Day 7, Part 1: Things to keep in mind before visiting Jerusalem

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The Israel flag waving at the Wailing Wall. You’ll learn why this is important later.

Jerusalem was one of the biggest highlights of my trip! As I was writing this article, I realized it was getting big and unwieldy due to the abundance of content, so I decided to break it into two parts. Before we talk about the tour proper, here’s some tips if you decide one of the oldest, most famous, most culturally richest cities in the world.

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A fleeting glimpse of a Pinoy tour group!

Tip #1 – Do NOT take a pilgrimage tour!

A common way most Filipinos visit Israel is via pilgrimage, so you can learn more about the Christian faith. That’s fine and all, but you miss a major portion of what makes Jerusalem so special!

Jerusalem is an important city for all three of the major religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. There is a TON of things you will discover, and you’ll miss it if you focus on only one faith. Jerusalem is very layered and very complex, due to its significant role in culture and history. It’s full of great facts and opportunities for discovery, and it’s a true shame if you see (at a maximum) only a third of that story.

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What’s this? One of the holiest places for Orthodox Christians, yet something unknown to most Roman Catholics. Things you’ll miss if you do a pilgrimage. Learn more in the next post.

Tip #2 – Keep an open mind!

Jerusalem has exchanged ownership across the three religions throughout its history, and you will see evidence of it along the way. Some of your own beliefs can be challenged or it may reveal some beautiful things about your own faith and others that may be new to you. The worst thing to do is to close off all of that. Keep an open mind, learn, and you’ll truly enjoy it in ways you may not have anticipated. 

Tip #3 – Don’t take too many things with you!

People ask is it safe there, and my answer is YES! Having said that, due to the nature of Jerusalem, there is some current of differences going on (I will explain later) but to help keep it safe ,there is a number of security checks in certain areas. If you bring too much you’ll take longer to get through the security checks.

Tip #4 – You can get a free tour to go around Jerusalem!

Jerusalem is actually relatively small, about the size of Intramuros. It’s very dense and I bet even if you go around the whole day you won’t see everything (well, you’ll see it, but you won’t know what it is). There are many local tour operators that can bring you around Jerusalem, but there is one that does a FREE trip that’s about 2 hours long: check out http://www.abrahamtours.com. Abraham Tours also owns Hostel Abraham where I am staying. Having said that, due to my limited time in Israel, I took the paid whole day tour, which is relatively cheap at only 90 NIS (PHP 10000 or USD 20). 

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Fantastic cultural architecture abounds around the walled city.

Some of the people who joined the whole day tour said that it was worth still getting the free tour, but do the free one first. The free tour focused quick highlights and the paid tour focused on details. As an example, in the free one they point “that’s the Wailing Wall” so you can go there later on your own. In the paid one, you go in and they spend more time explaining the place. You also only go to the Dome of the Rock on the paid tour.

So in summary: Don’t take a pilgrimage tour, keep an open mind, don’t take too many things with you, and you can do it for free (though the paid one is not to be missed). With that in mind, I’ll talk about my own tour of Jerusalem in the next post. Don’t worry, it’s all written up and won’t take too long after this post :-)

Leo

Day 6: The Journey to Israel #OneYearLater

Editor’s note: New content is here! I wanted to post it earlier this year, but the news cycle then was a little tricky. :-)

Before I share to you all the wonders of Jerusalem, there’s a story to be told on the way there.

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The first is at Delhi Airport. What’s the story here? Well, remember in India, cows are considered sacred animals. For this reason, beef isn’t very popular… so what does McDonald’s India have?

Well they have this….

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Yes, that’s Paneer Passion. What is Paneer? Paneer is a cottage chess patty, with a similar but stiffer consistency as tofu, kinda like kesong putt. Crunchy on the outside and tender on the outside, it’s an unusual replacement for a beef patty.

I got it with Shake Shake fries with Piri Piri (Peri Peri?) Spice Max. The fries came out super salty, which is funny since the Paneer Passion was super bland!

