France 2018, part II

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See France 2018, part I , for the first part of our trip to France. Here is again a map of the places we visited.

In 1976(!), after my graduation, I applied for a position as a physics teacher at a school in Amstelveen. The rector (headmaster) in those days was Dr B.C. Poeder, he interviewed me and decided to give me the job. He retired long ago, but we had become friends and kept in touch. Therefore I knew that he was now living in France, in the region that Aric and I were going to visit.

I wrote to him, and he invited us to stay a few days in his house, in the small village of Robiac, about 50 km north of Nîmes. Take the road via Vézénobres, he suggested.

I had never heard about that village, but we followed his advice and decided to have lunch there . A romantic, medieval village, no cars allowed, we had to park quite far outside the walls

Walking around we were wondering if there was a place to have some food. We were lucky, found a nice shop where they prepared crepes and galettes. I had a glass of cider. Very nice people too.

When we arrived in Robiac, Carel was already waiting for us at the roadside, otherwise we might have missed the small road leading to his house. The nameplate on the letterbox still refers to his past as headmaster :-).

We were warmly welcomed by Carel and Joanne, his wife. The house is part of what before has been a school. The basement, formerly a goat stable, has been transformed in a guest room.

A big garden with many flowers.

Our hosts invited us for a nice dinner in Barjac, a nearby village.

The next day we enjoyed the swimming pool and the hospitality of Carel and Joanne, but also made a trip to a cave, the Grotte de la Salamandre. This cave was discovered in the 60s, access was possible only by abseiling through a hole above the cave! Five years ago the cave was opened to the public after an access tunnel had been excavated from the side of the hill.

You can still rappel down in the original way ( for an extra fee), we chose the tunnel..:-). A guided tour, clear explanations, the stalagmites and stalactites were illuminated with varying colors, some really very bright, but also with normal white light.

A very rewarding experience.

When you click on the left picture below to enlarge it, you can see at the top people who are abseiling from the hole in the roof!

The next day we said goodbye to our hosts and continued our trip. We had decided to follow the Gorges du Tarn, a long but very  scenic route. It is a canyon, 400 to 600 meter deep, eroded by the river Tarn. Spectacular views, like here of the village of Castelbouc, deep down.

The river is a favourite playground for kayakers.

We had lunch in La Malène

We stayed overnight in Millau, our Airbnb was a nice apartment, located in the historic center of the town.

Millau is nowadays known for its viaduct, but it turned out to be a surprisingly attractive town itself. The next morning we climbed the Beffroi, a bell tower consisting of a 12th-century square tower topped by an octagonal 17th-century tower.

It was a steep climb, but the view was worth the effort. The Millau viaduct was of course clearly visible and deep down the Halles, built in 1899.

In the Middle Ages Millau was an important town, especially because of a bridge across the Tarn river, consisting of 17 spans. Nowadays only one span remains with a house built on it, formerly a watermill. Very scenic.  In a nearby cafe we had coffee with a piece of fouace, a cake specialty of Millau.

The Millau viaduct is (at the time of writing) the tallest bridge in the world, with a height of 340 meter above the river Tarn. It is considered one of the great engineering achievements of all time.

The viaduct has become a major tourist attraction. We drove over it and also under it, when you look up at the supporting pylons from the river valley, they look so fragile!

Our next destination was Albi. Here a view of the town with the Sainte Cécile cathedral and the Vieux Pont (Old Bridge) in the foreground. This bridge was originally built in 1035.

We stayed two nights in Albi in a very nice Airbnb , a complete house, a bit outside the historic center, easy parking, with a very friendly hostess, who advised us where to eat where to shop and where to park when we wanted to visit the town center. Airbnb at its best…:-)

The cathedral is an amazing building, constructed between the 13th and 15th century. Those were the days of the Cathar Heresy, and the Roman Catholic church wanted to make a clear statement of strength. What a contrast with for example the Notre Dame in Paris! It looks like a fortress and is claimed to be the largest brick building in the world.

The monumental doorway was added at the end of the 14th century

The austere outside forms a strong contrast with the flamboyant interior.

Next to the cathedral the fortress of the Palais de la Berbie, the Bishops’ Palace, dating to the end of the 13th century

Nowadays it is the Toulouse-Lautrec museum. We had a quick look , I am not really a fan of him..:-)

But the gardens of the Palace are beautiful.

For dinner, our hostess had advised us  restaurant Lautrec in Albi and that was a good choice!

Albi has of course many interesting old houses. The left picture also shows the belltower of the cathedral

Another useful advice of our hostess was to visit the small village of Puycelsi, one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France . There are more than 150 of them…:-)

The weather was a bit grey during our visit, here is a view of the village

We parked our car outside the walls and explored the narrow streets, visited the church and had lunch.

During our trip we had already passed  many sunflower fields, but on our way to Carcassonne we found such a beautiful field that we really had to stop to take pictures..:-)

We visited Lautrec, another of the Most Beautiful Villages of France. The view of Lautrec might look similar to the view of Puyselci, but careful inspection of the two pictures will show you they are not the same…:-)

The weather was beautiful again, that could be the reason that we liked this village better. The walls are still there and the 14th century market square is attractive

We had lunch in a nice restaurant , Le Clos d’Adele. Good food, pleasant service, value for money.

After lunch we visited one of the other attractions of Lautrec, a 17th century windmill. A steep climb, but worth the effort, we could enter the mill and had a nice view of the surroundings. When there is enough wind the mill is still operating.

With Airbnb the host often doesn’t live in  the same building, so you have to contact him/her about your arrival time. That works well in general, but in Carcassonne it took us some time, the apartment also looked more like a hotel room. But it was ok, from our window we could see the medieval fortress in the evening light. But what were those strange yellow surfaces on the walls and towers?

The next day we explored the old town. It  the largest walled city in Europe and really impressive.

Not surprisingly it is a major tourist attraction with crowds of visitors in the narrow streets. We were lucky to find a restaurant with a secluded garden, where we had a nice lunch, again value for money

The name of the restaurant is Le Jardin du Carcasses, it has good reviews

The Church of Saints Nazarius and Celsus was built in its Gothic form at the end of the 13th century on the site of an earlier church. It was the cathedral of Carcassonne until 1803. Beautiful interior. But keep in mind that this church and also the citadel itself have been “renovated” in the 19th century by the French architect Viollet-le-Duc!

Access to the medieval city is free, but to access the fortress and the walls you have to pay an entrance fee.

Carcassonne is  a Unesco World Heritage site already for 20 years and of course that had to be celebrated. The Swiss artist Felice Varini was asked to create a project.

