This & That…

(1) Begin your day with meditation and a mantra :  I love the world, I love my life and I love this universal energy.  Saying this aloud brings about a smile from within, which leads perfectly on to a heartfelt rush of gratitude.  Create a snapshot in your mind’s eye, which gets triggered by —- a stranger’s smile, bird songs or the wind flying through the trees.
(2) The Wandering Albatross, with a wing-span of 12ft, the largest of any living bird, can glide through the air for hours —without flapping its wings.
Wandering Albatross Kaikoura 19 Nov 12_990(3) Dear Optimist, Pessimist and Realist, while you guys were arguing about the glass of water —– I DRANK IT. ——-The Opportunist.
(4) Affirmations : Having little positive affirmations around you, that you can see and read everyday, can actually completely change your mood and help you stay ‘focused’ and ‘positive.  Find your inner philosopher and write something amazing.  Use ‘quotes’ to inspire others, to change your mood, to stay on track towards your goals.  ‘Quotes’ can also help to remind you about how blessed you are with where you are in life and the things you have achieved.
(5) In times of joy, all of us wish we possessed a TAIL WE COULD WAG.— Wystan Hugh Auden.
(6) FOCUS on what is IMPORTANT, CAPTURE the GOOD TIMES and DEVELOP from the NEGATIVES and if things don’t work —— TAKE ANOTHER SHOT.

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(7) What lies on the ground, 100 feet in the air ?  A centipede sun-bathing.
(8) You don’t get ulcers from what you eat, you get them from what’s eating you.
(9) Avoid the word “very”, because it’s ‘lazy’.  A man is not ‘very’ tired, he is ‘exhausted’.  Don’t use ‘very’ sad, use ‘morose’,  Language was invented for one reason, boys, —- to woo women —– and, in that endeavour, laziness will not do.
(10) Repeat to yourself every night : Sleep peacefully, wake up feeling good, refreshed and energised..  This helps you fall asleep quicker, focusses your mind and encourages a self-hypnotic state of relaxation —— easing away the stress accumulated through the day.  Dreams are vivid and can carry information or messages and are excellent resources of discovering untapped creativity and potential in us.

Unakoti

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Unakoti, literally means “one less than a crore” in Bengali.  It is situated 186 kilometres to the north-east from Agartala, the capital of Tripura. —-It hosts an ancient Shaivite place of worship, with huge rock-cut images and stone idols, dating back to the 7th-9th centuries, if not earlier.  While marvelous rock carvings, murals with their primitive beauty form the chief attraction, the mountain scenery and the waterfalls are an added bonus.

Unakoti

As per Hindu Mythology, when Lord Shiva was going to Kashi, along with 1 crore gods and goddesses, including Him, he made a night halt at this location.  He asked all the gods and goddesses to wake up before sunrise and proceed to Kashi.  It is said that in the morning, except Shiva no one else got up, so He set out for Kashi alone cursing the others to become stone images and stay there forever.

Unakoti_group_of_bas-relief_sculptures,Tripura,India

The images are located at a beautifully landscaped forest area with green vegetation all around which add to the beauty of the images.  The images, found at Unakoti, are of 2 types —- rock-carved figures and stone images.  Among the rock-cut carvings, the central Shiva Head and the gigantic Ganesha figures deserve special mention.  The central Shiva Head known as Unakotiswara Kal Bhairava, is about 30ft high, including an embroidered head-dress which itself is 10ft high.On each side of the head-dress of the central Shiva Head, there are 2 full-size female figures —– one of Durga standing on a lion and another female figure on the other side.  In addition, 3 enormous images of Nandi Bull are found  half-buried in the ground.  There are various other stone and rock-cut images at Unakoti.

unakoti carving

The site has suffered centuries of neglect causing degradation and loss on a considerable scale to the rock art.  Since its adoption by the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) as a “heritage site”, the situation has slightly improved, though a lot of work, including substantial excavation, remains to be undertaken.  The Government of India has approached UNESCO to declare it as a World Heritage Site.  The Centre has recently granted 12 crore rupees, to the state, for developing the area as a major tourist attraction.

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It is a bewitching tourist attraction.  A mountain and on the sides of it carved out stone images, a spring descending in the rivulet ——– as a place of “archaeological wonder, Unakoti is unparalleled.  Unrecorded in history, a mystery surround Unakoti, and that definitely fascinates visitors.

unakoti waterfalls

According to local legend, there was a sculptor named Kallu Kumhar.  Kallu was a devotee of Parvati, the consort of Lord Shiva, and he wanted to accompany Lord Shiva and Parvati to their abode on Kailash.  On Parvati’s persuasion, Shiva agreed to take Kallu to Kailash on the condition that he would sculpt 1 crore images of Shiva in just one night.  Kallu worked like a man possessed.  But, as dawn broke, the number of images was still”one less than a crore”.  Shiva, who was keen to get rid of Kallu, used this excuse to leave Kallu behind in Unakoti..

