A Travellerspoint blog

Delhi Defined

Delhi and Agra, India

sunny 109 °F

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.

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The Qutb Minar complex, the tower is the tallest brick minaret in the world

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Since its construction in 1199 CE, the tower has been damaged by lightning twice

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1x

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2x

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3x

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Pillars of the complex

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Hey, it's Wendy!

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It was a bit close to the airport

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The Lotus house of worship of the Bahai faith

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From the side

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Appreciating the angles

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With Danielle

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This actually looks like a fish eye shot, but it's with a regular lens

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Definitely a must if you're in New Delhi; try to come during non-peak times since they don't accept reservations

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Delicious butter chicken and garlic naan

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India gate, a memorial to Indian soldiers who have lost their lives

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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.

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The manicured lawns of the Prime Minister's residence

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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.

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Mahatma Gandhi

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His pyre

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In reverence

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

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Mass of electrical wires that defined the poorer neighborhoods of Delhi

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The busy spice market

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Betel leaves that are chewed by rural Indians, this is a highly addictive practice that can quickly lead to mouth cancer

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Transporting supplies in old town

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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.

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Danielle and Wendy were celebrities throughout our New Delhi stop, many children wanted their pictures with the Westerners

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Me and Jimmy

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Humayun's Tomb

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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.

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Cousin of Tony the Tiger?

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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.

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My first view of the Taj

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From the reflecting pool

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Danielle and I

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The front gate

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More reflection

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Up close

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From the East end

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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.

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The beautiful craftsmanship of the tile work

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Up close

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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).

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The mosque at the West end

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And the guest house at the East end

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With the rising sun

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The beauty of the restored tile

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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.

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The front of the Agra Fort

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The cell where the son imprisoned his father

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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.

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Kimbrie got her ice cream, I often have cravings from home that take awhile to satisy

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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.

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Sign in the bathroom, Neeraj said that this translates to "Dude, just stop"

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Delicious paneer

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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.

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The Sikh temple, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib

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The interior prayer room, the alter is made out of 200 kg of gold - that's over 440 pounds!

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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

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Volunteers preparing food

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Poor and rich alike sit alongside one another to eat free food offered to anyone of any faith

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I even tried my hand at making some food

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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.

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The hanuman statue near the Karol Bagh train station

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Close up

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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.

Posted by mbeymer 01:43 Archived in India

Taking Care

Jaipur, India

sunny 105 °F

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.

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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.

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Amber fort in the distance

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The main entrance

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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.

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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.

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The Char Bagh garden from a different vantage point

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A tablet in Hindi, I absolutely love the calligraphy of this language

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A view to the exterior

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The military fort tasked with protecting the King's quarters

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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.

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A view through the archway

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What seems to me like the largest wok ever (probably not for said purpose)

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Fort spire

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.

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Jal Mahal

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.

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View of the City Palace

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Stone rendering

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Beautiful archway leading into the City Palace

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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.

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The world's largest sundial, accurate to within 2 seconds

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Another view

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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.

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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.

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Danielle at the Amber Fort

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Us at Jal Mahal

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Hawa Mahal

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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.

Posted by mbeymer 00:11 Archived in India

Into the Bush

Bandvargarh National Park, India

semi-overcast 104 °F

One of my favorite things to do on trips is see wildlife in their native areas. Zoos contribute a lot to society by teaching people about animals in order to further conservation, but while zoos are undoubtedly important for these efforts, I think there's nothing quite like seeing animals in their natural habitat. In South America, I witnessed penguin chicks emerging in Tierra del Fuego. In Africa, I saw lions, rhinos, wild dogs, elephants, and a plethora of other animals in the vast Kruger National Park. My first trip to Asia allowed me to bathe and feed elephants who were rescued from the abuse of the carnival industry. Australia gave me the opportunity to get up close with sharks, potato cod, clown fish and a host of other wonders of the Great Barrier Reef. For our trip to India, I wanted nothing more than to see a tiger, but I knew it wouldn't be easy.