From Delhi, I fly to Israel via Tashkent, using Uzbekistan Airways.

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I was kind dreading this leg because of all the horror stories about Tashkent airport, and I’ve never flown a plane by a former Soviet State. Stories of zero english and tourists being taken advantage of were prevalent all over the net when they describe “one of the busiest airports in Central Asia”.

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Here’s the description of Tashkent from TripAdvisor: “I have never been so disgusted and repulsed as a traveler in an international airport as I was in my short stay at Tashkent international airport”.

YIKES!!!

Eventually I get to Tashkent and what do we have here! A new wing! Much nicer than what I was expecting! There was free wifi too, so my 4 hour layover wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

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I stayed a few hours, did some email, and and boarded my flight from Tashkent to Tel Aviv. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, and I discover that the airline I was flying was actually pretty decent. ;-)

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Finally I arrive at Israel, Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. Ben Gurion is one of the highest security airports in the world, but since I arrived quite early (5:35AM!) and there wasn’t a lot of people, I breezed thru relatively quickly.

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A common thing people ask is how Israel handles passports. Israel happens to be one of those places that is not popular to a certain segment of the world, and you may be denied entry in those countries if they find out you are a friend of Israel.

So to avoid this trouble, Israel DOES NOT stamp your passport. What they do instead is give a separate immigration card. I was told to make sure not to lose the card or I might have problems leaving. Here’s how it looks:

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On the way out of the airport, I decided to do something first: get some online internet. Unlike India, this wasn’t a fully guided tour, so I needed to find my way around. I found a place selling prepaid  data SIMs. I got a 4 day unlimited data plan, on a Nano SIM even! I don’t remember the exact price but remember it was relatively cheap, about P600 ($15).

Since i didn’t have airport pickup this time, I had to find my own way to Jerusalem. Taxi was one option, train was another, but the most cost effective option is to take a shuttle bus. Here’s a video (care of Abraham Hostel):

I watched this video prior to Israel so I knew what I had to do. Perfect since i was actually staying at Abraham Hostel. I found the bus, paid the shekels, got on board, and then that’s where the story started taking a bizarre turn. 

For some strange reason, it took a LOOONG time for a shuttle to leave. I guess because I took my time in the airport exploring and getting my data SIM I missed the window when a lot of people were taking the shuttle. There wasn’t a lot of people in the airport. 10 mins passed by. 15 minutes. 20 minutes! 30 mins passed by and we were still waiting! Why weren’t we moving? That’s when I found out because our shuttle wasn’t full!

The driver, an old man in his 60s and 70s started asking people to ride with him. He was unsuccessful since a lot of people were going another way. Finally, he seemed to lock on to this one guy. He took some time trying to convince him.  Our shuttle was going one way, this guy was going another way. At the end, the driver agreed to bring the guy the other way after he dropped all of us.

The trip from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was just a little over an hour, but it took a bit longer since the shuttle dropped people off on the suburb. Suddenly, at some point, we heard shouting. I’m not sure, but I think the drive was reneging on his promise to bring the guy the other way. They kept shouting and yelling at each other in a mix of English and Yiddish, and you can tell the rest of the people in the shuttle were getting uncomfortable. 

When there was about 5 of us left, the young guy went down, and the driver ran after him!! They started yelling at each other in the streets, and started causing a commotion, everyone on the street stopped to watch, and a crowd formed!

This went on for 15 minutes and the rest of my bus mates started looking at each other. One of them called a friend to pick him up from where we were. An old woman next to me said she’s never seen anything like this her whole life, and she’s lived here for 15 years. I was actually considering ditching the shuttle where it was and grab a taxi.

Just when I decided to pick up my bags, go down, and do exactly that, it looks like cooler heads prevailed. The driver and the young guy went back in, looking like they’ve made some kind of agreement. After almost 3 hours, I arrived at my hostel for what should’ve been a 45 minute trip. WOW. My India trip was perfect, and looks like my Israel trip didn’t start the same way. Imagine all that time lost!

