An Open Billed Adventure

Raiganj might be rated as quite a small town among the other cities and District Head-quarters of North Bengal but it’s clean, green and teen. It’s a beautiful destination with some wonderfully behaved inmates. They are polite, they are helpful and they are real heroes when it comes to hospitality. When erstwhile Paschim Dinajpur was pierced, Balurghat became the District Head-quarter of Dakshin Dinajpur and Raiganj shouldered the same plight fror Uttar Dinajpur. This Raiganj town proudly possesses a wide-open bird sanctuary called Kulik. This is the second largest bird sanctuary of Asia and most importantly Kulik is the play-ground of Asian Open Bill Storks or Shamuk Khol, in Bengali. I have been hearing a lot since my childhood about Kulik and its great Storks but never had a scope to explore them. Finally one fine day I started for Kulik.

National Highway 34 has significantly bifurcated Raiganj at Siliguri More. One side is locally called Raiganj where you can find Raiganj Railway station and Government and private bus stands. Another side is Karnajora which is the Government area.All the District Head-quarters of all the Departments are here. If you travel only 5 minutes from the Siliguri More towards Siliguri, Kulik would caress you with its open, stretched arms. Kulik river is the tributary of Mahananda. This river id flowing beside the sanctuary and for this reason the entire sanctuary has been named after Kulik. You would find huge trees before entering Kulik and the Storks sitting above the trees. Large-sized white birds with black and white wings. Nicknamed as Shamuk Khol. But why is this name? Do they eat Shamuk? Probably no. My rickshaw-puller friend heard this query and replied, “Yes, they eat Shamuk.” Shamuk means mollusc or snail and cover means khol in Bengali. Breaking the cover of a mollusc would make you Shamuk Khol.

Kulik is quite a huge den for birds. It seems to be a great array of winged beauties. You can find a lot of water-habitant birds such as Cattle Egret, Great Egret, Great Cormorants etc along with a plenty of Pyed Mynas. Black Hooded Orioles, Rufous Treepie, Blue Throated Barbet, Lesser Flameback Woodpeckers are also available in large numbers but the actual king of Kulik is Asian Open Bill Stork. Other bird sanctuaries witness the migration in winter but Kulik has got a completely different scenario. Monsoon is the main migration time of Asian Open Bill Storks. They mostly come from Thighland, Burma and Srilanka. They come and install their temporary homes at the top of the trees. This migration starts ideally in July and ends in November.

When I was heading towards Kulik, I found some of them were loitering in the green paddy fields. They basically explore the fields to find out the snails. Apple Snails are the most favourite of them. These snails come under a special category of molluscs called Pila. The extreme use of toxic fertilisers is downsizing the numbers of the Apple Snails gradually and this practice is affecting the Storks’ diet system. The birds are not being able to have plenty of food and they are searching for some new destinations for migration. Every year the numbers of birds are decreasing due to this particular reason.

The Flying Stork

The Flying Stork

When I was only 2 kms before the main gate, I discovered that the birds were flying frequently in the sky over the Kulik. It really made me recall the Terodactyles of Jurassic Park. I just felt awestruck by witnessing that the giant birds were moving like air-planes as if I were crossing any aviation base-camp during an air strike. It was a lovely view from the bus. The bus helped me reach Siliguri More and I hired a manual rickshaw to reach the main gate. The watch-tower is very close to the gate. I scaled the tower through the stairs and it was a whole new world. There was Kulik river flowing beneath. Plenty of large trees and plenty of large birds were sitting at the top of the trees. They have taken the possessions of the tree-tops. Sometimes they were flying to collect straw, leaves and small tree-branches for their homes and coming back to the tree-tops. Entire area was celebrating their chaotic symphony.

The Chaotic Symphony

The Chaotic Symphony

Actually Open Bill Storks come here for breeding. They lay eggs, they hatch and they fly back to their origins. They have listed some places that are suitable for parenting and one of them is Kulik. The main difference between an adult Stork and a baby Stork is the bill. Babies don’t have the opened bill to break the snail-covers. Sometimes male Storks follow a polygamous model and join more than one female Stork in order to breed. Female Storks lay eggs in the tree-top homes and after around20-25 days the babies come out of the shells. Adult Storks have a height around 65-70 centimetres. Kulik offers a genuinely beautiful habitat for Shamuk Khol and a wonderful display arena for the travellers and bird-watchers. Many enthusiasts are coming with large tele-photo lenses to capture these giant birds in frame. Would you like to go someday?