The first challenge in going to see tigers is the logistics of actually getting to the park. Since we were in Hyderabad, there were no direct flights. We had to do one of the following:
1. Take an 18 hour train to Jabalpur and then drive another three hours,
2. Take a 12 hour drive directly from Hyderabad to the park, or
3. Take a flight to Delhi then on to Jabalpur for a three hour drive.

The second challenge is permits. The Indian park system only gives out a limited number of permits each day. They give out 11 car permits for three zones, and the zone you get is entirely at random. This is advantageous since we wanted to see Tigers and not just other tourists. However, Indian VIPs (government ministers, mayors, etc.) are given priority, and you don't actually know if you are going to get a permit to go on safari until the evening before.

The third challenge is actually spotting a tiger. There are only 65 tigers in the park, and they can be incredibly elusive. One driver told me that an individual he worked for had gone to another tiger park for nine days and had not seen a single tiger. My colleague, Rasool, and many of Danielle's coworkers had flatly told us that we wouldn't see any tigers. My hubris in hand, I was determined to prove them wrong.

We elected to take the third option to get there, and after landing at Jabalpur's tiny air strip, we hopped into our hired car for the three hour drive to Tala. Tala is pretty much a wide spot in the road with only a few hundred inhabitants, but it lies at the foot of the famous Bandvargarh National Park. This is where I hoped we would see a tiger during our three day stay.

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Disembarking

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A truck on the road to Tala. Since Indians drive on the left side of the road, it's typical for cars to honk to signal a pass on the right (or flash their brights at night). All the honking can seem jarring at first, but you start to realize that it's just the way for drivers to communicate back and forth.

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A typical motorbike with the male in a collared shirt and female in a beautiful sari

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Welcome to Tiger Country

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Did I mention it was hot?

The first day started at 4:45 in the morning as we sleepily meandered towards our awaiting, open-air SUV. Our driver and guide began tracking Tigers almost immediately, but the cats remained elusive for the duration of the five hour safari. We got to see many interesting animals including peacocks, spotted dear, and monkeys, but the big cats were always one step ahead of us.

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Going on safari!

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Fresh tiger tracks spotted

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And fresh tiger marks on a tree (aka scratch post)

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And the subsequent gaggle of cars that resulted

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A commuting peacock

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A monkey, suspicious of his new observers

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Well, not for long at least

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A baby monkey looking on

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Spotted buck

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The canopy

The second day started much as the first had, 5 AM departure, rumors of tigers from park rangers, but drives to various areas turned up nothing. We actually sat for an hour with the other open air vehicles waiting for a tiger to materialize out of the bush. We waited and saw a jackal run by, a family of monkeys play with one another, and a few boars root through the weeds. After an hour of waiting at the rumored spot, still no tigers.

We cut our losses and had breakfast, we had been on safari for a cumulative time of 8.5 hours and we had seen a lot of other cool animals but no tigers were to be found. Danielle stayed positive stating that we would see one eventually, and I was like a child who didn't get the big toy. "I'm skeptical," I groused. The guide asked us to finish our breakfast because another sighting had occurred. I wolfed down my potato curry, and we were back on the hunt.

I knew this time was different because the guide told us sternly when we got in that it was very important to "hold on." He wasn't kidding. We reached about 40 mph on some of these roads, about double the speeds that we had traveled before this sighting. That may not sound fast, but when the car is completely off the ground because you are going over dirt roads at such a high speed, it definitely feels thrilling.

Still skeptical, yet adrenaline pumping, we came to a screeching halt in front of three other off-road vehicles that had made the pilgrimage. And then, the King emerged:

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The king emerges

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The cars that didn't have a driver as good as ours

He sauntered up to within 15 feet of us, and suddenly, that 8.5 hours of searching had all been worth it. Seemingly perplexed by all the vehicles, but nonchalant, he walked across the road into the bush again. Our driver quickly floored it. His knowledge of the road system became immediately apparent as we tore down the dirt road on the way to the next spot he might emerge. Within 5 minutes, the Tiger emerged again.

