Banks Peninsula Trek, Akaroa

A group of us made this 29km  in Akaroa Banks Peninsula 3-day trek , off Christchurch, in April 2018. This trek is on private property and permits only 12 persons a day. Porter service is available. It consists mainly farmland, spectacular cliffs and native forest (with a diverse flora) with the trek meandering mainly along the rugged coastline of the Pacific. It had all the seasons plus fierce winds and rain. Small seal colonies nest on the craggy coast. Bird life is abundant. Even caught sight of a Wood Pigeon. The elements were a challenge but rewarded with ever-changing and fantastic views. Life in the hut is basic but comfortable. Some basic food is available, on an honesty basis. Cooking and resting our weary legs in front of the fireplace was soothing. With good company, it was a wonderful trek taking in remote and isolated southern coast of NZ.

 

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Pingyao Ancient City

From Beijing, we headed to Pingyao Ancient City, a UNESCO listed town, in Shanxi Province by train. The comfortable ride was only marred by the sight of heavily polluted air. As we entered Shanxi Province, the darkened polluted air was clearly visible. Pingyao train station is about 8 km from the old city.

The well preserved Ancient City is enclosed within a Ming and Qing Wall, built in the 12th century. However, Pingyao has been in existence since 600 – 700 BC. Today, most of the buildings had been restored to its former grandeur. The whole walled city is paved with cobbled streets. It is a fascinating place. Unfortunately, the air is laden with thick smog resulting from burning of coal for warmth in winter. Visibility was poor.

We stayed a one of the traditional 400 hundred year old courtyard mansions decorated with ornate carvings and elaborate courtyard. The best mode of travel is by walking. The main street is the busy Ming-Qing Street. There are hundreds of shops selling from food, souvenirs to accommodations. The iconic City Tower is also on this street. Street vendors fins pockets of this street to earn a living.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I met with workers covered in coal dust as they shovelled coal. Their hands callused from the hard work. At another site, an old dilapidated building was being refurbished and remodelled into a hotel. Work here is slow as all was done with manual labour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are several entrances to climb up the onto the fortified wall. Beyond it lies the modern city. Atop this wall, the view of the ancient city is revels it terracotta tiles, cobbled streets and panoramic views from the South Gate. It also provides an opportunity to pry into the daily lives of the residents. After descending from the West Gate, a narrow lane lead to a row of unrestored homes. Grasses and other plants, withered from winter, covered the roof tops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Temples, old merchant’s homes and business premises such as Rishengchang Remittance Bank or Exchange, the City God Temple and several more significant Courtyard homes dot within this walled city. The old city is a great place to wander on foot as most sights a compacted within the walls. On one back streets, I found myself tasting and wandering a vinegar factory. In the evenings, the Ming-Qing Street become lively with dinners. Red lanterns add beauty to this ancient city. Today, a full moon shone a soft glow onto the stone streets. Finally, the locals do put up some of the best Shanxi cuisines.

Portugal photos

This is our journey to Portugal in conjugation with Spain in 2018. We wandered if we wanted to venture into Portugal. We were glad and not disappointed at all with the decision. I loved Portugal. Simply because it is compact, easy to communicate in English and some fascinating places and things to do.

Spain photos

An amazing journey trough Spain in Oct 2017. The Gothic style architecture in Barcelona and its iconic Sagrada de Familia; the time-forgotten terracotta tiled roofs of Albaraccin and Rubeilos de Mora villages; the heartland of Moorish culture of Cordoba, Granada and the remote mountainous white villages of Casares, Grazalema and Arcos de la Frontera and more. To add to this mix is the intoxicating food – paella and the variety of tapas and enriched by the renown art museums. Sangria did go well in the hot days. Eventually to the beautiful Seville and the capital Madrid. Exploring the main streets as well as the backstreets is not only exciting but always discover something new and facilitating.

South India photos

These are pictures of my South India journey through Tamil Nadu and Karnataka states. This was special as it was to trace my roots and re-establish ties with family in Tamil Nadu.

