The Pictographs of Mazinaw Rock: Listening For Algonquian Echoes

checking out Mazinaw Rock from the landing near our campsite

checking out Mazinaw Rock from the landing/boat launch area near our campsite

Massanog, Massinaw, Mazinaw  …no matter how you spell it in English, the roots of the word lie in the Algonquian language of those who came to this lake over a time span measured in millennia. Meaning something like “painted image”, the lake gets its name from the close to three hundred ochre rock paintings put there by Ojibwe or other Algonquian-speaking people three or four hundred years ago or perhaps even longer. Their canvas? Three kilometers of awe-inducing vertical pink granite cliff face with heights of up to one hundred meters.  Mazinaw Rock has the largest single collection of pictographs in the entire Canadian Shield area.

My brother and I have visited a few of these rock painting sites over the past three years, often taken in by the majestic settings in which the shamans and vision quest-ers of old chose to make their ochre marks.  Agawa Rock on Lake Superior, the Pikitigushi River’s Cliff Lake, the Bloodvein’s Artery Lake … one hushed “wow” after another as we came up to them. Now we were looking at the Mazinaw Rock about five hundred meters across the lake, ready for the biggest wow of all.

Bon Echo Campsites

Bon Echo Campsites =- a small town when everybody’s there!

We visited Mazinaw Rock in May just before Victoria Day weekend. The Lake and the Rock are a part of Bon Echo Provincial Park and as the map above illustrates, when its four hundred campsites are full – common during prime time summer – it becomes a small town!  While we were there we saw two other tents and a camper van. The emptiness definitely added to our appreciation of the lake and the Rock!

sign to our campsite on Mazinaw's west shore

sign to our campsite on Mazinaw’s west shore

I had booked our campsite online in March;  Billed as a “premium” walk-in site, it requires a two hundred meter carry from the parking lot. On the park map above you will find it at the extreme top left – site #168.

I still recall when the total cost for two nights at the site popped up on my computer screen – $99.71. I almost scrapped the idea of visiting right then and there – $100. for 2 nights at a park tent site?  Well, thankfully I got over it.  While nothing beats our usual camping on Crown land for free, in this case sitting right across from Mazinaw Rock had an added value that made the fee seem more reasonable.

Bon Echo Campsite #168

Bon Echo Campsite #168

We arrived there early Wednesday evening and left a couple of mornings later.  While the two nights were a bit cool-ish, we had clear sunny weather during the day and saw Mazinaw Rock – it faces westward – change colour from the dark grey of early morning to a lighter grey in late morning to an almost reddish glow in late afternoon. It was magical.

our Swift Dumoine across from Mazinaw Rock

our Swift Dumoine across from Mazinaw Rock

During our time there we paddled the entire length of the rock face twice – once in the morning and again in the late afternoon.  Before we left the next morning we went over a third time and redid a good stretch of it. What a great way to spend time!  None of our pix captured the feeling of sitting there in our canoe and looking up eighty meters of vertical rock face. Now that I think of it, using the camera’s video option would perhaps have been the way to show some of the sheer grandeur of Mazinaw.

dusk view of Mazinaw Rock

a dusk shot of Mazinaw Rock from our Bon Echo Campsite

We set off the next morning before breakfast for a ninety-minute paddle down the two kilometer length of Mazinaw Rock from the south tip of German Bay to the Narrows. As we had done on other pictograph site visits, we enlisted Selwyn Dewdney as our guide. He is the one who initiated the systematic recording and analysis of Canadian Shield pictographs in the late 1950’s and provided us with explanations of sometimes puzzling ochre marks and images.

Dewdney, of course, was not the first to note the existence of the pictographs.  In The Mazinaw Experience: Bon Echo and Beyond (see the end of the post for a link to the book), John Campbell lists references to the rock paintings that go back to 1848, when J.S. Hargen saw them while surveying the Mississippi River system of which Lake Mazinaw is the headwaters. Also mentioned are an A.J.B. Halfpenny article in the 1879 edition of The Canadian Antiquarian and Numismatic Journal and reports from the 1880’s by both the Smithsonian Institute and Canada’s Federal Department of Indian Affairs.

In the early 1890’s the site was also visited and systematically recorded  by David Boyle, Canada’s pre-eminent archaeologist of the day and the director of the Ontario Provincial Museum (which would later become the Royal Ontario Museum).  Given that many had already noted the existence of the rock paintings,  his following comments are puzzling –

David Boyle - The Rock Paintings of Massanog

Needless to say, Boyle found what his informants (Messrs. Caldwell of Lanark and Drummond of Perth identified in the footnote indicated in the quote) had told him about. Boyle would write a brief report on his visit which represents the first attempt by an archaeologist to deal with the site and its meaning. (See the end of the post for access to the report.)

Mazinaw Lake - upper section

Mazinaw Lake - lower section

I have arranged our photos of the pictographs in the same north to south order that Dewdney used. We would soon see that while there may well be 295 pictographs at Mazinaw Rock,  many are on the verge of disappearing and most are no more than lines and what some  refer to as “tally marks”. Like 80% of the pictographs found in the Temagami area, for example, the Mazinaw ones tend to be abstract. Dewdney makes the following general comment about the site –

Handprints are entirely absent, canoes are rare, and the tendencies to geometric types of abstractions so marked that we are tempted to ask whether the paintings are not the product of a culture quite distinct from those further west.They seem older, too, in so far as a large number have been weathered to near-disappearance. (p.97)

Take a look here at my photos of the pictographs from the Bloodvein River’s Artery Lake site and you will see what Dewdney is getting at when he compares the Mazinaw’s pictograph style to the naturalistic portrayal of humans and animals more common further west.

the northernmost pictograph we found

the northernmost pictograph we found – it may be an animal or perhaps a T shape

one of the  pictos north of Face II's Mishipeshu

one of the pictographs north of Face II’s Mishupeshu – four uneven parallel lines

We were soon rewarded with one of the two most striking pictograph faces of the entire site – Dewdney labels it Face II.  He begins by commenting on a figure that others have connected to Mishupeshu, the mythic underwater lynx –

The weird central figure is surely no native animal, although the shoulder-neck area is too badly weathered for the viewer to be able to make out the original outline.The strong suggestion of cloven hoofs is unique.  Note the same animal below this one’s belly – not identifiable either, but far more typical of the other animals on the site. Even the canoe, if we so interpret the lower part of the painting, is strikingly different from others elsewhere.

Mazinaw Rock - the Mishzupeshu  face (Dewdney's Face II)

Mazinaw Rock – the Mishupeshu face (Dewdney’s Face II)

Dewdney's sketch of Mazinaw's Face II

Dewdney’s sketch of Mazinaw’s Face II

As a comparison, here is how David Boyle saw the same panel in his 1892 visit. His ordering system goes from south to north so by the time he got to this face he was up to #37.

Boyle's drawing of what Dewdney labelled  Face II

Boyle’s drawing of what Dewdney labelled Face II

Mazinaw Face II close-up

Mazinaw Face II - afternoon shot

Mazinaw Face II – afternoon shot

Just underneath and to the south of Face II is what could be interpreted in the Ojibwa worldview as a water level cave entrance for the maymaygweshi, the very creatures that the shaman would come to meet.  (See the above face overview photo for the exact location.) Next to the rock indent are the pictographs seen in the image below, more cryptic and indecipherable lines, including three sets of vertical parallel ones.

pictographs just south of Dewdney's Face II

pictographs just south of Dewdney’s Face II

We paddled on, seeing single ochre marks in a couple of places.  We also saw the first evidence of graffiti – someone’s initials scratched onto the rock face. Admittedly, given that for over a hundred years or more that the lake has hosted increasing numbers of vacationers, things could be a lot worse.  First with the Bon Echo Inn and its satellite cabins and now with Bon Echo Park and its four hundred campsites, 99.5% of  visitors have been able to look at, appreciate and just paddle on.

initials scratched onto Mazinaw Rock

initials scratched onto Mazinaw Rock

When I quickly reviewed our photos after the trip I was initially puzzled by the one below. And then I noticed the two rock screws permanently embedded in Mazinaw and I remembered that the Alpine Club of Canada (the Toronto chapter to which I used to belong), has a hut around the corner in German Bay and its members often do climbs on Mazinaw Rock. The first recorded climb was in 1956. Now I am curious about where the various routes are located and what impact they have had on the pictographs!

rock screws on mazinaw between Faces II and VII

rock screws on Mazinaw between Faces II and VII

Mazinaw Rock S of Face II

some pictographs on Mazinaw Rock south of Face II

I took a photo of the rock face below because of what seemed to us like intentional scouring of the ochre. You can see the two lighter-coloured areas. Given that it makes no sense at all, there must be a better explanation!

a scoured patch of Mazinaw rock face

a scoured patch of Mazinaw rock face

six pictographs to the north of Rabbit Man

six pictographs to the north of Rabbit Man – afternoon shot

a stretch of mazinaw Rock

a stretch of Mazinaw Rock – morning shot

Mazinaw moose pictogaph and vertical lines

Mazinaw moose pictograph and vertical lines – Y-like figures

Dewdney drawing of Muslcow moose

Dewdney drawing of Musclow moose

Mazinaw - Dewdney Face VII

Mazinaw – Dewdney Face VII

It is a human trait to find meaning everywhere – even where it usually isn’t!  We’re able to turn random events into parts of a connecting narrative. Looking at the rock face above had me thinking about another one 1500 miles away on the Musclow River in Northwestern Ontario.  Dewdney did a sketch of a moose there that bears some similarity to the one on this Mazinaw rock face.

As we headed south to the next major face, the one with “Rabbit man”, we passed this rock face which Dewdney had stopped to sketch and which he labelled Face VII. Three human-like figures and some vertical slashes above them is what the sketch and the image below show.

Mazinaw - Dewdney's Face VII

Mazinaw – Dewdney’s Face VII – click on the image to enlarge it

Next up was the other – along with Face II – striking rock face. It features a figure that Dewdney labels “Rabbit-Man”.  Everything is up in the air he tries to make sense of what he is looking at. Of the pictograph on the south side of the face, he asks –

Are these a hare’s ears on this strange small figure? Or large feathers? If it is Ojibwa in origin we could make out a case for its representing Nanabozho, legendary hero and “demigod’, traditionally a hare. (99-100)

And of the left side of the face, he asks about what some have called “the picket fence” –

Are other rabbit ears emerging from the “tectiform” to the left? This strangely structured form, unique to the Mazinaw site, appears again on two other faces.

Stumped by the word “tectiform”?  I was.  The online dictionary defines it as “a design found in Paleolithic cave art and believed to represent a structure or dwelling”.  It certainly suits better than what I first saw – a chorus line of thirteen penguins!  

Mazinaw Rock's Rabbit Man Face

Mazinaw Rock’s Rabbit Man Face

possible nanabush picto and picket fence signs

possible Nanabush picto and picket fence signs

Again as a point of comparison, here are the sketches as they appear in Boyle’s report from the 1890’s –  I am again struck by how straight Boyle made everything.  He certainly seemed to be lacking the artist’s sensibility that Dewdney had in spades.  It is also be a reflection of the era each lived in – the rather starchy Victorian Era versus the freewheelin’ 1960’s.

Mazinaw Rabbit Man pictograph

the %22picket fence%22 pictograph

I am a bit confused here by Boyle’s numbering system. #26 and #34 are right next to each other and yet not numbered that way.  Also, since the the pictographs sketched below are closer to #37 – the “Mishupeshu” pictograph panel – you’d think that their number would higher than the “Nanabush” pictograph on the right.

Mazinaw Rock's Rabbit man panel

Mazinaw Rock’s Rabbit man panel – morning shot

Rabbit Man face close up

Of all the Mazinaw rock faces, this  is the only one which even gets a mention in Grace Rajnovich’s Reading Rock Art: Interpreting The Indian Rock Paintings Of The Canadian Shield.  She writes:

The Mazinaw Lake pictographs in eastern Ontario are puzzling to this author.  The repeated “honeycomb” or “picket fence” signs (Figure 143)  do not occur elsewhere in Shield rock art, so the site appears to be unique, perhaps someone’s deeply personal dream. (161)

She does go on to note that a birchbark scroll found in northwestern Ontario at Burntside Lake has similar designs.  However, her comment about the site as the possible expression of “someone’s deeply personal dream” is perplexing. She would have to be referring to this particular rock face and not the entire site.  She would know from her extensive work at other sites that Mazinaw is not one person’s work. Many “painters” came to this special place over an extended period to create the sheer quantity of pictographs which are still evident today.  Also, as personal as these ochre paintings may be, the fact remains that those who came here were members of the same culture and shared a common mythological image bank and purpose. To emphasize the “deeply personal” misses the point.

another difficult to say what mazinaw pictograph face

another difficult to say what Mazinaw pictograph face

Dewdney sketch of the above rock face Dewdney noted this about the pictographs in his above sketch and also shown in the photo just above-

At the top left of the opposite page we have an abstraction which we are also tempted to relate to the “rabbit-man” already viewed. The face illustrated below it was most frustrating to record, much of it being too faint to trace directly.  The rendering here suggests dorsal spines and a horned head, but these should be regarded with some suspicion; I may well here have succumbed to my own wishful thinking. (pp.100-101 of IRPOTGL, 1967)

closer up of the above Mazinaw panel

closer up of the above Mazinaw panel

A few meters further on we saw this pictograph which reminded us of similar ones on the Bloodvein – there we saw a couple of versions of a standing human figure holding something in his outstretched arm. We looked at this one and wondered if this too could be interpreted as a shaman holding out his otter skin medicine bag?

