Saturday, October 29, 2011

From Pondi to Shibuya: There's been a bit of a pause on the blog writing as I traipsed around Asia. After Vietnam, I headed to Singapore for a visit with family, then off to southern India, back to Singapore, on to Bali Indonesia, return to Thailand to visit the northern part of the country (yiks! floods!!), over to Tokyo, Japan and then home. Whew... makes me tired just writing it down. I've compiled the highlights but even so there's a lot of photos, so my apologies if this entry is a long one.

Tickling Ganesha - I landed in Kerala, India but headed east into the state of Tamil Nadu and the cities of Madurai, Tiruchirappalli, Pondicherry and Mahabalipuram. The latter was a 7th century port city 60 km south from the city of Chennai in Tamil Nadu. It has various historic monuments built largely between the 7th and the 9th centuries, and has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They have a thriving industry of stone carvers and ship their work all over the world.

My all time favourite restaurant in Mahabalipuram where they make great thali, parotas, etc. Tamil Nadu is famous for its hospitality and its deep belief that serving food to others is a service to humanity, as is common in many regions of India. The region has a rich cuisine involving both traditional vegetarian, as well as non-vegetarian dishes. A typical tamilian would eat Idly/Dosai/uthappam etc. for breakfast and rice accompanied by lentil preparations Sambar, Rasam and curd.

No where can you get chai like the chai in India and some of the best is made in Tamil Nadu. Here the server is blending the chai by pouring it back and forth between the pots. It also makes it a bit frothy.

The view of the Bay of Bengal from Pondicherry or Puducherry. It is a Union Territory of India and a former French colony. A remarkable degree of French influence in Puducherry exists to this date.

A banana plant. I find this shot rather erotic. Best viewed if you click on the image to enlarge it on your screen.

I had to leave Tamil Nadu because it was too hot. Over 40 degrees Celsius each day as the monsoon had not yet come. Here at "Five Falls" the locals cool down.

The beautiful 2 year old daughter of my cousin (Singapore).

On to the island of Bali, Indonesia. I flew to Depansar and then made my way to the interior of the island rather than remain on the coast. I got a place just outside the town of Ubud (cool town). The little house over looks rice paddies and everywhere there are exotic plants. A real garden of Eden. Bali is stunningly beautiful.

Everywhere there are terraced rice paddies in Bali.
Ducks are kept and used in the rice paddies to eat harmful insects. I kept a watch out for a 'duck shepherd'. This may be one or not. Click on this link >  Ducks .

A typical residential street scene. Extended families live in walled compounds.

A typical entrance into a family compound. Note the three mandatory items: small shrine just inside the gate (Ganesha in this case); the family dog having a nap and the always present scooter.

An entrance to a family compound decorated for a celebration. Not sure what they were celebrating but I was told to come back and have a drink after things got going.

Another lovely entrance to a family compound. I took far too many shots of doorways in Bali. They were all too cool.

Bali is clean compared to a few other Asia countries. Children are taught in school how to sweep and clean public spaces and go out and clean up areas. On a local pathway I noticed these little string garbage receptacles. Very smart.

I'm told Bali has beautiful beaches but I didn't spend time on them. Only went to the beach one day. It was a bit sunny / cloudy and the surf was challenging. Water colour was a gorgeous aquamarine. You wouldn't know if by looking at this photo but the waves are large and I got picked up and spun around by one that left me breathless, sputtering and disoriented.

Young Balinese dancers.

Temple entrance.
With a population of about 3.8 million Bali is home to most of Indonesia's small Hindu minority. About 92% of Bali's population adhered to Balinese Hinduism while most of the remainder follow Islam.

Temple perimeter wall and gnarled trees

Man performing puja (an act of devotion) at the Pura (temple) Tirta Empul. It is considered one of the 6 most important temples in Bali and dates back to 926 AD. The spring water is sacred and thought to have healing properties.

Families come to be purified in the waters of this particular temple. (There is no soap being used here and the water is impressively clean)

The 'Ladies Auxillary' making preparations at the temple for a celebration. Bail seems to have religious celebrations regularly - like daily.

Appropriate dress for the temple is long sleeves, long skirt and a sash which all visitors had to don. Photo taken at Bali's largest Temple of Besakih

Another rice paddy view.

Bali has active volcanoes! Here's one - Batur Volcano. You can see the black volcanic rock in the left of the photo. Thanks to the scenic beauty of the caldera with its lake and the cone of Batur, it is one of Bali's most popular destinations

Good-bye Bali, hello northern Thailand. In spite of the floods I spent about 10 days travelling around northern Thailand.