Harbin – 2

The main reason for travel to icy cold Harbin winter is to see the International Ice and Snow Festival held sometime late January till February. It is a magical place. A myriad of structures made from carved ice blocks (possibly sourced from the nearby frozen Songhua River) – from pagodas to castles  and anything imaginable. For added attraction, a multitude of colored lights are fitted within the ice block to give the sculptures and structures life. These ice architecture are not only for viewing but also to be walked and sometimes slide upon. The details on some of these are truly works of art. It must be difficult to get the lights working in these freezing temperatures. There were even reindeer rides!

It is easy to get here by local bus and return afterwards. Just be aware that there are several sites offering some sort of ice show (not the international ice festival). Perhaps get the locals to help you, particularly your accommodation staff. Fortunately for us, the bus route is just off my hostel. Taxi drivers may offer to take you there but you may end up at another park and higher cost.

From dusk onward, when the lights come on, this site becomes a wonderland of fairy tales. However, the cold is very real, minus 25 and dropping! Dress appropriately, in layers. Fortunately, eateries provide  much needed energy and warmth as we plodded from one sculptor to another.

Indoor entertainment  – beauty contest, singing and dancing – also make this festival atmospheric. Long queues, in the cold, for the 100m ice slide diverted me to try ice cycling. It is uniquely Chinese and a lot of fun. It is indeed a unique experience, only made in Harbin , China.

Harbin – 1

We left Beijing by train to Harbin, Hēilóngjiāng Province located in the north-eastern part of China. It is near the Russian border. It is very cold in Beijing, why go further north to even colder weather?  The taxi driver told us today has been the coldest to date this year. Well, we wanted to witness the annual International Snow and Ice Festival held in January and February.

The train station are packed with throngs of people as it is nearing the Spring Festival when the whole country goes on a long holiday – the biggest movement of people for a single event. So, it is best to get there early for screening. We had already pre-purchased all our train tickets.

Once outside Beijing, the scene is rural. Surprisingly, the terrain is flat. Now, I related Leo’s stories about the Mongol’s occupation of Beijing. It was snowing in part and the landscape bleak. Navindd pointed out to coal-powered (perhaps nuclear) power station with its unique towers.

Harbin is neat and obviously very cold. Our hostel was nearby the most famous street, Central Street (Zhōngyāngdàjiē).  A cobble stone pedestrian street now filled with ice and snow sculptures. At night time, they are all lit like Christmas in the park. This long street begins from the banks of the, now frozen, Songhua River. Life is moves at a slower pace than Beijing but much colder.

 

 

 

 

 

Harbin is close to the Russian border (Valdivostok). Hence, there has been a small population of Russians living earlier. The most obvious signs of Russian influence is the beautiful St. Sophia Orthodox Cathedral , now a museum, built in 1907.

 

 

 

 

 

The cold, below 30 degrees was bearable with the appropriate layers of clothing. However, the annoying part is, having to remove all the layers every time we entered a shopping mall, restaurant and even the public bus. It gets very hot as all these places are heated. Protect your cameras in sealed plastic bags to aclimatise

One day we decided to go to an ice park,  by mistake, as we thought we were going to the Ice festival. We ended up at a park outside Harbin. To make to most, we went skiing. None of us had any experience. We suited up with the gear provided and immediately onto the ski field with a guide. The sun had already set. It was freezing. On a long down hill slope, I fell numerous times. With much difficulty, got up only to fall down on the ice again and again. However, on my second run, I was flying down the slope a a great speed. Fearing for my life, I decided to end this free sprite ride, I tumbled onto the ice to stop. After a few unceremonious tumbles, I was relieved. Now with frozen toes and finger, I fumbled into the office. I was unable to get my gear off due to the unbearable cold. However, there were some ice carvings, all light up. That was my skiing experience!

 

 

 

 

 

A great skiing area is Mundajiang, a town few hours out of Harbin towards the Russian border.

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