Asiatic Vs African Elephants

The pachyderm evolved around 80 million years ago. It is believed, around 50-60 million years ago the Moeritheriums, approximately the size of current day pigs, were the roots from which the proboscideans evolved. Elephantide is the only sub-species of proboscideans alive today.

There are 3 recognized species of elephants alive today; African Bush elephant, African forest elephant and Asiatic elephant. There are around 700,000 and 40,000 African and Asiatic elephants alive today respectively. The latter’s number has dwindled in the last 50 years due to mass poaching, hunting and human encroachment.


Major Differences

  • Asiatic elephants are older than the African elephants, even though the former migrated from Africa. The African elephant appeared only about 1.5 million years ago.
  • Asiatic elephants are genetically closer to Mammoths than the African elephants. Morphological evidence suggests Mammoths and Elephas (Asiatic elephant) are sister taxa.
  • African elephants tend to be larger in size than the Asiatic elephants. A male Asian elephant may measure avg. 2.75 meters, while a male African elephant may measure anything from 3.4 -4 meters.
  • Due to their dwindling number, the Asiatic elephants have been listed under Endangered category by the IUCN list. The African elephants are categorized as Vulnerable species as of yet.
  • An Asiatic elephant can live up to 60 years in the wild, while their African cousins can live up to 70 years.
  • Poaching for ivory is rampant among Asian elephants than the African elephants. Most of the ivory is smuggled throughout Asia for preparing medications or as jewels.
  • Experiencing of Musth, the increasing level of testosterone and libido, is common among both species of elephants. They use Musth to attract female attention during breeding season.
  • A female elephant from both species may carry a child for 22 months before giving birth.
  • An African elephant has larger ears than the Asian elephants. The former’s ear can easily be spotted because of  its shape resembling the shape of African continent.

 

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10 Facts about Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia is the national landmark of Turkey, located at the center of the capital Istanbul. It was built by the Roman empire as the basilica in 537 AD, and has survived through various transformations. Around 3.47 million tourists visited the landmark in 2015, making it the most popular tourist site in the entire Turkey.


10 Interesting Facts

  • Hagia Sophia was originally built as the Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal Basilica in 537 AD by the Byzantine Roman empire during the reign of Jutinian I.
  • It was converted into a mosque by the Mehmed the Conquerer of Ottomon empire in 1453. It remained a mosque until 1931, and was opened as a museum in 1935 by the Republic of Turkey.
  • The original church on the site of the Hagia Sophia is said to have been built by Constantine I in 325 on the foundations of a pagan temple. It was damaged in 404 by a fire that erupted during a riot following the second banishment of St. John Chrysostom, then patriarch of Constantinople. It was rebuilt and enlarged by the Roman emperor Constans I. The restored building was rededicated in 415 by Theodosius II. The church was burned again in the Nika insurrection of January 532.
  • The four minarets surrounding the main dome was later added by the Ottomon empire. One minaret was built out of red bricks while the other three were built of white limestone and sandstone.
  • The main structure; the porphyry columns came from Rome and the marble columns came from Ephesus. Marble in varied colors, alabaster, and onyx were cut, fitted, piered, and veneered to cover walls and pavements in geometric patterns. It was built by the Greek architects, Anthemius of Tralles  and Isidore of Miletus.
  • The Blue Mosque and Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul were designed with an inspiration of Hagia Sophia.
  • To fortify (and beautify) the interior of the church, columns from the long-abandoned and destroyed Temple of Artemis in Ephesus were used for the Hagia Sophia. Additional building materials may also have come from ancient sites in Baalbeck and Pergamom.
  • Also called the “sweating column,” the “wishing column,” and the “perspiring column,” the weeping column stands in the northwest portion of the church and is one of 107 columns in the building. The alleged blessing of St. Gregory has led many to rub the column in search of divine healing.
  • It was enlisted in the world heritage site by UNESCO in 1985.
  • Over 3 million tourists visit the landmark every year, making it the most visited tourist site in Turkey.

Khaptad National Park

Khaptad National Park is a protected area located in the far-western Nepal. It was named after the renowned saint Khaptad Baba, who made it his home. It lies far from Kathmandu and many other cities, hence, the local culture and lifestyle inside the park remains well preserved.


Overview

Khaptad National Park is a protected region and a national park located in the far-western region of Nepal. It was established in 1984 and falls under the IUCN Category II. The national park spans 225 kmand covers four different districts; Bajhang, Bajura, Achham and Doti.

