TERRACOTTA ARMY, XI’AN

The Terracotta Army went on my personal bucket list many years go while living in England, at the O2 for one reason – seeing 30 warriors at the British Museum did not cut it.

The army is estimated to have taken 36 years to complete and 700,000 workers. At the time I did not know where Xi’an was in China,  I certainly did not think that we would be living in Tokyo (although Singapore was always heavily under family consideration), but I knew it had to happen.

It was worth the wait and the effort. Broken into a series of “pits”, with several still being excavated, the scale of the place is staggering.

Thousands of warriors, each different standing in rows, their weapon disintegrated but their bodies remaining. Amazing.

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On many you can still see the paint remnants.

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Rows, and rows and rows.

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The chariots.

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Oddly enough, this is the only warrior I saw that looked out of proportion. A charioteer.

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700,000 people and 36 years. It boggles the mind.

PIT 1

The Terracotta Army, Xi’an, China.

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PROTECTING YOUR PARKING SPOT, BEIJING

At first I thought that the owner of this bike was simply having a tough time letting go, the way that it is locked to the office chair.

Our guide explained that the bike owner was using the two items to protect their parking spot. Cones simply don’t do it.

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Colored balloons marking the local health care center.

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My final posted shot on Beijing, at the market.

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A great place to explore (just make sure you bring a polarizing filter to cut through the haze).

BLUE DOORS, RED DOOR

As seen on the side streets of Beijing, China.

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The grey is the wall color of choice for the city.

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HUTONG MARKETS, BEIJING CHINA

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If you have followed this blog at some point you know that one of my favorite places to visit while traveling is a market. Beijing was no different. The markets are the best places to enjoy the “life” of a city.

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When you stand outside a street vendor like this, it makes our North American dining experience seem so .. pedestrian.

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A few black and whites.

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It also seems like their food is fresher. Farmer to market …. perhaps it is different in January.

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HUTONGS, BEIJING, CHINA

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Our last tour in Beijing was the traditional residences of China, which are slowly but surely disappearing under the crush of concrete.

Hutongs (simplified Chinese: 胡同; traditional Chinese: 衚衕; pinyin: hútòng; Wade–Giles: hu2-t’ung4) are a type of narrow streets or alleys, commonly associated with northern Chinese cities, most prominently Beijing.

In Beijing, hutongs are alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences.[1] Many neighbourhoods were formed by joining onesiheyuan to another to form a hutong, and then joining one hutong to another. The word hutong is also used to refer to such neighbourhoods.

Since the mid-20th century, the number of Beijing hutongs has dropped dramatically as they are demolished to make way for new roads and buildings. More recently, some hutongs have been designated as protected areas in an attempt to preserve this aspect of Chinese cultural history.

A few of my favorite shots from around the Hutongs.

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Everything is painted grey … I was told in large part due to the previous Olympics, although now it is the standard. Black and white shots seem to be the best, as it was rather hazy.

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Very old mailboxes.

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Progress. Slowly, but surely, the old buildings disappear.

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Many of the cars have pieces of carpet or wood against the wheels – to stop the dogs and cats from marking the tires.

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Mixed in behind the side streets are a few remaining temples and buildings – buried deep.

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This many hundreds of years old plaque (if I remember correctly) is a list of the local elders.

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History disappearing.

THE GREAT WALL, A FEW MORE SHOTS

An amazing hike.

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Mind the gap.

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An excellent perspective on the elevation changes – as the wall winds up and down the hills/mountains.

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A rather “overly steep” part of the wall that we did not climb.

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And one that we did.

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A truly impressive remnant of days long past.

THE WALK AHEAD, GREAT WALL CHINA

Lunch came to an end. It was time to re-start our hike.

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Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.

LIFE ON THE GREAT WALL?

Resting at the top of a tower after the arduous climb up the mountain/hill left time for reflection and two predominant thoughts.

First, we simply hiked the 800m up to get to the top. Imagining the quantity of human labor needed to move rocks/bricks to the top and build the walls seemed very “pyramid-like” in effort.

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My second thought was what would it be like living up here as a soldier? Kilometers of empty wall to patrol as you watched for the hordes from the north. Looking out across the mountain from our tower you can see the wall snake it’s way along a ridge. In this area, a strategic pass between the mountains, the Chinese had built walls along different ridges.

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A 300mm shot. You can see the wall making it’s way up some very steep terrain. According to our guide, that area of the wall is like mountain climbing and quite treacherous, for some deadly.

