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.

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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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.

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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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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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.

THINKING

A man, lost in his thoughts, on the wall at the Amber Fort, Jaipur, India.

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ELEPHANTS, JAIPUR

While in Jaipur we made a trek to Elefantastic. From all of the reviews, it seemed the most humane, animal centric group who would give us a chance to see elephants up close. It is hard to see them in captivity, but with less and less space, their reality has now become one where they cannot roam free.

We have been to places like this before in Asia and Elefantastic lived up to their reputation. Families living with the elephants, making a living while treating them as – one of the family, in this huge communal area.

When I have the opportunity to be close to elephants, what always strikes me is the eyes. You look into them and you know, there is a deep intelligence looking back.

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Part of the tour is seeing how they live. This is an elephant home, shared with the handlers family, with a big yellow door.

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Satellite and all.

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The handlers guide the elephants with their bare feet.

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For me, the highlight was not the ride. It was simply spending time with them – feeding the elephants and being around such huge, majestic animals. Part of the tour is the opportunity to paint the elephants before they go for their dip in the lake.

What else would I paint?

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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.

THE POTTER, INDIA

As we approached the potter’s home his family gathered around. It was a simple demonstration, showing us his craft.

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I love the bright colors of the community.

With no signs of electricity into the home, it was all done the old fashioned way – by hand.

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His watch seemed an odd contrast to the surroundings.

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THE DIVER

At the back of the Fatehpur Sikri complex is a large water basin. There were two men at the base of the wall working hard to get our attention. They yelled an offer to our guide – money for a dive.

That is a long drop, but I admire their entrepreneurial approach and agreed. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.

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Awesome jump (smile).

FATEHPUR SIKRI, INDIA

Outside of Agra is Fatehpur Sikri, a small city that would often serve as the summer capital:

The city was founded in 1569 by the Mughal emperor Akbar, and served as the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1571 to 1585.[1] After his military victories over Chittor and Ranthambore, Akbar decided to shift his capital from Agra to a new location 23 miles (37 km) W.S.W on the Sikri ridge, to honor the Sufi saint Salim Chishti. Here he commenced the construction of a planned walled city which took the next fifteen years in planning and construction of a series of royal palaces, harem, courts, a mosque, private quarters and other utility buildings.[2] He named the city, Fatehabad, with Fateh, a word of Arabic origin in Persian, meaning "victorious." it was later called Fatehpur Sikri.[3] It is at Fatehpur Sikri that the legends of Akbar and his famed courtiers, the nine jewels or Navaratnas, were born.[citation needed] Fatehpur Sikri is one of the best preserved collections of Mughal architecture in India.[4]

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Ornately built with incredible detail everywhere. It is an architectural wonder, and quite the “summer home”.

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While we were there it was quite cloudy and foggy. We are just fortunate that the entire trip was not that way.

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The most interesting part of the fort was the insight into the male/female lifestyle. At different spots through the fort Anu (our guide) would point out where they celebrated – with dancers and musicians – always pointing to where the women would be located/segregated, often behind some type of screen or up on one of the balconies.

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Interesting insight into a Moghul’s summer life. As an aside – a point on literacy embedded in the Wikipedia entry:

Fatehpur Sikri has a population of 28,754. Males constitute 53% of the population and females 47%. Fatehpur Sikri has an average literacy rate of 46%, lower than the national average of 59.5%: male literacy is 57%, and female literacy is 34%. In Fatehpur Sikri, 19% of the population is under 6 years of age

We had many conversations with our guide on literacy, education and the class system in India. It became apparent that there is a lot of local skepticism around the claimed national literacy average of 72%.

THE CAMEL, INDIA

This fellow was very proud of his camel and the grooming. A majestic animal. He was offering rides outside of Fatehpur Sikri.

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Love the intricate designs. He loves his camel.

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TOKYO SKYLINE

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

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WILDLIFE SOS, INDIA

The only way that we found out about this wildlife sanctuary is through TripAdvisor, and my unwillingness to accept a pre-canned trip. I am glad we did.

