Apr 27, 2011

Why You Must Visit Egypt & South East Asia

Mail from my Uncle, Brigadier Vijay Kumar, my father's elder brother.

I happened to tour Egypt just before the recent upheaval & some SE Asian countries last month & I found some interesting & at times amusing observations which we normally do not read in the books. Some of you may travel to these Regions, so here are my observations.


Egypt has the top of the list of the wonders of the World, the Pyramids. They are Wonders not because of the Massive Rock structures but the ingenuity which the Pharaohs used in transporting huge Rock slabs from quarries in upper regions to Pyramid sites when The Nile was in spate & reached the foot of the sites, using massive boats to ferry them. That is the time when farmers had no work & the entire population was diverted towards construction of the Pyramids. They were not the whip lashed slaves we see in some Hollywood Movies.

The Sound & Light shows in Luxor or Giza are unique with Laser Technology used liberally which depicts their History in convincing details. Our parallel shows in the Red Fort or Cellular Jail in Port Blair are no match; you have to struggle to keep off yawning.

War Museum in El Elamin is interesting, constructed on the site of what is considered as the Turning point of the 2nd WW, but they have not preserved the remnants of the Defence Lines on ground which we as soldiers would have appreciated.

6 Oct is their Victory Day & they have 6 Oct Towns & Roads signifying their victory over Israel. Well, the World knows what really happened!

Aam Aadmi of Egypt is wary of the misrule of Husn e Mubarik & family for decades but turns away when questioned as to why they did not opt for a change. There are no jobs & living is expensive, a KG of meat costs an equivalent of Rs 700/-. Tips are mandatory as most of those in tourism industry including Govt employees survive on tips offered by foreigners. We hope the present Revolution & change in Govt will usher in better life for their people. A Nation which gave birth to Muslim Brotherhood that ultimately evolved into Al Qaida ironically could not displace its own ruler till now.


Angkor Vat known to be the largest Hindu Temple in the World is large because of the Area it occupies. Their Idols have also been destroyed by marauders (from Thailand) like many temples in India. Some say it is a Wonder of the World but I find that many Temples in India , say Belur & Halebidu temples which are less known, have better & finer sculptures that too made from Black Granite which is harder substance than Sandstone which fills the Angkor Vat Temples. Cambodia, a small & poor country can sell their heritage more effectively than India. There is no mention of Indian Rulers who spread Hinduism to these Regions or Budhism by Emperor Ashoka . Ramayana & Mahabharata are proudly depicted though Cambodia is wary of talking about their origin

Here again the people of Cambodia who suffered Genocide from Pol Pot Regime helplessly watched themselves being killed till they realized that they were helping Pol pot by providing him with Rice by which he bought weapons from China. They united ultimately to stop supplying rice which resulted in the collapse of the Regime. US recovering from the wounds of Vietnam were helpless bystanders.


A great country that fought the might of America & its allies in 60s & early 70s , comparable to Japan in the WW 2. It is over 30 years since their Inception but the country continues to reel in poverty unlike Japan which in 2 decades of the War rose to be an Economic Super power. This can be attributed to the form of communism that prevails in the Region, highly corrupt Govt, disorganized spending & a foreign policy that keeps the Western world away. Their War Museum in Ho chi Minh City depicts the highly exaggerated atrocities committed by the Americans during the War but say little of their own. Land & sites are not owned by the people but are given as long lease by the Govt which serves as a disincentive for any good development or construction. South Vietnamese were happy till the North took over & cancelled all their ownerships.

Two wheelers are a great sight on the roads. They have separate lanes & move in a constant speed like an Army of Ants.

Tunnels dug by the Vietcong during the war are not just tunnels but underground Townships. Our Field Engineering in the Infantry does not go beyond 3 Man Trenches & Fox holes. I would vote for their tunnels to be chosen as a wonder of the world.


A Hindu Kingdom which strangely became a Muslim country surrounded by Buddhist countries. Go back to the times of 11th to 16th centuries when Malacca was the main trading route for the Arab vessels trading with China. In order to establish a better rapport with the Arabs , the Hindu ruler in the 11th century converted to Islam, so by the natural order of things, the people too converted. Rule of Tunku Abdul Rahman , though Autocratic was secular & brought the country on Western lines with beautiful Roads & buildings ( Twin Tower for Example ), but his followers have been fundamentalists, thus preference is given to Muslim population, so the Hindu & Chinese feel rather neglected bur they have their own organs for development such as schools & Hospitals. Notably it is the Chinese & Indians who are the Elite society.

