Saturday, December 31, 2011

Historic Temples, Patan, Nepal

I want to follow-up on the previous post of hidden courtyards of Patan with some photographs of temples and more common tourist sights. Patan is a visual delight in every way. Most tourists are dropped off on Mangaal Bazaar in front of the ticket booth at Durbar Square and proceed north past a series of temples and the palace complex.

Note that in Nepal, temples are not just sterile monuments visited by tourists, but are used by local residents in their every day lives. Old folks sit and watch the view, younger folks play games or chat.

One of the first temples on the left is the Hari Shankar Mandir, dedicated to both Vishnu and Shiva. Note the fantastic carved doorways and lintels, and the unusual "ears" off the doors. Most of these temples needed major rebuilding after a powerful earthquake in 1934.

The young ladies are taking portraits of each other at the Jagan Narayan Mandir, built in 1565.

The next one north, with an old lady enjoying a cig, was the Bishwanath Mandir.

I did not take many photographs in the Palace, but many of the architectural details showed interesting shadows and patterns. The wall by the main entrance is a popular place for the local gents to sit and watch the local scene. The Palace was mainly constructed in the second half of the seventeenth century and substantially rebuilt after an invasion in 1769 and the 1934 earthquake

Many visitors go to the Hiranyavarna Mahavihara, popularly known as the "Golden Temple". It may be one of the most opulent small temples in Patan and occupies a cramped courtyard of the 12th century Kwa Bahal Buddhist monastery. Tourists are not allowed to take any leather inside, but modern synthetic running shoes are all right. I am not sure about the symbolism of the monkeys sitting next to the prayer wheels, or the purpose of the chains draped over one of the monkeys. Possibly a reader can enlighten me. The monastery is active, and upstairs, I saw a European gent chanting and leading a group in prayer.

Again, I want to emphasize that Patan is a living city, not some dead architectural site. People, shops, traffic, noise, and smells are everywhere. It's a bit run-down, but from constant use, not abandonment and neglect.

Another theme that impressed me about Nepal is the commerce being carried out everywhere. The jolly bald gent sells singing bowls. Amazingly (or diplomatically) he remembered me after an absence of four years. He even convinced me to buy another bowl!

The gent with the flowers threads them on long strings.

If you don't want brass bowls or flowers, why not buy a chicken?

This petite mother was taking her children to school. This was another theme that impressed me about Nepal: the strong education ethic. Families believe strongly that education will help their children achieve better lives. We in USA could learn from the Nepalis.

Photographs taken with Olympus E-330, Panasonic G1, and Fujifilm F31fd digital cameras.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Hidden Courtyards of Patan, Nepal

Patan is one of the three independent kingdoms that once flourished in the Kathmandu valley of Nepal (the others being Kathmandu and Bhaktapur). Urban sprawl now encompasses much of the valley, but Patan still feels distinct and features unique architecture and cultural institutions. The historic name is "Lalitpur," or City of Beauty. According to The Rough Guide's Nepal, legend credits Patan's founding to King Arideva in 299 AD. By the seventh century, Patan had emerged as the artistic and cultural center of Nepal and a large expanse of the Himalaya. It remained a sovereign state until 1769, when Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered the valley and chose Kathmandu as his unified capital. In many ways, the historic core is frozen in time as it was in 1769. Therefore, Patan is an architectural gem well worth a visit.

The tourist map shows Patan's location south of Kathmandu City. It is a short taxi ride there, but, depending on traffic, it may be rather time-consuming. Walking would be unpleasant with the constant cacophony of horns and stench of exhaust. Odd note: the tuk-tuks, that formerly belched terrible 2-stroke exhaust fumes, are now electric!! The electric motors and batteries were installed as a simple upgrade via a program funded by US Aid and the Asian Development Bank. The tuk-tuks retained their original transmissions, and the motors were connected to 2nd. gear. The photograph shows the normal status of a tuk-tuk: packed with customers.

