Jan 18

Lions and Tigers, Who Rules the Jungle?

We have had the opportunity to spend time on safari in East Africa and Central India were we’ve had the rare pleasure to see and photograph African Lions and Bengal Tiger in their natural environments.

African Lions, Mating Pair. Serengeti, Tanzania. 2018

Both large cats are absolutely magnificent, they are in fact the two largest cat species alive today. An adult male African lion can weight as much as 550 pounds or 250 kg while an adult male Bengal Tiger can weigh as much as 700 pounds or 325 kg!

I asked our naturalists and guides while on safari in India who would win in a fight between an African Lion and a Bengal Tiger. Without hesitation the response was “tiger, hands down”. Why were they so sure?

Tigress Kill. Ranthambore, India. 2018

A tiger is larger and heavier than a lion and tigers have the largest teeth of any cat species. Lions hunt in packs called prides and their prey typically weighs up to 1200 pounds. Tigers are solitary hunters and their average prey weighs around 900 pounds. Both are carnivores and a tiger will eat anything, even other tigers!

Male Tiger. Kanha, India. 2018

One of our tiger guides told us a story about a young male tiger that went into the territory of an older male tiger and they had a huge fight. The younger male killed the older male and ate every last bit of him. “it happened right over there” the guide said pointing to a small hill in the distance.

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Dec 17

Inside Ellora Caves, Aurangabad India

The flight from Mumbai to Aurangabad was pleasant and we had a leisurely discussion about what do. There were quite a few sights to see and we were most interested in the Ellora Cave complex. The most remarkable aspect of the Ellora caves being the “great Kailasa”. This is a large Siva temple that was carved out of the solid volcanic basalt hillside. The complex was carved completely intact during the 7th-9th centuries as a single monolithic structure and took five generations of devoted builders to complete. There are no seams or individual stones.

Between. Ellora Caves, India. 2017

First the sides of the Cliffside were cut to create the rough dimensions then the entire complex was carved from the top down. The large interior spaces are exquisitely carved out caves and the high ceilings in the main temple required the artist to intricately carve a solid rick ceiling much like Michaelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I’d never seen anything like it.

Shiva Temple. Ellora Caves, India. 2017

We spent a long time there because it was so beautiful and peaceful and the light was quite remarkable. The stone buzzed with spiritual energy and throngs of people came pouring through. There were families with children, artists with sketch pads, loving couples, elderly women, all of them had come to see this remarkable place.

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Dec 17

Reflections of Udaipur, India

Lakeside. Udaipur, India. 2017

Udaipur lies in the southern region of Rajasthan, or as our friend Rohit says, it is Heaven. Having spend a few days there I can’t disagree. In addition to being Rohit’s hometown, Udaipur is a resort destination for both domestic and international travelers. It’s appeal was immediately clear.

Carpet. Udaipur, India. 2017

When we arrived, we could see just how lovely the city was with it’s many lakes, rolling green hills and beautiful architecture. Also the air was fresh and the sky was blue. Across the lake from our hotel we could see the City Palace spilling down the side of a hill like a giant layer cake until it stopped at the waterline.

Mirror. Udaipur, India. 2017

Visiting the City Palace was fun and it similar to many other Indian palaces we had visited except for the view which was really spectacular. I also really loved the shadows and light playing off all the lovely marble used in it’s construction. Windows of colored glass and mirrors showed off the shapes of the rooms and the columns.

Cool. Udaipur, India. 2017

Jumping on a boat it was really a pleasure to be out on the lake, tour around and watch the sunset. A few films had been shot at locations around the lake here and I remembered seeing the scenes. Rohit had us over for dinner at his house and we enjoyed an amazing home cooked meal as well as meeting and spending time with his family. I especially had fun sharing calligraphy with his niece. She showed me her notebook and pen and I showed her mine, inky fingers unite!

Spirit. Udaipur, India. 2017

Our most profound experience In Udaipur however was spiritual. For me it was somewhat unexpected since I consider myself very grounded spiritually. This was something new and I think it something to do with the cumulative effect of spending so much time in India and being in so many powerful spiritual places. I’ll be telling that story soon.

