Tag Archives: Architecture

Quito Part Two – Ecuador

After a good night’s sleep to make me feel slightly more human, I had a decent serving of breakfast from the terrace area at the hostel with Sarah and a guy called Ewan from Bristol. We then headed over the the “Mitad del Mundo”, a museum about half an hour outside the centre of town to check out the aptly named Centre of the Earth.

Ecuadorian-with-Pork-Pie-Hat, Quito, Ecuador

Ecuadorian with Pork Pie Hat – Quito, Ecuador

The Mitad del Mundo museum was an interesting place accessible by an expensive cab or, as we decided, by taking a couple of local buses. Way up on one of the stretching hillsides outside Quito, it’s a museum sitting in the middle of a deserted zone – an area you didn’t want to be thumbing for a ride home should you miss the last bus back. Although gimmicky, it was still interesting to see an array of magic tricks which arguably identified whether you were stood on the northern or southern side of the Equator – this included water swirling clockwise to anti-clockwise, eggs balancing on the pin head of a nail and varying strength tests on and around the Equator line. The basic premise of the strength test was to exhibit how gravity is at its most powerful and balanced on the equator line itself. Another big lesson I learnt was not to take a piss in any rivers – we were introduced to the unpleasant Candiru Fish (the locals call it Earth Worm) – a creature that hones in on urine and makes his way up the urethra to implant itself. The only way out is by dragging it out…

Equator-Line, Mitad-del-Mundo, Quito, Ecuador

Equator Line – Mitad del Mundo – Quito, Ecuador


Sun-Clock, Mitad-del-Mundo, Quito, Ecuador

Sun Clock – Mitad del Mundo – Quito, Ecuador


Egg-Balancing, Mitad-del-Mundo, Quito, Ecuador

Egg Balancing – Mitad del Mundo – Quito, Ecuador


Perfectly-Balanced-Egg-on-Nail, Mitad-del-Mundo, Ecuador

Perfectly Balanced Egg on Nail – Mitad del Mundo, Ecuador


Finger-Force, Mitad-del-Mundo, Quito, Ecuador

Finger Force – Mitad del Mundo – Quito, Ecuador


Sun-Dial-Mitad-del-Mundo, Quito, Ecuador

Sun Dial at Mitad del Mundo – Quito, Ecuador


Mitad-del-Mundo-Guide, Quito, Ecuador

Mitad del Mundo Guide – Quito, Ecuador


Tribal-Statue, Quito, Ecuador

Tribal Statue – Quito, Ecuador


Candiru-Fish-Bottled, Quito, Ecuador

Candiru Fish Bottled – Quito, Ecuador

After a couple of hours, we started walking down towards the bus stop to head back into town, pausing at a deserted dusty road side restaurant for some eggs on toast. There were no paths en route, so it felt like we were fugitives thumbing down the highway. At the other end of the bus journey, we wandered back to the hostel via the new town which turned out to be a shocking area created for western gravis. There was even a Chelsea bar in one of the central squares flying the Lion flag relating to Chelsea Football Club. It however, wasn’t actually a football bar – just a Euro pop bar. As we walked through the expanse of the Parque Ejido which acted as a natural border between the old and new town, police presence started to pick up. As they put you instantly on edge as you suddenly couldn’t help but be wary of onlooking eyes, we quickened the pace until we arrived back at the hostel safely for a night of Andean music.

El-Mariscal-Streets, Quito, Ecuador

El Mariscal Streets – Quito, Ecuador


Bars-of-El-Mariscal, Quito, Ecuador

Bars of El Mariscal – Quito, Ecuador


Ecuadorian-Band, Quito, Ecuador

Ecuadorian Band – Quito, Ecuador

On the final day in Quito, I decided to walk back into the old town to check out the huge Basilica del Voto Nacional de Quito before trekking back over to the new town of El Mariscal to see if I’d missed anything on the previous day. For the first time, I woke up with a little bit of altitude sickness which meant I spent the rest of the day in a bit of a blur. At the Basilica, I bumped into Chris – one of the guys who woke me up at the first hostel – so I hung out with him for the rest of the day. The Basilica itself was quite amazing. The most precarious part of the visit was when we decided to head to the clock towers way up high so we could get a decent panoramic view of the city – like the crumbling buildings of the city, we had to make our way across a dodgy rickety wooden bridge that spanned the church eaves, before carefully trudging up a steel ladder without any safety around you to stop you plummeting to impending death. But it was worth the fear for the spectacular views.

Basilica-de-Quito, Ecuador

Basilica de Quito – Ecuador


Facade-of-the-Basilica-de-Quito, Ecuador

Facade of the Basilica de Quito – Ecuador


Aisle-Basilica-de-Quito, Ecuador

Aisle of the Basilica de Quito – Ecuador


Inside-the-Basilica-de-Quito, Ecuador

Inside the Basilica de Quito – Ecuador


Clock-Towers-Basilica-de-Quito, Ecuador

Clock Towers of the Basilica de Quito – Ecuador


Precarious-Gangway, Basilica-de-Quito, Ecuador

Precarious Gangway – Basilica de Quito – Ecuador


Clock-Towers-Basilica-de-Quito, Ecuador

Clock Towers of the Basilica de Quito – Ecuador


Quito-New-Town-Skyline, Ecuador

Quito New Town Skyline – Ecuador


School-Playground, Quito, Ecuador

School Playground – Quito, Ecuador


Quito-New-Town-Skyline, Ecuador

Quito New Town Skyline – Ecuador


Quito-Architecture, Ecuador

Quito Architecture – Ecuador


Quito-Skyline-View, Basilica, Ecuador

Quito Skyline View from the Basilica – Ecuador

Later, we took a bite to eat in the main Plaza Grande before making our way over to El Mariscal. I was still feeling heady from the altitude, so we stopped off at a shisha bar for some local remedy which instantly did the trick.

For the final night back at the hostel, having felt frustrated at not really left the hostel at night for fear of being attacked, a group of us took part in the hostel quiz before buying some tickets to hit some bars in El Mariscal. It was a bit of a tourist shepherding into the safest of the local bars, and really the the only logical way of going out. I wasn’t confident enough yet in myself to go into central Quito at night.

The bars we headed into also introduced me for what was to come on most nights out. Everybody talks about the stereotype of Latin blood – how much they like to dance, drink and party, take drugs and have sex liberally. As westerners, walking into some proper local bars meant that the focus around us was exemplified. At each and every bar, guys and girls would flock to check us out and show us their moves like a special episode of a BBC Nature programme. Locals weren’t fearful of getting down and dirty with scenes of couples needing to be pulled off each other most of the time before tearing each other’s clothes off. The dance floors were cramped, smoky, sweaty and full of life. And I loved every minute of it.

Further Reading

 
Centre of the Earth – Mitad del Mundo
http://www.mitaddelmundo.com/

La Basilica del Voto Nacional de Quito
http://www.quito.com.ec/

Quito and the Conquistadores
http://www.quitoadventure.com/

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Ecuador Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Quito Part One – Ecuador

Waking up suddenly in sweats, I found myself on top of a bunk bed staring down at two guys who were showered and getting changed. They were clearly hung-over and couldn’t help but clatter around the room making as much noise as they possibly could. I still felt completely nauseated and it took me a while to introduce myself to the guys and explain I was a bit disorientated as I’d just come over from Auckland.

It was a strange feeling – I was finally in South America but my body and mind just didn’t react to it positively. I headed round the corner for breakfast with the two guys before I took a shower and a cab into the centre of Quito where I was to stay for the next three nights. In between, I then suddenly realised – I forgot my sister was expecting her first child so I quickly logged onto the internet to see if there was any news. Roman Thomas Wise was born at 9.01am on May 2nd weighing in at 7lbs 1oz! I fortunately managed to have a one way excitable Skype call with my sister Deborah and my brother-in-law Laurie, but the connection was terrible. I never felt so far away from home in my life at that point. Although I was about to start the best part of my journey, the one I had most looked for too, I also yearned to be at home to see Roman. Compounded by my biliousness, it took me a while to get to grips again and head out into the old town to check into the Secret Garden Hostel.

As I checked in, I then suddenly came to life again. Turning round from the reception desk, I was hit by a stunning view of Quito. The city sits 2,800 metres above sea water in amongst the hills of the top of the Andes and is the highest legal capital city in the world. Quito itself was born following the invasion of the Spanish conquistadors and the Real Audiencia back in the 1530s and developed from basic farming and peasantry to a rich trade in textiles. The hostel was situated high up on top of one of the surrounding hillsides so we could see for miles out into the distance. I then also twigged why I was still so nauseated – I was forgetting that I was most likely acclimatising to the altitude.

Quito wasn’t quite how I imagined it. I expected the city to be a huge ragged cosmopolitan, but, for some reason, it completely alluded me as to its setting high up in the hills. The city was sprawling – everywhere you looked, you could see Quito’s suburbs eat away at the lush green forests around. But, at the same time, its expanse felt quite isolated and compact. The hillsides seemed to hold the city in its cup, protected from the outside world.

La-Victoria-Suburb, Quito, Ecuador

La Victoria Suburb – Quito, Ecuador


El-Sena-Suburb, Quito, Ecuador

El Sena Suburb – Quito, Ecuador


El-Sena-Suburb, Quito, Ecuador

El Sena Suburb – Quito, Ecuador

The buildings weren’t particularly overbearing either. The streets were narrow, long and windy, with old white unkempt Spanish empire buildings crumbling away. They were cobbled like any central or southern Spanish town. The central areas themselves were generally well kept in terms of cleanliness – the buildings themselves just had old rustic and enticing character. Shops were open selling all kinds of merchandise, food and textiles – almost lining up like markets, but housed in bricks and mortar. The Ecuadorians themselves were also quite petite in general. Wandering around, I was of course anxious as to my safety, knowing the tales of danger that lurked on every street corner. But grasping my camera in hand, I didn’t feel at all perturbed by the city. It seemed quite peaceful – it was bustling in parts, but generally, it didn’t feel like a capital city.