Quoting Wikipedia:

Felice paints on architectural and urban spaces, such as buildings, walls and streets. The paintings are characterized by one vantage point from which the viewer can see the complete painting (usually a simple geometric shape such as circle, square, line), while from other view points the viewer will see ‘broken’ fragmented shapes.”

In this case he projected concentric circles on the walls and towers of the citadel. They look broken, only from one vantage point they are circles. Quite spectacular, of course many specatators, not easy to take a picture without people.

In the evening we came back especially to admire Varini’s work

Our trip was coming to an end, our last destination was the naturist village of Cap d’Agde. On our way we passed this strange landscape, the Étang de Montady, a wetland, drained in the 13th century.

What to say about Cap d’Agde? Here is a picture of the beach, when you enlarge it, you will see that the sunbathers are naked…:-)

Nudist beaches are common in Europe, but Cap d’Agde is a nudist village, where you walk around, have a drink/ food on a terrace, go to the supermarket etc, all in your birthday suit..:-)

We had booked a room (Airbnb) with Bernard and that was a lucky choice, because he had been living there for many years and could tell us the do’s and don’ts. One don’t is that you can not take pictures of other naked people. Another one is that at night, during dinner, you are supposed to be a bit dressed at least…:-)

Bernard had two other guests, Christiane and Alain, a nice couple who had been regular visitors of Cap d’ Agde for many years. We became friends almost immediately…:-) The village itself is a nondescript conglomerate of concrete apartment complexes, but the company made our visit very enjoyable.

The second (also last) night of our stay we were invited to join our new friends to a dinner in a nearby restaurant. There was music, there was drag, and both Aric and I have been dancing! A fun evening and a worthy ending of our trip

It is amazing how much you can do in twelve days. After our return ot Amsterdam we needed several days to recover…:-)

France 2018, part I

When Aric and I visit the Netherlands, we always try to combine it with a short trip to another European country. In 2014 we have visited Norway, and in 2016 Portugal. This time we went to the Languedoc region in Southern France. We wanted to visit the famous “village naturiste” of Cap d’Agde, in combination with some of the numerous historical towns in the region, like Arles, Avignon, Carcassonne.

We took a flight from Amsterdam to Montpellier, where we rented a car. The map below gives the places (in red) where we stayed overnight. To guide the eye I have connected the different locations with blue lines, the actual roads were of course winding and much longer..:-)

Our first stop was in Nîmes where we stayed three nights in an Airbnb. A nice apartment, on walking distance from the historic center, only a bit difficult to find a parking place.

After arriving in the apartment, I discovered that I was missing my passport and driving license! Searching my luggage and the car, nothing. Panic! Could I have dropped it when I entered the rental car? A telephone call to Avis in Montpellier finally gave the solution, they apologised that they had not given back the documents after photocopying them! Of course it was my fault not to have asked them back, but what a relief.

After this commotion we went out to explore the town a bit. Nîmes was an important regional capital during the Roman Empire

We were not in the mood to look for a restaurant, so we bought food in a nearby Carrefour supermarket and had a drink on our own balcony followed by a microwave dinner, Brandade de Morue, a typical Nimois specialty .

The next day our destination was Arles, but first we had to go back to the airport to collect my documents. From there we drove to Arles through the Camargue and on our way we found a very nice place for lunch, le Resto de Paty. Isolated location, we wondered if it was open, but it was , friendly service. We had tellines as a starter, a kind of clams, similar to the Malaysian lala. The main dish was grilled Camembert with charcuterie , delicious but filling 🙂  Really a lucky find!

You can easily spend days in Arles, but we had only a few hours. Fortunately we could park near the center. Here is a GE view, with the places we visited.

The Roman theatre was built in the 1st century BC and is one of the oldest stone theatres in the Roman world.. It is used now for concerts and events, which rather spoils its visual appearance.

Much more impressive is the amphitheatre, built in 90 AD and capable of seating over 20.000 spectators. In Roman times it was used for chariot races and gladiator fights, nowadays for bullfighting and concerts.

Many visitors will come to Arles because van Gogh lived there more than one year and created some of his most famous paintings. Through narrow streets we walked to the Place du Forum, with the cafe, painted by van Gogh.

Here is the painting (1888) and the cafe, where I had a lousy ice coffee for a ridiculous price. To be avoided!  I hope you will understand why I cover my ear…:-)

Our last destination in Arles was the Saint Trophime church, but on our way we passed the entrance of the Cryptoporticus, and we visited this intriguing foundation of the former Roman Forum first. Crowds of tourists in Arles, but this place was deserted. I loved it!

Saint Trophime was built between the 12th and 15th century  and is famous for its cloisters.

Some details of the columns, fine examples of the Romanesque style, and a photo of the church interior.

It had been a long and very hot (38 °C !) day. Before going back to Nîmes, we relaxed for a while on the Place de la Republique, with a 4th-century Roman obelisk in its centre.

The following day we visited Avignon and it was even hotter.(38 °C). Probably almost everyone will associate Avignon with the famous children song  Sur le pont d’Avignon but the real importance of the town is because it replaced Rome as the seat of the Pope in the 14th century, the Avignon Papacy . The Palais des Papes is what remains of those turbulent times. It is one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. More of a fortress than a palace, here is an overview taken from Wikipedia to show its size. Bottom left you can see the beginning of the Pont d’Avignon.

Because of the hot weather we limited ourselves to the bridge and the palace. Here are my own photos. In the top left picture you see the cathedral of Avignon with the prominent statue of the Virgin Marie on top of the belltower. Notice the massive fortifications. The bottom right photo shows a door in the palace. Enlarge it to see the damage that has been done to the statues.

And here are pictures of the interior. You can easily spend many hours here.

Here is the famous  Pont Saint-Bénézet, which is the official name of the Pont d’Avignon. To take this picture we crossed the Rhone river. The bridge was built in the 12th century and had originally 22 arches of which nowadays only four remain. In 1995 the bridge, together with the palace and the cathedral were declared  Unesco world heritage sites.

We walked across the bridge , but it was too hot to dance…:-)

On our way back to Nîmes, we visited another Unesco world heritage site,  the famous Pont du Gard. It is an ancient Roman aqueduct, built in the first century AD to bring water to the town of Nîmes.  It is the highest of all elevated Roman aqueducts and really impressive.

Back in Nîmes, we decided to have a real French dinner. We walked to the Place aux Herbes, with many eateries, and had our dinner in restaurant O-Delice. Nice food

After our dinner we walked back to our apartment. Nice atmosphere, it was a Saturday evening, big crowds everywhere.

