Journeysmatter

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Category Archives: Hindu religion

The Pench National Park

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An antlered spotted deer watching out attentively

We explored the intimate settings of the Jamtara wilderness camp in our previous blog. The camp hosts visitors who would like to enjoy a safari or two at the #Pench National Park in #MadhyaPradesh. The Pench national park is India’s 19th project #Tiger reserve and is spread over 758 sq km of area, out of which 299 sq km is considered to be the core region. At last count, it is said to house over 1200 species of flora and fauna.

Considering the number of visitors lining up for safaris, it is advisable to book your rides in advance via the property where you plan to stay. The three gates namely Karmajhiri, Jamtara and Turia from where safaris commence, have numerous hotels dotting them with Turia having more than 30 of them across various budgets. The hotels ask for a copy of your public ID which they use to book your safaris. Carry the same ID’s on you during your travel as they have to be produced at the time of entering the park for your first ride.

The morning rides commence from 630 AM until 11 AM. Afternoon rides commence at 3 PM and one has to exit the gates by 545 PM. The park is closed during the monsoon months of July, August and September. For the morning rides, the hotels equip the vehicles with a hearty breakfast which is enjoyed at a common point called Alikatta which has well maintained toilets. During winters, the safari vehicles are equipped with a hot water bag and a warm blanket to stay warm. Good to be well equipped. The safari vehicles start from their respective hotels with a naturalist usually at the wheels and are joined by a guide at the entry point. The guide is mandatory and are well aware of the park layout and the calls of various species. A tip of Rs 150 – 200 towards the end of the ride should serve as a good encouragement.

Winters bring in a lot of birds and summers draw out the animals to the water holes. All seasons are equally enjoyable and having an open mind helps. If one goes out just for sighting a Tiger, chances are that one may end up returning disappointed despite hearing a few sambhar warning calls or long growls of the tiger. Important to follow the park etiquettes and avoid noise while patiently waiting for a species. Children, until they are over 10 might find the long rides troublesome and might lead the vehicle to an earlier than expected exit from the park.

We stayed at the Jamtara Wilderness Camp during our travel and visited the park from the Karmajhiri gate. The ride from the camp to the gate took us close to 20 minutes and passed by a very well organized village whose residents were all from the Gond community. Presenting oneself at the gate on time is helpful to complete formalities before entering the park.

We sighted many species and not only sighting them but also watched them go about their activities which proved to be an experience in itself. Pictures were shot using a Sony a7III and a Sony G Master 100-400 mm.

The Common langur with its newborn
The common langur with its newborn maybe a day or two old as its head is still red in colour. The newborn was the center of attention in the flock and was being cared for by all the ladies
A tracking elephant with his mahout
The tracking elephant is used by forest guards to track Tigers within the park. The elephant is also used to herd deer if the park wants to shift some of them to another zone or even another park. The mahout gently taps the head of the elephant to steer him in the right direction
A gaur watches intently
The Gaur, a majestic herbivore and bovine appears in the afternoon along with its family and silently goes about its grazing but also acknowledging the visitors with a steely gaze
Picture collage of owls - Indian scops owl and jungle owlet
A couple of Indian scops owl are happy at not being detected while another one wants to be visible. A Jungle owlet awaits the descent of darkness
A Jackal walks around unmindful of hordes of visitors
A Jackal walks around unmindful of hordes of visitors
A Ruddy shelduck also called Brahminy duck
The Ruddy Shelduck also known as the Brahminy duck is a winter visitor to India and arrives from beyond the Himalayas. They are said to attain heights of over 6,800 meters as they migrate.
A white throated kingfisher
Widely present across Asia, this white throated Kingfisher is a picture of serenity with a small frown or focus however one may call it
An Indian roller
An extremely colourful bird found across many states in India. Roadside trees, open grassland and scrub forestland all offer excellent habitats for the roller
A group of male plum headed parakeets
A group of male plum headed parakeets found extensively acros India. Females have a grayish blue head
Red and Yellow wattled lapwings
A red wattled lapwing inhabits marshy areas near waterbodies where as the yellow wattled lapwing is seen only on dry scrubland.
Backside of a peacock readying to spread its feathers
A peacock readying to turn around and showcase its spreadout feathers
A peacock with its fully opened feathers
A peacock with its fully opened feathers towards sunset
An Indian grey hornbill
The Indian Grey Hornbill is a fairly common hornbill species found only in the Indian subcontinent. They play an essential role in the ecosystem as prime dispersers of seeds. In cities, we may find them feeding on fig trees like banyan, Goolar (a variety of fig), usually choosing old tall dense trees for nesting.

A wonderful trip to the Pench sanctuary came to a conclusion and left us with fantastic memories. Keeping aside the constant chatter of visitors in their jeeps asking a one dimensional question if we sighted the Tiger, the park is a delight and offers immense joy during moments of silence when one parks the jeep and pauses to listen to the sounds; the sound of a teak tree leaf falling too has its distinct impact.

Plan your travel in advance, choose a good place to stay and insist on a good naturalist to accompany you. Reach out to response@narmadaholidays.com for any questions.

The Jamtara Wilderness Camp

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The Jamtara wilderness camp and the Banyan treee where bonfire sessions are held

The Jamtara wilderness camp is a delightful offering that provides a fantastic experience staying in and sets one up for an enhanced experience while visiting the Pench national park. The Pench national park is India’s 19th project Tiger reserve and plays host to immensly varied flora and fauna. The Jamtara Wilderness camp in central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is a 3 hour drive from the well connected Nagpur airport in Maharashtra. 

The owner of the property, Mr. Amith Sankhala traces his affinity to sustainable experiences back to his grandfather Mr. Kailash Sankhala, one of the heads of the Project Tiger initiative in 1973 and to his father Mr. Pradeep Sankhala who built sustainable eco-lodges in Bandhavgarh and Kanha in Madhya Pradesh. 

The wilderness camp comprises of just ten tents and a star bed, thereby providing guests with very intimate and personalized experiences. The camp has been inspired by the villages and communities surrounding it and the staff at the camp are all from the local villages. 