Anishinaabe shaman with medicine bag on Mazinaw Rock?

canoe and double-ended Y

canoe and double-ended Y

As you paddle south you will pass by dozens more pictographs, some in better shape than others. Eventually you approach the Narrows. But first, a feature that looks like a cave  comes up.  Max hopped out of the canoe to see if there were any pictographs on the inner walls of the “cave” – the answer was “No”. We didn’t know it yet but Max had just walked inside the belly of the Turtle!

approaching Turtle Cave from the north

from Inside Turtle Rock Cave

As we paddled around the corner, there was the Turtle!   In the pic below you can see the Turtle’s head stick out over the water. From another angle you can almost imagine the front legs. You can see how this spot is just asking for some meaning to be assigned to it!

Turtle Rock as seen from the north

view of Turtle Rock from the south

view of Turtle Rock from the south

Beyond the Turtle’s nose we paddled by another indecipherable rock face sketched by Dewdney.

more Mazinaw  pictos which left Dewdney puzzled

more Mazinaw pictos which left Dewdney puzzled

Of this face and its pictographs Dewdney wrote –

The more familiar forms below call for little comment, but those in the bottom margin [of p. 101] are strange indeed. The one might have been influenced by a pottery design; the other might be described as “geometricized tree branches” for lack of a better guess.

Dewdney sketch of rock panel just North of  Old Walt and the narrows

closer up of the above rock face

closer up of the above rock face

Next up was this strange collection of small rectangles – different shades of white and ochre coloured strips. Perhaps an experiment to see how long different paints and ochre formulations last?

strips of white and ochre - an experiment in progress?

strips of white and ochre – an experiment in progress?

For a thirty-year period from 1900 to 1930 not far from the Narrows was the Bon Echo Inn and its cabins,  It included a few members of the famed Group of Seven painters as its clientele; the owner was a Flora MacDonald Denison, a woman with progressive and somewhat unconventional views. A women’s rights campaigner as well as a spiritualist of the Madame Blavatsky sort, she was also smitten by Walt Whitman, the U.S. poet. In 1920 she had a memorial to Whitman – entitled “Old Walt” – engraved onto Mazinaw Rock just a bit north of the Narrows.

Old Walt engraving on Mazinaw Rock

Old Walt engraving on Mazinaw Rock

Old Walt closer up- afternoon shot We were surprised to find more pictographs south of the Old Walt engraving and wondered what ochre images had been destroyed in creating the homage to Whitman.

Dewdney’s Face XXIV:

Dewdney's Face XXIV at Mazinaw Rock

Dewdney’s Face XXIV at Mazinaw Rock

Mazinaw - Dewdney's Face XXIV

Mazinaw – Dewdney’s Face XXIV – afternoon shot

Dewdney sketch of mazinaw Face XXIV

Dewdney sketch of Mazinaw Face XXIV

a closer up of the above face XXIV

a closer up shot of Dewdney’s Mazinaw Face XXIV

There is one more site north of the Narrows – Face XXVIII.  The pix below

last pictograph face north of  the Narrows

Dewdney’s Face XXVIIIa – pictograph face north of the Narrows

Mazinaw - Dewdney's Face XXVIII

Mazinaw Rock - Dewdney's Face XXVIII and more to the south

Mazinaw Rock – Dewdney’s Face XXVIIIa and yet more to the south

Maziinaw - the pictos just S of Dewdney's Face XXVIII

Mazinaw – the pictos just S of Dewdney’s Face XXVIIIa

on the west side of Mazinaw at the Narrows

on the west side of Mazinaw Lake at the Narrows

a paddler passing Old Walt N of Mazinaw Narrows

a paddler passing Old Walt N of Mazinaw Narrows

Our early morning paddle done we headed back to our camp site and breakfast.  Given that we had entered the park the previous evening after closing time, we also had to go up to the gate and register our vehicle and get our two-day pass. Driving through the park we were surprised to see that there was nobody there.

Mazinaw dock to south of the narrows

Mazinaw dock to south of the narrows

In the afternoon we went back over to the east side of the lake and paddled by all the pictos again.  The light and shadows gave the rock face a different and warmer look. When we got to the dock just beyond the Narrows we parked the canoe and spent an hour walking up to the top of the cliff and enjoying the view from the various viewing platforms developed by Friends of Bon Echo Park.  A commendable project  and very nicely done!

Mazinaw Cliff Top Trail info board

Mazinaw Cliff Top Trail info board

The Friends of Bon Echo Gravel Project

The Friends of Bon Echo Gravel Project

a stretch of the Cliff Top Trail

a stretch of the Cliff Top Trail

a few flights of steps to deal with on the way to cliff top

a few flights of steps to deal with on the way to cliff top

a view of the Lagoon and lower Mazinaw Lake view from the top of Mazinaw Rock

a view of the Lagoon and lower Mazinaw Lake view from the top of Mazinaw Rock

Cliff top view of Mazinaw Lake with the Narrows below

Cliff top view of Mazinaw Lake with the Narrows below

the west side of Mazinaw Lake across from the 1 mile of cliff face

the west side of Mazinaw Lake across from the a Cliff Top viewing spot

Lower Mazinaw Lake Pictographs:

Leaving the dock after our Cliff Top visit, we paddled south to see the three rock faces mentioned by Dewdney on the lower part of the lake.  (They make up Site #38 in his list.) While I have ordered them here in the order we would have seen them (north to south), I decided not to take any pix as we paddled down.  “I’ll just get them when we come back in a few  minutes” was how I put it.  So – we ended up seeing four different rock faces with pictographs as we paddled down  but when we came back we could only find three!  I am also not sure why none of the three sites we photographed have a face that looks like the  Face III sketch on p.102 of Dewdney’s book – unless it is the one we missed on the way back!

Lower Mazinaw Lake pictographs

Lower Mazinaw Lake pictographs

Lower Mazinaw  pictographs - two vertical lines

Lower Mazinaw pictographs – two vertical lines

Lower Mazinaw - two vertical lines closer up

Lower Mazinaw – two vertical lines closer up

Lower Mazinaw lake - southernmost pictographs

Lower Mazinaw lake – southernmost pictographs

We paddled back to our campsite and spent some time rambling around the area behind our tent.  As sunset came we got to see Mazinaw Rock glow one more time. While it had taken us a while to get there, we recognized our good fortune in being able to glide past the ochre signs still visible  just above water level. In the process of listening to the pictographs  we came away with more pieces of a puzzle that seems to get bigger instead of smaller!

shadow on rock

shadow on rock – ephemeral pictograph!

Mazinaw Rock glows in the late afternoon

chillin' at Bon Echo campsite #168 on a cool May evening

chillin’ at Bon Echo campsite #168 on a cool May evening

Useful Links:

John Campbell’s The Mazinaw Experience: Bon Echo And Beyond provides a great overview of the history of the area.  The first two chapters deal with the First Nations period and further chapters cover lumbering , farming settlements, mining, and tourism in the region. Click on the title above to see its Amazon page (available as a mobi file) or read the introduction and the first two chapters (pp.1-23) at Google Books by clicking here

The first edition (1962) of Selwyn Dewdney’s Indian Rock Paintings of the Great Lakes is accessible for online reading or downloadable in various formats thanks to the Royal Ontario Museum. It  made the contribution to the Internet Archive in 2014. Just click on the book title to go to the website. Mazinaw is dealt with from pp. 96 to 101.

David Boyle’s report Rock Paintings At Lake Massanog can be found online at the Google Books site. The article begins on the bottom of p. 46 and is preceded by three pages of general comments entitled “Rock Paintings or Petrography”.  I’ve taken both articles and put them into a 1.4 mb pdf file which you can download here.

Swayambhunath – Buddha Eyes Over The Kathmandu Valley

Previous Post: The Kathmandu Valley & Its UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites

Update: Many of Swayambhunath’s structures suffered considerable damage in the earthquake of April 2015. The Anantapura shikhara to the left of the steps toppled and there was serious damage to buildings on the west side of the stupa. See the end of the post for more images and links to video footage.

image from CBC news report on Nepal after the quake

image from CBC news report on Nepal after the quake – see at end of post for link

A three kilometer walk from Thamel across the Vishnumati River and you soon come to the foot of a tree-covered hill known as “Swayambhu” (the self-arisen), a site which figures in the very creation story of the Kathmandu Valley.  If nearby Boudhanath is the #1 site for Tibetans, then this one was traditionally central to Newari Buddhists. Since the early 1960’s the Tibetan refugee population has embraced it too, as the gompas nearby show.

satellite shot of Swayambhunath and sourrounding area of Kathmandu Their origin myth tells of a lake which once filled the entire valley until Manjushi, the bodhisattva of wisdom,  paid a visit to worship the lotus he had seen in a dream.  Finding the lotus, and wanting to make it easier for pilgrims to reach, he cut a gorge at one end of the lake and thus drained it.  And so the Kathmandu valley came to be – and the spot where the lotus was became the top of the hill we see today.  In time a stupa was built where the lotus used to be – and eventually other shrines and temples around it on the hilltop we know as Swayambhunath.

Swayambhunath While there is a road the goes up to the top from the west side of the hill, it is really much better to take your time walking up the stone steps  – over 300 – on the east side, in the company of Buddhist pilgrims who believe that the merit gained here is worth immeasurably more than that gained elsewhere. (The Swayambhu Purana states that it is  thirteen billion times more – a pretty convincing argument for choosing Swayamblhu!)

Swayambhunath - worshipper at bottom of steps on the eastern side

Swayambhunath – worshipper at bottom of steps on the eastern side

The steps to the top pass by many shrines and statues erected over the centuries by Buddhists keen to earn merit at this holiest of Kathmandu’s sites. Tibetan prayer flags flutter on the way up – the healing mantras imprinted on them blown into an imperfect world.  In the pix above and below you see them behind the seated Buddhas, who are in the “touching the earth” mudra associated with the moment under the Bodhi Tree when  Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha, the Awakened One.

Swayambhunath-  bottom of steps up to the stupa

Swayambhunath- bottom of steps up to the stupa

Swayambhunath - bottom of the steps shrines

Swayambhunath - shrine on the way up

Swayambhunath – shrine on the way up

swayambhu bottom pathway to top

Swayambhu  – the bottom of pathway to the top platform

Swayambhunath standing Buddhas on the path up

Swayambhunath standing Buddhas on the path up

Swayambhunath - two seated Buddhas - unusual mudra

Swayambhunath – two seated Buddhas – unusual mudra

The pix above and below illustrate the seated Buddha in a mudra named varada. Unlike the Bhumisparsha (touching the earth) mudra,  here the palm of the right hand is turned outward and symbolizes the granting of wishes. All of the Buddha figures hold a bowl – it contains the medicine or dharma for what ails us –  in their left hands.

Swayambhu - two buddha seated figures

Swayambhunath - the steps up to the top platform

Swayambhunath –  looking back down the steps

Sometimes as you approach the top you are met by rhesus macaques, who have been known to intimidate a pilgrim or two.  They are more likely to be found on the northwest side of the hill; their very presence here has led some to call Swayambhunath “the Monkey Temple”.  You are more likely to encounter them at the end of the day as things cool down and they venture out.

swayambhu steps up to the top

swayambhu at the top

approaching the top of Swayambhu

The first thing see as you approach the top is #9 (map below) the Great Thunderbolt, symbolic of a great spiritual force (the Dharma) which is able to cut though all things. Behind it is #2 – the enclosed shine of Akshobhya, one of the Five Buddhas.

See here for source of map - Karmapa's Swayambhu monastery renovation project

See here for source of map –  Karmapa’s Swayambhu monastery renovation project

As you walk around the stupa in a clockwise direction, you pass by another three at the various cardinal points. (#s 4,5,6)  The fifth Buddha’s shrine (#3), which should symbolically be placed in the centre of the stupa, can be seen in the pic below just to the left of the Akshobhya shrine at the eastern entrance.

