An afternoon in Mansour Mall

It’s been long time that we went out in Baghdad. So, we decided today to go to Mansour Mall. It’s the social pearl of Baghdad. We arranged for our visit and went there at around 5:30 p.m. The mall generally remains busy, but today it was empty due to Ramadan.

We walked inside the mall at our ease and slowly reached the top floor that houses the food court besides children amusement facilities. It was empty then, with a few people sitting. This floor always remains very crowded. Most of the restaurants/ food joints refuse to serve before the iftar. We found an outlet that was serving. We had barbecued chicken breasts and cola there.

By the time we finished our snacks, the place was full with people and there was hardly any empty table. It was around 7:00 p.m. then. We walked down to the supermarket in the basement of the mall for purchasing some groceries. Then we went to the food court again for dinner. But that time it was overcrowded. We got a pizza packed and returned home to eat it in the comfort of our home while watching television.

Germany humiliates Brazil

For Brazil, the World Cup is over. They were demolished, destroyed by Germans, just not defeated. They were ripped to shreds, picked up and dumped in the trash can right in front of everyone who loved them. Then, as a final measure, the can was set on fire.

Brazil’s footballing legacy is lost now. The legacy artfully crafted by a battery of legends year after year – Garrincha, Didi, Domingos Da Guia, Pele, Socrates, Zico, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka, et al. All were very stylish, and classy and a treat to watch. They were the masters of this game. In fact, they defined and represent the Brazilian football. Yes, I am a fan of Brazilian football.

Unfortunately, Brazil lost its Brazilian touch. Of the current team, perhaps only Neymar can lay claim to that legacy. Brazil was often seen going physical to get win in the tournament instead of depending on their mastery, trickery.

Last night, it was Germany who was perfecting the Brazilian football and scoring at their ease. They scored 5 goals before the game was 30 minutes old! This included 3 goals in just 3 minutes. Brazil had never let in so many goals in a World Cup game or so many in a half. The goals rained in so thick and fast that Brazil could never withstand the German onslaught. It’s a pity that absence of two players Silva and Neymar could make such huge difference to the nation, which had won the World Cup more than any other nation! It was the worst defeat for  Brazil and that too in front of home crowd. It equaled the margin of its previous worst ever defeat — a 6-0 loss to Uruguay way back in 1920. Brazilians not only lost the match on their home ground, they lost their identity too. This is utterly unbelievable!

The other highlights of the game were record breaking 16th World Cup goal by Klose (record was held by Ronaldo – 15 goals in 19 games) when he scored the 2nd German goal at 23rd minute of the game (16 goals in 23 games) and the 1st German goal, which was Muller’s 10th World Cup goal at 11th minute. He became the 13th player to score goals in double figure in World Cup matches and he was wearing his jersey no. 13! He also became the 3rd player (after Cubillas and Klose) in history to score 5-plus goals in two different World Cups.

My heartiest congratulations to Klose and Muller and the German team! I wish that the Germans win the 2014 World Cup.

There was another record created during the match. Twitter Data has released figures of the German blitzkrieg of the Brazilians on the pitch, which garnered 35.6 million tweets, with a new Tweets Per Minute (TPM) record also being set with Sami Khedira’s goal in the 29th minute triggering a landslide 580,166 TPM.

A mountain named Mt. Sinha

The United States has named a mountain in Antarctica in honour of an eminent Indian-American scientist Akhouri Sinha, adjunct professor in the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development at the University of Minnesota, whose pioneering biological research expedition during 1971-72 has provided critical data about animal populations.

Sinha was a member of a team that catalogued population studies of seals, whales and birds in the pack ice of the Bellingshausen and Amundsen Seas using USCGC Southwind and its two helicopters during 1971-72.

Mount Sinha is a mountain (990 m) at the southeast extremity of Erickson Bluffs in the south part of McDonald Heights. It overlooks lower Kirkpatrick Glacier from the north in Marie Byrd Land.

It was mapped by United States Geological Survey (USGS) from surveys and U.S. Navy air photos. Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names (US-ACAN) named the mountain for Sinha.

Sinha graduated with a B.Sc. degree from the Allahabad University in 1954 and M.Sc. degree in Zoology from the Patna University in 1956.

It’s a great honour, indeed.

