Sunday, February 24, 2013

Kamikochi, Japan Alps

During the koyo (autumn leaf) season in Japan, one of the best places for autumn foliage as well as spectacular mountain scenery has to be Kamikochi (上高地).

Situated between Matsumoto and Takayama, it fits right into your itinerary as both Matsumoto and Takayama are excellent and popular destinations as well. However, it is open only from mid/late Apr to mid Nov. If you visit during late Oct like what I did, be prepared for the crowds!

There are numerous hiking trails within the park area and thus, spending a night or two in the park is highly recommended. Accommodation options though, are limited and expensive. However, there are campsites in the park too, so for those who have their own tents etc, then it makes even more sense to stay overnight. With forests and mountains as backdrop, and no light pollution, Kamikochi is an excellent location for star trail photography! Also, after the last bus leave, you can also enjoy the peace and beauty of the mountains without the crowds.

Mountain lodges within Kamikochi
Tashiro Pond, one of the scenic attractions along the hiking trails

Kamikochi is excellent for Star Trails photography
For those who are not camping, there are dormitory-style accommodations too. I stayed at Nishi-Itoya mountain lodge for 8000yen (~US$85) a night which I thought was my most expensive dorm bed yet! BUT, the price comes with dinner and breakfast just like a ryokan stay, and the food easily rival those in a restaurant. I met a Japanese guy in the lodge, who was a 3-time return visitor and he claimed that he came back for the food!! Moreover, within the lodge they have an onsen, so after a hard day of hiking, it's pure relaxation soaking in the onsen!!

Kappabashi, the central iconic hub of Kamikochi
Beautiful autumn foliage!
Great food!

Kamikochi is not directly accessible from Tokyo. It is only reached by bus (Nohi) from either Matsumoto or Takayama. So for those who have rail passes, you can still reach Matsumoto and Takayama via trains, and then transfer to buses. Of course, as mentioned previously, either way, do spend time in Matsumoto and Takayama as well!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Masouleh Iran

Nestled along a slope of the Alborz mountain range in western Iran, Masouleh is a perfect town to get away from city life, especially if you have spent too much time in the frantic traffic of Tehran.

While situated 1050m above sea level, the town is not far from the Caspian Sea. Its climate is quite special, as the predominant weather feature of the town is its fog! As such, most of the houses are covered in a yellow clay which allows better visibility in the fog. Add to the fact that the houses are all built along a slope, and thus the view of the town from afar can be really pictureque!

The houses are also interconnected in such a way that its architecture is unique in the whole of Iran. Firstly, no vehicles are allowed into the town, as the streets are too narrow anyway. More interestingly, the layout of the houses is such that, the roofs of the houses are also the courtyards (and streets) of other houses!! Hence, the special architecture of Masouleh is popularly known as "The yard of the above building is the roof of the below building". So it's pretty interesting wandering up the streets of the town (and tiring as well).

I was also lucky that when I was there in Nov, I encountered their first snowfall of the season. So literally in 2 days, I managed to see 2 different views of Masouleh! Pace in the town is remarkably laidback, and many Iranians (esp from Tehran) like to come here to spend their weekend holiday. While Masouleh can be visited in a day trip, an overnight stay is highly recommended if you are keen on photography. The only issue for me is, if you have a heavy backpack, lugging up the slope is no fun!!

Masouleh can be reached via shared taxis from Fuman. From Tehran, there are comfortable buses to Rasht, where you then transfer to Fuman (again shared taxis). There may be buses from Tehran to Fuman too, according to various sources, but I have not found any. While it may not be that convenient to access to, once you reach Masouleh, you'll be glad you did!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Views from El Alto, Bolivia

La Paz, the administrative capital of Bolivia, is one of the highest capitals in the world. Sitting in a 'bowl' surrounded by high mountains, including the beautiful imposing peak Illimani (the 'guardian of La Paz'), the city should be viewed from afar. And one of the best places to see La Paz in its environment is in the neighbouring city of El Alto.

El Alto is one of the highest cities in the world at 4150m (La Paz is about 3650m). Thus from El Alto, there are commanding views over La Paz, which provide an excellent photographic setting. Aside from shooting during the day, stay till night where the city lights light up the valley, and the scene is easily one of the best city night scene you can find. Moreover, with Illimani as a backdrop, it was almost picture perfect. To complete the "perfectness", wait till a full moon day. When the full moon rises behind Illimani, it is really quite a beautiful sight!!

So here's sharing a gallery of photos of the views from El Alto!

Illimani, watching over La Paz
The city expanded up the hill and mountainside

Shadows and Light in La Paz
Moonrise over Illimani - Beautiful!
City lights at night, with moon over Illimani - picture perfect!