Dec 17

Sri Lanka, Buddhism and People

I’ve been trying to put my finger on Sri Lanka and I’m having a difficult time doing it. The island nation has little in common with it’s large neighbor India to the north and they speak different languages. The people were very nice but they were also kind of distant. They were definitely island people but not like the islanders in the Pacific or West Indies. I guess I’d call them “old world” islanders. There was almost an Africa vibe to the place if that makes sense.

White Beard. Galle, Sri Lanka. 2017

We flew from Mumbai to Sri Lanka and exiting the plane the humidity was immediately noticeable. This was a tropical climate and suddenly I felt a little over dressed. We made our way through to passport control and the people were very nice. We were greeted by a large sign proclaiming that the possession of any illegal drugs would be punished with death. Yes, death! They were very serious about this and we later learned that many people were put to death each year for drug offenses. Yikes!

When we got to our car we realized we had left the little bag containing the sari Christy had worn during her dunk in the Ganges so she had to wind her way back through security to retrieve it. Thankfully it was sitting right where we left it. Our lodgings were on the South Coast of Sri Lanka which was a two hour drive and we settled in for the long trip.

Coffee Drinker. Galle, Sri Lanka. 2017

We were staying in a beautiful old Dutch Army Building that had been converted into a hotel. It featured high ceilings and tall windows, since we had a corner room the light was spectacular. I found it uplifting, bright and cheerful, perfect for writing and journaling. The beautiful setting even inspired me to get out my watercolors to do a bit of painting in my art journal.

Sri Lanka was colonized first by the Portuguese, then the Dutch and finally the British. It regained it’s independence in 1948 and became the Republic of Sri Lanka in 1972.The spiritual tradition of Sri Lanka is primarily Buddhism and we found a mix of Theravadan and Mahayana traditions. There were also a number of Hindu temples. We visited the oldest Buddhist shrine in Sri Lanka which dated from about the 12th century.

Parinirvana, Sri Lanka. 2017

The shrine was formed by a set of massive boulders that created an almost grotto like enclosure. It contained a beautiful reclining buddha in the parinirvana position which is the position the Buddha was said to have died in, laying on his right side, head propped up on his right hand. We had asked one of the monks at the shrine to give us a blessing and it was very nice but a little odd since it used a string in an interesting way. Christy had been doing some reading about the spiritual culture of Sri Lanka and had learned that there was a strong branch of local folk magic woven into their practices and we believed the way the string was used was part of that.

Hello. Galle, Sri Lanka. 2017

We also visited the homes and gardens of Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa and his brother which was very interesting. Since our hotel was in the old Dutch fort we spent time walking around the large area. We walked all the way down to the sea and wandered through some old buildings that had been converted into shops. I did a little architectural photography and some people photography, I didn’t take any beach images because I didn’t find it to be that interesting. Spaces, shadows, light and people, are what I enjoy photographing.

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Dec 17

Exploring Bodh Gaya India

We arrived in Delhi and it was as if we had never left. Our friend and guide Rohit was smiling as we exited the secured terminal area. He held a welcome sign and gave us a a hug. It was so wonderful to see him and to be back in India. The traffic had improved since our last visit but the air quality had not. Still, we laughed and joked and got caught up over the happenings of the last year.

Our first day would be a catch up day, a day to do all the little things needing to be done like laundry, writing and a nap. Also, I wouldn’t be driving again for several weeks which was a relief because I couldn’t imagine driving in India, and honestly I needed a break. That evening we’d have dinner at a fantastic local restaurant “India Accent”. While in India I intended to eat vegetarian. I’ve said that Buddhism made sense and appealed to my head while Hinduism was beautiful and deep and appealed to my heart. Either way, eating vegetarian in India felt like the right thing to do.

Smiling Monk. Bodh Gaya, India. 2017

Next on our agenda was a flight to Bodh Gaya, to see the Bodhi tree where the Buddha first attained enlightenment. Bodh Gaya was little more than a small rural community thronging with travelers, monks and nuns from all over the world. First we stopped at The Great Buddha statue. We were required to remove our socks and shoes to walk around the site, thankfully the ground was very smooth and comfortable on the feet. We circumambulated the stupa and spoke to a few of the monks. I watched a group of nuns clad in pink walk in and sit to listen to a brief discussion of the site so I walked to the back of the group and sat with them. I’m not sure what was said but I found the experience really enjoyable. On the way out several groups of Indian travelers stopped us and asked to have their picture taken with Christy and myself. We happily obliged and walked the photographic red carpet so to speak back to the entrance.

