Sonnar Winter

Snow from winter 17-18 is quickly melting away under April sun. Here are couple photos taken in Helsinki, when spring was still a distant dream. Photos were taken with an old pre-war Sonnar lens, adapted to modern Sony camera. Lens was originally designed for Tenax II film cameras. These cameras were half frame type, so from standard 36 exposure film roll you got about 50 frames with square 24x24mm format. My Sonnar is converted to Leica thread mount, and then adapted to Sony, so its in quite different environment than its designers originally intended it for.


Central railway station.

The 40mm focal length of Sonnar on an APS-C body becomes equivalent of 60mm, about the same as original half frame film. Judging the comments of Sonnar affectionados of www, Sonnar lenses, especially the older ones, had a distinct “Sonnar look” that is something to sought for.


Another angle of three blacksmiths statue (ref. first shot).


Central cathedral. Helsinki was often used as a backdrop in Hollywood spy movies, back when iron curtain curtailed any filming in places such as Moscow and Leningrad.


Sanoma building, my workplace during the winter.


Uncoated lens flares easily e.g. from car head lights.


Hotelli Torni is famous old hotel in Helsinki center.


Sonnar wide open at f2, edge sharpness of this 80+ year old lens is not the best.


Porvoo is idyllic old wooden town, an hour drive to east from Helsinki.


Few shots are from Seinäjoki town in western Finland.


Sonnar 40mm lens optical block. None of the photos here were cropped (couple were straightened). B&W conversion was made with SilverEfex Pro 2 software. Read more about Tenax II cameras, link here and here.

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South India: Kerala, Cape Comorin, Madurai

Journal entry of traveling southern India in winter ’11-12 (Reblog with more images).

January — Crossed border of Tamil Nandu state, and arrived to Cape Comorin. Kanyakumari, as locals call the cape, is the most southern tip of Indian subcontinent. There are couple of temples and large statue of Thiruvalluvar, a celebrated Tamil poet, is standing on an island. This is the only place in India to see both sun rise from sea, and landing back there at dusk. Lot of tourists visit it also for this special feat.


Statue of Thiruvalluvar was built 1999.

Kerala was an interesting experience. One of the curiosities that caught my eye was the Communist posters and ads everywhere. Arriving north, I stopped first in Kannur, then Calicut, neither didn’t offer much to see. After arriving Kochi thought its the same story, but it turned out to be best visit in Kerala.


Gone fishing. Chinese fishing nets in background in Kochi.

Kochi is complex of islands, archipelagos and backwaters. Town in continent side is called Ernakulam, that’s also where bus and train stations are. Old Fort Kochi is next to the beach and Chinese fishing nets and provide interesting sights to explore and photograph.


Munnar, a picturesque hill region is famous for tea plantations.


Exploring Kochi backwaters.

Kathakali is dance performance particular to Kerala. It is storytelling by dance and gestures. Actors are men only, and do roles of women as well. They are covered in strong makeup and elaborate costumes, careful preparations before performances is part of show. Stories are ancient Kerala’s and south Indian folklore, mixed with legends from Hinduism. Shows are arranged frequently in Kochi for travellers to see. @ Kanyakumari


Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple in Trivandrum. Read fascinating history about this place: link.

February — Arrived to Madurai couple days ago to see its famous temples. Minakshi Sundareshvara Temple is in the center of the city. The complex is just as ancient as it is enormous. Spirituality and sounds from rites pulse through the thick stone walls. Temple itself is inside the several high walled perimeters, and there are numerous side shrines for various Hindu deities. Visitor can come across big elephant, or small mouse running at sides of corridor. And anything in between! @ Madurai


Photos from Meenakshi Temple in Madurai.

India in Miniature: Varanasi

Journal entry of visit to Varanasi, spring 2012. (Reblog with more images)

Varanasi is said to be first places on earth where light-bulb of human civilisation lit up. It is contemporary with cities such as Babylon, Niniveh and Thebes. While these civilisations have long since disappeared, Varanasi has been continuously inhabited during all this time, 3-4000 years. Travel guides describe Varanasi as India in miniature. Its good and not so good features, all compressed into one place. Colourful pilgrimages from all around the vast country, worshipping and purifying themselves in the holy river Ganges. But also, herds of tourists, touts, beggars and drug dealers. And not forgetting numerous cows, buffaloes, dogs, monkeys, and other tail-waggers.

