Adhvan is the Sanskrit word for; travel, sky, journey among several other names that are journey related.. I fell in love with the name because like so many other Sanskrit words, it sounds beautiful and it covers so much territory with only one word.
Washington State abounds with natural wonders. Here is a photo I took when I stopped my car on the way up of Mt. Tipac/Mt. Baker ( Native American/settlers name) The only problem you will have when driving up this spiritual and mystical mountain is stopping too much to stand in awe of countless evergreens disappearing into the clouds. I was driving an old Saturn rental car with my two cats; even they got up to see out the window. One would think by the looks of the photo the temperature was freezing. The temperature was actually cool to cold which led to some beautiful waterfalls cascading down fern and snow covered grottos. There is one slightly hidden in the center of the pic below. Its hard to remember that when you are this far up you are literally in the clouds.
The drive upwards had many stop off points where you can rest, take photos or turn around if the snow is too heavy. The day I chose to go see Mount Tipac was cloudy, but I realized that if I didn't go I may not have made it since I had only 21 days before my flight to Thailand. What in the world do cats, Thailand and Mount Tipac have in common? Travelling to Thailand with pets requires many vaccines and tons of paperwork including an approval from the FDA. When I took the veternerian papers to the FDA they said Thailand requires the vaccines to sit in the pets for at least 21 days or they will be quarantined when I arrive. The entire trip had to be postponed, flight cancelled and I had 21 days. I decided to see as much of Washington as possible.
Even though I chose to go on a day that forecasters predicted would be cloudy I still went since I wanted to see Mount Saint Helens and the San Juan Islands.
As I drove upwards I watched the trail of cars on the opposite lane going downwards since the snow was getting heavier. I was even told by some tourists that I should turn back since there was nothing to see except fog up there.
I kept on driving since the pines disappering into the clouds were worth the ride upwards.
At the top I felt both a sense of relief and a sigh since I felt I wasted my time. At the top I decided to turn the little gold Saturn car around that struggled so hard to make it to the top. As I was about to make the descent downwards alone, since most of the cars already left due to the snow, I said to myself in the car, "Allah, I wish you could just lift those clouds and help me to see the mountain. I drove all this way and all I get is clouds. Well, I at least got to see some amazing waterfalls". Many people talk to God, Allah, Buddha or whoever they believe in casually when they are driving alone so this is not rare. What surprised me was as I began to drive downwards I looked upwards and I saw...........
You can't imagine how I felt… it was a mixture of feeling bad for making that request so lightly…and amazement that it was answered. Maybe missing the first flight due to the cats was for a reason ? In the back of my mind I said, "Its not Mt. Tipac or Mount Baker its Mount Allah for me!"
Below are some pics I took when visiting the Snoqalamie Falls in Washington. I will add more info later.
My white diamond(top) pic from the water on my camera!
A tranquility never before experienced even surpassing any botanical garden. As a traveler, I have to remind myself that this sacred pathway was not created for me or for the majority of tourists that come here. I have to remind myself that this is a pathway intended for the souls of kings. These are one of the sites that have an optical effect when looking down the pathway from a distant; as you see people walking ahead it almost looks as if they are floating onwards and not walking. When anyone visits Beijing the first thing they rush to see is the The Forbidden City and of course the Great Wall. But something unusual happened to me which gave inspiration to start with the Sacred Path(Shen Dao); A Mausoleum for the 13 Ming Emperors. I was in the process of moving and I came across an old National Geographic magazine article which my brother has lying around in the basement. On the cover was an article on the "Great Khans". The spectacular article (not unusual for National Geographic) gave a good introduction into the line of Khans from Genghis, Kublai and Ogedei. The Mongol empire was never my fascination but when I opened up the article and I saw the lone sentinel "Guardian Tortoise" in their capital of Khara koum, something rushed over me.
I can't explain what feeling it was and words cannot describe it. But as I saw the only remnant of that vast Empire; a stone tortoise, I was amazed but also a little frightened. I must admit I have never seen it myself but the stone tortoise reminded me what I saw earlier this year when visiting the Sacred Path; a 7 kilometer long path; a 100,000 pound stone tortoise sits in a special chamber above the lions, horses and elephants and fast running animals.
The best part of being an artist and a traveler is to look at the past and study the workmanship that went into religious sites like this and their beliefs. It feels as if you are taking a course in art, religion, design and ancient royalty all at the same time. Their belief that these amazingly carved guardians would guide them to the upper levels of heaven, stand guard and even switch places at midnight was amazing.
