Tuesday, 15 August 2017

World seen from the eyes of an eagle

We can't fly like eagles but we can see the world from the eyes of an eagle from an airplane. Seen from above, even the familiar can look different - a new point of view.

My work took me to different parts of the world. This post is about some special memories related to air-journeys. It is accompanied with some of my favourite pictures clicked from airplanes. The first image of this post (below) is of old Italian rural houses with fields, trees and towers. It was clicked close to the Fiumicino airport of Rome in Italy.


Flying from Kunming to Bejing (China)

One of my most thrilling air journey was in China in 1989. It was the end of May and we had taken a flight from Kunming to Beijing. On the way our plane had problems and we were forced to land in Xian. As we went to a hotel in Xian, we passed a big protest march in the city. A leader called Hu Yaobang, who was very popular with students, had died. Two days later, our plane was repaired and we reached Beijing. As we crossed Tianamen square, we saw groups of people protesting there. We were told that these were student protests.

On 3rd June, I left Beijing and flew to Orlando in USA. In the hotel I was shocked when I saw the news about the tanks in Tianamen square. It was also a close brush with an event whose echoes had reverberated all over the world. Except for a couple of pictures of students in the Tienamen square, I didn't take many pictures during that fateful journey - I regreted it afterwards.


The image above shows a river near Beijing airport in China, it was clicked many years later.

Journey from Delhi to Guwahati (India)

The next couple of images are near the Guwahati airport. The first shows Brahmaputra river and the Saraighat bridge. On the right side of the river, you can see Neelachal hill that hosts the famous Kamakhaya temple. On the left side you can see the IIT Guwahati campus and in the middle of the river, the tiny island with the Umananda temple.


The next image is also clicked near Guwahati and shows a vast area covered by the Brahmaputra floods.


Journey from Santarem to Belem (Brazil)

The next two images are from north-east of Brazil. The first is from Santarem. You can see Avenida Tapajos along the Tapajos river and the famous Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of Conception painted in light blue colour.


The second image was clicked closer to Belem and shows one of the mighty strands of Amazon river going towards Atlantic ocean.


A sunset in Amsterdam (Netherlands)

The next image has one of most glorious sunsets that I ever saw during a flight. It was clicked as our plane was getting ready to land at the Amsterdam airport.


Houses - Capetown (South Africa) and Georgetown (Guayna)

It is a pleasure to look down from the plane and see the tiny houses, cars and people as they go about their lives. This image has houses near the Cape Town airport.


Houses are the subject of the next image as well. George Town, the capital of Guyana is criss-crossed with canals. This image was taken as our tiny plane had taken off from the city airport. In the distance you can see the Atlantic ocean.


Como lake (Italy)

The next image of this post is of Como lake in northern Italy, near the Alps mountains and  near the border with Switzerland.


Como is the most famous city situated along the banks of this lake where many rich and famous persons including George Clooney, Madonna and Sylvestor Stallone have their holiday homes. The Y-shaped lake is one of the deepest lakes in Europe.

Cristo Rei Sanctuary, Almada (Portugal)

The next image is from Almada in Portugal. In it you can see the Christ King sanctuary near the 25 April bridge which crosses over the sea and connects Almada to Lisbon.


Snow-covered Mountains - Alps and Himalaya

Flying over snow-covered mountains on a clear day is a special joy. While crossing the Alps, I remember different journeys when it was impossible not to gaze wonder-struck at the beautiful panoramas. The image below of the snow-covered Alps is from one such journey.


In Nepal, I never had good views of the snow covered Himalayas. However, during one journey, for a short time we saw Everest, as the peak appeared above the clouds. The next image has a picture of the Kunchanjanga peak.


 A carpet of colourful fields in East Europe

The next image was clicked while travelling from Vienna in Austria to Prague in Czech republic. I was fascinated by the neat fields with some of them in bright yellow (due to some flowers), that looked like a beautiful carpet.


