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Published: February 20th 2006
This settles it.
I feel pretty confident that the debate for the best photo of the Taj Mahal is officially over. Prints for sale.
Feb 10 to Feb 15
Just off the train in Varanasi, I'm ducking the rickshaw driver, (I asked to be let off at St. Thomas church but I guess that meant a guesthouse of his choosing,) wandering towards the Ganges river when I get engulfed in a mass protest of the Danish Cartoons. Maybe a thousand Muslims blocking out traffic, with a lynched Bush effigy and Danish Prime Minister and several signs condemning America and the West. Peaceful, non threatening, of course, I merely was witness to something that seems to be playing itself out to various degrees of tolerance and destruction around large parts of the world.
Coming from Shimla and spending all of one hour in Delhi, Jeremy, Vijay and I caught a train to Agra capping the most active and busy couple of weeks I've had on my entire trip. Sipping Chai tea on the train served in disposable clay cups you chuck out of the window when finished we arrived into Agra expecting the worst of scams and touting in India but surprised to find it mellow and hollowed out. While the guys went to the Taj for sunset I set off for
walk into the old city and pickup cricket. Following foot paths and a train bridge over the river I walked 10ks ending at the Taj Mahal's backside along the river. For my effort I was yelled at for walking on to a piece of holy concrete, chased by an angry (almost dead) rooster and scaled the bridge because I couldn't find the right way up. That what makes India so appealing, walking around a town can seem exciting and adventurous.
A day in Fatehpur Sikri for an example in Urban Planning, Mughal style. Facinating for me as clean columns and sitelines, breezy pathways and large enclosed court yards made this deserted city seem as it could be reoccupied and serve people better than the present city surrrounding it. Up at dawn I was the second in line for the Taj and was brave enough to sneak my contraband tripod into the grounds. For 40 minutes they keep the small crowd back behind the reflection pool for the sunrise. In those 40 minutes several hundred photos must have be taken, most with flashes, at 150 meters out not sure if the point n shoot flash gets that much
range. After 9:00 am forget it, 1/10 of the foreign population in India seems to be inside. Yes, its amazing and worth visiting even though its 30 times the cost for forgeiners.
Varanasi is so many things to the Hindus and adopted pilgrims, for me, mostly its the last point before I head to Nepal. Just visiting this city for a few days isn't enough, or rather, visting for just a few days means you cant really feel what the city is supposed to be about. I didn't. The Ghats along the Ganges are just like you would picture them; varied, unsanitary, full of monetary approches, people washing clothes, washing themselves, launching candle lit prayers and offerings, observing the steady creamations and playing cricket, no matter if the ball is hit into the river. Its easy to see the spritual happenings that make this such a special place but to take part in it, if you choose to, must take time.
I'm off to try my luck on the Annapurna circuit, 180 miles at high altitude featuring the highest pass in the world at just under 18000 feet. I plan to take my time
and enjoy the solitude and some of the biggest mountains in the world. Its supposed to take up to three weeks, next post in a month!
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