19 July 2008

Week 45: Sacrifices for the Taj Mahal (wallets and cameras)

45th-1st in Kathmandu 7/9

Today we headed out to Patan. The Kathmandu valley has three cities that used to be three independent rival kingdoms: Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur. They were unified as one in 1769. They are all very close together, thus it was only a 10 minute minibus ride south to Patan. We explored the Durbar Square there, and even saw some of the large chariots that are used for festival celebrating. We roamed the city for a bit, and later found a Newari restaurant, but the lunch ended up being much too spicy for us. (pics: myself posing in front of the wheel of the festival chariot, the two festival chariots we came upon in Patan, Patan's Durbar Sqaure, Patan's Durbar Square)

We came back to Kathmandu just as it started to pour. We ran into the Kathmandu Mall and browsed the shops for a bit. I ended up buying a new memory card for my camera. I only had 128MB, 64MB, and 32MB cards, so a 1GB was a nice addition to the family. After we got a snack (I was the only one who really ate much lunch) at the same place I’d found good Newari snacks yesterday.

Upon getting back I went gift shopping. On my walk I was yelled to by a young man sitting on the curb. Figuring it was another tourist tout, I ignored him, like the scores who shout to us every hour. But he then yelled, “Why won’t you talk to me? Please just give me a chance.” So I did. I turned back and asked what he wanted. He wanted to ask me why all us foreigners ignore all the Nepalis in the street. I’m sure he knew, but I still humored him replied about how we figure anyone yelling to us randomly is just trying to sell us things. After that we ended up chatting for about 20 minutes. I told him I lived in Bangladesh and he told me has a friend who lives in Dhanmondi, and I was excited to tell him that’s where I live. It was nice to chat with a guy who wasn’t trying to sell me anything. I did find out that during this off-season they don’t make much money at all, going some days without a single customer. He told me they live this part of the year on the profits they earn during the peak season.

That night Travis and I made a phone call to our friend and fellow band member Chris. It was the first time the three of us had talked together since last summer. (pic: myself/Chris...the phone/Travis)

45th-2nd in Delhi 7/10

We got up early and took a taxi to the airport. We had to pay a departure tax to get out of Nepal, 1356 Rupees. The departure lounge was a room that held about three flights worth of passengers, and we waited until they called our plane to leave. The flight's highlight was seeing the peaks of the Himalayas, which avoided our view all week, poke above the monsoon clouds. (pic: Himalayan peaks poking through the monsoon clouds as seen from a flight from Kathmandu to Delhi)

Upon arriving in Delhi, we bought a train ticket to Agra for tomorrow at the counter there, and then we said goodbye to Emily who was going back to the United States, and Travis and I got a pre-paid taxi into Delhi. The ride in was fun for me, seeing so many bridges, overpasses, and high-speed highways. We were staying near the New Delhi train station in Paharganj. After dropping our stuff off at the hotel, we got some lunch and went to the train station to buy a ticket back from Agra (getting our bases covered.)

We then set out to see some of the sights of Delhi. Our first stop was Jama Masjid, India’s national mosque. The structure was incredible, and it was wonderful that we were allowed to walk around with no issues. It was even possible, for a small cost, to go up inside one of the minarets. This was an opportunity I could not pass up. The climb up was through a tight spiral staircase, up many stories. From the top you could see out all over Delhi. It was neat to imagine that this was where the call to prayer was made before loudspeakers were invented. This was the most special part of my entire trip to India. (pics: Jama Masid in Delhi, view of the main courtyard from atop the minaret, view of Delhi from atop the minaret, Jama Masjid and the bazar immediately leading up to it)

We then walked to the Red Fort, a Mughal fort that has played a large role in many episodes of India’s history. Inside, the former palace built by Shah Jahan had many marble structures and red sandstone ornamented works. We meandered the area until near to sunset. (pics: view of the Red Fort from atop the minaret at Jama Masjid, Travis inside the Red Fort, Travis/myself posing in the Red Fort, sunset casting shadows at the Diwan-i-Am in the Red Fort)

We then headed south to see if we could find the Gandhi Memorial. We found it, but it was already closed, so we headed west back into the center of the city. We had a hard time getting to where we wanted to go. The city isn’t very walkable, things separated by long distances of roads that don’t have much on them, very different from Dhaka. We were getting very tired, and when we finally got to Connaught Place, there was only one thing on our minds, getting to the McDonalds that we’d seen earlier while coming from the airport. It was found, and it was enjoyed. Always cool to see a menu of a familiar restaurant in a foreign country. The dishes were all chicken or vegetarian. And just as tasty. (pics: spotting McDonald's restaurant's golden arches coming from the airport, Travis emotionally moved to be enjoying McDonald's)

