Sri Lanka – The Emerald Island

In March 2018, some of us, the members of Impression Photography group, visited Sri Lanka. It was a unique experience, with an opportunity for all kinds of photography, including landscapes, seascapes, culture, history, wild life, street photography…

From Pune, we took a flight to Colombo, via Chennai. Because of everlasting greenery, Sri Lanka is sometimes called the Emerald Island of Asia. The view of Negombo Lagoon, just before landing at Colombo probably explains why.

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Negobmo Lagoon

After an overnight stay in a small but decent hotel at Negombo, close to the Colombo Airport, we proceeded to Dambulla and Polonnaruwa early morning next day.

According to the 2012 census Buddhists make up 70.1% of the population, Hindus 12.6%, Muslims 9.7% and Christians 7.6%. Most Sinhalese are Buddhist; most Tamils are Hindu; and the Moors and Malays are mostly Muslim.

“Theravada Buddhism”, Theravada, literally meaning the school of elder monks, passed on from India, has a strong influence on Sri Lankan culture

Dambulla is the site of the Buddhist “Golden Temple”, and famous Cave temples. This world heritage site dating back to 1st century BC.  The collection below includes the pagoda at golden temple, the golden Buddha statue, just downhill from the cave temple and statues of a procession of Buddhist monks

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Dambulla Golden Temple

The Caves Temple consists of five caves. The caves are built at the base of a 150 m high rock. The construction started during “Anuradhapura” times (1st century BC to 993 AD) and completed during Polonnaruwa times (1073 to 1250). The collection below is a sample of sculptures from three caves, depicting Buddha in different meditating postures as well as a “reclining” Buddha.

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Sculptures and paintings in the Caves Temple

Polonnaruwa was declared as the capital city by the King Vijayabahu I, after defeating Cholas in 1070. The reign of Parakramabahu I is considered the golden age of Polonnaruwa, when the trade and agriculture flourished.

The ancient city of Polonnaruwa is one of the important archaeological relic sites in Sri Lanka. There are several Buddha sculptures. Some Hindu goddesses are also seen. The stupa is Rankoth Vehera, a structure made entirely of bricks is the largest stupa in Polonnaruwa and the fourth largest in the country.

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Polonnaruwa Ruins

Ella was the next destination. A hill station at about 1000 m from the sea level, Ella is surrounded by hills covered with cloud forests and tea plantations. There is ample opportunities for landscape photography. The view of sunrise from our hotel at Ella, and the walk trough a tea estate towards “little Adam’s Peak” was a treat. Also seen is the resort  “99 Acres” situated within a tea estate, the ladies plucking tea and the sunset, while returning.

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Ella

 

The so called “9 Arches Bridge” is located between Ella and Demodara railway stations. It was constructed in 1921 during British rule and is an example of British Railway engineering (familiar in India in some parts like Mumbai-Pune rail route!). We missed a train scheduled at 9:30. We waited for the next train, which was scheduled at 11:30. That train arrived late by 1 hour and at last we got an opportunity to photograph a train!

The falls are “Ravana Falls”, photographed while travelling to Yala. The falls have been named after the legendary king Ravana,  connected to the  Ramayana. According to legend, it is said that Ravana had hidden Sita in the caves behind this waterfall, now simply known as the Ravana Ella Cave. At that time, the cave was surrounded with thick forests in the midst of wilderness. It is also believed that Sita bathed in a pool that accumulated the water falling from this fall.

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9 Arches Bridge and Ravana Falls

Yala National Park is the most visited and second largest National park in Sri Lanka. Bordering with the Indian Ocean on one side, it boasts of very diverse ecosystems. including moist monsoon forests, dry monsoon forests, semi deciduous forests, thorn forests, grasslands, marshes, marine wetlands, and sandy beaches.

Including Sri Lankan elephants, Sri Lankan sloth bear, leopard, and wild water buffalo, Yala houses about 40 species of mammals. Though the park is supposed to have one of the highest density of leopards, we were not lucky to see one. We saw and photographed plenty of elephants. The collection below is representative.

