December 5, 2009

It can be too close to comfort, Mt Semeru, Java, Indonesia

Location: At the summit of Mount Semeru, Indonesia (7°59'7.19"S 112°59'9.64"E)
Date: 18 July 2008; 6.45am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

One of the major tourist attractions in Central Java is the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park. Most tourists go to gawk at the three volcanoes at sunrise from a distance. It is a surreal environment and scene, really well worth a visit. I highly recommend doing such a trip if you are in the vicinity especially if you are in Indonesia itself. Others, a little crazier, will trek up the highest volcano in Java, the steaming Mount Semeru. Mount Semeru is really steaming- it throws out lava and huge boulders every 15 minutes or so. One has to keep a safe distance at the summit from the mouth of the volcano to avoid the heat but more so, to avoid being hit by rocks and boulders from the eruptions- there were a couple of deaths from such boulders a few years ago. However, it is an amazing experience to be at the summit, watching and in some cases, running away from the eruptions.

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December 3, 2009

Friends having fun at Barkhor Square, Lhasa, Tibet

Locations: Barkhor Square, Lhasa, Tibet, China (29° 39′ 11″ N, 91° 7′ 53″ E)
Date: 19 May 2005; 6.35pm
Camera: EOS 300D with kit lens

Lhasa is a major pilgrimage destination for devout Tibetan Buddhists. Two of the sites stand out as some of the holiest in their religion- the Potala Palace and Monastery. There are virtually thousands of pilgrims and tourists from all over China visiting these places every day, for various reasons. The Tibetans will come to pray, pay respect and circumambulate at these places while tourists come to see, take photos, be amaze and so on. Barkhor Square where the Jokhang Monastery is located is one of the busiest spot in Lhasa at any day. All sorts of people mill around the square and the atmosphere is positively one of joyousness, especially among the pilgrims who have spend many years planning and relatively big amount of money to come here. Even the kids will not always remember this experience.


November 30, 2009

Nov 2009 slideshow


November 25, 2009

Mighty Mitre Peak at Concordia, Pakistan

Location: Mitre Peak at Concordia, Pakistan (35.7°N 76.48°E)
Date: 10 July 2007; 11.25am

Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5
One of the best places on earth to enjoy mountainscape is the Concordia of Pakistan. Nepal and Tibet are great places as well, especially for the Himalayan Mountains and of course Mount Everest (Sagarmartha in Sherpa language and Qomolongma in Tibetan). Concordia is special compared to the other two because it is not Himalaya (ha,ha) but Karakorum, which to me is more spectacular with their more jagged and muscular profile. Furthermore, Everest can be seen at these two other places with relative ease- one can fly by helicopter to the Everest View Hotel at Khumjung (Nepal) or drive on a 4WD all the way to the so-called Everest Base Camp in Tibet, China. However, if one wants to see K2 (the second highest mountain on earth), there are no shortcuts- one will have to trek many days including sleeping on glaciers- to the Concordia. One of the most distinct mountains at Concordia is the Mitre Peak (6,010m). The Mitre Peak here is prettier and looks more like the Christian bishops’ mitre headwear than its namesake in Milford Sound of New Zealand.


November 23, 2009

Sunset behind Mitre Peak at Milford Sound, New Zealand

Location: Mitre Peak at Milford Sound, South Island, New Zealand (44° 38′ 0″ S, 167° 51′ 0″ E)
Date: 23 May 2009, 5.30pm
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Mitre Peak at Milford Sound is one of the most photographed places in New Zealand. It was named so after the mitre headwear of Christian bishops (it is not nearly as perfect and pretty as another Mitre Peak in the Concordia area of Pakistan- I will post an article on that soon). At 1,692 metres, it is not a tall mountain but it sticks out as the surrounding mountains are lower. Most people would come to Milford Sound to take the Milford cruise on the sound itself. The cruse and the ride on the Milford Road to the Sound is like one of the must-do for any travellers to New Zealand and is normally done as a package from nearby towns such as Te Anau or Queenstown. However one can actually stay at the Milford Lodge, which is 5 minutes walk to the cruise centre (where this photo was taken). The Lodge has bunks and backpackers facilities at a cheap rate. One can only enjoy the tranquility and take some good sunset/sunrise photos by spending a night around here.


November 20, 2009

View of Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Ngozumpa Glacier from Gokyo Ri, Nepal

Location: Mountainscape from Gokyo Ri, Nepal (27°57'41.69"N 86°40'56.79"E)
Date: 14 April 2000; 7.45am
Camera: Canon EOS 500N (analogue) on slides and scanned

There are two great spots to see Mount Everest (from here on, respectfully referred to as Sagarmartha, which is its Sherpali name, in this article) in the Khumbu area of Nepal, where trekkers normally trek to. One of them is obviously the so-called Everest Base Camp trek that brings one very close to the foot of Mount Sagarmartha. This is very close and the view may be grand but not spectacular. The other one is from Gokyo Ri (5,357m) further east. Gokyo Ri is close to the village of Gokyo (visible in the photo), on the banks of the third Gokyo Lake (also called Dudh Pokhari). The view of Sagarmartha is further (and smaller) from here but perhaps a little more spectacular, blending in the surrounding peaks (Sagarmartha is the peak partially hidden by clouds, towards the left side of the above photo). In fact, a few other 8,000m peaks can be seen from here- Lhotse, Makalu and Cho Oyu- as well as perhaps the largest glacier in Nepal- Ngozumpa Glacier (in front of the mountain range in the above photo). However, to me, a better and more spectacular view of Sagarmartha is the southeast face i.e. from the China-Tibet side.


