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DAY 9 (3/4): RAWATPARA SPICE MARKET, Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2018.12.02

After visiting Agra Fort, we returned to our hotel and waited for the tour guide from Agra Walks.  Recommended by guidebooks, the Heritage Tour of Agra Walks gave us a good opportunity to visit one of Agra’s local market.  For about two and a half hours, we followed our guide Gautam Pratap by car, cycle rickshaw, and on foot into the bustling Rawatpara Spice Market.  Labelled as the “unseen” part of Agra for foreign tourists, the vibrant market scenes left a distinctive impression for us compared to the historical sites, one that was full of colours, fragrant, noises, and life.

IMG_2612On our way to Rawatpara Market, our rickshaw passed by the red sandstone walls of Agra Fort once again.

IMG_2645Near Agra Fort Train Station, our rickshaw entered into the lively streets of Rawatpara.

IMG_2648We found our way towards Jama Masjid, a famous mosque built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s daughter in 1648.

DSC_2906Jama Masjid took 6 years and 5000 workers to finish.

IMG_2679Betel leaves are sold in the Rawatpara Market.

IMG_2682The 185 year old Chimman Lal Puri Wale was one of the highlights of our market walk.  We actually sat down with the guide and sampled some of the tasty puri snacks with three different dipping.

DSC_2911After visiting the local eatery, we continued our walk into the market.

DSC_2917We passed different areas of the market beginning from the textile area.  Many of these busy textile shops store their stocks in the attic above the main area.

IMG_2705As expected, there are many shops selling all kinds of personal adornments.

DSC_2924Local craftsmen could be seen everywhere in the market.

DSC_2928From jewellery making to embroidery, handicraft is still popular in India.

DSC_2940Next we came to a shop selling different ritual items, including garlands made with real money bills for wedding ceremonies.  Despite being a popular local tradition, the Reserve Bank of India actually urged people to stop the custom.

DSC_2947Colourful shops in the market.

IMG_2718Everything were either vivid or golden in colour.

IMG_2723Decoration is such a huge part of the Indian culture.

IMG_2716We stopped by the historic Hindu temple Shri Mankameshwar Mandir.  Unfortunately the temple was closed when we were there.

IMG_2729Then we moved on to the spice section of the market.  Anyone who has experience with Indian cuisine would acknowledge the importance of spices in their culinary traditions.  We did pick up some saffron from one of the shops.

DSC_2959Sweet is, of course, hugely popular for the Indians as well.

IMG_2744After a fruitful walk it was about time for sunset watching.

IMG_2745We followed our guide back to the entrance of the market where a 4×4 was waiting to take us to our next stop.

 

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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 3: Jaisalmer
DAY 3.1: THE GOLDEN LIVING FORT, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.2: JAIN TEMPLES PART 1, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.3: JAIN TEMPLES PART 2, Jaisalmer
DAY 3.4: FORT PALACE, 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 5: Pushkar
DAY 5.1: RANIKHET EXPRESS
DAY 5.2: 52 BATHING GHATS, Pushkar
DAY 5.3: SUNSET OVER SACRED WATER, Pushkar

Day 6: Pushkar & Jaipur
DAY 6.1: SUNRISE OVER PUSHKAR LAKE, Pushkar
DAY 6.2: GRANDEUR OF THE MAHARAJA, City Palace, Jaipur
DAY 6.3: IN SEARCH OF 1860 CARL ZEISS CAMERA, Jaipur

Day 7: Jaipur
DAY 7.1: AMBER FORT, Jaipur
DAY 7.2: JAIGARH FORT, Jaipur
DAY 7.3: MAHARAJA’S ASTRONOMICAL LEGACY, Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
DAY 7.4: PALACE OF WINDS, Hawa Mahal, Jaipur

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

Day 10: Delhi
DAY 10.1: TRAIN 12627, Agra to Delhi
DAY 10.2 : HUMAYUN’S TOMB, Delhi
Day 10.3: NIZAMUDDIN BASTI, Delhi


DAY 5 (1/4): ON THE ROAD IN TIBET (西藏), 2017.09.20

With an area about twice the size of France and including some of the most remote mountainous landscapes in the world, traveling in the Autonomous Region of Tibet takes time and patience, and requires a reliable SUV and an experienced driver. We didn’t have sufficient time to venture out to the furthest areas of Tibet, such as the sacred Mount Kailash in Ngari Prefecture.  We did, however, managed to include a 6-day excursion out of Lhasa as the second part of our Tibetan journey with a classic tourist route taking in Shannan (山南), Gyantse (江孜),  Shigatse (日喀則), Mount Everest Base Camp (珠穆朗瑪峰大本營) and Lake Namtso (納木錯).  We hired the SUV and driver through Pazu, the owner of Spinn Cafe.  As our agent, Pazu took care of our border travel permit (for visiting the Mount Everest area) in Lhasa.  He also told us a little about the habits of Tibetan drivers, meals and accommodation options before departure.

Many Chinese travelers who come to Tibet would arrange a shared SUV through online tourist forum or notice boards in hostels and local travel agents.  In a small group of three, we decided to hire a 4-seat SUV on our own.  Writing to Pazu prior the trip, we requested for an experienced and safe Tibetan driver who would not smoke in the car, and a decent 4×4 SUV vehicle with a proper AL or BL license plate (official license plate of local tourist vehicle).  It turned out that Sangzhu (桑珠), our Tibetan driver for the journey, was a highly experienced driver.  Despite his sometimes unpredictable attitude and services, his driving was safe and efficient.  The intercity roads in Tibet were better than we expected.  The roads to and from Everest Base Camp were dusty and occasionally treacherous.  Everyday we spent hours on the road between towns or destinations.  Scenery along the way was often spectacular with golden barley fields, sleepy pastures, picturesque villages, rugged plateaus, and distant snow-capped mountains.

01The white Toyota SUV offered us a comfortable means of travel and a movable resting place between different sights.

11Our driver Sangzhu (桑珠) with Mount Everest in the background.

02Most of the intercity highways were decently paved.

05Along the way, we saw various new infrastructure under construction, including highways and railways linking Tibet to other parts of China.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor most of the time, we passed by a number of arid landscape such as the huge sanddunes in Shannan.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFields of Tibetan Highland Barley, a local cereal for Tibetan milk tea, alcohol and tsampa, were common sights along the roads.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur SUV was occasionally blocked by flocks of sheep and cattle in the rural areas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the road, we encountered quite a number of motorcyclists and cyclists who were willing to brave the chilly winds of the high altitude.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs one of the high profile tourist attraction in Tibet, our SUV drove along the Yamdrok Lake (羊卓雍錯) after our brief stop for photos.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe scenery on the road to and from the Everest Base Camp was breathtaking.

10Most parts of the Friendship Highway between Tibet and Nepal was decently paved.

12Due to point-to-point speed and driving time limit, our SUV occasionally would take breaks on the road.  Our driver made use of the last break on the journey to wash the SUV.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a few occasions, we stopped by a roadside Sichuan eatery for a quick lunch.

* * *

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


DAY 1:WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh, India

At the hotel driveway, we were welcomed by the host of Hotel Ladakh Greens with white khata scarfs.  After many hours of traveling, we were more than happy to check in our hotel room, our temporary home for the next six consecutive nights.  After a cup of refreshment tea, we decided to take some rest at the hotel.  At about 10:30, the sky cleared up and the sun had long been up.  WiFi Internet wasn’t working at the hotel.  We put on our shoes and couldn’t wait any longer but to go out and explore Leh.  Heading out the hotel’s poplar-lined driveway, our aim was to walk to the town centre to visit its main bazaar.  At the high altitude, the sun was bright and strong.  The temperature was warmer than we thought.  We walked slowly along Fort Road towards town centre.  Under the brutal late morning sun, we felt dry and tired, partly because of the red-eye flight, partly because of a slight reaction from the high altitude, and partly because of the arid and dusty environment of Leh.

For about 15 minutes we passed by many souvenir shops and hotels along Fort Road, until reaching a crowded restaurant near town centre then we realized that we were a little hungry.  We stepped in the popular Gesmo Restaurant and decided to grab a bite before continuing our walk to the bazaar.  The restaurant was fully packed.  Fortunately at the first table by the entrance sat Sophia, a Spanish tourist who invited us to share the table  by the window with her.  A young lawyer from Spain, Sophia came to India for volunteer work at Dharamsala.  She had already volunteering and traveling alone in the country for two months.  While she was almost done with Leh and almost ready to move on to somewhere else, we two newcomers were delighted to gain some travel tips from Sophia.  We had a good time chatting about traveling in India and Spain.  At the same time, we had our first thukpa (Tibetan noodle soup).

After lunch, we came across Dzomsa, an interesting shop near the main bazaar.  Right by the entrance stood two water containers for tourists to refill their water bottles.  Local treats like apricot and seabuck berry juices were particularly popular.  Other than drinks, dried fruits, tea leaves, spices, nuts, apricot kernel oil, and other handcrafts were also on the shelves.  From Dzomsa it was only a short walk to the main bazaar, the lively commercial centre of Leh.  Popular with locals and tourists alike, the main bazaar offers everything from souvenirs to local produce.  Unfortunately much of the market street was under extensive road paving work when we were there.  At some spots, walking in the main bazaar was like wandering in a dusty construction site.  It was just our first day in Leh.  We were in no rush to check out every single shop in the bazaar.  We took our time wandering in the town centre, absorbing the atmosphere of the busy market scene.

DSC_3382Outside of our hotel gate, Lower Tukcha Road was a sleepy lane with local homes and hotel complexes.

DSC_3384Intersection at Lower Tukcha Road and Fort Road which connects to the town centre of Leh. There is no proper street sign so the little grocery store with a distinguishable wooden storefront became the landmark for us for direction.

