Thursday, March 31, 2011

Logans Beach - Warrnambool

Logans Beach is said to be one of the finest whale viewing location in the world. The whales perform their annual pilgrimage to Logans Beach between mid June to early October to give birth and prepare their babies for the long journey to Southern Antarctic. But unfortunately we came at the wrong time (end of May 2010) and the weather was a bit rough on that day, so there was no whale spotted. It was cold and there was not many people around on that day but still Logans Beach is worth a visit…pristine beach and beautiful rocks formation.

Whale viewing platform
Hopkins Point not far from Logans Beach


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Ancient Jewel - Alhambra, Granada

A view from Generalife
Rummaging through my files I found these old pictures which brought sweet memories of Andalusia. How do I put it in words…I love every bits of Granada but I had come to this city for Alhambra. I have been here twice, in summer 2001 and then in autumn 2005 and still hoping to return again one day! 

The first time, I flew to Malaga and then took a bus to Granada. Visiting Spain in summer (mid July) was a test of endurance for me with temperatures hitting as high as a hundred degrees. The second visit was much better and we took the 6 hours Trans-Alia from Madrid to Granada...just to be with this spectacular ancient jewel. I booked my night and day ticket to Alhambra months before my trip to avoid miles of queue and frustration if tickets were sold out. Only about 8,000 visitors are allowed per day and entrance is permitted in batches.

Touring this greatest Moorish palace gives me a sense of pride and respect for this glorious civilization. It was Dark Ages in Europe but Andalusia was flourishing as a center of knowledge and the brilliant architecture is remarkable evidence. Every corner of the palace is just breath taking. For the first time I learnt of lapis lazuli which was used as ornaments in this castle. The walls are inscribed poignantly with the phrase “La galiba illallah” - There is no conqueror but Allah.

I smiled looking at everyone in Alhambra walking with heads tilting up….mesmerized, awed by the intricate beauty of this red palace. The carving of the brilliant poet, Ibnu Zamrak (1333-1393) perfected its beauty. Poem in the Hall of the Two Sisters reads:

“I am a garden adorned by beauty my being will know whether you look at my beauty. Oh, Mohammed, my king, I try to equal the noblest thing that has ever existed or will ever exist. Sublime work of art, fate wants me to outshine every other moment in history. How much delight for the eyes!” (Ibnu Zamrak) 

After being emotionally captivated by the grandeur of Nazaries Palace, we moved on to the exuberant Generalife (garden); impressing us with its perfect symmetrical designs to be found everywhere. The sound of drizzling water in every corner of the garden was soothing music to the ears. Subhanallah and praise to Him who has bestowed the genius such artistry!

Carving on the wall
Patio de Leones (Court of the Lions)
Poetry of Ibn Zamrak
Wall of Alhambra
The pillar in Al Hambra
The Garden in Summer
Narangos (Oranges)
Apple Trees in the Garden

Above the Hall of Two Sisters

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Kaymakli the Underground City - Cappadocia, Central Turkey

Kaymakli is the widest underground city excavated in the Hittite period. There are 36 underground cities in Cappadocia but we chose Kaymakli because it is the largest underground settlement in Central Turkey. The city consists of 8 floors but only four are open to the public since 1964.

The day before we went to Kaymakli, we had a short training of going down a real ventilation shaft in a deserted cave and climbing it again to reach one level to another level underground. It wasn’t an easy exploration but that was a worth experience. The ventilation shaft is a vertical well which resembles an elevator in an apartment that passes all floors. I must say that going down was easy for me but climbing was hard.

There were lots of bending and crawling in Kaymakli and best avoided if you have back ache or claustrophobia. Walking through Kaymakli I can imagine this place must have once contained many residents. The archeologists believe that Kaymakli had as many as 3500 residents!

The animal stable is situated on the first floor, the church and the grave on second floor while the kitchen, storage and wineries are on the third floor. Now you have to imagine these floors are layered deep down under the Citadel Hill of Kaymakli!

