Monoscapes: Mount Balwang

8 04 2013

The landscape at the top of Mount Balwang, Yongpyong, South Korea in winter. The peak at 1458 metres above sea level is accessible via cable-car from Yongpyong. The mountain is part of the Baekdudaegan mountain range which runs down almost the length of the Korean Peninsula.

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Autumn in Kyoto

22 11 2012

What is undoubtedly one of the best places in Asia to catch the autumn colours is the former imperial capital of Japan, Kyoto. The backdrop that the mountains, rivers, streams that surround the city which is blessed with beautifully landscaped gardens and magnificent temple complexes, provides for a magnificent setting to view the brilliant mix of red and gold that colour the city each autumn, and it is just to view the colours that thousands from far and wide descend on the city every November. The best time to see the colours is during the second half of November and I was perhaps a little too early to catch the peak of the change of colours, I did however manage to see some rather spectacular views of the autumn colours in and around the city.

November’s a busy time in and around Kyoto when many from far and wide flock to the former imperial capital just to catch koyo (紅葉)- the autumn coloured foliage.

Grounds of the Tenryu-ji Temple (天龍寺) in the Arashiyama (嵐山) area.

Garden (南芳院) near the Tenryu-ji (天龍寺).

View provided by a boat ride along the Hozugawa (保津川) or Hozu River from Kameoka (亀岡市) to Arashiyama (嵐山).

Another view of the Hozugawa (保津川).

Higashiyama (東山区).

Higashiyama (東山区) outside Ginkakuji (銀閣寺), the Silver Pavilion

Ginkakuji (銀閣寺) ,the Silver Pavilion.

A view through the window at Ginkakuji (銀閣寺) ,the Silver Pavilion.

Ginkakuji (銀閣寺) ,the Silver Pavilion with koyo and susuki (Japanese pampas grass).

Grounds of the Ginkakuji (銀閣寺) ,the Silver Pavilion.

A view of Ginkakuji (銀閣寺) ,the Silver Pavilion, from the hills in the grounds.

Another view of Ginkakuji (銀閣寺) ,the Silver Pavilion, from the hills in the grounds.

An autumn leaf falls at Ginkakuji (銀閣寺) ,the Silver Pavilion.

Along the Philosopher’s Walk (哲学の道).

Another view of the Philosopher’s Walk (哲学の道).

Otani-hombyo (大谷本廟) the mausoleum of Shinran Shonin, the founder of Jodo Shinshu (Shin Buddhism).

The Main Hall of the Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple was established in 778. Most of the current buildings were constructed between 1631 to 1633.

Autumn evening illuminations at Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺). Many temples in Kyoto are illuminated during the autumn tourist season.

The grounds of Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) with the three-storey pagoda.

Another part of the Kiyomizu-dera’s (清水寺) grounds.

Eikando (永観堂) Temple night illuminations.


Useful Links:

Viewing of Autumn Foliage in Japanese Culture
Kyoto Walks (JNTO)
The Philosopher’s Walk (Japan-Guide.com)
Sagano / Arashiyama (JNTO)
Higashiyama (JNTO)
Kiyomizu-dera
Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion)
Tenryu-ji Temple (Japanese)
Eikando Temple
Otani-Hombyo (Japanese)
Hozugawa River Boat Ride






A walk through Japan’s largest cemetery

20 11 2012

Despite having an aversion to resting places of the dead, I found myself enjoying walks through a couple of cemeteries on a recent visit that I made to Japan with a few friends. One did have the distinction of being the largest cemetery in the country. Located on Mount Koya (高野山 Koya-san) in Wakayama Prefecture (和歌山県), that cemetery does not just contain an estimated 200,000 graves, but a site which is sacred to the Shingon School of Buddhism, being where the mausoleum of the sect’s founder, Kukai or Kobo-Daishi, is located and where he is said to lie in eternal meditation. The cemetery, together with the mausoleum at the end of a 2 kilometre walk through the cemetery is in fact a pilgrimage site for Shingon Buddhism, one of the mainstream schools of Buddhism in Japan. It part of the larger Koyasan area which again makes up part of the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range” which was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.

A stream, the Tamagawa, marks the boundary of separating the inner sanctuary, Okunoin, the most sacred section where Gobyo, the mausoleum of Kobo Dashi or Kukai, the founder of the Japanese Shingon sect of Buddhism on Koyasan, lies.

Set in what does seem like an enchanted forest of ancient towering cedar trees, the cemetery is one of the must visit sites in the Koyasan area, which lies at the heart of Shingon Buddhism, having been where Kukai established his monastery in the 9th century – the 900m altitude valley was said to have been chosen as a retreat as its layout resembled a eight petal lotus flower with it being surrounded by eight peaks. At its height during the Edo period, it is thought that there were some 2,000 temples in Koyasan, of which only 123 exist today.

A night time view of Ichino-hashi which marks the entrance to the cemetery.

The walk through the cemetery starts with the crossing of Ichino-hashi (一の橋), a bridge which marks the entrance to the sacred site. From the bridge, a pleasant 2 kilometre walk through the air of calm provided by the cedar trees which line the well paved cobblestone path surrounded by the ordered disorder of the cemetery’s moss covered gravestones, is what it takes to reach Okunoin (奥の院). Okunoin is the inner sanctuary where Gobyo (御廟), the mausoleum of Kūkai is located and where lights of a thousand years are said to burn in some of the 10,000 lanterns found in the Toro-do (燈籠堂) or Lantern Hall which stands in front of Gobyo.

An area close to the entrance to the cemetery.

The tree-lined path through the cemetery.

The walk, does provide for many fascinating discoveries – if one has the time to look for them. There are the graves of many religious leaders, feudal lords, military commanders and more recent ones where business leaders find rest – some which do go back to 12th century. There also are several other interesting finds – one that will not be hard to locate would be the Sugatami-no-ido (姿見の井戸) or the Well of Reflections. Found immediately after the second bridge, Nakano-hashi (中の橋), legend has it that if one looks into the well and does not see his or her reflection, death will come to that person within three years.

Nakano-hashi, the second bridge.

A shrine where the statue of Asekaki Jizo (Sweating Jizo), a bodhisattva who takes the place of others in suffering, is found. To its right is the Sugatami-no-ido, the Well of Reflections.

Sugatami-no-ido, the Well of Reflections.

Moss covered gravestones.

There are also several others discoveries to be made beyond the Nakano-hashi. These include the Zenni-jochi (禅尼上智碑) – a 90 cm memorial to a Buddhist nun. It is said that one would be able to hear the cries in hell by placing one’s ear on the stone. Another one which would not be missed is a memorial to soldiers who perished in North Borneo during the second world war. That is immediately identifiable from the three flags – that of Japan, Malaysia and Australia, which hang on a flag pole at the memorial.

Memorial to soldiers who perished during the second world war in North Borneo.

A shrine in the woods.

It is not long before one comes to the Gobyo-bashi (御廟橋), the bridge over the Tamagawa – the stream which separates the most sacred inner sanctuary, Okunoin, from the rest of the cemetery. Looking beyond the bridge, the Toro-do is seen at the end of the path up a flight of steps. It is with the sacred waters of the Tamagawa that pilgrims, many dressed in white robes, cleanse themselves before entering the sanctuary. The inner sanctuary is also where the Miroku-ishi (弥勒石) or Miroku stone can be found – a short distance from the bridge. It is said that the stone feels light to the good and heavy to the sinful.

Okunoin’s Toro-do as seen from Gobyo-bashi.

Pilgrims crossing the Gobyo-bashi.

Votive tablets placed in the Tamagawa.

Crossing the Gobyo-bashi, after which photography is not permitted, one does feel a sense of inner peace. This is heightened stepping into the Toro-do where the chanting of the rows of saffron robed monks somehow adds to the peaceful atmosphere. Having found a semblance of the peace that many seek in making a pilgrimage to Okunoin, it was then time to head back. The walk towards Ichino-hashi, made longer than it might have been by the shower of hail and by the biting wind, was in no way less enjoyable (although my companions would probably disagree with me) than the walk in to Okunoin. As we cross over the Ichino-hashi we see more heading into the cemetery – the cemetery does in all probability draw a substantial portion of the 1.2 million visitors that come to Mount Koya annually, many on a spiritual journey, and some like us, just to discover the peace and beauty that only a cemetery such as this is able offer.

The cemetery also has several interesting statues.

Stone lamps line many of the paths through the cemetery.

The cemetery by night – stone lamps light the paths up.

A ‘dressed’ Jizo statue.

Another ‘dressed’ Jizo.

A grave.


Getting there:

Mount Koya (高野山 Koya-san) is quite easily accessible from Osaka via the Nankai Electric Railway’s Koya Line. Trains leave regularly from Osaka’s Namba Station and all it takes is an hour and a half by express train to Gokurakubashi, 5 minutes by funicular up to Koyasan. From Kōyasan, there are public buses to Ichino-bashi. A round trip ticket that includes the train, funicular and a two day bus ticket can be purchased at Osaka Namba station for ¥2780.

Visitors to Mount Koya have the option of a unique experience an overnight stay at one of 53 temples, such as the Shojoshin-in Temple which is just by the Ichino-hashi which my friends and I put up at. Included in the cost of accommodation is two vegetarian meals (breakfast and dinner). More information on this can be found at Japanese Guest Houses.


Resources on Koyasan / Okunoin:

Koyasan Shingon Buddhism
Kukai / Kobo-Daishi
Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range (UNESCO)
Okunoin (奥の院), the inner sanctuary
Gobyo (御廟), the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi
Toro-do (燈籠堂) or Lantern Hall
Nankai Electric Railway Koya Line
Koyasan/Gokurakubashi Station information
Nankai Electric Railway Guide on Koyasan
Japanese Guest Houses (Koyasan)






An uncoloured exploration of an unfamiliar place

2 09 2012

I found myself in a place I had previously not ventured to, the area centered around Sukhumvit Road where it passes through Chonburi, at the end of last week. As with any new place I was glad to have the opportunity to wander around unfamiliar streets with a camera, spending an hour or so I had before having dinner, in an uncoloured exploration that I felt would best capture the essence of what certainly are very colourful streets.





