CULTURAL CENTRE AT FORMER EXPLOSIVES MAGAZINE, Asia Society (亞洲協會), Admiralty (金鐘), Hong Kong
In late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the former Victoria Barracks at Admiralty have been torn down to make way for commercial developments, government buildings, and transportation infrastructure. Only a handful of the 19-century structures have been preserved and renovated with modern usage in today’s Hong Kong Park. East of the park, the abandoned Explosives Magazine Compound awaited its fate as rain forest gradually takes over the site. Two decades have passed. In 2002, the site was granted to Asia Society to establish their new home in Hong Kong. Founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller III in New York, Asia Society is an organization that promotes cultural exchange between Asia and the United States. In 1990, Asia Society arrived in Hong Kong to establish its Hong Kong Centre. After granted the site of the former Explosives Magazine Compound, Architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien were chosen to oversee the design and transformation of the site, erecting new structures and converting four former weapon production and storage buildings into one of the most fascinating cultural venues in the city.
As the New York based architects described, the 1.3 hectares site was overgrown with banyan trees and lush green vegetation despite its central location adjacent to the British consulate and Pacific Place Shopping Centre. In 2012, after a decade of construction work, Asia Society’s 65,000 s.f. new home was opened to the public. Seen as one of Hong Kong’s most successful adaptive reuse and heritage conservation project in recent years, Asia Society regularly host talks and exhibitions. The complex is separated by a nullah into two parts. Where the former explosive magazine buildings are located, the upper site houses a gallery, offices, and theatre. The lower site is occupied by a visitor centre, multi-function hall, gift shop, restaurant, and offices. Connecting the upper and lower sites, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien designed a double decker bridge that zigzags over the sloped rain forest. The upper deck is a pleasant open walkway offering great views of the adjacent commercial district. Combined with the roof of the visitor centre, the open walkway also serves as a sculpture garden.
ROCK ARCH & SAND STONE MOUNTAINS, Wadi Rum, Jordan
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.
TALE OF ROCKS, Petra, Jordan
The signature quartz sandstone of Petra provides the basis for every single monuments and structures in the ancient city. The entire city was built by carving into the various sandstones of the region, mainly from the Ordovician (the pale grey and white Disi Sandstone) and Cambrian era (the pale white to red Umm Ishrine Sandstone). These types of sandstone are common throughout Jordan, but mostly remain underground. Due to geological activities, these colourful sandstone are being exposed at Petra, Wadi Rum and Dana. The rhythmic deposition of sand and minerals 540 million years ago have brought us the stunning patterns of the Petra rocks. Likely the carving and excavating properties of Petra’s stone was one of the reasons why the nomadic Nabataeans in the Arabian Desert decided to stay and build their capital city at this location. The other main reason, perhaps the most crucial one, was the site’s potential to secure water from the surrounding mountains, where winter flash floods would occur after heavy rain. Today, apart from the majestic Treasury, Monastery and Royal Tombs, most visitors would hardly notice the water channels, underground cisterns, particle settling pools, and mountain reservoirs that once served as the essential infrastructure for the survival of ancient Petra.
Apart from its suitability for carving, the rocks of Petra are just simply pleasing to the eye.
Wind and water have played their parts in shaping the rocks in Petra.
But it was the sand deposits and distribution of minerals such as iron and manganese oxides that gave the unique colours to the Petra rocks.
The interesting rock patterns appear in tombs and on building facades.
Many rock patterns appear like abstract paintings.
or perhaps Parma ham?
The colours look brilliant under the right lighting.
Undulating rock formation.
The colour ranges from red to orange to brown.
Some patterns get really complicated.
Another complex pattern.
Some repetitive rock patterns look like a Futurist painting.
I spent quite a bit of film (still negative film and positive slides back in 2006) photographing the stone of Petra.
Not all stone is red and orange.
Zooming into the rocks.
Zoom in view.
Zoom in view.