Highway in Bologna (Italy)

I want to close this post with an image of Bologna. For three decades, we lived in Bologna, close to the airport. Sometimes, the flights passed right above our house. Yet, I never managed to click a picture of our home from air.

Among all the images of Bologna, I have selected one showing the highway exit to the trade-fair zone.


Conclusions

Over the past thirty years, air-travel has changed completely. Often old, tiny airports have been replaced by new, shining and modern structures.

One of my most terrifying journeys was in 1992 in a tiny two-seater plane in Santa Cruz (Bolivia), where it was raining hard. Our plane had tried but had not managed to take off and we had come to a screeching stop in front of a tree. I can still remember my nausea due to fear on that day.

I did not have a digital camera till 2005 and I have no pictures of most of my memorable journeys. Those journeys live only in my memories. Let me close this post with an image from the periphery of Prague in Czech republic - the buildings in this image remind me of things children make with Lego pieces.


***

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The unfinished temple of King Bhoj

An 1100 years old unfinished Shiva temple is the testimonial to the legendary king Bhoj of Malwa in central India. Last year, on my way to the incredibly beautiful caves of Bhimbetka, I had visited this temple in Bhojpur. Though it was just an unfinished temple, it intrigued me.

Statue of King Bhoj, Bada Talab, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

The Shiva temple of Bhojpur provides information about the traditional Indian temple architecture techniques. The image above shows the statue of king Bhoj in the Bada Talab lake of Bhopal.

Ancient kingdom of Malwa

Central part of India had different ancient kingdoms, each with their own culture and traditions. In 1947, with India's independence, the ancient kingdoms were merged in different states. The ancient kingdom of Malwa was located in the volcanic uplands in the north of Vindhya mountains. Today, most of Malwa lies in Western Madhya Pradesh while its northern part is in Rajasthan. The most important towns of this region are Bhopal, Indore, Ujjain and Sagar.

King Bhoj

From the 9th to the 13th centuries, Malwa was ruled by the Parmar kings.

Bhoj was the 9th king of the Parmar dynasty and his rule started around 1000 CE. He ruled for about 55 years. His capital was in Dhar in western parts of Malwa. He is credited with the construction of Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh. 

The town of Bhojpur, 28 km to the south and east of Bhopal was another area where king Bhoj carried out significant constructions including the building of dams which resulted in the creation of a big lake.

Statue of King Bhoj, Bada Talab, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Bhoj is famous both as a warrior and as a lover of art, culture and books. He is credited with a large number of books on a wide range of subjects, including medicine, astronomy, poetry and grammar. His popularity and prestige is still remembered by the people through the proverb "Kahan raja Bhoj aur kahan Gangu teli" (literally it means "where is king Bhoj and where is oil-merchant Gangu" and is used to underline the huge difference between two persons).

The Unfinished Shiva temple of Bhojpur

The temple has massive outer walls and is built on a raised platform.

Shiva temple, Bhojpur, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

An entrance gate and stairs take you to the temple platform 4 meters above. The walls have decorative balconies carved from sand-rock stone.

Sandstone balconies, Shiva temple, Bhojpur, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

The old part of the temple has the inner cell at a lower level (garbhagṛha) that holds a massive Shivalinga, 5.5 meters tall, and carved out of a single rock. The structure is supported by massive pillars, along with an elegant dome. In the image below, the comparison of the person seen at the bottom on the right side with the Shivalinga can give an idea of the huge structure.

Garbhgriha with massive shivalinga, Shiva temple, Bhojpur, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

The outer walls and superstructure of the temple were never built. However, outside the Garbhgriha, on the platform, simple Shiva shrines have been built.

Shiva shrines, Shiva temple, Bhojpur, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

The temple seems to be remarkably well-preserved. This is because of a massive repair and reconstruction carried out in 2006-07 when a fibreglass roof  was built and one of the missing monolithic pillars was added.

