Thursday, 30 November 2006

Ranjit Singh Panorama and Jallianwala Bagh

Although the Golden Temple is the shining star amongst Amritsar's attractions there are other interesting sights. A look at two of them here, more to follow.

This is a the newly opened (July 2006) Ranjit Singh Panorama, celebrating the life of the popular Maharaja Ranjit Singh, also known as the Lion of Punjab. This huge, well made panorama depicts various important scenes from his successful rule, mostly his many won battles.

A closer look at one of the battle scenes, combining life size plastic figures (yes these guys are the size of actual humans) with huge background paintings. There are men, horses, camels, canons and all sorts of other equipment. It is exceptionally well made, and very interesting. Strangely we were almost the only tourists there, which is a shame. Anyone coming to Amritsar should go to this brilliant museum.

Apart from the main Panorama, there are also many smaller dioramas showing scenes from his life, here with more focus on his non-military achievements. This one shows the Golden Temple being covered with gold plating under Ranjit Singhs supervision. Like the main panorama these smaller dioramas are very well made, with incredible attention to detail.

This is the Martyr's Well at Jallianwala Bagh, a place which occupies a very special place in the colonial history of India. At this very square in 1919 unprovoced British forces opened fire against a large mass of unarmed Indian protestors thereby killing hundreds of men, women and children. This barbarous act was globally condemned (although the Brits managed to keep the incident secret for 6 months), and prompted Gandhi to initiate his famous campaign of civil disobedience. Today the square has been transformed to a little park with little resemblance of the bare square it was back in those days, but this well is one of the few reminders of what once was. Hundreds of Indians died jumping into this well to escape the English bullets.

In some of the walls surrounding the square you can still see the bullet holes from that horrible day in 1919. Many of the bullet holes have been marked by a red wooden frame, such as the one you see here.

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

Golden Temple of Amritsar

Last weekend we went to Amritsar (location). On the top of our list there was a visit to the magnificent Golden Temple, the beating heart of the Sikh religion.

The temple at night surrounded by the holy pool of water where Sikhs have to go to get baptized. The temple is covered with REAL gold plating and looks nothing short of stunning when lit at night.

A close up of the temple. In my humble opinion this place rivals Taj Mahal as the greatest single attraction of India. It is also a sight of significant historical importance. In 1984 Sikh nationalist rebels had sought refuge in the temple. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi authorized the army to attack the rebels there, in the so called Operation Bluestar, which severely damaged the temple. That decision was to cost Indira Gandhi her life, as a few months later she was assassinated by her own Sikh body guards as revenge. In a reaction to this thousands of Sikhs in Delhi were slaughtered by angry Hindu mobs. Fortunately today communal harmony has been restored and the temple has been repaired.

A nearby tower stands next to the new moon.

As with Taj Mahal it really pays to come back at different times of day to see the Golden Temple. Here it is seen at early dawn.

And here I am posing for a picture in the afternoon. The reason for the turban on my head is that in accordance with the rules of Sikhism your head has to be covered when visiting here. This rule applies equally to men and women.

People line up on the narrow bridge connecting the main temple to the rest of the complex, in order to get inside the temple. Notice all the colourful turbans and head scarves.

Detail of the golden decorations.

Four Sikh men perform devotional music for all to enjoy.

There is always plenty of life by the large pool of holy water.

And Sikh believers bathe to purify themselves. Here a father is embracing his young son in the water. Perhaps his first time here? Unlike the rivers in which the Hindus bathe, this pool of water seems to be clean enough to purify both the soul and the body.

Not only humans like the quality of the water. Large fish seem to thrive here also, and they are very friendly. This one wants a kiss.

Saturday, 25 November 2006

Festival time in Hampi

In the days we were visiting Hampi it was moving into gear for the large annual Hampi Utsav - a large cultural festival attracting growing crowds and more recognised artists every year.

Dancers are practicing for their show at the old Royal Elephant Stables.

Flower garlands are being prepared. No festival without them in India

A view of the seats standing ready to be used at one of the many venues of the festival.

