Standing on the Trikuta Hill, the Golden Fort of Jaisalmer has withstood the sandstorms and wind of the Thar Desert for 800 years. Bathed in a honey glow under the setting desert sun, visitors often describe the Golden City of Jaisalmer as the picture-perfect castle of A Thousand and One Night. The spectacular Jaisalmer was once a significant trading city frequented by camel caravans on the ancient Silk Road. Today it is an UNESCO World Heritage site and the westernmost destination for visitors coming to Rajasthan. Beyond the desert to the west is the Indian border with Pakistan. Many come to Jaisalmer by the 18-hour train service from Delhi to cover the 780km distance. We chose to take a flight from Delhi to Jodhpur, and then a hired car from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer. After a brief stop at Osian, by the time we reached our hotel at Jaisalmer it was already after dark.
We checked in at First Gate Home-Fusion, a historical haveli converted hotel, at around 19:30.
Our pleasant room was on the upper floor with a pleasant balcony.
After checking in, we went up to the rooftop restaurant at our hotel.
Situated near the first gate of the fort, the rooftop restaurant of our hotel offers gorgeous views of the iconic fort.
Specialized in Indian and Italian cuisine, we ordered a combination of both for our first dinner at Jaisalmer.
From the balcony of our hotel room, we patiently waited for the sunrise at the east horizon.
Below our balcony was a quiet side street of small guest houses.
On the street, dogs, cows and local residents passed by our balcony every so often.
From the balcony we enjoyed the spectacular sunrise for two days in a row.
For two days in a row we witnessed the same little girl fed the street dogs while on her way to school.
Soon after sunrise, locals in colourful dresses came out to clean the street.
At the other side of the balcony, we also enjoyed a splendid view of the fort.
Under the rising sun, the yellow sandstone of the fort was illuminated in a golden glow.
Sunlight penetrated into our room through a tiny window.
Outside our room, sunlight also spilled into the hallway through high windows.
After breakfast, it was time for us to step out and explore the magnificent Jaisalmer.
The most remarkable and photogenic experience of our trip to Myanmar was undoubtedly watching the sunrise in Old Bagan. The romantic spectacle of hot air balloons floating over the plains of ancient pagodas has drawn every Bagan visitors to get up before dawn. We had high hopes for the experience long before we came to Bagan. Our driver came at 6:45 to pick us up at Oasis Hotel. He drove us to a pagoda in Old Bagan, and told us to walk up a staircase to the pagoda terrace. We turned on our head lamps and climbed up the narrow stair to reach the upper terrace. We were surprised to find that two out of four sides of the terrace were already packed with visitors. Without guessing which way to look, we stationed ourselves at a corner in the crowd and patiently waited for the sky to light up.
We stationed ourselves at a corner in the crowds and set up our tripod. Stars were still visible in the sky, and so as the flooded lights at some pagodas.
At a distance, what appeared to be Ananda Pahto looked gorgeous with the golden flood lights and the purple horizon beyond.
Ten minutes later, the foggy plain looked mysterious.
In every directions, silhouette of ancient pagodas and distant mountains formed an one-of-a-kind mystic landscape unique to Bagan.
A few minutes later, a cluster of hot air balloons appeared from the horizon.
At the same time, we had the first peek of the Christmas sunrise.
The hot air balloons went up just in time to catch the first glimpse of sunrise over Old Bagan.
The sunrise over Old Bagan was absolutely a stunning sight.
Watching sunrise of Old Bagan from the basket of a hot air balloon should be a remarkable experience. That would require us to book well in advance and cost each of us about US$500.
From the pagoda terrace, the hot air balloons provided the extra magic to the already otherworldly scenery.
Some balloons got pretty close to the spires of pagodas.
A hot air balloon seemed reaching the rising sun.
For several minutes, the entire Old Bagan appeared in layers of silhouettes.
The balloons gradually floated across the horizon while the sun rose up quickly.
On the other side, the scenery was dominated by ancient pagodas under the orange glow of the rising sun.
At 8:45am, about an hour and fifteen minutes since we first arrived at the pagoda terrace, dramatic low angle sunlight covered much of Bagan with a mystical ambience.
A group of locals walked towards a nearby pagoda under the early morning sun.
Silhouette of the distant Ananda Pahto was astonishingly beautiful.
At 9am, smoke from wood burning began to appear from the fields around us.