DSC_3387From our hotel to the town centre, it was about 15-minute walk. Under the bright afternoon sun, the unpaved road turned golden. It was soft and pleasant to walk on until a cloud of swirling dust rose from the dirt road when motorcycles and cars drove by. Under the harsh sun, every pedestrian preferred to walk under the shade.

DSC_3388As approaching the town centre, we had a better view of the earth-tone Leh Palace and the red and white Namgyal Tsemo Gompa prominently standing on the rocky hill.

DSC_3393Before arriving at the main bazaar, we stopped by Gesmo Restaurant for lunch.  According to the guidebooks, Gesmo Restaurant had always been a local favorite. When we arrived there, the restaurant was fully packed with locals and travelers. We met a Spanish traveler, Sophia, who invited us to share a table by the window with her. Sophia had been traveling in this country for over a month. She shared stories of the travel and we shared our upcoming travel plan. We were happy to start off the day with a pleasant chat with like-mind people sharing the same passion and curiosity for traveling the world.

DSC_6398Near the main bazaar, small food and drink shop Dzomsa is a delightful stop for  juices of local fruits, organic snacks and spices, and souvenirs. Right by the entrance of the store were two larger water urns filled with portable water. With less than 8 rupees, visitors could refill their water bottle. It was a great environmental alternative to bottled water. There were also two large buckets collecting plastic bottles and used batteries.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was hot and dry outside. We took a little rest in the store and tried the most popular juice in town, apricot juice (left) and seabuck berry juice (right). For unknown reasons, we always presumed that the orange, thicker one would be the apricot juice and the one with the grape juice colour would be the seabuck berries juice. When we asked the storekeeper, we were told that it was actually the other way around.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe store was simple with wooden shelves along the wall displaying the store staples such as mint tea, home-made jam, dried fruits, crunchy roasted apricot kernels, the precious saffron spice etc. We were happy to have found this store.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe main bazaar were getting a facelift. Paving work and renovation of different scale were underway everywhere, especially the area near the main mosque Jama Masjid. Winter in Leh is extremely cold with heavy snow, so construction work can only be done in the short summer months.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATourists and locals walking by one of the buildings along the main bazaar.

DSC_3398Colourful prayer flags could be seen all over the market area.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALooking at Jama Masjid’s end of the main bazaar with Leh Palace at the background.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALocal shopkeeper under the shade.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALocal farmers took various kinds of seasonal vegetables for sell in the bazaar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA passerby in the main bazaar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe main bazaar was a great place for people watching.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany buildings around the bazaar were under construction or renovation.

DSC_3418The young street performer walked by and caught many people’s attention.

DSC_3436The Tibetan Buddhist prayer wheels around a stupa near the bazaar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATibetan Buddhist prayer wheels around a stupa near the bazaar.

DSC_3444Leh is like an oasis in a desert. Looking beyond cars and houses are bare mountains surrounding the city, reminding us of the harsh climate of this arid region.

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Other posts on 2016 Ladkadh & Delhi:
Introduction – LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Day 1.1 – ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh
Day 1.2 – WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.3 – LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.4 – HOTEL LADAKH GREENS, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.1 – NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.2 – LALA’S CAFE AND TIBETAN CUISINE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.3 – SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 3.1 – MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh (with map)
Day 3.2 – THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.3 – CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.4 – HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.5 – MATHO GOMPA & SHEY PALACE, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.1 – ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.2 – LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.3 – ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.4 – FORT ROAD IN THE EVENING, Leh, Ladakh
Day 5.1 – SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh
Day 5.2 – PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh
Day 5.3 – NOMADIC WOOLLEN MILLS & BON APPETIT, Leh, Ladakh
Day 6.1 – ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh
Day 6.2 – SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 7.1 – LEH AIRPORT TO RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.2 – RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.3 – JAMA MASJID, Delhi
Day 7.4 – FAREWELL OLD DELHI, Delhi
Day 7.5 – UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, New Delhi


DAY 1: ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh, India

After 5 hours and 50 minutes on a Jet Airways plane from Hong Kong, we arrived at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport at 16:30 local time.  The next connecting flight to our final destination Leh was scheduled to depart at 5:40 the next morning.  We decided to spend the night at Delhi Airport, where armed security guards were presence 24 hours. Dealing with money exchange, dropping by an eatery to taste our first chicken biryani, chilling out at Costa Coffee in the arrival hall, lounging on the chairs in the departure lounge among other local travelers, and reading magazines that we brought along, the 13-hour layover in Delhi Airport seemed passing quickly.  At around 2:30 in the morning, we joined the queue for domestic transfer check-in, hoping that the weather up on the mountains would be fine and our flight would depart on time.  The boarding gate of our flight was at the far end of a deserted waiting area.  It was a long walk but we had plenty of time.  As boarding time approached, more travelers arrived at the gate, most were local travelers except a few Western tourists.

This short-haul flight from New Delhi to Leh is considered by many one of the finest flights for mountain scenery.  Although we were seating on the side with windows facing the morning sun, the glare didn’t diminish our excitement over the views of the mountains and occasional glaciers passing below us. For about 15 minutes the plane cruised through the Indian Himalayas.  Before landing, the plane meandered through the Indus River Valley and made the final turn over the Tibetan monastery (Spituk Gompa) on a rocky mount at the end of the runway.

Our flight, Jet Airways 2368, landed on the runway of Leh Airport at around 7:05am, a little earlier than scheduled.  We stepped out of the aircraft, breathed in the crisp air and alighted the air-stairs with great excitement.  After roughly twenty hours from leaving Hong Kong, we finally made it to Leh, the central hub of Ladakh at the altitude of 3600m. On the runway, we could clearly see the distant mountains, different shades of brown in this arid world.  After picking up our backpacks from the luggage belt, we headed out of the small Leh Airport and immediately spotted a driver holding up a sign with our names.  Sooner than we thought our taxi had sped through the winding and bumpy roads of Leh and reached the poplar-lined driveway of our guesthouse Hotel Ladakh Greens.

DSC_3325Feature decorations at the passenger arrival hall in Delhi Airport.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe small eatery at the arrival hall of Delhi Airport where we had our first Indian meal.

DSC_334015 minutes of mountainous landscape before reaching Leh.

DSC_3342Not much snow was presence because of the summer season.

DSC_3362The sky wasn’t particularly clear when our plane approached Leh.

DSC_3373Mountain view from the runway of Leh Airport.

DSC_3375Outside Leh Airport.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPoplar lined driveway into our guesthouse – Hotel Ladakh Greens .

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Other posts on 2016 Ladkadh & Delhi:
Introduction – LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Day 1.1 – ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh
Day 1.2 – WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.3 – LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.4 – HOTEL LADAKH GREENS, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.1 – NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.2 – LALA’S CAFE AND TIBETAN CUISINE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.3 – SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 3.1 – MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh (with map)
Day 3.2 – THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.3 – CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.4 – HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.5 – MATHO GOMPA & SHEY PALACE, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.1 – ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.2 – LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.3 – ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.4 – FORT ROAD IN THE EVENING, Leh, Ladakh
Day 5.1 – SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh
Day 5.2 – PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh
Day 5.3 – NOMADIC WOOLLEN MILLS & BON APPETIT, Leh, Ladakh
Day 6.1 – ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh
Day 6.2 – SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 7.1 – LEH AIRPORT TO RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.2 – RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.3 – JAMA MASJID, Delhi
Day 7.4 – FAREWELL OLD DELHI, Delhi
Day 7.5 – UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, New Delhi

 

 

 


LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India

Another journey begins…

Bounded by Himalayas to the south and Karakorum/ Kunlun Mountains to the north, for 900 years Ladakh had been an independent kingdom deeply rooted with influences from neighboring Tibet.  On one hand, the jagged, mountainous Ladakh was a profound Tibetan Buddhist society where lamaseries flourished in almost every corner.  On the other hand, centuries of being a trading outpost along the Silk Road between Tibet, Xinjiang and Central Asia opened Ladakh to other Asian influences especially the Islamic culture.  It is the charm of such a unique melting pot of traditions and cultures of Central Asian highlands that led us to make a short trip to this high-altitude desert in Jammu and Kashmir State of Northern India.  Ladakh’s breathtaking scenery of arid moonscapes, snow-capped mountains and picture perfect blue sky was just another reason why we were so keen to reach this magical “Land of High Passes”, a remote snow county in India where thick snow and -40 temperature virtually close off the region for many months of a year.  After years of dreaming to visit India, we finally made up our mind to take Ladakh as our first taste of the Indian Subcontinent.  It was late June when much of India was baked in Pre-Monsoon heat of 40+ degrees, except high up in the Himalayas where even forces of the mighty South Asian Monsoon cannot reach.  For six full days, we stationed at Leh, the ancient capital of the Ladakh Kingdom, and explored the landscapes and nearby lamaseries in the Indus Valley.

mapLocation of Ladakh in Northern India.

6_DSC_3575Like many travelers, we took the ancient city of Leh as the base to explore the nearby villages and monasteries of Ladakh.

5_DSC_4771_01Throughout Ladakh, we saw how the traditional local culture cope with the modern age.

3_DSC_4484Outside Leh, Tibetan lamaseries rise above the Indus River Valley against the dramatic backdrop of Ladakh’s arid mountains.

4_DSC_3936_01Inside each lamasery, Tibetan Buddhist monks continue their century-old traditions to pursue for a simple way of life and spiritual enlightenment.

