Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Agra fort



Agra is not only the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort houses some magnificent palaces which are really worth the visit. This photo was taken at the main gate of the fort.

The Taj



Ok, ok, I know you have seen this one everywhere. But I just couldn't resist. It is like this that you learn that it is useless to try to deny your tourist essence: at the end you will go for the classic photo and feel like you have won the day. It is ridiculous but it is stronger than you...

I got there at 6h45 and this was my first photo (I had to queue to get it, and it is not even horizontal, how bad is that?!).



Trying to get away from the usual Taj Mahal photo. This view is from the east at about 9h in the morning.



We watched the sunset from the other side of the river which lies just behind Taj Mahal. This picture was taken from there.

Gwalior



Apart from this beautiful palace (Man Singh palace), situated on a fort on a hill 100m above the city, Gwalior did not impress us much. We checked in at the hotel in the morning and decided to leave to Agra in the afternoon.

Orchha



Orchha means the hidden place. I think the name is really appropriate. It is a small (but agitated) village, with a very colorful market and with a significant number of palaces and temples for its size.

This picture shows two temples on the outskirt of the village. These are two temples of a set of four exact copies disposed in a square. The place was almost desert apart from a couple of tourists and the gentleman on the picture which was fighting to keep the grass from becoming a jungle (Orchha is in the middle of a dense forest).

Khajuraho



Khajuraho is a small village with a fantastic set of temples built by the Chandela dinasty. The temples are superb examples of ancient hindu architecture and are famous for their erotic sculptures.

When I visited, the place was full with local and foreign visitors, including students from a local school. The kids were profiting from the lawn around the temples to play games when I took this picture.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

People and colours

Varanasi is a great place for people-watching. I leave you with some scenes of the daily life in the Ghats. No comments needed.











Benares



The place to be in Varanasi is the Ghats, long steps that dive into the river. Pilgrims come here for a holy dip in the Ganges early in the morning. This picture was taken from a boat at about 8h in the morning.



Over the Ghats old palaces still reflect their beauty on the calm waters of the Ganges. I took this picture on the same early morning boat ride.



Sunset over the Ganges is perhaps even more beautiful than the sunrise. The sun coming down being the old palaces by the river was the perfect remedy for the stress we accumulated from days of jumping from train to train.



Apart from the rickshaw offers, boat ride proposals, quick massage, occasional gurus, hashish sellers, I have been having a lot of proposals for a beard cut lately, I wonder why...


India

Just a few comments before I post my first pictures of India. It has been a week since we arrived to India through Kakarbita, close to Darjeeling. Due to bad weather, we decided to cancel our Sikkim plans and head southwest to Bodhgaya and then Varanasi. Darjeeling seemed really nice but the fog was so dense we could not enjoy the landscape.

Since then, we have travelled quite a lot by train (1 trip of 12h, 2 trips of 9h and 2 trips of 6h), experimenting the wonders of India railway system (a bit of irony here). We have tried all travelling classes and I would have a lot to tell you if I had the time right now...

After an interesting stop in Bodhgaya, one of the holiest cities for the Budhists, we head to Varanasi, one of the holiest cities for the Hindus.

I think I can say our trip in India starts in Varanasi. To understand this you would have to go there and linger for a few days. For now I leave you with some pictures.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Jungle sunset



Further south in Terai, we left the hills to discover the jungle at the Chitwan National Park. The main attractions are the famous Bengal Tiger (which I missed) and the Asian Rhynos (which we spotted). But the best part was probably the sunset.

Annapurna views



Views from the quiet mountain village of Bandipur, 120km west of Kathmandu. On the back, the Annapurna range surfacing from the clouds. The peacefull hills of Bandipur seem light-years away from busy Kathmandu.

Boudannath



Many Tibetans live in Kathmandu since the period of the chinese cultural revolution when they fled their country. Kathmandu is therefore an important center of Buddhism. The region around the Boudannath stupa concentrates most of the Buddhist temples in Kathmandu.

Durbar Square, Patan



Patan's Durbar square is the most impressive in the Kathmandu valley with the biggest concentration of hindu temples. This photo was taken from a restaurant overlooking the square.

Newar Architecture



The Newar are the main ethnic group in Nepal. They were known as skilled wood craftsmen and various temples and palaces in Patan, Bakhtapur and Kathmandu Durbar squares are witnesses of these skills. This photo was taken in Patan.

