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Friday, December 11, 2015

Sun Temple,Modhera,Gujarat

Its nearly two years since I updated my blog!! The growing popularity of Facebook probably has affected the blogs in general and particularly in my case. But a blog has its own space especially when we are looking for a post on particular topic or posting images which have a sequence or connection.
After returning from a much awaited , short holiday in Gujarat , mainly in the wilderness of Little Rann of Kutch , I thought of reviving my blog with pictures of two architectural masterpieces of eleventh century in western India . The first of the two posts is about the Sun Temple of Modhera.
We stayed in a place called Patadi in Surendranagar district ,Gujarat to visit Little Rann of Kutch (LRK ). After completing our stay of two nights at Patadi on our way back to Ahmedabad we decided to take an extended journey by visiting Modhera and Patan.
Ancient India had many Sun temples and there were significant population of Sun God worshippers. But with time their number decreased and over centuries the temples were either destroyed or damaged. Only few Sun temples exist today. The Sun temple of Konark in Odisha is well known to everyone , many are not familiar with this Sun temple in Western India .
 Modhera , town in Mehsana district of Gujarat is about 100 kms from Ahmedabad .The temple is located right on the Tropic of Cancer at 23°  North of equator and while driving towards Modhera , a sign board at Becharaji town reminds you about your location on the tropic of cancer.
      Modhera Sun temple was built in the year 1026 AD by the king Bhimdev I of Solanki dynasty  and in ten years from now will be completing 1000 years !!. Though it is not as well known as the Sun temple of Konark, Modhera temple was actually built 200 years earlier to Konark.
          The temple complex  built in East-West direction has an welcome arch which is broken by invaders . There is a waterbody -Surya Kund right in front of temple and is meant for devotees to have cleansing  rituals before entering temple . Surya kund  also known as Ramakund is an architectural marvel with four levels of steps to reach the water. The steps are interlaced with 108  small shrines all round , coinciding with 108 beads in Rudrakshi mala ( Hindu rosary ). There are four bigger shrines in corners .
The temple is separated from main hall called Sabha mantap by a narrow passage. The Sabha mantap is another architectural marvel .This is the place that was meant for religious gatherings and conferences. Open on all sides with four doorways, the piece de resistance is its unique walnut-shaped ceiling supported by 52 spectacular pillars. These 52 pillars represent 52 weeks of the year. Each of these is intricately carved with every inch of available space recounting scenes form Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Krishna Leela.The exterior of the Sabha mantap has twelve idols of Sun depicting Sun in twelve different months of the year. Also there are carvings from epics, Life ,death and rituals etc. Again you will never see an inch of stone without art!
Like many ancient Indian Temples there are sculptures depicting sexual position from Vatsayana Kamasutra .
     The main temple is behind Sabha mantap and has sanctum sanctorum and all three parts of the complex are axially aligned. The main complex is built on stone plinth in the shape of inverted lotus considering the relationship of sun to Lotus.It is designed such that the first rays of sun on days of time equinox ( March 20, September 21 ) fall on the golden idol of Surya and lights up  the whole temple . The idol of Surya was supposed to be in gold and studded with diamonds. Entire golden idol with golden chariot and horses were placed in a pit 15 feet deep and filled with  goden coins.The idol were taken away by Mohamad Ghazni who invaded the kingdom of Solanki .Today the temple remains a heritage site ,maintained in an excellent way by Archeological society of India.

A view of Sabha mantap

A side view of temple complex

 Frontal View of temple, Suryakunj,

Sabha Mantapa ,

Interior of Sabha mantapa

Sabha mantapa

Main temple with sanctus sanctorum also called Guda mantap

                       One of Idol of Sun God on the wall of Sabha mantap,there are twelve such idols

             Another Sun Idol
Erotic sculptures on wall

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Agent of Death pleading for life !

