In parts of East Africa, the savanna extends as far as the eye can see. Boundaries seem to have no meaning as the Serengeti plains of Tanzania cross the border and become the Masai Mara in Kenya. Little surprise then, that ‘Serengeti’ literally means ‘the endless plains’ in Swahili. It wouldn’t be hard to get lost here, with no markers and the uniform landscape extending in all directions.
A hunting lodge by origin, that ended up being the seat of the French Government and royalty and now figures on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the Palace of Versailles has seen its share of glory and continues to bask in it, to this day.
If like me, you’re hungering after some non-palace, non-museum time in Paris (all that sightseeing can get heavy on the head), the Palace is an easy hop from the city and has extensive and perfectly manicured lawns, that one can happily spend a sunny summer, or even winter day in.
Halves make a story whole here: “Half and Half.”
If you happen to visit Bali around the festival of Galungan (like we did by a happy coincidence in 2013), you’ll notice these ornamental poles of bamboo peering over you, decorated with leaves and fruits and with an offering basket suspended from their top, adorning the gateways of buildings and lining the roads.
With a little inquisitiveness, we learned from our driver and the hotel staff that these poles are called ‘penjor‘ and are symbolic of festivals and celebrations in Bali. And at the time of Galungan, a festival that signifies the victory of good over evil (much like Diwali in India, we thought), 20-feet high penjors bloom in abundance outside almost every home, office, shop on the island, for people to thank the Gods.
Captured during the famous sunset at the Uluwatu temple in south-west Bali:
More symbols of significance with the Daily Post’s challenge this week: “Symbol.”
Entering the Grand Palace in Bangkok is almost an attack of dazzle on the senses*. Gold, gems, statues of precious stones, the Palace could probably rival the GDP of Thailand in value. And as you go snap-snap-snap, taking in all the fabulousness around with your camera, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed, like you aren’t going to be able to do justice to it.
* hence the sunglasses, just in case you get blinded by the bling
Here’s just one of the heavily adorned doors around the palace. And this isn’t even on one of the important buildings! I guess living royally is serious business. More about the Grand Palace and its treasures here.
More gateways with stories from around the world here: “Door.”
Eyes closed, they faced the scorching 37°C summer morning with a smile.
Our guide said that when Jayavarman the VIIth was building the Angkor Thom, he decided to adorn the centrepiece, the Bayon Temple with 216 (no less) faces of himself, as a representation of the Buddha. 64 towers in the main Bayon temple are topped by 4 huge stone faces of the King (or Buddha), one looking in each direction. As you sweat and bake in the sweltering heat, the faces continue smiling serenely and obliviously.
The temple itself has witnessed a few changes of faith over the centuries – from Buddhism to Hinduism and back, and roaming around the temple, you’ll come across remnants of crude alterations in the sculptures and carvings to transform them according to the prevailing religion of the time. The Bayon is indeed the centrepiece of the Angkor Thom; and as you walk around with your camera taking innumerable pictures of the 200+ identical faces, you can’t help but feel that though separated by centuries, the Emperor and you were, somewhat, united by a common muse.
P.S. Angkor Thom is 7 km from Siem Reap, your base for exploring the Angkor area and is easily reached by a tuktuk, that you can hire (with driver) for the day for 15-20 USD. The Angkor Pass works and will be checked so don’t forget to carry it along. Apart from Bayon, explore Phimeanakas, Baphuon, the Terrace of Lepers and the Terrace of the Elephant King and make a day trip out of it.
What’s been your latest travel-related muse?
Shopping for clothes is serious business in India. Try taking a stroll in one of the more famous local textile markets or bazaars in India on a Saturday and you’ll know that this isn’t a task for the faint of heart.
Lanes upon lanes of little shops snake through the labyrinth markets in all directions, crowded by women with hands full of shopping bags and buying appetites still not satiated; and shelves overflowing with fabrics of every type, every print and every color imaginable.
This photo was taken on one such Saturday afternoon in one of the many almost-identical stores in a New Delhi market, unwillingly having to brave the mad rush.
More bursts of colour here: “ROY G. BIV.”
The lines for the Uffizi Gallery usually snake all along the corridors and into the lane leading to the gallery from the Piazza della Signoria with its fake David. Not too far away, the throngs mill around and through the Firenze Duomo and the adjoining Giotto’s tower. Tour groups in every language, families and school kids on ‘culture’ trips, backpackers and the well-heeled jet-setters – you’ll find them all strewn in generous measures around Florence on a spring, summer or autumn day. Florence’s strong personality, its centuries of history, art and culture, can all sometimes seem to sink under or get shadowed by the scores of selfie sticks, colored umbrellas and loudspeakers.
That’s not how I remembered Florence. That wasn’t the Florence I fell in love with, on a soggy, deserted evening after a stormy November day. We were late to reach Florence – our plans for a day trip having been washed away by a surprise storm all around upper Italy, that snowed out the train tracks and messed up all train schedules for the day. After risking near-heartbreak by considering skipping the visit altogether, we decided to gulp down the 7-hour delay, and landed in Florence at 7 PM instead of noon. The museums had long closed, the tourists were never there in the off-season and even the locals had called it a night and shuttered down even before we got into town. As we roamed the empty streets, marvelling at the lit-up sights around town, I was filled with a mixed emotion of excitement and disappointment. Excitement at having found, what I thought was the most beautiful city in Europe; and disappointment, that I could only see it from the outside, in the dark.
I came back, six years later to another Florence. The Florence I saw now, wasn’t the Florence of that dark, rainy night.
Where is your favourite place that you’ve been to in the “Off-Season”?
The Cappadocian landscape is legendary as a ‘moon-land’ and ‘unearthly’. But all those brown and other earth tones can start to look all the same after a few days. Breaking the monotony are the vivid colors of the local pottery, one of the other things that Cappadocia is famous for.
If you’re keen, you could even try your hand at a pottery / ceramics workshop in Avanos, the pottery hub of the region – and buy at source, so you’re sure your Cappadocian souvenir isn’t made in China!
How do you know you’ve grown up?
It’s when you don’t ask for the window seat on planes anymore.
– Source unknown
But if this is remotely true, count a few years (or decades) of growing up in the future for me. Give me a seat with a view and I’ll be sorted for a few hours.
So… which one is it for you – window seat or aisle seat?
The Angkor Wat was built as a Hindu temple, supposedly dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the Protector. Over many generations and time, the King’s descendants’ faith swayed towards Buddhism. So even though most of the main temple retains its Hindu characteristics, the new buildings in the complex are definitively Buddhist. As we were drifting around the compound, looking for a spot of shade, we chanced upon this Buddhist temple – plain and unadorned in comparison to the Angkor Wat, but a symbol of Cambodia’s present juxtaposed with its past.
Chofas are characteristic to Buddhist temples in and around Thailand – these horn-like roof ornaments are usually gilded in the Thai versions, but this one’s were rather modest; and three intact, one broken.
Read more about the Angkor Wat: