Around the World in 12 Days – Los Angeles/Tokyo/Singapore/New Delhi/Zurich/Los Angeles

In February of 2000, I made another “Around the World” business trip, which began with a non-stop flight to Tokyo on Delta Airlines in their new Business Elite cabin. As I relaxed in my seat on the MD-11 aircraft, I enjoyed a chilled glass of champagne before takeoff. In the meantime, many other flights were delayed, due to a massive snowstorm in the Midwest and Northeast. After takeoff, I put on the Japanese slippers provided by Delta and ordered a cold gin and tonic as the plane began the 10 hour flight across the North Pacific. Lunch soon followed, beginning with a selection of sushi, along with a plate of smoked salmon and a tortilla filled with creamed spinach. Next came a fresh garden salad and the main dish of Maryland backfin crab cakes. I finished lunch with a nice selection of cheeses, accompanied by a glass of Austrian Ice Wine – fabulous!

Menu – Los Angeles to Tokyo

After lunch I watched a film titled “Flawless”, starring Robert DeNiro as an ex-cop who suffered a debilitating stroke and was befriended by a group of “drag queens” – very interesting story! After the film, sleep overtook me for several hours before landing at Narita Airport. I passed through Immigration and customs quickly, and then boarded a bus to downtown Tokyo.

Map of Central Tokyo

I had booked a room for two nights at the luxurious 5 star “Palace Hotel”, situated across the street from the Imperial Palace. As the bus made its way into the city, we passed Tokyo Disneyland, with the world’s largest “indoor” ski area! As the bus approached the city center, I noticed several large signs along the highway displaying the current traffic conditions for different routes. (Yellow for moderate traffic and Red for heavy) As the traffic suddenly came to a slow crawl, a “red” condition, a very pleasant, sweet female pre-recorded voice announced, “there is a traffic jam ahead, so we are going to take a detour”. Finally, we arrived at the hotel, and after checking in to a beautiful room on the top floor, with a commanding view of the Imperial Palace Gardens, I headed to the “Summit Lounge” for a cold glass of Sapporo beer.

View of the Imperial Palace Gardens
Palace Hotel Lobby

Meanwhile, at a table nearby, a group of Brits were talking about their trip to China the week before. The conversation centered on the topic of “exotic” Chinese food, especially monkey brains, as well as small live crabs that had to be smashed with a wooden hammer before they could be eaten – ie. they had to be killed first! Then I went to the hotel restaurant for a fabulous dinner that included lots of small dishes with fresh vegetables and varieties of seafood, all beautifully presented with small flowers and exotic garnishes.

The next day I bought a ticket on the famous “bullet train” (Shinkansen) to the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto. As I entered the huge Tokyo main station, I saw that all the platforms had clearly marked “lanes” for passengers to queue for boarding each car of the train – very organized!

Tokyo Main Station
Aboard the “Bullet Train”

The train to Kyoto departed precisely on time, was exceptionally clean, and an extremely smooth ride at 175mph. We arrived in Kyoto less than 2 ½ hours later, after making only two short stops, Yokohama and Nagoya. Once we were out of the dense urban area of Tokyo and the massive industrial port of Yokohama, I began seeing extensive fields of rice, dark forests and distant mountains shrouded in mist – a lovely pastoral scene. Further south the heavy dark clouds gave way to occasional sunshine. As the train approached Nagoya, it climbed into the foothills of a high mountain range, and suddenly entered a landscape covered with a thick blanket of fresh snow! Beyond Nagoya the snow gradually gave way to rice fields and forested hills. Along the journey I made note of some unusual advertising signs that used common English words in a strange way, such as:

  • “Pocari Sweat” (a sports drink)
  • “Yamamoto Mannequins”
  • “Foot Up Shoes”
  • “Nice Day Cards”

And besides the interesting signs, we passed lots of golf driving ranges everywhere! Eventually we arrived in Kyoto, and as I left the main station, I consulted my small map of the city and headed north toward the famous “Ni-Jo Palace”.

Map of Kyoto and my walking tour
“Ni-Jo Palace”

It was the ruling seat of the first Shogun to unify Japan centuries ago. I found the ancient palace to be a fascinating glimpse of 17th century Japan, during the height of the Samurai period, a very violent warrior society. That period of Japanese history ended when a powerful Shogun united all the feudal lords who had ruled their lands for hundreds of years, like tribal chiefs. The huge palace was a collection of many old interconnected wooden buildings, amid several beautiful gardens and surrounded by a deep moat.

Ni-Jo Palace – Main Gate
Ni-Jo Palace Gardens

Most of the palace rooms were simply furnished, built from warm Japanese Cypress wood, delicate bamboo, and with rice paper walls that were elaborately painted with beautiful scenes of tigers, exotic birds, and colorful flowers. The paintings were more than 400 years old, yet as bright and colorful as the day they were painted – amazing!

Inside Ni-Jo Palace
Ni-Jo Palace

Another fascinating feature of the palace was the “nightingale floor” – so named because it squeaked with the sound of the bird as one stepped on it, however so gently. It was designed that way to alert the Samurai guards of any intruders! Really clever, as well as having a beautiful, soothing sound.

Nearby was the “Higashi-Hoganji Temple”, one of the world’s largest wooden buildings, and a spectacular example of the very best in Japanese woodworking craft from the 17th century. Every joint in the massive structure was held in place solely by huge wooden pins and complex carved joinery.

Higashi-Hoganji Temple
Higashi-Hoganji Temple
Map of the temple

Leaving my shoes at the base of the temple, I gently stepped into a huge room whose floor was covered by soft bamboo tatami mats and framed by walls of delicate rice paper wooden panels. The high ceiling was elaborately painted in gold relief – such a beautiful and peaceful place! As I left the main hall and stepped outside on to a massive wooden plank deck that surrounded the temple, I was almost overrun by a group of “pilgrims” rushing past me, chanting loudly and pushing white robes across the floor on their hands and knees! I speculated that it must have been some sort of religious ritual, and they seemed to be having a grand time “racing” each other!

