Qutub Minar

Indians seem to be very proud of Qutub Minar. It is a nice sight to visit, no too crowded even on a Saturday afternoon. As usual when it is available I decided to hire an audio guide. Audio guides will give you only advantages.

  • First no pseudo fake official guide is going to annoy you and try to get your money in exchange of dodgy historical facts…
  • Second the information you receive is probably accurate. It probably doesn’t work in every country but I think I can trust India for not trying to change History.
  • Third the audio guide will get you much more than roaming around by yourself and just looking at old stones. I did learn something.
  • Fourth the audio guide is a lot cheaper than an “official guide”. It cost 200 rupees. That’s about 3 euros.

The entry fee for Qutub Minar was 250 rupees for foreigners (20 for locals). Paying 250 rupees also let you skip the very long queue.

So what is there to see? There are 5 main parts. The Minaret, the attempt of Minaret, the Mosque, the King tomb and the College.

The Minaret is the most iconic monument of the complex. It is said to be the highest Minaret in India. It is made of marble and red sandstone and is 72m tall and it is more than 800 years old! Most pictures you find online don’t do justice to that monument. It is a really impressive structure et very detailed and nicely carved.

Of course my pictures are the best! Click on them to see for yourself.

 

This is the actual Minaret.

Not far from the Minaret is a strange sort of mound. It looks like there was a Minaret here before but it got chopped off. Well not really. A few years after the completion of Qutub Minar (around 1300) another King, Alauddin Khilji, decided to build an even bigger Minaret that would be more than double the size of Qutub Minar. But he died before the completion and his successor  aborted the project. The audio guide was suggesting that the successor didn’t have the drive and the ambition of Alauddin Khilji. For this sort of construction we all know that the builders are rewarded by being kept alive if they can survive the construction! Some are falling from the tower or dying of exhaustion… I like better the second King. Who needs such a big tower? Hum…

Next to the Minaret is the oldest Mosque in India which was build around 1200. Or at least this is the gate that leads to the Mosque. The Mosque is in pretty bad state right now, pretty much just a ruin.

A strange iron pilar is erected in the middle of a large square. It is said to be one of the world first metal curiosities.

It is 7m high and weigh 6 tons. It has been taken from places to places like it was a mikado… Apparently you were supposed to stand up with your back on the pilar and your arms wrapped around it and make a wish and it would obviously come true once you made your 12 goats sacrifices.

Today we can’t sacrifice any goats anymore because the pilar can’t be touched by anyone.

Then there is a couple of tombs for which I don’t have pictures and it is a shame because one of them has a funny story but I am sure you will forgive me for that.

You will forgive me because I have a picture of chipmonks attacking people.

Click on the picture to see it!

Obviously the guy on the picture:
A) Doesn’t realize he’s surrounded by chipmonks and wonders why I am taking pictures of him
B) Is already calling animal control
C) Has never seen a camera before

Here are some nice pilars from I can’t remember where.

Oh look! That’s the tomb I couldn’t find a picture of. So here is the funny story. You see the rooftop? It used to have a coupole or a dome. But it collapsed. Several times. So today the History is simply saying that it was on purpose to make sure the spirit of the defunct goes to the skies… the truth is the builders didn’t master the technique at that time.

This door is a part of the Mosque in ruins. I really like the geometry of the door. It is very pure.

And here is a kid playing on the lawn of the College. Here in India it’s the winter. It is still 25C but it’s cold for Indians. So this little girl is wearing a big woolen beanie and warm clothes… I bet she’s not cold!

Lotus Temple

Lotus Temple

The Lotus Temple is a multi-faith praying temple. It is also known as the Bahá’í House of Worship. Apparently these Bahá’í Houses are sharing some characteristics. They should be roughly rounded and have 9 sides. I looked a bit inside and it was obvious that everything was build around the number 9.

Anyone is welcome to enter the Lotus temple and stay as long as they want. You are welcome to pray for whoever you want and speak to whatever god you want and for as long as you want.

During my time inside I just talked to myself and I observed how geometrically perfect the structure was. There was just one thing I couldn’t really understand and it was some sort of drawing on the roof top. I can’t tell if it was arabic or something else.

 

When getting closer to the Temple everybody is required to take off the shoes. A guy is distributing bags. You take your shoes off, go down the little staircase and give them to some other guys through a little window in exchange of a token.

 

There are many kids! 

 

It is really difficult to ignore the ressemblance with the Sydney Opera House.

 

Time to go!