Returned to Baghdad

I went to India on a two-week vacation on June 6 to attend to some family events. In the meanwhile, the security situations in Iraq deteriorated suddenly as ISIS overran large swathes of the north and west of the country and seized over half a dozen cities, including Mosul.

40 Indian nationals were abducted from a construction site in Mosul. 46 Indian nurses are also stranded in Tikrit hospital. These caused a great concern not only in India but around the world. The Indian media is giving wide coverage of the happenings in Iraq.

I was in communication with my colleagues in the bank. They informed me that the situation in Baghdad is okay and there’s no new development in Baghdad that might be a cause for worry.

My friends and relatives in India were apprehensive of my returning to Baghdad. Some advised me against it. However, returning to Baghdad is my call of duty. As always, my wife and my son stood by me. With their good wishes, prayers and blessings of my elders I began my journey from Ranchi yesterday.

The immigration official at the passport control desk refused me when I replied to him that I was going to Baghdad. I talked to him that I am working in Baghdad and was in India on vacation etc. He was acting on the travel advisory issued by the government of India on June 15 2014, wherein Indian nationals were advised to avoid travel to Iraq in view of the precarious security situation prevailing in Iraq. He then directed me to his senior. I talked to him and showed him my residency permit and ID badges in support. Also, I told him that I am a consultant and my bank arranges for my security. He then agreed to let me travel to Baghdad.

The incoming flight from Abu Dhabi to Baghdad was almost half full. This flight generally remains full. There were only a few foreigners like me in the flight. Fewer passengers meant less time through the immigration process.

As I cleared the immigration formalities, the driver called me to inform me that he’s already at the airport waiting for me. Thanks to my colleague Ali Alwan! I took my bag from the carousel and walked out of the airport terminal. We drove out of the airport and entered into the city. It looked normal. As we drove past the market area near our house, I could also see women walking around in the sun.

At the end, I reached my Baghdad home safe. I changed my dress and joined my office immediately.

It was a journey with mixed thoughts, some fears & apprehensions but it was a nice, safe journey at the end. After all, it had lots of good wishes of my friends and relatives and blessings of my elders besides support and prayers of my wife – Jaya and my son – Babai.

Jaya is advised hysterectomy

Jaya is suffering from chronic pelvic pain, dysmenhorrhea for couple of years along with lower back pain and leg pains. She was under medication but that didn’t solve the problem. We consulted Dr. Indrani Lodh, a gynaecologist in Kolkata. During our last visit, she repeated ultrasonography besides getting other diagnostic tests including CA-125 bio-marker test done.

After seeing the reports, she confirmed that Jaya is a case of endometriosis. Her left ovary is stuck with the back of her uterus. She even showed me on the monitor that her left ovary is stuck with the back of her uterus while doing the ultrasound test. The doctor suggested laparoscopic hysterectomy to remove her uterus along with ovaries and fallopian tubes.

The good thing is that CA-125 antigen test confirmed that there’s no malignancy in my wife’s case. Thank God!

Back home, we again consulted another gynaecologist, Dr. Reshmi Roy at Santevita Hospital in Ranchi. She also confirmed endometriosis and suggested hysterectomy.

Both the gynaecologists said that there’s no urgency for the surgical operation, but it’s better got done as early as possible. We are planning to get it done during this winter season.

Many medical websites report that 20-33% women get hysterectomy done and 90% of them are for benign cases. Although, hysterectomy is quite common among women but still I am now worried for her. I hope that everything goes off well and Jaya recovers fast.

Tathagata Tsal

The Buddha Park of Ravangla, also known as Tathagata Tsal, is situated near Rabong (Ravangla) in South Sikkim district, Sikkim, India. Tathagata is Sanskrit and Pali word. It’s used to refer to Lord Buddha. The term is often thought to mean either “one who has thus gone” (tathā-gata) or “one who has thus come” (tathā-āgata). This is interpreted as signifying that the Tathagata is beyond all coming and going – beyond all transitory phenomena.

Lord Buddha is quoted on numerous occasions in the Pali Canon as referring to himself as the Tathagata instead of using the pronouns me, I or myself. This may be meant to emphasize by implication that the teaching is uttered by one who has transcended the human condition, one beyond the otherwise endless cycle of rebirth and death, i.e. beyond suffering.