November 18, 2009

Modern Tibetan cowboys at Xiahe, Gansu, China

Locations: Xiahe, Gansu, China (35° 11' 50 N, 102° 30' 36 E)
Date: 26 June 2004; 5.40pm
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

Xiahe is a small town in present-day Gansu. It used to be part of Greater Tibet in the old days and hence, the town is still very predominantly Tibetan in every sense of the word. It is also the location of Labrang Monastery, one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region. These days, the Tibetans here have substituted their choice of transport from horses while roaming in the mountains and grassland to “steel horses” i.e. the motorbikes. It is common sight to see groups of young Tibetans with their customary cigarette in their mouths on motorbikes gathering to update on the latest developments on the grasslands.

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November 15, 2009

These rats are fun, Kami Mata Temple, Deshnok, India

Location: Rats feeding on milk, Deshnok, Rajasthan, India (27° 47′ 26″ N, 73° 20′ 27″ E)
Date: 10 Jan 2009; 9.30am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Kami Mata was a female Hindu sage worshipped as an incarnation of Durga. There were several temples built and dedicated to her. The most famous of all is the temple in Deshnok, a village south of Bikaner in Rajasthan. The temple is famous for its rats, known as kabas and is supposedly reincarnations of a family who have a member revived by Kami Mata. These rats, literally in the thousands, run riot over the temple complex, dashing around to feed on the food- fruits, sweets and so on- and milk left by pilgrims and worshippers. The rats vary in sizes but most of them are rather small. They are harmless and are quite fun to watch. There are holes around the temple courtyard to fascinate the rats' movements. It is considered auspicious to have a kaba running around and/or across your feet.


November 13, 2009

The sea of yellow that is rapeseed blooming, Yunnan, China

Location: Luoping, Yunnan, China (31° 15' 0 N, 110° 4' 60 E)
Date: 1 March 2007, 5.20pm

Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Canola or more commonly known as rapeseed is a major source of cooking oil in China. Many parts of China are planted with rapeseed, which normally ripens in the warm of spring. However, as different places in China are located in different attitudes and heights, the ripening and harvest season of rapeseed varies from place to place. Places like Yunnan (like Luoping in the photo), parts of Guangxi, Guizhou etc (all in the south) will have theirs in Feb/Mar while those in places such as Qinghai, Xinjiang will be latter months. When the rapeseed flowers are in full bloom, the plantations and surrounding areas is a sea of yellow and gold. All one can see is just a yellow and golden blanket with the buildings, trees and other fixtures in between. One of the most spectacular places to enjoy this beauty is the Luoping area in the east of Yunnan (at the border with Guizhou and Guangxi).


November 11, 2009

The Good Life, Aussie-style in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

Location: Somewhere near Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia (27°51'5.88"S 153°21'46.67"E)
Date: 13 May 2008, 10.15am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

To many Asians where property prices in cities are expensive and most abodes are small, Australia really seems like the “Lucky Country” where large houses with huge gardens are relatively cheap. That’s why many middle class Asians chose to buy a place and retire in Australia. The only thing that works against that dream is the higher costs of living as well as the current high exchange rate. One only needs to survey the bigger Australian cities such as Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and so to notice the huge Asian influx. The change is so profound in the last 15 years that when I told one of my Australian friends that I wanted to have Australian food, he asked if I want to have Vietnamese, Thai or Malaysian style.


November 9, 2009

Even Ronnie McDonalds do the Thai gesture in Thailand

Location: McDonalds at Amarin Plaza, Bangkok, Thailand (13°44′37″N 100°32′29″E)
Date: 28 October 2009, 11.15am

Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Thailand is known as the “land of smiles” but probably more accurately refers to as the “land of politeness”. Thais has a special way of greeting known as wai. This consists of a slight bow with hands clasped together as if in a prayer. If the hands are held higher in relation to the face and a lower bow, more respect or reverence is being shown by the wai giver. The wai is also commonly used as a gesture of thanks or seeking forgiveness. It is speculated that the wai originated from an ancient greeting as a means to show that neither individual had any weapons. However, it is more likely to originate from Buddhist tradition where one claps their hands together and bring it down towards the ground three times after prayers.


November 6, 2009

Sunrise rays on Gunung Merapi at Borobudur, Java, Indonesia

Location: Borobudur, East Java, Indonesia (7°36′29″S 110°12′14″E)
Date: 21 July 2008; 6.00am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Borobudur is the largest Buddhist monument in the world. Many tourists like me get up early to enjoy the view of the sunrise over Gunung Merapi looming over Borobudur in the distance. It is also a better time to take it the site as there are less tourists about because those on tourist buses do not normally troop in till around 10am. The best strategy to enjoy this morning serenity had already been described here.


October 31, 2009

Slideshow for Oct 09


October 29, 2009

Mani stones of all shapes and sizes, colours and designs in Tibet

Location: Ngari, Tibet, China (31° 4′ 0″ N, 81° 18′ 45″ E)
Date: 5 August 2007, 11.30am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Mani stones are smooth stone plates, pebbles and rocks usually inscribed with the universal mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” (which translate to "Hail to the jewel in the lotus"). Images of deities and sutra texts are also commonly inscribed on such stones. Sometimes there are decorated with sheep and yak horns. Mani stones are regarded as sacred, used as a sacrifice and a form of prayer in Tibetan Buddhism. Mani stones and mani stone mounds can be found almost anywhere in Tibet and Tibetan areas- in monasteries, along paths and rivers, crossings, on mountains, lakes and most prominently in high vantage points such as passes. Normally Tibetans will walk around a mani stone mound in a clockwise direction .As Tibet is sparely populated, in more remote places the mani stone mounds actually become prayer halls and shrines for local Tibetans.


October 26, 2009

Old and new Chinese Door Gods

Locations: Various villages in Yunnan. China
Date: April/May 2005
Camera: Canon Ixus IZoom

Door Gods are Chinese decorations placed on doors of homes, temples, business premises and so on, to ward off evil spirits and bad luck. Wiki has a brief but good article on this subject. However these days things have changed a lot in China. As opposed to the traditional and still well-practiced tradition by Overseas Chinese of having righteous, well-known generals (who became deities later on) as Door Gods, China Chinese have a new hero- the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). As readers may know, the PLA is China’s unified military, the military arm of the Communist Party of China and the very same outfit that “liberated” China from the Kuomintang (Nationalists) in the 1950s. However, unlike the traditional Door Gods who are well-known personalities, the “new” Door God is an entity- an unknown soldier.


