20 April 2008


After our travel plans were finally settled, we had a couple days in Delhi to see some sights before heading out to Jaipur and Agra. Above, Heather is pictured at Humayun's Tomb. It's earned its place on the World Heritage List because it is India's first garden-tomb and was the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. In addition to the building itself, the grounds are also quite impressive. Next to and behind Heather, you can get a sense of the watercourses that form a grid over the entire garden.

The tomb was also one of our first experiences with the dual pricing system in India: foreigners are charged significantly higher prices than locals. Given that most things still only cost us the equivalent of about five dollars to get in, I'm not really complaining. In fact, I think it is great that locals are able to see these wonderful sites for very affordable prices. It is their heritage, and I think it is important that they are able to experience it, and not be priced out of it by tourists.

We returned to Delhi for one day after our trip to Jaipur and Agra and visited this mosque, the largest in Delhi. Like many other times, we were asked to share a picture. While at the Taj Mahal, we saw two very blond brothers with a line of people waiting to take pictures with them. Their parents said that it happened everywhere.

We also saw the Bahá'í House of Worship, better known as the Lotus Temple, completed in 1986. Bahá'í is an open religion that accepts most others in the world, so the Lotus Temple is a site where people of all faiths can come together and worship in their own way. Personally, I would disagree with the theology, but I certainly applaud the acceptance represented here. I suppose if more of us were as accepting of other people and our differences we could probably solve a lot of our problems. At the very least, it is a beautiful building that, since its opening, has been visited by more people than the Eiffel Tower.

We knew that sites such as these would be impressive, but one of the best things we experienced in India was the National Gandhi Museum, located in the home where Gandhi lived at the time of his assassination. They have all of his personal items in a single display case, and it doesn't amount to much more than his glasses and walking stick. But the most important part of the museum is the grounds behind the home, where Gandhi was shot.

As you can see in the picture, stone footprints trace his final steps, culminating in the sheltered stone marker where he fell. Visitors are required to remove their shoes, but are allowed to walk around the path, contemplating it all at their leisure. While we were there, I experienced true peace. Outside the gates, everything is loud, car horns are endless and people constantly ask you for money or offer taxi rides or other services. But inside, it is quiet and meditative. Gardeners meticulously care for plants. The men near the marker invite you to look around (Please! Please! You are welcome!) Most touching of all was watching the Indian visitors and their wide-eyed respect for the man and the site. As I walked around the path, it was clear what an impact Gandhi has on the Indian people, and on me. He was steadfast as he stood for what was right, no matter the cost. Maybe there is hope for this planet yet.

18 April 2008

Welcome to India


India was different than any other holiday I have ever been on. The first three days we were there, I left the hotel actually looking forward to coming back in the evening. Until you get used to it, it can be quite stressful because everywhere you look, there is poverty. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Our introduction to the Indian way came months earlier when we were applying for visas. Hundreds of people were at the consulate and when it got too crowded, they would take the number machine down. Of course, this didn't stop anyone from coming in, but did heighten the confusion. Behind the counter, there were bundles of papers everywhere--it made me very apprehensive to see it, especially when it was my turn to hand my application--and passport--over.

This continued upon arrival at the airport in Delhi. There were barriers set up to form a queue, but it didn't do much good. Heather and I spread out to block others from passing us in line. Once we got through that, it was time to get a cab, and that is when the real trouble began.

We told the driver where our hotel was and he took off. On the way, he asked us what our travel plans were, and we told him we wanted to go to Agra and Jaipur. He asked if we had that travel booked; we said no. Then he said that we needed to book that soon because travel options book quickly and he would be happy to take us to an agent. We asked if it was a government agent--that's what you are supposed to use, and what the driver was--and he said yes. So we agreed.

At the agency, we were sold a three day package with a private driver from Delhi to Jaipur to Agra and back to Delhi. We wanted to take the train but were told that there were no seats available. The package also included hotel stops along the way. Heather again asked if he was a government agent and we were shown a certification. So we paid.

When we finally arrived at our hotel, we were approached by another agent, Ahmed, who was based out of the hotel and associated with RBS Tour & Travel. He asked if we had any travel needs and we told him we were all set. He asked what we had booked and how much we were paid. When we told him, he said we had been cheated. Let the panic begin.

First, he told us that there are always seats available on the train. And he told us that we were charged too much for the hotels. We called the agent and told him we wanted our money back. He declined. We said we would see him in the morning.

