Have Will? Then, You Can Travel in the Indian Subcontinent!


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Up to now I thought overloading was the major trait of transportation peculiar to India alone. But, now, I am really confused …

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Video grab from "Indian train in all its (crowded!) glory!" uploaded on November 10, 2011 by WildFilmsIndia.

Video grab from “Indian train in all its (crowded!) glory!” uploaded on November 10, 2011 by WildFilmsIndia.

I grabbed the above image from a video titled Indian train in all its (crowded!) glory! uploaded on November 10, 2011 by WildFilmsIndia. I do not think anyone in the West would have seen a train crowded like this in their country. But in India, it is a common sight, particularly during the festival seasons.

The regular commuters are mainly laborers coming to New Delhi from neighboring states. They would work for a week and then return home over the weekend. Most of them travel without tickets, and the state-owned Indian railways, are compelled to permit this, else their entire railway system will be debacled by these laborers.

Indian Railways ... (Source: imcradiodotnet.files.wordpress.com)

Indian Railways (Source: imcradiodotnet.files.wordpress.com)

I came across the above image captioned “Indian Railway…” on IMC – India meets Classic presents… web page hosted on wordpress.com. I doubt whether this photo was taken in India. I think it was most probably, taken somewhere in Pakistan. Also, I wonder whether all these people are genuine passengers or merely clinging on to the train, posing for the photograph to prove a point.

Recently, I viewed several videos on YouTube about railways in Asia. When I saw the following video titled “End of Ramadan rush-hour in Bangladesh” uploaded by No Comment TV on August 8, 2013, I was dumbfounded.

Eid al-Fitr or the Feast of Breaking the Fast, is an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting (sawm). On this day all Muslims around the world show a common goal of unity.

This video shows thousands of Bangladeshis getting crammed on ferries and climbing on trains while leaving Dhaka, Bangladesh on Wednesday, August 7, 2013, to return to their home villages and celebrate Eid al-Fitr. This video needs no further comments.

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Dhanushkodi – Fifty Years After the Cyclone of 1964


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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A cyclonic storm now referred to as the 1964 Rameswaram cyclone or the Dhanushkodi cyclone started with the depression that formed in the South Andaman Sea on December 17, 1964. On December 19, it intensified into a severe cyclonic storm. From December 21, it moved westwards, 400 km to 550 km per day. On December 22, it crossed Vavunia in Sri Lanka with a wind speed of 280 km per hour.

On December 22-23 night, the cyclone moved into Palk Strait and made landfall in Dhanushkodi, at the southern tip of Rameswaram island, on the eastern coast of Tamil Nadu, India. The devastating tidal waves that were 7 metres high submerged all houses and other structures in Dhanushkodi town  with heavy casualties.

On December 22, 1964, the tidal wave smashed into the Pamban-Dhanushkodi Passenger train and washed it into the sea while it was crossing the viaduct during the cyclonic storm.

 The railway track in Dhanushkodi destroyed by the cyclone of December 22, 1964

The railway track in Dhanushkodi destroyed by the cyclone of December 22 – 25, 1964.

More than 100 passengers drowned in the sea. The death toll was estimated to be anywhere between 115 and 200. The variation is due to the many ticketless travellers. The railway line running from Pamban Station to Dhanushkodi Pier was washed away.

The 1¼ mile-long Pamban Rail Bridge over the Pamban Channel, that links the Indian mainland with the island of Rameswaram was also badly damaged; 126 of its 145 girders collapsed. However, the lift span was barely damaged.

The Pamban bridge after restoration (Source: the hindu.com)

The Pamban bridge after restoration (Source: the hindu.com)

Most of the girders were salvaged from the sea and the Pamban viaduct was working once again in a span of just three months time.

The metre gauge branch line from Pamban Junction to Dhanushkodi was abandoned after the cyclone destroyed it.

Prior to the cyclone, Dhanushkodi was once a flourishing town. Then, the Railway line to Dhanushkodi, destroyed in the 1964 cyclone, went directly from Mandapam station to Dhanushkodi without touching Rameswaram. In those days Dhanushkodi had a railway station, a small railway hospital, primary schools, a post office, customs and port offices. There were hotels, dharmashalas (religious rest houses), and many textile shops that catered to the Hindu pilgrims and travellers to Sri Lanka.

A map showing the ferry route from Dhanushkod, Indiai to Talaimannar , Sri Lanka (Source:-Wikimedia Commons)

A map showing the ferry route from Dhanushkod, Indiai to Talaimannar , Sri Lanka (Source:-Wikimedia Commons)

Dhanushkodi is about 18 miles (29 km) West of Talaimannar, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon). There was a steamer ferry service which operated daily from the pier on the south-east of the Dhanushkodi town to the pier at Talaimannar. The ferry transported travellers and goods, across the Palk Strait.

In the 1950s and 1960s, I used to travel to Ceylon by the Dhanushkodi-Talimannar steamer ferry.

The Indo-Ceylon Express, also known as the Boat Mail train, plied from 1915 to 1964 on a metre gauge track between Egmore Station in Chennai (then known as Madras) and Dhanushkodi. It took almost 19 hours to complete the journey of 420 miles (675 Km).

Ferry service from Dhanushkodi Pier to Talaimannar in the 1950s.

Ferry service from Dhanushkodi Pier to Talaimannar in the 1950s.

After the Boat Mail train reached Dhanushkodi Pier at 15:05 hours in the afternoon, the passengers after alighting from the train had to pass through the customs before boarding the ferry which used to leave the Indian shore soon after 16:00 hours. Depending on the weather, it took between 2 and 3½ hours to cross the very shallow Palk Bay and reach the Talaimannar Pier in Sri Lanka. The voyage used to be bumpy and nauseating when the sea was rough.

The name of the train changed from Indo-Ceylon Express to Rameswaram Express after the 1964 cyclone. Now, it is a 12-hour journey from Chennai to Rameswaram on a broad-gauge track.

On June 12, 2014, my wife and I along with relatives left Chennai on Rameswaram Express to attend a wedding at Pamban town. We reached Rameswaram the following day around 5:30 am and lodged in a hotel. We hired a van and left the hotel around 11:00 am to see Dhanushkodi.

After travelling for 20 minutes, we reached Dhanushkodi. Even 50 years after the cyclone of 1964, Dhanushkodi remains a dilapidated strip of land.

The driver stopped the van at a spot on the Indian Ocean side where many other vans carrying tourists were parked.

The driver said he cannot go farther as local regulations, meaning rules set by the local cartel of van drivers, forbids it. But the members of that association ply a number of their own vans to ferry the travellers to the end of Dhanushkodi and charge ₹100/- per person. At the end of the journey we paid ₹2,200/-.

