Friday, 26 February 2021

Stakna Monastery- a picture perfect wonderland

If there was one photograph that was etched in my memory of Ladakh even before visiting it was that of Stakna Monastery. Soon after the first glimpse, I had looked up for information and various other photographs about the monastery and it seemed to have emerged from a wonderland.

I got the first glimpse of the stunning monastery on our way to Pangong. Sadly, our 'not so friendly' driver had brushed us aside saying that would be our stop on our way back from Pangong. And I knew that would be only after two days. Cursing him, I had only wished that I wouldn't miss seeing the beauty of monastery as well as that of Indus river which makes it a popular view point for tourists.

To my utter dismay, on the way back from Pangong the weather turned so bad that it was extremely cloudy at one end and snowy on the other! It even drizzled at few places. I was convinced that the moment I was waiting for wouldn't be the same. Surprisingly, as we approached the vicinity of the monastery the clouds cleared, the drizzling stopped and there was the brilliance of sunshine ahead of us! My joy had no limits. I then realized, because of the rain and the sunshine that followed the whole area was illuminated as if emerging from a magical land. The slow moving water of Indus, the autumn colors on the Poplar trees stood out in that light. As we stepped out of the car, we witnessed a rainbow right next to the monastery. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. 

The following photographs do no justice to equal its beauty but am sure they will take your breath away. 

 View of the monastery from across the view point

The sky after the rain...can you spot the monastery?

A closer look at the monastery

P.S. Ignore the zip line rope that runs across in each photograph. It's just an example how natural beauty can be ruined in the name of tourism.

Unfortunately, we did not visit the monastery from inside but I did not feel it was necessary too. The view that I had encountered had given me enough satisfaction.

Some quick Facts about Stakna Monastery:

- It is about 25 kms from Leh city.

-It was founded in the 16th century by a Bhutanese scholar Chosje Jamyang Palkar.

-Stakna literally means 'a tiger's nose'. Since it was built on a hill that shaped like a tiger's nose, it was named so.

Friday, 3 July 2020

Thiksey Monastery

Visiting numerous monasteries for almost 10 days that we spent in Ladakh hadn't brought down our spirit to look at one more on the last day; each and every 'Gompa' beckoned us with something different in its store. Every monastery in Ladakh has various forms of Buddha depicted in them- Maitreya, Avalokiteshwar, Sakyamuni and so on. The shades of red, white and ochre painted on each quarters of the monasteries appealed to us every time we looked at a cliff from which they literally 'hung'. It was like the cliffs wanted to disrobe themselves of their barren cloaks and wanted to be painted in colours so there came up a monastery but with as much simplicity as possible. But Thiksey cannot be termed simple; it is grand. It is grand in scale-it is one of the largest monasteries in Ladakh and it is grand in its beauty- the colourful mural arts with contrasting pillars and paintings are proof of it. The drive to the top of the hill where it is located is an example of it's grandeur. Situated at an altitude of 11,800 feet with 12 storied structures cannot be called 'simple'. 

Thiksey Monastery view

Mural paintings on the wall

Colourful walls and pillars

This picture-postcard perfect monastery was founded by the Gelupka sect in 15th century and built under the guidance of Tsongkhapa by his disciple Sherab Sangpo. Overlooking the vast Indus valley, Thikey is called as 'Mini Potala' as it resembles the Potala palace in Tibet. The main attraction of this 'Gompa' is the 49 feet (covers two stories) Maitreya Buddha statue built in 1970 to commemorate the visit of Dalai Lama to this monastery. 

According to popular legend, Sherab Sangpo along with his disciple Paden Zangpo was performing a ritual by offering 'torma' (made with flour and butter) when a crow grabbed the torma and flew away. After searching, they found the torma at a hill but in same order and not consumed by the crow. This was considered auspicious and they decided to build the monastery on the exact location. Thiksey means 'perfect order', in accordance with the order in which the crow had placed the torma.

The huge prayer wheel

Smaller prayer wheels on the way

Ascending the monasteries in Ladakh is a breathtaking experience- in two ways. Breathtaking it is because of the landscape that you get to experience as you go up and breathtaking it is also because you literally have to stop ofttimes  to catch your breath! Each time we climbed one flight of stairs, we would stop to take few minutes to enjoy the view and catch up with some air too. There is a new dimension added to the beauty of colourful poplar trees of autumn against the clear blue skies and snow capped mountain ranges at every corner of the monastery. 