Offerings. Bodh Gaya, India. 2017

I’m not sure what I expected the main Mahabodhi Temple complex to be like, maybe like Sarnath and Deer Park where the Buddha gave his first teaching. The complex loomed before us and it wasn’t at all like Sarnath, whereas Sarnath was an ancient stupa surrounded by a ruin, the Mahabodhi Temple was bright and alive. The air vibrated with footsteps and chanting, incense and light.The Bohdi tree was there as well, nearby was a small stupa marking the very spot where Buddha attained enlightenment.

Bodhi Tree. Bodh Gaya, India. 2017

After entering the main stupa, we spent time in quiet meditation. It was filled with devotees and as they continuously filed through, many made offerings of flowers and silks. Inside, a 10th century seated Buddha painted in gold, was having it’s robes changed by a monk as people bowed and made prostrations. It was rare and wonderful to be in an ancient place so alive and active, where you felt as if time itself stood still.

Monk. Bodh Gaya, India. 2017

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Jul 17

Photographing Ankgor Wat

Everybody wants to travel to Cambodia and experience the beauty and grandeur of Ankgor Wat. The area is quite large and crowded so be prepared to do a fair amount of walking to explore the complex of lakes, moats, out buildings, and main temple.

Monk. Angkor Wat, Cambodia. 2017

Sunrise photography seems to be the thing to do. Guide books will tell you to arrive at the complex as early as 5AM in order to photograph the main temple complex. The problem is that everybody will be lined up in front of one of the lakes at the entrance and the sunrise will occur in the east, in your face, backlighting the all the buildings. There will be no beautiful morning glow, only silhouettes. Perhaps there will be clouds in the sky with an interesting orange patina, but honestly if you’re not prepared, it can be really disappointing.

Sunrise Crowd. Angkgor Wat, Cambodia. 2017

Christy and myself hadn’t realized we would be facing in to the rising sun when we got up at 4:30AM to take our tuk tuk over to Angor Wat. I had prepared as I typically do by ensuring that my gear was cleaned, batteries charged and everything was in order the night before. I even took the time to assemble my tripod and get out my 24mm landscape lens for the first time in months.

When we arrived at shortly after 5AM, there was already a large crowd, and looking at the sky I realized that the light would be all wrong for what I had envisioned. Perhaps some lovely silhouettes? If I were to prepare to photograph Ankgor Wat at sunrise again, I would do a time laspe.  Ultimately though, if you want to photograph the temple complex in beautiful light, late afternoon is the time to go.

Lacey White. Angkor Wat, Cambodia. 2017

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Jun 17

Buddhist Monks of Laos

The saffron robes of buddhist monks are gorgeous, but even more beautiful are their serene faces.

Buddhist Monks. Laos, 2017.

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Jun 17

Motor Scooter Monks, Cambodia

Buddhist Monk. Cambodia, 2017.

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Mar 17

Travel in Bhutan

Bhutan is unique and special. The flight into Paro Airport is legendary and exciting. Nestled on the southern slope of the Himalayas, this small buddhist country has become famous for it’s “Gross National Happiness” in contrast to gross national product. Indeed it’s main sources of revenue are hydroelectric power and tourism. The people are lovely, their fabrics colorful and the yak tasty.

Monk twirling prayer beads, Bhutan. 2016.

As with many paces in Asia, the people don’t mind being photographed as long as it is done in a respectful manner. It is not acceptable to photograph inside a shrine or temple or to photograph monks during prayer.

Master Monk, Bhutan. 2016

The Bhutanese are master artisans and take pride in preserving their traditional arts and crafts.

Weaver, Bhutan, 2016

They have worked closely with the Japanese in developing their paper industry. Being a paper junky and collector I visited one of their paper making facilities and had a great time watching and photographing them at work. It is very similar to other handcrafted processes I’ve seen in other countries yet they manage to put their own unique stamp on it.

Papermaker, Bhutan. 2016.

While visiting one of the remote monasteries, a group of nomads arrived with their families to receive blessings from the monks and masters. It was a fortunate time for us to be there.

In the kitchen, Bhutan. 2016


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