We celebrate January 14th as Makar Sankranti — the day on which the sun begins to rise in the Makara Rashi (Zodiac Capricorn), Sankranti meaning entering. There is a common misconception that Makara Sankranti is the Uttarayana (winter solstice).
From time immemorial, the days on which the sun touches its northernmost and southernmost points are noted. These are called solstices — winter or summer. In Sanskrit, the journey southwards is called Dakshinayana, and the one northward is called Uttarayana, ‘dakshin’ and ‘uttar’ being south and north respectively. The winter solstice falls on December 21st, and hence Uttarayana begins on that day, while the summer solstice falls on June 21st, when Dakshinayana begins.
While the exact day on which the winter or summer solstice occurs remains steady (within one day error), there is a slight change in the way the Earth’s rotation axis is aligned to the sun. Due to axial precession of the earth, the date of Makar Sankranti is shifting away from the actual season. In astronomy, axial precession is a gravity-induced, slow, and continuous change in the orientation of an astronomical body’s rotational axis. In particular, it refers to the gradual shift in the orientation of Earth’s axis of rotation.
Every year equinoxes slide by 50 seconds i.e. approximately 1 day in every 70 years due to precession of equinoxes, causing Makara Sankranti to slide further. As a result if Makar Sankranti is considered as Uttarayana then as it is sliding. Makar Sankranti was on December 31st in ca. 1000 CE. The Makar Sankranti and Uttarayana coincided during the times of Aryabhata, around 1,500 years ago.
Now Makar Sankranti comes on January 14th, however it continues to hold the importance in Hindu rituals. It marks the beginning of auspicious times. On this day, thousands of devotees take a holy dip in river Ganga and other holy streams. Many Hindu devotees take a holy dip at Ganga Sagar, where river Ganga meets the Bay of Bengal.
Today, the northern hemisphere is experiencing the shortest day of the year. The winter solstice marks the shortest daylight period, but it’s not the day of the latest sunrise or earliest sunset. In the mid-latitudes the earliest sunset occurs in early December, while the latest sunrise is not until early January.
This misalignment occurs because of a discrepancy between “clock time” (which is based on 24 hours), and “solar time” (the time it takes for the sun to appear in the same position in the sky from one day to the next). In fact, it is 24 hours only four times a year, and never in December. It is at its shortest around 23 hours 59 minutes and 30 seconds, in early September, and at its longest around 24 hours 30 seconds in December.
The Earth’s axis is tilted 23.5 degrees, and the Earth’s speed varies because it moves in an elliptical orbit around the sun, accelerating when it is closer to the sun’s gravitational pull and decelerating when it is further away. The sun therefore in effect lags behind the clock for part of the year, then speeds ahead of it for another.
In December, these two factors combine in such a way that our days are actually a few seconds longer than 24 hours – as seen by the amount of time it takes to cross our local meridian (longitude) from one day to the next. In effect, this cumulative shifting pushes the time of solar noon several minutes later during December, advancing both sunrise and sunset times even as the days continue to shorten until December 21.
This also explains why the evenings draw in towards their earliest sunset a couple of weeks before the shortest day, and why the mornings continue to get darker until a couple of weeks after.
Happy shortest day of the year … and of course longest night too!
Today’s Sunday night is lit up by a supermoon. The moon tonight is closer to the earth that it has been in over 20 years, 14% bigger and 30% brighter than usual. The reason is because the moon is at lunar perigee. This means the moon is about 30,000 miles closer to the Earth than normal. The August supermoon was the closest of all supermoons this year. The moon will not be this close again until the full moon on 28 September 2015.
The scientific name for a “supermoon” is a perigee moon, perigee meaning “closest point to earth”. It refers to the phenomenon when the moon is in its “full moon” stage, and at its closest point to earth during its yearly orbit. With the moon being closer, it appears far bigger and far brighter.
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This Sunday’s supermoon is estimated to be over 14% bigger and 30% brighter than usual. The moon was closest to the earth at 9:10 p.m. (6:10 p.m. UTC) and was 356,896 km away.
The supermoon on Sunday was the second in a trio of supermoons this summer, with one having happened on 12 July and the next one due to appear on 9 September. To have three in such close proximity is very rare and it is not expected that this will happen again until 2034. In general, supermoons occur on average every 13 months.
Today is Rakhi Purnima. I wish everyone Happy Raksha Bandhan. Raksha Bandhan is a Hindu festival that celebrates the love and duty between brothers and sisters.
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.
Banjhakri waterfalls is a popular tourist spot near Gangtok in Sikkim. 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.
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.
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 so 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.
Jaya & I visited our son Babai for three days. On Monday, March 17 we decided to visit Tsomgo Lake and hired a cab through hotel. We asked the hotel on Saturday to arrange for the trip and the inner line permit needed to visit there.
Tsomgo Lake or Changu Lake is perched within mountains at an altitude of 12,400 ft. Located in Sikkim at Gangtok – Nathula Highway only 40 km, from Gangtok, the Changu Lake is one of the most spectacular landscapes of Sikkim.
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The road to Nathu La passes the lake on north side. Nathu La is a mountain pass in the Himalayas. It connects the Indian state of Sikkim with China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. The pass, at 14,140 ft forms a part of an offshoot of the ancient Silk Road.
The Chinese border crossing is only some 5 km east-northeast in a straight line, but some 18 km by road. A winding road through rugged mountain terrain and sharp cliffs takes you to Tsomgo.
We stopped on our way at a village market in Kyongnosla for some coffee and snacks, and for toilet. Sikkim is the first state in India to have toilets in every village. It’s around 31km from Gangtok.
