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India - Day Six – Grieving with marble PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 27 February 2016 19:57

o the first thing today – the Taj Mahal. And what can I say – as soon as you walk in, forget all those movies and photos you’ve seen of this place. The reality, especially on a cool clear morning, is just of walking through the sandstone entry gate, looking through the darkened portal at the gleaming white dome, and spouting an expletive. This was my India moment, where I stood and shot photos and just shook my head and said “Wow…”

Taj moment; Pat photos JB

Strolled around it for a bit. Sat with JB on a bench and watched the parrots and chipmunks fight their eternal battle for lawn domination. It was just a glorious day before a wonder of the world. Yes, occasionally architecture can make our souls soar.

After this, a quick stroll down to a marble working factory. They were showing us tables, little round flat marble things with painted tops with Indian patterns. And after looking at them over, softened by a beer (the classic trader trick), I realized that our patio does need a table, and one of these (alone with a marble base, suitable for underlighting with an LED) would be marvelous. So, nearly two grand later, we’ve got ourselves an Indian table, something we can always remember our trip with. I’ll post it up once it comes in a couple of weeks.

Back to the rooms for a little rest – bought two pepsis from the downstairs bar and had to pay an exorbitant 500 rupees. As I walked up to the room, I calculated this out to be about four bucks a can, so shame on me for not checking beforehand. But that can be India sometimes – you can get screwed out of money before you even know it’s happened.

Of course, after $1800 for a patio table, $8 for cokes seems to be a quibble.

Good to be king, the Agra Fort's Royal Audiance BullpenIn the afternoon, we journeyed to the Mini-Taj, a prototype of the big dome, build shortly before. It was interesting – not the eyeball-bouncer of the big boy. The interesting thing came when we tried to leave – traffic was at a standstill and our bus was a mile away. So we crossed to road and huddled between the tiny shops, watching the traffic honk and smoke, with scooters whizzing by scant inches away. Finally we got our transport and went over to AgraFort, a sprawling red sandstone fortification looking out over the city. Climbed all over this place – even saw shell holes from the India Mutiny. Finally, back to the room for some emergency packing – we’re running for Khajuraho tomorrow and suitcases need to be out early tonight. So JB is currently loading hers with a snow shovel. She simply cannot travel light.

Okay, I promise, dirty pictures tomorrow!

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Last Updated on Sunday, 28 February 2016 14:52
 
India - Day Five – Mad Max: Agra Road PDF Print E-mail
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Friday, 26 February 2016 16:36

oke up today and JB gave me a Valentine’s Day card. In return, I gave her a dumb look. Totally forgot, given the strange background we find ourselves in. But it was a sweet gesture.

You stair-climbers, knock yourselves out!Pretty much a transport sort of day. In the morning, a quick run over to the Palace of Winds (where the ladies of the court could spy on the street from their perfumed sitting rooms in the sixteenth century). Then we hit the road for the Step Well of Chand Baori. What’s a step well? Well (snicker), imagine that you have to go down thirty feet to get to water, so you put rows of steps to allow access. But what if the level drops again, and now you are sixty feet deep. One hundred? Two hundred? These steps, like those famous Escher stair woodcuts, go on and on, forming mind-bending patterns as they drop ever deeper. Nothing short of amazing. And right next door was the temple devoted to Harshat Mata, goddess of joy and happiness – a goddess I could really get behind. Some of her carvings were quite the eye-popper.

Then lunch at an outdoor camp-ground/spa. Food was meh (I don’t like bones in mutton curry – crunch crunch). Then we were back on the road. Even though it was Sunday, traffic was heavy, cars coming into and off of the highway. I looked at India scrolling past – it never gets old for me. Thousands of road-side stores: men loitering, camels cudding, pigs rooting, women harvesting. On and on across fields of wheat and mustard, under the shadow of the brick kiln chimneys. On we traveled across the hours.

But then the road went from four lanes of heavy traffic to two lanes of heavy suicidal tendencies.

We were passing bikes, camel-carts, brick trucks, driving directly at oncoming cars, white knuckle stuff. The road is narrow, damned so, and potholed to hell. And you’ve got everything from pedestrians idling along, joggers (I couldn’t believe that guy), cyclists and motorcyclists, transports and rushing oversized tour busses such as our own. We’d swing out and dare motorbikes to keep to the lane, literally forcing them off the road while completing our dangerous passes. A couple of times I was certain we’d hear the grind of metal as we buffed each other. But on we flew, in and out of our lane, honk honk honk!