The reception area – replete with 70’s art deco furniture once used by Embassies based in delhi, desks that belonged to Supreme court. This, along with interesting books and antiques provides a nostalgic experience
The reception area also serves up as a dining space on a rotational basis. Other than that, a cup of tea or coffee can be had while enjoying the ambience
A lounging area near the pool. The rope cots provide the perfect setting to bask in the winter sun or laze around after a swim
The pool and the banyan tree in the background. The banyan tree is a fantastic spot for evening bonfire discussions over a drink and a few snacks
The compact camp does not confuse you with many entry and exit points. Open windows provide a calming experience and the untouched forest cover makes it realistic. The fallen leaves are taken back by the earth over time
One of the ten tents at the camp. The tents are pulled down towards the end of the season or when the rains set in and are put up once again towards October. The floorings are from the decks of ships. The bathroom is the only permanent structure and the rest are dismantlable. Weather sealed with an air conditioner and heater to ensure comfort of the guests.
The room is perfect for a couple and there is enough room for an extra bed. Young teenagers find such experiences unique and enjoy them thoroughly.
Lounge outside the tent after a meal or a safari drive. Two layer zippered tents with enough natural ventilation.
The Star Bed is a unique offering of Jamtara – Set amidst lush green fields, the arrangement offers an unobstructed view of the night sky. Support staff are stationed on a neaby machan to attend to the needs of the guest in the middle of the night

A video that summarizes the entire experience at Jamtara Wilderness camp and the Pench Wildlife sanctuary

An expereience at Pench wildlife sanctuary and the Jamtara Wilderness camp

The camp opening coincides with the Pench national park. The only time they are closed is during monsoons when the park too closes i.e between July and September.

#India is slowly moving towards properties that are boutique in nature and offering unique experiences. This is where a travel agent / leisure travel specialists will have to make an effort towards identifying such properties, experiencing it themselves and later offering them to other customers. #Travel personalization will grow at a rapid pace.

#incredibleindia

#dekhoapnadesh

#mptourism

#India is in a #Lockdown to fight #Covid19 #Coronavirus – Day 22

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A very happy Tamil New Year! The Sarvari varusham is here. The Vasan thirukanitha panchangam (thirukanitha – mathematical calculations to arrive at precise planetary positions thus determining auspicious time for various activities) has been an integral part of every household and a new one is published just before the new year.

The pink coloured Vasan Panchangam with Lord Krishna holding Govardhan mountain with his little finger
The Vasan panchangam with Krishna holding aloft Mt Govaradhan

A morning trip to the store to find coconuts is futile. Result is no payasam or coconut based fare. Never mind. Picked up a few flowers on the way back and everyone was ready to usher in the New Year. On the occassion, offerings are made of rice, dals, coins, cash, jewels and clothes to signify prosperity and good health. Prayers to the panchangam are offered as well. Along with all of the above thin and spiced buttermilk (Neer mor) and a jaggery + cardamom + ginger powder based water (panakam) is offered as part of the prayer. A mango + neem flower mix, boiled with jaggery signifying the sweet, sour and bitter experiences is offered and later savoured. All experiences are to be treated equally and accepted gracefully.

Prayer altar with photos of deities a lamp burning. Offerings of jewels, fruits, rice, dal, currency and coins. Along with neer mor, panakand a mango, neem flower and jaggery mix.
Prayer altar with photos of deities a lamp burning. Offerings of jewels, fruits, rice, dal, currency and coins. Along with neer mor, panakand a mango, neem flower and jaggery mix.

The Hon’ble Prime Minister wished its citizens celebrating New Year and promptly announced the extension of the #lockdown. We were now heading in to #lockdown 2.0. His appeal was based on the need to save lives and livelihoods. All arms of the government along with state governmernts were taken on board before a decision was communicated to the citizens of the country. The second lockdown was to extend until the 3rd of May. The severity of guidelines were to be increased until the 20th of April post which sector wise easing was expected. This was the livelihood piece. Of siginificance here is the agriculture sector which had to get back to work to complete the harvest and be in readiness for the monsoon on which the country is dependant.

The Hon’ble Prime Ministers address to the nation conveying the extension of lockdown

With the office headquarters in the country shuttered due to Tamil new year, the rest of the locations had a relatively easy day to contend with. However, calls that were already on calendars had to be honoured and those few hours were definitely required to get them completed. An afternoon movie on a regional channel was a good watch along with the Mrs. The movie was called Thambi.

Lunch was a simple Rasam prepared with neem flowers. The dish is a delicacy and is a great stomach cleanser.

With HQ coming back online, the day after was always going to be one where there would be no respite from the calls that infest the calendar.

#India is in a #Lockdown to fight #Covid19 #Coronavirus #Ramnavami– Day 10

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The country seemed to be heading towards flattening the curve (no drastic increases in new cases) until the conservative islamic sect of Tableeghi Jamat case came out of the closet. These ultra conservatives numbering about 2,000 had holed themselves up in a building at Nizamuddin in New Delhi. Social distancing had been thrown out of the window. Local preachers and visiting preachers from overseas had congregated in one building to hear sermons from the head of their sect. They proceeded without adhering to the norms laid out by the local SHO. Many travelled to their home towns after the congregation while some remained holed up not knowing whether to get out during the lockdown / to stay put with all the coughing and spitting. This one incident has opened up the faultlines across our establishment.

The tracking of the Jamaatis across the country has been construed as a manhunt and has received counter attacks from the muslim community on health workers and law enforcement officers. Unpardonble! The blame is squarely on Indian authorities who are unwilling to apply the law evenly.

The collective anger against the muslim community has always been couched in political correctness. Social media however does not take any hostages and has been an outlet for frank and in some cases extreme views.

While this continued, the country celebrated Ram Navami, the greatest avatar to have walked this planet. India awaits a grand temple at Ayodhya in honour of her favorite son.

Keeping Ram Navami in mind, the prayer area was spruced up.

