Photography 101: Landscape

A majority of tourists make a beeline to UNESCO site Stari Most in Mostar, Bosnia. But while most people focused on taking pictures of the famous site, I was absorbed taking pictures from the bridge.

I was surprisingly pleased with this photo. I struggled to find a way to capture both sides of the river, the famed divide between the Christian and Muslim communities. The river itself was quite wide and I didn’t quite have the right lens . Instead, the beautiful nature, green foliage on the banks, and mountains jutting out behind shone.

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I should have know it was going to be beautiful. Our stretch stop at a tiny town of Pocitelj afforded this gorgeous view from the fort ruins, which would have stretched all the way to the Adriatic coast had it been a clear day.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

Neighbouring Agra is home to the more famous Taj Mahal.. but I find Humayun’s Tomb, a likely prototype or inspiration to the Taj, in Delhi to be under appreciated. Unlike the over-crowded Taj, Humayun’s Tomb was eerily empty and serene when I paid a sunset visit. And, unlike the Taj that prohibits photo taking inside, I was free to play around with my camera in catching the lighting.

Nikon D80, f/2.8, 1/20s

Weekly Photo Challenge: Path

No single picture can fully capture the grandeur of the largest Buddhist site, Borobudur, in Yogyakarta (pronounced “Joe-jakarta”). The temple, believed to be built sometimes in the 7-8th century A.D., is a nine-tiered temple. The bottom six have over three and a half miles of stone wall carvings, depicting karmic lessons of consequences and Buddha’s teachings.

Little is known about the original purpose and use of the building. But, today, many Buddhist make a pilgrimage and walk up the temple in a clockwise spiral route for meditation. Many believe each higher level represents a stage closer to nirvana.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Hot

The Fatehpur Sikri took 15 years to build. The palace was abandoned shortly after being used for only 14 years because of water scarcity. It was only 40 kilometers away from the more famous site of the Taj Majal

I went on a hot July summer day. The temperature reached 105 and it took a look 4.5 hour drive to get there from New Delhi. Sweltering in the heat just to walk around the palace grounds, the sight of the dried up pool and sun-baked red sandstone was as effective as dense humidity would be in dragging my psyche through an oven.

Nikon D80, f/7.1, 1/200s ©2010

Alternatively, on the humourous sid, a shot of my hot pink buddy dressed in a hot animal print hotel robe. Yes, that was the robe the hotel provided in the room.

Canon S90 point-and-shoot

 

First stop: Bagan

Bagan is home to many many religious buildings. Old in origin but many have been restored, renovated and rebuilt. Mostly exposed brick. The kind of construction seen also in Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, Thailand, and many parts of Angkor sites in Cambodia. All the sites mentioned, many were made of brick. But then covered with stucco or its ancient equivalent then painted and gilded over. It’s hard to picture what they must have been like as so little of those layers survived. In some ways, that’s part of the charm. It’s up to the viewer’s own imagination to lead him or her down the path or history.

There are over 2000 such buildings and sites. Unlike Sukhothai in which other than a few major buildings is now more foundation remnants than structures, the Bagan landscape is completely dotted with stupa tops. The Burmese have been maintaining the sites on an ongoing basis.

However, unlike all the other destinations I related to, Bagan is not an UNESCO World Heritage Site. While I don’t place much stock on the status as I’ve been to some rather underwhelming designees, I would have thought Bagan hands down would have earned it. Alas, no. Primarily because the sites keep being built on, over. They are modified renovated instead of restored. UNESCO maintains a strict hands-off-unless-for-basic-preservation policy. It’s a difference in thinking. Many Burmese Buddhists believe that many of the pagodas are still religious sites to respect and deterioration is not acceptable. The school of thinking does not accept the sites as “ancient relics.” By refusing to adhere to the strict guidelines of preservation versus maintenance, Bagan would be disqualified.

They continue building. Some of the wealthier want to donate money or integrate their contribution into the historic landscape of Bagan and proceed to build a new structure to blend in or to completely take over an unclaimed ruin. So we see stupa tops of fresh pinkish brick scattered amongst the more aged ones.

I don’t know how I feel about that. A lot of the new structures emit the aura of a wannabe. Up close, some of them look downright fake and cheesy. Yet, from a bird’s eye view, the endless pointed tops, regardless of color and shade is breath-taking. In reality, some of the buildings are at the brink of collapse. Years of neglect, war, and weather have beaten up on some of the structures so badly humans are no longer allowed in it. Many have completely collapsed in the weather, monsoon, and earthquakes of the past 5 years alone. The new ones may look corny, but with this kind of environment, they will look old eventually and be the ones holding up the famed Bagan landscape in the future.

The old

... the semi-old...

... the new (far right)...

... and the view.

Taj Mahal – the ultimate love story

Am I the only one who finds it ironic that India’s greatest sites are, well, Muslim? The Taj Mahal was commissioned by a Muslim ruler for his wife. I don’t know if the story has been romanticized for the benefit of millions of tourists coming to see the Taj, but it certainly is an attractive one.

From afar, the Taj Mahal looks like a mosque, with its symmetrical minarets towering up. I would imagine the marble reflects beautifully at sunrise and sunset but my timing doesn’t work out. Instead, I felt as if I needed sunglasses just to look at the building. The building is completely symmetrical, with the tomb of the wife in the very middle, underground, with a mock casket on the top level for viewing. The other irony of the Taj- the very king who commissioned the building- is buried next to his wife after the fact and his tomb disrupts the otherwise perfectly symmetrical construction.

A total aside: It really really bothers me when I type in “Taj Mahal” the second autofill option is some Taj Mahal in Atlantic City…