Friday, May 31, 2019

Fighting for future: US vs China

Huawei HQ in China
One thing which is very clear to those who follows US actions against Huawei is - it’s not about Huawei; it’s about future of supremacy in technology.

In past half century they faced this situation twice. First with USSR, which is now dubbed as space race era. With the end of towering USSR scientists Kirill Shchelkin, Yulii Khariton, Andrei Sakharov, Mstislav Keldysh, Boris Vannikov, Sergei Korolev etc USSR's technological challenge came to an end. After death of Sergei Korolev (which was accelerated by various Soviet programs), Soviets were not able to continue with their supremacy in space. Slowly but steadily leadership of USSR became more interested in political survival and maintaining military strength rather than funding huge S&T programs. With the disintegration of USSR that also came to an end.

Later it was Japan. Her supersonic cruise in all spheres of economy and technology seriously threatened US supremacy. However, Japan was US ally and their supersonic growth came to abrupt halt in early 90s. Though Japanese firms kept on investing in technology and maintained leading position they were never able to be the Japans of 80s.

Now decades after victory in space race, US is facing tough competition from anther rising Asian power - China. China became pragmatic and broke shackles of ideological dogma during Deng era and started sprinting. Unlike Soviets (who were able to remain as single country due to military might), Chinese are more coherent, focused, planned and certainly do not want to make repeat the mistakes of their erstwhile neighbor. It’s a different matter that in Xi era, China looks more like moving towards Soviet's way).

China is pushing hard in Space. In response, US recently created a new space command and pulled back NASA from its cash strapped, less ambitious vision. Focus also changed from Atlantic theatre to Indo-Pacific especially in South China sea. In both cases US has an upper hand. However, when it comes to technology (especially in Telecom, AI, Face recognition etc) it’s a different ball game. In fact, lot of patents in this area are with Chinese. In facial recognition and associated technologies, there are hardly anyone who can compete with Chinese.

US don't have any companies with the stature of Huawei in telecommunications sector. Sure, they have Cisco, but they are in a different field. Then Qualcomm, again in related but different area. ARM is British (or Japanese because of Softbank?). We hardly heard anything about AT&T Bell which pioneered a lot of earlier innovations for a while. Bell Labs are currently under Nokia which is a Finnish company. You may be remembering another company called Western Electric. They underwent many transformations (became Lucent in between) and now under Nokia's umbrella. Then there is Ericson. Hold on... Ericson is Swedish.

Looks like US also understand this. After all they blocked sale of Qualcomm to Singapore based Broadcom on national security grounds. Investments by any Chinese firms to US companies holding key technologies were also blocked citing national security reasons.

In fact, all major 5G, high end telecom gear manufactures are non-US companies - Huawei (with over 100bn USD in revenue), ZTE, Nokia, Samsung and Ericsson. Now, you may be thinking what so special about 5G. Why US is worried?

5G is a major variable in future technological landscape. It’s going to revolutionize Telecommunication networks, Internet, Industrial IoT, Control of remote and critical infrastructure, Entertainment and Multimedia, Smart Vehicles and driverless cars, Transportation, Low latency machine communications, Smart homes, Smart city development, Security and surveillance etc.

US may probably never been in this situation for at least two centuries. While US was pumping billions of dollars for non-winnable wars in Afghanistan, Iraq etc Chinese pumped many billions into research as well as for investing in key western companies. They made state champions and created alternatives for major western technology giants. It is another matter that, during this sprint they hardly cared about intellectual property rights and patents. What US saw when they took a break in fixing Afghanistan and trying to get out of Iraq was Chinese leading world's transition to 5G!!!

Panicked, they acted fast, targeting leading Chinese companies Huawei, ZTE. ZTE almost came to its knees before US relaxed sanctions. Huawei was added to sanctions list. Following that Google pulled Huawei’s Android license. This means, Huawei phones can't use Android OS (I think they can still use opensource part of Android) and google services including play store.
Was Chinse companies’ victims?

I don't think anyone describes Chinese companies as pure victims. Main accusation against Chinese giants are theft of trade secrets and surveillance for Chinese state. When US asked Canadians to arrest Huawei's CFO (Meng Wanzhou - daughter of founder Ren Zhengfei) charges were theft of trade secrets and violations of sanctions against Iran. As a matter of fact, company founder Ren’s resume includes working for 'Information Technology research unit' of PLA (Chinese Army).

A little History of Huawei


2003 - Networking firm Cisco accused Huawei of intellectual property theft. Cisco later dropped the suit.

2005 - RAND Corporation study, commissioned by US Airforce (USAF) - noted that, "Huawei maintains deep ties with the Chinese military, which serves a multi-faceted role as an important customer, as well as Huawei’s political patron and research and development partner."

2007- FBI interviewed Huawei’s founder, Ren in 2007 in relation to potential violations of US trade sanctions on Iran.

2008 - Companies efforts to buy 16% stake in 3Com (provider of anti-hacking software for US military) was blocked.

2010 Motorola filed a lawsuit accusing Huawei of corporate espionage, but later settles with the company

2014- T-Mobile sued Huawei. Later US telecom companies excluded Huawei from their contracts

Reuters reports that, "A major Iranian partner (Skycom, a private company registered in Hong Kong) of Huawei Technologies offered to sell at least 1.3 million euros worth of embargoed Hewlett-Packard computer equipment to Iran’s largest mobile-phone operator in late 2010". Problems is as per reports, Ren’s daughter, Meng Wanzhou, served on board of Hong Kong firm. This firm is also considered as front-end for Huawei.