The view out the window this morning

31 08 2012

It is always a wonderful thing to be able to wake up to a magical sunrise as the one I got up to this morning in a world other than one I am familiar with …





Faces from a forgotten place

3 07 2012

This post features a selection of photographs intended to capture part of what had made the much loved Tanjong Pagar Railway Station what it was just prior to its closure, one to celebrate the many faces that provided the station with its heart and soul. The faces are ones that would be familiar, and are not just of the people who were part of the fabric the station, but also of the many that came and went and of the sights and sounds that gave the station its unique flavour, a flavour that, despite the conservation of the building as a National Monument, will fade as memories fade. The photographs are the same ones which were presented during a sharing session at the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station open house held on the afternoon of 1st July 2012 – the first anniversary of the handover of the station and the railway land to the Singapore government. The open house was held as part of the Rail Corridor Open Day and also included guided walks around Bukit Timah Railway Station.

While the building, now gazetted as a National Monument still stands, it is the memory of what had made the station what it was – the familiar sights, the people that came and went, and most of all the people who were very much a part of the fabric of the station that will with time fade.

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station as it was is a place that always will be dear to me. I have many fond memories of the station from my previous encounters, encounters that go back to the earliest days of my life. Then, it was the food stalls that magically appeared in the evenings at a car park the lights of which dimly illuminate the station’s grand façade and its four triumphal figures. That was in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was after the latter half of the 1970s that the station would become a feature in my Chinese New Year reunion dinners – my aunt who hosted the dinners moved to a flat in Spottiswoode Park just by the station and reunion dinners would not be the same without the accompaniment of the sounds of whistles and of the noisy diesel locomotives from the station. The 1990s brought me my many encounters with the station through which I made numerous trips up to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur and back – journeys that would forever be etched in my memory. These encounters with the station, and the memorable journeys I made through it, I have attempted to capture through a series of blog posts which many of you might have already read. However if they are of interest, the posts can be found through the page “Journeys through Tanjong Pagar“.

Once familiar sights

A car belonging to the Malayan Railway, KTM, parked in front of the building.

The main hall as it looked at eye level in its latter days – a Tourism Malaysia hut was placed right in the middle of the hall.

The ticket counter in quieter days – well before the madness of the last two months descended on the station.

Waiting to buy a ticket often required some patience.

Especially when the ticketing system is down – that in my experience often happened.

Another sign one might encounter ….

We were always reminded that we had to pay not the equivalent in the local currency for the price of a ticket but one unit of the local currency for every unit of the weaker Ringgit.

And when you did finally get your hands on the ticket, you could find a seat in the main hall to pass your time away …

… which provides many opportunities for people watching …

… or as I often do, have a cup of teh tarik at the platform – a popular spot for watching the coming and going of not just the trains and the locomotives.

Access to the departure platform was through a gate that would only be opened about half an hour prior to the scheduled departure of the trains to facilitate immigration clearance. On the commuter services on which seating is not assigned, passengers would often crowd at the gate prior to departure, ready to make a dash first for the Immigration counters. After clearing Immigration and Customs, the same thing would happen at a barrier which when opened will see a mad rush of passengers to the train carriages.

Tickets would be checked and punched at the departure gate.

From which one would proceed to the immigration counters.

With the shift of Singapore’s CIQ to Woodlands in mid 1998 and the Malaysian authorities maintaining their Immigration and Customs counters at the station, passengers would effectively enter Malaysia before leaving Singapore.

Passengers boarding the last luxury E&O train to depart from Tanjong Pagar posing next to Malaysian Immigration booths.

The last E&O train to depart at the platform.

Returning home, one of the first things that would greet you (post mid 1998) as you walked to the end of the platform was the barrier before you got into the public area. Prior to the move of the SIngapore CIQ, you would first have to pass through Singapore Immigration, Customs and a narrow passage through a fenced area where K9 unit dogs would sniff passengers for smuggled narcotics.

The next thing one would encounter would be the canteen / coffee shop at which one could stop to have a meal or a drink prior to leaving. I often picked up my breakfast from the canteen after coming in on the overnight train from KL.

The canteen would also be a great place to wait for returning members of the family and friends.

It was also a wonderful place to catch up with friends over a cup of tea ….

.. or to have dinner with the family.

It would be common to see passengers with large pieces of luggage leaving the station.

The station had a hotel which closed in the 1980s. Towards the end of its life, it hosted a hostel with dormitory type double bunk bed accommodation which offered a cheap place to spend the night or even take a short rest – this closed in late 2010.

Trying to get a taxi home was always a challenge as many taxi drivers did not like to wait at the station as trains arrival times were unpredictable.

Once familiar faces

One of the first faces one would encounter driving to the station’s car park.

And if one needed to use the rest room.

One that you might have seen at the Habib Railway Book Store and Money Changer, Mr Syed Ahmad.

Mr Syed’s nephew – ‘Nazir’ would probably have been seen more frequently.

The hardworking last Station Master at Tanjong Pagar – En. Ayub.

A very helpful ticketing clerk, En. Azmi, who was posted to the station on 1st July 1990. He completed a full 21 years at the station when it ceased operations on 30th June 2011.

A few more of the familiar faces (and less familiar ones) …

Mr Mahmoodul Hasan who ran the two canteens in the station before its closure.

Some of those who assisted him at the drinks counter and the popular Ramly Burger stand.

One of the ladies from the food stall at the corner of M Hasan 2.

One of the stall assistants at the platform.

The chapati man at M Hasan 2.

One who is always ready with a smile – the Satay stall’s assistant at M Hasan 2.

And last of all one that should not be forgotten – one of the many cats the station was home to.





A journey to the north of Spain: Bilbao and the Casco Viejo

22 06 2012

2011 was an especially eventful year for me. As well as being caught up in the events that surrounded the last days of the Malayan railway through Singapore, I also had the opportunity to expand my experiences in exploring four different parts of the world, three of which I had visited for the first time. One, a journey to the north of Spain, was partly paid for through a stroke of good fortune – winning a Zuji blogger engagement effort for which I was generously rewarded.

The village of La Riera in the Picos de Europa in the Asturias. I made a journey last October to the north of Spain, a land of diverse cultures and landscapes.

I have long held a fascination for Spain, particularly its far north, fuelled by impressions I developed over the course of my childhood. I had known of the unique culture of the Basque country through my interactions with members of the Basque community here and read many tales of an ancient pilgrimage route, el Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James. I also learnt that the northern coastline that stretched from the Basque country in the west to Galicia in the east, was one of diverse landscapes and cultures and of delectable gastronomic offerings – a region that I also knew to be one of immense natural beauty from the limited television coverage of one of the great European cycling races, the Vuelta a España.

Flying over and into an area I have long held a fascination for – the northern region of Spain.

The north of Spain is where an ancient westward pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela – el Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James cuts through.

Thatch-roofed huts or pallozas in the village of O Cebreiro, Galicia, in the North of Spain.

The sun drenched hills at O Cebreiro a pilgrim village in Galicia close to its border with León.

It was with much anticipation that I started my journey, armed with a guidebook, as well as several guides and maps that I picked up from the very helpful Spanish Tourism Board’s office in Liat Towers, late on a Friday evening in mid October. The final leg of that journey to my entry point into the region, the Basque city of Bilbao, was via a connecting flight from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport and one that was truly magical – setting the tone perhaps for the magic of the rest of the trip. The drama of the colours of a wondrous sunrise that the flight took-off into, was one that was only surpassed by the sight out of the window that accompanied the descent into Bilbao, a heavenly sight as the flight first descended over and then in between the exposed peaks of the cloud shrouded mountains that surround the Basque city.

The dramatic sunrise over the tarmac of Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Taking off into a magical sunrise.

The magic of the descent into Bilbao Airport.

The sight of two of Bilbao’s icons, ones that perhaps define modern Bilbao – the very distinct Puente de la Salve and the very recognisable Guggenheim Bilbao, greeted my arrival to the city. It was to the calm of a Saturday morning that was bathed in the brilliant sunshine that was to accompany me on much of my journey that I alighted from the airport bus. In no time I found myself in the hotel and after freshening up and a short nap, I was ready to head out into the balmy autumn day.

It was the sight of two of Bilbao’s modern icons that greeted my entry into the city.

Bilbao first impressions – the view as I stepped off the bus ….

Bilbao first impressions – Plaza Moyua.

Bilbao first impressions – seemed like I had eyes on me – lamps on a building’s façade.

With a day at my disposal before three of my travelling companions were to join me, I decided spend it taking a leisurely stroll to the historic Casco Viejo – the old town. Lying across the Río Nervión from the new town where I was putting up in, what seems like a labyrinth of streets that is the old town, is actually seven parallel streets – the Zazpikaleak or Las Siete Calles that date back to the 14th Century, intersected by several others. The maze of streets, some with names that reflect the traditional trades that once would have been found on them, is certainly worth losing oneself in, coming to life as the pre-siesta crowd fill the cafés and restaurants, spilling onto the streets.

What seems like a labyrinth of narrow streets, the Casco Viejo – the old town is actually arranged around seven medieval streets – the Zazpikaleak or Las Siete Calles, that run somewhat parallel to each other.

A view through the shadows cast on a street in the Casco Viejo.

The streets of the Casco Viejo come alive in the pre and post Siesta hours.

The back of the Teatro Arriaga, Bilbao’s opera house at the edge of the Casco Viejo. The Neo-baroque style theatre was designed by architect Joaquín Rucoba in 1890.

