Travel: New Years

Last night while walking amongst the crowds on the beach and celebrating the holiday, my butt got grabbed twice. The first time I thought it was an accident, but the second time I couldn’t help myself from turning around and shoving the guy behind me. Nick, ever a great guy friend, backed me up and the group of males backed off. It took me awhile to shake it off and go back to enjoying the celebratory atmosphere.

img_0215-1

img_0212-1

image

 

 

 

 

This morning, Nick and I slept in. We started off our morning with lunch consisting of traditional Goan Fish Curry and Fried Prawns. It was so tasty! After, we meandered on to the local beach and rented cots for the day to spend a lazy afternoon. We enjoyed quick massages from a peddler, and certainly couldn’t skip our daily tradition of Chai and Biscuits.

With a twinge of sadness we watched the sun dip below the horizon. This was to be Nick and I’s last night together as he was flying out in the morning to spend some time with his extended family in India. We celebrated our eye-opening Indian Adventure together by sharing one last dinner.

image

Travel: Matrimony

Today, I was fortunate enough to garner an invitation to a traditional Hindu wedding as Nick’s plus one. (You may recall the various Saree shopping debacles that we encountered in Jaipur and Jodhpur).

imageUnlike a typical wedding, which tends to be a more serious and understated affair, Indian weddings are loud and energetic. The one we attended, was actually a 3-day affair (we chose to attend only 1 of 3).

It started with a Swagatam “welcome” ceremony. Under the raucous beat of drums, the Baraat “groom’s procession party,” consisting of family and friends, joyously dance into the building. In contrast, the bride’s entrance is a much more solemn affair.

 

The introduction between the families is made, and there is a Jai Mala, a garland exchange between the bridge and groom. During all of this, there is a constant flow of food and drinks circulating the room.

imageHonestly I had no idea what was happening for the majority of the ceremony, and neither did Nick. We had hoped to make the reception, which is when the bride and groom both perform separate choreographed dances to Bollywood music with their bridesmaids and groomsmen, respectively, but apparently that had occurred the day before. Nick’s friends, did however, regale us with some of their drunken stories from the previous night.

imageThe most significant part of the ceremony is the Saptapadi, a 7-step ritual. The bride and groom have a part of their clothing tied together, and they walk around the fire 7 times. The fire, represents Yajna, the divine witness and each circle represents the oaths that they make to each other. It is after this event that the bride and groom are officially considered married.

It was a vibrant affair filled with colorful clothing, diverse sarees, intricate henna, and shiny jewelry. The food selection allowed me to try some curries I’ve never had before. Nick and I even became best friends with the Chai-Man! I do wish, however, that I had known what was going on. Everyone is so busy carrying on conversation during the ceremony, that it was impossible to know what was occurring on the dais. ūüė¶

 

 

 

 

Travel: Ancient India

Today, Nick and I learned the true meaning of IST ‘Indian Standard Time.’ We went to Vodaphone with the intent of acquiring pre-paid SIM cards. Needless to say, 2.5¬†hours later, we finally had our SIM cards, however, neither of us have managed to get service.

imagePart of the challenge was that regulations for foreigners to acquire SIM cards are much more stringent than it has been previously due to the 2008 Mumbai Attacks – 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting over four days by the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

image

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

With our errands over for the day, we were finally able to explore part of Delhi’s ancient past. Delhi has been home to a total of seven previous dynasties, and as a result, retains unique heritage structures that illustrate the diverse differences between each kingdom.

 

As we cut our way through the bazaar of Connaught Place, one of the largest commercial, financial, and business centers of New Delhi, we went from the Inner Circle, Rajiv Chowk, to the outer ring, Indira Chowk.

image

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Nick managed adopt a little girl along the way. We were both confused and laughing at the time, because we simply did not know how to react. Truthfully, it was heartbreaking. She couldn’t have been more than 5 years old, and she just latched onto the corner of Nick’s polo, and followed us for a few blocks.

 

It was at this moment that I understood why some are proponents of Child Labor. While it may seem like a travesty against human rights, it does provide a means for children in developing countries to earn an income, and provide essentials for their survival. It’s a sad reality, but a necessary truth.

Outside the Rajiv Chowk, lies the Jantar Mantar complex. Built in 1724, it comprises 13 astronomical instruments. This site is one of five built by the Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur, after he was given the task of revising the calendar and astronomical tables by the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah.

image

 

The Mughal Empire lasted for over 300 years, and spans the timeline from 1526-1857. Babur, the founder, had turned to India to satisfy his political ambitions after being ousted from his ancestral domain in Central Asia.