Temple building techniques in India in 1000 CE

The Bhojeshwar Shiva temple was never completed. It appears that the construction work was stopped suddenly. It could have been because of a natural disaster or war. Since its roof was missing, some people feel that the planning was not proper and the roof was too heavy, so it caved in and the temple construction was stopped.

The area around the temple has sandstone quarries where line designs engraved on the stones show the architectural plans for the temple construction.

Engravings of temple architecture, Shiva temple, Bhojpur, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

According to these designs, a huge temple complex was going to be built here. Stone marks show that 1300 masons were working for the temple construction. The names of some of them are engraved on the stones.

There are finished and unfinished statues scattered around, to be used for the temple. These were left in the quarries where the sculptors were working, when the construction was stopped.

Abandoned statues in the quarry, Shiva temple, Bhojpur, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Behind the temple, there is a large earthen ramp which was used to carry the large stones to the higher parts of the temple. The ramp, built of sandstone slabs, is covered with soil and sand. It is almost 100 meters long, and slopes upwards to a height of 12 meters.

Building ramp behind the temple, Shiva temple, Bhojpur, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

The dams on river Betwa

The Shiva temple is located close to the river Betwa. Ruins of some old dams have been discovered in this area. The dams were built in the eleventh century, when the Shiva temple was being constructed. Due to those dams an enormous lake had formed in this area. It seems that the dams were destroyed a few centuries later, when the area came under the Tughlaq dynasty.

Betwa river seen from Shiva temple, Bhojpur, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

I was wondering why did king Bhoj decide to build this new city, the huge temple and the dams in a place so far away from his capital in Dhar? The legends say that King Bhoj had sworn to block nine rivers to create a lake and this was the reason why he had come to the eastern part of Malwa region since here the curves of river Betwa were ideal for building the dams and creating the lake.

Jain temples of Bhojpur

Not very far from Shiva temple is an unfinished Jain temple with a 6 meter tall statue of Shantinath and two smaller statues. An inscription near the statues specifies their construction in 1157 Vikram Samvat (1100 CE).

Legends also say that in the last years of his life, King Bhoj had become Jain, while others say that even though he was a devotee of Shiva, he also respected Jains and Buddhists. I did not visit this temple.

Temple Ruins in Ashapuri

6 km away from Bhojpur, in an area called Bilota in the Ashapuri village, ruins of more than 20 temples have been found. Due to lack of time I did not visit this area. However, the descriptions of the ruins show that this must have an important sacred area for the people. These temples are also from the same time period of the reign of Parmar dynasty. I am not sure if these ruins were linked with the Shiva temple of Bhojpur.

Legend of Raja Bhoj and Gangu Teli

Though I was familiar with the name of king Bhoj from my childhood, I was not aware of the legend that had led to the proverb comparing him with the oil merchant Gangu. The legend says that king Bhoj had sacrificed the wife and child of Gangu for the construction of a fort.

Thus the fame of king Bhoj has been challenged by Dalit activists who see him as an oppressor king, who sacrificed the lives of poor commoners for his glory.

I was horrified when I had heard this story. I wonder how did he become so popular among the people if he was someone who sacrificed women and children.

Conclusions

The Bhojeshwar Shiva temple, though more than a thousand years old, is part of the living religious traditions of Malwa. People from far away places gather here for the Mahashivaratri festival. At the time of festival, the state government organises an annual cultural festival called the Bhojpur Festival.

Sculptures, Shiva temple, Bhojpur, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

It is a nice temple. However its special importance comes from being one of the remaining testimonials of a famous king and from the line engravings in the quarries explaining the architectural plans of the temple construction.

***

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Beautiful conical-hat like houses of Alberobello

Old houses of Alberobello with black conical roofs that look like houses-with-hats, are an amazing spectacle. They represent an ancient tradition that has origins in pre-historical times. This post is about the magical Alberobello.

