Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Viewa from Phewa – Erich

In Pokhara there is a large lake called Phewa Lake, or on some maps Fewa Lake. The English spelling has apparently not been fully agreed upon. We walked down to the lake to enjoy some boating.
We got the red and green one
At the boathouse we rented a boat for a half day. These are traditional wooden boats with wooden paddles. Rowing was a good upper body workout. Those paddles are much heavier than the aluminum and plastic ones we are used to. But everyone got their turns with the work.
A face of intense work
Happier with the rowing, but an unusual grip
Look at those bulging muscles! (Hey, just pretend for my sake, all right.)
In the middle of Phewa Lake is a small island on which is the Barahi Temple.
Barahi Temple Island as we approached
The faithful can take a short ferry ride out to pray at the temple. We boated right around the island and got views of the temple from the water.
Closer view as we rowed past
On the south shore is the World Peace Pagoda, way up high on a hill.
It's way up there
And to the north is the inspiring photo you see on all of the postcards. It is the snow-capped peaks of the Annapurna range of the Himalayas. Here is a classic picture taken from Phewa Lake that I found on the web.

Postcard perfect picture
But here is the reality of it, the picture I took.
Not gonna see this on the postcard
We couldn't see the Himalayan peaks. The culture here is to burn your trash, and there is always so much smoke in the air, one can't even see that far. It's a shame because Nepal is a gorgeous country. If only the pollution weren't getting in the way of seeing it.

Still it was a fun day on the lake. Well, maybe not for my arm muscles.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Underwater, Underground – Erich

We took a journey to the under. I don't mean Down Under, though we did already go to Australia. No, we are in Nepal which is both in the northern hemisphere and pretty high up in elevation.

But we took a trip into the underground. Underwater.

We walked to Devi's Falls and the Gupteshwor Mahadev Cave. You know the saying, "Getting there is half the fun?" Well, I don't know if the proportion was precisely 0.5, but getting there was pretty fun. We walked around Fewa Lake. We saw the dam that contains it. We saw homes and narrow roads. Here's one.
...while you yourself walk the primrose path
Along the way we got to see the cool terracing that has been done to make rice paddies and other fields.
We saw a system used for irrigation.
Not sure what that white bag is for
We met this guy, though he didn't have much to say.
Maybe if I had spoken to him in Nepali
And along the way we got to cross this rickety bridge. I would like to tell you it is way safer than it looks, but that might be debatable.
Yes, there were a few boards with holes. Risk makes it fun, right?
We arrived at Devi's Falls. A sign there explained that a woman named Mrs. Davis was swept away while picnicking there some hundred years ago, and since then its English name is Davis Falls. Except it isn't. It's Devi's Falls. So I'm not sure what the truth of the mystery is there.

The falls are interesting. This is the dry season, so they are not nearly as booming or voluminous as they apparently get.
The flow is low when we go
You can see how the underside of that higher rock has been carved by water. That's how high the water is during monsoon season.
The flow would be high if it were not so dry
There are many such examples of carved rocks that seem way too high to have been carved.

While at the falls, we got to try on some traditional outfits.
The outfit must not have fit Alrica so well. Or it was itchy.
And we saw the wishing pool. Do you know those coin drops you sometimes see at Taco Bell or similar restaurants? You drop in a coin and if you can land it on the thin orange shelf you win, I don't know, churros or something. This wish pool is something like that. You throw coins into the pool, but you are trying to hit the circular pillar in the middle that has a statue of a god on it. If you do, your wish will come true. If not, well, nothing specifically said your wish wouldn't come true. But I think that is the implication. At least it's I inferred. So it's plenty of incentive to try again.
...and if it echoes back, your wish will soon come true.
The other interesting element is that in Nepal, they don't use coins. All of the money is paper money, even down to five rupee notes (which is about 4.6 U.S. cents.) So if you want to throw coins in the wish pool, you have to go buy coins from a stand in the area that sells them for just this purpose.

Across the street from Devi's Falls is the entrance to the Gupteshwor Mahadev Cave. In addition to being an underground cavern carved out by water, it is a holy site in Hinduism. Even the walk down is well decorated.
I don't know which statue is whom, but it's impressive
Inside the cave is a stalagmite that is naturally in the shape of Shiva. To be honest, I saw the stalagmite, and its many supplicants praying to it. I'm not sure I would have identified it as Shiva, but I'm not sure I know what Shiva looks like. But maybe it is one of those situations like where people see the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast or Abraham Lincoln in a potato. Or like those 3D images where you have to let your eyes relax and cross and then a humpback whale is suddenly apparent where before you just saw squiggles. I'm not so good at those either.

