Posts Tagged ‘Sightseeing’
Many of the old palaces in Rajasthan and other states have been converted to hotels. Neemrana, now on Delhi-Jaipur highway, is one such 15th century fort-palace. While it is only a 100 kms from Delhi Airport, it is half way to Jaipur and can take 3-4 hours from Delhi depending on where in Delhi you start from.
Mid-town escalator – a visitor to Hong Kong is expected to get on it. I wish I could say that taking the escalator meant not walking. The world’s longest escalator is really for the working man – it ferries them from home to the financial hub in the morning. After mid-morning, it switches direction and starts going back up to the hills again. So, if you are a visitor, you can either go up or down the escalator and you will have to leg it the other way. If you are an average visitor, you will likely be staying close to the Central’s shopping district and therefore would be going up the escalator and coming down the stairs.
We were in Tokyo and we couldn’t possibly go back home without making a pilgrimage to Asia’s largest fish market. The only hitch was that the recommended visiting hours are 5am-8am. According to legend and Lonely Planet, the famous Tuna auction happens at 4am, which many websites informed us, is now closed to tourists. We were going to give it a shot anyway. Or not. At 4 am.
Here I was again, stuck at yet another airport in the middle of a San Francisco-Delhi trip. My last long layover was a twelve hour one at Bangkok when I had managed to sneak away to the city. I had the urge to get away again – in a decade of hopping between San Francisco and Delhi, I had never had six hour layover at HKG before.
You are a conscientious visitor to Delhi. You have read your Lonely Planet India, done some web searches, and know that Delhi is an ancient city, the site of seven capitals over millenia. The Red Fort is on your list, as is Humayun’s tomb, and perhaps the Qutab Minar. And then you make your way to the Taj in Agra.
But surely Delhi must have accumulated a few more ruins than what India’s lackadaisical tourism industry would have you believe. Here are just four examples, all of which can be reached on foot from Qutab Minar.
A combination of lack of detailed maps, the locals’ flexible notion of distance and time, and the thin mountain air, made us drop our grand plans to wander across Leh on foot. But every day or two we did have to walk the distance from the nightly bivouac to the nearest bus stop, which usually turned out to be just beyond the next mountain (us) / hill (locals). After a couple of days of lugging my stupidly heavy backpack it dawned on me that there were usually two tracks leading across every mountain/hill – one around it and the other over it. The latter seemed as if someone had created straight-as-arrow paths on a flat piece of paper, and draped that paper on mountains and valleys.
Yes, the famous parrots. Not as many bees as there are flowers. And, last but not the least – the stairs – lots of them.
Telegraph Hill is where Coit Tower sits. You can’t miss Coit Tower if you are in San Francisco. You can see it from far and wide, standing out like a light house which it is not. Long time back, and for San Francisco, 150 years is a long time ago, Telegraph Hill used to be a bald hill. Because of the line of visibility, the location was used as a semaphore line. The role of the obervatory was to note the type of shipping vessel crossing Golden Gate Strait and let the town folk know. Even now, in spite of the dense foliage on the hill, you can see the Golden Gate Bridge.
What have we got at the edge of San Francisco? Sutro baths of course. Our very own modern ruins. And fog. I doubt a hundred years have changed the course of San Francisco’s weather. So, who built a public bath house on a generally cold and often foggy beach? A rich dude, of course. In 1896, Mr. Sutro, who owned most of San Francisco’s western front, built an indoor swimming pool, in fact a set of seven swimming pools, at a cost of over a million dollars. Why? I guess, because he could.
Choose a day that isn’t too cold. Start the walk from Ferry Plaza. If you start on a Saturday, you will be able to pick up your lunch from the Farmer’s market. When you are done exploring Ferry Plaza, start walking westwards and stay as close to the bay as possible. Many of these piers offer pedestrian walkways. The route is unmistakable, so there is little to no chance of getting lost. If you are planning on completing the hike, plan on walking about 10-12 miles and spending anywhere between 3-6 hours.
Here is what you will see on this hike – San Francisco skyline from several vista points, sailboats dotting the sea, yachts moored at the harbors, large container ships crossing underneath the Golden Gate bridge, kites doing acrobatic maneuvers by the marina, kids playing in big or small groups, people of all ages sunbathing or jogging, couples of all genders holding hands or kissing, buildings with military architecture – extensions of Presidio. In spring, you will see Crissy Field in a wildflower bloom.
At first glance, San Francisco’s Chinatown appears to be a collection of trinket shops. Only during the Chinese New Year celebration does this place truly come alive and then one has to be prepared to brave the cold winter rains which often afflicts the celebration, and huge crowds.
