Posts Tagged ‘temple’

Temple of Adonis, Faqra

January 27th, 2010

A while back, I began a mini-project to visit and explore the three surviving temples of Adonis in Lebanon. On the same day, I managed to visit the temple at Mashnaqa, and that at Afqa.

The temple at Faqra I had to reluctantly leave for another day. I finally managed to visit the site of these beautiful ruins just recently.

It was a heavily overcast day which softened the light and chased away strong shadows. And allowed for more than just an exploration of the temple itself.

One of the most striking features of the temple at Faqra is that it was partially cut and built into the living rock. The peculiar rock formations feature in clusters at the entry to Faqra and are commonly called the “Houses of Ghosts”.  Time constraints meant that I couldn’t explore them for photo opportunities. But I guess that just means I’ll have to pay the region another visit. 😉

Here is a tonemapped shot of the entrance to the temple proper. The tiny figure of my friend standing inside the temple should give you an idea of how impressive the structure is.

On the other side of the temple of Adonis lie what I understand are the remains of the smaller temple of Atargatis.

In front of the temple of Adonis sat an empty cube a few meters across. The cube had windows cut into it. I wonder what it was meant to be.

I had my gorillapod with me, which helped me to shoot multiple exposures for creation of HDR images. Unfortunately, it proved rather unwieldy to use here given the open spaces which limited my choice of positions and angles. It also meant that the camera often ended up being at less than 20cm from ground level. That led to a lot of uncomfortable crouching to look through the viewfinder…

And finally, my favourite image from the set. I’m particularly proud of this one as it proved particularly difficult to set up and shoot (thanks to the size limitations of the gorillapod – still MUCH better than with no tripod, so no complaints). I particularly like the backlight provided by the sun gently shining through the modest cloud cover.

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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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Bangalore Portraits – Part III

December 16th, 2009

Carrying on from Part I and Part II, here are a few more portraits of the great people I met in Bangalore.

I met this family when I stood watching a Sikh procession in celebration of the birth of Guru Nanak (more on that later). I love the way this picture turned out. The son resembles the mum, and the daughter resembles the dad, and the son and mum were facing the same way, and the father and daughter a different way. And yes, they were all sat on one tiny motorbike. As is pretty much standard, only the father wore a helmet, cause that’s the minimum required by law – the driver of a bike must wear a helmet.

Family on a Bike (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 30mm, f3.5, ISO 200, 1/320secs)

This man I met outside a fruit stall on Brigade Street. He’s a retired aircraft engineer who worked 35 years building and designing aircraft for an aircraft manufacturer with operations in India (the name escapes me). He stood proudly to attention while I took this shot. I understand from conversation with him that he’s dedicated his post-retirement life to his religion.

Retired Aircraft Engineer (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f6.3, ISO 200, 1/125sec + flash SB900)

One of the ladies I met in Cubbon Park. She and her friends were collecting wood.

Wood Collector (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 35mm, f4, ISO 200, 1/30sec)

This is Mubashir. He’s a Muslim Indian from Kashmir who, along with his brothers, own and run a store called Asian Arts Emporium (located on 8 Cunningham Road). They sell some very fine silk (for saris and dresses), and all sorts of interesting arts and crafts. I visited their store twice with friends and made a goodly number of purchases.

We ended up having long and very interesting conversations with Mubashir. I particularly enjoyed our conversations about Islam. It’s a shame that Islam as it should be: one of peace, faith, humility, dignity in the face of adversity and enduring human kindness; does not seem to appeal to the popular media. That’s why the patience and warmth of people like Mubashir is important.

The conversations we had with Mubashir also brought the sheer breadth and variety of India to the fore – he doesn’t speak Kannada, the prevalent language in Bangalore, an requires a translator when dealing with Bangaloreans. The sheer number of languages and dialects spoken in India is staggering. You can find out more here.

Mubashir (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 56mm, f5, ISO 200, 1/60sec + flash SB900)

This man encouraged the mapseller to stand for her portrait and then happily agreed to stand for his own.

The Mapseller's Cheerleader (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 56mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/50sec + flash SB900)

This woman appeared silently while I stood at the gateway to a temple on a street off Commercial Street taking pictures of the temple grounds within. She allowed me to shoot the temple, even invited me in to do so. However, I didn’t wish to intrude and so remained at the gate to snap a few shots. I then asked her if I could take her portrait. She graciously acquiesced, but remained at distance. I was struck by the peace in her kind eyes.

The Temple Keeper (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 135mm, f5.6, ISO 1000, 1/80sec)

This here is The Park Hotel‘s one and only Raja Gopal. I thought of rendering this picture in black & white. But I liked the colour of his dastaar (Sikh headdress).

