Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Afghanistan’s Last Buddhist Relics

It’s hard to believe that Afghanistan, a country torn by war and religious extremism, was once a peaceful Buddhist nation. Pilgrims from all over Central and South Asia came to this remote mountainous region, built monasteries and colossal statues, dug caves into the sandstone and meditated.
Buddhism was brought to Afghanistan in the first century by the Kushan Empire of the historic region of Bactria in Central Asia. The most famous Kushan Emperor, Kanishka the Great, was a great patron of Buddhism. His conquests and patronage of Buddhism played an important role in the development of the Silk Road, and the spread of Buddhism across the Karakoram range to India, China and other Asian countries.
The 175 feet high Buddha statue in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, destroyed in 2001. Photo credit: Afghanistan Embassy
Once Islam bulldozed into Central Asia and this ancient Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan, the religiously intolerant rulers ordered the destruction of all Buddhist sites. Islam becoming the state religion and Buddhism vanished. Decades of war have turned to rubble many important archeological sites and museum collections were either looted or destroyed. The last acts of aggression happened not too long ago, when two monumental statues of Buddha near the town of Bamiyan were blown to bits by the Taliban in 2001.
The Bamiyan area was a prominent center of Buddhism. The seventh century Chinese monk Hsuan-Tsang described the town as a flourishing Buddhist center “with more than ten monasteries and more than a thousand monks”. The two Buddha figures stood at 120 feet and 175 feet respectively, and were decorated in “dazzling golden color and adorned with brilliant gems”. Historians believe that the monumental Buddha sculptures were carved into the cliffs between the third to sixth centuries. They were perhaps the most famous cultural landmarks of the region attracting numerous pilgrims from all around.
Two women walk past the huge cavity where one of the ancient Buddhas of Bamiyan used to stand. 
The taller Buddha of Bamiyan before (left picture) and after destruction (right). Photo credit: A Lezine/UNESCO
The ancient town of Samangan on the banks of Khulm River was also an important Buddhist center. The town’s Buddhist past can still be seen in the form of a rock-cut cave monastery complex and an adjacent stupa hewn out of the bed rock.
The stupa of Takht-e-Rostam is located about 3 km from Samangan on top of a hill. It was here, legends hold, that the mythical Persian king Rostam married his bride Tamina. Takht-e-Rostam literally means “the throne of Rostam”. The stupa was built during the waning days of the Kushan empire, possibly between the fourth and fifth centuries. The empire was eventually wiped out in fifth century by the invasions of the Hephthalites, the Huns and the rise of the Gupta Empire in the east.
Unlike other Buddhist stupas, the one of Takht-e Rostam is not located above ground, but has been carved into the mountain rock, in a style that resembles the monolithic churches of Ethiopia. This may have been done to camouflage the monastery and stupa from invaders, or simply to escape the extreme summer heat. The stupa is mounted by a Harmika and surrounded by a trench, eight meters deep, the inside walls of which contains several caves and monastic cells for meditation.

Photo credit: unknown
Another historically significant Buddhist site under threat is the ancient settlement of Mes Aynak, about 40 km from Kabul. From the third to the eighth centuries, Mes Aynak was a spiritual hub with several multistory Buddhist monastery complexes, containing chapels and other structures protected by high walls and ancient watchtowers. Within these fortified complexes and residences archaeologists have uncovered hundreds of Buddhist statues and clay stupas, and other artifacts including gold jewelry, fragments of ancient manuscripts, and walls adorned with frescoes. This ancient Buddhist settlement sits on top of one of the world’s largest untapped deposits of copper ore. There is evidence that this copper was mined in antiquity. It was copper that made the Buddhist monks here wealthy.
“I do not know of any other site where monasteries coexisted in perfect [symbiosis] with production or industrial centers,” says Zemaryalai Tarzi, an Afghan archaeologist. “These kinds of tight relationships between Buddhist monasteries and the industrial or commercial exploiters of natural resources have no precedent.”
A Buddhist stupa excavated at Mes Ainak.  
Trouble began in 2007 when the Afghanistan government granted a Chinese mining company rights to mine copper in Mes Aynak. The site is estimated to contain some 12.5 million tons of copper worth tens of billions of dollars. Mining is certainly a lucrative prospect that will help the country’s fragile economy, but digging into the ground would destroy the site's archaeological remains. Intervention by the international community have helped stall the plan, while millions of dollars of funding from international bodies is currently being utilized to recover as many artifacts as possible before mining starts.
The National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul has been inundated with artifacts sent from Mes Aynak. Lack of space has forced them to return many except the most important pieces. Omara Khan Massoudi, the director of the museum, hopes that someday they will be able to erect a local museum dedicated to preserving the memory of Mes Aynak.

