Sunday, February 28, 2016

Travelogue: Asia Pacific - Part 4b


We had not climbed the central towers at A. Wat and we also wanted to see the rising Sun again, so we woke up at 5AM this day all excited to spend another day in Siem Reap. We reached the queueing (word with the longest consecutive use of vowels) area only to find out that the opening time was 7:40. It was not 7:30 or 7:45 as one would expect but giving it some thought revealed that it was exactly 1 hour after Sunrise. So we thought of roaming around a bit and enjoy the not so hot hours of the day. We were entering cave like structures at A. Wat and coming out. There was one particular place where we were standing and discussing the directions when a man came forward and handed over his camera to Him to take his photos. I was the one dressed like a photographer, He already had a camera in His hand and still people preferred Him, unfair world I told Him and we giggled.

Trying to smile on Day-3

We went back to the queueing area (don’t forget that it’s the word with 5 consecutive vowels) around 7:15 to find that people had already formed a queue and were waiting for the staff to arrive and open the gate to the staircase. Fortunately, the queue was not too long by then and we started climbing before 8. There were four Buddha temples in each direction of the central tower. We saw the rising Sun from here too. The architecture here was similar to the rest of the temple like the dancing apsaras, the intricate design on the walls and the Buddha statues. After roaming around the Central tower we came down, walked out of the main gate for the 3rd time, then crossed the moat and went back to the hotel.

Still hiding but definitely rising

That's an observatory in the distance and the stone ramp we crossed to get to the main temple!

We overslept in the hotel room again after breakfast and Mr. Kun had to ring us this time. We got up, got ready fast and soon were on our way to Banteay Srei. The ride was long and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Banteay Srei from outside felt like a resort  and it was so in some respect as you will figure out. We had heard that this place has the most intricate carvings of all the temples in Siem Reap and that turned out to be very true. There were fantastically detailed carvings and they reminded us of various episodes from Ramayana.

One of the stupas at Banteay Srei     An episode from Ramayana: Hanuman sena

After some photography, we followed the sign boards and found some people singing folklores and playing their unique musical instruments. We also found a fishing & boating area (surprisingly!) but there was no one boating or fishing as there was little water to be able to do so. People were either having snacks under the shacks or were just stranded on the still boats. A young girl of about 5-6 years old in her school uniform started talking to me as we were walking along this trail. She was asking if I had some dollars. I didn’t reply but she continued following us until she was distracted by another girl of about the same age who was not in a school uniform and was riding a bicycle. As soon as the girl on the bicycle came closer, she stopped talking to me and got up on the bicycle with her friend. I was reminded of those days when my mum asked my younger sister to look at me playing or doing things while she slipped food into her mouth.

Men singing and playing instruments at Banteay Srei

We continued to follow the sign boards and reached the information centre. This was a small building with large boards hanging on all sides showing the history of Cambodia and of the different temples. Some boards spoke about religion too. We understood that Hinduism was followed till the late 11th and 12th century in Cambodia after which people started to follow Buddhism. The person-in-charge of the place asked us to sign a large roster with our names, nationalities and comments. We noticed that people had come there from all over the world – US, Canada, Australia, Europe and there were of course, the Asians.

A snapshot from our trail at Banteay Srei

After roaming around the souvenir shops and restaurants, we got back on the Tuk-tuk, had a nice Khmer meal on the way and started our journey to Pre Rup. It’s a nice temple complex surrounded by green grass and some tall trees. Pre Rup was built by a Khmer King named Rajendravarman. We had to climb stairs here too to reach the main temple. The main temple was getting renovated with a German collaboration and we found stones draped in red or yellow clothes inside the smaller temples. There were open rooms constructed on all sides of the temple. We are assuming they were the quarters for the priests. After taking pictures of the towers and the steep stairs, we got on the Tuk-tuk to visit the Cambodian Cultural Village.

Long way to go at Pre Rup

This village has various sections for tourists to get familiar with Cambodian people and their culture. Some sections are dedicated to showing the cultural performances, some are like mini museums, some show tribal people and their villages, some show the floating homes popular in Cambodia and a section showed scaled models of famous Angkor temples. There are also 3 theatres, a park, a boating area, etc. We checked all the sections and it was pretty dark by the time we came out.