I couldn't take a picture of it, because that's not acceptable. But above it someone had carved a stone naga shield. I've seen sculptures with that before, usually of Buddha. A naga seems to be a multi-headed snake. Many statues of Buddha have the naga shield over his head, apparently protecting him from rain.

I was able to get a picture of a different naga shield. The strange thing was that whatever statue it had been protecting was missing.

I'm glad these guys want to be umbrellas and not man-eaters
After you pass the stalagmite Shiva, you go through a very short tunnel. The kids could walk upright, but Alrica and I had to crouch. You arrive in a taller, wider cavern. There are lovely mineral deposits on the walls.
As if it were raining salt
And at the end of the cave there is a pool of water. You hear rushing pounding water from an opening across the pool. Through that opening sunlight streams. And do you know where it goes? To Devi's Falls! I got a picture of the same opening from both sides.
From under
From over
And then we had lunch, with our journey to the under over.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Monkey See – Erich

When I learned that in Kathmandu there was a place called the Monkey Temple, I assumed it was a Hindu temple dedicated to Hanuman, the god with the monkey head. But I was wrong.

The Monkey Temple, which is actually called the Swayambhu Stupa is a Buddhist Temple. There are no sculptures of Hanuman anywhere about. That's not why it's called the monkey temple.

Kathmandu is in a valley cleverly named the Kathmandu Valley. It is surrounded by mountains, some huge, some still big but not huge. But in the midst of the city of Kathmandu, there is a hill. I suppose it doesn't quite qualify as a mountain, but it's pretty tall. And on this hill is the Swayambhu Stupa.

The hill is largely undeveloped and covered in trees. The entire hill is home to monkeys, many, many monkeys.

We took a trip, on foot, to the Swayambhu Stupa. And it was an adventure.

Some streets in Kathmandu are the paved, flat roads you expect to see in any city. But many of the roads are unpaved, bumpy, hilly, and far from level. But these are roads with homes on either side. Many people here walk or use motorcycles as cars would be difficult on these roads. But they were interesting to walk along, to see how many people live. And boy was there a lot of up and down.

At one point we had to cross the Bishnumati River. This river isn't too wide, but the water is unpleasantly gray, with the kind of polluted smell to match its unnatural color.
You know the Blue Danube? This is the Gray Bishnumati
As you near the Swayambhu Stupa, you can see it from afar. It is above the rest of the city.
A golden vision on the hill
But you don't have to go to a recognized temple to see stupas. They are all around Kathmandu, along sidewalks, at the edge of streets, and in small squares.
Maybe for drive-in service?
When we reached the great hill, our climb began. After a short climb, we got to a level area in which there were several Buddha sculptures to greet us.
The background matches the hair
Already here one would see monkeys as well as stray dogs. In fact, we saw one woman pouring water for the dogs and monkeys to drink.

Then you climb another long set of stairs up the hill. Along the way, there are vendors selling small pieces of art, fruit, and some metal jewelry. One reaches another level. Here again, there are Buddha sculptures.
Is it much farther now, Papa Smurf?
Once you pass this, there is no going back. You now climb the long staircase to the Stupa.
Up, up, up
Along the side of the staircase there are animal sculptures. We saw a happy horse, an elephant, a fierce bird, and this peacock.
With furrowed brow, like Sam the American Eagle
At the top we got to see the great golden stupa. Below the golden spire are painted the Eyes of Buddha. I wasn't allowed to take pictures of it.

Buddhists walk around it in a clockwise direction and they spin mantra wheels as they go. At various points, they can stop and light incense sticks. And there are bells they ring. It was an interesting ritual.