October 23, 2009

Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu, one of the world’s biggest

Location: Boudhanath, Kathmandu, Nepal (27° 43′ 17″ N, 85° 21′ 43″ E)
Date: 6 May 2003; 4.20pm

Camera: Canon G1
Boudhanath is one of the holiest Buddhist site in Kathmandu. It is easily recognisable and popularly known as Buddha’s Third Eye Stupa. The stupa itself is one of the largest in the world; itself is surrounded by a massive mandala of three platforms. Each platform has twenty angles. The stupa is believed to be built in the 5th century lies on the ancient trade route from Tibet. Tibetan merchants have rested and offered prayers here for many centuries. However, since the 1950s Tibetan refugees from China had come and lived around here in big numbers, so much so that one mainly sees Tibetans around this part of town.


October 21, 2009

Tequila sunset at Santa Monica, California

Location: Santa Monica beach, California, USA (34° 1′ 5.99″ N, 18° 29′ 25.01″ W)
Date: 3 September 2006; 7.15pm
Camera: Canon Canon 300D with kit lens

Just another nice sunset shot in addition to this previous post/photo.


October 19, 2009

Sunrise over the reservoir of Srah Srang, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Location: Srah Srang, Siem Reap, Cambodia (13° 25′ 51.6″ N, 103° 54′ 24.15″ E)
Date: 12 November 2002; 6.40am
Camera: Canon G1

Srah Srang is a baray or man-made lake within the Angkor compound. The lake is a 900 year-old reservoir, which according to recent research forms part of the reservoir complex engineered to provide irrigation to the rice fields in the Greater Angkor area. This place is now a popular site for viewing sunrise. On the west end of Srah Srang, there is a multi-tiered sandstone terrace. The terrace is gorgeously adorned with lion carvings, naga balustrades, and other Khmer carvings. The sunrise is best viewed from atop this terrace.


October 16, 2009

The current mood on Wall Street- Charging Bull

Location: Charging Bull, Bowling Green, New York City, USA (40° 42′ 19.48″ N, 74° 0′ 48.53″ W)
Date: 9 February 2006; 1.20pm
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

This statue of the charging bull representing a bull market is apparently one of the major tourist attraction in New York. Well, the stock markets around the world is certainly experiencing a bull run currently with the Dow Jones at its highest for a year (since the mortgage and credit crisis) and most stock markets around the world elevating towards the stratosphere. However, the enthusiasm on the various stock markets had yet to filter down to the real market and the economies around the world are still struggling along. In fact one of the reasons for the bull run is that company earnings are improving due to costs and staff cutting- which by itself feed negatively into the real economy by increasing unemployment. That said, the financial institutions are reaping in the benefits, paying its staff and management even higher pay and bonuses pre-crisis! Such short memories and greed must be plugged before another major crisis developed and ending with taxpayers paying these fat cats.


October 14, 2009

The magnificent sand dunes of Mingsha, Dunhuang, China

Locations: Mingsha, Gansu, China (40°5'18"N 94°40'33"E )
Date: 5 June 2004; 8.00pm
Camera: EOS 300D with kit lens

China, the 3rd largest country in the world has a few big deserts including the Taklamakan which covers a major part of Xinjiang and part of Gansu province. The Mingsha Desert in Gansu is at the eastern reach of the desert, circling the oasis town of Dunhuang. The Mingsha (“Singing Sands”) Desert is named for the sound that the sands produce when blown by the winds. It boasts some of the highest sand dunes in the world, at an average of 1,200 meters above sea level. The Mingsha is one of the major attractions of Dunhuang, lying along the ancient Silk Route between China and the West. The edges of the dunes are sharply shaped by the winds with clear edges and corners. I made the mistake of walking on the sand dunes in sandals on a hot May afternoon. The sands are so hot and soft that there are like molten sand that one’s foot just sinks into. And of course, it is burning hot to the bare feet in a pair of sandals. I virtually hopped down the dunes looking for a gravel patch to rescue my feet! Having learnt that, the next time I visited, I made sure that I wore a pair of socks even in sandals to avoid direct contact with the sands.


October 12, 2009

The biggest mosque of the world’s 3rd largest Muslim population nation

Location: Jama Masjid, Delhi, India (28° 39′ 3″ N, 77° 13′ 59″ E)
Date: 2 October 2005; 8.30am
Camera: Canon IXUS iZoom

The just released comprehensive report by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life maps the world Muslim population and distribution. The report makes interesting reading with some surprising facts. Unsurprisingly the two most populous Muslim nations are Indonesia and Pakistan. But many people may be surprised to learn that India with a Muslim population of 161 million has the 3rd largest Muslim population. This is only 13% of India’s population. In fact 317 million of Muslims live in countries where Islam is the minority religion. About three-quarters of Muslims living as minorities are concentrated in five countries: India (161 million), Ethiopia (28 million), China (22 million), Russia (16 million) and Tanzania (13 million).


October 8, 2009

London Arch of Port Campbell National Park, Victoria, Australia

Location: London Arch, Port Campbell National Park, Victoria, Australia ( 38° 37′ 19″ S, 142° 55′ 57″ E)
Date: 22 May 2008, 7.15am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

The London Arch is one of a few interesting rock formations in the Port Campbell National Park. It is a natural arch formed through erosion. It was previously known as the London Bridge, due to the close resemblance of it's double arches to the actual bridge. However, it was later changed to London Arch after one of its arch collapsed. This part of Victoria is a popular tourist destination. I have previously written a post on the 12 Apostles which also described the travel and accommodation options around here.


