Tokyo

Minato, Tokyo, Japan.

     As seen from the Tokyo Tower. Honestly, the Tower doesn’t look like it’s too high, looking up from below, but it is actually taller than the Eiffel Tower and once your up on the top deck, you get some spectacular views over Tokyo. It was actually inspired by its French counterpart and is now the second tallest structure in Japan.

     When I was up on the observation deck there were actually people having picnics on blankets and a television star in the middle of a photo shoot. I even met a guy I had known for years from a site on the internet, and we didn’t even know we knew each other until we were home months later and posted pictures from that same night at about the same time. A quick email confirmed he was the guy I talked too and thought looked familiar …it’s a small world.

     Everything from restaurants, shops, a bar and an aquarium are situated in the decks of the tower and all a few steps away (at most) from views like this. Surrounded by parks, temples and some of the livelier areas of Tokyo, the Tower is perfectly positioned for to provide a great experience in Tokyo. If you have the time, I would highly recommend a visit at sunset.

             

 

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Appetizer

Phuket, Thailand.

     I have always considered Thailand one of the “greatest countries in the world” since I first visited years ago, and every time I go back just reiterates that thinking. I mean, where else in the world can you wake up in the morning and walk out your front door to a baby elephant wandering around looking for bananas. All “set-up” of course, not a wild elephant per say, but still, I mean c’mon. Here in the states this would entail at least half the police force of the particular area with a lot of guns being drawn, pointed and probably fired, followed by a week of news coverage and then at least fifteen lawsuits looking for millions of dollars for any and every reason possible, including and not including a baby elephant, who is just wandering around looking for a morning appetizer. In Thailand, it’s just another reason to wake up and head outside in the morning. I love Thailand…
 

 

 

Book Review: The City of Djinns

The City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi
by: William Dalrymple

     One man’s fascination and love of a city turns into a year, and honestly, most probably a lifetime, trying to understand that city. A year of “peeling back the layers” of Delhi. Right off the bat I have to say, William couldn’t have picked a better, more mysterious and historically more colorful city. Delhi could possibly have more history buried beneath it, surrounding it, held within its walls and still viewable in the streets than any other city on earth, not to mention that people still live there that were very much part of its recent turbulent history. William couldn’t have picked a harder task to record.

     This book is actually described as a travel memoir type book but it is much much more than that and much less a memoir but more a history of Delhi. I would actually say it is maybe 20% memoir, 80% history, which is usually a really really bad sign for me, as I’m just not interested in reading history, and yet, this book was absolutely fascinating to me. I also have to say that I have been to Delhi and honestly, never knew that three-quarters of the material in this book even existed or happened to, or in, Delhi. I just never knew and never really cared, or thought I didn’t, but I do. This is why I have to call William’s work here a literary masterpiece. This isn’t your average travel memoir. You can tell right from the get go that William did a lot of research and knows Delhi’s history very well, or as well as any one man can possibly  know of it. I would usually close a book like this at about page fifty, but this is truly a masterpiece of writing.

     William takes a travel memoir and weaves a tale spanning two-thousand years into it. He walks a fine line almost perfectly, keeping the “travel memoir” side very active while informing the reader of what exactly made Delhi into what it is today. I never wanted to go back to Delhi until I read this book. I want to go back now. I want to see William’s Delhi. I want to explore the city. I want to see what he saw.

     There are way to many topics to list, but William goes from spending time with the Eunuchs still there in the city today to something as mundane as trying to get a telephone line. He goes into detail about the architecture of the city, he goes to a wedding. He tells the tale of Skinner, a British soldier, goes to a pigeon fight. Explains the Partition, the “leftovers from Britain”. He befriends the Delhi-wallahs, he interviews the last living relative of Shah Jehan. William tells the story of Indira Gandhi, and the ramifications of her death, the festivals of Holi and Diwali. He weaves the tale of Fraser and Ibn Battuta. He tries to give all views on the Muslim, the Sikh and Hindu thoughts on the city. He looks for tales of Nizam-ud-Din, the hakim and the last remaining haveli’s in the city.

     William tells of, as well possibly finding, the catacombs and tunnels believed to be underneath the city. He peels back the layers of seven cities built and destroyed over the ages. Tells the tale of Tughluk, when Delhi was moved, on three days notice, the whole city, only to have ninety percent of the residents die en route to the new location, Daulatabad.

