Saturday, November 14, 2009

Carlsbad Cavern National Park

Carlsbad Caves (Carlsbad Cavern National Park), New Mexico, US

carlsbad caverns rail

Carlsbad Caverns Rail On the tour route

No one knows how many caves are there in the world; but definitely there are many more to be discovered than what have been listed. There is something weird about caves; they are far more than mere emptiness; they were home to our forefathers; ancient men used to express his artistic talents on its walls; that trend still follows human beings; even space age people turn artists if let free in a cave with a crayon! For a cave every kid is a Michelangelo; and its walls a Sistine Chapel! Even a child will run in to it; if a cave is spotted; darkness, echo, and bats all make a cave a miniature world of mysteries.

The American Cosquer

Jim White was an illiterate cowboy; curiosity and hard work alone were his assets; with just that and a little bit of luck; now his name remains among top names in explorers! A swarm of bats that aroused his curiosity; instead of ignoring them and tending his cattle he went in search of the source; could find only a cactus forest; neglecting their pricks he proceeded inside to see only a dark and gaping hole! The story is similar to that of 35year old Henry Cosquer a diving instructor of Marseilles who discovered the Cosquer’s Cave.

Hard work, curiosity and a bit of luck

carlsbad caverns

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Millions of bats were coming out of the hole that seemed deep and dark. Jim made a born fire burning some dry twigs and threw the burning twigs in to the hole. He could sense the twigs falling to a depth of less than 200 feet; seeing the fire bats stopped coming out. After a while the flow continued; Jim thought “if millions of bats stay here; it must be substantially big; and there must be something substantial”. That young man did not know he was unfolding world’s most amazing cavern in the world.

Jim White got engaged

The Carlsbad Caverns are the largest cave-system in the world but it is the sheer variety and magnificence of the stalactite formations that make it the most unique. Jim White was engaged by a mining company that extracted the fossilized droppings of bats for its nitrate rich manure qualities. He was given permission to explore the remote corners of the cave complex during his leisure time. Jim utilized this right to bring out all the mysteries and named the strange formations in professional finesse. When the National Park was formed Jim got posting as its first Chief Ranger.

The National Park

carlsbad caverns entrance

Outside the entrance to the Carlsbad Caverns

The Carlsbad Cavern National Park is located on the western part of River Pecos beside the Guadalupe Mountains and the Chihuahua Desert. It is about 18 miles from (southwest) Carlsbad a small city in the southeastern part of New Mexico State of US. The Park contains about 109 caves including the Carlsbad Caves. The Lechuguilla Cave is one of the most amazing one with a depth of 1604 feet; it is a virtual laboratory for scientists to do research on geological as well as biological researches in an unpolluted environment. It is the fifth longest cave in the world.

Shapes weird; names strange

As per scientists this whole area was an inland sea filled with coral reefs about 25 million years back; by some geological upheavals the sea got dried up and coral reefs got covered with gypsum and salt. There after it took millions of years for the rainwater to seep in and dissolve the calcium compound in corals to shape them in such weird shapes as that resembles witch’s finger, king’s palace, hall of giants, queen’s chamber, lake of clouds and things with all strange shapes and equally strange names!

Stalactites and stalagmites

These weird shaped calcium compound formations belong to two categories, the stalactites are those tapering structures hanging like icicles from the roof of the cave; they are formed when water concentrated with minerals slowly drip from above depositing minerals from above. Stalagmites are (huge penitents) pillar like formations standing from the bottom of the cave; these are formed when water slowly dissolves the soft outer part of the calcium compounds filled in the cave. Carlsbad Caverns have both of them richly placed.

Of bats

It is estimated that about a million bats live in this cave; they belong to about seven species of which the Mexican Free-tail bats are most common; these bats are migratory and live in the ‘Bats Cave’ for day time refuge, maternity and roost. There is a gigantic ‘hall’ for bats in the cavern near the natural entrance of the cave; they dangle comfortably on its ceiling; authorities take special care to see them not being disturbed by the visitors. They halt here from early spring to October and fly off to tropical Mexico during winter. Bats don’t use their eyesight much as they depend on their sonar guidance for travel and catching prey.

Rooms and their names

witchs finger carlsbad caverns

The Witch’s Finger in Carlsbad Caverns

The Hall of the Giants

This is the biggest chamber in the whole Carlsbad cavern system with an area of 357,469 sq feet. The conical rocks that arise from the floor and the pricks like millions of formation directed downwards give an eerie look to this gigantic chamber.

