Tag Archives: Travel

December 20, 1803: The Day United States Bought Louisiana for a Song – for Less than 3 Cents per Acre.


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Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj 

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“Let the Land rejoice, for you have bought Louisiana for a Song.” – Gen. Horatio Gates to President Thomas Jefferson, July 18, 1803

Never did the united states grab so much for so little.” – Henry Adams

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French Tricolor Flag - 1803
French Tricolor Flag – 1803

US Flag of 15 stars - 1803
US Flag of 15 stars – 1803

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Vente de la Louisiane” or “Sale of Louisiana” also known as “The Louisiana Purchase” considered the greatest real estate deal in history took place on December 20, 1803.

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The Louisiana Purchase of 1803
The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 (marked in green).

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Louisiana has a long rich history. Native Americans settled there first, and then it became the mainspring of an empire, and finally it got incorporated into the United States. Various cultures: Native American, French, Spanish, the Caribbean, African, and the English influenced Louisiana, evolving it into a region of exuberant and intrinsic blend of ethnicity.

In 1528, a Spanish expedition led by Panfilo de Narváez  were the first European to visit Louisiana. They located the mouth of the Mississippi River.

When the first Europeans set foot in this region many native groups inhabited there such as: Acolapissa, Adai, Appalousa, Atakapa, Avoyel, Bayougoula, Caddo, Chawasha, Chitimacha, Choctaw, Houma, Koroa, Nakasa, Natchitoches, Natchez, Okelousa, Ouachita, Quinipissa-Mougoulacha, Taensa, Tangipahoa, Tunica, Washa, Yagenechito, Yatasi and so on.

In 1542, another Spanish expedition led by Hernando de Soto ventured into the north and west of the region where they encountered the Caddo and Tunica groups. In 1543, they followed the Mississippi River down to the Gulf of Mexico. As they drifted along the river, hostile tribes besieged them. The natives followed their boats in large canoes. Continually shooting arrows they killed 11 Spaniards and wounded many more.

Gradually, Europeans lost interest in Louisiana until the late 17th century, when sovereign, religious and commercial aims surfaced once again. The French established their first settlements, on the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast, and claimed a vast region of North America. France then set out to establish a commercial empire and a nation under the French rule that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada.

In 1682, the French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, or Robert Cavelier de La Salle (November 22, 1643 – March 19, 1687)named the region Louisiana to honor France’s King Louis XIV. In 1699, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, a French military officer from Canada established the first permanent settlement, Fort Maurepas, at what is now Ocean Springs, Mississippi, near Biloxi.

The French explored the Mississippi River valley and established scattered settlements in the region. By the middle of the 18th century, France controlled more of the modern United States than any other European power. The French colony of Louisiana originally claimed all the land on both sides of the Mississippi River and north to French territory in Canada.

The following present-day states were part of the then vast tract of Louisiana: Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

In 1719, two ships, the Duc du Maine and the Aurore, arrived in New Orléans, carrying the first African slaves to Louisiana. From 1718 to 1750, transportation of thousands of Africans to Louisiana from the Senegambian coast, the west African region of the interior of modern Benin, and from the coast of modern Angola took place. The  influx of slaves from Africa strongly shaped the Louisiana Creole culture.

Having suffered damaging defeats in the Seven Years’ War against the British, the French wanted to prevent losing its Louisiana territory and the city of New Orléans to them. So in 1762, King Louis XV of France ceded the French American territory west of the Mississippi River to his cousin, King Carlos II of Spain by the Treaty of Paris of 1763. However, in 1763, France transferred nearly all of its remaining North American holdings to Great Britain.

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Napoleon in his study
Napoléon Bonaparte

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At the end of the 18th century, Napoleon Bonaparte after grabbing the French throne looked westward to enlarge his empire. In 1800, the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso between Spain and France gave the son-in-law of King of Spain power over Tuscany in trade for returning the Louisiana Territory to French control.

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Thomas Jefferson Painted by Rembrandt Peale, 1800
Thomas Jefferson (Painted by Rembrandt Peale, 1800).

