Weekly Photo Challenge: Descent – Waterfall at Ellora Caves

This week, show us your interpretation of descent.

There’s no better way to describe and interpret the meaning of Descent than a shot of a waterfall…This photo was taken at Ellora Caves of Aurangabad in Maharashtra, India. The monsoon had ended when I was there, so there isn’t much water. I bet the “descent” effect would have been more dramatic during the monsoon.

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Mumbai Diaries: Part 1

After a 3-year hiatus, I’m back in India. And it’s my 8th visit to this country. Roll out the red carpet, fellas!

My first trip to India was with my mom in 2003. We visited the Golden Triangle up north: Delhi-Jaipur-Agra. Then I began to make frequent business trips to Delhi throughout 2010-2011, and by that time, I was already bitten by the travel bug, so I took every chance I had to travel for leisure in other parts of North India such as Amritsar, Jodhpur, Udaipur and Ladakh. And in 2014, for a change, this 8th visit to India was actually my first visit to Mumbai.

Because of the frequent trips I had made, and have plans to return again, family members and friends find me strange. They can’t understand what’s my fascination with India and how I can endure the “discomfort” one would encounter during travels to India.

Only very close friends truly understand that I absolutely love culture, history and architecture. Combine that with the mad love for travel and appreciation for photography, India is the perfect place for me to have all these experiences in one package. India brings out the richness in history, culture and food, the vibrant colours, the grandeur of monuments, palaces and places of worship, and the interesting mix of languages and lifestyles seen across the country.

As for the “discomfort”, yes, sometimes it’s not the most enjoyable or comfortable journey. Filth and poverty are prevalent on Indian streets. Mad drivers and incessant honking. Indian Stretchable Time (IST), not Indian Standard Time (some Malaysians tend to practice this too!) – trains, flights or appointments sometimes are delayed. Not feeling well due to too much spices or masala. Or worse still, contract Delhi Belly because consumed something unhygienic!

I have had experienced all of the above except Delhi Belly (touch wood!) but that’s the unique thing about India: The Great Indian Paradox. You may see and experience India at the best of times but you will also see and experience India at the worst of times. I love the paradox and that makes travelling in India more adventurous! Besides, it gives fodder to my stories :-)

A French Castle in Mumbai

Flight landed earlier than planned. Immigration check was smooth. Luggage came late but that’s OK, I told myself, no rush, just go with the flow. Airport pick-up from hotel showed up as planned (unlike my 6th & 7th visits to Delhi). The drive was about an hour to my hotel, and soon enough we were nearing Chowpatty Beach, Marine Drive, and finally at my chateau.

Chateau, did you say? Yes, that’s right. Chateau. It’s the Chateau Windsor Hotel Mumbai located in Churchgate and a very short walking distance from Marine Drive. It’s hardly palatial or majestic but the building looks like an apartment, rather non-descript actually. I have no idea why it’s called a Chateau but do not let the drab façade fool you.

The hotel furniture (except for the flat screen TV) seems to be from the 1950s. The room and bathroom are very clean and spacious, and the bed is quite comfortable. The best thing I like about the hotel is the caged lift :-) Wifi is chargeable, thus I chose not to be connected to the internet during my 2-night stay there.

I woke up early the next morning and opted to have breakfast on the rooftop terrace. Guests can also have their breakfasts served in their rooms. The city was silent on Sunday 8am. The only thing I heard was crows. Not even motor vehicles or the ubiquitous Indian honking on the road. The view on the rooftop terrace ain’t that great – water tanks on top of other buildings and a cricket stadium nearby. But with table umbrellas giving me shade, the sun was not too hot and the crows kept me company for breakfast, it was an all right atmosphere. Given that the chateau is strategically located close to the main attractions of Mumbai, clean, decent and affordable, this 3-star hotel was indeed something of a gem.

Walking Tour

I had a 9am appointment at Capitol Cinema opposite Victoria Terminus (VT). I found out the route from the hotel to VT and it is a rather straight-forward route, only 15 minutes’ walk.

