Monday, June 30, 2008

Dubai

The Burj Al Arab, (Arabian Tower) tallest hotel in the world. The marketing and TV promotions claim it is the world's only "Seven Star" hotel... I just know it's real, real purty. There is a small light show and the illuminating lights change color every 10 minutes. To get inside, one must book a "package"... Like high tea, which is 425 AED... $120 (I did not)... This picture was taken from the Jumeriah Beach Resort (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)


Dubai is opulence, audacity, and comfort--orderly, well-run, and nicely polished. Everything worked well--the buildings are beautiful, the roads are good, and everything is air-conditioned. But it is not a cheap destination.

The cheapest rooms in town are around 200 AED (the currency is the Arab Emirates Dirham) - about $56/night. I had been paying about 450 Rupees in Delhi ($11). Taxis in Dubai are air conditioned, very nice, and metered (no haggling! YAY!), and are a relative bargain at around 1 AED (28 cents) per minute/km.

The weather in Dubai is hot but dry. It was a little less intense than summer in Phoenix, but with the addition of blowing dust.

I had been introduced--through Discovery channel specials--to the architectural masterpiece of the Burj Al Arab, and through it, to the marvel of rapid progress that is Dubai.

In every country I have been to--no matter how poor--the wealthy always live well. And Dubai is brimming with wealth.

Everything for the upper-crust of society is well done, and nicely polished. The bus system however, is not... And this was one of my observations about Dubai: the society seems to be stratified between the natives (upper crust) and the worker class (temporary laborers, mostly from India).

I waited for bus #10 one day, which would take me from the gold souq (gold market) to the Mall Of the Emirates. I waited in a HUGE line (about 4 buses worth of people waiting--all were Indians) for over an hour. No buses left the station--they were not adhering to their schedule. I lost my place in line when I went to go complain.

Later, leaving the Mall of the Emirates, same problem: the bus schedule SAID there should have been a bus every 15 minutes, but I waited again over an hour.

I was told a story by another tourist that an Indian man was ejected from his bus seat, and he went to the bus driver to complain, but instead he was ejected from the bus--It seems that you are expected to "take what you're given and don't complain".


(Yes, that REALLY IS all just one building!!) Already the tallest structure on earth, the Burj Dubai is still under construction at a rate of one new floor every 3 days. It will not be completed until 2009 (Burj Dubai , Dubai, United Arab Emirates)


Mall of the Emirates is mall culture meets Arabia, luxe style... The mall is megga-plush, absolutely beautiful. It has a ski Resort, amusement park, synchronized swimmers, and a musical, fire-breathing fountain. This picture shows one of the moments during the musical fountain show. The outside of the ski resort can be seen above in back (Mall of the Emirates, Dubai, United Arab Emirates)


Calm, shorts-clad patrons peer through dual-pane windows at skiers and bundled kids playing in snowdrifts at the indoor ski Resort.
(Mall of the Emirates, Dubai, United Arab Emirates)


Synchronized swimmers in their swimming pool (Mall of the Emirates, Dubai, United Arab Emirates)


I might have guessed this was the hallway leading to the executive lounges of the airport... But no, it's in a mall in Dubai leading to the washroom. (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)


One night in the town square, this older gentleman sat down with me to tell me about life... He is 70, has three children, and has a 45 year old wife. (Gold Souq, Dubai, United Arab Emirates)


Dubai has roundabouts, and in the center of one of them is this really cool clock-tower (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)


Dubai has SO MANY beautiful buildings. Much attention has been paid to how things look. This beautiful building--one of the signature Dubai buildings--is the Bank Of Dubai, shaped to evoke a traditional fishing boat, the dhow, with sail billowing (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)


Etisalat is the biggest mobile carrier in Dubai, and this is their headquarters. Totally cool! (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)


Yet another of Dubai's beautiful buildings! YUM! (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)


Leaving Dubai on an early flight, I was treated to this view: the sun rising behind the beautiful Airport Control tower (DXB International airport, Dubai, United Arab Emirates)


Below the wing in the above photo is a barely visible canal (you can click on the image to make it larger). That is the Suez canal! (The Suez Canal, Flying from Amman-->Cairo, Egypt)


Next stop: CAIRO!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Punjab (NW India) snapshots


Autorickshaws speed by in the background as a Bessie looks for her next meal of street trash (Delhi, India)




View of the dome--from the top of The Golden Temple, Sikhism's holiest shrine (Amritsar, India)





One of the unique features of the Sikh temples is their dining room. All are welcome--all religions and no religion--any caste--and breakfast, lunch, and dinner, are served free. At the Golden Temple, they serve up to 50,000 people PER DAY. To feed this many people, there is definitely a giant operation behind-the-scenes to make it all happen. I wandered into the kitchen and took some photos (Golden Temple, Amritsar, India)


These two use long metal rods to flip chapatis. The cooktop is massive: about 1m x 1.5m (Golden Temple, Amritsar, India)



Many activities take place on the floor. Part of the prep kitchen (Golden Temple, Amritsar, India)



The Golden Temple at night (Amritsar, India)










Saturday, June 7, 2008

Chandigarh, India

Chandigarh is an anomaly among Indian cities: it was planned. Le Corbusier created the design for the city. And the result feels distinctly... MODERN... And accessible.