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Other posts on 2016 Ladkadh & Delhi:
Introduction – LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Day 1.1 – ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh
Day 1.2 – WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.3 – LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.4 – HOTEL LADAKH GREENS, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.1 – NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.2 – LALA’S CAFE AND TIBETAN CUISINE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.3 – SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 3.1 – MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh (with map)
Day 3.2 – THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.3 – CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.4 – HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.5 – MATHO GOMPA & SHEY PALACE, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.1 – ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.2 – LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.3 – ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.4 – FORT ROAD IN THE EVENING, Leh, Ladakh
Day 5.1 – SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh
Day 5.2 – PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh
Day 5.3 – NOMADIC WOOLLEN MILLS & BON APPETIT, Leh, Ladakh
Day 6.1 – ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh
Day 6.2 – SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 7.1 – LEH AIRPORT TO RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.2 – RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.3 – JAMA MASJID, Delhi
Day 7.4 – FAREWELL OLD DELHI, Delhi
Day 7.5 – UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, New Delhi

 


SHANGHAI, 2016

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It has been more than a decade since we last visited Shanghai. That year, the 88-storey high Jinmao Tower was the tallest building in the city before being surpassed by the 101-storey high Shanghai Financial Center in 2008 and then by the 128-storey high Shanghai Tower in 2015. This time, we came to Shanghai with a purpose, not just for sightseeing, but visiting an old friend who happened to be living in the city temporarily as an expat.

Four days was all we got. Short as it might seem; but having someone who knows us well as a host, showing us around the city, made every moment of this trip eventful. During these four days, we checked out Shanghai’s new art scene, meandered through Shanghai’s old and new neighborhoods, sampled a variety of delicious local cuisine,  visited a number of iconic buildings, and the best among all, experienced this marvelous Chinese city with a childhood friend.

 

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Read other posts on Shanghai 2016:
0.0 SHANGHAI, 2016
1.0 SUZHOU MUSEUM, Suzhou, China
2.0 HUMBLE ADMINISTRATOR’S GARDEN, Suzhou, China
3.0 LION GROVE GARDEN, Suzhou, China
4.0 SOUP DUMPLINGS AND MORNING STROLL, Shanghai, China
5.0 ROCKBUND, Shanghai, China
6.0 M50, Shanghai, China
7.0 1933 SHANGHAI (老場坊) , Shanghai, China
8.0 POLY GRAND THEATRE (上海保利大劇院), Shanghai, China
9.0 FORMER FRENCH CONCESSION, Shanghai, China
10.0 POWER STATION OF ART, Shanghai, China
11.0 LONG MUSEUM (龍美術館), West Bund, Shanghai, China
12.0 THE BUND (外灘) AT NIGHT, Shanghai, China
13.0 TIANZIFANG (田子坊), Shanghai, China
14.0 CHINESE HAND PRINTED BLUE NANKEEN GALLERY (藍印花布博物館), Shanghai, China
15.0 LUJIAZUI (陸家嘴) OF PUDONG (浦東), Shanghai, China


SALINAS DE MARAS & MORAY, Sacred Valley, Peru

After Ollantaytambo, we headed back to Urubamba, the largest town in the Sacred Valley.  At Urubamba, we hired a taxi for the Salinas de Maras (Salt Pans of Maras) and Moray, the archaeological site Inca terraces.  The drive to the remote Salinas de Maras was full of breathtaking views of the Urupampa Mountain Range at the opposite side of the Urubamba Valley (Sacred Valley), including Mountain Ch’iqun at about 5,530m above sea level.

Salinas de Maras is a salt mine of roughly 3000 small pools along the hillside of a mountain.  Each pool yields about 150 kg of salt per month.  The pools are fed by a hotspring with a high concentration of sodium.  As the water evaporates, crystallized salts are left behind for harvest. This salt mine has been in operation since the ancient times.  Little has changed for the past hundreds of years.

After Salinas de Maras, our taxi driver drove us to the nearby Moray site, an Inca ruins of remarkable circular terraces. The purpose of Moray was unknown, but most archaeologists believe that the circular terraces of Moray were once an Inca outdoor testing lab for agricultural experiments to study the effects of different micro-climates and soil conditions on crops.

We stayed at Moray for a short while, but didn’t have enough time to venture down to the bottom.  We lingered at the top of Moray ruins and the nearby area to take in the magnificent scenery of Urupampa Mountain Range until the sun began to set.  Standing at over 3500m elevation, many peaks stood in front of us across the Sacred Valley on the Urupampa Mountain Range were over 5000m above sea level.  We were grateful for ending our day of the Sacred Valley with such a peaceful scenery, a moment of cool breezes, fast moving clouds, fading sunlight, and majestic Urupampa Mountains.

We returned to Urubamba for the return bus ride back to Cusco.  Upon arrival, we were all hungry and tired.  We decided to treat ourselves a delicious dinner at one of the most well known tapas restaurants in the city, the Cicciolina.  Under the atmospheric setting of Cicciolina, we had one of the best meal of our entire trip.  This was the place where we took the courage to try a “cuy” dish (guinea pigs).  On the Andes, guinea pigs have long been a source of meat since ancient times.

1On the road to Salinas de Maras with Mountain Ch’iqun as the backdrop.

2Our taxi is approaching the salt mine, Salinas de Maras.

3The scene of a myriad of salt pools at Salinas de Maras was quite stunning.

4Staff could be seen working at the salt pools at Salinas de Maras.

5A water channel that diverts the salty water into the pools.

6The water channel that feeds the different salt pools.

7A water channel that diverts the salt water into the pools.

8Shadow of the mountain was cast onto the pools.

9The Salinas de Maras with the Sacred Valley in the distant.

10The various shades of earthy colours of the salt pools at Salinas de Maras.

11As the water evaporates, crystallized salts are left behind for harvest.

12Moray, an Inca ruins near the village of Maras, was an ancient outdoor testing grounds for agriculture.

14As evening approached, we had no choice but to embark on our return journey to Urubamba.

13We were at the elevation of over 3500m, embraced by mountainous scenery including the Urupampa Mountain Range across the valley.  As evening approached, we bidded farewell to the breathtaking scenery of Mountain Ch’iqun and the Urupampa Mountain Range and headed back to Cusco.

15Back to Cusco, we headed to the guidebook-recommended Cicciolina Tapas Restaurant to end our long day with an exciting meal.

* * *

Read other posts on Peru Trip 2010

LIMA
1. Peru Trip 2010
2.  Bumpy Arrival, Lima & Arequipa, Peru
AREQUIPA & COLCA CANYON
3.  Monasterio de Santa Catalina, Arequipa, Peru
4.  Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru
5.  Volcanoes and Vicuna, Pampa Canahuas Natural Reserve, Patahuasi, and Patapampa, Peru
6.  Yanque, Colca Canyon, Peru
7. Cruz del Condor, Colca Canyon, Peru
8. Farming Terraces, Colca Canyon, Peru
PUNO & TITICACA
9. Road to Titicaca, Colca Canyon to Puno, Peru
10. Afternoon on Taquile Island, Titicaca, Peru
11. Morning on Taquile, Titicaca, Peru
12. Inka Express, Puno to Cusco, Peru
CUSCO & SACRED VALLEY
13. Pisac & Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Peru
14. Salinas de Maras, & Moray, Sacred Valley, Peru
15. Lucuma Milkshake & Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru
16. Saksaywaman, Cusco, Peru
INCA TRAIL
17. KM 82 to Wayllabamba, Inca Trail, Peru
18. Wayllabamba to Pacamayo, Inca Trail, Peru
19. Pacasmayo to Winay Wayna, Inca Trail, Peru
20. Winay Wayna to Machu Picchu, Inca Trail, Peru
21. Machu Piccu, Inca Trail, Peru
22. Machu Picchu in Black and White, Inca Trail, Peru
23. Afterthought, Inca Trail, Peru
LAST DAY IN CUSCO & LIMA
24. Farewell to the Incas, Cusco, Peru
25. Last Day in Peru, Lima, Peru


PISAC & OLLANTAYTAMBO, Sacred Valley, Peru

To many, the lost city of Machu Picchu and the Inca capital of Cusco represent the biggest tourist highlights of Peru.  Arriving in the Urubamba Valley (or Sacred Valley of the Incas) where Machu Picchu, Cusco and several other famous Inca sites are located felt like we were  entering the heartland of the Inca Empire.  We spent our first full day in Cusco exploring the nearby Inca sites in the Urubamba Valley.  From Cusco, we took a regional bus to the town of Pisac. Pisac serves as the gateway of the valley from Cusco. Our primary destination in Pisac was the Inca ruins on the hilltop.  From the bus drop-off, we hired a taxi to take us to the hilltop.  The taxi ride took about 20 minutes.

At the hilltop where the ruins sat, we could truly admire the Inca’s fabulous agricultural terraces.  Set against the mountainous backdrop, the agricultural terraces dominated the steep hillsides. Top of the terraces lie a series of ceremonial platforms, temple and citadel overlooking the valley.

After the visit to Pisac, we hopped onto a minibus to Urubamba, and from Urubamba, we took a collective van up to the village of Ollantaytambo, the starting point of the famous Inca Trail and home of another famous Inca ruins. At the main square of Ollantaytambo, we went to the Hearts Cafe for lunch.  Hearts Cafe was another charity establishment, this time, by an English woman and her NGO Living Heart, which engaged in a number of children and community projects in the Sacred Valley.

After lunch, we climbed the steep steps to the top of the Inca ruins, the Terraces of Pumatallis which offered a spectacular view of the village of Ollantaytambo. In addition to religious purposes, the massive Terraces of Pumatallis also served as a fortress during the resistance against the Spanish conquest.

After Ollantaytambo, we continued our visit of the Sacred Valley. We took a local bus and returned to Urubamba, from where we hired a taxi for the Salinas salt pans and the Inca terraces of Moray.

1Early morning at Ninos Hotel, a charity establishment founded by a Dutch woman in 1996 to help the street children in Cusco.

2Our quadruple room Carolyn, named after one of the street children at Ninos Hotel, was located on the upper level.

3Agricultural terraces dominate the hillside of the mountain where the Inca ruins sat in Pisac.

5There were footpaths connecting to other parts of the ruins and Inca terraces in Pisac.

4Inca ruins in Pisac lie atop the agricultural terraces.

