Sunday, March 19, 2017

Some Pictures of Cambodia and Vietnam

The Bayon Temple, Cambodia

Terrace fields, Ta Van, SaPa, Vietnam

Sunrise, SaPa, Vietnam

Victory Tower, Ta Prohm, Cambodia

Cambodia waterscape

Terrace fields, SaPa, Vietnam
A Church in Hanoi

Ha Long Bay, Hanoi

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Of Y-Ty and the Vietnamese army

(pronounced: E-T)

A village situated at an altitude of 2000 m in the highlands along the Vietnam- China border is home to six ethnic minorities of Vietnam. It is about 400 km north of Hanoi connected by a good road network. The area remains covered by a blanket of white clouds all the year around. The sunrays hardly pierce through the clouds and, if at all, the Sun is visible it is only in brief stints and that too hazy.  Y-ty means the land of fog which truly it is. The visitors to the village have to make an early morning rush to the mountain ridge in order to view the fog / clouds emerging from the valley down below at the day-break. It is mesmerizing to watch the clouds rise up drowning the whole area in a big sea of pure whiteness. I experienced this blissful natural phenomenon one fine spring morning. 

The ridge is the borderline between Vietnam and China as it will decide which side you roll down if you fell over. Ironically, the fog doesn’t present that spectacular a view on the Chinese side. Perhaps the shape of the Y-ty valley is unique.

The Vietnam army an impression
 Y-ty is a border village but visitors to the area don’t require a permit to enter. However, there is a military check post in the village where all the outsiders are required to report. Foreign tourists to report alongwith their passports and the native with an ID card. The Homestay people would take you to the checkpoint for reporting. Ms My (pronounced: Me) the home stay owner took our group to the military room. An army personnel, maybe an officer as he had 4 yellow stars each side on his epaulets and a matching tie to go with the uniform, appeared soon after Ms My went to find him. The man was drunk as he reeked of alcohol. They don’t speak English. Fortunately a fellow tourist in the group knew English and she acted as an interpreter. The officer could only say two words – ‘India’ and ‘yes’. During about 15 minutes of our stay in the room he uttered these words about three or four times and shook my hand each time he said ‘Indi’ and ‘ys’. All that time he was a chatterbox. His other actions included holding hands of Ms My and putting his arms across her shoulders. Once or twice he held the other woman’s hand too. Another drunk man, without uniform, came in after about 10 minutes, shook my hand and flipped through my passport and shuffled the others’ ID cards. He was also of ‘India and Yes’ vocabulary.  Finally we were allowed to go. The man handed over my passport and the officer was kind enough to see me off to the gate and warmly shook my hand. Nothing recorded, no entry anywhere. We had just reported. It appeared a strange way of reporting to an authority.

 After about ten minutes or so the officer was at the homestay. Someone poured him a drink and they started chatting. I retired to my room. The next morning while settling the bill I was asked to pay 200,000 dongs more. That’s about 10 USD. The officer had collected the amount from Ms My the previous evening as my ‘registration’ fee. I wanted to know how much was the stipulated fee and where it was recorded. I was told that the army sometime charged an equivalent of USD 20 from foreign tourists for ‘registration’ and I was lucky to have it in less than 10. No one dared pose a question to them as their rules were strict. And I had to rush to the ridge.

The conduct of the Vietnamese army officer was so meanly cheap and substandard that it presented a dismal and sorry picture of an armed force which is considered second only to the Chinese army in the region. I kept thinking about the high standards of our own army. The Indian army is impeccably professional and disciplined that we are so proud of.

The Vietnamese women, however, are very beautiful.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Of War History and Beautiful Women

Of War History and Beautiful Women

A French Cannon

They say every Vietnamese is a fighter and they always fight to win irrespective of the means and/or who the enemy is. A visit to the Vietnam Military History Museum in Hanoi will confirm this adage. They have proven the point a number of times by winning many wars against much stronger enemy. Since times prehistoric the Vietnamese have been fighting wars. It was against the Chinese in olden times and, recently in the twentieth century, against the French and the US. Their last recorded military action is in the late seventies in Cambodia against the tyrant Pol Pot.

The heroics of the Vietnamese fighters are well recorded and maintained in the museum collection. From the crude weaponry ranging from the 3rd millennium BC to the relatively modern one used to defeat the US in the mid-seventies of the last century, we can have a fair glimpse of all. The audio visual session in a small auditorium is well presented except for that it is entirely in the Vietnamese language. Wish they had an English edition as well.

