Prayer time

Ramadan and Idul Fitri is always an interesting time to be in a country with a predominantly Muslim population. For one thing, the focus on food goes up tenfold, with the high point of the day being buka puasa, the breaking of the fast. People take the opportunity to connect with all their friends and family and almost each evening ends up in a big party. Closer to the end of the month is the golden week in Jakarta – the mudik – exodus of people from Jakarta to their hometowns – causing all kinds of angst for those traveling, and sheer bliss for the ones staying behind, in terms of traffic. The two weeks in the year when you have to do your own housework brings its own brand of anxiety, and checking in to local hotels is a perfectly acceptable practice for many.

Devout I am not, but a visit to the Mosque during the holy month of Ramadan seems to have become a regular feature for me. The Masjid Istiqlal is the largest in Southeast Asia; for the second year running, I have joined the hordes to the big mosque early, early morning, just to soak in the atmosphere and try to make a few good photos.

What always impresses me about the mosque, and Indonesia in general, is how chilled out the people are. Everyone is relaxed, happy, friendly, and ever-willing to pose for a photo. I feel bad thinking about the terror strikes across the world, a number of them in quick succession in the last week, but hanging out with Indonesians brings a feeling of calm and good cheer.

The prayer itself is short, and if you’re like me, photo-hunting, it’s best to strategise where you want to spend your time in that 15-minute window of opportunity. The grand hall and the 4-5 tiers are impressive, but the outdoors are interesting too. Some of the fashions are extraordinary, as people always make an effort to dress up for the occasion. Very important for families to be completely colour-coordinated too! Another photographer tip: there’s a lot of photos to be had of people bowing their heads respectfully. Just try to compose the shot minus the smartphone that they’re poring over :-D.

There’s also the effort it takes to wake up super-early, and try to arrive at the mosque well before daybreak, to get in before the large crowds. It’s quite an adventure.

I’ve combined my photos from this year and last:

Selamat Hari Raya Idul Fitri! Mohon maaf lahir dan batin!!

P.S. Cleaning the house is overrated. I’ve instructed Mia, the cat, not to shed, and we’re managing to co-exist with minimal physical exertion, while Rofa gets her well-deserved break.

 

Of Butterflies, Dragonflies, Flies, and How Time Flies

It’s been FOREVER since I logged in and blogged, mostly thanks to a slight change of pace in my real life. Photography had taken a backseat, until this morning, when I joined a bunch of friends for a macro photography shoot.

I am a macro novice, and never been tempted to buy the expensive lens. We’ve found a great guy to rent camera equipment from in Jakarta – these people are priced reasonably and they give great advice too. I shan’t share the name, coz then my secret will be out! Hahaha, just kidding, good service deserves good publicity, and I shall do my bit for www.sewakamera.com.

We went to the butterfly park? museum? thingy at Taman Mini – the Indonesian showpiece ‘amusement’ park – which had to be the saddest butterfly display ever. Pity to see the live ones in captivity (Yes!). Singapore has a better park at the airport! In any case, I was there to learn macro photography, with all its technicalities, and was pretty determined to look beyond the obvious.

And then my eyes opened. WIDE. Who knew that these creepy crawlies were so cute! I’ve seen other people’s macro pictures, of course, but looking through your own (or rented) lens is a completely different feeling.

I have a long way to go, and a lens of my own to buy some day, this is just the beginning. Click on a pic and see the enlarged view, I absolutely insist. That humble little fly, I just want to enlarge and give a great big hug!

I’m not winning awards any time soon, but thanks are due to my friends who taught and inspired me today. The knees hurt from all the crouching, but who cares.

It may be the Chinese New Year of the Monkey, but it’s gonna be a weekend full of the lil bugs for me!

Photo Walks in Kemang

The upmarket neighbourhood of Kemang is great for walking, not just for photography, but to explore shops, cafes and restaurants. And to think there’s not a single functional sidewalk anywhere in the neighbourhood! Still, armed with cameras, the scenery changes drastically.

Half a dozen photo walks later, I found that the heart of Kemang also lies, just like elsewhere in Jakarta, in its kampungs, with energetic kids, loads of colour and plenty of quirky sights.

I climbed up a volcano!

We rounded off April with a quick trip to the Ijen volcano at the easternmost end of Java.

I must admit, I thought of Ijen with a little trepidation; by all accounts the climb was arduous, and I’m no climber even in my wildest dreams. Tried to build up my stamina over the week, but it was never gonna be enough.

We flew from Jakarta, via Surabaya, to Banyuwangi – a town bigger than I had anticipated. They seem to have caught the tourist bug in Banyuwangi, with no less than 36 festivals planned for the year, starting with the Festival Toilet Bersih (clean toilet); as good start as any! The weekend after we were there was meant to be an international Tour de Banyuwangi cycling competition. One of the most exciting aspects of this town is that the island of Bali is in plain sight, and just a ferry ride across.

Seaside at Banyuwangi

Cutting to the chase, we had arranged with our driver to start from the hotel at 11 p.m., which meant a quick nap in the evening was in order. The drive to the ‘base camp’ took about an hour, and as they hadn’t opened access yet, we were able to catch another hour of much needed sleep. At 1.30 a.m. the gates were opened, and we started our uphill walk with scores of other enthusiasts. The weather was surprisingly chilly, good thing we had warm jackets and scarves among the other essentials – headlamps, sturdy masks, walking shoes and camera with tripod!

I quickly realised the futility of trying to match speed with the others. The road surface is good, but the gradient is steep and challenging. I begged my friends to go on ahead and let me carry on with my barely-there pace. One step at a time, a pause after every hundred steps, if not to catch my breath then to rest the burning calves. It was a physical struggle for me, but the mind was determined, and as long as I was able to pause, there was no question of giving up. There were hundreds climbing, and once I saw that other groups also needed to rest and I was able to catch up with some of them, I was encouraged.

