Saturday, May 16, 2009

Blog has moved

Loyal Readers,

My blog has moved to http://www.aaronhauser.com

Thank you for your readership.

Hasta,
Arun Aaron

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Boden-Haus Begins


A Baking Studio via Google SketchUp

video
Sandstone was the closest of the default textures to rammed earth.

Boden \bōden\
-noun
1. Soil
2. Earth
3. Base

Haus \'haús\
-noun
1. House
2. Building
3. Establishment

"Boden-Haus" is German for "Earth House." Before I can talk more about the Boden-Haus, I must explain rammed earth a bit for those of you who are unfamiliar with this most ancient of construction methods.

It is with great reluctance and greater difficulty that I attempt to explain rammed earth and my interest in it. In fact, I am so reluctant, so difficulted, that I just typed "quote reluctance" in Google, and the fruit of my search was this quote from Jean Racine:
There is nothing so easy but that it becomes difficult when you do it with reluctance.

Ah, that explains that. Let me continue more boldly than before.

Rammed earth construction is a straightforward process with amazing results: one places soil into a formwork and compacts it into layers, making the walls of a house, a house that can last for hundreds of years. The rammed earth house is warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer than most buildings made of other forms of constructions. Thick walls of unfired earth dampen noise. With walls resembling stone, a rammed earth house is virtually fireproof and windproof. The walls are too dense for vermin to gnaw into, too dense for vegetation to take root. With proper care, water is no more damaging to the rammed earth house than any other type of house. Like concrete, rammed earth walls strengthen over time, but are strong enough upon completion to support a roof and to be inhabited. Rammed earth houses exist and provide comfort at the sultry ecuador or in colder climates, such those climates of Canada, Russia and Scandinavia. Its beauty cannot be denied.

Take a minute, go to images.google.com and search for "rammed earth." You will be impressed by how pretty and grand it can be. Here is a plantation house in South Carolina.


Here is a really good example of what some modern designers have done with its aesthetic potential http://heatkit.com/graphics/clients/c-vanh04.jpg.

The labor involved with rammed earth is significant, and care must be taken in rammed earth design. Through various field tests, you must make sure that the soil is the right composition of gravel, sand, silt and clay to ensure optimal densification. Then, you must excavate and transport the soil to the building cite, where it must be sieved and mixed to the determined optimal-level of soil and moisture before it is placed in the formwork. The formwork must be strong enough to withstand the immense force exerted on all its sides during the ramming process: rammed earth has a density of between 1800 and 2200 kg/m³, comparable to the density of sandstone, around 2400 kg/m³, so you are basically making sandstone. Actually, because the primary aggregate of a rammed earth wall is sand, rammed earth walls resemble sandstone when completed. Around 4"-5" of soil is placed in the formwork at a time, and this is compacted with a rammer to about half its volume. In moist climates, the foundation of rammed earth must be elevated to between 1'-2' above the ground to prevent rain from splashing up from the ground and damaging the wall. There is typically a bit more overhang on the eaves of rammed earth roofs than the roofs of other buildings to minimize its exposure to the rain. The more curious of the readers are wondering about roofs and door and window openings. Well, this is not a how-to blog. Suffice it to say, extra care must be taken with the jambs, sills (only with windows) and lintels (load-bearing support beam above windows and doors) of windows and doors. My goodness, that sort of sounded angry.

Many of you are familiar with rammed earth structures. A significant part of the Great Wall of China is made of rammed earth. Alhambra at Granada in Spain is made of rammed earth, or as it is called in Spanish, tapial
http://www.granadaphoto.com/granadainwhite/images/Alhambra%20desde%20Generalife.jpg
Many homes still inhabited near Lyon, France date back 600-900 years and are made of rammed earth, or as it is called in French, pisé de terre.

There are, no doubt, doubters amongst you. In his 1924 book, Karl Ellington wrote a bit about the skepticism he faced after years in the field:

"The fact that the pisé method is not known everywhere is by many taken as indicating or proving that pisé must have been tried and found wanting.

