Famous for its restless and often stressful urban living, sparing the time to take a walk in the park can be a luxury for many Hong Kongers. In fact, many may not even notice the existence of parks and gardens in the business district of Hong Kong. Behind the towering skyscrapers of Central (中環), a rather hidden 5.6 hectares area on the slope of Victoria Peak stands the oldest public park in Hong Kong. Long before the city was promoted as a shopping paradise, or a foodie haven of Michelin star restaurants, or a recreational hub of amusement parks and vibrant nightlife, or an exotic destination of subtropical beaches and seaside hiking trails, Hong Kong Botanical Gardens (香港植物公園) was one of the primary tourist attractions in the Victoria City. Founded in 1864 and completely opened to the public in 1871, the gardens was established in times when botanical gardens were founded by colonial powers in different locations around the world. The Hong Kong Botanical Gardens was used by the British as a regional hub to study plant species collected from the Far East before transferring back to the Kew Gardens in England, or before planting at other areas in Hong Kong.
Bounded by Garden Road (花園道), Robinson Road (羅便臣道), Glenealy (己連拿利) and Upper Albert Road (上亞厘畢道) in the Mid-Levels (半山), Hong Kong Botanical Gardens is often referred to as Bing Tau Fa Yuen (兵頭花園) by the locals. Literally means “Head of Soldiers” Garden, “Bing Tau Fa Yuen” references to the former Governor’s House built at the Garden’s location. In 1975, the official name of the Gardens was changed to Hong Kong Zoological & Botanical Gardens (香港動植物公園), as a result to the growing collection of display animals. Despite initial researches of botanical science (which led to the founding of Hong Kong Herbarium in 1878) at the Gardens, most people would remember the Gardens as a place to check out animals and floral displays. Though the history of how the Gardens had played a role in botanic research for tree planting on the Hong Kong Island shall always be remembered. After all, transforming Hong Kong Island from a barren and rocky island with no forests, no trees and only grass in the 19th century (resulted from centuries of reckless deforestation) into the relatively lush green metropolis that we see today was no small feat.
Situated right across from my primary school, Bing Tau Fa Yuen is an essential part of my childhood memories. Going to Bing Tau Fa Yuen (兵頭花園) to check out the howler monkeys, orangutans, peacocks and even jaguars was a small after-school treat for me as a child. Every spring, Azalea (杜鵑花) would flourish across the park, attracting a large crowd to take selfies. Many years have gone by and the neighborhood has significantly transformed since my childhood’s time. Though the annual blossom at Bing Tau Fa Yuen is one of the few things that could remain unchanged throughout the years.
We started off the afternoon with climbing the Um Fruth Rock Arch. The arch is about 20m high. At first glance, the steep surface of the rock arch seemed impossible to climb. With his bare feet, our guide showed us the way to ascend the slope. The key was: climb in a slight diagonal, move fast, never stop and never look back. We did what he said and reached the top in a single breathe. Of course, climbing back down was a bigger challenge.
Before retiring to our evening camp, we did a 1.5km walk through a canyon. Everything appeared red and orange under the afternoon sun. The walk allowed us to admire the two most remarkable features of Wadi Rum: the red sand dunes and the rugged rock mounts (or desert mountains as the locals called them).
Near our camp, we climbed another rock mount where we watched the sunset. From the mount, Wadi Rum appeared vast, dry and windy. Despite tired, I totally fell in love with the horizontality of the desert. As the sun receded below the horizon, so as the vivid colours of the landscape. The wind felt a little chilly as the desert colours faded with the evening twilight. We had a delightful night chatting and laughing with the Bedouin hosts, and had a delicious dinner of lamb and chicken rice.
Day 9 (2 of 4).
Also called the Bridge in the Sky, the Nine Arches Bridge in Demodara near Ella is the most well known colonial railway viaduct in Sri Lanka. The 300 ft long viaduct was built in 1921 by a Ceylonese builder with consultation from British engineers. Rumours said that steel was not available during construction because of the broke out of World War One. As a result, the construction was completed using only solid stone and cement. Today, the Nine Arches Bridge has become a popular tourist attraction thanks to its dramatic setting and its proximity to Ella.
We followed a sign and reached a quiet path. A cafe owner came for help and pointed us to a narrow descending path that led to the famous railway bridge.
Before finding our way down to the bridge, we stopped at a lookout for photographs. The rumbling sound from afar and the gathering of tourists near the bridge signified that a train was approaching.
A few times each day, tourists would gather by the bridge to welcome the approaching train.
At one end of the bridge, we found ourselves taking photos from a tea farm among many other tourists.
Obviously the bridge spans over the valley with nine arches.
On top of the Nine Arches Bridge, tourists take pictures from the tracks.
