Happy Republic Day ! India you stole my heart

As India celebrates its 67th Republic Day, the might and challenges of the country have quadrupled. The new Modi government is running a marathon of expanding its foreign policies, but is yet to deliver its promises for a Change in Indian politics and improvement of the its left out citizen’s lifestyle. The rich have grown richer as expected. Literacy remains a battle to this dichotomy of a country which churns the word’s highest number of doctors, engineers and lawyers each year. Its brain drain makes the strength of reputed global giants like Microsoft, Google, NASA, Adobe, Accenture, Alcatel, Amazon, American Airlines, American Express, AMD (MIT), Scan Disk, Nokia, Net App, Oracle and others.
And yet, everywhere I travel to, I meet educated Indian ‘haters’, those who pathologically despise Indians, in spite of being inferior to them in terms of their looks and intelligence. I wonder why?. The first thing that comes to their tongue if the heavy Indian accent, the ‘curry’ eaters. The ‘dhal-rice’ dark skinned bunch who wear gaudy heavy 22 carats Gold jewellery. Outside, India when the kids of the Indian families topped their class, my ‘Indian haters’ criticize the slave parenting skills, and competitive nature of their parents. I still fail to understand why when a similar scenario presents itself with anyone, preferably a Caucasian family, my ‘Indian haters’ are full of praise.
What is it that Indians do as successful entrepreneurs, sharp Surgeons, smart Engineers, rich hoteliers, prosperous real estate owners and steel barons, to infuriate others and turn them into Indian haters? They turn their attention upon petty details about our their own beings to inflate and voice their frustrations. Upon reflection, in context with the growing India’s might, I cannot but acknowledge one thing, the India has no ‘ invade, capture, loot, take’ as its policy. The country’s conflicts through history came from invaders. It has built its defence system upon failure to secure its own borders and live under the loot and enslavement of some of its invaders. Today, modern India offers a clearer image rather than a complacent one, it bore for hundreds of years. It has organised its dispersed army after the ‘divide and rule’ policy of its past colonisers. I forget that India has won the Miss World Beauty Pageant a record number of times and stands proudly 2nd on a world list. The Bollywood actors and actresses are admired and copied all over the planet. Everyone wants to be a Bollywood star, bollywood party themes are among the world most popular likes when one a celebration with glitz and glamour. Indian’s capital holds a world record number of beauty parlour and spas on an average of 4 every kilometres. Indian tattoos are a craze, Indian embroidery embelishments is second to none on the planet.
My list of superlatives can go on, not as a biased person, but on someone who has exprienced, lived and studied under the Indian skies. I do not deny my bad experiences too, especially someone shoving a live cobra to me for Rs 10! Before, I went to India, my poorly informed mind by the media and popular ranting, shaped a distorted image of in my mind. What I discovered was beyond my expectations. I came to appreciate and admire people in their simplicity, warmth, I saw very rich and very poor, I saw languages changing every 2 hrs I travelled to, in the four cardinal directions. I saw beaches with wondrous stone carvings in gigantic scale which no one took a second look to, a street dog peeing over a monument which stood there around the smae time as Ptolemy was scribbling his world map. I spent a lot of time in Delhi’s sprawling Lodhi Garden, did long hours of reading by Humayun tomb’s (a copy of the Taj Mahal in red stone), surrounded by expansive gardens laced with paths, ponds, channels, well-manicured lawns, and shady trees. Today, this tranquil setting provides locals with a quiet retreat from Delhi’s noisy hustle and bustle. I would not forget my experiences in the hair salon in Khan market, where I lived, the Chinese hairstylists not speaking Hakka, Mandarin or Cantonese, but the hilarious Delhiite Hinglish. I love each and every of my travels across the country. I had my emergency moments when I ran to the madly crowded Old Delhi to the Red Fort ( Lal Qila) to exchange my dollars against a higher rate in the gem and souvenir shops in its inner entrance. The super-sized 17th century Mughal citadel was rich in power and splendor when it stood as the ancient capital of the country’s Persian invaders. Connaught Place was my haunt when I missed home and felt lonely in this big city. I learnt to haggle, shopped till I could draw a step, ate the most delicious food, discovered that people refer to India as to a place where people begged, kids starved, but I have seen the equal number in the most advanced country in the West. The difference being most lived behind closed doors, while others slept on the streets. Strict law enforcement hid many child abuse behind closed doors. In India, everything is visible, done under the sky and lived by no double standards. Whatever you wish to see, drink, eat, learn, experience, you could do it in this one country. From the best to the worst.