Streets-of-Quito-Central, Ecuador

Streets of Quito Central – Ecuador


Streets-of-Quito, Ecuador

Streets of Quito – Ecuador


Calle-Chile, Quito, Ecuador

Calle Chile – Quito, Ecuador


Streets-Heading-up-to-the-Hills-of-Quito, Ecuador

Streets Heading up to the Hills of Quito, Ecuador


Calle-Venezuela, Quito, Ecuador

Calle Venezuela – Quito, Ecuador


Colonial-Buildings-of-Quito, Ecuador

Colonial Buildings of Quito, Ecuador


Schoolgirls-Walking, Quito, Ecuador

Schoolgirls Walking – Quito, Ecuador


Looking-up-the-Streets-of-Quito, Ecuador

Looking up the Streets of Quito – Ecuador

As I passed through the Plaza Grande in the centre, taking in the old cathedral and Palacio del Gobierno (Town Hall), the locals all seemed quite pleasant.

Later, I walked down the Calle Garcia Moreno, passing the beautiful gold filled Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus (Church of Jesus’ Disciples) towards the Museo de la Ciudad (City Museum) which backed off the hills of El Panecillo where the statue of the Virgin Mary overlooked the city. The evidence of the Spanish pilgrimage was rife. As I stepped into the museum, camera hanging round my neck, I was then forewarned by the ticket seller – do not walk towards El Panecillo looking like that or you won’t come back in one piece. Note taken.

Plaza-Grande, Quito, Ecuador

Plaza Grande – Quito, Ecuador


Independence-Statue, Plaza-Grande, Quito, Ecuador

Independence Statue – Plaza Grande – Quito, Ecuador


La-Plaza-Grande, Quito, Ecuador

La Plaza Grande – Quito, Ecuador


Catedral-Grande, Quito, Ecuador

Catedral Grande – Quito, Ecuador


Iglesia-Merced, Quito, Ecuador

Iglesia Merced – Quito, Ecuador


Palacio-de-Independencia, Quito, Ecuador

Palacio de Independencia – Quito, Ecuador


Capilla-de-La-Iglesia-Merced, Quito, Ecuador

Capilla de La Iglesia Merced – Quito, Ecuador


Base-of-the-Capilla-de-la-Iglesia-Merced, Quito, Ecuador

Base of the Capilla de la Iglesia Merced – Quito, Ecuador


Iglesia-de-la-Compania, Quito, Ecuador

Iglesia de la Compania – Quito, Ecuador


Banco-Central-de-Quito, Ecuador

Banco Central de Quito – Ecuador


Quito-Museum, Ecuador

Quito Museum – Ecuador


Hills-of-El-Panecillo, Quito, Ecuador

Hills of El Panecillo – Quito, Ecuador

As I then visited the Plaza San Francisco, the earlier warning from the ticket booth seller at the museum started to plague me. Paying more attention to what was going on about me, I started to realise that the crumbling buildings actually surrounded a bigger issue to its people. A lot of the Quitorians were still poor – if this was central to the city, one could only imagine the suburbs. People did seem to be wandering around without objective. They were people searching for scraps of work or food. On street corners, shifty characters would lurk around. People would be transferring textiles and other merchandise on their backs from one place to another. The worn faces of the locals showed their struggle for survival. Wandering around the city market, I felt prying eyes on me. It could have been intrigue, it could have been more.

Plaza-San-Francisco, Quito, Ecuador

Plaza San Francisco – Quito, Ecuador


School-Bus, Quito, Ecuador

School Bus – Quito, Ecuador


Catch-up-Time, Plaza-Grande, Quito, Ecuador

Catch-up Time – Plaza Grande – Quito, Ecuador


Courting, Plaza-Grande, Quito, Ecuador

Courting – Plaza Grande – Quito, Ecuador


Old-Man-Walking-to-Work, Quito, Ecuador

Old Man Walking to Work – Quito, Ecuador


Thoughtful, Quito, Ecuador

Thoughtful – Quito, Ecuador


Toddler-Wandering, Plaza-Grande, Quito, Ecuador

Toddler Wandering – Plaza Grande – Quito, Ecuador


Shoe-Shining, Quito, Ecuador

Shoe Shining – Quito, Ecuador

As night drew in, I headed back to the hostel. I met a mother and daughter from Canada, Janvier and Beverley as well as a girl from London called Sarah. In the evening we sat up in the rooftop bar overlooking the Quito skyline. A couple of fellow hostellers came back to report they’d been mugged just down the street – their cameras and wallets stolen. After meeting a couple of other people, Joanna and Ewan from the US as well as three or four others from Europe, they all had tales of being attacked or threatened. And I thought it was a peaceful place…

Further Reading

 
Quito Tourist Guide
http://www.quito.com.ec/en/

UNESCO World Heritage Site
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/2

Quito and the Conquistadores
http://www.quitoadventure.com/ecuador-info/history/quito/spanish-conquest-quito.html

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Ecuador Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Singapore – The Malay Financial Heart

After an excitable visit to Kuala Lumpur, I checked out my hostel and headed to the main bus terminal to catch a ride to Singapore. The bus was a mere £10 for a 6-hour journey, but came equipped with a full in-built massaging seat and personalised televisions, with legroom that could have accommodated the tallest man in the world!

Having checked into my first shared dorm room of my journey on Dunlop Street on the outskirts of the city centre, I quickly showered and headed downtown. I only had the afternoon and the following morning in Singapore; but to be honest, it was more than enough, especially seeing as it was one of the most expensive places I’ve ever been to.

Upon wandering into town towards Raffles City and Marina Bay Sands, I noticed immediately how the streets were immaculate, without a single piece of litter in sight, the streets so clean it almost seemed like they’d just completed tarmacking the place. There was no gum stuck to the pavements. No leaves on the ground. It even felt like there wasn’t even a speck of dust in the air.

Raffles City - Singapore

Raffles City – Singapore


War Memorial - Singapore

War Memorial – Singapore


Raffles Place - Singapore

Raffles Place – Singapore


Esplanade Theatre - Singapore

Esplanade Theatre – Singapore


Singapore Skyline

Singapore Skyline


The Wheel - Singapore

The Wheel – Singapore


Marina Bay Sands - Singapore

Marina Bay Sands – Singapore

Expensive cars casually breezed through the long boulevards lined with tall skyscrapers similar to Kuala Lumpur. It was a city that lacked any kind of suburban feeling, one full of wealth and grandeur. A city built heavily on its rich Central Business District of 6 Battery Road and the UOB Plaza – areas full of financial institutions and corporate dividends. Having come from impoverished parts of Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, this was a heavily contrasting world. Restaurants and bars would line the glitzy streets full of businessmen and women darting about in meticulous suits. Lunchtime dinners were accompanied by overpriced cocktails and aperitifs. A bar I walked past near the UOB Plaza even had an overly priced Happy Hour – a bottle of beer for $12SGD (roughly £6) or a Whiskey Bottle for $158SGD (roughly £85). Money was no objective here.

Singapore Skyline from Marina Bay Sands

Singapore Skyline from Marina Bay Sands


Marina Bay Sands Skyline - Singapore

Marina Bay Sands Skyline – Singapore


Bars of Singapore

Bars of Singapore


Downtown Singapore Rush Hour

Downtown Singapore Rush Hour


Happy Hour Expense - Singapore

Happy Hour Expense – Singapore

Aside from the city’s obvious financial prowess, it still offered an endearing experience – albeit, a complete contrast from other areas of South-East Asia. It had a romantic feeling to it and felt extremely safe. The Cavenagh Bridge backing onto 6 Battery Road is a beautiful piece of engineering. The towering buildings of the UOB Plaza with the human ants darting through their shadows were breath-taking sight to see, especially by night. The meandering river canals splitting the island offer a peaceful romantic setting for a leisurely stroll.

Cavenagh Bridge - Singapore

Cavenagh Bridge – Singapore


Colonial Building - Singapore

Colonial Building – Singapore


UOB Plaza - Singapore

UOB Plaza – Singapore


A View of the Bay - Singapore

A View of the Bay – Singapore


UOB Plaza - Singapore

UOB Plaza – Singapore


Fullerton Hotel - Singapore

Fullerton Hotel – Singapore


Cavenagh Bridge  - Singapore

Cavenagh Bridge – Singapore


6 Battery Road - Singapore

6 Battery Road – Singapore

The bright saturated colours of Chinatown and Pagoda Street in the evening brought with it the most exciting of the atmospheres, with traditional housing host to cafes, restaurants and drinking holes together with traditional food hawker stalls lining the streets offering all kinds of delicacies. The streets were narrower and quaint, the atmosphere tranquil and welcoming.

