Wednesday, November 30, 2011

India 30

One last picture from the highway - a personal favorite, in fact, more for compositional reasons than any truths revealed about the subcontinent. In any case, that's all from India, for now. We probably went too far already, given that we were only there for a week.

And, that's it for pictures of awesome R&R vacations from Kabul. Between Tanzania, China, Hawaii, Japan, France, Nepal, and India, it was not a bad year on the travel front. And yet... up next: the awesome vacation that your government required us to take in order to get back in touch with America after completing our tour abroad. The December of Pictures from Home Leave in Alaska starts tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

India 29

Two developing-world staples for you today, as we round up a last few images from the highway. First: Another example of the disparity of bus/truck aesthetics between the developed and developing worlds. A lot of less wealthy places gravitate toward a decorative style that the rich world might find a bit over-done. Painting buses and trucks is a prime example. As in Guatemala, most vehicles in India had a lot more detailing and decorative flair than we would typically find at home.

Second: The multi-passenger motorcycle. As perhaps illustrated previously, you really have to get past four passengers on a motorcycle to impress any more, but this was the best picture we came away with. As a bonus, below, note that if you don't have a helmet for every passenger, feel free to tie a handkerchief around additional passengers heads to provide a similar effect.

Monday, November 28, 2011

India 28

Fatepur Sikri is an impressive complex of old royal palaces, courts, and mosques from the late 16th century. There is some fine architecture, and the stone buildings are quite well preserved. Of course, it is all uniformly the reddish brown of the primary rock used in its construction. This photo is a detail is from the ceiling of the residence of one of the emperor's wives, where you can still see the decorative paintings and get a slightly better sense of what it may have looked like back in the day. It's not that thrilling of a picture - but it's a picture of an artwork that's been sitting around outside for four hundred years.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

India 27

Our day wandering around Old Delhi was a definite highlight. There were the winding streets and narrow alleys and shops selling all variety of goods. The spice market was a highlight, with a bunch of fragrant stalls. Then, suddenly, a dark passageway leading to a distant courtyard. Within that passageway, and the courtyard, was the hot pepper sales district. The volume of hot peppers being moved in Delhi is pretty impressive, and just walking through the passage made one's nostrils burn. Since "spicy" is the only flavor that I have much appreciation for, I quite enjoyed it.

As we emerged from the retail area, we found all sorts of presumable wholesalers pushing large quantities of goods by hand or hauling with any machine or animal they could. E.g, this guy moving what we estimate to be twenty tons of rice.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

India 26

I guess we're sort of running out of stuff to say about India. I don't know how. We must have forgotten something. But this is another picture of a crazy truck that seems too old to possibly be carting a buffalo around the streets of India. Surely, that's part of the plan when you make a truck that has something like 5 total moving parts. Easy to repair; lasts forever.

Friday, November 25, 2011

India 25

Available for birthdays and bar mitzvahs.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

India 24

We love all the little sidewalk restaurants of India. Not that we ate in many, but we like the idea of them. And we're assuming these two were sitting down to have a big Thanksgiving meal, even though the picture was taken months ago, and they don't celebrate Thanksgiving Day in India, and for all we know, they weren't eating anything. But we didn't wind up with any pictures of turkeys in India, so this will have to do.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

India 23

This photo doesn't exactly scream "India." But if you're a regular reader, you probably know that the staff photographer is a sucker for pictures of the texture of things that are falling apart. So there you have it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

India 22

I'm not sure what the trade of these young guys is. We saw a couple of them wandering around with these lamp contraptions. Are they selling the lamp? Is it just to aid them in shining shoes after dark? Customers put a quarter in and the lights flash and whirl? I'm sure there's something I'm missing here. It was very clear, in any case, that this was a young man's game. Like, probably not legal for them to be working young. I guess it's probably better than labor in a brick factory, but we'll reserve final judgment on that until we know for sure what the kids with the lamps were doing.