Prior to my trip, I have read many times in the media that Mumbai is safe for women at any time of the day or night. And my Indian friends have mentioned the same as well. So I, a female foreigner, walked alone from the hotel to VT. And the verdict is: it is indeed safe. I was not hassled. There was a gentleman who wished me Good Morning. No one stared or gawked at me. I could never walk alone in other parts of India particularly up north in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh or Rajasthan. Having said that, although Mumbai is relatively safer than other cities, I still caution women to be street-smart, be alert and follow your instincts, like you typically would in your home city or anywhere else in the world.

OK, back to my appointment. I signed up for Racounteur Walks Mumbai and the tour at 9am was The Churchgate and Heritage Mile Walk. I came across their tour through another blogger GetSetAndGo who posted her experience on the same heritage walk in Jan 2014. Racounteur Walks Mumbai has been receiving consistent raving reviews on Tripadvisor. I found it intriguing as I have never been on a walking tour before, and walking tours seem to be springing up in major cities nowadays as an alternative and perhaps, more insightful way to understand a city.

I was the only one who signed up for the Churchgate Walk. Apparently, there were many others who signed up for The Apollo Gate and Front Bay Walk that Sunday but since I’m a history and heritage buff, I requested for Racounteur to accommodate my request for Churchgate Walk. I finally met my guide, a 24-year old engineer who loves history and loves his city, Mumbai.

The Good Bay

We started off the tour by standing across the road from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus or commonly known as Victoria Terminus (VT). My guide shared the historical background of Mumbai, and based on his sharing and my research, I thought I give you an insight as to how Mumbai was known as Bombay, and the significance of VT…

Victoria Terminus

Victoria Terminus

Bombay consisted of 7 islands, and was formally surrendered in the 16th century by a Sultan of Ahmadebad to the Portuguese. The Portuguese originally dubbed Bombay as “Bom Bahia” (Good Bay), felt that the islands were of little importance while they focused on developments in areas elsewhere.

The largest island was given to King Charles II of England in the 17th century as part of the dowry when he married the Portuguese Infanta Catherine of Braganza. Later on, Charles II received the remaining islands and the harbour port, then anglicised Bom Bahia to Bombay. Because of its strategic importance for commerce, a deal was struck between Charles II and the East India Company whereby Bombay was leased to the trading company for a pittance.

The English went on to develop and strengthen their outpost, and by the start of the 18th century, Bombay became the capital of the East India Company. The governor at that time promoted and supported a community mix that still contributes to the city’s success, welcoming Hindu traders from Gujarat, Goans, Muslim weavers, and most notably, the business-minded Zoroastrian Parsis. By the time it was the 19th century, Bombay went through an age of expansion attributed by the arrival of the Great Indian Railways, the opening of the Suez Canal, cotton boom, so much so, it became a major industrial and commercial centre. Hence, the English felt that they needed to construct an extravagant railway station in the form of neo-Gothic architecture as a fitting testimony to this extraordinary expansion – Victoria Terminus.

Victoria Terminus

Victoria Terminus

Well, my guide certainly added a bit more pizzazz to the story by sharing funny and interesting anecdotes as well :-)

Fire Temple

From VT, we walked along D.N Road, admiring one of the oldest parts of the city, and my guide pointed out a Parsis agiary. An agiary is a fire temple, a place of worship for Zoroastrians Parsis.

Columns of old buildings along D.N Road

Columns of old buildings along D.N Road

Parsis are descendants of a group of Zoroastrians in Iran (Persia) who fled to avoid persecution from Muslim invaders during the 8th-10th centuries. At the time of Muslim conquest of Persia, the dominant religion in the region was Zoroastrianism. The Parsis fled to the western borders of India (Gujarat & Sindh), and over the centuries, they migrated from Gujarat and Surat to Bombay, the centre of commercial activities. The Parsis have integrated very well into the Indian society while maintaining their own distinct customs and traditions.