Left hand tunnel is a long and straight passage that leads to the Lake of Clouds; it may seem hard to believe that this was spontaneously. Floor of the passage is intermitted with numerous fissures; no one knows what is beneath these fissures.

Lake of the Clouds

It is the lowest point of the cave (among the so far discovered caverns) and it has a substantially large lake with round cloud shaped rocks. It is located in a side passage from the left hand tunnel.

Balloon Ballroom is small in width and located in the ceiling of the main entrance; it is so named as it was first accessed tying the end of a rope with some balloons and floating it over to the passage.

Bat Cave is exclusively reserved for the original inhabitants of the cave-the bats. It has no adornment with stalactites and bats love the engulfing darkness, they breed and rear the young in this hall.

Bell Cord Room has a very special formation a cord like stalactite formation that come down from a hole in the ceiling resembling a church bell cord coming from a church spire.

Bifrost Room is a very beautiful name reminding the Norse Myth of the world above the sky that can be accessed only by climbing along a rainbow! In fact there are rainbow like color formation by traces of oxides present in the white calcium background.

carlsbad flowstone

Flowstone in carlsbad caverns, a form of travertine

Witch’s Finger is perhaps the most amazing growth of Stalagmite which less than two feet in diameter and grows up like a slender finger to about 20 feet in height.

Green Lake Room

Located at the uppermost floor of the ‘Scenic Room’; it has got a green colored pool at its corner thereby giving the chamber this name. It has got some significance; when the world was quivering under the threat of imminent nuclear attack; security agencies were in search of a protected space to escape the atom bomb. They reached the Green Lake Cave and observed the lake waters while atomic explosion was done at a distant place. The lake waters did not produce any ripples thereby assuring them of a safe place!

A World Heritage Site

carlsbad caverns

Rock of Ages in the Big Room, photo by Ansel Adams

In 1930 US President Herbert Hoover declared Carlsbad caves and numerous Permian Age fossil- reefs located in the surrounding area as The Carlsbad Cavern National Park. UNESCO declared the park as a World Heritage Sit in December 6, 1995. This park spreads in to an area of 46766 acres around the cave. At present the park is a hot spot for tourists; more than 50,000 people visit this place every year; the park is open 24 hours all round the year except in the Christmas day. Two third of the park area is left as ‘wilderness area’ as a measure of preservation of the ecosystem.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City USA

metropolitam museum of art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

And a museum was born

After the end of the American Civil War there all around prosperity leading to increased interest in works of art. John Taylor Johnson an enthusiast in collection of artworks –by profession he was a rail road executive- along with some of his like-minded friends convened a meeting to form a common forum for safe custody and display of artworks that were kept in their private galleries and homes. They formed an establishment with Taylor Johnson as president and named it ‘Metropolitan Museum of Art’. The establishment was first opened in temporary quarters in a humble set up. Even the organizers did not realize that they were giving birth to an organization of such a great magnitude.

The ‘Met’ now

metropolitan museum of art facade

The facade of the Metropolitan Museum is one of the main features of New York City’s “Museum Mile”.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art –affectionately called as ‘Met’ is world’s one of the biggest art galleries and entertains more than 25 million visitors annually. It has more than two million exhibits on display; pertaining to all categories and ages like Classical Antiquity, Ancient Egyptian, European Masters’, American, Asian, Oceanic (the continent that includes Australia), Byzantine (pertaining to the eastern part of the Roman Empire), Islamic as well as Modern Art. 19 Curatorial Departments function for the preservation and upkeep of the rare and invaluable artifacts.

The Met also has a sister museum at Cloisters; though much smaller (compound measures four acres) it has more than 5000 Medieval Works of Arts belonging to period between 12th and 15th centuries.

Growth by acquisition

The Museum; established by Taylor Johnson in February 20, 1872 was originally located at 681 Fifth Avenue; NYC. At present it has been relocated to the eastern edge of The Central Park (an 843 acre urban park; the most visited place in the city of New York) in the Museum Mile New York City. (Museum Mile is a road that leads to the Central Park; this road is a unique one that has nine museums within one mile and hence the name!). In 1873 second year of its formation by an acquisition of the Cesnola Collection the Museum was covering one more mile-stone in its growth story.

