Halloween: from remembering the dead to merchandising!

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Straddling the line between fall and winter, plenty and paucity, life and death, Halloween is a time of celebration and superstition. It is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs; the holiday, All Saints’ Day, incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. (time for honoring the saints and praying for the recently departed who had yet to reach Heaven). The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a secular, community-based event characterized by child-friendly activities such as trick-or-treating. In a number of countries around the world, as the days grow shorter and the nights get colder, people continue to usher in the winter season with gatherings, costumes and sweet treats. Community activities revolve around visiting the pumpkin patches with corn mazes, hay rides, pet zoo and of course sale of pumpkin meant for decoration & carving.

Typical festive Halloween activities include trick-or-treating (also known as “guising”), attending costume parties, carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, visiting haunted attractions, playing pranks, telling scary stories, and watching horror films.

Of late consumerism & China driven manufacturing- marketing have turned this festival into a money churning, merchandise marketing event…

If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul !

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Istanbul! Colorful, historic, chaotic, mesmerizing city torn between Asia & Europe…The strategic position gave its strength as a hub of trade in the past…Many who transit through Istanbul are confused…what to do in Istanbul?

If you have a short transit, just do Blue Mosque, Aya Sofiya, Grand Bazaar, Topkapi Palace & of course a visit to the Spice Bazaar!

An unexpected rain during winter forced me into this amazing bazaar…and I was lost wandering inside its long yet crowded corridors. Built in 1664 to help pay for the construction of the Yeni Camii, or the New Mosque, the Egyptian Spice Bazaar has for centuries been a marketplace for food products. It’s name comes from the spices that came through Egypt via the renowned Silk Road out of central & southern Asia. Nowadays, vendors still sell such items here – fresh spices, fruits, nuts, meats, & candy, as well as other products like jewelry, carpets, & souvenirs for visitors. Exotic spices, caviar from the red sea…rose water & perfume concentrates…you name the product, they have it! As in the Grand Bazaar, you can put your bargaining skills to the test here. Also akin to the Grand Bazaar are many of the shop owners, who can get a little aggressive in trying to show you what they are selling (and hoping you will buy something).

But this is the bazaar experience! And if the Spice Bazaar itself doesn’t fill your needs, as you walk outside, there is an even bigger outdoor market area, with loads of vendors selling many of the same products! Sights, sounds and aroma of spice bazaar is memorable, so is the sweet memory of the countless samples of Turkish delight and baklava gobbled en route!

I visited Istanbul in October & December of 2005. Photos were shot with Sony F828.

Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is worst of all

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“Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is worst of all”       Brian Jackman

Lake Nakuru (the dusty place) is one of the Rift Valley soda lakes at an elevation of 1754 m above sea level. It lies to the south of Nakuru, in the rift valley of Kenya and is protected by Lake Nakuru National Park. The lake’s abundance of algae attracts the vast quantity of flamingos that famously line the shore. Other birds also flourish in the area, as do warthogs, baboons and other large mammals. Baboon cliff provides an panoramic views of the lake and surrounding shrub forest. We stayed at the Sundowner Lounge, originally built by the British as game hunters lodge.In the middle of wilderness, protected by electric fence & infra red cameras.

Lake Naivasha is at the highest elevation of the Kenyan Rift valley at 1,890 m. The lake is home to a variety of types of wildlife including over 400 different species of bird and a sizeable population of hippos.

Maasai Mara National Reserve is a large game reserve in south-western Kenya, which is effectively the northern continuation of the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. All members of the “Big Five” (lion, leopard, African elephant, African buffalo, and Black Rhinoceros) are found in the Maasai Mara. Visit to the Masai Village (at times touristy), provides an insight to the basic living requirements of tribals of Africa. Our stay was at the Keekorok Lodge. It has excellent villa style accommodation. Tent in the middle of the lawns is houses a Spa. Resort also has its own Hippo Pond, though the nights can be quite noisy due hippos grunts…Keekorok also boasts an air strip, with worlds smallest airport terminal   Upon return journey (Masai Mara to Nairobi), a bridge collapse at Masai Mara reserve disrupted the only raod out of the game reserve. Safari vehicles were taken through the river, we had to cross the broken bridge…and then the Safari Vehicles get stuck in the slush! We decide to walk for 1.5KM…most memorable experience of the safari.

Nairobi is the capital of of Kenya. Has some good Giraffe & Elephant orphanages.