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Imagine sitting on that tower 700 years ago, watching for an invasion in January.

TOWER

Along the Great Wall of China. It was a beautiful sky. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.

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It also gives you an idea of the elevation changes as the wall snakes up and down the mountains.

ARRIVING

At the top of the hill and the starting point of our hike on the Great Wall of China. The un-trod path.

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THE GREAT WALL

There are two ways to do the great wall. Hitting the tourist areas which are cleared out, easy access and involves a cable ride up and taking a ride down to the bottom via a toboggan  OR hitting an abandoned area with a guide.

We chose the abandoned hike route.

The hike was 7-8km long and not the easiest. A fit family, but when it is 35C (+humidity), not a cloud in the sky and the first 1.5km involves an elevation change of 800 meters, your fitness is tested (Actually, the other 3 did fine, the only one tested was me). Fortunately, our guide provided the right amount of instruction on quantity of water and ensured that we brought enough food.

China hike

I will say that about half way up with a backpack full of bottled water, my Canon 5D Mark III, the 28-300mm f/2.8 lens and a 50mm lens stored in my pack (Why a 50mm? No idea), I was wondering if I should have packed a bit lighter.

Our starting point was at what use to be a resort hotel of some type – no longer.

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The chicken coop at the start of the hike.

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The trail up is a mix of steps (In a few of the steepest places) and rough hiking trails – at a 45 degree or steeper angle. The math makes sense, 1.5km, 800m elevation. Clearly not over-used. In our 7-8 hour hike, we saw 2 other people who were on a hike with their dogs.

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As we stopped, we took the time to look back over the valley. Beautiful views and a clear day. A stark contrast to the polluted Beijing sky.

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It is a long way up but very satisfying when we came around a corner and the wall came into sight.

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Our destination where we will break out lunch.

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A good start.

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ROOFS, FORBIDDEN CITY, BEIJING CHINA

In the Forbidden City the most interesting thing to me was the roofs. I can only imagine how much was lost during the different cultural purges of the last century.

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Right below the roof at the front of this shot is where a Starbucks use to be. It was removed prior to the Olympics as it was not good for their image. I would hate to have seen the lineup.

A few more roof shots from around the city. Grass can grow in the toughest of places.

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Deer are a popular ornament for under the roofs. Blue deer.

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Last shot.

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THE NINE DRAGON WALL

In the Forbidden City, Beijing, China.

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A little bit on the history of the wall:

is a type of screen wall with reliefs of nine different Chinese dragons. Such walls are typically found in imperial Chinese palaces and gardens.

Early reference to the tradition of putting a screen wall at the gate is found in the Analects, 3:22: therein, it is mentioned as a trivial ritual norm ("The princes of States have a screen intercepting the view at their gates". 邦君樹塞門, trans. by James Legge).

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Built in 1771. It is beautiful to look at.

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THE DRAGONS, BEIJING, CHINA

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Across from Tiananmen square, our next stop:

The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty. It is located in the center of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum. For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.

Built in 1406 to 1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings and covers 72 ha (180 acres).[1] The palace complex exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture,[2] and has influenced cultural and architectural developments in East Asia and elsewhere. The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987,[2] and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

Filled with buildings that once housed royalty, it is worth a wander.

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Our guide mentioned that this is a single piece of stone, climbing up the steps. If I recollect the story correctly, it took thousands of people a very long time to move it here as one piece and then hundreds to carve it – with dragons.

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Dragons are everywhere.

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According to Wikipedia, the Chinese dragon remains important in today’s Chinese culture:

Chinese dragons traditionally symbolize potent and auspicious powers, particularly control over water, rainfall, hurricane, and floods. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck for people who are worthy of it. With this, the Emperor of China usually used the dragon as a symbol of his imperial power and strength.[1]

In Chinese daily language, excellent and outstanding people are compared to a dragon, while incapable people with no achievements are compared with other, disesteemed creatures, such as a worm. A number of Chinese proverbs and idioms feature references to a dragon, for example: "Hoping one’s son will become a dragon" (望子成龍, i.e. be as a dragon).

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The number of dragons is very important – on the roofs, always an odd number. But not all lucky numbers are odd (to my surprise).

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One things is consistent through the shots, the grey sky.

MEDICINE MARKET, Xi’an, China

As I have mentioned before on this blog, when traveling we love to visit markets; seeing what the locals eat and how they live their lives.

