Saturday, 17 August 2013

Sensuous Santorini

Our first destination in Greece is Santorini, a ravingly beautiful volcanic archipelago emerged out of the turquoise Mediterranean sea. Nothing can quite capture the unsurpassed beauty and mesmerizing magic of Satorini, be it the brush of an artist, the lens of a photographer or the pen of a poet. The sensational sunsets of Santorini are peerless and magnificent in the world, drawing a large number of tourists majoring lovebirds and twains. But the archipelago is not all about sunset and romance. These tiny Greek islands in the Aegean sea is very rich in history and steep in myth. In fact, its history swings between the spheres of mythos and reality. Over 2,368 years ago, in the year of 355 BC Plato wrote an account of an ancient City long forgotten; a thriving, wealthy, peaceful civilization of divine beings known as Atlantis. The entire island was said to have disappeared into the Atlantic ocean after a day & night of fierce earthquakes & floods. Atlantis - the tale of a prosperous land and utopian civilization that disappeared without trace by the anger of gods - has been one of the oldest myths and dreams of mankind alongside El Dorado. Santorini is believed to be the the lost land of Atlantis, utterly devastated in the catastrophic volcanic eruption of Bronze Age (around 1636 BC). The geologically confirmed eruption is believed to be the strongest eruption ever on the earth in last 20,000 years and legion times stronger than the cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that petrified two thriving cities Pompeii and Herculaneum, near the bay of Naples in the southern Italy in just 24 hours in the year of 79 AD. Rightly called as the Pompeii of Agean, the volcanic archipelago of Santorini lends its womb to an ancient well-preserved city named Akrotiri found under the blanket of volcanic ash and pumice. Speculations are rife that the discovered city may be a part of the lost land of Atlantis.
A depiction of the lost city of Atlantis (note the volcanic eruption in the background)

I will now take some time to deck you up with all those infos, facts and lore that stirred me up and got me magnetized towards Santorini. This will hopefully make you feel and look Santorini with the same enthusiasm and passion as I did in the course of my visit. So even before I commence penning down my journey to the unique archipelago of the Aegean, I will build up your excitement as I did for myself before my visit. Then hopefully you will look Santorini through my eyes! So lets get pepped up and proceed to learn about Santorini.

Greek Islands. With 6,000 greek islands and islets covering much of the eastern Mediterranean, it was a Herculean task to zero down on Santorini. Almost each island has its own share of mythological connection and historical importance. Crete is the biggest island of Greece and it lends to the ancient greek history the glory of the Minoan civilization, a prosperous Bronze Age civilization flourished on Crete. A few thousand years younger than Indus valley civilization (3300–1300 BCE) in Indian subcontinent and Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia, Iraq, Minoan civilization in Crete is the first Bronze Age civilization in Europe flourished around 2700 BC and is rightly honored as the cradle of western civilization. Since my next destination is Crete anyway and it deserves a separate treat altogether, I will write on Crete in my next post. For this post, I wish to cover the other greek islands (excluding Crete) with the core focus on Satorini. There are numerous things to know about Santorini alone: its intrigue Atlantis Connection, the cataclysmic volcanic eruption of 16th century BC and its devastating aftermaths, the unique history of the formation of the archipelago, the genesis of its beautiful name, the neolithic and bronze age settlements on the archipelago, the secret of its sensational sunsets and lastly my travelogue and experiences. I will elaborate on each one of the above. Nevertheless, it will be a great miss not knowing a bit on the rest of the islands. Once I am done with Santorini, I promise to take you on a tour of the greek islands. Only about 230 Greek islands of more than 6000 islands are inhabited and, of these, just 80 or so have more than 100 permanent inhabitants. Almost each island prominently features in Greek mythology and history with fascinating stories linked with them. The islands are in fact the play grounds of greek myths and history; they are commemorated as either the birth place or the place of heroic feats or the death bed for myriad greek heroes, artists and poets. The ancient greek civilizations and tribes had abundantly flourished on these islands. Some islands even take us back to Neolithic age. The civilizations/tribes have left behind numerous remains of forgotten cities, palaces, temples, amphitheaters and more. One would be dumbfounded to realize the stature attained in every sphere of their life by the bronze age civilizations and their successors based on these islands. Their marvelous architectural edifices such as gigantic sky-kissing temples, huge amphitheaters for entertainment and advancements in astrology, art, science at that time are proofs of their glorious past. As I don't want to deprive you of a gold mine, a short post will follow this blog with a treat on the greek islands and their captivating tales. For now let us zoom on Santorini.

Geographic location of Santorini. Spreading in two main seas, the Aegean and the Ionian Sea, the Greek islands are traditionally grouped into six major clusters; Ionian, Saronic, Cyclades, North Aegean, Sporades and Dodecanese.

Greek Islands and the major six clusers
Santorini forms a circular group of islands belonging to the Cyclades island chain in the southern Aegean Sea, located midway between mainland Greece to the west, Turkey to the east, and the island of Crete to the south. The Cyclades form part of the Aegean island arc system, generated by northward subduction of the African plate along the arcuate Hellenic trench system located south of Crete. The archipelago consists of a group of islands forming a huge ring: Thira/Thera (the largest island in the group), Thirasia (little Thera), Aspronisi, Palia Kameni (Hot Springs) and Nea Kameni (Volcano).
Santorini Archepelago; The big one in the middle is Palia (Old) Kameni (Burnt) and the small one is Nea (new) Kameni 
The formation of Santorini. The unusual land formation of the archipelago has a startling history of the tectonic activities followed by two millions years of continuous volcanic eruption. Geologic studies indicate that at least 12 eruptive phases have occurred over the last one million years. Up to about two million years ago, Santorini was a small non-volcanic island. Remains of this can still be seen at the highest point of Thera, Mount Profitis Ilias in the southeast of the present island, which is made from non-volcanic limestone. About two million years ago, volcanoes under the sea to the west of the island started producing magma, resulting in a number of small islands. Eventually (around 500,000 years ago) there were two giant 'shield volcanoes'. These are mountains in the shape of flat cones. These mountains united with the non-volcanic island to make one big island. Although neither of these mountains exist any longer, geologists have given them names. The northern mountain is called Mount Peristeria while the southern one is called Mount Thera.
Cliff shows layer of volcanic deposits
About 200,000 years ago, things started hotting up. Mount Thera started to produce vast amounts of magma and ash, eventually completely emptying the magma chamber under the mountain. When the erupting volcano emptied the magma chamber beneath the volcano, the edifice of the volcano collapsed into the voided reservoir that could not support the weight of the volcanic edifice above, thus forming a steep, bowl-shaped depression called a caldera (Spanish for kettle or cauldron). This process was repeated in a whole series of eruptions over the next 200,000 years, with both mountains producing magma, collapsing, regrowing and collapsing again, each time deepening the caldera and eventually leaving the island in the shape it is today. Most of the volcanic layers are visible in the multi-colored sequences of the impressive steep inner walls of the caldera, striking the visitor who reaches the island by ferry.