Zoroastrians worship communally in a Fire Temple or Agiary. They believe that the elements are pure, therefore fire symbolises purity and represents God’s light or wisdom. However, neither are they considered as fire-worshippers. Sacred fires are maintained in the Agiaries, never extinguished. In fact, no Zoroastrian ceremony is performed without the presence of a sacred fire.

It’s interesting to note that the facade of the agiary is always, perhaps intentionally, ordinary and free from embellishment. My guess is that the purpose of a fire temple is to house a sacred fire, not for anything else what is otherwise just a building. Unfortunately, I was not able to enter the agiary to satisfy my curiosity. According to Zoroastrianism traditions, non-Parsis are not allowed to enter the fire temple.

Art District and Art-Deco

After the Fire Temple, our walking tour continued towards the Flora Fountain which is a busy roundabout in the heart of downtown Mumbai. Across from the roundabout are many colonial buildings such as the old Public Works Department and the Telegraph Department. Further south of Flora Fountain is the city’s art district Kala Ghoda: Jehangir Art Gallery, National Gallery of Modern Art, The Prince of Wales Museum, David Sassoon Library and University of Bombay.

Flora Fountain

Flora Fountain

My guide continued to regale me with more interesting stories about the oldest surviving cast iron building formerly known as the Watson’s Hotel, and the philantropist Readymoney and his particular association with University of Bombay. Moving towards the west, we walked past the university and its Victorian buildings such as Convocation Hall and Rajabhai Clock Tower. I wished I could enter the university grounds especially to see the library with high Gothic windows and stained glass but I wasn’t allowed to.

Convocation Hall, University of Bombay

Convocation Hall, University of Bombay

Opposite the university is the Oval Maidan where impromptu cricket matches are held almost every day. As we walked across the Maidan, we were towards the end of our walking tour where the buildings seemed to be completely different from the other side of the Maidan. From Victorian architecture to Art-Deco post-First World War. And this is where I found out that Mumbai has the second largest Art-Deco surviving buildings in the world after Miami!

Bom-Impression

Come to think of it, the Churchgate and Heritage Mile Walk actually started with the heritage streets first and then ended in Churchgate right before Marine Drive. All in all, the walking tour was truly interesting, fascinating and I enjoyed it thoroughly. My guide didn’t conduct the tour by reciting historical facts, instead he weaved in stories after stories for each heritage pit-stop throughout the tour. The tour was supposed to be 3 hours long but it went on slightly longer. I didn’t mind as it was so engaging.

So that was my first day in Mumbai and I must say, thanks to Raconteur Walks who helped to give me a very Bom (good) impression of this vibrant city!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Cover Art For My Coffee Table Book, Perhaps?

I dream of having a coffee table book of my photographs taken in my travels. But I still have a long way to go in terms of perfecting my photography skills, and investing in much better camera and lenses.

If ever my dream was to come true, I would choose photographs of Ladakh to be the highlight of the book. There is something about the Himalayan mountains…they have captured my heart and soul. Each time I go through my Ladakh photos, or other photographers’ images of the beautiful landscape…I melt.

I can’t decide on one single photo as a cover image, so I have a few here. Perhaps you can decide for me :-)

Ladakh – dominated by Himalaya and Karakoram mountain ranges

Ladakh – dominated by Himalaya and Karakoram mountain ranges

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Prayer wheels

Prayer wheels

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Behind those mountains is Tibet

Behind those mountains is Tibet

An Evening at Temple of the Tooth, Kandy

No visit to Sri Lanka especially Kandy, is complete without visiting the Temple of the Tooth. The temple is actually a royal palace complex, a former palace of the Kandyan kingdom, and it houses the relic tooth of Buddha. The relic is very significant in the politics of ancient Sri Lankan kingdom that whoever holds the tooth governs the country. The Temple of the Tooth is also a UNESCO world heritage site.

