- Iran: Chadors and Other Bazaar Sights
- Iran: Persepolis and the Persian Empire
- Iran: Kashan
- Tsomoriri, Ladakh: Nomads, Altitude and Yaks
- Ladakh, India: Buddha on the Indus
- Superheroes Run #4 for Child Advocates of Houston
- Crown of Palaces: The Taj Mahal in Agra, India
- Hauling Ass In Leadville
- South Dakota’s Spring Cattle Branding
- Panama Canal
- Cartagena: Caribbean, Colonial Colombia
- Cross-Country Colombia: Coffee Farmers, Mountains & Medellin
- Overlooking Bogota
- Colombia 2015: Libertad y Orden
Random 'Featured' Posts(Forgive me: I can’t resist the appeal of the bizarre/bazaar pun.) Merchandise on display at women’s More . . .(Photo credits here: Mike Short, Scott Humphries, me, and Athlinks!) The path up to Mosquito Pass More . . . →A quick trip to Yellowstone and the Tetons with my Uncle Tommy and Aunt Barb jQuery.noConflict(); jQuery("#gal_images_3384_1").hide(); function More . . . →Ordinarily, photographing the Cuban military is prohibited, and just might land you and/or your camera More . . . →I think this was about my seventh year joining Shane and Michele (and Shane’s enormouse More . . . →
Category Archives: Landscapes
If you get up early in Agra, skip the most popular viewpoints near the reflecting pools, and hurry around to the west side by the Yamuna River, you can find yourself mostly alone, watching the sun rise over the Taj Mahal, with the world’s most famously beautiful building seemingly all to yourself.
Muslim Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built the white marble “Taj” in the 1600s as a mausoleum and memorial for his favorite wife (and mother of 14 of his kids). A probably-apocryphal legend says Shah Jahan planned to build a similar black marble Taj directly across the river as his own eternal resting place. But it’s tough being a Mughal emperor, and one of his sons took over and sent Jahan to a far less glorious prison cell for his final days. The Shah’s final tomb is wedged into the Taj beside his wife, the only thing asymmetrical in the whole place.
“Taj Mahal” means “crown of palaces,” reflecting Jahan’s intent to make it the fanciest place in the world. The signs say he spent around a billion inflation-adjusted U.S. dollars on it, and from the perspective of a visitor 400 years hence, that was a billion bucks well spent.
The red out-building to the west — from which some of these pictures were taken — is still treated as a mosque (no shoes allowed), though the identical red building to the east is not. If you put booties over your shoes, you can go up on the balconies of the Taj itself, which is a fine spot, but the best views are “of” the Taj, not “from” it. Unfortunately, there was some maintenance work going on when I was there – thus the scaffolding on the east side and on two of the minarets.
I also visited the Agra Fort across town. It’s an interesting complex, but the only real photo opportunities there were its hazy views of the Taj Mahal.
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A final Agra amusement: I knew the days ahead in northern India would include more than a few nights in cold tents and without showers, so I’d decided to spring for an unusually nice room for the two nights in Agra, with a balcony that overlooked the Taj Mahal complex. The place must’ve been nearly full (or nearly empty?) because they instead upgraded me to a ridiculously lavish top-floor suite with two big balconies, seating for 18, and Taj views even from its glass shower and bath tub. A further amusement was that most of the hotel staff had no idea that I was in Suite 512 only through a flukish free upgrade, so they treated me like a Maharaja! They also let me know that Prince William and Kate Middleton had been in the same suite in April when they were in town. Pictures of the hotel, and of or from my snazzy suite at the Oberois Amarvilas Agra:
As usual for me, the further I got from the main cities and main highways, the more interesting my visit to Colombia became.
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My Hertz reservation for a small pickup truck got fouled up, leaving my friend Grant and me driving a late-model VW Jetta through the mountains in the heart of Colombia. It’s impossible not to look conspicuously out of place in rural Colombia in a late-model Jetta. Hertz’s punishment was that their Jetta endured long stretches of dirt-and-gravel mountain roads of the Colombian Andes. Much of our trip was in the heart of Colombia’s “coffee country.” Most of the patterned agricultural landscape you see in the pictures is coffee. Despite the mostly hazy and cloudy weather (and my dislike of coffee), the landscapes were striking.