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After about two years, the United States government discovered the re-transfer of Louisiana from Spain to France. At this time, the Mississippi River had become the chief trading route for goods shipped between the states it bordered. President Thomas Jefferson sought to acquire New Orléans because of its vital geographic position at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The acquisition would ensure its right to sail its vessels down the Mississippi River through Spanish territory, and unload goods at New Orléans for shipment to the Atlantic coast and Europe.

In 1801, President Jefferson sent Robert Livingston to France to negotiate the sale of New Orléans; but Napoleon refused to sell the city.

In early 1803, the French commander Vicomte de Rochambeau lost a fierce battle in Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti). This battle consumed much-needed resources and it also cut off the French connection to the ports on the southern coast of North America.

Napoleon realized that France did not have a strong enough navy to maintain control of its lands far away from home separated by the Atlantic ocean. Napoleon’s sole aim was to consolidate his resources to conquer England. To raise funds for the troops and materials to wage an effective war against England, he decided to sell the French territories in North America.

Again in early 1803, President Jefferson sent James Monroe to France to negotiate the sale. However, in April 1803, just days before Monroe arrived in Paris Napoleon offered to sell to the United States not only New Orléans but all of Louisiana.

The Louisiana territory encompassed all or part of the 15 present U.S. States and two Canadian provinces. The Marquis de Barbé-Marbois, Napoleon’s minister of the treasury negotiated the terms of the Louisiana Purchase with Livingston and Monroe.

The land purchased contained all of present-day Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska; parts of Minnesota that were west of the Mississippi River; most of North Dakota; most of South Dakota; northeastern New Mexico; northern Texas; the portions of Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado east of the Continental Divide; Louisiana west of the Mississippi River, including the city of New Orléans; and small portions of land that would eventually become part of the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

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Louisiana Purchase Historical Document
Louisiana Purchase Historical Document

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The United States of America purchased Louisiana for 50 million francs ($11,250,000) plus cancellation of the claims of its own citizens against France worth 18 million francs ($3,750,000), for a total sum of 15 million dollars – less than 3 cents per acre.

Upon concluding the purchase Robert Livingston, U.S. Minister to France, said of the transfer:

We have lived long, but this is the noblest work of our whole lives … From this day the United States will take their place among the powers of the first rank … The instruments which we have just signed will cause no tears to be shed; they prepare ages of happiness for innumerable generations of human creatures.

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Sri Lanka, the Island Paradise with a Colourful Heritage


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Sri Lanka map

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The “Island In The Sun” is the title song of the 1957 movie bearing the same name. It was written by Irving Burgie and sung by Harry Belafonte.

Oh island in the sun
Willed to me by my father’s hand
All my days I will sing in praise
Of your forest waters, your shining sand

As morning breaks, the Heaven on high
I lift my heavy load to the sky
Sun comes down with a burning glow
Mingles my sweat with the earth below

Oh island in the sun
Willed to me by my father’s hand
All my days I will sing in praise
Of your forest waters, your shining sand

I see woman on bended knee
Cutting cane for her family
I see man at the waterside
Casting nets at the surging tide

Though this song addresses the island of Jamaica, it is equally applicable to Sri Lanka the pearl of the Indian Ocean and nature’s treasure chest.

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Sri Lanka, also known as India's Teardrop and the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, is an extension of peninsular India that got separated from the mainland.
Sri Lanka, also known as India’s Teardrop and the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, is an extension of peninsular India that got separated from the mainland.

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The island paradise, formerly known as Ceylon until 1972,  is in the northern Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of the Indian subcontinent in South Asia. Sri Lanka has maritime borders with India to the northwest and the Maldives to the southwest.  It is one of the most delightful destinations in the world to visit.

Sri Lanka is the home to one of the oldest civilizations in the world. Though the island’s documented history spans over 2,550 years, evidence shows that it had prehistoric human settlements dating back to at least 125,000 years. Its history boasts of planned cities, magnificent palaces, temples, and monasteries, expansive reservoirs, green forests and gardens, monuments and works of art.

Sri Lanka due to its geographic location and endowed with natural harbours has been the cynosure of strategic importance from the time of the ancient Silk Road through to World War II.

