Archive for November, 2008

Where is that Drink?

Where is that drink?

This martini was served in a nicely-proportioned, classic cocktail glass in the retro-chic Mister Parker’s Restaurant, the signature restaurant at the hip Parker Hotel, located in Palm Springs, CA.  The dark, intimate restaurant serves French-inspired food amidst an amazing collection of funky and fabulous mid-Century to 1970’s artwork and posters in a truly unique setting designed by Jonathan Adler

According to their website, Mister Parker’s is ”a deconstructed formal hangout for fops, flaneurs and assorted cronies.”  The restaurant is located in the Lobby of The Parker Hotel and is open Wednesday through Sunday for dinner only.  Reservations are available by phone or via opentable.com.

The refreshing cocktail was followed by an excellent dinner.  Among the items ordered were ahi tartare, beet salad, chilled whole artichoke, roast chicken, rack of lamb, and gnocchi.  Desserts included home-made ice creams and sorbets.

To go to previous entries in the “Where is That Drink?” series, click here.

Photo taken: 11/29/08

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Where are the Feet?

Where are the feet today? 

The feet are relaxing poolside at a private residence at The Palms, a golf community, located in La Quinta, part of greater Palm Springs, CA.  The feet are enjoying a week-long Thanksgiving holiday getaway in sunny Palm Springs.

To learn more about Palm Springs or to plan your desert getaway, visit the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism website by clicking here.

To view previous entries in the “Where are the Feet” series, click here.

Photo taken: 11/27/08

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Today’s Quote

“Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”

   –Mahatma Gandhi

In memory of the 163 people who lost their lives in the tragic terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India this week.

To go to previous entries in the “Today’s Quote” series, click here.

Photo Credit: Arko Datta/Reuters

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Today’s Quote

“I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no principles better than anything else in the world.”

  –Oscar Wilde

 To go to previous entries in the “Today’s Quote” series, click here.

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Incredible India

After spending three weeks in India, I definitely had an opportunity to form some impressions along the way, which I’ve attempted to share, in part, through these posts in Jankenpon. 

India awakens and assaults all of your senses, and forces you to examine aspects of the human experience that are not always in plain view.  And so I leave Delhi with a few words that together characterize my experience in India–  Amazing.  Awe-inspiring.  Confusing.  Dazzling.  Exciting.  Fascinating.  Frustrating.  Transfiguring. 

Incredible India!  Go.  Travel.  Experience it for yourself!

To learn more about traveling in India, visit Incredible India, the official travel website of the Government of India Ministry of Tourism, by clicking here.

Here are some of the resources that were particularly helpful to me throughout the time I spent in India:

* Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, Eyewitness Guides, 2007.  Available from Amazon.com
* Wallpaper City Guide Delhi, Phaidon Press, 2008.  Available from Amazon.com
Love Delhi, Love Travel Guides, 2008.  Available from Amazon.com
Delhi, Jaipur and Agra Travel Pack, Globetrotter Travel Packs, 2008.  Available from Amazon.com
* India Color: Spirit, Tradition and Style, Chronicle Books, 2008.  Available from Chronicle Books

To read the full series of posts on my Adventure in India, visit the Travel category by clicking here.

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Farewell, Delhi

After an amazing three week Adventure in India, it’s time to return home via Lufthansa Flight 763 from Delhi to Munich (9 hours) and Flight 458 from Munich to San Francisco (12 hours).   Lufthansa was operating their newly-reconfigured Airbus A340-600 aircraft on both long-haul flights, which feature enhanced seating in all three cabins (First, Business and Economy), including lie-flat seats in Business Class.

The new “PrivateBed” sleeper seat in Business Class is a sleek and efficiently-designed “spaceship-like” module with a seat that has three pre-programmed positions, including a lie-flat configuration.  With the touch of a button, the motorized seat will adjust to one of the pre-programmed positions, and you can program your own “personal” position after adjusting the seating to your individual preference.  The module also includes a built-in flat-panel screen with detachable remote control, large storage compartments, privacy screen (to block your view of the passenger in the adjacent seat), standard electrical and USB outlets, folding tray, built-in task lighting, and coat hook.  The sophisticated audio-visual system provides on-demand movies (around 30 different movies and TV shows), games, music, and in-flight tracking map.  Business Class seating is 2-2-2 across, which means that two-thirds of the seats have direct aisle access.  Other nice touches in the cabin include fresh flowers in the lavatories, an abundance of complimentary magazines and newspapers, and continuous availability of beverages and snacks.  On each flight, two full hot meals were served with carefully-synchronized service by the flight attendants in each aisle.  Very Lufthansa.

To learn more about Lufthansa’s new Business Class service on long-haul flights, click here.  And you can check out the seating configuration on the Lufthansa A340-600 craft on SeatGuru.com, by clicking here.

Photos taken: 11/20/08 

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Around Delhi

After returning to Delhi from Haridwar and Rishikesh, I was able to do some further exploration of the Capital City with the help of hired cars and guides.  Delhi (population 14 million) is a big, sprawling city that is densely populated and extremely congested.  Getting around the city takes time, given the traffic gridlock and the massive construction work underway by Delhi Metro, the City’s ambitious and controversial urban transit system, which is working night-and-day to complete its latest expansion before the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

Among the noteworthy places I visited were:

Qutb Minar is a brick minaret, constructed in 1193 under the orders of India’s first Muslim ruler, Qutb-ud-din- Aibak, and part of the Qutb complex, one of the largest and most prominent examples of Indo-Islamic architecture in India.  It is surrounded by several other ancient and medieval structures and ruins and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Rashtrapati Bhavan (Sanskrit for “President House”) is the official residence of the President of India and the largest residence of any president in the world.  Until 1950 it was known as the “Vicerory’s House” and served as the residence of the Governor-General of India.  It is situated in an area known as Lutyen’s Delhi.

