An evening at Mullayangiri

Mullayangiri is a part of the Baba Budangiri Range, known for its rich biodiversity and geological significance. With an altitude of 6,330 feet, it is the highest peak in the state and among the highest peaks in South India.

Over the years, Mullayangiri has attracted trekkers, nature lovers, and adventure seekers. I have trekked these ranges before and was excited to be back here. The challenging trek to the summit offers breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. This time, however, we had planned a leisure trip and decided to just hire a car to take us up straight to the peak.

After a five-hour journey, we arrived in Chikmagalur at around 3 pm. The road trip from Bangalore to Chikmagalur is a picturesque route, offering a delightful voyage through the scenic landscapes of Karnataka. Although we have traversed the NH75 on several occasions, this time we opted for a different route. Departing from Bengaluru, we followed the NH48 to Tumkur. From there, our route continued until Sira, where we took a left turn onto NH69. Passing through Kadur, we transitioned to NH173, ultimately reaching our destination.

The distance between Bangalore and Chikmagalur spans approximately 280 kilometers. The road conditions are generally favorable, especially on NH48, ensuring a smooth and well-maintained highway. However, it’s worth noting that some sections of NH69 may have occasional potholes, so a cautious approach to driving is recommended.

Just before entering Chikmagalur, we stopped at this veg restaurant called Aramane Veg Restaurant. My crusty dosa was served with an array of chutneys and the quintessential sambar.

From the moment you take your first bite of a crispy dosa or savor the aroma of sambar wafting through the air, you embark on a culinary adventure that captures the essence of South India.


Chikmagalur is a charming hill station nestled in the Western Ghats of Karnataka. As we approached the town, we were surrounded by the lush greenery of the Western Ghats. The landscapes, dotted with hills, valleys, and waterfalls, attract nature lovers and photographers. The hill station enjoys a pleasant climate throughout the year, making it an attractive getaway for those seeking a break from the hustle and bustle of city life.

After checking in at the Robusta Inn, we booked a cab with a little help from the hotel desk.

Ratnagiri Bore

The mountain is located in the Chikmagalur district, about 19 km from the town of Chikmagalur. The driver on his own took us first to a small resort-like place called Mahatma Gandhi Park, a beautifully maintained garden that is placed on the backdrop of the Mullayangiri.

Mahatma Gandhi Park or Ratnagiri Bore which is located on the northern part of Chikmagalur is a beautifully maintained garden and is placed on the backdrop of the Mullayangiri. The park is quite big with a musical fountain and a train ride.

This beautifully maintained garden is spread across many acres. The site has a small hillock surrounded by well-laid-out gardens, fountains, well-designed pathways and green lawns. The place looks very scenic, with the hills at the backdrop and full of ornamental plants and vibrant flowers. There are also several vendors selling local produce of coffee and pickles.

From the Ratnagiri Bore, we drove on towards Mullayangiri Peak. There are several sharp curves as we enter into the mountainous territory. The driver stopped for a moment at a beautiful viewpoint along the road.

The driver dropped us off near the parking lot from where there are about 500 steps to the peak.

The summit of Mullayangiri offers panoramic views of the surrounding Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, which is visible on a clear day. Mullayangiri is also known for its rich biodiversity, and hikers can spot a variety of birds and animals along the way, including the endangered Lion-tailed Macaque and the Great Indian Hornbill but not on this route. To get that experience you have to trek through the wild.

There is a small curved pole meant to be the starting point of the climb. You can get some beverages or drinks here. Unfortunately, this is also the reason for the accumulation of plastic garbage around the area. Why cannot people be a little responsible towards nature?

Narrow steps take you up to the peak towards Mullappa Swami Temple.

The Mullayangiri Peak has religious significance as well, with a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located at the summit. It is believed that Lord Shiva himself had meditated here, and the peak is considered to be sacred by the local people.

Mullayyana giri Nandi Mantapa

To the south of the temple lies a small bare-bones structure with a small statue of Nandi bull.

We sat there on a boulder near the Nandi enjoying the gentle breeze. It had been a tiring ride and it felt very relaxing.

The sun was almost about to set so, we started walking downhill.

After reaching the Hotel, we went out on the street hunting for a nice place to dine. Mani found this place called: Khansamaa Restaurant (non-veg) which was just a couple of minutes away from our hotel. It had good ratings and the food didn’t disappoint. If you are in Chikmagalur, do visit this restaurant. After a wonderful meal, we loitered around the place. This place is the center of the town and hosts several eateries and cafes.

The Dazzling White Temple: Wat Rong Khun

Nestled in the serene landscape of Chiang Rai, Thailand, Wat Rong Khun, commonly known as the White Temple, is a contemporary Buddhist temple. The temple’s design is unique and striking, featuring an intricate structure covered in white plaster and adorned with pieces of mirrored glass. This reflects the sun’s rays, creating a dazzling effect that symbolizes the purity and wisdom of Buddha.

The temple was designed and built under the visionary guidance of renowned Thai artist and architect Chalermchai Kositpipat and is proof of his artistic brilliance. Chalermchai’s vision has not merely bestowed upon the local residents a place of worship but has also transformed it into a sought-after tourist destination.

The white temple had been on my radar since the time a fellow photographer posted some pictures on 500px several years ago. When my dream of visiting Thailand was finally becoming a reality, there was no way I would miss this opportunity to visit one of the most iconic complex in all of Thailand.

Wat Rong Khun is not just a religious site but a masterpiece that has captivated the hearts of visitors worldwide. Chalermchai has been successful in creating a temple that not only serves as a place of worship but also as a work of art that transcends cultural and religious boundaries. Tourism in Thailand is seen as a way to increase the country’s reputation in the world. as a source of national pride and a modern symbol of the nation, the temple has now become an iconic landmark within the province and, to a significant extent, across the entire country.

The temple opens to the public after 8 am but since it is not hidden behind any enclosure, if you wish to observe the temple sans the crowds, you can come anytime in the early morning. There is a small shopping arcade nearby where you can wait for the temple to open over a fresh glass of fruit juice. The outer premises of the temple is decorated with statues of demons and other supernatural beings, manga characters, as well as depictions of several action heroes like Venom and Predator.

Even common signages like a No-smoking sign have been tackled in a creative way making them part of the architectural design of the temple.

Brief history of White Temple

Before we go into the intricacies of the temple it is important to know the name behind this masterpiece. Chalermchai Kositpipat was born in Chiang Rai. He is a renowned contemporary Thai artist and the visionary behind the iconic Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple. His artistic journey has left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape of Thailand, blending traditional Thai artistry with modern expressions.

Built in the 1950s, Wat Rong Khun initially stood as one among numerous small village temples in Thailand. By the 1990s, this four-decades-old temple required extensive repairs. The dining hall and grand gate underwent reconstruction, supervised by Phra Khru Chakhriyanuyut, who also introduced a herbal sauna for the rehabilitation of drug addicts. Nevertheless, the main structure, known as the bot or ubosot, also demanded restoration, as it had become unsuitable for religious worship.