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Bara Nagar : A Landscape Of Dreams

Bara Nagar Temple Complex (Boro Nogor) contributes an important aura to the Terracotta culture of our beautiful Bengal. The complex is equally important to the Bishnupur heritage temples but many people do not know about this place. Bara Nagar has always been an instrumental place for the trade practices in Murshidbad because the place is very near to the two important trading points Azimganj and Jiaganj. Plan any weekend, pack your bags and rush. The architectural marvels wait for your friendship.

What To Explore : Bara Nagar is famous for its Terracota temples. The panel works on the walls are simply amazing and it would take your breath away. You can be mesmerized by the craftsmanship depicted on the walls of Char Bangla and Bhavanishwar Temple. Also there are Ek Bangla Panchanan Lord Shiva Temple, Jor Bangla and Raj Rajeswari Temple that would make you crazy.

How To Reach : Direct train from Howrah and Sealdah Railway Station. Reach Azimganj and then hire a cycle-van. It’s only 15 minutes. If you reach Jiaganj by train, you need to come to Sadar Ghat and cross the Bhagirathi river and then it’s 15 minutes in cycle van.

Best Time Of Visit : Nothing as such. Just try to avoid the monsoon time. Getting drained is not a great by-product of travelling in this circuit. You can go in any weekend.

Where To Stay: Standard hotels are available in Azimganj and Jiaganj. AC and Non-AC rooms are available. Food is reasonably priced and the quality is perfect.

Backdrop : The illustrious Queen of Natore (now in Bangladesh), Rani Bhavani (1714-1793) was the person behind the Bara Nagar Temple complex. She built this entire complex of Terracotta (burnt bricks) Temples and these temples are very much opulent regarding the Terracotta architecture. These temples were created in 18th century. Bara Nagar was a big trading point at the time of her reign and she always wanted to enrich Bara Nagar economically, socially and culturally.

The complex starts with Ek Bangla Panchanan Shiva temple. Panchanan means five faces (Panch Anans, Panch=5, Anan=Face). The icon of Lord Shiva has five faces in this temple.  

Ek Bangla Panchanan Shiva Temple

The Char Bangla temple comes second in the list. This small complex consists of four Terracotta temples on the bank of the Bhagirathi River.

Char Bangla Temple

Char Bangla Temple

Panel Works Of Char Bangla Temple

You can find the ruins of Queens’s Administrative Building or the Kachhari Bari adjacent to the Char Bangla where Rani Bhavani maintained her office. Now the building is quite deserted but you can enter into it and see the ruins to touch the untold history.

Ruins Of The Queen's Palace

The best of the lot is the Bhavaniswar temple that can be seen after the deserted palace. The dome of the temple is shaped like an inverse lotus and it’s genuinely an artwork to celebrate. Raj Rajeswari temple and other ruined temples of Lord Shiva are also there.

Bhavaniswar Temple

The Temple Of The Lord Shiva

All the temples were built by Rani Bhavani and there are approximately 10-12 temples are there to visit. Burnt bricks have been used to create this temples and the panel works. Stunning brick architecture on the walls are actually priceless and entire world can come to see this magnificent craftsmanship.

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India and ethnic outfits

India has always been an opulent nation regarding the culture, customs and the festivals. From the hills of Kashmir to the azure blue sea of Tamil Nadu and from the sandy Rajasthan to the green, beautiful West Bengal, you can experience an array of different vibrant cultures and a riot of colors. Every color represents India in true spirit and for the entire world, these colors are very much important to feel, to understand India.

Most importantly, like all other countries, India is also inclined to the color-coding that symbolizes the nature of a nation, the inmates and the principles we believe in but if you talk about the life-style, the colors here are the passion for the people.  This passion is greatly seen in our attires. The Indian Ethnic wears. The attires that talk about India and create a festive fervor for everyone. From a simple turban to a Baluchari Saree, you can feel and experience this rare usage of colors that are so vibrant to invigorate your mood and soul.  A color is your signature. A person is known by the color he or she wears and most importantly your color can boost or depress a person who meets you. Here color is the belief, color is the psyche.