India Gate is one of the largest war memorials in India and one of Delhi’s most prominent landmarks.  It commemorates the members of the British Indian army who lost their lives fighting for the Indian Empire in World War I and the Afghan Wars.  Following India’s independence, India Gate also became the site of the Indian Army’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. 

 

 Two photos Above and Below:  Views of the imposing minaret and surrounding areas at the Qutb complex in Delhi.

 

Above:  View of the gates fronting the President’s House in Delhi.  Below:  View of a portion of the Parliament Building.

Above:  View of India Gate, one of Delhi’s most famous and recognizable structures.

To read the full series of posts on my Adventure in India, visit the Travel category by clicking here.

Photos taken: 11/3/08 through 11/19/08

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What Things Cost

During my visit to India, one U.S. dollar was equivalent to roughly 49 Indian Rupees (INR), its highest level in many years.  Prices in India ranged from very high to very low, depending on the nature of the item.  Here are some examples of what things cost during my stay:

*  One-hour accupressure massage at Thikana Hotel, Delhi: $6.00
*  Grey Goose Vodka Martini at Oberoi Amarvilas Hotel in Agra: $24.00
*  Hired private air-conditioned car with English-speaking driver, 8 hours, in Delhi: $20.00
*  One hour Internet access at Cybercafe in Haridwar: $0.60
*  Bottle of Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay at Travertino Restaurant, Oberoi Hotel, Delhi: $50.00
*  One-liter bottle of Mineral Water, from Neighborhood store in Delhi: $0.40
*  Six clothing items from hotel Laundry Service, Jaypee Palace Hotel, Agra: $3.00
*  Men’s haircut (with scalp and shoulder massage), Mughal Sheraton Hotel, Jaipur: $10.00
*  Standard premier Room at Oberoi Amarvilas Hotel, Agra: $470.00 per night, plus tax
*  Standard room at Imperial Hotel, Delhi: $390.00 per night, plus tax
*  Veggie Surprise Burger with Small Soda, McDonald’s, Delhi: $1.20
*  One-way rail ticket in First Class air-conditioned coach from New Delhi to Haridwar (4-1/2 hours): $10.00
*  Cycle rickshaw ride from Haridwar Train Station to hotels along Ganga River: $0.50

To read the full series of posts on my Adventure in India, visit the Travel category by clicking here.

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Today’s Quote

“It is good to see ourselves as others see us.  Try as we may, we are never able to know ourselves as fully as we are, especially the evil side of us.  This we can do only if we are not angry with our critics but will take in good heart whatever they might have to say.”

   –Mahatma Gandhi, 1939

 To go to previous entries in the “Today’s Quote” series, click here.

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Haveli Hari Ganga

 

While staying in Haridwar, I was a guest at the Haveli Hari Ganga, a charming “Heritage” hotel, with 20 guest rooms in a four-story former private residence, located directly on the Ganga River.  A rickshaw driver from the hotel greeted me upon arrival at the train station to whisk me to the hotel through the narrow, crowded side streets of Haridwar, which are lined with small shops and food stalls.

 The hotel also features a rooftop spa where traditional Indian Ayuervedic treatments are available.  Like nearly all hotels and restaurants in  Haridwar, the Haveli Hari Ganga serves vegetarian meals only and no alcohol.
On each side of the hotel and on the opposite banks of the Ganga, there are large public bathing ghats, with concrete steps that lead directly into the river.  Here, visitors are able to immerse themselves, bathe, wash their clothing, or drink from the Ganga.  
 

Above:  View of the entrance to Haveli Hari Ganga in Haridwar and the cycle-rickshaws used by the hotel to transport guests to and from the nearby railway station.  Below:  A view of the Haveli Hari Ganga Hotel (pink building with arches) taken from the opposite bank of the Ganga River.

Above:  The terrace on the Main Floor of the Haveli Hari Ganga offers an incredible view of the sacred Ganga River.  At night, a fire is lit on the terrace to keep guests warm from the cold breezes rising from the river.  Below:  A view from the terrace with the Ganga River in the background.

Above:  A view of the corridor of the hotel leading to my guest room (Room 204) which overlooks the Ganga River.  Below:  Room 204 was comfortably furnished with many modern amenities, and had windows opening to the terrace, courtyard and hallway.

Above:  View of the spacious bathroom of Room 204.  Two photos Below: The seating area on the second floor which is used for reading, relaxing and to enjoy the view of the Ganga River below.

To read the full series of posts on my Adventure in India, visit the Travel category by clicking here.

Photos taken: 11/15/08 through 11/17/08

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On the Ganga River

 

HARIDWAR

My next stop on the Adventure in India is Haridwar, located about 130 miles north of Delhi in the state of Uttarakhand, along the Ganga (aka Ganges) River, India’s holiest river.  To reach Haridwar, a town of about 175,000 people, I took a 4-1/2 hour train ride from New Delhi Station on the Indian National Railway.  The one-way reserved, first-class ticket in an air-conditioned compartment cost around $10.00, and included complimentary on-board newspapers, meal (choice of vegetarian or non-vegetarian), and juice and hot tea.  The rail accommodations were reasonably comfortable and adequate, but could not be described as luxurious or comparable with first-class rail travel in Europe or Japan.The Ganga River descends from the Himalayas to the plains at Haridwar, which gives the town a unique status as a sacred pilgrimage site for devout Hindus.  The town includes numerous public and private bathing areas, or ghats, where devotees are able to bathe in the Ganga and cleanse their bodies and spirits and seek the salvation of their ancestors.  According to Hindu legend, this is the location where a drop of nectar fell from the churning of the oceans when the world was created, and a stone wall has Vishnu’s footprint.    