Although we had chosen Nîmes only as a convenient location to visit Arles, Avignon and the Pont du Gard, we discovered that the town itself has also many interesting places. Before leaving next morning, we visited two of them.

First  the Halles de Nîmes. It is considered a major tourist attraction, but for somebody used to the Central Markets of Asia, it was a bit disappointing. Lots of fresh food of course, always nice to take pictures.

The Jardins de la Fontaine are a public park, established in the 18th century around a water source. In Roman times this was the center of Nîmes, ruins of the so-called Temple  of Diana (not a temple, probably a library) and the Tour Magne can still be seen.

Our next destination was Robiac, a small village north of Nîmes. Why did we go there? That will be explained in part II of this blog.

Loke Yew Graveyard

In 1858 a young Chinese boy, 13(!) year old, decided to leave his home province Guangdong (former Canton) and try his luck in Singapore. His name was Wong Loke Yew. He worked there in a provision shop, before starting his own store. Business went well and  in 1867 Loke Yew decided to go to Perak, where he was active in tin mining and other business. In the 1880’s he moved to Kuala Lumpur, where he stayed the rest of his life until he died in 1917.

A remarkable man, his life is described in more detail in an interesting blog Overseas Chinese in the British Empire.

I had come across his name a few years ago, when I visited the Sam Wong Yah temple in Kamunting, built in 1882. Loke Yew was a supporter and patron of this temple and  the caretaker showed me the wooden bench used by Loke Yew as a bed when he visited the temple. Proof that even though rich,  he remained a humble man.

Left the interior of the temple, right the bench.

Recently Bernard, a geocaching friend of mine, told me that there existed a Loke Yew Graveyard in Kuala Lumpur! We are both interested in cemeteries, would I like to join him in an “expedition” to this graveyard? Of course I accepted his invitation.

And an expedition it turned out to be…:-). Because the graveyard is located in Desa Tun Hussein Onn, a military residential complex in Kuala Lumpur (below outlined in green). You need a permit as a civilian to enter the village!

When we arrived at the entrance of the village, and told  an officer that we wanted to visit Loke Yew’s graveyard, it took Bernard considerable time to convince the officer of our honest intentions. It helped that the officer was interested in history and rather surprising that he did not know anything about the graveyard, although he had been living for many years in the village!  We got our permit..:-)

Naively I had expected that there would be a clear access road to the graveyard, we drove around the hill, but didn’t find any signboard. However, we noticed something that looked like a trail, followed it, and indeed, we reached the graveyard, but there was a solid fence and a locked gate.  At least I could take a picture  🙂

We didn’t give up and tried another access, from near the  school, climbing the stairs, then turning right along the wall.

We were of course more or less expecting that we would again be blocked by a fence.  But no, this time, after some jungle hiking, we could enter the graveyard!

A beautiful place, on the slope of the hill, good feng shui. Dominated by a statue of Loke Yew. An elaborate memorial hall next to it. Amazing that this exists in KL..:-)

From the top of the hill we had a view of sprawling Kuala Lumpur. Guardian lions kept watch over the graveyard.

You find these guardian lions often at graveyards. Lots of symbolism, see the Wikipedia article Chinese Guardian Lions. The lions have a “pearl” in their mouth, a stone ball which can move freely inside, but not be removed. Unfortunately there had been vandalism, the mouth had been broken and the ball inside was gone.

One of the  lions is male, the other female. Of course we had to check..:-)

There were many more signs of vandalism and graffiti. Even the secluded location does not fully protect the graveyard. Imagine how bad it would be if this place was easily accessible.

The graveyard itself looked good, the grass was cut, there must be regular maintenance, probably by the family. Not only Loke Yew has his tomb here, also several of his descendants.

Here is the grave of Mr Lu Yun Huai, born 25/5/1897, died 16/10/1941

Walking down the hill we arrived at the “official” entrance, closed and heavily protected with barbed wire.

It was a very rewarding experience!

Loke Yew may have been a humble man, but his graveyard is truly monumental!

Note: Both Wikipedia and the blog mentioned above give 9 October 1845 as Loke Yew’s birthdate , but according to the tombstone it is  9 October 1846.

 

Taiping, July 2018

After my visit of the Gunung Rapat Cave Temples, I drove to Taiping, my 2nd hometown…:-). I arrived just in time for a forum discussion organised by the Taiping Heritage Society.

When I checked in in my usual Furama hotel, the reception warned me that it might be noisy in the evening, because in  kampung Peng Loong, near the hotel, a temple festival was going on, to celebrate the birthday of Datok Keramat Empat. These Datuk temples are very interesting, you can read more about them here.

And yes, it was noisy, but it stopped at midnight. I expected Chinese opera, but it was more disco style with a scantily dressed lady singer! The times they are a changing 🙂

There was a friendly atmosphere, with food and beer. And also people were praying..:-)

The next morning I went for breakfast to the stall of Mr Tong for my chee cheong fun (see my earlier Taiping reports). I asked him if I could come to his house that evening to watch him making the chee cheong fun. I was welcome.

I had another look at the Datok temple, now of course everything was quiet. The shrine is standing against a giant tree. Walking back to my hotel, I noticed an impressive old bungalow with the year on the facade, 1915. A friendly lady, living in the house showed me the name of the bungalow on one of the gate pillars: Spring Lodge

THS had organised an excursion that morning to the Bukit Berapit train tunnels. These tunnels (there are four) are no longer in use after a new tunnel, three km long, has been excavated for the ETS train from KL to the Thai border. Bukit Berapit is a pass between Taiping and Kuala Kangsar, Isabella Bird passed here in 1879 on the back of an elephant..:-). From the no 1 trunk road, we followed a trail leading to the ruins of the former Bukit Berapit station.

From there we walked to the tunnel entrance. Until a few years ago the rails were still there, now they have disappeared, probably sold as scrap iron. The tunnel was dark, partly muddy and flooded. Great fun, although too much for some of the ladies..:-). See the captions of the images.

On our way back to Taiping we stopped at the tombs of Long Jaafar, the father of Ngah Ibrahim. Legend has it that he discovered tin in the region, after one of his elephants came back , his legs covered with tin mud.  Long Jaafar had his fort here, now only the tombs remain

Nearby, in Bukit Gantang, we had lunch at a road stall, nice Malay assam laksa. It was a nice excursion, we visited only one tunnel, I would like to explore the other ones as well.

In the afternoon I met my friend May for tea, in the patisserie next door to the Boo Bee shop of Yeap. This attractive  townhouse was owned by  Kapitan Chung Keng Kooi (1829-1901).