Monday, November 21, 2011

India 21

This youngster was one of many who would take care of one's shoes at the entrance of the mosque in Fatepur Sikri. In the style of any number of personal-service positions where someone does something for you that you didn't really need done, and would have preferred to do yourself, and then you're more or less obliged to tip them. The most famous example is the "restroom attendant." (I forget exactly where in our travels I walked into a restroom with an attendant, and immediately said aloud depsite myself "oh no you don't" and walked out. I guess I didn't have to go all that bad.) India is particularly good at this game, with various dudes always ready to "help" with whatever they can think of. It is, in many Indian tourist attractions, extremely difficult to avoid having a volunteer "guide," who even after being told in no uncertain terms "We don't want a guide and will not pay you," would proceed to follow us around and tell us fun facts about the site, and then for a tip. The shoe-minders at the mosque have a better racket in that one can theoretically imagine having one's shoes stolen were they left untended, and since you don't tip until you get your shoes back, you may never know what might have happened without them. Of course an even better racket would be to demand a payment up front, and then ensure the disappearance of the shoes of those who decline to pay.

Not sure what the horseshoes are for. Perhaps we should have paid a guide to tell us.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

India 20

The staff photographer took this picture on a rural road near Fatepur Sirki. He recalls thinking when he took it that it was going to be fantastic - one of the best of the trip. It didn't quite turn out the way we hoped.

Anyway, hey - water buffaloes!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

India 19

Messes of electrical wiring, often due to rampant hot-wiring of homes or businesses straight to the overhead wires, is common in a lot of the developing world. You've seen pictures like this before. But this one is from India!

Friday, November 18, 2011

India 18

Street food in Delhi. We sampled a bit, but did not try whatever these Popsicle-looking things were. But given the steam from dry ice coming out of the cooler, it probably would have been a good idea. Instead we decided to have some fried pakora type thing. When it's 120 degrees out, a couple bites of deliciousness straight from the fryer turns out to be plenty.

We're happy that the cooler here is pretty sharp even though the guy's face isn't. An auto-focus failure early in the trip had us refreshing our manual focus skills throughout the rest of the trip, which is fine and dandy when you're shooting landscapes, but presents some serious challenges for street photography shooting from the hip.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

India 17

From a rooftop cafe in Agra. Yes, there really are cattle running around on the streets in India. The vendor at this little drink cart was splashing water at her, and she did manage to turn before bumping into his cart. Unknown if the two were related or not, but I would guess that was the guy's intent.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

India 16

Another from the highway between Delhi and Agra. We're assuming the unmanned steering wheel visible here isn't actually involved in operation of the truck, but it wouldn't be out of the question. We saw several of these musical contraptions in transit but never saw one in operation. Another reason to go back.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

India 15

The Yamuna river, which runs by the Taj Mahal.

Monday, November 14, 2011

India 14

We had a tasty fruit juice at this stand. How could one resist? It's so colorful! And the big jars of fruit! And the olde timey grinder machine! One member of our traveling party who we won't name here was 98% sure that we were going to come down with dysentery after drinking juice here.

We lived!

The sun was really bright on the sign and shadows dark back where he was working, so that part has a lot of noise from trying to fix it after the fact. But once again, we lived!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

India 13

In Delhi. We liked the people on the top and the graffiti down below. Probably more of an "almost" photo than a real success, but it's Sunday and you shouldn't be on the Internet anyway. Go outside! Go read a book!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

India 12

This Mosque is in Fatehpur Sikri, dates from 1571, and welcomed all visitors with open doors. As a result, there were a lot of people who appeared local to my eyes who had set up little encampments in the shady arcades that ring the courtyard of the mosque. They were not particularly elaborate; I'm not sure if that's because the people couldn't afford anything elaborate or if the encampments only lasted for the day and everyone left in the evening. Some were selling prayer beads or tourist trinkets or crafts. Others just seemed to be sleeping or hanging out or living.

When we returned to Delhi, we attempted to visit another famous old Mosque in Old Delhi (I think also called the Jama Masjid), with a somewhat different policy. Upon reaching the main door, we discovered that some enterprising fellows had printed up tickets and were charging a few dollars for obvious tourists such as your correspondents to enter. Our trusty guidebook claimed entry to the mosque was free, and we strongly suspected that this was a scam and none of the "ticket money" would go to the mosque. We told the ticket sellers so, and said we would not be paying but that we would still like to enter.