Humayun’s tomb

Humayun’s tomb

This complex was interesting and peaceful like many other sights in Delhi. A throw stone away from the hustle and bustle of the streets of Delhi but very quiet inside. Some people are repairing some parts of the site. Their kids are playing with them as it is Saturday and they are not at school.

 

A bit hidden on the right I could see the second oldest Mosque in India. the oldest one being at Qutub Minar a bit further down this post. I found it thanks to the security guard who doubles as a tourist guide. He says he’s the only english speaking guard so he’s trying to make ends meet with some additional service. And he got his tip!

He also showed me his hand where every morning for the past 10 years he’s been writing a map of the main tomb. He taught me that Muslims in India always burry their corpse with the feet to the South, the head to the North and the mouth towards West so towards Mecca so they can say “Allah Uh Akbar”. The head is symbolized by some sort of flower so you can always tell where is Mecca.

       

And you can see pretty green parrots!

Then here it is the main Tomb.

     

This complex was really spotless and extremely well taken care of. To the point that the grass was hand cut!

 

India Gate

India GateIndia gate

India Gate is a monument build in the 1930s in memory of India soldiers who died during first wold war. I was surprised to see something about France written on it, close to the top.

It says: “To the dead of Indian armies who fell and are honoured in France and Flanders, Meopotamia and Persia, East Africa Gallipoli and elsewhere in the near and the far East and in sacred memory also of those whose name are her recorded and who fell in India on the North West frontier and during the third Afghan war.”

India gate close-up

There was a lot of people taking pictures at this sight. Not only foreigners and in fact very few foreigners. Most of the people visiting this place are from everywhere in India.

My taxi driver said he could recognize the accent of people from Mumbai and he heard many. Taxi drivers see and talk to a lot of people so he must be right.

Still I saw too funny girls from Japan who were dressed with some traditional Indian sari. I saw again them in the following sight I visited taking funny picture.

The India gate was very close to the embassies. It was great to see that Indians can keep some areas very clean if they want!

Oh by the way my taxi driver, here he his.

The usual lot of street sellers.

 

And some rather unusual ones…

Oh and I saw a Cobra but I silly me I didn’t take a picture…

5 best tricks to break the ice and connect with a small audience

A lot of trainer will say the same, one of the major problem when training adults is to connect with them and make them feel accepted so you can set a safe and efficient learning environment.

Here are some tricks and tips on how to setup this safe learning environment.

1 – Be early.

You have to be the first one coming in the classroom, at least on the first day so you can spend at least a few seconds with each attendee. If like me you get groups of 5 to 10 participants, it is not impossible to have a little word with them as they enter. It is very seldom when they all come at the same time. Remember that you have only one chance of making a first impression. If the first impression of you is being late you are starting pretty bad.

2 – Meet and greet everyone.

Meet and greet each and every attendee personally. Shake hand, say hi. No need to say too much yet. The purpose is not to start a lenghty conversation because you have other people coming too. Of course that all depends on the time and the country. This week in India I couldn’t start my course before 1030 although the official start time was 1000. That is because most could not come before but some of them could. So I got a lot of time to get more acquainted with the early ones and I put my focus on the other ones later on.

3 – Be interested in them.

What is the favorite subject of conversation of everyone? Me myself and I. So be interested in your trainees. Not only on a professional point of view but also on a personal level. If one of them is arriving earlier than the others, ask him how he came to the meeting room and how long it took and how early did he have to wake up. Did he have to fly this morning? Is he coming straight from the airport?

4 – The handshake.

Everybody likes a good handshake. Show your appreciation of the situation by acknowledging the attendees with a firm and strong handshake. No need to tear their arm though, you still need them. One trick I have tried and approve, when you shake a hand and you want to make sure the impression stays, when you want to make you are going to connect, try to put a finger on the pulse of the other person. Just make sure it is done in a natural and not forced way otherwise it will really look awkward.

5 – Look into my eyes, look into my eyes…

Too often salesmen, public speakers and basically anyone else make the mistake of having a vague undetermined boring look in their eye. That is because they are not really looking at you. Try the following exercise next time you have to engage with someone. Look them for no more than 3 seconds and try to get the following characteristics. Precise eye color (blue or green doesn’t count, make it more precise), short or long eye lashes, wearing glasses or not, what shape of glasses? Is he/she wearing eye contact, does that make his/her eyes clearer or darker? Are the eyes close to each other or far? Is he/she blinking a lot? How many blinks? With a bit of practice you will develop a hability to catch these things very fast which will give you a dense profound and interesting look. People will want to look into your eyes. You are interested in them and they are interested in that.