October 6, 2009

Travelling on a mokoro in the Okavango Delta, Botswana, Africa

Location: Okavanga Delta, Botswana, Africa (19° 15′ 0″ S, 22° 45′ 0″ E)
Date: 23 April 2001; 11.25am
Camera: (analogue) Canon 500N with slides and scanned

Okavango Delta is the world’s largest inland delta. The delta is irrigated by the Okavango River which originates from Angola, where it is known as the Cubango River. The river has no outlet to the sea but empties into the Kalahari Desert and irrigating the desert in the process. The delta is flooded for about 3 months every year between June and August, curiously during Botswana’s dry winter months. The reason is that the river water comes from summer rains in Angola that takes about 5 months to reach the Okavango Delta. When the delta is flooded, it swells to at least 3 times its permanent size. During this time, the delta is a magnet for animals, creating one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of wildlife. Islands, the majority of which began as termite mounds, can disappear completely, being consumed by the flood. However, the water would disappear relatively quickly through evaporation and transpiration from the leaves of plants as a result of the high temperature in the desert. A major means of transport during the flood is by poling a mokoro, a traditional dug-out canoe made from an ebony or sausage tree log, like that in the photo. Since both the ebony and sausage trees are now protected, mokoros are now made from fibreglass.

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October 3, 2009

The majesty and showcase of Christianity’s biggest church, St Peter’s Basilica

Location: St Peter's Basilica, Vatican, Italy (41° 54′ 8″ N, 12° 27′ 23″ E)
Date: 23 March 2005; 11.40am
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

There are so many churches and cathedrals in Rome that one can easily mistake the interior of one church with another. Furthermore, one would easily be bored after seeing a few. Be it as it may, if you are only going to visit one church/cathedral, let that be the St Peter’s Basilica of the Vatican, the largest church in the world. To start with, it can be hassle to get into the cathedral as it is often packed with pilgrims and there is normally a queue to get in. However, the sheer size, history, arts collection and its significance in Christianity means there is no equal to it. Personally, I was awed by the arts and sculpture collections, the history and its opulence. An example is the (central approach to the altar) and Bernini's "Cathedra Petri" and "Gloria at the High Altar of the Cathedral as seen in the above photo.


October 1, 2009

Slide for Sep09


Changi Airport has it all, including a mobile post office!!

Location: Changi Airport Terminal 2, Singapore (1°21′26.54″N 103°59′19.81″E)
Date: 2 May 2009; 9.20am
Camera: Canon IXUS IZoom
Singapore has great pride in its national carrier (Singapore Airlines) and airport terminals at Changi. Both are icons of Singapore and had consistently topped surveys by travellers. More terminals are being added to Changi Airport while the older ones are constantly being upgraded. Unlike some other airports where it is boring and uncomfortable to transit or wait for flights, Changi has lots of amenities, entertainment, shopping and probably the airport with the most number of free internet terminals (and also free wifi connections for those with their own laptops) in the world. A lot of thoughts must have gone into trying to make the airport as user-friendly as possible including providing a mobile post office (on wheels) and souvenir stand like this in the photo.


September 30, 2009

Eiffel Tower, Louvre and other Paris landmarks in Las Vegas

Location: Paris Las Vegas, Nevada, USA (36° 6′ 45″ N, 115° 10′ 20″ W)
Date: 9 September 2006; 1.15pm
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

Paris Las Vegas is one of many replicas one sees in Vegas, along the Strip. It is actually a hotel and casino- as its name suggests, it is Paris-themed. It has many replicas of Paris’ landmarks. These include those in the photo- a 165m replica of the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the La Fontaine des Mers. It is one of the older complex, completed in 1997. Vegas had transformed into a more family-oriented destination in the last few years after losing out as the biggest gambling enclave to Macau.

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September 28, 2009

Lake McGregor with the Southern Alps, New Zealand

Location: Lake McGregor, South Island, New Zealand (43°56'10.96"S, 170°28'12.71"E)
Date: 26 May 2009, 11.30am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Lake McGregor is a small, very deep lake in the McKenzie Basin, next to the bigger and better known Lake Tekapo. The lakes are surrounded by mountains, with the year-round snow peaks of the Southern Alps to the north- which is the backdrop of the above photo. Lake McGregor is fabulous for fishing, mainly brown trouts. There are many small bays around the lake with shelf of shallow water that drops off into the depths. Fish cruise around these edges especially during the warmer months. However, there can be excellent fishing at all times of the year at the outlet channel that leads to Lake Tekapo. Apart from fishing, it is just another of many lakes around this part of New Zealand.


September 23, 2009

China has many minorities including Miaos in Zhaoxing, Guizhou

Locations: Zhaoxing, Guizhou China (25° 54' 39 N, 109°10' 35 E)
Date: 18 April 2005; 11.45am
Camera: EOS 300D with kit lens

China officially recognised a total of 55 ethnic minority groups apart from the Han Chinese majority. These are distributed all over China, with more diversity in those provinces bordering other countries. For example, Yunnan which share borders with Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam has the largest number of minority tribes, numbering in excess of 50. However, even though Guizhou does not have any national borders, it is home to the second largest diversity of ethnic tribes in China. Unlike Yunnan, the minority tribes in Guizhou are not often found in other countries, e.g. Dong and Buyi. Furthermore most of these ethnic groups live in isolated hillsides and along rivers deep in the hinterland, which are difficult to reach. This ensures that their culture and traditions to remain fairly intact till now. Very often, the minorities still go about their daily lives in their traditional costumes. This may not continue for long as China is developing so fast that these places are not "spared". In fact, tourism has reached these places as one can see from the incredible number of s0-called "minority tours" these days being advertised. Their culture and way of life is likely to change with all such developments and influences. In fact, one of the ugly side effects of tourism development in these places is the corruption of their values by materialism, as I have posted before regarding Chenyang. In any case, Zhaoxing was still a very warm and hospitable village when I visited in early 2005. I wonder how much it has changed since. If you have been there recently, please leave your comments and updates here about the village.