The ticket-sellers found our reliance on Lonely Planet's suggested price structure unconvincing, and physically pushed your correspondent away from the door. Not jostled, but the kind of push that a junior-high student delivers another when trying to provoke a fight. Perhaps even a "What are you gonna do about it?!" push. Your correspondent, ever the diplomat, restrained himself from pushing back, but I admit it took a bit of an effort to convince myself that de-escalation was probably the right call. One of the ticket-seller's goon companions was a guy who looked about 55 years old, but had a rod of bamboo about an inch thick and four feet long that I saw him swing forcefully and eagerly at a bunch of kids who were apparently too close to the door for his desire. He brandished it, threatening tourists who didn't want to pay their bribe (not limited to us at this point). Had it come to that, I can't promise that my restraint would have continued. He was wiry, but I could have taken him, stick or no. It did not come to that, but definitely not a public relations win for the Indian people.

In the end, we chose not to pay, and chose not to enter the mosque, which from what we could see of the courtyard through the door, was pretty similar to the one we'd seen in Fatepur Sikri, pictured again below.

Friday, November 11, 2011

India 11

The primary decorative feature of the car we hired to take us to Agra and back. I find this Indian style of spiritual art really creepy. It's not just that the characters portrayed are occasionally blue. In this case the faraway eyes are part of it - although this is not a particularly egregious instance of creepiness. The little images by the steering column here are actually better examples. The weird airbrushed perfection of the figures is the closest thing I can put my finger on - they are perfectly drawn and realistically shadowed and yet idealized in posture and form, and glowing like a poorly executed HDR. But it doesn't seem like that's a complete explanation. I'm mystified by these images. Maybe that's the point.

I suppose contemporary Christian vernacular figurative art is equally creepy, although I'm having a hard time thinking of specific examples. More satisfying explanations welcomed.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

India 10

Detail from Hanuman's Tomb, in Delhi. It's a lot like the Taj Majal, except smaller and not as good, but three hours closer. Or rather, it's not really much like the Taj Mahal at all other than that they're both tombs in India.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

India 9

The photo department has realized that our year of photographing everything in Hollavision has really paid dividends in our shooting-from-a-moving-vehicle skills. Lots of pictures from India that landed among our favorites were from the long drive from Delhi to Agra, or vice versa. Or perhaps the boredom of sitting in a car for a few hours led to a higher volume of photography, so discarding the standard 99% left more keepers after the cull.

In any case... how awesome is this totally highway-worthy tractor?!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

India 8

These three were all lined up along the side of the road as we drove by. After enjoying a couple pedicab rides in Nepal, we never did a pedicab in India, because hey: auto-rickshaws.

Monday, November 07, 2011

India 7

Despite the proliferation of options in the consumer wonderland of the U.S., I'm not totally sure I would know where to go if I wanted someone else to shave my chin-whiskers for me. I guess some old-fashioned barber shop might still do this?

Pictured above is actually one of the fancier barber shops we happened upon, what with the modest but serviceable space and the two actual barber-shop chairs. It seems that all one needs to be a barber in Delhi is ownership of a straight-back chair, a mirror, a pair of scissors, and a spot on the sidewalk. Which is fine - on a policy note (fret not: no foreign policy relevance), why should barbers have to be licensed by the government? The risk of a bad haircut seems like the kind of thing the private sector would pretty quickly take care of. Perhaps a relic of the days like the above when being a barber involved holding a straight blade to someone's throat?

Sunday, November 06, 2011

India 6

This is a detail from a fountain at one of the opulent palaces we visited. The Red Fort in Agra, we believe. But hard to say for sure.

With nothing further to add about that, I will note this: You know you have chosen to visit India in the hot season when the Indian newspapers have headlines about the heat and pictures of actual Indians who should be used to it mopping their brows and other such outward indicators of discomfort.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

India 5

Your correspondents had always known what the Indians call an auto-rickshaw as a tuk-tuk, perhaps only because we visited Thailand long before visiting India. They are ubiquitous in Delhi. And, awesome. We zipped all over that city on a pittance thanks to the auto-rickshaw. Our hotels kept wanting to get us fancy closed-in air conditioned taxis, which we accepted on occasion. But cars? They suck when compared to the mighty auto-rickshaw.

