THE DRAGONS, BEIJING, CHINA

2014 06 17 Forbidden city

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.

TREE TRIMMING AND CONES, TOKYO

As I wandered around Chofu I started to get lost. Fortunately I had my iPhone and used it to locate where I was and where I had left the car. Somehow I had gotten quite far off track so I cut through a park to get closer.

I came across these gents heading out for work. They were trimming trees in their tiny little truck. There seems to be a lot of little specialty vehicles in Japan.

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You are not allowed to do a lot of things in the park. The “no golfing” was the one that caught my eye.

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I do not know why, but apparently this guy is a lucky man. Why does his poster have English on it? You have got me.

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I wandered past a train station. It seemed like everyone on the platform was looking at their phone.

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It never stops amazing me how many bikes there are in Tokyo. Probably one of the reasons why there are very few obese people in Japan, they all ride bikes (and don’t eat western fast food). The bikes are everywhere on the streets and at certain train stations, they even have their own parking lot.

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A friend of mine is constantly writing about the cone culture in Japan. They are literally everywhere and often, head scratchers. Cone madness.

The “this is a sidewalk” coning.

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The “garden in waiting” coning.

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The “please don’t walk into my air conditioner that is closely tucked away and you would never hit it anyway” coning.

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My final shots of Chofu. As you walk through Tokyo, a land of 40 million, you will also come across random plots of land that have remained farm land. This “farm land” is often crammed in between apartment buildings and 2 story houses that are 500 square feet per level (including land).

And like so many farmers that I know, they have a tough time throwing things out. You never know when you will need it …

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A greenhouse waiting for spring.

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Love the look of this building. I cannot begin to guess the age.

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A good wander.

CANON’s HDR

I love the Canon 5D Mark III. The only thing that I wish it had was integrated GPS. I have to use a GP-E2 which connects to the hot shoe – I find it bulky.

One of my favorite features is the HDR. It is a little trick shooting hand-held HDR with the camera as you get some odd effects and at times it will end up out of alignment. That is why I use the setting which keeps all of the pre-HDR shots. If the HDR shot doesn’t work, I can process one of the others.

It is much more convenient than doing it post processing and candidly, I just don’t have enough time to be fiddling and building the images. Sure, it means that the chances of my shots getting to the front page of 500px are nominal, but so be it.

While on my “Chofu wander” I was mixing between hand held HDR and “normal” shots with my 28-300mm lens. I accidentally selected emboss. It came out quite interesting.

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Not sure I would use this setting other than by accident?

OBVIOUS

Wandering around Chofu (a district of Tokyo) I came across this place. I am not sure what is going on, is it a shop?

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There was a very helpful sign in English. If anyone could help me out with the translation, that would be great.

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Foreigner in a foreign land.

TOMB OF I’TAMAD UD DAULAH, INDIA

We visited this tomb on the same day we visited the Taj Mahal. I have to say, I found this landmark more interesting. Beautiful grounds, a spectacular and visually stunning building, smaller crowds and a beautiful view of the river.

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Via:

Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah (Urdu: اعتماد الدولہ کا مقبرہ‎, I’timād-ud-Daulah kā Maqbara) is a Mughal mausoleum in the city of Agra in the Indianstate of Uttar Pradesh. Often described as a “jewel box”, sometimes called the “Baby Tāj”, the tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah is often regarded as a draft of the Tāj Mahal.

The mausoleum was commissioned by Nūr Jahān, the wife of Jahangir, for her father Mirzā Ghiyās Beg, originally a Persian Amir in exile.[1] who had been given the title of I’timād-ud-Daulah (pillar of the state). Mirzā Ghiyās Beg was also the grandfather of Mumtāz Mahāl (originally named Arjūmand Bāno, daughter of Asaf Khān), the wife of the emperor Shāh Jahān, responsible for the construction of the Tāj Mahal.

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The walls outside are incredibly colorful and ornate.

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And even more colorful inside.

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As always, look up.

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At the back of the grounds it opens up to a magnificent view of the river. People washing their clothes, water buffalo drinking and a few magnificent viewing spots.

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A brief note on the entrance … it is adorned with carvings of wine. Supposedly the Mughal loved his wine.

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I am not sure this is a big stop on the Agra tour. We did not see any tour buses. If in Agra, make the stop.

SHOTS AROUND A TEMPLE, TOKYO

A small temple, tucked off the road in Chofu, Tokyo, Japan. As seen by one of the many mirrors on the road. The mirrors are in place as the buildings are so close to the roads that it is almost impossible to see around corners.

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No one was around .. just a pair of boots.

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The temple was across from the tracks. Everything in Japan (and Tokyo) is so tightly packed in and usually close to some type of train track.

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Being Canadian, seeing lemon trees like this in January when it is 6C is a bit baffling.

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Near the temple was a workshop of some type. Odd seeing what appears to be a machine shop in the middle of what feels like a residential area.

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As always, Tokyo is filled with random English.

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People often refer to India as “Incredible India”. Seems like Tokyo needs a adjective inserted.

CARS, TOKYO

No matter where you are in the world, people love old cars. Japan is no different. I happened on these while killing time in Chofu.

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There was a shop restoring them.

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All good junkyard like shops have vicious guard dogs. This one was not happy that I was lurking near the cars.

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Remember, always look up. When I was a kid I did a lot of Japanese Tamiya models. It would appear that the owner likes working on all sizes of cars.

