Rishi Sankar: Ah Trini Travelogue

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Archive for the ‘Asia’ Category

I miss being the only Trinidadian in Uzbekistan

Posted by Rishiray on March 18, 2014

It’s been about a year since my epic first adventure through Central Asia and specifically being blown away by Uzbekistan as a tourist destination. In a somewhat perverse way, I also miss being a sideshow attraction of being a Trinidadian in Uzbekistan. For instance, when I was walking through the Walled City of Khiva, I subject to many curious glances and a lot of people said “Hi!” …if just to figure out where I was from … since they hadn’t seen a big brown guy before.

While walking out the city .. the kids attacked me for candy

Here’s my longing glance at the camera hoping for rescue from the cute children.

Everywhere Lev (my Russian guide 😛 ) and I walked, people were interested in chatting with us. They asked some of the following questions

  • Where are you from?
  • You’re not from India are you?
  • You can’t be from India because you don’t look like an Indian, right?
  • Where is Trinidad?
  • Is Trinidad in Africa?
  • Why are you friends with a Russian?
  • How did you meet your Russian friend?
  • Your accent is so awesome and funny … do all people from your country speak like that?
  • Can I take a picture with you?

Posing for pictures and being the center of attention … of course I would never like that

The guy in the jacket even looked like my bodyguard

Having lunch in a restaurant, the staff wanted me to take a picture of them and with them.

I’m trying to figure out the right settings. It was some shady lighting in there.

I also miss the super terrible wine that I had in Uzbekistan. I’m not a oenophile but I know shitty tasting shit when I drink it, and that wine in Uzbekistan was super shitty shit … but it’s also a must do experience if you’re there in Samarkand.

Reactions of pain and helplessness

How about wandering through Registan Square in Samarkand?

Ummm why is there a crowd taking my picture?

Yep … this is me trying to escape .. and you’re wondering why I have the same shirt on different days … I bought three of them!

The other thing I miss is bypass all aspects of face control. This was a big concern of mine while I was over there. I thought that since they hadn’t seen many brown people over there, that I wouldn’t have free reign over where I wanted to go. This was never the case, even though I saw signs like this everywhere …

I wonder if they could institute both of these in Trinidad without serious issues?

I think I was also the only person who could dance over there … and I am a terrible dancer for a Trinidadian unless I’m drunk, then I’m pretty awesome … (to my drunken self)

Who doesn’t love a club in the middle of nowhere with all the ladies sitting down?


Posted in Asia, Uzbekistan | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Wednesday Photo Nights #24 : Crushing Buffets in Manila

Posted by Rishiray on February 6, 2014

When you’re travelling around the planet, you’re bound to see some amazing food emporiums. That being said, I’ve seen nowhere else in the world that offers consistently amazing hotel buffets like those found in Manila, Philippines.

Spiral at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza

Circles at Makati Shangri-La

Talipapa Fish Market

If you’re looking for an exhaustive list of buffets in Manila … here you go

Hotel Restaurant Buffets in Manila

Posted in Asia, Philippines, Wednesday Photo Nights | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Wining at a Trini wedding … and more videos

Posted by Rishiray on June 28, 2013

Over the years, I’ve take a lot of videos. I would say that my videos are pretty horrible, since I have no sense of cinematography whatsoever. It’s almost as though I’ve been shooting my video in the same manner in which I shoot my photos … but they’re obviously two very different things. I’ve never really expected anyone to see my videos … so I’m always surprised at comments on my YouTube channel.
For instance … this video of random women wining at my brother’s wedding got a lot of hits … now 40000 views isn’t Justin Bieber-ish, but it’s surprising for a random travel video of a Trini wedding.
My video of Captain Crazy in 9 Miles in Jamaica has also gotten a lot of hits – his laugh always brings a smile to my face. He is a fixture at Bob Marley’s home with his charm and huge ass spliff!
Then a video in Phuket, Thailand of random girls in a bar … I wonder why that would be popular?
Surprisingly a video of Diane playing with warm pitch at the Pitch Lake in La Brea, Trinidad was surprisingly popular. Who would have thought it?
And finally here is some Nylon Pool water for you

If you’re feeling like stalking random travel videos … feel free to wander through my youtube channel. You can see that I’m clearly too lazy to edit these things …:P

Posted in Asia, Caribbean, Jamaica, Thailand | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic – that’s a lot to say

Posted by Rishiray on June 11, 2013

When you’re in Kandy, along with the cricket ground where Murali grew up and the elephant orphanage, you will visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. This temple complex houses one of the most important Buddhist relics in all of Sri Lanka, an object so sacred it bring throngs of devotees to the temple threshold every year.

I’m sure from the name, you can guess what’s housed in the temple – a tooth of Buddha himself in a golden box. According to legend, the tooth was taken from the Buddha as he lay on his funeral pyre. It was smuggled to Sri Lanka in 313 AD, hidden in the hair of Princess Hemamali who fled the Hindu armies besieging her father’s kingdom in India. There is a statue in honor of both of them in the complex grounds.

It was moved from place to place and over time the belief spread that whoever was in possession of the tooth had the right to rule the land. Replicas were created to protect the integrity of the tooth and even today the location of the original relic remains unclear. Whether the tooth housed in this shrine is the real deal or not, it still possesses great religious significance for Sri Lankan Buddhists who strive to pilgrimage to its threshold at least once in their lifetime.

Entrance Fee & Dress Code

The grounds of the temple are very manicured and taken care of  but the entrance fee for tourists visiting from SAARC countries is LKR 100, and alternatively LKR 500 for other foreign nationals – so be prepared to give up your shoes and $10USD each in order to enter the temple. As with most religious sites in Sri Lanka, decent attire is expected of all visitors; below-knee length pants or skirts, shoulder covered tops and no head gear.

The complex consists of three sections

  1. Royal Palace
  2. Audience Hall
  3. Mahamaluwa

Regardless of the story of how the tooth came to be, the temple is the highlight of Kandy town. It’s situated on the lake and has a little moat wrapping around the outside which doesn’t really deter anyone or any monkey; but it makes it look lovely. To get into the complex you will have to cross the moat but from an architectural and stylistic perspective, there are so many wonderful elements that you can photograph, that you will surely spend at least two hour shooting macro details of the complex.

If you’re into architecture … then you can’t help shooting all the small elements, from the ceilings with support beams to the stucco walls and ceilings of the Royal Palace,

On most days, there will be a crowd lining up, but thankfully when we went there wasn’t a large crowd to deal with but nearly everyone there came with flowers or other offerings. Many of them queued for what seemed to be a rather lengthy wait in order to present those offerings in the appropriate sanctuaries.

Another of my favorite areas was the Buddhist museum with shiny marble floors, numerous statues of Buddha from around the world, and a soundtrack of chanting filling the long, highly reflective hall. It was lined with paintings which each were a ‘story panel’ of the famous tooth and how it came to be in Kandy.

If you’re tired of all the architecture, you can always watch some dogs playing with cloth.

Posted in Asia, Sri Lanka | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Bukhara Sightseeing : Poi Kalyan photoblog

Posted by Rishiray on May 23, 2013

It’s been about two months since I left Uzbekistan, but I can’t think of a place I’ve been that I’ve expected so little from that offered so much. As a Trinidadian, the idea of vast mosque complexes, rugged terrain and amazing food would be something that I would expect in the much more well known Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran etc … but not Uzbekistan. As for Bukhara, it’s one of the holiest places of Islam and was one of the key stops along the Silk Route. In the Middle Ages, when the region was at its zenith, scholars travelled from all over the Islamic world to study here, including two giants of Persian culture, Ibn Sina and Firdausi. Once you’re in Bukhara, there is so much to do and see, that making a decision on where to go can lead to mental paralysis.
Thankfully, I brought along a list of all major sights in the city. There are a lot of mausoleums, mosques and madrassahs. In fact, there are so many, that you’ll have to spend two full days wandering around, if you wanted to see everything. In the end, I condensed my list into the following high level sights.

  1. Poi-Kalyan complex comprising of the Kalyan Minaret, Mir-i-Arab Madrassah and Kalyan Mosque
  2. Ark Fortress
  3. Mausoleums (4) :Naqshbandi, Boharzi, Chashma Ayub, Samanid,
  4. Madrassahs (6) : Chor Minor, Ulugbek, Djuiboriy Kalon, Gozien, Ensemble of Kosh-Madrassah, Labi-Hauz Ensemble
  5. Mosques (3) : Namazgokh, Balyand, Magoki-Attari
  6. Necropolis Chor-Bakr
  7. Gate Talipach
  8. Trading domes
  9. Sitorai Mohi-Khosa
  10. Bolo-khauz
  11. Ensemble of Khoja Gaukushan
  12. Khanqah Faizabad

Starting your time wandering around, I’d recommend that you visit the Poi-Kalyan complex per my list. There is a lot to see and if you’re a photographer, you’re going to spend a couple hours trying shoot from the different vantage points.

Poi Kalyan in the shadows

This isn’t going to be your typical Poi Kalyan photoblog … So once you’re at Poi Kalyan, then you’re going to see the Kalyan Minaret, which is one of the most famous sights of Bukhara. It towers over everything in the city – which is amazing since it was built in 1127AD (It is still the tallest minaret in East Asia!). In fact, when some random guy named Genghis Khan (I think he’s famous or something like that) passed through the city in 1220 – it was the only thing left standing. Local legend says that Genghis Khan was so awe struck with the exquisiteness of the tower that he specifically forbade its destruction. Here’s some facts about the Minaret – don’t say I didn’t provide some knowledge …

  • Made of of burnt brick with plaster mortar
  • Height of 45.6 metres
  • Base diameter of of 9 meters which tapers to 6 meters.
  • It is topped with sixteen-arched skylight rotunda and its entire height is decorated with 14 parallel bands none of which are repeated.
  • The tower has a brick spiral staircase built around the central pillar and provides access to the rotunda.

Wondering where the Kalyan Minaret is? Look for the tallest freestanding structure … there you go!!

After wandering around the Kalyan Minaret, you can also walk into the Amir Alim Khan Madrassah. It’s just a fantastic structure – the colours and detail make it impossible to take a poor photograph. It’s best to photograph in the afternoon, as the light will be at your back. This madrassah is still a working school, so unless you can chat with the guards at the door, you won’t be allowed in … doesn’t mean you can’t take pictures of all the detailing.

Amir Alim Khan Madrassah .. I had to take notes of everything – there are so many Madrassahs

Inside the main portal of the Kalyan Mosque, it’s quite spartan and bare. Walking around, you will get some great vantage points of the entire complex and you can do a shadow/silhouette shot like the one I took below.

Just in case you forgot your praying times … I’m assuming this is what this is 🙂

Once you walk out of the complex, you can wander over to the main wall to capture the city.

