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Sunday, April 2, 2017

THE LOST KINGDOM

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The Lost Kingdom - Khmer Empire


9th Century AD. Angkor was the largest city in the world. For the next 500 years it was the capital of Khmer Empire. The city witnessed construction of hundreds of world famous temples built by the Khmer rulers. This sprawling complex of Angkorian ruins lies north of a safe, friendly and pleasant town of Siem Reap on the shores of Tonle Sap Lake. Siem Reap earned its name after the Khmer empire defeated and took over the Thai kingdom in the 17th century. It literally means ‘Siamese defeated’. Because of its proximity to Angkor Archaeological Park it has turned out to be one of the lively and touristic cities of Cambodia over the last one decade. We stayed at Hotel Visoth Boutique, which is very conveniently located in Siem Reap. It is truly a boutique hotel. Homely with a warm and hospitable staff. We started off for Angkor Wat early in the morning when it was still dark outside. We did not want to miss the sunrise over the thousand year old divine wonder. We had to buy passes from Angkor Conservation Area Ticket Booth located on Charles de Gaulle Road. These passes came with our photographs and cost 40 usd per person for 4 days validity for visiting any of the temples within the Angkor Archaeological Park.  It was life’s awestruck moment when the silhouette of the magnificent sandstone temple loomed up against the dark background. The temple was built by a devout Hindu ruler of the Khmer empire King Suryavarman II during early 1100 AD. He venerated Lord Vishnu, and that’s why he installed a statue of Lord Vishnu in the central tower which is around 65M tall. What is highly wondrous about the temple is that almost all the walls, pillars, and the galleries are decorated with reliefs (mostly bas-reliefs) and sculptors of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, celebrated scenes from Hindu mythology like Churning of the Sea Milk, life of Krishna, Apsaras & Devatas, the narratives on Battle of Lanka from Ramayana and Battle of Kurukshetra from Mahabharata carved beautifully. There are also statues of snake Vasuka, Apsaras and also Lord Buddha which came up during gradual transformation to Buddhism during the 14th century. Since the temple orientation is to the west, unlike Hindu temples which are oriented to east, has led many to believe that Suryavarman intended it to serve as a funerary temple. The temple complex is surrounded by moat measuring about five sq km. The temple stands on terrace, higher from where the city used to be. The layout resembles Mount Meru, a home of Gods located beyond Himalayas, believed in Hindu mythology. Since it was built with sandstone it has withstood the ravages of time, and the huge moat prevented encroachment by jungle. Stones were reserved only for temples whereas constructions in the city were with perishable materials like wood etc and, therefore, almost nothing remains today except the road outlines, sets of steps leading down to the city and naga balustrades. The rest seems to have been devoured by dense rain forest. Although major restoration work on the temple was undertaken in 1960s, it was abandoned during the Khmer Rouge era and again taken up by the Archaeological Survey of India between late eighties and early nineties. It was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO only over a decade back. The Khmer were great builders. They built temples, canals, road network during their reign. As early as 9th century the Angkorian kingship under King Yasovarman I saw inception of massive barays with an island temple set at the center of each baray. Baray (Khmer) is a water reservoir and the largest baray constructed in the 11th century measures about 8 km x 2 km. The last baray was constructed in the late 12th century when Jayavarman VII was the Angkorian ruler. Although this baray is considered to belong to Preah Khan (a temple dedicated to both Hinduism and Buddhism), it is the temple of Neak Pean that sits at the center of this baray. Both these temples were constructed during the reign of JayavarmanVII, the most celebrated Khmer king. Most of the temples that have survived the wraths of nature were built during the rule of Jayavarman VII. There were around thousand temples but today only a few remain. Most of the temples were consumed by nature. Among the surviving and restored temples we saw are the Bayon, Ta Prohm,Preah Khan,Banteay Kdei,Neak Pean (representing heavens on earth with ornamental lakes surrounding it), Phnom Krom ( resembling Angkor Wat to some extent but built in the 10th century, long before Angkor Wat. This overlooks Tonle Sap Lake and one could watch the sunset from atop the temple).On our way to the Bayon we had to cross a bridge where most of the statues on either side were headless, apparently handiwork of robbers over the ages.We came across the Terrace of Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King. Used as a viewing gallery at Royal events it displays an outstanding depiction of elephants. The temple of Beng Melea, one of the several hundreds of lost temples, is about two hours drive from Siem Reap bordering Vietnam. This Hindu temple was also built by the same King who built Angkor Wat. The dense forest surrounding the temple seems to run amok over the centuries. The daunting ruins of this gigantic temple bog the senses as to how it looked centuries ago. Experienced a whiff of Indiana Jones as we clambered up and down the sturdy wooden walkways built to go deep into the nooks and corners of the temple. The trees, the huge roots of the size of anacondas, giant foliages all seem to have entwined and integrated with whatever remained of the huge stone structures. To add to the romantic adventure of exploring a lost temple, a board outside cautioned tourists of not venturing too deep into the forest as there was still possibilities of landmines planted during Pot Pol regime to ward off Vietnamese infiltration and also to prevent escape of Cambodians to Vietnam. However, a massive project of freeing the entire area of landmines is already underway. The most bewilderingly breathtaking experience was a switchover from the Angkorian era we travelled during the day to modern Cambodia in the night. A splash in the beautiful salt water swimming pool at Visoth Boutique Hotel, cooling down with sips lemon grass drinks, toning up at Cambodian massage parlour, a shopping spree at the Old Market, listening to melodious blues on the lawns of a Khmer restaurant over Khmer prawn preparation and Cambodian beer. Although Siem Reap is a sweet little compact town and our hotel conveniently and centrally located, we preferred to take breezy rides in Remorks (look alike of Tuktuk but 4 wheeler pulled by motorbikes – similar to the old concept of Phatphati which used to ply from Red Fort to Chandni Chowk in Delhi).We preferred these rides more so because of the friendly nature of the drivers very unlike the auto drivers one encounters in Kolkata. We always kept the last lap for Pub Street. As the name implies life is at its fullest on Pub Street. Lights dazzling,glistening,gyrating; Live bands churning out rocks and oldies; Fried Rolled Ice Creams prepared in your presence as per your choice; open spas for fish foot massage – all these and more to make you feel elated,refreshed for that moment. One night we had Barbecue dinner at Cambodian Barbecue Restaurant. Other nights we dined and drank at Temple Balcony & Bar Restaurant where from 8pm they host Apsara dance performance on the balcony. It’s superb. The spirit of Cambodia is so high that Siem Reap continues to beckon us. 

