Saturday, December 21, 2013

Where there is Sunshine..

Real Food market , Covent Garden, London

Where there is Sun and Rain , we see rainbows :)

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Crossing and a very interesting Conversation..

It might seem inconsequential to write about a crossing such as this, a large part of our time spent waiting for the ferry to arrive, walking up and down the not so busy street and slipping into a cafe to have some apple tea. The ferry is late.  We keep a watchful eye .
Most of our co-passengers have settled down into chairs. It is a cold grey day. The winds are relentless, the sea an indifferent blue.

As the warmth of the tea tickles and teases my throat we talk. All the others on the bus are from Australia, save the two of us. We talk about Gallipoli, the place we have left behind.
Our friends tell us it's the single most important event in Australian history.
Coming from a country like India where history is older than itself, where we learn about kings and queens, ancient civilizations, warriors and writers, administrators,  Colonialism, The war of ideas, the triumph of what is good and decent through Gandhi and his non violent struggle against British rule, we listen amazed at the singularity of   this particular event.
The conversation drifts to the education system. My friend tells me about the focus Australian focus on sport and we in turn tell her about the Indian obsession with learning and degrees.

Finally we spy the ferry approaching. We pay up and walk down to the bus. We  get into the bus and we are driven into the ferry. Our driver sits flipping over a newspaper and we wait. 

I have always found the act of crossing a river fascinating. As we leave one bank, our large boat whips the waters frothy white. People, and buildings shift and emerge as we bob up and down and the horizon spits and crackles. White clouds watch from up above, unconcerned with the events unfolding beneath their roofs.  Seagulls hover, settle on the deck and take off on a whim. We talk...
And this is about one such conversation.

We talk some more. Some friends of ours on the back have just been to Israel. Their daughter works there and they tell us about what they have seen.
They hand us a little book and it is here that we hear of for the first time.

Quoting from the site itself,
"Breaking the Silence is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. We endeavor to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life.

Soldiers who serve in the Territories witness and participate in military actions which change them immensely. Cases of abuse towards Palestinians, looting, and destruction of property have been the norm for years, but are still explained as extreme and unique cases. Our testimonies portray a different, and much grimmer picture in which deterioration of moral standards finds expression in the character of orders and the rules of engagement, and are justified in the name of  Israel's security. While this reality is known to Israeli soldiers and commanders, Israeli society continues to turn a blind eye, and to deny that what is done in its name. Discharged soldiers returning to civilian life discover the gap between the reality they encountered in the Territories, and the silence about this reality they encounter at home. In order to become civilians again, soldiers are forced to ignore what they have seen and done. We strive to make heard the voices of these soldiers, pushing Israeli society to face the reality whose creation it has enabled.
We collect and publish testimonies from soldiers who, like us, have served in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem since September 2000, and hold lectures, house meetings, and other public events which bring to light the reality in the Territories through the voice of former combatants. We also conduct tours in Hebron and the South Hebron Hills region, with the aim of giving the Israeli public access to the reality which exists minutes from their own homes, yet is rarely portrayed in the media.
Founded in March 2004 by a group of soldiers who served in Hebron, Breaking the Silence has since acquired a special standing in the eyes of the Israeli public and in the media, as it is unique in giving voice to the experience of soldiers. To date, the organization has collected more than 700 testimonies from soldiers who represent all strata of Israeli society and cover nearly all units that operate in the Territories. All the testimonies we publish are meticulously researched, and all facts are cross-checked with additional eye-witnesses and/or the archives of other human rights organizations also active in the field. Every soldier who gives a testimony to Breaking the Silence knows the aims of the organization and the interview. Most soldiers choose to remain anonymous, due to various pressures from official military persons and society at large. Our first priority is to the soldiers who choose to testify to the public about their service. "
The book they give us, has fascinating accounts of Israeli soldiers who have been on duty and what they did or saw others do as part of serving in Palestine. The book is disturbing and leaves us deep in thought.  But the honesty and insight each one of these accounts has brings with them a glimmer of world in an otherwise bleak world that bandies around mundane words like world peace.
There are lessons in it for every country, countries such as mine (India) where strife is a part of life whether its in Kashmir, or the North East or the Maoist uprising caused due to the displacement of people in the relentless quest to corporotize (if there is such a word) every natural resource available. It seems that as long as we have well developed roads and figures to back development, the state machinery can absolve itself of murder!

