One of the massive stone faces that distinguish Angkor Wat
About a billion years ago, give or take a few weeks, a bunch of people settled somewhere in the Northern part of the present-day Cambodia. For their time, they were the “Big Bad.” They ruled a large area, built what was then the largest pre-industrial city in the world, and, eventually, erected temples as the proof of their superiority: The holy city of Angkor; an elaborate series of temples dedicated to worship of their monarch-God. For a while, a long time in fact, life was good until the Khmer Empire’s story ended the same way as all other Big Bads in history: a Bigger, Badder bunch showed up and before they knew it, there was a new empire-builder-conqueror-world-dominator, minting new God-kings and building even bigger holy cities. Continue Reading
It was Christmas Eve at the Zephyr Lodge Lanquin. As usual, Dan and I were up at dawn, That morning there was a particularly beautiful sunrise, however time was of the essence. We had booked a day-trip. Sometimes there is just no escape, it was mandatory to have a guide for the caves at Semuc Champey. We had a bunch of twenty-something American college kids for company, and they were for the most part, jolly good fun. Continue Reading
My singular memory of visiting Bratislava is how kind these stern-faced people are!
We pull into the Bratislava Hlavná train station shortly before 6 am on a Sunday morning. I manage not to sleep through the stop and drag myself out of the relative warmth of the cabin into the chill of the main hall. Save a few drowsy backpackers waiting for the first train out, the station is void of any life. I am not quite awake yet, and only have coffee on the brain. I shuffle around the station until I find the lockers, stuff my pack in one, taking only my pocket point-and-shoot camera, get a few Korunas out of the ATM, and walk out of the station into a thick morning fog. I don’t mind some cold fog. What self-respecting San Franciscan would? After a few steps however, I realize that it is snowing too. I have never seen the fog-and-snow combination before, and that instantly brightens my mood! After all, do we not travel to experience new things?
Camera now at the ready, I set off to explore while searching for coffee. Continue Reading
“Let’s go, we need to get to Chajul before dark” says Dan. We pack our rucksacks and wander to the bus stop in Nabaj to find a Camioneta (Chicken Bus). Chajul is an Ixil word, not Spanish and has to be pronounced as if you are about to clear your throat, otherwise nobody understands you.
It won’t really hit you where you are until you round the corner and see the sign dominating the entry way. If you are like me, you have never seen this sign except in the movies, or photographs in some history book. Then, suddenly, there it is: ARBEIT MACHT FREE. Continue Reading
Oakland typically gets lost in the shadow of its flirtatious, painted cousin, with tourists opting to spend most, if not all of their time in San Francisco. Occasionally a few retired civil engineers might dotingly cross the Bay Bridge, or a couple of pensioner-turned-amateur-astronomers might find their way to Chabot. To most tourists however, Oakland is, if anything, a dangerous place to avoid.
As counter-balance to that view, here I share four of my favorite spots in Oakland.
1. Oakland China Town and Oakland City Center
Oakland China Town is within the walking distance of the Oakland City Center (BART: Oakland City Center), and together they are one of most unique blending of old and new you’ll ever encounter. If you go, check out the nearby areas, particularly near the Federal Building, for quaint shopping and lovely statues. In addition, there is a wonderful Farmers Market near the Oakland China Town (Thursday – Sunday) that is definitely worth checking out. Just follow the trail of people carrying orange plastic bags!
Oakland City Center – View of the Tribune Building
I recently had an opportunity to travel somewhat extensively through Colombia in my (first) attempt to cross the Darien Gap. As most seasoned travelers will likely tell you, what I found was nothing like that was foretold in guidebooks. This article will hopefully debunk some of the myths travel guides feed the unsuspecting travelers, in their ever-misguided attempt to add romance to the description. Continue Reading
Devotees of Hindu God Shiva perform 300-year-old rituals at a tribal village in West Bengal, India. The dance with severed and mutilated human heads is the most important part of this secret ritual. Such ceremonies are performed secretly, away from the eyes of society. People of the region are allowed to participate but outsiders are strictly barred. Anthropologist believes that dancing with severed heads is the sign of prestige and victory that may have influenced ‘Shaivites’ to adopt the grotesque ritual.
In Bandel, about 55 kms from Kolkata, a small town in West Bengal, India lives a very small community of Keralites (originate from the South Indian state Kerala) comprising of about 30/40 families who have brought with them the traditional fest of worshipping South Indian goddess Marriyamman in all its raw exhibition.
Above, Fishing hooks being ceremonially oiled with Butter before the piercing ceremony. The “Rath” (chariot) in the background is to be pulled by some of the devotees who had committed a sacrificial vow with the hooks pierced on their backs.
At dawn of Mauni Amavasya in Kumbh festival thousands of Sadhus (holy men) gather for Shahi Snana (holy bath) at Sangam, where the river Ganges, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati Rivers meet near the town of Allahabad in India. Mauni Amavasya is the ‘New Moon of the Saints’ when Sun, Moon, Venus and Mercury are in the zodiac of Capricorn, a rare but perfect alignment of planets. It is the main bathing day for the saints where they participate in naked processions. As per Hindu believe holy dip in sacred rivers on the most auspicious day takes human out of the circle of life and death and one attains Moksha (eternal emancipation). On this day new members to various holy orders receive their first initiation. It is thought to be the largest gathering of humanity on the planet, occurs after every twelve years cycle where more than 18 million devotees have bathed in the river Ganges.