Recently, when someone voiced negative views about living in the city, I was lost for words to describe the life that breathes in New Delhi , which I have not found present in other Indian cities. But here, any Mumbaiite would differ to their favourite ‘aka Mumbai’, as being the soul of the country. To me, where Mumbai is chaos and helralds the bollywood industry’s, Delhi is class and quiet leafy suburbian residential areas, while holding the country’s governmental administrative power centres.
What does the Indian Army look like nowdays?
The Indian Armed Forces are the military forces of the Republic of India. It consists of three professional uniformed services: the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force. Additionally, the Indian Armed Forces are supported by three paramilitary organisations (Assam Rifles, Indian Coast Guard and Special Frontier Force) and various inter-service institutions such as the Strategic Forces Command
With strength of over 1.3 million active personnel, it is world’s 3rd largest military force and has the world’s largest volunteer army.
Since 1962, the IAF has maintained close military relations with Russia, including cooperative development on programmes such as the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) and the Multirole Transport Aircraft (MTA)
India has one of the longest military histories, dating back several millennia. The first reference of armies is found in the Vedas as well as the epics Ramayana and Mahabaratha. Classical Indian texts on archery in particular, and martial arts in general are known as Dhanurveda.
Indian maritime history dates back 5,000 years. The first tidal dock is believed to have been built at Lothal around 2300 BC during the Indus Valley Civilisation, near the present day Mangrol harbour on the Gujarat coast. The Rig Veda written around 1500 BC, credits Varuna with knowledge of the ocean routes and describes naval expeditions.
Sea lanes between India and neighbouring lands were the usual form of trade for many centuries, and are responsible for the widespread influence of Indian Culture on other societies. The Cholas excelled in foreign trade and maritime activity, extending their influence overseas to China and Southeast Asia. The Indian Army during World War I contributed a number of divisions and independent brigades to the European, Mediterranean and the Middle East theatres of war. One million Indian troops would serve overseas, of whom 62,000 died and another 67,000 were wounded. In World War II, the Indian Army began the war, in 1939, numbering just under 200,000 men. By the end of the war it had become the largest volunteer army in history, rising to over 2.5 million men in August 1945.[28] Serving in divisions of infantry, armour and a fledgling airborne force, they fought on three continents in Africa, Europe and Asia. The Indian Army fought in Ethiopia against the Italian Army, in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia against both the Italian and German Army, and, after the Italian surrender, against the German Army in Italy. However, the bulk of the Indian Army was committed to fighting the Japanese Army, first during the British defeats in Malaya and the retreat from Burma to the Indian border; later, after resting and refitting for the victorious advance back into Burma, as part of the largest British Empire army ever formed. In 1961 tension rose between India and Portugal over the Portuguese-occupied territory of Goa, which India claimed for itself. After Portuguese police cracked down violently on a peaceful, unarmed demonstration for union with India, the Indian government decided to invade and Operation Vijay was initiated. A lopsided air, sea, and ground campaign resulted in the speedy surrender of Portuguese forces. Within 36 hours, 451 years of Portuguese colonial rule was ended, and Goa was annexed by India. India fought four major wars with its neighbour Pakistan in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999, and with China in1962. Indian victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war, helped create the free country of Bangladesh.
The beginning of the 21st century saw reorientation for India in the global stage from a regional role in the subcontinent to a major role in the Indian ocean region stretching from Gulf of Aden to the Malacca Strait. India’s sphere of influence needs to encompass not just the South Asian Sub-continent, but also the northern Indian Ocean area, from the eastern seaboard of Africa in the west, to the Malacca Straits in the east, and must include Iran, Afghanistan, the Central Asian Republics (CARs), China and Myanmar. India’s credibility, as a regional power will be contingent upon institutional stability, economic development and military strength, including nuclear deterrence.