UNDERGROUND CITY, IHLARA VALLEY & YAPRAKHISAR VILLAGE, Cappadocia, Turkey
At 09:30 we joined a local bus tour organized by a company called Greenline. The first stop was the famous underground cities of Derinkuyu. With 11 levels and roughly 85m at its deepest, Derinkuyu is the deepest underground city in the region. The guide explained that since the Hatti and Hittite period, inhabitants of Cappadocia had recognized the unique properties of the region’s volcanic rock and began to dig and carve out rock-cut structures. Underground cities were developed over many generations and expanded to their greatest extent during the Byzantine era. Inhabitants sometimes were forced to stay underground for months during wartime. Ventilation shafts, food storage, kitchens, churches and other essential amenities were found in the sophisticated sub-terrain network.
After Derinkuyu, the tour moved on to an 1.5 hour hike in Ihlara Valley, a lush green river gorge with some rock-cut churches and pigeon holes carved out on the cliff at both sides. At the end of the hike, we visited a cave church, and then headed our way to a local restaurant for lunch. After lunch, we arrived at the village of Yaprakhisar, which is often mistakenly claimed as the filming site of one of the Star Wars movies. Whether it was part of a Hollywood film set or not really makes no difference. The scenery of Yaprakhisar was phenomenal: local women and children in colourful clothing, shepherds and their herds of sheep, historical stone houses, cave dwellings and bizarre looking rock formations. Not sure about the others, but for me it did somehow resonate with my imagination of the landscape of a strange planet in a galaxy far far away.
A herd of sheep and their shepherds crossed our path as we entered Ihlara Valley.
We followed the herd for a little while before turning into the valley.
We entered Ihlara Valley from the high point and gradually walked down.
Other than shepherds, we hardly saw any visitors in the valley.
For most of the short hike we were walking along the river.
We stopped by a sleepy village for lunch.
Perhaps due to tourism in the area, even a small village had some decent carpet vendors.
The village of Yaprakhisar offers us a peek into the peaceful rural life with a dramatic backdrop.
Pigeon holes can be found on cliffs in Yaprakhisar.
The bizarre landscape in the surrounding is what makes Yaprakhisar famous.
With or without the unique rock formations, Yaprakhisar is a picturesque little hillside village.
Dramatic rock formations tower up the sky along the perimeter of the village.
For centuries, caves and pigeon holes were carved out from the cliffs of Yaprakhisar.
We had a brief moment walking around the peaceful village.
A brief encounter with the locals on the slope was definitely the highlight experience.
Despite we didn’t speak the language, we could feel the friendliness and peacefulness of the villagers.
Unlike Goreme or other touristy villages in Cappadoica, Yaprakhisar offered us a glimpse of the rural life of the locals.
LOVE VALLEY, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey
A short hike to the east from Goreme brought us to the Love Valley, a little valley with bizarre fairy chimneys – rock pillars capped with dark basalt. Compared to the ones in Goreme, the fairy chimneys in the valley are much slenderer. We pretty much had the valley all by ourselves, except a few occasional hikers. There wasn’t much signage so we had to find our way on our own. Back then, there weren’t any smartphone with us too. We ended up reaching the White Valley and the village of Uchisar towards the end of our walk.
It was impressive to see all these fairy chimneys in the Love Valley.
The trail first took us to a higher ground to appreciate the rock pillars.
It isn’t hard to figure out why the place is called Love Valley.
Despite the somehow arid climate in the area, the valley was quite green at certain places.
It was hard to imagine from the first glance that the pillars were carved out from eroding the surrounding ground, instead of extruding out from earth.
As we walked to other areas, rock formations changed gradually.
There are actually numerous valleys around Goreme that we could visit: Love Valley, Rose Valley, White Valley, Red Valley, Pigeon Valley, etc.
Thick clouds gathered in the valley as we approached the village of Uchisar.
Equally stunning, the rock formations of the White Valley resemble a sea of white waves.
NATURE’S SCULPTURE PARK, Goreme, Cappadocia, Turkey
Our bus arrived in Goreme at around 08:00. Surprisingly the bus went all the way to the village centre, instead of the otogar at Nevsehir. Arriving at Cappadocia in early morning felt like waking up in another world: minimal traffic, occasional herds of sheep, stone houses and cave dwellings. But it was the bizarre rock formations, some of which towering straight up the sky known as fairy chimneys that captured our imagination. The unique rock formations of Cappadocia began 2.6 million years ago when eruption of the ancient volcano Mount Erciyes covered the area (about 20,000 square kilometres) with lava and ash. The ash later solidified into soft rocks exposed to erosion from wind and water. As most of the soft rocks were eroded away, the remaining hard rocks appeared like stone chimneys towering towards the sky.
