Sunday, September 30, 2007

Amritsar-Haridwar, India: 19June07

Holy Hindu City, Haridwar

Again, this was a longer train ride from expected, almost 8 hours. We got a not very clean but quite a big room in Haridwar and then we headed to the ghat.
The ghat in the evening was full with pilgrims taking bath in the river to purify their sins. Mathieu joined the crowd to swim in the river. He did this in Ganges Varanasi too, so i teased him saying that, he has a very very clean soul when he goes back to Canada. i soaked my feet in the cold water. At least i got part of my soul cleansed. :) The river is real clean for international standard! (Obviously in general, Indian cleanliness has other standard than others.) We then did the flower release puja. The priest insisted to be paid. i refused and told him that we would only pay at the counter which gave us official reciept. If he is the real priest, this contribution would go to him as well! So we went to some counter and pay to get a receipt.
Haridwar have more beggars than any other places too. Obviously those come to clean their souls are more willing to futher boast their kamma too.

Har-ki-Pairi (The Footstep of God) is where Vishnu is said to have dropped some heavenly nectar and left a footprint behind. is makes it a very sacred spot and the place to wash away your sins. Pilgrims bathes here in its quick currents.

Every evening, the crowds assembly at Har-ki-Pairi and the river comes alive with flickering flames for puja.

Floating offereings are released onto the Ganges. Haridwar is propitiously located at the point where the Gnages emerges from the Himalaya.

The ghats sit on the western bank of the Genges canal and every evening hundreds of worshippers gather for ganga aarti (river worship ceremony).

Amritsar & Attari, Punjab, India: 18June07

The India-Pakistan Border "Show"

In the end, we decided to go to another Hindu holy city, Haridwar, instead of spend that much of time in Delhi. We got the train ticket then we moved to the free accommodation by Golden Temple. We roamed around the temple, took the free lunch and 'visited' the said, world biggest chapati machine. The temple has a very good ambient, even though it is crowded.

The border ceremony between Pakistan and India was very very dramtic. It was a kind of festive feel that both sides are trying to 'roar' down the other side. This is probably the highlight of my trip. We cheered and roared together with the Indian. Something like "India is the greatest nation." A ceremony which is supposed to be serious has somehow turn ut to become a public show. For me, it is a funny show too. (Try to imagine a platform at each side of Singapore and Malaysia causeway with thousands of people watching the soldiers lowering the flag.)

We met a young Indian couple on the way to go back from the border to the town. They got married themselves without the permissions from their parents and this is really unusual for Indian. We joint them to the temple of their caste and that was a really nice hindu temple. They invited us to join their honeymoon to Jammu but we decided to stick to our plan to Haridwar. Their honeymoon is a one week visit to different temples, hoepfully to have a better future and get blessing for their marriage.

We got back to the dirty free accommodation quite late. To my pleasant surprise, there were two Malaysian students were staying there as well. They were the second and third Malaysian that i have ever seen in India. They were here in India for some university exchange and social work. One at Delhi and another at Jaipur. i was happy to meet people from my country and speak in our national language!

Golden Temple is opens to all and no-one asks for any money, even for the shoe storage. We have to remov shoes, wash our feet and cover our heads.

All are welcome to sit on the floor and enjoy the lentil soup and chapati. The logic is, everyone is the same and there is no different in social level.

The kitchen where there is a chapati machine and where they prepare chaptais for around 30,000 pilgrims a day.

The platform and crowd for the border bravado.

