Will walk with friends @ Mumbai

This is my favourite activity to meet/make friends, get some exercise, and feed the travel monster inside me. Photo walking. Regardless of how many years I’ve spent in a city, it all looks different through the lens. Mumbai offered up the perfect opportunity to do just that. And my friends just happened to know some of the most interesting places to walk about.

The Gateway of India at dawn:

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The interiors of the fanciest hotel in Mumbai with the largest heart – The Taj Mahal:

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A whiff of nostalgia, watching the sandwich guy set up his stall, and other activities:

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A walk through Darukhana, one of the old-time ship breaking yards with a bit of history:

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People :

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And the part that makes it all worthwhile – a breakfast place that’s both picturesque and satisfying:

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Here’s Kailash staking his claim on a new business:

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When at Kala Ghoda, must pose with the kala ghoda (black horse):

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And at nightfall, after all is said and done, the terrace offers a glorious view of Mumbai city at night, sparkling all the way from Antop Hill as far as the eye can see.

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Circles and Spheres

An opportunity to get on a rooftop for photography is impossible to resist. Rajbir arranged with the good people of Grand Hyatt Jakarta to allow us on top of their building, to admire Bunderan HI in all is sparkling glory.

More than any other, this is the defining spot of Jakarta for me. The roundabout (bunderan) is the centre of the action for numerous events in the city, and many that we’ve enjoyed ourselves. New Year’s Eve celebrations, Car-free Sundays, protests for causes, all take place under the Selamat Datang Monument – the sculpture of the man and women welcoming everyone to Indonesia in the centre of the circle.

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We got to the terrace well before sunset, to set up our gear for the best angle or the safest position, whichever was possible. Then waited for the blue hour.

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The black night was even better.

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We found a new toy:

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But one is never enough:

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Too soon, it was time to say Sampai Jumpa (until we meet again).

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Step into the Field

A few months back, Rajbir connected us with a talented Indonesian photographer, Ranar. He took us to this offbeat spot in West Java, called Argapura Majalenka to photograph hills full of harvest-ready bawang merah (spring onions). Quite a difference from the popular paddy fields found all over Indonesia, these hillside plantations have their own charm. Standing in ankle-deep soil, we did our best not to trample any, but it wasn’t easy.

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Ranar is a specialist in making excellent photos in-camera without the use of editing software, and taught us some of his techniques of using our cameras to their maximum potential. The best time to have these views is towards the end of the rainy season, March-April. How to get there? I have no idea! This area doesn’t attract tourists, only photo hunters like us. The village is pretty; we were in a simple and comfortable homestay, the owners of which insisted in bringing us homemade food for every meal.

We rounded up our trip with a bit of waterfall photography, before plunging into the never-ceasing traffic headed into Jakarta.

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Half-baked Pilgrim

The good part about hanging out with Rajbir is that she is so organised about photo trips that I don’t have to do much except copy-paste the packing/booking lists and soon the program is under way. I do miss Sara, and not just for her delicious chocolate mint cupcakes that were a photo hunting staple.

So, this year, thanks to Rajbir, we made it to Borobudur on the holy day of Waisak, or Buddha Purnima. No less than pilgrims, with a load on our backs, tracking the monks with our cameras, giving up some of our worldly necessities of food and shelter.

The walk from Candi Mendut to Candi Borobudur in the heat of the afternoon morphed into a moonlit, chaotic evening following the path of lanterns as they took our prayers and wishes into the heavens above. Something like nirvana was achieved at daybreak after a night spent in the company of sermons and chants, with the final pradakshina (circumambulation) of the monks around Borobudur.

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Pradakshina at Candi Mendut

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Pradakshina at Candi Borobudur

I found the whole ‘light-and-sound’ show a little too much for my nirvana-seeking sensibilities. A giant golden Buddha statue seems wrong to me somehow, as do the floodlights and loudspeakers. The glow of simple fire lanterns was far more benign, the chants of Buddham Sharanam Gachchami in unison by the people minus the electronics, making goosebumps.

We did earn our reward that morning of a foot soak and massage at the airport, which is my definition of pure bliss.

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The Return of the Photo Walks

After a long hiatus, I’m back at photo hunting with my good friend, Rajbir. She is determined to let me have my Indonesia farewell through as many photo opportunities as possible in these last few weeks. I am ever so grateful!

Sunda Kelapa, where I first started exploring in Jakarta. The ancient port that is still functional, with the traditional phinisi boats, transporting cargo between the islands of Indonesia. The boats at the dock weren’t our target this time. We were looking for a strip of solidity on the water, to plant our tripods and make some pictures.

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The boatman who brought us here was only too happy to extend our ride further out on the water, to spot some boats, old and new.