6This gateway at Pisac presented a fine example of the mortar-free stone masonry perfectly fit together with hand tools, a common construction feature in many Inca structures.

7A stone retaining wall at the Inca ruins in Pisac.

8Inca terraces in Pisac.

9We had lunch at Hearts Cafe near the main square of Ollantaytambo.

10The terraces of Pumatallis in Ollantaytambo witnessed some fierce battles against the Spanish during the twilight moments of the Incas.

11 View of the village of Ollantaytambo from the Terraces of Pumatallis

12Terraces of Pumatallis, Ollantaytambo.

13The stone works and steep steps at Terraces of Pumatallis, Ollantaytambo.

14Magnificent Inca stone work at the terrace of Pumatallis, Ollantaytambo.

* * *

Read other posts on Peru Trip 2010

LIMA
1. Peru Trip 2010
2.  Bumpy Arrival, Lima & Arequipa, Peru
AREQUIPA & COLCA CANYON
3.  Monasterio de Santa Catalina, Arequipa, Peru
4.  Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru
5.  Volcanoes and Vicuna, Pampa Canahuas Natural Reserve, Patahuasi, and Patapampa, Peru
6.  Yanque, Colca Canyon, Peru
7. Cruz del Condor, Colca Canyon, Peru
8. Farming Terraces, Colca Canyon, Peru
PUNO & TITICACA
9. Road to Titicaca, Colca Canyon to Puno, Peru
10. Afternoon on Taquile Island, Titicaca, Peru
11. Morning on Taquile, Titicaca, Peru
12. Inka Express, Puno to Cusco, Peru
CUSCO & SACRED VALLEY
13. Pisac & Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Peru
14. Salinas de Maras, & Moray, Sacred Valley, Peru
15. Lucuma Milkshake & Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru
16. Saksaywaman, Cusco, Peru
INCA TRAIL
17. KM 82 to Wayllabamba, Inca Trail, Peru
18. Wayllabamba to Pacamayo, Inca Trail, Peru
19. Pacasmayo to Winay Wayna, Inca Trail, Peru
20. Winay Wayna to Machu Picchu, Inca Trail, Peru
21. Machu Piccu, Inca Trail, Peru
22. Machu Picchu in Black and White, Inca Trail, Peru
23. Afterthought, Inca Trail, Peru
LAST DAY IN CUSCO & LIMA
24. Farewell to the Incas, Cusco, Peru
25. Last Day in Peru, Lima, Peru


AFTERNOON ON TAQUILE ISLAND, Titicaca, Peru

Once arrived on Taquile, we were greeted at the dock by the father of the home-stay family. We had difficulties understanding each other completely, but we could still communicate with simple facial expressions and hand gestures.  Our host suggested us to take our time to walk uphill to the village centre, while he would go ahead of us to prepare our lunch at a village restaurant.  Since we weren’t totally acclimatized to the 3,800m altitude, we took our time and slowly walked uphill from the dock to the village centre.  The journey took less than half an hour.  We walked along through terraced farmland ascending from the dock to the top of the hill. The view was gorgeous along the way, with terraced farmlands everywhere along the slope of the island.

Soon we reached the plaza at the village centre, where we found our host.  He led us to a local restaurant and ordered each of us a dish of local trout.  After lunch, our host guided us to his home where we would stay the night.  We were introduced to the host’s family.  Then we dropped off our bags and followed our host to the island’s elementary school where some sort of festival activity was going on.  Standing behind rows of local spectators, we watched groups of Taquile students engaged in some kind of acting and  dancing performance.  Despite we couldn’t understand Quechua, we enjoyed the funny acting of the innocent Taquile children that made everyone laughed.

After the performance at Taquile’s school, our host took us to the highest spot on Taquile, where the ruins of an ancient buildings still remained.  After the visit, we wandered around Taquile on our own until the sun was set. We followed the main path into the village.  Along the way, we were greeted by the villagers, most of them with a smiley face.  In late afternoon, we walked pass the main village square once again, where the pink Artisan Centre stood.  Taquile is renowned for their textile art.  In 2005, the UNESCO declared the textile art of Taquile as one of the world’s Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.  The centre was closed for the day.  We would come back the next day to check out the textile art.

In the evening, we dined at our host’s place with three other fellow travelers, two from Belgium and one from France.  In the candle lit dining room, we had a simple meal with soup, egg omelet and rice.  After dinner, the entire host family including the kids performed their traditional music for us.  Away from any electronics and digital devices, the night was simple yet surreal.  Inside the dining room, it was warm and full of music and laughter.  Outside the house, it was freezing cold and extremely quiet on an island in Lake Titicaca at 3,800m above sea level.  Before bed, we took turns going to the toilet hut in the courtyard in front of the house.  The full moon was climbing over our heads as we retired to our bedroom.  Our bedroom was on the upper level accessible only via an external stair.  Wrapped under three to four layers of wool blankets, the four of us had a very soundly sleep until the next morning.

1It was a 20 minute walk from the pier to the main square of Taquile, passing by farming terraces and the boundless Lake Titicaca.  Amantani, another island popular with tourists, stood prominently in the distant.

2The slope of the hills became terraced farmland.

3Taquile is living village and we love the sense of community on the island.

4The host took us a small restaurant in the main square for lunch. He ordered the local trout dish for us. The fresh water fish is slightly pan fired. The meat was sweet and tender. The fish was served with fries, rice and steamed vegetable.

5After lunch, the host guided us to his place where we met his family and left our luggage. He then brought us to the the local school. There was actually some festival performance there.

6Children with traditional costumes were doing dance and act performances.

7We followed our host up to the high part of the island.

8The highest spot of the island stood a series of ruined buildings and our host had no idea when they were actually built.

9School building in Taquile.

10Taquile is a peaceful living village with a great sense of community. Most of the foreign visitors made one-day trip to the island.  After the tourists left with the last boat, the island became peaceful again.

11We love Taquile for its sense of community. Most islanders here would greet us warmly when they walked past us.

12The Artisan Centre at the main square of the island.

13Gateway leading to the main square of the village.

14Photovoltaic panels to supply electricity was becoming more popular when we visited Taquile.

15We passed by the school complex once again before we returned to our host’s place.

16At our host’s place, the four of us stayed at the upper room (the one with the door open). The family prepared new woolen blankets to keep us warm for the night. Accommodation was simple but we had a good night of sleep after all the walking.

* * *

Read other posts on Peru Trip 2010

LIMA
1. Peru Trip 2010
2.  Bumpy Arrival, Lima & Arequipa, Peru
AREQUIPA & COLCA CANYON
3.  Monasterio de Santa Catalina, Arequipa, Peru
4.  Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru
5.  Volcanoes and Vicuna, Pampa Canahuas Natural Reserve, Patahuasi, and Patapampa, Peru
6.  Yanque, Colca Canyon, Peru
7. Cruz del Condor, Colca Canyon, Peru
8. Farming Terraces, Colca Canyon, Peru
PUNO & TITICACA
9. Road to Titicaca, Colca Canyon to Puno, Peru
10. Afternoon on Taquile Island, Titicaca, Peru
11. Morning on Taquile, Titicaca, Peru
12. Inka Express, Puno to Cusco, Peru
CUSCO & SACRED VALLEY
13. Pisac & Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Peru
14. Salinas de Maras, & Moray, Sacred Valley, Peru
15. Lucuma Milkshake & Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru
16. Saksaywaman, Cusco, Peru
INCA TRAIL
17. KM 82 to Wayllabamba, Inca Trail, Peru
18. Wayllabamba to Pacamayo, Inca Trail, Peru
19. Pacasmayo to Winay Wayna, Inca Trail, Peru
20. Winay Wayna to Machu Picchu, Inca Trail, Peru
21. Machu Piccu, Inca Trail, Peru
22. Machu Picchu in Black and White, Inca Trail, Peru
23. Afterthought, Inca Trail, Peru
LAST DAY IN CUSCO & LIMA
24. Farewell to the Incas, Cusco, Peru
25. Last Day in Peru, Lima, Peru


MONASTERIO de SANTA CATALINA, Arequipa, Peru

Like many Spanish colonial cities, the historical core of Arequipa is laid out in a grid pattern.  Occupying two city grids located three blocks north of Plaza de Armas, the enormous complex of Monasterio de Santa Catalina is the biggest tourist attraction in the city.  Founded in 1579, the monastery is a nun convent of the Dominican Second Order.  Dona Maria de Guzman, a rich widow, was the foundress of the monastery.  At its peak, the 20,000 sq.m monastery housed about 450 people (nuns and their servants).  Many upper class families were willing to pay a large sum of dowry in order to send their second daughters to the monastery as nuns.  Nowadays, about 20 nuns still live in a private quarter in the complex.  The majority of the monastery has been turned into an open air museum.

Monasterio de Santa Catalina is a great example of Spanish colonial architecture with unique local influences.  With vivid colours, tranquil cloisters, and centuries of modifications and additions since the earthquake of 1582, the monastery has become a collection of colonial architecture and religious antiques.  We spent a good couple of hours wandering in the monastery.  The vivid blue, orange, and white walls gave the splendid and solemn architecture some delightful touches that echoed the vibrant colours of native cultures in Peru.

0A floor plan of the monastery in display showing the extensiveness of Monasterio de Santa Catalina.

1Cloister of the Orange Trees, one of the main cloisters in the monastery, is decorated with vivid blue walls and religious wall paintings.

2Frescoes depicting religious stories at the cloister.

3Fresco and the vivid blue wall by the cloister.

4Roof drainage and the white washed walls of Monasterio de Santa Catalina.

6A small court adjacent to the outdoor laundry area in Monasterio de Santa Catalina.

7Steep exterior steps leading up to the rooftop.

8Cluster of laundry basins where nuns washed their clothes.

9Calle Sevilla in the living quarter is flanked by dwelling units for nuns, with the chapel in the background.