45th-3rd in Agra 7/11

We got up early and took a taxi across town to the train station where we would get our train to Agra. We had chosen to sit in second class for the short three hour train ride, and this meant there were three people per seat, and crowded aisles, with no air conditioning, just an army of fans above our heads. We never got too hot, but Travis, sitting on the aisle, did have people leaning on him the whole time. The scenery out the window was farmland as far as we could see. (pic: fans littering the ceiling of the Indian Railway's second class cabin)

We got to Agra and took a CNG to our hotel. Our driver offered to give us a tour of the city, and pulled out two books of handwritten reviews by former passengers of his tours. We read them on the ride over, and by the time we’d gotten to our hotel, we were happy with what we read and decided we’d ask him to show us around the next day. We planned to meet at 11 AM in front of our hotel.

We ate breakfast, and bought some waters for a short trip today, we were headed out to see Fatehpur Sikri, about an hour from Agra. We boarded a CNG after much touting from rickshaws and other CNGs. We were close to bus station when I realized my wallet was gone. I knew I had bought the waters, so I had my wallet then. I don’t know if I was pickpocketed, or if I dropped it from my pocket, but either way it was gone. I had lost my credit card and 1800 Indian Rupees (luckily I had removed 6000 Rupees and $40 just before leaving the hotel.) After getting angry and going back to where I last saw it, Travis suggested we just stay back at the hotel for the day. It had a nice view of the Taj Mahal from the top, and he said he prefers to take some time to rest on vacations, which we hadn’t done much of.

After ensuring my credit card was cancelled, and assessing my losses, we went up to the roof of our hotel. A day overlooking the Taj Mahal on the roof of our hotel was a great way to recover from a lost wallet. I read a lot in the book I’m reading, Brick Lane, and listened to music with Travis using my headphone cord splitter. We had some snacks and dinner up on the roof, and watched the sun set, lighting up the Taj Mahal in different colors as it set. It was very peaceful. (pics: Taj Mahal near sunset as seen from the roof of our hotel, Travis relaxing at the roof top restaurant where we watched the sun set on the Taj Mahal)

45th-4th in Agra 7/12

We got up early to go see the Taj Mahal. The gates open at 6 AM, and we were there with many other foreigners. Seeing the structure at sunrise is supposed to be a nice way to experience it as the weather is cooler and the crowds are less. It was. We walked in and were blown away. We pulled out our cameras, and that’s when our second Agra tragedy struck. Trav’s camera screen flickered and went out. We finally diagnosed the problem that his screen was fine, but every picture he took was all black. So I was assigned “take as many photos as you can” duty, as Travis takes more in a month than I do all year. I did my best. (pics: myself in front of the Taj Mahal, Travis in agony over the breaking of his camera at the Taj Mahal)

We explored the Taj Mahal inside and out, taking our time to sit in its view, and look out over the river. Going inside was incredible. Inside the dome, the effect a slight breeze outside caused was a reverberating that sounded like the moaning of faithful devotees. The marble work was incredible as well, inlaid with stones and ornamented over every inch. We stayed in and around the Taj Mahal for over two hours. (pics: myself in front of marble inlay at the Taj Mahal, Travis sitting under one of the iwans, mosque at the Taj Mahal, promenade around the Taj Mahal's platform with Yamuna River behind, myself standing underneath one of the arches with the Taj Mahal in front of me, Travis/myself posing in front of the Taj Mahal)

After eating breakfast and checking out of our hotel, we were picked up by the CNG driver from yesterday for our tour of Agra. He took us to several sights in the city not named the Taj Mahal including Chini-ka-Rauza, Itimad-ud-Daulah (also known affectionately as the Baby Taj), and Agra Fort. We also saw a backside view of the Taj from across the Yamuna River, and also brought us to a good restaurant. What was especially nice was he took us to a few places we never would’ve found by ourselves including some temples, a house ornamented with elephants in every which way, and the method in which clothing is boiled and washed on the river. Our tour was not without a visit to a marble shop, which we had the choice to turn down knowing it’d be a trap to buy something, but I really wanted to see how the marble inlays of the Taj Mahal were made, so we risked the pitch and learned how the very detailed intense process was done. (pics: Travis at Chini-ka-Rauza, Itimad-ud-Daulah, riverside clothes washing business hangs out the fabrics to dry, backside view of the Taj Mahal looking over the Yamuna River, view from Agra Fort over the Yamuna River, inside Agra Fort)