Pagoda Street - Singapore

Pagoda Street – Singapore


Pagoda - Singapore

Pagoda – Singapore


Club Street - Singapore

Club Street – Singapore


Club Street - Singapore

Club Street – Singapore


Bottom of Ann Siang Road - Singapore

Bottom of Ann Siang Road – Singapore


Ann Siang Road - Singapore

Ann Siang Road – Singapore


Shopping in Chinatown - Singapore

Shopping in Chinatown – Singapore


Chinatown Buildings - Singapore

Chinatown Buildings – Singapore


Light Shop - Chinatown, Singapore

Light Shop – Chinatown, Singapore


Chinatown Stalls - Singapore

Chinatown Stalls – Singapore


Coliwa Department Store - Singapore

Coliwa Department Store – Singapore


Street Food - Chinatown, Singapore

Street Food – Chinatown, Singapore


Chinatown Stalls - Singapore

Chinatown Stalls – Singapore


Chinatown Stall - Singapore

Chinatown Stall – Singapore


Singapore by Night

Singapore by Night


Underpass - Singapore

Underpass – Singapore


Singapore River by Night

Singapore River by Night


Fullerton Hotel by Night

Fullerton Hotel by Night


Cavenagh Bridge by Night

Cavenagh Bridge by Night


Skycrapers of Republic Plaza by Night - Singapore

Skycrapers of Republic Plaza by Night – Singapore


Republic Plaza by Night - Singapore

Republic Plaza by Night – Singapore

But with prices still astronomically high, much of the joys of Singapore for me were seen street side. A trip to the luxury shopping district in Orchard Street gave me a glimpse at the glamorous brands such as Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana decorating the streets in lush stores.

Boutiques of Orchard Street - Singapore

Boutiques of Orchard Street – Singapore


Orchard Street - Singapore

Orchard Street – Singapore


Tube Commute - Singapore

Tube Commute – Singapore


Little India Tube Station - Singapore

Little India Tube Station – Singapore

But the glitz was all too much for me on this kind of trip – it ticked off the box to have seen the famous Singapore skyline, but I looked forward to what was to come next.

Further Reading

 
Time Out Singapore
http://www.timeoutsingapore.com/

Venere Travel Blog – Singapore Street Markets
http://www.venere.com/blog/singapore-street-markets-10815/

Travel CNN – Singapore Buildings
http://travel.cnn.com/singapore/life/best-and-worst-buildings-singapore-312466

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Singapore Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Kuala Lumpur – The Towering Malaysian City

I arrived in Malaysia’s capital city Kuala Lumpur at around midday the following day after jumping on the overnight train from Penang in Northern Malaysia. Although the train arrived 3 hours later than scheduled, the ride was actually quite a pleasant one with plenty of room in the cabins to stretch out for a half decent night’s sleep.

The original plan was to relax in the city for a couple of days before dashing off to Singapore to catch my pending flight to Australia; however, these immediately changed after touching down at the main train station. I’d arrived in the city for Malaysia’s Formula 1 weekend and as it was the cheapest way to catch a Grand Prix in the world (at a snap of £40), there was no chance of me missing out on buying a ticket for the main race day tomorrow, especially as I’d never been to a live race! This meant I had to try and cram in as much of the city as I could on the first day, which ended up being like a Cannonball Run.

After checking into my somewhat ill-equipped hostel downtown, I headed off towards the Golden Triangle in the Bukit Bintang area which encompasses the main shopping and entertainment district. As expected, the area was the hub of all the action in Kuala Lumpur, the atmosphere encapsulated by the intense humidity hanging in the air.

Streets of Bukit Bintang - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Streets of Bukit Bintang – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Skyscrapers of Bukit Bintang - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Skyscrapers of Bukit Bintang – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

As I continued through the district towards the famous Petronas Towers, I passed through dense areas of towering skyscrapers that dwarfed the shops, kiosks, bars and restaurants beneath. The city’s tram network flew past on the tracks high up on concrete stilts. Expensive sports cars whizzed by through the long flowing roads that cut through the metropolis. The feeling of the city was however quite unperturbed in contrast to the day-to-day life of the locals.

Metro System of Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia

Metro System of Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia


Gran Turismo - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Gran Turismo – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Moped GP - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Moped GP – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

As I wandered mostly fixated with the towers above, past the office towers of Jalan Raja Chulan, the Jalan Sultan Ismail hotel strip, the Jalan P. Ramlee party street and the KL Menara Tower, I eventually arrived at the Petronas Towers in the main Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC).

Jalan Raja Chulan - Bukit Bintang - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Jalan Raja Chulan – Bukit Bintang – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Jalan Tong Shin - Bukit Bintang - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Jalan Tong Shin – Bukit Bintang – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


KL Menara Tower - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

KL Menara Tower – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

These towers were the tallest in the world between 1996 and 2003 and still remain the biggest attraction to the city. The towers were magnificently positioned, it was hard to avoid it’s on looking gaze anywhere in the city. Surprisingly, security in the Petronas Towers area seemed quite unapparent, with streams of people walking in and out of the building as they pleased owing to the shopping centre that was inside. Not only was there a shopping centre, but the city’s aquarium sat in the basement.

Distant Petronas Towers - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Distant Petronas Towers – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Petronas Towers Horizon - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Petronas Towers Horizon – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Petronas Towers - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Petronas Towers – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Beneath the Petronas Towers - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Beneath the Petronas Towers – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

As I sauntered through the city, I couldn’t help but notice the amount of attention I was getting from the locals. Although friendly and approachable, I was quite bemused at their inquisitive stares. For a capital city, I would have thought that they were used to westerners wandering around the city, especially with the Petronas Towers attracting masses of tourists. Inside the Petronas Towers, after a few waves and hellos from passers-by, I was then stopped by two excitable women whom turned out to be mother and daughter. They couldn’t help but touch me for the ensuing five minutes of chatting. The girl was a student who was apparently due to take up a course at Southampton University and so they were intrigued as to how life would be for her in the UK. Somewhat to my naivety at the time, I accepted an invitation to lunch back at their home which was a short five minute cab ride round the corner from the city centre. Although I was hesitant at first, I just had to keep my wits about me and record exactly how I got to their place.

Back at the house, the whole family was in. I met the girl’s uncle and his wife who were preparing the lunch, as well as a couple of neighbours. They welcomed me into the house like they’d known me for some time, treating me like a special guest and stuffing me up on some delicious fish dishes whilst sat round the table together, chatting about my travels and the daughter’s upcoming relocation to Southampton.

After finishing up, the friendly atmosphere then started to change without warning. The women round the table started clearing up, with the noise of chatting immediately becoming cold. The uncle then put his arm round me an invited me into the back room for a quick aperitif with his neighbour. The daughter suddenly appeared to vanish from site completely. In the back room, a table was set up with what appeared to be poker sets lined up. It looked like I was being hooked up for something I really didn’t know how to get out of. The uncle sat me down and sat opposite me with a more serious look on his face. The neighbour was stood by the side of us listening in. I started to panic as there was only one exit – the exit the neighbour stood by. The daughter then reappeared and sat eerily close to me with her hand on my shoulder. The uncle then started to talk about his job as a blackjack dealer at one of the main casinos on the outskirts of town. I started to get more flushed as he went on, visions of local mafia playing in my head. He started flashing wedges of cash to me, explaining how there was lots of money to be made off ignorant, wealthy foreign business people through bent gambling. He started showing me how he would con them into parting with hundreds if not thousands of dollars without batting an eyelid. He told me a wealthy foreign business woman was being lined up to play at his table tonight – he wanted to draft me in as a hoax foreign player to suck the money out of her. As I started to get more uncomfortable, the uncle’s phone rang. A small time player was on his way over now. He wanted me in on a scam that was to take place in an hour – a practice run so to speak. I politely declined and started to get up but the uncle’s friend ushered me to sit down again. The daughter started to put pressure on me. The uncle kept on trying to sell it to me. I started giving out some lame excuses for why I couldn’t do it, including how I was due to meet some other travelling friends later that evening to head to Singapore. How that would change any situation should they actually wish to do something to me, I had no clue. But, for some reason, through my panic and hesitation, the uncle simply gave up by storming out the room, muttering some words to the neighbour. The daughter got up and ushered me out the door. She said they’d take me back to town. I said I’d find my way alone, but they insisted on getting in the neighbours car. With the fear building up evermore, the scene ended five minutes later with a disappointed, “Get Out” back at the Towers. They even took a couple of dollars off me for the privilege of the lift.

Somewhat bewildered, I headed back into the Petronas Towers for a while to make sure I was safe. And half an hour later, an excitable man approached me asking me to lunch…

A while later, I continued my tour of KL, visiting parts of Chinatown, taking in the Masjid Jamek Mosque, the Merdeka Square and Central Market, and then an excursion out to the Lake Gardens area.

Chinatown - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Chinatown – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Old Building of Chinatown - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Old Building of Chinatown – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Masjid Jamek Mosque - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Masjid Jamek Mosque – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Lake Gardens - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Lake Gardens – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


Monkey Raspberry - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Monkey Raspberry – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, like Penang, had an interesting mix of cultures and religions, but outside of this, without delving too much into the nightlife, there was very little more to draw my attention. Dinner at the Jalan Petaling in the evening to try out some Swordfish for the first time was followed by watching the Chelsea vs. Manchester United game in amongst a big gathering of locals cheering on both sides with the lure of the glamorous English Premiership evident to see.

Jalan Petaling Stalls - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Jalan Petaling Stalls – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Then I final round trip back to see the Petronas by night ended my night before the Formula 1 day tomorrow.

Petronas Towers by Night - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Petronas Towers by Night – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Further Reading

 
Malaysia Official Tourism Site
http://www.tourism.gov.my/en/uk

Petronas Towers
http://www.petronastwintowers.com.my/

Golden Triangle – Kuala Lumpur
http://www.kuala-lumpur.ws/klareas/golden.htm

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

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Vietnamese Highlands – A Motorcycle Journey Part 3 – Buon Ma Thuot to Kon Tum

The third day of the motorcycle journey through the Vietnamese Highlands was the most ambitious one in terms of distances, needing to cover around 300km up to the next resting point of Kon Tum. In terms of millage, it doesn’t seem that long on the face of it, but on a motorbike doing around 60km/h average, it’s a fair distance with the stoppages planned on the way. Not only that, but we were greeted by a ferocious gale which froze us to the bone during the morning hours, the fight against the wind unbearable at times. Strangely, it painted a perfect picture of what we would see throughout the first couple of hours. Buôn Ma Thuột was definitely the starting point for more tales of the Vietnam War. The day was heavily based around its history and the journey was unable to escape the hangover of the war.

