Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Sayonara 2014

Like the previous years 2014 also had its ups and downs.

But I hope that there were more ups for you than downs.

It is now time to say goodbye to 2014.

I am sharing some pictures with you of the beautiful Thai boat-women who have a cheering smile on their faces while earning their livelihood.

These are pictures from the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Thailand.

It is surprising that the majority of boat handlers were women.

And they were all wearing fancy big hats as a style statement as well as protecting them from the harsh glare of the Sun.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Places to visit in McLeodganj: The Church of St John-in-the-Wilderness

As the name suggest even now this church is still in the grandeur of the local wilderness set amidst the deodar and pine trees with lofty snow capped mountains in the background.
The Church of St John-in-the-Wilderness, McLeodganj 

This church was built by the British in 1852 and is surrounded by big deodar trees and marble gravestones. This again is an interesting area to go to by walking. It is an Anglican Church dedicated to John the Baptist (as the name suggests). This building is built in neo-Gothic style.

Side view of the Church of St. Jojn-in-the-Wilderness

One can walk to The Church of St John-in-the-Wilderness in thirty minutes or so. Also if you are interested than you can make it a circuitous trip by first going to the Dal Lake and from there come down to this church and then reach back to McLeodganj thereby spending one full day of visiting places and walking/trekking in pristine surroundings. One can make the circuit the other way round if you want to make the trek tougher.

Inside the Church - see the beautiful stained glass

It is a very small church and still very well maintained despite being more than 160 years old.  Inside the church I could see Belgian stained-glass windows donated by Lady Elgin, wife of Lord Elgin.

The snow capped mountains as seen from near the Church
Besides the church it is the graveyard that presents a part of the local history to us.

The Graveyard at the Church

I could see several gravestones where the date of death is 1905 – that was the year of a great  earthquake that devastated this area and killed nearly twenty thousand people and injured thousands of other Kangris.

Memorial of James Bruce, Viceroy of India in 1862-63

The church compound also has the memorial of James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin, Viceroy of India (1862–1863). He died in Dharamshala in 1863 and the monument was erected by his wife Mary Louisa, Countess of Elgin.

The beautiful entrance to the Church
The place also has a variety of birds and one can just sit here for hours and watch the birds. I saw this Yellow Billed Blue Magpie at very close quarters.

Yellow Billed Blue Magpie

Also read:
McLeodganj, Dharamshala, Himachal
Why I love to go to McLeodganj
Skywatch Friday - Sunset at McLeodganj, Himachal
Places to visit in McLeodganj: Bhagsunag Waterfall

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Loi Krathong Thai Festival in Delhi

Second year in succession I got the opportunity to attend the Loi Krathong Festival held in Delhi as I got an invite from the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to attend the festival this year as well. 

Traditional Thai Dance

This year it was held on the 6th of November as this festival is held on the full moon of the 12th Thai lunar calendar. Last year it was organised at the Dusit Devarana and this year it was held at the Radission Blu Plaza.

Cock-fight Dance

Loi means to float while Krathong means a lotus shaped container made from banana leaves (though being held in Delhi it was an improvised version made of thermocol and other artificial stuff). It is a festival to pay homage to the goddess of water.

Krathongs on display before they were floated

This festival of light of Thailand can be compared to the Indian festival of Diwali in some aspects as both are very important in their respective countries and both are festival of lights though the legend behind them may vary.

Another Thai dance

Of course Loi Krathong that is held in Thailand is of much grander version than the one held in India. The difference is like Diwali being celebrated in Delhi and Diwali being celebrated in Washington!

And yet another Thai dance

The festival started with several Thai dances and then followed by a dancing procession in which the ‘queen’ came on a palanquin carrying the Krathong.

The 'queen' on a palanquin with the Krathong 

 The first Krathong was floated by the Ambassador of Thailand in India and then we all floated Krathongs.

The Ambassador of Thailand in India with the Krathong

The whole atmosphere was Thai as this was followed by Thai food prepared by Thai chefs therefore it was authentic Thai food that was really good. The best was the Duck in Pineapple Sauce.

The floating Krathongs at the Radisson

Overall it was a great evening giving us a glimpse of Thai culture along with the Thai food in the amazingly good Thai hospitality.

Fruit art - Happy Loi Krathong

Also read: Loi Krathong Festival of Thailand held in Dusit Devarana

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Albert Dock and Pier Head, Liverpool

Liverpool used to be seafaring giant once upon a time and Albert Dock was an important dock in the Merseyside in the North West England.

The view of the Old and the New Liverpool from Albert Dock

Liverpool was a gateway to the world and Transatlantic slave trade happened from here (even there is a museum to that effect). At the Albert Dock there is a maritime museum called the Merseyside Maritime Museum.

An old ship at Albert Dock

The Pier Head is a good place to go for long walks. There is a ferry service also going to the Isle of Man which I could not take as I reached the pier after the last one was about to leave so that is on my agenda for the next time. 

