Monday, June 30, 2008

Lake Tonle Sap Cambodia

Lake Tonle Sap Cambodia (Boeung Tonle Sap), Great Lake of Cambodia

Lake Tonle Sap Cambodia (Boeung Tonle Sap), Great Lake of Cambodia

tonle sap cambodia

Water dwelling on the lake of Tonle Sap near Siem Reap

The largest fresh water lake of Southeast Asia

Lakes especially the large ones have the power to influence the life style of the people who live around it by giving them food, water and transportation. But few lakes have influenced the life of almost three million people to such a great magnitude like Lake Tonle Sap located right at the heart of Cambodia. Lake Issyk Kul of Kyrgyzstan is a similar one but only a distant second!

How was it formed?

tonle sap lake combodia map

Map of Tonle Sap Lake and its floodplain

Scientists have an answer to any question asked; one version may vary with other ‘school of thought’ is another thing! They (the geologists) say that once- that is millions of years back- a tectonic plate bearing the Indian sub-continent (on which the present day nations like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc are located) moved towards the Asian plate and clashed giving birth to a tremendous stress in which meadows became mountains and plains deep depressions; like what happens when two cars collide! The Himalayan Ranges that bears Mount Everestthe highest peak in the world is the creation of that great upheaval. When Himalaya went up; the Cambodian portion declined water rushed in to fill it; that is the great Tonle Sap Lake the boon of Cambodia!

The real great lake!

lake tonle sap map

Lake Tonle Sap Location in Cambodia

Geography teaches us that the Great Lakes are located in the North American Continent but a Cambodian will ‘shout’ to differ; for him it is the ‘Boeung Tonle Sap’ that is great. Not because that the word Tonle Sap means great lake (large fresh water river) in Khmer language but Lake Tonle Sap is much more than a big lake; it is the bread donor to 3 million Cambodians, 75% of inland fish that nation gets is from Tonle Sap, sixty percent of the protein intake Cambodians get is from nowhere else but Tonle Sap the fish-rich and great lake.


Cambodia is a medium sized nation in Southeast Asia (area 181035 sq km) with a population of about 15 million. Its culture is mainly based on Khmer civilization that has its roots in ancient Hindu, Buddha, Thai, Javanese, Chinese cultures. Its architecture, arts, dance, music, magnificent temples like that of Angkor Watetc all are proofs for its association with old Hindu culture. The staple diet of Cambodians is rice and the lacustrine area nourished by the rich sediments of the lake in fact forms the rice-bowl of Cambodia which has only 13% of agriculture land of the total area (63% of area comprises of forests).

Tonle Sap River a two-way valve

Lake Tonle Sap is a combined system including a strange river (River Tonle Sap) that acts as a two way valve between River Mekong and Tonle Sap Lake. This river meets River Mekong at Chaktomuk opposite to Phnom pen. In summer ice on the mountains melts and River Mekong gets flooded; that time River Tonle Sap take the nutrient rich flood water to the lake. Same time during monsoon time when the Mekong is weak River Tonle Sap does the reverse flow taking water from the lake to Mekong River; about 50% of Mekong’s water during summer is sourced from Lake Tonle Sap. This water is not plain water it is rich in freshly hatched fish from the Tonle Sap flood plain; for nutrients received fish returned.

A river, lake, flood-plain, forest; combine


lake of Tonle Sapimage courtesy:

During summer this lake shrinks to just 2,700 sq km in area; at that time water from Mekong carried by River Tonle Sap is its only source; where as during monsoon it gets filled to the brim making it swell to the tune of 16,000 sq km! At this time all the surrounding areas including forests get inundated and they turn in to a rich hatchery for all sorts of fresh water fish making it the most productive inland natural fish-breeding area in the world. About 100 varieties of birds, two hundred varieties of fish along with amphibians multiply during this time. When Mekong is weak all this fish and beings are released along with water.


The Tonle Sap Lake of Cambodia is the largest fresh water body of Southeast Asia in area but it is comparatively shallow with a depth of one meter during summer but during monsoon its water level reaches to 9 meters and discharges huge quantity of water that is flooded with freshly bred fish in to the Tonle Sap River and then to River Mekong. This river-lake-flood-plain system combined with seasonally flooding forests is the last refuge of a unique eco system that is home to thousands of rare plants, birds, fish and amphibians of which many are in the endangered list; hence this biosphere has been listed by the UNESCO as ‘ecological hotspot’ since 1997.

Chong Khneas; the village that floats

lake tonle sap

Young boy from Tonlé Sap Combodia

The lake is about 15 km from the town Seam Reap; one can take a ferry from Phnom Penh and travel through the scenic lake and can visit the strange village Chong Khneas that floats on the lake waters! Houses, shops, schools, gas stations, flower and fruit gardens all float on the serene lake water (they even raise farms on these floating structures). When lake’s water level rises the village also rises along with; when lake recedes the vice versa! No flooding of homes or farmlands because all float.

There are more villages that look like floating like Chong Khneas but they use stilted structures that seem to float during monsoon but the stilts get exposed during summer when lake water recedes.