We get across to the other shore and our bus is driven out of the ferry. In that one crossing, we really did feel like we crossed an ocean of thought. I really do hope everyone reading this piece takes some time to have a look at the site Breaking The Silence and think about what they have to say. It would definitely help Break the Silence!


Sunday, July 21, 2013

What Summer looks like in London..

The hordes descend on Trafalgar Square as the lions look on...There can be no city as pretty as this when the sun in shining...Truely Gorgeous!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Winds of Troy..

I cannot think about Troy without thinking of Achilles. The ancient city swirling in myths and legends, has been the one place I've always wanted to visit.

So as we crossed over last night after our visit to Gallipoli to Canakkale. We step out into bright sunshine though the forecast says rain. A one hour drive and we find ourselves in Troy.
We huddle around our guide

Dates around when the city was built..
A  model of the legendary wooden horse is under renovation, the black form that hangs over its form cloaking our imagination. With most things that are this old, the line between that really happened and what we choose to believe is blurred.  As Tolkien says in his 'Lord of the Rings', "History becomes Legend and Legend becomes Myth."

Did the Trojan War really happen? Did the battle cries of the heroes of my imagination really fill this land. Well disappointingly I learn that the answer to this is No. Troy might have been immortalized in the doomed love of Helen and Paris in Homer's Illiad, but research has not backed this as fact and the story stays largely as just that a story.

The remains of a Greek Theater..
Ruins, ruins everywhere. We pass the remains of a Greek Theater, beautiful in white stained by the onslaught of time. Majestic columns lie strewn on the grass, grand fallen as they may be.

As with most ancient cities, Troy is made up of many layers, 9 to be precise.
When one layer of the city crumbled, another was built on it and that's precisely what we see as we move around the ruins of the city. A city like this is called a 'Tell'

Runis of Troy..

The view from the site..
There are some great view from the site. A white tree stands as beautiful as a silent sentinel watching the progress of the years run past in haste and hurry.

When we  finally leave Troy the sun is right overhead. We hurry onwards to the bus. There are other places to see and more history to catch up with

Saturday, June 15, 2013

On the road to Gallipoli..

We are in a bus full of Australian tourists. We are on the road to Gallipolli and there is a buzz in the air.
For some reason I have never been very interested in this bit of history, the first world war and the events surrounding it. Even though I know fully well it set the stage for the second world war. But today as the bus rolls through dense green pine forests, the voice of our guide brings the story of Gallipoli alive.

My Australian friend tells me that Gallipoli is considered one of the most important chapters of their history . It's the one thing they grow up learning about and the one place that they make a point to visit.

Driving to Gallipoli..
On one side is the sea and it is some kilometers from here that the first boats carrying ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Navy Corps ) arrived. But the story started much before that and had its roots in the colonial aspirations of the European powers Britain, France and Germany.

Today has been cold and rainy in distinct contrast to our previous day in Sunny Istanbul, and its wonderful watching the trees fly past from the warm confines of our bus.

The innocous looking sea and its shores, once the site of fierce fighting..
Britain, Spain and France were at the height of their colonial days in the events leading up to the first world war. This meant that they had a huge source of resources and wealth, things that went into building their armies and their nations. When Germany began asserting itself as a power in Europe, it turned to Turkey to bolster it's military might. This in a nutshell are the events leading up to the operation in Gallipoli our guide explains.

Between 25th April 1915 and 9th Jan 1916, a joint operation between Britain and France was launched to take control of Constantinople , the Ottoman capital. This would ensure that the allies (Britain, France and Russia) had the sea route to Russia open. To the operation were recruited men from the common wealth,  largely from the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who were then posted in Egypt. They were mostly young boys and as a co-passenger put it, they were out on an adventure , not knowing the difficulty of the task that lay ahead in Gallipoli. The events that unfolded would end in tragedy for most of them.

We walk across to the beach and from where we stand we can see the ANZAC cove where 27,000 Australian, New Zealand landed between 25 April and 1 May 1915. The intended destination was  Brighton beach further South and take control of the Ottomon straits. Due to an error in judgement, they landed here under direct fire from the Turkish forces. Most of the leadership perished and what was originally intended to be a swift operation , turned into a long bloody one spanning many months and at the expense of many young lives.

The Anzac Cove..
Today the beach is a picture of calm. The waves gently roll up and down and pebbles glisten through the clear waters.  What must have been the bloody scene , filled with the sound of guns and fighting , today stands silent.

We walk around the graves. Some in our group are on a mission , to find the tombstones of friends or relatives who they knew or heard that fought in Gallipoli.

Azmak cemetry..