Our first stop off point was in fact at a War Memorial which gave me a chance to take a look at the vast amounts of names of people that had succumbed to the battle.

War Memorial - Buon Ma Thuot - Vietnam

War Memorial – Buon Ma Thuot – Vietnam

Moving on, we battled our way through the wind on the incredible zigzagging roads through lower mountains, but the weather couldn’t spoil the breath-taking views of the countryside. I have to say, as much as I love photography, I really struggled to capture the ambiance and atmosphere that I was experiencing on the road without real preparation – this was definitely more a personal feeling of freedom over the photography of what you would probably define as customary countryside.

Setting for the Ride from Buon Ma Thuot to Kon Tum, Vietnam

Setting for the Ride from Buon Ma Thuot to Kon Tum, Vietnam


On The Road - Vietnamese Central Highlands

On The Road – Vietnamese Central Highlands


Cut Through the Forest - Vietnam

Cut Through the Forest – Vietnam

En route, we managed to veer off track to check out a vast Vaseline and rubber tree plantation. With the wind at full force, it was a brilliantly eerie setting, with the tunnels of noise thundering through the canapés as we wandered about.

Vaseline Trees - Vietnam

Vaseline Trees – Vietnam

After scaring ourselves silly, we then hopped back on the bike and stopped off at a nearby rice noodle factory. Again, one might expect the factory to be a huge full blown production system – in fact, it was yet again owned by a small family who milled the rice noodles by hand and basic machinery.

Local Rice Noodle Makers - Vietnam

Local Rice Noodle Makers – Vietnam


Rice Noodle Rack - Vietnam

Rice Noodle Rack – Vietnam

Not too far down the road, we then came across some peppercorn ranches followed by my first proper introduction to the best fruit I’ve ever tasted – the Star Fruit. Mui told me I’d had it in the spring rolls yesterday and this could have been why they were so succulent. As I’d picked these from the source, they were ripe and irresistible, the freshest and sweetest fruit I’ve ever had!

Coffee Groves - Vietnam

Coffee Groves – Vietnam


Peppercorn Groves - Vietnam

Peppercorn Groves – Vietnam


Star Fruit Plant - Vietnam

Star Fruit Plant – Vietnam

It was then time for lunch. We couldn’t have stopped off any further off the beaten track. It was like the American mid-west. There was nothing insight apart from farmland and forest in the distance, a gas station and this one restaurant. We’d obviously arrived just after lunchtime as the place was a complete mess. Mui said that the mess showed signs of why we are here – it gets busy because it’s the best crispy chicken around. And boy was he right. I was beginning to wonder if I was getting carried away, but the chicken was amazing. Crispy as hell skin topped with some secret spice recipe with succulent tenderness beneath. All served with rice noodles and shrimp sauce. We had two servings each…

Back on the bike, we then headed onwards to Kon Tum. This took us through Play Cu and Ham Rong which is otherwise known as the Valley of the Dead and borders Skeleton or Charlie Mountain. Having come through some thick vegetation en route from Buon Ma Thout, this was a complete contrast in scenery. The scars of the Vietnam War were substantial here. There were huge flat plains which were left lifeless from the huge from Agent Orange bombings.

Charlie Mountain - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Charlie Mountain – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Rice Gathering - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Rice Gathering – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Effects of Agent Orange - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Effects of Agent Orange – Kon Tum, Vietnam

Mui told me how the area used to be thick jungle, the scenery true to the depictions in Vietnam War movies. It used to be brimming with life and the jungle would dominate the area for hundreds of miles. This was a key area for Viet Cong outposts that the US army couldn’t infiltrate and one of the most underestimated treacherous areas the US soldiers would enter – an area the Viet Cong thrived in and ultimately led to their victory. The only way for the US to take the Kon Tum area was to bomb it, even if it meant sacrificing US troops. And the scars were here to be seen.

We arrived in Kon Tum late in the afternoon – a little battered and weary from the earlier winds that then turned into red hot sunshine. The first thing that we bizarrely went to visit was the Kon Tum Wooden Church or the Christian Church of the Tay Nguyen people. The church was built in 1913 by French christian priests during Vietnam’s occupation. It is perfectly designed under the combination of Roman architectural style and Ba Na people’s architecture for stilt housing which resulted in the beautiful convergence of Tay Nguyen culture and Western style.

Kon Tum Wooden Church, Vietnam

Kon Tum Wooden Church, Vietnam


Facade of the Kon Tum Wooden Church, Vietnam

Facade of the Kon Tum Wooden Church, Vietnam


Shaded Wooden Church of Kon Tum, Vietnam

Shaded Wooden Church of Kon Tum, Vietnam

From there, we ventured off to visit the more traditional side of Vietnam and meet two more tribes – the Ba Na and Gie Trieng. As with each tribe, they both have their symbolism and rituals which we had a chance to peek at. The Ba Na Tribe is easily recognised by the huge sky-scraping village halls or communal housing (rong), built on high stilts with huge thatched roofs and long corridors. Within the Ba Na tribe, the focal point of marriage is the responsibility of the individuals – which is quite rare. They also worship the God of Water and the Mountains, with human spirit being central to life. Music is a huge part of the Ba Na tradition, and I had a chance to watch the local councilman play on his hand built t’rung xylophone and even have a go at playing myself.

Ba Na Tribe Hall - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Ba Na Tribe Hall – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Skeleton of a Ba Na Hut - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Skeleton of a Ba Na Hut – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Rafters of a Ba Na Hut, Kon Tum, Vietnam

Rafters of a Ba Na Hut, Kon Tum, Vietnam


Beams of a Ba Na Hut - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Beams of a Ba Na Hut – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Ba Na Councilman on the T'rung Xylophone - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Ba Na Councilman on the T’rung Xylophone – Kon Tum, Vietnam

The Gie Trieng Tribe were located nearby and were quite similar. However, the buffalo is the most symbolic to them, with regular ritual ceremonial sacrifices. They believe that this transfers the strength and presence of the animal to their tribe.

Gie Trieng Dwellings - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Gie Trieng Dwellings – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Gie Trieng Dwellings - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Gie Trieng Dwellings – Kon Tum, Vietnam

As we wandered through the villages in the late evening sunshine, we were greeted once more by local children on their way home from school. As we sat witnessing the sunset over the nearby river, we also saw the local rush hour home, with horse and cattle carts coming back across the bridge from the nearby farmlands.

Sunset over a Bridge - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Sunset over a Bridge – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Rush Hour - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Rush Hour – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Rush Hour - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Rush Hour – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Farmer En Route Home - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Farmer En Route Home – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Steel Bridge - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Steel Bridge – Kon Tum, Vietnam


Children behind Bars - Kon Tum, Vietnam

Children behind Bars – Kon Tum, Vietnam

Suitably chilled out, we ate at a local pancake stall in the village – a concoction of rice flour, eggs, beef and vegetables. Simple and delicious again. Then, it was time for bed in preparation for Day 4…

Further Reading on Vietnam

 
Off Road Vietnam
http://www.offroadvietnam.com/eng/13-45.php

Easy Riders – Motorcycle Tours of Vietnam
http://www.easy-riders.net/

Vietnam Travel Guide
http://www.vietnam-travel-guide.net/central-highlands/kon-tum/

Lonely Planet
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/vietnam/central-highlands/kon-tum

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Vietnam Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Vietnamese Highlands – A Motorcycle Journey Part 2 – Lak Lake to Buon Ma Thuot

For the second day of my journey through the Vietnamese Highlands, Mui and I woke up at around 7am with the aim of reaching the waterfalls of Drây Sáp and Drây No on the edges of Buon Ma Thout – a couple of hundred kilometres further North for around lunchtime.

After a traditional beef noodle breakfast, we headed to some local M’Nong Villages in the early morning sunshine to take in the beautiful view across Lak Lake. It was peaceful scene with some elephants wandering around the banks with their keepers and the occasional out of towner.

Peaceful Solace - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Peaceful Solace – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Morning Stroll - Lak Lake, Vietnam

Morning Stroll – Lak Lake, Vietnam


Stork at Breakfast - Vietnam

Stork at Breakfast – Vietnam


Grazing - Vietnam

Grazing – Vietnam

Looking around the M’nong villages once again highlighted how there were distinct social class divisions within the tribe. There were two particular families with greater wealth and prosperity – one of their homes was built out of good quality solid wood with tiling on the roof, with the inside spacious in comparison to the standard fare. The other was built out of concrete, with a sheet metal roof and densely decorated on the outside. These two homes were completely removed from the disorder of some of the shacked huts we saw yesterday. What was more intriguing was that the style of housing remained consistent. They were also on stilts, oblong shaped and with a gable roof (a roof with two sides only). What differentiated them was purely based on the quality of the materials used and how they were decorated.