Though I couldn't take a picture of the mantra wheels at the top, there was a large mantra wheel at the bottom of the hill which I was allowed to photograph. This gives you an idea of what I mean by a mantra wheel, though the ones at the top are much smaller.
It spins!
In this top area, there are again plenty of monkeys. Of those I was allowed to take a picture.
They seem to think the stupa is for them
The top also afforded a magnificent view of Kathmandu below. But note the smoky haze. That's smoke. It's always there. Nepal, much like India, is a constant haze of pollution. People burn their garbage. You see small fires near the road all the time. So there is continual smoke in the air.
The city in all it's haze
So at the top one can see monkeys. But the monkeys looking down are very limited in what they can see. Around here it isn't monkey see, monkey do. It's more like monkey can't see, monkey Kathmandu.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Ordinal Awareness Fallacy – Erich

I have discovered a new fallacy of reasoning. By this I mean, I have realized that we humans often reason in an incorrect way, and I propose an explanation as to why.

I describe it thus: People tend to think that information they learned first must have come about first. That might be confusing, but I'll explain with an example my "ordinal awareness fallacy."

All my life I have known oranges. I don't mean shades of the warm color, I mean the citrus fruit. I have not always been a big fan of oranges, but I have known of their existence for as long as I can remember.

But now I am traveling. On this journey, in Southeast Asia, I was introduced to a new citrus fruit called a pomelo. It has a yellowish-green peel (greener than chartreuse, but not so green as split pea soup.) It is larger than an orange, and its flesh is lighter in color, almost a pale yellow. And when I was introduced to the pomelo I assumed it was a hybrid cross of an orange and a grapefruit or something similar.

Guess what. I was wrong! I have since learned that the orange is actually the child of the pomelo. The sweet orange, as we know it in the U.S. is a hybrid cross of a pomelo and a mandarin. (I also assumed mandarin oranges were somehow descended from oranges, and not the other way around.)

So why did I assume that the pomelo came from the orange and not the other way around? Because I have known of oranges all my life. I knew about the orange first, so I assumed the orange came first.

In Thailand, there are three wheeled motorized vehicles used as taxis called tuk-tuks. In India, there are also tuk-tuks. And I assumed the word "tuk-tuk" came from Thailand to India, because I learned of tuk-tuks in Thailand. In this case, I was right. Research shows the term "tuk-tuk" originating in Thailand. But it was just luck, or maybe not luck, but happenstance. Had I traveled to India first, I would have assumed "tuk-tuk" was an Indian term inherited by Thailand.

When we get new knowledge, we build it on a matrix of the knowledge we already have. But sometimes, since our knowledge is built early idea to later idea, we assume that's how cause and effect happened. Maybe this is why we have such a difficult time changing our opinions when presented with facts that go against what we already "know."

So far as I know, I am the first person ever to propose this particular fallacy. Now, it may turn out someone else has already described the phenomenon, and when that is brought to my attention, I will probably not believe it. Because after all, I became aware of the Ordinal Awareness Fallacy first by my own reasoning. And if that's where I learned it first, then that's where it must have originated.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Agra Culture - Erich

Are any of you Batman fans? If so, you certainly know that the Joker is not the Crown Prince of Crime, but rather the Clown Prince of Crime. Of course his throne is, as often as not, in Arkham Asylum. At least after Batman wins. That never seems to last long though, which is probably good for the Batman franchises.

No, we did not see the Joker while in India. Nor did we see Batman. But let me tell you what we did see.

We ended our time in India with a quick jaunt through Agra and then a day to relax in New Delhi. We were flying out of New Delhi toward Kathmandu, Nepal. But we went to Agra to see its most famous (and possibly India's most famous) site: the Taj Mahal.

Much as the Joker is the Clown Prince of Crime, the Taj Mahal is the Crown of Palaces. (Not the Clown of Palaces. Try not to get confused.) However, much like the Joker, it is a most appropriate name. The Taj Mahal is glorious.
See? Glorious! Even with the scaffolding.
You've probably seen many pictures of the Taj Mahal. Some places in the world, when you see them in real life you basically don't see much more than in the picture. But not so with the Taj Mahal. The pictures do not capture the details, the craftsmanship, or even the full big picture.

The Taj Mahal was built to be a mausoleum for a queen. The king, Shah Jahan, loved his fourth wife, Mumtaz Mahal, intensely. He also loved architecture. When she died delivering their fourteenth child, he merged those two loves and began work on building a magnificent resting place for her. The gigantic white building with the curved domes and long slender minarets, the one you always see in pictures, that is the mausoleum. But that is just one of the buildings that makes up the Taj Mahal.