To say the Sacred Path is beautiful, tranquil, sublime is an understatement. A word that comes to mind is; "understanding". It must not have been easy for those Emperors to plan for their deaths and to plan how things would be designed after their deaths with such meticulous precision and carefulness. While not as famous as Tianamen Square or the Great Wall, Shen Dao or the Sacred Path has a quiet power beyond the others because it takes true power and self control to plan for one's own death and long after it. So what does the great tortoise guardian of the Mongol Empire have to do with the Ming Mausoleums of the Sacred path? There is no strong connection except that both tortoises have a slab on them with inscriptions; a stele. One is beautifully housed in a stone Pavillion while the other lies naked outside. Both (tortoises) according to East Asian tradition symbolize eternity. Inside the Shengde Stele Pavilion a 100,000 pound stone tortoise sits acting like a king in a special chamber above the lions, horses and elephants and fast running animals. The reverence for the tortoise as one the celestial divine animals is clearly seen here but at the site in Karokoum, Mongolia it has even a little more power since it stood there as if Fate allowed it to stand there as opposed to careful pruning and care seen at the Sacred Path. Everybody will have a different experience when visiting Shen Dao but like all fabulous mausoleums it reminds us about the shortness of time given to us.
The Great Wall winds around over mountains like a dragon, like an ancient river that has taken years to meander, like a fragment of the human brain that creates a symbol of war like no other. The Dragon which is one of the celestial animals of the Chinese has been inspired by the sages who meditated while looking at cloud formations and somehow throughout the millenniums that form which was inspired from the clouds found true concrete form on earth like no other. The Great Wall like its meandering body through forests, mountains, craggy peaks and even near oceans will cast a spell on you.
So what does the Great Wall have to do with my theme on "gates and doorways"? The entire Great Wall itself is a multifaceted gateway. It is a giant doorway that is constructed to lock out harmful influences. It is also the longest cemetery or mausoleum in the world due to the countless workers who died of exhaustion and were buried there. Like any cemetery it is a gateway into the afterlife. The thought of having a family member buried somewhere in the Wall and not knowing is mentally problematic and from reading the history it seems many families had to endure that pain of having family members dying and buried somewhere along the wall but knowing where. But if you can think of yourself as the current Warlord or Emperor the Great Wall was probably the only thing that was known at the time to keep enemies out therefore it was deemed necessary. Whatever angle you are looking at the situation you will be moved by walking along the Great Wall.
Let us not forget that the Great Wall was built mainly out of fear of the Mongols and Northern plain Chinese. I believe the fear must have been terrible because just look at the effort used in building this wall. I have a feeling not everything is told to us about what the Mongols actually did to cause this fear. But after all of that the only emblem left at their capital city is a stone tortoise. Amazing that a simple tortoise is connected to all that history.
Just think the Great Wall began before Christ and was repaired lengthened up until the Ming Dynasty (1500's). Even the thought that something so colossal in both time, size and history is worth a trip and probably more than one. The Great Wall or should we say Great Wall(s), since it is not really one wall built at one time but was actually built and rebuilt and made longer by whoever the current general or Emperor was.
The Great Wall is not a "wonder" for its architectural beauty but it is a Wonder for 4 reasons; 1. The idea in building such a colossal thing 2. The amount of people that were used to build it (some say 500,000 and some say well into the millions) 3. The countless bodies that are buried within the cement of the walls(fact) 4. The peacefulness today and the calm surrounding the walls today. Though not an official "Wonder Of The World" I can say it is. To stand on the wall and to look out and see this endless wall for as long as the eye can see generates multiple feelings all at once which are beyond words. I truly believe that only poetry, not movies or novels can describe the Great Wall for one reason; It is something beyond imagination and the only "art" that can truly capture it is poetry or song because it is an epiphany after epiphany. A premonition flashed though my mind as I was walking on the wall and staring out into the horizon; one day all the sites for ALL Nuclear weapon sites (open or covert) around the world will also one day become useless as means of defense as the Greta Wall is, the best they can hope for is to vie for tourist dollars. How many things of war are being used today which will only be tourist destinations one day?
The Great Wall is truly "China". Whether you imagine what it must be like to be either one of the workers, a warlord, a conquering Mongol Emperor or the Ming Emperor himself or just a warrior guarding the wall there are millions and millions of voices on the Great Wall. So fabulous is the history behind the wall you wonder if it even happened. The only other sites that have left me awestruck like this are those in India. I feel that the Buddhist temples of Angkor will have the same effect on me. But the Great Wall is more than a "Wow" experience and many do come just for that but for me it is a spiritual bonding with a one of the human species greatest attempts to defend itself against a terrifying foe. To be here and to touch the stones and to walk up and down the wall is to connect with all those countless voices, to connect with an ongoing part of history that started since B.C.,it is worth a visit during ones lifetime.