As per the same report, “an Iranian job recruitment site (Irantalent.com) describes Skycom as “a leading telecom solution provider” and goes on to list details that are identical to the way Huawei describes itself on its U.S. website: employee-owned, selling “solutions” used by “45 of the world’s top 50 telecom operators” and serving “one-third of the world’s population. On LinkedIn.com, several telecom workers list having worked at “Huawei-skycom” on their resumes. A former Skycom employee said the two companies shared the same headquarters in China. And an Iranian telecom manager who has visited Skycom’s office in Tehran said, “Everybody carries Huawei badges.”

Iranian project was to double prepaid customer capacity of Iranian telecom operator from 20m to 40m. As per this proposal (marked as Huawei confidential) requires HP hardware - one server, 20 disk arrays, 22 switches and software - in Tehran and Shiraz as part of hardware design. Total project cost was around 19.9mn euro. Same report states that, "...China’s ZTE Corp, a Huawei competitor, had sold or agreed to sell millions of dollars’ worth of U.S. computer gear, including HP equipment, to Telecommunication Co of Iran, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, and a unit of the consortium that controls TCI."

As per US authorities, Huawei "...retained control of Skycom, using it to sell telecom equipment to Iran and move money out via the international banking system… banks unwittingly cleared hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions that potentially violated economic sanctions Washington had in place at the time".

Another allegation is, Canicula (allegedly linked to Huawei) had business operations in Syria, another country that has been subject to U.S. and European Union sanctions.

Financial transactions via Skycom came to light during an HSBC internal investigation. HSBC was trying to dismiss criminal charges filed by US Department of Justice for violation of U.S. sanctions.

Security Risk

US intelligence agencies also fear that, Huawei equipment could contain 'backdoors' for Chinese state espionage. Huawei vehemently denied these claims. However, Australia and New Zealand went ahead and banned Huawei from building their mobile phone networks. Austria is trying to reduce overwhelming Chinese influence in their country. British are yet to ban the company but expressed reservations. It’ hard for British to say no to Chinese money during and after Brexit process.

In fact, Chinese law require companies to assist in national intelligence work. Well, you may be thinking isn’t US companies cooperate with US government in their intelligence gathering. Well, it’s a good questions and we know the answer from Snowden papers.

Ownership of Huawei

Ownership of Huawei is one of the most interesting puzzles in the game. You might be thinking founder Ren Zhengfei is the owner of the company. Interestingly no. He owns around 1%. Huawei is not a publicly traded company and never sold shares to public in last three decades. As per records, Huawei Technologies is wholly owned by a holding company called Huawei Investment & Holding. This holding company has two shareholders, Ren and Huawei’s labor union (Union of Huawei Investment & Holding).

Interestingly Huawei shares are different from normal shares. These shares can't be transferred to another or owned by nonemployee. If an employee exit Huawei, then company buys all shares back. If employee have certain seniority, then they many not buy it back. Labor Union, elect members to Huawei’s Representatives’ Commission, which in turn elects’ members of the board of directors. Union doesn't have any control over the operations of company.
Accusation (which Huawei trying to discredit but so far unsuccessful) is that Chinese party, military or government has significant control over Huawei.

Why American's Act Now?

China is very different from all other US enemies who are a threat to US interests. For e.g. whatever Russians do, they don’t pose a significate threat to US outside old USSR sphere of influence (except in Arctic). Moreover, Russians are neither investing in future nor cared about anything in economy other than Petro-gas and selling military weapons.

Iranians are a threat to US allies in Middle East including Israel. However, Iran won’t directly attack Israel.  In addition to that, Iran's strength is Oil and gas and its geographical position and influence over insurgencies in neighboring countries. Though Iran has a powerful army, its decades behind in military technologies and halfway across the world. Even minor disruptions, in global crude supply might not affect US market as they already became a net exporter of Oil due to significant shell oil extraction over past decades.

North Korea, despite all its grand standing; and Afghanistan don't pose any threat to US technological supremacy. As far as Europe is concerned, most economies (other than Germany) are cash strapped and they themselves looking for foreign investment (yes, including Chinese). Germany is a close US ally.

Made in China 2015 – 2025 - 2049

Huawei P30 phone with triple lens


With China its different. Chinese strength is not coming from any Oil and Gas deposits. China is the factory of world. After decades of building duplicates, they are moving towards original manufacturing. Getting contracts across the world from road construction to 5G rollout.

China aspires to be world's leading technological power. They came up with a plan – which released in 2015 - aims for developments in 10 key sectors by 2025. They also plan to achieve 70% self-sufficiency by 2049. Many of these plans violates many WTO provisions. Crashing of solar panel industry is a case in point. We will discuss this in another article.

Another issue is market access. While western markets are open for Chinese export, she put in place serious restrictions on opening her own market (which is very huge) to non-Chinese companies.

For investing or doing business in China foreign companies must enter into joint ventures with local firms. These agreements also required foreign firms to share key intellectual property and advanced technologies. Some rules were related later.

