Meeting old friends

We are off in a few days to New Zealand and Australia for a sales conference and a few days vacation to meet family and close friends .Melboune is full of old friends and classmates who migrated from India  ,Royapuram to be more precise ,and have settled down quite well.I am looking forward to connecting with these nostalgic links from my childhood and boyhood days .Hope Cedric will be able to link me up with all these old friends .
Then there will be Bobby & Gillean who we will be staying with and loking forward to havinga good time with .Deepa in particular is really keen on this trip .We’ll meet Reena and her sons too and that will be wonderful .Last time I did manage  to visit Reena and we had lunch with her .
Gillean managed to get hold of the phone number of a classmate from std 3 & 4!!! Jean D’Souza and now Mahbubani .We hadnt met or spoken to each other for all of twenty odd years or more .I did however ring her up when Gillean gave me the number and we spoke quite animatedly for all of 45 mins or so .Never for a moment did it seem that we had not been in touch for such a long time .I guess the nostalgic pull of yester years is so very strong.It would have been wonderful to meet Jean ,Ramesh and family but I understand they will be away during the week end when we will be in Melbourne .Such a pity .
The visit to Christchurch and Queens Town in New Zealand will be fun filled and a great experience .We are looking forward to this as we have never been to New Zealand before and we hear it is a beautiful country and a photographers delight.I’m all set to shoot as many snaps as possible off every little thing that catches my fancy .
Nokia normally arrages such conference very well and includes quite a bit of out door networking activity which I know will be both fun and exciting .
More about all of this when we are back  

