Wednesday, September 30, 2015

North Eastern Odyssey 1 - Kohima

Towards the end of 2013 I had visited some of the North Eastern states in India. I can't believe it's been two years. It was a very memorable trip as it was my first lengthy road trip. Almost 15 days of travelling around Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Nagaland by road

To be honest, it wasn't like my friend and I had much of an option. The train and air services are almost non-existent to & in these parts and bus services infrequent. I did have misgivings while starting out and it did have its share of hitches, but, I must say that I did enjoy myself thoroughly. The places were beautiful, the countryside we was breathtaking and the people were genuinely warm and welcoming. 

I had always meant to write about that trip and I did highlight some features but I never got around to completing the posts. Hopefully, I can finish it now.

Better late than never, methinks! ;)

State Museum of Nagaland, Kohima

Museums in India, especially in non-Metro cities aren't exactly well maintained or displayed to maximum effect. It's unfortunate because our country has so so much to offer and showcase. 

My expectations were fairly low when I went into the museum in Kohima. But, I am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised. The museum grounds have stone sculptures displayed from the Eastern states which I unfortunately didn't photograph. Within the building, it was well lit, the artefacts displayed and labelled properly. 

The museum covers the cultures and traditions of the many tribes that form Nagaland - way of life, clothes, jewellery, occupation etc. Also, that head-hunting was very literal unlike what we know today as 'professional headhunting'. ;)

There's a small section housing paintings/ art about and from Nagaland. I think these are fairly contemporary but interesting nevertheless. 

Chair assembled using elephant bones

Spiked armbands worn by both men and women
of the Konyak tribe

Brass choker worn by men of the Chang tribe

Brass choker worn by men of the Chang tribe

Head-hunting was the practise in many tribes. These
are real trophies taken during head-hunting raids.
By far the most popular display!

Naome were worn by Konyak warriors & tiger's teeth
pendants (far left) were worn by men from
Tuensang district

These coloured beads belong to women of the Konyak tribe

Rain gear used to protect themselves from the torrential
downpours while working in the fields or out of doors

Another form of rain gear

One of the paintings from the gallery

If you travel to Kohima and like anthropology and history, don't miss out on this museum. 

Note: Since the artefacts are behind glass cases, it's difficult to photograph. I wasn't able to take too many photos of the displays. But, I did find a great collection on the internet, incase you're interested in seeing more.

My other posts on the North East of India:

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Women power in Vietnam

This interesting place was opened to the public in 1995. It takes you through the life and culture of Vietnamese peoples especially the women. Well planned, the museum has audio-visual displays, photographs, models as well as historical objects to cover various issues. 

The exhibits are all about women - from different ethnic groups, their role in family life, their occupations/ professions, fashion and even their role in the different wars and revolutions in Vietnam. 

As surreal and fantastic the Ho Chi Minh museum was, this museum was more realistic in depicting the joys, struggles, hardships and achievements of Vietnamese women. You can see the immense contribution women make to Vietnamese society.

A visit that I made with a bit of scepticism, expecting a large dose of propaganda. It was anything but. 

The museum was well worth the entry fee (approx Rs. 85/ $1.3 in 2014) and the couple of hours I spent in the place. 

A few photographs from the visit.

The modern and colourful building housing the
Vietnamese Women's Museum

The circular central skylight with a display of beautiful
paper lamps. Exhibition rooms on the various floors
open into this central space.

Worship of the Mother Goddess.
(More info

Votive offerings made of paper and bamboo is an
income generating small industry in Vietnam.
The horse in the previous photograph is another
example of such an offering.

Some objects used by women soldiers during the wars
including a water bottle, sandals and a notebook of poems

More objects from the war including mechanic's tools,
a driving licence and a rear view mirror.

Traditional dress worn by women of a specific
ethnic group. Most exhibits were of ceremonial
dresses and wedding clothes.

More dresses worn by women from
different ethnic groups. The paper
lamps form a pretty backdrop.

A class of school children were taking a tour around
the museum. As imagined these tiny ones were bored
out of their skulls. Age appropriate activities, anyone?!

There was also a special exhibition of traditional Vietnamese dresses worn in movies, theatre productions and for special occasions. I gathered they were terribly expensive and treated like heirlooms. 

Classic traditional dresses

Exquisite embroidery on the dresses

For more details on the museum:, though some information is outdated. The website is available in English & French too.

I think it's high time India puts together one too if only to reinforce the importance of women in society. We have such a dichotomy in our country, where women are breaking barriers in various fields while at the same time they are treated worse than cattle in some parts of the country. 

Churches in Hanoi

I visited two churches in Hanoi. There aren't many non-Buddhist / Taoist places of worship in Hanoi, for obvious reasons. 

One was St. Joseph's Cathedral, the oldest in the city. It was built by the French in 1886 supposedly styled after the famous Notre Dame in Paris. It's located in the midst of a bustling shopping area near Hoan Kiem Lake with a number of cafes, restaurants, shops surrounding it. 