10AThe vivid orange walls in the nun’s living quarter coupled with stone bench, large roof tiles, and unique roof gutter.

10bAn atmospheric pastel coloured street corner and plant decorations looked surreal.

11Stone inscription above a window opening in Monasterio de Santa Catalina.

12Antique tools in a kitchen where nuns made their own food, including bread.

13In almost every kitchen in the complex, there is a ceiling oculus for smoke ventilation and natural light.

14There are many well preserved antiques in Monasterio de Santa Catalina, including the stone filter on the left and a wooden furniture on the right.

15Portraits of nuns in a bedroom at the living quarter.

16View of the living quarter, internal streets and outdoor fountain from the rooftop in Monasterio de Santa Catalina.

17View from the roof top in Monasterio de Santa Catalina towards the scenery of volcanoes and mountains outside the city.

* * *

Read other posts on Peru Trip 2010

LIMA
1. Peru Trip 2010
2.  Bumpy Arrival, Lima & Arequipa, Peru
AREQUIPA & COLCA CANYON
3.  Monasterio de Santa Catalina, Arequipa, Peru
4.  Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru
5.  Volcanoes and Vicuna, Pampa Canahuas Natural Reserve, Patahuasi, and Patapampa, Peru
6.  Yanque, Colca Canyon, Peru
7. Cruz del Condor, Colca Canyon, Peru
8. Farming Terraces, Colca Canyon, Peru
PUNO & TITICACA
9. Road to Titicaca, Colca Canyon to Puno, Peru
10. Afternoon on Taquile Island, Titicaca, Peru
11. Morning on Taquile, Titicaca, Peru
12. Inka Express, Puno to Cusco, Peru
CUSCO & SACRED VALLEY
13. Pisac & Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Peru
14. Salinas de Maras, & Moray, Sacred Valley, Peru
15. Lucuma Milkshake & Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru
16. Saksaywaman, Cusco, Peru
INCA TRAIL
17. KM 82 to Wayllabamba, Inca Trail, Peru
18. Wayllabamba to Pacamayo, Inca Trail, Peru
19. Pacasmayo to Winay Wayna, Inca Trail, Peru
20. Winay Wayna to Machu Picchu, Inca Trail, Peru
21. Machu Piccu, Inca Trail, Peru
22. Machu Picchu in Black and White, Inca Trail, Peru
23. Afterthought, Inca Trail, Peru
LAST DAY IN CUSCO & LIMA
24. Farewell to the Incas, Cusco, Peru
25. Last Day in Peru, Lima, Peru

 


BUMPY ARRIVAL, Lima & Arequipa, Peru

Our 17-day journey didn’t start off as smoothly as we wanted to.  Our Toronto-New York-Lima flight was unfortunately hindered by awful delays.  The flight to New York was an hour late, but then the worst didn’t come until we arrived at New York JFK.  Time ticked way beyond the scheduled time but our LAN Peru plane was nowhere in sight.  That night, no special weather alert was reported but the plane never came.  LAN Peru ended up sending all passengers to an airport hotel to rest.  In the next morning, we finally got on a plane for Lima, 11 hours beyond the scheduled time.

It was past dinner time when we arrived at Lima Airport.  Our taxi sped through the streets of Lima for Miraflores District, where our friend from Chicago was waiting for us at Kokopelli Hostel.  After we met up with our friend, we decided to grab some supper in the neighborhood.  It was a quiet neighbourhood with dim street lights; but there was one street interaction where people clustered around a food cart with a bright lamp. It was one of the most renowned street food carts in Peru, Dona Grimanesa Vargas’s anticuchos skewers.  We joined the locals with great expectation. The beef heart skewers didn’t disappoint us. They were tender and juicy, but it took us over two hours queuing on the street with empty stomach before we could even place our orders. The famous owner, Tia Grimanesa, represented the icon of Lima’s street food for almost four decades; and we recently found out that visitors can now enjoy her anticuchos at her new restaurant.

In the morning, we checked out Kokopell Hostel and headed to Lima Airport again for our morning flight to Arequipa.  At the airport, we met up with our other travel buddy who just arrived from Toronto to join us for the trip.  The four of us boarded a LAN Peru plane for the 1.5 hour flight.  At 10:30 we landed at Arequipa.  Our journey up to the Peruvian highlands officially began.  Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru, lies at about 2,300m above sea level.  In the area around Plaza de Armas, there are a number of splendid colonial buildings, churches and plazas from the Spanish era.  Just around the corner from Monasterio de Santa Catalina, the biggest attraction in town, we checked in at our bed and breakfast Torres de Ugarte, a delightful hotel with colourful walls and a relaxing atmosphere.

1We wouldn’t know what seemed like a short delay at Toronto Pearson Airport would end up to be an 11-hour belated arrival at Lima.

P1010820Our 11-hour flight delay was followed by an 2-hour wait on the street at Miraflores, Lima for Dona Grimanesa Vargas’s anticuchos skewers.

2 The renowned beef heart skewers were very delicious.  Though if we knew it would turn out to be a 2-hour wait, we would probably go somewhere else to fill our bellies.

3Dona Grimanesa Vargas (right) has been selling anticuchos on the street for about four decades. Today, she has moved her business into a restaurant.

4The atmosphere was causal and friendly at the Kokopelli Hostel in Miraflores, one of the most popular and safest neighborhoods in Lima according to guidebooks.

10PE01-09Miraflores is a relatively affluent district in Lima, Peru’s biggest city with a population of over 8.4 million.

6From the plane, the surrounding landscape of Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city, seemed dry and arid.

7The Rodríguez Ballón International Airport of Arequipa is surrounded by mountains and arid landscape.

8The main arrival building of Arequipa’s Rodríguez Ballón International Airport.

9On our way from the airport to our bed and breakfast Torres de Ugarte in the heart of the historical city centre in Arequipa.

10PE01-18A small lovely courtyard in Torres de Ugarte surrounded by guest rooms.

* * *

Read other posts on Peru Trip 2010

LIMA
1. Peru Trip 2010
2.  Bumpy Arrival, Lima & Arequipa, Peru
AREQUIPA & COLCA CANYON
3.  Monasterio de Santa Catalina, Arequipa, Peru
4.  Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru
5.  Volcanoes and Vicuna, Pampa Canahuas Natural Reserve, Patahuasi, and Patapampa, Peru
6.  Yanque, Colca Canyon, Peru
7. Cruz del Condor, Colca Canyon, Peru
8. Farming Terraces, Colca Canyon, Peru
PUNO & TITICACA
9. Road to Titicaca, Colca Canyon to Puno, Peru
10. Afternoon on Taquile Island, Titicaca, Peru
11. Morning on Taquile, Titicaca, Peru
12. Inka Express, Puno to Cusco, Peru
CUSCO & SACRED VALLEY
13. Pisac & Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Peru
14. Salinas de Maras, & Moray, Sacred Valley, Peru
15. Lucuma Milkshake & Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru
16. Saksaywaman, Cusco, Peru
INCA TRAIL
17. KM 82 to Wayllabamba, Inca Trail, Peru
18. Wayllabamba to Pacamayo, Inca Trail, Peru
19. Pacasmayo to Winay Wayna, Inca Trail, Peru
20. Winay Wayna to Machu Picchu, Inca Trail, Peru
21. Machu Piccu, Inca Trail, Peru
22. Machu Picchu in Black and White, Inca Trail, Peru
23. Afterthought, Inca Trail, Peru
LAST DAY IN CUSCO & LIMA
24. Farewell to the Incas, Cusco, Peru
25. Last Day in Peru, Lima, Peru

 


RAOHE STREET NIGHT MARKET, Taipei, Taiwan

No visitor comes to Taipei will leave without a visit to one of the city’s famous street markets. We picked Raohe Street Night Market (饒河街觀光夜市) at Songshan District. It was not only the wide varieties of food that excited us, but watching how each vendor earnestly prepared the food was also a fascinating experience.

1We entered Raohe Street Night Market through its east gate.

23The famous black pepper buns were prepared with a traditional baking method in a cylindrical charcoal stove.

4Pearl red bean cakes.

5Grilled squid.

6Some stalls were neatly decorated with colourful lights.

7Several stalls were selling sausages prepared in indigenous Taiwanese style.

8Rice with mutton and pork spare ribs are some of the more filling options around.

9Ice-sugar gourds.

10 Tables were set up in the middle of the street.

11Mango dessert is a local favorite.

12Spicy beef noodles, dumblings, and fish ball soup.

13Red lanterns enhanced the atmosphere of the market.

14Meat and vegetable wraps were carefully prepared by this vendor.

15Taiwanese guava.

16Dry goods were also sold in the market.

17Skewers with various spices.

18Ciyou Temple at the entrance of Raohe Street Night Market.

* * *

Read more posts on Taipei 2014
1. 40 hours in Taipei
2.Raohe Street Night Market
3. Longshan Temple


40 HOURS IN TAIPEI, Christmas 2014

During Christmas, we made a brief visit to Taipei (台北), the capital city of Taiwan. On Christmas Eve, we purchased a last minute flight ticket and hopped onto a last minute red-eye flight to Taipei for a two-day visit.
001 07:15 Christmas Day – We arrived at Taipei’s Taoyuan Airport.

002 002a 08:45 – The airport shuttle bus took us to the Taipei Railway Station at the heart of the city. A huge Christmas tree was in display in the main hall.

003

10:30 – We arrived at the National Palace Museum at the city’s outskirt. Its tremendous collection of Chinese artifacts and artworks is probably peerless in the world, with a majority of the pieces gathered from Beijing’s Forbidden City in the first half of the 20th century. We particularly enjoyed the Chinese paintings. The rotating display of the permanent painting collection currently on show is the works by Qiu Ying, one of the Four Masters of the Ming Dynasty.

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14:45 – We returned by bus to Shilin, the closest metro station from the National Palace Museum. Adjacent to the station stood many small eateries. We picked one and had our first delicious meal of Taiwanese beef noodles and fish ball soup.

