CategoriesArchiveSearchRandom
View the archives

or

Search the archives
 

Agra and Delhi, India, June 2014

January 17th, 2015

IMG_0411

In June I went to Pune in India for “handover training” on the project which has been the main focus of my work for three years now. I didn’t see much in Pune but since It was a three-week trip I managed to take a weekend trip with two of the other guys from the project. Of course the must see attraction for one’s first time in India is the Taj Mahal [wikipedia.org]!

In order to get to the Taj from Pune we flew to New Delhi early on Saturday morning. Once there we met up with a hired driver to drive us the 200+ kilometer to Agra. With a quick stop in Delhi to see the Red Fort [wikipedia.org]. The Red Fort was built by Shah Jahan, the same Mughal Emperor who built the Taj, and was the residence of the Mugal Emperors for 200 years until “the Britishers” took over.

You can see how the Red Fort must have been a beautiful place, and could be an amazing place to visit. However… it is in pretty bad shape. Trees down, all the water fountains under some sort of renovation &mdash and what appears to be the workers on this project living with their family under one of the buildings in the middle of what should be a pool. We saw a woman down there doing the laundry and the kids playing.

IMG_9544

All in all the Red Fort was not worth the two hours in the 40+ degree Celsius Delhi summer heat.

After a quick fast food lunch — the land of vegetarian McDonald’s “burgers”! We piled in our ride for a tour of India’s $2 Billion Yamuna Expressway [wikipedia.org]. Halfway to Agra we took a short break for our driver to replace a tire and then a few miles down the road to have the tire fixed. I haven’t seen a car tire with an inner-tube before. I think those went out of style in the US before I was born.

Eventually we did get to Agra. Then we go lost. Seem the driver didn’t know the way to the Taj. We drove the wrong way a few miles — which takes some time in Agra — before he asked for directions and we backtracked to the Taj.

IMG_0337

Once there we were told there was only 15 minutes until the ticket counters closed – one hour before the Taj itself closed for the night. And that it was a 600 meter walk from the parking area to the ticket counters. We elected to walk it, running a gauntlet of trickshaw drivers, camel handlers, horse masters and donkey cart drivers who wanted to sell us a ride. They didn’t give up until we were within about 100 meters of the ticket gates. The constant touting was not the part of the walk that leaves an impression. All tourist hot-spots have their equivalent. The smell is the part that sticks with you. It was like walking through an open sewer. It was, without a doubt, the worst smell I have ever smelled. Worse than the pit farms near my grandparents house. Worse than smell of Bangkok back alleys. I mean, you could see horse shit, donkey shit and even camel shit on the road — and you could smell it when it was there. But this was a constant smell of doom, an apocalyptic odor. Something I will never forget. We never identified its source but luckily it was confined to the 600 meters between the parking lot and the ticket counters.

We made it to the ticket counters in time, got our tickets and our booties — which one must ware inside the Taj itself. By coincidence that night was a full moon, and the Taj is open for night viewing during a full moon. We had planned to get tickets for the full moone viewing, unfortunately you can’t just buy tickets for it at the ticket counter — you have to buy them 24 hours in advance. The website makes not mention of this and we were unable to get them to sell us tickets so despite the coincidence we were unable to take advantage of our one night being the a full moon.

IMG_0102

We spent our hour wandering around and taking photos before the guards kicked everyone out and we had to make our way back through the stench. Thankfully it was less intense, maybe the wind have shifted. We spent a night in a nearby hotel.

Next morning we went back for sunrise photos but low hanging clouds kept it from being too dramatic. In any event we waked around for a good two hours taking in the beauty of the Taj itself and the surrounding buildings. The Taj deserves all the praise for its beauty. There is not much to it inside, it is after all a mausoleum. The outside is the glory. It is an amazingly beautify building. If it had not been for the need to get to Delhi to fly back to Pune for work I could have spent all day just wondering around the Taj grounds and admiring the beauty and the details. Despite the sunset and sunrise being less than spectacular and the daytime haze making for a dull gray sky I took an enormous amount of photos — I doubt I will ever go back.

Je Suis Charlie

January 8th, 2015

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Evelyn Beatrice Hall wikipedia.org] writing about Voltaire’s [wikipedia.org] beliefs on freedom of expression

12 and 24 hours in Istanbul

November 8th, 2014

IMG_8843-Edit

On my last trip to Israel for work I scheduled a one day layover in Istanbul — arriving at 6AM and off again at 6PM — with plans to take the time to wander around Sultanahmet and take some photos. I’ve been to Istanbul many times, it’s a great city and always worth the time. Hagia Sophia [wikipedia.org] is my favorite building in the world. I can — and do — spend hours sitting and walking around it in.