Khaptad's landscape
Khaptad’s landscape

The area also attracts the Hindu pilgrims during the Janai Poornima, which falls on July-August. The pilgrims arrive at Khaptad Baba Ashram and stay overnight to observe the full moon; they then worship Lord Shiva.

The park contains Chir pine at lower altitude, and sub alpine forests of fir, hemlock, oak and rhododendron in the higher areas. It also boasts 224 species of medicinal herbs.

It is estimated that about 567 species, 11 percent of flowering plants of Nepal, are found in Khaptad.

You can find around 270 species of birds in the area, some of which includes; Impheyan pheasant, partridges, flycatchers, cuckoos and eagles. It also boasts indigenous wildlife; barking deer, wild dog, wild boar, ghoral, Himalayan black bear, yellow-throated marten, Rhesus monkey and Macacques.

The entry fee for SAARC nationals is $1, and $10 for Non-SAARC nationals.

History

The park was named after Khaptad Baba. It was on his advice, that the state decided to establish a protected region. Khaptad Baba or the Late Swami Sachchidananda moved to the area in the 1940s to meditate. He lived 50 years as a hermit and became a renowned spiritual saint. Many devotees visited him during the heyday.

Today, an Ashram remains inside the park to commemorate the late saint. Khaptad Baba Ashram remains open for any visitor.

Another major religious destination inside the park is the Badimallika temple. The temple is dedicated to Mallika Devi. It is believed that Goddess Sati, Shiva’s consort, was reborn as Parvati in this holy area.


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The Pashupatinath Temple of Kathmandu

Pashupatinath Temple of Kathmandu is one of the holiest Hindu shrines in the world. A sacred place dedicated to Lord Shiva congregates more than 800,00 pilgrims during the grand festival of Maha Shiavratri. It is a popular tourist destination in Kathmandu.


Overview

The term Pashupatinath stands  for “Lords of all animals.” The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva (One of the Hindu Trinity) and also known as the lord of animals. A stone bull in a crouching position marks the insignia of the temple.

Lord Shiva
Lord Shiva

It’s located at the heart of Kathmandu. The area of Pashupatinath encompasses 264 hectares of land including 518 temples and monuments. Due to its historical and social importance, the entire site was added in the UNESCO Heritage Site in 1979.

The Maha Shivaratri is the major festival of all Hindus in South Asia which is celebrated with much awe inside Pashupatinath temple premise. It attracts over 800,000 visitors in a single day, one of the highest religious congregations in the world. Thousands of visitors, including; pilgrims, devotees, tourists, visit the temple everyday.

An animal sanctuary was established inside the area to protect the indigenous wildlife of the region. Antelope and other few animals reside inside the sanctuary; and it is open to tourists.

History

There isn’t certain date signifying the origin or creation of the temple. The earliest evidence of the temple dates back to 400 AD. The current temple was constructed or renewed in the 15th Century by the Lichhavi king of Kathmandu. Since, then many renovations have taken place; along with many temples, shrines built inside the premise.

Legends

There are many legends to the creation or origin of the temple.

The Cow Legend suggests,

Lord Shiva once took a form of an antelope and started roaming around Bagmati river. The Gods seeing this, caught him by his horn and forced him to take his self form. The separated horn was revered and prayed as the Linga. Centuries later, a herdsman found the linga buried inside the earth. Sine then, the shrine was established to pray to the Linga.

The Mahabharata Legend suggests,

When the Pandavs went to the Himalayas, Shiva tried avoiding them because they killed many people in during the Mahabharata war. To avoid them, he ran away in the form of a Bull. On being followed, the colossal Bull dived into the ground to resurface at other places. He left his hump at Kedarnath. When he resurfaced, he had assumed a human form and emerged at different areas in these mountains. His Face resurfaced at Rudranath. His Arms resurfaced at Tungnath. His Naval emerged at Madha Maheshwar. His Hair emerged at Kalpeshwar.

There are many other theories to the origin of the temple, which today are part of the popular folklore’s.

Arya Ghat (Crematory)

The banks of Bagmati river passing through the temple also serves as the cremation ground for the locals. Known as Arya Ghat, it is considered important mainly because the Ghat is the only place around the temple where the water is considered sacred enough to be brought into the temple.

You may witness people cremating their family or relatives at the ghat almost everyday. You can visit the site  during Kathmandu Day Tour.


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Po Cha (Tea), the Heritage of Tibet

Po Cha is a widely consumed tea in the Tibet and most countries surrounding the Himalayas. The assorted drink infused with locally available items is also a delicacy in most parts of South Asia, and carries the richer Tibetan heritage.


Overview

Po Cha or the Butter tea is also known as Tibetan tea, Cha Süma (Tibetan “churned tea”), Sūyóu chá (Mandarin) or Gur Gur in the Ladakhi language. It is a popular everyday drink consumed by the inhabitants of the Himalaya regions of Nepal, Bhutan, India and Tibet.

Traditionally, it’s made from Tibetan black tea, milk and unsalted Yak butter. Today, cow’s butter is popularly used while making the tea, mainly because of the easy availability and lesser cost. However, the inhabitants of Tibet still prefer to drink Po Cha with Yak’s butter.

History

Po cha
Butter Tea

The earliest history of the Po Cha goes back to medieval Tibet. It originated in the 7th century Tang Dynasty, however, it didn’t reach its current state until 13th century. The early migrants and traders from Tibet flourished the consumption of the tea to the other surrounding nations.

Today, the native Tibetans and most Mongol tribes residing in Nepal, Bhutan and India drink Po Cha on a daily basis.

The traditional process of making butter tea can take a long time and is pretty complicated. People use a special black tea that comes from an area called Pemagul in Tibet. The tea comes in the shape of bricks and can be crumbled and boiled for hours.


Preparation

  • 4 cups of water
  • Plain black tea (Preferablly Tibetan ethnic tea)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter (Unsalted butter from the female Yak)
  • 1/3 cup of Yak’s milk

Materials needed: One churn, blender, or some other large container with a tight lid to shake the tea up with.

The tea is boiled in water for half a day, achieving a dark brown color. It is then skimmed, and poured into a cylinder with fresh yak butter and salt and then churned. The purplish liquid is the end result of the churn which can be poured into clay tea-pots or the jars.

Nowadays, when modern method has bring variety of  tea style at home. People often make butter tea using tea bags, different types of butter available in the market and a blender.

Caucasian Ovcharka – The Shepherd Dog

Caucasian Ovcharka is the popular large breed dog found mostly in Central Asian nations. They are mostly bred to herd the cattle. Today, they are well adopted by families as the pet dog. Its ginormous size is matched only by the Tibetan Mastiff from South Asia.


The Shepard Dog

Molossus diagram
Molossus diagram

Caucasian Ovcharka, also known as Bashkan, Russian Bear Dog or Caucasian Shepherd dog, is a huge and strongly built canine. It’s  native to the Caucasus region of Central Asia and Europe. Historically, they were bred as the Shepherd dog, and were also used for other various purposes. They have an extremely strong guardian instinct and will exhibit a threatening behavior towards all strangers.

  • FCI Pinscher and Schnauzer, Molossoid and Swiss Mountain Dog Group
    • Section 2: Molossian breeds
      • Section 2.2: Mountain types
        • Russia: Caucasian Shepherd Dog

Even though, they are fun loving and calm animals, it’s suggested not to adopt the Shepard dog in a household with young children or by the novice pet-owners.

They can be trained at a very early age. An early socialization is also required to make them understand that not every human is an enemy. Due to its fierce guardianship, protectiveness and ability to take down a danger, most people fear coming around them.

Habitat & Size

They are mostly found in the Caucasus region of Central Asia and Europe, like; Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and some are also found in Russia and other European nations. An average canine can survive 10-12 years in domestic surrounding. They are known to very outdoor and agile animals. A regular exercise and diet is a must.

The minimum height for females is 64 cm, with a desirable height between 67 and 70 cm (26 and 28 in). The minimum weight for females is 45 kg. The minimum height for males is 68 cm, with a desirable height between 72 and 75 cm. The minimum weight for males is 50 kg.

Facts

  • The Caucasian Ovcharka is one of the oldest mastiff-type breeds, originating from the Caucasus Mountains between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.
  • Historically, the Caucasian Molossers were used to protect properties, guard livestock, and kill wolves. Today, especially outside the Caucasus, they are widely employed as companion animals and watchdogs, while in their native Caucasus they are still protecting sheep as well.
  • The Caucasian Shepherd Dog is generally healthy and long-lived, averaging a life span of 10–12 years.
  • Plain dogs have a shorter coat and appear taller as they are more lightly built. Mountain dog types have a heavier coat and are more muscularly built.
  • Unless properly socialized and trained, the Caucasian Shepherd may exhibit ferocious and unmanageable tendencies. It is very brave, alert, strong and hardy.
  • The modern show class Caucasian dog is a hybrid of established Caucasian types and some lines of the Central Asian dog.

