culture

Exploring North Vietnam: HaLong Bay—a Seaplane Ride, Cruise, Cave, and Pearl Farm

Our last stop in Vietnam was HaLong Bay—a fairyland of 1,600 odd-shaped, karst limestone mini-mountains rising out of the sea. It was first recorded as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, and in 2000, the bay, with its significant geomorphic features, was recognized for the second time as a billion-year-old living proof of Earth’s formation.

HaLong means “descending dragon.” In myth, the bay was created by a dragon that thrashed around the land on the edge of the ocean, breaking it up and creating the bay’s islands. According to geology, at the end of the last ice age when the glaciers melted, the sea level rose, inundating the area and turning hills into islands

To really experience this famous place, we booked a 3-day cruise with Paradise Cruises, but our first adventure when arriving was a seaplane ride over the bay with Hai Au Aviation out of Tuan Chau Marina. The views were magnificent. That night, we stayed in Paradise’s hotel on shore and enjoyed the music of musicians playing traditional Vietnamese instruments.

By the next morning, I had fallen sick again with what appeared to be a bad cold, but I knew if I could just make it to the ship, I could get to our stateroom with my last few ounces of energy. There I stayed for the 3 days, mostly bundled up and relaxing on the balcony, enjoying the scenery, and chatting with a lovely young Vietnamese woman who brought me B,L, and D (she said she was looking for a Caucasian husband like “Sir”—which is what she called Jerry—) while Jerry went off on the excursions and took lots of great photos.

The first excursion was to Sung Sot Cave—the largest and most spectacular grotto/cave in Vietnam. Discovered by the French in 1901 (when France controlled Vietnam as part of French Indochina) and originally named “Grotte des Surprises,” it’s approximately 25m (and 50 steps) above sea level, and 10,000 square meters large, comprising two chambers. The second chamber can hold a thousand people at one time.

Jerry also climbed the 400 steps to the observation deck at the summit of Ti Top Island, named after a visit by famous Russian cosmonaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov. He was the second person to orbit the earth and first to spend an entire day in space. His statue is on the island.

One of our ship’s tenders took Jerry to a pearl farm to see how pearls are grown, and he also went by rowboat to a floating fishing village, Cua Van, which is comprised of 100 households and 733 people. Every day, locals roam around the village by boat to collect garbage and floating waste to reduce the risk of water pollution.

Actually, when we pulled into the Tuan Chau Marina, I was sad to leave such a beautiful place. A pre-arranged car took us back to Hanoi to a tiny hotel Jerry had found near the airport. Cost: $14/night, and that included a lavish breakfast and that delicious Vietnamese egg coffee. It was a memorable 3-week visit to N. Vietnam, during which we gained some understanding of this country and its friendly people. It was also another reminder that people all over the world are the same underneath skin color and customs.

Click on a photo, then arrow to move back and forth. Enjoy.

 

Categories: Asia, cruises, culture, nature, Photography, seascape, Travel, Uncategorized, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring North Vietnam: Ninh Binh—Three Caves, a River, and an Animal Sanctuary

On this two-day trip out of Hanoi, we passed trucks loaded with pigs, and dozens of duck farms, all supplying restaurants in Hanoi. At the Cuc Phuong National Park’s conservation center, we were hoping to spot a pangolin (a rare, scaled animal that, in photos, reminded me of an armadillo), but they were only on view at certain times of day, so we missed them. We did visit the monkey and turtle sections though. After a night in our Ninh Binh hotel, we visited a temple and then boarded a small, flat-bottomed boat for another river trip where all the rowers used their legs and feet at the oars. Dozens of tourist-filled boats joined us as we made our way down the river, past even more spectacular scenery, and through three low-hanging caves. I was sure we would have to duck or bump our heads, but the rowers knew the safest channel to take. Outside the caves we encountered a floating market of sorts. Several sellers in boats tried to entice us to buy their wares, imploring us to at least buy food for our rower.