The major deployments of the Indian army constitute the border regions of India, particularly Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, and the Northeast India, in order to engage in counter-insurgency and anti-terrorist operations. The major commitments of the Indian Navy constitute patrol missions, anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia, the ‘Singapore Indian Maritime Bilateral Exercise’ with the Republic of Singapore Navy in the Straits of Malacca, maintaining a military presence in SE Asia waters, and joint exercises with other countries, such as Brasil, South Africa, the United States and Japan, France (Varuna naval exercises), People’s Republic of China, the Russian Navy (INDRA naval exercises), and others. During 2010, the Indian Armed Forces has a reported strength of 1.3 million active personnel and 2.1 million reserve personnel. In addition, there are approximately 1.3 million paramilitary personnel, making it one of the world’s largest military forces.
Farkhor Air Base is a military air base located near the town of Farkhor in Tajikistan, 130 kilometers (81 mi) south east of the capital Dushanbe. It is operated by the Indian Air Force in collaboration with the Tajikistan Air Force. Farkhor is India’s first and only military base outside its territory. India will soon provide medium-lift choppers to Tajikistan and dedicate a hospital there as part of efforts to build on the strategic ties between the two countries against the backdrop of US-led troops preparing to pull out from Afghanistan in 2014. India is also helping the development of Chah Bahar Seaport in south eastern Iran which is speculated to be done to secure India’s Maritime assets and also as a gateway to Afghanistan & Central Asia. However, India and Israel also have a very strong defence relationship. India made obligation to actively assist Nepal in national defence and military preparedness, and made both nations not to tolerate threats to each other’s security.
India started the process to bring the island country Maldives into India’s security grid. India is also one of three countries with whom Japan has a security pact, the others being Australia and the United States.
India and Russia maintain strong military cooperation. India has defence pacts with US focusing on from security to joint training to the joint development and manufacture of defence equipment and technology. India had signed a pact to develop ports in Myanmar and various bilateral issues, including economic cooperation, connectivity, security and energy. India has a “comprehensive strategic partnership” with UAE. India has maritime security arrangement in place with Oman and Qatar.[
Indian Navy also has berthing rights in Oman and Vietnam. India has substantially stepped up military engagement with East Asian and ASEAN nations. Although never explicitly stated, ASEAN and East Asian nations want New Delhi to be a counterweight to increasing Chinese footprints in the region. Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and, particularly, Vietnam and Myanmar have time and again pressed India to help them both in terms of military training and weapons supply.
For more than a decade now, India has been providing Vietnam with assistance in beefing up its naval and air capabilities. For instance, India has repaired and upgraded more than 100 MIG 21 planes of the Vietnam People’s Air Force and supplied them with enhanced avionics and radar systems. Indian Air Force pilots have also been training their Vietnamese counterparts. In a first, India has offered a $100-million credit line to Vietnam to purchase military equipment. A bilateral agreement for utilisation of facilities in India by the Singapore Air Force and Army was signed in October 2007 and August 2008 respectively and has been extended up to 2017. Singapore is the only country to which India is offering such facilities. The army has rich combat experience in diverse terrains, due to India’s diverse geography, and also has a distinguished history of serving in United Nations peacekeeping operations. The Indian army has dedicated one brigade of troops to the UN‘s standby arrangements. Through its large, sustained troop commitments India has come in for much praise for taking part in difficult operations for prolonged periods. The Indian Army has participated in several UN peacekeeping operations, including the ones in Cyprus, Lebanon, Congo, Angola, Cambodia, Vietnam, Namibia, ElSalvador, Liberia,
Mozambique and Somalia. India has been the largest troop contributor to UN missions since inception. So far India has taken part in 43 Peacekeeping missions with a total contribution exceeding 160,000 troops and a significant number of police personnel having been deployed. As of June, 2013, about 8000 Indian UN peacekeepers, both men and women, are deployed in nine missions, including Congo, South Sudan, Liberia, UNDOF, Haiti, Lebanon, Abeyi, Cyprus and Cote d’Ivoire.