RISHIKESH

I decided to take a quick side-trip from Haridwar to the twin city of Rishikesh, which is situated about 60 miles North of Haridwar in a hilly area along the Ganga River.  With the help of the hotel staff in Haridwar, I was able to hire a local driver for a day trip to Rishikesh.  I spent an enjoyable time strolling through Rishikesh and admiring the view of the Ganga from the hilly slopes.  Rishikesh is a favorite destination of backpackers, yoga devotees, and seekers of spiritual renewal and study.

THE GANGA

In addition to briefly immersing myself in the Ganga, I collected a small bottle of water from the river, which I’ll transport home as a keepsake of my visit to the river. 


One of the highlights of my visit to the Ganga was an evening aarti, a Hindu ceremony where the faithful can cleanse their spirit, bless their families and loved ones, and pay tribute to and seek salvation for their ancestors.  A guide from the hotel was able to arrange for me to participate in a ceremony at Har-ki-Pauri, the main point of worship in Haridwar, which attracts hundreds of Hindu followers each day.  During the ceremony, a Hindu priest guided me through the ceremony, at which time I was able to light and float a diya (leaf basket filled with flowers and a lighted wick) down the Ganga River.
 
 

 


Above:  Station sign on the train platform in Haridwar.  Below:  Interior view of the first-class cabin on the Indian National Railways train from New Delhi Station to Haridwar.  The train was completely sold out and most of the riders were bound for Haridwar, a 4-1/2 hour ride from Delhi Station.
 

  

 

 

 

 Above:  The boarding platform at the Haridwar Train Station.  Below:  One of the typical busy, narrow streets in Haridwar, where only cycle rickshaws and motorcycles are able to pass.

Above:  A view of the magnificent Ganga River in Haridwar.  Below:  One of Haridwar’s many public ghats, or bathing areas, along the banks of the Ganga River.

Above and Below: Two views of the sacred Har-ki-Pauri ghat in Haridwar, where ceremonies are held at different times throughout the day for Hindu devotees. 

Above and Below: Merchants in Haridwar are selling diyas of all sizes for worshippers to use during the aarti ceremony along the banks of the Ganga River. 

 

Above:  A view of the crowded scene at Har-ki-Pauri as the evening aarti is underway.  Priests are holding the lighted lamps during the ceremony, with the crowd joining in the prayers and chants.  Below:  A view of onlookers at the evening aarti ceremony in Haridwar.

Below:  A view of the hillside town of Rishikesh and one of the two bridges spanning the Ganga and connecting the two sides of the town. 

Above and Below:  A view from the smaller pedestrian and motorcycle bridge that connects the two banks of the Ganga in Rishikesh. 

Above:  View of one of the ashrams in Rishikesh.

After three wonderful days in Haridwar and Rishikesh, it’s time to say farewell to the beautiful Ganga River and return to Delhi by train.

To read the full series of posts on my Adventure in India, visit the Travel category by clicking here.

Photos taken: 11/15/08 through 11/17/08

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Where is that Drink?

Where is that drink? 

This handsome martini was poured at the Club Bar, located in the Oberoi New Delhi, in Delhi, India.  The sylish comfortable bar, situated in the Lobby of the famous Oberoi, is a quiet, relaxing area ideally suited for a nicely-chilled cocktail, such as this one, coffee or tea, or a light snack. 

The cocktail was followed by an excellent meal at Travertino, the signature fine dining restaurant at the Oberoi New Delhi, featuring classic Italian fare. 

 

To go to previous entries in the “Where is That Drink?” series, click here.

Photo taken: 11/19/08

 

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Where are the Feet?

Where are the feet in these photos?

TOP:  The feet are relaxing at a private ghat, or bathing area, along the sacred Ganga (Ganges) River, at the Haveli Hari Ganga Hotel, in Haridwar, India.   

ABOVE:  The feet are relaxing, again, on the sandy banks of the Ganga River, in Rishikesh, India.

To view previous entries in the “Where are the Feet” series, click here.

Photos taken: 11/15/08 to 11/17/08

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Today’s Quote

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you did not do rather than the things you did do.  So, throw off the bowline.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade wind in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.”

   — Mark Twain

To read previous entries in the “Today’s Quote” series, click here.

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Where is That Drink?

Where is that drink?

This superbly chilled martini was served in a delicate, classic cocktail glass at the famous 1911 Bar, in the Imperial Hotel New Delhi, a stunning Art Deco masterpiece, opened in 1936, and painstakingly restored to a new level of modern luxury.  The hotel walls are covered with photographs taken during the original glory days of the hotel.  The Imperial Hotel was named to the 2008 Gold List by Conde Nast Traveler and as one of the Top 50 Hotels in the World for 2008 by Travel and Leisure.

The Imperial Hotel New Delhi is also home of Spice Route, which Conde Nast Traveler has named as one of the Ten Best Restaurants in the world.

To read previous entries in the “Where is That Drink?” series, click here.  If you want to learn more about my Adventure in India, visit the Travel category by clicking here.

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Gray Skies of Delhi

While in Delhi, a gray/brown haze consistently hung over the city, largely obscuring the view of the sky and sun.  On a few days, the haze was so heavy that it was difficult to see clearly toward the end of the street.  Some folks I spoke with in Delhi described it as winter fog, while others attributed it to pollution. 

In an article in the 11/15/08 edition, the daily newspaper Indian Express Newsline reported that the skies of Delhi are getting dimmer as massive construction for the 2010 Commonwealth Games pushes ahead at full speed across parts of Delhi.  According to the Express Newsline, “Suspended Particulate Matter (SPM) and Respirable Suspended Particulate Matter (RSPM)—the major air pollutants—have gone up.  SPM and RSPM are particles less than 10 microns suspended in the air.  These are often ingested in human trachea (or windpipe)”, the paper reported.  It continued, “Frenzied construction ahead of the Commonwealth Games may be responsible for the Capital getting dimmer, smoggier and unhealthier.”  Further, the Express Newline wrote, “RSPM has gone up 21 percent between 2000 and 2008.” 