Santorini before and after ~1636BC Minoan eruption 
According to Geologists, Santorini's volcanic activity during the past 2-500,000 years has been dominated by very large explosive eruptions at intervals of few tens of thousands of years. The most recent of this type occurred at around 1636 BC and is known as the so-called Minoan eruption. The late Bronze Age eruption that the geologists believe was the single-most powerful explosive event ever witnessed on the earth, is one of the most studied, but still most mysterious eruptions of all time.
Present day satellite Image of Santorini
It devastated not only Santorini, but had a deep impact on the whole of the Eastern Mediterranean changing the political landscape of that time itself. Perhaps it even had serious world-wide effects and changed history. Still today, one can see its deposits, the characteristic, tens of meters thick layer of white pumice and ash that blankets most of the surface of the island group. The eruption changed the shape of the island itself dramatically: it is now believed that before the eruption, it had the shape of an almost complete ring that enclosed an earlier, shallower caldera. Then, large sections of island collapsed into the emptied magma chamber after the eruption, literally disappearing under the sea. The ring-island turned into what it looks like now, and the caldera was significantly widened and deepened (picture above). Today the caldera is covering approximately 32 square miles and the water's depth varies from 300 to 600 meters. By taking a good look at the three islands constituting the ring Thera, Therasia and Aspronisi we can easily distinguish a virtual borderline of what used to be there before the caldera was formed.
In what follows, I elaborate more on the Minoan eruption and its far reaching aftermaths.

The Minoan Eruption. The world map might look differently had the Greek volcano Santorini not erupted 3,500 years ago in what geologists believe was the single-most powerful explosive event ever witnessed. Studies of ash deposits on the ocean floor have revealed, that when the volcano blew, it did so with a force dwarfing anything humans had ever seen or have seen since. Also known as Santorini Eruption and Thera Eruption, the late Bronze Age event was a ultra Plinian eruption of epic proportions, with an estimated Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) of 6.9. Plinian (or Vesuvian) eruptions typify the well-known historic eruptions that produce powerful convecting plumes of ash ascending up to 45 kilometers into the stratosphere. (These explosive eruption types are named after Pliny the Younger, a Roman statesman who wrote a remarkably objective account of the eruption of Italy's Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD) (picture below).
Plinian Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD 
There are no first-person accounts of what happened on the fateful day in Santorini, but scientists can compare it to the detailed records available from the famous eruption of Krakatoa, Indonesia, in 1883. That fiery explosion killed upwards of 40,000 people in just a few hours, produced colossal tsunamis 40 feet tall, spewed volcanic ash across Asia, and caused a drop in global temperatures and created strangely colored sunsets for three years. The blast was heard 3,000 miles away. Thera's eruption was four or five times more powerful than Krakatoa, geologists believe, exploding with the energy of several hundred atomic bombs in a fraction of a second. Environmental effects were felt across the globe, as far away as China and perhaps even North America and Antarctica.
The aftermath effects of the eruption were far-reaching. Some of them move between the spheres of mythos and reality, while others are reality. The reality is that the eruption devastated the rich, highly developed economic center, that Santorini was at that time.
A fresco recovered from Akrotiri, Santorini
Since 1969, intense archaeological excavations have brought to light an important Cycladic/Minoan town now known as Akrotiri which had been buried beneath the volcanic ash for almost 4000 years. Although an absence of human remains and valuables like metal suggest that the Minoan residents of Santorini predicted the eruption and the island was evacuated carrying most of their goods with them, the findings from Akrotiri in Santorini are impressive: especially, they include well-preserved and magnificent wall paintings (image right), ceramics and other objects. Thanks to the work of numerous archaeologists, a new light was thrown on an important prehistoric period and culture.
The myths about Santorini eruption are more colorful. The spectacular discovery of the city in Santorini induced continuing speculations that relate the volcanic destruction of Santorini to the legend of the sunken Atlantis, a lost civilization mentioned in Plato's dialogues Timaeus and Critias, written about 360 B.C.
Atlantis in the eyes of a painter
It is also speculated that the powerful Minoan civilization based on the nearby island of Crete, declined suddenly soon after Thera blew its top. Tsunamis spawned by the eruption would have swamped its naval fleet and coastal villages, historians think. A drop in temperatures caused by the massive amounts of sulphur dioxide spouted into the atmosphere then led to several years of cold, wet summers in the region, ruining harvests. The lethal combination overran every mighty Minoan stronghold in less than 50 years. In just a short time, their peaceful, efficient bureaucracy made way for the warring city-state system of the mainland of ancient Greece, namely Mycenaeans, to dominate the Mediterranean. The Aegean would have turned out to be a fundamental building block for the history of Europe, and the Minoan decline changed its early foundation completely.
The last but even more exiting myth connected to this incident is with the Biblical story of Moses and the exodus from Egypt. The effects of Thera's eruption could have explained many of the plagues described in the Old Testament, including the days of darkness and polluting of the rivers In Egypt, according to some theories.

The historic eruptions of Santorini volcano (Palea and Nea Kameni): Although the ~1636 BC eruption of Santorini is recognized as one of the most explosive volcanic eruptions in historic times, the event is only a single eruption in a continuum of eruptive activity associated with subduction. The geologic record over the past one million years indicates that less explosive Strombolian eruptions have occurred at Santorini about once every 5000 years, and that Plinian-type events have occurred about once every 20,000 years. (Strombolian eruptions are named from the small volcano-island of Stromboli, located between Sicily and Italy. This volcano has been erupting almost constantly for hundreds of years. It erupts irregularly every twenty minutes or so to produce an episodic lightshow that gives rise to its nickname, the "Lighthouse of the Mediterranean".) Since the late Bronze Age eruption, the two Kameni islands, Nea and Palea Kameni, have formed in the center of the caldera by numerous eruptive events over the past 2000 years. Santorini thus appears to be particularly active compared to its geologic past. There have been several eruptions in the 19th and 20th centuries, with the most recent occurring in 1950.
The eruption in Nea Kameni in 1950
There is little evidence that Santorini is in a permanent state of slumber. The island group exhibits ongoing seismic activity, and both fumaroles and hydrothermal springs are common features on the islands. It seems clear that we can expect another eruption. The historic record would suggest that it will be a small-to-moderate eruption typical of those over the last 2000 years. Volcanoes like Santorini, however, are inherently unpredictable, and we cannot rule out the possibility of another catastrophic eruption reminiscent of ~1630 BC.