In 1996, the decision was made to demolish the old bot or ubosot to pave the way for a new hall. Regrettably, a year later, the financial crisis of 1997 gripped the entirety of Thailand. Faced with economic hardships, the villagers lacked the resources to contribute to the reconstruction efforts, resulting in the abandonment of the project and leaving them without a bot. Given that Rong Khun is his hometown, Chalermchai, determined to lend a helping hand, took charge of the situation.

In the late 1990s, he embarked on the ambitious project of transforming the decaying Wat Rong Khun into a masterpiece that stands as a symbol of Thai culture and spirituality. Wat Rong Khun is not only a place of worship, but also a symbol of Ajarn Chalermchai’s vision of a “new art form” in which traditional Buddhist teachings are blended with modern ideas and images.

The construction of the new temple was undeniably a monumental undertaking, unparalleled in scale across Thailand. The initial temple occupied 4 rai, equivalent to 6400 m2, a typical size for a village temple. However, Chalermchai’s expansive vision surpassed this modest scale, necessitating additional space. To accommodate his grand design, surrounding rice paddies were procured and integrated into the temple grounds. Consequently, the temple now spans 10 rai and 100 square wa, equivalent to 16400 m2, making it notably larger in comparison to other village temples in Thailand.

The construction of Wat Rong Khun began in 1997 and most of it was ready by 2008 when it was opened to the public. The temple is a testament to his artistic genius, featuring intricate handcrafted details, stunning architecture, and a fusion of Buddhist symbolism with contemporary themes. Kositpipat, however, has an even mega plan for the site. Once finished, the complex of the White Temple will comprise nine structures, incorporating the current ubosot, a relics hall, a meditation hall, an art gallery, and residential spaces for monks. By the time of writing this article, the project has cost him more than $30 million of his own money. If all goes well, the temple should be finished by 2070.

White Temple

The temple ground is rectangular, with a walkway as its main east-west axis. The ground is then divided into three sections, two on the southern side of the walkway and one on its northern side. The temple currently has nine main buildings, three in each section and some other minor ones. These three main sections are the Karawat, the Sanghawat and the Buddhawat. The Karawat is the section for the laity, with a shop, a bathroom and a preaching hall. The Sanghawat, the section for the monks, has the crematorium, the kuti or the residence for the monks, and a hall of contemplation. The Buddhawat is the section for the Buddha, where we find the bot, the pavilion of relics and the pavilion of images.


The Buddhawat occupies the entire northern expanse of the temple, separated from the Karawat and the Shangawat by a white picket fence. Within this section, three principal structures – the bot, the pavilion of relics, and the pavilion of images are aligned in a straight formation, with two bridges interspersed between them. This arrangement is complemented by various auxiliary constructions, forming an intricate and ornamentally adorned ensemble. The Buddhawat features an array of embellishments, including fountains, water pools, freestanding statues, meticulously tended trees, and bridges one situated in front of the bot and another linking the pavilion of images and the pavilion of relics along with other decorative elements.

The bridge of “the cycle of rebirth”

Once we crossed the gate into the Buddhawat, we were directed towards a path leading to the “bridge of rebirth.” It is the most iconic feature of Wat Rong Khun, which leads to the main temple. The “Bridge of the Cycle of Rebirth,” is a long, white, and narrow bridge that stretches over a small pond. It is covered in intricate designs and symbols, including depictions of demons and other figures from Buddhist and Hindu mythology.

Before reaching the bridge, however, the visitors need to walk over Mara’s mouth, in which you can find hundreds of hands as well as a few feet and faces of people damned to hell. These hands and feet are close to the visitors, making this a physical and graphic journey through hell. This section of the temple attracts a lot of attention.

The bridge represents the journey from the cycle of birth and death to the path of enlightenment. The hands reaching up from the depths of hell symbolize the struggle to overcome worldly desires, while the heavenly figures on the other side signify the attainment of spiritual liberation. The bridge serves as a symbol of the journey from the material world to the spiritual world, and the process of attaining enlightenment.

The demons are meant to represent the obstacles one must overcome in order to attain enlightenment. The white color of the temple symbolizes the purity of the Buddha and the glass and mirror decorations are meant to represent the Buddha’s wisdom and the reflections of the visitors.

After traversing the representation of hell, visitors encounter two stylized demons, positioned on either side of the Bridge of Rebirth. While statues of demons are commonly seen in Thai temples, the ones at Wat Rong Khun differ significantly from the more conventional depictions typically found in expansive, traditional Thai temple grounds. The demons here at Wat Rong Khun bear a closer resemblance to characters found in graphic novels rather than adhering to the conventional styles of traditional Thai art.

Visitors must cross the Sukhawadee Bridge to enter the temple, representing the transition from the material world to the spiritual world. As they walk on the bridge, they pass by the statue of demons and other figures, which serves as a reminder of the negative qualities and obstacles that one must overcome in order to achieve enlightenment.

Gate of Heaven

Upon crossing the bridge, visitors reach the “gate of heaven,” protected by two creatures symbolizing Death and Rahu, determining the fate of the deceased. In front of the ubosot, numerous meditative Buddha images are displayed.

Below the gate, you can find a cute little pond with Koi fishes swimming in the clear transparent waters.

A statue of a Kinnaree is located just before the main hall of the temple. The statue is depicted with a serene expression and is holding a lotus flower, which is a symbol of spiritual purity and enlightenment. This statue serves as a reminder of the beauty and grace that can be attained through spiritual practice.

A Kinnaree is a mythical creature that is typically depicted as a half-human, half-bird being. In Thai Buddhism, the Kinnaree is associated with beauty, grace, and spiritual purity. The Kinnaree is often depicted in art and architecture, particularly in temples, as a symbol of the spiritual journey and the attainment of enlightenment.

In addition to the statues, the Kinnaree is also depicted in various other forms of art and decoration throughout the temple, such as in the murals and frescoes. This serves as a reminder of the importance of art and culture in Buddhism, and how it can be used to convey spiritual messages.


As I followed the only path available, I crossed the enchanting Bridge of Rebirth, finding myself standing in awe before the most captivating structure on the temple grounds – the Ubosot (main hall). The leaf-like patterns at the top of the bridge unfolded a story of Mount Meru, while the fountain-like structures beneath, nestled in the pool, mirrored the embracing mountain range.

My eyes were drawn to the four flame-like structures at the corners of the bot, each adorned with small human figures symbolizing the Buddha’s early disciples. As I gazed up at the pinnacle of the bot, the roof finials took on the shapes of stylized animals, gracefully representing the four elements: fire, water, air, and earth. The intricate details painted a vivid narrative, making my journey through Wat Rong Khun an immersive and personal experience.

The temple is also adorned with pieces of glass and mirrors, which reflect the sunlight and give the temple a shimmering appearance. The main hall of the temple, known as the “Ubosot,” features a statue of the Buddha made of black glass and gold leaf.

The Ubosot is a large, all-white building that serves as the center of the temple complex. It is the place where the main altar is located and where ceremonies and rituals are held. The Ubosot is adorned with intricate details and symbols, including depictions of demons and other figures from Buddhist and Hindu mythology. You will have to carry your shoes in your hand while entering the Ubosot.

