The escape within

The series of earthquakes in Nepal and India have shaken the world deeply and scientists in the West are expecting more earthquakes to shake the planet. Professor Bill McGuire of the University College London was quoted in the “Newsweek” as saying : “There are geological systems all around the planet with unstable volcanoes that are susceptible when it comes to risk, I’m afraid there is a very, very long list.”
zenThe insensitivity of our lifestyle towards the Earth has done tremendous harm.  While scientists and politicians are busy providing solutions, here is a story about a Japanese Zen Master who was invited to a satsang at a mansion. —- A few seekers had gathered for the session.  As the Master started talking, there was an earthquake.  Japan experiences earthquakes on a frequent basis.  They were all assembled on the 7th floor of a seven-storeyed building.  Everybody tried to escape.  The host, running by, stopped to see what had happened to the Zen Master.  The Master was there with not even a ripple of anxiety on his face.  He sat with his eyes closed, just as he was before the tremors began.
Seeing this, the host felt a little guilty.  The other guests had already gone downstairs, but he stopped.  Though trembling with fear, he sat down beside the Master.  After the tremors were over, the disciples began to tiptoe back to where the Master was sitting in silence.  When they asked him why he did not run away, he replied, ” I also escaped, but you escaped outwardly, I escaped within.  Your escape is useless, because wherever you are going, there is an earthquake, so it is meaningless, it makes no sense.  You may reach the 6th storey, or the 5th or the 4th, but there too you will feel the tremors.  I escaped to a point, within me, where no earthquake ever reaches, cannot reach.  I entered my centre.”
Thus, meditation brings you face to face with reality.  Once you know what life is, you never bother about death..  Meditation is the only way to “deathlessness.”
—————— Swami Chaitanya Keerti.



ISLAY is the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland.  Known as the “Queen of the Hebrides”, it lies in Argyll just south of Jura and around 40km north of the Irish coast.
The island’s capital and largest settlement is BOWMORE, where the distinctive round KILARROW PARISH CHURCH and a distillery are located.  PORT ELLEN is the main port.  ISLAY is the 5th largest Scottish island and the 7th largest island surrounding Great Britain, with a total area of almost  There is ample evidence of the pre-historic settlement of ISLAY, and the 1st written reference may have come in the 1st century AD.


Today, it has over 3,000 inhabitants and the main commercial activities are agriculture, malt whisky distillation and tourism.  The island has a long history of religious observance, and Scottish Gaelic is spoken by about one-fourth of the population.  Its landscapes have been celebrated through various art forms and there is a growing interest in “renewable energy”.  It is also home to many bird species such as the wintering populations of Greenland white-fronted and barnacle goose and is a popular destination throughout the year for birdwatchers.  The climate is mild.

Islay beach

Much of ISLAY remains owned by a few non-resident estate owners.  Sheep farming and a few dairy cattle herds are run by “tenant farmers”.  The island has some fine wild brown trout and salmon.  Sea-angling is also popular, especially off the west coast and over the many shipwrecks around the coast.  There are about 20 commercial boats with crab, lobster and scallop fishing undertaken from Port Ellen and Port Askaig.  The waters are divine and the LAPHROAIG TRAIL makes a believer of life in an amber-hued glow with the serene vista as a steady companion.

Islay Scotland

ISLAY is one of the five whisky distilling regions in Scotland, whose identity is protected by law.  There are 8 active distilleries, and the industry is the island’s 2nd largest employer after agriculture.  Those on the south of the island produce malts with a very strong “peaty” flavour, considered to be the most intensely flavoured of all whiskies.  The oldest record of a legal distillery, on the island, refers to BOWMORE in 1779, and at one time there were up to 23 distilleries in operation.

Islay evening

Some 45,000 summer visitors arrive each year by ferry and a further 11,000 by air.  The main attractions are the scenery, history, bird watching and the world-famous whiskies.  The distilleries operate various shops, tours and visitor centres and the FINLAGGAN TRUST has a visitor centre which is open daily during the summer.


ISLAY is home to many species of wildlife and is especially known for its birds.  Winter-visiting barnacle goose numbers have reached 35,000 in recent years, with as many as 10,000 arriving in a single day.  There are also up to 12,00 Greenland white-fronted geese and smaller numbers of brent pink-footed and Canada geese are often found amongst these flocks.  Other waterfowl include whooper and swans, eider duck, long-tailed duck.  The elusive Corncrake and Sanderling, ringed plover and sandpiper are summer visitors.  Resident birds include red-billed chough, golden eagle, barn owl, peregrine falcon, raven, oyster catcher and guillemot.  In all about 105 species breed on the island each year, and between 100 and 120 different species can be seen at any one time.


