Monday, October 29, 2007

Photo Hunt - Theme 'Pink'

This is the first week that I am participating in the weekly Photo Hunt. I came to know about this from David's post. This week's theme is 'Pink' - so here goes my two cents!

This, of course, is the Hibiscus flower. They are fairly common in India, with the red variety being most prevalant. This one turned out to be matching with this week's theme - pink!

Friday, October 26, 2007


Moon over Kolkata, India on 26th October, 2007
Nikon D40X with Nikon AF-S DX VR 55-200 mm lens on a tripod

Yesterday in India the moon was the brightest and the biggest of the year, in fact the biggest since December 1999. The moon was said to be 14 per cent bigger and 30 per cent brighter than the average full moon (source: The Telegraph, India). Yesterday was also the occasion of 'Kojagori Lakshmi Pujo' here in Bengal. Kalyan's blog here gives an excellent account of the occasion.

I had, in fact, hoped to capture a few more details of the moon's surface. But looks like I had either underestimated the distance between the earth & the moon, or had overestimated the power of my 55-200mm zoom! All in all, what you see above is what I got.

Somehow any mention of the moon gets instantly associated in my mind to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. Seeing yesterday's bright moon, I could not but help wondering what it must be on the 'other' side :-)

"The lunatic is in my head
The lunatic is in my head
You raise the blade, you make the change
You re-arrange me till I'm sane
You lock the door
And throw away the key
There's someone in my head but its not me.

And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
You shout and no one seems to hear
And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes
I'll see you on the dark side of the moon"

Brain Damage by Pink Floyd. Album: Dark Side of the Moon

Monday, October 22, 2007

Puja 2007

Another Puja has come and sadly, now gone. As it does every year, the four days of heady celebration (culminating on Sunday, 21st October) have left behind a terribly empty feeling, an equivalent of a withdrawal symptom.

Durga Puja is the biggest festival in Bengal. Its significance is not restricted to the religious aspect only. It is a celebration for the senses and the emotions. For four days the city of Kolkata is lit up with brilliant lights. Puja pandals (temporary structures where the worship takes place) sprout up all over the city - some done to a particular 'theme' and more modern, others retaining years old traditions and artistic styles. People descend on the streets all day and all night long dressed in new clothes. Puja also means a gastronomic extravaganza with everybody from the street food vendor to the 5 star restaurateur doing brisk business all day long.

Puja also means coming together of friends and families. Bengalis all over the world, wherever they are, wish to come back to their homes at this time. The lucky ones who make it feel special, the ones who don't - well, lets not dwell on their agony.

Personally for me, this Puja went like a dream. Most of my closest friends from school-days were in Kolkata. We celebrated like we always do - with good food! The meal at Sanjeev Kapur's Ivory (formerly Grain of Salt) on Saptami night was especially memorable. We also went out to Waldorf's on Park Street for Chinese food and Orchid's (a favourite small place at Elgin Road) for momo's, among others. And then of course, close friends coming together means one very special thing for Bengali's - "adda" (a very rough equivalent of what others would call 'good conversation').

Then this Sunday, it has all ended with Bijoya Dashami. The festivities are now over, my friends have gone back to the cities they work and it is back to mundane life. That's how it is every year - 4 days passing like a heady dream and then ending leaving one heavy hearted. But there is also hope for the future - idols (Bengali: 'protima's) are submerged in the Ganges amidst chants of 'Aashchey Bachor Abaar Hobey' (rough translation: 'Till we celebrate again next year')

Puja 2007
Click on the photo above to open link to photo album

Wishing everyone Subho Bijoya - let the festive season bring you happiness and joy :-)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Shots from the Past - 3

In this post, I am showcasing the ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii in Italy. As many of us know, Pompeii was a Roman city which was completely buried in volcanic lava & ash after a cataclysmic eruption of the nearby Vesuvius volcano. The eruption took place in 78AD and was rediscovered in 1748 (source: Wikipedia). Since then it has captured the imagination of many, and became a subject of many a book & movie (most famously, The Last Days of Pompeii).

