Sunday, February 11, 2018

Kathmandu Monkey Temple

Another favorite spot in Kathmandu is Swoyambhunath Stupa or the easier to remember and spell "monkey temple". We usually walk from Thamel. It's a couple of kilometers and can be a little tricky to navigate the winding narrow streets, but it's always interesting to get out of the tourist area. This time we passed by several vacant lots covered in drying sheets and other laundry. Obviously some kind of laundry service. The first time we walked here (1997) we passed open fields and farming. Now it's all developed and covered in buildings. This is my seventh visit to Kathmandu over the last 20 some years. In some ways it's changed a lot (cell phones!), but in other ways it's very much the same dirty, crazy, chaotic place.

prayer flags in Thamel

The monkeys themselves seemed quite mellow this visit. Sometimes they can be a little scary when they fight amongst themselves or try to steal food or shiny objects from the tourists. We were told there is a bigger risk of rabies from monkey bites than from dog bites.

monkey relaxing on stupa

monkeys

monkey looking thoughtful

Of course, the young ones are still fun to watch as they climb and jump and play.

baby monkey showing off his climbing skills

The temple is much the same as always - stupas, prayer flags and prayer wheels, monkeys, pigeons.

prayer wheels

monkey with pigeons on the stupa in the background

statue

We found a rooftop cafe to relax and observe the goings on around the stupa. The local raptors flew by regularly and I spent a bunch of time trying to photograph them. Needless to say, mostly unsuccessful, but I took enough (and I've had enough practice) that a few of them came out reasonably well. I haven't figured out what they were. At the time I thought maybe vulture but the photos don't look like that. Maybe some kind of kite? (good detail if you click to view larger)

raptor

raptor

raptor

These are cropped substantially, but I'm still impressed with the Tamron 18-400. Most lenses that would handle this would be twice the size and weight.

If you come up the main front steps of the stupa, it's worth going past the stupa and down the far side where there are more stupas and monkeys (and prayer flags!).

prayer flags

On previous trips to Nepal it used to be difficult to find good coffee. At best they'd dredge up an ancient jar of instant coffee. Now, you can get espresso coffee everywhere, and some of it is actually pretty good. There were four coffee shops within a block of our hotel. Mike's Breakfast has moved and doesn't get good ratings any more, but other old faithfuls like Fire and Ice (pizza) are still going strong.

Next stop Pokhara and paragliding! (the original instigation for this trip)

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Kathmandu Garden of Dreams

One of the spots we like to visit in Kathmandu is the Garden of Dreams. It's a quiet green oasis in the middle of the chaos surrounding it. There's even a restaurant and a bar inside. Unless you noticed the small sign, you'd have no idea what was on the other side of the wall beside the busy street.

flower

The flowers weren't at their best this time of the year, but there were still some to take photos of.

flower

There are lots of these "chipmunks" in the garden.

chipmunk

And a few birds around. Anyone know what this one is? The red underneath the tail and the dark head should be identifiable.

bird

There are lots of these Indian Crows around. They're originally from Asia, but have now spread to many parts of the world. Large beaks relative to the size of their head.

Indian Crow

The fountains are also a nice contrast to the dry dusty streets outside.

fountain

fountain

falling water

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Friday, February 09, 2018

Nan Lian Garden

The next day, for a change of pace, we headed to Kowloon to the Nan Lian Garden run by the Chi Lin Nunnery. We went here the last time we were in Hong Kong and really enjoyed the peace and quiet - such a contrast from the crowds outside. And it has a nice (vegetarian) restaurant for lunch.

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One of the themes for my photography at the gardens was abstracts. There was a pottery display and they had closeups of some of the glazes which prompted me to capture some of them myself. (click to view larger)

pottery glazes   pottery glazes

pottery glazes   pottery glazes

pottery glazes

The garden has a large collection of attractive stones, something you don't see much in our "western" culture. I took more abstract closeups of some of them.

