Sunday, December 28, 2008


It has been a year full of impactful events - most of which is not particularly good. Earthquakes, terror attacks, and a financial meltdown, the news had been dark and the only spark I could remember was the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics (though it was not without controversy as well).

Amidst all that global events, in Sep 2008, a small local event took place. I got myself a Canon EOS 50D DSLR :). After 5 1/2 years of service, I retired my EOS 10D. It had followed me faithfully and unerringly in all my travels, and while "only" a prosumer DSLR, it had produced memories that's close to heart. As a tribute, I've posted a selection of its journey at Clubsnap :

The world gave a gloomy outlook to 2009. Let's all be positive. Maybe after the storm of 2008, there may be something over the horizon to smile about. To 2009.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, is the capital of the Indian State of West Bengal. It was my gateway from Singapore, to Darjeeling and the Himalayan state of Sikkim. However, I found it to be an interesting destination itself, esp for street photography and for those historically inclined.

The backpacker area is around Sudder Street, and here, for those who love street photography, you'll have the challenge of capturing the emotive scenes. There are lots of the homeless and poor around, and it will be certainly an experience for anyone who have only seen the streets of an affluent city like Singapore. Street photography was not my forte, and I was challenged a couple of times when photographing the locals on the streets. Every Sunday, there will be a mass feeding of the poor around Sudder Street, sponsored by a rich businessman. The poor and homeless will start to form a queue early in the morning, and it was an eye-opener for me. This is what travel is about!

One of the things you have to try when on the streets is their milk tea (chai) served on disposable pottery cups! Basically, you pay per cup (and just a small cup) and after drinking, you can just toss the cup away on the streets. So, you can actually see many shattered pottery pieces along the streets!! Interesting!

Not to be missed is the Victoria Memorial Hall, and the museum within. On weekends, lots of Calcuttans bring their families here for an outing. At the end of day, the memorial is particularly beautiful, and well worth bringing your tripod for! Check it out!

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Nestled in the northeastern corner of India, deliciously close to Sikkim and Bhutan, Darjeeling holds its own as a major tourist attraction. A former old British hill station, it is now visited internationally, not just for a long relaxing stay, but also as a stopover for further trips like trekking in Sikkim.

Darjeeling is also famous all over the world for its tea. Its tea plantations are a legacy of the British, and its black tea is among the best in the world. Needless to say, a visit to Darjeeling should entail a visit to these tea plantations and with different types like organic, first flush, second flush etc, there will be something for everyone.

For non-tea drinkers (like me), Darjeeling has plenty of other things to offer. High on my list is its stupendous location, with fantastic views of the Himalayas, specifically Mt Kanchenjunga (8598m), 3rd highest mountain in the world! A short trip away, to Tiger Hill, you could even see Mt Everest! There is also the Himalayan Zoological Park with many rare Himalayan wildlife to be seen. And of course, the town itself - charming and relaxing, is an attraction itself!

I took an overnight train from Sealdah (Kolkata) to New Jalpaiguri NJP (Siliguri). From NJP, I took a shared jeep. which took another 3+ hrs to Darjeeling. There is also a "Toy Train" (an old choo-choo train for sight-seeing) that takes 7+ hrs if you want. Which ever the way you choose, Darjeeling is well worth checking out!

Saturday, December 6, 2008


Sighişoara may not ring a bell. A town in Transylvania, it retains a medieval feel to it, esp in the old town. The old town is known as the Citadel, mainly because it was a citadel in the days of old. So what is so special about Sighişoara? It was the birthplace of Dracula.

Well, technically, it's the birthplace of Vlad Ţepeș - whom which Bram Stoker's vampiric Dracula is loosely based. Vlad Ţepeș, also known as Vlad the Impaler, was a cruel prince of Wallachia. Not only were his practises cruel, his punishments were terrifying and brutal, one of which is how he got the name of Impaler... Today, the fact that this was his birthplace has generated many marketing gimmicks in the Citadel, it seems to me equally scary....
What is really special to me is that the old town contains a dreamy charm to it, so much so that I do feel brought back in time. The old cobbled streets, the street lamps, the peeling paint on old doorways, it was really enjoyable walking around the alleys. In fact, it gave me a feeling like what I had when I was walking in the old town of Lijiang in China! (The western medieval version!)

