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Category: 2016

The Palaces and Temples of Udaipur, India

The Palaces and Temples of Udaipur, India

Udaipur has been described as one of the most romantic cities in India. The sites certainly have a romantic ambience, especially when you dine at one of the many rooftop restaurants after sunset. But romance was merely a bonus for us as we focused on taking in the Rajasthani culture.

Day One: We started our first day in Udaipur walking to the Hindu Temple in the center of the city.

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We were astounded by the carvings that covered the building.

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I especially liked these elephants.

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Then we headed to the City Palace – which is actually a very large complex.

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Here, we got a sense of the grandeur of the Rajput kingdoms. As the audio tour told us, the Rajputs were larger than life. The carrier pigeon room and elephant fight wall assured us of that.

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The elephant wall is still there, but this photo better captures its spirit. There were also several tiger transport cages not pictured here.

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Day Two: We decided to go on a day trip to the Kumbhalgarh Fort and the Ranakpur Jain Temple – both about an hour outside of Udaipur. The Kumbhalgarh Fort includes the second longest wall in the world, after the Great Wall of China.

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Inside the wall, we visited several temples and the palace, all abandoned.

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The palace at the top of the hill was particularly spooky – with no staging furniture, yet painting still on the walls. This base board depicts elephants behaving badly.

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Here you can see the wall stretch on…but it goes much further than we can see. We could have spent a whole day here – apparently if you follow the wall it takes you to the jungle.

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Then we headed to Ranakpur, a town with a particularly spectacular Jain temple.

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The entire building is craved out of white marble, creating a peaceful and awe-inspiring effect.

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There are 1,444 unique pillars in this temple.

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And many beautiful carvings.

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The day trip to Kumblahgarh and Ranakpur was surprisingly cheap – only 2000 rupees (US$30) for a private car all day. The two sites are about 2hours from Udaipur. Our driver also took us to a scenic, reasonably priced restaurant for lunch. It was all set up by our hotel, Mewargarh Palace.

Not pictured here, we also attended a Rajasthani dance performance at Bagore Ki Haveli. Although meant for tourists, the venue is unique and the dancers were very talented. We had dinner at one of the Havelis – which had a beautiful rooftop view of the lake and the palaces. Although our time was short in Udaipur, we were able to do a lot in this small, culture-rich city.

The Top 5 Best Podcasts Out There, IMHO

The Top 5 Best Podcasts Out There, IMHO

Traveling the world for the past seven months has allowed me to become somewhat of a Podcast connoisseur. To prepare for the frequent days spent in planes, trains, and busses, I’ve scoured ‘Top 10’ podcast lists on the internet, scrolled through what’s most popular on itunes, and enlisted the help of my friends on Facebook. The result has been several months of sampling a long and eclectic list of podcasts. So, what are the best podcasts out there? Here, in no particular order, are my 5 favorite:

1) This American Life, RadioLab, Serial

OK, ok… I know it’s cheating to put three podcasts in one slot but I didn’t want to clutter up a Top 5 list with three super obvious choices. You probably already know about these three anyway. If not, here’s a quick overview.

This American Life is the godfather of all that we know in the podcast realm. For a good 15 years Ira Glass and company held the torch of interesting radio programming nearly all by themselves. And they’re still producing stories that surpass nearly anything else in the podcast world. Their two part series last year on segregation in education, for instance, may have been the most important Ed reporting I saw in 2015. They have a collection of some of their favorites on the website.

RadioLab is just brilliant. There’s a reason Jad, the creator and co-host, received a MacArthur fellowship. The show is dedicated to curiosity in a playfully rigorous kind of way. The journey is the destination here. They’re comfortable with investigation without the burden of conclusion. Give them a shot and you will be too.

Serial. Well, I’m guessing you’ve heard about Serial. It’s great.