I visited Pompeii as part of my trip to Italy in March, 2005. Since it is not very conveniently served by public transportation, we took a guided tour from Rome. Our guide was a colourful character - animated, alive and with a lilt in his voice. I love the way most Italians speak English, with their soft 't's and almost musical accent.

The shot above is of the Forum of the city of Pompeii, with the Lattari Mountains in the background. It was the social, political and religious center of the city. The shot below offers a tantalizing & touching insight into how little time the citizen of Pompeii had before fate struck them a cruel hand. When Pompeii was excavated, the archaeologists poured Plaster of Paris into the cavities left where human bodies once had been. Then they broke open the natural casts formed by ash & lava, and found shapes like the one below.

The two shots below illustrate how the houses of ancient Romans used to be. Well to do families had a open courtyard in their houses, quite literally the center of all activities in the home (first photo below). The second photo below shows a kitchen hearth, preserved almost intact under the ash.

The last one is my personal favourite. This is an ancient zebra crossing to allow pedestrians to cross the road. Note how the stepping stones have gaps between them to allow the chariot wheels to pass through - ingenious!

More from the Shots from the Past series here.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Trip to Gangtok, Nathula & Chhangu Lake

"These mist covered mountains
Are a home now for me..."
- Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits

That is exactly how I felt last weekend on my trip to eastern Sikkim. Usually bad weather never fails to accompany me when I go on vacation, and this time it was no different. The mountains were shrouded in mist and were soaked by occasional spells of rain. I missed out on the a sight that is worth dying for - a view of the majestic Kangchenzongha. Added to the trouble caused by the rain gods was further trouble in Siliguri (the major rail head for North Bengal & Sikkim) when we landed from Kolkata.

But in spite of the hiccups and the irritants, overall the trip turned out to be fantastic in the end. Most of all I was glad that finally I had got a jinx out of the way. Though Soumyajit and I been friends since we were 3 year olds, somehow this is the first real long distance trip that I had made with him. We had planned & persevered many times before but never failed to match our schedules.

We had pre-booked the ride to Nathula Pass & Tsomgo (Chhangu) Lake from Kolkata itself. Foreign nationals are not allowed at Nathula and even Indian nationals need to get a permit to go there. It is a good idea to pre-book as the number of visitors the Army allows in each day is limited. One cannot be sure of getting a permit at short notice, especially during peak season.

The experience of travelling through stunning mountain landscapes and reaching Nathula Pass at 14,000 feet was awe inspiring. There was a sense of history as we travelled through the famed Silk Route of yore. It was touching to talk to the Indian soldiers posted in these heights. Equally moving was to be able to trade handshakes with their Chinese counterparts across the barbed wire. The album below contains photos from the Nathula & Tsomgo (Chhangu) Lake daytrip.

Nathula & Tsomgo
(Chhangu) Lake

We utilized the only other full day we had at our disposal to do some local sightseeing in Gangtok. Of course, the bad weather robbed us of the chance to get good views - but Tashi View Point, Ganesh Tok & Hanuman Tok are all nearby and offer excellent views on clear days. Rumtek Monastery is the headquarters of the Kagyu sect of Mahayan Buddism and is about an hours drive from Gangtok. I would also recommend a trip to the Himalayan Zoological Park - it is extremely unlike a typical Indian zoo. It offers unrushed and upclose views of Himalayan animals and ample scope for photography.

Gangtok Local Sightseeing

The album above contains photos from Gangtok as well as that from the resort (The Hidden Forest Retreat) where we had put up. We found the accommodation to be expensive but it was an extremely nice place to be in. The resort is family run. The food was fresh, cheap and great tasting. The staff were extremely polite & courteous. Most of all, the resort is far from the crowds & nestled in the hills. The forests that border the resort abound in orchids, rhododendrons & many varieties of birds.