Info: Visa on arrival for Indians. Yellow fever vaccination required upon return. (advisable to get it prior to departure from Institute of Public Health, Bangalore. Administered every Wednesday, cost approx Rs 250)

Day1:BOM Nairobi, Drive to Lake Nakuru, Game drive1 around Lake Nakuru, Lake Nakuru Sundowner Lodge

Day2:Game drive 2, Lake Naivasha boat ride, Masai Mara, Keekorok Lodge, Game drive3

Day3:Game drive 4, Masai Village visit, Game Drive5, Boma Bush Dinner

Day4:Masai Mara to Nairobi, Bridge breakdown, Stuck on the road for 5 hours! Nairobi: Intercontinental

Day5:Nairobi city tour, Rothschild Giraffe Center, Nairobi BOM

Tour operator: Cox & Kings / Safari Trails; Tour manager: Joy / Mona

Tour Guide/ Safari Vehicle driver: Stephen. Safari done in 2011.

 

 

 

Sigiriya Rock Fortress & the search for the “maidens in the clouds”

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Sigiriya is a proof of the rich civilization of SriLanka during the years of the reign of King Kassapa I (?Kashyapa). The site of the ‘Lion Mountain’ was visited from the 6th century AD, by passionate admirers. The frescoes of Sigiriya inaugurated a pictorial style which endured over many centuries. The poems inscribed on the rock by certain of these admirers, and known as the ‘Sigiri graffiti,’ are among the most ancient texts in the Sinhalese language, though now overlapped with modern graffiti by tourists.

In the heart of SriLanka, Sigiriya, a lofty rock dominating the otherwise green rain forest. At a height of 150 m, the neighbouring plateau, has been inhabited since the 3rd century BC, as attested by the graffiti which proliferate in the grottoes and the shelters of the Buddhist monks. The fame of the ‘Lion Mountain’ is, however, due to one single factor: during a short period in the 5th century AD, a sovereign established his capital there. King Kassapa I (477-95), son of Dhatusena, only came to power after he had engineered the assassination of his father and had, briefly, dispossessed his brother.

Fearing the vengeance of the latter, Kassapa had a fortified palace built on the rock of Sigiriya which was reputed to be impregnable. However, it was there that he was defeated after a short but cruel battle in 495, following which he cut his throat. After the death of Kassapa, Moggallana returned the site of Sigiriya to the monks, thus condemning it to progressive abandonment. During the eleven years that Kassapa resided in Sigiriya, he created a residence of exceptional splendour and founded his capital there, impressive vestiges of which are still exist.

At the summit of the rock is the fortified palace with its ruined buildings, its cisterns and its rock sculptures. At the foot of the rock are the two quarters of the lower city which are defended by a massive wall: the eastern quarter (5th century), which has not been sufficiently excavated, and the aristocratic quarter of the capital of Kassapa I, noteworthy for its terraced gardens embellished by canals and fountains, as well as for numerous monumental remains which have been disengaged from the forest which had invaded the ruins.

Halfway up the rock, within an inaccessible rocky shelter in the vertical wall of the western face are rock paintings which have brought universal acclaim to the site of Sigiriya – ‘The Maidens of the Clouds’, 21 non-identified female figures, comparable to the most beautiful creations of Ajanta. Thanks to the British, the rock paintings can be seen from close range, with a viewing platform.

Tips for an enjoyable Sigiriya Experience:

Plan: Reach Sigiriya by Road from Colombo (4-5 hours due to bad roads). En route stop at Dambulla (16km proximal to Sigiriya), explore cave temples (90minutes), Reach Sigiriya by check in time, relax in the pool after a lunch. Trek the rock in the late afternoon, return for a shower, massage at the spa (well earned after a trek), head for the extensive buffet dinner…

Where to stay: Sigiriya Village Resort (4*) a 32 year old well maintained eco resort, has pool with a view of the rock, dinner with live classical music, great local cuisine. (Alternative: Heritage Kandalama Dambulla, in an interesting Eco- Hotel designed by the famous SriLankan architect Bawa.)

Trek instructions: It involves a medium grade trek, walk on platforms anchored to the rock. If you are a photographer, choose an afternoon for the trek, to catch the golden hour of the evening. Light clothing, water/ isotonic drink, backpack, for hands free climb. There are no shops/ vendors en route. However upon descent, there are couple shops selling cold drinks and souvenirs. Carry your passport for entry ticketing. It makes sense to hire a certified guide.

Beware: of hawkers selling “ebony” carvings.

Travel planning & Bookings: Mr Tomton, Swastika Tours & Travels, Mangalore/ Fortune Lanka (an ideal introductory  package would be a 5 night package of Srilanka: Colombo-Kandy-Nuwara Eliya-Sigiriya).

Sigiriya was explored by me in 2010.

Laboe, Germany: seagulls and submarines

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Nostalgic, natural beauty, beach tourism, sea food restaurants, retirement heaven…all at Laboe!