It was in later half of seventies I was in my high school studies . Our school was located out side the village limits and right across the road ,less than few hundred meters from the school was a hill and a small part of the hill was used as a dumping ground for carcass of dead livestock of village. From our class room I could see sometimes big birds soaring in sky and coming down to ground  when carcass is dumped in the area. Even from that distance I could see their big size and long neck. We were told they are vultures ( Rana Haddu in Kannada ) . Though they were not seen daily , their sightings on any day made us believe that somewhere in village a cattle has died . It was a common thinking to associate vultures with death or kill. Years passed and I was busy in my studies , moved to different places but whenever I passed by that road  almost subconsciously I used to look for these birds –Vultures ,though till today I haven’t seen them again. It was almost 30 years later ,when I developed interest in birds and photography I asked my friend Dr Rathnakar about any  dumping ground of carcass around Shimoga so that I can see vultures and the answer I got shook me almost. I learnt then that vultures are almost extinct . He narrated that their race in India faced a near extinction due to adverse effect of eating carcass of livestock treated with  drug Diclofenac .Since then I made several searches and went little deep into this issue and though I travelled several places for wildlife and birding I was  not fortunate to see a vulture till recently . It was only in first week of December, in Bikaner,Rajasthan I could see vultures for first time in so many years. 
Vultures are large birds which are scavengerine birds and birds of prey. As a bird vulture is not an attractive bird. There are different types of Vultures, White rumped vulture, red headed vulture, Griffon vultures, Egyptian vultures etc. They usually eat dead animals and even meat which is putrefying. Their digestive system has capacity to digest meat which is rotting and they can digest even such meat which is infected with deadly bacteria like Anthrax. Upto early  part of eighties  they were very common birds in India and by next few years their numbers started declining and by later half of nineties  their numbers had declined to critically low figures It was then learnt that such rapid decline in numbers of vultures in India was due to use of a drug Diclofenac in cattle and other livestock.. When those animals died and the carcass still contained Diclofenac in the dead tissues ,  vultures which fed on such carcass developed kifney injury and subsequently died in few days. Diclofenac is a very common drug used in Humans for pain relief and subsequently used by veterinarians for pain relief in animals.  By the time this was taken into cognizance it was too late and from few millions in numbers ,the vultures had come down to hundreds.  Govt Of India banned use of Diclofeanc in Veternary practice in 2006 a move considered too small and  too late. But by that time nearly90% vulture population in India were wiped out. But the alternative drug Meloxicam was costlier compared to Diclofenac and though Govt had banned it in Vet.Practice they were still able to use it as availability was not a t all a problem .It is still widely and easily available for human use and the same vials are used by Veterinarians also for use in livestock. Though this fatal effect of Diclofenac is seen in some species of vultures and not in all ,Those which are able to digest diclofenac like Eurasian Griffon vultures and Egyptian vultures  have escaped largely but the Indian vulture, White backed vulture ,red headed vulture have almost reached status of critical endangered species. Vultures once ubiquitous in India has now been confined to very few places that too in very small numbers.
In an environment everything has a chain effect. As the number of vultures declines their place was taken by feral dogs. These dogs have thrived on meat of dead animals and rapidly increased their population . When it was difficult for them to get enough food these dogs started attacking humans. There are several cases of human attack by feral dogs. It is becoming a menace to control the numbers of feral dogs in several cities and even villages. Many animal borne diseases started resurging after vultures declined . With forest area dwindling leopards from forest started looking out of their domain and found an attractive prey in dogs. So many cases of leopard trespassing into villages are due to increase in dog population and  vultures decline has a connection to this phenomenon This  is how everything is interconnected in nature and it might be passed off as foolish if some one says Dic;ofenac is connected to leopard –human conflicts !
Though there are several efforts to revive vultures it takes time to yield effect. Hopefully they will be successful and we will be able to prevent them from extinction.