Santorini and its many names. Few islands in Greece are mentioned as often in ancient literature and myths as Santorini. And during the course of time even fewer have repeatedly changed not only shape but name. Through the ages, Santorini has been known as Strongili 'The Round One', which was the first name, then Kalliste 'the Fair One', Filitera or Filotera, Kalavria, Karisti, Tevsia, Thirameni and Rineia. When the Turks occupied Greece (1579-1821) during the time of the Ottoman Empire, they called the island 'Gozi', 'Dimertzik' (the latter means small mill, so it is likely that name came from the small windmills on the island). After the liberation of Greece in 1821, the name 'Thira' was established as the official name of the island. Let us look back and see how Santorini has been changing its name and why even it was named Santorini. The accounts of the famous Greek historian Herodotus talks about the previous names of Santorini and why it was named so.
Even before the name 'Santorini' existed, the island was called Strongili, meaning 'The Round One'. This name is believed to be the first name given to the islands. Long ago about 2,000,000 years ago, there was a single round shaped volcanic island, created by unification of a non-volcanic island and a couple of volcanic cones located south-west and north of the non-volcanic island. The unification was caused due to the volcanic matter spilling out during the eruptions. Eventually one island was formed. Herodotus tells us that the island’s first name came from that formation – 'Strongili' or 'The Round One', a name that dates back to at least 1500 BC. Next, Santorini was named Kallisti or Kallisto meaning 'The Fair One'. Mythology tells us  about a meeting between Triton and the Argonauts . Triton was half-man and half-fish. He was a god of the sea. The Argonauts were a group of Greek heroes. They were sailing across the sea in search of the golden fleece of a magical sheep. After they found the fleece, the Argonauts met with Triton. The sea god gave them a lump of earth. He asked the Argonauts to drop the earth in a specific place in the sea. They received a signal in the form of a clap of thunder and threw the soil into the sea. From this was formed the island of Kalliste, the most fair. But according to Herodotus, the Phoenicians were so enthralled by the beauty of Santorini that they settled there and gave it the name 'Kalliste' or 'The Fair One'. Next Santorini was named Thera. The name Thera comes from the commander Theras, son of Autesion of Sparta, who, as Herodotus tells us, had lead earlier colonists to Kalliste. Next Thera was named Sant' Irene or Santorini. In the 12th century Edis, the Arab geographer, named the largest island after a local church of Sant' Irene. Venetians secured the name Santorini, when they occupied this territory in 13th century at the time of the Crusades and the fall of Constantinople in 1204. It is a reference to Saint Irene - 'Santa Irini' (from the Greek word 'ei - ri - ni ' = peace). After the liberation of Greece in 1821, the name Thera is reinstalled, although the archipelago is still known to the world by Santorini.

Beginning of Our Journey. We started in the late evening of 18th May and reached Athens airport at the unmanly hour of 3 am in the next morning. An airport bus carried us to the main port of the capital city Peraeus. On reaching the port we found a welcoming vast sea ahead of us and a few people wondering around and waiting to catch the Santorini bound morning ferry. Ashish was utterly astonished as he stood in front of the huge ship getting ready to carry hundreds of enthusiastic tourists from all over the world to the iconic island of Thera. I was excited too, though not at the same level due to my prior sailing experience from Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark to Oslo, the capital city of Norway. We waited for a good two and half hours to catch the first ferry bound for our destination by Blue lines ferry company scheduled for 7:30am.  In the meanwhile, I tried to catch some sleep on one of the benches in the port. Unlike me, Ashish just can not take a nap in any given circumstances. Poor Guy! :( Anyway, after a quick power nap, we queued up holding all our excitement for boarding the huge ferry. Noticeably, the queueing pattern is much like in India. The crowd staggered in the front of the queue to catch the first opportunity to board. All those polished European behaviors have vanished into air and at once my Indian memories were alive. Finally, we boarded and as we made our way inside the ship we felt as if we have entered a five star hotel. So beautifully organized! There are five floors and every floor has open decks as well as closed interiors. As it was a day time journey and the whole point of traveling by ferry (there are flight connection to Santorini from Athens) was to leisurely sail through the turquoise Aegean and relish the beauty of the volcanic archipelago as we slowly approach it, we reserved tickets for the deck chairs. Looking past the extravaganza, we moved towards the open deck of the topmost floor. The open boundless sea was signaling us to its vastness. We picked our chairs in the deck with a good viewpoint and waited eagerly for the journey to commence, wishing it to be one of the memorable journeys together. It's only quarter to seven and we still have 45 mins to go before the ship starts its journey at 7:30am.
The morning sky was set on fire as the sun started peeping up from behind the hill overlooking the port city. The port city began to wake up after the night's slumber. As the time slips by, more passengers made their way to the ship. The last minute preparation was in full swing. And at last the journey began in due time as thousand eyes on board twinkled with joy and excitement and in few minutes the port disappeared in the horizon as we found ourselves in the middle of the boundless sea. People started enjoying in their own way. The kids were even more excited running all over the deck and trying every possible empty seat for a better direct view of the sea. The couples and twains, oldies and youths, whispered each other cozying up more. The entire ship was set in a festive mood. As the excitement subdued a bit, people started having their breakfast. With an incomplete night sleep, we did not feel like eating anything. With the morning mediterranean wind and warm sunshine, dizziness crippled in our eyes. It was a seven and half hours journey scheduled to reach our destination at around 3pm. With the tight schedule ahead, catching a good sleep was absolute necessary for us. We moved inside, managed to occupy a quite corner and soon slipped into deep slumber only to wake up at around 1pm. Got a couple of sandwiches for lunch and we are back to the joyful mood. As we explored the rest of the ship, we located numerous islets spread across the sea. There were a few small unmanned islands on the way too with just a blinding while colored chapel with deep blue top, a typical style followed for all the structures in cyclades. The ship made a couple of stops before approaching our destination. Finally, ohh! Behold, what's approaching! With the maze of blinding white washed homes and chapels, the island of Thera looked like a smashing snow-capped hill emerging out of the cobalt blue water.
Thera from the Ship
It really gave a feeling of awe as we imagined that we were riding into the heart of the volcano that changed the history of the world. As we got more closer, we could distinctly note the multiple layers of volcanic deposits. The ship touched the main port of Thera, Athinios and waiting outside was the lady who agreed to welcome us as her guest for next two nights. The scorching sun outside seemed merciless. As our host drove us to the top of of the island, the rocky barren land with hardly any touch of greenery more visibly disclosed their volcanic character. We were amazed to see distinct color of the rocks in different layers. Hailing from Thera, our host is happily married to a Cretan. For next two days our address at Thera: a big room in the second floor of a three storied building named `Sweet Home', located very close to Thera the capital village of Santorini (the eaxct location is Karterado; see the detailed map below). By now we realized, it is extremely hot with a soaring temperature of more than 30 degree centigrade. Being an Indian, I hate high temperature. Nevertheless, we dumped our luggage quickly and got ready for the first day's outing. The following detailed map of Santorini will help the readers to follow my movement in the island in the next two days of the visit. Please refer to the map as and when I mention the name of the places in the rest of my travelouges.
Detailed map of Santorini

Kamari Black Beach
Day one in Thera. The beaches in Santorini come in many different and beautiful colors. Depending on which geologic layers are exposed, there are Red Beaches with red colored sands, White Beaches with white colored sands, or Black Beaches with black colored sands. Our first destination of the day is a black beach called Kamari, a relatively quieter beach in the southern coast of Thera. The island has quite a good bus connection. We reached by bus and amazed to see the sand color. After spending some time at Kamari, we headed to Imerovigli, a cosmopolitan, picturesque village on the north coast. Renowned for the mystique and beauty of its sunsets, Imerovigli has appealed to thousands of sunset lovers around the world. What gives the small village an interesting edge is a rocky headland called Skaros rock that protrudes out to the azure blue Aegean Sea. Located at the frontage of Imerovigli village, impressive Skaros rock offers an imposing unobstructed 360 degree view of the entire caldera. Even more interesting is the remains of a fortress on top of Skaros rock, taking the same name. It is the first fortress that was built on Santorini among five others, by the Venetians, who rules Santorini for hundreds of years, in the 15th century in order to protect from the pirates who roamed the Aegean Sea. At the top of the rock hung a large bell, to warn inhabitants of imminent pirate raids. According to the legend, the castle was never ever conquered during its long 600 years of existence. With the fortress in the center, Skaros was the capital of Santorini until 18th century before the honor moved to the village of Thera located in the center of the island. Mainly because of the earthquakes its inhabitants gradually left and moved to the Thera/Fira village. During massive earthquakes in the 1950s (before the volcanic eruption of 1950 at Nea Kameni that I mentioned above) the castle was destroyed and today only some jagged ruins are visible at the top of Skaros.
Skaros then and now.
There is a well-defined trail that connects Skaros with the village of Imerovigli. The neighborhood around Skaros is full of restaurant, bars and hotels. Its stunning landscape and scenic beauty attract many couples from all over the world for a wedding ceremony or a honeymoon. We took a leisurely walk through the cave houses (dug into the volcanic rock), neo classical mansions, cobbled streets, and blued colored domed churches of Imerovigli. From the base of Skaros, we hiked upward daring more than 300 slippery steps ahead. On reaching the top, peering down the other side, we could clearly see a little chapel, carved into a flat spot at the outside edge of the promontory. It was Theoskepasti church, a magical white church standing all alone staring at the horizon and greets you from the top of the black rock. As we had a good look around on the top, our eyes were dragged to the magical sky greeting the divine phenomena of the day and the most highlighted event of Santorini. Yes, the sun is all set to set the sky ablaze. We quickly walked down in an anticipation of a mystique sundown with Skaros rock in the fore ground. Indeed, the Skaros rock added a mystique dimension to the sunset.
Skaros Sunset through my lens. Copyright@ArpitaPatra