2) Love + Radio

Love + Radio is unlike any other podcast. Each episode opens with a voice, someone who has a story to tell or who has just lived a crazy or unique life. Then you’re with that voice for essentially the entire show with almost zero setup or narrating. It takes a little work from the listener, like reading a really great but kind of heavy novel, but it pays off in the end. People say that great art gives us opportunities to empathize more deeply with other people. Love + Radio is an example of what that can look like.

3) Intersection

There are a lot of interview-format podcasts, but this newish one by Jamil Smith of The New Republic is easily my favorite. It’s built on the quickly rising concept of intersectionality: the idea that race and gender, and all our various identities, are inextricably wrapped up in each other. Jamil’s mind is wicked sharp. In an age of headline-rigor conversations, knee-jerk liberalism, and identity politics, Jamil’s questions push listeners to explore the many beautiful layers of the people interviewed, and he’s not afraid to wade into the complexities of the greater world. There’s a casual poignancy to his tone. The empathy piece I mentioned before? That happens here too.

4) Reply-All

This is ostensibly a show about the internet, and its hosts can be a bit – well, ‘geeky.’ Especially PJ. But the show is pretty brilliant and most of it is only loosely ‘about the internet.’ For instance, they played the story of a grandmother who organized a protest that led to the resignation of a country’s vice-president. It’s ‘about the internet’ because it started with a Facebook event. Although, they do have a couple tech-specific recurring segments that have taught me a lot about the twitterverse. Overall just super interesting stories, and the theme song from The Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder gets you hooked from the start of each episode.

5) The Message

Has the military really declassified a message that could possibly be from aliens? Is it true that the people who have studied it have all died mysterious deaths? I don’t know. Why don’t you check out The Message? The episodes are super short and there aren’t that many of them.

Alright. I hope some of this is useful. I have episodes of all of these (except The Message) cued up for my 50 hours of transit over the next 2 weeks. With so much quality entertainment lined up, I’m almost looking forward to the journeys.

Please feel free to comment with your own recommended Podcasts below.

  • Will

Oh! If you speak Spanish, or want to brush up in a serious way, check out Radio Ambulante. It’s like This American Life, but a bit more intense and focused on Latin America.

Students Are Not Rational Beings, They’re Emotional Ones

Students Are Not Rational Beings, They’re Emotional Ones

A young girl speaks up first: “Before Maya I wasn’t confident in how I talk with people and I wasn’t sure what my life would be like in the future. But Maya has given me the chance to say ‘Yes, there are lots of things to do in life.’” The kids around her nod and smile. All of the children in the circle are between 11 and 15 years old, and they all come from very low-income communities in Pune, India. In 2014 they were part of an original musical called ‘Maya’ that they performed for over 10,000 people across India.

Another student speaks up, “What Maya was for me, it was a platform for us kids to figure out, ‘what is our light,’ and what is our potential, and how can we use it in different ways, to help other kids or spread the knowledge that we have… I have grown in Maya. My confidence has increased. Now I can talk to people with more confidence…” Most educators would be glowing with pride if their students spoke like this, but Sanaya, the facilitator, has heard this all before and she doesn’t seem impressed. She cuts into the dialogue, “OK, I’m going to push you a little more. All of your confidence has increased. None of you spoke earlier, all of you speak now. What else?” A murmur of giggles rises in the circle and Sanaya looks up to Elizabeth and I, “At the beginning, they didn’t speak more than a few words of English. They were quite shy. They didn’t have opinions and if they did, they were afraid to voice them.” She looks back to the students, “OK, beyond that?”

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The students don’t miss a beat. A young boy speaks up, “If we don’t know something, we used to leave it. We used to not ask about it. But after Maya, we learned to ask ‘Why?’ If we’ve been taught something we ask, ‘Why does this happen?’ or ‘What is the reason behind this?’ The reasoning skills that we have, have increased.”

Another girl chimes in, “I’m more aware of the things that I want to do in my life and the things that I did wrong. Maybe I’m a little confused about things, and about what’s happening in my life, or around me. But I’ve started thinking more about what’s going on around me. I’ve started to become more wise. Now I ask, ‘What is the right thing to do?’”