By 9:10am, most visitors had already left the terrace.
Down at the pagoda entrance, vendors were setting up their souvenir stalls for the day.
We quickly descended the pagoda and returned to the driver. We couldn’t wait to begin another day of Bagan’s temple hopping with our guide Win Thu.
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Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:
Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT
Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U
Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR
At 4718m, staying the night at Namtso was cold, but metal cabin at Sacred Sheep Guesthouse (當雄神羊賓館) allowed us some decent rest. We woke up at 6:30am, quickly get ourselves ready and headed up the hill at the tip of Tashi Dor Peninsula (扎西半島). Like many visitors to Namtso, we get up early just for the sunrise over the placid water. At 7:15, we found ourselves standing among several dozens of tourists standing at the north side of Tashi Dor Peninsula, awaiting for the first beam of sunlight from the east.
Facing northeast, we stood on the slope overlooking the placid water of Namtso Lake. At 7:20am, the horizon began to brighten up.
At 7:35am, a tint of orange signifying the arrival of the sunrise.
It felt like all visitors at Namtso were standing on the northern slope of Tashi Dor Peninsula to watch the sunrise.
Over at the southern side of Tashi Dor Peninsula, sunlight cast a orange glow on the highest peaks of Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains (གཉན་ཆེན་ཐང་ལྷ 念青唐古拉山).
Sunlight slowly swallowed the darkness on the hills of Tashi Dor Peninsula (扎西半島).
Looking north to where we saw the Milky Way the night before, the focus of the morning scenery was shifted to the placid water of Namtso Lake and Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains.
The campsites and tourist facilities at the waterfront were blanketed in the shadow of the Tashi Dor Peninsula.
Finally the sun rose above the Tashi Dor Peninsula.
While most tourists watched the rising sun, I preferred the scenery of the Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains and the lakefront lagoons.
At 8:50am, the sun was already high up. Namtso Lake returned to its famous deep blue colour under the pristine mountain air.
At 9am, we walked down the hill and returned to Sacred Sheep Guesthouse.
We took one last look at the Namtso Lake on our way down.
We passed by the trailhead one last time before entering the area of Sacred Sheep Guesthouse.
For a brief moment, I walked off to the lakefront near Tashi Dor Temple (扎西島寺).
Looking back up the cliff I could see the lookout where we photographed the Milky Way the night before.
On the otherwise bare landscape near the shore, simple structures and metal cabins were erected catered for tourism. It is actually a good idea to restrict all tourist activities of Namtso Lake only at Tashi Dor Peninsula and minimize tourist access to the rest of the lake for natural conservation purpose.
Before leaving Namtso Lake for Lhasa, I quietly bid farewell to the beautiful lake, and soon the Tibetan Plateau all together. In less than 24 hours we would be on the plane on our way back to Hong Kong via Chengdu.
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More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet
Getting up at 4am wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but the temptation of watching the sunrise over the sea of clouds of Huangshan was too difficult to resist. Given the wet weather the day before, we weren’t too optimistic about seeing the perfect sunrise. We put on our headlamps and raincoats, carried our cameras and hiking poles, and headed out into the dark. The air was filled with light drizzling and mist. We decided to go ahead despite the unpromising weather. In the dark, we hiked for about half an hour before reaching Shilin Hotel (獅林大酒店), from where a small path would lead up to Lion Peak (獅子峰), our intended spot to watch sunrise. Followed by another small group of tourists, we found our way up the small path, passing by Refreshing Terrace (清涼台), a popular sunrise hotspot that was already filled with people. We walked further up hoping to reach Lion Peak, but soon found out that the path to Lion Peak was fenced off. We had no choice but switched to another lookout nearby called the “Monkey Watching the Sea” (猴子觀海).
There were half a dozen or so people at the lookout when we arrived. We shared a rock with a woman from Shandong. We chatted a bit as more people cramped onto the lookout. The cloud was thick and the fog never went away. From 5:45am to 6:15am there were a few moments when the fog subsided a little, exposing the silhouette of the rocky peaks of Huangshan’s Beihai (北海) area. Adjacent to the lookout we could see a small rock standing on a flat mountaintop that resembled a monkey in sitting position. This scene is known as “Monkey Watching the Sea” (猴子觀海). No rising sun from the horizon nor vivid skies, our Huangshan sunrise experience was limited to a few moments of mountains emerging from heavy fog. We left the lookout and returned to our hotel for breakfast.