India has so far, provided one Military Advisor (Lt Gen R K Mehta), one Police Adviser (Ms Kiran Bedi), one Deputy Military Adviser (Lt Gen Abhijit Guha), 14 Force Commanders and numerous Police Commissioners in various UN Missions. Indian Army has also contributed lady officers as Military Observers and Staff Officers apart from them forming part of Medical Units being deployed in UN Missions. The first all women contingent in peacekeeping mission, a Formed Police Unit from India, was deployed in 2007 to the UN Operation in Liberia (UNMIL)
The army also provided a paramedical unit to facilitate the withdrawal of the sick and wounded in Korea.The Indian Navy operates a sizeable fleet of Sindhughosh (Russian Kilo-class design) and Shishumar (German Type 209/1500 design) class submarines. A nuclear-powered attack submarine INS Chakra has been leased from Russia. India has started construction of six Scorpène class submarines at Mazagon Dockyards Limited (MDL), in Mumbai under technology transfer from French firm DCNS. Recent induction of attack submarine INS Chakra and the development of INS Arihant make the Indian Navy one of six navies worldwide that are capable of building and operating nuclear-powered submarines– others include China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
India also launched a 37,500-ton indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant in August, 2013 in its bid to join a select group of nations (United States, the United Kingdom, Russia and France) capable of building such warships. The Indian Air Force is the air arm of the Indian armed forces. Its primary responsibility is to secure Indian airspace and to conduct aerial warfare during a conflict. The modern, state-of-the-art AFNET is a fully secure communication network, providing IAF critical link among its command and control centre, sensors such as the Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems and shooters like the fighter aircraft and missile squadrons. Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS), an automated command and control system for Air Defence (AD) operations which has been exported to several countries, including Israel, Burma, Nepal and Ecuador.
India has been in its possession of nuclear weapons since 1974. Its most recent nuclear test has been done on 11 May 1998, when Operation Shakti (Pokhran-II) was initiated with the detonation of one fusion and three fission bombs. On 13 May 1998, two additional fission devices were detonated. India, however, maintains a no-first use and a nuclear deterrence policy against nuclear adversaries. India’s nuclear doctrine envisages building a credible minimum deterrent for maintaining a second strike capability which will be massive and designed to induce unacceptable damage on the enemy. India is on the verge of becoming one of only four nations in the world to possess a Nuclear Triad. India’s nuclear missiles include the Prithvi, the Agni, the Shaurya, Sagarika, Dhanush, and others. India conducted its first test with the Agni-V, which can carry a nuclear warhead in the east as far as all of China and in the west deep into Europe with its 5000 km range, in April 2012 and a second test in September, 2013An Indian Navy team comprising 11 members successfully completed an expedition to the North Pole in 2006. The Indian Naval ensign first flew in Antarctica in 1981. The Indian Navy succeeded in Mission Dakshin Dhruv by traversing to the South Pole on skis in 2006. With this historic expedition, they have set the record for being the world’s first military team to have successfully completed a ski traverse to the geographic South Pole.
I still remember those ships stopping in the harbour in Port Louis, Mauritius, and the buzz would be out. In fact, did you know that before reaching Antartica, there is no land after the island of Mauritius?
Today, I view India with a different eye, and whenever I speak for it, my ‘Indian haters’ give me those placid but irritated looks with a snap to end the conversation. I feel thrilled that turmoil resides in those who cannot comprehend India and its achievers. Many mistake my Indian looks for being from the country. Hence, naturally defensive about it. But the truth is that having travelled and lived in many different countries, I have rarely felt the ease, and feeling at home like living in India, maybe here I should stress, New Delhi. Many atrocious things are still going on in the capital, as one would expect from a country with the second largest population on the planet. But I cannot but admit that I found there the most cultured, tolerant, stylish, well-read, intelligent, adventurous, creative, generous and kind people, all in one bag.
I guess, I was lucky, I opened my heart to India, and it gave me its own in abundance.
Jai Hind!