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Architecture, Art, Asia, Birds, culture, environment, flowers, History, nature, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring Vietnam: Yen River & Pagoda

On a day trip from Hanoi, we headed southwest, ostensibly to visit the Perfume Pagoda in a Huong Son mountain cave. The only way to get there, following a 2-hour drive, is a boat ride along the Yen River, then a cable car up to the cave—a pilgrimage site to which thousands go during the religious Tet festival in March and April.

The drive out of Hanoi showcased Vietnam’s watery countryside. When we arrived at the river, the tiny boat was big enough for us, our guide, and the boat’s rower, and the one-hour trip upriver proved serene and scenic. We passed watery fields of pink lotus blossoms (which apparently start closing at noon), travelers in other boats, a red foot bridge high above the river, and kingfisher birds clinging to branches, before arriving at the elaborate Thien Tru Pagoda temple complex. Fortunately, we were there in November, and the place was almost deserted—a situation that was perfect for exploring and photography but posed some problems: The Ladies restroom was locked, so I had to use the Men’s, while our guide stood guard outside. Also, we were told that the cable car was not running (not enough people, I suppose), so we couldn’t go up to the Perfume Pagoda. After a bountiful lunch, we explored the extensive temple complex, then rejoined our boat and rower for the trip back down the river. By this time, all the lotus blossoms had closed, but the scenery was still spectacular.

Please enjoy!  Just click on a photo to enlarge, then arrow back and forth.

Categories: Architecture, Art, Asia, Birds, culture, environment, flowers, nature, Travel, Uncategorized, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring Hanoi Part III: A Couple of Fascinating Museums

Normally, I avoid museums. No matter how revealing the dishes, weapons and other elements of a past civilization are, looking into little plexiglas cases does not excite me. I am definitely interested in how people of the past lived, worked and spent their time, but a hands-on exhibition is more my style. That’s why I loved Hanoi’s Ethnology and War Museums. At the Ethnology Museum, I admit we skipped the indoor exhibits (in plexiglas cases) for a chance to wander around the recreated villages outside.

Some notes about three of the houses. The communal house is 19 meters in height including 3 meter stilts. Its floor area is more than 90 square meters.

A team of 40 Bahnar people came from Kon Rbang Village in Kontum City, in the Central Highlands, to build this house. It was modeled after the village’s early 1920’s communal house. The most important tool in its construction is the axe, which is used to cut the wood and carve the trunks. The axe can also be used as a chisel to mortise the columns.

The high roof is supported by eight massive pillars, four of which are 60cm in diameter. The structure is composed of many other posts and beams arranged horizontally, vertically or diagonally at different heights. They serve to both connect and support the house. The longitudinal beams and purlins are 14 to 15m long. The sloping and curved roof is rounded at its lower part. It is not only attractive, but also helpful for wind resistance. This curve brings lightness, elegance, and the impression of a greater height.

Role of the communal house

The communal house has a significant meaning in villages. It is the largest and the most spectacular architecture, showing the power and talent of the community.

Traditionally, the communal house was used for social and ceremonial activities. It was a place for guests to be received, for men to be together during their free time, for the elderly to transmit knowledge to younger generations, for old villagers to deal with village affairs, and for villagers to concentrate together in community events. Collective rituals were also held at the communal house. In the past, the youth were on duty here to prepare for fights or to defend the village. Young bachelors and widowers also spent nights in the communal house. Women did not usually enter this house.

Heads of sacrificed buffalos and hunted animals are often hung in the communal house. These are the trophies and pride of the community. Other ritual objects and protecting talismans of the villages are also preserved in the communal house.

EDE Longhouse

The long house is 42.5 meters long and 6 meters wide and sits on one meter high stilts. It was reconstructed at the Museum in 2000. It was originally built in 1967 and belonged to Mrs. HDiah Eban’s family (Ede Kpa) in Ky Village, Buon Ma Thuot city, Dak Lak Province in the Central Highlands.

The house is oriented in a north-south direction according to Ede tradition. The north side is the front with the main entrance. The south end was where families lived. As a house of a powerful family, it was built with big columns and beams, on which many decorations were carefully carved. Its original staircase, over one meter wide, was carved from one large wooden board.

Traditionally, extended matrilineal families lived in long houses. The more people who lived in a house, the longer it was. Some houses were 200m long. In the 1970s, there were still houses 50m to 60m in length. Since the 1980s, extended families have split into nuclear ones that live in smaller houses.