Made a freind at one stop - Bruce the camel!In the end, we made it to our hotel, a massive opulent sprawl, decedent and luxurious. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything this lavish – it’s about 200 yards of marble halls just to get to the front desk. I’m going to like it here.

Post note/ day six: Having problems sleeping – I think it’s the sensory overload of India. I wake up at 2am with my mind awhirl about one thing or another. Last night, I figured a great way for photo hawkers to do better business with westerners. Just lay where with my mind spinning, thinking, I gotta sleep…

 

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Last Updated on Saturday, 27 February 2016 20:16
 
India - Day Four – Red Forts and Hot, Hot deals PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 25 February 2016 19:58

p early and off to the Amber Fort, a sprawling hilltop fortification that wends around the nearby valleys like some sort of circular Great Wall. The structure was absolutely breathtaking, hanging on its crags in the morning haze. Rode up to the top on the back of an elephant, giyap, which swayed so much my hips hurt. Still, it was something to find yourself atop a huge moving creature on a cliff road, looking out over your feet and way way down to the Maotha Lake (with its gardened island). Now, you gotta understand that hawkers are a rupee a dozen on the slope and a number of them took our pictures. We’ll see more of them later in the story.

Photo Credit: Robert Arthur Raymond, Super Genius

After dismounting, we worked out way through the exotic fortress, marveling at the stunning vistas out every ornate window, all while monkeys scampered across the rooftops. During this time, the first of a hawkers found me and sold me some nice photos of JB and myself on our elephant. Tucking these away, we continued. After taking something like a hundred pictures of structures and skylines suitable for a fantasy novel cover, we finally had to exit to the jeep loading area for the ride down. And here the jabbering hawkers descended. There were cripples and trinkets and carved this’s and peacock that’s. One guy (who also had pictures of us) dogged me all the way to the jeep, something like a hundred yards of snarling parking lots, revving engines and total confusion. I felt like I’d need to pry him off with a boat hook. Finally we were rattling down the rough streets in full dive-bomber descent, nearly running down chickens and slow natives alike, to empty into the bus staging area with its own multitude of wailing venders.

Once we were done with them, it was off to a textile mill to see how all sorts of things were done. Of course there was a rug sale at the end of it and I really enjoyed the rum-like drink and pakoras. But no, I don’t have the floorspace for another rug. Already got the ones from Tunisia (Mookie the Cat’s horizontal scratching post).

Astronomy? No, rather, that other thing. Bah.Then it was the Jantar Mantar Observatory. There was one of these in Delhi – saw it from the bus window – and evidently the ruler who installed four of them (in different cities) wanted them all synched. But ‘observatory’ was a small misnomer – they weren’t using these to plot the planets – the massive wedge-shaped structures were little more than glorified sundials, as critical time calculation is required for jumbo-jumbo astrology. Let’s just say I don’t put a lot of faith into that field.

Last was the City Palace (right next door) where we checked out the various museums (accompanied by flanking self-appointed, tip-thirsting guides). Still, got to see a neat weapons collection and JB got a textile display, so everyone got something. Stood around waiting for the group in the central courtyard, and watched a vanquished fighting kite flutter down out of control against the smoggy sky.

The big surprise was when I got back to the bus – the photo-spammer who’d chased me down to the jeep was there. He came around the corner waving pictures and I thought you’ve got to be kidding me! But it makes sense – he knows which tour group we are in (he’s got our badge in his picture) and he knows our times and destinations. So rather than just dump all the photos, he and his buddies descend to Jaipur, go to the afternoon tourist sites and try to squeeze out a final sale. Man, he followed me right to the bus steps and then stood outside my window, waving his photos. I just slumped in my seat with my hat pulled down. In retrospect, I wished I’d bought them. He put so much effort and raw chutzpa into the effort, I should have given him a couple of bucks.

Tomorrow is another day on the road with a late start – we could use it. As for tonight, our plans of going into town have become subdued with fatigue – Pat is meeting us in a short while for dinner in the hotel restaurant. We’ve got packing this evening.