The main attraction of the Ubosot is the statue of the Buddha made of black glass and gold leaf. The statue sits in the center of the hall and is surrounded by other statues and sculptures. Photography is not allowed inside. The statue is a representation of the Buddha’s teachings and serves as a reminder of the path to enlightenment.

A large mural in front of the statue depicts the struggle between Buddha and the demon Mara. It represents the final conflict of Lord Buddha’s own demon before he attained enlightenment. The eyes of the demon have George Bush and Bin Laden painted in the pupil area. When asked about these depiction, Ajarn Chalermchai had responded that it was to caution both as violence hurts entire humanity.

The Ubosot also features several other statues and sculptures, including statues of the Hindu god Ganesha and the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. These statues serve as a reminder of the universality of spiritual teachings and the importance of transcending cultural boundaries in the pursuit of enlightenment.

Once you come out of the Ubosot, you can find a small enclosure that seats about three people at a time. Here you can get back into your shoes.

From here you can continue on the circumambulatory passage going around the temple hall. On both sides of the main hall, there are beautiful depictions of Buddha sitting inside a lotus.

Just behind the main hall lies the Buddha Relics Tower. But it was closed at the time of my visit

In addition to the demon head and multi-armed statue, the Wat Rong Khun also features other monster idols such as a giant serpent and a demon emerging from the ground. These statues serve as a reminder of the dangers and obstacles that can arise on the path to enlightenment, and that one must always be vigilant in order to overcome them.

To come out of the temple you have to come out through this southern gate.

The exit gate features two of the most beautifully designed dragons.

Coming out of the main temple you will find yourself in front of another beautifully designed golden building. It is a restroom. Of course, when everything else is following the same pattern why not the restroom as well?

Just beside the restroom, there is an intricately decorated walkway that leads to the farther areas of the temple.

As we walked through the walkway, on the right we could see certain areas of the temple that were undergoing renovation.

When this area is finished, it will lead the visitors directly to the Buddhist Tower connected by a small bridge known as the Sukhawadee Bridge.

Buddhist Tower

Belfry at Wat Rong Khun

Dhamma Garden

Ganesha Temple

One of the most prominent symbols is the statue of Ganesha, the Hindu god of wisdom, knowledge and new beginnings.

Ganesha is often depicted as a figure with an elephant head and a human body. He is known for his intelligence and his ability to remove obstacles, making him a popular figure in Hinduism and Buddhism. Ganesha is often invoked at the beginning of any new venture or undertaking as a symbol of good luck and success.

At the Wat Rong Khun, the statue of Ganesha is placed prominently at the entrance of the temple. It serves as a reminder to visitors to approach their spiritual journey with wisdom and knowledge and to be open to new beginnings. The statue also serves as a reminder that obstacles may arise on the path to enlightenment, but with the guidance of Ganesha, one can overcome them.

The statue of Ganesha at Wat Rong Khun is also unique in its design as it is fused with traditional Thai art and culture. It showcases the blending of different cultures and religions, and how they can coexist in harmony. The statue symbolizes the universality of spiritual teachings and the importance of transcending cultural boundaries in the pursuit of enlightenment.

Wat Rong Khun has become a major tourist attraction, drawing visitors from around the globe to Chiang Rai. The unique blend of traditional Thai spirituality and contemporary artistry has created a cultural landmark that transcends the boundaries of religious affiliations. The temple has not only contributed to the local economy but has also elevated Chiang Rai’s status as a must-visit destination in Thailand.

The temple’s popularity has led to increased tourism, benefiting local businesses and creating employment opportunities. Additionally, the revenue generated from entrance fees and donations is often reinvested into the maintenance and restoration of the temple, ensuring its continued splendor for future generations.

However, Wat Rong Khun has also been the subject of controversy and criticism. Some have criticized the temple for its commercialization and the inclusion of non-Buddhist elements in its design. Others have raised concerns about the temple’s environmental impact, as it was built on a rice field and required the excavation of a large area of land. Some also criticized the temple for its lack of religious significance, as it is primarily used as an art exhibit.

Despite the criticism, Wat Rong Khun continues to be a major tourist attraction and a symbol of Ajarn Chalermchai’s unique vision. The temple’s intricate and striking design, combined with its message of peace and unity, make it a worthwhile destination for those interested in Buddhism, art, and architecture. The temple is a reflection of the artist’s creativity, originality, and his passion for conveying the Buddhist teachings in a modern way. Wat Rong Khun is a thought-provoking and inspiring place that challenges traditional notions of Buddhism and art.

After thoroughly explorig the Wat Rong Khun, we walked into the Karawat gift shop. Unlike the usual gift shops associated with temples, especially those attracting tourists, Karawat breaks away from the norm. Instead of the typical religious-themed merchandise like amulets, Buddha statues, or Buddhism-related literature, this gift shop stands out by offering printed reproductions of the artist’s paintings, multiple biographies about him, as well as t-shirts and postcards featuring images of the temple itself.

What caught my attention was the absence of conventional Buddhist teachings and religious paraphernalia that are commonly found in gift shops at other temples. Positioned between a museum gift shop, showcasing art reproductions and coffee table books, and a typical tourist attraction gift shop with various t-shirts, caps, keychains, and trinkets, Wat Rong Khun’s gift shop is truly distinctive. It provides a unique opportunity to purchase printed copies of Chalermchai’s original works, adding an artistic flair to the temple visit. I myself purchased a canvas painting for my study room.

My heartfelt gratitude to each one of you who took the time to read through my article. If you liked it, please leave me a comment. If there are areas where you think I can enhance the storytelling, I would greatly appreciate your feedback.

Apricot blooms in Ladakh

Ladakh is a magical place known for its gorgeous mountains, crystal-clear lakes, and rich cultural traditions. This is my second visit to the land of passes. This time Mani and I came a month early to capture the Apricot Blossom Festival in Ladakh that celebrates the region’s natural beauty and cultural heritage. The festival takes place in April when the trees start blooming, covering the hills and valleys in a blanket of pink and white.

Very less people know that they also host the Apricot Blossom Festival. You might have heard of Japan’s Cherry Blossom Festival, but what about the apricot one in Ladakh? Apricot was first introduced when Ladakh was a famous Silk route and this event was organized to celebrate such exclusive beauty of nature. Organized across various places in Ladakh, the festival is held in collaboration with the local communities to make tourism more eco-friendly and to find ways for local people to benefit from the event.

Apricot blooms refer to the beautiful and delicate flowers that blossom on apricot trees during the spring season. These blooms are known for their pale pink to white petals and are a stunning sight when they blanket apricot orchards in a sea of soft colors. Apricot trees typically produce these blossoms before they bear fruit, making them a welcome sign of the changing seasons and the promise of a fruitful harvest to come. Enjoying apricot blooms in Ladakh is a delightful experience, as the region’s landscape is transformed into a sea of pink and white during the blooming season.

Apricots, called “Chuli/Halmann” in Ladakhi, were brought to the dry area of Ladakh by Chinese traders who passed through the area along the Silk Road more than a hundred years ago. Now, in the 21st century, the fruit is an integral part of Ladakh’s culture, history, and economy. Due to its cold climate, Ladakh is a great place to grow apricots and apples.