India has a wide variety of places as per the natural order. We have Himalayas, we have bays, seas, oceans, we have desert, and we have simple, plain lands and even dense forests including the mangrove trails in Sunderban. You can easily imagine the geographical and cultural variety that we enjoy and for that reason we have plenty of eye-catching ethnic -wears to showcase in front of the whole world.

A Saree is a 6 yards long designed cloth that can be draped beautifully. Saree is a fetish for every Indian woman as it’s a pure work of art crafted on a cloth.  It speaks about the originality of the Indian ethnicity as this is the most authentic attire of India. All the sarees are exclusively crafted by our rural artisans who weave dreams in an unstitched cloth so that you can enjoy a rare glimpse of majestic design-forms and motifs. Also the fabric is very important as the attire is basically a long cloth that needs to be draped to wear. Saree draping is another significant practice that reflects the craftsmanship of India. A Saree doesn’t have any external hook or accessory that can be used for locking an outfit like trousers. It’s completely your skill that is needed to wear it. While wearing Saree, you need two basic accessories namely blouse and the petticoat. A blouse is a top or a shirt like thing that needs to worn in the bust-level and the petticoat is simply a skirt with a string attached to the waist-line for wearing purpose. The petticoat is needed for tucking the Saree in the waist-line as if you are tucking a shirt in a skirt. Nowadays, the blouses also carry the signatures of our finest craftsmanship and designer blouses can make you remarkably gorgeous if you are wearing a Saree in any occasion. For the people, who don’t want the hazard f tucking, we have now come up with the pre-stitch Sarees where you can have a Saree with an attached, already stitched petticoat and you can wear it like a skirt. Just wear the skirt, fix the waist line properly and place the Saree in your shoulder, the three simple and sexy steps to look wow.  Saree comes in a lot of varieties as we have 26 states in our country and every state has got own fabrics, designs, artisans and styles. You can have around 200 categories of Sarees with innumerable sub-categories to choose from.

 

Indian Saree

Indian Saree

 

Indian Saree

Indian Saree

 

Salwar-Kameez is another legacy that we carry. It’s more popular as it’s the most easy-to-wear attire that a woman could ever have in Indian scenario. Salwar means the bottom part like trousers and again there is a string attached to the waist-line. The basic idea of this string is to provide you with enough room regarding your waist size measurement. Trousers have perfect waist-size orientation and even the skirts too. That means when you purchase a trousers or a skirt, you measure your waist, which is ever-increasing for the non-exercisers like me, and opt for the perfect size. You cannot have an expansion or contraction facility in your trousers or skirts. Stretchable jeans or corduroys would track your shape but you cannot customize them. Salwar enjoys the edge-over here as it only has got strings that you can tie as per your waist. The concept is simply like a shoe with the laces. It’s a win-win situation for a woman as you can still wear the same Salwar after 3 years of its purchasing even-though you have developed a bulgy tummy that creates unhappiness where you go to a party. Indian attires allow this liberty, this room. It’s something like your own space, own happiness attached to your outfit and every-time you wear it, it gives you a merry feeling that you can share it with all. A Kameez is the top or the shirt that can be worn with the Salwar. The main attraction lies in the Kameez design and style. Since, India is a junction of various religions and cultures, Salwar-Kameezes also carry the mark of our cultural variety. We have various types of Salwar-Kameezes as per materials, designs and looks and feels. Most importantly, you can easily buy the unstitched fabrics from the market and customize your own outfit based on your own measurements. If you come to India, there are plenty of tailors or the Kaarigars in every locality who can create your Salwar-Kameez and Blouse with their master-strokes. Mostly, these Kaarigars belong to our Muslim brother-hood and they have always been considered as the magicians of craftsmanship. A sewing-machine, proper knowledge and a fine-tuned zeal of creating happiness on a woman’s face, they just outperform in their small shops.  India is a country where people know how to create vibes in the ethnic-wear and the Indian women celebrate Indianism by their attires and colors.

