Northern India: Delhi, Agra and across Rajasthan

Darlene and I joined a small group trip in Northern India in late January, booked through Explore!. The tour began in Delhi and traveled across much of the Rajasthan region of northern India before finishing off in Agra and returning to Delhi after two weeks.  We then took a little extra three day excursion to Rathambore National Park in search of tigers to cap off our visit to India.

We had a fun group of the nine of us (everyone from the UK but us), plus our wonderful Indian tour leader Inder Singh (“Indu”).  We also had an additional local guide at many of the historical sites we visited.  India proved to be quite the experience – from the crazy anything-goes, honk-to-be-heard traffic of every form and size to the innumerable historic sites and temples to the massive crowds of super-friendly Indian people everywhere.  Oh and of course so many curries and other Indian dishes to try!

Here’s a taste of our adventure in the form of a 10-minute video montage:

A 10-minute video montage of our trip. (Smaller/lower quality version here)

Starting in busy Delhi, we visited a number of temples, tombs and a mosque over two days before traveling by train into Rajasthan. In Ajmer, we visited one of the oldest mosques in India and, not being a place visited by foreign tourists, we were approached by lots of folks wanting to take selfies with us.  That evening we stayed at a rural Maharaja’s palace now converted into a heritage hotel where we were treated to an ox cart ride into the neighboring village.

   

We visited the massive Chittorgarh Fort the next day on our way to Udaipur in the south.  In Udaipur, we saw a performance of Dharohar folk dancing and toured the City Palace before Darlene and I succumbed to a tiring cold and missed out on the boat tour across Lake Pichola as well as a demonstration of miniature detail painting.  We were feeling better the next day as we continued on to Jojowar, stopping off at a beautiful Jain temple.

   

Our next stop was to see a demonstration of handcrafted Dhurrie rugs by Roopraj Prajapat – and have the whole group tempted into buying some rugs!  We then continued on to visit the Mehrangarh Fort and Palace as well as visit another busy street market in Jodhpur.

 

Then we were on to a long drive and our deepest point into the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, to Bikaner.  Along the way, we visited the Karni Mata “Temple of Rats” where tens of thousands of rats make a home and are cared for, worshipped and given offerings.  (While Darlene waited in the bus. ;-)  In Bikaner, we were given a tour of the Junagarh fort and palace, saw some havelis (traditional highly decorated mansions) while exploring a street market, visited another miniature painting artist and the girls got painted in henna while the boys played foosball.

   

On the way to Jaipur, we took a driving break  to see some more havelis in Fatehpur.  With two days in Jaipur, we toured the Amber Fort and Palace, visited the astronomical observatory park of Jantar Mantar and the City Palace but also were treated to more Indian handcraft demonstrations – few came away from there empty-handed!

And yet on we continued to Agra for the Taj Mahal, the Red Fort of Agra and the Baby Taj mausoleum, with a stopover at another red sandstone fort at Fatehpur Sikri.

   

On our return to Delhi, the rest of our group headed home to England while Darlene and I boarded a train for Rathambore in hopes of seeing Bengal tigers in the wild.  Unfortunately, none were to be found on our three excursions into the park over two days.  Hey, but Darlene bought some more Indian handicrafts!

It was a great trip overall but I admit to being put off by the constant street crowds, the noise and air pollution and the garbage strewn everywhere – lining the streets and filling the river beds.  However, we’re both still happy to have had the opportunity to visit India and we very much enjoyed our group and Indu’s enthusiastic guiding.

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Red Rock Canyon

We reached the final destination of our road trip down SR95 on New Year’s Eve: Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The area is full of scenic trails, grand vistas, gorgeous rock formations and lots of bouldering and rock climbing opportunities. As usual, we found places to camp along dirt roads on nearby BLM land.

 

Due to Red Rock Canyon’s popularity and close proximity to Las Vegas, you have to purchase a timed entry reservation online to access the scenic loop road and its associated trailheads but the system works well.  One thing I’d recommend to make the most of your time is to spend a day exploring the Calico Hills area from the other side – from the free-to-access Calico Basin area – so that you can have more time for other trails on the day you reserve entry to the scenic loop.