The main attraction of the monastery is the Maitreya Buddha statue built in 1970. It took four years for the craftsmen to build the statue that stands at a height of 49 feet covering two stories (we get to see only face of the Buddha as entry is denied for the first storey). The statue is made of clay and copper and painted with gold. The interiors of the hall are completely filled with mural paintings depicting life events of Buddha. A quiet peace filled our hearts as we entered the Statue hall and the tiny window in front of the statue filled our eyes with awe-inspiring landscape. 

Maitreya Buddha statue

Window of happiness

No sooner had we come out of the Buddha statue hall than we entered another hall where there was plenty of Ladakhi 'butter tea' offered to all the visitors. The butter tea had failed to impress me all those 10 days and I knew this day would be no different but my husband had acquired the taste for it and wasn't ready to miss a cup or two. 

There are two main temples in Thiksey- the Tara temple and Lomakhang temple. Tara (also known as 'Mother of Liberation') is an important figure in Mahayana Buddhism who is appears as a female Bodhisattva. There are 12 images of Tara placed in wooden shelves in this temple.
Lamokhang temple is repository of scriptures where only men are allowed. 

View from the topmost point of the monastery

The mountains and the poplar trees

The more higher we went up the monastery, the beauty of the monastery looked miniscule as the overlooking landscapes took its place. Every corner gives a stunning panoramic view of the mountain ranges with patches of green and yellow poplar trees. And, we had decided to absorb all the beauty in our eyes and hearts leisurely as it was our last day of our trip!

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Ellora Caves- Part III

A single blog post to describe the grandeur of Ellora caves in Aurangabad doesn't do justice. Keeping this thought in mind, I had classified the posts into three different categories- the Hindu, the Buddhist and the Jain cave temples. This is the third and last part of the series that talks about Jain Caves.

Read about Part 1 and Part 2 in my previous posts. 

Cave No. 30- 34 in Ellora are dedicated to Jainism specifically to Digambara sect. These cluster of caves are located away from the bustle of other Hindu and Buddhist caves. Though they are smaller in size and grandeur compared to Hindu and Buddhist caves, their beauty is still equally blinding as that of other caves. These caves were excavated between 9th and 10th century. They share architectural and design similarities with that of some Hindu caves with the exception that these are dedicated to twenty- four Jinas (spiritual conquerors who have attained Moksha) of Jainism. These temples also depict carvings of gods and goddesses, yaksha (male nature deity) and yakshi (female nature deity) and other human devotees from Jain mythology.  

Path that leads to Cave No. 32-34

View from outside the caves

Earliest of the Jain caves is Cave No. 30 or what is referred to as Chota Kailash due to its resemblance to Kailash temple in Cave no. 16. Built in the Dravidian style, it has a monolithic shrine as well as a gopura just like cave no. 16 but it does not have a 'nandimandapa'. It gives the impression of an 'unfinished temple' yet the interiors of the temple are well carved and complete. It houses two larger-than-life-size reliefs of dancing Indra that resembles a dancing Shiva (as Nataraja) usually depicted in Hindu temples.

Chota Kailash

Cave 32 and 33 are called as Indra Sabha (mainly called so because of its assembly hall) and Jagannata Sabha respectively. An idol of Vardhamana Mahavira Swami resides in Indrasabha with a yaksha and yakshi idols guarding outside. This elaborately decorated cave has beautiful pillars, large sculptural ceilings and panels. 

Most of these caves are architecturally very fine with decorative pillars, exquisite paintings and ceilings. Eye- catching among the ceilings is the lotus sculpture on the ceiling in Indra Sabha. 

A panel outside Cave no. 32

Lord Mahavira with Yaksha and Yakshi

Lord Bahubali

Lord Mahavira

The lotus relief on the ceiling and square pillars inside Indra Sabha

Sculpture of Matanga Yaksha in cave no. 33

Carvings on pillars

We did not visit Cave no. 34 as the walk across the vast area had both exhausted and famished us. Exploration of these caves means mental endurance and resilience as well as physical stamina. And, we were quite happy that we had missed only one/ two caves and rest all had been tick marked from the list. 

