November 29, 2008

Simple rural living at Vang Vieng, Laos

Location: Vang Vieng, Laos (18° 56′ 0″ N, 102° 27′ 0″ E)
Date: 4 November 2004; 7.20am
Camera: Canon EOS 300D with kit lens
Vang Vieng's landscape somewhat reminds me of the karsts region South China, the most well-known being those of Guilin and Yangshuo. Vang Vieng is also surrounded by limestone karsts and hills though they are not as tight and high as those of Yangshuo. Perhaps it is the Yangshuo before it was discovered by backpackers in the 1980's and the Disneyland-esque that it is now. At Vang Vieng today, one can still enjoy the simple, quaint and quiet rural setting that is common in most parts of Laos. However I wonder how long this will last as more commercial activities are springing up in the town.

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November 27, 2008

Sunset over the Gilgit Valley, Gilgit, Pakistan

Location: Jama Mosque, Gilgit, Pakistan (35° 55' 0 N 74° 17' 60 E)
Date: 19 July 2007; 6.05pm
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Gilgit is a major centre of transport and hub for anyone travelling in the Northern Region of Pakistan. It is the gateway to the various regions around here that are stubbed with marvelous and majestic mountains. It is also a town torn apart by religious strife, mainly between the Sunnis and Shiites. Sectarian violence between these two Muslim streams were so bad in 2005- where there were bomb blasts in the mosques and fights that left several dead- the two major mosques in the town had to be closed off to the public. Things sort of cooled down now but the tensions are still simmering below the surface; though none of these is obvious and should not deter anyone from going to this beautiful town and region.

Jama Mosque is one of the biggest mosques in Gilgit. It is visible from most parts of the town. It lies in front of the road junction leading to one of two bridges that span the Gilgit River, the Gilgit Pul. This is an old solid hanging bridge which can even handle cars.

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November 24, 2008

Repairing roof- Jokhang Monastery, Lhasa, Tibet

video

Location: Jokhang Monastery, Bakhor Square, Lhasa, Tibet, China (29°39′11″N,91°07'2" 35E)
Date:
17 April 2003; 3.30pm
Camera: Canon G1
Jokhang Monastery (
大昭寺or Dàzhāosì) built in the 7th century is one of the most sacred monasteries in Tibet. It is located in front of Bakhor Square in Lhasa. Every day, pilgrims from all over the Tibetan world come to prostrate and pray at the monastery. It is a four storey construction with mud and straw roof. The roof has to be reinforced and repaired often, especially now as there are more and more tourists visiting it.
Repairing and reinforcing the roof is still a community affair, undertaken by volunteers and pilgrims. This is often done in groups. The volunteers would stand in line with a leveler- a long holder with a flat concrete slab at the end- and pound the roof top in sync with songs, to level the roof. It is very fun to watch the process as is captured in this video clip in one of my visits

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November 22, 2008

Carved columns of Hoysala Temple, Halibidu, India

Location: Halibidu, Karnataka, India (13° 10′ 12″ N, 75° 52′ 12″ E)
Date: 1 December 2005; 8.50am
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

Halibidu was the capital of the Hoysala Empire in the 12th century. It is home to a temple complex that includes the ornate Hindu temples, Hoysaleshawara and Kedareshwara. The temples are dedicated to Shiva and Vishnu. The sculptures in this temple are very intricate and diverse in nature, varying from the customary mythological figures narrating episodes from epics such as Ramayana to animals, birds and beautiful dancing figures (Shilabalikas). Everywhere- doors, columns, inner and outer walls are covered with exquisite quality sculptures- some of the best I have seen in India. Apparently no tow sculptures in the temple are the same.

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November 21, 2008

Slideshow for Nov 08

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November 20, 2008

Look at these strangers!! Lake Inle, Myanmar

Location: Lake Inle at Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar (20°39′N 96°56′E)
Date: 17 December 2000; 10.15am
Canon EOS 500N (analogue) on slides and scanned

There are several villages around Lake Inle that are quite fun to visit. In 2000 most of these villages do not have many foreign visitors and the kids are really happy to see us. They are as curious about us as we are about them. However I am sure it is quite different now as Inle is one of the most popular and one of the few places open to foreigners in Myanmar. It is interesting that despite calls and appeals to foreign tourists to isolate and give Myanmar a miss, there are still hordes of tourists visiting the country. Personally I am not sure the boycott is the right way to go towards helping to push the country towards democracy or forcing the junta down. Tourists are not their mainstay of income but earnings (into the military's private pocket) from exports of resources such as timber, oil, gas and minerals. A better way is to encourage countries such as China, India and Singapore to stop allowing their shores to be used as well as dealing with the regime. On the other hand, contacts between tourists and locals, in my opinion, are beneficial as it is a means for foreigners to understand their plight close-up and an opportunity for the average citizens to be in touch with outsiders be convinced that they matters. Moreover tourist spending (at least the independent ones) in small ways directly help them economically.

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November 17, 2008

Door of Tibetan Monastery, Gyantse, Tibet, China

Location: Monastery in Gyantse, Tibet, China, (28° 57′ 0″ N, 89° 38′ 0″ E)
Date: 25 April 2003; 5.50pm
Camera: Canon G1
Tibetan monasteries especially the major ones normally have ornamentally decorated and brightly coloured doors. Most of these doors are made of heavy thick wood and stays strong for many years. These doors are commonly ringed by heavy-duty brass corners and knobs. The brass knobs also serve as "door bell" as visitors can knock the ring against the brass base to produce loud banging thuds.