North Beach, the Italian sector of San Francisco – great location, great food, and great views. Just don’t come looking for a beach.
I am not at all in favor of visiting national parks from the comfort of my car seat, but I came close enough that day. It was freezing - I live in San Francisco Bay Area and anything below fifties is freezing for me. Cold wind was biting chunks off me – my nose, my ears ….
A little about Bryce for those who are not familiar – it is situated on a high plateau in Southern’s Utah, 5 or so hours drive from Las Vegas. The limestone rock formations, called the “hoodoos”, are caused by rain and ice eroding away the relatively soft rock. A large collection of hoodoos form a basin called the amphitheater and it is most definitely one of the few destinations worth visiting.
I am glad that we decided to walk the Navajo Loop Trail. It would be a strenuous hike if it were longer but it was less than 2 miles and offered a great opportunity to watch these rocks from a distance as well as close up. Besides, it was the only time that trip when I took my hands out of my pocket to hold the camera.
Aside from being one of the most expensive real estate areas in US that allows them to keep the riffraff out, Palo Alto is also the home of one the best universities in the world, the Stanford University. Its campus, although not as beautiful as the old and dilapidated Berkeley, is home to a wonderful museum, The Cantor Arts Center. This museum comes together with the second largest Rodin collection in the world – an outdoor bronze sculpture garden and indoor collection of wax and terracotta pieces. Rodin was a bit of subversive artist in his times and was considered progenitor of modern sculpture, so now that we are in a modern world, his art reaches out to normal folks who are totally uneducated about mythologies and scriptures. Gates of Hell is a particularly awe inspiring piece that has nearly 200 individual sculptures, including a miniature Thinking Man. In this exurbia devoid of any public collections of great art, this museum is charming.
I am talking of Alviso, the little town that can be approached at from Hwy 237, at the southernmost edge of the San Francisco Bay. It had a glorious past and was all set to become an town of utmost importance. But that didn’t happen – train tracks were built to bypass the town. The building of Bayside Cannery – one of the top 5 canneries in US in its heyday - is still standing with murals depicting Alviso’s past and present.
With views as glorious and a neighborhood as quiet, you would think that the real estate prices would be skyrocketing. But Alviso is sinking, little by little. So, it has become a forgotten neighborhood where Bay Area locals come to get a glimpse of the past and enjoy the marshes. Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge leads tours of the Alviso marshes to explain this area’s ecology. They also have events like “Beginning Birdwatching” or “Beginning Bird Photography”.
Are you a San Franciscan? Do you stay away from the wharf because you consider it to be touristy?
Tell me this – what is not to like at the waterfront – one of the best views as far as eyes can see, and loaded with history too. Yes, the touristy stores. They are there everywhere including Chinatown. They have large banners in front of them screaming “touristy”, so not too hard to avoid, right? And the performance artists, they are amusing if not fascinating.
McLeodganj, or upper Dharamsala is a bustling town, a well-known vacation spot, in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. Since the 14th Dalai Lama sought refuge in this town after the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959, it has seen a steady influx of Tibetan refugees. Now, the Tibetan population perhaps outnumbers the locals.
The Tibetan Government in Exile, which operates from here, has set up various facilities for the refugees. There is an old peoples’ home, a dormitory for fresh arrivals and a large setup of ‘homes’ and ‘school’ for children. A large number of Tibetans send their children across to McLeodganj with groups of refugees to ensure that they receive good education and get to study Tibetan culture. Many of these children never see their parents again. Some are scared to make phone calls to them back in Tibet and gradually lose touch with them.
McLeodganj, partly because of the popularity of the Tibetan cause in the West and partly because of its serene surroundings has always been a backpacker ghetto. The pressure on the resources of this small town is increasing and one sees more vehicles than people walking the streets these days. As far as tourism is considered, McLeodganj is a well-appointed town. One can find hotels of all ranges and most facilities that one hopes for in a town like that, like good Internet cafes (with broadband lines), fairly worthy restaurants and even a discotheque.
We had just stepped off the rickshaw when a young boy selling charms approached us. He was too young to have a street-smart swagger and walked towards us with the timidity of someone new to the job. A smile eased his hesitation and he stepped closer. ‘Hello…Want to see dead body?’ he said, grinning ingratiatingly. Casual and breezy…
This is something fascinating about California – it is littered with ghost towns, small towns that sprang up and disappeared during the glorious days of its mining era – between 1850s to early 1900s. Miners came from all parts of the world in search of the gold in the hills of California.