The Temples of Angkur

I had read a fair amount about the Khymer Kingdoms and the cities and temples built by them .I also bought the book "Angkur" by Dawn Rooney which served as a glue for the bits and pieces I had read on the internet.This book also gave quite a few tit bits  that added meaning to the "pilgrimage" to the Angkur Temples.Here’s agood example ….." Frank Vincent Jn , a frail young American who dropped out of university because of illness at the age of seventeen , was determined .. to make a systematic tour of the most interesting parts of the world. In 1872 he visited Cambodia and the ancient ruins of Angkur. Vincent describes his journey over land from Bangkok to Seim Reap in vivid detail .. "The total distance covered was 245 miles , of this 30 miles was by canal in boats , and the remaining 215 miles was on horse back and elephants , in bullock carts, and on foot ; the greater part of the journey was however on horse back. The time consumed in making this trip was 17 days "
By contrast our modern day trip was just 45 mins from Phnom Phen to Seim Reap by air and approx 15 to 20 mins by a bus to  Angkur Wat!!It was great to read of how the ancient Indians brought religion ,a legal system, a script ,astronomy and many more about 1000 years ago.Makes you swell up with pride when you think of how advanced the ancient Indians were.Not so good was to read about the apparent miss management of restoration work by the ASI at Angkur Wat.It was mentioned in the book that the Indian Government under Indira Gandhi had agreed to support the restoration work under the DRK government in Cambodia .The ASI was reported to have used inappropriate material and port land cement and used ill trained labour ,causing damage to the structures. The book however did state that the ASI was working under severe constraints during the time of the civil war when both building material and labour were scarce .. besides the ever present threat of war made working conditions most difficult.
We did see a large placard at Angkur Wat near the famous "Churning of the milk " bass relief sculptures ,that repairs and corrective work was on to correct for earlier incorrect restoration work . A couple of ASI staffers who were with us were quite indignant about reference to the mis management and did talk about the difficult conditions under which they had been carried out during the civil war.They also said that the work of that period ,late 70’s and 80’s , cannot be compared with modern day restoration practices as major advancements had taken place in restoration techniques.Later on during our visit to the Ta Prohm temple ,were restoration work is currently on by ASI , the ASI staff took pains to to explain how locally available stones and resins from the trees surrounding the temple were being used in the restoration work , just as they are likely to have been used over 700 years ago.
The Ta Prohm temple was almost completely taken over by forests .Many structures had gaint trees growing out of them .It made for great and fascinating viewing.This is a very popular temple made unique by the ingress of the forest and the curious juxtaposition of man made structures and the natural forests.. both giant structures.
The ASI staff took us through the restoration effort going on at the "Hall of Dances" .Considering the current state of ruins this hall is in , it does seem a mamoth task to retore.I guess the final objective will be to restore the structures just enough so that viewers can see partially the glorious structures of the past and to prevent it from total disintergration when it will be lost for ever.
It was interesting to read that during the reign of the Khymer Kings there was no written records left behind or traceable ; even for the reign of Suryavarman 2 , the builder and patron of the Angkur Wat city and temple.It was only through painstaking research and breaking of the codes of inscriptions on later temples that the complete linearage and accomplishments of some of the Kings could be unravelled.It is fascinating to read how the jig saw puzzle was put together by groups of dedicated professionals.Some names refered to in literature inclure ,Henri Mouhot , a French Expedition lead by Ernest Doudari de Lagree ,Dutchman Hendrik Kern who was the first to decipher the Sanskrit inscriptions found in Cambodia and the two Frenchmen , Aguste Barthe and A Bergaigne ,who are credited with furthering the field of Khymer epigraphy which lead to the translations of 1200 inscriptions relating to the genealogy of the Khymer Kings .Hats off to these explorers and archiologists .These individuals reconstructed a bygone age in Cambodia ( 700 to 1200 AD ) and helped build world opinion for the restoration and preservation of these great treasures of humanity.
Each of the four temples we visited, had distinctly different features and each was appealing in it’s own way.The Bayon Temple in Angkur Thom was characterised by huge images of Bodhisattvas ,as this was originally a Mahayana Buddhist temple built by Jayavarman 7th .The temple was converted into a Hindu temple under the reign of Jayavarman 8th and eventually converted into a Theravada Buddhist Temple.Jayavarman 8th was supposed to be anti Buddhist to the extreme and is said to have defaced or removed most of the Buddhist images from the temple.We could see this at the Bayon temple where at several places only recesses remained where earlier Buddhist images would have been .
There is an interesting theory I read regarding the fall of the Khymer Empire.During the period when the Khymer Empire  expanded and established itself as Khambudesa , the Kings were deemed incarnations of Gods as for instances Suryavarman 2nd considered himself as the incarnation of Lord Vishnu.They therefore had unquestioning loyalty and devotion of the people.Their advanced knowledge of water management techniques also lead to prosperity and the ability to carry out gainful trade. During the influence of Theravada Buddhism , the link between the Divine and the King was snapped ; it became more difficult to harness the people for major projects and with the ability to manage water also declining , a  gradual decline in affluence and a consequent  decline of power and authority of the Dynasty took place.The Khymer Kingdom was gradually pushed down to PhnomPhen before dying away.
While the Angur Wat temple is the most talked about  and also the representative symbol of Cambodia ,it was the other temples the Bayon , Ta Prohm and Bantey Strei which caught my fancy alot more. Well this may just be the impressionistic view of an uninitiated observer such as myself , who knows little or nothing of archeology or for that matter history or sociology !!!You explore ,experience and discover the beauty and fascination of these great structures in your own unique way.Just as I knew little or nothing of the archeological significance of these monuments ,I did intutively take to the structures in my own way and discovered them in my own way just as I presume every visitor would in his or her own way.
As I came away from Siem Reap I did feel I was the richer for this experience.Even though I set off believing this was not the most timely or most appropriateof holidays , I came away fascinated ,humbled and in more ways than one enriched. 