The recent renovation of the left half of the house is well done, and it was quite busy with a young crowd. Hope it will be a success, the cempedak cake was nice.

After tea I walked to Tong’s house, quite near to my hotel. His wife and he were already busy preparing the chee cheong fun. Interesting old fashioned process. But very hot inside, after a while I escaped to the Lake Gardens.

It was a nice evening, the gardens were beautiful as usual, with many people enjoying the peaceful atmosphere. I walked around a bit, always like to have a look at one of my favourite trees , the cannonball tree. Probably many walkers are not aware that a few of these trees are growing in the lake gardens.

Since a few months MPT has closed part of the circular road for motorised traffic, it is now a pedestrian area, called the Raintree Walk. A good move of MPT. Less successful are the planters, placed along the Raintree Walk. Click on the right picture, to see how some of them are used…:-)

The next morning I went with two THS ladies to Aulong. Aulong is a “New Village” created around 1950 during the Emergency. Its purpose was to house squatters who were living near the fringes of the jungle, to isolate them from the CT’s,  the communist guerrillas. Those new villages were fenced, with guarded gates.

I am interested in the experiences of people who lived in those new villages. One of the ladies had a classmate whose father had been living in Aulong since 1958, and we went to interview him..:-) It was a nice meeting, but not very informative, when he moved to Aulong it was already more or less a normal village.

The left picture shows a GE screenshot of Aulong. The arrow-like road pattern in the center could have been dating back to the creation of the village. The blue line is where in the past the first railway, from Port Weld to Taiping, was located. And north of Aulong you can see the former airport of Taiping.

As we were so close to the airfield,we decided to have a look. Big empty space, I wonder if there are plans to develop it. I have heard that the land is still owned by the Ministry of Defence.

I had been really very busy after my arrival in Taiping, so I was looking forward to two relaxing days in the Nest, up Maxwell Hill!. The weather was nice, here is a view from the Nest to Gunung Bubu, about 65 km away.

After the jeep has dropped you at Speedy’s bungalow, it is a short walk to the Nest, with each step you feel that you are moving into a different world, into the past…:-)

In earlier posts I have written already a lot about Suet Fun and Peter’s paradise, here a few pictures only. The food was delicious as usual, and the feeling to live in the past was stronger this time, as there was a problem with the electricity, so no hot shower…:-)   Brrr, but refreshing.

What a difference with Speedy’s. Waiting for the jeep back to Taiping town, I had time to explore. Officially all doors were locked, but I have been living long enough in Malaysia to know that there is often a backdoor still open…:-)

Back in town, I stopped for a short while in the Taman Botani, the new mega project to create a botanical garden in Taiping. I must say, it looked nice, although I personally still think the money could have been spent better, for example in upgrading the Maxwell Hill bungalows.

My last appointment before driving back to KL was with Dr Indraraja , who was going to show me  the renovated building of the Ceylon Association. I was a bit early, so that gave me time to have a look at the buildings along Station road which for me represent the Shame of Taiping, Bandar Warisan.

The two buildings between the former First Galleria and the Rest House, can still be entered. But when I did that, a half-naked squatter started shouting at me, so I thought it safer to leave the place…:-)

The Rest House is slowly deteriorating. Click on the pictures and read the signboard, the tablet and the banner. MPT should at least remove all three. The last picture shows the “entrance” I used in the past to go inside. At least that entrance has been blocked.

Let me end this post in a positive way. The restoration of the Ceylon Association has been completed, and the result is pleasing. Here is a view of the backside.

And here are pictures of the front. Pity that the ground floor windows are modern, but Dr Indra explained that the window frames were beyond repair.

Here some pictures of the interior. The ceiling is nice, with the old fan. The first floor planks were very uneven and had to be covered with a kind of laminate. The interior is still empty, furniture etc had to be removed for the restoration.

It was again a visit full of variety.

Singapore, July 2018

In January I visited Singapore, see my blog post Singapore 2018 . We met my friend Dr Lee and had a wonderful time. It was only a short visit and there was no time to visit his penthouse in the iconic  Pearl Bank apartments, the tallest and densest residential building in Singapore when it was completed in 1976.

In February the building has been sold to a developer and it will likely not be conserved despite the wishes of heritage lovers 🙁

The building was designed by architect Tan Cheng Siong, here is an interesting interview with him about the Pearl Bank apartments. 

Dr Lee invited me to stay a couple of nights in his penthouse. The C-shape of the design is very impressive, both looking up from the central courtyard, as looking down from the 37th floor where he has been living since the completion of the building!

From his penthouse you have an unobstructed view of Singapore. It was slightly hazy during my visit, but Dr Lee told me that you can even see the sea and Indonesia when the sky is clear.

The apartments are built in split-level style and as a penthouse occupies two floors, there are many levels. Fascinating, how I would love to live in an apartment like this!

But as the building probably will demolished in the near future, my friend is already preparing to leave. Very sad. There have been proposals for conservation, read more details here, but at the end of the day it came to nothing.

Two more pictures, a night view looking up, and a proposal for conservation/renovation, prepared in 2014 by Tan Cheng Siong’s firm, Archurban Architects Planners. Pity that this beautiful design will not be realised.

After I had arrived in Singapore (by First Coach bus) and met Dr Lee in his apartment, we went out in the afternoon to visit an exhibition of textile art, Nüshu: An Inspiration , just opened the day before I arrived. The artist, Benny Ong, was present to explain to us the meaning of the artworks.  Even without any explanation his work is quite fascinating. Ong became famous as a fashion designer, but switched in the 2000’s to textile art

The exhibition was held in the Goo Loo Club, more than 100 year old, and a couple of years ago revitalised. It used to be the club for the Peranakan millionaires of Singapore The building next to it (right picture) is even grander and was the club for the Chinese millionaires…:-). It dates back to 1891 and was more modestly named the Chinese Weekly Entertainment Club

We had dinner with friends  in another prestigious club, the Singapore Cricket Club , the second oldest club of Singapore, established in 1852, the present clubhouse is from 1884. Very good cuisine, I had a delicious lamb shank

After dinner we had a walk through town. Every time I visit Singapore, I enjoy it more. Traditionally in Malaysia the opinion about Singapore is rather negative, concrete jungle, over organised etc. But when you see everybody enjoying the evening temperatures on the Esplanade, with everywhere activities, it is a pleasant, peaceful town.

The next morning, after breakfast we visited the Flower Dome in the Gardens by the Bay. Special exhibition during our visit was an orchid display, nice, but I prefer the Orchid Garden in the Singapore Botanical Gardens

There are many different gardens in the Flower Dome, each dedicated to a specific continent or plant species. I liked the cactuses..:-)

Nice flowers, old olive trees, a baobab tree, you wonder how they transported those trees from their original locations.