Pilgrims in the temple

As I left the temple, the sun played tag with the clouds, and walking along Karasuma-Dori St, I seemed to hit every traffic light “out of step” and had to wait for the walk signal. Each time as I waited, I observed that the Japanese strictly obeyed the signals, even on the one lane, one-way streets no more than 6 feet across, despite the absence of any oncoming traffic! By the time I returned to the main station in Kyoto, I had walked about 10 miles in 5 hours around the city. But now it was time in the evening to board the bullet train back to Tokyo.

The following day, I changed hotels to a “business man’s hotel” which had been arranged by Esri Japan so as to be close to their office, in preparation for the training class I would conduct over the next few days for their staff. “Hotel Suave” was a small place directly beside a huge overhead expressway! I was lucky enough to get a room on the opposite side, though it had only one small opaque window – but there would not have been much to see outside anyway. The room was incredibly tiny, with a single bed, small desk, tiny closet, a TV mounted on the wall, and a self-contained bathroom made of one single piece of molded plastic!

Single Room – Hotel Suave

There was barely enough space in the shower to turn around. Outside the room, in the hallway, were a number of vending machines serving hot coffee, chilled sodas, cold beer, and small bottles of Japanese whiskey – probably the hotel’s “bar”. There was also a vending machine to dispense Pay-TV cards, which were required to watch the one and only English language channel, as well as a movie channel and two soft porn channels. Otherwise, the other 12 Japanese language channels were free to watch. So that evening I settled into the tiny room with a cold beer and a Pay-TV card!

During the next few days, I walked to the office along very narrow streets, passing small shops and traditional houses. On the first day I stopped at a local branch of Fuji Bank to change some money, and as soon as I stepped through the door, an old man came forward and assisted me with the whole transaction – he was the bank’s “concierge”. That evening, after class, I had dinner in the small hotel restaurant – a very nice meal of fresh scallops sautéed in marinara sauce, along with an ice-cold bottle of Kirin beer. The following evening, I joined three of the Esri Japan staff for dinner at a small, traditional noodle restaurant near the office, where we shared a huge bowl of rice noodles, spicy broth, fresh vegetables, onions, and thin sliced beef. It was hot and delicious on such a cold, windy night. As I walked back and forth every day between the hotel and the office, I noticed many people wearing surgical masks to protect themselves against the spread of germs. And during the class, I found out that most of the staff commuted at least 1 ½ hours each way by train, and judging by the staggering crowds at rush hour, it made me appreciate the leisurely 15 minute walk I had every day! And as for breakfast at the hotel, it was the same every morning – scrambled eggs, Vienna sausages, slices of boiled ham, and fresh sliced cucumber. Meanwhile, as I sat in the breakfast room, massive numbers of pedestrians and vehicles rushed by outside on the street. After class one evening, the staff invited me to join them for dinner at a very traditional Shabu-Shabu restaurant in the busy Shibuya district.

Shibuya District – Tokyo

We had a great time sitting around the table, each of us cooking our thin slices of Wagu beef in the huge pot of boiling water, along with fresh vegetables and “Glass” rice noodles – delicious! Later, the hot broth was mixed with thin egg noodles to make a fantastic soup. And the entire meal was washed down with lots of cold draft beer and small cups of warm Sake – really a fun evening!

At last came the final day of the training class, and to celebrate the occasion, we all went to a very small restaurant that specialized in dishes prepared with eel. We shared a large plate of grilled eel, served with bowls of steamed rice, several small vegetable dishes, and lots of cold beer! I found the grilled eel to be surprisingly delicious – delicate and sweet. Meanwhile, on the TV in the corner of the restaurant, was a Japanese game show in which contestants had 60 seconds to build a 3 story house of cards! No one was a winner that evening, but all of us in the restaurant had a fun time watching them. The following day, I grabbed my camera, consulted my map of Tokyo, and headed to a large park northwest of Shibuya train station. Yoyogi park is the site of the “Menjji Shrine”, dedicated to the first Shogun who united Japan.

Menjji Shrine

As I approached the enormous train station, a major junction of subway lines and the extensive Japan Railways Yamamote system, I encountered large crowds and huge neon signs, which are so typical of Tokyo. But once I was inside the park, the sights and sounds of the bustling city began to fade away. There were many food vendors with their carts surrounding the main entrance to the park, and surprisingly, I also saw a few elderly “bag people” (homeless) setting up their cardboard “houses” for the night. A broad path through huge old trees led me to the shrine, as the sun was beginning to set.

Yoyogi Park – Tokyo

As I stepped over the wooden threshold and into the large courtyard that surrounded the temple, several young monks dressed in white robes, scurried around attending to whatever duties young monks do. Meanwhile, people entered the temple and clapped their hands 3 times before offering prayers. Off to the right of the alter was an enormous drum that was probably beaten during important ceremonies and rituals.

Menjji Shrine
Ceremonial Drum – Menjji Shrine

I felt the whole temple had a sacred and peaceful atmosphere, even as recorded announcements informed us of the park’s closing. As I exited the park on the opposite side, I walked through dense woods into the fading daylight, past large flocks of ravens who had arrived to roost for the night, squawking loudly. And at the same time, the endless, muffled roar of the trains could be heard in the distance. The air became chilly and a soft breeze made its way through the trees, signaling the approach of the night. Once outside the park and back on the crowded streets of Shibuya, I watched countless commuter trains pass by, literally “jammed” with people, anxious to head home for the weekend! (definitely not the time for a tourist to be on the train)

Shibuya District

As I continued walking through Shibuya, I suddenly realized that I did not have enough cash for the taxi to the main train station or the bus to Narita airport in the morning! So it became necessary to try and use one of the multitude of cash dispensers (ATMs) on virtually every street corner. My first few attempts were totally unsuccessful – my credit card having been “spit out” with a nasty note stating that my transaction had not been accepted, despite the sign above the machine clearly indicating that Diners Club and American Express were “welcomed”! (as it turned out later, only the Japanese issued cards were accepted) Finally, at a “Cash Corner” machine, a kindly old gentleman on “guard duty” saw my dilemma and offered his help. He pointed to a small sign that showed the location of an ATM nearby that would accept my American Express credit card.