This wasn’t my first mishap for the day. The second mishap was when I arrived at Abraham Hostel. The check0in went well, but it turns out the Market Tour which I wanted to join and was really looking forward to wasn’t happening that day (see my previous post describing it here). They decided to do a Hostel Party that day since they had special guests (some festival was in town) so they went with that as their event of the day. Argh.

Oh well…. I guess I have some time to explore the nearby area… and guess what I discovered?

Wow…. Jerusalem was a much more beautiful city than I thought. 

I’ll leave it there first, and tell you the story in the next post :-)

Leo

Day 5, Part 2: Delhi #OneYearLater

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our last reblogged post for #OneYearLater. New material coming up next!

So welcome back. Last time we visited the Taj Mahal in Agra, which I discovered really deserved the hype. It was a short visit, we were there from about 8:30 to 10:00 am (an hour and a half is actually enough) so I got back into the van and headed to our next step, DELHI.

We took the newly constructed Yamuna Expressway which cut our travel time to about 3 hours instead of the old route which was about 5-6 hours (i think).

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Along the way, I saw a massive city being constructed along the expressways. It was a series of building, cranes, pillars, and scaffolding going on for kilometres and kilometres. I’ve never seen so much construction all my life! I wish I stopped to take a picture, we were going too fast. To give you an idea, imagine driving from Balintawak to San Fernando were you see skyscrapers rising all over you! It’s that massive!

My driver Ajay tells me this is the new district of the city of Noida, aka the New Oklha Industrial Development Authority. Here will rise new BPOs, new technology manufacturing, and new commercial and residential places to service the incoming workers. Watch out for Noida, it’s about to become the next great Indian business hub.

We finally arrive Delhi, and our guide Raj joins us. Raj tells me about New Delhi and old Delhi. New Delhi itself was just like any other city, with tall buildings and parks, similar to Fort Bonifacio or Jakarta. For today, he’ll bring me to Old Delhi, which is what people usually imagine when they think of India.

And oh boy, it’s exactly what you think!

The above is a video of a street market in India. Raj tells me you can buy ANYTHING in these markets. From carpets to iPhones to extension cords to TV sets to auto parts. ANYTHING. He wouldn’t buy from them though.

We work our way deeper into the streets of old India. This is starting to remind me of Quiapo.

Finally, we make our way to our stop: the Jama Masjid, the largest and most famous mosque in all of India.

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The Jama Masjid is a holy place, probably one of the holiest in all of India. Many Indians come here for pilgrimage; the perfect analogy for this would the Quiapo Church. Built in 1656, by Shah Jahan (who also built the Taj Mahal), it’s a superb blend of Mughal and Hindu architecture, using red sand stone and white marble. I heard the mosque houses a copy of the Quran which is written on deer skin.

It’s fascinating to see how people act around the Jama Masjid. There is some security coming in, but inside you feel safe and free to do as you wish.
Outside, all over the courtyard, there are people praying, but also having fun.

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Meanwhile, inside, everything is quiet and solemn.

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We took a climb to the top of one of the minarets of the Jama Masjid, which gave a fantastic aerial view.

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View of the Courtyard from the Minaret

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The climb down from the Minarets

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We explored the surrounding area around the grand mosque. Furthering the Quiapo analogy, the place was surrounded by markets, street vendors, and small businesses, peppered with a lot of people!

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We did the ride on pedicab since it was too cramped for a car to get through!

After the Jamal, we did a quick run to Parliament Street. Parliament Street is where you find the Sansad Bhavan, the seat of government for all of india. Here the Prime Minister and the Central Legislative Assembly presides on how to govern the country, their equivalent of the White House and Capitol. Our nearest would be Malacanang and the Batasan.

Obviously security was strict so we had to make do with taking pictures and videos from outside.