Pumphouse at the Albert Dock

Also on this stretch one sees old buildings as Liverpool is almost an 800 year old city mixed with ultra modern ones with lots of museums and also The Beatles Story (Liverpool being the birthplace of the Beatles). 

An anchor in front of the Merseyside Maritime Museum

From the Merseyside I could even see The Liverpool Cathedral as it is located on higher land and it is a huge structure.

A fire-escape on a warehouse 

Walking along the Merseyside next to the Albert Dock as well as the Pier Head is a soothing experience and there are plenty of options for rest and refreshments.

The Lusitania propeller, 1909

The propeller in the above photo is one of the four propellers from the Liverpool based passenger liner RMS Lusitania built in 1907. The ship was torpedoed by a German submarine on 7th May 1915 killing 1201 people off the coast of Southern Ireland. At that time it was the fastest vehicle reaching the shores of America in 4.5 days. This propeller was fitted in 1909 to increase her speed.

Love-locks on the Merseyside

I also saw next to the Merseyside on the chains next to the waterfront people putting padlocks on the chain. These are also called the lovelocks which people come and put for their sweethearts everlasting love. I have seen this also on the Great Wall of China and several other places.

A statue next to Merseyside

And there are number of statues depicting life of people.

Also read:
The Liverpool Cathedral
St. George’s Hall, Liverpool

Monday, 20 October 2014

Wat Pho or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok, Thailand

The Reclining Buddha is a famous pattern across the world of the Buddha during his last days of illness before attaining Nirvana. He is seen resting on a cushion with the right hand supporting his head.

The entry gate to Wat Pho complex

The Wat Pho or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (official name for me is an unpronounceable Wat Phra Chettuphon Wimon Mangkhlaram Ratchaworamahawihan) temple complex is next to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in the Grand Palace complex in the capital city of Bangkok in Thailand. The entry ticket of 100 Baht gives you entry not only to the Reclining Buddha but to the whole Wat Pho complex along with a bottle of mineral water.

The Reclining Buddha

Though the Wat Pho complex has about a thousand statues of Buddha but this Reclining Buddha is the Thailand’s largest! The Buddha is 15 metere high and 43 metre long coated in gold.

The Reclining Buddha in Wat Pho

It is difficult to click the Buddha as it is housed in a building so a front shot or one in which the entire Buddha can be captured is difficult unlike the one in Burma which is in the open (and probably the world’s longest at 300 meters).

108 symbols of Buddha on the foot Reclining Buddha

The three metre high and 4.5 metre long foot is inlaid with mother of pearl 108 auspicious symbols of Buddha.

108 Bowls around the Reclining Buddha to drop coins

Likewise there are 108 bronze bowls indicating the 108 characters of Buddha in which the devotes drop coins to bring in good fortune. One can purchase a bowls of coins outside the complex to drop them in these bowls. Shoes are not allowed to be worn inside the complex but the interesting thing is that outside the complex you can take cloth bags in which you keep your shoes and carry them inside the temple (see the bags being carried by people in the above photo). This is the first time I saw this practice as in all other Buddhist and Hindu temples they would ask you to keep the shoes outside only.

The golden curls of the Buddha

The back side of the Buddha statue is also interesting where one can clearly see rectangular pillows on which Buddha’s curly haired head is resting.

But do not just walk out after seeing the Reclining Buddha as the other halls and monastery inside the Wat Pho complex is equally stunning. It also has the Thailand’s earliest Massage Schools

Also read:
Tourism in Thailand: Lessons for India
Phra Nakhon Khiri Palace
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Thailand
Would you like to have a separate waiting room to yourself?
Phraya Nakhon Cave in the Khao Sam Roi Yot National Park in Thailand
The Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha, Bangkok
Skywatch Friday - View of A Halo from the Royal Palace, Bangkok

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Missing 'Josh' in the Assembly Elections in Haryana

Today is the voting day for the State Assembly elections in the state of Haryana and Maharashtra. I went and did vote to decide the next lot of the Members of the Legislative Assembly. 

Deserted voting Room

I was surprised that the whole process for me was over in five minutes. Personally it was a pleasant surprise but for the democracy not so. Pleasant for me as the process was over very quickly without any hassles and not required to stand in the queue to wait for my turn. But it is not good for the democracy as there were very few persons who have come for the voting in these assembly elections.

A CNN IBM TV 18 team interviewing some of the voters

This is in sharp contrast to the elections for the parliament held in April this year when I could see lot many persons form all strata’s of society coming to vote even early in the morning. This is despite the fact that most of the educational institutions as well as government and private offices (barring a few) are closed and even Delhi government has also announced that staff residing in Haryana can take a day off for voting.

No voter to canvass?

Is the reason lack of enthusiasm in the local state politics? Or is it that voters are very skeptical of all the candidates in the assembly elections? I also did notice that the door-to-door campaigning was completely missing during these elections. Not a single candidate or its representative came to my area for seeking votes. If the campaigning is not there how the electorate decides who is a better candidate over the other?