Honey Badger

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The Honey Badger, also known as the Ratel, is a species of mustelid native to Africa, South-west Asia and the Indian sub-continent. Despite its name, the Honey Badger does not closely resemble other species., instead, it bears more anatomical similarities to weasels.  It is classed as “least concern” by the ICUN, owing to its extensive range and general environmental adaptations.  It is, primarily, a carnivorous species and has few natural predators because of its thick skin and ferocious defensive abilities.
RATEL is an Afrikaans word, possibly derived from the Middle Dutch word for ‘rattle’, ‘honeycomb’ (either because of its cry or its taste for honey).  The Honey Badger is the only species of the genus Mellivora.  Although in the 1860s, it was assigned to the badger sub-family —— the Melinae..  The Honey Badger can be regarded as another analogous form of outsized weasel or polecat.
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It has a fairly long body, but is distinctly thick-set and broad across the back.  Its skin is remarkably loose and allows it to turn and twist freely within it.  The skin. around the neck, is 6 millimetres thick, an adaptation to fighting conspecifics.  The head is small and flat and the ears are little more than ridges on the skin, another possible adaptation to avoiding damage while fighting.  It has short and sturdy legs with 5 toes on each foot.  The feet are armed with very strong claws, which are short on the hind legs and remarkably long on the forelimbs.  The tail is short and is covered in long hairs, save from below the base.  There are 2 pairs of mammae.  The Honey Badger possesses an anal pouch which, unusual among mustelids, is ‘eversible’, a trait shared with hyenas and mongooses.  The smell of the pouch is ‘suffocating’ and may assist in calming bees when raiding beehives.  The skull is very solidly built.  The brain-case is broader than that of dogs.
Although it feeds predominantly on soft foods, the Honey Badger’s cheek teeth are often extensively worn.  The canine teeth are short for a carnivore.  The tongue has sharp backward-pointing papillae which assist it in processing tough foods.
honey badger vs lionThe ‘winter fur’ is long and consists of sparse, coarse bristle-like hairs lacking underfur. Hairs are even sparse on the flanks, belly and groin.  The ‘summer fur’ is shorter and even sparser with the belly being half bare.  The sides of the head and lower body are pure black in colour.  A large white band covers the upper body, beginning from the top of the head down to the base of the tail.
Although mostly solitary, Honey Badgers may hunt together in pairs during the May breeding season.  Little is known of the badger’s breeding habits.  Its gestation period is thought to last 6 months, usually resulting in 2 cubs, which are born blind.  The cubs vocalise through plaintive whines. Its lifespan, in the wild, is unknown, though captive individuals have been known to live for approximately 24 years. —— They live alone in self-dug holes.  They are skilled diggers, able to dig tunnels into hard ground in 10 minutes.  These burrows, usually, have one passage and a nesting chamber and are only 1-3 metres long.  They do not place bedding in the nesting chamber.  Though they dig their own burrows, they may take over disused aardvark and warthog holes or termite mounds.
honey_badger_don__t_care_by_gatorvenom-d40h28zHoney Badgers are intelligent animals and are one of the few species known to be capable of using tools.  In the 1997 documentary series —– Land Of The Tiger —– a Honey Badger, in India, was filmed making use of a tool, the animal rolled a log and stood on it to reach a kingfisher stuck up in the roots coming from the ceiling in an underground cave.  Honey Badgers are notorious for their strength, ferocity and toughness.  Bee stings, porcupine quills and animal bites rarely penetrate their skin.  Because of the toughness of their skin, it is hard to penetrate it and its looseness allows them to twist and turn on their attackers when held.  The only safe grip on a Honey Badger is on the back of the neck.  The skin is tough enough to resist machete blows.  The voice of the Honey Badger is a hoarse ‘khrya-ya-ya-ya sound.  When confronting dogs, a Honey Badger screams like a bear cub.

So’n Doong cave

So'n doong

So’n Doong Cave (Mountain River Cave in Vietnamese), is the biggest known cave in the world, by volume.  It is located near the Laos-Vietnam border. 

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So’n Doong Cave  was discovered by a local man (when he was a teenager) in 1991.  The whistling sound of wind and roar of a fiery stream, in the cave, heard through the entrance as well as the steep descent, prevented him from entering the cave.  It is not that easy to find this cave in the rugged terrain of Ke Bang jungle ——— contrary to several other cave entrances in this region.  So’n Doong Cave starts as a comparatively small hole.  Ho-Khanh did not enter the cave —– it was too steep and the prospect of falling into roaring darkness was not too attractive to him.

