After leaving James at 3am, I caught a rickshaw to the airport, heading for Amman. I landed just ten minutes before my connecting flight to Dublin, so I ended up spending yet another day in Jordan. Not that I don’t like the country, I am just a little bored of it. I spent a little extra on a room with television and air conditioning, and whiled the day away catching up on my sleep and the Olympics.
The next morning I went back to the airport and flew to London, then Dublin. I stopped in a World of Whiskeys Shop in Heathrow, and got a good sample and lesson in the different types of that lovely nectar. Finally arriving in Dublin, I left my bags at the airport and found my way to town without too much trouble. Ruth recommended the Four Courts Hostel, and it is quite nice. I wandered over to the Brazen Head, the oldest pub in Ireland (established 1198). I quaffed a thick and hearty Irish stew and a pint of Guinness, but soon found out that my stomach was not yet up to the challenge. I spent the night in between the bed and the toilet; surely not the first time that this particular hostel has seen sick travelers. However, it was not the evening out on the town that I had planned for myself. The next morning I walked over to the Guinness Storehouse at St James Gate, but was disinclined to pay 15 euros for a tour. The smell of beer and the sight of the brewery was enough for me. So, back to the airport, through US customs in Dublin (strangely enough), and then back on a plane to the states.
James and wanted a break from the Delhi heat, and headed up to the mountains. Dharamsala is the home of the largest Tibetan community outside of Tibet, and has a very different feel from the rest of India. We went on a day hike up to Triund, to see the beginning of the real Himalaya. Despite the monsoon rain, it did clear in the afternoon and the views did not disappoint. Having the mountains appear through the mist only added to the ambiance. On the way down we helped a trail worker replace some large rocks; he said he works only for karma, so I guess we got some too. I still don’t understand the distinctions between the varieties of religions in this part of the world. I guess you are just allowed to have as many gods with as many arms as you please. I don’t really see anything wrong with that. There’s certainly something up here above the clouds.
Edit: Here is a view of our route on Google Earth. We started at around 6000 feet and went to 9527 over four miles. Not bad for a day hike.
Due to the inavailability of train tickets over the weekend, I ended up going to Agra alone on Monday. James will have to come back with some other tourist friend. Agra is an industrialized city, with little to offer other than the Taj, the former capitol at the Red Fort, and a few other tombs. As a result, the tourist trade is incredibly aggressive and pushy, vying for the foreigners that come in on the morning train. I tried to avoid some of this by getting a prepaid taxi for the day, but this only resulted in my being taken to several “art gallerys.” I ended up lugging home an inlaid marble chess set and some other goodies. Being an inexpert bargainer, I probably paid more than I should, but that always seems to be the case.
The Taj Mahal is probably the most well known piece of archicture in the world, but that doesn’t stop it from being breathtaking in person. What pictures don’t indicate is just how big the thing is. The standard shot with the reflection in the water is taken from quite a distance away. As you get closer, the 52 meter onion dome looms overhead. The place is crawling with tourists, but they seem to stay on the central axis of symmetry. Getting off to the side, I found a nice bench to take a nap in the shade. I tried to stay until sunset, but clouds loomed and the light faded around 5.
I spent a few hours in the train station pestered by mobs of small children, giving money to cripples. Call me a sucker, but 10 rupees means nothing to me, and is food for a day for someone else. James says it’s counterproductive, and he’s probably right, but I still can’t bring myself to just brush them off as well as some of the other tourists can.
After spending all day yesterday dealing with the madness that is the Delhi rail station, James and I decided to go sightseeing today. We went to see the tallest brick structure in the world at the Qutb Minar complex. They used to let you up the 72 meter spire, until 40 people were trampled to death at the exit. While the minaret is impressive, it was the 7 meter iron pillar that really got our attention. It was forged around 400AD, and is 99% pure. That level of metallurgy wasn’t achieved in the west until the middle ages. This leads James to believe that it is really an alien artifact, a theory that the inscription seems to verify. There is also a 45 meter hole in the ground (measured by our inaccurate spit-timing method). Deep well, or entrance to the hidden tunnel complex? Further exploration is clearly needed. We plan to return with rapelling gear and torches.
After spending a whole day enjoying Amman’s lovely airport, I arrived in Delhi at 5am local time. James was good enough to meet me, and his larger than life presence in the arrival hall was a reassuring sign. He had stayed up all night working in preparation for my arrival (dressing the elephants, and so forth). So logically, we spent the early morning wandering around the Safdejang enclave where he lives. It’s a little outside the main urban center of Delhi, but still within the metropolitan area.
The city is as mad as it has been described, with autorickshaws, motorbikes, Ambassador cabs, cows and pedestrians all jostling for space on the road. James reminded me of the effective rules for right of way, with cows at the top and pedestrians firmly on the bottom rung. One has to remember to look left, as traffic nominally flows the opposite direction. But in reality one must be aware at all times, as there is the constant danger of being run down, or at the very least stepping in shit.
After a brief nap, we ventured out to do the touristy things that James had yet to do. We went to India Gate, a memorial to the 70,000 WWI dead, and a seeming replica of the Arc de Triomph. We walked along the national mall to the Presidential palace, where we were denied entry by the very friendly security guards. Then we took the ultramodern subway to the Red Fort, which was built by Shah Jahan, the same Mughal emperor who built the Taj Mahal. Looking at these monuments, it’s easy to see how he bankrupted the empire with his extravagance.
Looking at a map, and discussing options with James’ tour guide roommate, we’ve tentatively decided to go to Agra to see the Taj this weekend, and then take next week to go up to the mountains to Dharamsala. Not a bad end to an extraordinary trip.