BootsnAll Travel Network



What my blog is about

Our long-awaited sabbatical trip is almost upon us! It has been in the thinking for 15 years. The original round-the-world concept has now been defined to just Southeast Asia - Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Bali, Malaysia Borneo. Enjoy the blog and pictures. *** PREVIOUS months PICTURES/BLOG: - to get these scroll down to ARCHIVES ***

May 6-8: Sabbatical Ending :) ! :(

May 16th, 2009

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To end the trip, we decided to go back to the west coast in Seminyak (close to where we were when we arrived).  Kids wanted the surf (east coast didn’t have any – they wanted to practice their surfing).  The following pictures are our ending shots of Bali and the trip:

night shots of the hotel grounds – may not be that interesting, but it provided a nice ambiance

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The kids were asked to write about their final impressions:  what they liked, learned differently about the cultures and people met, what they learned about themselves, and what did they see or feel or understand about America/Tahoe differently after having been away from their “homeland”.  Below are some of their thoughts (abbreviated)

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Annika’s (our “animal magnet”)  Final Thoughts  (8yr old): I liked how I made friends, got to pet lots of animals, favorite place Tioman Islands, learned about Balinese, Hindhus, and Buddhist offerings made to the Gods (don’t step on them), was afraid of losing our luggage, Asia has a lot of motorbikes, people, and crowded, noisy with honking and talking and dogs barking, and very hot.  America is much cleaner and quieter and smells better.  

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Natasha’s Final Thoughts (11 yr old):  What I like most about the trip was the activities but most of all the silver making classes.  The food was really good (Singapore food was more international, Malaysia was rice and noodles – got tired of it, Thai was really good, and India curry’s also).  The trip was good.  I knew it would be different going to the bathrooms, but didn’t think they would be squat toilets.  I knew the way people lived would be different – Vietnamese had a lot of Chinese influence, Singaporian people looked a lot more Chinese than I thought, I didn’t know what the Thai people were like at first – some nice, some more rude, and the Indian people are like I thought they were.  I realized I am more scared of dogs that I thought.  I am lucky to live where I live in a bigger house, nice area, and plenty of food.  Tahoe and America are really nice and clean compared to other countries.  We have a lot more technology.  I really feel fortunate to live in Tahoe because it is beautiful, not hot, not really busy and clean.  In America you don’t have people “hounding” you and I got especially tired of that.  We have more opportunities and it’s easier to get a job.  In Asia, families live together so adults can watch over others kids while they are gone. The people are poorer.  I appreciate my house more because it’s a big house or even that I have a house! I now know what “HOT” is.  America is kind of like Singapore, clean, organized and has more technology.  I love where I live.

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Josh’s Final Thoughts (14 yr old):  I liked the trip….in general.  Some of the highlights would be learning to scuba dive, dive trips, kite surfing, surfing, snorkeling,  and overall the whole experience. I learned in Asia that people ”always” take their shoes off before entering the house.  Thailand has a lot of ”ladyboys”.  The Vietnamese way to say thank you is basically sounding like the english words “come on”.  India is very hot and smelly, and a ton of Aussies go to Bali.  I have realized I am lucky or more fortunate to live in the states.  Also that I have a lot more opportunities for having a career.  I have also seen that our country is very free.  Singapore Airport is amazing, cities are cities whether in America or Asia ( I don’t like crowds and noises), what I saw as most beautiful or admirable is the giant fort in Jaipur or the Taj Mahal and the Himalayas in India, the rice fields in Vietnam stretching on forever and the hills poking out from in between them (Ninh Binh), the beautiful white sandy beaches of Thailand – but they are not “home.”  I felt the heat of Asia with sweat running down by back 24-7.  I was homesick a lot and would get angry at my family more often, but am not quite sure.  I could feel bad for a family living in poverty, but that is no different from feeling bad for a homeless guy at home.  What I understand about Asian countries and ours: I see in the USA th at we have a lot more opportunity here, we have more strict laws in some cases and cleaner cities because of those laws or government, the living class in Asia is more poor because in the states we live in bigger houses and drive bigger cars. In Asian countries, you see only Thais or Vietnamese or Indians, but in the States, you see many races, which is good.  My overall understanding of America and Asia is that America is more wealthy and spends more money with a bigger economy and Asia is poorer and more conjested not to mention HOT.  But they still are loving and connected people….not a bad place to be.   

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Our last night in Bali.  Dinner and sunset right on the beach.

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Tim and Natalie Final Thoughts:  Sabbatical 2009 South East Asia: 

Traveled to/over/on: 7 countries, 29 cities, 7 islands, 2 mountain ranges, 6 bodies of water/seas, 14 modes of transportation.   At times it seemed like it would never end, yet in the end it seemed to speed up and is hard to believe the trip is at its end.  Wow, we did it!  It has been amazing with respect to what we accomplished: traveling with 3 kids doing what we did, seeing what we saw, and traveling how we traveled (good and bad; easy and hard).  As has been mentioned in the past – a trip of a lifetime.   It also was a little more “work” than what we imagined with respect to the constant planning and decisions that had to be made on a daily basis.  We had envisioned a little more “down” time, but I guess we would then need to cut out places and sights and just hang out to do that.  But, that doesn’t seem to be the Johnson way.    We also want to say that we are grateful to all of you who have followed this blog and shared our experience with us. Hopefully, it’s brought the world a little closer to everybody!

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The airport is built out into the bay.  When you land in Bali, you feel like you are landing on water and then the tires hit land.  This is the parting shot of walking to the plane with the waves breaking in the background.

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Picture just for fun.  Because it is so humid outside and the with the AC inside, you get this misting/fog taking place inside the aircraft

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Singapore Airport.  We didn’t leave the Transit area for a couple of hours so the kids could go to a whole gaming area set up for free (internet, Xbox, computer games , and movie hall).  You see Josh here inside a Formula One race car simulation.  It is like driving the “real” thing (seat, car, steering wheel, gas pedal, and breaks via a computer screen.) The whole car moves on a scale.  Josh said when he would crash the car into a wall, he could really feel it.

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Since we had to wake up at 4:00am to catch the flight, we spent the night in the departure hall.  We found a restaurant away from the mainstream that had closed down at 11:00pm and tried to get some sleep on the couches.