The pictures in this blog are taken at a place called Jorbeed about 15 kms from Bikaner,Rajasthan, This area is one of largest dumping ground of carcass in India and they are tested for presence of Diclofenac in tissue and only such meat which is free from the drug are dumped here. Every winter number of Griffon Vultures from Europe ,Central Asia, Himalayan area migrate to this place for spending winter. I was able to see about 5 cinereous vultures, a flock of about 20 Eurasian Griffon vultures on ground and several of the perched atop small trees there. Egyptian vultures are seen in thousands here In addition to Vultures this area has large number of big sized Steppe Eagles, Tawny eagles, Imperial eagle etc.This is one place which is to be visited for anybody inetersted in birds and bird photography.

A flock of Eurasian Griffon Vultures
An Eurasian Griffon Vulture in flight

Perched on a tree -Eurasian Griffon Vulture
     A Cinereous Vulture : One of largest Vultures with a wingspan of around 2 meters.

    A cinereous Vulture taking off!
Griffon Vulture
Another angle of same bird
Another flock of Eurasian Griffon Vulture

Egyptian Vulture , 

                                                      Egyptian Vulture perched on a tree

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mangalajodi Wetlands,Odisha

There are several places in India which are unique for reasons of their own. If you travel between cities India looks same whichever city you go, from Ahmedabad to Bangalore to Bhubaneswar cities in India have same colour, same brands of coffee, hotels, shopping complexes and cinema theatres and people in and out of these places also look similiar .But when you move out of cities into the other "india" you start noticing its richness, diversity and uniqueness of every place. These places are rich in their flora and fauna, diverse in their customs and culture and here lies the true India and its richness. The place which I am about to describe is a small village in the state of Odisha in eastern India. This village with a population of around 10,000 humans is situated n the district of Khurda , and about 75 Kms from the capital of Odisha ,Bhubaneswar. But not many people with whom i talked knew  about Mangalajodi even in the city of Bhubaneswar.Mangalajodi village is in the northern most part of Chilika lake ( Chilika Lagoon ). Chilika is the largest brackish water lagoon in India and the second largest in the world with an area of 1100 sq.Kms. This lagoon is connected to Bay of Bengal.(see on map). This lake is declared as a wetland of international importance . Chilika lake is one of the largest wintering place for nearly a million of migratory birds with more than 160 species of birds visiting the place for winter.
Mangalajodi is the winter home for nearly 200,000 birds in peak winter . The story of Mangalajodi is interesting . Till 2000, this place was considered as poachers paradise where people were engaged in poaching the birds and their eggs and meat transported to cities . In the year 2000 when bird census was held ,the population of birds was said to be around 5000 .This was when conservationists and environmentalists took up the challenge of motivating villagers who are largely fishermen, into conserving the population of migratory birds . Many organisations and people were involved but the efforts of Wild Orissa are significant and the results of their hard work can be now seen that the village which was once considered as poachers village now transformed into naturalists village and this year 2013 January census showed more than 150,000 birds population .The time I visited was at the fag end of winter ,March first week with many birds already left the place. But still I could see many birds and some of them I had seen for first time. There are thousand of Purple more hens, open billed storks, Grey headed lapwing, Wagtails , pipit, Pied starling, hope, Kingfisher, Myna, Redwattled lapwing, Sandpipers , Snipes, plenty of Black tailed Godwits, Blackwinged Stilts, stints, Bluethroat, Kite, Harrier, Black shouldered kite, Ruddy shelducks. There are little ringed plovers, Pacific plover, Ruffs, Black headed Ibis, grey heron purple heron, cormorants, and many many more. In the peak season many more species which are unique to this place can be seen. There are two ways of birding here one by walking on the 3.5 kms of nature trail and second most prefered is by boat. For both you need a guide .
This is not a holiday travel destination and hence there are no resorts or big hotels. You can get good accommodation at Mangalajodi ecotourism cottages at a reasonable cost . This place is a community owned venture started two years ago. They have made good improvement in their quality of stay and food going by what I have read from experience of previous travellers. They can be visited on web at . Mr Shashank and his team there do everything within their limits to make your stay memorable and your purpose of visit fulfilled. The boating is also arranged by them each boating is of 3 hours duration and accompanied by an eco guide. The other hotel  which I saw there though I have no idea and details is the Godwit cottage.
But Mangalajodi is a special place for birding , a village where its bird population is ten times more than  human population and a village where once poachers are now protectors, a place where you can have birding at ease , a place still not exploited by commercial tourism . Some of the winter migrants travel more than 12,000kms to reach these places
Best time to visit is between November-February. Even in month of March you will still be not disappointed. You can reach Mangalajodi from Bhubaneswar by road. about 75kms on BBSR-Chennai road on NH 5 .