Raja! (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 65mm, f5.6, ISO 200, 1/80sec)

Meet the Liftman. This fine chap took me on a few rides up and down in the elevator of a building off Brigade Street.

Elevator Man (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/100sec + flash SB900)

More pictures coming soon!

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Temples of Astarte and Adonis, Afqa

November 26th, 2009

I seem to have broken my post-every-other-day routine. I’ve been so busy lately. Been a very very hectic time. But I’m still here, alive and kicking.

So, anyway: Back to the hunt for the temples of Adonis in Lebanon. New pictures!

After taking a goodly amount of time in Mashnaqa, the race was on to get to Afqa before sunset. I got there with bare minutes to spare before the last of the precious light was gone. I cursed myself for not carrying a proper, full-size tripod with me. (I’d only taken my trusty Gorillapod – which is an amazing piece of gear but unfortunately limiting – occasionally, you might want some shots to be taken from a higher – or a different – perspective than that the Gorillapod can provide.)

Aside from the scenery, Afqa was interesting from a human point of view: The soldiers I met at the checkpoint just outside Afqa, and again in the village when asking for directions, were ever so helpful and friendly. Two shepherd boys who were tending their flock just outside the temple grounds couldn’t be more different.

The boys made such a ruckus when they saw the camera gear. They threw fits every time the camera wasn’t turned completely away – screaming they didn’t want to be photographed (At no point was I tempted to in any event). They called to each other in shrill voices, their screams shattering the peace of the place. To top it off, when my back was to them I was followed by jeers. So much for the innocence of youth.

The Collapse (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f5.6, ISO 200, 1/40sec)

The temple in Afqa is an odd sight. Not exactly a disappointment. There is precious little left of it, most having been appropriated over the years by villagers from the nearby towns. All that is now left of what was certainly an imposing structure are piles of stones, rocks and rubble – a hillock overgrown with weeds.

Rocks & Rubble (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f5.6, ISO 200, 1/40sec)

The far end of the temple grounds overlook the famous Afqa cave, and a waterfall that falls into the most beautiful crystal-blue pool.

Afqa Cave (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 34mm, f5.6, ISO 200, 1/40sec)

The Pool (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 45mm, f11, ISO 200, 1sec)

Waterfall (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 85mm, f5.6, ISO 200, 1.6sec)

When about to call it a day, one of the soldiers who was with a group I’d asked directions from came to join me. Turns out he’d grown up in a neighbouring village but had never known of the ruined temple until then. The soldier, a young and friendly lad named Ahmed, told me of a hidden entrance to the temple from beneath which his friends had spoken to him about. We searched in the failing light and found a tunnel that led into the heart of the hillock.

The Half-Buried Entrance (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 55mm, f8, ISO 200, 1.6sec + flash SB900)

The tunnel was quite deep, curving leftwards about 15 meters in and carrying on for a bit before the ceiling dropped to less than half a meter.

Below you can see the figures of Ahmad and a friend at the mouth of the tunnel.

Inwards & Outwards (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f4.5, ISO 200, 1.6sec + flash SB900)

Torchlight revealed that the partially collapsed tunnel went on at least a further 20 meters or more and it seems there may be open rooms or halls further in. It certainly warrants further exploration. At some point I may return there with torches and clothes I don’t mind ruining…

The Collapsed Tunnel (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f4.5, ISO 200, 1.6sec + flash SB900)

On another note, I should have taken Ahmad’s portrait, but the thought only occurred to me after we’d parted ways. Ah well…

More pictures coming soon (promise)!

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Temple of Adonis, Mashnaqa

November 10th, 2009

For some odd reason, I decided to visit the temples of Adonis. I understand there are three such temples surviving in Lebanon – in Afqa, Faqra and a place with the dubious name of Mashnaqa (more on that below).

Since this was decided the day before my departure from Leb, and rather late in the day at that, I managed to only visit two of the three sites. Still, am happy as I managed to visit both sites on the same day while taking the scenic route through tiny winding mountain roads (as opposed to the Afqa/Faqra/Faraya highway, which I used on the way back, and which required a bare fraction of the time it took to get to Afqa…).

So, the temples! The first I visited was the temple at Mashnaqa.

Mashnaqa is a small village in the mountains on a forgotten road that leads up from Jbeil (AKA Byblos).

Now, Mashnaqa loosely translates in Arabic to “the Gallows”. Charming, you might say. But one source apparently insists that the word is derived from a Phoenico-Aramæan word meaning “Place of Tears”. Same difference, no?

