Posts Tagged With: culture

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.

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

Touring India—the Road to Ranthambhore

Ranthambore 432

The troop-carrier jeep bounced along a dirt road carpeted with large potholes that looked like they’d been blown out by meteorites. I tightened my grip on side railings and those attached to the back of the seat in front of me, but still, every pothole sent me careening in four different directions. Twice, my mouth connected with the side bar, and once, while I was looking up, the bar behind my head rose up to crash into my skull.

We were in the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, on safari, looking for wild tigers. So far, we’d spotted a lot of sika and samboor deer—including two young bucks testing their fighting mettle by locking horns—and several birds. But no tigers. Where the deer were, the tigers weren’t, which makes sense from a deer’s point of view.

To give you some background, the Ranthambhore Reserve covers an area of 1334 square kilometers, was started in 1973, and is home to six species of cats, three species of mongoose and marsh crocodile, an estimated 38 species of other mammals (the deer would fit in here), 315 species of birds and 402 species of plants. Whew!

The road wound up and down, crossing streams and the aforementioned potholes, through a thickly forested underbrush area categorized as tropical dry deciduous. If the tigers had been there, we might not have been able to see them in the tall grass. I was disappointed—and a little banged up. So, to avoid the whiplash affecting my lower back, I opted out of the next morning’s safari. My husband did go, though, and we were both happy about the results. Not only did they spot a tiger, but also a marsh crocodile, monkeys, and different birds.

Tigers are king in Ranthambhore, and tiger images are everywhere, including at a craft shop known as the Village Women Crafts, where sari-clad women (sometimes with a small child nearby) sew and weave beautiful designs into wall hangings, clothing and other fabric items. It may be a woman’s craft center, but men, it seems, are the ones painting tiger images. All the work is exquisite.

Another craft center again offered the vibrantly colored fabrics India is known for, as well as camel-pulled carriage rides. It was here that a group of sassy local barely-teenage boys (the girls are much more reserved) presented themselves to me to have their picture taken, and, wanted to take their picture with me. It was a delightful international exchange, and we all had fun. For me, this is one of the big perks of travel—random exchanges between people. It helps us bond with people of other cultures—and they with us—and reminds us that we are really all the same, despite different skin colors, religions and customs.

To see the slideshow, just click on any photo and use the arrows to move back and forth.

 

 

 

Categories: Animals, Asia, India, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized, wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Touring India—Lake of Palaces

There is a beautiful lake in Udaipur, Rajasthan, India….. Its name is Pichola.map India Udaipur

On one side, its waters lap at the base of ancient homes; boat docks; wide concrete steps called ghats, where women come to wash their saris or string marigold garlands; and the towering fort-like walls of the City Palace. On the other side, hazy mountains seem to float in the sky.

Legend has it that the lake was created in the 15th century when a gypsy Banjara tribesman built a dam so that his livestock could cross a stream. Maharani Udai Singh II built his shining city of Udaipur around the lake in 1560, while strengthening the dam and enlarging the lake. It’s currently 3-miles long, 2-miles wide and 30-feet deep.

Within its waters are two natural islands, each supporting a palace. The white Taj Lake Palace is exclusive to guests staying at its hotel, but you can see its interior in the 1983 James Bond film “Octopussy.”

The Jag Mandir, or Lake Garden Palace, made of marble and yellow sandstone (including 8 white-marble elephants guarding the palace), was built in the 1550s as a hiding place for Prince Khurram, who became Shah Jahan—builder of the Taj Mahal. Later, Maharana Swaroop Singh sheltered several European families here during the revolt of 1867. The hotel caters to weddings and other lavish events, and the palace gardens bloom with roses, jasmine flowers, palms, frangipani and bougainvillea.

From the comfort of a marigold-draped boat, our small tour group cruised the lake and then disembarked for an exploration of Jag Mandir, where we learned that jazz legend Kenny G, who had been on our flight from Delhi to Udaipur the previous day, was scheduled to perform on the palace stage that evening.. Afterwards, we re-boarded our boat and headed back to the city proper.

I hope you enjoy the visual tour of Pichola Lake. As always, click on any photo to begin the slideshow.

Categories: India, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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

Norway: Viking Churches? Not

It’s an ironic story line—after raiding and pillaging towns and villages in countries throughout the north Atlantic, Vikings returned home and went to church.