Giarai tomb house

The tomb house was built in 1998 by five Giarai Arap men from Mrong Ngo Village, ChuPa District, Gia Lai Province.

About thirty dead people can be burried in this large tomb house in the village. The decorated sculptures are carved from tree trunks using axes, chisels, and knives. Statues of men and women showing off their secret parts, and pregnant women symbolise fertility and birth. The wooden roof is covered with plaited bamboo planks on which designs are painted with natural red pigments. Figures on the roof depict activities of the tomb abandoning ritual.

It is thought that the tomb house is for the dead in the afterlife. Broken dishes, bottles, cups and trays, and wooden models of tools are put inside the tomb to provide necessities to the deceased in their other world. After the ritual, the tomb is abandoned.

The War Museum

This was our biggest surprise. I didn’t expect to like it, but the exhibits were extremely well done, with actual tanks and shot-down U.S. planes, as well as recreated scenes indoors of wars throughout Vietnam’s history. Check out the exhibit of a battlefield with men crawling through tunnels below. Also a bicycle equipped with a rocket launcher. The country was constantly fighting off invaders.

 

 

Categories: Architecture, Art, Asia, culture, History, museums, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vietnam—Exploring Hanoi’s Old Quarter: Part I

I was in high school/college in California while the Vietnam war had been raging for ten-plus years, and I knew many young men who were drafted into the army and sent to this far-away country. Years earlier, the U.S. had teamed up with other UN countries to stop communist North Korea from taking over democratic South Korea (remember the tv show, MASH?). In Korea’s case, the UN forces were able to push back the N. Korean forces to the 38thParallel, where the country remains divided to this day. I suppose, when the U.S. went into Vietnam with the same aim (to keep the North Vietnamese Communist party out of South Vietnam), they felt it was doable. But this time, the U.S. was alone, without the backing of UN troops. As we now know, the war in Vietnam was a disaster for both the Vietnamese people and U.S. soldiers. The Communist north took over the south, many Vietnamese U.S. collaborators were killed, and I’ll never forget the news videos of panicked crowds trying to get on the last U.S. planes to leave Vietnam.

Since then, Vietnam has fostered good relations with the U.S. and has welcomed tourists from all over the world. Even so, memories of the war-ravaged country remained in my mind, and since it is a Communist country, I wasn’t sure what to expect when Jerry and I traveled there last November (2019).

We had taken a southeast Asia cruise a few years earlier and joined excursions to central and south Vietnam, but we had never seen the North.

So please join me as I take you on a virtual tour of North Vietnam, starting with its capital, Hanoi. As far as I could tell, there is no central transportation in Hanoi. Everybody, and I mean everybody, rides mopeds or bicycles, but mostly mopeds (tourists can take rides in pedicabs (called cyclos). It must be the moped capital of the world. Crossing a street in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, you must watch for a good open spot, step out onto the street and keep going. If you don’t stop or hesitate or waiver in your direction, the moped riders and any other vehicles will swerve around you. It takes getting used to.

Carrying colorful balloons on a moped_DSC0124 copy_DSC0124 copy_DSC0145 copy_DSC0145 copy

Categories: Architecture, Asia, culture, Food, History, Photography, Shopping, Travel, Uncategorized, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Most Beautiful Church in the World

wide-angle interior showing plant-stem columns, flower ceiling and stained glass

In 1883, whimsical creative architect Antoni Gaudi started working on Sagrada Familia (sacred family), a huge Roman Catholic church in Barcelona, Spain. At the time of his death in 1926 (he was hit by a streetcar), less than a quarter of the building was finished. Slow progress then and later was partially due to lack of funding (it relied on private donations) and the Spanish Civil war (1936-39) By 2010, when I first visited, it was more than halfway done, but the central nave was stacked with building materials so we had to walk around the edges. On my second visit, last September (2018), the interior was complete and spectacular. The outside towers, however are still under construction, and the expected finish date is 2026—100 years after Gaudi’s death.

