Posts tagged: World Tour

India: The Most Wonderful People In Chennai

By , June 7, 2011 2:24 am
Orb Networks India Team

Boris At Orb Networks In India

The day I announced that I was leaving for a trip around the world, I promised my co-workers from Orb Networks in Chennai (aka Madras) that I would come visit them. In keeping that promise, I saved the best for last.

We are starting to be used to the pain of finding a semi-clean hotel in India, but Chennai tops it all. Chennai is the second largest technological center in India after Bangalore and because of that, visitors are usually on business trips and can afford western prices. For us, this translates to decent hotels starting at $100. We are able to find hotels in our $15-$20 budget, but they are just crumbling. We spend our first day walking, riding on rickshaws, visiting hotels, pausing for coffee and then finally at night, we give up and go back to the only nice hotel we found that was willing to negotiate a little.

Our Room At New Victoria Hotel in Egmore

Our Room At New Victoria Hotel in Egmore

The next day, my former coworker comes to pick me up to bring me to the office. I was wondering if anybody would actually remember me since I left over a year ago, but as soon as I enter the office, it is like everyone is waiting for me and gives me the warmest welcome. It is great to finally meet my colleagues I once worked so closely with: Shami, Deepa, Sanjib, JP, Ram, Pradheep, Suresh and the rest of the great QA team. I catch up with everyone and they take me to a very nice Chinese restaurant in a fancy part of the city. Food is delicious and I have a great time with everyone.

Lunch With Colleagues @ A Chinese Restaurant

Lunch With Colleagues @ A Chinese Restaurant

On Saturday, JP and Ram bring us all the way to Puducherry (aka Pondicherry). On the way, we stop at Dakshinachitra where we can observe a village that reconstitutes the traditional living of the different ethnic groups of South India. It is incredible how much of a difference there is between people living in the same country. During our time there, MuiMui gets her future read by a parrot. It looks like she will become financial independent by the end of the year. 😉 I take a shot at making pottery and fail miserably.

Traditional House @ Dakshinachitra

Traditional House @ Dakshinachitra

Weaving A Silk Sari

Weaving A Silk Sari

Boris Taking A Shot At Pottery Making

Boris Taking A Shot At Pottery Making

Parrot Brings Good Fortune

Parrot Brings Good Fortune

Next, we go to Mahabalipuram to see temples that were carved straight out of rock. The magnificent carvings are found all over the temple walls and tell a story of the river Ganges. It is definitely worth a stop if you are going there, but be careful, it can be scorching hot!

Mahabalipuram, The Temple City

Mahabalipuram, The Temple City

Arjuna's Penance

Arjuna's Penance

Krishna's Butterball

Krishna's Butterball

Finally, we make our way to Puducherry where we stop at a nice vegetarian restaurant for a well-deserved lunch. The city has a nice mix of French colonial and Indian architecture. A visit to Sri Aurobindo Ashram is a must do. This Ashram was created by Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. The story is extremely interesting and I invite you to read more about it on the website of the Ashram.

Large Ghandi At The Shores Of Puducherry

Large Ghandi At The Shores Of Puducherry

In front of the Manakula Vinayagar Temple, we stumble upon a blessing elephant. I get blessed once and MuiMui can’t get enough so she gets blessed twice. It is good to have small change with you for donations when visiting temples in India.

Boris Getting Blessed By An Elephant

Boris Getting Blessed By An Elephant

On Sunday, we are invited to go with Shami to the Kapaleeshwarar Temple. The temple is gorgeous, but we are more mesmerized by the devotion of the people. Shami explains to us that there is an order in which to pray for the different gods. For some of the gods, we put coloring on our forehead, walk around the statues several times, or even lay on the ground to pray. This looks surreal as we are trying to comply with the customs and observe without disturbing too much.