When we look at the Forbidden City the first thing we all need to keep in mind is probably the one facet that slips our mind; The Forbidden city is not meant for us to view. Within that aspect is another aspect; it wasn't meant for the majority of Chinese to see either and it wasn't created to impress us. Intention is everything when you consider the Forbidden Palace(City) because unlike the Taj Mahal it wasn't meant to create awe in the common eyes or a devotion of love; it was meant to bring a heavenly vision on Earth where the Emperor himself could be the "son of god". We must remember that this fabulous of palaces was inspired by a monk who was in meditation and saw a purple kingdom in heaven and the Emperor wanted this manifestation on Earth. In doing so the Forbidden City symbolized the "center of the Earth".
Aside from the beautiful colors and beautiful celestial guardians I was in awe at the names of the different parts of the palace; "Hall Of Imperial Zenith", "Central Harmony", "Gateway Of Heavenly Peace", "Hall Of Terrestrial Tranquility", "Imperial Garden", etc… I noted how important phrases are to the Chinese even up to today and even at differing levels of businesses or the simple take-out restaurants or stores selling jade or gifts; " Double Luck Garden", "China Star Restaurant", "99 goldfish luck" or even on the knives and forks which are sold in the billions across the world bearing the stamp; "Stainless China". Whatever anyone says it must work since it is one of the oldest civilizations that have SURVIVED and still dominate today thus auspicious names are important. I even took some photos of some lucky goldfish at the moat in the forbidden city.These goldfish are probably can be traced back hundreds of years when the Forbidden City was built around 1400 AD!
Not only are names of UTMOST importance but it seems that a lot of restaurants abide by even basic Feng Shui rules. A visit to the Forbidden City also gives you a glimpse into some foundational Chinese beliefs which can be seen today. We hear about Feng Shui all the time in the US and Europe but there is no better teacher than seeing it here at work in the Forbidden City, you will be awestruck at the "movement" of the stone and open air space. You can feel the flow literally.
When judging the Forbidden City within our minds one must keep in mind the founding Emperor(Yongle) and the monk who inspired this awesome architectural beauty(a legend so its not exact). When we look at this city and learn the story behind it you think about Hindu temples and their many tiered rows of statues and one wonders where did they get these ideas to create temples of such height and intricacy?
The answer is exactly the same as the Forbidden City; through a meditation. Many gurus have actually visited far more fabulous cities while in meditation. If one reads a little bit on cities found while in meditation they will be open to a whole new way of understanding the foundation of temples, stupas and fabulous kingdoms such as these.
We should be glad that to be born in these times to see this and many other things that would be off limits lets say if we were really born around 1300-1400 A.D.? Historical details abound on the internet if you but spend a few moments learning about the famous yet cruel Yongle(I will let you discover this one yourselves) you will want to learn more. If you do visit the Forbidden City please do keep in mind that most overlooked artist who was at the foundation for the idea behind this kingdom; the simple monk who discovered a purple heaven and an ambitious Emperor who wanted to bring it down to Earth and live in it. Be warned; to start reading up on even a little about these dynasties unravels another story and another and another and each story is addictive and before you know it you can be hypnotized by the spell of the Forbidden City, The Great Wall and the Sacred Path. I think this is how many historians start off. Like the Mughal Dynasty or the Ottoman Empire the Ming Dynasties will make you want to learn more and more. Endless history within these walls.
Our lives are simply one room leading to another room and another and another, filled with doorways and endless possibilities. Doorways are more than metal or wood, they are much more than beautifully hinged objects to keep people safe. Doorways, gateways and even the simplest thresholds are created every second. There are many doors that we don't see in the physical world. An example of that type of door can be birth, death, or any change can be looked at as walking through a spiritual door( I believe are these are the most powerful).
I noticed within these walls a deep respect and belief for celestial guardians. They are both beautiful and frightening at the same time.
Obviously they are here to ward off evil and protect the city but I believe they also work on the human subconscious, tapping into a pantheon of animism early Chinese and modern as well believe in. With the practice of Feng Shui by many westerners using some of these guardians it shows that these images do tap into a belief system that reaches beyond religion to a time when humans believed in the powers and respect for animals and the mere presence of their images to bring about a magical effect. You cannot come to the Forbidden city and not feel the effects of feng-shui geniuses at work. My words cannot even begin to comment on this but overall there is a sense of peace here despite the huge crowds that fill the square. The open air spaces, the curved waterways, the moats all lend to excellent manipulation of the natural elements.
At the same time one cannot overlook the generous usage of colors on the architecture. Of course there are beautiful colors but what was of interest to me was the fact that yellow or gold was considered a royal color. For westerners yellow is the color of cowards. Interestingly yellow or gold was not permitted to be worn by commoners. The color of our royal planet; THE SUN was only permitted for the emperor himself.