Longcroft Luxury Hotel … for Cats

A luxurious hotel suite - complete with four-poster bed, state-of-the-art sound system and fine dining - for just £15 a night has opened up at Hertfordshire. At the Longcroft Luxury Cat Hotel in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, feline guests can have a pampering break of their own while their owners are away on holiday.
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The hotel has six individually-themed heated chalets. Guest cats are treated to jazz and classical music piped through a £5,000 state-of-the-art sound system. Outside their private windows are bird boxes to keep the cats are entertained while porcelain water fountains deliver perfectly fresh oxygenated water. Residents can take advantage of optional extras like the Grooming Pamper Package, which includes delicate treatments for the ears and eyes, and a nail shape, massage and shine.
The hotel organic 'A La Cat' menu, which was developed by a feline nutritionist, includes treats such as white fish, ethically fished yellowfin tuna or chicken liver balls. Meals are served on silver platters and bone china plates.
The owners of the hotel, Abi and Matt Purser, offer around-the-clock care and send absent owners postcards from the kitties giving updates on their own little holidays.
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Abi Purser, the owner of Longcroft Luxury Cat Hotel poses for a photo.

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Hush-hush meet: North Korea's Kim Jong-Un lands in Beijing for two-day visit, reports Chinese media

North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong-Un is currently in Beijing for a two-day confidential meeting with top Chinese officials from June 19 to 20 (Tuesday and Wednesday), reported Chinese state media. This unexpected trip comes days after the historic US-Korea Summit, where the North Korean met President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12.
“Kim Jong-un, chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea and chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, visits China from June 19 to 20,” informed Chinese news agency Xinhua.
This will be Kim's third visit to China this year. He earlier traveled to Beijing in March and northeastern city of Dalian in May.
While the exact nature of the trip is unknown, sources claim that the North Korean leader is seeking relief from economic sanctions in return for his pledge of denuclearisation.
During the Singapore summit last week, Kim signed a landmark document that made North Korea commit to denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula. Hailing the outcome of the summit, Trump took to Twitter to highlight the points agreed upon. "The World has taken a big step back from potential Nuclear catastrophe! No more rocket launches, nuclear testing or research! The hostages are back home with their families. Thank you to Chairman Kim, our day together was historic!," he wrote.
While China was not a direct player in the negotiations, but sources claim it maintains a strong behind-the-scenes influence.
Kim, it seems, has been trying to mend the relations between the two neighbouring nations. 
On Friday, June 15, for the first time in five years, Kim sent a letter and flowers to Chinese President Xi Jinping on his 65th birthday. 
Relations between the two neighboring countries began to worsen in 2013 after Kim executed his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, the then number two of the regime and who had close ties with Beijing and pushed ahead with country`s third nuclear test that same year.
China then joined the international initiative led by the US to impose sanctions on North Korea, which further worsened the North`s ties with Beijing.
Relations between the two countries began to take a positive turn in 2018 in the current framework of detente with North Korea and, above all, after the two summits between Kim and Xi held in March and April.

Albert Einstein's travel diaries reveal racially offensive views

"Chinese don't sit on benches while eating but squat like Europeans do when they relieve themselves out in the leafy woods. All this occurs quietly and demurely.

Albert Einstein's diary reveals that the German scientist held racist views about Chinese people, and viewed them as being intellectually inferior.
In diaries that Einstein kept during his five month journey across countries including China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Palestine and Spain, the Nobel Prize winner called China a "peculiar herd-like nation" and said its citizens were "often more like automatons than people".
Later in his life Einstein called racism a "disease of white people" and became a champion of the civil rights movement in the US..
However, 'The Travel Diaries of Albert Einstein', translated from German to English for the first time, shows he did not think like that during earlier travels to the Far East and Middle East.
"Chinese don't sit on benches while eating but squat like Europeans do when they relieve themselves out in the leafy woods. All this occurs quietly and demurely.
Even the children are spiritless and look obtuse," Einstein wrote.
Travelling in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, Einstein wrote that people "live in great filth and considerable stench at ground level".
He added that they "do little, and need little. The simple economic cycle of life", 'The Telegraph' reported.
The scientist was kinder about the Japanese saying they were "unostentatious, decent, altogether very appealing".
According to the publishers the diaries "contain passages that reveal Einstein's stereotyping of members of various nations and raise questions about his attitudes on race".
Ze'ev Rosenkranz, the editor of the book, said Einstein had made comments that were "pretty unpleasant" and at odds with his humanitarian image.
He said Einstein's opinion that people in the Far East were intellectually inferior was "pretty prevalent" at the time.
The remarks were "still shocking, especially to a modern reader," he said.