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Arriving in Seattle!  37 hours of travel time with only about only 4 hours of sleep and we are still smiling – we are back in the States and closer to “home”.

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Steve Winwood – “One More Morning”  (song’s on my IPod I listened to a lot usually -early mornings/late nights)

In the sky, night is coming. So glad we have this day. We all want, one more morning.  Just to know, the night won’t stay.  If my eyes, to the dawning.  To see life start, again.  Just to see, one more morning.  Just to feel it all, begin.  Just to have this day….. One more day, one more memory. One more day, in the dream.  We all want, one more morning.  Just to feel it all again.

Enya – “Pilgrim” 

Pilgrim how your journey, on the road you chose, to find out why the winds die, and where the stories go. All days come from one day, that what you must know, you can not change what’s over but only where you go.  One way leads to diamonds, one way leads to gold, another leads you only to everything you’re told.  In you heart you wonder, which of these is true, the road that leads to nowhere, the road that leads to you. When you find the answer, in all you say and do, when you find the answer, in you.   Each heart is a pilgrim, each one wants to know, the reason why the winds die, and where their stories go. Pilgrim in your journey, you may travel far, oh pilgrim its a long way, to find out who you are.  

Chinese Proverb: 

The Journey is the Reward       

From all of us, the Johnson’s (Tim, Natalie, Josh, Natasha, Annika),  thanks for sharing in our journey  ! 
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May 2-5: Padangbai

May 13th, 2009

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We were eager to get back to the beach after being in Ubud for a few days, so we headed to the east coast and the small town of Padangbai. This was  a great place – real quiet and local. There was one main street with a string of small hotels along the water. But the best part was a small lagoon just over a headland- about a 5 minute walk away, called Blue Lagoon. The beach wasn’t “perfect,” but it had inredible coral and reef fish for snorkeling.  Tim and Josh were going to go scuba diving, but the day they were going to go out was windy, wavy, and overcast.  They decided to cancel that day, but never were able to get the diving in because we had to leave the next day. The girls were able to participate in a program of “swimming with the dolphins”.  A huge highlight for them.

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Blue Lagoon – great coral for snorkeling and scuba diving.

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Our little snorkeling maniac.

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We have been on at least 14 different modes of transportation and this was going to be a new one. Except we canceled the dive.

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This is where you stand.  It is only about 2 feet across.  The boat only fits 4 people.

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We were going to backpacker it for  a hotel.  But when you only get a dark room for $20 dollars, you may as well get this one for $40 with huge, open room with pool and included breakfast.  Was a no brainer for the end of the trip.

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Family un shots

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If you can not find a wall to paint on, the sand is a perfect legal canvas – Josh’s graphitti

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You didn’t see too much of this expression when in India.

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The next shots are for Natasha and Annika’s friends.  They got a chance to “swim with the doplphins”.

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The cage where the dolphins are kept.  Some may feel this to be cruel, I think the space wa adequate, the water in their own habatat (the ocean), the trainers were real good, and they also trained the dolphins to go outside the pens and “play” while following the boat.

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Kisses

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 Hugs and carryingdolphin-4.jpgdolphin-4b.jpgdolphin-5.jpgdolphin-5b.jpg

Shaking hands

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April 28-May 2: Ubud

May 11th, 2009

After a few days in the busy beach area of Kuta/Legian in the southern part of Bali, we headed into the interior of the island, to the “artsy” town of Ubud. It reminded me of a Balinese “Napa” – lots of nice restaurants, beautiful, serene scenery, and art galleries. Ubud has always been known as a center for the arts, but even more  so after famous European artists hung out here in the 1930s. Ubud was one of my favorite places, but not really a place for kids. There wasn’t a lot to “DO” – it was more a place you just hung out and took in the spirit of the place. There was every shade of green imaginable – from the terraced rice paddies to the jungle out the back door. Before arriving, we had a few places in mind to stay, but the taxi driver thatdrove us toUbud “had a friend” (as usual) who had a guesthouse which ended up being perfect. It was down a quiet lane through the rice paddies, and near a river, which you could hear gurgling below. We had a patio with a beautiful view of the jungle beyond.

The view down into our “yard”

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Looking out the window

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The Monkey Forest

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River rafting company

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Lunch after rafting

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Amazing stone carvings on the doors to homes and temples

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One of the nice restaurants (above). This rice paddy was being readied for planting. Must have been a beautiful spot when the fields were green.

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Learning batik at a home studio

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Tasha LOVED the silver-smithing classes she took – one in Thailand and one here in Ubud. Here are the results of her classes.

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Much to the kids’ amusement, I couldn’t get enough of these rice terraces

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Volcano country. This lake is at the foot of one of Bali’s 3 volcanos

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Our neighborhood internet cafe

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“Melon heads” Another day on a motorbike

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Just family shots

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April 23-28: Kuta/Legion (Bali)

May 11th, 2009

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Our last stop, Blali.  Because we are planning to come home early, the number of days in India and Bali were reduced.  You could spend at least whole month in Bali.  The places we went (see white “circled” areas):

Legion/Kuta/Seminyak – west coast for beach, surfing, tourist crowds

Ubud - interior for Balinese culture, rafting, volcano, rice paddies, batiking

Padangbai - east coast for beach, snorkeling, scuba diving

Kuta/Legion:  Arriving from Singapore, we stayed at a hotel where the dad of one of Tim’s colleagues runs timeshares. He got us a great deal at a hotel in Legion called Jayakarta Bali hotel.  The following pictures show the pool and beach.  Great post-India recovery place.  After 3 days of early rising and long days of travel getting out of India and Singapore, the first two days in Bali the kids slept 14 hours each night.  I guess they were a little wiped out.

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Back to the fruit juices and beautiful drink “presentations”.  Memories of the islands.

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I forgot the name of this drink, but check out its presentation.  Quite elaborate

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A tourist thing to do is go down to this specific beach at sunset and eat seafood on the tables in the sand.

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Barbequed lobster and prawns prepared Balinese style.

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The first days here we pretty much just relaxed and recovered.  We did sign up for a family group surfing lesson.  Everyone had some form of success.

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The surf shop was in the entrance to the Hard Rock Hotel.  After the lesson, we were able to hang out at their pool.

