Reminiscence of a journey to the Land of Cedars – Lebanon (Part 2 of 7)

The city of Baalbek is an ancient Phoenician city located in the Anti-Lebanon foothills of Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley. The grand temple at the centre of the city was dedicated to Baal, the Phoenician God of sky and Astarte, his consort. The name Baalbek, literally means Lord Baal of the Beqaa Valley.

Later the city fell into the hands of Alexander the Great and then Pompey the Great and became a colony of the Roman Empire. It is famous today for the complex of Roman temples, which are fine examples of Imperial Roman architecture. The Roman complex contains temples dedicated to Jupiter, Bacchus, Venus and Mercury. The temple of Jupiter rests on the ruins of the temple of Baal. These temples survived the rise of Christianity by serving as places of Christian worship. It further survived the reign of the Byzantine and Ottoman rulers and a series of earthquakes. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

Baalbek – Ruins
Baalbek – Ruins
Baalbek – Ruins
Ruins of the Temple of Jupiter
Temple of Bacchus
Ruins of the Temple of Jupiter
Temple of Bacchus
Temple of Bacchus
Temple of Bacchus
Baalbek – Ruins
Baalbek – Ruins
Baalbek – Ruins
Baalbek – Ruins
Baalbek – Ruins
Baalbek – Ruins
Baalbek – Ruins
Baalbek – Ruins
Baalbek – Ruins
Baalbek – Ruins

Reminiscence of a journey to the Land of Cedars – Lebanon (Part 1 of 7)

I made this trip to Lebanon almost a decade and a half back, but the heritage architecture and rustic charm of the place is still fresh in my memory. Lebanon has a rich history which is 7000 years old. At the time of my visit, the Syrian Army were occupying some parts of Lebanon and we had to pass through numerous Syrian check-posts to reach these places. Within a year of my trip, the army had withdrawn and peace was restored. In this series I would like to take you through a tour of the timeless beauty that this country exudes.

The Cedar of Lebanon or Cedrus Libani is a type of coniferous evergreen tree which can grow as high as 40 metres. These colossal trees are native to the mountains of the Eastern Mediterranean region. These forests are as old as the Roman Empire. In fact, they were cut down to build palaces for the Roman Empire. The massive Cedars of Lebanon also find reference in the Bible. It is said that David built his palace and Solomon built his temple using timber from these trees. Furthermore, the Cedar is the national emblem of Lebanon and can also be seen on the Lebanese Flag.

The construction of the Beiteddine Palace which began in 1806 took 30 years for its completion. The palace boasts of beautiful arcades, courtyards and carved cedar wood ceilings. It was the residence of Emir Bashir Shahab II till he was exiled to Turkey in 1840 by the Ottomans. It contains the tombs of Emir Shahab II and his wife. The original palace was destroyed after the Israeli invasion and the structure as we see it today, was renovated in 1984 by Walid Jumblatt. The Betidienne Palace currently serves as the summer residence of the President of Lebanon.

Spotted Deer

Spotted Deer (Scientific Name: Axis axis) is a species of deer found in the Indian subcontinent, which is locally known as Cheetal. Males are larger than females and antlers are present only on males. Male deer reach about 90 cm and female up to 70 cm at the shoulder. Males may weigh 30-75 kg and females weigh up to 25-45 kg. The upper parts are golden completely covered in white spots. The abdomen, rump, throat, insides of legs, ears and tail are all white. The three-pronged antlers are about 1m long.

The natural habitat of the Cheetal deer comprises of open wood land in grassy areas. They prefer to live near rivers and other sources of water. They are found living in small herds of 20 to 30 animals

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Sahastralinga Talav and Panch Pir ki Dargha

Not far from the Rani-ki-Vav (queen’s stepwell) in the town of Patan (Gujarat State) is the Sahastralinga Talav, an excellent example of the ancient water management system of Gujarat. It was constructed by Raja Sidhraj Jai sing in 1084 AD. This artificial reservoir is spread over an area of about five kilometres with stone embankments. The tank was designed to receive water from the nearby Saraswati River through a canal. There were thousand Shiva Shrines on the edge of the tank of which some ruins are still exists. The tank derived its name from these shrines. The tank is empty now and in ruins.