Decorated by Peranakan facades and other decorative items, it was a pleasure to walk around, although the other dome, the Cloud Forest, visited during my January visit, is more spectacular.

Walking back to town from the Gardens by the Bay, you pass Marina Bay Sands hotel, the iconic landmark of Singapore. Not cheap but worth to stay there at least once, see my 2013 report Singapore.  The ArtScience museum nearby is by the same architect

My next destination was an exhibition in the ArtScience Museum by a Dutch(!) artist, Theo Jansen, who has been designing and building “beach animals”, constructions of PVC tube that are able to move along the beach when there is enough wind.

It was a fascinating exhibition, I have written a separate post about it: Strandbeesten, (the Dutch translation of beach animals). Here one of his creations

My trips are not complete without food..:-)   For lunch we went back to the Singapore Cricket Club, where I had a tasty laksa. That evening we had dinner at a friend’s place, he had prepared a delicious meal with many different dishes. And the next morning we went to the Tiong Bahru Food market, where I had nasi lemak. I think it is a misconception that the Singaporean food culture is inferior to the Malaysian one.

This day I spent on my own. After breakfast Lee dropped me at the Peranakan museum, near the Fort Canning Hill. I had never visited this part of Singapore, it was a pleasant walk. The hill has a rich history, read the Wikipedia link.

In the 19th century there was a Christian cemetery on the hill, the Gothic gate (1846) is a remnant and probably the two attractive cupolas as well. Several tomb stones have been placed in the surrounding wall.

I was interested to visit the Battle Box, the Military Command Center during the Japanese invasion in 1941/42. It is now a museum with a guided tour. After I bought my ticket there was just enough time for a cup of coffee in the National Museum of Singapore, located nearby.

The guided tour was very informative. You are not allowed to take pictures inside the maze of corridors and rooms, pity but understandable.   I found a picture on the Internet with the most impressive room, where on 15 February 1942 Lieutenant-General Percival decided to surrender, in spite of Churchill’s order to keep fighting until the last man.

I am very interested in the Japanese invasion of Malaysia, see my report Japan invades Malaya 1941/42 which describes the first part of the invasion, until KL.

Some pictures outside the Battle Box. A sally port is a hidden door to enter and exit the Battle Box undetected. In case of emergency or fire you could escape via a ladder. What is now the Fort Canning Arts Center, were originally British Army Barracks, constructed in 1926. And Hotel Fort Canning was the British Far East Command Headquarters during World War II.  Everything looks so peaceful and serene now..:-)

After the Battle Box I walked down the hill to the Peranakan Museum, a beautiful building in Classical style, originally built in 1910-12 for the Tao Nan Chinese School.

You can explore the museum on your own, but I decided to follow a (free) guided tour, which was again very informative. The Peranakan are are the descendants of Chinese immigrants who came to the Malay archipelago between the 15th and 17th centuries. Another term for them is Nyonya (for the women) and Baba (for the men). I didn’t know that Yap Ah Loy, Capitan Cina of KL and Lee Kuan Yew, first president of Singapore, were Peranakan…:-)

Dinner that night was in the Tanglin Club, one of Singapore’s most prestigious and prominent social clubs, founded in 1865. Even more upmarket than the SSC, I would say.

Western food this time. Walking around in the lobby I noticed a board with the past presidents of the club. Surprised to find J.W.W. Birch in the list, the first British resident of Perak, murdered in 1875 in Pasir Salak. In 1876 the club had no president, just a coincidence?

After breakfast the next morning,  I took the bus back to KL. Already looking forward to my next visit of Singapore…:-)

Strandbeesten

The Dutch artist Theo Jansen has become famous by the creation of Beach Animals, otherworldly constructions that are able, under favorable wind conditions, to move along the beach. In Dutch language they are called Strandbeesten and on the Internet you can find many fascinating videos of them.

Here is a compilation

I had never seen a Strandbeest in the real, so I was thrilled when I read that there was an exhibition of Jansen’s works in the ArtScience Museum in Singapore! I had planned already to visit my Singapore friends before my next trip to Holland, this was an extra reason. A full report of my Singapore trip will come later.

The iconic ArtScience museum was designed by architect Moshe Safdie and opened in 2011. The Strandbeest exhibition fits perfectly in the concept of this museum. Theo Jansen actually studied physics before becoming an artist and you can still see clearly the scientific/technical background of his creations.

Theo Jansen started the creation of his animals in 1990, basically using PVC tube. The first Strandbeesten are now fossils, they have evolved during the years, the newest species is the Burchus family, resembling giant caterpillars

The exhibition shows 13 large-scale Strandbeests, fossil ones and new developments. They have been assembled in the museum by a team of Jansen’s helpers, according to a museum attendant it took months..:-)

It is really a pleasure to view these creations, even when they are static and don’t move

But of course it is even nicer when they  move..:-) At certain times of the day demonstrations are given with a few models, using a wind generator, but not during my visit.

However, there are two models you can move by hand. Fascinating!

Of course I had to do it myself.

It is a nice exhibition, occupying one floor of the museum. You can experiment yourself, the kids can make drawings.

Some of his creations look like prehistoric animals.

The details are often astonishing.

A few more pictures

If this one was supposed to move, I don’t know. But so beautiful!  This exhibition brings you in a happy mood.

The exhibition in Singapore will be on until 30 September 2018. More information about opening times, guided tours etc, can be found here.

For the Dutch readers of this post, here is a very readable interview with Theo Jansen, from 1996: De schaamte van een strand-eskimo

 

Gunung Rapat Cave Temples

Gunung Rapat is a limestone hill, south of Ipoh. When you drive the no 1 trunk road from KL to Ipoh, you will pass  a number of Chinese temples, built in the limestone caves of Gunung Rapat. One or two I must have visited in the past and several times I have been to the Kek Lok Tong temple, on the other side of the hill.

Searching the Internet I found 8 major temples on the slopes of Gunung Rapat and I decided to make it a project to visit all of them during a visit of Ipoh. Here are the results. In the Google Earth screenshot below, the locations of the eight temples are given.

We started our trip with a visit of Tasik Cermin, the Mirror Lake. Until not long ago this was a “secret” location, known only to a few people. The lake is located within a quarry and can only be reached through a tunnel. Access was not always allowed by the quarry owner. This time it looked like quarry operations had stopped, there was no entrance barrier and we were told that the lake is nowadays becoming popular for wedding shoots!