But anyone who will give a little more attention to the subject will find, that in some parts of the world the pisé-method has been in use for several thousand years. And in countries where the pisé-method has not been practiced it has never been tried because of the presence of wood or brick or other materials, -and tradition has cared for the continued use of methods once established, just as pisé has kept its ground from times remote and until the present day in localities where everyone knows the merits of the method and is familiar with the requirements in utilizing it.

If it only was as easy to remove prejudice as to build with pisé, the method would be in use everywhere today."

Here a picture of a rammed earth building in Sweden from Mr. Ellington's book.


It occurs to me that I could continue citing others interested in or involved with rammed earth (e.g., Thomas Jefferson, William Henry Harrison, Frank Lloyd Wright, etc.), defending it as a preferred construction method for residences and other buildings; however, I am too young in the process to defend it whole-heartedly: thus far, my experience in rammed earth is limited to hours of research and a few hours of ramming earth in Auroville. And while my research produced many great sources trumpeting the virtues of rammed earth, and ramming earth in Auroville produced a beautiful five foot wall, if I am honest with myself, I, too, am amongst the doubters. I have not built anything substantial with it yet, have not experienced the process. Which brings me back to the Boden-Haus.

Robert and Rachel, a married couple who graduated from Davidson College, operate an organic farm in Greenville, Tennessee. We were acquaintances in college, but our mutual friend Arthur put us into contact, as he was aware of my interest in rammed earth and their commitment to sustainable, healthy living. They were gracious enough to invite me to build my first rammed earth building on their farm. Rachel is a baker and is in need of a proper space in which she can do baking things. So, this first building will be utilized as such.

Here are some pictures from the ground-breaking ceremony.

The Cite of the Boden-Haus Rachel Breaking Ground

Robert Breaking Ground

Me Breaking Ground



Being German, We Gave Its Foundation Beer

The Boden-Haus is still in its early stages, and I now spend my days (when it's not raining) shoveling soil and sourcing stones, as we need 26 tons of each for the project. Shoveling is harder work than one might think, unless one has done it, but it is really nice to be outside in beautiful Tennessee. I will be updating this blog more often as work progresses.

I've also begun growing a chinstrap beard out and will continue to do so until the Boden-Haus is complete. I hope to look like Solon Robinson, the inspiration for the beard.





Monday, January 26, 2009

But Still He Moves


Since I last wrote, I've traveled much and much has happened. I left Mumbai, just a few weeks before the tragic shootings, and traveled to London for a week to visit my friends. While I wish I could say my time in London was colored with thoughts of England's 200 year occupation of India and the appropriateness of my visit to London before returning to the United States of America, I can't. I gave no thought to visiting the sites Gandhi described in his autobiography. Nor did I search for the old buildings of the East India Company or visit any of the London museums to see the artifacts acquired during India's occupation. I generally don't think or travel as such. Plus, I was a bit overwhelmed by my return to the West and by all the compliments on my tan. My time in London was similar to my last couple months in India in that it was spent eating, partying and time passing with friends.

A description of my trip to London would be incomplete, however, if I did not mention how my concern about the global economic hardships grew while there. In India, I watched much news coverage in my hotel rooms of the struggling stock markets and economies. The crisis, however, seemed remote for two reasons. First, the feel on the streets of India was the same as when I arrived there before the crisis. Perhaps most indians were not and are not as directly affected as those in the West. This point becomes pretty easy to believe when you consider that over 50% of Mumbai's population already live in slums. Second, much of the coverage detailed hardships that did not seem to apply to me, such as how difficult it is becoming for bachelors working in the finance or IT sectors to find brides. Clever to-be-brides, you see, are wary of the insecurity of these professions and are looking for their prospective husbands to be in more stable fields. Perhaps they are looking for husbands who produce cheap alcohol, a thriving industry during hard times (free tip for all the would-be brides reading this). While I found these stories interesting from a cultural perspective, it made the hardships of the crisis seem limited rather than general. In London, however, one of the world's financial centers, the tension of the struggling global economy was palpable. It seemed everywhere I went I heard snippets of conversations about the desperate state of the job and stock markets. Despite the ability of the accent and modest manner of Londoners to take the edge off pain or difficulties (for an example of this type in "Charlie bit my finger" in Youtube), I found I was becoming increasingly tense. It makes me wonder whether a third reason the crisis did not seem so all-consuming to me while in India was that I did not understand the local languages, so I may not have picked up on similar conversations while standing at the chai wala stand. I digress. My concern climaxed in London during a conversation I was having with some one who I'd met in London. After an hour or so of listening to him talk about complete economic meltdown, my heart began to race. To calm myself down I asked him to take a step back from the Terminator-esque scenarios and tell me whether he was really as concerned as he seemed to be. He told me that he was not. My heart rate slowed. Then he said, "Because I'm pretty sure I can live in the jungle for two years." Could he have said anything worse? My heart rate doubled.