Posted in Asia, Uzbekistan | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Here’s how to do Pagsanjan Falls … my Pagsanjan Falls DIY approach

Posted by Rishiray on May 3, 2013

It’s a known fact that I love waterfalls (well it’s known, if you read this travel blog). I’ve done 4 of the big 5 waterfalls around the world, and I’ll generally go to any place where there is an awesome waterfall. On a trip to the Philippines, I had a chance to go behind Pagsanjan Falls. It’s pretty awesome and there are a couple ways you can see the falls

  1. Do a day tour from Manila
  2. DIY using local transport. I’ve put a link with directions at the bottom of the article – Pagsanjan Falls DIY
  3. Use a local driver and have them take you there directly

I chose option #3, since I was there on a work trip 🙂 Nothing better than having your trip paid for by someone else. If you’re wondering the best time to go, then you should go during the dry season, from end of October to end of May. From June to mid-October is the rainy season and the weather can be pretty bad as well as the level of the water on the river dangerous. On the road, you’ll pass through the town of Pagsanjan. For the average tourist, I wouldn’t recommend sticking around, as you’re here for the adventure of the waterfalls.

Many of the hotels along the river have a stairwell that goes down to the river. If you’re going to have lunch at their restaurants, you can get a much reduced rate on the boat ride and changing facilities. The restaurant facilities are not 5 star, but they will be adequate enough for your purposes.

Once you’re all arranged, you’ll get into these thin boats and you’ll be ferried to the start of the rapids. It’s a bit unnerving getting into those tiny little boats, especially if you are a person of size … compared to these little filipinos, I was a damn monster. That being said, it’s quite the little adventure up the stream and you’ll definitely enjoy people watching along the river. Feel free to wave at the people 🙂 Here is a video of the beginning ride upstream.
Next, you’ll then be pulled upstream by those two guys and they will drag you boat all along the river too. IF you’ve ever seen Jurassic Park, then you know exactly what the scenery looks like. In fact, while I was passing other little waterfalls, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see dinosaurs and an archeopteryx or two.

I did feel a little guilty, while I sat in the banca/small trigger boat, enjoying the scenery with my helmet and life vest on, but I rationalized it and I was over the guilt. I guarantee, you won’t be tired from paddling the boat, but it is tiring and exciting looking around.
Once you’re at the end of the river run, then you’ll have the option of going into the falls and visiting the Devil’s Cave (it’s named as such, because it looks like the face of a devil … I didn’t see that resemblance)

Devil’s Cave

I HIGHLY recommend it even though it’s a rather small cave inside but to feel the powerful waterfalls splashing on your back  is awesome, and you swim for a while inside the cave and take pictures. You will have to tip the guys about 4$ USD for the effort of pulling you into the falls … yep, just 4$USD for the efforts of three men to pull you into the falls (you will feel some degree of guilt about the whole thing, but this is how much people in the Philippines make … get over it!). My friend Melanie White, was the one narrating the little adventure and don’t bother asking why I had to roll up my sleeves.

If you’re looking for a schedule of times for your Pagsanjan Falls DIY, then I would use the following high level  itinerary from Manila, along with a clickable map of the sight along the way.

Time                          Activity
8:00 AM                     Leave Manila by car or busETD (Green Star Bus)
10:15 – 10:30 AM     Get into Pagsanjan Falls
10:30 – 3:00 PM      Pagsanjan falls adventure including lunch
3:00 – 4:00 PM        Lunch
4:00 – 6:00 PM        Get back to Manila

Here are directions to Pagsanjan Falls with routes (taken from PH commute):

From NCR:

  1. Go to one of the bus terminals below:
  2. Ride an HM Transport/Green Star bus to Sta. Cruz, and get off at Pagsanjan/Jam bus terminal in Barangay Pagsawitan, Pagsanjan, Laguna. The ride takes about 2.5 hours.
  3. Go to Pagsanjan, Lumban, Paete, Siniloan, or Caliraya, you can either:
    • Ride a jeep to Pagsanjan, Lumban, Paete, Siniloan, or Caliraya, and get off at your destination. The ride takes about 20-30 minutes.
    • Ride a tricycle to your destination.

From Cavinti/Lucena/Luisiana, Quezon Province:

  1. Ride a jeep to Sta. Cruz via Pagsanjan, and get off at your destination.

From Lucban, Quezon Province:

  1. Ride a jeep to Pagsanjan town plaza, and get off at your destination.

From Dasmarinas, Cavite:

  1. From the Pala-pala Terminal (near Robinsons Place and SM City Dasmarinas), ride a van to Pagsanjan or Sta. Cruz, and get off at Pagsanjan/Jam bus terminal in Barangay Pagsawitan, Pagsanjan, Laguna. The ride takes about 2.5 hours.
  2. Go to Pagsanjan, Lumban, Paete, Siniloan, or Caliraya, you can either:
    • Ride a jeep to Pagsanjan, Lumban, Paete, Siniloan, or Caliraya, and get off at your destination. The ride takes about 20-30 minutes.
    • Ride a tricycle to your destination.

Posted in Asia, Philippines | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

All about tea in Sri Lanka … no Lipton for me

Posted by Rishiray on April 30, 2013

Growing up in Trinidad leads you to believe certain truths about the world

  • Any drink with fizz or carbonation is a “Swee Drink”
  • All condensed milk should come from a small Nestle can.
  • All tea is either Lipton or Dilmah, always comes in a bag.