A separate report from the United Nations Environmental Programme was also quoted as saying “The City is getting dimmer as the brown clouds block the sunlight.  The brown clouds over Asia, which stretches from Beijing to Delhi, can also thwart the monsoon because adequate sunlight may not reach the surface.”  In addition to Delhi, the U.N. report also listed Bangkok, Beijing, Cairo, Dhaka, Karachi, Kolkata, Lagos, Mumbai, Seoul, Shanghai, Shenzen, and Tehran as “Brown Cloud Hot Spots” worldwide. 

Beyond simply casting an unpleasant color over the city, the haze in Delhi makes it uncomfortable to breathe and certainly must exacerbate any breathing difficulties for persons with respiratory ailments.

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End of the Road Trip

After nine days and about 900 miles, the road trip through Agra and Rajasthan has come to an end with my return to Delhi.  The stops along the way included Agra, Peharsar (on the outskirts of Bharatpur), Jaipur, and Alsisar.  Many thanks to Gian Singh, my driver, and his sturdy Toyota SUV, for carrying me safely and comfortably across the paved and unpaved roads of Rajasthan and through incredibly chaotic traffic. 

Along the way, my observations of the road trip were:

*  I witnessed only one accident on the road, involving a motorcycle and motorized three-wheel tuk-tuk.  The driver of the motorcycle was thrown from the bike; however, he emerged uninjured, with the exception of some bruises and scrapes, I’m guessing;
*  I saw the remnants of three larger accidents on the road, all involving overturned commercial vehicles;
*  Drivers in India have developed a very effective means of “road communication” using their horns, and the blare is non-stop, everywhere;
*  I observed many extremely bold passing maneuvers at high speed.  In a few instances, I had to close my eyes and simply hope for the best.

It was a great road trip!

Although the road trip in Rajasthan is over, the Adventure in India continues in Delhi and north to Haridwar and Rishikesh, along the sacred Ganga (aka Ganges) River.

Above:  Gian Singh, my driver for nine days across Rajasthan, shown here on our final day in Alsisar.

To read the full series of posts on my Adventure in India, visit the Travel category by clicking here.

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Alsisar Mahal

                    

In Alsisar, a small village in the Shekhawati district of Rajasthan, I stayed at the Alsisar Mahal, a majestic and impressive “Heritage” property, built in 1737 as the palace of the ruling Alsisar king, and converted in 2006 to a hotel.  The hotel is accessed from the main highway via a one-hour drive down a narrow, single-lane road, which required vehicles to pull aside on the dirt shoulder in order to allow cars in the opposing direction to pass.

 

The hotel manager graciously provided me with a personal tour of the property and explained that the grandfather of the current owner was the last ruler in Alsisar.  Following national independence in 1947, he moved from Alsisar to Jaipur.  The palace languished in disrepair until 2006 when it was renovated and reopened as a hotel.  During my visit, the hotel staff was putting the final touches on the latest addition to the property (which had been expanded several times over the past 200 years), including 15 new guest rooms and suites, a new restaurant, bar, billiard room, and conference facilities which are opening in phases over the next two months.  The existing grand main room, which now serves as the dining hall, will be converted to a new Reception and Lobby Room once the new restaurant is opened later this year.

 

My room (Suite 104) is situated in a portion of the original palace, built in 1737, and featured a large sitting room, separate bedroom with four-post, canopied bed, and a large bathroom.  The best view was from the bathroom, which overlooked the large swimming pool and portions of the landscaped garden.On the second day of my three-day stay, I decided to take some time off from sightseeing in order to relax at the hotel pool and to wander around the property.  I later discovered that I was one of only two remaining guests that day, since a large number of guests had departed in the early morning.  Many of the photos below were taken that day or the following day, when the hotel was very quiet, except for the noise of the housekeepers and the remaining construction workers.

 

I also had an opportunity to walk around the small village of Alsisar, which is both a community of residents and a living museum.  There are dozens of old “havelis” (or large homes) in various states of restoration and disrepair which have been opened to the public for small donations.  Their wealthy owners have all moved to large cities across India, but still keep a small staff in the haveli (or nearby) to maintain it.  The basic design of the havelis is fairly similar— two or three story buildings with one or more central courtyards.  The rooms around the first courtyard were reserved for the head of the household and were used for trade purposes during the days of the silk route.  The second floor rooms and second courtyard were used by the wife and family.

 

After three very releaxing and peaceful days in Alsisar, it’s time to hit the road again for the six hour drive from Alsisar to Delhi.  Although the road trip in Rajasthan is coming to an end, the Adventure in India continues in Delhi and north to Haridwar and Rishikesh, along the holy Ganga River.

Above:  A view of the main lane used to enter the village of Alsisar.  Note the name of the hotel painted on the wall to the right.  Below:  A view of the impressive, grand entrance to the Alsisar Mahal. 

Above:  A view of the main interior courtyard which is used for dining and entertainment during the evenings.  Below:  The Main Dining Room which once served as the official grand hall of the palace.

Above:  A view of the lovely swimming pool and lounge area.  Below:  A view of the large, spacious guest room (Room 104).

Above:  Another interior view of the guest room.  Below:  A view of the separate bedroom with large four-poster bed.

Above:  School children in uniform pause for a photo near the Alsisar Mahal Hotel.

To read the full series of posts on my Adventure in India, visit the Travel category by clicking here.