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Elephants at Yala

The park houses 215 bird species. Our team sighted  36. Not all could be photographed with acceptable quality. Some were “record shots” as we call it. The collection below contains a Yellow footed Green Pigeon (which incidentally is a state bird of Maharashtra state, India), a Peacock, Green Bee Eater, Weaver Bird on the nest, a pair of spoon bills and a pair of Malabar pied horn bill.

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Birds of Yala

Galle was the next destination. After spending one full day in the Yala national park, and overnight stay in Yala. Galle, the ancient seaport was in use by  Indian, Persian, Arab, Greek, Roman, Malay,  and Chinese traders. The main commodities being trades included cinnamon,  ivory, peacocks…Tea was added later, probably after western rule. In early 16th century, the Portuguese took over Galle, after  a small fleet of Portuguese ships, under the command of Lourenço de Almeida, on their way to the Maldives, was blown off course by a storm in 1502. Portuguese surrendered to the Dutch East India company in 1640 The Dutch built the present Galle Fort, with solid granite fortified walls and three bastions.  The British took over the country from the Dutch in 1796. The British preserved the fort unchanged and used it as the administrative center of the district.

We spent more than half day in Galle enjoying for street photography and Historic colonial architectures.

The collection below shows the famous “stilt fishermen”, a style of fishing started in the second world war. Food shortages and overcrowded fishing spots prompted some clever men to try fishing on the water. At first they started fishing from wrecks of capsized ships and downed air crafts, then some began erecting their stilts in coral reefs. What we photographed was surely “staged” for tourists.

Also included below are pictures of a colourful street shop, selling Batik and other fabrics to tourists, an old wall of the historic maritime museum, and old lady sitting in the veranda, observing the tourists go by. I saw an old hand printing press, which I found interesting. A search on the internet revealed that this “Albion press” was  originally designed and manufactured in London by Richard Whittaker Cope  around 1820. This press was an innovation over the earlier hand printing press and used a simple “toggle” action to apply pressure. This type of press was in use till 1930 or so. what a beauty!

The last two pictures are the the board of Lloyd’s Agency, and “Ships’ Arrival Board”. Lloyd,s of London, the famous insurance market, was founded by Edward Lloyd at his coffee house on Tower Street in around 1686 for marine insurance. The board must have been used in old days to announce arrival of ships. A visit to an old British ruled port cannot be complete without photographing these!

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Memories of Galle

We travelled about 1200 km in the southern part of Sri Lanka. The Route was meticulously marked by my friend and member of our group, Mr. Sumatilal Lodha. I have included the map below with his permission.

 

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Impression Photography Sri Lanka 2018  Photo Tour: Courtesy, Sumatilal Lodha

For our road trip of 1200 km or so, we used Toyota 21 seater bus, very clean, air conditioned, with a refrigerator on board. Very helpful driver and his assistant. In general, I found the people very friendly and honest. We did not observe a single pothole in the roads. The traffic and driving discipline was excellent. No trash on the roads, the toilets were reasonably clean. We did not see beggars anywhere…

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A day in Kyoto

I have a Japanese friend, Eiichi Taira. We studied together in the Netherlands in 1971. Tairasan taught me Origami, the Japanese art of paper-folding. He also introduced me to an SLR camera, film version at that time! He owned a Pentax and like all Japanese people, he saw more through the view finder of his camera than with naked eye!  We shared a study room between the two of us; had a great time together. We had no contact though, after we left The Netherlands.

In May 2017, my wife and I decided to visit Japan to spend some time with my son Anish, his wife Priyanka, and specially our grandson Yuvan. I thought of Tairasan. We had no contact for last 45 years. The Alumni database in the university had very sketchy information.  LinkedIn did not provide any clues. Facebook threw up about 100 Tairas! After scanning through details of about 50 Tairas, I hit a jackpot. One Eiichi Taira “had moved to Eindhoven”, The Netherlands, for studies, in 1971”. His face looked familiar. I sent a Facebook message and received a reply within three hours. Yes, he was the Taira, I was looking for. He remembered me very well and suggested that I contact him when I arrive in Japan so that we could work out something.

Tairasan lives in Osaka, while I was in the suburbs of Tokyo. We decided to meet somewhere midway. I chose Kyoto, which was the capital of Japan before Tokyo. It is still the cultural capital, full of many “heritage sites”.