Trekking Africa highest or the world’s highest mountain?

Being in Tanzania, everyone’s dream is to do the Kili, fitness buffs or even those who aspire to skyrockett their fitness. I have not done the Kili, nor inclined to do so due to long years of fitness left in a box. But having done enough of the hills, mountains and base camps of the Himalayas in my early 20s, I believe I have achieved enough to last a lifetime. Of course, this is only to hide my inactivity, as any mountain trekker and lover knows that once the bug bites, it last for ever.
With a bit of research, I have put together a bit of a comparison of the experience on each. This comparison looks specifically at the Kilimanjaro’s Marangu Route which is the quickest and also one of the most popular summit approaches. The other routes to Kilimanjaro’s summit take more time and give trekkers a better chance to acclimatize.
The Everest Base Camp trek is 122km (76 miles) round trip and one gains a total elevation of 4200m/13900feet accounting for ups and downs on the trail. In comparison, Kilimanjaro’s Marangu Route is 70km (42 miles) and requires an elevation gain of 4000m / 13100ft.
My experience has been mainly through the Northern ridge, across Tibet. Although, having tried Kathmandu for the South ridge, I found the distraction of the Sherpa village huts along the road too much. One needs to focus on walking and the more you can do in a day, the better. Too frequent stops ruins any predictable positive thinking of success. However, a good thing is the aclimatisation. It is slower, and does good to the brain. Good steady blood irrigation is good news to the leg muscles, just when you think you can’t bear the searing burning feeling. Hence, to my understanding, the quicker climbing altitude of the Kili is not good. No wonder, so many troubles happen to trekkers, who follow guides, quite often marathoning to get the maximum of trekkers’ on the mountain for a good cash yield.
The North Base Camp of the Everest has vehicle access (at least in the summer months). Climbers typically rest at base camp for several days for acclimatization to reduce the risks and severity of altitude sickness. The 100 km road branching to the South from the Friendship highway, ( not called like that when I was there last). The “tourist Base Camp” is located about half-way between the first monastery, but the actual clims starts from Rongbuk’s Glacier. My wonder for seeing a Glacier for the first time, was breathtaking for a small islander like me. The first on the road was Pindari Glacier on the upper reaches of the Kumaon Himalayas, to the southeast of Nanda Devi parbat. It offers a 90 km trekk which can be easily done within 5-7 days.
Kilimanjaro and Everest both offer vastly different trekking experiences. The scenery on the Everest Base trek is incredible once you pass Namche Bazaar on the third day the views of the peaks are spectacular. Relating more to the Northern Ridge, I cannot but marvel in memory and say that nothing prepared me for the mind blowing scenery. I lost my heart already when I saw the Spiti valley covered with flowers amidst the harsh rocky mass converging to endless snow covered peaks. The air felt cool and dry. A constant wind sings all the time. By some magic, the urban world one has left behind seems inexistent. The vastness of the still supreme mountains having engulfed them. All that mattered is where you lay your foot next, which ridge seems getting closer, and that transfixation you eyes get into the elusive peak, your mind, body and soul seem to be in conjunction to attain. Saying it is a unique experience to be tried onece in a life time is an understatement. As each one of us can get bowled over by any other experience to feel passionate for the rest of one’s life.
Kilimanjaro is a free standing peak and can’t offer the same mountain scenery but still provides an interesting experience as you traverse through the different eco-zones. The trek to Kilimanjaro starts off in the lowland rainforests at the base of the mountain which gradually thin and transition to cloud forest (heath zone) where bearded mosses and lichens covers the short stubby trees in the moist and often misty air. Kilimanjaro is getting to the summit and seeing the rising sun on the ice fields. As the rest remains a monotonous cacophony of arid and woodlands only Africa’s greenest spots have. Doing a Himalayan base camp is encompassing the need to try the next peak next time. It leaves you with a haunt that cannot get dissipated pnce you have tried them ….almost half, as it is so vast to accomplish it all.
As a student on the Commonwealth Scholarship, I first tasted my first mountain experience when the ICCR took foreign students on a fully funded camp. Like most of my travels in India, I should thank my good stars, and scholarship for giving me full enveloppes for R&R apart from stipends more than a student would require. Besides, travelling in the mountains, the local people are notoriously known for their generous hospitality, even more so when the lady of the house catches a female traveller. I was dotted with laddles of thick hot milk, thick pharatas, steaming momos, and best of all the simple sweets made of freshly pounded wheat, ghee and sugar. A power snack during trekks. The chocolate bars found a second pocket to hide when the Pahari sweets appeared!.
We touched till beyond Rohtang’s pass. Rohtang literally meaning a pile of corpses, due to people dying in bad weather trying to cross the pass, for an elevation of 3,978 m (13,050 ft). It is a high pass on the eastern Pir Panjal of the Himalayas around 51 km (32 m) from Manali. It connects the gorgeous Kullu with the Lahaul and Spiti Valleys of Himachal Pradesh. The pass is open for only 3 months of the year due to treacherous snowfall and violent blizzards, which blocks the only road which passes through Rohtang with a snow wall as high as 15 m.
At an altitude of 4,551 m; 14,931 ft is the entrance pass to the Spiti valley from Lahaul. To the south, Spiti ends 24 km from where the road enters Kinnaur. Spiti is more barren and difficult to cross, with an average elevation of the valley floor of 4,270 m (14,009 ft). It is enclosed between lofty ranges, with the Spiti river rushing out of a gorge in the southeast to meet the Sutlej River. As much as Beas river meanders in Manali, offering delightful spots to white rafting. Sutlej spells a different story. The harsh conditions of Lahaul permit only scattered tufts of hardy grasses and shrubs to grow, even below 4,000 metres. Glacier lines are usually found at 5,000 metres. My luck struck when one night I saw a black feline like silhouette over a rock under the full moon’s light clouded just at that time. It has always remained a mystery as to what animal I saw. Yaks roam across the wild Lingti plains. However, over-hunting and a decrease in food supplies has led to a large decrease in the population of the antelopes, musk deers and snow leopards  in these regions, reducing them to the status of endangered species. However, in the Lahaul valley, one can see the twisted horned ibex on the steep escarpments of the mountains slopes; brown bears and foxes abound, but I never got to see any. Apart from the exotic wildlife, the Valley of Spiti is also known for its amazing wealth of flora and the profusion of wild flowers. I never stopped painting the images I kept in my mind of the places, years later.

