Spode: Blog http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog en-us (C) Spode ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Wed, 15 Nov 2017 01:02:00 GMT Wed, 15 Nov 2017 01:02:00 GMT http://spode.zenfolio.com/img/s/v-5/u33590192-o607966712-50.jpg Spode: Blog http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog 120 90 Georgetown http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/11/georgetown Processed with VSCO with kp8 preset

Georgetown is a tribute to the English (for putting it on the map), to the Chinese (for making it what it was), to the Tamils (for adding diversity) and to the Malays (for making it what it is). In the twenty-first century it stands out not so much for being the crowning jewel of a tourist area, but for being a rich and complex cultural enclave in what is undoubtedly Malaysia's industrial heartland. And unlike Hoi-An, which is the closest thing I can think of by way of comparison (given the narrow lanes, rickshaws, endless eating houses and local colour), Georgetown is very much a living city - though tidied up and inviting for the tourist - full to bursting with commerce, schools, hospitals and cemeteries.

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset The Hokkien Khoo Kongsi Clan House temple houses some magnificent carvings and reliefs

The Cheong Fact Tze (Blue Mansion) boasts 38 rooms, 5 courtyards, 7 staircases and 220 windows

Within the UNESCO world heritage area are to be found a number of cultural and historical points of interest that are worth visiting: the Blue Mansion, the Chew Jetty, the Penang Museum, the Protestant Cemetery, the Pinang Peranakan Museum and Straits Chinese Jewellery Museum, the Town Hall, Sri Mariamman Temple, Fort Cornwallis and the excellent Museum of Batik Art to name a few. In between all of these are the boutique hotels - really converted shop-houses and old Peranakan mansions - that offer old world charm with the trappings of modern luxury to satisfy the most fussy sybarite.

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The Pinang Peranakan Museum is a must-do to get a flavour of how Babas and Nyonyas lived at the height of Penang's affluence

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The old Protestant Cemetery is full of many Old Calcutta and East India Company worthies

But once you are done with the touristy hotspots (which can all be completed in a day), you can get down to the serious business of observing street art, eating local food and savouring the good stuff in the cafes and bistros at leisure. For this is what makes Penang so special: the quaint and humorous touches that accompany the depiction of art and heritage; the flavourful mix of Chinese and Malay cooking; and the laid-back cafes that cater to every taste, age and wallet. As one of the three Straits Settlements (the other two being Malacca and Singapore), Penang is worth a visit no matter whether you are a jaded history buff, a discerning gourmand in search of new tastes or an accidental tourist looking to escape for the weekend.

Mural as shop advertisement

Young boy on old motorcycle

The Window

The Sinhalese lady

A renovated shop-house

With wonderful doors and courtyard

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Traditional Roti Kanai

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Not all activities are traditional

Processed with VSCO with kp4 preset Even a wreck can be put to use for the purpose of art

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Even the cafes are not devoid of the artistic touch

Outside the Sri Mariamman Temple

The Indian Boatman

All photographs taken with the iPhone 7 Plus (with the OOWA wide lens attached occasionally).

 

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) georgetown georgetown photo essay iphone 7 plus penang travel iphoneography travels with the iphone 7 plus http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/11/georgetown Tue, 14 Nov 2017 09:27:27 GMT
Cambodia Revisited http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/9/cambodia-revisited

One of the nice things about revisiting a location you have particularly enjoyed in the past is that you tend to look forward to a great many activities and places without worrying about the tedium of doing it all over again. But sometimes inevitable change, however small, comes in the way of your historical perspective, impacting it in ways that you could never imagine.

Such was the case with my second visit to Siem Reap. I had first visited 6 years ago. At that time, a little over a decade had passed since the end of the civil war and the beginning of proper reconstruction in Cambodia. Siem reap looked like a somewhat mouldy, colonial town where the old and the new had settled their differences with a grudging amicability. Today Siem Reap looks like a town that has understood the requirements of the budget and the leisure tourist. There are large hostels that cater to the teeming crowds from China and Thailand. There are the five and (if I may be permitted the term) seven star luxury hotels and spas that have sprung up like desert roses after a short shower. There are chic restaurants, a plethora of quality street food kiosks, night markets where you bargain just to pass the time, and more sit-down and mobile bars than you would care to count. Day-time activities for the more eclectic tourist including pottery, jewellery-making, carving and cooking classes are now par for the course. In fact Siem Reap resembles nothing more closely than Hue or Chiang Mai now, with its broad streets, branded stores and restaurant clusters. In a few years it may very well outdo Hoi An for quaintness and homogeneity.

But all this does not take any from the fact that Siem Reap is a great weekend, 3-day, 4-day or one-week getaway for the cultural, ecological, religious or accidental tourist alike. It is now easily accessed by a number of airlines at all times of the day from every major hub in South-East Asia. Visas may be had on arrival, but the wait may be such as to drive you crazy; best to acquire one before you depart for Cambodia. Once you have dispensed with the formalities of the airport, everything is but a short drive away. Being friendly is part of the Cambodian national character and tuk-tuk drivers, hotel staff and shopkeepers will all go out of their way to make you feel at ease even when they are being over-solicitous. You don't have to plan too much ahead; everything is accessible, everything is mostly affordable, and everything can be planned at almost the last minute. The issue is really the throngs who are all interested in the same itinerary as you! And there are but two ways to beat this: either visit in the off-season and hazard the rain, or book a private car and plan your daily route to be an hour ahead of or behind the tour buses that follow a fixed schedule.

With all the logistics planning out of the way (it took about an hour to do this after we checked into our hotel), we proceeded to the part where we began to enjoy our 3-day getaway in earnest. We had chosen the Borei Angkor Hotel and Spa (again) for its large airy rooms, courteous staff and simply awesome breakfast. The rooms were still airy, spacious, luxurious. They still served diverse and delicious fare at breakfast. But the staff, while courteous, were somewhat more self-conscious and formal - one of the hazards of a place becoming a must-see tourist destination. In such places, everyone eventually begins to behave like the staff at The British Museum!

But we were not to be put off and decided to spend our first afternoon visiting a few craft workshops before heading into one of the main thoroughfares to sample the local fare and the night market. This is where we got our first shock! The handicrafts that had been so beautifully hand-made and displayed at Artisans d'Angkor in the past now appeared suspiciously to lack the little inconsistencies that are the stock-in-trade of the master craftsman. And the prices had at least doubled since the last time we had visited. And so, somewhat in despair, we made our way to the street food stalls and mobile bars that lined the night market. These, at least, did not disappoint! For the beer index (that universal inflation peg for South-East Asia) had not really moved an inch. Where else in the world can you get a 50ml peg of Macallan for only $1? And the food, like the street fare in neighbouring Vietnam or Laos, was excellent.