A population of several 1000 red deer inhabit the moors and hills.  Fallow deer can be found in the southeast and roe deer are common on low-lying ground.  Otters are common around the coast.  The only snake, on ISLAY, is the adder and the common lizard is widespread, although not commonly seen.

Islay wildlife

The great CLAN DONALD chose well when they made the Isle of Islay the centrepiece of their Lordship of the Isles.  Islay has always been blessed with nature’s bounty —— rich farmlands which, each autumn, witness hordes of geese arriving.  PEAT is still cut from the moss-lands, which cover much of the interior, giving the unique flavour to the ISLAY MALTS ——– world-famous whiskies such as BOWMOOR, ARDBEG & LAPHROAIG.  Most are still in production and welcome visitors to watch the production process and, even better, sample their delights.


ISLAY has a number of villages with terraces of small single-storey houses lining the shore.  BOWMORE, Islay’s main town has a “unique, round Church” said to have been designed to ” ensure that evil spirits had no corner in which to hide”.  Relics of a bygone age abound, with stone circles. carved stones and crosses, fine forts and castles and evidence of Bronze Age settlements.

This & That…

Sun Tzu

(1) Be extreme SUBTLE, even to the point of FORMLESSNESS.  Be extremely MYSTERIOUS, even to the point of SOUNDLESSNESS.  Thereby you can be the DIRECTOR OF THE OPPONENT’S FATE.  —– Sun Tzu.
(2) Life is like a sewer : What you get out of it depends on what you put into it.  —-Tom Leher.
(3) After despair, many hopes flourish, just as after darkness, thousands of suns open and start to shine.
(4) In the future there will be banking by “mental telepathy”, which will enable you to give instructions to your bank via “thought waves”.
(5) Here is an exam pattern across the years : 1995 : —– Answer all the questions.  2010 : —Answer any 5 questions.  2015 : —– Answer A or B.  2020 : —– At least read the questions.  2025 : —– Thanks for coming.
(6) When sadness comes, just sit by the side and look at it and say, “I am the watcher, I am not sadness,” and see the difference.  It will die of starvation.  We feed the emotion by being identified with them —— Osho.
(7) When I travel, I have my “prayer time” on the way to the airport.  It’s a 45-minute drive, and I pray through the ACTS acronym : acknowledgement, confession, thanksgiving, supplication  ——– which is a popular form of prayer. — Pat Gelsinger.
(8) The marsh toads interviewed the eagle : “How come you venture so high ?  Aren’t you scared you’ll hit the ceiling ——- that blue metal dome they call the sky ?”  The eagle knew these earth-bound creatures were ignorant of boundless space, and couldn’t conceive of infinities, not being born to the winds’ embrace.  From Bachchoos Fables.
(9) What do you call a laughing motorcycle ?  YAMAHAHA.
(10) The DART FROG is the most poisonous animal alive.  It looks harmless  —– even cute —– but, just one of these creatures harbours the poison to kill 10 people.  Why did they become so much more lethal than their amphibian brethren ??

FROG 005A Blue dart frog

(11) The inability to recall a precise word for something is known as LETHOLOGICA.  The obsession with trying to recall words is known as LOGANAMNOSIS. — Kaveri Chandra Kumar.
(12) Blessed are those who can give without remembering and take without forgetting. —Princess Elizabeth Asquith Bibesa. 
(13) If you love something, set it free.  If it comes back ——- you love a boomerang.
(14) Let no man pray that he know not sorrow.  Let no soul ask to be free from pain.  For the “gall” of today is the “sweet” of tomorrow and the “moments” of loss is the “lifetime’s” gain.
(15) Man is born broken, he lives by mending.  THE GRACE OF GOD IS THE GLUE.
(16) Hair stylists have become more “limp-wristed” and “awkward”, as if to stand in a weird manner makes them more talented, whereas barbers have remained, well barbers.
(17) The heart of a mother is a deep abyss, at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.
(18) Respect your destiny and recognize your limits.  You should bear the blows of fate with “equanimity”.
(19) What’s in a name ?  ——– NICOLE KIDMAN, who is neither a “kid” nor a “man”.
(20) All men dream —— but not equally.  Those who dream in the dark recesses of the night, awake in the day to find that all was vanity..  But the dreamers in the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams and make it possible. 

Garo Hills

Tura Meghalaya

GARO HILLS  ——– the ecological canvas of Meghalaya, forms the western part of the state, an area of approximately 8,000 sq.kms,  and is densely forested and hence one of the richest spots in biodiversity.
The GAROS (people) predominately inhabiting the 3 districts of the ,state namely East Garo Hills, West Garo Hills and South Garo Hills, are basically superstitious, believe in spirits and have rich traditional tales of myths and legends.  To the Garos, everything that is interesting and unnatural has to have lore of some kind.

