I have committed pretty much every possible travel error on the planet. While many travel blogs paint a rosy picture about the places and things someone has done, I try to give you a balanced perspective on what goes right and what goes wrong. I nearly lost my customs card in Argentina, my ATM card expired in South Africa, and I lost my GoPro in Thailand because of an idiotic belly flop off the top of a yacht in the Andaman Sea. Those were all honest mistakes. I wasn't paying attention, and I paid for it.
Every once and awhile, I knowingly make a gamble that may or may not work out. I took MREs from Argentina to Chile for a 55 mile hike, I have played dumb at numerous border crossings because I didn't want to answer extra questions about benign things, and I sped across the United States in what was not exactly in keeping with public health (it took 40 hours, 17 minutes, and 41 seconds to be precise to go from Sacramento to Ocean City, Maryland). But when you gamble, you're eventually going to lose.
India has a very odd system to apply for visas. You can either send your passport to San Francisco, have them apply a sticker, and wait for four weeks OR you can just apply for an electronic visa. I applied for an electronic visa because of my well-documented lack of patience, but the only hitch was that it was single entry. At the end of our Maldives adventure, I had flights booked back to Hyderabad (since that was my original stop) and then I was hoping to fly back from there. I knew the single entry may cause a problem, but I rolled the dice reasoning that I wasn't REALLY leaving the airports. I thought I could argue my logic and win the day.
I lost. The Maldives airport didn't let me get on my flight, but Danielle was able to go forward since she had a work visa. She was left to go get the bags of souvenirs we had stashed in Kochi, and Wendy and I were left to figure out the next stage of our trip. India was out, we knew that. I talked to Emirates, and they said that we basically had to pay for new tickets since we could not buy tickets to fly to Dubai and then "just resume" our flight.
I was livid. "Do you realize that if you make me pay for a whole new flight back to the USA we are basically stranded here?"
Furious typing ensued. Calls to managers were made. Approvals were submitted to the Grand Sheikh of the UAE. Finally, I was informed that for about 400 US dollars per ticket, I could change the flights for Wendy and myself. Relieved, I hesitantly handed them the credit card. I rationalized the gamble that I am sure that the purchase would give me $8 in travel rewards, the Indian government didn't like me and there was some intricate conspiracy to keep me away, and/or they just didn't understand the nuance of my sophisticated arguments. Ultimately, it was my mistake, and despite the equivocations, I own it as a hand that anted up and subsequently lost.
Travel is really the ultimate gamble, and it's extremely exciting. I've stared down rhinos, raced super-cars, jumped off of buildings, and braved the Pantagonian elements. I won those battles. But the losses are what make for great stories. I have told that damn story about the crooked Mozambican cops that my wife visibly rolls her eyes every time I tell it now. I totally gambled, and pretty much lost, but it's a great story.
I've never wanted to die rich, famous, or even well-loved, that stuff has never mattered to me. I do want to get to my twilight years with a few funny stories, though. I guess we'll add this one to the books.
In my second year at Sacramento City college, I casually mentioned to my Organic Chemistry professor (and now dear friend) that I wanted to stay in school for as long as I could. She pensively looked at me as she always does, squinted, and said, "Well, you have to eventually go out there and contribute to society." Ever the naive 19 year-old, I fell silent and started to ponder her remarks.
After ten years and three degrees, I decided to finally take her advice and start contributing. Although I completed my PhD in November, the pomp of circumstance of graduation was scheduled for June 10th. This event would give me the opportunity to rent an overly expensive robe, have my name announced to an audience that mostly doesn't care, listen to an uninspired speech, and bask in an aura of self-importance while I answered inane questions about what my future holds.
"I've done this before," I thought to myself, "how can I possibly get out of it?"