A craftsman at Artisans D'Angkor

Psychedelia at its most vibrant

Unlike many who tend to visit the temple complexes all at once on their first day or two, we chose to start as far way from Angkor Wat as possible and then make our way back to the centre. So Day 1 was all about visiting Kbal Spean with its river of a thousand lingas and Phnom Kulen whose waterfall and sandy river bed are more spectacular than the reclining Buddha in the temple, a la Wat Arun. From here we travelled to Banteay Srei, arguably the prettiest temple in the whole of Siem Reap. Constructed by a royal counsellor rather than a king, this Hindu temple was never used as a Buddhist monastery. The intricacy of the carvings and the quality of sandstone used to build the temple never fail to impress. Coming from one who has suffered a surfeit of impressive temples across the length and breadth of India, Banteay Srei was still able to impress me after a 6 year absence. Finally, we made our way to the banks of the Tonle Sap lake, hopped on a boat and meandered through the floating village of Chong Kneas where we were able to view a sunset fit to inspire Turner. The evening was spent at Amok, a traditional Khmer (pronounced KHMAEE) restaurant, where a shot of traditional Coconut-Pineapple Sombai (rice spirit) was followed up with a mango salad, Khmer soup, a freezing cold beer, Amok, Khmer Curry, another freezing cold beer and then a ravishing chocolate dessert. You never feel bad about dinners like this when you know that the next day involves some strenuous hiking!

Phnom Kulen Temple is fully operational and open for penitents

The waterfall and the surrounding pool provide welcome relief

The exquisite sandstone used at Banteay Srei makes it stand out as the pinnacle of Cambodian temple art

Well preserved, the temple is situated some 20km away from the main Angkor Thom Citadel

Family navigating the waterways near Chong Kneas

Gathering storm over the Tonle Sap lake

After a hearty breakfast the following day, we decided to take the temple tour, visiting those places that had particularly enthralled us the last time and at least two that we had not visited earlier. Naturally, if one has come all the way to Siem Reap, one cannot avoid paying obeisance to Angkor Wat, undoubtedly the largest temple complex ever built to honour Vishnu, the preserver of the three worlds. Arguably, the greatest artistic achievements here are the bas-reliefs, with the northern and southern reliefs depicting the battles of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata respectively. Nowhere in extant Hindu temples will you find such a complete and well-preserved tableaux. In fact, except for a few grand temple complexes in the eastern and southern parts of India, you are not likely to find such a large, magnificent Hindu temple complex at all. For in addition to appeasing the Gods, this complex was also meant to immortalise the epic ambitions of its royal benefactor, Suryavarman II. You can spend a whole day at Angkor Wat and come away with the feeling that you have not spent enough time exploring every aspect of note. But if you can live with a 4 hour visit, here are some recommended highlights: the bas-reliefs, the apsaras, the library, the basins in the cruciform cloister and the view from the upper gallery.

Stepping forth in Angkor Wat

And the bas-reliefs depicting the Ramayana and the Mahabharata are as good as it is going to get anywhere on earth

Long corridors full of a large variety of Apsaras greet you

From Angkor Wat it's only a short distance to the fortifications of Angkor Thom. This walled city has some of the most amazing and diverse temples to be found within a three kilometre radius anywhere on earth. Most impressive of these is the enigmatic temple of Bayon, with its myriad faces, each one watching over the surrounding countryside, a hundred big brothers, the eyes and ears of a king, conscious of his power and achievements, unashamed of laying down, in the form of a temple, his naked intentions. In fact, there is no king since Ramses II, who has left such an indelible impression of his visage on the sacred architecture of his country as Jayavarman VII! And while the faces are the main attraction, the bas-reliefs, more secular in nature and meant to be a testament to the events that led to the rise of Jayavarman VII and to his heroic exploits, are no less spectacular than those found at Angkor Wat. As we headed back to town, we stopped to view Bapuon (and I'm still not clear how to describe it), the terrace of the elephants and the terrace of the leper king (more Yama, but anyway!). As we passed the south gate and began to cross the moat, there stood before us 54 gods and demons, all churning the ocean of milk in an endless enactment of the struggle between good and evil.

The south gate into Angkor Thom that presages the face of the temples within

Bayon, with its monolithic heads, is certainly the most spectacular temple in the Angkor Thom complex

 A few tourists resisted the urge to take selfies at Bayon

That night, we headed towards the canal and chose to eat at Chanrey Tree, certainly one of the best and most classy Khmer restaurants at which one can dine. Once again Amok was the signature dish. But the pomelo salad and the cocktails were equally fantastic! In fact both Chanrey Tree and Malis are new entities that are a sign of just how much the canal front has developed in half a decade. What was once a sleepy, underdeveloped waterfront which was dark and quiet by 8PM, now has a vibe and night scene to compete with many other southeast Asian tourist destinations.

We woke early the next day. Really early. To view, with about a million other tourists of every provenance, the sunrise over Angkor. This has to be the most overrated, underwhelming and claustrophobic gathering of people at 5AM this side of the Greenwich Meridien! If you are a professional photographer, you will hate it; if you are a serious traveller, you may begin to prefer staycations; if you are a casual tourist, you may be put off celebrity destinations forever. And the clouds played spoilsport. Enough said! In order to access the upper gallery of Angkor Wat, you need to climb a sheer staircase that is open from 630AM to 530PM. If you cannot get upstairs by 730AM, you may need to wait for up to two hours in line (with temperatures that soar up to 38C and humidity that usually stays constant at 75%) before you experience the pleasure of ascending to the Gods. Realising that the sunrise was not going to be particularly Homeric, we rushed to the main building and attempted to get to the front of the line so that we could be among the privileged few who could climb to the top and climb back down before the sun made us all feel his ire. Once up there we took in the vistas, marvelled at the scale of this edifice and its supreme location, and pondered about the indomitable mind, will and ambition that ensured its eventual construction!

The iconic silhouette as dawn's rosy fingers appeared in the sky

To fully appreciate the scale of Angkor Wat you need to visit the upper galleries

Having had our fill over two days and wanting to take our leave before Angkor Wat dwarfed and trivialised all other construction, we made our way to the temples that have been taken over by nature and have been made justly famous by the giant figs that now lord it over the works of man. Perhaps the most famous of these is Ta Prohm (not least because it featured in the Lara Croft movie). But it is also the most annoying because there is always a great migration of tourists there that push and rage like wildebeest. Far more impressive, both as a temple and as a ruin with a resident giant fig, is Preah Khan (temple of the Sacred Sword). The edifice is full of lichen-dressed stone, fine but hidden carvings and archways and openings that would thrill the heart of even the most bored schoolboy. It is the archetypal "look what we came across in the jungle" ruin, waiting to be rediscovered anew with every visit. Less frequently visited for reasons of which I am unaware, this temple can, on a day that the weather holds up, impress the most jaded tourist. We wound up our trip by visiting Preah Neak Poan and Pre Rup, the former an island temple approached through a 600 metre walkway and the latter an earlier Hindu pyramid-style structure, that is fun to climb.

After the wildebeest have dispersed at Ta Prohm

More impressive than the ruined temple is the stonework

A Buddhist stupa in Preah Khan

More impressive than Ta Prohm, Preah Khan's figs are also more massive

The walkway to Preah Neak Poan was full of signs that warned against straying from the path on account of landmines!

