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Friends of a Long Year is a private mailing list bringing stories to your inbox like it's still 1995. It's written in the spirit of Mary Austin. It was originally called Place Without a Postcard, which does a better job of summarizing what I like to write about. Friends is delivered roughly twice a month.


Goodbye India

Delhi, India I have taken almost 750 photos and traveled nearly 4000 km (2500 miles) in India, the vast majority of it by train. I have seen everything from depressing squalor to majestic palaces and yet I still feel as if I have hardly scratched the surface. I can't think of another and certainly have never been to a country with the kind of geographic and ethnic diversity of India.

The Taj Express

Agra, India The Taj Mahal is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and, given the level of hype I was fully prepared to be underwhelmed, but I was wrong. I have never in my life seen anything so extravagant, elegant and colossal. The Taj Mahal seems mythically, spiritually, as well as architecturally, to have risen from nowhere, without equal or context.

On a Camel With No Name

Thar Desert, India The Thar Desert is a bewitching if stark place. It reminded me of areas of the Great Basin between Las Vegas and St. George, Utah. Twigging mesquite-like trees, bluish gray bushes resembling creosote, a very large bush that resembled a Palo Verde tree and grew in impenetrable clumps, and, strangely, only one species of cactus and not a whole lot of them.

The Majestic Fort

Jodhpur, India The next day I hopped in a rickshaw and headed up to tour Meherangarh, or the Majestic Fort as it's known in English. As its English name indicates, it is indeed perched majestically atop the only hill around, and seems not so much built on a hill as to have naturally risen out the very rocks that form the mesa on which it rests. The outer wall encloses some of the sturdiest and most impressive ramparts I've seen in India or anywhere else.

Around Udaipur

Udiapur, India Just out of Udaipur is a government sponsored "artist colony" for various cultures from the five nearby states, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka, Goa and Madhya Pradesh. On one hand Shilpogram is a wonderful idea on the part of the government, but on the other hand the "artists colony" is slightly creepy. Amidst displays of typical tribal life there were artists and craftsmen and women hawking their wares along with dancers and musicians performing traditional songs. The whole thing had the feel of a living museum, or, for the creepy angle — human zoo.

The Monsoon Palace

Udiapur, India We started out in the early evening quickly leaving behind Udaipur and its increasing urban sprawl. The road to the Monsoon Palace passes through the Sajjan Garh Nature Preserve and there was a sudden and dramatic drop in temperature, but then the road climbed out of the hollow and the temperature jumped back up to comfortable as we began to climb the mountain in a series of hairpin switchbacks. As the sun slowly slunk behind the mountain range to the west the balconies and balustrades of the Monsoon Palace took on an increasingly orange hue.

The City Palace

Udiapur, India I spent some time sitting in the inner gardens of the City Place, listening to rustling trees and the various guides bringing small groups of western and Indian tourists through the garden. In the center of the hanging gardens was the kings, extremely oversized bath, which reminded me of children's book that I once gave to a friend's daughter; it was a massively oversized and lavishly illustrated book that told the story of a king who refused to get out of the bath and instead made his ministers, advisors, cooks and even his wife conduct business by getting in the bath with him.

Living in Airport Terminals

Ahmedabad, India Airport terminals are fast becoming my favorite part of traveling. When you stop and observe them closely as I have been forced to do on this trip, terminals are actually quite beautiful, weird places. Terminals inhabit a unique space in the architecture of humanity, perhaps the strangest of all spaces we have created; a space that is itself only a boundary that delineates the border between what was and what will be without leaving any space at all for what is.

Anjuna Market

Anjuna Beach, India Earlier today I caught a bus up to the Anjuna Flea Market and can now tell you for certain that old hippies do not die, they simply move to Goa. The flea market was quite a spectacle; riots of color at every turn and more silver jewelry than you could shake a stick at.

Fish Story

Colva Beach, India The Arabian Sea is warm and the sand sucks at your feet when you walk, schools of tiny fish dart and disappear into each receding wave. In the morning the water is nearly glassy and the beach slopes off so slowly one can walk out at least 200 meters and be only waist deep.

The Backwaters of Kerala

Fort Kochi, India The guide showed us Tamarind trees, coconut palms, lemon trees, vanilla vine, plantain trees and countless other shrubs and bushes whose names I have already forgotten. The most fascinating was a plant that produces a fruit something like a miniature mango that contains cyanide and which, as our guide informed us, is cultivated mainly to commit suicide with — as if it was no big deal and everyone is at least occasionally tempted to each the killer mango.

Vasco de Gama Exhumed

Fort Kochi, India Fort Cochin is curious collision of cultures — Chinese, India and even Portuguese. Many of the obviously older buildings are of a distinctly Iberian-style — moss covered, adobe-colored arches abound. There is graveyard just down the road with a tombstone that bears the name Vasco de Gama, who died and was buried here for fourteen years before being moved to Lisbon (there we go again, more Europeans digging up and moving the dead).