“Cash Corner” machine

He proceeded to give my profuse, explicit directions, none of which I understood. But fortunately, there was a map beneath the sign. So luckily, I was able to find the Fuji Bank cash machine that would accept my American Express card. But without realizing it, on my first attempt to withdraw cash, I had mistakenly entered 500,000 Yen ($5000 USD) – thankfully it didn’t go through! Having successfully withdrawn my money on the second try, I continued on my way back to Hotel Suave, along a narrow street beside the railway. I discovered a very interesting collection of “tiny” eating establishments, some of which could only seat 2 or 3 people. The street was beautifully illuminated by old traditional Japanese lanterns.

Narrow street in the evening

Eventually hunger caught up with me and I began a search for a place to have dinner. As I rounded a corner, just off a busy street in Shibuya, I spotted the “German Farm Grill”. I was intrigued by the name of the place and decided to check it out. What I found was a fascinating little restaurant with a menu printed in Japanese and German, soothing background music, and a roaring fire in the fireplace. Luckily, I could read much of the German side of the menu. Just after I sat down at a small table beside the fireplace, a tall black man came up and said “welcome man”! After I ordered the bratwurst and a glass of German beer, I asked him about the restaurant. As the story went, he and two other black American soldiers stationed in Japan fell in love with the country and decided to stay after leaving the military. And having also served in the US Army in Germany, they chose to open one of the very few German restaurants in Shibuya. The food was delicious and authentic, the atmosphere relaxing, while the chaos of traffic rushed by outside.

German Farm Grill – Shibuya

A small group of young Japanese came into the restaurant to celebrate a birthday with several rounds of champagne. The young man being honored had two severely deformed arms, perhaps resulting from exposure to Thalidomide. It was obvious they were having a really fun time. It was such a unique and fascinating place – a wonderful “discovery”. When I left the restaurant, it was full, whereas there had only been two other people when I had first arrived.

The next morning, when I checked out of Hotel Suave, the young desk clerk hailed a taxi for me. When I told her I wanted to go to the City Air Terminal, she gave me a strange look and said it would be very expensive. (as if there was anything in Tokyo that was cheap!) When the taxi arrived, she asked me if I was going to terminal 1 or 2? At that point I realized she must have thought I had meant Narita airport, which would have cost $250 – $300! So I had to make it very clear that I wanted to go to the “City Air Terminal”, from which I could take a bus to the airport, the cost being around $25! Once I arrived at the City Air Terminal, the check-in for the Singapore Airlines flight was very efficient, so that I could board the bus without having to drag my luggage along. There was even a place to complete the customs and immigration formalities before arriving at Narita Airport. Once at the airport, I spent some time in the Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge before boarding the flight to Singapore. The lounge overlooked a gorgeous tropical garden with huge, colorful Japanese Carp swimming in a clear pool amid beautiful flowers. It was very peaceful and tranquil, with lots of tall, deep green ferns – like a small jungle in the middle of a busy airport!

Silver Kris Lounge – Narita Airport

Shortly after takeoff, lunch began with a delicious assortment of satay and spicy peanut sauce, followed by a small plate of sashimi and a fresh garden salad. Then came the main dish of pan fried giant prawns on a bed of Japanese noodles, accompanied by a chilled glass of French Chardonnay. Lunch service finished with a selection of cheeses and a glass of port – superb food and service!

Airline Menu – Tokyo to Singapore

The 7 hour flight was very smooth and relaxing as I listened to some New Age music. We landed in Singapore on time and I breezed through immigration and customs. During the taxi ride to downtown, the Indian driver gave me several recommendations for famous “fish head restaurants” in the Indian Quarter near the port. The name of the company was “Comfort Taxi” and posted on the dashboard was a sign that read – Caring, Observant, Mindful, Friendly, Obliging, Responsible, Tactful. Meanwhile, a local radio station played music by Buena Vista Social Club! Upon arriving at the Le Meridien Hotel on Orchard Road, I was very fortunate to be upgraded to a room on the President’s Club Level for having checked in using my American Express Platinum card.

Lobby – Le Meridien Hotel
Le Meridien Hotel

And I was just in time for the complimentary evening cocktails and appetizers in the club lounge. As I sat with a cold local Anchor beer, I watched the final match of the International Ping Pong Championship between China and Sweden – surprisingly won by Sweden!

The next morning, I grabbed my camera, slipped into my hiking boots, and headed to Fort Canning Park, an old British military site near the port. On the way, I passed the Presidential Palace, with its beautifully manicured tropical gardens and immaculately groomed deep green lawn – definitely off limits to tourists! I found that Fort Canning had a long history, dating from the 14th century, having been the royal residence of many Malay kings. Later in the 19th century, the British arrived and made their indelible mark on the fortress.

Fort Canning Park

As I hiked up and down the hills, I passed several groups of people engaged in various cultural activities, such as the Chinese in a Tai Chi class, Indian dancers practicing for a wedding, and some Malay pilgrims paying homage to the ancient tomb of a Malay king. Further along, near the old post headquarters building, I heard a group of local musicians rehearsing for a performance – banging large gongs and drums in a rhythmic beat. It was a beautiful sound to listen to, but I was never able to see them. Meanwhile, by this time of the day, I was totally soaked in sweat, with the temperature in the upper 90’s and the humidity near 100%! As I exited the park, I came to the central business district, where I spotted a lovely old turn of the century building on a street corner, surrounded on three sides by tall, modern skyscrapers. I decided to venture in for a look and I was rewarded with views of the beautiful restoration, and cool air conditioning! The gorgeous dark tropical woodwork was highly polished and the pure white marble floors were sparkling.

Downtown Singapore
Restored old building – Singapore

One entire floor was devoted to the “Pennsylvania Country Store” – an outlet for traditional Early American furniture. Then I walked to the nearest Metro station and rode the subway to Jurong East to visit the Singapore Science Center. The subway was very modern, efficient, and exceptionally clean – especially since chewing gum was forbidden on the subway and punishable by a hefty fine! Despite the sold out showing of the new “Fantasia 2000” film in the IMAX theatre at the Science Center, there was a fascinating exhibit on the history of the making of the original film, alongside with details of the production of the new digital version of the film. The exhibit included the computerized scenes of the digital version of the musical instruments in the animated orchestra – absolutely fascinating! Returning to the Metro station, I decided to take the longer, scenic route back to downtown. Essentially, the route “circled” the entire island (aka country), and along the way we passed vast complexes of high rise apartment buildings. At one station, four US Navy sailors, dressed in shorts and carrying backpacks, boarded the train – looking very much like they were on a mission to see Singapore. When I got back to the hotel that afternoon, I packed my bags and got a taxi to the airport, just before a tropical downpour hit the city.