Pre Rup was the last grand temple built from bricks rather than stone

On our last night at Siem reap, we decided to eat at Sugar Palm, whose wooden structure and fixtures provides the perfect backdrop to round off your Khmer experience. We then visited the old market (Psar Chaas) and the Made in Cambodia Market that displays everything from handicrafts and modern pottery to apparel and funky household items. This last is certainly worth a visit as it is noisy, affordable, is flanked by bars and restaurants that play live music, and affords you a taste of some very delicious coffee and chocolate-based desserts.

A night Market policeman wakes from his snooze

There's something for everyone at the night market

Our visit was concluded shortly before the trouble began. The last time we were here, the only thing on people's minds was development. As a result, courtesy, honesty, and candour were prevalent in generous measure. But development that has obviously bypassed a sizeable section of the people seems to have taken its toll. As we speak, newspapers have been shut down, parliamentary opposition is suppressed and openness, integrity and tolerance have all fallen victim to political ambition. While many think Phnom Penh is far away and that the idyllic ruins of Angkor are too precious to be tainted by the brief and tempestuous careers of a few politicians and their cronies, the consciousness of current facts are palpable in unease, in cautious responses and in political correctness. But Siem Reap has weathered much worse before and one hopes that this brief interlude too shall pass and that the people of Angkor, justly proud of their ancient inheritance, may continue to reap in full measure the benefits of their fascinating history and culture.

 

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) angkor wat cambodia fuji x100f siem reap south east asian travel photography travel photography travel photography blog http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/9/cambodia-revisited Tue, 12 Sep 2017 08:29:58 GMT
Hong Kong Photo Essay http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/7/hong-kong I spent last weekend in Hong Kong. It has a lot going for it: a business, financial and currency hub; a tourist launch pad but also a vibrant tourist attraction in its own right; an iconic skyline to compare with any other as far as highrises go; mountains, a wonderful bay, a mix of tropical weather and London/SanFran pea soups; great food establishments that include a very large number of Michelin starred restaurants; and enough attractions to consume both a weekend and a whole week depending on your inclinations.

But Hong Kong is also a street photographer's paradise, competing with the likes of New York, Tokyo and London for sheer diversity of experience. There are the lanes like beckoning warrens of exploration, the myriad-hued light that challenges you at every hour of the day, the four seasons accompanied as they are by the unpredictability of the weather, the street lights after dark (both sulphur vapour and bright white), the shadows, textures and colours ... and of course the characters that enter the frame at every crossroad and street corner.

New use for a mobile phone

Some of the best places for candid street captures include Soho (also a food haven), Kowloon, Stanley Village, Ocean Park and the length and breadth of Hollywood Road. Sometimes you really have to get in close. It's at times like this that the compact and unobtrusive Fuji X70 shines. It's silent, fairly quick and allows for both one-handed and hip-level captures.

There's a whole city underground

Contemplation at Blake Pier

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The old man near the sea

Except for Sunday the weather was a bit of a disappointment, but the wet and cloudy days provided a diffuseness all of their own that was pleasing in its own way, providing a somewhat filmy look to many of the captures.

Processed with VSCO with fs4 preset The absence of junks was also a little disappointing

Glass, steel and concrete make for great reflections

Trump is as popular here as the fell hand of the PRC

Some nice bokeh at the Man Mo temple

The Fairies in the forger's glass

There is a pulse in Hong Kong, a real city vibe that mixes the confidence and glitter of affluent modernity with the starker realities of coexistence, struggle and individual angst. You can feel in on the streets, in the pubs and cafes, in the buses and tram cars and even in the malls! But this only adds to the excitement and enjoyment of the street photographer, providing immediacy, uniqueness and narrative which, with a little luck, can be captured through the lens of the camera.

We also serve who only sit and wait

The watcher

The Hosier

Chasing Bubbles

The Couple

The vendor

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The eternal selfie is never far away

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) fuji x70 hong kong photo essay fuji x70 photo essay fuji x70 travel photography hong kong x70 http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/7/hong-kong Thu, 13 Jul 2017 11:35:22 GMT
Bali Revisited http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/6/bali-revisited

Back in May I had the opportunity to revisit Bali. This was my first visit in more than 14 years. Many things have changed since then. For one, it has become considerably more expensive. Having recently visited Vietnam and supped on some of the best food on earth, sipped some of the easiest lagers and purchased some of the most beautiful handicrafts - all on a reasonable budget - Bali seemed unreasonably overpriced. There were many restaurants which advertised their crazily priced fare on shop windows that were virtually empty each time I passed, both afternoon and evening. There were art stores and artisan galleries that had obviously not entertained patrons in a very long time and yet any attempt at negotiation was rebuffed by a vigorous shake of the head and a gallic shrug!

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And yet, Bali is still great for a number of things. The beaches are as spectacular as I remember them. And they cater to every taste - from the crowded to the secluded. If surfing is your thing, there are stretches that are as good as anywhere else on earth. Then there are the coastal drives and the temples like Uluwatu and the forests. Bali has its own brand of Hinduism which is something of interest, mixing local customs and beliefs with a stricter diet of Hinduism untouched by any parallel belief in Buddhism as evidenced on other Indonesian islands.

Food, however, is not Bali's strong suit. Java has a wider selection of local fare and tastier. That's not to say that Bali doesn't have some great restaurants. Locavore in Ubud and Bali Cardamom in Nusa Dua were some of the key highlights of the trip. But Warung fare just doesn't do it for me. Even the much vaunted Jimbaran Bay seafood was less tasty than I remember. And I tried it on two separate occasions at two different (but high recommended) restaurants.

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Still Bali still stands out as a place that caters to the pure holiday maker. If you are not in it for eco, religious, historical or gastronomical tourism, but rather want a few days away from the madding crowd (or to immerse yourself in it), to laze and be active, to gorge and abstain, to sally forth and retreat, all after the inclinations of the moment, then Bali is certainly among the top five destinations to consider for your next vacation.

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Trio, Nusa Dua

The over-hyped paddy fields

Monsters watching over us, Ubud Palace

Processed with VSCO with s3 preset The road to Uluwatu

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Fisherfolk, Sanur

Surfer's sunset, southern coast

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Hindu Priest, Pura Jagatnatha

Sacred Monkey Forest, Ubud

Tile work, Nusa Dua

Masks rival Batik work for beauty

All pictures taken with the iPhone 7 Plus.

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Bali Bali photo essay Travel Photography with the iPhone 7 Plus iPhone 7 Plus iPhone 7 Plus photo essay http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/6/bali-revisited Mon, 19 Jun 2017 09:10:59 GMT
Hue and Hoi An http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/5/hue-and-hoi-an Many who visit Vietnam tend to spend most of their time either in the North (Hanoi, Halong Bay and Sapa) or the South (Saigon, Nha Trang and the Mekong Delta). But some of the most beautiful cultural and relaxing experiences are to be had in the centre - to the north and south of Da Nang - at Hue and Hoi An. Taking the scenic route from from Da Nang to Hue is worth it if only for the prospect of sipping coffee by the Tam Giang Cauhai lagoon.