From the other end of the bridge, we walked uphill to reach another lookout and get a nice look of the bend of the bridge.
Everyone to and from Ella would need to walk through a railway tunnel.
Many tourists see walking through the tunnel as a unique experience and a photo opportunity.
Despite there were only a handful of trains passing through each day, we still had a slightly uncomfortable feeling while walking through the tunnel, as if a train could appear suddenly from the other end.
Beyond the tunnel, we continued to walk on the tracks for about half an hour.
Passing by a number of railway signage as we approach Ella.
At last, Ella station was in sight.
After all the track walking, we finally saw the sign that everyone, both locals and tourists, ignored, “Walk on the Railway Line is Prohibed.”
After a quick lunch at Pal Haveli Hotel, we hopped on the prearranged car for Jaisalmer, the golden city of Rajasthan. Before reaching Jaisalmer, we made a brief stop at Osian, a desert oasis famous for its ancient temples and camel safaris. At 15:00, our driver dropped us off at a dusty street intersection in Osian. Our driver spoke no English and we didn’t have a proper map of Osian. Google Map wasn’t helpful either for locating where we were. We followed a street lined with religious and souvenir shops and hoped that it would lead us to the town centre. We soon arrived at a temple. Judging from its archways and entrance stairway, we thought it should be Sachiya Mata, the temple that we intended to visit.
Osian was sleepy and we could hardly see a tourist. Even local pilgrims were fewer than expected. Originally a popular religious and trading hub in the Thar Desert, Osian has seen better days before Muhammad of Ghor and his Turkish and Muslim armies sacked the town in 1195 CE. Today it is no more than a quiet small town 40km north of Jodhpur with a handful of ruined temples. In its heyday between the 8th and 12th century, dozens of Brahmanical and Jain temples flourished in Osian, making the town a hub for camel caravans and Hindu and Jain pilgrims.
Built by Parmar king Upaldev for his kulderi (family deity), the Hindu mother goddess Sachiya, the Sachiya Mata Temple dated back to the 8th century.
Construction was made in different phases. The last changes were made in the 12th century.
Today, visitors can tour around the complex, experience the sacred ambience of occasional religious ceremonies and admire the thousand year old statues and paintings.
After walking up the archways, we passed through the main prayer hall and the Garbhagriha (inner sanctum that houses the deity) and reached the roof terrace.
The temple’s roof terrace was dominated by the shikhara or “mountain peak”.
Shikhara or “mountain peak” is a common feature in a Hindu or Jain temple.
The shikhara is ornately decorated with stone carvings.
Some ornaments can be dated back to over a thousand years.
Kautuka or red and yellow ritual threads are left on the fence right by a shikhara tower.
Throughout the complex there are multiple levels of terraces, shikhara towers, and pavilions.
Inside the mandapa (grand hall), a wide range of colourful tiles have been used as decorations.
We stopped for a while to admire the exquisite lotus ceiling carved with beautiful figures over the mandapa (grand hall).
Small shrines could be found throughout the temple complex of Sachiya Mata.
Both Hindu and Jain pilgrims would come to worship at Sachiya Mata.
With building elements and ornaments ranging from over a thousand years ago to the present, we were literally surrounded by layers of history as we wandered around the complex.
Ater staying for 40 minutes at the temple, it was time for us to move on.
We walked down the beautiful archways one last time. Soon we returned to where we were dropped off and were glad to see our driver getting the car ready for the remaining leg of our journey to Jaisalmer.
