Bokor Hill Station

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Bokor hill station was a resort built in the early twenties of last century for the French colonial settlers in Cambodia. It was conveniently located to escape the heat and humidity of the capital Phnom Penh.

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In 9 months 900 lives were lost while building the place. The centerpiece was the grand palace hotel and casino, complemented by shops, a post office (now demolished), a church and the Royal Apartments.

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In the early seventies the place was abandoned as the Khmer rouge took over the area and it remained one of their last strongholds. Now it’s a ghosttown that is covered in clouds for most part of the day.

Bokor Hill station can best be visited by renting a motorbike in Kampot heading west over NH3 then continue the very decripit road (it’s an adventure) uphill.

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The temples of Angkor

Angkor, in Cambodia’s northern province of Siem Reap, is one of the most important archaeological sites of Southeast Asia. A Unesco world heritage site,  it extends over 400 square kilometres and contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. They include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations.

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With over two million visitors each year, what strikes me most is that Angkor can still  give the traveler a true explorer’s feel. Of course taking your time and going well off the main trails helps a lot. I rented a bike for three days to explore the huge area. To get kinda lost and be fully alone amidst ruins peeping from underneath the centuries old trees. immersed in the mystical atmosphere…

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Angkor, the largest religious monument in the world was recently in the news because people regularly lower their pants for nude pictures. They might very well have confused Angkor with the temples of Khajuraho in India, where the sexual practices at the time are depicted rather vividly.

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The hesitant, the absent and the present

‘the hesitant, the absent and the present’ is a collage distilled from a reportage I made on the Sunderban islands in the Bay of Bengal between India and Bangladesh.

A very fascinating world where initially the white sandy beaches seemed to come out of a bounty commercial but very soon, while living with the people in their straw huts, I saw a different reality coming to the front, where struggle was more present even though the persistent genuine friendliness of the people made it very hard to take it in fully.  Coming from the so called ‘rich’ west where people’s happiness often seems to be lingering  a whole notch lower on the scale, ‘being rich’ is a very relative notion indeed.

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‘the hesitant’, a shy boy  very much into cricket and in full admiration of his idol Sachin Tendulkar, a God in India (young version behind the boy)

‘the absent’ was taken at the crucial moment during a community meeting where an important decision for the village had to be taken

I saw the girl in ‘the present’ while hitching a ride on a mule cart while on my way out of the islands. Her presence and empty state of mind struck me deeply and I asked her mother if I could take her picture as soon as the cart would come to a halt.

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The Art of Napping

As far as I’m informed ‘Napping’ is not a city in China but a rather common practice to be witnessed all over the place in India.

Varanasi is a holy city for Hindus on the banks of the river Ganges ; especially reputed to be ideal for leaving this world behind by being burned (born) into the next realm .

The art of napping is being demonstrated widely and wildly sometimes even resembling the pose of a corpse  a little further at the ‘burning ghat’

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Lumbini, birthplace of gautama the buddha

Even though not felt as utterly urgent, Lumbini has been on my list for many years as I had been on a pilgrimage to the most important sites associated with the life of the Buddha in India, but I never made it to Nepal (apart from a quick passage through Kathmandu on my way to Tibet).

Now that I have been Trekking The Annapurna Trail, Lumbini was conveniently on my way out of Nepal and back into India. It’s situated on the grassy plains of southern Nepal and the climate here is pleasantly warm in november. A few months ago it was unbearably hot here as I heard more than a few people utter sighingly.

It was very weird to approach Lumbini by bus as even two hours before the actual arrival sign posts said we were in Lumbini. I was headed for the Korean temple, the only place where non-nationals can reside. And all my encounters with Koreans had been great so there we went, me and the cycle rickshaw driver in the quiet of dusk flanked by trees and the lovely smell of dewy grass.

Even though many rent bikes to explore the huge area I did it all on my two feet the next day. Also to test my brand new real fake comfy walking sandals. Pretty much every buddhist country has a temple and/or monastery here. Even non-buddhist countries like Austria, France and Germany and it has to be said (and who would expect it – not me) the German temple is simply stunning, adorned with the most exquisite art and wall paintings. in-cre-di-ble…

I did not enter the grounds where the actual spot is of Buddha’s birth as it was always flooded with people. just circling around it gave me much more peace and quiet and it was even better to soak in the specail vibe here coming from the legacy of one of the most revered people that ever walked the earth. Even though Kushinagar (the place where he passed away) really moved me much more I gotta say.

Siddharta (prince) Gautama’s life was very much associated with trees. His mother gave birth under a tree, he found enlightenment under the bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, gave his first sermon under a tree in Sarnath. I enjoy photographing the statues of baby buddha surrounded by the trees here.

Lumbini is also the playground for Nepal’s school youth who naturally are more interested in fooling around with each other than connecting with their heritage. but I was no different their age so I willingly play along as once again they wanna go on the photo with me looking at me as if I were a movie star and verily, I realised in the end how annoying is must be  to really be one! So I count my blessings and appreciate how luckyI am to just simply be me…

 

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