7 Super Shots

I am taking part in Hostelbookers 7 super shots thread, because they’ve started lots of travel bloggers scouring their digital photo archives on dark winter evenings (if you live in the northern hemisphere, that is) with this winning idea to inspire those with itchy feet.

Here’s my two penn’orth:

1) A photo that…takes my breath away
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, Iceland. It was an October afternoon, a couple of degrees above zero and blowing in a force 4-5 gale off the sea. But still it’s so beautiful that a couple of friends and I spent nearly two hours here taking photos. Just as we though we’d captured the sunset, someone set the sky on fire…

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, Iceland

 

2) A photo that…makes me laugh or smile
A baby Orangutan flicking a crafty ‘v’ sign on his cheek at me. This youngster and his parents oozed character, and make for some fabulous photos.

Baby organutan, Lok Kawi zoo, Kota Kinabalu, Borneo

 

3) A photo that…makes me dream
Back to dear, lovely Iceland again. This time to Grundarfjörður, on the north side of the Snæfellsnes peninsula in the west of Iceland. Out hiking in a rainstorm west of the Kirkjufell, a small glacier-carved mountain now forming a peninsula at the edge of the fjord, I stumbled upon some lovely wooden cottages. Maybe one day I will own my own cabin around here…

Wooden cabins, Kirkjufell, Grundarfjörður, Iceland

 

4) A photo that…makes me think
My trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau remains one of the most moving days of my life. I spent most of the day in tears at the awful things that humans can do to other humans, and the sheer scale of the loss of life. These small stones, lovingly inscribed with names and dates of those lost by their dependents and placed on the railway tracks at Birkenau, stun me every time I look back at the photo.

Memorial stones on the railway tracks at Auschwitz-Birkenau

 

5) A photo that…makes my mouth water
In stark contrast to the above, a very simple shot of my friend Jamie thinking just how much he would love a Pieminister pie at that moment in time. The added bonus is that this was taken at the legendary Glastonbury Festival, one of my favourite places in the world, at the stall next to the also-legendary Brothers Cider Bar in the West Holts.

Do you know what...? I love Pieminister!

 

6) A photo that…tells a story
These two young novice monks, at Wangdue Phodrang monastery, Bhutan, look all sweetness and light. But until about three seconds before I took this photo, they were having the most violent and un-monklike fight in the monastery’s courtyard!

Novice monks, Wangdue Phodrang monastery, Bhutan

A secondary story is that this was one of my Grandma’s favourite photos from my travels. I spent several hours at her house with the laptop talking her through my photos, but she was captivated by these monks above almost anything else (even the Great Wall Of China, which she had always wanted to visit but never did). I hear she told my Dad and many friends who visited her about “those two little lads who were growing up to be monks”.

 

7) A photo that…I am most proud of (aka my worthy of National Geographic shot)
This ‘accolade’ simply has to go to my photo of the stunning Yamdrok-tso lake, in Tibet. I often have this photo as my desktop background on my work computer, and people cannot believe it was taken with a compact camera, and has not been digitally enhanced (or even cropped) in any way. I was just lucky, and in a supremely beautiful place.

Yamdrok-tso, Tibet

 

This photo tag game has been going for a couple of weeks now, so I’m going to nominate 5 posts I’ve seen that I really like (and that inspired me to blog my own – thank you!):

  1. Cam & Nicole at Travelling Canucks and their 7 super shots
  2. Alex at Virtual Wayfarer and his 7 super shots
  3. Erin at De La Pura Vida and her 7 super shots (particularly love that baby sloth!)
  4. Cathy at Traveling With Sweeney and her 7 super shots
  5. Anja at Hitting The Road and her 7 super shots
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Day 23: update, as far as Shigatze

Firstly, I’ve just been checking out the news from home (in a rare moment here in Tibet, both the Guardian and Independent websites are accessible), and spotted this article (which might annoy the Chinese government censors, haha). A work of genius from Messrs Parker and Stone, which I can’t wait to see.

For the last few days, we’ve been in more remote places, therefore deprived of even electric and hot water at times, let alone t’internet. So a whistlestop tour of the last 5 days.

 

DAY 19: the last day in Lhasa, was again spectacular. The highlight was a trip to the Sera monastery to see the novice monks debating what they’ve learned.

Debating novice monks, Sera Monastery, Lhasa, Tibet

Fascinating, lively and vibrant. The video clip shows just a little of the religious fervour, passion and intensity of debate, also the friendships and respect between the monks. We stayed for almost an hour, but I could have stayed much longer to watch and listen.

 

DAY 20: we headed north-west towards Nam-Tso (heavenly) lake, stopping to get acquainted with the locals during one of their rest breaks from ploughing the fields (yes it looks like mud and dirt, but the soil is ploughed and prepared in advance of the rainy season so they can make the most of their rare opportunities to grow things).