September 19, 2009

View from a shikara, Srinagar, Kashmir, India

Location: Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir, India (34° 5′ 24″ N, 74° 47′ 24″ E)
Date: 18 August 2009 5.50am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

This is just a shot that I think is fun to post after writing about going to the morning market. This is the view from the shikara while rowing on the way to the morning vegetable market.


September 18, 2009

Morning floating vegetable market, Srinagar, Kashmir, India

Location: Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir, India (34° 5′ 24″ N, 74° 47′ 24″ E)
Date: 18 August 2009 6.15am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Srinagar is well known for its produce- fruits and vegetables. It is supposedly also well-know for flower cultivation. There is a daily floating market in the morning, selling vegetables mainly. It is on Dal Lake and is just a normal affair for locals but attracts a fair number of curious tourists, like yours truly. Actually, it is not much of a big deal but rather a little novella bit like the floating markets in places like Bangkok but smaller. Nevertheless, I still enjoy watching the local people going about their own way of life, which has not changed for decades. In fact, what I enjoy most was not so much the market but the nuances of the people, such as the friendliness, the bargaining and the most interestingly the lack of females in the market; Srinagar is mainly Sunni but is not dogmatic or fundamental.

To get to the floating market on Dal Lake, one needs to start early- preferably around 5.30am. It takes about 30-45 minutes for the shikara to get to the market from the Dal Gate area. You should budget to spend between 1½ to 2 hours for this activity. It is advisable to make your arrangements the day before with the shikara owner on the timing and rendezvous place. Of course, you should have negotiated and agreed on a price. The price varies depending on the duration and the season of the year. I paid 200 INR for 2 hours in August.


September 16, 2009

Colourful shikaras on Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir

Location: Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir, India (34° 5′ 24″ N, 74° 47′ 24″ E)
Date: 17 August 2009 5.50pm
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Srinagar, the capital of the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir had been touted as a very beautiful place, a city with a huge lake, Dal Lake, in the centre and flanked by a couple of mountain ranges. The lake is, in turn flanked by slumbering and beautiful houseboats; staying in one is supposedly a fabulous experience. I came with expectations set by reading such accolades over the years and my verdict is mixed.

I visited Srinagar in the summer (mid-August) when the mountains are a little bare and green-brown in most places. Hence, I could not experience the so-called mountain beauty of the lake backed by snowy mountain ranges. The lake is pleasant but is really not that nice, if one look closer. It is pretty with good reflections but that is because it is rather shallow, stale, blackish and unmoving. In fact, in many places, it is filled with weeds- workers in boats manually de-weed parts of the lake every morning. Certain parts of the lake are actually smelly, stink of the human and other wastes that are either discharged into the lakes via canals or directly from houseboats or dwellings along its shores. In short, it is polluted.

Staying in a houseboat is touted as the ultimate Kashmiri experience. There are about 1,800 houseboats in total on Dal Lake and the smaller adjoining Nagin Lake. These houseboats range from fabulously decorated luxury options to somewhat ordinary ones. The prices range also varies according to the state of the boat, the meals offered etc but prices would start from 500 INS per night excluding meals in the summer high season. Apparently, in the usual summer high season, all the houseboats and most of the hotels in Srinagar are fully packed by mainly Indian tourists (this summer was not that great for tourism after mainly Indian tourists shunned Srinagar due to the Amarnath Nagar episode last year). Personally, I did not quite enjoy my houseboat experience:

  • inconvenient to get out-and-about onto land, having to have someone to row me to shore
  • restricted to meals provided by the houseboat or endure the trouble of getting to shore
  • being captive to the occasional souvenir sellers, and
  • just not spending enough time on the boat to make it worthwhile.

Despite all the above, the lake itself can be quite photogenic especially with the colourful shikaras (Kashmiri gondolas) plying the lake. All the shikara owners belong to an association and there is an official rate for renting the shikaras. The rate is posted on signboards along the shore. The official rate (2009) is 200 INR per hour; one can easily negotiate a rate of 100-150 INR per hour.

(next post on Srinagar- the floating market)

Technorati Tags: Srinagar,Kashmir,Lake Dal,Jammu & Kashmir


September 14, 2009

Houseboats on Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir

Location: Dal Lake, Srinagar, Kashmir, India (34° 5′ 24″ N, 74° 47′ 24″ E)
Date: 18 August 2009 6.15pm
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Jammu & Kashmir is known to be a beautiful place. However, its main claim to “fame” had been the cause of four wars between India and Pakistan (and one between India and China). It was on the radar of many travellers but could never get there due to the bombings and disturbances perpetuated by separatists as well as the resultant Indian military lock-down- the latter is still very much evident in many parts of Srinagar, the capital. The situation had only turned better in the last couple of years due mainly to the dialogue and peace overtures between India and Pakistan. As a result, it never featured in any guidebooks- the only one that has a section on Kashmir is the latest issue of the Lonely Planet. However, I find that Lonely Planet did a horrendous job in the practical guide to Srinagar. Contrary to the information in the guide, there are loads of budget accommodation in Srinagar. Most of them are concentrated on the shore of Dal Lake, opposite Boulevard Road, only a few meters to the left of Dal Gate. Clean doubles with attached bathroom and 24-hours hot running water can be had for 200 INR at hotels such as Hotel New Zeenath and the likes.