Garo Hills

TURA, the headquarters of West Garo Hills, which was also the headquarters of composite Garo Hills before 2 more districts of East and South Garo Hills were created, is 323km from Shillong via Guwahati, and is named after a powerful Goddess DURAMA-IMBAMA and sits at the foot of TURA PEAK.  The peak, at a height of 1,400m offers some of the finest views of the hills against a backdrop of low-lying plains and sweeping curve of the mighty Brahmaputra.  The TURA PEAK is a beautiful and majestic hill on the eastern side of Tura, at a height of 872m above sea level.  Local legend has it that Tura was traditionally known as DURA, but due to mispronunciation by the British, it got the present name of TURA.  The Tura Range has been declared a “reserve forest” with an observatory, a cinchona plantation and a tourist bungalow located in its vicinity.  A magnificent view of the lower Brahmaputra, as well as the golden-yellow plains of Bangladesh can be seen all year round from the peak.  A foot-track or path, developed during the British Raj, is still in existence and can be used by tourists and adventurers alike to reach Tura Peak with ease and comfort.


About 2km from Tura Peak, teeming with wild life, NOKREK HILL is the home of a very rare species of citrus, locally known as MEMANG NARANG —————- “orange of the spirits.”  It is considered to be the most primitive and progenitor of all other varieties of citrus plants in the world.  With a view to preserve this rare species of “citrus”, the 1st “gene sanctuary” of the world has been established here.


Lying at the confluence of GANOL & RONGRAM rivers, just 9km from Tura is CHIBRAGRE, an ideal picnic spot.  RONGBANG DARE is another attractive tourist spot which can be easily viewed from Tura.  The roadside near RONGBANG DARE virtually becomes a mini-bazaar, where the Garos can dispose off their agricultural products besides running their indigenous food and tea stalls.


SASATGRE VILLAGE is located on the hilly crescent-like saddle, at the foot of the Nokrek Peak.  The village has been blessed by nature, in so far as “orange plantations” are concerned and the village is surrounded by  healthy, dark-green orange bushes, which are highly productive.

Pelga Falls Meghalaya

RANGAPANI, 40km from Tura, on the Assam border, is the place of the earthly remains of the great general MIR-JUMLA, the army general of Emperor Aurangzeb.  His tomb, maintained by the local Muslims Association, lies in this village.
WILLIAMNAGAR, named after the 1st Chief Minister of Meghalaya, Captain Williamson Sangma, is a riverine town, built on the curve of Simsang river, and is the headquarters of the East Garo Hills.
RONGRENGGIRI is noted for being the last battlefield where the Garos bravely resisted the British.


SISOBIBRA is a beautiful place on the banks of the Simsang river.  It is of historical importance.  It was here that the legendary hero TOGAN SANGMA, along with his co-patriot GILSANG DALBOT fell to the bullets of the British soldiers, while bravely resisting them.  A memorial has been erected at the place where the warriors fell down.  The District Council has constructed a twin-cottage, near the memorial place, where visitors can stay.


ADOKGRE, on the Assam border, was the 1st camp, in Garo Hills, when the Garos coming from Tibet, under the leadership of JAPA-JALIMPA, arrived in the promised land of the Garo Hills.  It was here that they distributed the land according to their MACHONGS (clan).

Fivebar Swordtail

NAKA-CHIKONG is a big rock with deep hollows, and stands in the middle of a river in Badaka village.  This big rock is believed to be swarming with fishes in every season, but there is one belief that if anyone, inadvertently, touches the big rock, under whose hole the fishes are, all the fishes immediately disappear from the river.  The Hindus consider this a sacred place and regularly come here for worship.


NAPAK is a lake formed by the damming of the upper tributary of a river during the great earthquake in 1897.  It was once the “land of the spirit”, until one woman accidently killed a spirit’s baby.  The spirits, feeling insecure then migrated to Balkarani where they settled.

Meghalaya wildlife

BAGHMARA is the headquarter of South Garo Hill District and is a fast-growing township.  It is situated on the bans of the Simsang river.  Nearby, just below the picturesque Dilsa Hill, the State Tourism Department has constructed a Tourist Bungalow.  Here is a thick forest inhabited by langurs, birds of different species and elephants.  Many tourists have reported sighting herds of elephants.

Williamnagar Meghalaya

NENGKONG :  Here you will find some well-known caves —– TETENGKOL —- measuring 533km in length and is one of the longest caves in the Indian sub-continent.  Other caves, in the vicinity, are a 2-km long DOBAKKOL CHIBENALA and DOBAKKOL ( a little over 1-km long).


