The View From Your Window Contest: Winner #203

VFYWC-203

A confident reader starts us off:

It is obviously somewhere near the DMZ in Daeseong-Dong.

Another is less sure:

I’ve narrowed it down to either Surabaya, Indonesia or Elmira, New York. Close call, but I’ll go with Surabaya, Johnny.

Another:

Tehran, Iran. I’d say the white buildings and the palm trees are dead giveaways. I will leave the rest of the details for your insane VFYW sleuths to figure out.

Another has Fox-colored glasses:

Benghazi. Because no matter the question, the answer is always Benghazi. (And the contest picture could actually be Benghazi…)

Or farther west?

First time entrant. I spent a year studying in Senegal and this reminds me a lot of Dakar. I’ll guess the picture was taken somewhere around the Medina district.

A family duo looks to the Middle East:

Based on the minaret featured in this week’s picture, my six year old and I are guessing Muscat, Oman.

That was actually this week’s most popular incorrect guess. Another:

The minaret in the background is a close-but-not-exact match to the principal minaret of the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. Several other Omani mosques bear similar designs, so it has to be that country, and probably Muscat. But I just can’t find a closer match! Along the way, though, I’ve learned a lot about Arab architecture, which is always fun. But this sole distinguishing feature is just too tough to match. I’m eager to hear more about those windowless-on-two-sides buildings that abound in this view. They’re definitely unique, but challenging to describe to a search engine.

Another nails the right country:

Hyderabad, India. Specifically, an area you might see on the flyover road from the airport. I could be wrong about this, but the minaret in the right middle ground and radio tower in left background make me a little more certain.

Another studies the scene in more detail:

Urban sprawl punctuated by palm trees, radio towers, and a lone white minaret. The minaret looks round or octagonal, with an onion dome on top, in the architectural style of many Indian/Pakistani mosques. Try as I might, I haven’t been able to narrow it down much further. The most similar minarets I found were in Jaipur, India, so I’m going with that for lack of a better idea.

Another almost has it:

Ten-second guess: this reminds me of the minarets in Northern India (vaguely reminiscent of the ones at the Taj). But this is clearly not the Taj itself, and I’ve got too many errands to run today to search. This looks a little too whitewashed to be Agra or Delhi, the first two places I might have otherwise started looking, so I’m going with the Pink City of Jaipur in Rajasthan. It’s still a big city and has its share of hazy air, perhaps a little less so because it is in the desert. Although the palm trees don’t quite fit with this city, and it troubles me that you would show a View from Bangalore the next day, but this could be an attempt to throw us off the track. To thine instincts be true. This feels like Northern India and so I’m going with that …

On the off chance that I’m close, my best memory of this part of the world is a week in the sacred city of Pushkar, about three hours away, with its masses of Hindu pilgrims, famous camel fair, and great camel trekking in the Thar desert. More monkeys, cows, and camels than cars on the inner city streets near the lake, but no alcohol, meat, or dairy in the food either. Interesting efforts to make pastry without butter.

A former winner gets the correct city and hotel:

gateway-hotel-agra

Diabolical. Do you know how hard it is to find an image of Agra, India that doesn’t show the Taj Mahal? I knew the minaret at the center of the image was the key. A building in the lower left has a strong Greek influence, so I spent a bit of time around the Mediterranean. But focusing the search on the minaret I found an image of a similar minaret under construction in Agra. Then there came the wading through endless pictures of the Taj Mahal. From up close, from far away, crushing it between two fingers Kids In The Hall style. Everything.

Then, I found the above image. Bingo. Today’s window is from the Gateway Hotel in Agra, looking southwest, thankfully 180 degrees away from a view of the Taj Mahal.

Out of the 23 contestants this week, only a handful correctly guessed Agra and the hotel. For some context, below is a map plotting all of the entries this week (zoom in by double-clicking an area of interest, or drag your cursor up and down the slide):

This embed is invalid

Another former winner goes through her methodology:

vfyw203-b

For me, the only distinctive and potentially unique clue in the photograph was the tall, solitary minaret. Its design and decorative elements suggested the Pakistan-India-Bangladesh region, but when I couldn’t find it through various searches, I looked much more broadly. I soon realized that minarets vary incredibly, even in a single region, and for what is basically a simple architecture form. No two were the same unless part of the same mosque.

Eventually I found a 2004 photograph of a new mosque being built in Agar, India, near the “Park Plaza Hotel”. Its minaret, although still under constructed, was recognizable as that in the contest photograph. From there, I began checking hotel views in the area until finding one very similar to the contest view.

vfyw203-a

I have little confidence in my exact window guess but believe it is on the eastern side of the hotel’s southern face and on a higher floor. I compared nine photographs taken from various windows or facing the hotel exterior. The aim was to find angles that would include the shed-like building along the perimeter wall and only a limited portion of the eastern lawn and palms. The contest view also looks down on a tall tree growing to the east of the pool-lawn complex. Other features such as walkways and columns in the balcony railing helped narrow the options. It was hard to rectify the angles at which many of these shots were taken.

Thank you for the tour of minarets.

Another:

This one was one of the most difficult I’ve ever seen on the Dish.  The nondescript mosque surrounded by nondescript housing somewhere where there’s both palm trees and non-palm trees.  Very tough.  Anyways, given the smog and the fact there seems to be bathrooms in the bottom right corner of the photo with an “M” and “W” implying an English speaking country, I’m going to guess it’s somewhere in Lagos, Nigeria.  I’m sure Chini will set me straight.

Enter Chini:

VFYW Agra Actual Window Marked - Copy

Man, if this entry were a B-17 it’d be coming in for a landing more shot up than the Memphis Belle. Allergies this weekend turned me into a red-eyed, sore-throated mess that could barely speak, much less search. By Monday I was basically nowhere, not to mention sleep deprived. But sometimes a change of scenery works wonders; for me that change took place on a train crossing the Delaware. What had eluded me all weekend long suddenly appeared with a few taps on an iPhone, followed shortly thereafter by a rather loud and inappropriate exclamation. (Much to the chagrin of the twenty-something sitting next to me who nearly spilled their beer in response.) So I suppose all roads don’t lead to Rome; this one led me to Agra, India by way of Trenton, New Jersey.

VFYW Agra Overhead Marked - Copy

This week’s view was taken from roughly the sixth floor of Agra’s Gateway Hotel. The photo looks west, southwest along a heading of 237.34 degrees. The best part is that the Taj Mahal sits exactly a mile away in the other direction. That and the number of online reviews for the hotel mean that this contest may have quite a few responses from people who’ve stayed there, as was the case with VFYW #151.

Not so, it seems. Teamwork paid off in this case:

203-image1

Ouch, this one was hard. In our previous entries we had some lucky breaks, or at least we could narrow our search fairly tightly. This time we really had to log some hours on Google. After a day and half of searches and discussion we realized that several continents were still in play.

The obvious clue was the minaret in the background. Traces of that minaret’s style could be seen in many places, but my wife concluded that the closest examples were appearing on the Indian subcontinent. We focused there. I 203-image2spotted a 2004 photograph of a minaret under construction in Agra that was similar to the one in the contest photograph. Hopping on Google Earth to examine Agra, I located a promising tall hotel (before I was able to find the minaret) and it had a photograph that was almost identical to the contest one …

Seen to the right. No one guessed the exact window, room or floor this week, but our winner – a regular player who has contributed some colorful entries in the past – came pretty close:

I actually forget how I found this, except that it was awesome and I impressed myself. We’re looking southwest from the Gateway Hotel in Agra, India, from a room on the less desirable side that affords no view of the Taj Mahal. We’re on the fourth floor, by my calculations, in the southeasterly wing of the building, and my bet-hedging guess – based on some worldly assumptions about the distribution of the Gateway’s 100 rooms and suites – is that we’re in Room 411. Photo of the window attached.

agraVFYW

Nice work. From the photo’s submitter:

My husband was in India, and knowing my obsession with the View From Your Window Contest, he sent along this photo. It was taken in Agra at the Gateway Hotel, Sunday morning, March 23. It’s room 517, to be precise.

If you choose to use this for the contest, I’ll be very impressed with the winners. First off, a Google Image search of Agra, India turns up 99 pictures of the Taj Mahal for every 1 picture of something else. And secondly, there’s no street view on Google Maps. So two of my primary tools for locating these things are essentially useless.

See everyone Saturday for the next contest (which will be easier this time, promise). Meanwhile, a reader responds to last week’s contest, in which we noted that Orlando, Florida was “probably the only US location we’ve ever featured that hasn’t elicited a single contestant’s praise or fond memories”:

Like half the Midwest, my family moved to central Florida in the ’80s, and it was indeed a stark landscape. Its beauty – like much of non-beach Florida – reveals itself very slowly: sinkhole lakes, hanging moss, summer showers you could set your clock by. You need to watch out for gators as you canoe the Wekiva.

It is the South – to everyone except other Southerners, who view us as 202suspiciously purple. And I know it’s a sickness, but I love Florida’s reputation for weirdness. They say if you shake the United States, all the odd bits settle in Florida.

Not to get all heavy, but I’ve often thought that to live in New York, LA, Chicago or even Boston, is to see yourself, your everyday experience (or at least some version of it), continually reflected back at you in movies, TV, books and magazines. These are stories of love, crime, comedy, tragedy, of the human experience in all of its complexity and contradictions. By living in those places, you know that You exist; your story is worth telling; it is important.

In Orlando, your story will never be told. In fact, Orlando is a town built upon an industry whereby millions of people visit it in order to experience a fantasyland version of every town except Orlando. Millions visit Orlando, but almost none see it. Orlando becomes a mirror for tourists to travel long distances to recreate where they came from, but with all the sharp edges smoothed off. It may be why that Orlando often feels like nowhere, or anywhere. Why the people who move here don’t transfer their allegiance from where they came to here. If they did, their stories would no longer be worth telling or important, they would become invisible, like the people who clean your room while you go to the theme park. No locals go to those places, unless it’s to relieve tourists of their money. We live in an entirely different world from that. And it doesn’t suck.

This will be the only note you get in defense of Orlando. And now that I think about it, I may be OK with that.

But that reader isn’t alone:

I live here in Orlando and wanted to write to defend our much-maligned city. When I read, “Ordinarily I would write something interesting about the city or the structures in the picture, but we’re dealing with Orlando,” I just get annoyed.

What most people think of as “Orlando” is practically its own independent municipality, Tourist Land, many miles from where the vast majority of residents of Real Orlando live. Universal and SeaWorld are out in the tourist corridor near the convention center, 15 miles from downtown – and Disney World is its own jurisdiction! People fly into the airport in Southeast Orlando, drive straight across the southern end of the city to I-Drive or Disney World, Universal Studios or Shingle Creek, all in plowed-over citrus groves or swamp; stay their entire time out there, in an environment built almost exclusively for tourists; and then drive back to the airport when vacation’s over.

When tourists visit New York and stay in Midtown, no one assumes that the lights and tourist traps of Midtown are representative of New York City. But for some reason, people think Orlando is just strip malls of kitschy T-shirt shops and fast-food restaurants.

In Real Orlando, we have historic downtowns and housing districts with significant history that long predates the modern tourist experience. DeLand and Winter Garden are old citrus-growing towns; and Maitland dates to the Second Seminole War. Zora Neale Hurston lived in Eatonville in 1887 and a festival in her honor is still held each year. One of the quaintest little Central Florida towns, Winter Park, dates to the 1850s and has an adorable historic district on Park Avenue that has been a shopping district for locals since the 1920s.

So when I hear people put down poor little Orlando, it’s clear to me that they only know Tourist Land and not the real Orlando!

(Archive: Text|Gallery)