China also happens to be leading exporter of rare-earth metals. These metals are critical for electronics and battery manufacturing.

What will be Chinese reaction?

I don’t think Chinese will make any hard decisions. They think a lot before taking decisions. After all its the land of Sun Tzu. They will even wait till Trump’s term is over.

Some Chinese may be arguing for banning Apple. Will they do it? Very less chance. Apple phones are as Chinese as any other Chinese phones. Out of 800 suppliers for Apple approximately half comes from mainland China.  Why should they shoot on their own foot. However, Chinese users may choose not to buy Apple phones.

Many policy analysts argue that Chinese may ban export of rare earth metals. If US pushed had it is possible that, they might reduce export of rare earth metals. However, complete ban may not happen. After all, why to create significant disruptions in global chain when Chinese sits at a very important position in it.

How it is going to affect others?

Rough Waters for Huawei

Exclusion from using Android may not create significant impact in home market. However, in other markets - say, India - they won't be able to sell phones without Android OS and Google Services. They will face dip is revenue from overseas operations and without US chips (HiSilicon might not be able to provide a replacement for ARM or Qualcomm in immediate future) it’s going to be a hard struggle. Chinese government may compensate Huawei in one way or other. China may also try to get some reprieve for Huawei by making it as a bargaining chip in future US – China trade talks.
Costlier Telecom equipment’s

Equipment’s form Ericson and other companies will be costlier. This will delay 5G rollout and make it costlier.

Trade War

Tit for tat taxes exports between US an China will be a step back for freedom of trade, liberalization and globalization.


Alternate pressure point

For a set back here, China can create problems for US and allies elsewhere. May be boosting North Korea a bit. Building some more artificial islands in South China Sea etc.

Middle- East, Eastern Europe and Iran

A significant event in Middle East or Eastern Europe may take all the focus away from current problem and negotiations may go on slowly behind the scenes.
US

China will try to reduce import of US agricultural produce which will create problems for US president in key agrarian states.  After all US presidents must worry about elections unlike their Chinese counterparts. It is even possible that, China may simply wait till current US administration changes.

Whatever happens we are going to see a new technological race between US and China in coming days. Though it disrupts global supply chain and make a dent to global growth rates, we will eventually see more investments by US and China in science and technology. We will see more space explorations and even colonization’s of moon and mars. Who knows we may even bring fuel from moon to power machines in earth?

Sajeev.


References.

1. https://in.reuters.com/article/huawei-iran/exclusive-new-documents-link-huawei-to-suspected-front-companies-in-iran-syria-idINKCN1P21MKhttps://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/26/hsbc-probe-helped-lead-to-us-charges-against-huawei-cfo.html
2. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/26/hsbc-probe-helped-lead-to-us-charges-against-huawei-cfo.html
3. https://qz.com/1535995/the-full-list-of-crimes-huawei-is-accused-of-committing-by-the-us/
4. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/29/huawei-could-be-part-of-china-deal-but-cant-work-with-iran-marc-short.html
5. https://qz.com/1627149/huaweis-journey-to-becoming-us-tech-enemy-no-1/

Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Sinking Philippine Cities: Not Climate Change; but Climate Disaster and threat to Humanity

Manila Bay @ Sunset: Wikipedia
Word climate change doesn’t convey its meaning. For ordinary people, who are not climate scientists or studied changes in climate pattern, these two words don’t represent the disaster it symbolizes. For them, climate change means, climate is slowly changing, earth is getting warmer by 1-2 degree. But this may happen over decades. So, what. What is the problem in having a two-degree hike in temperature? In a day itself, temperature varies more than that. If the selection of word is not enough to convey the message, then people often misunderstand the message.

Now let’s see what is happening in Philippines. Its cities are literally sinking. Her provinces Pampanga and Bulacan sunk around one meter since 2003. Just imagine what happens if a coastal area sunk by one meter. Sea water will come to land and ravage agriculture and drinking water sources, sea water results in corrosion of metals and other items, places will always be in a flooded state, residents will be forced to relocate to higher areas, slowly but steadily sea will claim those provinces.

This catastrophe is not limited to Philippines. Sea water levels are raising annually by 3mm as per UN estimates. You may be thinking 3mm doesn’t matter. But remember huge number of cities are in coastal areas and sea is on an inward march to claiming those cities.

In Philippines, main culprit for sinking provinces is heavy extraction of underground water. These provinces soil composition also doesn’t help. It is not that Mania didn't try to do something to stop it. They made moratorium on new wells in Greater Manila area in 2004. We all know what happens with these regulations. With just 100 staff - whose responsibility extends to entire country - failed to enforce the ban.

During this period, population exploded (almost doubled since 1985) and economy expanded (10 times since 1985) in good speed. Which of course added additional pressure on already sinking cities.

Philippines cities are not alone; Jakarta, Bangkok, Shanghai, coastal areas of Bangladesh, islands in Pacific are facing the same problem.

Roxas - Manila Bay


Never a Government Priority

People often failed to understand the gravity of climate change and heavy utilization natural resources. Hence it hardly ever became an election issue. Due to this, priorities became different and administrations ended up doing patch work to fix outcomes without fixing original problem.

This what happened in Manila too. To fix drinking water problem, government turned to one solution it now - massive dams. Duterte administration is in talk with China to build two new dams (which of course is controversial as location of these dams are in tribal areas.

