November 30, 2008

Notre Dame and the Latin Quarter

I visited the Notre Dame de Paris on my second day in the city, and met up with an outspoken Frenchman named Jacques there. We had worked together in Bangalore. Undergoing restoration for the past several years, the landmark Gothic cathedral still maintains its historic appearance even as many aspects of it have been modernized. The famous bells of Notre Dame are now rung by a motor, so a hunchback is no longer necessary to ring them manually. I walked in and around "Our Lady". Independent of my presence within it, the church contained a massive organ. It has around 7800 pipes and is fully computerized.

Jacques then took me to the Latin Quarter, a lively area full of restaurants. Located near several universities, the name of the district is derived from Europe's ancient language of learning. I enjoyed a donair at a food stall owned by South Indians. Jacques introduced me to the wonder that is Orangina. The carbonated beverage is a mix of several varieties of citrus. The French soft drink has high juice and orange pulp content, and I immediately became a fan. We went to a grocery store to pick up a large bottle before. Several drinks later we bade farewell.


"When a man understands the art of seeing, he can trace the spirit of an age and the features of a king even in the knocker on a door." - The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo

November 27, 2008


A friend of mine was leaving town so a goodbye dinner was scheduled for her on a Friday night. After wrapping up at work for the week I found myself with an hour to spare before I would rendezvous with my friends. The Vancouver Pride Parade was scheduled for that weekend. Parts of Davie Street, the heart of the city's gay district, had been closed to motorized traffic so that the "Big Night Out" street festival could take place.

I wandered the area, looking dazzling and attracting admiring gazes. Mayoral candidates were also out and about trying to gain favour with the community. A beer garden and a stage featuring musical performances had been set up. Beautiful men, muscular women, and others spanning the diverse spectrum of humanity were present. Almost 400,000 people attended the parade that Sunday, making it one of Vancouver's largest public events.

November 26, 2008

Finn Slough

On the south arm of the Fraser River lies one of the Greater Vancouver region's most unique communities. Finn Slough is a part of Richmond, but it has a character all its own. A slough (pronounced 'slew') is a marshy place or a side channel of a river. Finns are people hailing from Finland. A group of them first settled in this wetland area in the late 1800's. They built their homes by the dykes of the Fraser, fishing for a living. They could sail to the front door of their houses, which are built upon stilts or float with the tidal waves.

Nowadays many of the historic houses are in a state of disrepair. Some are still inhabited. Nature has also started to reclaim boats that lie abandoned in the marsh. the isolated community smoothly coexists with its surrounding environs, but its future is up in the air as the prospect of urbanization looms.

November 24, 2008

Morocco - Sands of Gold

After burning some of my vacation days in Portland and Puerto Rico, I decided to use up the remainder in a country that always intrigued me and a continent I had never set foot upon. Morocco would be my gateway to Africa.

I spent several days in Marrakech (or Marrakesh), escaping the hubbub of the city for a six day desert adventure and two separate day trips:
  • Marrakech
Desert Adventure:
  • Ouarzazate
  • Tazzarine
  • Merzouga
  • Erfoud
  • Tineghir
  • Todra Gorge
  • Dades Gorge
  • Ait Ben Haddou
Day Trips:
  • Ourika Valley
  • Essaouira

Over the days I would cross a variety of unpredictable terrain, with sand, snow, shops, and sea within hours of each other. The weather cooperated during my visit, with not a rainy day to be seen. The desert climate left me very warm during the day and quite chilly during the night. My complexion and diet both became olive. I traveled solo and as part of groups, and enjoyed a few dates along the way.

November 23, 2008

The Wagah Border

In 1947 India was partitioned into two sovereign nations by the British. India and Pakistan were born amidst much bloodshed and suffering, and a rivalry has existed ever since. Lahore, the capital of Pakistan, is only around 50 kilometers from Amritsar. The only road border between these two is located near the village of Wagah at the Attari-Wagah joint check post. The border crossing hosts a daily flag lowering ceremony at sundown. Soldiers from both countries shout patriotic slogans, march, and simultaneously lower the flags as onlookers cheer on from both sides.