 

Kasthamandap – The Lost Heritage of Kathmandu

The Kathmandu city originally got its name from the public shelter located at the center of the city, Kasthamandap. A popular public shelter and a tourist landmark was lost in the major earthquake of 2015.


Overview

Kasthamandap was a three-storied public shelter that included a shrine consecrated to Gorakshanath situated at Hanumandhoka, Kathmandu. The word Kasthamandap literally translates to ‘Wood Shelter’ in English. The landmark was a popular tourist site for ages, until it was destroyed by the earthquake.

It is supposedly known to have been constructed out of a single Sal tree. It first served as a community center where devotees gathered for major religious and cultural ceremonies. Later, it was turned into a temple dedicated to Gorakhnath, a 13th-century ascetic who was subsequently linked to the then royal family.

A central wooden enclosure houses the image of the god, which is noteworthy since Gorakhnath is usually represented only by his footprints. In the corners of the building are four images of Ganesha.

Many street vendors chose the spot to setup their dingy shops due to the constant inflow of visitors. It served as one of the popular tourist landmarks at Hanumandhoka.

History

It was believed to have been constructed in 12th century during the Malla empire. Several myths about the construction of the Kasthamandap Temple have been resolved with the recent archaeological findings. The excavated objects from the destroyed site suggests that it may have been built in around 7th century, during Lichhavi empire.

The construction residue left from the excavation proved vital to link the landmark to 7th century period. The premise idolizes the greater lifestyle and culture of Kathmandu. The usage of wood for major construction and the ornate designs, color and decorations has always been indigenous to the greater Kathmandu inhabitants, Newars.

Destruction

The major earthquake of 2015 shook the entire Nepal with its magnanimous force. Most of the old temples and premises were left completely destroyed.The earthquake caused the casualty of over 8,000 souls.

Kasthamandap along with the surrounding temple and the historical palace were partially or fully destroyed. The reconstruction of the palace and other premises are well under the operation. The site of Kasthamandap remains empty with only the shrine of Gorakhnath.

5 Best Places to Catch the Sunrise in Nepal

One of the most popular outdoor activities in Nepal accounts for watching the sunrise from some popular landmarks. Most of these landmarks are incorporated into the popular trekking trails for the ease of access.

It can also be a rewarding activity for most non-morning people. So, do make a point to visit these places the next time you  visit Nepal!


#1 Poon Hill

Poon Hill at 3,210 meters is an extended rift of the Ghorepani trail which offers a 360 view of the surrounding hills, valleys and mountains. The place is most popular among the incoming tourists for watching the sunrise and the sunset.

It takes few days of hiking to reach Poon Hill from Pokhara and is mostly undertaken during Spring (Mar-Jun) and Autumn (Sep-Nov) seasons. The extended trek will take you to Annapurna Base Camp. You can choose to spend a night at Ghorepani and make an early morning hike towards Poon Hill to view the Sunrise.

#2 Sarangkot

Sarangkot at 1,600 meters is a hill station located at the outskirts of Pokhara. The place is mostly popular among the tourists for the adventure sporting activities, such as; paragliding and zip-line.

The sheer altitude and quality hotels in the area makes it a worthy destination to spend a night for a rewarding morning with a sunrise. Annapurna and Machhapuchhre peaks can well be seen from the Sarangkot.

#3 Nagarkot

Nagarkot at 2,195 meters offers a great view of the sunrise and sunset. A local hill station located just at the edge of Kathmandu can be reached in a matter of few hours. A overnight stay at one of the quality lodges in the area and the early morning hike to the local watchtower can be a rewarding experience.

Out of 13 mountain ranges, you will get to see 8 of them. If the weather permits, you can even get a glimpse of the Mount Everest at the distance.

October to April is considered the best time to visit Nagarkot. It can be a great retreat after a lengthy trek around Nepal.

#4 Kala Patthar

Kala Patthar at 5,643 meters is a landmark located at south ridge of Pumori in the Everest region. The phrase Kala Patthar literally translate to ‘Black Rock’ in English. It is a very popular destination among the tourists. Most of the time, the trek to Everest concedes at Kala Patthar.

An early morning hike from Gorakshep to the north bring you to the Kala Patthar. The sunrise and the close view of the Mount Everest are the most notable rewards of the trek.