I've always found graduations silly, but I partook in my college graduation because it seemed like something that was important to other people. The day was hot and the commencement speaker mused about her office-hour conversations with students about their clitoris (seriously). Now this is something you would expect from a commencement speaker whose day job is a human sexuality professor, but it was probably not the best topic for an audience of all ages (especially my young cousins who were in attendance). While I am not exactly the most socially appropriate creature, that experience had permanently turned me off to the whole concept. Well, that and the gripes mentioned above.
So how to get out of this round of ridiculousness? Well, this trip provided a nice excuse. We were originally supposed to get back in early June, but I just extended the trip a couple of days by planning an excursion to the Maldives. I celebrated my graduation in the way I wanted: SCUBA diving on what may be the most beautiful island chain on the planet.
The Maldives is a country off the Southern Coast of India. The highest point in the Maldives is only 12 feet above sea level, and I had seen a spectacular documentary about the first democratically-elected president to combat climate change and subsequently try to save his country. Ever since watching "The Island President," I felt the need to visit the island chain and see what could end up being the first nation to disappear from the imminent sea level rise.
Danielle, Wendy, and I arrived in the capitol of Male and were swiftly met by our hotel representative. We were shown to an airport lounge to wait for transfer to the tiny Laamu atol, and it was obvious by my dozen visits to the buffet that it was my first time in any type of airport lounge.
Knowing that it's probably my first and last time in an airport lounge
I ate so much bacon pizza
After eating my fill of mini Pepsis and bacon pizza, we boarded a propeller plane for Kaadedhdhoo and subsequently were shuttled via a private boat from that island to Six Senses Laamu in the Laamu Atol.
"I'm going to Ka.., Ko..., the first one!"
Highway to the relaxation zone
The staff waiting to greet us
That bed was a welcome sight
I usually view hotels as basically a place to rest my head. I often appreciate the architecture of hotels, but I don't really rave about amenities or anything like that on my blog because it's just not something that matters all that much to me. I found that Six Senses Laamu changed my opinion completely on that. Everything at this place from the over-water rooms to the amazing restaurants to the beautiful dive-boats was incredible. I am issuing a warning that there are probably way too many photos of the hotel and our room, but I felt compelled to post it because it is honestly the nicest hotel I have ever been to on any continent.
After enjoying some french toast in the morning, we were given bikes to get around the island. I took a video of the bike ride since it's hard to explain, but fast-forward to about 2 minutes and you can start to see why I thought this place was amazing.
Delicious mango french toast
Bike ride from the beach to our over-water hut
Our three-day home
My only personalized license plate
From the inside of our hut
The over-water bathtub
...And the over-water toilet!
From the top deck
Our private water entrance
Balcony shower?! I call it...Shalcony!
The view from our deck
Our over-water hammocks
And hey, I'll even give you the snorkel tour
After we took an extensive tour of our room, we went to the main area and got to see all the other amenities on display. We booked this particular resort due to its amazing dive sites and wonderful reviews, so the dive shop was already front and center on my radar. The resort also has five restaurants (one Japanese, one organic, two bar restaurants, and one with continental cuisine), and it has an ice cream bar where you can get as much ice cream as you want at no extra charge. There was even a resident fruit bat who was fun to watch as he moved from tree to tree eating nuts and fruit.
Pointing us where to go
The dive boat dock, the place I always spend the most time on these types of trips
Three words: ICE CREAM BAR
"Lieutenant Dan, ice cream!"
The main restaurant
The main activity area
The resident fruit bat
Over the course of two days, I had four dives planned. I went with other divers for the first day and Danielle joined me for the second day. The visibility was great, but the wildlife was very hit and miss. We would see eagle rays, clown fish, manta shrimp on one dive and then it seemed like a lot of dead coral on the next dive. The best dive was probably the one that had a lot of turtles come up and inspect us as we swam past. I got some good photos of them, and as I was trying to take a video, you'll actually see one of my red lens filters pop off. I thankfully caught it before it hit the seafloor, but it makes for a funny video and really shows the difference between having a red-filtered video versus one where the blue is not filtered out.