After 35 minutes of a bumpy ride by van, on shallow waters and muddy tracts, we reached the tip of Dhanushkodi where Adam’s Bridge, a chain of sand shoals between Dhanushkodi and Talaimannar begins. The distance from the tip of Dhanushkodi in India and Talimannar in Sri Lanka is about 18 miles (29 km). The Dhanushkodi fishermen say that some sand dunes are just 50 yards in length. Surprisingly, the smallest land border in the world, is a shoal in Palk Bay between India and Sri Lanka – just 45 metres in length.

An eerie stillness prevailed around us except for the chatter of the few tourists subdued by the sound of waves. There were a few marine birds pecking on the soggy earth searching for food and many sea eagles circling in the air ready to swoop on any prey they could spot in the shallow waters or on the muddy land.

We saw many Hindu pilgrims bathing in the Palk Bay. The Hindus believe that pilgrimage to the holy city of Kashi (Benares / Varanasi) in North India would not be complete without having the ritual bath at the tip of Dhanushkodi, considered a sacred confluence of the Palk Bay and the Indian Ocean, before completing their pilgrimage to Rameswaram.

St. Antony's Church at Dhanuskodi devastated by the cyclone of 1964 (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

St. Antony’s Church at Dhanushkodi devastated by the cyclone of 1964 (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

It was heartrending to see only thatched huts and no buildings with standing walls. The only walls we saw were the dilapidated walls of St. Anthony’s church and of a school devastated during the cyclone of 1964.

Trinkets and ornaments made from seashells (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

Trinkets and ornaments made from seashells (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

The main trade other than fishing was the sale of conch shells, and trinkets and ornaments made of shells sold at exorbitant prices to tourists and pilgrims.

Eventually, we left Dhanushkodi around 2:30 pm with a heavy heart after having seen the ravages wrought by the 1964 cyclone.

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Wooden Cars


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj
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Morgan Aero 8 (Source: Brian Snelson/flickr)

Morgan Aero 8 (Source: Brian Snelson/flickr)

I came across the following on BBC TopGear’s front page:

Morgan

Morgan

An antidote for anyone who despairs at the loss of innocence. How sweet it is to think that there’s a shed in the Malvern hills in which a dedicated bunch of artisans is hard at work hand-building sports cars with wooden chassis. What’s more, with the Aero 8 and forthcoming hybrid LifeCar, it looks like they’re here to stay.

This aroused my curiosity about wooden cars.

The Morgan Motor Company, is a family owned British motor car manufacturing firm founded in 1909 by Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan that specializes in hand-assembled cars. The company, based in the Malvern hills, an area of Malvern, Worcestershire, England to the north and east of Great Malvern employs around 163 people. In 2007, Morgan produced 640 hand-assembled cars.

In their FAQs page to the question “Is it still made with a Wooden chassis?” they answer:

“The Morgan car has always been built around an ash-frame , and a steel chassis. The new Aero 8 also has an ash frame. This gives unique strength, flexibility and surprisingly, research showed that the frame made the car safer on impact tests.”

A year ago, in May 2013, I came across a news item in the media about Istvan Puskas, a 51-year-old Hungarian farmer. He lives in Tiszaörs, a village in Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok county, in the Northern Great Plain region of central Hungary.

Istvan Puskas

Istvan Puskas

Farmer Istvan Puskas, is also skilled in woodcraft. He loves to create unique articles with wood that would interest people.

A year earlier, in 2012, he created a unique motorcycle entirely of wood. a one-of-a-kind chopper made almost exclusively out of wood.

In 2013, Puskas created a unique wooden vehicle powered by a Polish-made Fiat 126 engine. The vehicle resembles a tractor.

Though a steering wheel salvaged from an old Mercedes-Benz came in handy, he made the frame, wheels, axles, suspension and gearbox out of wood. He used an old beer barrel for the fuel tank. His object was to use as much wood as possible.

It took him four months to finish building his vehicle.

Even though the current Hungarian laws make it impossible for Istvan Puskas to officially register and drive his unique wooden vehicle on the road, the local policemen impressed with his efforts allow him to drive it on the local lanes in his village. So far, touch wood, he has not run into any accidents.

Since Istvan had no garage to park his wooden vehicle, he had plans to put his creation on the market, as a collector’s item, or as a vehicle for someone who prefers to drive slow. He said that he intends to use the proceeds to fund his next project – a three-wheeled vehicle.

Recently, I came across the following video on YouTube of an amazing, beautiful custom-built 2009 wooden car Uploaded on October 13, 2010 by mrantisocialguy.

This custom hand-built wooden car mounted on a 1986 Toyota truck frame is powered by a Chrysler 318 engine. Driven by an automatic transmission it had 1,800 miles registered on its speedometer at the time of shooting this video.

The following video titled “wooden car Amazing Invention – HD” uploaded by Mohammed Rashed Ul Haq on Jan 13, 2011 is a four-minute long documentary on the manufacture of a wooden car.

Today, I read an article in the Deccan Chronicle, Chennai edition, titled “Wooden car awaits licence“.

Appar Lakshmanan, a hereditary master wood craftsman belonging to the Viswakarma community, has built a wooden car, which is probably the first eco-friendly vehicle made in the state of Tamilnadu, India.

Like Istvan Puskas in Hungary, Appar Lakshmanan too finds it difficult to meet the high criteria set by the Regional Transport Officer (RTO), Chennai.

Appar Lakshmanan drives the car he made almost entirely with wood (Source: DC)

Appar Lakshmanan drives the car he made almost entirely with wood (Source: DC)

The writer of the article J.V. Siva Prasanna Kumar quotes Appar Lakshmanan as saying:

“If its strength of materials and ability to withstand combustion in the event of an accident or collision, then test my car and see the results… The officials seem to raise several questions, including how the wooden frames were fixed together. My father used bamboo pegs as rivets and they stood the test of time. Would anyone believe that?”

Appar Lakshmanan says the wood he used to make the car was not inflammable. Nevertheless, his efforts to convince the RTO authorities and obtain a licence did not yield the desired results. The one among his woes is that he could not get an engine or chassis number for his wooden car. A real paradox indeed!

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The Travails of Traveling Abroad on a Sri Lankan Passport


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 Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” ― Blaise PascalPensées

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On April 28, 2014, I wrote an article titled “Is a Passport Necessary for the Queen of England, US President, and the Pope to Travel Abroad?”  After reading it, my friend Joe Croos, a constant reader of my posts, now living in Germantown, Maryland, USA, forwarded me the following hilarious piece of writing sent to him by his friend Tony Rajanayagam.

Neither Tony nor Joe knows who the original author of this article is. Obviously he must be a Sri Lankan.

I enjoyed reading every word of this sarcastic, thought-provoking dissertation, and wish to share it with you.

