Sunday, 20 August 2017

Boat parade at the Venice Carnival

Venice Carnival is a ten days long celebration in which colourful costumes and masks play an important role. One of the first events of the Venice Carnival is the Boat Parade or the Water Parade (Corteo Acqueo). It is a fun event where people row boats wearing funny costumes, usually without any masks, like the lady shown in the image below.

Fun Costumes, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

I love the refined elegance and colours of the medieval costumes in the Venice Carnival. However, during the last Carnival, I also wanted to experience the simpler joys of the Boat Parade. This post shares that experience.

Watching the Boat Parade

Venice is full of canals. Grand Canal is one of the biggest. Almost 4 km long it starts near the most famous square of Venice, San Marco Square, and ends near the railway station and bus stand. The Boat Parade celebrates the Grand Canal. Only rowing boats can take part in it - no motor boats are allowed.

Boats arrive near Giudecca island, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

During this parade, boats start around noon from the San Marco end of Grand Canal. The starting point is called Punto Della Dogana (Custom point), across the canal from San Marco Square, marked by the beautiful Santa Maria della Vita church. Passing under the Academy bridge and Rialto bridge, the parade ends in Cannareggio, not very far from the Venice Railway station. At Canareggio, locals set up stands with traditional food and wine, and the parade ends with a long floating party.

My Experience of the Boat Parade

I took a train and reached Venice around 10 AM. From the railway station I turned right towards the famous three-bridges and to Santa Croce, and then along the smaller canal towards Santa Marta which hosts the Venice University (Ca' Foscari). It was along the small canal that I saw the first boats with people wearing costumes who were going to the parade.

Going to the parade, Santa Marta, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

When I reached the big canal facing the Giudecca island, I followed the curve of Dorsoduro. Here I came across another group of persons, all dressed in pink jackets. They brought out their long boat for participating in the parade. It was a mixed group of persons, some young, some old and mostly women.

Pink group with their boat, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

For participating in the parade, no registration is needed, you just need a rowing boat and some costumes. Traditionally each area of Venice and neighbouring towns have their teams for the parade. Usually these are persons who do not row boats normally, so they need to do some practice and get into form since it requires stamina.

Boats arrive, near San Marco, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

Soon after I reached the tip of Dorsoduro called Punto della Dogana. By that time it was almost 11 AM and I could see boats full of people with colourful costumes on both sides of Grand Canal.

Boats waiting at Punto della Dogana, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

Many of the persons must have had their starting dose of wine or beer since they all seemed to be in high spirits. Their costumes were not elegant or refined. Many men, some of them with beards, were wearing women's clothes. Some were wearing mismatched costumes. Compared to the other days of the Venice carnival, when the emphasis is on exquisitely refined colour-coordinated medieval costumes, the ambiance was very different.

Fun costumes, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

My original plan was to watch the boats getting ready for the parade and then walk to Academia bridge to click some pictures. However, as I walked towards this bridge, I could see that it was choked with people. Even the narrow streets around the bridge were overflowing with people. It was impossible to walk there.

Crowded Academia bridge, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

So I walked back towards the starting point to click pictures of the boats as they went towards the Academia bridge. It was very beautiful.

Boats going towards Academia bridge, Grand Canal, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

After the boats passed, I waited patiently till the crowds dispersed from the Academia bridge and I could cross the Grand Canal for walking towards Rialto and Cannareggio. Many of the persons who had come to watch the boat parade were also wearing colourful costumes (like the group in the image below). These costumes were more elaborate, they were not the fun costumes of the boat parade. Thus the walk back to Cannareggio was a lot of fun.

Carnival costumes, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

By the time I reached Cannareggio, it was almost 5 PM. Boats had already reached there, taken their fill of wine and food and then were slowly turning back to go home.

End of the parade in Cannareggio, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

The image below has a boat going back from Cannareggio.

Coming back from the parade, Cannareggio, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

I loved the relaxed and fun ambiance of the Boat Parade. I found a place in a canalside caffe for a beer before going back to the railway station for my train.