I spent this day in Hagia Sofia as well as The Blue Mosque [wikipedia.org], the Basilica Cistern [wikipedia.org], the New Mosque [wikipedia.org] and generally wandering around Sultanahmet and nearby areas.

IMG_9130

That was all I planned for this trip. A relaxing day on the way to Israel for work. I did not plan to visit Istanbul on the way home, just a quick plane change. Alas my flight from Tel Aviv back to Istanbul didn’t take off till about 20 minutes before my connection was scheduled to take off and it’s an hour-long flight.

We were met at the gate by staff but they were only interested in passengers for a couple of destinations whose connections had not yet taken off. The Singapore flight was long gone. There were about 12 people on my plane who all missed the Singapore flight. I will only say that the Turkish ground staff had no idea what to do with us and were completely lost, they could only tell us the next flight was the same one the next day, 24 hours to wait. We had to figure out, basically on our own, that we needed to get visas because the airport hotel was full, we had issues with baggage — the staff there told us it was checked through, then they told us we could get it at after we go our hotel fixed, which meant leaving the customs area (and going through the one way gate into the arrivals hall), we needed to get paperwork from the ticketing counter upstairs, etc, etc, etc. It was a fiasco. Took me two hours. I was stupid enough to believe the luggage guys and leave the customs area and then I had to use a special phone to call them back from outside and they came and escorted me back into the customs areas and then took another 30 minutes to find my bag. My flight landed in Istanbul at midnight and it was 4AM when I got to my hotel.

IMG_8991-Edit

The good news is that the hotel was in a great location, near Fetih [wikipedia.org]. So, after some sleep I spent the day wandering around the Fetih Mosque [wikipedia.org], Şehzade Mosque [wikipedia.org], saw the Valens Aqueduct [wikipedia.org] and wandered around the university area. Even wandered through the end of some protest.

The missed flight and delay was tiring and losing a day was annoying but at least I got to spend it in a city I love to wander around it.

10 Years Lah

September 26th, 2014

This month marks 10 years I have been in Singapore, I’m a but late posting anything as I left DC on the 1st of September 2004 [confusion.cc] though I actually arrived in Singapore early on the 4th due to layovers on my cheap flights.

My decade in Singapore has been good – I got married [confusion.cc] and had two [confusion.cc] kids [confusion.cc]! Not to mention traveling all over Asia. So overall Singapore has been good, though there is a significant amount of hate in my love-hate relationship with Singaporeans — see here, [confusion.cc] here, [confuison.cc] and here [confusion.cc] &mdash among others.

I did make one serious attempt to move back to the US [confusion.cc]. Which was not my first choice and the long lasting effects of the financial crisis put a stop to that. And while I would still like to go somewhere else — Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan or maybe even China or Korea — I don’t have any concrete plans.

So here’s to starting my second decade in Singapore.

Nagano and Yamanouchi, Japan, February 2014

August 31st, 2014

From our base in Matsumoto [confusion.cc], we made our way by train by train to Nagano [wikipedia.org] bus and then on foot through the snow to Jigokudani Monkey Park [wikipedia.org] in Yamanouchi [wikipedia.org]! To see the world-famous snow monkeys, lounging in the Onsen:

IMG_7504

It was bitterly cold, around -10° C. And very atmospheric with steam rising from the various hot springs along “Hell’s Valley” (Jigokudani). our first sighting of the monkeys was foraging in the snow near the visitors center at the apex of a, very slippery, two kilometer walk through the woods. Despite the cold and snow there were a number of visitors, many with impressively large camera’s and zoom lenses determined to get great closeup shots of the monkeys. After taking our turn with the monkeys near the visitors center we walked on to the actual hot spring. It was a bit of a letdown when we first saw it:

IMG_7653

It’s a man-made bath for the monkeys. Also according to Wikipedia the monkeys only started to use the onsen in 1963. Proof of evolution? I think so. I guess the nice setup for photographers was made later in support of the Japanese obsession with photography.

We also visited Nagano itself, though this was on a different day due to how short the days were. We didn’t do much since it was the off-season, just wandered around Zenkō-ji and its surrounding building. Including at least two trips through the pitch black, and freezing cold, corridor under the main hall in an apparently fruitless attempt to gain entrance to paradise.

IMG_7799