With the sunset, the temperature came down and cool breeze soothed both our mind and body. Our first day ended thus with a sweet note, as we took the last bus to Thera and walked down to 'Sweet Home'.

Day two. On the second day, we started early in the morning to visit Akrotiri, the village that lends Santorini two exciting features; first, an ancient city unearthed recently after being undercover for about 4000 years under the blanket of frozen lava and second, the one and only red beach in the archipelago. Under the cover of lava and pumice, a remarkably well-preserved city with colorful frescoes depicting myriad scenes of everyday life (the most famous ones are- the boxing youths, the fisherman, young woman gathering saffrons, the woman with papyrus; follow this link to see the frescos), pottery, furniture, advanced drainage systems and three-story buildings have been unearthed at Akrotiri since its excavation from 1967. The excavated site is believed to be a Minoan Bronze Age settlement. The belief is supported by the Linear A tablets and artifacts, frescos unearthed from the site. Linear A is the primary script of Minoan civilization. A lot of Linear A tablets has been restored from the site of Knossos of Crete, the epicenter of Minoan Civilization. Furthermore, the frescos discovered at Akrotiri have very close similarities with those discovered in Knossos. To me, the ancient city of Akrotiri looked very similar to the city of Pompeii, perished by yet another eruption of epic proportion in the human history, the 79AD eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. We visited Pompeii and Mt Vesuvius last year. Needless to say, it was a memorable yet heart-writhing experience. We were horrified and deeply agonized to see human beings and cattle petrified in various pensive poses. A sense of anguish engulfed and numbed me with the slightest thought of the horrific deaths faced by the unfortunate inhabitants. Unimaginable indeed. Unlike Pompeii, no human remains have been found in Akrotiri so far leaving the speculation that the inhabitants were warned in advance about the impending calamity. Though it is doubted if at all they could survive from the nature's fury. The small by important city of Akrotiri not only earns Santorini the name 'Pompeii of the Aegean', it also connects it with the legend of Atlantis as I mentioned before. The first half of the day ended with our brief visit to the red beach of Akrotiri. The red beach was amazing. The red sand hugs the cobalt blue sea water to create a feast for the eyes (picture below).
Red Beach of Akrotiri
We bid goodbye to the red beach and headed for the most hyped and supposedly most picturesque village of Santorini, Oia or simply `Ia' (see the detailed map of Santorini above). Celebrated for its sensational sunset, Oia is indeed unique in many respects. Situated on the steep slope of the caldera, the houses of the village are built in to niches carved into the caldera slopes on the seaward side. The idyllic white washed blue domed churches and charming, traditional Cycladic cave houses carved into the rock face on top of the cliff ornate the cityscape of the village. The houses are painted in flawless white and the domes in deep blue. Why are the majority of buildings on the island painted white, and church domes - blue? There is a legend about that. When Turks occupied Thira (Barbarossa himself conquered the island in 1537!) it was forbidden to use colors of national flag of Greece (white and blue) and to celebrate Greek holidays. However, the rebellious people started painting their buildings in colors of their national flag: white and blue! There are 350 churches on the island - plenty of room for a patriotic painter. Why this is a legend? Because actually the "white and blue" is a modern style used in Cycladic architecture in early 80s of the twentieth century. The style, no doubt, lends the village an effective white-blue perspective and elegance. The white lime water is used to paint the houses so that the rainwater falling over it can be collected. Being a volcanic island, the island of Thera is in acute need of drinking water.
Oia Cityscape
The bus carried us from Akrotiri to Oia and left us under the merciless midday sun. Daring the scorching heat, we marched with the crowd through the cobbled busy streets of Oia. The passages are extremely narrow. One by one, we discovered all the locations that we have seen in the photographs in the Internet and postcards displayed in the kiosks spread in the touristy spots in the island. We walked past many road-side kiosks offering a range of ethnic goods, handicrafts, jewellery and souvenirs. After a bit of meandering around, we realized that we were well past the lunch time and taking some food was the most important necessity of the time. We briefly halted for a light lunch; souvlaki and bread. Souvlaki is the most famous and loved food in Greece. It's actually nothing but barbecued chicken. We were very much surprised to see the bread, as it looked and more surprisingly tasted exactly as Indian paratha. We relished every bit of the souvlaki and bread. Post-lunch, the unbearable heat kept us off from the sun for quite sometime. We decided to take refuge in a shady place until the sun goes slightly down and the ambience cool down a bit. We chose a quite street with caldera view and deep blue domed white-washed chapels in the foreground. But alas! Within few minutes, a huge gang arrived and the narrow street became crowded. A newlyweds hired a team of photographers to capture their unforgettable moments on the backdrop of Santorini. People say there is no better place to get married in the world than Santorini! It is not only a tourist Mecca for visitors from all over the world and a place of pilgrimage for creative people, like photographers, designers, and artists, but also a paradise for couples wishing to get married. Thousands of couples every year solemnize their marriage in Santorini. And here is one among them currently crowding the narrow streets. When the first couple was done with the photoshoot, here comes the second one. And then another one. Yes three in a row. Though my initial reaction to such a huge crowd was not pleasant, but I soon started enjoying the photo sessions and managed to take a few shots myself of one of the couples. Below I present a couple of photos.
Newlyweds of Thera through my lens. Copyright@ArpitaPatra
The bride of Santorini through my lens. copyright@ArpitaPatra
Once the sun leaned towards the west, we resumed our walk. The town of Oia is a place for meditation, relaxation, and most beautiful sunsets in the world. We headed towards the sunset spot of Oia. On the way, we found one of the most recognisable buildings in the town; an old windmill. Don't know how many postcards dedicated to the windmill (picture below)!!
The windmill of Thera. Copyright@ArpitaPatra
Then well ahead of the sunset time, we reached the sunset spot which is located at the extreme end of the island and is a unique location on the rim of a volcanic crater, the caldera. This location was picked for a stunning uninterrupted view of the entire caldera. As we went closer to the place, we are awestruck to see the huge gathering. Never in my life have I seen such a huge cheerful curious celebration of the most common, otherwise not so cared celestial event. As expected, the photographers were rowed up with their camera fixed over tripods booking every vantage point. By luck, we managed to grab a good-enough place for ourselves. The sheer enthusiasm and curiosity of the huge pool of viewers knew no bound as the sun touched the horizon. Everyone stared at the horizon until the celestial ball did not disappear. There were sunset cruises on the sea with loads of tourists as well. All in all, it was a experience of a life time. Indeed an unforgettable evening! To tease your aesthetic sense, here I post one of the snaps captured through my lens.
Sunset from Santorini. Copyright@ArpitaPatra
As the sun disappeared behind the horizon, the gathering dispersed in no time leaving a few enthusiastic night photographers. Cool bridge soothed the islanders after the days scorching heat. We stayed back for another hour enjoying the moon rise from the horizon. Leaving behind the sunset spot, we finally headed for the bus stop. The last bus carried us to Thera and we took a brisk walk back to `Sweet home'. It was an eventful and a tiring day. We took no time to slip into the world of slumber and dream. The next day we got up quite late and packed our luggage as we had to check out at 12pm. When we paid our rent and wanted to return the key, our greek hostess was kind to let us keep the key until we leave for the port for our ferry to Crete scheduled at 6pm. No only this, she promised to drop us in the port and gifted a beautiful souvenir. Never in my life have I met any hotel owner presenting a customer a hearty gift. Nor do I think you have ever met someone like this. Unbelievably hearty gesture! It never felt like we stayed at a hotel, rather it was more of a visit-to-a-keen type experience. After the pleasant experience, we caught a bus to yet another beach and decided to relax after the two days of rigorous travel. We spend around three hours in the rather unknown and calm beach with hardly a few tourists. After returning from the beach, we headed towards the port to catch our Crete bound ferry. That marks the end of our jouney to Santorini.
Yes, this is Santorini; the island that offers an intrigue human habitation history with a connection to the well-known Bronze Age Minoan Civilization of Crete, mythical connection to the legendary island of Atlantis, unusual startling history of continuous volcanic eruptions starting from time unknown and their impacts on the ever changing landforms of the island and the human civilizations based on the islands in the cyclades. A complete package of rich history, colorful mythos, raving beauty, sensational sunset, mysterious volcanos! The next post will be a brief treat on the other greek islands and the most interesting stories associated with them. This will be followed by a post on Crete, my next destination in Greece. Until then, lets take a break and see you soon. 