Lands of contrasts

Here is the map.

 Middle-east map

Iran is surrounded by several countries. Turkey, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and across the golf, Saudi, the Emirates and a few other tiny ones.

What  I have seen from Iran is rather discomforting.  I haven’t been speaking to a single person who approves the politic of the country. My trainees for most of them were not really religious. One out of four was actually praying during the day. The others were just officially Muslim like I am Christian. Never go to the church, don’t really believe in any real god, some have a different take on religion at bit like me, but that’s it. So of course they are not happy that their government is trying to impose Islam to everyone. Unfortunately this is one of the things that is really happening. The law in Iran is the Islamic law. What we call in the western world “Sharia”. The truth is Sharia, or Shari’ah is just an Arabic word that means “religion”. So it’s like the religious law.

Tehran mountains

One of my trainees is fleeing the country. Immigrating to Canada. He just got the coveted PR (Permanent Residency). It took him 7 years to get it. You can guess how motivated he is.

I had 2 female trainees and like every women in Iran they HAVE to cover their hair. The women of this country have quickly realized that the amount of hair covered was a powerful way to demonstrate how much religious you were and how much you agreed with the politic of the government. The one praying was covering all her head. The other one was covering only half of it and she confessed that she hated to wear the veil. But it was the law and the risks were too big. Many women have been beaten up sometimes to death. The other problem is that on the other side it not so easy to distinguish which men want to see women covering their head and which ones don’t care. So to take no risk and to avoid being reported by someone, the women of Iran just cover their hair all the time when they are in public.

I have noticed several times some woman putting their veil back when having to be in public. For example at my hotel once I saw the receptionist coming back from some backroom without the veil and quickly putting it back. I could clearly guess that this one was thinking like my protesting trainee.

When going in the streets you can see different levels of hair coverage, from the most extreme to the most liberal or demonstrating. Some women even wear the Niqab, the integral veil that shows only the eyes of the beholder. From a westerner point of view this is by far the most repulsive one. It is even almost impossible to know who you are talking too. However after several trips to Egypt and speaking with colleagues, I learned that the Niqab is actually more of a cultural thing than a religious outfit. Still it stays an outrageous way to display women. If at least their creativity and emotions could be expressed by different patterns and colors on the fabric it would make it a wee bit more human. But the Niqabs are always pitch black. In countries like in the Middle East, this is also cruel. Guess which color is the worst one to wear under the scorching sun when it’s 50 C.

Some women don’t go the extra mile and simply wear the veil covering all their hair simply. That is what the law requires. Many are wearing it that way not really by conviction but more because they are afraid of the government. But many more are wearing it to be classified as a good citizen. In a country where corruption is an art de vivre you want to put every chance by your side to make things happen. Building permits, visas, various licenses…

But most women don’t think like that. Most women are covering only partly their head. Some even cover the very bottom of their hair. Those usually also try to dress up in a provocative way. Of course what I call provocative in Iran would be very conservative in Europe.

I have been speaking with my trainees about how I felt about their country and we’ve had some long interesting conversations. I told them that for the first time, after going to so many countries, I felt sad. The atmosphere, the lack of freedom, the constant pressure from the government to apply strictly some rules made up from a book 1600 year old. That made me sad. The hunger, the starvation for freedom of the Iranians. Rules which have been made up for most of them. Of course this is not a critic of Islam. It is just a critic of the way the government is using Islam to apply its power on the people of Iran. Christianity has the same sort of non-sense. I don’t know much about other religions but I am sure there are some things which are about as credible as Angry Bird.

Yes this country was affecting me a way that I had never felt before when visiting a country. Of course I was touched when seeing little kids playing naked in dirty mud in India in a slum next to my luxurious hotel. I felt terrible when we went to Mongolia and met this family of parentless kids all underage, left alone by an alcoholic dad and a mom who followed some dude. This family on top of that lost everything in a flash flood. Their Ger was destroyed, their fence was gone, even their dog escaped and was never found. That said I felt great knowing that we helped them to build their fence around their piece of land.

Another gigantic problem in Iran is the manipulation of the media and the filtering of the internet. The government is using traffic shaping in order to reduce the priority of encrypted protocols. Guess which company sold them the solution to do this… You would think the government would be thankful and would let NSN use encrypted protocols to connect abroad and continue working. But no. Lately it became illegal to use Cisco VPN combined with RSA SecurID. So NSN is now using an SSL encryption to connect the workers to the intranet. Why SSL? Because the servers of the government can very easily decrypt the frames and see what is going on. They like to know everything. They are also listening to phone calls, reading SMS, reading emails…

Right now about only 15% of the traffic is dedicated to encrypted protocols. What cannot be decrypted is illegal. Loads of websites are filtered. No youtube. No Twitter. Facebook is working sporadically. In this world filtering the internet is really a very dirty hit at freedom.

