From Delhi we took a train to Jaipur. Originally we were going to take trains all over the place, and end up sleeping on them I think three nights, but we were too slow about this and didn’t have a fixer to procure the right tickets for us, so this was actually the only train we took. This was kind of a disappointment but probably actually a good thing because sleeping in trains for three nights would probably have made everyone but Harriet crazy and also we would not have been able to visit Pushkar. The train from Delhi to Jaipur is six hours and we were traveling first class AC starting at six in the morning, so it was not a very exciting journey, but it did get us there and also no one went crazy.
The first thing we did in Jaipur was to leave it – we went out to the Amber Fort, which is in a town now called Amer. There’s a museum devoted to the block printing tradition there and we went to look at that. There are a lot of enormous old houses in Rajasthan called havelis; some of them have been turned into hotels, some people still live in, and some, like this one, have been turned into museums:
The courtyards can be very pretty. Also it turns out that not a lot of people turn up at museums devoted to block printing. But upstairs they were happy to show Harriet how to do it:
She is enthusiastic but probably not the most helpful worker. After we did that, we went to go look at the Amber Fort, on a nearby hill:
The fort is pretty enormous:
And it has nice views; many of the nearby hills have smaller forts on the top of them.
Inside there are courtyards and a huge number of rooms. A lot of people wanted to take pictures so we took pictures with them:
The next day we went to see the palace in town, where the Maharaja lived. (Maybe still lives? I don’t remember.) This palace is grand, though it seems like I mostly took pictures of the chandeliers, under Harriet’s direction. They were pretty grand:
Here is another chandelier and a decoration made out of guns and spears:
And here is a picture that does not have a chandelier though it does have an ornate doorway:
The whole thing was pretty grand and I probably should have taken pictures of things that were not chandeliers but I did not. There were a couple of enormous silver urns used to transport water from the Ganges to London at some point. You can imagine what those looked like.
After that, we went to see the Jaipur Jantar Mantar, which is even grander than the Delhi Jantar Mantar:
It might have been nice to visit at a time that wasn’t high noon? But that’s what happened. I don’t know if you can go at night.
After that we wandered around and did some shopping. This seemed to upset our driver because he was very excited to go to Pushkar – he seemed to think Pushkar was much nicer than anything we would find in Jaipur – but we told him to hold on, we needed to go look at things. Here is the Palace of the Winds:
I would have had better pictures of this but I was accosted by a young man who wanted to talk about wrestling, so there you go. After that, Harriet met some goats:
Also we had some extremely good lassis:
And we bought some shoes and bangles, and then went back to find our driver and told him that we could finally go to Pushkar. But that’s for next time.
So we went back to India again. Thus time we flew to Delhi – not Calcutta as we’ve been doing – and then wandered around Rajasthan for a week before coming back to Delhi and flying back to Bangkok where everyone is wearing black and being mournful.
We went to Delhi eight years ago but that was an odd trip and for one reason and another we didn’t actually see much of the city, mostly because I was having a fine time being mildly sick in a house with a lot of servants. Also I got a haircut. Delhi is kind of like D.C. if D.C. were ten times as large which means that you are constantly taking cars down long avenues to get anywhere. I am not sure we managed to see much more of Delhi this time (we have still failed to go to the Red Fort and the Gandhi museums, and I did not get a haircut) though certain things looked familiar and we felt like we could pick and choose what we wanted to do. I think I would say that Delhi seems pleasant enough but Bombay is more exciting and Calcutta is more interesting? Though maybe Delhi is less complicated to get around than either of those places.