The facade of the cathedral looked unimpressive even though it was of imposing proportions. But once I entered the cathedral, it was a whole different matter. Richly carved altars and beautiful stained glass peppered the interiors. 

The imposing facade of St. Joseph's Cathedral

The little square in front of the church with a statue
of Mary & baby Jesus. The inscription reads
'Regina Pacis' (Queen of Peace)

A view from the side - one of the two towers & another statue

Interior of the cathedral

The main altar

An altar on the left side, inside the cathedral

An altar on the right side, inside the cathedral

Beautiful stained glass windows

Some more pretty stained glass

Interesting features outside the cathedral - a mural
depicting scenes from the holy scriptures. Also seen is Vietnam's
ubiquitous jumble of wires. Below: An old, beautiful bonsai.

A pretty French-colonial style building in the cathedral
premises. Probably, the administrative offices and/ or
residence of the officials of the cathedral.

The second was the picturesque Cua Bac Church. It was built in 1932 by the French under the supervision of renowned architect and urban planner Ernest Hébrard.The church is located at the Northern Gate (Cua Bac) of the ancient Thang Long citadel hence its name. Unlike St. Joseph's Cathedral, this church has a prettier exterior but a simpler, roomier interior full of light and space.

The church facade, bright & welcoming

Interior - simple & calming

The main altar

Stained glass of Biblical figures in the church.
There were a only a few as compared to
St. Joseph's Cathedral.

Play of light & shadow on the pristine white walls

One of the murals in the Stations of the Cross

Grotto surrounded by greenery & covered
with flowering vines 

Two views of the prominent window in the church facade

More ageless bonsai

Friday, September 4, 2015

West Lake & its environs

I am in a 'retro' mood and plan to post a few from my previous trips. In a way, I'll also be closing my series on Vietnam and my North East India travels. Here, I'm continuing with my travel through Hanoi

Hồ Tây as the West Lake is known in Vietnamese is semi-circular and has a long, long... shoreline (Wikipedia reports it as 17 Km). It's the largest among the many lakes that dot the city. It has neat promenades and recreational centres along its banks, making it a popular place for the residents to unwind and relax. 

The West Lake's boundaries
(credit: Google Maps)

Further shores of the lake

People relaxing along the promenade

'Swans' resting at the recreational centre

The West Lake's banks are also home to two very significant places of worship. 

The Quán Thánh temple is one of the four sacred temples built at the four corners of the old city to protect it from malevolent spirits. Quán Thánh protects the northern borders. Today, Hanoi has outgrown those borders and the temples have been absorbed by this ever expanding city. 

The picturesque entrance to the temple

Beautiful idols of holy animal symbols

Incense offerings to the deity

Antique wall murals on the sides of the main building

The main deity (top) & other altars within
Quán Thánh was built in the 11th century and is dedicated to the Taoist deity of the North. 

Artefacts & ancient bonsai

A smaller shrine within the premises

The entrance from the inside

Trấn Quốc Pagoda is dedicated to Buddhism and is said to have been built in the 6th century. It was originally built on the banks of the Red river but when the river changed course and threatened to flood it, the pagoda was shifted to the banks of the lake. It lies on off a small strip of land that separates the larger lake body from the smaller one. 

The pagoda as seen from the causeway

The Trấn Quốc Pagoda is defined by the tall red tower which is built in tiers. Each tier has tiny alcoves with white statues of the Buddha in them. All around it are smaller shrines. This is a living pagoda where monks continue to reside and pray. 

The beautiful gateway to the pagoda complex

The red tower seen amongst the
smaller shrines

Courtyard in front of the main building

One of the shrines inside

Other ornate altars inside the main building

One of the altars had lots of photos pasted on a wooden board with offerings placed in front. I am not entirely sure, but it seemed to be an altar for ancestor worship which the Vietnamese believe in. Earlier, tablets represented each ancestor but now it seems technology has replaced them with photographs. 

Altar for ancestor worship (I think)

Interestingly, there are two familiar sights from back home in this complex - magnificient peepal trees! One inside and one just in front of the entrance. The one inside has grown from a branch taken from the original Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, Bihar. It was gifted in 1959 by the then President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad. The one outside the entrance is an offshoot of the gift. A gift that keeps on growing. ;) Pun intended. 

The Bodhi (peepal) tree in the courtyard

Interesting features in the pagoda

The West Lake too has many small parks in its vicinity. I've mentioned two notable ones here, in my opinion, mainly because of the imagery they contained. One park is the memorial to soldiers of the Vietnamese army that fought in the 1940's. The other is a memorial to the anti-French revolutionary, Lý Tự Trọng, executed when he was 17 years old for assaulting French officials. The images are larger than life and strangely awe-inspiring in their proportions. 

Maybe, that was the intent of the creators. 

Memorial to Vietnamese revolutionaries

Memorial to the teenage martyr

Hồ Tây, one of the pleasanter areas of the bustling capital city and where I enjoyed spending some quiet moments.