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Sunset shots from the beach. 

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Oh, to be at the beach again, play in the surf, soak in the sun and sunset, and relax.

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April 21-22: Leaving India-Arriving Singapore

May 5th, 2009

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Leaving India:  We left Darjeeling, taking a jeep down off the hill, a day long train ride to Kolkata, and then an early morning flight to Singapore.  We left Darjeeling a late and were a little afraid we wouldn’t be off the mountain by nightfall.  We took a different route down, and the road was incredibly bad – full of ruts and washouts. It was a long, bouncy ride. Because of the late hour, the driver was fast, but careful on the mountain road.  However, when going through the town at night after the mountain, almost hit a bicyclist, rickshaw, and cow. We arose at 5 the next morning to catch our train to Kolkata.  This train station was easy to navigate and we had no  trouble finding our train and car and seats.  It was a 12 hour train ride and went smoothly.  Everyone just read and slept.  The other men in our train car were incredibly loud (now the kids know why I (Tim) talk so loud – you have to, I grew up in Pakistan/India).  Josh is very greatful for ipods.  I think he may have “tuned” out India.  Every picture you see of him, he seems to be wearing his Skull Candy headphones.

Arriving in Kolkata train stations is such a zoo.  There are incredible numbers of people taking the trains and taxis at 10:00pm at night.  Where are they all going?  We tried to take pictures and movie clips, but it just does not do justice to the action and activity that you notice and experience.  For those of you that have done this, you know what I mean.  The pictures of the station, people, and car traffic just can’t do it justice.  Finally after a hot, humid, loud, chaotic taxi drive, we finally got to some “dive” hotel near the airport, only to sleep 4 hours and get up to catch our early morning flight to Singapore. 

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Everything was going smoothly the morning of leaving despite only getting 4 hours of sleep and waking up at 4:00am.  There was hardly anyone at the airport.  We were told we had time to go ahead and get some breakfast and come back.  We did that, but then we started to worry about our flight time when we got into the Customs line; a long line, only three custom officials taking forever to look at your passport, stamp it etc.  Others on our flight were getting antsy.  I followed someone else to the front of the line whose flght was also leaving soon.  We then found out that there was more paperwork to be filled out, that no one had given us. Soon, everyone in the line was starting to grumble and yell at the customs officials.  One custom official even did a “sit down” protest – “if you are going to yell at me then I won’t help you” – reminded me of my kids at age 3.  Usually, you file through customs one at a time.  Well, my turn came up, and when in Rome do as the Romans; I grabbed the whole family and went to a customs official.  There was no way we were doing this individually and lose someone in the last minutes of India.  When he came to my passport, all of a sudden he put my passport to the side, picked up his cell phone and made a call.  Oh great!  What does this mean?  Finally, he issued our passports and we high tailed it out of there.  We were close to the last ones on the flight.  So much for planning and getting there two hours early, only to be given the wrong information and sweating it out at the end.  When we sat down on the plane, you could feel the sense of relief from the family.  Our last look out the window at India.

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Arriving in Singapore:   Kolkata (15 million people in one city) to Singapore Airport.  Talk about a state of opposites:  black to white, night to day, chaos to peace, pandemonium to serenity, unstructured to structured, dirty to pristine cleanliness.  We did India.  We made it.  We survived it.  Nobody got sick.  No items were stolen.  We remember it for its good and bad. 

The kids have asked the question, why India? Well, it’s because I (Tim) grew up in Pakistan and wanted to have them see the Indian subcontinent and get a taste of what I felt, saw, heard, and experienced growing up.  I knew they may not like it, but maybe, years down the road as they get older, something “good” would be remembered or experienced.  They also would see a different culture, religion, people group, life style, and travel as compared to the other Asian countries we had been to.  We were not able to go to Pakistan due to the terrorism/Taliban/safety issues.   India, rather than Pakistan is also a lot easier (at least for women) due to it being primarily Hindu and not Muslim. 

The kids were asked to write a paragraph on different aspects of India.  Natalie and I both knew India would be the hardest part of the trip, but the heat in April, I think, made it worse for the kids; Nov-Feb is the best time to travel India.  Anyways, you can see the categories they were to write on.  By their responses you can see it was not the best experience.  Maybe one day they may appreciate the experience more.  Here it is “untouched” (well maybe a little) by parental hand.  

(1)    First Impressions:

a.       Josh:  My first impression was its not “that” hot here.  Well, that was a load of crap.  India is hotter than any other place we’ve been (April not a good time for India).  Within the first day I saw hell, heard bad music, and felt hot.  Yet, I still thought, I’ll give India one more chance.  I would not say that now of course. 

b.      Natasha :  The first day in India was not very fun.  When we arrived I didn’t think it was much.  The airport was basically empty.  Then we got into a taxi and drove to a hotel.  While in the taxi all I heard was honking!  The hotel was much quieter.  We had to find an ATM machine and that was when everything went wrong.  We walked out to the street (which was crowded) and went to a place called New Market. I felt like I was about to cry.  It was noisy, crowded, hot, and dirty.  Bottom line; first day horrible. 

c.       Annika – I saw tons of cars, people, sewers, tuk tuks, smoke and other things.  What I felt was people pinching my cheek, hear honking of cars,   and other things.

(2)    Travel:

a.       Josh: Whether it was a taxi, a train, or a tuk tuk it was one hell (excuse the language) of a …….. emphasis on hell.  Well, maybe not so bad, but not comfortable at all.  The trains were deary, the taxi’s were hot, and riding a tuk tuk was like riding a roller coaster with dust constantly flying in your face.  Don’t let me forget the jeep rides in Darjeeling – man, talk about bumpy.  As dad says, it was like “off-roading”  but still on a black top road.

b.      Natasha:  Traveling was okay.  The trains were really smooth but it was open cars (unlike Vietnam where you had your own “compartment”) so you heard everyone else too (Indian people are very LOUD).  The taxi’s were really hot because they were old and did not have AC (unlike Thailand)so we didn’t even want to touch each other in the crammed car. The roads were not very good either.  I didn’t like traveling too much.

c.       Annika: Traveling by trains, the stations we went to made me want to scream, but it got much better when we finally got on the train.  The taxi’s were not very good because they were old and did not have AC and it was very HOT. Tuk Tuk’s  were small but at least you got wind because there were no doors or windows. 