Fishermen, Tam Giang Cauhai lagoon

Hue, the old imperial capital of Vietnam is only some 50 km north of Da Nang (famous for the US airbase here during the Vietnam War). Itself the scene of some of the worst carnage in the war (remember the Tet offensive of 1968), Hue resembles nothing so much today as a peaceful little town that offers satisfaction to both the earnest and casual tourist. It is home to some fabulous hotels, restaurants, structures and handicrafts that will suit every budget and taste. Most famous among the hotels is the Saigon Morin Hotel which, with its classic old world charm and understated elegance, played host to Charles Chaplin and Paulette Goddard when they honeymooned here after a quick wedding in Shanghai. Situated by the Perfume River, it is the perfect place to be situated to enjoy the strand, access the citadel and sally forth into the maze of lanes that house some of the best restaurants to be had anywhere in Vietnam. The best among these is undoubtedly Le Jardins de la Carambole for both French and traditional Vietnamese: the Bun Bo Hue is not to be missed.

Living statue, Perfume River Walk

But the icing on the cake has to be the citadel, the tombs and monasteries, and the local art for which Hue is quite famous. The citadel is a grand fortification whose construction began in 1804. Within the citadel lies the Imperial City (not unlike the Forbidden City in China), that houses imposing gates, palaces, temples, gardens and pavilions.

A different era, a different flag

Giant dynastic urns to commemorate less grand (often short) lives

And then there's the Perfume River. Emitting a somewhat nauseating scent (perhaps the putrefying relic of bygone days), a short boat ride brings you to The Pagoda of the Celestial Lady that affords some superb views of the river and the southern bank. It was also from this pagoda that the monk Quang Duc set forth in his Austin for Saigon and set himself ablaze in 1963 in protest against the government of Ngo Dinh Diem. His blue Austin has been returned and will, to the best of my knowledge, be parked here for all eternity.

Tourist on the north bank

View of the Perfume River and the south bank

And then there are the tombs - well mostly mausoleum complexes - that lie strewn in a somewhat broken line along the north bank of the river. Each as imposing as the next, my favourites were the tombs of the emperors Tu Duc and Khai Dinh, the former for its sheer scale and splendour, the latter for its location and prospect.

Mandarins guarding the ghost of Khai Dinh

The hills beyond Khai Dinh

Tu Duc's lavish mausoleum complex allows you to take shelter from the rain ...

...or walk for miles and feel like pieces on a giant chessboard!

Hoi An, however, is everything Hue is not. It is a beautifully preserved beach town that has consciously started up from the bedrock of an old trading village (Fai Fo). It has a wonderful beach, some chic hotels, a vibrant night market, lots of touristy activities, boutiques, dives, great restaurants (Ancient Faifo is one of the very best), outstanding cafes and visitors from almost every corner of of at least 3 continents. And all this within a walkable 4 square kilometres (except maybe the beach for which you would need to cycle some 2 kms)!

The ubiquitous rickshaw will take you from anywhere to anywhere else in less than 20 minutes

Lanterns hanging from the rafters

Even the locals know how to play to the popular imagination

If I were to go back to Hoi An, it would be for the beach, the restaurants and the cafes. I'd probably give the boat ride (except during the monthly lantern festival), the lantern making and the night market a wide berth!

The balcony of Ancient Faifo: the scallion pancakes, mango and lotus salad, and the crispy rolls are to die for

Even at the night market, the lantern shops are a star attraction

Sunset on Thu Bon river: the estuary here was a major mediaeval port

Another ode to the local craft: during the beginning of the lunar month, the power is shut off and the central courtyard is lit by lanterns only

A note on the pictures: Once again, all these images were snapped by the iPhone 7 Plus. I am beginning to get more and more impressed by the capabilities of this humble phone camera. Even as the light begins to fade, the camera performs well, especially if supported by a tripod. Apps like Cortex Cam allow handheld shots that are absolutely amazing! Except if you need to capture very fast moving objects or if you need longer reach, the iPhone may be all you need for almost any type of vacation.

 

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Hoi An Hue Travels in Vietnam Vietnam Travel Photography iPhone Travel photography shot on iPhone 7 Plus http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/5/hue-and-hoi-an Tue, 23 May 2017 02:53:25 GMT
Halong Bay Photo Essay http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/5/halong-bay-photo-essay The Bay of Tonkin has a 1500 square km expanse of shallow water called Halong Bay in which limestone and dolomite karsts abound. The air is cool and the water is an unreal bottle green. On the day that I visited it was cloudy and the diffused light was less contrasty than I might have originally desired. But it made up for this in spades.

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First, because of the weather there were fewer boats in the bay than (I am given to believe) normally ply these waters. Not only that, we were the only ones on a boat that could have held at least 50 passengers. Secondly, the soft even light was perfect for the iPhone 7 Plus. With a dynamic range that seemed made for this small sensor, the little beast was able to manage every scene masterfully. Lastly, it was cool. Cool enough to ensure that we never wanted to go below deck. In fact my advice is to try and choose an overcast day to really enjoy the beauty of Halong Bay. Bright sun, heat and humidity are good for the beach, but not so good for sipping a cocktail and looking out on this geological wonder.

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Processed with VSCO with a6 preset A small piece of advice. When booking a trip, ditch the guide. Just book a car or take a bus to Halong Bay (if you are not already staying in town) and reserve your tickets in advance. The guides do little more than point out some forgettable towns on the way from Hanoi to Halong Bay and make you stop at one or two equally forgettable handicraft factories of indifferent provenance and skill to get you to spend some money that you would be better served spending at smaller village shops or even shops in Hanoi itself, if you are that way inclined.

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Processed with Blackie There are half-day, full-day and overnight boat tours. I personally prefer the half-day tour because it gives you a wonderful taste of what Halong Bay has to offer without ever making you wish that the trip could come to an end. In a span of 5 hours you traverse a distance of some 60 kms, take in one of the most beautiful marine landscapes in the world, eat a wonderful seafood lunch, get to sip your favourite tipple at least three times, and get to visit at least one cavern. What's not to like?

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Back on shore, if you are staying the night, there are some great cafes and restaurants that serve fresh seafood to suit every taste. And there's even a cable car ride for those who just need to be reminded that they are on holiday!

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Halong Bay Halong Bay Photo Essay Travel Photography iPhone 7 Pus shot on iPhone 7 Plus http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/5/halong-bay-photo-essay Tue, 09 May 2017 02:20:35 GMT
Hanoi with the iPhone 7 Plus http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/5/hanoi Hanoi is a traditional Asian city in many respects: surging crowds, chaotic traffic, the decrepit mansion cheek by jowl with the fashionably modern and pristine, uninhibited romance on the streets, an explosion of cafes for the middle class, a plethora of bars for the richer classes, and the inevitable trappings of modernisation: pollution, conspicuous consumption and the all pervasive smart phone.

