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The Emperor’s Many Faces: Bayon Temple, Angkor

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.

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What’s been your latest travel-related muse?

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Up in the Air

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.

These photos were taken in the South East Asian skies, over Malaysia and Thailand on the way to our destinations on our trip to Siem Reap and Bangkok-Krabi in April.

So… which one is it for you – window seat or aisle seat? 

Look what Spring Brought in…

Bombay (or Mumbai) doesn’t really have spring – we have two seasons for the year – 1) hot and humid; and 2) raining cats and dogs. So I was happy to make this trip down memory lane to pull out these reminders of a spring in Turkey a couple of years back. When we landed in Istanbul in the middle of April on an overcast afternoon, there was a sharp chill in the air. As the next few days progressed, the weather decided to cast aside its dull winter robe and finally take on the full-fledged brightness of spring.

Like I said, we don’t get spring in Mumbai (where I currently live), so I was excited to experience the transition from winter and the newness and freshness of things around me – the aroma of roasting chestnuts left over from the winter, the clouds clearing up to make way for sunny days and bright blue skies and the blossoming of flowers of every shape, name and colour, at every stop of our trip.

P.S. Go see the tulips welcoming spring in Istanbul at the annual Istanbul Tulip Festival in April.  There's going to be millions of them (seriously)!

The Fire Breathers of Rajasthan

The Fire Dance is a special performance put up by the Banjara (gypsy) community of Rajasthan. It involves women dancing with aflame vessels balanced on the top of their heads; and more spectacularly, the Fire Breather (and Eater) who swallows a few fireballs, drinks kerosene and breathes massive fire clouds – all in a day’s work.

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The Walls, They have Stories to Tell

Walls are often silent backgrounds or spectators to the action upfront.

But sometimes and in some places, they take on a personality of their own – at times a grim one, like the Berlin Wall that once separated East and West Germany; or at times a fun one, like the walls of the Comic Book route of Brussels or the ‘Love Wall’ of the supposed house of Shakespeare’s Juliet in Verona.

More walls from around the world here – Wall.

Which walls from your travels do you still remember? 

The Orange Tops of Europe

The color, orange, dominates many a skyline in Europe. It could be the well-preserved old town of Prague, or the Renaissance capital of Italy – Florence. Another city that’s all orange is Dubrovnik, sitting pretty on the Adriatic Coast of Croatia. Orange-topped sisters by coincidence, I think.

More color here: “Orange you glad it’s photo challenge time?”

Postcards from the Nubra Valley – Days 6 & 7 of our road trip in the Himalayas

This Part 5 of a multi-post series covering our trip this summer to Ladakh, a remote region high up in the Indian Himalayas. You can read the other parts here.

Days 6 & 7, 30th and 31st July – Leh to Nubra Valley and back

Nubra Valley is located about a 3 to 4-hour drive away from Leh and is reached by crossing the Khardung La Pass, which at an altitude of about 18000 ft above sea level, claims to be the ‘highest motorable road in the world’. The claim is disputed but that doesn’t stop visitors (including me) from stopping and taking a customary picture with the sign at the pass claiming this. Nubra Valley is famous for its sand dunes, double-humped Bactrian camels (that came here from Mongolia a few centuries back and have been forced into the tourism industry now), a giant statue of the Buddha in Diskit and a village called Turktuk which lies a few kms from the de facto border between India and Pakistan was wrested by India from Pakistan in the war of 1971.

Here are a few pictures from the two days.