I was never a big tea person back home because I’m lactose intolerant. In the years when I grew up (80’s and 90’s), if you walked into any Indo-Trini household and you’re going to find a pot of tea in the morning along with a can of Carnation evaporated milk or Nestle Condensed Milk for breakfast. With this association, I always assumed that tea and milk went together – which then fueled an aversion to tea. Makes sense right? It wasn’t until I started going to Chinese restaurants in Montreal, did I learn that most tea is served without milk. I also learned that most good tea doesn’t come in a bag but rather loose leaf.
Over the years, I’ve tried to learn a lot more about tea along with other beverages … but there is a certain mystique about tea that resonates from my childhood. Visiting Sri Lanka, you can do a lot of fun things like ride elephants and wander around magical temples and monasteries, but a highlight for me was visiting tea plantations and tea tasting – i.e having tea in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, tea is the national drink. I mean duh … they sponsor the Sri Lankan cricket team and the only Sri Lankan brand I actually knew was Dilmah. Every day a Trinidad – Sri Lanka connection is made through Dilmah and almost every nationality in the world will tea made from leaves grown in the hills of Sri Lanka.

embilmeegama tea factory

We did a tour of the Embilmeegama tea factory. It’s an unpretentious building on the outskirts of Kandy with a narrow store frontage displaying teas to tables of imbibers all of whom had been ushered through the two floors of workers, machinery and boxes that was the factory. The tour can be split into three parts and takes about 20 – 25 minutes, here are the three parts:

  1. Visiting the upstairs rooms where the tea leaves are brought into the building and they are placed into the massive circular machines before going through the refining process.
  2. Visiting the downstairs room where the tea goes through different levels of refining and is eventually left out to rest before being heated.
  3. The tea is heated and then cooled and put into bags ready for shipment.

Freshly picked tea leaves

Tea drying on the belts

Sorting the leaves


tea being sorted and cleaned

leaves being dried

More drying

more sorting

After all the processing of the leaves, then you get to learn a bit more about the grades of tea. You also get to figure out that the tea in the bags, might be the best quality tea you’re drinking.

  • Choppy contains many leaves of various sizes.
  • Fannings: are small particles of tea leaves used almost exclusively in tea bags.
  • Flowery: consists of large leaves, typically plucked in the second or third flush with an abundance of tips.
  • Golden Flowery: includes very young tips or buds (usually golden in colour) that were picked early in the season.
  • Tippy: includes an abundance of tips.

grading the quality of tea

I also learned that there were only 4 different types of tea … which makes life a lot simpler.

  1. White: White tea is the least known and least processed of the varieties and, therefore, tastes mostly like fresh leaves or grass. It also has the lowest amount of caffeine and is most likely to have the highest antioxidant properties.
  2. Green: Green tea, like white tea, is closer to tasting like fresh leaves or grass than the black or oolong variety. It is lower in caffeine and extremely popular for its high antioxidant properties.
  3. Black: Black tea is the most consumed of the four kinds of tea. It contains the highest amount of caffeine and has some antioxidant properties.
  4. Oolong: Oolong tea is the most difficult variety to process. The best way to describe it would be to say it is somewhere between green and black tea. This is because it is only partially oxidised during processing.

Herbal tea isn’t really tea, but rather a fusion of dried flowers and herbs. There’s your fun fact for the morning. Once you’ve learned all about tea, then the fun starts with all the shopping and tea drinking.

how much for your tea, buddy?

You get lost with all the flavors of tea …

The flavored tea comes in boxes, while the Silver and Golden tips come in cloth bags.

I only wanted Silver and Golden tips for my tea. It’s more expensive, but once you’ve had some fantastic tea, you won’t really want to drink anything else.

Only Golden Tip for me!!!




Posted in Asia, Sri Lanka | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Who else wants to go to Male?

Posted by Rishiray on April 16, 2013

I know what you’re thinking “What to do in Male?”… you might have stumbled on this, thinking something else. That being said, Male is the capital of the Maldives. I had a chance to visit one of those magical honeymoon paradises, two years ago and aside from the phenomenal beaches and stunning sunsets, I had a chance to visit Male. Typically, you’re going to be on a resort island and getting from your resort island to Male, will usually involve some exorbitant day fee … get used to it.
[mappress mapid=”75”]
You’re in the Maldives now – things are going to be expensive as a foreigner – that thought will make you pass the time better. Coming in by boat into the main island – you get a small sense of how crowded it is …

Now I’ve been some of the world’s most crowded cities : Mexico City, Manila, Buenos Aires; but Male takes the cake. The island is 1.7 km long and 1.0 km wide, but with over 100,000 people crammed onto it, Male is by some measures the world’s densest city.

Because of the extreme lack of space on such a tiny island, there are very few cars … in fact, many locals ridicule the cars because the lack of functionality is so ridiculous – however cars are a huge status symbol, since they are prohibitively expensive. Any clear pathway around seems to be a “road” …

It’s one thing to have paths, but another thing for paths to become roads for these scooters. The majority of Maldivians live in Male, hence they have has to find inventive ways to contain nonsense like this …

Since the city is a small island, they had to get creative to contain so many people and shops and everything. Some of the impressive ways they manage this:

  • Almost all roads are one-ways
  • Many buildings are multistory and quite narrow.
  • Many elevators are small and can carry 6 people at a time.
  • People use bikes or cycles – it’s not a large place to get around at all.

Male’s main street Boduthakurufaanu Magu, home to banks and most government buildings, runs along the north shore and it’s about 6 large city blocks long …

The great thing about Male is that your tour can be as short as 45 mins, since there aren’t that many places to see. Since I was the only person speaking English (the rest of the boat was Chinese and Korean), my tour guide took me on his personal scooter.

Aside from riding around, there are 4 main points of interest on the island

1. Islamic Center & Majid Sultan Mohamad Thakurufaanu Al-au’zam
Male’s best-known architectural landmark, just south of Jumhooree Maidhaan. The complex contains the largest mosque in the Maldives, topped with a golden dome and capable of accommodating 5,000 people.