So people are trying to go around the filtering by using proxies and VPN. But with traffic shaping it makes it extremely slow. Especially because a lot of Iranian internet users are doing it.

There are free VPN, free proxies but if you want to get something efficient you need to pay for a good service. There are service like “Hide My Ass” which is very good, but Iranians cannot buy it. Why? Because they get beaten up from the left and from the right at the same time. Their government is annoying the living hell out of them and they are in a sanctioned country which means that foreign companies are not allowed to sell them anything except under certain specific circumstances.

I tried to setup an HMA account while I was there and I got my Paypal account blocked because they were suspecting a fraud. There was lots of ways to pay for the account. All of them declined because I was in Iran. The ironic thing about this tool is that it specifically made for people who are in this situation and yet they can’t use it except if they can find some help from someone outside of the country.

So basically the Iranians are constantly struggling to do what they want. A colleague told me that he and his girlfriend went to jail once specifically because they were dating. This is forbidden. If you want sex, you have to be married. How did they know they’ve ever had sex, nobody knows. And this is also one of the problems. It is not really advised to trust the police with your life. Whatever they say they are right and if they decided that you are wrong, there is little chance you will get a chance to defend yourself.

After a week there, some laughter, some annoyance, some worries, I must say I felt quite relieved to get out of there. I have been worried on the first minutes of my arrival at the border check, wondering if they would detain me for no reason. And I have been extremely worried of being detained on the way out, wondering if they had been checking out what I had been up to, wondering if I had broken a law I didn’t know about. I was seriously quite worried. But after queuing in the most unorganized way ever at the security check of the airport, after checking in with Emirates and queuing again for 20 minutes at the border control I finally got my stamp and earned the right to bugger off. That said I didn’t celebrate until the plane took off.

On my way was Dubai. It’s a bit the Las Vegas of Middle East. So I thought.

After taking a long cab ride to see the main landmarks like Burj Al Arab, the Palm, the Burj Khalifa, Dubai is light years ahead of Las Vegas in terms of craziness. No more covered hair, western style provocative dressing, mini-skirts and cleavages. Huge contrast.

Qatar Airways

I have been literally traveling the world and went to odd, interesting, strange, welcoming, funny and bizarre countries like Greenland, India, South Africa, Chile or Japan. But this week I had to go to a different country. Iran.

In order to fly there I chose to use the direct Finnair (AY) flight from Helsinki to Dubai and to use short Qatar Airways (QR) flights to get to Tehran.

First from Dubai to Doha, Qatar and then Doha to Tehran, Iran. I discovered that it was a mistake because QR is not as reliable as I was expecting. I heard and read it had been elected the best airline in the world and quite frankly I really wonder who could have possibly voted because it was a disaster.

I took the first flight from Dubai to Doha after a 1 hour layover that went very well. No delay with the AY flight. I even had time to take a chicken wrap and a cheesecake slice from the Fivebucks coffee next to the gate of my next flight. Then the problem started. I knew I had a short connection in Doha. 35 mins to make the connection. But I thought that if the airline sold me the ticket, first they knew it was technically possible to do it, second they would make sure I would make the connection. I was wrong on so many levels. 

35 minutes to make the connection.

The first flight arrived in Doha late. But that is not the point yet. Let’s assume that the plane was on time. The plane lands somewhere on the tarmac. We park and we wait for a bus ride. First mistake… when there is a bus ride involved, unless the bus takes me directly to the next gate, there is little chance to make it. But the real problem here is that QR has a special treatment for economy passenger. Most airlines offer a special treatment for business and first travelers. But QR decided to it the opposite way. Instead of speeding up the transfer of the premium passengers, they slow down the economy class!

When we were supposed to get off the plane, they closed the curtain between economy and business to let the business pax get out without getting the smell of the stinky eco class. So we were waiting… I was seating quite close to the front but it didn’t make any difference because we had to take the bus.

And indeed no special welcome service, everyone in the same bus. Let’s see at the transfer area. I end up at the counter of the next flight. They say that the plane has already left. I missed it. Great.

I will discover later that the plane for the next flight is parked on the other side of the airport and it takes 20 minutes by bus to get there.

