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Posted By Lester V Ledesma
#2 - Cruising the Dal Lake


Just after sunrise, Kashmir's fabled Dal Lake is a place of stillness and beauty. The morning fog hangs heavy in the air, stretching all across the horizon like a milky blanket. The green-topped shoreline, the white-topped distant mountains, and the countless wooden houseboats all seem to glow under golden sunlight. It is this gorgeous backdrop that I find myself being part of.

I sit on a roofless shikara, a thick woolen blanket wrapped around me. My butler Akbar rows quietly at the back while I take in the scenery. The morning smells of mildew on leaves, mixed with the scent of freshly-baked roti bread from a nearby floating bakery. Everything in this lake adds up into such a mind-numbingly beautiful sum. This is one boat ride that I never want to end.

#1 - Lidder Valley, Kashmir

An excerpt from my article in Asian Photography Magazine:

"...A few days later I go on a camping trip to the nearby Lidder Valley, where the white-topped Himalayas form a constant presence on the horizon. On horseback and on foot – and with my camera always on hand – I explore slopes and fields inhabited by smiling Urdu shepherds and wandering Gujjar tribesmen with their livestock in tow. Needless to say, throughout my trip I take all kinds of shots – close-up portraits of farmers smoking their sheesha pipes on wooden shacks, telephoto landscapes of snow and sky, headshots of Urdu women carrying firewood on their heads – each of them carrying treasured bits and memories of this truly magical journey"


"But I still have one more picture to take. On my last evening in Kashmir, I am once again behind my tripod-mounted EOS 5D, framing what must be my hundredth landscape image. In the growing darkness of dusk, I set my aperture to f8, and my shutter speed to a slow 30 seconds like I have done many times before. This one will be different, though, for right after I activate the shutter, I run to the front of the camera, and with a flashlight, draw a smiling face in the air. The resulting image isn't my best, but it does show how I feel about visiting this most legendary of places. Yes, I am happy to have seen paradise"

Not a bad year at all :)

Posted By Lester V Ledesma
#3 - The Bayon by Moonlight

Well past midnight, under glistening moonlight, the Bayon Temple forms an imposing sight. In the darkness I head inside one of Angkor's most celebrated temples, a tiny flashlight in my hand to illuminate the way. The atmosphere is eerie as I clamber over centuries of rubble, past empty halls populated by long-dead monks, and up towards the top gallery where my subject awaits.


I find him with a wave of my torch. His smile is gentle, and his sheer size is truly humbling (and just a little bit terrifying under the current conditions). Under daylight he is a postcard and a landmark; a relic for tourists to gawk at. But tonight, spotlit against a brilliant pre-dawn sky, he becomes who he really is: Jayavarman VII, builder of the Bayon Temple. King of the Khmers.

Posted By Lester V Ledesma
#6 - Rap Bua Festival, Samut Prakan

Colorful floats on water. Throngs of shouting, cheering people. Sounds like the usual fluvial parade. But this is Thailand, and there is nothing unusual about the way they do things here. Held near the end of the Buddhist rain retreat season, the Rap Bua is a taste of good old Thai Buddhist tradition mixed with Disney-style pomp and pageantry.

It's also off the tourist-beaten path - despite its location right under the nose of Bangkok's Savarnabhumi Airport - as I found out last October. Arriving in Thailand just as festival got underway, my companion and I hailed a cab and sped off, luggage and all, to the district of Bang Phli. We got there right in time for the fluvial parade, but by then the riverside was clogged with people waiting to see the main event.

Here's where Amazing Thailand justifies its nickname. Upon seeing these foreigners with their big cameras and bulging backpacks, the locals graciously made way. Chairs were given for us to stand on, and before we knew it we were right at the water's edge, standing a head above the crowd. And it got even better. The excitement was palpable when the floats appeared, and everyone bowed in unison at the sight of their object of devotion: the Luang Pho Tho, a centuries-old statue of the Buddha. Lotus buds were thrown in the air as the sacred image floated by, and there we were, firing away with a camera in one hand and a bunch of round, pink flowers in the other (the locals pressed them in our hands while we were busy shooting).

This was one of the precious few occasions when photographers weren't just observing. Our coverage, of course, ended not with a click, but with a toss and a prayer.

#5 - The Dolphins of Ozamiz


If you think dolphins are fascinating, try swimming with them at the MOAP dolphin conservation center, just outside Ozamiz City.

You don't know what the term "fish out of water" means until you get in there with these creatures of the deep. They approach you in pairs, hurtling just beneath the surface like dark gray torpedoes. Then they check you out, circling you while studying you with those big, black eyes. Welcome to their world. Dare to duck your head underwater and you'll almost certainly find yourself face-to-face with one. That unblinking look. That distinctive dolphin smile. That strange flicker of recognition borne from being distant cousins in the same mammalian family. There's a consciousness behind that dolphin face, and it's staring right back at you.

#4 - Shibuya Crossing, Tokyo


This was where they shot that climactic scene from "Lost in Translation", and believe me it looks just like in the movie. When the traffic light says "go", Shibuya's main traffic junction literally swarms with people crossing what must be Tokyo's busiest, glitziest intersection. But the main attraction isn't just this sea of black-suited salarymen, anime-haired youngsters and Gucci-toting sailormoon schoolgirls - it's the whole Sony-branded, Japanese-flavored futuristic scenery replete with huge video walls, screaming Kanji neon and piped-in video game music from speakers unseen. You want to experience modern Tokyo in twenty seconds? Go cross this street.



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