You arrive first at one of the outer gates to the Taj Mahal. These are in red stone, and there are three: the West Gate, the South Gate, and the East Gate. (To the north of the Taj Mahal is a river, so no gate that direction.) Here you pass through security. These outer gates are nice enough, but probably would not make Agra a tourist capital without what was within. (Did you like that use of without and within in the same sentence? I think the Joker would approve.)

Within those gates is a rectangular courtyard, longer to the east and west and shorter north and south. There are walls on all sides with gates of course in the center of each. And the gate to the north is the Main Gate.
View from without, within.
The Main Gate is a tall red gate with many white details about it. It has cupola towers on its corners and a series of small cupola roofs across its top. It's actually a double gate. You walk through the first gate and then you have to walk another 15 meters or so to get through to the second gate and out into the Taj Mahal courtyard.

But even before you step into the Main Gate's first gate, you can see the Taj Mahal through the large opening. It's quite a sight, framed by the pointed arch.
There it is in the distance.
Still, walking through the second gate takes you into a much larger garden courtyard. There are paved paths leading to the famous Taj Mahal building, but grasses, bushes, and trees as well. There are also reflecting pools to really frame the moment. In addition to the flora, we saw bright green birds, kite birds with incredibly long tails, and some sort of bird of prey circling. And there were monkeys running along the walls the enclose this large courtyard.

The Taj Mahal's famous building, the mausoleum, is not alone. It is higher than the courtyard on a raised terrace. But on each side of it is a building. On the east side is an assembly building and on the west is a mosque. Each is large and intricately decorated. In fact, they are mirror images of each other on the outside. Bilateral symmetry is the overarching design idea of the Taj Mahal (with one exception that I will get to later.)
You can see the mosque (left) and assembly (right) peeking above trees.
The two side buildings aren't identical on the inside, but they are almost identical. The inside of the assembly building is basically an open space. In the mosque, there is a structure to indicate which direction the Kaaba in Mecca is, as well as a raised platform from which services can be led and calls to prayer can be made.
This is the mosque. If you want to see the assembly, just look at this picture through a mirror.
Each of the side buildings is made of the same reddish stone, but capped with graceful white domes. The domes themselves have metal spires atop them. It's funny (though not funny in the way the Joker would appreciate), but if these buildings were on their own, they would probably be architectural masterpieces shown in pictures. But since they are merely the sidekicks of the central mausoleum, they just don't get that kind of attention. I suppose this is comparable to Robin and Batgirl, who, while yes everyone knows them, they don't get nearly the play that Batman does. And without him, who would have ever heard of them?

Let's talk about the mausoleum, the famous building most people think of as the Taj Mahal. It is grand even from afar. But as you get closer, you see the incredible amounts of marble, the details in the engraving, and the unbelievable inlays. All along the outside of the Taj Mahal mausoleum, there are places where shapes were carved out of the marble to be filled in with semi-precious stones. But these stones were chosen and shaped so that they make vines and flowers and leaves.
I don't know what stones these are, but each is beautiful.
Some of inlays surround equally impressive reliefs carved from the marble.
Look at those carved flowers!
Other inlays are in geometric patterns that pull your eye into them.
Your eye is so pulled into this rectangle, you don't even see this caption.
It's also difficult to believe that the dome can be that big, that high, and keep standing. (Don't worry, it does.) The mausoleum is framed by four tall minarets that stand slightly shorter than the dome. In addition, the mausoleum building was designed with exactitude in proportions. Its width (from minaret to minaret) is identical to its height. It makes for a very pleasing to the eye image.
The way into the mausoleum
Visitors are allowed into the mausoleum, though they have to either remove or cover their shoes to do so. The inside is much darker, as there are no electric lights. While some sunlight does enter, the ceiling is a solid dome, so it's pretty dim in there. Luckily, you are allowed to use flashlights. That's lucky because you would not want to miss the art of that interior. Unluckily, you are not allowed to take photographs of the inside of the mausoleum. But I guess that just forces people to go visit it to see the real magic.
The east face of the mausoleum
Remember how I talked about the inlays on the outside? Well, they are nothing compared to the inside. As an example, outside a red stone might be cut into a flower. On the inside, several red stones were carved into the individual petals of the flower. And these stones are more precious gems.

Every centimeter of the central room is carved or filled with inlay or inscriptions. This is the room where the tomb of the beloved wife is. It's also where the king himself was buried when he died many years after she did. And that leads us to our one deviation from bilateral symmetry.