The sanctuary is a little bit out of the way and I wish we would have scheduled more time as they also have a elephant sanctuary in the park – 30 minutes away. If you read through the TripAdvisor reviews, there will be people complaining about some fees such as the “take picture” fee at the entrance to the park. For me, it was worth every penny. These people are doing amazing work and we made a donation on the spot.

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It is a rather heartbreaking story. Wildlife SOS started in 1995 with a movement to save the “dancing bears” of India. Ripped from their mothers at an early age their noses are pierced, teeth are broken and they are trained to “dance”. Their owners move from town to town, entertaining the villagers. Through a program of buying back the bears and helping the previous owners find a new livelihood (i.e. become a rickshaw driver), they have slowly eliminated the practice. Very few remain and it is now illegal.

It is truly amazing work they are doing and these bears appear so content in their huge, open sanctuary. The sloth toed bears are beautiful and incredibly serene.

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You can see the mark where the ring was initially in place. Now, long gone.

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Relaxing.

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They also rescue other animals – which we did not have the time to see (regrettably). Although we did have a ton of fun playing with their dogs – rescued from the streets of the city, and beyond happy. This fellow was a vixen (smile).

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I would highly recommend watching this video to understand the plight of these bears. You can donate here.

MONKEYS, INDIA

There are a lot in India. Nature and people collide all over the country and like the raccoons of Canada, monkeys clamber amongst the sprawling population.

I love shooting monkeys, they are so interesting to watch. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/2.8 USM.

This group of families was at the entrance to a park as we travelled to a wildlife sanctuary.

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They are such an intimate species. Clustered together, jumping, playing, taking care of each other.

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As I watched this young man came out of the back of a building. It caused quite the racket as they obviously knew what he was about to do.

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He smiled the entire time, feeding the group.

THE FOUR SEASONS AND JAPAN

I am a Starwoods guy. Whenever I can, our family stays in their hotels because that is where I stay on business. A friend coached me when I first came out of university – pick a hotel chain and stick with it – that is how he gets a free week in Maui every year.

That qualifying statement complete, the Four Seasons is impressive. We stayed at the Four Seasons in Cairo years ago and it is one of the best hotel we have ever stayed at. The view helped.

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Recently we were speaking with someone who had managed the restaurant at the Four Seasons in Tokyo. We were discussing the Japanese culture, creativity and education. He provided the following insight (paraphrased from memory):

It was a real challenge at the restaurant because our staff struggled with the westerners. At a Four Seasons it is very common for the guest to not order off the menu. They expect to order what they want and have us prepare it.

This is very different than the Japanese clients. I cannot remember any Japanese client every asking to order outside the menu. It just isn’t how they think and our servers really struggled with dealing with the custom ordering.

It just isn’t how the Japanese were taught to think and as the world continues to change, I wonder as to what will be required out of the Japanese education system, is it being altered to deal with change? (I believe the answer is no). We all need a good dose of Finnish education.

THINGS I WOULD NOT BUY IN TOKYO

A bear I would never buy. The warning is very clear about language.

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I believe this golf visor was in the men’s section.

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The below translates into roughly $60USD per melon.

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And Tokyo is the 6th most expensive city currently!

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.

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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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.

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.

GUESS THE WEATHERCOCK

The use of English in Japan can be interesting. Take a guess at what this company’s business is?

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The definition of weathercock:

A wind vane (or weathercock) is an instrument for showing the direction of the wind. They are typically used as an architectural ornament to the highest point of a building.

I only figured it out by looking in the window (smile) and noticing the colors that are inside of the lamp by the door.

DOWN THE STREET, TOKYO, HIROO

Through the gate .. down the street .. as shot from a shrine’s parking lot.

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

SING ALONG …

“It’s fun to stay at the ….”

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As seen in New Delhi, India.

THE BLUE DOOR, OLD DELHI, INDIA

One of my favorite shots in India. We were wandering down the back alleys and I happened to look left. What is behind the door?

Config: Canon 5D Mark III (I love my Canon), Canon 28-300mm f/3.5 USM.

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I also posted this shot to 500px. I don’t know why but whenever I post to that site (I do it sporadically) it always feels like I am entering a competition …. the shot did hit ‘popular’.