A lot of Indian Agencies are working in Malaysia such as IRCON building their Railway network but they too are not devoid of scandals & scams.


Bali strangely is an Island with 90 % Hindus amidst a country with 90 % Muslims. Though Al Qaida has its influence in Indonesia, there has been only one bombing incident in Bali which killed 55 Australian tourists, since then the Al Qaida seems to have disintegrated as the Govt has come down hard on them. Al Qaida tried to enhance their net work to Malaysia too but the ring was trapped in Indonesia with cooperation of both the Govts.

Some of the temples in Bali particularly the ones on sea cliffs are awesome for their panoramic profiles, though the quality of sculptures here too is not worth talking about. Don’t give much to their Dances which have been hyped out of proportion.


Apr 24, 2011

Ramdurg Fort

Though Torgal-Ramdurg is a short drive, we were feeling the midday heat. We could see the fort walls as we approached Ramdurg. Once inside the busy town, the fort vanished from our sight. Ramdurg town has grown out of the fort and spilling on the sides. The fort is swamped by houses with narrow streets between them.

A - Fort gateway
B - Palace
C - Malaprabha river

Chetan wanted to have something cold, he got a 2l Sprite bottle. It did help beat the heat at that moment. We got directions and went up a short uphill road leading into the fort. That's the only gateway.

Plenty of new constructions. If a mason falls short of few stones, just pick some from the fort walls here ...it could be happening.

Inside the fort, we parked in the shade cast by an ancient building. A modern building stood opposite, a board identified it as some college. The ancient building also had a black & white board proclaiming it some college. I assumed the building to be of British era. A man was sitting on a platform was watching us, he seemed to be a guard. We rested for a while looking around, thinking whom to inquire about the fort. On a hunch I asked the guard and learnt that this building is a palace. Wow!

The guard slowly opened up. This is Ghotge Palace, present owner lives in Poona and visits occasionally. I ask if I can peep inside from the opn door. He actually invites to step in but requests us not to shoot. We agree, take off our footwear and step into the palace. Our guide, cannot remember his name, told us that furniture and household things are moved to a different place.

This is the approximate layout of the ground floor. The first floor had gallery right above the conference hall and probably bedrooms. The conference hall had couple of heavy wooden tables and chairs, we did see a book which looked at least 80 years old. the guard with us all the while. We saw few pictures; one of the Maharaja and his son's picture was also seen. The present owner is the Maharaja's granddaughter. The safe room had strong vertical bars like a prison cell. Dining hall floor dirt floor smeared with a layer of cow-dung (this is common in rural homes). Once a year feast is served after pooja. The dining hall could seat 50 to 60 people. The kitchen had a huge water tank of it's own and had a door to the back yard. We could see the pooja room also, I did namaskara to idols inside. A poojari performs pooja everyday. The stairway leading to the first floor would be locked, I did not bother to ask our guard. I was glad to see this much. We thanked our friend and left.

This building houses the Municipal Offices, also belongs to the Maharaja.

We expected to see some cannons and stuff like that but :( We drove out the fort and went around Ramdurg hill with a hope of getting few decent shots of the fort.

This is all I could manage.

Shrikanth stopped on and off trying to get a good view and I would keep shooting without stepping out of the cab.

Done with Ramdurag, we drove across river Malaprabha towards Sureban. Few kilometers from Ramdurg, driving through ghat section, we stopped to admire Kolchi Weir.

Our next destination- Nargund.