March 17 — First day in Varanasi has been incredible, the place overwhelms even after several months in India and its hard to spare superlatives describing it. After dusty sweaty day; dusk surrounds the river, old town, ghats (washing and purification platforms), and all the life that goes on. As orange disk descends behind the buildings, sparrows race lower air, haze blurs the purplish horizon. Another day in the eternal city has come to an end, night ceremonies are awaiting to be started.

My night train from Siliguri (at foothill of Himalayas and Darjeeling) arrived well ahead of schedule. I was lucky to wake up around 1.15am when train motion stopped. Stepped outside my cabin to ask how many stations still to go for Varanasi, and thats actually where my train was standing! A miracle that didn’t forget anything in my cabin, while rushing out of train half asleep and unprepared. Finding accommodation at that time is another story, waiting morning at the station simply wasn’t an option. Local travelers had already camped the floor space, benches and everything. I was also surrounded by hotel touts and tuk-tuk driveres that seem to wait in the station at all hours. Circling around the station for a while, finally gave up to one of drivers who took me to hostel owned by his pal. Anyway, even just one day here, easy to see this is going to be one of highlights of my trip! @ Varanasi


OMG.

March 21 — Varanasi is an ancient maze of buildings, labyrinth of corridors, usually not more than 2-meters wide, full of people, scooters, cows, dogs, chicken, monkeys… After leaving the river front, it can reveal nice surprises like restaurants and shops. Knowing that river is never far away helps with fear of getting lost. Found a nice restaurant that serves personal South Indian favorite, Masala Dosa. Here in North its not so common, been missing it!

Varanasi is for Hindus what Mecca is for Muslims. Legends say it was found by Shiva, supreme God of Hinduism. One should visit least once in a lifetime, and to die here, will release a devout Hindu from the cycle of rebirth. Funerals are taking place in two cremation ghats by the river. Body of deceased and his/her relatives arrive to funeral from all around India. Carrying bodies (wrapped in cloth) to cremation site is yet another surprise unaware traveller can come across here. When cremation fires have burned, ashes are spread to Ganges. Not everyone needs purifying fire in their funeral though. Bodies of children and pregnant women are considered pure and can be buried to river without cremation! Praying and purifying rituals are ongoing by the river throughout the day, but main event is the sunrise around 6-7am.

Ganges water isn’t warm, noticed it last night when washing my feet and sandal after stepping in a darkness to a “mine” dropped by a passing cow. This morning, woke up at early to see sunrise, and while walking to ghats, cheerful young dog joined me. Spotting nice view by the river, left my camera bag on ground and started taking photos. When finished, saw my camera bag was promptly “marked”, and dog disappeared. So another wash at the cool waters was needed. Hindu’s consider every drop of Ganges holy. Pilgrimers fill bottles from the river before starting journey back home. Saw often people washing themselves, including washing their teeth in it. @ Varanasi


Prayer rituals at night time are spectacle of their own.


Ganges makes a long curve, and ghats are situated so that pilgrims face directly towards east where sun is coming at morning. Its easy to see why location was chosen for the prayer site all those millennias ago.

Rajasthan — India’s West

Visiting Golden and Blue City in Thar Desert, spring 2012. (Reblog with more images and information)

April 8 — Rajasthan sun is merciless. Hot dry breath of wind blows over the dunes and through the ancient desert town. Am in India’s western border. Jaisalmer used to be trade post between east and west, until sea trade replaced camel caravans. After independence and partitioning of India, 1947, Indian-Pakistani border closed much of the regional trade as well. Name Golden City comes from yellow sand stone that is building material for majority of buildings.


Jaisalmer Fort.

My guesthouse arrange camel safaris to the desert. Decided to go with a traveling pal I met in the train. Seemed then like a great idea then. Now am wondering how on earth am going to survive, when even the shade of town seems too much. After washing, clothes are dry after two hours of hanging. @ Jaisalmer


Visit to desert.