I took the “Shinkansen” (Bullet Train) from Tokyo, leaving at 8:40 and arriving at Kyoto at 10:59.  That was a “Nozomi”, an Express train. Yes, there are three varieties of Bullet Train.

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Shinkansen

Nozomi stops at very few stations, Hikari, stops at more stations, and Kodama, stops at all stations.

 

Here is my train arriving at the platform in Tokyo Station.

I messaged Tairasan about my compartment and seat number. Taira had insisted that he will take me wherever I wanted to go.  He was there at the platform, at the right spot. We recognized each other immediately. 45 years of time gap was bridged instantly.

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Ninjo-Jo Castle entrance

Our first stop was at “Ninjo-Jo Castle”. This was the residence of the Tokugawa shoguns in Kyoto, who had been ruling Japan for over 260 years from 1603 to 1868, with a firm grip on power.  The heavy but elaborate gate, massive stone walls, wide moat, are quite impressive. The palace building itself is imposing, rich in decorative detail, containing master pieces of Japanese art. One unique feature is the famous “nightingale floors,” designed to squeak, like birds,  when stepped on, and thus alert guards to any intruders. Unfortunately, Photography is not permitted inside. The palace grounds are large and contain several lovely gardens as well as groves of plum and cherry trees.

Here is a small section of the garden with view of the moat. and  bird’s eye view of the palace grounds.)

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The moat
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Birds Eye View

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Ninjo-Jo palace, we had an elaborate Japanese lunch  in the Crowne Plaza-ANA hotel at walking distance from the castle and proceeded to see the famous Kinkaku-ji Temple.
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Kinkaku-ji Temple.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) is a Zen temple whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. The temple was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. According to his will it became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect after his death in 1408. Kinkaku-ji is an impressive structure built overlooking a large pond, with beautiful landscaping.

 

 

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Arashiyama bamboo grove

 

Next destination was the Arashiyama bamboo grove. Bamboo occupies a very important place in the Japanese culture. A quiet walk in the grove, with the sound of whistling wind, is an experience to be cherished. Takes you to another world.

 

 

 

 

Tairasan is about 9 years older than me. He had a major medical problem in 2015, however has recovered almost completely. We walked about 18000 steps and climbed 9 flights of stairs in the day. With heavy hearts, Taira and I promising to keep in touch, I traveled back to Tokyo in the evening, by 17:19 Shinkansen. From inside the Shinkansen, one does not feel the speed, unless you look at close objects through the window. Watching the Japanese landscape passing by with the backdrop of beautiful evening sky, was quite an experience

 

My India –yesterday, today, and tomorrow?

During agricultural era, India did very well and contributed to the world economy at that stage. Agriculture was very successful due to extremely fertile soil, sufficient water because of the rains and rivers fed by melting Himalayan snow. These were mainly natural and geographical factors. People had not worked hard for achieving this, except maybe caring for environment by giving nature a revered, god like status. The spices of various types, like cloves, cardamoms, which were worth their weight in gold helped. Society was relatively well structured around the agricultural economy. There was enough spare time to indulge in intellectual pursuits, fine arts, mathematics, astronomy, astrology,  etc. The region was producing enough. There was no need to go and attack any other region. There was a time when Indians were visiting, other regions in south East Asia, mainly for trading and also left their cultural imprints. Sailing ships were used for these sea travels, using the so called trade winds. Whatever manufacturing activity existed that time was the manual work of skilled craftsmen. Fine things, such as textile, were produced and “exported”. It was overall a nice, well to do situation, fertile ground for becoming complacent.

Europeans were busy in fighting wars among themselves for supremacy, and with others, such as Mongols, Turks for defending themselves. Indians were only interested in trade and not interested in conquering others.  This did not apply to others. Though Indians were good in many things, they did not see the changing geopolitical environment. They were extremely ill prepared for foreign invaders, who came in as warriors, tradesmen under disguise, and what not. Like every region in the world, Indian sub-continent also had internal rivalries, power struggles, and their own differences. The foreigners succeeded in deepening these divisions, be it the cast, the creed, the race, the religion. In fact, local factions in Indian subcontinent did not think anything wrong in purchasing weapons from foreigners to fight their own battles. Over 1500 years or so of foreign invasions, India became weaker and weaker. The final nail was probably driven by the industrial revolution happening elsewhere in the world. Indians failed in practical application of their skills and knowledge. The steam engine, mass manufacturing, happened elsewhere. The inventions of manufacturing machines, such as power looms broke the back of Indian manufacturing, which was primarily based on skilled craftsmen. India became supplier of raw material, without any value addition, to the so called Industrial Economies, and at times supplier of labor force.