In the hilltop town of El Merced, the town square was full of old guys – mostly just hanging out. It took a fair amount of bi-lingual cajoling to get some of them to let me make a few pictures. The guy with the scarred face was also toting a machete strapped to his hip – which gave me some insight on how his smile may have become so crooked. (They carry machetes as agricultural tools; not as sidearms). I wished for a photograph with that big knife in the picture, but I was barely able to get him to let me photograph him at all. One of the guys recommended “Asadero La Fonda” as the best restaurant in town for us to have lunch (see picture in the grid); we had lots of meals at places that looked like that.
When you get away from the cities and tourist areas, prices in Colombia can be disconcertingly low. Two meat-and-cheese breakfast pastries, two doughnuts, a cup of (Colombian!) coffee, two Diet Cokes, and a couple of big cookies for the road? COL $8,000 – less than $3 U.S. At Hotel Colonial in Aguadas, I paid extra for a bigger room with three balcony-windows overlooking the town square (and with a couch, table and chairs, big bathroom, wifi, refrigerator, breakfast included). It was US $20; my buddy’s room (without the ‘view’) was US $8. (The last image in the grid below is the view from my room). One regular quandary: What kind of tip do you leave when you get great service and a fine lunch for less than two bucks?
The biggish city of Medellin was the end of our car trip (we flew from there to Cartagena). The plump-looking (and probably familiar-seeming?) statues are by a famous Colombian artist, Botero.
Next stop: Cartegena.
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Images from Salento, Aguadas, and Medellin:
I spent just 36 hours or so in Bogota before heading west through the Andes. It’s Colombia’s biggest and capital city — with a metro population bigger than Chicago and an elevation higher than Aspen. Bogota has plenty to offer. If you go, plan to stay longer than I did.
In the grid above are views from Monserrate, around Plaza Bolivar and the Catedral Nacional, inside Museo de Oro (Gold); and outside the presidential Palacio Narino.
The central government square in Bogota is “Plaza Bolivar” — named for 19th Century Latin American hero, Simon Bolivar. He’s credited with liberating from Spain the region of “New Granada” — now Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. Maybe obvious: “Bolivia” was named after him. Depending on who you believe and how you look at it, it may be a little unclear whether he was benevolently liberating, or if he was attempting his own Napoleon-style conquest. In any case, history has been kind to Bolivar: seemingly every town or city we visited had its own Plaza Bolivar and its own big statue of “El Libertador” himself. (Americans may overlook him, but there are actually prominent Bolivar statues in downtown Paris, in Washington DC, and in New York’s Central Park.) If you see a statue in Colombia and wonder who it is, you can probably win a bet by guessing Bolivar.
A few of the other Plazas (and “estatuas”) Bolivar we encountered, in Salento, Medellin, and Cartegena:
OKAY! Finally — the last of my pictures from Scotland. Yes, I’ve been home for quite a while, but these were some cool places and I still wanted to share what they looked like.
Not surprisingly, Dunvegan Castle, the home of the MacLeod clan chiefs for the last 800 years or so, was chock full of old paintings of men named MacLeod wearing kilts and high socks. After my visit there, I headed for the ferry from the Isle of Skye out to the Isle of Lewis & Harris, and the big semi next to my car said, “D.R. MacLeod Transport.” Two of the workers who were getting me checked in on the ferry had name tags with the last name MacLeod. Apparently the MacLeod clan is alive and well on Skye and Lewis & Harris, just like they have been since before Columbus sailed west.
The Outer Islands have their own culture. The area is known for its strong religious heritage – mostly the Presbyterian-ish Church of Scotland, as I understand it. On Sunday, there was almost nothing open: I finally found one café and one gas station that were (apparently) heathen-operated.
The highway and other signs in the area are written in both English and Gaelic, but a long-time local I quizzed thought that was mostly symbolic. He didn’t believe there were many people who spoke only Gaelic. I was surprised that I had no trouble understanding the Scottish accents in the Highlands and islands, even though I could barely understand the folks down in Glasgow. (I was briefly concerned that I was going to be detained at the Glasgow airport because I was unable to understand and answer the several security-screening questions asked in Glasgow-accented “English”).