Nhat Tan Bridge

But there are at least some key differences between say, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or even it's southern sister - Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City - and Hanoi itself. First, like some other cities in India like Calcutta, Hanoi has no specific sense of urgency. Despite the crowds and the traffic, you never get a feeling that people are impelled (or indeed compelled) to move forward at a rate that makes the empty monotony of life obvious and unbearable. Shopkeepers are attentive, taxi drivers are forgiving and restaurants are long-sufferingly patient. There is an ease about the pace of life that makes it both quaint and timeless. You cannot walk on the footpaths on account of the hawkers, but you can sit on them wherever you like without shame or fear of rebuke; It is not easy to hail down a cab here but you can jump into and out of a rickshaw at will.

Taking a break

Secondly, people are friendly without any of the ingratiating sweetness that usually grows like a giant toadstool in every tourist hotspot. The people you meet in restaurants and parks and temples are ordinary people carrying out the ordinary business of their everyday lives. They are unselfconscious and inattentive. When they smile, it is by way of a tentative companionship - strangers who find themselves enjoying the same meal or spectacle - not a precursor to a commercial transaction.

It's easy to be a communist and a buddhist since neither believe in divinity

That's not to say that there are no tourist hotspots: any guidebook will recommend The Hanoi Opera House (with a national ballet that rivals any gymnastics troupe) the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre (not for the impatient or those with a decided taste in music) the Hoa Lo prison (too sanitised for a weak imagination), the Temple of Literature (touristy), the Tran Quoc pagoda (beautiful) the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum (austere but impressive) and the serene walks along Hoan Kiem lake. But none of these are deal breakers. Hanoi might even be enjoyed without a noteworthy visit. Well, maybe not without a visit to Tran Quoc pagoda, or the walks around Hoan Kiem lake and the old French Quarter!

The beautiful Quan Troc pagoda on West Lake

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Watching the sunset at Hoan Kiem Lake

Lastly, there's the sense here that people genuinely don't want to give up their past or let progress and trade hold their future choices hostage. There's a pride in language, food and culture that doesn't assert itself by shouting like the class bully; instead it wins you over through understatement and the quiet dignity of a people who understand their identity. In this it is more refreshing than Bangkok and less subdued than Rangoon.

In northern Vietnam the Chinese influence in strong

Hop on Hop off

No place, though, is ever made famous without a famous cuisine. And while the British have (at least) their fish-and-chips and Cornish pasties, the Vietnamese are far more richly endowed. From the ubiquitous Pho to the almost equally popular Bun, from salads to wantons, from beef and pork to a tantalising array of creatures from the sea, there is something here to please every palate, somewhere to meet the size of every pocket. And talking of pockets, the warm and cold liquid stuff retails cheaply here. The concept of taxing the population (indigenous or foreign) for a tipple is alien to Hanoi. Bia Hoi pubs aside (you couldn't ask for cheaper beer), neither a large hotel nor a tiny restaurant would ever think of cheating its customers by overcharging for liquor.

Bun Bo Nam Bo

The restaurant ambience here is startlingly diverse. From the arty interiors of Chim Soo to the hole-in-the-wall snugness of Che Cap Tham Cu, there is food aplenty. Some of my personal favourites included Bun Bo Nam Bo and Koto. The only thing you can ever be sure of is that the local food will be tasty, different and fresh.

Salad at Koto

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It's plain to see that all ingredients are fresh

Eventually Hanoi is as much a place as a mindset, a location in the traveller's imagination that asks no more than tolerance, empathy, friendliness and adventure. From its night markets that somehow seem more alive than those that greet you in the day to its interesting street characters and bustling cafes - that serve a delicious brew - Hanoi brings together a myriad of experiences, stimulating the senses in a way that makes a visit to this city thoroughly enjoyable.

 

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Sugarcane at the night market 

Open wares, hidden owner

The Red River

The barber and the tea seller

Special Note: All photos on this post were shot with the iPhone 7 Plus. I was most wary of carrying this as my travel camera, but it served me well. I noticed that the Portrait Mode worked well in good light; the tele lens was less contrasty than the wide. I would recommend this as a travel and street camera  - not as sharp as a Ricoh, not as versatile as a Fuji - that for its size and convenience, is a great carry everywhere piece of gear.

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Hanoi Hanoi Blog Hanoi with the iPhone 7 Plus iPhone 7 Plus travel photography iPhone travel photography http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/5/hanoi Mon, 08 May 2017 12:09:34 GMT
Udayagiri http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/2/udayagiri I have now been visiting India every month on account of work and have begun a sporadic but deliberate rediscovery of India. At least those parts that I have visited before and that I would now, with the aid of digital image technology, like to capture for my own pleasure. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I had an opportunity to spend about an hour exploring the ancient monastic caves of Udayagiri in the city of Bhubhaneshwar. Not only were there great photo opportunities, but a chance to observe how Indians confront and engage with their heritage.

I had only my iPhone 7Plus and my Moment Wide lens and I tried to make the most of the late afternoon sun. While I missed my Fuji X70, especially when I wanted to capture the dynamic range of the scene before me, the iPhone held up quite well.

Ancient Set, Modern Props

Tete-a-tete in (sic) ruins

The inmates, 2000 years later

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Rock Climbers

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The documentary impulse

Leave taking

 

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Mextures Moment Moment Wide Orissa Rediscovery of India Udayagiri VSCO iPhone 7 Plus http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/2/udayagiri Sat, 25 Feb 2017 10:29:33 GMT
Bangkok Weekend http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/10/bangkok-weekend There's precious little to write about Bangkok that hasn't already been said in one way or another. So this time I'll just stick to the photos and state that visiting after many years I chose to stay in a more "seemly" part of town only to discover that the tentacles of the tourism octopus have spread everywhere. There is more thuggery, seediness and exotic fare for every palate than ever before!

Dashing Monk

Posing Tourist

Reach for the Sky

At the feet of the Master

Outside the sanctum

Modern Times

Royal Splendour

Competitors

Sunlight

Vertigo Bar

Wat Arun

Profusion

 

 

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Bangkok Bangkok with the X70 Fuji X70 Thai weekend with the X70 http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/10/bangkok-weekend Thu, 06 Oct 2016 12:33:20 GMT
Evening Stroll http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/9/evening-stroll Three shots from this evening stroll along the river: all shot near the Helix Bridge.

The Singapore Flyer and Marina Bay Sands

The eternal selphie

The helix bridge

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Fuji X70 Stroll Photography X70 B&W X70 in Singapore http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/9/evening-stroll Thu, 22 Sep 2016 12:16:29 GMT
Vandals http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/9/vandals It's not often that you find folks who are allowed to wantonly post their impressions on public property here. Every so often Singapore (Antisepticopolis) believes that it must project an image of being more liberal, of promoting urban art, of embracing grit and popular angst. So it was that after months of aimless wandering and many hours of applying filters to provide some soul to my ham-boiled images, I came across - O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! - 4 young men that were having a blast, literally, at the expense of the state in a skater's park. I do not know what prompted me to carry my X70 in my pocket yesterday but have it I did and, in a flash, out it came. For the first time I really thanked Fuji for providing both a tiltable touchscreen and a camera small enough to cradle in the palm of my hand and I bent, squatted and stood on tip-toe to frame my shots.

I do believe the X70 is proving more and more to be a worthwhile street camera!