Ready to dive
Keep the robe, I'll take the wetsuit
The turtle investigating me
And then deciding he's not interested
...And there goes the lens
A lionfish trying to blend in
First 60 minute dive!!!
After our dives on the second day, we met back up with Wendy and ventured out to the surf shop. Danielle and Wendy learned how to surf and both stood up a few times. I got to watch their awesome rides from a distance, but I unfortunately didn't get any pictures. We enjoyed the beautiful sunset on the second night as our room faced towards the West. We mostly just sat in silence as we watched the world turn towards a new day and appreciated the majesty of the event.
"Danielle was here"
Sunset from the villa
I made some room
Watching the world turn
On our second night, we had dinner at the beautiful Leaf restaurant. The food was absolutely incredible, and I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.
"Very sturdy bridge, Dr. Jones"
And good ol' apple pie
The last day we just relaxed and recovered from the diving and surfing. We all snorkeled in the morning and took some pictures and then the ladies went off for a massage in the afternoon.
Stairway to the snorkel area
The lady in the water
Wendy in solo snorkel mode
Watching them exercise was exhausting for me
So exhausting that I needed jalapeno poppers to get my energy back
Okay, I finally joined
Fish can be curious too
My snorkel buddy
There were a few hiccups along the way as there always are. Wendy got some pretty good reef burn on her knee while surfing, Danielle opted for a reddish hue in place of a tan deciding she only wanted to use SPF 30, and we donated a fitbit to the Indian Ocean (to join my first GoPro that I lost four years ago in Thailand).
I was just happy that none of us went off the side of the dock on those bicycles. Given my mixed history with bicycles, I definitely viewed not crashing once as a significant personal milestone.
Other than that, the resort, food, service, and everything else were nothing short of perfect. I want to reiterate that Six Senses Laamu is by far the nicest resort I have ever been to across six continents. Should you want an unforgettable experience, look no further than the amazing Laamu atol.
As we boarded the boat, I felt a sadness come over me as I was ushered out of paradise. The boat slowly made its way across the channel towards the airstrip, and I looked on as the resort became smaller and smaller in the distance. Once it disappeared over the horizon, I wondered for a fleeting moment if it had all been a dream. I guess I'll leave that to you to decide and explore for yourself to make your own dream come true.
Kerala is really a country unto itself. Approximately 80% of Indians are Hindu with most of the remainder identifying as Muslim (14%), Christian (2%), and Siekh (1.7%). In contrast, approximately 45% of people identify as Christian in the state of Kerala. India also claims that it is the largest democratic nation in the world. In contrast, the state of Kerala has a long history of governance by the Communist party of India due to the inequality between landowners and farmers, the lack of sectarian violence, and the unusually high literacy rate. Signs of Christianity and Communism are all over the state with churches lining the rivers and Communist graffiti seemingly ubiquitous across the country.
A church on the riverfront
The hammer and sickle emblem of the Communist party
We came to Kerala to finish our chapter in India with a bit of relaxation. Tigers in Tala and monuments in Delhi were fun, but my wife (and pretty much all of the people who know me) say that I need to learn how to relax. I was able to do this somewhat during the food riots in Mozambique and at the resort in Fiji, and Kerala would give me the opportunity to relax on a houseboat for the very first time.
Kerala is also unique in India because I have been told by many Indians that it is the place they most want to visit. Many Indians actually come to Kerala for their honeymoon, and they take large boats on river tours throughout the massive channels of Southwestern India. Wendy, Danielle, and I rented an air-conditioned houseboat for the evening and relaxed as civilization (and cell service) slowly drifted away.
The houseboat afloat
A delicious local river fish, Karimeen
This traffic was a nice change of pace
Docking for the evening
We arrived on the houseboat the day before the official start of the monsoon season. While the weather may not have been ideal, the falling rain really did bring us all some much needed relaxation. We returned in the morning to our hotel and relaxed a bit more, me enjoying the view of the passing ships from the hotel room and the ladies enjoying a much needed massage.
