Travel Day: Stockholm to Copenhagen

 To round out our trio of the Scandinavian countries, we caught an 8 AM train this morning to head to Copenhagen, Denmark. It took a total of 5 hours, so we didn’t arrive until around 1:30 PM. After throwing our luggage in lockers at Central Station (since we could not check-in to our B&B yet), we grabbed a quick bite before heading out to catch a free walking tour. 

Our tour guide, Benjamin actually turned out to be Canadian! He had been living in Denmark for 6 years since his partner was Danish. It was easy to see that he loved the city by his energy and enthusiasm, and he certainly had some interesting stories to share with us.

 We assembled outside of the City Hall. If you look carefully, just to the right of the Scandic sign, you see two lure blowers. Legend has it that if a young virgin walks by you will hear their trumpets sound. Benjamin then interceded to say, with humor, that to-this-day the horns have yet to be heard, after all, Denmark is a very progressive country.

 Just a short distance away was the Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world. If you read Tivoli backwards, it reads “I love it.” The park is also home to a more than 100-year-old wooden roller coaster that dates from 1914. It is so popular that presidents, royalty, and even pop icons have a fondness for the ride. The coaster is also one of only seven that still requires a driver, called the brake man, on board. Obviously Tom was enthralled by this and now wants to returned to Copenhagen just to spend a day in Tivoli. I, on the other hand, am less than thrilled that I maybe dragged on another coaster against my will.

 We learned about the history behind the Carlsberg Beer, how Prince Fred met Mary, and even some interesting laws concerning equestrian statues. Apparently if both the horse’s hooves are on the ground, the rider died peacefully, if one hoof is in the air, the rider died from wounds sustained in battle, and if both the horse’s hooves are in the air, the rider died during battle. 

After our long day, Tom and I were exhausted. So we picked up our luggage, checked into our B&B for the night, and grabbed pizza nearby before settling in for a quiet night of “How I Met Your Mother.”

Stockholm: Voulez Vous La Musique

Anyone born in the in the 50s, or the child of parents born in this period are familiar with the band ABBA. To date, they are the most successful pop band to emerge from Sweden, and have been only second in success to the Beatles. Furthermore, they are the only band from a non-English speaking country to ever top the charts of English-speaking countries.   

 I remember fondly the songs I listened to with my mother as a child, popular hits such as the “Dancing Queen,” “Mamma Mia,” and “S.O.S.” would regularly feature on our car rides. Therefore, how could we not take some time to visit the ABBA Museum while we were in Stockholm?

 The museum documents how Agnetha, Björn, Benni, and Anni-Frid found their musical starts. It then demonstrates their creative process and the transpiring events that served as their inspiration. Memorabilia, outfits, and props are proudly on display while imaginative use of technology allows you to do anything from record a vocal track, dance in a music video, or take the stage as their fifth member alongside their holograms. 

 Tom and I tried the first two with mixed results. It turns out (although I’ve always known this), that I am beyond tone-deaf. Once I bowed out of trying to sing Dancing Queen, Tom’s solo vocals gained a much better score. It was abundantly clear that my inability to carry a pitch was bringing the team down. :(. We also tried to dance in a music-video but couldn’t manage to stop laughing. The hologrammed stage would have been interesting, but there was a line, and the performance would have been public to any passerbys. Stage-fright, a lack of dance moves, and not being a fan-girl were sufficient enough reason to hold back.

  
We then headed to the highest point in Stockholm to enjoy a breather and take in a scenic view of the city before heading back to the hostel for a break.

 After a brief repose, we grabbed dinner at an Irish Pub nearby before heading on an adventurous walking tour of our own. There are some well-documented odd, secret, and hidden items to be found around Gamla Stan, so Tom and I went on a hunt calling it our own Ghost Walk (quite a few of them were particularly morbid). We visited Hell, commemorated the Stockholm Bloodbath, and admired a Bartizan.

 One of my favorite stops was the statue, “Boy Looking at the Moon.” Arguably the smallest public sculpture in Sweden, it was sculpted by Liss Eriksson in 1954 and retells the memory of his childhood when he would sit on his bed and stare at the moon through his window on sleepless nights. It is made of sandstone and wrought iron. Superstition says that he will bring good luck to anyone that rubs his head. He was wearing a cute knit hat and scarf when we visited him, a gift that Stockholmers like to provide him with during the winter, so we merely patted him on his head. 

Oslo: The Norwegian Spirit of Adventure

Norway not only has a rich maritime heritage, but its citizens have also consistently demonstrateda thirst and tenacity for adventure. We visited museums dedicated to two of such explorations, and the Kon-Tiki Museum and the Fram Museum.

 An explorer named Thor Heyerdal developed a theory that Polynesia was settled by inhabitants from South America. According to an Incan legend, there was a sun-god named Con-Tici Viracocha who was the leader of a mythical fair-skin tribe from Peru. His people were nearly massacred during battle on an island in Lake Titicaca when Chief Cari from the Coquimbo Valley came to call. Con-Tici managed to escape with some close companions and disappeared westward out to sea.