The ‘del Perro’ (dog’s fountain) dating from the early 19th Century – named because three lion-heads at the end of its water pipes resemble the heads of dogs.

Through the calles, one will also find several attractions including works of religious architecture, which speak of a time when all was dedicated to the greater glory of God. One which towers over the Casco Viejo is the very grand Gothic cathedral – the Catedral de Santiago situated at one corner of the Plazuela Santiago which itself dates back to the 14th Century and features a Neo-Gothic façade dating from the 19th Century which is the work of Severino de Achúcarro. Another wonderful piece of religious architecture is a church that lies on the fringe of the old town – the Iglesia San Nicolás de Bari, an 18th Century Baroque church laid on an octagonal plan. Its façade features the coat of arms of Bilbao.

Plazuela Santiago.

Catedral de Santiago (Cathedral of St. James)

Seeing the light inside the cathedral – a street lamp seen through a reflection on a glass panel shines over the sanctuary.

The façade of the Iglesia de San Nicolás de Bari, dedicated to the parton saint of sailors. The coat of arms of Bilbao can be seen above the door.

A visit to the city would of course not be complete without stumbling into the Café Iruña or indulging in some tapas – or pintxos as they are known as in the Basque country. I did just that on my way back from my initial exploration of the Casco Viejo, attracted by its charming Mudéjar tiled interior and the healthy crowd as I passed by the Jardines de Albia. The café I was to discover is an institution of sorts in the city and dates back to 1903. After a glass of cerveza and some delicious pintxos, it was back to the hotel for a much-needed rest and to plot my next adventure in a city that I certainly was glad to find myself in.

No trip to Bilbao would be complete with indulging in some pintxos (and cerveza).

The charming Mudéjar tiled interior of the Café Iruña.





A walk down a street of contrasts and contradictions

10 01 2012

Bangkok is a city that I never seem to tire of. The opportunity to wander through its ever so lively streets is something I always find hard to resist. The streets offer a wealth of opportunity for photography and for people watching, and where there I never fail to find something that does catch my eye. The streets, particularly of the new Bangkok, are also one where the contrasts and contradictions that is Bangkok becomes very apparent. It is on the streets where traditional street trades thrive next to the towering blocks of offices and glittering shopping malls, where McDonalds and Starbucks have become as much a part of the landscape as the pushcarts that once dominated the streets, and where a flow of Hijab clad women can be seen streaming past symbols of a trade Bangkok is all too well known for.

A walk or even being stuck in traffic allows a peek into the world of contrasts and contradictions that is Bangkok.

An interesting stretch with a wealth of contrasts and contradictions is a two and a half kilometre one in new Bangkok that I recently took a stroll through from the much venerated Erawan Shrine at the corner of Ratchadamri and Phloen Chit Roads, to first of a series of the many Sois that turn off Sukhumvit Road – lanes that are always waiting to be discovered. It is a walk that I had done almost three decades ago, one that sans the shade provided by the Bangkok Skytrain’s elevated track and the towering blocks that have since sprouted up seemed to be down a very different avenue. What is apparent today are the open arms with which the city and its people, still rich in tradition, have welcomed the new world with – with the unmistakable signs of Christmas dressing up much of the new world I could see in the lead up to what is a western festival.

Signs of the times. A close-up of a Christmas tree at one of the many new malls along the stretch with symbols perhaps of what Christmas has become all about in much of the Asia that has chosen to embrace it.

A group of high school students outside one of the newest shopping malls along Sukhumvit Road, Terminal 21, seen through Christmas and New Year decorations. As with much of the world - the new world finds ready acceptance with the young.

A young daughter of a street food vendor enjoys a meal from a food vendor of the new world, as her mother prepares to welcome her first customers of the day.

The draw of street fare is still there despite the arrival of the new fare found in more comfortable premises.

Grilled fish on display at a street food stall. Street food does still have its place, being a choice for many for its affordability even as McDonalds and air-conditioned foodcourts have set themselves firmly in place.

Despite the new clothes that now adorn the area, the worn out clothes that it wore when I first walked down the street is still very visible. For some reason, the clinical new world is one that seems to hold the grimy old world in a tight embrace, taking it with it on the journey into the new world that is to come. There is no doubt that Bangkok, more than any other South-East Asian capital, has ample room in its quest for modernity for the traditions it was built upon, both religious and cultural. Despite the signs of a Christian feast all around – the city is still one where its traditional religious observances and practices are very much intertwined with daily life. The Erawan Shrine at the start of the walk is one where this can be observed as steady streams of devotees to Phra Phrom kneeling to make offerings in the incense filled air at each of the Hindu deity’s four faces outnumber the flow of gawking tourists the shrine also attracts.

A steady stream of devotees make offerings through the day at the Erawan Shrine.

Resident dancers at rest at the Erawan Shrine. The dancers are engaged by devotees to Phra Phrom who have had their prayers answered.

A performance by the resident dancers of the Erawan Shrine.

Further down Phloen Chit Road, at the junction with Wireless or Witthayu Road, is a marker of a previous world that refuses to go away. One that takes us back to when much of the area was owned by Bangkok’s foremost real estate developer, Nai Lert. Resembling what many have referred to as a stone cannon stuck in the ground, a somewhat ungainly looking stump is the surviving one of six that Nai Lert had used to mark the boundaries of the land he owned (based on information at the British Embassy’s website) – part of which he sold to the British Government which had its embassy there until it was sold not too long ago to have a new shopping mall built. The marker now looks out-of-place in the shadows of the glass and steel that now threatens to engulf it.

The surviving "upturned cannon" that served as a marker to the boundaries of Nai Lert's property.

A set of flyovers appear towards the end of Phloen Chit Road – those of an Expressway doesn’t seem to have eased the crunch on the road that the flyovers now cast a huge shadow over. It is just beyond this that a railway level crossing marks where Phloen Chit Road ends and Sukhumvit Road begins. What greets the eye as one looks down the tracks is a scene typical of the railway lines in this part of the world – and one that reminds us of a Bangkok that the modernisation of the city hasn’t been able to shake off.

The new shopping malls sit side-by-side with the Bangkok that was more once more commonly seen. Food stalls squatting along the railway tracks where Ploen Chit Road meets Sukhumvit Road.

The many Sois off Sukhumvit Road that soon come up are a wonderful world to explore and where many more of Bangkok’s contradictions await discovery. Wandering through the lowest of the odd-numbered Sois, you would be forgiven for thinking that you’ve taken a wrong turn and ended up on the streets of the Middle East. Stepping back out into the main streets, one quickly realises that one’s feet are firmly planted in the City of Angels as one is quickly reminded of that side of Bangkok that the city is unfortunately infamous for.

The many Sois off Sukhumvit Road also offers many a tuk-tuk driver an opportunity to escape from Bangkok's traffic.

Besides Starbucks, the is a choice of the many watering holes for something a little stronger.

The short walk through the contrast the different worlds soon takes me to one of the latest developments on the stretch – Terminal 21 – one that promises to take the shopper on a retail journey to places far and wide. For me, it wasn’t the new mall which took me on a journey, but that two and a half kilometre walk that preceded my visit to the mall. It was a journey that perhaps started with a walk down from the docks of Klong Toey some three decades before and one that I still am taking through time, through space and through the many contrasts and contradictions of the fast changing world that I find in a city and in a part of that city that has never ceased to fascinate me.

Rambutans at a street vendor's stall off Sukhumvit Road. Beside the tourist oriented street vendors along Sukhumvit Road, there are many others that colour the streets which still cater to the local population.

Haggling with a street vegetable vendor.

The streets also offer many opportunities for people watching - a young lady in a contemplative mood seen through the maze of street food vendors.

A popcorn vendor pushing his cart down the sidewalk.

Pushing a different cart - a street vendor (smiling) helps an unfortunate motorist along Sukhumvit Road.

A dough fritter vendor at work.

Cobbler, cobbler, mend my shoe. A shopper seeks help from a sidewalk cobbler for a broken heel.

A shelter for that which provide shelter. Parasols of a street vendor rest resting against a telephone booth.

A column of motorcylists facing a very lengthy wait at a major intersection supporting themselves with the help of the kerb.





An ancient world in new Hanoi

8 01 2012

Seemingly far removed from the commotion of Hanoi’s busy streets, lies a sanctuary of serenity – one that takes one away to a Hanoi of a thousand years ago. Built first to venerate the great Chinese sage Confucius, the Van Mieu or Temple of Literature, dates back to an era in which the city that it finds around it was founded, and is a wonderfully preserved work of architecture and one that serves as icon of Hanoi’s cultural heritage and a beautiful representation of Confucian inspired architecture that has survived to this day. The Van Mieu has also greater cultural significance to Hanoi and to Vietnam, being the site of the country’s first university – it is within its grounds, not long after it was built in 1070 that a centre of learning was established in 1076 – one that served to educate the elites for a system of public administration that was greatly influenced by Vietnam’s neighbours to the north and one that functioned for some seven centuries.

The Temple of Literature offers an escape from the crowded streets of Hanoi to a beautiful ancient centre of learning.

The Van Mieu complex we find today is one that has been built over a long period and is laid out around five courtyards, each with an ornamental portal serving as an entrance. Stepping through the first, the Van Mieu Gate, even with the buzz of the weekend’s crowd that was there, the tranquillity of the Van Mieu soon overcomes you as the dissonance of the busy streets left behind quickly fades away. The crowd – flocks of pretty ladies – fresh graduates from the city’s newer universities dressed in the traditional Ao Dai behind the layers of less traditional outerwear on what was a chilly winter’s day, seemed to blend into the well manicured gardens of the first courtyard and beyond the second gate in the second courtyard.

The Van Mieu Gate which is the main entrance to the Temple of Literature complex.

The well manicured first courtyard as seen through the second gate.

At the end of the second – the third gate, Khue Van Cac or the Constellation of Literature – a much more recent addition built in 1805 is one that is hard not to notice with an upper level where four radiating suns can be seen facing the four cardinal points of the compass. Through this gate, one is confronted by what seems like a huge reflecting pool – Thien Quang Tinh or the Well of Heavenly Clarity, flanked one both sides by open sided buildings that house 82 surviving stone stelae (out of the original 112), set on pedestals of giant stone tortoises – that of those conferred with Doctorates during the 15th to the 18th centuries.

The Constellation of Literature (Khue Van Cac). The third gate leading into the third courtyard where the Well of Heavenly Clarity is located.

A lady in an Ao Dai poses at a side portal into the third courtyard.

The Well of Heavenly Clarity in the third courtyard.

Some of the 82 surviving stone stelae of scholars who passed the examinations at the Temple of Literature.

The part of the complex where Confucius is venerated lies beyond the fourth gate, one that is flanked by two stone warriors. It is at the end of the courtyard where the Temple of Confucius is found. The two incense filled buildings are ones that house the Altar of Confucius, in the Bai Duong – the open sided House of Ceremonies where the Altar of Confucius at which the Emperor and Mandarins are said to have make offerings at, and in the red lacquered building behind the Bai Duong. Behind the red of the wooden panels that line the second building that the statues of the Great Sage and his four main disciples are found.

A stone warrior stands guard at the gateway into the fourth courtyard.

The fourth courtyard with the Temple of Confucius.

Reflection of the Temple of Confucius in a pail of water.

Wooden wall panels on the Temple of Confucius.

View through the Temple of Confucius.

Wall and door panels on the Temple of Confucius.

Temple of Confucius.

Statue of Confucius in the Temple of Confucius.

Inside the Temple of Confucius.

Beyond the Temple of Confucius, the fifth and last of the courtyards where the Quoc Tu Giam – the academy was located. The original buildings were destroyed by French bombing during the 1940s and much of what can be seen today is a reconstruction carried out in 2000. In the main building at the end of the courtyard, the altars to three of the Ly Dynasty emperors are found. On either side of the buildings, there is also a huge drum and a huge brass bell housed in two pavilion like structures – popular spots for those seeking a photo opportunity.

Altar to one of the Ly Dynasty Emperors in the reconstructed Quoc Tu Giam - the National Academy which was established in 1076 to educate Mandarins.

In the two hours I spent exploring the Van Mieu, it did feel as if I had lost myself in that ancient world that it had emerged from. Stepping back into the world that Hanoi has now become, I felt first a realisation and then a sense of wonderment of what I had just emerged from – a significant piece of the history of the country that I was visiting, one of a beauty and elegance that is a joy to behold, and one that goes far back to a time long before the country I am from was even put on the map.

Shadow and light - inside the Quoc Tu Giam.

A view through a screen towards the fifth courtyard.





Hanoi in its shades of grey

6 01 2012

Hanoi, which I visited this winter, is city that has made a big impression on me. It is a city that for a long while, I had wanted to visit. It is a city that has intrigued me in the past, having lived a good part of my younger days in a region whose political climate had very much been influenced by the Cold War, the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Hanoi, along with the rest of Vietnam, is today a very different world from the one that must have emerged from a war that would have devasted it. The city does still have many reminders of the war, as well as of the somewhat chequered history the nation it is a capital to has had. There is always that reminder of the Communist Party that still governs it in flags, banners, posters and also Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum making it difficult not to realise that, even as the country has embraced economic policies that would have those who led it during the war turning in their final resting places.

Two ladies pose in the traditional Ao Dai at the Temple of Literature. Hanoi is where tradition ...

... coexists and blends in with the new world.

An itinerant vendor stares into a shop window.

The charge of the two-wheel brigade on the streets of old Hanoi.

Two wheels that sometimes see well dressed riders dressed fashionably with killer heels.

The juxtaposition of new on the old is evident especially on the streets of the Old Quarter.


More juxtapositions ...

The is a lot of the old that is not just juxtaposed with, but blends very much in with the new that the country’s economic progress over the last two decades has brought. The Hanoi of old, set in the colourful narrow and bustling streets of the Old Quarter, sits beside the Hanoi of the French Colonial masters – its wide avenues and elegant buildings in stark contrast. In both, there are the sidewalks dominated by itinerant vendors or the low tables and stoold set up by vendors operating out of narrow doorways, in instances right next to a shop window with a display of the latest objects of desire. It is at the low tables and stools of the sidewalks where in fact the best fare in a city that celebrates its food can sometimes be savoured. Here well dressed men and women are often spotted sitting on the low stools in what almost seems a posture that lacks dignity, enjoying their night out in the city, or a bowl of pho in the morning before heading into the office. It is in scenes such as this that best illustrates Hanoi as a city that is full of contrasts and perhaps contradictions where it isn’t just where black is seen against white, but where there also are many shades of grey.

Two wheelers prove to be useful in many ways ...

... and many can't leave home with it.

Diners at Chả cá Lã Vọng - a well known restaurant that serves Chả cá - a must try "Grilled Fish" dish.

A pho restaurant spills out into the sidewalk in the Old Quarter.


Sidewalks are the domain of the many itinerant vendors.


Views of more sidewalks.

A young lady having a bowl of pho for breakfast on the sidewalk before heading into the office.

A back lane.


The sidewalks are where many locals are seen enjoying their night out.

Some of the best food can be savoured at the low tables and stools of the sidewalks.

A food vendor operating out of a doorway.

A sidewalk food vendor.

Evening falls on Hoan Kiem Lake - looking at Turtle Tower.





Seeking an old world over the New Year

5 01 2012

Strange as it may seem, I found myself wandering around streets some 350 kilometres away during the lead up to the New Year, thinking for a while that I was in a Singapore that I had my wonderful childhood in. The streets of Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur where I was has been a source of fascination for me since my first visit there as a child of six and it has also become, along with other parts of the country, a place where I often search for that world – the Singapore of my childhood that is now lost to me. The streets of Kuala Lumpur today and those of the Singapore of yesterday are undeniably two very different worlds – worlds far apart in many ways. Both cities have seen dramatic changes in four decades since my first visit and are today hardly recognisable from the cities they had emerged from. There is however one key difference in how either city have gone through their respective transformations. Where with Singapore, much of what made Singapore, Singapore, has now been lost – replaced in many cases by the cold hard stare of glass, steel and concrete, there is still the buzz of daily life that can be discovered nestled in between the towering edifices of modern Kuala Lumpur.

There are places I remember ... that resemble this. A back lane off the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

An area that I take particular joy in wandering around has become known as the city’s Chinatown – centred on Petaling Street or Jalan Petaling, once a must-go destination on my almost annual visits to the city to savour some of its culinary offerings. The street market it is well known for has unfortunately seen the inevitable invasion of stalls that provide a wider apppeal to a tourist than the local, but there is still in and around the area a world much like that old world we have left behind in Singapore to stumble upon. It is in the five-foot ways and narrow alleyways off the main street that this older world I seek is tucked away. One, alleyway which runs parallel to Petaling Street off Madras Lane (or Jalan Sultan) is home to what must be a well known wet market, teeming in the early hours of daylight with many from the area and beyond, in search for the day’s supply of fresh produce. I first came to know of the market on a trip to Kuala Lumpur that coicided with my very first journey out of the now forgotten Tanjong Pagar Railway Station some two decades ago – and it nice to see that it still is set in that wet, slippery and less than pleasant smelling passageway that leads to what must seem like a reward at the end of it.

The wet market at Madras Lane.

A butcher's assistant at the wet market.

What lies at the end of the wet market is a cluster of food stalls – ones that have a reputation for being amongst the best in a city where sumptous street fare is never hard to find. Despite the less than pleasant demeanour with which customers of some of the stalls are served, the cluster never fails to draw a steady stream of hungry customers in the mornings and the very popular Chee Cheong Fun, Yong Tau Foo and Assam Laksa usually sells out by the time one arrives for a late lunch.

Madras Lane is also famous for its street fare.

The early morning crowd at the Yong Tau Foo stall.

Enjoying a bowl of noodles at Madras Lane.

After a bowl of the irresistable Assam Laksa and a glass of warm soya bean milk the morning I found myself there, there was still time to discover what else Madras Lane had to offer. The five-foot ways and crowded back lanes was certainly a joy to wander through -a hole-in-the-wall shop with colourful magazines strung up for sale, as well as a shop lot where one could have an offending mole removed caught my eye as did a back lane strewn with pushcarts awaiting use to serve the evening’s dining crowd, a back lane barber, a sidewalk fortune-teller, and a cobbler waiting patiently for his next customer.

A bowl of Assam Laksa I had to have.

A sidewalk fortune teller along Jalan Sultan.

A hole-in-the-wall shop.

A five-foot way along Jalan Sultan.

Have that offending mole removed.

I suppose I would have spent the entire day immersing myself in that old world – but that unfortunately wasn’t that Singapore that I had sought, although it did in many ways remind me of it. It was time then to transport myself to the new world – first for lunch and for a look at another area I was familiar with from my early visits to the city – the Bukit Bintang area which has also seen tremendous change. And as darkness descended on the city for the last time in the old year, it was time to embrace the new – in a way that even an old world cannot escape from – with a blast of colours in the sky, but perhaps in a gentler and quieter way than it would have been if I had stayed at home. With that there is a realisation that much of the old ways will soon be forgotten … but there is that hope that the city I found myself in, would cling tightly on to those little reminders of its past which would allow me many more opportunities to seek the familiarity and comfort of the old world that I can no longer find in the place I grew up in.

A somewhat quieter welcome to 2012 than I would have expected in Singapore - fireworks over Bandar Utama in Malaysia.

