Category: Heritage

My South Asia Bucket List

Galle
Photo by Shainee Fernando on Unsplash

Coming to my backyard. I have already written a series of posts on my India bucket list. Here are some of the places that I would like to visit in my neighbouring countries:

Sri Lanka: So close, yet not visited. It’s just over an hour away by flight, and I hope to visit places such as Kandy, Anuradhapura and Galle one day.

Nepal: Considering that a large stretch of the Himalayas run through India, the mountains are not so much of a draw for me to visit Nepal. Rather, it is to explore the historical places such as Patan and Bhaktapur. In addition, I would love to visit the Janaki Mandir at Janakpur and Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha.

Bhutan: Another place with a strong mystical appeal, it would be nice to spend a few days anywhere in this country. An off-beat destination might be the Phobjikha valley for a chance to spot Black-Necked Cranes.

Myanmar: This large country to India’s east should make for an interesting journey. Bagan, Mandalay, Yangon and Inle Lake are some of the popular destinations here and would be the places that I would like to visit.

Afghanistan: I know, it’s not a popular destination for tourists. But India has a long historical connection to this country. It would be nice to able to visit places such as Herat, Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif and Jam Minaret.

My Central Asia Bucket List

Samarkand
Photo by Ildar Garifullin on Unsplash

The countries (or ‘Stans’) of Central Asia have long held an almost mythical fascination for me. The history of the Silk Route, the beautiful architecture, the landscapes – they all seem so wonderful!

Uzbekistan: A country that is very high up on my bucket list of countries to visit. The stunning architecture of Samarkand, the ancient cities of Bukhara and Khiva, these are all exotic places that I would love to experience. Another place that I only discovered while doing some research online is Shahrisabz, the birthplace of Emperor Timur.

Kyrgyzstan: This land-locked country is considered to be the country that’s farthest from any sea. In fact, it also does not have rivers flowing through it that empty into a sea! Geography might be the primary reason to visit this place. It does have one entry in the UNESCO World Heritage Site – the sacred Sulayman Mountain in the city of Osh.

Tajikistan: The smallest country in the region. The primary reason to visit would be to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Pamir National Park, which is part of the Pamir Mountains, considered as the “Roof of the World”.

Turkmenistan: The country with the lowest population in the region, this was an important stop on the Silk Road. The country’s ancient history can be explored in places such as Konye-Urgench, Merv and Nisa, near Ashgabat.

Kazakhstan: The 9th largest country in the World is also the world’s largest land-locked country. The southern part of the country was on the Silk Road. Turkestan in this region has the UNESCO World Heritage listed Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi. I would also love to do some bird-watching at the Korgalzhyn Nature Reserve, located to the west of Astana (Nur-Sultan). This is an important wetland and stop-over point for many birds that migrate to the Indian sub-continent.

 

 

 

Ports in Indian History

I had written an article last week on The Geography of India’s History. This is the second in that series, inspired by Sanjeev Sanyal’s, “Land of Seven Rivers”.

This article looks at the ports of India.

One of the primary themes in the typical narrative of Indian history is the numerous invasions that have happened from the north-west of India. What probably does not get as much mention is the maritime history of India. Right from the time of the Harappan civilisation with it’s port at Lothal, India has a rich history of trade and exchange along the seas.

I have mapped some of the key ports in India’s history, starting from the times of the Harappan civilisation and ending with the key ports of modern India.

Some of the most important times in ancient Indian history were those of Bharuch, Muziris (near present day Kochi), Arikamedu (near Puducherry) and Tamralipti (near Kolkata).

Moving forward from then, ports such as Calicut (Kozhikode), Kollam, Tuticorin, Nagapattinam, Mahabalipuram and ports in Odisha became prominent in the trade across the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Of these, what was an eye-opener for me was the rich maritime history of the erstwhile kingdom of Kalinga, present-day Odisha (Orissa). Seafarers from this region traveled to Sri Lanka, as well as Sumatra, Java and beyond in South-east Asia. In fact, to this day, Bali Jatra (voyage to Bali) is celebrated as a major festival in Odisha.

The next phase of India’s maritime history has to do with European colonialism. It was at this time that ports such as Surat, Goa, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata rose to prominence.

And finally, coming to the present times. While some of the above ports continue to remain important, a few new ones have come up. These include Kandla, JNPT (Mumbai), Mangalore, Kochi, Visakhapatnam, Paradip and Haldia, as well as Port Blair in the Andamans.

 

Happy Vishu!

Today (April 14) is the day of the festival of Vishu, celebrated primarily by Malayalees (state of Kerala). It marks the New Year in the local calendar.

The day starts with Vishukani – the seeing of auspicious things first thing in the morning (before day break). We had prepared a Kani of a few items such as Golden Cucumber, Mango, Banana and rice. Here are a couple of photos of our simple arrangement.

Vishu - Payasam
Red Rice Payasam

 

Another important element of Vishu is the Sadya or Feast. Unfortunately, with the lock-down and work requirements, we did not prepare an elaborate Sadya. I did manage to prepare a couple of traditional items – Olan and Payasam.

 

It is fascinating that there are numerous festivals celebrated on this day across India and South-east Asia. This is the day of Baisakhi for people of the state of Punjab, Bihu for Assamese, Pahela Baisakh (Noboborsho) for Bengalis, Puthandu for Tamilians. It is also celebrated as Songkran across South-east Asia and marks their New Year as well.

So Festival Greetings to everyone celebrating today!

The Geography of India’s History

One of the topics that’s interested me for a while is the interplay of Geography and History. So it is with great pleasure that I am presently reading Sanjeev Sanyal’s “Land of Seven Rivers“.

I am still only about 25% into the book, but it’s already been a fascinating read. The book starts with the Harappan civilisation and then moves on to explore the geography behind India’s great epics – The Ramayana and The Mahabharata.

My interest being more in the geography, I started a project to map a few of these historical places on to a map of modern India. Thanks to the features in Google Maps, I was able to place some of these locations on to my map. Here it is:

The places highlighted in blue are key locations from the Harappan civilisation. It is also called The Indus Valley Civilisation, but as places such as Rakhigarhi and Lothal indicate, the civilisation covered a vast area, extending well beyond the Indus Valley. The following image indicates the true spread of this ancient civilisation.

Harappan civilisation
By Avantiputra7Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Moving on from that civilisation, we enter the age of the great Indian Epics – The Ramayana and The Mahabharata.

Places marked in green on my first map indicate the places described in the Mahabharata while places marked in orange have been mentioned in the Ramayana.

There is some doubt on which came first. Though many feel it is the Ramayana, Sanjeev Sanyal makes some interesting points that are worth reflecting on.

If we look at the map, it is clear that most of the key places mentioned in the Mahabharata are located immediately to the east of the places we know of from the Harappan civilisation. While The Ramayana makes mention of places spread further towards the east, such as Ayodhya, and south, extending all the way to Sri Lanka via Chitrakoot, Panchavati and Kishkinda (near modern-day Hampi). If we assume that ‘civilisation’ spread outwards from the Indus (and Saraswati) valley civilisations, does that indicate that the Mahabharata possibly came before the Ramayana?

The next phase of the book talks about the birth of Buddhism, which pushes the narrative even further to the East. But that’s a topic for later!