(more posts soon on Srinagar itself)


September 9, 2009

Wonders built over the centuries- rice terraces of Yuanyang, China

Locations: Yuanyang, Yunnan, China (23° 9' 15 N 102° 44' 52 E)
Date: 26 February 2007; 2.10pm
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

Rice is the main staple for most Asians, including Chinese. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that it is the most commonly grown crop in China. In many parts of China, rice is grown on terraces cut over hundreds of years into hillsides. Paddy fields need a lot of water for irrigation and terraces aid the flow and irrigation. One of the most amazing places to see rice terraces in China is Yuanyang in Yunnan. Over the years, it had become a photographers' haven. During the pre-planting season in the first couple of months of the year, the rice terraces are flooded and soaked with water to allow the soil to loosen up as well as to absorb the water. This is the most beautiful period to photograph the terraces as they changes colour and hue during the course of the day as water reflects the sun, sky, mist and so on. Most early mornings (about 5 am), one can see hordes of photographers scrambling for the best vantage points to photograph the sunrise and mist amongst the terraces.


September 7, 2009

Atlas facing off St Patrick's Cathedral, New York

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; 1.25pm
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

I just enjoy taking pictures of people and buildings of New York. I have seen so many of the city's landmarks on TV that I was really excited to finally see them personally. The Atlas statue at Rockefeller Center is one of my favourite. This is a different angle to an earlier photo I posted before.


September 4, 2009

Gold gilded door carvings, Luang Prabang, Laos

Location: Door carvings, Luang Prabang, Laos (19° 53′ 0″ N, 102° 8′ 0″ E)
Date: 4 November 2004; 9.20am
Camera: Canon EOS 300D with kit lens

The cultures and histories of some Indochinese countries- Laos, Cambodia and Thailand are closely related. Their historical figures can be seen to don similar costumes and headgears. The above Laotian sculpture could easily have been something one spots in Thailand. I guessed the similarities could be due to the aggressions of one country against another in the past.


August 31, 2009

Slideshow for Aug09


August 30, 2009

Iran's influence is felt everywhere in Kargil, India

Location: Khomeini Chowk, Kargil, Kashmir, India (34° 34′ 12″ N, 76° 6′ 0″ E)
Date: 16 August 2009 4.35pm
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Muslims make up less than 15% of India's population; however, it is still a sizeable at least 154 million, making it the country with the 3rd largest Muslim population in the world (after Indonesia and Pakistan). The majority (about two-thirds) of India's Muslims are Sunnis. Shiites are prominent in certain parts such as Agra and Kargil. The latter is well-known as the epicentre of the Fourth Indo-Pakistan War in 1999, dubbed the Kargil War. In Kargil, Shiites are the majority and as such, one can see the influence of Iran everywhere as Iran has the biggest Shiites population in the world. Iran's influence is so prevalent that there are posters of its leaders in many places- even a street in the Main Bazaar is named after the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran- Khomeini Chowk.

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August 27, 2009

Yamdroktso and Mount Nojin Kangtsang, Tibet, China

Location: Yamdrok Tso, Tibet, China, (28° 56′ 0″ N, 90° 41′ 0″ E)
Date: 23 April 2003; 10.05am
Camera: Canon G1

Yamdroktso is one of the four most sacred lakes to the Tibetans. The lake is shape like a fan and is surrounded by numerous snow peaks, including Nojin Kangtsang (7,252m) as seen here. It is one of the most beautiful lakes in Tibet with clear turquoise waters. However, the beauty of the lake is likely to be irrevocably damaged by both the building of a hydroelectric plant at the site as well as gold exploration activities in its immediate vicinity. The scarring was already visible back in 2003 with land clearing activities along its shores. I cannot imagine what damage had been done to its beauty by now.

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August 25, 2009

India- as it always was

Location: Central Post Office, Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir, India (34° 4' 60 N, 74° 49' 0 E)
Date: 18 August 2009 11.35am
Camera: Canon Ixus IZoom

India always amazes me in many ways. One of the most amazing things is how nothing ever- and I mean, really ever- change in this country. These post-boxes are really ancient- I suspect these are the same design and look when the country was under British colonization (India had been independent since 1947). The other amazing fact that this post-boxes illustrate is the confusion or perhaps more accurately, the ironic in the country's own existence as an independent sovereign nation. The country had struggled for over 200 years to rid itself from the yolk of suppression and humiliation of British colonization but yet it still cling on to all that is British- the symbol of the British Raj. One example is the short 3-foot bamboo stick, the lathi that most Indian policemen carry. I always remember seeing British officials in Bollywood movies of the colonial era customarily carrying one and using them on the locals. More comically, senior Indian police officers today also carry one of those short stick that were introduced and used by their British colonial counterparts.


More posts on India on the way

I have just returned from a couple of weeks travelling in Northern India. I have travelled in India on about a dozen ocassions. Naturally I have some observations, likes and feelings about the place, the people, politics, society and system. I will be writing a few more posts in the next few weeks on India while my thoughts are still fresh.


August 17, 2009

Away Travelling Again

I have been travelling again in Northern India for the last couple of weeks. Will be posting more photos and stories when I get back soon.


August 3, 2009

Calm waters of a tiburtary of Muar River

Location: Muar River near Parit Jawa, Johor, Malaysia (1° 57′ 0″ N, 102° 39′ 0″ E)
Date: 17 April 2004 3.40pm
Camera: Canon G1

Parit Jawa is a little fishing village in Johor beside the Muar River. It has a mudflat that is the feeding ground for a flock of Lesser Adjutants plus many other birds that feed in the mudflat and mangrove ecosystem. It is also a tranquil village with lazy fishing boats along the river banks. However all this may be changing as there are plans to develop the area around here. There doesn't seem to be any study or consideration of the developments on the ecosystem.