Cute and serene Siem Reap International Airport




Angkor Wat at the break of dawn


A beautiful reflection of Angkor Wat during sunrise

The steps and pathways at Angkor Wat are adorned with Naga balustrades


The architecture of Angkor Wat was designed on the impression of Mt Meru


An Indian couple at the moat of Angkor Wat



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Carvings of Apsara on the walls of Angkor Wat

Walls of Angkor Wat are adorned with carvings flowers,plants, Vishnu and other Hindu Gods



Artworks depicting details of battles from Ramayana, Mahabharata and also battles led by King Suryavarman adorn the walls in the temple complex of Angkor Wat


The bridge leading to the Bayon. The guard rails on either side of the bridge constructed over a moat are statues of human heads of which most are headless due to theft and ravages of nature.


The statues at the Bayon represent Laughing Buddha, though it is still a matter of debate as to who the faces may represent. Some say it might be a combination of Buddha and Jayavarman VII, the most celebrated of the Khmer kings. As a matter of fact  Bayon was King Jayavarman VII's state temple.


Another view of the classical Khmer art and architecture at the Bayon

Terrace of the Elephants


A view of Neak Pean temple that sits in the centre of baray belonging to Preah Khan


Approaching the Gopura of a temple

A close view of how a tree has integrated with the temple stones

The sprawling complex of Ta Prohm temple which King Jayavarman VII dedicated to his mother has been jointly restored and conserved by India and Cambodia. Massive fig and silk cotton trees growing from the towers and corridors have been intentionally left partially unrestored to get the look of a 'jungle atmosphere'

Preah Khan meaning 'sacred sword' is of similar design as Ta Prohm. Built by King Jayavarman VII and dedicated to his father. A sprawling monastic complex ,it served as a Buddhist monastery and school, and was also a residence of  Jayavarman VII for a brief period.The temple is full of carvings and artwork.



Phnom Krom is a look alike of Angkor Wat, but built in the 10th century long before Angkor Wat came up> It doesn't have the carvings,bas reliefs and statues one finds at Angkor Wat. However, one can watch the sunset atop the temple.

This board on landmines is located at the entrance of Beng Melea


Beng Melea like Phnom Krom is also located outside the Angkor Park Area. Since this sprawling temple complex is nestled inside a dense forest of Cambodia it is also referred as jungle temple. This Hindu temple was built by the builder of Angkor Wat, King Suryavarman

The temple lies in total ruins and wooden walkways have been built to give an adventurous 'Lost Temple' feel.


