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My ATM Card# Is Widely Known

Published on May 10, 2007, by in India.

When I was in India I was shocked that the credit (and debit) card receipts at bank ATMs were displaying information that could make it easier for someone to access my account and steal money. (see SprangleBlog post) At the time, I thought the issue did not exist in the USA.

 
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“So, Mrs. Kennedy, aside from all that, how do you like Dallas?”

I just got an email from the online agency where I had booked the Heathrow Lodge, the budget hotel I stayed in during last week’s brief London layover. They want my review of the experience. Too late.  This detailed indictment had already been drafted and was being made ready for publication when that request arrived.

 
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Yep, it’s Pneumonia.

By the time I arrived in Mumbai, I had a fever of 102f (I keep a thermometer and a small first aid kit in my toilet kit).  Every deep breath and cough caused a powerful, sharp pain in my lower lungs. I was sweating and shivering at the same time. I was panting and slightly delirious. I suspected pneumonia – or worse.

 
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Overnight Train Mathura (Agra) to Mumbai

By now, my fantasy of  “Overnight Train to x x x ” has been exposed as poor romance, frustrating adventure and less than ideal transportation. Guess what? The overnight train from Mathura Junction to Mumbai reset the template. From the moment of arrival on the platform at the Mathura Station, to getting down on the platform in Mumbai Central, it was the train ride I’d been anticipating but didn’t find between Delhi and Varanasi – or between Varanasi and Agra.

 
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Souveniers

Published on October 26, 2006, by in Agra, India, Mumbai.

I am not one for souveniers. They just add to the baggage. Back in high school, studying Ceaser’s Gallic Wars, I learned that the Roman military word for baggage is “impedimenta”; just something that gets in the way.

 
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Painting with Light – Part 3

Shoes must be removed before going up the narrow marble stairs to the plaza and into the dome. The quiet intimacy of the past half-hour is rapidly dissipating as more and more people arrive. Now the shaded areas outside the perimeter of the plaza are attracting photographers seeking the right angle to capture the color. Examine the two last photos above. They are closeups from one of the larger pix further above. The spots of color are polished jewels set into the marble shell. In the low rays of the early morning sun, when you are in the same visual

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Painting with Light – Part 2

Now the sun is rising, just clearing the line of trees to the east, sliding from behind one of the corner minarets. The richness of its palate is revealed. The warmth of the sun is displayed across the eastern surfaces of the monument in appropriately butter-bright shades of yellow. Click on the photos.

 
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Painting with Light – Part 1

Understand up front that I’m not going to fudge on my resolution to avoid adjectives to describe the Taj Mahal. But the photos in the mini-album embedded in this post deserve explaining. At times I may need a “word that describes a quality of a thing” to clarify what’s in those pix. Sometimes I’ll need to modify something in the experience, other than the building itself. The genius and artistry of the Taj Mahal is not limited to placement, form and scale. The masterful exploitation of light, within and without the tomb, raises the site to a level not seen,

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Dawn at the Taj Mahal

I was the first person at the ticket window when it opened at 6am. Once inside the gate I lingered briefly along the pathway to the portal that frames the Taj Mahal itself. I wanted a little more light before I encountered the view. Birds in the trees that lined the tiled path were warbling musically to each other. The air was calm. The heat of the day had not yet intruded. A fountain splashed water on the flowers at its base. As I passed through the portal, I saw a couple who had preceded me by a few minutes.

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The Taj Mahal – Late Afternoon Album #1

After a nap, a great hot shower, fresh clothes and an excellent sandwich in the garden of the amzingly cheap and cheerfully green garden of the Guest House, I climbed into the back of a three-wheeler and roared off to see the Taj Mahal before it closed at 6pm.   The authorities have wisely banned motor vehicle traffic at a point some 200 or so yards short of the western gate to the grounds. This not only cuts down on the air pollution and motor noise, but it requires that tourists walk the narrow street lined with souvenier shops and

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The Ineffable Taj Mahal

I’m not going to try to describe the Taj Mahal. To do so is impossible. Far better writers than me have said so. Confronted with it at dawn, and then at sunset, and again in the moonlight, Mark Twain declined to describe the monument except in an oblique way. The handful of pages he devotes to the Taj Mahal include the most candid passages he ever wrote about the limits of his skills.

