Rock and Roll Island – Easter Island


With its rough seas and stone moai statues, Easter Island is one of the world’s most isolated places.

easter islandmoai statues

Moai – the name of the giant statues that dot the grassy knolls of Easter Island. Carved out of the island’s volcanic rock nearly 1000 years ago, these enormous stone heads were built to honour the island’s very important people.

First heard about Easter Island while on holiday in Santiago, Chile, is when a documentary about a tiny Polynesian island covered in giant heads and extinct volcanoes. A five-hour flight later, we had touched down at Matavery International Airport to the swishing of grass skirts, cool coconut drinks and leis made of freshly plucked frangipanis.

As the driver had navigated the dirt roads towards the hotel Posada De Mike Rapu, he had occasionally stopped to give way to one of the 6000 wild horses that roam free on the island. Burnt yellow fields rolled quietly towards the roaring ocean; a lone palm tree the only reminder of the thick jungle that once covered this isolated land.

Impressive work ethic: Continue to walk further along the Ara O Te Moai, is the ancient trail once used to transport the moai around the island. There is a huge dented slab of volcanic rock: the Rano Raraku quarry. Most of the moai on the island – estimated around 1000 – were carved from this quarry. Some are very small, while others look around 10 metres tall. When someone important died, the village would request that a moai be made so that person’s mana (good luck and special powers) would protect them. The villagers had to feed and house the workers while they made the state, which could take a year.

fallen moaimoai statue-1

It is an impressive work ethic – and the mammoth job of carving the moai is just the beginning. Most of the moai line the island’s coast, which is up to 11 miles from the quarry, and are strategically placed on platforms to protect the villages from invaders. Even to this day, questions remains about how such a primitive people managed to move hundreds of tonnes of rock around the island.

 

National geographic may have found the answer. It funded an expedition to Easter Island, sending archaeologists on a mission to find out exactly how these enormous statues – the largest weighing more than 80 tonnes – were transported from the quarry. They recreated the scene and realised it is possible the moai walked from their quarries to the platforms around the island.

Nearby, a fallen moai’s head sinks into the soft grass, its empty eye sockets (once made from coral) staring blankly at the blue sky above. The local people believed that if a moai fell while being transported to its new home, its mana was worthless and the moai was to be left where it toppled. Workers would then return to the quarry and start a year’s worth of work all over again.

 

A Birdman in the hand: The sea is swollen before leaving the jetty and by the time fishing boat reaches open waters it’s lathering into a fury. It is not exactly an idyllic day to go snorkelling in the Pacific. The guide cuts the engine beside Motu Nui, a tiny, uninhabited speck in the ocean. There were the ominous-looking cliffs of Easter Island, now being battered by swirling winds.

 

easter island cliffskari kari ballet

Up until 19th century the island held a competition called Birdman contest. Powerful men on the island would order the strongest men from their village to clamber down those high cliffs, swim across here to Motu Nui, collect the first Sooty Tern (an important island bird) egg of the season, swim back and climb back up the cliffs to the village. It was pretty dangerous crossing the water, but first man to make it back with the egg would be the winner; his chef got to be the Birdman and ruler of the island for the year.

 

Towards the other side of Motu Nui, the sea turns back to turquoise, where you can plop into the cool water for snorkelling. The visibility would be perfect yet there would be hardly any fish here, the water around Easter Island eerily devoid of sea life.

 

Show Time: The Kari Kari ballet is widely regarded as the best traditional show on the island.

Courtesy by G.N.

CHINA’S BEAR NECESSITIES


The Chinese are not known to be great animal lovers, but in stunning Sichuan province you would discover why the endangered giant panda is their national treasure. And if you can tear yourself away from all that cuteness, there are plenty of other attractions and distractions.

pandatraditional play

In the space of just a few hours, it is impressive how much a giant panda can defecate. I am inside five-year-old Yoaxin’s enclosure, using a shovel to chase enormous floating pellets of compressed orange mush around a pond.