Kapaleeshwarar Temple

Kapaleeshwarar Temple

Moment Of Prayer

Moment Of Prayer

A Woman Praying

A Woman Praying

Prayer Candles

Prayer Candles

After the temple, Shami invites us to have lunch at his place. Shami’s wife cooks us a delicious Tamil vegetarian meal served on a banana leaf. I cannot remember everything we ate, but it was all entirely new to us and very delicious. We also had the chance to meet Shami’s son, his mother, and his grandmother (who is visiting). Thank you!

A Tamil Vegetarian Lunch Served On A Banana Leaf

A Tamil Vegetarian Lunch Served On A Banana Leaf

Beautiful Faces Of Chennai

Beautiful Faces Of Chennai

On our last day, we do some last minute shopping. JP brings us to the best shops. Shopping in Chennai turns out to be a lot of fun as we visit a few jewelry shops filled with gold and sari shops with gold-threaded silk saris worth several thousands of dollars. While we do not have a use for a sari, it is still very tempting.

Beautiful Silk Sari

Beautiful Silk Sari

Window Shopping For Gold

Window Shopping For Gold

We say goodbye to the Orb India team, and from Chennai, we fly back to France.

We cannot thank each and every one of you enough for making our last stop in India an unforgettable one. We are very grateful for your kind gestures and making us feel so welcomed. In return for your hospitality, we invite you all to visit us in San Francisco or in France.

Boris With JP And Ram @ Shore Temple

Boris With JP And Ram @ Shore Temple

A Kolam And Flowers Found In Front Of A Home

A Kolam And Flowers Found In Front Of A Home

Painted Wall @ Dakshinachitra

Painted Wall @ Dakshinachitra

Puppets @ Dakshinachitra

Puppets @ Dakshinachitra

Handmade Toys

Handmade Toys

Little Devotee Inside Temple

Little Devotee Inside Temple

Chariot Memorial Dedicated To Tamil Poet-Saint Thiruvalluvar

Chariot Memorial Dedicated To Tamil Poet-Saint Thiruvalluvar

Boris On Local Train In Chennai

Boris On Local Train In Chennai

Our Takeaway Dinner

Our Takeaway Dinner

What We Paid: INR USD Euro
– Jet Airways flight from New Delhi to Chennai 5232/pp 117 80
– Train from the airport to Egmore 7/pp 0.16 0.11
– Double room @ Hotel New Victoria in Egmore [clean, nice, includes breakfast and Internet, mixed feelings with staff] 2439/double 54.50 37.30
– Lunch at Saravanaa Bhavan South India vegetarian restaurant chain 55/pp 1.23 0.84
– Take-out food at a local restaurant (chicken, fried rice, Chapathis and parottas, sauces) 30/pp 0.67 0.46
– Entrance of Dakshinachitra 200/pp 4.47 3.06
– Entrance of Mahabalipuram Temple 250/pp 5.59 3.83
– Entrance of Aurobindo Ashram 0 0 0

Flickr Photoset | Slideshow

India: Hidden Gem In Fatehpur Sikri

By , May 27, 2011 9:08 am
All This And Quietness

All This And Quietness

Agra was a little too touristy for me so I request to escape to some place quieter, 26 miles away to be exact. Not knowing much besides the name of the city, we find our way on the correct local bus to Fatehpur. Even though it is towards the end of our travels, the experience of a local bus is still a surprise.

Me & Frenchie Riding The Local Bus

Me & Frenchie Riding The Local Bus

Cutest Boy On The Bus

Cutest Boy On The Bus

Street View

Street View

As the bus arrives in the city of Fatehpur, is seems busy with just locals and no tourist in sight. As we walk around in the tiny streets, it feels so real here. There is a man selling spices in his wooden pushcart, a barber grooming a young man in a shop without walls, a baker in the process of cooking a local delight, a boy ironing in the middle of the road, and everyone just stops to look at us, and then smiles.

Arrival Into Fatehpur

Arrival Into Fatehpur

Hard Working Old Woman

Hard Working Old Woman

Barbershop

Barbershop

Eyeliner On Babies For Protection

Eyeliner On Babies For Protection

Rug Maker

Rug Maker

Minutes later, we have two kids following us followed by five and then they keep coming. It is nice at first, but after following us for fifteen minutes, I start to question what is going on.  A young man tells us the children want to know if we have pencils on us. I felt so bad as we didn’t have any goodies on us.