 

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Fuji X70 Graffiti with the X70 Street Photography with the X70 X70 http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/9/vandals Wed, 21 Sep 2016 09:59:24 GMT
A wet weekend in Saigon http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/9/a-wet-weekend-in-saigon Saigon was wet when we got in on Saturday afternoon. The monsoon held the city in a vice and a wall of water enveloped everything till about 7PM. Which was probably just as well. The darkness and the water warped the view from the hotel windows and obscured what is probably one of the most architecturally mundane cities in Asia. Even the tourist agencies do not try to augment its charms in any way. There are probably a handful of buildings you could ever put on your list (unless you count the countless pagodas and pagodas are your thing).

Among these is the Notre Dame Cathedral. One wonders if this was a pre-requisite for every French colony. However this has neither the elegance of the one in Paris nor the splendor of the one in Montreal. This is simply plain, robust and worth checking off in your travel book. The crowd outside is usually more interesting, especially over the weekend. Couples especially make epic and fearless crossings while all around them scooters and cars zip by oblivious to things in their path!

There is also the post-office where people congregate under the watchful eye of Ho Chi Minh to view some old maps and look at all sorts of paraphernalia linked to the old post and telegraph services. I don't think you will ever see such a post-office anywhere else - with people lounging around as if they are all waiting for the last train out from Siberia in some second class waiting room.

And there are the few museums - the City Museum, the Reunification Palace and the American War Museum - the last a gallery of horrors and atrocities that cannot but make you cringe. Though somewhat representative of the Vietnamese side of things, there are indisputable facts that will not be brushed aside and points of view that leave you undecided. A must visit but not for the faint hearted. They even have a children's playpen there so as not to expose the impressionably young to the exhibits.

The City Museum has no such gut-wrenching exhibits however. A sedate, demure colonial building that was obviously once the home of some French grandee, the most interesting thing there is the balustrade ... and the underground tunneled pathways.

But I personally feel that these are not the reasons one visits Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City if you prefer). If you want history, atmosphere, colonial architecture and culture in Vietnam, you would be better served going to Hanoi and ... well, north at any rate. That's not to say there is no reason to visit this southern city at all. It has at least 3 things going for it. First, it's a big urban Metropolis and has a fairly active night scene. Secondly, it's got a great food scene and serves not only the myriad Vietnamese cuisines that exist but a whole lot of other Asian ones as well. Lastly, it has a casual, friendly vibe that puts you at ease almost at once. And so, it's great for street photographers and foodies.

And the X70 really delivered here. It proved to be fast, inconspicuous, flexible and reliable in a whole host of situations: indoors, in low light, on overcast days, close-up and wide.

Reflections on an overcast day

Taking a break from the eternal ride, ride, forever ride ...

Preoccupation of the print-seller

Les Masseuses sont perces

Vestibule atelier

The best way to get into Vietnamese cuisine

Chic restaurant

The fruit seller

Restored: Through this gate a tank made its rude entrance to end the war in 1975

The pick up

The elevator shaft & stairwell

Young flaneur

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Fuji X70 Fuji X70 in Saigon Saigon Saigon Street Photography http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/9/a-wet-weekend-in-saigon Mon, 19 Sep 2016 13:37:58 GMT
KL Snapshots http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/8/kl-snapshots Last weekend I visited Kuala Lumpur for the first time. Despite the short stay I must say that I prefer it to Singapore for a few reasons. First, it has a nice vibe that nicely combines the needs of a modern technopolis with some serious street photography grit. Secondly, it has a more gentle social stratification that allows for easier engagement and access. Lastly, I really like the dives and the food. I think the difference is like that between San Fran and Las Vegas. After a while you've seen all there is to see in Vegas. As such, I certainly intend to spend more time in both KL and greater Malaysia. Look out for more blog posts soon.

National Mosque. Palm trees and fountains surround the compound.

KL is full of underpasses that provide both access and relief from the heat.

Despite the humidity, Merdeka (Independence) Square is a popular tourist destination.

​Situated at the confluence of two streams, the Masjid Jamek was the main mosque in KL before the creation of the National Mosque.

Chinese temples abound in KL and are the most accessible places of worship.

Taking a break. KL provides great opportunities for street photography.

A pair of tired legs. The X70 was able to focus quite quickly in scenes such as these.

The Menara KL Tower is a popular place in the sky (at 515m) from which to look down on the city.

As is the wonderful open-air butterfly park. Who said 28mm was limiting?

And the world's largest free-flight bird sanctuary. Holocene Park anyone? Again the X70 was up to the task of capturing (albeit close) wildlife.

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Fuji X70 Fuji X70 as a travel camera KL with only a Fuji X70 Kuala Lumpur with the X70 http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/8/kl-snapshots Fri, 12 Aug 2016 13:00:00 GMT
A short stop in Java http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/8/a-visit-to-java

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the island of Java in Indonesia. My original destination was the town of Yogyakarta, not quite the typical Indonesian tourist hotspot. Most tourists visit Bali/ Lombok and, if they visit Java, stay on the western side near Jakarta or the east near Surabaya and volcanic Mount Bromo (currently smoking). This is a pity, because, other than the superlative beaches and highlands, Java actually has a much richer and longer Hindu-Buddhist heritage than Bali; in fact the culture migrated from Java to Bali because earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and finally the rise of Islamic kingdoms threatened the prevailing civilization.

Yogyakarta looks like any medium sized city in SE Asia. A town square, a main market and restaurants clustered near the shopping area. Traffic is chaotic and, though transport is good and cheap, it takes an interminable length of time to go anywhere within the city.

But Yogyakarta gives you special access to at least 3 must-dos:

1. The most celebrated Hindu and Buddhist temples in the Southern Hemisphere

2. Some amazing Batik and Wayang (leather carved puppets used in shadow plays)

3. The Keraton (palace of the Sultan) that stands as a testament to how a Muslim ruler has integrated pre-islamic culture into a proud living tradition

The main attractions for me were the temples of Borobudur (Buddhist) and Prambanan (Hindu), both completed sometime in the 9th century. In fact Borobudur is especially attractive because it is one of the few historical Buddhist temples that I have ever seen (the other being Angkor Wat). Historical Buddhist edifices (such as remain or are excavated in India and the Eastern Himalayas) tend to be stupa-monasteries and no evidence of grand temples survive in any appreciable form today.

We set off early, determined to catch the sunrise. Along with at least 50 other tourists (mainly Dutch) I waited patiently for the sun to rise. When at last it did, we were all rewarded with an amazing spectacle of stone and light and shadow and scene.

Pre-dawn tourists taking in as much as possible.

As the sun came up, I was attracted to the glimmer on this lady's hair.

Everything in Borobudur adds up to the number nine (the number leading up to zero), a symbol of surrender and freedom from desire. There are 108 (1+0+8) stupas and 54 (5+4) Buddha statues that make up the temple.

Chinese Buddhist group performing a ritual. I like the way my trusty Ricoh GR handled the colours here.

Lost among the stupas. The Ricoh GW-3 (21mm converter) did a good job.