Chong Khneas attracts many tourists because of this particular feature; perhaps the present status of this lake itself is due to this floating village. Tourism has brought in jobs and money to the villagers and facilities to cater to the needs of tourists also has changed the shape and texture of the village.

Its people

tonle sap people

Young Girl from Tonlé Sap Combodia

The residents of Chong Khneas and other floating villages are mostly Vietnamese and Cham People. The Cham People are considered to have descended from Malay and Polynesian stocks; they own a history as the part of the 7th to 15th century Champa Kingdom existed in the present Vietnam. The language they speak is called Cham. It is needless to say their main occupation is fishing but bamboo basket making and catering to the needs of the numerous tourists who visit their village also is a source of income. Large fish traps floating houses, schools, farms, and gas stations dot the entire village and present a view to the visitor to remember.

Kampong Phluk and Kampong Khleang

Surrounding the lake are numerous villages as the lake’s water level varies these villages live in stilted houses (houses that are built on large poles up to 10 meters in height. Kampong Phluk is a cluster of three villages surrounded by mangrove forests; it has a population of around 3000 people and can be accessed from Siem Reap. Kampong Khleang is another such village that is flooded with stilted houses. When the lake dry up these people come down and live in temporary cottages built on the ground and return to the stilt when lake gets flooded. The main occupation is fishing and shrimp farming; these villages are not frequently visited by tourists as Chong Khneas.

Preservation of ecology

The Cambodian government and numerous agencies are keen to protect the unique eco-system that prevails around the lake. There is one bird sanctuary in Prek Toal located in the core area of the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve; it is Asia’s largest breeding area for large water-birds that are globally threatened. Spot billed pelican, painted stork, greater adjuncts, grey headed fish eagle all are found in abundance in this 31282 hectare wide reserve.

Inexpensive destination

lake tonle sap combodia

An old man rows a boat on the Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia

This reserve can be visited from Seam Reap town through boat. Moat Khla Biosphere Reserve area another one is located between Boeung Tonle Chma (another smaller lake located in the middle of the eastern shore of the lake) and Tonle Sap.

Stung Sen Biosphere Reserve is located in the southwestern part of the lake. Birds are in abundance during summer but the hitch is as lake water has receded boating becomes difficult but there are packages for tourists that include combined boating and trekking tours under guidance for nominal fees.

Cambodia is an economically backward country and hotels and other amenities are relative very cheap. A two hour boat ride from Siem Reap covering destinations including the floating village costs less than 10 dollars!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Qin Terracotta Warriors

Qin Terracotta Warriors

Terracotta Warriors, China

terracotta army xian assembling warriors

Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor

Some farmers, a well and a mystery

In 1974 some farmers belonging to Lintong County of Shaanxi Province China were for a well; quite unexpectedly they stumbled upon some potteries and unusual materials; even in their wildest dreams they did not see that site was going to be one of the best known land marks of modern China.

A village finding its place among stars

Soon archaeologists took possession of the land and In 1975; what they initially found was only a tip of the ice-berg; after the potsherds there come out thousands of soldiers, horses, chariots and what not a full fledged army with all paraphernalia enough to rule an empire! Govt established a museum displaying the wonderful warriors with their horses ET all occupying an area of 16,300 sq meters.

The whole museum that has so far unearthed is divided in to three parts called as pits in which the objects are being restored and displayed. Behind some clay statues rising to the status as the pride of a big nation; there is a long history engulfed in mysteries.

China; the land that has many to make one wonder

terracotta warriors china

Terracotta detail. No two life-sized figures are alike in the tomb.

Whether the time is ancient, medieval or modern; China has always had something to make the world wonder; even in the ancient times it innovated printing, gun-powder and printing; built Porcelain Pagoda at Nanjing; in the medieval times it could build the Great Wall, Forbidden City; in the modern time also China does not cease to wonder the world as the fastest growing economy that turns out materials at fraction of its cost dubbed as ‘the factory of the world’.

Not cast in a mould

Even if all these being admitted; how come some clay statues considered as world wonder can be a relevant question. These statues are not made out of a mould like a cup of saucer; each statue has been tailor made by an artist to match the character; a soldier as a soldier where as an officer is made as an officer; clowns, musicians, courtiers, horsemen et all; each figure has some special feature to match its rank and social status. In short no two statues are alike.

All the paraphernalia for the emperor

terracotta army china

The Terracotta warriors were once highly coloured

Terracotta Warriors (soldiers and horses funerary statues of the Huang Di) is no less intriguing than any other wonders before the world; 8000 soldiers (they include rank and file) no two statues are similar as god had made men! 670 horses of which 150 are for the cavalry, 130 chariots, acrobats, musclemen and musicians, all categories of courtiers that existed in a palace premises are here in the form of statues. Each statue has its own individuality as a musician can be recognized from a soldier. This has made most of the scholars conclude that each of the statues represent a real person served office at that time.

Who built them?

Qin Shi Huang Di (his personal name was Ying Zheng) of the Qin Dynasty ruled China between 221 and 210 BC, was an iron man in all sense; it was he who unified China in to a mega empire, it was he who introduced ‘Legalism’ the first form of totalitarianism in to China (that system still works there successfully), it was he who first constructed massive road system in China thereby making it more unified; more over it was he who made a museum the size of a city.