Beng Melea is largely overrun by thick vegetation

Another view of Beng Melea with trees growing into the temple. It is awesome!




Beng Melea ruins

Naga balustrades of Beng Melea lies in ruins

Crystal clear salt water swimming pool at boutique Hotel Visoth where we stayed 

Apsara performance at Temple balcony on Pub Street



Scintillating Pub Street at Siem Reap. So named as several bars. cafes, restaurants, spas fill up the street.




Cambodian Barbecue

Cambodian Barbecue. Food of ones choice is laid on the table and one can prepare the barbecue 

 Fried ice cream roll being prepared on Pub Street.

Fried Ice Cream Roll



Photographer : Arundhati Sengupta


Getting to Siem Reap: Air Asia offers direct flights from Calcutta to Siem Reap with changeover at Kuala Lumpur.

Where to stay: There are several good hotels at Siem Reap. We stayed at Visoth Boutique Hotel which we booked through Booking.com. It is a budget hotel,centrally located. Very warm and friendly staff. Special thanks to Piseth, a cute young Cambodian lady at the reception.

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

HARMFUL EFFECTS OF BLUE LIGHT

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Blue Light Hazards



The optical pathway in a human eye is connected to the visual cortex (part of the brain which mediates the sense of light) via a nervous system. The nervous system comprises photo-receptors of two types – 1) Rods; 2) Cones (named on basis of the shapes of these nerve receptors). These photo-receptors, in turn, contribute to three types of visions with image forming functions, and are important for normal daily function and life quality.


Scotopic (Rod) Vision-When the field luminances lie between 10⁻⁶cd/sqM to 10⁻²cd/sqM. This is a vision in the darkness. The world is grey and there is no sensation of colour.


Mesopic Vision- Most important vision from a Lighting Designer’s point of view. This occurs when the field luminance is raised upwards from 10⁻²cd/sqM  to 10cd/sqM. As the luminance moves upward the luminosity of red increases more strongly than that of the blues due to changing contributions of the Rods and Cone receptors. This is known as Purkinje phenomenon and is considered as an important aspect for designing effective road lighting, as it takes into account the luminance concept as well as the neurological aspects of road lighting.


Photopic (Cone) Vision- This is a 
daylight vision,i.e. when the luminance 
is above 10cd/sqM. Photopic vision is coloured.


A third type of photoreceptor was discovered (first in mice in 2002) and then in humans and primates in 2005. These receptors were found in mammalian retina and are called Intrinsically Photosensitive Retinal Ganglion Cells -3) ipRGCs. Melanospin,a type of photo pigment and belonging to a family of opsins (light sensitive retinal protein)was found to form a mesh-work in ipRGCs  These photo-receptors were found to be sensitive to the absorption of short wavelength blue in the visible region, peaking at around 480nM (deep blue).Unlike the classical photo-receptors Rods & Cones which contribute to formation of images, the ipRGCs are non-image forming. These cells contribute to sub-conscious non-image functions. They serve as primary conduits through which photic information is relayed from the retina to non-image forming visual centres of the brain, ie direct communication to the circadian system which impacts mental and physical he­­­­­­­­­alth.­­­­ Extensive studies show that blue light after passing through our cornea and lens excites the melanospin in ipRGCs with absorption sensitivity peaking at 482nm (deep blue region). Photo reversal of bleaching (found to be most effective with blue light) takes place if the duration of exposure to this wavelength is either excessive or subject to shorter exposures over prolonged periods. It is a photo-chemical reaction which augments the capability of rhodospin molecules (photo pigments contained in the rods) to absorb photons in large numbers. This may lead to a cascading effect allowing the molecules to reach the critical number of photons required to induce damage in the retinal cells. In view of crystalline nature of lens in infants and children, the penetration of blue light is high. Thus this type of retinal damage is more pronounced in infants and children.


Digital devices such as smart phones, iPads, e-readers (kindles), and LED lights did not exist a decade ago. Over the last five years or so there has been a galloping increase in use of these devices. LED which contains about 35% of harmful blue light has nowadays become a dominant technology for backlighting in all digital devices. But what is more disturbing is the gradual replacement of traditional light sources by more energy efficient LED source.