I would say that the Chinese medicine market was a new level of different for our travels. As we pulled up our guide explained that these markets are in decline, replaced by Chinese pharmacies that carry every type of herbal medicine imaginable.

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Perhaps the decline is a display issue. A few of these sellers were bagging their wares to sell to other shops.

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A few of my favorite shots.

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That is a bag of snakes.

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I cannot remember, but these were some type of fish. There was a common theme through the market, almost everything would cure one condition … and contribute to fertility or virility.

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Odd to see Sea Horses.

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The shells of turtles, for some reason that bothered me.

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As did seeing these deer horns.

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Last shots. Of course, there has to be lots, and lots of beetles.

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Really interesting to see.

LIGHT

At the Chinese medicine market in Xi’an, China.

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That calculator looks like it has a lot of miles on it.

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ABANDONED

Another shot from the hiking along an abandoned section of the Great Wall of China this summer.

We did not go this way.

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We went this way.

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FLOWER SHOP, TOKYO

I love this little flower shop. This wonderful elderly couple run it and over the last couple years I have gone in there many times. No shared language, other than a love of flowers and herbs.

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STILL HERE, CHINA

An abandoned section of the Great Wall. Amazing that these bricks are 900 years old and were hand carried up a 800m incline centuries ago.

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BEIJING, CHINA

Our tour of China started with Tiananmen square. It is interesting to tour the square knowing the history. I don’t know what I was expecting to see? Obviously not demonstrators or anything of that ilk.

In the end it is a big square, with a few monuments to those deemed worth. My shots; Config Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM. A note on the shots: China was very frustrating. I did not bring the right filters and the haze/pollution played havoc with the shots.

One of the buildings surrounding the square.

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The big communist party building beside the square, The Great Hall of the People. When you read through the history you will find that occasionally it is used for artistic performances. I found it funny that the first western performer was a country western singer. I will refrain from explaining why I found that point so humorous.

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This is the Tiananmen.

The Tiananmen (simplified Chinese: 天安门; traditional Chinese: 天安門; pinyin: Tiān’ānmén), or Gate of Heavenly Peace, is a famous monument in Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China. It is widely used as a national symbol. First built during the Ming Dynasty in 1420, Tiananmen is often referred to as the front entrance to the Forbidden City. However, the Meridian Gate (午门) is the first entrance to the Forbidden City proper, while Tiananmen was the entrance to the Imperial City, within which the Forbidden City was located.

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The monument to the People’s Heroes, manned by young communist party members and commemorating wars such as the Opium war, the war against Japan and the different revolutions. When you read through China’s history and how imperialist forces abused this country, it is no wonder that self defense is so important to them.

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The square is filled with uniformed and plain clothes security. Many standing at attention.

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An interesting stroll through the square.

MONKS DRIVE BMWs

Wasn’t that a book? No, it is the Monk who sold his Ferrari.

Well, it would appear that the monks of Japan are not so interested in selling. I am amazed by the number of BMWs you see at shrines around Tokyo. When I asked a colleague, he explained that many of the shrines are handed from family to family, and are exempt from taxes.

Interested if anyone has a link – my searches on the topic proved futile.

A few shrine shots around Minato-ku, Tokyo.

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And of course, a BMW

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Last shot.

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CHINA

I have travelled to China a number of times, but always on business. Business travel involves plane > cab > hotel > client/office > hotel > plane. Maybe a restaurant in between. I never make time for personal travel while on the road.

But China was on the bucket list and we finally got there. Posts to follow … But I had to put this picture up from when we hiked an abandoned part of the Great Wall.  It captures the moment well. Just us, our guide and the wilderness.

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Beautiful.

TOKYO LAWN TENNIS CLUB, TOKYO

Just down the road from where we live in Tokyo. There is no lawn at this club, the courts are all clay (smile).

A few HDRs from when the azaleas were in full bloom.

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The path beside the club. I walked this path for a year – until we changed offices.

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WAVES IN HDR, PHUKET

We took our March break in Phuket this year. The Le Meridien is a great stop; outside of the hustle and bustle of Phuket but still accessible with a great private beach.

The waves would kick up some mornings, making for some great shots. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.

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A contrast to a calm sunset.

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MYSTERY Wi-Fi, PHUKET

It was early and I was enjoying a coffee on the balcony. I turned on my iPad’s wi-fi and noticed a new signal ‘Samax’. Odd. I looked out over the beach and saw this.