A Karl Marx of BC!

officer terrakottaarmen

Qin Terracotta warriors china

Mr. Shi Huang has done many other things also he burned all the books containing the teachings of Confucianism and destroyed every literature that he thought not agreeing with his thinking (one of the earliest reported ideological purge) making only Emperor’s dictum to survive; making himself an earliest Communist- far before the birth of Karl Marx! Qin Shi Huang Di is considered the architect of China as he has unified the warring territories and gave birth to the great empire; in the present day China he is held in high esteem.


China an ancient nature with a rich culture had many known scholars who engaged in spreading wisdom through their teachings. There were divergences among their teachings and four such schools were most prominent. First of course is Legalism which is for total subservience on the part of the subjects whatever the emperor has dictated has to be followed; no questions asked; mean rule of the law in the most brutal sense; the other three are Confucianism, Daoism and Mohism.


qin terracotta army china

Qin TerraCotta Warriors China

Sima Qian (145 to 90 BC); son of a perfect of the Han Dynasty; is considered as the father of Chinese historiography; his acclaimed work ‘Records of the Grand Historian’ which gives a record of 2000 years long history of China from the ‘Yellow Emperor to Wudi of the Han dynasty. As per Sima Qian this necropolis was made in 246 BC as an imperial palace constructed near Mount Lishang; Qin Shi Huang Di was the first to be buried there.

Sima Qian

Terracotta Warriors as per Sima Qian are Qin’s army; made to rule his empire at the nether world. Along with the warriors items like utensils, most exquisite materials available at that time, 100 synthetic rivers made of mercury; and what not all paraphernalia for the emperor. The tomb is enclosed in an earthen pyramid of 76 meters tall and 350 meters wide that has so far not opened. The saddening thing is that in the necropolis a walled structure that is comprised of various buildings several human remaining were found and they are thought of the workers who were shut inside; an ancient practice of killing the workers after the work so that the inner secrets are not leaked!

Pit-full of wonders

xian museum terracotta warriors

Qin Terracotta Warriors China

The Soldiers and horses are arranged in a military formations in 4 pits, the first one which is the biggest located about 1.5 km from the tomb is 230 meters long with 11 corridors. It is 3 meter wide and five meters deep; it contains 6000 soldiers facing the east (it was from the east the empire faced most threats). It is presumed that they were guards for the protection of the tombs; its design also has signs that this space was used by nobles. The second one was intended for cavalry and infantry units as there are chariots belonged to be of military guards. Pit number 3 is for high ranking officers and presumed that it was intended as a command post where as pit number 4 was unfinished and empty.

Gereral Xiang Yu

Sima Qian has described of one General Xiang Yu who led his forces to the site soon after the construction of the tomb and engaged in rampant looting and arson; as a result the wooden structures that contained the statues got extensively damaged and rare and valuable artifacts which would have been of immense importance at the present time were looted; inflicting one of the greatest national losses to the nation of China. In this carnage only one statue of an archer survived undamaged in this carnage. Tremendous amount of resources and time was required for the restoration of the statues and the restoration work is yet to complete.

Warriors under attack!

qin terracotta soldier horse

A terracotta soldier and his horse

The whole of king’s army horses and weapons find it hard to counter the devastating effects of tourism and the atmospheric pollution. Unless the Government takes drastic steps coming generations will not be fortunate enough to see these wonderful army. The influx of tourists have made many problems to the warriors who were lying there undisturbed for several centuries; humidity from the breathing air adds humidity that promotes growth of moulds on the clay structures; the heat in these pits have slow oxidizing effect on clay surface and cause fading its luster; moreover the opencast coal mining method of China release so many soot to the air that gets accumulated everywhere including these valuable artifacts speeding up their gradual degradation.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bali Island Indonesia

Bali Island Indonesia

Bali Island, Indonesia, The ultimate island’

mother temple of besakih in bali island

The Mother Temple of Besakih one of Bali’s most significant Hindu temples

The Island of Bali is unique in many aspects; it is a cultural entity; an island in the Islamic sea of the Indonesian Archipelago. A tiny island that still remembers the myths it was taught by the ancient masters who came from India armed with baggage full of myths, legends and never ending stories. Mahabharata, Ramayana and all epics found their way direct in to the hearts of a group of people who were not used to stories of such proportions. There a Hindu Empire by name Majapahit was established on these ancient wisdom and unending myths.

The rise and fall of Majapahit

Majapahit ruled most of the islands of the present Indonesian archipelago including Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan (Borneo), Bali etc. But an empire that was based on myths, wisdom, arts and culture could not endure the onslaught of Islam; it got weakened and finally crumbled down forcing its priests, scholars, artists, sculptures dancers et all to flee to Bali the nearby island. Thus Bali got enriched by this rare exodus and became the ‘ultimate island’ of myths, culture, arts, and wisdom.

The island of thousand temples

agung bali island

Southern Bali in the foreground and Mount Agung behind

Bali is often described as the island of thousand temples; in fact there are several thousands of temples even the government does not have an accurate count. Every village has minimum three temples and every home have at least one facing Mount Agung the highest place in Bali. For Balinese the mountains are the abode of gods; plains for human beings and the lowest plains are for the dead and demons.

