At around 5pm I received a distress call from Jeanine. She had dropped her collection of keys (car, house, mailbox, work) into a storm drain as she was unloading food for Open Table. I arrived with a spare car key, a crude fishing wire, and surveyed the situation. The keys were not visible and were probably submerged in the water at the bottom of the sewer some 9 feet below the grate. I returned home and fashioned a proper retrieval device from a 10 foot long 1″x1″ piece of scrap wood and three rare earth magnets affixed to the end of the stick with Gorilla tape. I returned to the grate, happy no one had parked on top of it, and proceeded to conduct a grid search on the base of the storm drain. My first pass was just below the surface of the water. The second was 3″ below the water where I skimmed along the top of the sediment at the bottom of the drain. On the third pass, at about 6″ under the water and well into the sediment layer, I felt the magnets mate with the keys. I then gingerly lifted the keys up to the bottom of the grate and ever so slowly grabbed onto them and pulled them through. The entire operation took 25 minutes with me seated on the ground as rush hour traffic streamed by. I have little doubt that half of the town of Concord witnessed me fishing in the storm drain and are convinced I have gone mad. Returning home with the lost keys, I was greeted by Jeanine with hero status. Her Facebook post on the outcome can be found at this link.
I stopped into the office today to retrieve my bonsai trees. They were in great health having been well cared for by my colleagues during my one month absence. Even more satisfying was the news that the Mark Two printer which began shipping just as I was leaving has sold in excellent numbers and has been preforming well in the field.
Kyle has returned from his three month stint in Thailand a little ahead of schedule due to the timing of an audit in California which requires his supervision. It is unclear where his next posting will take him. We are rooting for Boston but it is more likely that he will wind up in Menlo Park where his small company already has an office. Until this decision is finalized he has furnished his office with an inflatable mattress so that he does not need to find temporary housing until the decision is made. In addition, he now has one of the shortest commutes in all of California.
Jeanine was up before dawn to attend the non-denominational sunrise Easter service at the Old North Bridge. Maya and I needed a little more sleep and joined her for the 11 AM service at our church. In a departure from tradition Maya received an Easter “bucket” instead of a basket. It mattered little to her as the contents seemed more the priority. She was kind enough to share some of her more tasty gifts with me. Later in the day we joined Alan and Sarinnagh for lunch at the AKA Bistro where I had my first burger in over a month. Never has one tasted better. I spent the balance of the day beginning the long process of post-processing the images I captured over the last month and deleting the less compelling ones. The total now stands at 4,000, down from the 10,000 I shot. I have started updating posts (you may have to go back a page or two) and hope I can get fully caught up in about a week.
As much as I enjoyed my adventures in Southeast Asia, I am delighted to be home again. Jeanine and Maya picked me up at the airport and I was happy to clear customs in record time (so happy I enrolled in the Global Entry program). During the ride home I shared the highlights of my travels which made the trip go quickly. On the home front Jeanine, Maya, and Nicolai’s girlfriend, Karuna had readied the house for Easter with a beautiful Easter Egg bouquet that now graces the picture window in our kitchen.
The third Mughal Emperor, Akbar the Great (1555–1605), commenced the construction of his own tomb in around 1600. It was completed by his son after his death. Today the Tomb of Akbar the Great serves as much as a wildlife sanctuary. Deer roam openly and birds of every variety can be found singing in the trees.
I had originally planned to spend Holi in Mathura. Virtually everyone I met with advised against this because my safety could not be assured. Mathura is where the hardcore come to celebrate and drink. Think spring break. I still wanted to see the city so we stopped there on the drive back to Delhi. The birth place of Lord Krishna, Mathura is an ancient city of India known for its various monasteries of the Hindu religion and various pilgrim spots and temples. Most archeological sites are closed on Fridays but I did manage to find a massive reservoir that was pretty interesting.
With a check-in time of 1:30am for a 4:30am flight, I decided to sleep in the airport rather than stay in a hotel for a few hours. Kuldip, my faithful driver, dropped me at the airport. Even though we had only exchanged a couple dozen words over the past week (he spoke very little English) it was funny how well we had got to know each other. I have enjoyed my time traveling but am happy to be headed for home.
In Hinduism, Holi (also called Holaka or Phagwa) is an annual festival celebrated on the day after the full moon in the Hindu month of Phalguna (March). It celebrates spring, commemorates various events in Hindu mythology and is a time of disregarding social norms and indulging in general merrymaking. Holi celebrations start on the night before Holi with a Holika bonfire where people gather, do religious rituals in front of the bonfire, and pray that their internal evil should be destroyed as the bonfire starts. The next morning is celebrated as Rangwali Holi – a free-for-all carnival of colors where participants play, chase and colour each other with dry powder and coloured water, with some carrying water guns and coloured water-filled balloons for their water fight. Anyone and everyone is fair game, friend or stranger, rich or poor, man or woman, children and elders. The frolic and fight with colours occurs in the open streets, open parks, outside temples and buildings. People visit family, friends and foes to throw coloured powders on each other, laugh and gossip, then share Holi delicacies, food and drinks.