Mui Entering M'nong Tribe Home, Vietnam

Mui Entering M’nong Tribe Home, Vietnam


Upper Class of the M'nong Tribe - Vietnam

Upper Class of the M’nong Tribe – Vietnam

Mui managed to get us an invite into one of the local’s homes to have a look around. The house was quite spacious inside and as with yesterday’s fair, limited in terms of luxuries. However, they did have material possessions which were key to their social class status within the tribe. Just like having an expensive car on the front drive or a conservatory on the back of your house, certain possessions had certain meanings. For example, I touched on the importance of the huge jars that sat at the foot of the tombs of the M’nong cemetaries on the first day of my trip – these jars were hugely significant before you passed away. A family’s economic and social status within the village would grow with each additional bigger and better quality jar. At time of your passing, these jars would then sit at the foot of your tomb to show others how important you had been. They even had huge metal pan type objects which were apparently as important – again, quantity, quality and size qualified you. I found it quite fascinating how only a few kilometres further on from tribes like the Chil and the Ma, there’s another tribe who actually thrives on social infrastructure and materialism. Two complete extremes within touching distance of each other. The M’nong Tribe also embraced foreigners and was used to them, often capitalising on them through trade. The secluded Chil and Ma Tribes yesterday had barely seen an outsider. Their roots were the same; however the M’nong Tribe – even though still not technologically advanced – decided to try escaping isolation.

M'nong Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam

M’nong Tribe Dwellings, Vietnam


Social Status Jars - M'nong Village

Social Status Jars – M’nong Village


Trophies - M'nong Village

Trophies – M’nong Village

As we moved on, the heat intensified throughout the morning – much more so than yesterday – which meant we stopped off quite regularly to take on some fluids. One stop was at a huge brick producing factory – this again was not a machine dominated factory, but instead driven by manual labour. There wasn’t that much interest here, but it gave me another opportunity to take a couple more interesting snaps. Further on, we relaxed whilst looking out at some fisherman going about their days business on a stunning lake encircled by a beautiful mountainous backdrop.

Men at Work - Vietnam

Men at Work – Vietnam


Fishing in the Mid Afternoon Heat - Vietnam

Fishing in the Mid Afternoon Heat – Vietnam

After around 4 hours, we arrived in one of the most important towns in the Central Highlands – Buôn Ma Thuột. This was a hugely influential strategic post for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War and the current capital of the Dak Lak Province. It was here I encountered the next real gem of the trip. Mui did his usual by randomly pulling up in someone’s driveway. After knocking on the door and smiling at me, he beckoned me forward. At the door was a very old frail man who invited us in. Upon entering, all I could see hanging on the walls were certificates of the Viet Cong, with flags and emblems scattered around the place. The old man was a 90-year active communist who served for the Viet Cong throughout the war and has been a member of the Communist Party for over 50 years. He’s still an important spokesman of the Northern Vietnamese committee that still congregates within the town. His wife was a radio operator – although she was there, she kept to herself, with obvious affects from the war taken toll on her mind.

War Tales of an Old Vietcong Man - Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

War Tales of an Old Vietcong Man – Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam


Radio Operator of the Vietcong

Radio Operator of the Vietcong

Coincidentally, it was also the 35th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, and although he was a practiced communist, he was due to meet up with US veterans of war in Buon Ma Thuot that week! As Mui spoke to him, he recounted tails of fighting off the Americans and how to this day, he’s still proud of standing up to them in the fight for their own freedom. He described tales of shooting US soldiers from point blank range to save his own skin, to the extreme tales of shooting fellow comrades in order to help injured enemies. He said he mainly did this as dying was an easy way out of the pain. He’d gone through it all – the main story that stuck out centred around the horrendous napalm bombing – many times whilst evading the shells himself he would stand watching friends scratching away at their skin to try and release themselves from the burning sticky mess that had concealed them – again he would shoot them to ease the pain. He also explained how although 35 years had passed, the war scars were still there to be seen in his town and throughout the highlands. And it seemed like he was right from a brief tour round town, with the Vietnamese flag in full flight everywhere you go in amongst the War Memorials and statues. Mui told me to expect more to come as we move up through the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Buon Ma Thuot - Vietnam

Buon Ma Thuot – Vietnam


Iron Bridge - Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

Iron Bridge – Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam


Bridge View - Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

Bridge View – Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

It was then time to bid farewell and head for one of the best lunches I’ve had. Again, it was nothing too complex – just some traditional fresh spring rolls – but their taste and freshness was just unbelievable. The rolls were served open for you to make up as you wished. Aside from the rice wraps, it came with rice noodles, banana cucumber, lettuce, pork scratching, fried batter, the delicious star fruit and some incredible shrimp sauce. Wrap that all up and it exploded in your mouth – the freshness combined with the impish fats of the pork and batter.

With our stomachs content, we then headed about half an hour further up the road to the second highlight of the day – the beautiful Drây Sáp and Drây No Waterfalls. The lunchtime sun was a killer, beating down on both of us and it was a perfect way to cool off – diving into the lagoons with the waterfalls coming down from high above for a good hard massage. After taking a dip, it was time to relax in the surrounding jungle foliage before heading to our hotel.

Krong No River - Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam

Krong No River – Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam


Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam

Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam


Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam

Dray Sap Waterfalls, Vietnam


Dray Sap Waterfalls at Sunset, Vietnam

Dray Sap Waterfalls at Sunset, Vietnam


Massaged - Dray Sap Waterfalls on the Canon Ixus 50, Vietnam

Massaged – Dray Sap Waterfalls on the Canon Ixus 50, Vietnam

Dinner was another interesting affair – we headed back into Buôn Ma Thuột to a huge diner. This was one of the best places to get duck stew and I wasn’t let down. What was amazing was the fact the whole duck came in the stew. Not just the unrecognisable meat – but we’re talking feet, neck, and head! But the stew was incredible – the duck fatty and delicious, the soup itself refreshing yet tangy.

Mui Stirring Duck Stew - Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam

Mui Stirring Duck Stew – Buon Ma Thuot, Vietnam


Buon Ma Thuot Restaurant, Vietnam

Buon Ma Thuot Restaurant, Vietnam

With day 2 over and the stories of the war in my head, we were gaining ground on the Ho Chi Minh trail itself…

Further Reading on Vietnam

 
Off Road Vietnam
http://www.offroadvietnam.com/eng/13-45.php

Easy Riders – Motorcycle Tours of Vietnam
http://www.easy-riders.net/

Vietnam Travel Guide
http://www.vietnam-travel-guide.net/central-highlands/dalat/

Lonely Planet
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/vietnam/central-highlands/sights/other/dray-sap-dray

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

Posted in Vietnam Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The Ruins of Angkor – A Cambodian Adventure

Sandwiched in between my visit to Thailand and Vietnam, I took a brief trip into the Kingdom of Cambodia for a few days after my stop off in Bangkok. My original plan was to stay in Cambodia for a couple of weeks, but I’d heard some fantastic things about Vietnam, so I decided to head there as soon as I could. It meant that my visit to Cambodia was fleeting, checking out the Ruins of Angkor in Siem Riep, before heading down to Phnom Penh to sort out my visa for Vietnam.

Border Crossing - Thailand to Cambodia

Border Crossing – Thailand to Cambodia Taken on the Canon IXUS 50

My time with Matt (who I met on the plane from Kolkata) was cut short after only a couple of days in Bangkok, with the plan to meet up in a couple of weeks and head to Kho Phangan to check out the infamous Full Moon Party. He decided to go to Fiji for some diving and relaxation following his isolated and turbulent few months in the remote areas of India. After a heavy night out on the Khao San Road and hitting the sack at around 5am, I had to pick up my passport from an agency at 7am and catch a bus to Siem Riep. My decision to grab a quick snooze before I left was a bad idea. At around 7.30am, I bolted upright in blind panic knowing I was half an hour late, and ran as fast as I could to the agency on the Khao San Road. It wasn’t a revelation that the bus had left, but I luckily managed to pick up my passport and book a place on the next bus at 9am. I was struggling heavily from the night before and the next 14 hours were some of the most unbearable, introducing me to a world of scams and teaching me a valuable lesson to never party too hard the night before a long journey again.

The bus that I’d booked myself onto mimicked a cramped chicken coop, more claustrophobic than cheap flight seats in Europe. Even though I’m not the biggest person, I was completely squashed in, almost doubled up, with leg room that would only even just accommodate a small child. The air-conditioning was seemingly broken, with the windows of the bus completely sealed shut so we couldn’t even let in any fresh air. I passed out within minutes at a combination of tiredness from the night before and the intense heat that was building up on the bus.

Bus from Bangkok to Siem Riep

Bus from Bangkok to Siem Riep

After cooking nicely for a few hours, we finally had a chance to get off the bus, stopping off for lunch in the middle of nowhere. The wonderful scamming pleasures then began. There was only one restaurant in the whole area that was owned by the bus company. The food, although tasty, was three to four times more expensive than normal. We had suffered so much from heat stroke on the bus, that we were pretty much forced into buying a few expensive bottles of drink to take with us for the rest of the journey – of course all after re-hydrating on a couple at lunchtime. The bus driver also started to sell extortionately priced hotels for our stay in Siem Riep. Although Siem Riep was only actually about 250 miles away from Bangkok, the bus driver tried to convince us that we would arrive far too late to sort out a hotel. As if a place like Siem Riep with its huge tourist attraction would be short of a place to stay? A few signed up, but I stuck to my guns and turned it down. Having wasted a good 2 hours at the pit-stop for the bus driver to do the rounds, we then hit the road again and only an hour or so later, we arrived at immigrations at the border to Cambodia. This took another 2 hours to get through, and en-route, the bus driver started to try and force people to sell up their Thai Bhat for Cambodian Riel at some of the Currency Exchange booths which he was clearly getting a cut from. Apparently, Cambodia was short of Riel, so it was best to get it from the booths there – all for a nice tidy fee. Amazing how many people got scared and fell for it. You can see why the scams happen if droves of susceptible people keep arriving on their doorstep.

