Monthly Archives: January 2014

The gods of the thin places

On our trip to Amritsar I knew I would be photographing the Golden Temple from many angles and at different times of the day. I knew I would get a picture of the reflection of the temple on the water, of the fishes in the pond and every other building around it. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Eric Weiner in an article in the New York times describes ‘thin places’ as places where the distance between heaven and earth collapse. In all my travels I have never gone looking for  thin places nor have I found them by chance.  I cannot imagine finding a god  waiting for me amidst all the superficial devoutness of the tourists and the pretend piety of the touts. To me god comes silently in places that I am most familiar with.

But the photographs I took at the Golden temple assure me that while I may not believe in the gods of the thin places that does not mean that they do not exist.

 

 

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Categories: India | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

A page from history – Istanbul

Wedged in between Asia and Europe, Istanbul does not disappoint. Every two steps takes you through centuries of history.

It is believed that the first settlers came from Greece under the leadership of Byzas. He started the foundation of the city which he called Byzantium.

Following it’s flourishing trade and commerce owing to it’s strategic location Byzantium became a part of the Roman Empire. Emperor Constantine developed the city based on a Roman model.  He made Istanbul the capital of the Roman Empire and following the trend set by the first settler renamed the city as Constantinople after himself. Not surprisingly after it became the capital of the entire Roman empire Constantinople prospered.

However this surge in prosperity was checked by the division of the empire by the sons of Emperor Theodosis after his death and Constantinople was demoted from the capital of the entire Roman empire to the capital of the Byzantine Empire. This caused a cultural shift in the city. The Byzantine Empire was a predominantly Greek Orthodox as opposed to the Latin Catholic identity of the Roman Empire.   A revolt in the 532 AD almost destroyed the city. However the ever resilient city was rebuilt again. Many of its outstanding monuments namely the Hagia Sophia was constructed post this revolt.

The envied location of the city although favorable for trade and commerce was also the cause of many conquests. It was attacked by empires and troops from all over the middle east. For a short while it was under the hands of the fourth crusade. At this time the Greek Orthodox culture in the city declined giving rise to Latin Catholic ideologies and monuments.  How ever the Greeks were not the ones to give up without a fight. The constant struggle to maintain control drained the exchequer  and subsequently the Greek Orthodox and the Latin Catholic alike fell prey to the conquests of the Ottoman Turks led by Sultan Mehmed the second.

Constantinople then became the capital of the Ottoman Empire and unsurprisingly it’s name was changed to Istanbul.

Sultan Mehmed the second was a visionary. Unlike the Greeks and Romans before him , he did not believe that Istanbul could be dominated by a single religion or ideology. He encouraged settlements by Muslims and Jews along with the returning Greeks and Romans who had fled the city fearing captivity.The sultan built hospitals, schools, mosques and monuments.

The Ottoman ruled Istanbul till it was occupied by the allies in World war I. Following the Turkish War of Independence the Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923.   Ataturk the father of modern Turkey moved the capital  away from Istanbul which had witnessed hundreds of battles and been subject to the ups and downs of the different empires.

Today Istanbul is a vibrant city. It was rightly named as the European Capital of culture in 2010 by the EU.

A lit up Blue Mosque

A lit up Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque by day

Blue Mosque by day

The ware on display at the spice market.

The ware on display at the spice market.

The Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia

 

Categories: Asia, Europe | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Orchha

A stone’s throw from Jhansi in the heart of incredible India lies Orchha, a  forgotten old town  founded by Rudra Pratap Singh  of the Bundela Dynasty. Situated on the banks of the river Betwa , it was once one of the most prosperous states in pre independence India.   But today remnants of it’s former glory lie scattered around the town weathering  years of abandon, its bricks laid bare to the mercy of the elements and stifled by overgrown by weeds.  

Since it’s merger with the Indian Union in 1950 fate has not been kind to Orchha nor her residents. A town which was once surrounded by temples, palaces and even boasted of a 21 gun salute  is now withdrawn, hidden from view. The people once subjects of great and generous rulers today struggle to make a living.  Ironically Orccha means ‘hidden’. Perhaps it’s fate was decided at inception.

I stayed with a family of 6 while in Orchha – a grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, daughter and son. The home stay was arranged by the grassroots organization called Friends of Orchha. The NGO gave financial support to the families to build guest rooms and clean toilets. The families then charged guests  a very nominal fee for bed and food.

I sat with the mother on the raised mud platform that functioned as a kitchen beside a  small fire fueled  by cakes of cow dung . She was making roti and dal. That was to be our dinner.

” You use lots of coconut in Kerala, correct?” she asked.

“Yes.”

With that we started an exchange of culture and information. I asked her all about Orchha. What she thought about the neglect and abandon of the buildings. She didn’t seem too worried about that. People who could not afford houses had moved into some of the better maintained ruins. You can see their laundry hanging from the towers she said. In her world this was alright. But I had a good laugh imagining the gun towers which once sounded a 21 gun salute to the visiting  emperor Jehangir now  used as a laundry line.

All she wanted to know in return was why I unmarried well past the prime age of 20. I changed the subject complimenting her on her perfect circular rotis.

To which she replied ” It’s a shame if I don’t make perfect rotis. This is all I have done my whole life. But my daughter is going to study. Doctor she will become”.

According to the 2001 census the population of Orchha was 8501 with a  literacy rate of 54% lower than the national average of 59.5%.

Recently a guest had agreed to sponsor the children’s education. The mother was thrilled about it. She told me of her hopes for her children. She wanted them to have different lives than their parents. She wanted them to go to big cities and work.

” You use coconut oil in cooking”  She asked me coming back to the subject of my culture.

“Please don’t mind my questions. All this I read in my daughter’s books otherwise I don’t know. I have been in Orchha all my life”.

The jehangir Mahal

The jehangir Mahal

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A view of the Betwa river

A view of the Betwa river

The home stay family

The home stay family

Categories: Asia, India | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Blessed are the travelers

Blessed are the travelers for they will have adventures!

My first solo trip of sorts was Hong Kong. I didn’t speak the language, didn’t have people to hang out with. I got lost, got food poisoned and had a time of my life. I have not stopped since. I have learnt more of this world on the road than I think I ever will otherwise.

On this the first day of 2014 make a vow to yourself that this year you will get out of your comfort zone and explore this beautiful world.  Exploring need not involve buying an expensive flight ticket . It can be as simple as venturing to the nearest town. All it takes is the first step from you.

In my favorite E.E. Cummings own words

Listen; there’s a hell of a good universe next door: let’s go.

May this year bring adventures of all sorts right to your door step. May new experiences and lovely people find in everywhere.  May this blog inspire to travel and travel some more.

 

Categories: Travel | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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