The finale after the 10 minute dispay over Bandar Utama.





The reward for stealing a horse – holding $0.25M in her hand?

5 10 2011

It was to our horror that we discovered that we had a horse thief amongst us, just as we tucking into the main course of the lunch we were having on the Main Street of an early but already thriving Ballarat. It was midway into the main course when a man dressed in a blue uniform and armed with a sword – a policeman I guess, stormed into the quiet dining room in which we were seated and read out charges of horse stealing and furious riding to Deenise, one of the bloggers with us.

Firing of guns on Main Street. Were they aiming at a horse thief furiously riding down Main Street?

Main street in the Ballarat of the 1850s - where we found out we had a horse thief in our ranks.

Bills stuck on a wall - no 'Wanted' sign and no sign of trouble.

The horsethief in happier times.

Oh dear! Charges were read in the dining room just as we started on our main course.

It wasn’t of course at all real – but part of the fun we had at Ballarat’s Sovereign Hill where we were transported into the heat of the mid 1800 gold rush on which the city was built. Sovereign Hill, referred to as an outdoor museum, is a recreation of Ballarat in its early years, where one can have a feel of what it was like in the days of the gold rush, as thousands of migrants descended on a an area where one of the most significant finds of gold at that time was discovered. It was also at Ballarat that the largest nugget at the time and the second largest ever, the massive 69 kg Welcome Nugget, was discovered by a group of miners in an underground mine in 1858 and this is re-enacted in a replica underground mine which can be visited at Sovereign Hill.

It was all part of the fun of being in Sovereign Hill - a reacreation of the gold rush town of Ballarat in the 1850s.

The find of the second largest gold nugget ever found is reenacted in the replica Red Hill underground mine which visitors can descend to for a feel of the conditions the underground miners faced.

Walking down Main Street gives a feel of the dusty wild, wild west like town, where one can stumble on soldiers, miners, and townsfolk dressed in the costumes of the day, as well as shop at shops that are decorated very much like what one expects of the shops of the day. It is also possible to take a horse-drawn wagon ride around the area – past buildings that would not have been out of place on the set of a wild west movie.

A scene from the wild, wild west.

The Post Office.

Soldiers marching down Main Street.

Horse drawn wagon rides are available.

The view from the wagon down to Red Hill Gully Creek.

The ouside of the replica underground mine.

A church.

Livestock can also be found to add a feel of what conditions were like.

Candles from a candle maing shop.

Soda bottles in a grocery shop.

One of the more interesting activities that are available is at Red Hill Gully Creek where one can pan for real gold amongst tents and shacks that would have resembled the area during the gold rush days. It was quite interesting to do it – not that I was any good – it was Deenise and Yiwei who did find a few bits of the shinny metal. We also had the opportunity to dress up in costumes resembling the dressing of the period and have our photo taken – which was quite a blast.

Panning for gold at Red Hill Gully Creek.

An oldtimer demonstrating the technique.

The inside of a Chinese miners tent - Chinese made up a substantial portion of the miners' population then.

A replica Chinese temple.

The tent city.

The highlight of the visit was probably the gold pour for me. It was where we could watch 3 kg of gold being melted over a furnace and poured in light of the orange glow of the molten metal into a mould and cooled down – and after everyone had left, we had the opportunity to have a feel of that 3 kg of pure gold – worth close to a quarter of a million Singapore dollars! And for half a minute – I felt rich!

The glow of molten gold during the gold pour.

A quarter of a million in gold in the hands of the horse thief.


Australia’s foremost outdoor museum – Sovereign Hill recreates Ballarat’s first ten years after the discovery of gold in 1851 when thousands of international fortune-hunters rushed to the Australian goldfields in search of riches. By day, Sovereign Hill is where Australia’s history comes to life – from the hustle and bustle of Main Street where costumed ladies and gents parade their new-found wealth, to the excitement of the Red Hill Gully Diggings where you can pan for REAL gold.

Sovereign Hill
Bradshaw Street
Ballarat VIC 3350
Tel: (03) 5337 1100
Fax: (03) 5331 1528
www.sovereignhill.com.au


This is a repost of my post on the omy Colours of Melbourne 2011: My Melbourne Experience site. You can vote for your favourite blogger at the My Melbourne Experience voting page. Voting period is from 15 September 2011 to 5 October 2011 and stand a chance to win prizes worth up to $3000 which include Jetstar travel vouchers and Crumpler limited edition laptop bags.






And she sang, as we sat and waited til’ our billy boiled, putting a damper on the fire

5 10 2011

After two wonderful days in which I was able to develop a deeper appreciation of what Melbourne has to offer and experience an activity packed excursion to Phillip Island, I wasn’t sure if my choice of the third and final day’s activity, an excursion to Ballarat, was going to be a wise one, as I really wanted to have the chance to have a better feel of the city especially having heard about how much more Melbourne has on offer. I wasn’t to be disappointed though – as not only did it give me the chance to see (and feel) some of the well known creatures of the Australian Bush at the Ballarat Wildlife Park, but also take a step back in time to a world that existed in the mid-1800s in and around Ballarat.

The third day involved a visit to Ballarat Wildlife Park.

The blue skies we woke up to that morning may have been seen as a sign of good things to come, but then, the grey skies of the two previous mornings were not really an indication of the fun filled days we were to have. The skies were indeed blue – brilliantly so, so much so that they deserve mention. The ride of a little more than an hour was fairly pleasant, taking us past the apple and pear orchards of Bacchaus Marsh along the way, and it wasn’t too long before Tony Poletto of Tourism Victoria pointed a sign welcoming us to Ballarat out close to where we passed a medieval castle – Kryal Castle that’s probably worth a visit on my next visit to the area.

The road near Bacchaus Marsh - an area where apple and pear orchards can be found.

Kyral castle - a replica medieval castle on the road close to Ballarat.

At Ballarat Wildlife Park, we were welcomed by a curator Julia Leonard, who made a short introduction and led us to a cabin in the park where she had a little treat in store for us, right under the shade of what might have been a coolibah tree at the front of the cabin. Borrowing from the lyrics of that famous song Australian song Waltzing Matilda, it was there where Julia sang as we watched and waited til’ her billy boiled. What was boiling in the billy, was the famous billy tea – tea brewed in a billy, a tin can, suspended over a fire and flavoured by the addition of eucalyptus leaves, that was supposed to be swung around a few times to sink the leaves to the bottom of the can. Over the fire, we were also able to try our hand at baking damper – a traditional scone like soda bread prepared in the outback made of flour, water and baking soda, at the end of a stick. It was a good thing that there was pre-prepared damper waiting for us in the cabin, as I promptly got mine burnt. There was an assortment of condiments such as butter, jam and golden syrup and even vegemite that we could spread on the damper – much like a scone. I like it – as I did the strong eucalyptus tea that Julia poured out for us.

The cabin we had the damper and billy tea in.

Deenise Yang and Huang Kee Hong baking the damper, as Julia looks on.

The billy (it should really not have a spout!) and our damper being burnt.

Loved the aroma that reached my nose as the billy tea was being poured.

The pre-prepared damper with a selection of condiments which included vegemite!

After that very interesting experience, it was time to wander around the park with Julia. We were first able to feed some very tame kangaroos – ones from Kangaroo Island where there are no predators. It was quite a treat to get up close and personal with them – and have them eat out of my hand – as it was a treat to see two joeys in their mother’s pouches.

One of two very tame Kangaroo Island kangaroos we saw with joeys in their pouches.

Another joey in its mother's pouch.

The mother and her joey.

Other treats were in store for us – I stared right into the eyes of an emu, looked at the sharp and long fangs of the Tasmanian devil (the first time I had actually seen the famous Tassie devils), patted Koalas, including a baby Koala (one of the few places you can pat a Koala) and said hello to Patrick the wombat, as well as saw a host of reptiles including snakes. I enjoyed meeting Patrick in particular – wombats are a lot bigger than I imagined them to be – an adult wombat can weigh as much as 40 kg, but they did not look any less adorable than the cute soft toy replicas we often see being sold.

Staring into the eyes of an emu.

Close up of the feathers of an emu.

A koala at the wildlife park. The wildlife park allows koalas to be petted.

An adorable baby koala peeking through the fur ball that is its mother.

Patrick the orphan wombat, who weights 32 kg. A full sized adult can weigh as much as 40 kg.

Cute and adorable, but they do bite!

A poison gas breathing tortoise? A giant tortoise - the ray of light is a reflection off the glass panel.

Not a two-headed snake - but two rattlesnakes colied up together.

A lizard on a tree.

Going in for the kill! Lab mice being fed to a Tassie devil.

A Tassie devil baring its fangs.

The short visit to the wildlife park was one that I thoroughly enjoyed, not just for the unique experience of billy tea and damper but also for the opportunity it provided for me to see many of the iconic creatures of of Australian outback really up close and in the case of the koala and kangaroos – to pet them – something I am sure would appeal to visitors with children. For the four of us – the experience probably made us feel like kids once again – and I was certainly thankful for that. Next stop on the third day was Sovereign Hill – to hunt for gold, but more importantly to also stop for lunch.


Ballarat Wildlife Park is set in 116 hectares of beautiful peppermint gum woodland and is dedicated to the care and appreciation of Australian wildlife in its natural surroundings. Proprietor Greg Parker uses his considerable breeding expertise to develop an array of Australian fauna such as wombats, Tasmanian devils, goannas, crocodiles, birds and koalas. It’s a favourite with all visitors.

Ballarat Wildlife Park
Cnr Fussell & York Streets
Ballarat VIC 3350
Tel: (03) 5333 5933
www.wildlifepark.com.au


This is a repost of my post on the omy Colours of Melbourne 2011: My Melbourne Experience site. You can vote for your favourite blogger at the My Melbourne Experience voting page. Voting period is from 15 September 2011 to 5 October 2011 and stand a chance to win prizes worth up to $3000 which include Jetstar travel vouchers and Crumpler limited edition laptop bags.