Mashnaqa is interesting to me for another reason. It is the first of a series of beautiful Shi’ ite villages that pepper a predominantly Christian mountainside and which I passed through on my way to Afqa. Proof that Lebanon is full of surprises, at least for me (See, I was under the impression that there were nothing but Christian villages in that particular area of Mount Lebanon. When I recounted this to my parents later, they both just looked at me blankly and said, “Well, of course there are Shi’ite villages there!”).

I had a chance to chat with the locals a bunch of times in my search for the temple (which proved surprisingly easy to find, if I’d only followed the directions to the letter), and true to form, they time and again proved as friendly and as hospitable as ever. I don’t really know why I resisted the urge to ask if I could take their pictures. Some had such beautiful faces. The kind with a story to every wrinkle, and a bright spark in kind eyes. Ah well. I know better for next time.

On a side note, oddly enough the turning point for me I guess – in terms of asking people if I could shoot their portraits – was on the plane ride to Bangalore. There was this old Emirati man and his son taking the plane with us. The old man had the kindest, gentlest face. I just had to take his portrait. Three hours or so into the flight, I finally plucked up the courage to go up and ask. He acquiesced with a smile, and I had a mad scramble to switch on every seat light I could find in the dark fuselage and try and direct it at his face in just the right way to get enough, soft, light and a catchlight in his eyes.

Here it is:

Gentle Old Man on a Plane (D700, Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 @ f3, ISO 1000, 1/40sec)

If you don’t ask, you won’t get the picture.

Right. Back to the temple!

When the temple finally appeared, it was at first glance something of a let-down despite the marvellous setting. Barely a corner and a few columns remained of the once no doubt imposing structure. But closer inspection showed it to be more than just the sum of its few remaining parts. For one thing, the setting: it rests in the cosy garden of a quaint farm house overlooking a lush green valley and mountains. Absolutely beautiful.

Interestingly, the farm house seems was built in part from the stones that once made up the temple… Go figure.

Unfortunately, the light was not as soft as I’d have liked, despite the lateness of the hour. But you do what you can with what you’ve got, no?

Here are a few shots from that beautiful, peaceful place.

The Gate (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/200sec)

Rana was evidently here... (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/320sec + flash SB900 zoomed at 180mm)

Rise Up (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/160sec)

There's a Wall There (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 135mm, f5.6, ISO 200, 1/500sec)

The Temple (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/400sec)

The Nub (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 135mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/200sec)

Temple Green (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/500sec)

A Terraced Garden (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/400sec)

Here you can see the farm house behind the temple:

Farm House (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 36mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/500sec)

And the farm house itself and its terraced walkways, built evidently from rock from the temple:

Steps and a Doorway (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/400sec + flash SB900 zoomed at 180mm)

A Shady Terrace (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 44mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/80sec + flash SB900 zoomed at 180mm)

As I said, it’s a farm house. Emphasis on “farm”. So here’s some produce seen being grown there:

Cabbage! (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f9, ISO 200, 1/160sec + flash SB900 zoomed at 180mm)

Aubergine! (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 135mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/80sec + flash SB900 zoomed to 180mm)

Chili Peppers! (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 70mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/100sec + flash SB900 zoomed to 180mm)

Not quite ripe jabali tomatoes... (D700, Tamron 24-135mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f8, ISO 200, 1/100sec + flash SB900 zoomed to 180mm)

More pictures (from the India trip, the temple at Afqa and others) coming soon!

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The Jerboa Has Landed!

October 27th, 2009

Right! I’ve returned from my trips to Lebanon and Bangalore, India with a sizeable wad of pictures.

I still have to sort through them all, but hopefully I will have lots and lots of great pictures to share with you in the coming weeks – including pictures of: abandoned hundred-plus-year-old Lebanese houses; ruins of age-old temples; the last day of the harvest and vintaging at a vineyard; a traditional Indian wedding (which totally blew my mind – probably the single most colorful and extraordinary wedding celebrations I have yet had the privilege to attend); and my other (non-wedding-related) impressions of the very beautiful, chaotic and noisy Bangalore.

With luck, I will have something substantial to share in the coming day or two. Meanwhile, I will leave you with a shot of the very first snake I have yet seen in Lebanon. In the wee hours one night I found this beautiful and colourful specimen lying in the middle of the road by my family house in Baabdat.

It was quite dead and being munched upon by a cute tar-black kitty, which unfortunately made a break for it as I approached. Oddly enough, try as I might, I couldn’t roll the snake over to take a better look at (and maybe picture of) it… Whatever I did, it invariably flopped back onto its back… It wasn’t too long, about 50cm in length, give or take, and 2cm or so at its widest point.

And no, no clue what type of snake it is.

Floppy

While you’re waiting for the coming posts, check out the first instalment of the awesome bullet-time-esque results of a very cool experiment undertaken by the one and only Trey Ratcliff.

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