January 31, 2011

New York is special

Location: Time Square, New York City, USA (40° 45′ 27.83″ N, 73° 59′ 8.55″ W)
Date: 9 February 2006; 8.15pm
Camera: Canon 300D with kit lens

Generally I dislike visiting cities when I travel. I only stay in cities when I cannot avoid it; exceptions are historical cities with immense history and heritage such as Beijing, Delhi, Rome, Florence, Paris and so on. However I enjoyed my time tremendously in one city with lesser historical heritage- (by comparison) New York. I guessed I felt familiar with the city due to seeing some of its sights while watching American TV programs and movies. However the city is so vibrant and full of life that it is absolutely fun to wonder around. In fact it is very unique with its rich blend of variety of peoples, languages and cultures. One observation that really struck me when I visited the city about 5 years ago was the prevalence of Spanish language and the influence of the Latino culture. I mean, I realize that there is now a huge Latino population in America, but I was absolutely unprepared by the reality and extent of the demographic shift of the country (I saw the same while visiting San Francisco). I have been following the TV program, CSI New York and saw many more interesting bits of New York that I did not see the last time. I want to go back there again!


January 28, 2011

Something is cooking………………Tashkurgan, Xinjiang

Location: Tashkurgan, Xinjiang, China (37° 46′ 18″ N, 75° 13′ 43″ E)
Date: 27 July 2007, 7.50am
Camera: Canon 400D with Canon 70-200/f4L USM

Tashkurgan is a small town on the Karakorum Highway that runs between China and Pakistan. It is at a high altitude of 3,200m and is a recommended overnight stop for travellers from China to Pakistan so as to have a a better chance of crossing the snow-prone Khunjerab Pass (border between China and Pakistan, the highest border of the world,) in daylight. The Pass is closed during winter as the roads will be blocked by snow. Tashkurgan was a vital stop on the old Silk Road as caravans from all directions converged here- it is said to mark the mid-way point between China and Europe. The majority population here are Tajiks and most of them still lives a nomadic-like lifestyle. In the summer, they tend their animals in the hills and return back to town/base when it is too cold in the winter. Many of them still lives in tents and it is a fabulous sight to see smoke billowing form their tents when they starts heating and cooking early in the mornings.

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January 25, 2011

Saints atop the 135 spires of Duomo di Milano, Milan, Italy

Location: Duomo di Milano, Milan, Italy (45° 27′ 51″ N, 9° 11′ 29″ E)
Date: 8 March 2005; 9.10am
Camera: Canon 300D with Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 Lens

I could only remember two things about Milan- most of the female boutique Retail Assistants look like models with long legs and the Milano di Duomo (Milan Cathedral). The Duomo was quite a sight for its size and the innumerable spires sticking out from the top of the cathedral. There are 135 spires in total with 3,500 statues adorning them. Unfortunately the Duomo was undergoing preservative maintenance and part of it was closed- even the exterior was blocked off. Therefore I did not have the opportunity to go inside nor able to see the Duomo in its complete majesty. Still it was quite an unforgettable sight.


January 21, 2011

Indiana Jones would be proud of this…… Passu, Pakistan

Location: Hussaini Village, Northern Territories, Pakistan (36°25'25.26"N 74°52'54.78"E)
Date: 2 July 2007; 9.15am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Apart from trekking the Karakorum Mountains, one of the most amazing experiences in Pakistan is crossing the suspension bridge across the Hunza River from Hussaini Village to Zar Abad. This rope bridge is long and un-maintained, missing a few planks. There are actually two bridges; the old one was broken and hangs in tatters right next to the current one. Crossing the bridge is quite a challenge, not only because of its condition, the length and the quick flowing river underneath but also the precariousness due to its shaking by strong winds brought by the flowing river. However to the locals, this is their only means to cross the wide river and they cross it as if walking on land, without much of a blink of the eye. There is another suspension bridge across the river slightly further south- better condition but just as scary. Apart from the sense of adventure, one can also enjoy the fabulous view of the Passu Cathedral (mountains in photo) from here. This place is highly recommended and is a “must-go” for anyone travelling the Karakorum Highway.


January 19, 2011

Glacier Point is the place to watch sunset on Half Dome, Yosemite NP, USA

Location: Half Dome from Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, California, USA (37° 43′ 50.99″ N, 119° 34′ 22.01″ W)
Date: 15 September 2006; 6.25pm
Camera: Canon Canon 300D with kit lens

I guess I did not spend enough days at Yosemite during my visit and so was not as impressed by the National Park as I would have thought. I may have a total different experience and impression if I had few more days to explore and trek into the woods, away from the crowd. Anyway it was a great place to spend a few days to be with nature again. One of the spot I enjoyed most during my Yosemite visit is Glacier Point, a viewpoint at a height of 2,199m. From here, one could see the various highlights of Yosemite National Park including Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Nevada Fall and so on. It is especially lovely during sunset. Unfortunately it was dry season when I visited and so there were no waterfalls to be seen.