 

The towering instrument that greets us as enter the grounds is the Samrat Yantra, a giant triangle that is essentially a massive sundial. The 128-ft long hypotenuse is parallel¬†to the Earth’s axis and points toward the North Pole. Each side has a quadrant, with graduations that indicate hours, minutes, and seconds, turning the basic instrument, into a precision tool.

image

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

We next came across the Jayaprakesh Yantra; A hollowed out hemisphere with cross-wires stretching out between points of the rim. An observer at the center, could align the position of a star with the various ribs.

 

 

Then, we came across the Misra Yantra, a tool used to determine the shortest and longest days of the year in addition to the exact moment of noon in cities and locations worldwide, regardless of geographical distance from Delhi.

imageDescending even deeper into time, the Qutab Minar is the 2nd tallest Minaret in the world at a total height of 73 meters. It is made of red sandstone and marble, and has a diameter gradient that begins at 14.3 meteers at its base before narrowing to 2.7 meters at its peak. This sprawling tower has five layers, and despite construction beginning in 1192, was not complete until 1368.

You will often see minarets as an iconic feature of muslim mosques. It is from these spires that Adhans, the call to prayer, are issued five times each day.

imageIf you look closer, you can see the islamic influence in the shape of the Muqarnas that encircle each tier of the tower. Remniscient of stalactites, they take the form of small pointed niches stacked in radially symmetric tiers that project outward. The number of unique tiles is limited by N-gonal symmetry, or the equation N = N/2 -1.

imageWe then stopped by the Dilli Haat, a market that hosts unique handicrafts from each of India’s 29 states, and snacked on some Momo’s, which are essentially dumplings. This makes sense, given that this ethnic food is from north-eastern India near the Chinese border.

 

.

Travel: New Delhi

image

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

After checking-in to our rooms, we took some time to scour off the travel grime, and prepare for our day. We arrived at the hotel around 7 AM, and had decided that taking a nap would basically just serve to encourage our jet lag.

New Delhi is the capital of India, and the seat of its executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Although the capitol was originally in Calcutta in the early 1900s, the British, formally decided to migrate the seat of their power to New Delhi in 1911.

It is not difficult to feel the british influence when one walks along the kingsway.

 

Master-planned by the architect Edwin Lutyens, New Delhi is centered around two central promenades call the Rajpath and the Janpath. The streets are wide and tree-lined, a design that was both ambitious and forward thinking in its hey-day.

imageOur first stop, was the India Gate. It sits along the eastern edge of the ‘ceremonial axis,’ and is a towering memorial that evokes an architectural style akin to the Arch of Constantine in Rome, or the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

 

It calls for the remembrance of the 82,000 soldiers of the undivided Indian Army who lost there lives between 1914 and 1921 during the First World War and in the Third Anglo-Afghan War.

Below this towering structure, is an understated black marble plinth that bears a reversed rifled, capped by a war helmet, bound by four urns, each with a permanent jyoti¬†(light) from flames. Inaugurated in 1972, this is the Amar Jawan Jyoti, India’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

image

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

At the opposite end of the Rajpath, lies the secretariat, home to some of the most important ministries of the Cabinet of India. Much of the buildings of the North and South block are classic in style, but it is not difficult to see the Mughal or Rajastani motifs that have been incorporated.

 

They are visible in the form of the perforated screens which shield from both the scorching sund and the monsoon rains. Another feature is the dome-like Chatri, which provided shade to travelers in ancient times.

image

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Our last stop of the day was the Lotus Temple. This location serves as the Mother Temple of India. The¬†Bah√°’√≠ Faith, has roots dating from 19th-century Persia, its founder,¬†Bah√°’u’ll√°h died a prisoner when he was exiled to the Ottoman Empire for his teachings.

 

 

Three core principles are emphasized in the¬†Bah√°’√≠ religion: (1) The unity of god, (2) ¬†The unity of religion, and (3) The unity of Humanity.

image

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Inspired by the lotus flower, a symbol of purity, the Lotus Temple is composed of 27 free-standing marble clad “petals” that form nine sides of three clusters each. Each of its nine doors open into a central hall that is more than 40 meters high, and can hold a total capacity of 2,500 people.

image

 

The engineer in me was completely awe-inspired by this building. Not only is it remniscent of the Sydney Opera House in Australia, but its a challenge to grasp the depth of shell-stresses and structural analysis involved in the fabrication of each monstrosity of a petal.

 

imageWe finished our day by savoring a snack of Pao Bhaji (Bombay street food, very similar to the American Sloppy Joe, except vegetarian) and having Tea, before retiring to our rooms to pass out.

 

 

Travel: A Night with the Gods

Our car arrived in Litochoro around midnight, where we were kindly greeted by the hostel owner. Exhausted, we grabbed showers and crawled into bed.

2013-06-11 07.47.06

 

When we woke early in the morning, the forecast was cloudy with a chance of rain – this is prone to happen in mountainous areas due to the extreme change in elevation between valleys and peaks (also known as microclimates).

