Dodging loads of tourists at huge train stations has been something of a norm for me my entire life. However, movement, the pulse of a city, is something I find incredibly exciting. And London is a city that moves and moves fast, by rail, by tube, by cycles, or by foot.
London's St. Pancras and Kings cross stations are beautiful structures and thousands of people with many different languages navigate their way with numerous pieces of luggage on a regular basis. The movement does not stop.
Similarly, Trafalgar Square (more a circle actually) is in constant motion. I stood at the top of the national gallery and shot this video below with my iPhone 6.
Check out the video on my Twitter page;
There has been this persistent grey color to the sky, the ground, and the very air we breathe in New York City. The lack of sun and this endless winter has turned this city into a page out of a Dostoevsky novel, cold, snowy, miserable, and grey.
I was lucky enough to escape for a few days in January; we went to San Juan, Puerto Rico. When I felt that warm sun on my skin I completely understood why people used to worship this majestic, celestial body. It is rejuvenating and magnificent in its splendor; it is life.
Old San Juan was particularly inviting, a 500+ year old city surrounded by forts built by the Spanish in the 1500's. The two forts, El Morro and San Cristobal, were high and mighty and must have been quite a sight in the days of colonial trade routes in the Caribbean Sea.
San Juan was fantastic however the best things to do were outside of the city. El Yunque rainforest, a national rainforest about an hour away from the city, had fantastic trails and interesting plants to discover and kayaking at night in the bioluminescent bay was one of the best experiences of my life. I was frightened a bit by the dark and the water however once we reached the lagoon we saw nothing but the green lights of the phytoplankton in the water below us and the bright stars above. I lived the entire trip in that one moment.
Several years ago on a cold day in February, I was lucky enough to spend a single day in Paris, France. While I hated the time constraints we had, in retrospect that single day left memories that have idealized the city for me. Everything I remember about Paris is beautiful because my time there was so short. That philosophy should be applied to life in general- it is short, therefore make it as beautiful as you possibly can.
I can go on and on and repeat what the world has said about Paris, about its beauty, the architecture, the monuments, the people, the river Seine and its idealism even in the cold, dead of winter; however, I will let my pictures reflect it.
That cold day in Paris is one that I will never forget.
I have a job that allows me to travel to some cool places from time to time. Back in October we went up to West Point in the town of HIghland Falls, NY. It was the best time of year to visit, autumn, and the leaves were just beginning to change.
Some of the most impressive and inspiring views of the Hudson River valley are in this area. This picture above really takes my breath away; I could hardly believe it when I was standing there to take the picture. It reminded me of the scene in the Fellowship of the Ring, where the companions are traveling by boat through the river with enormous mountains on either side of them. Just beautiful.
I have been visiting Pakistan once a year for three consecutive years now. My family is forever hospitable and hosts me as if I had never left the place. It is a blessing to be a part of an exclusive group of people that one can call one's own.
In the past three years, the currency of Pakistan (the rupee) has fallen considerably against the dollar. In 2011, $1 was equivalent to 80 rupees, in 2012 it was 92 rupees, and in 2013 it is not 105 rupees. Likewise that which cost 100 rupees in 2011 costs 150 rupees or more in 2013. Inflation is rampant and salaries have not increased. We see the same thing here in the United States, my salary has been frozen for the past two years yet the cost of rent, electricity, gas, water, heat, etc has gone up. Nevertheless, folks work very hard to make ends meet and to try to provide a better life for the next generation.
We took a trip to Thatta and Kheenjar Lake (about 3 hours from Karachi). Families were out and about, enjoying the break in the weather and the day off in the cool waters of the lake. On the way back from the lake we stopped over at the Jame Masjid built by Shah Jahan in Thatta and then headed over to see the historical cemetery at Makli.
The mosque was as beautiful as i remembered it to be two years ago. This year it was crowded; it made me happy to see Pakistani people enjoying their own history on the day of their Independence (we went out on August 14- Pakistan independence day). The front portion of the mosque, the mihrab (where the imam leads the prayer) was redone. My favorite parts were the different ceilings (above and below). The precision, the colors and the patterns all fit perfectly with the grandeur of the mosque.