The highlight of the Citadel is the Clock Tower. Now housing a museum, it also provides a superb view of the new town below. The clockwork mechanism and the seven revolving figurines that represent the different days of the week is also very interestng, and well worth looking into. Guesthouses are aplenty here, so Sighişoara is certainly worth a stopover if you're going Romania!

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Tokaj is a small town in northeastern Hungary. Part of the famous Tokaj-Hegyalja wine region, it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Its fame? The Tokaji Aszú wine.

The Tokaji wines are sweet wines, with a measurement of sweetness (sugar content) that ranges from 3 puttonyos to 6 puttonyos. Those above 5 puttonyos will be classified as Aszú-Eszencia, which is also known as nectar! A visit to the wine cellars for wine tasting is thus not to be missed if you have a chance to travel to this region!! And the wine tasting is done in the cellars!

The vast underground wine cellars are also quite an eye-opener. Rows and rows of barrels and bottles line the passageways. The cellars are covered with a special mold, which feeds off the alcohol evaporated during aging process. The underground system also keeps the place at a constant cool temperature, and all these constitute the special conditions that is ideal for making tokaji wine.

The vineyards are situated in beautiful country, and is extremely pictureque during sunset. So, check out this part of Hungary!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Holiday on Feet

Trekking. Hiking. Tramping. Call it what you want, it is just walking :). Do it on a holiday? Why not? In fact, it is highly recommended!!

Ok, before you start to think of those trips that are 2-3 weeks of pure trekking, well, you don't have to. You can always start with day hikes, or even intersperse different day hikes into your trip. Once you experience it and like it, you can then plan for trips with hikes/treks that last 2-3 days etc. But why hike and tire yourself when a tour bus can bring you to sights?
For one, some of nature's most beautiful sights are not accessible by buses or even cars. With a little walking, you will often see scenes that you can only see in magazines. And sometimes with some serious trekking, you'll see sights that blow your mind away! For nature lovers, it would definitely be worth your while.
And if you're doing hikes or walks in come countries like Nepal, India, China etc, these hikes often passes through villages which yield fantastic experiences no tour can provide you. You can see strange cultures, untouched lifestyles, and make contact with interesting people. It is travel at its best.

Different countries provide different backdrops for your walks. And different seasons add to the variety. From rugged mountains in Pakistan to icy glaciers in New Zealand, and from lush greenery in summer Laos, to striking red in autumn Romania, there is something for everyone!

So put on your walking shoes, and enjoy your walking holiday!

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Nepal is one of the places that was extra memorable to me. It was my first foray into a multi-day trekking trip, in a less developed country. It opened my eyes, and widened my thirst for more adventurous travel, and on top of that, with my "new" second-hand digital SLR, it was quite literally the bud that grew to my Roving Light website :)

For the trekking initiate, I think the routes in Nepal are quite excellent. They are relatively simple, and flexible enough to be able to provide different options (length) for different people. Me and my friends did a short 3day trek in the Annapurna region. It could easily been a 5-6 day trek, and for the hardier, there is even the famous ABC (Annapurna Base Camp) trek which could extend to 18-21 days! But regardless of the length, the scenaries are spectacular. With the Annapurna mountain ranges as a backdrop to your trek, it was indeed exhilarating. Not just the air, but the light in the mountains are fantastic too!

The exposure to the people living in the mountains was also an interesting experience for me. Their living conditions and their lives are often inconceivable by us city folks. The children in the villages are adorable, and as the region receives more trekkers, many of them would give chocolates or sweets to these children. A simple thought really, but on a bigger level, could actually cause a dental problem as there are no dental clinics in the mountains! The children would also start begging and pestering for these, which is certainly not something to be encouraged. So, it really brought different perspectives to me, of the world that revolves as a whole but at such a different pace at its different parts.

Go take a look at that part of the world, Nepal.

Friday, November 7, 2008

LuGu Lake

Lugu Lake (泸沽湖) lies 5-6 hours away from Lijiang, and makes for a really interesting side trip from Lijiang. Because of the long journey there, a minimum of 2 nights stay would be recommended. So what's so interesting there?

Lugu Lake is home to the Mosuo people, one of the more interesting minority groups of Yunnan province. They are a matriarchal society and their customs and practices are strange and often accounted. One of the more famous customs of the Mosuo is their marriage-less system. Men and women are free to have their love affairs and single mothers are common. Children grow up with their mothers and uncles and most don't even know who their father is (they take their mother's surname)!! Traditionally, women who are interested in a particular man will invite him to her house/room to spend the night. Usually, the man will come after dark, and leave in the morning. Both are free to continue or end this "arrangement" as they please! Talk about ancient conservation China!