So they sold me a connection which was technically impossible to make. It took a good 20 minutes to get off the plane and reach the gate. And another 20 minutes to get to the other plane. Do the math, it doesn’t work. And that would be in the best case scenario.

So on top of that our plane was late. I reached the gate of the next flight 5 minutes after the time when it should have taken off. I thought to myself that then they would wait for me. NO. They just don’t give a damn. they don’t provide a special transportation from my first flight to my second flight, they don’t delay the second plane. Conclusion, they don’t make sure I will make the connection.

So what happened next is that I went to the transfer desk to get on another flight. My original flight was at 7pm, arrival at 9:30pm. That was very good; I could be at my hotel around 10:30-11pm, get some good sleep before a week of work.

But the next flight on which I flew was at 1:25am, so 6 hours 25 minutes later and arriving at 4:00am. I thought no problem I should get a hotel room for such a big delay. NO. No hotel in the airport, the agent claims there is no hotel close by, so I ask for a place at the lounge. He calls a few people. NO. Sorry, the lounge is full.

I asked, maybe I could get bumped to business class so I would get the best chance to get some good sleep. NO, sorry the business class is full.

But hey since you are a nice guy, you can get a free meal.

I was pissed.

I went to get my free meal… French fries and some deep fried vegetables. Really bad. What a great free meal.

After the “meal” I decided to check out the lounges by myself. I went to the Onyx lounge and what a surprise! It was absolutely empty. The capacity was probably around 200 people, but there was like 20-30 people max.

I took a shower, tried to sleep, kill time, work and phone the family… My boarding pass boarding time said 00:45. Since I really didn’t want to miss the flight I went a bit earlier and I was surprised to see that at 00:25 they were already on last call before gate closure. I even asked and they said, yeah whatever it’s like that.

Had I gone at the gate on time I would have missed it again.

Anyway after that came the 20 minute ride to the plane. We took off, I fell asleep and we landed in Iran. I didn’t see much at the time I was more concentrated on getting as much sleep as I could. So I dozed in the NSN taxi and woke up in front of the hotel and went to bed quickly to get more sleep. In the end I got about 5 hours of hectic sleep instead of the promise of 8-9 hours.

It may sound like it is ok to sleep 5 hours and work right after but travelling is tiring so it is not that simple. The more you sleep when travelling the better.

I made an official complaint to Qatar Airways to which they responded asking for some practical details and I am still waiting for an official answer.

how to speed up social network badge loading

I have had some problem with my Tripit badge on the left of the screen. For some strange reason it wouldn’t load on my Google Chrome. It would load if I would open this page with Firefox or IE though. The weirdest thing is that after loading it from Firefox or IE, I could then load it with Chrome. 

So I decided I would take a different approach and cache the badge somewhere.

Here is how to do it:

First get the URL of the javascript file of your badge.

Here is the code of my badge:

<div id="tripit-badge"><script type="text/javascript"
src="http://www.tripit.com/account/badge/id/blabla
/div_id/tripit-badge/badge.js
"></script><noscript>
<a href="http://www.tripit.com/">TripIt - Organize
your travel</a></noscript></div>

 

The red part is what I am interested in.

http://www.tripit.com/account/badge/id/blabla/div_id/
tripit-badge/badge.js

So I am going to create a crontab in order to download that file on a regular basis.

I’ll run it every 10 mins:

*/10 * * * * wget http://www.tripit.com/blabla/badge.js \
-O /var/www/cache/badge.js

Then I’ll change the badge code to the following:

<div id="tripit-badge"><script type="text/javascript"
src="http://www.momeunier.fr/cache/badge.js"></script>
<noscript><a href="http://www.tripit.com/">TripIt -
Organize your travel</a></noscript></div>

 

Note the red part again:

http://www.momeunier.fr/cache/badge.js

Be careful not to link to my js file…

My favorite android apps

Touch Calendar: widget that lets you see 6 weeks of events on google calendar
TuneIn Radio Pro: very good online radio player
Wunderlist: to do list
Tripit: traveler helper
Trapster: drive safely by knowing in advance where are the traps and accidents or road works ahead.
Swiftkey X: awesome keyboard which learns your words from your sms and emails and predict the next words not based on alphabetical possibilities but based on what you usually write.
Airdroid: configuration interface that let’s you control your android from a computer with a web interface. It is especially useful for sending texts from your computer through your phone.
Winamp: music player
Astro: file manager
Droidopas: reittiopas on android, I wish there would be a better one.
K-9 Mail: very good email reader, much better and faster that the default one.
Pulse: news aggregator
Calltrack: let’s you insert call logs into a google calendar