Swayambhu Buddha shrines and prayer wheels

Swayambhu Buddha shrines and prayer wheels

Swayambhunath - Dorje with Stupa in background

Swayambhunath – Dorje (thunderbolt)  with Stupa and two Buddha shrines  in the background

Swayambhunath -detail of stupa temple door

detail of one of the Five Buddha shrines around the base of the stupa

Swayambhunath - birds of stupa

Swayambhunath – birds on the  stupa

The stupa itself is made up of four main parts: the whitewashed dome, a cube which sits on the top, and a cone with thirteen progressively smaller rings up to the top, and an umbrella. The dome is often splashed with saffron-coloured water; on each of the four vertical sides of the cube or harmika are painted the Buddha’s eyes, as well as ek, the Nepali number 1 (which some take to be the nose!). Between the eyes – and just above them – is the urna curl, the tuft of hair which is one of the key marks of a Buddha. It is sometimes interpreted as the Buddha’s third and all-seeing eye.

Swayambhunath stupa view

pilgrim leaving offering at one of the small shikharas

All around the stupa at shoulder height are prayer wheels inscribed with the words “Om Mani padme Hum” (Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus), a petition to Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. He is known as Chenrezig in Tibetan Buddhism and has the Tara as his female equivalent. Elsewhere this bodhisattva takes on a  female form and is known as Guanyin in China and Kannon in Japan.  Spin the wheel and release the prayer into the world so that all sentient beings may benefit!

Swayambhunath - prayer wheels

Swayambhunath – prayer wheels

Swayambhunath - statues and shrines around the stupa

seated Buddhas in different mudras

Swayambhu- around the top platform

standing Buddhas and mini chaityas to the side of the stupa

The standing Buddha in the pic below is shown in the Abhaya (Have no fear) mudra, with the right hand palms outward; the left hand is in the varada mudra, also seen in a few of the pix above.  The stray dog may well be a dead dog; on our first visit to Kathmandu in 1996 we were struck by the hundreds of stray dogs roaming Thamel, especially early in the morning before streets really came alive.

swayambhunath standing buddha and dead dog

Swayambhunath standing buddha looking over a stray dog in bad shape

swayambhu stupa and surroundings

tourists and vendor – the postcards seem so 1996 – which is when the photo was taken

Later that day from the roof top of our hotel in the Thamel area, I pointed my telephoto lens west towards Swayambhu and got this shot of the lit-up stupa and the two slender Malla-era shikharas. As the images and film footage below show, the earthquake toppled the one on the left.

Pashupatinath - nightime view from Kathmandu

Since the April 2015 Earthquake:

A May 20th video from the New York Times looks at Swayambhu and the fate of the salvaged statues and other objects from the ruins. See here.

A Canadian Broadcasting Corp News item from May 7 (“Saving Nepal’s Heritage Sites”)  has perceptive commentary by Adrienne Arsenault and some video on sites like Swayambhu and Patan and Kathmandu’s Durbar Square.

Swayamblhu earthquake damage April 2015

Swayambhunath suffered some damage from the earthquake and the aftershocks of April 2015. Check out this link for a drone-filmed view of the damage on the hilltop – An Aerial View of Earthquake Damage in Kathmandu

Swayambhu gompa damage April 2015

Swayambhunath - damage to shrines and monastery around the stupa

Swayambhu - damage on the top to the Tibetan monastery

soldiers going through the ruins at Swayambhunath

soldiers going through the ruins at Swayambhunath – see here for photo source and article

Swayambhunath after the quake

The Kathmandu Valley & Its UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites

Nepal and Kathmandu are in the news this week for the worst of reasons, a catastrophe at once unimaginable and yet recurring. The Years 1255 and  1934 saw similar earthquakes severely rattle the country’s foundations and then too its mountainsides and some of its rich architectural legacy collapsed on top of a stoic people who did not have much to begin with.

Kathmandu- rickshaw drivers at rest by the Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple

before the 2015 earthquake …Kathmandu- rickshaw drivers at rest by the Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple

It has almost been a decade since my last visit to Nepal and the Kathmandu Valley but it is never far from my mind.  Laila and I spent three memorable weeks there in October of 1996, mostly in the Kathmandu Valley and the Pokhara area.  In 2006 I would return for  six weeks of trekking – three weeks in the Annapurnas and three in the Mount Everest region.  And before, after, and in between the two treks I got to explore once more the cultural treasures of  Kathmandu and the towns nearby.

But now this. The temple in the above photo is now a pile of rubble, just one of the thousands of buildings destroyed in a few minutes on April 25. Aftershocks have added to the damage and severely rattled the people’s confidence in sleeping in doors –

A.P . photo of Kathmandu's Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple  after the quake

Associated Press  photo of Kathmandu’s Trailokya Mohan Narayan Temple after the quake

The video footage from a tourist on a second floor restaurant patio captured the moment when the earthquake hit the Durbar Square area of Kathmandu –

And here is a web-sourced image which I labelled to indicate the extent of damage in Kathmandu’s Durbar Square –

Kathmandu post-earthquake 2015 Durbar Square Kathmandu post-earthquake 2015

Kathmandu post-earthquake 2015 Durbar Square with three collapsed temples

October of 2016 was to be my return to the valley to reacquaint myself with an enchanting city and a welcoming people that may be at the top of all the places I have ever visited.  While that plan is now on hold,  Nepal will remain in my thoughts as its people rebuild their homes and roads and the temples which are an essential part of a culture in which religion is still a living force.

Swayambhunath-  bottom of steps up to the stupa

Swayambhunath- bottom of the steps leading up to the stupa

This everyday faith of theirs and their own efforts,  coupled with the generous aid of friends from outside the country, will hopefully mean that in a decade from now Nepal will be back on its feet and welcoming trekking adventurers and those who would like to see for themselves one of the world’s most amazing expressions of human culture, the Hindu-Buddhist world of the Kathmandu Valley and points beyond.

steps to the Bagmati from Pashupatinath Temple, one of the Hindu world's five major Shiva shrines

before the quake –  pilgrims on the steps to the Bagmati River from Pashupatinath Temple, one of the Hindu world’s major shrines

Buried all these years on a series of computer hard drives have been a few hundred jpgs image files of the Kathmandu Valley.  News of the earthquake led me to dig them up and look at them again. What I hope to do in the next few posts, other than contrast the Kathmandu that was with the one that is now, is show what it is that makes the Kathmandu Valley so special.

Pashupatinath Temple steps and cremations on other bank of the Bagmati

April 2015 – web-sourced pic of Pashupatinath Temple steps and cremations on other bank of the Bagmati River

Geography and history have made the Kathmandu Valley a cultural treasure acknowledged by people the world over. The United Nations and its program of World Heritage Sites has designated seven different sites, all within a few kilometers of each other, for special mention.  Beginning with Kathmandu itself, they are:

1. Kathmandu’s Durbar Square

2. the stupa at Bodhnath (sometimes spelled Boudhanath)

3. the Shiva Temple Complex at  Pashupatinath

4. the stupa at Swayambhunath

5. Durbar Square in Patan

6. Durbar Square in Bhaktapur

7. the Changu Narayan Temple on the road to Nagarkot

Kathmandu Valley - UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Kathmandu Valley – UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Kathmandu

An excellent book to get ahold of is Power Places of Kathmandu (1995) , a 130-page coffee table sized book with incredible photos by Kevin Bubriski and insightful – and readable-  text by Keith Dowman.

See here for a link to the UNESCO web page on the Kathmandu Valley.

Post-April 25, 2015 the question I had been asking is this – What is the best way I can help Nepal?

Of all the answers to the question that I have seen,  this one in an article by Doug Saunders in the Globe & Mail was the most clearly reasoned. It was also based on his experience with the Sri Lanka tsunami relief operation.   Click on the link below to see what he says –

Want to help Nepal? Follow these five rules of disaster charity

A few years ago I recall donating to the Shelterbox organization for the Haiti disaster.  Not to knock Shelterbox, but this time I have taken Saunders’ advice and gone with one of the agencies he mentions.

Next post  –  Swayambhunath – Buddha Eyes Over Kathmandu.

Swayambhunath - birds of stupa

Swayambhunath – birds of stupa

Early Autumn Canoeing In The Heart Of Temagami

We got to the public dock and parking area at the end of Temagami’s Central Access Road (the old Mine Road)  on an overcast Wednesday afternoon; it was October 1. Ahead of us was up to a week of paddling and camping in a part of Ontario we have grown to love over the past few years. The plan was to paddle up to the pictograph site on the north arm of Diamond Lake  and then loop back through Wakimika Lake and River to Obabika Lake. The total distance: 100 kilometers. The biggest concern: the weather!

up-temagami-and-obabika-to-diamond

We were hoping that the two weeks of “Indian summer” in late September would continue for another week.  Appreciated was the fact that a six-hour drive from southern Ontario put us on the edge of something approaching wilderness. Since it was autumn, it would mean that we wouldn’t see (m)any other paddlers on Temagami waters that can be quite busy during the prime summer months. And while Temagami fall colours are not as dramatic as those in Algonquin Park, we knew we were in for some nice splashes of red and yellow to go along with the evergreen.

maples leaves on the portage

We left  Toronto at 7:00 a.m. for the 470-kilometer drive up Highway 11 to the Lake Temagami Access Road just south of the town of Temagami itself. (See here for a Google view of the ride.)  When we got there at 1:00, there were a few other vehicles in the public parking lot.  We had chosen this starting point instead of Sandy Inlet  at the end of Red Squirrel Road because we were a bit concerned about a possible break-in of the car while we were out paddling.

put-in end of the Lake Temagami Access Road

put-in at the end of the  Lake Temagami Access Road – Temagami Island sits at the top of the pic

In retrospect, we should have gone with the Red Squirrel Road/Sandy Inlet entry. Fellow paddlers have since assured me that the chances of our vehicle being broken into are quite low. Also, the 60 kilometers of mostly big lake paddle from our car to the north end of Obabika Lake and back would be eliminated. Given the wind and waves we faced on both Obabika and Temagami,  a Sandy Inlet put-in certainly has its attractions.

Day One: 

distance: 15 km                  weather: overcast, windy, drizzling       portages: none

02. Camp near Turtle Rock

Two and half hours of paddling took us from the put-in up the northwest arm of Lake Temagami to an established campsite at Turtle Rock;  nearby are a couple of pictograph sites but we had no luck finding them.  As the map below indicates, there are also a couple of pictograph sites on Bear Island. Paddling along the north shore of Bear Island,   we decided to keep them for the return in a few days. We hoped that the conditions would be more conducive for a search for faint ochre marks on rock.

Temagami - Day One route

Day One – From the put-in up the northwest arm of Lake Temagami

A bit of rambling around our Turtle Rock campsite did turn up a thunder box, nicely tucked away in the bush and covered with leaves.

03. thunderbox at Obabika Inlet camp

We spent a wet, drizzly evening under the kitchen tarp testing our new camp chairs. After twenty years of the venerable MEC Senate Seat, we have gone seriously upscale (and “upweight”  at two pounds [900 gms]  each).  We splurged on the Helinox Chair One for the decadence of off-the-ground seating. The post-trip decision – we’re definitely making room for them on all our future portages!

Day Two: 

Temagami - Day Two Route

Day Two – from Turtle Rock To Chee-skon Lake

distance: 20 km

weather: overcast/drizzle and rain, windy.

portages: 900 m into Obabika from Obabika Inlet; 760 m into Chee-skon from Obabika

campsite:  point at the north end of Chee-skon Lake

Going up Obabika Inlet gave us some sheltered paddling and the portage itself, a wide and well-trodden trail, even if 900 meters, was no big deal.  Just before the somewhat muddy take-out we did spot the shell of an old 1940’s truck that did duty on the trail back in the days of logging in the area.

04. abandoned 1940's truck shell at east end of Obabika Inlet portage

Up the east shore of Obabika we went, getting out to stretch our legs at a sand spit named Ranger (or Fog) Point. The campsite here has room for several tents and even has a nice beach. We continued past the two Grandparent (Kokomis and Shomis) Rocks, which figure in the traditional mythology of the local Anishinaabe.

a rock formation on the east bank of Obabika Lake which figures in local native myth

the rock formation on the east bank of Obabika Lake which figures in local native myth – pic taken on a summertime trip in 2009

When we reached the top of the lake we looked around for the beginning of the portage that would take us into the day’s goal, Chee-skon Lake. It was another landmark of significance in the traditional Anishinaabe world, thanks to a striking rock face and a rock tower on the east side of the lake.

obabika-lake-north-end-to-chee-skon-lake

The portage marker told us we were at the right spot. As the photo shows, there is definitely room here for a tent or two if it is too late in the day to contemplate the 760-meter carry into Chee-skon.

05. portage market at start of Chee-Skon carry

We both set off with a Duluth pack (well, the modern nylon version by the now sadly defunct company Hooligan Gear) on our backs and a duffel on top and the paddles. Given that it was hunting season, before we set off  we also made sure we had our orange vests draped around the packs and replaced our usual Tilley’s with orange caps.