I can virtually promise you that any image of Holi celebration you have ever seen was of a sanitized Western version offered as a paid activity for tourists. Other than being colorful it bears little resemblance to the holiday celebrated in the streets. I shot the image above on a decorated tennis court outside a large hotel for tourists.
What follows is my best effort to capture the festival as it is celebrated by the locals. I have classified the participants into several groups and labeled them accordingly. The danger scale is relative to the probability of my cameras being damaged.
The marauding teenage male. Dangerous but mostly to each other. They run through the streets looking for other similar groups to attack. Frequently armed with aerosol propelled paints.
The inebriated adult male. A danger to all. Intent on coloring anyone in their sights. Best avoided entirely.
The peaceful adult. Looking for any opportunity to greet friends or strangers with kindness and a dash of color. Holy at its best.
The motorcycle contingent. Always on the the move.
The adolescent female. The most dangerous group of all by a long shot. They lurk in alleys and on rooftops. Armed with water balloons and long range squirt sticks you can be hit before you know it. If you breathe and/or move you are a target. Their aim is unforgiving. They are relentless and merciless. I don’t have many pictures of this group because I would turn and run at the first sign of one.
It is entirely impossible to photograph Holi without becoming a target. If I had to do it again I would have used a waterproof camera. That said, I did my best to protect my cameras while being “greeted”/attacked and managed to escape without any damage to speak of.
Shah Jahan was a member of the Mughal dynasty that ruled most of northern India from the early 16th to the mid 18th-century. After the death of his father, King Jahangir, in 1627, Shah Jahan emerged the victor of a bitter power struggle with his brothers, and crowned himself emperor at Agra in 1628. At his side was Arjumand Banu Begum, better known as Mumtaz Mahal (“Chosen One of the Palace”), whom he married in 1612 and cherished as the favorite of his three queens. In 1631, Mumtaz Mahal died after giving birth to the couple’s 14th child. The grieving Shah Jahan, known for commissioning a number of impressive structures throughout his reign, ordered the building of a magnificent mausoleum across the Yamuna River from his own royal palace at Agra. Construction began around 1632 and would continue for the next two decades. The chief architect was probably Ustad Ahmad Lahouri, an Indian of Persian descent who would later be credited with designing the Red Fort at Delhi. In all, more than 20,000 workers from India, Persia, Europe and the Ottoman Empire, along with some 1,000 elephants, were brought in to build the mausoleum complex. It has been described perfectly by Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore, as a teardrop on the face of eternity.
With an average of 12,000 visitors per day you might be wondering how it is that none are present in my photos. The answer is simple. First, you have to wake up very early to be first in line when the gates open. Second, you have to be able to run faster than all the other photographers and tourists who want to arrive at the reflecting pools first. My speed did not let me down but scaffolding (for routine cleaning) on three of the four minarets did. Even so, I was overwhelmed with joy to witness such beauty.
After the grounds were inundated with tourists, I moved on to the Agra Fort, more accurately described as a walled city.
When the Army of the British East India Company first attacked the Agra Fort in 1803 under General Gerard Lake, a cannonball fired by the artillery bounced off the throne at which it was aimed to make a hole through the opposite wall. Today it seems to have been occupied by another invading force.
In a brief lapse of judgement I agreed to visit a Persian rug factory to “learn” how these carpets are made. The tour quickly turned into a sales pitch and I departed as quickly as I could but not before getting this nice image courtesy of the salesman.
Often referred to as the “Baby Taj,” the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, was the precursor to the Taj Mahal completed five years before construction of the Taj Mahal began.
I returned briefly to Qutub Minar to photograph with early morning light and used the opportunity to make several nice shadow self-portraits. The early hour also ensured an absence of tourists.
Built during the second half of the 16th century by the Emperor Akbar, Fatehpur Sikri (the “City of Victory”) was the capital of the Mughal Empire for only some 10 years. The complex of monuments and temples, all in a uniform architectural style, includes one of the largest mosques in India, the Jama Masjid. The journey from Delhi by car took half the day and I experienced a full dose of the insanity that is driving in India.