A view from the room
...And my interest waning
This chapter in our trip was pretty much us on a boat followed by me watching other boats from a hotel room surrounded by rain. I'm glad I came to Kerala, but it is definitely a sleepy place. If you like relaxation, this place is definitely for you. For those who are more into monuments and adventure, the previous stops are probably more suited to your tastes.
As my time in India comes to a close, I want to reflect on the myths that were told to me and conclude by giving aspiring India adventurers tips for navigating the massive sub-continent.
Let's start with the myths:
1. "You WILL get sick": I heard this from damn-near everyone that I talked to. I had been told this so many times that I actually started to believe this fiction. The first 14 days that I spent there, I was completely fine. On the 15th day, I decided to be bold and drink hotel tap water. I paid for that 12 hours later, but the sickness didn't last that long. For those of you who want to come here but are afraid of getting sick, I'd say that's not a concern if you wash your hands and only drink bottled water. 2. "The roads are so dangerous!": No, they are not any more dangerous than the United States. In fact, I only saw one accident there in 2 weeks. I see one A DAY in Los Angeles. Yes, they honk a lot which can be intimidating at first. Yes, there really isn't such a thing as "lanes" in India, but it seems to work for them. Remember, just because something is different doesn't mean it's wrong. 3. "It's so hard to get around": This is partially a myth because it is NOT hard to get around if you know the right people, which brings me to my next post-script.
Danielle was in India for two months before I arrived, so I benefited greatly from her experiences. In my opinion, you should not drive in India because the rules are really different when compared to other places (not dangerous just different). That being said, you should get drivers for wherever you go. I've listed a few resources below that will hopefully assist in your adventures:
1. For Jaipur: Kailash Rao is a professional guide whose English is perfect. He is very courteous, professional, and he has his own tour agency. His rates are great, and he knows the city and surrounding state very well. You can email him directly at Kailash94606@gmail.com to set up driving tours. 2. For Delhi: Jimmy Sharma has a Master's degree in history and knows everything worth knowing about Delhi. His English is also perfect, and he is extremely kind and professional. If you need a tour of Delhi, contact him at jimmy@firstname.lastname@example.org. 2. For other spots in India: Taj Mahal Tour operators has an excellent two day tour of Delhi and Agra for around 250 USD which includes transport and guides. When booking the tour, ask for Jimmy (mentioned above). However, her company also arranges cars for nearly everywhere else in India, so this company should be your go-to contact when arranging travel. They respond to emails very quickly (which is the exception and not the rule in India), so definitely contact them for your travel needs. My specific contact is Sheena, and the email is email@example.com.
It's off to surf and sun in the Maldives, check in with you all more soon.
Danielle and I landed in Delhi with Danielle's friend Wendy accompanying us for the last leg of the journey. We had two sight-seeing days in Delhi planned with a trip to Agra sandwiched in between. With wonderful experiences in Hyderabad, Bandhavgarh, and Jaipur in the books (err, the blogs?) I was excited to see what Delhi had in store.
Delhi is a place that is difficult to describe. It is the Capitol of India and acts as home for 19 million of the country's citizens. It's streets bustle with the frenzy of any sprawling metropolis, but absent are the horns that characterize the chaos of Hyderabad. Its buildings are home to facades of centuries ago but not nearly as many as the ancient city of Jaipur. The wayward oxen that are staples of most streets in other Indian cities are instead replaced with government employees and professionals moving to their next scheduled engagement. If India's countryside is its past, Delhi is definitely a sign of what's to come in its future.
There are few developing countries in the world that I've been to that are actually, well, developing. This term was adopted in reaction to the White guilt of the term "third world" which has a ton of baggage associated with it. The trouble with humans is that we adopt a new term to right a wrong instead of changing the foundation. The underlying problem is that most "developing" nations are still exploited economically by those labeled developed. We've essentially traveled from an ordinal ranking system to the haves and have nots.