I think China should think twice before funding new dams. They are already entangled in another controversial dam project in Myanmar and Chinese infra projects are not finding much favors in Malaysia, Srilanka and in many other counties. Can China, who dreams about a superpower status in future assume some more responsibility in funding these massive geology altering projects? Can they partner with Philippines and address these problems in a different way rather than simply pumping money to new dams? After all China's own dam building spree is now slowly becoming an environment disaster.

A better message

I don’t think governments across the world will address climate problems if people don't demand it. And people won't demand it unless they understand it properly. Here is where climate scientists come. They should convey their message to people in layman’s language, make them understand the gravity of situation rather than bombarding with heavy jargons and numbers. I don’t think sending press release like 1 or 2 digress increase in temperature is going to resonate with people. Make them understand what that 1 or 2 degree will do to their life.

Sajeev

References

1. Philippine towns are sinking even dead are drowning - SCMP

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Income Based Reservation - A Master stroke right before general elections

Narendra Modi led BJP government is known to take unexpected turns. De-monetization, buying Rafael off the shelf etc. are good examples for that. A couple of days back, government took another such decision which gives 10% reservation to economically weaker sections of Indian society regardless of their caste or religion. Everything happened so fast and 124th constitution amendment bill was bulldozed through both houses of parliament with hardly any discussion (or in any select committee or in any other committee for that matter).

124th amendment bill made modifications to fundamental rights in Article 15 and 16. As the constitution doesn’t provide provision for reservation based on economic condition/income these changes were essential.

1. Bill amends Article 15 to permit government to provide for the advancement of “economically weaker sections”.  Further, up to 10% of seats may be reserved for such sections for admission in educational institutions.  Such reservations will not apply to minority educational institutions.

2. Amendments to Article 16 to permit the government to reserve up to 10% of all posts for the “economically weaker sections” of citizens.

3. Reservation of up to 10% for “economically weaker sections” in educational institutions and public employment will be in addition to the existing reservation.

4. Central government will notify the “economically weaker sections” of citizens on the basis of family income and other indicators of economic disadvantage.

In order to qualify for this reservation, a family should,

1. Have an annual income of less than Rs.8 lakhs, or
2. Own less than five acres of farmland, or
3. Have a house lesser than 1,000 sq. feet in a town (or 100 sq. yard in a notified municipal area).

The efficiency with which the bill went through both houses of parliament is something which even then the private sector can only dream.

I would rather prefer huge government investment in education sector, rather than reservations in jobs. I believe education is one of the few sectors where government should own the institutions.
However, I don’t have much objections to reservations for economically backward sections. After all, it’s far better blindly following caste-based reservations. Caste-based reservation indeed changed so many things in India. This affirmative action brought new section of people to the front line of Indian society. However, it hardly made a dent in the social system.

Now you might give me examples for places where backward untouchable people raised from ashes and reached the vanguard of society. Well, it’s true; but if we take it in full context, rather than reservations it’s the powerful social upheaval of the time led by visionary leaders which made the changes. Sri Narayana Guru and Chattambi Swamy led social movements in Kerala is one such glaring example.

Even though voices are raiscenturies-old old system is still prevailing in huge swaths of Hindi belt. Neither more than seven-decade old reservation system nor conventional education was able to eradicate that.

Irony is, to get reservations numerous otherwise forward communities in Gujrat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Maharashtra etc. at the forefront of multiple strikes.

Government’s decision was indeed a masterstroke. Hardly anyone expected this one; more than that hardly any party could object this policy change in public. Well, the government had to do some populist item before general elections. Previously everyone tried farm loan waiver. Now it became a new normal. Everyone now a days expect a farm loan waiver right before state and general elections. It lost its novelty. Less than expected GST income, fiscal responsibility rules, controversy in shifting RBI reserves, huge NPAs in the banking sector created other barriers for a general farm loan waiver.

What I find distressing in 124th amendment for reservations to economically backward section is,

1. The speed with which it went through both houses of parliament. This amendment involves changes to some of the basic rights of Indian citizens. It should have debated properly. Is debate on bills in parliament is slowly becoming a memory?

2. 10% reservation to economically backward sections will break supreme court rule which prohibits overall reservation above 50%.

3. Income required to qualify for this reservation is pretty much higher. Even after demonetization (which increased formalization of the economy), a good percentage of Indian economy operates outside government lens. Who will decide who is eligible for reservation? On paper everyone can show an income under 8 lakhs (expect those who gets income only through salary from organized sector).

4. Its going to open a pandora's box. If the amendment went through SC then most powerful communities Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Rajasthan etc. may become more vocal in their demands. After all, the sacred limit of 50% will be broken. As the old saying goes, once you crossed the Rubicon there is no turning back.

Let’s wait and watch whether 124th amendment will go through SC.

Sajeev

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Northern Sojourn Day X: Omkareshwar

Indore was the last destination in my journey. On that cold morning, my train reached Indore junction at breakfast time. I was visiting Indore for second time. Unfortunately, like my first trip, there wasn’t much time left to see the city before I catch my next train to Bangalore - Just 12 hours.

I had to make a choice - either I roam around the city or go to Omkareshwar. After much thinking, I chose the latter. Unpacked my bag at railway’s retiring room, took a bath and went to bus stand.