When I said that this conversation was the climax of my concern, I mean that I have not been as anxious about the economy since that moment. In part, it was shocking to return to a West that seemed so changed from the one I left. How much happened during those five months from June-November. Also, I have heard on the news reassuring talk about sound financials of many business in many sectors, so perhaps much of the concern resembles hysteria, perhaps not. Lastly, although it seems clear that we have some difficult times ahead and regardless of the depth of the difficulties, opportunities are present. As a wise friend of mine put it, if Americans need a crisis like this, even a depression, to start behaving more responsibly, sustainably, then, so be it. While I am no economist, though I do have the proud distinction of twice failing the first level of CFA exams, this crisis could be a wake-up call to all of us that some of our excesses must be curtailed or eliminated. With this in mind, I have continued, con gusto, my research in and plans for rammed earth. There is much to say about the timing and opportunities of the recent economic downturn and my interest in rammed earth. Much more on that later...maybe not today, but sometime. Back to my last two months.

My tan and the compliments related thereto faded quickly after returning to the cold of New York. It's a strange feeling to return to New York, and it remains a mystery to me how quickly I return to the familiar mindset of being in New York, regardless of whether I spent a weekend away in Boston or five months away in India. I think Billy Joel wrote a song about it. It was great to be back in New York and see my mother and friends there (type in "Best 8 Count Dance Ever" in Youtube to see some of my activities there...I'm the guy in the wig, wearing an apron). While I intended to hit the ground running on my research at the New York Public Library, I prioritized seeing my friends and family there and was not able to utilize the amazing resource of that sacred library. It is much on my mind to return to New York in the next couple of weeks to continue with my rammed earth project. More to come on that, as well. 

From New York, I traveled to Columbus, Ohio and celebrated Thanksgiving at my brother and sister-in-laws house. It was here that I also met, for the first time, my awesome nephew, Barrett. He is too cute. He was scared of me at first, like many people, but he quickly warmed up to me, like some people. I pretty sure I heard him say that I am his favorite person on the planet. Here is a video and picture of me with the little one.

video
Bear trying to beat box...          
   
 
Having much time on my hand and not wanting to continue paying for a storage in New York, I returned to New York for three days or so and picked up all my stuff (which fits comfortably in one minivan provided by my little sister) and drove to Ohio. There I spent another week with my brother, sister-in-law and nephew. It was also during this trip that I got, for the first time, to see my friend Justin Camp perform stand-up. He is incredibly funny, and do not be surprised if he becomes a household name in the next couple years. You can check him out on Youtube. 

Ohio wasn't cold enough for me, so I traveled to Fergus Falls, Minnesota, which I'm pretty sure is where cold was invented. This is where my sister and brother-in-law live and where we decided to celebrate Christmas. I've never felt so close to Santa Claus. Though most of the days were around -10⁰F, on the warmest day, 10⁰F, I decided to walk 15 blocks to my sisters church to say hello. About halfway through the walk, I reached up to itch my beard and realized I had two icicles coming from my nose. You've probably seen such icicles on mountain climbers. In that way, and only in that way, I felt cool about being so icicled. Growing up in Ohio, I thought I knew cold, but I was wrong. Here are a few photos from my trip up there. The squirrel that you see probably weighed ten pounds to live through the cold.

