cambodia: the sacred and ugly of divine rule

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[My below post first appeared as a travelogue in Hindustan Times, one of the largest newspapers in India, on 6 March, 2016 in both its print and online editions. The online edition can be read here]

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From Angkor Wat to the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia reveals that civilisations hold within them, both, the seeds of greatness and those of depravity

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nala sopara: mumbai’s ancient buddhist stupa and mythical temples

The historical and artistic magnificence of India never fails to amaze me. Take a step in any direction and one is flooded with the country’s inordinate rich past and culture. Which does not always work in its favour for it lends to the Indian populace a nonchalance towards their own heritage.

Medieval sculptures which audiences lust over in international museums lie covered with petals and incense soot in temple nooks here. Millennia old crumbling edifices stand forgotten, holding on to time in desperation in an attempt to evade being razed down. And because they are in the multitude, one more or one less, sadly become irrelevant.

No part of this country is immune to its own cultural excess. Not even an uber metro like Mumbai. In fact even less so, for I have discovered and experienced sights here across centuries and religions, coexisting in uncanny innate ease. Continue reading

mumbai’s csmvs sculpture gallery: where stones speak of art and god

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Inspired by Mumbai’s rock-cut cave temples, I set out this afternoon to explore the sculpture gallery at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. Yup, it’s a mouthful. 🙂 Formerly known as the Prince of Wales Museum of Western India, it is one of the finest museums in the country. The quiet, tasteful sculpture gallery—a crash course in Indian history, religion, and art all rolled into one—is its highlight. Continue reading

mumbai’s ancient rock-cut cave temples

“Let’s explore the rock-cut cave temples of Mumbai this Sunday,” a friend suggests excitedly.

“Caves? I have been to Elephanta and Kanheri. Even written about them! Read my post. 🙂 ”

“Hey, there are more, a lot more in the city itself.”

More? I am confused. Where can there possibly be caves in Mumbai. The city is packed with concrete and people, with little space to walk, least of all millennia old caves to have survived. I am wrong.

Hidden within the crevices of Mumbai’s urban jungle is a pulsating vein of its ancient past. A series of rock-cut temples, connected to each other with tunnels and hidden passageways, lace the city’s basalt bed rock. Continue reading

cambodia 3: phnom penh, “we don’t need to fight anymore”

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Phnom Penh is where the Cambodians live, work, play and pray. Its attractions are low key, forming part of the fabric of local life. The city sits at the confluence of the three great rivers of Indochina—the Mekong, Tonle Sap and the Bassac—and is the country’s commercial and political capital. It is crowded, chaotic and most importantly necessary in order to understand the everyday real Cambodia.

Like Siem Reap and other towns in Cambodia, Phnom Penh too swarms with child beggars and amputated men and women trying to eek out a living from the country’s thriving tourism industry. After three decades of civil war, the country has only in the last 10 years opened its doors to the outside world with its sliver of calm and peace. All in all 539,000 tonnes of bombs have been dropped over the country and between four and six million land mines still dot the countryside. Huge billboards on the roads read, “Put down your weapons. We don’t need to fight anymore.” Continue reading

cambodia 1: the splendours of angkor

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I am finally in Cambodia. Every traveller’s utopia. Peace has come to this beautiful yet scarred land after three decades of war and suffering, and a journey to this small kingdom is truly one of Asia’s most genuine adventures.

Present day Cambodia is the successor state to the mighty Khmer empire which during the Angkor Period (9th to 15th Century AD) ruled much of what is now Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. No matter how much you read about Angkor or see pictures of its monuments, the actuality of the place still takes you by surprise. The scale alone of the site is impressive, the detailed stone carvings on its temples only further adding to its incredible beauty. Continue reading