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18:00 – We passed by an enormous Christmas Tree in a hotel lobby at Downtown Taipei. Despite Taiwan is not a Christian country, many hotel and restaurant owners decorate their stores to enhance the festive atmosphere of the city.

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20:30 – We began our foodie stroll at Raohe Street, one of the most popular night markets in Taipei. We hopped from one stall to another, and sampled a number of delicious street food including charcoal oven baked black pepper buns, grilled squid, grilled scallops, seafood soup, salted black-skinned peanuts and tofu dessert.

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22:15 – After our visit to Raohe Street Night Market, we walked along the Keelung River. We stopped at the Rainbow Bridge for a while before calling it a day.

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8:50 Boxing Day – We were on our way to Fuhang Soy Drink for breakfast and passed by Taipei’s largest Buddhist temple, Shandao Temple. It was built during the period under Japanese rule.

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9:45 – After 45 minutes of queuing on the street, we finally made it to the counter of Fuhang Soy Drink. This busy eatery is located in a foodcourt, on the second level of a local market. Apparently it is very popular among the locals and tourists. We had two kinds of pancakes with egg and Chinese fried dough, a sticky rice bun, and two bowls of hot soy drinks, one sweet and one salty.

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12:00 Taipei 101 (completed in 2004) is the tallest building in Taiwan. This skyscraper was awarded the LEED Platinum certification and designed to withstand earthquake and fierce wind. An observatory deck on the 89th floor is open for tourists but we chose to give it a pass because of poor weather.

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13:00 We tried our first slush ice, one of the most popular dessert in Taipei.

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13:45 A good friend of ours recommended us to try the beef noodle from Yong-Kang Beef Noodle. The queue was long but we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to taste one of the best beef noodle in Taipei.

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15:00 We decided to visit one of Taipei’s temples and we chose Longshan Temple in Wanhua District.  Longshan is the oldest temple in Taipei. The temple is dedicated to a number of deities including Buddhist, Taoist and some historical Chinese figures.  This lively temple is exquisitely decorated in a Fujian style. The dragon columns and eaves are particularly wonderful.

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18:00 Before heading out to the airport, we spent the remaining day in Songshan District. This quiet area has many little local cafes and eateries. We stopped by a hotpot restaurant for a quick supper.

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Read more posts on Taipei 2014
1. 40 hours in Taipei
2.Raohe Street Night Market
3. Longshan Temple


A SHRINE IN SHIBUYA, Tokyo

Typhoon Vongfong finally left Tokyo. Life was back to normal in much of the Japanese capital. In the afternoon we were finding our way from Harajuku to Shibuya. In the midst of busy traffic and fashion boutiques of Meiji Dori, a small and traditional Buddhist temple set back from the street caught our sight in between two building blocks. Street noise faded as we walked in the gate toward Chosenji Temple.  We stood in front of the timber building to absorb the peaceful atmosphere of the place. Two cats appeared from the back of the temple, chasing each other, and disappeared into the shrubs adjacent to the property.

From Meiji Dori we walked into the side streets trying to find our way to Yoyogi Stadium. Soon we discovered another urban retreat. A stair caught our attention leading us up to a platform where Kitayainari Shrine stood. It was a blessing that we found this place, a tiny tranquil place finished with well-crafted concrete. Perfectly blended into the surrounding modern architecture, Kitayainari Shrine serves well as a spiritual niche in the dense commercial neighborhood.   We walked around this small complex for longer than we thought we would, enjoying a sense of traditional spirituality in a contemporary architectural setting. Under the warmth of the afternoon sun we saw the structure of Yoyogi Stadium bathed in the orange sunlight just across the street.

1Chosenji is hidden behind the hustling street scene of Meiji Dori in Shibuya.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABuilt with concrete, metal, wood and glass, Kitayainari Shrine is a hidden gem that we found when we were exploring a short-cut path to Yoyogi National Stadium.

3The shrine was closed but we enjoyed moment of quietness at the forecourt with occasional cool and refreshing breeze.

4Stone water basin.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA large bell with rope suspended under the soffit over the main door of the shrine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt each eaves corner, a metal downsprout collects rain water from the roof down to a traditional cistern in front of the temple.

7 Around the corner, we found a small concrete niche that houses an exterior altar for worship.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA pair of animal guardians stand in front of the exterior altar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYoyogi National Stadium stands right behind the Kitayainari Shrine.

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Read other posts on 2014 Tokyo:
1. Tokyo 2014 (Introduction)
2. Yokohama Osanbashi Pier
3. Ginza, Tokyo
4. Tokyo International Forum, Tokyo
5. Omotesando, Tokyo
6. Harajuku & Aoyama, Tokyo
7. Nezu Museum, Tokyo
8. Roppongi Hills, Tokyo
9. The National Art Centre, Tokyo
10. Midtown, Tokyo
11. A Shrine in Shibuya, Tokyo
12. Yoyogi National Gymnasium, Tokyo
13. A Night in Yanaka, Tokyo
14. Breakfast at Tsukiji Market, Tokyo
15. Moveable Feast, Tokyo
16. Seasonal Fruits, Tokyo
17. Afterthought, Tokyo


POON CHOI – A Brief Visit of Ping Shan in Yuen Long, Hong Kong

An unexpected opportunity came up.  I found myself tagging along my cousin to participate in a traditional poon choi dinner at the Tang Ancestral Hall in Ping Shan, a rural area between the new towns of Yuen Long and Tin Shui Wai.  Poon choi is a traditional dish originated from the villages of the New Territories.  It was believed that poon choi was invented in late Song Dynasty (late 13th century) when villages in the New Territories gathered their best dishes available together in large wooden washbasins to serve the exile Song emperor and his army.  Today, poon choi is often served in large stainless steel or ceramic bowls for everyone to share around the table.  The food served in poon choi varies, but usually it is a combination of seafood and meat.  Throughout the centuries, poon choi has become a signature dish for communal gatherings and celebrations in many parts of the New Territories.

Despite largely renovated in recent years, the original Tang Ancestral Hall in Ping Shan was built over 700 years ago by the Tang Clan.  Today it is still used regularly by the Tang Clan in Ping Shan for rituals and gatherings.  In 1993, the government established the Ping Shan Heritage Trail to promote tourism in the area.  The trail connects a number of historical sights and an interpretation centre housed in the former Ping Shan Police Station.  The Tang Ancestral Hall is one of the star attractions along the trail.  With an entry courtyard, a central hall for reception, and an inner hall to house the ancestral alter, the Tang Ancestral Hall is a typical example of a traditional ancestral hall, which in ancient times functioned as the social nucleus of a clan village.

Before dinner, we had a chance to stroll around the area.  We walked by Tsui Sing Lau, Hong Kong’s only historical pagoda dating back to 600 years ago, an old well that once served the villagers for over two centuries, and the entrance to Sheung Cheung Wai, a walled village constructed more than 200 years ago.  Despite drastically transformed from the heydays, clan villages and walled communities are still common in rural areas of the New Territories.  Many walled villages, like Sheung Cheung Wai in Ping Shan, were once heavily fortified with high walls and deep moats for self-defense against pirates.  Moats were filled and cannons removed, but many wall enclosures survived to the present day.
ImageWith its 700-year history, the Tang Ancestral Hall is the star attraction of Ping Shan.
ImageDining tables were set up at the semi-open central hall of the Tang Ancestral Hall.
ImageWarmed with a portable gas stove throughout the dinner, the poon choi was the centre piece on the dining table.  The wine-marinated chicken and duck soup on the side were equally impressive.
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The Tang Ancestral Hall has been undergoing major renovations in recent years.  Scaffolding has been set up at the inner hall where the ancestral altar is located.
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Many farmlands in Ping Shan and its surroundings have been converted into parking lots and new housing estates, including the new town of Tin Shui Wai.  The land where Tin Shui Wai occupies was mainly marshland a century ago.  Villagers then converted the marshes into rice paddies and fish ponds.  As the economy changed, most rice paddies and fish ponds were abandoned and the government finally stepped in to transform the land into the new town of Tin Shui Wai in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
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ImageThe Tsui Sing Lau pagoda originally contained 7 storeys.  It was used for the worship of the star constellations for academic achievement.
ImageThe 200-year old well
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Sheung Cheung Wai remains as a example of the traditional walled villages in the New Territories.


BUN FESTIVAL – Cheung Chau’s Reinvented Festival, Hong Kong – Part 2 of 2

The Buddha’s Birthday on the 6th of May was a public holiday in Hong Kong.  It also marked the final day of the 2014 Cheung Chau Bun Festival.  On this day, the festival highlights included the Parade of “Floating Colours” in the afternoon, followed by the ghost rituals in the evening, and the bun-snatching race at midnight.  I arrived at Cheung Chau at around 6:30pm.  The first thing I saw was the enormous crowd lining up at the pier, who were waiting for the city-bound ferry after watching the afternoon parade.  That evening I stayed on the island for about 6 hours, in which 4.5 hours were spent in queue for the bun-snatching race that lasted for only 3 minutes.  Luckily, before I was trapped in the queue, I did stumble upon the interesting ghost rituals at the waterfront.

The bun-snatching race has always been considered the climax of the Bun Festival.   Originally the race was restricted to the communities of Cheung Chau.  Over a hundred participants would race up one of the three bun mounts to snatch as many buns as they could from as high up as possible.  Each bun they gathered represented good fortune; the higher they reached to the top, the better the fortune gained for the community.  In 1978, a bun mount collapsed during the race and injured many.  The event was consequently banned until a much-modified version reemerged in 2005.