Here are twelve of the seventeen family members at Christmas


From Minnesota, I took a bus from the near the top of the US to near the bottom to Austin, TX. Austin is one of the coolest cities I have ever visited. Here I spent a week with my friend Erica, and she showed me many amazing restaurants and local sites of Austin. In Austin, there is great music every night, excellent Mexican food and one of the municipal swimming pools is a huge natural spring-fed pool with a floor of the natural stone instead of concrete. Tres cool. A week definitely was not enough time in Austin, but I was excited to get to my Uncle Warren's in Florida, so I left. Since flying and renting a car and driving to Florida cost the same amount of money, I decided to make the 18 hour drive. Half-way through the trip my fear of flying is trumped by the nuisance of driving half-way across the country. The last three hours of the trip were spent with the radio and air-conditioners on their maximum settings to keep me awake. However, in a state of near-hypothermia, I arrived at my uncle's place near Daytona Beach.

I have been here for two weeks and already I have beaten my uncle 30+ times at chess, visited my good friends and started training for a marathon I am going to run in September with my sister-in-law, Heather. Two weekends ago, I visited my friend Corey in New Smyrna Beach. He lives very close to here and will be taking a break from studying for the Florida Bar to watch the Super Bowl together next weekend. Last night I returned from a weekend with some of my other closest friends, Jeffrey and Mary Kat. I got to meet their new adorable twins, Charlotte Lee and Margot Ellen, as well as spend some times with their incredibly lovable 20 month-old, Cutter. He is such a great kid. At the playground, I watched Cutter go up to a boy who had just gone down a slide and tap the boy and the shoulder and clap for him. Very cute. The only thing bitter-sweet about the weekend was observing this family being so active and productive, considering they have three children under 2 and Jeffrey is working 80 hours/week in his surgery residency. It made me feel bad about my time-management skills. Maybe I need to have three children.

It's not been all fun and games since I've been here. I've also read two books and over 50 articles about rammed earth. I have compiled the research and will spend my time putting together a little booklet about my research and the project I have planned for the Spring. Maybe I'll even complete this idea I have for a children's book called, Me and My Friend, Rammed Earth Wall. Joke...sort of.

Here is a brand new update. As I was just returning from the grocery store, the dog of one of my uncle's neighbor decided to bite me on the leg as I walked by. Being a little Jack Russell Terrier, my first impulse was to kick it across the yard, but I followed my second instinct, which was to walk away holding my leg in a confused state. It only broke the skin a little bit, but I can't help but think this is some sort of repayment for the jokes I made at my friend Priyanka's expense after she was bitten by a stray dog in Auroville, India. Of course, she required rabies medicine, and I don't think that I do, but who knows the proper way to deal with such things. My impulse is to return to the yard and follow-up on my first instinct.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Rajasthan, Agra, Hampi, Bangalore, Kerala, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Sparta (con't)

Sporting a supernice, white kurta gifted to me by Puneet and Vrushali, I left the comforts of Rajasthan and headed to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. My overnight train arrived just after sunrise, which was a perfect time to head to the Taj. All the museums and historic sites that I've visited in India have had two prices, a 10-30 rupee charge for Indians and a 100-200 rupee charge for Foreigners. The Taj Mahal had a Foreigner price of 750 rupees (around $17). While the price was steep, it did include a 100ml bottle of water, shoe covers and a well-maintained Taj Mahal. I do not have much to say about the Taj Mahal. It was pretty but not remarkable when compared to some of the other sites I've seen here. It took 20,000 people 17 years to build it. Also, I've heard that the ruler who had it built, Shah Jahan, had the architect's hands removed when it was completed so that he could not design another one. This seems like a completely ineffective way of ensuring that the architect remained mum on the secrets of the Taj Mahal, as heads, not hands, contain secrets. That sort of sounds scary. Hearts contain secrets, too. That sounds romantic. Shut up, Aaron.