Apricot trees thrive in cooler climates, with an average maximum temperature of 18-19 degrees Celsius during the crop-growing season. These trees go dormant during severe winters and bloom in the spring. Another vital climatic factor is aridity, as drier conditions lead to higher-quality apricots.

It usually takes five to six years for the fruiting of the apricot plant. Typically, the fruit ripens in Ladakh in July, August and September. The productive life of an apricot tree is 80-100 years. So, while it takes five years for the fruit to come, you will get quality fruits on an apricot tree for a long time. On average, a tree produces about 30-50 kg of apricots every year.

The flowering of apricot trees is not only visually pleasing but also plays a crucial role in the pollination process, as it attracts bees and other pollinators, ensuring the development of apricot fruit. Apricot blooms are celebrated in various cultures and have even inspired festivals in regions where apricot cultivation is prominent.

The event celebrates the delicate pink flowers which come into full bloom throughout Ladakh’s two districts – Leh and Kargil. The flowers, just like the Japanese Sakura, do not last long and thus attract huge numbers of tourists when they bloom.

Vibrant cultural programmes, local handicraft stalls and Ladakhi food are generally part of this festival. Visitors are also able to enjoy locally produced items such as apricot jam, dried apricots, apricot wine, and other products made using the fruit.

This year’s festival, the theme of which is Chuli Mentok 2023, offers visitors the chance to stock up on locally made goods, including apricot jellies, dried fruit, juices, and even wine. The festival includes various activities, such as traditional music and dance performances, local food and craft exhibitions, and guided tours of the apricot orchards. The festival is also a great place to buy handicrafts made in the area, which is always a fun part of the Apricot Blossom Festival.

Researchers have also found that the sweetness of apricots increases with the rise in altitude.

If you are fond of apricot you might also know about apricot blossom flower from which blooms the apricot. The season for apricot blossom flower in Ladakh is from the beginning of April till May. Apricot blossom has the charisma to catch the attention of your eyes.

By the month of July – September they start producing yellow, orange rounded or oval-shaped apricot fruits. The oil extracted from the Raktsey Karpo seed is used for edible purposes either in pure form or mixed with walnut oil. A spoonful of oil is mixed with finely ground roasted barley flour, salted tea, and sugar to prepare a local dish called Phemar which is served during festive occasions.

There are varieties of apricots grown in Ladakh that differ from one another in taste (sweet, bitter and sour) and that also differ in size. The varieties include Halman, Laktse-Karpo, Safaida and Khanteh etc. Halman and Laktse-Karpo are the most preferred ones for commercial purposes. Apricot products such as apricot juice, apricot jam, apricot etc. are made. The apricots are even exported in the international market as well as within India.

Both the fruit and kernel of apricot are believed to be highly nutritive and consumed as either fresh or dried. It has become an essential part of the traditional culture of people in Ladakh. Local people serve dry or fresh apricots as dessert. It also has health benefits.

Rakstep Karpo is a unique variant of Apricot that consuming only in Ladakh. That is why locals celebrate the day as Apricot Blossom Festival. The Ladakhi apricot Raktsey Karpo received its first-ever Geographical Indication (GI) in 2022. This highly sought-after GI tag accreditation is granted for 20 years. Along with nine other items, Raktsey Karpo Apricot has recently been registered in the GI tag lists. Despite growing more than thirty different varieties of apricots, the Raktsey Karpo variety is exclusive to the Ladakh region. This unique apricot type from Ladakh is unparalleled in flavour and vibrant with white Kernel. Raktsey Karpo variety is primarily concentrated in and around Sham, Leh, Nubra and Kargil.

We did not visit Nubra this time but I hear it is renowned for its apricot orchards. The entire valley is a sight to behold during the blooming season. Consider staying in a local homestay in a village like Diskit or Hunder. This not only provides an authentic experience but also allows you to be closer to the orchards.

Raktsey Karpo is also rich in sorbitol – a natural glucose substitute that can be consumed by diabetics. And that’s not all. The oil from its seed is known to relieve back aches and joint pain!

Ladakh is one of the most popular places for tourist destinations and tourists can also celebrate the festivals of Apricot blossom. As a part of the festival, visitors can enjoy the local cultural programs, and different exhibitions and experience apricot trees blossoming. Moreover, they can purchase the products of apricots as a souvenir.

Remember that Ladakh is a high-altitude region, so it’s important to acclimatize properly, stay hydrated, and take precautions for altitude sickness.

Thanks for reading. Please leave your comments if you enjoyed my story or follow me on my journey as we visit the Kargil War Memorial to pay respect at the memorial dedicated to the martyred soldiers.

What is the best time to see the Apricot Blossom Festival?

When: April 4 to 17, 2023
Where: Lhardo (April 4), Saspol (April 5), Udmaroo (April 10), Garkone (April 8), Sumoor (April 11), Hardass/Shilichiy (April 16), Karkitchoo/Chanigound (April 17)

Namgyal Tsemo

Mani and I were back in Leh. After a memorable experience in 2018, we had been thinking about going back to the “land of high passes” for some time. The tourist season in Ladakh starts around early May. This time, to escape the crowds, we came a month early in April itself. As we deplaned, the air was brisker and the Sun was softer. After settling in at the Hotel Kesaar Palace, which I totally recommend, we set out to revisit the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa.

The Namgyal Tsemo Monastery, also known as Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, is perched atop a hill overlooking the charming town of Leh. “Namgyal” translates to “victorious” in Tibetan, while “Tsemo” means “red hill.” It forms a part of the Leh palace complex and is maintained by monks from the Sankar Gompa.

When you meet locals in Leh, it is rewarding to wave, smile, and say “joo-lay”

Nestled amidst the awe-inspiring landscapes of the Himalayas, Leh, the capital of Ladakh, stands as a testament to the region’s rich cultural heritage and historical significance. Among its many treasures, the Namgyal Tsemo Monastery holds a special place, offering a glimpse into the vibrant history and spiritual essence of the area.

King Tashi Namgyal

Built in 1430 CE by King Tashi Namgyal, the founder of the Namgyal dynasty, the monastery serves as a historical repository, offering a window into the past of this remote region. The Namgyal Tsemo is a testament to the flourishing cultural and artistic expressions of the time, as well as a reflection of the king’s commitment to Buddhism.

King Tashi Namgyal was a prominent historical figure in the region of Ladakh. He was the founder of the Namgyal dynasty, which ruled Ladakh for several centuries. He is credited with unifying the fragmented regions of Ladakh and establishing a stable and organized administration. His reign marked a significant period of political consolidation and cultural development. This monastery not only served as a place of worship but also as a symbol of his dynasty’s rule.

The typical ascent route to the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa is from the Leh Palace road near the entrance to the Leh Palace. However, we had booked a cab for the day and he drove us right to the top of the hill and drpped us off at the entrance of the gompa.