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Nov 17

Exploring Prague, Czech Republic

We had one full day in Prague both to explore the city and have fun. When I planned the European portion of our adventure I made sure that all our lodgings were within walking distance of the most important sights. In older European cities most of the activity swirls around the city center where there’s usually a public square, a church or cathedral, and a castle. In Prague the historic district straddles the Vitava River with a hilltop castle on one side and the vibrant city center with it’s town square, shops and neighborhoods on the other. The two sides were connected by a series of bridges, the most important being the 14th century Charles Bridge named after it’s builder, Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV.

Vitava River. Prague, Czech Republic. 2017

We were staying on the castle side of the river and since we had spent our time in Budapest in the old hilltop castle district of Buda, we decided in Prague we would focus our attention on long walks through the city center. Setting out we wound our way through cobble stone streets and found ourselves in a beautiful neighborhood riverside park. Yellow fall leaves remained and added a splash of color to the lush palette of greens. As we walked a path along the Vitava we could see gothic spires in the distance and the many stone bridges fording the river.  We crossed over and found ourselves in the bustling city center with wide modern streets criss crossed by cobblestoned ones. (Cobblestones are hard on the feet so wear good walking shoes if you are not accustomed to them.)

The city center was large and would take several hours to explore. The first area we walked through was fairly modern with electric trolleys, large stores, smaller shops, back alleys, and bistros. Christy wanted to find the local camera pro shop, we had directions and a map but the maze of streets were still confusing. While studying the map, a man walked up to us and in perfect english said “are those Leicas?” No they’re not, we’re using Fuji’s  and a big Nikon DLSR. I showed him my little Xpro-2 and Christy her XT-2.

He introduced himself as Misha and we began talking. He had lived in the US for 40 years but returned to his native Prague because he objected to his tax dollars being used for US wars in the middle east. We talked some more and he insisted the camera store we were looking for was in an opposite direction than we had been told. He even asked us to walk with him over to another street and around the corner and pointed down an alley. Christy and I looked at each other. Then Misha smiled, said he had to catch a trolley, kissed our hands and hurried away.

Cyclist. Prague, Czech Republic. 2016

We did explore the alley, just a little, then walked into a shop and asked questions. There was no camera shop in that neighborhood. Returning to the map we went back to way we had been headed and after several minutes found the correct shop. Unfortunately they didn’t have what we were looking for but I did see some great books including several by and about Josef Koudelka who had witnessed and photographed the Soviet invasion of Prague in 1968.

We continued to criss cross and explore the city center and worked our way over to a little Italian restaurant that had been recommended to us for lunch. It was cold so I ordered Minestrone soup and a salad. Christy had ravioli. The soup was light, warm and wonderful, just what was needed. We took the opportunity to rest our feet for a few minutes and I pulled out my journal to write for a bit. Happy and warm we ventured back outside. There was a torture museum nearby with a mannequin in a torture device in the window. Christy wanted to go in, I refused. I had made the mistake of going through a torture museum in London several years ago and I will never do it again. Man’s inhumanity to man has been horrific and grotesque, I wanted no part of it.

Christmas Market. Prague, Czech Republic. 2017

Have I mentioned that cobblestones are hard on the feet? They are. We walked and walked and some more. They city was beautiful and soot covered bits of ancient gothic architecture would poke out at various locations reminding me of its long history. As we headed back toward the river we found the town square and the Christmas market had begun. Food stands selling local treats, meats and hot wine were thronging with people. The hot wine looked and smelled so good! Christmas Markets are one of my favorite things about Europe this time of year.

Charles Bridge. Prague, Czech Republic. 2017

We crossed back over the Vtiava, this time on the Charles Bridge. The Charles was a beautiful gothic stone bridge, probably the most beautiful I’ve seen. There were several religious statues lining the bridge, one in particular with panels rubbed smooth by centuries of devotees.

It wasn’t far back to our lodgings and we found ourselves doubling back through the pretty little park we had passed through in the morning. It hadn’t lost any of it’s charm.