That evening we made our way to the Hindu temple complex of Prambanan prior to watching a Ramayana ballet (staged with the temple as a background). This temple complex has a huge Shiva temple and is flanked by smaller Vishnu and Brahma temples. The complex seems to have taken a bit of a beating in the recent quake (2010) and is currently undergoing extensive restoration. Though very different in style to Borobudur it is equally impressive and lends itself to Ricoh's special way of handling B&W.

Welcoming party at the gate of the temple.

The temples afford great vantage points to take in aspects of the overall scene.

The stones are able to speak to those who are willing to listen.

The next morning we visited the Keraton and after touring its various exhibits made our way down to the Water Palace and the underground tunnels that served as an escape route in earlier days. The place complex (still inhabited) is quite impressive and displays a great blend of tradition and modernity.

Who can resist a picture on holiday? Phone Cameras were ubiquitous. Maybe Ricoh should tie up with Apple or Samsung!!

Palace Guard. The Ricoh GR was, as usual, the stealth camera of choice.

Water Palace. In this pool, it is said, the Sultan would permit his favourites to bathe with him.

One of the underground passages. Now lit by street level skylights.

Indonesia is a nation relentlessly marching along the road of development. But what impressed me most about the area was how well Indonesia has integrated its Hindu/ Buddhist history with Muslim culture and global modernity. This is no where more evident that among the artisans who, in each instance, endeavour to preserve ancient tradition with the demands of the present. But even among the ordinary man on the street - and as street photographers one must engage with the man on the street - there is a sense of pride in what was that is mixed with a desire for what will be ... the same struggle to better one's lot that defines the essence of existence anywhere in the world.

 

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Borobudur with the Ricoh GR GR GW-3 Java with the GR Ricoh GR Travel photography with the Ricoh GR Yogyakarta with the GR http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/8/a-visit-to-java Thu, 11 Aug 2016 08:11:45 GMT
Lau Pa Sat http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/7/lou-pa-sat I visited Lau Pa Sat yesterday - a 24 hour street food market located at the site of an older Victorian market in the Central Business District of Singapore. The aromas and tastes were fantastic. In many ways this is the best way to savour the local cuisine of Singapore.

The Menu Spinner

The Order Taker

The Satay Griller

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) 28mm Street Photography Lau Pa Sat Ricoh GR Singapore Street Food Singapore Street Photography Street Photography http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/7/lou-pa-sat Tue, 26 Jul 2016 02:13:58 GMT
Visiting the Juggernaut http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/7/visiting-the-juggernaut After relocating to Singapore this year, I find I am able to visit India more frequently. My first stop was Calcutta, in which I have not experienced the monsoon in more than 12 years. But while the weather held much foreboding, it held up well. It was relatively cool and despite the lack of rain the humidity was not stifling. One Wednesday afternoon, I decided to visit the Strand and found to my delight that little had changed (for the worse) since my last sojourn. One thing did, however, stick out like a sore thumb. The ruling party, in power for a mere 5 years since ousting the erstwhile Communist party that had ruled for over 3 decades, had decided to brand every inch of municipal property with its colors of blue and white and its three-flowered symbol! A luxury, to my mind, that smacks of reckless extravagance and public apathy!

Even lamp-posts are potent symbols of the Chief Minister's power. LX100.

But the Hooghly remains what it always was, a large and majestic river that runs at its own sedate pace. The LX100 performed admirably and was bale to capture the colors of a cloudy sunset perfectly.

The river runs on forever. LX100.

I was also able to take in Prinsep Ghat (Wharf) and it surroundings and indulge in a little street photography. Despite the failing light, the LX100 was able to produce great files because of its fast and stellar lens.

Nothing like a selfie in an historical monument. LX100.

Who says adults can't join in the fun? LX100.

From Calcutta I took a drive South along the peninsula to Puri - which affords both a lovely beach and a lot of history. On the road, we passed Dhauli, close to a very historic battlefield and a stone inscription that began the spread of a major world religion. It is said that in about 262BCE, the emperor Ashoka decided to wage war against the kingdom of Kalinga and in so doing began a conflict that was to end in his victory. But the conflict took such a toll in human lives that he was sickened by the prospect of war and turned to Buddhism. As a result he made Buddhism a state sponsored religion and sent missionaries to Burma, Sri Lanka, China, Afghanistan and Central Asia.There is a very famous rock edict at Dhauli that speaks of his grief and conversion and above this memorial is a statue of an elephant - a symbol in India associated with the Buddha and Buddhism.

​The elephant marks the spot. LX100.

Often a place or monument takes on a life of its own in the human imagination because of what it connotes in the popular idiom. Such is the case with the word juggernaut. This magnificently Germanic sounding word actually derives from the word Jagarnath - an avatar of the God Vishnu - and more specifically came into vogue when it was discovered that the image of the God (in the Jagarnath Temple in Puri) was pulled in a giant chariot with long ropes measuring many kilometers by thousands of devotees each year in July. This ancient custom goes back many centuries, but I like to believe that its likeness is forever enshrined in the Konark Sun Temple, some thirty kilometers from Puri. Despite the ravages of time, it has lost none of its magnificence.

The original chariot of the Juggernaut. LX100.

One of the seven steeds that pulled it through the cosmos. LX100.

And its giant Sundial Wheels. LX100.

The local tourists make for some great juxtaposition. LX100.

And the local residents make for some great portraits. LX100.

We finally repaired to the beach where we spent a few days soaking it all in. The LX100 made for a fantastic camera right through the trip, holding its own in sunny and cloudy weather, in low light and bright, in haze and rain. I really am beginning to believe that this is one of the best all-round travel cameras on the market today.

Early risers. LX100.

Monochrome. LX100.

Environmental Portrait 1: Where the smaller sensor of the LX100 shines.

Environmental Portrait 2: LX100.

One with the original Fuji X100. The old girl still performs.

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Fuji X100 Juggernaut LX100 Panasonic LX100 Puri Travel Photography Travel Photography in India http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/7/visiting-the-juggernaut Sun, 24 Jul 2016 14:38:48 GMT
Testing the LX100 in Singapore http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/6/testing-the-lx100-in-singapore I finally managed to devote a half day to testing the LX100 in Singapore. What better place to test it than at Gardens by the Bay. Walking along the skyways, visiting both the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest and generally pottering around the gardens affords you a great opportunity to test the capabilities of this little zoom compact. And boy, did it shine! I was able to put it through a variety of light conditions and compositional situations - urban landscape, macro, high contrast scenes and low light, and in each of these it more than proved itself. Making sure that i restricted myself to the 28mm - 60mm zoom range, f2.8 - f8 aperture range and capping ISO at 800, I managed to get the results below. Sure, my Ricoh GR and maybe my Fuji X70 could do a little better (especially since I wouldn't mind taking them all the way to ISO 2000), but this is a marvelous instrument ... compact, versatile and producing files of sterling quality for a 12M Micro 4/3 sensor. The lens is incredible. I hope that Panasonic brings out a 16MP-20MP sensor without the AA filter for the next iteration. Maybe weather sealing ... maybe enhanced IBIS for low light shooting. :) Everything else is just perfect. Highly recommended for travel, street, documentary and urbanscapes.