After the gates are slammed shut, everyone surged to take photograph with the tall and handsome soldiers.

i do take pride as a Malaysian. This is the basic ethnic group to comprise Malaysia: Indian, Malay and Chinese.
(i put Harish and Hazwan's picture with me without informing them. :)

Amritsar, Punjab, India: 17June07

The Sikh's Holiest Shrine, Golden Temple

The train was longer than we expected, 19 hours. It was very full with passengers too. We basically had to sit separately at different seats. This time also, nobody really treid to engage us in a conversation. One or two but not as many as any of our previous ride. (Indian like to talk to foreigners.)
When we arrived at Amritsar, we took one hour to find a clean and cheaper guest house in the rain, with a cycle rickshaw. Then we just somehow fall aslept. When we wake up, we lingered around the holy and crowded but shomehow yet peaceful golden temple.
The town was so small that there was nothing much to explore around the temple. We went back and slept again. :)

This was an unusual night with the sickle shaped moon and star on the sky.

The causeway leads to the two-storey marble temple. This stands in the middle of the sacred pool, Amrit Sarovar (pool of nectar), that gave the town its name.

The bustling and grimy alleys of the surrounding of Golden Temple.

Semakau Island, Singapore: 29 Sept 07

This is a nice sunny day, a good weather for nature walk at the shore. This is my first intertidal nature walk after my 5 months holiday and i am really looking forward. i was assigned to be a hunter seeker for the day. Initally, i am rather reluctant as i think i am not a good "things spotter" and i think it could be stressful to find things that the visiotrs wanted to see. But in the end, i ended up enjoying the task as i could take MY OWN SWEET TIME to take pictures of the animals and this is a privilege that i would never have as a guide (a guide could take picture but not on your own sweet time. :). As i always said, i grown up by the sea and there is no place i feel more home than the sea. The sun, the salty and fishy smell of the shore and the breeze were the big welcome to me. The rich and colorful lives of the shore is too temptating to keep me in door. So never asked me why am i this tan again!

This was the first time for me to go to Marina South Pier. I took the train until Marina Bay and transfered to bus 402 to get there. The bus is not frequent, so i think it is good for me to take a picture of the bus timetable for future used.

i like building. This new Marina South Pier building is beautiful. It even has a lawn at the third floor, overlooking the sea.

The sea is blueist and quite clear.

Telescopium, big snail normally find in mangroves. i found them when i was looking for horse shoe crab (They are abundant and just lying there!). It normally coats with a layer of mud but in fact it has beautiful brightly colored shell.

This tiny whelk has an anemone on its shell. It looks so cute and delicate! (So please consider to stop eating snails! :)

Sand collar. It is the egg mass of a kind of snail called Moon Snail. The eggs are laid in mucus that combines with sand and hardens.

Thorny sea cucumber. The sea cucumber breathes through its backside. :)

Moon crab. I found this crab and i shouted to Luan Keng, "i found a cute crab but i couldn't remember its name!" Then while waiting for Luan Keng to come, instead of trying to catch it, i was just standing there and trying to recall its name. It ended up this burrower burrowed into and sand and we had to dig it out beneath the sand.

i thought these two slugs were nudibranchs but they are flat worms. Flat worms are much flatter than nudibranch and they tend to move faster. The most significant different should be, flat worms don't have flowery-like external gills on their back.

Green sunflower mushroom coral. It is a kind of hard coral which unattached to the substrate and able to move about on the reef.

This is my second favorite of the day except for the moon crab, a blue spotted sting ray. Luan Keng and me played a little trick to catch it and we had fun!
Remember how that famous crocodile man died? The venomous spine is at the base of the tail.

The visitors. We had 'good' visitors for the day. How we (or may be me) defined "good visitors":
1.) They are interested with the shore and the stories of marine lives. At least they don't scream and said "it is so gross!" when the guide show them the CUTE and BEAUTIFUL slug!
2.) They stay in the group and don't try to explore the aras themselves hence stepping and cause the death of more corals and other animals.
3.) They never complaint that it is so muddy and so hot. (What can you expect when you come to the shore?)

The beautiful sunset. Especially in this metropolitan Singapore, sometimes we spend so much time trying to get more money and we forgot what has been provided by our mother nature. You don't have to change the nature to make it more beautiful ...

The nearby petro-chemical plant, Bukom Island. Those chimneys look like christmas trees at night time.