Home prayer area spruced up on the occassion of Ram Navami

Had things been normal, the country would have erupted in joyous celebration what with the judgement having arrived in favor of construction of a grand temple in Ayodhya. Time will make that happen as well. We will wait!

Lunch was special as the roti and potato fenugreek leaves curry was made by the Miss and the sakkarai pongal was by the Mrs. Lunch was consumed after an offering to the Lord on the auspicious occassion.

Roti, potato and fenugreek leaves curry, Sakkarai pongal and panchamirtham for lunch. No Dinner.

Jai Shri Ram!

#Kumbh 2019 – An unique and unforgettable experience – Ghats of Prayagraj

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This Kumbh was all about cleanliness. Cleanliness was to prevent diseases and stampedes during the festival. Every medium was used to message things out.

Part 1 saw us driving down from Varanasi to Prayagraj. We visited Kumbh as it drew to a close but nevertheless it did give us a glimpse of what the place would have looked like at its peak. The government of the day at the centre and the state were led by the same political party and hence co-ordination and co-operation were in order. On the second day of our #Kumbh experience, post the Triveni Sangam bathing experience, we planned to explore the Ghats where the space for conducting the #Kumbh was prepared.

Ghats of Prayagraj

An estimated 250 million people (25 crores) would have participated in the Kumbh this year and that is about the entire population of #Indonesia. The entire area covering the Kumbh was estimated to be about 3,200 hectares which is equivalent to 3,200 rugby fields. The Ghats and the main Kumbh area consists of spaces provided to Akharas from across the country. Akharas (Equivalent of Satras in Assam) or a place for the teacher – disciple relationship to flourish. The disciple is usually a religious renunciate and trains on the scriptures.

  • River Ganges, boats docked and the well lit bridge
  • The well lit bridge viewed from the banks of the Ganges at Prayagraj
  • Boats and people on the banks of Ganges
  • People basking in the sun on the banks of the ganges
  • Sellers of water cans and coconuts on the banks of Ganges
  • Vendor selling vermillion, personal effects and care items

Citizen Facilitation services

India has seen cleanliness set in to its national consciousness since 2014. The National cleanliness mission has been driven on every available platform and has largely contributed to disease prevention. The drive was at the forefront of Kumbh 2019 as previous Kumbh Mela’s did not pay adequate attention to the sanitation needs of 250 million people. Apart from makeshift toilet grounds, cubicles with privacy were set up for people to change clothes and even for nursing mothers. Safety and cleanliness were reflected in the kind of arrangements that were made.

  1. 122,500 toilets
  2. 15,000 sanitation workers to support operations
  3. 1,500 volunteers spreading the message of cleanliness
  4. 20,000 waste bins with one every 50 metres
  5. 20,000 security personnel supported by over 100 police cabins
  6. 1000 cameras watching the proceedings and sending them to an integrated command center
  7. A lost and found center for re-uniting children / elderly who have lost their way
  • Toilets at the Kumbh venue
  • Change rooms
  • The lost and found center at Kumbh

Brands in Action

When 250 million people are expected, how can the brands stay away. They found their unique ways to blend in to the atmosphere of the Kumbh and engage with the millions. Nothing seemed like in your face but more became like a discovery.

  • Tea stall with ponds branding
  • Ponds brand standee
  • Banner with Kumbh logo and Fair and Lovely message
  • A water dispenser sponsored by LG
  • Kumbh mela notice featuring All india radio

Food

Beginning with a cup of tea, Fried stuff like bread pakoras and Samosas and even some sprouts to keep the energy going, visitors to the Kumbh can always find a low cost option for themselves and their families so that no one goes hungry. There were also camps which were serving free food for those who could not afford. Fruits were being sold in plenty along with tender coconut water and sugarcane juice.

  • Tea seller cart
  • A Bread pakoda vendor
  • Sprouts seller
  • A bhel thelawala

This Kumbh was one of the most successfully conducted, accident free and clean Kumbh in living memory. The Prime Minister made it a point to honor the sanitation workers who played a key role in ensuring a clean and disease free Kumbh. As it is emphasized, cleanliness is equal to godliness.

THe Prime Minister washing feet of sanitation workers as a mark of respect for their contribution.

The next Kumbh Mela is scheduled to be held in 2022 in the holy city of Haridwar in the state of Uttarakhand. Any Kumbh is a once in a life time opportunity to visit and understand what India truly stands for. Come and fall in love with India

#Kumbh 2019 – An unique and unforgettable experience – 1

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One of the boats on the banks of the Ganges ready to transport devotees to the Triveni Sangam

Kumbh Mela, in Hinduism, is a religious pilgrimage that is celebrated four times over a course of 12 years. The geographical location of Kumbh Mela spans over four locations in India and the Mela site keeps rotating between one of the four pilgrimages on four sacred rivers as listed below:

  • Haridwar on the Ganges in Uttarakhand
  • Ujjain on the Shipra in Madhya Pradesh
  • Nashik on the Godavari in Maharashtra
  • Prayagraj at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the mythical Sarasvati in Uttar Pradesh

The twelth year of a cycle sees the Kumbh happening in Prayagraj. The last grand gathering happened in the year 2013. Six years since, Prayagraj becomes the site for an Ardh Kumbh or the mid way in the new 12 year cycle. One can read more about Kumbh 2019 and its significance here.

The 2013 Maha Kumbh and 2019 Ardh Kumbh have happened during different ruling dispensations and hence were expected to be handled differently. This two day travel experience to the Kumbh was to get a bath in the confluence and experience how the grand event was handled.

The Kumbh Tent City

  • The Tent city with a green carpet, tents and fire fighting equipment
  • A sit out to relax and grab a bit of sunshine
  • Two Beds, a Fan in the tent and a Caravan music player

Heading to the Triveni Sangam

  • Gulls warming up on water barricades as the sun comes up lighting up the Sangam
  • A simple Boat ride for Rs 1500 for an hour and half to travel to the Sangam (confluence) and return after bathing. Absolutely warm boatmen with proper safety equipment
  • This Kumbh was all about cleanliness. Cleanliness was to prevent diseases and stampedes during the festival. Every medium was used to message things out.
  • There was adequate police presence on the waters and the invisible eye to watch over the crowds
  • Passenger traffic on the Ganges transporting devotees and workers headed towards the Ghats.