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Only in 2009 did the cave become internationally known, after a group of scientists from the British Cave Research Association, led by Howard and Deb Limbert, conducted a survey from 10-14 April, 2009.  Their progress was stopped by a large 60m high calcite wall, which was name THE GREAT WALL OF VIETNAM.  It was traversed in 2010, when the group reached the end of the cave passage.  The Great Wall Of Vietnam is a steep, muddy and slippery wall.

Son-Doong

This cave is one of the great natural wonders of the world.  According to the Limberts, the cave is 5 times larger than Phong Nha Cave, a nearby cave, previously considered the biggest cave in Vietnam.  The biggest chamber of So’n Doong is more than 5kms long, 200m high and 150m wide.  Due to these dimensions, So’n Doong overtook DEER CAVE, in Malaysia, in 2009, to take the title of the World’s Largest Cave.  The cave contains some of the tallest known “stalagmites”, in the world, which are up to 70m tall.

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The most amazing feature of So’n Doong Cave is an enormous, giant passage in the central part.  In most places, it is at least 80m wide and 80m high and there is a long section where it is wider and taller than 140m.  The cave has its own climate and often there are clouds inside.  So’n Doong Cave has 2 major openings in the ceiling ———SINKHOLES.  One is called WATCH OUT FOR DINOSAURS (because of the environment).  Here there is a very tall waterfall.  The other ‘sinkhole, which is covered with lush jungle, is called GARDEN OF EDAM (ironic reference to the beautiful GARDEN OF EDEN, in Sarawak, Malaysia).  The “stalagmites” may be the tallest in the world ——- one such giant, here, is called HAND OF DOG, as it resembles a dog’s paw.

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The So’n Doong Cave has formed in “fault zone”, where a river was captured for example its stream went underground.  Analysis of sediments show that the cave was formed at least 2 million years ago.  Behind the Great Wall of Vietnam were found CAVE PEARLS, the size of grapefruits.  These “pearls” were created by dripping water and their giant size could be explained by the big distance of water falling from the tall ceiling.
son doong wall

Sounds like a perfect place to develop tourism !!!! At the same time, the cave environment is ver fragile.  So’n Doong Cave is that UNIQUE, that it would be a huge loss if this “fragile beauty” would be lost forever.  Authorities, in Vietnam, seem to be indecisive about the development of tourism here.  In 2013, the first tourist group explored the cave, on a guided tour at a cost of US $3000 each.  Future exploration trips are planned.

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Pressure-cooked delights

If you do not have an oven, there’s no need to worry, there’s always the pressure cooker to help you prepare these delectable desserts.
(1) CARAMEL CUSTARD (with a twist)  :
Caramel_CustardIngredients: 450ml milk, 75gm sugar, 2 eggs, 75ml cold water, 1tbsp castor sugar, 1tsp vanilla essence.
Method : Beat the eggs together with vanilla essence.  Add milk while stirring. Strain mixture.  Dissolve sugar and water together until caramelized.  Line a serving dish with the caramel.  Pour the custard over the caramel.  Cover with foil.  Take some water in a pressure cooker, enough for it to last the length of your cooking time (40 minutes).  Now place a ‘katori’ in it and then a perforated metal plate over the ‘katori’ (cookers usually have metal plates)  The plate should be “above” the water, not touching it.  Close the pressure cooker and cook without the pressure for 20 minutes.  Take the pudding out of the cooker, turn it upside down into a dish and serve.
 (2) VANILLA CAKE (classic, but eggless) :
VanillaCake_lzIngredients: 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup butter, 1 1/2 cups sugar (powdered), 2 1/2tsp. baking powder, 1/2 cup water, 3/4 cup yoghurt, 1/4tsp salt, 9inch round or square tins —- 2
Method : Line the base of the tins with butter paper or grease the bases and dust either with refined flour or sugar till well coated.  Sift flour and baking powder and transfer into a mixing bowl.  Add salt, sugar, butter, water and vanilla essence.  Beat the mixture with a wooden spoon or a beater till well blended.  Add the yoghurt to the cake batter and beat till smooth.  The batter looks almost glossy when done.  Transfer the batter into the 2 tins.  Heat the pressure cooker (empty), covered but without the pressure for 3-4 minutes on high heat, then place one cake tin in it.  Cover again without pressure, lower flame and let it cook till done (about half an hour).  Repeat with the other tin.  Serve.
(3) CHOCOLATE CAKE : A keeper for days when you are craving cake, but there’s no current.
chocolate cakeIngredients: 1 cup flour, 1/4 cup cocoa, 1 1/4tsp baking powder, 1/4 cup butter, 3/4 cup sugar (powdered), 1/4 cup water, 2eggs, 1/2tsp vanilla essence, 1/8tsp salt, 6inch round greased baking tin.
Method : Mix flour, cocoa, baking powder, butter, sugar, water, vanilla essence and beat together,  Add eggs and beat the batter till it is smooth.  Transfer to the baking tin.  Heat pressure cooker covered but without the pressure for 3-4 minutes on high heat, then place cake tin in the empty cooker (do not add water in the cooker.  Cover without the pressure, lower flame and let it cook till done (about half an hour).  Remove from cooker and serve.
—————-Niru Gupta.