Off the Edge 300 metres up down under

20 09 2011

For a very brief moment in my life, I had a feeling that I was a thousand feet up with nothing but clear air space below my feet all the way down to those tiny objects moving far below. It was a feeling of fear mixed with exhilaration and one that came with standing metres from the edge of a building – not a result of doing something that comes with me being out of my mind (as some would probably have suspected), but from standing in a clear glass cube that had been extended some 3 metres beyond the side of a building, the Eureka Towers, on Melbourne’s South Bank.

Eureka Towers is located on the South Bank of the Yarra - just across the river from Flinders Street Station on the North Bank seen here on the pleasant spring evening's walk from the hotel to the Eureka Tower.

The Edge is a steel framed glass cube that is extended 3 metres beyond the side of the Eureka Tower some 285 metres above the ground (image: Eureka Skydeck 88).

The Edge seen extended out from the 88th floor of Eureka Towers (image: Eureka Skydeck 88).

That feeling was for me, the best part of a truly awesome Edge experience, one that a visitor to what is to the Southern Hemisphere’s highest observation deck, the Eureka Skydeck 88, would be able to do. The Skydeck is located on the 88th floor of a residential skyscraper, the Eureka Towers, some 285 metres above the ground and offers simply stunning views of Melbourne and beyond, as well as giving an opportunity for the visitor to have what is a one-of-a-kind experience with the Edge.

Eureka Skydeck 88 is the Southern Hemishpere's highest observation deck (image: Eureka Skydeck 88).

A nighttime experience of the Edge was what nine other bloggers and myself got (image: Eureka Skydeck 88).

The Edge experience was part of a visit to the Eureka Skydeck 88 that along with nine other bloggers, I made on the start of the first evening’s activities during a 4 day / 3 night adventure to Melbourne made possible by Tourism Victoria, Jetstar and omy.sg. Greeting the group at the reception area on the ground level was Ms Megan Peacock who provided the group with an interesting presentation about the tower. Interesting facts that came out during the presentation included the ability of the top of the tower to flex up to some 600 mm in high winds, and that two large water tanks have been placed at the top of the tower to counteract any excessive swaying movement – much like an anti-roll mechanism on a ship. Another interesting fact is that the glass on Eureka’s top 10 levels is plated with 24 carat gold!

Ms Megan Peacock of Eureka Skydeck 88 was on hand to greet the bloggers.

The glass on the top 10 levels of the Eureka Towers is plated with 24 carat gold (image: Eureka Skydeck 88).

At the end of the presentation, it was time to step into the lift, which at a speed of 9 m/s, are the fastest in the Southern Hemisphere. All it took was 40 ear popping seconds and we were up to take in the breathtaking panorama of Melbourne’s night lights through the safety of the large glass windows of the observation deck. There was also the opportunity to get out to the Skydeck Open Terrace, an open air terrace exposed to the elements, accessible through an air-lock. This is positioned next to the Edge, allowing visitors to observe passengers inside the Edge.

All it took was 40 seconds to reach the 88th floor on the fastest lifts in the Southern Hemishpere.


View from the 88th floor.

A close-up of Flinders Street Station as seen from the Skydeck Open Terrace.

Taking the magnificent night time views probably took the initial apprehension I had felt about getting on the Edge that had much to do with a previous experience walking on a glass floor at a similar height above the ground that I well remembered. Excitement rather trepidation seemed to overtake me as I slipped booties over my shoes (a requirement to prevent shoes from scratching the glass floor) and stepped into the Edge. The door soon closed and light and sound effects added to the growing sense of anticipation as the cube we were in was extended outwards (not that we could feel it), and once fully extended, we saw the light – the opaque glass that had surrounded us suddenly became clear. And that moment that I first described arrived as the ground below came into full view – a moment when legs immediately turned to jelly – before I realised I was actually standing on a 45 mm thick glass floor – certainly an experience that is not to be missed!.

Off the Edge! Ten bloggers, Han Weiding from omy.sg and Megan 285 metres over Melbourne.

The Eureka Skydeck 88 is open from 10 am to 10 pm (last entry 9.30 pm), 7 days a week. Admission to the Eureka Skydeck 88 is AUD 17.00 for adults and AUD 10.00 for Children (4 – 16 years). Prices for the Edge Experience are AUD 12.00 for Adults and AUD 8.00 for Children.

Eureka Skydeck 88
Riverside Quay
Southbank VIC 3006
Tel: (03) 9693 8844
Fax: (03) 9693 8899
www.eurekaskydeck.com.au


This is a repost of my post on the omy Colours of Melbourne 2011: My Melbourne Experience site. You can vote for your favourite blogger at the My Melbourne Experience voting page. Voting period is from 15 September 2011 to 5 October 2011 and stand a chance to win prizes worth up to $3000 which include Jetstar travel vouchers and Crumpler limited edition laptop bags.






An early morning stroll around the streets of Kathmandu

12 07 2011

I love taking a stroll around the streets of any city that I find myself in, particularly in a city in which the streets are alive as is the case in much of Asia. Mornings are especially interesting when streets, in a matter of minutes, come to life not just with the coming and going of people going about their daily routines, but also often with street markets that add not just the array of sounds and colours, but a sense of life as it is lived on the streets. Kathmandu, where I found myself with some friend in April is one place in which the an early morning stroll offers the visitor not just an opportunity to see the streets come alive, but also to see Kathmandu as it would be, unadulterated and clear of the hoards of tourists that throng the streets later in the day and without the distractions of what is on offer at the shops that lay behind the closed shutters of the early morning.

Children getting ready to go to school.

The early morning street scene.

Nepali pastries that seem to be a popular choice for breakfast.

The scene outside the pastry shop.

Opened padlocks lined up against the window sill as a shopkeeper opens for the day.

Rickshaws riders waiting for customers.

Workers waiting for their transport to arrive.

Judokas on an early morning jog through the streets.

A delivery man on his rounds.

A milkman carries a milkcan on his shoulders.

A vegetable vendor sets up shop in an alley.

The butcher's shop.

Customers watch as a butcher carves goat meat.

A lady holding a child buying food from a mobile vendor.

Salt being sold at a sundry shop.

Sunlight streams into an abandoned shop.

A vegetable vendor transporting his goods on a bicycle.

A tailor gets down to work in a hole in the wall.

A butcher's shop.

A mobile vendor balancing his wares on his head.

Vegetables on sale on the sidewalk.

Snacks on sale.

The breakfast crowd at a bread shop.

A fishmonger.

The scene in a schoolyard.

A reluctant customer at a barbershop.





Sunrise over the top of the world

14 06 2011

Getting up at 5 in the morning probably isn’t one’s idea of a holiday, but it is something that I regularly do just so as to revel in my favourite time of the day. It is the sunrise of the new world that I often seek, a time which always brings a sense of calmness, freshness and hope to me. Sunrises anywhere have a unique flavour, some accompanied by a brilliant show of colours, some less so … the sight of that red or orange ball or light rising over the horizon or the distant landscape is truly remarkable and one that I never fail to marvel at. It is something that I have done, since the carefree days of childhood when I first watched that red ball of fire rise over the distant horizon as I listened to the sound of the South China Sea lapping up the same fine white sand that was stuck in between my toes as I sat seated in between my parents.

I have always been one for the sunrise – the sunrise over the Volcán San Cristóbal near Corinto, Nicaragua, 1985.

A magical sunrise that I recently had the good fortune to see whilst on holiday was one that I watched in the company of friends with whom I go back to a time that would have been the time of that first sunrise that I watched. It was on the trip to Kathmandu that we found ourselves perched, at 5 in the morning, up on the roof of the Peaceful Cottage in Nagarkot, a hill station just out of Kathmandu which on clear days, provides a wonderful vantage from which the majesty of the world highest peaks rising in the distance, can be admired. The sunrise wasn’t so much one that was magical in its display of colours with the morning’s mist filtering out any attempts the sun made to paint the canvas that was the sky, but one that was magical just for the view of the mist shrouded hills below us that extended across to the magical looking mountain range rising high above the hills.

The anticipation of a brand new day over the Himalayas roused many from their slumber including this couple on the roof of another building across from the Peaceful Cottage.

I guess it would be hard to describe in words the magical spectacle that started with the surreal glow over the still invisible snow capped peaks, the glow eventually reflecting off and revealing the snow capped southern faces of the world highest peaks, turning blue to grey and then to orange, culminating in the majesty of the orange ball of fire rising in between two peaks … it is I guess for the pictures that should paint a thousand words to describe the spectacle … one that will always be remembered as that first sunrise that I watched some forty years ago.

From a surreal glow, the strengthening light from the rising of the sun illuminates and reveals the southern faces of some of the highest peaks in the world.

First rays over the peaks.

The moment of anticipation.

The sun peeks out between two peaks.

The progress of the sunrise over the top of the world:





In the eye of the frenzied storm of the Bisket Jatra

22 05 2011

A third UNESCO World Heritage Site that I visited on the day of the Nepali New Year was probably the one that was the highlight, not just of the day, but also the trip. Having explored Swayambhunath and Boudhanath, the group of friends I was with were left with the latter half of an afternoon with which to catch the action of a Nepali festival, the Bisket Jatra, being lived out on the streets of Bhaktapur, an ancient town 13 km east of Kathmandu.

Durbar Square in Bhaktapur. Bhaktapur is a UNESCO World Heritage Site 13km east of Kathmandu.