The Bath at Triveni Sangam OR Confluence of Three rivers

  • The Kumbh Sangam or confluence
  • Boats parked at the confluence/sangam
  • Faithfuls smeared with vermillion paste by priests who conduct prayers at the sangam
  • Man sleeping on the boat on the lap of his wife

Getting to Prayagraj

Prayagraj is about 120 kms from Varanasi, the closest international airport. Prayagraj airport too has now been brought on India’s aviation map with services getting launched from May 2019. All of India’s major airlines like Air India, Indigo, Vistara and SpiceJet have excellent connectivity to Prayagraj and Varanasi. If one enters and exits via Varanasi, the added benefit of experiencing the oldest city in the universe can be realized.

  • A Dhaba and seating space
  • Two vegetable curries - One of Cauliflower with Peas and another with potatoes and spinach. Accompanying it is sumptuous dhal / pulses, salad and chapatis with Rice
  • A Tea shop iwth tea being served in disposable mud cups. Tea is prepared on a coal stove

We will explore the Ghats of Prayagraj in our next blog piece

Yangon – Sights & Sounds 2

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The Shwedagon Pagoda at Twilight

In Part 1 of this blog series we explored the U-Bein bridge in Mandalay. In Part 2 of this blog series we explored the township of Mingun in the Mandalay region. In Part 3, we continued our exploration of Mandalay with a shore expedition to Innwa also called as Ava. Part 4 saw us visiting the cultural city of Bagan. Later, we started soaking in the sights and sounds of Yangon. In The first part of our Yangon Series, we visited the colonial era precincts on a wet day.

The Shwedagon Pagoda

The history of Yangon is intertwined with the history of the Shwedagon Pagoda. Wherever one may be in Yangon, in the busy town center, in the new towns of the east, in the industrial zone of the west, in the paddy fields of the north, the golden form of the Shwedagon will be seen on the skyline rising above the foliage of the tropical trees, and the top of high rises. Its history dates back to over 2500 years ago. The Pagoda is open from 4 AM to 10 PM with various modes of transport available. The entrace fee for Non-Myanmarese visitors is USD 8. It will be appropriate to dress conservatively with the knee and shoulders being covered. Please ask questions of your guide who will explain the place the way she explains to her kids. They are very well trained to answer questions.

The founding story of Shwedagon reaches back to the days of the Enlightenment of Gautama Buddha when He discovered the cause of universal suffering and the way to its elimination.

Describing the Shwedagon Pagoda

The Shwedagon is an archetypal Burmese-style zedi, or chedi, characterized by a wide, flaring base, a bell-shaped body, and a tall, tapering spire capped by a hti (umbrella finial). The zedi’s base is octagonal with redented edges, transitioning to circular bands 1/3rd of the way up. These in turn give way to the bell-shaped midsection (in Sri-Lankan fashion) topped with what is often described as an “inverted alms bowl”. From here, the shaft slowly tapers along a series of rings which give way to multiple ‘lotus-petal’ bands topped with a ‘banana bud’. As the banana bud tapers to a point, the hti covers the final few meters and is in turn topped with a vane and a diamond orb (the sein bu). [Courtesy – www.orientalarchitecture.com]

The Shwedagon pagoda
The zedi is gilded with gold, silver and copper plates that were often sponsored or donated by individuals seeking merit. Numerous jewels also bedeck the monument, with Stadtner noting that the very top of the monument holds “over 7,000 diamonds rubies, and sapphires attached to the vane and contained within the small orb-shaped object at the top” (Stadtner, p. 97). The vane alone weighs in at 419 kilograms and measures 130 centimeters in width, while the orb is 56 centimeters in diameter and contains 1,800 carats of fine diamonds.[Courtesy – http://www.orientalarchitecture.com]

The main zedi is surrounded by 64 small stupas resembling miniature bells. These in turn are surrounded by almost a hundred square-shaped shrines located nearly at ground level. 

The Mahabodhi tree, 64 stupas around the main zedi and devotional halls
The Mahabodhi Tree in the Shwedagon Complex. Each monument around the main Zedi is associated with one of eight ‘planetary posts’ that corresponds to a particular planet, a specific animal, and a day of the week (Wednesday is given two posts, one for the morning and the other for the afternoon). Worshippers will typically begin their visit by praying at the planetary post corresponding to their birth date, then continue in a clockwise fashion around the ensemble. [Courtesy – http://www.orientalarchitecture.com]

The Singu Min Bell

The Singu Min bell was donated in Year 1779 by King Singu, the fourth King of the Konbaung Dynasty. The official name of the bell is Maha Gandha meaning “Great Sound”. Weighing about 23 – 25 tonnes, 2.13 metres high, the Bell was said to have been cast between 1776 and 1779. The British attempted to steal the Bell which sank along with one of their boats. It was finally salvaged by the indigenous people of Myanmar.

Shwedagon complex and the singu Min Bell
The Singu Min Bell.. Attractive floor tiling. The Athangudi tiles of Karaikudi closely resemble the ones here. The wooden carved panels reminds us of the pagodas in the Mandalay region. Crowds milling around the Shwedagon complex

Chauk htat gyi temple of The Reclining Buddha

This temple features the largest Reclining Buddha in Myanmar. The entrace fee is a modest donation of USD 8. Opening times are between 6 AM and 8 PM. Needless to say, better to dress appropriately. The temple is well organized with enough space for the devout, visitors and even a gallery for photographers.