He brought us back to the train station, and we took our train back to Delhi, again sitting in second class. Upon arriving, we got a pre-paid CNG to take us to the airport. He initially wanted us to make us pay 40 Rupees over the pre-paid slip, but we refused and looked around, only to have him come back telling us he’d take us. It was raining, and some of the roads were flooded. He pulled to the side of the road at one point, and left us, and came back telling us to get in a different CNG, it was very sketchy since it was dark and raining. This CNG had another guy jump up front with the driver, and at one point this other guy took over the handlebars! Not sure if he just wanted to try his hand at driving, or if he was a student-driver. Either way he was a horrible driver, and even rear-ended a car lightly. These guys had no clue where the airport was (I don’t think the first CNG did either, that’s why he switched us over) and kept stopping, getting out, and asking directions. We saw limited signage, and so I only prayed we were going the right way. Finally getting to the airport, the drivers didn’t know how to pay a toll. They drove up and passed the toll booth, sitting in front of the swing-down bar. They then fought with the toll collectors about paying, and Travis finally said to me “Is this really happening?” as his departure time was fast approaching. Finally they agreed to pay the toll, and drove up to the terminal. They then stopped and pulled off to the side of the road in front of a police checkpoint, saying they couldn’t go any further, saying the police won’t let them. I insisted they go, and convincing them that it was okay took pointing out another CNG passing us by and going through the police checkpoint. Finally, we arrived at the terminal, and I said goodbye to Travis as he set off for his plane back to the US.

45th-5th in Dhaka 7/13

I spent the night in the visitor’s lounge of the airport, which required a 60 Rupees entrance fee to rest there for 11 hours until my flight. That took some convincing of the guards, because you’re only allowed to officially stay there for 3 hours maximum for 30 Rupees. I wasn’t going to get a hotel as the airport is pretty far out and getting there was enough of a headache already. I spent the night in various positions on the benches that don’t allow lying down. At the same time guarding my bag by resting my feet on it. This was my first time sleeping in an airport. In the morning I changed to fresh clothing in the bathroom and brushed my teeth, then headed to the terminal to check in. While waiting for my flight I found a Subway, and enjoyed a turkey, chicken ham, and roasted lamb sub (no beef or pig in India) with plenty of oil and vinegar.

I was very happy to land back in Dhaka. Flying in, I saw that much of the landscape was now under water. I’d heard it’d been raining in Bangladesh non-stop since I left. It felt good to arrive home too, but what was not nice was seeing the mold which had grown on my pillow cases and sheets due to the humidity, and another patch of mold on my wall. Very humid out. Unpacking and settling in seemed to last until bedtime.

At the airport in Dhaka I was able to snap photos of the Aktel ad I was a model for. It was hanging on the baggage claim poles. No one recognized me…obviously it was the beard. (pic: Aktel ad I modeled for is on each pole in the airport's baggage claim area)

45th-6th in Dhaka 7/14

My abstract to a conference in Chennai in September had been accepted two weeks back, and the draft paper was due tomorrow. Thus I had two days to pull my information together and have this paper submitted. I set to work, it took all my willpower to stay focused and write non-stop and tweak my results to produce quality graphs. I left the house only to eat lunch at my favorite hotel. Luckily Moweena came so we could start washing clothes, and have food at home to eat.

45th-7th in Dhaka 7/15

Today was day two of writing this paper. I was proud of my progress. I’d gotten up to the results section last night, and finished the results and conclusion section tonight. Under the advice of Dr. Stone, who I did research under at NC State, the paper was more of a project update, as I really don’t have too much to report yet, just some qualitative descriptions of the bus system and its operations.

I finished around 5pm and submitted it to the conference organizers. It felt great to be done. I met up with Diya at a cafĂ© just after that, and was in good spirits for being done. Spent the rest of the day looking at the photos I’d taken in India and Nepal, and writing in my journal.

1 comment:

bsk said...

Read all three of these in one sitting. Well written. As if we were sitting along side you. The suspense of the CNG to the airport was hilarious. Well, I'm sure it wasn't at the time. But half a world away, I could see the two of you simmering about it. If Disney reads it, expect a "CNG Mystery Ride" to show up at EPCOT. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to write this.