Upon hitting the road again, by sunset, we finally started to approach Siem Riep. The crowd on the bus were getting more and more irritated by the conditions we were in, and I was pleased to see a sign for Siem Riep outside the window that indicated we only had 25 kilometres to go. Then, all of a sudden, we pulled in off the road into another huge restaurant. The whole bus went berserk at the driver who said we had to stop here for an hour or so for no apparent reason, and then vanished off the bus and out of sight! We were literally in the middle of nowhere again. Other than the restaurant, the whole area was pitch black for as far as we could see. We were stranded and it was little shock to us that the restaurant offered more overpriced food and drinks. An hour and a half later, the bus driver turned up again to much aggravation from us all. He threatened to not take us further if we didn’t leave him alone and get on the bus. Fuming, we all got on as we had little choice and half an hour later at around 11pm, we arrived in Siem Riep some 14 hours later. And guess what, it was one last chance for the driver to sell us a hotel room.

Refusing, I headed off to a hostel with a group of youngsters and arranged to meet up with Paul and Boi, a Canadian and Dutch guy I met on the bus for a couple of drinks later. They had earlier caved into the charms of the bus driver and booked a separate hotel. The main strip of Siem Riep was pretty similar to the Khao San Road, although a bit classier. Again, apart from the back-to-back restaurant and bars catering for the tourists, local girls would constantly beckon you for entertainment at a price.

The next day was all about visiting the Ruins of Angkor. Visions of Lara Croft – Tomb Raider were in my head, and I couldn’t wait to go exploring like a kid again. The best way to visit the ruins is by motorbike and I decided to hire one with a guide for the whole day. The guide came under the alias, “Tom” – a lot of Asian people like to use a Western name with foreigners to avoid the possibility of embarrassing diction issues. He was a charming 21-year old guy who had been working as a guide for the last couple of years and his English was impeccably good meaning that we struck up a really good relationship throughout the day.

En route to the ruins, we had a chat about the struggles of Cambodia since the terrifying Khmer Rouge days in which one of the most atrocious and biggest acts of genocide occurred under the control of Pol Pot. An estimated 2 million people were killed which added up to a third of the population at the time. As a result of the country’s afflictions to this social engineering massacre, politics is extremely important and very comprehensible to the young population. A large proportion of the population who were killed were older which meant the demographic is much younger now, with many of them orphaned following the regime. He knew his country’s history through and through and was battling not only for his own survival, but for a political change in his country to try and bring greater democracy and standard of living to Cambodia. He respected the Western Democracies and had high hopes for reforms within Cambodia over the coming years to help modernize the country. He personally had worked as a guide for a few years and only earned $30 a month to care for his family. I have always thought that money was relative, that without knowing the costs of living, you couldn’t fully understand economic shortfalls. But, $30 a month here was still very minimal – he worked 7 days a week, living and sleeping at the agency where he worked, only getting a couple of days a month to go home to see his family in a village nearby. From what I gathered from him, poverty here was not as severe in comparison to India, but, people really were struggling for survival. He told me that he could make ten times more money if he had his own scooter rather than work for the agency. I asked him how much the scooter was, and it was a mere £200 ($320). I offered to give him a hand to get to his goal and help his family, cutting down a couple of years’ worth of saving, but he was too proud for me to give him even £50. He even almost didn’t take my tip at the end of the day. He knew how easy it would have been to take it, but he wanted to work for it himself. And that made me hugely respect him.

As we arrived at the ruins, my excitement started to build. Angkor served as an expansive seat to the Khmer Empire between the 9th and 15th centuries and covers an area of 400km squared, with a number of remnants of past cities, temples and hydraulic structures (basins, dykes, reservoirs, canals) as well as evidence of the Empire’s communication routes with expansive water reservoirs and huge urban estates. Temples such as Angkor Wat, the Bayon and Ta Phrom are perfect examples of Khmer architecture, each instilled with huge symbolic significance. Social class and ranking were important values to the Khmer civilization, and the architecture and layout of the successive capitals bear witness to this. The park is still inhabited, and many of the villages there still practice agriculture and rice cultivation, with its ancestry dating back to the Angkor period.

I managed to take in a handful of the most important and breath-taking of the sites. One of the most expansive was that of Angkor Thom (“Large City”) which included the breath-taking Bayon. The influence of Khmer art came to fruition here, with the area playing a fundamental role in its distinctive evolution. Its artistic development was key to a new distinction of oriental art and architecture, later influencing other Asian sub-continent designs.

Bayon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Bayon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia


Close-up of Bayon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Close-up of Bayon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia


Back of the Bayon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Back of the Bayon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia


Towers of Bayon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Towers of Bayon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia


Serpent of Bayon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Serpent of Bayon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia


Khmer Art of the Bayon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Khmer Art of the Bayon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

The Bayon was built by Jayavarman VII, a city dedicated to Buddha who is depicted heavily in its architecture. It also represented a spectacular maze of tunnels, turrets and sculptures.

Close-Up of Buddha Face - Bayon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Close-Up of Buddha Face – Bayon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia


Buddha Face - Bayon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Buddha Face – Bayon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia


Alleyways of Bayon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Alleyways of Bayon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

The Phimeanakas just to the North was built by Suryavarman I around the year 1000 to act as a huge fortification around his Royal Palace.

In 1050, the impressive state temple of the Baphuon was built to supersede them, but I could only take a glimpse of the exteriors as it was under maintenance. Next to this, the Terrace of the Elephants and the Leper King sat, with a huge man-made lake at its centre.

Baphuon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Baphuon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia


Phimeanakas - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Phimeanakas – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia


Terrace of the Elephants - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Terrace of the Elephants – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Then in 1113, Suryavarman II started the next great phase of construction, which gave birth to the most impressive and famous of all Khmer architecture, Angkor Wat. This huge collection of temples is dedicated to Vishnu, set within an extensive enclosure to become one of the most complete of the complexes.

Moat of Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Moat of Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Walkway to Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Walkway to Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Main Causeway to Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Main Causeway to Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Perimeter Entrance to Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Perimeter Entrance to Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Entrance to Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Entrance to Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Vishnu Statue - Angkor Wat - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Vishnu Statue – Angkor Wat – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Terraces of Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Terraces of Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Stairway of Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Stairway of Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Inside Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Inside Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

As you walked through, you could witness some of the impressive Khmer art with extensive galleries etched on the walls around you.

Gallery Entrance - Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Gallery Entrance – Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Galleries of Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Galleries of Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Khmer Art - Galleries of Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Khmer Art – Galleries of Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Khmer Art - Galleries of Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Khmer Art – Galleries of Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Khmer Art - Galleries of Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Khmer Art – Galleries of Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia


Khmer Art - Galleries of Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Khmer Art – Galleries of Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

The foliage around was also breath-taking – not particularly in appearance, but in the raw sounds of the wildlife that hid away. The sound of the crickets was intense, so much so that I peeled away from the ruins for around half an hour to sit and listen.

View from Angkor Wat - Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

View from Angkor Wat – Ruins of Angkor, Cambodia

Later in the day, I then visited Ta Phrom, which for me was the most impressive and exciting of all the ruins. The remains of Ta Phrom sits within the jungle, with most of the structures now embedded within the jungle itself which over the centuries has surrounded the city. Within its walls, huge trees were interlocked into the temple foundations, with the great jungle fauna decorating it. For these reasons, the ruins still had plenty of life to them.

Ta Phrom Entrance - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Ta Phrom Entrance – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Ta Phrom - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Ta Phrom – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Ta Phrom Engulfed by Jungle Foliage – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Ta Phrom Galleries - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Ta Phrom Galleries – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Gallery Art - Ta Phrom - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Gallery Art – Ta Phrom – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Gallery Art - Ta Phrom - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Gallery Art – Ta Phrom – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Gallery Art - Ta Phrom - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Gallery Art – Ta Phrom – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

At sunset, I then headed over to the hills of Phnom Bahkeng, which was also built in the 9th century. Although it was far too crowded, you could see why it was the main attraction at sunset, with the spectacular views out over the rest of Angkor.

Sunset Over Siem Riep - Phnom Bakheng - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Sunset Over Siem Riep – Phnom Bakheng – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Sunset Over Siem Riep - Phnom Bakheng - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Sunset Over Siem Riep – Phnom Bakheng – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Sunset Over Siem Riep - Phnom Bakheng - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Sunset Over Siem Riep – Phnom Bakheng – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Land Mine Victims Playing Music - Phnom Bakheng - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Land Mine Victims Playing Music – Phnom Bakheng – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Cambodian Child with Treat - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Cambodian Child with Treat – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia


Lethal Chaotic Decent from Phnom Bakheng - Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Lethal Chaotic Decent from Phnom Bakheng – Angkor Ruins, Cambodia

Before darkness truly engulfed me, I headed back to Siem Riep on the back of Tom’s scooter. With a fond farewell, I headed into my bungalow to settle down for an early night after the vividly adventurous day.

Me in Front of the Bayon - Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Me in Front of the Bayon – Ruins of Angkor Thom, Cambodia

Further Reading on The Ruins of Angkor

 
UNESCO World Heritage Site
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/668/

The Angkor Guide
http://www.theangkorguide.com/

Siem Riep
http://www.siemreapcambodia.org/

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

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The Cycling Road Race – London Olympics 2012

The Olympic Games finally arrived in London on Friday 27th July 2012 after 8 years of preparation to a dazzling opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford. After a 70-day long journey throughout the UK, the Olympic flame finally completed its journey at around midnight on the Saturday morning after passing through 8000 torchbearers. After missing out on seeing the flame on its circuit through Wandsworth in the week, I luckily had the opportunity to see the flame pass by on a small galleon ship on the River Thames on its penultimate journey to the Olympic stadium from Hampton Court to Tower Bridge. Hundreds of people had come out to see the once in a lifetime opportunity, although the boat whizzed by in a matter of seconds!