View of Singapore from Le Meridien Hotel

Country music was playing on the radio as the taxi driver sped along the expressway, ignoring the speed limit. It meant that I had to listen to a very annoying “Ding Dong” speed limit warning alarm bell for the entire 30 minute trip! It went something like this – “on the (DING) wings of a (DONG) snow white (DING) dove … (DONG)” Finally we reached the airport, just before I reached the limit of my tolerance! Once on board the new Singapore Airlines Boeing 777, I settled in to a comfortable Business Class seat and ordered a cold Gin and tonic before takeoff. As the plane reached its cruising altitude, a superb dinner was served, beginning with a smoked salmon and sashimi appetizer, along with a crisp garden salad. Next came a small bowl of soba noodles, followed by the main dish of grilled tiger prawns, fried okra, and steamed rice. The dinner service concluded with a selection of international cheeses, fresh fruit, and a glass of Port. Later in the flight, chocolates, coffee, and Drambuie were served.

Airline Menu – Singapore to New Delhi

During the long 6 hour flight to New Delhi, I watched the “World’s Strongest Man Competition” on my personal entertainment device. The competition was won by a hulking brute from Finland for the third year in a row. I also had time to catch the conclusion of the film titled “Stir of Echoes”, which I had first started watching on the flight to Tokyo a few days before. Around midnight we landed on time in New Delhi, and then began the incredibly frustrating ordeal of the Indian immigration and customs process, where even the simplest of tasks often takes forever! It was particularly annoying when some people were “escorted” (shoved) into the long queue ahead of me, supposedly being “diplomats”! And as for the “machine readable” queue that I was standing in, there was no sign of a machine anywhere. Finally, after 45 minutes, I was close enough to be able to slap down my passport in front of an agonizingly slow, stone faced Immigration Officer, who painstakingly pawed through my passport, page by page. Then at last, he stamped it and I was allowed to enter the country. But then came another frustration, no luggage trolleys to be seen anywhere, nor any porters. So I dragged my bags through the crowd waiting outside the customs area and headed to the “pre-paid” taxi counter, where I had to fight my way to the front of another long queue to secure a voucher, which I surrendered to a taxi driver in the shadows. By this time, it was well past 2am as the taxi began the journey, amid lots of noise and confusion, to the Park Royal Hotel near Nehru Place. As the taxi bounced along the rough road in the dark of night, dodging an amazing array of bicycles, Tuk-Tuks, trucks, buses, pedestrians and cows, I felt as if it could almost be a plot for a film noir – “The eternal hell of an Indian taxi ride through the dark streets of New Delhi”, with no beginning and no end! At last my ordeal came to an end as I checked into a lovely room at the beautiful 5 star luxury Park Royal Hotel, which had been arranged by Esri-India.

Park Royal Hotel – New Delhi
View of New Delhi from Park Royal Hotel

The next morning, or more like later in the day, Dinesh from the Esri-India office picked me up and drove through the crowded, chaotic traffic to the new training facility. It was located in an old farm estate that had once been outside the city but was now surrounded by it. Besides the new, well equipped classrooms, there were residences for students travelling from distant parts of the country. The small cafeteria served simple, but very tasty vegetarian dishes, some of which were quite spicy.

Esri- India Training Facility

After class, I returned to the hotel, went down to the lobby bar, and ordered a large, cold Black Label Beer, a popular Indian beer brewed in Bangalore. As I sat in the bar, I finished transcribing the notes from my recent trip to Syria and Greece. Later in the evening, I went to the hotel coffee shop for a delicious dinner of chicken Tikka Masala, my favorite Indian dish. The following morning it was back to the training facility for another long day of lecturing and computer exercises for the Esri-India technical staff.

Students during a class break

Many of the students were young women, dressed in beautiful saris made from brilliantly colored silk. Lunch with the students in the cafeteria featured a very nice spicy potato dish, along with cold fresh yogurt. That evening, back at the hotel, I had another ice-cold bottle of Black Label beer as I wrote notes in my journal. For dinner I had a luscious south Indian chicken curry served in a thick, richly spiced tomato sauce. As I enjoyed dinner, I watched a large table of two Indian families, where all the men sat on one side and the women on the opposite side. Later, a young man and young woman rose from the table and strolled off together. I speculated that they were on a “date” and the two families were there as “chaperones”! Meanwhile, another group bearing gifts and flowers celebrated a birthday that included several versions of “Happy Birthday”. And at the same time, a large tourist group of Scandinavians “attacked” the enormous dinner buffet! It was all very fascinating to watch, almost as if it had been “staged” for my entertainment that evening.

Another day of training followed the next morning, which began with the usual chaotic, “white knuckle” drive through the crowded streets of New Delhi. That same evening, back at the hotel, I received an invitation to join the General Manager for cocktails in the Club Room, a beautiful old English style library. The GM was a large man from Austria, and we had a lively, fascinating conversation about our various travel experiences around the world. We also talked about President Bill Clinton’s upcoming trip to India and all the preparations being made for him in the hotel. Meanwhile, the Sheikh of Dubai was staying in the Presidential Suite, along with his large delegation. They were in New Delhi for an International Shooting Competition, and the Sheikh was the team captain. The GM was also proud of the new nightclub he had just opened in the hotel, especially now that it was the most popular venue in the city. Later, I finished the evening watching a fascinating video about the world famous Indian luxury train “Palace on Wheels”. The following morning, I joined Dinesh for another hair-raising ride to the training facility, the car radio having been tuned to a morning show that gave up to the minute traffic reports.