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Turns out it is easy to find a ship, thanks to websites like this.

You can read a fascinating account of how this yacht survived the 2005 tsunami here.

This was the rest of my view that morning.

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COLOURS, BANGKOK

It is a colorful city. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.

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Sitting in one of the canal locks (there are many).

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You also see some interesting wildlife on the canals. To answer your question, yes – it really is that big. This is not the zoom making it look bigger.

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HOUSES, BANGKOK

On the canals of Bangkok. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.

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Collecting water.

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As we rode down the river, lots of people were playing music. Some with some very big speakers.

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These homes exist in the shadow of some of the world’s most modern buildings.

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Reminds me of Hong Kong.

DOWN THE STREET, HIROO, TOKYO, JAPAN

Actually, down the street from where we live – a spring view. Config: Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.

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Many restaurants look like this, with the welcome cloth over the door.

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This fellow was arriving, ready for his next food delivery.

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Last shot, in black and white.

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A FEW SHRINE SALE HDRs, TOKYO

My last shots.

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I had never seen porcelain prayer requests before.

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I also do not know what these are. Perhaps prayer requests for a nice garden this summer?

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As with most shrines, 1,000 cranes offered.

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Last shot – a caged dragon.

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AN ALLEY, TOKYO

The homes and apartments may be small, but they burst with plants.

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Notice the complete lack of any litter.

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The Japanese make the most of their space.

4:22AM

The time the sun rises in Tokyo. For some unknown reason Japan does not believe in daylight savings time. In Japan’s semi-tropical climate, no black-out blind every made can stop that UV 14 sun.

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I wake up very early every day. I guess there are worse things in the world than sitting on the deck and enjoying a cappuccino to this sunrise.

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INSIDE THE AMBER FORT, JAIPUR

Once inside the fort, it felt different than others we had visited. More opulent.

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You can read more of the forts history here. In a nutshell:

The aesthetic ambiance of the palace is seen within its walls on a four level layout plan (each with a courtyard) in a well turned out opulent palace complex built with red sandstone and marble consisting of the Diwan-e-Aam or the "Hall of Public Audience", the Diwan-e-Khas or the "Hall of Private Audience", the Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace) or Jai Mandir, and the Sukh Niwas where a cool climate is artificially created by winds that blow over the water cascade within the palace. Hence, the Amer Fort is also popularly known as the Amer Palace.[4] The palace was lived in by the Rajput Maharajas and their families. At the entrance to the palace near the fort’s Ganesh Gate, there is also a temple dedicated to Sila Devi, a goddess of the Chaitanya cult which was given to Raja Man Singh when he had defeated the Raja of Jessore, Bengal in 1604. (Jessore is now in Bangladesh).[3][8][9]

There are really two key areas. The central court yard and the third courtyard. It is beautiful.

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Looking down from the walls you see the ruler’s herb garden. Cooled by the lake, it allowed the ruling family to grow foods that would not otherwise do well in this climate.

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But the highlight of the fort is third courtyard which is breathtaking.

The building to the left of the entrance gate is called the Jai Mandir, which is exquisitely beautified with glass inlaid panels and multi-mirrored ceilings. The mirrors are of convex shape and designed with coloured foil and paint which would glitter bright under candle nights at the time it was in use. Also known as Sheesh Mahal (mirror palace), the mirror mosaics and coloured glasses were "glittering jewel box in flickering candle light".[4] However, most of this work was allowed to deteriorate during the period 1970–80 but has since then been subjected to a process of restoration and renovation. Carved marble relief panels are placed on walls around the hall. The hall provides enchanting vistas of the Maota Lake.[14]

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A shot where wall and roof meet.

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We wandered deeper into the fort.

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An ancient ventilation shaft. Love the way the light comes through in the shot.

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A beautiful fort, well worth the rather painful trip to get to the top.

THE ELEPHANTS OF THE AMBER FORT

There are 3 ways to the top of the Amber Fort, walk (it is long), a jeep up the side streets (our method) or an elephant ride that wanders up the hill.

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I jumped in front of this one as it made its way back down the hill.

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The road up and down the hill is packed with jeeps.  Elephants randomly walking into the middle of the street do not speed things up.

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Neither do the random cattle. Wandering free and completely unafraid.

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I had a chuckle at this sign. Not an issue.

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This fellow was moving much, much faster than we were.

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It was very hard not to jump out of our parked vehicle for some authentic popcorn. But the rule was clear, no street food, no matter how seemly innocent – not even popcorn.

