Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 05/24/20 7:15 AM

Photo Feature: Picture Postcards

All photos by Sheila Kumar and subject to copyright.





The Alexandra Book Café in Budapest is one of the most ornate coffee shops I`ve been to. All that Baroque  gilded moldings, the glittering chandeliers, the striking frescoes by Hungarian artist Karoly Lotz, the shelves full of books, the wine racks, can dazzle you into dumbstruck  awe….till a slice of the most amazing chocolate cake arrives! The place which was a ballroom turned café, underwent a reno as well as rebranding, and is called the Café Parisi now. But, as the Bard said, what`s in a name; it`s still a great gawp-site for when you are in beautiful Budapest.




The 17th century Dutch cemetery at Bheemunipatnam near Vizag, has curiously shaped graves in there, some  dating back to 1661.  It was submerged under silt from a stream flowing nearby, then abandoned for years, after which some kind of renovation was done in the mid-Nineties. Now, it`s back  to a derelict state.




Located on the bank of the Elbe river, Dresden is famous for its Meissen porcelain, the first European hard-paste porcelain that ruled the roost till the French Sevres brand overtook it.
The last pic depicts the Carillon pavilion in the Zwinger Palace, a wonderful baroque building where a set of Meissen bells chimes melodies, including pieces by Vivaldi, Mozart, and Bach, through the day. Beautiful to look at, wonderful to hear.



There is some undefined, unfathomable atmosphere to Ritigala in Sri Lanka. A steep massif, wooded forests and on the day I was there, copious rains, Ritigala, its name derived from the ancient name Ariṭṭha Pabbata , dreadful mountain,  is home to an ancient Buddhist monastery dating back to 1st century BCE  but you will find no large statues of the Buddha, bo tree or stupas there..

Legend has it that powerful medicinal herbs are to be found near the crest of the mountain, including the fabled Sansevi herb, imbued with supernatural healing properties, all of it protected by Yakkas, the guardian spirits of the mountain.

Legend also has it that Hanuman, when he was travelling over Ritigala, dropped a chunk of a mountain of the Himalaya range which he was carrying from India to Lanka for its medicinal herbs, to save the wounded Lakshman. To this day, there is a patch of dense vegetation at the summit of Ritigala, distinct from the flora to be found on the lower slopes and surrounding plains.

This was Hanuman`s second visit to Ritigala. Earlier, having discovered where Sita was being held captive, he used Ritigala`s highest peak as a launching pad to take a giant leap from Lanka to India.

Stories of love, loss and longing in Zagreb`s Museum of Broken Relationships. Some are funny, some are not; some are sentimental, some pragmatic. All these mementos of relationships past are creative attempts at catharsis.

The 108 chortens of Dorchu La, Bhutan.
On the road leading out of Thimphu, we came across these beautiful chortens, rows and rows of them, gleaming white and terracotta red. We stopped, paid obeisance to what we took to be a religious relic and moved on.
Years after the Bhutan visit, I read that these 108 chortens were built to honour the 15 Bhutanese soldiers who died in the battle to rid the Royal Manas National Park of insurgents who had crossed over from India and set up camps in Bhutan.
This was the first `modern` conflict in a country that sets greater store by its Gross National Happiness index than a show of aggression. The initial approach was a purely Buddhist one, for compassionate dialogue, but when that failed, Operation All Clear was launched, and successfully at that.


St Ignatius of Loyola makes for a rather alarming figure atop the Baroque structure of the St Nicholas Church in Prague. During the Communist era, the church tower was used as an observation point to spy on the American and Yogoslav embassies situated close by.Today, it is back to being a gorgeous place of worship.


The Himalayan marmot, which, when I first went to Ladakh, was shy and timid. Now, they are quite unafraid of humans and come up to the tourist who, alas, feed them biscuits and other harmful foodstuff.

A herd of dzo, which is not quite yak, not quite cow, but a hybrid of the two.


The double-humped Bactrian camel, which was once a regular on the fabled Silk Road. A visit to the Nubra Valley in Ladakh invariably includes a rocky ride on the animal.

The wild ass of the plateau aka kiang, is quite the most good looking of the species.

The creatures of Ladakh are every bit as distinctive as the land is. Even as the place continues to remain at flashpoint, my mind returns repeatedly to it.