I broke my fast in full-view of the Taj Mahal. This rooftop restaurant also had monkeys that attacked my waiter when he was bringing my meal. While he ran to get his anti-monkey pipe, they drank my coffee, hissed at me, and ate some of my omelet. After chasing them off, he tried to serve me what was left of my food and coffee. I graciously declined, making true on my promise years ago never to eat monkey-molested food. I practice Safe Eating. Thoroughly entertained, I paid the waiter the deserved 50 rupees, the going rate for a monkey fighter, ensuring that he would not also be attacked by his boss.

After Agra, I traveled five or so hours to Gwalior, a city known for its fort. I wanted a nice meal after the day's festivities, and so I headed to a restaurant that was highly-recommended by Lonely Planet. It was closed. Close by there was a group of rickshaw drivers who I asked to take me to Gwalior's nicest restaurant. They conferred, and one of them took me to the restaurant...McDonald's. Again, thoroughly entertained, I paid the rickshaw driver who was really just trying to make me feel at home. Then, I called Vrushali in Jaipur, who had visited Gwalior, and she recommended a really nice kebab place.

Unfortunately, I missed seeing the fort in Gwalior, as I was laid-low by yet another case of food poisoning (unrelated to the kebabs, methinks), and started a 42 hour journey back down to South India. After train, bus and rickshaw, I arrived in Hampi, a city of ruins in north Karnataka. Hampi is quite a treat. There are impossible rock formations that remind me of the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park. Plus, unlike the sites in North India, I find the sites of South India to be uncrowded and clean. While walking to an abandoned temple that looked exactly like King Louie's ruins in the Jungle Book, I met a couple of fellow travelers. The next day a whole group of us went swimming amongst the amazing boulders in Hampi's reservoir, said to be full of crocodiles. Who knows? It definitely had water buffalo and locals to sell us beer and snacks.

Two days in Hampi were not enough, but I headed back to Bangalore to visit my friends Louella, Varsha, Nishith, Ellen, Harsha and others from Auroville. It was during the overnight bus that I acquired scabies on my legs and feet and contact dermatitis on my arms. Louella offered to take me to a hospital, but I thought it was just another case of impetigo, like the one I had acquired two months before on a bus trip (apparently from biting cockroaches. Who knew they bite?). I should have listened to Louella because after two days of ineffective antibiotic cream application, my itching and rash worsened. I saw the lines in the rash and knew it was scabies, as had seen and made fun of scabies on my friend Max who got them at a hotel in Louisiana. The doctor confirmed my suspicion, and I spent the next two days boiling clothes and sheets, applying lotions and taking pills. While they are a pest, but they are a distant second to bed bugs in my book.

Ellen, a Kiwi, and I, a Yankee, took an overnight bus (luxury, A/C, Volvo, unlike the overnight non-A/C, rash buses I'd taken) to Kerala to travel there for a week. Kavita, my ex-coworker whose family is from Kerala, gave some really good tips on where to go. Here I must apologize to Susan, a friend from Auroville (her picture is at the end of my first blost), who is from Kerala and prepared a whole list of things for us to see and do there. While I'm sure the document was amazing, as she is a generous perfectionist, I was not able to find a computer to open the document, as the computers I'm using these days have only MSWord 1988 loaded on them. As my friend Antim says, no great effort is wasted, so if anyone is planning a trip to Kerala, I have an amazing document to guide you.

Ellen and I spent the first day in Fort Cochin, a pretty port town visited by Vasco De Gama. We then headed to Alleppey, the "Venice of the East" and the beginning of the infamous Kerala Back Waters. We were going to rent a house boat but they seemed to be for couples, too romantic that is. So we rented a gondola type boat with another female traveler, Anna, and spent 6 hours on this fresh water paradise. We saw eagles, beautiful flora and even a couple of snakes. After the tour Ellen, Anna and I had dinner and were searching for an Internet cafe when I guy on a motorcycle drove by and grabbed Ellen's boob. Before we could grab him, he'd motored away. Anna comforted Ellen by telling the tale of the drive-by-boobing she experienced in Fort Cochin. In Alleppey, we also spent 2 days with a group on "Secret Beach" which is about 9 miles north of Alleppey. It was recommended to us by our hotel staff, and it was a truly picturesque beach with white sand and palm trees.

