Back to it

Anyone who has ever had a blog has made it their New Year’s resolution to “write on the blog more.” I won’t do that. I’m not a big New Year’s resolution fan (for the same reason as everyone else who says that). That said, I have taken a breather from the blog, and from the project as well. It’s been nearly 3 weeks since I’ve posted, which is my longest break yet, and I’m ready to get back into it. It was good to take a mid-Watson holiday break, though, especially after an overwhelming 14 meetings over 8 days in Bangalore. And for the holidays, my parents came out to visit me over Christmas, New Year’s, and my birthday two days later! I swapped out project meetings and solo exploring to travel around India with my parents, enjoy the holidays with them, and show them what my life in Mumbai has been like.

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A houseboat on the Kerala backwaters.

We started in Kerala, a southern coastal state in India, where we explored the backwaters, the Malabar coast and beaches, and the town of Kochi. Kerala’s backwaters are a main feature of the state, where houseboats in intriguing shapes (see above) cruise along the calm waters, surrounded by rice paddy fields and occasional homes. After so much time in India’s most cosmopolitan cities, Mumbai and Bangalore, it was good to see a more rural area. Though I didn’t celebrate Christmas with carols, snow, a tree, or gifts this year, it still meant the world to me to wake up on Christmas morning with my parents (a Kerala Christmas! I’m trying to make a ‘A Christmas Carol’ pun here but it’s not working so well).

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View from the boat.
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Alternative medicine is everywhere in India, even on the Kerala backwaters! This floating homeopathy dispensary has the seal of the Kerala government on it.
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Kerala is also known for its Chinese fishing nets, as seen here. They use a cantilever system and seem to be used by the fishermen mostly in the evenings.

After the backwaters and some beach time, my parents and I briefly visited the city of Kochi. Kochi is considered to be a “Tier 2” city compared to the “Tier 1” cities of Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore, for example. A port city, Kochi has Dutch and Portuguese influence from historical colonialism, and parts of it felt a bit European – a feeling that I haven’t gotten anywhere else in the country.

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The most European scene I found in Kochi, on the way to a synagogue (Kochi has a significant Jewish population, which is to say that there are “60-70 Jewish people” in Kochi according to a sign on the synagogue!).
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We saw this poor elephant chained to a tree, and I loved the way he was holding his trunk. We watched the handlers untie him from the tree and lead him away. This was close to the Dutch Palace in Kochi, so I’m not sure what the elephant’s role is.

After Kochi, we flew to Agra to see the Taj Mahal (of course a must do, even though I’ve tried to avoid touristy stuff on the Watson. It was different with my parents, though). We first saw it in the evening from the back, and it was beautiful in the sunset. The next morning, we couldn’t see a thing! The morning fog was so thick that you could only see the Taj Mahal if you were standing right next to it; otherwise the white marble blended into the sky. A few hours later, the fog cleared, but the grounds were packed with people; millions visit the site every year, especially over the holidays.

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The first sight of the Taj Mahal. I love old rusty signs like this.
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The next morning, this is what the Taj Mahal looked like! Barely there. (Also, yes, these are my lovely parents).
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Last Taj picture, I promise: finally the fog cleared and we were able to see the Taj Mahal properly, though by that time the throngs of people had arrived!

On our way to Jaipur, Rajasthan, from Agra, we stopped at Fatehpur Sikri. It’s a small city that a Mughal emperor created in the 16th century. He wanted it to be the seat of his empire because a prophet there had correctly predicted the birth of his son, but the capital was abandoned after just 15 years (after the emperor died) due to water shortages. Now it’s a mystical place made of red sandstone and intricate carvings, with a huge white marble tomb for the prophet.

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Fatehpur Sikri.
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The type of carvings you see at Fatehpur Sikri.

Finally, we went to Jaipur, where we spent a few days seeing the City Palace, the Amber Fort, and Jantar Mantar, an astronomy park created by the Maharaja Singh in the 18th century and featuring the world’s largest sundial. That was my favorite stop on the trip; the astronomical instruments were just beautiful.

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A door at the City Palace. There were four intricate doors like this, each representing a season; this one is spring.
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The world’s largest sundial! It still shows the correct time (though it’s off Indian Standard Time (IST) by a half-hour because IST is a half-hour off the rest of the world’s time zones).
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Another instrument at Jantar Mantar (which means “instrument of calculation”). This one tells you what the current Zodiac sign is.
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The entry courtyard of the Amber Fort in the mountains.
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A garden in Amber Fort.
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People ride elephants up to the Amber Fort.
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One building inside the Amber Fort is covered with these designs of little mirrored panels.
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A view of another monument in Jaipur, the Gaitore Ki Chhatriyan cenotaph, which includes temples and tombs for various rulers of Jaipur.
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We spotted this camel by the side of the road with the swastika painted on its neck. I have gotten used to this symbol all over India, where it has only positive connotations, but of course it really bothered me to see it when I first arrived; my parents were also stunned the first few days to see it so often.

And that’s all! After a few days back in Mumbai, and saying goodbye to my parents there, I’m traveling solo again. I’ve returned to Kerala, and I’m having lots of project meetings here – more to follow on all that. The first half of the Watson is almost over, and that was the longest I had ever gone without seeing my parents; the second half will break that record again. I’m so glad they visited me, and I think it’s important that they got to see me on the Watson, safe and doing well. I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas and New Year’s!

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