P.S: While in Aurangabad, do not miss the jalebi and rabdi that is served in Green Leaf restaurant that is absolutely delectable. 

Friday, 24 April 2020

Ibrahim Rauza in Bijapur- a photo blog

Ibrahim Rauza was our last destination of Bijapur trip, the first two being Gol Gumbaz and Bara Kaman. 

It is a mausoleum complex built in 1627 A.D by Adil Shahi ruler Ibrahim Adil Shah II. It was built by a Persian architect Malik Sandal with obvious Turkish influence. I could draw various similarities between this and Qutub Shahi tombs back in Hyderabad. The tomb is built on a square platform with a mosque facing it. Both tomb and the mosque are separated by a small tank with a fountain. Here are some photographs from the visit:

First glimpse of Ibrahim Rauza from the main entrance...

A closer look...

The exteriors of Adil Shah's tomb...

Corridors around the mausoleum...

Persian Calligraphy and lattice work on and around the door...

View of the tomb from the mosque

The brilliant sun behind the mosque...

The cliched designs of Persian architecture...

Mosque as seen from the tomb complex...

Exteriors of the mosque...

A hanging from the ceiling...

Inside the mosque...pillars that form into beautiful arches and domes...

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Adalaj Stepwell

Gujarat is home to numerous stepwells or 'Vav's (as called in local language); hiding in its treasure around 120 odd stepwells. It was a necessary system in the semi-arid/ arid areas like Gujarat and Rajasthan (Baoli as called in local language) during the olden times to manage the drought- prone areas. An interesting fact of these step wells is that the direct sunlight cannot penetrate the well thus it reducing the evaporation of water. At the same time, water also got filtered through the earth thus keeping it clean.
The 'Vavs' served two purposes in the earlier days- first, provided water for various activities during the summer months; second, provided shelter for travelers. In the present scenario, they provide innumerable opportunities to the seasoned eyes of artists and photographers to capture the beauty of architectural marvel of a bygone era.

View of the first storey...

Marvelous carvings on the pillars and columns

Another view

Located in the village of Adalaj near Gandhinagar, the stepwell of Adalaj is one such example of architectural marvel. It was one of our stopping places while visiting Ahmedabad, after Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar to be more specific.

Adalaj stepwell was built in 1498 in the memory of king Rana Veer Singh by his wife queen Rudabai.
The construction of the vav was started by the king Rana Veer Singh to provide relief for people of this semi-arid region. However, before it was completed he was killed in a war by a Muslim ruler called Mehmud Begada. Mehmud, eventually, fell in love with the widowed wife of King Rana- Queen Roopba (also called Ruda Bai) asked her to marry him. The queen agreed to marry him but on one condition- that the incomplete step well be completed. In the years that followed, Mehmud completed the step well but only to witness that the Queen had tricked him and drowned in the same step well after construction.

Complete view of the well

The stepwell is five- storied and was built using standstone in Solanki architectural style. It has varied Hindu and Jain floral and mythological motifs all over the walls. Among the motifs found, the Ami Khumbor (pot that contains water of life) and Kalpa Vriksh (tree of life) carved out of a single slab of stone are important ones. This richly ornamented Vav is in octagonal shape and the temperature inside the well remains 5-6 degrees lower than the outside ambient temperature.

Kalpavriksh carved on a single slab of stone...

Ami Khumbor

Intricate and breathtaking carvings on the walls

Carvings on exterior walls

Being a popular tourist destination because of its proximity to Akshardham temple, each nook and corner of the vav was packed with huge crowd in the early afternoon of October when we visited. The crowd had definitely made our enthusiasm go down as at least one group was present in all the corners of the well stopping us from taking a closer look at the beautiful motifs on the wall. I made every effort to keep them out of my camera frame. On a quiet day, one could wander around exploring the beauty of this architectural extravaganza 

Stakna Monastery- a picture perfect wonderland

If there was one photograph that was etched in my memory of Ladakh even before visiting it was that of Stakna Monastery. Soon after the firs...