DESCRIBING OLD DELHI, INDIA

If there is one photo that I took while in India which “describes” Delhi, this would be my choice.

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Modern capabilities (electricity, communications, internet and everything else in between) strewn across the street in chaos. The word I would use is “chaotic”.

How these two guys make heads or tails of the wiring is beyond me?

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TOKYO MOON, JAPAN

Especially bright a few weeks ago. My first shots with the new Canon 28-300mm f/3.5 USM of the Tokyo sky. I have been reading about night shots. These were shot at f/22 with a long exposure to get the Tokyo Tower as clear as possible.

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On this night the moon rose from the buildings to a crisp, clear sky.

TOKYO SNOW

I do not miss snow. Not a very Canadian thing to say but it is true. Snow is highly over rated. Great for winter sports, a nuisance for everyday life.

The winter has been mild in Tokyo – quite warm, in the 10C range until a few weeks ago when the city was hammered with two storms and a chill. The chill meant that the snow stayed around.

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I arrived home from a long business trip to the snow and a traveler’s flu – unfortunately an all too common incident this year despite a regime of face masks, Cold FX, Zinc, hand sanitizer and vitamin water.

I looked out the window, the snow was falling and the trees looked beautiful but I was not up for venturing out (unfortunately). I did pull out the Canon 28-300mm and snap a few shots. It would have been magical clomping around in the night with a 50mm – an opportunity missed.

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Snow can be beautiful.

THE SAKURA ARE COMING, TOKYO

Last year due to a late cold snap the traditional plum and sakura seasons were shorter and a little different on their timing. We happened to miss the best flowering as we were away on holiday. Hopefully the same will not happen this year.

The weather in Tokyo remains cold, but the trees have begun to flower – in this case the plum blossoms. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/3.5 USM.

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On Saturday I walked through Arisugawa park, a hidden treasure of Tokyo. The green was starting to peak through. The families were out, enjoying the sun.

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I will not miss the blooms this year!

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A FEW MORE SHOTS AROUND SAN FRANCISCO

Last shots of San Francisco. I don’t know why I looked up, but glad I did. My wife always reminds us – when traveling always look up. A crisp. clear blue sky.

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While I wandered through Chinatown, I wondered – what would Buddha think?

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Reminiscent of those old motels you would pass (or stay in) as a kid.

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I stopped by a church for an hour. A haven on a walk. A spot to think, reflect, say thanks.

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I would say, San Francisco feels welcoming.

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I think this van welcomes a lot of people to write on it.

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Living and traveling around Asia, this store front no longer feels odd or foreign to me.

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The famous hills of San Francisco.

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I didn’t take this tram home. The wait was too long.

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Alcatraz.

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Last shot. Flowers in bloom.

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Great city. Thanks for dropping by ….

STROLLING SAN FRANCISCO

As mentioned previously, I arrived early in San Francisco and went for a walk. It was a cold Sunday afternoon (November) but sunny. The concierge laid out a route and I began walking toward Chinatown.

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Chinatown and a cup of tea. There were a lot of tea shops offering a cup of tea.

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I didn’t really understand the free tasting thing. I was trying to order a green tea and they kept giving me these tiny little cups until they understood I wasn’t there to buy a big box of tea.

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I passed this shop and stopped. A Sakura tree … we bought the same one in Japan (but in white)

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Pretty cold. Not a big time for outdoor patios.

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Down an alley and I was stopping in at the place where they invented the fortune cooking. 50 cents to take a photo …

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Love the architecture of the city. Toronto should have protected more of their buildings.

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Love the colors.

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This tower will always have special meaning for me. My very first – large sales deal was at Transamerica in Canada. I will always remember the Transamerica tower on their business cards (A guy honked at me when I stopped to take this).

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It was the first time I had ever wandered around San Francisco as I always go airport>hotel>meetings>airport. Nice city.

FEATS IN HOW MUCH YOU CAN CARRY, INDIA

We spent Christmas Eve afternoon in Old Delhi around the markets. I could have taken 1,000 more photos like these as everywhere you turned a man or woman was performing a feat of strength to get their goods moved from A to B. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm f/3.5 USM.

A few of my favorites. The first is the only in color – flowers presented for sale, draped across a parked motorbike.