Ramdurg Coordinates: 15°56'49"N 75°17'31"E


Apr 18, 2011

Universal World Heritage Day: April 18th


Under protection of ASI
1. Ajanta Caves, Maharashtra
2. Ellora caves, Maharashtra
3. Agra Fort, Uttar Pradesh
4. Taj Mahal, Uttar Pradesh
5. Sun Temple, Konark, Orissa
6. Group of monuments at Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu
7. Churches and Convents of Goa
8. Khajuraho Group of monuments, Madhya Pradesh
9. Group of monuments at Hampi, Karnataka
10. Group of monuments at Fatehpur Sikri, , Uttar Pradesh
11. Group of monuments at Pattadakal, Karnataka
12. Elephenta Caves, Maharashtra
13. Great Living Chola Temples at Thanjavur, Gangaikondacholapuram and Darasuram, Tamil Nadu
14. Buddhist monuments of Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh
15. Humayun's Tomb, Delhi
16. Qutub Minar and its monuments, Delhi
17. Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh
18. Champanere-Pavagarh Archeological Park, Gujarat
19. Red Fort Complex, Delhi

Under protection of Ministry of Railways
20. Mountain Railways of India, Darjeeling, West Bengal; Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu; Kalka, Shimla
21. Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Maharashtra

Under protection of Bodhgaya Temple Management Committee
22. Mahabodhi Temple Complex, Bihar

Under protection of Rajasthan State Archeology and Monuments Department
23. Jantar Mantar, Jaipur, Rajasthan

Natural Properties (Under protection of Ministry of Environment & Forest)
1. Kaziranga National Park, Assam
2. Manas Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam
3. Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan
4. Sunderbans National Park, West Bengal
5. Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Park, Uttaranchal


Apr 17, 2011

Torgal Fort

March 6, 2011. Third fort of the day.

Munvalli-Torgal road runs parallel to Malaprabha river. With no major towns the region is typically rural. As we approached Torgal Fort, the terrain got hilly and traffic increased, mostly tractors and trucks moving to & fro sugar mill which is right next to the fort. There it is.

We got off at the fort entrance. That's one of the two gateways. This one faces West while the other North-East. I guess the North-East gate is the main entrance.

Google Map screen-shot

A - Gateway through outer fort wall
B - Gateway through inner fort wall
C - ruins of stone shelter
D - Core, these walls & bastions are taller than the outer fort wall
E - Bhutnath Temple Complex
F - Malaprabha river
G - Mosque
H - North-East gateway

Wonder who these characters are.

The construction is functional not much importance given to aesthetics.

Neel and Chetan check out the structure. We shared our observations, analyze and discuss how and why. This is the gateway through the inner fort wall.

A big fat fish.

Another fish and two creatures, body looks like swan but head look like snake's. Chetan and I discussed but could not decide what it was. I think he mentioned a tortoise.

We climbed a wall to get a good view. That's the core fort. Probably this is the oldest construction. The outer walls where built around for better security.

Just below where we stood was this pair of parallel structures. My guess was it could be shelter for soldiers or visitors. We went exploring looking for a way to climb down and get a better look.

To Chetan this looked like a market place. This could be a army stable too. The structure was supported by stones and looked pretty scary ...what if it collapses.

We wanted to check out the other row but jaali-gida blocked our path. We could find a way though the maze but we would nasty scratches and pick up dirt and soon get itchy in this hot weather. Let's get out.

Looks like a mosque.

We reached the core. Actually this is a Vaade, landlord's residence. We passed by the owners' bungalow, gate was locked and they were out of town. No chance of seeing what's inside the core. People refereed to the owner as 'Maharaj'.

We peeped through a gap in one of the massive doors. Looks like ruins of a palace.

Within the fort is Toragal village. While we amaze at the ancient structures, for them it's just another piece of construction. One of the locals suggested is to check out Bhutnath Temple. We had to pass by a cluster of houses and these kids ambushed us asking to take pictures... photo thegiree. We asked if they'll show us the temple.

This bunch of kids lead us to Bhutnath temple. As you see it's being cared for, work is under progress.

It's a group of 5 or 6 Kadamba style temples, similar to temples of Banavasi and Tambdi Surla, Goa.

Feels good to see well preserved monuments. The kids kept asking to take pictures, they would rush to the direction I pointed my camera. The kids showed us Malaprabha river ...just a stone's throw from the complex. Check out the only video I shot at Torgal Fort.

Bye bye kidddos. We need to move now.

Looks like a tomb. Torgal fort was under Muslim rulers also.

Torgal fort is pretty complex. We are to take the North-East gate, we go through three gateways. This the first one.

We are approaching the second one.

A mosque. I wanted to go exploring here but we still had two more forts to catch up with.

There's the third gateway.

View of the gateway from outside.

