Tuesday, March 31, 2009

India's Red Fort

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The Red Fort of India

No introduction is needed for The Red Fort or the Lal Quila, the largest monument in Delhi, but this historical monument has now another recognition. This World Heritage Site is now one of the Seven Wonders of India as declared by the Government of India and India’s TV channel NDTV. Even before its notification as a monument of national importance in the year 1913, efforts were made to preserve and conserve the Red Fort, for posterity.

This fort is located in the northeast corner of the original city of Shahjahanabad, the new capital of the fifth Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan who started this project in 1638 and completed in 1648. Halls of public and private audience, doomed and arched marble places, exquisite private apartments, a mosque, and gardens speak volumes about the planning. It has withstood the onslaught by the Persian Emperor Nadir Shah in 1739 and by the British soldiers during war of Independence in 1857.

The imposing Lahore Gate, which faces the city of Lahore in Pakistan is the entrance to this fort. Of note, this gate is the venue of many important speeches by India’s freedom fighters and national leaders. The Meena bazaar, the shopping center for the royal ladies functioned near the Chatta Chowk. The southern end of this street is the Delhi Gate.

This fort houses the Diwan-i-Anor or the Hall of Public Audience. This contained several precious stones, which were looted after the 1857 mutiny. The Diwan-i-Khas or the Hall of Private Audience had the Peacock Throne, which too found its way out to Iran by Nadir Shah in 1739. Though bereft of its original glory due to looting, the Diwan-i-Khas still contains the famous Persian couplet “"If on earth be an earth, it is here, it is here and none but this". The art work here is a synthesis of Persian, Indian, and European art resulting in an unique Shahjahani style.

Diwan-i-Aam was the house for public imperial audience. Nahr-i-Behisht or the Stream of Peace consisted of imperial private apartments. While Islamic prototypes planning was adopted, Hindu influence is evident, which is characteristic of Mughal building. Zenana, or the women’s quarters, the Mumtaz Mahal (now a museum), and the Rang Mahal are some other notable sites inside the Red Fort.
The Khaz Mahal housed imperial chambers including a suite of bedrooms, prayer rooms, and The Mussaman Burj, a tower from where the emperor presented himself to the daily public view. The Moti Masjid later became the private mosque, the Hayat Raksh Bagh.

Bahadur Shah Zafar was tried by the British for the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. In 1945, three Indian National Army officers were court-martialed here. After 46 years of Army control, the Red Fort is now under the control of the Indian tourist authorities.

The Red Fort is the historic site from where India’s Prime Minister addresses the nation on the Independence Day.
Source: Google
Images: Google

India's Seven Wonders

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Incredible Seven Wonders of India.

The rich heritage of India is revealed in a campaign by organized jointly by the Government of India and the NDTV. The Red Fort of India (first photo, left) constructed by Emperor Shah Jahan in 1639 AD, Jaisalamer Fort (Rajasthan) also known as the “Golden Fort”, Nalanda University (Bihar), a Buddhist center of learning, also the greatest center of learning in the world with the famous 9-storied library, Sun Temple of Konark (Orissa), also a UNESCO World Heritage site of Kalinga architecture, Meenakshi Temple (Tamilnadu) built between the 16th and 18th century (photo, right), Dholavira (Gujarat) (second photo, left) and Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh) built over 100o years ago (third photo, left).

This was a mammoth task of identifying the final 7 from a total of 200 places as well as perusing a history of more than 5000 years. All the States were grouped under 7 clusters and from each cluster seven wonders were identified. A top wonder from each of these clusters was then selected as nominee for each of the seven State clusters. This campaign helped to bring forth some important and majestic monuments, temples, a mausoleum as well an ancient University representing India’s rich and varied heritage. The final selection was made by a distinguished jury of India’s eminent personalities.

The study to identify these landmarks and great monuments started way back in September 2008 and has successfully brought out the country’s rich heritage both manmade as well as natural. The committee identified seven top wonders in each State and from these sites, the final site in each State mentioned above was declared.

These exquisite sites demand immediate restorative measures in order to preserve them for posterity.

Source: The Hindu, March 31, 2009
Image: Google








Saturday, March 28, 2009

The first known ATM virus

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The first known ATM virus discovered!

Russia’s Dr. Web IT Company has warned of a new ATM virus where hackers could use it to steal money from ATM. Russia’s “Doctor Web” and the Kaspersky Lab” have discovered this virus. The malware is called Troj/Skimer-A designed to capture vital card details. The main executable was identified as a dropper and the drop object was found to be stored in one of the PE resources. This virus collects information about PIN and other vital credit card details and then releases them to a fraud on demand. The fraud gets an offing to approach the ATM and collects the vital data about the cards. Skinner virus collects credit card data including the vital PIN codes. It is able to infect and survive in the ATM. It will appear, aimed at illegitimately using banking information and siphoning off funds of the clients. It is capable of infecting the popular American Diebold brand of ATM used in Russia and Ukraine.