On the display are weapons seized from the French and the US forces fighting in Vietnam. US fighter planes are displayed as are the Soviet made MIGs and missiles which helped them subjugate the Americans. Also there is the wreckage of an American fighter plane downed by the Vietnamese forces. And there is this picture of a woman fighter gathering / draging out the wreckage of the downed bomber.

Ms. Ha Thi Ninh collecting pieces
of a downed US bomber.
Vietnamese women are very beautiful. They are bold and brave too. What a better example of boldness, bravery, and beauty than this picture of Ms. Ha Thi Ninth a militia fighter, pulling / collecting the remains of the once fierce and firebrand US bomberThe international Women's Day was two days ago. A belated but appropriate tribute through this picture to the bold and beautiful of the world.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2017


Angkor Wat Sunrise

After the Sunrise



Subscribing to an ideology is essential. An ideology that shows purpose, substance, and gives rise to ideas is a good ideology. And the one that doesn’t urge any new ideas and takes the once practiced old order as final, is nothing more than extremism. Humanity throughout its history has seen many cycles of extremism; political, religious, or racial, and has always suffered disasters that affected generations.

One such example of a political ideology taking extreme and disastrous dimensions was witnessed in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. In a totalitarian system of political ideology almost 25% of the country’s population was exterminated in political killings. In a period just short of 4 years nearly 2 million Cambodians lost their lives in the killing fields.

The tales of horror and torture at the Toul Sleng detention centre in Phnom Penh are well recorded. One survivor Bou Meng also sits at a counter to narrate his story.

This used to be a school building that was turned into a prison / torture centre. If we remove those signs and tools of torture from there, the class rooms would look appear inviting and appealing to those wanting to learn peace and progress.

Some kilometres away is the killing fields where people were brutally killed. From children aged less than two years to the older men and women all perished in the ground that used to be an orchard cam cemetery. They say 17000 remains of the dead were dug out of the mass graves here. Even now sometime after the rains or inundation of the area it is not uncommon to find bones coming to surface.

A tree bears testimony to smashing of toddlers and infants against it. The regime, they say, believed that only cutting the tree was not enough, the roots ought to have been destroyed. That’s why the skulls of children were smashed against the tree.

A memorial stands there called the Choeung Ek memorial, which houses skulls, bones, clothes, and weapons of murder. The audio gadgets that narrates the story point wise reveals a chilling fact that apart from using the metallic and wooden tools of torture and murder, the palm tree leaf was also used to slit the throats. When you touch the serrated leaf that looks like a crocodile’s jaws the story appears believable.

There is no reason to believe that history will not or never repeat itself or the cycle of going to the extremes will ever stop, but one can only hope humanity finds a better way of conducting itself.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017


A Proud Indian 

It was at the Bayon – the magnificent ancient monument of Angkor Thom, that I met with a group of tourists of Indian origin. One lady in the group wore a typical North Indian dress and I didn’t have to leave it to my guess that they were Indian. Pleasantries exchanged, we discussed the Angkor heritage and our respective impressions. They were NRI from London, originally hailing from Porbandar, Gujarat. They said that they were so proud of being associated with a culture which has emerged from such a wonderful civilisation and they were proud to be Indian. Me too, I said as we continued exploring the monument our own way. This monumental view of the centuries old Khmer civilisation of Hindu origin is probably unmatched in the world. In my view even the mighty Vijayanagra empire doesn’t come near to the magnificence of Angkor. Undoubtedly, something for all of us to feel so proud of.

Later that day, it was a joy to find the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) board outside another wonderful monument – Ta Prohm (of Angelina Jolie and her Tomb Raiders fame). The ASI jointly with the APSARA of Cambodia is into the restoration process of this famous monument. Big tree roots have pierced through joints of huge stonework and entwined the thick walls of the monument. Damages have occurred on a very large scale. That’s how nature is overwhelming man. Seeing the restoration work by the ASI in progress I felt more proud to be an Indian.

It was intense prickly heat of the equatorial region that was a big torment but the tourist to Angkor remains unfazed. Sunburn is quite common and I don’t know how many times the fair skinned ones dig into their bags for the anti-sunburn cream containers. People of all ages and from different regions visit Angkor. The US, Europe, Australia, Japan, Korea, China, and even Latin America and Africa; all have registered their presence. I met a couple from Brazil during trek to Kbal Spean. Indians have also taken to traveling. I met three groups in two days, all south Indian.


