Friday, February 29, 2008
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Te woman in the picture next to the cows is taking naturall cow pies and flattening them and making uniform patties which are then placed in the sun to dry. Large areas, as seen in the field of cowpies picture, are used for drying. This takes place in cities and towns as well as throughout the countyside.
After drying the cowpies are stacked into building like structures and are covered with cow pie, for long term storage.
This is a very rare sight -- two wild tigers in the same photograph.
This was taken at the Ranthambhore National Park in India. We were fortunate enough to see 3 tigers travelling together.
Unfortunately they didn't all pose close enough to get all three into one picture.
While were were in India, the papers reported the latest tiger census. Sad news is that by some counts there are as few as 1400 left in the wild.
Here's the Times of India article for as long as the link lasts.
People tiger conflicts, again, for as long as the link lasts:
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
They caught a gondola (hanging not floating) up to the Maa Mansa Devi Mandir (wish-fulfilling goddess temple), a mouthful if ever there was one. At the temple they gave darshan (presented themselves) to the goddess Mansa Devi and had tikka applied to their forehead (the goddesses blessing.) And then they ate again, this time prasaad, blessed food, in the form of miniature sugar and rice balls.
Mary Ann tied a string around a tree to help facilitate her prayers, and had a kala dhaga (black string) tied around her wrist at the Bhaironath temple. Bhaironath is a ferocious god born from Shiv's anger who's generally ill tempered and prone to smack tourists upside the head. A quick gift to the monkey-god and perfect servant to lord Rama, and it was off on a bicycle rickshaw to see the tall stature of Shiv, the main god in the local area, aka the god of destruction, regeneration.and urban renewal. It gets pretty complicated, especially since Shiv(a) has 1008 names. For a detailed explanation go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shiva or here http://www.gurjari.net/ico/Mystica/html/shiva.htm
Off to the river to watch people washing their sins away by bathing in the sacred Ganga, drinking her water, and generally grossing out Westerners. At sunset, they watched the nightly arti ritual performed, which is a fire-offering to the gods, in this case to the goddess Ganga Maa. They floated diyas, oil burning vessels made of leaves and flowers, down the river as a way of praising the mother goddess Ganga and to ask for a wish (that they don't drown in the river on the raft trip) to come true.
Next day, they rode to Rishikesh (Rishikesh, literally: "Hair (kesh) of the sage" (rishi), is a Hindu holy city located in the foothills of the Himalaya in northern India. Legend states that Lord Rama did penance here for killing Rava,, the demon king of Lanka)
Finally! They river rafted with "Red Chilli Adventures" after riding up into the Himalayas (pics in a previous post). They rafted down to a bend in the river just short of Lakshman Jhulla, a suspension bridge named after the god Lakshman, brother of god Rama. Their wish to the Goddess Ganga Maa being answered, they made it back to the Ganga Hotel, where Rhonda finally got her well deserved massage. And then – they ate again, this time spinach and cheese crepes from the Vasundhara Palace.
The day's adventures were topped of by another ride on the Dehra dun Shatabdi express train to Delhi.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
After a lunch break following the Dubai city tour, we piled into a couple of 4 wheel SUVs and headed out to the desert. Dubai is of course a desert, but most of it is paved over by streets and high rises. To get to the real desert one has to head out of town. Another 3rd — 3rd largest desert. Always the bridesmaid, never etc. I think this 3rd place mentality is causing the Dubains to overcompensate with all this super building. Since no one has figured out how to build a bigger desert (yet) the third place position seems secure for now.
About 10 minutes out of town, we reached the Dubailand area, which for now looks suspiciously like desert but will become one of the largest theme parks in the world (hopefully not the 3rd largest.) The real sand dune-y desert started showing up about 20 minutes out of town. We left the highway and headed on a side road to what must be a desert park. It had 90 KM (50Miles +/-) of fences surrounding it, and contained oryx. No camels. There are no wild camels in this desert.
The vehicles stopped so that the air could be let out of the tires to get better traction in the loose sand. We wandered around and tried to get a sense of the "ocean of sand", with its dunes and little vegetation.
After the vehicles were prepped, we headed out into the sand for a rousing ride over dune and dale, slipping and sliding down slopes, and generally tearing up the sand. It was fun, in a Disney sort of way, since we had to sit and couldn't take the wheel.
We took a water break and then headed to the camel farm, to meet some of the residents. Camels are OK, its an animal we don't see much of in the USA, but they are common enough in both India and the Arabian peninsula. Anyhow, they raise the beasts, mostly for tourist rides in Dubai, but for serious work in India (previous pic posts) An interesting bunch, tame, but bigger than an horse, and not particularly fond of tourists. Probably tired of having tourists their backs.