India is quite different, you can tell that the country is on the move and breaking the chains of its past. Led by the shrewd Prime Minister Modi, signs are everywhere that India is advancing quickly. Remnants of poverty still exist, but the impressive rail system, the ubiquitous public health campaigns, the thriving tech industry, and the equality of women in India show that India is indeed advancing and advancing fast.
All of this development comes at a steep price. Delhi recently gained the distinction of being the most polluted city in the world. As you will see in most of the pictures below, there appears to be a constant marine layer enveloping the city. This isn't marine layer, this is all pollution. During my last day there, there was an article emblazoned on the front of the local newspaper that said that a new scientific study estimated that the pollution in Delhi decreased life span by an average of 6 years.
The government has made numerous efforts to slow the effects of climate change by banning diesel vehicles that are more than 10 years old, only allowing drivers with certain plate numbers on certain days, and strengthening the metro infrastructure.
Although the alacrity of solutions implemented has been quick, the negative effects are still clear and present. our guide informed us that there were over 1500 cars sold per day and an estimated 9 million cars on the road. Climate change is already a reality and how bad it gets depends on how India, and its neighbor China, ultimately implement and maintain these green solutions.
Our first day, we were on our own navigating the city. We woke Wendy up and slowly eased her into the city, checking out Qutb Munar complex as well as the Lotus Temple. We finished our tour off with a wonderful lunch at Gulati.
The Qutb Minar complex, the tower is the tallest brick minaret in the world
Since its construction in 1199 CE, the tower has been damaged by lightning twice
Pillars of the complex
Hey, it's Wendy!
It was a bit close to the airport
The Lotus house of worship of the Bahai faith
From the side
Appreciating the angles
This actually looks like a fish eye shot, but it's with a regular lens
Definitely a must if you're in New Delhi; try to come during non-peak times since they don't accept reservations
Delicious butter chicken and garlic naan
India gate, a memorial to Indian soldiers who have lost their lives
Eternal flame at the tomb of the unknown soldier
The second day we were picked up by our driver who would take us around Delhi and then shuttle us to Agra. Our guide for the day was a smartly dressed man who charismatically introduced himself simply as Jimmy. Standing in an unimposing way yet still confident, Jimmy was 67 years old but had the energy of a man half his age. This former Navy man, grandfather, and historian would be our guide to the sights, smells, and sounds of the city he called home.
He first took us to the house of the president and told us all about the Indian government. The president's house sits on a plot of 330 acres, and contains 350 rooms, making it the largest presidential residence in the world. He confidently answered questions about international affairs, and it was interesting to hear his perspective on Pakistan.
The manicured lawns of the Prime Minister's residence
The president's residence
After enjoying some traditional Indian chaat, he took us to the National Cemetery to see the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was an Indian expatriate who practiced law in South Africa. As he traveled in a first class train car en route to see a client, an employee told him he needed to move to the car with the colored people. He kindly instructed the man that he needed to do no such thing because he knew the law and that was not in the legal code. At the next train stop, Gandhi and his bags were thrown out of the train. Incensed by his treatment, he resolved to alter the course of his life by defending basic human rights. In 1915, he and his wife traveled back to their native India and begin to promote equality to bring an end to British rule. Through multiple imprisonments and hunger strikes, Gandhi and his followers successful secured independence for their country in 1947. Six months later, Gandhi was assassinated by a radical who was later tried, convicted, and hanged for his heinous crime.
Gandhi was immolated at this spot, but his ashes were spread in the river Ganges in accordance with traditional Hindu beliefs. To give you an idea of his national importance, his memorial is the only memorial in the entire 22 acre national cemetery, all of the currency contains his likeness, and he is spoken about with the same reverence that South Africans reserve for Madiba. Like Madiba, he was a God among men.
