Jesse’s Blog

Friday, June 27, 2008

Kathmandu – Day 2 (5/10/2008)

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Kathmandu-199 We planned for day two the night before. A rooftop cafe breakfast fueled us for our trek to Swayambhunath, or Monkey Temple as it’s commonly called by tourists. The walk took us at least an hour and I got some great shots as we passed through the city. Soon we could see our destination high on a hill in the distance, and I remembered the temple being lit up the previous night. It was exciting to know we were closing in! At the base of the temple we were engulfed by kids trying to get money or food out of us. They were smart little guys; I quizzed them on the capital cities of the world and they got a lot of them right! I don’t think we gave them anything (it’s generally my policy not to), and by the time we reached the really steep steps they had given up on us. We finished our climb and were rewarded with an awesome view of the valley.

Swayambhunath

Swayambhunath Stupa

One of the stark differences between Buddhist and Hindu temples is the way they handle commercial enterprise.Kathmandu-351 Hindu temples seem to shun business in areas of worship, whereas the Buddhist temples fully embrace it. I felt a bit like I was at a theme park instead of a holy shrine. This didn’t seem to affect the locals. They continued worshiping even while the nosy tourists buzzed around them with cameras and guidebooks. At the time I didn’t think twice about how odd that was; later I pondered how much of the worship was genuine versus just-for-show. Do they pay people to worship all day long? Like dressing up as Mickey Mouse at Disney World?? I wonder…

Kathmandu-460 We enjoyed the architecture and atmosphere, but ended up spending a lot of our time monkey watching. There were whole groups (families??) of monkeys all over the temple, interacting with people and just hanging out. We saw everything from little infant monkeys nursing in mama’s arms to old grandpa monkeys lounging lazily in the shade.

We still had a full day ahead of us and needed a break from walking in the sun, so we grabbed a taxi and headed off towards our next destination.

Pashupatinath

Kathmandu-526Nepal’s most important Hindu temple reminded me a lot of my trip to Varanasi. Cremations are performed there daily on the banks of the holy Bagmati River. Non-Hindus are not allowed inside the temple, but there is plenty to see outside the towering walls. We explored the rugged terrain as high as we could go before turning back down and finding some more steps up to Gorakhnath and Vishwarup temples. Kathmandu-546 There is a lot of beautiful architecture packed tightly together up there, and we weren’t quite sure what was what, but we paused to enjoy the cool breeze coming through the trees and flip through the descriptions in our guide book.

Bodhnath

Bodhnath Stupa

We were up for some more walking and made our way around the hill and through the streets to Bodhnath – one of the largest Stupas in the world. Kathmandu-584I was again amazed at how the Buddhist Stupas have such a close tie-in with the surrounding businesses. As with all the sites we visited we had to pay an entry fee of several hundred Nepalese rupees, and past this point there were scores of restaurants and shops catering to tourists. We found a rooftop cafe and indulged in some buffalo momos. They were more expensive and not as good as the street momos from the previous day, but the view was nice and the weather just playful enough to make us want to sit and take it all in. They were also really slow with giving us our check.

The day was growing long and we still had a very important stop to make, so we continued our clockwise walk around the Stupa and headed back out to the street to hail a cab.

Indra Jatra (The Chariot Festival)

Kathmandu-644 We heard about this from the British woman we met at our guest house on the first day. It sounded extremely interesting and we couldn’t pass it up seeing as we just happened to be at the right place at the right time. We headed a short distance outside of Kathmandu to another city (the name escapes me at the moment) and quickly found the chariots. Topped with what looked like Christmas trees standing several stories tall, they were hard to miss. Kathmandu-621 People were mulling around and a crowd was starting to gather, but it seemed nothing was going on just yet. We asked around for some chai and ducked (literally) off the street into a private domicile to be served.