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In the Old Delhi markets there were lots of people carry their wares. Those markets are truly “human powered”. As we walked and observed, one of the most common modes of good transportation was via the head – with some carry more than others.

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There were more than a few executing a tricky head balance.

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Many worked as teams – balancing the load.

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Look closely at the load in the back (how did they decide who gets to sit and who has to work?)

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Some had long loads.

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Some had big loads. What is all of that paper for? To feed the infamous India bureaucracy?

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A lucky few had something other than their own hands and legs to power their cart.

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These shots are from a couple hours in the markets, are a small subset of the shots available and represent the essence of what a trip to India entails. Everywhere you look you see a unique scene.

A PLACE TO SIT, QUTUB MINAR, INDIA

A few more shots from Qutub Minar. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300 f/3.5 USM.

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I wonder how long this engine has been abandoned, or what it is from?

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Sorry pal, no peanuts with me.

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Last shot of the Minar.

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Amazing place to visit, learn and shoot.

ADVANCED INDIA, QUTUB MINAR

The good thing about having a guide who has 3 or 4 degrees and is acquiring more is that if you are academically inquisitive, you will get answers.

Still on our first day in India (a busy first day) we stopped at Qutub Minar, a location where we would learn about ancient India’s architectural, engineering and industrial prowess. The minar is the center piece of this site:

Qutb Minar (Urdu: قطب مینار‎), also spelled Qutub or Qutab, is the tallest minar (73 metres) in India originally an ancient Islamic Monument, inscribed with Arabic inscriptions, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.[1] Located inDelhi, the Qutb Minar is made of red sandstone and marble. The stairs of the tower has 379 steps,[2] is 72.5 metres (237.8 ft) high, and has a base diameter of 14.3 metres, which narrows to 2.7 metres at the top. Construction was started in 1192 by Qutb-ud-din Aibak and was carried on by his successor, Iltutmish. In 1368, Firoz Shah Tughlak constructed the fifth and the last storey. [3][4] It is surrounded by several other ancient and medieval structures and ruins, collectively known as the Qutb complex.[5][6]

Config: Canon 5D Mark III with Canon 28-300mm f/3.5 USM. It was a little big foggy, but reasonably clear.

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Intricate and architecturally impressive, it has lasted through many seasons, earthquakes and events.

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Access to the interior of minar has been closed due to an accident (if I remember correctly, a school child falling).

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I always marvel at the dates of these places.

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After the Islamic conquering of Delhi, the first mosque in the region was built here (1192). The conquering ruler was not so fussed about the contents of architecture, going for speed over details – pillaging Hindu temples in the area to build his mosque. Anu walked us around pointing out countless Hindu symbols on the columns and architecture.

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The bell is prominent in the Hindu religion.

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In this case the Hindu god was defaced before being used on this site.

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Regardless of where they got the component parts (he did not know the number of temples that were pillaged to build this site), the walk way around the Minar was quite intricate.

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As were all the arches and sub-buildings.

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Near the minar is a large iron post – which stands as a testament to India’s early advancement and engineering/industrial prowess. Standing for almost 2,000 years it is an industrial marvel:

The iron pillar is one of the world’s foremost metallurgical curiosities. The pillar, 7.21-metre high and weighing more than six tonnes, was originally erected by Chandragupta II Vikramaditya (375–414 AD) in front of a Vishnu Temple complex at Udayagiri around 402 AD, and later shifted by Aangpal in 10th century AD from Udaygiri to its present location. Anangpal built a Vishnu Temple here and wanted this pillar to be a part of that temple.

The estimated weight of the decorative bell of the pillar is 646 kg while the main body weighs 5865 kg thereby making the entire pillar weigh at 6,511 kg. The pillar bears an inscription in Sanskrit in Brahmi script dating 4th century AD, which indicates that the pillar was set up as a Vishnudhvaja, standard of god, on the hill known as Vishnupada in memory of a mighty king named Chandra, believed to Chandragupta II. A deep socket on the top of this ornate capital suggests that probably an image of Garuda was fixed into it, as common in such flagpoles.[26]

What makes it so unique is that the iron is so pure, it has never rusted. Almost 2,000 year old iron with not a single smudge of rust. Amazing.

