained the history and significance of the monument. In some ways, I was unprepared to visit the site, not having read much ahead of time, but it is such a famous site that not much else can be done beforehand. Rais patiently walked me though the route to the monument, including a battery powered jitney ride (I opted out of the horse cart), then walking the remainder of the way to the entrance. With security tight for the Dewali festival season, there were 4 lines for scanning - one each for Indian "ladies and gents" and one each for guests.

Rais kept preparing me for each successive phase of approaching the Taj.

Photos of Taj are below, and in Panoramio.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at pharmacist to get medicine for a stuffy nose, which was only 27 rupees, and at a money exchange store, where DVDs, textiles, and more was on sale.

Dinner at the hotel started at 7:30, and at 6pm, when I was hungry , only snacks were available. I did not want to go to the bar for an hour and a half, so I went with the simple "vegetable cutlet." it reminded me of the chicken or beef cutlets one might get in the US, but thicker and less dry.

I decided to skip the hotel wireless charges pf 150 rupi per hour, or 500 per 24 hours

Today (25-Oct) I'm trying to post 2 blogs, within 2 hours, including photos. I'm on deadline, so excuse lack of edits.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Delhi, by air conditioned car, and by bicycle rickshaw

After sleeping late due to being bedraggled by the intense days of TechEd, being exposed to 10,000 people's possible germs, eating as natively as I could for a week, and being cooped up in an airliner's recirculation air handling system, I had a short breakfast of rice, prahnta bread, and hot salt water, then was met by (Mrs.) Punam Gulati, my tour guide for the day in Dehli. My driver, Praveen Sharma, had described me to her as "long hair and a beard". Guess that would be distinctive in most places.

As my energy levels weren't at their top, we talked about what might be skipped or driven past in case I needed to cut my day short. While I don't want to miss any time outside, it's better to take it easy than get burned out and ruin the rest of the trip.

The first major stop of the day, ignoring slowing down for a photo out of the car window, as the Jama Masjid mosque, built by Shah Jahan (in 1658, per my preprinted itinerary). No shoes inside, no immodest wear, basically meaning women had to don something similar to what my friend D refers to a a "house dress." The paper says this will hold 20,000 people, but from what I can tell, the majority of them would be outside in the sun, sitting or kneeling on hard stone. Punam said this is not the largest mosque in India, but it is one of the most important.

Then, a ride in a bicycle rickshaw (Hello, RediPedi!) through the markets/bazaar (Chandini Chowk) narrow streets and alleys of Old Delhi. Again, Punam was very professional in directing the driver where she wanted us to go, keeping up a constant stream of history, trivia, background information, and pointing out sights to see. We stopped so I could get out and see an even narrower street. She pointed out the matrix of overhead wiring, the lights set out for Diwali, and the purpose of many of the shops and street entrepreneurs. The ride was bumpy, but not as bad as a few of the car or bus rides I've had here so far.

The south side of the mosque is the Moslem section, where there are butcher shops (as opposed to Hindu vegetarianism), with live goats and chickens for sale in whole or in part. I detected animal wast odors more strongly on those streets, though it was just a short ride.

After that, we stopped at Gandhi's final resting place (Rajghat). I chose not to walk all the way to the stone memorial, but viewed the scene from an elevated walkway. I was reminded of Kennedy's grave in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, with the simplicity and a burning flame. There were a few flower arrangements atop the black marble.

We passed government buildings, where I was able to get out and take a few shots of the President's home (pictures, of course!).

Then I stopped in a shop where silk and Kashmir carpets and other products are sold. Very nice tea and biscuits, too.

The last planned tour stop, other than one I skipped, was Humayun's tomb, the so-called "Poor Man's Taj Mahal." Steep steps leading up to a large plaza area, with the tomb building in the center and having just one entrance. I uploaded one shot from this area to Panoramio. Interesting geometrical patterns all around, including on the floors and wall tiles. Punam said the stairs to the higher levels are circular, but are closed to the public.

I asked to skip the last planned stop (to the Qutab Minar) in favor of the National Rail Museum, which was closer in distance, and more to my interest. I learned about the variety of gauges in India, and saw relics of bygone eras, including royal saloons (not "cars"), animal holding pens, and lots of rusted steam engines.

For dinner, I was left to my own devices, but apparently Punam trusted my sense of direction (and street sense) to walk to a nearby restaurant. She made it easy, with "right at the next stop light, and right at the one after that." I didn't see anything right away, but another turn brought me to a sign for Subway, which I skipped in favor of M.B.s "multi-ethnic cuisine" just past. Though I was the only patron in the restaurant (yes Kumud) there were others upstairs in the bar area. Tandoori mushroom, and Butter Roti. Plus some sugar candy and seeds for dessert.

Tomorrow: 8AM departure for Agra

Photos, etc.












Bonus movie trailers - National Rail Museum