The reclining Buddha
The Buddha image is 66 metres (217 ft) long, and one of the largest in Burma.
The original Reclining buddha and image of Sir Po Tha
The construction was sponsored by a wealthy Burmese Buddhist, Sir Po Tha, in 1899.Being completed in 1907, it was believed that the proportion of the image was not appropriate and the Buddha had a very aggressive expression
Close up images of the head and eyes of the reclining Buddha
In the 1950s, the old Buddha image was demolished and temple trustees began work to replace the image. THe Naga Glass Factory created benign looking eyes of dimensions 1.77 by 58 metres. The image was consecrated in 1973
The Soles of the Reclining Buddha
108 distinguishing marks on both the soles representing the three worlds. 59 indicating the inanimate world, 21 indicating the animate world and 28 indicating the world of the conditioned. Essence is that Buddha is greater than all the three worlds. These marks were apparent right from the birth of the Buddha. Only one out of the 8 astrologers present predicted that the child born was destined to become the Buddha. There was an image of a universal monarch (Cakkavatti) on the child soles and a personage superior to a cakkavatti could only be a Buddha.

Getting to Myanmar

Travelling to Myanmar is now a breeze. Number of airlines fly in to Yangon with a single stop at any popular hub. Mandalay and Bagan are well connected from Yangon.

  1. China SouthernAll NipponBangkok AirwaysCathay PacificSingapore AirlinesThai Airways among the carriers from the Asian and South east Asian region
  2. Qatar Airways and Emirates from the middle east
  3. Air India offers twice a week flight between Kolkata and Yangon on Saturdays and Mondays. Its a surprise that the two countries which share such a common heritage still dont have good direct connectivity.

Tourists can check visa requirements on The Myanmar eVisa website. This is a government website and one can apply online for an e-visa. Check out for countries for whom Visa is provided on arrival. Indians can now apply for visa upon arrival. A recent government order to this effect. However, as a travel best practice it is always wise to utilize the e-visa facility offered. One however has to be careful while entering the passport details in to the Visa application form. Mismatch very clearly results in deportation.

We end our Myanmar series with a very interesting Train Journey. Watch out for Yangon Sights and Sounds Part 3

Sights & Sounds of Yangon – 1

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The City Hall Building of Yangon

In Part 1 of this blog series we explored the U-Bein bridge in Mandalay. In Part 2 of this blog series we explored the township of Mingun in the Mandalay region. In Part 3, we continued our exploration of Mandalay with a shore expedition to Innwa also called as Ava. In Part 4, we explored the raw energies of Bagan. Now, we set out to explore the key sights and sounds of Yangon during our first ever visit to this wonderful country.

Rangoon was the earlier name for Yangon since independence from the British in 1948. Yangon became the closest pronunciation to its original Burmese (Myanmar) name. The world now knows Rangoon as Yangon since 2006. We planned a two day tour of Yangon covering its key sights and sounds. A good Japanese made second hand rented, re-furbished and chauffered cab is usually available with the tour companies. They are well versed with the routes and are polite and very service conscious. If doing by self, taxis can be hailed but negotiation is a must before boarding.

Myanmar City Taxis and Private cars are mostly Japanese made and hand down models. Many retain the original Japenese kanji characters. However, they are clean and very well maintained.
Myanmar City Taxis and Private cars are mostly Japanese made and hand down models. Many retain the original Japenese kanji characters. However, they are clean and very well maintained.

Myanmar Tamils

Tamils have been an integral part of the ethnic fabric of Myanmar. Their presence dates back to the chola period between the 9th and 11th century AD. Later, after British annexation, many Tamils are said to have moved to Myanmar to work as labour in Rice fields and Rubber plantations. While current generation of Myanmar Tamils have embraced the Myanmarese way of life including their own name that resonates locally, they have kept their religious fervor alive by celebrating key Hindu and Tamil festivals. The Tamils inhabit townships in Yankin and Dala.

The Gopuram of Kali temple towers above the smaller gopuram near the entrance
The Kali Temple in Yangon was built in 1871 by Tamil Labourers is among the many HIndu Temples in the city.

The Holy Trinity Church and Scotts Market

The Holy Trinity Church was the first Anglican church to be built in Yangon between 1886 and 1895 replacing a modest structure. The church was designed by a Madras (now chennai) based architect Robert Fellowes Chisholm and accommodated architectural styles to suit the climatic conditions of the city. The Scott market bult in 1926 is the former name of what is now called Bogyoke Aung San Market named after the founding father of modern day Myanmar. The name Scott is said to have been attributed to Mr. Gavin Scott , a former Municipal Commissioner of the area. The former colonial era building now virtually sells everything; You may call it the Alibaba / Amazon of Yangon.

Holy Trinity cathedral and Kali temple of Yangon
The Holy Trinity Church is the main Anglican cathedral in Yangon. THe Kali temple is a key Hindu temple built by Tamil Labourers. Mud lamps are lit by devotees as part of their prayers.
Tanaka barks with a stone grinding accessory, pearls and dress materials of different colors
The Scott market is a touch and feel have it all kind of a market. Shop here for Tanaka, pearls, clothing of different states of Myanmar, Pre-paid calling cards, currency exchange, medicines and almost every kind of chinese plastic. If you do manage to find something please do bargain

Yangon CityHall area

The City Hall area gives you one place to marvel at all the colonial era buildings of Yangon. It is estimated that that Yangon has the most of these buildings in almost all of South East Asia. The City Hall is the administrative seat of the Yangon Development Council. The building dates back to 1936. In its vicinity are the Sule Pagoda, Maha Bandula Park, The High Court, Main Post offices and other structures. There are numerous snack and betelnut vendors and plenty of open space to just sit and indulge in people and building watching

The Obelisk at Maha Bandula park, Sule Pagoda and the City Hall building
The Obelisk installed in 1948 to commemorate Myanmar’s freedom from the British, The Imposing structure of the City Hall and the Sule Pagoda form a very busy town area in Yangon.

Travelling to Myanmar

Travelling to Myanmar is now a breeze. Number of airlines fly in to Yangon with a single stop at any popular hub. Mandalay and Bagan are well connected from Yangon.

  1. China SouthernAll NipponBangkok AirwaysCathay PacificSingapore AirlinesThai Airways among the carriers from the Asian and South east Asian region
  2. Qatar Airways and Emirates from the middle east
  3. Air India offers twice a week flight between Kolkata and Yangon on Saturdays and Mondays. Its a surprise that the two countries which share such a common heritage still dont have good direct connectivity.