But let me see what we did before I forget entirely. We got into Delhi very late Friday night and left extremely early Sunday morning, so we had one day there. In the evening was the Canadian Ball, which I don’t know anything about. In the morning, we went to see the Delhi Jantar Mantar. The Jantar Mantars are observatories built in the eighteenth century by Jai Singh to calculate important dates; there’s one in Delhi, a bigger one in Jaipur, and a couple others elsewhere in India that we didn’t see. They are full of immense curved structures with steps. A guide could probably explain what exactly each thing did, but they’re nice to ignorantly wander around:
There’s a very nice book about these (and also the lifecycle of eels) by Julio Cortázar if you are interested. After that, we went to the Agrasen ki Baoli, an old step well that is now inhabited by bats:
This is looking up from inside:
There are a lot of bats:
We had lunch, which was delicious, and I don’t remember what else we did. There was the Canadian ball. Then we went off to Jaipur the next morning, but I am going to post this now because otherwise it will take me eight years to post everything.
So Elvis finally left the building, and we are in India. These two things are not actually connected. We won’t say a lot about the former here because who knows what might happen; and the internet here is pretty slow, so we might have to wait until we get back to Bangkok (should Bangkok still exist) to fill you in on that. Right now we are in Pushkar, which has a lake, a lot of camels, and an extraordinary number of wild pigs. We are having a fine time.
We have been in Bangkok for a fairly long stretch this rainy season, but we broke it up by flying to Siem Reap last weekend. It is easy and cheap to fly to Cambodia and I don’t know why we don’t do it more often (except that on the Bangkok end one often spends more time getting from the airplane to home than one does on the airplane itself). This time we mostly hung out in Siem Reap, which is a pleasant town to do nothing in, not least riding remorks:
Many things were closed because it was Pchum Ben, the two weeks when Cambodian ghosts return from hell to be fed rice-balls. But we managed to feed ourselves.
The first thing we did was something I’ve been meaning to do for a while, going to the newly built Angkor Panorama Museum. What is notable about this museum is that it was made (and appears to be run) by the North Koreans, who have a friendly relationship with Cambodia on account of Norodom Sihanouk, the Cambodian king, living in exile in Pyongyang in the 1970s. Siem Reap and Phnom Penh both have North Korean restaurants (as does Bangkok now!), which I have also been curious about, though they are meant to be extremely expensive and a little ethically dubious. But with the Angkor Panorama Museum, the North Koreans are trying to become a force in the painting business. So we went to see them.
Although it is difficult to tell from its website, which suggests the prices are $2.50 for Cambodian adults, $1.50 for Cambodian children, and/or 30% off (for everyone?), the Angkor Panorama Museum is extremely expensive: if you are not Cambodian, you’re paying $20 for an adult. Children under six are free; Cambodians are more than $2.50/$1.50; as far as we could tell (which was not very much), no one is getting 30% off anything. $20 actually gets you two tickets: one is for the panorama ($15) and the other is for the movie ($5) though the tickets cannot actually be bought separately. I did not want to go to the movie, having watched the preview online, but that turned out to be wrong thinking. The museum unfortunately allows no photography of any of the interesting things, but I did get a picture of the prices:
Luckily they have put together a video that gives you a feeling of how it were be if you were a robot who had consumed too many sedatives and were trying to make your way through the museum:
The panorama is well-painted, particularly the bloody scenes where the Khmers are the Chams but $15 seems like a stretch. Various young people ask to take your picture, but we did not take them up on this, mostly because who knows how much a picture of your at the panorama would cost, but also because it seems a little foolhardy to give them a photographic record of your being there.
While the brochure announces that “The movie theater shows 3D movie reproduced high architectural technics and the building process of the mysterious Angkor Wat with fictions and historical data” this is not entirely true: the movie is 3D in so far as the screen is curved a little. It is worth noting that the seats in the theater are as hard as you might hope which makes it easier to stay awake for the movie. There is a preview for the movie online:
The whole thing is maybe fifteen minutes long and it describes the creation of Angkor Wat. The narration is confusing. Visually it seems to have been done as some kind of computer game; one might not expect quite so much focus on the manly thighs and buttocks of the ancient Khmer workers (this comes across a little in the preview) but I am not very familiar with North Korean film. The elephants particularly seemed mechanical. One was left with the impression that there weren’t any women at Angkor Wat. It was quite a film, and probably the best value of anything that is in the Angkor Panorama Museum.