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Travel Tips

Prior to departing on this Adventure in India, I received some wonderfully helpful and generous advice, tips and personal experiences from folks who’ve lived in or visited India.  I want to express my thanks to all those individuals for so graciously offering their assistance and insight.  Some of the tips I received (and have tried to follow) were:

 

*  Drink bottled water or other sealed beverages;
*  Skip the ice in your drinks, except in top hotels and restaurants;
*  Skip uncooked vegetables, except in the best restaurants;
*  Avoid street food (which I must admit has been really tough for me, since it’s one of my regular travel compulsions to sample street food, particularly in Asia);
*  Eat at hotel restaurants (which I was told serve some of the best food in India);

*  Use antibacterial hand-wipes or gel before meals;

*  Arrange in advance for greeting and transportation from the airport or train station to your hotel;

*  Sharpen your bargaining skills for shopping and be prepared for vigorous negotiations;

*  Wear sandals or other easily-removable footwear on days when visiting temples;
*  Pack and bring your own favorite snacks (such as energy bars, nuts, dried fruit, etc.) to satisfy hunger attacks while on the road or between meals;

*  Bring along over-the-counter medication to combat travelers’ stomach (just in case);

I’ve also accumulated my own tips, based on my experiences in India to date:

 

*  Pick up your own booze from one of the Duty Free shops on arrival at the airport so you can prepare your own drinks in your hotel room, as prices for drinks are relatively high in hotel lounges (e.g. $20-$35 for a straight-up martini).  Ouch.  [Note:  This is also good preparation for those emergencies when only a drink will do.]
*  Try local beer instead of wine, which is often difficult to find and the selection is very limited except in the best restaurants where wine prices are quite steep;
*  Ask to see your assigned room, and perhaps one in a higher category, before you complete your check-in at the hotel, particularly if you’re not familiar with the property.  There may be more desirable rooms available, and for only a small up-charge, if any;
*  Inquire about the hotel’s occupancy rate, since you may be able to negotiate a better room if the hotel is not fully-booked on your arrival;
*  Get full details on your sightseeing plans (e.g., specific sites, expected duration at each stop, sequence of stops, planned lunch stop, etc.) from your guide before embarking on your program, so you can make changes, if needed, while there is still time to affect the outcome;
*  Be clear with your guide on whether or not you wish to make any stops at handicraft, jewelry, or other shops, since those stops are often incorporated into their plans, and often without your prior knowledge;
*  Do your research in advance so you can be direct and explicit about your level of interest in each sightseeing stop, as you may want to shorten or lengthen the stay and level of detail provided by your guide.
*  Rent or buy an inexpensive, re-loadable cellphone when you arrive in India (particularly if you are staying for more than a few days).  The service is cheap and extremely reliable.  The phone will come in handy to call your driver in case you’re running early or late, and to call ahead to shops or restaurants to reconfirm appointments or check on operating hours;
*  Pack light(er) and buy local Indian-made clothing along the way, which is stylish, comfortable and inexpensive.  Also, hotel laundry service is very affordable.

Again, thanks to all for the input and suggestions!

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Hari Mahal Palace

While visiting Jaipur, I stayed as a guest at the Hari Mahal Palace, a stately-looking “heritage” property, built in 1930 by the descendants of Maharaja Prithvi Raj of Amber (1503-1528), featuring 11 suites and guest rooms in a converted, former residence.  The property boasts a large front lawn that is used for outdoor dining, evening entertainment, and on one night during my stay, an elaborate wedding party for about 500 guests.  The main floor was still used as a private residence, with guest rooms occupying the second floor of the building.The guest rooms featured period decor and photographs and were clustered around an open terrace on the second floor.

Above:  Entrance sign to the Hari Mahal Palace Hotel in Jaipur, Rajasthan.  Below:  The stately-looking main building and large front lawn.

 

Above:  Final preparations are being made on the arrangements for a wedding banquet being hosted at the hotel for 500 guests.

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Colorful, Colorful Jaipur

After saying farewell to Peharsar, it’s back on the road for a five-hour drive to the next stop in Rajasthan– the Pink City of Jaipur.  Jaipur (population 5 million) is the capital of Rajasthan and was founded in 1727 by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, the ruler of Amber.

The Jaipur region lies on the eastern fringes of the Thar desert, a semi-arid land cut southwest to northeast by the Aravali Hills.  Once ruled by the Rajput princes, this territory has a rich feudal past that is kept alive by its splendid architectural remains and traditional culture.

Jaipur is frequently referred to as the “Pink City” because of the pink paint covering the facade of nearly all the buildings in the walled portion of the city, which was applied in 1853 to welcome the Prince of Wales.

Over the course of my four days, my sightseeing visits in and around Jaipur included Hawa Mahal or “Palace of the Winds,” The City Palace, Jal Mahal or “Floating Palace,” and the massive hilltop Amber Fort.  I was accompanied in Jaipur my a guide, Deepak Singh Rathor, who provided helpful information and context around Jaipur’s fascinating past.

I found Jaipur particularly colorful in part because of:

*  The beautiful pink paint covering the buildings in the walled section of the city;
*  the brightly-color saris worns by the women of Jaipur;
*  the elaborately-festooned vehicles– from the simplest three-wheel motorized tuk-tuk to large commercial trucks– which were decorated with colored tassels and tinsel-like garland;
*  the many shops and stalls selling brightly colored textiles and bracelets;
*  the vivid garlands of flowers in the marketplace and hanging from storefronts.

Above:  One of the main commerical streets in Central Jaipur, showing the pink-colored facades of the buildings.  Below:  A view of a typical Jaipur shop overflowing with colorful textiles.

Above:  One of the dozens of shops selling hundreds of ornate, colorful bracelets.  Below:  Central Jaipur is crowded with vehicles of all types, especially motorized tuk-tuks.

Above and Below:  Beautiful garlands are offered for sale all over Jaipur and are used for decorations in many places, including storefronts.

