Expedition Unknown – The Great Bell of Dhammazedi – S01E12

imageFor this rather unusual investigation, Josh is off to Myanmar to search for a massive gold bell that was stolen and then lost. The bell was cast in 1484 out of gold and silver and is believed to weigh 300 tons and be 18ft tall. No small feat that a Portuguese warlord named Filipe de Brito e Nicote stole the bell, rolled it down the hill and loaded it onto a small ship.

However, the joke was on him as both his ship and his cargo all sank. The bell has been lost ever since. Oddly, the bell has been lost in a river, so why is it so hard to find? The river is insanely muddy where the visibility is zero. Also, the river is quite a bit deeper than many charts say. Add to this the current and the fact the bell could be completely covered in mud or debris and basically the divers have no idea what they may have their hands on. They could literally be touching the bell and not even know it.

It almost seems like a lost cause, but there are plenty of groups out there searching for it and the government is working to support the effort. And enter Josh to offer his hand and shed some light on the story.

As usual, Josh starts off his investigation and his visit with a trip to the market. And it is once again filled all sorts of strange, unusual and exotic goods. Josh even tries his hand, or rather head, at carrying a basket of goods around. His balance needs a bit of work, but many locals try to help him get the hang of it.

Josh starts off in Bagan where he heads to Mount Popa, one of the two thousand temples that pepper the landscape. This is a temple dedicated to the Nat spirits. These spirits are believed to watch over and protect the bell. It is believe the Nat spirits are angry over the stolen bell and prevent people from finding it. The goal is to ask the spirits for permission to search for the bell. It’s not quite what you would expect and there is plenty of drinking and smoking to appease the spirits. The dancers believe they channel the energy of the Nats wherein the can pass along good will and blessings. It’s an odd ritual to be sure, but it’s part of the culture and respected by the local people.

After the blessing it’s off to Yangon, which was formerly known as Rangoon. Bells pepper the city and are used throughout for prayers. Josh heads to the Shwedagon Pagoda, which is quite literally covered in gold. This is where the bell was stolen from and ironically, there is a scale replica of the bell that was stolen and lost in the river. However, it was recovered and has been returned. So if it can happen once, it can happen again.

Before going to join the hunt for the bell, an offering and blessing needs to be made. This is taken quite seriously as a Buddhist monk comes down to the docks to bless the boat, the crew and the mission. I have to admit, the research vessel leaves a little something to be desired. It looks like a rotting boat that will most likely come apart before they make it 100 yards away from shore. But it stays afloat and they head to the center of the intersection where the three rivers meet where they believe the bell went overboard.

But if you think the boat is a bit makeshift, wait until you see the diving gear. It’s literally an old gas mask with some handmade straps fed by a tube that’s hooked to an air compressor. To say it’s dangerous is a staggering understatement. And the thing is, the water is like mud and they can’t see a thing down there. All they can do is feel around and see what sort of debris they can discover.

The locals have been putting in the effort to find the bell, but several lives have already been lost. This is no easy task under the best of conditions and it’s pretty obvious, these are not the best of conditions.

There is another group doing their own investigation further upstream, so Josh takes the local train and heads up to join him. Damien Lay is the leader and his team has a bit more technology on their side. However, their boat isn’t a whole lot better and the technology consists of some better scuba gear and sonar. That’s about it. In no way do they have millions of dollars worth of equipment like submersibles and robotic arms.

Damien heads into the incredibly murky water and feels something large and dome shaped. But since he can’t see anything, he really has no idea what he’s found. Josh is encouraged to give it a go and since he will be one of only a handful of Westerners to ever look for the bell, it’s a pretty big honor.

It’s a few tense moments as Josh heads into the water and the current pulls him away from the boat. They also lose radio contact and have to drag him back. He does indeed look a little out of sorts, but manages to pull up a small piece of metal. It’s newer than the wreckage they are looking for, but it just goes to show the type of junk they have to contend with. Even the sonar has a hard time picking up objects so are they in the right place and if it is, how exactly will they know? And if they do find it, how exactly will they get it out?

It’s a pretty wild endeavor to be sure. You would think such a massive bell would be easy to locate in such a shallow river. But everything seems to be against them. The river is deeper than people believe. The current could easily be shifting the bottom of the river not only changing the contour, but completely covering the bell with mud. And the water is so muddy and dark that even if they were in the right spot how would they know?

Hopefully in time technology will help locate the bell and the search teams can put it back in the pagoda where it belongs.