The sun was about to set and we decided to do one last stop, the Qutb Minar. We were about to go in, but was informed that it had to close for an hour to setup the lights. After waiting a while, we got the chance to see the 2nd tallest minar (tower monument) in India.

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The Qutb Minar was commissioned by the Qutbuddin Aibak, the first Sultan of Delhi. The Minar was constructed and modified for 400 years. It acted like a historical marker, with various architectural modifications reflecting what changed in India across the centuries. For this reason, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.

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Surrounding the Qutb Minar is the Mehrauli Archeological Park. Here you’ll see ruins of some of the famous monuments in India, spanning 1000 years. We were losing light quickly, so I had to take photos with the little luminance I had left.

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The sun is now down and Raj brings me to my hotel. Mr Rao from the travel agency, who picked me up when I arrived in India joins me for some dinner. We had a pleasant conversation about India and how I enjoyed how they took care of me.

Rao brings me to the airport. Just before I was about to leave him, I just remembered this tradition I wanted to do for this trip!

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My travel consultant. Thanks Mr. Rao!

The tradition was to give a new friend in a new country a gift from another country. I actually had something in mind for Rao, but I couldn’t find it, so I ended up giving him Philippine Currency instead! This worked out since he had a foreign currency collection, so it’s all good!

So that was India. I admit I enjoyed the trip more that I thought I would. India was very rich and very different from what I’ve seen in my travels all over the world. I didn’t experience the negative things some people say when they come here (I guess I was lucky that way?) and I can see the country has much more to offer.

I’d love to come back to India again someday.

For now, however, it’s time to continue circumnavigating the world. Next stop: ISRAEL!!!!

Day 5, Part 1: The Taj Mahal #OneYearLater

#OneYearLater Continues!

Hello folks! Coming from a bit of a hiatus (it’s been hectic since I got back) so let’s start off the story of Day 5, my last day in India with a video.

And so ladies and gentlemen, I find myself facing one of the most famous sights in the world, the Taj Mahal.

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Is it worth it? Is it overrated? Or does it live up to the hype?

Ladies and Gentlemen. THE TAJ MAHAL IS TRULY IMPRESSIVE.

My gosh, this place really brings up a magnificent sense of awe. It’s the same feeling you get when you see the Basilica in Rome, Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night in person, or see Da Vinci’s painting at the Sistine Chapel.

Now that I’ve set foot on it, I actually can’t believe how this place can be seen by some people as overrated. The beauty, the technical expertise and the quality was really one of a kind. I dare say you can’t really say you’ve seen the world if this is not part of your must visit list.

I guess it’s been a victim of it’s own hype. It’s common for people to tear down what’s popular and say “meh”. I bet you that if you came in as an empty cup and know nothing about India, when you see the Taj Mahal it’ll be one of the highlights on your entire trip.

You enter the Taj Mahal through a red sandstone gate, known as the Darwaza-i rauza. By itself, this gate is quite impressive.

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The Great Gate, entrance to the Taj Mahal

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The obligatory Taj Mahal being reflected in the pool shot. Yes you’ll be taking this photo too.

The four towers surrounding the Taj are actually inclined a bit OUTWARD by 2 degrees. Can you guess why? The answer is simple: In case of disaster, the towers will fall away from the dome and not towards it.

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In most photos, The Taj Mahal looks like a “rectangular box” (kinda like the White House), but it is actually shaped like a giant octagon. Inside the octagon design continues as some rooms are also based on the same octagon design.

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Those words? Those flowers? They’re actually inlaid jewels.

Those designs on the Taj are actually JEWELS. Precious stones like lapis lazuli, carnelian, agate and garnet are used to depict flowers, leaves, and other details.  The words you see enscripted on the Taj isn’t ink but actually made of jasper and black marble. The jewels are inlaid into the Taj. If you had a chisel you can actually steal them (but the security guards will likely jump on you first).