Conclusions

My choice of going to Dorsoduro gave me an opportunity to spend a lot of time with boats and people as they were getting ready for the start of the parade. It was not very crowded and I really enjoyed this part of the day.

This choice meant that I could not see the boats passing under the bridges and the conclusion of the parade in Cannareggio. By the time I reached there, the parade was almost over.

Costumes and fun, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

However I do not regret my choice. The alternative would have been to go early, find a good place on Academia bridge or Rialto bridge and wait for boats to pass underneath. Since the carnival attracts thousands of persons, you can't do everything, you can only do one thing. May be another time I will go early and stand at Rialto bridge to look at the boats as they come across the Grand Canal!

***

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

World seen from the eyes of an eagle

We can't fly like eagles but we can see the world from the eyes of an eagle from an airplane. Seen from above, even the familiar can look different - a new point of view.

My work took me to different parts of the world. This post is about some special memories related to air-journeys. It is accompanied with some of my favourite pictures clicked from airplanes. The first image of this post (below) is of old Italian rural houses with fields, trees and towers. It was clicked close to the Fiumicino airport of Rome in Italy.


Flying from Kunming to Bejing (China)

One of my most thrilling air journey was in China in 1989. It was the end of May and we had taken a flight from Kunming to Beijing. On the way our plane had problems and we were forced to land in Xian. As we went to a hotel in Xian, we passed a big protest march in the city. A leader called Hu Yaobang, who was very popular with students, had died. Two days later, our plane was repaired and we reached Beijing. As we crossed Tianamen square, we saw groups of people protesting there. We were told that these were student protests.

On 3rd June, I left Beijing and flew to Orlando in USA. In the hotel I was shocked when I saw the news about the tanks in Tianamen square. It was also a close brush with an event whose echoes had reverberated all over the world. Except for a couple of pictures of students in the Tienamen square, I didn't take many pictures during that fateful journey - I regreted it afterwards.


The image above shows a river near Beijing airport in China, it was clicked many years later.

Journey from Delhi to Guwahati (India)

The next couple of images are near the Guwahati airport. The first shows Brahmaputra river and the Saraighat bridge. On the right side of the river, you can see Neelachal hill that hosts the famous Kamakhaya temple. On the left side you can see the IIT Guwahati campus and in the middle of the river, the tiny island with the Umananda temple.


The next image is also clicked near Guwahati and shows a vast area covered by the Brahmaputra floods.


Journey from Santarem to Belem (Brazil)

The next two images are from north-east of Brazil. The first is from Santarem. You can see Avenida Tapajos along the Tapajos river and the famous Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of Conception painted in light blue colour.


The second image was clicked closer to Belem and shows one of the mighty strands of Amazon river going towards Atlantic ocean.


A sunset in Amsterdam (Netherlands)

The next image has one of most glorious sunsets that I ever saw during a flight. It was clicked as our plane was getting ready to land at the Amsterdam airport.


Houses - Capetown (South Africa) and Georgetown (Guayna)

It is a pleasure to look down from the plane and see the tiny houses, cars and people as they go about their lives. This image has houses near the Cape Town airport.


Houses are the subject of the next image as well. George Town, the capital of Guyana is criss-crossed with canals. This image was taken as our tiny plane had taken off from the city airport. In the distance you can see the Atlantic ocean.


Como lake (Italy)

The next image of this post is of Como lake in northern Italy, near the Alps mountains and  near the border with Switzerland.


Como is the most famous city situated along the banks of this lake where many rich and famous persons including George Clooney, Madonna and Sylvestor Stallone have their holiday homes. The Y-shaped lake is one of the deepest lakes in Europe.

Cristo Rei Sanctuary, Almada (Portugal)

The next image is from Almada in Portugal. In it you can see the Christ King sanctuary near the 25 April bridge which crosses over the sea and connects Almada to Lisbon.


Snow-covered Mountains - Alps and Himalaya

Flying over snow-covered mountains on a clear day is a special joy. While crossing the Alps, I remember different journeys when it was impossible not to gaze wonder-struck at the beautiful panoramas. The image below of the snow-covered Alps is from one such journey.