Makli Cemetery lies in the outskirts of the city of Thatta. This cemetery is five centuries and is a testament to several styles of islamic art and architecture. There are over half a million graves here. The rise and fall of several islamic civilizations are shown through the architectural designs of the mausoleums that the rich built for themselves and their families. The sands of Makli are rich in the turbulent history of the region. If folks could be buried in such ostentatious displays of fortune, what must their normal lives have been like?
The city of Thatta was once a flourishing place as one can see from the remnants of grandeur left behind. Now, it has fallen into decay and with the huge city of Karachi near by it seems as if there is no interest left to preserve it. There is a rise and a fall for everything and every place.
I traveled to Peru with some friends three years ago; It was my first venture into South America and I did not know what to expect. I knew of the Incas from school and the amazing feats of construction and engineering that they were known for but generally, the trip was to be completely and utterly new.
We traveled to Lima, Cusco, and Puno. Upon arriving in Lima and during our taxi ride to the hostel, we passed by several malls, highways, McDonald's and other fast food places. For a minute it seemed as though I had not left New York. Nevertheless we ventured out to eat at a sushi place and explored the city as best we could in the one day that we were there.
The next day, we departed for Cusco and when we landed in that airport, in that rugged valley between mountains, I felt as though I had escaped any reality I had ever known and entered a new dominion. As we roamed through the city streets, I was reminded of Che Guevera's quote from his infamous motorcycle diaries. He wrote about the city of Cusco, "The word that most perfectly describes the city of Cuzco is evocative. Intangible dust of another era settles on its streets, rising like the disturbed sediment of a muddy lake when you touch its bottom."
In Cusco we adjusted to the altitude by drinking plenty of mate de coca, a special tea, and exploring the neighborhood. The city center was populous and geared towards tourists- however we had the pleasure to go up horseback riding in the mountains and to visit some ancient sites away from the touristy places. History in Cusco was everywhere, in the buildings, in gravesites, and even in the people; I watched as a Quechua woman bound her baby in her garments and fastened it to her back with ease, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. The children were exceptionally beautiful. I would be transfixed in watching them with their parents and friends. Family was important to them.
Our journey to Macchu Picchu took roughly 6 hours from Cusco. A train ride through a mesmerizing landscape took us into the village of Aguas Calientes (hot water). The mountains and trees around this place were green and flourishing, completely in contrast with the brown dirt in Cusco. Aguas Calientes probably started off as a small village but soon expanded after Macchu Picchu was discovered. One has to journey there and stay the night (the village is filled with many hotels), with buses leaving in the morning for Macchu Picchu. The bus ride up was scary, it took us to such heights that looking out the window frightened me. Nevertheless, the excitement I felt upon seeing those mountains, upon those clouds that we were going up into, that excitement was boundless. By the time we reached Macchu Picchu I thought nothing could make me happier. And was I wrong.
After roughly a 20 minute hike up some steep stairs, one gets the glimpse of the entire city. It was unbelievable, for lack of a better word. So many questions were going through my mind about this place, it's purpose, it's inhabitants, how it was so precisely created and engineered, that I barely listened to the guide who took us through the city. We sat for a while, surrounded by its stone walls, and I tried to understand the place. I could not and I had to leave it at that. It was beautiful, it had a quiet strength and dignity, and though the questions in my mind remained unanswered, they were pushed back. I let myself sit and enjoy the solitude and peace this city in the mountains brought to my heart and thanked the Lord Almighty that I had been privileged enough to visit this place.
My only hope is that I one day get to see it again. Che Guevera said it best, "How is it possible to feel nostalgia for a world I never knew?"
Istanbul is the city that Europeans and westerners go to to feel like they've traveled somewhere in the "east". There are mosques on every corner and hundreds of years of Ottoman and Islamic history, the call to prayer is heard 5 times a day and many women have interesting head coverings and styles to their hijab.