Pura Puseh are temples dedicated to the founders of the villages and are placed on the highest places of the villages where Lord Brahma; the creator of the world resides.

Pura Desa are temples Pura Desa are temples located in the middle of the village; they are dedicated to Lord Vishnu who is the maintainer of the world. Some of the Pura Desa have Bale Agung an assembly held in every month; where Goddess Devi Shree is worshipped. In Bale Agung villagers assemble and discuss issues concerning the village.

Pura Dalem is the place for the dead; built in the lowest place of the village; it is dedicated to Lord Shiva who is associated with the duty of destruction.

The Besakih Temple is the largest and the most popular among the numerous temples of this island; it has about 35 shrines and big halls. The Besakih Temple is located 3000 feet above sea level on the slopes of Mount Agung; yet this temple was spared when the volcano erupted last time (in 1963).

The deity of this temple is (Naga Basukia) mother goddess. As per the Bali concepts gods are not permanents residents of temples but visit them only on auspicious occasions and offering is done on that time only. People from local areas visit this temple wearing sarong and carrying offerings in baskets made of plated coconut leaf. They collect the water from this temple which is blessed by the priest and take home for daily use.


bali island people

The Balinese are renowned for their sculpting

Bali is a comparatively small mountainous island dotted with short but fast flowing rivers; active volcanoes, deep ravines; sacred caves rice terraces and crater lakes. Its wide and sandy beaches are famous spots for surfers; while more than 11000 temples offer good sights for family vacationers. Bali has an area of 5561 sq km and a population of 3.15 million. The population of Bali is less than 3% of Indonesia’s total count. They speak mainly Balinese and Indonesian; but the trade of tourism has popularized western languages.

Brave hearts

Though the Balinese are hospitable and god fearing they are fiercely independent. The Dutch have experienced it thrice; the first encounter was in 1906 at Sanur. There 4000 Balinese resisted the well armed Dutch and embraced martyrdom. Two years later at Klung kung there was another war there also almost all of the royal members resisted the Dutch and chose death to subservience. The final war was in 1946 when the Dutch came back to reclaim there land; Balinese fought and got wiped out; but they never let the Dutch to interfere in their culture and style of living.

The Subaks of Bali

bali rice terrace

Rice terraces near Ubud

The Subaks are irrigation communities of Bali that laces various small farmers together so that farming can be done sharing available water on terraced lands. For Bali rice fields are temples and farming worship. It can be described as a ritual group farming.

The Subak is a social set up with a religious connotation that oversees the ritual of rice farming. Total area under a Subak can vary from 8 to 800 hectares consisting of numerous small farmers. More than allocating water; the subaks manage every thing related with farming as if the performance of a ritual.

The central water pool is the ‘water temple’ (known as Pura Subak or Pura Bedugul) from where community channels originate to reach every farm creating an ambient ecology for farming. The system is controlled by the priest of the water temple who ensures the resource is equally distributed. About 18% percent of Bali’s total area comes under Subak system.

These subaks have traveled along with the Balinese people who migrated to other Indonesian Islands and at present wherever there is Balinese settlements there will be Subaks, because it has got that much associated with Balinese population and way of living.

Mountains of Bali

bali kuta blast monument

Bali blast monument.

Bali being a mountainous island has no dearth for mountains; most of them are active volcanoes; the mountain ranges stretch from Batukaru in the west to Gunung Agung in the in the east. Mount Agung is the tallest among them (height 10308 feet); an active volcano that erupted in 1963. There is another one by name Mount Batur which is also active but has not erupted for several thousand years.

Lake Batur

It is Bali Island’s largest lake which was formed in a large volcanic caldera, when a huge volcano collapsed in to the magma chamber beneath it. At present among Bali’s numerous geographical phenomena that have turned out to be tourist spots; the Batur Lake along with the Kintamani Volcano that stands nearby remain as prime attraction for its visitors.

Beaches of Bali

Though the trump card of Bali is its cultural exclusivity; its beautiful beaches with unpolluted water, coral reefsand white sand play an equally important role in roping in tourists.

Nusa Dua is the southern most part of Bali; a peninsula jutting in to the sea is one of the best locations for recreation. It has crystal clear water, white sand and hotels with world’s best cuisine. It’s northern and southern parts offer best surfing opportunities.

Padangbai is a small beach town with a beautiful beach that is known for its affordable eating places known as Warungs which are family managed. Etc.

Kuta and Legian beaches are on the opposite side of Sanur (southwestern side); it is more commercialized with pubs, traditional dances performed for tourists, surfing facilities and shopping arcades etc. These are perhaps the most crowded beaches of Bali.

Jimbaran is a bottle-neck like area between mainland and Nusa Dua. It has calm waters as sheltered by Benoa Harbor. There are numerous resorts and tourist facilities in the village of Jimbaran.

Sanur, Changgu and Kuta beaches in Denpasar offer snorkeling, scuba diving and such facilities. They are in the southeastern side of Bali less than a 10 minutes drive from the heart of the city. A good location for watching sunrise an ancient temple is also in the vicinity.