Posts on 2018 Rajasthan:-
Day 1: Jodhpur
DAY 1.1: IN TRANSIT TO RAJASTHAN
DAY 1.2: PAL HAVELI & THE OMELETTE MAN, Jodhpur
DAY 1.3: SPLENDOR OF THE SUN FORT, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.4: SUNSET OVER THE BLUE CITY, Mehrangarh, Jodhpur
DAY 1.5: SADAR MARKET AND GHANTA GHAR CLOCKTOWER, Jodhpur
Day 2: Jodhpur, Osian, Jaisalmer
DAY 2.1: MARBLE CENOTAPH JASWANT THADA, Jodhpur
DAY 2.2: MEDIEVAL STEPWELLS, Mahila Bagh Ka Jhalra, Gulab Sagar, & Toorji Ka Jhalra, Jodhpur
DAY 2.3: PILGRIM OASIS IN THAR DESERT, Sachiya Mata Temple, Osian
DAY 2.4: SUNRISE AT THE FIRST GATE OF GOLDEN FORT, Jaisalmer
Day 4: Jaisalmer
DAY 4.1: RESERVOIR OF THE GOLDEN CITY, Gadsisar Lake, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.2: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.3: ARCHITECTURAL JEWEL OF RAJASTHAN, Patwon Ki Haveli Part 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.4: DESERT HERITAGE, Hotel Nachana Haveli and Thar Heritage Museum, Jaisalmer
DAY 4.5: LAST STROLL IN THE GOLDEN CITY, Jaisalmer
Day 8: Bhangarh, Abhaneri & Agra
DAY 8.1: ON THR ROAD TO AGRA
DAY 8.2: HAUNTED RUINS, Bhangarh, Rajasthan
DAY 8.3: CHAND BAORI, Abhaneri, Rajasthan
DAY 8.4: THE ABANDONED CAPITAL OF MUGHAL EMPIRE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 8.5: FRIDAY MOSQUE, Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
Day 9: Agra
DAY 9.1: CROWN OF THE PALACES, Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.2: AGRA FORT, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.3: RAWATPARA SPICE MARKET, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
DAY 9.4: SUNSET AT MEHTAB BAGH, Agra, Uttar Pradesh
At roughly 3,800m above sea level, Lake Titicaca is widely considered the world’s highest navigable lake by commercial sailing. Deep blue water, bitterly cold winds, golden marsh reeds, remote island communities and legendary floating villages: the story of Titicaca contributes a unique component to every visitor’s experience traveling in Peru or Bolivia. For us, our Titicaca experience was centered at our visit and home stay on the peaceful Taquile Island. Before reaching Taquile, we made a brief stopover at one of the floating Uros Islands.
In the morning, we headed out to the main pier at Plaza del Faro. A row of boat ticket cabins stood at the entrance of the pier. We approached the ticket booth which sold tickets for local boat to Taquile. We then boarded on a small boat among a boat cluster. Our plan was to sail to Taquile, stay the night there at a local home, and return to Puno the next day. We thought of getting some fruits as gifts for our potential host at Taquile, but we missed the chance to do so the night before. While waiting for the boat to depart, our friend returned to the pier and to our surprise came back with a bag of oranges.
Sailing northeast from Puno through a labyrinth of water networks in an enormous marsh filled with totora reeds, our boat soon reached an area where the floating islands concentrated. The boat ticket includes a brief tour to one of the floating islands which are the home of the Uros tribe. Our boat captain navigated slowly among the floating islands and docked by the island that is available to take in visitors. There were about a dozen of passengers on our boat, including both tourists and the locals.
The Uros villagers use bundle of a native reed to make boats for transportation and to build floating island on which they reside. Layers of dense roots interweave to form a one-to-two-meter thick base for the island. Villagers have to constantly add layers of reeds on top of the island as the reeds at the bottom rot away. To us, the floating island is soft and stable to walk on. We were told not to run around as there might be hidden weak spots. We enjoyed the time spent on the island, wandering in front of houses and checking out souvenirs from vendors. Although it was a short visit, we appreciated the little introduction given by the villagers about the floating islands.
We boarded a community boat that took us to Taquile Island. Our boat was smaller and slower but quieter than the other tourist boats. With our limited Spanish and the help of other travelers, we expressed our interest on spending the night at Taquile to the captain who then made arrangement for us.
The boat moved slowly away from Puno. All boats entering or exiting Puno in Lake Titicaca has to pass through a narrow watercourse through the dense reeds.
When the engine of the boat was turned down, we were embraced by an indescribable tranquility. The weather was nice and the lake was calm.
We were on a community boat with the locals. They seemed accustomed to the presence of tourists. We tried to keep our voice down when we talked. Since we couldn’t speak much Spanish, we could only show our friendliness by sharing our snacks with them.
The boat ride to Taquile included a brief stop on one of the floating islands. The captain steered the boat slowing into the area where the Uros community is concentrated.
Reed made canoes were parked along one of the Uros Islands.
After minutes of searching and asking, the captain finally found a village community which was available to give us a little introduction about the unique floating islands.
We landed on the floating island with great excitement. The sun was warm and the ground was soft to walk on.
There were about 10 small houses on the island. The villagers showed us around the island. We were told not to walk too far away from the main open plaza as we might accidentally stepped onto the weak spots.
Every island has a welcome arch made out of reeds.
A boat with a big roof was approaching us. Its big low roof was designed to keep the interior from getting wet.
Looking at the small boat from the side, we saw it carried all different kinds of snacks, food and drink. The boat moved from one island to another.
A villager on the island was preparing the presentation materials to give an introduction about the floating islands to the visitors.
These are the handmade crafts that villagers used to tell visitors story about the floating islands. We played with the little reed boat with our hands. It felt very light but strong. We decided to get one of these little reed boat as a souvenir.
Each floating island has its unique design. The welcome arch is visible from afar.