Last autumn, when we decided to go on a long road trip, from Bay Area to Las Vegas, it only seemed appropriate to visit Calico ghost town, which was on our way.
We had started early from Bay Area and had arrived at Calico ghost town about 4. Even here, 150 miles away from Zabriskie Point of Amargosa Range in Death Valley, the mountains retain some of the unusual colors of gold and amber. It had appeared more amber in the light of the setting sun.
If there’s anything that makes me feel cheated while traveling in India, it’s air travel. When you care the least about getting a window seat, like when it’s cloudy, there is always one available. When you really want a window seat, like when you are going to fly over the Himalayas, you will be seated between Mr. Corpulence and Mr. Mal-odor. If you are luckier, there will be a toddler kicking your seat throughout the journey, as it happened with me on a recent visit to Srinagar.
I was on a journalistic assignment, the tourists were returning to Kashmir with a revenge. We had been booked into the Centaur Hotel, beautifully situated, right at the DAL lake. There’s a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ about that hotel, maybe it is the peeling walls, the stale smell in the rooms, bad service, random people ringing your bell in the middle of the night… The next day we shifted to Green Acre. A smaller, cosier place, with big airy rooms and warm hospitable service. It is an old bungalow transformed into a hotel. They have an old section with wooden ceilings and beams and a new concrete block. It has a beautiful garden, which was in full bloom. Although there is no telephone in the rooms and the service a little slow, you can be sure your food is coming from a safe and clean kitchen. There’s no menu, there’s standard fare for each meal- Lentils, Meat, Vegetables, Curd, Rice and Chapatti (bread), and it is always excellent. Not all rooms have wi-fi but the connection in the hotel lawn is good. It is run by the family, they live in one section of the hotel. Friendly, polite and helpful, that’s the place I’m staying next time as well.
On our Delhi-Jaipur road trip, we had spent the night before at Sariska and started the day’s adventures with Bhangarh, the 17th century ghost town. Now we were on our way to Abhaneri, the site of 8th century stepwell.
It was afternoon and we were quite thirsty. At Bhangarh, couple of village women were serving water the old fashioned way – using a long handled copper pitcher out of a bucket, presumably the water was drawn from a nearby well. We had dared not drink it. We had run out of water and hadn’t found bottled water on these off-the-map roads. We stopped for tea at a local temple. I don’t recall much except a large cauldron of bubbling milky tea and a hyperactive group of adorable little baby monkeys. After nearly twenty five years, I had tea out of an earthen cup.
On our Delhi-Jaipur road trip, we had spent the night in Sariska and were on our way to Bhangarh that morning, a 17th century ghost town.
Our road was narrow and unpaved. A landscape of spring time fields full of fresh green shoots, village women in their bright chunris, wrinkly old men herding goats, buffaloes and children bathing at the same water hole, blue sky above, and georgette like veil of clouds. Dotting this landscape were ruins of old forts and chattaris, cenotaphs and occasionally, ads for mobile phones.
We had left for a Delhi-Jaipur road trip that morning. By the time we reached Sariska, it was already evening. I had spent my childhood in a town called Alwar, a small town then, not very far from Sariska. My memory of Aravali range were these undulating hills that sparkled in the noon sun due to the presence of trace amounts of mica. That evening, the Aravali hills surrounding Sariska had looked a dull greyish-brown in the setting sun.
Although the tigers at this tiger sanctuary are now all dead or departed, many wild animal species such as leopards, hyenas, jackals, spotted deer (cheetal), wild boars, sambars and four-horned deer are still there. A casual visitor these days is likely to see only monkeys. We didn’t encounter any that evening.
My travel agent had found me a ticket from San Francisco to Kolkata that was $200 cheaper. Downside being a 12 hour layover at Suvarnabhumi, Bangkok’s brand new multi-billion dollar airport. I had done similar stretches at Singapore’s Changi and I was none the worse for wear. Besides, I had never been to Bangkok before, and it sounded like an adventure. Worst case scenario would be a nap at the transit hotel.
Upon arrival at Suvarnabhumi, I realized the problem. Too few toilets. No lounge chairs, no showers, no workout facilities. Maybe I could have taken a nap in one of the many prayer rooms. Cost of the dingy little solitary transit hotel, in a remote part of the airport, was outrageous. I had already been traveling and sleepless for 18 hours, and yet my mind rebelled against spending time and money at that hotel. So, there I was, with 12 hours to spare, at an unfriendly airport. Getting out was the only sensible option.
The information kiosk staff were polite, friendly and not informed at all.