In an effort to prove this myth, and demonstrate the plausibility that Polynesians and Peruvians exhibited common traits (such that they shared fair skin coloring generations ago), Thor and five other companions set out on an expedition. The raft was made out of balsa logs and other native materials in the traditional indigenous style documented by the Spanish Conquistadors. After being towed out to sea on April 28, 1947 and being left to the mercy of the wind and currents, they traveled a distance of 4,300 miles in 101 days across the Pacific Ocean before smashing into a reef in Raroia in the Tuamoto Islands on August 7, 1947. Against all odds, and defying expert options that each crew member was facing ultimate death, successful landfall was achieved.  

It’s hard for me to imagine how brave and courageous these men had to be. Not only did anthropologists dismiss Thor’s theories as impossible, but each member had to withstand the pressure and burden of knowing that everyone thought they would perish. 

Another historical vessel we had the wonderful opportunity to board and explore was the Fram Polar Ship. The captain, Fridtjof Nansen’s ambition was to explore the Artic further north than anyone else. From the beginning, he planned the for wooden ship to freeze in a polar ice sheet and float with it over the Noth Pole.

 In order to accomplish this, several creative and technologically advance design changes were made to what would have otherwise been a traditional wooden ship. The hull was built unusually wide and atypically shallow. This allowed do the force of the pressing ice to push the ship up to “float” on top of it rather than being crushed by it. 

Credit: Tom

Additionally, the ship had almost no keel to handle shallow waters, while the rudder and propeller were designed to be retracted. The outer layer of greenheart wood provided for a strong hull, and careful insulation decisions were made so that the crew could live on board for a maximum time of five years. The inclusion of a windmill allowed the ship to generate its own electricity. 

The Fram Polar ship was in service from 1893 to 1912, and is said to have sailed further north and further south than any other wooden ship. 

Travel: Elephants

imageElephants are creatures that are revered in India. According to Hindu Cosmology, the earth is supported and guarded by mythical World Elephants at the compass points of the cardinal directions. Sanskrit literature even attributes earthquakes to the shaking of their bodies when the elephants tire of their burden.

The deity Ganesh(a) is the god of wisdom, and he is distinctively represented by a human form with the head of an elephant, which was placed after the human head was either decapitated or burned from the body.

imageHowever, this is not how the Elephanta Caves, with origins dating between the 5th and 8th centuries, received their namesake. In the 16th century, the Portuguese named the island “Elephanta Island” in honor of a huge, monolithically rock-cut black stone of an elephant on a mound; this unfortunately has been relocated to the Mumbai Zoo.

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 Despite being just 7 miles east of the port, the ferry ride took an hour to get there! Fortunately, I caught some great views of the Gateway of India, the exit causeway through which the last British troops passed through on February 28, 1948, signalling an end to British rule and the beginning of Indian independence.

In each of the caves, Shiva or Mahadeva, “Great God” is aniconically represented by a Lingam, a single rock rounded at the top. Aniconism is the avoidance of using images to represent divine beings, prophets, and religious figures.

However, I happen to find the monolithic rock to be an appropriate manifestation of Shiva.

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At his highest level, Shiva is considered limitless and transcendent, unchanging and formless. Why not abstractly represent him as something from nature that also adheres to these characteristics? Are rocks not powerful? Do they not withstand the test of the time?

I may not be Hindu, but even I was moved. I couldn’t help but place my palm against the rock and close my eyes, taking some time to summon my faith, and chant the Buddhist Mantra I learned as a child beneath my father’s wing.

Travel: Venice of the East

imageNick and I actually delayed our travels to the city of Udaipur by a day because we wanted to visit the Fort. Hence, rather than a 7:30 AM bus, we caught a 6.5-hr sleeper bus. Since it was a non-AC bus, we were feeling pretty optimistic that it would not be too cold. After all, how often does a typical commercial bus have openly ventilated windows? Much to our dismay, even though each cot had its own glass-enclosed cubicle, the windows to open air were not tightly sealed, and therefore it was impossible to limit the amount of penetrating cold desert air.

imageEven worse, I woke up at 3 AM with a pressing need to use the toilet, with no possibilities in sight. I was concerned that even if I asked the driver to pull to the side, the language barrier would prevent him from fully understanding that I needed him to wait for me. I was terrified that he’d drive off and leave me, in the desert, by myself, in the middle of the night. A long struggle later, Nick finally woke up, and he made sure the bus driver didn’t leave me behind (though he was concerned when he felt the wheels of the bus inching). 😦  There is never anything glamorous about popping a squat in a dark ally out of sheer necessity.

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

When we finally arrived at our hostel around 6 AM, they had given our beds away (even though we had called the previous day to give them fair warning)! Nick and I ended up having to squeeze ourselves into two very small chairs with a blanket to catch a little more shut-eye.

 

Needless to say, we did not feel very rested when we finally awoke, and had a pretty lazy day.