The friendly face of Kampuchia

I had read on the internet ,on a bloggers site ,that Cambodians are very friendly people and almost all of them speak good English.I did find the people very friendly and helpful but did not see pervasiveness proficiency in English speaking.Many did speak in broken English and some didnt know the language even in good hotels.
There was one very stark exception though .Just after we had finished our visit to the Angkur Wat Temple and were relaxing outside n the Western Entrance , a little boy came to us and asked if we wanted to buy some fruits .We said we didnt , but he stayed on and struck up a conversation with us.He spoke very good English and with an excellant accent; and he was a boy of limited means helping his mother to sell fruits!!! He was fairly knowledgeable about India and knows of it as a country with a rich tradition and history.
A little later a monkey walked up and the boy went along with it to the place where his fruits were being sold. There he and the monkey settled down comfortably and the boy began to feed the monkey .We went across to take a closer look and saw the most heart warming sight.The boy and monkey together were plucking out the tender portions of the leafy head of a pineapple and the boy was feeding it to the monkey.It was such a wonderful sight of comradeship between a human and a monkey.The boy truely has something wonderful within him and I do feel that given favourable circumstances he will go places .
Siem Reap, the staging town for visitors to the Angkur temples, is a much better laid out and much cleaner city than Phnom Phen.Looks like there is a fair amount of foriegn funds and foreign assistance going into planning and building the city and in particular its tourist infrastructure.The airport is run by a French company and so is the Artisan Angkur programme of training and skills development of the rural and in some cases physically challenged people.These people are taught skills for making silk goods, wooden and stone sculptures  and paintings and the same are marketed and sold through the classy Artisan Angkur retail outlets.This programme is wonderful as it is helping the rural people increase their income levels by providing them a livelyhood and reducing migration into the cities. The informative panels on the walls of the reception at the training centres for silk making and crafts informs us that the "copoeratives", if i may call it so ,allows for partial ownership by the artisans.
Seeing the training establishments of Artisans Angkur and watching the trainees at work was a very heart warming experience .The traditional warmth and friendliness of the people made the atmosphere that mush more appealing.
The people we met all across Siem Reap were very friendly and the distinct feeling I had was that the people of Cambodia bear no grudges and have a forgive and forget attitude to life.It’s just a feeling I have based on a few days stay .Maybe that’s why we see no animosity for those who commited crimes against their own people.It seems  as if many of those involved just melted into the populace and carried on life as usual.
During the visit I watched briefly a CNN TV programme called the CNN Heros.The episode covered the life of an Indian Doctor who had lost his family members in the terrorist strike on the Air India plane flying out of Toronto.He decided that the best thing for him to do was not to keep thinking about the tragic loss but to work instead on some thing that would add meaning to the lives of others.He set up a programme of checking and performing catract operations on poor people who were losing their eye sight .The TV programme recorded that he had carried out over a hundred thousand operations ,most of them free,and saved the eye sight of over 50% .I supose there are better ways to handle the trauma of suffering from accidental deaths or brutality inflicted by warped minds ,than to seek vengence or appropriate punishment . 
We didnt see much of Asia’s longest river The Mekong, or the DSC01572100_0341DSC01756DSC01763great Tonle Sap lake and river. We just about got a peek of the Mekong River as we were being guided to the Royal Palace at Phnom Phen .At Seam Reap we missed the opportunity to take a trip on a tuk tuk to the Tonle Sap. It’s also possible that due to thew annual monsoon flooding we may not have been able to get to see the great lake.We did get to see these great rivers as we were landing and taking off at Phnom Phen and Seim Reap and did see large amount  of flooding at both places.We were really lucky that all through our stay in Cambodia the rain didnt play spoil sport.This was inspite of the news as we were setting off from India of landslides and heavy rains at Vietnam and torrential rains in Phnom Phen when we were at Siem Reap.Looks like the Force was on our side once again and ensuring that we had littleor no difficulty right through the holiday.
On one of our lunch visits to the ASI Canteen we were surprised to be introduced to the current Miss Cambodia !!!! her mother apparently helpsout at the ASI Canteen.It’s not every day you get to see a beauty queen at such close quarters!!