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Because of the pure white marble and how the light hits it, the Taj Mahal is pink in the morning, white in the daytime and gold under moonlight.

I saw it as pink gradually turning yellow but unfortunately did not have time to see the other colors since we had to leave for Delhi.

For those planning their trip, in case you’re wondering, how long does it take to visit the Taj Mahal? Half a day is actually quite enough. If you’re in a rush, 1-2 hours will do. I bet you however, that you’ll be spending some time to take a lot of photos!

Anyway, I’ll pause here now and let you enjoy more photos of the Taj Mahal. There’s really a reason why it’s one of the most photographed buildings in the world. Next stop… Delhi!

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Intricate details on top of the towers surrounding the Taj Mahal.

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Locals enjoying their selfies in the Taj Mahal

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Just a guy posed alongside the Taj begging to get his photo taken.

Me on top of the actual Taj!

Me on top of the Taj itself!

A little known view, This is how it looks like if you're standing on the Taj and facing the other side.

A little known view, This is how it looks like if you’re standing on the Taj and facing the people taking photos of the Taj, all pointed at you!

A little known view. This

The same little known view from the Taj, zoomed out.

Some guy sees me taking the same view and takes the same photo.

Some guy sees me taking the same view and takes the same photo.

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Shot from INSIDE the Taj Mahal! You’re actually not allowed to shoot inside, so not a lot of interior shots. This is through one of the hexagonal holes that become the windows of the Taj.

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Sitting on one of the Taj’s four towers.

A cute couple I met who asked me to take their photo. I promised to send them the photo but i unfortunately lost their contact details. If you are this couple, I hope you find this photo and contact me, I have a few more :-)

A cute couple I met who asked me to take their photo. I promised to send them the photo but i unfortunately lost their contact details. If you are this couple, I hope you find this photo and contact me, I have a few more :-)

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Just before you leave the Taj, theres a corner near the red gate where you can frame this shot. Lots of photographers camping out here too :-)

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A few locals hanging out at the red gate after a trip to the Taj.

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Prenup photos!

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A final photo of the Great Gateate as we leave the Taj Mahal complex. It’s been a fun trip. Try to come to the Taj Mahal as early as you can; there’s a lot less people and you can do more for the rest of the day. Looking forward to see more of India in the afternoon.

Day 4: Jaipur to Agra #OneYearLater

Editor’s Note: #OneYearLater continues! This was originally written during my layover at Atlanta, when I was heading to New York from Ecuador. Enjoy!

Ajay picks me up from Radoli House and we head out early to travel to the next point to India’s Golden Triangle: Agra.

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The night before the trip, I decided to read up a bit more on what else was worth seeing. There was one place in particular that piqued my interest: The Abhaneri Step Wells. I asked Ajay if it was possible to pass by for it.

“Sure, no problem”.

He wasn’t that familiar with the route but since I decided to get a data plan that day (Globe Telecoms has an unlidata plan in India), using Google Maps we were able to find it easily. Turns out it’s a short ten minute detour from our main route.

The Abhaneri made many step wells, the Chand Baori Step Well being the most famous of them all. Believe it or not, the main purpose of this step well is to collect rain water! For some reason this location conjured images of the prison in The Dark Knight Rises.

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You don’t need to stay long at Abhaneri. It’s not a big place. Just stay a bit, take a few photos and you’re good to go.

I did however, made an interesting meet up at the Step Wells. I noticed an American group come in and saw one of them looking deep into the walls and took a few shots of him. I offered to take his photo and requested if he could take my photo if he didn’t mind.

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He took my picture first. The moment I got back the camera he gave me a somber look and asked “So how’s everything back home?”. He immediately knew that I was from the Philippines, and we talked about Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan a bit .

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It turns out he was Karl Grobl, famous for his photographic world tours. He’s visited the Philippines many times to run tours (just as he was there in India, with a group) and he’ll be back to Pampanga for Holy Week next year. I told him we should do something together when he drops by Manila, and he agrees. We took a few more photos and we parted ways.

