March 31, 2008

How to stretch your travel $$$ further in Europe

A good website with lots of information on how to travel- accommodation and transport- cheaply in Europe.

Eurocheapo has very good reviews of budget hotels all over Europe. Such reviews are written by its editors who normally turned up unannounced at these places. There are also good information and guides on transport options over the whole Europe. On top of that the site also has a blog that provide great tips and information on European destinations on everything that is of interest to travellers. Of course, one can book the hotels and airlines from the same site. I like the site because of the independent hotel reviews, tips, useful information and the ability to book accommodation online at these small budget hotels that one might otherwise unable to.


March 29, 2008

Erotism in temples of India

Location: Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh, India (24°51′N 79°56′E)
Date: 26 September 2005; 7.05am
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

The Khajuraho temple group is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. The temples are of Hindu and Jain origin, well-known for their highly erotic sculptures. There are actually many carvings around and inside the temples mainly depicting everyday life; the erotic carvings form only something like 15% of all the carvings. However these erotic depictions of various positions of copulation are what make these temples well-known around the world. The erotic carvings are all outside the temples and never next to a deity carving, leading to the interpretation that it depicts a devotee having to leave his/her sexual desires outside the temple to see or get close to a deity.
I was told by Indians that Khajuraho is a honeymooner favourite- I wonder why? Incidentally the few photos of these carvings in my flickr collection are some of my most viewed ones.

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March 26, 2008

Becak - human pedal power - of Yogjakarta

Location: Yogjakarta, Central Java, Indonesia (7° 47′ 0″ S, 110° 22′ 0″ E)
Date: 23 December 1995; 11.20am

Camera: (analogue) Canon EOS 500N on negatives and scanned

Yogjakarta situated in Central Java is well-known as a centre of classical Javanese art and culture including batik, music, dance and puppet shows. It is surrounded by beautiful landscapes including the still-active volcano, Gunung Merapi, Dieng Plateau and the biggest Buddhist monument in the world, the fabulous Borobudur.
Transportation within the city is still dominated by becak or pedal rickshaws. Becak drivers are some of the most friendly people one would meet in the city. In most instances they also double as impromptu guides- only if one speaks the Indonesian language.

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March 24, 2008

Boats on Mekong River during sunset

Location: Mekong River, Luang Prabang, Laos (19°53′N 102°08′E)
Date: 2 November 2004; 5.50pm
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

Luang Prabang, the capital of an old Laotian kingdom of the same name lies beside a stretch of the Mekong River. It is a popular tourist destination, if not the most popular destination in Laos. Most people come to marvel at the various temples (wat) and the palace, and basically just take it easy. Well, I find that holidaying in Laos is just that- take it easy. In fact too relax for my taste, as I abhor sitting and do nothing but drink coffee and read a book for my travel. Fortunately there are pretty sunsets over the Mekong River to keep me sufficiently interested for a couple of days.

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March 22, 2008

Good blog with very useful tips on photograpphy

Philip Dunn is a professional photographer and his works had been published in various magazines and newspapers. He has a very informative blog "Photoactive with Philip Dunn" with great insights and tips on various aspects of photography. Well worth visiting for photograohic enthusiasts.


March 21, 2008

Pubbing, Vietnamese style

Location: Old Quarters, Hanoi, Vietnam 21°2'N, 105°51'E)
Date: 8 June 2005; 4.52pm
Camera: Canon IXUS IZoom
If one visits Hanoi, one of the most fun things to do is pubbing the Vietnamese way. Well, not quite like that. However in the Old Quarters of the city, one will often see groups of people sitting on low stools at a road junction, beside a cluster of motorbikes and scooters, drinking beer and chilling out. This is more common during the late afternoon when city folks gather with friends after work. The beer or "Bia Hoi" is served chilled from a metal drum. Apparently some places brew their own but most have them delivered from a central brewer fresh everyday- sometimes more than once if business is good. Bia Hoi is not a brand- it just mean beer. However the bia hoi from one outlet may not taste the same as another since some brew their own. The bia hoi that I have drunk from a couple of outlets are not bad, especially great on a hot day; but do not expect it to be Heineken or Carlsberg on-the-cheap. If nothing at all, it is one of the best ways to mingle with the locals. Cheers!