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The parrots were everywhere. As were the pigeons.

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It is fascinating to walk through the history of a country at a site – so advanced thousands of years ago and fluctuating as time progresses.

THE COFFINS WITHIN HUMAYUN’S TOMB, INDIA

The inside of Humanyun’s tomb had a few notable elements that Anu educated us on. The first being the meticulous way in which the tombs were placed – the Moghul’s and his spouse(s) – just a little ahead of the others.

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The other was the intricate lattice work on the windows. This was prevalent through many of the forts and tombs we would visit. The lattice was carved so it was wider on the outside and would narrow toward the inside. This allowed women to see out the window clearly but did not allow someone from the outside to see in.

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Each piece, carved with a small angle.

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And of course, always look up.

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A beautiful tomb.

HUMAYUN’S TOMB, INDIA

Our first tomb in India, the model for many of the tombs we would see later.

Humayun’s tomb (Urdu: ہمایوں کا مقبرہ‎ Humayun ka Maqbara) is the tomb of the Mughal EmperorHumayun in Delhi, India. The tomb was commissioned by Humayun’s first wife Bega Begum (Haji Begum)[1][2][3][4][5][6] in 1569-70, and designed by Mirak Mirza Ghiyas, a Persian architect chosen by Bega Begum.[7][8] It was the first garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent,[9] and is located in Nizamuddin East,Delhi, India, close to the Dina-panah citadel also known as Purana Qila (Old Fort), that Humayun founded in 1533. It was also the first structure to use red sandstone at such a scale

The scale of these places is amazing but in a country like India one has to wonder, what could have happened for the people had they not built this monument to one man so many years ago? How many hospitals or schools could have been built?

Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300mm.

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The main buildings are pristine, only the doors show the age of the place.

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The lotus is very prominent in all of the tombs.

In Hinduism, the lotus (Sanskrit: padma) primarily represents beauty and non-attachment. The lotus is rooted in the mud but floats on the water without becoming wet or muddy. This symbolizes how how one should live in the world in order to gain release from rebirth: without attachment to one’s surroundings.

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I am not sure how this contraption works but it appears to be some form of irrigation system. Whether it attaches to a gas pump or is powered by a human, I have no idea.

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It was the dry season, so the water ways ran dry.

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Throughout the grounds the workers were repairing, maintaining, cutting the grass.

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Thanks for dropping by.

$1 AND THE KNIFE SHARPENER, OLD DELHI

That is what this shot cost me. Outside Bangla Sahib temple. These guys have a good gig going :) Love the colors (and so did the other tourists)

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Behind them this man was sharpening knives by pedaling a converted bicycle. Interesting to watch, on the back streets of Old Delhi.

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I could have spent weeks shooting the streets of Delhi and never lost interest.

PARLIAMENT, NEW DELHI, INDIA

A trip to India in December is tricky. The weather is perfect (14-20C) for touring but it can be very, very foggy. Anu (our guide) mentioned a number of times how lucky we were as he has taken groups to sites like the Taj Mahal and been disappointed as the fog can be unpredictable.

We did not stop for parliament, except to take a few shots .. a light fog and all.

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I am not sure about this shot. Love the sun over parliament, but perhaps the buildings are too dark. It was quite foggy.

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If I had more time, I would spend more time on this shot in Lightroom.

AFTER DINNER SEEDS, INDIA

I had never experienced this before; the tradition of an after meal palate cleanse.

At our first (and probably best) lunch during our stay in India they brought out this serving set filled with rock candy, anise seeds and fennel. Mix them in your hand and pop in your mouth.

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Surprisingly refreshing and a wonderful tradition.

It must be said, the food in India was spectacular. I miss it very much. The problem is that as tourists we had to be incredibly careful. Their food has microbes and spices that we simply are not use to resulting in the infamous Delhi Belly, which we did not avoid even though our guide did everything he could to ensure we ate at respectable restaurants.

We so desperately wanted to try to the street drinks and foods, but refrained.

