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“India? Are you nuts?” Join Gerry for Part 1 of his series on India.

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Feature Image India part 1

This is the first in a four-part series on India

“India. Are you nuts?” an incredulous friend remarked. “Why would you want to go there? It’s dirty, crowded, smelly and full of stray cows.”

So, I was anxious as I stared out the window of the Dreamliner 787 on descent into New Delhi after a 14-hour flight from Vancouver. But Delhi was nowhere to be seen. The worst smog in the country’s history had enveloped India’s capital. Visibility was near zero.

Man carrying basket on head

Smog in India

The late-night ride to the hotel was a dystopian dream. With the twelve-hour time change we were in a trance-like state. The streets were eerily quiet. An acrid smell hung in the air. As we drove through dense smog, the moon made a futile effort to silhouette India Gate, Parliament House and the Prime Minister’s residence.

“What’s happening?” we asked the clerk at check-in.

“Diwali,“ he smiled.

Diwali is an ancient Hindu festival that pays tribute to the victory of light over dark, good over evil – and a highlight of the annual celebration is the setting off of fireworks. When Delhi’s 22,000,000 inhabitants simultaneously ignite firecrackers and other pyrotechnics, the sub-tropical air becomes thick with the stagnant refuse of gunpowder. Add to this the exhaust of 9 million vehicles, smoke from burnt stubble fields in nearby Punjab, plus a temperature inversion – and you have unimaginable, eye-searing air pollution.

“…At the top of the heap are India’s cows. Bovines stand nonchalant, impervious – and sacred – amongst the vehicular pandemonium…”

Schools were closed. Construction was halted. Roads were sprayed to keep dust down. Farmers were threatened with fines for illegally burning rice stubble; all to no avail. The particulate index climbed, from just over 600 when we arrived, to 964 three days later. This level is 15 times the “safe” limit in India – and 60 times what would be considered hazardous in Canada.

Women selling wares

Street Vendors during Diwali

Then the currency crisis hit. In an effort to weed out “black money” – cash hoarded through corruption and counterfeiting – Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the demonetization of all 500 and 1000 rupee bills. That’s like cancelling all our $10 and $20 bills.

India’s 1.3 billion people were given a fortnight to exchange old rupees, after which the old bills would become worthless. The bank lineups were horrifying.

India’s is a cash economy and many people don’t even use banks. The country was in chaos. But surprisingly, most people we met – guides, drivers, shopkeepers, restaurant employees – were sick of the endemic corruption and in favour of this Draconian strategy.

Our tour group consisted of my wife Florence and me, together with our fun-loving travel-mates Kim and Simone from Victoria and Joe and Carla from Saskatoon. We struggled through these pollution and currency crises from the comfort of an air-filtered, credit card-accepting hotel. Meanwhile out on the streets the locals coughed, lined up and resolutely carried on life in 21st century India.

school kids some wearing masks

Air quality is an issue

But for me more astonishing and unfathomable than the choking smog and worthless bills was India’s overwhelming, perpetual traffic congestion.

The “sub-continent” has 54 cities with more than a million people. Four of these urban agglomerations have over 20 million souls. And even the smallest Indian village is a clogged spoke of trucks, buses, cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, bicycles and foot traffic. Pecking order is determined by size. Bicycles give way to motorcycles, which give way to rickshaws… ascending up to the big Tata transport trucks.

 

full bus carrying men

Traffic is insane

Buses overflow with humanity – arms, legs and heads spilling from every door and window. A moped transports an entire family – and their belongings. The lowly pedestrian occupies the bottom of the traffic heap, flirting death with each wary footstep.

At the top of the heap are India’s cows. Bovines stand nonchalant, impervious – and sacred – amongst the vehicular pandemonium.

people watching cow in street

Cows rule.

This may come as a somewhat of a surprise but Indians are fantastic drivers. In what can only be termed functional chaos, traffic actually moves. Roads designed for two lanes harbour four – in each direction. The tiniest opening in traffic is immediately filled by the largest object that fits that space. India abhors a vacuum.

