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ABOUT THIS BLOG

In the summer of 2009, Nicolas Rapp decided to take a break from his Art Director job at The Associated Press to attempt a one-year overland travel around the world in a 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser. He was back in New York in February 2011 after traveling 15 months and 37,000 miles.

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  • Traveling from Delhi to Mumbai

    Posted on September 4th, 2010 Nicolas No comments
    The Taj Mahal, one of the World Marvels.

    The Taj Mahal, one of the World Marvels.

    There is roughly a distance of a thousand miles between Delhi and Mumbai for a traveler willing to see the Taj Mahal and the capital city of Rajasthan, Jaipur. This was the road I planned to take as I arrived in India.

    Delhi Tuk-Tuk and rickshaws.

    Delhi Tuk-Tuk and rickshaws.

    My plane touched down at four in the morning, and I took my time passing the immigration checkpoint and collecting my luggage. I had no hotel reservation, and arriving as early in the city would not help.
    I left the airport to reach the center and try the first of the hotel address I had wrote down. The place was full. I switched from the airport minibus to a three-wheel tuk-tuk, a common means of public transportation in urban India, and continued my quest for a place to sleep.

    Alley in Delhi's wedding district.

    Alley in Delhi's wedding district.

    The multi-layered mess of Delhi.

    The multi-layered mess of Delhi.

    One should not mistake tuk-tuk drivers in Delhi for friends. All of them will try to squeeze every rupee out of an innocent traveler pocket. They will use all methods available at this effect. You do read about it in India’s guidebooks, but experiencing it first hand is so striking, and the guys are such great actors that you can’t help but wonder if the tales you are hearing are legit or not. And of course it’s all lies.
    One of the common scams goes like that. You ask to be transported to a hotel of your choice. If they figure you don’t have a reservation, they tell you that the place closed two weeks ago, or is under renovation, or even burned down the previous night. They will then drive you down to a hotel where they get a hefty commission when bringing a victim.
    In a variation, they could also drive you to a fake government tourist office. There, you will be told that due to festivals in the city, all the hotels are booked, and there is no way of staying in the city for less than US$150 a day.

    Quiet alley in Delhi.

    Quiet alley in Delhi.

    In my case, after several similar experiences, I went to one of these tourist offices where I seemed to agree to use their services to get a room. “But first”, I asked, “Can I check my emails?” Few minutes after they agreed, using their computer I had booked a room in the city at a rate of US$22 and fled in the street toward a well deserved bed.
    Of course I still had to fight with a new tuk-tuk driver, insisting to go to the place even if the hotel had been demolished recently. Of course it was not, and around 11 a.m. I was able to crash in a bed.
    Few hours later, I was back in the streets, this time trying to arrange for transportation to Mumbai where I would retrieve my truck. My new “friend”, the manager of the hotel, guided me to a travel agency he knew. There, I was told there was no available seat in the train to from Mumbai to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. It was true as well for the train to Agra from Jaipur. By now I was not trusting anyone, and found it even stranger when the agent added that there was only one bus on the Mumbai – Agra route, and that the bus was not suitable for tourists. The best – and only – solution for me would be to take a car with a driver…

    Delhi counts 12 millions inhabitants.

    Delhi counts 12 millions inhabitants.

    In all the countries I crossed during this trip, I always have been surprised by the multitude of bus running between the most unlikely locations. I could not believe it would be so difficult to get around in India…
    I left the tourist agency and started shopping around. An hour later, I was in possession a bus ticket Mumbai – Agra (US$13) and a train ticket Agra – Jaipur I paid US$14, which is double the usual price, but was enough to persuade the railroad employee to give me a ticket in the already “full” train. Another ticket in the overnight train from Jaipur to Mumbai arriving Sept. 1st did set me back another US$32.
    Now I would finally be able to enjoy some Indian food. And that was a highlight. The best food I had in a long time, probably since Ethiopia, the last country where they used some spice in the cooking. Of course cold beer was also nice to have after the restrictions of the past few weeks. Back at the hotel, I continued work on the logistic of the following days, and book hotels using the internet.

    Inside the Red Fort.

    Inside the Red Fort.

    After a short night of sleep, and now that I was done with the advance planning, I went out to enjoy a day visiting Old Delhi. I paid a visit to the Red Fort, the greatest of Delhi’s Moghul palace-cities. Built in the 17th century, the palace saw imperial elephants court ladies carried in palanquins and armies of eunuchs. The British moved into the fort in 1857.

    The mosque courtyard.

    The mosque courtyard.

    Diner at Monika's relatives.

    Diner at Monika's relatives.

    Ironing in the street.

    Ironing in the street.

    Also in the city is India’s largest mosque, Jama Masjid. It has the reputation of being one of the most beautiful place or worship in the world. It took six years to 5,000 workers to finish the impressive building.
    I spent a lot of time walking up and down the old streets Old Delhi is made of. I continued to eat like there is no tomorrow. I lost some weight during Ramadan, and now was time to gain it back. In the evening, I visited the relative of Monika, a former AP colleague, which is a good occasion to try some of Indian home-cooking.

    The Taj Mahal is also visited by millions of Indian tourists.

    The Taj Mahal is also visited by millions of Indian tourists.

    Inside the Taj Mahal.

    Inside the Taj Mahal.

    After the tiring day, I sleep for four hours and wake up before sunrise to take the uncomfortable bus to Agra, some 150 miles (250 km) south of Delhi. Upon arrival, I throw my bags at the hotel and immediately go visit the Taj Mahal.
    Set on the river Yamuna, the Taj construction started in 1632 and took twenty years to complete, while the Mughal Empire was going downward. The cost of the monument was high, and the emperor Shah Jahan who built it in memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal was imprisoned by his own son for overspending of state funds.
    Some three millions tourist visit the Taj every year, as the mausoleum is regarded as one of the world wonders. On my part, I am always nervous about visiting these huge tourist magnets as you can be easily disappointed after hearing so much about such monument. But the visit was pleasant, and the stroll in the outside garden worth it. I found the inside of the monument a bit disappointing, but overall it was a nice visit. Probably one of the costliest in a while as well, at US$17.