“Industrial Revolution” left us behind. Maybe, that time we were ruled by foreigners, who used Indians only as labor force. Is “Information Revolution” leaving us behind as well? Are we still providing only labor force for others to create and exploit “Information and Communication Technology”?

As a country, as a sub-continent, we have to come out of this situation. There are some positive signs, but not enough. The lines of division have not been forgotten, in fact they maybe becoming deeper, with new dividing lines being discovered by ourselves. We still buy weapons, to fight our wars, or as “deterrents” in the sub-continent.

The attitudes have not changed. Most of population still behaves as if ruled by “some others”. Till this change, no real progress will happen. Peoples’ participation, their commitment to their own betterment is vital, with the government acting as facilitator. There are some signs of this happening, in some places. Maybe, there is “silver-lining”!

Faceless Marauders of Cyberspace

It looks so easy to post something on social networks that can be disturbing to some people.  Freedom of speech or freedom of expression is considered sacrosanct by civilized society. What is not so obvious, and not universally accepted though, is that Freedom of Expression is a right of a person, who is not afraid of owning up what the person expresses in public domain. On one extreme, in the United States, the right to speak anonymously online is protected by the First Amendment and various other laws. On the other extreme, the revised draft of the Chinese government’s “Internet Information Services” proposes that, “Internet information service providers, including microblogs, forums, and blogs, that allow users to post information on the Internet should ensure users are registered with their real identities”.  It is pertinent to note here that recently Facebook had to apologize to certain communities for implementing the “Real name policy” by the word and deleting several accounts based on a complaint from another user. It appears that they intend to allow “Commonly used names” in place of legal names. It is not clear how the policy would be implemented. I am not aware of any social networking or email site asking for an identity proof while registering.

Most netizens are not afraid of disclosing their identity. However, those, who are afraid of the consequences of their posts, sometimes for justifiable reasons, prefer to post “anonymously”.

Has the time come to evaluate controls exercised by social networks on creating an account? While opening a bank account, one is required to provide a proof of identity and proof of address.  Similar controls are required while opening an investment account. Nothing of this sort is asked while creating an email id, or opening an account on social networks. There maybe a need to develop technologies that will be able to link an account to a person. How far the social networking sites would be interested in doing this is a question though. Banks have something to lose if an anonymous person carries out a financial transaction and vanishes. Operators of social networks have no such worries.  Has the time come to think about a regulatory framework for social network operators? Will they think about it themselves?

“What’s in a Qualification?”

There has been some discussion about academic qualification of the new Union Minister for HRD, Ms. Smriti Irani.

We have been hearing that the greatest strength of India is the young population. India has the largest pool of young citizens, who have many more years to meaningfully contribute to the economic development of the country. The question is how ready this human resource pool is to play their role.

Large number of these people would not go to the IITs or IIMs. Yes, it is important to have world class institutions of higher education, but it is equally or more important to develop and channelize the abilities of millions of young people who will not be able to go beyond 12th standard. This is the real challenge of the Human Resource Development in the country.

After hearing the criticism leveled at Ms. Smriti Irani, based only on her academic qualification, I was reminded of the following quote by John W. Gardner:

“The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as an humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy; neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”

As a society,we have to shun this attitude of ” Higher and Lower level of work” and “Higher and lower level of qualifications”. Then only  we will be able to change the attitudes of all the contributors to the country’s development. When those who are supposed to keep the roads and bridges clean take pride in their work, and those who are supposed to design and build bridges, and flyovers do not make professional compromises, will we have clean roads and bridges that do not collapse.

Ability to develop and motivate our Human Resources to achieve their best in whatever they do is the only ability the leaders responsible for HRD require. Their academic qualification is inconsequential.