Olympic Flame Passes Down the Thames at Putney Bridge, London

Olympic Flame Passes Down the Thames at Putney Bridge, London

Strangely, the main torch at the bow of the galleon had blown out, with the torch bearer standing by it, holding up her torch high and proud.

One of the Eight Thousand Olympic Flame Torch Bearers

One of the Eight Thousand Olympic Flame Torch Bearers

The first weekend of events included one of the most exciting – the Cycling Road Race through London and the suburbs of Surrey, including Putney, Fulham, Richmond Park, Twickenham, Woking and Boxhill. The Men’s 250 km cycle race took part on the Saturday lasting around 6 hours, with the Women’s race on the Sunday, a slightly shorter 140km, 4 hour ride. What was most spectacular about this event was that it was the first time some of the busiest roads of London had completely shut down for the whole weekend, leaving the streets free for people to wander around at peace. It also gave me the opportunity to put my camera to work whilst soaking up the atmosphere of the hundreds of cheering fans in the streets. The party had well and truly arrived in London and it was great to see everybody out supporting Team GB. For once, London had the chance to come together as a community, with the crowds mingling and chatting amongst each other, all full of excitement and energy.

On the Saturday, I decided to head down to East Sheen with my friends Stu and Mike to watch the Men’s race pass-by on the corner of Priory Lane and Upper Richmond Road. Upon arrival, it was amazing to see the Upper Richmond Road completely empty of traffic, something we’ll probably never see again. But it didn’t take long for the calmness to turn into euphoria as the crowds lined the streets to greet the riders. Supporters had already been out the previous few days painting the roads in support of Team GB hopeful Mark Cavendish.

Corner of Priory Lane and Upper Richmond Road - East Sheen, London

Corner of Priory Lane and Upper Richmond Road – East Sheen, London

We decided to perch ourselves on the inside corner of Priory Lane with the expectation that the riders would have to slow down as they approached the Upper Richmond Road on a slight downhill 90 degree right turn. I’d set up my camera at a slightly higher shutter speed of 1/500 in the hope of capturing the riders in motion, but not completely stop time. It turned out that I completely failed to capture the riders slow down at all. To our astonishment, they instead roared passed us in a matter of milliseconds at relentless speeds just a foot or so away from the front of my lens. It was so quick, the whole event passed us by in under 10 seconds! We always knew that they were quick, but they must have taken the corner at 40 miles per hour on tyres that are only a few millimetres thick. The strange thing out of my initial disappointment at not taking the crispest photos, the images at least captured the surprising moment of pure pace – the backgrounds are all completely still in contrast to the blurred speeding riders.

Mark Cavendish - Team GB Men's Road Cyclist

Mark Cavendish – Team GB Men’s Road Cyclist


Bradley Wiggins - Team GB Men's Road Cyclist

Bradley Wiggins – Team GB Men’s Road Cyclist


Philippe Gilbert - Belgian Men's Road Cyclist

Philippe Gilbert – Belgian Men’s Road Cyclist


Martin Elmiger - Swiss Men's Road Cyclist

Martin Elmiger – Swiss Men’s Road Cyclist


Lars Boom - Dutch Men's Road Cyclist

Lars Boom – Dutch Men’s Road Cyclist


Andre Greipel - German Men's Road Cyclist

Andre Greipel – German Men’s Road Cyclist


Men's Cycle Road Race - London Olympics 2012

Men’s Cycle Road Race – London Olympics 2012

The Sunday saw the Women’s event also come to town and this time I headed into Putney High Street to take in the atmosphere. The day was marred by the changing weather conditions which ranged from torrential rain to bright sunny blue skies. This gave me the opportunity to capture some contrasting dramatic photographs of Putney High Street throughout the afternoon and of the race itself. The weather fortunately didn’t dampen the spirits of the people lining the streets or the amazing race that resulted in Team GB rider Lizzie Armitstead narrowly losing out to the powerful Marianne Vos of Holland.

Olympic 2012 Mascot - Putney, London

Olympic 2012 Mascot – Putney, London


Putney Exchange - London

Putney Exchange – London


Bottom of Putney High Street, London

Bottom of Putney High Street, London


Corner of Putney High Street and Upper Richmond Road - London

Corner of Putney High Street and Upper Richmond Road – London


The Railway Pub - Putney, London

The Railway Pub – Putney, London


Putney High Street, London

Putney High Street, London


Putney Train Station, London

Putney Train Station, London


Olympic 2012 - Road Cycle Race Circuit - Putney, London

Olympic 2012 – Road Cycle Race Circuit – Putney, London


Middle of Putney High Street, London

Middle of Putney High Street, London


Leading Pack at Women's Cycle Road Race - Putney, London Olympics 2012

Leading Pack at Women’s Cycle Road Race – Putney, London Olympics 2012


Peloton at Women's Cycle Road Race - Putney, London Olympics 2012

Peloton at Women’s Cycle Road Race – Putney, London Olympics 2012


Women's Cycle Road Race - Putney High Street, London

Women’s Cycle Road Race – Putney High Street, London


Wet Supporters - Olympics 2012

Wet Supporters – Olympics 2012


Trailing Riders - Women's Road Cycle Race - London Olympics 2012

Trailing Riders – Women’s Road Cycle Race – London Olympics 2012

Further Reading on London Olympics 2012

 
Official Site of the London Olympics 2012
http://www.london2012.com/

More Photography :

 
“The Photography Collection” by Antematters

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The Town of Agra and The Taj Mahal

One of the biggest things I was looking forward to was the visit of the Taj Mahal in Agra – one of the great modern Wonders of the World. What I didn’t expect was that it brought with it a unique and contrasting experience to the visit of the Golden Temple of Amritsar, together with a stomach-crunching introduction to the complex connotations of poverty.

One thing that has always played with my mind is the way poverty is defined. Some aspects of society will link poverty to money which in turn links to happiness. But what does poverty actually mean? Poverty and money don’t necessarily have a direct link. You can be wealthy, but poorly enriched. You can be financially poor, but lead rich lives. Agra ended up being one of the first places on my travels that I came into conflict with what poverty really means.

As planned, Roberto, Jon, Hannah and I were picked up after breakfast at 8am by taxi for a 600km journey to the magnificent Taj Mahal in Agra. We were due to take another train to Agra from New Delhi, but traditional Friday prayers at the mausoleum meant that we had to jump in a cab instead.

Cow at Breakfast Caught on Canon IXUS 50 - New Delhi, India

Cow at Breakfast Caught on Canon IXUS 50 – New Delhi, India

The drive down to Agra was another torrent affair. Jon was unfortunately initiated to the front passenger seat on our first car journey between New Delhi and Ludhiana when we arrived in India, and for some inexplicable reason, took up the baton again. With Roberto, Hannah and I sat in the back snoozing happily; Jon’s fingernails were etching ever more into the dashboard in front of him. The Indian Highway Code relied heavily on two things – brakes and horns. If there was any kind of Indian MOT (automobile road safety test), then there would only be two fat boxes to tick. This car was tested out fully. But, it failed on brakes.

Our peaceful sleep in the back of the car was stopped abruptly about half way to Agra when our cabbie, whom we named “Drives”, decided to put on his gloves for a “Destruction Derby” type mission.

Drives - Agra, India

Drives – Agra, India

I was jolted out of my snooze to a terrified-looking Jon as we had evidently just swerved out of the way of a stationary cow in the middle of the road. Drives then proceeded to put his foot down to make up lost time in an apparent traffic jam whilst leaving New Delhi. All that was missing were some duelling banjos as we started to play chicken with anything that crossed our path. Drives was obviously capable of reading signs as we came bumper to bumper with huge trucks displaying, “Use Your Horn”, something he took up with ease. It was a shame it didn’t have a sign next to it saying, “Keep Your Distance”. At speeds of 120 kilometres per hour, he would duck in and out of the backs of trucks and cars in the hope that there was a gap to overtake. With complete lack of acceleration, Drives would take all necessary risks to get past any obstacle, often with ensuing cars coming head on at us. At points, the road would somehow fit 5 or 6 cars into a two-lane contraflow. We even had to tackle the puzzle combination of truck, car and cow; instead of braking in behind, Drives would choose to put his foot down and, at the last ditch, veer off the edge of the road, throwing dust and mud up behind us, the back-end swerving, jumping and trying to keep upright on the road. Even when we begged him to slow down (as we’d rather live than be an hour or so later on arrival), he would check to see if we had succumbed to our naps again before continuing on his death defying driving.

After five hours, we arrived in Agra a little bit more stressed out than planned. And what we pulled into was one of the worst places I have ever visited.

Streets of Agra Captured on Canon IXUS 50, India

Streets of Agra Captured on Canon IXUS 50, India

Donkey Walk Captured on Canon IXUS 50 - Agra, India

Donkey Walk Captured on Canon IXUS 50 – Agra, India

One thing I learnt is that we aren’t appreciative enough about the luxuries we have back home, but at the same time, we’ve lost the importance of “being” that gets overloaded by material possessions we have. I have witnessed the importance of “being” in many areas of the world that simply choose to ignore the privileges of the industrial world – as I continue to write about my experiences, this will be plain to see. But for Agra, this place was a classifiable shit-hole. Ironically, it’s a place that completely contrasts the beauty of the Taj Mahal at its banks. The streets were grimy and dusty, with excrement everywhere.

Excrement in Streets Captured on Canon IXUS 50 - Agra, India

Excrement in Streets Captured on Canon IXUS 50 – Agra, India

People were sheltered by half-completed breezeblock apartments and corrugated iron, lacking windows, doors, or any kind of hospitable necessities. Others would dwell in shacks. People in the streets were desperate; much so that they were extremely over bearing and unwelcoming in their attitudes. You really felt at unease around them as they tried to leech off you and trick you in every way.