As I skilfully scoop the mess into a bucket, I wonder if US first lady Michelle Obama, who recently visited the Sichuan province’s most famous residents, opted to roll up her sleeves to pick up panda poop as part of her official duties, probably not.

But having enrolled at the Bifengxia Panda Conservation Centre as a voluntary panda-keeper for the day, I am ready to get my hands dirty.

As one of the world’s most endangered species, whose existence now depends heavily on conservation efforts, the rarest member of the bear family has earned adoration from wildlife lovers worldwide.

Earlier this year, in Scotland’s Edinburgh Zoo the resident giant panda Tian Tian, on loan from the Chinese government, was artificially inseminated, with hopes she will give birth this month or in September. But panda fans eager to see the animals in their homeland can now do so with greater ease, thanks to increased flights from a variety of different airlines to the panda capital, Chengdu.

According to a 2003 census by the Chinese State Forestry Bureau, there were 1596 giant pandas in the wild with 83 percent of the population found in the Sichuan province. (More recent figures are expected soon, but have not yet been published.) Three hundred of those bears can be found in reserves such as Bifengxia and Chengdu’s Giant Panda Research Base.

Seeing pandas in the wild is almost impossible; solitary creatures that roam in areas of 20 sq km, they are often only captured by camera traps. Plans are under way to reopen the mountain Wolong retreat, destroyed in a 2008 earthquake, but in the meantime, a good alternative are the bamboo hills of Bifengxia in Ya’an, 150 km from Chengdu.

Legs splayed like a small child, with those distinctive dark eye smudges making her look like a haggard insomniac, Yoaxin appears quite sad and helpless.

Far more lively are several baby pandas, which emit high-pitched squeaks as they tumble on top of each other and scramble up trees.

Local tourists dressed in ridiculous fluffy panda hats snap happily on their smartphones before racing off to souvenir shops to buy tat emblazoned with the symbolic monochrome bear.

Even centuries ago, soldiers would wave flags decorated with pandas, which they believed represented power. There is no doubt these creatures have become a national treasure.

However, given the country’s controversial track record for using endangered species in traditional medicine, Chinese animal welfare almost sounds like an oxymoron.

Jack, the guide said pandas are one of the few endemic animals to have survived, he partially jokes: “because they don’t taste very good!” But there is some truth to his words; history books recount tales of local people attempting to cook pandas in pots with highly dissatisfying results.

“Chinese people like to put things in their mouths, “he adds, as we drive towards the Chengdu Giant Panda Research Base.

Located in the middle of the city and easily accessible, this is the most popular reserve for foreign tourists. Walkways wind around spacious enclosures, in a set-up similar to a zoo.

During the visit, the temperature is mild, but in the sticky summer months, pandas sleep on ice beds in air–conditioned rooms and eat watermelon and carrot lollies to keep cool.

Posters advertise the opportunity to hold a panda, if you are prepared to pay 1330 yuan (215 $) and dress up in an overcoat and surgical mask.

The money is needed for the expensive upkeep of the pandas and investment into the artificial insemination unit, currently the main method by which the sluggish pandas are able to reproduce.

emeishan jinding templegiant budha of leshan

Fortunately, Chengdu has much more to offer than its cute and cuddly bears. Green spaces, excellent cuisine and a strong tradition of tea houses has earned the 2000-year-old Sichuan capital a reputation for being the most relaxed city in the People’s Republic.

ram taoist templemarket

At one time, there were 10,000 tea houses in Chengdu, today, 1000 are still in operation. One of the biggest is the Hemin teahouse in the People’s Park, where groups of old men and university students gather at bamboo tables to play the traditional Chinese game, mah-jong.

