Unearthing China- Banpo and Xian

Xian, China holds many answers to Chinese history and is famous for the terracotta warriors and the gateway to the Silk Road. A trip to Xian is a history buffs paradise as it sets stage to various dynasty’s, periods and kingdoms all in one city which is surrounded by a beautiful wall.

Xian is also known from its flat noodles and the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda where the earliest Buddhist texts were taken from India and translated. Though Xian popularly draws in tourists who come to see the terracotta warriors and their glory.

Terracotta Warriors

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The archaeological site for the terracotta warriors is well preserved is one of histories latest findings that was unearthed. The terracotta warriors stand guard to the Emperors palace which is still buried under a mound as it is said to have many complications that prevent people from unearthing it. These life size warriors were made in order to protect the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang and is part of a larger necropolis which included the Emperors, mausoleum, army, general quarters and other details that were built in third century BCE.

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Colorful Terracotta warriors when unearthed.

Each soldier was created unique to have different facial features, color and dress according to their ranking. The site of the terracotta warriors is well preserved and restoration work is still an ongoing process. One amazing thing that strikes me is that the warriors when uncovered were brightly painted but then faded away in less than 4 mins when exposed to air.

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Each soldier unique with different facial expressions and look

Banpo Chinese Neolithic Site

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The inhabitants of Banpo and site as imagined by artist

In another corner of Xian lies Banpo, which is an archaeological discovery made during the Mao regime which dates back to the Neolithic period. The Banpo site is a human settlement which is 12 acres in area and shows a lifestyle and culture from 4800 BCE. The settlement is of an agrarian society that had primitive crops and livestock. The site is well preserved, covered and available for public viewing. Some of the interesting aspects from the site are its burial sites, a moat which surrounds the settlement and well built houses. Closer to the huts urns were found which were used for burying children and infants.

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Actual Burial site at Banpo

During the Marxists regime it was believed that the Banpo site was a matriarchal society which helped promote the Marxist ideology and agenda. The idea has since been abandoned and reviewed.

Xian is a treasure trove but one needs time and patience to unearth the vast history the city has to unfold.

Pictures credited to Traveling Noodles and Razor Rasu

 

Road Trip Along Coastal Karnataka

Driving along the Karnataka coast can give you three things, an appreciation for Konkan fish fry, a tan and the cognition that beaches of the Arabian sea can be aqua marine. We recently went on a road trip from Bekal which is a coastal town on the Kerala Karnataka border till Calangute in Goa.

This road trip essential took us along the coast in Karnataka aka the Konkan aka Kanara. The beauty of the Konkan coast first came to be recognized to the uninitiated when the first train of the Konkan railway chugged along the sea coast on one side and verdant valleys and hills on the other side.

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The road trip was to start at 3:30 am as we like to start early, we planned to leave our little one in his grand parents care as we planned to do the trip on a budget. Our little one soon got wind of our master plan and clung to me, we finally appeased him by bribing him with the prospect of us bringing back a gift for him which we absolutely honored.

The drive to Goa from Kundapur was legendary  with the Arabian sea changing its colors from black to aqua marine on a whim.

This was the first time I was travelling for close to 10 days without my little one and my constant companion, we hardly take a leak without accompanying each other.  After all our early morning excitement we left for the trip at around 7 am and promptly got stuck in Bangalore traffic (I know..).Our first stop was at Bekal, we drove to the Bekal beach park and called our hotel where we had our first reservation, turns out the reservation was cancelled without letting us know. Hence we were at Bekal beach park seemingly homeless, eating egg bhaji and coffee while trying to call up other hotels. Finally we got a reservation in a five star hotel (so much for our budget trip).

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The second day I fell ill and thankfully had very fluffy pillows to sleep in, the third day I got some of my energy back and we went to the iconic Bekal fort of Tu hi re fame. It turned out to be one of the few well maintained forts in India, though I wish a little more of the history was explained at the site. Our next stop was Udupi and enroute we feasted on a new  Arabic delicacy that has invaded north Kerala named Kuzhimandi biriyani. At Udupi we halted at the Krishna temple after the GPS decided to take us around a few other Krishna temples. Udupi ofcourse has amazing restaurants and equally amazing coffee.

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Our next pit stop was Malpe beach which I would recommend very enthusiastically to water sports and beach enthusiasts. We watched a jatra competition which was open to the public at the beach, saw some amazing display of kites and then decided to try our hand at the one minute para sailing sessions. The para sailing team and their turn around time was simply wow, they were pretty professional and valued the safety of their patrons. I just wish the people on the beach understood that safety is an important part of life and being alive.

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After spending the evening at Malpe beach we drove to Kundapur to a Confluence hotel and dug into some well deserved Mangalorean dinner. Kundapur was the half way point on our road trip to Calangute and back and it was here that we discovered that Shetty Lunch Home has the best akki roti, ghee roast chicken and the most succulent fish fry. At the hotel we looked up the things to do section and decided we would drive to Kodachadri, we had not done much research and made some discoveries along the way and an impromptu trek after a horrific drive up Kodachadri in a local jeep.