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One more car. I wonder what is under the tarp?

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And the config, as you might guess:  Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/3.5 USM. Might need to blow the dust off the other lenses soon.

THE TAJ MAHAL, INDIA (part 2)

The Taj Mahal, wonder of the world, ode to love. Well an ode to his 3rd wife. Not sure how first 2 felt when he embarked on this 25 year building spree to remember her.

None the less, one of the “must sees” when in India.

Our first glimpse was from down the river. It was a little bit hazy, but luckily not foggy and the sun was coming out. (Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/3.5 USM).

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Once past the gates you come to the large entrance – effectively called “The great gate”

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Our first peek at the Taj Mahal.

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As we walked through the gate it came into full view. It was quite a unique experience.

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Even thought it was an official holiday, it was not as busy as I had expected. But there were a lot of Indians. With the recent collapse of the rupee there has been a sharp decline in travel abroad as Indians looked to more affordable travel within the country.

Unfortunately, this means that if you are a local, you can expect a very, very long line. Fortunately, as foreigners we were able to skip the lines. The lines wrapped around the Taj Mahal multiple times.

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And on that note, what else is there to say? It is the Taj Mahal. A spectacular monument that you simply stand back and soak in.

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A unique Christmas day.

THE TAJ MAHAL, INDIA

When we went to India over the Christmas break we did not realize that we were taking such a risk. When I say risk I am not talking about safety. I am talking about weather.

Little did we know – it was a terrible time to go to India. In the evenings it gets cold and that causes fog. Lots of fog. According to our guide he went to places like the Taj Mahal many times and all they saw was fog. How terrible would that be?

With this new insight we made a plan as we traveled from Delhi to Agra; the weather would dictate where we would go when and Anu would pick when we went to the Taj Mahal.

It turns out, we were very lucky. According to our guide .. very, very lucky.

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Before I get into the Taj Mahal, I need to backtrack. The experience is an interesting one. You stop off at the tourist arrival area where you board electric buses to head to the Taj. This is in an apparent effort to reduce pollution. 

They also provide you with some clear guidelines on what you should not do. I am very glad I left behind my nife, colors and helmate.

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Very glad because the Ministry of Defense was ready to jump into action in their very intimidating car.

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You get dropped off and have to walk to the entrance – through stalls, craftsmen and tourist hawkers. Oh yes, we also had to stop for water buffalo. They were crossing .. near the Taj Mahal.

They came up from the river bank onto the road and back down .. a normal day in the life of a water buffalo, passing through thousands of tourists.

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It has to make you smile. On your way to the Taj Mahal, and you get stopped by a herd of buffalo. Incredible India. I expected the sights below, not the water buffalo.

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In moments we arrived. This ticket got us past the long local lines and in to see one of the wonders of the world.

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The Taj Mahal.

OLD DELHI MARKETS, INDIA (Part 2)

The Old Delhi markets are a real mix. Inside a city block you can find everything; spices, food, textiles, with a little bit of everything in between.

When it comes to colors and textiles, the Indian culture is all about color.

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The Indian culture also loves their marigolds. Street vendors were selling them everywhere – especially near temples.

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Did I mention that watching the street vendors and not being able to try any of the foods was torture?

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This fellow was making these amazing deep fried, cinnamon, crispy sweet cakes. How do I know? They had them in the hotel at breakfast – a place where we could eat the food.

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The Indian spice markets are like the textiles – filled with colors. I had one vendor try to sell me a huge bag of cardamom for a couple dollars – definitely not Tokyo prices.

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A wonderful “wander”.

STAY AWAY EVIL SPIRITS, INDIA

Throughout India you see these on doors, walls and hanging in the air – to ward off evil spirits. In this case they are warding the spirits and locking them out.

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Remember, always look up. They were hanging all around the markets.

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I think it is a lime – with chilies.

THE DELHI MARKETS, INDIA

How do you describe the Delhi markets? Many words come to mind. Rich, alive, colorful, crammed, dusty, packed, rambling, chaotic. All apply including “interesting”. On Christmas eve day, we wandered the textile and spice markets of Old Delhi. Every alley filled with sights.

These are two of my favorite shots – capturing the essence of the alleys of Old Delhi (Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/3.5 USM)

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This sign was hanging outside a string of fireworks shops.

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A few fireworks with very interesting names.

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The fireworks were right beside the “Dental Depot”.

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And this empty office, which our guide said was the sanitation office – they must have been out and hard at work.

2013 12 24 Old Delhi-69 More tomorrow.

BUILDING REFLECTIONS, TOKYO

 

Buildings reflecting buildings. Config: Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon 28-300mm f/3.5 USM.

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I took this shot for two reasons. First, the reflection caught my eye. Second, the slogan. This is a grocery store – if anyone knows what their slogan means, let me know. A Jenglish head-scratcher for sure.

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Still scratching my head …

I add this building not due to the reflections, but because it is doing a great impersonation of a haunted house.

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Last shot. A side street. For some reason even though there are a lot of cables, they look more orderly than India.

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Thanks for dropping by.

SING ALONG …

“It’s fun to stay at the ….”

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As seen in New Delhi, India.

FISHERMEN, DOWNTOWN TOKYO

In Arisugawa park on a chilly but clear Saturday. I would expect they practice catch and release.

Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/3.5 USM.

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A great spot.

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