Most tour groups alight from their taxis or buses in front of the historic Durbar Square, where the palace and many of the temples are located. This is a UNESCO Heritage Site. We tourists have to pay an admission fee, and there is another admission into the Palace.

In this article, I want to concentrate on streets and alleys that tourists might overlook.
Patan, like the rest of Kathmandu, is a full of tiny shops selling all sorts of goods. You can buy fabrics, pots and pans, clothing, incense, magazines, food, singing bowls, religious goods, brassware, cosmetics, and more.
Remember the Ladies of Nepal? This must be where they buy their underwear.

Once you get off the main thoroughfares, the narrow alleys are shaded and private, often only wide enough for motorbikes.
But wait, there is a hidden side to Patan: many of the houses and apartments were built around a courtyard that is accessible via narrow arched passageways. The courtyards feature a well that provided drinking water for hundreds of years, and many are still in use. I was amazed that the residents aren't using piped municipal water.
There is another world in these courtyards. Some are dingy, others joyful and full of life.
In some, individuals sit and watch the scene. In others, children play ball. The people I met were very friendly and probably wondered, "What is this odd tourist doing here? Did he lose his way to the palace or the toilet?"
Some of the houses are really old, mid-1800s I guess. Often they are intermixed with 20th century flats. The next serious earthquake will be real trouble here. Some of the old bricks had the swastika symbol baked into the surface. According to Wikipedia, the symbol was widely used in Indian religions, specifically in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, as a tantric symbol to evoke 'shakti' or the sacred symbol of good luck.
The sunnier courtyards often had piles of grain with ladies carefully tending it. No mice and rats? Maybe the cat or snake population takes care of the vermin. Regardless, it's a fascinating place to explore. Highly recommended.

I took these photographs with a Panasonic G1 micro four-thirds (µ4/3) digital camera with 9-18 mm Olympus or 14-45 mm Lumix lenses, 22 October 2011.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hoben's Country Store, Old Hwy. 27 and Warriors Trail, Vicksburg, MS

This traditional wood-frame country store is at the junction of Old Highway 27 and Warriors Trail, southeast of Vicksburg. A decade or two ago, it was still open for business, but I am not sure when it closed. Possibly a reader can provide some information. Somewhere in my files, I may have a Kodachrome slide of this store in operation.

At one time, small locally-owned stores like this were found along rural roads throughout the south because rural farm workers did not have cars and had to walk or ride a wagon to get supplies. Needless to say, they are a dying institution, and the remaining examples are falling down, burning, or being torn down.

The roof on the main building is still intact, and it looks like the owners have been storing miscellaneous junk for awhile. Notice the wood boards forming the interior walls. Ultimate fate: unknown.

(Photographs taken with a Panasonic G1 digital camera with 14-45 mm Lumix G Vario lens, ISO 100, December 17, 2011.)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Abandoned Machine Shop, Levee Street, Vicksburg, Mississippi

From the late 1800s to mid-20th century, Levee Street, running parallel to the floodwall and the Yazoo Canal, was lined with warehouses, cotton compresses, railroad shops, grain elevators, and oil storage farms. Most are now gone, and Vicksburg is no longer an industrial city. The postcard above, from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, shows the waterfront view from the roof of the First National Bank Building. Levee street is in the distance. In the 1980s and 1990s, this steel building (across the street from the Kansas City Southern railroad yard) contained a machine shop. I am not sure who it served, but it was a going concern, and I recall hearing metal noises and seeing pickup trucks coming and going. Now it is closed and used for junk storage. I wish I had kept a 1980s telephone book to use as a data source to identify old companies like this. The south side of the property is a dumping ground for all sorts of metal debris and parts from the railroad. This is a housing for a track-switch lever and mechanism. I like railroad equipment - heavy duty, built to last.