After checking out, we began our hike over to the south side of the summit area, where a number of the popular attractions gathered. In the fog, we slowly found our way to Yuping or Jade Screen (玉屏) Cable Car Station for our ultimate descend. We first hiked up to Bright Summit Peak (光明頂). At 1,840m, Bright Summit Peak is one of the highest points in Huangshan, and it also serves as a circulation hub where a few paths converge. Everything was completely covered in fog when we reached Bright Summit Peak. We didn’t stay long as the top was really noisy and crowded. We followed the sign pointing to Jade Screen Scenic Area. First we reached Turtle Peak (鳌鱼峰). We stopped atop the “turtle shell” for a few minutes, though all we could see around us was white fog. We continued our journey and next we reached “Ladder on the Clouds” (百步雲梯), a steep rock stair that led us up to another high point. This side of the summit area was way more crowded with local tourists than the West Sea Canyon we visited the day before. Again because of the fog, we didn’t stop for long. Our next stop was Lotus Stamen Peak (蓮蕊峰), from where a steep stair could be seen leading to the famous Lotus Peak (蓮花峰). It was unfortunately closed as well. Continuing our journey, we finally reached Yuping Scenic Area where the granite mountains were renounced for their resemblance a Chinese screen made of granite stones.
Before we went for Yuping cable car we decided to check out the famous “Welcome Pine” (迎客松). Renowned as the welcoming feature for all travelers since ancient times, the “Welcome Pine” has long been the star of Huangshan. Unfortunately, due to its fame came its misery. All local visitors love to get close to the tree for a photo. Sometimes, they may get a little too close and actually damaged the tree and its roots. Nowadays, the fragile “Welcome Pine” is fenced off and artificially reinforced. At least it is more fortunate than the nearby Farewell Pine (送客松), which died a while ago.
After “Welcome Pine” and a brief stay at the Yuping area, we felt it was time for our descend, as we were hoping to catch a bus from Tangkou to Hangzhou, where we would stay the last night of our trip. It was awfully foggy and wet during our stay at the summit area of Huangshan, but we had a good taste of its spectacular granite formations, and a few magical moments of poetic scenery.
Although we could not see the perfect sunrise but we found ourselves lucky to have a few glimpses of the granite peaks in the sea of cloud in such bad weather. After watching the sunrise, we enjoyed the quiet morning walk back to our hotel for breakfast.
The Couple Pine (連理松) is a unique attraction especially for couples. Most of the pine trees that we saw were oddly shaped with a few long branches stretching out but the Couple Pine is actually consisted of two tall trees with similar height and branch arrangement.
It was sometime difficult to distinguish which rock formation was natural and which was man-made. Some natural rock formations were too perfect that it had an artificial feel to it. This was indeed the “head” of the Turtle Peak (鳌鱼峰).
This stretch of the trail was the most frustrating because of the crowd and the noise. This trail links a number of famous spots of the Yuping area, and inevitably it is very popular among day trippers and tourist groups. There were moments of sun-break. When the sun was out, it was scorching hot with the humidity.
The stone steps are leading up to the Lotus Peak (蓮花峰), the tallest peak at Huangshan. On the day of our visit, it was closed to visitors for maintenance. Many said that Lotus Peak and Heavenly Capital Peak (天都峰) open to visitors alternatively.
The famous Welcome Pine (迎客松) – in the far background on the left – is a magnet to the local tourists. Because of its popularity, this ancient pine tree has been heavily visited and is starting to show signs of decay. Today, special rule is in place to keep tourist crowd away from the pine tree.
The cable car ride down to the mountain was quite comfortable. It wasn’t the most crowded time of the day and we were delighted to have our own car. The cable car was designed by Austrian Doppelmayr Seilbahnen GmbH, a leading cable car manufacturer. The design gave visitors a panoramic view of the natural scenery.
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Read other posts on 2015 Anhui and Hangzhou
1. History, Scenery, Architecture, 5-day tour of Anhui and Hangzhou, China
2. Laojie (Old Street), Tunxi, China
3. Hongcun, Anhui, China
4. Xidi, Anhui, China
5. West Sea Canyon, Huangshan, Anhui, China
6. From Monkey Watching the Sea to Welcome Pine, Huangshan, Anhui, China
7. Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, China
8. Folk Art Museum, Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, China