Our next stop was Old Delhi for a bicycle rickshaw tour and a walk through one of the world's largest spice markets. The sites and smells were captivating and Jimmy was our tranquil tutor in the sea of frenzy that surrounded us.
On our way to the spice market
Mass of electrical wires that defined the poorer neighborhoods of Delhi
The busy spice market
Betel leaves that are chewed by rural Indians, this is a highly addictive practice that can quickly lead to mouth cancer
Transporting supplies in old town
Enjoying masala chai tea in an Indian spice store
Our final monument stop was Humayun's Tomb, a grave built by the widow of the second Mughal emperor. This temple was built in 1565 in traditional Islamic style with an emphasis for symmetry and no depictions of god, per the prophets teachings. The craftsmen took 9 years to build the shrine and included many six-pointed stars as decorations, and although they resemble the star of David, the resemblance is only coincidental.
Danielle and Wendy were celebrities throughout our New Delhi stop, many children wanted their pictures with the Westerners
Me and Jimmy
A beautiful marble Arabic carving
We relaxed at Rendezvous restaurant for our final respite of the day before heading to Agra. The butter chicken, saffron rice and paneer were absolutely magical.
Cousin of Tony the Tiger?
Everything was amazing, put this place on your must-see list for Delhi
The next day started in the small hours of the morning around 4 am. The ladies dressed in their newfound Indian garb, and I in my typically simple rags, boarded a golf cart to make our way into the East gate of the Taj Mahal. Our guide, Ali, told us all about the Mughal king and the woman who he pined for even in death.
The two were said to be madly in love. During the birth of their 14th child, she died at the tender age of 39. Legend has it that she had her beloved make three promises before her death: marry no other, be kind to their children, and build the most amazing tribute to her the world has ever seen. Upon seeing the Taj Mahal for the first time, I immediately concluded that my previous romantic gestures had nothing on this guy. Most amazing tribute? Mission accomplished.
My first view of the Taj
From the reflecting pool
Danielle and I
The front gate
From the East end
Through the courtyard
The complex took 22 years and 20,000 artisans to build. Legend also states that the king was so depressed when she died that his diligence over his kingdom began to slip. Six of the sixteen children survived to adulthood, and the third son killed the first two in an attempt to seize power and become the next heir to the throne. With the murders complete, he successfully imprisoned his father in the nearby Agra fort with the argument that his father had squandered the kingdom's money on this tribute. His prison cell had a single window that looked out to the monument to his beloved. He was Imprisoned in 1658 and died the same year as the great fire of London in 1666.
The beautiful craftsmanship of the tile work
22 domes were on the main gate, one for each of the years it took to construct
As with the tomb in Delhi, symmetry and placement were key in the building process. The shrine was built facing South so that a mosque could be built facing West. This placement is important because Muslims pray five times a day towards Mecca, a holy site that sits to India's west. To maintain symmetry, the exact same building was built on the other side of the mausoleum, but it acted as a guest house instead of a mosque. The minarets are also built bending slightly outwards so that they would fall away from the mausoleum should an earthquake hit. As you can see in the above pictures, the minarets were in the middle of restoration but one was finished and looked absolutely beautiful (see below).
The mosque at the West end
And the guest house at the East end
With the rising sun
The beauty of the restored tile
The ladies taking it in one last time
The second stop before heading back to Delhi was the fort where the very-in-love-yet-fiscally-irresponsible king was imprisoned, Agra fort. Our guide gave some good information but the heat had climbed to over 110, at 10:30 am no less, and we were more focused on shade than facts. Our planned forty minute stop quickly got cut in half as we retreated to air conditioning and cool bottles of water.
The front of the Agra Fort
The cell where the son imprisoned his father
The view that the father had from his cell
Our evening in Delhi was with friends old and new. Andre and Kimbrie were in India at the same time as us, and we had a one day overlap in the city. We met for drinks, swapped stories and marveled at what we had seen. Andre has visited 46 countries so far (compared to my mere 18), and we agreed that India was one of the coolest places we had ever seen.