Tourists can check visa requirements on The Myanmar eVisa website. This is a government website and one can apply online for an e-visa. Check out for countries for whom Visa is provided on arrival. Indians can now apply for visa upon arrival. A recent government order to this effect. However, as a travel best practice it is always wise to utilize the e-visa facility offered. One however has to be careful while entering the passport details in to the Visa application form. Mismatch very clearly results in deportation.

In part 2 of Sights and Sounds of Yangon, we explore the Shwedagon Pagoda and the Reclining Buddha

Welcome to Banteay Srei, #Cambodia

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THe Banteay Srei Temple

In my previous post, I wrote about Kabal Spean, The valley of Thousand Lingas, situated close to the temple city of Siem Reap. On one’s way back from Kabal Spean, we get to visit the temple complex of Banteay Srei. The complex houses remnants from the Khmer empire during its glorious Saivite period.

Said to have been completed in 967, Banteay Srei was the only major temple at Angkor not built for the king; instead it was constructed by one of king Rajendravarman’s counsellors, Yajnyavahara. The construction is said to have begun during the period of RajendraVarman (assigned the title Sivaloka upon his demise) and completed by his son Jayavarman V (assigned the title Paramavirataloka upon his demise) The temple was primarily dedicated to Shiva (the southern buildings and the central tower were devoted to him, but the northern ones to Vishnu). It lies near the hill of Phnom Dei 25 km (15 miles) northeast of the main group of temples, where the capital of the time (Yashodharapura) was located. It remained in use at least until the 14th century. The town of Isvarapura was centred on the temple.

The temple’s original name was Tribhuvanamahesvara — “great lord of the threefold world” — named as usual after the central image (in this case a Shaivite linga). The modern name, Banteay Srei — “citadel of the women” or “citadel of beauty” — is generally taken to refer to the intricacy of the carving and the tiny dimensions of the architecture.

The temple was rediscovered only in 1914, and was the subject of a celebrated case of art theft when André Malraux stole four devatas in 1923 (he was soon arrested and the figures returned).

Banteay Srei entrance, Walkway, moat and sandstone ruins

The Banteay Srei Temple complex was said to have been constructed during the 10th century . Construction is said to have begun by Rajendravarman II and said to have continued and completed under Jayavarman V

Banteay Srei’s style is a mix of the archaic and the innovative. It is built largely of red sandstone, with brick and laterite used only for the enclosure walls and some structural elements. Although Banteay Srei’s coloration is unique, sandstone of other shades was later to become the norm.

The Plan view of Banteay Srei Temple

Map representing the layout of Banteay Srei temple. THe Moat surrounding the temple helps maintain the water table and ensures that the temple structure is not damaged

Pediments are large in comparison to entrances, in a sweeping gabled shape. For the first time whole scenes appear on the pediments(the triangular upper part of the front of a classical building, typically surmounting a portico), while the lintels (A lintel is a structural horizontal block that spans the space or opening between two vertical supports) with central figures and kalas on looped garlands look backwards. The guardian dvarapalas and the colonettes are also old-fashioned. Decoration covering almost every available surface is deeply sculpted and figures rounded. Like most Khmer temples, Banteay Srei is orientated towards the east.

Two Monkey or Va-Nara resembling door keepers

THe Dwarapalakas near the southern library portion of the temple. Curious to see the Dwarapalakas in the form of Va-Naras. Well built, fantastic in posture and gaze fixated in a common direction, the figures epitomize discipline

Stories galore

The temple, like any other temple in India seems to have been a place for learning of art and forms, language, texts etc., and serving as a place for meditation, rest and prayers. Apart from the above, the pediments are filled with stories, many of them which have been told across the lands of India and SE Asia.

Ravana shaking Mount Kailash

The sculpture is very beautifully carved out in four tiers, each representing different categories of creatures – from the four legged in the fourth, half-human/half animal in the third, Rishis in the second and Shiva and Uma on the top-most pedestal, all of whom look petrified other than Lord Shiva.

The Supreme God sits majestically oppressing Ravana’s strength with his toe and one cannot take his/her eyes off Shiva’s consort Uma/ Parvathi – created with a fear filled jerk.

Ravana shaking Mount Kailash where Lord Siva and Parvati are seated

A famous piece in Banteay Srei. The depiction of Ravananugraha or a favour being shown to Ravana.Ravana was trying to get Siva’s attention by shaking Mt Kailash, abode of Siva. The lord trapped Ravana under the mountain by bringing the mountain down with his feet. Trapped, Ravana sang the praise of Siva for over 1000 years till he was blessed by Siva with a Sword and a powerful Linga for prayers

Krishna killing Kamsa

In the eastern facing part of southern gopuram. Krishna dragging kamsa by hair and killed by a dagger. In the bhagavatha purana it is said that Krishna killed Kamsa by sheer force of his weight. THis in response to Kamsa’s orders to arrest krishna’s adoptive father, confiscation of the wealth of Gopas and ordering the death of vasudeva and ugrasena, the king of mathura.

Image of Krishna holding Kamsa by Hair and piercing him with a dagger

The stories at Banteay Srei seemed to cover all the Yugas. Krishna is said to have emerged towards the end of the Dvapara Yuga and with Mahabharata he is said to have seen the transition in to Kaliyuga, the present times we live in. Here, he is seen slaying his Uncle , dragging him by hair and killing him with a dagger. In the bhagavatha purana it is said that Krishna killed Kamsa by sheer force of his weight. THis in response to Kamsa’s orders to arrest krishna’s adoptive father, confiscation of the wealth of Gopas and ordering the death of vasudeva and ugrasena, the king of mathura.

Siva burning Kama who is attempting to shoot an arrow at him

Kamadeva readying to fire an arrow towards Lord Siva

Kamadeva in the process of trying to disrupt Siva’s meditation gets burnt. While he was just doing the biding of the gods who coaxed him to the job so that Siva is attracted to Parvati, Kamadeva is burnt to ashes leaving his grieving wife Rati behind.