The Cesnola Collection

Luigi Palma di Cesnola an Italian American soldier (winner of the Medal of Honor for his exploits in the American Civil War) had some interest in archaeology also; during his stay in Cyprus he conducted extensive excavations in the ancient Kourian Sites and recovered very valuable artifacts pertaining to the Middle Ages. He is the author of the book ‘Cyprus its ancient Cities, Tombs and Temples’. The artifacts he received were compiled and kept in a private museum; these collections are known as Cesnola


Kourian Site

The Kourian Site (also mentioned as Curias) is located near the modern town of Episkopi at the western side of the River Lycas in Cyprus. It had been venue for many historical upheavals involving Greeks, Romans and ancient Christians. Its history extends from antiquity to the Medieval Ages. All of them had some foot marks telling many tales about their presence although for a limited term.

Most diverse

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The Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum New york

The Met is not stuck to any particular theme; it has every thing of interest arranged based on the theme it belongs. It would be interesting to note that the artifacts are not paintings or sculptors only; but they are of varying types like Encyclopedic Collection of Musical Instruments, costumes and ornaments and accessories, weapons and armors, interiors from 1st century Roman to the recent American products.

Curative Department for Ancient Near Eastern Arts

Sculptures and reliefs made of ivory, stone and even objects made of precious metals collected from a wide area like the Indus Valley to Burma and time ranging from ancient to middle ages.

American decorations

It is a separate section with contemporary style furnishings along with glass and ceramic wares art works in silver ranging from 17th to 20th centuries.

American Painting and Sculpture

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Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze

Portraits, Landscapes, Paintings on Historical Incidences, Sculptures from the colonial times etc. Altogether there are 1000 paintings, 600 sculptures and 2600 drawings.

Antonie Ratti Textile Center

Tapestries, velvets, embroideries, quilts, woven and printed fabrics, exquisite and invaluable carpets all at display under one roof ranging from 3000 BC.

The arts of Africa, Oceania, and Americas

Objects used as ornaments, masks, and other personal adornment, utensils, monuments, ritual objects, that reflect the culture and life style that existed in the dark continent for ages and different areas.

Arms and armor

metropolitan museum middle age main hall

Arms and armor, Middle Ages main hall – Metropolitan Museum New york

This department is extremely rich and no other museum in the world has such wide collection of armaments for soldiers, horses and even for children. Various weapons, and those intended to perform cultural and ornamental rituals; all received from Asia, Europe, Middle East and Americas.

Department for Asian Arts

This section is really exclusive and include objects from China, Korea, Japan and even South and East Asia; objects like printed textiles, ceramics, sculptures, images and utensils made of bronze, jades, lacquer, screens, paintings, calligraphy and such wide variety of objects that reflect the different life styles. These objects are of antiquity as well as modern.

The Costume Institute

The course of fashion during the last eight centuries with men, women and children pertaining to the five continents, dress, ornaments, accessories all. Even the current fashion trends are also well expressed with its exhibits! Due to the fragile nature of the items no permanent installation, two shows held every year, Channel (founded by Coco Channel, Persian fashion house in France) and Gianni Versace (founded by Gianni Versace the most talented fashion designer of the 20th Century) are also big hits of the show.

Drawings and print

When Cornelius Vanderbilt donated 670 drawings to the museum that worked as a seed and this department since kept on growing; at present 11,000 drawings, 1,5 million prints, 12,000 illustrated books all them keep in increasing, Classic works from Rembrandt, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo are included in the long list of the artists who worked these wonders.

Egyptian Arts

The Egyptian Art Department is housed in the Dendur Temple that was reassembled here in 1978 after transporting it to New York after dismantling. This was done to avoid its submergence in the Nasser Lake formed due to the construction of the Aswan Dam. There are more than 36,000 items in its department at present; the initial collections were from private galleries, but the museum organized its own team of archaeologists which made significant discoveries and added much to the credit. 24 wooden models recovered from temple of Dier el Bahri Egypt that depict the day today lives of Middle Age Egypt are the most creditable artifacts belonging to this section.

European Paintings

Contain many of the world’s most celebrated works by the old masters, Self Portrait with a straw hat by Van Gogh, Fortune Teller by George de la Tour, Death of Socrates by Jacques Louis David and Harvesters by Peter Bruegel the Elder are all here. There are 37 works from Monet, 21 from Cezanne, 18 from Rembrandt and 5 from Vermeer (this is the richest Vermeer collection in the world). There are altogether 2,200 pieces on works but this department is the most sought after section in the whole of the Museum.