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ladakh : Amazing land where mountains meet heavens

Ladakh , a peaceful ,serene and pious region of Jammu and Kashmir state of India , is a natural destination of any travel or photography enthusiast. Situated between Kunlun mountain range and the Himalayas ,the word Ladakh means " Land of High passes". True to the literal meaning Ladakh has many mountain passes all around the region and some of the highest motor able roads in the world pass through Ladakh.

  Historically, the region included the Baltistan (Baltiyul) valleys, the Indus Valley, the remote ZangskarLahaul and Spiti to the south,Aksai Chin and Ngari, including the Rudok region and Guge, in the east, and the Nubra valleys to the north.

Contemporary Ladakh borders Tibet to the east, the Lahaul and Spiti to the south, the Vale of KashmirJammu and Baltiyul regions to the west, and the trans–Kunlun territory of Xinjiang to the far north. Ladakh is renowned for its remote mountain beauty and culture. It is sometimes called "Little Tibet" as it has been strongly influenced by Tibetan culture.

Ladakh being a strategic location from military angle was closed to visitors till 1974. Ladakh region includes the districts of Leh and Kargil. Ladakh is a high altitude cold desert . 

Leh town is the hub of all activities in Ladakh. Leh is connected by air to Delhi,Jammu and Srinagar with daily flights to and from Delhi. By road Leh can be reached by two routes one from Manali and other from Srinagar via Kargil. Both these places are around 440 Km s from Leh and need two days of travel through high mountain passes. These roads open only during summer and peaks receive snow fall even in summer. Leh is at an altitude of around 11500ft above sea level. The co ordinates of Leh are 

34° 8′ 43.43″ N77° 34′ 3.41″ E.
The main tourist attraction of Ladakh are the beautiful landscapes ,historic and pictursque monasteries ,
High altitude lakes with crystal clear waters, snow peaks , vibrant culture and religion of Ladakh.
Leh town has an ancient palace belonging to Numgyal dynasty and a monastery . Thikse monastery and shey palace
are about 10 km from Leh . The sangam of Zangskar and Indus river, Sindhu ghat,  a museum of Kargil war at Hall of fame
Gurudwar pattar saheb, Spituk monastery ,Shanti stupa are the places worth seeing at Leh.
Nubra valley is a region to the north of Leh with the Nubra river and has famous Diskit monastery.
 Nubra has a landscape with white sand dunes and snow capped mountains the combination of which is unique to Ladakh.While drive to Nubra valley
invoves excursion on world's highest road at Khardung La (18380 ft) .
Ladakh has several high altitude salt water lakes .Famous few are Pangong lake ,Moriri lake, Kar lake.
Pangong lake is around 140 km from Leh while Tso Moriri is around 220 km. .
Ladakh is a beautiful place ,dark blue sky,white clouds, blue water, colorful prayer flags , monasteries atop tall hills, Snow capped mountains, sand dunes, curving serpentine roads, smiling Ladakhi Budhists, prayer wheels ,stupas all make this land serene and Gods own place. If you are a photography enthusiast and want to make all forms of photography in one go Ladakh is the place. You can have great landscapes, beautiful birds, amazing wild life ,portraits of some of the smiles which you will ever remember , action, night and time lapse photos , structures and monuments everything in one trip Ladakh is undoubtedly the place. 
Of the several places I have travelled in India and abroad Ladakh is the place which has left an indelible mark in my memory. Ladakh is not just about photography ,it is not just about holiday travel ,it is beyond all these which makes it special. It is about a place which has stood all adversities ,it is about a human race which stood against time,. against all difficulties and yet bear an inimitable ,genuine smile on their face.
In the following few photos I have included a glimpse and divided my web album into different segments and given link to them separately.Please visit all the albums and in every picture I have included some small details.
Ladakh is too big for any camera to capture. 