'The Yak Whisperer'

We also stopped to cross wobbly footbridges (there and back again, purely for the sake of it), for food at the ‘big plate of chicken’ restaurant in Damxung, and take photos of our first Tibetan snow-capped mountains. After a prolonged red-tape break at a checkpoint, we drove up the winding 5,100m Lachen-la mountain pass, our highest altitude yet.

Lachen-la Pass, with Nam-tso lake behind

Nam-tso lake itself is around 4,700m above sea level (so c. 1,000m higher than Lhasa), and it was easy to spot the difference in altitude. Despite having ascended and descended, I got very sick, dizzy and headachey from the altitude, and spent a restless night shivering and hyperventilating next to a yak-dung-burning stove in a hut with the Tibetan guides. But the fantastic scenery and stunning sunset made it all worthwhile.

Nam-Tso lake, Tibet

 

DAY 21: was a bus day. We travelled back to Lhasa, then turned east towards the holy (and incredibly beautiful, even a the sandstorm came in) Brahmaputra river.

The holy Brahmaputra river, Tibet

We had to put all of our faith in our slightly precarious-looking flat-bottomed “ferry” ‘s ability to reach the other side in safety (hey, we had lifejackets, though!).

Note: in parts of rural Asia, the word "ferry" has a very different meaning Vs in the West

We spent a night in a guesthouse at Samye, an 8th century monastery claimed to be the first and oldest monastery in Tibet. It’s a huge monastery complex laid out in the shape of a mandala, but there are many more monasteries on this trip, Instead I’m going to focus on the the fact that it had the oddest souvenirs I’ve seen so far: rotating prayer wheels with flashing lights that played chanting music! If only I had space in my rucksack….

 

DAY 22. The morning was spent exploring Samye monastery, before heading back across the Brahmaputra on the trusty ferry, and back onto our bus (with the dodgy driver who has never heard of the concept of progressive braking).

Driving towards Gyantse (which took 8 hours, to add some perspective), we travelled up a mountain pass road which put the Stelvio Pass (Top Gear’s ‘Best Driving Road In Europe’) totally into the shade. It was hard to get a good photo of a road spanning several valleys from a moving bus, but what I would have given for the keys to an Aston Martin…

The best driving road in Asia? I'm fairly sure the Chinese government will never let the Top Gear cameras into Tibet to judge this one...

The entire drive was spectacular. From the top of the Gampa-la (also Khamba-la) Pass, the road dropped down towards the fabulously blue Yamdrok-tso lake, shining in the afternoon sun.

The stunning Yamdrok-Tso lake, Tibet

I’ll gloss over the bit where we were mugged by camp motorbike bandits (they pulled a small knife on our driver when we and our guide were off the bus taking photos, and made off with about £1.27, bless ’em!), we then passed a beautiful glacier plus several amazing mountains and rock formations on our way to overnight in Gyantse.

 

DAY 23. This morning we explored Gyantse, which may be known to some as the place where the Chinese journalist Sun Shuyun spent, and wrote about, her ‘Year In Tibet’ (it was also made into a BBC documentary, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00949bt , which I know has been shown outside of the UK).

The most interesting part was the monastery. Its stupa which was beautiful and ornately decorated outside, but stupifyingly dull inside (most of the chambers were closed, the artefacts having been, ahem, lost at some stage…).

The stupa, Gyantse Monastery, Tibet

After a good-natured haggle with the monks and souvenir vendors (and a CD of monks’ chanting, some finger cymbals and a bracelet added to my rucksack), we took a wander through the old town, chatting in pidgin English to the locals and being lucky enough to be invited into a couple of their homes for a short while.

It was then upwards to the fortress, scene of a bloody battle during the 1904 British invasion of Tibet led by Sir Francis Younghusband, and subsequent occupation (you can read Wikipedia yourselves, but this New York Times article may be more interesting?). Climbing the rocky slope in the midday sun (300m upwards makes a difference when you are already c. 4,200m above sea level) was a little taxing, shall we say.

Gyantse old town, Tibet

Following a late lunch (more yak!), we took a short drive across to Shigatze, where I’m writing this in a dilapidated internet cafe.

Tomorrow we head into another unbelievably holy site, the Tashilhunpo Monastery (home of the Panchen Lama), which I can see out of my bedroom window in our guesthouse.

Day 11: Chengdu, Le Shan and Emei Shan

Hello from the mountains of Sichuan.

Yesterday we got off the night train at 5am for a day in Chengdu, including a visit to the fabulous and cute pandas. We also walked around a lovely old part of Chengdu after lunch in a city centre monastery, before a night in a hotel. A few of the group went to see Sichuan opera, and the rest of us went for local hotpot (meat and fish cooked in sizzling oil).

This morning we went to the giant buddha at Leshan which was, though spectacular, too too crowded and turned into half a day of queuing.

Tonight, and in two nights’ time, we’re staying in Bauguo Temple, a Buddhist monastery. I think I’m actually quite looking forward to being woken up a 5am by the monks’ chanting.

Tomorrow, we head for the 3000+ plus summit of Emei Shan.