If there is no wind, the water is really like a mirror, but during our visit there was a breeze. Aric tried to operate his drone, but between the steep cliff walls, GPS reception was not good enough.

Da Seng Ngan

Our first temple. When we visited Tasik Cermin in January 2017 (read my blog here), we noticed that there was a cave temple nearby. We visited it and the caretaker told us that the temple is quite old but has been covered by a landslide for many decades, and was only rediscovered in 2006! Restoration has now been almost completed. To get funding, devotees can “sponsor” statues of the Amitabha Buddha. For more information, click here .

From this temple you can actually walk to the Kwan Yin Tong temple nearby, but we were by car, had to u-turn twice on the busy trunk road, which made it more efficient to first visit the Ling Sen Tong temple.

Ling Sen Tong 

There are three temples along the trunk road next to each other, when you leave Ipoh. Lin Seng Tong is the first one, and that might be the reason that it is quite touristy and gaudy. A bit too touristy, we did not spend much time there

Nam Thean Tong 

The second one, next to Lin Seng Tong. A 19th-century Taoist cave temple with colorful shrines.

We explored the elaborate network of steep, dark stairs. Interesting, but a bit rundown

The third temple is Sam Poh Tong, but it was closed when we arrived there in the afternoon. It even looked closed indefinitely, we continued to the Kwan Yin Tong temple

Kwan Yin Tong 

Dedicated to Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. Numerous statues of Guan Yin. An attractive Buddhist temple

Then it was time for food, always an important aspect of our trips 🙂  For dinner we went to a food court, where we ordered deep-fried Mantis prawns, sotong with kangkung, popiah and teochew kueh, everything nice, but way too much..  Breakfast next morning at Chooi Yue, one of the famous dim sum restaurants in Ipoh. Good quality dim sum, many varieties.

Unfortunately it was raining heavily the next day, a real downpour. Before continuing our temple tour, our Ipoh friend took us first to another “mirror lake” location, a former tin mining pond at the Iskandar Polo Club. Attractive scenery.

Kek Lok Tong

We started with the Kek Lok Tong temple, the most beautiful of the Gunung Rapat cave temples, in my opinion. In the 1920’s it was already a place of worship. In the 1960’s it became part of an iron mining site, the entrance to the cave was widened to allow lorry access.  When mining ceased it was dedicated again to religious purposes and opened to visitors in the 1970s.

Interesting feature of this temple is that after entering and crossing the cave, you will exit to a beautiful garden. Because of the heavy downpour we could not visit the garden this time. Here you see the laughing Buddha, contemplating the view of this garden.

Searching the Internet, I had found two more temples on the North side of Gunung Rapat

Panna Tong

The first one, Panna Tong, was closed, so only a photo of the exterior. By the way, tong means cave in Chinese language

Miaw Yuan Chan Lin

The second one was a pleasant surprise. It is a Thai style Buddhist temple and relatively unknown, compared to the popular, more touristy  temples on the West side of Gunung Rapat. Nice environment, very scenic.

When I play tour guide again for my friends, I will include this temple in the itinerary!

Sam Poh Tong

Before finishing our temple trip, we decided to go back to Sam Poh Tong, because I had checked on the Internet that the temple was not closed forever. And indeed, now it was open, we were told that the day before they had closed early because there were no visitors!

It is quite a large temple complex, but as it was still raining, we did not explore everything. We had a look at the famous turtle pond and bought some kangkung to feed the turtles. But we did not enter the gardens, because of the rain. Will have to come back here.

In the afternoon I continued to Taiping, but that will be another post.

My friend David May has written informative web pages about many of the Ipoh cave temples, for example this one about Da Seng Ngan, with references to other temples.

 

New Horizons

The first time I wrote about the New Horizons spacecraft was in a February 2015 post: Close Encounters. Launched in 2006, its primary destination was Pluto.  During the long voyage it had gone into hibernation (to save energy) and now it had woken up successfully to prepare for the flyby of Pluto in July.

To give you an impression of the size of the spacecraft, this picture is taken in 2005 during preparation for the launch.

Note the black “tube” to the left, it is the RTG, the power source for the spacecraft.

Solar panels can not be used because of the large distance to the Sun, instead radioactive plutonium is used.

The heat of the radioactive decay is  converted into electricity by thermocouples.

My second post was titled Close encounter with Pluto and published July 2015, a few days after the successful flyby. Here is a picture of Pluto, in high resolution, taken by New Horizons. Although the flyby took only minutes, the transmission of all photos taken, took more than a year, because of the slow bandwidth. Analysis is still going on.

In that post I wrote that New Horizons would try to visit another member of the Kuiper Belt before it left the Solar System. Soon after the Pluto flyby, in August 2015,  it was decided that (486958) 2014 MU69 would be the next destination.

What a name ..:-). Let me explain. The Kuiper Belt is located outside Neptune and contains trillions of objects, remnants of the early solar system. Pluto, once seen as the ninth planet, is now seen as a Kuiper Belt object. The Minor Planet Center keeps track of all the observed Kuiper Belt objects and the present count is 779736 !

The target of New Horizons is minor planet no 486958, discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2014.

In this image (taken by the Hubble telescope)  you see the object (surrounded by a green circle) at 10 minute intervals

The code  MU69  tells in a complicated way that the object was the 1745th Kuiper Belt object, discovered in the second half of June! Curious about the code?  Have a look at the Wikipedia item about Minor Planet naming.

 

After a public voting campaign, NASA announced a few months ago that 2014 MU69 would get the nickname Ultima Thule. In classical and medieval literature Ultima Thule got the meaning of any distant place located beyond the “borders of the known world”

First estimate of Ultima Thule’s size, based on distance and brightness, was about 30 km. After it was chosen as the next target of New Horizons, of course many more observations have been made. How to get more information about an object of ~ 30 km, at a distance of more than 6 billion km?

Well, it can happen that Ultima Thule passes in front of a background star! In that case it will block for a short while the light of this star. This is called an occultation. Last year Ultima Thule occulted three different stars in June and July. Such an occultation can only be seen from specific locations on Earth (similar to a solar eclipse).  Here are the three predicted occultation paths.

On 3 June 2017, the NASA scientists tried to observe the “shadow” of Ultima Thule from Argentina and South Africa, but detected nothing. It turned out later that the predicted occultation path was not accurate enough, so the telescopes had been placed in the wrong location..

The second occultation took place over the ocean, therefore the airborne telescope SOFIA was used, flying along the predicted occultation path.

Main purpose was to check for hazardous material around Ultima Thule, which could endanger the fly-bye of New Horizons.