(3)    Sights:

a.       Josh: Of course we “had” to go sightseeing and usually what we saw was really boring. The forts are always different, some or should I say one, was interesting and the others were boring.  Tombs – what’s fun about looking at a dead man’s grave?  The Ganges River is nasty, not just because I think it is, but because it’s so dirty; nothing lives in it (except bacteria and nasty critters).  Ahhh! The Himalayas.  Finally a place that is cool (temperature and other) and I am actually wearing a sweat shirt and there is a lot of tourists. PS:  I like tourists ……. In Asia.  Darjeeling still smelled and was dirty, but it wasn’t hot so I felt better.  But the part I liked the most was the trek….or maybe the people there……and the beer (some kind of Himalayan wheat beer that was good (yes, dad here, I did let him have a sip).  The people were just the other tourists who spoke fluent English and the food, once again the breakfast, was really good.  Our tour guide was a DJ.

b.      Natasha:  The Taj Mahal was really big and amazing.  It was cool inside because the marble held it in.  I didn’t like the forts as much but one fort (Jaipur) was cool.  It was cool because you could go almost in every hole and door.  I didn’t like the tombs very much either.  But they were amazingly carved.  The Ganges River was amazing also, because it was so dirty but people still washed and got cremated by it.  I really like the Himalayas because they were so cool and big.  The really stood out against the green hills.

c.       Annika:  The Taj Mahal was beautiful and big. The forts I liked and the Himalayas were totally awesome.

(4)    Food:

a.       Josh: The food was not bad, not bad at all. In fact, I think the best breakfast I had was in India. If there is one western thing India can do, it is making an omelette, or killer scrambled eggs.   But real Indian food is alright too (naan, roti, chai, curries, fruit lassie, chicken tikka) and not annoying, but I don’t want to eat any more …… or noodles, or satay, or rice, but I would like some lemongrass chicken with a little chili on top.

b.      Natasha:  The food was good but sometimes a bit spicy.  Some of the Indian food I didn’t like but most of it was good (Chai, roti, naan, curries).  I am kind of sick of curries now though.  When we ate at our driver’s house, we had the best rice ever.  My favorite was chicken tikka.

c.       Annika: The food was very spicy and I hate spicy.  Although I did like the butter roti/naan and chai (milk-sugar tea).  The western food was okay.

 (5)    Last Thoughts:

a.       Josh:  My “final thoughts” of traveling through in India for three weeks are short, simple, and to the point.  India: the air was hot, dusty, and (crappy)tasting/ feeling,  smells like  (urine), looks like trash, however, the I liked the food and the mountains of the Himalayas.

b.      Natasha: There were some things I liked about India, but there were some things I hated. Most of the sights were cool.  But traveling and trying to get around was hard.  

c.       Annika:  It was very hot and crowded making me want to scream and punch someone.   I hated it, but I liked the Himalayas. 

 

Next stop – the final piece of the saga – Here we come, Bali.  A great way to end the trip. 

   

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April 18-20: Trekking (Himalyas)

May 3rd, 2009

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Picture Above:  The climb up to the top of the ridge is about 3000 feet.  These old 1950′s Landrovers are the only vehicles that can make it and take supplies

Since the mountain wasn’t “coming to us,” we decided we’d “go to the mountain,” by signing up with a trekking company.  We chose a trek that took you up to a ridgeline, where we were hoping for a better view. The trip would take us to the top in one day, where we would spend the night at a hut, and then come back down on the second day. We were told that this was in a different valley and might have clearer weather. We took off on a misty morning, hoping for the best, but knowing that, even if the skies didn’t clear, it would be nice to be out in the mountains and countryside.  Our drive to the trailhead was pea-soup fog most of the way – not an auspicious beginning. After a lunch of Tibetan “mo-mos” (dumplings), we headed up, and UP and UP. The trail was straight up for the first two and a half miles. When it started raining, I wasn’t sure we’d make it. We had rain jackets, but we were still soaked (just pants). I was picturing getting to the top (still 4 miles to go), and being cold and hungry and staying in a cold, dark hut.

Several hours later, we were so surprised  to come into a warm fire and a dinner started that smelled wonderful! There was a small “village” (2-3 houses) at the top that offered lodging to trekkers. We all had a great time that evening around the fire in the eating area, or around the cook stoves in the kitchen area, talking with other trekkers and experimenting with millet beer and rhododendron wine.  In the small-world category, we met another trekker was from Seattle, and knew my home town of Poulsbo. As we got talking, I detected a Midwestern accent, and asked her about it. She was originally from Rockford, MI – the little Michigan town that Tim and his brothers called home when their parents were still in Pakistan! It’s the second time something like that has happened on this trip. Weird.We all enjoyed shooting the breeze with other travelers there, and I think Josh was relieved to hear that other travelers had some of the same frustrations with India that he did. Annika was just happy to play with the puppies and Tasha curled up in a quilt with her book. It was all a much better ending to the day than we pictured when we were huddled under some trees during the downpours earlier in the day!

The next morning, we got up at sunrise and lo and behold, we could see the mountains! They weren’t super clear, but we could at least see that they were there. The hike down that day was sunny and beautiful. The landscape looked like what I would picture in Scotland or northern England. 

Below Picture:  Many tourists take treks along this ridge up to 6 days. 

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The whole way up we  were in this thick fog.  The first two miles were straight up (60-70% elevation) and climbed about 1000 feet or more.  The fog was incredibly thick as the next pictures show.

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Little huts are stationed 2-3 times up the route for tea and cracker breaks.  This is the kitchen area of a typical local mountain persons hut. 

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It looks bright only because of the flash.  Even this high up the homes have TV.

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We needed to try the local Yak cheese.

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Our rain jackets that we have been carrying around in the heat for 3 months finally came into use.  It did start raining among the fog.  The legs of our pants were soaking wet – Tasha and Annika had to try and find more reserve in them to keep going, and they did.

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A couple of groups were with us on the trek up.  Everyone was getting a little tired and cold and we finally came to this military outpose on the boarder with Nepal.  A welcome sight.  We warmed up in the hut with tea and soup.