The counting of votes for both the states is to be held on 19th of this month. The result would be available by that afternoon as the voting in India is done on the electronic voting machines (EVM’s).

If you have a vote in either of these two states then there is still time left to go and vote as the voting can be done till 6 PM.

Also read
I used my finger. Did you?

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Places to visit in McLeodganj: Bhagsunag Waterfall

McLeodganj can be made a base for starting small treks of a few hours to a day’s trek to long high altitude treks or mountaineering expeditions.

The Bhagsunag waterfall from a distance

I first went to McLeodganj in 1987 when I did my first high altitude trek in this region and since then it has become one of my favorite destinations in the Himalayas due to various factors – some among them being close to Delhi, excellent Tibetan food at extremely low prices, accommodation available at extremely low prices with plenty of options to choose from and of course various grade treks that can be started from here.

Pool at Bhagsunag temple

One of the short treks (of a few hours) one can do is the trek to Bhagsunag waterfalls. One can either walk all the way from McLeodganj to this place or else can also take an auto/taxi till Bhagunag temple area, which has now become a town into itself. From McLeodganj to Bhagsunag would be approximately three km. Bhagusunag has a very old temple and also a pool of water where devotees come and take a dip.

The Bhasunag Waterfall

From there till the waterfall would be another 700 metres of comparatively steeper climb. Earlier it used to be a Kutccha (unpaved) path but now there is a cemented path going till the main falls. On the way there are two-three tea shops serving tea, cold drinks, biscuits, Maggi etc. The waterfall presents itself in various ways depending upon the season. During summers and Monsoon period the amount of water falling is massive compared to winter or the autumn period.

A smaller and more serene waterfall above the Bhagsunag waterfall

Most people go only to the main waterfall area so sometimes there is quite a crowd till the waterfalls. What is interesting is if you decide to go up beyond the main waterfall as hardly anyone goes above this point.

Another small waterfall near Shiva Cafe

The climb beyond this is steep thereby discouraging most people. But the views from there are breathtaking and there are other waterfalls which, though smaller, are beautiful and you can have them to yourselves for any amount of time.

The Scream of Nature

Also there is the Shiva Café near the above waterfall which can serve god tea and other refreshments. There is rock painting near this waterfall asking people to plant trees.

View of the Tibetan prayer flags, trek and Bhagusnag in the distance

McLeodganj is also the headquarters of the Tibetan Government in Exile. One can reach McLeodganj from Delhi in twelve hours or so by car. There are several ordinary, semi deluxe, deluxe and AC buses also plying on this route.

Also read:
McLeodganj, Dharamshala, Himachal
Why I love to go to McLeodganj
Skywatch Friday - Sunset at McLeodganj, Himachal

Friday, 3 October 2014

Skywatch Friday: Hauz Khas Lake, Delhi

Sometimes you are plain lucky to get amazing skies sitting right in the middle of some big crowded city.

Sky ablaze at sunset at Hauz Khas Lake, Delhi

This is the shot I got sitting on the restaurant of a 4th floor building in the Hauz Khas in Delhi when the weather one moment was hot with clear sky and then it turned cloudy and rained and after that cleared up again to give this majestic sky at dusk.

This post is part of Skywatch Friday.

Also read:
The Changing Moods of Hauz Khas Lake

Saturday, 27 September 2014

A Walk in the LAKES - The Ambleside Walk

I would count Lake District among the most beautiful areas of England abounding in outstanding natural beauty with several large and small lakes, hills and undulating plains.

Sailing Boats on the Windermere Lake at Ambleside

One of the areas in the Lake District is the Ambleside. It lies between Windermere and Grasmere. One can reach Ambleside after getting down from the train at Windermere and taking stagecoach after that.

Come on in, the water is beautiful, marathon swimmers at the start of their swim at Ambleside

The Windermere Lake at Ambleside is popular amongst the long distance swimmers and I saw these four swimmers who started their marathon swimming of 21 miles! Now most people cannot even run that distance leave aside swimming. When I enquired I was told that they would go from this end of Ambleside all the way to Windermere and back and would reach only in the early hours of morning. They were starting their race late in the evening. These events are organized by The British Long Distance Swimming Association (BLDSA).

Rowing in the beautiful Windermere lake at Ambleside 

I also saw several persons rowing on the lake. The lake is surrounded by hills increasing the visual effect of the place. The Windermere lake is 17 km long and is probably the largest in the United Kingdom.

Streets of Ambleside are lined with flower beds

The town itself is not very big but the roads are lined with flower beds increasing the beauty of the place. Most of the town buildings are still Victorian.

A riot of colours, Ambleside

The trees during the season were of various shades of green, red, yellow, purple and brown. On the lake besides the rowing and swimming activity I saw several sailing boats as well though most of them were without the sails probably because it was already late in the evening.

I hope I am able to again visit The LAKES soon and do some hiking in this land of poets.

Also Read-

A Walk in the LAKES - The Keswick Walk
A Walk in the LAKES - The Windermere Walk
A Walk in the LAKES – The Grasmere Walk