I have used my editorial discretion, to strike out two phrases in the first paragraph which, though hilarious might seem objectionable to a few. Also, I have added images to spruce up the presentation.

Sri Lanka Passport (Source:  elankanews.com)

Sri Lankan Passport (Source: elankanews.com)

There are three things in the world that are of no use to anyone, viz. a xxx’x xxxxxxt, a xxxxxx’x xxxxx, and a Sri Lankan passport. The uselessness of the third item becomes absolutely clear when one tries to apply for a visa to go abroad.

Today, international travel for a bona fide traveler from Sri Lanka is fraught with unbelievable red-tape, undesirable paperwork and unforeseeable pitfalls. It is, for example, much easier for the proverbial camel to go through the eye of a needle than for an honest Sri Lankan passport holder to enter the United Kingdom. Everything in life has a price.

Ironically, these days, it is relatively easy for a Sri Lankan illegal immigrant to enter any western country of his choice and claim asylum, become a citizen and sponsor his kith and kin. This way, entire villages from Jaffna peninsula have been uprooted and are now relocated to Scarborough in Toronto, Canada.

A Sri Lankan passport is not unique. Israeli passport is the next most useless document as it is not recognized by 23 countries in the Middle East and also by North Korea and Cuba. Presenting an Israeli passport to an immigration officer in a Muslim country would be the equivalent of waving a red flag at a bull in Spain.

Although the Sri Lankan passport clearly states that “The President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka requests and requires all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary” the document is more often than not treated with total disdain while its possessor is regarded with suspicion by almost all countries including Bangladesh, Benin and Bulgaria.

Although the purpose of the Sri Lankan passport is to promote and facilitate international travel, the way in which its owners are treated at foreign embassies makes one wonder if it was instead designed to dissuade and restrict international travel as much as possible.

Applying for a visa to a western country in Sri Lanka has become such a complex, confusing and complicated activity that some people, especially old men and women, come down with the condition known as “visaitis“. This is a relatively new disease which emerged in Sri Lanka at the end of July 1983.

The symptoms include a certain dryness of the mouth, dizziness, and mild dementia. Patients afflicted with this disease also suffer from outrageously watery diarrhea and are in the habit of passing urine frequently, and in rare cases, may be subject to catatonic schizophrenia. They can be nervous, irritable and immune to therapy. The mere thought of going to a western Embassy or High Commission in Sri Lanka is so traumatic that one or two people have in fact died of a broken heart, following the mandatory medical check-up.

There is a particular Hindu place of worship known affectionately as the “Visa Pillayar Temple” (VPT) in Colombo where people go to break a coconut and offer a silent prayer to ensure success prior to their interview (or interrogation) for a visa at the Embassy. Visa aspirants from places as far away as Valluvettithurai (VVT) in the north come to VPT to collect the vipoothi (holy ash), which when applied on the forehead is supposed to confer divine protection during the inquisition at the Embassy.

The insults start at the gate of an Embassy where you experience the taste of what is in store for you in the country you plan to spend your hard-earned money.

French Tricolor Flag - 1803

At the French Embassy in Colombo, rated 9.5 in the “Richter Scale of Rude Shocks,” it is the illiterate gatekeeper who functions as Cerberus, the three-headed dog guarding the entrance to Hades, to whom one must give the sop to slip into the Embassy.

Japanese Flag

At the Japanese Embassy in Colombo, you cannot see the visa officer through the one-way opaque glass window when you submit your application. He can see you, but you cannot see him. The experience can be quite unnerving. It is a bit like speaking to an Oracle in Greece.

Canadian flag

The application for a Canadian tourist visa is 10 pages long and has more than 60 questions, including the names, places and dates of birth of yourself, your wife, your siblings, parents, grandparents, your wife’s relatives, your in-laws and outlaws! All these details have to be submitted first electronically before you are given a date for the interview.

Bangladesh flag

Once I went to the Bangladesh Embassy in Colombo to apply for a visa. The Embassy looked more like a tuck shop and I was the only applicant. Even then that bored consular officer rudely told me that it would take five working days to issue a visa!

Indian Tri-Colour flag

In the Indian Embassy, one would witness the death of common sense. However, much you gather the required documents you need to substantiate your application for a visa, the officer will ask for the one that you forgot to bring.

US flag

By contrast, the US Embassy in Colombo offers one of the best services in the world. The US staff are extremely kind, helpful and patient and they genuinely try to assist the potential visa applicant to the best of their ability. The US evaluation process is very fair, thorough and proper. If you are a genuine visitor to the USA, you need not worry. You will get a fair hearing. All the US immigration officers are trained well to be civil and polite to the visitor. They would often engage you in small talk just to find out if you were a genuine visitor or not to the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

Today, many embassies have subcontracted the TT Services to deal with the initial stages of processing the visa.

New Zealand flag

More recently, on arrival in Christchurch, New Zealand (the Land of the Long White Cloud), the immigration officer asked me, very politely and with a pleasant smile, what the purpose of my visit was? When I told him that I had come to deliver a talk on elephants at the University of Canterbury, the bewildered officer exclaimed, “But we do not have elephants!” and stamped my passport and wished me a pleasant stay. It spoke so well about the country of just 4.5 million people and 60 million sheep.

WWF

Once when I worked for WWF-International, I was a member of a small working committee planning the next International Theriological (= Mammal) Congress. Two countries, Australia and Colombia, were interested in hosting the event. The Australian delegate was interested in moving the Congress to Sydney, but cautioned us that the only requirement for the visa was that none of the foreign participants had any criminal record. On hearing this, the Colombian delegate jumped up in sheer joy and informed us that on the contrary, his Government would welcome delegates with a criminal record! The Congress was held in Sydney.

In the unlikely event of a visa being issued, it does not automatically guarantee that you’d be allowed to enter the country at the other end. That depends on the mood and the maturity of the immigration officer.

United Kingdom flag

One of the most traumatic experiences one could have on arrival is at the Heathrow airport in London. You had been travelling 16 hours from Colombo and the flight lands at 9 am. It is supposed to be summer, but the sun is nowhere to be seen in the Land of Ceaseless Fog and Drizzle. Thus, even before the plane comes to a complete stop, you would get an idea of the weather that awaits you on arrival. Sometimes it appears that the plane had been taxiing through ginger beer or syrup. That’s the colour of the atmosphere outside.

Heathrow airport inside

On arrival I have to join the cattle class and then go to the queue reserved for aliens. No wonder I am often treated as if I am an extraterrestrial phenomenon!

Almost all British immigration officers are most unfriendly to non-Caucasian visitors, and often act like tinpot Hitlers. They are as hard as nails and bored as the people who serve you at McDonalds. They look miserable knowing they are stuck in dead end jobs.