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November 15, 2008

Taking a break on becak, Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Location: Yogyakarta, Central Java, Indonesia (7° 47′ 0″ S, 110° 22′ 0″ E)
Date: 23 July 2008; 3.20pm
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Becak or rickshaw is a common sight in some parts of Indonesia. There are everywhere in cities such as Yogyakarta where it is a major means of public transport. Sometimes I wonder if the city can sustain so many becaks as there are virtually everywhere one turns. No wonder a lot of the becak drivers just idle on the roadside either chatting or like this one, using his becak as a bed.

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November 13, 2008

A lone quiver tree or kokerboom, Namib Desert

Location: Near NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namib Desert, Namibia (25° 2'8.68"S 16° 5'41.73"E)
Date: 14 April 2001; 4.25pm
Camera: (analogue) Canon 500N with slides and scanned
Quiver Trees  are also known as kokerboom, and are a species of aloe indigenous to South Africa, specifically in the Northern Cape region, and Namibia. Its name was derived from the common practice of the Kalahari San Bushmen of  hollowing out the tubular branches and bark to make quivers for their arrows.  These trees are very rugged and are among the very few plants that survive in the dry, avid desert.

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November 11, 2008

Bharirav, incarnation of Shiva, at Durbar Square, Kathmandu

Location: Durbar Square, Kathmandu, Nepal (27° 43′ 0″ N, 85° 22′ 0″ E)
Date: 30 April 2003; 5.40pm

Camera: Canon PowerShot G1

Bharirav is tone of the fierce incarnations of Shiva associated with annihilation.  He is one of the most important deities of Nepal, sacred to the Hindus and Buddhists. There is a Bhairirav statue in front of Durbar Square in Kathmandu. This sculpture  is almost 12 feet, standing on the corpse of a devil which is the symbol of evil spirit signifying "good overcoming bad". The statue was brought here by King Pratap Malla in the mid 17 century from Raniban, a forest nearby Kathmandu.

It used to be free for anyone to roam around Durbar Square; however that has now changed. There is now an entrance fee of 500 Rs to enter the Square. This is supposed to be for the upkeep of the Square but honestly I could not see any differences or improvements betwwen my visits in 2000 and 2003.

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November 9, 2008

Rice Terraces along the Ta Van River at Sapa, Vietnam

Location: Sapa, Vietnam (22° 21′ 0″ N, 103° 52′ 0″ E)
Date: 4 June 2005; 2.45 pm
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

Sapa is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam. It is well-known for its ethnic variety and attractive rice terraces. Though the rice terraces are nowhere near as breathtaking as those in certain parts of China (such as Yuanyang in Yunnan or Longsheng in Guangxi) or Banaue in the Philippines, there are still relatively amazing to those who have not been to these other places.  There are many easy pleasant trails among the various villages around the rice terraces. Sapa today is actually a fairly touristy place with many eateries and souvenir shops catering to tourists but are exceptionally out-of-place in this ethnic-variety mountain town. Tourists who are keen to visit a destination with unique character and landscape but still want the familiarity of the food they enjoy, the shops selling stuff that they are used to in the cities will find Sapa very exciting. Purists who are interested in visiting a place for what it is will find this place over-developed and unauthentic. Sapa is close to the Vietnam-China border and so is easy to crossover from China. Border crossing is easy at Lao Chai.

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November 7, 2008

Glittering Lights of Vegas

Location: Plaza Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA (36°10'17"N 115°8'50"W)
Date: 10 September 2006; 6.15pm
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

Las Vegas is like a city of lights- neon's and all sorts of lights everywhere. This city must be consuming a tremendous amount of electricity, just for the lights outside all the casinos and resorts. Vegas is not as sleazy and crime-ridden as it used to be. Apparently it has transformed itself into a top family and convention destination. Apart from all the free shows and displays at the various casinos, what I like most is the casual dress code standard. One can go into any of the casinos wearing just a pair of shorts and singlet/tank top; unlike most of the casinos in Asia where a certain minimum standard of dress code- casual smart meaning longs with shoes etc- is required for entrance.

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November 5, 2008

Night market at Devaraja, Mysore, India

Location: Devaraja fruit and vege market, Mysore, Karnataka, India (12° 18′ 0″ N, 76° 39′ 0″ E)
Date: 2 December 2005 6.35pm
Camera: Canon Ixus IZoom

Mysore is a delightful city, though not as glamorous and developed as its neighbour, Bangalore. It still retains a lot of old charms such as the Devaraja Fruit and Vege Market. The market is a colourful and fun place to visit during the day and the activities extend into the night as well. These fruit sellers definitely do not differentiate between day and night.

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November 2, 2008

Misty morning at Tsemi Pass to Mount Gonga, Sichuan

Location: At Tsemi Pass子梅山埡口 4440m, Sichuan China (29°31'3.49"N 101°43'13.67"E)
Date: 25 October 2006, 7.45am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

There are a several routes to the fabulously located Gongga Monastery (3,860m) at the foot of the Gongga Glacier below Mount Minya Gongga 贡嘎山, which is the highest mountain in Sichuan. At 7,556m the mountain is also the easternmost 7,000m peak in the world and the third highest peak outside of the Himalaya/Karakoram ranges. On the southwest approach, one has to cross the Tsemi Pass (4,440m) on the way to the monastery. The view of the triple peaks Minya Gongga is supposedly best viewed from this very windy pass. However the weather here is notoriously cloudy and foggy and one has to be rather lucky to have a panoramic view of the mountain from here. A typical morning view across the pass is like this photo- eerily quiet and cloudy. As this area is populated mainly by Tibetans, the pass is customarily decked with prayer flags as is the norm at most high vantage points and sacred locations. 

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