Greek and Roman Arts

There are about 35,000 items in this section; the Roman sarcophagus; the first exhibit of the museum belongs to this section; it still remains as main object. Collections from Greek, Roman, Cyprus etc belonging to 4th century onwards, vases, wall paintings, terracotta, sculpture, jewellery, gems.

Islamic Arts

The Museum has both religious and secular articles from Central Asia, Africa, Spain, and Mughal India numbering 12,000. Ceramics, textiles, decorations of mosques, manuscripts of Holy Qur’an, Calligraphy both religious and otherwise all make this section extremely rich. A reconstructed house from Damascus belonging to Nur Al-Din of the 18th century adds beauty and originality to this wing.

Musical Instruments

It is a unique feature of Met as 5000 examples of musical instruments from all over the world under one roof. It began from a donation from Lucy W Drexel (w/o Joseph W Drexel; President of the NY Philharmonic Society and Trustee of the Met) and later enriched by the contributions from Mary Elizabeth Adams. The collection from six continents begins from 300 BC in an encyclopedic manner.

Modern Art

pol jean and herman de limbourg

The Limbourg brothers’ Belles Heures of Jean of France, Duke of Berry

Met has no bias against what is modern; this section –a 60,000 sq ft floor- is also well represented by masters in this field, Picasso the ‘father of modern art’ also is represented here with his prominent works including ‘Gertrude Stein’, Joseph John with his ‘White Flag’; Paul Klee’s 40 creations represent the output of his entire career!

Robert Lehman Collection

In 1969 Robert Lehman (son of Philip Lehman head of ‘Lehman Brothers’ Bank) donated his collection of archives numbering 3000 to the Met; these collection undoubtedly the most extraordinary in the US is arranged not as per the regular pattern of the Museum but in the way Robert Lehman preferred them to be arranged in his private gallery. Lehman Collection is so precious that 200 of its works were solo exhibits at the Tuileries Garden of the Louvre Museum in 1957.

What is interesting; is relevant

new roman gallery metropolitan meseum new york

Roman gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York

The Met has every thing of some relevance; whether the artifacts belong to stone-age or space-age; costume or ceramic; Russian, African or American also is no issue; the only thing is whether it has any relevance or whether visitors are interested to see it. Millions flock to see these artifacts sans frontiers vindicate the Met stand that these articles kept here are relevant and hence interesting.

Bagan Temples and Pagodas

Temples of Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)

bagan temples

Bagan Temples and Pagodas

A city of ten million temples

Bagan is located in the Mandalay area on eastern bank of Ayeyarwady River at about 160 km from Rangoon (Yangon) Burma. Though small in size it is really big in its cultural heritage with countless temples most of them in various stages of decay and many still in ship shape and performing. Perhaps the only place that can be compared to Bagan in this regard is Angkor Vat of Cambodia in the sheer size and architectural magnificence. Angkor Vat temples are covered in thick forests and are only partly visible only from a height; whereas the ruins of Bagan are far greater in number and lie exposed in the tropical sun and are easily accessible.

Bagan; its rise and fall

As Burmese rulers used to shift their capital as per the wish of the ruling regime; Bagan got two chances to be the seat of power during 9th and 12th centuries; it is during these terms all these structures were built. A D 1287 came in the shape of the legendary Mongol conqueror Kublai khan who ripped those beautiful structures apart and did as much damages as he could before his retreat! As the town got deserted robbers took away whatever were left by the Mongols.

A man-made disaster!

bagan temple

Temples in Bagan

In 1975 when a massive earth quake hit the town and did much damage to the structures the ruling military junta of Burma (Myanmar) reacted by rebuilding some of them with modern materials like concrete and beautified them with enamel paint! A request from the UNESCO to list them as World Heritage Sites -so that they could be resurrected with the experts in the field- was blatantly ignored by the ruling regime. Thus Burma had to suffer one man-made disaster that followed a natural disaster.

At present

At present all the remnants of the structures of the ‘ten million temples’ lie scattered in 16 sq miles of land, looted, desecrated and getting damaged in sun and rain. About a thousand temples remain in good condition and some of them are functioning visited by devotees of which 10 temples that are immensely popular and remarkable in their make and hence covered in this article.