In the morning, we told him that we needed our money back or we would go to the American embassy. He told us we could go. When we got up and walked outside, he said he could give us the money back minus a handling fee. How much? Twenty-five percent. Take us to the embassy, please.

Unfortunately, they didn't do much there other than tell us to be more careful.

Back at the hotel, we booked travel with Ahmed and planned on disputing the charge to the other agent. Ahmed booked hotels and travel for us, including our preferred train rides. He even set us up with a great driver for the day named Kamal. If you are ever traveling to Delhi, give Ahmed a call--he will take care of you. I don't know how many times he described a hotel as 'small, neat and clean'--he will get you what you want, not what makes him the most money.

So after a bit of a mishap, we finally got the trip we wanted. Lesson learned.



17 April 2008

Detention Hall

If you were watching ESPN earlier this week you might have seen some Australian Rules Football news. In last week's match between the Sydney Swans and the West Coast Eagles, Barry Hall sucker punched Brent Staker, giving him a mild concussion in the single punch to the jaw.

On Tuesday, the tribunal handed down a seven game suspension for the hit, nearly a third of the season schedule. But the suspension is really irrelevant since Hall injured his wrist on another play. The injury will keep him out for the next eight weeks. Conspiracy theorists across the AFL are raising their eyebrows at the timing of that. It's hard to see in this video, but he slammed his head into the iron bar on the same play.

It's not a very popular opinion in Sydney, but I think Hall is overrated. He always seems to have trouble finishing a play, and very often complains about other players yet pulls stunts like this all too often.

Of course, no one cares what I think, but his coach seems a little put out with it now, too. When I read this article, I couldn't help thinking that Roos is getting a bit tired of Barry's act. And perhaps Barry himself is finally admitting there is a problem: according to the news today, he is seeing a psychiatrist to help him figure out why snapped.

With the 107-45 win, the Swans are 3-1 for the season. Hopefully by the time Hall returns at midseason, they will still be near the top of the ladder.

07 April 2008

Lucky Sevens: Kevin Rudd

Last week, leaders from the NATO countries met in Bucharest. On the table, among other things, was Afghanistan and a discussion about the NATO missile defense system. Russia's outgoing president Vladimir Putin even made a visit to discuss the system and NATO's expansion into eastern Europe.

Among the attendees was Kevin Rudd, Australia's Prime Minister, participating in his first NATO summit. However, things were not smooth as; Rudd was taken to task last week by the Australian media. You're Lucky Sevens question for April: What did he do to make the media back home mad as a cut snake?

Check out the video below to see the offense.

03 April 2008

Other things to do in London

Well, I've let this one get away, haven't I? This post should wrap up London, but I won't guarantee that I'll complete the trip too soon because I'll be pretty busy with school for the next two weeks. I started my second semester a month ago, and they aren't exactly easing us in this year. I will try to be better, though. As for London, I've told you about the Abbey, the Tower and the museums. But these things are London musts as well.

Be sure to take a walk with Donald Rumbelow, noted Jack the Ripper expert and author of The Complete Jack the Ripper. He provides tours as part of London Walks, the original and best walking tour company in London. Rumbelow will take you to several important scenes of the Ripper mystery and give you a two hour brief on the series of events that have captivated the world for 120 years. He is gracious and patient, answering each question, which he has no doubt been asked thousands of times. For six pounds, it's a great deal. We also went on a Shakespeare walk that is also recommended. Many others are available, and they all begin and end at major Underground stations, so they are very convenient; check their website for more information.

Speaking of the Underground: take it. It's easy, convenient and reliable. Not to mention that it is probably the most famous public transportation system in the world. Did you know that the London Underground map, based on a circuitry diagram, is the model for every other rail map used today? This design presents the rail system not as it is in reality, but rather as we picture it in our minds. You can thank Harry Beck for that one.

Next on the to do list is the ubiquitous red telephone booth. Despite the prevalence of mobile phones, and the disappearance of public phones in many other places, you are just about guaranteed to be able to see one of these anywhere in London. We chose this one because Big Ben is in the background, and had another unexpected benefit: this was about the only ten seconds of no rain that we had the entire week we were there.

And speaking of Big Ben: never let it be said that Look Right doesn't bring the experience to you. If you play the video below, you will hear the chimes of the Big Ben. You will also hear a lot of wind and rain, but as I mentioned above, that was a bit hard to miss. As cultured, civilised people, I'm sure you already know that Big Ben is technically the name of the bell, not the tower housing it. So in this video you are looking at the Clock Tower, but hearing Big Ben. Whatever you call it, it's a London institution. Enjoy.