3 Spheres of Gandhiji at the Cultural Village

We wanted to taste something different today and He had asked Cortana earlier in the day to help Him with some good places to dine. She showed a couple of places all of which were in the mid-budget range that were close to our hotel and we showed the topmost in that list, ‘The Glasshouse’, to Mr. Kun who didn’t take long to realize where we wanted to go but he did take a lot of time to digest if we really wanted to go where we wanted to go. We didn’t understand his astonishment till he dropped us in front of Hotel Park Hyatt and said that this was ‘The Glasshouse’. Now who knew these whatever star guys would name their dining area different from the name of the hotel itself. Since we were already here, we went inside with a dusty (red) face from the day and informal clothes. We were worried if the staff would chuck us out asking us to come again when we were well-groomed and better-dressed but that didn’t happen. Maybe they thought we were like this cool couple in cool clothes with a cool outlook towards life (as if!). One of the staff took us inside ‘The Living Room’, found us a nice & cozy place with a beautifully lit candle. There was a fire going on in the background and light music was playing too. I rubbed my eyes to check if I was not dreaming. We smiled to each other for a while through our dusty eyes. The meal and the desserts were really good. I have never had a date night in my life but after having the passion-fruit ice-cream that evening, felt this was it.


We spent our last day relaxing, shopping and doing our favourite pastime of photo editing. Every evening, we had deleted some of the blurry photographs from the day but today we sat down to review and edit all of them. We had also shot a video during one of our Tuk-tuk rides. He transferred that video from my phone to my laptop and we downloaded and installed Microsoft’s Hyperlapse Pro to do extensive video editing. We tried a lot of stuff and shortened the video to 1/10th of its original run time while maintaining the video quality. Now don’t ask me where the edited video is because it’s lost in the transition between who knows what but it was an exercise worth the effort.

We wanted to have some Indian food on an otherwise important day. Luckily, there were a couple of popular Indian restaurants just round the corner from our hotel. Here Maps don’t cover Cambodia but the map I showed you in the last post had a detailed road map on the other side of the page as shown below.   

Road map near Angkor Pearl Hotel

We walked down, enjoyed a heavy Indian meal with banana-split ice-cream at the end. We came back, packed our bags, rested for a while, went out again to look at some souvenir shops here and there. It was already time for dinner so we went to another Indian restaurant. I enjoyed the masala tea there while He had some spicy food. While returning we entered a few more shops which included a Japanese store as well. We also took a halt before Park Hyatt, better dressed than yesternight but with no camera. We still managed to take a blurry photo with my phone. We walked back to the hotel completing our one last walk in Siem Reap.

Selfie near The Glasshouse, Park Hyatt


We got up early, got ready to go back to our own worlds. We were amazed that hotels in Cambodia start their breakfast at 6 in the morning. I guess it is so because people go to see the sunrise at A. Wat. After a light breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and Mr. Kun dropped us at the airport. He did the Namaskar and we did the same bidding farewell to him and Cambodia.

Some facts: We can apply for a Cambodian E-visa online. The currency of Cambodia is Cambodian Riel (~4300 Riel = 1 USD) but most of the trade happens in USD, at least with the tourists. Even the petrol pumps have the quotations in both USD and Riel. We are not allowed to carry any local currency in or outside the country. The Khmer cuisine is truly delicious – it is both sweet and spicy at the same time. Angkor is the lifeline of Cambodia. Their national flag and currencies both have Angkor Wat on them. The people are very polite, friendly and humble. For us, it was definitely one of the trips to cherish for a lifetime.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Travelogue: Asia Pacific - Part 4a

O what a trip it has beeen… O o o.. Can’t replace ‘trip’ with ‘life’ at the moment. But maybe this Gadget man can do. I’m enjoying watching this show like nothing else. I’m sincerely praying he goes to Alaska, Egypt and each of those African and South American cities where different animal species including humans co-exist (or I want to know if that is so). Not digressing too much from what I intended to write in this post, I begin the story from Siem Reap. As you already have some background, photographic though it may have been (see last post), I will directly jump to Day-0.


I reached Siem Reap late in the night. The hotel had sent a Tuk-tuk driver (yes that’s what they are called) who was holding my name card outside a very small airport. A Tuk-tuk is nothing but a motor bike with a carriage on 2-wheels attached to it. The bike pulls the carriage which is covered at the top. This Tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Kun (the Tuk-tuk had his name painted on it) was our companion/guide for the next 4 days. The Tuk-tuks are mini-homes in themselves we soon realized. Mr. Kun used to open up a hammock from one of the corners of his Tuk-tuk and sleep deeply till we woke him up.