August 2, 2009

Kashgar's historical Old Quarters gone forever

Location: Kashgar Old Quarters, Xinjiang, China (39° 45' 26 N 78° 24' 18 E)
Date: 7 August 2007; 2.20pm
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Xinjiang, like Tibet, is starting to become a headache for the Chinese government. It is sometimes quite unbelievable that the Chinese government is not aware of the problems, resentment and antagonism that their policies are causing to the original inhabitants of these "provinces". The undercurrents were just bubbling below the surfaces everywhere when one bothers to talk to the ethnic minorities in these places. To add salt to wounds in Xinjiang, the Chinese government had demolished the historical and ancient Old Quarters of the ancient oasis town of Kashgar. In fact before the demolition, this maze of mud-houses had already became something of a circus with the government licensing a Han company to seal off parts of the old quarters to tourists; entrance only by paying a fee. Even an idiot would have realised that such action is bound to create resentment among the dwellers.


July 31, 2009

Slideshow for Jul 09


Grand Canyon is the most recognisable canyon system

Location: Grand Canyon, USA (36.05335° N, 112.08344° W)
Date: 5 September 2006; 8.35am
Camera: Canon EOS 300D with Sigma 70-200/f2.8

The Grand Canyon must be one of the most recognisable canyon systems in the world. Though it is mo longer "the most" in many perspectives, it is still used as a yardstick for comparison purposes when other canyons are mentioned. For example, I often read that the Yarlung Tsangpo (deepest canyons in the world) is how many times deeper than the Grand Canyon and the longest canyon system, the Nujiang Gorge is how many times the total length of the Grand Canyon etc etc. I guess one of the reasons has to be the Western world is more familiar with the Grand Canyon and so using it as a comparison gives the readers both a sense of scale as well as a sense of identification.


July 28, 2009

Hot balloons in Yangshuo amongst the limestone karsts

Location: Yangshuo, Guangxi, China (24° 47′ 0″ N, 110° 30′ 0″ E)
Date: 10 October 2008, 5.35pm

Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Yangshuo is fast becoming a premier tourist hub with all the tourist amenities and activities that one can find anywhere. It was one of the earliest "real backpacker haven" with Western cafes, music in the early 1980's. It is now so touristy that one will have to struggle to find traces of authenticity anywhere in its vicinity. Hot ballooning is just another activity newly popular in Yangshuo. By the look of it, there is a real demand as I saw at least six balloons went into the air on that evening.


July 24, 2009

Lighthouse at the northern tip of NZ is a very windy place

Location: Cape Reinga Lighthouse, New Zealand (34° 25′ 43.64″ S, 172° 40′ 51.61″ E)
Date: 10 May 2009, 10.30am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Cape Reinga is a beautiful spot in the northern tip of New Zealand. It is commonly been mistaken (even by reputable guidebooks) as the northernmost tip of NZ- that honour actually belongs to Surville Cliffs which lies 30km to the east of here. Cape Reinga is often windy, being an exposed sliver of land protruding into the meeting of the Tasman Sea and Pacific Ocean. The cape is sacred to the Maoris as they believed that it is the point where the spirits of the dead enter the underworld. It is popular with tourists. One can drive to the cape easily (the nearest town, Kaitaia, is about 100 km south); however most tourists prefer to take a day tour as this normally include a drive on and along the fabulous 90-Mile Beach which is unsuitable for vehicles.


July 22, 2009

The changing face of Singapore especially the new CBD

Location: View from Marina Barrage, Singapore (1° 16′ 50″ N, 103° 52′ 16″ E)
Date: 20 July 2009; 8.20pm
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

The only certainty in Singapore is perhaps change. The skyline, retail facades and residential skyscrapers of the island is constantly changing. Many of the buildings, be it commercial or residential and retail facades that were around 10 years ago were either refurbished, renovated or plainly demolished to make room for newer, better and taller ones. The country is also in the midst of remaking its Central Business District (CBD) by relocating and building new office towers around the new Marina Downtown area. The picture at the Downtown area today (above) is distinctly different from two years ago. The Singapore Flyer in the photo (Ferris wheel) was only operational in early 2008. The so-called Integrated Resort named Marina Bay Sands Resort, which is in effect a huge casino complex represented by the three towers at the left of the picture, is scheduled for completion by year-end. A couple of other projects are in the pipeline to maintain the change momentum.


July 19, 2009

Mount Tawache & Cholatse among the giants of the Himalayas

Location: Lobuche, Khumbu, Nepal (27° 57′ 34.2″ N, 86° 47′ 23.8″ E)
16 May 2000; 7.15am
Camera: Canon EOS 500N(analogue) on slides and scanned

Some parts of the Khumbu valley are like moonscape especially closer towards Everest. Glaciers had scarred the landscape for centuries and rocks, boulders and moraine are scattered over wide areas. In between, giant snowy mountains peek out of the landscape such as Tawache (6,501m) and Cholatse (6,440m) which towers over the village of Lobuche in the above photo. However, the landscape of the region had changed tremendously in the last few years as a result of global warming. Recently I saw some photos of the Khumbu area and was shocked at how bare it had become- the glaciers had retreated and the landscape is brown, no longer covered by snow/ice.

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July 16, 2009

Coracle among boulders of Hampi, India

Location: Hampi, Karnataka, India (15° 20′ 9″ N, 76° 27′ 39″ E)
Date: 27 November 2005; 2.45pm
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

One of the fun things to do at Hampi in Karnataka (see this post for introduction of Hampi) is roaming around the rock boulders along the Tungabhadra River to search for carvings of Hindu gods on the rocks. There are many such carvings as well as little shrines all over the place. However, the shrine with the best location as well as most prominent is the Monkey Temple on Anjenaya Hill (the white patch at the top of the hump in the distance in the above photo). To get there, one have to cross the river by taking a ride on a "Dongi" or round-shape bamboo coracle and then climb 572 steps to the temple. The temple itself is just a small chamber, devoted to Hanuman, the Monkey God. It is a popular place for sunrise and sunset.