Today, Sri Lanka is a republic and a unitary state governed by a presidential system. The capital, Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte, is a suburb of Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city.

Sri Lanka is home to many races speaking diverse languages, and following different religious faiths. It is the land of the Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils, Indian Tamils, Moors, Burghers, Malays, Kaffirs and the aboriginal Veddas.

The island has a rich Buddhist heritage spanning from the time of the Indian Emperor Ashoka Maurya (304–232 BC) of the Maurya Dynasty who ruled almost all the Indian subcontinent from circa 269 to 232 BCE. The first known Buddhist writings of Sri Lanka, the Pāli Canon dates back to the Fourth Buddhist Council in 29 BCE.

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Stilts or Pole fishermen, Sri Lanka (Source: agmisgpn.org))
Stilts or Pole fishermen, Sri Lanka (Source: agmisgpn.org))

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The island is one of the most beautiful and delightful destinations in the world for tourists to visit. Its historical planned cities, magnificent palaces, temples, dagobas, monasteries, monuments, sculptures and other works of art, expansive artificial reservoirs, green gardens, etc., illustrate the characteristic rich history of its ancient rulers.

Here is a video titled “Heritage of Sri Lanka” produced by The Ministry of National Heritage Sri Lanka, which I enjoyed viewing and I hope you too will be delighted to view it as well.

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The Hadith of Gabriel


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Myself . 

By T.V. Antony Raj

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In Arabic, the word ḥadīth (Arabic: حديث‎) means a “report, account, narrative”. To Muslims, the word Hadīth connotes “report on the words and actions of Prophet Muhammad”.

The Hadith of Gabriel (ḥadīth Jibrīl) in Sunnī Islām, is the single most important Hadīth. It is found in both the Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī and the Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim.

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

The Arabic word Ṣawm (Arabic: صوم‎; plural: صيام ṣiyām), regulated by Islamic jurisprudence literally means fasting – to abstain from eating and drinking during daylight hours.

The Muslims of Iran, Central Asia, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh use the words roza/rozha/roja/oruç, derived from Persian.

The Muslim communities in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Southern Thailand and Southern Philippines call it puasa, the word derived from Sanskrit, upauasa.

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]

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)

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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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A European in the Orient: Part 1 – The Adventures of Marco Polo


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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A 13th-century travelogue titled Livre des Merveilles du Monde (Book of the Marvels of the World) or Devisement du Monde (Description of the World) introduced Europeans to the geography of the Orient and the ethnic customs of its indigenous peoples.

The book described the travels of the Italian merchant traveler Marco Polo between 1276 and 1291, through Asia: Persia, China, Indonesia, Burma, Tibet, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and India, and his experiences at the court of Kublai Khan, the fifth Khagan (Great Khan) of the Mongol Empire. The book described Cathay (present-day China) in great detail and its abundance of riches. Though Marco Polo was not the first European to have visited the Far East, he still became famous after the publication of the book.

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Marco Polo (Credit: Leemage/UIG via Getty Images)
Marco Polo (Credit: Leemage/UIG via Getty Images)

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Marco Polo was born in Venice on September 15, 1254 to a wealthy Venetian merchant named Niccolò Polo. Marco’s father and his uncle Maffeo Polo being merchants had established trading posts in Constantinople, Sudak in Crimea, and in a western part of the Mongol Empire in Asia.

In 1264, the Polo brothers joined up with a diplomatic mission sent by  Hulagu, the ruler of Il-khanate to his brother Kublai Khan, both grandsons of Gengis Khan. They reached the seat of Kublai Khan, the leader of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, in Dadu (present day Beijing, China) in 1266.

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Kublai Khan, Emperor of China. The 5th Khagan of the Mongol Empire. The First Emperor of the Yuan dynasty.
Kublai Khan, Emperor of China. The 5th Khagan of the Mongol Empire. The First Emperor of the Yuan dynasty.