Perhaps they did, but if so, they didn’t attend services in a stave church—so named for its interior, weight-bearing pillars, or staves. There may be dragons on the roof, but stave churches weren’t built until after the Viking Age ended. That date is traditionally marked in England by the failed invasion attempt by Norwegian King Harald III, who was defeated by Saxon King Harold Godwinson in 1066. Ireland and Scotland note their own dates, predicated on victories against Vikings.

stave church, Borgund, Norway

stave church, Borgund, Norway

At one time there were more than a thousand stave churches throughout Europe. Most were built between circa 1130 and 1350 AD. Construction stopped when the Black Death started to spread through Europe, and congregating in small spaces became life threatening.

And the stave church is indeed a small space. So small, in fact, that most of its congregation had to stand—men and boys on the right, women and girls on the left. The elderly and sick could sit on benches along the walls.

Today only 28 stave churches survive, and all are in Norway where there is a long tradition of building in wood (remember those sturdy Viking ships). Earlier churches were built on often-soggy ground and succumbed to wood rot. Lesson learned. Stone foundations solved that problem.

stave church interior, Oslo, Norway

Stave church interior, Oslo, Norway

While visiting the stave church in Borgund, I was surprised to see that it—like other stave churches—had no windows. The only light entered through a few small portholes high up on the walls. The altarpiece depicts Christ’s crucifixion. Animal masks adorn the south door, and serpents and dragon-like creatures decorate the main-door side panels and lintel. On the roof turrets, Christian crosses and dragonheads keep each other company. Old legends die hard I guess, and it seems that the parishioners were hedging their bets—honoring old gods and new.

I found it interesting that the timber used in construction of the church was most likely seasoned on the root, strategic cuts drawing the tar to the surface before the tree was felled. After construction and during renovations, additional tar was applied to protect the wood.

carved doorway, stave church

carved doorway, stave church

It was common to bury the dead under the church floor, but that practice stopped at the end of the nineteenth century thanks to the unpleasant smell. However, stillborn infants and babies who died before being baptized could not be buried in the consecrated ground of the churchyard. Tiny coffins were placed under the floor, even in recent times. It seems odd to me that the ground around the church was considered consecrated, but the ground under the church was not.

If you stand inside the church and look up, you’ll see that the roof above the nave looks like an inverted boat with ribs. Hmmmmm! I wonder what inspired that design.

Categories: Architecture, culture, History, Norway, Photography, Scandinavia, Stock Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge: Merge

plastic-looking buildings swallow a once-pristine landscape

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This image depicts the merging of old and new, past and present, and the rise of plastic urbanization in the form of cars, roads and buildings. In the words of singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell, “they paved Paradise, put up a parking lot.”

Categories: Architecture, Conceptual, culture, environment, Hawaii, History, Photography, Stock Photography, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Aloha Festivals Pa’u Rider: Before and After

After

September in Hawaii is Aloha Festivals time, a highlight of which is the Aloha Festivals parade. Nothing could be more fun and colorful to photograph than a Hawaiian-style parade with its flower-bedecked floats. And a welcome inclusion in every cultural parade is the pa’u rider. Each island chooses a pa’u queen and court, all wearing the colors of their particular island. Gold represents the island of Oahu. Before the parade, all the participants gather at Ala Moana Beach Park to wait their turn. I found the pa’u riders under the shade trees, but since the lighting and setting were a shade less than pretty, I decided to remedy that by transporting each one to a new location via the magic of Photoshop, a process that can take 2-3 hours in the digital darkroom. But it was worth the effort. The Oahu queen here looks much more regal in the soft lighting of the Nu’uanu rainforest.

Before

Categories: culture, Hawaii, Photography, Stock Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Travels in Turkey: Underground Temple

the “killer” shot

When visiting another country, we have to decide: Do we drink the water or not? For Turkey, travel guides often advise buying bottled water. We followed that advice and went a step further—lugging a charcoal-filter pumping system with us. Nothing spoils a vacation faster than a case of Montezuma’s Revenge. On the other hand, I have a friend who always drinks the water wherever she goes—including Turkey—and never gets sick. I think it depends on your constitution. Cast-iron digestive system—go for it. Otherwise, err on the side of caution.

But that’s not exactly the subject of this post although there is drinking water involved. So to get to the point, I’d like to introduce you to Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern.

abstract

The largest of Istanbul’s underground cisterns, it was built in 542 AD by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (way back when Istanbul was Constantinople), and was capable of holding 100,000 tons of water, which arrived via two aqueducts from a source in the Belgrade Forest (about 19 kilometers away). Back in the day, the water level was a lot higher, and citizens retrieved their water through large, round, well-like holes in the ceiling of the cistern. Justinian may have thought this oversized well, which supplied water to his palace, was pretty slick, but future conquerors—the Ottomans—not so much. By some accounts, they preferred running water, so the cistern system fell into disrepair.