39 Foods that are Practically Calorie-Free!

Calories provide the energy that your body uses during rest, physical activity and digestion.
While there is no evidence to support that negative-calorie foods burn more calories than they provide, foods that are already low in calories may actually provide fewer calories than expected. This is because your body uses energy to digest them.
If you’re trying to decrease your total calorie intake, eating more low-calorie foods, such as certain fruits and vegetables, is an easy way to achieve that goal. Here are 39 foods with almost zero calories.


Apples are highly nutritious and one of the most popular fruits in the United States, according to USDA’s Economic Research Service (1).
One cup (125 grams) of apple slices has 57 calories and almost three grams of dietary fiber (2). Since your body has to burn energy to digest apples, the net amount of calories provided by this fruit is probably fewer than reported.


Arugula is a dark, leafy green with a peppery flavor. It’s commonly used in salads, is rich in vitamin K and also contains folate, calcium and potassium.
One-half cup (10 grams) of arugula has only three calories (3).


Asparagus is a flowering vegetable that comes in green, white and purple varieties. All types of asparagus are healthy, but purple asparagus has compounds called anthocyanins that may help prevent heart disease (4).
One cup (134 grams) of asparagus has only 27 calories and is rich in vitamin K and folate, providing 70 percent and 17 percent of the DVs, respectively (5).


Beets are root vegetables that typically have a deep-red or purple color. One of the most researched benefits of beets is their potential to lower blood pressure (6).
Beets contain only 59 calories per cup (136 grams) and 13 percent of the DV for potassium (7).


Broccoli is one of the most nutritious vegetables on the planet. It’s a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables and may help fight cancer (8).
One cup (91 grams) of broccoli has only 31 calories and over 100 percent of the amount of vitamin C that most people need per day (9).


There are many varieties of broth, including mushroom, miso and vegetable. It can be eaten alone or used as a base for soups and stews.
Depending on the type of broth, one cup — or about 240 ml — usually contains 7–12 calories (101112).


Brussels sprouts are highly nutritious vegetables. They resemble mini cabbages and can be eaten raw or cooked. Research shows that eating Brussels sprouts may prevent DNA damage due to their high vitamin C content (13).
These nutritional powerhouses only have 38 calories per cup (88 grams) (14).


Cabbage is a vegetable with green or purple leaves. It’s a common ingredient in slaws and salads. Fermented cabbage is known as sauerkraut.
It’s very low in calories and contains only 22 calories per cup (89 grams) (15).


Carrots are very popular vegetables. They’re usually thin and orange, but can also be red, yellow, purple or white. Most people associate good eyesight with eating carrots since they’re rich in beta-carotene, which can be converted to vitamin A. Getting enough vitamin A is necessary for proper vision.
A one-cup serving (128 grams) of carrots has only 53 calories and over 400 percent of the DV for vitamin A (16).


Cauliflower is typically seen as a white head inside green leaves. Less common varieties have purple, orange and yellow heads. In recent years, cauliflower has become very popular as a substitute for higher-carb vegetables or grains.
One cup (100 grams) of cauliflower has 25 calories and only five grams of carbs (17).


Celery is one of the most well-known, low-calorie foods. Its long, green stalks contain insoluble fiber that may go undigested through your body, thus contributing no calories.
Celery also has a high water content, making it naturally low in calories. There are only 18 calories in one cup (110 grams) of chopped celery (18).


Chard is a leafy green that comes in several varieties. It’s extremely high in vitamin K, a nutrient that helps with proper blood clotting.
One cup (36 grams) of chard has only 7 calories and contains 374 percent of the DV for vitamin K (19). 


Clementines resemble mini oranges. They’re a common snack in the United States and are known for their high vitamin C content.
One fruit (74 grams) packs 60 percent of the DV for vitamin C and only 35 calories (20).


Cucumbers are a refreshing vegetable commonly found in salads. They’re also used to flavor water along with fruits and herbs.
Since cucumbers are mostly water, they’re very low in calories — one-half cup (52 grams) only has 8 (21).


Fennel is a bulbous vegetable with a faint licorice taste. Dried fennel seeds are used to add an anise flavor to dishes. Fennel can be enjoyed raw, roasted or braised.
There are 27 calories in one cup (87 grams) of raw fennel (22).