SIJU is famous for DOBAKKOL or BAT CAVE, with impressive stalagmites.  The cave also contains some of the finest river passages to be found anywhere in the world.  There are magnificent limestone formations inside, especially the one named Princess Di’s chamber, by the excavators, that will fill any visitor with awe.  On the other side of the Simsang river is the SIJU BIRD SANCTUARY, a home for many rare and protected birds and other wildlife.  The Siberian dusks also migrate her during the winter months.  At the entrance of this bird sanctuary, after a steep climb of nearly 1km, there is a stretch of fantastic rock formations that will take your breath away.


BALPAKRAM : the literal meaning of BALPAKRAM is “land of perpetual winds”.  There is a great “precipice” or “deep gorge” in Balpakram and is popularly compared to the Grand Canyon of the USA.  It is believed that here the spirits of the dead dwell, temporarily, before embarking on the final journey.  As mentioned earlier, the Garos are deeply spiritual and believe in myths as interesting and awesome.  In support of their beliefs, Balpakram has many “mysterious and unnatural phenomena”, that cannot be satisfactorily explained by modern science.  In fact, Balpakram is so steeped in myths that even the Hindus believe that it is a sacred place.  They believe that when Lakshman was seriously injured, during the war with Ravana, and a very life-saving herb was required, Hanuman found it here, but not knowing which to take and also in his haste to return, broke the top of the hills and carried it away.  The missing portion of that hill became a deep yawning canyon.

Meghalaya caves

Meals for the month of May

The best summer foods are :
GAZPACHO(1) GAZPACHO —-  Why would you want to break into a sweat cooking a hot soup ?  Cold soups are your perfect option.  Among them, the GAZPACHO comes packed with healthy ingredients like tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumber.  It is barely 88 calories per cup with zero cholesterol.
(2) WATERMELON —- Enjoying a slice of WATERMELON on a scorching day is a delicious way to rehydrate yourself.  It’s a fruit that’s over 90% water and scientists say it contains cancer-battling lycopene in more doses than raw tomatoes.  At barely 44 calories a cup, it’s the fruit to gorge on in May.
Grilled chicken kebab(3) GRILLED CHICKEN KEBAB —- CHICKEN KEBABS — plain, not pasted in creamy white marinade — give you the protein kick you need minus the calories.  Bell peppers give you a dose of vitamin C, and they taste deliciously sweet once off the grill.  If you must have a creamy marinade, use plain or hung curd.
(4) CORN —- If eaten roasted or steamed minus butter or salt, CORN( BUTTHA) is one of the best high-protein snack.  You can even add some grains to a salad.  Among its health benefits are diabetes control and lowering hypertension.
sauteed shrimp(5) GRILLED or SAUTEED SHRIMP —- This one makes a good bar snack or a light lunch.  SHRIMPS are high in protein, energise you and provide your 24% of your daily recommended iron intake.  Just ensure they are grilled (have it minus a sauce) or sautéed in light oil.
(6) ZUCCHINI —- Have it the way you please, because this is the perfect veggie to have  to have when temperatures are soaring. It has barely 20 calories per cup, is a fat and cholesterol free and gives you 35% of your daily-recommended vitamin C intake.  Enjoy it raw or dice and toss it in a salad.
Now for the worst summer foods :
(1) MAC & POTATO SALAD —- There’s nothing more comforting than potato and pasta and a MAC & POTATO SALAD seems the perfect lunch pick, but the fattening mayonnaise plays spoiler.  You’ll be piling on 300 calories with a single serving.  In case you can request the chef to use low-fat mayo or replace it with a good-for-the-heart dressing of olive oil, go ahead.
(2) RIBS —- We agree they are the most delicious, but its best if RIBS stay out of your summer menu.  A quarter pound of pork ribs totals 288 calories and is loaded with saturated fat.  Add barbeque sauce, and it gets worse if you are making them at home, skip the sauce.  Instead, use powdered mustard, garlic and chilly powder.


(4) ONION RINGS —- It seems like a harmless snack, but the ONIONS are dipped in maida and beaten eggs before they are liberally salted.  If out, avoid altogether, but if you are stirring up a crunchy snack to go with drinks at home, make a dry batter of whole wheat flour, grated parmesan , beaten egg whites and breadcrumbs.
(5) ICE CREAM SANDWICH —- It is tough staying away from sweetened, frozen milk in the summer, but ICE CREAM SANDWICHED between cookies add almost 500 calories to your daily calculation.  That’s because it earns 60% of its flavour from saturated fat.  Switch ice cream for low-calorie sorbets.  .