Welcome at Heathrow Airport (Photo: Steve Parsons – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Welcome at Heathrow Airport (Photo: Steve Parsons – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Right behind his shoulder you can read in letters big, bright and bold, the banner that reads, “Welcome to Heathrow”. The welcome you receive is frostier than the weather outside.

The first question the bored and grumpy immigration officer with a smirk on his face asks the hapless visitor is: “When are you getting back?”

If you ask for a three-month stay in England, you are more likely to be given just a month. On the other hand, if you were to request for only a week, just to attend a conference and get back home, you may be granted a stay for six months. More disturbing is the recent news from the UK that in the future, visitors to Britain from ‘high risk’ countries such as Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Ghana coming to Britain on a six-month visit visa will have to put up a 3,000 pound (equivalent to Rs. 594,000 in Sri Lankan currency) bond as security, according to the Home Secretary Theresa May.

Australian flag

Sometimes things can go wrong. During my first visit to Australia in 1990, I flew into Sydney from Jakarta. Before the plane landed, we were given immigration forms to be filled. There was an additional yellow card that had to be filled as well, and one of the questions on it was: “Are you carrying live semen?” to which I promptly ticked the yes box, given that I had already fathered two kids.

As I cleared the immigration and moved to the customs, I was stopped and taken to a small room where I was interrogated by a big, bespectacled, Wagnerian white woman with a pair of enormous Bristols and a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp. She waved a yellow card at me and exploded, “Is this a joke?”

I was genuinely clueless as to why she blew her top and asked her what was it all about, to which she pointed the box I had ticked off to say that I was indeed carrying live semen. I told her that I believed so, to which the human volcano erupted once more and thundered in no uncertain terms that it referred to livestock and warned me not to make a joke of it ever again! It was literally a seminal experience for me. The yellow card is no longer issued.

Sri Lanka flag

In the 1960s, we had a Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) member from the United States who became friends with us while we were doing research on wildlife in Wilpattu national park with Dr. John F. Eisenberg from the Smithsonian Institution and his assistant Melvyn Lockhart. The VSO chap was a hippie who loved smoking ganja (marijuana). In his lucid moments he managed to learn a few words in Sinhala which Melvyn taught. 

When he left Colombo, he was in fact carrying some ganja with him, and given his long hair and hippie demeanor, he was promptly stopped by a vigilant customs officer who wanted to see the contents of his handbag. In a flash of brilliance, despite the perspiration which had commenced its journey down his spine, he began to engage the customs officer in small talk, and told him that he had lived in Ceylon for a month and that he could even speak the local language a bit. 

When the customs officer asked him to say something in Sinhala, he promptly remembered what Melvyn had taught him, and blurted out in a loud voice “මගේ පුක්කෙ මයිල් නෑ” (Transliterated: “Magey pukkay mayil naa“) meaning “my arse has no hair” in his native Texan drawl.

All the customs officers who heard him burst out in uncontrollable laughter and began to dance (a few even had tears of joy streaming down their cheeks). They complimented him on his language skill and wished him “bon voyage“. It was the hippie who had the last laugh.

Melvyn later received a “Thank you” note from Amarillo, TX.

As a Sri Lankan, I feel that we are treated abroad as if we do not matter, despite our education, ancient culture and proud heritage. We may be short on geography, but we are long on history. We deserve better treatment in the western countries. Unlike the ASEAN countries where citizens of the member states enjoy a 14-day visa free entry to each other’s country, we who belong to the SAARC cannot go to India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, or Bhutan even for a short stay without a visa!

In the final analysis, given the limitations of our Sri Lankan passport, it is far better for us to enjoy a local holiday than be subject to untold indignities and interrogations at the hands of immigration officers. As Blaise Pascal once remarked, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

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A contemporary ordinary Sri Lankan passport (Author - Chamath237)

A contemporary ordinary Sri Lankan passport (Author: Chamath237)

 

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Is a Passport Necessary for the Queen of England, US President, and the Pope to Travel Abroad?


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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English: Non-citizen, diplomatic, travel docum...

Various types of passports issued in Latvia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

To travel abroad, one needs a passport, a travel document issued by that person’s government that normally includes information about the holder: name, date of birth, sex, nationality and place of birth. The passport helps to attest the identity and nationality of its holder.

The passport holder is normally allowed to re-enter the country that issued the passport in accordance with the laws of that country. Holding a passport does not necessarily grant the person entry into any other country, nor to consular protection while abroad, or other privileges such as immunity from arrest or prosecution.

Usually, a national passport is not issued to stateless people. They may be able to get a refugee travel document to enable them to travel internationally, and sometimes to return to the issuing country.

One of the earliest known references to a document that served the role similar to that of a passport is found in Nehemiah 2:1-9 in the Bible. In this autobiographical book, also called the “Memoirs of Nehemiah”, dating from approximately 450 BC, emerges the story of a man dedicated to the single purpose of the welfare of his people.

While serving as cupbearer to the king at the Persian court in Susa, Nehemiah received permission from his master Artaxerxes I to fortify Jerusalem, and served as governor of Judah for two terms, the first lasting twelve years (445–432 BC).

In the month Nisan of the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when the wine was in my charge, I took some and offered it to the king. Because I had never before been sad in his presence, the king asked me, “Why do you look sad? If you are not sick, you must be sad at heart.” Though I was seized with great fear,

I answered the king: “May the king live forever! How could I not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates consumed by fire?”

The king asked me, “What is it, then, that you wish?”

I prayed to the God of heaven and then answered the king: “If it pleases the king, and if your servant is deserving of your favor, send me to Judah, to the city where my ancestors are buried, that I may rebuild it.”

Then the king, with the queen seated beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take and when will you return?”

My answer was acceptable to the king and he agreed to let me go; I set a date for my return.

I asked the king further: “If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of West-of-Euphrates, that they may give me safe-conduct till I arrive in Judah; also a letter for Asaph, the keeper of the royal woods, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the temple citadel, for the city wall and the house that I will occupy.”

Since I enjoyed the good favor of my God, the king granted my requests.

Thus, I proceeded to the governors of West-of-Euphrates and presented the king’s letters to them. The king also sent with me army officers and cavalry.

In the medieval Islamic Caliphate, a form of basic passport, the bara’a, a receipt for taxes paid was in vogue. Muslim citizens who paid their zakah, and Dhimmis, the non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state who paid their jizya as taxes were allowed to travel to different regions of the Caliphate.

The British Passport

In England, the earliest reference to documents for travel is found in a 1414 Act of Parliament. It is generally believed that King Henry V, who reigned England from 1413 until his death at the age of 35 in 1422, was the first to come up with the idea of issuing the first true passport to help his subjects to prove their identity in foreign lands.

Between 1540 and 1685, the Privy Council of England, granted travel documents and used the term “passport”. They were signed by the monarch until the reign of Charles II.