    The Taj Mahal in Agra, India, seen from the the Agra Fort.

    The Taj Mahal in Agra, India, seen from the the Agra Fort.

    The Agra Fort.

    The Agra Fort.

    After leaving the Taj, I took a Tuk-Tuk to the Agra Fort which dominates the center of the city. It is the most important fort in India. The rulers lived here, and the country used to be governed from here. It was visited by ambassadors, travelers and the highest dignitaries coming from all over the world.

    It is also a good place to see the sunset on the Taj Mahal, which I did before getting back to my hotel. After this other well-filled day it was not difficult to fall asleep. Few hours later, at 5 a.m., I found myself on the train to Jaipur.

    No wonder I am traveling alone if some guys take 5,000 women...

    Seen in Agra Fort. Some guys travel alone, others live with 5,000 women...

    The train from Agra to Jaipur.

    The train from Agra to Jaipur.

    In the last few days, I seem to have gain the ability to fall asleep everywhere I stop for few minutes. So as soon as I am in the train, I collapse only to wake up as we arrive at destination.

    A gate leading to the Old City, Jaipur.

    A gate leading to the Old City, Jaipur.

    Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan is also known as the pink city, thanks to the pink wash that most buildings are given. There are some atmospheric places to see in the old city, including bazaars and palaces.

    The Palace of the Winds, detail, Jaipur.

    The Palace of the Winds, detail, Jaipur.

    The “Palace of the Winds” is possibly one of the most famous buildings in town. It was built for the ladies of the harem, and features almost 1,000 windows on its façade, enabling cool air in, and allowing the ladies to take advantage of the spectacle of the street.

    Jaipur City Palace.

    Jaipur City Palace.

    The nearby futuristic observatory.

    The nearby futuristic observatory.

    The City Palace is still a royal residence and has a vast array of courtyards, gardens and buildings. Just outside is an observatory, Jantar Mantar. It was built around 1730, and each huge stone and marble instrument was used for a particular function to give an accurate reading. For Hindus, the horoscope is very important, which explains the vast interest in the science.

    Selling vegetables in the street.

    Selling vegetables in the street.

    I am scheduled to stay for two days in the city, which I use to take a lot of rest, and also try multiple restaurants. On August 31, after lunch, I take place in a sleeping car part of the train to Mumbai. There, as usual, I fall asleep and remain in this state for most of the trip.

    Street of Jaipur old city.

    Street of Jaipur old city.

    Arriving in Mumbai early in the morning, I took a cab to see an old friend. Vikas, who I met few years back in New York where he was working for the New York Times, now lives in India, and invited me to share his flat for few day. As I arrived, I checked the status of the container I was waiting for and was supposed to arrive the same day. It turned out that unfortunately, the box was still laying in Iran. After speaking to people there, it seems that it may arrive in Mumbai Sept. 10. But that remains to be seen…
    As I write this overdue entry in the blog, it seems that I felt sick. Not sure exactly what it could be, but I am running a fever since yesterday. It has been the first time since the beginning of the trip I felt ill. Hopefully some small food-related issue.

    Arriving in Mumbai.

    Arriving in Mumbai.

  • Good-bye Iran, I will miss you

    Posted on August 26th, 2010 Nicolas No comments
    Amid and his family who kept me home in my last days in Iran.

    Amid and his family who kept me home in my last days in Iran.

    It is a fact. I am now out of Iran. The last few days have been busy with the administrative side of shipping the truck to India. On Tuesday, I was done with it, and I can only thank my now friend Amir who helped me with the customs clearance in Bandar Abbas. (If you need an agent there, Amir[AT]daryadar.com tel.: 0098 917 1603280)

    Back in the box. Amir and the customs agent inspect the papers.

    Back in the box. Amir and the customs agent inspect the papers.

    When it was done, he brought me to the bus station, and made sure I was all set up for the long trip to Shiraz. He asked the driver of the bus to keep an eye on me and make sure I had somewhere to stay while waiting for my flight, two days later.

    Oh yeah, some more papers.

    Oh yeah, some more papers.

    It takes a long time to travel by bus in Iran, as the vehicle is frequently stopped by the police and searched for drug. At 2 a.m., we arrived in Shiraz, and the young guy sitting on my side was officially chosen to take care of me. In the following day, I would stay with his family until I could take-off for India. It was great to spend time at home with Iranians, and I am glad I had this chance before I left. They fed me as if I was a son, which saved me since I didn’t have a penny to my name.

    Sleeping outside Amid house.

    Sleeping outside Amid house.

    Amid lives close to Persepolis, so I had a chance to go back there, at night. What an impressive sight. There was a camp of nomads in the hills close to the site, as there always have been for thousand of years.
    In the daytime, we ate the delicious cooking of Amid mother, and spend time with his close relatives. On the morning before I left, he cut my hair, and it was a sad moment when we said good-bye at the airport. I wish I would be able to see many people I met in Iran back home, but it is very difficult for people here to get a passport and visas. Maybe – hopefully – a change in the attitude of country leaders would make things easier in the future…

    Good bye Iran.

    Good bye Iran.

    Few hours later, I was in Dubai where I waited many hours to take another flight to Delhi. On Thursday, at 4 a.m., I arrived at destination just in time to see the sun rise on the demented city.

    Welcome to Delhi, India.

    Welcome to Delhi, India.