Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hampi in Pictures II

hampi lotus mahal
The Lotus Mahal was home to four of the king's favourite wives and was part of the zenana
hampi lotus mahal
Featuring one of the earliest examples of air conditioning in India, the palace was supplied by water from a neighbouring pond which ran through pipes hidden in the walls, keeping it cool during the summer
A watchtower at the zenana
hampi elephant stable
The elephants' stables were located behind the Lotus Mahal. They were only brought out during festivals
hampi - queen's bath
The Queen's Bath. Tour guides say the name is self-explanatory, but in reality this was a pleasure centre where the King would meet his wives and ladies from his harem for a bit of fun
hampi queen's bath 2
A moat filled with crocodiles kept prying eyes away
hampi queen's bath 3
The central pond was supplied by an aquaduct and was scented year round with essential oils and rose petals
Another example of Mughal architecture
hampi virupaksha temple
The walk up to Virupaksha, Hampi's largest functioning temple
The Hazara Rama temple. The walls depict sculptures that tell the story of the Ramayana
The Krishna Temple. One of the sanctums was extremely eerie and I stepped out as soon as I entered

hampi vittala temple
The drive up to the Vittala Temple
hampi stone chariot
The famous stone chariot, synonymous with images of Hampi
hampi vittala temple 2

I have no idea what this is but I had to put it up!

Hampi in Pictures I

Hampi - Rocks
The first of the many temples that dot the landscape
Hampi - Muhamaddan Watchtower, Mosque
The building on the left was once a mosque, while the one on the right was called the Muhammadan watchtower - evidence that the Hindu rulers and the Mughals did once coexist here, even if tenuously
Hampi - Muhammadan Watchtower
The watchtower
A break in the wall to the left of the mosque
The view through the wall
hampi underground shiva temple
The outermost sanctum of the underground Shiva Temple
hampi old woman in the shiva temple
I was too scared to go in alone so she guided me through the temple into the innermost sanctum; dark, damp and overrun by bats
Little girl outside the temple
Lakshmi Narasimha Temple. Narasimha means half-man, half-lion in Sanskrit
hampi - flower seller
Living in urban India, it's easy to forget how colourful the country really is
monkeys in hampi
Hampi is the site of the mythological kingdom Kishkinda, where the Hindu god Hanuman is said to have been born. The place is still overrun by monkeys today
hampi monkeys 2
hampi monkeys 3
hampi monkeys 4

Monday, August 24, 2009

Summer Sun

Diving is an experience like nothing else. Our first lessons were so much fun and we had our first dive - I'm tired as hell but it's been a great day, which ended with this.

Palwan Sunset

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Friday, Saturday, Palawan I'm in Love

I woke up feeling so much better today – it’s amazing what a good night’s sleep will do for you! Our driver Andy picked us up right on time, and we left for the airport after a massive breakfast. The Philippinos like their buffets, that’s for sure. We ate so much that we weren’t hungry until well into the evening.

We checked in to Manila's newest airport, which seemed way more organised than Bangalore's latest one. Of the many things Omer likes to do in new cities (buying local T shirts being one) he likes to try local favourites and someone recommended an energy drink called Cobra to us yesterday. We found some at the airport and I can safely say that it is some of the vilest stuff I have ever had the misfortune of trying. The thing is pure poison - and sugar. A 235 ml bottle had a whopping 42 grams of sugar in it and Omer was off the wall for a while after, and then got really quiet when the sugar crash rolled into town. Boys and children - there's not much difference sometimes.

I slept for most of the hour and a half long ride on the tiny plane which was powered by two tiny propellers, much to our amusement. My first view of Palawan was quite pretty - lush, hilly green islands in the middle of the sea.

I felt like the holiday had really begun as we descended on the Busuanga airport strip, the only one on the tiny island of Coron in Palawan. The airstrip was tiny, not much more than a dirt road and the airport the smallest I've ever been in.

Busuanga Airport
It was incredibly exciting for the sheer novelty of it. We were met at the airport by a representative from Club Paradise, the first resort on the itinerary. The first leg of the journey to the resort involved a ride through the island one of the jeepneys I'd been wanting to experience since I landed in Manila.
The island looked like something right out of Lost. It's almost entirely uninhabited.