I had visited another "designed" city, Brasilia Brazil. Brazilia is the capital of Brazil and is intended to be impressive at all costs--including the population of the city. The streets are very broad, the architecture grandiose, the blocks enormous, the arrangement fairly inconvenient. Brasilia felt impressive but not very livable.

In comparison, Chandigarh feels very livable. Everything has been scaled down in both ambition and desire to awe. It is more functional and less ostentatious. The architecture is modern and beautiful, the streets orderly and straight, the design consistent and inviting. There are public spaces including MANY parks with large grassy spaces... I have seen so many people out enjoying the public grounds here--life here seems to be a much higher quality than all the other cities I have visited in India.

These are the row homes in Chandigarh. They are three stories, all with unique detail on the balconies, the window surrounds, the color schemes, etc. (Chandigarh, India)


Chandigarh is generally a middle and high-class city. Some of the residences are quite swank (Chandigarh, India)



I love the modern public art! This is in the sculpture garden, behind the Chandigarh Museum (Chandigarh, India)



One of the public spaces is a bougainvillea garden. I LOVE Bougainvillea! (Bougainvillea Garden, Chandigarh, India)



The High Court building. (Chandigarh, India)



Le Corbusier's famous "Open Hand" sculpture on the civic square... "Open to give, open to receive". (Chandigarh, India)



The view from the monolithic Secretariat building. This is one of the ornaments on the top of the building (Secretariat Building, Chandigarh, India)



HANDS DOWN my absolute FAVORITE thing about Chandigarh is the Nek Chand Rock Garden. Without funding or approval, Nek Chand (a Pakistani immigrant after partition) started building sculptures out of discarded materials. Today, the Nek Chand Rock Garden is the 2nd most visited site in India, second only to the Taj Mahal.

Like the city it is in, the Rock Garden is very human, very accessible. It is noncommercial (funded by the government), and admission is 10Rs (27 cents)... And it is just SO WONDERFUL!

You wend your way through curved walls, under tiny arches, where rocks have been placed in creative and interesting ways to guide you, beyond stacks of discarded clay pots, all the while surrounded by beautiful desert and tropical foliage. In the sweltering heat of the day, you sweat your way through--amazed as each vision is revealed--until finally, you come around the bend to find an enormous waterfall!

And part of the delight is not just the satisfaction of finally seeing the waterfall that you heard a minute prior, but to see the joy on the children's faces as they play uninhibited, frolicking in the waters.

At the end of the windy road through visages large, small--magical all--is a large plaza with an amphitheater, and a long windy row of arches, inside of each is a swing. There are probably 50 swings all together, and it feels so good to have the rush of wind as you soar inside this fantasy that is the creation of one man.

In the US we have amusement parks with "designed" and "marketed" impressiveness--formulaic. This Rock Garden is a magical place of creativity, unspoiled by marketers--pure in intent. There are no marketing tie-ins. You cannot buy Mickey-Mouse ears to wear or pay $5 for an order of french fries because you aren't allowed to bring food into the park. This is not a place driven by a profit motive. It is art. Meant only to inspire, to surprise, to delight.

This is a place for kids, a place for families, a place to be inspired. The Nek Chand Rock Garden is absolutely one of the highlights of my trip so far. The Taj Mahal is an intentionally ostentatious, and hence (to me) somewhat "contaminated" monument... It wasn't enough for the Shah to honor his widow in his daily life, he wanted everyone ELSE to know...

Nek Chand worked for 15 years in obscurity in the middle of the jungle--unknown to everyone--on his personal project. He was not working to impress anyone, he was only recycling junk.

And so the result is very different from the Taj, and to me, far more appealing.


The Nek Chand Rock Garden (Chandigarh, India)


Water Women (and a chicken). (Nek Chand Fantasy Rock Garden, Chandigarh, India)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Taj Mahal

Last night I arrived in Agra after a 12-hour train journey from Varanasi. It was uneventful save for the Indian passengers who were convinced I was rich because I had a camera AND a mobile phone--And this was a middle-class Indian gentleman with 3 very well-dressed daughters--I don't think they understood that I got the phone "free"... Nevertheless, I think I will keep the phone tucked away on trips in the future as I do not wish to attract attention.

I found a CNG (Compressed Natural Gas!!! Yes, IN INDIA!!!) autorickshaw which took me to my hotel. I stayed at the Shanti Lodge. The rooms are pretty big and shabby, but definitely "good enough", and far better than MANY places I've stayed! The rooftop restaurant has a spectacular view of the Taj Mahal.


The Taj Mahal reflected in the sunglasses of my friend Aurelie (Taj Mahal, Agra, India)




Looking up at the marble face of the TM from the eastern side, by the Jawab. The sky was just perfect (Taj Mahal, Agra, India)


My "The Taj Mahal" photo, from a low viewpoint in the gardens (Taj Mahal, Agra, India)



The Taj Mahal Riding Mower (If I had correctly exposed this camera, you'd see the dome of the TM above the trees). These two cows (they are cattle, right? :)) drag this two-wheeled "riding mower" with a man seated on top. He carries a whip with him and uses it to make the cattle turn when they reach the end of the row. (Taj Mahal, Agra, India)