The skies were sunny and blue as we walked up the stairs of the gompa. Indide the monastery one can find a large collection of scriptures, murals, and artifacts that offer insights into the spiritual practices and artistic achievements of Ladakh’s people. The intricate thangkas, vibrant murals, and meticulously handwritten manuscripts speak volumes about the dedication of the artisans and the reverence for Buddhist teachings. The monastery also hosts a three-story high solid gold idol of Maitreya Buddha.

Because we were ahead of the tourist season, the halls of the monastery were closed.

Even without the ancient artifacts, you can still enjoy the amazing view. The environment around Namgyal Tsemo Gompa looks very attractive surrounded by snowcapped peaks of the Zanskar range. The city, with towering edifices of granite and gravel mountains encompassing them, look frail and inconsequential.

Beyond its artistic treasures, Namgyal Tsemo Monastery is a living testament to the resilience of Ladakh’s people. Throughout its history, the region faced numerous challenges, including political upheavals and environmental adversities. The monastery’s continued existence amidst these challenges echoes the unwavering determination of the Ladakhi people to preserve their heritage and way of life.

Namgyal Tsemo also plays a crucial role in the spiritual life of the locals. The monastery serves as a place of worship, meditation, and reflection, offering an escape from the demands of daily life. The panoramic views from the monastery’s vantage point further enhance its spiritual ambiance, providing a sense of elevation both physically and spiritually.

In recent times, with increased tourism to Ladakh, Namgyal Tsemo Monastery has gained much recognition. Visitors from around the world are drawn not only to its historical significance but also to the ethereal beauty of its surroundings.

Views from the summit are spectacular – the town of Leh and the Indus Valley lies to the north and west at the foot of the hill. The smaller hill of the Shanti Stupa lies across town to the north. Leh rests in the “Trans-Himalayan” region of India — dividing the India Great Himalayan Range in the west from the Tibetan plateau to the east. Two smaller ranges surround the valley and are visible as distant snow-covered giants — the Ladakh Range to the east and the Zanskar range to the west.

We sat there for some time in silence watching the snowfall slowly engulf the far away mountains. It is exciting that such exquisite beauty can emerge from such simplicity. Even though the gomoa is ond if the mist important landmarks of the city of Leh, very few tourists visit the heritage site on a regular day. As we lay there, a breathtaking spectacle unfolded over the majestic Himalayas.

Leh is surrounded by some of the world’s most spectacular landscapes. The town is nestled amidst the mighty Himalayas and the Karakoram Range, offering awe-inspiring views of snow-capped peaks, deep valleys, and serene lakes. The faraway mountains are generally veiled in thick snow. The town’s high altitude lends a rarefied quality to the air and offers panoramic views that are unlike those found in most other places. The clear skies and vibrant colors of the landscape add to the allure. It offers photographers a treasure trove of subjects, from stunning landscapes to intricate architecture and vibrant cultural celebrations.

Thanks for reading! Please leave your comments if you enjoyed my story or follow me on my journey as I visit the Stok Monastery on the outskirts of Leh.

Sunset at Lake Shinji

Lake Shinji is a brackish water lake in the northeast area of the Shimane Prefecture in Japan. It is the seventh-largest in Japan, with a circumference of around 48 kilometers. The lake is enclosed by the Shimane Peninsula to the north, and the Izumo and Matsue plains to the west and east respectively.

We were staying in the city of Nara. From this western city, we were traveling all the way to Izumo for a short tour of the heritage city. The plan was to stop for a break at Lake Shinji and enjoy the beautiful sunset, which is very popular for.

Getting to Matsue from Nara

In the early morning, I and my wife, Mani, caught the local train from Nara to Osaka. From Shin-Osaka Station, we took the Shinkansen to Okayama and from there we switched to the Yakumo 16 Limited Express bound for Matsue. The total time for the ride was about 4 hours. Since we were carrying our JR Passes, the full ride didn’t cost us anything.

Please note JR Passes are not entertained on Nozomi and Mizuho Shinkansen trains.

The ride to Matsue of course is something to talk about in itself. The train ride passes through deep forests and countless rivers, nestled in the mountains. In between, we would stop at small stations surrounded by a handful of cute houses.

For many of the Japanese too, this land of untouched beauty remains hidden, its charms, traditions, and secrets only known to the few who make the journey across the mountains, taking one far away, down through the ages to a deep, spiritual world of myth and folklore.

After traveling along the beautiful Shimane countryside for a good part of the day, we reached Matsue Station at around 4 pm. During winter, it gets dark quite soon. It seemed a bit tight but we quickly stored our luggage in a locker at the station and caught a local to the Nogi Station.

From there we literally ran to the edge of the lake. If you love walking, you can also walk to the lake, but we were a little short of time, so we chose to take the train.

By the time we reached the lake, the Sun was just about to set. Hurriedly we walked to the sunset point from where it is the most beautiful to catch the dying rays of the sun over the lake. The view-point is marked on Google Maps, so a quick search will guide you to the exact place.

Lake Shinji

Lake Shinji is connected to the Sea of Japan via Nakaumi Lagoon. This causes the lake to have higher salinity than freshwater, but not as much as seawater. This results in an abundance of aquatic life, such as whitebait, eel, sea bass, and the most famous Lake Shinji delicacy, the Shijimi clam. The Shijini shellfish are caught using a “joren“, a tool unique to Lake Shinji, which is made up of a basket tethered to a rake. The shellfish is often referred to as one of the ‘Shiji-ko Shitchin‘, the “Seven Delicacies of Lake Shinji.”

Origins of Lake Shinji

The lake is assumed to have been formed about 10,000 years ago. The birth of present-day Lake Shinji was a major event in the history of the Izumo region. In the ancient book “Izumo-no-Kuni Fudoki,” written around 1200 years back, referred to the western bay as “Kando-no-mizumi” and the eastern part was mentioned as the Shinji Lake.

According to paleontologists, fluvial deposits from the Hii River may have literally cut off the sea from the Shinji Lake. Fed by numerous streams from the surrounding mountains, water from Shinji began to flow eastward to Nakaumi Bay. However, over a period of centuries, the rising water levels in the east, reversed the direction of flow thus transforming it into a brackish-water lake.

Yomegashima Island

The Sun had already set behind the mountains. The beauty of the clouds, sky, and lake together has been a subject of fascination for many literary artists over the years. If you didn’t know already, Lake Shinji was chosen as one of the best 100 sunset points of Japan.

The small island you see in the middle of the lake is known as Yomegashima. Back in the 8th century when the Chronicles of Ancient Izumo was being compiled, it used to be called “Snake Island,” the reasons for which I am not sure of.

Stretching 110 meters east to west and 30 meters across, the island near the southeast bank of the lake and looks like a round slab of land that floats on the surface of the water. If you are able to zoom into the image above, you will be able to see a Torii among the pine trees. Being a sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Benten, the sacred Torii gate sits at one extremity of the island.

Myths of Lake Shinji

There is a myth attached to this island in the middle of the lake. It is said that a young bride was married off to a cruel family across the lake, and unable to bear their abuse, she decided to run away and go back home. In her hurry, she took a short cut across the lake that had frozen on the surface, but just as she was close enough to see the lights of her home village, the thin ice broke and she fell in and drowned in the icy waters. The gods took pity on her that they made the island spring forth in her honor. Hence, it is also called “Bride Island.”