Etymologically, the term “passport” is derived from the document issued by the local authorities to travelers, allowing them to pass through the “porte” (French: the door, the gate) of a city wall. Generally, such documents contained a list of towns and cities the document holder was permitted to enter or pass through. At that time, a passport was not required for travel to sea ports, which were considered open trading points, but it was required to travel inland from sea ports.

At that time, the passport was a simple single-sheet paper document penned in Latin or English. From 1772 onwards French was used instead.

From 1794, the Office of the Secretary of State began issuing the British passports. From then on, the Secretary of State signed all passports in place of the monarch and formal records started to be kept.

By 1855 passports became a standard document issued solely to British nationals and English was used to write passports, with some sections translated into French.

From 1914 onwards, the passport included a photograph of the holder.

Does Queen Elizabeth II carry a passport?

Royal Visit of Queen Elizabeth.  (Source: The official website of The British Monarchy)

Royal Visit of Queen Elizabeth. (Source: The official website of The British Monarchy)

“When travelling overseas, does Queen Elizabeth II carry a passport?” is an oft asked question.

In 1945, when the Queen was 18, she was a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service. At that time, she was given a driver licence, which became redundant in 1953 when she became Queen Elizabeth II. The World War II document, signed just ‘Elizabeth‘ is one of the exhibits at the Adjutant General’s Corps Museum in Peninsula Barracks, Winchester. It was given to the then 18-year-old Princess in 1945 when she was a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

The front cover of a British biometric passport issued since 2006. (Photographed by Benbread)

The front cover of a British biometric passport issued since 2006. (Photographed by Benbread)

Now, the front cover of a British biometric passport issued since 2006, features the Royal Arms, and the first page declares:

‘Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.’

In the realms, namely in the 15 Commonwealth countries where the Queen is Sovereign, a similar formula is used, except that the request to “all whom it may concern” is made in the name of the realm’s Governor-General. In Canada, the request is made in the name of “Her Majesty,” by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

As a British passport is issued in the name of Her Majesty, it is not necessary for The Queen to possess one. However, all other members of the Royal Family, including The Duke of Edinburgh and The Prince of Wales, have passports.

The US Passport

The United States now issues three types of passports: blue, maroon and black.

US contemporary biometric passport

US contemporary biometric passport

US official biometric passport

US official biometric passport

US Diplomatic Passport

US Diplomatic Passport

American passports had green covers from 1941 until 1976, when the cover was changed to blue, as part of the U.S. bicentennial celebration. Now, around 44 million people hold the familiar blue-covered American tourist’s passport. Green- covered passports were again issued from April 1993, until March 1994, and included a special one-page tribute to Benjamin Franklin in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the United States Consular Service.

In 1981, the United States became the first nation to introduce machine-readable passports. In 2000, the Department of State started to issue passports with digital photographs.

In 2006, the Department of State began to issue biometric passports to diplomats and other officials. Later in 2006, biometric passports were issued to the public. Since August 2007, the department has issued only biometric passports, which include RFID chips. As of 2010, all previous series have expired.

Maroon-covered “official” passports are issued to the citizen-employees of the United States government assigned overseas, either permanently or temporarily, and their eligible dependents. The Maroon-covered passports are also issued to US military personnel when deployed overseas, and to members of Congress who travel abroad on official business.

Black-covered American diplomatic passports are issued to accredited overseas American diplomats and their eligible dependents, and also to citizens who reside in the United States and travel abroad for diplomatic work.

Does the US President carry a passport?

US President Barack Obama

US President Barack Obama

“When travelling overseas,  does the US President carry a passport?” is also an oft asked question.

Yes, the US president needs a passport, but it is not like everyone else’s. The president, his immediate family, certain top officials, and diplomatic personnel are issued diplomatic passports, for which the holder need not pay a passport fee.

When the president travels, a team of people, usually from the State Department, coordinate the paperwork of the trip and hold on to the president’s passport. After the president emerges from Air Force One, waves to the crowd, and gets in his limo, he does not stand in the queue at the host country’s customs. The employees of the US State Department take his passport, and those of the others in his entourage, through the host country’s customs procedures.

One perk of the American presidency is that even when the president is out of office, he gets to keep his diplomatic passport.

Papal visits abroad

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

The Pope holds Vatican passport number one. I doubt whether his passport is ever checked.

As the head of a state, the Pope travels as a diplomat and diplomats have far less trouble crossing borders than us, the commoners.

The Pope also has diplomatic immunity and is given the same courtesy and protection in any country he visits just like any other visiting head of state would receive.

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View of the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls from Luna Island.


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Niagara Falls as seen from the observation deck at Prospect Point. (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

Niagara Falls as seen from the observation deck at Prospect Point. (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

Niagara Falls is one of the most beautiful places in the world I have ever seen.

Niagara Falls is the collective name for three waterfalls that sprawl the international border between the United States and Canada. It is located between the international twin cities of Niagara Falls, in the state of New York, United States, and Niagara Falls, in the province of Ontario, Canada. These falls form the southern end of the Niagara Gorge where Lake Erie drains into Lake Ontario.

The international boundary line separating the United States and Canada was originally drawn through Horseshoe Falls in 1819 has long been in dispute due to natural erosion and construction.

Panoramic View of Niagara Falls (Source: niagarafallslive.com)

Panoramic View of Niagara Falls (Source: niagarafallslive.com)

From the largest to the smallest, the three waterfalls are:

On the Canadian side:
the Horseshoe Falls (also known as the Canadian Falls) on the right between Goat Island and Table Rock.

On the American side:
The American Falls on the far left between Prospect Point and Luna Island, and the Bridal Veil Falls mid left between Luna Island and Goat Island.

On board the Maid of the Mist. The American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls in the background. (Photo - T.V. Antony Raj)

On board the Maid of the Mist. The American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls in the background. (Photo – T.V. Antony Raj)

The breathtaking bluish-green colour of the Niagara River is caused by

  1. refraction of sunlight and reflection of the blue sky
  2. dissolved minerals picked up primarily from the limestone bed
  3. from the shale and sandstone under the limestone cap at the falls
  4. microscopic plants such as algae and plankton in the water.

Around 60 tons of dissolved minerals are swept over Niagara Falls every minute.

At Luna Island located between American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. (Photo - T.V. Antony Raj)

At Luna Island located between American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. (Photo – T.V. Antony Raj)

Though these three falls are not exceptionally high, they are very wide. The American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls have a crest line of 1,100 feet (335 meters) and a height of 176 feet (54 meters).