The first impression of Siem Reap was very pleasant and so was the warm welcome by the hotel staff. I was handed over a map as soon as I stepped into the room and my brain started storming around when and what would we be covering in the next 4 days.

Map of Siem Reap


He joined me early in the morning. I (& Mr. Kun) received Him from the airport. The hotel was in the center of the city and I was enjoying these small trips back and forth from the airport. The airport is surrounded by hundreds of hotels and one out of three has the name ‘Angkor’ in it (& I’m not exaggerating).  I kept on marking places on the map and at the same time kept confusing myself too much with what and when to do that He and Mr. Kun took in charge and we went first to Preah Khan temple. A day pass to the temples costs \$20 whereas a 3-day pass costs \$40. As you enter the ticket booth premises, you find counters selling only 3-day passes. We got the same too but there are counters on the opposite side selling 1-day passes as well. So if you are not sure whether you will like the temples, just look around and go to the other side. They take pictures of you on the spot and the entry card has your photo printed on it. Every day, when you enter the temple area, they punch a hole in your card. One nice bit about it is also the fact that the card is valid for a week so if you want to take breaks between visits to the temples, it’s still fine. 

Our Passes to Angkor Archaeological Area

All the temples in Siem Reap had one thing in common: there were gates in all the directions. So one could enter from the west, reach the center point and take either the North/South route or continue to walk towards the east or like what lazy guys (read ‘we’) would do, take a U-turn from the central point and come out from the same gate.

Preah Khan was built in the 12th century to honor the father of King Jayavarman VII. It had beautiful depictions of the Samudra Manthan story. There were Shivalings everywhere and the carvings were definitely a charm. But that was just a start. There was a big lake surrounding the main temple and people were meditating or fishing around there. Some adventurous bunch were walking around the forest trails surrounding the temple.

We met a “guide” while we were inside the temple. He gave us tips on how to take some interesting photographs and as we started moving forward he asked for a tip. You will find a lot of such people who would be willing to guide you and tons of people selling palm/coconut water, clothes, key chains, fridge-magnets, books, maps, post-cards,  peeled mangoes, handicrafts, etc. in their squeaky voices mostly targeting the women, “Lady… Buy this magnet. Only 1 dollar, lady.”

This was the peak season but still the temperature was 30-32°C during the day time and tourists were glowing red in the heat. The restaurants were filled with people. The highlight of the first day was us having banana fritters for the first time and they were delicious. Restaurants served all kinds of western cuisines, the traditional Khmer cuisine and a separate menu section for vegetarians. Siem Reap is a place made comfortable for tourists with all sort of customizations while keeping in tact the historical temples.

We went to the mystical Angkor Wat temple at noon. This temple was built by King Suryavarman II. There are many different statues of Buddha inside the temple complex. The center of the temple has 5 towers, 4 towers sort of making a square and a tall tower standing in the middle of the square. People can climb up the central tower (Bakan) to observe it from inside. The actual stairs built back in the 12th century are quite steep but they have built one metal staircase in the North(?) for tourists to climb. People are made to stand in queues and everyone is given a card before they start to climb these and the card is to be returned when they come down. I will come to these towers again because we visited Angkor Wat on our Day-2 and Day-3 of the trip as well. We didn’t go up on this day as the queue was terribly long as seen below.

The long queue to go up to the top level (Bakan) of the Angkor Wat

There is a long & wide moat surrounding the temple complex. Other than the moat, there are also a couple of lakes where the reflection of the main temple is beautifully seen. The reflection is even more glamorous during sunrise and sunset. There are pictures of apsaras making different poses everywhere in the temple. There are also libraries, ponds, prayer halls, etc. inside the temple complex which makes us realize that there were other civilizations like the ones at Harappa and Mohenjodaro, which were highly advanced for their times.

We went through the large corridors which had depictions of 8 stories in Hinduism. We could recognize the obvious ones like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Samudra Manthan, Vishnu conquering over the demons but there were four more about which you should(!) read here.

After spending good number of hours at Angkor Wat and with a plan of coming back next morning for a first hand experience of sunrise, we headed back to our hotel. We ordered a vegetarian pizza, fettuccini with cheese sauce and some drinks. The pizza turned out to be the best we had had till date in our lives.


