Sunday, August 17, 2008

Singapore - covered in 1 minute

After my trip to India drew to a close, I found myself in Singpore for a 1 day layover (by choice). Being quite tired of feeling like a tourist everywhere I went, I elected to skip the Changi Museum (about the Japanese occupation / POW history), and the Tiger Beer brewery. The one touristy thing I wanted to do was visit the Sinapore Zoo, for their famous Night Safari, but the rainy weather had other ideas.

I really liked wandering around the city and getting a feel for it. The cleanliness, after 4 months in India was a breath of fresh air (pun intended). I loved seeing all the signs and books in all 4 official languages as well as all the construction going on.
Of special note in the construction scene was all the effort going into something that I really wish I could stay for: the first ever in the world, night time Formula 1 grand prix race! This will occur on 28 September, and all sorts of new technology are in play, most notably the lighting system. I've read it as being many times brighter than football stadium lighting, and a lot of thought went into the design. Throughout the city you can see railings, 20 feet above the street level, only ever on one side of the street (to avoid glare if it's rainy). Here you can see the railing on the far side of the road, a bridge downtown that the cars will cross each direction on one lap. The Singapore merlion (shown above) is directly behind me when taking this picture:

Overall, Singapore was awesome. With it's proximity to the rest of Asia, and accessible outdoors of Malaysia right there, I'd definitely consider living there for a bit. I loved how it had a fantastic public transportation system. The people were very helpful and polite; they seemed to care about others as well as their environment.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Mumbai & trekking

Sometimes you just know that you're in the big city again because there are beautiful buildings:

And then other times you just know that you're in the big city again because there's ridiculous stuff like McDelivery.
If you didn't watch this commercial that I posted, I recommend you do now.

Sometimes you just want to tell people they're taking work too seriously, like this rail worker as the train comes down the line:

After a few days banging around Mumbai with excellent sights, shopping, and eating, we took off for a suburb to meet some Indian friends who would take us on a trek for a few days! It was wonderful to hike through the lush Maharashtra hills and valleys during the monsoon! Because it was warm out, we just enjoyed getting wet, knowing we'd dry later.

We made it to a small village where we'd end up staying two nights, sleeping on a dirt floor house, eating great home cooked meals (Thank you so much, Amarutha!), and generally enjoying life!

Such a simple setup, yet such complex flavors! Breakfast, lunch, dinner, multiple teatimes, Amaruta rules on the fire oven/stove setup!

Red onion storage behind me. Good thing I love onions. :-)

I was really surprised to see solar panels in this mountain village.

We went for a hike to a big valley edge and watched some gushing, huge waterfalls:

Then took a hike to a temple carved into the side of some caves. These aren't the famous Ajanta caves, but are only a few hours away. Similar origins; these are buried a day's hike from a road, so are less traveled (and thus less maintained, unfortunately).

All in all, Ashish and Amaruta, our friends who hosted us and took us on the trek made our stay perfect. We had a blast laughing and relaxing with you!

Of course no coverage of Mumbai would be complete without mention of their commuter trains. Here's what one looks like 1.5 hours from the city center, at 11pm at night. Joy oh joy.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Goa, India

Another blast-from-the-past post, I'm getting around to writing about the trip through Goa -- we came up on a train from Alleppey (you remember the serene backwaters post?), through Kochin to the south end of the Goan beach paradise, Palolem. The train ride up the coast was wonderfully lush and I could hardly count 10 seconds without seeing either 1) a young boys' cricket game, 2) men standing around talking in their kotis, or 3) women walking with something on their heads. Very lush with acres and acres of palm and banana trees.

Arriving in Palolem, we quickly realized that the Goa we were to experience was not that of most tourists. The beach cove of Palolem can accommodate a thousand or two tourists during high season, but while we were there we only saw about 6 other tourists! We had a bit of rain, but it was still another, great, quiet nook of India.

We had the beaches to ourselves, as long as we shared with a few stray cows and dogs. It was blissful.
After relaxing in Palolem for a bit we headed up to Panaji, the old port city of Goa. This was settled by the Portuguese, and it's still quite evident in the style of the city, from the crumbling architecture to the street signs.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Bodhgaya - town for Buddhist enlightenment

I haven't made time until now to sort through some pictures and video from my visit to Bodhgaya, India. This is the town where the first Buddha (Prince Siddhartha) attained full enlightenment back in 623 B.C. There is a massive monument (54 meters high) and park setup, with tons of burial sites and shrines built by folks from all over the world, known collectively as the Mahabodhi Temple (maha = big, bodhi = tree which buddha sat under). Additionally there is a massive (25 meters high) seated Buddha statue worth visiting. Many sites in the town have been dedicated by the Dalai Lama.

The bodhi tree shown below is, in a manner of speaking, the same tree as the original that the Buddha meditated and reached enlightenment under. A sapling was cut from the original tree for safekeeping and taken to Sri Lanka. As chance would have it, an invading group cut the tree down, and later a portion of the tree was brought back and planted in the original spot.

Lots of Buddhists from all over the world have come to this town and set up monasteries for monks from their homeland to come and study. I was lucky enough to stay in two separate Tibetan monasteries. Others in town were from: Bhutan, China, Japan, Myanmar, Nepal, Sikkim, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tibet and Vietnam (Full list thanks to Wikipedia).

Some of the monasteries have extra large prayer wheels for those tough times when you've really gotta belt out literally millions of prayers in one day:

Without further ado, I give you the latest "Places Not To Fall Down" installment:

Also there were large collections of tea lamps / candles which are totally awesome, if not unbearably hot in the middle of the summer:

Here's a random (whiplash) panorama of the Gaya train station. This is a plain, small town train station, at 1:30am. There are thousands like this all over India:

And finally, just a picture to capture the vibrance of India, this one shows the various colors, and the intensity, of the powder used in religious celebrations and every day life, all available for a few rupees in every market.