Omkareshwar jyotirlinga temple is 80kms away from Indore. Even after adjusting for delays, I thought I had enough time for a round trip. I boarded an old bus and waited for it to start. 

After some thirty minutes its engine woke up and spat thick black smoke to air. This continued for a while. Slowly we left city limits and entered a highway. After a while, bus stopped near a local hotel so that travelers can have some food. Right after leaving from there we quickly came to a grinding halt. It took some two hours to traverse next three kilometers in super slow motion. If this traffic jam continues, then I might have to get down there and head back to Indore. Finally, after three long hours bus crossed that stretch and we regained the speed. 

We continued our journey through not so populated, dry areas. Around lunch time our bus reached Omkareshwar bus stand. From there shared autos were available to reach temple. I also jumped in to one such auto, travelled couple of kilometers and got down at river side. 

Omkareshwar jyotirlinga is located on the other bank of Narmada. I walked towards the river and reached boat jetty. From here pilgrims can take boats to reach the other side. I approached one such boat and enquired about the cost. Just to travel a small stretch (here river is very narrow), that also in a fully loaded boat they are charging 100!!! 

Suddenly I saw a bridge a little downstream. Used that one to reach the other side and walked towards the temple. What I saw next was a little disappointing – a long queue. If I joined the queue, there was no way I could reach Indore on time. Unexpectedly, I met one priest and he asked whether I want to go in directly without standing in the queue? I said yes. Then he told about special ticket and asked me to go along with him. I don’t remember how much I paid for that special ticket (in fact I didn’t get any printed ticket, so the money might have gone to his pocket).

On the way, he gave me a bucket full of water and walked fast towards sanctum. I followed. After reaching sanctum, he went to one side and asked me to go in. I was confused - whether to go inside or not? Because the entry queue was on the other side, and where I am standing was the exit. He told me to go on and pour the water on Jyotirlinga. I went in and did exactly as he told and came back. Suddenly, I had a doubt; did I see Jyotirlinga properly? Certainly not. After coming all the way – I don’t know whether I go to Indore again – going back without seeing the idol didn’t sound good. Hence, I went back and after a struggle saw Omkareshwar Mahadev and came back. By the way, even without paying him I think I could have gone through that way!!!
It won’t be true If I said I came back. In fact, I met that priest again, and he asked me to come to another side. I followed. He asked me to sit at a place. I did. He also sat there and started pooja. During the pooja he asked so many questions. 

If any priest from North/ Central/ East/ West India is reading this article, let me tell you something. Most of us from South (I don’t claim all) hardly have any concept of gothram and certainly we don’t remember the stars and months in Saka Calendar. We have our own calendars (even that we hardly remember!!!)  May be an astrologer might be able to tell. Hence, I ended up saying many ‘I don’t know’ as answers. 

Let me remind you about another incident which happened in Baroda railway station. Here I met a guy coming from Mumbai. He studied in BITS and currently working in Tata Chemicals. He was on his way to Delhi and stopped at Baroda to board another train. There he asked my name, I told. Then he asked my second name. I was a bit confused, to that day apart from filling government forms no one specifically asked for my second name. I always used initials. Well, I told him. He was more confused after hearing that. To this day I don’t know why he asked. Only logical explanation I can think of is, he wants to know about my caste. Well, I never used caste name, and from my second name one can’t figure out the caste. I may be wrong but that was the only explanation I was able to come up with, considering the context.
After pooja’s he asked me for dakshina. I enquired how much. He told me whatever I like. Then he suggested some figure close to thousand. That was another shock. Finally, dakshina came down to couple of hundreds. To this day, I don’t even know what that pooja was for. However, I am thankful to for showing a way to see the Jyotirlinga. 

Using bridge, I crossed back and went to temples on other side. Fortunately, there was a bus about to depart to Indore.  

On the way back, traffic came to a halt when we reached ghat section. It took hours to cross that stretch. 

Right after getting down at Indore bus stand, I ran towards railway station. Clock struck 8.20 PM. The person in charge of retiring rooms was very angry. As per him another customer was waiting and already complained about the delay in getting the room to higher ups. I didn’t see any one waiting there for the room. In any case I apologized for taking extra 20 minutes and vacated it immediately. 

While walking towards platform I wondered; due to delays by railways I lost one day in this journey, had to stay in a city which was not in plan, put my Jaipur trip in jeopardy. Millions of Indians are losing so many hours every day. Shouldn’t we also be angry with Railways? Anyway, it’s for another day another time.

Sajeev

Notes: Omkareshwar

Omkareshwar Jyotirlinga temple is in an island known as Mandhata in Narmada River. This place falls in Khandwa district of Madya Pradesh (approximately 80 kms from Indore town; 20 km from Mortakka). The island is 2.6 km2 in area and can be reached by boats and a narrow bridge.

Jyotirlinga temples are the most important Shiva temples. There are 12 Jyotirlinga temples,

1.   Viswanath (Varanasi- UP),
2.   Somnath (Gujarat),
3.   Nageswar (Dwarka - Gujarat)
4.   Mallikarjuna (Srisailam - Andhra Pradesh)
5.   Mahakaleswar (Ujjain -MP)
6.   Omkareshwar (Khandwa- MP)
7.   Kedarnath (Uttrakhand)
8.   Bhimashankar (Maharashtra)
9.   Grishneshwar (Aurangabad - Maharashtra),
10. Triambakeshwar (Nashik- Maharashtra),
11. Vaidyanath (Deogarh - Jharkhand)
12. Rameshwaram (Tamil Nadu).