Above:  An example of a commerical vehicle decorated with colorful tassels.  Below:  A view of the interesting facade of Hawa Mahal, or Palace of the Winds.

 

Above:  A view of the interior of the City Palace.  Below:  A view of Amber Fort, taken from an elephant who leads the way up the long path to the fort entrance.

Above and Below:  Two views of Amber Fort.

Above:  A view of one of the sprawling interior courts of the Amber Fort, with a view of the walls shown in the distance.  Below:  A view of Jal Mahal, an abandoned palace, now partially submerged, which appears to float in the lake near Amber Fort.

To read the full series of posts on my Adventure in India, visit the Travel category by clicking here.

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Random Thoughts

As my road trip through Rajasthan continues, I had some random thoughts and observations:

TOURISM.  I am guessing that visitor counts in India have dipped recently, if my experience at any of the hotels where I stayed in Rajasthan is an indication.  Many of the hotels were not fully occupied, although the high season in Rajasthan is in full swing.  When I inquired about the low occupancy at a couple of the hotels, I was told that the string of bombings across India (which resulted in the death of over 400 people over the past three years) has had a chilling effect on tourism.  The most recent bombing occurred in Jaipur in May 2008, where terrorist bombs killed 45 people and injured 100 more.  Plus, the worldwide economic slowdown surely has had an effect as well.
AMERICAN TOURISTS.  Since arriving in India, I ‘ve had a chance to chat with many other tourists– while sightseeing, in the hotels, at restaurants, etc.– and I haven’t encountered a single American tourist.  I’ve met folks from the U.K., France, Germany, Canada, Spain, Scotland, and Switzerland, but no Americans.  How curious.
THE OBAMA SYNDROME.  When I’m asked by local Indians where I live and I respond “San Francisco, USA,” the first remark is often an enthusiastic ”Obama!,” together with a big smile.  I was startled by this fairly consistent reaction, particularly among younger Indians, who seemed to have a keen interest in American politics.  This surprised me, given the report I saw on CNN some weeks ago indicating that a majority of Indians had no clear preference on the outcome of the USA Presidential election held earlier this month.  Obviously, the CNN reporter did not speak with any of the folks I’ve encountered.
MOBILE/WIRELESS SERVICE.  Throughout the road trip this past week, my guides and driver have all been using their cellphones regularly throughout the day, even in some rather remote villages in Rajasthan, where this is no running water and only single-lane dirts roads.  It’s astonishing.  So, I’m left wondering:  If India (and AirTel, their largest carrier) can provide incredibly reliable cellphone service across the vast Indian countryside, why is it that AT&T cannot provide decent coverage in Pleasant Hill and other areas across the Bay Area?

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India’s Street Dogs

 

In each of the cities/towns I’ve visited in India so far, I observed a large number of dogs roaming everywhere— crossing and wandering along busy, congested streets and intersections, sleeping on the shoulder of the road (just a few feet from passing traffic), and digging through piles of trash in search of food.  Most of the dogs seemed rather thin, but reasonably well-nourished. 

 

Throughout this time, I never saw an overweight dog and I never saw a dog on a leash, with a collar, or accompanied by a person.  I also never witnessed a dog being struck by a vehicle (car, truck, motorcycle, tuk-tuk, or rickshaw) even when crossing a busy four-lane street.  Miraculous, I think.

 

After inquiring with several people in different places, I was told that the dogs typically do not have an owner, and simply scratch out their existence on the street, looking for handouts of scraps or foraging through discarded food.  I found this heartbreaking. 

 

I’m guessing that the street dogs I saw do not enjoy particularly long lives.

  


 

Photo Above:  Two street dogs resting on a mound of sand alongside a road in Bharatpur, Rajasthan.  Below: A street dog (with a nearby goat) outside the entrance to the Alisar Mahal Hotel in Alsisar, Rajasthan.

 

 

To read the full series of posts on my Adventure in India, visit the Travel category by clicking here.

 

Photos taken: 11/10/08 to 11/12/08

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Chandra Mahal Haveli

 

 

After three days in Agra, the road trip in Rajasthan continues with an overnight stop in a small village called Peharsar, located on the outskirts of Bharatpur, roughly 60 miles west of Agra.  While in Peharsar, I am staying as a guest at Chandra Mahal Haveli, a designated “heritage” hotel, which was built as a private residence in 1699 and converted into a small hotel about 15 years ago.  The town and the hotel is accessed via a narrow, partially-paved road from the main highway, in a quiet farming area.

 

The hotel features a total of 19 guest rooms located on two floors in the original haveli (or residence) and in a newer addition.  The rooms include a private bath and those situated on the lower floor of the haveli feature an outdoor seating area facing the interior courtyard, while those on the second floor have a private terrace overlooking the surrounding village of Peharsar and the courtyard below.

 

There is no phone, TV or Internet service in the guest rooms; consequently, you can expect a very quiet, peaceful experience while staying as a guest at the Chandra Mahal Haveli.  A set dinner was served in the evening, with entertainment provided by husband-and wife musicians and their young son, who showcased local folk dancing.  It appeared that there were three other guests (German and French tourists) at the hotel during my stay. 

 

After a night’s rest, I walked around the village of Peharsar, which is a winding collection of partially-paved and unpaved dirt roads, flanked by small homes, many of which had dirt floors and no doors.  The village is well-populated with animals, such as goats, dogs, cows, peacocks, and camels, that roam freely within the small compounds and through the village.  Village residents draw their water from community wells and carry the water back to their homes in metal, plastic and earthenware containers.  There were no signs of indoor plumbing or sewage handling in the village.

 

 

Above:  A view of the sign for Chandra Mahal Haveli from the village road in Peharsar.  Below:  A large padlock is used by guests to secure their individual rooms.

 

 

 

 

Above and two photos Below:  View of the charming, but rustic guest room.