images (1)

The less crowded camps in the late 90s were attractive. I remember the sense of being on our own on a vast land, smooth loosely rock climbs, an ever harsher wind which deafens, but allows a more slower climb to enjoy the exhiliration of such trekks. The north side started to attract more climbers in the mid 1990s and today is almost as popular as the South side when the Chinese allow permits. In 2008 and 2009, obtaining a permit was difficult thus preventing many expeditions from attempting any route from Tibet.
                                                                                             ( to be continued )

Rock Cut Structures of the Ancient World, Lalibela and Ajanta

Lalibela, Ethiopia

Fresco at Lalibela, Ethiopia

Detail of Fresco, Ajanta, India

Apsara, Ajanta, India

Fresco, Ajanta, India

Sleeping Buddha, Ellora, India

Fresco, Ethiopia

Detail, Fresco, Ethiopia

Ellora, India

Ellora, India

Had a very interesting conversation recently with a newly met person through a friend. I mostly listened as the numbing heat was sending me into a slumber to even try any reply at all. Bat an eyelid, it felt like a presentation of the recent development of Addis in Ethiopia, which was interesting as it frolicked my keen interest in Art, Culture and Anthropology probably stemming from my Fine Arts educational background along with Museology. The conversation brought the topic of Ethiopia’s rock-cut church of Lalibela in focus. An area of strong fascination I have of rock cut structures.