Thinking back to the emperors of the Ming dynasty I see them walking through these courtyards.
I have always thought what did the dead think about back then when they were alive? I feel something here that I always feel when visiting tombs (Taj Mahal) or empty castles of rulers or cities such as these; even with the most powerful guardians and the strongest doors their royal ancestral line would be erased through time. How many empires, corporations at the height of their power now cannot see their fate?
I hear lots of comments in the US about low quality goods from China flooding the market but when you visit China your opinion will certainly change with some of the high quality craftsmanship in almost everything! Following are some photos of some stunning Chinese cloisonne vases at a workshop our tour went to. These are some of my favorites.
photo of Kiln
To witness the process, the workers working within the clay so skillfully and patiently and then to see agallery of the finished gems were some of the highlights of the tour.
Malacca is truly one of the historic gems of Malaysia. What I found out about Malacca is it has magnetic history. I am tempted to go on about the rich history but where do you start and where do you end? If I only begin touching on the history here it weaves back to other Portuguese ports like Goa, Cochin Java and it will then lead you to their explorations ( colonialism and slave trade) in Brazil.
At the famous St. Paul's Church my fingers went into the grooves of the carved coat of arms in stone and I wondered what the artists thought when they finished these? They must have been both grieved and satisfied at the beauty of these gorgeous headstones.
Imagine how many tears fell on these headstones. I touch these beautiful designs carved out of one single block with reverence wondering what prayers, funerals and weddings went on in here for over 200-300 years?
The headstones seem to be actually Dutch who won the port from the Portuguese and used the Church as a burial ground. The beauty of these headstones and the history of the "A Famosa" fort (The Famous in Portuguese) makes Malacca a true historic gem of Malaysia. I have seen beautiful headstones many times and I thought here what I always think when I visit any "ruins"; what did they pray for and what did they do? I also think of the Sultan's prayers and how threatened the Malacca Sultanate felt at the time.
"Ruins" make everyone think back and wonder about the conversations, hopes, prayers on both sides. Now after all those struggles the city went back to Malaysia, the missionaries accomplished their goal in converting some Malaysians to Christianity but I thought to myself where is all that money from the West African slave trade and these fabulous city ports? Was it worth it? What can governments and massive corporations learn from studying "ruins"?
When you approach the Batu Caves and see the awesome Lord Murugan statue, you know you have reached a sacred site that has been discovered by one and many before. While there are numerous caves and probably fabulous undiscovered ones I want to talk about the most famous one which is the focal point for the Malaysian Hindus during the Thaipusam festival. Lord Murugan, son of Siva and Parvatie is certainly the star of the show here. The effect is so surreal that you feel as if Lord Murugan stepped out of the molten lava core of the earth still dripping in metallic gold or maybe stepped down from the Sun! But with all his brilliance it was actually walking up the 272 concrete steps where I felt the same feeling as I have when walking through labyrinths in some old cathedrals; purification of the mind. Walking up the 272 concrete steps had the same cleansing effect on the mind as when you walk around in labyrinths.
Above: Me Inside The Cavern
The doorways or gateways you walk through are invisible to the eye but they are there. The design is different and one is more strenuous and linear than the other but for me I felt the same feeling on my psyche as I reached the top; a cleansing.
The Batu Caves like the title of the first part of this essay; Kingdoms within kingdoms offers you what great poetry offers; an epiphany within another epiphany, an "aha moment within another one". After climbing the steps and being greeted by armies of macaque monkeys and fruit bats darting in and out of their prehistoric stalactites you enter the mouth of the main area called the "cathedral cave".
The feeling of seeing Lord Murugan towering in front of the prehistoric cave opening was not only surreal but what put you in awe was the mere thought that a man would devote so much time and effort on this, that alone makes it a true "wonder". Another set of steps leads you down inside the womb of this chamber and here are Hindu deities are situated all over the temple. The entire feeling I received after seeing the Lord Murugan statue, the temples inside and the sheer height of the entrance to the cave was just awesome. You couldn't find a better example of mankind venturing back into the womb and reconnecting with "the mother".
One may think that elation couldn't be trumped but it was when I entered the last part of the cave chambers I found completion in this art form that combined nature and man-kind, earth energy and prayer or devotional energy; an area where an opening to the sky allowing a beam of light to enter into the dark cavernous area. Here there was another temple but I was focused on the shaft of light that came beaming down in the center of this cave. I was hypnotized by its presence.
Here we find the primordial connection of the "father and the mother" or "sky and earth" united and its no wonder that the Batu caves is considered not only a sacred site but a true work of art. It is certainly a place not to be missed and one of the best sties to see in Malaysia.