A Chess Journey to India in Photos

A Chess Journey to India in Photos

eltenedor
NM eltenedor
Feb 24, 2018, 2:17 AM |
7

This is the story of my chess journey to India in photos...


My journey began on December 13th, 2017, with a 7 hour layover in Dubai. I remember learning about the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa (828m or 2,717 ft), back in an urban planning class and had to see it for myself.

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I'm more of a cottage guy, but it was quite a sight to behold, and it adds a nice touch to the Dubai skyline...

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My first destination was Kochi, a historic fishing village in the lush southern state of Kerala. I met my friend GM Timur "Blindfold King" Gareyev there before we headed up to the first of a four part tournament series in Bhopal. Timur found out about a 5K run through Rotary International so we figured we'd check it out and get in some pre-competition exercise. It was awesome running through green hills as the sun rose. Here are some friends we met after the run over breakfast.

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With the amazing women who organized the run...

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A local company's employees ran together

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The winner!

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I'll let this one speak for itself!

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It's always fun to explore a city in the night to get a better feel for the place. Everywhere we went in Kochi, we were greeted with open arms. One of the things I take away from India from my three visits to the wonderful country -- one to travel, one to work, one to play chess -- is the warm hospitality of its people.

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Timur generously bought delicious avocado milkshakes for a bunch of locals

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There was interesting artwork throughout the city

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Kochi represents a rich history of religous diversity and coexistence. Here you can see Jewish history...

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and an interesting juxtoposition of religions (Hinduism and Judaism in this photo below). There were several mosques near where we stayed and I could hear the call to prayer early in the morning.

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You'll also see some communist symbols. Kerala has a history of experimenting with socialist policies; as a result of its robust education programs, it has the highest literacy rate in India -- 94%, far above India's average literacy rate of 74%. Its fishing and natural resources also provide a great deal of wealth that the Portuguese followed by the British were eager to exploit. (Historical note: Portugal first made Kochi its capital in 1503 before moving it to Goa in 1530. It was later colonized by the Dutch and then the British before India finally gained its independence in 1947.)

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We came across some guys in a shop playing a billiards-like game we'd never seen before

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The Periyar River at night

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While temperatures were freezing back on the east coast in the U.S., the wet tropical weather of Kerala reached into the 90s (around 35 degrees Celsius). I was probably on the verge of heat exhaustion after playing soccer/football for hours, and I'm caught somewhere between leaning and passing out in this photo. Some of these guys were ridiculously good.

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Wandering the streets, I came across a friendly guy, Majeed, with whom I had a good chat before he showed me where his staff cleans squid before it gets dried, canned, and shipped around the world. Kochi is a small town and I also ran into him the next day.null

Before leaving Kochi, I wanted to see some wildlife so I took a bus to the Periyar National Park about 150 km (90 miles) east of Kochi.
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Sunrise 12/18/2017, 6:47 AM

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The majestic Western Ghats where the reserve is located are recognized as one of the world's 8 "hottest hotspots of biological diversity." I was hoping to get the chance to see some elephants or tigers...

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...but didn't have enough time to explore and ended up meeting a bunch of highly expressive/pensive monkeys...

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This one seems to be practicing a sort of yoga twist. Another one got a good yell out of me when he playfully hit me on the back.

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Before competing in the tournament in Bhopal, I stopped by the nearby city of Indore, the largest city in the central state of Madhya Pradesh (pop. of about 2 million) and an education hub. The city is rich in history (which pretty much goes without saying because you will find rich history throughout India), ruled by the Holkar Dynasty from the 18th century until India achieved independence from the British in 1947. It was selected last year as the cleanest city in India (I noticed that there's an emphasis on sanitation throughout the country, even statues dedicated to it).

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I came across workers protesting for better conditions.   

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I spoke with some of the protestors, using Google Translate to figure out what was going on (getting a sim card while there definitely helped, though I don't think tech should take the place of seeking locals' advice). I wasn't sure what type of work they did but they described terrible working conditions. Some of the lively protestors took a break for a photo.

