Friday, March 23, 2018

A view of Kathmandu valley

Soul-searching in the land of Buddha

Doubt everything, find your own light - Buddha

These words of Lord Buddha echoed in my heart when we set off on our maiden trip to the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal.

There was a lot of skepticism in my mind right from the moment we booked the trip. We were worried about safety, flights, currency and what not. However, the journey made me realize that much of the skepticism was in vain. After all, it was just a 2-day weekend escapade.

The Himalayan country is for those who wish to do some soul-searching and we did just that.
Prayer flags
From monasteries to palaces to markets, there was a tinge of spirituality wherever we went. In the ornate carvings on palace walls, in the serenity of monasteries, in the beautiful Tanka paintings, in the healing bowls, Buddha was everywhere. Without noise, in every form, it was as if Buddha was telling each one of us: Walk the right path, do the right thing, nothing else really matters.

All-seeing eyes of Swayambhunath
Compare Buddha’s teachings and Nepal in its ruins, you’ll find that the country in itself symbolizes how one has to work tirelessly to end one's own suffering. There is a lot of restoration work going on in and around Kathmandu. Many architectural marvels have been damaged in the earthquake. Yet, each and every one of its world heritage sites leaves visitors awestruck by its sheer beauty. Be it the ruins of the Durbar squares, the temples in every alley, the colourful prayer flags atop the hill overlooking Kathmandu valley, the all-seeing eyes of Swayambhunath, the prayer wheels of Boudhanath, mesmerizing sunrise at Nagarkot, the cycle of life at Pasupatinath, how do I even describe the aura and magic of it all in words? Beautiful Bhaktapur is another wonder in itself. While tourists go around exploring the intricate works of art in each nook and cranny of the city, the locals go about their daily chores, unmindful, not one bit disturbed by all the visitors in awe. Every day is business as usual.

A panoramic view of Bhaktapur
Kathmandu is truly a tourist’s paradise. And for shopaholics, name it, you have it. That too, when what you buy does not pinch your pocket, the joy is double. Even when you don't want to buy anything, you can just walk around the city, meeting and exchanging greetings with locals and people all around the globe. It enriches you and pulls down the walls you have built around yourself, making you feel like a true global citizen.   

Tanka paintings for sale
As always, the best part of our entire journey was reserved for the last. It didn't come till we set out on our return flight. A little after take-off, we noticed that our flight was hovering above the clouds and not moving ahead. Before we could ask someone what was happening, we heard a yelp of joy from behind. It was a man sitting near a window seat, who was pointing to the right. We looked outside and the sight was surreal.

The blue sky above, the clouds below and in between, the snow-capped peaks of Mount Everest.

A view of Mt Everest from our flight
That one sight is what we will hold in our hearts forever. Everest in all its glory. The pinnacle of the world at hand's reach. Our journey was now complete, our souls truly refreshed.

PS: We bid goodbye to our Himalayan neighbour promising to return before long, to catch up on everything we had missed out on.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Friday, December 29, 2017

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Oh Barca!

Remember this iconic photo of FC Barcelona playing a La Liga match without audience?
It was their way of condemning the crackdown on Catalans seeking freedom.

Last night when I received the news alert that the Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont was likely to announce the independence declaration shortly, the first thing that came to my mind was Jawaharlal Nehru’s Tryst with Destiny speech. 

Quoting India’s first prime minister,

At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.

I wondered whether Catalonia was on the cusp of such a historic moment. However, instead of abruptly severing all ties with Spain, Puigdemont chose the route of mediation. Perhaps he knows that diplomacy with Spain is in the best interest of the country he aims to create, its people and his political ambitions.

Even though geographically distant, Spain is not a country totally unrelatable to Indians. The well-travelled are most likely to identify it as a tourists’ paradise and the others might definitely recall the names of premium Spanish football clubs such as Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. 

With so many reports doing rounds in the media about Catalonia, referendum, Spanish crackdown and march for unity, I thought of writing a quick overview of the political crisis in Spain for those who are just curious to know what the fuss is all about. It is no expert opinion, just a few facts put together from sources online. 

To begin with, the Catalan independence struggle is one of the biggest crises Spain had to face since the death of its dictator Francisco Franco in 1975.

Where is Catalonia and why do the Catalans seek freedom?

Catalonia is a wealthy region to the north-east of Spain with a high-degree of autonomy. It is home to just 16% of the population of the country but contribute around a quarter of the State’s exports and GDP. It is also the preferred destination for a large number of tourists visiting Spain.

The key force behind the independence struggle is the perception that Madrid is robbing Catalonia, the feeling that the region is giving more than what it takes. ‘Madrid nos roba’(Madrid is robbing us) is one of the popular slogans of the Catalans seeking freedom. Another driving force behind the uprisal is Spain’s decision to revoke a fair share of autonomous privileges enjoyed by the region doubled up by the global economic slowdown.

Why the present crisis?

On October 1, Catalan leader Puigdemont decided to organize a referendum to seek public mandate to secede from Spain. The powers in Madrid tried every possible means to prevent the Catalans from holding the referendum. They seized ballots, forced closure of polling booths and even fired rubber bullets at those who turned up to vote. None of these prevented the Catalans from casting their votes and the chain of events even turned the tide in their favour. The international community condemned Spain for using force on ordinary citizens who did not resort to any kind of violence. The turnout for referendum was noted as 43% and Puigdemont claimed that 90% of the Catalans chose independence. The Spanish courts were quick to rule that participation in any kind of ballot against the country was illegal.

The road ahead for Catalonia

With the Catalan leader stating that he would choose the means of peaceful talks with Spain in the formation of a new country, the most debated topic is whether the whole idea of Catalonia as a separate nation is feasible or not.
One should not forget the fact that there have been rallies across Spain urging the Catalans to not secede and remain a unified country instead.
Neither Spain nor Catalonia would want a traumatic split as it could make things difficult for both the parties. The advantages that Catalonia has while seceding from Spain is that it already has a flag, a parliament, public services such as education and healthcare and broadcast regulator among others. However, in the event of a declaration of independence, it would be out of the euro zone and would have to seek membership again. It would also have to seek membership to other international regulatory bodies, for which it would need support from other countries including Spain and its allies. Here, Spain could make things really difficult for the newly formed country, if the latter decides to split in hostile conditions. Also, it doesn’t have any defence mechanism, air traffic control and most of the banks and industries have chosen to shift their bases in the wake of the upheaval. Spain would also find itself in a tight spot to a certain extent given the fact that Catalonia is one of the wealthiest regions and its people paying more taxes than what they actually spend. The mounting debt is also a big worry for Catalonia given the fact that it owes €77bn (£68bn) at the last count, or 35.4% of its GDP. Of this, it owes €52bn to the Spanish government. Given the fact that the new country would hardly have immediate access to banking or trading systems, the onus would entirely be on the newly formed government to steer the country ahead during one of its most difficult phases.

Will Madrid be successful in thwarting the independence bid through peaceful talks or sops in the form of additional autonomy? Or will Catalans secede from Spain and create history despite its limited means? The answer remains to be seen. 

(Text sources: BBC, Reuters, The Guardian, Photo: Sourced from internet, not for commercial use)

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Killers of cows