Sophisticated Little Girl

Sophisticated Little Girl

Brothers

Brothers

On the top of the hill is the palace city. It consists of two major parts, the sacred and royal complex. The architecture and history here is very interesting and worth the read, but there is still more to be discovered about this abandoned city. We first visit the sacred complex and from the moment we step in, we need to remember to look left, right, up, and down at all times so we don’t miss out any details of the remarkable interior.  We visit the numerous tombs and mosque.

Entrance To Sacred Complex

Entrance To Sacred Complex

Inside Sacred Complex

Inside Sacred Complex

Magnificent Interior

Magnificent Interior

Blend Of Different Styles

Blend Of Different Styles

We continue to the royal complex where there is even more to see including the palace, a five-story pavilion, and various halls. There is a romantic aspect to the overall architecture and the redstone engravings and pillars are truly inspirational.

Five Story Pavilion @ Royal Complex

Five Story Pavilion @ Royal Complex

Detailed Pillar

Detailed Pillar

Wall Design

Wall Design

Engraved Columns

Engraved Columns

We thought we finished seeing everything and as we are leaving the royal complex, something catches my eye next door so we go to check it out. The guards at the royal complex are surprised I want to see this section but they give me the ok to enter. Maybe it is the feeling of discovery or abandonment, but I am in awe of this hidden gem. It is mostly ruins here but the remaining arches and roundness of the interior feels very modern. We are by ourselves until we find a local boy just hanging out. We follow him to the rooftop and the curves resulting from the round sections of the structure is a neat detail. Why do we have flat roofs again?

In Ruins But Still Beautiful

In Ruins But Still Beautiful

Infinity

Infinity

Normal Structure From The Side

Normal Structure From The Side

Pure Inspiration From On Top

Pure Inspiration From On Top

If you are coming to Agra, the Taj Mahal maybe famous and something you are going to definitely see, but if you like architecture or want to be the only tourist, Fatehpur Sikri is well worth the visit.

Homes In Fatehpur

Homes In Fatehpur

Chopping Away

Chopping Away

Spices

Spices

Man In Turban

Man In Turban

One Smile A Day

One Smile A Day

Beauty

Beauty

Happy Goat

Happy Goat

Boy Taking A Rinse

Boy Taking A Rinse

Pretty Girl

Pretty Girl

New Father And His Baby

New Father And His Baby

Exterior Of Mosque

Exterior Of Mosque

Mosque Interior

Mosque Interior

What We Paid: INR USD Euro
– Local bus from Agra to Fatehpur Sikri [1 hour one-way, bus comes every 30 minutes, no AC, can get crowded so not a good idea to catch the last return bus] 17/one-way pp 0.38 0.26
– Lunch 60/pp 1.33 0.93
– Coke 25 0.56 0.39
– Entrance of the Sacred Complex 0 0 0
– Entrance of the Royal Complex [keep your Taj Mahal ticket since it will give you a discount of 10Rs] 250/pp 5.60 3.90

Flickr Photoset | Slideshow

India: Wandering Aimlessly In Jaipur

By , May 23, 2011 2:30 am
Colorful Camels

Colorful Camels

Looking for a hotel seems to be getting more and more difficult for us each time we arrive in a new city. As we consult travel guides, the recommended hotels are conveniently located nearby train stations, but there is no other appeal. In Jaipur, we end up walking for hours looking for a midrange accommodation. Is it too much to ask for a clean hotel that is moderately priced in India?

Old Building

Old Building

Exhausted but not willing to give up, I go on my own to look for the best place for my Frenchie. Two hours later, I return with just that. I find a business hotel in Jaipur with a friendly professional staff that is willing to negotiate with me.  It is heaven to step inside a nice hotel with clean white sheets, new bathroom, and free wifi. Maybe the dirtiness in India is starting to get to us after all.

