Friday, January 24, 2014

Last Tango in Argentina

This is a fictional piece based on a tango show in Ushuaia, Argentina.

This is a quaint little town, sitting as it does on the edge of the continent.  We call ourselves the southernmost city in the world.  It's a great tourism slogan.  People flock from all ends of the earth to get a stamp at the post office and buy t-shirts and stuffed penguins at one of the millions of souvenir shops that litter the streets.  That is only during the summer though.  For nine months of the year, this town is the only sign of life in a frozen, desolate wasteland, whose only redeeming factors are the harsh beauty of the landscape and the quiet warmth of its people.

Ushuaia at sunset

It is December now, and tourist season approaches.  The cruise ships have not yet arrived, and the town remains relatively quiet and peaceful.  There is a party tonight at the restaurant.  One of the famous Argentine singers is coming from Buenos Aires to sing tangos.  We love to dance tangos in this town.  During the relentless winters, it's all we can do to keep our spirits up.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A History Lesson at the Lal Qila in Delhi

Lal Qila, meaning Red Fort in Hindi, is a complex in present-day Delhi built from red sandstone.
It is a complex of buildings that were originally constructed during the time of the Mughal empire in 1638, when the emperor Shah Jahan moved the capital from Agra to Delhi.  It was built as the palace fort of Shahjahanabad, the name of Shah Jahan's new capital.

From the outside, Lal Qila looks exactly like what I'd imagine a fortress to be.  It has high walls and towers that were used to keep watch.  It even has a moat, which was originally fed by water from the Yamuna River, though it is now dried up.

Walls of Lal Qila

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Exploring Fatehpur Sikri

Although I didn't entirely understand the tour guide because of my lack of Hindi skills, I still had a wonderful time exploring Fatehpur Sikri.  Fatehpur Sikri is a capital of the Mughal empire built by the emperor Akbar in the late 1500s.  It was in use for around 15 years and was abandoned because of the lack of water sources.

Approaching Fatehpur Sikri

Friday, January 10, 2014

I should have learned Hindi

It's possible to travel in Delhi and Agra without speaking Hindi, but I really should have tried harder to learn it.

I should have taught myself Hindi
When I went to Fatehpur Sikri with my Delhi host, we hired a guide to show us around.  I'm always nervous about getting ripped off in India, so I try not to speak English.  In this case, that meant I stayed mute and we ended up with a guide who spoke Hindi.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Yellow-Tinted Taj Mahal

I don't want to say that the Taj Mahal was a disappointment because it's difficult for anything that beautiful to disappoint.  However, it wasn't quite the highlight of my recent trip to India that I'd hoped it would be.

Of course, seeing the Taj Mahal in person was marvelous.  I'd seen pictures before, but nothing can compare with the sight of the marble structure seemingly rising up in front of you as you pass through the gate.  As annoyed as I was by the hordes of people pushing and shoving their way through the entrance, I couldn't deny how spectacular it was.

I planned my visit to the Taj Mahal poorly, meaning that I didn't plan at all.  So I ended up visiting on a Saturday during a three-day weekend, two days before the full moon, when the Taj Mahal can be viewed by moonlight at night.

Crowds at the Taj Mahal

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Taj Mahal: Check!

Let the splendor of the diamond, pearl and ruby vanish like the magic shimmer of the rainbow.  Only let this one teardrop, the Taj Mahal, glisten spotlessly bright on the cheek of time...
- Rabindranath Tagore

I was excited when I discovered that the cheapest way for me to get to India this fall was to fly into Delhi.  I figured that I could fly to Hyderabad, where my family is, after a day or two and try to cram in a trip to see the Taj Mahal, one of the 7 Wonders of the World.

The Taj Mahal had always seemed like such an exotic place to me. It is touted as the greatest monument to love, built by the Mughal emperor Shahjahan as a mausoleum for his favorite wife Arjumand Banu Begum, known also as Mumtaz Mahal.  The less romantic part about it is that Shahjahan cut off the hands of the workers who built this marvelous structure so that they could never build another one like it.  It is a beautiful work of art though.

For most people, it seems that the Taj Mahal is India.  But though I've been to India several times, I had never been to North India, which is where the Taj Mahal is.  On this trip, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days in New Delhi and Agra and visit the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal is not visible from outside the entrance, and the first glimpse of it came as I entered the gate.  As I walked through the gate, it seemed as if the Taj Mahal was rising up out of the ground to meet me.

Note the hordes