A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Morning on the Ganges (5/9/10)

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Woke up at 4:30 am and met Stanley, Shirley and two others; Eileen from Taiwan and Chun from Hong Kong. Boarded our wooden rowboat at 5:00 am and got some spectacular shots of the sunrise and the 60,000 people that do the daily bathing ceremony in the Ganges River.

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The Ganges brings life to an otherwise lifeless land. Both Hindus and Muslims give thanks to the river and the sun. After the boat ride, we had breakfast at the hotel patio restaurant then explored the Varanasi alleyways. This is Sunday, a holy day for local Hindu’s. They swarmed around several of the temples, pushing their way to give flower offerings to the gods. All this happens in alleys that are as narrow as three feet. Add some random cows + cow poop and the occasional motorbike driver that lays on his horn and pushes people out of the way, and you have yourself a good serving of Varanasi. Oh, and it’s only 106 degrees today.

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The cultural experience is truly epic!

Posted by CirrusNine 23:50 Archived in India Comments (2)

Walking the Ghats in Varanasi (5/10/10)

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Got up early and walked the Ghats (steps that lead down to the water’s edge). It’s much different being in the crowd on land instead of on the river; there’s so much activity going on. Wherever you look there is somebody doing a Hindu ceremony, giving rice to the poor, buying ceremony flowers or setting up their shops.

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Met my travel partners for breakfast at the hotel then hired Tuk Tuks (three wheeled, motorized taxi) to the Benares University. We transferred to cyclo-rickshaws once we arrived at the university gates. The trip through the city to get to BNU was the exciting part – the tuk tuk driver was weaving in and out of heavy traffic with horns and people coming from every direction. At the university, our cyclo-rickshaw drivers worked really hard to pedal us a good two hours through the massive grounds. Total cost: $2.85 USD.

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After the university tour we decided to walk around the main street for a bit then got another tuk tuk back to the hotel. A toasty 112 degrees today.

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Tonight we will have dinner at a famous restaurant then take an evening boat ride on the Ganges.

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Tomorrow I’m off to Jodhpur in Rajasthan!

Posted by CirrusNine 00:12 Archived in India Comments (0)

Arriving in Jodhpur, Rajasthan (5/11/10)

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Hello from Jodhpur, Rajasthan!

Multiple Kingfisher flights from Varanasi to Delhi to Udaipur to Jodhpur today. Went incredibly smoothly, however I got seat 3F on a French Made ATF turboprop plane. What that means is there’s a set of propellers spinning at arm’s length, like a saw blade. If one would have let loose, only half of me would be typing this… that would be interesting… t d es t w r ver we (it doesn’t work very well).

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Jodhpur is quite the contrast from Varanasi. We landed into an empty airport. I waited outside for the hotel/guest house driver to pick me up. After 10 minutes in the 109 degree heat I noticed that everybody was gone. Seriously, an empty airport! A few minutes later the driver arrived and we headed to the Mandore Guest House – an oasis in the desert. Even stranger is that my hotel is empty! I am the only customer. It’s the hot season so very few tourists go to Jodhpur. The guest house owner lives on the property and his wife made a traditional vegetarian dinner for me. It was very tasty without being too spicy. My favorite is Chapatis with Dal.

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Tomorrow I will visit the massive Meherangarh fort on a hill and wander the old city below.

Good night.

Posted by CirrusNine 00:32 Archived in India Comments (0)

Meherangarh Fort & The Blue City of Jodhpur (5/12/10)

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Namaste!

This morning I hired a tuk tuk to drive me to the Meherangarh Fort. The fort is located on a huge rock hill overlooking the old city of Jodhpur. Rudyard Kipling wrote about Meherangarh Fort in 1899 and said “The work of angels, fairies and giants . . . he who walks through it loses sense of being among buildings; it as though he walked through mountain gorges . . .” This 15th century edifice is Rajasthan’s most impressive fort with walls that are 400 ft high. The fort was so well-designed; it never fell to its many invaders.

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It was a special day at the fort so entrance was free! Digital audio players are offered in multiple languages that tell about the history and battles that occurred. I really enjoy places like Meherangarh because you are free to roam the entire grounds without restriction. There were nicely dressed armed guards with turbans at key areas so a visitor is always within view. I found this nice because this kept touts (men that aggressively attempt to sell or extract money from tourists) away.