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March 19, 2008

A prayer for a solution to the Tibetan issue

Location: Butter Lamps at Jokhang Monastery, Lhasa, Tibet, China (29° 39′ 11″ N, 91° 7′ 53″ E)
Date: 12 August 2007; 7.35pm
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5
I have been to Tibet several times in the last few years and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there in all those occasions. Apart from the sceneries, I enjoyed the exoticness of the place, the friendliness of both the Tibetans and Han Chinese especially the hospitality of the Tibetans. Of course there are unpleasant encounters with the Tibetans, Huis and Hans but there are more good experiences than bad ones that I can remember.
It is therefore with heavy heart that I read and see what is happening to Lhasa and Tibet in general. While I emphasize tremendously with the feelings of the Tibetans with regards to their cultural erosion and perceived economic deprivation in their ancestral homeland, I also feel for the enormous risks and sacrifices of the migrant Han trying to eke a living in a different environment. Similarly while I sympathize with the lack of avenues for Tibetans to express their grievances and opinions, taking it out on the generally innocent Han migrants is inappropriate.
At the end of the day, the Chinese government will need to seriously analyse and consider the circumstances surrounding this latest serious outburst rather than simply and conveniently labeling it as another splittist attempt by the so-called "Dalai clique". Facing up to the problem is definitely the start of a solution. I am afraid on his passing, China may come to regret for not reaching an arrangement with the current Dalai Lama, only to face a more militant and violent advocate/movement for more Tibetan space.

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March 17, 2008

Carving mani slabs at Feilaisi, Yunnan, China

Location: Feilasi, outside Deqin, Yunnan, China (28°27'44.88"N 98°52'47.21"E)
Date: 23 August 2007; 2.00pm
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Feilaisi in northern Yunnan is where people come to see the fantastic and Tibetan-scared Meilli mountain range. The mountain range is visible across the LancangJiang (Mekong River) from this little settlement. There used to be just a couple of old Tibetan houses and a temple along this short stretch of the road 3 years ago. However there are now many hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops that lined about a longer stretch of this road, catering to the horde of tourists who just came to take a couple of sunrise pictures every morning.
The Tibetan have a practice of burning juniper leaves, leaving scarves and offerings such as these carved mani tablets to holy places such as mountains. This carver was doing a reasonable trade satisfying this need at Feilaisi.


March 15, 2008

The beautiful Sufi Tombs of Uch Sharif, Pakistan

Location: The Bibi Jawindi's Tomb, Uch Sharif, Pakistan (29° 14′ 0″ N, 71° 4′ 0″ E)
Date: 10 February 2008; 8.42am

Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5
Uch Sharif is a small town, south of Bahawalpur in the Punjab province of Pakistan. It is situated in the Thar Desert and so is very dry and hot. It was believed that this is the town "Alexandria" founded by Alexander the Great but historical records showed that the town existed at least 200 years before him. During the early Muslim period, Uch was a major and important center of Islamic studies.
Uch Sharif is well known for its Sufi shrines, domed tombs that were built for various Sufi (mystic) saints. It is on UNESCO's World Monument Watch as there had been great damages to the various tombs, mainly from elements of nature and neglect. These tombs are now under restoration- the process, as is common in Pakistan, is painfully slow- it has been under restoration for the last few years and may take another few years

Getting to see these tombs take a bit of effort and therefore there are not many foreigners who come by. This is perhaps a blessing as there are no souvenir or snack stalls these around shrines which are right in the middle of the village- they are only ancient village dwellings and a mosque around it. There is no entrance fee either.