This place was constructed in 2006-13 and features a 128-foot high statue of the Buddha as its centerpiece.

The site was chosen within the larger religious complex of the Rabong Gompa (Monastery), itself a centuries-old place of pilgrimage. Also nearby is Ralang Monastery, a key monastery in Tibetan Buddhism.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama consecrated the colossal 128 foot hammered copper statue of the Buddha, which he had earlier named Tathagata Tsal, at Ravangla. The statue of the Buddha marks the occasion of the 2550th birth anniversary of Gautama Buddha.

There’s huge gate with murals depicting Jataka tales – on the previous lives of Gautam Buddha.

The temple closes for public by 5:30 p.m. We just managed to get in as last visitors of the day. The main temple is below the huge statue of Lord Buddha. It has a huge hall and the walls have images of Lord Buddha and on his life.

There’s a museum too but we couldn’t see it as it’s getting closed.

There are a large number of steps to come down to the park and walk up  a large number of steps to get to the temple.

After getting out of the park, we had “jhal muri” and hot tea from street vendors. We returned to Gangtok through beautiful green road.

Char Dham in Sikkim

Char Dham or Siddhesvara Dhaam is a unique pilgrimage tourism venture of the Sikkim Government developed as “ Pilgrim cum Cultural Centre” having a 108 ft statue of Lord Shiva and replicas of four Dhaams of the country at one place at Solophok hilltop in Namchi. Jaya & Babai visited this place last year. This time they came with me and Jaya’s father.

Char Dham are the names of four pilgrimage sites in India that are widely revered by Hindus. It comprises Badrinath, Dwarka, Puri and Rameswaram. It is considered highly sacred by Hindus to visit Char Dham during one’s lifetime.

Lord Shiva overseeing the Char Dham

The four most revered Dhams of the Hindus: Jagannath, Dwarika, Rameshawaram, Badrinath have been replicated in this fantastic complex to benefit the devotees and tourists.

Badrinath temple

For the consecration of the Dham Shri Jagadguru Sankaryacharya Swami Swarupananda Saraswati did the “Pran Prastisha” of the Dham.

There are replicas of the “Dwadash Jyotirlingas” (the twelve jyothirlinga) of Somnath, Mallikarjuna, Mahakaleswar, Omkareshwar, Kedarnath, Bhimashankar, Viswanath, Triambakeshwar, Vaidyanath, Nageswar, Rameshwar and Grishneshwar surrounding the statue of Lord Shiva and the Char Dhams.

There is a grand statue of Kirateshvar Mahadev and a temple of Shirdi Sai Baba too.

Lord Kirateshwar

In Hindu mythology, it is believed that Lord Shiva, after losing Sati in Agnikund, had gone into seclusion and became a hunter in the forests of Sikkim. There is also a famous Kirateshwar Mahadev Temple at Legship, in West Sikkim along the banks of River Rangeet.

There are Tulsi plants (Ocimum tenuiflorum) growing over 6 ft!

Tulsi plants

The Dham has stay facility for the devotees at “Yatri Niwas” which can accommodate more than 90 people at a time.

There’s a restaurant serving thali in the afternoon. We had thalis of food before leaving this place for Rabongla. The food was yummy!

The environment here is serene and divine. It’s a nice place and we felt blessed visiting all the temples.

The Dham has won the National Tourism Awards 2010-11 under the category of “Most Innovative/Unique Tourism Project” by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India.

Samdruptse – “Wish fulfilling hill”

On our way to Char Dham, we went to Samdruptse, near Namchi.  Samdruptse is situated at around 75 km from Gangtok.

Guru Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche)

Samdruptse literally means ‘wish fulfilling hill’ in the Bhutia language. A unique, awe-inspiring and gigangtic 135 feet high statue of Guru Rinpoche a.k.a. Guru Padamasambhava is installed atop Samdruptse.

Padmasambhava was born into a Brahmin family of Northwest India. According to tradition, Padmasambhava was incarnated as an eight-year-old child appearing in a lotus blossom floating in Lake Dhanakosha, in the kingdom of Oḍḍiyāna in the present Swat Valley of Pakistan. His special nature was recognized by the childless local king of Oḍḍiyāna and was chosen to take over the kingdom, but he left Oḍḍiyāna for northern parts of India.

It is the highest statue of Guru Padamasambhava in the world. His Holiness the Dalai Lama laid the foundation stone of the statue in October 1997. It was completed in February 2004.

The land of Sikkim, at the border of India and Tibet, was consecrated as a hidden sanctuary for the Buddha’s teachings by the great master Padmasambhava, who blessed it with the vajra wisdom of his body, speech, and mind. He is considered as the second Buddha.

The path leading to the hill-top is lined by coloured flags with Buddhist hymns were being played through sound system placed along side the pathway.

People have been stacking stones to make cairns. Earlier used as messengers, signs and landmarks in unoccupied lands, locals suggest that they are also known to bring good luck for travellers.

A cairn in the structure of a stupa

Guru Rinpoche is the patron saint of Sikkim. Padmasambhava is said to have transmitted Buddhism to Tibet, Bhutan and neighboring countries in the 8th century CE. In these lands he is better known as Guru Rinpoche (precious Guru). He introduced the people of Tibet to the practice of Tantric Buddhism.

Guru Rinpoche (Guru Padmasambhava) oversees parts of Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Sikkim from the hill-top.

It is also said that the Samdruptse hill is actually a Dormant Volcano.

Myths say that the buddhist monks have been going on top of the hill and offering prayers to the volcano to keep it calm.

In the hillock at the back of the statue, Buddhists place their prayer flags and built cairns stacking stones to bring good luck to them on the top of ‘wish fulfilling hill’.

 

We had hot tea at the restaurant in a complex outside the entrace to the temple…
…and then went ahead for Char Dham.

 

 

Temi Tea Garden

We planned to visit Char Dham in Namchi. We left the hotel early after having our breakfast.

The road to Namchi from Gangtok is via Temi Bazar. The road cuts from the National Highway at Singhtam. The scenic beauty is excellent on the sides of the road.

A Sikkim tourism restaurant just above the river after crossing Singhtam

Temi is famous for its internationally renowned tea, which is sold under the name Temi tea. We stopped at the garden, which is about 60 kms from Gangtok.

One can savour the breathtaking view of temi tea garden from the road.

It’s one and the only tea estate in Sikkim, which produces top quality tea in the international market.

Temi tea garden is considered one of the best in India and in the world.

The garden is laid over a gradually sloping hill.

The tea produced in this garden is also partly marketed under the trade name “Temi Tea”.

There’s a restaurant selling hot momos and tea. Momo is a type of dumpling native to Nepal, and in some communities in Tibet, Bhutan.

 

We enjoyed the lovely tea with hot momos and fale. Fale (falay) is another Himalayan cuisine but not as popular as momo. Fale is TIbetan style puff pastry filled with minced goat/lamb meat.

Then we drove towards Namchi.

Banjhakri Waterfalls

Banjhakri waterfalls is a popular tourist spot near Gangtok in Sikkim.

We visited Gangtok for a couple of days with Jaya’s father. He wanted to see the institute of Babai and the place too. We reached Gangtok yesterday.

We decided today to visit Bankjhakri waterfalls with him due to its proximity to the city of Gangtok.

It’s around 4 km from Gangtok. The falls is set amidst dense greenery and the theme park itself is littered with ethnic sculptures and figurines of the Jhakri culture.

The waterfall roars down from a height of say 70 feet. Enough facilities have been provided for the tourists to go closer to the waterfall.

The word ‘Banjhakri’ means a forest shaman. A shaman is a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of benevolent and malevolent spirits, who typically enters into a trance state during a ritual, and practices divination and healing.

These shamanistic practices are depicted via the figurines in this theme park. Some of these depict rituals, some healing ceremonies and others the initiation process in the life of a shaman.

Sikkimese style bridges have been built over the water streams and that lead to small view points from where one can get great shots of the waterfall.

Baba couldn’t walk up the stairs to reach the waterfall area, so he sat near the stairs leading to the waterfall and was watching some local boys catching fish in the stream.

It even hosts some decent momo stalls.

Nothing beats a hot plate of momo, aloo dum and a steaming hot cup of tea on a afternoon here. The items were nicely cooked that we repeated the orders.  Then we returned to our hotel in Gangtok via Hanumantok, Ganeshtok and MG Road.

It’s a nice place and worth a visit. It should be on every Gangtok visitor’s itinerary.