Kimbrie got her ice cream, I often have cravings from home that take awhile to satisy
33% of our wedding party was in Delhi!
Dinner was hosted by one of Danielle's coworkers, and up and coming stars at Deloitte, Neeraj. He treated us to wonderful chicken, lamb, and the most delicious paneer on the planet.
\ Sign in the bathroom, Neeraj said that this translates to "Dude, just stop"
Old and new friends
The last day in Delhi was a sad one as I had fallen in love with the city in such a short amount of time. I made a pilgrimage to Delhi's largest Sikh temple and heard all about the wonderful work the religion does for the community. Founded in the 15th century by their first guru (the work guru is a mix of light and dark, it loosely translates to the one who brings people out of the darkness into the light), the religious text was written over the course of 10 gurus. The monotheistic religion emphasizes equality above all, promotes hard work (symbolized by a steel bracelet worn by each adherent), and does not view life as sinful but a quest to merge with the creating force. This particular temple serves food to over 30,000 people each day, provides free medicine, and claims to have tens of thousands of visitors each day.
The Sikh temple, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib
The interior prayer room, the alter is made out of 200 kg of gold - that's over 440 pounds!
The pool that Sikhs believe can cure any ailment. When the first guru was alive, it was believed that he cured the masses of cholera through their immersion in the pool
Volunteers preparing food
Poor and rich alike sit alongside one another to eat free food offered to anyone of any faith
I even tried my hand at making some food
In front of the temple
I also got to see the exterior of Hanuman's temple but could not make it inside since the temple was closed for lunch. The temple definitely has a lot of unique features, but I'll have to wait until my next visit to explore in more detail.
The hanuman statue near the Karol Bagh train station
Probably the coolest entrance ever
The people of India have been absolutely wonderful to us: from Naveen in Hyderabad, Kailash in Jaipur, and Jimmy in Delhi, India had opened itself up to us and shown us its sights, sounds, and smells. There's one more stop in the state of Kerala, but I am sad at the prospect of leaving this wonderful country. One more post to go before heading to Maldives, check in with you all soon.
Planes are a lot like daycare. There's snack time, nap time, no one pays attention when directions are being administered, and adults ringing the bell for service is the equivalent of a child raising his hand for a special request. While most of us comport ourselves as responsible members of society below 30,000 feet, many of us have had our moments at cruising altitude at one point or another.
Exhausted from the five hour safari, subsequent three hour car ride to the airport, and the layover between flights, I was acting rather petulant and sensitive by the time we boarded our connection to Jaipur. I felt like I needed a shower, a nap, and lots of food. I bitched and moaned about a few things before falling asleep. Ever the vigilant wife, Danielle made sure to buy juice and a snack so that I had something when I woke up. Awaking much more reasonable than when I had fallen into the slumber, I thanked her meekly for taking care of me. Anyone can have fun, but taking care of a bitchy husband takes strength.
We landed in Jaipur, and we promptly passed out. Danielle awoke at 3 AM to a barrage of emails from work. Things needed to get done, and she was out for our first day in Jaipur. I asked her to reconsider, but the call of duty compelled her to stay back. It was back to my days as a solo traveler as I headed out to the heat on my own.
Jaipur is the capitol of the desert state of Rajasthan, a state located in Northwest India about 160 miles from Delhi. Jaipur is affectionately known as the pink city because the King decreed that the city be painted pink, a color that denotes hospitality, in honor of the visit of Prince Albert in the late 19th century. Now citizens are required by law to maintain the pink color on the exterior of their buildings.
Gate to the Pink City
Amber fort was constructed in the early 16th century by Raja Man Singh, and it acted for a time as the capitol of the kingdom. The fort was later renovated by Jai Singh, the king that Jaipur is named after. The complex is absolutely massive, and it was easy to get lost in the various stairways and corridors. There isn't much documented history on the fort, but I've detailed what I learned in captions below.
