November - December 2018
  • Day14

    Back to Real Winter

    December 1, 2018 in the United States ⋅ 🌧 39 °F

    We're back in the US now! It was a minor shock to fly thru storm clouds and land in a landscape of snow and greyness rather than green and hazy India. From two weeks of sunny weather in the 70s and 80s to gloomy, snow patches, and barely above freezing. Home, sweet home Chicago.

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  • Day13

    Wandering Around Mumbai

    November 30, 2018 in India ⋅ ☀️ 91 °F

    After Elephanta, we wandered around the Fort neighborhood looking for a few specific sites and to do some shopping. We briefly walked a few blocks of the Colaba Market, then headed towards the Chhatrapati Shrivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS for short). It's a history museum located in a grand palace. We didn't want to go in, just check out the exterior. But without a ticket we couldn't even enter the grounds, lame. Next stop was the famous Old Victoria Terminus, now named the Chhatrapati Shrivaji Maharaj Terminus. It's another World Heritage Site and is known for it's Gothic and Indian architecture. We could only enter a portion of it for some reason but it really was stunning.

    By now we were both hot and dehydrated, so we went in search of AC and cold drinks. We failed 3 times (found a neat board game cafe though) before giving up and going to Starbucks. Typical Westerners I know but it was wonderful. Feeling better, we attempted shopping again and headed back to Colaba for cheap souvenirs, particularly a magnet of the Taj Mahal. No luck there, too kitschy but we did buy some mixed spices. Instead of walking more, we caught a cab up to the Mahatma Jyotiba Phule Mandia, originally the Crawford Market, an indoor collection of tiny stalls and stands. They sell fruits, spices, fruits, veggies, and oddly pets. We saw lots of bird species (pigeons, parrots, chickens, ducks, turkeys, etc), fish, and bunnies. Strangely no dogs or cats, guess they can just claim those off the streets whenever. We walked the shopping areas nearby but weren't really looking for anything.

    On the walk back to the hotel, we stopped for dinner at a place called Yoko Sizzler. The entrees came out on sizzling cast iron pans, hence the name. The sides we ordered - Russian salad (which ended up being olivier) and egg fried rice, ended us being full sized portions. It looked like we ordered for a family of 4! Suffice it to say we did not finish even half of it all.

    We took showers, a nap, and packed up before heading to the airport for the last time.
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  • Day13

    Elephanta Caves

    November 30, 2018 in India ⋅ ⛅ 90 °F

    Our first target in Mumbai was highly recommended to us by Ani and his father: the Elephanta Caves. The caves feature stone carvings dating to the 6th and 7th centuries BC, and are on an island roughly an hour's ferry from the Gateway of India.

    On the walk there from our hotel, we stopped by the Oval Maidan - a huge park where hundreds of people were playing cricket. We don't know how everyone kept everything straight, since there were probably 20 cricket games going on with fields that actually overlapped. Occasionally you would hear shouts to pay attention to the flying balls... Nearby was the Rajabai Clock Tower, which was modeled after Big Ben.

    The ferry took us through the harbor, where we saw lots of empty freighters waiting for cargo. The island that we arrived at was a lush jungle, and we had a lot of work to do to get to the caves... hundreds of steps worth of climbing, with endless hawkers on each side of us the whole way. It's worth pointing out that despite this being nearly winter, it was nearly 90 degrees today!!

    It took us maybe half an hour to finally reach the main cave, a huge hall carved out of a stone mountain supported by rows of giant columns. Within the hall were lots of stone sculptures carved into the cave walls. The sculptures were very large - some were probably 15 feet tall, some 20 feet - and depicted various Hindu religious events, mostly revolving around the God Shiva, the Destroyer. There was one of Shiva killing a demon, one of him marrying Parvati, one of Shiva being half man/half woman, and so forth. The largest of the carvings was simply one giant head - or actually, it was the head of a 3-headed god, a combo of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.

    After the main cave, which was enormous and contained maybe a dozen such large carvings, there were four smaller caves that were much less decorative, but no less old.