Fly Ranch Geyser

Fly-Geyser

Fly Ranch Geyser also known as Fly Geyser is a man-made small geo-thermal geyser, located in Washoe County, Nevada, approximately 20 miles north of Gerlach.  It is located near the edge of Fly Reservoir and is only about 5ft high, but 12ft wide, counting the mound on which it sits.
The Fly Ranch is private property and is owned by Todd Jaksick.  There is a high fence and a locked gate, topped with spikes to bar trespassers from entering.  The only access is a dirt road, but the geyser is large enough to be seen from the road.
It is not an entirely natural phenomenon.  It was accidently created by well drilling in 1964, exploring for sources of geo-thermal energy.  The well may not have been capped correctly, or left unplugged, but either way dissolve minerals started rising and accumulating creating the travertine mound on which the geyser sits and continues growing. –

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The geyser contains several terraces discharging water into 30-40 pools over an area of 74 acres.  A prior well-drilling attempt, in 1917, resulted in the creation of a man-made geyser of boiling water close to the currently. active Fly Geyser.  It created a pillar of calcium carbonate about 12ft tall, but ceased when the Fly Geyser began releasing water in 1964.  Two additional geysers, in the area, were created in a similar way an continue to grow.  The 1st geyser is approximately 3ft and is shaped like a miniature volcano and the 2nd geyser is about 5ft and is cone-shaped.

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Traveling via State Route 34, the geysers display themselves from a distance.  These three hot springs are also known as the THREE BUDDHAS, because the shapes resemble statues of Buddha.  Even though nature has sculptured these hot springs through calcium carbonate deposits and painted them deep, vibrant rusty, reddish and green colours which are a result of thermophilic algae, flourishing in moist and hot environments, they are not natural springs.

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While you are on State Route 34, go about 3 miles north of Gerlach, there is a small field of geo-thermal vents and springs on the left side of the road, where boiling hot water surfaces from a hole in the ground and spills down a steaming ditch.  This natural, undeveloped area presents a beautiful and unique attraction which is open to the public.  A word of advice : LOOK, BUT DON’T TOUCH !!!!!!!

Fast with a smile

lent-wordcloud_2Wednesday, the 18th of February marked the start of the season of Lent.  It was Ash Wednesday.  Currently, Christians are supposed to observe fasting and abstinence, in preparation for the greatest feast —–Easter.
“Fast foods” from McDonalds and KFC are fashionable.  Simultaneously, there’s a fad to “fast from foods”.  Fasting is “in”., especially among youth to downsize bloated bellies or develop hourglass figures.  Besides, many people fast with myriad motives —- religious, political and economic.
Most religious traditions stipulate some form of fasting.  Some Hindus fast monthly on Ekadasi, Pradosha or Purnima, while others fast weekly on specific days : Vaishnavites on Thursdays, Shaivites on Mondays and Ayyappa-devotees on Saturdays.  Muslims fast during Ramzan.
Nirjala-Ekadashi-Photo-1-9213Though fasting is commendable, it could induce a holier-than-thou attitude, when the one who is fasting expects admirers to exclaim, “Wow”.  When one’s fasting is directed outward for recognition, it loses merit.  Fasting is most meritorious when done for egoless motives, surrendering oneself totally to serve God, as a sign of penitence, to fortify one’s faith, as grateful acknowledgement of Mother Nature’s bounty are, in symbolic solidarity, with those who have little or nothing to eat.
The Bible berates those who fast while exploiting others.  Acts of love like setting the oppressed free, sharing food with the hungry and providing shelter to the homeless make fasting creditable.
gandhi-fastingWhen people fast to protest injustice, besides being “political”, fasting becomes a sacred duty, as in Gandhiji’s Satyagraha.  Linked to this is fasting’s economic dimension ——- the “forced fast” of millions of poor who have no money to buy food.  Why not donate what we save from our fasting towards filling their empty bellies ?
The Sanskrit “upvaas” for fasting draws the devotee to dwell in God’s presence and delight in God’s providence.  That is sufficient reason to be happy, isn’t it ?  And, if fasting decreases weight and waistline, THAT’S ADDED REASON TO SMILE.
—– Francis Gonsalves.