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Last Updated on Friday, 26 February 2016 16:44
 
India - Day Three – Hard Roads and Harder sells PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 23 February 2016 17:32

The Tower of Power!oke up feeling good (had been wondering if I had contracted Ebola from the New Delhi tap water I accidently swallowed last night). With my guts intact, we packed up and headed out, down the road from New Delhi to Jaipur. On the way, we stopped to check out the Qutab Minar Victory Tower, a huge standing structure made and remade and remade again (they need a lightning rod on that thing). Evidently the firm solid structure inspired my guts because in the rest room nearby I deposited a poop of equal consistency. Yea! So it’s looking more and more like my dose of tapwater will not leave me sweating and shivering. Whew.

After that we hit the road. Headed south in heavy bumper-to-bumper, door-to-door, honk-to-honk traffic, pushing through sound and heat and smog to a Delhi satellite city – a brand new burg twenty years old housing three million people, and they are still making the same mistakes they had before: clusterchunk housing, tight roads without a central plan – it’s like a mini-Delhi. Once we broke out into lighter traffic, we made okay time, but driving in India is something that needs to be experienced.

The new freeway, a heavy–use truck route, runs three lanes each way (sorta) with frontage roads to either side, set apart only by a crumbling curb and a patch of red earth six feet wide which must become a soup when it rains. So you’ve got heavy undisciplined traffic flowing in both directions, using lanes when it sees fit.

See, they WANT you to honk!The outer lane (to the left – British colony and all that, lad) is the chaos lane – here are all manner of cars, auto rickshaws (three-wheel cabs), milling pedestrians, entering trucks, departing trucks, slow vehicles, impatiently passing vehicles, sacred cows and god knows what else, all making it a collision crap shoot. This being the case, most traffic hangs to the right lane, including the slower trucks (rumbling at about 40mph). And so this leaves overtaking cars to require the center lane, which is also the same lane the chaos lane bleeds into. That Indian drivers honk as they overtake (they even say so with HONK PLEASE painted on the tailgates of their trucks) and so you have massive multispeed confusion, with a dusty haze hanging over it and pedestrians dashing through it. Some cars, needing to go the other way, occasionally run short distances against traffic.

Stopped for lunch at a little midway restaurant, an oasis of quiet where we dined under a white tent, Rajas all. Had a deep-fried sandwich thing, a pakora with a cold, wonderful coke. Traffic rumbled faintly like a demented carnie over the building, dust rising, but here we looked out over lush fields to hazy crags, and watched a faraway herd of camels feed in the brush.

Once we got into the pink city of Jaipur, the driving really got intense. If New Delhi was bad, Jaipur was worse, all manner of cars and busses all bustling about. After we found our hotel, we freshened up (which meant a calming lie-down) and then went out to go shopping in the marketplace. This is an outdoor carnival of craziness, a million little shops all jammed together, all with lights and sleeve-tugging hawking. Pat, JB and I made our way down the narrow aisles, looking for a dress for a friend. Went into one and saw something I really wanted for her, a purple blouse. Crafty bargaining on my side got it for a steal at $20 (the steal was not mine – I am horrible at this sort of thing, trying to determine what I will pay and converting it all over to rupees). Anyway, got that and then continued, only to find a better dress which my sister deftly knocked down to $10. No manhood here. Anyway, then she went on to tear the shop apart, to have dress following dress pulled down until my initial purchase (“May I pay? Hello? Now where did it go?”) was lost. Finally we think we located it but it might not have been the right one (with all those psychedelic patterns my eyes were strobing). After that, a little further – of course, the moment Pat stopped in one shop of bangles, some woman with a baby was tugging at my jacket, yelling up into my face for money. That’s when I felt the hand brush down in inside of my jacket (had my own hand firmly on my wallet in the front right pocket of my jeans). I turned and she was through the crowd like a sparrow, gone. So nice try, ma’am.

After that, a chancy dash across a nighttime Jaipur road, all manner of cars and auto rickshaws and whatnot dashing past, some without lights, all without pity. Got home and retired downstairs to a quiet meal amongst traveling companions.

Sorry, went a little long, but yes, for all my carping, it was a day of glorious fun. India, dusty noisy craziness.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 25 February 2016 20:06
 
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