The Kemal attatuk Memorial to the Anzacs..
Outside stands a memorial, a touching tribute by Attatuk, the founder of Turkey to the Anzac and Turkish soldiers who lost their lives in the fighting.  When Gallipoli happened he was a lieutenant colonel who commanded the Turkish 19th infantry division.

Sign posts..

In all the tragedy and destruction, there were also stories of courage. Of soldiers crossing boundaries to save lives. And some of them stand frozen in stone , and we hear of the story of a Turkish soldier who hearing the wounded cries coming from somewhere in the field, waved a white flag asking for shooting to stop. And when it did he picked up and safely saw across the other, a commonwealth soldier, in need of help after which the fighting resumed.

In memoriam..
Our next stop is the Lone Pine memorial, so called because at the time the site was discovered , all that survived was a lone pine tree in the midst of carnage.
Lone pine memorial..
The memorial honours 4000 odd ANZAC soldiers who have no graves.
Statue of Hüseyin Kaçmaz, the oldest living member of the 57th Regiment..

At the entrance to the graves in memory of the Turkish soldiers stands the statue of Hüseyin Kaçmaz, the oldest living member of the 57th Regiment. He died in 1994. In his old withered hands are the hands of his great-granddaughter , and here they stand , him telling her about the battle.
The 57th Regiment that he was part of was led by Mustafa Kemal. This regiment held  back the original invasion long enough for reinforcements to arrive.Most of them were killed in action but Hüseyin Kaçmaz lived to tell the harrowing tale..

There are many more sites we see that day. In some places the actual trenches at the site of fighting have been carefully preserved.

Gallipoli is about the tragedy of war. It's about how countries and ideas and big schemes can consume ordinary people, boys in this case who thought they were off on an adventure in an unknown land.
It's about mindless bloodshed and in it are lessons that everybody can learn from.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Istanbul, Down the rabbit hole..

“Alice came to a fork in the road. 'Which road do I take?' she asked.
'Where do you want to go?' responded the Cheshire Cat.
'I don't know,' Alice answered.
'Then,' said the Cat, 'it doesn't matter.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

City of Tulips

 A fork in the road does not just offer two paths, it also has the option of stopping. And so we did stop, to take pictures. In this city, where the Tulips first arrived  the morning comes alive in a splash of colour.
In a month all of them will be abloom, and Istanbul awash in reds, yellows and pinks.
The famed tulip gardens of Netherlands might coat themselves in flower glory, but here is where it all began. First cultivated by the Ottomans, the word Tulip comes from the Turkish word 'tulbent'  .
Time has a way of forgetting things, even some as beautiful as this flower and so somewhere this rich floral legacy faded away, only to see a revival recently. Istanbul, now has a bulb planting program taking it back to the days of the sultan when the Tulips adorned the palaces and the streets of this beautiful capital of the Ottomon empire.

Tulips planted along the city squares..
We laud ourselves on our choice of hotel.Staying in Sultanmhet means we are in the heart of the city.
We explore at will and relax when we please.  We have heard so much about the Blue mosque and The Hagia Sophia. But there is plenty to see as we stroll along this pretty part of the city on out way there. Trams glide gracefully across busy roads and the traffic seems unceasing.

The Obelisk of Theodosius

Our guide, is an encyclopedia of information. Our first stop is the Ancient Egyptian Obelisk of Pharaoh  Tutmoses iii, re -erected by the Roman emperor Theodosius in Constantinople(now Istanbul) and now called The Obelisk of Theodosius. Not so apparent until we are told is that the obelisk is made from red granite. What draws the eye to it are are beautiful carvings along the length of the obelisk, towering26m above us.

The Obelisk of Theodosius

The Blue Mosque

I am distracted by the sun, the luxurious feeling of warmth on my skin. It has been a long winter back home in London this year and this is such a welcome change. The square we are in is teeming with tourists. Like ants on a hot day we scurry about, almost in line behind our guide, loosing scent, scattering and forming ranks again :).

And so we get to the Blue Mosque, an exquisite structure with an underlying blue that shines through the stone, its minarates standing tall, towering into the skies above.  Built during the rule of the Sultan Ahmed I, during the period from 1606 to 1616, is is still being used as a mosque.
The entrance to the Blue mosque
We walk around the court yard and pass what looks like a row of ornate taps.
I marvel at how similar this is to the taps I have seen in some of the temples in the South of India from where I come. Before we enter the mosque, we are given plastic bags in which to put our shoes in. And Out of respect we cover our heads
Inside the Blue Mosque..