When we got to what felt like half way, I put down my load and went back for the canoe while Max carried on to the end. I know we have done a good job estimating when I meet him again at the half way point and he is just picking up the pack and duffel.  It wouldn’t be happening this time, however.

yellow Chee-Skon portage marker

yellow Chee-skon portage marker

A “space cadet” moment would have me taking the canoe for a hike far away from the comforting yellow portage markers.  Along with the portage trail the Chee-skon area has a number of hiking trails that take walkers through one of North America’s finest old growth pine forests.  You will note the orange hiking trail marker on the pics below –

Chee-skon Hiking Trail marker

Chee-skon Hiking Trail marker in the distance

I should have picked up on the difference as I walked along with the canoe on my head. If that wasn’t enough of a clue, then I should definitely have clued in that something was wrong when I crossed the creek in the photo below –

creek flowing from Chee-skon to Obabika

creek flowing from Chee-skon to Obabika

I now get the difference between the orange and yellow markers but that afternoon I just kept on truckin’ further than I should have as the trail got rougher and rougher.  Finally, that “Duh” moment when  it  struck me that I had left the portage trail behind for an adventure I didn’t want. It sure was scenic though!

Chee-skon creek close-up

Putting down the canoe, I started making my way back until I bumped in my bro, who was wondering what was taking me so long. I thanked him for his offer to retrieve the canoe and carry it the rest of the way but, given that it was my screw up, I went back for it and finished the carry.

hiking the Chee-skon Old Growth Trails

hiking the Chee-skon Old Growth Trails

We got to the end of the portage and I finally got to see Chee-skon. At the put-in was an overturned canoe, probably left by locals to allow them to paddle to the Conjuring Rock at the other end of the lake without having to carry a canoe the 760 meters from Obabika. Across from the put-in was a small stretch of vertical rock with a nice reflection –

rock face across from Chee-skon put-in_

But it was the view down through the narrows to the north end of the lake that really caught our attention.

looking down to the east end of Chee-Skon

You can see the rock face and the pile of talus and scree in the distance.  We would paddle down the lake through the narrows and set up camp on the small point across from the rock. We then paddled across to look at Conjuring Rock up close.  In the photo below you can see our campsite on the far side of the lake – the green dot is our 10’x14′ MEC tarp.

view of east end of Chee-skon from the rock face

Max went for a scramble over the broken rock to the vertical cliff face itself; it rises about fifty meters and has a powerful presence. It’s easy to see how it would be considered a special place in the context of the rest of the terrain in the neighbourhood. Here is a shot of  Conjuring Rock – the tower –  and the lake from above and to the north of the tower looking down the lake – you can see Obabika itself in the distance.

Conjuring Rock and Chee-skon Lake

Conjuring Rock and Chee-skon Lake…thanks to Anon for the pic!

For another angle of the tower – a side shot taken from the north –  click here for a Thor Conway photo of the Rock that looks to be about thirty years old. He also provides a clear explanation for why this rock would be associated with conjuring. And down below is the entire cliff face with the rock tower – Conjuring Rock – in the middle.

Max contemplating Chee-Skon

An issue of terminology to explore here – shades of leaving the portage trail for another impromptu hike!

In Hap Wilson’s 2004 Canoeing, Kayaking and Hiking Temagami (and the 2011 edition retitled Temagami: A Wilderness Paradise) the rock tower is called “Conjuring Rock”.  Wilson bases this name on a late nineteenth century map of the area sketched by the Anishinaabe elder Windaban for the Geological Survey of Canada’s Robert Bell.  In a chapter about Chee-skon in his book Trails and Tribulations Wilson writes about the map:

One place of prominent importance was Chee-skon-abikong sakahegan, or, for those not fluent in Ojibwa, “conjuring rock place lake”….Anishnabe linguistic expert and historian Craig MacDonald says of Chee-skon, “The name is derived from the root word for ‘shaking tent’- the seven-poled open-topped used by medicine healers (shamans).”

So there you have the reason why it is called Conjuring Rock.

On the other hand, The Friends of Temagami map has gone with the name  “Spirit Rock”  as does Jeff’s Temagami Map.

Both names convey the significance of the rock  as a sacred place to the Anishinaabe – but while the first name makes clear the exact nature of the activity,  the second name – Spirit Rock – has a more vague and general feel to it. One explanation offered as to why to  avoid the term “conjuring”  is that it was used by the Christian missionaries, who also affixed negative terms like “devil” and “wizard” to other nearby locations.

the face of Chee-skon

a part of the cliff face immediately north of Conjuring Rock

Chee-skon Lake - east side cliff and Conjuring Rock from campsite

Chee-skon Lake – east side cliff and Conjuring Rock from campsite across the lake

We would spend the late afternoon paddling around the lake and taking in the views of a spot we were really glad to have finally gotten to.  Here is a look south from the base of the cliff to where we had put our canoe back in the water after the portage –

Sheepskin Lake from the Conjuring  Rock

Chee-skon Lake from the talus below the cliff face

the south end of Chee-skon - the portage from Obabika  ends here

the south end of Chee-skon – the portage from Obabika ends at the water line at photo center

north end of Chee-skon Lake and the face of Conjuring Rock

north end of Chee-skon Lake and the dramatic stretch of 50 meter high rock wall

We got back to our camp just as it started drizzling;  our dining room tarp was already set up so we just deked in under it and stretched out on our plush new camp chairs.  After supper – an Indian curry in a boil-a-pouch each as well as some pasta – we leaned back with our coffee mugs and liqueur and contemplated the rock face in front of us. For just a moment we let our thoughts wander to the pair of panties we had found next to the fire circle and wondered what that was all about.

Chee-skon campsite on the north end point

Chee-skon campsite on the north end point

taking in the view at Chee-skon

taking in the view at Chee-skon

looking at the rock face from our campsite

looking at the rock face from our campsite

Day Three:

canoe at take-out on Chee-Skon waiting to be carried across the portage to MudLake

canoe at take-out on Chee-skon waiting to be carried across the portage to Mud Lake

kilometers: 10 km.

weather: overcast in the morning with one 15-minute slash of sunshine; wind and rain the rest of the day.

portages: 840 m from Chee-skon to Mud; 265 m from Mud to Bob; 1175 m from Bob to Diamond.

Temagami Day Three

The day of the portages!  We hoped to get to the Diamond Lake pictograph site on the north arm of Diamond Lake by early afternoon and then head back down to find a campsite on the west end of Diamond – but the combination of wind and rain starting around 1 meant we set up camp earlier than planned. The morning part – the portages – actually went smoothly, though Mud Lake did live up to its name at both ends of the portage!

portage trail from Chee-skon to Mud Lake

portage trail from Chee-skon to Mud Lake

end of portage into Mud Lake  from Chee-skon

end of portage into Mud Lake from Chee-skon Lake

the put-in on Mud Lake from Chee-skon

the put-in on Mud Lake from Chee-skon

east shore of Mud Lake

some nice rock face on the east shore of Mud Lake

off the portage trail from Mud to Bob

off the portage trail from Mud to Bob

Bob Lake - Diamond Lake Portage and island Camp

The portage trail to Diamond Lake from Bob Lake is in good shape and pretty flat most of the way. Near the end it crosses an old gravel  logging road, as the map below illustrates.  We sat at the end of the portage and had lunch and enjoyed our first real sunshine of the trip.  It was not to last.

As we paddled out of the shelter of the bay into the open lake itself we met a fierce east wind and the waves it was pushing our way.  Once we committed ourselves to crossing,  we were relieved to get to a small island.  It was quite exposed but we did find a spot which was sheltered from the wind and quickly put up our tent and supplemented it with a tarp for extra protection. Propping up the canoe between the wind and the tent also made a difference.  It would rain most of the afternoon and evening;  we focussed on staying dry and warm.

The visit to the pictograph site up the north arm of the lake – about 2.5 kilometers from where we were tented – would have to wait until the next day.

Day Four: 

distance: 26 km.

weather: overcast but calm in the morning; wind and occasional drizzle in the afternoon; rain throughout the night.

portages: from Diamond to Lain 450 m; from Lain to Wakimika 435 m;  a couple of 20 m or less carries and liftovers on the lower Wakimika River. 

Campsite: an established site on the north point across from Misabi and the start of the Obabika River

We got up to an overcast day but at least it had stopped raining and there was no wind.  Here is what the north arm of Diamond looked like as I gazed up the lake towards the pictograph site.

looking up the north arm of Diamond LakeBreakfast done and the canoe loaded with the gear, we paddled the three kilometers north to revisit a rock face that we had passed by in 2006 and 2009. This time we planned to do a better job getting a visual record.  Here is a shot taken a half-hour later when we got to the north end of the site; we’d spend a half hour there checking things out.

the Diamond Lake Pictograph Site

If you want to see more close-up pics of the pictographs, I’ve set up another post that looks at the site in detail.

A Return Visit To Temagami’s Diamond Lake Pictograph Site

The site represented the turn-around point of the trip; we’d spend the rest of the morning paddling  back down to the main body of Diamond and then to the west end of the Lake. Luckily the wind had yet to become an issue so the kilometres slipped by nice and easy.

approaching the west end of Diamond Lake

The pic above is a shot of the west end of Diamond Lake; we rounded the point on the left and headed down to a couple of portages that would take us into Wakimika Lake. Here is a shot of the very scenic bay you paddle into to get to the take-out for the 450-meter portage trail over to Lain Lake –

panorama of Diamond Lake to Lain take out

A part of the route we always enjoy is the stretch on the Wakimiika River. After crossing the lake with a noticeable wind to deal with, it was nice to slip into the narrow confines of the river/creek as it meanders its way to the marshes at the north end of Obabika Lake. Moving around or slipping under fallen trees is part of the fun –

Wakimika River view

By 3:30 we were at the top of Obabika and facing a strong wind.  We decided to make it to the point on the north side of where the Obabika River starts; we had camped there back in 2006 on another wet and soggy Temagami fall trip!  I did, however,  take a closer look at the camp site just north of it to see how it compared. We moved on.

canoe in park while I check out an Obabika campsite

Max with the canoe on the rock while I check out an Obabika campsite

That evening brought more rain and cooler temperatures but the two silnylon tarps – one as insurance over our tent and the other over our cook area – made things easier to deal with.

Day Five:

distance: 32 kilometers

weather: intermittent rain and strong winds

portages: from Obabika into Lake Temagami – 900 m.

Temagami Day Five

The plan had been to be out for six or seven days but here we were at the start of Day Five having decided to paddle out this very day if possible.  It would mean we would not be paddling over to  Alex Mathias’ place to say “hello”;  the visit to the three pictograph sites on the south end end of the lake would also be scrapped for another time. So too would spending some time hiking the Old Growth Trails around Chee-skon.

We were on the water by 7:00 and by 9:00 we were having breakfast at the start of the 900-meter portage into Lake Temagami.  By 1 p.m.  we were back at the campsite that we had stayed at on Day One. By now the wind was blowing and the water was rolling from the south. We stopped there for some lunch and then knocked off the rest of the distance by 4.  Along the way we would meet our first person since the start of the trip, a cottager who was shutting down things for the winter. He shouted over to us – “You guys are pretty brave to be out here today”.   We thanked him for his choice of words and said we could think of some other less positive ones.  As the map above shows, we  made use of the series of islands in the middle of the lake to break the wind as we made our way back to the north side of Bear and Temagami Islands to our car.

While the weather had not been the best and it sometimes felt like we were in a episode of Survivor: Temagami, the pics hopefully illustrate that we got to paddle for a few days through a beautiful small stretch of the woodlands of the Canadian Shield.  The next morning, sitting at the kitchen table in Toronto, we considered the thought – “Maybe we were a bit hasty with our decision to pull out a day early?”  If nothing else, we have lots of reasons for getting back up there some day soon.

Some Useful Links:

If you are planning to visit the general area that this post describes, there are a few resources that will help you get a handle of routes, campsites, and the like.

temagami

Temagami: A Wilderness Paradise (2011) by Hap Wilson is the obvious starting point for any Temagami canoe trip. Drawing on his decade-plus experience as a park ranger in the Temagami area, Wilson provides detailed maps and descriptions of twenty-seven routes, complete with portages, campsites and other points of interest.  We made use of “Route #6: Diamond, Wakimika and Obabika Lake Loop” for our trip planning.  See here for more info on the book. If you have a Toronto Library System card, you can access one of the 13 copies it has – click here.

Wilson - Trails and Tribulations

You can read the entire chapter about Chee-skon from Wilson’s book Trails and Tribulations online.  It is available at Google Books. Click here and scroll back to the beginning of the chapter. Oddly enough, the chapter is titled “Place of the Huge Rock Lake”. No hint of conjuring there!

Maps:

If you are looking for 1:50,000 topo maps of the area there are a couple that you need.

The ones we used  were – Lake Temagami 41-I 16 and Obabika Lake 41-P 1

You can, if you want, access the map files at a Federal Government website here.  You will be faced with a number of folders; go for the 50k pdf or tif. Then you face a list of yet more folders; choose the 041 folder and ….well, you get the idea. See above for the letter and the number of the 041 maps we used for our trip.