April 10 — Back from desert! Air is exhausting from 9am to 5pm and temperature hangs over and under 40 Celsius. At evening winds get cooler and night air is almost chilling. I slept outside in open desert. Its exhilarating feeling, lying in bed and gazing up to bottomless silent night sky. Stars shine as bright as they possibly can. All sounds are natures own: camel munching grass, fire rattling in campfire, night bird cocooing somewhere in darkness. At first its hard to catch a sleep, but eventually the inevitable happens… @ Jaisalmer


Mehrangarh fort.

April 14 — Continued my journey to Jodhpur, the Blue City. Weather here has been nice relief after Jaisalmer. It has rained every afternoon. Yesterday night winds were strong and thunderstorms did show of drum and light over the Mehrangarh fort. Fortification stands on a cliff, and city has grown around it. Houses are colorful and have more variety than in Jaisalmer. Areas in old town are painted blue, from which city has gotten its name. Tradition originates from cast divisions that dictated who were living where.


Rich merchants used to show off their wealth, by building their homes extravagantly. They are called Havelis in Jaisalmer.


Zenana Deodi. The inner courtyard of Mehrangarh fort was once guarded by eunuchs. This is where the Maharaja’s wives lived.

Fort is definitely worth visiting. Audio guides were excellent, and place is fascinating adventure to history both in and outside. Marwars of Jodhpur had semi-autonomous status during reign of Mughal centuries (1526–1857). Wild desert region and proud warriors living here proved too much for even mighty Mughals to repress entirely.

Sati and Jauhar Traditions of Rajasthan

While walking by the big entrance gate of Jodhpur castle, I noticed curious hand insignia’s carved by the gate wall. They were painted in red and had decoration of fresh flowers on them. This is a shrine for widows of Maharajahs that had committed a Sati (seti, suttee), a self immolation.

Sati was practiced among aristocrats, and was at the time accepted practice in Hindu religion. Michael Edwards, British India 1772-1947:

… In 1780, the deceased Raja of Marwar was joined in death by sixty-four wives. A Sikh prince of the Punjab took with him ten wives and no less than three hundred concubines

Jauhar had to do with harsh reality of desert life: isolated communities living where marauding armies could (and did) appear out of nowhere and without warning. Jauhar, for men meant fighting and dying a certain death in hands of enemy. These events repeated several times during the history of Rajasthan. British banned immolations in 1829 and later independent India continued the work. Sati Prevention Act from 1987 makes it criminal to aiding, abetting, and even glorifying the act of Sati.

Coincidentally, years later learned another angle about the topic. This time in a museum in Iran:

Paintings … include the scene of a banquet in Persian and Indian style in which the wedding ceremony of Reza Qoli Mirza, son of Nader Shah and an Indian princess is shown. Another part of the picture is “Seti” ritual in which some Indian princesses commit suicide by being burnt with the corpse of their deceased husbands and this is regarded as a sign of their intense love.

Aside the fact that such ritual was also known in Iran, during the rule of Shah Abbas the second an event happened which connected this ritual with Kandahar conquest episode. Probably the significance of the event for the Safavid culture system caused its illustration upon a Chehelsotoon wall.

One of the most important historical events during the reign of Shah Abbas the second was re-conquest of Kandahar by Iranian army from Indian Gurkanis (Mughals) in 1655 AD. As a story goes twenty days after the beginning of Kandahar siege by Iranian troops, one of the high ranked Rajas of Indian Gurkanis by the name of Matrodas … passed away suddenly. His distressed wife decided to observe the Seti ritual according to her ancient religion. Therefore, she adorned herself with various jewellery and got ready to set herself on fire. Afterwards she took her husbands body and went toward the fire accompanied by her relatives. At this time, Dolat Khan, governor of Kandahar tried to change her mind by giving advice but she remained silent and reluctant. When Dolat Khan and his attendants found out that she is very determined in her cause, they allowed her to go on. At this time the woman began taking off her jewellery on her way and throwing them toward the crowd. After reaching the destination she sat down and embraced the head of her husband. By this time, her relatives had brought a pile of firewood and after putting it around the dead man and the bereaved woman, had set it on fire. Rajput Hindus of the time believed that the words of anybody who was committing suicide in this way was trustworthy and would come true doubtlessly. Therefore, Dolat Khan sent a man to ask the dying woman whether the kind of India would dispatch any reinforcements to break Kandahar siege and whether the Qezelbash army would return to Iranian court empty handed?