The only time you can set foot on this island is in October when local guides can take you there explaining the legendary aspects of the island to visitors. You can take your time to wander about its 240-meter circumference.

If you are in Matsue in October, don’t miss the perfect silhouette of the Yomegashima island against the backdrop of the sunset once it is illuminated at night.

In the old times, the locals were a bit worried that the island might be lost to the waves of the lake and so the island has been protected by rows of Jodei-ishi, designed by Kobayashi Jodei (1753-1813), a famous craftsman of the Matsue domain in the Edo period when Matsue was actively ruled by the Lord Matsudaira Fumai. Kimachi stone was used in creating theses Jodei-ishi, which is still taken today from the Kimachi area of southern Matsue to carve into lanterns are other such decorative items.

Kimachi stone is a special sandstone that is made up of volcanic ash and sand that had hardened over time. It is specifically found in the Matsue city’s Kimachi district near Shinji lake. The stone has a certain softness that helps in carving it more easily to create intricate details from the stone. Since the Meiji era, the stone works made from kimachi stone have been regarded as a necessity in landscape gardening, interior decoration, and other stone works throughout Japan.

Jizo Statues at Lake Shinji

After capturing a few shots of the Yomegashima Island, we walked further north towards a place where a couple of Jizo statues have been installed beside the lakefront promenade. The Sun was already down and it had begun to get cold very quickly.

As we neared our next destination, we could see some of the locals were gathered at its side basking in the beautiful evening. The larger Jizo statue on the left is made of Kimachi stone and is called “Sodeshi Jizo“, and the smaller one is made of Mikage stone and is called “Sekkai Jizo“. If you look closely, you can immediately notice the difference in detailing between the two different stone types. This pair of Jizo statues by the shore of the lake is almost as iconic as Yomegashima itself in Matsue’s famous sunset scenery.

The Jizo is a deity fondly loved by Japanese people. You will find Jizo statues mostly in Buddhist temples and graveyards. Sometimes you can also spot them standing at the side of the road in the countryside or at the corner of some streets in the cities. The statues in alignment with the Yomegashima island make for a wonderful composition.

It is believed that Jizo protects the souls of unborn babies and children who have passed away. In Japanese beliefs, it is thought that the soul of children who die before their parents, consequently bring suffering to their parents and cannot cross the river to the afterlife.

The Jodei-ishi that surrounds and protects Yomegashima were also placed around the Sodeshi Jizo to protect the base of the statue from the waves of the lake. As the natural lights dimmed out, the lights from the castle town of Matsue started to shine. By this time it was really cold. Some of the locals who had come to view the sunset were starting to disperse,

Within a few minutes, the daylight was totally gone. I got one last shot of the island in the middle of the lake before we started to walk to Matsue Station. I recall it was quite difficult to manage the buttons of the camera with the gloves on. I sure was glad we had bought a pack of kairo (hand warmers) from a local Daiso store in Nara just a day before we set off for Matsue.

The roadside lights had come on throwing a gentle yellow light over the promenade. Almost everyone had left by that time. The waves on the lake had also picked up some energy riding on the windy breeze. I zipped up my jacket and packed up my camera gear, all set for the walk to Matsue Station.

On the way, we passed the Matsue Art Museum which was obviously closed by then, but the illuminations were still on. There is lots to explore at the museum as well, but maybe some other time. On the way back to the Station, I guess I made a wrong turn and got us lost for a few minutes. With a little help from Maps, we were back on track in no time.

Once we reached Matsue Station, we caught the next express train to Izumoshi Station. The express train only takes about half an hour to reach Izumoshi Station compared to the local, which might cost you around an hour. I was a bit tired from the long travel and looking forward to a hot bath once I reached the Hotel.

What makes Lake Shinji particularly famous is its sunset view. There are many viewing spots around the lake, including the grounds of the Shimane Art Museum, or along the lakefront promenade. You can also enjoy the view from the lake on a pleasure boat, Hakucho for a sunset cruise.

Thanks for reading! From tomorrow we begin our exploration of Izumo, once considered to be the realm of the Gods, with a visit to the Izumo Taisha Shrine. Please leave a comment if you liked my story or need any information regarding traveling to Shimane. If you would like to connect, you can also follow me on Instagram.

How big is Lake Shinji?

Lake Shinji is the seventh largest lake in Japan with a circumference of 48 kilometres

What is the best time to visit Lake Shinji

Lake Shinji is most popular for its sunset views. If you visit in October you will have the extra advantage of seeing the island in the center of the lake as its illuminated towards the evening.

The Nio Guardians of Japan

During my recent visits to Japanese Buddhist temples, I have been fascinated by the two fierce-looking Nio protectors guarding the gates at each one of them. These pair of protectors, one on either side of the entrance, are diverse in styles, but each of them with their bare-chested bodies rippling with muscles, fierce visages, and brandishing weapons, seem violent and threatening.

These Nio guardians are named, each after a particular cosmic sound. If you look closely at these mythical shrine protectors, you will notice that one of them has its mouth open while the other has its mouth closed. The open-mouth figure is commonly placed to the right of the temple and is known as Agyo, who is uttering the sound “ah,” meaning birth. Its closed-mouth partner generally stands to the left of the temple and is called Ungyo, pronouncing the sound “un” meaning death. The closed-mouth Nio is supposed to stop the evil from entering the temple while the open-mouth Nio welcomes the good spirits inside.

Origins of Nio

Buddhism began in India, and then became part of Chinese culture. Around 550 AD it was introduced into Japan via Korea. This non-native religion gradually became an important part of Japanese culture during the Nara period (710-790 AD), especially among the aristocracy.

The Nio guardians were introduced to Japan around the 8th century. The oldest standing statues of the two, date back to 711 AD, located at Horyuji Temple ( 法隆寺) in Nara.

The Nio guardians are said to originate from Hindu deities who were adopted by the Japanese into Buddhist teachings. In Buddhism they are regarded as protectors against evil spirits. The Nio’s fierce and threatening appearance is said to ward off evil spirits and keep the temple grounds free of demons. The most famous Nio in Japan can be found at the entrance gate of Todaiji Temple (東大寺) in Nara. These 26-feet-tall statues were made in 1203 AD, reportedly under the direction of the famous sculptors Unkei and Kaikei.

At Shinto shrines, however, the Nio guardians are replaced with a pair of Koma-Inu (Shishi Lion-Dogs) or with two foxes. These mythical shrine guardians are also depicted with similar postures – one mouth open, one closed.

Legends & Myths

The word Nio itself is said to mean “Benevolent Kings” and in some Japanese historical accounts, they were said to have followed and protected Buddha on his travels throughout India. Being an Indian, though I haven’t read anything along these lines in Indian historical records.

According to another Japanese mythology, there once was a king who had two wives. His first wife bore a thousand children who all decided to become monks and follow the Buddha’s law. His second wife had only two sons. The youngest was named Non-o and helped his monk brothers with their worship. The eldest, Kongo Rikishi (金剛力士), however, had a much more aggressive personality. He vowed to protect the Buddha and his worshipers by fighting against evil and ignorance.