Kathmandu-687 Soon the festivities started and we re-emerged onto the street to watch scores of children and volunteer adults as they pried the immobilized chariots from their night-long slumber. It reminded me of a scene from Lord of the Rings, with huge armies pulling war chariots in to battle. The energy of the festivities was electric, and we wanted to get up on the rooftop to get a better view. As we stepped into the corridor of a building along the street I felt for my wallet. It was gone. I had been so engrossed taking pictures that I absent-mindedly put my wallet in my back pocket after giving Cait a few rupees to pay for the chai. Someone – probably a little street kid – skillfully snagged it from me. Kathmandu-707It only had the equivalent of about $35 in it, but I had to cancel all my U.S. credit cards and apply for a new Indian income tax card.

At the end of the festival we got a rare chance to see Kumari up close! You’re really not allowed to take pictures of her, but I did anyway. They shewed us away and we headed back to Kathmandu to head out for a nice Italian dinner and some crazy local singing and dancing into the wee hours of the morning.

Chariot Festival Video

Right-click and “Save As…” (about 14MB)

posted by Jesse at 1:02 am  

Monday, May 26, 2008

When do you stop if you never drop??

Craziness. Our weekend in pictures, which actually started on Thursday (click for more):

Urban Pind

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Headquarters

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Jes’s Birthday on the terrace

More fun at Aqua

Live thrash metal in Noida

posted by Jesse at 4:08 pm  

Monday, May 19, 2008

Delhi Summer Shenanigans

Urban Pind terraceMost of my friends went to Goa this weekend so I had a chance to break from the usual routine and explore new activities and circles of friends. On Saturday night we were fortunate to have a raging thunder storm that cooled off the city and cleared out the “yuck” in the air that has been lingering around for weeks. Cait and I decided to head to the new rooftop terrace at Urban Pind to enjoy the peculiar weather and a bottle of wine. We weren’t the only ones admiring the Delhi downpour and soon a bunch of our recent acquaintances showed up. It turned into a really nice evening of getting to know new friends and making plans to hang out the rest of the weekend. One couple goes on a week-long vacation every two months and has an awesome travel blog filled with photos of their adventures.

On Sunday I headed up to Aqua at The Park to enjoy the weekly gathering of pool-side loungers and water volleyball players. I had a great time but to my dismay I found that everything at Aqua seems to have increased in price, especially the alcohol. Unbelievably, a Long Island Iced Tea set me back an insulting $27 USD! Word to the rebellious: try to BYOB. They don’t seem to check your bags when you enter.

Aqua_Sundays-14 After Aqua (and a power nap), the group moved over to Tabula Rasa to catch an acoustic performance by my favorite Indian band, Soulmate! The gig was outside on the terrace. Before the band started the emcee killed time by giving out “prizes” to random audience members in exchange for performing tricks to entertain the crowd. He called me out and asked me how daring I was, and then asked who my girlfriend was for the evening. I called up Cait (Indian crowds like blondes) and he asked me to propose right then and there for a “good prize”. After Cait and I were engaged he handed me the stupidest Motorola polo shirt I have ever seen. Some prize. I chucked it about 5 minutes later, which is about how long our engagement lasted.

Aside from the heat, a flash dust storm and the insanely high price of spirits (wtf is going on, Delhi?!?!), there was free Kingfisher beer (it was a sponsored event) and the music rocked as usual.

posted by Jesse at 2:09 am  

Monday, May 5, 2008

Sushi, Iron Man, Parties, Sports, and lots of etcetera

Aqua-7 This past weekend was a lot of fun. We started off Friday night with sushi at Tamura. The summer months are running the temperature through the roof so the amount and type of fish freshly available is dwindling, but everything is still top notch. We had a great group of 9 people this time. It’s becoming quite the tradition!

After dinner 5 of us headed over to PVR Priya to catch the premiere of Iron Man. I loved it. The story and effects were great, as was the acting. Definitely not what I expected from a “comic book movie”.

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On Saturday Albert and I went to aikido (more on that in an upcoming post), and then headed up to The Park to meet with Cait, Denise and Sahana who were poolside at Aqua. We got a huge “brontosaurus” burger as usual and then got a little carried away with the camera. We topped the night off with an awesome rooftop party in GK-I Enclave, where I met a lot of really great new people and saw some old friends.

