Relocated. Rejuvenated.

For the first few weeks upon moving to India, I simply vegetated on the couch. There was good reason to: relocating Mia, our cat has been more of a challenge than packing and moving the rest of my life in Indonesia. Once we came through Bangalore customs, cat and all, life at Reva’s got relaxed, with me having no responsibilities except playing badminton with Ira at all hours of the day, while Sara took on Mia’s welfare.

Through my vegetative weeks we waited for the rain clouds to gather and shower, admiring the beautiful sunsets from the balcony, made even more serene with a glass of wine and a light blanket.

My visits to Bangalore have a few must-do’s. Topping that list is a visit to the Canon service centre in Ulsoor, to undo all the damage I’ve inflicted on my camera up to that time. Followed by a coffee stop at the neighbouring cafe, Marzipan.  This time, we ended up servicing 2 cameras and multiple lenses, causing us to make this journey at least 3 times, with an added shopping stop at 1 MG Mall.

The whole point to this description is that through my days in Bangalore this time, I had no camera until the last weekend, but once I did, it was near impossible to drag me in from the balcony.

That’s why:

Bangalore sunset-1

And that:Bangalore sunset-2

Until that:

Bangalore sunset-4

I’m happy to be home.

Advertisements

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.

Jakarta rooftop-1

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.

Jakarta rooftop-5

Jakarta rooftop-6

The black night was even better.

Jakarta rooftop-12

Jakarta rooftop-18

 

We found a new toy:

Jakarta rooftop-3

Jakarta rooftop-2

Jakarta rooftop-4

But one is never enough:

Jakarta rooftop-15

Jakarta rooftop-16

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

Jakarta rooftop-19

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.

Argapura-2Argapura-1Argapura-10Argapura-9Argapura-8Argapura-7Argapura-6Argapura-11Argapura-5Argapura-12

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.

Argapura-13

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.

Pradakshina at Candi Mendut

Pradakshina at Candi Mendut

Pradakshina at Candi Borobudur

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.

Waisak-28

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.

sunda kelapa-2

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:

sunda kelapa-12

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:

manado-2

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.

manado

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

 

manado-5

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

Then I came upon this:

manado-12

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:

manado-25

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

manado-29manado-28

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.

manado-32manado-33

A New Low

I’ve just got back from an exhilarating trip to Manado in North Sulawesi, diving at Bunaken 5 days in a row. After a number of plans that came apart in the past, this time I decided to not wait for anybody, and took off on my own, with an objective to complete the Advanced Open Water Certification.

…… Aaaaand…………..SUCCESS!

PADI-2

Not that it is too difficult, like, for example, climbing a mountain. If you enjoy diving, and have the means and opportunity, it is simply a matter of applying yourself to the task, completing the required dives, and voilà! The certification is yours. As it is mine now. Qualification is one thing, but the diving itself is something else. An experience that transports you into another world; in Bunaken, it is one of those life events where your jaw drops and wants to stay that way, but no… you must not lose your regulator, so shut that mouth and open your eyes wide.

In this part of the world there is a wall… a beautiful wall… With the most amazing forms, shapes, colours and creatures, descending straight down into infinity. For once, I had no camera to document my journey – in retrospect that was a good thing – but I came away with no photos of that wall. If you are curious, you might want to check out the photos by a professional photographer here. Matt (http://matthew-oldfield-photography.com) was kind enough to share this beautiful picture that represents my experience perfectly:

It was my first time going down to 30m (part of the course requirement). I descended with equal parts trepidation and excitement. But the deeper I went, the calmer I got; deep steady breathing helping a lot. At this point, I wasn’t looking at the reef, just feeling my own presence at that depth. Bunaken is special. One plane is this wall, and the rest is deep blue nothingness above, below, behind and sideways. Stunning. My instructor had a slate with a few arithmetic problems to solve, just to make sure my brain wasn’t going over the edge, as it is liable to, at such depths. At one point I was giggling at the absurdity of that situation, which might also be a SIGN, but my amusement was only because those problems were getting a little complex (with brackets and all) and I could be doing better stuff down there like admiring the fish!

Actually, in the larger scheme of things, not having a camera was a blessing. Hands free, I could focus on developing and improving my diving skills, and really looking at everything, rather than chasing photos. The pranayam breathing practice came in handy; with my breathing technique well-regulated, almost all dives went up close to the limit of 1 hour with 50 bar left in the tank. Buoyancy control much better too, and marine life spotting and identification skills improved slightly. I am still terrible at remembering what I saw while logging the dive (which is where the camera helps, bad photos notwithstanding), but when I close my eyes, I can relive the feeling.

Yes! Qualified for Breathing, Diving and Arithmetic!!!