Back into the jeeps for an Arabian Nights dinner in the desert. Over dune and dust again, we stopped at an encampment where we began our evenings fun. Music, food, belly dancers, henna tattoos. All of the more adventuresome (or buzzed) of the group had the local artists write on their body parts.
The food was served and eaten (what did you expect), and we took camel rides in the dark. Augie and Mo's tats took a beating when their camel decided, for no reason other than obnoxiousness, to sit down without letting anyone know. There is a trick to a camel's getting up and down with passengers, and it takes the cooperation of the passengers if no one is going to get dumped. With no warning, it's an interesting ride down. Anyway, back up with a smeared tattoo, and off into the dark desert. Notice the muzzles on the camels. These guys have had their fill of riders, and this keeps them from spitting on tourists.
Back into the tents for a viewing of the "dance", in this case a traditional belly dance to the tune of Arabian rap music. Ah tradition, where have you gone? After the belly stopped jiggling, the crowd mobbed the dance floor and finished up the evening with more dancin to the rap.
We packed up, and after a brief stop to put air back into the tires, we headed back the hotel for a short night's sleep for the early departure to the airport.
22 Feb 08 Dubai, the good, the bad, the ugly.
This morning we set out on a city tour. Since it is Friday, the Moslem "Sunday", most stores are closed, so shopping was pretty much out of the question. Not that we didn't try.
In overview, Dubai is pretty much like the high rise parts of LA, but with more English language signs.
We bused out to the Palm Island, a man made island, shaped like, guess what, a palm tree. It is the first of three or four, depending on how the money holdes out. Best seen from the air or space, as from the ground it looks like the Miami waterfront. Lots of apartments, condos and houses. A sellout, we are told. Interestingly though, the million dollar water view condos had laundry hanging on the balconies.
To watch it being built check out:
We stopped and walked around the Dubai harbor, an artificial harbor surrounded by high rises, all built within the last few years. Looks a lot like Marina del Rey, the same sort of atmosphere. People were hanging around enjoying life by the pond, just like anywhere else.
Driving around, we stopped at the beach to look at the hotel shaped like a sailboat. Photo op, and off we go to the Old City, a relatively small area of buildings mostly less than a hundred years old.
Some sightseeing and we took a water taxi across the Dubai creek to the Gold Souk, which of course was closed for the holy day. A brief look at the spice market and some spice buying, and a walk among the closed shops.
Back to the hotel for a lunch break (more food) and preparations for the evening's desert safari.
filled air, whizzers on the roads (today we broke our count record, 51 of
them -- three of them from our own group), beggars, hawkers (not hookers,
Cora), and INDIAN FOOD! You can't beat nan bread, but the vegetarian bent
starts to get old for most of us carnivores.
After an early morning yummy hotel breakfast (with eggs and curry), we were
transferred to the airport for our flight to Dubai - on our favorite
springless, shockless bus, the one we thought we lost for good yesterday.
At the airport we were treated to a whole new way of checking in. A line
forms outside the building and documents are checked before you are allowed
in. Then you take your bags to an x-ray machine where they're checked by
people talking on cellphones, eating sandwiches and not watching the
monitor. The bags are then banded shut, sorta, with an official seal of
strapping tape. Next you haul them off to the ticket counter to drop them
off and get your boarding pass.
The absurdity of the situation is that they band the middle, leaving the
tops of almost all roll type bags accessible. To top it off you can carry
anything you want around the machines since the machines are sitting in the
middle of the room and no one has checked anyone for anything yet, and stick
it in your just x-rayed bag at your leisure.
When we finally got to the check in counter, we discovered that Jim and
Nancy did not have tickets. They assumed this flight was part of the tour,
but oops, it isn't. Luckily, after much computer beating and the
appropriate wailing and incense burning, seats were made available for them
to purchase - which they did, and they joined us for the trip. In hindsight,
it's lucky they even got into the building to buy a ticket since you need a
ticket to enter the building to buy a ticket.
The method used to board passengers at an Indian airport are best left
undescribed as it would turn the stomachs of all but the most hardened
Once aboard Emirates Air, and settled in, we had the usual 100's of movies
choices, and a mercifully short flight. Beautiful 777 with all the
trimmings. The Emirates don't spare any expense - you just never know when
some prince's Lear jet might break down and he might have to stoop to flying
Dubai. What a contrast to the rest of the third world -- though it probably
ranks in the first world. Dubai! The complete opposite of India. The
streets are paved with Ferraris and Range Rovers. There are only motor
vehicles on the roads -- top of the line machinery at that -- no oxen,
pedicabs, tuk tuks, camels, bicycles, etc., etc.. No visible poverty, just
ostentatious displays of wealth beyond belief.