    Unfortunately, many of the sculptures were damaged or even partially destroyed. They are very old and totally in the open, so it's not too surprising. But fortunately, the government seems to have taken an interest in maintaining these caves with reinforced concrete, which Tina noticed because of a few areas of exposed rebar.

    Also on the island was a large cannon, built there for defense purposes by the Portuguese. From the hill, you have a good view of much of the harbor, so seemed like a sensible choice for artillery placement. It's no longer functional, both ends have been filled in.

    We grabbed a quick lunch at the island and were heading back to catch the return ferry when the trouble began. We bought a soda for refreshment purposes and, apparently, the monkeys on the island really like bottles. We're not sure if they're after the bottles themselves or are just crazed sugar fiends. Either way, a monkey came up to Tina and tried to grab the bottle. Tina yelled at it, it growled back, Tina kicked in its general direction. A local woman and man joined in on the yelling/threatening it with a large stick and it retreated. Ok, safe. A few meters later, a different monkey was more aggressive in pursuing the bottle... so Tina kicked it in the face. TAKE THAT! There was much growling, but it too retreated. We were making good time down the trail, with the docks in sight, and we thought we could make it... and then at the last minute, a monkey ran up from behind, grabbed the bottle before either of us could react, and bolted to the side and up a branch. And growled at us for good measure. Alright, monkey, you win this round. Enjoy the 7up.
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  • Day12

    Arrived in Mumbai

    November 29, 2018 in India ⋅ 🌫 82 °F

    Made it to the last city on our itinerary - Mumbai! We were delayed a bit leaving Jaipur and had an hours long ride from the airport to our hotel. Definitely the largest city in India.

  • Day12

    Jaipur Day 2

    November 29, 2018 in India ⋅ 🌫 72 °F

    For our last day in Jaipur, we got a car to take us around to other notable sights and eventually drop us off at the airport. Jaipur may be a fairly compact city (unlike, say, Delhi), but we still didn't see anywhere near everything... we had enough time to spend an hour or so at a few more places before we said farewell.

    The first spot was the Birla Mandir. The Birlas were a big industrial family, controlling a bunch of factories throughout the country, and decided to build their own temple here. It's a Hindu temple, with similar structure to the others we've seen so far in terms of having lots and lots of carvings on the exterior. But there was one thing particularly interesting about this one: instead of simply being decorated with lots of Hindu deities as usual, one archway was decorated entirely foreign religious figures: Jesus Christ, Madonna with Christ, St Peter and St Francis, Zarathustra, Confucius, Buddha, Moses holding the 10 commandments, and... Socrates? Socrates seemed somewhat out of place there, but still pretty cool. The interior had marble engravings of various events of religious significance, but also had their eyes (and only their eyes) painted. Which was... kinda creepy. We had to take our shoes off to enter (as was common), and it cost 1 rupee each pair to store them. Unfortunately we only had 100 rupee notes, and the shoekeeper was quite unhappy in making change.

    Our next stop was the Albert Hall Museum. It was constructed in the late 19th century, in honor of Albert's visit to Jaipur, in an odd mix of Hindu, Mughal, and British architecture styles. The museum had a bunch of artifacts from the region: pottery, clothing, instruments, weapons. It had many stylized prints and murals both of historic and mythical events. It also had some random pieces from Japan, Egypt, and Ethiopia. Just a general, small history museum mostly focused on Rajasthan. Was worth going.

    Our final tourist stop was at the City Palace, which we think was private and still owned by the royal family but weren't sure. We only wandered around the exteriors and courtyards of the palace (to see the interiors cost six times as much, and we weren't sure we had the time anyway)... but there was much to see. A lot of the gates and arches were elaborately decorated with peacocks or elephants. The interior palace temple was converted into a textile display... featuring historic Rajasthani dress, including the billiards outfit of one of the kings. We didn't know there was such a thing as a specific billiards outfit... which is probably why we're so bad at it. This king was so enthralled with the game (introduced by the British in the early 19th century) that he converted several parts of the palace into billiards rooms. The palace armory featured a wide variety of weapons, including a display of daggers at the entrance arranged to spell HELLO and one at the exit spelled GDBY. Cute. Barry struggled to figure out what exactly a scimitar is... given nearly identical curved swords were labeled "Iranian scimitar" and "Iranian sword". There was also an artisan shop inside the palace at which we bought a few more souvenirs.

