Swayambhunath complex located atop a hill in the Kathmandu valley located west of Kathmandu – consists of a stupa, a variety of shrines and temples, some dating back to the Licchavi period. Swayambhunath occupies a central position, probably the most sacred among Buddhist pilgrimage sites. A Tibetan monastery, museum and library are more recent additions. The stupa has Buddha’s eyes and eyebrows painted on it. Between them, the number one (in Davanagari script) is painted in the fashion of a nose. The site has two access points, a long stairway with 365 steps leading directly to the main platform of the temple and car road around the hill from the south leading to the southwest entrance. Much of Swayambhunath’s iconography comes from the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism. However, the complex is also an important site for Buddhist of many schools and is also revered by Hindus. In local Nepalese Language the name of the complex is Singgu which means ‘self-sprung”.
The first sight, on reaching the top of the stairway is the Vajra or the thunderbolt sceptre. The Vajra is essentially a type of club with a ribbed spherical head. The ribs may meet in a ball shaped top or they may be separate and end in sharp points with which to stab. It is a weapon which is used as a ritual object to symbolize both properties of a diamond (indestructibility) and thunderbolt (irresistible force). The Vajra is used symbolically by the dharma traditions of Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism often to represent firmness of spirt and spiritual power. The use of the Vajra as a symbolic and ritual tool, spread from India along with Indian religion and culture to other parts of Asia.
According to Swayambhu Purana, the entire valley was once filled with an enormous lake, out of which grew a lotus. The valley came to be known as swayambhu meaning “self-created”. The name comes from an eternal self-existent flame over which a stupa was later built. Swayambhunath is also known as the Monkey Temple as there are holy monkeys living around the temple. They are holy because Manjusri, the bodhisattva of wisdom and learning was raising the hill which the Swayambhunath temple stands on. He was supposed to leave his hair short but he made it grow long and had lice grew. It is said that the head lice transformed into these monkeys.
Manjusri had a vision of the lotus at Swayambhu and travelled there to worship it. Seeing that the valley can be good settlement and to make the site more accessible to human pilgrims, he cut a gorge which drained the water out of the lake, leaving the valley in which Kathmandu now lies. The lotus was transformed into a hill and the flower became the Swayambhunath Stupa.
This Renaissance structure located in the Vatican City west of the River Tiber and near the Janiculum Hill with its central dome dominates the skyline of Rome. The basilica is approached via St Peter’s Square, a forecourt in two sections, both surrounded by tall colonnades. The façade of the basilica, with giant order of columns, stretches across the end of the square and approached by steps on which stand two 18 ft statues of the 1st century apostles to Rome, Saint Peter and Saint Paul. The façade designed by Maderno is 376 ft wide and 149 ft high and is built of travertine stone with giant order of Corinthian columns and a central pediment rising in front of a tall attic surmounted by thirteen statues – Christ flanked by eleven Apostles (except St Peter, whose statue is left of the stairs) and John the Baptist. The inscription below the cornice on the 1 meter tall frieze reads as follows:
IN HONOREM PRINCIPIS APOST PAVLVS V BVRGHESIVS ROMANVS PONT MAX AN MDCXII PONT VII
(In honor of the Prince of Apostles, Paul V Borghese, a Roman, Supreme Pontiff, in the year 1612, the seventh of his pontificate).
The entire interior of St. Peter’s is lavishly decorated with marble, reliefs, architectural sculpture and gilding. The basilica contains a large number of tombs of popes and other notable people, many of which are considered outstanding artworks. There are also a number of sculptures in niches and chapels, including Michelangelo’s Pieta.
It was designed by the greatest architects of the day, including Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The basilica is the burial site of St Peter and there has been a church on this site since the time of Constantine. Construction of the present basilica, replacing the old St Peter’s Basilica of the 4th century AD, began in 1506 and was completed in in 1626. On its completion the structure was beyond impressive. See the below remark by the American philosopher, Emerson:
“I love St Peter’s church. It grieves me to think that after a few days I shall see it no more. It has a peculiar smell from the quantity of incense burned in it. The music that is heard in it is always good and the eye is always charmed. It is an ornament of the earth… the sublime of the beautiful.”
– RALPH WALDO EMERSON, Journals, April 7, 1833.
To the east of the basilica is the Piazza di San Pietro (St Peter’s Square). It was constructed between 1656 and 1667 and designed by Bernini. The Egyptian obelisk which was known as “The Witness” is placed in the center. The obelisk’s height is 84 ft and the total height including the base and the cross on the top is 130 ft. This obelisk was originally raised in the Forum Lulium in Alexandria on the orders of Augustus around 30-25-28 BC. It was brought to Rome by Caligula and erected at the Circus Nero in 37 AD where it thought to have stood witness to the crucifixion of St Peter. Finally it was moved to its present location by the orders of Pope Sixtus V on 28 September 1586.
The Pontifical Swiss Guard are responsible for the safety of the Pope and the Apostolic Palace. The Swiss Guard serves as the defacto military of Vatican City. The Pontifical Swiss Guard has its origins in the 15th century. Pope Sixtus IV has made an alliance with the Swiss Confederation and built barracks in Via Pellegrino after foreseeing the possibility of recruiting Swiss mercenaries. The official dress uniform is of blue, red, orange and yellow with distinctly Renaissance appearance.
Lumbini is where according to Buddhist tradition, Queen Mayadevi gave birth to Siddhartha Gautama in 563 BC. Located in the Rupandehi District of Nepal, it is one of the many magnets for pilgrimage that sprang up in place pivotal to the life of Gautama Buddha. Lumbini has a number of temples including the Mayadevi Temple. Many monuments, monasteries and a museum (the Lumbini International Research Institute) are also located within the holy site. Also located there is a Puskarini or Holy Pond where the Buddha’s mother took ritual dip prior to his birth and where he too had his first bath. Lumbini was granted World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1997.
