Search This Blog

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Our Trip to India, Feb 22 – Mar 4, 2013

Travel Entry #1: February 25, 2013: Arrival

We left Sacramento in the morning of February 23. We flew to Los Angeles, then boarded a KLM flight to Amsterdam. We chose bulkhead seats in the economy compartment (we couldn’t get them in economy plus) — a big mistake. Because they are bulkhead row, the trays are built into the side of the seats, so the video controls cannot be recessed. The video is also built into the seat, so the tray table can’t be moved. The result is a loss of about 1 inch of seat width — and boy, do you feel it! I couldn’t sit down directly; I had to sit on the front and slide backwards. Even so, I never got all the way in. The plane is a Boeing 747; if you’re big like me, avoid the bulkhead rows in economy.

The plane that took us from Amsterddam to New Delhi.

We arrived in India safely today, at 12:15AM! Our friend Shawn had arranged for a driver to meet us at the airport and take us to our hotel. It is a very nice hotel, in the better section of New Delhi — although there is construction near the hotel entrance, you’d never know it. One amusing note: we were very hungry when we arrived, and looking over the menu all they had was Western food—so we had cheeseburgers and French fries! It brought back memories of a wonderful visit to Iran, where we would have an afternoon snack of French Fries amid the lunches and dinners of delicious Persian food. Here are some photos of the hotel.

The grounds of the Imperial Hotel.

We got up in the morning and met our driver, who took us around Delhi. He was an excellent guide. First, we went to the Quwwatul-Islam Masjid, which is the earliest extant mosque in India. It has a huge tower, the Qutb Minar, which we could not climb, and the architecture of which is spectacular. The age of the mosque, and that the tower still stood, is a testament to the love and care the architects and builders put into it. Not surprising, given it was a house of worship.

The Qutb Minar.

We spent some time at Humayun’s Tomb. In addition to the large central building, the grounds include broad grassy fields and four smaller buildings, one at each direction of the compass. This was a traditional Indian layout, with the building at the center dominated by the gardens. The Taj Mahal, though, has a different arrangement.

Humayun’s Tomb.

Along the way, we saw lots of dogs. They wander all over the place, playing and (mostly) sleeping in the sun. On the way out of the Indian restaurant where we ate lunch, we saw a cobra charmer. He was good! And the traffic reminded us of traffic in Dhaka, but we thought the drivers in India took fewer risks. That’s not saying much! I understand why PK told us not even to think of driving in India. Good advice!

The dogs of New Delhi.

A charming snake charmer.

Travel Entry #2: February 26, 2013: Delhi to Agra and Sights at Both

The next day, we spent the morning at the Red Fort. As we wandered around, we sometimes thought we were in Iran, due to the Persian architecture and art. Not surprising, as Shah Jahan had Persian architects, artists, and workers building the Fort.

The Red Fort.

Is this India or Iran (Persia)? Yes!

The people in India were wonderful — very warm and friendly. As we were leaving the Red Fort, about 200 schoolchildren and their teachers were entering. They waved to us; we replied, “namaste“ and waved back. They smiled and said “Hello!” and “Welcome to India!”. It was a lot of fun.

Schoolchildren entering the Red Fort.

We then were driven to Agra. Driving in India is quite an experience. We were warned not to drive, and IIT Kanpur very kindly provided a driver from Delhi until we got to IIT Kanpur. The roads are rough in many places; the driver wove in between cars and trucks, through gaps we didn’t think he could make. But it was all perfectly safe. Also, the trucks we saw were piled high with their cargo — very high; so high that it was a wonder the dump trucks didn’t lose gravel or dirt.

A heavily-loaded truck on the road from Agra to Kanpur.

At Agra, the hotel we stayed in had a really cool lamp. It looked like the phones in the Village of the TV show The Prisoner (the 1967 version starring Patrick McGoohan). We splurged and had a delicious dinner by the pool.

“Yes, Number 2, I know that I am not indispensible.”

Before that, though, we went to visit the Taj Mahal. You can’t drive directly there. You stop about a kilometer away, and walk, or ride a pedicab or horse-drawn wagon. We chose the latter. Our horse, Raju, was festooned with ornaments, and got us quickly to the gate. The driver even let Holly control the horse.

I have wanted to see the Taj Mahal ever since I read about it in Richard Halliburton’s Book of Marvels, and it exceeded anything I imagined. The four minarets surround a central tomb. The minarets are not vertical; they are angled outward. We were given two reasons: (1) if there is an earthquake, they will fall out, avoiding damage to the central tomb; and (2) when you look at them from afar they look vertical. By the way, that’s Holly looking at the camera in the lower picture.

The Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal is at the edge of the grounds, unlike most other Indian architectures. It dominates the grounds. There are other buildings there too. The grounds are quite well kept, with lots of water in the fountains. In order to get to the base of the Taj Mahal, you either need to remove your shoes or cover them. They have shoe covers, which we used.

Some other buildings on the Taj Mahal grounds.

Here’s a photo of Holly on the grounds of the Taj Mahal.

We visited the Taj Mahal on February 26, and went back on February 27. Next stop: the Agra Fort.

Travel Entry #3: February 27, 2013: More Agra and Agra to IIT Kanpur

Many years ago, India was governed by the mughals who lived in the Agra Fort. It has a number of palaces, and is the same reddish color as the Red Fort in Delhi. You enter through a portal that looks like a castle entry, go up a ramp (that’s Holly in the foreground of the picture) and at the top, once you go under another arch, you get to a large grassy square (really, a rectangle). From there, you can wander around and see lots of buildings of interesting architecture. We could also see the Taj Mahal in the distance.

Agra Fort portal.

Agra Fort ramp (that’s Holly in the foreground).

Grassy square in the Agra Fort..

Some buildings in the Agra Fort.

Taj Mahal as seen from the Agra Fort.

Our driver then took us to IIT Kanpur. The Institute is its own little city, and you can see the difference when you enter it; the contrast between its well-kept grounds and those of the impoverished town is quite stark. The Institute grounds are completely safe, with faculty, staff, and students housed mostly on campus. There are schools for their children on campus too, as well as security. It’s well lighted, so it is even safe at night.

We were housed in the Guest House, a set of rooms for visitors. Below are pictures of the courtyard and of the grounds. The flowers were a blaze of color; here is the entrance to the building where the conference was held. Note the flowers lining the entrance.

The courtyard at the Guest House.

The IIT Kanpur grounds.

The entrance to the conference building.

Travel Entry #4: February 28 – March 2, 2013: The Conference

I won’t say much about this because I was focused on what was being said (and what I was saying). Suffice it to say it was quite exhilarating. The attendees are very sharp, and asked excellent questions. The students in particular were very perceptive, and their posters were well done and illustrated their work well.

The auditorium as it fills up.

Travel Entry #5: March 2, 2013: Rambling Around Campus

The conference ended around 2:00PM on March 2, so we had some free time. Our hosts arranged us on a tour of the campus with a student guide. We went to the Institute airport, where there is a very active flying club. There is a new building being built for the Computer Science Department. Peacocks also decorate the lawns.

The IIT Kanpur air field.

The new computer science building (under construction).

Here there be peacocks!

Travel Entry #6: March 3, 2013: Lucknow and Back to Delhi

Our plans then took us to Lucknow; again, the Institute was kind enough to provide a driver. The trip to Lucknow was relatively uneventful, except for a large number of people walking on the road dressed very colorfully. We think they might have been going to some sort of festival.

The people walking.

At Lucknow, we went first to the Bara Imambara. Several buildings surrounded a lovely square with gardens, and the big building, three stories high, was a mosque; you had to take your shoes off to enter. They had no shoe coverings, though, so we decided to wander around the grounds. On our way out, we were asked to sign the guest book, which we were happy to do.I mention this because it’s the only place where we were asked to do this.

The Bara Imambara.

We then went to the Residency, the ruins of a place where a battle between British soldiers and Indians during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. The Residency is still in ruins. There is a museum on the grounds that tells the story of the rebellion and what happened at the Residency.

Some battle-scarred buildings at the Residency.

The Residency Museum.

We also met two people who chatted with us about the Residency, and about Islam; they were delightful gentlemen! Here is a picture of them with Holly:

In the middle of Lucknow are some fast food places; keeping with our custom of photographing them (yes, we’re weird!), here are a couple of pictures. So far we’ve seen them in Bologna, Moscow, Lucknow, Budapest, and a number of other places.

Fast food places in Lucknow.

We then went to the airport at Lucknow to catch an airplane to New Delhi, where we would board an Air France flight to Paris, and then a Delta flight home (via Los Angeles). The plane left Lucknow about 2 hours late; fortunately we had a 6 hour layover scheduled in New Delhi. When we got there, an Air France ticket agent gave us a pass to a lounge which had a shower — a true blessing, because after our wanderings around Lucknow, we were hot and sticky.

Holly wanted to bring home an elephant; I pointed out we wouldn’t have to pack it, as it had its own trunk (yes, she let me live). But we couldn’t figure out how to sneak one onto the plane, so she had to settle for a picture of two.

Statue of 2 elephants in the New Delhi airport.

Much refreshed, we came home, arriving on the same day we left (thanks to the difference in time zones). We had a glorious time; but like all wanderers, it’s always good to come home.