Garlic has a strong smell and taste and is used widely in cooking to add flavor to dishes. Garlic has been used for centuries as a remedy for various illnesses. Research suggests that it may decrease blood pressure and fight infections or even cancer (23).
One clove (3 grams) of garlic has only 5 calories (24).


Grapefruits are one of the most delicious and nutritious citrus fruits. They can be enjoyed on their own or on top of vegan yogurt, greens or even in a whole grain salad. Certain compounds in grapefruit may decrease cholesterol levels and increase metabolism (25).
There are 52 calories in half a grapefruit (123 grams) (26).


Iceberg lettuce is known for its high water content. It’s commonly used in salads and on top of burgers or sandwiches.
Even though most people think it’s not as nutritious as other lettuces, iceberg lettuce is rich in vitamin K, vitamin A and folate.
One cup (72 grams) of iceberg lettuce has only 10 calories (27).


Jicama is a tuber vegetable that resembles a white potato. This vegetable is typically eaten raw and tastes similar to an apple.
One cup (120 grams) of jicama has over 40 percent of the DV for vitamin C and only 46 calories (28).

20. KALE

Kale is a leafy green that has gained popularity in recent years for its impressive nutritional benefits.
You can find kale in salads, smoothies and vegetable dishes.
Kale is one of the richest sources of vitamin K in the world. One cup (67 grams) has close to seven times the amount of vitamin K that the average person needs per day and only 34 calories (29).


The juice and zest of lemons and limes are widely used to flavor water, salad dressings, marinades and alcoholic drinks.
Citrus does more than just add flavor. Research shows that lemon juice has compounds that can act as antioxidants to fight and prevent diseases in your body (30).
One fluid ounce (30 grams) of lemon or lime juice has only 8 calories (3132).


Microgreens are miniature versions of salad greens that are picked before they are fully grown. A sprinkle of microgreens adds impressive nutritional benefits for very few calories.
One ounce (30 grams) of microgreens has only 6 calories but 340 percent of the DV for vitamin A, 85 percent of the DV for vitamin C and over 20 percent of the DV for calcium (33).


Mushrooms are a type of fungus with a sponge-like texture. Vegetarians and vegans sometimes use them as a substitute for meat.
Mushrooms contain several important nutrients and have only 15 calories per cup (70 grams) (34).


Onions are a very popular vegetable. Varieties of onions include red, white and yellow, as well as spring onions or scallions.
Even though the taste differs depending on the type, all onions have very few calories — one medium onion (110 grams) has approximately 44 (35).


Peppers come in many colors, shapes and sizes. The most popular types are bell peppers and jalapeƱos.
Research shows that bells peppers are particularly high in antioxidants and may protect the body from the damaging effects of oxidation (36).
There are only 46 calories in one cup (149 grams) of chopped, red bell peppers (37).


Papaya is an orange fruit with black seeds that resembles a melon and is typically grown in tropical regions.
It’s very high in vitamin A and a good source of potassium. One cup (140 grams) of papaya has only 55 calories (38).


Radishes are crunchy root vegetables with a somewhat spicy bite.
They’re typically seen in grocery stores as dark-pink or red but can be grown in a variety of colors.
Radishes have several beneficial nutrients and only 19 calories per cup (116 grams) (39).


Romaine lettuce is a very popular leafy vegetable used in salads and on sandwiches.
The calorie content of romaine is very low since it’s high in water and rich in fiber. One leaf (6 grams) of romaine lettuce has just a single calorie (40).


Rutabaga is a root vegetable also known as swede.
It tastes similar to turnips and is a popular substitute for potatoes in recipes to decrease the number of carbs.
One cup (140 grams) of rutabaga has 50 calories and only 11 grams of carbohydrates (41).


Strawberries are an extremely popular fruit. They’re very versatile and appear in breakfast dishes, baked goods and salads.
Studies show that eating berries may help protect you from chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease (42).
There are less than 50 calories in one cup (152 grams) of strawberries (43).


Spinach is another leafy green that is loaded with vitamins and minerals and very low in calories.
It’s high in vitamin K, vitamin A and folate and has more protein than some other leafy vegetables.
A one-cup (30 grams) serving of spinach has only 7 calories (44).


Sugar snap peas are a delicious variety of peas. Their pods are entirely edible and have a sweet flavor.
They’re typically eaten raw on their own or with a dip, yet can also be added to vegetable dishes and salads.
Snap peas are highly nutritious and contain almost 100 percent of the DV for vitamin C for only 41 calories in one cup (98 grams) (45).


Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables in the world. They can be served raw, cooked or pureed in a tomato sauce.
They’re also highly nutritious and contain a beneficial compound called lycopene. Research has shown that lycopene may protect against cancer, inflammation and heart disease (46).
One cup (149 grams) of cherry tomatoes has 27 calories (47).