   

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Rhyolite Ruins, Desert Art and Wild Burros

Continuing south on SR95 from Tonopah and Goldfield, we came through Beatty and reached the Goldwell Open Air Museum a little before sunset:

 

We spent the next two nights in a spot in the hills outside Beatty and ventured out on our bikes to explore and visit the remains of the mining town, Rhyolite.  We also encounter some wild burros both out in the desert and in the middle of the town of Beatty.

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International Car Forest of the Last Church

Next stop along Nevada’s SR95: another once-booming mining town, Goldfield, and the International Car Forest of the Last Church:

There’s a few old buildings and several collections of abandoned mining gear in town.  We skipped those but did swing by the old “pioneer” graveyard in the outskirts of town to see some unusual epitaphs:

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Mirrors, Dunes, Clowns and Mines

To continue our road trip down SR95 in Nevada, we returned from our Berlin ghost town detour and camped out near Tonopah at the base of the Crescent Sand Dunes, in sight of a solar concentrating power plant:

The following day, we visited the freaky fun Clown Motel and the neighboring graveyard from Tonopah’s early mining days:

But we spent most of the day checking out the very interesting Tonopah Historic Mining Park:

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Berlin / Ichthyosaur State Park

The day after Christmas, Darlene and I headed out in the camper van for a road trip down the western side of Nevada. Starting from the Tahoe house, our first stop heading south along SR95 was an overnight stay at Walker Lake:

Passing through Hawthorne the next morning, we then took a major detour off SR95 to visit Berlin /Ichthyosaur State Park –both a silver mining ghost town and a significant fossil site for ichthyosaurs.  We enjoyed seeing and reading about this history of Berlin but unfortunately, the fossil site building has very limited hours in the winter so we could only peer in the window.

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Barbie Movie Night

Geof, Jennifer, Clay, Adriana and Nacho (behind the camera) joined us to watch the “Barbie” movie…

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Mark’s Retirement Party

Mark organized a party to celebrate his retirement from FileMaker/Claris, gathering together old and new coworkers at K1 Speed in Santa Clara for some electric go kart racing.  The go kart racing was fun but it was really great to see everybody again!

I rented their provided cameras for the first two of our three runs.  The first run wasn’t captured (they didn’t start it properly) but here’s our second run:

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Peterson Automotive Museum

After our stay in Anaheim to visit the Disney parks, we spent a couple of hours on Friday at the Peterson Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.  They’ve got a large collection of historic and iconic cars including vehicles from Hollywood movies featured in various changing exhibits.  There’s currently a large Tesla exhibit there which was unexpectedly pretty cool.

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A Return to Disneyland

Darlene and I decided to make a little road trip last week to Anaheim to visit the Disney parks.  It had been 27 years since I’d been to Disneyland, a little longer for Darlene, and neither of us had ever been to Disney’s California Adventure Park.  Happily, Hoan was able to join us for the day at Disneyland.

 

We were all most impressed with the new-to-us Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge area in Disneyland. It was fun to see both old and new stuff, including the holiday versions of classics like the Haunted Mansion and Small World.  At California Adventure Park, we were impressed with the many detailed environments created around the park, but particularly the Radiator Springs area from the Pixar “Cars” movie. Some rides weren’t available at each park though – like the Indiana Jones ride was under maintenance all week and several had delayed openings or multiple temporary breakdowns.  We actually missed out on Space Mountain entirely as it broke down during our assigned window late in the day.

Unfortunately, despite our mid-week attendance, the normal standby lines were often pretty awful (often 50-80 minutes) and Disney’s paid extra “fast pass” Genie+ system isn’t that great.  You can only schedule something every 90 minutes, the most popular ride in each park isn’t included and you’re often assigned a window several hours later so you don’t really get to make use of the “lightning lanes” very many times over the course of the day.  Plus, as we experienced, there’s no recourse if the ride breaks down during your assigned window.