The S21 Museum

I was disturbed quite a bit as we visited the infamous S21 Camp that the Khymer Rouge has set up in a school .So disturbed that all the glamour and affluence of the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda meant nothing to me and infact came through as meaningless symbols. This even on seeing the richest image of the Buddha decked out in gold and diamonds and a large emerald statute of the Buddha, again worth a fortune.The Royal Palace and the surrounding gardens had all the grandeur and affluence one associates with royalty but as I said all this had no meaning in the face of the cruelty that seems to have taken place in the school turned concentration camp and now converted into what is called the Genocide Museum.
I had read a lot about the cruelty and babaric killings of large numbers of people , reported to be in excess of one million ,by the Khymer Rouge during the period from 1975 to’79. I wondered why it should have happened ,and at times felt that the numbers may be exaggerated or that counter propoganda machines were discrediting the unpopular communist regime by the traditional capitalist rivals .Killing and cruelty however can never be condoned no matter what the scale and by who ever perpectuates it.
I had read reports of the Cambodian civil war and on some of the thinking behind the Khymer Rouge forcing city dwellers and interlectuals to embark on forced marches into the rural areas to work on collective farming activities.I read that the Khymer Rouge believed that the true working classes was in rural villages and not in the cities.I read too that the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai had warned the leaders of the Khymer Rouge from pushing through too quickly with agrarian reforms with out also taking the intersts of the industrial working class into account.The Khymer Rouge how ever felt that their form of communism was the best suited for Cambodia , that they had the organisation capability to push through reforms and that they would show the world what true communism was all about.No write up could ever explain why so much killing was ever needed. 
We walked into the erstwhile class rooms now empty and mute witnesses to what ever atrocities had been committed in them .The rooms now just had an iron cot and nothing else other than impements to ankle cuff the unfortunate detainees.In some of the rooms were panel on panels of photos of Detainees , distinguished by the number tag hanging around their necks ; and like wise photos of the Guards and Interogators  who looked determined and thoroughly brain washed in marked contrast to the Detainees.So very sad that a group of people should be so cruel to their own country men.
The most disturbing pictures were those of Detainees with fear and hopelessness writ in their eyes and also even more appalling were photos of Detainees who had been cruelly and bruitaly treated .It’s so very strange that the perpectuators of such atrocities should have kept such vivid documentation of the cruelty they had imparted on hapless people.Human faces tell their tale of suffering in a manner no words could ever hope to explain.I took photos of some of these photos that most vividly brought out the brutality that seem to have been carried out in this camp.I would place these disturbing pictures on this blog only as a personal condemnation of the cruelty that took place here and and  an endictment of the Regime that allowed it to happen.
At the entrance to the Genocide Museum is a simple hall with a message asking visitors to spend a quiet moment in memory of the people who suffered and lost their livesat this concentration camp.The message asked visitors to sit in silence and respectfully in homage for those who had suffered and died .Like several visitors we also sat a while in silent contemplation .I did feel extremely sad during the moments we sat in this hall.The other visitors , mostly from Europe sat in silence and respectfully .There were a few local Cambodians who sprawled around talking and possibly gossiping in complete disregard for the sanctity of this simple memorial for the unfortunate Detainees. 
In the few days we were in Cambodia ,I didnt see any evidence of people disturbed or hurt by these attrocities  or any evidence of efforts to punish those guilt of these crimes or even to soul search and put in place institutions and checks and balances to prevent such cruelty from occuring again.Maybe all this has aleady taken place over the last twenty years or so and the young people of today have learned to move on with their lives.What however I didnt like was that the Pol Pot killings are seen as a great tourism opportunity and tourist interest sales of books and DVDs etc of the Pol Pot Regime were being  pushed so much.   DSC01552DSC01553DSC01554DSC01555DSC01557DSC01558DSC01559DSC01562DSC01564  