 
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A Ganges Morning Album

No text . . . just an album of what I saw this morning from 6 am until around 8:30am. Click on any photo to enlarge.

 
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Twilight Above the Ganges

Last night at twilight, as I was standing on the balcony of my hotel room, high above the broad sweep of the Ganges River, temple bells were tolling and puffs of the late freshening breeze carried small gusts of distant chanting. (Now tell me, honestly, could there ever be a more promising start to a story than that?) 

 
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Dawn on The Ganges

Published on October 23, 2006, by in Ganges River, India, Varanasi.

It’s 5 am. The Ganges River tour along the waterfront of Varanasi starts from the bathing ghat directly in front of the guest house, just as the sky to the east begins to lighten sufficiently to reveal the steps down to the water’s edge. The air is calm. This morning, there is a layer of clouds just high enough to be picking up a diffuse pink glow.

 
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Varanasi and the Ganges from a Balcony

The wide balconies of the Scindhia are the very definition of what American southerners call “a catbird seat,” the perfect spot where one sits just high enough to be un-noticed from below and just enough to the side that you can see faces, not merely the tops of heads. Life on the path and plaza and nearby temples and schools flows as steadily as the river itself.  Directly below to the left, stairs lead down from the heights and continue right on into the river. Next to them is a patch of land that is literally covered in cow dung.

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The Burning Ghats of Varanasi

Varanasi is widely spoken of as the holiest city of all to the Hindu faithful. Here, the democracy of that faith’s theology – and its contradictions -are evident.

 
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The Scindhia Balconies Above the Ganges

Over the course of my days in Varanasi I learned there are other places to stay along the river. Some of them will appear high up and in the background of photos taken during the Dawn on the Ganges below. But, as the photos here and in other posts demonstrate, none have the broad, open-air balconies that give virtually every Scindhia room these awesome vistas. Click on photos to expand them. For example, look at the range, down and across the Ganges. These are the views directly outside the door to my room. The hotel layout offers one long, common

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The Maze

The free ride in a three-wheeled auto-rickshaw from the Varanasi train station to the Scindhia Hotel was far and away the wildest I’ve ever had in my 73 years of traveling the world. It was a real live version of the roller coaster that many know as “The Mouse.” The driver was the most aggressive I’ve ever seen, passing on the outside of  curves at full speed against oncoming cars, trucks and rickshaws. At some places along the way, the opposing streams of traffic were divided by a low, narrow wall of concrete – which we ignored. At some intersections

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Finding My Way Out of the Station

The arrival platform at Varanasi was no less tumultuous and disorderly than the departure venue at Delhi the night before . . . utter, absolute, overwhelming chaos.

 
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Overnight Train Delhi to Varanasi

This was not the deluxe train I’d expected. The carriage was probably 40 or 50 years old. Everything was the same shade of pale green one sees in the below-ground corridors of hospitals and governmental buildings around the world.

 
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Brown Bread Cafe

Published on October 22, 2006, by in India, Varanasi.

At Noon I am in Varanasi in an Internet carrel at The Brown Bread Bakery, also known as Olio Restaurant and Ice-Cream Parlor, also known as OM Cyber Cafe, also known as Harashita Sarees and Silk Emporiium, all in a space not much larger than the necessary room in modern home. The welcome is much larger. The computer I used to check my email contained a ton of spyware but after downloading, installing and running Ad-Aware, the free spyware cleaner from www.lavasoft.com, I found and removed 160 infections. I also showed the owner how to do this daily from now

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The Delhi Train Station

It is a scene that Bruegel might have painted in a fever or Dante reserved for one of the innermost circles of Hell.

 
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Open For Business

Published on October 21, 2006, by in India.

What a shock. I just used my debit card at a Bank of India ATM in Delhi to withdraw pocket cash. WARNING – do not casually discard the little printed receipt that the machine spits out at you along with the cash.

 
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I Think I Saw This Marx Bros’ Movie

Published on October 21, 2006, by in Delhi, India, Trains.