 

Salwar Kameez

Salwar Kameez

 

Salwar Kameez

Salwar Kameez

Lehenga-Choli is another outfit that symbolizes Indian craftsmanship and grandeur. It’s quite similar to the western skirts and tops. The lehenga is like a skirt that comes with an attached string in the waistline like the petticoat and the choli is simply the blouse. Most of the time a considerable gap is shown between the lehenga and the choli and this open-belly style has already become very popular throughout the world. This particular attire has been inspired by the attires that are worn by the rural women in the northern and the north-western part of India.

 

Lehenga Choli

Lehenga Choli

 

Lehenga Choli

Lehenga Choli

 

These outfits are gaining high popularity in the overseas garments market and Indian companies are seeing a great potential in the export business. The companies are sourcing the garments from various vendors or manufacturing in their own workshops, showcasing the same online or physically and delivering the designer outfits at the perfect destinations through the new-age logistic companies. The logistic industry has already developed a high-end, seamless service platform that can ensure the delivery of any product in any country within the strict deadline. Very soon the entire world will see a great boom in the Indian designer outfits market where India would be catering to the needs of the global customers and our ethnic dresses would earn a huge applaud from the overseas fashion Gurus.

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Eternal Banaras

Howrah-Amritsar Express. That was the train that actually allowed me to board in. Well, precisely when I wanted to book tickets just before 10 days of my journey, there was no other train for me and I had to book 7 tickets from the total 28 available tickets. I assumed that it might be a tiring journey but trust me, the train reached Banaras so smoothly and almost on time. When I reached Banaras railway station, it was freezing cold because it was well-explanatory for all of us that a chill-wave had been already started. Banaras welcomed us with almost 6 degree temperature at 9 AM and frankly, we all were not amazed by this shivering hospitality.

Banaras, the name reminds of Kashi Biswanath Temple. The name reminds of the evening Aarti on Dasashwamedh Ghat. The name reminds of Godowliya Chowk, Rabris, Jalebis. Banaras is one of the most affluent cities of Uttar Pradesh(UP), the most politically powerful state of India. It is the oldest city of India and for that reason history speaks its own story here and the population is also very high. The city is full of heritage buildings even now and you can just feel the history. We stayed very near to the Godowliya Chowk, the most important place of Banaras or the city center in other words. If you want to go to Dasashamedh Ghat or Kashi Biswanath Temple, you have to cross this chowk. This is the place where many tourists come to shop a lot of things as the entire road is an extended market.

After checking-in we went to the Dasashwamedh Ghat for a boat ride. This boat ride is very famous in Banaras as there are 64 Ghats on the river Ganga that you should explore by a boat. Ghats means the place on the bank of a river where someone can take bath. As this was winter, I experienced a lot of migratory birds flying over the river. They were delicate, they were beautiful. Ghats of Banaras carry some wonderful historical facts. A lot of wise, intellectual, great men came to Banaras for various purposes and somehow they made these Ghats and gave away to the local people for their utilization. All the Ghats are wonderfully structured and the constructions are gigantic. We had a 1 Hour boat ride and explored a number of Ghats. Ideally it would take quite a few hours to visit all the Ghats.

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It was a very cold day and we decided to take rest in the Guest House. It was simply a dual effect of the journey and the biting cold. Being very frank, this was my third visit to Banaras but I had never experienced that kind of a cold over there. It was like a frost bite. It was enjoyable but in the early morning it was simply a torchure. Dinner was awesome as after a lot of days I enjoyed a Uttar Pradesh dinner. Rice, Chapatis, Dal Fry, Alu Gobi, Alu Matar, Pickles and baked Papad. Just sumptuous.

Next day we went to Sarnath. The place where Lord Budhha gave his first sermon. Sarnath is only 10 KMs from Banaras. A crystal clear place that speaks of peace, Budhhist Heritage, tranquility and humanity, that is Sarnath. I have been fallen in love with Sarnath since my childhood. The famous Dhamek Stupa and a beautiful peace pagoda is there near the Holy Tree. The entire area is outstandingly tranquil and it’s a treat to the ears. This was also the third time in Sarnath and again I felt that peace in my mind. The place of Lord Budhha, the place of peace. Sarnath tells a great story of leadership. A man started his journey from Nepal, extended his arms, made friends and celebrated peace. From Lord Budhha to His Holiness Dalai Lama, everyone enriched Sarnath and that’s why this place is so much important. In this world of unnecessary hustle-bustle and war-mongers, Sarnath offers a divine piece of a Peace-Cake with an icing of humanity. I have never stayed there because I have never got that scope but I wish to stay atleast 2 days there sometime. Just to feel Lord Budhha and his messages. There is a huge statue of Lord Budhha in the pagoda. You can also stay there for a day or two. It would be a real great thing. Several hotels are there. No need to book if you are not going in any of the Budhhist festivals. There are Chinese and Japanese Budhhist Temples also to visit. We had exceptionally good Alu-Chats in Sarnath. Alu-Chat and Fulkas are a delicacy in UP. Fulkas are Fuchhkas in Kolkata.

