Monday, March 13, 2017

Birding in Nagaland - Part 2

Birding in Nagaland - Part 1

Well fed, we start walking up the gully for the next phase of birding... Lots and lots of birdsong all around but the tragedy is the visibility :-( Whatever watery sunlight had appeared for a scant few minutes is gone replaced with more fog and a light drizzle now and again. The fog banks rise from the valley and drift up towards us blanketing everything on its way... And yet, we manage a few sightings keeping us hopeful of the weather clearing!

White-capped water Redstart

Blue fronted Robin (f)

Little Bunting

Crested Finchbill

Rusty-fronted Barwing

Fire tailed Sunbird in Non-breeding plumage

Naga Wren-babbler

Orange-bellied Leafbird
Notwithstanding the dull and listless weather, we did get many lifers and whetted our appetites for a dedicated birding trip here soon.

In addition to the many birds, we also saw the Yellow throated Marten. It came upon us suddenly and vanished just as quickly but not before we had framed it for posterity...!!!

Yellow throated Marten
As a bonus, we saw a few birds on our way back. The entire journey was made more fascinating with the roads lined intermittently with blossoming cherry trees and views of the beautiful village of Khonoma nestled in the mountains of the Japfu range.

A pretty moss-stained boulder on our way don

Streaked Bulbul

Cherry blossoms
Khonoma from a distance

The Brown 2-storied structure is the Dovipie Inn in Khonoma

Friday, March 10, 2017

Heritage Heirlooms - The Caves at Lamgaon


The Jain Temple at Kudne

The Caves at Lamgaon

There are two caves fairly close to each other near Lamgaon. The access to these used to be circuitous and long but in the recent past, it's a short walk from the village on a well marked though unpaved path. Just as one starts out towards the caves, and on what was the outskirts of the village then probably is a village deity guarding the perimeters of the village.  

Possibly village deities... right at the edge of the village.

The picturesque path leading to the caves...

These caves at Lamgaon have a Buddhist origin. The very name Lamgaon means the abode of the Lamas (Buddhist monks). The smaller of these has a nice courtyard with a Tulsi-vrindavan and a Nandi installed in it. The outer chamber has two columns on the outer facade and a smaller chamber inside, demarcated by two more columns  in between. The inner chamber is the sanctum with a Shiv-ling installed in at a later date. 

The smaller cave with the Shiv-ling in the inner chamber
The larger cave hollowed out of lateritic rock is quite big with a large assembly hall and a smaller inner chamber. This cave too has remnants of three columns and one column intact. The columns have a clear-cut stone beam-like structure connecting them on top but the floor is in very bad condition. 

The larger cave at Lamgaon

It is said that the smaller and the larger caves were connected by a tunnel the mouth of which is visible though I am not sure if anyone has tried access to it. 

A very large stone outside the entrance can be easily overlooked but on careful inspection seems to have the typical cornices and adornments associated with the Buddhist Chaitya Arches. It seems likely that at some time long back, this must have been the top portion of the cave entrance which has since fallen in due to the vagaries of nature...

The possible Chaitya Arch now fallen over

These lesser known sites are a joy to behold if one makes the effort to reach them. A must visit for all history and archaeology aficionados. If my narrative enthuses even a few to visit, it would all have been worthwhile....

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Birding in Nagaland - Part 1

Khonoma -  has a quaint ring to it and conjures up images of tall, dense evergreen forests ornamented with exotic birdsong... The reality didn't disappoint either. We stayed at the Dovipie Inn. A comfortable and very clean place with great food. 

As tied up earlier, Angulie Meyase, our guide for birding there met us at the hotel lobby at 5 am sharp. The excitement of birding for the first time in this exotic location had us all bundled up and rearing to go mindless of the freezing temperatures....

We set out on a foggy overcast morning with the sunrise still some time away. Maneuvering through the confined lanes of Khonoma with the headlights on is nothing short of scary! We zip past with centimeters to spare...