While we could have spent two weeks on Secret Beach, we decided to head to Calicut to visit our friends from Auroville Trisha and Prateek. Calicut is supposed to be the first place where Vasco De Gama landed and is now a dirty, modern city. Trisha and Prateek are both students at the National Institute of Technology, located 16 miles from Calicut. Trisha was able to get an extension to the 7pm (!) curfew imposed by her dormitory, and we had a wonderful dinner at a rooftop restaurant watching a storm off the coast of the Arabian Sea. The male students do not have a curfew.

Wanting to see wildlife, we next went to Wayanad State Park, a park in Kerala bordering Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, and one of the few places left in India to spot wild elephants. During our jeep ride, Ellen kept singing "the other day, I met a bear" song, so we didn't spot wild elephants. We did, however, see wild dogs, peacocks, a wild boar and spotted deer. Actually, she didn't sing that song. We were just unlucky.

The same day as not seeing elephants, we returned to Bengaluru to celebrate my birthday. It was great fun, a truly memorable birthday, and I'll post some pictures of the festivities as soon as one of the camerad people posts the pics. A special thanks to Louella, Varsha, Priya, Ellen, Rahul, Nishith, Pria, Suri, Harsha, Priyanka, Santosh and Supria for the wonderful birthday times. An extra special thanks to Louella for making one of the best chocolate cakes I've ever tasted.

It was difficult to leave my friends in Bangalore, but it was made easier knowing that I'd meet up with Pete in Hyderabad, a friend from Brooklyn who is here on business. Yesterday morning we did some sight-seeing, and we plan to hit the town tonight or tomorrow.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rajasthan, Agra, Hampi, Bangalore, Kerala, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Sparta

The Internet cafe where I am is playing the movie 300, so forgive any violence (there was a lot of nape stabbing in those days) and degrading remarks about Persians that slip into this blost.

My trip has changed. Originally, I intended all of my trip to be focused on learning about sustainable design and earth architecture, but maintaining such a focus has been difficult during this past month or so of extensive travel. For people who know me, you must know how difficult and upsetting it is for me to put on hold that which interests me. Fortunately, there have been other upsetting experiences (e.g., riding a camel for two days, getting scabies [dirty itch mites], contracting contact dermatitis, etc.) and many other good experiences (e.g., seeing much of India, the birthday cake on my 29th birthday, spending my 29th birthday with some cool folks, etc.) to distract me from my original focus until I return to the States. Save the date, November 18.

Rajasthan

The much heralded Rajasthan is deservedly so. After Yoko left and I left the madness of Delhi, I headed to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan. My first trip to Jaipur was quick and uneventful, as I planned to return. I did, however, meet up briefly with some friends who are students in Jaipur and who I'd met in the Auroville courses, Puneet and Vrushali, and they gave me some tips on what to see in Rajasthan.

Pushkar

From Jaipur I headed to Pushkar, a small, valley town whose blue painted buildings surround a little lake. It is said that the Rajasthani desert starts here and heads West into Pakistan, and from the mountaintop Savitri Temple just West of Pushkar, you can see a clear line dividing the green from the desert. Such a peaceful and holy town was Pushkar, that Gandhi requested some of his ashes be scattered in the lake. I say "was" because its once supposed peacefulness has been replaced with aggressive touts, and the pilgrims, if there are any, are vastly outnumbered by tourists who seem more interested in bhang lassis than, well, anything else. I did, however, have a really good tomato and cheese sandwich there.

Jodhpur

From Pushkar I headed to Jodhpur and was refreshed. Jodhpur's Mehrangarh Fort is the most beautiful building I have seen in India, and perhaps anywhere. It is situated on a rock outcropping high-above the rest of Jodhpur, and when looking up those hundreds of feet that seem like thousands of feet, the Mehrangarh Fort is admirable both for its beauty and power. As one who is not usually impressed by power, I found myself feeling sorry for all the soldiers, those would-be sackers of the Fort, who braved hardships and hundreds of miles of desert only to rest their weary eyes on the impenetrable Fort. And I can imagine a deep laughter escape from the Fort itself when these usually mighty soldiers turned desperately, incredulously to their leaders. I am not the only one to be so impressed by this Fort, as the audio tour mentioned that Rudyard Kipling described it as "the works of angels and giants."