It was quite a pleasant ride in once the van took a turn off from the highway from Kathmandu, this in spite of the somewhat dusty and bumpy approach we were given. Even with being on the outskirts of the city, it gave us a feeling that we were in a world far removed from the madding streets of the Nepali capital and even further away from the incessant honking on the busy streets of Kathmandu. The view we were afforded by the windows of the moving van were quite refreshing ones at that – padi fields dominated either side of the road against the backdrop of what would be the green foothills of the world’s highest peaks, interspersed with the red-brown piles of brick that lay in the yards of what must have been brick making kilns. It was the warm colour of the piles of bricks we passed that radiated from the buildings and cobblestone streets of Bhaktapur that greeted our arrival into the ancient town.

Piles of red brown bricks mark the passage into Bhaktapur, an ancient town founded in the 9th Century that once served as the capital of the Kathmandu Valley. The bricks used in bulk of the buildings and cobblestones now colour much of the town.

The point at which we alighted was at the bottom of a street that rose steadily uphill, either side of which was lined with a row of tall and narrow brick houses that in a strange sort of way perhaps resembled a scene one might associate with Tuscan hill town. The streets were strangely quiet for a town that was in celebration – just a few children could be seen playing up the street. My attention was quickly turned towards the blue of a rectangle that framed an aperture within which the colourful display of what literally was a hole-in-a-wall shop manned by an elderly lady set into the dusty sand coloured plastered wall of a building at the corner that seemed to break the orange-brown light that the earthen bricks and cobblestones reflected in the mid-afternoon sun. It was only the cry of the lady behind another aperture that alerted us to the window of the bureau which collected the equivalent of US$15 (NRs 1100) from the tourist as an entrance fee to the town.

Set against the dusty sand coloured plaster of a building that was in contrast to the rest of the town, the blue frame of the hole-in-a-wall shop caught my eye.

With the entrance fee out of the way, we sought the help of a guide to lead us to the heart of the festival of which we had found no evidence of where we were. Making our way up a dusty road that did well to obscure what we were to discover at the summit of the climb. At the top, we found ourselves making our way past the first sight of the heart of the old capital of the Kathmandu Valley, the white tower of the Fasidega temple (one that is dedicated to Shiva) that rose on the left of an alley into the eastern edge of Durbar Square. Beyond that, two stone lions seemed to guard the square within Durbar Square where the Tadhunchen Bahal stood. The Tadhunchen Bahal dates from 1491 and is where the origins of the Kumari, the living goddesses of Nepal, is said to have started from. Turning left past the magnificent wooden structured Tadhunchen Bahal, and then right through a narrow street lined with the dwellings of the town folk on the right and tourist shops on the left, we soon found ourselves with the first signs of the Bisket Jatra in full swing, with the amazing sight of the huge gathering of townsfolk and curious tourists colouring the steps of the towering 30 metre high Nyatapola temple, the tallest temple in Nepal, built in 1702 and said to be one of the best examples of traditional temple architecture in Nepal.

Part of the Tadhunchen Bahal, where the Nepali living goddessess, the Kumari, had their origins.

Townsfolk seated beneath the wooden arches of the Tadhunchen Bahal.

The crowd gathered on the steps of the Nyatapola temple in Taumadhi Square.

The scene around the Nyatapola temple and Taumadhi Square.

Continuing our way through the crowded Taumadhi Square in which the Nyatapola stands, we wound our way through yet another cobbled street in which we encountered the steady flow of townsfolk, before arriving at the entrance to Khalna Tol at which we had to squeeze our way past a wall of people before we were able to survey the square at the heart of the Bisket Jatra celebrations. The scene that greeted us was an amazing one. From where we had stood, the Khalna Tol fanned out downwards, every inch of which was filled by the gaudy colours of the sea of people decked out in their New Year’s finery. At the end of the square, a tall pole seemed to rise, as if it were a mast of a ship in the colourful sea of people. The 25 metre pole, representative of the lingam, is set into a mound of stone, representative of the yoni, and is part of the ancient festival which is celebrated in Bhaktapur over a nine day period that straddles the Nepali New Year. The festival is said to have preceded the establishment of Bhaktapur in the 9th Century and has been celebrated from the time of the Lichhavi period (5th to 8th Century A.D.) to commemorate the defeat of a snake demon that was believed to possess a princess who according to legend, was made a widow when the man who married her died of a snake bite. After that, no one would marry her out of fear of death and it was only with the arrival of a merchant who married the princess that the snake demon was defeated.

The crowd seen from the top of Khalna Tol, where the main festivities were taking place on the fourth day of the Bisket Jatra which coincides with the Nepali New Year.

The lingam pole erected in Khulna Sqaure with one of the two chariots that are pulled through the streets of the town over the nine day festival.

The highlight of the festival, which culminates in a tongue piercing festival during which participants carry a Mahadeep (similar in some respects to the practice of the carrying of the Kavadi still practiced by southern Indian communities of South-East Asia during Thaipusam and Panguni Uthiram), is the pulling of two chariots, the Bhairavnath and Bhadrakali chariots, containing the idols of the god Lord Bhairavnath and his consort, the goddess Bhadrakali respectively. The chariots with huge crude wooden wheels, are traditionally made of a mix of wood and cane and coated with gold at the top. Iron nails and bronze rods have now been introduced to strengthen the chariots which undergo quite a fair bit of punishment as they are pulled from Taumadhi Square in a slow parade around the streets of the town. It seems that on the last day of the festival, the copulation of the god and goddess is enacted by the ramming of the smaller chariot carrying the goddess Bhadrakali against the chariot carrying Lord Bhairavnath.

The chariot carrying the idol of Lord Bhairavnath seen in Khalna Tol.

The highlight of the festival is the pulling of two chariots through the streets of the town.

While we did not have the opportunity to see all of that happening, we did weave our way through the sea of people towards the lingam and the Bhairavnath chariot which was being pulled through Khalna Tol near where the lingam was located. The chariot up-close was a lot bigger that it had seemed from a distance floating in the sea of people. The wheels were huge, the diameter of which was certainly larger than the height of a person. The chariot itself was mounted by many young boys, perhaps seeking a good vantage as well as hitching a ride on the chariot, oblivious to the dangers of doing so (the wheels do sometimes give way during the drawing of the chariots). A pause in the pulling saw even more children attempting to climb on, as well as giving a chance for parents of the very young to seek blessings for their children from the bells that hung from the front of the chariot. That also allowed us to get right up to the chariots to see the feathers and blood of chickens on the wheels – evidence of a sacrifice that would have taken place at the start of the festival.

A closer inspection of the chariot reveals the scale of the crude wooden wheels.

Evidence of the sacrifice of a chicken could be seen on the wheels which had feathers and streaks of blood on them.

A pause allowed children to scramble up the chariot - one seen having his share of an ice lolly ...

Sights and sounds at the heart of the festivities in Khalna Tol.

It wasn’t very long before the cries of men perched on the curved front of the chariot that extended much like the bowsprit of a sail ship rang out, urging on the two lines of boys who held two lines used to draw the wooden structure as if they were participating in a tug-of-war against the chariot. It was with that that some of us were drawn towards the heavy looking ropes – something that one is probably ill advised to do, as an attempt to turn the chariot resulted in the lines sweeping swiftly across the crowd that had gathered, causing a few including a woman carrying a baby to fall … the thought that immediately crossed my mind was “stampede” – as bodies swept by the rope pressed me hard against the wall of people that stood behind me. Fortunately nothing worse than what happened to the woman who fell resulted from this and a pause in the drawing of the chariot allowed order to be restored, giving me an opportunity to quickly make my way out of the eye of the storm. We were to learn later from two Israeli travellers with whom we had the pleasure of sharing a bottle of whisky with on the terrace of the Peaceful Inn in Nagarkot that the festival has in the past proven to be a deadly one … they how they had witnessed the lingam pole being pulled down and breaking in the process and whilst on this occasion no one had been hurt, it was common knowledge that a few deaths are not uncommon as a result of the pole falling on the crowd or from a runaway chariot.

Trying to get close to the action during the pulling of the chariot proved to be not just an exhilarating, but also quite a terrifying experience.

One of the two lines being tugged at by children to the cries of men perched at an extension at the front end of the chariot.

Short clip of the chariot being pulled in Khalna Square.

Being caught up in the frenzy of the ancient Bisket Jatra close to the action probably counts as one of my most exciting experiences. If you were to ask if I would do it again, I would definitely want to … but knowing what I know now, chances are that I would keep a safer distance from all the action – as did many of the better informed tourists in the square. Leaving the excitement of the festival behind, we made our way back to Taumadhi Square and then to Durbar Square – that was enjoyable in many ways as we were able to take in some fine examples of traditional Newari religious architecture for the first time on the trip … but what probably remains etched most in our memories were the events of Khalna Tol that we had moments before, been caught up in.





A circle of Tibetan life in the Kathmandu Valley: Boudhanath

12 05 2011

From one UNESCO World Heritage Site, we found ourselves, after a quick (in Nepali terms) lunch, at another – the giant stupa of Boudhanath, the largest stupa in Nepal, some 5 kilometres northeast of Kathmandu. As was very evident from the crowd and the décor of the buildings that were laid out in a circle around the giant stupa, the stupa and its supporting buildings is very much a centre for Tibetan Buddhism, as well as being a shelter for the largest community of Tibetans (numbering some 16,000) in Nepal.

The stupa at Boudhanath, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is an important centre for Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal.

Our first glance of the stupa was through a passageway which to get to, required a somewhat treacherous passage across the busy stream of traffic passing through a thoroughfare that perhaps epitomised traffic conditions in Kathmandu with its steady stream of honking motorcycles, cars and buses bursting with passengers. The street, besides the chorus of horns and over laden vehicles, was littered with the colours of the saffron and dark red robes of Buddhist monks and that of the many pilgrims attempting to weave their way through the cross current of dusty vehicles. Once across, a sign board next to an archway gave us a clue as to what we were about to visit a World Heritage Site, and through the crowd of pilgrims and curious tourists many of whom were posing for a photograph, and the row of shops many offering religious articles, the towering sight of the grandest of stupas in the Kathmandu valley greeted us. The great white dome and its pointed pinnacle dressed up in the colours of the New Year crowd was truly a magnificent sight.

