Saturday, April 29, 2006


For those of you afraid of another lame Hollywood movie tie-in don't worry, Swat is actually the name of a popular valley in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province. It is here that many Pakistanis come to cool down in the Summer months, but for me it's still too low and therefore too hot. But before I leave I decided to investigate to see what the area had to offer.

Swat's history goes way back to the time of Alexander the Great who came tearing through the valley on his conquests, carrying out sieges and battles along the way, the traces of which are still visible to this day. A large number of his followers stayed and so when Buddhism came through, this time a tad more peacefully, it was taken up by them, so it is possible to see old ruined stupas with Graecian columns and little cupids on the lintels; certainly not something you expect to find this far east. So I have been pottering about, wandering from ruins to ruins, taking in the cleaner air (once you get away from the towns and their two-stroke rickshaws, that is) and enjoying the more verdant countryside (green fields, orchards and verges choked with some sort of hemp-like plant that the locals seem to like and call bhang) with walks up nearby mountains. Apropos of which, I continue to be convinced of the fact that I sweat more than anybody else alive. On one excursion up a mountain once I had reached the top and sat down for a while, my clothes began to acquire a multitude of white streaks. Upon closer inspection it was the salt from my evaporated sweat. The patterns were actually quite fetching and would probably make quite a stir on the catwalk, but I'd rather sweat less and not have to carry so much water around with me (a little mundane and useless fact for those of you who prefer less political diatribe and history with your blogs).

The place is OK. The ruins not bad. The views modest. Nothing to rave about ... except for the people. Around every corner is a new encounter and another offer of conversation, chai and often lunch. One fine example of Pakistani hospitality occurred two days ago. I had just finished a hike and arrived in a small town to try and find some lunch. I found a shop that sold some snacks and inquired about a restaurant or hotel. An old man sitting close by motioned to me and said roti (meaning bread) to which I nodded my head. He motioned to me to follow him as he led me to his nearby shoe-repair boutique. A bit of a misnomer, I might add, as it was little more than a hole in the wall with barely enough room to squeeze in a cat, let alone swing one. I was told to sit down and off he trundled. After 10 minutes I was beginning to get rather anxious despite being entertained by the local children (or entertaining them with my digital camera). But then he reappeared carrying a tray containing not only bread, but also three various dishes as well as salad. He laid it all out in front of me and watched contentedly as I sheepishly started on the banquet, when all I had really wanted was a little something to tide me over to dinner. Of course I couldn't handle even half of it and he wouldn't hear of letting me pay for any of it although it could easily have cost him more than half a day's wage. That sort of story, however, isn't deemed newsworthy, instead all we hear about Pakistan is Taliban this and Taliban that, or another bombing. Another man who invited me in for dinner told me that "hospitality is our heritage", and an impeccable one it is too, and one we could do well by trying to emulate.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Film Posters And Transport Trials

Now many of you may be wondering why I've got a picture of the film Battlefield Earth at the top of my post. You might be saying to yourselves that Erik has finally lost the few marbles that he had remaining (admittedly not that many to begin with). At least he could have picked a better film, and not one that is universally excepted to have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. But there is a point, which I shall make clear at the end of the post, so as to give you, my long-suffering readers, something to look forward to.

But enough of that, passons aux choses serieuses as they say in France. So here I am in Islamabad, again. It's becoming my most visited city on this trip despite its not being particularly attractive to me, although it does have several things I quite like and/or need: embassies, decent, inexpensive internet access, second hand bookshops and cheap accommodation. And there were still a couple of things here I wanted to see that I missed on my first visit to Pakistan, such as a mountain range made of salt (I'm not kidding) and a rather sizeable fort dating back to pre-Mughal times. But since that is neither enough material in quality or quantity I am going to take this opportunity to ramble about things that I have noticed here that I have found unique, eccentric, or just downright bemusing. The first involve transport. It's an area of local life that I experience a significant amount of as I am often on the move. The most common form of transport, for both inter- and intra-urban translocation, is the Hiace minivan, which is invariably a second hand hand-me-down from Japan (being a left hand drive country, Pakistan is one of the few countries that acts as a dumping ground for Japanese rejects), often with arcane kanji plastered along the side. Whereas in their former, more pampered, lives the Hiaces would cart around no more than 8-10 people (plus driver) here they are shown no mercy and loads of 20 people are the norm. Which brings me on to bus timetabling i.e. there is none. Buses and vans only depart when they are full (to bursting) so as to make it worth the drivers' while. It's even possible for you to sit in a van for 2 hours as passengers trickle in by dribs and drabs until it becomes too late and the driver just says "come back tomorrow morning", leaving you in the lurch and looking for a place to spend the night. Other common sights on the roads are old Bedford trucks, most of them dating to just after Partition. But these are no ordinary trucks, they are self-propelled works of art. Every inch of space is covered by garish pictures, usually of birds and other animals or landscape scenes, and arabesque designs, they usually have chainmail "skirts" with little tassels or bells on the ends that tinkle musically as they navigate the bumpy mountain roads and some even replace their doors for intricately carved wooden antiques. But for Pakistani truckers that isn't enough so they add extra projections, canopies and flagpoles so they can pile on even more trinkets and baubles. Obviously they've heard of aerodynamics, but only as some shadowy American-Zionist conspiracy to be combatted at all costs.

