A Hyper-Inspirational Shade of the Color Blue

The Blue City, Jodhpur, India
The Blue City, Jodhpur, India

It’s not often that travel and sci-fi are mentioned in the same sentence. But if you bear with me, I have an unusual mash-up of one of my favorite sci-fi excerpts and my favorite city in India.

 

It’s weird. I know. Just bear with me.

 

In Douglas Adams’ classic novel The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, I’ve always felt that Adams’ comic genius was best encapsulated in the scene where President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox steals the cleverly-imagined starship The Heart of Gold (equipped with the also cleverly-imagined Improbability Drive). What I found so amusing wasn’t the act of grand larceny or even the name Zaphod Beeblebrox. It was the description of the reception committee, which included humanoids, some reptiloids, and a Hooloovoo—described as a super-intelligent shade of the color blue. I don’t know why the concept of a super-intelligent color struck me as so hysterical. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never met a shade of blue that could even be considered of average intelligence. Whatever the reason, that’s the thought that sprang into my mind when—and here’s the connection—I first laid eyes on the historic center of the Indian city of Jodhpur.

 

It is at this point that any similarity to science fiction goes out the window. Despite the rapid modernization going on in other parts of the country, Jodhpur is still pleasantly ancient. Situated at the edge of a desert in western Rajasthan, with little else around, it wasn’t hard to figure out why.

 

The main attraction is the enormous Mehrangarh Fort, perched like a giant on a sandstone bluff dominating the skyline. This fortress-turned-museum houses relics of Jodhpur’s royalty along with the fascinatingly ornate architecture so prevalent throughout India. It is also here that one is treated with mesmerizing views of the heart of the ‘Blue City’—a sprawling yet densely-packed warren of flat-roofed houses nearly all painted in a lovely shade of blue.

 

Into the Blue
Into the Blue

I have no idea of what a Hooloovoo’s preference of living quarters might be, but if one did exist, I imagine this is where you’d find it. From the lofty vantage point of the fort, you can witness the locals going about their business much as they have for hundreds of years—drying clothes on their rooftops, sipping tea, or just chatting—all with that bluish backdrop that may or may not be intelligent, but is most certainly inspirational.

 

When I enquired as to the reasoning behind the blue palette stretching out as far as the eye can see, my guide explained that in the days of the caste system, a blue home was an indication that the occupants were of an upper-level caste. Eventually, someone noticed that this color apparently has the pleasant side-effect of repelling mosquitoes, and that’s a cause that appeals to ALL levels of society. Regardless of the origin, the visual effect it has produced—changing in hue with the angle of the sun—was sufficient to inspire me to travel halfway around the world.

 

Zip Lining Mehrangarh Fort
Zip Lining Mehrangarh Fort

And if witnessing this otherworldly scene isn’t cool enough, a company called Flying Fox Asia offers zip lining tours from off the ramparts of the fort, out along the shores of an artificial lake, and in full view of a portion of the Blue City. I’m a big fan of zip lining. I’m an even bigger fan of zip lining with interesting things to look at as I dangle precariously from a cable. Solely based on that criteria alone, Jodhpur was my favorite locale for this exhilarating yet safe sport.

 

There’s plenty more to say about this fascinating city but I’ll leave that for another time. Suffice to say, the Mehrengarh Fort and the Blue City are an inspiring sight to see. And as you walk the stony ramparts and gaze out at the maze-like city awash in blue, be sure to drink in the moment, drink in the ambiance, and, while you’re at it, you might as well drink up a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster*. Zaphod would want it that way.

 

*According to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is defined as the “Best Drink In Existence” with its effects described as being similar to “having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick.” Furthermore, it advises that you should never drink more than two unless you are a ‘30-ton mega elephant with bronchial pneumonia.’ For some more laughs, I recommend you Google the recipe and also pick up a copy of the book in its five-part trilogy version.

New or Old, Delhi Has Plenty on the Menu

When I was planning my trip to India, the only reason I included Delhi was because it would be our port of entry. I thought anything worth seeing would be in Agra, Jaipur or scattered around Rajahstan. I thought Delhi—New or Old, would be worth little more than a day’s attention, with more important sights lying further afield.

 

I thought wrong.

 

To my surprise and delight, Delhi had some world class attractions that I’m glad I didn’t miss. And to make sure that you don’t miss them the next time you happen to be in the Indian capital, I’ve included some high points here

 

Chandni Chowk

 

The electrifying atmosphere of the Chandni Chowk
The electrifying atmosphere of the Chandni Chowk

Literally at the doorstep of the impressive Jama Masjid—the largest mosque in India—this ancient bazaar was among the highlights of my entire trip. If India has been described as an assault on the senses, then the Chandni Chowk would be an upgrade to aggravated assault with the intent to overwhelm. This labyrinth of impossibly narrow alleyways jam-packed with rickshaws, vendors and pedestrians is fertile ground for a complete sensory overload. Between the colors of the bangles and saris stacked to the ceilings, the omnipresent honking of horns (a phenomenon repeated all throughout India), the smell of frying samosas mixed with diesel fumes, and the dramatic absence of personal space, if you don’t find your senses engaged at full throttle then you’d probably better start checking for a pulse.

 

As I sat there, crammed up against my wife in the back of a rickshaw and staring up at the frightening web of electrical wires crisscrossing overhead, I thought to myself: What a wonderful introduction to India!

 

Humayun’s Tomb

The Poor Man's Taj--Humayun's Tomb
The Poor Man’s Taj–Humayun’s Tomb

 

This monument to love was a forerunner to the bigger and bolder Taj Mahal, sharing many architectural similarities as well as its common theme—in this case it was the wife building the monument for her deceased husband. Strolling the expansive grounds and taking in the extensive artistry, a visit to Humayun’s Tomb is a foretaste of a visit to Agra, and a worthy site in its own rite. There’s little wonder the UNSECO World Heritage List thought so as well.