Crest of the Bridal Veil Falls as seen from Luna Island. (Photo - T.V. Antony Raj)

Crest of the Bridal Veil Falls as seen from Luna Island. (Photo – T.V. Antony Raj)

Crest of the Bridal Veil Falls as seen from Luna Island. (Photo - T.V. Antony Raj)

Crest of the Bridal Veil Falls as seen from Luna Island. (Photo – T.V. Antony Raj)

More than six million cubic feet (168,000 cubic meters) of water fall over the crest line every minute in high flow, and almost four million cubic feet (110,000 cubic meters) on average. The summer daytime flow at the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls is 75,000 gal/Sec (285,000 Liters/Sec).

About eight million tourists visit the American side and about 20 million tourists visit the Canadian side of Niagara Falls every year.

On August 2, 2012, our son Subas Raj took me and my wife to Niagara Falls, in the state of New York. We were there for three days. We enjoyed the magnificent views of the three falls.

Here is a short video of the breathtaking view of the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls from Luna Island.

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Since 1925, every evening beginning at dusk, the Niagara Falls are lit in the colours of the rainbow, financed and operated by The Niagara Falls Illumination Board. Also, year after year, the Niagara Parks Commission, an agency of government of Ontario which maintains the Ontario shoreline of the Niagara River, hosts Canada’s longest-running fireworks series in Queen Victoria Park in Niagara Falls in the province of Ontario, Canada.

The unmatched beauty of the Niagara Falls at night illuminated by strobe lights from the Canadian side, and the spectacular fireworks display before an unforgettable backdrop captivated us. I captured this video “Niagara Falls by Night – Illuminations & Fireworks” using my Canon Powershot camera from Prospect Point in Niagara Falls, New York. I regret that I did not have a high-end camera with high-resolution to capture the unmatched beauty of the Niagara Falls at night.

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Ever wondered what the falls on the American side would look like when dry?

Dry Niagara - This photo shows the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls in Niagara Falls during the preservation work carried out in 1969 (Photo: Wikipedia)

Dry Niagara – This photo shows the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls in Niagara Falls during the preservation work carried out in 1969 (Photo: Wikipedia)

The above photo shows the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls in Niagara Falls during the preservation work carried out in 1969.

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It’s Snake Boat Race Day!


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By 

Oh thithi thara thithey, thithey thaka they they tho…

Oh thithi thara, thithey thaka they they tho…

Oh thithi thara thithey, thithey thaka they they thom…

When I woke up this morning I was extremely energised. Although I am born and brought up in Kerala, I have never gone to watch the glorious Nehru Cup snake boat race ever. I was very excited, even though I had no clue how the race was going to be or if it would be worth at all. At that moment I was more charged to use my DSLR camera which I was going to use after almost a year. Since iPhones I have been so lazy to use any other than the phone camera; instagraming pictures all the time.

The journey had begun. One hour to go till we reached the site of the event. We were four of us but none had any idea about what was going to happen there. The thrill of the whole experience lied in the ambiguity of it. Even so the entire time I was extremely skeptical to use the camera since I had lost all practice of using it. To top it all as soon as we got there it started to rain; with it washed away all my hopes of trying to click any pictures, but we thought we shall still give it a shot. And once we reached there it was so crazily crowded, noisy and slushy; I had somewhere given up hope of watching the race. There was no way in hell we would have made it inside. Just then we found a pole and got a little adventurous. Each of us took turns to climb on it to get at least one glimpse of the event. I got a little greedy, I asked one of my friend’s to hold the umbrella for me while I stood on the pole and took at least one picture of the event.

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So I did manage to get one, however unprofessional looking and blurred it was. I was happy at that moment and thought that at least I had proof of being there.

We started to head back thinking we won’t get any closer so no point staying. That’s when we saw a little door, where only tourists could enter. We went through there, to finally realise we were adjacent to the finish line.

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We squished, squashed, tugged through the crowd and somehow managed to get a little closer to the water.

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It was an amazing sight even though I was mashed between three sweaty, tacky and alcohol breath locals.

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The entire place looked spectacular. There was a thrill in the air that was so contagious. The crowd cheering, the speeches overwhelming, the boats were just getting lined up; all set to race.

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I was standing on my toes to get a glimpse of the entire spectacle, trying to capture the moment each time.

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The men looked geared up and packed with energy.

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But the roar from the crowd grew louder when a boat rowed by all women made an appearance.
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The crowd was everywhere. There were houseboats lined up in front, some watching comfortably from their personal yachts, some swimming in water, some camouflaged on top of the trees.
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The boats now started to move towards the starting point; the race was about to begin any minute.
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The umpires were scattered everywhere, with their eyes concentrated on the boats passing by.
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The fire force taking its position. Ready for the boats to set the scene ablaze with excitement.
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There were cops lazing around on boats waiting in anticipation.
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The divers sitting tight, anxious and alert.
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While I was waiting at the edge taking pictures of the now impatient crowd and the calm waters which in no time would be flooded with boats racing for honor and life.
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Just then, my friend screamed from a distance that the race has begun. It was all haphazard henceforth. The boats were being rowed so quickly, I barely got a glance.
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We hurried back as soon as boat number# 16 touched the finish line, as we were in no condition to go through a stampede on our way out of the place. The walk back to the car was peaceful, yet enlivening after watching one of the world’s most breathtakingly beautiful event. I don’t know if I will ever come back to watch it, but it definitely is a one time experience every person should live.
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Re-posted from LIVE. LOVE. LAUGH

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Sawm Ramadan


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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May this Ramadan bring you the utmost in peace now and during prosperity. May light triumph over darkness.

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Ramadan (Arabic: رمضان‎ Ramaḍān), the ninth month of the Islāmic calendar, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

Though not mentioned in the Quran, but summarized in the famous hadith of Gabriel are the Five Pillars of Islam (arkān-al-Islām أركان الإسلام; also arkān ad-dīn أركان الدين “pillars of the religion”) which are the foundation of Muslim life – five basic acts in Islam, considered obligatory by believers. They are:

  1. Shahadah (belief or confession of faith – Muslim life)
  2. Salat (worship in the form of prayer)
  3. Sawm Ramadan (self purification by fasting during the month of Ramadan)
  4. Zakat (alms or charitable giving or concern for the needy)
  5. Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime)

Annually, Muslims, worldwide, observe self purification by fasting during the month of Ramadan which lasts 29–30 days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon.

The word Ramadan derived from the Arabic root ramiḍa or ar-ramaḍ, means “scorching heat” or “dryness.” It is “obligatory” for adult Muslims to fast, except those who are ill, diabetic, traveling, pregnant, breastfeeding, or during menstrual bleeding.