 

2013-06-11 05.52.55

Thinking that we had little chance to ascend to the top of Mount Olympus that day, and being exhausted from the license debacle, we all rolled over and went back to sleep. Eventually, when we woke around 10 AM, we decided to go hiking despite the gloomy skies. We decided to first fill our stomaches with some goat stew before embarking on our quest.

Mount Olympus¬†is one of the highest peaks in Europe. The highest peak,¬†¬†Mytikas, meaning “nose,” has a total elevation of 9,570 ft above sea level. The first part of our hike was fairly wooded with dirt paths and wooded steps. You can see from my face how hot we all got from our hike despite the cool atmosphere. It was pretty breathtaking to watch the mist creep over the surrounding peaks and then wisp away to reveal snow along the terrain as we continued to scale the mountain side.

2013-06-11 07.51.37

Unfortunately, we were hoping for the weather to clear as we continued our hike; the exact opposite happened. The clouds got larger, the skies got darker, and an ominous shadow started to encroach on our light. Before we knew it, it had started to drizzle. This happened as we were crawling up some more challenging rock faces, the wooded area and trees having long diminished.

One of our friends, stubborn as she is, refused to turn back, and despite our frustration with her, there was little we could do but surge onward. Eventually, we reached one of the climbers rest-stops just as the rain began to pelt and the sun began to set. Fortunately, there was plenty of space for us to spend the night, and we bonded with the other climbers that had also taken shelter. A fireplace was available to dry out our wet clothes, and we enjoyed witty banter and card games.

I like to joke and say that we spent our night with the gods, which in a way is true. ūüėÄ

2013-06-11 14.09.04In classic Greek Mythology, this mountain was seen as the residence of the Twelve Olympian Gods. Mytikas was their forum, and Zeus  resided over all; from his palace above the clouds, he would preside over humanity, and unleash his godly wrath with his thunderbolts.

 

 

 

Travel: Winds of Mykonos

Windsurf

I had really hoped to get some Wind-Surfing practice in while on Mykonos; the nickname for this popular destination is Island of the Winds.   Unfortunately, none of my friends had any prior experience, not to mention the ridiculous pricing due to tourism being the primary foundation of their economy.

I was fortunate enough to take a class while I was finishing my Graduate Degree at Stanford University. Its only one of the many reasons that I love California, a state that is North enough for me to catch some powder in the winter in Tahoe and south enough for me to enjoy the beaches of LA.

2013-06-06 08.03.05

As we savored the sunshine and the privacy of the beaches, my friends and I decided to ‘throw caution to the wind’ and embrace the sexual openness of europe. Therefore we opted to go topless to balance our tan-lines. I definitely found it to be a strange experience, since I have never even gone skinny dipping before!

2013-06-08 09.44.23A lot of the beaches have small local restaurants that lay out lawn chairs for the beach-goers. The downside is that this means that very little sand-space is left available for individuals that choose not to opt for their food-service.

 

2013-06-08 09.37.17

Since our new friends and us were feeling ready for a snack, we embraced this. One of my more courageous friends decided to try the Octopus; after all, when one is in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea :P. I was just super excited to finally get a chance to savor Grecian Baklava. ^_^

2013-06-08 11.27.40

We stopped for some more photo-shoots on our way back to the beach-side hostel. The sun was just starting to set, and the shadows cast by the failing light just emphasized the natural beauty surrounding us.

C and I hopped on the ATV to treat ourselves to some gourmet seafood. Then we met up with the rest of our friends to experience the nightlife of Mykonos. It is classified as one of the 10 best party islands around the world! (I have to say though, it still didn’t live up to my Jersey Origins.)

 

2013-06-08 14.06.542013-06-08 13.59.59

 

 

 

 

Travel: Labyrinth of Mykonos

2013-06-07 09.31.29

With nothing strategically planned for our days on Mykonos, we enjoyed sleeping in and emerged from our cabins when the sun was high. Having made some friends the previous night, we decided as a group to rent ATVs and Mopeds which would allow us to travel around the island at free will.

 

The roads are very irregular and as a result we got confused and lost multiple times. However, after some significant effort, and retracing our steps, we found our way into town.

2013-06-07 07.15.42

Our first insight into Chora was a bright pink Pelican. “Petros” is considered a “celebrity” of the town’s waterfront, and took up his permanent residence on the island after a storm in 1954. This is his successor as the original bird has passed away.

2013-06-07 07.09.49

 

In the distance, on a hill overlooking the water, we encountered the Windmills. An iconic feature of the landscape, they were initially built by Venetians in the 16th century in order to mill wheat. Construction continued into the early 20th century, and they were the primary source of income for Mykonos’ inhabitants. In the present day, they have been refurbished and serve as residences, museums, or even storage space.