Anyway, on the third day we rested, had lunch in the Downtown Disney District between the parks, attempted (and failed) at an escape room in Irvine and met up with Hoan’s family for dinner.

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Eclipse from the Ruby Mountains

Scouting over maps of the path of October 14’s annular eclipse, I spotted a potentially nice area to view it in the lovely Ruby Mountains of central Nevada (south of Elko) – an area I had never explored before. Darlene was off to visit Maine with her sister and Hera had been having more health issues but she seemed to have stabilized again when I decided to go ahead and pack up my bike and telescopes in the van and head out a couple days in advance to secure a nice spot.

I found a spot with a gorgeous panoramic view on Harrison Pass that was somewhat isolated from the access road – and the soon-to-be-gathering small crowd of vehicles and campers.  I set up and tested my cameras and telescopes the day before the eclipse and also did a bit of exploring by mountain bike on what turned out to be some nasty steep ATV roads.

Two-minute video of the annular eclipse

The sky started out fairly clear as the eclipse began but unfortunately the cooling air seemed to form more and more clouds as the time of max eclipse approached.  It looked like we were going to be completely overcast and I could see and hear lots of folks jumping in their cars and driving down the highway to try to find some open sky.  As it turned out though, the clouds thinned enough to give a filtered view of the full annular “ring of fire”.  And sure enough, the clouds dissipated as the moon began to uncover the sun again.  Maybe a mountain ridge viewing point wasn’t such a great idea given that mountains tend to attract cloud cover even without the cooling effect of an eclipse.  At any rate, the eclipse viewing was a success.

 

I decided to cut the trip short due to Hera’s deteriorating health but then the van broke down as I got to Elko: check engine light on and lots of codes saying half the cylinders were misfiring – and on a Sunday when all the repair shops are closed.  I eventually got a 24/7 mobile mechanic service to check it out but they recommended taking it to the one Ford dealer in town as it was going to be an extensive diagnosis and repair, and should be under warranty anyway.  (Only 21,000 miles on the van.)  Apparently driving it too far in this state could cause serious engine damage so I spent two nights in the Ford service parking lot.  First waiting for them to open on Monday morning and then waiting most of Monday for a technician to become available. Something’s failed with the VCT (variable camshaft timing) system and it’s going to be a multi-day repair job (engine take-apart) but they can’t even locate parts right now due to the UAW strike including closures of many parts warehouses across the country.  So I decided to rent a minivan, transfer everything out and head home with Hera.  Once again, the van is kaput and in a shop far away.


Update (11/10/2023): It took three weeks but eventually the UAW strike ended and they repaired the engine over three days.  Darlene and I drove out in my car (with Hera) to pick it up.

Before heading out of Elko, I noticed the fresh water tank was empty – which seemed very weird.  Why would they go to the trouble to find and open the dump valve?  We found a place to refill and it was nearly full before I stepped out and noticed all the water draining through the side door of the van.  Turns out the water pump filter/strainer had burst.  I should’ve emptied the tanks and pipes before leaving it because it apparently got cold enough to freeze and bust things.  I didn’t think about it before I left the van there amidst all the worry about the engine failure, my sick cat and being stranded in Elko for who knows how long.

The scary thing was that the water was flooding the electrical compartment.  It was right on the edge of submerging the fuse box.  It was dumb luck I caught it when I did.  I don’t know what would’ve happened – shorted out, started a fire?  Anyway, I stopped the fill and we sat there for a while letting things drain before moving the van for fear of shifting the water and making contact and then who knows what.

When we got home I investigated further and found that I was able to replace the little $10 pump filter part and there were no other leaks.
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Carson/Ebbetts Passes

One year after the camper van was rear-ended and a very long time at a body ship plus several more months getting rebuilt and outfitted, Darlene and I (and Hera) were finally able to head out in the van again for some exploration. We ended up camping out in four different dispersed spots we found over not quite two weeks in an area of the Sierra Nevada between Carson and Ebbetts Passes (often near the Pacific Crest Trail), going exploring by mountain biking, hiking and geocaching.