 

Qutb Minar Complex

 

The Qutb Minar. Wanna buy a vowel?
The Qutb Minar. Wanna buy a vowel?

On the outskirts of the city lies the Qutb Minar Complex—a series of ancient buildings built at the onset of Islamic rule, with every square inch adorned with flowing characters. The highlight here is the tower itself—73 meters of sandstone and marble in five sections—certainly a marvel of engineering considering construction began in 1193 CE. Admiring the handiwork and pervasive abundance of ornamentation here and elsewhere, I found this area enchanting and a fantastic palate for some great photo ops.

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of what there is to see and do in Delhi. There’s the India Gate, Raj Ghat, Lotus Temple, Red Fort, along with all sorts of modern conveniences and shopping malls. Plus Delhi boasts an efficient and clean subway system, which ironically was the most orderly and hygienic place I encountered in the whole country. So if Delhi is your port of entry, make it a point to stick around for a day or two to take in its multitude of sights. New or Old, there’s plenty on the menu.

If You’re Going to India, Turn Right at Finland (And Other Stopover Ideas)

Many experienced travelers are familiar with the art of the stopover—that bonus destination on the way to your intended destination. For the novice, this is when your flight passes through another city on the way to your final destination, and you’ve arranged to stop over, and spend some time there before moving on. For many, any unnecessary stops are a nuisance, but if you play your cards right, you can use such stopovers to maximize your trip’s experience.

 

I’ll get into my “maximizing” concept in another post, but for now I’ll just say that those pesky stops on your way there or back can offer the chance to sample a destination you may not have initially targeted. And if you’re already in the neighborhood, why not take the time to stop over and smell the roses?

 

A Day in Helsinki Was A Free Bonus On My Trip To India
A Day in Helsinki Was A Free Bonus On My Trip To India

As a case in point, on my way to New Dehli, our flight (on Finnair) stopped in Helsinki, arriving at 8 in the morning and not continuing on until 8 that evening. What to do with that long layover? Why, head out into the city and explore, of course! Our group had coffee downtown, toured the sprawling World Heritage Site at the Suomenlinna Fortress, and navigated the subway system before returning for our onward flight. Did we see everything? No. Did we see enough? I think so. And in this case, the gray, Scandinavian orderliness served as a tremendous contrast for the colorful chaos of India. The best part? There was no extra charge for seeing firsthand another world capital and gaining some insight on another culture—albeit it one with far too many vowels.

 

Sometimes airlines will charge a fee for a stopover, but usually this isn’t much (less than a hundred dollars). Almost always it’s worth the price. Traveling on Iberia Airlines, my wife and I enjoyed a few days in Madrid on our return from Rome—for only about $45 apiece. Definitely worth it to see some original paintings by Dali and Picasso in the capital of a former empire. Not to be forgotten too is arranging stopovers on award travel. So long as the space is there, often airlines will be willing to oblige at least one stopover on your itinerary. And again, if you’re not paying for it, why not?

 

When in the neighborhood, why not stop in Hong Kong?
When in the neighborhood, why not stop in Hong Kong?

A key factor in effective stopovers is your choice of airline. Most national carriers have their hubs in key cities. So if you’re heading out to Bangkok and always wanted to see Hong Kong, try Cathay Pacific. If you wanted to see Singapore, use Singapore Airlines. I think you get the point. Your routing makes all the difference as to which stopover options are available.

 

So instead of selecting the nonstop only button when choosing your flights, why not expand your horizons and see where that stopover might take you? The bonus experience will be the icing on your trip’s cake, and allow you the chance to explore yet another small piece of the big wide world.

 

Have you ever deliberately arranged a trip to take advantage of a stopover? Leave a comment for us all to discuss.

Why The World Heritage List Should Be On Yours

What do the Great Pyramid, Great Barrier Reef, and Great Wall of China all have in common, besides the title “great”? Interestingly, it is the same thing they have in common with the Tower of London, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. Give up? They are all considered World Heritage Sites, a designation by UNESCO-the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Great Wall, Ba da ling Section, Near Beijing, China
Great Wall, Ba da ling Section, Near Beijing, China

Regarding the World Heritage List, UNESCO’s stated goal is to “encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.” In layman’s terms, it seeks to preserve the most meaningful, historic and naturally beautiful places on earth. And while the list’s occupants such as the historic center of Rome, or the Galapagos Islands may be familiar to most people, their status among the world’s premier destinations may be relatively unknown.

When it comes time for me to begin considering ideas for a trip—also known as: always—my first order of business is to peruse a given destination’s World Heritage Sites. It’s been my experience that in the 66 WHS I’ve visited (out of 981 total worldwide) every last one was worth the trip. Most are no-brainers. I mean, who doesn’t visit the Taj Mahal when in India? But there are lesser-known sites that were like finding hidden treasure. A case in point is the Goreme National Park, in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. This unique collection of troglodyte dwellings and surreal rock-formations is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever heard of—let alone visited. So as a rule of thumb, when considering a destination, always check to see if there are any World Heritage Sites within striking distance. Your photo album will thank you for it.

Goreme Open Air Museum, Goreme, Turkey
Goreme Open Air Museum, Goreme, Turkey

To find a complete list of World Heritage Sites along with more information, you can log onto the official web site at http://whc.unesco.org. There is also a fantastic unofficial site at www.worldheritagesite.org where travelers the world over post their comments, observations and words of wonder at these bright spots on the world map. After perusing them yourself, you just may be so moved with appreciation to include one or two of these World Heritage Sites on your next trip at home or abroad.

Have you visited a World Heritage Site? Tell me about it!