Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Jade Buddha Temple

The Jade Buddha temple is a recent construction. It was built in 1928 over an older temple, to preserve two rare relics. Both relics, statues of the Buddha were brought down from Burma by a monk Huiegen. The temple sits in a poorer part of Shanghai or so it seems. Outside there are several shops selling souvenirs. As we walk on an old man asks us for alms. Its a side of the city I am seeing for the first time.

Entrance to the Temple

The front yard is filled with visitors, some tourists, the others here to pray. A coat of incense hangs in the air. During the cultural revolution which overthrew the Monarchy of the Quin Dynasty, the old temple was destroyed. But recognising the historical importance of the relics, the two Buddha's were housed in a newly constructed temple. Unless told it would have been hard for me to guess that this had not been the original place to house both statues.
For the temple retains its old world charm and has an aura of peace. The interiors are with the signature gold and red

The Buddha

Inside the temple

The sitting Buddha in his moment of enlightenment, is made of a rare white Jade. Jade is considered auspicious by the Chinese. It towers over the visitor and is a beautiful presence in the dimly lit room.

As we go around the temple , the aisle is lined with other statues. It reminds me so much of the smaller deities lining our courtyards in the beautiful temples of Southern India. They are called 'Gods of the Twenty Heavens'. Its amazing how cultures so distinct, intersect and converge in strange ways.

Gods of the Twenty Heavens

The resplendent seated Buddha


Outside visitors burn offerings with incense in an enclosure. Its sunny. A beautiful day out in Shanghai.


Memories of Shanghai

China fascinated...Five long years after I first visited I can still vividly remember the five weeks I spent there. For no good reason I decide I would go through with the exercise of blogging about it.So here I go..

We first landed in Shanghai. Shanghai is in every sense the realization of the Chinese dream. Its China's advertisement of success to the rest of the world. And its such a wow city!

Shanghai is a veritable concrete jungle. A colleague of mine told me that 1/3 of all the world's concrete was possibly found here The evidence in favor of that argument was so overwhelming that it did not occur to me that I should doubt that statement. Though this is what the world was to see of China I was told that vast areas of China were poor and economically deprived and many people faced the same struggles that others from across the world face in the battle for survival. I did not get to see the other side as my travels only took me as far as Shanghai and Beijing. But someday I hope to go back and see much more of this vast ancient country. Though China's emergence as an economic  giant is fairly recent, trade between India and China go a long way and has been mentioned in several Indian books
Entrance to the Free Trade Zone in Pudong..
From Shanghai

AS most big offices which have made their foray into the vast Chinese market place, ours was in the Free trade zone in Pudong, which means 'East of the River' in Chinese. The river in question is Huangpu , a tributary of the great Yangtze before it empties into the East China Sea. the lifeline of Shanghai, the name of which means Yellow Bank River , it also serves as a major waterway. The impressive Shanghai metro has several branches which run under the river. Morning comes and we see a flurry of cyclists cross our path. I have never seen so many people cycle to work,the green alternative to motored transport. The cycle lanes have been beautifully planned and built hugging the huge motorways, all the way upto the Special Economic Zone in Pudong.

Local Cuisine..
From Shanghai

The world arises in Language they say, and the purport of the statement hits you square on the face when you visit China. They had no need for English except in the recent past, and so we had no way of communicating. We realize that even Sign language has heavy cultural biases and what we thought we were saying was always met with blank stares. Our way around the problem was to get small bits of information written on paper in Chinese which we would hold up :). Limited but effective. Being a vegetarian, I had my little sheet saying I do not eat meat or fish. The communication barrier surpassed, there really is nothing to worry. Instructions are followed to a T. :). While we are on the topic of food, being a vegetarian I had absolutely no problems here. There was plenty to eat. The average Chinese meal comprises of a couple of serving of meat and a couple of servings of vegetable, along with a small quantity of rice. I even tried a little imitation meat, made entirely of Soya. The cultural nuances of Chinese eating would have been lost, if we had decided to get rid of the chop sticks and stick to forks instead. For each meal is served on a circular table, from which you pick up food and eat. Rice was a smaller bowl than we expected and was often eaten alone, picking up the grains with the chopstick, without any accompaniment to go with it. That also explains why we did not see too many fat people there. The other reason as explained to us by a colleague was the enormous amounts of green tea the Chinese consume. Even hotels do not serve water with a meal. Its only Tea that is drunk to sate parched throats.