 

 

 

Above:  Morning coffee on the patio fronting the main interior courtyard.  Two photos Below: Views of the interior courtyard of the main Haveli, where dinner is served.

 

 

 

 

Above:  I did some exploring of the fortress-like building and took the narrow spiral staircase up to the roof of the building.  Below:  The rooftop of Chandra Mahal Haveli provided an excellent spot to survey the surrounding village of Peharsar.

 

 

 

Above and Below:  An early morning view of the narrow streets surrounding the hotel in Peharsar. 

 

 

 

 

Above:  The animals in Peharsar roam freely around the dusty streets.  Below:  A woman stopped and squatted to milk a goat, while its calf is also nursing. 

 

 

 

Above:  A view of one of the community wells in the village of Peharsar.

 

The brief stop in Peharsar was an interesting glimpse into rural village life in Rajasthan.  Now, it’s onward to Jaipur.

 

Photos taken: 11/7/08 to 11/8/08

 

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In and Around Agra

 

With the help of a local guide, I was able to visit several significant monuments in and around Agra during my three-day stay this week.  Agra is situated on the banks of the Yamuna River, and is the third largest city in the state of Uttar Pradesh, with a population of about 1.8 million people.  It is about 125 miles southeast of Delhi.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Agra was the imperial Mughal capital and an important trading station, visited by merchants and travelers from all over the world.  Following the decline of the Mughals, Agra was captured by the Jats, the Marathas, and finally the British.

Three of Agra’s important monuments—the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, and the abandoned capital of Fatehpur Sikri– have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

TAJ MAHAL

One of the world’s most famous buildings and the centerpiece of most visitors’ trips to Agra, the Taj Mahal commemorates both the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, and Mumtaz Mahal, his favorite wife.  Completed around 1648, the Taj Mahal is widely considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from Persian, Turkish, Indian and Islamic design. 

 

Although reports vary, it is estimated that 20,000 laborers and artisans were use to build the Taj Mahal and surrounding complex over a period of 22 years.  Today, the Taj Mahal attracts around 20,000 visitors a day.

 

In an effort to combat the effects of pollution on the Taj Mahal’s glistening white marble structure, the Indian Government has shut down emission-producing factories in the surrounding area, and banned vehicle access in the immediate area.  Instead, visitors must approach on foot or use a non-polluting shuttle vehicle for transportation between the parking area and the entrance gate.

 

On the day of my visit, the air in Agra was extremely hazy, and the sky and sun were completely blocked by the gray haze.  Therefore, when taking photos near the main entrance upon my initial arrival in the early morning, the central dome was partially obscured.  Later, toward mid-day the haze started to lift.

 

In spite of the large crowd, it was still possible to enjoy the Taj Mahal since the grounds are expansive, with lots of areas to sit, relax and view the splendor of the monument.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, in the photo below, my feet are taking a final rest in a quiet area within the Taj Mahal complex to enjoy a final view before continuing on to Agra Fort.

 

 

 

AGRA FORT

 

Situated on the west bank of the Yamuna River, Agra Fort was built by Emperor Akbar between 1565 and 1573, and is considered the most important fort in India.  The Mughals Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb lived and governed the country from Agra Fort.

 

The fort is a large, sprawling complex that provides an excellent view of Yamuna River and the surrounding area.

 

 

  

 

 

 

FATEPUHR SIKRI

Built by Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1571 in honor of Sufi saint, Salim Chishti, Fatephur Sikri served as the Mughal capital for 14 years.  An example of all Mughal walled city with defined private and public areas and imposing gateways, its architecture is a blend of Hindu and Islamic styles.  The city was abandon in 1585 due to reported lack of water.

Within Fatephur Sikri is the tomb of Salim Chisti Ka Mazar, which was built in honor of Sufi saing Salim Christi in 1571 after Salim Christi reportedly predicted the birth of a male child for Akbar.  In more recent times, the tomb is visited by thousands of faithfuls who offer donations and tie cotton string around the intricately carved white marble panels that surroung the tomb.  In exchange for their offerings, devotees are reportedly granted their wish or miracle.  Having heard about the significance of this tomb, I immediately made an offering and quickly tied a cotton string on the wall.

 

  

 

Above and Below:  Views of the stunning grounds of Fatephur Sikri on the ouskirts of Agra. 

 Above: The tomb of Sufi Saint Salim where offerings are provided and where wishes are made using small pieces of cotton string tied around the beautifully carved white marble screens surrounding the tomb.  Below: I’ve just tied a string around one of the marble panels; hopefully, the wish will come true.  (My guide told me it was “110% certain.”)
 
 
 
 
Above: A view of the massive courtyard within Fatephur Sikri.  Below:  A view of the imposing steps leading to one of the entrances to Fatephur Sikri, where I am waving goodbye to beautiful and awe-inspiring Agra.
 
 
Photos taken: 11/7/08 and 11/8/08 

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Where is That Drink?

Where is that drink?

This carefully-measured vodka martini was painstakingly poured by a (rather novice) bartender in the Main Bar at the ultra-luxe Oberoi Amarvilas, in Agra, India.  The Amarvilas, part of the Oberoi chain of luxury hotels, occupies one of the best sites in Agra and provides views of the Taj Mahal from its 105 guest rooms and suites and from its outdoor terrace of the Main Bar.  The hotel was named the 8th Best Hotel in the World in the 2008 Conde Nast Magazine Readers Poll. 

To read previous entries in the “Where is That Drink?” series, click here.  If you want to learn more about my adventures in India, visit the Travel category by clicking here.