Feng Shui

Feng Shui

Since ancient times, FENG SHUI was used from town planning to building mega structures and this Art of Divination was practised by scholars from Taoism, the proponents of which were FANG-SHIH.  FANG means formula, method or technique and SHIH means exponent or practitioner.  Technically the name means “those who are experts of the esoteric techniques.”
Later it further developed into a more scientific base with the invention of the compass during the Ch’ing dynasty which became the science of studying energies —- FENG SHUI.
The art of FENG SHUI enables you to select good property where the “chi” is not affected and the luck not blocked by harmful structures.  For an existing property, the FENG SHUI guidelines enable corrections and activate the good energy of a place through corrections, symbolism and identifying the danger zones.  In other words, FENG SHUI enables you to custom design your ‘luck’ and make you move towards your aspirations by fine-tuning the ‘chi’ (energy) around you.

Feng Shui chart

From a FENG SHUI perspective we can discern various kinds of property, some, which possess intrinsic good energy and fortunes, which benefits everyone’s life.  There are certain areas and neighbourhoods, which tend to have better FENG SHUI and prosperity than other neighbourhoods.  The effect of surroundings and the layout and planning of the locality is the key to this kind of prosperity.


For centuries people in the eastern countries relied on the skills of a FENG SHUI master to assess and guide the energy to activate prosperity and good health.  Even the business community consults FENG SHUI masters in choosing offices, business locations, interiors, décor and also auspicious colours and motifs for their corporate identity and logo.


Oriental medicine and philosophy are based on the premise that along with all the physical aspects of our world there is a movement of a subtle flow of energy.  This is called Chi.  Chi energy flows into our bodies much the same way as blood, but while your blood carries oxygen and nutrients, Chi energy carries your thoughts, ideas, emotions and dreams.  It is important to realize that your thoughts and emotions affect the quality of your Chi energy, as the Chi energy directly affects each of your cells, which could affect you physically.  It is said that Chi energy extends 10cms to 1metre outside your skin and mixes with the surrounding energy.  Hence one can be easily affected by the change of energy in the exterior environment too.


To begin the physical process of changing the energy in your space, take stock of what you have in and around your home.
** De-clutter your ‘space’ to allow unhindered flow of energy, recognize the contributions you need to make to another when you release items you no longer want or need.
** De-clutter your ‘mind’, review your possessions and discard items that no longer hold value   for you with the clear intention of releasing the old thoughts, beliefs and emotions attached to them.
** Identify the ‘zones’ in your home where you feel disturbed.  Introspect if you have been having sleepless nights, arguments or financial issues.
** Check if any ‘additions’ in your home in the form of artefacts, décor, re-locating furniture or change of décor have triggered negative vibes.
Analysing your home or office can reveal the trouble spots and may call for professional advice.  However, the primary approach of listing the feel of the space, identifying the problem areas intuitively and based on experience cold help in mitigating the problem.
——— S BS Surendran (FENG SHUI and VASTU consultant.)



SORAPISS, a mountain in the Dolomites, near Cortina d’Ampezzo, is situated within the Veneto region of northern Italy.  It is also referred as PUNTA SORAPISS.  With its huge perpendicular faces forms part of the mountainous backdrop to the resort town of Cortina, and sits roughly 9km to the southeast of the town.


The name SORAPISS, in the local dialect means “over the waterfall.”  It is a dialectal composite name :  SORA (sopra) = over and PISS (cascata) = waterfall.  It has an elevation of 10,515ft.  In its vicinity is a mountain pas of the same name, as well as LAGO di SORAPISS (SORAPISS LAKE) at the foot of the mountain.


There is a legend associated with the name of SORAPISS.  A “peace-loving” King named SORAPISS turned himself into a rocky mountain during a course of unexpected events.  A witch had bewitched the King’s impulsive daughter —- Misurina —- by promising her a magical mirror as a reward for providing shade to her house.  This was honoured by her doting father, who turned himself into a mountain.  At a later date, Misurina, demonstrating a sense of gratitude towards her father, shed tears which formed the LAGO di SORAPISS at the foot of the large mountain of SORAPISS, the immobilized form of her father.


The limestone dolomite formation, which is irregular, rugged and sharp-edged peaks, are part of the Eastern Alps.  The mountain has 3 ridges : central ridge, a southern ridge, which is part of the mountain that can be seen from Cortina, and, beyond a high pass and a little to the west, a northern ridge, that culminates in the skiing area of Mount Faloria.  There are 3 glaciers on the mountain slopes, although these have been melting considerably in recent years.  LAGO di SOPARISS, at the foot of the mountain, is a glacial lake at an elevation of 6,316ft.


There are 3 Refuges in the vicinity :  RIFUGIO TONDI di FALORIA at 7,635ft, REFUGIO ALFONSO VANDELLI at 6,319ft and REFUGIO SAN MARCO.  Paul Grohmann made the first ascent of the mountain in September 1864, taking  8hrs 30mins.  There are at least 2 routes to the summit : the GROHMANN, which crosses the mountain’s west flank, joining the S. Vito route near the summit and the MULLER-WEG which traverses the east glacier and ascends direct over the precipices on the northeast side.