    Lastly, we wanted to stop at a bazaar to check out some block print clothing - think printing press, but for clothing designs. This is one thing Jaipur is known for. But our driver convinced us to go to a factory on the exterior of the city (right by the airport - and we were running a bit late on time, so it seemed sensible). Unfortunately, the factory only sold cloth by the meter - not any readymade items like shirts or scarves - and Tina didn't want to devote future time to sewing. Kind of a letdown, so we just went to the airport instead.

    Naturally, when we get through security at the airport, we learn that our flight is delayed by 40 minutes... so maybe we had time for that bazaar shop after all. So it goes.

    Our next post will be from our last destination of this journey: Mumbai.
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  • Day11

    Science and Architecture

    November 28, 2018 in India ⋅ 🌫 72 °F

    After spending almost 3 hours at the Amber Fort, we took a quick walk down to the surrounding city past a small Hindu temple and to a local step well. This well was larger than the one we saw in Delhi and resembled more of the traditional square type. Loved the symmetry of it all. We drove by the Jal Mahal or Palace on the Lake before lunch. This palace was given over to a private company who wanted to develop the abandoned property into a tourist attraction but politics have stalled the project. It would have been an upscale restaurant only reachable by boat. Too bad, we would have definitely gone there.

    Following lunch we stopped by two artisan shops - Emerald Palace (gems and jewelry obviously) and Ganesh Textiles (traditional block printing). We ended up buying a matching pair of custom earrings and bracelet for Tina to be shipped directly home. At the block printing shop, we watched two artisans pressing color onto a patterned piece of cloth. This company uses natural dyes, such as sugar cane, spinach, and tumeric, on natural fibers like cotton and silk. It looked so precise but tedious, very neat though!

    Now it was time for some science fun at Jantar Mantar, an astrological observatory built by Jai Singh II. There were several different types of sun dials and instruments that measured the constellations and zodiacs. They were all calibrated to that specific location in Jaipur. The sundials included the historic Hindustan time delineations, which were shorter than the current minutes and seconds (and were called something else). They were also a very different style than we were used to - convex semi-circular arches with an angled "ramp" in the center. As the sun travels across the sky, the shadow of the ramp moved along the arches to tell the time. The world's largest masonry sundial is located there and is accurate up to 2 seconds! We took many pictures with it of course.

    Another interesting time fact that we learned was the reason behind India's single time zone and the use of local vs national times. They wanted a single time zone for the national train system so that people wouldn't get confused converting between zones or by arriving "before" the departure time. India's time zone is also based on noon at the center of the country and is a half hour different from the next ones over, +5:30 GMT.

    Astrology is big in India too. Birth horoscopes and zodiac signs can tell a lot about someone or can drive their future. There were instruments that charted the locations of the constellations and subdivided the sky into 12 parts of 30 degrees for each zodiac. They could measure where we were in that zodiac house.

    Our final stop on the tour was Hawa Mahal, the Wind Palace. This building consists of 5 floors and over 900 screened windows overlooking the main road thru the Pink City. The royal women were not allowed in public so this gave them a private view of the ongoings of the city. The window screens themselves were intricately carved with floral and geometric shapes. The towers offered lovely views of the whole city and at the Amber Valley in the distance. Since it was sunset, the walls glowed with golden light. We ran across the street and upstairs to a cafe to take pictures of the palace with the sun setting behind it. It was truly beautiful!

    On our way back to the hotel, we drove by the Albert Hall Museum and saw a live broadcast interview with a state politicians. Indians are invited to attend and ask them questions in a public space. Kinda neat and different compared to the American style of prepared interviews and debates.
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  • Day11

    Amber Fort

    November 28, 2018 in India ⋅ 🌫 68 °F

    Akram, the same guide we used in Delhi, picked us up at 9am to take us on a full day tour of Jaipur. It was a very packed day of learning both the history of Jaipur (and by proxy Northern India) and modern Indian politics.