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A PRIVATE GUIDE IN INDIA

We reaffirmed the value of a private guide while in India. For us, with our sons, a private guide provides two important benefits – the ability to dialogue with the family, explaining what we are seeing and flexibility.

Flexibility would be key as we constantly changed our itinerary as we travelled. It also meant that we could ask to get off the beaten path. We did not want a tour filled with all of the monster sites, we wanted to get into the side streets – to see the real India.

A great example of this was our first ‘side trip’ to Agrasen Ki Baoli (Or Ugrasen Ki Bali according to the plaque at the entrance), a step well in the city. Hidden down a side street and easily accessible as it was the dry season. It is a marvel to see.

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From Wikipedia:

Agrasen ki Baoli (also known as Agar Sain ki Baoli or Ugrasen ki Baoli), designated a protected monument by theArcheological Survey of India (ASI) under the Ancient Monuments and Archeological Sites and Remains Act of 1958, is a 60-meter long and 15-meter wide historical step well on Hailey Road near Connaught Place, a short walk from Jantar Mantar inNew Delhi, India.[1] Although there are no known historical records to prove who built Agrasen ki Baoli, it is believed that it was originally built by the legendary king Agrasen[2] during the Mahabharat epic era[3][4][5] and rebuilt in the 14th century by the Agrawal community which traces its origin to Maharaja Agrasen.

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Our guide was unbelievable and if you are in India – I cannot recommend him highly enough. A lifelong learner with great pride in his craft, Anu had 3 degrees and is studying to become a judge, with this work funding his studies. His insight into each place, attentiveness to our family, never ending knowledge and willingness to engage on every aspect of Indian history, politics and culture made it an extra special experience. To say that his the best tour guide we have ever had would be an understatement. I offer up his email to fellow travellers – anuragmisra@rediffmail.com – if you are lucky enough to get him.

Inside the well.

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At the bottom you climb through a small hole and can look up a huge cylinder .. dry for now.2013 12 23 Ugrasen ki Baoli_-14

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We would see one more step well on our tour. One much larger.

INDIA

Right up until the day we left for India, there was a lot of debate around going. With all of the negative press (and shocking tourist attack right after we left), we had our reservations. We spoke about cancelling many times. Was it dangerous? Was our time there too long? Would the driving from city to city be too much? I would say that of all of the places that we have travelled, this trip was the one that was most debated. We almost cancelled several times and last minute I completely changed the itinerary – shortening it by a few days.

As our guide said “India is not for the first time traveller. Most of the people who come here have been to many places before they venture to our country”.

Well said and good advice because it is not for the unadventurous or first time traveler. While I am sure there are bus tours which put you in a cocoon, India is what I would describe as “full on”. We spent 9 days there and after the trip we left enlightened, amazed and exhausted.

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To be clear, we were also cautious and had a few uncomfortable moments. I happened across this post and could not help but shudder at how this woman is tempting fate (I hope her parents read it and talk some sense into her). Would you walk down a dark alley in Toronto in the middle of the night alone as a woman? Of course not. Same goes for India. We recognized that we stood out in the crowd and with the help of our amazing guide, were smart about it.

It also turned out to be the perfect opportunity to shoot my new lens. The 28-300mm proved it’s value by being able to shoot while in the van or while walking, with huge range.

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And lets just say, we spent a lot of time in the van as we moved from city to city. India’s lack of infrastructure coupled with a huge population does not make for speedy movement.

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Our trip took us from Delhi to Agra to Jaipur and then back to Delhi over 9 days – the Golden Triangle. Over those days we would see many things; beautiful monuments, spectacular architecture, wealth, shocking poverty, back streets, main streets, road side markets and everything in between.

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Trip of a lifetime.

HO CHI MINH SEAFOOD: SAIGON STREET EATS

If you are in Ho Chi Minh, highly suggest calling up Saigon Street Eats and taking a tour. We took a night tour down the crowded side streets (sorry, didn’t do the scooter tour). Amazing to sit and eat fresh seafood in the midst of the chaos. (Config: Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon 28-70mm – should have brought my 50mm!)

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The seafood was amazing. Crab, mussels, shrimp. Awesome.

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Also enjoyed that it was a rather chaotic eating experience. Plates, piled on plates.