I've also been chatting to many friendly locals along my travels and sometimes I show them pictures from my digital camera of places that I've visited so that they can also see some of the beautiful sites of their own country. As they flick through my pics they always point out any pictures that I have of other travellers, especially of the female persuasion. And the question is always the same: "she your girlfriend?" And they are always incredulous when I tell them that no, I just met her and that we are friends. For them this is a baffling concept, as they have virtually no contact with the opposite sex and so only ever think about them in the physical sense. It's a shame as this makes them slightly obsessed as walking through any cyber cafe makes only too plain.

But now to my pièce de résistance, and what you've all been waiting for: Battlefield Earth. And actually this observation is not unrelated to my previous one. So, if you would care to scroll to the bottom of the post you will see a poster for the aforementioned film from a cinema hoarding here in Pakistan. Now if you would only take a few moments to compare the two pictures (at the top and at the bottom of the post) you will notice a rather large difference. Apparently, if one is to believe the Pakistani cinema, the film contains scantily clad women with guns. Now, and I'm ashamed to admit this, I've seen Battlefield Earth (though not in Pakistan), and I can vividly remember there being no such women (more's the pity). And if you were to look at the bottom picture even more closely you would notice that the clothes worn by the superimposed "gun babes" are in fact painted on and in the original pictures they must have been naked. So, to recap, to make the film seem more appealing (and I admit, this is Battlefield Earth, so you certainly have your work cut out) the promoters seem to have superimposed some porn pictures and added clothes (for decency) and guns (because every good film has plenty of guns). And this is no isolated case but the norm. It's slightly sad and pathetic really, and I'm a bit surprised that the cinema-going public hasn't cottoned on to the scam yet.

"OK film mate, but where were the birds with the Kalashnikovs?"
"Ah, you missed them when you went to the toilet. Better luck next time."

Friday, April 21, 2006

Tomb Raider

In India very often the "things to see" are the ubiquitous Hindu temples, with their riotous colours, colourful rituals and ritualistic statues. Here in Pakistan, the population being Muslim (just in case you didn't already know), that sort of imagery is seen as being rather blasphemous and so is frowned upon. Instead they are particularly fond of shrines, tombs, mausoleums and cenotaphs; or graves to you and me. This morbid habit stems from the fact that Islam forbids depictions of people or deities, and so people's architectural talents turned towards mosques and mausoleums. Pakistan has a particularly abundant supply of the latter so I decided to do a little tomb raiding of my own. OK, so I might not have Lara Croft's tits, guns or hotpants (actually I'd like to see her try doing her thang here in Pakistan dressed in her normal getup: she'd be surrounded by hordes of libidinous, sex-starved men faster than you can say "Angelina Jolie can't act"); but I have invested in a shalwar-kameez combo so that I can blend in with the locals. OK, I still don't do much blending, but I'm really liking the clothes which are extremely comfy and manage to keep you quite cool in the scorching sun.