Palawan is a relatively safe island and it's guarded by the Air Force, who we had to make a stop for on our way through Coron. Three men in combat fatigues hopped on and stayed with us until we reached the resort. They were mostly a surly, reticent sort except for one, who had the nicest, most open face and spoke to us a little bit. He even got his very shy friend to pose for my camera:
Coming to a river, we saw a boat lying in wait for us. Club Paradise is on its own secluded island so getting there involved a ride through the island and the surrounding sea. This place has a soaring sense of undeniable beauty. Arriving in Palawan, speeding through its seas, you really get the sense that you are in a remote corner of the world, one that is still untouched by most of the things that make people want to run away from their daily lives in the first place. I tried to take some pictures, but my amateur skills do the place little justice.
Beauty like this has always moved me; I think things like love and knowledge and spirituality are innate, as I was discussing with friends a couple of days ago - but sometimes you come across places that seem to facilitate this private conversation, both inward and outward, with yourself and with the universe. This, I believe, is why people travel. Sometimes you claim a place as yours through your memories of it, and sometimes a place will claim you. We made another stop at a resort called El Rio y Mar to pick up a middle-aged German man who was travelling to Club Paradise with us. We got to talking with him and he told us that he lived in Manila but started his career in Hong Kong. He used to travel through South East Asia a lot because he's always been drawn to islands and oceans. He came to Palawan one day and had one of those 'this is it' moments and started, as it turns out, Club Paradise.

We arrived at the island feeling like total celebrities - descending from our little yacht, the island looked like it was all set to be our own personal playground. This is the last bit of the year before the peak season begins, so there are relatively few people about, giving this place a lovely solitary feel. Heading in the direction of the island for over 45 minutes, we didn't quite realise what we'd left behind. It's only when I turned that it took a second to register. This is our view as we snorkel through the island's shallow waters, as we watch the sun set while relaxing on our loungers, as we eat dinner:
Isn't nature great? The beach is called the Sunset Beach for obvious reasons - I didn't have my camera with me as the sun set this evening, but I'll try and get some pictures tomorrow. It is beyond spectacular, and I've seem some pretty singular sunsets, including some in Acapulco last year.

Our little cottage is located on the other side of the island, with our own private beach, which is called Sunrise Beach. I look forward to seeing how it got its name tomorrow morning. It's so pretty - your own personal stretch of white sand and blue water, with an even more private little cove thrown in.

To our right we have this little beauty:
And this is what we have on the left.
We tried going for a swim here, but the beach was so stony that we decided to head back to the main beach with the great view. We rented some snorkel gear as well - Omer hadn't snorkelled before but he took to it instantly. I had some trouble getting my glasses to keep from fogging up but once we went face down, none of that stuff mattered any more. I remember the first time I went snorkelling; it was last year, off the shallow seas of Cancun. I knew as soon as I saw the world beneath that I'd be doing this again, possibly many times over. It's a whole different world out there - I can think of no better way to describe it. It's beautiful. We have our first dive lesson tomorrow and I'm so enamored with the experince of snorkelling in shallow waters that I can hardly imagine what exploring the ocean further will be like. It's a different kind of beauty, however, and today's experience was a little different from the one in Cancun. Because we were so close to the shore today the water was still a little cloudy and the bed was fairly more uneven than in Mexico. I fell in love with the experience of shallow, clear water snorkelling - just white sand to offset the myriad colours of the fish. In contrast, the beaches we explored this evening had vast growths of coral on the sea floor and while beautiful in their own right, they looked like something out of a science fiction novel. I can see why writers like Jules Verne were so fascinated by the sea - the environment and the creatures that live in it are so alien as to appear otherworldly, yet they're as much a part of this life as we are. I got the heebie jeebies several times over when I saw just how close I was to these formations and had to propel myself to sandier floors before I could shake the creeps off. I'm not a very good swimmer either so I emerged from the ocean a bunch of times red, puffing, hair wildly askew, mascara all over the place - Omer laughed at me for ages.