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Evening we all spent on shopping. Since we were close to the market, we had a great scope of shopping a lot of things. Banaras is very famous for its woolen garments and jackets made of leather and foam. A number of shops are there staring from Godowliya Chowk to almost the entry point of Dasashwamedh Ghat. Even a number of traders sit on the road displaying their stocks of sweaters, woolen caps and hats, mufflers, shawls etc. Banarasi Saree is a very very famous outfit in Northern India and it originates from Banaras. Banarasi Saree is named after Banaras. A lot of weavers are there in Banaras who create these Sarees. You can find many shops displaying and selling Banarasi Sarees in the market even there are some factories near the Chowk where you can go for witnessing the craft-works and purchasing. Ladies from all over the world are very eager to visit these factories and those who like to wear Sarees, buy from the factories directly. If you don’t wear Saree you can opt for woolen sweaters, cardigans and pull-overs and wear with the jeans and other trousers or skirts. Salwar-kamijs and stroles made of Banarasi silk are also available and the designs are just awesome. In a word, Banaras is a shopping paradise for all women irrespective of country, religion and mind-set.
Another shopping point is the Biswanath Gali. Gali means the narrow street and this street is full of shops. From garments to religious items, you can have a wide array of products that would simply entice you for buying. You can also have some fantastic sweet shops offering Rabris, Jalebis, Gajar ka Halwas and lot of other delicious sweets. Most importantly you can find the Pan Masala shops in this Gali. Pan(Beetle) is a very famous thing in UP and all over the world Pan comes in two varieties, Kolkata and Banarasi. Banaras is the land of Pan and different kind od Pan Masalas that enrich the Pan. While in Banaras, never forget to buy the traditional sweets and Pan Masalas. Masalas are the different spices used in Pan.

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Kashi Biswanath Temple is situated at the end of Biswanath Gali. Actually the Gali has been named after the Lord Biswanath since it’s adjacent to the temple. The temple is one of the ancient temples of India and a lot of people come here from all over the country and the universe. This is the city that celebrates the harmony of all the religion. You can see a great mosque adjacent to the temple and a wonderful church at the Godowliya crossing. Banaras has never experienced any communal outrage as all the people live with their own religious dignity and a great respect to the people of other religions. Banaras is trully a snapshot of our secular India that celebrates humanity and spirituality.

Dasaswamedh Ghat is very, very famous for the evening Aarti. Aarti is an everyday ritual for worshipping Lord Biswanath and the Mother Ganga. Lord Biswanath is another form of our Lord Shiva. The Aarti starts at 6 PM everyday and ends at 7 PM. It’s an amazing experience. That one hour would definitely take out all the pathos, stresses and tensions from your life and would invigorate a lot of energies in your mind. You can think that it’s a big time, religious group counselling that heals you, soothes your mind and refreshes your life. If a weekend Jam Session in a disc helps you de-stress your week-life then the Aarti would give you a sublime peace and relaxation. Come, feel the spiritual India, open your arms and pour as many happiness as you can.

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Banaras is a big time meeting point of hermits and other religion-happy people. You can see a lot of hermits here and there in Banaras. They come to promote holiness and sanctity. Hindu religion has got 10 different sects and you can see them and feel the exuberance of Hinduism. After Kumbh Mela, Banaras is the most sought-after place of Hindu religious rendezvous.

Next day we hired a Tanga, a Horse Carriage for local city tour. Riding a Tanga is a real fun and we had a great tour indeed. We visited Banaras Hindu University, Sankat Mochan Temple, Durga Bari and Tulsi Manas Mandir. Banaras Hindu University is a central university and it’s got a wide campus. Students are coming all over the world for studying Technology, Computer Applications and Indology. I was also very fanatic to study Master of Computer Application there when I was persuing my Graduation studies but couldn’t do it. You would get amazed by the vivaciousness of the campus.You must see Sankat Mochan Temple, Durga Bari and Tulsi Manas Mandir. All these temples are old temples of Banaras and definitely in the Must-See list. Get fulfilled.