After discovery of blue LED at the end of twentieth century, extensive research started in order to commercialise the use of LEDs so that it can be used for general lighting. The first step was to get white light which was made possible by use of yellow phosphors. Despite great developments in phosphor technology, it has been observed that over a course of time bleaching of phosphors (particularly in high power LEDs) causes a shift in colour temperature. The blue light is not absorbed as effectively and, in turn, the blue light increases over time. Of late the city of Calcutta (Kolkata) has witnessed an invasion of LED lights in the public domain. Change to a new concept is good, but not at the cost of standard norms of good lighting practice. Here almost all streetlight poles and guard rails of flyovers are getting adorned with blue and white strips of LED. The blue is deep blue i.e. in the shorter wavelength. As a driver I have experienced a distracting and painful nature of drive through a maze of white and blue (mostly long stretches of blue) on Calcutta’s longest flyover from Race Course to Parama island at Eastern Metropolitan Bye Pass.It is not only distracting it gobbles the traditional streetlights on the flyover on which a motorist need to focus for safe driving.To add to the woes most of the strips are deep blue which adversely affect the ocular health of drivers frequenting such stretches.





Relative Spectral Sensitivity of human eye. Left hand curve is for dark adapted eye and the right hand curve is for Light adapted eye.

Intensity distribution curve for white LED








Poles on a Calcutta flyover wrapped with blue and white LED strip lights

Guard rail on a Calcutta flyover decorated with blue LED strip


This photograph taken from the front seat of a moving vehicle shows how confusing it appears to a driver.

References: MelanospinA photopigment regulatory Cicadian Photoentrainment may lead to a Blue-Light Induced treatment of Diabetes  (Anamika Sengupta,Ross University School of Medicine)
Effects of blue light on the circadian system and eye physiology

Lamps & Lighting - Henderson & Marsden


The importance of intrinsically
photosensitive retinal ganglion cells and
implications for lighting design
Dingcai Cao
and Pablo A. Barrionuevo







Friday, September 9, 2016

In God's Own Country

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Kerala --- God’s Own Country