Great Bell of Dhammazedi

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Expedition Unknown – Samurai Sword of Power – S01E11

imageThis is an intriguing episode as Josh heads off to Japan in search of a mystical Japanese sword called the Hanjo Masamune. The sword was forged in the 13th century and is said to not only be the finest blade ever made, but had the power to never kill an innocent man. It is said that whoever wielded the Hanjo Masamune would be the ruler of Japan. And that’s exactly what happened. Through the years the sword was handed down through generations. While the story associated with the sword seems the stuff on anime cartoons, the sword itself is in fact real. It existed and was tracked all the way until the end of World War II. At that time, as Japan surrendered, all small armaments, including swords, were to be handed over to the government. The sword was handed over to the police and then promptly disappeared. The location of the sword remains a mystery. Some believe it may have come to the US. Others believe is may be in a temple. Or it could have ended up on the black market and is in the hands of a private collector.

To start his investigation and gather information Josh talks with Tsunenari Tokugawa who is the 18th generation of the family that once ruled over Japan, with the help of the Hanjo Masamune sword. Mr. Tokugawa shows Josh his family mausoleum  that contains the remains of many Shogun generals. These would have been men that most likely wielded the actual sword. Mr. Tokugawa believes the sword is most likely in the hands of an individual collector.

To learn more about selling swords to private collectors, Josh meets with a man who sells swords in this rather murky market. The dealer has some information about the sword including what it may really look like and the blade pattern. If the real Hanjo were to come on the market, it’s blade markings would have to match. Interestingly, swords sold through regular channels come with certificates that prove who the sword was made by and when.

And then to learn about the sword making process, Josh visits Tsunahiro Yamamura who’s a 24th generation of Masamune. That is quite amazing and actually puts his family as slightly older than that of the Tokugawa family.

Mr. Yamamura is a master sword maker and shows Josh that the swords are hand made over several weeks. The steel is heated dozens of times to create strength and purity. Josh is given the honor to actually pound the metal for a new sword being made. Since I’ve always been fascinated with swords and knives, this was quite exciting to watch.

But to really know about the sword, Josh needs to wield one. And with the help of an expert, Josh goes out back and is shown how to make strikes with the blade. He does surprisingly well and it shows just how sharp the blade is. Josh makes incredibly clean cuts through the bamboo mat. Does he a touch of the Samurai DNA?

The next stop is a series of tunnels where the sword may have been kept after being turned in. When the sword was turned over, it may have been kept or perhaps smuggled into these tunnels. Josh meets with Michael Gakuran who has been given permission to explore this area in search of the sword. He and Josh spend some time down there, but don’t actually discover the sword. But as Michael explains, there are miles of tunnels and they’ve barely started searching.

As Josh continues to search for answers, he meets with Tetsuro Shimaguchi who shows him what it’s like to train like a Samurai warrior. He gives Josh just a brief glimpse of the moves, posture, stance and balance it takes. Then, he tries what he’s learned with one of the students. Needless to say, Josh doesn’t stand a chance. But it does show the intense discipline and training it requires to handle this sort of weapon.

It is believed that the sword may have found it’s way into a shrine and since there is one close by, Josh heads to the top of the mountain to have a look around. We really don’t expect Josh to find the sword and this is more of an excuse for him to ride a motorcycle and see the spectacular landscape. Can’t really fault him for that, the scenery is gorgeous.

But there is a monk at the top of the mountain and while the shrine does contain treasures, it’s not the sword and the monk informs Josh he is surrounded by treasures in the form of the trees and mountains. He’s quite right.

Finally, Josh meets with a sword collector who’s family has been in the business since 1874. While we’re certainly not expecting this man to hand over the ancient lost sword, he certainly has something worth looking at. While not the original Honjo Masamune, it is a sword from the same maker. Josh is holding a Masamune sword that is around 600 years old – and it is stunning. This is all hand made from a single piece of steel. The sharpness and quality are amazing. Josh is holding a wonderful piece of Japanese history. And the Honjo is supposed to be even better. Hard to imagine.

We never really expected Josh to find the sword, but what a fantastic journey. Japan has such history and always seems to be cloaked in mystery. Even with this small glimpse into the origins of this sword, it’s a fun journey. The samurai way of life and the code they lived by is something to behold and if there is a true tangible item that encompasses that way of life and represents such power and honor, I truly hope one day it does reveal itself.

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Expedition Unknown – Secrets of the Nazca – S01E10

imageJosh heads out to Lima, Peru to investigate the mystery of the Nazca lines. These are the massive drawings that cover the landscape. In many cases the shape is made from a single line that doesn’t cross over itself. Some of the more famous ones depict a hummingbird, a spider and a heron. All totaled there are nearly 100 shapes that represent animals, figures and geometric shapes. These figures are several hundred feet in length, the heron being over 900 feet. How did a culture make the shapes with such precision and what were they made for? Some believe they’re an astronomical calendar that align with the stars. Others believe they were ceremonial. And even some others believe they were left by or perhaps are guide markers for aliens.