After you leave the film you can go through the painting gallery where there are scenes of Cambodian scenes and dogs, presumably painted by North Korean artists, that you can buy. We did not buy any. Then we left. I am not sure that I would recommend the Angkor Panorama Museum to anyone. One is left with the impression that the primary purpose of the museum is to help the North Korean government assemble a collection of $20 bills.
* * * * *
The next day we went to Preah Vihear, which is something that I would recommend. Preah Vihear is an Angkor-era temple on the border between Cambodia and Thailand in the Dangrek mountains. There is a long history of the Cambodians and Thais fighting over it, and as recently as 2011 the Thais and Cambodians were shooting each other over it. (You can read a short account of the conflict here; for a fuller account, John Burgess’s 2014 book Temple in the Clouds: Faith and Conflict at Preah Vihear goes over it in exhaustive detail.) Basically, the Siamese and the French (who were running Cambodia) agreed to demarcate the border in 1903; the French made a map showing the temple on the Cambodian side, and the Siamese seem not to have bothered to look at the map (a Thai trait familiar to any tourist who has attempted to show a map to a Bangkok taxi driver). The Thais are unhappy that they don’t have Preah Vihear; the Cambodians are extremely pleased that they have it. The Thai army, for reasons that are best known to itself, continues to make, guard, and possibly destroy scale models of Preah Vihear.
While it was until a few years ago easier to visit Preah Vihear from the Thai side, the border is now closed and you have to go through Cambodia. It’s a three-hour drive from Siem Reap; but the roads are good & it’s not a very complicated trip. When you get to the base of the mountain, you’re transferred to a pickup truck for the ride around the mountain, which is somewhat harrowing; the pickup truck takes you to a plaza at the north side of the complex, and from there it’s a short walk to the start of the temple.
Preah Vihear is set up differently from other Angkor temples: it’s essentially a straight line, going north to south. You climb the hill until you reach the southern-most part of the temple, which is on the edge of a cliff which looks out over Cambodia. UNESCO’s putting money into conservation, but not a huge amount has been done yet; while there were a lot of mostly Cambodian visitors while we were there, you’re still allowed to scramble over the fallen bricks. Here’s the entrance, which is being propped up:
There’s a long processional path that goes uphill:
You go through a series of doorways into courtyards:
It is a fairly large complex:
And some of it is still in pretty good shape:
though not all of it:
There was a central tower next to the central shrine, but that fell down a long time ago (you can see the remains on the left):
And finally, when you exit the last courtyard, you come to the cliff’s edge.
This is looking south, so what we’re seeing is Cambodia. I don’t think that rectangular pond is Angkorian, though there are others like it outside Siem Reap:
More of Cambodia – this picture makes it clear that we were there during the rainy season, and the visibility probably wasn’t as good as it would be other times of year. Those hills are others of the Dangrek mountains.
Also there was a little pond at the top that was full of tadpoles:
It’s worth going to see! If possible, go when people aren’t shooting at each other.
First, it turns out the Cara Meow Cat Café, the closest cat café to us – and as far as I know the only Italian-themed one in the greater Bangkok area – has closed. Who knows why! The space is empty. Presumably the cats were released to the wilds of Chan Road, which at least has a lot of fish soup restaurants. They’ll probably be okay?
Second, things in the aquarium are in a fairly savage state. Two of the three remaining fish have disappeared, and I have not seen Button in a while. Rosella is larger than ever; Serena looks to be about the same size. I went to the fish store and bought ten baht worth of glass shrimp; now there are probably about three baht worth of glass shrimp, which is still a fairly large number of glass shrimp.
We went back to Cambodia over the weekend, but things are too busy to write about that right now.