July 14, 2009

Sunrise at Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, Java, Indonesia

Location: Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park , East Java, Indonesia (7°59'7.19"S 112°59'9.64"E)

Date: 16 July 2008; 8.10am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park in East Java is my favourite destination in Indonesia. It is quite a touristy place, popular amongst Indonesians and foreigners alike. However apart from the morning crunch during sunrise at the viewing platforms at Gunung Penanjakan and later on at Gunung Bromo itself, one will not really feel the crowd for the rest of the day. This could be because many of the tourists are only day-tripping for the morning sunrise and walk up to the caldera of Gunung Bromo. Furthermore, there are a few access points and so, accommodation options, rather than all cramped into Cemoro Lawang, which is the closest village. I also suspect that many of the tourists will simply stay at their rooms to recuperate during the day. There are many other choice locations to enjoy the volcano panoramic in the morning (and evening) apart from the one that all jeeps go with their guests. These other ones may not be as high but there are at more interesting angles; but some bush thrashing may be necessary. The above photo as well as this misty shot are taken from these alternative spots.


July 11, 2009

Narrow cave opening connecting a hong to the sea, Thailand

Location: Phang Nga Bay, Thailand (8° 17′ 0″ N, 98° 36′ 0″ E)
Date: 6 March 2009; 11.25am
Camera: Canon IXUS IZoom

As introduced in this post, Phang Nga Bay is full of little isolated islands with collapsed cave systems and hongs- tidal sink holes in the middle of the islands- opening to the sky. These hongs are connected to the sea by narrow caves., some so narrow that paddlers have to lay on their backs to get through. As the opening gets closer, one's vision switched from that of darkness to greens reflected on tranquil waters like this photo.


July 9, 2009

A snowy morning at Karakul Lake, Xinjiang, China

Location: Karakul Lake, Xinjiang, China (38° 26′ 0″ N, 75° 3′ 0″ E)
Date: 10 June 2004; 8.15am
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

Karakul Lake is approximately 200 km on the road towards Khunjerab Pass, the border crossing between China and Pakistan. It is a beautiful high alpine lake at about 3,600m and is surrounded by snow-peak mountains (also see this post). There are a couple of Kirgiz settlements along its banks. However, around 2003, a small cluster of yurt-tents and a couple of Chinese restaurants sprang up. A gaudy gantry was also erected near the same spot, at the entrance of a small paved road leading from the main road to the lakeshore. These people who run the restaurant and rent out the yurt-tents (think a couple of Chinese families) started collecting entrance fee of 50 RMB per person to visit the lake. Honestly, I am not sure if these people are actually authorised to collect any entrance fee (like many parts of China) but they will not allow one to go pass without paying. When I attempted to go back to Karakul Lake at the end of 2008 (after the Tibetan disturbances), I was told that I need to get a special permit to visit the lake. I guess the Chinese government was sensitive with foreigners in remote places of China after the Lhasa disturbances. Unfortunately, they did not trust their instincts enough and so did not start enacting policies or taking steps to reduce the marginalization of the Uighers that lead to the deadly riots in Urumqi on 4 July.


July 7, 2009

Colourful laundry marts, Dhobi Ghats of Mumbai, India

Location: Dhobi Ghat at Saat Rasta, Mumbai, India (18° 59′ 0″ N, 72° 48′ 0″ E)
Date: 11 April 2008; 1.30pm
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Dhobi- laundry- is common everywhere in India. Traditionally the laundry was washed close to a river, lake or reservoir and then spread on the banks or hang on lines to dry in the sun. This is still a common sight in many parts of India. In major cities, it is more common for the laundry to be done in "ghats” open-air concrete wash pans with flogging stones. The most famous of these Dhobi Ghats and perhaps the largest outdoor laundry is at Saat Rasta near Mahalaxmi Station in Mumbai, where around two hundred dhobis and their families work together in what has always been a hereditary occupation. The dirty garments are washed in soapy water- stubborn stains are removed by soaking them in boiling vats of caustic soda- thrashed on the flogging stones and then hung out to dry. They are pressed the next day using heavy wood-burning irons and piled into neat bundles to be returned to their owners. I am always amazed at how they can remember which garments belong to whom.

P.S. Even modern Singapore also has such ghats during the colonial times. The laundry was washed in a stream that used to be known as Sungei Bras Basah that flowed from Orchard Road to the sea (it is now the Stamford Canal). The laundry were then dried in the open space between Bras Basah Road and Stamford Road- which is why that area and the MRT station today is known as Dhoby Ghaut.


July 5, 2009

Half Dome simmering in sunset rays

Location: Yosemite National Park, California, USA (37°43′18″N 119°38′47″W)
Date: 14 September 2006; 7.15pm
Camera: Canon Canon 300D with kit lens

I have to admit that I was slightly disappointed with Yosemite. I have read and seen many photos of the Park but when I was there, I was not exactly impressed by what I saw. I am a bit of a "mountain person" and so was expecting to see some relatively impressive mountain sceneries. The Half Dome and El Kapitan are not quite as majestic as the mountains I used to see in Asia. I guessed I was not used to the fact that a National Park such as Yosemite is so crowded, like an urban park.


July 2, 2009

1-way bridges common in New Zealand

Location: Richardson Range, Kinloch, Otago, New Zealand (44° 51' 0" S, 168° 20' 0" E)
Date: 22 May 2009, 11.30am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Kinloch is a very small settlement situated at one end of Lake Wakatipu in the South Island of New Zealand. It is directly at the opposite bank of the lake to another small town, Glenorchy. Glenorchy had quite a high profile in the last few years as the site of no less than four Lord of The Rings film shooting locations. Many of the outdoor locations of the movie "X-Men Wolverine" were also shot around here. One can quickly understand the popularity of this area for such locations after spending a couple of hours driving or walking the vicinity. The scenery is one of sheer stark beauty with snowy peaks of both the Richardson and Humboldt Ranges framing the west and east shores of the lake, fed by both the Dart and Rees River. However, drivers have to be always on the alert for this road sign- 1-way bridges, give way- that are common in the South Island.