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This act continued one more time until the Tiger finally crossed the road once more to disappear into the bush. The ride was absolutely exhilarating, and the two flights, 3 hour drive, 8.5 hours of searching had led to a wonderful moment (or three) with the true King of the Jungle.

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Satisfied with the sighting, Danielle decided to skip the last two safaris of the trip in order to catch up on work-related tasks. The third safari allowed me to see a lot of neat birds up close, but it didn't compare to the grandeur of seeing the male tiger. Afternoon safaris are hotter, and it's less likely that you'll see animals come out of the caves or their other cool resting places.

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Spotted dear eating

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A stork on his perch

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An eagle getting some shade

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Roller scouting his next snack

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Me in the afternoon sun

On the last safari, the guide heard within 40 minutes of entering the park that tigers (plural) were spotted in the open fields. Our car sped over to the spot and saw as the tigress and her two cubs slept about 150 feet away. It was tough to capture on film since I use a rudimentary camera, but I was able to see a lot of their activity through binoculars.

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Who's interrupting my nap?

The amazing part came when the mother got up, followed by her two cubs in tow. I was able to get some great shots of the two cubs walking together, and it felt like the perfect moment to conclude our journey into the land of tigers.

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Mom waiting for her cubs

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The first cub emerges

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And both go off to join Mom

Posted by mbeymer 23:27 Archived in India

City of Pearls

Hyderabad, India

sunny 98 °F

The next destination on the journey was Hyderabad, a city in the center of India that is famous for its pearls, diamonds, and delicious Biryani. More recently, the city has become India's home to a plethora of Western companies from Deloitte to Google to Novartis. I only had a little bit more than 48 hours in the city, and after some much needed sleep, I ventured out on Thursday to see what it had to offer.

The first stop of the day was the Qutb Shahi Tombs, final resting place of seven kings and their wives. The tombs are situated across a sprawling complex in Hyderabad, and they were built at various times between 1518 CE and 1687 CE. They were in various states of repair due to ongoing refurbishment, and some looked very new while others looked like they had been left to the elements in the five centuries since they had been built.

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Tomb with a reflecting pool at the base

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Another tomb, not yet restored

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A tomb in the middle of being refurbished

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The inside of the refurbished tomb

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Another recently completed

The second stop was Golkanda fort, the capital of the Qutb Shahi dynasty. The fort is unique because of a collection of clever engineering marvels. The main gate is almost a perfect right angle, this design was used in order to prevent war elephants from having enough room to charge and topple the gate. The base of the fort has a large atrium where soldiers could simply clap if an invading army was approaching, and the sound of the clap could be heard at the top of the fort, one kilometer away. The halls were designed so that wind could be funneled to the interior of the fort during the oppressive summer heat, forming an early version of an air conditioning system. Lastly, the fort had an intricate network of pipes that allowed the fort to continue to get water from four surrounding lakes during weeks where invading armies would lay siege to the outside of the fort. Golkanda is also famous because it once housed the Hope Diamond in its vaults.

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The main courtyard

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The hallway leading up to the top

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The massive boulders surrounding the fort, a defining feature of Hyderabad

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A view from the other side

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The King's quarters can be seen at the top

As we traveled back to the hotel, my driver recounted an interesting legend about the Indian king, Jai Singh. In 1920, he went for a walk in London in his civilian clothes and came across a Rolls Royce dealership. He tried to ask the salesman questions about the cars on display, but the British salesman took one look at the Indian man in plain clothes and escorted him out the door.

He went back to his hotel room, changed into Royal garb, and instructed his servants to call the dealership and inform them that the Maharaja of Alwar in Rajasthan was interested in coming to the store to purchase a car (after researching the story in more detail, the legend may actually be about King Nizam of Hyderabad, but all the other details hold true). He returned to the store, dressed in full royal attire, and a red carpet awaited him with a full team of salesman. He paid for six cars in cash and instructed them to be shipped immediately to India.