So my tomb tour started in Lahore with the mausoleum of Jehangir, the 4th Mughal emperor (nice, but not a patch on the other Mughal graves). Then it was down to southern Punjab and the city of Multan. The Punjab, though covering less than a quarter of Pakistan's total area, is home to over half the population. The Punjabis therefore have a stranglehold on national politics and culture. And, to be able to support such a population, the land is rather boring: flat, khaki and dusty. Multan is known as the city of saints due to the many Sufi saints buried there. And since it's auspicious to be buried close to a saint, the outskirts of the old town are full of graveyards. The town itself though is nothing much to speak of, but it's entertaining to wander around the winding back-alleys of the old town and discovering the many saintly tombs. One, in particular, caught my attention as the inside of the building was covered in mirror mosaics, so that even with a very small amount of light entering the place was brightly lit up. From there it was even further south to Uch Sharif, another dusty little nothing town whose dead population outnumbers the living by more than 10 to 1. The big draw is the tomb of Bibi Jawindi (see below) who, ironically enough, wasn't even a Sufi saint. But now I've had enough of the heat, the dust and the pollution and am making and about turn and heading north.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Expect The Unexpected

Boy am I glad to be in Pakistan. That's perhaps not a phrase you expect to hear every day, but it's true. I feel much more welcome here than in India. I don't feel like I'm regarded as a walking cash machine any more. When people come up to talk to you here it's not to cheat you out of your money with some scam or overpriced inanities, or to annoy you with 20 questions without once bothering to listen to your answers. Here they are actually interested in you as a person and what you have to say. Politesse is the rule rather than the exception. It just feels more civilised: the streets are cleaner (there are almost no human turds to negotiate whilst walking along for a start), the traffic, relatively, more ordered, the shops less arbitrary in their pricing policies and you don't need to hang on to the outside of a bus to get a ride. I wonder how this can be so, as I've always been a firm believer of the homogeneity of human nature, and yet here are two countries where the people share a lot of common ground and yet my experience in both is so different.Perhaps I've just been unlucky in India (or lucky in Pakistan), who knows. But it's strange how different the reality of a country is from the image that is built up by the medias. In fact, throughout my journey there is only one thing that has been consistent in my preconceived views of countries: that they (my preconceptions) are always completely and utterly wrong.

So here I am in Lahore ( a name that, no matter how hard I try not to, makes me imagine an upper-class, French call-girl), the cultural capital of Pakistan. And I was made to recognise the fact the minute I arrived at my guesthouse. I had barely signed in when the owner, Malik, a well known figure on the Sufi music circuit, herds everyone together and off we spped to a "Sufi mystical music festival" where we were treated to whirling dervishes, pumping dhol rhythms and some awesome qawwali singing. The next evening Malik wasn't feeling up to going to the festival as he had had a few beers, so instead he brought the festival to the guesthouse by inviting over a Sufi band to jam on the roof just for us. Certainly better than the usual places I've been used to staying in where my pickiness ran along the following lines:

Do you have a bed?
Do you have a roof?
Perfect! I'll take it.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Bordering On The Ridiculous

So there I was, once again crossing the Indo-Pak border at Wagah, and once again it almost all went horribly wrong. I arrived on the Indian side with an hour to spare, which I thought would be more than sufficient, and it did seem so as I breezed through immigration. Customs, it seems, apparently thought that they had already done enough for the day and kept telling me to sit down as I pointed at my watch and wondered why it needed 3 people to inspect somebody's poster. At five minutes to four they woke out of their reverie, noticed me and started shouting at me, saying that I needed to hurry up; until I told them that they still needed to stamp my customs form. It was then a 1km dash to the border gates and Pakistan. With 50m to go the guard thought he needed some entertainment for the day and closed the bloody gate in my face, indicating that it was just to let the cleaner sweep up and that he'd open it in a bit. After a couple of minutes it was obvious that this wasn't happening and I started having to plead with him, something he obviously enjoyed as he kept starting to open the gate before stopping, over and over again. In the end he let me through, but I could easily have done without the stress as I had already been stamped out of India and had barely any Indian money left on me.

