A trip to Rome is said to be incomplete without tossing change into the Trevi Fountain. Sounds wishful! Not really on a winter’s day, when the coin is most likely to bounce off the frozen surface and strike some bystander in the eye.
So, on my last trip to Rome, fountains were out of the question. Instead, I chose to fight the cold and march to a place frequented by every Roman who lived a couple of millennia ago, the Flavian Amphitheatre or the Colosseum.
Walking through the seeming ice free streets was easy, but a random ice-filled crack on the pavement nearly slid me off balance. Cold apart, the crack and crevice speckled streets could have been any other part of South Asia, for most of the traders and tourist guides and artists seemed to be from the sub-continent, mainly from Bangladesh.
The Flavian Amphitheatre was called so because it was commissioned by the Flavian dynasty emperors who came after Emperor Nero. But the name apparently came from a statue of Nero that stood in the vicinity. The Statue was inspired by the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Expectedly, Nero posed in the similar stance and semblance of Helios, the sun God. Later, the infamous emperor’s successors moved the Colossal statue next to the Amphitheatre.
Shoes by the Danube with the Chain Bridge in the Background
My feet were cold for my canvas shoes and layers of cotton socks felt porous like a sieve. I had forgotten to pack my cap for the trip, so my ears ached. I brisk walked past the Chain Bridge hurriedly hoping hopelessly that my pace would warm me up. It was not an ideal pre-sunrise walk, yet I had braved the December river breeze and kept walking towards the Shoes by the Danube Bank installation.
The evening before, my stroll from Pest towards the Buda hill had been possible because of the chain bridge, but in 1820, Count István Széchenyi was unable to cross the river to attend his father’s funeral. The Count’s desperation triggered his plan of connecting the two towns with Hungary’s first permanent bridge that opened in 1849. And twenty-four years later, the towns merged to form Budapest.
The bridge is iconic for not only it united east and west but also it cut across the class barrier; everyone including nobility was once charged a toll to use it. So, it was not surprising that numerous anecdotes have sprung up. For instance, the lions of the bridge are said to have no tongue. The architect jumped off the bridge in shame because of the flawed beasts hence becoming the first person to jump from the bridge. Then some say that the tunnel at the end of the bridge in Adam Clarke square which is of the same length as that of the bridge was to house the chain bridge during rains.
The Buda castle stands on the castle hill and can be reached by three options: firstly, like an average tourist who takes a minute and a half long funicular ride, for which, the queueing time for the tickets was longer than the journey itself. Secondly, as an impatient tourist who falls in the tourist trap of the Bangladeshi tour operators and pays 4 Euros for a few minutes of shuttle ride. Thirdly as a regular local, who scaled the slope for free. My choice was obvious.
The uphill pathway was dotted with shortcuts, yet I was nearly breathless at the top of the hill also called Danube terrace; partly because of the trek but mainly for the view from the terrace. The Danube terrace provides a clear view of the river and the Pest: the parliament house, St. Stephen Basilica, and much more. Later in the evening, I visited the Christmas market in St. Stephen Square ( read here- https://biswadarshan.com/2017/01/21/markets-in-budapest/ )
Vats of Mulled wine
The Bronze Policeman
Need I say anything?
Draft of citrus and cloves slapped my cold-numbed face; mulled wine and punch simmered in drum-like vats in one of the stalls at a Christmas market in Budapest. It was a week after the 25th, yet could there be a better break after a day’s walk in sub-zero temperatures?
Moments ago, we had been welcomed by a plump bronze policeman with belly and mustache polished by continual meddling hands of lens-happy tourists. From there, arcs of lights had led us to the St. Stephen’s Basilica Square that sparkled like jewels studded garish wonderland.
At the entry of Saint Stepen Square, a sign read ‘Langosh’ and my friend’s words repeated in my mind, ‘It is just like bhatura,’ she had said. But the bread’s similarity with deep fried Indian bread ended there, for sour cream and cheese were the recommended traditional Hungarian toppings. Being a nonconformist, I also had some chicken and bell peppers on top of it and paid thrice more than what it cost in a non-touristic area.
In the market, many stalls sold pork knuckles, stuffed cabbage, roast turkey, grilled chicken, goulash, chimney bread, roasted chestnuts and many more delicacies. Besides food stands, some bars offered mulled wine and other drinks. Many booths sold souvenirs like Christmas cribs, paintings, packs of paprika, pepper paste and other things. Continue reading
Amidst the clamour of shlokas from the speakers placed next to the Maha Bodhi tree, I sat with closed eyes trying to meditate at 5:30 A.M. I wondered whether Gautama would have become Buddha in the cacophony, perhaps yes. I tightened my hoodie and tried to focus. A dog sauntered towards me and smelled the air near my shoulder. Then it walked up to a monk and sniffed him. What happened next surprised me.
The original Bodhi tree was destroyed by the queen of Ashoka, who was jealous towards it because of her husband’s attachment to it. The current tree is the direct descendant of the original Bodhi brought from Sri-Lanka. Immediately, to the east of the Bodhi tree was the Maha Bodhi temple. The temple was originally built by Ashoka, but the current temple is the oldest brick structure built in the 5th to 6th century by the Gupta Dynasty.
It was the Maha Bodhi tree under which Buddha had discovered Vipassana; he learned of the real nature of things or Dhamma. Hence, I chose Dhamma Bodhi Centre, about 5 kilometres from the Maha Bodhi Temple, to learn Vipassana.
Dust arose from his broom like incense emanates from a holy alter. Sunlight streaked through the white marble screen and caressed the man in white, whose sideways swaying of stick broom recited a hymn of a primordial chord. Was it a halo that covered his head in the form of a white skull-cap?
On handing him five rupees for letting us take his picture, the sweeper flashed his tobacco stained teeth, thanked us and said, ‘It’s perfect for a cup of tea.’
Earlier that morning, a blanket of fog enveloped a stretch of land in front of us. Amidst the screen of the morning mist, we could see the silhouette of one of the World’s Seven Wonders. From ‘Moksh Dham’, the crematorium next to the eastern side of the monument, like a phoenix that arose from the ashes, Taj Mahal emerged from the night.
Flooded Wadi Tiwi
A surge of muddy water roared, gurgled and fanned out into the sea. Our vantage point atop the Muscat-Sur highway kept us away from the currents, but not from the rain. Dark clouds poured as we peered at the submerged low-lying road below us that ran parallel to the shoreline. We were observing the infamous flash floods of Arabian Wadis.
I ran across to the other side of the road to see the swollen gorge called Wadi Shab. Beside the submerged rocks and palm trees stood a donkey. As the water level rose, the beast clamoured higher; the smell of mud and sea licked its nostrils. It was trapped.
Moss covered trees, logs, and stones, much like green frosting on an irregular sponge. With each step, I inhaled the woody forest air. Hiking on the trail in Yangminshan National Park, I was in a trance. The walk reminded me of a monk, who sat in meditation in Longshan Temple, amidst the flow of tourists and worshippers. Surely, many have had similar bouts of tranquillity.