Before the bun-snatching race was reintroduced in 2005, a popular HK-produced animated film in 2001, My Life as McDull,  uses the bun-snatching race as one of the central themes to reflect on HK’s collective memories and spirit.  My Life as McDull  depicts the pure and simple life of a piglet character named McDull in Hong Kong.  In the film, McDull constantly fails to achieve his goals but he never gives up trying and dreaming.  Inspired by Olympic gold medalist Lee Lai Shan, one of McDull’s dream is to participate in the Olympics, and his chosen sport is the bun-snatching race.  The story portrays how McDull trains hard to master bun-snatching techniques, and also illustrates how his mother writes to the IOC with her limited English asking them to consider bun-snatching as an official sport.  Many considered the popularity of McDull as the main driving force behind the government’s decision to revive the bun-snatching race after a 26-year ban.

Unlike the community-based event prior to 1978, the reintroduced bun-snatching race since 2005 has been a government-run event aimed for tourism.  From the first glance, the new event resembles a rock-climbing competition contested by well-trained climbers, many of which are actually police or firefighter from other parts of the city.  The original three bun mounts have been reduced to one, and the number of participants has been cut down to a dozen.   Steel replaces bamboo for the mount structure, and plastic buns substitute the traditional fresh home-made buns.  To many, the biggest drawback of the reinvented event is the fact that the race is no longer a community event of Cheung Chau, but a commercialized tourist spectacle emphasized on showmanship, sponsorship and order.  No wonder the biggest criticism has come from nowhere else but Cheung Chau, where many saw the new race a poor appropriation and a pillage of their own heritage.

ImageLion dance went from one shop to another to chase off evil spirit and welcome good fortune.ImageLong lineups at the ferry pier waiting for the city-bound ferry services.ImageWorshipers at the waterfront performed rituals dedicated to the ghosts.ImageImageImageImageLanterns, incenses and snacks dedicated to the lost spirits were neatly placed at the waterfront.ImageImageImageThe three traditional bamboo-supported bun mounts were erected for display only.ImageThe steel-supported bun mount at the centre stage was equipped with climbing ropes and safety mats.ImageThe bun snatching race was at the mercy of the unpredictable weather.ImageDespite the long wait and great anticipation, the actual race lasted for only three minutes. It was like a performance on stage which lacked the spirit of the actual community.
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BUN FESTIVAL – Cheung Chau’s Reinvented Festival, Hong Kong – Part 1 of 2

Held every year in the fourth month of the lunar calendar, Cheung Chau’s Bun Festival, or “Tai Ping Ching Chiu” in Cantonese, is comprised of a series of Chinese religious rituals, a massive street parade, and a bun-snatching race.  I never got a chance to experience the Bun Festival in person; but the old photographs of the bun-snatching race, in which dozens of strong men climbing madly up to the top of a multi-storey high bun mount collecting the white buns, have captured my attention since I was a child.  Unfortunately, due to an accident in 1978 the race was banned before I was even born.  In 2005, the government reintroduced a new bun-snatching event known as the Bun-Snatching Carnival, and has since then promoting it as the regional cultural event in Hong Kong.

Dated back to the 18th century, the Bun Festival is a religious event dedicated to the Taoist deity of Pak Tai, whose power was credited for stopping a devastating plague and chasing off evil spirits.  Every year the forecourt of Cheung Chau’s Pak Tai Temple is transformed into the main festival ground, where gigantic bun mounts are displayed, a temporary stage for Chinese opera is set up, and a bamboo shelter is erected to house three huge papier mâché deities.  On the weekend before this year’s bun-snatching festival, Cheung Chau was already packed with visitors who came to check out the preparation of the festival, the bun mounts, lion dances, Chinese opera performances and other religious rituals that officially kick-start the festival.

ImageReligious crafts donated by local families were displayed in front of the Bai Tak Temple.

ImageTraditional lucky wheels, the  popular merchandises at the festival ground.ImageCommunity groups were busy setting up the bun mount displays.ImageThere were many actions around and a group of men unexpectedly running towards my direction from nowhere with the huge papier mache deities which were being relocated into a bamboo shelter at the festival ground.

ImageThe temporary stage for Chinese Opera would become a focal point after sunset.ImageDonor recognition wall at the back of the temporary stage for Chinese opera, with each name and donation amount handwritten on bright orange papersImageAfter sunset, the lights at the festival ground unveiled a romantic ambiance.  The three huge bun mounts looked even more impressive with the floodlights.

ImageThe three papier mache deities were displayed at a temporary shrine.ImageA woman came to check out the donor list.  ImageThere were a few spots for deities worship within the festival ground.ImageThe forecourt of Pak Tai Temple and the adjacent basketball courts were transformed into the main festival ground for the Bun FestivalImageBoth the huge and small bun-mounts were made with real Chinese buns.ImageThere is always lion dance performance for large Chinese celebration. ImageImage


AFTERTHOUGHT – South America

Before the trip, we have read and heard so much about other travelers’ awful experiences in South America: pickpocket during street events, robbery under gunpoint in broad daylight, caught in gunfire between guerrilla fighters and the military, tricked by dishonest tour operators, frustration over bus and flight delays, bribery demands from border officials, nasty storms in Patagonia, high-altitude sickness on the Andes, travel disruptions caused by violent protests and civil strikes, etc.  However, except for a protest at the border crossing between Bolivia and Argentina, and a 28-hour flight delay in Ushuaia caused by a strike at the Buenos Aires airport, we can hardly recall any notable trouble or dodgy moment during our 3-month journey.  After a few days into the trip, we began to shed off many of our worries, and started to enjoy ourselves in this diverse continent.  We consider ourselves fortunate for meeting many kind people along the way, from honest taxi drivers, environmentally conscious tour guides, encouraging fellow trekkers, young fisherman showing us photos of his catches, skilful and responsible jeep driver, talented musicians on local buses, to a generous driver willing to take us along for an 1.5-hour free ride back to the city.

Many have asked us what was our favourite destination.  This is a question perhaps we can never answer.  There are simply too many lovely memories from almost every stop in our journey.  All these amazing experiences together have become an incredible episode in our lives.

For Argentina, we will always remember the joy of tasting the juicy steaks and irresistible helado (ice-cream) in Buenos Aires, coming face-to-face with the Iguazu Falls on San Martin Island, wine-tasting in the mountains of Cafayate in Northwest Argentina, listening to the rumbling roars of ice carving at Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia, upsetting our knees to get a close-up view of the majestic Fitz Roy Mountain near El Chalten, and sailing in the pristine water of the Beagle Channel in Ushuaia.
Argentina

For Brazil, we will never forget the moment we braved the thundering water at Devil’s Throat in Iguaçu National Park, the instant we spotted a magnificent jaguar in the distant bush at the Pantanal, the time we dwelled in the utopian dream of Modernist Brasilia, the evening we wandered aimlessly on the steep and winding streets of Ouro Preto, the hours we stood under the shadow of Christ the Redeemer to share the unbeatable view of marvellous Rio with hundreds of other tourists, the night we spent pacing the flooded cobblestone streets over the splendid reflections of colonial Paraty, and the day we hustled ourselves between cultural institutions and design exhibitions in the hectic metropolis of Sao Paulo.
Brazil

For Bolivia, we will forever cherish our experiences of hiking the Jurassic fern forest near Samaipata, admiring the white colonial architecture of Sucre from the rooftop of Convento de San Felipe Neri, absorbing the tragic history of Cerro Rico while acclimatizing to 4000m high altitude in Potosi, and confronting the Andean volcanoes, surreal deserts, and colour-changing lagoons on the Southwest Altiplano.
Bolivia

For Chile, the vibrant colours of its landscapes and cityscapes will live long in our heart, including the starry night and crimson sunset at the Atacama Desert, the vividly painted facades of the fairytale-like churches on Chiloe Island, the spring palette of wild orchids and glacial lakes in Torres del Paine, the black and white happy feet of Magellanic Penguins in Patagonia, the eye-popping display of some exotic catches-of-the-day at Mercade Central in Santiago, and finally the wonderful show of New Year’s fireworks in Valparaiso.
Chile
Many thanks to all the readers of the Blue Lapis Road.


DAY 87 (1 OF 1) – NEW YEAR’S FIREWORKS, VALPARAISO, CHILE

Tonight, about a million of locals and visitors gathered in Valparaiso and neighbouring Vina del Mar to watch the largest fireworks display in South America in celebration for the arrival of 2014.   Starting from late morning, people on Cerro Artilleria had already begun to claim their best ocean-facing spots for tonight’s fireworks.  They put chairs, benches, portable tables, and even ropes to mark their temporary territories on the sidewalk.  By midday, vendors at the port were busy cashing in people’s money by selling all sorts of celebration merchandise from party hats to colourful fluorescent bracelets.  Supermarkets were pushing the sales of sparkling wines at their entrances.  We got some groceries and returned to our B&B room to set up our tripods and “snack table” for the night. As night fell upon, myriads of lights were in place of the yellow sunlight illuminating the famous hills of Valparaiso.  But tonight, the starry skyline of the city was a mere backdrop for the most anticipated moment of the year.  Live music from the main square could be heard almost immediately when the sun was down.  Traffic got diverted. Boats kept going in and out of the port. Crowds of people gathered on the main streets, hillside lookouts, apartment balconies, and any public spaces where the sea could be seen.  Upbeat music, laser beams, amateur fireworks, illumination flares continued to lift up the atmosphere of the night.  As time approached, we looked at the time on our laptop and waited patiently by the window with our camera and wineglass in hand.  As the clock struck midnight, the magnificent fireworks display began shooting up high above the city.  We could deeply feel the shake every time the firework exploded in front of us, as if situating in the midst of an air raid. The display lasted for about 25 minutes.  Music was loud and every balconies and roof patios seemed occupied by partying crowds.  We retired to bed at around 4:30am, while our neighbours were still dancing on roof patios under disco lights.  They showed no sign of slowing down.   Valparaiso’s magnificent fireworks display did not only signify the closure of 2013 and the opening of 2014; to us, it also drew an extraordinary conclusion to our three-month journey in South America.  Tomorrow we would be on our way back to the frozen continent of North America.  Under the warm breeze of the Pacific, tonight’s Valparaiso was remarkably bright and beautiful. ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

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Read other posts on Santiago and Valparaiso in 2013 South America:

Day 83.1 – Mercado Central, Santiago
Day 83.2 – Museums & Cultural Centre, Santiago
Day 84.1 – Centro Cultural Palacio la Moneda, Santiago
Day 84.2 – Arrival, Cerro Artilleria, Valparaiso
Day 85.1 – Ascensores, Valparaiso
Day 85.2 – Paella Lunch, Valparaiso
Day 85.3 – Cerros Alegre and Concepcion, Valparaiso
Day 86.1 – Hill of Colours, Valparaiso
Day 86.2 – Trolleybuses, Valparaiso
Day 86.3 – Casa Museo la Sebastiana, Valparaiso
Day 86.4 – Seafood, Valparaiso
Day 87 – New Year’s Fireworks, Valparaiso

The spectacular fireworks conclude our memorable journey to South America in 2013. Click here for the afterthought of our 87-day journey to South America.