     This is a great one, and no matter how much money or how much fame William has received from this book, he has to be proud. A masterpiece in the thinking of Mark Twain almost (no, I’m not kidding) – it’s that good. He finds those Djinns, or the tale and legend of them, and holds the reader in awe all the way through. Almost insane how much information is in this book. I just never knew that I walked through this …and never knew. A book that gives you an authentic feel of Delhi throughout. It sucks you in and then spits you out, leaving the reader wanting more and asking the question “What the hell just happened?”. Three hundred and thirty nine pages of small text that you wish went on for twice that much, all the while thinking in the back of your mind that this is insane. It’s Delhi and that is what Delhi is. A history of a city that can truly be called the city of Djinns, because, well, that is insane, and that is Delhi. There is no reason for it being the way it is, but William gives you that reason. It’s insanity explained, and explained very well.

Bottom Line:
…If you are at all interested in the history of Delhi or India: The Highest Recommendation I can give

…If you have been to Delhi, or are interested in going: Highly Recommended
…If you are looking for a good travel memoir type read but not at all interested in history: Not Recommended

     This is a tough one, because it is more history than memoir, yet it is, truly, a masterpiece of writing on India. If your looking more for just a personal experience type book though, and haven’t been or really plan on going to Delhi, this may not be one for you. That said, William has probably written one of the most comprehensive and informative books on the “thinking” of why Delhi is what it is …ever. 

…so, if you’re a professor of Indian history: A MUST read for your class – never read better – read it yourself and see.

     Help me keep traveling, reviewing, and taking pictures. If you want to buy this book, or any other book through Amazon, than click and buy through the photo above. Thank you!!! John

Sunrise

Bagan, Myanmar.

     Still going through the pics from my trip to Myanmar and, well, this is one of them – For the whole story see my index page (top right). Not much I can say except, get up early, climb a temple, …and wait for the sun. It is well worth it. You won’t see this kind of view anywhere else in the world. …and if you do get up that early, make sure you “sneak” up to the front desk and scare the h*ll out of the girls sleeping there 🙂 , who instantly snap to life, all six of them, and just start saying “What? what? How ya doin’? Good morning? What’s going on? Ehhh-hmmm, how can can I help you sir? Morning. Good morning. Beautiful morning. Mingalaba. Yes it is. How can I help you? Good morning. Ehhh-hmmm.”

           

 

The Great Cornholio

Somewhere along the Niger River, one and a half days cruise, by pinasse, from Mopti, headed towards Timbuktu, Mali.

…sorry, had to do it.
…of Beavis and Butthead fame for those who don’t know. See here.    

     I mean, just imagine, sailing for a day and a half through some of the least inhabited parts of the
world known to man (in my mind at least), through the desert with nary a soul in sight. Barely seeing a sign of life. No electricity, no cars, no TV’s. Hardly a smidgen, yes a smidgen, of anything to remind you of the western world. Hell, to remind you of the Industrial Revolution for that matter. Then you stop at a village on the side of the river, in the middle of nowhere, and there’s this kid running around, with her shirt over her head
and arms in the air, yelling things in a high pitch voice like she just ate a copious amount of M&M’s…

Harmattan Sun

Waza National Park, Cameroon.

     Sunrise over Waza National Park, in the Far North Province of Cameroon, as seen during the yearly Harmattan where dust from the Sahara is blown across the land and into the air, blocking out the sun and creating an almost fog-like landscape. It’s eery at times, and creates a mysterious looking landscape at others.

     As far as Waza is concerned, it’s a different world up there. The town of Waza sits right outside of the National Park. Stunningly beautiful and unquestionably poor, it’s an amazing corner of the world. Part desert, part grassland. Hills intertwine throughout where you can get above it all and see for miles around. This is a tough one to get too, but well worth the effort, especially considering how genuine and non-touristy it truly is. This was taken during a safari ride, looking for lion, elephant, giraffe and baboon. We did see some animals, but the greatest view that morning was definitely the landscape.

 

 

Taj

Agra, India.

     The Taj, as seen from Shah Jahan’s cell in Agra’s Red Fort. I’m actually not quite sure which view is more impressive, from close-up or from afar. Either or, both are well worth the view and the time spent. As far as this view goes, I can’t help but think that Shah was put in this particular spot for the reason of torture …to look out over one of the greatest buildings ever built at the time, which he built, and think about his beloved wife Mumtaz, who he built it for.