Onwards to Cambodia

We are off on a holiday to Cambodia or Kampuchia if you may..My boss Jvr and Saraswati induced us to join them on a holiday as they wanted to see the magnificent sights of Angkur Wat.We agreed a trifle reluctantly and no sooon said than done ,Jvr had gone ahead with the tour preparations throu Cox and Kings to book us all on this trip down archeological ruins in a near forgotten land.We were soon to find that the touring party included several other friends of Jvr’s and the entire group was 12 strong .Not a single one we knew baring Jvr & family.This trip was certainly not what the doctor ordered and not what we were raving to experience.
Never the less I decided to read up as much as I could on the internet about Cambodia.I read about the Khymer Kings, The French Rule,the infamous Khymer Rouge,and yes about Angkur Wat ,Bayon the Tonle Sap and Mekong Ricver and so on.I guess I have never read so much about a place prior to visiting it baring Khajuraho, which I visited around 2000 for the SMWG Convention in Xerox.I had chanced to come across a good book which I read from cover to cover with great interest and this provided me with an excellant background that made the visit to Khajuraho quite memorable.I trust the same may happen in this case also .Let’s wait and see.
We got off to a very poor start as at the very last moment Saraswati had to pull out as her Father was critically ill and need to be moved to the ICU.Then Kartik also pullled out  making poor Jvr’s trip most un palatable.He had to make it because of all the others and as he was the principal host .Thewtrip remained in the balance till the very last moment and we were prepared to abort even just a few minutes before departure for the airport at a fairly stiff financial cost . Eventually Jvr confirm that he had set off for the airport and so finally we headed off form home. Jvr in particular was palpably low in spirit as we met him at the airport at Delhi. We had to feel exceedingly sorry for him.The flight to Singapore on Singapore Airlines was comfortable and enjoyable, an exceedingly better experience than the recent flights on Finnair.The comparison was like the proverbial chalk and cheese.The tour operator choose to route our trip vis Singapore for reason unclear, as it would have been much easier to travel via Bangkok .As it stood now we had to waste a day at Singapore and then catch an earlY morning flight the next day to Phnom Phen .We had several early morning flights all through the trip forcing us to get up at 3.00 or 4.00 am to catch our connecting flights.As we set off for Phnom Phen I did feel that this trip would give me an opportunity to connect to an interesting part of ancient history , to take loads of photos and to capture all my thoughts and feelings  in a travelogue as we visit these interesting places.


We , Deepa & I, went to Macau & Hongkong recently for the RDS TOP GUNS recognition event .This is an event were HCL recognises the best of the best RDS along with their spouses .It’s an event every one has come to treasure as we do our best to make the RDS and their spouses feel extra special.This event like the past ones went off very well and was appreceated by all the Trade Partners .

Over 20 years ago I had been to Hongkong and Macau during my first stint with HCL or more appropriately HRL as our company was  known then prior to it’s merger into HCL Ltd, the then Corporate entity of the Group. OT Sethumadhavan and I had gone to Bangkok for a Toshiba high end copier training and we were allowed by PSV to take a short holiday over the week end .We had choosen Hongkong.It was so long ago that I can hardily remember any thing about the earlier visit .The only memories that remained of Hongkong were the shopping streets full of neon sign boards and lighting and the feeling of landing on water as we touched down at the airport.We had also taken a hover craft journey for a day visit to Macau.There again I could only remember the cobbled streets and sloping climb up to the St Paul’s Church. We had made no attempt to go into any of the casinos so we never really got a feel of the place.

We spent just half a day at Hongkong  on this visit and didnt get to see much of it but the same neon lit streets were very much there and so was the feeling of landing on water.We did find Hongkong very much more crowded than the cities we had been to recently.We had a lovely ride on a boat sipping white wine and relaxing as we saw the sights around the harbour. We spent two nights at Macau and got to see more of it , including the night life and the casinos besides St Paul’s church , now only a wall ,the rest having been burnt down .I dont remeber if the church was only a wall the last time we were here , I dont think so!!The casino at the Ventian Hotel was simply outstanding .Our spa experience at the unearthly hour of 2.30 am was also out of the world.Deepa and some of our  group took a sky walk along the parapit of the 61st floor of Macau Tower.This was also the venue for the TOP GUNS event .The setting , the event itself, including the entertainment , and the wholehearted participation of the RDS made the evening truely wonderful .One thing I didnt pick up last time or just forgot was that Macau was Portugese ruled for a long time and even nowthe Portugese influence is still there.

