Posts Tagged ‘egypt’

Flight of the Pigeons

June 19th, 2010

I was wandering down a street at one point, when I noticed a large flock of pigeons flying overhead. They were circling and swooping in tight arcs, round and round. Someone was pigeon flying! Naturally, I paused to watch and snap a few pictures.

The art of pigeon flying remains quite popular in the Arab world. I’ve often see flocks of pigeons circling over the rooftops in Cairo, Beirut and Amman, for instance. But the shot above wasn’t taken anywhere in the Arab world. Can you guess where?

Brussels, Belgium. Yep.

Some say the use of pigeons to carry messages can be traced back to the ancient Persians (some 2800 years ago). The ancient Romans also used messenger pigeons in their military campaigns over 2000 years ago (for example, Julius Caesar was reputed to have used them in his conquest of Gaul). Use of pigeons to carry messages outside of a military setting – in a postal system – goes back to the late 10th Century at least in the Arab world, where it was developed under Fatimid rule.

The use of homing pigeons by the French during the siege of Paris in 1870-1871 gave new breath to their use in the military in Europe who used them extensively during World War I and again in World War II. You can find out more about war pigeons here.

There’s a memorial to those messenger pigeon trainers who fell in service to Belgium during World War I at one end of the garden at the far side of the Quai au Briques. Here’s a shot of it below.

All this may be interesting but it doesn’t explain why someone was flying pigeons in Brussels.

Turns out that the (modern) sport of pigeon racing was developed and gained immense popularity in Belgium in the middle of the 19th Century. The sport has since spread all over the world, though it seems to be suffering from a lack of interest by the general public. You can find out more about pigeon racing here.

More coming soon!

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Temples

December 18th, 2009

Architecture is the most enduring of all of mankind’s different forms of cultural expression. Paintings and drawings may fade, paper and papyrus may crumble to dust, day to day items may vanish,  – architecture outlasts them all. Think Petra, or the great pyramids of Egypt or of the Mayan and Incan cultures. Think the Roman ruins in Baalbeck, Lebanon, or the Angkor Wat, or the Great Wall of China, or the Sacre Coeur in Paris, or the countless other reminders of cultural heritage.

It seems to me that some of the most striking examples of cultural expression in architecture often tend(ed) to appear in structures of religious significance. You may say this approach largely no longer applies to our modern, perhaps more secular, times where you could argue that extraordinary expressions in architecture are now almost exclusively the domain of the private sector – high-rise, hotels, office and residential buildings (Burj Dubai, anyone?). But that’s a discussion for another place between more qualified people than I.

I can certainly say that the most striking examples of architecture that I saw in the short time I was  in Bangalore were the Hindu temples I visited, or glimpsed hear and there while on the road. I was less impressed by the only other architectural standouts like the Bangalore Palace or government buildings such as the Vidhana Soudha or the bright red Attara Kacheri (High Court).

All the temples I saw seemed to be of the Dravida (featuring towers with progressively smaller storeys of pavilions) variant prevalent in the South (see here for more info on Hindu temple architecture). These temples are some of the most beautiful structures I have yet seen. The brightness of the colours and the intricacy of the carvings – very striking. I wish I had the time to learn more about them and the culture behind it. I intend to, at some point.

I only managed to visit three temples. I’m using visit in the loosest of ways, of course. I glimpsed quite a few more peppered here and there all over the place. If only there had been time to visit them all.

Temples were hidden in the most unlikely places. You might turn a corner on a tiny side street and suddenly see a beautiful multi-coloured tower rising invitingly in the distance:

An Invitation (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f3.5, ISO 200, 1/500sec)

I came across one very small but beautiful temple while exploring side streets behind Commercial Street. I daren’t enter for fear of offence and thus only saw what was visible from the gate. A few pictures appear below:

The Golden Gate (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f3.5-5.6 @ 100mm, f5.6, ISO 1000, 1/50sec)

Stones (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f3.5-5.6 @ 112mm, f5.6, ISO 500, 1/60sec)

The Trident (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f3.5-5.6 @ 60mm, f4.8, ISO 1000, 1/80sec)

The only temple I had the chance to properly visit and explore was the ISKON temple. The temple site is massive, and the temple itself is a sprawling wonder. Unfortunately, cameras were not allowed inside, so the pictures below are a sample from those very few I took from outside (time was the big limitation here).

Two things stay with me from that visit.

The first thing is the privilege of observing people expressing their faith in little big ways. One lady with her young son humbly made an offering at one of the smaller shrines on the granite steps leading up to the main temple. I, along with some friends, stopped at these shrines a while to discreetly watch. And learn. One man I met at each of the shrines. The first time I saw him he was prostrated on the ground before the first. When he had completed his prayers there, he proceeded to complete 108 revolutions around each of the shrines, chanting as he went.

The second thing is the extremely … dare I say, commercial, approach the guys at the ISKON temple took to everything. Entire sections, collectively bigger than the main temple shrines, were dedicated to selling all sorts of stuff, from ISKON approved books to scarves, posters, trinkets and all manner of foodstuffs.

I can understand the need of a non-profit organisation to raise funds, so that bit there isn’t on its own what struck me as odd.

It was that coupled with what one of the guys said at a counter we were led to behind the main shrine after the blessings. He started by requesting donations – telling us about the impressive Food for Life program. But then he showed us sketches and renderings of a new, bigger temple and grounds they were planning to build somewhere in Bangalore.

He lost me at the point where he said they wanted to make it like Disneyland. As in, rollercoaster rides and everything.

He was serious.

I’m confused.

The Sprawling Complex (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f3.5, ISO 200 - HDR)

The Tower (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f3.5-5.6 @ 82mm, f5.3, ISO 200, 1/1000sec)

This temple here below I glimpsed from a bridge as I was heading to the airport with some of my friends. The car stopped by the side of the road to allow the other vehicle in our convoy (the one with the luggage) to catch up with us. I asked the driver if he could go back so I could take a closer look. He duly obliged, reversing some 200 meters on the highway.

The temple was about 50 meters in, away from the main road, hidden behind lush green trees. It appeared to be completely abandoned. I’m not sure if that really is the case, or if people only use it occasionally.

The Abandoned Temple (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f3.5-5.6 @ 36mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/160sec)

I don’t know why the entrance features very prominent fangs in the gateway. But that doesn’t strike me as particularly inviting.

The Toothy Entrance (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f3.5-5.6 @ 38mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/160sec)

The Figures (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f3.5-5.6 @ 135mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/160sec)

To finish, I leave you with this shot, taken from a car whisking us off to a wedding-related event:

The Brightly Coloured Tower (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f3.5-5.6 @ 34mm, f8, ISO 200 - HDR)

More pictures coming soon!

However , I can’t promise the next post may not be in two days. I’m going to be travelling for a bit and my access to the internet is likely to be erratic. 🙂

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