On Sunday Albert and I got up early and drove home to enjoy some Noidation, the term coined by Cait and Denise used to describe partaking in the luxurious splendors of our apartment complex. We got some sun by the pool and tried to read, but it was so hot that the glue in my book binding was melting! We gave up around noon-thirty and headed back to GK-I to meet up with everyone at Le Cafe and actually do some work. I brought my laptop and settled in for a few hours (they have wifi but I prefer to just tether my BlackBerry to my laptop and use the GPRS).

Le Cafe is a badass contemporary hangout which serves some damn fine food (except the Turkey Club and the Hanoi Chicken – but I suppose no place can be perfect). In case you want to try it (and you should), it’s right in GK-I N block market on the very top floor corner above a 3-floor clothing store (some famous Indian designer). If you can’t find it, just ask. My favorites are the Pumpkin Ginger Soup with Bacon, Udon Noodle Salad with Chicken (add mushrooms and avocado), and a special order salad that I have no idea how to get unless Sahana is there. The Asian Sesame Chicken Salad is also scrum-diddly-umptious.

Shooting at SFSC-4 Amy and I planned to play tennis at Siri Fort Sports Complex but by the time we got there and played for only 15 or 20 minutes we were kicked off. Apparently you have to book the courts in advance, unless you want to play on a clay court. The clay courts were all filled and we don’t like them anyway, so we tried the shooting range. As lame as it seemed (air guns and all) we had a LOT of fun. We got a few bulls-eyes between the two of us!

Albert and I stopped by Le Cafe again on the way home. We couldn’t resist more of their great food. Unfortunately I got the Turkey Club – which I now know to be extremely lame. The Pumpkin Ginger Soup w/ Bacon more than made up for it.

posted by Jesse at 12:07 am  

Monday, April 14, 2008

Indiana Jonesing Around Delhi

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It has been a really long while since I took time out to appreciate the culture of the city around us. On Sunday we set off on an urban safari. What we saw wasn’t much different than any other day – but we were looking at everything in a different light. We had fun cruising the streets of Delhi for a few hours before we decided to dig a little deeper and go to Red Fort. However, on the way up Mathura Road we passed a sign advertising “Old Fort Lake Boating”, and we knew we couldn’t pass that up. We’d have to do Red Fort another day!

Delhi_Safari-16 I don’t come to this part of Delhi often and I am constantly amazed by our celebrity status. Everyone wants their picture taken with us. Maybe it’s the glasses! The girls, especially, fell victim to hordes of young Indian boys chasing them around. Fortunately it was only a short walk down the road and through the park to get to the lake.

Delhi_Safari-36 We had a few options: get driven around on a larger boat with an outboard motor, get driven around 1-by-1 on a small craft resembling a jet ski, or doing our own paddling on a paddle boat. We opted for the latter. It was loads of fun, including lots of bumping into other boats, buying some cotton candy from a lake-side vendor, and splashing water at cute kids.

Delhi_Safari-50 After tooling around the lake for awhile we decided to head inside the fort to take a look around. This involved a relaxing walk around the towering walls of the fort near the lake. We eventually found the ticket booth, but the girls had to pay full price (100 rupees) while I managed to get in for the Indian-native price of 5 rupees due to my PAN card (my government ID that says I pay Indian taxes). I was actually surprised it worked. I should attempt this at other monuments!

Delhi_Safari-76 It was already getting late so we made fast for the ruined walls. We wanted to get to the spots we could see from the outside. We found some amazing views up on the wall and after a little exploring were rewarded with an unlocked gate leading to the top! The breeze was awesome and the view just as good. I wasn’t aware that Delhi had much of a skyline, but it does. It actually reminds me of Gainesville, with most of the city hidden below the trees:

Skyline from Old Fort in Delhi

There is so much to see in this city, and I have only scratched the surface in the 2 years that I have been here. I think I’m due for some more urban safari weekends as soon as possible!

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posted by Jesse at 11:36 pm  

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