Stepping inside is an experience. I am struck by the sight of the beautiful stained glass windows, stacked neatly one above another encircling us , as we walk around the dome like structure.

The Stained glass windows in the Blue Mosque..

A different view., the prayer area and the main dome..

Let there be light..
We wander around the mosque. Women sit at the windows, heads covered praying. There is a sense of peace in the midst of all the noise. The pillars are entirely made of marble.

The ceramic tiles , inside the blue mosque..

The interior of the mosque is laid out with Ceramic tiles from the region Iznik. These blue tiles, with intricate designs of tulips are a beautiful foil to the stained glass windows through which light filters in.

View of the Blue mosque as we walk towards the hippodrome..

Our eyes quickly adjust to the sun as we step outside. At the entrance we throw away the plastic covers that held our foot wear and walk towards the hippodrome. It is from here that we get the best shots of the blue mosque.

Hagia Sophia

What do I say about Hagia Sophia, that hasn't already been said. It's a beautiful  fascinating place, an intersection of two great religions standing together side by side. Walking in I was struck by the atmospheric calm, the beautiful chandeliers hanging off the ceilings washed in gold, high windows and intricate paintings..

Chandileres indside Hagia Sophia..

Ceilings washed in gold..

We step into the interior and I am awestruck by the immense great hall, ending in stained glass windows with a beautiful painting of the Virgin Mary at the other end..
Hagia Sophia was once a church, an eastern Orthodox cathedral and the seat of the orthodox patriarchy in Constantinople  the ancient capital of Turkey.  When Constantinople was invaded by the Ottomon Turks in 1453 under Sultan Mehmed II, it was converted to a mosque.
Today it houses elements of both religions, something I have never seen before.

The chandeliers inside Hagia Sophia..
The Dome is magnificent, an example of the celebrated byzantine architecture of the era in which it was built. Our guide points out that others like the Blue Mosque that we first visited were actually built as replicas of Hagia Sophia..

The Dome..
At the far end of the hall and above the many stained glass windows is the mosaic of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. On both sides are circular discs in Green declaring the basic tenets of Islam, the names of Allah and the Prophet Mohammed.

The end of the hall, A painting of the Virgin Mary right on top, with circular discs declaring important people of the Islamic faith
This is a fascinating, fascinating place. Over the years religions have come and gone, but seeing them stand together like this is a surreal feeling.
We walk up to the upper floor, where there are more mosaics. We also get a better view of the mosaic of Mary from a balcony very close to the ceiling.

Virgin Mary with child..
The hall from the top level..

Of all the places I've seen so far in Istanbul, Hagia Sophia is my favourite. We walk around for a bit before we run out of time. The heat is making me tired, but it really is lovely being out in the sun and I won't complain.

Topkapi Palace

When we get to the Topkapi palace it's teeming with people. This was once the seat of the sultans of the Ottomon Empire and in 1921 , by official decree was converted into a museum.
Our guide likens it to the Forbidden City in Beijing, the seat of power of the emperors in China.
The palace still houses several important relics and we look woefully at the long queues stretching out into the sun :).

There is a lot to see here.  We are on a mission to see the most important ones and get in queue.
Right ahead we meet some co- travellers from Karachi. We get talking. Questions on Pakistan and questions on India :). This is my favourite bit about travelling. Meeting someone from somewhere you wouldn't normally get the opportunity to meet. He doubles up as a guide with his knowledge of Arabic translating as we walk along, pointing at exhibits of interest. Inside we see a model of a Kaba, which stands in Mecca. One of the many keys to the Kaba is housed here. We also see personal belongings of the Prophet, hair from his beard preserved over the years and the stick used by Moses.

The museum has one of the largest diamonds, which was in the possession of the Sultan.

It's past lunch time and we eat at a restaurant that faces the coast

The Asian side of Istanbul...

The Basillica Cistern

Our final stop was the Basillica Cisteren, one of several hundred ancient cisterns lying under the city.
The floors are wet and we watch our step as we walk in the dark. As our eyes adjust to the darkness, we are told this place was once surrounded by gardens and overlooked the Hagia Sophia.

The Basillica Cistern..
At the very end are two stone pillars supported by Medusa heads. Roman in origin, how they came to be in this place is still unknown.
The Medusa heads..

The Medusa Heads..

The heads have a eerie look to them in the near darkness :). We take a lot of pictures and finally head out again into the sun...
That rounds up a lovely day at Sultanmhet, though our journey through Istanbul had only just begun.


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