It is quite beautiful in action


2. Sultan Park and National Museum. Sat-Thu 9 AM-5 PM. The sole surviving building of what was once the Sultan’s palace is now the Maldivian National Museum.

3. Fish Market : Not much needs to be said, but this is definitely a hub of the people. Both the fish market and the vegetable market seem to be always teeming with people.

4. Hukuru Miskiy (Old Friday Mosque). This Mosque is famous for its beautiful rooms with intricately carved panels (one in particular, of the XIII century, evokes conversion to Islam). The Mosque was built on a old West oriented temple and this explains its anomalous orientation. Very interesting are the white and blue minaret and the small cemetery with graves of ancient sultans on the West part.

If you’re ever there … here is a decent tourist link to all “attractions” in Male.

Posted in Asia, Maldives | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Wine tasting in Samarkand … yep … seriously!

Posted by Rishiray on April 15, 2013

Wine tasting in Samarkand? You didn’t know that Uzbekistan had wine? Neither did I! So our gracious friend and guide Yuliya suggested that we try some Uzbek wine, you could imagine the face I made and the thoughts which ran amok in my brain. Yuliya’s suggestion wasn’t really about the wine but her story that the woman who runs the tasting is frequently drunk while things are going on. That sounded like excellent entertainment to me. The Filatov winery also has a museum of wine, which stores collection of the winery’s best wines – but I couldn’t be bothered about such types of education – I wanted the drinking entertainment.
filatov winery samarkand
filatov wine museum
I did learn that even with the harsh sunlight and heat, different varieties of grapes grow in Samarkand. The grapes are quite sweet – so for instance, in Europe, the sweetness of grapes is on average 14-18%, while the grapes grown in the Samarkand region are between 24-35% of sugar (fructose). They make a lot of wine here …
wine tasting in samarkand
If you do come, you will be shown around the museum  and it’s dedicated to the wine history of the region. BTW Important Note : No bad jokes about what horrors you expect from Uzbek wine … everyone speaks excellent English at the winery.That being said, if you’re hoping for a delightful array of different whites and reds to tantalize your taste buds – you are going to be completely surprised by the collection of sugar “stuff” you’re going to taste. Your wine tasting guide is this very cute old man … he knows the facts he’s been giving and I’m sure that if you’re a lot more educated on wine, then you’ll have better responses than the ones I gave.
get ready for sugar shit
I’m no wine expert … but the tasting goes from sweet wine to vatted poison. Our grey haired wonder above even told us that wine number 7 was given as medicine to the victims of Hiroshima and more recently the Japanese tsunami disaster due to its “blood cleansing qualities”. If you count my glasses, you can see that I couldn’t finish #8 and #9.

In fact, our grey haired wonder referred to #8 as a “Cognac”. As a note, the wines below get sweeter and sweeter. Just because a liquid gets sweeter and sweeter, doesn’t mean it gets better and better or tastier and tastier.

As you will note from the following reaction shots … things didn’t really hit a high note. Pictures speak a 1000 words … hopefully the following sequence of sampled shots will convey what I thought of the wine. My disclaimer here is that I’m not a wine snob, but my Russian comrade shown with me, is a wine snob. Look at the last shot in the sequence.

Now that you know all you need to know about wine tasting in Samarkand, I do recommend the tour just for the camp value and it’s only $10USD. Spend your money and go do some wine tasting in Samarkand and get some truly horrific wine (Again … I am no wine expert … I just know what’s drinkable!)

Useful facts:

  • The winery was opened in 1868.
  • The founder was the Russian entrepreneur D.M.Filatov.
  • 1883 they won the Gold Medal in the International Fair of Wines and Brandies
  • The winery processes 16,000 tons annually
  • The price for tasting and museum tour is US$ 10 per person – so it is a bit steep, but where else could you get entertainment like this?

Posted in Asia, Uzbekistan | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Dealing with my food preferences on the road

Posted by Rishiray on April 7, 2013

When you’re on the road, chasing epic food adventures is part and parcel of your journey. This being said, with all my years of travel experience and exposure, I am a very finicky eater. For too many reasons, I have the following aversions

  • I don’t eat Lamb/Mutton or Goat Meat … I’ll eat them once in a while, but only if very certain people cook it.
  • I don’t eat anything with dairy (Milk, Butter, Cheese)
  • I don’t like the strong taste of margarine

I might not learn the language, but I’m always 100% sure of how to say I don’t want something in my food.

  • In Spanish speaking countries … my order is always proceeded by ” sin mantequilla, queso o leche, por favor. Soy alérgico.”
  • In Russian speaking countries … ” ne maslo, syr, moloko ili pozhaluysta. YA allergik.” … I’ve also have to learn “Nyet Baran” …which is “No Sheep!” … it’s tough getting a meal without some sheep’s part in Central Asia
  • In Portuguese speaking countries … “sem manteiga, queijo ou leite, por favor. Sou alérgico.”
  • I even learned the phrase in Tagalog for my Philippines trip … “walang mantikilya, keso, o gatas. Ako ay allergic.”

This being said, how do you refuse 3 day old smoked lake fish? This was one of the first challenges that I had when I was in Kyrgyzstan, with my indomitable hosts Camilla & Bolot and the most hardcore Russian I know … Volodia (I could offer more reasons for his “hardcoreness” … but let’s just say he is old school and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to be in a fight with him). Driving to Issyk Kul, there were a number of people selling these fish along the roadside … while passing them, I thought “There is no way I’m going to eat that stuff … is it even food?”
Of course, after meeting Volodia at this swank cottage complex on the lake … I was taken to the piers to have a true Russian experience … eating smoked fish and drinking 3 day old beer.