Towns of Bali

bali ubud

Temple offering in predominantly Hindu Bali island.

Denpasar the Provincial Capital is the biggest city and that offers more amenities like beaches, spas, restaurants etc to the tourists. Ngura International Airport the main gateway to Bali is in Denpasar. The Shops of Denpasar are much sought after for artworks, exquisite pottery, hand-printed cloth (batik), silver-ware etc.

Ubud which is located amongst rice terraces and deep ravines is in one way more prominent as it is has richer artists in dance, sculpture, handicrafts, music etc. Ubud is perhaps the best place to stay while on visit to Bali as it is the heart of the Island not only as it is located at the center but the rural life the ‘hanging gardens’ (rice terraces), Balinese dances, ethnic music etc are at their best in this town; moreover there are numerous hotels offering accommodation.

Singa Raja (meaning lion king) was the seat of Buleleng Regency of Bali; it was also the administrative seat of the Colonial Dutch. The statue of the winged lion by name Singa Ambara Raja holding a bunch of maze-corn is the landmark of the town. It is built in front of the office of the Regent of the Singa Raja Province and is the symbol of the Buleleng Regency. Singa Raja has a famous library by name Gedong Kirtya which has classical works of historical importance.

The ultimate uncontaminated island

In many a aspects Bali is an ultimate island as often described; it was the ultimate refuge of Hindu faith that was exterminated from the archipelago, the exquisite dance (Barong), the subaks that excel most modern farming techniques, handicrafts, music, drama, colorful traditions, enchanting beaches, countless temples and what else. The ‘Wayang Kulit (leather puppet play) is another magical play where puppets made of leather play, sing, talk, fight and dance thrilling the entire audience. Bali has everything that can thrill a visitor.

Wonderful resilience

Most wonderful aspect of this small island is its resilience to protect and nurture its rare culture not getting diluted even if living as a part of the Islamic nation for the past centuries. The Dutch, Islam every thing had to leave the Balinese as Balinese who chose death to contamination.

Join celebrations

how the balinese see the tourist girls

Ogoh-ogoh monster in Ubud

Bali is a hot tourism spot both for pleasure and sight seeing. It is just 5 hour flight from Singapore or 8 from Tokyo. For Balinese their lives are filled with celebrations, it can be birth, birthdays, tooth filling, marriage, temple festivals or anything; it is a reason to celebrate, tourist who come to this island can witness either one or many celebrations here and there; and it also remains as one reason of so many people keep on coming to this small island.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tips to Avoid Tripping up on Trips

Tips to Avoid Tripping up on Trips
travel tipsThe Great Traveller Charles Alexandre Lesueur in the Forest by Karl Bodmer 1832 - 1834.

Vacations are meant to be times to relax and leave the cares of your everyday routine behind for a while. But when your travel is not planned well in advance, there are a variety of factors that can go wrong, and you come back feeling worse than ever. Travel plans differ according to the number of people going on the trip, their age and sex, the mode of transportation, the climate native to the place you’re going to visit and the kind of activities you’re going to be involved in once you reach your destination.

1. Plan your journey well in advance, right from your to and fro transport to where you’ll be staying to the schedule you’re going to follow (even if you’re just going to laze around) on your vacation.

2. If you’re flying to your destination, make sure you follow airline and country-specific rules regarding carry-on luggage, especially if you are crossing international borders.

3. If you’re taking a road trip, make sure you fill up with enough gasoline to last you till the next station on the way. Map the route you’re going to take so you don’t get lost. .

4. Long car trips with children can get really annoying if you do not provide them with some form of entertainment. Load up with car games and snacks to last you till your destination.

5. If you’re going to be traveling around a lot with stopovers at many different places, pack light. It’s a pain to unpack and repack at each of your destinations.

6. Pack according to your destination – do not carry your entire wardrobe for a few days of vacation. Be sensible and take only what you really need.

7. Pack sensible footwear if you’re going to be physically active during your vacation.

8. Remember to carry a basic first aid kit with supplies to treat cuts and bruises and common colds and headaches. As soon as you reach your destination, or even as you’re booking accommodation, check with your hosts (or hotel) if there is a doctor you can call on in case of emergencies.

9. Traveling to some countries may require vaccination or inoculation against certain diseases. Check your local consulate’s website for precautions to take before you set out on that vacation.

10. Familiarize yourself with local customs and common words in the local language before you visit new countries.

11. Don’t spend all your money buying trinkets and memorabilia to remind you of your trip. You’re invariably going to lose more than half the stuff you bring back once you’re back to the hustle and bustle of the daily grind.

12. Do not carry around too much cash; use traveler’s checks or global debit cards. Remember, using your credit card abroad is a pretty expensive option and one to be avoided except in emergencies.

13. Make sure your children remember the name of the hotel or address of the house you’re staying in while on vacation. Getting them to memorize the phone number is an added bonus in case they get lost.

14. And last but not the least, leave your work behind – there’s just no point in going on a vacation if you’re going to take the office with you.