Every inch of the land is photogenic and most of it is best enjoyed by our eyes and it will be indelibly recorded in your memory.Photos are only to show to others a glimpse of our journey into this great land of Lamas.
Pangong Lake

Sand dunes

Himalayan Mormot
Khardung La road

Shanti stupa at Leh

Thikse monastery,

Click on the image below to visit my web album Ladakh Landscapes

Ladakh landscapes
Click on the image below to view my web album Ladakh Monasteries

Ladakh Monastery
Click on the image below to view my web album Ladakh birds and wildlife

Ladakh birds and wildlife
Click on the image below to view my web album Ladakh trivia

Ladakh trivia

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Asian paradise flycatcher

Asian Paradise flycatchers are birds native to Asia. They are seen widely in India and inhabit forests and well wooded areas. They are winter migrators to Asia but in south India a resident breed is commonly seen.
Paradise flycatchers are beautiful birds and the male birds have a characteristic long tail about 25- 30 cms long and females have a short tail. They feed on flies,insects and small worms,butterflies etc.
The breeding season is from February to May ,these birds are monogamous and both participate in nesting and feeding activities. the nest is a small woven tuft on a very slender twig of a tree or small plant often not easily detectable. They lay 2-3 small eggs
these pictures were taken at a nesting site in a farm near Honnali on shimoga- Honnali road.

Male Asian Paradise flycatcher

Female bird feeding chicks

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hornbill nesting and feeding

Indian Grey Hornbills and Malabar Grey Hornbills are the common type of Hornbills seen in India. There are nearly ten types of hornbills seen in India but the Indian grey hornbill,Malabar grey horn bill, Malabar pied hornbills, Great Hornbills are the common types seen. They are wide spread in the western Ghats, and also eastern Indian forests. Hornbills are charecterised by their horn like beak and pied hornbills have a casque on their upper mandible. The beak is coloured and the bird is blackish grey  .
 Hornbills Have a unique breeding pattern. They are monogamous, and select a cavity in a tall tree for nesting.They make their nest and then seal the cavity with mud,fruit pulp,its droppings etc and when complete has an opening for the female bird to just squeeze inside. After the female enters the nest, the male completely seals the nest and there is one small opening for feeding the inmate bird. Now the male feeds the female and female lays 4-6 eggs. Once inside the nest ,the female undergoes complete moult by shedding all its feathers and it incubates the eggs and then the chicks. At this stage it is totally dependent on the male bird. If something happens to the male bird  and if  it dies, then the  entire family dies. This female   bird cannot fly and cannot feed the chicks also. When the chicks are sufficiently grown the female breaks open the nest and comes out and both feed the young. Some opine that the female cannot break open the nest on its own and when it is time to come out the male bird breaks the nest from outside.  The cycle lasts for 60 days. In this period they fight several adversities including predator attacks, snakes, poaching humans (and Photographers of course).
During the nesting the male bird feeds the female and the chicks with a  variety of fruits, estimated to be more than 30 different types  and also small insects,lizards etc. It travels long distances in search of food. The fruits are held  in its throat and when it reaches nest it regurgitates the fruit one by one from its pharynx to its beak and feeds the inmates. The female do not come out except putting its beak out .

These birds use the same tree and nest for the future breeding also and come back to same point in their next breeding cycle.

This picture shows a malabar grey hornbill feeding into its nest.

A malabar pied Hornbill at Dandeli forest
Few other photos taken at Dandeli can also viewed here by clicking this link or the photo below.