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Graceful Greece: The Introduction

Once I asked myself, what would I have been if not an academician? An archeologist! A quick and spontaneous answer came from within. I don't know when I started getting fascinated with the so called boring subject history. Of course not from my school days. Like most of us, passing the exam of history to me was mugging the answers to the probable questions and vomiting them on the answer sheets. The interest has grown much later and unknowingly. After the completion of my PhD, when I got a chance to step outside the familiar world I had been living in till then, I did not hesitate much to accept the offers. Now I am about to complete three years of my exile from India. Two of the three years, I had got to live alone, completely of my own. It was a blessing in disguise for me. I could never be what I am today without those two years. The window of time offered me a good expanse of time to know and explore my own self. I feel blessed and privileged to get a chance of exploring self so closely so early in life. I met two more loves of my life during this time: traveling and catching magic moments through my lens. I explored the world of photography to the extent I could in my limited time and enjoyed every bit of it. I traveled madly all alone in the hinterlands of unknown countries and soaked in every moment I spent with the nature. Some when in that period of two years, I had grown a knack for learning the past. All of a sudden, I started getting more and more curious on interesting historical accounts across the world and presumably the interest for visiting (pre-)historical sites has got multiplied thereafter.  My list of to-be-visited places has been growing since then. My visits to historical places have got a new meaning. I could get connected to the past history immediately and start somnambulating in the imaginary world that would have thrived once on the site. Often my friends say how much they hate to visit museums. On the contrary, I love museums! Say me a boring person, but who cares. India is a paradise for those desiring to travel in the past. But traveling was a luxury for my family when I was young. With a meager salary of a high school teacher and with absolutely zero support from pedigree, my parents could hardly afford to travel. But I had dreams to fly and due to God's grace I have now got wings to fly. So no more stopping! During my three years of stay in abroad, whenever and wherever I have got a chance to visit and explore new places, I jumped into with immense curiosity and caught in my camera every possible moment that clicked in my eyes. With the imminent call from my motherland and mother, I am in the phase of wrapping up and covering the left over places in Europe that I dreamt of visiting some day. Back in India, a gigantic treasure trove is waiting for me to be explored. I could not be an archeologist. But at least I can try to keep a tab on new findings and record my experiences of traveling marvelous places. So here I take the first leap towards  my dream project.

Last month I visited Greece and I am so impressed that I thought of sharing the experience with you. So through this post, I plan to take you all the way to Greece! Before we fly to south east Europe, I want to stimulate you with a very recent archeological discovery in southeast Asia. Lets have a quick peek to the thrilling archeological discovery that had sent me on edge recently. A group of archeologists have discovered an ancient city that have been lost for about 1200 years to the mist and undergrowth of Cambodia. Believed to be the lost city of Mahendraparvata (Mountain of the Great Indra) founded by King Jayavarman II, the first king of  Khmer Empire, back in 802 AD, the city is located on a mist-shrouded Cambodian mountain called Phnom Kulen deep in the hinterland of Cambodia.  The Khmer Empire claims an exalted place in the history of southeast Asia in connection with the glorious Angkor Wat Temple complex in Cambodia, celebrated as the largest Hindu Temple complex (dedicated to lord Vishnu) and the largest religious monument in the world.
The Angkor Wat temple by dusk
The illustrious Angkor Wat complex was envisioned and erected during the reign of Khmer king Suryavarman II  in the 12th century AD in Yoshodharapura (present day Angkor in Cambodia). Mahendraparvata located about 25 miles west of Angkor Wat, predates the famed structure for about 350 years. Along with Amarendrapura and Hariharalaya, Mahendraparvata is thought to be one of the three capitals during the reign of Jayavarman II. The archeologists found the reference of Mahendraparvata from the inscriptions on the Ak Yum temple in the Angkor area and from the ancient scriptures. This led to an extensive search using air-borne Lidar technology in the  Phnom Kulen area of Cambodian mountains and subsequent discovery of an unusual place. With immense hope, the Australian archeologist David Evans of University of Sydney and Jean-Baptiste Chevance, director of the Archaeology and Development Foundation in London led an arduous expedition through the thick Cambodian jungles of the mountainous Phnom Kulen region and finally stumbled upon ancient temples, canals, and Bhuddas carved into rock, now overgrown with moss. As many as 30 temples have been discovered already. Such an exciting finding, isn't it? I wish I was part of the expedition team. I hope you are amply geared up by now. Let me take this opportunity and pamper you with the exotic stories and experiences from my Greece visit.  So lets fly from southeast Asia to south east Europe.

First, let us glance through the basic facts about the country. Greece, officially The Hellenic Rebublic is an European country of 11 million people (1/9th of the population of West Bengal!!) with Athens as the capital and largest city. Greece shares its border with Albania, the Republic of Macedonia, and Bulgaria and Turkey. The Aegean Sea lies to the east of mainland Greece, the Ionian Sea to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. Greece features a vast number of islands (approximately 1,400, of which 227 are inhabited), including Crete, the Dodecanese, the Cyclades, and the Ionian Islands among others.
Greece and its territory
Eighty percent of Greece consists of mountains, of which Mount Olympus is the highest at 2,917 m (9,570 ft) (In Greek mythology, Olympus was regarded as the "home" of the Twelve Olympian Greek gods: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Hestia, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Hermes). It homes 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The modern Greek state, which encompasses much of the historical core of Greek civilization, was established in 1830, following the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire of Turkey.