Once the border formalities were finally over I stayed at the border for another couple of hours. It's not something I usually do, in fact I generally try and flee the border as quickly as possible, but the border closing ceremony here has become a tourist attraction in its own right. The ludicrously dressed guards from each side mirror each other as they perform a series of intricate marches and manoeuvres, with each guard trying to out-stomp and out-march his counterpart. It's like something straight out of Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks. Huge bandstands have been erected on both sides of the divide and daytrippers from Lahore and Amritsar come to cheer for their respective "teams" (which I find particularly bizarre because if you were to even take out your camera at this border whilst crossing it you could be in Big Trouble, and yet during the ceremony every other person is taking piccies). Before the match begins the crowds are worked up with patriotic songs and cheers of Pakistan zindabad! and Allahu akbar! ("long live Pakistan" and "God is great" respectively). I couldn't tell what was being shouted on the other side as the Pakistani punters would always try and drown out their cries. The Pakistanis even have a mascot: a grandpa dressed in green and waving a huge Pakistani flag ambles about (sometimes breaking into a jog, to the delight of his fans) urging the people on and posing for photos with children. When the show finally gets under way each little gesture sends the crowd wild, and if a guard happens to march a split-second faster than his opposite number then they go absolutely apoplectic. It's all rather ridiculous, but on another level it is actually quite scary. It shows how easily perfectly normal, rational people, when in crowds, can become unthinking slogan-spouters, foaming at the mouth and ready to go on the rampage.

Anyway, whilst I'm in the philosophising mood I think I'll digress onto another topic that might be hard to bring up again; and whilst it wasn't something that affected me much, it can be more than just annoying for those who experience it more regularly whilst travelling in India. On my penultimate night in Amritsar I went to the cinema to check out an Indian film that I heard was rather good. Luckily it was, but it is definitely the exception rather than the rule. During my time in India I had the opportunity to see several Bollywood movies, and I must say that I have come to the conclusion that they are part of the problem. From a purely cinematographic point of view the acting is shocking, the editing hopeless and pretty much all production values severely lacking. The only bits that are at all well done or (intentionally) entertaining are the song and dance routines that are often ridiculed in the West. But more worrying than just plain bad film-making, is the dubious moral quality of the films. The plots (if you can actually use the term) are not just pumped full of clichés the way modern farm animals are pumped full of hormones, but are ludicrously convoluted and immoral to pander to the masala tastes of the populace i.e. violence, romance, comedy, titillation and drama, usually all in the same scene. The violence is especially gratuitous, with the heroes not even batting an eyelid at gleefully pounding villains' (and anybody who happens to stand in their way) faces to pulp, way past the point that is really necessary. But perhaps the most insidious aspect, at least for travellers, is the way Westerners, and Western women in particular, are portrayed. Every single one of them is an easy slut of loose moral values who deserves everything she gets. This is, of course, the only image Indian men have of Western women (Mother Teresa excepted) and they act accordingly. White girls travelling (especially alone) in India very often get groped as a matter of course by Indian men who, in their society, are denied almost any interaction with women at all. They then take out their sexual frustration out on Western girls in ways that they would never dare with Indian girls. Even in the grounds of the Golden Temple during Baisakhi (one of the holiest days in the Sikh calendar), as I was walking round with the Eastern Shores girls they would get touched up. Even I wasn't immune as I was anonymously pinched on the behind on more than one occasion. It seems to me to prove that moral policing and holier-than-thou attitudes of self-appointed moral guardians don't just not work, but are counterproductive. It seems to me that a little permissiveness would improve the lot and standing of women in India who, at the moment, seem to be excluded from a lot of activities.

Friday, April 14, 2006

What Not To Do At A Sikh Temple

So, here I am, after almost 5 months, back in Amritsar, where my Indian imbroglio started. But this time I've stayed more than just a day, for several reasons. Firstly to see the Sikh new year celebrations today, and secondly I need to kill a few days anyway for the mountains passes in Pakistan to open up, and the Golden Temple is the cheapest place to stay (free accommodation and food!). My second visit amongst the Sikhs has perhaps made an even more favourable impression than the first one as I can now compare them to the rest of India. The communal spirit and organisation is quite unique: pilgrims volunteer to peel potatoes, make chapatis, wash dishes, hand out food and water, clean the floors and carpets, basically everything that's needed in the day to day running of the temple. And outsiders are more than welcome to take part and witness in their traditions and rituals. All this without even asking for anything in return. The langar, or communal dining hall, particularly embodies this spirit. Throughout the day, from early in the morning well into the night (I walked past it at 6am and after midnight and it was open both times), food is prepared and served to both Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. The continuous noise of clanging plates being stacked up, handed out and washed is like the soundtrack to some never-ending cosmic battle.