Yes, Trinidadians … if you’re in Kyrgyzstan and you have great hosts, you’re going to face this. If you’re ok with Sushi, then you won’t have as terrible a time, but the “freshness” of the fish definitely requires the beer to wash it down. As I write this, I can still smell the fish, it’s not a scent that will go away from my scent bank for a very, very long time.  How about another challenge … we love Tomato Herring at home, in the cans. We make this into a spicy “sap” that goes with hops bread.

Not over here … you eat the stuff raw … on rye bread.  Correction, it was Black Sea Sprat (Kilka) … wondering why the image is fuzzy … because I was quivering at the thought of barfing this stuff up and having Volodia laugh at me. Wasn’t going to happen …!!

How about some raw mackerel  “pechen’ trski” aka fish liver (of sorts covered by egg and mayonnaise? This wasn’t as bad as I thought it could be … but the texture combinations proved quite challenging for me. I didn’t actually know what it was, so I dug in and had a good helping of the stuff, before I knew what it was. I think the last time I was this surprised, I was eating Chicken in Blood Sauce in Rio de Janeiro – so always ask what you’re eating and make no assumptions.

How about some horse sausage? This is quite the delicacy over here … in both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. This collection of phallic like sausages was at a restaurant in Tashkent. The sausage is usually chipped finely and mixed in with cold noodles … there was a rather large woman tossing the whole table of noodles by hand. – had I seen the making of the noodles …. I don’t think I would have been able to stomach the dish. I did learn that if you toss tons of hot sauce on the horse, it doesn’t have a bad kick (hahahaha)

Horse Sausage and Cold noodles

Horse Sausage and Cold noodles

How about some Shirgrechka – Milk porridge with buckwheat. It took me a long time to figure out what the hell these people were making, when it takes 5 people to stir a massive pot of porridge, then you know you have something going on.

Posted in Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

That’s a lot of porridge …

Posted by Rishiray on April 5, 2013

I’m not a fan of anything with dairy, so you can imagine my surprise when I saw this huge vat of Uzbekistan Porridge or Shirgrechka being made. I don’t know what the cost of labor is in Uzbekistan, but I’m pretty sure when you hire 5 women to stir one gigantic pot of porridge or whatever the hell it is that they are stirring, then you know that your labor costs needs a revision. I was actually told that if I made a comment to anyone that machines could this more efficiently, then 20 people would automatically lose their jobs. No pressure to keep the silence eh?


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Wednesday Photo Nights #14 : The walled city of Khiva

Posted by Rishiray on April 5, 2013

Walking through Khiva feels a bit contrived and artificial. The place looks like they lifted it from a movie set – it’s UNESCO money done right. The city looks fantastic, and when you compare it to the squalor that surrounds the town – it makes the comparison even starker. When you get in at night and I do recommend that you spent at least two nights in Khiva … you’ll be treated with a town that’s completely yours between 8pm and 8am. If you’re into challenging night photography … Khiva is your place.

However, it’s during the day that the city shines. There is a reason that all trip itineraries start in Tashkent, go through Khiva and Bukhara and end with Samarkand – the progression of elements is a natural one from old Soviet layouts to old Timur layouts.  The old city is surrounded by an impressive 15m high wall and contains the real architectural gems of the city, even at first glance, Khiva was quite different than both Bukhara and Samarkand. Starting outside the western gates, you’ll see a signboard for the UNESCO Silk Road project (If you would like more info … here is a great link to BorobudurTV. This project is beyond ambitious … but there are actually people who are hiking or cycling the Silk Road! As you can tell, Bukhara is the junction of everything, and it’s reflected in Bukhara’s importance.

As Khiva is a walled city, it meant that the sights of Khiva were more concentrated and finite dimensions to your walking around town. Walking around the city is free, but if you would like to enter all the madrassas or mosques/museums, then you’ll have to pay a one time fee of 20,000 Som ($8 USD) – Don’t complain about the fee … just pay it and move on, even though it is expensive by Uzbek standards – you’ll be rewarded with some great pictures.

There are three minarets in the city, of which two are accessible to the public. Spend the time and climb them … you’ll be rewarded with some spectacular views of the city. You can also climb to the top of the guard towers … for another vantage point.

The building themselves are so elaborate and interesting.

If you’re wondering about the “imcomplete” looking minaret, then you’re probably looking at Khiva’s most famous sight –  the unfinished Kalta Minor. It was commissioned by a khan who, sadly, passed away before it was complete. Had it been finished, it likely would have been the tallest building in the world at the time. You really cannot miss it from any vantage point in the city.


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Roaming Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent …

Posted by Rishiray on April 4, 2013

Getting into Uzbekistan generally means that you have to spend some time in Tashkent. While the Silk Road beckons, I would actually spend more time in Tashkent … not only is it a big city, but it is a super historical one as well. Aside from the large roads, beautiful subway stations that you cannot legally take pictures of, and great architecture … you’re also going to find a lot of markets. I like markets a lot … I’ll put them with churches, cemeteries and waterfalls on my photographic wish list. They’re always super interesting and you’ll always meet tons of curious people. Tashkent has many markets and bazaars and you can buy almost anything at the markets in Tashkent. If you’re on a timeline as I was, then I would pick a walk through Chorsu Bazaar. It’s the oldest market in Tashkent and you cannot miss the distinctive blue-green dome. It dominates the skyline of the area.