Flora on SORAPISS includes : Festucetum Pulchellae (on the slopes), Euphrasio-Globularietum (at the base) and Drabetum Hoppeanae (on the range).  There are no real walk-up routes, with the exception of the paths n the Faloria Range.  Even getting to the RIFUGIO VANDELLI (the most frequented, in a fairy-tale environment with its green lake) requires a walk along a very fine path that somewhere hosts short pieces of ferrate.

Vandelli Sorapiss

Some fine hiking routes, none really easy and all requiring good training.  The complete “ring” of SORAPISS requires at least a 2-day trip, and takes place on a complex, high and somewhere very exposed system of ledges, along the 3 main ferrate of the group : BERTI, MINAZIO and VANDELLI.  The dolomite mountain is at the same time a “summit”, a “ridge”, a “range”, a “group” standing up along a ridge that stretches over many miles with a big difference in elevation from the surrounding valleys.  The best time to climb is in summer —- June to September.

Guinsa Temple

The jars are all fermenting bean paste wating to be used in stew

GUINSA TEMPLE or as it is known “Temple of Salvation and Kindness”, is in the YEONHWA area of the SOBAEK MOUNTAINS located near Danyang, South Korea.  It is the headquarters of the CHEONTAE SCHOOL of Korean Buddhism.  GUINSA is the administrative centre of over 140 sub-temples and hermitages of the sect.


GUINSA, at 70 years, is young for a major religious site.  It was founded in the final year of the Japanese Occupation as a “lone hut”, but it quickly became a destination for pilgrims and tourists alike.  Now the “towering complex” fills a valley.


Although the architecture of GUINSA follows that of many other Buddhist Temples, in Korea, it is also markedly different in that the structure is several storeys tall, instead of the typical two-storey structures that many other Korean Temples have.  This may be due to the restraints of the valley in which it is located and to modern construction techniques, but it creates a visual experience that is both beautiful and unique from what one sees at other temples.  The ubiquitous black slate roof tiles, found commonly on Korean Temple, is occasionally replaced by “orange glazed tiles”, reminding one of those seen on the roofs of Beijing’s FORBIDDEN CITY.  Some buildings resemble the POTALA PALACE, in Lhasa, with their use of height and vertical lines.


Up to 10,000 monks can live here at any given time, while the kitchen can serve food for twice that number.  The Temple operates and maintains a large farm system covering over 60,000pyeong and provides much of the food prepared and consumed at the temple.  Massive earthenware pots fill the kitchen courtyard ——-,  there is soy sauce, fermented beans and red pepper paste.  The monks grow and preserve all their own food, from cabbage to chestnuts.  Traditional staples like fermented soy, marinated sesame leaves and kimchi stretch the gaps between harvests.  Inside the kitchen, there is a cement horseshoe lined with massive cauldrons.  Each holds enough rice for 500 or soup for 3,000.  The food is simple vegetarian fare : rice and kimchi, soybean soup and roast potatoes.  Sharing food is integral.  Food is an expression of community.

Guinsa temple closeup

Unlike many of Korea’s Temples, GUINSA TEMPLE is fairly new.  The Temple is strikingly located squeezed into a narrow valley surrounded on all sides by mountains like the petals of a lotus.  Its location was decreed by head monk SANGWOL WONGAK’S interpretation of the LOTUS SUTRA.  The original Temple was burned down during the Korean War, but the reconstruction of the first building was completed in 1966 and the complex, which now incorporates over 50 buildings, is still expanding.


GUINSA can only be covered on foot, and its quite a hike uphill from the bus terminal to the top.  The area is large and it is best to arrive early and reserve at least a few hours for exploring the complex.  The complex consists of 50 buildings, most of them built in modern style from concrete, but with opulent decorations  The bus terminal is housed in a temple-style building at the bottom of the valley.  Some of the notable structures here are :

Four heavenly kings gate Guinsa temple

(1) The FOUR HEAVENLY KINGS’ GATE, is a two-storey stone structure containing the statues of the Four Heavenly Kings, marking the start of the Temple complex.

The Great Teacher Hall Guinsa temple

(2) The GREAT TEACHER HALL.  A shrine erected  in memory of SANGWOL WONGAK, a statue of whom can be found inside.

Dharma Law hall Guinsa temple

(3) The FIVE-STOREY DHARMA LAW HALL, completed in 1980, is reportedly one of the largest temple buildings in Korea, and like so many other buildings in the Temple complex, is elaborate both in terms of painting and structural design.  The 1st and 2nd floors contain meditation halls for the monks.  The 3rd and 4th have “shrine rooms” for devotees wishing to offer prayers.  The 5th floor contains the huge DHARMA HALL, housing a large gilded altar of the main Buddha SHAKYAMUNI, Supreme Buddha of the present, flanked by his attendants.  On the left sits AVALOKITESVARA (BODDHISATVA of Compassion) and on the right side site MAHASTHAMAPRAPTA (BODDHSATVA of Wisdom).  A unique THANGKA, behind the Buddha, is a painted raised wood carving.