Levi, our guide briefed us in one of the halls
The kitchen
You need to bend and walk all the way through
Not for those with back pain
The levels are connected with shafts
A traditional toilet
Taking a break before we move on
Small narrow tunnels
A vertical ventilation shaft
Not a comfortable walk
An equipment for grinding probably

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Scene in Merzouga - Morocco

I wish to express my gratitude to Mustofa and Ahmed who had made our journey safe and enjoyable in Morocco. Syukran for being so accommodating and this scene in the barren land of Merzouga would not have been possible without your kind understanding of my endless requests.   

I spotted these three characters in the middle of no where. I was astonished.... one of them laid still on the sand. "She is dead." I told everyone. Ahmed stopped the vehicle and we watched quietly, "No" whispered Mustafa. The sun was burning and we remained still watching this creature. I was wondering, what was she up to?

Her friend, not far from the scene, came over, probably trying to investigate what happened.

We remained quiet but out of nowhere, a Berber cycling passed by and the sound of the bicycle's tires on the gravels must have caught her attention. All of a sudden she got up probably realizing there were people watching her antics. Such a drama queen :)
Now...the beautiful part.... all the three were captured on my lens in harmony and back to their senses!
The final scene...I caught him with only three legs...just kidding....not actually, he is perfect.

We laughed...and the show ended! Ahmed started the vehicle and off we rode into the mirage to continue our journey. The lesson that we learnt in the desert was.....when we are far from civilization even a simple scene is entertaining! We continued driving through the endless sea of desert...

Thank you everyone for being so supportive. Hope you people enjoyed the moment as much as I did. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Off the Beaten Path - Telouet, High Atlas, Morocco

The white minaret of a mosque in the middle of the Berbers' Village
The Berbers drying their clothes
It was about 35 km detour off-road driving through the narrow unpaved trail before approaching Tizi-n-Tichka. This is a great piste with narrow winding track allowing only one vehicle at a time. It is really not possible to pass each other on this crumbling piste.  When one vehicle approached us, we had to stop to give way to the other. Some of the stones and gravels will crumble deep down the cliff.

This part of our journey in Morocco was equally frightening and exciting. A dramatic experience that lasts long within me. But the scenery along the way was breathtaking and amazing.  There are no sign posts or clear trail to follow; it all depends on the driver’s skill. Ahmed kept convincing me that everything will be fine but just can’t help the eerie feeling deep inside me. "Trust me and don't worry!" he giggled.

The beauty of Telouet is unusual with the rugged terrain parading spectacular colors. The Berbers’ mud houses adorns the mountain slopes, matching the palette of the High Atlas landscape. Suddenly, our eyes caught sight of the striking white minaret in the center of the village perfectly toning down the rich brown hues. On the steep slopes, we saw the the Berbers and their donkey with loads climbing the slopes. They seemed effortless!

The grass and bushes mean...there's water here
The rugged portion
The Berbers Village
The road to no where
Berbers climbing the slopes

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Picturesque Ruin - Urquhart Castle, Highland, Scotland

The castle's tower
After a brief stop in Glencoe we headed to Urquhart Castle, about 3 km from the village Drumnadrochit. The castle has a panoramic view overlooking Loch Ness. It is rumored that Loch Ness monster (nessie) was sighted in this area.

The castle is opened to public all year and the entrance fee is 7pound. The 8 minutes film show on the history of the castle must not be missed to understand the present state of the castle. Some may think the entrance fee is expensive for a tour to the crumbling walls but think of it as a donation to preserve this historical site and ruins. But if you are not interested in the history, I suppose viewing it from the car park would suffice.

It had gone through a turbulent history of wars and changed hands several times. The English army captured Urquhart in 1296 but was taken back by the Scottish legendary warrior, William Wallace two years after that. The MacDonald captured the castle in 1545. In 1691 the castle was blown up to prevent the stronghold of the Jacobites. Today, the remnant of the castle is owned by The National Trust for Scotland.

From a small jetty near the castle, we took a cruise on Loch Ness and as we moved far away from the ruin, the beauty of the castle is left to our imagination.

A view from the walking trail
The ruined castle with Loch Ness in the background
The little jetty where we took the cruise
The castle ruin
Spring around Urquhart castle
View of the castle as we cruised further
A view on the bank of Loch Ness