Trulli houses in Alberobello with signs painted on the roof - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

Reaching Alberobello

Alberobello (literally "Beautiful tree") is a tiny town in Apulia region of south Italy. Nearest national line train station is at Bari, 57 km away. From Bari, you can get a local train which takes you to Alberobello station in about 1.5 to 2 hours.

A 10-15 minutes walk from the railway station to Corso Trento e Trieste  and then towards Via Indipendenza-Largo Martellotta will take you to the old parts of the city characterized by the Trulli, the houses with black conical roofs.

A road sign on Via Indipendenza (image below) points to the stairs going up to a Belvedere terrace from where you can have an overview of the Trulli area.

Trulli houses in Alberobello - Belvedere - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

To see more Trulli houses, you can also visit the surrounding areas in the Itria valley such as Locorotondo and Cisternino. However, I think that the visual impact of these houses is seen best in Alberobello, where they are grouped together in one area. For example, the image below shows the Trulli houses in Cisterino.

Trulli houses in Cisternino, Itria Valley - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

Characteristics of Trulli houses

The Trulli are made of stones without using any mortar or binding cement in any part of the construction. This means that the builders need to select and cut the stones in a certain way and then fit them together so that they make a stable and water/wind-proof dwelling.

Trulli houses in Alberobello - Largo Martelotta road - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

This kind of house constructions were started during the Bronze age around 1500 BCE. For example in the island of Sardinia there are prehistoric buildings called Nauraghe, made just with stones without any mud or mortar to bind them. The houses in Alberobello are around 500 years old.

History of Alberobello

Alberobello city came up in 16th century along the banks of Cana river. People were ordered to build their houses only with dry stones and without using any mortar. This was done to avoid paying taxes to the kingdom of Naples which ruled this area, as dry stone-houses were treated as temporary buildings.

Since this area was rich in limestone and Karst-stone, people started building trulli houses. The image below shows a couple of pictures from 1920, showing this area when it was densely inhabited.

Trulli houses in Alberobello in 1920s - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

In the 20th century, when people had more money, they started demolishing the trulli houses to build modern cement-houses. About 200 trulli houses were thus demolished. Fortunately, during early 1990s, a new mayor of Alberobello stopped the demolitions and developed it as a tourist attraction.

Trulli of Alberobello

Roads going up and down the gentle hills around Viale Margherita in Alberobello are lined with trulli houses. In many of them there are souvenir shops for the tourists where they sell traditional crafts of Apulia.

Trulli houses in Alberobello - a sourvenir shop - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

Many houses have the sign of cross or the zodiac signs painted on their roofs.

Trulli houses in Alberobello with zodiac signs painted on the roof - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

There are different models of trulli including single one room buildings as well as, huge interconnected structures with different rooms and roofs.

Trulli houses in Alberobello - Different kind of roofs seen from Belvedere - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

The way the roofs are designed also show many variations.

Trulli houses in Alberobello - roof  designs - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

Many trulli houses are still inhabited. I met a person called Mr Sebastiano, who invited me inside his house to show it. He is retired and has grown up in the same house. As you can see in the image below, it is a simple but comfortable house from inside. It has a living room with a fireplace on one side and a tiny bedroom (separated by a curtain) a separate kitchen and a bathroom.

Trulli houses in Alberobello -Sebastiano house - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

Even the Sant Antonio (St. Anthony) church in this area has roofs built like Trulli, though it is not a real trulli building.

Trulli houses in Alberobello - St Anthony church - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

Art of Alberobello

There are many souvenir shops selling local art work in Alberobello. I loved the art work in one such shop run by a lady called Maria Caporaso. Two examples of her art are presented below.

Alberobello - Art at Maria Caporaso shop - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

Alberobello - Art at Maria Caporaso shop - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

Conclusions

The traditional trulli houses of Alberobello with their black conical roofs make the old town look like a globlin-land from a children's book. I adored this city and its atmosphere.