Room @ Hotel Le Grand

Room @ Hotel Le Grand

Bathroom @ Hotel Le Grand

Bathroom @ Hotel Le Grand

In the mornings, we get breakfast at the hotel next door, owned by the same owner. It is nice to have fresh squeezed juice and sit outside by the garden with no agenda. The restaurant employees are mostly Nepalese. It is the first time we meet a Nepalese and I find myself starting at them in adoration. They look Chinese at first, but their other physical features indicate they are not. I talk to them about Nepal and learn that they still live there, but come to India to work because there are more jobs here. They live in India for most of the year and then return to Nepal to visit their family. They are so friendly and wonderful to meet that it makes me want to visit Nepal even more.

Coconut Leaves

Coconut Leaves

In Jaipur, there are a few sightseeing activities to do, but with the recent loss of my friend, I feel no desire to move. Boris gets me out to go do some walking around in the bazaars and visit the Jantar Mantar to see astronomical instruments built by a lover of architecture and astronomy.  Also in this area, there are a few buildings to admire. The pink facade of Hawa Mahal, part of the City Palace, is pretty unique. From afar, you can see Amber Fort.

Hawa Mahal

Hawa Mahal

Architecture @ Jantar Mantar

Architecture @ Jantar Mantar

Beautiful Street With Shops

Beautiful Street With Shops

My favorite spot turns out to be a popular local destination to hangout and admire the Jal Mahal, a water palace. There are lots of families here and we notice the large number of colorfully dressed females walking together in groups. Our rickshaw driver informs us it is a festival for women and we think he is referring to the Gangaur Festival. I recommend coming straight to this part of the city as the air is better, it is more peaceful, and there are many shops, restaurants, and hotels scattered nearby.

Jal Mahal

Jal Mahal

Single And Married Ladies All Dressed Up Together

Single And Married Ladies All Dressed Up Together

More pictures of Jaipur.

Stairwell @ Jantar Mantar

Stairwell @ Jantar Mantar

Planet Locator @ Jantar Mantar

Planet Locator @ Jantar Mantar

Small Fruit Market

Small Fruit Market

Shopping Alley

Shopping Alley

Rickshaw In Front Of Minaret

Rickshaw In Front Of Minaret

Vegetarian Thali With Dosas

Vegetarian Thali With Dosas

What We Paid: INR USD Euro
– Sleeping train from Jaisalmer to Jaipur 2d class with AC 950/pp 21.10 14.90
– Private double room @ Hotel Le Grand [very nice and clean, AC, Wifi, recommend, bargain hard as prices start at 4500 for a double] 1500/double 33.40 23.50
– Sankalp Taste Of South chain restaurant 145/pp 3.22 2.27
– Mc Donalds Mc Chicken Meal 75/pp 1.67 1.17
– Breakfast @ Hotel Palms 95/pp 2.11 1.49
– Jantar Mantar entrance fee 100/pp 2.23 1.57
– Camera fee @ Jantar Mantar 50 1.11 0.78
– Auto Rickshaw for an hour 150/ride 3.34 2.35

Flickr Photoset | Slideshow

India: The Desert City Of Jaisalmer

By , May 20, 2011 7:59 am
A True Local Experience

A True Local Experience

The more west we go within northern India, the hotter and dryer the landscapes become. With no apparent vegetation around us, we arrive in Jaisalmer. This city is nicknamed the “Golden City” because of the color of its sandstone buildings in the sunset, which really translates to a FREAKING HOT desert city.

City Of Jaisalmer

City Of Jaisalmer

The tourist draw of Jaisalmer is the unforgettable experience of a desert safari. As we look around, there are busloads of tourists and high priced hotels that do no offer much besides high prices.  There are many accommodations available, but we spend hours looking for a decent place to stay at a reasonable price and I am appalled by the treatment we receive here.