Sulamani Temple

bagan temple myanmar

The Payathonzu Temple is built in the Mon style

It is also known as the ‘Crowning Jewell Temple’ (in Sanskrit sula means trident and mani means jewel) and was built by King Narapathi Sithu in 1181, in style its construction is akin to the Thatbyinnu temple and has influenced the style of Dhammayangvi temple. This temple got damaged in the 1975 earth quake and was repaired. Sulamani Temple is also known for the beautiful frescoes and idols that decorate its interior.

Dhammayangvi Temple

The Dhammayangvi Temple is the largest structure of all the surviving temples of Bagan. It was built by the Bagan King Narathu who ruled a brief spell between AD 1167 and 1170. Its style of construction resembles to that of Ananda Temple of the same area. This temple was built by King Narathu (1167 – 1170).

Ananda Temple

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A Bagan Buddha, 12th century

This temple is 51 meters in height and was built exactly like the Nandamula Cave Temple in the Himalayan ranges India. The only difference is that the Ananda Temple is a bit smaller than the cave temple. It originally built during 1091 AD under king Kyanzittha but the gilding works that adorn the temple was done recently in 1990. As per Buddhism there are four Buddhas (prophets who have received divine revelations); the Gautama Buddha is the last of them There are four gigantic statues of the four Buddhas each looking to each direction (Kakusandha facing north, Konagamana facing east, Kassapa facing south and Gautama facing west).

Manuha Temple

Built in AD 1067 by Manuha; a Mon king of the Thaton country who was captured and held captive by Anawrahta. The most notable thing with this temple is that statues occupy whole area of the temple giving no space to the priests and devotees. Three huge Buddha statues in sitting posture and one gigantic Buddha in reclining posture; all idols virtually filling the entire space of the halls are the specialties of this temple.

Shwesandaw Temple

myanmar local

Its was built by king Anawrahta in 1057 AD, it is considered as most sacred among the numerous temples of Bagan by the Buddhists as the holy hair of Buddha has been enshrined in its stupas. This temple also has been called Ganesha Temple as during the ancient times four idols of Ganesha (the Hindu god with the head of elephant; considered very auspicious) were placed in its four conrers.

Mahabodhi Temple

As its name suggests it is a replica of the Bodhi Temple of Bodhgaya India. It was built by King Nataungamya between 1210 and 1234. (it was at Bodhgaya Gautama Buddha got enlightenment while meditating under a banyan tree; Bodhgaya is about 105 km away from Patna the capital of Bihar a state of India. There is still an old temple built by Emperor Ashoka with an equally old banyan tree. This premise is considered sacred by Buddhists and the seeds of this tree had been taken and planted in ancient Buddhist’s centers like Burma and Sri Lanka (Mahabodhi tree at Buddhist temple at Anuradha pura). This temple is decorated with numerous Buddha idols placed in niches.

Shwezigon Temple

ananda temple bagan

Gate tower of Ananda Temple

Its work was begun by King Anawrahta who made Bagan his capital but it had to be completed by King Kyanzittha in 1089. The Shwezigon Temple is religiously the most important temple among all the structures in Burma as some bones and hairs of Buddha is kept in this place. During Nadaw a Burmese month (Nov – Dec) devotees from all parts of Burma visit this temple

Gawdapalin Temple

The Gawdapalin Temple has a dome topped with a golden crown reaching sixty meters in height stupa. This beautiful temple that stands with grandeur on the bank of Ayeyarwady River was built by king Narapatisithu in late 12th century; it was badly damaged in the earth-quake which rocked the Mandalay region in 1975; it was rebuilt and at present it remains as one of the well kept temples in this region.

Mahamuni Paya

It is a crowd puller temple of the entire Mandalay region with a four meter tall idol cast in bronze that is covered with golden leaves; devotees bring golden leaves and decorate the idol for the fulfillment of their wish. It is said thus the weight of the idol has been doubled for the time due to this gold leaf adoration! The idol was originally situated in a temple in a village by name Rakhaing (located in the present Bangladesh). King Bodawpaya of Mandalay seized the image and brought it home to be placed in this temple. Women are not allowed to tough the sanctum sanctorum.

Bupaya Pagoda

There is dispute regarding the time of its construction one school of thought is that it was built in AD 200 by King Pyusawhti; as style of construction seems more advanced it is believed that it must have been built in around AD 1000. The large inverted bell shaped dome with golden coating is a really beautiful thing to watch. This small pagoda which was almost completely destroyed in the 1975 earth-quake was rebuilt to the present shape.

