Friday, 30 December 2011

Preview: Kailasanathar Temple in Ellora

"Its excellence is beyond the power of description."

So says the late Indian historian, Pandit Bisheshwar Nath, about Ellora's Kailasanathar Temple, in his book, "The History of the Rashtrakutas", and perhaps if I followed his example then I could save myself a lot of writing. Not just about the caves of Ellora, but about all my Wonders: "Beyond the power of description again, sorry guys," and I can focus my energies on finding some cheap beer. A picture tells a thousand words anyway - I'll just take five photos and let them do the talking.

Of course, I know that Mr Nath was using a figure of speech rather than just stating a plain fact, and his book wasn't about Ellora and its caves, it was about the people who built them, the Rashtrakuta Dynasty. Rashtrakuta is a bit of an unwieldy-looking name, but break it up and it becomes a little more manageable. In Sanskrit, "rashtra" means "region" or "area", and "kuta" means something approximating "chieftan". These regional chieftans operated between the 6th and 10th Centuries AD, and as a powerful empire from the mid-8th Century. The word "regional" misleads; at their peak, the Rashtrakuta Empire dominated what we know as India now, stretching from just above the southern tip all the way up almost to Nepal. In 973 AD, they came to an end when a rival power invaded their capital and overthrew them.

Like most powerful empires from the past, and partly through necessity, the Rashtrakutas enjoyed their fair share of warring and conquering - indeed this was a generous source of income for them. However, they also had some culture to them. Art and education were seen as important, and they left a significant architectural legacy behind. No better can this be seen in the caves of Ellora, which can be found 30 kilometres from the central Indian city of Aurangabad (named, incidentally, after the Mughal emperor Aurangazeb, the son of Shah Jahan - the builder of the Taj Mahal). This series of 34 caves is seen as the epitome of a thousand years of Indian rock-cut cave-carving tradition, with the magnificent, "beyond the power of description" Kailasanathar Temple not just being the very finest example, but going a whole improbable step further to become something that boggles the mind.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

New Additions To The List: Part 2

I was worried about this. About a year ago, my list of candidate Wonders was around about 75 or so. This number steadily started trickling up as I mentioned my quest to others, and by the time I'd started my blog, in May, the number had reached 92. By July, the number was 98. And now... well, there's a few more to be added. With the blog established and the travels begun, new suggestions come my way not uncommonly. Especially with meeting other people when travelling, and discussing my quest, there are always different buildings and locations suggested, some of which I'd earlier dismissed and aren't applicable to what I'm after (natural Wonders, for example), but many which definitely seem looking into. Some people I've met have been pretty well-travelled, or are familiar with parts of the world I'm not, so have made some pretty interesting suggestions. Inevitably, this has led to my list growing and growing...

And so here, without further ado, are some of the suggestions made, and whether or not I've decided to add them to the list.

1. Leshan Giant Buddha, Leshan, China. ACCEPTED.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Burness Corner: Ananda Temple in Bagan

The latest in the series of snippets from the blog of my travelling companion, Burness, as well as a short interview, on his views on a World Wonder. This time: Ananda Temple in Bagan. Burness's focus was more on the overall ruins of Bagan, rather than just Ananda Temple, although he more-or-less agreed with me that Bagan was a little too spread out to be considered a single Wonder.

Model Wonders

Aside from actually visiting each of my Wonders, I've set myself an additional little project. That is to try and collect a miniature version of each Wonder. Every time I visit a Wonder, I keep an eye out for a small model version of it. For famous tourist spots, this is usually pretty easy - souvenirs of famous landmarks are pretty common. But sometimes it is harder work that you'd expect, and finding a model can be pretty challenging. So far, I'm happy to report that I've collected a model or appropriate representation of every Wonder I've seen, although I know that in the months and years ahead, some will prove challenging. Impossible? Never, as Bagan will demonstrate.

Here are the model Wonders I have collected on my travels so far.

Sydney Opera House

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Burness Corner: Shwedagon Pagoda

The latest in the series of snippets from the blog of my travelling companion, Burness, as well as a short interview, on his views on a World Wonder. This time: Shwedagon Pagoda.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Days 101 to 104: Koh Phi Phi

Ten years ago, I travelled for around about four months with my good friend, Varwell, around Eastern Europe and a little of the Middle East. It was a formative experience, in which I learnt a lot about beer prices, how to ask for beers in various languages, how to drink beer with various different nationalities (mostly Australians), and once we even visited an art gallery. With Burness, going round south-east Asia so far, the experience has had many similarities, namely with the beers but also with the art galleries (we visited one, in Singapore). However, there is one massive difference not to be understated: Varwell was (and still is) obsessed with making puns; Burness has nothing in the way of a preoccupation with them whatsoever. Therefore, while Varwell was actually physically unable to visit fjords in Montenegro without making a "fjord escort" joke, even though he manfully held out for a whole day before making it, Burness and I have just spent four nights on the Thai island of Kho Phi Phi (pronounced, yes, "Ko-Pee-Pee") without even the notion of a "pee-pee" joke. Or a joke about "Sebastian Koh", which I'm sure Varwell would have managed after the third night.

Burness Corner: The Petronas Towers

The latest in the series of snippets from the blog of my travelling companion, Burness, as well as a short interview, on his views on a World Wonder. This time: the Petronas Towers.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Friday, 9 December 2011

Burness Corner: Borobudur

The latest in the series of snippets from the blog of my travelling companion, Burness, as well as a short interview, on his views on a World Wonder. This time: Borobudur.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Day 95: Full Moon Revelry

Excitement is in the air! Youth chatter and bustle, talking about their exciting travels around south-east Asia ("Oh you've been there too! What a coincidence!") and comparing their plans ahead. And the plan ahead is awfully exciting right now - a Full Moon Party on one of the Thai islands! As a big round moon beams down, loads of enthusiastic teenagers, or thereabouts, will dance and bodypop on the beautiful beaches of Koh Phangnan, Koh Tao, or somewhere like that. It will be an exhilarating slice of travel-party action, as they explore their wanderlust youth with hundreds and hundreds of other wanderlust youth, being really drunk on a beach together. It will be a crazy time and an essential part of the south-east Asia travel experience!

I, Niall Christie, age 33, will not be attending.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Days 88 to 92: Malapascua

Travelling with a fellow human involves compromise: one of you wishes to drink rum, the other brandy, so you compromise and drink both rum and brandy. Or one of you wishes to play Scrabble and the other cards, so you compromise and play Scrabble with cards ("Oh, 'KA' again for six points," "What do you mean "QJA isn't a word?").

And so it is travelling with the human known as Burness. As may have been apparent over the last few months, our travels have been dominated by looking at large, impressive man-made constructions that I have nominated candidate World Wonders. Great, but this is more my mission than Burness's; he is happy to visit these places as they have all been of interest, and give us a focus to these travels, but he too has places he is interested in and would like to visit. And so, in the name of compromise, I acquiesce, and let Burness pick destinations he quite fancies seeing.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Burness Corner: The Marina Bay Sands

The latest in the series of snippets from the blog of my travelling companion, Burness, as well as a short interview, on his views on a World Wonder. This time: the Marina Bay Sands.