Other temples located here are,
Adi Shankara's Cave - Omkareshwar is said to be the place where Sri Adi Sankara met his Guru Govindapada in a cave. This cave can be found just below Shiva temple where an image of Adi Shankara has been installed

Friday, April 27, 2018

Northern Sojourn Day IX: Chittorgarh – Fort, Sieges, Maharanas and Mirabai,

@Chittorgarh Railway Station

It’s only a couple of hours journey from Udaipur to Chittorgarh. Train was crossing the desert like terrain the night. While I was approaching the limits of Chittor, stories of multiple sieges and other battles Chittor witnessed came to my mind. So as the valor and sacrifice of thousands fought and died for Mewar kingdoms during those bloody sieges. Was that the sound of numerous women of Mewar who committed Jauhar? Thinking about Jauhar itself brings lot of terrible images to the mind.

Unlike all other places I visited previously in this journey, my train reached Chittorgarh on time. Irony is, I desperately wanted this train to be late. Problem is my room booking at railway station starts from next day morning!!! To much time left for morning. I walked towards sleeper class waiting room and found an empty chair. Next train came and went. On the other end of the room, so one just vacated a chair structure having three seats. I went there and tried to sleep. Night slowly passed by; it was no a place for comfortable sleep. In between I woke up adjusted mu pose and slept again. By 7.30 I woke up from the chair, took the bag and went for retiring room.

After having a brief sleep and bath, I went outside to start my literary. I got a shared auto, from railway station entrance which took me close to fort. Driver showed another auto going to the fort. I went there and got in. There was one more couple in that auto going to visit the fort. Along with them I also started my journey to one of the most illustrious fort in Indian history – Chittorgarh Fort.

Chittorgarh - History

It is believed that, Chittorgarh was originally called Chitrakuda and was founded by king Chitranga from local Mauryan dynasty. Located on the banks of Gambhiri and Berach rivers, this city served as the capital of Sisodia Rajputs until they shifted their capital to Udaipur.

Chittorgarh Fort (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

Located on top of a hill, this fort covers an area of approx. 700 acres. This is one of the biggest fort complexes in Asia. Seven gateways built using giant stone structures provided entry to this fort. Main gate is known as Ram Pol (Ram refers to Lord Ram and Pol means gate). Other gates are, Hanuman Pol, Ganesh Pol, Jodla Pol, Laxman Pol, Padan Pol, Bhairon Pol. These massive gates had its own defence mechanism to fend of enemy elephants; parapets on these gates also provided ideal location for archers to aim and shot arrows towards invading army.

We entered the fort through a road which have some sharp turns. From the top (sunset view point), one can see the bird’s view of modern day Chittorgarh blow. As the fort covers a lot of area, one might need a vehicle to cover all the land and see monuments.

Mewar kingdoms controlled the fort from 7th century onward. By 9th century, fort passed to the hands of Paramara dynasty. They ruled it till the end of 13th century.

Sieges

During its heydays, Chittorgarh witnessed multiple sieges. Blood flowed like water during those sieges. Probably the earliest one was from Delhi.

1303 - Aladdin Khalji

Aladdin Khalji came here and laid siege to the fort. After an eight month long struggle he conquered the fort by defeating Rana Ratan Singh. It is believed that, after the conquest around 30,000 people were massacred in the fort. Aladdin gave the fort to his son Khizr Khan (or Khidr Khan) and returned to Delhi. Chittor fort was renamed as Khizrabad, a name which didn't stick for long time. Khizr Khan controlled the fort for 8 years and it went to Maldeva. He ruled Chittor for another 7 years. Later Hammir Singh took control of the fort and established his dynasty - 'Sisodia dynasty' - as the rulers of Mewar.

Rana Kumbha

One prominent king who came later in this dynasty is Rana Kumbha. He built numerous forts and ruled the kingdom for 35 years. As per some accounts, he built as many as 32 forts including the famous - Kumbalgarh. He is also credited for Kumbalgarh's 36 km long wall making it one of the lengthiest walls in the world. Unfortunately, he was assassinated by his son Rana Udaysimha (Uday Singh I). In later power struggles, Kumbha's another son Rana Raimal defeated Udaysimha and ascended to the throne of Mewar. After Raimal's death in 1509, his son Sangram Singh (famously known as Rana Sanga) came to power.

Rana Sanga and First Battle of Panipat


Rana Sanga achieved significant victories during his reign. He defeated combined forces of Sultan Muzaffar of Gujarat and Sultan of Malwa. He conquered some districts of Malwa after a victory over Ibrahim Lodhi in Battle of Khatoli (Gwalior). In this battle Rana Sanga lost his left arm and suffered significant injuries in one leg. Mewar was also successful in Battle of Dholpur against Lodi.

During this time, Sanga offered to join Babur in his attack against Lodi. Plan was to attack Lodi together.  Sanga would attack Agra and Babur will attack Delhi. Babur went ahead and attacked Delhi but Sanga didn’t made any moves. Babur conquered both cities. Unlike his grandfather Timur, he decided to stay in India. Victory in first battle of Panipat (April 21, 1526) against Lodi made Babur as a force to recon with. His cannons were one of the most powerful weapons northern India ever witnessed.