Negotiating New Delhi traffic

The reports included the average speed of the traffic, the presence or absence of “diversions”, and the maximum “stopping time” at major traffic lights! In between the traffic reports, a young female DJ spun the very latest American pop music. At the end of every traffic report, she gave a “driving lesson of the day”. And as we negotiated our way through the chaos, it was obvious that her driving lessons were having no impact on the traffic, judging by what I could see around me – or perhaps, Dinesh and I were the only ones on the road tuned in to the radio station? For the second day in a row, a very large, vicious looking yellow wasp continued to wander around the classroom. No one seemed to be concerned, nor in any hurry to find a way to get it out of the room. But I kept my eye on it as best as I could while I was teaching. However, at one point, as I was helping a student with a computer exercise, another student suddenly “flicked” the hair on the side of my head, chasing away the giant yellow beast that had just landed there! Fortunately, I was not aware of its presence, but I was almost sure it would still be in class the next day. Later that afternoon, the ride back to the hotel with Dinesh was a bit scary, with him “babbling” away about something of no importance, while huge, battered buses came screaming up beside us on both sides. As I look out the car window, all that I could see was a large bald tire, a crumpled fender, and a bus driver who looked as if he was “barely” in control of the speeding vehicle! At that moment, I had no choice but to place my trust in God and Dinesh! All the while, the cows rested sublimely on the narrow median separating the lanes of insane traffic. They just gave us a very nonchalant, casual glance – they must know more than I know! At last we arrived at the hotel and I retired to the lobby bar for a cold bottle of Taj Mahal beer. The bar was decorated in rich, dark tropical wood paneling, gorgeous oriental carpets, a huge stone fireplace, crystal chandeliers, and paintings depicting 18th century English country scenes – very much a classic English gentlemen’s club. Afterwards, I had a superb dinner of delicately spiced lamb curry and rice in the hotel coffee shop.

Park Royal Hotel garden

At last it was the final day of the training class, and when Dinesh picked me up in the morning, I had my camera with me, in an “attempt” to capture something of the indescribable, chaotic, insane traffic. But I found it hard to record the scene of hundreds of people on bicycles, scooters, and motorcycles, all positioned at the head of a long line of traffic stopped for a traffic light at a major intersection. Well before the light changed, they all began “creeping” forward, with bicycles first. And then all of a sudden, they were in the middle of the intersection, fighting their way through the cross traffic still passing through the intersection. And when the light changed, the rest of the traffic ”bolted” forward, clashing with the “stragglers” in the cross traffic, as well as the bicycles that had gotten a bit of a “head start”. It could only be described as “anarchy on wheels”! The head start was necessary for the cyclists, otherwise they would have been mowed down by the multitude of buses, trucks, Tuk-Tuks, and cars behind them. For the uninitiated, it was an absolutely crazy, insane scene, as all manner, size, and mode of transportation jostled and jockeyed for position in the center of the intersection. And in the midst of all the insanity, pedestrians darted in and out, while the cows sat peacefully on the side of the road, observing it all! My impression was of a modern Indian version of the ancient Roman Gladiator games. Later in the morning, during a short break in the class, I sat outside in the delightful, warm winter weather and watched a pair of beautiful, but noisy green parrots in the trees above me. Then I joined the class for lunch in the cafeteria for the last time before concluding the class. Though it had been an exhausting five days, the students were very engaged and appreciative. Later in the afternoon, on the way back to the hotel, once again we encountered the monotonous sounds of the traffic – horns of various tones and volume, incredibly loud mufflers (or maybe none at all) on the trucks and buses, all of which spewed out massive clouds of black, choking diesel smoke! And most disturbing of all, the continuous, eerie screeching of brakes from the old, battered, overcrowded buses as they came to a sudden, agonizing stop! The sound was like a tribe of screaming “banshees”. Every time I heard that awful sound, I couldn’t help but envision a spectacular and gruesome accident about to happen, but the same scene seemed to play out every day I was in New Delhi. And yet, it must be noted that during my entire time in New Delhi, I never saw an accident, just hundreds of “near misses”! That evening, as I sat in the hotel bar, the staff greeted me with “good evening sir, a Black Label?” Later, Rajesh and Dinesh joined me for dinner in the hotel’s “Dehuli Indian Restaurant” for a wonderful meal of grilled jumbo prawns smothered in delicious, spicy mango chutney. It was a delightful time of conversation and shared experiences that brought my time in India to a very pleasant conclusion. And for all the uncomfortable and frustrating times, there were just as many or more memorable and unforgettable times. Such is the “unique” experience of India!

Early the next morning, at 4:00am, I boarded the SwissAir flight to Bombay and onward to Zurich. There was a light meal of chicken jhatka and fish cake served on the way to Bombay, and before landing in Zurich, we were served an Indian breakfast of pancakes filled with masala, along with scrambled eggs and chicken shashlik.

Menu – New Delhi to Zurich
Swissair Business Class Lounge – Zurich Airport

In Zurich airport I had enough time to take a shower and have coffee in the Business Class Lounge before boarding the SwissAir flight to Los Angeles. Shortly after takeoff, lunch was served, beginning with smoked marlin and trout with horseradish sauce and red beet salad. For the main course I chose the grilled scallops and jumbo shrimp in a delicious Pernod cream Sauce, along with spinach and fennel.

Menu – Zurich to Los Angeles
Swissair Wine List

Nine hours and two movies later, we landed at LAX – twelve days after leaving home, I had travelled around the world again!

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Images of Tokyo

Shibuya District
Entrance to Yoyogi Park
Yoyogi Park
Old Tokyo

 

Images of Kyoto

Ni-Jo Palace
Higashi-Hoganjji Temple
Higashi-Hoganjji Temple
Modern Building in Old Kyoto
Ancient Cemetery – Ni-Jo Palace
Gardens of Higashi-Hoganjji Temple
Traditional Rain Spout
Map of Ni-Jo Palace

 

Images of Singapore

Orchard Road

 

Images of New Delhi

Garden – Park Royal Hotel
Garden Fountain – Park Royal Hotel
Evening in New Delhi from Park Royal Hotel
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Jaipur – Heart of Rajasthan

