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Entries about tourist sites

Mumbai - Bollywood, the slums, and everything in between


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Mumbai is a really interesting city, running the gamut from the slums through the stock exchange, and also including the clothes washing ghats, antique and recycling districts, some new and old buildings, and some excellent food (the best tandoori chicken we found in India).

On the way to Mumbai, we were on a fancy train - it had power outlets. Unfortunately it had a safety feature whereby it was impossible to plug anything into the bottom holes without first lifting the (red) safety barrier by jamming a finger or pen into the top hole and pushing upward. Worst safety feature ever.
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We spent a long time looking for a clock tower that is supposed to be very famous and reasonably close to the transit stop closest to - no one had heard of it when we asked for directions, and we walked about 5km - almost always in the right direction - before finding it. On the way there were a few interesting sites, like the stock exchange near which Mumbai's bankers snack on elaborately carved fruit towers. The clock tower itself is in fact the library of university campus, and access to the campus was blocked off by guards. The clock is ordinary, but next to it is a pretty church with spiral spires.
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Mumbai being in India, there were a host of interesting random sights, like a dude sleeping in a basket and people carring big loads on their heads.
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Near the main antique district is a large recycling district, with people taking apart cars and stacking parts of all sorts, using old clothes as inner liners to new clothes, etc.
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The laundry ghat is a self-enclosed village where thousands of dhobi-whallahs (dalits, or untouchables) soak, soap, thrash, and clean industrial amounts of clothes. Laundry generally costs about 8 Rs (under 20 cents) per piece, including transport and the shopkeeper's costs and profits, and after seeing how long is spent on each step we'd estimate close to half an hour is spent on each piece. This specialized complex was built by the government several decades ago.
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The Mumbai slums, made famous in Slumdog Millionaire, are an incredible place. We went without a guide, and we found hard work and entrepreneurship rather than the poverty and desperation we were expecting. Built over 1.5 square kilometers and constantly rumoured to be about to be cleared for development, the slums house hundreds of thousands of people, mostly labourers, mostly in ramshackle corrugated steel huts. There are also lots of businesses - shops taking apart electronics, shredding bumpers, selling used doors, making textiles and components to unknown devices.
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My homeless-looking feet after a day in the slums
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The city itself is a peninsula, actually 7 islands which were connected in the 19th century using landfill. Because of the shape of the city, being a sliver of land, it is possible the 3 transit lines all run northbound starting from city center and actually use the railway and become suburban trains north of the city (stops are 1km apart in the city and up to 15 km apart in the suburbs).

Posted by chrisvasil 02:57 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Udaipur - Happy Birthday Sue! In India!!


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We were in Udaipur for Sue's birthday, and to celebrate I took her to a couple restaurants, we went to see a show, and got a decent hotel room. So not too different from a regular day (Actually she started to get mad at some point after everywhere we went I said I was taking her there for her birthday -- "I know, for your birthday let's go to a fun (puppet) show!").

Udaipur is said to be extremely beautiful, and is a fairly big city built alongside 2 lakes. We didn't see much natural beauty, though there is a lovely park.

We went to a puppet museum, and there was a really good short Rajastani puppet show.
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The park in the middle of the city is probably the nicest municipal park we've seen in India.
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A construction site - the second floor held up by bamboo stalks.
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3 pigs and a cow grazing at the side of the road
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View of the city from the other side of the lake.
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For lack of local places to eat (we had samosas 4 meals straight), we had dinner at a rooftop restaurant for about $3 per person. The food wasn't great of course, but it was a fancy place.
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Posted by chrisvasil 02:49 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Jaipur - The Pink City


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Oct 25 - Jaipur - The Pink City

Jaipur is India's pink city, with most buildings made of sandstone.
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While Sue shopped I went to the Ladies' Palace, so named because the windows provided the women cover to look at the shops and courtyards without being seen. This is a very fancy building, but
only about 2 meters wide - basically a big 5-story hallway and lookout made to look like a palace. I got a lot of practise taking pics of myself.
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Someone there likes me
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Hanging with wildlife
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At night there's a sound and light show at Amber Fort - we watched from across the moat, saving the price of admission though but losing half the narration.
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We wanted to see the illuminated Albert Hall museum by night, so we took the bus to that area (someone on the bus told us where to get off). From there I had some navigation problems, and we eventually saw a gathering of people behind walls. We asked what it is and got invited inside, where a student group was having a gethering. We talked to people and got free food, though no pics - here's the museum.
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Posted by chrisvasil 02:47 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Agra - Incredible Taj Mahal and a fort


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We arrived in Agra on a Friday, and the Taj is closed Fridays so we followed a tour group as they went around the outer wall, and found decent views of the Taj and garbage everywhere.
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Taj Mahal itself is incredible - the reflecting pools in front of the building make it spectacularly unique, and the large complex lives up to the hype. The inside is a bit small, but very ornate with sculpted marble, some of it inlaid with colored marble (formerly gemstones, but those were taken by the British when they took over).
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Don't be mistaken though - Agra isn't a one-trick pony, it also hosts a large fort, with good views of the city and the Taj.
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A large stone bath, which the king purportedly took with him when he left the city so he wouldn't have to bathe in strangers' filth.
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Posted by chrisvasil 02:42 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Varanasi - River pilgrimage site / tourist trap hell


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Varanasi is a very nice town, except for the fact that everyone there is either selling, scamming, or both. It is famous as the town where bodies are burned and the ashes end up in the river Ganges, in which pilgrims bathe at the 5 bathing ghats.
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After we got off the rickshaw near our hotel, a bunch of people followed us, trying to help us find our hotel (presumably to get commissions, which would be added to our price). We managed to get rid of them all except one, who was near us for almost the whole 20-minute walk through us yelling at him, and even asking a policeman to make him stop following us (he reemerged a block further along our route). It turned out he was working for a restaurant across the hotel, so we felt really bad for being so mean to him, but it also made it clear that people here can't tell when people hate them.

Every night there is a ceremony at the main ghat, which involves 5 young religous people praying, dancing and playing with fire.
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The next morning we took a boat ride along the ghats, seeing pilgrims bathe at sunrise against the backdrop of 200 year old buildings.
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Cows bathing in the Ganges
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Laundry being sun-treated by the river Ganges before being cleaned by dhobi-wallahs who smack the clothes against rocks until they're clean as can be.
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Sue in our guest house lobby, with cows in the laneway outside the door
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Posted by chrisvasil 02:37 Archived in India Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

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