The woman answered: “No reinforcement is on its way from Indian king, therefore the victorious Iranian army will conquer the castle in forty days. But about India it must be said that after eleven years a great languor will occur all over the land.”

At this point the woman was not able to talk anymore because the flames consumed her entirely. After this event the messenger of Dolat Khan told him what he had heard which made the governor and his attendants quite disappointed. After forty days her forecast came true and the Iranian army entered Kandahar.

Shah Abbas the second became very impressed by this story so he ordered the depication of it on the walls of Chehelsotoon in order to pay his respects to that courageous woman.


Cannon in Mehrangarh fort museum.

Tazara Railway and Victoria Falls

Tazara stands for Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority, originally this 1800 km track was built by Chinese in 1970’s. This journal entry is from my trip from Dar es Salaam to Victoria Falls in autumn 2010. (Reblog with more images)


On the journey somewhere in Tanzania.

September 26 — First day in Dar es Salaam, or “Dar” as locals call it. City is by the sea, there are few restaurants and hotels, but not as much as one could expect from the size of it. This was once center of German East African colony. British annexed it during First World War. Some buildings e.g churches are from that period, although most seem newer. Population is mix of Muslims (city was found by them, and has easy access from Middle East), Christians that came during colonial period, and Indians, also relatively close. Nowadays Chinese seem to grow their presence in this part of world. New cars and motorbikes are Chinese, infrastructure projects also done by them. Dar is biggest city and main port of Tanzania. It’s also industrial center of this otherwise rural country. There are also tourist attractions near by, Zanzibar for example. @ Dar es Salaam, Tanzania


Views from Dar es Salaam harbor and fish market.

September 27 — Managed to find myself way forward from Dar. Solution is Tazara train from Dar to Capiri-Mposhi, near Lusaka in Zambia. From there Victoria Falls should be relatively close. @ Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

October 2 — Tazara is around 1800km track built by Chinese in 1970’s. Chinese letters come by everywhere, in buildings, machines. 40 years ago during cold war, Africa was divided into two sides like rest of the world. Zambia had copper available for world trade, but difficulties delivering it abroad. Mao’s China stepped in to help with African comrades, Tazara railway was largest single foreign-aid project undertaken by China at the time.

Our train left 12 hours late from schedule! At night, we thought there was riot breaking out at the station. People were protesting delays, everyone exhausted and angry of waiting. Heard two possible causes for the ordeal: technical problems with the old train, and politics of two jointly operated railway, between Tanzanians and Zambians. Eventually train got rolling, and has been going steadily ever since. Train is nice way to enjoy views of African countryside, relax, read and just hangout more freely than in sardine can of a bus. @ Train from Dar es Salaam to Capiri-Mposhi


Views along the route.

On every station people were selling fruits and food for the passengers.

October 4 — Our trip has progressed nicely, two full days in train from coast to inland. Irony of long delay in the beginning, was that train could have not arrived better time in early morning. From Lusaka I got nice impression, and would not mind to stay there a while, unless transit didn’t arrange so conveniently. Bus to Livinstone started interestingly, preacher marching in our bus back and forth and waving his bible. He shouted to us about dangers of AIDS, poverty and other things people dislike. Finally after couple hallelujahs he collected alms, thanked and left. Blessed trip indeed! Least from quick glance from bus, Zambia seems more industrious than Tanzania did. Roads are better, houses in good paint and modern equipment in agriculture, machines instead of human and animal labor. Been meeting interesting travelers from USA, Australia, Japan and of course Africa. @ Bus from Lusaka to Livingstone


In Livinstone.

October 5 — Livingstone is small Zambian town at the Victoria Falls, and has managed to turn its tourism revenues in favor for local community. Main street can be seen in 10 mins, but there is basically everything one can ask for: markets, banks, post office, few bars, restaurants etc. Streets are good, road was excellent all the way from Lusaka, town is clean.


Zambian-Zimbabwean border.