In July of 2012 I was invited to visit a new Indian university to assist the faculty to establish a GIS Master’s Degree program modeled after a long and well recognized program at the University of Redlands. The trip began with a flight from LA to Zurich on Swiss International Airlines. My seat in Business Class afforded me a great culinary experience, beginning with a fantastic Nicoise salad of peppered Yellow Fin Tuna, followed by the main course of Chicken Dijon, accompanied by a unique shallot bread pudding. The dessert of vanilla mousse with Bourbon butter peaches, topped with crumbled almond biscotti finished off the evening in grand fashion. The next day, we landed in Zurich under cloudy skies and light rain showers – a dramatic contrast to the 100+ degree weather I had left in southern California! Since my onward flight to New Delhi departed two hours before, Swiss International had arranged for a hotel room at the “Welcome Inn Hotel” in the small town of Kloten, just 10 minutes from the airport. That evening I went downstairs to the “Restaurant – Bar Kanzlei” for a cold beer – a local brew called “Halden Gut”. As I looked around, I noticed a lot of people ordering “Cordon Bleu” for dinner, so I decided to do the same. It turned out to be a fabulous breaded pork schnitzel stuffed with parma ham and gruyere cheese, served with French fries and a delicious ratatouille. During the night there were several periods of heavy rain, and I awoke to a very wet world. After breakfast I grabbed my camera and hiked up a footpath behind the hotel, through the forest to the top of a hill overlooking the airport. I had entered a large nature reserve where there were beautiful views of the Swiss countryside as the sun peeked out from behind the clouds.

Swiss Countryside
Swiss Countryside
Path in Nature Reserve
Path in Nature Reserve

On my way back to Kloten I came upon several old farmyards and the old village church with a small cemetery surrounding it. The path followed a small stream that flowed through the town.

Old Farmyard in Kloten
Old Farmyard in Kloten
Farmhouse in Kloten
Farmhouse in Kloten
Old Village Church
Old Village Church

Back at the hotel, I took the shuttle bus to the airport to check in for my flight to New Delhi. Once again the culinary experience in Business Class was superb – a delicious roasted Veal chop in wild mushroom cream sauce, accompanied by an amazing “potato roti”, a traditional Swiss dish that resembled a potato casserole. After dinner, I settled into my seat with a glass of Swiss wine to watch the film “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, a movie that was filmed in Jaipur, India and a quintessential look at Indian philosophy and culture. I loved the film, which was so positive and uplifting. My favorite line in the film was “Everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, then it is not the end”. It was a perfect introduction to arrival in India! Upon landing in New Delhi, I was astonished to find a brand new International Terminal, very spacious and beautifully decorated with all forms of Indian art and antiques. Despite the arrival of three 747’s at the same time, I cleared immigration and customs in a record time of 20 minutes, whereas on all of my earlier trips to India it had taken no less than two hours! A driver from the Indian International Centre (IIC) was waiting outside to take me to the hotel, which was part of a large research campus on the edge of the city. Finally, at 2am I checked into my room and called it a night. The air was still very warm and quite humid, even in the middle of the night.

Four hours later I awoke and discovered that IIC was surrounded by a lush tropical nature preserve called “Lodhi Gardens” – really a lovely, peaceful setting far removed from the noise of the chaotic traffic for which New Delhi is well known. The gardens contain the tombs of many Sayyid and Lodhi rulers of the 15th century Moghal Empire, the most famous being the tomb of Mohammed Shah. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lodi_Gardens

Tomb of Mohamed Shah - Lodhi Gardens
Tomb of Mohamed Shah – Lodhi Gardens

After breakfast, my colleagues from the local Esri office picked me up for the drive to the new NIIT University (NU) in the small town of Neemrana, about 60 miles south in the state of Rajasthan. The route followed the “National Highway” linking New Delhi with Jaipur, the capitol of Rajasthan. The journey was sometimes fast on the new 4 lane road, and at other times frustratingly slow, bordering upon not moving at all as the 4 lanes suddenly became a very narrow 2 lane road through every little town and village along the way! One must keep in mind that “lanes” on roads in India, although clearly marked, have little effect on how the traffic moves. Sometimes we found the southbound traffic using 3 lanes and then suddenly, without any warning, it seemed to reverse and we found ourselves driving in 1 lane! On top of that, our driver constantly darted around and amongst heavy trucks spewing huge clouds of thick black diesel smoke. Luckily for us the car was well air conditioned, but following just inches behind a large truck going 60 mph was a bit unnerving, to say the least. However, my Indian colleagues appeared unconcerned – just a “normal” drive in India. There were several times when we encountered massive traffic jams and trucks broken down in the middle of the road. Sometimes, along the roadside were signs reading “Accident Prone Zone – Go Slow”. In my view the entire highway qualified as an accident prone zone! As we neared Neemrana, we began seeing a lot of people dressed in yellow and orange, carrying large containers of water. I was told that these people were devout Hindu pilgrims carrying sacred water from the Ganges River, some of whom had walked hundreds of kilometers.

Devout Hindus carrying water from Ganges River
Devout Hindus carrying water from Ganges River

At last we arrived in Neemrana and I was taken to the new “Cambay Sapphire Hotel” in the heart of the old village – needless to say, although it was a very nice, modern hotel, it looked uncomfortably out of place among the ramshackle buildings surrounding it. My room was very nice, but the hotel was not quite finished. The bar had not received a permit yet, so it was closed, and it wasn’t possible to make international phone calls, let alone access the internet. However, my Indian hosts made sure to buy a large stock of beer for the fridge in my room. I soon found out that I was among only a dozen guests in the 500 room hotel, the others being technicians from Japan working on the development of a large manufacturing facility on the edge of the village. That evening I went down to the hotel restaurant for dinner and enjoyed a fantastic meal of chicken tikka masala, steamed rice, and fresh baked naan. Meanwhile, my Japanese neighbors ordered from the Japanese menu – they don’t know what they missed! Outside the evening air remained very humid and hot (95 degrees), but the locals kept saying how cool and comfortable it was now after the recent monsoon rains! After dinner, I turned on the TV in my room and found only 3 channels in English, out of more than 60, and surprisingly, one of the English language channels was NHK from Japan.