Turnips are white root vegetables with slightly bitter flesh. They’re often added to soups and stews.
Turnips have several beneficial nutrients and only 37 calories per cup (130 grams) (48).


Watercress is a leafy vegetable that grows in running water. It’s typically used in salads and tea sandwiches.
Even though watercress is not as popular as other greens, it’s just as nutritious.
One cup (34 grams) of this vegetable provides 106 percent of the DV for vitamin K, 24 percent of the DV for vitamin C and 22 percent of the DV for vitamin A — and all for a meager 4 calories (49).


As its name suggests, watermelon is a very hydrating fruit. It tastes delicious on its own or paired with fresh mint and feta.
Watermelon contains some of almost every nutrient and a high amount of vitamin C. There are 46 calories in one cup (152 grams) of diced watermelon (50).


Zucchini is a green type of summer squash. It has a delicate taste that makes it a versatile addition to recipes.
In recent years, spiralizing zucchini into “zoodles” as a substitute for higher carb noodles has become very popular.
Zucchini is also quite low in calories, with only 18 per cup (124 grams) (51).


Some beverages are very low in calories, especially when you don’t add anything to them.
Plain water contains no calories. Most herbal teas and carbonated waters have zero to very few calories, while black coffee has only 2 calories per cup (237 grams) (52).
Choosing these drinks over beverages with added sugar, cream or juice can help you reduce your calorie intake.


Herbs and spices are used to add flavor to foods and are extremely low in calories.
Common herbs that are eaten fresh or dried include parsley, basil, mint, oregano and cilantro. Some well-known spices are cinnamon, paprika, cumin and curry.
Most herbs and spices have fewer than five calories per teaspoon (53).


There are many delicious foods that are low in calories. Most of them are fruits and vegetables that also contain nutrients that benefit your health. Eating a variety of these foods will provide you with plenty of nutrients for a minimal amount of calories.

10 Blood Sugar-Balancing Snacks to Keep Hangry at Bay

The food we eat has a remarkable impact on our physical and mental wellbeing. Our diet affects how we look, how we feel, whether we experience acne, bloating or any other number of symptoms—even our emotional state.
Good foods like spinach, blueberries or avocado are likely to give us renewed “awakeness” or a full, energized feeling, while something like white potatoes can actually bring about cravings later on! On the reverse, skipping meals or snacking on junk due to stress or a packed schedule is a surefire way to mess with your insulin levels, put unnecessary pressure on your liver and make your mood worse.
Feel like “hangry” is your middle name? Here’s what you need to kick your blood sugar mismanagement and get back on track when you sense your energy dipping:
  1. Eat three proper meals (nutrient-packed and full portions of veggies)
  2. Manage your stress levels and work on letting go
  3. Enjoy a blood sugar-balancing snack in between meals (see below!)


Coconut yogurt with fresh fruit

Coconut features healthy fats and proteins without the inflammatory side effects of dairy. Mix in a handful of nuts or sliced strawberries for a little extra ‘yum!’

A bowl of goji berries and almonds

What amounts to a superfood trail mix, goji berries and almonds are a wonderful pair. Want to beef up this snack? Toss in pumpkin seeds, oats and other nuts as well.

Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate (think 80% cacao or higher) can work wonders when it comes to satiating cravings and managing blood sugar. Look for fair trade options!

Sweet potato toast with cinnamon

Root vegetables like sweet potatoes are loaded with fiber, which promotes blood sugar balance — woohoo! Additionally, cinnamon is an anti-inflammatory.

A handful of dates with walnuts

Trail mixes like this one do a great job of filling you up quickly. Make your own at home to avoid unnecessary sugar and additives!.

Roasted chickpeas

Chickpeas are packed with protein and fiber and the seasoning options are practically endless! Start with this basic roasted chickpeas recipe then go from there.

Tart cherries

Tart cherries are truly superfoods. They have a very low glycemic index compared to other stone fruits, and are actually a great source of melatonin — great for a nighttime snack!

Nut butter and jam on whole grain toast

Did you know that PB&J can actually be a healthy snack? Just look out for nut butters and fruit jams that are too heavy on the sugar.

Energy balls

These do exactly what they say they will do — give you energy! Most energy ball recipes include some mixture of healthy cereals, nuts, dates or dark chocolate.

Veggie chips with guacamole

Avocado is packed with good fats that will help safeguard your blood sugar stasis throughout the day. Can’t get it at lunch? Add it to your afternoon snack!