Horns blast non-stop in a cacophonous chorus, used not in anger but to convey a message. A little beep means, “Hey, I’m here.” A resolute honk indicates, “I’m filling that gap.” And an extended blast from a bus states unequivocally, “Coming through, out of my way.”

The first two weeks of our month-long stay in India were spent in the company – and under the watchful eye – of guide Anoop Singhal and driver Devinder Singh. Each morning Singh Ji, a soft-spoken Sikh, greeted us with a colourful turban and a contagious smile. (“Ji” is an honorific, used to show respect – and we happily started referring to one another as Kim Ji, Anoop Ji, etc.)

kids with balloons

Despite the culinary curry shock to my digestive system – and the occasional experiment with street food – I managed to avoid “Delhi belly.” I credit my intestinal well-being to a daily dose of local yoghurt. But even with the use of air masks, we all eventually succumbed to the dreaded Delhi cough.

White palace on water

The Lake Palace of Udaipur

After “seeing” the capital, we travelled a few hundred kilometers southwest to Udaipur to begin an exploration of the fabulous architecture of Rajasthan. Vast palaces built by fabulously wealthy Maharajas in the 17th century still dominate the landscape. The Lake Palace of Udaipur, the White City, is a stunning snow-white jewel set in a liquid surface.

In Jodhpur, the Blue City, we looked down on a jumble of turquoise buildings from the heights of Mehrangarh Fort. The last in the colourful triumvirate of Rajasthan’s famous towns is Jaipur, the Pink City, where in 1857 Maharaja Ram Singh ordered his palace painted pink to impress the British overlords.

India is a photographer’s paradise. No need to search out photo ops; simply plunk down on any curb and start snapping: a vendor hawking fruit, women in crimson saris haggling over spices, a cow imperially chewing its cud, children laughing, beggars begging. All day, every day the flavour, colour, texture, sound, energy and urgency of India unfolds spontaneously, unrehearsed.

On the last day of our stay in Rajasthan, we stopped in at the famed camel festival of Pushkar where local dromedaries are auctioned annually. I nearly closed on a fine one-humped specimen but was outbid by a clever camel herder from the Punjab. Just as well; probably would have been tough to squeeze a grumpy dromedary into my suitcase.

Next time: Taj Mahal and the Sacred Ganges.

Thank you to these great local sponsors who make these stories possible!

If you go: Explore India from Vancouver B.C., www.exploreindia.ca, capably and professionally handled all aspects of our private month-long tour – air and land travel, hotels, meals, guides, drivers, entrance fees and activities – for one all-inclusive price.

Click below to read about some of Gerry’s other great travel adventures.

 

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Alberta

LAST CHANCE! Tickets for Jess Moskaluke and the 2020 ACMA Awards just 35 dollars!

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Jess Moskaluke

Pssssst….  Central Alberta… We’ll let you in on a little secret…

Here’s Ryan Langlois with the details…

You probably already know the Association of Country Music in Alberta is holding their 2020 Awards Show in Red Deer at the Cambridge Inn and Suites on the weekend of January 25 and 26.

You probably already know that Jess Moskaluke, one of Canada’s hottest Country Music stars is hosting and performing!

But here’s something most people don’t know yet… The ACMA Awards has started something new called The Fan Zone!

The ACMA’s are making it easier than ever for anyone to join in this incredible industry event and enjoy one of the most incredible musical experiences you’ll ever see in Red Deer (until next year’s Award Show).

Perhaps best of all… the tickets are incredibly affordable!!  For just 35 dollars, you can see all ten acts.. the awards show and speeches… AND..  you’ll be spoiled with a pre-show event sponsored by Hotels Red Deer… exclusively for the Fan Zone ticket holders!  A drink… snacks.. your own pre-show acoustic performance… And then there’s the Award Show itself!  More than 10 live performances, speeches from the winners, come see some of Canada’s best musical talent.. all for one amazing low price!!!