Luckily, there is an easier way to access the topo maps.  Check out Jeff McMurtrie’s Jeff’s Topos website for his easy-to-use version of the topographic map library.  He has gotten rid of all the folders!  The digital maps are downloadable and you can either print  what you need for your route yourself or McMurtie has the equipment to run off copies for you in paper or some sort of waterproof material.

McMurtie also had a series of maps specifically on the Temagami area.  Unlike the topos, they are heavily annotated with useful information on campsites, portages, points of interest, and distances between various points.  See here for a look at Jeff’s Temagami maps. We made use of the Central Map, printing the relevant bits ourselves on 8.4″ x 14″ paper and putting them into our map case.

More Information:

The Canadian Canoe Routes web site is another internet resource you should check out. This General Information page of Temagami-related links organized by Allan Jacobs is a great place to start. The Ontario Trip Reports folder has dozens of Temagami-related contributions by forum members; if you are just getting into wilderness tripping, the site is a great one to visit regularly and pick up useful stuff on everything from gear to food to canoe routes and a whole lot more.

Friends of Temagami is a volunteer organization dedicated, as their web site says, to “preserving and promoting the Temagami experience since 1995″. You can support their efforts in a variety of ways – buying an annual membership; purchasing their Temagami Planning Map (which for some reason  does not show up on the new web site); or becoming an active member. It’s all good!

If you have just discovered Temagami as a paddling destination, the Ottertooth website has enough material to keep you busy for days – a forum area with threads on a wide range of topics, annotated maps, and mini-essays on a variety of useful topics. We took along a printed copy of “Wakimika Triangle” and some related material.

The Uninspiring Buddhas of Bagan

The balloon ride over the plains of Bagan would be an hour-long “wow” as I took in the brick remains of what must have been an impressive capital city some eight or nine hundred years ago. Not agreed upon is just how many people lived here –  estimates range from a likely 20,000 to an unbelievable 2,000,000!  In any case, while all the everyday wooden buildings have disappeared over time, the much more durable religious structures still dot the plains, a testament to the power of belief to motivate people.

a morning view of Old Bagan from above

a morning view of Old Bagan from above

Both before and after the balloon ride I had almost three days to get a closer, even if incomplete,  look at some of the major stupas and temples and monastic complexes.  While the architecture itself is often impressive, the overriding impression I got of the statuary was this – poorly realized Buddha statues which left me cold with their lifeless quality.

Thatbyinnyu overview

Thatbyinnyu overview

The first temple (paya) I visited was the Thatbyinnyu, pictured above. At 61 meters (201 feet) It is the tallest temple in Bagan. I would not get to see the central Buddha statue here since it is located on the second floor – an unusual arrangement for a Bagan temple – and the stairway is closed to visitors.  I did walk around the ground floor corridors and contemplated the Buddha statues which filled the various alcoves. Clearly, a temple without Buddha statues would be an empty space. Here is one I walked by –

Thatbyinnyu Buddha

Thatbyinnyu seated Buddha in “touching the earth” mudra

Freshly painted and showing all the signs that tell me he is the Buddha we know as Siddhartha Gautama – the head bump (ushnisha), the elongated ears, the very position he is sitting in… it does the job.  In all likelihood it is no more than 25 years old and is the result of the restoration and refurbishing campaign that brought howls of protest from art experts the world over.  Wrote one specialist in Asian religious art –

The hundreds of brick images within temples were nearly all renovated during the 1990’s and are now covered in loud colours clashing with the surrounding ancient stucco and murals.

                                           (Stadtner. Ancient Pagan. 88)

another Thatbyinnyu seated Buddha

another Thatbyinnyu seated Buddha

Stadtner writes that five centuries of looters searching for relic boxes contained within the brick and stucco Buddha statues means that most had been smashed open before the British even arrived. Prime areas to search were the head, the centre of the chest, and beneath the figure. Murals and paintings survived simply because they did not contain what the looters were looking for.  Instead, they would be covered over by the whitewashers!

seated Buddha with painted Bodhi Tree behind him

seated Buddha with painted Bodhi Tree

Thatbyinnyu seated Buddha in alcove

Thatbyinnyu seated Buddha in alcove

Most (99%!)  seated Buddha statues in Myanmar show the historical Siddhartha Gautama at the moment that he became the Awakened One, the Buddha.  Sitting under the Bo Tree, he has survived all of Mara’s attempts to deflect him from his course. Finally, in response to Mara’s army of demons who claim to bear witness to Mara as the one who should be sitting in Siddhartha’s spot, Siddhartha touches the earth and it roars in his defence – “I am your witness.”  Mara disappears and the World Saviour has arrived.  The hand gesture or mudra is known the “touching the earth”. (Bhumi-sparsha mudra) 

Old Bagan's Mahabodhi Temple

Old Bagan’s Mahabodhi Temple

A short walk from Thatbyinnyu is the above temple, a recreation of the original Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya at the very spot where Siddhartha Gautama became the Buddha. In niches around the external perimeter were these rather crude Buddha figures with one in a standing position. I am not sure what they are made of – wood or stucco covered with gold-coloured paint.

seated Buddhas in external niches of the Mahabodhi Temple

seated Buddhas in external niches of the Mahabodhi Temple

Inside was the main Buddha statue; in Bagan of eight hundred years ago that meant a seated Buddha figure. This statue definitely fills the space and you wonder if the proportions of the original did not leave a bit more headroom.

Mahabodhi Temple's main Buddha image

Mahabodhi Temple’s main Buddha statue

You could wander for days in Bagan and peek into hundreds of minor stupas and temples.  I passed by these two lounging locals on my way to yet another temple entrance.

cattle in the fields of Old Bagan

cattle in the fields of Old Bagan – watching the world go by

recently repainted inner shrine statue in Bagan

recently repainted inner shrine statue

central statue of a minor Bagan temple

central statue of a minor temple

Somehow I found myself down by the Ayeyarwaddy River and on the platform of the Bupaya, I was looking at a reconstruction of the original since the massive July 1975 earthquake (8 on the Richter Scale) that hit the Bagan area had destroyed the one that was there before. (See here for a before picture.)

Bagan's Bupaya

Bagan’s Bupaya and the Ayeyarwaddy River in the background

Later I would find my way to the Shwe-zigon just as dusk was approaching.  If the Buddha sculptures I had seen during the day were uninspiring, then the Shwe-zigon bowled me over with its beauty. It is a stupa – while there are steps leading up its sides, there is no “inside”. Instead, four temples, one at each cardinal point, serve the purpose of shrine rooms.

Bagan's Shwe-zigon at dusk

Bagan’s Shwe-zigon at dusk

As I went around the stupa, the one shrine room I did look into is in the photo below. I am not sure what the spikes coming out of the Buddha’s head represent. It may well be a halo and not spikes at all. At least it was spared the flashing neon halo that some buddhas have had installed around their heads.  The statue is in the “have no fear” mudra – the open and raised right hand with the left hand also opened. While not as common as the seated “touch the earth” mudra that you usually see, it is the most common standing mudra.

one of the four standing metal Buddhas at Shwe-zigon

one of the four standing metal Buddhas at Shwe-zigon

And then it was time to head back to the hotel and a good night’s sleep. The next morning we would be getting up extra early – 5:00 a.m – for a balloon ride!

lacquered umbrellas in Nyaung-U

lacquered umbrellas in Nyaung-U on the way home

Click on the following link to see what floating over the plains of Bagan at 7:00 a.m. would look like!

Ballooning Over the Plains of Bagan 

After the balloon ride it was back to the hotel for breakfast – i.e. something more than the bubbly white wine and croissants served in the balloon landing field not far from New Bagan!

Bagan - bronze seated Buddha

Bagan – small bronze seated Buddha statue  in  a shrine room

After the balloon ride, it was off to see our last stupas and temples- with visits to Gubyauk Gyi and Dhammayan-Gyi and finishing off with the grandest of them all, the Ananda Pahto. The small bronze above may have been the the finest single Buddha figure I saw; since bronzes were not at all common in the Bagan of eight hundred years ago, the piece is probably of fairly recent times.

another clumsy Buddha statue

another clumsy Buddha statue – Kubyauk-Gyi (Myinkaba)

The above figure, with arms almost as wide as its waist, has an almost cartoonish look about it; it looks like it has been recently installed or repainted. The statue below sits in an alcove which has not been completely restored. Sections of the wall reveal the bare brick underneath the stucco covering.

Kubyauk-Gyi (Myinkaba) Buddha

Kubyauk-Gyi (Myinkaba) Buddha

Dhammayan-Gyi seated Buddha statue

Dhammayan-Gyi seated Buddha statue

double Buddha Statues at Dhammayan-Gyi

unusual double Buddha Statues at Dhammayan-Gyi

Of all the large scale  Buddhas I saw at Bagan, I was most moved by the ones I saw at the Ananda Pahto Temple.  While they are not the ones that originally filled the space, they do so majestically.  The four wooden Buddhas stand about 9.5 meters high (30 feet)  and  are the only major temple Buddhas in Bagan which are not in the seated position; this leads Stadtner to conclude that they are not original  and likely date back to the Konbaung period (1752 – 1885 C.E.).

The Four Ananda Standing Buddhas, gilded with fine gold leaf, are located in the niches of the central cube of the temple.  See below for a drawing of the pahto.

bagan-paya-from-le-huu-phuocs-buddhist-architecture

Drawing of The Ananda Pahto from  Buddhist Architecture by Le Huu Phuoc.

It was the George Luce who assigned the name of a particular Buddha to each of the four statues. He related them to the Buddhas of the present age or mythological unit of time known as a kalpa, In the Buddhist myth there have already been four Buddhas with the fifth – Maitreya- yet to come; Luce places one in each of the four niches.  So Kassapa is supposedly in the south niche with Kakusandha in the north. This leaves  Konagamana in the east and in the west we have the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. More recently scholars have questioned Luce’s entire explanation since there is no evidence associating various Buddhas with the cardinal points. The various mudras they exhibit also do not provide any reason for associating them with one Buddha and not another. However, the guidebooks seem to like the explanation and it has taken on the status of  fact thanks to constant repitition!

one of Ananda Temple's four standing Buddha statues

Luce’s Siddhartha Gautama facing west

third of four Bagan Ananda Buddhas

the south facing  Ananda Buddha

standing Buddha at Ananda Temple

north facing Buddha at Ananda Temple

another of the four wooden Buddha statues at Bagan's Ananda Temple

the east-facing Buddha statue at Bagan’s Ananda Temple

Baan is really all about the stupas and temples. If you are going to be spending a few days in Bagan, you will definitely get much more out of your visit with a good guide. Most will be able to take you to the highlights; some will be able to deliver more than the usual patter and provide more considered insight.

A great book to read beforehand is the 2013 second edition of  Ancient Pagan: Buddhist Plain of Merit by Donald M. Stadtner. Stadtner. PaganThe insightful text draws on the author’s forty years of study of Burmese art and architecture and is beautifully illustrated by the photos of Michael Freeman, a top-notch photographer. The book focusses on thirty-three key structures; you’ll have had an incredible visit if you can see most of them during your stay!  In spite of my occasionally negative comment in this post, Bagan is absolutely worth the visit.

Ballooning Over The Plains of Bagan

Previous Post: “Mingalaba” From Myanmar, Land of The Golden Pagodas!

As far as the eye can see brick and stucco structures – stupas, temples, shrines, monasteries – bear witness to a remarkable moment in history  on the east banks of Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady River.  Time has not been kind to many of these buildings; nor have the relic hunters over the ensuing centuries who smashed their way into hundreds of stupas and seated Buddha figures looking for relic boxes. In 1975 a major 6.6 earthquake hit the Bagan area – one of an estimated 400 since 1900 – and did significant damage to many of the structures.   In spite of all this , and in spite of the clumsy and the often just-plain-wrong attempts of recent renovators of the Bagan Archaeological Zone to spiff up the structures, what one sees is still magical.

balloons over Bagan's Dhammayan-gyi

balloons over Bagan’s Dhammayan-gyi with the Ayeyarwady River in the background

Myanmar Ethnic Groups and general location

click on to enlarge

Some  Historical Context:

Turn back the clock 750 years and we would be in the capital city of a thriving kingdom which controlled the agricultural wealth of the Ayeyarwady River basin. The city – Bagan (referred to in older books as Pagan).  And the people? They are the  Bamars – again, formerly referred to as Burmans or Burmese.  They speak a Sino-Tibetan language and had migrated  into the Ayeyarwady River basin from the Himalayas to the north about 1500 years ago.  Over the next five hundred years as they grew in power,  they conquered and absorbed the Pyu and Mon societies they found and incorporated elements of those cultures into theirs. One of those things was Theravada  Buddhism, which was merged with the pre-Buddhist animism that they practised. It involved the worship of many spirits or nats and to this day there is a major centre of nat worship nearby at Mount Popa, a very common day trip for visitors staying in Bagan.