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We didn’t know it but we crossed over into Nepal.  Another country in our feather of countries traveled.

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A Buddhist shrine

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Heading out of the village to the ridge line

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At the top of the ridge, this family runs a guest house for trekkers.  We are all (including other groups) sitting around the kitchen warming up, talking, drinking tea etc. 

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It is a small world.  The lady to my right is from Seattle (where Natalie grew up), but she was born and raised in Rockford, Michigan were Tim’s relatives and his Mom grew up.  That town was kind of put back on the map due to his Uncle’s business/tourist development projects and she went to school with cousins of Tim’s. 

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The guides said I had to try the local beer, millet beer.  It is some kind of wheat.  You put hot water in it, let it soak, then drink from the straw.  I am not much of a beer drinking person so cannot explain what the taste was like.  It seemed more like a wine. The red nose if from the windy, rainy conditions, not the beer?!

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After soup and bread we thought that was good and figured that was all.  No.  The lady of the house served us a 5 course meal and even desert.  Not what we expected, but the owners were great.  Incredible service including hot water bottles at night to help with the cold.

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The area had been socked in for weeks.  Other trekkers had not seen any of the Himilayas.  Everyone was praying for sunshine and good weather, or at least clear for a little to see the mountains.  We woke up at 5:30am and were told it was sunny and clear so better get up and see the mountains.  Hallelujah!!  This was the guest lodge we stayed at, high up on the ridge about 10,000 feet.

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They provided hot water for washing in the morning. They really took care of the trekkers.

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These pictures are out of context.  They were meant to be at the end of the blog; just family fun shots.  However, once you start loading you can’t put pictures back in at a different place. 

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Okay, back to appropriate sequence.  5:30am we walked up a small hill.  Sunrise looking back at the lodge location.

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This is the typical view from the ridge.  That is the 3rd highest mountain in the world, Kachajuna.

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This is what we got.  Not crispy clear, but hey, we saw it.  The kids got the idea of the Himalayan mountain range.

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Hiking to the top. 

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Annika scarmbling to the top (my mountain goat) and using the binoculars to see the mountain.

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There it was.

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Hiking back down shots just to show the hillside.

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Indian army patrol – we are on the boarder with Nepal and the Moaists have been causing trouble.

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For the teenager, a 5:30am rise with a 6 hour walk just doesn’t cut it.  I do think he enjoyed the experience in some manner.

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April 12-18: Darjeeling

April 29th, 2009

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Above Picture – the look at the Himalayan Mtns from the plane 

Darjeeling:   Another early morning rise and departure, after a late night at our driver’s home in Delhi.  We wanted to end our trip to India with a visit to a town overlooking a Himalayan Mountain range.  Tim grew up in the foothills of the Himalayans at about 6000 feet, and wanted the kids to see its beauty, plus to get away from the heat.  We thought of going to Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lamai resides, but after some research, we decided to go back to the state of West Bengal, and its premier hill town, Darjeeling (the same name as on the tea label), then fly out of India through Kolkata (not a pleasant thought – but the cheapest). Darjeeling also seemed closer to the mountains than Dharamsala, and we hoped to be able to get a better view.

The main attraction of Darjeeling is the cool air, the tea plantations, the colonial aspect of the town, and the mountain range.  You can see the 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th highest mountains in the world (Everest, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse, and Makalu). The people in Darjeeling have mostly emigrated from Nepal, which is right next door.

The road up to Darjeeling follows a narrow switchback paved road with spectacular views of the valley.  The road condition was like off-roading for 3 hours but you are on a “paved” road.  There was actually more rock than pavement. It amazes me how bad the infrastructure of Indian roads still are from 30 years ago. 

The Johnson brothers will understand this description of the town, having grown up in a similar town in Pakistan. The town has a main pedestrian boulevard (The Mall), like in Murree, but is situated on the top of a steep ridge, and there really are no trees left or nice hiking locations around the town, unlike in Murree.  The whole hillside is buildings.  It is packed with tourist hotels.  It is also truly a tourist town, mostly Indian tourists getting away from the heat of the plains.   However, it still had that hill town Murree “feel” that I wanted the kids to get.  The plan for the first two days was to let the kids sleep in and rest after the sightseeing that we had been doing.  A couple of the attractions were the Himalayan Mountain Institute developed by Tensing Norgay (he and Hillary were the 1st to climb Everest), the Himalayan Zoo, the Tibet Refugee Center, the tea plantations, the churches and schools developed by the British, a small gauge “toy” steam train (at one time considered the highest train rail in the world), and some trekking into the mountains.

Our biggest disappointment was that in the days that we were there, the clouds and fog never lifted.  We never got to see the Himalayan mountain range and the 3rd highest mountain in the world that sits right at the back door of Darjeeling.  We decided to connect with a trekking company and take a two day/one night trek into the mountains to get a little closer in the hopes that a different valley would have a weather pattern that would allow us to see the mountains.  (See separate blog on the trek)

The condition of the road.  It was actually worse than this.  The people in this specific area are trying to get it recognized as a state.  In this manner, they will get more state funding for infrastructure.  The government has balked at this probably due to the fact that years ago there was unrest due to the people wanting to get their own country called Ghurkaland.

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How do you like this view?  Two cars can barely pass each other. 

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The building up of the hillside to accomodate a road.

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The British built this “toy” small gauge train that runs from the valley floor to the town. 

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This is the view that we were meant to see.

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This is what we got for the 5 days we were there.  A little discouraging.

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Darjeeling Tea – I think back when the British were here, they importated some Chinese tea plants.  But do to the soil and climate, the tea plant changed and evolved into its own distinct taste – from Darjeeling.

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The “mall” like Muree

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There was a movement to break away from India, because it really is more like Nepal than like India in culture and people.  It was to be called Ghorkaland

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Being a steep hillside, men and women cart huge loads up and down for the market and sale.

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The night bazaar – the lanterns are all from bottled gas

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These stalls are set up and broken down every morning and evening.  The women or men putting the “goods” away in tin trunks or huge gunnys sacks.  Then they cart them up and down the hill to their home.

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The people being more Nepali, are more connected to Buddhism, but Hinduism still exists here.  Nepal Buddhism is different than what we say in Thailand or Malaysia.  Here there are more “prayer” flags and spinning wheels (next picture).