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The Rajwada is a beautiful 7-story palace from the 18th century, demonstrating the architecture of the Holkar Dynasty...

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The Sarafa Night Market is really something to behold. It features two blocks of delicious local specialities...

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The sweets are to die for...

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The dessert on the right is Gulab Jamun, which is deliciousnull

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On the way back I saw this cool temple with a tree growing through it. In India, much of the built environment is allowed to coexist with nature. Perhaps the U.S. can learn from this, since IMO some of our cities are a bit too neatly planned and as a result lack character; balance in everything.

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The next morning, I took a 5 hour bus to my tournament destination...Bhopal!

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I met this friendly man selling delicious chai tea soon after I arrived. I've found that if you have an open heart, you never know where you will meet a new friend or have a powerful experience.

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I visited him again with Timur and friends from the tournament a few days later (unfortunately I don't recall his name, but his kind smile can't be forgotten).

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And the Bhopal International GM Chess Tournament 2017 begins! Mr. Kapil Saxena (who goes by Kapil G, great guy and tournament organizer), is being interviewed by local media.

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 Timur and Malaysian IM Yeoh Li Tian practice before the first round commences

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There are windows around the tournament hall where you can see beautiful images of the city of Bhopal, which has a powerful history itself. Many know it as the notorious site where the Bhopal disaster/gas trajedy occurred in 1984, killing thousands and leaving countless more with life-long injuries and deformations. While this history cannot be forgotten, the tournament organizers show that there is also another, more positive side of the city that should be known.

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With IM Yeoh Li Tian, a really nice guy.

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One of the organizers showed me a clip where I was on the local news...

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Opening ceremony, Dec. 21

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I couldn't get a clear shot here but a local leader makes the ceremonial first move against Timur

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I really hit it off with the amazing ChessBase India team. They're doing a fantastic job publicizing chess in India. Sagar and Amruta, awesome Indian chess couple, are traveling around the country for a full year doing just that. Their journalism and game analysis is exemplary and I highly recommend giving it a read (or many).

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You never know what to expect in India. Here is a cow warming up by a fire outside the hotel...

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With some of the organizers, Timur, and Waweru Brian Kariuki of Kenya.

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Amruta Mokal took fantastic photos of all the tournament particapants. Here's one she took of me looking a bit concerned during one of my games...

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We visited the local chess center, Bhopal's Academy of Chess Education. Here I was reviewing a game of Tarun, one of India's rising young talents. He's got his own YouTube chess channel, check it out.

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Academy of Chess Education, Bhopal

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Timur tried his hand at cricket

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The tournament organizers also brought us to a beautiful lake. Bhopal is known as "The City of Lakes."

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In front of an old Indian train with Pappu Nageshwar Rao, one of the arbiters and a great guy. He has offered to show me around the state of Chhattisgarh so I'll have to take him up on it one day.

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A really nice family who were there to support their son in the tournament

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We had fun dancing on a night cruise. Apparently there's a YouTube video of us somewhere trying out some Punjabi dance moves that other tournament participants taught us. Feel free to post below if it's not too embarrassing!

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It got quite cold in the evening in Bhopal, in contrast to the summer-like weather in the south...

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The Taj-ul-Masajid, in the older part of Bhopal, is the largest mosque in India and an architectural gem

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Timur did a blindfold simul with 11 particpants (his world record is 48) and I had the honor of making the moves for him

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Alok befriended Timur and me, then brought us to his home for a delicious home-cooked meal by his mom. One of my favorite things to do while traveling is to eat home cooked meals in the company of locals, to really get to know the culture. 

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Alok's father had created some incredible artwork. His sister is a famous sitarist (Smita Nagdev) and his mother is an artist, too.

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I really like this one

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One of the arbiters, Harshita, kindly invited us to her place and we played chess with her sister Muskan and the neighbors who are really getting into the game.

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These are the organizers with the winner of the tournament, GM Nguyen Duc Hoa of Vietnam. 