Bagan thrived from about 1000 C.E. to 1300 C.E. and a succession of Bamar rulers commissioned an astonishing number of religious structures. These buildings celebrated the Buddhism they had embraced after their entry into Myanmar.  Not only were the buildings seen as evidence of the power of these rulers in this world, but it was also believed to earn its royal builders merit (or karma) for the next life. To make their positions irreproachable, kings would sometimes reveal genealogies which showed that they ultimately were of divine origin.

Ananda Temple -  the Buddha Konagamana facing east

Ananda Temple – the Buddha Konagamana facing east

It is this world that a modern visitor to Bagan tries to get a handle of.  Overwhelmed by the sheer number of potential stupas and temples to visit – and by the  unfamiliar history and names which were never a part of any western history class! – a highly recommended thing to do is the forty-five minute to one hour balloon ride over the 65 square kilometers (25 square miles) of the Archaeological Zone.  It certainly does not come cheap – it is currently $320. U.S. – but those who are able to rationalize getting a ticket  are almost 100% agreed that it was one of the highlights of their trip to Myanmar.  I know – I overcame my reluctance and am really glad I did!  Here are some pix of a very memorable hour that I spent early one February morning floating over the ruins of the once-capital of the Bamars.

Bagan at dawn - balloons being readied for the ride

Bagan at dawn – balloons being readied for the ride

There are three  companies offering a balloon ride over Bagan’s Archaeological Zone: Golden Eagle Ballooning, the newest of the three, having started in late 2014; Oriental Ballooning, a 2013 start-up; and Balloons Over Bagan, the pioneers of hot air balloon operations, not only in Bagan but in all of Southeast Asia. It started in 2001 and currently has 10 balloons.  While I am sure  all three outfits do a fine job, I went with the originals.

balloons being prepped at dawn

Bagan – balloons being prepped at dawn

After a 5:45 a.m. hotel pick-up we were driven to a field on the southwest end of Nyaung-U where the balloons were being readied by some of the 100 local staff in their employ.  The baskets of our  balloons had room for sixteen guests as well as the pilot. In our case it was a very personable English guy by the name of Mike who had everyone laughing – and then seriously listening to his safety instructions – in short order.

Baan balloons rising over the start point

Bagan balloons rising over the start point at Wetkyi-in

Over the next hour we would float our way south and east until we landed in a field near New Bagan. Mornings are the preferred – and often only – time that the balloons go up. The heat of the afternoon and its impact on wind currents makes it much more difficult to pilot. The balloon season coincides with winter – November to March – and tickets can be scarce.  Many have booked the ride long before they arrive in Myanmar; I requested a ticket two days before and  luckily scored a last-minute spot.

satellite view of the plains of Bagan from Nyaung-U to New Bagan

satellite view of the plains of Bagan from Nyaung-U to New Bagan

The ride was remarkably smooth and the pilot provided a concise commentary as we flew over various landmarks.  In the image below, I am looking back at Shwe-Zigon, perhaps the single most impressive stupa (the Bamar term is paya) on the fields of Bagan. Later that day as the sun set we would pay it a up-close visit.

Baan - looking north towards Shwe-Zigon

Bagan – looking north towards Shwe-Zigon

early morning mist and smoke rise over Bagan fields

early morning mist and smoke rise over Bagan fields – Htilominlo and Dhammanyan-gyi in the distance and a stupa I can;’t identify in the foreground!

balloons from two of the three companies floating over Bagan

balloons from two of the three companies floating over Bagan

one of 3000 minor temples on the plains of Bagan

one of 3000 minor temples on the plains of Bagan

farm buildings on the plains of Bagan

farm buildings on the plains of Bagan

Bagan balloons and temples in the morning mist

Bagan balloons and temples in the morning mist

the countless spires of Bagan!

a few of the countless spires of Bagan!

The distinction between a stupa (paya) or temple (pahto) is that the former is essentially a solid relic mound placed over some object considered sacred (strands of the Buddha’s hair is a common one in Myanmar) while the pahto can be entered.  While the Shwe-zigon is a stupa, the structure below is a temple. Later that day we would visit a number of temples and stupas and see the paintings and statues contained within some of them.

visitors enjoying the view from the temple's rooftop

visitors enjoying the early morning view from the temple’s rooftop

balloons over Bagan in the morning

balloons over Bagan in the morning

morning balloon ride over the stupas of Bagan

morning balloon ride over the stupas of Bagan – Ananda in the centre & Thatbyinnyu to the right

the green balloons of Oriental Ballooning

the green balloons of Oriental Ballooning to go along with the yellow and ochre ones

looking down at the Htilominlo Temple

looking down at the Sulamani Temple

side view of the Htilominlo

side view of the Sulamani Pahto

looking back at the Htilominlo with the Ayeyarwady in the distance

looking back at the Sulamani with the Ayeyarwady in the distance

stupa as viewing platform for morning visitors

stupa as viewing platform for morning visitors

Bagan morning scene from our balloon

Bagan morning scene from our balloon

The Ananda Temple with the Museum and Ayeyarwady in the background

The Ananda Temple with the Museum and Ayeyarwady in the background

The Museum, Thatbinnyu, and the Ananda Temple

The Museum, Thatbinnyu, and the Ananda Temple

approaching Dhammayan-gyi Temple

approaching Dhammayan-gyi Temple

Dhammayan-gyi

Dhammayan-gyi

I read somewhere that an estimated six million bricks with an average size of 36x18x6 cm. were used in the construction of the Dhammayan-gyi, one of Bagan’s larger temples. Multiply this by a thousand and you have some idea of the impact of dedicating the economy’s resources to this massive building campaign for almost three centuries.  It brings to mind the similar focus in ancient Egypt on the construction of increasingly ambitious funeral mounds for their god-kings. Whether for Bagan itself, or from Bamar villages up or down river, fired bricks arrived to create on the fields of Bagan a very visible attempt at gaining spiritual merit for the next life by contributing to the construction of edifices honouring the Buddha in this life. Even villagers could contribute with their humble donation of fired bricks. And as in ancient Egypt, a closer look at the architecture reveals a increasing complexity and sophistication of buildings over the 300 year time span.

morning light on the east face of Dhammayan-gyi

morning light on the east face of Dhammayan-gyi

looking north from the fields of New Bagan

looking north from the fields of New Bagan – one of the resettlement subdivisions

In 1990 villagers living in the archaeological zone – and particularly in Old Bagan – were forcibly moved a few kilometers to the south to what has become New Bagan (Myothit to the locals).  The stated intent was to protect the monuments from potential looters and treasure seekers, who were selling bits and pieces of the temples and their art work to tourists.  Admittedly, it did also  clear the area for the development of international tourism.  You will find in Old Bagan these days some upscale hotels; the budget and mid-range ones will be found in New Bagan and in Nyaung-U.

paths leading to farm in fields near New Bagan

paths leading to farm in fields near New Bagan

the fields of New Bagan from our balloon

the fields of New Bagan from our balloon

farmer and oxen at work ploughing the field

farmer and oxen at work ploughing the field

new settlement for locals displaced from the Archaeological Zone

new settlement for locals displaced from the Archaeological Zone

balloons over the fields of New Bagan

balloon landing in the fields of New Bagan

balloon landing in the fields of New Bagan – field workers watch the proceedings

Are you nuts!   $320.U.S. for a balloon ride? How can you justify this while all around you there are people who don’t even earn that in a month?  We floated down onto a field in which local farmers were working the soil of Bagan as they have been for the past thousand years. What could they have thought as we settled down? Perhaps they do not even react anymore since it has become an everyday occurrence in their world over the past decade. Near them were other locals, young men working for Balloons Over Bagan whose job was to anchor the balloon on landing and then packing it all up carefully for the return to base camp, where they would get things ready for the next flight.

The image below has a dozen of them, all in uniform and a part of a team just like the farmers. The company employs about one hundred locals to make the business work. The few non-locals would seem to be the pilots and mechanics, although I was told that some are receiving the necessary  training so that they can work their way up in these areas too. Clearly the balloon business is opening up opportunities for the Bagan’s next generation.

Back to the $320.  Subtract the unavoidable government tax of at least 10%, the cost of the pretty pricy balloon and its upkeep, the salary of the skilled and probably difficult to find pilot, the well-trained mechanics, the ground crew, the insurance, the semi-annual safely checks and certificates necessary to stay in the air…well, you get the picture. In the end, while the company founders are undoubtedly being rewarded for their initiative and business skills, your money is going to all sorts of people who live in Bagan and are better off thanks to the opportunity that Balloons Over Bagan has provided them. And what do we get?  An incredible view of  one of Asia’s cultural wonders.  It’s right up there with Angkor Wat and Anuradhapura and Xian.

the pilot and a dozen landing crew guys at work

the pilot and a dozen landing crew guys at work

Our memorable flight over the plains of Bagan over, we stood in the field and watched as the crew rolled up the balloon and got everything back in the support vehicle. There was  enough time to chat with our basket mates while we sipped on a glass or two of champagne and sampled the croissants.  By 8:30 we were back at the hotel and telling those who had chosen not to go about our “wow’ experience.

Useful Links:  

Stadtner. PaganThe ultimate guide to the Bagan Archaeological Zone is Ancient Pagan: Buddhist Plain of Merit by Donald M. Stadtner with photography by Michael Freeman. It is solidly researched and  very readable, as well as liberally illustrated with high quality colour images. I read it before I left for Myanmar but it was one of the last things I took out of my duffel before I left. Why? It weighs 1.5 lbs!  An ebook version would have been great to take along.

The website Asian Historical Architecture does a well-researched examination of the most significant of Bagan’s stupas and temples.

Google Balloons over Bagan and you will find lots of info on the company and on the experience in general.  Check out this tripadivisor link – over 140 reviews with an average of 5 on 5.  That says it all!

Next Post: The Buddhas of Bagan

“Mingalaba” From Myanmar, Land of The Golden Pagodas!

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This gallery contains 83 photos.

Mingalaba – “greetings to you” in the Bamar language!  Recently I spent three weeks  in Myanmar, escaping at least a bit of an unusually cold Toronto winter. As well as a week on my own to explore Yangon and some nearby … Continue reading

Down Wabakimi’s Pikitigushi River From Cliff Lake

Previous Post: Up Wabakimi’s Raymond River To Cliff Lake

Cliff Lake is one of Wabakimi’s – and the Canadian Shield’s in general – premier pictograph sites. We spent some time paddling along the perimeter of the lake and checking out some dramatic stretches of vertical rock face – and found all the rock paintings which Selwyn Dewdney had highlighted in his classic study of the mostly-Anishinaabe (i.e. Ojibwe)  pictographs of the Canadian Shield. (See here for some pix and discussion of what we saw.)

Cliff Lake pictographs - south end of lake

Cliff Lake pictographs – south end of lake

But it  was time to move on. We were down from twenty to three days of food,  and while it definitely meant a lighter load for the remaining portages,  it was also a sign that our trip was almost done.  We were about 27 kilometres from the take-out point at the Bear Camp on river right of the Pikitigushi just above the logging road bridge.

We had originally arranged for a shuttle back to our vehicle at the Mattice Lake headquarters of ML Outfitters  from there on the Thursday. However, a couple of emails sent via my Spot Connect from Cliff Lake had requested that the pick-up happen a day early. We now had a day and a half to knock off the last 27 kilometers!

Tuesday, August 13  (Day 17)

distance: 16 km.

weather:  a sunny day with a bit of a wind from the W

portages: 4 – 90 m; 525 m; 300 m.; 265 m.; 150 m.   See maps below.

At the south end of Cliff Lake, just across from the best-preserved collection of pictographs on the lake, we left Wabakimi Provincial Park and entered Whitesand Provincial Park. (The stretch from Bad Medicine Lake down to the north shore of Pikitigushi Lake is all within the boundaries of Whitesand P.P.)   We also dealt with the  first of the five or six portages on this section of the Pikitigushi. Over the next couple of days we’d do another four, with the 1400-meter haul from Derraugh Lake to Pikitigushi Lake as the longest and mushiest.

Cliff Lake to Gort lake

Cliff Lake to Gort lake

Gort Lake to Pikitigushi Lake

Gort Lake to Pikitigushi Lake

The portage out of Cliff Lake is a 90-meter carry on a pretty obvious trail which takes you up and over a small hill to a put-in on the edge of a small pond.  A quick paddle across the pond and you get to experience for yourself the Bad Medicine Lake portage – and to decide whether it deserves its reputation!  (See here for some fond canoe tripper reminiscences!)  It is undoubtedly an easier portage if you are coming at it from the north.  What we found was a 525-meter trail that starts off rather steeply but dry.  After a dramatic middle stretch where you are walking on a ridge just a few meters from the edge of the gorge, the trail  takes you to a challenging and winding descent to the lake itself.

