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Hello all,

Greetings from India – a land of incredible contrasts
and craziness. We both love India and want to leave it
on a daily basis. The food is great and gives us
G-I problems more often than we really want to
talk about.

1) Hong Kong wrap up
2) Arrival in Delhi at 2 a.m.
3) Enchanted with the Taj Mahal
4) Delhi Sustainable Development Summit

A quick note: If you want your reply to go to Jen or
both of us, reply to her address (cc:ed), because
otherwise your response only comes to me (Rog).
Thanks!

1) Hong Kong wrap up

Hong Kong was an amazingly vibrant and hectic city,
densely packed, but with large amounts of undeveloped
green space within walking distance of the city center
on the island of Hong Kong. We took a ferry to Lantau
island from Kowloon where we were staying, and had a
lovely day hike through some scrub hills and
suprisingly saw no one the entire day aside from
ferries and cargo ships scuttling across the horizon.
Rog also almost stepped on a cobra that was probably
about 4 feet long (conservative estimate), but both he
and the cobra were really much happier when it
slithered off the trail.

Hong Kong also made us really rethink the benefits of
high density urban living. We’re both really strong
advocates of higher urban density and stopping suburban
sprawl; however, HK was a trying experience for us.
People are packed into little boxes stacked up for
20-100 stories. The advantages are that there is
virtually no street traffic except for the efficient
public transit bus system, since it is too expensive to
own and park a car. However, in most places there is
little to no natural light unless you reach the shore
of an island and green is non-existant except for
public parks.

There has to be some happy medium. We think that San
Francisco offers the right mix for us and both think
fondly of returning to our beloved city. We were only
too happy to leave HK once back in the mess of people
and towering concrete and steel jungle of Kowloon.

2) Arrival in Delhi at 2 a.m.

Hong Kong is dense with people, but at least the thick
crowds of people aren’t focusing all their attention on
you (as a traveler from the west). The New Delhi
airport at 2 a.m. is bustling, but managable. However,
once you get outside the terminal the rickshaw drivers
with their tiny, yellow 3-wheel contraptions begin the
heckling. We found a rickshaw and zipped into the
Paharganj tourist/backpacker section of New Delhi,
which normally is bustling like Khao San Road in
Bangkok most of the time, but unlike Khao San is dead
at 3 a.m. By pounding on a few hotel doors, we found a
room at “My Hotel” and crashed.

We stayed in Delhi only one day, long enough to get our
bearings and blow blow black snot from our noses a
dozen times a day – I’ve heard it was much worse in the
past, before many of the public buses and rickshaws
were converted to compressed natural gas. While in
Delhi, we visited the Red Fort, one of many defensive
military strongholds from Mughal era. It was built in
1638 by Shah Jahan, the same Mughal ruler that would
erect the Taj Mahal in Agra a few years later.
Ipressive red sandstone ramparts surround open
sandstone pavilions and many wonderful white marble
buildings with intricate inlaid work.

3) Enchanted with the Taj Mahal

In our opinion, Agra was much more architechtually
inspired than Delhi. The Taj Mahal, like Angkor Wat,
is
beyond words, but I’ll try to describe it anyway.
Sweeping vast white marble surfaces with the most
amazingly detailed marble inlay work with semi-precious
stones. A tiny one inch by one inch flower may contain
some 50-80 pieces of handhoned lapis lazuli, tigers
eye, onyx, malachite (sp?). We watched some
restoration work being done and it is understandable
why the structure took 22 years to build. However
beautiful the structure is and “inspired” Shah Jehan
may have been, he wasn’t necessarily that benevolent.
After the completion of the intricate work on the Taj,
he had the thumbs or hands of all the skilled workmen
who’d slaved on it cut off so that his masterpiece
could never be replicated.

One oddity: Indian men seem to like to be photographed
with Jen (and sometimes Rog gets to be in the picture).
While at the Taj we had several different groups of
young men come up and ask for photos with us and we
finally decided that it was going too far when some
felt at liberty to intimately hug or request kisses.
From now on, we charge 50 rupees per photo!

Also in Agra we visited the Itimad-ud-daulah or “Baby
Taj” as it is known, which was just as wonderful as the
crowded Taj Mahal simply because we had it all to
ourselves.

Agra was an interesting city in which to eat or more
appropriately: wonder about what you might be eating.
The current scam in Agra is pretty wicked. Hoteliers
poison your food and in your time of agonizing need
help you to get medical care that may be overpriced,
unneeded and perhaps tap your health insurance or
credit card account for unreasonable sums. Thankfully,
we managed to avoid being poisoned in part by eating
extra doses of samosas and other food from a reliable
source: street vendors.

Of course, in the last week plus, we have experienced
gastrointestinal aliments of various severity. We are
slowly adjusting to a whole new set of microbes in our
systems and are just trying to think of it as a fun
science experiment. “Ugh, I didn’t feel so great after
food from that guy, let’s try this one.” Dad, our use
of the scientific method would make you proud.