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I ended up finishing with 6/10 (+5, =2, -3). I played against several top-ranked Indian youth who were incredible fighting players and rock-solid defenders. I was half a point away from picking up a prize myself! The experience was great, and I was really happy to have had the chance to play in this fantastic tournament in such an amazing location. Part 2 of this blog will feature in-depth analysis of my exciting encounters over the board in India, the birthplace of chess!

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With Alok before heading to Pune on a night bus

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And then to the village where I had worked on a rural development program a decade before, just north of Pune. This is my first time returning since then and I was really excited, not knowing what exactly to expect. Almost there...

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 Sunset in one of the villages of Rajgurungar

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My good friend Manjare Ashok in the fields with his wife and brother

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With Manjare Ashok and his family in their village.  The name of the nonprofit that serves these villages is the Bombay Mothers and Children Welfare Society. It now provides poverty relief services to 97 villages, helping families to become self-sufficient, and e-learning to 128 schools. Please consider donating to a great cause.

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With my good friend Amit. Last time I saw him he had a baby. Now I was teaching his sons chess. Not sure what his message in Marathi means, but you can get an idea from the parts in English.

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With Amit's brother and also my good friend Swapnil

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And another close friend who also happens to be named Swapnil. His family lived next door to the hospital where I lived so I got to know them quite well.

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This time I got to meet some new additions to his family, his daughter and wife...

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 ...who cooked a delicious meal for us.

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At first, I only planned to play in Bhopal, but I was so close to Mumbai (about 5 hours by bus). I didn't have enough time to play in the entire tournament but I was able to work out an arrangement with the organizer and he graciously allowed me to play in 6 of the 9 rounds. The rounds were in the evenings, so I had time to walk Mumbai during the day. I stopped by the beach.

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This man caught a fish with his bare hands! (It was in a pool created by the low tide, but still!)null

On Jan. 3rd, Dalit (the oppressed caste) protestors shut down the city, expressing their outrage at a killing that had just taken place in Pune surrounding a controversy over Dalit celebration of a battle. The match that day was moved from 4pm to 6pm and I had the chance to see the protestors in action in the Bandra neighborhood. India is the largest democracy in the world, home to vibrant civic action, and, like the U.S., many divisions that the country is working through. The legacy of the caste system is still very much alive.

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In Mumbai, rickshaws are everywhere, and an affordable, convenient way to get around the city...

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Lastly, I finished the trip with a visit to the Golden Triangle (Delhi-Agra-Jaipur), which showcases some of the country's richest cultural attractions. This is in Delhi...

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 ...and this is the Sufi rock band Aawaaz. They're awesome.

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The luxurious Taj Mahal Hotel, also in Delhi

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And a special guest joined me at the beautiful Humayun's Tomb...

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The Taj Mahal...

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And our beloved elephant friend, Sakuntala...

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We had the chance to check out an Indian movie theater to watch the nail-biting film Tiger Zinda Hai (Tiger Is Alive)

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We took a bit of a detour from the typical Golden Triangle, making it more of a diamond. Gwalior Fort was breathtaking.

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And finally the Hawa Mahal, "Palace of Winds," in Jaipur - built of red and pink sandstone in 1799.
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I love India. It's a place that must be visited -- whether you want to get to know the amazing people, culture, nature, and cuisine, or make it complete with a chess journey of your own. There are four back-to-back tournaments from December to January (I'm pretty sure they're all held annually now) and I highly recommend competing in them. GM Vishy Anand took chess to new heights in India, the home of the Royal Game, when the won the FIDE World Championship in 2000 and the classical in 2007. The chess scene just keeps growing...don't miss out!

 

See more of the story on my Twitter and Facebook pages, and let me know about your past or future trips to India.

 

P.S. My first (and cherished) blog of my experience in India in 2008 was deleted by my college (they deleted all blogs to save space on its library servers; a warning email was sent but I no longer kept up with the email, unfortunately). So I'm hoping that this India blog stays around. Yes I'm looking at you, Chess.com!