Amber fort in the distance
The main entrance
This was the entrance to the King's private quarters. If you look closely above the archway, there is a picture of Ganesh, a Hindu deity. It is believed that Ganesh removes obstructions from everyday life, and painting his likeness over doorways is a tradition to bring good luck and fortune.
The royal gardens contained many screens that were woven with a grass called Khas. In the heat of the summer, the screens would be removed and dipped in water and then placed back in their original housings. Wind blowing through would act as a rudimentary air conditioning system, cooling the rooms of the open palace.
The Char Bagh garden from a different vantage point
A tablet in Hindi, I absolutely love the calligraphy of this language
A view to the exterior
The military fort tasked with protecting the King's quarters
The beautiful glass work of Jai Mandir, the private room that the king used to receive his guests. Legend has it that the queen liked to see the stars but did not like to sleep in the open air. This area was constructed so that she could burn candles, which would be reflected by the thousands of tiny mirrors, creating an effect that looked like the night sky.
A view through the archway
What seems to me like the largest wok ever (probably not for said purpose)
The next step was Jal Mahal, a palace located on Man Sagar Lake. The palace is empty, and the only way to get to it is by boat (which I didn't have). I was there during the summer, so the water was really low, but the pictures that others have taken during the rainy season are stunning. It was used as a private palace centuries ago and more recently as a pleasure house.
The City Palace was less than remarkable, it had a few museums for textiles and weaponry, but it did not seem worth the visit. I did manage to find a couple of cool photo spots throughout the complex, but overall, I don't recommend going here if you plan on visiting.
View of the City Palace
Beautiful archway leading into the City Palace
Mahout guarding the gate
Jantar Mantar was my last stop for the day, and the term literally translates to "calculating instrument." The complex contains many devices for measuring the position of major celestial bodies, predicting eclipses and tracking time. The most impressive structure is the largest sundial in the world where the shadow of the sun moves visibly at 1 mm per second. I tried to decipher the placards detailing the complexities of the machines, but in 105 degrees, 2+2 can be a challenging equation.
The world's largest sundial, accurate to within 2 seconds
Another clock in the complex
By the time I got back, she was still hard at work. Seventeen hours after she started working, she finally decided to call it a day. Although I was disappointed that she had missed half of our time in the Pink City, I was determined to do what I could to take care of her in turn. She had dealt with my grumpy mood from the tiger reserve to Jaipur and I wanted to reciprocate. She loves room service, so I told her she could get whatever she wanted the next morning.
What do you get your wife for breakfast when she works all night on vacation? Whatever she wants!
I decided that there was no reason to miss out on the things I had gotten to see the previous day. I plucked out the highlights, and I became her personal tour guide with us returning to visit the Amber Fort and Jal Mahal. She got to see most things that I had seen, and we even got to visit the Prince Albert museum and Hawa Mahal (or "Palace of the Winds") which are things I had missed on my first tour of the city.
Danielle at the Amber Fort
Us at Jal Mahal
Depictions of the king's lineage
I've only been married for 8 months, and I honestly have no clue what I'm doing as a husband. I'm basically making it up as I go along, but this trip taught me that the most important thing is taking care of the other when they are down. As our close (and not-so-close) friends will tell you, both of us are far from perfect. We have had a lot of good times in our 3.5 years together, but I honestly don't cherish those memories as much as the hard times we've overcome. As we ate onion rings together in the morning, we just laughed about random things we had seen on our travels, and that felt like the greatest moment of our visit to Jaipur. The monuments, food, and hotel were all incredible, but the things we remember are not the grandeur of the sites we see but the beautiful simplicity of the interpersonal moments. For those of you who often feel lost as a husband or wife and are not quite sure what to do in moments of hardship, my humble advice to you would be to laugh...and eat plenty of onion rings.