Clearly the person that programmed this malware knows a lot about the internals of Diebold ATMs, and so this is most likely an insider’s job. The possibility of one of the programmers hailing from the former Soviet Republic is very much in the news.

Though its impact so far has been minimal, the bank clients are unable to distinguish between an infected and a non-infected ATM. Susceptible banks can well run a security software to assess the risk of their ATMs being infected by this new virus.

It is still not known how the criminals managed to gain physical access to the cash machines without being noticed but according to Diebold the criminals have already been apprehended. So is this the dawn of a new credit card data-stealing technique? It is possible, but looking at the pros and cons it is much more convenient to steal such data via the web than to physically break into machines, so lets hold that thought for now.


Source: Times of India, March 27, 2009
Image: Google

Incredible artifical human brain

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Incredibly exciting!!! Artificial brain?

Yes, artificial brain will be a reality soon and cure for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia may not be far off with the recent creation of artificial brain. The scientists at the Aston University in Birmingham have achieved this marvel. This artificial brain is capable of performing the human brain’s basic functions of processing, connecting, and communicating like a normal human brain. The scientists are hopeful of understanding other neurodegenerative diseases also as also relevant medical remedies for them in the near future. The Alzheimer’s Society is hopeful of the exciting outcome of this project.

Funded by the Humane Research Trust in Birmingham, UK to develop alternatives to animal testing, the research team under the guidance of Prof. Michael Coleman has now developed artificial human brain capable of processing thought at the most basic level. This cellular brain is incredibly closer to the human brain.

The research team at the Aston University took cells from a cancerous tumor and reprogrammed them to create the artificial brain, a breakthrough in dementia and Alzheimer’s. This cellular model could be an useful tool in this research.

The cells in this artificial brain are kept alive in the laboratory by injecting them with nutrients and minerals every two days. Though the research is still in its early days, medical solutions to common brain diseases like dementia may not be quite far.

While balls of cells similar to those in the human brains have been developed by the scientists in the ongoing experiments, the major hurdle in this research continues to be the brain shortage.


Source: Times of India, March 27, 2009

Image: Google

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Synthetic blood soon

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Just years away from ground-breaking production of synthetic blood from stem cells.

Risk of infection from blood transfusion will be a thing of the past when the research by the British scientists to produce synthetic blood succeeds in about three years. This is achieved by transfusion of synthetic blood made from the stem cells of spare IVF embryos in trials on human volunteers. This breakthrough when successful will save the recipients from the great risk of infection from the donor blood, but strong ethical implications will need to be addressed as well. Need for dependence on blood donation volunteers will no longer be necessary. Initial attempts are based on the universal donor group of O-negative volunteers whose blood can be transfused into any patient without the risk of rejection. Hepatitis, HIV, and the human “mad cow” risks are totally eliminated in synthetic blood transfusion, it is felt.

Though only 7% of the population has O-negative, the researchers are hopeful of mass production from embryonic stem cells due to their phenomenal ability to multiply indefinitely. Just one embryo can meet the needs of an entire nation! Is it not a medical achievement?
This project under Dr. Mare Turner, Professor of Cellular Therapy (see photo), University of in Edinburgh involves the British National Health Service and the Wellcome Trust, the world’s largest medical research charity in UK. Sweden, France and Australia are also engaged in similar research programs.
Of interest, the Advanced Cell Technology of the United States had developed medical technology to mass produce billions of blood cells from stem cells, but paucity of funds affected this program. This has since been restored by the Obama administration.
Source: Times of India March 24, 2009
Image: Google

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ancient Tamil Nadu paintings, India

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More Rock Art Paintings From Tamilnadu, India

The Archeological Survey of India recently discovered about 400-odd cup marks known as petroglyphs in a hill site in Pudukottai in Tamilnadu, India. These are similar to the World Heritage Sites discovered by UNESCO in Madhya Pradesh. In the present discovery, some rock paintings and stone beds were discovered. Stone tools were used here to carve the symbols, maybe man’s earliest artistic and creative manifestation. These marks may belong to the Mesolithic culture between 3000 BC and 5000 BC though precise studies are still undergoing. These marks could either be religious or symbolic expressions of that period. They are a few millimeters in depth and width and have a smooth finish.

The Survey team discovered three natural caves. While one had a five-line Brahmi script inscription, the other two caves had Jain stone beds known locally as the “samanar padukkai” presumably used by the Jain preachers. Lime powder mixed in water was used for the painting.

The exciting discovery has prompted the Rock Art Society of India (RASI) to get scientific dating of these findings from the International Federation of Rock Art Organization (IFRAO).

Source: Times of India, March 23, 2009

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Peru’s Machu Picchu

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A great city indeed!

