Supermoon 2014

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.

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.

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.

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.

Tsomgo (Changu) Lake

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.

ROAD JOURNEY

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.

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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.

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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.

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THE LAKE

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.

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This azure blue lake remains completely frozen during winter.

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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.

In Buddhist traditions, spinning the prayer wheel is as meritorious as chanting mantras.

YAK RIDE

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.

VILLAGE MARKET

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.

More photos are on Flickr.

Rain Holiday today in Baghdad

For the last few days, we were having some rains in Baghdad. The city witnessed torrential rains yesterday. 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.

In office on a public holiday

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.

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An empty Baghdad road

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.

Dusty day to a cloudy morning

This week started with a dusty morning yesterday. It became hazier as the day progressed. Later in the afternoon, the dusts settled down to a clear sky. Little did we know then that there would be a sudden change in the weather from a hot, dusty day to a cool, cloudy, wet morning!

I was waked up at 4.00 am by the night’s silence killing thunders and intermittent lightning splitting the sky here and there and lighting up my windows. I could also hear the music of rain as it was raining mildly then. I opened my windows; a gush of fresh, wet winds swept through my room brushing my sleepy eyes. I love the smell of rain-wet earth. It takes me back down my memory lane, when as a child I used to play in rain water filled ground, in mud in gay abandon. There was a fun then even getting slapped by my mother as she had to wash and clean those soiled, muddied dresses. Mothers are the God’s best gift to the humanity.

This fresh coolness was weighing more on my sleepy eyes, much better than the air-conditioned air inside. I closed the window and went to my bed to be woken up by the alarm at 6.00 am.

Yesterday was dusty and this morning started with thunder and lighting. It’s a welcome contrast. It reminded me of a line from a poem of Rabindranath Tagore –

When desire blinds the mind with delusion and dust, O thou holy one, thou wakeful, come with thy light and thy thunder.