(Photographs taken with a Fuji F31fd digital camera at ISO100, 24 Nov. 2011)

Update: Here are some black and white film views of the workshop from December, 2020.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Come to the Supermarket (in Old Kathmandu)

Well, maybe Cole Porter did not write exactly these words in Aladdin (see the full lyrics below), but he was probably thinking of a place like the Asan Chowk market in Kathmandu. According to Wikipedia, "a chowk (Urdu: چوک) is a Town square, an open area commonly found in the heart of a traditional town used for community gatherings, market square, or simply traffic intersection."
The Asan is a short walk from the Thamel tourist area of town, but it can be an adventure getting there and back. The first thing that struck me was the crowds. Late afternoon, the streets were mobbed! Where are all these people going? It's such a contrast to many American cities, which often are deserted downtown after 5 pm. In the second photograph, you can see the fabrics hanging along the buildings. This is one of the fabric areas that I mentioned in the previous Nepal article.
Once you reach the Chowk, it's as crowded as the surrounding streets. Watch your feet or you'll step in a vendor's merchandise or in a hole in the sidewalk.
This is the famous salt from northern Nepal and Tibet. For hundreds of years, workers mined the salt in Tibet and traders/merchants carried it south to India (sometimes on goat back). In return, traders brought rice and other products north through the Himalaya. Towns like Lo Manthang and Kagbeni became prosperous salt centers. This commerce finally diminished in the mid-20th century when factory-manufactured salt containing iodine became readily available in India. But the traditional salt is said to bestow medicinal properties. Who knows about that, but it tastes good in cooking. The black salt has a strong H2S aroma when you grind it up, the pink much less so.
Do you want spices? Here you can find them, anything your cuisine needs.
Nuts and beans? Anything you want.
Roots, garlic, ginger, and ginseng? This is the place.
Fruits? Yes, indeed.
Many of the vendors bring their wares to the Chowk on sturdy bicycles. I think most of them are from India and have only one gear. They also have rod-operated brakes rather than cable, like most modern western bikes.
Do you need some incense, bells, or other religious supplies? Come to the Asan Chowk.
These leaves are woven into little boats. Hindu pilgrims place food offerings in the leaves and float them down the Basmati River, which runs through town some distance from here.
These vivid powders are also used in Hindu activities.
Need a chicken or a mallard to go with those vegetables and spices? Plenty from which to choose.
And plenty of paper goods on which to serve your feast.
How about a kite or kite string? This fellow will help you.
Finally, how about some elegant flip-flops for your party? Cole Porter never anticipated these....


From Aladdin, music and lyrics by Cole Porter. Aladdin was originally broadcast by CBS as the "Du Pont Show Of The Month" on February 21, 1958. First LP release: February 10, 1958.

If you want a fancy fan
Or a turkey born in Turkey-stan
Or a slave that's awf'lly African
Or a Teapot early Ming,
Come to the supermarket in old Peking.

If you want to buy a kite
Or a pup to keep you up at night
Or a dwarf who used to know Snow White
Or a frog who loves to sing,
Come to the supermarket in old Peking.

They have: sunflow'r cakes, moonbeam cakes,
Gizzard cakes, lizard cakes,
Pickled eels, pickle snakes,
Fit for any king,

If you want a bust of jade
Or an egg that's more or less decayed
Or in case you care to meet a maid
For a nice but naughty fling,

Come to the supermarket,
If you come on an ostrich, you can park it,
So come to the supermarket
And see Pe-

If you want a gong to beat
Or a rickshaw with a sassy seat
Or a painting slightly indiscreet
That is simply riveting,
Come to the supermarket and see Peking.

Well, If you want some calico
Or a gentle water buffalo
Glow worm guaranteed to glow
Or a cloak inclined to cling,
Come to the supermarket in old Peking.

They have bird's-nest soup, seaweed soup,
Noodle soup, poodle soup,
Talking crows with the croup,
Almost anything.

If you want to buy a saw
Or a fish delicious when it's raw
Or a pill to kill your moth'r-in-law
Or a bee without a sting,

Come to the supermarket,
If you come on a turtle, you can park it,
So come to the supermarket
If you come on a goose, you can park it,
So come to the supermarket
And see

(I have a 1960 recording on LP from the London Coliseum performance - brilliant.)