Swayambunath temple



Swayambhunath is a Hindu and Budhist temple standing on a hill overlooking Kathmandu. It is also called the monkey temple since the hill is inhabited by a big number of monkeys. Last year I got too close of one of them and got knocked on the head by a protective mother. This year I kept the distance !

Nepal



This is my first post in Nepal.

Even if you have been in Kathmandu before, nothing prepares you for the noise, the pollution, the chaotic traffic and let's not forget the marijuana - tiger balm - flute sellers that harass you at every corner (it must be my long beard but I seem to attract a lot of the hash-marijuana sellers - I even thought of buying a "NO MARIJUANA, NO HASH, NO PROBLEM" tee-shirt).

But the Kathmandu Valley has its charms as you will see in the following pictures. And Kathmandu city has a special vibe that seems to attract a lot of tourists. Nowadays maybe too much.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Tibetan people

Some photos of Tibetan people. Don't expect much because I have a small digital camera. My only requirement is that it should fit in my pocket !



Dancers rehearsal for a religious festival being celebrated in Lhasa. This photo was taken in front of the Dalai Lama's old summer palace.



Yak butter seller in her lunch pause. This photo was taken in the Kora (pilgrimage circuit) behind the Potala.



Painting the Jokhang temple in Lhasa. The temple was crowded with pilgrims since winter time is when they come from different parts of Tibet and China to visit the main religious temples.



A monk enters Reting monastery, one of the most important monasteries in Tibet and also one that most suffered with the chinese cultural revolution.



Monks in a religious ceremony in Sakya monastery. The ceremony was attended by hundreds of pilgrims. Sakya is probably the most authentic place I have been during my stay in Tibet. We were the only tourists in town.



Small children and huge monastery. Sakya monastery is really impressive and we were going around the monastery's Kora when this girl smiled for the photo.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Back from EBC



I think this photo shows well why they call Tibet the roof of the world...

The photo was taken on our way back from Everest base camp. We slept in Rombuk monastery, close to the Everest Basecamp (which was desert, being winter) and it was an extremely cold night. All the water bottles in our room were completely frozen in the morning and so were we...

Deep blue



Just after a 5100m pass, the deep blue of Yamdrok lake seems unreal. Maybe an effect from altitude sickness?

Ganden monastery



Not far from Lhasa, Ganden monastery is slowly recovering the splendor it had before the cultural revolution.

Drigung Till


Monk admiring the beautiful landscape from Drigung till monastery. It was early in the morning and very very cold but the light was fantastic and the colors very autumnal...

Walking on the water



Walking around lake Nam Tso, 4900m high

Is this Lhasa ?



Tibetan pilgrim family overlooking Lhasa from the Potala

Inside Potala



White palace courtyard, Potala Palace

Potala



Ok, this is a classic, but it is still so impressive that I had to post it.

Back online

After three weeks of censorship in Tibet, I am finally free from the chinese government control paranoia and can write you a few words before publishing some pictures.

Blogspot is not the only site I found out to be censored (Facebook is another) and I can only say that the chinese government seems completely paranoiac: The streets and the roofs of Lhasa are still full of soldiers and the temples and monasteries full of cameras. Freedom of speech is inexistent (I was told that the walls have eyes and ears), just as the photos of the present Dalai Lama.

What is more ironic in the whole thing is that you can easily see that the chinese presence in Tibet and more particularly in Lhasa is irreversible, and the only thing that the people from Tibet really want is the return of the Dalai Lama and the preservation of their culture.

Instead, the chinese government demonises the Dalai Lama and promotes a criminal Han immigration policy that is transforming Lhasa (already transformed) in a chinese city.

On the good side of the chinese action the latest years is the rebuilding of all the temples and monasteries that themselves had destroyed during the cultural revolution.

I had promised I would only publish pictures but I could not resist to write this, even if politics are clearly not in the scope of this blog.

Anyway, Tibet was a great experience and it was great to go during the low season (winter) when all the pilgrims fill the streets of Lhasa and tourists are almost inexistent. The weather during this period is also the best. Clear blue sky everyday. The drawback is the cold, but living in Switzerland we should be used by now... or not?

I leave you with the pictures (if I am able to upload them because my internet connection is so bloody slow...) .