Locals In Debate - Agra, India

Locals In Debate – Agra, India

There was no humility about it, no manner of hiding it. And you could completely understand why. Here, amidst the crumbling of social deprivation, a striking famous landmark would attract hordes of tourists from around the world, the government cashing- in on its obvious attraction. On the outskirts, its people would rot away in the quagmires, scrapping for survival as the funds from the tomb are swallowed up, undistributed to the local community.

Street Toilet - Agra, India

Street Toilet – Agra, India

The River Yamuna, an angry pitch-black border, would divide the Taj Mahal and the desolate city nearby.

Embankment of Agra, India

Embankment of Agra, India

Even the hotel we stayed in was falling apart – it didn’t even cash-in on the possibility of tourist money. Roberto and Jon’s room was infested with cockroaches, and many others the same. Luckily for Hannah and I, we were checked into a recently sterilised room. But we realised later that the lack of investment in the town meant that tourists weren’t staying. They would come from New Delhi, and then leave immediately. And you could see why. Even if you tried to interact with the locals, you felt at disquiet doing so. They needed money from the outside, yet didn’t make outsiders feel welcome. No one seemed interested in investing funds into the city.

Local Businessman Captured on Canon IXUS 50 - Agra, India

Local Businessman Captured on Canon IXUS 50 – Agra, India

Local Haberdasher Captured on Canon IXUS 50 - Agra, India

Local Haberdasher Captured on Canon IXUS 50 – Agra, India

Away from the austerity of Agra, we escaped to the conflicting solace of the Taj Mahal, a true modern Wonder of the World.

Darwaza of the Taj Mahal - Agra, India

Darwaza of the Taj Mahal – Agra, India

Upon passing through the Darwaza, the majestic red sandstone main gateway, your eyes would then fixate upon the spectacular white marble walls of the huge mausoleum.

Taj Mahal - Agra, India

Taj Mahal – Agra, India

Once you get your mind off the myriad of tourists surrounding it, you can’t help but transfix yourself on its sheer size, on first appearance dwarfing St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Taj Mahal - Agra, India

Taj Mahal – Agra, India

It sits tall, proud and elegant in amongst the beautiful surrounding Bageecha gardens. It almost appears floating in the sky.

Most of the day was spent just wandering the gardens whilst taking the site in, making full use of the camera, recording the ever-changing colours of the façade as daylight shifted.

Sunset on the Taj Mahal - Agra, India

Sunset on the Taj Mahal – Agra, India

The Dome of the Taj Mahal - Agra, India

The Dome of the Taj Mahal – Agra, India

Incredibly enough, although the tomb is sprawling, the actual crypt itself is quite small, with a couple of mid-sized chambers by its side.

We felt it strange that although there are traditional prayers on Fridays which closes the site to tourists, it didn’t seem overly religious, probably owing to the overbearing amount of tourists. We didn’t see any locals praying at all, in complete dissimilarity to the experiences of the Golden Temple of Amritsar. The Golden Temple was a much more touching and important experience, one that leaves a mark on you, one that makes you think and self-assess. It has its own unique physical beauty, but the religious experience surrounding it completely outweighs what you take away from the Taj Mahal itself. Don’t get me wrong, the Taj Mahal is fascinating and an incredible work of art that should be visited. But its potency here is that upon leaving its astonishing grounds to confront Agra once more, it forces you to try and surmise how two worlds divided by apparent wealth can also both lack the richness of being…

Local Gardener - Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Local Gardener – Taj Mahal, Agra, India

Further Reading on Agra and The Taj Mahal

 
Taj Mahal Tourist Information
http://www.tajmahal.org.uk//

Agra and The Taj Mahal
http://www.tajmahal.com/

UNESCO – The Taj Mahal
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/252/

More Photography :

 
“The India Collection” by Antematters

Posted in India Also tagged , , , , , , , , , |

A Brief Encounter with New Delhi

The enticing visit to New Delhi turned out to be a very brief encounter as I travelled across Northern India from Punjab towards Kolkata in West Bengal with Roberto, Jon and Hannah. It was a Wednesday and we were due to stay a couple of nights before heading down to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal on Friday, but a moment of panic struck when we were told that it would be traditionally closed for prayer. That meant we had to cut down our time in the city to an afternoon and hire a taxi to Agra early Thursday morning.

Street Life of New Delhi, India

Street Life of New Delhi, India

After taking an early morning train from Amritsar, Roberto, Jon, Hannah and I touched down in what we expected to be a daunting but alluring metropolis. The encounter with the first set of tuk-tuk drivers in Amritsar set the benchmark for what we might stumble across in our journey throughout India, but to our surprise, we actually felt quite abandoned upon arrival. The city was a far cry from what we expected as we left the station towards the centre of town to drop off our bags at the hotel. We didn’t feel threatened or pressurised in any way as we wandered through the main bazaar, checking out the many small winding alleyways, bustling with kiosks selling all types of merchandise.

Indian Kiosk - New Delhi, India

Indian Kiosk – New Delhi, India

The streets were much cleaner than expected; much cleaner than our familiar preconceptions of dirt and squalor of India’s slums.

Back Streets of New Delhi, India

Back Streets of New Delhi, India

A quick bite to eat at one of the local restaurants then changed our minds in an instant as the fears of Delhi belly started to come to fruition. The streets didn’t bear resemblance to the bleakness hidden away behind its façade, the true identity of New Delhi hitting you slap in the face behind closed doors. All four of us looked at each other in anguish at the dining options, all dark, dank and filthy abodes.

Local Restaurant - New Delhi, India

Local Restaurant – New Delhi, India

We eventually just picked what looked like the most hygienic, and prayed for a lucky outcome. In all honesty, the food was delicious, en par with the delicacies we had tasted so far, but we couldn’t help but fear how the food had been prepared behind the scenes.

Indian Cuisine - New Delhi, India

Indian Cuisine – New Delhi, India

The restaurant was grimy from top to bottom; it looked like the end of shift clean-up took about five minutes, probably using an assortment of soiled cloths. Many of the best places to eat whilst travelling are those that are unkempt, but you just couldn’t help but feel this was beyond the mark.

After lunch, we then embarked on a frantic adventure through the city after bartering with one of the many tuk-tuk drivers. I think it cost about twenty pounds between us to hire a guy who guided us to the main attractions, the usual fracas of traffic greeting us throughout the day.

Roberto with Tuk-Tuk Driver - New Delhi, India

Roberto with Tuk-Tuk Driver – New Delhi, India

Again, the streets were much cleaner than expected and much more European in appearance, with huge wide main roads in and out of the centre. Around the flanks, many green thriving parks would decorate the city, with old crumbling buildings from the British occupation hiding amongst the new modern style buildings.

Our first point of call was the fascinating Humayun’s Tomb, one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Humayun's Tomb - New Delhi, India

Humayun’s Tomb – New Delhi, India

Humuyun was the Second Mughal Emperor of India and his wife commissioned the site some 14 years after his death. The Mughal-style tomb was built in 1570 and was one of the first garden tombs on the Indian subcontinent that later provided inspiration for the creation of the Taj Mahal in Agra. The beautiful lush gardens provided a perfect backdrop to the saturated red sandstone and marble façades.

Isa Khan Niyazi's Tomb - New Delhi, India

Isa Khan Niyazi’s Tomb – New Delhi, India

Later, we then stopped off at the Gandhi Memorial – a pleasant and peaceful garden where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on 31st January 1947, some 6 months on from the declaration of Indian independence and following on from years of fighting for social reform in India.

Gandhi Path - Gandhi Memorial, New Delhi, India

Gandhi Path – Gandhi Memorial, New Delhi, India


Gandhi Gong - Gandhi Memorial, New Delhi, India

Gandhi Gong – Gandhi Memorial, New Delhi, India

This gave us time to learn more about his life and achievements, his battles for a more equal democratic India, his resistance against racism, inequality and brutal treatment by the British, and also the fight for the preservation of Hindu-Muslim relations.

Gandi Statement - Gandhi Memorial, New Delhi, India

Gandi Statement – Gandhi Memorial, New Delhi, India

From there, we headed off to stroll around another fascinating piece of Mughal Architecture – the Red Fort. This is a 17th century expansive fort-structured palace that served as home to the Mughal Emperors of India, another UNESCO World Heritage site and perfect example of the beautiful architectural achievements of the Mughal era.

Red Fort - New Delhi, India

Red Fort – New Delhi, India

A brief stop at the India Gate ended the day before we headed back to the centre of town for an evening spent in some of the local bars, whilst checking out some of the street stalls by night.

Golden Arch of the India Gate - New Delhi, India

Golden Arch of the India Gate – New Delhi, India

Although it was nice to see some fascinating architecture and take in the views of the surrounding city, I couldn’t help but feel that throughout the day, we didn’t really see the true New Delhi, and being the fleeting visit it was, just packed in as much of the touristy parts as possible. But, India is a vast expansive plane with ever-changing captivations. Time was therefore a scarcity on this trip with more variety to be seen outside the metropolis life we are used to back home. There was much more excitement held for what was to come…

Ghosts in the Night - New Delhi, India

Ghosts in the Night – New Delhi, India


Fruit Stall by Night - New Delhi, India

Fruit Stall by Night – New Delhi, India

Further Reading on New Delhi

 
New Delhi Tourism
http://delhitourism.nic.in/delhitourism/tourist_place/humayun_tomb.jsp/

UNESCO – Humayun’s Tomb
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/232/

UNESCO – The Red Fort
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/231/

Gandhi Memorial
http://gandhimemorial.org/

More Photography :

 
“The India Collection” by Antematters

Posted in India Also tagged , , , , , , , , |