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Kublai Khan, the Mongol Emperor, received the Polos well and expressed his interest in Christianity. He then sent them back to Italy with a Mongol named Koeketei as an ambassador to Pope Clement IV. They carried a letter from the emperor requesting the Pope to send 100 educated people to teach Christianity and western customs to his people. He also requested oil from the lamp of the Holy Sepulcher. The emperor also gave them  the paiza, a golden tablet a foot long and 3 inches (7.6 cm) wide, to signify certain privileges and authority, allowing them to acquire lodging, horses and food throughout  his dominion.

Koeketei left in the middle of the journey, leaving the Polos to travel alone to Ayas in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. From that port city, the Polos sailed to Saint Jean d’Acre, capital of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Pope Clement IV died on November 29, 1268. The long sede vacante between the death of Pope Clement IV, and the election of a new pope delayed the Polos from fulfilling Kublai Khan’s request.

In 1269 or 1270, Teobaldo Visconti, then papal legate for the realm of Egypt suggested that the brothers return to Venice and wait for the nomination of the new Pope.

Niccolò Polo once again saw his son Marco, now a teenager, who had been living with his aunt and another uncle in Venice since the death of his mother at a young age.

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Niccolò Polo and Matteo Polo remitting a letter from Kublai Khan to Pope Gregory X in 1271.
Niccolò Polo and Matteo Polo remitting a letter from Kublai Khan to Pope Gregory X in 1271.

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In 1271, Theobald Visconti was elected as Pope Gregory X. He received the letter from Kublai Khan brought by the Polo brothers.

The Polo brothers left Venice on their second voyage to the Orient along with a 17-year-old Marco. Unable to recruit the 100 people that Kublai Khan had requested to teach his people, the Polos left with only two Dominican friars:  Niccolò de Vicence and Guillaume de Tripoli. They set sail to Acre.

At Acre they joined a caravan of merchants travelling to the Persian port of Hormuz. Soon, bandits attacked their caravan using the cover of a sandstorm to ambush them. The marauding bandits killed many members of the caravan and enslaved the rest, but the Polos managed to escape to a nearby town.

Marco reveled in the adventure, but the two monks after getting a taste of the hard journey ahead of them, soon turned back for home.

When they reached Hormuz they wanted to sail straight to China, but the ships in Hormuz were not seaworthy, so they continued overland through the Silk Road.

The journey was challenging and at times they had to traverse harsh terrain. In what is now Afghanistan, Marco fell ill. He had to retreat to the mountains to recuperate from the illness.

Crossing the Gobi desert, proved long and, at times, arduous. Marco told later: “This desert is reported to be so long that it would take a year to go from end to end. And at the narrowest point it takes a month to cross it. It consists entirely of mountains and sands and valleys. There is nothing at all to eat.

In 1274, three and a half years after leaving Venice, when Marco was about 21 years old, the Polos reached Kanbaliq or Dadu, the capital of the Yuan dynasty (present day Beijing). Kublai Khan who welcomed them into his summer palace known as Xanadu, a grand marble architectural wonder. The Polos presented the sacred oil from Jerusalem and the papal letters to the Mongol Emperor.

The Polos spent the next 17 years in China under the patronage of Kublai Khan. Niccolo and Maffeo were granted important positions in Kublai Khan’s Court. The Mongol Emperor took a liking to Marco, an engaging storyteller. Marco’s immersed himself into the Chinese culture and mastered four languages. He served as an official in the salt administration and made trips through the provinces of Yunnan and Fukien. At one stage, he was the tax inspector in the city of Yanzhou.

Marco Polo marveled at the use of paper money in the Mongol empire, an idea that had not reached Europe at that time.

Kublai Khan employed Marco Polo as a special envoy.  He sent Marco to Burma, India, Tibet and other far-flung areas hitherto never explored by Europeans. Marco was promoted again and again for his work. He served as governor of a Chinese city. Later, Kublai Khan appointed him as an official of the Privy Council.

The Polos asked permission on many occasions to return to Europe, but Kublai Khan liked them so much that he would not agree to their departure.

In 1291, Kublai Khan entrusted the Polos with their last duty. It was to escort the Mongol princess Koekecin to her betrothed, the Il-khan Arghun of the breakaway state of the Mongol Empire in Persia, ruled by the Mongol House of Hulagu.

