Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Story Told by Goa's Religious Ruins

Old Goa: Church of St. Francis of Assisi in the front and behind it Sé Cathedral - Asia's largest church

During the Portuguese rule of Goa, the capital Velha Goa (Old Goa) rose to become one of the most populous, wealthy and grand cities in the world, filled with broad boulevards, luxurious mansions and great cathedrals. Eventually the city would be riddled with disease, largely torn down and abandoned, but during its golden age it grew - in a matter of few decades - larger than major European cities like London and Lisboa, and according to contemporary accounts it was a truly spectacular place to visit.

However, this amazing spurt of creation was accompanied by equal degrees of shameful destruction. The Portuguese rulers were highly intolerant of other religions and were not content in spreading catholicism through just means of persuasion. The existing religions were banned and all ancient Hindu Temples and Muslim Mosques were destroyed. That is, all except one: The small 13th century Tambdi Surla, is the only surviving pre-Portuguese stone temple. It was hidden in the jungle by devout Hindus and never discovered by the Europeans before we had reached more civilized times.

We visited both of these important sites, each rescued from the grip of the jungle. In Old Goa only the main religious buildings had been left standing in the middle of nowhere, but they are impressive enough to still give a small sense of wonder over the great city that once stood there. Tambdi Surla, by contrast, is just a small - but aesthetically pleasing - stone temple in a peaceful and remote spot, surrounded by jungle; it is a sombre testament to the fate of Hinduism (and Hindus) in Portuguese-ruled Goa. We visited the latter on a side trip from Dudhsagar.

Tambdi Surla:

Hindu temple Tambdi Surla in a jungle clearing, interior Goa

Tambdi Surla seen a bit closer - a simple but appealing building
Inner chamber of the temple

Old Goa:

The old city gate leading from the busy harbour into town

Basilica of Bom Jesus, final resting place of legendary Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier, who worked in Goa and achieved sainthood after his death. He was instrumental in bringing the oppressive Holy Inquisition to Goa as he considered the Portuguese in Goa to be insufficiently pious.

The body of Francis Xavier can be seen through glass windows in his casket. He worked for many years in Goa, but died in China in 1552 before being returned to Goa the year later

Last remains of the grand, pre-Portuguese Muslim palace of Adil Shah is this ruined doorway. It reminds me of a portal to another dimension. This palace was taken over by the Portuguese and some of the worst atrocities of the Goan Inquisition took place here.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Dudhsagar Falls

Rikke and Ole swimming in the pools beneath Dudhsagar Falls

Goa is home to India's second highest falls, known as Dudhsagar meaning literally Sea of Milk. So along with my dad, brother Ole and sister Rikke I went on a day trip from our rented house in Calangute to check it out.

The falls are tiered rather than vertical so they lack a bit of the drama of other falls, like for instance the beautiful Nohkalikai Falls in Meghalaya, although in a better monsoon than that of 2009 the sheer masses of water might be enough to increase the dramatic effect. But in any case, it's still a worthwhile day-trip that feels very adventurous despite being just 70 km. from Goa's crowded beach resorts.

You have to drive the last few kilometres through the jungle in a jeep as you cross a number of streams, which a normal car would never manage - even some of the jeeps didn't make it through. For the last few hundred metres even the jeep won't do, so you have to go by foot through the hot and humid jungle - crossing another several gushing streams. The water level is not particularly high, and the currents manageable but the rocks on which you have to find your footing are incredibly slippery, making it very difficult to cross without any stumbles. We later found out that foot-bridges are put up shortly after the monsoon season, and that we only missed them by a few days. But I'm actually glad that we did, because it was more fun this way.

Apart from the adventure of getting there, the truly great thing about Dudhsagar is the pool of water beneath the falls in which you can take a cooling swim. Again, it is surrounded by slippery rocks, so not without it's dangers - in fact we saw a young Maharashtran man almost drown as he had exhausted himself by swimming around and couldn't pull himself up on the nearest rock. But the setting of the pool is fantastic and the water cool and clean, so it's a great place to spend some time.

