Friday, November 30, 2007

Varanasi-Sarnath, India: 28June07

Escape from the Holy City

We took the river boat ride early in the morning. We saw people bathing, washing clothes and utensils and performing ritual by the river. Just beside of the burning ghat, they were people doing dhoby. There were even people sieving beside of the burning ghat in hope to find some small jewelleries from the ashes in the river.
When we walked in the small alleys of Old Varanasi, there were many times that we would bump into some 'untouchable' carrying the deceased towards the burning ghat. Growing up in a city so closed to death, the people here were probably very familiar and 'unmoved' with death.
i don't like this holy city. Besides from the 'holy' name, this place, including people and the street are dirty. The small streets were very narrow and always full with dung and rubbish. Walking in such a small street, i felt every dirt was just so closed to me. As long as you are tourist, there will always somebody there to either ask you to buy something or even endeavoured to cheat you. The rubbish floating on the Ganges and the waste water was channeled into the river as well. i couldn't relate this place with "holy". i couldn't stand here, so i decided to set off to Sarnath.
Dario and Eneko decided to stay for another day. So we did the last sight seeing together, the millitary guarded Golden Temple (Vishwanath Temple). The Hindu and Muslim have been killing each other for years to get this piece of temple/mosque holy ground. You torned down my mosque to build temple and i would do the same to your temple. This piece of land was nothing impressive at all, except for the heavy millitary. We were not allowed to bring anything, including beg and camera to enter the place.
The journey to Sarnath was unbelievable smooth with friendly and helpful Indians. The guest house ran by the monastery of Trangu Rinpoche was the best i ever had in India. Very clean and big. i could even eat with the monk in the canteen. The place is serene and quiet, in the middle of a village. The Rinpoche was in Hong Kong, so i didn't have such a good kamma to visit him. A young man, Tsering, who speaks better English attended to me.
Sarnath was my first buddhist pilgrim site, the place where buddha gave his first sermon.
i had a quiet and peaceful sleep.

The morning by Ganges River. People were doing cleaning despite the condition of the river. :)
Varanasi, the city of Shiva was previously called Benares and Kashi (City of Life). Hindu pilgrims come wash away all their sins in the Ganges.

This was about 6am in the morning and the river is bathed in a mellow lights.
A meditator by the holy river.

My morning puja.

The burning ghat, Manikarnika Ghat.
The tourists are not allowed to take the burning picture in respect to the deceased and the family.

The temples and guesthouses by the western bank of the river.

The dhobi ghat.

The women were washing away their sins in the Ganges.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Varanasi, India: 27June07

Holy Ganges River

Like usual, sticky, stink and sweating when we arrived at Varanasi in the noon. The riskshaw driver didn't get us to the guesthouse that we wanted to go, instead got us to the one that he could get commission. I wasn't angry but i know that we have to play tough with the people like that. So i raised my voice and kind of show that i was furious when i talked to him and the guesthouse owner. In the end, we paid him only a small fees and walked almost an hour to get to the guesthouse that we wanted to stay.

Unfortunately, the guesthouse that we took so much efforts to get to have quoted us an expensive price of 550 Rs. So although we were tired and in the great need of shower, but we still decided to proceed to find another guesthouse. Then, it started to rain and the whole ghat areas were flooded with dirty water. We negotiated with the guesthouse owner again and finally got a room at 250Rs, with river view but we need to squeeze 3 persons in 2 single beds. At least we had a place to settle down and we did not need to walk in the water with human waste, animals waste, human body ashes and ....

Varanasi is the holiest India Hindu city. But unfortunately, the people here are basically trying everything they can to cheat you. Dario and Eneko bought a water at 25 Rs while the normal price is 10 Rs. Dario said, "This is a holy city but you guys are cheaters!" i don't trust anyone here at all. This place is also unbelievable dirty to me. Very very dirty. i won't want to touch the river water. The Spanish guide book that Eneko was using said "This is the biggest toilet in the world!" i couldnt' understand what kind of mind would put Mathieu to bath in this river.

The buffalos bathing in the holy river, Ganges River. If the Ganges River could wash away the sins, then these buffalos should be really pure.

The river bank of Ganges River.

Part of the river 'scenes', rubbish.

View from our guest house.
Our guest house is so near to the burning ghat that we could smell the BBQ (human meat in this case) smell in the air.