The trip ended at around 7.30pm and of course we saw far more creatures than what i put here. Unfortunately, i am not a good photograher, so i would prefer to put only a few better phographs. Other animals that we saw: Seahorse, gymnodoris nudbranch, octopus, egg mass of octopus/squid, sandfish sea cucumber, stonefish sea cucumber, hairy crab, knobby star, common sea star, fan worm ...

Monday, September 24, 2007

Jaipur-Amritsar, India: 16June07

The autorickshaw who supposed to bring us around didin't turn up at the guest house. So we did the sight seeing ourselves happily. Local transporatation such as bus at Jaipur is easy and not that crowded.
We went to the Wind Palace and astrology central, skipped the City Palace. The Wind Palace got the view of the city. The building itslef looked like a bee hive. The astrology centrel is an amazing place for the ancient knowledge. We engaged a guide and got many useful information such as how does a sun dial works.
We proceed to Amber fort and Joghur fort then. Both forts are said to be extensive and interesting, but unfortunately, we spent so much time at Jaigarh Fort that we left no time for Amber Fort.
The dinner before we left for night train to Amritsar was a very delicious Thali.

View from Jaigarh Fort. The city looks blue instead of pink! But this is a town which is 11km away from Jaipur city central.

The magnificient Amber Fort on the rocky mountain.

The train from Jaipur to Amritsar. There were many Sikh in the train as Amritsar is the beting heart of the Sikh religion.

Golden Temple. The golden dome is said to be gilded with 750kg of pure gold.
Four preiest inside the temple keep up a continuous chant in Punjabi from the Sikh holy books and this is broadcast around the temple complex by loudspeakers.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Jaipur, Rajasthan, India: 15June07

Hindi Movie!

We skipped all the sighseeing and merely wondering around the street, eat street food and went to watch a Hindi movie!

The Indian in the cinema who sat beside of us have more interest on us rather than the movie. He was laughing ike hell when he knows that we don't understand Hindi and we were merely watching at the picture. But it was a comedy, so i wasn't that difficult to knows what was going on without the understanding of language. But the intermission of 20 mintues for a movie was kind of "unbelievable" to me. We only get "intermission" for theatre performance!

Jaipur have small city central and yet very very crowded. In the city central itself, everywhere is people, animals and human powered or motorised vehicles. The cycle rickshaw drivers and auto-rickshaw drivers just wouldn't let us off. Every shops that we passed by, it was always "Come to see my shop. See no money."

You could have an elephant ride on the busy and crowded street!

There was some kind of parade or celebration on the street.

This is how busy was the street during normal weekday and "non-peak hour"!

Jaisalmer-Jaipur, Rajasthan, India: 14June07

The pink city is not pink

We returned to Jaisalmer town central in the afternoon and the hot weather and the camel ride had made us really tired.
The train to Jaipur was in the afternoon. When th train passed by or crossing the desert, we have to cose the window or else the sand would fly into the cabin. So the whole compartment was like a sauna. We were perspiring like hell.
At night, i couldn't really sleep as it was so hot that i couldn't stop sweating! We shared the 8 persons cabin with two families. There were 3 children crying and crying. We couldn't lie down to sleep as well and we got middle and lower berth and it was too early to sleep (but we just got really tired) so everyone was sitting at our berth. In the end, we changed berth with the family and finally we could lie down. By this time, we have started to feel the muscle pains from the camel ride.

Jaipur is Rajasthan's pink city, the capital. However it doesn't look pink to me at all. Indeed, this is the most polluted and most crowded place i have ever been in Rajasthan. (i purposedly took this photo in black and white. Anyway, the city is not pink! It look red, so color doesn't matter!)

'Street scene'. People cooking milk to make sweet by the street, just outside of the sweet shop. Indian like ridiculously sweet Indian candy, a kind of sweet made from milk and a lot of sugar! Some taste ok but most taste weirb to me (and most of the non-Indian).