The Polos departed from the southern port city of Quanzhou with a caravan of several hundred passengers and sailors. They sailed to Sumatra, Ceylon and India. They visited Mylapore, Madurai and Alleppey in India. Marco Polo nicknamed Alleppey as the “Venice of the East.”

The journey was harrowing due to storms and disease. Many perished. By the time they reached Il-khanate in Persia in 1293 or 1294, only 18 people, including the princess and the Polos, were still alive.  They came to know that Il-khan Arghun to whom the princess was betrothed had died. They left the Mongol princess Koekecin with the new Il-khan Gaykhatu. The Polos then moved to Trebizond . From there they sailed to Constantinople and then reached Venice in 1295. They had travelled almost 15,000 miles (24,000 km).  The Polos returned to Venice with thier fortune converted in gemstones. In Venice, the Polos struggled to converse in their native tongue. Above all, they were unfamiliar to their family.

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Marco Polo's Route (Source: httpdepts.washington.edu)
Marco Polo’s Route (Source: httpdepts.washington.edu)

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Next → Part 2 – The Book “The Travels of Marco Polo”

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A Nimble Fingered Artist


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Myself  

By T.V. Antony Raj

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Panoramic view of Málaga from Gibralfaro (Photo: Kiban)
Panoramic view of Málaga from Gibralfaro (Photo: Kiban)

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The City of Málaga is the capital of the Province of Málaga, in the Autonomous Community of Andalusia, Spain. The cynosure of the city is the Santa Iglesia Catedral Basílica de la Encarnación, the Cathedral of Málaga. It is  a Renaissance Catholic church.

Nimble fingered artist

Outside the Cathedral, one can find a nimble-fingered street artist.  He paints three pictures in three minutes. He sells his masterpieces for mere 10 Euros.

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Turntable for Buses in a Village in Spain


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Myself  .

By T.V. Antony Raj

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General view of Elantxobe town in Biscay, Basque Country. (Source: argazki.irekia.euskadi.net)
General view of Elantxobe town in Biscay, Basque Country. (Source: argazki.irekia.euskadi.net)

In many villages and small towns around the world, the streets are not wide enough to reverse a bus for the return journey. So, in most cases the respective municipal authorities would not allow any bus to ply into these places.

Elantxobe is a beautiful village located on a steep cliff face on the coast in the province of Biscay in the autonomous community of Euskal Herria (Basque Country), northern Spain.

Despite the narrow streets, its citizens wanted a bus to come to their village.

BizkaiBus is the name of the bus services serving the province of Biscay, Spain. The BizkaiBus and the Elantxobe municipal authorities borrowing the idea from the railway yards came up with the novel turntable manoeuvre. They installed it the village plaza.

After positioning the bus in the centre of the turntable, the driver uses a remote control device to start the turning process.

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Audi’s Amazing Self-parking Car


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Myself  .By T.V. Antony Raj

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Audi's self parking A7 being tested in Las Vegas (Source: dailymail.co.uk)
Audi’s self parking A7 being tested in Las Vegas (Source: dailymail.co.uk)

In most countries, the test for parking is one of the hardest task before getting a license to drive a car. For most of us parking a car might not be the easiest of all manoeuvres. Now, electronic gadgets take over much of the guess work.

At the beginning of last year, Audi, the German car maker whose slogan ‘Leap ahead through technology’ (German: ‘Vorsprung duech Technik‘) demonstrated a car that can park itself without the need for a driver. Audi calls it “Piloted Parking.”

This reminds us of cars from Mr. Q’s lab in James Bond films and Knight Rider’s KITT.

Audi demonstrated its self-parking car in Las Vegas. After getting out of the vehicle, at the click of a button on a smartphone, the car drives off by itself to a nearby parking garage. The car was summoned by pressing another button on the smartphone.

Here is a video clip of the Las Vegas test. The car controlled via a special app moves only in special ‘pedestrian free zones’. But Audi is developing anti-collision technology to be used in a normal car park.

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Amazing, isn’t it?

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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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