Four days of winter in Taipei

Who doesn't love winters? specially one where lowest temperature are in teens. Taipei seemed to fit the mould perfectly with a bit of twist. It rains in Taipei in winters and it was an unknown for us till a night before travel. But then that is what travel is about, diving into uncharted territory with bag full of clothes. I was even more excited because of the trip being with Fajrina  :)

Can you see what I can see?

Touchdown Taipei and its a refreshing new feeling. Pleasantly cold with mist in the air, driver on the left hand side, and phone as good as brick we headed to hotel in Ximending, a street popular with youths. The plan was to head to Taipei 101 and get a birds eye view of city. But a hungry mind cannot think so food first and we were in the centre of Ximending night market. Mee Sua, Sa long paw, ... and I dare say, beef cubes. To cap it off, as they say when in Rome be a roman but when in Taipei, drink bubble tea (i made it up, haha).

Wet and Shiny

Taipei 101 is structural engineer's dream. A 500 meter high building constructed in seismically active zone, and with wind reaching speed as high as 75 km/h, this one is an engineering marvel. I was standing right in front of it, trying to strike a conversation. But as shy it was, decided to hide behind the clouds for the first look.

Taipei 101 is so big that even clouds are in lower atmosphere.

We can't see the top right now but may be we will be able to see the bottom from top. With that hope, we took the amazingly fast lift.

 Oh well, it is amazing from up here, isn't it
Now the mass tuned damper, this is the little thing that keeps the 101 upright. Not easy to believe.

Tuned Mass Damper
Fast forward another evening, and we are out to admire Taipei 101 in day light and somewhere away.
In to the thin air
Skycrappers are like mountains, if you have to see them as a whole you have to go far away. And Taipei surrounded by high mountains, its easy to get to any one of them and have a view. One such easy peak is elephant mountain. In 20 minutes of walk, one can get the best view of the city.

For me, the view is multiplied
At one moment the view seems like apocalyptic concrete garden and in another it seems like a trophy of human excellence. Either way, it is easy to spend hours here.

With the nightfall 
It is easy to get get lost in Taipei 101 and all the amazing foods of Taipei, specially the street food. And that is the reason why people come to Taipei. But there is more to it, just in the city. Knowing a bit of history of a city makes a better travel always. One such place is Chaing kai shek memorial, in the memory of taiwan's political leader from 1925-75. The structure gives a commanding look. probably true reflection of it leader.

Chiang Kai-Shek memorial
Taipei is difficult city for short trip. The city itself is so lively but when you compare it with suburbs of taipei, it falls short. The concrete garden of Taipei converts into beautiful mountains booming with water falls in an hour of train ride from taipei.

The train rides are experience in itself

We decided to spend a day in Shifun. A touristy village with an amazing waterfall.

Shifen waterfall
Like this waterfall, the calmness in life will be punctuated by turbulence of moments. Sometimes it will bring sorrow and sometimes immense happiness.

I am in loss of words

I want to live again
 Finally we decided to take a lazy day in taipei and that was our last day. 

We will hit the road soon again, till then chao :)

Tiger Leaping Gorge and Yulong mountain

Wikitravel suggest blue dragon pool of Lijiang as China's finest view and it goes on to add Tiger Leaping Gorge as China's finest trek. It was hard to imagine what could be so great about a gorge! guess its time to experience. 

A 2 days walk marked with villages with Yulong mountain always in front and Yantze river continuously deepening the gorge deep below. 

"Be like water, making its way through crack"
Yulong mountain in Back drop
A guest house on the way, but way to early to stop
Numbers have always fascinated me and here is another one. The owner of one guest house told me that almost 50 trekker visit the tiger leaping gorge everyday but the lower reaches of gorge accessible by bus is visited by 5000 people. These numbers speak volume about the tourism industry these days. 

I continued the trek with the help on some sign boards but the path is normally well marked. 

And I wish i could know what they want me to
The above sign board in Mandarin was one of many that i had to ignore. But when the sign board came in English, it was not helpful either. 

A word by word translation, perhaps
The trek continued, I had the company of two Germans. They were surprised to find me and so was I. Between our chit chat, around a corner, we were greeted by the view of amazing waterfall.

The trekking path bisecting the waterfall
Finally it was down to the Yantze leaping like tiger.

Tiger Leaping yantze river
The journey does not end here. When i saw the snow atop Yulong mountain, I was sure that I am going there. 

The mountains are easy compass
I would stop for hours to simply admire the corner of the China that one wouldn't associate with modern China.