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After we left Kondapur with its many waterfalls, hills and historic temples and forest reserves, we drove down Maravanthe – the prettiest beach I have seen. The next town Murudeshwar  surprised us with its iconic Shiva statue and well developed tourist hot spot and water sports. We planned to reach Calangute, in Goa to ring in the New Year and bid adieu to the old man. The drive to Goa from Kundapur was legendary  with the Arabian sea changing its colors from black to aqua marine on a whim. Goa of course was a different story but coastal Karnataka is worth hyping about and deserves applause for the beautiful beaches preserved here.

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Pictures credited to co navigator and driver Razor Rasu.

5 Happening Beaches in Karnataka

Goa has long held the glory of having been known for the most happening beaches in India but coastal Karnataka also known as Canara or Tulunad has some of the prettiest and increasingly happening beaches with tourism being taken seriously. Our recent road trip was along the Edapally – Panvel highway which is currently being widened and will hopefully soon be a much more comfortable ride.

The road winds through many rivers on the last leg of their journey, some bridges which are engineering marvels and the sparkling ocean on the way. The drive in short is beautiful and we discovered for ourselves some of the most happening yet lovely beaches in India.

Malpe Beach

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Malpe is a coastal town near Udupi and is known for fish. The beach at Malpe is quite popular and has a wide range of water sports such as para sailing, activities and festivals. The ferry to St Mary’s island is a trip that many tourists undertake. The beach is beautiful and one of the must do’s here is to eat fish fry which is sold in small shops close to the beach.

My recommendation is to find a Shetty Lunch Home and order fish galore and chicken ghee roast as a side dish.

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Maravanthe Beach

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Maravanthe beach is on an amazing slice of land between the Arabian Sea and Souparnika river. The beach is pristine and the NH meanders between these water bodies on both sides. The engineer who planned this road must have been a connoisseur of beauty and just for that the Arabian Sea sparkles extra blue here.

Maravanthe beach is on an amazing slice of land between the Arabian Sea and Souparnika river.

Murudeshwar

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A temple, a beach and an unexpected tourist hot spot with water sports, ferries to pretty islands. Murudeshwar has a lot of activities like snorkeling that can make you stay in Murudeshwar for more time than you first intended.

Karwar

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Karwar has some of the best ‘unexplored’ beaches and is also home to a Navy port which lends a lot of Karwar’s character. Pretty blue beaches, ships and tawa fry fish are some things to look forward to in Karwar.

Tip: Stop at the Naval Museum park on your way to see an old battleship and missiles, you can’t miss it.

Gokarna

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Gokarna is also known as a Hippie paradise but at its heart it is an old pilgrimage city which is very traditional. There are many interesting beaches at Gokarna which are lagoons or coves and can be reached after a trek or via boat. Other than the popular beaches like Om beach there are also unknown clear beaches which are for lack of a better word breathtaking!

Tip: Look out for wild, carefree dolphins out at sea. If dolphin watching is on your agenda, do avoid hiring boats as they chase the dolphins which I assume is traumatic for these intelligent mammals.

 

 

What makes Japan amazing for me!

This post is a first for me and for a very dear friend of mine Rohini. She is an inspiration for me in many ways and is one person who is always on the move. She has been travelling extensively and has made friends wherever she has been to. Here is Rohini’s first blog post and I for one am looking forward to read many more of her experiences.

The Japanese are so minimalistic and simple yet is among the most advanced societies in the world today. My journey through Japan was one of the most fascinating and unique experiences of my life. I have travelled through many a country as a tourist and a traveler, Japan is where I long to stay back and get lost into its mysteries, traditions, culture and food. I want to share my perspectives and observations below:

1) From Tokyo to Hiroshima, one has to look skywards to spot bars and restaurants. As space is much sought after in Japan, bars and restaurants are located at every floor in each of the buildings. There are boards on the ground level to tell you what they are serving upstairs and you can bar hop without getting out of the building! Each bar and restaurant seat 10-12 people with  unique themes ranging from karaoke to hello kitty, neon lights to Bryan Adams. This is a nation where every niche is covered in all its glory.

2)  The Japanese are ever so polite, kind and gracious in most social situations, however behind this façade is sometimes a feeling of loneliness, lack of self confidence and an extremely conditioned mind. Following  rules of paramount importance to the Japanese, whether one is being watched or not. The men and women avoid making eye contact; if they have to say excuse me, sorry or thank you it’s sufficient to bow than to actually look at another person. Most of them are deeply engrossed in their Nintendo, phones , manga, books and other handheld gaming devices and like clockwork get off at their train stations.

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3) Japanese have  managed to make love a commodity, everything from maid cafés, virtual girlfriends, bars where lonely women go to talk to men, Geishas, the Love hotels, host and hostess bars providing a litany of services for the lovesick. All of this fueled by the feeling of loneliness, and the want for being loved or even listened too with contact in a very non-sexual way. Paid Love in the west brings images of sleaze however for the Japanese this could range from someone to hold hands with or stare dreamily into their eyes for 15 minutes costing them almost 1000 yen. Love is creating a virtual girlfriend who shares your life and can adapt to your needs and wants so much so that I watched a documentary that interviewed men who dint want to have a real girlfriend or wife they are happier in their 10-15 year virtual relationship with a Sega run program. Love is sitting in a maid café, with young girls all dressed in the same fashion to look and behave like maids. Men are very happy chatting with subservient and obedient girls because their life is already so challenged with hierarchy and following rules at work and in daily life. They find solace with a girl who is there to just hear him out, clip his nails, clean his ears and giggle at his conversations.