Known as God’s Architect, Gaudi felt that the Medieval Gothic style of his day was limited. It relied on large support structures called buttresses, and he believed that God’s house should be free of bulky supports, yet limitless in its height and grandeur, so he turned to nature, or what he saw as God’s architecture. The support columns of the church resemble the stems of plants, making the design stronger and lighter and allowing for more natural light. Gaudi built many of his models upside down to show how the weight would be distributed.

The main entrance, in the nativity façade, contains a complex variety of scenes featuring Jesus, Mary, Joseph, angels, kings, shepherds, flowers, animals and birds, all depicting the adoration at the birth and life of Jesus. The rear entrance, or Passion façade, depicts the death of Jesus with simple lines and figures. Many architects have worked on the church since Gaudi’s death, and all did their best to stay true to his plans and vision. Sagrada Familia has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Categories: Architecture, Art, churches, culture, engineering, Europe, History, Photography, Spain, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

5 Days in Venice: Magical or Mundane?

Gondolas in Venice's lagoon

I’ve heard mixed reviews about Venice. Some say it’s the most magical city in Europe. Others complain that it’s too touristy and over-rated. Yes, Venice calls to tourists like the hive calls to a swarm of bees. If you stay in the areas around St. Mark’s Square, you’ll encounter similar swarms of tourists and long lines. But even there, the magic is palpable.

We wanted to visit the Doge’s Palace and infamous prison while avoiding the crowds, so we went late in the afternoon. At one time, Venice’s powerful Doges ruled much of Europe from their palace in the sea. Anyone who opposed them was thrown into the palace’s dungeons, but eventually, more room was needed, so a separate prison was built across a small canal next to the palace and the two connected by a covered bridge. Writers later referred to this passage as the Bridge of Sighs as it was thought that prisoners sighed as they looked out at the pleasures of Venice, which they would never experience again. As we crossed into the prison, we peered out through the small, decorative window openings at a crowd of tourists taking pictures of this famous bridge.

After our palace/prison tour, we decided not to stand in the long, snaking line waiting for the elevator to the top of the Campanile, a tall tower in the square. I bet the view was amazing from the top. Instead, we found a table at one of the outdoor restaurants, ordered some food and a spritz (a Venetian specialty drink) and listened to an orchestra playing classical and contemporary music as the setting sun turned the façade of St. Mark’s cathedral to gold. Definitely magical.

We had planned to ride in a gondola, but in the small canals around St. Mark’s Square, dozens of gondolas, each carrying a couple or family, lined up like a traffic jam on a watery freeway. Many of the couples looked bored or were staring at their cell phones. Not romantic. Not magical.

Instead, we walked the narrow car-free lanes and crossed tiny canal bridges as well as large ones such as Rialto and Accademia—two of five spanning the Grand Canal. Rialto was the first built. Its premiere incarnation in 1181 consisted of a row of boats tied together side by side and planks laid on top of them. With its second incarnation in 1255, it became a wooden drawbridge allowing ship traffic up and down the canal. It collapsed in 1444 (under the weight of a crowd gathered to watch a boat parade in celebration of a wedding) and again in 1524, then was redesigned and built in 1591 as a covered stone structure lined with shops on both sides.

Instead of a tourist hotel, we opted to rent an apartment near the outskirts of Venice island. After taking some wrong turns trying to find the address while dragging suitcases behind us, we eventually arrived at a door in a building down an alleyway. One flight (but lots of steps) up, our apartment was perfect, with a balcony overlooking the small canal below. Our landlady, Sophia, lived next door and her dogs barked each time they heard us coming home. Below, along the canal, a string of restaurants and a wine bar made up the social life of our neighborhood. Sometimes we cooked our meals (there was a grocery store not far away); sometimes we ate out. We felt like we belonged there.

We also adapted to life without cars. Once we located our vaporetto (basically a bus on water) stop, we bought passes and went everywhere. The vaporettos were always crowded with standing room only, so we positioned ourselves near the “door” enabling us to get on and off easily. Coming home in the evening, the Moorish-style palaces and casinos with their twinkling lights spread golden reflections on the water of the Grand Canal.

Conclusion: Magical.