In 1896, Nepalese archaeologists discovered a great stone pillar at Lumbini, suggested to be placed at the site by Mauryan Emperor Ashoka in 245 BC. Records made by the Chinese pilgrim Faxian in the early fifth century were also used in the process of identifying this religiously acclaimed site. Recent excavations beneath existing brick structures at the Mayadevi Temple at Lumbini have uncovered evidence for an older timber structure beneath the walls of the newer brick Buddhist shrine, which was constructed during the Ashokan era.
The present day Lumbini historic site is 4.8 km in length and 1.6 km in width. The holy site of Lumbini is bordered by a large monastic zone in which only monasteries can be built, no shops, hotels or restaurants. It is separated into an eastern and western monastic zone, the eastern have the Theravadin monasteries, the wester having Mahayana and Vajrayana monasteries. The holy site of Lumbini has ruins of ancient monasteries, a sacred Bodhi tree, an ancient bathing pond, the Ashokan pillar and the Mayadevi Temple, where the supposed place of birth of Buddha is located. Pilgrims from various countries perform chanting and meditation at the site.
Lumbini can be easily accessible from Bhairawa also known as Siddharthanagar on the Terai plains of Nepal which is 265 km west of the capital Kathmandu and three km north of the Indian border at Sunauli.
Amsterdam is the capital and most populated municipality of the Kingdom of Netherlands. Its status as the capital is mandated by the constitution of the Netherlands, although it is not the seat of the government which is The Hague. The name of the city is indicative of the city’s origin as a dam on the river Amstel. Originating as a small fishing village in the late 12th century, Amsterdam became one of the most important ports in the world during the Dutch Golden Age (17th century), due to its innovative developments in trade. The 17th century canals of Amsterdam are on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Amsterdam is one of the most bicycle-friendly large cities in the world and is center of bicycle culture with good facilities for cyclists such as bike paths and bike racks and several guarded bike storage garages which can be used for nominal fee. Bicycles are used by all socio-economic groups because of their convenience, Amsterdam’s small size, the 400 kms of bike paths, the flat terrain and arguable inconvenience of driving an automobile.
Canal cruise in Amsterdam is a rewarding experience. You board a glass topped boat and glide past regal mansions, house boats and bridges. The city is famous for its red light district which is also a major attraction among tourists. The city also holds a sex museum which is called Venus Temple.
Amsterdam is famous for its cheese and clogs (wooden shoes). If time permits you can make a visit to one of the cheese making factories which demonstrates this traditional business. Amsterdam is famous for Gouda cheese, a Dutch yellow cheese made from cow’s milk. It is named after the city of Gouda in the Netherlands. One of the most popular cheeses worldwide, the name used today as a general term for a variety of similar cheese produced in the traditional Dutch manner.
The cruise from Boppard to Sankt Goar through the ‘Romantic Rhine’ is an experience to cherish forever, the stretch of river where you can see castles, villages and vineyards all along. Boppard is a town and municipality in Rhineland-Palatinate, lying in the Rhine Gorge (Upper Middle Rhine). During this 2 hours boat journey you can experience the splendour of the medieval times and can catch the breathtaking landscapes and the fine architecture of the Middle Ages. In all, there are around six castles in this short stretch.
Cologne Cathedral or High Cathedral of Saint Peter is the Roman Catholic cathedral located in Cologne, Germany. Cologne is located on both sides of the Rhine River, less than eighty kilometers from Belgium. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Cologne and of the administration of the Archdiocese of Cologne. This renowned Gothic architecture monument was declared a World Heritage site in 1996. It is Germany’s most visited landmarks, attracting an average of 20,000 visitors a day. Construction of Cologne cathedral commenced in 1248 and was halted in 1473, leaving it unfinished. Work restarted in the 19th century and was completed to the original plan, in 1880. Its highest spires give it the largest façade of any church in the world.
In 1164, the Archbishop of Cologne, Rainald of Dassel acquired the relics of the Three Kings (the three wise men in the Gospel of Matthew who visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh) which the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa had taken from the Basilica of Sant’Eustorgio, Milan, Italy. The relics have great significance and drew pilgrims from all over Christendom. It was important to the church officials that they be properly housed and thus began a building program in the new style of Gothic architecture. The design of Cologne Cathedral was based quite closely on that of Amiens Cathedral in France, in terms of ground plan, style and width to height proportion of central nave. The plan is in the shape of a Latin Cross, as is usual with Gothic cathedrals.
During the World War II, the cathedral suffered fourteen hits by aerial bombs which badly damaged it. The twin spires were an easily recognizable navigational land mark for Allied aircraft bombing. Repairs were completed in 1956. An emergency repair on the northwest tower’s base carried out in 1944 using poor quality brick taken from a nearby ruined building remained visible, until 2005 as a reminder of the war, when it was decided to restore the section to its original appearance.
The Rhine Falls (German: Rheinfall) is the largest plain waterfall in Europe. The falls are located on Neuhausen am Rheinfall , a municipality in the canton of Schaffhausen in northern Switzerland. It is 150m wide and 23m high. The Rhine falls were formed in the last ice age, approximately 14,000 to 17,000 years ago by erosion-resistant rocks narrowing the riverbed.
The nearest community is Neuhausen am Rheinfall, where tourists can also view the Worth Castle. Boat trips can be taken up the Rhine to the falls and the Rheinfallfelsen. There are also viewing platforms with spectacular view of the falls built on both sides of the Rhine.
See this mobile restaurant which offers Samosa, Vada Pav, Idli Chutney etc. You can imagine the number of Indians visiting this place. An Idli Chutney is costing almost 500 Indian Rupees.