Hundreds years ago it was one of the busiest bazaars in Central Asia, since it is located on the silk route. The location hasn’t changed in all these years but the old buildings have been replaced by modern buildings. Like any other oriental Bazaar, Chorsu is spread over a large area – so be prepared to walk around. Architecturally, the dome is fantastic … it’s tough to take an uninteresting picture in here.

While walking around the market, be prepared to haggle with vendors. The great thing was that people were more curious than anything else. Unlike our markets in Trinidad – people aren’t aggressively trying to sell you stuff (I won’t even mention a Jamaican shopping experience). The market is definitely busy, but as mentioned – you won’t have a bad shot. BTW – do buy some nuts from the vendors … you’ll probably have the best pistachios of your life in here, as well as honey dipped, sesame seed crusted varieties …

There is also a full abbatoir and dairy market … they also sell these dried yogurt like things. There are tons of vendors selling them, but I had no idea what they were – but thankfully if you google “Dried yogurt balls in chorsu bazaar”, you’ll get Kurut. Thankfully, I had my Russian spy to sample them for me … his feedback was that they tasted like “old yogurty feet” … the powdery consistency got stuck in his mouth for way too long, and the saltiness was only slightly overpowered by the harsh old yogurt/cheese taste.

I guess if you’re looking for cheesy, salty, yogurty balls … then Kurut is your thing. I’m so super glad, I had someone there to try this stuff … because if I had tried it … it would have resulted in a diplomatic incident … most likely all over the floor of Chorsu Bazaar. My advice is that if you’re not a fan of dairy products, then it should take a very, very long time before you get into an actual food-to-mouth position with kurut. As an FYI, there were entire stands of pungent rocks and balls.

trays of salty, yogurty Kurut

As a Trini, you’re also going to want to buy some chilies or spice in the market. The food will never be hot enough for you. I suggest going to any chili vendor, having a Russian explain that you think their chilies are shit and that they couldn’t produce something spicy, if their lives depended on it and possibly their grandchildren’s. You’ll be inundated with requests to try every type of spice for free!

If you’re super lucky … you’re going to end up with a bottle of very good pepper sauce (hot sauce) … and like a good Trini … you’re going to take it to every restaurant with you – like the WORLD BOSS that you are, to apply generously with your horse meat and cold noodles (shown directly in the center) … but that’s for another blog.


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Travel PSA : My 90th country is going to be the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”

Posted by Rishiray on April 4, 2013

“I’m going to be the first Trinidadian to visit “Garbage Patch” … Travel is all cool and stuff, but sometimes one’s travel will take them to places that never once existed. Magical lands of fairies, superheroes and diapers. In my first public service announcement, I’d like to announce that I’m going to be the first Trinidadian to visit “Garbage Patch” … and no I’m not talking about some poorer regions of Trinidad (Trinidadians … Save your indignation now). However, did you know that there are 5 provinces/states of Garbage Patch. I didn’t know this … but it is an awesome way to increase your country count. I think the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) will be my first garbage province.


BTW, this isn’t an April’s Fool joke … as ridiculous as it sounds, it’s a 100% real phenomenon – but don’t ask the cruise ships that pump about 20% of the shit in the sea.


Meet Garbage Patch, the newest country in the world.

It is made of trash, is as large as maybe even Texas and is in the middle of the ocean. Oh, and it’s severely under-populated. Actually, no one lives in Garbage Patch, no man, no animal.

Okay, Garbage Patch is not really a country but to focus on monumental examples of man-made pollution, the United Nations’ cultural and science agency UNESCO will designate the conglomerations of rubbish a veritable territory of its own.

And so on April 11, the world will welcome a new ‘state” to be named Garbage Patch, reports La Stampa, the Italian paper.

“Garbage Patch comprises five areas of man-made rubbish in the seas: North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic, and Indian Ocean. The largest, discovered in 2009, is called the Great Garbage Patch or the Pacific Trash Vortex. Marine currents bring the rubbish together, swirling to the surface. The garbage gets broken down, thanks to photo degradation, into smaller and smaller pieces that are consumed by marine life, reentering the food chain,” says the La Stampa report.

Italian architect Maria Cristina Finucci has reportedly led the effort to get the UNESCO state designation. The official Facebook page declares that Garbage Patch will be a federal state with a population of 36,939 — tonnes of garbage.

Oh, its flag will be blue, like the oceans it pollutes.

“I found out about the tragic islands made of plastic, but they were treated lightly by the scientific community,” Finucci told La Stampa.

Finucci believes that in creating a state, people will become more aware.

“The only thing we can do now is to stop them from getting bigger,” she said.

Garbage Patch’s inauguration ceremony will not take place on any of the islands but at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris. There will be bottle caps on the floor, plastic bags all over and the sound of waves in the background.

Quite fitting.

Here is another fantastic link on Garbage Patch … http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/translating-uncle-sam/stories/what-is-the-great-pacific-ocean-garbage-patch. When you read this stuff, it makes you want to stop eating sushi or any seafood for the rest of your life … since each fish you eat, could basically be a living floating Bisphenol A reservoir – wouldn’t that be super tasty?

Here’s 5 more articles from MNN – that you can read in your spare time.  I’m not saying to go out and make a difference – that’s way too hard and super expensive … you could use that money to go to Bhutan or Norway … you’ll need a billion dollars to travel to those places – but information on our newest country isn’t the worst thing you can have. As a Trinidadian, I don’t even need a visa to visit Garbage Patch and all the provinces.

For my good deed today, I’m going to buy a copy of this movie. Ok, I’m not … I’m totally going to download it, but my heart is in the right place, but I guess I’ll have to strike the Midway Islands off my list … since it has no Sheratons and there is the dead albatross thing going on.