Cliff lake  -Bad Medicine Lake Portages

Cliff lake -Bad Medicine Lake Portages

The last few meters involves an almost vertical drop to the shore.  Here is a shot – I should have stepped back a few more feet to get the complete drop in – but it’ll give you an idea of what it looks like.  We actually had lunch at the top of the final drop.

the south end of the 450 meter Bad Medicine Lake portage

the east end of the 450 meter Bad Medicine Lake portage

A bit more time and we might have tried walking up the river through the mess of bush you see in the pic below in search of a photo that would show some of the 20 meter drop in elevation from Cliff Lake to where our canoe was sitting.

the 'Gushi as it comes tumbling into Bad Medicine Lake

the ‘Gushi as it comes tumbling into Bad Medicine Lake

The pics below shows the north side (river left) of the impressive gorge that runs the length of the portage.

the shoreline across from the put-in on Bad Medicine lake

the shoreline across from the put-in on Bad Medicine lake

looking down to the east end of Bad Medicine Lake from the put-in

looking down to the east end of Bad Medicine Lake from the put-in

Instead of bushwhacking a bit upriver, we headed off for the next portage which would take us out of Bad Medicine and into Ratte Lake.  The take-out is on a sandy beach on river left; 265 meters later we were at the other end.   Shortly afterwards we paddled by a cow moose and her calf as we approached Ratte lake.

Down Ratte Lake and through a meandering narrow-river section and we were back on a more open stretch – the two-part Gort Lake.  At the south end of Gort Lake just above the rapids we went on shore to check out a potential campsite; it was serviceable but we didn’t feel like stopping for the day yet so we pushed off again. The rapids themselves rate a Class 1; it was an easy run into Wash Lake.  As we paddled down the lake we passed an established campsite – fire pit and all – on the east shore (see map above for approximate location).  It would have been a good place to stop – but we pushed on! First, we paddled by the shell of the downed airplane at the south end of Wash Lake –

airplane shell at the bottom of Wash Lake

airplane shell at the bottom of Wash Lake

If you know the story of this plane and wouldn’t mind sharing it, write it up and I’ll insert it right here!

On river right about 1.5 kilometers SE of the airplane comes the portage out of Wash and into Derraugh Lake. It is a 150-meter carry on river right. Our map indicated a campsite at the put-in but we weren’t seeing anything that resembled a place to put our tent for the night so we headed down Derraugh Lake.  We stopped twenty minutes later at the site indicated on the map above.  With a bit of trimming, sawing,  and rearranging we created a nicely sheltered spot tucked into the bush with a sloping rock face patio.

the view from our Derraugh Lake patio

the afternoon view from our Derraugh Lake patio

Max getting the breakfast fire going

Max getting the late afternoon fire going

You can barely see the tent and tarp behind the canoe in the pic below.  The chores done we’re getting ready for a cup of coffee!

Derraugh Lake Campsite - definitely tucked away!

Derraugh Lake Campsite – definitely tucked away!

Wednesday, August 14  (Day 18)

distance: 10 km. over three and a half hours – with half of that for the portage!

weather:  another beautiful sunny day in the Greater Wabakimi Area

portages: 1 – 1400 m.

(The Chuck Ryan post of their 2009 trip has some pix of the last day’s brief paddle here. He and his partner Dave Phillips had also camped on Derraugh Lake on their final night.)

We paddled to the end of Derraugh Lake and looked for the portage take-out. We were in the general area where prospectors had located a 200-meter gold-bearing quartz vein in the mid-1930’s.  In fact, it had been a J.E. Derraugh, then the vice-president and manager of Jedder Gold Mines Ltd., who had made the discovery. Nothing ever became of what  they were hoping would be another Red Lake gold strike but now we do have a Derraugh Lake.

One wonders what the previous – i.e. Ojibwe – name for the lake would have been. In some cases, we have reverted to the older Ojibwa names –  for example, before the 1930’s the Pikitigushi River was still known as Mud River and Pikitigushi Lake as Round Lake.  The two lakes on this stretch that I am most curious about are Cliff Lake and Bad Medicine Lake – their Ojibwe names might reveal something about their significance to those who used to paddle these waters. Just to the west of Derraugh Lake are two small lakes – one  named Haile and the other Selassie – also named in the 1930’s when the Ethiopian Emperor embraced his moment of statesmanship on the world stage –  but before he became Bob Marley’s Jah Rastafari!

Back to the Gooseneck Rapids portage – an hour and a half later,  by a unanimous decision,  the Trip Highlights Committee had awarded it  the prize for “the most poorly maintained portage”.  Finding it was problem #1 – it was a bit further up from the rapids on river right than we thought it would be.

Pikitigushi River -  Gooseneck Rapids

Pikitigushi River – Gooseneck Rapids

Our portage routine has Max take two packs right to the other end and then come back half way for the other two that I have dropped off while I go back for the canoe.  I still have no idea how he was able to sniff a trail all the way to Pikitigushi Lake out of the dense bush we walked through!  If fact, after I dropped off the packs and went back for the canoe I ended up getting lost as I tried to redo the “trail” I had just walked twice! Long stretches were also quite mushy and we were happy to see the end of it.

Given the state of the portage, we wondered what locals were doing to get up or down the river on this stretch.  Perhaps staying on the river instead and lining their way down? Looking at the Google satellite image below, perhaps locals make use of the McKinley Road running up the west side of Pikitigushi Lake and put in somewhere above the rapids.

Update: We came through this portage in July of 2013.  Since then, in August of 2014      to be exact, Phil Cotton and the Wabakimi Project Crew have given the portage some of their tender, loving’ care – so the trail should at least be easier to follow for the few years!

Derraugh Lake to Pikitigushi River take out point south of the Lake

Derraugh Lake to Pikitigushi River take out point south of the Lake

Once on the shores of Pikitigushi Lake it was an easy paddle to the south end of the lake and then 4.5 kilometers down the river with the beginnings of the  high sandy banks that undoubtedly gave it its first English name, Mud River.

the end of the trip - not the high sand banks on the other side

the end of the trip – note the high sand banks on the other side

Not in the picture – (we kinda stopped taking pictures at this point! See the CIIcanoe post for the visuals!) – is the  Quonset Hut which the Bear Camp owners (the Boucher Bros.) make use of to store vehicles and equipment.  We walked up a gravel road to the large clearing on the side of the road to Armstrong Station. Set up were maybe a half-dozen canvas tents on wooden platforms as well as a few trailers. We had arrived the day before the opening of the season’s bear hunt and there was a bit of activity since the first of the guests had already started arriving.

It would have been possible to arrange a shuttle into Armstrong Station with the Bouchers. However, we already had a Mattice Lake Outfitters shuttle set up. Not too long after we arrived, so did Annette Elliot  and we were on our way.   It is a little under 40 kilometers back to Armstrong Station from the take-out point at the Bear Camp.  Another ten kilometers to Mattice Lake and we were back to where we had started our canoe trip around the northern perimeter of Wabakimi Provincial Park. If you’d like to go back to the start of what was a truly excellent adventure, the post Canoeing Wabakimi’s Misehkow River is where it begins.

the-road-from-armstrong-station-to-the-pikitigushi-river

The Logging Road from the Pikitigushi River to Armstrong Station

Not attempted but still an intriguing possibility for a future trip is the stretch of the Pikitigushi from the Bear Camp to Mud River on the CN rail line and then maybe  all the way to Windigo Bay and Lake Nipigon. It looks like it would take a good day or two and it is difficult to say exactly what you’d deal with since information on rapids, log jams, and portages is pretty scarce.

Before we decided to drive up to Mattice Lake, we had thought of taking the VIA train from Toronto to Armstrong Station for the start of the trip and then, at the end, waiting at the Mud River train stop for the eastbound VIA Canadian as it does its run from Vancouver back to Toronto. However, this time the convenience of having our own vehicle and not being bound to an exact extraction date won out over the luxury of not having to drive 4000 kilometers! Next time the calculations may lead to a different conclusion.

A 1939 report by the Ontario Government’s Department of Mines on the geology of the area included this paragraph on the nature of the river from the Mud River CN stop up to the lake –

1939 description of the Pikitigushi River below the Lake

A bit more research led to a provincial government report by Ontario’s Department of Mines from 1909 (see here for the full text) which describes in greater detail the portages mentioned in the above quote.

P.155 of the 1909 Annual Report  by Ontario's Department of Mines

The first (but fourth in the above description since they are coming up the river) of these portages would be the one around the rapids where the logging road crosses the river.  It is a 500-meter carry from the Quonset Hut up the road  to the clearing where the Bear Camp accommodation can be seen and then over the logging road and down to the put in.

lower Pikitigushi portages - 500 meters - logging road portage

The longest portage would be one which eliminates almost thirteen kilometers of potential trouble. In exchange, it looks like you’d get to do a 1500-meter carry over a trail I haven’t found much information on. My Garmin Topo Canada map has a broken line marked in from the pond to the river; so does the Federal Government’s 052 I 07 Pikitigushi Lake topo map.

The Lower Pikitigushi's 1500 meter  Long Portage - Satellite Shot

The Lower Pikitigushi’s 1500 meter Long Portage – Satellite Shot

The satellite image above shows significant clearcutting has occurred in the area contained within the big bend.  A more-in-depth look of the loss of forest cover over the decade from 2002 to 2012 can clearly be seen here.

the-lower-pikitigushi-river-twists-and-turns

lower-pikitigushi-river-to-cn-tracks-and-via-stop

lower-pikitigushi-river-to-cn-tracks-and-via-stop

The 1:50000 topo 052 I 07 also indicates rapids/falls about 4.5 kilometers from the CN tracks.

See here for a Canadian Canoe Routes forum thread I started before the trip asking for info on the stretch of river from the logging road to the CN tracks. Also, check out the Wabakimi Project’s collection of canoe route maps – three of which we have bought over the past five years.  Volume Five, filed under future releases,  will include essential info on the Pikitigushi.

In the meanwhile …

If you’ve got any more current information on the last section from the logging road to the CN tracks at Mud River, let me know and I’ll update the above map with the new info – rapids and falls, log jams, portages, swifts, and other other useful info for next summer’s paddlers.  Use the comments section below or email me at true_north@mac.com

Some Useful Links: (Clink on blue text to access info)

The Federal Government 1:50000 topos for this stretch are available for free download here –  Linklater Lake 052 I 10 and Pikitigushi Lake 052 I 07.

For another trip report – and lots of pix – on this section of the Pikitigushi, see the entries for Days 20 and 21 in CIIcanoe’s (aka Chuck Ryan) epic 21 Day Canoe Trip To The “Little North”. Finding his report on-line is what gave us the idea to take on the 350-kilometer route ourselves. We are really glad we did.

The VIA train only passes through Mud River three times a week either way during canoe tripping season.  For the westbound VIA “The Canadian” train schedule see here –  and here for the eastbound one. It would be necessary to purchase your ticket before you set off on your trip since it is no longer a flag stop.

Once we got up to Mattice Lake , Don and Annette Elliot of Mattice Lake Outfitters handled all of the logistics and park permits.  We left the vehicle in their parking lot (totally safe) and flew up to the Misehkow River start point on one of their de Havilland Beavers.  At the end of the trip we were picked up at the Boucher Bear Camp on the Pikitigushi for the 50 kilometer ride back to our vehicle.  I’d highly recommend MLO. They’ve been doing this for a while and know what they’re doing. They do have all sorts of other services that they offer – see here for the full list.

Laurence Mills of www.wabakimimaps.com has a map set entitled Pikitigushi River.  It details a 175-kilometer route that goes from the Little Caribou Lake put-in up to Whitewater Lake and then down Whiteclay Lake before it goes up the Raymond and down the Pikitigushi Rivers to the logging road take-out.  We bought the Kopka River map set for a previous canoe trip and were quite happy with the level of accurate detail on the laminated 8.5″X11″ sheets.

Viggo Checks Out Toronto’s First Real Winter Snow- December 2014

one happy Icelandic Sheepdog

one happy Icelandic Sheepdog

The first touch of winter came in much more gently this year.  Instead of the drama of 2013’s “Snowmaggeddon”, the ice storm that knocked out electric power for whole sections of Toronto and had tree branches crashing down on vehicles and sidewalks, we just got seventeen centimetres of snow.

I took advantage of the fresh snow covering to let Viggo do some off- leash rambling down along the stretch of the Don River which runs through our Riverdale neighbourhood.  Knowing that meeting cyclists and joggers is close to zero makes it that much more enjoyable as I walk with my Icelandic Sheepdog on the riverside trail.

Here are some pix from our walks – starting with the overcast first morning of snow. We walk up our Riverdale Street to Broadview, head for the footbridge that goes over the Don Valley Parkway, and then take the steps down to the trail that runs along the river.

the Don Valley Expressway on a snowy morning

the Don Valley Expressway on a snowy morning

Viggo coming down the footbridge to the Don River valley trail

Viggo coming down the footbridge to the Don River valley trail

underneath the Riverdale Footbridge

underneath the Riverdale Footbridge

the Belt Line tracks crossing the Don

the Belt Line tracks crossing the Don

 

Viggo waits at the tunnel underneath the Belt Line tracks

Viggo waits at the tunnel underneath the Belt Line tracks

Where In the world is Viggo?