 Hoardings in Xintiandi
From Shanghai

One evening we visited Xintiandi, the flashy and affluent area laden with shops and eateries and with a beautiful view of the skyline. Xintiandi means 'New Heaven and Earth'. Very close by is the site of the first communist party of China. In this place of bright lights, big hoardings, shopping malls and narrow cobblestone streets we stroll around

View from the Pearl Tower
From Shanghai

Shanghai's skyline is impressive. And no better way to see it then from the top of one of the tallest buildings , 'The Pearl Tower'. All around the Huangpu river snakes around the city meandering its way into the sea. Tiny barges flicker in the distance. The Shanghai World Financial Center, towers like a giant above midgets. At 492 m, its the tallest building adorning the skyline.

Shanghai is a spectacular city. First opened up to trade under the 'Treaty of Nanking' in 1842, to mark the end of the first Opium war, the city has grown in stature as one of the foremost commercial hubs in the world. The city has known a long history and has been at the center of many a conflict to where she stands now. Shanghai was the succor to Russians and Jews fleeing persecution from the newly established Soviet Union and was also the center of the radical leftist movement. Prized and coveted though out history, Shanghai is a gem of a city.   All around us we see evidence of China's growth as a global power. But as we wander along the tiny lanes leading up to the Jade Buddha temple, we also see evidence that some have been left behind.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Clock Towers of Venice

Venice boasts of some really beautiful clock towers. The first, the most famous here, the clock tower standing on St Mark's Square. In striking Blue and Gold, with signs of the zodiac marking the 24 hours of the day, the clock tower is an eye-catching piece. A coming together of two number systems , The Roman numerals are on the outer edge indicating the passing of hours. The minutes are measured by the Arabic numerals sitting on the right. The clock tower dates back to the 15 century. But the clock itself had to be restored many a time to ensure that it was an accurate measure of the passing minutes. The archway below the tower leads out of St Mark's square and into the main street of the city leading up to Rialto.

The Golden pointer has an image of the Sun. And within the clock face one can also see the earth and the moon. Clocks such as these are called Astronomical clocks.

The Clock Tower in Pizza San Marco
Two gigantic structures stand on top , these strikers of the bell, are symbolic of the young and the old..  Both of which have equal grasp of time, for time waits for none. The size of the structures was to ensure that they could be seen by ships in a distance.
The bronze structures that strike the bell every hour..

Clock Tower in Rialto Market,..

Walking down Rialto Market, we see another clock tower. Sadly time stands still for this one in strange contrast to the feverish activity in the market circle. Its more straightforward that the more famous cousin in St Mark's Square, but is extremely pretty nonetheless...


Sunday, December 26, 2010


After our recent trip to South America, our choice of a place to visit to mark the first anniversary fell on someplace quiet :). A little English village would be perfect..
And it was easy to find Castlecombe, the prettiest village in England in 1962 as most articles on the net described.
In the heart of Wiltshire and a little away from the city of Bath, The closest station to Castlecombe was Chippenham. With A journey time of little over an hour from Paddington, London we reached the Chippenham station a little past 3:00 PM. From there we were told the best place way to get to Castlecombe would be to take a Taxi. We got off from the taxi and walked a bit, only to find that we were at the end of the village.

Our stay for our little holiday was 'The Georgian House'  owned by Lady Long, our delightful hostess.
It was a very cold day, colder than any we had seen so far that winter.  So it was good to be indoors and we spent most of the evening talking to Long  about the village and planning what we could do during our stay there.

Our Stay..
  After Breakfast, we set out discovering the village. It has just begun to snow and the entire village truly looked frozen in time. It was cold , but lovely and we walked on.

The Market Square stands in the center of the village. When this structure was built is not known. The village website says it was in use around 1590 , when  most of the villagers were involved in the clothe industry. The brook further down which we would pass by was the primary supply of water for industry.
As with the history of most places it is mostly the river which sustains life. and in this village it was this little brook which nurtured the woolen industry around the area. Things changed in the  17th century when the decrease in water levels saw weavers migrate to other places around Castlecombe.