The Quran states:

The month of Ramadan is that in which the Quran was revealed, a guidance to men and clear proofs of the guidance and the distinction; therefore whoever of you is present in the month, he shall fast therein, and whoever is sick or upon a journey, then (he shall fast) a (like) number of other days; Allah desires ease for you, and He does not desire for you difficulty, and (He desires) that you should complete the number and that you should exalt the greatness of Allah for His having guided you and that you may give thanks. [Quran 2:185]

Wall Street Bull

Wall Street Bull (Photo: V.A. Subas Raj)

Bowling Green is a small public park in Lower Manhattan at the foot of Broadway next to the site of the original Dutch fort of New Amsterdam. Built in 1733, originally including a bowling green, it is the oldest public park in New York City surrounded by its original 18th century fence. At its northern end is the Charging Bull sculpture, which is sometimes called the Wall Street Bull or the Bowling Green Bull.

Dhuhr (Noon) prayer in Bowling Green - 1

Dhuhr (Noon) prayer in Bowling Green (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

Dhuhr (Noon) prayer in Bowling Green  (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

Dhuhr (Noon) prayer in Bowling Green (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

Last year, while my wife and I were in New York, we saw a faithful Muslim in the Bowling Green at 1:23 pm unmindful of the blaring noise surrounding him, perseveringly reciting the Dhuhr (Noon) prayer. We were spellbound by his faith in God and his steadfast adherence to his religious duties.

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The Saint and the Simpleton (Dennis Aubrey)


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Posted by Dennis Aubrey on May 29, 2013

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There are so many wonderful stories and legends associated with the churches we photograph in France, but none is more pleasing than that of Saint Menulphe and his friend, the Simpleton of Mailly-sur-Rose, a town in the Allier.

Statue of Saint Menoux, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier). (Photo: Dennis Aubrey)

Statue of Saint Menoux, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier). (Photo: Dennis Aubrey)

Menulphe was the son of an Irish king and very devout. He traveled to England, Brittany and France and was recognized for his sanctity. When the Pope heard of this and asked him to come to Rome, Menulphe walked the route in poverty, a mendicant with no possessions. On his return, he stopped in Mailly-sur-Rose, exhausted with his journey. During that time, Menulphe took pity on an innocent named Blaise who was the scapegoat for local children. One day he intervened as the young urchins threw stones at Blaise. He chided the boys and took the young man under his protection. Blaise was described as a simpleton, one who could barely speak, and never left Menulphe’s side. He couldn’t pronounce his protector’s name and “Menulfe” became “Menoux”.

When Menoux died, Blaise thought that the holy man was asleep. He spent his days and nights at the grave, conversing with his friend. One day visitors to the cemetery saw that the coffin had been dug up and that there was a hole in the side. They discovered Blaise laying on his stomach, with his head in the hole, talking to someone. The local people were scandalized but the curé said, “Poor Blaise, he is a better and more faithful friend than we are. Perhaps he is the least crazy of all.”

The Curé placed Menoux’s remains in a sandstone sarcophagus and had an opening cut into one side. Blaise spent the rest of his life conversing with his friend, and miraculously, the troubles of his mind faded to the point that he was able to serve mass. At the time of his death, Blaise had the reputation of being a simple, faithful man, as sensible as anyone.

La Débredinoire, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier). (Photo: PJ McKey)

La Débredinoire, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier). (Photo: PJ McKey)

Thereafter, in memory of the miraculous healing of Blaise, parents led the bredins, the simple-minded, before the tomb of Menoux and placed their heads carefully into the sarcophagus – the débredinoire – hoping for the same healing that Blaise experienced. Eventually the site received such a number of pilgrims that the Benedictines built an abbey on the site under the direction of the Abbess Adalgasie and placed the sarcophagus with Menoux’s relics in the choir. They also changed the name of the village from Mailly-sur-Rose to Saint Menoux. The fairs held by the abbesses attracted vendors and buyers which led to the expansion of the village.

The church gives an idea of the importance of this abbey and the monastics who resided there. It was built in the classic Cluny style in the early part of the twelfth century. The nave has three tall, narrow bays with ogive arches covered with groin vaults.

Nave facing west, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier). (Photo: Dennis Aubrey)

Nave facing west, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier). (Photo: Dennis Aubrey)

The side aisles are, as usual, visually stunning. We see the long, uninterrupted flow to the ambulatory in the distance.

South side aisle, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier). (Photo: PJ McKey)

South side aisle, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier). (Photo: PJ McKey)

The north side aisle, however, has a unique feature. Just to the west of the transept arch is a rather clumsily executed structure that contains a stairway leading to a defensive tower on the exterior. Poking up through the roof, that tower looks almost like a minaret.

North side aisle, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier). (Photo: PJ McKey)

North side aisle, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier). (Photo: PJ McKey)

The raised apse is perhaps the finest element of the church. The choir has two elegant high bays topped with clerestory windows while the chancel features a seven bay hemicycle with an arcade of windows leading to the oven vault.

Apse, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier). (Photo: Dennis Aubrey)

Apse, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier). (Photo: Dennis Aubrey)

The débredinoire of Saint Menoux is found centered behind the altar in the chancel. These reliquaries have been placed between the pillars of the central hemicycle arch and the tomb can be seen just behind.

Reliquaries, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier). (Photo: PJ McKey)

Reliquaries, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier). (Photo: PJ McKey)

The oldest part of the church, built in the eleventh century, is the narthex on the west end of the church. This antechamber has beautiful arcades supporting a short barrel vault. Some of the pillars are topped with capitals, but it is clear that the restoration was not complete. Fragments of some of the original statuary are rather casually displayed in the arcades.

Narthex, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier). (Photo: Dennis Aubrey)

Narthex, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier). (Photo: Dennis Aubrey)

Today, the abbey is gone – only the church remains after the destruction of the French Revolution. The town of Saint Menoux is quiet and peaceful for its 1,009 residents. The church is not well tended; there are rat droppings and cobwebs throughout. Dust cakes the benches and the chairs, but pilgrims still frequent the Église Saint Menoux in order to use the débredinoire for relief from feeble-mindedness or headaches.

Lest we think that credulous in the Middle Ages were alone in these workings, look at this passage in “The Invisible Architecture” by George Prat (2000).

“For more than forty years I made fun of the débredinoire which I considered an example of public credulity … My surprise was great to see that the débredinoire works and is not a gimmick. Thedébredinoire is placed at the geometric center of the apse …. and is located at the junction point of thetelluric current and four streams of water. … When one realizes that this is a machine from another age and can be activated by an ‘acupuncture point’ located nearby, we are amazed at the electrical energy released … The débredinoire is actually an instrument of care-giving; when used correctly, the equivalent a high intensity shock is given to the user. This is certainly very effective in the case of some nervous breakdowns.” People will always find a reason to believe if the need is great enough.