About the Author:

This article was contributed by Heather Johnson, who is a regular writer on the subject of colleges for criminal justice. She welcomes your questions, comments and writing job opportunities at heatherjohnson2323 at gmail dot com.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Forbidden City

Forbidden City China

Forbidden City (Zijin Cheng Purple Forbidden City or Gu Gong = old palace), Beijing, China

forbidden city china Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang

forbidden city china Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing and Shenyang

Gu Gong (old palace)

Located in the middle of Beijing the capital of China; this ‘once forbidden city’ remains not just as a mere complex of several palaces but as a symbol of Chinese sovereignty and pride. The image of this city depicted on China’s National Seal itself is ample proof of the importance China attributes to this complex. The Forbidden City is a gigantic complex of palaces that lie spread in 720,000 sq meter area in the western side of the well known Tiananmen Square. For Chinese it is either Zijin Cheng (purple city) or ‘Gu Gong’ meaning old palace.

In the heart of old Beijing (Peking)

This palace complex has world’s largest collection of preserved ancient wooden monuments with finger print of various emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. In 1900 the Ming Emperor Yong Le moved the capital of China to Beijing and he started construction of a fresh city (a walled and secure one; forbidden one for ordinary people) in the middle of old Beijing in 1906. After Yong le 24 generations of emperors resided in this complex and it remained as the center of power of the Chinese Empire for more than five hundred years.

Largest by any means

forbidden city china The northwest corner tower

forbidden city china The northwest corner tower

It is also the largest palace complex in the world and was home to 24 emperors for a span of 5 long centuries. The Forbidden City houses 800 buildings with altogether 9000 rooms and corridors. Each emperor who used to reside has done something in the way of modifications or alterations thereby making his foot print in history. Even the Communist regime has not lagged behind in transforming this ancient palace complex in to a museum of magnificent collection of monuments and adding to its beauty and grandeur to this complex by renovating and beautifying it spending millions.

Intriguing and forbidden and a World Heritage Site

forbidden city china map

Forbidden City China Map

Its unfriendly name the Forbidden City has its origin in the early rule that entry in to it and exit required permission of the highest authority; hence this territory practically remained inaccessible for ordinary mortals. First people called it by that name and as the name got established even authorities called began to mention it as ‘The Forbidden City’! The abundant complexes in this city remained as the most intriguing place for the outside world. At present this palace complex is a World Heritage Site listed by the UNESCO (since 1987) and functions as a Palace Museum; still retaining some of the intrigue with so many articles collected and used by 24 generations of emperors.

China; the land of innovation

China is the third largest country in the world with the largest population and an ancient culture that flourished with the back support of ancient science and wisdom. Gun powder, paper, printing, abacus (the front-runner of computer), mariner’s compass, steel forging, copper, gun-powder, coins, tooth-brush all are just one of the Chinese innovations! They excelled in the construction of large structures like The Great Wall of China, theTemple of Heaven, Yuyuan Garden etc forgotten world wonders like the Porcelain Pagoda of Nanjing (that eventually got destroyed), all were proofs for Chinese skill in innovations. The Forbidden City is built in customary Chinese style and it is in no way less in magnificence and grandeur than these ancient structures Chinese have built.

The city wall

The Nine Dragons Screen in front of the Palace of Tranquil Longevity forbidden city

The Nine Dragons Screen in front of the Palace of Tranquil Longevity forbidden city

This ‘city’ was built to stand any threat; its walls are 7.9 meters high; 8.62 meters wide at the base and 6.6 at the top; built of rammed mud as the core and an outer layer of baked bricks; and the gap filled with mortar. A six meter deep and 52 meter wide moat adds perfection to its invincibility. On the four corners there are observation towers with intricate built roofs; for one who view from outside (so far it could be viewed from outside only; because it was forbidden) these towers were the most visible and prominent sights.


The walls have four gates on each direction of which the most important one is the Meridian Gate (WuMen meaning front door) with a large portrait of Mao Zedong at its top; it is reachable from the Tiananmen Gate (TianMen Gate).

The Meridian Gate (Wu Feng Lou meaning Five Phoenix Tower) is on the south which is the largest gate of this complex. It is 35.6 meters high and has five openings surrounded by phoenix looking pavilions (five is a sacred number for the Chinese as the Confucian teachings are based of five principles).

Of the five openings the central one was exclusively reserved for the emperor; the empress was allowed only once in her life time immediately after her wedding! The eastern entrance was exclusively and strictly for the ministers whereas the western entrance for the royal family. Other two were for officials and none for the ordinary people because they were forbidden in the Forbidden City!

Other Gates

The other gates that pierce the outer wall are namely the

Gate of the Devine Might on the north, East Glorious Gate on the east and West Glorious Gate on the west. All these gates have doors with golden nails to add grandeur. The Northern Glorious Gate faces the Jingshen Park. The whole city within the walls can be divided in to two as the Outer Court and the Inner Court. The naming of the structures of this complex is done in a poetic way and they can ring bell in to the ears of one who hear it.

The Gate of Supreme Harmony (TaiHe Men) that is located after the Meridian Gate and the following five bridges leads to the proper Outer Court which consists of three main halls located on a raised white marble platform. Across another courtyard is the Hall of Supreme Harmony (TaiHe Dian) which is the largest courtyard in the Forbidden City as well as the largest surviving wooden structure in China. It has a height of 30 meters and an area of 30,000 sq meters; this hall was used as the Ceremonial Center of the Imperial like coronations, investiture and royal weddings.