There are a couple of villages or settlements in Lugu Lake, with Luoshui probably the most "touristy". There are no lack of guesthouses, and common activities around here would be hiking around the mountains and taking boat rides to the islands on the lake. While the Mosuo do not wear their traditional attire in their daily life anymore, many of the communities around the villages will dorn their traditional clothings and dance and sing around campfires for the tourists. And if there is enough demand, you could even roast/grill a whole sheep over the campfire (烤全羊)!

The lake itself is of course beautiful, with different hues at different times of the day. The morning mists is just beautiful, and overall a wonderful place to just chill out too. So really, 2 nights is easily the minimum you would want to stay here!!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Stirling Range National Park

Most Singaporean travellers I know visiting Western Australia and Perth would inevitably do the coastal road trip down to Margaret River wine region, and probably all the way south to Albany. This is really a great route to do, and one I did and enjoyed tremendously. However, there is another place well worth visiting in that region, and that is Stirling Range National Park.

There is another route down to Albany from Perth - an inland highway, that passes by a park known as Stirling Range National Park. The best time to visit is spring, where flowers of all kind bloom. There are, of course, hiking opportunities in the park, and thus, with the abundance of flowers along the hiking trail, makes for a really enjoyable "walk in the park"! :)

There are accommodations in the Park itself, which is recommended if you want to enjoy the full day in the park instead of commuting to nearby towns. An example is here. If you are planning a driving circuit down southern WA, esp in spring, then this is definitely a good stopover. You start from Perth and come down via the inland road to Stirling Range, enjoy a couple of days here, and continue down to Albany and from there, do your usual route back upwards via the coastal Margaret River region. If you are a wine and flower person, you have the best of both worlds! :)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Meili Snow Mountains

One of Life's most awesomest experiences - watching dawn light falling onto the 13 peaks of Meili Snow Mountains.

The Meili Snow Mountains (梅里雪山 ), or the Prince Mountains is a range of mountains situated in the northeast region of Diqing county in Yunnan China. It's main peak, Kawa Karpo, is one of the holiest mountains of Tibetan Buddhism. Like Mt Kailash, thousands of pilgrims would undergo a kora (circumambulation) round the mountain. While "only" 6740m, Kawa Karpo has not been ascended.

Flanking Kawa Karpo on both sides, there are 12 other snow capped peaks. Every morning, when the sky is clear, the rising sun's rays will fall onto these peaks, bringing the mountains on fire. The prime location to view this spectacular phenomena is a village/town of FeiLaiSi. Transport can be arranged in the town of Deqin, and guesthouses are plenty in FeiLaiSi. It is said that clear days are a rarity here, so I stayed 2 nights to maximise the chances of viewing. And I got 2 days of clear weather!

And so, I managed to enjoy one of Life's most awesomest experiences, twice. :)

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Hemu is a delightful village situated in the northern regions of Xinjiang China. Set amidst forests of birch & poplars, the village bursts into fields of yellow and orange during autumn and draws many Chinese photographers all over.

The village is accessed mainly via private vehicle or trekking. There is a very popular 2-day trek from Hemu to Kanas (or vice versa), another even more popular Chinese retreat. The main draw of Kanas is Kanas lake, which is turning out to be too touristy for my liking. However, the trek is fabulous, and while most travellers do the trek on a horse (a horse trek), those who wants flexibility for photography should do their trek on foot. The trek passes through beautiful valleys of the Altai mountains, and the typical overnight stays are in local yurts, hosted by nomadic Kazaks. The most common overnight location would be near Black Lake, and even in autumn, the place would often snow, so appropriate clothings should be prepared.

Hemu village itself comprises mostly of Kazaks. In the height of autum season, every morning before the sun rises, hordes of photographers would make their way up a hill which overlooks the village. Early morning mists would cover the village, and when the sun rises, it dissipates the mists and casts its rays onto the wooden houses of the village. Sandwiched between the golden forestry, it's a scene that will easily bewitch anyone, let alone photographers!

While there are many local (Chinese) photographers/tourists/travellers, foreigners are still almost non-existent there. Whichever the state the village will eventually become, I am glad I managed to see its current beauty.