Some kind of puja by the river bank.
As usual, there were sadu (the holy man) trying to give us blessing with a small donation.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Khajuraho-Varanasi (via Mahoba), India: 26June07

Bitchy Tourists

The train to Varanasi was at midnight from Mahoba. In order to catch the train, we would have another 4 to 5 hours of bloody bus ride. Indeed, it was another extremely over crowded and 'oven-like' bus ride.
We explored to the western group temples in the morning. It was amazing. Very beautiful and smooth and 'soft' sculptures. The erotic images were not all around but among of may be musicians or dancing sculptures. The style of the temples were almost the same, except for the worshipped God at the main shrine hall. eg. Temple A looked almost the same from Temple B but Temple A is for the worship of Vishnu and Temple B is for Siva.
When we roamed around the street, a young Indian muslim invited us for Kashmiri tea. As we had a few hours to kill, we went to his shop, despite the potential "be friending, see the shop and try to sell you things. " It ended up with some interesting talk about tourists who come here for sex and he was really not trying to sell us things. It was obviously that, many local people here think a lof of foreign women are here in Khajuraho or India for sex with local Indian men. For them, women are disposable and foreign women are loose. This is something that i would never think of. I have never been to any places in India where people talk so openly about them having sex with tourists. The young local men especially think that Japanese women are the 'top bitch' among the Asian tourists. This kind of conversation surprised me a lot. May be with the erotic temples and karma sutras sell openly, sex is not a taboo here, like the other part of India. It is probably just part of the life here and if you grown up with all these, it is just not a big deal anymore.
After this, i started to feel really uncomfortable when people ask me whether i am a Japanese. I would think, do they have something else in their mind??

Part of the western group temples.

One of the erotic sculptures.

Another beautiful sculptures.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Khajuraho, India: 25June07

Vous parlez francais?
All kind of languages ...

We did't wake up as early as we wanted. We then took an Indian breakfast and rented bicycle to roan around the small town. We started from the eastern group temple and the temples are just magnificiant. There aren't erotic sculptures but the curings are so fine and beautiful.
The town is really small. We didn't explore to the western group temple as it was so hot and it wasn't left us that much of time after we went to internet and other logistic things. We decided to explore to this part of the temples tomorrow.
In a way, this town is a really incredible place. People here spek all kind of languages from Spanish to French to Japansese to Korean. All of them just learnt the languages from tourists and yet they are all have such a good command of the language.
The power cut for the day was so frequent that it was really annoying. Due to off season, many shops were not open. But in a way, we got more deals when buying thins as even for shopping lone, you could ge an 'off season' tourist rate. :)

The girl and mother were selling bangles by the streeet.

A jain temple.
Jainism arose in the 6th century BC as a reaction against the caste restraints and rituals of Hinduism.

The jain statues.
Jains believe that liberation can be attained by achieving complete purity of the soul.

The beautiful sculpture on the temple wall.
It looks so 'soft' and natural with the well proportioned human features.

Part of the town. The building behind is actually a school and the stall is a dhobi stall.

The beautiful sunset near to the western group temple.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Chek Jawa, Pulau Ubin, Singapore: 27Oct07

A Welcoming by Knobby Star

The wetland plan.
This is my first visit to Chek Jawa after my month of travel. Everything looks kind of 'new' to me.

The new Chek Jawa Boardwalk.

Seagrass Lagoon. The nursery of sea creatures.

What is this slimy, gross thing?

The sponge crab creates its own disguise to hide under. It uses its pincers to snip a cap out of a sponge or ascidian.

Knobby seastar. It is even bigger than our plams.
Chek Jawa experienced a mass death during last December. Fresh water from Johore River flooded here and killed many creatures.
One of the victim is the giant knobby star. We have not yet seen its return until today.
Chay Hoon was shouted with excitement with her 'discovery'.

Warty sea cucumber. During hgh tide, its tantacles gather supsended detritus in the water.

Butterfly fish. A large 'false eye' on its dorsal fin fools predators into thinking that it is a big fish! If a predator does attach it, the fish unexpectedly swims 'backwards'.

Spiky sponge. A sponge is an animal. It filter-feed on bacteria, plankton and organic particles.

Carpet anemone. Small and sticky tantacles cover its oral disk.
This is an animal closely related to jelly fish.

The Chek Jawa beam at coral rubble area.

The viewing point.

House number one from the British colonial era. Of course this is the renovated version. :)

The beautiful sunset at Pulau Ubin.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Semakau Island, Singapore (2): 28Oct07

Semakau Guides Explorary Trip

At West Coast Pier, we were greeted by some rubbish, suspected just dumped by some boat. The rubbish floated on the water and sometimes i really couldnt understand people who relies on the sea but yet 'trying' so hard to destroy it as well.

This sea hibiscus flowers are beautiful.
In mangroves, the sea hibiscus indicates the high water mark and the boundary between the end of salt water penetration and the beginning of freshwater swamp.

Sea lime. The skin is a bit bitter, so we sucked the juice and a bit of the flesh. It taste good. A mixture of sour and sweet.

This cute little fellow, mangrove horseshoe crab.
The mouth is in between of its legs.

