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 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.

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 BARBERSHOPS OF INDIA

I kept seeing these sidewalk barbershops as we traveled the roads of India – often too late (our van had already whizzed by). On our last couple days in India I set a goal – get a few shots before it is too late.

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

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I think that the blue chair might be a barbershop standard.

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This is the only barbershop that I spotted inside – on the way from Jaipur to Delhi.

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Incredible India! I just loved having a camera there.

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.

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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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.

SUBWAY, TOKYO (2)

My transfer station is Ginza. Again, it seems like I flow against the commuters with more people getting off than getting on. Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 50mm f/1.2.

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As with much of Japan’s society, it is all about order. When you stand on a platform you will notice the little colored markers where the doors will stop and people calmly and neatly line up on either side, waiting.

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As people funnel on, there is no pushing or shoving – even as it gets tight.

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And it definitely gets tight. Although on this day, the conductor did not need to do one of those famous ‘pushes’.

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A few more shots around the subway.

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The subways of Japan, the cleanest and most efficient in the world.

TOKYO SUBWAY

It occurred to me recently that I have never brought my camera along for the commute. The other week I did.    Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 50mm f/1.2.

The subways have some old fashion elements – like white gloved conductors who hop on and off to guide the crowds.

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My commute to work is a short one. It starts at Hiroo station – stop number 3. I change trains at stop number 8.

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I seem to go against the flow of the commuters. This station fills up with people getting off the train, not on to it. Very clean.

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Note the face masks. I found that very odd when I first moved to Tokyo – people on the train, in the street and in the office wearing facemasks.

As an insight into the Japan culture, often people wear masks not to avoid getting sick – but to stop themselves from getting others sick. Very polite. I have even started wearing a mask when ill (garnering a few looks) and on airplanes; it is fantastic for your throat as the air is dryer than a dessert on a plane and the worst place to catch a cold. I travelled a significant amount in 2013 (often 10 hour flights) and seemed to be catching a cold every other flight – the mask helped.

Another common reason for wearing a mask is allergies (blogged about previously).

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The train flying by.

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The Tokyo rush hour can become very crowded.

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I think this is my favorite shot of the morning.

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Next stop Ginza.

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%.

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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BLOW YOUR HORN, INDIA

Our trip to India involved 3 cities (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur) with driving in between. What would be considered a fast and simple drive in Europe or Canada was arduous in India. The country is filled with half completed roads, which (I was told) stands as a testament to the bureaucracy and corruption that plagues the country.

For a tourist that means long – bumpy drives. Each city would be 5-7 hours apart. We booked a van.

The benefit of that distance is that you can open the window and watch the people go by. As we drove I truly enjoyed watching the trucks.

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In Canada, truck drivers pride themselves on how shiny their truck is. In India, it is all about the colors and the bling.

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Another big cultural difference. In Canada blowing the horn is an act of anger – done infrequently.

In India, everyone does it, all the time. I mean, all .. of .. the .. time. It is one of the things that makes traveling in India such a full on, sensory overload. On almost every truck, they actively encourage it.

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I also learned that inflammable is not the opposite of flammable. English can also be a mysterious language. I particularly enjoyed the “specialist advice” to stay upwind.

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Incredible India.

HOW MUCH CAN YOU CARRY? INDIA

As seen on the road from Delhi to Agra, India. The farmers take this to the extreme.

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All along the route, there was much to see. People still collect wood to cook and heat their homes. Agra at this time of year is coolish (6C).

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This vehicle was doing around 80 km/h and that last fellow was barely on.

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In India you see everything and the contrasts are significant. As you drive you will see a $250K Mercedes driving beside a camel. There were a lot of camels.

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They fit in well with the water buffalo.

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These water buffalo also provide insight into the speed of traffic in India. They roam free along with the cows.

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?

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.

THE USED HORSESHOE

I thought it odd that this man would re-shoe his horse in the middle of a busy Old Delhi street.

It turns out that used horseshoes are very valuable in Indian culture. Business people buy them for good luck.

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The man on the left is waiting for the horseshoe – money in hand.

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.

A DEBATE ON COLOR AND B&W FOR STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

I was recently having a discussion with a friend about the merits of black and white versus colour photos.

I have not been a big black and white shooter (mostly because black and white is a process for me with Lightroom). However, I have become a fan of black and white for people. In a black and white photo the focus become the characters in the shot, you are not distracted by colors.

Take this shot for example, a street vendor around the spice market in Old Delhi  (Config: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 28-300 f/3.5 USM)

We happened to be stuck in traffic and these guys were having an animated conversation. Perhaps about the weather or the latest cricket scores? I post both shots, with the black and white being my favorite.

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To me color of his head scarf and the mangos is a distraction while the muted wardrobe of the street vendor means that he is not a focal point. The street vendor almost fades into the background.

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I am going to start producing a lot more black and white. That being said, I remain a handheld HDR fan – a great feature of the Canon 5D Mark III – for other photos.

Interested in the experiences and opinions of others.

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.

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 ….

THE MAD LINE, HIROO, TOKYO

Tokyo is a busy city. Everywhere is always busy. Despite being busy, it always feels orderly and most of the time – the crowds are not overwhelming.

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But one thing is for sure. The crowds are always there – it goes hand in hand with a population of 40 million. At times, those crowds are inexplicable to a foreigner. The popcorn stand being one of those ‘scratch my head’ examples.

I have found another in Hiroo. This line was a couple hundred meters long – which I estimate as a two hour wait (minimum – it was not moving fast).

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Why? Three guesses.

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“AND THE FRIET”

Yes. A tiny little French fry shop. Seriously.

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.