The man in the picture is a Chinese from the US. He appears to be holding a gun to someone’s head. Actually, he was holding a portable fan to his 87 yr old father who was travelling with him undeterred. I complimented the old man for showing so much of his determination to see places. He agreed for a photo together. I envy his spirit and wonder if I would be able to make it to interesting destinations when I reached anywhere near his age.

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Sunday, January 08, 2017

Bidar Fort

If you are looking for a one day excursion spot near Hyderabad, two destinations immediately come to mind from a photographer’s perspective.

-                     -Warangal
-                     - Bidar

These two places almost equidistant from Hyderabad but in opposite directions are photographer’s delight. Warangal is famous for its thousand pillar temple and Bidar for its fort. This time I chose to do Bidar as I have been to Warangal during one of my previous visits to Hyderabad.
The Clock Tower

On the way
The Madarsa

Bidar is a district HQ as well as a parliamentary constituency in the state of Karnataka. The city is situated about half a degree north and a degree west of Hyderabad. The distance of around 140 km is done in about three hours by a car/taxi. Break your time as under:

- - 6 hours travelling time (3 hr each way including tea breaks)
- - 4 hours in Bidar including lunch break

Some 66 Km from Hyderabad (about 5 km short of Saddasipet) you will find by the highway the Famous Tea Point. Their tea is very famous. Almost all types of vehicles make a stop. I can vouch for it.

The Solah Khamba Masjid
We started from Siesta Hitech hotel, Kondapur locality at 7 in the morning and reached Bidar in little over three hours. The city was being dug all around as laying of some underground public utility was in progress. The clock Tower is first to be seen followed by the historic Madarsa (school of religious studies) of Mohammad Gawan. Then the front-beautiful fort built by the Bahamani rulers 5 centuries ago. The general upkeep of the fort appears good. Not much tourist activity was visible except for school children on excursion. I spent about three hours over there before taking return journey to Hyderabad. 

Overall a good day spent photographing a historic place.

 (visited in Dec 2016)

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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Hyderabad: the 6th Time

Hyderabad: the Sixth Time

An Aerial View
This was my 6th visit to Hyderabad. Indian Roads Congress had its 77th Annual Session scheduled in this capital city of newly carved out state of Telangana. Incidentally, both my first and last travels this year involved this city of Nawabs, pearls, biryani, and bangles. Golconda, Charminar, Salarjang museum, and Birla Planetarium are the other famous names associated with the city of Hyderabad. In January 2016 I attended the 9th World Atheist Conference at Vijayawada, spending one day and night in this city enroute and now in December another 5 nights.

While in Hyderabad I can’t miss staying with my old friend Prabhakar Swamy. We are friends for nearly 4 decades now. He is a religious person staunchly practicing Hindu and I am an atheist. So wonderful a friendship we have nurtured that this issue of faith and non-belief never cast any clouds over it. He prays for me, offers me some ‘prasdam’ and smears a big ‘tilak’ on my forehead. All this is outlandish to an atheist but I don’t object. He always gifts me something to wear. This time also I got one ‘lungi’ from him. Occasionally, I wrap it around.
Churi bazaar – the street of bangles, is a lane facing one side of the famous Charminar where you will find bangles of all types. They also call it Laad bazaar. ‘Laad’ meand pampering. Yes, you pamper your woman with colourful bangles and jewelry, of course, the Nawabi style.
The language was never a problem in Hyderabad. Hindi and Urdu are well spoken and understood. This time I noticed that the locals would start conversation in Hindi/Urdu rather than in English or Telugu. Ahmed, my driver for four days in the city, despite being a Hyderabad guy spoke no Telugu. The Nawabi / Hyderabadi Urdu is a distinct dialect and it sounds so enchanting.

In the past, some localities in old Hyderabad had been in the news for some bad reasons. People often gave in marriage their young girls to old and ‘apparently’ wealthy so called Sheikhs from the Middle East. This is a racket involving human trafficking and exploitation of women as well as pedophilia. How many of us remember a sobbing teenager named Ameena who some three decades back was deplaned at the international airport under suspicions of child trafficking though she was supposed to have been ‘legally’ married as per her religion’s diktats.

Ahmed told me that this practice in that particular area stood curbed to a large extent but traces of the social evil remained. Some unfortunate girls have to pay for the sins of their men folk who do not work and want easy life.

The IRC event was nicely managed by the PWD engineers from the young state of Telangana. The accommodation provided was very good, as was transportation.  And the sumptuousness of Hyderabadi food remains a hallmark. And the cultural shows including the graceful Kuchipudi and the high pitched Perini Tandava dance were the icing on the cake.


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