Categories: Architecture, Art, bridges, culture, Europe, History, Photography, Stock Photography, Travel, Venice | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Amboise’s Classical (music) Castle

Orchestra and patrons at the foot of Amboise castle

Castles fascinate me: their steep-sided walls meant to repel invaders, their dungeons, their turrets and worn stone steps. Amboise’s fortifications were originally built around the 4thcentury AD, and since then, its appearance has been added to and changed many times as France’s rulers called it home (when they weren’t off making war or consolidating their holdings). A few were born, married or died here. For some time, it was considered a hunting lodge, and 75% of its late-14th-century construction remains today.

After exploring the castle, we found, between castle and garden, a full orchestra preparing for a concert. We made our way across the garden, up the steps leading through rows of round bushes, found a couple of chairs and settled in for a while, relaxing to the strains of music floating through the air. It was heavenly.

You’ll notice one of my photos looks like a framed painting or photo of the castle. Two empty gold frames were cleverly placed at the top of the garden, and we saw many people standing behind the frames to have their selfies taken with the castle in the background. Only one problem: They stood so close to the frame, filling it, that you could barely see the castle. I lined up my shot of the castle through the frame, and then a group conveniently stopped on a landing within my view to admire their surroundings. That’s what I call serendipity.

Categories: Architecture, culture, dragons, France, gardens, History, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

France’s Loire Valley: Medieval Amboise

View of Amboise’ castle across the river from our B*B

My husband retired early this year, so we decided to celebrate with a 7-week trip to Europe (while he was working, vacations could only last 3 weeks). We did all the planning, and now consider ourselves travel-agent worthy. For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing the adventure with you, starting with our stay in France’s Loire River Valley, which is known for its many chateaus (castles). So, let me first introduce you to the charming medieval town of Amboise.

Getting to Amboise was fairly easy. From Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport we took a train to St. Pierre des Corps, and then a 12-minute train ride to Amboise. As we walked with our suitcases from the tiny train station in Amboise to our bed-and-breakfast, a man riding a bicycle shouted at us that we were going the wrong way. He apparently assumed we were going TO the train station. We laughed, waved and kept on going. A few blocks later, when we found our accommodations, the big, wrought-iron gate was closed and locked. We tried phoning, but no one answered. Uh oh. Next door was a café/bar where the townspeople came to place sports bets (It was odd to see a Chinese family—obviously residents—chatting with the locals in French). We waited there for a few hours, checking every so often to see if the gate had been opened. Finally, we found a woman who lived at the B&B (not the owner), and she let us in. Our room was delightfully French, with a splendid view of the castle across the river.

Categories: Architecture, Art, bridges, culture, France, Photography, Stock Photography, Sunsets, Travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Climbing China’s Great Wall

Looking down at Base Camp and the wall from the top tower at Badaling

Right or Left? That was our choice when we arrived at Base Camp—my nickname for the concrete entryway, lined with small shops and a ticket booth—at the Great Wall of China’s Badaling section, 40 miles northwest of Beijing.

Only select sections of the crumbling Great Wall have been fully or partially restored. Badaling is one of the best. It’s also closest to the country’s bustling capital. As such, it’s the most crowded, especially when we were there—during October’s National Day Holiday, when everyone in the country goes on vacation for a week and makes a beeline for Beijing and the Great Wall. During peak times (i.e. holidays), it’s estimated that 70,000 people per day visit Badaling.

Before traveling to China, I’d watched a tv show documenting the Great Wall’s history. In the 3rd century BC, during what’s known as the Warring States period, Qin Shi Huang’s army defeated armies from the other 6 kingdom states in what is now China. After crowning himself emperor of the now unified country, he ordered most fortifications between the states demolished. Some walls he kept and joined together in a single system to protect his empire from barbarians in the north.

Using mostly packed earth and rocks, almost a million peasants, criminals, soldiers, disgraced nobles and unemployed intellectuals slaved for ten years to construct a wall that stretched 3,100 miles. It’s estimated that 400,000 of these laborers died during construction, and many were buried in the wall, giving rise to its nickname: the world’s largest cemetery.