20180207-DSC_3582   20180207-DSC_3607

rock   stone

Another abstract of koi swimming through the reflections of bougainvillea flowers.

bougainvillea reflections

Leading to more water abstracts.

falling water   falling water

falling water   falling water

Another theme was the contrast between the peaceful garden and the hectic traffic and malls right outside the walls.

temple & highrises

contrast of garden & mall

Shelley at temple

Of course, I had to try to catch any local wildlife, from a sparrow to a spotted dove to a red-whiskered bulbul.

sparrow

spotted 
dove

red-whiskered bulbul

Although spring hasn't really arrived yet, there were still a few flowers around, including bougainvillea and water lilies.

bougainvillea

water lily

If you like gardens, it's definitely worth a visit. And if you don't mind crowds, the subway goes right there (with one change, coming from central)

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Macau

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We hadn’t been to Macau before so we decided to take a day trip to check it out. We weren’t too excited by the casinos, but Macau has an interesting history. Hong Kong was a British outpost, while Macau was Portuguese. And like Hong Kong, it was returned to the Chinese, ending European colonialism in Asia. However, as a Special Administrative Region (like Hong Kong) it maintains its own government, immigration, and currency. A waitress told us it was extremely hard to immigrate to Macau. Much easier to get into Canada, she said. Although the population is almost all Chinese, there are still signs in Portuguese.

The first battle was to get away from the ferry terminal on foot. Hong Kong is quite pedestrian oriented but the Macau terminal was surrounded by freeways. In hindsight we would have been better off to take a casino shuttle and walk from there but we didn’t know that at the time. We managed to find a pedestrian overpass and then a couple of pedestrian elevators (!) to get us into the older part of town. We encountered some lovely patterned cobbled streets and buildings with ornate metal railings reminiscent of New Orleans.

With a population of 650,000 in 12 square miles, Macau (aka Macao) is the most densely populated place in the world. But it wasn’t busy until we go to the tourist areas around the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral and Senado Square. We had seen photos of the square with the old Portuguese buildings around it, but the reality was a flood of humanity, Chinese New Years decorations obscuring the buildings, and high end shopping (e.g. Rolex).

By this time we were getting hungry for lunch but had no idea where to go. My downloaded Google map had a single restaurant marked - Margaret's CafĂ© e Nata. We had no idea what was significant about it, but it seemed worth a try. We  circled it via iPhone GPS until we finally found the right back alley. The tiny takeout cafe had a big crowd around it. We queued up, still not knowing what we were getting into. The specialty turned out to be Portuguese egg tarts. I was expecting something savoury but they were actually sweet. I'm still not sure what the big attraction was!

We figured we'd better at least check out some of the casinos. In 2007 Macau surpassed Las Vegas for gambling revenue. But apart from fancy buildings, we didn't find much to get excited about. We managed to find a quiet spot for (expensive) coffee in the Wynn, where we also got a free shuttle back to the ferry. I took a few photos of the shiny buildings.

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And the never ending window cleaning work.

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And a few more building reflection shots from back in Hong Kong.

building reflections

skyscraper reflections

Monday, February 05, 2018

Hong Kong

Our first day in Hong Kong we planned to take the tram up Victoria Peak to go for a hike (good for jet lag) but the crowds were too much for us - we'd forgotten it was Sunday. So we went to the free public aviary and zoo instead. They were busy too, but not as bad.

bird

I always enjoy walk through aviaries. It's a little harder to spot the birds than in little cages, but it's more natural and you don't have to try to photograph through mesh. And the birds are used to people so you can often get quite close.

bird

Although it's verging on bigger than I'd like, I'm quite happy with the new Tamron 18 - 400 lens. The extra reach was great for the birds. It was a cloudy day and quite dim light in the aviary so I was definitely depending on the high ISO abilities of modern cameras.

lorikeet

Java sparrow

Shelley complains that I wear drab colors (gray and black) that don't show up well in photographs. You can't say the same about her!

Shelley in the aviary

These two seem quite curious about me.

birds

I like close up "portraits" of birds that let you see the details.

bird

Walking through the park I was on the lookout for turtles in the ponds. At first I thought it must be too cool for them to be out, but for some reason they were all congregated in one small pond.

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Of course, the water itself was also a worthy subject.

water

Unofficial resident of the zoo:

squirrel

I'm not a big fan of cities, but the reflections catch my eye:

building reflections

building reflections

And just to prove that we did at least walk through the malls.

in the mall

The next day we made it up to Victoria Peak for a good walk. The rhododendrons are just starting to bloom. (We're hoping to see more in Nepal.)

rhododendron flower

Only a few other flowers

flower

And I managed to catch a few of the skittish wild birds

bird

bird

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