You can consider visiting Kala Patthar mainly during the Spring and Autumn seasons.

#5 Antu Danda

Antu Danda at 1,977 meters is located at the far eastern region of Nepal. A mystical place popular for its tea garden and weather is home to one of the best places to catch a sunrise. A lengthy 12 hr ride or a flight from Kathmandu to Bhadrapur will take you to the most eastern part of Nepal.

The winding narrow roads, hills and tea garden are the most notable about Antu Danda.


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Tsaatan – The Reindeer Herders of Mongolia

Tsaatan is a Turkic nomadic tribe of people living in the northern Mongolia. They are mostly popular for their lifestyle revolving only around the Reindeer. A smaller community comprising of nomadic people have a simpler lifestyle.


Overview

Tsaatan or Dukha people belong to a small Tuvan Turkic community of reindeer herders living in northern Khövsgöl Aimag of Mongolia, formerly USSR. The name Tsaatan means ‘those who have reindeer’ in the local dialect. They invest their entire life rearing, herding and taming the Reindeer.

Tsaatan woman
Tsaatan woman

There are only about 40 houses or around 300 Tsaatan people left in the region who still practice their nomadic lifestyle. The dwindling number of reindeer in the wild is the major reason for the shrinkage of the community.

The reindeer are mostly tamed for commute and riding around. They aren’t used for pulling the sledge. The practice of rearing reindeer is to produce milk, cheese and butter for daily consumption. The lack of vegetation and other meal substitute makes Tsaatans to depend entirely on their pets for food.

Children are taught to tame reindeer at the young age, as the early part of their life revolves around controlling the beasts for various purposes.

If there were no reindeer we would not exist

History

Originally from the Tuva region of Russia, the Tsaatan are the last groups of nomadic reindeer herders in the world. They practice the Shaman religion; they are indebted to their local environment and perform many mystical rituals to help cater their nomadic lifestyle.

Present Day

Tuva was annexed to the USSR in 1944, hence the border was closed and monitored. During and after WWII, most Tsaatans fled from their homeland to settle in the nearby Mongolia. Moving out of USSR had many benefits; they shared trade and cultural relations with the Mongolian herders, elevate food shortages during the time of war, save domesticated animals from being requisite by the USSR, diseases and famine, etc.

After constant deportations from the Mongolian government, they finally received the official status to stay in Monglia in 1956. Today, they still practice their nomadic lifestyle in peace.

Meet the Tsaatan Nomads @BoredPanda

 

Upper Mustang in Pictures

Geographically a part of the Tibetan Plateau, Upper Mustang lies within the boundaries of Nepal. A former monarchy and an independent state, Upper Mustang was annexed into Nepal in the 18th Century. It occupies almost two third of the entire Mustang district.

An isolated region, it was opened for tourists only in 1992. It’s discreet nature has managed to keep the local traditions and culture alive for centuries. Geographically and culturally, Mustang still resembles Tibet, and almost everyone speaks Tibetan.

It falls within the protected regions of Nepal, therefore, you must obtain special permit before trekking to Upper Mustang, however, the permit is costly and the tourists’ movement is heavily regulated.

Lo Manthang

Lo Manthang is a walled city and the capital of Upper Mustang. Formerly the capital of the Kingdom of Lo, it was founded by Ame Pal  in 1380. The city is renowned for its white washed mud brick walls, stupas, cultural relics and the palace of the former King of Mustang, Raja Jigme Dorge Palabar Bista.

The last monarch still resides in his palace inside Lo Manthang. And, if you re lucky, you can pay him a visit during your travel to Mustang. The city is surrounded by arid landscape with less or none vegetation, mainly because, the city lies above 3,500 meters.



Facts about Mustang

  • Buddhism is a predominant religion in this region. The earliest inhabitants were known to be the adherents of Bon religion, a faith which predates Buddhism.
  • Upper Mustang is dominated by the mountain caves, which were supposedly used during wars; to hide from the reach of foreign invaders, as a shelter from diseases and later for burial of the dead. Numbering to 100s, these man-made caves are situated 13,000 ft above the ground.
  • The last monarch,Raja Jigme Dorje Palabar Bista still resides in his palace in Lo Manthang.
  • Mustang was known to have rich deposits of radioactive elements, mainly Uranium.
  • It is a rain-shadow area, hence, it receives least rainfall, and it can be traveled through the year.
  • The total population of the region hardly exceeds 16,000 inhabitants.

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