One of the seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu the “Lost City of the Incas” was recently included this in the World Heritage list by UNESCO.

Peru was home to the Norte Chico civilization, one of the oldest in the world. This city was built by an Incan ruler more than 600 years ago. The Machu Picchu pre-Columbian Inca site is located high in the Andes Mountains in Peru about 8000 feet above sea level and lies 43 miles northwest of Cuzco at the top of a ridge high above the Urubamba river. The ruins were rediscovered intact quite accidentally in 1911 by the Yale archeologist Professor Hiram Bingham. Its aesthetic and archeological values add importance to this ancient city. This site is believed to be a religious retreat and a royal estate because of the discovery of multiple temples and various religious articles.

There are about 200 buildings discovered here, mostly residences, some temples, storage facilities, and other public buildings. A population of about 1200 or so was believed to have inhabited this city at that time. Granite constructions are seen here. Potatoes and maize were cultivated by the inhabitants.

This city served as an astronomical observatory Intihuatana, which means for “tying the sun’ although “Hitching Post of the Sun” is also mentioned. It is a granite stone the size of a piano. This is a stone column rising from a block of stones the size of a piano. It is a precise indicator of the date of the two equinoxes and other significant celestial periods. On the 21 March and 21 September of each year, the sun stands exactly above the pillar with no shadow at all. On these days, the Incas held ceremonies at the stone when they “tied the sun” to halt its northward journey across the sky.

This is one of the most beautiful and enigmatic historic sites in the world. Increased tourists pose potential danger to this city and hence many responsible organizations advise immediate measures to arrest this trend. Together let us save this ancient city for future generations.

Source: The Young World
Image: Google

The Matheran Light Railway, India

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The Matheran Light Railway is one of the five mountain railways in India; relics of the British rule. It celebrated its centenary celebrations in 2007.

The western ghat hill station of Matheran was discovered by Mr. Hugh Malet, the Collector of Thane district in Maharashtra in India in 1910. Prior to the arrival of this train, tourist used to visit this hill station by palanquin or palki. This town is 30 km from Mumbai, 800 meters vertically above sea level.

The construction of this railway was proposed by one Abdul Hussein, son of the business tycoon, Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy of Mumbai, India in 1904 and completed in 1907. The government took over this in 1932. The train covers the 21-km long route in 2 hours. Neral, the starting station lies midway between Mumbai and Poona. This 2-feet narrow gauge line runs parallel to the main broad gauge

As the train puffs its way into the clear mountain air, exciting hills above and the plains below are clearly visible.

Source: Young World, March 10, 2009
Image: Google

India's Darjeeling Himalayan Railways

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India’s Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.

Lovingly called the Toy Train, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway or the DHR is one of the most spectacular narrow gauge steam railways and one of the finest engineering feats of the world. India boasts of five mountain railways. Operating since 1881, this train runs from New Jalpaiguri in the eastern India to Darjeeling via Siliguri and Kurseong covering a distance of 88 km of which 10 km are in the plains. The journey takes up to 10 hours as against 3 hours by car and 4 hours by bus, but it does offer excellent opportunities for photo features and documentary videography in its exotic surrounding. It has steep gradients and amazing loops and its gauge is the narrowest measuring only 0.6096 m.

The DHR secured the coveted World Heritage Area (WHA) in 1999, the first being Semmering Railway of Austria in 1998.

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society (DHRS) was founded in 1997 by an UK-based International group dedicated to promoting awareness of, interest in, and support for the DHR. This Society is spread over 24 nations with a membership of over 800.

This railway project was originally proposed by one Mr. Franklin Prestage of the Eastern Bengal Railway Company in 1879 and the construction by the Gillander Arbuthnot & Company commenced shortly. The company was renamed the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Company. Five loops and four reverses (zig-zags) were added later on for safety reasons to ease the gradient. and the track was extended to Darjeeling in 1886. Innovations to stations were carried out and the passenger and goods traffic picked up fast in due course, but competition from the bus service affected DHR as the travel time by bus was comparatively less. Natural calamities like earthquake in 1897 and a major cyclone in 1899 had caused damages to this railway. The Batasia loop line came up in 1919 to overcome the problems of gradients on the ascent from Darjeeling. The 1934 earthquake in the northeast India did not spare the DHR, but normalcy was restored rapidly and the traffic picked up again.

After independence, the Indian Government purchased this company and various constructions were taken up at various times.

Of note about Darjeeling. Mother Teresa was involved in the first convent school established in Darjeeling in 1846.