Disastrous aesthetics

that byin nyu bagan

Thatbyinnyu Temple

There are thousands of temple in the Mandalay region of Burma; a large number of them are irrecoverably damaged and many in critical condition. Rebuilding of the temples as a World Heritage Site by experts in the field is an urgent requirement. The present government is not willing to entrust the work to the UNESCO authorities making the work impossible. It is hoped that good sense would prevail upon them one day and those once marvelous structures will rise from their deathbed to fascinate the world!

Banaue Rice Terraces

Banaue Rice Terraces (Hagdang Palayan ng Banaue), Ifugo, Philippines

God and worship

banaue rice terraces philippines

Banau Rice Terrace image courtesy:

Rice is a cereal grain and food to about half of the world’s population; but it is far more than a cereal to the ancient cultures who toiled to produce it. Rice was for them a life giver that equaled god. The hard labor they put in to produce it was worship that gave meaning to their lives. No part of this holy plant is left unused, grains eaten after boiling or powdered to make cookies of many sorts, its husk as fuel and straw used as cattle-feed and to make things like hats, bags etc. The water in which rice is boiled (rice soup) is a natural health drink. A local beer by name ‘saki’ is made out of rice that gives the rural folks their vigor to work such wonders!

The real hanging gardens

The terraced rice cultivation as such is not a novelty as the Bali Island has also got similar methods of farming; while those of Banaue are of extreme scale that stuns common sense. The Banaue Rice Terraces are examples to show to what extend man can go to produce food from the very earth where he lives; however hard the terrain is. A visitor need not wander and toil in the drab deserts to find the remnants of that once existed Hanging Garden of Babylon. Compared to these rice terraces that cling on tall mountains up to 3000 feet high producing paddy for the last 6000 years and still feeding its owners; that Babylon stuff was a child’s play!

Climbing up and down

banau rice terrace

Banau Rice Terrace image courtesy:

These innumerable terraces were built one by one from bottom to top and that too in the absence of any of the modern equipments was real work! Building the terraces is not enough; rice is a plant that deserves uninterrupted care like sowing, transplanting, watering, weeding, removal of pests (by hand picking), harvesting all had to be done climbing up and down so many terraces so many times.

Living pyramids

banaue rice terraces philippines

Banau Rice Terrace image courtesy:

It is calculated that a single mountain was modified to such a huge rice bowl taking about 2000 years. Then how many man-days spent on nurturing and up keeping them for the past 6000 years? Even the work of Pyramids of Egypt would not equal to these efforts. The real wonder is how a tribe living detached from the outside world gained these agricultural practices and the will power to pursue this farming!


Rice is a mono carpic annual plant belonging to the true grass family genus Oryza; species sativa (there is an African variety by name Oryza glaberrina). Rice can be cultivated in to tropical and sub tropical areas where there is large rainfall as it requires a lot of water. This plant grows when the field is flooded to a depth of 5 to 7 inches of water; so that weeds don’t pester it. It is this peculiarity that compelled the farmers to build terraces in many layers of the steep mountain slopes to keep the fields flooded. Rice plant is highly sensitive and requires constant care and attention.

Eighth wonder of the world

banaue rice terraces philippines

The magnitude of their work could be understood in one way; suppose these rice cultivated terraces are taken one by one and put end to end that chain will encircle the globe! Many sources claim these terraces as the eighth wonder of the world; considering the quantity of sweat that these farmers shed to ‘keep these fields up’ on the mountains naturally make the work more superb than many of the Seven Wonders of the World. The real greatness of the work is that it is not made for the pleasures of the royal members as the Forbidden City or Palace of Versailles but built by the tillers of the soil with their bare hands. Its real worth is that many generations survived on the food made out of these terraces on otherwise unproductive hill slops.

Who built these wonders?

banau rice terraces

Banau Rice Terrace image courtesy:

To understand the architects behind these wonders we have to learn the brief history of Philippines which is an archipelagic country in the Southeast Asia comprising of about 7107 islands. These places were inhabited since pre historic times (50,000 years) and prior to the arrival of Europeans they led a pagan way of life worshipping spirits of ancestors. The ancestors of the Batad tribes who built these terraces remained cut off from the social changes that swept over Philippines during the past few centuries.