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Never a dull moment.

THE AMBER FORT, JAIPUR, INDIA

Our last fort and our last site, as we finished our tour of the Golden Triangle. The Amber Fort is quite opulent, and flows across the hilltops with a great view of the town below.

A few of my favorite shots from the walls. Mostly in HDR with a Canon 5D Mark III and a Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM).

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Great views.

THE AMBER FORT, JAIPUR

Our last tourist stop.

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A WANDER, JAIPUR

One of the benefits of having a private guide is itinerary control. When we arrived in Jaipur the family was ready for a quiet break from touring. I had to run an errand and Anu accompanied me – through the side streets of Jaipur.

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Once the errand was complete we stepped out and decided to take a one block loop around the shop. What fascinated me was the fact that the one block walk was a city, inside a city with a wide range of shops so diverse that the area could almost operate as a self contained unit. Food, mechanical shops, butchers, a pharmacy, clothing and apartments in a block.

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Rickshaws are like scooters in other countries, everywhere.

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Fossil fuels, specifically wood, is still used to cook and in homes around the city. This wood “store” was manned by a man and his goat.

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A micro-city, within the city, which also included a wide range of food – fruits, street vendors and of course, the local butcher.

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Last street shot. The hustle and bustle, in this case two guys trying to sell carpets. According to our guide, the women are tough negotiators.

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Highly recommend stepping into the side streets if you can.

A BLUE DOOR, JAIPUR

I love the colors and vibrancy of India.

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CARPETS AND SILKS, INDIA (2)

The second stage of the sales cycle was to show us how they made a carpet.

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Hand woven and then burned with a torch to remove the extra silk.

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An intricate process of burning (to tighten and seal the knots) and shaving. With the wool carpets he took a blade to the fibers to finish the process.

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While it is all staged to facilitate the sales process just like in other places such as Murano, Italy, it was interesting to watch. The problem I have as a “tourist” is what is the right price? This vendor was pitching us rugs that ran from $5K-$12K USD. While I know silk rugs in downtown Toronto often go for that price (or more), I was instantly on the defensive. Certainly they send those to foreign markets at a fraction of the cost – so what is the right price?

In the end, that is why we did not buy. Perhaps we would have if we felt there was a compelling reason and a deal to be had due to the “buy from the source” scenario.

CARPETS AND SILKS, INDIA

Being Expats our propensity to “consume” is quite low. Beside the fact that we are living in Tokyo, we have entered into a phase in our lives where we are getting rid of things – not adding. It has to be pretty special to get into our suitcase on a trip.

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Our guide had scheduled a stop at a textile shop which is a collective and one that he trusts. I have a long sales background and appreciate a good selling process. Their process is all about creating that emotional tie, letting us know the background on the collective and walking us through how the carpets are made.

The selling process started with showing us how they print silk by hand. Amazing to watch.

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The finished process.

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Made me wish that we needed something. Carpets, their high price item, were next.

ABHANERI STEPWELL, INDIA

Another TripAdvisor advised detour in India, we stopped at our second step well. Throughout the trip it never ceased to amaze me how advanced Indian engineering was. Abhaneri was built for one reason, to harvest rain water.

Stepwells, also called kalyani or pushkarani (Kannada: ), bawdi (Hindi: बावड़ी) or baoli (Hindi: बावली), barav (Marathi: बारव), vaav (Gujarati: વાવ) are wells or ponds in which the water may be reached by descending a set of steps. They may be covered and protected and are often of architectural significance. They also may be multi-storied having a bullock which turns the water wheel ("rehat") to raise the water in the well to the first or second floor.

I wonder when the last time this step well was full?

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We were not allowed down.

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Beautiful green water with thousands of steps and I counted 14 levels. Amazing piece of 8th century work.

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The architecture around the well was stunning.

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Random chunks of block filled the corridors, from temples in the area.

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For the traveller moving from Agra to Jaipur (or vice versa), it is an interesting detour.

A SIDE STREET, INDIA

While traveling from Agra to Jaipur we detoured into a small town. We went to see how the locals live and to see a potter. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.

Every street, regardless of location, has one thing in common – water buffalo and cows.

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The potters house.

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Cow dung was spread out on the roofs of many of the houses – they use it for fuel.

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I was allowed to look inside one of the homes (below), and it was as you would expect. Simple open rooms, with a fire pit and sleeping quarters on mats. It was also filled with smiling children, staring at the gaijin.