Friday, November 04, 2011

India 4

As it turns out, we were in India over The School Holidays. It was never clear what this holiday was, but since the rest of the country seemed to be full-steam-ahead, I presume it was something like our Spring Break. Our hopes to take a train from Delhi to Agra were dashed by The School Holidays, which are an opportune time for the rapidly growing Indian middle class to take the family down to Agra. Our much more limited desire to take the bus? Likewise dashed.

As such, the confluence of two great forces aligned against us: First, the knowledge that it was entirely possible that despite our hopes to the contrary, we may never be so close to Agra again; and second, the temporary illusion that because we were earning Danger Pay and spending nothing in Kabul we were fabulously wealthy. I can assure you that our return to DC has scuttled any brief reverie that we were part of the 1%. But, by for that brief interval, that week, we were!

So we hired a private car and driver to take us down to Agra one day, stay there overnight, and drive us back to Delhi, via Fetapur Sikri, the next day. His price was ridiculously low for what we got. But it would not have been measured in the proverbial peanuts. Being a professional driver of tourists, we figured he would know his way around Agra, and be able to help us with such tasks as finding the Taj Mahal. We were mistaken! Some amount of driving in circles around Agra ensued, along with the asking for directions from random strangers.

And thus, this kindly fellow, hanging out, selling eggs (we did not buy eggs) who was one of many who attempted to guide us to the elusive rooftop-cafe-with-a-view-of-the-Taj-at-sunset. I wish the photo were a bit straighter, but it was taken from the back seat of the car as the indolent staff photographer sat and took pictures and rolled his eyes about the hassles of navigating Agra, and he certainly wasn't going to get out of the air-conditioned car to improve the angle of the photo. The subject may have been the one who got us pointed vaguely in the right direction, but in the end we just told our faithful driver to drop us at some random street corner, found our way on foot, and took an auto-rickshaw back to the hotel that night.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

India 3

We spent a portion of our time in Delhi staying in the Haus Khaz neighborhood. We stayed in a fun boutique bed-and-breakfast, fairly near a hip up-and-coming patch of restaurants and art galleries. Just beyond the hip art galleries, a park opens up, beginning with these ruins. There's no entrance fee, no gate, and precious little interpretive information, but it turns out to be the tomb of a Sultan who died in 1388. We don't have a lot of truly old stuff in America. But even in Europe, it's unlikely that the neighborhood kids would be playing cricket on a six-hundred-year-old cultural site. Or even soccer.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

India 2

Making no attempt to be chronological with regards to tales of India, we might as well start here.

The Lonely Planet Guide to India (Which like many LP guides, is available for download as a .pdf on their website making it unclear why on earth anyone would purchase an actual hard copy of any Lonely Planet book - you can download and print only those chapters relevant to the parts of a country you will actually visit, or you can put all the searchable .pdfs you want on your laptop or smartphone or something else you might bring with you. Great Stagnation, indeed!) says that many of the world's most famous sites are so overhyped, and so frequently seen in photographs, that they may fall a bit flat in person. The LP guide goes on to say the Taj Majal is without a doubt not one of those sites - one can't fail to be awed.

We failed to be awed. That may be too cruel: It was lovely, it was majestic, it was everything promised. But perhaps the very reading-ahead of the Lonely Planet promise that the Taj would not fail to awe set up an impossible standard, and in the end, a certainty that it would fail to awe. We should be so lucky to test this theory with all the world's over-photographed monuments.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

India 1

We were only in India for a week. So it shouldn't be that hard to boil it down to 30 pictures. The photo editor is apparently getting soft, and some less-than-top-shelf photography is getting through. Maybe the picture above, from somewhere on the road between Delhi and Agra, is an example. It won't make anyone say "wow," but we like the textures and the bricks showing through the plaster and the spots of yellow and the dripping black. But anyway, following on the heels of The October of Nepal Pictures, we now present The November of India Pictures. Enjoy!