Present style; work for parents and rest for kids

Batad is a place (at present it is a 5th class municipality) in Philippines and these indigenous tribes living on the slopes of Ifugao Mountain got the name from the region. They were busy in producing food shedding sweat and living a contented life far away from history! The elder generations living in the Apayao and Benquest Mountain regions still stick to their old customs and life style (The younger generations as it is the case with every place is finding working on soil a bore; they prefer to serve visiting tourists instead).

A tribe and some spirits

They speak a crude form of Tagalong language (Modern Tagalong is popular language of Philippines while English and Filipino are the official languages. They believe that a dead person needs three days to get accommodated in the ‘new place’ so that they hang the body on the thatched roof for three days and after ceremoniously take out the bones and keep them on the attic as a sacred possession. They are staunch believers of the power of spirits and sacrifice three chickens or a full pig to please them if they show the signs of any anger (by spreading diseases or making drought or untimely death of its members).

How to get there?

rice terraces banau philippines

This location is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site and remains as a major tourisst attraction. Banaue is a 4th class municipality in the Ifugao Province in the Northern Philippines; the road from Manila the capital of Philippines. The road from Manila snakes in through the mountain slopes and rice terraces to end at Banaue. At present the terraces are not well maintained due to indifference of the young for hard work and there are cracks in many places which need urgent repairs. Manpower and resource shortages stand in the way of the poor villagers from keeping them in shape. If urgent measures are not taken by the Governments it is possible that these manmade wonders may become a thing of the past.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Wine - The divine drink

A holy obsession


Wine and woman have always remained as man’s two great desires. While a woman is a part of a man; wine prevails as his biggest obsession. This unearthly drink has admirers from people of classes; emperors to laymen. The impact of wine on human body is nothing less than the ecstatic state achieved by saints and other holy people; (calling liquor spirit is not without cause). This comparison has made wine a holier drink leaving poorbeer the other beverage to remain always as its poor cousin.

There are many wines

Grapes remain the universal source for making Wine but it can also be made from other fruits as well; but they are called fruit wine or the fruit of which is made; like apple wine etc. White wine rose wine, red wine, sweet wine, port wine, sparkling wine, still wine; all these are wines of different hues. Let us see how they are alike and differ.

White wine is colorless made from either green grapes; can also made of red grapes if fermented after removing the skin),

Rose wine is that made from red grapes bottled with its skin and given just sufficient time given for the color of the skin to dissolve in to the must (pulp),

Red wine is made of dark-red grapes first fermented with skin until a light violet hue is imparted in to the must and then fermented second time filtering out the skin,

wine tasting

Sweet wine contains some residual parts of the sugar from the grapes as its fermentation is stalled adding brandy.

Port wine or port (Vinho do Porto) is a sweet wine; a native of Duoro Valley of northern Portugal; though at present many nations make their own brand of port wine.

Sparkling wine is that were fermentation of the residual sugar is allowed to take place in the bottle for rest of the time and carbon dioxide thus produced is allowed to get dissolved in the wine (Champagne is a form of sparkling wine); it is the trapped carbon dioxide that forms the bubbles)

Still wine; as its name suggests the wine is still in the glass with no fuss of bubbles (it contains no trapped carbon dioxide to produce foam).

Country wine, apple wine etc are a class apart as they are made from other fruits and known after the fruits.

Straight from Carpathian; land of the Dracula!

wine and cheese

It is believed that wine was first discovered by the Caucasians (the Caucasus consists of the present Georgia and Armenia parts of the erstwhile Soviet Union); the legendary land of lord Dracula.

In Caucasus; around B C 6,500 there lived a farmer who was engaged in farming grapes-vines. One day he kept some grapes in a wooden container and forgot about it. After some days he found some syrupy liquid came out of the grapes got fermented naturally. The violet liquid smelled great and he drank it; woe betides! He poured it in to a jar and buried it in a secret place. Daily he used to visit the spot and took a dose and returned as if nothing has happened.

The grandmother of wine

The temptation of wine was too strong to resist that he could not avoid visiting the spot for a sip. His wife was not less smart; she spied his tryst with wine and discovered the secret. On sustained questioning the poor Caucasian had to confess how he got the brew. Thus that village lady got the formula to become the grandmother of wine; who made it for the first time and became the first wine maker. All said and done the popularity of this holy brew spread all over Caucasus like wild fire!