We arrived at our hotel, the Avari Dubai, and had the afternoon free. Seven
of us took taxis to the "Mall of the Emirates" to the see the giant indoor
This mall redefines the words "conspicuous consumption." It's a huge mall,
with 450 stores, restaurants, and a movie theatre complex. The third largest
in the world, soon to be eclipsed (and kicked to a"also ran" 4th place) by a
new "largest in the world" to be built at the new soon to be built Dubailand
outside of town. Which incidentally will include a Disney world. Build.
build, build. According to our guide, about 20% (unverified number, but
certainly believable) of the world's construction people are working here.
It takes a two dollar taxi ride to circle the mall to get on the highway.
It took 45 minutes round trip to walk up and down just one row of shops, not
stopping longer than it takes to figure out what a store sells. There are 4
rows just like it, plus long interconnecting corridors,and two floors.
Single windows had a millions of dollars worth of stuff showing, and there
are thousands of display windows. Does anyone really have a use for a nine
carat diamond ring? For anything? Try two, one for each hand, and throw in a
half pound (forget carats) diamond necklace, all in one window.
Everything is high end. Fashion, electronics, jewelry, goodies of all kinds
to boggle the mind and stimulate the buying gene. It might become some new
level of Dante's hell -- consumers doomed to wander its halls for eternity,
forced to look look look and buy buy buy.
Describe it? It's like any mall anywhere in the world, except its size and
sheer number of stores from every country in the world, and the amount of
gaudy merchandise cannot really be described well enough to do it justice.
The scale of the thing rivals any other monument made by man.
The people? Everything from USA rednecks in ball caps to white robed
sheiks. Women dressed in full traditional Muslim Chador with a veil covering
even their eyes, to miniskirts and short shorts with see through bra-less
blouses. Families trailing multiple children, each with their own nanny.
Most of the world's nationalities and races are represented. The mall was
packed with as wide a range of people you could imagine.
We finally looked at the indoor sky mountain, which is what we actually came
to see. It really is an indoor ski mountain, with beginner to black diamond
slopes. 400 meters long and has a 200 foot drop. Unfortunately, it is only
the 3rd largest indoor ski slope in the world, so Dubai loses out again in
the rating game.
If you close your eyes and pretend real hard, you might actually believe
you're in the Alps. The place was hopping, and people were skiing and
snowboarding, inside! Ski lessons were taking place before our very eyes,
in the middle of the Arabian dessert. And as if one weren't enough, another
one is going to be built, you guessed it, at Dubailand. Now under
construction, like everything else you can imagine
More mundanely, we ate cheeseburgers and fries at a restaurant called the
Butcher Shop, a South African beef outlet. Everyone was just a little tired
of vegie Indian food and wanted to chew on some plain old beef.
On the way back to the hotel, we could see the new skyscrapers, including
the world's tallest building, which were all brightly lighted, another
impressive sight. Al Gore's going to need to give up his house and jet and
sell carbon credits to the poor Emirates.
Time to crash and get sleep for our full day of sightseeing and activities
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Print this out and give it a try. Easiest way is to right click, open in new window, and then save the full size version to your computer. Then print from there. The way these pictures are stored online blocks most of the other mouse operations.
Hold a business card between your eyes to make it easier.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
20 Feb 08 - Up with the roosters and trash burners for our sunrise viewing of the Taj. We oooed and ahhhhed for the obligatory amount of time, then had our group and individual portraits taken by a local pro.
Then we went on our tour of the grounds and the Taj itself. Our guide showed us where Shah Jahan and his lady are buried "under the neathe" the monument (our guide had an interesting, yet endearing manner, of butchering the English language.) To enter the Taj itself, which is a working tomb, one must go barefoot or wear slippers to show due respect.
He also pointed out to us the precise symmetry in all aspects of the Taj. The mosque and the exact 1/2 scale replicas on either side of the Taj balance the Taj on a big wooden beam, and keep it from sinking into the river.
When you are up close to the Taj, you can see the intricate designs made of inlaid precious and semi precious stones. It's easy to see why it is one of the new 7 wonders of the world.
Overall, an impressive sight. What more can you really say? It looks like every picture you've ever seen of it, but it is one of those things that takes on a whole new perspective when you actually see it in person. Enormous scale, intricate up close detail. The real beauty is in the details, something that doesn't usually show up in the pictures you see.