When the queen Mumtaz Mahal died, her tomb was placed along the axis of symmetry, centered in the room. It is a rectangular tomb made of marble with carving across every surface. It's beautiful. It lays with its length north and south and its width east and west.

But then when Shah Jahan died, where could they put his tomb? The only way they could have kept the symmetry was to build his on top of hers. But that isn't what happened. Instead, the king's tomb, even more impressive than the original, is placed just to the west of the queen's tomb. So the king, like the Joker, is off-center.

Except Shah Jahan isn't a super-villain. Or if he once was, Batman wasn't his nemesis.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Stares and Stairs - Syarra

In India more so than anywhere else, we have found that people stare at us. That includes the many, many, people in the City of Jaipur, in the State of Rajasthan. It seems as if they have never seen white, or western, people. Which surprised me because in a city, like here, with two point three million people I find it hard to believe that they have never seen someone with white skin. For one thing I have seen white tourists, and I have been here less time then the people who live here so I find that hard to understand. That concludes the part about stares.

Now for stairs! And hallways. A few days ago we went to the Amber Palace or Amer Fort. The Amber Palace was at one time the capital building for the Kachwaha Empire. It is located on top of a hill looking over the Town of Amer. The palace was built by Raja Man Singh the First. He was the leader of the empire at the time. It has been extended since. We were brought by a tour guide in a car. But he did not come in with us.
View from the car.
 We sort of did without a guide. But that is a later story. We entered the area of the palace, in front of us we saw a path which ended in stairs scaling the hill. At the end of it you got tickets. We did and then continued stopping only to enjoy the amazing view.
An obelisk below
Climbing and seeing the Amber Palace

And Climbing and seeing another view

Arriving in a courtyard

In the courtyard

 This fort, or palace, has many hallways, and staircases that lead into darkness, which makes it an easy place to get lost. There were a few thing that made our experience fun to look back on. These are the ceaseless entertainment and freedom of the exploration, the, sort of, guide, and the sight of the “Great Wall of Amer” (as I call it).
The Ceaseless Entertainment and Freedom of the Exploration.
The Amber palace had many interesting rooms. Such as the mirror palace where inlayed in the wall was reflective pieces of glass. I enjoyed the ability to go anywhere. If we were in the U.S.A. there would be ropes blocking off anything at all dangerous. In most staircases here there were no handrails and the steps were uneven.
In an alcove

The King's prayer room

The Mirror Palace

The audience hall
The, Sort of, Guide.
At one point when we were exploring there was a sign pointing down a hallway that said latrines. We were interested so we walked that way. A man, dressed in a uniform which we assumed was of the guards, came and offered to guide but us we assumed it was just to the latrines so we could find them. Then he continued to show us things. He explained that the king had sixteen wives and 150 girlfriends! Though after he showed us something he waited for us. Not wanting to be hurried, we decided to go on our own. But we felt we must tip him for his service. But not knowing the system for tipping, we did it clearly wrong which we frequently do in India. We gave him 30 rupees and then he gave us a dollar and asked for a rupee. After a while we deciphered that he wanted to exchange a dollar for rupees instead. But of course that was not what we wanted so we turned down the offer.
The Sight of the “Great Wall of Amer” (As I Call It).
If you have ever seen pictures of The Great Wall of China, picture that far away. This wall had two layers, a higher one with murder holes, and a lower one that was wide so if needed whole army could march to the Jaigarh Fort which you can read about below.

The Purple arrow is the Jaigarh Fort. Red is The Great Wall of Amer

Another View of the Great Wall of Amer

Purple is the Great Wall of Amer. Blue is a king's garden

Red is the Jaigarh Fort. Purple is the Great Wall of Amer

The Jaigarh Fort is on a taller hill and in a more defensive position were the castle attacked. There is a path that is half under ground and the other half under the protection of tall walls, that conects the Amber Palace and Jaigarh Fort. We walked up the path as far as it extends today, and than walk a paved path the rest of the way. Though due to the fact that we were tired we did not enter Jaigarh Fort and instead turned back.
Carver and I looking down on the outer Wall or the Jaigarh Fort

While India has its downsides as you can see in:
What Confused the Skittles and in India is Hard
But there are good things too.