Sunday, January 31, 2010

Blue City

From the ramparts of the Mehrangarh Fort stretches out the Blue City of Jodhpur. Many generations of mahajaras marveled at this view from their impenetrable fortress, that weathered war-elephants and cannonballs. The royal family lived here even after Indian unification. Now, its gates are open to all and everyone can enjoy the once royal blue views.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Jain Temple

A string of orange flowers hangs over the entrance to Chaumukha Mandir, the famous Jain Temple in Ranakpur. After removing our shoes, we slide our feet across cool marble floors to enter a kaleidoscope of color. A Jain ceremony bursts forth with sounds and smells. Generations of family sit playing music, chanting, and performing rituals that include offerings of food and dance. In a haze of incense, they perform devotions as if the onlooking tourists don't exist.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


On a hilltop in Udaipur sits the imposing City Palace glowing golden in the setting sun, while at a distant ghat colorfully dressed women wash the day's clothes. We circle the lake in a small boat cramped with Indian tourists getting an up-close view of the elegant floating palaces. A mother and child sit beside a barefoot man while he masterfully plays his ravanahatha, a traditional Indian fiddle.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


According to legend, when Brahma dropped a lotus flower thousands of years ago he created a lake in the middle of Pushkar. This makes Pushkar one of Hindu's most holy cities. In the bustling streets around the lake, music and prayer fill the air. Worshipers gather at the lake's many ghats, seeking guidance and purity while making offerings of brightly colored flowers and sweets.

After meeting the swamis, touring their temple, and becoming friends, we are invited to attend their puja ceremony that evening. Pushkar Temple by ClayBolton

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Jantar Mantar

Like many of us, Jai Singh II was fascinated by the stars. His interest led him to build observatories all over his kingdom and the largest, Jantar Mantar, is in Jaipur. Jantar Mantar means "instruments of calculation." These structures, built between 1727-1732, gave Singh II the ability to record time, locate stars, and track eclipses. Jantar Mantar has the largest sundial in the world called Samrat Yantra (The Supreme Instrument). The instruments continue to be accurate and used to this day.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Block Printing

On the roof of Gandhi Textiles, a small ink-stained team of block printers work with surprising speed and detail. All the work is done by hand and put in the sun to dry. The final products are large pieces of cloth that will become bed linens, saris or scarfs.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Our two week tour of the colorful kingdoms of Rajasthan begins when we meet our driver, Rajeev, a.k.a. Raj of Rajasthan. He's actually a sarcastic 24-year-old from Delhi who drives like a mad man. We learn this all too suddenly when we get into his car and are spun into a continuous whiplash motion accompanied by incessant honking. Before the car moves, he honks. When he passes a car, cow, or rickshaw, he honks. Before turning a corner, beeeeep! So I ask him "Do you always honk like this?" He responds with an Indian proverb, something like "No wife, no life; no girlfriend, no tension; no horn, no car". It seems funny enough, so I convince myself that I will adapt for the next 2 weeks with Raj.

When we arrive in Jaipur a few hours- and many honks- later, it is dark. We haggle for the 350 rupee ($7.00) hotel price and are off to bed. The next day we wander through the streets, forts and palaces of Rajasthan's capital. First, we tour the Amber Fort, its yellow walls welcoming tourists riding decorated elephants. Raj drives us by the Water Palace and a royal crematorium called Gatore Ki Chhatriyan with its beautifully carved white marble. We eat a delicious lunch of vegetarian tali which is like an Indian sampler: mixed vegetables, dal, masala, raiki, roti, papad and rice. Next, we walk around the City Palace, its ornate gates leading to stately halls, where maharajas (kings) received other dignitaries. Finally, we enjoy the ever rising windows of the Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Winds).

Monday, January 18, 2010

Fog Mahal

We walk through the fog and darkness of pre-dawn Agra, hoping to beat the throes to the Taj Mahal. Passing through the gates, just as the day begins to glow through the heavy fog, all we hear are birds chirping and cameras snapping. The encompassing cloud gives the marble mausoleum a mysterious aura as we admire its symmetry and inlay work.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Reclining Buddha

After getting our Indian visas and seeing Avatar in 3-D, it was time to be tourists in Bangkok. We jumped into a tuk-tuk and headed for the Reclining Buddha and Grand Palace.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Purgatorio Paradiso