Whenever I find myself talking of the beauty and poetry of the Bosphorus and Istanbul`s dark streets, a voice inside me warns against exaggeration…if I see my city as beautiful and bewitching, then my life must be so, too.


…we still see it (the Bosphorus) as the font of our good health, the cure of our ills, the infinite source of goodness and goodwill that sustains the city and all who dwell in it.


Life can`t be all that bad, I`d think from time to time. Whatever happens, I can always take a walk along the Bosphorus.


If Istanbul speaks of defeat destruction deprivation melancholy and poverty, the Bosphorus sings of life, pleasure and happiness. I draws its strength from the Bosphorus.


On the Bosphorus,  the traveller begins to feel that in spite of everything, this is still a place in which he can enjoy solitude and find freedom. This waterway that passes through the centre of the city is not to be confused with the canals of Amsterdam or Venice,  or the rivers that divide Paris and Rome into two. Strong currents run through the Bosphorus, its surface is always ruffled by  winds and waves, and its waters are deep and dark.

Orhan Pamuk on the Bosphorus,  the stunning strait of Istanbul that connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara.

Photo: Kalyani Kumar.

Once you see this, you can never unsee it. Six bronze men descending a flight of stairs, and the further away from them you move, the more broken the figures appear. This stark statuary stands at the base of Petrin hill in Prague. The work of Olbram Zoubek and architects Jan Kerel and Zdeněk Holzel, it’s titled Disappearing Man, and is a memorial to the victims of Communism who were jailed, executed, exiled, whose lives were ruined by totalitarian despotism.




The Andaman Islands have always ranked alongside Ladakh as the most fascinating place in all of India, for me. Its gorgeous sea, its sandy coves, its ghosty Ross and Viper Isles, its limestone caves and lush mangroves. Its equally fascinating history , a mix of peaceful isolation and forcible colonisation, a degradation from deep deciduous forest to penal colony.

European colonisation in the 18th century brought in its wake disease and death, and nearly decimated the Jarawas, Sentinelese, Onge, Great Andamanese.

Today, I`m thinking of the Andamans and its indigenous people because around 200 people — and counting– have tested positive for Covid-19 there. Should the disease finds its way to the indigenes, it would be catastrophic, devastating. Let`s hope the tribals go deeper into the jungle to protect themselves.

The monument, wreathed in a blue haze.

Harmonious co-existence of Christian murals and Muslim medallions.

This mural of the Virgin with the Child Christ was , in its time, embellished with precious stones. On the Mother`s left is the Emperor Constantine himself.

One of a pair of marble urns from the Hellenistic period, brought over from Pergamon.

The Hagia Sophia: Byzantine cathedral to Ottoman mosque to secular museum, now back to mosque.  The Istanbul monument sees an average of 3.3 million visitors every year. Now what?


On the Dalai Lama’s 85th birthday, a throwback pic of the Eight Holy Stupas at Choglamsar just outside Leh. HH is a frequent visitor to the Jivatsal temple at the gompa here.





A rumination on the paths of life. The paths we took.The paths we didn`t. The paths we could have taken. The paths we should have taken.



Some bridges inspire poetry. The striking cantilevered Firth of Forth bridge on the outskirts of Edinburgh, the symbol of Scotland and a Unesco Heritage site, is one such. In Alan Turing’s famous paper about AI, a challenge ran thus: write a sonnet on the Forth Bridge. No thanks, count me out, the test subject responded, I never could write poetry.  #forthbridge #symbolofscotland #scotland #alanturing #bridgesandpoems



The sinister `Anonymous` at the Vajdahunyad Castle. Turns out this gent was medieval Hungary`s first chronicler. You touch his pen/quill, you become a better writer.

One of the two legendary lions that sit on either ends of the Szechenyi Bridge. Legend has it that the artist challenged anyone to find a flaw in the lions, and he`d kill himself. A child pointed out that the noble beasts did not have a tongue, so Marschalko the artist threw himself off the bridge into the Danube . Except, this is just that, a myth. The lions do have tongues and the artist lived to a ripe old age.


On Gellert Hill at the Citadel is the statue of a young man killing a dragon. The former is new Hungary and the beast is fascism.

This woman stood by the bank of the Danube on the Pest side. Now she resides within the Hungarian National Gallery inside the Buda Castle. The breeze from the river blows her dress gently behind her.