This is where the story gets interesting. He converted all of the cars to garbage collection trucks because of the initial salesman's slight, and word quickly spread back to Britain that luxury cars were being used as garbage trucks in India. The revenue of Rolls Royce plummeted because previously interested buyers began looking down on the company because they knew that India used the cars to collect trash. When Rolls Royce realized its mistake, they sent a telegram to the king and apologized profusely. The company offered to give him six more cars for free in order to make up for the way he had been treated. Satisfied with the proposed reparation, the Indian king accepted the gift and stopped using the cars for trash collection.

That evening, I rendezvoused with the Deloitte staff to watch a friendly game of cricket. Cricket is the national sport of India (they are about as passionate about it as Americans are about the NFL), and this was my opportunity to learn a bit more about the game. It's amazingly similar to baseball except there are only two innings, the bat is flat instead of round, each team pitches a set number of times (instead of having outs), and two batters take turns hitting. The star players on each team were the ladies, and the two stars each accounted for the lion share of their respective team's runs. In the end, Danielle's team made a good showing but lost the match 98-94.

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Danielle getting warmed up for her Deloitte cricket game

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The star player of the Red team

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And her star counterpart for the Grey team

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Graceful even in defeat

Day 2 in Hyderabad started out with a trip to the Sudha Cars museum in the south of the city. I had heard about a man named K. Sudhakar who built his first bike when he was 14 and, soon after, decided to try to make abstract things into motorized vehicles. I will let the pictures speak for themselves, but ALL of these cars actually work and can get you from point A to B. The comfort and street legality of said cars is still up for debate.

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Arriving at the museum

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The world's largest tricycle

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It was definitely wacky

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The lipstick car can go up to 18 mph on a 60 cc engine, and it took five months to build and was completed in 2012. The bag car can go up to 31 mph on a 100 cc engine, and the construction took 14 months

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Stiletto car

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Sofa car

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My favorite, the toilet car!

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Camera car

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I want Windows XP back

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Nice car, but probably tough to park

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A fellow warrior in public health

My last site was a Hindu temple called Birla Mandir. The temple was constructed and 1976 and is made completely out of marble, 2,000 tons of it! The murals, statues, and shrines are all carved into the facade. They strictly prohibited cameras, so I was only really able to get one good shot of it before entering (see below). The craftsmanship is stunning, and I spent a lot of time looking at the detail of each of the murals. I really wish I was able to show pictures of this amazing site, but alas, those of you interested in this architecture will have to make the journey yourselves. Together with the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, I feel incredibly lucky to have seen two remarkable places of worship on this trip so far.

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Birla Mandir

My trip to Hyderabad was short, but it is definitely worth visiting should you find yourself in India. Off to Bandhavgarh, more to come soon!

Posted by mbeymer 08:27 Archived in India

Do Buy

Dubai and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

sunny 97 °F

This vacation wasn't exactly planned. Early in March, Danielle got an email from someone way high up at her company that they needed a rotator in India. Her company, Deloitte, has a program where US staff and India staff rotate to each other's countries in an effort to build bridges and cultural understanding. Danielle loves working with the Indian staff of Deloitte, and I told her unequivocally she should do it. Within four weeks, she was on a plane to Hyderabad, the tech capitol of India. I told her that I would meet her after her eight week stint was concluded, and we would travel around and see the sites in India. Our friends John and Brianne had done something similar after John's rotation in India, and we decided to follow in their footsteps.

Danielle flew business class on Emirates, and I had always wanted to fly with the airline because they have a program where you can stay in their hub of Dubai for up to a week for the same cost as a direct flight. After daily Kayak searches for about two weeks, I got a round trip flight to Hyderabad WITH a 5 day stopover in Dubai for the low cost of $983. And so we start the first chapter of this journey in the Middle East.

This is my first trip to the region, and the more I travel, the more I realize it is the best education someone can get. As someone who refused to leave school for a quarter of a century, I know of what I speak. The differences are often enlightening, but as I travel to more places, I have started to see similarities in ways you would not readily expect when traveling to a different part of the world. In the spirit of keeping it interesting, I'll start with the similarities first and then we'll dive into the differences.