The Market Place..
Though several houses have been rebuilt, Castlcombe still retains its distinct character.
It was lovely walking through the narrow streets, with the snow coming down..
Traces of brown still pepped through white sugar coated roof tops. The creeping cold was a constant reminder that there were warmer places like the village pub that we could head to. But we kept walking.
A view of the Village
We passed the little brook and found that we were lost.  A passerby gave us the secret to unlocking the door leading up to the manor hotel :).  Tea at the hotel we decided.

On one of our walks..
The Manor hotel is one of the architecturally renowned buildings in Castlecombe and is as old as 1664.  We were told that the house along with the manor was put on auction in 1947. We walk around the sprawling green surrounding the hotel , and cross the little bridge. We head into the hotel and treat ourselves to a welcome cup of steaming coffee.  We walk past the hotel, and find that we are now behind St Andrew's Church.

The Manor Hotel..

A 13th century monument, the church is beautiful.  Its amazing that there is so much history woven into the  the relics here; A monument to Sir Walter de Dunstanville, Baron of Castle Combe, who died in 1270,  and a clock believed to be one of the oldest working ones there is..
St Andrew's Church
But what really caught my eye was the beautiful stained glass paintings along the windows of the church. The light filtering into this place of beautiful quiet made it all seem dreamlike.

Inside St Andrew's Church
The first of our walks donw, we went down to the local pub for lunch, Large portions and beautifully flavored English food.  The best Jacket Potatoes I've eaten so far.  :)
Row of Houses.

For the second of our walks, we decide it would be wise to ask for advise. Our hostess gives us a book and a map.. We think this should suffice.  This time we are walking over the hills.
Before Castlecombe came to be an important center for the wollen industry, it was a British fort, tkaen over by the Romans and then the Normans.. The Normans built a fort , the remains of which we are told can be seen on the hill..

The Village Bridge..
We cross the village bridge again and head straight up. Theres a little brooke that seems to be traveling along with us. We take a small road on the side of the brooke as shown on the map and head up straight. A Wooden Gate seems to be the first indication that we are indeed on the right trail.
As we move along the frosted furrows ,  bits of the brown earth seem to peep through. We are careful as we walk along. Autumn is still stubbornly standing her ground and the red foliage against the backdrop of the fresh snow is amazing.
A walk through the wilderness

Berries on Trees
We reach the very top from where we can see the village church.  its a beautiful sight. We can see the neatly spaces stone houses of the village from here. We now trek down and the road meets the motorway  which leads us back to the Market place.

 "The Woods are Lovely, Dark and Deep..
But I have promises to Keep
And miles to go before I sleep
And miles to go before I sleep.."

- Robert Frost
A view of the church from the hilltop
We rest a while and then head out to have dinner . A beautiful two days, and we end on a celebratory note. S tried the Salmon , a recommendation by our hostess. We talk about how time seems to fly..Its been a year already :)
Down to the village pub after dinner and we already seem to know a lot of faces. Everybody seems friendly and as usual sport seems to be the conversation starter... A link across cultures :). This time it was Rugby scores.

The little celler inside the B&B where we stayed..

At Breakfast the next day, we talk to Lady Long. As always travel conversations span the length of the world. Lady Long told us about her time here and then we begin religon and religious beliefs. Theres a beautiful cellar in the house full of intresting relics of the Greek orthodox church. I am amazed.
I discover yet again that the need to relate to a higher power comes from an ingrained need for succor, to make meaning in an ever changing world. And the need not to strangely comes from the same..
I have for long now decided against the use of labels and so I stay non committal in my beliefs. The truth is not always black and white , but a somber shade of pretty Grey :).

Castlecombe has been truly wonderful and we shall come by to see her again.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Autumn in Greenwich..

I come form a country of two seasons, - Summer and Winter. Winter is just summer to a milder degree and nothing else :). So Autumn swept me away with all its beautiful colours.
Spring was pretty, Green and young and full of the laughter of gentle winds, Spring fell and then there was Autumn- The reds, the browns, the yellows, I loved them all!
So one lazy Sunday we decided to take the bus to Greenwich which is my favorite place in the whole of London. A walk down the park with all its ravishing colours, was the perfect end to a busy week.

I would have loved to stay longer. But this time of the year also means we move into darkness early. So it was time to head home.



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