First they thought that they had missed the shadow, but later analysis showed that there had been a short dip from the central shadow

The third attempt was very successful. 25 telescopes were placed along the occultation path in South Argentina and five of them observed the dip.

Here is an example. It is an animated gif, time between the frames is 0.2 seconds.

Watch the star in the centre and notice how it “disappears” for a short while!

Careful analysis of the “dip” gives a lot more information. Ultima Thule might be actually a contact binary, with a very elongated shape.

More information about this amazing scientific exploration can be found in this  NY Times article.

Here is an artist impression of Ultima Thule. The Sun is not more than a very bright star, you can see how New Horizons is approaching… 🙂   To the  left you see a “moonlet” orbiting Ultima Thule, for a while the scientists thought there could be one, but it is now disputed.

On New Year’s Day 2019 at 05:33 UTC, if everything goes well, New Horizons will pass Ultima Thule within about 3500 km.

New Horizons has woken up from its hibernation last month and is healthy. The coming months preparations will be made for the encounter.

It will be exciting to see how Ultima Thule looks in the real. But it will take time to transmit pictures back to Earth.  It takes almost six hours for data to bridge the distance between New Horizons and Earth!

An update will follow later.

Dixit Dominus

A few months ago I listened for the first(!) time to Dixit Dominus, composed by Georg Friedrich Händel (1685-1759) in 1707.  It is an absolute masterpiece of Baroque music.

Not surprisingly numerous recordings can be found on YouTube. Here are two, one conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner with the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists in 2014

The second one with Emmanuelle Haïm conducting the hr-Sinfonieorchester and her Chœur du Concert D’Astrée in 2017

When you search YouTube for Dixit Dominus Handel, you will find more than ten different recordings. I found it interesting to compare them. Listen for example to the first bars of the slow recording by Sir David Willcocks 1965) and the very fast one  by Andres Mustonen (2018)!

Händel wrote Dixit Dominus when he was 22 year old and staying in Italy, in Florence and Rome. In Germany he had already made a name for  himself with the opera Almira, composed when he was 19 year old.

But during his stay in Rome, operas had been (temporarily) banned by pope Clement XI because he considered them immoral. So Händel composed mainly sacred music while in Rome.

The portrait is dated about 1710.

Dixit Dominus is a musical setting of psalm 109 from the Book of Psalms, which is part of the Christian Old Testament. The title comes from the first line of the Latin text of the psalm:  Dixit Dominus Domino Meo, which translates (in the King James version) as The Lord said unto my Lord .

A rather cryptic line, is the Lord talking to himself? The explanation is that in the Hebrew text two different words are used for Lord. The Lord who speaks is God and he speaks to the psalmist’s lord. This lord is seen as the Messiah and in the New Testament Jesus quotes this psalm that he is the Messiah and the son of God.

That is the reason that this psalm 109 plays an important role in the Christian liturgy, the psalm is sung often in the Roman-Catholic Vespers.

Actually, Händel was not the only composer who wrote a Dixit Dominus. Vivaldi even wrote three versions, RV 594, RV 595 and RV 807 (my personal favorite). On YouTube you can also find versions written by Pergolesi and by Alessandro Scarlatti (the father of Domenico).

The last line of the psalm in the Händel version is sung as a duet by two sopranos and choir. It is impressively beautiful and in the Gardiner recording it was given as an encore. Here it is, put the volume high and listen to what you can read in one of the comments: One of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written.

When I heard this emotional, moving duet, I got curious about the text, expecting it to be equally  emotional and “deep” ..:-). But no, the last line of the psalm is in Latin:

De torrente in via bibet, propterea exaltabit caput. 

In translation

He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.

What does that mean, it sounds so trivial? I got intrigued, started searching the Internet and found this website  Psallam Domino   where all the psalms are analysed in a very thorough way.  About psalm 109 the blog says  “This is a hard psalm to interpret correctly” and “… it is very theologically dense”

The webpage about the last line has the title  “Prophesying Christ’s humility and the Ascension” . The humility is that he just was drinking water from a brook, the ascension is indicated by the lifting of the head .

Being a non-believer, I gave up after this and just will enjoy the music…:-)

Bhutan 2018

Bhutan is a Buddhist kingdom in the Eastern Himalayas, landlocked between India and China. The country is slightly smaller than the Netherlands, with  a population in 2016 of about 800.000, roughly the same as the city of Amsterdam!

It was only in 1974 that the isolated country opened its borders to foreigners. In that year 287 tourists visited Bhutan, a number that increased to almost 180.000 in 2016. Compare that with the 15.5 million tourists visiting the Netherlands in 2016!

The Bhutanese government wants to preserve the traditional culture and has decided to limit the tourism, by making it expensive. Tourists have to spend 200-250 USD daily, depending on the season.

Friends who have visited Bhutan, told us not to wait too long with a visit, so we decided to go and started looking for a suitable travel agency, because you can not travel on your own in Bhutan, you need to book a guide and a driver. For us that would be a new experience. Finally we chose Book Bhutan Tour ,and booked a 10D9N tour with them.  With only the two of us as passengers, it made the trip even more expensive  🙂

But it was worth it! Before I start my travelogue, here is a Google Map of Bhutan in which I have indicated the places where we have stayed overnight (A – H) and some of the highlights of the trip (red markers). When you click on a marker, you will see a picture. The map can be enlarged and you can zoom in and out.

There are no direct flights from Kuala Lumpur  to Bhutan, first we took a MAS flight to Bangkok, stayed overnight near the airport and early the next morning we departed with Druk Air for Paro, the international airport of Bhutan.

The descent to the airport was quite spectacular. Because the terrain is so mountainous, the plane can not approach in a straight line. Aric took pictures during the descent and nowadays smartphones can record GPS data, even inside the plane! The GE screenshot shows the altitude of the plane and the surrounding mountains.

 Here are the corresponding pictures

At the airport we were welcomed by Ram, the owner of Book Bhutan Tour, and Tenzin, our guide. We received as welcome gift a khata, a silk shawl, decorated  with the  Ashtamangala , the Eight Auspicious Signs. Tenzin, our guide, is wearing the traditional Bhutanese dress for men, the gho.

After a cup of coffee we drove to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, where we had our first Bhutanese food.

On the way to our hotel we passed a sports meet, where students were competing in various activities. Fascinating to see how the spectators  were all dressed in traditional garb, the boys in their gho with black knee stockings and the girls in their kira.

Our room in the Jumolhari Hotel   was comfortable. As we had got up at 4am, we took a short rest.