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This was a strange statement next to the Buddhist shrine/temple.   I didn’t think they prayed or honored such inanimate objects.

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Himalayan Mountain Institute:  Tenzing Norgay made Darjeeling his home.  He founded this climbing Institute a year after he scaled Everest.  The Institute provides mountaineering training courses and has taught some of India’s leading mountaineers.  I (Tim) have always enjoyed looking at and reading about mountaineering expeditions.  Early in life, I always envisioned the idea of being the physiologist on an expedition that would monitor the climbers’ health while hanging out at base camp.  Anyways, it was neat to see all the old pictures and gear of early expeditions to Everest and the actual gear that Tenzing used on his famous Everest climb.   They also showed climbing equipment from earlier expeditions (1940′s).  To think that was the type of shoe and backpack they used is incredible considering all the high tech equipment that is used today.

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These are THE  actual flags that were used in the HIllary/Tenzings climb of Everest and also the American, Indian, and two other countries 1st ascents of Everest

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Tibetan Refugee Self-Help Center:  This center was established in 1959 and comprises a home for the aged, school, orphanage, clinic, and craft workshops that produce woodcarvings, carpets, leather and woolen items for sale.   There is also an exhibition about the history of the Chinese occupation of Tibet and its struggle to gain its nation back. 

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Old women weaving – this picture is primarily for Natalie’s mother since she does this kind of weaving.  She actually designed and produced her own loom.

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India has been kind to the Tibetan cause.  The Dalai Lama lives in Dharmsala in northwest India.

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Quotes form the Dalai Lama

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The next Dalai Lama is chosen by the  present Dalai Lama himself.  They call him the Panchen Lama.  Well, as you can see from this picture, he has been missing for close to 15 years now.  The belief is the Chinese have abducted him and hidden him away.

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Himalayan Zoological Park:  This park/zoo was established to study, conserve, and preserve Himalayan fauna and to exhibit Himalayan wildlife.  The main attractions are the Himalayan Red Panda, Black Bears, Snow Leopards, Tibetan wolf, and Siberian tigers.  Again, Annika was in heaven, looking at animals.

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April 10-11: Jaipur (2nd)

April 26th, 2009

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After our lunch break, AC cool-off time, we headed to the following:

Hawa Mahal:  the cities most distinctive landmark, a honeycombed, pink sandstone structure.  A five story building constructed in 1799 to enable the ladies of the royal household to watch the life and processions of the city without having to be in it or be seen (sounds very Islamic).  The architecture is considered Rajput. 

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Closer up view:  halla-2c1.jpg

Below  picture is the backside or the above.  It is the entrance to the “city view” for the women of the court.

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At the top – looking out over the city

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The main corridors of the Mahal

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The small half circle sitting area for the women to look out on the city

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The intricate carvings and viewing window

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Went to a carpet and ajrak “cloth” making emporium.  The men below are using blocks to print the color onto the cloth (black, red, yellow, white, etc).  It then is put into a chemical to make the colors fast.  30 years ago they used to use wax – its like batiking.

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Rajasthani carpet making.  Josh tried his hand at it.  Each knot is tied and cut.  Three to four people are working on the rug at the same time.

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City Palace:  is a huge complex of courtyards and buildings.   One part of the complex is where the present maharaja actually lives.  If he’s in residence, there’s a state flag flying above the residence, which happened to be the case while we were there.

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This was a guest house for dignitaries, but is now just a museum.

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Note the marble carved railings and intricate detail

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Another meeting place – notice the wood door with its inticate metal art workings.

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Extravagant chandeliors and decorative work – obviously a womens area

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The backside of the “Maharaja’s Palace Residence”.  I am surprised we would get so close. Security didn’t seem to be too heavy.  This courtyard was very unique.  There were 4 doors situated around the courtyard.  Each door was colored differently base upon the four seasons: red, yellow, blue, green.  They were beautiful and exquisite.

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Just an interesting travel shot

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The Maharaja’s “Lake Palace”

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Dinner at our Driver’s House! Our driver did not speak much English and was quite excited that Tim could speak Hindi.  They had long, roving conversations that Tim could catch maybe 80% of.  It was both a blessing but also kind of a curse.  Playing the ignorant “foreigner/tourist” can sometimes be helpful – not getting into a big discussion or debate.  Sometimes, when on the streets, Tim would use English, and then, when we knew we were being scammed, he would turn on the Hindi and get a better price.  During the drive, Natalie mentioned that it has been a shame that we have not been able to see what a family life is like.  We see what the city life looks like, the businesses, the tourist sites, but have not gotten into a home.  Well, while Tim was conversing with the driver, the driver asked us if we could meet his family when we arrived back in Delhi.  He really wanted to show his family this American family with a guy who spoke Hindi.  We accepted. Tim felt comfortable accepting this invite, having spoken so much with the driver. Natalie was a little worried at first (the protective mother), but decided there would be safety in numbers and the experience was too good to pass up. Plus, the gut feeling was that our driver, Amar, really did want to just share his life with us.  

So, we arrived back in Delhi, checked into our hotel by the airport then headed to the opposite end of Delhi into a more “very low end” neighborhood (some would consider it more like a ghetto – not in the bad sense of the word – just economically).  The driver apologized that he lived in only one room, but we said that didn’t matter.  We were hoping to  stay a couple hours because everyone was tired and we had a 5 o’clock wake up to catch our flight to Darjeeling and the Himalayas.  We thought once we got there, that we would eat, talk a little, and we would be gone.  Well, it turned into a four-hour visit, with us being the center of attraction for the whole neighborhood.  Every ten minutes or so, another set of family members would come in to see us, along with kids and mothers from other parts of the community.  With nothing to do but sit and smile, the kids handled this very, very well.  They really came through like troopers without complaining or putting up a big fuss.  The curry and rice were great.  They did treat us like royalty.  However, it is a little different than what we are used to.  Due to the small room, we did not eat together.  The family served us first and would eat after we left, so they all stood there watching us eat, which Tim said was normal.  Tim brought out the camera and that became a big hit, taking pictures.  The entertainment of the evening was to see themselves on the replay.  It almost seemed that they had never seen a photo of themselves.  The giddiness and laughing that accompanied this was interesting and fun to watch.  We promised to send them pictures once we arrived back in the states.  It was so great to see another aspect of India – a huge family and neighborhood that was so obviously closely connected. It was also sobering to realize that our driver’s rented home was about the size of our master bathroom. There was one bed that the whole family slept on (he had two kids, aged 8 and 6), and they cooked in the corner on a small burner. All the chopping and preparation for a typical Indian meal, took place squatting on the floor. I’m not sure where the washing up took place. This was one of the highlights of our trip. The pictures that follow are just people pictures, but they take place in a room no bigger than maybe 10x10ft.  Traveling through India you constantly see the trash and garbage and  wonder what a home would look like.  Well, the inner “sanctuary” is often very clean. Everyone was dressed up with bright colors and very clean. The inner “sanctuary” tends to be clean and taken care of.  Its a shame that the corporate, group, city cleanliness does not seem to happen.  Everyone seemed to enjoy each other and the “event”.family-11.jpgfamily-21.jpgfamily-3.jpgfamily5.jpgfamily-4.jpg