    We started out by driving into old town Jaipur, the part that is famously known as the Pink City. Even though it's not pink at all! The nickname comes from when Prince Albert visited Jaipur in 1877 and one if his aides wrote down that the old town was pink and the name just stuck. Maybe he was colorblind? Anyway, the color is actually terra cotta. The whole old town is uniformly this color, with seven richly decorated gates all around. Quite beautiful.

    We took a quick spot just to take a picture of the facade of Hawal Mahal (the Wind Palace), but more on this in a later post. Our main destination for the morning was the Amer Fort.

    The Amber Fort is named from the city of Amber, which itself is believed to be named for the Hindu goddess Amba (coincidentally its color is somewhat in the realm of amber). The fort and wall around it was initially built in the 12th century, and the wall grew to encircle the entire valley, and is quite reminiscent of the Great Wall of China (although obviously several thousand miles shorter and much later in history). Wikipedia refers to this as the Amer Fort in Amer, but all local references we've seen say Amber.

    While the fort was initially built in the 12th century, a new, modern, palatial expansion was began by Man Singh at the end of the 16th century. Turns out that Man Singh was the general of the Mughal Emperor Akbar. Rajasthan (the state of which Jaipur is the capital) was autonomous from the Mughals, but they had very close relations (two Rajasthani princesses married Mughals). Man Singh didn't live to see the palace completed, so work was continued by his descendents... including his grandson, Jai Singh I, who also was a general for the Mughals.

    The fort is an interesting mix of Persian, Mughul, and local Rajasthani architecture. For instance, some columns had Islamic detail bases (flowers and geometry) but Hindu tops (eplehants). It's called a fort, but it served no military purpose - there was an actual military fort nearby - it was mainly a palace.

    The fort contained multiple beautiful gardens in the Persian style, and had two main gates. The sun gate (facing east) was reserved for the royals, who actually typically entered on elephant back. In fact, many tourists take that route today. We just walked, and took pictures of the elephants instead, many of which were elaborately decorated and even had painted toenails! The moon gate (facing west) was for commoners to enter to petition and see the royals.

    The main section of the palace had two main royal residences and was ingeniously laid out. The winter palace was on the east side and mirrored - so as to capture the maximum amount of heat from the sun. We chuckled as our guide described temperatures falling as low as 9 degrees celcius (48°F). Must be nice. On the other hand, in the summer, temperatures can reach an absurd 47 degrees celcius (117°F) - so the summer palace was constructed facing west, which was a direction blocked by a hill so it got far less sunlight. Additionally, it was all white marble, and had a built in air conditioning system and water cooling. High tech for the 17th century!

    In the back of the fort were 12 distinct apartments for Man Singh's 12 wives. They were constructed in such a way to ensure that none of the wives knew which one he was visiting. Sneaky sneaky. Throughout the fort were many screen windows - windows with hexagonal open tiles so that the wives could peek out at the commoners without being seen, since they weren't actually allowed to venture out much.

    After several hundred years of rule over Amber, one ruler, Jai Singh II, decided that he had much grander ambitions. He decided he needed to build his own city, which he naturally named after himself: Jai's City, or Jaipur. The city be built is the part we now call the Pink City - which was founded in 1727. But this man was also interested in a lot of other things, like math and astronomy and even urban planning - so the city is carefully designed and laid out on a symmetric grid. He even was very careful to place specific occupations at specific points. There is a block for bangle creators, and a block for cloth weavers, and so forth. He also built his own astronomical observatory (see next post).

    We ended up spending about 3 hours at the Amber Fort, and learned an enormous amount about it - of which this post is just a fraction. But it was a great place to visit.
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  • Day10

    Arrived in Jaipur

    November 27, 2018 in India ⋅ ☁️ 70 °F

    We just arrived at our hotel in Jaipur. We're only here for two days, so going to try to make the most of it!

  • Day10

    Waiting for the next flight

    November 27, 2018 in India ⋅ ⛅ 75 °F

    Ani and Ajay dropped us off at the Mysore Bus Station and we said our goodbyes as we caught a bus to the Bengaluru Airport. The bus was quite nice and the trip easy. Our flight isn't for another 4 hours though, so now we just wait.