I had spent too much time shopping in the Karol Bargh Market and the other in Paharganj, followed by a final afternoon enjoying rest of the fantastic Delhi Metro system, that I  did not get back to the Megha Sheraton, to pick up my bags, until 5:10pm, almost 1/2 hour later than I had been advised. That put everything at risk. I was to pay the price, literally, in sweat and rupees.

 
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Gandhi’s Memorial Park (Gandhi Rajghat)

Published on October 19, 2006, by in Delhi, India.

New Delhi is one of the most over-populated, dense, crowded, jammed together, claustrophobic, delimited, pressed in, bethronged, enjostled, cramped, packed, crushed, squeezed, tight, heaped, swarmed, mobbed, clogged cities in the world. Even more so than the previous sentence.

 
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Lost in Delhi; Found in Manhattan

Published on October 19, 2006, by in Delhi, India.

I was fortunate in the taxi driver I’d hired for a day-long tour of New Delhi highlights chosen from my guidebooks and research.

 
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Henna Hands

Published on October 18, 2006, by in Delhi, India.

For henna painting on your hands, world-class artists are sitting on the main street that runs through Delhi’s Paharganj district. Here’s a sample . . . Click on the image to enlarge. This is done every year at this time for the festival of Karwa Chauth. (http://www.karwachauth.com/the-legend-of-karwa-chauth.html) Two artists work simultaneously. One works the left hand, and the other creates the exact mirror image design on the other. This took about 20 minutes. I didn’t ask the price because there’s a basic marketplace rule around the world . . . if you are not serious about buying, don’t ask.

 
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The Delhi Metro

Published on October 15, 2006, by in Delhi, India, Trains.

This modern transit system (Delhi Metro Wikipedia entry) is a hugely refreshing surprise. It’s also a bit humbling. I don’t know a single city in all the USA that has anything of this size and quality even under discussion . . . and Delhi’s system here is almost 90% complete. See the Delhi Metro web site. And here’s a photo gallery that shows how modern, clean and comfortable the Metro system is in this “impoverished, third-world” country. 

 
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Not Good At All- Dengue Fever in India

Published on October 7, 2006, by in India.

News online says there is a dengue fever outbreak in Delhi. Here’s the report from a newspaper there.

 
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Let’s Call This a Training Session for India

Travel confounds your assumptions and habits. Where I am now, in Australia, exit signs are green. Cars drive on the left side of the road and pedestrians generally follow the same sinister path.

 
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Finding India

What a ridiculous conceit, to research India, armed with a Google search button, a Barnes and Noble discount membership and a Public Library card. I don’t want the pale lightbulb of vicarious information; I want the fire of experience. I know that even a few weeks of that will be inadequate. After all, India is the source of the cautionary tale of the blind men invited to describe an elephant after running their hands over the part nearest at the moment. The one at the trunk said it was a firehose; men at the legs said it’s a tree; the

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Who’s Got the Lowest Price?

The Emperor Franz Joseph famously complained that Mozart’s music has “too many notes.” My version of that, probably as lazy and ill-informed as his, says there are too many choices online for buying air tickets.

 
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ants . . .

. . . in my pants. Sand in my shoes. Wander in my lust. It’s been an entire year (August 2005) since I lived out of my suitcase and I’m getting horny for it’s intimate embrace. Of course, thanks to the war criminals in the White House, our economy – and more specifically – the value of the US Dollar as international currency, has declined near to that of toilet paper. When you persist in an illegal war that costs billions per month – and hide its fiscal consequences by failing to either raise taxes or sell war bonds to

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Do You Sprangle?

Sprangle – (definition: “going in all directions“) That’s what I’m doing. No, this is not about my uncontrolled waistline, nor does it refer to my expansive ego. It’s about travel – travel in many directions, local and far – and in many modes, formal and informal. BTW – speaking of “all directions” that’s not a rug in this photo, just a lousy haircut. On Sep 14th, 2006 I’ll be off again on another pilgrimage from Jersey City, NJ USA to Manly Beach, NSW, Australia. In addition to the 4 weeks in Oz, I’ll finish up that trip with my usual sprangle

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