The United Arab Emirates is a country located between Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Gulf. While it sounds exotic, aspects are shockingly similar to Southern California. I'll be more specific. It's Irvine. The place is spotless, the crime rate is ridiculously low, the per capita income is high, religiosity is high, and what is there to do? Malls. Lots and lots of malls. Just think of Irvine and replace "traditional clothes" with burkas. Allow me to present my case.

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Look who I found!

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Like I said, same mall, different clothes

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It looks like the abomination of frozen yogurt has also reached this corner of the world

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The same food court as every mall ever

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And they even have the same damn Ferris wheel in Irvine!

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Just a glimpse at how massive the malls really are

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The Dubai Mall is so big that they actually have little red taxis that take people around to different spots

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Urban decor

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Standard mall chandelier

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Quick! What's the first thing you think of when I say "desert"? If you're answer was ice rink, I agree.

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A ski slope IN THE MALL

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The waterfall in the Dubai Mall

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I've been looking for this store my entire life!

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Atrium

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Good life advice

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Ferrari hand bags

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Okay, this was admittedly different

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And making good on my promise, I went to see X-Men Apocalypse a week before it came out in the US, but in 4D!

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Watching a 4DX movie is kind of like riding the Indiana Jones ride, but for 2.5 hours

I go to malls for the same reason I get pedicures: there is a clear need or I was dragged by someone else. In the case of this trip, I went out of sheer curiosity since it honestly seems to be the national pastime of the UAE. I went to three malls in three days, enough to keep me out of them for the next 10 years, but it was fascinating to see how wealth seems to have the same inevitable result, regardless of country.

That being said, there are definitely unique features of the UAE. The Dubai Mall has its own aquarium which is curated quite well. The exhibits are fun and informative, and there are some animals I've never yet seen before.

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At the Dubai Aquarium

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Tick tock

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Jellies

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Do you see him?

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Carnivores

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A yet unidentified animal

Dubai is also home to the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, at 2,717 feet. Construction took less than 10 years and was funded by the country's massive oil wealth. Although it was completed recently, reports show that Azerbaijan is in process of building a skyscraper that is a full 700 feet taller.

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The burj in the waning hours

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The Burj Khalifa through the bridge lattice

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Chandelier at the top of the Burj Khalifa

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A view of downtown from 124 stories up

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And the Arabian Sea in the distance

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The actual top

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Hold on to those sun glasses

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The evening fountain show at the foot of the Burj

This is not the only massive structure that the city boasts. The city is seemingly filled with cranes, tractors, and endless caravans of construction workers. The hotel I stayed out was located on an artificial island that was made to look like a palm tree. I had seen it on "Modern Marvels" years ago and knew I had to stay there at least once. The resort was impressive, but it was hard to actually see the palm image that can seen from the satellites (see map below). The rationale behind the building boom is that the country is trying to diversify its investments beyond oil wealth. The sheer volume of sky scrappers was impressive, and it will be interesting to see if this boom ends up going bust.


Satellite view of the Palm Island, you may need to zoom out a bit

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The living room of our Palm apartment

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What's the thread count on that?

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Classy

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I thought it would be criminal to NOT take a bath in that thing

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The Burj Khalifa from the hotel

After a relaxing weekend, Danielle flew back to India to finish the last week of her rotation. I woke up early for a full day tour of Abu Dhabi, the largest Emirate (think of it like a State in the US). Abu Dhabi is the richest Emirate, and it accounts for over 80% of the land area of the country.

Before the UAE was the wealthy state it is today, it was a collection of fishing villages along the Arabian cost. Dubai and Abu Dhabi were inhabited by Bedouin camel herders, and the main income was through the fish trade. It obtained it's independence from Britain in 1971, and within 10 years, black gold was discovered under the sands of the sleepy nation. The King at the time, Sheikh Zayed, used the wealth to modernize the country, investing heavily in infrastructure projects.

One of the latest projects is a mosque that began construction in 1999 and finished in 2009. The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was built to house over 40,000 worshipers at one time: 30,000 in the outdoor courtyard and 10,000 within the mosque itself. I've only seen a few structures in my life that have made me so awestruck (the White Temple in Thailand and Diego Rivera's mural in Mexico City are just two that come to mind), and this was definitely added to the very short list.