We head to Ramdurg.

Toragal Coordinates: 15°56'46"N 75°13'13"E

I heard a person call Toragal Fort as Khanpet Fort.


Apr 10, 2011

Munvalli Fort

I've passed by Munvalli fort several times but never really bothered to venture inside. Here I am.

March 6, 2010.

We arrive at Munvalli from Subapur, via Tallur. On the way Shrikanth tells us his Indica had a flat. We stopped for a moment to take a snap. Believe me... it's Malaprabha river in the foreground not a gutter.

Shrikanth drops us off near the fort gate and goes of to get the tube fixed. The fort is surrounded by jaaligida a shrub with terribly pointed thorns. To an extent jaaligida has kept vandals away from the fort walls. We walk through the gateway, the twin doors are battered.

I was surprised to see a farmer cultivating a plot. We guessed all the land, which is not really much, within the fort is owned by one family. I'm not too sure, it must be Qilledhar family.

As we walk the small path, we met a youth, Manju, two minutes of talking casually bout the fort, he volunteered to be our guide. He showed us Udchammanagudi. Udchamma is a goddess, an avatar of Parvati (my guess) is quite popular in North Karnataka, especially Dharwad and Belgaum districts.

On the way to Hanuman temple, we stopped by to appreciate these bastions. In the background you can see another plot, a farmer was irrigating the cultivated land. It seems vegetables are grown here.

Left to right: Chetan, Neel, Manju and passers by we asked to join the group ...Manju knew them.

There's the temple. It's simply fabulous! It's a small temple but decorated with exquisite carvings. The architecture is similar to temples of Maharashtra.

Place was little tight and light was not favorable ...I still need to learn to shoot facing Sun.

Jai Hanuman!

The arch reminds me of Indo-Saracenic architecture. Art works on this temple are pretty to similar to works in Ibrahim Rouza, Bijapur.

I'm at loss of words to even describe this piece of work. I just cannot even imagine how those pillars and platform were created. Isn't mind-blowing?

I could get 5 of 6 panels, missed the top most. Each one of them is a unique theme. Bottom to top: Trace the band with your finger, you end up where you started. A lotus. A vase on a stand. 3 fishes with their heads together. I cannot make out the last one.

The platform support is elegant adorned with so many details; a chain runs around the neck of the support, floral carvings, two fish and a spiral. How did the artists imagine the combination? I wish i could travel back in time and see those artists at work.

I do not remember seeing anything this before. Three fish form a star. Chetan and I discussed a bit about it but failed to understand what the central triangular piece is. The symbol, to my eyes, depicts something powerful. If someone could explain...

Another no-start no-end maze. This one is much more complex.

A pendant hanging by a chain. take a closer look at this packed image, you'll find a crow, a parrot, two circular no-start no-end maze and two special creatures with dog's body and a pig's head. Amazing!!

These two pendants are pretty similar to 'pendants hanging by chain' at Inbrahim Rauza.

Another no-start no-end maze.

An array of floral and geometrical objects.

This little temple is at the top in my list of favorite temples.

I asked Manju if we could climb one of the bastions and get a good view of the entire fort. He was not sure but went exploring but no luck... either the shrubs blocked the way or the walls were too delicate to climb on. We gave up.

Manju told we could check from outside, I was skeptical but let Manju lead. The entire fort is surrounded by jaali-kanti. No way.

Our walk to the fort rear side did one good. We got to see four temples, two facing rows with two temples in each row. One temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is maintained since the daily pooja goes on. The one we are looking at was the most beautiful one but neglected. The inside was filled with filth.

I guess it was 12 by then, all of us famished. We decided to end out tour and head to a restaurant.

The Google Map screenshot shows Munvalli Fort and Malaprabha snaking around.

A - Fort gateway
B - Hanuman Temple
C - Malaprabha river
D - Saundatti - Munvalli - Yeragatti road
E - Ancient temples

I invited Manju to join us for brunch. We had Pulav and Mangaluru Bajji. With the break we felt much better. Further we could catch up with some more rest during the ride to Toragal Fort- destination next.

If you are ever visiting or passing by Munvalli during day do stop at the fort and visit the Hanuman temple.

Munvalli Fort Coordinates: 15°51'17"N 75°7'24"E