Right next door to the Chand Bouri was the Harshat Mata Temple, the goddess of joy and happiness. This seemed different from the other architecture I’ve seen. Instead of grand and soaring, this was humble and quiet, yet still imposing.

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After a loooong drive from Abhaneri we eventually got to the outskirts of Agra, where we met my second guide, Navid.

Navid brought me to the incredible Fatehpur Sikri. This was THE crown achievement of Emperor Akbar, the greatest of the many Mughal (Mongol) emperor who ruled much of India, and this was once the capital. My gosh, what they can do with red sandstone! The place was definitely an architectural wonder.

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Next door was a major mosque called Jama Masjid. Unlike the “museum like’ feel of the Fatehpur SIkri, this was a living place. This was an active mosque after all, and many were here to pray, or to enjoy the scenery, as if they were inside a park.

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Inside the Jama Masqid was the Tomb of Salim Chishti. Salim Chishti, a saint in the Mughal tradition foretold that Emperor Akbar would have a son, after many years of not bearing children, and thus Akbar built a memorial . There was a ceremony there that I was able to bear witness to.

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Afterwards we went to the Red Fort. The Red Fort was a major stronghold in Agra province. Strong enough that when the British came to India, they used it as a base of operations. It really felt like a fortress, and it’s actually still being used as such until this day, by the Indian Armed Forces. Shah Jahan (builder of the Taj Mahal) was also incarcerated here for a time, when his son took over.

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And so the day was done and we headed to my hotel. Another great day in India.

Tomorrow: I’m in Agra, and although there’s a lot to see here, there is one sight here that eclipses everything else…

The biggest must see in whole of India, the Taj Mahal.

Let’s see if it lives to the hype.

Leo

Day 3: The Sights of Jaipur #OneYearLater

Editor’s Note: #OneYearLater continues! This article is pretty much perfect, so it stays the way it is. I wrote this in Panama on my 4 hour layover to Ecuador. Come and enjoy it again!

It’s Day 3 and we’re off to explore Jaipur. My guide Mr Singh and driver Ajay picks me up from Radoli House.

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The Hawa Mahal. That’s all there is to see.

First off is a quick photo pop at the Hawa Mahal, also known as “Palace of the Winds”. Royal Ladies during the olden times were not allowed to meet the commoners, and can only peer from the windows, thus the unique honeycomb look of the wall.

To be honest, there’s nothing much to see here. It’s really just a big facade, sort of like Macau’s Ruin of St Paul. You see it, you admire the architecture a bit, you take some photos and you’re done. It’s cool, but that’s about it, there’s really not much to see. When I was writing this article, I actually almost forgot we went here, until I looked at the photos again. We moved on quickly.

We headed for the Amber Fort. Now this place was WAY more impressive! 

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The Amber Fort (or sometimes called as Amer Fort) was the home of the Rajput Maharajahs, rulers of Rajasthan (one of the states that eventually formed India). It was built and continuously renovated by the royals for 700 years.

We had amazing light that day. From outside the Amber Fort looks fantastic.  It looked like we’ll have a lot of photo opportunities that day, and it was a good sign for the rest of the world tour.

I was very prepared for this shoot. In case you were wondering, here was the gear I was carrying:

  • a Nikon D610 (made it just in time! Thank you Rica Tiglao)
  • a Nikon D3200
  • a 70-200/2.8 lens
  • a 12-24/4 lens  (thank you Ian Paredes!)
  • a 50/1.4 lens
  • about 256GB worth of SD cards (8 x 32GB)
  • a Black Rapid DR-1 Double Harness (thank you Beyond the Box!) to carry both DSLRs.

Let me pause a bit and talk about the Black Rapid. If you’ve ever carried a DSLR, you know it’s heavy, and takes a toll on your neck and shoulders. What more two DSLRs?

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Inside the Amber Fort. First of many selfies.