Sanga built a big confederacy. Almost all Rajput kingdoms joined him in his battle against Babur. Afghan owing allegiance to Mahmud Lodi - numbering close to 10,000 also joined with Rana Sanga. Later during the battle, Silhadi of Raisen deserted Rana's camp and joined with Babur with his strong contingent. Though he was able to save his life, Rana Sanga lost the battle and his confederacy collapsed. He tried to continue his fight against Babur. It is believed that, fearing another battle (which might become suicidal) with Babur his nobles poisoned him to death.

1532, 1535 - Bahadur Shah (Sultan of Gujrat)

In 1532 forces of Bahadur Shah laid siege to Chittor fort. Chittor paid him off with large ransom and he went back only to come again 3 years later. In 1535 he again besieged the fort. This time Bahadur Shah conquered and sacked the fort. It is believed that, around 13,000 women committed jauhar this time. Bahadur Shah's was not able to hold on to the fort for long as he was soon defeated by Humayun at Mandasur, Mandu and later at Champaner. During this time, Sisodias regained control of Chittor.

1567 - Akbar

Last siege of Chittor was started by Mughal Emperor Akbar on 20 October 1567. It is believed that, Akbar wanted an easy access to important seaports of Gujrat and Malwa. Amber already came under him. UdaiSingh II of Mewar was ready to accept Mughal suzerainty and pay tribute. However, he was not ready to lower his head in front of Akbar.

Before siege, Udai Singh placed the fort under the command of Jaimal and Patta and left 8000 soldiers and 1000 musketeers for the defence of Chittor. Akbar's army captured the fort in February 1568. However, he was not able to capture Maharana Udai Singh II.

During this time, Mughal army under Asaf Khan and Wazir Khan captured Mandalgarh. One contingent under the command of Asaf Khan went to Rampur another one under the command of Hussain Quli Khan went to Udaipur and Kumbalgarh to conquer Rana's territories. Next year Akbar's forces conquered Ranthambor fort as well.

Maharana Pratap and Battle of Haldigati

Rana Udai Singh died four years later. His son - Pratap Singh (Maharana Pratap) took over the reins and fought against Mughal army. Despite losing to Mughal forces in the Battle of Haldighati he continued his fight against Mughal forces.

In 1615 son of Maharana Pratap - Amar Singh I - accepted Mughal suzerainty. As a goodwill gesture, Jahangir (Akbar's son and then Emperor) gave Chittor fort to Amar Singh I. There was a condition for this transfer – damages suffered by the fort during the siege should never be repaired. Shift of Mewar capital to Udaipur and end of military significance for Chittor rang the death bell for more than 800 years of Chittor’s position.

Water

For any fort to face siege successfully, it is important to maintain enough reserves of food and water. On some accounts, Chittor had close to 84 water bodies with a combined capacity of 4bn liters.

My Journey

After having a bird’s view of Chittor city in the plains the first place I went was Kalika Mata Temple

Kalika Mata Temple

It is believed that, this temple was built in 8th century for worshipping Sun God. Later in 14th century temple was dedicated to Goddess Kali. This is an active temple with daily poojas. After climbing and array of steps I reached the sanctum.

Rani Padmini's Palace

Next in line was Rani Padmini’s palace. This palace is one of the earliest structures in fort complex and believed to be the home for Rani Padmini. One need to buy separate tickets for visiting this place. Centuries of wear and tear took its toll on this structure. What you see now is a worn-out remnant of a majestic structure from past.

Earlier this palace was surrounded by water, making it one of India’s early such palaces. Probably in rainy season it may again get surrounded by water. Currently water is low and only covers two sides.

Kirti Stambha (Tower of Fame)

From Rani Padmini’s palace we went to Kirthi Stambha. This big tower with artworks is dedicated to Adinathji (1st Jain Tirthankara). Built by a wealthy Jain merchant (Jijaji Rathod) in 12th century, Kirthi Stambha has a narrow stairway till 6th floor. Top pavilion was added later. Currently staircase is closed to visitors. I spent some time looking at this beautiful tower and then went to Jain temple.

Jain Temples

There are multiple Jain temples in fort complex. The only one I visited was located next to Kirthi Sthamba.

Gates

Next destination was one of the majestic gates of Chittor fort. From is bad shape one can conclude that this part of fort suffered heavily probably during the last siege. Some reconstruction was done. One local tour guide was explaining to their group that invading armies were camped and attacked the fort from the vast plains below. Currently those plains are largely covered in greenery.

Vijay Stambh (Tower of Victory)


After a while I reached Vijay Stambh.

This tower was constructed by Maharana Kumbha in memory of his victories over Mahmud Shah I Khalji, then Sultan of Malwa. It’s a nine-story building and bigger than Kirthi Stambha. Built using red sandstone and white marble this tower is decorated with sculptures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Here also a narrow staircase is built to reach the top. As in Kirthi Stambha stair cases are closed for visitors. If so many visitors used that staircases, then the tower is not going to last long.

Next to Victory pillar there is an elevated platform. It is believed that Johar was committed at this place.