The sun has been playing spoilsport on some of the photo days, but on this occasion, I was literally ‘saved’ from disappointment when it stayed hidden at sunrise. See, I was meant to wake up at an absurdly early hour and get a taxi to pick Rajbir and head to the pelabuhan. Only, the phone accidentally was set on silent, and I slept through the alarms and the cabdriver’s calls! We got there well after all the exciting light, but thankfully no sun, and no guilt.

And for old times’ sake, a clichéd photo of the harbour:

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The water may be murky, but the boats look grand.

Above the Water Level

Diving in Manado was one of those boxes that I should have checked off long ago, rather than waiting for ‘things to happen’. Now that I’ve made the decision to relocate, I want to make time for all those dream trips, and can manage only a fraction of them in the few weeks left.

While I had no success with underwater photography, being ‘grounded’ for a day before the flight with a tour in the highlands was totally worth it, and highly recommended for all Manado visitors. 

Sulawesi, called Celebes by the Portuguese, is an island with some interesting and some mind-boggling features. Some say it looks like an orchid flower on the map. It is home to some of the most unique and diverse life forms, both over land and under water. There are fascinating ethnic cultures all across the island, and I literally just scratched the northern tip of the land.

The half day drive is near perfect, self-contained with a mix of adventure and entertainment, vast landscapes and scenic villages, the ordinary and the bizarre. No sighting of the famed tarsiers or the maleo birds though – that would take a proper trek through the forests.

There are the ubiquitous farmlands:

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The ‘Pasar Extreme’ is not for the faint-hearted, where roasted whole dogs vie for shelf space with bats fried mid-scream and pythons spilling their guts. I’m sparing you the gory sights, but after walking through the extreme-meats lane, I remember thinking that self-mutilation aka tattooing was probably the gentlest activity of this region.

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Clouds played spoilsport on the vista views, but made some nice ‘atmospheric’ shots:

 

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The villages – Tomohon and others – had this European quality about them, with highland-type blooms and cute cottages.

Then I came upon this:

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Don’t know what they use it for, but it’s my idea of a perfect vacation homestay!

Coffee by the changing-colour Linow lake was so pleasant, I never wanted to leave, even though I saw only 2 of the 3 colours.

A couple of quick stops to see the wooden houses being constructed in the village of Woloan:

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And a copra processing unit by the roadside, with a beautiful cacao pod as a sideshow:

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If I were a pescatarian, I would be over the moon at the last stop, but I’m just a live-fish lover so I let them go by.

Goodbye, dive boat. So long, Manado.

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Nail-biting Tail-biting Pacu Jawi

While I’ve been lamenting that I haven’t done anything fun in a while, it’s more a case of being too lazy to sort and edit photos. These have been incubating for some months now.

One of the most popular photo hunting grounds in Indonesia has to be the Pacu Jawi bull race, held in West Sumatra, after the harvest season. I was fortunate enough to have my opportunity last year, tagging along with a friend and a largish group of enthusiasts for a day trip to Padang.

We arrived a few hours before the start of the races. That allowed us to walk around and look at the larger landscape. This event is held every year, but in a different field each time, so as to share the benefits of the economy with all members of the local community.

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People gather around the race arena: the field with water added for extra effect. It is not exactly a ‘race’, but more of a competition. The bulls are brought out in pairs, the jockey hangs onto them by their tails, and they are sent charging through the wet muddy field. The jockey’s challenge is to stay on till the end in the most commanding/graceful way possible. The winner is adjudged on the performance at the end.

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For a photographer, this is a great exercise to capture motion. And the good news is that there are plenty of opportunities to practise while you are there, as there are runs and reruns and more reruns. You can get thousands of photos in burst mode, and then is that problem of wading through plenty to pick the ones you like!

The races themselves are charged affairs. The bulls are lined up, the jockey takes charge, then the spectators yell and cheer wildly, egging them on to make a big splash and knock off the jockey. Sometimes the bulls run too close to the people, and that causes some more frenzy.

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Each run lasts less than a minute, and the jockey, even after a faceplant in the mud, will come back for another round. He might even bite the tail of the bull to get it going wilder!

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There’s a little sideshow with food, drink and simple souvenirs, but it is pretty difficult to drag your eyes away from the real action.

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The jockeys were also performers; with their identifying bandannas, their grimaces and muddy, they cut a fine figure themselves.

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I was a little sad to see that the bulls were being dragged into this game for the amusement of a few people, including me. While it looks fantastic in a picture, I can’t imagine how it feels to the bull to have its tail pulled and bitten, and being forced to run like that. Having said that, they do look majestic, whatever angle you look from!

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