Of all the countries I have visited, I would say that driving in India is the least structured and most chaotic. Surprisingly, there do not seem to be as many accidents as you might otherwise assume. The entirety of the traffic code seems to include only one rule – don’t hit anything (too hard) with your vehicle. Lane markers have no significance whatsoever. Direction of travel on either side of the road is only a loose concept. Traffic signals, little more than decorations. Sidewalks, if not cluttered, are fair game for anything that will fit on them. Horns are used constantly to let those in front of you know that you are passing them with a few inches of clearance. In fairness to India, their traffic system must accommodate an enormous variety of users. You have your elephants, your cows, horse and oxen drawn carts, people powered bicycles, tricycles and push carts, tuk-tuks, buses, trucks, pedestrians, motorcycles, scooters, oh yes and cars, all traveling at very different speeds on roadways often in dire need of repair or clogged with commerce. The only effective traffic controls are the ubiquitous and often unmarked speed bumps. Fail to slow down for one of these and you are guaranteed a damaged suspension.
I returned to Humayun’s Tomb this morning to catch golden light and to beat the crowds. In many cases, I returned two and three times to the same location so that I could take advantage of optimal light. I like to think the results were worth the effort.
Gagan suggested we visit a step well which is something I had never heard of before. I am very glad he did. As the name suggests, a step well is a water reservoir where people can walk down a series of steps to retrieve water. This one was empty.
By mid morning, Gagan had to depart for other obligations and I was in the mood to do some walking. He dropped me off near the India Gate and from there I walked back to my hotel via a visit to the Presidential Palace.
Qutub Minar, standing at 238 feet, is the tallest brick minaret in the world. Made of red sandstone and marble with a diameter measuring 47 feet at the base and 9 feet at the peak, it was our final destination for the day. Inside the tower, a circular staircase with 379 steps leads to the top.
My final week traveling will be spent in India. Jeanine has connected me with the same guide she used while in Delhi, Gagan Anand. We started our morning at a the street markets where I could have easily spent the entire day for the variety of things to see and photograph.
As many of you are aware, Jeanine is the President of Open Table, a local community dinner program and food pantry for the food insecure. When Gagan explained that his mosque provided such a community dinner, I jumped at the opportunity to visit. Jeanine is known to get very excited about big pots as they suggest the preparation of food for many people. What do you think of this one, sweetie? Also pictured are the volunteers preparing food and the guests enjoying it.
As golden light started to emerge, we visited Humayun’s Tomb and the Red Fort. On the way, I noticed an unusual traffic situation and asked if we could stop the car for a quick photograph. At some point I will try to describe the entirely insane and totally chaotic rules of the road that “govern” traffic in India. At that time, I will try to remember that our own driving etiquette might have trouble adapting to elephants in the road carrying a load spanning three lanes.
Our final destination for the evening was the Lotus Temple which is beautifully illuminated at night. It is also entirely surrounded by a very tall fence with narrowly spaced bars. In order to get this shot, we had to find a location where I could scale up high enough to shoot over the fence. I think the result was worth the effort.
Yangon previously known as Rangoon, literally: “End of Strife” is a former capital of Myanmar and is the country’s largest city with a population of over six million. The official capital was moved to Naypyidaw in 2006 for reasons that the local people find difficult to understand (or explain.) I arrived by midday and put the balance to good use covering some 12 miles on foot returning to my hotel late in the evening. My street food dinner did not include the grasshoppers pictured below.
A monk is allowed to collect, receive and consume food between dawn and noon. He is not allowed to consume food outside of this time and he is not allowed to store food overnight. A monk must have all eatables and drinkables, except plain water, formally offered into his hands or placed on something in direct contact with his hands. Every morning the monks of Bagan walk through the town accepting gifts of food from the local people. They return to their monastery were they eat together.
Food of every kind can be found in the street markets where presentation is always utilitarian but beautiful.
The local people are extremely friendly and were happy to be photographed. Oddly, the boys seemed to be more into hair fashion than the girls.
My guide may have been the friendliest of all. He took me to his home and introduced me to his lovely family. I have asked him to visit us should he ever find himself in the Boston area.
While on our cruise in Halong Bay, Jeanine and I met a fellow passenger who worked as a guide in Myanmar. At the request of the passengers on the boat, he shared photos and stories of Bagan, his home town. When I decided to travel there, I contacted him and made arrangements for him to be my guide. It was a great decision because he was very attuned to my photographic goals and consistently made excellent choices for where we would find the best opportunities. Pictured above are the same temple, one shot before sunrise and the other just after.
Bagan is the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the first kingdom to unify the regions that would later constitute modern Myanmar. During the kingdom’s height between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the Bagan plains, of which the remains of over 2200 still survive to the present day.
Ballooning over the plains is a popular tourist activity. I opted to use them as photographic element rather than as a platform from which to shoot.
There are as many great photographic opportunities within the temples as there are from the outside.
It is essential to alway check overhead in stairways for bees nests. Bumping your head into one of these frequently found hives could make for a really bad day.
My guide, Kyaw, was an excellent photographer in his own right and he was kind enough to share some of the photos he took of me while I was shooting.