Rangoli is a colourful pattern painted on the sidewalk for special occasions.

Finally the festival has started. A parade of lovely girls sets it all off.

And here a band has gotten a special stand for their role during the inaugural ceremony.

On the main street of Hampi Bazaar a man shows off his martial arts skills in the air.

Your's truly with a dressed up man. We're not sure who is supposed to be, but we think it's a demon lord.

Susanna takes a picture of richly decorated horse carriage.

We were also witnesses to another celebration in Hampi. Here some boys are celebrating 50 years of statehood for Karnataka, which happened on the day of our arrival to Hampi.

Wildlife in Hampi

As I mentioned earlier Hampi has a very rural feel to it, despite being a major tourist attractions. This also means that you see many animals there. Not huge dramatic animals like tigers or rhinos but rather smaller animals such as monkeys, birds, lizards and insects. Here some pictures to give the people at home a sense of the animal life here. Click to enlarge any of the critters.

Buffaloes with birds resting on them. Strictly speaking this is probably not WILD-life, but still very idyllic to look at.

A very typical Hampi lizard which loves sunning itself on the many rocks.

Macaque family also enjoying a rest on a rock, with a bit of grooming and playing thrown into the mix.

Another monkey - the more elusive langur - chewing on a small twig.

A huge millipede (tusindben). Enlarge the picture to count the legs. Probably not quite a thousand but several hundred at least.

A smaller millipede, this one with exactly 56 legs (Yes, I counted).

A wonderful hoopoe (Haerfugl).

Frog floating in a small pond.

Beautiful butterfly with the characteristic "eyes" on the wings.

And finally a cat using a stack of newspapers in the most obvious way. As a bed. This picture was actually taken in Bangalore but I thought it fit well into the theme of this post.

Thursday, 23 November 2006

Sailing Down the River Tungabhadra

In Hampi we took a trip in a traditional Kannadiga (i.e. from Karnataka) round boat down the river Tungabhadra.

Susanna in the boat with a view to yet another amazing bazaar by the water.

The remains of an old stone bridge crossing the river via the small river island you see here. The bridge survived for about 500 years but was sadly destroyed in a 1950s flood.

A couple of backpackers relax on an old seaside temple, which was never finished.

Strange holes in the stone. I have no idea how they got there, but my theory is that they are old air bubbles (perhaps this is some form of lava stone) that have been slowly exposed as the water has eroded the rock.

A stone. Doesn't it look like something? The head of an Oscar perhaps?

This picture was taken after we get back, showing a boat identical to ours going down the same route we took. It is probably evident from the pictures that it is a pretty scenic, yet relaxing trip.

Wednesday, 22 November 2006

More ruins in Hampi

A quick warning. Anyone tired of pictures showing ruins and temples, might want to skip this post. Next time the topic will be different, I promise. For everyone else here are some pictures from the so called Royal Centre, home to both old religious and secular buildings, for a change.

This is the inner chamber of the Underground Virupaksha Temple. The entire floor is covered by rainwater giving life to some interesting reflections of the light streaming from two openings in the side into the otherwise dark chamber.

Same temple seen from the outside. In this picture you can clearly see that the temple is below ground level, hence the name.

A watchtower of the Royal Enclave.

And yet, another secular building. This is the Queen's Bath built exclusively for the purpose of keeping the Queen clean and happy. A grand pool is surrounded by 8 balconies and rich decorations everywhere.

Susanna seen from one of the balconies standing on the small canal leading water from the outside to the pool.

And something I haven't seen everywhere else in India. A pyramidal structure, which leads my thoughts to Central America, rather than this part of the world. This is the centre of the old secular area with all sorts of administrative and productive buildings. Most of this area is now lost, with only low rows of rocks marking the ground plans of the various building.

A richly decorated archway from the Lotus Mahal pavilion.

One of the great things about Hampi, is that it is not overly congested and that the attractions are all within a couple of kilometers within each other, meaning that you can easily explore the area on bicycle. Here Susanna is driving around near an old Jain (I believe) Temple.