The new year celebrations have been a bit of a letdown though. I was expecting wild partying in the streets and bhangra beats to bring the house down. Instead, for me, the casual observer, at least, the only difference was an increase in the number of pilgrims circumambulating the shrine and some fireworks in the evening (although it is highly possible that there was wild partying and nobody told me about it). But that didn't bother me too much (though I was looking forawrd to trying out my bhangra dance moves i.e. screwing in a lightbulb and turning a doorknob that I had been taught by my students at school) as it is a very relaxing place to just sit and people-watch. I especially like the devout Sikhs with their bright blue outfits and various offensive weapons.

On my final night I did commit a bit of a faux pas. I had noticed my bunk neighbour had had a haircut and so I commented on it, at which point he informed me that, although he had gone to the barbers (so that he could get his moustache styled) he also had a pair of clippers. And since I had already planned to get my hair cut in Pakistan I asked if I could borrow them and save myself a bit of money. So I got another fellow inmate (Rosanna from Eastern Shores) to do the honours. She had barely started (see pic below) when the Sikh guard came in and started gesticulating at us to stop immediately. Then it dawned on me that this might not have been a clever move, as devout Sikhs are forbidden from cutting their hair, ever. And here I was right by their holiest of holies. But in the end he was very kind and accommodating and let me finish off, as long as it was well away from anywhere he, or other Sikhs, could see. So, next time you happen to be in a Sikh temple and feel like a short-back-and-sides, just resist and wait until you're somewhere else.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Subtle Hints

I have finally applied for, and received, my Pakistani visa and now have my sights set on the border and the adventures beyond. Not before time too, as India is letting me know in various subtle, and some not so subtle, ways that I am beginning to outstay my welcome. First of all I was robbed; and by somebody I knew and trusted nonetheless.

"This is to introduce Mr Erik Jelinek holder of British passport no. ... issued by ... Mr Jelinek has stated that he wishes to travel to Pakistan for tourism purposes. I would be grateful if you would give his visa application due consideration."

That is a verbatim copy of the "letter of introduction" that my embassy charged me £41 (at £1 per word it cost me more than my average weekly budget for India) for, and which the Pakistani embassy insisted upon. What arcane, bureaucratic ritual it is required for is completely beyond me. Then, whilst sightseeing here in Delhi, I was shoved out of a local bus. It would have been OK if it wasn't moving at the time, but, as it was, I got a nasty graze on my arm (pretty lucky considering it could have been considerably worse) and significant blackening of my mood for the day. And the touts and rickshaw-wallahs are more rapacious here than anywhere else, mainly because Delhi is the point of entry for many people and so they are generally less wise to their ways. And then there's the heat. Of late the thermometer has been pushing into the 40 degree mark sucking the enthusiasm and drive to do anything out of me. So the mountains of Pakistan will be a welcome and fresh change for me. But it hasn't been all bad. Delhi has its fair share of informative museums and old, historic wossnames to keep you busy for some time. My highlight, however, was neither of these, but instead a modern building, possibly the most beautiful post-war construction that I know of: the Baha'i lotus temple. Although the Baha'i religion is relatively new and unknown to many people they certainly have made their mark with this exquisite masterpiece.

Friday, April 07, 2006


I think I may have mentioned it before but I'll do so again. I don't like goodbyes. I'm not good at them. I don't know what to say, I feel awkward, I can't express my emotions (perhaps a good thing as no-one wants to see a blubbering wreck) and always feel empty from the loss of companionship. Whilst travelling there are many goodbyes, but also many hellos and strong friendships that are made in remarkably short spaces of time. My favourite thing, however, is meeting people again. This actually happens more often than one might think. You might be ambling through a bazaar or just waiting for a train when suddenly a familiar face appears and, if only for a short moment, you sit, you laugh, you chat and exchange stories. Then, just as quickly, your paths separate, leaving you just as you were before; but with an added spring in your step and smile on your face.