That’s where the Black Rapid DR-1 comes in. You won’t believe how “lightweight” 2 DSLRs feel, as the harness distributes the weight on your shoulders..  I discovered the joy of using two DSLRs back when I was in Jakarta but it was a pain carrying both. With an ultra wide angle on my side and a telephoto on my other side, the Black Rapid really made me I forget they’re even there. I could have both DSLRs on me practically the whole day no problem, you’ll notice I’m wearing them in practically every shot. Can’t recommend them highly enough.

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Don’t worry, the snakes don’t bite. They’re real though.

Anyway, We stopped off to take some pictures from afar, and we bumped into a few snake charmers (obviously out there there catch the tourists), but it was too rich a photo op not to take!

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The best way to enter the Amber Fort is via an elephant ride. The line was long and it looked like an hours wait. We were considering going straight up to the fort, until my tour guide was able to do some magic to, shall we say, make the line shorter. :-)

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Wow…. so glad my guide made it happen! Going up via elephant is really the right way to do it, to give you the full experience. I have a few photos of myself on the elephant but they were in prints taken by another photographer. I’ll have it scanned and posted when I get back to Manila. 

So what’s inside the Amber Fort? It’s quite a regal place. In many ways it reminds me of a bigger grander Versailles. Most people don’t know this but there was a time when India was the richest country in the world! Viewing the grandeur of the Amber Fort really helped it sink in.

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That ceiling is actually made of mirrors and gems!

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One of the many beautiful plazas.

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Balconies. Now imagine this with grand indian rugs.

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Actually one of the cleaning ladies. Funky broom.

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Just amazing stuff.

After about an hour or two at the Amber Fort, we went to see something that I found truly different and unique…. the Jantar Mantar.

In my more than 30 years of traveling the world (I started young) I have never seen anything like it. The Jantar Mantar is an actual time and space observatory, not using what know as “technological instruments” like telescopes or spectrometers, but with huge stone, wood, and metal structures with unusual shapes, angles, and curves that are actually designed to measure the heavens.

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Each structure was an astronomical instrument with different functions, to measure time, track stars, even predict eclipses. This also is the basis for most of astrology today, as they find out where the sun is in relation to the stars.

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The Steel Disk represents the Sun. Where the shadow falls actually indicates in what constellation the sun is in. This month it was in Scorpio.

Hindus don’t get as much credit on their contribution to science as they should.  I would imagine that when people think of India, they think of Bollywood, Sultans, and Call Center Agents, not scientists and innovators like Da Vinci or Galileo. As an example, people forget that the numbers we use today (one, two, three, etc) actually comes from India.

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Probably the biggest sundial in the world. This is about 6 stories high!

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This structure actually measures the azimuth of the stars in the sky.

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This “bowl” actually calculates the seasons.

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A smaller version of one of the world’s largest sundial.

Eventually we go to another popular sight, the City Palace. There’s a courtyard here which has four famous gates, representing the four season (spring, summer, autumn, and winter). Yet more intriguing architecture.

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Entrance to the City Palace

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Detail on the most popular of the season entrances: The Summer Gate, with India’s national bird, the peacock. Hard to get a clean full shot of this gate since everyone wanted their photo here!

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A full shot of the Spring Gate.

For me however, the most interesting part part of the City Palace is the armoury, which shows various weapons used in India from the different empires, all the way to the British. You’ll see some exotic things like swords that can fire bullets (!). Unfortunately no photography was allowed inside the armoury. 

Finally, we got the chance to look at how Indian Rugs are made. It’s actually quite a a lot of skill and craft required to make one. They use only the best wool and silk and all of it is woven by hand… it takes weeks to make one, months for a gigantic one. No wonder a large silk rug would cost close to 8,000 dollars! Of course they tried to convince me to buy one but it’s way beyond my budget.

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They show that it’s a real rug by burning it. A synthetic rug will melt. A real rug will turn black for a moment but when you wipe the ash away, the real colours will reappear.