Great colours, even SOOC.

Great metering.

Able to preserve great detail even in low light.

Sharp and contrasty lens.

Some pretty astounding macro capabilities.

No need to over-or-under expose when shooting A-priority or Manual.

Versatile zoom range allows for great framing.

Great compact camera overall.

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) LX100 LX100 in Singapore LX100 notebook Panasonic LX100 test http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/6/testing-the-lx100-in-singapore Mon, 27 Jun 2016 15:48:27 GMT
Testing the Ricoh GM-1 http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/4/testing-the-ricoh-gm-1 More than 2 years ago when I first tested the Ricoh GW-3 wide angle adaptor lens on the Ricoh GR I gave it the equivalent of a 5 star rating. Despite being an adaptor, the lens allowed sharp, contrasty images with hardly any deterioration in the centre and acceptable falloff at the edges. So when I finally picked up the GM-1, I had great expectations going in. And a day after my purchase I was able to test it at BranchBrook Park where the cherry blossoms had begun to bloom. I was not disappointed.

First off, like the GW-3, the GM-1 is also made in Japan (at least both my lenses are of Japanese make). Sometimes I wonder if the there would have been no dust issue if the camera had been manufactured there as well. But unlike the GW-3, the GM-1 is a little sleeker and a little shorter than its wide-angle sibling. And unlike with the GW-3, I was not worried about edge sharpness, only about focusing distance and centre sharpness.

Secondly, the GM-1 feels a lot lighter than the GW-3. In some ways the increase in weight  (<120g) is not as perceptible and one-handed operation is effortless (though two hands are recommended for close-up macro work). Thirdly, this attachment allows for 49mm filters to be screwed on. Lastly, as with the GW-3, the GH-3 adaptor is required to mount this on to the camera.

So how does the lens perform? My initial impressions were restricted to testing minimum focusing distance, AF speed and sharpness when taking pictures handheld. And my initial impressions are that this is an absolutely fantastic lens. For most of the pictures below, I set the camera to F4 - F5, set the ISO value to 400, pretty much ensuring that shutter speed was always in the 1/400 sec - 1/1000 sec range (enough to freeze motion and compensate for lack of IS.

One of the really great benefits of this lens is that it allows you to focus up to 1.5inches away (and I can swear there were instances that I was able to focus from a little farther than an inch away!) AF is pretty quick, and in my tests, the camera did not hunt. Even in very contrasty scenes (as in the pic below), the camera was able to lock focus quickly enough.

Sharpness is outstanding for a screw-on adaptor lens and in my humble opinion takes the joy of macro photography with the GR to an all new level. As with all macro shooting on the GR bokeh is smooth and pleasing.

There were times when I wished that I had carried a tripod, but I was able to ensure focus accuracy most of the time. While sharpness is fantastic, there are still a few things that could be improved - not so much with the lens as with the macro shooting experience as it relates to the camera. And while most of these will have to wait for the next iteration of the series, here goes:

a. Articulating screen for those shots that need to be taken at odd angles and for when brightness makes it too difficult to see

b. Touchscreen interface to enable setting the focus and exposure point at will

c. A better implemented manual focus operation to maximize the use of the lens and GR sensor

d. A 24mp or higher sensor to allow creative cropping.

I know this probably seems like a gratuitous rant but I hope Ricoh is listening and implements this in the GR 3. I have purposely left out the request for an EVF, but some of the stuff above would be a great start. A camera like this with the GW-3 and GM-1 to complement and enhance its abilities would keep the GR series in the game for a long time.

For now, though, the GM-1 promises to be a great GR companion and a must have for those who want macro equipment that is both highly capable and compact.

 

100% Crop

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Macros with the GR Ricoh GM-1 Ricoh GM-1 review Ricoh GR with Macro lens http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/4/testing-the-ricoh-gm-1 Mon, 18 Apr 2016 20:11:18 GMT
Macros with the Moment Lens http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/4/macros-with-the-moment-lens After all the excitement with the X-70, it was time to try my much ignored Moment Macro Lens. So I grabbed the opportunity to try it when I visited a garden for the second time. The lens is sharp and contrasty and really let you get close. At 10X, you need to get very close, hold your breath and shoot, but the results (for an iPhone 6) are nothing short of stellar. All shots below are shot with the Moment app and lightly processed in VSCO.

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) Macros Momentlens http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/4/macros-with-the-moment-lens Wed, 13 Apr 2016 14:09:46 GMT
The Fuji X70: Closeup and Wide http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/4/the-fuji-x70-closeup-and-wide As I had discussed in my last post, I was very keen to test the Fuji's closeup capabilities. Most compact cameras come into their own when in macro mode/ closeup. The best thing about getting close with the X70 lies in the fact that you don't need to switch to Macro mode. The camera automatically adjusts focus up to about 10cm from the object. In the event that even spot focus will not work, Fuji cameras allow for manual focus and this is really well implemented, allowing you both the highlight and the split image option.

Here are a few examples of the images created close-up a few days ago when I happened to visit the local botanical garden. No surprises here: they are mostly of flowers. But I find shooting flowers a great way to test sharpness and colour accuracy ... and the ultimate way to test the macro capabilities of a lens.

Lack of IS coupled with the fact that the camera has no VF can make handheld macro shots difficult. Having said that, being able to set the minimum shutter speed to 1/500 sec and being able to tilt the LCD does help as far as framing and stabilizing the shot are concerned. While these shots are very pleasing and prove the capabilities of the lens, I still prefer the bokeh of the GR. And I still believe the GR has an edge when it comes to sharpness ... if ever so slightly. I would love to get my hands on the new GM-1 macro converter and test it on the GR. If it is as capable as Ricoh claims it is, it will probably make the GR a macro champion in its class.

As the elusive 21mm WCL-X70 wide angle adaptor lens is still not available I decided to try my trusty old Ricoh GW-3 on the X70. Luckily it screws on perfectly and allows one to shoot without switching to the "converter lens" option in the Fuji menu system. What amazed me was that this lens worked better on the X70 than either the WCL-100 or the TCL-100 options. In both of the latter cases there were major issues with vignetting and edge distortion. The GW-3 on the other hand provides an image almost as sharp in the centre and almost as acceptably sharp at the edges as you would get when it is screwed on to the Ricoh GR.

With touchscreen shooting, it was possible to enjoy the wider angle and the ability to quickly place focus at the bottom left hand corner and capture the image all at once. Despite the added bulk, because this is essentially a camera with an articulating LCD that needs to be operated with both hands, it provides more stability in my opinion.

Finally the GW-3 lets you get both wide and close as the following shots demonstrate. The minimum focal length with the wide angle adaptor lens attached (I believe) shrank from 10cm to about 6cm. Since centre sharpness is really the most important thing here I believe that the lens performed admirably with the X-70. I am now curious to see how well Fuji's own wide angle adapter lens performs!

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ateesht@gmail.com (Spode) http://spode.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/4/the-fuji-x70-closeup-and-wide Wed, 13 Apr 2016 04:23:36 GMT