Cafeteria hall Guinsa temple

(4) The CAFETERIA HALL contains the huge kitchen and large temple cafeteria where the contents of the pots are served up for breakfast, lunch and dinner.


(5) CENTRAL COURTYARD.  Check out the huge clay pots located on seemingly every available surface : these are the Temple’s storehouses of kimchi.

Guinsa Three Story Stone Pagoda sits in front of the main sanctuary housing the sarira of the Buddha.  The tree elephants supporting the base of the pagoda symbolize the buddha's Dharma.  Guinsa, located near Danyang in Chungcheongbuk-do, South Korea, has architecture following that of many other Buddhist temples in Korea, but is also markedly different in that the structures are several stories tall, instead of the typical one or two stories that structures found in many other Korean temples.

Guinsa Three Story Stone Pagoda sits in front of the main sanctuary housing the sarira of the Buddha. The tree elephants supporting the base of the pagoda symbolize the buddha’s Dharma. Guinsa, located near Danyang in Chungcheongbuk-do, South Korea, has architecture following that of many other Buddhist temples in Korea, but is also markedly different in that the structures are several stories tall, instead of the typical one or two stories that structures found in many other Korean temples.

(6) The THREE-STOREY STONE PAGODA, located in front of the main sanctuary is a “reliquary” housing the SARIRA of the Buddha brought back from the monastery of the JETAVANA in India.  3 elephants support the base of the Pagoda and these strong, intelligent animals symbolize the Buddha’s Dharma.

Guinsa temple mountain view

Once the largest and most powerful of Korea’s 18 schools, CHEONTAE, gradually lost popularity over the years and disappeared completely for some time, but was re-established in 1945 by SANGWOL WONGAK and now commands a respectable 2million followers.  CHEONTAE posits the following mind-bending truths : ** All things are empty and without essential reality.  ** All things have a provisional reality.  ** All things are both absolutely unreal and provisionally real at once.
GUINSA is well-placed to take full advantage of Korea’s seasons, with warm temperatures, in summer, and heavy snow in winter and is open all year round.  However, the most popular time of the year to visit is autumn (Sept.-Nov.), when the mountainsides burst into dramatic fall colours.


PUNSARI is a “dream village” located about 90km from Ahmedabad.  It falls in the picturesque and agrarian district of Sabarkantha.
Having won National and State awards for the “best gram panchayat”, PUNSARI could lead the way in showing hinterlands how to smarten up for good.  Why just villages, it could give a lesson or two even to the metros how to make optimum use of state and central schemes to improve the quality of life.  
Eight years, 31 -year-old Himanshu Narendrabhai Patel is what took PUNSARI to gift itself a stunning makeover.  Today, it boasts of beautiful roads, closed-circuit television cameras, air-conditioned schools, Wi-Fi network and biometric attendance for office bearers.Punsari cctv
Cut to the late 1990s, PUNSARI grappled with power cuts, water crisis and bad roads  The miraculous transformation can be credited to Himanshu Patel, the village Sarpanch.  An alumnus of North Gujarat University, he won the Panchayat polls in 2006.  He utilised funds from the 12th Finance Commission, self-help yojna, district planning commission and others to develop PUNSARI as it is today.
“To make India smart, we have to first make the grassroots-level people smart, since they constitute the majority of the population.  Making a village techno-smart holds the key to its development,” Patel reasons.  In 2010, the village was made Wi-Fi enabled with only five connections, but today, Wi-Fi is accessible across PUNSARi.  CCTV cameras are installed at all strategic points to spot “litterbugs” and punish them.
There are 5 primary schools in PUNSARI and they are all air-conditioned.  Schools have “zero dropout” rates.  CCTV cameras, in classrooms, help to keep watch on children’s performance, and the parents are updated about their wards’ attendance too through an app installed on their cell phones.  The app also provides live-feed of the goings-on in the classroom, and with such innovations in the schools, the student enrolment rate has gone up.
Punsari GujaratThanks to the CCTVs dotting the village, the crime rate is almost “zero” here, making PUNSARI one of the safest villages in Gujarat.  But the change was first met with resistance.  “The idea was to ensure civic discipline and curb crime rate.  It took us several months to convince the villagers, but we finally succeeded,” says Patel.  “In the past three years no FIR has been registered here.  PUNSARI is a “model village” others villages should replicate.  Discipline has become a way of life,” says Jyoti Patel, deputy superintendent of police, Sabarkantha.
The village has a proper sanitation and drainage system, which is “completely underground”.  The Panchayat has installed an RO plant at the cost of 55lakh in 2010 to provide clean drinking water.  It further employed local youth to ferry 20litre plastic containers to houses for a token cost of Rs.4.  Apart from this there are water coolers that the Panchayat has installed inside “pucca” cement booths at the bus stop.  The village body also arranges for a water tanker (available for Rs.100) during weddings and other functions as an affordable solution to the perpetual water crisis arising at such events.
The village has an “unique” communication system.  There are 120 water-proof speakers installed, which are used by the Sarpanch to inform the people of new schemes and to make important announcements.  The speakers are also used to play bhajans, shlokas and the slogans of Mahatma Gandhi.
DSC06759The Panchayat also runs a mini bus facility called ATAL EXPRESS to ferry women from 3 villages, in the panchayat, to bring milk to the dairy, in PUNSARI, every morning.  They are charged a mere 3rupees per head.  Under the KANYA KELAVANI scheme of the Government of Gujarat, girl students get free ride in the bus which makes 6-7 rounds per day.
100 poles of solar streetlights have been installed.  A proper waste collection management is in place, with a tanker collecting waste every morning and evening.
Villagers have learnt how to pay   their bills and apply for ration card and Aadhar card online.  “We are trying to make optimum use of the Wi-Fi facility.  The plan is to ensure that all transactions, right from grocery-shopping to paying the milkman are done through net banking,” said Bhargavi Dave, Ahmedabad DDO. The village also has smart roadside libraries to encourage farmers to read.  These libraries are fully air-conditioned, equipped with CCTV and function round the clock.
Impressed with and in awe of the village’s unprecedented progress graph, a Kenyan delegate of 14 left with an indelible thought of powering the RURBAN (rural area with urban facilities) lifestyle that PUNSARI has come into prominence for.  PUNSARI is the “villagers’ pride and their neighbours’ envy”.

