global travel shot: nalanda, the world’s first residential international university

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When writing the title of this post, I found myself in a bit of a quandary. Should I call it a global travel shot or an Indian travel shot? The former won.

The above image is of the red brick ruins of the world’s first residential international university—Nalanda Mahavihara—built in the Indian state of Bihar in the 5th Century AD. To be more specific, it is an image of the stupa marking the nirvana of Sariputra, Buddha’s famed disciple, within the university. A Sanskrit name, Nalanda means giver of lotus stalks; mahavihara translates to great monastery.

For 800 years, Nalanda, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracted the brightest brains from all over the ancient world, from as far afield as Central Asia, China, and Korea. Hungry for knowledge, these scholars flocked to Nalanda’s doors to be met by a rigorous oral examination by its gatekeepers. Only those who passed were allowed to study inside the coveted walls. Many were turned away. Continue reading

global travel shot: uninterrupted storytelling in djemaa el-fna

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Welcome to my blog post series on Morocco. 🙂

I was travelling through Morocco these past three weeks. Exploring its four Imperial cities, camping under the stars in the Sahara Desert, hiking through the Todra Gorge, soaking in the sun, sand and sea in Essaouira, and falling in love with pearl-blue Chefchaouen.

What better way could there be to kick-start my series than by writing a post on Morocco’s most popular city’s most famous site: Djemaa el-Fna. Continue reading

global travel shot: an ethiopian soldier’s gift to ahmedabad

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Yin and yang. Negative and positive. Feminine and masculine. Dark and light. Two sides which together make a whole.

Sidi Saeed, an Ethiopian who found his way to the Gujarat Sultanate’s army via Yemen, way back in 1572, seemed to have some inkling of this. Armed with 45 sculptors, “the nobleman who helped the poor and had a large collection of books,” created a series of jalis or stone screens as part of the Sidi Saeed Mosque in the heart of Ahmedabad. The most exquisite was the “tree of life” with its swirling, leaf-lined, abloom branches, topped with a palm motif; its beauty heightened when seen from both the outside and inside. It was hard put to decide which side was a lovelier sight. Continue reading

global travel shot: alamgir aurangzeb’s mosque in varanasi

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Varanasi. The very name rings of sacred Hindu scriptures, stories of Lord Shiva and Ganga, and Hindu beliefs on life and afterlife. The oldest living city in the world, it is the accepted embodiment of Hinduism.

Yet, perched atop Panchganga Ghat by the holy River Ganges, where five streams are said to join, is a lovely functioning mosque—Alamgir Mosque. It is also the largest structure on the ghats. Standing over the ruins of a Krishna temple [the lower walls of the mosque belong to the original Hindu temple], the Hindu deities lie in a nearby edifice. Continue reading

global travel shot: the 6th nizam of hyderabad’s wardrobe

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When you are one of the richest men in the world, a ruler of a princely State where diamonds are measured in kilograms and pearls by acres, and have an obsession for fine clothes, lots of fine clothes—this is what your wardrobe looks like. 🙂 Continue reading

global travel shot: champaner, a 500-year-old indo-saracenic poem in stone

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“Look up, at the ceiling.” I am broken from my reverie, as I drift through a forest of 172 stone pillars, by my guide Manoj’s voice prodding me to halt in my tracks and raise my eyes, heavenwards.

High up, inside a dome above the main mihrab is the most exquisitely carved sculpture I have seen to date. And I find myself gasping in awe. Is this for real? I am not too sure what stuns me more. Its immense size, the fineness of the swirling leaves, or its incongruous placement—I am in a 500-year-old mosque in Champaner in Gujarat, 50-odd kilometres outside Vadodara, and the sculpture is Hindu-Jain in style and content. Continue reading

global travel shot: a sweetmeat shop owner’s gift to pune

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Welcome to my Pune series.

I decided to start my collection of posts on Mumbai’s less glamorous neighbour with the story of the above deity, Dagdusheth [Halwai] Ganpati. It reflects, perhaps most aptly, the depth of Pune’s cultural heritage in its seemingly commonplace everyday places—a heritage which is felt many times over at a pan-national level. Don’t believe me? Read on. 🙂

At first glance the effigy appears to be merely an oversized kindly Ganpati, Maharasthra’s most loved god, and the remover of obstacles. Covered in 8 kilograms of gold, and insured to the tune of US$150,000, the Ganpati is a devotee’s gift to the city and birthplace of the annual Ganeshotsav [Ganesh festival]. Continue reading

global travel shot: my best friend sends her season’s greetings

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Did you have a good year? Was it placid and calm or one roller coaster ride? No matter which, it helps to have a friend to talk to. One you can unburden yourself to, without the “I told you so” or a bunch of preaching.

The lady above has been my closest friend since I moved to Mumbai. I have gone to her with tears rolling down my eyes, bursting at the seams with anger, and starry eyed, in love with every colour and nuance of life. I have had conversations with her where I have poured my heart out or just sat in stony silence, confused to the core with life’s mysterious incongruous ways. And at the end, before I left, I’ve looked at her face, and whispered “Thank you.” Thank you for listening and giving me whatever she felt was best for me.

To a non-believer she is merely a wooden statue of Mother Mary in The Basilica of Our Lady of The Mount, brought all the way from Portugal to Bombay in the 16th Century. To a believer she has miraculous healing powers. Continue reading

global travel shot: remembering german nazi auschwitz, 70 years on

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When the bus dropped me off at Auschwitz II–Birkenau—a former German Nazi concentration and extermination camp on the outskirts of Krakow in Poland—on a summer day in 2012, I was not sure what to expect.

I was no stranger to scenes of debased humanity, having wandered through the Killing Fields in Cambodia, and explored the corridors of Robben Island in South Africa. I knew I would see pain, suffering, and the manifestation of an absolute ruthless version of humankind. But to what extent and how it was mourned 70 years on in Auschwitz II–Birkenau gave me both the jitters and hope. It still does. Continue reading

global travel shot: the unknown 5th century shiva saptamurti in parel

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You may well say, Aah, I have seen this sculpture before. That is, if you are a museum buff. Wrong.

Allow me to make a confession. I often find myself torn between awe at the cultural treasures with which India bursts at its seams with, and angry at the apathy, neglect and state of degradation in which many lie. I know I am not alone in this conflict.

Exactly a year ago I visited the sculpture gallery at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai, formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India. Like very many others, I fell in love with one piece. Continue reading

global travel shot: self portrait, persepolis

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Thought I would do a self-portrait for a change. 🙂 The above picture, hence, is of me in Persepolis, Iran. Continue reading

global travel shot: children taking care of children, laos

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I was at a local village primary school in Vang Vieng, Laos in December 2006. I saw this little girl and started talking to her. She kept frowning at me. I don’t think she understood a word I said and most probably thought I was cuckoo in the head for chatting away. I wanted to give her a big bear hug. Her threatening frown said “talk, but don’t you DARE hug me.” 🙂 Continue reading