Hoi An Stole My Heart

Where do I begin with Hoi An?  It is a city that makes your soul feel good.  Historically a port town, the city’s architecture is a beautiful mix of French colonial buildings, Chinese temples, and an ancient Japanese covered bridge and pagodas.  Then there are the Chinese lanterns that are illuminated each night and cast a romantic spell over the old town.  I can’t imagine anyone strolling through the city at night, with the myriad of riverfront restaurants and cafes, street artists, floating candles, and bicycle rickshaws carting tourists up and down the street, and not falling at least a little bit in love with the place.  Even when it is jam-packed with tourists, as I’m sure it always is.  Vietnamese and foreign tourists alike seem to flock to Hoi An.  It is like a precious gem set in the center of the country.

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Happy, Healthy, and HOT in Hampi

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Happy, Healthy, and HOT in Hampi

Hampi is famous for its ancient ruins and boulder-strewn landscape.  It was once the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire in the 15th century and was home to half a million inhabitants and 1500 elephants.  It’s currently population is less than 3000 and there’s only one elephant.  It is divided into a Royal Center, where the Vijayanagara King and Queen lived, and a Sacred Center, which is where most of the temples are located.  Most of it is free to explore, but you can also hire guides and do various types of tours.  Aside from being fascinating and gorgeous, it is also hotter than hell in Hampi.

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Playing tourist in Mumbai

For the past two days, Maren and I have been on our own, as our hosts have been at work.  Here is what we’ve been up to:

Yesterday morning we went to the horse race track with Sushim.  He goes there to run and he’s currently preparing for the Mumbai half marathon next weekend.  The horse race track doubles as a park & running track where tons of locals come to exercise early in the morning.  We watched the sun rise there.

This is a pre-dawn photo, followed by the sunrise.

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This is horse racing season in India, so these jockeys were exercising their horses around the track.

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Fortunately, we didn’t see any horses get taken away in this horse ambulance.

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These are the famous Dhobi ghats, the world’s largest open air laundry mat.  The washers are called Dhobis and they wash the laundry from Mumbai’s hospitals and hotels, as well as private homes.  Clothes are beaten clean, hung to dry, and pressed.  They say about half a million items are sent here each day.  The Dhobis and their families live at the ghats.

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Since Mumbai is such a booming megalopolis, you don’t see too many street cows.  This was the first one we saw so I thought it was photo worthy.

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These are Mumbai’s famous dabbawallas sorting meals for delivery.  The dabbawallas are a group of men (there are about 5,000 of them)  who pick up and deliver home-cooked meals to more than 350,000 office workers every work day.  They actually go to the workers house, pick up the meal in a tiffin (a tiered metal container) inside a reusable bag, and use an elaborate zoning system to make sure that every meal is delivered right on time to every employee that utilizes their services.  The meals are handed off to at least a dozen different dabbawallas before reaching their destination.  The dabbawallas use bicycles to deliver the meals.  We were lucky to catch them sorting the lunch bags completely by chance.

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Our first train ride.  It was easy and in the middle of the day, so not crowded.IMG_9881IMG_9882

Western Railway main office.

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Indian’s version of the food truck: a food bus where you eat inside at tables.

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The High Court building.

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Preciousness.

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We ate lunch at Leopold Cafe, which is famous because it was one of the target’s of the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai.  It is also frequently mentioned in the book Shantaram. The food was DELISH.IMG_9903IMG_9905

Had to get some kind of image to signal that Mumbai is the center of Bollywood.

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These chilis and lime are often seen dangling from car grills.  It is said that they ward off evil and bad juju.

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The Gateway to India

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We took a ferry out to Elephanta Island.

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Elephanta Island

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Elephanta Island is home to many animals, like monkeys…

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dogs… (I just LOVED this little guy!)

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cows…

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goats…

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and PUPPIES!!!!!!!!!! (I gave this one and his friends some water and he started suckling my finger.  Now we’re bonded for life.)

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A home on Elephanta Island

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So, Elephanta Island is about an hour-long ferry ride off the coast of Mumbai.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for it’s cave temples that have been carved into rock. The temples are thought to have been carved between AD 450 and 750.  It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and has many carvings of him.

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My first time using a squatty potty.  Is was a piece of cake, but am I doing it right?  I have no idea.

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View of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and the Gateway of India from the ferry.

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The Gateway of India: Mumbai’s #1 tourist attraction (sometimes referred to as Mumbai’s Taj Mahal); a monument built by the British to commemorate the arrival of King George V and Queen Mary when they visited India in 1911.IMG_0018IMG_0022

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST; formerly the Victoria Terminus) railway station.  This incredible building was built in 1887 and is one of India’s busiest train stations.  We were there at peak rush-hour and there were rivers of people pouring into this place.  It was beautiful chaos.

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I have no idea what this building is, but I thought it was beautiful.  It’s across from the CST.

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Another pretty building.

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A beautiful mosque. About 20% of Mumbaikars are Muslim. Mumbai has incredible buildings like this around every corner.  Just walk the city and you will find them.

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Our return train ride in the women’s only compartment.  IMG_0044

Oops!  This one is out of order.  It’s a super posh mall called the Phoenix/Paladium.IMG_0048

The women-only train car… so lovely!IMG_0047

The Phoenix: A HUGE and upscale mall.  We ate dinner in a restaurant here and dropped over $100!  Not everything in India is cheap!  #worthitIMG_0049IMG_0050