The heavenly drink going places

Without knowing the chemical changes associated with fermentation; villagers started making and drinking it. It was Mesopotamia which learned the art first from Caucasus; from there to Syria, Palestine and Egypt. The technology growing grapes and fermenting wine reached Europe via Cyprus and Crete. So far the fame of this ‘godly’ liquid spread from ear to ear; but the Egyptians were not satisfied by that they etched making of wine on their tomb-walls and wooden-boards! God Dionysus of the Greeks and Bacchus of the Romans both represent wine. Eucharist of the Christians and Kiddush of the Jews are ceremonies related with wines.

Wine magic

Wine rose to a liquid of historical as well as religious importance; for Christians it represents the blood of god. There were Hindu gods who loved wine. History would have never been the same without the participation of wine. Omar Quay yam treated his life itself as a cup of wine and drank it to the last drop! It had an inseparable role in the history of ancient Egypt and Greece. There are many kings who lost their kingdoms for wine and there are many husbands who have lost their wives for it; that is ‘wine magic’; people simply lose their family, wealth and kingdom for it; and live happily ever after ‘lipping the cup’.

The ingredients

wine grapes

The strangest thing with wine is that it’s making does not require expensive ingredients or machineries. Some grapes, sugar (half the weight of grapes), wheat, clove and cinnamon (very small quantity) are the only requirements for making this holy drink. Its making is so simple that any one who has got a porcelain jar and the above things can brew wine at his home. There is even a branch of science known as enology; that deals with the techniques of wine-making; but the fact is that what these enologists churn out is no where near the product our granny’s make!

(Vinification) (Primary fermentation)

Wash the grapes wash it thoroughly in clean water and dry it with a pure cotton cloth; crush it with bare hands. Place one layer of crushed grapes in the bottom of the jar and sprinkle sugar over it just to hide the grapes (say quarter of an inch). Place sugar and grapes alternatively to half the volume of the jar. Fill the rest quarter with sterile (boiled and cooled) water leaving one quarter of the jar vacant. A five minute stirring once a day may be better for proper mixing.

Secondary fermentation

Wait for two weeks; take the mixture; crush the grapes in to the solution; filter it and remove the seeds and skin. Place a cotton pouch with wheat, clove and cinnamon) in to the solution and keep it in a china-jar (those who don’t have the luxury of owning an oak cask) for another month for aging. When aged the wine can be transferred in to glass bottles. For sparkling wines; some of the fermentation is left to take place in the bottle.

The process given is standard; as per the requirement (white wine red wine etc) this can be changed as given in paragraph subtitled ‘there are many wines’. Grapes though a good choice that gives red wine; cashew apples, gooseberry (amla) etc can be used to make wine. Gooseberry and jaggery (an edible byproduct of sugar) combination is behind the ayurvedic preparation known as Chyavana prasha that bestows eternal youth.

The cup that keeps the doctor away

Wine is not just history and religion; it is a tasty health drink; if the latest inventions are right; a glass (about 125 ml) of red wine a day can keep blood pressure under control and check the pace of aging The rich poly-phenols; contained wine are powerful anti-oxidants and they are capable of reducing the risks of heart attacks. Cancer and several other ailments caused by free radicals that haunt the modern man can be contained by the proper use of wine. Aging stimulated by stress can be kept at bay by the use of wine that unwinds the stressed nerves. Wine can make the hardest pessimistic a little hopeful of life; if not convinced just have a glassful of red wine and go to sleep; sweet dreams will follow!

Sexy making!

The making of wine was intertwined by the cultural etiquettes that existed in each culture; the wood that was selected for making storage cans, the way in which grapes are battered etc. In Europe beautiful girls after properly washing their feet and dressed in shorts and checkered shirts were engaged in mashing the grapes in to pulp. They used their used their bare feet for the jobs. The pulp was kept for three to ten days for fermentation in canisters made of selected wood (mostly oak). It was for them a community celebration.

Industrial revolution


But of late big industries have taken over the role and the processes have been made less labor intensive (read without any glamour or sex-appeal); Sanctity in its making has suffered; heartless machines need participation of no village belle clad in shorts. Steel drums are being used for wooden canisters. Who cares of customs and traditions if the product is to be consumed by unknown people living in some corner of the world! A time may come when clocks will reverse and wine may get released from the clutches of multinationals; let us wait for it with a glass full of nanny-made red wine.

Awake my little ones and fill the cup,

Before life’s liquor in its cup be dry.

Omar Quay yam.