The turquoise color lake

And enough is never enough
But the snow is in higher altitude, Its far but it is comfortable to reach by a cable car and a short trek.
Almost there at Yulong mountain
The path way takes upto 4585 meters and from there on, one is on their own. I had to trust the grip of my trekking shoes and jump into the snowy path. 

A typical image of mountain
As far as one could see
The yulong trip ends here but not the Chinese day
From here on I headed to Yuanyang, a 10 hour train journey followed by 10 hours bus Journey. The people, food and scenery keeps me occupied. 

Lijiang: A Mediaval City in Modern China

It is always special to travel first time to a country. It is the only time when imagination meets reality. How much did China surprise me? It cannot be told in numbers. What can be told in numbers is only the number of days I spent, 12 days. These twelve days had a strong analogy with Vipassana meditation! A Vipassana meditation is designed to detach one from daily life distractions and outside world. The mediation is designed for 10 days sometimes. One goes through the hardest time for first 3-4 days. Its only then one realizes the presence of self being. The sound of heart beat, the focus of imagination, the force of air gushing in and out of nose. 

I was in a land totally unfamiliar with an absolutely unknown language and off the road. What more was an existence of an individual in Singapore like never before. I could barely keep my thoughts off! Initial few days were frustrating because of no proper conversation, getting lost, ending up in wrong places, ordering food thinking as mushrooms from photo only to be served chicken head.  Then it became way of life. surprises become pleasing.

There was a night when I ended up in wrong village. I was disappointed in the night on what am I doing. It was dark when I reached, I had no idea what it was. When the morning came, I realized I am looking into a valley. there was no limit to the mountain I could see. It was just one of those instances of pleasant surprise.

A little sleepy town of Lijiang was my first stop. It is an over night train journey from Kunming (Capital of Yunnan). Sleeper trains in china are punctual, comfortable and much cheaper than flights. 

Lijiang greeted me with cold and windy weather. I armed myself with the only sweater I had and a wind cheater. I headed to blue dragon pool, what wikitravel describes an China's finest view. 

Blue Dragon pool
But it not just the sceneray but the people that makes travel interesting. I met two guys in my dormitory with whom the only way to communicate was translation, Baidu translation! But that didnot stop us from taking our bikes out to even further remote place. 

The lijiang boys

The bike follows where ever I go
the mountains and the colours
These were enough for my first day, I decide to go back to home stay. It turns out, they have planned for dinner, a home cooked lijiang dinner. Can I ask for more?

I am a mere observer

Food :)
A city in the night shows its vibrant color when the life starts to settle down. And here as the night unfolds in Lijiang

Its about the jouney and not destination

If the night brings vibrance, the morning brings serenity and calmness. People are yet to start their businesses.

Water at its calmest while people are still asleep
These photos were not even what I had come for. I came to Lijiang for the old city. An old city that UNESCO decided to make it heritage. 

The structure that withstood the test of times
The old city! Do we need roads? guess not
How about eating Yak?
And how can I not buy
The Lijiang was a refreshing insight into China's Yunnan province. But what i need was some mountains, some snow and a trek. The trip continues to Tiger Leaping Gorge and Yulong mountains. 

From the bygone era: Jama Masjid and Qutub Minar

Jama Masjid and Qutub Minar: two building from different era, symbols of different empires but united by their architectural marvel. The Delhi of today is very different from those era yet when we stroll around these magnificent monuments, it reminds us of our glorious past and rich heritage. 

Jama Masjib is one of the biggest mosque in India, built by mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 17th century. Located among the congested streets of Chandni Chowk and Chawri Bazar, it is easily accessible on foot or rickshaw from metro station. As it true for any monument in India, best time to visit the mosque is in morning when the air is still cold. 

Jama masjid is home to many pigeons too. 

Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and Bangkok: Temples, Monks and Culture

"Failure teaches a man how to succeed" 

This was a quote hanging on a tree in Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai. Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai offered me peace when I really needed it. It gave me opportunity to break away and clear my thoughts. I chose to spend time in temples, visiting the karen tribe, observing the life of monks and making new friends.  

Wat Rong Khun: The journey started from Wat Rong Khun, the white coloured temple. As I understand, the concept of temple is walk from hell to heaven. There is a beautiful but scary representation of hell at the beginning of temple. But as one walks, the fairy tale representation of heaven starts to appear. Each and every corner of this temple is beautifully done. It is an amazing feeling to be there. 
Reflection of the blessings

Humayun Tomb and Agrasen ki baoli

 "We shape our buildings thereafter they shape us"

Humayun tomb, the monument that inspired the construction of Taj Mahal a century later!!