Sukhothai is a popular destination because it is located near the ruins of the ancient city of Sukhothai, which was the Thai capital during the 13th Century A.D.  The ruins of the ancient city is spread over a large area and reminded me a bit of Ankor in Cambodia.

Buddha in the ancient city of Sukhothai

Of course the easiest way to see the large area was by bicycle. Loved my pink one!

This tree caught my eye. It had a maze of roots and there were small statues of the Buddha and amulets placed among the roots. They are hard to see unless you enlarge the photo.

I used this form of transportation a lot in northern Thailand. It's a songthaew (pronounced song-tao) and is a truck-based vehicle with a pair of bench seats in the back, one on either side. Songthaews are operated extensively as local buses (generally the most economical way to travel shorter distances) and also as taxis. After about an hour in one of these however you are glad to get out in spite of it being economical!

With a group of people I visited the Thai Elephant Conservation Center near Lampang, Thailand. The main objective for the establishment of the center is to develop elephant conservation in a sustainable way and preserve local traditions for future generations. Many of these elephants are either hurt by old land mines or involved in the illegal logging trade. The center also aims to improve the tourism business, in which there is an extensive involvement of elephants in tourism-related activities, for the benefit of elephants as well as tourists.

Hello, big fella.

This little guy was an orphan and he's been adopted by this female.

Elephant bath time! They love their baths and get them about three times a day.

Show time! Watching them perform sort of rubbed me the wrong way but elephants are really smart and apparently they need the stimulus of learning things and performing to keep them happy and content.

An exhibit of how elephants are used in logging. Each elephant has a keeper or 'mahoot'. It's always a man and he works with only one elephant for the entire life of the elephant. Since elephants can live 50-60 years this could be for the entire life of the man as well.

Truly this elephant was painting. I watch him do it.

Almost finished.

Voila! A  masterpiece.
I don't know how he was trained but he's pretty good. The art can be bought for about $25 CDN.

Hey! That's my banana!

Chiang Mai is a lovely city in northern Thailand. It has great Buddhist temples.

Temple entrance

Yup! another temple.

North of Chiang Mai, near Burma (Myanmar) is a very rural area where people live. They are referred to as "hill tribes". This lady was sitting near her house in one of the villages I visited.

Another day, another elephant. This guy was part of a group belonging to the hill tribe I visited. They are well taken care of and tourists can take a ride into the jungle.

I took a one hour trek into the jungle on an elephant. Had lunch by a stream then hiked 4 hours to a waterfalls.

Arrived at waterfalls. This is not me but someone on the hike with me. It was really hard going because all the rain had brought down trees and earth and blocked the trail. We had to climb over stuff and the guides had machetes to cut through things. The small pond at the foot of the falls had filled in with earth so there was no swimming as promised but we could stand under the falls and cool off. Luckily it was not hot in this part of Thailand.

From hill tribe to home stay. This is a local elder performing a traditional welcome to guests.

Some local students performed on traditional music instruments.

A delicious meal was prepared by the local ladies.

Tiny dancer - about 6 years old.

A couple of older girls perform a dance for us.

Next morning after leaving our home stay, we happened upon a parade in the making. A Buddhist parade! Hurray! Hey, wait a minute, what is a Buddhist parade. Who knows?

From what I was told, apparently Buddhists sort of observe a lent period. At the end of this period they have a celebration (hence the parade). They bring gifts for monks to the local temple. The gifts are very practical - food, household items such as blankets or cleaners and of course there is always gifts of money. Monks depend on the community to support them.

Every participates in the parade in their finery.

Even the monks. New robes. Nice umbrellas.

A pretty girl.

Another pretty girl.

A 'pretty boy'. (Google that one)

These women demanded I take their photo. Happy to oblige.

After the parade we drove to the very north of Thailand to the 'golden triangle'. The view is of three countries - Myanmar to the left, Laos to the right and I'm standing in Thailand. The river is the Mekong which starts in China and finds it way through various countries and finally ends in south Vietnam.

We made a quick crossing to Laos to visit a market and try some "snake whiskey". Yes those are cobras in the jar of hooch. I tried it. It was nothing special. The night before the owner of the home stay offered us some home brew whiskey. Now that packed a punch!

End of journey. At the beginning of my blog I included a photo of a Thai lady and her dog. Here's another one. One thing I've learned from travelling all around Asia is that people love their dogs. Sure there are a lot of mangy ones that live on the streets but there are lots that are taken care of and dressed up in goofy clothing. People are the same, same all over the world, I guess.

From Thailand I flew to Tokyo, Japan and spent three short days there. There's an entry about my adventures prior to this entry - if you are interested. But this was sort of a marathon, so take a rest. Thanks for reading.