John Lennon Wall. Prague, Czech Republic. 2017

I think Prague may have become my favorite new European city, excluding Venice which is a world unto itself.

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Nov 17

Around the World Part 3, The Grand Adventure

We’re off on our next Grand Adventure. The trip to the airport was uneventful. Along the way we stopped and picked up a new lens, a Fuji 50-140, about a 70-200 equivalent on full frame. More on the Fuji system later.

The first leg of our journey had us flying to Frankfurt, Germany. Our plane was new and beautiful, one of the Untied 777 Polaris jets. I learned that United has retired it’s 747’s and there was a cute little memento celebrating and remembering the 747. The crew was friendly and accommodating. The flight passed quickly and I managed to get a few hours of sleep. I watched a documentary film on the life of the great Toshiro Mifune. It was narrated by Keeanu Reeves, and quite good.

Bistro. Budapest, Hungary. 2017

Next we flew to Vienna and rented a car for our drive to Budapest where we’re spending our first two days. I’d downloaded a copy of the “Grand Budapest Hotel” by Wes Anderson to celebrate, just like I watched his “Darjeeling Limited” on our way to India last year, I’ve seen all his films before but they are brilliant, entertain and get me in the mood, One of my photography mentors had all the Wes Anderson films on his iPhone. When we were sitting around at lunch or just hanging out he would pull out his phone and scroll to a scene then wax poetic about it’s beauty, complexity and symmetry, such a great experience.

TukTuks. Budapest, Hungary. 2017

The drive from Vienna to Budapest wasn’t too bad. I like driving in Europe as the drivers seem much more “with it” than drivers in the US I don’t know why, maybe it’s because they seem to have fewer distractions and driving seems less like a chore. There was no traffic and we had a “never lost” so it was easy, and after leaving the Vienna airport only one main highway and here we are. It was kind of funny, we had to buy road stickers, kind of like local tax certificates to drive in Hungary and the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic was easy since we were able to buy it when we picked up our car, the sticker for Hungary had to be bought at a gas station on or near the Hungarian border. We kept our eyes peeled for the Hungarian border, guessing where it might be. We weren’t sure what to look for since most of our long distance overland travel tended to be by train, and that’s easy, you just give your passport to the conductor, kick back and relax.

River Danube. Budapest, Hungary. 2017

So what does the Austro Hungarian border look like? It looks like a truck stop with a dozen little shops lined up selling paprika, and the surface of the road changed from smooth blacktop to something rough and bumpy for the first kilometer or so, then back to a nicely paved road. Crossing the border we found a gas station, purchased our sticker and continued on our way. As we approached Budapest, the “never lost” did a great job of keeping us on the right path. There’s always the fear that the computer will take you the wrong way and you’ll end up lost. Not this time. I was so happy to see the Danube and the bridges as we wound our way through town.

Danube at Night. Budapest, Hungary. 2017

What is the goal of the European portion of our trip? First and foremost we want to have fun and continue our exploration of this part of the world, for myself I’m excited to see the cities in a historical context and continue putting the pieces to gather, I’m a student of western civilization and I want to understand more, the long view and context, that’s my thing. Christy loves to explore, be curious and enjoy new experiences and food, and she’s always doing research for her grand science fiction novels.

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Dec 16

Visiting the Taj Mahal

We spent the afternoon in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. I didn’t realize it until I got to the Taj, that it is part of a huge complex of grounds and buildings. Photographs have a difficult time conveying the sheer scope of the place. What sets it apart from other sacred Islamic sites I’ve visited isn’t the size, it is the quality of the workmanship and materials, the craftsmanship, and the carving and ornamentation of the luminous white marble. The Taj Mahal really has to be seen to be believed, it is exquisite.

Taj Mahal. Agra, India. 2016

Taj Mahal. Agra, India. 2016

The light was soft and beautiful and I wanted to photograph the classic view. Three of the minarets had been cleaned and were gleaming white. The fourth minaret was in it’s scaffolding waiting it’s turn. I don’t think it detracts from the photograph, rather it shows that the Taj, no matter how seemingly perfect, is imperfect.

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