How green is my country? Most of it is. In varying degree and shades. But when we travelled from Trivandrum to Kanyakumari on train, the green opened up. Something different from I have hitherto seen. Enthralling. Soothingly caressed our visual system throughout the journey. We were struck by the abundant creation of nature as our train glided through the green corridor. Lined up on both sides by coconut trees, some short and some very tall. Interspersed with fleeting views of giant banana trees, with some dark green, some light green, some heavy and thick in foliage only to be broken by sporadic patches of bright green meadows This continued till our train reached the land’s end. We put up at Vivekananda Kendra, not far from Kanyakumari station. A serene campus which induces an aura of meditativeness. So comfortable that we longed to prolong our stay. Getting up at three in the morning and sauntering down the pathway in darkness to the sea about one kilometer from our lodge was a thrilling experience. At the sea shore we waited to watch the sun rise over the confluence of Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian sea. The moment the sun rose, a twinkle of fire lit the snowy clouds at the horizon. Then the entire sea and Vivekananda Rock would get suffused with gold and blue. We walked back to our base after getting cheered by the beauty of such sun rise. Apart from serenity and sunrise what we liked most about Vivekananda Kendra was their free bus service at fifteen minutes interval upto the  city center near the beach. From there one could walk down to the ferry point for Vivekananda Rock, or take auto or toto to sunset point and other sightseeing places. Sunset is again invincibly beautiful with rocky faces turning to ruddy gold as the sun sank into the sea. From the shore of Kanyakumari upto Vivekananda Rock the water is rough, splashing wherever it encounters the jagged rock formations underneath the sea. It is hard to believe how Swami Vivekananda swam this rough stretch to reach the huge rock protruding out of the sea in order to meditate atop the rock before leaving for USA to deliver his famous discourse on religion at Chicago. From Vivekananda Rock the view of the meeting point of Indian Ocean with Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal is a mind-blowing sight. So clear is the demarcation and different shades of the ocean and the seas. After three days of stay at Kanyakumari we travelled northward deeper into Kerala. We retraced the railroad upto Trivandrum. Beyond, it continued through similar green corridor only to be broken at places by swathes of rippling waterways of Kerala’s iconic backwater. Yes, our destination was Kottayam, and from there to Allepey to discover the entrancing Backwaters. Allepey or ‘Allepuzha’ , a town endowed with whatever nature showers in one’s dreams – sea, serene and wonderful beaches, backwaters infringed with lengthy land strips of swaying coconut trees. We moved into Allepey before sundown. We dumped our luggage at Pine Beach Residency, a home stay arrangement. Home stay is quite popular in this touristic city. Hungry after the journey, we walked down the beach to Indian Coffee House. I ordered beef fry and toast to satiate my appetite, as I am extremely fond of Kerala’s beef fry. In the night we indulged in romantic candle light dining on the white beach at Palm Beach Residency. Half a day trip on backwaters in exclusive house boat was another first. Nature engulfed us with its extraordinary beauty. The boat stopped at one of the several islands on the waterway. We had Karimeen fry. A delectable sweet water fish of Kerala, very similar taste of much sought after ‘Koi’ of Bengal. Local people told us that this fish is available in plenty in the backwaters. After returning back to Allepuzha Boat House Station, we decided to have a hearty lunch at one of Kerala’s most popular eatery. Thapp is walking distance from the finishing point of Allepuzha Boat House Station. One has to just cross the footbridge over the backwater canal.  Since the recipes of Kerala are among the best in South India, we ordered ‘thalis’ (meal platters) – plus mutton curry for self and pomfret fish masala for my wife. Believe me this is one state in India where servings on a platter show no stinginess. Sumptuous Kerala thali  comprising rice, three or four varieties of vegetarian preparations, rasam, sambar, fish curry, pappad, pickle, payasam galore.Added to this one's choice of a non-veg delicacy. All equally delicious and filling. Another discovery at Allepuzha was rejuvenated ayurvedic full body oil massage of Kerala. It works wonder. After two refreshing days in Allepuzha we took an early morning train train to Thiruvanthapuram, the state capital. The train journey captivated us again through the resilient green corridor. Thiruvanthapuram (colonial name Trivandrum) is a beautiful city on the shoreline of Arabian Sea. Beautiful because of its internationally famed Kovalam Beach and Shanghumukham Beach adjacent to the airport for sunset viewers; beautiful because of old temples of Dravidian architecture including the Attukul Temple and the famous Padmanabha Swamy Temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu; beautiful because of Kuthira Malika Palace adorned with carved horses  built by Maharaja Balaram Verma ,King of Travancore during eighteenth century ( now a museum displaying paintings and various priceless collections related to the Travancore family); beautiful because of the city’s colonial architecture; beautiful because of its proximity to Western Ghat mountain range that runs parallel to the Arabian Sea. The newly constructed Central Bus Terminus, opposite Trivandrum Rail Station is also laudable. We had taken a bus from here to visit Ponmudi about sixty kilometers from Trivandrum. The route to Ponmudi passes through clusters of thickets including banana trees, coconut trees, pine trees and rubber plantations leaving us gaspingly admiring the infinite green spaces. Sunshine drifted in and out of the thickets creating patches of light and shade as our bus moved on gentle slopes of the winding roads. Because of the thickets all around the realization of 3000 feet climb came only after flurries of cool mountain breeze started wafting through the window. A pretty hill station so close to a bustling city. And nothing more refreshing and relaxing than sights of mountain flowers, butterflies, rubber plantations and sound of gurgling springs. We had lunch at Ponmudi, watched monkeys playing their tricks before returning back to Trivandrum.



View captured from train on way to Kanyakumari from Trivandrum



At the Land's end - Kanyakumari Railway Station





Sunrise as viewed from private beach near Vivekananda Kendra

Another view of sunrise

At the premises of Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari

Sunset viewed from sunset point, Kanyakumari

Sunsets at Kanyakumari

Vivekananda Rock, Kanyakumari


Three distinct colours of the sea at the meeting point of Indian Ocean,Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal

Kanyakumari town from Vivekananda Rock


Allepuzha Beach, Allepey

Backwater at Allepey

A boat ferrying local passengers on backwater at Allepey

Houseboat on backwater

A strip of island on backwater

Another view of backwater

Where backwater meets the sea


This eatery at Allepey is a very popular joint for authentic Kerala delicacies

Thali served at Thaff, Allepey

A sea horse caught by the owner of Pine Beach Residency where we stayed

A private beach at Allepuzha

Padmanabha Swamy Temple, Thiruvanthapuram.

Kovalam Beach with view of an old Lighthouse

Another view of Kovalam Beach, Thiruvanthapuram

Sanghumukham Beach adjacent to Thiruvanthapuram Airport

Ponmudi

Another view of Ponmudi

Mountain Flower, Ponmudi

Mountain Flower, Ponmudi

Mountain Flowers at Ponmudi

Spring, Ponmudi

Monkeys at play, Ponmudi

(Pics taken by Arundhati Sengupta)








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