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

Udaipur, often called the “Venice of the East” for the its beautiful lakes, was founded in 1559 by Maharana Udai Singh II as the last capital of the Mewar Kingdom. It was during this time that the City Palace first came into existence. In reality, the City Palace is not merely one palace, rather it is a sprawling complex consisting of many different palaces that were constructed by 76 different kings over the course of nearly 400 years.

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 

The royal family, the Sisodia Rajputs “Worshipers of the Sun God,” built each palace to face east, in order to greet the rising sun. The exquisite facade of the 11 palaces spans a total length of 800 ft, and a total height of 100 ft. A unique trait of the architecture is that, since the total structure was built over an extended period of time, one can see a diverse blend of different styles. Each characteristic of the Rajasthani, Mughal, Medieval, European, and even Chinese Architecture is paradoxically homogenous and unique at the same time.

 

It is said that the Maharana (distinct from the term Maharaja) built his palace atop the hill following the advice of a hermit who he had found meditating at the summit.

Merry Christmas from Jodhpur!

imageWe all woke up late this morning due to the festivities of last night. The staff had cleaned up the cake (from the glitter firecrackers) and shared some slices with us. Nick didn’t pull his string aggressively enough, so he decided to pour all of his glitter over my head. -_- I may still be sparkling….

Craig, one of the new friends we made last night, was traveling alone so we invited him to explore the city with us. We trekked up the hill at the center of the Jodhpur old city and entered one of the seven gates of Mehrangarh Fort.

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The fort is situated 400 ft above the city and surrounded by thick walls. Within the complex are several palaces known for the intricacy of their carvings and the botanical diversity of their courtyards.

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Legend says that Bhaurcheeria, “The Mountain of Birds,” initially had a single human occupant. In order to build Jodha’s fort, Cheeria Nathji, “Lord of the Birds,” was forced to leave. In his anger, the hermit cursed Jodha:

“Jodha! May your citadel ever suffer a scarcity of water!”

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 

Nathji was only marginally appeased by the construction of a house and temple within the fort that was in close proximity to the cave that the hermit had meditated in. However, even to this day,the area is plagued by a drought every 3 to 4 years.

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As an even more extreme measure to ensure his new site was propitious, Jodha buried a man named “Raja Ram Meghwal” alive beneath the foundation. In return, Meghwal’s family was guaranteed to be looked after by the Rathores. Even to this day, his descendants still live in Raj Bagh, an estate beaquethed to them by Jodha.

imageAfter catching a gorgeous view of the “Blue City” from high above, we started our descent on the other side of the hill, and came across some traditionally dressed girls with baskets on their heads. I find it quite fascinating that even in this modern-day and age, a diverse array of traditional clothing can be seen in India as a stark contrast to the more readily adopted Western Clothing.

imageWe then paused by the Jaswant Thada for a breather, before continuing to engage in some aimless traipsing through the streets.

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Travel: Man Sagar Lake

This morning, we both enjoyed the luxury of sleeping in before heading for a walk around the Man Sagar Lake to observe the beauty of the Jal Mahal “Water Palace.” We even got to see an elephant just strolling down the street amidst the motorcycles and rigshaws, and a camel just resting its legs!

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Interestingly, Maharaja Madho Singh I constructed the complex in 1750 intending for it to be a lodge for himself and his entourage during duck hunting parties, it was never intended to be a palace.

imageIt is considered a classic example of Rajput and Mughal Architecture, and as we’ve seen often during our trip, composed entirely of red sandstone. There is a rectangular chhartri on the roof, and four octagonal chhattris on each of corners of the building. They are elevated dome-shaped pavilions that have become a signature of Indian Design.

Based on plain observation, one cannot derive the complexity of design and technological forethought involved in this structure. While we only see it as a one-story building, in reality, the palace has five floors in total, four of which are submerged in the lake

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As we savored the nice weather and strolled along the lake, we came across a costume peddler and decided to have fun and play “dress-up.” The most awkward part of this, was when they wanted us to pose and take a picture as a couple. [Insert Awkward Turtle].

 

 

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 

India is still a conservative nation, so when they see a man and a woman travel together, assumptions are often made. Additionally, seeing an Indian and an Asian together is almost an unheard of circumstance. Fortunately, Nick and I had a good laugh about this.

 

 

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We wandered the area and found ourselves a nice open garden to take a seat in and relax, before grabbing lunch and heading to hike up to Galta Ji.

 

imageThe pilgrimage site lies in the town of Khania-Balaji, just outside of Jaipur. It is known for its natural water springs that accumulate in tanks “kunds”. Thousands come to bathe in these waters every year as it is considered auspicious. Additionally, some believe that the Saint Galav lived here. He meditated, did penance, and survived for years just drinking cow’s milk.

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 

Galta Ji is also commonly called “The Monkey Temple” as a tribe of monkey lives there. Nick was being mean and joking that he had reunited me with my family. T.T.

 

 

I’ve self-perpetuated this ongoing joke when, a few years ago, I discovered that my strangely shaped thumbs coincidentally align with the thumb shape of a gorilla. It is all in good fun though, and I enjoyed getting up close and personal with my brethren.

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Credit: Nikhil Kulkarni

 

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