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Oh, I used my new hat which was a lifesaver… was 110 degrees outside and I would have been sunburned without it.

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The view from the top of the fort walls is spectacular. One can see a beautiful panorama of the blue painted houses below. Most blue houses belong to the Brahman caste. It is noted that the blue color may help keep the mosquitoes away as well. Old cannons are in neat rows on the top viewing area. Some were very large and were made of wood and cast iron. I liked the squared metal rivets, and hammered iron mounts; they remind me of the Dark Ages tools of war.

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After taking a lot of fort pictures, I walked down to the blue houses below and was invited into a Brahman's home. He was very cordial and introduced me to his wife and we sat in the shade and talked about each others background. The Brahman works for an electrical company installing high-voltage equipment. His wife stays home and takes care of the house. Most Indian family units are like this. He has a son and a daughter. They are married have their own families.

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Continued my journey through the blue houses and was greeted many times by locals with no intention of selling anything. It was nice compared to the irritating touts in Varanasi. Found the main street and hired a tuk tuk back to the guesthouse.

Tomorrow I will say goodbye to Jodhpur, the wonderful Mandore guesthouse and take an early train to Jaipur.

Posted by CirrusNine 00:45 Archived in India Comments (0)

Jaipur (5/13/10)

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I've watched many documentaries on India prior to this trip and one of the things that I found fascinating and wanted to do was ride the train with locals. So, on Thursday, I boarded the 6:00 am train to Jaipur. This was a 5-hour trip on Indian Railways Class 2 Seated, Non A/C – basically the lowest level of comfort available due to my short reservation window. Non-A/C meant that by 9:00 the heat was uncomfortable. The windows were open and the dusty warm winds swirled around the car. I could feel the grit sticking to my skin. Quite an experience! Now I can check that off of my list of things to do!

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My seating area was two, three-person benches facing each other. I was on the aisle seat. To the left of me was a boy around 8 years-old. I showed him how to play a few games on my Iphone. We were good buddies after that. He was accompanied by his mother. Across from us were two men and a woman in her 20’s. I spoke with the woman and found out that she has her Doctorate in Philosophy. She works for an NGO (Non-Government Agency) that assists underprivileged children. One of the men had a small tattoo on his hand that matched the one on the boy next to me. They were not related. The symbol was Hindu and signified a follower of Hindu gods.

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The train stopped at seven stations along the way. At each stop the Chai Wallas (tea workers) would board the train offering hot tea and coffee. We went through desert that looked like the Mojave in Southern California, minus the Joshua Trees. Life must be difficult in such harsh conditions.

Its mid-afternoon and a toasty 109 degrees out. I think I’ll take it easy and start my Jaipur adventures tomorrow.

Posted by CirrusNine 03:52 Archived in India Comments (4)

Jaipur Palaces and Forts (5/14/10)

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After a refreshing evening at a nice hotel with all the amenities, I am ready to see Jaipur! Hired a taxi for the day to take me to the sights. My driver was Mr. Subhash Bajra. He has been driving for 25 years and his English was very good.

We started by a morning visit to the Hawa Mahal, better known as the Palace of the Winds. It was built in 1799 and overlooks a main street bazaar. This five-story building has really tiny windows, about 10” square. That were for the royal ladies to view street life below. They were never allowed to go out and mingle with common folk. The top of the building is capped by small domes with gold plated “Christmas tree toppers”, as I call them. I met Drummond and his daughter, Sabra (from New York) while at the Hawa Mahal. They are staying at the same hotel and invited me to have dinner with them. We agreed to meet up around 6:00 pm.

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The next stop was the Amber Palace located on a mountainside a few miles outside of town. Monkeys with long tails sat "chilling" by the entrance. They should have trained them to take tickets…they looked smarter than some of the staff! It takes about 15 minutes to climb to the front gates by cobblestone road. Elephants are available for hire for those willing to shell out some Rupees.

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The Amber Palace is quite amazing. It’s very large and takes a few hours to cover most of the rooms. I think M.C Escher has been here before as his crazy illustrations have design elements featured at the palace. But, no upside-down stairs, sorry. A visit to India wouldn’t be complete without a snake in a basket and its charmer. I heard they remove the venomous fangs…just in case the snake has a bad day. Nonetheless, it was a good photo op.