The countryside around it is famous for its olive trees and oil. The sea is not very far and has amazing colours. There are many small characteristic towns nearby including the incredible city-in-white Ostuni. If you are planning an Italian holiday which is outside the famous big tourist cities, this is a great area for it.

Alberobello - a street of old town with trulli houses - Photographs by Sunil Deepak

The last bit of information is for the Bollywood lovers - a part of the song "Khuda Jaane" from the Bollywood film "Bachna Ae Haseeno" with Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone was shot here in Alberobello.

***

Monday, 10 July 2017

The angel queen of Venice called Maria

Carnival of Venice is famous for its beautiful masks and costumes. The carnival celebrations last for about ten days starting with the procession of 12 most beautiful girls of Venice. This procession is known as the Festival of the Marias.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

This post is about the Festival in which 12 beautiful Venetian girls  are dressed as princesses and one of them becomes the Queen of Venice and the angel in the "Flight of Angel" festival of the carnival.

A Brief History of the Festival of Marias
Around 9th century CE, the Republic of Venice had a tradition linked with the religious festival of “Purity of Maria” and was celebrated on 2nd February of each year. During this festival, 12 beautiful girls of Venice belonging to poor families were selected to be Marias. Each girl was provided beautiful clothes and jewellery by a rich Venetian family and helped to get married.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

However, over centuries, the rich families were not very happy to give away their money. Even some poor families, when their girls were not selected as Marias, were also unhappy with this festival.

Thus, instead of selecting the poor girls, they started carrying wooden Marias with clothes and jewellery of the rich families. After the procession, the clothes and jewellery was returned to the owners.

However, Venetians did not like the idea of wooden Marias and they started throwing rotten vegetables at them during the processions. Doge, the ruler of Venice, tried with a law prohibiting the throwing of rotten vegetables but it did not have much impact and slowly, the festival procession was stopped.

This festival was revived in 1999 as a part of the Carnival celebrations. Now, it is organised on the first day of the Carnival, around 10 days before the Mardi Gras celebrations.

The selection process starts a long time before the carnival. Girls resident in the Venice province can take part in this process.

Procession of the Marias

The procession starts in the afternoon around 2.30 PM from San Pietro di Castello in Venice and culminates in San Marco square where the 12 Marias are officially presented to the people of Venice.

There are two groups of Marias in the procession – those of the previous year and those selected for the present year. They are accompanied by different groups of persons dressed in medieval costumes coming from Venice and neighbouring towns.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

A big group of persons in the procession are those wearing medieval costumes of warriors and crusaders.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

Another group is that of drummers dressed in medieval costumes.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

Another big group is that of persons dressed as noble families of Venice with richly embroidered and colourful dresses.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

Then there are clowns, dancers, acrobats.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

The 12 Marias from the past year wear dark brown richly embroidered costumes. For part of the procession, they are carried on palanquins by a group of Venetian men.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

They are followed by the Marias selected for the current year wearing rich brocades.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

There are also the wooden Marias in the procession, though now they do not wear real costumes or jewellrey.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

It is a beautiful procession and if you plan to visit the carnival of Venice, make sure to be there for the Festival of Marias.

After the Festival of Marias

On Monday, a day before Mardi Gras (last day of the carnival), among the 12 Marias, one girl is selected to be Ms Carnival or the Queen Maria for the next 12 months, a kind of Miss Venice.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

One year later, the Queen Maria will become the Angel for the “Flight of Angel” festival of the Venice Carnival, during which a girl descends from the bell tower in the San Marco square.

Conclusions

Venice is a unique city, unlike any other city in the world. During carnival, Venice becomes magical. Most people think that carnival means colourful costumes and masks on the weekend leading to Mardi Gras. However, Festival of Marias is a wonderful inauguration of the carnival celebrations.

Festival of Marias during Carnival of Venice, Italy - © Images by Sunil Deepak

I love the Carnival Celebrations in Venice even if it is very crowded. The colurs, the joy and richness of costumes and masks, makes up for all the noise and confusion.

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