Naba Kalebara


It’s that time of the year when Puri, the abode of Lord Jagannath, buzzes with activity.  Pilgrims from across the world throng to the eastern part of the country to be  apart of the world famous RATH YATRA.  However, there is something different about this year’s Rath Yatra (Car Festival).  Devotees of Lord Jagannath will have the unique opportunity to watch new deities, courtesy NABA KALEBARA (the reincarnation) of the Lord, which usually takes place three days before the Rath Yatra, starting on July 18.


An ancient ritual that has been in practice since ages, NABA KALEBARA means new body.  According to tradition, the wooden statues of the deities —- Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra —- are replaced by new idols and thir souls transferred.  It is not an annual ritual.  It takes place once in 12-18 years depending on the Hindu almanac.


The preparations for this grandiose ceremony start with the search of neem trees, out of which the idols of the deities are carved out.  These are not ordinary neem trees.  The DARUS(neem tree) of three deities have different specifications and features.  While the log of the neem tree, to be used for Lord Jagannath, has to be dark in colour (since he has a dark complexion), the other two logs for Lord Balabhadra and Devi Shubadra ( who have fair complexion) should be of a wheatish hue.  There are other stipulations too.  The tree o be used for the idol of Lord Jagannath should have four principal branches symbolising the four arms of Lord Vishnu ; there should be no nest of birds in that tree ; a water body such as a river or pond should exist nearby and much more.  Identifying these trees is an arduous task.  It is believed that the trees are located only after divine intervention by Goddess Mangala, who appears in the Head Priest’s dream and reveals the location.

odisha sand art

Once the trees are located, the entire trunks along with the branches are placed in a wooden cart, dragged by the priests of the Temple premises and kept in a secret place.  The carvings of the deities which are spread over 21 days are done by the oldest sculptors of the Temple.  The work is done with utmost confidentiality.  No one, not even the Head Priest of the Temple, is allowed to visit the spot where the sculptors are at work.


Following the completion of these idols, the deities are carried inside the inner sanctum of the Temple and placed in front of the old idols.  This is again a very private affair..  The worshippers who conduct this ritual are blindfolded, their palms covered with cloth, so that they even don’t know what they are carrying.  This ritual, which is conducted after midnight, usually takes place three days before the Rath Yatra.  The whole process of   transformation culminates with the burial of the old deities.  It is believed that if anyone tries to watch any part of this ceremony, he/she will surely die. It is only after the new deities are seated in the RATNA SINGHASAN that the gates of the Temple are thrown open to the public for the grand darshan.


The Odisha Government is making elaborate arrangements to make the 1st NABA KALEBARA of the millennium a grand success.  Nearly 2.5 million devotees are expected to throng Puri to witness the famous festival, and be a part of this unique festivity.