For one who loves history so much, Greece is truly a paradise. Known to be the birth place of western civilization, Greece has made the world indebted to it in numerous ways.  I was truly excited when me and my better half Ashish decided to make a trip to Greece for ten days, from 19th to 29th May. And I must say that Greece did not disappoint us.  It was really an enriching and cherishing experience, in fact, more than what I expected. As always Ashish takes care of the basic formalities, ticket, hotel booking etc and I do background studies, decide on the places and mark all the sites of interest in each of the places that we plan to visit. The most interesting part of my job is to comb through Internet to find the interesting stories/(pre-)historical accounts/mythological accounts associated with the sites of interest and story-tell them to Ashish as and when we visit the sites. In sort, I act as a guide. Although, unlike them I do not have to repeat the stories again and again uncountably many times. Instead, I not only get to learn new things in each visit but also get to narrate them to an avid listener. That's the sheer joy of my job. Yes, I love my job to the core! In the course of my finding and visit, I have gathered some bits and pieces of Greek culture and mythology. Comparing with Indian counterparts, I have got a mixed feeling on them. I wish to mix all that I learnt so far about the country and my experience during the visit. Hope you will enjoy the account.

When it comes to deciding on the places to visit, a number of factors play key roles. I don't just choose the most famous and the most visited places, rather I go for the uncommon places featuring something truly unique and arresting. At times a different logic comes into play. As and when I get the references to unusual places from books/stories of one of my favorite authors,  I keep a tab and cherish a dream to visit the place some day. If and when there is an opportunity, those places pop up as my top priorities. It gives me an extraordinary feeling to walk on the path once taken by the characters or the authors of those stories. (It may not be always true that the author have visited the place. But I tend to believe that they did.) I can not even put my feeling into words. Let me give some instances. The day I learnt about Bhimbetka from the story 'Bhopal Rahasya', one of the wondrous stories in the Kakababu series authored by Sunil Gangopadhyay, I  was determined to visit the place before I die. And finally I did so during my last visit to India in January'13. While Kakababu series need no introduction to any Bengali irrespective of age and generation, the rustic Bhimbetka shrouded in the southern edge of Vidhyachal hills remains mostly unheard. You will be amazed to know that Bhimbetka rock shelters, located in the Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh exhibit the earliest traces of human existence in India. The shelters have been inhabited from more than 100,000 years ago. Curiously enough, the place derives its uncommon name due to Bhima, the third Pandava in the tale Mahabharata who is believed to take a refuge at the place sometime after the Pandavas clandestine escape from the Lakshagriha in Varnavrat (presently in Uttar Pradesh, India). The word Bhimbetka is said to be derived from Bhimbaithka, meaning "sitting place of Bhima". More on Bhimbetka is coming soon in a different blog. So stay tuned to my blog. Let me tell you another instance where I was more excited to visit a rather unknown place than more famous and popular tourist places in Switzerland. I lived in Switzerland for a year and had travelled across the depth and breadth of the country, even more than any average swiss does in his/her life time. When it comes to visiting Switzerland, the most hyped train ride to Jungfrau, the highest peak in the Alps, more famously known as the 'Top of Europe' figures out at the top of most of those visiting Switzerland. I agree that Jungfrau is incredibly beautiful and awe-inspiring. But believe me, what I derived from my visit to a rather less known waterfalls in the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland named Reichenbach Falls is absolutely out-of-the-world. What so special about the falls? Well, I hope you remember the shrewd detective Sherlock Holmes, the celebrated creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is a steep cliff dangerously close to the waterfalls, where Sir Arther decided to set the stage for his hero, Sherlock Holmes to fight and fall to the death in a fierce clash with his notorious rival Professor Moriarty, at the end of "The Final Problem", first published in 1893.
The fierce clash between Sherlock Holmes and his rival Professor Moriarty beside Reichenbach Falls, Switzerland
There is a white star mark on the stone wall of the cliff indicating the place of the fierce clash. Such was the magic of the waterfalls and the town of Meiringen that Sir Arthur chose them as the setting of the fateful event of his charismatic hero. I was thrilled to think that I was walking through the same path once taken by Sir Arthur and his fictitious character Sherlock Holmes. The moment I knew about the place, it glided up to the top of my favorite places in Switzerland. Similar logics have come to play while fixing the places in Greece as well. But even before I tell you the places I zeroed down for my Greece tour and why did I end up with them, let me take you on a quick tour of my encounters with Greece starting from my childhood and until my recent visit to Greece.        

Thanks to my father for being a never-ending source of knowledge to me, as a kid even before getting familiar with the alphabet, I knew Greece as the land of the Greek hero Alexander, the Great and King Midas of Midas touch; as the land that witnessed the genesis of the Olympics in 776BC on the soil of Olympia; as the land that gawked agape the Greek messenger Pheidippides running from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce 'nenikekamen' ("We wοn") after defeating Persians in the year of 490 BC; as the land that mourned over the cruel fate of people of Troy in the Trojan War. I relished hearing the eventful life of Alexander for times enumerable. The legend says that Alexander was the son of Zeus rather than King of Macedon Philip II. Alexander lived a short span of 32 years from 356BC to 323BC. His uncommonness came to the light even at his young age. When Alexander was just ten years old, a trader from Thessaly brought Philip a horse, which he offered to sell for a huge price. The horse refused to be mounted by anyone. Alexander however, detecting the horse's fear of its own shadow, asked to tame the horse, which he eventually managed. Philip, overjoyed at this display of courage and ambition, kissed his son tearfully, declaring: "My boy, you must find a kingdom big enough for your ambitions. Macedon is too small for you", and bought the horse for him. Alexander named it Bucephalas. When Alexander grew up, he set out for the conquest of the world. He conquered Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt, Babylon, Persia and finally invaded Indian subcontinent. Bucephalas carried Alexander as far as Pakistan. In 326 BC, Alexander finally faced the valiant king Porus and his mighty army near the east bank of the river Jhilum (presently in the Punjab province of Pakistan), a tributary of the river Indus. A fierce battle followed thereafter, named the Battle of the Hydaspes; Hydaspes is the greek name of river Jhilum (I wonder how come Jhilum becomes Hydaspes in Greek!). Although Alexander won the battle, the gallantry of King Porus, a descendent of Yadu clan, remains immortal in the lullaby of the Indian mothers thereafter. Wounded in his shoulder, standing at over 2.1 m (7 feet) tall, king Porus was asked by Alexander how he wished to be treated. "Treat me, O Alexander, like a king" Porus responded. Alexander would indeed treat him like a king, allowing him to retain his kingship.
The surrender of King Porus
After the battle, Alexander was forced to retreat as his army refused to march forward. Not only because they were exhausted but also because of the fear of the prospect of facing the large armies of the kings of Magadha (present day Bihar, India) and Bengal who were ready to defend the army of Alexander on the other side of river Ganges. Alexander named a city  Bucephala (presently in Pakistan)  after his pet horse Bucephalus that died soon after the battle. In 323BC, Alexander died in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon due to unknown and controversial reason. In India, Alexander is still immortal in the name of Sekender Shah.