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On the second level there was a market of local artisans selling their wares. I purchased some trinkets and the seller was happy. He proceeded to tell me about the big wine amphora next to his stall. If you take it for face value, it appears he is very proud of his huge ball… Who wouldn’t be?

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By the time I got out of the palace it was a blistering 108 degrees. Found my driver and we headed to the famous Jal Mahal, the palace on the lake. No visitors allowed, just a few quick snaps from the shore.

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Next up, the Jaipur City Palace.

Posted by CirrusNine 19:51 Archived in India Comments (0)

Onwards to Agra (5/15/10)

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The drive to Agra by car was comfortable… way better than by train. My driver was nice and I saw some interesting things along the way. We stopped at a small village called Abhaneri to see an unusual stepwell. The ancient villagers once used this well to tap into the ground water. The steps that lead to the bottom are also like an M.C. Escher drawing. I was invited to see the local people paying respect to a Hindu god. Was asked to remove my sandals before entering the small shrine and burned the crap out of my feet! The stone floor was so hot!

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The five-hour drive took us through some of Rajasthan’s small villages. I saw houses made of cow poop. No kidding. See the picture below!

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There are many brick factories along the Agra road. They stick out because of their tall, smoking kiln stacks.

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My impression of Agra was initially bad.

Agra, is by far, the dirtiest city… gets an additional dirty “star” ahead of Varanasi. The place smells like a sewer.
I’m staying at the Hotel Sheela which is located 300 feet from the East Gate of the Taj Mahal. This is the only thing going for them. The hotel staff is uncaring. The top-level room that I booked is bare and dirty; dead bugs on the floor, stains on the sheets and plaster rotting off the bathroom walls. Yay!

After shaking off the initial shock of the dirty accommodations, I made my way through the East Gate to see the Taj Mahal at sunset. Wow! what a magnificent piece of Persian architecture! As the sun was setting across the Yamuna River, it cast a warm glow on the white marble mausoleum. It was surreal to be at the foot of such a famous, beautiful building.

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Unfortunately, no pictures of the interior as no cameras are allowed inside and I didn't want to leave my gear to some stranger at the bag check. Wandered around the grounds and captured some great silhouette sunset images of the mosque minarets then had dinner at the hotel. What a day!

Tomorrow I will visit the Agra Red Fort in the morning, Delhi by car in the afternoon, and then back to Guangzhou via overnight flight. I miss my family and the expensive coffee that China has to offer. I think I even miss Chinese food!

Posted by CirrusNine 03:06 Archived in India Comments (0)

Agra Fort (5/16/10)

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Saw Agra Fort which is located a few miles from the Taj. Not as impressive as the others but worth a look.

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I was happy to leave Agra today. Hired a car to take me on a 5-hour trip to Delhi. Ugh. Traffic was insane once we hit the Delhi area. There’s large freeway construction going on and the roads are very dusty, making an already overburdened city even more difficult to navigate. My driver didn’t speak English but his aggressive driving kept me “entertained”. He hit a cyclo-rickshaw at an intersection (at low speed), there was a show of hand gestures and we were off. No exchange of insurance or calling the police.

Posted by CirrusNine 03:23 Archived in India Comments (1)

My Thoughts on India

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Looking back on the past nine days has me with mixed feelings about this country. This has been by far the most challenging travel that I have done. Within this bubble of crazy experiences I have met some wonderful people; travelers and locals. I have much respect for the people of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. They live in the harshest of conditions in the desert. Their customs are rich with ancient Hindu and Muslim beliefs. Their temples and ancient ruins have stood for thousands of years. I find this really amazing especially with how fast things are changing with our global economy.

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Goodbye India! May your rich traditions continue for eternity.