We checked in at Hotel Elif Star to begin our temporary stay in a cave. The owner Jacky and her cat welcomed us. Jacky pulled out a map and recommended to us a number of hiking trails around the area, and a few lookouts for sunset watching.
In the midst of fairy chimney rock formations, unique valleys and the open air museum, Goreme is the main tourist hub in Cappadocia.
Inhabited since the Hittite era (1800-1200 BC), cave dwellings had been constructed in the era for thousands of years.
Throughout history, cave dwellings and underground structures have been carved out from the volcanic tuff. These rock-cut houses of Cappadocia provided homes and hideouts for people escaping from wars and persecutions from close and afar.
This world famous UNESCO world heritage town receives significant amount of tourists, reaching a record high of 3.8 million in 2019. When we visited in 2006, Goreme still maintained a relatively peaceful ambience.
Souvenir shops lined up the main street of Goreme.
Remnants from the past were still visible on the fairy chimneys in the side streets of Goreme.
Other than cave dwellings, other buildings in Goreme are also constructed with the local stones.
We stayed at Elif Star, one of the many cave hotels in Goreme.
This people-friendly cat approached us during our breakfast time at Elif Star.
Late afternoon offers the best moment to photograph the unique rock formations.
There are several popular spots to watch the sunset in and around Goreme.
Everyday, if weather is fine, tourists should be able to appreciate the scenery of fairy chimneys blanketed in the orange glow.
Around Goreme, there are a number of hiking trails to explore the interesting rock formations.
Even without exploring the surrounding valleys, visitors at Goreme can still get close to the fairy chimneys.
Cappadocia offered one of the best sunset scenery we have ever experienced.
We watched the sunset everyday while we were in Cappadocia.
At night, Goreme returns to its former tranquility after tourists make their way back to their hotels.
LITTLE ADAM’S PEAK, Ella, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.13
Day 9 (1 of 4).
On our final day in Ella, we get up early as usual. We had a car arranged to leave town at 10:30am. Before leaving Ella, we decided to do a bit more hiking. Our plan was to head east to the summit of Little Adam’s Peak, then descend to the north to visit the iconic Nine Arches Bridge, and walk back to Ella via the railway track. This is a popular tourist route for anyone who has 2-3 hours to spare in Ella.
With a shape resembling the much higher sacred Adam’s Peak (2243m) near Nuwara Eliya, Little Adam’s Peak (1141m) offers a much easier hike for everyone. Climbing Little Adam’s Peak took us no more than an hour from the trailhead. The scenery was pleasant at the top and there were only a family up at the peak when we reached the top. Despite short, the hike was a great activity to start the day.
To ensure we had plenty of time to walk around Ella in our last morning, we got up at dawn.
After we put on our hiking boots and packed our water bottle, we stopped by our hotel terrace to enjoy the sunrise scenery of the Ella Rock.
From the main intersection of Ella, we headed east on Ella Passara Road towards The One Ella guesthouse, where the trailhead of the short walk up to Little Adam’s Peak is located.
On our way to the trailhead, we bumped into three familiar faces: an European couple and their baby boy, the friendly family that we kept on bumping into at different towns and attractions since our first encounter at the Quadrangle of Polonnaruwa.
The short hike began from a small tea plantation.
As soon as we arrived at an open area, Ella Rock immediately dominated the view.
We passed by a tea farm in the first part of the hike.
The last bit of the hike is a set of steps that go all the way to the top.
At the top of Little Adam’s Peak, the panoramic view of the surrounding mountains was breathtaking.
The iconic Ella Rock was right across the valley in front of us.
The highend villas of the 98 Acres Resort seem to blend in perfect harmony with the surrounding natural landscape.
A small Buddha statue marks the summit of the Little Adam’s Peak.
Just below the peak of Little Adam’s Peak, Flying Ravana Mega Zipline established a range of recreational facilities including zipline and archery.
Instead of returning to the trailhead, we continued our walk through a tea farm towards the resort ground of 98 Acres.
The huts of 98 Acres across the valley from Little Adam’s Peak are probably one of the most luxurious accommodation in and around Ella.
Beyond the compound of 98 Acres, we found our way towards the most well known attraction of Ella, the Nine Arches Bridge.