The first time I came to Sri Lanka in 2009, I had visited this temple during the day. Here’s the entrance of the royal palace complex.

But during this second visit in August 2014, it was different for a change to visit the temple in the evening. As we walked from the temple grounds to the main shrine, we could hear sounds of drums and trumpets, beckoning devotees to come to the temple. Sri Lankans, many of them dressed in white and carried flowers of jasmine and frangipani, hurried past us.

Unlike typical royal palaces (ancient included), the Temple of the Tooth palace complex is not elaborately decorated. The walls are white and are carved with openings which are filled with candles for special celebrations. I can imagine that they look simply beautiful as they glow in the dark, lighting the front entrance. The temple roofs are red. All of these temple buildings are clustered around Kandy Lake.

However, in contrast, the interiors of the temple are richly decorated with wood-carvings, ivory and lacquer.

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So what’s the story behind the relic tooth? According to legend, when Buddha died, his tooth was taken from him at the funeral pyre. It was then hidden in the hair of Princess Hemamali and smuggled to Sri Lanka. This was in 313 AD when the princess fled from Hindu armies who attacked her father’s kingdom in India.

The relic tooth then became an object of great reverence, brought out only for special celebrations and paraded on the backs of elephants. Amazingly, over centuries, the relic tooth had survived numerous attempts to capture and destroy it.

In the Temple of the Tooth, the relic is kept in a 2-story shrine fronted by two large elephant tusks. It is said that the tooth rests on a gold lotus flower, encased in jeweled caskets that sit on a throne.

The highlight of the year when the relic tooth is removed from its shrine and paraded to the public is during Esala Perahera, a 10-day parade of dancers, drummers and elaborately decorated elephants. However, due to the past civil war in Sri Lanka (the Temple had experienced bomb attacks before), the relic tooth is not brought out but only the jeweled caskets to symbolize the tooth.

Prior to our trip, we actually wanted to be in Sri Lanka sometime in early August to experience the Esaha Perahera which might be the largest Buddha celebration in the world. But tickets were expensive costing US$100 per person and hotel accommodation (including guesthouses, hostels) become very expensive. Later we learnt from our guesthouse host, George, that he could have arranged to have cheaper tickets for us, perhaps at US$65. Oh well…

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Useful Information:

Opening times: Temple 5.30am-8.00pm, Puja 5.30-6.45am, 9.30-11.00am & 6.30-8pm,

Entrance fees: LKR 1000

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If you have missed previous posts on Sri Lanka, please click Pleasant in Sri LankaIdyllic PeradeniyaDambulla CavesDreamy Galle Face GreenSigiriya and Polonnaruwa

Broken Bike

Whoa, what happened here? Found this motorbike abandoned on a sidewalk in Fountainhas, the old Latin Quarter in the city of Panjim, Goa. Apart from the missing rear tyre, my guess is, the bike is broken – from the way it was left callously on the sidewalk like bad rubbish. No use to the owner anymore.

(This post is linked to Ailsa’s Travel Theme: Broken)

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Refraction

Show us what “refraction” means to you. It could be an image taken in a reflective surface, it could be light bent from behind an object, or it could mean remedial math homework.

To be honest, I don’t know the meaning of refraction. I checked the dictionary and am still uncertain if I understand the meaning. Sounds too technical to me :-) But I gather it has something to do with light and what light does? Hmm, oh well, whatever.

So, here’s my interpretation of refraction. Hope it’s correct. And if it’s not, just enjoy the pics :-)

Pangong Lake, Ladakh

Pangong sparkles in the morning

Pangong sparkles in the morning

Senggingi Beach, Lombok

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Sunrise on Mount Batur, Bali

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Galle Face Green and the beach, Colombo

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In Pictures: Polonnaruwa…and Duran Duran

That got your attention, didn’t it? Well, hold that thought and I will explain shortly :-)

We were on the quest of visiting and exploring UNESCO heritage sites in Sri Lanka. There are numerous world heritage sites here but since we were not full-time travellers on a limited time-off-from-work period, we could only visit a few. The last heritage site we visited before returning to Colombo, was Polonnaruwa. After 2 days of visiting Dambulla Caves and climbing up Sigiriya the Lion Rock in the Central Province, our drive went slightly further up to North Central Province.