Getting across the street filled with honking overloaded vehicles proved to be a challenge.

Many of the buses and vans were bursting at their seams with the Nepali New Year crowd.

The first sight of the stupa, the largest in Nepal.

The stupa and the area around has apparently a long association with Tibet, being on an ancient trade route used to reach the Kathmandu valley from Tibet, and is where Tibetan merchants have stopped for a rest and to seek blessings before continuing on their journey. Boudhanath has since 1959, in the aftermath of the People’s Republic of China’s annexation of Tibet in 1950, served as a area where many Tibetans crossing the border into Nepal to flee the oppression of Chinese rule have taken refuge in. There is a fair bit of information on the stupa and the area around the stupa as well as on Tibetan life in exile around the area of Boudhanath which can be found on Wikipedia as well as on blogs such as Everyday Exile, Of Yetis and Yaks (Nepal through Western Eyes) and other online resources such as on this link. The area which hosts many new monasteries that have come up since has become one of the most important centres of Tibetan Buddhism outside of Tibet.

The area around the stupa is home to some 16,000 Tibetans in exile.

Two elderly Tibetan ladies at Boudhanath.

Boudhanath is home to many new Tibetan monasteries set up after the influx of refugees in 1959.

Detail on one of the buildings of the monasteries.

A Tibetan temple.

A mural on one of the religious buildings.

Another mural on one of the religious buildings.

Pastel shaded houses circle the stupa.

A monk turning a giant prayer wheel.

The stupa is set on terraces which allows the visitor to ascend to the base and also circumambulate the stupa. Again, being the New Year, we had a chance not just to mingle with the Tibetan community who were distinct in their appearance and in the dressing, as well as the many locals who had descended on the stupa for the occasion. Having circumambulated the stupa once, it was time then to move on, on to our next destination which proved to be the highlight of the day, but not before the treacherous crossing back across the street to where the van was waiting for us.

The circle of life ... a spinning prayer wheel ...

What goes around certainly comes around ....

The circle of houses around the stupa as seen from the terraces of the stupa.

The ascending terraces allow access to the stupa's base.

The base features niches in which images of Buddha are placed.





365 steps plus 13 degrees to enlightenment: Swayambhunath

11 05 2011

It was with a touch of good fortune that seven friends and I found ourselves in Kathmandu on the eve of the Nepali New Year I suppose. We hadn’t intended that, having to accommodate one who now lives half a world away, as well as fitting the trip we had planned within the constraints of flight availability. That we were, was something of a photographer’s dream I suppose, as we were confronted with the burst of life and colour around some of the most wonderful cultural heritage sites that I have visited. Wonderful not so much for the richness of architecture or craftsmanship that we sometimes associate with a cultural heritage site, but for the fact that the sites were not edifices that remind us of a time gone by, but living ones that are very much bursting with the life that makes them what they are.

The Nepali New Year is as much a religious celebration as much as it is one to celebrate the arrival of a new year.

Our first stop during the New Year was to the pilgrimage site of Swayambhunath, up the pilgrims path of 365 steps that leads one to a stupa, built with thirteen rings that represent the thirteen degrees of knowledge one needs to acquire on the path to enlightenment. Swyambhunath, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located on a holy site that is thought to go back some 2,500 years, according to local legend, the bodhisattva Manjushri was said to have discovered a lotus flower at the centre of an ancient lake that had filled the Kathmandu valley, and drained it by cutting a gorge, allowing the valley to become habitable. The flower was said to have settled where the stupa now is.

The stupa at Swayambhunath is accessible via a pilgrims path of a flight of 365 stone steps to the top of the hill on which the stupa is perched.

The stupa of Swayambhunath said to be built on a site where a lotus flower of an ancient lake drained by the bodhisattva Manjushri was found and features 13 gilded rings each representing a degree of knowledge a person needs to acquire on the path to enlightenment.

Arriving at the foot of the steep flight of steps, we stepped out from the calm of the van into the din and frenzy that accompanied the gathering of street vendors in a clearing next to where we alighted, and were transported into the sea of saffron, crimson and gold of pilgrims decked out in the finery of the New Year, mingling with holy men and monks in robes that suggested the paths in life they had taken, in the cool shade of the trees at the foot of the hill. The trees are in fact according to legend, said to have grown from hairs cut from Manjushri and the monkeys we find around, said to have been the lice from Manjushri’s hair.

The foot of the hill is shaded with trees which are said to have grown from the hairs cut from Manjushri's head.

And the many monkeys found around the complex are said to have grown from the lice that fell off.

The stupa is of course one that is associated with the Buddhist faith, one that in many parts of the world is distinct in its practice to that of the predominant Hindu faith in Nepal, and has been a cebtre of Buddhist learning for centuries. It is in Nepal where the faiths intertwine, as much as life and faith comes together as one in daily life. Nepal is where Buddha, as the Hindu Prince Gautama had been born, and where he left the comforts of his princely life to live a life that led him on the path to enlightenment on which the Buddhist faith was built on.

A statue of Buddha on the ascent up the pilgrim path to Swayambunath - Buddhism is embraced within the larger Hindu faith in Nepal.

Smaller stupas on the pilgrim's path.

Detail on a small stupa.

The ascent is one that gets steeper as it reaches its climax, as the stairway narrows and the stupa comes into sight. It is near the top where the tourist is required to pay an entrance fee of Rs 200 at a landing on the left of the stairs that one realises how much one has climbed as the opportunity to look back and survey the mass of narrow brick dwellings that define the city of Kathmandu that lay below. At the top, the stupa dominates the crest of the hill, surrounded by other structures and a circle of prayer wheels at the base. Teeming with pilgrims that sought blessings for the New Year, the area around the stupa was a kaleidoscope of the colours of the earth, the wind and of fire, earth being that of the offering laid out all around; wind seen in the the fluttering of prayer flags and the frenzy of movement of people around the stupa; and fire being the fire of fire being offered to the deities.

The steep final part of the ascent ...

... as the stupa comes into view.

The view of the Kathmandu valley near the top.

Another view of the stupa at the top of the 365 steps.

Prayer flags to be offered at the top.

Prayer wheels circle the base of the stupa.

The turning of prayer wheels on which mantras are written on is believed to bring purification and merit to aid in the path one takes to enlightenment.

Offerings being prepared.

An offering of food.

The area around the stupa is surrounded by temples, shrines and other religious buildings and monkeys roam the area freely, mingling with the pilgrims and curious tourists. For this, the stupa is sometimes referred to as the Monkey Temple. A feature of the stupa is the four flat sides of a cuboid of which each is adorned with the eyes of Buddha looking in four directions, each with a third eye painted above. More information on the complex and its background can be found on this site.

View of the complex around the stupa.

Roof of a building around the stupa.

Saffron water being thrown to trace the shape of the lotus petal on the stupa.

Dongak Choling Gompa.

A view of the Swayambhunath complex.

Offerings of fire.

Local children.

Another view of the area.

The stupa and the Hariti temple in the background.





A 40 year journey from Essex Road

28 04 2011

I made a journey recently with a group of friends. It could be said that it was a journey that had started some forty years ago, one that had started with the forging of bonds in the classrooms and on the schoolyards at Essex Road in Singapore. Yes, we were schoolmates, seven of us, making a journey in mid-life that was as much motivated by a common passion, as it was by the camaraderie we developed in the course of our Christian Brothers’ education that kept us in touch with each other well into our teenage years.

Flying the flag of our Alma Mater: Seven schoolmates and one we adopted ...

Some of us in Primary 6, St. Michael's School.

The journey we took was one that brought us to the shadow of the roof of the world. An excursion, as one put it, an extension of those we used to look forward to at the end of the year during our primary school days. Having a common interest in photography, we sought to capture, through seven pairs of eyes, how we saw the wonderful world in which we found ourselves immersed in for a few days, coming back not just with a multitude of images, but touched by the beauty and warmth in the simplicity of the people, fond memories of the colourful sights that unfolded before our eyes, and most importantly with the spirit that the ten (some twelve) years in St. Michael’s School (now St. Joseph’s Institution Junior) and St. Joseph’s Institution had imparted on us.

Life on the streets in Kathmandu makes it a wonderful place to see and discover.

Along the three hundred steps to enlightenment: A statue of Buddha on the ascent up the pilgrim path to Swayambunath, a stupa which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the outskirts of Kathmandu.

The ancient capital of the Kathmandu Valley, Bhaktapur, seen during the Bisket Jatra festival held during the Nepali New Year in April.

The trip involved not just a visit to Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, but also to some of the areas that surround the city, places that have a magical or mythical charm, as well as one that would, on a clear day, have given us a magnificent view of the roof of the world. Kathmandu and the Kathmandu Valley, is certainly blessed with some magnificent cultural treasures, a few which have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including two stupa sites, Swayambunath and Boudhanath, and a former capital, Bhaktapur, and it was these that we focused our cameras on. Along the way, we also visited a Roman Catholic church, the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, in Lalitpur on the outskirts of Kathmandu, and along with it the Parish School, the Regina Amoris School, set up and run by the Sisters of Cluny for the children of the needy. All in all, it was a huge and meaningful adventure for us, and one, that I would be touching on in detail in separate posts to come on each part of our visit.

The long, narrow and winding road up to Nagarkot, a hill station near Kathmandu.

Boudhanath, a UNSECO World Heritage Site and the largest stupa in Nepal, is also a centre of Tibetan life.

Durbar Square in Kathmandu, a concentration of monuments which is another UNSECO World Heritage Site.

The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Lalitpur.