The mornings and evenings are pretty windy and cold in Siem Reap. Mr. Kun was ready at 5AM to take us to the temple. On moonlit streets with several other tourists either on Tuk-tuk’s or their rented bicycles, we became sort of confident that the decision to get up so early was not wrong. We were amazed when we saw pro-photographers with tripods, bags of lenses and large cameras (somehow large feels professional to me but maybe I’m wrong) getting ready for the sunrise. We sat on the green grass watching one of the lakes at Angkor Wat while we waited for the Sun to rise. I was sleeping till I saw some colours in the sky. All of a sudden, the darkness had vanished and the world was lit. Such an extraordinary magic performance by nature I thought. He tried shooting photographs of the same.

Immersed that we were with Nature's beauty, still managed a few shots

As we started walking back, a child came forward to sell me fridge magnets. I was about to buy when a lady tourist came to me and said, “I know it’s none of my business but if you buy from her, her mother won’t send her to school. There are various other forms of donation which you can explore.” She repeated ‘I know it’s none of my business’ at least 3 more times. I nodded and replied, “Yes, I agree to what you say.” But I still bought a magnet. Maybe by doing that, I have made a child to not go to school. I strongly wish that’s not true.

We returned back to the hotel and after a nice breakfast which included dragon fruits, we slept for a while in our room. After that, we moved to our next destination, Angkor Thom. The first one in that group of temples was Bayon.

A. Thom had a more open architecture when compared to A. Wat. The Bayon temple had faces everywhere we turned. People say that each of these face is unique. There was one beautiful statue of Buddha here too and very many shivalings. By now it became clear to us that the foundation/insides of these temples was made of red stones whereas the outside was carved out of white stones. Many pieces of such white stones were first carved and then fitted beautifully on top of the red stones using iron rods. The iron rods gave both strength as well as binding to these sculptures.

The face more closely

There were quite a number of steep stairs at A. Thom and one could climb if one wished. We did try a few, successfully climbing some and climbing down halfway through others. With too many similar (yet unique) faces looking at us in all directions, we did fumble a bit to find directions to the exit. We wanted to go to Baphuon from here, a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva and which has three floors. As we came out of Bayon, we saw the statue of ‘Big Buddha’. A few people were making offerings, some were praying and some like us were taking photographs. There were tall (really tall) trees – Banyan, eucalyptus, etc. surrounding this area.

Big Buddha from a distance

Baphuon too had a couple of lakes surrounding the main temple. We walked up to the temple to look at it from inside. Most of these temples in Siem Reap had a figure of Buddha and there were restrictions around what one could wear while entering those premises. Few tourists had come prepared, few were prepared for the change and the rest were (un)prepared to stay back or come back later I guess. As we climbed each floor, we counted the number of stairs and checked out the architecture. It was almost like entering one gate after the other to find a pleasant surprise inside. We came down on the other side of the temple and saw the formation of reclining Buddha (sadly we forgot to take a picture of this majestic scene).

Baphuon from Angkor Thom

After taking a lot of pictures in Baphuon, we walked towards Phimeanakas temple. Climbing up was not allowed here and we just looked at it from outside, rested for a while outside the temple and walked towards and on the Elephant terrace, finally entering the ‘Terrace of the Leper King’. It’s not a terrace as the word suggests but instead a small pathway where there are inscriptions of men, apsaras, warriors, Gods and animals.  There is another great Buddha statue as we emerge from the terrace. We had completed our journey for now. Mr. Kun wanted to take us to a restaurant with an air-con (that’s what he called it) for lunch. I wanted to tell him I come from the South of India where it is ‘Cambodia hot’ 10 months in a year.  But I didn’t and we did enjoy a warm meal with some cold smoothies there. On the way, we saw Sras Srang – a very large water reservoir. But it was too warm and sunny outside that we didn’t bother to take the camera out.

We moved to the last destination of the day called Ta Prohm after lunch. This was also founded by King Jayavarman VII. It was built then as a monastery and university. It’s a very popular place, you will know why when you look at the pictures. There are trees which have grown out from inside the small temples. You cannot distinguish if the shade is provided  by the temple or the tree. We spotted an interesting insect which looked like a speck of dust till we saw it moving as if it had some agenda.

Can you spot the insect?