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Wasn’t a big fan of the frog.

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The conch on the other hand … amazing.

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A five star outing and a must do if in the city – in fact, I would say the highlight of the city.

THE MEKONG DELTA MARKETS

A few more shots from around the Mekong Delta, Vietnam (Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-70mm).

We spent time wandering around an island market … where the fresh fruit is abundant.

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Even the durian (smile). Seriously, every traveler must try it at least once.

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A flower along the river.

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This woman was making taffy. Coconut taffy. It was amazing when eaten fresh.

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To get back to our boat, we took a taxi through a back canal.

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Vietnam is a beautiful country.

A MEKONG DELTA FISH FARM

I knew very little about the Mekong Delta prior to traveling there. My knowledge was limited to things I had seen on Vietnam war movies and a belief that the delta was full of life.

The last hypothesis was correct. The river brings life to those around it.

The Mekong Delta (Vietnamese: Đồng bằng Sông Cửu Long "Nine Dragon river delta") is the region in southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea through a network of distributaries. The Mekong delta region encompasses a large portion of southwestern Vietnam of 39,000 square kilometres (15,000 sq mi).[1] The size of the area covered by water depends on the season.

The Mekong Delta has recently been dubbed as a "biological treasure trove". Over 10,000 new species have been discovered in previously unexplored areas of Mekong Delta, including a species of rat thought to be extinct.[2]

Our journey would be a boat ride along the river with a range of stops. The boats had a similar look at feel to those in Cambodia.

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I am sure the population in this area dwarfs that of Tonle Sap Lake. As one would expect, the river was full of people coming and going, making a living.

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There were a lot of boats.

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One of our more interesting stops was a fish farm. Just like in Cambodia, I cannot fathom living my entire life on the water. A few shot from around the farm.

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Another water dog. I wonder if he looks at the shore wishing he could go for a run?

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The farm itself.

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There were thousands and thousands of fish.

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A very different life.

THE COST OF TOKYO

According to the latest indexes, the drop in the Yen means that Tokyo has gone from most expensive place in the world (when we first moved here) to number 13 .. not even in the top 10!

It sure does not feel that way (100 yen is roughly $1).

An expensive pancake (Y280)

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2 pieces of fruit (individually wrapped for your pleasure).image

12 slices of bread.

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I think these prices are the reason why Japanese stay so thin.

CAO DAI TEMPLE, VIETNAM

On our second day in Ho Chi Minh city we took a tour to the Mekong Delta. One of our first stops was a Cao Dai temple. To date, it is the most colorful temple or church that I have ever been in.

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I knew nothing about this religion, so I took the time to read the writings on their walls. From Wikipedia:

According to the Cao Đài’s teaching of creation, before God existed, there was the Tao, the nameless, formless, unchanging, eternal source referenced in the Tao Te Ching. Then a Big Bang occurred, out of which God was born (emanationism). The universe could not yet be formed and to do so, God created yin and yang. He took control of yang and shed a part of himself, creating the Mother Buddha to preside over yin. In the presence of yin and yang, the universe was materialized. The Mother Buddha is, literally, the mother of the myriad of things in the Universe. Caodaiists worship not only God the father, but also the Mother Buddha. Note that God’s importance and role is higher than that of the Mother Buddha. Also, the Mother Buddha, like all buddhas, is a part of Yang, and therefore is male. Yin is the female side, and the Mother Buddha oversees Yin, but is not a part of Yin. God is symbolized by the Divine Eye, specifically the left eye because Yang is the left side and God is the master of Yang. There are 36 levels of Heaven and 72 planets harboring intelligent life, with number one being the closest to heaven and 72 nearest to Hell. Earth is number 68. It is said that even the lowest citizen on planet 67 would not trade place with a king on 68 and so forth.[1]

Around the central alter are all of the figures of the major religions – a few that I spot; Jesus, Buddha and Confucius.

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As I looked at the eye, the only thing I could think was “Masons”.

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The grounds around the temple are also interesting and filled with the staff. They were drying tea.

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An old funeral hearse.

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I am not sure why these coffins were here, but they were sitting a few meters from the hearse.

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Very interesting stop as you head to the Mekong Delta.

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