Jeeps stuck in a stream on the way through the jungle

Ole and Rikke crossing one of the treacherous, slippery streams

Ole after conquering a stream

Ole, my dad and Rikke walking the final stretch

Dudhsagar Falls in its full glory

Domestic tourists enjoying the cooling waters of the pool. The young man in the bottom right corner is the one we saw almost drown

Sunday, 12 September 2010

A Week in Goa

Church of Our Lady, a famous landmark in Goa's capital Panjim

After Valdemar was born, my family in Denmark were obviously dying to see him - so they came to visit. But rather than just sit around in the apartment for 10 days, we decided to all go to Goa together. It was October, which meant it was rather hot and humid. My mother and Valdemar (and therefore also Nitoli) did not appreciate that much, but the rest of us enjoyed the trip.

I have to many pictures to show in just one post, so they will come dripping in "themes" over the next few days / weeks. I have worked on my blog template to increase the size of my images so that the pictures can do more of the talking, and I guess they do that better if I don't post too many of them in every go. Today I'll show just a few of the most classic (or you could say clichéd) Goa images.

A classic Goa image: The beach. Here it is southern end of Candolim beach with the tip of Taj Fort Aguada Beach Resort visible

Along with my siblings I tried parasailing. Here
my sister Rikke getting buckled up for parasailing
My brother Ole on his way up

Up in the air - view a great view

Goa has more domestic tourists, than international ones and blonds like my sister draw lots of attention. Here she is getting
her picture taken with an Indian family we had never met before. This is quite common when traveling in India.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Gandhi Smriti - Gandhi Remembrance

The path Gandhi walked from Birla house
in the moments before his assasination

The spot where Mahatma Gandhi was shot

In the winter of 1947-48 the father of the Indian nation, Mahatma Gandhi, had come to Delhi in an attempt to stop communal violence in the capital of newly independent India. It was a cause he would pay for with his life. On 30 January 1948 he was assassinated by a religious fanatic just after he gone out to the garden of the house in which he was staying at the time. It fell upon Gandhi's close friend and ally Jawaharlal Nehru to inform the nation of the tragic event via a radio address. He did so with the words:

Friends and Comrades, the light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere. I do not know what to tell you and how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the Father of the Nation, is no more.

Today, the property in which Gandhi met his fate, stands as a museum and memorial to his life and legacy. It has been renamed from it's original, Birla House, to "Gandhi Smriti" meaning "Gandhi Remembrance". It is a sombre place to visit for anyone even remotely interested in Gandhi and his doctrine of non-violence, which he pursued with such exceptional courage into martyrdom. No place conveys that better than where it all took place.

The whole museum can be roughly divided into three parts. The first - and for me most important part - is the garden in which the actual assassination took place.  A string of stone footsteps show the path, which Gandhi took up to the point where he was killed. A small, unimposing monument marks the spot.

The second part of the museum, which is indoors on the ground floor, is dedicated to telling the story of Gandhi's life. Highlights include the glasses he wore when he was shot and other of his (very few) personal artifacts.

The third part is a curious multimedia section on the first floor, which for the most part look more like a modern art museum than a place dedicated to the memory of Gandhi. It is actually not bad or uninteresting, but just seems strangely misplaced.

The actual specs Gandhi wore

Mahatma Gandhi and his wife Kasturbi

From the multimedia part of the museum: A modern interpretation of the three wise, Japanese monkeys embodying the very Gandhian principle of "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil"

At places Gandhi Smriti
  looks like an art museum
More multimedia, here with a wooden motif of Gandhi

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Delhi's Toilet Museum

The main room of the Sulabh Toilet Museum in Delhi. Our friend Lone in the corner
Yes, Delhi has a toilet museum, perhaps the only one of it's kind in the entire world. It may sound like a quirky attraction (and it is) but there is also a very serious side to it. It has been created by an NGO by the name of Sulabh International Social Service Organisation as a part of their mission to improve sanitation all around India. The lack of proper toilet facilities is a huge problem, particularly in rural parts of India, and it leads both to spread of disease and to horrible working conditions for sanitary workers belonging primary to the lowest castes.

After 4 years in Delhi we finally managed to go there last September with our friend Lone. The museums covers different toilet related themes, including displays about the historical development of sanitation techniques, actual historical toilet, toilet-related humourous displays and finally - outside the main hall - some examples of simple, modern sanitation techniques, which if spread across the country could vastly improve quality of life for millions.