In Nepal, I never had good views of the snow covered Himalayas. However, during one journey, for a short time we saw Everest, as the peak appeared above the clouds. The next image has a picture of the Kunchanjanga peak.


 A carpet of colourful fields in East Europe

The next image was clicked while travelling from Vienna in Austria to Prague in Czech republic. I was fascinated by the neat fields with some of them in bright yellow (due to some flowers), that looked like a beautiful carpet.


Highway in Bologna (Italy)

I want to close this post with an image of Bologna. For three decades, we lived in Bologna, close to the airport. Sometimes, the flights passed right above our house. Yet, I never managed to click a picture of our home from air.

Among all the images of Bologna, I have selected one showing the highway exit to the trade-fair zone.


Conclusions

Over the past thirty years, air-travel has changed completely. Often old, tiny airports have been replaced by new, shining and modern structures.

One of my most terrifying journeys was in 1992 in a tiny two-seater plane in Santa Cruz (Bolivia), where it was raining hard. Our plane had tried but had not managed to take off and we had come to a screeching stop in front of a tree. I can still remember my nausea due to fear on that day.

I did not have a digital camera till 2005 and I have no pictures of most of my memorable journeys. Those journeys live only in my memories. Let me close this post with an image from the periphery of Prague in Czech republic - the buildings in this image remind me of things children make with Lego pieces.


***

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The unfinished temple of King Bhoj

An 1100 years old unfinished Shiva temple is the testimonial to the legendary king Bhoj of Malwa in central India. Last year, on my way to the incredibly beautiful caves of Bhimbetka, I had visited this temple in Bhojpur. Though it was just an unfinished temple, it intrigued me.

Statue of King Bhoj, Bada Talab, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

The Shiva temple of Bhojpur provides information about the traditional Indian temple architecture techniques. The image above shows the statue of king Bhoj in the Bada Talab lake of Bhopal.

Ancient kingdom of Malwa

Central part of India had different ancient kingdoms, each with their own culture and traditions. In 1947, with India's independence, the ancient kingdoms were merged in different states. The ancient kingdom of Malwa was located in the volcanic uplands in the north of Vindhya mountains. Today, most of Malwa lies in Western Madhya Pradesh while its northern part is in Rajasthan. The most important towns of this region are Bhopal, Indore, Ujjain and Sagar.

King Bhoj

From the 9th to the 13th centuries, Malwa was ruled by the Parmar kings.

Bhoj was the 9th king of the Parmar dynasty and his rule started around 1000 CE. He ruled for about 55 years. His capital was in Dhar in western parts of Malwa. He is credited with the construction of Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh. 

The town of Bhojpur, 28 km to the south and east of Bhopal was another area where king Bhoj carried out significant constructions including the building of dams which resulted in the creation of a big lake.

Statue of King Bhoj, Bada Talab, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Bhoj is famous both as a warrior and as a lover of art, culture and books. He is credited with a large number of books on a wide range of subjects, including medicine, astronomy, poetry and grammar. His popularity and prestige is still remembered by the people through the proverb "Kahan raja Bhoj aur kahan Gangu teli" (literally it means "where is king Bhoj and where is oil-merchant Gangu" and is used to underline the huge difference between two persons).

The Unfinished Shiva temple of Bhojpur

The temple has massive outer walls and is built on a raised platform.

Shiva temple, Bhojpur, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

An entrance gate and stairs take you to the temple platform 4 meters above. The walls have decorative balconies carved from sand-rock stone.

Sandstone balconies, Shiva temple, Bhojpur, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

The old part of the temple has the inner cell at a lower level (garbhagṛha) that holds a massive Shivalinga, 5.5 meters tall, and carved out of a single rock. The structure is supported by massive pillars, along with an elegant dome. In the image below, the comparison of the person seen at the bottom on the right side with the Shivalinga can give an idea of the huge structure.