Up in the precincts of Buda Castle stands the bronze statue of the mythical Turul, Hungary`s national bird, usually depicted as a cross between a hawk and a falcon,

The raven atop the spire at the Matthias Church isn`t a real one; it`s a sculpted depiction of the bird that carried off King Matthias` gold ring. After he killed the bird and retrieved his ring, he made the raven his heraldic bird. The blur in the sky? A real raven…or crow.


The Liberty statue at the Citadel. The 45-foot-tall young woman holds a palm leaf aloft and can be seen from virtually everywhere in Buda and Pest.

And this is one of the handful of Budapest`s mysterious tiny statuettes which the alert eye spots all over the city, many on the boulevard that runs by the Danube. Ah, is this the Buda pest, asked a friend.

Budapest is verily the City of Statues, even going by east and central Europe`s love for statuary, a relic of their Communist past. Made of metal and stone, almost all are larger than life and all without exception, are a delight to set eyes on. Here`s one set of sculptures that had me gawping, this time last year.



One of the most beautiful spots in the world, now in the eye of a storm. Pangong Tso, a high grassland lake perched 14,270 ft above sea level and stretching a glorious 134 kms, is also known in the upper reaches of Ladakh as ‘long-necked swan lake.’ While no fish swim in these saline waters on the Indian side, the lake and its immediate vicinity are regularly visited by bar-headed geese, Brahminy ducks, kiang and marmots. Sixty per cent of Pangong Tso flows in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, the remaining forty per cent in India. Wherein lies the rub? Well, the LAC actually passes through the lake. #pangongtso #luminouslake #ladakh






        POSTCARDS: Such serenity after a history of such conflict. This beautiful water wonderland, Croatia’s Plitsvice Lakes, 8 kms of woods and water, 16 lakes sparkling in the sunshine, has been the site of pitched battles between the Ottoman and Habsburg empires, and then, more bloody conflict as late as 1991,  in the Croatian War of Independence.


In several wooded areas in the Cumbria region, people used to hammer small denomination coins into timber, right from the 1700s, hoping the trees would cure their illnesses.
I found this tree-trunk studded with coins while walking up the steep Orrest Head hill overlooking Lake Windermere, a few years ago       

Travel: Lake District, UK







Dubrovnik was the first Mediterranean port to quarantine people, animals and merchandise coming in by land or sea, for a period of first 30 days, then extended to 40 days, back in the 14th century. What’s more, offenders who broke lockdown laws were severely punished and fined, too. These details are to be found in the Archives of Dubrovnik, dating back to 27 July 1377.

All photos by Sheila Kumar. All images are subject to copyright.

Links to my other Photo Features:

Photo Feature: Ullapool on Isle of Skye, Scotland

Photo Feature: Critters of Odisha

Photo Feature: Eden and its serpent!

Photo Feature: Eating Chinese food in China

Photo Feature: Paths in the Kumaon foothills

Photo Feature: China chronicles

Photo Feature: Jaipur`s jharokas and more!

Photo Feature: The Lake District

Photo Feature: The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley

Photo Feature: Views from a Bangalore Window

Photo Feature: Kiwiland Calling!

Photo Feature: Himachal Heights

Photo Feature: Scotland

Photo Feature: Cats of Turkey

Photo Feature: A Nilgiris montage

Photo Feature: A Ladakh journey

108 chortensAlan TuringAlexandra Book CafeAndaman Islandsanimals found in ladakhBactrian camelBaroque churchBheemunipatnamBhutanBosphorusBudapestCarillonCroatiaCumbriaDorchu LaDresdenDubrovnikDutch cemeterydzofirst quarantine cityFirth of Forth BridgeForth Bridgehagia SophiaHanumanhighland lakeHimalayan marmotindigenous tribes of the AndamansIstanbulkiangLadakhMeissen porcelainmoney trees of CumbriaMuseum of Broken RelationshipsOrhan PamukPangong tsopaths of lifephoto featurepics with curious stories behind thempicture postcardsPlitvice Lakes National ParkPraguePrahaRitigalaScotlandSri LankaSt Nicholas Churchstatues of BudapesttravelTurkeyWindermereZagrebZwinger Palace

Sheila Kumar • May 24, 2020

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