October 30, 2010

A living Dutch-style walled city in Sri Lanka

Location: Fort Galle , Galle, Sri Lanka (6° 1′ 53.19″ N, 80° 12′ 58.78″ E)
Date: 12 October 2010, 6.10pm
Camera: Canon 500D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

I first visited Galle in 1996 and spent less than 2 hours there. I did not do much research about the place then and went there because it is one of the tourist destinations touted by travel publications on Sri Lanka. I was a little disappointed with Galle then as there was really nothing to see apart from some old style Dutch buildings which are in various state of disrepair. Later I realised that it is a UNESCO Heritage Site. Lately I have read some travel guides that described the place with flowing praise, more for the so-called transformation into a shopping paradise for arts and the money spent, mainly by rich European expatriates in renovating and transforming some of the older buildings into boutique hotels and art outlets. So I told myself I must spend two days there the next time I visit- which I did recently- I specially extended my stay in Sri Lanka for this. Well, I was reasonably disappointed again. Yes, there had been some restoration of old buildings but the audience is obviously rich Europeans tourists. Most of the houses and churches are still in “original” state despite the “city” being a UNESCO site and hence, getting funds to preserve and upkeep. I guess the UNESCO inscription was for a “fortified city built by Europeans in South and South-East Asia, showing the interaction between European architectural styles and South Asian traditions.” and in that sense it is correct. I do enjoy the fact that it is a living city with people actually living and breathing in the old houses, and for centuries for that matter. But that is also changing- many of the houses are already under renovation and soon the character of this place will change from being a living city to a commercial city.


October 28, 2010

The “Crown of Jaipur” Hawa Mahal, Rajasthan, India

Location: Hawa Mahal, Jaipur, Rajasthan, India (26° 55′ 26″ N, 75° 49′ 36″ E)
Date: 3 Jan 2009; 8.30am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Jaipur forms one of the legs of the so-called “Golden Triangle” of Delhi-Agra-Jaipur that nearly every tourist to India will visit. The city is a chaotic city- just like anywhere in India- and has a few interesting attractions, including the UNESCO Heritage Site of Jantar Mantar. However I always enjoy visiting the Hawa Mahal in the city.

Hawa Mahal means the “Palace of Winds” and is part of the City Palace complex. Nothing much of it is left except its exterior five-storey structure. The structure was designed like the crown of the Hindu god, Krishna. but with 953 small windows known as jharokhas, decorated with intricate lattice work. the windows was designed to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life in the street below without being seen as they have a tradition of strict face covering (purdah) for the ladies then. Hawa Mahal was for many years in a rather derelict state with peeling paint and broken windows until a restoration effort that started in 2005. It is now somewhat more “pretty”.

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October 26, 2010

Ancient roofs of a remote Dong village, Guizhou, China

Locations: Zhencong, Guizhou, China( 25°54'30.67"N 109°11'43.82"E)
Date: 17 April 2005; 8.15am
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

Guizhou is a treasure trove for travelers who enjoy experiencing ethnic diversity. Even though the province does not have as many different ethnic groups as Yunnan, it is less developed due the landscape- hilly and not-as-good transport links. Therefore the ethnic minorities in this province are more “genuine” in their practices and lifestyle; whereas in many parts of Yunnan, many of the ethnic practices are staged for tourists. The ethnic minority in this province is dominated by three large groups- the Zhuang, Dong and Miao. The Dong are most well-known for their Drum Towers and majestic Wind and Rain Bridges while the Miaos are known for their festivals, diversity and their signature stilt dwellings. Many of these villages are now popular tourist destinations though there are still some gems that are well-hidden- too difficult and convoluted to visit. One example is the Dong village of Zhengcong which is a small village surrounded like an island by a stream with beautiful surroundings and houses. The villagers still practice their own custom and go around their business in their traditional costumes. It is one of those places where you will not find a guesthouse or anything close to it.


October 23, 2010

Inside a Greek Orthodox Church, Samos, Greece

Location: Samos Island, Greece (37° 44′ 0″ N, 26° 50′ 0″ E)
Date: 3 April 2010; 3.35pm
Camera: Canon 400D with Canon 70-200/f4L USM

Greece practice a different type of Christianity- Greek Orthodox. Greek Orthodox churches can be seen all over the country. As I am no expert on Christianity, I cannot really tell the difference with Catholic or Protestant churches. However Greek churches seem to be more “conservative” in decoration and we have been advised not to take photos in many of the churches we stepped in to have a look.


October 20, 2010

Giant calligraphic medallions inside Hagia Sohpia, Istanbul, Turkey

Location: Inside of Hagia Sophia, Instanbul, Turkey (41° 0′ 31″ N, 28° 58′ 48″ E)
Date: 20 April 2010, 9.40am
Camera: Canon 400D with Canon 70-200/f4L USM

Hagia Sophia is a former church, then a mosque, and now a museum. It was the largest cathedral in the world for more than a thousand years. The cathedral was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople (Istanbul’s former name) from the Byzantine Empire. It is one of the grandest current and former religious buildings that I have the pleasure of visiting. To me, this building is comparable to the Vatican’s St Peter’s Basilica in its grandeur and place in history. There are many interesting historical and architectural aspects to the building, all enmeshed with the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires’ history. On entering the museum, one of the most distinguishing sights is the 8 gigantic circular-framed disks or medallions hanging on the columns. These were inscribed with the names of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, the first four caliphs and the two grandchildren of Mohammed. Hagia Sophia is a MUST-SEE stop on anyone’s visit to Turkey.