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The potter was next.

TOKYO SKYLINE

I love the view of the clouds over Tokyo. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm USM.

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TUCKED BEHIND

An old set of buildings, jammed between new ones in Tokyo, Japan.

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SAKURA CROWDS

Part of the sakura season in Tokyo is the celebration; gathering friends, throwing down a blanket on the grass and hanging out. This usually involves food and of course – drink.

It gets very crowded under those trees.

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I cannot see what the sign on the left says but I think it says that you are not allowed to have food there.

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Public alcohol is not a problem in Tokyo, it would appear. This shot (above) was taken at Arisugawa park. A beautiful park near Hiroo station in the heart of Tokyo.

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FLOWERS DOWN A BACK STREET

Last Saturday the sakura were still out – although fading fast. It is such a short season and after two full bloom, “peak” days, it rained for 3 days straight with wind. Down came the sakura.

The sun was out Saturday afternoon so I decided to take a quick walk – a last walk to enjoy the season. From our balcony I could see a few big trees in bloom. As we made our way down the alleys, we came across these huge bushes, in full bloom with perfect, pink flowers.

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It never ceases to amaze me to be in these temperate climates where flowers abound. In Canada, flowers are a concerted effort.

Around the corner, in a small park (5 trees wide), the last of the bloom.

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The local baseball field is surrounded with blooming trees.

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An entire city turns pink.

THE IMPERIAL PALACE, TOKYO

As we wandered around Tokyo seeking the sakura we came across the Imperial palace and the gardens, in bloom.

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The blooming sakura stand out among the greenery.

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I loved the view.

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A great afternoon – finally enjoyed the sakura.

UENO PARK, TOKYO

Last year we missed the blooming sakura, Tokyo’s famous cherry trees. One of the most famous is Ueno park, truly breathtaking in the middle of a city of 40M.

Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.5 USM.

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Down the main path – the sky was filled with blossoms.

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As with everywhere in Tokyo, there were large crowds. Everyone enjoying Hanami;

is the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers, "flower" in this case almost always meaning cherry blossoms ("sakura") or (less often) plum blossoms ("ume").[1] From the end of March to early May, sakura bloom all over Japan,[2]

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Truly spectacular. Should have brought some sake to sit with the crowds …

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WHAT IS THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF TIME IN INDIA?

It is a question I asked many people before we traveled there for 10 days with a wide range of answers; what is the right amount of time?

Reflecting on our time in the country, I would pass on the following opinions (feel free to disagree):

The tourist sites become repetitive:  The pink city, the blue city, Delhi. The architecture of India is surprisingly consistent. Once you see a couple temples, forts and Tajs, they begin to look the same. Therefore if you are planning, remember that. We went to Agra, Jaipur and Delhi. I do not feel that we missed much by not hitting the other northern cities and am very glad that we didn’t make the very long trips.

That isn’t to say that the south isn’t different. It is and we will make another trip to hit the south of India.

It isn’t about the tourist sites:  Had we followed the itineraries that were presented to us by travel companies we would have missed out. I spent a lot of time searching different locations on Tripadvisor and opportunities to take us off the beaten path. Into villages, on to locations that others don’t usually go to. The Taj Mahal was interesting, but I wouldn’t call it the highlight of the trip. The highlights for us were often down side streets.

I began to form this opinion at Sikandra tomb, the tomb of Akbar the great. Magnificent building? Yes. Did it have anything different than the other tombs we had seen? Not really. It was at this point in the tour that we started to actively push away from the top, commonly visited sites in the cities.

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It is tiring.  India is a full on assault on the senses. A 100km drive can take 5 hours. Everything is caked in dust. You will see flaunted wealth and the saddest of poverty. We booked in breaks at our hotel to just relax or it would have been to much.

As I said in a previous post, our private guide gave us this flexibility and truly explained India to us. The culture, the rich history and he was very flexible as we evolved our itinerary as we went.

And to answer the question again on safety – just be smart. We had a few run ins, but we were never in danger. We stood out in the crowd (My wife and boys are blonde), so expect lots of stairs, people asking for money and a few other things. As a group, it was safe. It is just about being smart.

India is an incredible place, but it is not for the first time traveler. 

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FIELDS OF YELLOW, INDIA

I was told they they are filled with rapeseed, a popular crop used to yield rapeseed oil which can be used for cooking and biofuel. 13% of India’s farmland grows the crop.

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It makes for a beautiful field.

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