One such reunion happened here in Delhi, and, although it had been planned, was joyful nonetheless. I had travelled with Liam and Eila through a large chunk of South America together and they are just embarking on their own Asian odyssey. It brought home to me how long I've been on the road when Liam told me that it has been two lambing seasons since we parted (Liam is Welsh and therefore a sheep farmer). Hmm, although I've seen many amazing sights and wonders, some of the most powerful memories are human ones: conversations, friends, gestures, smiles and untold acts of kindness.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Majical Mughal Masterpieces

Upon consolidating power in India in the 16th century the Mughals went on an impressive building spree, erecting mosques, mausoleums, markets, monuments and entire mmcities. The most famous Mughal monument is the ionic Taj Mahal, built by Shah Jahan, the 5th Mughal emperor, as a mausoleum for his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. The Taj has often been called "the world's greatest monument to love" but personally I think it's more of a testament to fecundity! Many, more eloquent and poetic people than I, have eulogised the Taj to the heavens and so nothing I could say would do it justice. I would just like to state that it is very big, very white, and very pretty. Just don't expect to be alone to contemplate its splendour, even at 6:30 in the morning. And it's not just the Taj, but the entire environs of Agra seem to be filled with mausoleums and cenotaphs to emperors, their wives and their cronies. But I'm not complaining; not only are they invariably exquisite examples of architecture, but they are also serene havens of peace and tranquility away from the craziness of Agra.

About 40km west of Agra and its dead Mughals lies the ghost-town of Fatehpur Sikri. Akbar (the Great) decided to move his capital from Agra to this pleasant greenfield site with plenty of space for the kids to play, neighbourhood shops and good public transport. Unfortunately Akbar failed to appreciate the site's one big drawback: lack of water (not so Great now, eh?). So only some 20-odd years after being founded out of nothing the town was just as suddenly abandoned, leaving it to nature. What's left are the skeletons of an extensive palace complex made of blood-red sandstone, solid against the deep blue sky. There is, however, one part of the city that is still in use and that is the imposing Jama Masjid mosque, site of the tomb of a famous Sufi saint. Locals come here to pray and play and women tie red threads to the saint's tomb in the hope of conceiving. And in the evenings traditional qawwali singers fill the courtyard with their mystical chanting. Just don't spend too long listening as you might miss the last bus out of town like I did!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Don't Drink The Water

You certainly wouldn't want to drink the local water at Bhopal. You might recognise the name (perhaps subconsciously) as being the site of he world's worst industrial disaster. On the night of the 2nd-3rd of December 1984 a pesticide manufacturing plant owned by Union Carbide, handily located close to the centre of town, leaked 40 tonnes of highly toxic Methyl Isocyanate gas onto he sleeping populace. The heavier-than-air gas rolled through the streets killing thousands upon thousands of unsuspecting civilians in the most horrific manner. Some 10-15 thousand died immediately or in the few days afterwards and a further 15-20 thousand or so have died since (just for comparison only 4 thousand people died, throughout Europe, due to the Chernobyl disaster) and hundreds of thousands have been left with permanent damage that is sometimes also passed onto their children. A horrific human tragedy whose memory, I feel, has been sullied by the actions of those responsible. Not only has the toxic waste not been properly cleared up yet, over 25 years later! but Union Carbide (and Dow Chemical who later bought them) continue to wash their hands of blame and responsibility despite mountains of evidence to the contrary (to see their attempts at explaining the manslaughter of thousands of innocents check out their website). They very quickly agreed to an out of court settlement with the Indian government for less than $500 million and decided that that absolved them of everything. Quite a sum one might say, but if one considers that Libya was forced to fork out $2.2 billion for the deaths of 270 people caused by he Lockerbie bombing it equates to Western lives being worth more than 100 Indian ones. OK, a bit simplistic perhaps, but it does seem to me, from reading the news and such, that that is the general modus operandi of the West.

Despite this rather sorry recent history, the past of Bhopal and its surroundings is far greater. The first traces of human culture in the Subcontinent can be found at the rock shelters of Bhimbetka (which, incidentally, sounds like the word for "little bimbo" in Czech (I have noticed that of late I'm choosing my destinations based, at least partly, on my liking of the name)). They may not be great works of art, but the setting is stunning and you can see that even back in the Stone Age people had a sense of humour as one picture of a giant water buffalo chasing a poor stick figure ably demonstrates.

Equally close to town are the remains of one of the first Buddhist monasteries ever built, at Sanchi, on a low hill overlooking a peacefully empty valley. The carvings and statues, despite being over 2,000 years old, are magnificently lifelike and full of grace. Among them is the 4-lion capitol that has become the emblem of India and is found on all their coins and banknotes.