Sunday, February 25, 2024

Around the World in 24 Days - A Story of Stone - Part 3 - The Serengeti

Leaving India, we flew right over the Mumbai megapolis and a much large expanse of the Indian Ocean. Many hours later, the east coast of the African continent came into our view. We were on our way to the marvelous Serengeti National Park in Tanzania

This is the east coast of Somalia just north of Mogadishu. It is quite arid. It's always fun to walk up and down the aisle
of the jet and tell folks what can be seen out the window. Whenever mention "Cuba"
"Somalia" or "Iran", they gasp and wonder if it is safe.
The top of Mount Kilimanjaro! See my postings of a trek we did in 2014 here

It was exceptionally rainy in the Serengeti on this visit - usually this happens during an El Niño event

Giraffes! Called "twiga" in the Swahili language, they are graceful creatures 

I've never seen so many on one trip as we did this time

Stones! This is an example of a kopje, granite knobs that rise out of the plain. Kopje is a Dutch word that means
"little heads". These rocks are part of the craton (ancient core) of East Africa and are Archean in
age- about 2.5 to 3.0 billion years in age.

Stones! The granite was intruded in to pre-existing rocks called schist and gneiss

And of courser, Tanzania is known for its Tanzanite gems, mined at a small quarry near Arusha

Not all of the wildlife here is large. This is a Hyrax, a relative of elephants!

We did not see many lions on this trip - the rains had caused the grass to grow tall. But this was a pride
of about 8 animals

Ahh, the acacia! Symbol of the Serengeti. I never tire of seeing them.

Thompson's gazelle (thanks to reader Jim D. for correcting my mislabeling as "Impala!)

The rain had cancelled our balloon flights one morning so we got up
again at 4:30 AM and tried again. This time - success!

We were in thr air about 90 minutes and most of the time we flew just a few feet off of the ground. The
altitude determines the wind direction and the pilots know where to place the balloon.

Taken from the balloon

Our group filled three balloons

We saw many hippopotami while flying overhead

Special champagne, er, sparkling wine, for the morning landing and breakfast

Just a short posting this time from Serengeti. Next up, Luxor and Giza, Egypt!

Monday, February 19, 2024

Around the World in 24 Days - A Story of Stone - Part 2 The Taj Mahal

Continuing on our trip around the globe was a one-day stop at the Taj Mahal, the ultimate monument to love and built between 1631 and 1648. We enjoyed a most pleasant visit on this relatively cold day in Agra. India is famous for its gemstone and old rock layers.

Before one gets a view of the mausoleum, they pass through other exquisite
buildings made from red sandstone and white marble 

That is the Taj Mahal frame by the entrance gate

A closer view of the same

Closer still....

Framed in flowers

It was foggy when we landed but it cleared up by 2 PM

The pool leading to the mausoleum

A bride and groom

ADDENDUM: After posting the photo above, reader Louise M. sent me this photo of her
as young girl in 1954. She wrote: "As a kid, we lived in India 1953-54. This photo (I’m next
to my Dad’s right shoulder) was taken around 5:00 in the morning. He hustled us out
of bed to get the shot before all the crowds". Thank you Louise!

Red sandstone building on the west side of the Taj

The famous Markana marble was mined in the state of Rajasthan about 200 miles away. It is part
of the Ajmer Formation of the Delhi Supergroup, about 1450 Ma.

It is a beautiful stone and marvelously inlaid

Red jasper semi-precious stones in a wall of the mausoleum

Exquisitely carved marble


Sunday, February 11, 2024

Around the World in 24 Days - A Story of Stone - Part 1 Southeast Asia

After flying around the globe and stopping at world-class destinations, I recognized that that the one connecting "fabric" that weaves these varied locations together was stone. Whether it be the chiseled Mesozoic sandstone of Angkor Wat, or the Neoproterozoic marble of the Taj Mahal, the Archean granite popping upon the Serengeti plain, or Eocene limestone at Egypt's temples and tombs, stone is the most elemental material - shaping structures, allowing civilization to advance. Barely anyone came on this exotic trip to learn about stone, yet nearly every stop was in one way or another shaped by it. I pick up this whirlwind of a story in Cambodia and its stone temples.

French poster announcing the splendor of Angkor Wat in Indochina (poster hanging in the Raffles Hotel)

Cambodia - Siem Reap

Half way around the world in Southeast Asia (but much father away in terms of culture, economics and cuisine) is the temple complex at Angkor Wat. The approach city is Siem Reap with over one million  inhabitants. It is a lively city near to Angkor Wat and Tonle Sap, the largest lake in Southeast Asia.

A new airport opened in October, financed by the Chinese government

Tuk-tuks on the streets of Siem Reap are a popular manner of travel and are inexpensive

We stayed three nights at the Raffles Hotel in Siem Reap, a classic colonial era masterpiece

Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom

Angkor Wat was constructed in the 12th century as a religious complex by King Suryavarman II. It covers over 400 acres and is the world's largest religious complex. It took twenty-eight years to build (from 1122 to 1150 CE) and the stone for the complex was quarried from the Kulun Mountains 25 miles away. The rocks were transported by rafts in canals and oxen carts over roads to the site (see the 2nd photo below). The monument contains between 5 and 10 million blocks of stone, using far greater amounts than all of the Egyptian pyramids combined. Its outer wall measures 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) long by 4/5ths of a kilometer wide (one half mile). It is a truly stunning monument to the Khmer dynasty.

The magnificent temple of Angkor Wat at its eastern entrance 

Depiction of oxen, elephants and men on the march - note the individual blocks of stone  

Stone motif detail of a palm tree

Many headed cobra in stone at the west entrance

The stone used is Late Triassic/Early Jurassic fluvial sandstone

One of the inner cloisters in Angkor Wat; it was likely filled with water when in use 

Angkor Thom and Bayon

Across the protective moat and toward Angkor Thom are a series of sandstone carved statues

Bayon is the main temple area in Angkor Thom and has numerous Buddha carved faces 

Tonle Sap

Tonle Sap is a natural lake in Cambodia that rises and falls over 10 meters (33 ft.) throughout the year. In the dry season when I visited, the lake is low and water flows from the lake, down the Tonle Sap river to the Mekong River. When the Mekong River floods in the monsoon season, it overflows its banks, spilling into the Tonle Sap river which subsequently fills Tonle Sap (Khmer for great lake or fresh river). See the Wikipedia page here for more graphics and information. If you note the hill in the photo below, I was quite taken by this feature as we approached the lake from Siem Reap. Out of nowhere, upon a vast lowland plain, a hill rose up on the shore of the lake. How did that happen? It is an erosional remnant on the plain, with a Khmer temple on top of it.

Tonle Sap (top) is the largest lake in Southwest Asia and teems with life - more info below

Tonle Sap shoreline with lake sediments exposed behind the boats; these are beneath water in the rainy season

Tonle Sap at its low stage (March and April) when the Mekong River is low

When the monsoon begins, the Mekong River floods and reverses flow into Tonle Sap

When the monsoon ends, the Tonle Sap River reverses flow and drains Tonle Sap

Home built on stilts to prevent flooding from lake water 

Floating houses rise and fall with the level of the lake