But not for long, we were going to visit our first Dzong! A Dzong is a fortress, often built on a hill top, dominating a town. Half of a dzong houses administrative offices, the other half is occupied by the monastic body, monks quarters, chapels etc. Many of them have their origins in the 17th century, when Zhabdrung Rinpoche  unified Bhutan as a nation-state. These spectacular fortresses are  one of the main reasons to visit Bhutan.

Here is the Tashichho Dzong in Thimphu. Built in 1641, it has been the seat of Bhutan’s government since 1968.

Because government offices are housed in the dzong, access is only allowed after working hours and there is a dress code. Bhutanese men have to wear a ceremonial white scarf, and tourists should not wear t-shirts, shorts or sandals.

When we arrived, it was raining, they were just lowering the flag.

After a while the rain stopped and we could enter the courtyard. It was our first dzong, so we took numerous pictures. Bhutanese architecture is beautiful, very traditional and decorative.

Here are a few more pictures

Because it had been raining, there were some pools on the pavement. Aric knows how to make spectacular pictures, using the reflection in the water. Tenzin was interested and Aric was eager to explain how to do it…:-)

Before calling it a day, we drove to a spot where we had a good view of the illuminated dzong. A nice first day in Bhutan


DAY 2

We spent this day in Thimphu. First we visited the Memorial Chorten  , built in 1974  in memory of Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the 3rd Dragon King, who died in 1972.

There is a lot of respect and love for the royal family in Bhutan, which may explain that daily hundreds of locals visit the memorial for praying. They walk many times around the chorten (stupa), always in clockwise direction. Or they go to the prayer wheels and turn them around and around. Old ladies sit down near those wheels and keep turning them. Fascinating.

Next we went to the Great Buddha  statue, one of the largest Buddha statues in the world, 52 m high. Construction started in 2006 and was completed in 2015, only a few years ago. It is quite impressive, although there has been criticism that it is megalomaniac and doesn’t fit in the Bhutanese culture.

The Buddha is overlooking Thimphu and can be seen from far away. Inside the statue are temples and halls, containing ten thousands of small bronze Buddha statues.

After our lunch we visited a vocational education center, where young (and older) Bhutanese were trained in traditional arts and crafts. We were allowed to just walk around and take pictures. I was impressed by the concentration of the students, even without the presence of their teachers .. 🙂

Wood carving, painting, embroidery, drawing. Notice how concentrated everybody is

It was my birthday and I had decided not to tell Ram and Tenzin. When Ram suggested that we could have a cup of tea at his house, I was not suspicious and accepted his invitation. Only when his wife came in with a cake, and everybody started singing Happy Birthday,  it became clear that there had been a complot between Aric and Ram. Really a surprise, I even became a bit emotional…:-)

Back in our hotel, we had dinner. We had several nice meals, but in general Bhutanese cuisine is not a reason to visit the country. The red rice is tasty, many dishes are prepared with local cheese and can be very spicy. Not much variety.


DAY 3

Our destination this day was Trongsa, less than 90 km from Thimphu, as the crow flies. But the connecting “highway” is winding, resulting in a driving distance of almost 200 km, traversing mountain passes up to 3400 m high. We left Thimphu at 8 am and reached Trongsa around 4 pm, just in time to visit the dzong. But the landscape is beautiful. Ram had prepared a picnic basket with coffee and cookies and we had lunch in a restaurant halfway. I could not resist the temptation to have my picture taken as a big boss…:-)

After lunch we continued and visited an interesting stupa with eyes (Nepali style) . The “highway” is the only east-west connection,  being widened, some parts were in bad condition. We passed a waterfall and finally saw the imposing Trongsa Dzong, but it still took almost an hour to reach it. Have a look at the map above to find out why…:-)

The Trongsa Dzong is the largest dzong of Bhutan, built in 1647. For centuries it was the seat of the Wangchuck dynasty who ruled over much of eastern and central Bhutan, and from 1907 have been Kings of Bhutan

Also here a division in a governmental and a monastic half. A very impressive fortress.

The dzong is a paradise for photographers. Here a small selection from the many pictures we took during our visit.

We stayed overnight in the nice Yangkhil resort,  celebrating a long, tiring day with a bottle of Bhutanese wine.


DAY 4

Our room had a balcony with a view of the Trongsa Dzong.

After breakfast we continued our trip . Also here they were working on the  “highway”, widening it. We stopped for a while at the Yutong La pass, marked by a chorten and a sea of prayer flags. At an altitude of 3425 m, you feel out of breath easily!

After the pass we descended into the Bumthang Valley , the  religious heartland of Bhutan. First we visited the Jakar Dzong, founded as a monastery by the great-grandfather of the Zhabdrung and in 1667 extended as a dzong. Impressive, large building.

Interesting were the many monks in this dzong. Notice that one of them is carrying a smartphone…:-)

Walking back to our car we met a group of young schoolboys going home, dressed in their gho uniform. They were friendly and could speak English quite well. It is educational policy in Bhutan to teach English already in primary school.

After lunch we visited two holy places, each with an interesting history.

The first one is  the Jambay Lhakhang. According to legend, it is one of the 108 temples, built by a Tibetan King in 659 on a single day, to pin down a female demon. The temples were constructed on her body parts that spread across Tibet and Bhutan. In Bhutan two of the temples still exist, the other one is in Paro (see later). Of course they have been repaired and rebuilt  several times. Looking at the many devotees visiting the temple, it is still a very holy place.

The second holy place is the Kurjey Lhakhang , a complex of three temples. The oldest one was built in 1652, it was locked when we were there, inside there should be a meditation cave where the Guru Rimpoche left his body print. The Guru Rimpoche lived in the 8th century and is one of the most venerated Buddhist masters in Bhutan. The second temple was built by the first king of Bhutan in 1900. The third one is very recent, built in 1984 by the grandmother of the present king. Interesting is that the architectural style of all temples is very similar

On the temple grounds we noticed this large collection of miniature stupas. They are placed here by devotees who hope that it will add to their karma. And near the temples there was a hanging bridge decorated with numerous prayer flags. Bhutan is a deeply religious country.

We were getting tired, it was time to go to our guesthouse. The Swiss Guesthouse to be precise and indeed, it felt a bit like Switzerland..:-) . With an apple orchard, a wood stove in our (spacious) room and a more or less Western style dinner.


DAY 5

Another picture of the Swiss Guesthouse. Left in the background the Jakar Dzong. Lots of apple blossom

This day no dzongs, monasteries or temples, we started our trip back to Thimphu, using the same so-called Lateral Road. Here one more stretch (to be fair to Bhutan, large parts of the road were already finished and in good condition)

At  high altitudes, there are no longer cows but yaks. And of course there were  rhododendrons.