After some haggling for some trinkets (not anothrer ganet necklace?!) we left the Taj and went back to the hotel for breakfast. Then we took a little time from our day for a little shopping, First in a tourist trap, then on the street.
We next toured the Agra Fort, another World Heritage Site, a where Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal was imprisoned by his son for wasting the family jewels building oversized coffins. Jahan was planning a copy of the Taj across the river, made of black marble, for his personal use. The son felt enough was enough. Families.
Then it was off on another bumpy, dusty drive back to Delhi. On one of our pit stops, the bus drove off and left Jim behind in the snack shop. His wife, Nancy, didn't even notice he was missing. He said he wasn't worried, just wondered how long it would take us to realize he was not with us.
We arrived at our Delhi hotel, the Park Premier, a new hotel near the airport, around 7:00 p.m., just in time for dinner. They still had some bugs to work out -- the electricity went out about four times while we were there.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
19 Feb 08 - WE LEFT RANTHAMBORE BY RAILWAY AT 7:10 AM. IT WAS AN UNEVENTFUL RIDE, BUT THE TRAIN WAS UNEXPECTEDLY COMFORTABLE. WHILE THE RAIL STATION WAS QUITE AN ADVENTURE. LOTS OF POOR PEOPLE AND A LADY DANGLING HER BABY OVER THE TRACKS TO PEE.
WE ARRIVED IN FATEHPUR SIKRI AND WENT TO THE GHOST CITY AND THE PALACE OF THE WINDS, BUILT BY AKBAR THE GREAT. IT WAS ORIGINALLY HIS SEAT OF POWER IN THE COUNTRY, BUT HE REALIZED IT WAS A BAD LOCATION, SO HE MOVED IT TO A PLACE LOCATED ON THE SILK ROAD. THAT'S WHY THEY CALL IT THE GHOST CITY.
WE PICKED UP OUR GUIDE, RAIS. HE WAS EXTREMELY KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT THE AREA, AND ALSO THE WILDLIFE AND BIRDS OF THE AREA.
LATER WE WENT INTO AGRA AND VISITED THE SHERATON, WHERE WE GOT OUR FIRST GLIMPSE OF THE TAJ MAHAL THROUGH THE WINDOWS OF THE JUNIOR SUITE. WE WERE ALSO TREATED TO A LUNCH WHICH HAD THE GREATEST SELECTION OF FOODS YET, INCLUDING CHOCOLATE MOOSE! YUM!
WE CHECKED INTO OUR HOTEL, THE JAYPEE PALACE HOTEL AND GOT READY FOR OUR SUNSET TRIP TO THE TAJ MAHAL. WE VIEWED IT FROM THE BACK SIDE, FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE RIVER. WE HAD AN INCREDIBLE VIEW, WITH THE TAJ REFLECTED IN THE RIVER. RHONDA AND MAUREEN HAD THEIR PICTURES TAKEN ON A CAMEL. SEEING THE TAJ FOR THE FIRST TIME TOOK OUR BREATH AWAY -- THAT AND THE FACT THAT PEOPLE WERE BURNING BODIES IN A CREMATORIUM ALONG THE RIVERBANK A FEW HUNDRED METERS FROM THE TAJ.
WE RETURNED TO OUR HOTEL FOR A LATE DINNER.
Today we woke at O-dark-30, and stumbled to the staging area for coffee, low tea and biskits (cookies).
Into the dark and cold we headed out to the wilds of the game preserve (Ranthambhore National Park) to find the elusive tiger. The jeep was the same shockless, springless, bone breaking wonder we rode yesterday.
On the way to the park, it became obvious where the morning smog comes from. It's cold, and everyone who was up freezing at 5 am was burning all the trash and wood in sight to keep warm. Can't blame them for wanting to keep warm, but I can't figure out how they keep their lungs working.
We entered the park number 3 in line, and we ate dust. It hasn't rained here since September and it shows. The Kalihari is a mudhole by comparison.
Everything, including us, is covered in a not so fine layer of dust and more dust. And did I mention the dust?. It grits your teeth and stings your eyes. It's so thick that it keeps your autofocus camera from focusing.
We sped through the park as if we had a purpose. Park people would wave us on, enthusiastically pointing the way. People walking the road would point us on the way. However, there's only one road and only one direction if you don't count backwards, so the meaning of all this excitement is not clear to us.
Explanations do slip through our thick and muddled minds. Tigers walk the road in the morning because it's easy for them. Huh? Also, we're not seeing any animals because they have the good sense to stay away from the road when the hungry tigers are walking the road. Ok. Then why were we beating our bones to death yesterday when all the animals were on the road, and the tigers weren't? And what are all the people doing walking around on the road this chilly am with hungry tigers about?
