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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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  • Arabian Sea’s troubled port delays expedition.

    Posted on September 19th, 2010 Nicolas No comments
    Annual festival honouring Ganesh in Mumbai.

    Annual festival honouring Ganesh in Mumbai.

    This week update will be a short one, due to the lack of news to report. I have been waiting for the vessel transporting my truck to arrive in Mumbai’s neighboring port of Nhava Sheva. Unfortunately, the large Indian port went through a series of accidents delaying significantly the incoming traffic.

    An accident at the harbor's entrance created a huge backlog. Have I arrived few weeks earlier, it could have been my boat. - Photo Danish Siddiqui via Maritime Bulletin.

    An accident at the harbor's entrance created a huge backlog. Have I arrived few weeks earlier, it could have been my boat. - Photo Danish Siddiqui via Maritime Bulletin.

    A month ago, two container ships collided just outside the port, and one of the vessels dumped a large number of containers in the shallow waters, creating an obstacle for other carriers.
    They had to clean up the mess, but another unlucky event – or should we begin to suspect some unprofessionalism – increased the backlog of boats waiting for their turn to enter the harbor. While unloading a vessel, a crane operator dumped a container on the ship’s top and ruptured its fuel oil tank. The boat was then stranded for more than a week, making impossible the unloading of my truck.

    The imposing gothic Victoria train station.

    The imposing gothic Victoria train station.

    Eventually, at the end of this week, the Express Annapurna carrying my container was authorized into the port. Unloading should have take place this weekend, and at the beginning of next week, I hope to be driving my truck.
    Traveling the world really makes you appreciate the level of organization we reached in Europe or the United States. In the places I traveled in recent months, you don’t get much answers or information when you try to get things done. It has little importance for me as a traveler, but if you add the lack of information to the sickening amount of paperwork and corruption, you can’t help but think that it will take decades for countries to be able to challenge the western world. Even if these countries feature cheaper price for the inefficient service they deliver.

    The prince of Wales Museum. The miniature painting gallery is worth a visit.

    The prince of Wales Museum. The miniature painting gallery is worth a visit.

    Anyhow, little by little I will keep moving east, and every mile will bring me closer to New York City.
    In the meantime, when I am not trying to get some papers from tumbling office buildings in downtown Mumbai, I visit museums, or work on my upcoming route through south-east Asia. You can find a draft of it here.

    The Taj Mahal hotel.

    The Taj Mahal hotel.

    Every day, I also go for a two hours walk in diverse parts of the city. It is the festival period in India, and one of the most widespread celebrations is Ganesha Chaturthi. Ganesha, the elephant-head famous god is worshipped as the Remover of Obstacles. Idols representing him are transported and immersed in the sea all over Mumbai. The population density, noise and crazed vehicle traffic doesn’t make it very enjoyable, but it is interesting to explore one of the most populous city in the world.

    Gandhi statue in a city park.

    Gandhi statue in a city park.

    There is an estimated 14 million peoples living here, far above New York City’s 8 millions inhabitants. No wonder why I get lost each time I go out. The city population density is exploding and features widespread poverty and unemployment as well as poor hygiene standards. I am looking forward to be out on southern India’s roads where there will be more space to breath.
    Upcoming posts should be more entertaining as we should be on the move, so stay tuned!

    Architecture detail.

    Architecture detail.

  • 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.