January 17, 2011

Ngari, Tibet, China- a “once-in-a lifetime” destination?

Location: Chiu Gompa, Ngari, Tibet, China (30°45'55"N 81°22'5"E)
Date: 8 August 2007, 6.20am
Camera: Canon 400D with Canon 70-200/f4L USM

Ngari of Tibet is one of those destinations often described as “once-in-a lifetime” by most travel guides. Its major claim to fame is Mount Kailash, Lake Manasarovar and the Guge Valley. It is a part of China/Tibet that has been difficult for independent foreigner travellers to visit due to the proximity to the proximity to the disputed borders with India/Pakistan. A clutch of permits are needed to do so and still the chance of getting them is never assured; however a foreigner can get there relatively easier by joining a package group tour. The situation has now changed for the worst after the incidents in Lhasa and Olympics in 2008. Today it is virtually impossible to get to Ngari for an independent foreign traveller. Checkpoints had increased and the security officials are more vigilant in enforcing the rules. Hopefully China will slowly relax the restrictions again soon especially since the airport serving the region, at Gunsa, had already started operation. Otherwise this destination may indeed be a “once-in-a lifetime” destination for most non-Chinese nationals.


January 13, 2011

Fun carvings in Gangaramaya temple, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Location: Gangaramaya, Colombo, Sri Lanka (6°54'58"N 79°51'22"E)
Date: 14 October 2010, 2.10pm
Camera: Canon 500D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Gangaramaya is the largest Buddhist temple in Colombo. It is not just a temple, place of worship, but also a recognised learning center. Within its compound are residential hall, museum and education rooms as well as a huge collection of Buddha souvenirs, precious artworks, statues, carvings and gifts from devotees around the world. The collection of statues is rather interesting- as they are from different countries, one can see the influence and depiction of Lord Buddha in the different ethnic and cultural forms. Chinese influence seems to be strong as there are carved jades and tusks from China and even huge statues of Chinese deities. However some of the more interesting carvings are those outside and carved around the Relic Chamber with kids in different postures as if they are supporting the base of the Chamber.

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January 11, 2011

Enjoying the view of Yenni Mosque while fishing on the Galata Bridge, Istanbul, Turkey

Location: Galata Bridge, Istanbul, Turkey (41° 1′ 12″ N, 28° 58′ 23″ )
Date: 18 April 2010, 4.50am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Galata Bridge spans the Golden Horn of Istanbul. Golden Horn is an inlet of the Bosphorus or Istanbul Straits; while Golden Horn divides the city, the Bosphorus is where Asia and Europe meets. Hence, Istanbul and for that matter, Turkey has a foot in both Asia and Europe. The Galata Bridge is a popular place for leisure fishing. Every morning and evening, one can see lots of people trying their luck in catching a fish or two. It is a great setting with the backdrop of the Yenni Mosque (as in the photo) and the Sultan Ahmet Camii further up the hill. The bridge has a great lively atmosphere around it- there is the busy Eminonu ferry docks, the cafes and bazaars, fish market and the well-known fish sandwich on the western side of the bridge.


January 6, 2011

The original Gypsies are from India

Location: Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India (26° 55′ 12″ N, 70° 54′ 0″ E)
Date: 27 Dec 2008; 8.30am
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

The Gypsies or Roma that we know today originated from India and migrated across to the West over a thousand years ago. The origin of their culture is the hostile habitat of the Thar Desert of Rajasthan. Two of the most common group of so-called gypsies in India are the Bopa and Kalbeliya. They are the lowest caste in the Hindu caste system and live a nomadic life, sleeping underneath the stars on the outskirts of towns in Rajasthan. They worked as street performers travelling between fairs and festivals such as those of Pushkar and Bikhaner, as well as selling ethnic jewellery and accessories at tourist spots. They are talented musicians and dancers and they used to be sought after by maharajas as court performers; however their stable livelihood disappeared together with the royalties of India. They can be easily identified by their darker skin, colourful costumes and abundant adornment of accessories, the most common being the nose rings.


January 3, 2011

Singapore’s night skyline gets better and more exciting…….

Location: Marina Barrage, Singapore (1° 16′ 53.22″ N, 103° 52′ 21.58″ E)
Date: 18 September 2009; 7.10pm
Camera: Canon 400D with Sigma 17-70/f2.8-4.5

Singapore’s night skyline used to be rather boring compared to the other cities in the region such as Kuala Lumpur. This has changed in the last few years with the transformation and moving of the Central Business District to the new Marina Bay area. New iconic buildings are being added and more are still being built. This development reflects the changing focus of the government from being paternalistic to one with a more open global perspective. However Singapore’s night skyline still has a long way to go before it can rival that of Hong Kong. But it is getting more exciting.