The Fortified City

The Fortified City

We decide to split up to make the search for a hotel room faster. However, when I arrive alone at a hotel, the workers, who are all males, would ignore me and tell me to go away as there are no rooms available and then go back to sleeping or chatting. When Boris arrives alone to the same hotel, he still receives a cold welcoming but is serviced (and they told me they were full). This happens so many times, but we finally find one hotel that is clean and the workers are a tiny bit happy to see us. As we are at ease that we finally have a hotel, here comes the catch. The relentless plead for us to sign up for a desert safari does not stop during our entire stay, which makes it all the more uninteresting to us.

Men Hanging Out And Laughing

Men Hanging Out And Laughing

As I continue to search for the bright side of this city, I find the shop owners to be a lot warmer (probably because they want me to buy something). There are many things here to look at but just be careful of the quality, especially the dye on the fabrics. My favorites are the mirrored textile wall blankets, which I regret not buying. I thought I would find it later, but quality is worst in the bigger cities and some of the textiles are special to the Rajasthan region.

Fortified Streets

Fortified Streets

On our last day in Jaisalmer, we make it up the fort. Most of the buildings have been converted to a hotel or a shop, filled with the same things, but we still have an enjoyable time. We meet a man who invites us to look inside his home and he shares with us the history of the building. He is selling a few trinkets at a reasonable price and there is no pressure to buy. We are very happy to meet this kind of businessman.

Old House

Old House

Wooden Ceiling Of Passageway

Wooden Ceiling Of Passageway

Engraving On Arch

Engraving On Arch

Beautiful Balcony

Beautiful Balcony

House With Lots Of Balconies

House With Lots Of Balconies

We meet Brian from Canada who is very nice in helping us find a hotel.  He went on the desert safari in Jaisalmer so we asked him how it was. He said he enjoyed it, but if he had to repeat it, he would have liked to do it in another city like Jodhpur where the desert is bigger and the experience is more authentic. So, we opted out on the desert safari. Thanks Brian!

Long Haired Goat

Long Haired Goat

Cute Stairs Above Home

Cute Stairs Above Home

What We Paid: INR USD Euro
– Train from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer 3rd class with AC 525/pp 11.70 8.20
– Private double room in Hotel [private bath, AC, clean] 600/double 13.30 9.40
– Dinner at Trio, a touristy but yummy restaurant 270/pp 6 4.20
– Sandwich + drinks in small sandwich joint 40/pp 0.90 0.62
– Pizza 140/pp 3.12 2.17
– Water 1L 15 0.33 0.23
– Auto rickshaw from and to the train station (10 minutes) 30/ride 0.67 0.47

Flickr Photoset | Slideshow

India: Celebrating Happy Holi In Jodhpur

By , May 17, 2011 8:43 am
Welcome To Jodhpur

Welcome To Jodhpur

Without planning it, our trip to Jodhpur coincides with the religious festival called Holi. This is a wonderful treat for us as we get to take part in the colorful and active celebrations that can get out of control.

New Look For Boris

New Look For Boris

Just after one night of being baked in our room, we immediately change hotels and upgrade ourselves to air conditioning. Besides the beating sun, the city is easy to get around and we end up meeting many travelers while having lunch and dinner on the numerous rooftop restaurants.

Our Room With AC!

Our Room With AC!

Without any expectations, our visit to the Mehrangarh Fort ends up being one of the best sights we have visited so far. We begin with a self-guided tour that is nicely done and is actually interesting. We are able to explore a good percentage of the fort and get our money’s worth.

Mehrangarh Fort

Mehrangarh Fort

Peek-A-Boo

Peek-A-Boo

Inside Fort

Inside Fort

Old Carriage

Old Carriage

Love The Window Arches

Love The Window Arches

We even learn how to tie a turban!

Did You Know A Turban Is 6 Meters Long?

Did You Know A Turban Is 6 Meters Long?

Layers Of Twists

Layers Of Twists

Towards the end of the self-guided tour, there is a rest area for tourists. For some reason, people miss the sign or don’t need rest, but this ends up being to our advantage. As we enter through the rest area and out to the balcony, there is a grand view of the blue city and no one else around. Most of the houses of Jodhpur are painted blue to help repel against mosquitoes and help cool the houses. Then come flying above and below us are many raptors. We spend the next hour trying to capture these magnificent birds, but they are so quick that even with the zoom lens, it is difficult.