After an exhilarating stint at Ta Prohm, we went back to the hotel to prepare for Day-3. Something interesting happened that evening. We had ordered 2 glasses of mixed fruit juice. I was not able to drink from the glass after a while. There could be only 3 reasons for that happening. Either I had forgotten to drink using a straw or the cooks had forgotten to grind a carrot properly for the juice or there was no juice in the glass at all. But I could see that the glass was $\frac{3}{4}$ full. After His questioning glares, I stopped trying to drink and instead stirred the straw inside the glass. To our amusement, the straw was stuck to a block of ice, which was half the size of the glass. That was something to remember from that evening.

To be continued…

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Angkor Photography

As you know, we were at Cambodia a couple of weeks ago. We visited the  historical temples there (including the iconic Angkor Wat temple) for 3 continuous days. And then we had to rest the fourth day… I say rest, we kept it to explore the city of Siem Reap instead. Anyway, She will go into more details of where we went and how we felt. I’ll discuss just one aspect of the trip here in this post: Photography.

The album associated to this trip is on the right sidebar so you can go through it any time you want but here I’ll showcase some photos that are not included there. We start with a dragonfly against the background of rusty red rocks at the entrance of Preah Khan temple:


Then we got up early next day to catch a glimpse of Sunrise at Angkor Wat temple. Way before sunrise when everything was surrounded by pitch black darkness, a 1 minute exposure of the temple and its reflection in a pond gave us this blurry photo. This shot definitely proves that we need to carry around a tripod for such land-posures.

Hazy yet beautiful (1 min exposure way before sunlight made any appearance!)

Oh ya, and if you don’t believe it was pitch black darkness then, here’s a panorama stitched out of photos shot with ‘short’ exposures half an hour later!

A panaroma at dawn

And a rusty moon too:

Rusty Moon

I forgot how to shoot forced perspective photos. Here’s a pathetic result but at least the funny colour profile is worth a second look:

The horse made a fool out of me

Hear are some “Spot the Differences” style photographs:

Not just a stem, there is a spider here     A careful look at the spider

Can you spot the spider from the right photo in the left one (original full-res photo available on clicking it)? I tell you this is not so easy! Winking smile

The pillars are in focus     The people are in focus

Once more, I forgot how to make everything in the frame ‘in focus’ so here are two shots making near & far ‘in focus’, respectively.

Stupas in focus     Flowers in focus

Same problem and resolution as above.

Supporting crumbling boundary walls     Returning from Pre Rup

I also forgot that I could change ‘exposure’ curves in-camera, i.e., make brighter areas dark and darker areas bright! Pathetic… Just pathetic, Really pathetic, man! Sad smile

On a floating house in Cambodian Cultural Village

Again, the bright sunlight made this whole shot so hazy. Should have changed to the built-in scene mode for portraits in bright sunlight or something! But then I couldn’t view the screen well, anyway.

Selfie near The Glasshouse @ Park Hyatt

Finally, on our last night of stay in Siem Reap, we took a (blurry & dark, for the lack of a better word like hideous) selfie in front of a 7-star hotel. The hotel where we, just the previous day, had mistakenly crashed in for dinner and almost ended up broke. Even the Tuk-tuk driver hesitated to drop us there and really tried to make sure we knew what we were getting into but sadly we didn’t get the hints. More about this in Her post.

The Glasshouse @ Park Hyatt

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

An End of an Era

The one who wrote the motto for (theoretical) physicists:

कभी कभी यूँ भी हमने अपने जी को बहलाया है
जिन बातों को खुद नहीं समझे औरों को समझाया है

Kabhi kabhi yun bhi hamne apne jee ko bahlaaya hai
Jin baaton ko khud nahin samjhe auron ko samjhaaya hai

Sometimes even this seems entertaining to me
Explaining to thee, ideas that are unclear to me

–निदा फाज़ली (Nida Fazli)

is no more.

उनकी ही ज़बान से

But then he will always be alive through his Ghazals, Shers, Dohas, Songs and Nazms in his readers’ minds. Let me leave you with some of his creations:

मुँह की बात सुने हर कोई दिल के दर्द को जाने कौन
आवाज़ों के बाज़ारों में खामोशी पहचाने कौन

तन्हा तन्हा दुःख झेलेंगे महफिल महफिल गाएँगे
जब तक आँसू पास रहेंगे तब तक गीत सुनाएँगे

कहाँ चराग़ जलाएँ कहाँ गुलाब रखें
छतें तो मिलती हैं लेकिन मकाँ नहीं मिलता

दिन सलीके से उगा रात ठिकाने से रही
दोस्ती अपनी भी कुछ रोज़ जमाने से रही

A tribute…

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