Monday, September 17, 2007

Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India: 13June07

First Time Desert, the Golden City

This should be a romantic and sentimental journey. My first time to stand at the sand dune, camping out at night, huddling around a tiny fire beneath the shed of stars and listening to the camel drivers' songs.
The dessert is very winding and the sands flying every where in the wind. The people here look older than their actual age, due to the harsh living environment.
Riding a camel is not as romantic or as easy as i thought. The inner thigh and butt got really pain from the ride. i am glad that Mathieu was with me, or else, i won't think i would come to this camel safari and stay at desert with 2 camel drivers. :)
Jaiselmer is Golden City, most structures here are built from the yellow sandstone. However due to over development and without serious conservation efforts, this Golden city is now one of the world's most endangered monuments. Unlike the well preserved Jophur Fort, Jasalmer Fort look like a mess with contructions all around both inside and outside of the Fort.
Like any other Indian city, animals are every where in the town but besides from cow, they are camels and donkeys here. Indian is really incredible. They can live in peace with animals, sharing their living quarter with the animals. Back home, living with animals is unhygiene. In Malaysia, the government cull dogs while in Singapore, the government cull cats and birds. i wonder, are development and 'civilisation' making us lost something valueable in our human nature?

Behind is the wind turbines that kind of thing to generate electricity.

The sunset at the desert. It is impossible to sleep at the sand dune as the wind was so strong that we got sand all over our body, We slept on this platform in the desert and when we woke up in the morning, we was covered with a layer of sand.

The sun rise at the desert.

One of the camel drivers. He was preparing our food: dal (lentils) fried, rice and chapati.

On the camel.

Hey hey... The sand dune.

One of the havelis, buidling built by wealthy merchant. The sand stone building has incerdibly fine scupltures.

The fort. About 25% of the old city's population rsides within the fort walls.

The town itself is like a mirage in the middle of a barren desertscape.

The local main market area.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Jodhpur-Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India: 12June07

The Majestic Fort

We went to the well maintained and well explained Majestic Fort or Meherangarh. I always prefer to explore a place at my own pace by walk. The audio tour allowed us to wander around the fort at our leisure and taking a fix of information when we feel like to.

The disaster (there is at least one for everyday) of the day was we spent 2 hours at the train station reservation office (after walked under the scorching sun for 30 minutes with our full backpack), trying to sort out our train tickets. The queue wasn't long, but the people always cut queue and bought another 4 or 5 more tickets for others who aren't in the queue. Most Indian don't have the habit to queue up.

When we finally done with the logistic, we was cramped into the hot and the usual ridiculously crowded "express" bus to Jaisalmer. Indian can easily drives you crazy with their way of doing things. Most of the time, traveling with a partner really make the whole situation to be different. One is more acceptable to the situation and more capable to treat things like jokes.

In time, i feel a bit sorry for Math. He has to handle the bargaining with rickshaw driver himself. i always tend to be a parasite when i have someone i can depend on. I don't bargain that much for almost everything as having a partner to travel with has already kept my cost down. However Math has a tighter budget than me. He probably can do it in a cheaper way without me, such as living in an Indian dorm and eat at the real dirt cheap Indian eatery. i won't mind to pay some extra to the Indian, well, i can treat it as help boosting the country's economy. I won't mind to pay the price different of what Math wanted to pay and what we were quoted too. But i know, this suggestion would never work as it probably will hurt a man's pride. So i have never suggested this to him before (i hope he never read my blog to learn about this too). :)

This numerous tragic tiny hand prints are near to the Lohapol, the Iron Gate. They are the sati marks of Maharaja Man Singh's widows, who threw themselves upon his funeral pyre.
It is always not easy to be an Indian woman in India, even for now.

The view from the 124m-high hill of Mahenrangarh.

One of the splendid rooms in the fort.

Near to the main entrance of Mahenrangarh, a child was dancing while the musician was playing the traditional musical instrument.