Over the years, there were various accounts of the wall’s efficacy. As dynasties came and went, it was either repaired or neglected. It kept out some invaders but not others such as Mongol Genghis Khan. Around 1206AD, his grandson Kublai Khan broke through, conquered China and created the Yuan Dynasty, stationing soldiers along the wall to protect merchants and caravans traveling along profitable Silk-Road trade routes.

The year 1368 saw the defeat of the Mongols and the establishment of the Ming Dynasty, which put a great deal of effort into fixing and strengthening the wall, building fortresses, steps, watchtowers and gates; employing skilled laborers; using bricks handmade of granite and limestone; and turning it into the fortification we know today (note: they added sticky-rice flour to the mortar, and although many bricks disintegrated, the mortar is still holding strong, leaving a pattern of holes where bricks used to be). The series of 25,000 towers built less than 500 feet apart and 30-40 feet high enabled troops garrisoned at each tower to see each other’s smoke signals, lanterns, flags and beacon fires and be ready to fight the enemy when and where he should appear.

In the mid 17th century, the Manchus broke through the wall, precipitating the fall of the Ming and beginning of the Qing Dynasty, which lasted until 1912.

map of the many branches of the Great WallSurprisingly, the Wall is not just one wall, but a series of walls, some running parallel or perpendicular to each other. At one time these walls slithered like giant snakes from the Yalu River in the west, through the Gobi Desert, along mountain ridges and sixty-six feet into the sea (so that raiders could not ride their horses around the end) for an estimated length of 5,500 miles (actual 13,170.7 miles, if you count all the branches). Many parts are now in ruins.

So, back to our choice. The left side, we were told, was a more difficult climb but with fewer people. No longer energetic youngsters, we opted for the easier Right side and were grateful for the railing on the steeper sections. Make no mistake—climbing the Great Wall is no walk in the park. There are steps—lots of them, and I noticed many of the younger Chinese huffing and puffing along with me as they pulled themselves up by the railing.

I could easily imagine soldiers running up and down these steps, using the nine-to-twelve-foot-wide top of the wall as a transportation corridor from tower to tower, firing canons and aiming their crossbows through the narrow battlement openings at the enemy below.

The crowds didn’t bother us. We rather enjoyed climbing with the Chinese tourists. Perhaps it was because they were on holiday and in a good mood, but they were courteous and friendly, many asking to take pictures with us. When I asked our guide about this later, she said that when they go back home, they’ll show off their foreigner “friends (us).” We’ll be famous in little villages all over China.

Can you really see the Great Wall from the moon? Well, not with the naked eye. It’s long enough, but not wide enough, says an astronomer friend. But photographs and radar imagery taken from a low-earth orbit do show the world’s longest defense fortification—one of the Seven Wonders of the World—snaking like a massive Chinese dragon across the desert, grasslands and mountaintops of China, enthralling us still.

Categories: Asia, China, culture, History, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Cee’s Which Way Photo Challenge: The Great Wall of China

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From a recent trip to China: Climbing the Great Wall. Stamina required

Categories: Architecture, Asia, China, culture, engineering, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 12 Comments

India’s Ancient Magical Observatories

I wanted to climb the steps, but it was not allowed, and a guard stood by to ensure everyone followed the rules. Still, the idea of climbing on the giant edifices tugged at me just as it does a child who steps into an enchanting playground. And that’s what this place looked like—a playground filled with odd-shaped structures that begged to be climbed.

Part of the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, India

In reality, though, we were at Jantar Mantar—an astronomical observatory built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh, a soldier, scholar and ruler with a lifelong interest in math and astronomy. He founded the city of Jaipur in the 1720s and built five Jantar Mantar observatories in northern India.

Jantar Mantar means “instruments for calculation,” or “magical calculations.” The Jaipur observatory consists of 18 devices for measuring time, predicting eclipses, observing planet orbits; calculating the lunar calendar and predicting the start of the monsoon season. It’s main purpose, though, seems to have been casting horoscopes, which require a precise knowledge of the positions of the sun, moon, planets and stars at the moment of birth.

The largest instrument (with steps leading to its top) is a sundial 27 meters high, its shadow carefully plotted to tell the time of day to an accuracy of about two seconds. You can see the shadow moving at 1 millimeter per second, or roughly the width of a hand (6mm) every minute.