Samadisvar Shiva Temple

This temple is located next to Johar place. This is an active temple and daily poojas are going on here. I went inside. This place was too much crowded. A big tour group from a school almost filled each inch of vacant space. Next to Shiv temple it is Gaumukh reservoir

Gaumukh Kund

This was a deep tank located at one side of fort and fed by a spring which emerges from a rock in the shape of cow’s mouth (therefore the reservoir is known as Gaumakh Kund. This pool served as one of the main source of water during sieges. There was a big queue to reach the rock. I also join the queue.

By the way one thing with queues in India is, it is totally useless. People hardly form queue. Even if someone forms there will always be someone who break it and go to the front. People who are in the queue, not interested in picking up a fight hardly object. Now behind that guy another will come and soon there will be a second queue. Then a third queue. Then a struggle to see who goes first. This is not without exceptions, some of the most efficient queue systems are also in India. No, it is not the queue in front of temples, but the queue in front of Kerala’s beverages shops!!!

Just between the goumukh and rest of the place there is a narrow path. Those who go to Gomukh to touch the rock and water must come back through same way. I was patiently waiting, and people were jumping from behind on both sides. Finally, I reached the kund and then came back. On a near by stone wall someone carved a lady’s figure which is believed to be rani Padmini’s.

Meerabai Temple


This is one of the most famous temples in fort complex.

Meerabai is one of the most famous poets of Bhakti movement and complete devotee of Lord Krishna. She was born in a noble family of Merta and later married (probably at the age of 18) to crown prince of Mewar - Bhoj Raj (he was the eldest son of Rana Sanga). From childhood itself she was completely a Lord Krishna devotee. Though Bhoj Raj initially tried to pull Meera to worldly affairs, he later developed a relationship of friendship and understanding with Meera. Probably in 1526(years are contested) Bhojraj died due to battle wounds.

There are stories of multiple assassination attempts on her.

Stories suggest that, she later left Mewar kingdom and went on pilgrimage and lived in Dwaraka or Vrindavan and finally merged in to an idol of Krishna.

One of her poems,

"My Dark One has gone to an alien land.
He has left me behind, he's never returned, he's never sent me a single word.
So I've stripped off my ornaments, jewels and adornments, cut my hair from my head.
And put on holy garments, all on his account, seeking him in all four directions.
Mira: unless she meets the Dark One, her Lord, she doesn't even want to live."

— Mira Bai, Translated by John Stratton Hawley

When she came to Chittorgarh fort, she asked a Krishna temple for personal use. Her father in law, Maharana Sangram Singh built a small temple next to existing Kumbha temple. This temple was later known as Kumbha Shyam Temple. She continued her worship of Lord Krishna there.

Jain Swethamber Temple

This is a beautiful Jain temple located next to Fateh Prakash Mahal. I went inside; spent a little time there and came out.

Rajastan Hasthkala Centre

While coming back auto driver took me to Rajasthan Handicraft emporium. As per them all those saris are made from different fruits etc by local artisans. As per them one specialty of these saris is it will produce a nice fragrance whenever it was pulled from water. That guy even demonstrated it to me, and the fragrance was there. Price ranges from 400 to 3000. I paid for two and they sent it over VPP. After some days, saris finally reached home. Irony was, I was not able to demonstrate any scent at home!!! I specifically asked how long the smell will last he told 2 years or so. In any case saris looked good. In case you are buying don’t expect fragrance and try it there itself. Its width may not be enough for you.

Gambhiri River Bridge

While going back to Chittor railway station, we reached Gambhiri river bridge. This bridge was built using stone and she has nine slightly pointed arches and one semi-circular arch. It is believed that, this bridge was built by Kizir Khan (son of Aladdin Khilji) after the conquest of Chittorgarh in 1303. Striking some bells? Well, if it was built during that time then this Gambhiri bridge is more than 700 years old.  Built mainly for moving horses, animals, humans in that era; this bridge withstood all wear and tear, continuous water flow and still good enough for motorized vehicles.

By afternoon - around 2.30 - I reached railway station. I was very much hungry by this time. After searching for restaurants, I finally reached Dominos and ordered Mexican green wave pizza. Day long walk made me very much tired and I slept. By the time I woke up it was 6.30 in the evening. Still close to four and half hours for train to Indore. Finally, it came, and I reached Indore by next day morning 9.30am.

Sajeev

Other main places in and around fort complex are,

1. Fateh Prakash Palace
Located near Rana Kumbha Palace, this palace was built by Maharana Fateh Singh in Rajput style. This was Fateh Singh's residence as well.

2. Rana Kumbha Palace
This place - now only ruins - is located near Vijay Stambh. It is believed that this palace had underground cellars. It is believed that, Rani Padmini and others committed Jauhar here. Founder of Udaipur, Maharana Udai Singh II, also born here. Rani Meera, the famous poet saint, also lived in this palace. Royal Treasury was also located nearby.

3. Suraj Pole
4. Vidyanath Mahadev Temple
5. Sardeshawar Mahadev Temple
6. Ambey Mata Temple
7. Hanuman Temple
8. Lakshmi Temple
9. Shanidev Temple
10.Rana Ratan Mahal etc.


References

1. Wikipedia
2. Chittaurgarh’s 700-year-old bridge (http://www.willylogan.com/?p=1168)