 

We had nice weather the whole time except for some wildfire smoke that started to blow in on the last couple of days.  We cut the trip a couple days short to avoid getting caught out in a bit of snow forecast for the higher elevations.

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A Tahoe Layover

Heading out in the newly restored camper van, Darlene and I had a bit of an unexpected layover in Tahoe as several house maintenance and repair chores ended up taking a lot more time and Hera developed a new health issue.  We did take a few days off for some mountain biking including some of the trails from the house near Brockway Summit and taking the Emigrant Trail out to Stampede Reservoir from Prosser Creek.

We also joined Mike and Nanci on the Flume Trail (a well known trail that overlooks Lake Tahoe along the east shore).  We started at Spooner Lake, climbed up to Marlette Lake where Mike went for a brief swim and we took a snack break:

We then joined the Flume Trail where Mike promptly tumbled off trail somehow and tangled himself in his bike frame. Happily no one chose to tumble off the steep slopes of the Flume Trail proper but then Nanci had a nasty fall on the ride down the Tunnel Creek Road.  With help from several others, we ended up waiting for emergency services to drive a buggy up to treat her with pain meds and move her down to a waiting ambulance.  At the Truckee hospital, she was found to have broken a clavicle and a rib.  Ouch, not the most fun way to end the day!

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Summer Board Gaming

This is a gallery of pictures from another summer season of board gaming, including: 49, Flamecraft, Plague Inc., Thunder Road: Vendetta, Yedo, Merv, Atlantic Star, Eclipse, Middle Earth Quest, Chinatown, Quacks of Quedlinburg, Dominant Species, Dead by Daylight, Camel Up!, Hegemony, Clank! Catacombs, Evolution: Climate, Cosmic Encounter, Brian Boru: High King of Ireland, Horrified, Heroes of Land, Air & Sea, Burgle Bros 2: The Casino Capers, Game of Thrones, Bus, The Networks, Thunderstone Quest, Campaign Trail and Heat.

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Whose Live Anyway?

 

Darlene and I were able to join Nicole, Luno and Nacho in Salinas for a live show from the Whose Line Is It Anyway? crew last Friday – they’re currently on tour.  Darlene and Nicole even went up on stage to participate in their “move the frozen improv actor” game.  (No pictures during the performance.)

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Home Theater Upgrade: Taller Screen

With more and more “blockbuster” movies being released in tall aspect ratios (apparently optimizing for IMAX screens) or even frequently switching aspect ratios midstream (Christopher Nolan!!), my existing, 12-foot wide 2.4:1 aspect ratio screen hasn’t been so useful as it used to be.  These taller aspect ratios meant that the image ends up quite constrained, not using much of the screen real estate to the left and right.

So I finally decided to go through the trouble of buying and installing a new screen.  It’s the same width as before (12 feet) but now in a 16:9 aspect ratio.  So now I’ll have “Constant Image Width” (CIW) rather than “Constant Image Height” (CIH).

It’s another retractable screen (Luxus) from Stewart Filmscreen using the same screen material (Ultramatte 130 and still 30% gain) but this new unit was quite a bit heavier than the old one.  It weighs somewhere between 125-150 lbs depending on which documentation you believe.  I installed another set of mounting blocks with 2×6’s on the wall to clear the window sill but there was no way just two of us could lift it in place.  Four of us were able to do it though! Many thanks to Tim, Geof, Jennifer, Richard and Nacho for volunteering to help Darlene and me:

Old vs New (2.4:1 vs 16:9)

The new taller screen is filled out wonderfully with the likes of all those tall aspect ratio movies – making these films feel much more immersive again.  And so far, the upper and lower “black bars” with 2.4:1 material haven’t been distracting.

Some movies (like Tron: Legacy) like to switch aspect ratios.

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