Japanese have  managed to make love a commodity, everything from maid cafés, virtual girlfriends, bars where lonely women go to talk to men, Geishas, the Love hotels, host and hostess bars providing a litany of services for the lovesick.

4) For a country which could seem very religious from the outside, with a vast number of Buddhist and Shinto temples, Most Japanese view these temples as a place to go for a birth, death and a marriage in almost a ceremonial way. Land being at a premium in Japan, has potentially led to the cremation of the dead followed by burial of the ashes, or is it ritual orders emanating from Buddhism or even Hinduism. All said though this ceremony sets back most Japanese quite a few yen given the elaborate and esoteric  rituals.

Cleansing before entering the temple

5) One of the most important aspects that make up their culture is cleanliness and discipline. In-spite of lack of dust bins on street corners, Japan is one of the cleanest countries I have seen, the locals are conscious of social cleanliness they bring their garbage back home to dispose. Much can be talked about their toilet seats that can sing a song so the neighbors can’t hear you doing your business or keep your seat warm for you or several nozzles that sprays, vibrates, cleans and dries. My Japanese friend told me that her husband refuses to leave the country because he is afraid of the toilets out there. The onsen or public bath culture is a similar quest to cleanliness, the sole purpose of family vacations is to visit the numerous hot springs around the country.

6) Social ranking and status in addition to gender stereotypes play an important role in Japanese culture. They place great importance in societal good and harmony hence compliance is a prerequisite in their nature. On the one end the Japanese respect hierarchy, age and wisdom however equally true is the patriarchal understanding of the role of women. Like any other eastern and oriental cultures women seem to have great difficulties in carving their path towards success in a man’s world. More and more women don’t want to commit to marriage and are opting to stay single, observed by a declining population and child birth rates, creating an unfair burden on the current generation.

Much can be talked about their toilet seats that can sing a song so the neighbors can’t hear you doing your business or keep your seat warm for you or several nozzles that sprays, vibrates, cleans and dries. My Japanese friend told me that her husband refuses to leave the country because he is afraid of the toilets out there.

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7)  Manga, anime and gaming is a Japanese phenomenon that is even starting to infiltrate the west, from the young to the old they absolutely love it. People reading manga in the subways of Tokyo is a common sight. Great artists like Osamu Tezuka and animator Hayao Miyazaki have captured the minds of the young and their fame has spread through the world. The J- pop artists are rushing to write theme songs for anime series as they know it’s a sure hit and will give them instant fame. Be it in adverting, warning signs at train station, or teaching manners and morals to kids animated characters are used everywhere in Japan.

8) Japanese love their little kiosks that serves everything from cigarettes, alcohol, ice cream, snacks, sodas, pizza on the go to toys. Even the smallest village road that’s sparsely populated will have a Kiosk. The best part of the kiosk is that you can get both hot and cold beverages, snack and even ready to eat hot waffle!

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9) Being an island, the Japanese cuisine has a lot of fish! Everyone has heard the fantastic tale of the sushi chef Jiro Ono and many others who follow tradition and precise techniques to make sure their customers go hungry for more. Fresh and most simple dishes served by chefs who have trained and toiled preparing egg rolls and steam rice for years before being able to slice and serve sashimi. Other great dishes from Japan include home grown ingredients like wasabi, buckwheat noodles, miso, Japanese rice, soybean, seaweed, Yuzu and a type of leek make the dishes delicious yet simple.

10) I have always heard of fashion industry talk about New York to Tokyo trends and now I know why. From Tokyo to Fukuoka the clothes range from baggy, elite chic to traditional and colorful kimonos and yukatas. The mix of modern yet conservative dressing is very apparent in their day to day dressing styles, the women are very conscious of exposing their bosom yet they can wear as short a skirt/ shorts as possibly can. The dressing especially in Tokyo varies with the location, there are the elite and elegant Ginza style of dressing, the school girl styles of the Shibuya and the costumed girls of  Harajuku. Most men carry handbags that are fancier than woman’s handbags and the styles among men vary from tailor made suits, urban chic to hipster. The women love their eyelashes, nails, fake colored contact lenses and makeup.

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The Japanese have a complex multi layered society from the Edo period, the Samurai, Geisha and the modern almost western looking world it has been evolving within itself. Their way of life reminded me of a passage I read recently “As Albert Einstein liked to say, everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. This is a beautiful way to address the frictions that bedevil modern society: as grateful as we are for the complex processes that have produced so much technology and progress, we are also dizzied by their sprawl. It is easy to get seduced by complexity; but there is virtue in simplicity too”

Clicks by Rohini Sripada.