Source: Google
Images: Google

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Nilgiris Mountain Railway

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The Nilgiris Mountain Railway (NMR)

The Nilgiris Mountain Railway is a marvel of engineering. It connects the town of Mettupalayam with the hill station of Udhagamandalam or Ooty in the Nilgiris of southern India. A Swiss inventor named Riggenback was the brain behind this project. Planned in 1854, the first train steamed out only 45 years later. While Coonoor was the original destination until 1899, Fern Hill and Ooty were added to the route in 1908. Hauled by the Swiss steam engines designed by the Swiss Locomotive Works, the NMR now has twelve such engines. It covers the 46-km route between Mettupalayam and Coonoor in four-and-a-half hours with five stations. Its average speed for safety reasons is 10.4 km per hour which entitles it to be the slowest train in India.

This mountain railway has been declared a World Heritage Site during the 29th session of the World Heritage Committee meeting in Durban for its “outstanding contribution in keeping steam heritage tourism alive.”

The ride is really an experience. The train passes through sharp curves en route. As it winds its way slowly, we can see the mountain streams flowing onto the plains below. There are five picturesque stations en route, Kallar, Adderley, Hill Grove, Aruvankadu, and Lovedale. Fern Hill the last station was closed down a few years ago. There are 16 tunnels and 26 bridges en route.

Imagine the steep incline of this railway route from 330 feet at Mettupalayam to 2,200 meters at Udagamandalam. The steep incline begins at Kallar. Due to the incline, the train runs on the rack and pinion system or the Alternate Biting System. You will be surprised to see the engine at the end while climbing to push it, but on the return journey, the engine is at front to ensure proper speed. The train is a charming blue and cream with wooden coaches and large windows.

A window seat is a must to enjoy this ride.
Source: Young World March 10, 2009
Image: Google

Thursday, March 19, 2009

India's historic sundials

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India's Jantar Mantar.

Jantar Mantar, the Astronomical Observatory or the Yantra Mantra in local vernacular (which means the Temple of Instruments) was built by the emperor Sawai Jai Singh II. He had deep interest in mathematics and his intention was to create a more accurate and permanent structure than the brass instruments of his time. Between 1726 and 1734, he constructed five astronomical observatories in north India, one each in Delhi, Mathura, Ujjain, Jaipur, and Varanasi and called them Jantar Mantar. While the Jantar Mantar at Mathura has been closed down, those in Ujjain and Varanasi are in ruins. The Jantar Mantar at Jaipur (see photo on the left), the largest stone astronomical observatory in the world was last restored in 1901 and was declared a national monument by the Government of India in 1948. Its coordinates are 26°55′29″N 75°49′28″E / 26.92472°N 75.82444°E / 26.92472; 75.82444. The cut stone masonry construction system was used here. Desert climate prevails in this region. The architectural instruments here include the 90' Samrat Jantar inclined to the latitude of 27 degrees and the scientific sculpture in solid geometry.

These structures look similar to geometric devices and are built with local stone and marble. The Jantar Mantar at Jaipur includes the Samrat Yantra or the Samrat Jantar, which is the largest sundial in the world measuring 27 feet in height with a huge triangular structure with arcs on its sides. The shadows of these arcs dispaly the time of the day from sunrise to sunset. While the arc on the left side shows the timings from sunrise to midday, the one on the right gives the time from midday to sunset!!! On the top of this structure is a small domed cupola used in those days as a platform to announce the eclipses and the monsoons. The other sites in Jaipur were used to track the planets and the stars.

The Delhi Jantar Mantar (see photo on the right) is undergoing conservation and restoration. Its color will soon be changed from the present red to white, which was its original color when it was built. The Archeological Society of India has documentary evidence for this.

Source: Google
Images: Google

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Rock paintings from Tamilnadu, India

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More rock art from India.

The Palani Hills region in Tamilandu, India is again in the news with more rock art findings belonging to the 3 B.C. to 3 A.D period. Congratulations again to the teams from the Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts, New Delhi and the Pondicherry University.

These paintings have been discovered in the dense lower Palani Hills range revealing scenes of devotees dancing with bow-like objects called kavadi in local language around their shoulders and carts with bullocks yoked to them. These bullock and kavadi paintings are quite unique as they have not been found elsewhere and these themes are first-time discoveries found in the villages of Mungil-Alai, veguritta-Alai and Pakaki-Alai in this area (the word alai in Tamil denoting cave occur in the Tamil Sangam literature from 3 B.C to 3 A.D. It is interesting to note that the painters here had adopted the ingenuous top approach pattern for painting the bullocks. Also found here are paintings of animals like bison, tigers, and cheetahs as well as birds like while kaolin and red ochre.

Bullock cart paintings do indicate trade between the then Pandy and the neighboring Chera kingdoms as confirmed by the Roman coins discovered near Palani and Pollachi along this trade route. No signs of human habitation were found here, which may suggest that these caves might have been used only for rituals by the Iron Age people.

It is interesting to note that more than 80 such rock painting sites are located in Tamilnadu, India by the above team.

Source: The Hindu March 6, 2009

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