Roy found this Scale Worm under the rock while trying to search for rock seastar, some other species of rock seastar (i don't fancy scientific name, so i couldn't remember it now :).
The free-swimming scale worm is brown, fuzzy in appearance and covered with a double row of oval-shaped scales which protect its body like an armour. They may be observed among brown and green seaweed or on the mud along the coasts.

The river mouth and the mangrove.
We have never had a chance to explore to this area during public walk.

Love is growing .... Common seastar.
Shh.... Don't disturb.

Reproductive biology of Seastar

Most sea stars have separate sexes with no visible differences between them. Internally, each arm contains a pair of gonads that become almost filled with eggs or sperm, depending on the sex, at the time of breeding. The majority of species are broadcast spawners where eggs and sperm are released into the water column to be fertilized. To increase the chances of fertilization, sea stars aggregate when they are ready to spawn. These events usually rely on environmental cues, such as day length, to coordinate timing and may use chemical signals to indicate readiness. The crown-of-thorns sea star, for example, releases a potent chemical into the water column to attract the opposite sex. Fertilized eggs rapidly develop into free-living bipinnaria and later brachiolaria larvae that are planktonic. Eventually, they undergo metamorphosis and settle on the seabed to grow into adults. This type of reproductive strategy is known as indirect-development.

... Too much theory... but doesn't this interesting?
Take a break with juvenile Knobby Star.

Some sea stars brood their young, where females hold their fertilized eggs in a brood space under the arm (e.g., Asterina phylactica), in the stomach (e.g., Leptasterias hexactis), or incubate them in the gonads (e.g., Patiriella parvivipara). In the last two cases, young develop internally and escape through small openings the female's body wall called gonopores. Many brooding sea stars inhabit polar and deep-sea regions. Some brooding sea stars, however, produce unguarded egg masses that they attach to the seabed (Asterina gibbosa).

Another break ...
This is the rock seastar that Roy was looking for.
He ended up found a few. :) ... Wish fulfilled.

Asexual reproduction is another method of development that involves either fission or regeneration of entire animal from arm parts. Almost a dozen species divide through their disc, producing clones with identical genetic makeup (e.g., Linckia laevigata). Seven species are known to voluntarily pinch off one or more arms (autotomous asexual reproduction) that subsequently regenerate a complete new disc and arms; these species tend to be very small. Even sexually reproducing animals can show asexual characteristics at different stages of their life cycle. For example, larvae can pinch off body structures capable of growing into another independent feeding larvae.

This poor fellow was under great stress when July caught it into a container. We finally released it to its anemone but it remained disoriented for quite a while.
Anemonefish (or clown fish) have a special symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship with sea anemones. Normally, the nematocysts (stinging cells) of an anemone's tentacles discharge when fish brush against the tentacles, paralyzing the fish.
The False-Clown Anemonefish is orange with black markings on the fins. It has a white bar on the head, body and caudal peduncle (the region of the body between the end of the anal fin and the base of the caudal fin).
The Clown Anemonefish was brought to international stardom in the Pixar animated film Finding Nemo.

Curryfish Sea Cucumber.
It seems like this kind of sea cucumber is commercially harvested in many countries as Chinese delicacy.
This one has long body and smooth underside. It is dark brown in color and covered with small orange spots.

Juvenile Damsel fish. Damsel fishes are generally very territorial. Their diet can include small crustaceans, plankton, and algae.

The petrol chemical plant, Bukom Island at night. Doesn't the chimney look like a decorated Xmas tree?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Agra-Khajuraho (via Jhansi), India: 24Jun07

You won't want this ...

Another day for transportation.
Dario did not have train ticket and what he could get on the spot was a standing ticket. So, theoritically he had to stand for 5 hours from Agra to Jhansi but obviously Jhansi is not a popular station so he got a seat after an hour or so. Phew ...
The bus ride from Jhansi to Khajuraho was terrible, as usual. The bus was hot, like an oven, and it stopped all the time to pick up more and more passengers, despite the fact that, it was already rather crowded! (obviously not over crowded in Indian standard.)
We met another Spanish and 2 French girls at Jhansi Railway Station. So there were at least 5 of us to share the local tranport. In the end, Eneko, the Spanish, Dario and me shared a tripple room. That was almost 9pm and we left over guest house in Agra by 8am!
We treated ourselves at an expensive Italian restaurant. Good food. Dario don't like Indian food. He eats every meal without enthusiasm and with great miserable. Well, so this was a feast to him. :)

A railway station we passed by from Agra to Jhansi.
Working people. In a over populated nation, everything is by man power.

Scenic view from the train.

One of the bus stops in one of the towns in between of Jhansi and Khajuraho.
Basically, for a distance of 10km, the bus could take 1 hour to get from one point to another. So this is how frequent the bus stops and how slow it goes.