During my early schooling, my knowledge on Greece expanded further and I learnt about the genius trio, Socrates (469BC/470BC-399BC), Plato (428BC/427BC-346BC/347BC) and Aristotle (384BC-322BC) who not only laid the foundation of the western philosophy, but also set it on a solid base. Do you know that Socrates was the teacher of Plato who mentored Aristotle who in turn tutored Alexander, The Great? What a combination! Socrates is accredited as the founder of western philosophy, Plato taught the world the art of Platonic love, Aristotle gave the world the fifth element of the five elements Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Aether and Alexander showed the world that a mortal can dare to seek the end of the world. Herodotous (484BC-425BC), the "Father of History", who was the first historian in the west known to collect his materials systematically and arrange them in a well-constructed narrative is another son of Greece. You are thinking that I am missing another name in the list. Yes, you are right. How can I forget to mention the blind poet Homer, the author of the Greek epics Iliad and Odyssey? Believed to be born as early as 8th century BC, Homer defined the beginning of the western literature. The combined size of Iliad and Odyssey is 1/10 of the size of Mahabharata that claimed the honor of the longest epic in the world literature with 100,000 slokas.

By the time I entered my high school at the age of 10, I already turned into a story-book warm. A whole lot of mythological and historical characters and esoteric places in Greece were exposed to me through the books of legendary Bengali poets and writers Satyajit Ray, Sukumar Ray (father of Satyajit Ray), Dijendralal Ray. Sukumar Ray, himself one of the most popular children's story writers, the son of yet another prominent children's story writer Upendrakishore Ray and the father of legendary filmmaker,writer Satyajit Ray, introduced me to the mythological hero Hercules known for his enormous strength (thus the term Herculean task/effort) and for his twelve electrifying adventures known as twelve labours listed below: (1) Slay the Nemean Lion. (2) Slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra. (3) Capture the Golden Hind of Artemis. (4) Capture the Erymanthian Boar. (5) Clean the Augean stables in a single day. (6) Slay the Stymphalian Birds. (7) Capture the Cretan Bull. (8) Steal the Mares of Diomedes. (9) Obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. (10) Obtain the cattle of the monster Geryon. (11) Steal the apples of the Hesperides. (12) Capture and bring back Cerberus. Among the twelve adventures, the one with nine-headed Hydra of Lerna had stricken me most.
The nine-headed Hydra of Lerna and Hercules
Nevertheless, each of the adventures is blood-tingling and rip-roaring. If you have not gone though Hercules by Sukumar Ray and if you have not reached in a state of mind where you have begun to think that such stories are meant for the children, my suggestion is to pick the book up and give it a try. By the way, does the above picture of Hercules strike any chord? Do you remember seeing something similar before? I am sure you did. Kaliya daman (The killing of serpant Kaliya) by Baby Krishna stated both in Mahabharata and Bhagavata Purana! In fact, Megasthenes (350 – 290 BC) a Greek ethnographer and an ambassador of Seleucus I to the court of Chandragupta Maurya made reference to Herakles in his famous work Indica. Many scholars have suggested that the deity identified as Herakles was Krishna. Megasthenes described an Indian tribe called Sourasenoi, who especially worshipped Herakles in their land, and this land had two cities, Methora and Kleisobora, and a navigable river, the Jobares. As was common in the ancient period, the Greeks sometimes described foreign gods in terms of their own divinities, and there is a little doubt that the Sourasenoi refers to the Shurasenas, a branch of the Yadu dynasty to which Krishna belonged; Herakles to Krishna, or Hari-Krishna: Methora to Mathura, where Krishna was born; Kleisobora to Krishnapura, meaning "the city of Krishna"; and the Jobares to the Yamuna, the famous river. It has been mentioned in a different source that when Alexander the Great confronted Porus, Porus's soldiers were carrying an image of Herakles in their vanguard. No doubt, it is pointing to the image of Lord Krishna.

 My next encounter was with Pegasus, the white colored winged divine stallion in the story 'Onko Sir, Golapi Babu arr Tipu' (Maths teacher, Golapi Babu and Tipu) by Satyajit Ray. Pegasus has an intriguing background. When his mother Medusa was decapitated by Perseus and the blood dripped down on the sea foam, Pegasus was born. Thus he was sired by Poseidon, the God of sea. Medusa, the mother of Pegasus, is the most dreaded monster in the greek mythology described as having the face of a hideous human female with living venomous snakes in place of hair. Gazing directly upon her would turn onlookers to stone. Ray's story brings an extra-terestial being on the earth who is cursed and ousted from its land as it has committed a crime. It can only return after eliminating the cause of the sadness of a small boy named Tipu in the remote village of West Bengal.  Tipu soon becomes very sad when his Maths teacher complains  and convinces his father to keep Tipu away from fairy tales which are Tipu's most favorite pastimes.  The extra-terestial being Golapibabu, as named by Tipu, hatches a trap for the Maths teacher who loves to ride horses. During one such ride in a moonlit evening, the horse turns to a Pegasus by the magic of Golapibabu and more magic follows on the next morning. The math teacher himself asks Tipu's father to return back the confiscated books to Tipu.  
The Pegasus
The story 'Morurahasya' in the Professor Shonku series of Satyajit Ray carried me to the port city of Heraklion of Crete, the largest island of Greece. Crete was once the center of the Minoan civilization (2700–1420 BC), which is currently regarded as the earliest recorded civilization in Europe. The Minoans left behind their intrigued script Linear A which remains undeciphered until today.
Linear A: The script used my Minoan Civilization, the oldest civilization in Europe 
Even today, the hair-raising story of the multi-talented wizard Professor Dimitrious keeps me in awe. The professor deciphers a Linear A tablet unearthed from an ancient antiquated temple of Crete and finds a formula for a divine medicine that transforms the consumer to a colossus (a monstrous being). To verify the effect of the medicine, Professor Dimitrious leaves his home nestled in the foot of Psilority hill, the  highest hill of Crete,  for Sahara dessert. Professor Shonku follows him only to discover a monster buried under the sand dunes of Sahara. What an exquisite story! A more detailed treatment on Crete and Minoan civilization will appear later.

A fascinating fusion of Indo-Greek history can be witnessed in the historical play, Chandragupta, penned by Dwijendralal Ray. I remember the story engrossed my adolescences for quite some time. The composer of 'Dhana Dhanya Pushpa Bhara' and 'Banga Amar Janani Amar' surely touched the chord as the Bengalis in their teens have been adorably flipping over the pages of the play for generations. The story outline is worth a brief description here. Chandragupta, the Prince of Magadha, after being overthrown and exiled by his half-brother Nanda, joined Sekendar Shah’s (Alexander, the Great) army where Seleucus taught him the art of warfare. Later, with the help of Chandraketu, the young king of Malay, Chanakya, the former Royal Priest and Katyayan, the former Prime Minister of Magadha, Chandragupta defeated and overthrown Nanda who was later put to death by Chankya. Chandraketu’s sister Chhaya fell in love with Chandragupta. After Sekandar Shah’s death, Seleucus became the emperor of Asia. He appointed Antigonus, an exiled Greek legionary, as the commander of his army. Antigonus fell in love with Seleucus’s daughter Helena, who was already in love with Chandragupta, and was refused by both her and Seleucus, mentioning Antigonus was an illegitimate child. Antigonus went back to Greece and upon questioning his mother, learnt that he was a legal son of none but Seleucus himself. Later, Seleucus attacked Magadha but was defeated. As a part of the peace treaty signed between Chanakya, new Prime Minister of Magadha and Seleucus, Chandragupta married Helena. Upon learning Chhaya also loved Chandragupta, Helena helped her to get married to him too. Antigonus comes back to India and declared that he is a legal son of Seleucus, and hence Helena’s half-brother and the Chandragupta’s brother-in-law.

