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.
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.
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.
Inside the Sami Tent, Kiruna, Sweden
Smoke filled the Lavvu or Sami tent, yet the air inside was more agreeable than the breeze blowing from the frozen River Torne. We huddled around a wood fire, as our Sami guide passed us warm lingonberry juice.
“Don’t throw leftover drinks into the fire, Jabme Akka, Goddess of the underworld, resides under it,” she warned.
Sami are the indigenous inhabitants of Scandinavia, and like many other ethnic people, they ascertained divinity to their surroundings. Magic lurked everywhere and the revered everything . Nature set the rhythm and not man. Even in the current age, their life was in sync with nature. In summer, they would let go of their reindeer. The animals go into the forest to forage and return after the breeding season. The herds returned at the onset of winter, and the young calves belonged to its mother’s master…
Dewa, our driver, ran towards the kiosk-cart. It was time for his lunch. “Give me a shout, when you guys have seen the palace. I am just around.” We turned around to see where he headed for.
“Bakso Babi 100% Haram” read the signage on top of a cart. Babi means pork; and bakso, meatballs with broth. No wonder he ran like a predator about the ambush a sitting duck. I wondered the feasibility of such marketing ploy in the Jakarta or Dubai!
The Ujung Water Palace was located, five kilometres from Amalapura, in the village of Seraya. Raja of Kargasem had built the palace. He was the same king who had built Taman Tirta Gangga Palace. (Read here – https://biswadarshan.com/2014/12/29/a-dip-in-balinese-ganges/ ). May be, His Highness had developed a set of gills.
Ujung Water Palace
Ruins in Sacred Garden
“We can keep your backpack in the dickey”, offered the conductor of the crowded mini-bus heading from Lumbini to Bhairawa. Any space was welcome in the can of sardines, so I obliged.
Gosh! That is how tourists are mugged – it was pointless, my bag was gone. I said a little prayer. Thankfully, my passport and money was on me. My trip to Lumbini had been in a similar bus…a small price to pay for tranquillity.
The previous evening on checking into the Lumbini Lodge, I came across a man enjoying his evening drink. We got talking. He was a retired Nepalese Captian, who had served in the British Brigade of Gorkhas. He was full of stories.
He said that he was in the UK for training. At that time, supplies and toiletries became scarce. Thanks to the Oil Crisis, due to an embargo by OPEC (Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries).
He spoke of the restroom of a reputed hotel; about a signage stuck next to the toilet paper. “Use both-sides” He chuckled. “What was the fuss about? We just washed!” I wonder, where he found water next to a water closet of 1970s’ Britannia?