Influenced by the Islamic school of astronomy, Jai Singh also incorporated elements of early Greek and Persian observatories into his designs. The Jantar Mantars, however, are more complex, on a greater scale, and contain some completely unique designs and functions.

They were made almost entirely of masonry, with some engraved metal rings and plates set into masonry foundations, and they were built large because the larger the scale, the more accurate the measurements. Once finished, they could not be corrected or improved, and observations were limited to those involving the positions and motions of heavenly bodies that are visible to the naked eye.

Over the years, they’ve been restored from time to time—partly because they are tourist attractions, but also to keep them useful and scientifically authentic. Local astronomers still use them to predict the weather for farmers (although the accuracy is questionable), and students of astronomy and Vedic astrology are required to take some of their lessons at the observatories.

Because of their size and inflexibility, the Jantar Mantars were obsolete even before they were constructed and were soon replaced by smaller machined brass instruments and telescopes that proved more useful and accurate. Still, they are amazing reminders of ancient innovation and man’s quest to understand the universe.

Categories: Architecture, Asia, culture, engineering, History, India, Photography, Stock Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Sampling of Southeast Asian Cultures

Last September, we embarked from Shanghai on a 17-day cruise that made port at Nagasaki, Japan; Busan, South Korea; Taipei, Taiwan; Hong Kong; Vietnam; Bangkok, Thailand; and finally Singapore. My story (with photos) of the journey is featured in the Spring issue of TravelWorld International magazine, starting on page 6.  http://issuu.com/travelworld/docs/_twi_magazine_spring_2015/1. Please enjoy the tour.

Categories: Architecture, Art, Asia, China, cruises, culture, Da Nang, dragons, Photography, Published Work, Thailand, Travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bangkok’s Grand Palace

 In 1956, actor Yul Brynner, as the king of Siam, sang and danced through a gilded palace in the movie, “The King and I.” The country of Siam has since changed its name to Thailand, but its Grand Palace in Bangkok is still something to sing about.

The older Thai capital at Ayutthaya in the North had been destroyed in 1767 during a war with Burma, and newly proclaimed King Rama I ordered his men to remove bricks and other materials from the forts, walls and palaces (but not the temples) of this ruined city and send them by barge down the Chao Phraya river to the new capital city of Bangkok. Not only was he updating his wooden palace, but to solidify fortifications around his riverside capital, Rama I dug canals along its eastern edge, turning the city into an artificial island.

The Grand Palace is not one large structure in the tradition of most European palaces. It’s divided into four main courts separated by walls and gates and originally housing royal offices, state ministries, the royal chapel, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, ceremonial throne halls, and the king’s harem quarters. After a second expansion during the reign of Rama II, the palace covered an area of 2,351,000 square feet and was Thailand’s administrative and religious center, with thousands of inhabitants including guardsmen, servants, concubines, princesses, ministers and courtiers. And just like Rome’s Vatican City, the Grand Palace was considered a city within a city, subject to its own set of laws.

Gradually the government ministries grew in size and moved to other locations. The King, too, relocated to more modern palaces. In 1932, a student-launched revolution overthrew the absolute monarchy of King Rama VII, replacing it with a constitutional monarchy. Today, the Grand Palace still serves as a royal ceremonial venue, as well as a museum and tourist attraction.

I found the Grand Palace to be a photographer’s eye-candy wonderland rife with golden temples; bejeweled pavilions; and giant, elaborately painted warriors. I’d love to return, without having to follow a tour guide, and get lost in the visual magic of it all. Have you been to Bangkok’s Grand Palace? If so, what were your impressions?

Click on any image to see the slideshow.

Categories: Architecture, Art, Asia, culture, History, Photography, Stock Photography, Thailand, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Lovely Hula Girl

My Lovely Hula Girl photo sold to Hawaiian Airlines for their coffee-table book celebrating 85 years of service to Hawaii.

My Lovely Hula Girl photo sold to Hawaiian Airlines for their coffee-table book celebrating 85 years of service to Hawaii.

Categories: Books, culture, Hawaii, History, Photography, Published Work, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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