Where In the world is Viggo?

 

Viggo's trail through the bush to the river

Viggo’s trail through the bush to the river

Viggo on the river bank

Viggo on the river bank

Viggo in the snow on the banks of the Don

The snow fell most of the first day.  We returned the next day – and as the pix will show – the snow had stopped falling and the sun was out. So were the kids making use of two of the city’s best hills for snow sliding.

the south end of the Broadview hill

the south end of the Broadview hill

The Broadview Hill - most sliders have yet to arrive!

The Broadview Hill – most sliders have yet to arrive!

Viggo being chased by a Bernese

Viggo being chased by a Bernese

Viggo stirring up the snow

Viggo stirring up the snow

We headed over the bridge to the steps that take us down to the valley trail. I looked over to the other excellent sliding hill – the one by the Riverdale Farm – and could see a few kids already at play.  Here is what my camera captured as i pointed the lens at the sun!

downtown Toronto in the background and the hill by the Riverdale Farm

downtown Toronto in the background and the hill by the Riverdale Farm

on the valley trail - Viggo looking for the ducks

on the valley trail – Viggo looking for the ducks

Viggo in the snow by the river

Viggo in the snow by the river

ducks heading south on December 12!

ducks heading south on December 12!

the Riverdale Footbridge as dusk approaches

the Riverdale Footbridge as dusk approaches

looking south from the Riverdale Footbridge

looking south from the Riverdale Footbridge

 

tobogganners on the hill by Riverdale Farm

tobogganners on the hill by Riverdale Farm

Mike, Viggo, and Clarence - the chase is on!

Mike, Viggo, and Clarence – the chase is on!

Viggo meets his buddy Clarence as we near the Broadview Hill

Viggo meets his buddy Clarence as we near the Broadview Hill

the sun sets on another great day in Riverdale

the sun sets on another great day in Riverdale

 

the dusk  view from Broadview

the dusk view from Broadview Avenue near the Rooster Coffeehouse

On thing about the sun in December – when it sets it sure does so in a hurry.  As we approached our front steps I looked back up the street and saw a stunning red sky. The afternoon’s ramble was done.

looking towards Broadview  from the front of our house

looking towards Broadview from the front of our house

 Update:  Well, so much for the snow! It stayed for less than a week. And the forecast for Christmas Eve? Plus10°C and rain!  So we can forget about that postcard “white” Christmas.  It looks like we’ll have to wait until the New Year for the next installment of snow.  Here are some other pix of our walks along the river and the neighbourhood on following days –

mud, water, snow - what's not to like!

mud, water, snow – what’s not to like!

Viggo on duck patrol on the Don River

Viggo on duck patrol on the Don River

A little secret revealed here – to get Viggo into the picture I sometimes toss a treat in the spot where I want him to be.  Well, this time the treat got lost in the snow and the Veegs is looking none too happy about it. He got a replacement morsel!

Viggo is not amused - no treat to be found!

Viggo is not amused – no treat to be found!

The Broadview Hill a week later - snow all gone!

The Broadview Hill a week later – snow all gone!

Viggo at Withrow Dog Park a week after the snow fall

Viggo at Withrow Dog Park a week after the snow fall

the neighbourhood skating rink - the only ice around!

the neighbourhood skating rink – the only ice around!

kids playing on the Canadian version of the  "field of dreams"

kids playing on the Canadian version of the “field of dreams”

Colombo’s National Museum – Some of What You’ll See

Previous Post: The Buddhist Baroque of Colombo’s Gangaramaya Vihara

Colombo Map - National Museum and neighbourhood

 

Sri Lanka's National Museum

Sri Lanka’s National Museum is located at the south end of Viharamahadevi Park not far from Galle Road and the Fort and Pettah districts.  As the repository of many of the moveable artifacts from the area where the country’s pre-modern history was played out ( the so-called “Cultural Triangle”), it houses some impressive examples of Sri Lanka’s cultural legacy.

the entrance to Colombo's National Museum

a seated Buddha figure awaits at the entrance to Colombo’s National Museum

The collection is housed in a Neoclassical-style building which goes back to British times, having been built in the early 1870’s and opening its doors in 1877. From a humble initial collection its holdings now number over 100,000 artifacts.  None is more dramatic than the very first one you see as you approach the entrance lobby.

the seated Buddha in meditation pose at the entrace of Sri Lanka's  National Museum in Colombo

the seated Buddha in meditation pose at the entrace of Sri Lanka’s National Museum in Colombo

An unadorned seated Buddha carved out of limestone awaits  – exuding both serenity and strength. Created in the Anuradhapura area around 1300 years ago, it survived the collapse of that great Sinhala capital. The elongated ears, the curly hair, the bump on the top of the head (the ushnisha), the hands in the classic meditation mudra (position) – but no attempt by the artists at creating the folded monastic robes that other Buddha figures sometimes are provided with.

looking up to the Buddha at  the main entrance

looking up to the Buddha at the main entrance

The ground floor is divided into a number of rooms or galleries – each with its own theme.  What follows is a highly selective – that should probably read “subjective” ! – sample of exhibited sculptures that caught my eye. Room 1 deals with the island’s pre-history; rooms 2 and 3 have a number of eye-catching Hindu and Buddhist statues of various sizes; rooms 4 and 5 concentrate on the more recent Kandy kingdoms before the British established complete control of the island in 1815. A second floor was not open for public viewing when I was there; a verandah on the ground floor has more examples of stonework rescued from various ancient sites on the island, but many are in poor shape.

I spent a very enjoyable hour and a half with the artifacts – mostly in Rooms 2 and 3! –  before I returned to the seated Buddha in the front lobby. The lighting and the glass, which is  often between the lens and the various artifacts,  can pose a real challenge to someone intent on taking better pix; I ended up shooting everything with a 35 mm prime lens on my Sony dslr; the results were – as you will see – so-so!

the Hindu goddess Durga.- from Anuradhapura 10th C jpg

the Hindu goddess Durga.- from Anuradhapura 10th C

One thing the collection brought home was the presence of Hindu religious objects among the ruins of the ancient kingdoms.  Clearly the notion of an ancient Sri Lanka staunchly following the conservative Theravada path is the result of modern Sinhalese Buddhist nationalism and not really a true reading of the past.

the Hindu god Surya - a sculpture from 10th C Anuradhapura

the Hindu god Surya – a sculpture from 10th C Anuradhapura

The Vedic deity Surya holds a lotus in each and; behind him is the solar disk (partly broken off) associated with this sun god.  Not far from this piece from Anuradhapura, with its three major Buddhist monasteries, was this depiction of the multi-armed Hindu goddess Durga, a consort of the god Shiva, one of the three gods who make up the HIndu “Trinity”  – the Trimurti – along with Brahma and Vishnu.

another Durga sculpture from 10 th C C.E. Anuradhapura

another Durga sculpture from 10 th C C.E. Anuradhapura

The standing Buddha below, unlike the one in the entrance lobby, has been provided monk’s robes (which may show the influence of the Graeco-Indian Gandhara style of Buddha depiction). He stands there very solidly and stiffly with his right shoulder uncovered – an apparent trait of Sinhala Buddhas.

bronze standing Buddha figure from Kurunegala

bronze standing Buddha figure from Kurunegala

Anuradhapura was not only the home of the conservative Theravada school; to the north of the ancient city was the Abhayagiri Monastery which embraced a more liberal kind of Buddhism – the Mahayana school which would become so popular in China and Japan. The statue below depicts one of the three major bodhisattvas, the one associated with “Protection”. Along with Avalokitessvara (“Compassion”) and Manjushri (“Wisdom”) and a number of others, this bodhisattva is recognized for selflessly postponing his own nirvana so that he can help others get closer to the goal first.

Bronze solid cast Vajrapani Bodhisatva figure from Kurunegala - 800's C.E.

Bronze solid cast Vajrapani Bodhisatva figure from Kurunegala – 800’s C.E.

I was surprised to find this silver alloy cast figure of Tara among the gods and buddhas. I had always associated her with Tibetan Buddhism but given that Buddhism had barely arrived in tibet when she was being created in Sri Lanka, I need to do more research about her story.  She is regarded as a bodhisattva with the quality of compassion, which connects her with Avalokitesvara.  This may help explain why in China the male Avalokitesvara became the female Kuan Yin.

silver cast Tara figure- 700's - 800's C.E.

silver alloy solid cast Tara figure –  800’s – 900’s C.E.

A better photo of a better sculpture of a standing Buddha figure, his right hand in the abaya  (“No Fear”) mudra. Like the one above he wears his form clinging robes with the right shoulder bare.

bronze solid cast - from Medavachiya near Anuradhapura - 9th C C.E.

bronze solid cast – from Medavachiya near Anuradhapura – 9th C C.E.

The  next two pieces were two of the ones I spent some time appreciating. The first depicts Buddha seated on a lotus in the meditation mudra (his hands resting in his lap). The ushnisha as flame of fire on the top of his head is a touch that would find its way to Burma and Thailand  in the centuries to come.

Seated Buddha from Veheragala near Anuradhapura - 9th C C.E.

Seated Buddha from Veheragala near Anuradhapura – 9th C C.E.

The next piece – while not as imposing –  rivals the Buddha in the front lobby for skill of artistic execution. The pose was oft copied by other Buddhist sculptors and painters in other lands. (See here for one of my favourite Chinese depictions.)

Avalokitesvara bronze from Veheregala near Anuradhapura - height 49.8 cm.j 800's C.E

Avalokitesvara bronze from Veheregala near Anuradhapura – height 49.8 cm.j 800’s C.E.

Below on the left is a standing Tara figure; on the right is a guard stone taken from Polonnaruwa, the capital of a Sinhalese kingdom for a couple of centuries after the collapse of Anuradhapura. Three cobras provide a hood for the central figure, who is holding a tree branch and a vase (the punkalasa or pot of plenty). At his left foot is a dwarf figure.

female standing Buddha figure - info not recorded

female standing Buddha figure – info not recorded

Guardstone from Polonnaruwa - 12th C CE

Guardstone from Polonnaruwa – 12th C CE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More evidence of Hindu – as in Tamil – presence in  the Cultural Triangle a thousand years ago can be found in the following images, beginning with a skillfully done version of Shiva as Nata Raja, the Lord of the Dance, his dreadlocks flowing as he dances on the dwarf of ignorance.

Shiva - the Lord of the Dance

Shiva – the Lord of the Dance

More Hindu imagery followed with the following  stone sculptures.  One was of Nandi, a bull figure associated with Shiva.

stone sculpture of Nandi

stone sculpture of Nandi

The Hindu god Ganesha, son of Shiva and Parvati, was also represented with a number of sculptures.  Two of them are below, both depicting a seated elephant-headed figure and bearing a number of similarities, including a rather full belly.

Ganesha in stone - 12th C Polonnaruwa

Ganesha in stone – 12th C Polonnaruwa

another Ganesha stone sculpture - gneiss - 12th C CE.

another Ganesha stone sculpture – gneiss – 12th C CE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then it was back to the Buddha. First I contemplated this rather dour seated Buddha exhibiting all the usual characteristics.  And then I found a display that finally made clear to me how Sinhala and other artists through the years had been able to maintain such uniformity of form in spite of the fact that each Buddha was made on its own.

seated Buddha in meditation posture - Polonnaruwa 12th C C.E.

seated Buddha in meditation posture – Polonnaruwa 12th C C.E.

Navatala Plumb Scale System used to create seated Buddha figure

Navatala Plumb Scale System used to create seated Buddha figure

diagram of Caturmana system applied to a seated Buddha figure

diagram of Caturmana system applied to a seated Buddha figure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Navatala system applied to buddha figure

Navatala system applied to buddha figure

I returned to the entrance lobby and the seated Buddha with a newfound appreciation of the “science” behind drawing the Buddha out from a large chunk of limestone.

one last shot of the seated Buddha at the entrancne of Colombo's National Museum

one last shot of the seated Buddha at the entrancne of Colombo’s National Museum

And that was my quick tour of the National Gallery – not a long one and certainly not one that did justice to all the rooms – but it had been worth the visit.  I should mention that the entrance fee was 500 rupees and there was in all likelihood an additional 100 rupee fee for camera privileges.

It was followed by a late afternoon walk through Viharamahadevi Park up to the Town Hall, passing the large modern take of the seated and gilded Buddha on the way.  Odel’s Department Store was still open so I dropped in and did some gift shopping. It had been a very enjoyable day in Colombo and I was glad that I had left three days in my travel plans to explore parts of the city.  See below for some other related Sri Lanka posts:

 Seema Malaka: Colombo’s Serene island Buddhist Vihara

Buddhist Baroque: Colombo’s Gangaramaya Vihara Complex

The Ruins of Ancient Anuradhapura – Part One

The Ruins of Ancient Anuradhapura – Part Two