If you were ever of the opinion that Buddhist art was all about asceticism and restraint, think again. The caves at Ajanta, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, are a lavish statement to the contrary as I discovered earlier this month on a five-day trip exploring the region in and around Aurangabad. But then, isn’t that what travel is meant to do? Break perceptions. 🙂
Imbued with sensuality borrowed from its sibling, Hinduism, ancient Buddhist art in its parent country is filled with nudes performing graceful mudras, figures wrapped in erotic embraces, and faces marked with raw emotion. Interspersed in this human carnival are serene, silent, meditating Buddhas, perfectly at peace in their company.
The mix of spiritual with secular, ordinary with sublime are common traits in Indian aesthetics. Why then should Buddhist art have been any different! Continue reading →
There are two choices for the hiker at Todra Gorge. You can either go up, scaling the burnt orange limestone crumbling cliffs of the High Atlas Mountains, higher with every step, or carry on along the canyon floor into its bowels, deeper ahead. Both have their own perks. A bit like life itself.
Since most people tend to climb up, and I like to do things a tad differently, I decided to walk on straight. It was a long walk. Some four-and-a-half-hours long.
I started at the most visited and dramatic section, a 10-meter-wide chasm shared by both river and road, and penned in with towering perpendicular cliffs 160 metres tall. Stretched over a length of 600 metres, the tourist crowds usually do their U-turn here and go back.
But should one venture on, the unfolding of the cliffs into craggy piles of rock up to 400 metres high that line a desolate sun-baked concrete road is surreal and unreal rolled into one. The only sound I could here as I trudged on alone under the ultramarine blue sky was the chirping of birds. They seemed almost glad for my company. Continue reading →
A sea of endless, sweeping, sand dunes which change colour in tandem with the sun. A night sky bristling with stars brighter than diamonds. The pin-drop silence that only nature can muster. Aah, the immensity of life and being part of it one-on-one!
Camping under a silver full moon in the Sahara Desert was the reason I travelled to Morocco last November. It was something I had fantasized about since as long as I could remember. It was the reason my heart thumped a little harder and my goose bumps rose a wee bit higher whilst I packed for my three-week trip. Yes, I knew there were going to be lots of other wonderful experiences, but this, this was special.
In my ignorance I expected to simply walk into the bone-dry fringes of the Sahara Desert which fell inside Morocco’s borders, once I left Fes. Wrong.
My journey of 470 kilometres took me through European-styled pristine and chilly hill-stations to 360-million-year-old fossil land choc-o-bloc with ammonites, trilobites, and orthoceras. I met proud, independent, solitary Amazigh nomads in their bare tents in the Middle Atlas and broke into giggles with schoolgirls at Rissani, once the ancient gold-trading centre of Sijilmasa. Continue reading →
To find a place not steeped in history, heritage or culture in India would be an anomaly. After living for eight years in the country I should be used to the cultural avalanche that typifies most things Indian by now.
After all, we are talking about 2 million years, 29 states, 7 union territories, and 9 practiced religions. But nope. Every time I come across a place, either firmly established as the country’s top sights or obscure and unknown on the road-less-travelled, I am overwhelmed. 🙂
Take for instance my recent travels to Bodh Gaya. On doing my travel research one specific name kept popping up—Rajgir. It came highly recommended. Unsure of what exactly to expect, I added it to my itinerary with an overnight stay, but alas, I wish I had stayed longer.
Known in ancient times as Rajagriha, which translates to “house of king” or “royal house,” Rajgir, located between Bodh Gaya and Nalanda, was the first capital of ancient Magadha up until the 5th Century BC. But what was Magadha? Continue reading →
Auto-rickshaw driver: Which temple would you like to see? Tibet or Japan? Or Thai? [All the rickshaw drivers in Bodh Gaya, I realise by now, speak impeccable English.]
Me: All of them. Oh, and yeah, Sujata temple too. 😀
I see his eyes light up. I can almost read his mind: This woman will pay me well. She is the wandering types.
Auto-rickshaw driver: It will be Rs. 1,000!
I bargain my way down to Rs. 500 plus a hundred-rupee tip. We shake hands and embark on a six-hour camaraderie which survives through the rattling by-lanes to Bodh Gaya’s far corners, in search of Buddhist temples and monasteries from Tibet to Japan. I say “search” because some of our stops I had merely wisps of information of, and he was completely clueless about. Continue reading →