Another set of experiments that we’ve been working on
is how to get the hawkers; rickshaw wallhas;
shopkeepers; touts for hotels, restaurants, tailors;
beggars; con men and various other folks with an agenda
for our pocketbooks to leave us alone. This is not an
easy task and requires that the right mix of steely
determination, ignoring, repeating “No” over and over
again and physically removing the hands of folks that
take liberties with your personal space. However, it
is also necessary let down your guard long enough to
accept help from well meaning folks. This is a dance
and it’s often quite tough to not let ourselves get
jaded, frustrated or angry.

After Agra we went slightly west to Fatehpuhr Sikri, an
enchanting little town with another impressive fort.
It was lovely to hang out on the rooftop restaurant
looking across the uneven mischmash of houses and
straight up at the glorious 40 meter high gate of the
Fatehpuhr Sikri fort just a stone’s throw away.

Next up was a stop in Bharatpuhr, where we spent some
time at a well known bird and wildlife sactuary. The
place contains an estimated 354 species of birds
including a rare Siberian Crane, which migrates here.
The most exciting part of our bicycle trip through the
park however, involved a near attack by a white faced
monkey. While wandering past and through a troupe of
of these cute little guys, a confused and frightened
youngster ran very close to Roger and then began
shrieking loudly. A nearby male began baring his fangs
and making pseudo charges as Rog slowly backed away
(bearing his fangs too). After that, Rog was only too
happy to return to the safety of Delhi’s rickshaw
drivers.

4) Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS)

We returned to Delhi to attend the DSDS, which was both
very interesting, educational and frustrating. The
DSDS is a well known sustainable development summit for
developing nations and this year also served as a
preparatory meeting for the upcoming WSSD (World Summit
on Sustainable Development) which will take place in
Johannesburg, South Africa in September. (We had
planned to attend this event as well, but it
unfortunately won’t work logistically.)

The keynote address opening the conference was
delivered by the Prime Minister of India, Mr Atal
Bihari Vajpayee in which he highlighted several issues
of critical importance to the WSSD. It was pretty
exciting to be able to see the PM, considering how
difficult it is to see the U.S. president (not that we
care to this term!).

What is sustainable development? It sounds like a
bunch of jargony buzzwords and political bunk and many
politicians and corporations are still tossing around
these terms ad hoc because it sounds like good stuff
and constituents like good stuff. The generally
emerging consensus defination is that Sustainable
Development is eliminating poverty and ensuring social
development and empowerment of the poor while taking
into account environmental concerns and the ability of
the natural and physical environment to support these
endeavors.

We were encouraged by the discussion about financing
poverty eradication and how it is generally well
recognized both among the developing countries and the
developed countries that it is necessary to shift from
macro policy agenda (building big dams, etc) to one
focusing on widespread use microcredit (funneling funds
directly to communities and local groups).

Jen and I both piped up at several occasions and
peppered various speakers with questions. We were not
the lone voices of Non Governmental Organizations
(NGOs) at the conference, but we probably were the only
voices that came from direct action activist
standpoint. Most of the conference participants and
speakers were from government ministries, multinational
corporations or think tank/research oriented
organizations. This aspect of the conference was quite
surreal and it often felt like a festival of people who
talk a lot, but don’t always have a great idea of what
works on the ground.

We’d like to think that we shook the conference up at
least a little bit though. During Q&A sessions (the
only way that people could interact with the “big
decision makers”), Rog pushed dialog towards
controversial topics like “What is corporate social
responsibility?” and “Will the new mandate of
corporations that are bigger than most nation states
include more than just maximizing profits?”

Jen asked about what kinds of controls would be kept on
the biotech industry (which is being pushed by many
developing countries as a way to increase food supply
and nutrition), when in the U.S. we have already had
many problems related to the reliance on biotech (harm
to non-target insects, decline of diversity in seed
stocks, etc).

Unfortunately, more often than not, our questions were
mostly skirted. But many of the people in the audience
(many from NGOs themselves) were happy that someone had
spoken up!

For more information on the conference and links to
summary information about the talks, please check out:
http://teriin.org/dsds/

5) Next up

We’re now heading south to Rajastan, where many of
India’s most famous fortresses and palaces are. We
plan to spend about a week and a half checking out some
of the sights and the Barefoot College, a vocational
school inspired by Gandhi’s teachings. Then we’ll
decide if we will head back north, or way south to some
good beaches. Jen especially gets wound up with all
the aggressive peddling, constant noise, pollution and
leering men, so we think that a more chill environment
will probably do us both some good.

We love to hear from you, so please write when you can!
If you reply to this email, make sure that you cc both
of us. Thanks!

Lots of hugs,

Jen and Rog

Rog and Jen’s travels – some old stuff, some new stuff

This blog has a collection of the travel update emails that Jen and Rog compiled during our 2001-2002 round the world trip. We're off to do a bit more trekking around, and thought it would be nice import those old emails. Enjoy!

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