That’s right… We’re yelling this secret out.  Sorry.  We just don’t want you to miss out.

Click here for ticket information!  

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Alberta

Alberta will now allow wood-building construction for up to 12 storeys

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wood buildings

From the Province of Alberta

Reducing red tape for wood-building construction

Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu announced the change Friday, as part of Red Tape Reduction Awareness Week.

While other jurisdictions in Canada, like British Columbia, currently allow for 12-storey wood construction, Alberta will become the first province in Canada to allow the practice province-wide.

“Not only will this decision support the forestry industry and land developers, it will provide affordability to homebuyers, bolster employment, and give Alberta a competitive advantage. We made this change knowing that mass timber products are safe and that these buildings will meet all necessary standards.”

Kaycee Madu, Minister of Municipal Affairs

Current Alberta and national building codes allow wood-building construction for up to six storeys, but the next edition of the National Building Code – anticipated for publication at the end of 2020 – will allow for the use of tall wood construction with fire-resistant material for up to 12 storeys.

Alberta will issue a notice – based on technical provisions developed for the next edition of the National Building Code – to allow early use of tall wood or mass timber construction for up to 12 storeys using fire-resistant material in time for the upcoming construction season.

“We commend the Government of Alberta for advancing the use of wood-building construction of up to 12 storeys with this province-wide variance. By building with products that are made locally, we are supporting thousands of jobs in small communities and large cities throughout the province. From people working in sawmills, to value-add facilities, to jobs in construction and transportation, everyone benefits from this change. Moreover, because wood is fully renewable and has a low carbon footprint, our environment benefits, too.”

Paul Whittaker, Alberta Forest Products Association President

New technology makes taller wood construction feasible

Advancements in fire-protection and wood-product technology are allowing for the construction of taller wood buildings without compromising safety.

The building codes will require tall wood buildings to be built as encapsulated mass timber construction, where the solid or engineered wood has been surrounded by fire-resistive material. Buildings of mass timber construction will also be fully sprinklered.

“BILD Alberta is excited to see the Government of Alberta take steps to modernize construction, reduce red tape and address environmental needs by allowing innovative techniques to deliver the homes and buildings people need. This provides our industry and member companies with more options in meeting the housing affordability needs of Albertans.”

Patrick Shaver, chair, BILD Alberta Chair and president of Avillia Developments

Quick facts

  • Wood buildings taller than six storeys have been built in Vancouver (University of British Columbia’s 18-storey Brock Commons), Europe, the United States, and other jurisdictions around the world.
  • Mass or laminated timber has excellent durability and seismic, fire, and acoustic safety performance.
  • The encapsulated mass-timber construction component of the 2020 National Building Code has already been reviewed by the National Building Code committees and fire-safety specialists, structural engineers, architects, scientists, and builders.

Economic impact of tall wood buildings

  • Potential to create about 60 jobs per construction site and up to 400 jobs per new sawmill and production sites.
  • A growth in demand for lumber, for example, 100-million board feet, about $40-million worth of lumber, is the equivalent to about two mills the size of Boucher Bros Lumber.

Minister Madu tours Western Archrib with (L-R) Paul Whittaker, Scott Fash of BILD, Dale Beesley, Municipal Affairs, and Andre Lema, of Western Archrib.

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january, 2020

mon06jan(jan 6)8:00 amfri31(jan 31)12:00 amJanuary is Alzheimer's Awareness Month8:00 am - 12:00 am (31) Event Organized By: K. Jobs

sun12jan(jan 12)2:00 pmsun22mar(mar 22)5:00 pmAnne Frank: A History for Today opening at Red Deer MAG2:00 pm - (march 22) 5:00 pm mst Red Deer Museum & Art Gallery Address: 4525 - 47A Avenue, Red Deer

mon27jan11:15 am1:15 pmLuncheon With Arlene Dickinson11:15 am - 1:15 pm Cambridge Hotel and Conference Centre, 3310 50 Avenue

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