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The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

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The main domes

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Reflecting pool in the front

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One of the four minarets, the top is 24 karat gold

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The courtyard used for Friday prayer

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The sconces that resemble palm trees

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Capturing the shadows

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Foyer chandelier

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One of three massive Faustig chandeliers, this one weighs 12 tons

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You can also see the largest hand woven rug in the world below

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Beautiful copies of the Quran

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A lotus rendering

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Another of the seven chandeliers, the total cost of these chandeliers was about 8.2 million US dollars

The mosque was really the highlight of the day trip, but we went to some other assorted sites that were fun to check out. I didn't learn anything spectacular, so I'll keep my rambling short here and just present some other pictures which may be of interest.

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Abu Dhabi skyline

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The King's Palace

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The nation's flag over the waterfront

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A mural of the king made entirely out of postage stamps

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Hmmm, I know this guy

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Fountain art

The last adventure on this stop was a trip to the Dubai Desert Conservation Reserve to ride a camel and then....eat said camel. A van picked me up from my hotel and shuttled me off to the foot of the preserve where I met up with my fellow travelers to venture into the Bedouin-style camps. We saddled up and then we slowly meandered through the desert on the way to the camp. The camel ride was very serene, and I couldn't get the theme from the Playstation game, "Uncharted," out of my head. I met a cool pair of couples from England and Switzerland, and we mused about soccer, terrible airlines (we collectively decided their was a tie between Ryan Air and Spirit Airlines), and our respective terrible politicians. If there's a common theme to bond with fellow travelers, it's sport and loathing of politicians.

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"Sallah, I said NO camels!"

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I already realize how ridiculous I look, and I don't care

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The camels with the park brake on

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Camel-ho!

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Surveying the land

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Silhouettes on the dunes

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It had cooled down to a balmy 95 degrees

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Camel, the other, other, other white meat

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Sunset over the camp

The most intriguing parts of the UAE are probably what's not readily seen. As someone who likes to travel internationally, it behooves me to be educated about world affairs. For this reason, I didn't go into the UAE blind, I knew they had a lot of human rights violations, freedom of speech/press are non-existent, and numerous foreigners have been disappeared for comments that may cause "instability." My goal was to talk to the people of the UAE and get their side of things. The only problem was that I didn't actually meet anyone from the UAE, and it wasn't for lack of trying.

I was in the country for four days, and I met people from the Philippines, Brazil, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Africa, Angola, Yemen, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. I did not meet ONE person who was actually from the UAE (other than the scowling woman at immigration control, let's not count her). I'm usually able to get some kind of testimonials when I'm in a new country, but no one would comment on the labor practices or the rationale for continuing to build so many towers when large portions of already existing skyscrapers seemed vacant. Seemingly in the dark, I had to put the pieces together myself using known data and my own personal observations, Thomas Bayes would be proud.

Foreign workers outnumber individuals in the UAE by a factor of 9 to 1. The natives, or Emirati, actually refuse to hold service sector jobs because they view the service sector as below them. Approximately 80% of Emirati work for the government and the majority of the remaining 20% work for state-owned operations (finance, oil, etc.). The only time I saw them was in the mall drinking coffee with one another or shopping in very high-end stores, probably a symptom of having the world's 7th largest per capita income (that's three spots above the United States). Given that the tallest building in the world was built in six years, and the observation that construction was seemingly proceeding 24/7 while I was there, it was easy to see firsthand the abuse of foreign workers in building this new haven for the super-rich.

As Aldous Huxley once said, "Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." After experiencing the spotless malls, impeccable hospitality, engineering marvels, and seemingly endless towers, I left the country with the guilt that I had propagated the system. Instead of advancing a nation through innovation and social progress, the nation had become prosperous on the backs of the poor and disenfranchised. I doubt I will return to the small oasis in the desert, but I may one day in order to see what becomes of this new Tower of Babel.

Posted by mbeymer 02:05 Archived in United Arab Emirates

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