Tsomgo Pokhri Sanrakshan Samiti, a community based organization formed for conservation of the Tsomgo Lake with support from WWF-India, and others sell picture postcards as entry ticket. The charge is nominal – Rs 10 only.
With a depth of around 48 ft and spreading over 1 km, the magnificent Changu Lake romances with its picturesque surrounding.
The water of the lake comes from the melting of the snow of its surrounding mountains, which is why this lake never dries up.
This azure blue lake remains completely frozen during winter.
In winter the placid lake remains frozen with the area around it covered in snow while in late spring the profusion of flowers in bloom adds a riot of colours around the lake. Changu Lake is also the place of origin of Lungtse Chu River. This lake is also home to Brahmini Ducks and a favourite stopover to other species of migratory birds.
FAITH & LEGEND
The lake is highly revered by the local Buddhists and Hindus as a sacred lake. Changu Lake is shrouded in myths and legends. It is said that in ancient times, the Lamas (Buddhist Saints) used to predict the future by observing the lake’s colour. If the water of the lake had a dark tinge, they predicted the future to be dark and gloomy, full of unrest. The faith-healers of Sikkim, popularly known as Jhakhris also visit this lake during Guru Purnima to offer prayers.
A small bridge just at the entrance of the lake will take you to a viewpoint cum cafeteria, from where you can view the complete lake and its surrounding mountains.
You can trek along the lakeside in deep snow during winter or even take Yak rides along the coast of the lake. The yak is a long-haired bovid found throughout the Himalayan region of south Central Asia, the Tibetan Plateau and as far north as Mongolia and Russia. Most yaks are domesticated. The yak may have diverged from cattle at any point between one and five million years ago, and there is some suggestion that it may be more closely related to bison than to the other members of its designated genus. Yaks are heavily built animals with a bulky frame, sturdy legs, and rounded cloven hooves. They have small ears and a wide forehead, with smooth horns that are generally dark in colour. Domesticated yaks have been kept for thousands of years, primarily for their milk, fibre and meat, and as beasts of burden.
We preferred Yak ride. It’s our first experience and we enjoyed the ride although initially the sight of the mighty Yaks with their huge horns was a bit scary.
There is a small rustic market before entering the Changu Lake which sells yak cheese, trinkets and local curios to the tourists. You would also get snow boots and gumboots on hire from here. Yak cheese is sold in small pieces tied together by a string like a garland. These pieces are chewed like chewing gums. I borrowed one piece for taste. The flavour and smell are like medium cheddar cheese. I chewed it in my mouth until my jaws started complaining. It’s a good and healthy substitute for chewing gums.
There are few eateries too selling Momos and tea in this area. We had some hot soupy noodles at one of the eateries before leaving Tsomgo for Gangtok.
Surprisingly, there was a wall painting of Che Guevara in one of the walls in the market indicating great popularity of the Argentine Marxist revolutionary and guerrilla leader.
PROTECTED AREA PERMIT
Tsomgo lake-Baba Mandir falls in the protected area and hence a protected area permit is required. Tsomgo – Baba Mandir permits are issued by Police Check Post for Domestic Tourist. For foreign tourist, permit is issued by Tourism & Civil Aviation Department and Police check post.
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Torrential rains are quite uncommon in Baghdad. There were a few such occasions last year too.
The city is not equipped to handle torrential rains and there were water-logging in many areas. The water on the roads made street movement difficult.
Last night, it was declared a public holiday in Baghdad due to heavy rains in the city causing a lot of inconvenience to the general public. In India we are used to heavy rains during monsoons and cyclones. So, we don’t get any such public holiday because of rains. We have to manage through the flooded streets and traffic blockades there.
As the holiday is declared for Baghdad only, all our branches elsewhere are open. Therefore, Ibrahim and Mustafa came to office today for providing support to non-Baghdad branches. I also walked down to office for some time during the day.
Sometimes I feel great to be in Iraq as I can have the luxury of enjoying rain holidays.
Today has been declared as a public holiday in Baghdad to commemorate the death of Imam Moussa ibn Jaafar al-Kadhim, the seventh of 12 principal Shiite imams, who died in 799. Shiites walk for hours, and often for days, from across the country to reach the mosque in Kadhimiyah, known for its twin golden domes. The mosque was built atop what were believed to be the tombs of Imam al-Kadhim and his grandson – Imam Muhammad al-Taqi, the ninth of 12 principal Shiite imams.
Hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims converged on the golden-domed shrine as security forces tightened security after a wave of deadly attacks across Iraq. Many of the main streets in Baghdad were closed in recent days to prevent attacks on the pilgrims, who travel on foot.
The traffic restrictions caused hardships to many of my colleagues. Many of them couldn’t come to the bank yesterday. The working hour was reduced by one hour since Sunday. Yesterday, it was decreased by two hours so that all the employees could reach home safe and in time.
The holiday has been declared today only in Baghdad province. Therefore, all our branches outside Baghdad province are working as a normal business day. So, the banking system will be fully operational today. The branches need support from head office as well as some transactions need authorizations. All routine checks are to be carried out to ensure the transactions are booked and recorded properly. So the back office is open today.
I am in the office to supervise the back office work and for authorizing the required transactions. I stay in the office complex and hence it’s not a problem for me. Mustafa stays close by and so he has come. Ibrahim also can manage to come to office walking, so he too has come today. The vehicles are not allowed on the road today in Baghdad. As the Baghdad branches, and Head Office are closed, so the volume of work is much less today.
“If you have a work instead of a job, every day is holiday” ― Paulo Coelho
Happy World Environment Day to everyone! Today is also World Environment Day. Let’s make it everyday.