Birds Flying Right By Us

Birds Flying Right By Us

Magnificent Blue City

Magnificent Blue City

Only If You Could Fly

Only If You Could Fly

Blue Is Cool

Blue Is Cool

Before the festivities of Holi begin, I decide to get some henna art done on my right hand. Since I’m going to pay for the service anyways, I decide to have it done by a teenage boy who is helping to support his family and studies. I ask him to put whatever design he wants but not too many details as I still want to see parts of my hand after. It turns out to be a fun experience as I get to talk to this boy about his family and life in Jodhpur. I’m happy with the turnout of my cool artwork on my arm, but struggle from safeguarding it from getting wet or ruined for the next four hours which means it went away after just one week.

Getting Henna Art

Getting Henna Art

Gets Darker Each Day

Gets Darker Each Day

To understand the holiday a little better, here is one of the many versions of the legend, from what we are told: There was once a bad king by the name of Hiranyakashyap. He forced everyone in his kingdom to worship him and only him. He had one problem, his young son, Pralhad, who defied him and continued to worship Lord Vishnu. Hiranyakashyap was furious and ordered his sister, Holika, who possessed the power to walk through fire untouched, to step inside a blazing fire while carrying Pralhad. It turns out that she was only immune to fire if she entered it alone. Subsequently, she was burned to ashes while Pralhad, because of his extreme devotion, was saved by Lord Vishnu.

Blazing Fire

Blazing Fire

At the eve of Holi, the celebrations begin. Holika’s burning to ashes is reenacted to mark the victory of ‘good’ over ‘evil’. In Jodhpur, each neighborhood block puts together a bonfire filled with cow dung, flowers, coconut, and grains from the new harvest. The eldest person in the group lights the fire and starts shouting as the rest of the group continues shouting with him. Then all newlyweds and families with a newborn child walk around the fire. Some households then take some of the fire to their house, as it is believed to protect them against diseases. This is repeated at each block with music, dancing, and singing happening all at the same time.

Neighborhood Preparing Bonfire

Neighborhood Preparing Bonfire

Tradition Calls For Smashing Open A Coconut

Tradition Calls For Smashing Open A Coconut

Eldest Shouting

Eldest Shouting

Everyone Enjoys A Great Bonfire

Everyone Enjoys A Great Bonfire

The next morning, the main day of Holi, the streets are filled with people throwing colored powder at each other to wish each other a happy Holi. Others may squirt or even pour colored water on you. The children are relentless so don’t bring your fancy cameras with you. It definitely can get out of control so a few things to be aware of is large groups of young men harassing females and low quality powder that can be harmful.

Watch Out

Watch Out

Streets Are All Purple

Streets Are All Purple

People Are All Purple

People Are All Purple

Teamwork

Teamwork

Happy Holi

Happy Holi

Happy Holi everyone.

Staircase In Fort

Staircase In Fort

The View Below

The View Below

An Old Well

An Old Well

Help Me

Help Me

City Tower

City Tower

Admiring Fort's Architecture

Admiring Fort's Architecture

Well Preserved Room

Well Preserved Room

Bye Bye Blue City

Bye Bye Blue City

What We Paid: INR USD Euro
– Bus From Udaipur to Jodhpur, no AC 200/pp 4.45 3.15
– Private double room at Blue House Guest House [private bath, large room, nicely decorated, AC, clean, recommend] 600/double 13.30 9.40
– Lunch / Dinner on a rooftop restaurant 90/pp 2 1.40
– Henna 50 1.10 0.78
– Fort Mehrangarh entrance fee, student price (incudes audio guide and camera) 200/pp 4.45 3.15
– Rickshaw to the train station (5 minutes) 25/ride 0.55 0.39

Flickr Photoset | Slideshow

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