Lalibela rock cut collection of churches and recollection rooms were built during the reign of Saint Gebre Mesqel Lalibela (a member of the Zagwe Dynasty, who ruled Ethiopia in the late 12th century and early 13th century). The names of several places in the modern town and the general layout of the rock-cut churches themselves are said to mimic names and patterns observed by Lalibela during the time he spent as a youth in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
In fact, the most famous face of Lalibela church shows an antique cross of David, taken by the European crusaders in Medieval Age across the continent when the army of Saladdin grew in power and threatened many kingdoms in place along with their faith.
A feat in craftsmanship, the main church of Lalibela springs forth to the sky from the ground from a monolithic block cut upwards. Though the dating of the churches is not well established, most are thought to have been built during the reign of Lalibela, namely during the 12th and 13th centuries, which UNESCO has agreed upon to list it among the World’s Heritage Sites.
A similar structure was erected around the same period in the Ruse area of Bulgaria. Call it a trend? There are a set of monolithic churches, chapels and monasteries hewn from solid rock known as the Churches of Ivanovo. Though the presence of these churches in the cliff side is impressive in itself, the structures are best known for their beautiful and well-preserved medieval frescoes. Christian monks dug out the caves and made the churches in the 13th century and though it’s a bit easier to access now, centuries ago people had to climb the cliff with ropes to get inside.
Fiercely proud of the rich past of their country, Ethiopians of this modern age make it point, when they can to visit the site of Lalibela. And it is this re-affirmation which I admire in a nation. Individuals, who even living far away from their motherland, still feeling flushed with pride when they look back at their culture and heritage. Ethiopia, the hub of many African organisations in the continent, its image truly damned by the media showing emaciated children dying of hunger. Sadly italso shares the place as being the country receiving the highest Humanitarian Aid along with Afghanistan, topping the league as being the poorest country on the planet.
However, all is not bleak. The media never shares good news about Africa. Ethiopian are themselves amazed by the rapid development their country is undergoing. According to the World Bank, the pace of poverty reduction in Ethiopia since 2000 has been impressive, and particularly so, when compared to other African countries. Despite improvements, Ethiopia still has relatively low rates of educational enrolment, access to sanitation, attended births, and challenges remain around investment in the health, safety and education of women and girls.
Although there is some evidence of manufacturing growth starting to reduce poverty in urban centres at the end of the decade, structural change has been remarkably absent from Ethiopia’s story of progress. The majority of Ethiopian households are still engaged in agriculture and in living in rural areas. I got some views of the appreciation of real estate from this person and how the price of a car has plummeted sky high, so much so that sometimes it may cost more than buying a house. Amidst all these promises, Ethiopians by and large would do anything to escape the country. Especially, those who have been educated. The brain drain is massive for a country who has fought war with their neighbour, Eritrea, the sad truth is that youth of both sides know one word – escape.
Nothing compares to the history of the country’s past rulers rolling on pure gold and especially Queen Sheba who stunned King Salomon with her caravan laden with precious gems and gold as gifts when she walked to Jerusalem. Instead of her people running to other lands, many from the Holy land followed her for the promise of a wealthier and better life. And many others did the same when Menelik, her son begotted with King Salomon visited his father. Legend says that even the High Priest of the Holy Land followed Menelik to Abyssinia, ancient Ethiopia.
Coming back to our ‘rock-cut’ conversation I had yesterday, was me mentally re-visiting my PhD research proposal way back in the UK. It was based on challenging the title of ‘Naïve Art’ given to Paul Gauguin’s works to a new appellation with proofs found in the rock cut temples of Aurangabad, in Maharashtra, India. Paul Gauguin according to my hypothesis. was not a ‘savage’ but took Symbolism in his Art from the East. The University was so pleased with my queer proposal and challenge that they immediately assigned me to one of Courtauld’s eminent Professor to be my co-supervisor. The simple reason was also that Courtauld Institute of Art is the main repository of Paul Gauguin’s biggest collection of artworks in the world. Hence, I was chuffed, immensely surprised but nervous at the same time. How could not I have been?
My husband soon offered me to travel and visit any place I wanted for my research. We did the first trip together to see the main centres of my interest, Ajanta and Ellora, which date back to 200 BC and 650 AD when they were continuously occupied by Buddhist Monks in the later age.
I had already visited the site when I was studying in India. However, the span of the Deccan plateau surprised me once again like the first time I saw it. There are more than 1,500 known and recorded rock cut structures in India. Many of these structures contain artwork of global importance, and most are adorned with exquisite stone carvings. These ancient and medieval structures represent significant achievements of structural engineering and craftsmanship. The earliest caves employed by humans were natural caves used by local inhabitants for a variety of purposes, such as shrines and shelters. Evidence suggests that the caves were first occupied and altered during the Mesolithic period (6000 BC).
A bit of locating the history of India here should remind us that the prehistoric settlements and societies in the Indian subcontinent; the blending of Indus Civilisation and Indo-Aryan culture into the Vedic Civilization; the development of Hinduism as a synthesis of various philosophical concepts and thoughts of Indian cultures and traditions, the onset of a succession of powerful dynasties and empires which stretched to Asia Minor to the Far East, South East Asia, for more than two millennia throughout various geographic areas of the subcontinent, including the growth of Muslim dynasties from Persia during the Medieval period intertwined with Hindu powers. It is this latter period which is mostly popularised today and given rise to many unfounded beliefs that Indians beckon with.
The advent of European traders in search of spices resulting in the establishment of the British rule ; and the subsequent independence movement that led to the partition of India and the creation of the Republic of India.