Everybody pretty much forgot it was there until 1545, when a Frenchman who was researching Byzantine antiquities noticed that some residents got their water (and sometimes caught fish) by lowering buckets through holes in their basements. He also found an entrance at the back of someone’s garden, and steps leading down into the cistern.

The chamber was alternately restored and ignored over the years, and even used as a dump for junk (and corpses). Then in 1987 Turkish authorities realized what a great tourist attraction it would be and cleaned it up, pumping out tons of mud and dirty water and building a walkway around the interior perimeter.

Peacock feathers or tear drops? A unique column from the Arch of Theodosius

Although it’s not in somebody’s garden these days, the cistern entrance is still not that obvious. Just go to the northern end of the Hippodrome, across the street from Hagia Sophia and opposite the yellow building of the Tourist Police, and look for the queue in front of an inconspicuous ticket booth. Once you’ve paid your ten Turkish lira, follow the 52 stone steps leading down into the chamber.

I had seen pictures, but nothing prepared me for actually viewing it firsthand. A forest of 332 marble columns and their watery reflections mesmerized me, and it was hard to focus on the task at hand—getting that one killer photo. After setting up my camera and tripod as inconspicuously as possible, I waited patiently for the hoards of people swirling around me to snap their pics and move on. Eventually, a space opened up. I moved in and took a quick series of shots: f11-22 for maximum depth of field (sharpness), and shutter speeds ranging from 3 to 15 seconds.

Just a note here: tripods are actually not allowed, although in my defense, I didn’t know that at first (if there was a sign, I didn’t see it, officer. Honest). I found out when I was later asked, politely, to put it away, and I can see the reasoning. Lots of people crowding around (even groups of schoolchildren on outings), and it’s too easy to trip over extended tripod legs. Again, in my defense, I kept the tripod legs in a very narrow stance, and blocked them with my legs during the few minutes I was shooting.

Getting that shot was the highlight for me, but there was more to see. A dozen or so merchants have set up shop just below the entry steps, selling art, kitschy souvenirs, photos of you dressed in sultan/harem costumes (which they supply), and food. There are fish swimming in the shallow water, and musical concerts are sometimes held here (the acoustics must be awesome).

If you’re into ancient architecture, it’s interesting to note that the cross-vaulted ceiling is made of brick, and the column tops (capitals) are from different periods: most Corinthian, some Doric. Even the columns were gathered from various ruined buildings. So although it’s a magnificent feat of engineering, it was, in fact, cobbled together.

Stone-faced Medusa. Not so scary anymore, is she.

Two of the cobbled parts (and no one knows where they came from) are blocks carved as the head of Medusa—that gorgon whose unruly hairdo—a mass of writhing snakes—could turn a man to stone with one glance. Both blocks support columns. One head is planted upside down, the other sideways (the why of that is also a mystery).

Since you’ve read this far, here’s your reward—a bit of movie trivia. In “From Russia With Love,” James Bond (Sean Connery) gets away by rowing a boat through the Basilica Cistern.

Categories: Architecture, culture, History, Photography, Stock Photography, Travel, Travel: Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Behind the Photo: Three Dudes

It always feels good when one of my favorite images finds a second, third, etc. home. This shot became the cover of Hawaii magazine several years ago, and recently it was purchased by Alaska Airlines Magazine. So how did this image come to be in my portfolio? Some friends were in town and we all went to the Paradise Cove Luau, held amid the stunning scenery of Oahu’s southwestern shore. These three guys were getting ready for their roles in the imu ceremony (where the roast pig is removed from the imu, or ground oven), so I asked them to pose before the unearthing got underway. At first, they stood on the grass above the beach. “Can you go down on the beach?” I asked. Somewhat reluctantly they moved but they were still too far back, so I asked them to move closer to the water. “You want to get us wet, don’t you,” one joked. But photographers are thinking of one thing only—get the best shot. I knew they had to get back to work, so once they were in position I shot quickly: several frames, different compositions. And they didn’t get wet. When we were finished, one of them asked hopefully, “Are we going to be on a magazine cover?” As a matter of fact….yes, although I didn’t know it at the time. When I’m shooting for stock, it’s always a pleasant surprise to see where my pictures end up (one of them was printed on 75 ostrich eggs and given as gifts to clients of a South African public-relations agency). So a big mahalo (thank you) to my three models, wherever they are today. I hope to see them in print again someday.

Categories: Photography, Published Work, Stock Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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