As per legend, during the construction of the tank, Raja Sidhraj Jai Singh fell in love with the beautiful maiden Jasma Odan, who belongs to the tank digger’s community. She refused the request of the king and committed sati (a former practice in India, whereby a widow threw herself into the funeral pyre of her husband) in order to save her dignity. It is believed that due to her curse the tank dried up.

The Sahastralinga Talav - ruins of the canal
The Sahastralinga Talav – ruins of the canal
The Sahastralinga Talav - ruins of the canal
The Sahastralinga Talav – ruins of the canal
The Sahastralinga Talav - ruins of the canal
The Sahastralinga Talav – ruins of the canal
The Sahastralinga Talav - Tank with no water
The Sahastralinga Talav – Tank with no water
The Sahastralinga Talav - ruins of the canal and tank
The Sahastralinga Talav – ruins of the canal and tank
The whole area was deserted except for these monkeys
The whole area was deserted except for these monkeys

If you walk further one kilometre towards the river bank you will reach to a tomb complex, which is locally known as ‘Panch Pir ki Dargha’ (Tomb of five saints). This complex mostly in ruins, contain a Baradari(a pavilion with 12 doors, designed to allow free flow of air) and mausoleum of five saints. The tomb of one saint is inside a domed structure. The other four tombs are on the right side of this structure on a raised platform which is opened to sky.

The pavilion with 12 doors
The pavilion with 12 doors
Inside the pavilion
Inside the pavilion
The domed structure with the tomb
The domed structure with the tomb
The domed structure with the tomb
The domed structure with the tomb
The tombs of the four saints on a raised platform
The tombs of the four saints on a raised platform
All scattered around the complex
All scattered around the complex
Another structure in the complex
Another structure in the complex

Rani-ki-Vav (the Queens’s Stepwell)

Rani-ki-Vav is an intricately constructed stepwell situated in the town of Patan in the Indian state of Gujarat. Patan which lays about 130km northwest of Ahmedabad, was an ancient Hindu capital before being sacked by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1024 AD. Rani-ki-Vav is an excellent example of its former glory. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is situated on the banks of Saraswati River. This stepwell is the finest in Gujarat and remarkably well preserved after it was restored in the 1980s. It bagged the title of “Cleanest Iconic Place” in India at the Indian Sanitation Conference in October 2016.

This stepwell was constructed during the rule of the Chalukya dynasty. It is believed that it was built in memory of Bhima I (1022-1064AD) by his widowed queen Udayamati and probably completed by Udayamati and Karna after his death. The stepwell was later flooded by the nearby Saraswati River and silted over until the late 1980s.

Rani-ki-Vav was built in the Maru-Gurjara architectural style. This well measures approximately 64 m long, 20 m wide and 27 m deep. It consists of many pillared pavilions at seven different levels. Minute and exquisite carvings adorn the walls of the well. Most of the sculptures are in devotion to Vishnu depicted in his ten incarnations. It also depicts Nagkanya, Yogini and Apsaras. Apsaras are depicted in 16 different style of make-up to look more attractive which is called Solah-shringar.

Rani-ki-Vav
Rani-ki-Vav
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
Intricately carved pillars
Intricately carved pillars
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
Intricately carved walls
Intricately carved walls
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings - an incarnation of Vishnu
Detailed carvings – an incarnation of Vishnu
An intricately carved wall
An intricately carved wall
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
One of the pillared pavilions
One of the pillared pavilions
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
Intricately carved walls
Intricately carved walls
Pillared pavilions
Pillared pavilions
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
Pillared pavilions
Pillared pavilions
Inside one of the pavilions
Inside one of the pavilions
Detailed carvings
Detailed carvings
More details
More details
More details
More details
View of the stepwell from the top
View of the stepwell from the top

This stepwell was not merely a site for collecting water and socialising, but also hold great spiritual significance. It explicit the ancient concept of the sanctity of water and they considered it as an inverted temple. There are around 800 elaborate sculptures among seven galleries. At the bottom level there is a carving of Vishnu reclines on the thousand-hooded serpent. There is also a small gate below the last step of the step well, with a 30km tunnel (currently blocked by stones and mud), which leads to the town of Sidhpur near Patan. It was used as an escape gateway for the king, in times of defeat.

Rani-ki-Vav is situated in an earthquake prone area and due to this Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has put it on high alert regarding the risk preparedness and disaster management. Only the top 2 levels of the well are accessible to the visitors and the rest of the areas are out of bound to the visitors.