To get acquainted with the area, Josh heads out for a fun filled ride through the desert. The fact there is a lot of sand and dunes means it’s a good place to take a dune buggy and have some fun. And there’s even a little time for some sand boarding down the dunes.

After getting a lay of the land, it’s time to figure out how the glyphs were made. Obviously they’re massive in scale, so could they have been done freehand? After a quick exercise of Josh trying to replicate one, all signs point to no. Something this large wasn’t just put together without some sort of plan. So does this point to the alien theory? Not quite. Josh meets up with a group of researches who have a more down to earth explanation.

The desert isn’t completely flat. There are in fact some rises throughout. Standing on this rise you can get a good view of the surrounding area. Using this, a surveyor would instruct his crew to lay out stakes to represent the major shape. Then using string, they would be able to fill in other parts of the drawing. It would then be a matter of connecting the dots and creating the shape. Josh decides to give it a go and together they make an extremely good replica of the hummingbird. Their shape is much smaller of course, but the theory is sound. It also rules out the alien theory.

And what do the symbols mean? Well, some have been tracked to align with celestial bodies. The hummingbird points to the position of the sun during the summer solstice. The beak of the heron points to the sun at the winter solstice. This would allow the Nazca to know when the winter and summer months were coming so they could plan their crops. This theory only represents a few of the figures.

Josh then heads to the Cahuachi Temple which is the only building left from the Nazca civilization. Out here, there is a very interesting burial ground where bodies have been preserved and even mummified. They were buried with food and offerings. This shows a society that had ritualized burials.

Additionally, Josh talks with some of the descendants of the Nazca who show him some of their ceremonies. Like other cultures, they used local plants to create a hallucinogenic drink that would allow them to communicate with the spirit world. This also shows an organized religious structure and also helps to support that the animals they drew were part of their religious icons.

Next, Josh hops in a plane so he can get a much wider view of the Nazca lines. He’s also off to see these new lines which have recently been discovered after a sandstorm brought them to the surface. It is believed the new lines are actually from the Paracas people and are in fact older than the Nazca lines.

The Paracas lived before the Nazca and were actually invaded by them. The Nazca took over the culture and absorbed a lot of their traditions, including making the lines. The Paracas also had a practice of elongating the head which they reserved for royalty. It’s a very strange practice to be sure and it’s not entirely understood as to why.

While most of the Nazca lines are best seen from above in a plane, some are better observed from the water. Even in this desert there is quite a bit of water and in fact fishing. Josh heads out to find one of the new symbols they call the Candelabra, but is more like a cactus of the area. It is believed this symbol would have been used to mark the location of water. The Nazca would have to learn the art of fishing and water management in order to survive out in the desert and many feel the symbols point to water sources.

To get more information on that, Josh heads out into the desert to discover what exists at the intersection of several of the prominent lines. On the way they discover a necropolis where human remains are literally lying in the sand. In fact, Josh is able to bring up a human skull that sits in the sand. A little further down they discover a pyramid that overlooks the symbols. It is believed this would have been a place of worship and it is also believed that many of the symbols outline the path of water sources.

Water sources in the lifeless desert?  Surely you jest. But taking up the challenge and a shovel, Josh starts to dig down. Oddly, there are plenty of roots, so clearly something used to grow here. And oddly, as he keep going, he begins to pull up wet sand. Yes indeed, there is water in the desert and the idea the Nazca mapped it out seems extremely likely. And to further explore the idea, Josh shows some aqueducts that have been built that channel and funnel the water so it can be used.

When all is said and done, it looks like the glyphs have multiple purposes and uses. They are indeed religious icons that symbolized the religious aspect of the Nazca. They also represent a way to determine a change in the season. And finally, they most likely point to sources of water that would have been essential to their survival out in the desert. And all of this without the help from aliens.

It’s a pretty impressive system and a fascinating culture.

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Ghost Adventures – Texas Horror Hotel – S10E11

imageWe’re off to the big state of Texas, to visit the Magnolia Hotel. The hotel was built in 1840 by James Campbell. Alas, he wasn’t able to stick with his business venture too long as he was scalped, stripped of his clothes and stabbed 27 times by the local Indians. My goodness, he must have done someone wrong!

The legend also speaks of a little girl named Itsy that passed away at the hotel. It’s claimed that even before her murder, Itsy had a less than amiable life as her mother would lock Itsy in her room when she went to work. I’m surprised this wasn’t a woman in white, a prostitute and a jilted lover. That’s usually how these stories go.

Another spirit, that of Idella Lampkin is said to visit the hotel. She was a fortune teller that would give readings on the premises. The owner claims that Idella speaks to her from time to time. The owner also just happens to do genealogy and locates a relative of Idella. Tnisha Sutton comes to pay the location a visit and she claims to have the psychic gift as well.