Once we are out of the village and driven some distance towards the Tragopan sanctuary, we slow down. And as if on cue, short of the next bend, Angulie tells the driver to stop. We watch with bated breath... There is this enormous Mithun standing on the road and five mountain bamboo partridges on the grassy edge! The light is terrible seeing that the sun is not yet out, but an attempt is made to record this lifer. Soon, they scamper away into the undergrowth and we move forward.


Mithun calf

Mountain Bamboo Partridge

Past dense overhanging forest the road emerges into the open on a higher elevation. Henceforth, we stop at regular intervals and tick off many lifers, some seen well and some fleeting glimpses...

Grey Sibia

Grey Sibia

Ashy throated Warbler

White capped water Redstart
We next halted at the parking lot where we had a sumptuous breakfast of puri bhaji packed by the hotel. Well fed, the birding started again....

Part 2 is in the next post.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Heritage Heirlooms - The Jain Temple at Kudne


The Jain Temple at Kudne

The Caves at Lamgaon

The golden age in Goa's history is undoubtedly in the reign of the Kadamba Dynasty. They ruled Goa from the 11th to the 14th century AD and had very good trade ties with Gujarat. In this time, many gujarati traders came and settled here with their families bringing with them their religion, culture and traditions. The tolerant Hindu Kadamba Kings paved the way for the integration and propagation of the Jain communtiy in and around Ponda and Bicholim. 

It was during the rule of the Vijayanagar dynasty that grants were given to establish Jain bastis including their temples and shrines. Jain relics have been found in Bandoda, Ponda and in Kudne, Bicholim Taluka. This Jain temple is located near an area called the Gujir Vaado in Kudne. The name itself suggests the place was the Gujarati settlement area once upon a time.

It was in the year 1684 that the Mughal armies under Aurangzeb burnt down and plundered Bicholim leaving it in ruins.

Jain Temple at Kudne

The Jain Temple at Kudne was once a beautiful little temple dedicated to Adinatha and belongs to the medieval period. The monument is thoroughly neglected today though it must have stood elegant in this charming and quaint village of Kudne. Said to have been built through grants in the early Vijayanagar era, it is an important monument from the time of the period giving us an insight into the prevalent building practices then. 

It is a proud structure built in the typical North Indian Shikhara style. The lateritic blocks uncovered point to the existence of arches in the Mukha Mandapa of the temple. The Octagonal Shikhara over the Garbha Griha  is five tiered including the semi-spherical lower part with a small rectangular entrance to the sanctum.

The five tiered Shikhara

A broken stone head of a Tirthankara (Jain religious leader) with beautifully sculpted curls was also found near the garbhagriha. A stone torso of a Jain Tirthankara with a srivasta symbol was also unearthed. The sculptural structure of the idols indicates that the temple belongs to the Kadamba period. This is the only medieval temple of Goa which has a nagara (Indo-Aryan) architectural feature.

Likeness of the Idol of the Tirthankara
This temple also has a marked semblance with the Saptakoteshwar temple at Narve and the Chandranath at Paroda.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Heritage Heirlooms - The Caves at Arvalem


The Buddhist caves at Rivona

The Petroglyphs of Usgalimal

The Caves at Arvalem

The Jain Temple at Kudne

The Caves at Lamgaon

Goa is an ancient land. In the recent past, it has always been showcased as a Portuguese cultural centre, but its rich history predates the Portuguese by many millennia. The heritage structures in Goa include some really ancient laterite rock-cut caves. Fascinating as these are, they are from Buddhist, Jain and sometimes Brahmanical origin. The scholars are still ambivalent on some of them. One such place is the Arvalem caves in Bicholim Taluka.

Archaeological Survey of India plaque outside the caves 

Arvalem Caves
These caves are believed to have been carved out in the 6th century AD. Located near Sanquelim, overlooking a river, the caves have a courtyard in front which has a flight of steps which probably went down to the river (Now the area has been filled up by soil because of the road that is passing in front of the cave). There are altogether five inner chambers having two outer chambers and one separate chamber which seems to be a residential chamber. The outer chambers have a colonnade. 

Seeing the construction of these caves with the sanctuary at the southern end and the vihara at the northern end, many experts are of the opinion that these are Buddhist caves. In later times though, they seem to have been taken over by Hindus and Shiv-lings have been established which is attributed to the Bhoja period. This would be somewhere around the 8th century AD according to the dating done on the Shiv-lings.