Evening we experienced the Aarti. Snapped a lot of pictures and again went for some shopping. Next day morning we went for the Puja in the Kashi Biswanath Temple. This temple has got lot of security measures arranged by Uttar Pradesh Police and you have to undergo some physical checks and machine checks. Ultimately you would reach the Garva Griha, the actual place where the Lord Biswanath is situated. Visiting the Garva Griha is an amazing feeling. We also bought Peda, the famous sweet of Banaras after exiting from the temple.

People work for comfort and come to the Almighty for peace. Whatever religion you belong to, Banaras has got a space for you. The major thing is to get blended with the people of different religions who has got an ultimate religion called humanity. Come once to Banaras, fall in love for life time. Experience India, experience life.

Banaras : Some useful information

Location : Uttar Pradesh, India. 800 KM from Delhi and 710 KM from Kolkata.

Mode of Transport : Nearest Airport is Babatpur Airport, Trains are plying from all over the India.

Accommodation Cost : Rs. 300.00 to Rs. 5000.00. Large range to choose from.

Food Cost : Rs. 50.00 to Rs. 250.00.

Indian religious paintings: Three inevitable entities

Religious paintings are always important for all the civilizations as this particular domain speaks about the belief or the ideology that a community should have in order to communicate to the Almighty. In any temple, mosque, church or monastery you can find different artworks that describe the acts of deities or the pioneers of the religions. These artworks are really valuable to create a sustaining impression of the religious values and that’s why you can see a lot of stories depicted through those paintings. We all know that beautiful stories are easy to remember and religious stories are simply divine.

Indian especially he Hindu mythological stories are also great and these are perfectly connected to the artworks. Allow me to take you through three majestic icons that are the main sources of inspiration for Indian art.

Lord Krishna

The most eminent character of Indian mythology. Krishna was born to destroy Kangsha, his maternal uncle who was a savage ruler and famous for his tortures. Krishna killed him and made all the sufferers happy. Lord Krishna has one hundred and eighty names to be called by and various incarnations. In Indian mythology or the Hindu Purana the incarnations are considered as Avatar, the same word used in the movie made by James Cameron. Lord Krishna is associated with his lady-love Radha. In Sanskrit, Hindi and Bengali, Krishna means black. Ideally you can find two different versions of the idols. Black and blue. Mostly, when you see Lord Krishna with Radha, the icon is black and when he is alone, he is blue. The reason is love. When they are together, Krishna is a normal lover holding her hands and that’s why the color is the same as usual. When he is alone and thinking about Radha, he is blue. We all know the fact that the pain of love turns a person blue. You can find various paintings and frescoes that depict the heroic saga of Lord Krishna. These artworks will touch your soul and you would definitely feel a great peace.

Lord Ganesha

The God of prosperity and fulfillment. Probably the most popular hero of Indian mythology, The illustrious son Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, the cutest deity amongst all. Ganesha enjoys a head that is similar to an elephant and of course a beautiful trunk. Most of the idols you see, would be having the trunks aligned in the left side of the body but there are exceptions too. The idols that have got the rightward alignment of the trunks are the most precious ones. People firmly believe that those are the luckiest mascots. You can see a cute, beautiful Lord Ganesha in my profile picture. The unframed painting on the wall behind me.

Lord Budhha

Peace, enlightment and sublimity. Lord Budhha was born in Kapilabastu, Nepal and when he started his journey, India became the most sought-after choice to promote his noble thoughts. Budhhism is very much famous in India and there is a complete Budhhist circuit in India which is a fantastic tourism destination. You can see various wall paintings in the monasteries and the pagodas and also he is a great inspiration to our Indian artists who create magic on canvas and papers. If you visit the North-Eastern part of India, you can be amazed by the paintings of Lord Budhha depicting the stories related to him. That would give youthe idea regarding the history of Budhhism. He showed the way of commitment and peace and still we all are following the same because end of the day our lives deserve to be fulfilled and sublime.