Photo at top taken: 11/4/08; Other photos Credits: Oberoi

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Jaypee Palace Hotel

While in Agra, I have been staying as a guest of the Jaypee Palace Hotel, a modern, sprawling hotel with 350 guest rooms situated on 35 acres of beautifully-landscaped gardens, fountains and pools.  The hotel is part of the Delhi-based Jaypee Group which operates five hotels across India.  The hotel features three restaurants, a full-service spa, Business Center, swimming pool, and tennis and squash courts.  The hotel decor is modern, with an abundance of white Indian marble and dark woods. 

My guest rooom (Room 3116) is handsomely-furnished with wood flooring, gold/brown-colored upholstered furniture, large well-equipped bathroom, and a spacious balcony overlooking a formal landscaped garden with relfecting pools and fountains.  The room is equipped with wireless Internet access and other nice touches, such as hot water maker with tea and instant coffee, shaving kit and toothbrush kit.

Guests also receive a marigold garland and a chilled fruit juice beverage upon arrival.

Other attractive options for accommodations in Agra are the ultra-luxe Oberoi Amarvilas (Conde Nast Traveler 2008 Gold List), ITC Mughal Hotel, A Luxury Collection property from Starwood, and Trident Agra Hotel, all of which are located within 2 miles of the Jaypee Palace Hotel and within 15 minutes drive of the Taj Mahal.

Above: The gleaming marble-clad main building which houses the lobby, restaurants, conference center and other public rooms.  Below:  A view of the main entrance from the porte-cochere.

Above:  One of the two guest room wings overlooking the landscaped gardens.  Below: Corridor to the Lobby on the Main Floor.

Above: Corridor on Floor 3, which houses Room 3116.

 

Above:  View from the balcony of Room 3116.  Two photos below:  View of the spacious, well-equipped bathroom.

Above:  The mini-bar area with well-stocked beverages and hot water maker.  Below:  The comfortable guest room with hardwood floors.

Above:  The feet are already relaxing on the spacious balcony.  Below:  The desk is set-up and ready to go, along with high-speed wi-fi.

Photos taken: 11/4/08 to 11/5/08

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Happy Days

Happy days are here again. 

In celebration of Senator Barack Obama’s stunning, history-making victory in his bid to become the 44th President of the United States, here’s a video of one of Barbra Streisand’s early live performances of “Happy Days are Here Again,” written by Milton Ager and Jack Yellen, which is best remembered as the campaign song for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s successful 1932 Presidential campaign.  [This song appears on my list of Top 10 Favorite Songs.  Click here to see the full list.]

And, here are some of the jubilant faces of Obama supporters in New York City and Chicago following the announcement of the November 4th election results and the decisive win by Senator Baack Obama.

Photo credits: The Wall Street Journal

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Today’s Quote

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

This is our moment.  This is our time – to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth – that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can’t, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes We Can.”

   –Senator Barack Obama, in his Presidential Campaign Victory Speech, delivered in Chicago, 11/4/08

To read the full text of Senator Obama’s speech from Forbes.com, click here.

Photo credit: Time Magazine

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The Road to Agra

I left Delhi yesterday morning for the 150-mile drive to Agra, a city on the banks of the Yamuna River in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, with a population of roughly 2.1 million people.  The drive took over five hours, due to incredibly clogged roads, particularly while exiting Delhi and entering Agra. 

On the road to Agra, I was able to observe some amazing and eye-opening things from the comfort of a nice air-conditioned van, which was expertly operated by Gian Singh, the local Delhi driver who will accompany me on on the next eight days of my adventure.  A few of these sights are captured below, although they certainly cannot convey the full sensory experience.

Here are some of the observations that struck me along the way:

*  the roads are incredibly clogged with two-, four-, and eight-wheel vehicles of all types, including bicycles, motorcycles, powered rickshaws (similar to tuk-tuks in Bangkok), converted small trucks which serve as open-air cabs, public buses, commerical trucks, tourist buses, vans, and conventional passenger cars.

*  although the concept of marked traffic lanes clearly exists, it was common for three vehicles to drive side-by-side on a two-lane road, with each car “jockeying” for position and advantage;

*  horns are constantly blazing, and I think drivers probably just keep one hand on the horn at all times.  The horns are used by drivers to signal their presence to other vehicles and pedestrians, with the intensity and duration of the horn blast increasing as the vehicle closes in;

*  Garbage is strewn everywhere along the roads and is also gathered in large piles along the town streets.  I saw small kids sifting through garbage for re-usable items and animals (e.g. goats) scavenging through the debris as well;

*  Pedestrians do not seems to have any “right of way” when crossing streets and simply must navigate themselves between passing cars.  In some cases, this means that the pedestrian might be perdiocally trapped in the middle of the road in order to wait for a clearing in order to fully pass– a pretty harrowing sight, especially when it involves children;

*  Vehicles pass along side each other so closely that I think you could reach out and shake hands with the person in the next vehicle with little effort.  Some cars fold in or collapse their side-view mirrors in order to remove obstacles on the vhiecle and to allow them to pass closely without damage;

*  Open fires are burning along the roadway and in the fields outside of Delhi, which surely must contribute to the hazy, gray air that completely blocks the view of the sky and sun;

*  Men stand along the roadway to urinate, presumably due to lack of readily-available public toilets;

*  Women merchants are seated along the streets in the smaller towns selling long, vibrantly-colored marigold garlands, which creates a startling juxtaposition to the surrounding milieu;

*  Cows roam freely and further crowd the roads in central areas of Agra, requiring drivers to carefully navigate around them;

*  Extreme vehicle crowding is commonplace– on buses, in open-air truck/taxis, and on motorcycles.  For example, I saw four people on a small motorcycle (many without safety helmets)– a man and woman sandwiching a small child between them, with the woman (who was seated sideways on the motorcycle) clutching an infant in her arms.  Although I observed this situation in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and elsewhere, it seems particularly risky in the extraordinarily busy roads in Delhi and Agra.

 

 

Photos taken: 11/4/08

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