Demon Capital, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier). (Photo: Dennis Aubrey)

Demon Capital, Église Saint Menoux, Saint Menoux (Allier). (Photo: Dennis Aubrey)

Our daughter Sarah suffers from debilitating migraines and PJ placed her own head in the sarcophagus in hopes of helping. I guess it doesn’t hurt to try! But you must be careful not to touch the tomb while inserting your head. You run the risk of absorbing the feeble-mindedness and headaches of all who preceded you!

If you are interested in seeing some other churches in this region, follow this link.

Location: 46.585211° 3.156842°

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Re-posted from VIA LUCIS

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Niagara Falls by Night – Illuminations & Fireworks


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Oh wow! Why doesn’t this have more views? Some of the best footage I’ve seen of the falls…hopelesspirate

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I captured this video “Niagara Falls by Night – Illuminations & Fireworks” on August 3, 2012, using my Canon Powershot camera from Prospect Point in Niagara Falls, New York. I regret that I did not have a high-end camera with high-resolution to capture the unmatched beauty of the Niagara Falls at night, illuminated by strobe lights from the Canadian side.

Niagara Falls Illumination

Illumination of the Falls financed and operated by The Niagara Falls Illumination Board since 1925 begins every evening at dusk until 10 pm January through April, and until midnight the rest of the year. In recent years the only occasion the Falls were in darkness was for a few evenings in August 2003 when the lights were turned off to support recovery efforts during a major North American black-out.

The Falls are lit in red, blue, amber, purple, orange and green. The Niagara Falls Illumination Board provides special colour illuminations for many registered charities marking significant dates in support of their cause for 15 minutes at 9:00 pm and 10:00 pm, subject to availability of time. Falls on both countries are illuminated.

2013 Falls Illumination Schedule
January 1 – January 31 5 PM – Midnight
February 1 – February 28 6:30 PM – 10 PM
March 1 – March 9 Mon – Thurs 7 PM – 10 PM
March 10 – March 31 Mon – Thurs 8:30 PM – 10 PM
April 1 – April 30 Mon – Thurs 8:30 PM – 11 PM
* Fridays to Sundays in March and April “off time” is midnight
May 1 – August 15 9 PM – Midnight
August 16 – September 30 8:30 PM – Midnight
October 1 – November 1 7 PM – Midnight
November 2 – December 30 5 PM – Midnight
December 31 5 PM – 1 AM

The above illumination times are approximate and subject to change according to light conditions.

The history of the illumination of Niagara Falls is interesting. I have reproduced here the history I read in the website of Ontario’s Niagara Parks:

History of the Illumination of Niagara Falls

Lighting the Falls, to allow visitors to enjoy the beauty of the mighty Niagara even at night, was first attempted more than 150 years ago. In 1860, a spectacular
illumination of the Falls celebrated a visit by the Prince of Wales. About 200 coloured and white calcium, volcanic and torpedo lights were placed along the banks above and below the American Falls, on the road down the bank of the Canadian side of the gorge and behind the water of the Horseshoe Falls. The lights were called Bengal lights and were the kind used at sea to signal for help or give warning.

The lights were ignited along with rockets, spinning wheels and other fireworks, creating an effect that the London Times called “grand, magical and brilliant beyond all power of words to portray” the likes of which the Prince would “probably never see again.”

Illumination of the Falls using electricity first occurred in January 1879, during a visit by the Marquis of Lorne, Governor-General of Canada and his wife Princess Louise. The lights had an illumination power of 32,000 candles, just a fraction of the intensity used today.

A 36-horsepower generating station in Prospect Park, Niagara Falls, New York, operated in July 1879 with 16 open arc lamps each projecting 2,000 candlepower. The Niagara Falls New York Gazette reported “On the evening of the Fourth, the Park was crowded with visitors and citizens and a very satisfactory exhibition of the new light was given.” The lights were used for only one season.

In May 1892, Frank LeBlond, one of the owners of the Maid of the Mist, purchased a 4,000 candlepower light and placed it on the Canadian dock of the Maid of the Mist to light the American Falls. He placed gelatin plates in front of the lights to provide a variety of colours. Then in 1895, Captain John Brinker built the Great Gorge Railroad and announced that it would provide night excursions three times weekly during the summer season, complete with lights to illuminate the Whirlpool. The Gazette reported “Forty arc lamps of 2,000 candlepower each will be placed in the gorge along a distance of 250 feet. Lights will be clustered and so many in such a short distance will make the gorge as light as day. Each arc light will be filled with three globes, white, red and blue, and will work automatically, alternating colours. A huge searchlight will also operate from the cars.”

Large crowds were drawn to the Falls in 1901 for special lighting that was set up as part of the Pan American Exposition being held in Buffalo.

In 1907, W. D’Arcy Ryan of the General Electric Company designed lighting that provided far more power than ever before. Thirty-six projectors illuminated the Falls with a combined candlepower of 1,115,000,000. The display ran for several weeks.

For more than a decade after that, different attempts were made to raise financing to install permanent lighting. Some efforts were prevented by the First World War, but in 1925, a group of interested businessmen finally created the Niagara Falls Illumination Board, to finance, operate and maintain a new, permanent illumination system. Today’s contributing members are the City of Niagara Falls, New York, the City of Niagara Falls, Ontario, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Ontario Power Generation and The Niagara Parks Commission.

The Board’s first installation in 1925 was twenty-four carbon searchlights each 26 inches in diameter, emitting a total of 1,320,000,000 candlepower. The Falls have been illuminated most nights since that time ~ except during World War II when the lights were turned off to conserve power and during subsequent years when generating facilities could not keep pace with electrical requirements of the construction boom. It was not until January 1950 that the Illumination Board was able to guarantee enough power to operate the lights on a regular basis.

In 1997 and 1998, new fixtures replaced the outdated lamps and fixtures at the Illumination Tower, doubling the intensity of the lights on the Falls without doubling the hydro bills. Currently a total of twenty-one xenon lights, each with a 76-cm (30 in) diameter, are used to illuminate the Falls in a rainbow of colours. Eighteen are located at the Illumination Tower, beside the Queen Victoria Place and three are located below street level in the gorge opposite the American Falls. Each of the xenon spotlights produces more than 390 million peak beam and has a brilliance of 250 million candlepower.

Niagara Falls Fireworks

Year after year, the Niagara Parks Commission hosts Canada’s longest-running fireworks series in Queen Victoria Park. Year 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of Canada’s longest running fireworks Illuminations series and it begins on May 24, 2013. So, if you plan to pay a visit to Niagara Falls do not miss the absolutely free spectacular fireworks display at night before an unforgettable backdrop from now on until September 1, 2013, every Friday, Sunday and holidays at 10 pm.

Best vantage points for viewing the Fireworks: Prospect Point in New York, the Rainbow Bridge that connects US and Canada and Oakes Garden Theatre & Queen Victoria Park in Canada.

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