Much yelling and hand waiving later, we meet another vehicle head on, on a very narrow road blocked in by trees. Yell, yell, wave, wave, there are tigers around! But we haven't seen them (yet?), and a passing is attempted.
And comes to a screeching halt with the two jeeps locked in mortal combat. Both are tilting to the center of the road, roll bar to roll bar, locked tight. Mucho circling, waiving, etc., etc., goes on, none of which is going to free the jeeps.
Meanwhile, more assurance that tigers are about.
One of the drivers thinks to place a big flat rock in front of a wheel, and driving up on it gets our jeep level enough to unlock, and away we go.
With all the yelling, clutch burning and gear grinding, there's now little hope in our minds that there's a tiger for miles around.
Speeding forward about 100 meters, and screeching to a stop. Whoa, there's a tiger laying in the road. Big fellow, 400 + pounds, takes up most of the road. Everyone in the jeep jumps up and starts taking pictures, attracting the big guys' attention. Apparently not wanting anything to do with a squealing bunch of tiger food, he gets up and crosses into the bush.
The jeep pulls forward, and we stop in what is the middle of a ravine sloping up a hillside for about 500 meters. We wait. Soon tigers start coming out of the woods everywhere. From no tigers at all , we've now stumbled across three tiger brothers who travel together. We watch them climb the slope, stop and lay in the sun and generally criss-cross the hillside. No sight of mom though, even though she travels with them. I do find it hard to call these boys cubs anyway.
After about 15 minutes they all disappear back into the woodwork. 10,000 miles, 10 hours in a shockless bus on potholed roads (where there were roads at all) and an hour in a jeep feeling like Rocky's workout bag, we finally see 3 tigers in the wild. Fantastic!
Feeling smug and happy because our vehicle was the only one to see tigers this am, we head back for breakfast. The guide and driver engage in lot of yelling and arm waving with every jeep we meet, no doubt telling them, in a language unknown to us, that there are tigers somewhere.
Since we started seeing animals on the road, our new found tiger knowledge lets us conclude there are no tigers around to see 'til evening. Breakfast is a better bet. Later inquiries provide us with the information that some people have come a half dozen times and never seen a tiger. Our luck has held.
Back to the hotel for breakfast, and then on to another hotel inspection.
We visited the Sawai Madhopur Lodge, run by gent in jodhpurs and a moustache that would be the pride of a British Raj colonel. This hotel was built in the 30s to the old British colonial standard. Beautiful woodwork, spacious rooms and grounds, and an attentive staff fit for royalty.
Which it is. QE2 her royal highness self and hubby came here to hunt tiger in the good ole days when it actually wa outsid of town. The suites are beautiful, just what you'd expect in a place fit for a queen. Comes complete with a cricket court for a quick wicket of cricket. An don't forget a rousing game of croquet between tiger hunts.
After the tour, they fed us a great lunch of local dishes. Service was provided even though lunch was a buffet.
This hotel's a keeper and we'll definitely stay there the next India run. You'll feel like a queen, and you won't even have to dress in drag.
Do we ever stop eating? We are slowly becoming vegetarians from the lack of much of anything but chicken meat to eat.
A short rest, and back into the jeeps for a ride to a different part of the park. We weave through the traffic consisting of every vehicle known to man: camels of the one hump kind, pigs, bikes, goats, holy cows! , cars, sheep, motorcycles, pedestrians, donkeys and more camels. Dogs and trucks.
An interesting sight was the woman making, drying and stacking cow pies to be used for fuel. A reminder that we are in a country where every resource counts.
Eventually we reach the park and we see a leopard cub who was abandoned by its mother. She now lives in a large enclosure, looking like she's enjoying life. Plenty of food, water, and toys. The plan seems to be to raise her and then turn her loose in the main park.
Then off into the (different) wilds to find a free leopard. To do this, we slowly and jarringly wind our way up a huge scarp, the quasi mountains that form most of the park. The scenery is stunning -- high vertical walls, then shear vertical drops when we reach the top. We see the train tracks for tomorrow's journey. We see hill and dale, canyon and cliff, but alas, no leopard except our little caged friend.
On the way out we see some of the collateral wildlife- deer of various ilk, a hyena, an owl, and a woodpecker. All in all, an interesting afternoon.
Then, guess what, more food. Off to bed for a 5:30 am wakeup call for tomorrow's train ride to the ultimate India cliché, the Taj Mahal!
Drifting off to sleep to the light of a nearly full moon and the toot of nearby train whistles, we bid a fond adieu etc.