It was constructed in 1572 by Bega Begum in memory of her husband, Humayun, the great emperor of Mughal era.It is fascinating to see the contrast from Taj Mahal, which was constructed by Shah Jahan in memory of his wife.  

This magnificent piece of architecture is made from contrasting red sandstone and marble. The whole architecture of Humayun tomb is inspired by Quranic description of paradise, the beautiful garden beneath which a river flows at the final resting place.

Humayun tombs has more than 100 graves from mughal era. It was also one of the refugee camp at the time of partition of India. 

Early morning at Humayun tomb

Calm and Serene Langkawi

"Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is ideal life"

There are very few who would appreciate our definition of bachelor party. It was no hangover, no strippers, no wild party. It was all chitchat and things we haven't managed to talk, four of us knowing each other for more than four years, two of whom getting married to love of their life.
We decided to head to Langkawi with close to no expectation. It is an island off the west coast of Malaysia bordering Thailand. But guess what! enough was there in store to surprise us. The beaches are serene, unspoilt and the roads are so less crowded that one can really enjoy driving.

This is one of the first few pics we took, somehow it gave me the memory of Ranchi. 

Yaroon dosti badi hi haseen hai - Photo credits: Outline of Photography

Gunung Rinjani - Trek in the cloud

Rinjani had been lingering in our minds since quite a while, ever since we came back from Merbabu in Java. We booked the trip three months in advance and we put honest effort in training for this trip. (Running 5 km, 3 times a week and 100 km cycling on Saturdays ). 
Situated in the center of Lombok in Indonesia, Gunung Rinjani is an active volcano. It is considered as one of the challenging treks in South East Asia. A 3 day 2 night trek is quite popular and gives just enough time to explore the crater rim and summit. A relatively comfortable trek would be 4 day 3 night one. 

For the ones interested in summit attempt, Sembalun route is the way to go. We found Sembalun route as more comfortable and scenic also. Sembalun itself is 2 and half hour from Lombok Airport. 

The other route starts at Semaru (3.5 hrs from airport) but it ends at crater rim. One will have to do an additional day trek to reach Sembalun side for summit attempt, with low on energy. 

Road to Sembalun

Laos: The Jewel of Mekong

Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang to Vientiane.

In a little more than 4 days, I managed to move around these three places! Many would say that I haven’t done justice to the beauties to these places and I’ll not disagree with them. But for a leave strived and an average traveller, my intent was to see as much as I can. Sleep was at least one thing that I could suppress.

I was lucky to be in Vang Vieng in 3 hours from Vientiane (average travel time ~ 4 hours) and to be in Luang Prabang in 4 hours from Vang Vieng (average travel time ~ 6 hours). We were only 5 and 3 respectively in the Van and the driver was able to pull at high speed. Eventually the law of averages caught up and the journey from Luang Prabang to Vientiane was 12 hours.

Vang Vieng

Krabi: Enough is never enough!

One of the calm, serene and beautiful place in Thailand, Krabi province has plenty of islands to amaze travellers. In fact, it is much better than the nearby and more popular Phuket. The islands of Phi Phi, Koh Lanta and Phang-nga bay are easily accessible. The beaches are much more beautiful than the ones in Phuket! For avid divers, Koh Ha, Koh Bida, Hin Daeng, Hin Muang, Similan islands are also easily accessible. And the limestone cliffs make it mecca of rock climbers in South East Asia.

Here are the things travellers can expect in Krabi. 

1. Ao Nang Beach: It is the most popular beach in Krabi and very beautiful place for sunset. The nearby streets have wonderful eating places and decent nightlife.

Traevl Dairy: San Francisco - Monterey

San Francisco and Monterey, a weekend trip!

SFO, anyone's dream city! As an engineer and remotely connected to software industry, the charm of SFO is not unknown to me. This is where the biggest dreams come true! but, I did not end up here for career, it was for leisure after my conference in San Diego. It was intended to be a get together planned a bit in advance but as it turns out, friends were busy that weekend and in another city. 

I stayed in the youth hostel, the best bunch of strangers I can find, it was HI youth hostel in fisherman's Wharf. I could see the golden gate from there. The golden gate is a good walk from there. Nice breeze, busy cyclists, Leisure walkers, Runners, all share the way.

Golden Gate Bridge