Falls themselves are just as stunning as one might expect. Peak of rain season is in April, thats when water masses coming down from cliffs are in their biggest. Rocks are reverberating due to falling water. Now in October it wasn’t bad either, one can go walking to rocky upstream, go swimming in natural pools that river has carved. Some pools are only few steps away from two hundred meter fall, it’s surreal feeling to go swim in them. Falls are by the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, both sides have great views. At the entrance there is statue of Dr.Livingstone, founder of the falls and African explorer, big hero of his time. He eventually died in this town because of Malaria, and buried in England in 1870’s. @ Livingstone

Kilimanjaro Climb Diary

Diary from camps along the climb highest mountain in Africa, autumn 2010. (Reblog with more images)


Crossing Kenyan-Tanzanian border.

Sept 18 — After a ~6 hour bumpy drive from Nairobi, I crossed Kenyan-Tanzanian border and arrived to Arusha. Moshi and Arisha are two towns at the foot of Kilimanjaro mountain. Road was very bumpy and both we and our bags were jumping along the way. While road was bad, views were interesting. Never seen African savanna before. Tomorrow begins my 5 day climb to Kilimanjaro, tallest mountain of the whole continent. @ Arusha, Tanzania


Climb beginning from densely forested foot of the mountain.

Sept 19 — We came in the morning from Arusha and started climbing Machame route which is second hardest way to top. Wish I brought enough clothes with me, temp here in 3000 meters is already close to 0 at night. Most of todays climb was in the rainforest, but first camp is just where forest ends. Track was well maintained, should be doable also in rain season. @ Machame gate to Machame hut


Forested low slopes of mountain.

Sept 20 — Nights up here are really freezing, which probably is not surprise to anyone but me! Second day climbing wise was tougher than first but still manageable. Climb took only 5h today, and we started early so had plenty time once camp was reached. Second camp is in more open ground than previous, more space for tents, but winds are stronger. Had a problem getting sleep previous night, hope this is better. @ Machame hut to Shira hut


Arid lava fields and rocky towers.

Sept 21 — Its 2.30pm and am sitting in my tent after climb today. Route was mix of up and down hills and crossing volcanic valleys. Descending was real pain for knees, 0.5-1 meter jumps all the time. Anyway, it went fine without incident, but my back pack felt heavier than before this trip. Nature is simply beautiful and worth all the trouble. Looking at fantastic volcano moulded valleys, cliff walls and towers makes sometimes feel dizzy and risk of losing balance. @ Shira hut to Barranco hut


Having break and rest in between climbs.

Sept 22 — Today was most exhausting day so far, 8hrs of rising and descending hills surrounding the mountain top. We finally reached Barafu hut from where we start climb to top at midnight. Muscles are protesting, but guess one more day is fine. Kilimanjaro, even from this high elevation at 4600 meters looks majestic and remote, impossible to reach. Views from this camp are best so far! Tomorrow after reaching peak, we have last camp, oh I miss it already! 🙂 @ Barranco hut to Barafu hut


Views at the top, around 6000 meters.

Sept 23 — Kilimanjaro is conquered! We reached Uhuru peak at 5985 meters when sun was rising (~6am), after exhausting climb in a dim moon light. Wind and cold top were merciless! Climb would have been tough for anyone, but scenery was breathtaking: gigantic ice glaciers, valleys and volcanic rock formations, curved horizon with cloud mattress reaching somewhere very far! Mountains peaking through floor of clouds, and this all painted in orange, red and yellow colors of rising sun! During climb some people could not handle the exhaustion, and had to turn back. I never done such a climb before, worst was the feel of sleepiness and dizzy head, from lack of oxygen, so that sense of balance gets numb and prone to errors. All I could do was to take smaller steps, and breath high pace like when running. It seemed to work, so remaining challenge was physical load and cold. After reaching the top and awing the scenes, we descended halfway to Mweka hut for last camp. Trees are already growing on these heights. It will be nice to have shower and shave tomorrow after 5-days 🙂 @ Barafu hut to Mweka hut


Sunrise at altitude where horizon is curved.

Sept 24 — Back from Kilimanjaro, and am staying one night in Mochi. Tomorrow bus to Dar es Salaam starts its way at 7am, but been now used to very early wake ups in mountain. Due to cold it simply was not possible sleep enough. Returning from mountain didn’t have any surprises, legs are still like on fire. Looking back, what would I do different before heading to mountain: 1. Travel agent. I used Kenyan one. Moshi or Arusha have tour operators to choose from. These two towns run climbing business and there is also plenty of accommodation available. I’d come directly here. 2. Gear wise I wasn’t prepared well enough. My boots, jacket and clothes were ok during day time. But at higher, and at night just too cold. 3. Tips. Porters (person carrying items for tourists at Kilimanjaro national park) are paid low salaries by travel companies, and tips from tourists mean a lot for them. I had surprise last day when my tips were protested, and had to go for ATM for some more.