The next day was spent meeting with the NU faculty and staff to discuss the establishment of their new GIS Master’s Degree program. The discussion continued over lunch in the student cafeteria where several different vegetarian dishes were available, all of which were delicious. As I proceeded through the queue with my metal tray, I was reminded of my days in the Army and the mess hall. At the end of the day, I returned to my hotel room for a cold Kingfisher beer before enjoying another fantastic dinner in the restaurant downstairs. Then it was time to watch the world news on the NHK channel. I was up early the next morning to meet my university host for a trip to Jaipur, the ancient capital of Rajasthan. It’s often known as the “Pink City” for all its brightly colored buildings. Once again we were southbound on the National Highway with all its insane traffic. (hundreds of heavy trucks, cars in various states of disrepair, motorcycles, bicycles, tractors, camel carts, sacred cows, elephants, and people dashing in and out of the whole mess) Our driver was constantly weaving in and out among the trucks, inches from their bumper. Even sitting in the back seat was scary when I could see nothing in front but a massive steel bumper, made more frightening at 60 mph! But as I looked around it seemed like this was the norm, and throughout the 3 hour journey I saw only one minor accident. The most terrifying part of the trip came when traffic suddenly began travelling the wrong way straight toward us! Virtually all the heavy trucks were totally overloaded and had various signs painted on the rear, such as “Blow Horn Please” (and there was plenty of that going on), “Keep Distance” (which appeared to be completely ignored by everyone), “Use Dipper at Night” (British English for the headlight dimmer switch), and the most common sign of all “Great India”. Besides the very colorful trucks with their signs, I noticed several roadside signs in the numerous construction zones that read “Inconveniency Regretted”. (unfortunately they didn’t make the travel experience feel any better) As we passed through the small towns along the way, I made note of some of the business signs, like “The Meet Place” (a local bar) and “Lucky Family Restaurant”. At last we reached Jaipur and were rewarded with some amazing historic sites for which the city is famous. Among the most famous is the “Amer Fort”, also known as the “Red Fort”, having been built of local red sandstone, located on a high hill just outside the city. It’s a formidable structure built in 1592 by Raja Man Singh that blends both Hindu and Rajput styles of architecture in a massive four story structure. A significant architectural feature are the many beautiful courtyards and lush gardens incorporated seamlessly into every level, flowing naturally from one to the other like a river.

Amer Fort - central courtyard
Amer Fort – central courtyard
Amer Fort - main entrance
Amer Fort – main entrance
Amer Fort - central courtyard
Amer Fort – central courtyard
Amer Fort - gardens
Amer Fort – gardens
Amer Fort
Amer Fort

Also, a high stone wall, resembling the Great Wall of China, surrounded the enormous complex. My Indian host and I spent several hours walking around the gigantic palace, visiting the royal residences, libraries, gardens, and galleries, but we hardly saw even a quarter of it.

Amer Fort and great wall beyond
Amer Fort and great wall beyond
Amer Fort - great wall
Amer Fort – great wall

It’s definitely worth another visit someday. Meanwhile, thousands of families, both Hindu and Muslim, also wandered among the hundreds of rooms and gardens. Visiting Amer Fort remains the highlight of my time in Jaipur. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amer_Fort

From the Red Fort we drove into the center of the city to Albert Hall Museum, the oldest museum in the state of Rajasthan. It was built in 1876 and named in honor of Albert Edward, who later became King Edward VII. The museum had a rich collection of paintings, sculpture, carpets, ivory, stone and metal art, as well as stunning works of crystal. The large building was an elaborate structure of native stone and marble, with several towers and courtyards. It was situated in the center of a large park just outside the old city wall.

Albert Hall Museum
Albert Hall Museum

As we approached the museum I became aware of thousands of pigeons roosting on the roof of the building, but once inside the museum resembled a lavish palace, and the art work on display was beautiful, historical, and very impressive. During our visit, we encountered many families and groups of school children who were also enjoying the gorgeous displays, as well as the history of the museum. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Hall_Museum

Late in the afternoon we paid a visit to “Hawa Mahal”, one of the most distinctive buildings in Jaipur, and known in English as the “Palace of Winds”. The entire front (façade) of the 5 story structure was carved from local red and pink sandstone and designed to be a “screen wall” to permit the women of the royal household to observe street festivals and everyday life while remaining unseen from the outside. The palace was built in 1799 by the Maharaja of Rajasthan in a style to resemble the crown of the great Hindu god Krishna. There were 953 small windows decorated with intricate lattice work, which allowed air to move freely through the entire structure, hence the origin of the name “Palace of the Winds”. It’s also believed that it gave rise to the name “The Pink City”, being forever associated with Jaipur.

Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds)
Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds)

A major restoration project was undertaken in 2006, and once again it gained the stature and heritage of its unique past! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawa_Mahal

On our return trip to Neemrana, we stopped at “Maharaja’s Food Restaurant” for a delicious spicy dinner of traditional Rajasthani dishes. Later, near a small village we came upon a large troop of monkeys alongside the road, surrounding a banana stand. So our driver stopped to buy some bananas to feed the monkeys. It was a very clever way to “market” the bananas!

The next day I met with students during lunch in the cafeteria, while a classic “Bollywood” movie played on the small TV in one corner of the room. Then after some further discussion of the proposed Master’s Degree program with the department faculty, I went back to the hotel where we were supposed to have dinner with the university President. But suddenly the plan was changed to meet at “Nurala’s Restaurant” in the Days Hotel (it looked exactly like a Days Inn in the US) several kilometers from Neemrana, since the Cambay Sapphire Hotel still did not have a license to sell alcohol. So once again we joined the heavy truck traffic on the National Highway headed north toward New Delhi, and soon we encountered a massive traffic jam at the toll booth. Eventually we reached the Days Hotel, after making a difficult and dangerous U-turn in the middle of the busy highway! The dinner was a fabulous selection of traditional food from Rajasthan, with whiskey and beer flowing freely all evening. When I finally got back to my hotel room, I watched part of a movie on TV titled “The Alamo”. It looked to be a fairly decent production, but, all of the English dialogue was accompanied by English subtitles, while the Spanish dialogue had no subtitles! (it’s something that still confounds me, especially having watched it in India) The following day I met with the university President to present a summary of my visit and discussions with the faculty and staff. Before leaving for the return trip to New Delhi, I was given a tour of the campus by the facility manager, a retired Commodore in the Indian Air Force. He had a deep passion for the natural environment surrounding the campus. Afterwards I was presented with a gift from the President, and the Commodore insisted that I help plant a tree, a university tradition. As I scooped soil around the little tree, I was asked to give it a name, so I named it “Magellan” in honor of my Siamese cat of the same name. But I had to explain to the Commodore that it was also the name of the first person to circumnavigate the world!