As a final piece to the legend is that of William Faust, who attempted to murder his estranged wife at the hotel. I say attempted, because he didn’t succeed in killing her because she wasn’t there. Instead, she had switched rooms with a friend’s daughter. When Faust realized his mistake, he attacked his wife and made her blind. Seems she got the business of an axe.

There are claims of hearing the little girl and seeing her figure. There are claims of getting scratched across the face like William’s wife. And there are also claims that Idella is still on the property. Interestingly, it’s the owner of the hotel who makes most of the assertions. Idella speaks to her. She sees the little girl. She feels the presence of William. Taking every word at face value, Zak asks if the place is haunted. The owner of course says it is and that’s all Zak needs to hear. He completely dismisses the guy in Seattle, but he’s totally on board for this one. But yet again I point out, it’s really hard to take these sorts of claims too seriously when it’s the owner of a business making them. Oh my, how much will business improve if someone investigates the hotel and says it’s haunted? How much extra will she charge for you to stay in one of her haunted rooms?

So what happens during the investigation to support all these claims?

As the investigation starts they hear footsteps. Nothing new there, we pretty much hear those in every single episode now.

They decide to bring Tnisha in for the investigation and she asks if Idella is around. She says she gets a bump or a push in response. Additionally, Billy sets up a new piece of equipment, the Electromagnetic Microphone. It’s supposed to light up when the right kind of energy is near. While they try to talk with Idella, they get a couple of bangs and bumps.

Meanwhile, Zak heads off to the room where the events of William Faust took place. They hear bangs, but it turns out to noises from the room below. This once again proves that just because they hear noises, like footsteps doesn’t mean they’re paranormal. They are proving that sound is travelling from other parts of the house or down the road as in the case of Tombstone and that all these noises can have perfectly normal explanations.

However, they press on and try to taunt William. The temperature in the room drops to the sinister 66.6 degrees. We all know where this is going. You know, sometimes a temperature is just a temperature.

As they continue the investigation, it’s time to bring out old reliable. Zak starts with his, "I’m getting powerful emotions". You can’t quantify these so it’s always a good way to go to establish the paranormal. He continues by explaining that he’s feeling the energy from different people and that all these spirits are passing through him. You would think with so many spirits running around they would have captured a lot more evidence by now.

But wait, there’s more. Zak brings out the ever crashing SLS camera which is basically a Microsoft Kinect device hooked to a monitor. It detects there is a small figure on the bookcase. It lasts for a moment and then disappears. They believe this was Itsy or a little girl at the very least.

Right after this, Aaron walks straight into a chair. This gets turned into a super paranormal moment as Zak says the chair didn’t move and now it has a hand print on the seat. Moments later, the hand print is gone. Clearly the chair was stopped by and unseen force and clearly the hand print is paranormal. There is no way that Aaron, in the dark, tipped the chair at an angle which stopped it from moving and in his surprise did not put his hand on the seat to steady himself. There is absolutely no way these two things could have happened under anything other than paranormal means.

In the bottom of the house, Billy and Jay come face to face with a real horror. They have a raccoon on their hands. The large varmint has apparently made his home down there. This in no way could be mistaken for the footsteps they heard earlier or any other noise in the house for that matter. I’m almost wondering if this is what scratched someone on the face, in the dark, when they weren’t looking. Additionally, Jay feels that some sort of energy comes rushing at him.

While they don’t collect any real evidence down there, Jay has a very bad experience with the cellar door. Not only does it come crashing back down on his head as he’s trying to leave, but his hand bashes through the rotting wood and he takes a pretty nasty tumble. While this looks like it seriously had to hurt, I’m surprised this wasn’t ruled the work of the paranormal. Perhaps the local Indian spirits are seeking revenge.

Finally, the team gets together and turns on the spirit box. This would seem to be Aaron’s cue to start acting ill. He says he feels sick and is ready to black out. Of course, there are orbs of light in the area which Zak assumes are entities going after Aaron.

To be honest, this episode was a steamy pile. Right from the start they believe every ghost story they’re spoon-fed by the owner, who just happens to know all these stories, yet doesn’t have a single piece of evidence of her own. This entire thing comes across as a commercial to "come stay the night at my haunted hotel, if you dare!" I find it really hard to believe people who have a commercial gain by their business being haunted.

But aside from that, what did they capture? Some bangs in the night? The feeling of powerful emotions? Seriously, what tangible piece of evidence do they present? They have barely any more evidence to go on at this site than they did in Seattle, yet that guy is a faker and this place is haunted.

I just don’t get it. Nor do I believe it.

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