2013-06-07 07.41.39

 

Finally, we ventured into Little Venice. Dating from the mid-18th century, these houses originally belonged to rich merchants are captains, and the little basement doors provided direct access to the sea and storage areas. Because of this, suspicions arose that the owners could have secretly been  pirates!

2013-06-07 07.54.38

 

 

 

In the recesses of the maze-like narrow streets, we found my favorite confection! Crepes!

The day was polished off with some aimless wandering amongst a geographic cropping  on the coastline. We climbed on large rocks, played photographer and model, and explored the crevices and creatures that the island has to offer.

2013-06-08 09.03.222013-06-08 09.02.05

Travel:Three Beautiful Days on Mykonos.

2013-06-07 07.13.15

Since I met up with friends from the US of A, my originally planned schedule was modified, and unfortunately this meant foregoing some of my days that were originally planned for Athens. On the bright side, we got to enjoy some lazy, hazy days under the Grecian sun on the beautiful island of Mykonos.

Approximately an 8-hour boat ride from the Athens port, who would have thought that the Greek Islands are so far from the mainland and from each other?!

2013-06-07 07.09.01

Nicknamed the “Island of the Winds,” it has a total area of 85.5 square kilometers and has an elevation of 341 metres at its highest point. Mykonos’ origins date from 3000 BC, as archeological findings suggest the presence of the Neolithic tribe Kares. However, the first real settlers, ¬†the¬†Ionians,¬†did not arrive until the early 11th century.¬†

Historically, the island was a pawn on the board of the Mediterranean Sea.

2013-06-08 11.38.12

Originally under the reign of the Roman Empire, Mykonos became part of the Byzantine Empire until the 12th century. It then became occupied by the Ghizi overlord in 1205 with the fall of Constantinople  during the Fourth Crusade. By the end of the 13th century, the island was ravaged by the Catalans, and then finally given to the Venetians in 1390.

Fast-forward to 1537, when Mykonos was attacked by Hayreddin Barbarossa, an infamous admiral of Suleiman the Magnificent, resulting in occupation by the Ottoman fleet. The island remained under the leadership of the Kapudan Pasha until the 18th century when the Greek Revolution against the Turks broke out in 1821.

2013-06-09 02.35.16

Mykonos was central during this insurgence, led by the national heroine¬†Mando Mavrogenous, an aristocrat who, guided by the Enlightenment, sacrificed her family’s fortune for the Greek Cause. Greece officially became an independent state in 1830.

2013-06-06 11.16.31

 

We finally arrived on the gorgeous island of Mykonos in the early afternoon. Grabbed some bites, and caught some Vitamin D on a gorgeous beach amidst a beautiful view of vibrant blue water.

Travel: Anafiotika

After we completed our descent of the Acropolis, we rendezvoused with a new travel-friend and took a break for lunch. See some of the fantastic food we had below! I am not normally a big fan of eggplant, but I rather enjoyed the Moussaka (it was probably creamy enough that I did not notice the typical flavors that I dislike).

2013-06-05 07.39.162013-06-05 07.45.462013-06-05 08.35.21

2013-06-05 09.44.28

Completely stuffed to the brim, and being of the female species, we took some time to browse the quaint little shops in the immediate vicinity. I was incredibly tempted to purchase some carved olive wood utensils or sculptures, but I was hard-pressed to add another purchase to my backpack burden (given my incapacity to avoid buying a Venetian Mask during my stay in Venice).

I also really wanted to buy a toga despite how stereotypically tourist that act and owning that article of clothing would have been. Thankfully, my friend talked me out of it by commenting on the quality of the stitching and cloth versus the price they were asking.

2013-06-05 11.19.23

We then wandered through the quaint neighborhood of Anafiotika. It is a small, picturesque area that resides in the historical region called Plaka. Original houses here were constructed during the era of Otto of Greece when workers migrated to Athens from the island of Anafi in order to construct and refurbish King Othon’s Palace. It is from these small origins that these colorful, idyllic Grecian houses came to inhabit the northeast side of the Acropolis Hill.

2013-06-05 11.26.00

 

The beautiful scenery and the narrow streets were utilized by us in a valiant attempt to capture some model-esque poses and pictures amongst the whitewashed walls in stark contrast to the surrounding vegetation.

My attempt was  less than satisfactory given my travel lag from the tedious multi-transfer and ferry trip I took in the previous days to traverse the Mediterranean Sea.

2013-06-05 11.47.42

I caught some interesting pictures of graffiti when we finally emerged from the winding and step-filled paths.

2013-06-05 14.09.17

 

 

The day was wrapped up with a quick traditional Gyro for dinner, and savoring some frozen Greek Yogurt. ^_^

Next Newer Entries