Kongo Rikishi is considered to be the first of the heavenly kings, called Nio. Within the generally pacifist traditions of Buddhism, stories of Nio guardians like Kongo Rikishi justified the use of physical force to protect the cherished values and beliefs against evil. Many fragments of the Japanese mythology are unmistakably Indian. Kongo Rikishi, according to Japanese conception used to ride a mythical creature called Karura, very similar to Garuda, the magical bird from Ramayana in Indian mythology. Garuda is said to be the mount of the Lord Vishnu.

Conceived as a pair, the Nio complement each other. In other records the Nio are also referred to as Misshaku Kongo & Naeren Kongo. Misshaku Kongo, representing power in action, bares his teeth and raises his fist in action, while Naeren Kongo, representing potential might, holds his mouth tightly closed and waits with both arms tensed but lowered. In some ways they remind me how the Indian gods, Shiva & Vishnu, compliment each other. What is another hint of Indian influence is that Naeren sounds very much like Narayan in Sanskrit, which in Hindu mythology refers to Vishnu. My wife, Mani has done a thorough research on the connection between Indian Gods and Japanese mythology. Jump to this link if that interests you.

Nio Guardians Features

The features of the Nio guardians have been skillfully exaggerated by artists. Bulging muscles in their huge chests and arms communicate power. Their drapery always depicted as swirling around them like a dragon engulfing its prey. The exaggerated depiction continues in their extended jaws, and facial expressions. The Nio’s bulging eyes, furrowed brows, flaring nostrils, and distorted grimaces bring their faces to life. Their hair, flying in the wind, pulled tightly into topknots, adds to their imposing height.

How the Nio sculptures were created

The vast majority of Nio are made out of wood and are usually housed in their own gate houses to protect them from the weather.The Nio guardians were created by a joined woodblock carving technique called Yosegi. Hinoki, or Japanese cypress, a wood that ages remarkably well, was used. Each Nio is created from many pieces of wood pegged together with iron clamps and nails. This allowed the artists to create monumental figures with dynamic poses. The seams along the joints were covered with fabric or paper. The surface was then covered with layers of Gesso, (baked seashells and water) and black lacquer. Note that not all Nio sculptures are painted. The ones that are, have immense details such as the pupils of the eyes and the decorative pattern on the drapery.

Nio Guardians at Todai-ji, Nara

Todai-ji was built in the eighth century by imperial order in the ancient capital city of Nara, as a symbol of Japan’s emergence as an important center for Buddhist culture. The complex includes a huge bronze statue of a seated Buddha, housed inside the Daibutsen, claimed to be the world’s largest wooden building. The Nio at this temple were erected after parts of the temple were destroyed by warring clans in the 12th century.

Many art historians regard the two sculptures at Todai-ji, as the greatest works of two of Japan’s greatest sculptors, Unkei and Kaikei. They are impressive for their size and the technological hurdles that their 13th-century creators had to overcome. They were carved during the Kamakura Period (1192-1333) Each statue is over eight meters tall and weighs close to seven tons. Recently the Nio sculptures were repaired at a cost of 19 million yen ($187,500).

The Agyo Nio Guardian at Todai-ji

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The Agyo Nio Guardian at Todai-ji welcomes the good spirits inside the temple

Nio Guardians of Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, Tochigi

Agyo Nio Guardian

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Agyo Nio Guardian at Niomon Gate of Toshogu Shrine

Nio Guardians of Fudarakusanji Temple in Nachi, Wakayama

Agyo Nio Guardian at Fudarakusan-ji Temple

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The Agyo Nio Guardian welcoming the good spirits

Nio Guardians of Senso-ji, Tokyo

Agyo Nio Guardian at Sensoji Temple

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Agyo Nio Guardian at Senso-ji Temple

Nio Guardians of Yakushi-ji, Nara

Ungyo Nio Statue at Yakushi-ji

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Ungyo Nio Statue at Yakushi-ji

It was an interesting week for me researching through the history of Nio Guardians. I hope you find it interesting too. Leave your comments below and let me know if there is something I missed.

Flipside Sport 20L AW

I have been using the Flipside Sport 20L AW for the past few months now and its a good time to list the pros and cons of this camera bag from LowerPro.  I have to credit my bro for getting me this from the States since at that time this bag was not available in India. *It still isn’t at the time of writing this review. So how did I find the ultimate camera back-pack, read on…

In my search for the right bag, spanning almost a year, I came across various different types and brands of sling bags and backpacks. The available ones were either too small or had very less pockets to fit everything or in most cases were bulky like a suitcase. If something eventually fit my space needs then I would be disappointed with the material quality and the dull black color. I wanted something that provided ample space but was also smart and cool.

How to choose your Camera Bag

Naturally what worked for me may not work for you. It totally depends on the gear one wants to be carrying to the field at one go. It would be helpful if I list the gear I typically carry with me on a trek or travel.

  • Nikon D7100 with attached 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6
  • A Polariser and a few ND Filters
  • A Speed Flash
  • Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G Prime Lens
  • Nikkor 10-24mm Lens
  • Spare Battery, some extra SD cards and other accessories
  • Tripod
  • 2 liter hydration reservoir

In spite of going over and over various brands, I didn’t get what I was really looking for. In my searches, I did like the Tilopa BC from F-Stop but they were very expensive and a touch larger than I would be comfortable carrying on day treks. The bag I wished for was something in which I could carry my DSLR camera, a couple of lenses and a remote flash along with a few small accessories. It shouldn’t look overpowering when lets say, I was on the street or in a garden, shooting.

Eventually one day in the course of researching in November 2014, I chanced upon a YouTube video featuring the release of this new LowerPro camera bag at some exhibition. It was love at first sight as this bag ticked all my requirements. I had been following the Flipside Sport 15L AW. It was my best option up-till that point. The only reason I didn’t get that one is the lack of pockets for small accessories. I loved the Orange variant, there is another available in Blue. I immediately asked my brother to get the new Flipside Sport 20L AW from Amazon US. He was going to come to Kolkata for a visit during the fall and he brought it along in December.

I had to however wait for another couple of months to get my hands on it. The wait was killing. Eventually one of his friends brought it back with him to Bangalore. Having it in my hand was a cloud-nine experience. The color was beautiful and the texture was pleasantly smooth, unlike any bags I have felt before. The first thing I did once I got back home was to re-do the compartments inside so all my stuff fit snugly inside.

The Flipside Sport 20L AW is a on-the-go access camera day-pack that easily fit all my pro-sumer gear. I would say it’s essentially built for photographers in pursuit of active adventures like treks or hiking. It might feel a bit bulky for street photography.

Lowepro’s Flipside backpacks are unique in that the main compartment opens from the back. The body-side access design offers quick access to gear when the backpack can be rotated to front. So, whenever I need to change a lens, I just swing the pack around on one shoulder, unzip the compartment and viola!

Apart from the ease of lens changing, the back opening also saves my stuff from being thieved in a busy bus ride or on the streets since my camera compartment cannot be accessed while I am wearing it.