Following a quick meal in Amritsar, we caught a local bus heading in the general direction of Pakistan. After taking the public bus as far as it would go, Stein and I hopped onto a cycle rickshaw, before walking the final few hundred metres to the border region. There was a festival atmosphere complete with spontaneous outbursts of dancing, tasty treats being sold by vendors, and lots of families with children present. As the time for the ceremony drew near, the soldiers wisely divided the crowd based on gender. A limited amount of stadium seating is available to watch the ceremony, and it is subdivided into sections for men and women. The unruly male segment of the crowd started pushing and climbing over each other in order to get a prime viewing position. It was reminiscent of the grape crushing portion of the wine making process. As the ceremony came to an end, everyone spilled on to the street to take photos with the soldiers, the large gate separating the two countries visible in the background.


"Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance."

- Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister on the eve of independence

November 22, 2008


After spending many hours copiously poring over thick textbooks during my university years I had lost my habit of recreational reading. A surplus of free time in India led to the resurrection of this hobby. As public libraries are uncommon in India, I borrowed books from roommates or coworkers or purchased them from sidewalk vendors. In the present, my arduous transit journey from home to work to home provides a daily 150 minute long time slot suitable for reading. Once (or if) I procure a seat I pull out my book to read or peruse one of the free newspapers that are distributed to the ridership.

A voracious reader, over the past two years I have enjoyed at least 32 books spanning from classics such as 1984 and Slaughterhouse Five to recent bestsellers such as The Kite Runner and The Da Vinci Code. Repeat authors appearing in my reading list are Rohinton Mistry, Michael Crichton, Paulo Coelho, Chetan Bhagat, Dan Brown, and W. Somerset Maugham. Non fiction such as Guns, Germs and Steel and Freakonomics or comedic relief in the form of 3 Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) provide a welcome change to the emotionally heavy efforts by writers of Indian origin. For instance, The Namesake and Fine Balance have their happy moments but are primarily depressing. A varied diet of books makes for an interesting read each and every time.

Shelfari: Book reviews on your book blog

November 02, 2008

Shatabdi Express to Amritsar

After a few days wandering around Delhi and a day trip to the Taj in Agra, it was time for Stein and I to head of to the Punjab. We had an early morning train to catch. Homeless people were still asleep on the floors of the train platform as we boarded the Shatabdi Express to Amritsar. The Shatabdi trains are the fastest in the Indian Railways fleet, equipped with such luxuries as air conditioning, a one litre bottle of packaged drinking water, and newspapers. Meals are also served on board. A little before lunchtime we arrived in Amritsar. A friend of a friend picked us up from the station and took us to the Golden Temple, the holiest site for followers of the Sikh faith.

After purchasing a pair of orange coloured bandanas to cover our heads we entered the place of worship. Guests are welcome to stay within the complex. Accommodation and food is provided to all. We were given a room in one of the niwases ("houses"). After making sure we were comfortable, the friend of a friend suggested we visit the Pakistani border and bid us farewell.

November 01, 2008

Burnaby Six Day

The Burnaby Six Day indoor track cycling championship at the Burnaby Velodrome was light on attendance but high in excitement. The velodrome is a part of the Harry Jerome Sports Centre on Burnaby Mountain. There was a considerably higher degree of difficulty in finding parking outside than seating inside. Around a hundred fans dotted the bleachers of the velodrome as some of Northa America's top cyclists zipped around at lightning fast speeds in front of them.

The track was 200 meters long, 6 meters wide, and had inclines up to 47 degrees at its steepest corners. The riders were clocking times of 10-20 seconds per lap. A minimum speed of 30 km/h must be maintained to keep balance, but speeds of 70 km/h are sometimes reached. A century ago six day races were extremely popular among North American sports fans, but unfortunately it faded from the public consciousness. This was only the second such race of the six day format held in Canada in the past 30 years.