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How to enter Uzbekistan as a Trini or Canadian (Step by Step Uzbek LOI/VISA Process)

Posted by Rishiray on April 3, 2013

From the last couple posts, the most asked question I’ve gotten so far, was “How to get an Uzbekistan visa” or “How to do I get a visa to Uzbekistan as a Trini or Canadian?”. Here is my comprehensive primer on how to get your visa as a Canadian or Trinidadian.

  1. Budget enough USD for your trip. Here is a sample budget I did for my trip.
  2. Book your accommodations in advance. You can do this yourself, but you will find that using a tour operator like Stantours will get you a better rate. My 7 day trip cost me 250$USD – I travelled with another person, hence total cost was $500USD. That’s pretty great!
  3. Start the visa application/Letter of Invitation (LOI) process for Uzbekistan 21 days before your flight (anything else and you’re cutting it close – but I’m sure that with 7 days notice, you can get it done – but I’m not ever recommending this)
    1. You can get a LOI from many tour agencies there. I recommend Stantours – my experience was smooth and seamless.
    2. In order to proceed: Send them your personal data via email (I dealt with David : stantours@gmx.net) and arrange for prepayment according to their instructions AND send them a copy of the main page of your passport by e-mail attachment or fax, additional documents may be requested. You can see the results in the pictures below :
      1. Full Name (incl. name at birth or previous names if applicable):
      2. Date of Birth :
      3. City and Country of Birth :
      4. Citizenship (also previous citizenship if changed) :
      5. Passport Number :
      6. Date of the passport issue and expiration :
      7. Issuing authority :
      8. Gender :
      9. Marital Status:
        1. 9a if married: spouse’s full name
      10. Occupation, Place of Employment and type of business :
      11. Address and phone number of place of work :
      12. Accompanying children travelling on applicant’s passport :
      13. Previous visits (date, purpose and inviting party if applicable):
      14. Port of Entry :
      15. Date(s) of Entry and Departure :
      16. Cities and Sites you wish to visit :
      17. City/country where you will obtain visa :
      18. Home Address and Phone number:
    3. Cost of LOI service : $40. You can arrange with them via Western Union or wire transfer
    4. Cost of Visa at Tashkent Airport : $50 USD. Get a receipt. Don’t take a picture at the Airport!
    5. Trinidadians and Canadians can absolutely apply for a visa at Tashkent Airport. There is a specific counter for this. It might not be staffed when you get there, but once you indicate that you need one, the officers will send someone over. The whole visa application and passport stamping process took 15 minutes from start to finish. Have your cash in hand … they’re not the friendliest, but they’re efficient.
      1. Airport arrival visa are possible for Canadians and Trinidadians, since there is no Uzbek Embassy in either country.

You’ll need to fill out the following form

Visa Application Form

Here is what your LOI will look like – from CrossTravel/Stantours. (This will look different depending on the agency that you use)

Letter of Invitation

Here is what your Uzbek passport stamp will look like

Canadian Passport with Uzbek Visa

Questions :

  1. I am uncomfortable arriving in a country without a visa attached to my passport.
    Don’t be … it is a seamless and easy process to apply for the passport in Tashkent Airport
  2. Has any Canadian recently successfully obtained a visa for Uzbekistan? Cost, etc.
    Yes … as recently as three weeks ago.
    LOI : $40 USD
    Visa at Tashkent Airport : $50USD (The price seems to differ based on the officer you get … the girl in front me paid $60USD)
  3. Has anyone obtained a visa at the airport in Tashkent, with only a letter of invitation?
    Yes, see above.
  4. Is the Visa Counter open 24/7
    Yes. If there is no one there, the officers will find someone for you
  5. Do I have to speak Russian or will English be enough?
    Russian always helps but if you only speak English, it will be enough.
  6. Is one copy of my letter enough?
    Always take two printed copies and email a scanned copy to yourself in case you need to access it quickly in an emergency. This is Uzbekistan, don’t give the authorities any excuse to screw around with you.
  7. Do I need to send pictures along with my visa/LOI application?
    Nope … I didn’t send any, and I was perfectly fine.
  8. Did you bribe anyone? Were your documents checked everywhere?
    Nope … in fact, because I was brown skinned, the police seemed to stay even further away from me – since I was obviously a tourist. I had ZERO + ZERO incidents with the police.
  9. Do they always check passports in the Subway?
    Yes. If you take the subway, be prepared to show your documents.

My personal experience:

I had prepped for two weeks in gathering all the information for the LOI and the Visa. I did my checklist for the hotel, double checked reservations and paperwork. I was ready for them … getting off the plane, I was psyched up for my battle with the authorities, especially as a brown guy. It didn’t materialize … it was kinda anti-climactic, actually it was an f’n non-event. The visa guy looked at my LOI, looked at my passport, asked me for my money, stamped the passport, put the sticker in and sent me on my way. MEH!

The customs guys was a bit more suspicious, especially because my passport was so worn out (they spent 5 minutes looking at all the passport stamps from other countries!) but with my Russian buddy to translate, all was good. In fact, they give him a lot harder time than me.  He made a mistake on his entry form, and implied that he was entering Azerbaijan.

The customs guy shot him the following statement : “Do I look like a fucking Azerbaijani?“. I think we were all shocked, but this is Uzbekistan … no one is going to argue with the police/customs. Moral of the story … don’t make a mistake on that entry form and put “Azerbaijan”. In the end, I’m glad I “overprepped” rather than ‘underprepped” – I would offer the same advice to you.

All in all … I hope this answers the question : “How to get an Uzbekistan visa”

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