My guide was a patient young fellow who let me set the pace without any complaint. Once we got to the top of the crater,  however, he drew the line at letting me climb down into the caldera to view the blue fire from up close. That terrain is very rocky and uneven, and I would’ve probably spent half a day getting back up.  I did spot bits of the blue flame from that distance, but the mind’s eye can see bigger than the camera can capture.

Hike to Kawah Ijen

After shivering up there for a while, we decided to chase the sunrise instead. More climbing, then some walking along the rim of the crater, and I was ultimately rewarded with some spectacular landscapes. (Must click on the images to see larger views!)

The unique feature of Ijen is the sulphur miners, who trek into the caldera twice a day, and carry back 50-60 kilos of sulphur to sell in town, for a paltry sum of around $5! They stop for a rest at the 2 km mark, to weigh their loads, have a smoke and sell some of their catch to us tourists.

Climbing down was much easier than going up. My monopod doubled up as a hiking stick, to take the load off my knees.

Afterwards, we had a bonus visit to a nearby waterfall. Note how green the water is, from the high sulphur content.Hike to Kawah Ijen

Hike to Kawah Ijen

Hike to Kawah Ijen

And fresh honey from a beekeeper.

Hike to Kawah Ijen

And a foot massage back at the hotel.

The Beauty of Dieng

There are some places whose names stick in your brain and don’t budge until you’ve tackled them head on. Dieng plateau has been one of them. While I’ve been to Jogja and visited most of the temples around there, Dieng has stayed on my list of must-visit since almost a year.

Not so much for the temple ruins, but for the sunrise, Sara and I took the long way out to Dieng: by train from Jakarta to Yogyakarta, then by road onwards to Dieng in the middle of the night. I’m loving these long train journeys across Java, where you just have to get to the train station in the nick of time, and then sit back and relax for the next 7-8 hours. There’s a bit of thrill in packing a nice breakfast and lunch for yourself, and a few sinful treats, like Sara’s mint-chocolate brownie muffins. Trains leave from Stasiun Gambir, but none of the local trains halt here, so you must have a taxi to drop you off, especially if you are lugging multiple bags. It would’ve been brilliant to hop on to the local train to Tanah Abang, then change trains to stop at Gambir, but I don’t suppose the town planners had commuter convenience on top of their minds while designing the local transport systems.

We were destined to do this trip at an easy pace, with our Jogja driver not willing to go even a little faster than 40 kmph on the highway. The journey of about a 130 km took almost 5 hours (route). We stopped at the Dieng village to pick up a guide. Sunrise tours are popular here, it was no hardship to find a guide at 4 am!

We got to Gunung Sikunir, and headed off to the top of the hill. Sara was smart enough to have packed a head-lamp, which she planted on mine, coz I insisted on tripping over all the big stones. Hiker I am not, and we needed a number of breathing breaks on our way up. We did make it in time before the sun came out!

Sunrise at Dieng Plateau Sunrise at Dieng Plateau

Though the sun sent out a ray from behind the mountain, it chose to stay out of sight, denying us a glamorous sunrise shot! The clouds and the mist swirling around the hills was a beautiful sight, and we had to get creative for our photos.

Whatever forest might have existed in this region before has now been cleared for plantation, potatoes mainly, and some other vegetables too. We drove around a little to catch some of the other sights.

Sunrise at Dieng Plateau

Sunrise at Dieng Plateau

Sunrise at Dieng Plateau

There was another short walk up to spot the Telaga Warna (changing colors lake). Thanks to the absence of the sun, we could see just the one color.

Sunrise at Dieng Plateau

There was a perfect spot from which to admire this landscape:

Sunrise at Dieng Plateau

As for the temples? Almost as an after-thought, we stopped over to see the ruins. There are only a couple of them left standing. What is most striking about these temples is their location, surrounded by the hills, enveloped in the mist. The ‘touristification’ of the site evokes mixed feelings in me. It’s nice to have access to facilities, but the aura is lost.

Sunrise at Dieng Plateau Sunrise at Dieng PlateauSunrise at Dieng Plateau

A hidden city tour in Jakarta

This year, I went on a second Hidden City tour with Ronny, having done the first one a couple of years ago in East Jakarta. This time we went to the more familiar and ‘touristy’ area of Kota Tua in North Jakarta, to meet some of the people that were impacted by the recent floods in the city.

Ronny and his team do a fantastic job taking you to places you might never venture on your own. No wonder that their tour is rated amongst the best in Jakarta.

Photo walk North Jakarta

Not the typical sights you would expect on a ‘tour’, but these are eye-opening. People live under bridges along the river, and everything they possess gets washed away every time there’s a downpour. They save their meagre possessions in surprising nooks and crannies, and what might look like a pile of trash to some might be another person’s treasure.

It gets reinforced time and again that the less ‘stuff’ you have, the less you have to lose. And it doesn’t cost a penny to smile, or to pose with attitude!

Photo Walk Taman Situlembang

I had a rain-soaked photo walk in Menteng just before the Kolkata trip. A lovely lotus pond tucked away in the heart of downtown Jakarta, a short walk from Taman Suropati:

In spite of all the plastic bag covers, the camera got wet, and I had to cut short the walk to dry out the lenses. First, dehumidification in the car air-conditioning on the long drive home. After taking the camera out of the car it fogged up again, but the sun was shining at the perfect angle – all the better for round 2 of drying.

There were some butterflies in the garden, for some more photo ops.

I didn’t want to take a chance with the camera, and let it dry out in the fan for an hour more.