1. Cave Architecture in Goa-A project report submitted to the Goa University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Architecture by Varun Desai
2. Research in history books and websites

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Heritage Heirlooms - The Petroglyphs of Usgalimal


The Buddhist caves at Rivona

The Petroglyphs of Usgalimal

The Jain Temple at Kudne

The Caves at Lamgaon

The sun, sand and surf attract tourists from around the world to Goa. And yet, this is not the only claim to fame this beautiful land has. As late as 1993 saw the accidental discovery of some ancient rock carvings at Usgalimal (also known as Pansalimal) in the Kushavati river bed in Sanguem Taluka of South Goa. After a bout of flooding, the silt from some part of the laterite river bed got washed off and exposed beautifully chiseled figures. Seeing this, the locals scrambled to call in the archaeologists who have since extensively studied and analysed them.  

It is believed that these carvings date back to the 8th century BC or the upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic period, perhaps more commonly thought of as “the Stone Age”and were created by the people of the 'Kush' tribe inhabiting this valley. This makes them a whopping 10,000 years old!! 

The carvings depict a wide range of subjects notably the bull, deer, antelope, peacock, dancing figure, mother and child, the mother goddess and the enigmatic 'triskelions'. These 'triskelions' are a concentric circle pattern more associated with the Celtic and European peoples and believed by some archaeologists to have been used to measure time. Elsewhere it's also called the circle of life.


Dancing figure

The carvings are known as ‘Petroglyphs’, because they were created by chipping away the outer surface of the rock using a tool of some sort. They predate the rock paintings that have been previously discovered in other parts of India and are very different from them.

Mother Goddess

Animal figure

Hunting the Bison

Another Bull Motif

Animal fights
As with most prehistoric paintings as well as rock carvings, the predominant focus is on the animal figures as also some dancing figures and infants which suggests fertility rituals. The circle of life could point to some form of religious cosmology too.

The circle of life or the famous 'Labyrinth'

A trapping cage for game

The Kushavati River bed... site of the ancient Petroglyphs at Usgalimal

There is an urgent need for conservation of this unique and beautiful site. It's a silent testimony to the human urge for artistic expression from time immemorial. A little care will go a long way in preserving this heritage for future generations to get a peek into our prehistoric past!!

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Heritage Heirlooms - The Buddhist Caves at Rivona

As part of bringing the rich cultural heritage of Goa in the limelight and showing the average tourist and local alike that there are other, more beautiful facets of Goa they have not yet discovered, I bring to you the first in the series of .. - Heritage Heirlooms -

The Buddhist Caves at Rivona

Cave 1 

Located near the Kushavati river, in the village of Rivona (the name Rivona might have been derived from ‘Rishivana’ meaning the forest of sages, or in the present case, of monks). The site is called devachi zaga ( meaning the abode of God). This cave is oriented towards the east. It has a pedestal measuring 4.8 m X 3.2 m which fits the idol of Buddha and is called’ Sonyachi peti’ (Golden box). The idol of Buddha discovered at Rivona is seated in Vajrasana position with Bhumisparsha-Mudra (right hand touching the earth with the left hand kept on the lap.) A huge lotus pedestal for seating the idol was also found at the site.

The large Cave No. 1 at Rivona (Pic courtesy Preethy Nair)

Cave 2

This Cave is at two levels and has two entrances, one at the upper level and the other at the level below. The steps going down from the upper level lead to the chamber which has a skylight and a stream of fresh water. It also connects to the lower entrance. The skylight chamber leads inside to another chamber which has a stepped platform built of laterite and which has a vaulted ceiling. This cave has seen some intervention by later humans since there are laterite bricks neatly laid at the upper entrance and a tank made behind at the lower level. 

Cave no 2 Upper entrance (Pic courtesy Vandana Balakrishnan)

Lower entrance to the Cave 2

The tank behind the lower entrance

The Skylight in the chamber of Cave 2

Source: Cave Architecture in Goa-A project report submitted to the Goa University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Architecture by Varun Desai