The inside of the Flipside Sport 20L AW contains a removable, adjustable camera compartment with a storm-flap closure that provides customizable space for my gear. I can easily change the layout of the compartments to suit what I am carrying for that particular trek. It also offers water-resistant protection. The camera compartment can also be totally removed and the bag used just as a regular day-pack.

The perforated, breathable padding in the shoulder straps with air channels offers cozy comfort to my back and shoulders. The pack also has one large, flat, interior pocket, suitable for a note pad or thin accessories. I generally store my ND filters here. With strong padding, it offers good protection to the glass filters.

The latest LowerPro bags have been using a unique tripod holder system on the side. I find it extremely helpful while trekking since it holds it securely and stops it from bouncing around. The hydration-ready pocket offers easy-access to a 1.5 liter hydration reservoir although I have been able to fit in a 2 liter bag. The front of the pack has trekking pole attachments points.

The built-in waterproof rain-cover in a hidden bottom pocket protects gear from rain, snow, dust and sand. I applaud the move towards lightweight, resilient and high-performance fabrics constructed of 210D triple-ripstop nylon with PU coating. It does away with a good amount of weight previous generation hiking and camera packs used to have. The PU coating also adds durability to the fabric.

Pros of the Flipside Sport 20L AW :

  • It’s Orange. Love the color!
  • It looks cool, not bulky like I’m wearing a suitcase on my back
  • Tripod carrier on the side.
  • Unique access to my gear. I no longer need to take my backpack off to get to my stuff. I just remove the shoulder straps, leaving the waist belt on and spin the pack around so it’s in front of me, then I unzip the back panel, exposing all my stuff. Because I change my lens inside the bag, the insides of the camera also gets less exposed to dust.
  • The hydration pack takes a whole less space than a similar volume bottle
  • Strong shoulder straps, chest strap and hip stabilizers.
  • Lots of nice little pockets in the front & nooks on the straps
  • Two separate rain covers, one for the entire bag, one more to cover the storage compartment
  • I like that you can remove the whole camera storage assembly and use the backpack as a regular day pack if you want.

Cons of the Flipside Sport 20L AW:

  • For one, I miss some more space to throw in a second set of clothes when I am on a 2-3 day mini treks. I think I will get the Tilopa BC from F-Stop for that


Overall its a good bag and I see it becoming one of the popular bags among adventure photographers. The price is similar to other bags in the same volume range so some bags might become obsolete like the Lowepro LP36423PWW Flipside Sport 10L Backpack. The price might be a factor in the Indian market. I assume it will sell for around ₹ 12-15k. Since I got it from US, it cost me only ₹ 6k. Sometimes I do wonder why we third world countries actually end up paying much more for stuff than the first-worlders.
My Flipside Sport 20L AW has been a constant companion through thick and thin. I leave you with some places it has been..

My EVDO Wireless USB from BSNL

I got my BSNL EVDO 3G wireless USB eventually after 2 months of application time. The gadget itself(AC8700), from ZTE is pretty cool. They offered me an unlimited downloads package for Rs.750 a month with all India roaming(except Mumbai & Delhi). BSNL is the only telecom operator which is truly providing Unlimited Data Plans in this category. I am not really thrilled with their max speed of upto 150kbps (at home) that I currently get, but its still better than the other available options.

What is EVDO?

EVDO is the 3G service developed for CDMA by QUALCOMM. EVDO (also spelled EV-DO) stands for Evolution-Data Optimized. One of the main attraction of EVDO is it’s promise to deliver high speed connectivity on the move. But unfortunately, since BSNL’s EVDO service is still in early stages here in India, we need to wait a lot before we can enjoy the luxury of the fully fledged EVDO internet service. The good news is BSNL is continuously working on upgrading their towers with BTS(Base Terminal Station). A single BTS is capable of covering up to an radius of 5 to 7 Kilometers of even more. For EVDO to work properly, each tower needs to have its own BTS. The nearest tower near my place is Bhagajatin which is nearly 1-2 kms away. I believe with more towers the speeds will certainly increase.

BSNL EVDOHow do I apply for a BSNL EVDO Broadband Connection?

Visit the main BSNL office in your area to get EVDO connection and apply got an EV-DO connection. They are most of the time short of Hardware, so it will take some time before you can buy one. If you already have a BSNL service (landline or post paid mobile), you just need to fill out a form. If you don’t have an existing service, you will need to give an address proof document also/either (photo copy of your passport, election id card, driving license etc.). The verification took a day after which I was called to the office and issued the EVDO card with a RUIM sim that enables me to use the Internet facilities almost all over India.

Why is my EVDO Internet access speed so slow?

If you are very near a tower but still experience slower downloads it might be due to absence of Edge. EVDO connects on 2 different technologies. one is EDGE and other is CDMA x 1, if the tower which you are connecting has edge enabled then you will be getting 2.4 mbps but if there is no edge tower then it will work on CDMA which is 144 kbps.

What are the costs?

The USB cost me around Rs.3000(including Rs.600 activation fee). They were also providing one Static IP for the fixed monthly charge of Rs. 150 per month. I went for a Rs.750 Unlimited monthly plan. They also have a cheaper Rs.199 a month plan with 500 Mb limit.

Using RSS Graffiti with WordPress for a no fuss social connectivity

I installed RSS Graffiti on my Facebook apps today. It is an amazing Facebook application that takes the fuss out of keeping my Facebook friends and fans updated with the latest news from my blog. It periodically checks the RSS/Atom feeds that I specify and posts any new entries it finds to my Facebook Wall. If you are a blogger, this is one quick & easy way to drive traffic to your blog.

Here’s a quick walk-through, how to add your WordPress feed to RSS Graffiti on Facebook:

  1. Search for “RSS Graffiti” in Facebook Applications
  2. The first step in installing an application onto your Facebook page is to go to that application. In the search results. Simply click on RSS Graffiti to begin the process of installing the application on your Facebook page.
  3. Below the icon in the upper left-hand corner is a button that reads “Go to Application”. Simply click on the button to start the installation process.
  4. You will need to authorize RSS Graffiti to access your Facebook page. You do this by clicking on the authorization button highlighted in the picture. This will result in a pop up message box that confirms you are granting permission. Once you have confirmed that RSS Graffiti has permission to access your page, you will need to grant it permission to allow constant authorization and permission to publish on your Facebook page. Once you have granted RSS Graffiti these permissions, you are ready to begin setting it up to automatically post your RSS feed to your Facebook page.
  5. Set up the individual RSS feed you would like to install on your page (see hints below). I have Mani also posting on my blog so I used just my individual author feed, so her posts don’t cross-post on my Facebook wall. If you are the only poster just draw the main blog feed.How to add your feed in RSS Graffiti on Facebook
  6. You are set. RSS Graffiti. You can also add other feeds later. The simple dashboard gives you a fair picture of how many articles it has posted on Facebook and when it last checked your blog feed etc. There is also a refresh link to force-check your feed right then.RSS Graffiti dashboard

RSS Graffiti is a really wonderful potential tool for social networking. If you found the article useful please share your comments below.