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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought


DAY 86 (3 OF 4) – CASA MUSEO LA SEBASTIANA, VALPARAISO, CHILE

The Casa Museo la Sebastiana, the former residence of poet Pablo Neruda, is probably the most popular tourist sight in Valparaiso. Located on Cerro Bellavista, Neruda’s casa offers a fascinating birdeye view of Valparaiso Bay, making it an ideal spot to see the New Year’s Eve firework displays, according to the poet’s own words.

Visiting Casa Sebastiana is like entering the world of Neruda. Neruda loved collecting things. Over the years, he had incorporated his collection of furniture, housewares, antiques, artworks, maps, books, etc. into every corner of the house. Although small, each space in the casa expresses the strong personal taste of the poet, reflecting his sense of humour and his love of the sea.

“A child who does not play is not a child, but the man who does not play has lost forever the child who lived in him.” The living and dining room says it all. The space is richly decorated with paintings and playful toys, including an antique carousel horse brought back from Paris. A curvy fireplace designed by Neruda marks the centre of the space. Open to an unobstructed view of the city and the ocean, this playful space was where Neruda met his guests and friends. Inspired by sea navigation, the study room on the fourth level also reveals the strong character of the late poet. An antique map of the Americas dominates this space, where Neruda spent most of his working time at his study desk.

Unfortunately photography was not allowed inside the casa.  For a peek of the interior, check out their website at http://www.fundacionneruda.org/es/galeria-sebastiana
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Read other posts on Santiago and Valparaiso in 2013 South America:

Day 83.1 – Mercado Central, Santiago
Day 83.2 – Museums & Cultural Centre, Santiago
Day 84.1 – Centro Cultural Palacio la Moneda, Santiago
Day 84.2 – Arrival, Cerro Artilleria, Valparaiso
Day 85.1 – Ascensores, Valparaiso
Day 85.2 – Paella Lunch, Valparaiso
Day 85.3 – Cerros Alegre and Concepcion, Valparaiso
Day 86.1 – Hill of Colours, Valparaiso
Day 86.2 – Trolleybuses, Valparaiso
Day 86.3 – Casa Museo la Sebastiana, Valparaiso
Day 86.4 – Seafood, Valparaiso
Day 87 – New Year’s Fireworks, Valparaiso

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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought


DAY 86 (1 OF 4) – HILL OF COLOURS, VALPARAISO, CHILE

It was always a pleasure when getting up in the morning and the first thing we saw were the colourful houses across from Cerro Artilleria.  We could see the broken windows, or the rusty metal roofs, or the occasional piles of rubbish and debris along quiet laneways.  But under the golden morning light, everything seemed forgivingly charming.
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Read other posts on Santiago and Valparaiso in 2013 South America:

Day 83.1 – Mercado Central, Santiago
Day 83.2 – Museums & Cultural Centre, Santiago
Day 84.1 – Centro Cultural Palacio la Moneda, Santiago
Day 84.2 – Arrival, Cerro Artilleria, Valparaiso
Day 85.1 – Ascensores, Valparaiso
Day 85.2 – Paella Lunch, Valparaiso
Day 85.3 – Cerros Alegre and Concepcion, Valparaiso
Day 86.1 – Hill of Colours, Valparaiso
Day 86.2 – Trolleybuses, Valparaiso
Day 86.3 – Casa Museo la Sebastiana, Valparaiso
Day 86.4 – Seafood, Valparaiso
Day 87 – New Year’s Fireworks, Valparaiso

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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought


DAY 85 (3 OF 3) – CERROS ALEGRE AND CONCEPCION, VALPARAISO, CHILE

Many visitors consider getting lost in Cerros Alegre and Concepcion as the most interesting activity to do in Valparaiso.  Lined with colourful building façades, humorous street art, design boutiques and bohemian cafes, the labyrinth of lanes and small streets of these two hill neighbourhoods offer the most charming picture of the city.
After the pailla lunch, we wandered around these two small neighbourhoods, and dropped by Palacio Baburizza (now Museo de Bellas Artes).
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Read other posts on Santiago and Valparaiso in 2013 South America:

Day 83.1 – Mercado Central, Santiago
Day 83.2 – Museums & Cultural Centre, Santiago
Day 84.1 – Centro Cultural Palacio la Moneda, Santiago
Day 84.2 – Arrival, Cerro Artilleria, Valparaiso
Day 85.1 – Ascensores, Valparaiso
Day 85.2 – Paella Lunch, Valparaiso
Day 85.3 – Cerros Alegre and Concepcion, Valparaiso
Day 86.1 – Hill of Colours, Valparaiso
Day 86.2 – Trolleybuses, Valparaiso
Day 86.3 – Casa Museo la Sebastiana, Valparaiso
Day 86.4 – Seafood, Valparaiso
Day 87 – New Year’s Fireworks, Valparaiso

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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought


DAY 84 (2 OF 2) – ARRIVAL, CERRO ARTILLERIA, VALPARAISO, CHILE

Renowned for its colourful houses, busy port, antique funiculars, hilly landscape, and amphitheatre-like bay setting, mingled with a sense of melancholy expressed from the architecture dated to a bygone era of economic glory, Valparaiso has a unique character and distinct atmosphere found nowhere else in Chile. Before the opening of Panama Canal, Valparaiso was the most important port city along the Pacific coast of South America. In much of the 20th century, Valparaiso went through a gradual decline. Thanks to the rise of Chilean export and tourism, Valparaiso has been witnessing an economic comeback in recent years. Cruise ship tourists and independent travelers all contribute to the city’s revitalization, and the numbers have been rising especially after UNESCO declared Valparaiso as a World Heritage site in 2003.
From Santiago, we took one of the many afternoon buses to the port city of Valparaiso, where we would spend the last few days of our South American journey. We came for the festive air, and the famous New Year Eve’s firework display, which some said would attract one million visitors and turned the city into a huge party. Among the famous hills of Valparaiso, most visitors would prefer the more centrally located Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepcion. We opted to stay on Cerro Artilleria (Artillery Hill) instead for its strategic location, where we would be able to appreciate the fantastic overview of Valparaiso Bay from the window of our room.
Tourists come to Cerro Artilleria during the day to chill out at the lookouts or to visit the Naval Museum. By late afternoon, Cerro Artilleria returns to a tranquil state under the sun’s yellow glow. In the evening, houses turn the adjacent hills into a spectacular sea of lights.
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Read other posts on Santiago and Valparaiso in 2013 South America:

Day 83.1 – Mercado Central, Santiago
Day 83.2 – Museums & Cultural Centre, Santiago
Day 84.1 – Centro Cultural Palacio la Moneda, Santiago
Day 84.2 – Arrival, Cerro Artilleria, Valparaiso
Day 85.1 – Ascensores, Valparaiso
Day 85.2 – Paella Lunch, Valparaiso
Day 85.3 – Cerros Alegre and Concepcion, Valparaiso
Day 86.1 – Hill of Colours, Valparaiso
Day 86.2 – Trolleybuses, Valparaiso
Day 86.3 – Casa Museo la Sebastiana, Valparaiso
Day 86.4 – Seafood, Valparaiso
Day 87 – New Year’s Fireworks, Valparaiso

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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought


DAY 84 (1 OF 2) – CENTRO CULTURAL PALACIO LA MONEDA, SANTIAGO, CHILE

Plaza de la Ciudadania is situated right in front of Palacio de la Moneda, the neoclassical building housing the Chilean presidential office.  Under the plaza there lies Centro Cultural Palacio la Moneda, a new underground cultural complex consisted of theatres, exhibition spaces and shops.
Before we left Santiago for Valparaiso, we spent the morning visiting the cultural complex.  The ramps in the atrium that connected all floors were pretty interesting.  Natural light lit up the entire atrium through the glass roof cladding that belongs to the floor finish of the plaza above.
At 2pm, we arrived at one of the main bus terminals in the city for transportation to Valparaiso.  In two hours we would finally arrive in Valparaiso, the very last stop of our journey!
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Read other posts on Santiago and Valparaiso in 2013 South America:

Day 83.1 – Mercado Central, Santiago
Day 83.2 – Museums & Cultural Centre, Santiago
Day 84.1 – Centro Cultural Palacio la Moneda, Santiago
Day 84.2 – Arrival, Cerro Artilleria, Valparaiso
Day 85.1 – Ascensores, Valparaiso
Day 85.2 – Paella Lunch, Valparaiso
Day 85.3 – Cerros Alegre and Concepcion, Valparaiso
Day 86.1 – Hill of Colours, Valparaiso
Day 86.2 – Trolleybuses, Valparaiso
Day 86.3 – Casa Museo la Sebastiana, Valparaiso
Day 86.4 – Seafood, Valparaiso
Day 87 – New Year’s Fireworks, Valparaiso

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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought