May 31, 2008

Pandas are also affected by the Sichuan earthquake

Locations: Panda Breeding and Research Center, Chengdu, Sichuan, China (30°44'15.63"N 104° 8'24.65"E)
Date: 3 July 2004; 11.15 am
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

I was very saddened by the immensity of the damage and death wrought by the recent 12 May earthquake that struck Sichuan in China. I have passed through the region of the earthquake zone at least thrice in the last eight years and so fully appreciate the difficulty and ruggedness of the terrain and the difficulties involved in the rescue work. I could only wish that things will return to normal there soon and the victims can be healed of their physical, spiritual and mental wounds speedily.

Similarly I also hope that the much beloved giant pandas whose habitat had been destroyed and by most accounts disoriented by the earthquake can recover quickly. They are truly an endangered treasure that is worth protecting.

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May 28, 2008

Oryx chilling out in the evening at Etosha National Park, Namibia

Location: Oryx or gemstock at Etosha National Park, Namibia (18° 31′ 12″ S, 16° 16′ 30″ E)
Date: 19 April 2001; 4.15pm
Camera: (analogue) Canon 500N with slides and scanned

Etosha National Park is one of the best Fame Reserve in the southern part of Africa. It is part of the Kalahari Pan which was a lake that has dried up thousands of years ago. There are quite a number of waterholes within the pan that attracts a tremendous diversity of wildlife especially in the cooler months. It is also quite unique as it has a long fence along its 850 km boundary to control the spread of diseases among the animals.

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May 25, 2008

Stunning panorama of Florence- free!!

Location: View from Piazzale Michelangelo, Florence, Italy (43° 46′ 13.08″ N, 11° 15′ 16.92″E)
Date: 18 March 2005; 6.15pm
Camera: Canon 300D with Sigma 70-200/f2.8

Florence is a beautiful city even for a non-art aficionado. There is just history at every corner and every building is so darned historic. It is also not an expensive city to visit as there are many good and cheap backpackers' accommodation as well as reasonably priced meals. However if one starts visiting all the museums and galleries, the entrance fees will start to add up pretty quickly.

One of the few freebies in Florence is this square, Piazzale Michelangelo, dedicated to the city's most famous son, Michelangelo. The square features replicas of some of Michelangelo including a huge replica statue of David. From the square, it is a stunning panoramic view of Florence city and the Arno valley. This is one of the best experience in Florence.


May 23, 2008

Late afternoon Canyon, USA

Location: South Rim, Grand Canyon, USA (36.05335° N, 112.08344° W)
Date: 5 September 2006; 4.35pm
Camera: Canon EOS 300D with Sigma 70-200/f2.8

The Grand Canyon looks nice from the rim, which is what most visitors spend most of their time. But I bet the Canyon looks different and more majestic from the canyon floor. However to do so, one need to make preparations to hike, have supplies and equipment and so on. I loved to have done that but could not bring the necessary with me as the trip was an appendage to a business trip. Maybe I can do better next time.


May 21, 2008

Gurung children at Manang, Annapurna Circuit, Nepal

Location: Manang on Annapurna Circuit, Nepal (28° 40' 0 N 84° 1' 0 E)
Date: 7 April
2000; 4.45pm
Camera: Canon
EOS 500N (analogue) on slides and scanned

Manang is one of the villages on the famed Annapurna Circuit. At 3,540m it is one of the favourite places for trekkers on the Circuit to spend another night to acclimatize before ascending to higher levels further along. Manang is quite a spectacular village with views of snowy peaks, turquoise alpine lakes and deep gorges. It also has temples and hermit sites located at perches that afford fantastic panoramic views of the turbulent river and valley. The people of Manang are mainly Gurungs who forms the main bulk of the famed Gurkha soldiers exported from Nepal.

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May 19, 2008

Gargoyles of Notre Dame, Paris, France

Location: Notre Dame de Paris, Paris, France, (48° 51′ 10.8″ N, 2° 20′ 59.28″ E)
Date: 27 February 2006; 4.50pm
Camera: Canon 300D with Sigma 70-200/f2.8

Notre Dame Cathedral, one of the first Gothic cathedrals is considered one of the finest of French Gothic architecture. Its walls are adorned with all sorts of fierce looking grotesque sculptures of gargoyles and chimera. Of course, the most famous of gargoyles (and quintessential of all photos of Paris) are those crouching gargoyles on the parapets of Notre Dame gazing across the Seine over all of Paris. Unlucky for me as when I was visiting Paris, the cathedral was under partial renovation and access to the roof was closed; and hence I never get to meet these famous grotesque creatures up close.

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May 17, 2008

The "City of Lights", Varanasi, India

Location: Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India (25° 16′ 55.2″ N, 82° 57′ 22.68″ E)
Date: 29 September 2005; 6.25am
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens
Varanasi (also known as Banares and Kasi) is one of the holiest cities to Hindus though it is also considered sacred to Buddhists and Jains. According to legend, the city was founded by Shiva 5,000 years ago, hence, making it one of the most important pilgrimage centres for Hindus. It is situated on the west bank of the Ganges River and hordes of Hindu pilgrims come to bath in the holy water of the river. It is considered auspicious to die in Varanasi; so thousands of people have come to die over the centuries. Their bodies are cremated in one of the ghats along the river with the ashes flowing down the river. The city is also one of temples- temples big and small at every corner. There are also many beautiful old Moghul-era buildings along the river. The best way to marvel at these buildings as well as to observe life and rituals along the river is to take a boat ride in the evening.
It is a powerful place to be, even for the non-faithful like myself.

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May 15, 2008

A storm is coming, Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Location: Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia (13° 26′ 31″ N, 103° 51′ 35″E)
Date: 12 November 2002; 5.40pm
Camera: Canon G1

Together with the other tourists, I was in a hurry to leave the Angkor Wat complex as the sky is dark with threatening rain clouds. However as I came out of the temple I could see that the sun was still shining bright not too far ahead of us. Freaky weather.


May 13, 2008

Dong Villages (1)- Wind & Rain Bridge, Guizhou, China

Locations: Chengyang's (程陽) Rain and Wind Bridge (25°54'16.66"N 109°39'15.05"E), Guizhou, China.
Date: 16 April 2005; 4.15pm
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens


Dong villages (2)- Drum Tower, Guizhou, China

Locations: Zhaoxing's (肇兴) Drum Tower ( 25° 54' 39 N 109° 10' 35 E), Guizhou, China.
Date: 18 April 2005; 8.15am

Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

Both these are villages of the Dong, one of the many minorities that lives in the province of Guizhou in China. Wind and Rain Bridge (風雨橋) and Drum Tower (鼓楼) are very much the tradition and culture of the Dong people. These are very poor corners of China, only slowly feeling the effects and prosperity that is sweeping China.

The Dong people usually build their villages near rivers. They erect covered bridges with pavillions and porches to connect different parts of the vilalge. These bridges provide shelter against rain and wind. They are railings on both sides of the bridge where villagers can sit or lay down. Such villages normally housed a few clans. Each clan will have their own multi-storey pagoda-like wooden building, drum tower, where they hold ceremonies and festivals, greet guests and meet for clan consultations. It is normally the tallest building and the focus of the clan. Both the bridge and tower are normally constructed from wood and held together without any nails.

I visited these villages with a dear friend in 2005. Chengyang was already touristy then being one of the destinations frequented by foreign tour groups and covered by the likes of Lonely Planet because of their still-very-much intact bridge. The people there are already corrupted by tourists who thought that they are doing them a favour (but in fact corrupting them) by giving tips when they take their photos so much so that they demand to be paid for photos or even getting close to their homes etc.

Zhaoxing on the other hand, is still very traditional, incredibly friendly and hospitable. It is not on the map of Western tour groups yet and only hardy Chinese and overseas backpackers bother to visit this lovely and beautiful but somewhat slightly difficult-to-get-to village.

An excellent write up on these Dong villages can be found in chinabackpacker's Zhaoxing and Zengchong- a Dong village articles. Furthermore this month's National Geographic magazine has a well-researched article "Village on the Edge of Time" on the same subject.


May 11, 2008

Beautiful Manarola at night, Cinque Terre, Italy

Location: Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy (44° 6' 0 N 9° 43' 60 E)

Date: 9 March 2006; 7.40pm

Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

Manarola is the oldest village of the famed Cinque Terre of Italy. The village is probably the most beautiful of the Cinque Terre with multicoloured houses spilling down the hillside. The little harbour is surrounded by craggy rocks and I often wondered if it is really a suitable place for a harbour. There are walks possible around the hills where there are a number of small vineyards.

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May 9, 2008

Menace of pollution on Leshan Dafo, Sichuan, China

Location: Leshan Dafo, Sichuan, China (29° 32′ 50″ N, 103° 46′ 9″ E)
Date: June 1999 and April 2003

Dafo at Leshan (乐山大佛), not far from Chengdu is the world's tallest stone-carved seated Buddha figure. It was carved into a cliff face some 1,300 years ago. The 710m-high Buddha is a popular tourist destination, in no small part helped by the easy access from Chengdu.

The Buddha was given a "facelift"- clean-up and paintwork barely six years (2001) but another effort is needed this year as the figure is again stained black by pollution. The photo on the left shows how it was before the last facelift and the right shows how it appeared after that facelift. Despite concerns that led to factories close to Leshan being ordered to shut down in recent years, it is now again stained black by acid rain caused by toxic gases spewed into the air from factories and coal mines further north. Scientists now believed that major maintenance on Dafo will need to be undertaken every five years.

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May 7, 2008

Jackass Penguins at Boulder's Beach, South Africa

Location: Boulder's Beach, Simon's Town, South Africa (34° 11′ 20″ S, 18° 26′ 19″ E)
Date: 7 April 2001; 3.15pm
Camera: (analogue) Canon 500N with slides and scanned

This beach is at a place named Simon's Town near Cape Town on the eastern side of Cape Peninsula. It has a colony of Jackass Penguins since 1985 that has grown to about 1,000 strong. Jackass Penguins are African penguins- so-called for the donkey-like braying sounds they make when on land. Like pandas, penguins are much loved, in no small part played by their comical movements. These penguins are not shy or afraid of humans and are quite happy with humans getting close. However it seems they may have to be careful, lest they may be "raped" by other animals; just like the attempted "rape" of their cousin by an Antarctic seal (see 'Sex pest' seal attacks penguin).


May 5, 2008

A 100 km walking trail in Hong Kong!!

Location: Near Long Ke Beach, MacLehose Trail, Hong Kong (22°23'50.11"N114°22'5.32"E)
Date: 13 November 2004; 12.50pm
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

The impression of visitors to Hong Kong is a city of tightly packed sardine-like buildings with little empty spaces. Well, the territory actually has lots of greens and is well spaced out if one get out of the central area. In fact it has a 100 km walking trail that traverses some nice hills and beautiful beaches. The MacLehose Trail is really quite a gem as far as walking trail is concerned. It is broken down into 10 stages of different steepness and terrains, well signposted and very popular in the weekends. There are nice clean swimming beaches along the trail as well as some waterfalls. During the weekends many outdoor enthusiasts walk the trail and sea lovers sun bathing on beaches along the trail. The next time you visit Hong Kong make sure you make some time to discover this hidden treasure. You can visit the official website for more information on this and other trails in the territory.

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May 3, 2008

Glitzy Milan, Italy

Location: Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Milan, Italy (45° 27′ 56″ N, 9° 11′ 24″ E)
Date: 8 March 2005; 8.11 pm
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

Milan, the economic and fashion powerhouse of Italy; the fashion powerhouse of the world, perhaps. A Ferrari or some other sports cars can be seen every 10 minutes when one walks on the streets of Milan. Every chick seems to be a leggy model- especially the sales assistants at the boutique/fashion retailers. There's just so much to feed the eyes!

Milan is also probably the only city (oh, Manchester as well) in the world that has two top football clubs, AC and Inter Milan. The city is also well endowed with historical and beautiful architectural gems including the second biggest Roman Catholic cathedral in the world, the Duomo di Milano and this upmarket shopping arcade, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.