The Travel of Karaikal Ammaiyar, one of the 3 women among the 63 Nayanmar’s (Poet saints) of Siva. One of early Tamil Literature’s greatest figures, she is said to have lived during the 6th century. The Chola period of Tamilnadu which began during the 9th century is believed to have had a large sphere of influence across South , south east of India and South East Asia. Researchers from the team of varalaaru, a respected Tamil historical publication state that, ” Political Non-turbulence at home, Cordial Diplomacy abroad and Economic Affluence beyond high seas are indeed factors to prove that overseas Tamil Trader Settlements would have played a quintessential part in Religious Acculturation of the Southeast Asian Kingdoms they were living in.”

Dancing Siva or Nataraja and Karaikal Ammaiyar

Cultural Influences of India were found absorbed in the nooks and corners of Cambodia. The dancing Siva with his ardent lady Devotee – Karaikal Ammaiyar, a 6th century saint from TamilNadu, India. THe Image on top is courtesy of http://www.varalaaru.com; Below is a representation of Ammaiyar, an ardent devotee of siva and finds a place among the pantheons of 63 Nayanmars (saint poets)

Indra, a vedic deity for the Hindus, Guardian deity for the Buddhists and King of the highest heaven in Jainism is depicted across the Bantey Srei complex

Indra on Airavath

One of the first images that greets you at the entrance from the East corridor is the image of Indra the god of heavens on his vehicle or vahan, Airavath his elephant. Carved in sandstone, the Elephants are sheer delight. Indra with large ear holes are typical of Khmer architecture.

Another pediment shows Indra creating rain to put out a forest fire started by Agni to kill a naga living in the woods; Krishna and his brother aid Agni by firing arrows to stop the rain.

Indra creating rain to put out the fire started by Agni

On the north library’s east pediment, Indra creates rain to put out a forest fire started by Agni to kill a naga living in the woods; Krishna and his brother aid Agni by firing arrows to stop the rain. The photo on top is courtesy of Angkorshafie.com

Lord Siva with his consort and Yama

Lord Siva with his consort Parvati on his faithful Nandi

Lord Siva with his consort Parvati on his faithful Nandi. Around him are Siv Gans, his attendants

Lord Yama on a Buffalo

Lord Yama, the god of death on his vehicle, the Buffalo

A crucial point in the epic Ramayana where Rama vanquishes Vali

Rama, Lakshmana, Vali and Sugreeva with other Va-Naras

A beautiful depiction of a turning point in the Ramayana. Vali and Sugreeva fight while Rama and Lakshmana wait to strike. Here, Rama can be seen striking Vali.

Other pediments with stories of Bheema killing Jarasandha and Lord Narasimha killing Hiranyakasipu the demon. Also featuring Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Kartikeya.

What is a Siva temple without his trusted vehicle and attendant, Nandi. There are many snanadronis which dot the landscape of the temple. The main Nandi faces the sanctum which housed the main deity.

Nandi and two snanadronis

Starting from top left, Nandi the bull without whose consent one cannot not enter the altar of Lord Siva. Often people can be found whispering their prayers and requests into Nandi’s ears. Snanadronis at Banteay Srei which would have contained lingas

Kabal Spean with Bantey Srei will keep you immersed for a day and will leave a lasting imprint on your mind.

Getting to Siem Reap – Siem Reap is served by major Flag Carriers who also service india. Regular services from major Indian cities to #Bangkok (Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways), #Kualalumpur (Malaysian) and #Singapore (Singapore/SilkAir) will get you to Siem Reap with just one halt. The Visa facility too has been eased with the introduction of e-visas. Hotels are in plenty and one can find hotels to suit one’s budget with the assistance of an excellent ground travel agent. Travel agents offer excellent service right from suggestions on hotels to suit budgets, tying up with a registered guide, park tickets based on the interests and other add ons like a visit to the magnificient Tonle Sap lake.

Content Credits

http://www.varalaaru.com – Images of Karaikal Ammaiyar, talking points about Banteay Srei temple especially the content regarding dancing nataraja and Karaikal Ammaiyar. Map of Banteay Srei temple

http://www.cambodgemag.org – Images of Indira creating rains

http://www.angkorshafie.com – Descriptive content regarding the Banteay Srei temple

 

Mesmerizing #Cambodia – Valley of Thousand Lingas – Kbal Spean

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Hundreds of lingas sculpted on rocks lying on the river bed of Kbal Spean

On a trip to any country in South East Asia, it is a rarity to not come across a Hindu Temple – Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, Vietnam and Cambodia, all of them have benefited from contacts which they have had with India over the centuries.

Map of SOuth east Asia 900 CE showing various kingdoms

THe region of Kambuja had deep connects with India between the 6th/7th century right up to the 12th/13th century. Not only Kambuja, Monstates(present day Myanmar), Champa (central and south vietnam), Annam (North Vietnam), Java and Malaya regions too benefited from Indian influence – all without use of force or economic coercion

Historian RC Majumdar writes in his lecture series, Ancient Indian Colonization in South-east Asia, “The term Hindu is used here in a very broad sense. As is well-known, the word Hindu is derived from Sindhu, the name of the mighty river on the western border of India. The parsis used this name to denote also the territory lying on the bank of the river, that is to say that part of our country which was known to them. Gradually the name Sindhu in its phonetically changed form Hindu came to denote the whole of this country. Advent of the Muslims necessitated the use of two different terms to denote the two distinct classes of people. Henceforth the term Hindu came to denote the people of India other than the Muslims.”

This Diwali vacation, i had the opportunity to visit Cambodia, a vibrant tourist hotspot famed for the UNESCO world heritage Angkor Wat temples, beach city of Sihanoukville, historic capital city of Pnohm Penh and of course the mighty Mekong river which emerges from Tibet and nourishes countries on its way before emptying in to the South China Sea.

With Siem Reap being the only stop in #Cambodia, my effort was to go beyond Angkor Wat and explore the visible remnants of the region and how Indian culture had an influence. One such place of Interest is Kbal Spean, an Angkor era archeological site which is also called as the Valley of 1000 lingas.