It's been a beautiful day - I am so blessed to be here and it's only my first day - tomorrow we meet our dive instructor, Dirk (tee hee) who's supposed to be a real hard ass. I'm not always comfortable in parts of water my feet can't touch, so it should be interesting - I'm determined to get my dive license however, so I'm sure it's going to be a lot of fun!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Thrilla Manila!

I know it's been a while since I've last posted on this blog and I intend to remedy that as soon as possible, starting now. A lot has happened since my last post - namely, we found out while on the cruise that my dog was gravely ill and had to be admitted to the animal hospital. We cut our trip to London out and rushed back home - she had an emergency surgery and she was stable for a day but passed away the next day. It's still painful to talk about so I won't dwell on it - but the memories of those days sort of tainted those of the cruise and I stopped thinking about this blog altogether.

I have visited some wonderful places in the meanwhile, however - Helsinki, St. Petersburg, New Orleans and Houston, to name a few. I took loads of pictures and I hope to write about my experiences in all these places soon.

At the moment though I'm in the Philippines, Manila to be exact, or thrilla Manila as my friend Raya calls it - fittingly, as I've already come to see. When I went to Portland last year I met these two wonderful girls from Manila and they told me all about this region in the Philippines called Palawan - a little known province of the country that has incredible diving opportunities. I checked it out on Lonely Planet, which says that it has the best beaches in all of Asia. So of course, I had to come check it out for myself. The other thing I'm doing while I'm here is research for a story I'm writing on Manila's burgeoning fashion scene - all thanks to Alyanna and Raya, once again. They made the Philippines sound like this hip, beautiful, frenetic, buzzing place - I've only been here one day and I think I know exactly what they mean.

Omer's here with me, which is wonderful. He loves to travel as much as I do and he's just the perfect travel companion. We got off the extremely long flight super tired and bleary eyed, so you can imagine how pleased we were when we found two representatives from the tourism board waiting for us at the airport. We skipped the immigration lines completely and once our passports were stamped and baggage claimed, we were whisked away to meet the head of tourism, who has been helping me organise this trip over the last few months, a lovely man called Francisco, or Kiko. He took us to the wet market at the Manila bay, which is a place where you can pick ingredients for your meal out from the market, tell the restaurant next door how you'd like them cooked and hang out at the waterfront with a beer while you wait for it to arrive.

Which is a pretty good way to start any holiday, I think. So I picked my vegetables for chop suey - Francisco seemed hugely surprised that I knew what that was - and then we proceeded, as he said, to "Where all the fun is." Behind the veggie stall was this massive tunnel with every kind of seafood you could think of - most of them still alive. Lobsters, clams, mussels, oysters, crabs, they were all jammed into these little buckets filled with water. The poor crabs had their pincers tied together -
- which made me really sad. I'm not one of those fanatical vegetarians and I do try to live and let live but I still felt really bad for those poor little guys. This is probably the crustaceans' version of a concentration camp.

There were huge lobsters too:
This one was asleep, according to the guy who owned him. He tried singing to it to wake it up, but to no avail. It was all a bit morbid, but it was sort of overshadowed by how friendly everyone was. Besides, when it finally arrived at the table, it looked like this.
I haven't always been a vegetarian. I did once appreciate the joys of good seafood and honestly, if there was ever a time when I was tempted to cross back over to the dark side, this was it. My pictures today have been awful, just as out of focus as I've been feeling - but honestly, that looked all kinds of amazing and it smelt even better. I didn't give in though, for which I am rather proud.
The wet market
We spent the rest of the afternoon talking about Manila, Palawan and the Philippines in general. I couldn't contribute as much as I would have liked because I hadn't had a proper night's sleep in three days, so as soon as we were back at the hotel, I tried to get some rest but my mind was racing and I was thinking about a million different things, so I decided to get online and post this! I'm not even sure if my sentences are coherent anymore and my eyelids are fighting a losing battle against gravity, so it's adios for now. We're heading to Palawan tomorrow and I know it is going to be beyond special - I just hope it has Internet.

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