As an attraction I would not say that the toilet museum is worth a huge detour, but if you have enough time and you are in Western Delhi anyway it's worth spending an hour or so as a fun and quirky eye opener to the importance of sanitation.

Nitoli and a fancy historical toilet
A statue symbolising what Sulabh is working against:
A human having to carry another human's waste

The outside section showing how very simple latrines can work hygienically without running water

Monday, 6 September 2010

Wild Cat in Gurgaon?

Face to face with large cat in Gurgaon -could it be wild?

One day in our new apartment in Gurgaon, Nitoli suddenly called on me frantically from our balcony. The reason was that she had spotted the animal above, which to me does not look like a normal domesticated cat. It has no collar, a pattern which looks like wild camouflage and most importantly it seemed to be significantly bigger than normal house cats. Perhaps +50% body size. It's behaviour also seemed quite wild to me as it was searching for eggs on a small slope full of nesting holes used by our local Mynas.

I am in no way a cat expert so of course I could be wrong. This could be a cat owned by someone in the neighbourhood or perhaps more likely a domesticated cat, which has been let loose and therefore partially reverted to its pre-domesticated, wild behaviour. It has been suggested to me that it might be a Bengal, which is a hybrid between domesticated cats and the wild Asian Leopard Cat. However, when I check the pictures on Google it doesn't seem like a perfect match to me.

In any case, I grabbed my camera and took a few pictures with my telephoto lens from our 6th floor balcony, after which I ran down to catch some pictures from the ground level helped by phone instructions from Nitoli who kept her eyes on the cat's movements from above and told me where to go. I managed to sneak close enough to get the very nice facial shot you see above, through a small opening in the shrubbery surrounding our building.

If any of my visitors can shed any light on the likely origins of this cat, I would be very curious to hear their input. Thanks in advance!

Searching a slope for birds eggs. Picture taken from 6th floor balcony

Spotted fur pattern, nice for camouflage - and no collar

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Welcome to the World, Valdemar!

My son Valdemar, 20 days old

On 3 August 2009, Nitoli gave birth to our first, beautiful child Valdemar. We have now had him for over 1 year and needless to say every day is a joy as we see him learn, progress and develop.

But Valdemar did not have a very easy start to life: He was born with a life-threatening infection, which was discovered a few hours after he had been given to us. We can only be thankful that the great doctors at Fortis la Femme hospital caught the problem so early, or we probably wouldn't have had Valdemar with us today.

Valdemar was placed in a neo-natal intensive care unit, where he spent the first week of his life without even experiencing his mother's touch.

It was a difficult time for us, but only made the joy so much greater when we finally got to take him home on 10 August. He continued to receive daily injections for some time after that, but he recovered completely with absolutely no permanent damage.

This blog is supposed to be interesting to read even for people outside my immediate family, so it is not going to become a blog with endless baby pictures. But I do reserve the right to return with at least one more post just about Valdemar, with pictures from his entire lifespan so far. I hope that is okay :)

Nitoli in the car on the way to the hospital to give birth

In the delivery room, waiting for the doctors

A new life: First picture ever taken of Valdemar - apart from sonograms, of course

Valdemar, 3 hours old

Our little family, shortly before Valdemar was taken away from us for a full week
  A happy reunion - finally back in Mommy's arms

Me and Valdemar in the hospital lobby waiting for the car to take us home

Completely oblivious to the fact that his ordeal is over and its time to go home for the first time

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Moving Day

Packers and moves clearing our old living room in GK-1

On 27 June 2009, we moved from our old apartment in GK-1, which despite a good location in green South Delhi, a fantastic terrace and some wonderful memories, was getting too small, too uncomfortable and too far away from my office to stay in. Power cuts were problematic and the apartment was on the top floor with very poor insulation, so it would get hot as a furnace in summer and colder than a fridge in winters.

Instead we moved to a much bigger and much more comfortable apartment across the street from my office in the satellite city of Gurgaon. I have never looked back since, but for Nitoli it was a bit tougher to take the leap from city to Indian suburbia. But I think we both agree that this was the right step.

Good times with friends in our old apartment

Nitoli sitting down for dinner on the big, green terrace of our old apartment - the only part I truly miss about that place

Our new living room - the balloons are from a recent birthday celebration

Our new apartment building in Gurgaon

Sunset view from our new building to the towers on the other side of the road