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Here’s where they try to sell me a rug. Beautiful presentation. Still too rich for my blood though.

And so, Day 3 was done! My first real exploration of Jaipur was a success.

Tomorrow we leave Jaipur and head to the next point of India’s Golden Triangle: AGRA! Can’t wait to see what’s next.

Leo

Day 2: Exploring Jaipur on Foot #OneYearLater

Editor’s Note: #OneYearLater continues! This is a new version of a post that was originally posted about Day 2. 

It’s Day 2 in Jaipur. Woke up late due to the loooong almost 24 hour trip, with nothing officially scheduled in my itinerary. I decided to take a walk… and a fascinating one it turned out to be!

Things that surprised me:

India is COLD. Like Baguio cold. I don’t know why I had the image of India in the sweltering heat. But then again, it’s cold this time of year.

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Camels, not carabaos are Jaipur’s beasts of burden.

There are ANIMALS everywhere! They literally own the roads. It’s strange seeing cows walk around without a leash or someone watching them, even at night. I also saw a gang of pigs cross the street in the middle of traffic. And camels are Jaipur’s beast of burden of choice. Amazing!

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Pigs crossing the street. Only in India. I’m surprised they know how to weave thru traffic on a major road!

Food is CHEAP. Like surprisingly cheap. I ordered a Masala Dosa and a Punjabi Thali at a nearby store (Kanha) and was surprised on the size of the portions. A similar order would cost about P1000 at New Bombay Restaurant in Manila (about USD 20) only to be amazed to find out this whole thing cost like P250 (about USD 5). I was thinking it was a small order so I was shocked to see how sizeable it was. This is the biggest Masala Dosa I’ve ever had. And yes, it’s really good.

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Look at that huge Masala Dosa on the left! The one on the right is the Punjabi Thali. I didn’t know how to order so I got 2 lassis by mistake. Total bill is about P250 only!

There are NO fast food places, at least where I am in Jaipur. I’ve walked about 5km going around today, and have not seen a McDonald’s or a KFC… heck, even a 7-11. Not even a Shell! It seems I’m in an area where multinationals have not descended.

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The women’s clothes are so COLORFUL and yet the man’s clothes are so drab. Men go around in greys, browns, blues. Women go around in bright yellows, purples, reds, greens. Its as if the women and men made a bet and only one gender can wear bright colourful clothing, and the women won.

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Scenes at a Jaipur Bazaar

The driving is BAD. Terrible, even according to Philippine Standards. I don’t think I’ve seen vehicles in multiple lanes try to “beat each other out” at toll gates in Manila, as if they were in EDSA. It seems that in Manila people learn to line up at toll booths. Vehicles dart in and out from nowhere, with horns honking almost non-stop, as if they were all bus drivers on EDSA. And I thought drivers in Italy were bad!

Interestingly, Jaipur reminds me of the outskirts of Batangas or Laguna. Still very much the countryside, still developing, but getting there.

UPDATE (11/17/2014): Something I forgot to mention in my original post. HOW MUCH WAS MY INDIA TRIP Worth?

My India tour was organized by Travelite India. My tour package took me through the highlights of the Golden Triangle (Jaipur, Agra, Delhi), inclusive of hotel accommodations, inclusive of breakfast, inclusive of my own personal driver, inclusive of my own personal tour guide per location, inclusive of airport pickup and sendoff.… and all of that for the amazing price of USD 550. That’s only about P20,000 pesos!!!

India was the best deal across my whole tour. Can’t believe what I got for that price. In case you’re curious, here’s how the place I stayed looked like.

The Radoli House in Jaipur

The Radoli House in Jaipur

That's a big Queen Size bed!!! And my room is nice and big and octagonal. ;-)

That’s a big Queen Size bed!!! And my room is nice and big and octagonal.

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The included simple breakfast. Omelet, bread, butter, jam, coffee.

Tomorrow I set for the sights. Let’s see what happens.

Leo