Maya is a program of Teach For India, an organization similar to, but distinctly different from, Teach For America. Maya came about because TFI kept telling their adult fellows that they should focus on values and expose students to experiences in addition to academics. The trouble was that they didn’t have any real examples of what this meant. TFI decided to start a program dedicated to values development and student voice. At about this time, there was a fortuitous introduction to someone connected to Tony Award winning talent from Broadway. The arts seemed like a good place to start and the idea for Maya began to form.

The results are unquestionable. Not only did the students eventually perform an original and elaborate musical (about Maya, a princess who fights to bring light back to her kingdom and, in the process, finds the light inside herself) but their academic test scores ended up over 50% higher than other TFI students across the country. Maya did have a minor academic component where they would break down vocabulary and discuss the musical’s script as a text. But there wasn’t nearly enough time dedicated to this type of discussion to account for a 50% difference in test scores.

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The students in Maya talk about the group as a family. They highlight the importance of trust and the fact that their individual voices are valued. It turns out that when young people feel part of a positive peer community like this, it has an immeasurably powerful effect that ripples through every other part of their lives.

Too often we treat children like they are rational systems. We have a goal for them, like academic success, and we push them toward it in a narrow and prescriptive fashion. We want them to be motivated because it makes sense for them to be motivated. But children are not rational beings. They are emotional beings. To find the fire of self-motivation they need emotional experiences. Some students can find this emotion inwardly and nurse their motivation in isolation. But the vast majority of young people need programs like Maya to set the spark that will help them find their ‘light.’

  • Will
On Comfort Zones

On Comfort Zones

No doubt – Africa was an awesome experience. Between the landscape, the people, the wildlife, and the history – it was a travel experience I will never forget. But by the time we were leaving Malawi, headed for Zanzibar, I was feeling homesick. I was sick of the food, the mosquitos and the heat were getting to me, and the Paris attacks had just added an extra melancholy to being far from home. I fantasized about getting on a plane to the US instead of Italy.

Two weeks later, we flew from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania to Rome. Upon checking into our hostel and taking a walk through the streets, I felt euphoric. I was back in my comfort zone. We got a cappuccino and a croissant. We took a meandering city walk. We had pasta and wine for dinner. The windows closed and we didn’t need a mosquito net. We could log on to Netflix again. I felt a little guilty to admit it… but being in my comfort zone was AWESOME.

Eastern Africa had me uncomfortable in ways that were both tedious and perspective enhancing. I missed coffee that isn’t instant and milk that needs to be refrigerated. I missed always feeling appropriately dressed. I missed being able to wander city streets and explore without being hassled to buy tourist trinkets. I missed the predictability – of not having to haggle, of reliable electricity, of consistent expectations on public transportation.

Comfort zones get a bad rap when you are doing anything adventurous or challenging – whether it’s traveling or moving ahead in your career or meeting new people. Your comfort zone is where you DON’T want to be if you are looking for an exciting, meaningful, learning-filled life. No one says “yeah, I’m looking to stay in my comfort zone on this next adventure.”

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Just because the magic happens outside your comfort zone doesn’t mean your comfort zone isn’t also magical.

But this makes comfort zones seem like bad places, when really they play an important role in the journey. Your comfort zone is where you regroup. It’s where you process what has been difficult and prepare for the next challenge. It’s hard to be uncomfortable all the time – everybody needs a reprieve once in a while.

Traveling for a year is a huge gift and privilege. But without moments in my comfort zone (for example, the 6+ weeks we spent in western Europe over Christmas) I wouldn’t be able to appreciate and process everything I’ve learned while outside my comfort zone. And I certainly wouldn’t be ready for the next chapter – India and Southeast Asia – if I remained outside a familiar culture straight through the trip.

I guess this all to say: you should definitely get outside your comfort zone and explore things unknown to you. Being uncomfortable is a good thing. It’s also okay to relish feeling at home.