Laboe is a municipality in the district of Plön, in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It is situated on the Baltic Sea coast, approximately 10 km northeast of Kiel. You can reach Laboe by ferry service from Kiel. Beach front has well laid walking, cycling and motor paths, with beach huts scattered all over. Apart from being a fishing port, Laboe has a beautiful Marina. Major landmark here are 1. Memorial for  World Wars: 72-metre high tower designed by architect Gustav August Munzer, who stated that the form was not meant to represent anything specific but was to inspire positive feelings in those who look at it. It is frequently associated with the stem of a viking ship or the conning tower of a submarine. The inside of the tower is absolutely empty – it’s quite bizarre. But it is worth to go up, because from the top You can see an excellent view to the Baltic See. You can see for kilometres and, in good weather, even as far as Denmark. The monument is composed in various parts: The tower, with a superb view of the surroundings from the observation deck; The base, with the numbers of losses in both wars; The underground chamber, a kind of sanctuary, with flags from various countries; The museum, with navigation related items. 2. WWII-era German submarine U-995, which houses a technical museum, both sit near the foot of the monument. U-995 is the world’s only remaining Type VII U-boat. Being one of the few submarine that survived the conflict, it’s very interesting to visit.It’s very impressive the technology they had then, and to think that men lived in those tight corridors for days…It’s fascinating… (common ticket available at the ticketing counter at the base of the tower. Tower closes at 1800 hrs).

If you ever visit Kiel in Northern Part of Germany, it is worthwhile visiting Laboe!

Italy! bel paese = Beautiful country

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Despite incessant praise, Italy continues to surprise and delight. If you get it right, travelling in the bel paese (beautiful country) is one of those rare experiences in life that cannot be overrated.

Bella Vita: 
In few places do art and life intermingle so effortlessly. This may be the land of Dante, Michelangelo, da Vinci and Botticelli but it’s also the home of Salvatore Ferragamo, Giorgio Armani and Gualtiero Marchesi. Food, fashion, art and architecture – you’ll quickly learn that the root of Italian pathology is an unswerving dedication to living life well. A surprising number of Italians care deeply about the floral aftertastes of sheep cheese, the correct way to cut marble and the nuances of a Vivaldi concerto. Lurking behind the disinvoltura – the appearance of effortlessness – is a passionate attention to life’s fine print. So slow down, start taking note of life’s details and enjoy your own bella vita.

Bon Appetito: 
Then there’s the food. Italy is quite literally a feast of endless courses, but no matter how much you gorge yourself, you’ll always feel as though you haven’t made it past the antipasti. Even the simplest snack can turn into a revelation, whether you’re downing a slice of Slow Food pizza, a paper cone of fritto misto (fried seafood) or pistachio flavoured gelato. The secret is an intense, even savage, attention to top-notch ingredients and fresh, seasonal produce. Although the origins of Italian food are earthy and rustic, and the Slow Food Movement aims to protect those artisanal roots, the modern Italian kitchen is also endlessly inventive. Get creative in Eataly’s Slow Food super market, sample top-class wines at Rome`s International Wine Academy and tour vineyards and olive groves to learn the latest production techniques that go into making that award-winning wine and olive oil sitting on your dining table.

Bel Paese: 
As if in homage to its people’s love of fashion, Italy’s outline – a ‘boot’ – makes it one of the most recognizable countries in the world. (text courtesy of my trusted travel companion: LP)

May 2010

Also read: Italy revisited in 2013

Orissa: cradle of civilization…

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Lingaraj, Jagannath, Konark Sun temple, exquisitely carved Mukteswar/Rajarani temples.  Archaeological finds at Ratnagiri, Lalitgiri, Udaigiri prove that Orissa has also been influenced by Buddhist thought. Jainism too has left its mark on Orissa as the rock cut caves at Khandagiri & Udaygiri…History has been documented here since 2000 BC !

Odisha/ Orissa, located on the east coast of India, by the Bay of Bengal. It is the modern name of the ancient nation of Kalinga, which was invaded by the Maurya Emperor Ashoka in 261 BC. The modern state of Odisha was established on 1 April 1936. Odisha is the ninth largest state by area in India, and the eleventh largest by population. Odia is the official and most widely spoken language, however Sambalpuri/Kosali is spoken in most part of Western Odisha. Paradip is the only seaport. The narrow, level coastal strip, including the Mahanadi River delta supports the bulk of the population.] The interior of the state is mountainous and sparsely populated. Deomali at 1672 m is the highest point of the state. Odisha is subject to intense cyclones. Odisha is home to the Hirakud Dam, the longest earthen dam in the world.

Puri, with the Jagannath temple near the sea (famous for Rath Yatra or the Car Festival), and Konark, with the Sun Temple, The Lingaraja Temple of Bhubaneshwar, Ashoka’s famous Rock Edict at Jaugada near Berhampur city and the Barabati Fort of Cuttack are important in the Archaeological history of India. Coming up next: Sun Temple Konark