Luckily for us the truck traffic on the National Highway was fairly light, so we made good time on our journey back to New Delhi, despite the occasional herds of goats, sheep, and cattle crossing the busy 6 lane highway, bringing all traffic to a halt! (I think only in India is this taken as a natural and accepted part of driving) As we approached the outskirts of the city we passed an overcrowded bus (the only kind of bus in India), and as I looked up I saw a monkey happily riding on top! Soon afterwards we made a stop for lunch at a roadside McDonalds. (after executing another scary U-turn across the busy 6 lane highway) The menu, as well as almost everything about the place, was just as you would find at home, with the exception that all the hamburger choices were made with chicken. (virtually no one in India would eat beef or pork) I ordered a “McSpicy Chicken Burger” with fries, and it was superb! Once we arrived in New Delhi, I met with the CEO of NIIT to brief him on my time at the university, which he had established two years earlier. We had a great conversation about GIS technology, and as I was leaving he gave me one of his favorite books, which he personally signed for me. Not only was he one of the wealthiest and most influential men in India, he was very bright, articulate, and humble, having risen from a poor, rural background. It was a real pleasure talking with him. Then it was time for my return to the Indian International Centre to check in for the next two nights before my return flight to Los Angeles. I went to the bar and enjoyed an ice cold liter bottle of Carlsberg beer as I sat outside in the warm, humid evening listening to the cacophony of birds in the park. Meanwhile, a fierce ceiling fan whirled above me, with little effect that I could tell. Later, I savored another delicious Indian dinner in the dining hall, along with a large number of scientists and researchers from around the world.

The next morning, I met with some of the technical staff in the Esri-India office before visiting the National Railway Museum nearby. I was amazed at the long history of railroads in India, dating back to the 1800’s when the country was an English colony. The 10 acre open-air museum was formally opened in 1977, dedicated to preserving the railroad heritage of India. Among the several dozen classic steam locomotives was the oldest operational steam locomotive in the world, the “Fairy Queen”, built in 1855. One of the most unique and fascinating collections was the “Patiala State Monorail Trainway”. It consisted of a single rail of iron track upon which the “load carrying” wheel ran. On the opposite side was one big steel wheel running on the ground to balance the load and keep the train upright. It was built in 1907 by Orenstein and Koppel of Berlin and remained in continuous operation until 1927.

Patiala State Monorail Trainway
Patiala State Monorail Trainway
Fairy Queen Steam Locomotive
Fairy Queen Steam Locomotive

At the other end of the spectrum of travel by rail was one of the most opulent and luxurious of the many plush private railcars that once transported Royalty and Maharajas around their kingdoms. The “Saloon of the Prince of Wales”, built for King Edward VII for his visit to India, was lavishly decorated with teak, velvet, gold, and ivory – several other saloon cars of similar luxury were also on display.

Saloon of the Prince of Wales
Saloon of the Prince of Wales

In stark contrast were the common passenger cars with their open air windows and hard wooden benches. I spent 2 hours walking amongst the old locomotives and railcars, and the experience was fascinating, despite the oppressive hot, humid weather. But I would not have missed this opportunity to visit the museum and see a unique part of Indian history. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Rail_Museum,_New_Delhi

Back at the Indian International Centre I decided to take a long walk through “Lodhi Gardens”, the huge park surrounding the centre. Not only did I enjoy the peace and quiet of the lovely tropical forest, I also discovered several beautiful 15th and 17th century mosques and tombs. Lodhi Gardens was once the estate of a powerful “Moghul” whose family ruled the region centuries ago. After walking through the gardens for a couple of hours (there were many young couples enjoying time together, away from their crowded homes), I returned to the bar at the centre for another ice cold Carlsberg before checking out.

Young couple walking in Lodhi Gardens
Young couple walking in Lodhi Gardens
Tomb of Mohammed Shah
Tomb of Mohammed Shah
Remains of Ancient Mosque in Lodhi Gardens
Remains of Ancient Mosque in Lodhi Gardens
15th Century Moghul tomb in Lodhi Gardens
15th Century Moghul tomb in Lodhi Gardens

Luckily, the trip to the airport went smoothly and soon I was checking in for the Swiss International flight to Los Angeles via Zurich. Flights from New Delhi to Europe typically depart around 1am, so as to arrive for the start of the business day at 7am. I was fortunate to be able to spend the time waiting for the flight in the new Lufthansa Business Class lounge – it was very comfortable and offered a wide selection of food and beverages. Once on board the flight to Zurich, we were served a very nice light Indian meal, and sleep came to me soon after.

Upon arrival in Zurich, I proceeded to the Swiss International arrivals lounge to take advantage of a shower and delicious breakfast. Since my connecting flight to LAX wasn’t scheduled to depart for another 6 hours, I decided to take a train to the small town of Zug in the heart of the Swiss Alps southwest of Zurich. It was a lovely journey through the Swiss countryside to the quaint old town on the shore of a beautiful lake and surrounded by spectacular snow-capped mountains. I spent a few hours walking around the town and along the lakeshore, taking photos and soaking up the historical atmosphere before boarding the train back to Zurich.

Lake Zug
Lake Zug
Town of Zug along lakeshore
Town of Zug along lakeshore
Town Square in Zug
Town Square in Zug
Rathskeller in Zug
Rathskeller in Zug

The 12 hour flight to LAX was once again smooth and very comfortable in Business Class. During the flight I watched a most interesting film titled “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”. The film is a romantic comedy-drama about a fisheries expert who is recruited by a consultant to help realize a sheikh’s vision of bringing the sport of fly fishing to the Yemen desert, initiating an upstream journey of faith to make the impossible possible. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salmon_Fishing_in_the_Yemen Finally we landed at LAX and I encountered very long lines to clear immigration and customs, as well as a long, frustrating ride back home in horrific freeway traffic. But despite the experience of my return home, I brought back a treasure of memories from amazing places and a bundle of beautiful photos. India can be uncomfortable at times and very frustrating, but it’s also one of the most interesting and fascinating places on earth. Visiting India takes a great deal of patience and tolerance if one hopes to enjoy the experience. And despite having traveled to India many times I still find the experience much the same – uncomfortable, fascinating, scary, beautiful, ugly, strange, unique – the list goes on, yet it remains one of my favorite destinations!