Before I made the trip, I learned the words and music to “Scotland the Brave”. It’s the anthem (sometimes regal and sometimes eery) you always hear Scottish bagpipers playing as an iconic musical symbol of the country. At a minimum, I knew it would be running through my head while I was there, and I wanted to be prepared in case I was caught up in any pre- or post-Independence vote revelry and felt compelled to amuse, or to show some local musical allegiance. I was ready play it on either guitar or ukulele. Among the resulting disappointments: no occasions arose where my would-be barroom antics would have been appropriate; no real patriotic revelry erupted anyway; and — worst of all — I learned that the song was a 20th Century creation (written perhaps in the 1950s). Somehow I’d imagined it being played for those kilted soldiers who fought alongside Braveheart in the 1200s — not something written for a potential gig on the Ed Sullivan Show.
In one sense, the Outer Islands were a lot further from home than the mileage might make it seem. I started toward home at about noon on a Tuesday. A drive to the port where the ferry would leave the next morning; hotel overnight; ferry to an Inner island; drive to the town where I’d rented my car; taxi across the bridge to the mainland; train to Inverness; another train to Glasgow; taxi to Glasgow airport hotel; morning flight to Newark; airport tram; flight to Houston; parking shuttle; then my trusty Chevy Tahoe back to the house on Thursday night. I spent almost my entire two weeks in Scotland on the out-of-the-way islands rather than seeing the major cities and sites. I didn’t even make it to Loch Ness to see the monster. I had a great trip, but I don’t think I’m ready to cross Scotland off my list.
Yes, I’ve been home from Scotland for a while, but I’ve got a few more batches of pictures to share.
For 190 years, the Eilan Glas lighthouse has sat on the small peninsula off the Isle of Scalpay (a prior lighthouse was on the same spot in the 18th century). Scalpay is a tiny island recently connected by bridge to the Scottish Isle(s) of Lewis & Harris. The peninsula it sits on sticks well out into the Minch – the branch of the Atlantic Ocean that goes between the Inner and Outer Hebrides – which is presumably the reason someone thought a lighthouse was needed there in the first place. In better light, you can see back to the Isle of Skye.
Honestly, it’s probably hard to be more photographically trite than a bunch of cliched pictures of a lighthouse with a sunrise in the background. But my pre-dawn hike through the sheepfields of Scalpay was a pretty special experience, and – if I may say so myself – these pictures turned out pretty well. I only got lost (and wet) a little on my two-hour hike — taking the long way — through coastal sheep fields back to my car.
This area of Scotland has lots of sheep, and lots of land dedicated to “common grazing.” In a common grazing system, grazing lands are controlled by the town or by some sort of semi-governmental cooperative, and the individual citizens have some ability to put their livestock on the land for grazing. But nobody owns the grazing land (or maybe everybody sort of does). This is especially interesting (to me) because there is a famous principle of Economics called the “Tragedy of the Commons,” which analyzes the ups and downs of common ownership of resources like this (mostly the downs – thus the term “tragedy”). The grazing tragedy occurs because every farmer with access to the common grazing land has the incentive to graze as many animals as possible on the seemingly free public land, so the land becomes overgrazed and barren and thus no good for anyone. This rarely happens on privately owned grazing land, because a property owner tends not to spoil his own land. The moral of the story is that when nobody owns the land (or other resource), nobody has a great incentive to care for it.
Solving the “tragedy” can take two seemingly opposite courses: heavy governmental regulation (like the Grazing Committee); or private ownership of the lands. Environmentalists analogize to the concept to argue that something must be done (i.e. regulation) to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the “common” air we breathe and water supplies from which we drink. Because nobody owns the skies or rivers, people are unfortunately inclined to abuse them absent some government control. On the other hand, conservatives (more precisely: capitalists) point to the “tragedy” concept to teach that private ownership of resources (where possible) is the best way to ensure that they will be well cared for and preserved. Both these arguments are mostly correct, and that’s why the Tragedy of the Common idea is such an important, interesting concept.
Somehow it’s also interesting that Scotland was also the home of Adam Smith, the 18th Century economist and author of Wealth of Nations. Smith is the one who taught the modern world that a capitalist system – where people act in their own financial interest – generally creates better outcomes for a society because private ownership and profit interests usually lead people to direct resources to their most productive and valuable uses. It’s a little ironic that the odd pocket of common grazing systems persists in the country that is Smith’s homeland. He may be rolling over in his Edinburgh grave.
So if you ever wonder what I think about on a two-hour solo hike through quiet Scottish sheep fields on the way to and from an isolated lighthouse, now you know.