The drive from Peradeniya to Polonnaruwa was about 3-4 hours. For this excursion, we had to wake up earlier than previous days, thus we set off at 7am. We stopped en route to have breakfast, and thank goodness, we did as the exploration of this world heritage site required hours under the hot sun and and in a dry environment.

Polonnaruwa was the royal capital of Sri Lanka in the 11th century AD but its origins could be traced even much earlier to 2nd century BC. The capital was strategically important to defend the kingdom of Anuradhapura from foreign invaders so much so it was known as the Fortress City. Based on a pamphlet which I bought from the museum gift shop, Polonnaruwa was at its highest glory due to 3 rulers: Vijayabahu the Great, Parakrambahu the Great and Nissanka Malla. These rulers promoted the growth and development of irrigation works and the overall agriculture of the province; religious activities namely the restoration of numerous shrines; city planning and architecture; and medicine and medical science.

Before we started exploring the sites, we bought entrance tickets at the museum. Ticket costs US$25 and all visitors are required to visit the museum first. I highly recommend this as the museum gives you an introduction to the ancient city, and summarises the historical background of the heritage site. Also, upon leaving the museum, do drop by the gift shop and purchase the “World Heritage Site of Polonnaruwa’ pamphlet because it contains a map of the city. It makes exploration easier particularly for those who do not wish to hire a guide. We chose not to hire a guide as we wanted to travel within our budget. Our driver knew where to take us and although each site has a plague providing information, the pamphlet helped us in getting our bearings right – names of various sites, and the directions on what to see and where we were going next.

It took us about 5 hours to explore the most visited sites. There were many others but were left as crumbling ruins or just an empty shrine. Here are the various photographs I took at Polonnaruwa:

Potgul Vihara Monastery built by King Parakrambahu

It was said that the statue was carved in the image of King Parakrambahu.

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Royal Palace of King Parakrambahu

Shiva Devale No 1

The builder of this Hindu shrine is unknown but it is believed to be dated back to 13th century. The main object of worship still left behind in the shrine is the sacred Shiva lingam stone.

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Dalada Maluva & Hatadage

A quadrangle area containing some of the oldest and sacred monuments in the ancient city. This area was built by King Nissanka Malla and had been used to keep the relic of the tooth of the Buddha.

Rankoth Vehera Stupa

The largest stupa in ancient Polonnaruwa and the fourth largest stupa in Sri Lanka.

Gal Vihara

Commissioned by King Parakrambahu, there are 4 images of Buddha carved out of a single large granite rock. And this is considered some of the best examples of ancient Sinhala carving and sculpture.

Tivanka Image House

Built by King Parakrambahu to house 3 images of Buddha but unfortunately, they are almost destroyed. The inside walls of the building are decorated with frescoes and in bad condition. Hence flash photography is not allowed to preserve what’s remaining of the frescoes.

Ok, so what’s the connection between Polonnaruwa and Duran Duran? As I was doing a little research when writing this post, I found out that Duran Duran filmed the video clip “Save A Prayer” in Sri Lanka including Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa! Duran Duran was my favourite band when I was in primary school (love John Taylor and his hair!) and I have always liked their songs.

In the video clip, the part where they sang on top of huge rock with a flat top – that’s the Sigiriya the Lion Rock – and scenes of the large Buddha statues are from Gal Vihara of Polonnaruwa.

Admittedly, the video clip looks so cheesy now but back then, it was cool and artsy :-) Enjoy!

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If you have missed previous posts on Sri Lanka, please click Pleasant in Sri LankaIdyllic PeradeniyaDambulla CavesDreamy Galle Face Green and Sigiriya