The other characteristics of this Fort, the more angelic parts, are contained in the Fort's palace. Unlike the other forts I've visited throughout India, the palace here was remarkably preserved. The British never occupied Rajasthan by force, and so many of the riches of Rajasthan remained there. The palace is so beautifully ornate in its stonework and architecture, but doesn't seem overly decadent otherwise. Perhaps this is due to the fact that it was more of a miniature city inside a fort than other palaces I've imagined. The next day, I left Jodhpur for Jaislmer.



Grant, a friend to be described, atop the Fort

Camel Ride in Jaislmer

Melissa, Grant and I

One gets used to inconvenience in India, and on many occasions, I have recited my Rakim mantra, "Cool, 'cause I don't get upset." I recited it during many the many train delays, when I got scabies, when a bird shat on my head in Jaislmer, etc. However, it was completely ineffective during the two-day camel ride.

I do not like camels or the rides they offer. They sound like Chewbacca and have a stupid smile on their face all the time, like they know how much they are hurting you. The camel I had was especially bad. In Jodhpur, I met an American couple, Melissa and Grant, who study together in Singapore. When learned that we were traveling on the same train to Jaislmer and that we all wanted to take a camel ride. On the second day of the camel trip, my camel who was tied behind Melissa's camel, had an itchy nose and decided to rub it against the butt of Melissa's camel. Her camel freaked out and she was thrown 8'+ to the ground. Then, her camel stepped on her arm.

Fortunately, she escaped only with bruises and a shared hatred of my camel.
Camel's aside, the trip was really beautiful and worthwhile. We three and three Europeans stayed out under the stars on the desert dunes to the West of Jaislmer. The huge, white dunes are broken up by the otherwise rocky, green landscape of the desert. This trip would have been perfect on foot or by jeep.

I spent a full day in Jaislmer, exploring its Old City. Unlike the madness of Delhi's Old City, Jaislmer's is uncongested, clean and full of friendly people. My friend Puneet, who lived near Jaislmer for three years, said that the best time to go to there is during the festivals in December. He said that homeowners in the Old City welcome you to sleep on their terraces or on their "porches" for free. Tres cool.

An unfortunate spelling mistake in Jaislmer

Back to Jaipur

After a week and a half or so of traveling throughout Rajasthan, I returned to Jaipur to see its historic sites. Puneet and Vrushali spent their Sunday, the one day that Indians do not have to work or study, showing me around the old forts of Jaipur. Most impressive about these forts are the walls that connect them and cover the hill tops for miles around. My first trip to Jaipur was a bit disappointing because it seemed like a confused, congested and modern Indian city, but the forts located just outside made Jaipur my second favorite Rajasthani city. Of course, I only really saw four and missed Udaipur, the city many claim to be their favorite.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Block Makin' and Travels with the Yoko

Sunrise on the Mighty Ganges

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Here are some photos, taken mostly by the lovely Yoko:


Varanasi...forgot to mention that we took cooking lessons at a local restaurant (last pic)

With the children in Kushinagar


Kalimpong

Yoko standing at the edge of a cloud


Sunset in Kalimpong

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Oh, Delhi

Initially, I intended my next blost to be about the five weeks of happenings since my last update, but recent events (i.e., the bombings in Delhi) have changed the course. Shit, man. Last night the five bombs killed over twenty and wounded over one hundred. Just wanted to let everyone know I'm okay.
I was in a bar watching Manchester United v. Liverpool when the news came that one of the blasts was just a block away and two others were three blocks away. No one seemed to panic, but slowly the bar emptied. I found one of the few available autorickshaws and took it directly back to my hotel, which is, fortunately, away from the center of town.
I'm leaving here tomorrow. Best to all who are affected by this.
Here are a few pictures taken by Yoko Kubota during our two weeks of travel:

Morning on the Ganges in Benaras

Sunset in Kalimpong


I'm nervous and excited about my next blost.