The city is drenched in history- thousands of years of it. Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, for centuries it was the cross-roads of the world. This is evident in the markets, the architecture, Constantine's ancient wall around the city still stands, the relics of Christianity are everywhere as well as the dominance and seat of the Ottoman sultanate. It has also modernized, with a navigable transportation system - probably the best thing about the city. It is convenient, cheap, taking one everywhere he/she wants to go, from the Hagia Sophia to the Blue mosque, the spice market and the grand bazaar, even crossing over into the Asian side of the city over the Bosphorus Sea. Coming from New York City and seeing a system like that made me feel at home very quickly. The tram map was easy to understand even without speaking the language.
The dome of the Hagia Sophia
Sinan, the famous architect during the Ottoman Empire in the 1500s, was behind the enormous mosques that still dot the skyline of the city, most notably the Blue Mosque and the Suleymania (pictured below). My favorite piece of architecture was the Hagia Sophia, a marvel in the feat of engineering and design, built by the Byzantines during emperor Justinians time nearly 1500 years ago. A church it was then; it was converted to a mosque after the Ottomans conquered Istanbul in the 1400-1500s. They added the 4 minarets to the building and put up huge medallions with Allah, Muhammad, Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali, Hassan, Hussain (the names of God, the Prophet, and the successors to the Prophet according to Sunni ideology. The great thing about the Ottomans was that they left behind the original mosaics of crosses and the Virgin Mary and Jesus that had been installed in the building centuries before.
To see the history of empires past and feel like one has stepped back in time for a moment, Istanbul is the place to go.
The Hagia Sophia, exterior. The history and fascination of this building by the Ottomans can be seen with the many domed structures that are all over Istanbul.
The Blue Mosque, opposite of the Hagia Sophia. Almost as if Sinan was trying to mimic the Hagia Sophia hundreds of years later. It is still used as a mosque. The courtyard is majestic. Tune in for more pictures as soon as I can organize them!
Vases at the British museum in London.
A couple of years ago I took a trip to visit a friend in London. We got a chance to see the famous British museum and the Islamic art exhibit there was gorgeous. I realized that i use many, many Islamic art motifs in my henna designs and now I look to them for inspiration. The floral patterns and geometric patterns and intricate mathematical algorithms look amazing on these mosque lamps and look just as stunning on henna patterns on ones hands!
The mosque lamps below were my favorites. They were lit up and looked exquisite in the light. The style of writing is beautiful.
If you would like to know more about Islamic Art - check out the Islamic Art exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I went to the MoMa in midtown for the first time in my life and it was a great and overwhelming experience. It was a free Friday and the place, like midtown Manhattan, was overflowing with tourists. It was difficult to navigate through the throngs (zillions of people with dslr's and strollers) so we didn't stay long. Note to self: Never go to a museum on a free Friday (or weekend for that matter)- check it out on an obscure day and time.
Nevertheless, I did get to see some classic works by Picasso, Munch, Van Gogh, and Monet, pieces that I had only ready about but never laid eyes in person. I was surprised by the sizes of some of the paintings. Picasso's work really stands out (two pictures above) and this painting below really represents melancholy and fear, in my opinion. The photo below is a work by Munch. I feel like I've seen that look in the mirror.
Now that I may get furloughed and have every Friday off, I can go museum hopping! I will definitely be back at the MoMa, so much to see and to get inspired by! Maybe I'll use abstract art in my future henna designs.
I love this city. But I hate it at the same time. Here is my list of annoying things about NYC and it's people. Feel free to add more!
1. People who take up more than one seat on the train. Or people who sit in the aisle seat and block you from the corner seat so you have to open your mouth and ask them to move so you can sit down.
2. Shopping in person. For anything.
3. People at work who are lazy, make twice as much as you do and do half the work you do.
4. Having to wait in line for practically everything!
5. Waiting a long time to pay for a coffee while foreign tourists who are on line in front of you are trying to differentiate between quarters, nickels, and dimes.