I couldnt help think back at the members of the old CSD team of HRL , of Sethumadhavan and Amrik Singh and Gopakumar and Sengutuvan ,Elangovan ,Uttam Bardhan, Kataria and the others  and ofcourse my very effecient secretary Gurpreet ( Dolly ) .I have been keeping in touch wiuth all of them from time to time except OT Sethumadhavan, wonder were he is now..Of late I have had phone calls from out of the blue from members of that old team .Sanathkumar rang up a couple of weeks ago and just today Jaichandra Kaimal rang up from Dubai .These guys had gone to great length to find my number just to say hello and to say they had been thinking about me .It was good to hear from them after all these years .Back in HCL I am in touch with many of the old team including Seshachalam ,Natrajan , Murali , Guruvayurappan, Mohanty , Gopalakrishnan, Madhav Raj and several others. It’s so very good that this fond association has carried on for so long


Home ward bound

Our experience with Finnair at the Copenhagen Airport was below par.The Finnair staff came in late and open the counter well past the expected time and even then it was only the Business Class counter which opened.The baggage handling conveyor belt als didnt come on delaying matters still further.At the boarding gate the staff couldnt get the boarding procedures going due to a technical hitch .We eventually took off inthe ominous row 13 but thankfully together .On the flight to DSelhi from Helsinki  Finnair had given us seats 6 rows apart !!!
Copenhagen was much more crowded with lots more tourists than what we had seen in Helsinki or Stockholm.Maybe it was the week end and more holiday makers were on the move.Like in Stockholm there was a lot of emphasis on tradition and the monarchy and the contribution of various past Kings.Much of the beautiful architecture in old Copenhagen is attributed to Christian 4.In both these cities preservationof the old parts of the city and it’s history was clearly evident.
The inland water ways in Copenhagen are much cleaner than the ones in Venice .Venice was quite dirty and the much touted Gondola rides were a big disappointment.I guess if we go back to Venice and spend a bit more time we may see and experience a better side of the city and understand why people rave so much about it .
We reached Helsinki on time though we left Copenhagen about 10 mins late .We were still registered as vegetarians so our sandwitch snack in flight had the meat filling "thoughtfully" removed !!! At the boarding gate we found at least six sets of people seperated in seating arrangements allotted by the dreaded Finnair reservation system.However the personat the counter was extremly helpful and patient and managed to get us seats in the same row across the aisle.
The Finns seemed different from the rest of the Northern European countries.For one they didnt have a monarchy and for generations were ruled either by the Swedes or the Russians.The Russians though encouraged the Finnish identity and even recognised Finnish as an official language.No wonder the Finns think so highly of Tsar Alexander.The Finns love their language but are also multilingual.Almost all speak Finnish ,Swedish and English.It was good to find almost all peole we met in these countries speak English fluently.
The Finns love for their language and distinct identity comes out in the high place of honour they have for literary figures such as Runeberg ,the Poet and Sibilius , the musician.We heard snatches of the patriotic song composed by Sibilius , Finlandia , and liked what we heard very much.
In the flight back to Delhi the Airhostesses helped us utilise the unspent Danish Kroners to buy Finnish chocolets and Finnish Vodka from the duty free sales on board.I initially asked for Abosolut but was told it was not available for sale on the flight .I realised the error I had made , after all Absolut is  Swedish manufactured and widely exported drink … the pride of Sweden .Much like Abba and Bjorn Borg.The Fins read a lot and have the highest library connect ratio in the world , 50%.Deepa liked the Finns as she said she liked the way they look after their children !!
While Finland, enmark and Sweden are all part of the European Union only Finland has adopted the Euro as its currency .The other two countries still retain the Kroner.Stranfge also that Scandinavia consists of Denmark ,Sweden and Norway … so what about Finland?