If I am ever asked about my idea of a perfect travel plan, I am sure to answer in the negative, if the choice is of just lazying in the sun or in the five star comfort of a hotel. I do love beaches but spending a day there, relaxing on the beach, would be the longest, I would opt for. Any extended holiday on a beach or in a five or four star resort, would not enthuse me at all. Someone mentioned recently to me that I love to visit temples. Well! That is true to an extent. I do love to visit temples, but to qualify for my visit, it has to be at least 500 years old and preferably in ruins and without an idol. However, visiting old temples, is not my only choice. I also love to visit museums and old ruins. Here are some of my top favourites.
If anyone opts for a holiday in east Asia, the temple ruins of Siem Reap, Cambodia, are the most visit worthy temple ruins on earth, according to me. There are number of temples here, but the best from the angle of fine workmanship, is undoubtedly the smallest temple of the lot, Banteay Strei. I have never seen before, such exquisite and dainty carvings on stone. The bass reliefs at other places are carved in such way that a two dimensional picture materializes in your front. In Angkor Wat temple for example, some of the bass reliefs, have three or even four depth levels, to make carvings appear more realistic. However, the carvings in Banteay Strei are almost three dimensional. A flower or a sea shell, appears as if the real thing has been pasted on the stone. In this temple ruin, lintels on the doors and the windows, each tell a story from Hindu mythological scriptures. Since I had read most of the stories in the past, it was fun for me to see the carvings in details. However a person unknown to Hindu Mythological stories, can easily follow them from excellent guide books available.
Going to the west and beyond the Arabian sea, a treasure world of ruins opens if one opts for Red Sea Holidays. In addition to a huge variety of historical treasures such as the Sphinx, the iconic Pyramids of Giza, which can be seen with Cairo as your base, there are stunning beach resorts for a lazy day in the sun. Sharm el Sheikh beach resort offers a perfect base for scuba diving enthusiasts, who want to explore aquatic treasures of red sea. Other beach resorts which are popular are at Taba and Hurghada. The icing on the cake for an Egypt holiday however, at least according to me, is the Egyptian museum at Cairo. With over 120000 artifacts in stock, this museum is a treasure house for people interested in history. You can see here King Tutankhamen's Golden Mask, and Ramses' mummy on display in only one place.
Talking of museums, the best and perhaps the most accessible museum in India, is New Delhi's National Museum. The ancient civilizations wing on the ground floor is a wonder world of ancient Indian history. Small statues, clay toys, ornaments and personal effects from a period of 3000BC to 1500BC from the Indus valley sites such as Mohenjo-Daro, Harappa, Dholavira and Lothal are well displayed here.
What surprised me very much that many present day things of daily use have their origins here. Even the humble bullock cart used by farmers in rural India has a design today. Which is very similar to the one used by Indus valley civilization people. There are two more museums in the Indian subcontinent, which I can never hope to see. One is in Lahore and other in Peshawar. Both these museums have great frescos and panels from Gandhar era.
Coming down to south India, the ruins at Hampi are perhaps the best in India. From fourteenth to sixteenth century AD, Vijayanagara kings had created, some of the most wonderful temples here. Hazari Ram temple and Vitthala temple,which is without doubt the best, still stands here with all the glory of the past. My holiday at Hampi was so memorable that I shall cherish it for my life.
I always find a visit to such old temple ruins or to a museum deeply satisfying. To learn about history is actually to learn about our past follies and mistakes. I think that if everyone decides to learn from history and vows not to repeat the misdeeds, the world can be a far safer and happier place.
28 January 2012