Garbhgriha with massive shivalinga, Shiva temple, Bhojpur, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

The outer walls and superstructure of the temple were never built. However, outside the Garbhgriha, on the platform, simple Shiva shrines have been built.

Shiva shrines, Shiva temple, Bhojpur, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

The temple seems to be remarkably well-preserved. This is because of a massive repair and reconstruction carried out in 2006-07 when a fibreglass roof  was built and one of the missing monolithic pillars was added.

Temple building techniques in India in 1000 CE

The Bhojeshwar Shiva temple was never completed. It appears that the construction work was stopped suddenly. It could have been because of a natural disaster or war. Since its roof was missing, some people feel that the planning was not proper and the roof was too heavy, so it caved in and the temple construction was stopped.

The area around the temple has sandstone quarries where line designs engraved on the stones show the architectural plans for the temple construction.

Engravings of temple architecture, Shiva temple, Bhojpur, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

According to these designs, a huge temple complex was going to be built here. Stone marks show that 1300 masons were working for the temple construction. The names of some of them are engraved on the stones.

There are finished and unfinished statues scattered around, to be used for the temple. These were left in the quarries where the sculptors were working, when the construction was stopped.

Abandoned statues in the quarry, Shiva temple, Bhojpur, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Behind the temple, there is a large earthen ramp which was used to carry the large stones to the higher parts of the temple. The ramp, built of sandstone slabs, is covered with soil and sand. It is almost 100 meters long, and slopes upwards to a height of 12 meters.

Building ramp behind the temple, Shiva temple, Bhojpur, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

The dams on river Betwa

The Shiva temple is located close to the river Betwa. Ruins of some old dams have been discovered in this area. The dams were built in the eleventh century, when the Shiva temple was being constructed. Due to those dams an enormous lake had formed in this area. It seems that the dams were destroyed a few centuries later, when the area came under the Tughlaq dynasty.

Betwa river seen from Shiva temple, Bhojpur, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

I was wondering why did king Bhoj decide to build this new city, the huge temple and the dams in a place so far away from his capital in Dhar? The legends say that King Bhoj had sworn to block nine rivers to create a lake and this was the reason why he had come to the eastern part of Malwa region since here the curves of river Betwa were ideal for building the dams and creating the lake.

Jain temples of Bhojpur

Not very far from Shiva temple is an unfinished Jain temple with a 6 meter tall statue of Shantinath and two smaller statues. An inscription near the statues specifies their construction in 1157 Vikram Samvat (1100 CE).

Legends also say that in the last years of his life, King Bhoj had become Jain, while others say that even though he was a devotee of Shiva, he also respected Jains and Buddhists. I did not visit this temple.

Temple Ruins in Ashapuri

6 km away from Bhojpur, in an area called Bilota in the Ashapuri village, ruins of more than 20 temples have been found. Due to lack of time I did not visit this area. However, the descriptions of the ruins show that this must have an important sacred area for the people. These temples are also from the same time period of the reign of Parmar dynasty. I am not sure if these ruins were linked with the Shiva temple of Bhojpur.

Legend of Raja Bhoj and Gangu Teli

Though I was familiar with the name of king Bhoj from my childhood, I was not aware of the legend that had led to the proverb comparing him with the oil merchant Gangu. The legend says that king Bhoj had sacrificed the wife and child of Gangu for the construction of a fort.

Thus the fame of king Bhoj has been challenged by Dalit activists who see him as an oppressor king, who sacrificed the lives of poor commoners for his glory.

I was horrified when I had heard this story. I wonder how did he become so popular among the people if he was someone who sacrificed women and children.

Conclusions

The Bhojeshwar Shiva temple, though more than a thousand years old, is part of the living religious traditions of Malwa. People from far away places gather here for the Mahashivaratri festival. At the time of festival, the state government organises an annual cultural festival called the Bhojpur Festival.

Sculptures, Shiva temple, Bhojpur, Madhya Pradesh, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

It is a nice temple. However its special importance comes from being one of the remaining testimonials of a famous king and from the line engravings in the quarries explaining the architectural plans of the temple construction.

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