Descend has begun.

A final comment. Yesterday in Mweka hut one porter died due to heart attack probably resulting from carrying heavy loads on high altitudes. Man was 6 years younger than me. Its the darker side of Kilimanjaro tourism, work of a slave like porters call it themselves. Kilimanjaro is natural park, without roads for vehicles or even donkeys. All is carried by people. And so they carry things like sun stools and beer for tourists, and get paid few dollars for this crazy job @ Moshi, Tanzania

Road to Lhasa

Road trip from Kathmandu to Lhasa and visit to Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, winter 2010. Reblog with more images.

Nov 21 — Our bus trip to Tibet started yesterday at 5.30am from Kathmandu, and by noon we had reached the Nepal-China border. Driving serpentine roads on incredibly steep mountain sides was an experience. Road had suffered from land slides during monsoon season, it was usable but very slow at parts. Border checks in Chinese side was something of a reminiscent of a former eastern block and Soviet Union: two baggage x-rays, full hand check on all bags and staring contest with immigration officer. Tibet is special region in China, foreigners need special permit to enter country, and are allowed to travel only in guided groups. Border personnel were especially curious about travel guides, checking them thoroughly. Maps or flags of Tibet and Taiwan, or photos of Buddhist monks could not pass the screening. Monks are only intelligentsia Tibet has, and thus considered a threat to central government in Beijing.


In Debating Courtyard, Lhasa.


Tashi Lhunpo monastery in Xigatse.

After border, there was still good while of driving before day was complete. Chinese built road in Tibetan side was far better than Nepalese. We finally arrived guest house in Nyalam (@3600 meters) around 6.30pm. Accommodation was very basic, outside it was around -5 Celsius and our rooms had no heating. Blankets were plenty and warm. Am having soft spot to such rough and utilitarian accommodation, sleep in isolated mountain village, dogs barking in dim, cold and smoky streets outside. @ bus from Nyalam to Xigatse


Scenery on road to Lhasa.

Nov 22 — Xigatse (@ 3800 meters) is Tibet’s second city after Lhasa, and location of large Buddhist monastery of Tashi Lhunpo. Visit was fascinating experience, Xigatse’s history as religious center dates back least 1000 years, and its been seat of Panchen Lamas almost as long (Panchen Lama is second in rank after Dalai Lama, in Tibetan Buddhism). Nights again, very cold. @ Xigatse


Potala Palace seen in Lhasa downtown.


View from Potala Palace. Cameras were forbidden inside.

Nov 24 — Arrived to Tibetan capital today around 6pm after drive from Gyantse, another small town on our way. Sights during drive across Himalayas have been breath taking all the way from Kathmandu. Scenes look sometimes like from Mars, everything is barren and brown. Topaz blue lakes, undeveloped shores, no sign of habitation anywhere only few yak’s searching for food in distance. Snow copped Himalayas surrounding the horizon in every direction! Summertime valleys are green and lush, different scene witnessed by us.

Lhasa is undergoing rapid development. Railroad to Beijing has been recently completed, and Chinese government is attracting workers and companies with lucrative tax breaks. Over 75% of city population is Chinese. @ Lhasa


Tibetans.

Nov 26 — Two days in Tibetan capital is over, and am only wishing having couple days more. Most of time was used on planned visits to monasteries etc. but there was also little time to just idle and watch the Tibetan life go by. Potala Palace tour was controlled walk through, cameras weren’t allowed inside. But building, rooms and items had original character and feeling in them. Little seem to have changed since Potala was seat of Dalai Lama’s who were ruling the country (current 14th Dalai Lama exiled to Dharamsala, India in 1950’s).


Views from Lhasa.

Tibetans are people with rich and ancient culture. They are positive and strait-forward people, got only good impressions during my visit. Exchanged many smiles, hello’s (tashi delek), and curious looks while walking at streets of Xigatse, Gyantse and Lhasa. My faith is on them. Like so often in history, iron fists cannot hold grip forever. @ Lhasa