6. People who don't control their animals on the street and expect you to adhere to them.
7. People who walk slowly in groups and take up an entire sidewalk so not only can you not walk through them but you can't walk around them either.
8. The brown, slushy snow mess the day after a snow storm.
9. Waiting twenty minutes for a bus on a weekend, deciding to walk instead and two minutes into the walk, seeing the bus whiz by.
10. The constantly changing temperatures during the months of February, March, and April and the resulting sicknesses that ensue.
I can write much, much more!!
Grave of Muhammad Ali Jinnah (founder of Pakistan)
Pakistan has been and continues to be in the media as of late. The media will never give us good news or tales of generous deeds and adventures from this country, rather one hears only the worst possible things about this place. What comes to mind to the average American when they hear the name of Pakistan? Terrorism, probably. Or death, destruction, instability, corruption, etc (as if these things never happen anywhere else in the world).
Nevertheless, the next two segments will be dedicated to the beautiful Pakistan that I have known and visited and grown to love. I have been blessed to travel to Pakistan for the month of Ramadhan (Islamic fasting month) for the past 2 years and God willing will continue to do so. The people are great, the sites are amazing, the textiles, culture, landscapes, and history are spectacular. I have enjoyed and loved every bit of time that I got to spend there. I bring you here some of the pictures of Karachi and Thatta, in the southern province of Sindh, Pakistan.
Karachi is a port city, grand and luxurious. There is extreme wealth and also extreme poverty but a middle class is establishing themselves. Thatta was eye opening as it was falling apart, with this mosque one could see that this indeed was once a grand city in the Mughal empire. Now, it was reduced to a mere fraction of what it once was.The streets were lined with people who had nothing but the clothes on their back. There were refugees from the north who escaped flooding. It was devastating. There were many people at the mosque, taking comfort in the shade of the corridors and in the free food given away during the iftaar (breaking of the fast) at sundown.
May we always give back to those who are less fortunate than us and remember them in our prayers.
Grand Central station recently celebrated its centennial. With the new LIRR expansion, it will be one of the largest transit hubs in the world. The beauty of it remains unchanged however, the high ceilings which remind one of a church, the windows that let in an extraordinary amount of light even on the dullest and greyest of days and the constant stream of motion on the ground, these facets will always remain.
I've lived in New York City for most of my life. Nevertheless, I'm not ashamed to admit that this train station is a source of inspiration for design and for happiness on a dreary day.
I love downtown Manhattan, the financial district, in the evening. There's serenity in a place where one wouldn't believe there could be. When I leave my work place at 7pm, I'll often walk down broadway, all the way to Whitehall station (roughly 1.5 miles from where I work) just to enjoy the quiet streets. Most businesses close by 7ish, it's not like midtown in the financial district.
Lunchtime is a different story, that's when I absolutely loathe downtown Manhattan. Between construction, tourists, workers, students, beggars, and everyone in between, it is impossible to walk continuously in a straight line on a single street. Everything is open and people are shoving whatever crap they sell into your face. It's exhausting just thinking about it. The most annoying are those happy people in the street who are trying to make you donate money towards their charity. I won't make eye contact or I'll walk by so fast that they don't even try to stop me. Those people should go to wall street where bonuses are more than what I make in the year.
Day and night are two different creatures in the financial district. During the day, GET OUT OF MY WAY. During the night, walk a bit without fright.
My favorite past time at night, going to whole foods to get groceries on a Wednesday evening. It's empty and no one is out with their annoying children. Or grabbing a coffee/pastry at Pret A Manger or Aroma Cafe on Church Street near the PATH station.
I'll be adding pictures and commentary of the things I love. I am an ordinary person in an extraordinary place. There is no special purpose to this blog other than to project what I am thinking of at any given moment.
All the photos are mine (unless stated otherwise). Please do not use without permission. To learn more about me, check out my linked in profile below.