Not a bad place to wait for a visa. Our long tail boat dropped us off in the east bay of Railay Beach. We waded ashore and found our bungalow on a nearby hillside. We soon forgot about deportation, Kuwait, and visas, and just swam in the Andaman Sea. The beautiful beaches were surrounded by towering cliffs and dense forests. With the smell of pad thai in the air, we knew five business days were going to fly by. We climbed into the jungle, found rocks to jump off, and rented kayaks to explore deserted beaches. Temple even tackled rock climbing. In the evenings, we chilled with ice cold Chang Beer. The days passed and soon our purgatorio in paradiso was over. As we departed in our long tail, we thanked Railay for letting us forget our problems.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Syrupsun had been going smoothly, a little too smoothly, and we got sloppy. We landed in Mumbai without a plan but, more importantly, without visas. We soon found ourselves in a small room with a few immigration officials who questioned us and began paperwork. We naively thought that there was some alternative, that we could get a visa on arrival. Some of the staff we talked to seemed willing to help, but when Clay looked over the form said "Refusal to Land." Despite pleas for help, we were soon on a plane back to where we'd come from, a place we hadn't wanted to go to in the first place: Kuwait City, Kuwait.

Before boarding, Kuwait Airlines handed us tickets to go all the way back to Amman where we'd left the previous morning. We refused to go that far or pay for those tickets. Luckily, we got our bags off the plane before they flew there. In Kuwait, we immediately went to the Indian Embassy and explained that we'd been deported and needed a visa asap. We were shuffled back and forth all day between the consulate and the passport office. At one point, we heard that we could get the visa the next day if we got a certain man's signature, at another point we were told that it would be a minimum of 10 days. After hours of no official answer on how long we'd have to wait, our top priority switched from getting into India to getting out of Kuwait.

We left the embassy with our passports and decided that if we had to wait, we'd do it somewhere beautiful, and cheap. Thailand. We found tickets online and surprisingly Thai Airways had a Kuwait office open until 8:00 pm every night. All day long regular people at the embassy had been helping us even as they dealt with their own problems. This continued as people in the internet cafe lent us cell phones, people on the street helped us with directions, and in the end, one guy walked us all the way to the airline office. We were amazed and grateful at the kindness of the people in Kuwait who made the ordeal bearable.

We flew to Thailand the following day. The Indian Embassy in Bangkok guaranteed our visas in five business days. It suddenly seemed so simple. After dropping off the passports we got on the first bus to the beach.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dead Sea Float

In the Dead Sea, you float like a cork. Falling backwards into the water your body slides across the surface without effort. We floated in the late afternoon sun, quickly getting used to our salty lounge chairs. We were the last ones in the sea as the sun sunk behind the hills of Israel.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Petra Blue Moon

We first glimpse the Treasury after walking through a long deep canyon called the Siq, when sandstone walls reveal the intricately carved face of Petra. The stone facade glows golden, filling the air with an ethereal magic. After the postcard Petra experience, I worry that the rest of the Nabatean metropolis will disappoint, but the magic continues as the city of sandstone sprawls in every direction. We hike around the site for hours, exploring the holes and eroded facades that occupy every nook and cranny. Even more amazing is the visible effect of time on the ancient walls. The faces of tombs appear to be melting in a gothic display of dripping reds, purples, yellows and blues.

While looking for the Treasury viewpoint from the top of the canyon, I follow Clay up a stairway that seems to lead to nowhere. After many steps we arrive at the Sacred High Place- a carved stone altar used for rituals in biblical times. Although it's not what we're looking for, the views are worth the hike. Back down the stairway to nowhere, we pass the Royal Tombs and finally find the trail to the viewpoint. We briefly lose our way when, suddenly, the top of the Treasury's facade appears. The new perspective ignites a sense of discovery in both of us.

Down from the viewpoint, we take the main road through the center of the ancient city, passing souvenir shops, camel caravans and mysterious temple ruins. We head for the Monastery which is on the top of a mountain that we climb with several other tourists, many on donkeys. The reward is the remarkable Monastery, which, like the Treasury, is mostly a facade, the inside being only an empty room.

After climbing for several hours, we are ready to head back but I go for an alternative route. Soon, we are in a whole new part of the ancient city, seeing incredible tombs and ruins, some only partially uncovered. We follow a path that takes us to the Renaissance Tomb, Tomb of the Soldier and the Lion Fountain. All magnificent. Low on fuel, I'm hoping to turn the corner to find the main road but instead the trail leads up and up, more stairs. Clay helps me keep a good attitude when I'm seconds away from hopping on the next donkey I see. As soon as we reach the summit, Clay sighs, "Sacred High Place". We've climbed the back way to where we were that morning. We laugh at ourselves, enjoy the views again and finally descend, heading back to the hotel to rest before our New Years celebration begins.

That evening, we join a small crowd to walk the candlelit path through the Siq in silence. When we arrive, the space in front of the Treasury is dotted with paper lanterns. Traditional music plays and we drink hot Beduoin tea, enjoying the Treasury in moonlight.