Our driver and his family.family-6.jpgfamily-7.jpgfamily-8.jpg

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April 10-11: Jaipur (1st)

April 24th, 2009

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Jaipur:  called the “City of Victory” is totally chaotic and congested, however, it still tickles the travelers pink.  It is also called the pink city, more on that later.  “Stunning hilltop forts and glorious palaces demonstrate its glorious and royal past.”  It is also considered the gateway to the desert state of Rajasthan.  The city owes its name, founding, and planning to the great warrior-astronomer Maharajay Jai Singh II (1600’s).  He decided to come down from the Fort and build a city.  He painted it pink (a color associated with hospitality) to welcome the Prince of Wales (King Edward VII).  The morning saw us visit the Amber Fort.  

Amber Fort:  outside the city is a winding fort-palace built in the Rajput style.  You will notice the difference from the more Islamic Moghul time.  Construction began in the 1500’s by the Rajput commander of Akbar’s army.  You can notice the fort walls built all around the valley to impede attacking armies.  There is also a palace within the walls and is truly stunning.  When the kids were told we were going to another fort, they kind of groaned.  However, due to its massive size, different architecture and color, and riding on an elephant to get inside, and then being able to roam freely down its many corridors, rooftops, dark staircases, little cubby holes to hide in, it became a vast playground.  “This is pretty cool,” was good to hear!  

Tim here: I like Forts so we wil let he pictures do the talking, but it is incredible what and how they built what they built.  So elaborate on such stark desert and steep hills.  Also, how well preserved all the walls and doors and carvings and stone and mirror work has held up over the centuries. 

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3 ways up – elephant, jeep, or walk – Josh, Annika, and I chose the elephant.  Annika is going to write to the Elephant Jaipur animal society to ask for improved care for the elephants

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They really like to decorate the elephants up – they also did this centuries ago

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main court of the people – entrance

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elaborate carvings, decorations, inlaid marble, huge door and carvings etc.

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They love their elephants – notice the carvings

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Mirror work for ladies area

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Notice again the marble carvings, but they also put in cartoon like insects

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This fort you could go exploring – the kids love this fort for that very reason.  They didn’thave to be so controlled and structured – go “play”.

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Family fun shots

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The woman behind the shawl ??????

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Annika finding hiding spots to jump out and scare us

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Artesian water wheel to pull water up from the ground to top floor

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The caste system in India.   The blue color houses are the higher Brahma class. 

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We then did a hotel (airconditioning!) break before heading out to the other two sites and some bazaar wandering/shopping.  However, the kids started to peter out, so the market/bazaar wandering (which Tim and Natalie like to do) was out.   See Jaipur (2nd)

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April 9: Agra

April 24th, 2009

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Above:  the jeep we took on our driving trip to Agra, Jaipur, and back to Delhi 

Agra:  home of the one of the seven wonders of the world – the Taj Mahal,  India’s “crown jewel. The city was established during the Moghul rule of Barbur in 1526.  They say that as different emperors came and went, they tried to outdo their predecessor.  These rulers included Akbar the Great, Jehanghir, and Shah Jahan during the 16 and 17th centuries.   Later, Agra fell to Jats who looted its monuments including the Taj Mahal.  There is industry here including marble work that has been handed down from father to son throughout history.  There are also factories, but tourism is now a major source of income.  The city is nothing to talk about, so most people come see the Taj and the Fort and leave. 

Our trip there was uneventful, yet our driver got lost in the city in trying to find our hotel.  It made it a late night.  After checking into the hotel, we all jumped into a tuk tuk to go to a certain backpacker hotel that had a roof top restaurant that overlooked the Taj.  There was a full moon so we thought this would be great, the Taj under moonlight.  Well, you could see the Taj, but I think it would be more like 1am when the moon was overhead that one would see the Taj all lit up.  The next morning we got an early morning start.  The idea was to see the Taj, the Red Fort, head out of town and see another Fort called Fatipur Sikri and then on to Jaipur.  We were told as a part of the trip we were getting a “free” guide.  Our best judgment was to decline, but we thought it couldn’t harm.  The guide was actually very hyper and quite annoying, and of course we had to “tip” him – so much for “free”.   Below:  I am sure we could fit a few more in the back.

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Taj Mahal:  Described as the most extravagant monument ever built.   As an architectural masterpiece, it stands alone.  Described as “a teardrop on the face of eternity” and by Kipling as “the embodiment of all things pure.”   The Taj was built by emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial for his second wife who died giving birth to their 14th child.  The construction began in 1631 and was completed 22 years later. There were 20,000 artisans working on the Taj, including specialists from Europe and Turkey.  Different marbles were brought in from far away places like Europe.   The design is all symmetrical.  The inlay work is absolutely stunning, with intricate flowers and vines  made  of semiprecious stones and inlaid into the white marble. The story goes that across the river, he was going to buil his own memorial “tomb” that would be in black marble. It would have connected to the Taj via a black and white marble bridge.  Now that would have truly been THE wonder of the world.  Unfortunately, Shah Jahan’s son decided he wanted to be king and imprisoned his father in the Taj Fort which is down the river from the Taj Mahal.  Therefore, Shah Jahan died in prison looking out over the water at the Taj.  He is also buried at the Taj with his wife. 