The next one is the Hall of Preserving Harmony (a slightly smaller structure was the rehearsing center for the ceremonial parades).

Forbidden city china The Hall of Central Harmony (foreground) and the Hall of Preserving Harmony

Forbidden city china The Hall of Central Harmony (foreground) and the Hall of Preserving Harmony

The Hall of Central Harmony (Hall of Complete Harmony) is comparatively smaller and was intended for the emperor to take rest before and between ceremonies. There is a beautiful throne with Unicorns (Luduan a Chinese mythological beast that could travel 9000 miles a day and that could speak 9000 languages) placed on both sides as a mark of the abilities of the emperor. Also on display are two exquisite sedan chairs in which the emperor was made to sit and was carried around the city. In the southeastern part of the Outer Court are theHalls of military Eminence (where the emperor held court of ministers) and the Hall of Literary (the royal press as well as venue for ceremonial lectures held by Confucian Scholars of high esteem).

The giant ramp

There are ramps flanked by stairs to ascend and descend the raised marble platform; these ramps are real works of art depicting dragons, emperors and other images; the emperor makes his ascend sitting in his sedan. At the center of the ramps leading to the terraces are the ceremonial ramps with carvings of symbolic bas reliefs; of which that behind the Hall of Preserving Harmony there is the largest carving in China a monolith ramp weighing 200 tons that is 16.57 meters long 3.07 meters wide and 1.7 meters thick; a real ceremonial ramp indeed!

The Inner Court; Yin, Yang and the holy union

The Forbidden City as depicted in a Ming Dynasty painting

The Forbidden City as depicted in a Ming Dynasty painting

While the Outer Court was intended for royal ceremonies the Inner Court; which has been separated from it by a long courtyard was more private in its function. There are three halls namely Palace of Heavenly Purity, Hall of Earthly Tranquility and Hall of Union.

Holy Unions

Here emperor is ‘yang’ representing the heavenly purity; living in the Palace of Heavenly Purity; whereas the empress is ‘Yin’ representing the earthly tranquility living in Hall of Earthly Tranquility.

The Hall of Celestial and Terrestrial Union (Diao TaiDian) is the place where the empress receives her birthday greeting. It is intended for the auspicious marital life of royal couple.

On the left side of the throne there is a chime clock that is 210 years old and still working smooth and in the right side a water-pot clock older than the chime clock with a technology more than 25 centuries old. Both of these items are enough to herald the expertise of Chinese skill in innovation. Many items belonging to the Qing dynasty are on display like the imperial seals other ceremonial items.

The Imperial Garden

The Gate of Terrestrial Tranquility (KunNing Men) leads the visitor to the Imperial Garden (YuHua Yuan); it is the last spectacle to be seen in the city. It was a private space for the royal families and was built in 1417 by the Ming dynasties. This garden is not as elaborate as one may presume (12,000 sq meters in area) but there are very beautiful landscapes made in typical Chinese style to be seen.

The selling point

The selling point of the Forbidden City is its well preserved condition and the largesse of the items displayed in it more over the buildings, courtyards, and ramps all are made in such large scale that visitors never feel crowded like other palaces.

There is enough space for every body for sight seeing and for taking some rest in a shade. The woodworks are such that they smell fresh and brand new even after standing there for the last several centuries.

The ‘Un forbidden’ City

The throne in the Palace of Heavenly Purity forbidden city china

The throne in the Palace of Heavenly Purity forbidden city china

After all it is no small thing to see the works and royal possessions belonged to 24 generations of monarchs who lived under one roof a very rare thing that no other palaces can take claim of. Come to the hospitable palace complex (please excuse for an inhospitable name; the Forbidden City) and smell a rich history of a rich and innovative nation.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Banff National Park

Banff National Park

Banff National Park, Calgary Alberta Canada

banff national park moraine lake

Moraine Lake, and the Valley of the Ten Peaks

The oldest national park in Canada – pronounced as baemf

A change of role

The ascent of Homo sapiens (human species) as a super power among animals did much damage to ecology, by 18th century there was a shift in his role he changed role from a terminator to a preserver. The national parks that dot all around are the symbols of that change. Yellowstone, Yosemite are all examples for that and Banff(one of the earliest) is no exception. The Banff National Park located in scenic sets of the Canadian Rockies. It is 80 miles from Calgary town of Alberta province Canada. The Banff Park was established in 1885 with an area of 2564 sq miles (6641 sq km) as the first of its kind in Canada and the third in the world.

Dug for a rail found a park!

banff national park lake minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka

In 1885 laborers who were working for a rail company at the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains noticed a hollow cave; their curiosity led them in the cave where they saw hot springs and many other wonderful things. At present the Banff is a full fledged national park with wonderful rock formations, peaks, waterfalls, glaciers, ice-fields, hot springs, pristine coniferous forests, rivers, lakes and almost all sorts of natural phenomena. This place is also a home to rare and exotic animals and plants that are not found anywhere else in the world. Visitors to the park exceed 4 million a year; it is the first national park of Canada; part of the World Heritage Site; a complex of about four parks sites (Yoho, Kootenai, Jasper and Banff.

Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR)

CPR works first found the existence of this site; it was CPR was Canada’s first transcontinental railway; which brought the site to the notice of the world and it was the same company that brought to this site initially. The company with a beaver as its mascot rose to be a symbol of Canadian national pride. For years the CPR remained as the only means of transport to the entire locations.

Early history

banff national park lake louise

Lake Louise

There are archaeological evidences for human inhabitation in the Banff area since 8500 BC. The remains recovered from around the Vermilion Lakes (a series of lakes located between Canadian Pacific Railway and Trans Canadian Highway in the foot of Mount Norquay) prove that tribes like, Stoneys (also known as Nakodas), Paigans, Tsuu T’ina, Kootenai etc lived here. The discovery of hot springs and construction of the railway made the site popular and in 1885 only 10 sq miles of land was allotted to the park by Canadian PM John A McDonald; this was later expanded to 260 sq miles in 1887. There after the park got more and more area under its care the present size was reached in 1949 (2564 sq miles).

How to get there

Banff National Park is in the Canadian Rockies about 80 miles from town Calgary; by air one can fly from Vancouver to Calgary; both cities have international airports; distance only 500 miles. The Trans-Canada Highway leads to the park from Calgary via Banff and Lake Louis. Train facility is limited to minimum site seeing schedules.

A park cluster

peyto lake banff canada

Peyto Lake

The Banff is one among the four national parks located in the Canadian Rockies lying interlocked each other. They are Jasper, Kootenai, Yoho and

Banff; there is one park of the same status that is separately located in the farther south; the Waterton National Park. The first four interlinked parks including the Banff have the status of World Heritage Site awarded by the UNESCO.

Castle Mountain

The group of mounts looks exactly like a castle from a distance hence named so by James Hector. This massif is located between Banff and British Columbia and can be seen from the Trans Canada Highway. The Castle Mountain acted as a prison for the internees of the 1st World War and accommodated prisoners from Germany, Austria and Hungary etc. This mount was first ascended by Arthur Coleman in 1884 through the Rockbound Lake Trail. Its prominent mounts are Helena Ridge, Stuart Knob, and Television Peak etc. It is a favorite destination for hiking and mountaineering enthusiasts.

Cave and Basin

The presence of thermal springs in the Banff Park was first recorded by James Hector in 1859. It is the site with natural thermal springs with dissolved sulfur content; its water has medicinal properties and can cure skin ailments. It was this spring the first Banff National Park was established with an area of 10 sq miles. These springs are habitat for a very much endangered species of snail called Banff Spring Snail.

The Columbian Ice field

banff national park parker ridge

Skiing on Parker Ridge, near the Columbia Icefield

An ice field is a medium sized frozen water body with less than sq feet in area; it is comparatively larger than the Alpine Glaciers and smaller than an ice sheet. The Columbian Icefield is in the Canadian Rockies astride the Continental Divide of North America; it is 325 sq km in area and between 300 and 1200 feet in depth. The ice field receives about 23 feet of snow fall and feeds about eight glaciers like Athabasca, Castleguard and Columbia etc. Wapta and Wapotik icefields are also of considerable size but all in the receding stage due to warming. Peyto, Bow and Vulture glaciers originate from the Wapta Icefield.

Animals of Banff

banff national park elk

Elk in Banff

The plant and animal varieties found at this park is wonderfully diverse; about 53 species of mammals live here along with many endemic. The bird population of this park is about 280 species including red tailed hawk, golden eagles, bald eagles etc. There insects and reptiles (reptiles are comparatively rare); a good number of them are endangered. It is the vide range of climate, altitude as well as plant varieties that enabled the park to host so many varieties of mammals. Porcupine, Hoary marmot (a burrowing rodent living in flocks; inhabitant of North America), Pika (a small rabbit like animal), Beaver etc are of small mammals. There are larger animals like Moose, elk, Mule deer, caribou (reindeer), Bison, several types of goats and sheep etc. There is no dearth for carnivorous animals also; coyote (a wolf like wild dog also known as brush wolf or prairie wolf; native to North America), grizzled bear, wolf, black bear etc.

A multibillion affair

The Banff is part of a complex of national parks and a visit to all these parks take its own time and guided tours, hiking, packaged tours and all paraphernalia associated with tourism is available here also. In fact the excessive commercialized tourism operations itself have of late become a problem.

The Upper Hot Springs for example is a natural hot water spring that has been commercially developed to ensure good spa experience to the visitors with a view of the of the Valley of Mount Rundle. All luxuries that a tourist can dream of in natural surroundings have been provided in the most user friendly way in the typical western concept. Tourism at Banff is no small thing as it caters to the needs of more than five million visitors annually and makes billions of dollars on exchange of sheer pleasure and enjoyment.

A tall order

two jack lake banff canada

Two Jack Lake Banff National Park

The Banff National Park is an asset of humanity and to see it is a right that cannot be denied; same time the ecology of its exclusive surroundings and the biosphere have to be protected; a balancing game between business and ethics; a tall order indeed; hope the National Park Agency will manage it most responsibly!