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Posted by CirrusNine 03:32 Archived in India Comments (2)

Fireflies in Guangzhou (5/17/10)

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Arrived at the Guangzhou airport with a warm welcome from Ada and her cousin. It was good to be back with family and not be “on guard” when traveling alone. That is one of the things that wears on the solo traveler – the constant awareness of surroundings and tuning the senses for possible bad situations. In GZ the only bad situation is the mosquitoes. And, speaking of bugs, last night I saw fireflies for the first time ever! It was around 9:00 pm and I stepped outside to get some fresh air. I saw what looked like a piece of incense flickering in the ground but then noticed it was a repeated flickering not in tune with the breeze. How neat it was to look further into the darkness and see a bunch of fireflies. We should import fireflies because they really are quite fun to watch.

Posted by CirrusNine 03:50 Archived in China Comments (0)

Grave Site (5/18/10)

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Today we took a drive to visit the grave site of Ada’s Grandfather. He is buried on a hillside overlooking a serene lake. After that we drove to a beautiful waterfall in the mountains but a monsoon thunderstorm shortened our stay. We ducked under a shop front until the rain and thunder stopped.

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Posted by CirrusNine 04:02 Archived in China Comments (0)

?! (5/19/10)

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5/19/10
We spent the day with Ada’s friends. They took us to an excellent outdoor BBQ restaurant then attempted to go up the mountain to see a temple but the week’s monsoon downpours caused mudslides and the roads were closed.

We did some shopping then visited a factory that her friend owns. They make commercial cooking equipment like bakery ovens, popcorn machines and gas grills that most of us have seen at restaurants. I am thoroughly amazed with factory tours. There was so much heavy equipment. The machines they use are modern and some are CNC (computer controlled). They can take a roll of stainless steel and turn that into a decent gas stove.

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Later that evening we had dinner at a Chinese Karaoke restaurant. The food was good and the singing hilarious. Lucas was smoking*, gambling and then singing Karaoke by the end of the evening (*= not really).

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Posted by CirrusNine 04:05 Archived in China Comments (0)

Bad Bird (5/20/10)

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It's my final day in Guangzhou and we celebrated by going out to lunch with the family. The restaurant was very nice and could accommodate large crowds. But, due to the rain, most people were staying home. The food was excellent; probably the best I have had in China so far. There was steamed fish, light and crispy fried shrimp served in a nest of lemon grass, freshwater clams in black bean sauce, steamed gai lan vegetables, rice, and freshly cut papaya. During our meal there was a huge torrential downpour outside. The rain was very loud and drowned out all sounds in the restaurant. Kinda neat.

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By the time we finished our lunch, the rain had stopped. Ada's brother reached in his car and presented a bird to his mother. The bird was the size of a crow, had black and brown feathers and long brown tail feathers. Its feet were tied together with string. I thought, "how cool, a bird". Found out this was a bird to be made into soup. I asked if I could hold it during the ride back home. It seemed so quiet and tame. I was petting its feathers and it just sat there and looked at me. Ada said to keep it away from Lucas because it could poke out an eye. "How ridiculous," I thought... not from this peaceful creature, I wanted to set it free.... until... B I T E. That cute bird chomped my finger with its raptor shaped beak and locked-on for what seemed eternity. My other hand was busy holding its feet so I couldn't do anything but scream at it. Everyone in the car was laughing so hard. It finally let go and I gave it a good finger-flick on the head. That was a learning experience.

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So, later that afternoon Ada and I took one last scooter ride around the area. I showed her the abandoned buildings I found a few weeks earlier. After that, we went to the river by the airport runway to watch people fishing. Later, we stopped at a village market to buy some fresh vegetables, then returned home.
We went on the roof to check out the view. You could see the neighbor's houses, the fish ponds, rice fields, roads and green lychee trees that continued to the hills and beyond... I will miss this place.

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Posted by CirrusNine 19:34 Archived in China Comments (0)

Airports

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International airports grow bigger and better with each trip I take. Here are a few pictures of the airports I visited:

Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport is the largest I have ever seen and has ceilings that must be 100 feet high. Last year it serviced 37 million visitors.

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Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok International Airport is fairly new and is built on an island that was flattened and the surrounding sea filled-in to build the runway. It features a multi-story control tower and operates 24-hrs a day.

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Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport currently handles 25 million travelers each year and is currently expanding to handle 100 million by 2030.

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Posted by CirrusNine 20:30 Archived in China Comments (0)

Varanasi - Ganges River Slideshow

Link from YouTube

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Posted by CirrusNine 21:40 Archived in India Comments (1)

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