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March 12, 2008

Atlas carrying the heavens at Rockefeller Centre, New York, USA

Location: Rockefeller Centre, 5th Avenue east between 50th and 51st Street , New York City, USA (40° 45′ 30.96″ MN, 73° 58′ 34.68″ NW)
Date: 20 February 2006; 3.25pm
Camera: Canon IXUS IZoom

This 2-tonne Art Deco statue of Atlas is the largest sculptural work at Rockefeller Center. The statue depicts Atlas carrying the heavens upon his shoulders as punishment for defying Zeus. I remembered seeing this statue on magazines and books a very long time ago and so is one of my "must-see" on my first visit to NYC. I was surprised by how tall the statue actually is.


March 10, 2008

Slideshow for Mar08


March 7, 2008

Colourful houses of Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre

Location: Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy (44° 6′ 0″ N, 9° 45′ 0″ E)
Date: 10 March 2006; 10.35am
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens
Riomaggiore is one of the five coastal villages along Italy's Gulf of Genoa facing the Mediterranean, collectively known as Cinque Terre. It is a beautiful and peaceful place to spend a few days walking and soaking in the rural atmosphere. It is one of the most popular tourist spots in Italy, yet it does not feel that touristy. It is easy to get there (to Le Spezia or Genoa) by train from any places. Furthermore there is a train and a ferry service that connects the villages. However the best way to enjoy the scenery is to walk from one village to another, starting from either end to the last village; then catch the train to get back. On average it takes around six hours to walk from the first to the last village with a bit of browsing in the villages.

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March 4, 2008

Pretty Miao sis at their Sister Meal Festival

Location: Sister Meal Festival at Shidong, Guizhou, China (26°40'11.24"N,108°18'14.10"E)
Date: 24 April 2005; 4.55pm
Camera: Canon 300D with kit kens
Miao (or Hmong- also see this post) is a fascinating group of people with many different traditions that they still practice today. One of the most popular and colourful festivals is the Sister Meal Festival which is celebrated in the spring, normally in mid to late April. The festival used to be one of the only occasions where boys meet girls with both sexes dressing up in their best to attract the other sex. Well, it is no longer that but still the festival is being celebrated with gusto. A good article on the festival is here -it is also a good guide on how to get around enjoying the festival independently. To me, it is probably one of the best minority festival I have been to in China.


March 1, 2008

Panoramic of Leh Valley of Ladakh

Location: View from Victory Fort at Namgyal Hill, Leh, Ladakh, India (34° 10' 0 N 77° 34' 60 E)
Date: 28 August 1998; 2.20pm
Camera: (analogue) Canon 500N with negatives and scanned
Leh, the capital of the former Himalayan Kingdom of Ladakh, is now part of India, renamed Leh District and lies within the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is part of the legendary disputed state of Kashmir, where wars were fought between India and Pakistan. Leh is largely Buddhists. Its inhabitants are mainly Tibetans as it used to be part of Greater Tibet in the old days.
Leh is only accessible by road during the summer months from Manali and Srinagar. The Manali-Leh road is the highest motor-able public road in the world crossing a few passes over 4,000m and two over 5,000m. It can also be reached by plane from Delhi.
The town is still mainly dotted by low-rise mud houses and retained its Tibetan/Himalayan charms. Leh is dominated by the Leh Palace, which was the former residence of its king. It has a few gompas, which will be of interest to those who have not been to Tibet, in the vicinity. There were very few foreigners when I visited the town back in 1998, cycling from Manali. Apparently it has not succumbed to the invasion of tourists and, happily, there are no McDonalds or Pizza Huts in town yet. However I suspect this absence has more to do with the protectionist attitude of the Indian government as a whole rather than being peculiar to Leh.
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Thomas Hawk's Digital Connection: Top 10 Places for Photography in San Francisco

Thomas Hawk's Digital Connection: Top 10 Places for Photography in San Francisco
Anyone going to San Francisco area and carrying a camera should check out this post. Very useful information for photo enthusiasts.