Below: the entrance into the Taj – exquisite entrance – notice the architecture and marble inlaid.

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black marble inlaid in white marble with Islamic sayings

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Under the dome geometric patterns of white marble in red sandstone

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AND – Here it IS!!!!

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This gives you a full picture of the grounds.  There is a Mosque to the left and Guest House to the right.  All symetrical in shape.  You may not notice but the minarets are not perfectly 90 degrees.  They are a little tilted outward just in case of an earthquake.  If one did take place the  minarets would fall outward and not hit the main structure.  From this distance the size is deceiving.  However, take a look at the people (ant size) under the main dome entrance, then the size of the Taj makes you marvel.

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Fun Pictures – two beauties – the Taj and Natalie -if Natalie only knew I put this on in  she would have my head.

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I forgot how many tons this top piece weighs.  And, to think they got all the marble and it up there without cranes back in the 16th century.

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I really like the contrast of the white marble and the ladies colorful cloths.

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Precious and semiprecious stone inlaid work.  If you were to take a flashlight and place it on the red stone, it would light up.  The white marble also is translucent.  Therefore, people come at different times of the day to catch the Taj under a yellow lighting, white lighting, redish lighting, and moonlight. 

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White, black, and yellow marble with precious stone dug out.

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You can see the Agra Fort in the backgound.  This is where Shah Jahans son imprisoned him and where he died.  Across from  where we are standing is the story of the envisioned black marble tomb that he wanted to build for himself.

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Looking back to the main gate.  Notice the grounds.

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The eight pointed star is found often in Islamic archicture.  The Petronas Towers base in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is founded on the eight star principle.  It has to do with something Islamic (can’t remember now), but I also believe it must provide a form of stability.

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Marble Factory:  We then were asked to go to a marble making “factory”.  We knew by now that the rental car company wanted the drivers to their charges to all these emporiums.  They hope you’ll buy something, and they probably get a kick back.  We went despite this, and the marble factory was a good educational experience in that we saw a demonstration of how the marble inlay of the Taj was made. It is a time consuming and intricate art form that is supposedly still produced as in the days when the Taj was built.    - below:  grinding the stone to the right size and design.   The artisans fingers do not have any fingerprints.  They are all worn off.

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The long tube like structures are the “knifes” – marble cutters with diamond tips.  The bowls to the left: red – covers the white marble so the can see lines, white – specific glue to bond the stones to the marble, brown – used to polish the marble aftward.

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They glue the different pieces to make the flower.  Then the put this on the marble and draw an outline.  They then dig out the shape of the flower from the marble.  Then glue the flower in place.

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We now ran out of time, so we left Agra without seeing the Red Fort, knowing that we would be seeing another Fort on the way that was probably more stunning. 

Fatipur Sikri:  this fort was built by the Moghul emperor Akbar the Great.  He is regarded as the greatest of the Moghul rulers. He was from Afghanistan, and even though he was thrust into power at the age of 13, he expanded the Moghul empire to cover most of northern India.  He was considered a wise and just ruler following a policy of “peace for all”.  He seemed to have tolerance for all religions, especially Hindu and Christian, despite him being Muslim.  He developed a philosophy asserting the common truth in all religions (Faith of God).  I guess he was troubled about having an heir.  He consulted a know mystic “sufi” and soon after, an heir was born.  Akbar then decided to build a “perfect city” and the capital of his empire in the area where he consulted the sufi.  It was to be an expression of a community of intellectuals from many different religions to fulfill his love of debate.  It is also an expression of the great Indo-Islamic architecture.  There was one problem.  It was erected in an area that suffered from a lack of  water and was abandoned shortly after his death.  It is also said that he had a tunnel dug from this fort to the Agra Fort some 20 km away,  in case he needed to escape from maurading armies.  It is truly amazing how these Forts were built with the massive red sandstones, the intricate details and carvings.  I am always amazed at the artisanship.  However, then you also wonder what it was like for the workers.

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An area for the ladies of the court can sit.

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A specific building built for debate.  Akbar would stand in the middle, while the philosophers and “theologians” stand on the outside while they had their debates.

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Hindu shrine area – interesting to have both Hinduis and Islam practiced under one roof.  Too bad they can’t get along today.

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The sandstone building blocks. 

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This carved piece of sandstone holds up the archway. 

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The tomb of the Islamic sufi that said Akbar would have an  heir.  It is made of mother of pearl.

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City Sights:

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This truck was going very fast.  When he took corners they almost tipped over due to all the people making it top heavy.

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Ah – the tonga (horse drawn cart) – a staple of transportion 30 years ago.  Not used much today.

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The water buffalo – provider of milk and dung  (used as firewood)

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Kids and ladies will go around collecting the dun into patties.  They then slap them on the wall do dry.  The are then housed in the tent like structures to keep dry.  They then become firewood for cooking.

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Most of the buildings are made from brick.  This is the factory for curing/fireing the brick. 

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The clay is dug from the earth, put into molds, then dried, then fired.

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Animals always rule the road. 

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Josh-  The Taj was really big and it was, ahhhh, cool. The Taj Mahal was a magnificent piece of construction and it had many specialties about it. The Fort was rather boring. It didn’t have any thing to it; it didn’t have anything that made you go wow! Only the Taj had that. Did you know that the word ‘Taj Mahal’ in Microsoft Word is spelled wrong?!Natasha-  The Taj Mahal was really beautiful and really big! It was all marble and had inlaid precious/semi-precious stones and marble in it, too.  The inlaid marble was yellow, red, black, blue, and a stone called firestone that when you put a flash light on it, it glowed, kinda. There used to be real stones like rubies and things! The guy who built it was also going to make a Mahal out of black marble.  The Fort was not real interesting to me, however it was huge.  I didn’t like going into the mosque because it reminded me of terrorists. 

Annika- The Taj was huger than huge.  It was amazing.  It was a very big place to bury someone.  There was an inlaid marble that was called firestone.  When you put a light on it, it would light up and glow. There were two other buildings opposite the Taj.  One was a mosque and the other was a residence for guests. The Fort was huge and I was getting annoyed by the “touts” hassling us.  I liked the flower carvings in the red sandstone.

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