October 18, 2010

Old Bridge in Bruce bay, South Island, New Zealand

Location: Bruce bay, South Island, New Zealand (43° 36′ 0″ S, 169° 34′ 0″ E)
Date: 12 May 2009, 2.15pm
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Bruce bay is a windswept bay in the West Coast of the South Island. Here one can enjoy a sweeping coastal view of the Tasman Sea thrashing against the coast line. The coast is lined by elegant Rimu trees while the beach is largely deserted except for stones and driftwood. However it is rather spectacular in its sparseness and wild grandeur. The settlement here is old and was established mainly as a result of a Gold Rush in the 1860’s. Hence one can still see some old structures and elegant bridges still standing.


October 16, 2010

The gracious Siguniang Shan of Sichuan, China

Location: Siguniang Shan, Sichuan, China (30°59'59.57"N 102°51'4.85"E)
Date: 29 October 2006, 4.40pm
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

Siguniang Shan means the “4 Sisters Mountains”. It is located in the Aba Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan, the same prefecture of the famed Jiuzhaighou Scenic Reserve. Siguniang is a Nature Reserve as well and is managed by the same company that has managed Jiuzhaighou. Hence the protocol of visiting this place is similar to Jiuzhaighou- one pays for entrance fee and a fee for the hop-on-hop-off bus service within the Reserve. There are three valleys within the reserve and there is an entrance fee (separately) for each valley.

Siguniang is well-known for its snow peaks, valleys, forests, lakes and biology. It is a UNESCO Heritage Site together with the Wolong and Jiajin Mountains forming the Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries. According to the legend of the local Tibetan people, millennia ago there was a mountain god named Balang who had four beautiful daughters. The youngest of them was the tallest and had the most graceful figure. A devil admired the girls and wanted to marry them. So the devil challenged Balang to a fight for the girls. The devil won the battle and killed Balang, so the girls fled but eventually died from cold weather. Their bodies became the Siguniang Mountains and their father became the Balang Mountain. The Siguniang Mountains stand graceful, shoulder by shoulder plunging their heads into the clouds, with glaciers wrapping around their shoulders and green forests around their waists. The youngest girl is the tallest at 6,250m above sea level.


October 14, 2010

Youngster practicing cricket batting in Galle, Sri Lanka

Location: Galle International Stadium, Galle, Sri Lanka (6° 1′ 53.19″ N, 80° 12′ 58.78″ E)
Date: 11 October 2010, 4.40pm
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Cricket is the most popular game in South Asia and in many other former British colonies, the most popular summer game. It is played as 5 days Tests and One Day Internationals. Test cricket is a strategic game but One Day cricket really brings the game to the mainstream, adding a higher level of excitement by capturing the audience attention with the shorter game perfectly suited to the TV era.

Sri Lanka is a relatively new player in the international cricket scene, having only obtained Test status in 1981. However it has managed to capture the imagination of the cricket world by winning the Cricket World Cup in 1996 and the International Cricket Council Champions trophy in 2002 as well as being the runner up in a few other international championships. Sri Lanka has within its ranks greats such as Muttiah Muralitharan (often referred to as simply Murali), the highest wicket taker in both Test cricket and 1 Day internationals. Most of the great cricket players of Sri Lanka and other countries such as Pakistan are in fact “hailed from the streets”. However these days cricket is such a big game that youngsters go through structured training programs to hone their batting and bowling skills. It has also become such a big money game that it is rife with corruption as big bets are placed on many small specific aspects of a game. Many talented Pakistani players are notoriously associated with cricket corruption.

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October 12, 2010

Still Travelling

I am still tarvelling and will be back within a couple of days. More posts & photos will follow.


October 4, 2010

South Gate Angkor Thorn- depiction of a Hindu myth

Location: Devas at South Gate, Angkor Thorn, Siem Reap, Cambodia (13° 26′ 35.89″ N, 103° 51′ 34.85″ E)
Date: 13 November 2002; 11.40am
Camera: Canon G1

Angkor Thorn is within the Angkor Wat complex of Siem Reap, so to speak. It is however, not actually part of Angkor Wat- it is in fact the last capital of the Khmer kingdom. Visitors to Angkor Wat will probably not bother to make such a distinction; it is after all part of a visit to Angkor Wat. There are several distinguishing features of Angkor Thorn but the row of statutes lining the length of the entrance to the South Gate is one of the more enduring. On the left are the gods while on the right are the demons, or asuras. They are supposed to be engaged in a tug-of-war holding on to the seven-headed serpent, or naga. This is a depiction of the Hindu creation myth, Churning of the Ocean of Milk, which is also shown on the bas-relief of Angkor Wat.