Evidence of anatomically evolved humans in the Indian subcontinent is recorded as long as 75,000 years ago, or with earlier hominids including Homo erectus from about 500,000 years ago. But, the Indus Valley Civilization which spread and flourished in the north western part of the Indian subcontinent from c. 3200 to 1300 BC in present-day Pakistan and northwest India, was the first major civilization in South Asia.
A sophisticated and technologically advanced urban culture developed in the mature Harappan period, from 2600 to 1900 BC. This civilization collapsed at the start of the second millennium BCE and was later followed by the Iron Age Vedic Civilization.
Early examples included overhanging rock decorated with rock-cut designs. The Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, a World Heritage Site, are located on the edge of the Deccan Plateau, where dramatic erosion has left massive sandstone outcrops.
This group of 34 monasteries and temples belongs to the last great cave temples of India. Temples were built for three religions – 12 Buddhist temples and monasteries (630 – 700 AD), 17 Hindu shrines (550 – 780 AD) and 5 Jain temples (800 – 1000 AD). Ajanta and Ellora Caves is a group of 29 rock-cut Buddhist temples and monasteries made in the 2nd century BC – 480 AD.
These caves contain some of the richest collections of ancient art in region and represent a phenomenal achievement of humanity. When these caves were discovered in 1819 (after being forgotten for… 1,300 years!), they left much influence on European and American art – numerous artists became essentially obsessed with the copies of Ajanta paintings and sculptures.
These caves represent amazing achievement of engineering. Some of the cave hall spaces without supports are run into kms in size and have been standing for more than 1,500 years without much change.
My husband who has experienced many places of natural wonder was rendered speechless when he saw the sophistication of the rock cut temples and caves. He couldn’t stop questioning me on all the aspects of the caves. Thinking I have all the answers, …. having studied them in length and breath. Encore, I have not taken him to see Mahabali Puram, Elephanta, Badami nor Bhaja, the latter dating 200BC.
Not only the frescoes are spell binding by their advanced skills in drawing and paintings, but their utilisation of for-shortening and sense of proportion. We are not talking of basic carvings and the naïve style of frescoes of Lalibela. Where Lalibela’s frescoes stood out with their rigid, 2D comic like flat coloured and thick outlined figures with similar faces and treatment of the globular eyes, Ajanta knew the grace of movement, curves, motion, fine details, shades of different tones of one colour, gestural narrative which the figures carried effortlessly. The artists used the dry fresco method instead of wet pigments which gave only pure single colours in Lalibela’s frescoes. All the paintings appear to be the work of painters at least as used to decorating palaces as temples, and show a familiarity with and interest in details of the life of a wealthy court.
We know from literary sources that painting and sculpture were widely practised and appreciated in the courts of the Gupta period. Unlike much Indian painting, compositions are not laid out in horizontal compartments like a frieze, but show large scenes spreading in all directions from a single figure or group at the centre. The ceilings are also painted with sophisticated and elaborate decorative motifs, many derived from sculpture.
We wonder whether it was a matter of the available resources known to man before brick and mortar, steel or iron bars, for craftsmen to have devised and created such wonders. Many countries have their glorious testimony to the architectural feats, some more well known than others, due to accessibility and literature, or simply having acquired the title of UNESCO Heritage centre.
Like Cappadocia, one of the 73 current provinces of the Republic of Turkey, has one of the most strange and fascinating landscapes of the world. The rocky, scrubby land features bizarre volcanic ‘tufa’ rock formations referred to as ‘Fairy Chimneys’ as well as complex underground cities and buildings cut from the soft ‘tufa’. Many of these are churches, with columns and arches decorating the stony face of an otherwise natural hunk of rock. However, visiting them in 2000, gave me a view of an astute concept of man to counter effect the harsh climate, and no bother given to arts in its real sense. All the structures were basic and functional, providing shelter from enemies and the weather.
The Dazu rock carvings in Chongqing, China are hewn from the cliff side, featuring more than 5,000 statues and over 100,000 Chinese characters of inscriptions or epigraphs. Though Buddhist statues dominate, Taoist and Confucian figures can also be seen which is rather rare in Chinese grotto art. The carvings were made in 650 CE in the Tang Dynasty and continued in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1616-1911).
But we are sure for one thing, than man understood, and traded skilled craftsmen in the same manner as it is done today in the building of tall skyscrapers dotted around the globe. Having said this, Indian craftsmanship is world renowned in many areas, but what I have seen in regal wonders be it in red Schist stone, white marble, black granite, still stand testimony to the world that there are many of those which are lost and dead, to fingers which prefer to tap endlessly on a phone for idle activities rather than cut stone with a chisel. From the view of a temple cut intricately like a giant 3D piece of white lace, Mt Abu, the five legendary marble temples of Dilwara which are a sacred pilgrimage place of the Jains. Some consider them to be one of the most beautiful Jain pilgrimage sites in the world. The marble temples have an opulent entranceway, the simplicity in architecture reflecting Jain values like honesty and frugality. The temples are in the midst of a range of forested hills. A high wall shrouds the temple complex. Although the Jains built some beautiful temples at other places in Rajasthan, some believe that none come close to these in terms of architectural perfection. The ornamental detail spreading over the minutely carved ceilings, doorways, pillars and panels is simply marvellous.

Dilwara temple, Mt Abu, Rajasthan, India

Detail of carved frieze in white marble, Dilwara, Mt Abu, India

Cupolla carved in Marble, Dilwara, Mt Abu
The centuries old constructions around the world symbolize the architectural brilliance of our ancestors. The tools and different materials used for the construction of such wonders of ancient world completely beyond our imagination. It is very hard to believe that the wonders like great wall of China, Colosseum of Rome, Great Pyramid of Giza and Taj Mahal were constructed at a time with no technology.
A Lalibela, an Ajanta or Ellora, Angkor Wat would not be built again ….