Before embarking on a trip to Kbal Spean, one has to purchase the Angkor Pass – One day for USD 37, Three day for USD 62 and Seven day for USD 72. These are available at the complex on the main road to Angkor Wat. Kbal Spean is an hour’s ride from Siem Reap and the access begins at the Kulein mountains. Enroute is another major temple complex of Banteay Srei with Banteay Samre being a detour. The three put together form a day excursion. It is important to note the timings in order to avoid disappointment.

The walk to the valley of the 1000 lingas begins at a checkpoint. It is 1.5 kms but takes a good 40 minutes as one navigates slippery rocks and rough terrain. Stairs are available at steep climbing points but one definitely needs to watch their step at every point to avoid a fall. Pause and take a look at breathtaking views of the forests below, the rainforest canopy, natural rocky outcrops, tough creepers and climbers and of course a few reptiles. There are countdown boards egging you on during the short but tricky trek.

Way to Kbal Spean where nature mesmerizes you

The Walk to Kbal Spean from the base camp is about 1.5 kms and takes a good 40 minutes across boulders, rocky paths, natural rocky outcrops, valley views and beautiful creepers and vines

For the majority of visitors Kbal Spean is a picnic spot with a waterfall to cool off; The first sight of the lingas carved in to the river bed just made me bring my palms in union. It was not just about the reliefs of Siva, Vishnu, Brahma, Lakshmi that were carved in to the river bed but how the thoroughness with which Indian culture and civilization , in all its aspects would have been imbibed in Kambuja (ancient name of the great kingdom of present day Cambodia)

Two bas relief's showcasing the trinity brahma, vishnu and siva

Top above, Siva and Parvati on Nandi; Vishnu reclined on sesha with Brahma emerging from his navel. Below – Lord vishnu, Brahma and lakshmi on a lotus at Vishnu’s feet

Scholars, priests, merchants and persons of various hues who travelled from India to Kambuja desa left a distinct imprint whether it was about a religious, ethical & spiritual life, spirit of piety & renunciation and most importantly the concept of emancipation from birth & deaths. A peek in to texts of scholars, archeologists and historians who have taken immense pains to read through inscriptions (In sanskrit and Khmer) will tell us that all the cultural maturity was achieved between the 6th century and 12th century. The indian influence was without any force or economic colonization. The 700 golden years of Kambuja desa ended as India was trampled upon by the Mughal empire and Cambodia remained a French protectorate till atleast the 19th century.

Images of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva

Brahma, Vishnu and Siva at various points in rocks strewn across the river bed in Kbal Spean

The site at Kbal Spean was discovered by Jean Boulbet, french ethnologist in the year 1969. Cut off during the Cambodian civil war, it was not until 1989 that the site was thrown open for visitors.

4 images of lingams and snanadronis at various places on the river bed

Not only the presence of lingas on the river bed, there are a number of Snanadronis without their lingams. Snanadronis are sculpted structures which drain the water flowing over the lingam

During the period from 6th and 12th century, Kambuja Desa began as a Saivite (rever Shiva as the supreme being) kingdom. The Angkor Wat temple was dedicated to Vishnu (Vaishnavite – Vishnu as the supreme being) around mid 12th century before Kambuja desa embraced Theravada buddhism as its main religion. The Kbal Spean site is said to have been carved during the 11th and 12th century which saw the reigns of some of the greatest kings of Kambuja – Suryavarman I and his successor UdayadityaVarman II. The kings had laid out very clear rules in society – conduct of oneself, treatment of seers & the learned and priests & physicians being held in high esteem.

Lord Siva is venerated across many temples in the world. THe most commonly worshipped form is the linga and the linga is kept cool with a continuous dripping of water at its head. The Kbal spean site with its “SahasraLingas” (1000 lingas in Sanskrit) has a continuous stream of water flowing on top of it. The water having flown over the sacred lingas enters the city of Angkor thereby said to be blessing the city.

Lingas on the river bed and representation of Shakti

The full stretch of the river bed over which the river flows bathing the lingams perpetually and keeping them happy and cool. There is also a grid pattern with the water flowing out representing the Yoni, a representation of Shakti, Siva’s consort

The carving sites have been fenced off to ensure that visitors dont desecrate the holy site. Still, one can reach out and grab a hanful of the cool water that has flown over the lingas and drink up without fear of any contamination. On a hot afternoon it is an absolute delight.

Walking downstream one can watch revellers below a cataract which further flows over many more lingas before meandering its way through the forests and entering the city of Angkor.

4 images of a rainforest stream, waterfall, a chamelon and tree mushrooms

The downstream area of Kbal spean is full of vibrance. Cataracts, reptiles, mushrooms and beautiful Rain forests dot the landscape

Having visited Kailash Mansarovar in the year 2015, the import of the visit to Kbal Spean and the opportunity to be in his presence was not lost on me. The place is pure energy and brought out a determination in my wife who despite a tricky trek was able to make it and savor the moment.

After this visit, i came back and immersed myself in two books by a highly respected historian of India – Shri R.C Majumder. Kambuja Desa – An Ancient Hindu Colony in Cambodia (Sir William Meyer Lectures 1942 – 43) and Ancient Indian Colonization in South East Asia (The Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad Honorarium Lecture, 1953-54). These opened the door to understand the extent of influence of India in the region. Needless to say, i am restless to go back to Cambodia and explore other wonderful places of the Kambuja Empire.

Getting to Siem Reap – Siem Reap is served by major Flag Carriers who also service india. Regular services from major Indian cities to #Bangkok (Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways), #Kualalumpur (Malaysian) and #Singapore (Singapore/SilkAir) will get you to Siem Reap with just one halt. The Visa facility too has been eased with the introduction of e-visas. Hotels are in plenty and one can find hotels to suit one’s budget with the assistance of an excellent ground travel agent. Travel agents offer excellent service right from suggestions on hotels to suit budgets, tying up with a registered guide, park tickets based on the interests and other add ons like a visit to the magnificient Tonle Sap lake.