abby and i visited dubai on our way to tanzania (more to come on this).  we spent the afternoon dune-busting: pile into a 4×4, drive into a pristine desert, and hit the dunes.

20130110_Dubai_015 20130110_Dubai_007 20130110_Dubai_003
one pristine desert 4x4s see the desert at a new angle while trying to not slam into the car window with your lens

next: fountains, flames, and really tall buildings

safari in sri lanka

abby and i went to the south of sri lanka for the diwali weekend. the highlight for us was a safari at yala national park, which is known for its leopards and elephants, among other animals. we spent the day in the bush, braving morning sun and afternoon rains, and saw lots of animals, including water buffalo; spotted deer; eagles, storks and other birds; grey langur monkeys; elephants; and even a rarely-seen sloth bear.

we didn’t see any leopards – the closest we got to seeing one was these pawprints – but it wasn’t for lack of trying. our driver was amazing, able to both keep his eyes on the road and simultaneously spot a rabbit in the brush 40 yards away, and at one point we went barreling through deeply rutted roads for 40 minutes to chase down a rumor of a big cat sighting across the park, but it was to no avail. still, the game we did see was pretty spectacular, especially when the elephant momma-and-baby pair walked right past our truck.

the next morning we drove out to do some sight-seeing beyond the nature park, and the first thing our driver chirped to us was “did you go on safari? i went this morning and saw three leopards!” how wonderful, i thought. still, i was grateful for all the things we did see, which i present below.

next: more leopard photos.

street photography in london

i recently took a one-week workshop at the london school of photography on photojournalism and street photography.  some of the results:

the course was good for explaining the mindset of photojournalists and street photographers, but no course will get you past the fact that street shooting isn’t easy.  after five days, i had only a dozen photos worth keeping.

kathman-two: bhaktapur

this post is rated “m” for mature audiences only.

on day two, we visited bhaktapur, a historic town just outside kathmandu. it’s a living town, albeit a heavily touristed one, and a unesco world heritage site.

the architecture is remarkable. the entry to the historic town (just past the ticket booth) opens onto a wide square ringed with temples and administrative buildings. it looks almost artificial, like a theme park version of nepal. once past this, however, you will find the actual shops and houses.

now, i must admit that one problem of living in india is that i’ve seen so many amazing temples that i’m not eager to take photos of yet one more amazing temple, especially when the light is nearly overhead; the shadows are too harsh and they don’t give the buildings much depth. the two photos in the second row are more interesting to me: they show typical newari architecture, the newars being one of the early peoples of kathmandu. note the beautifully carved windows on even the simplest buildings.

the above disclaimer aside, a lot of the temples here and elsewhere had some of the naughtiest carvings i’ve ever seen, so i did photograph those – at heart, i’m still a 12-year-old. one website lists the possible reasons that the temple beams are carved with such graphic scenes: sex was not taboo in ancient times, and the carvings are a form of sex education; the carvings are a way of contrasting hinduism with buddhism, which preached abstinence; the carvings were meant to inspire people to have children, to increase the size of the workforce; the carvings denoted luxury and royal extravagance; or the carvings would keep the muslim invaders from destroying the temples, since they would be unwilling to come near depictions of nudity. i think this last one is pretty laughable, but you can decide for yourselves.

one website says that the erotic carvings on the temple exteriors were an early form of sex education. if that’s the case, the guys who carved the beam on the far right must have been teaching the advanced placement class.

bhaktapur was great for people-watching, particularly in the side streets.

the baby’s eyes are made up to ward off the evil eye.
there were a lot of men hanging out under covered platforms that dot the neighborhood. the kids above were playing “cellphone” with pieces of broken pottery, and, generally speaking, people seemed capable of making their own toys. and finally, the pause that refreshes (ba-da-bing!).

next: pashupatinath and boudhanath


abby and i went to kathmandu this past weekend, to visit friends we’d made while serving in albania. it is a fascinating place, but first, i should clarify something: whatever bob seger was singing about in 1975, it certainly wasn’t this:

the first stop was swayambhunath temple, a major buddhist pilgrimage site atop a hill overlooking kathmandu. according to legend, the bodhisattva manjushri had a vision of a lotus floating in a lake on what is now the site of the temple. he drained the lake and the lotus grew into a hill, with the flower forming the stupa itself. as it happens, there is historical evidence that kathmandu valley once was a lake, so the legend has some element of truth to it; however, records also show that the temple was founded by king vṛsadeva at the start of the 5th century b.c.e. i wasn’t there, so i can’t say which story is the real one.

the temple complex is holy to hindus and buddhists alike – there is a shrine to harati, the hindu goddess of smallpox and other childhood diseases, next to the stupa – and the whole thing is so crowded with sculptures, buildings, and tourist tat, that it is difficult to get a good wide shot of the place.

on the neighboring hill is a monastery, lots of prayer flags, and the monkeys from which swayambhunath temple gets its nickname, “the monkey temple.”

we finished the day in durbar square, kathmandu (as opposed to the two other durbar squares in the area – “durbar” means “palace”), where there were lots of people trying to sell us things, and i took a few street shots.

next: kathman-two

monks, monks, monks (part 2)

one day, we came upon a housing-blessing ceremony, called a lakh, which is the indian word for 100,000, because the monks recite their blessing 100,000 times. they were fine with our being in there, so eleven of us spent approximately 40 minutes in these cramped rooms, shooting away happily. apparently, we’re not supposed to reproduce the text on the scrolls, so if you’re looking at these photos, you should probably watch out for falling pianos or dengue-bearing mosquitos.