Having said all that I remember on my encounters with Greece since my nascent days, I will conclude  with a mention of a unique diary that I came across in my childhood. I was then at the age of flipping the pages of story books that have more pictures than texts. It really takes me by surprise to think why did I remember a diary while so many other things are just washed away from the memory over the time. Yes, it was one of my dad's diary.  The diary was unique. On every page of the diary there was a sketch depicting some historic or mythological characters or scenes. It was as if someone has torn off pages from various books of history and mythology of various countries and just glued then together. Every page hides in it an interesting tale and invites a detailed look. Flipping the pages of the diary was my favorite pastime for quite some time. The pages of the diary introduced me with the fearless heroes of Indian freedom fighting movement, starting with Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi, Nana Sahib, Tantia Tope, Mangal Pandey to Subhas Chandra Bose, Khudiram, Prafullya Chaki, Mahatma Gandhi. I got a glimpse of Krisna explaining the timeless wisdom of Bhagavata Gita to Arjun standing in the middle of Pandava and Kourava armies in the war of Kurushetra, Rama chasing the golden deer, demon Marich in disguise, following the request of Sita, Savitri holding the head of her beloved husband Satyavan on her tap and begging Yama standing nearby for Satyavan's life, Damayanti listening about Nala from the golden swan, Shakuntala adoring a fawn in Tapobana while Dushynta enjoys the scene from behind a tree nearby, Sharmitha having a clandestine rendezvous with Jajati, Debjani engaged in a passionate conversation with Kach. I met Aryabhtya, Bhaskarachrya, Adi Sankarachrya, King Asoka, Chandragupta Mourya on the pages of the same diary. Along with many other notable dignitaries and exquisite scenes, I met a valorous huntress, tall and slim, full of attitude, with quiver on her back, arrows and a bow accompanied by a stag. She was very unique. Her sparkling attitude could only be compared with Hindu Goddess Devi Durga and Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi.   It was Artemis, one of the most venerated ancient greek deities. What a blazing attitude! I wish every woman in the world was gifted with such sparks. Crime against women would not have been coined at all.
Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (in present day Turkey) was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. In 356 BC, not long after its completion, the temple was destroyed in a vainglorious act of arson by Herostratus, who set fire to the wooden roof-beams, seeking fame at any cost; thus the term herostratic fame. In Greek and Roman historical tradition, the temple's destruction coincided with the birth of Alexander the Great (around 20/21 July 356 BC). A Greek historian remarked that Artemis was too preoccupied with Alexander's delivery to save her burning temple.
The temple of Artemis as depicted by a painter
Incidentally, of the seven wonders of the ancient world, five had Greek connections, namely Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (in present day Turkey), Statue of Zeus at Olympia (in Olympia present day Greece), Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (also known as the Mausoleum of Mausolus) (in Bodrum, present day Turkey), Colossus of Rhodes (in Rhodes Island, Greece), and the Lighthouse of Alexandria (present day Egypt). The two wonders not connected to Greece are Great Pyramid of Giza, Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Great Pyramid of Giza still remains one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

Enough of story for now. It's the time to tell you the places we zeroed down to visit in Greece. Our plan was to cover two islands and two cities in the mainland of Greece. Following a lengthy debate we decided on Santorini and Crete from the array of the Greek islands and Meteora and Athens in the mainland. Ashish was extremely joyous as he had noticed Santorini in some of the Bollywood hindi films, e.g. Ek Tha Tiger and Chalte Chalte. Even I was awe-stuck when I saw the pictures of the island: milk-white colored houses with blue roof are nestled in the slopes of the volcanic island, looking down the houses is the turquoise Mediterranean sea with small volcanic islands emerging out everywhere. Oh God! the magical sundowns that the island offers will surely drive you crazy. It has its own bit of history too; very similar to the history of Pompeii and Herculaneum, the twin cities buried alive under the ash and magma of one of the  catastrophic volcanic eruptions of Mount Vesuvius of Italy that the world has ever seen. Needless to say, Crete was on my list due to my prior connection with the island, thanks to Satyajit Ray. We wanted to keep Rhodes Island in our list, but it was too far away from Crete and Santorini. Athens is an obvious choice when it comes to visit Greece. Not only because it is the capital city, but also it houses many important historical structures and sites. Meteora is the most unique and mystic place in our list. Let me not elaborate on it, until I write a post on it. It requires a very very special introduction. Although there are a number of competitors of Meteora, such as Olympia, Mechedonia, Delphi (known for Delphi's Oracle), Mycenae, we selected Meteora and after the visit, we unanimously agreed that it was not a wrong decision. In the next few posts, I will take you on a tour of Santorini, Crete, Meteora and Athens one by one. So a hearty welcome awaits for all of you to see these places through my eyes.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

A new Journey

Let me welcome a new beginning in my life. The beginning of a new journey. The journey to set free my thoughts, to emancipate my feelings, to give wings to my untold experiences piled over the years, to  unfold the galleries of the snapshots of my beautiful mind kept in dark thus far. The journey to open the window of my heart. The journey to share myself. The journey to play a new avatar. The journey to create a small world within the world.  A hearty welcome to my small world! 

By profession I am a cryptographer. The cryptographers are those creatures who help to keep secrets as secret.  Can you expose all your secrets? If you say 'no', then here we are. Hail to all the cryptographers! If the whole world chorus 'yes', then I retire without being sorry. After all, I have so many other things to do. Here you may find more information about me as a cryptographer.

Photography is my true passion. I love to capture the dramatic moments of the nature, the moments of interaction between the nature and the beings.  Through my photographs, I aim to bring sublimity and calmness in the heart of the viewer. I wish to take the viewer to a secret world far from the madness of the life. The very world where equality prevails and distinction, ranking have no entry. The world where one gets enlightened to realize how insignificant one is in front of the magnanimous nature. The world where the nature prevails above all as the Supreme Being.  A tour to such a world will transform the viewer to a better being. It will inspire one to embrace humbleness, to welcome equality in the society, to burn one's self-destructing greed, to celebrate the victory of universal brotherhood and peace. This is my hope. At present, I am nowhere close to what I aim to achieve. But I shall keep my promise to self someday.   For your reference, my photographs can be viewed here.  

The passion for photography somewhere inspired me to photograph my mind. The dynamism of human  mind is a gift of God.  The mind is the breeding ground of thoughts. It is a laboratory where one mixes her/his knowledge, experience and imagination to create out-of-the-world stuffs.  It is the stage where trillions of plays are been played both in the state of consciousness and unconsciousness. So why not collecting some of the snapshots of the mind? Who else other than oneself can do the job? On the one hand, they act as the tokens of memory to the mind-bearer; they award the creator the pleasure of  creation. On the other hand, they may entertain or even enlighten others. Above all, knowledge/information/experience are meant to be shared and true pleasure is not realized until one shares them. So here I begin the new journey. Let me wish myself happy photographing my mind! And once again, very warm welcome to my gallery and to my world!