Competitors are locked in serious, concentration, their expressions as blank as the flat sky overhead. (On average, the sun only shines in Chengdu 100 days per year.)

antiques shopping areamodern chengdu

Elsewhere, in the park, retired women wearing oversized glasses and pouts like a baboon’s bottom amuse themselves by parading up and down on a makeshift catwalk in a bizarre public fashion show, while others perform traditional Tibetan dances. Aside from the 17th century Qing dynasty wide and narrow alleys, now revamped as an upmarket complex of restaurants, boutiques and street food stalls, much of the high-rise architecture in Chengdu is modern.

As people from rural areas seek better health care, education and employment, the population of the city is swelling. Yet many would agree that their hearts still lie in the surrounding scenic countryside.

Used in the 1950s to carry coal from mines, the Jaiyang railroad now takes tourists on day trips through peaceful farmlands, while a separate carriage still carries locals and their livestock to market. A journey on the small steam train provides welcome contrast to the grey smog and concrete of the city; fields of brilliant yellow rapessed flowers radiate colour in a place where the sun rarely seems to shine.

Although China is a country that is rapidly industrialising, with new roads and buildings springing up like weeds and choking the environment, there is the glimmer of hope that people are beginning to appreciate the extent of what they could lose. It is true that, culturally speaking, the Chinese are not a nation of animal lovers, but efforts to protect the giant panda, their national treasure, are educating a new generation.

Courtesy by G.N.

Graceful Monaco


Home to arguably the world’s most glamorous royal family, this tiny city-state welcomes celebrities and high rollers in their droves, no doubt drawn to its glitzy nightlife and designer boutiques.

graceful monacomonte carlo bay

Monaco is a discreet, welcoming place and that is why celebrities like it here: they can stay in private and not be disturbed by fans. This is a place where wealthy and successful people come to live because they know they can leave million-dollar artworks in their Ferraris, or not lock their doors, and come back to find everything is still there.

place du palaisnicole kidman in the biopic of grace

The countless security cameras that swivel and zoom every time you cross a street or walk into a shop no doubt help, but Charlotte’s back on brand, pointing towards the perfectly placed bunches of flowers that decorate the lobby. Here enthusiasm is contagious. Monaco is a glamorous city – state, penned in by France and the Mediterranean and just a short drive from Italy.

grace kellyhotel metrolole - pool with a view

hotel metropole

Now, with Nicole Kidman’s biopic of Grace Kelly opening the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and Louis Vuitton’s cruise collection dropping anchor here, it’s clear Monte Carlo’s star cachet is on the rise. Add warm weather, beautiful scenery and a history scattered with royal tales and intrigue….it is a must to visit place.

The world’s smallest city-state has a population of just 30000, yet every time there is a big event – a society wedding, or even a Robbie Williams concert – that number rises to 2000000.

For beautiful, spacious rooms, a Karl Lagerfield-designed restaurant and the occasional celebrity spotting, Hotel Metropole is very lovely indeed. The staff at the hotel are super-friendly – ask them to print you a Princess Grace tour map.

Courtesy by G.N.

WARSAW IN POLE POSITION


Warsaw is a city that is just begging to be explored on foot. A Warsaw tourism flyer in the plane’s seat pocket listed more than 30 must-sees in the city – from baroque palaces and cathedrals and at least a dozen museums and concert halls to glitzy modern malls and a spectacular tower, plumb in the centre of the city. One should not miss the classical music concert to get a feel of Poland. Polish co-passenger advises that classical music concert sure to be happening in any of the halls in the city.

warsawmusic and art

Warsaw is truly a fascinating ode to music and the arts. In fact, the moment you land, you will realise the importance and respect music is accorded. The airport takes its name from the city’s famous son, pianist and composer, Fryderyk Chopin, and it supports the National Fryderyk Chopin Institute and its Chopin and his Europe festival every year, as a banner hanging outside arrivals announces.

old town real feel of poland

Heading to the hotel, you will be struck by the architecture – socialist grey, drab and blocky – a throwback to the four decades of communism. On the way, you would spot one apartment that stood out due to its more modern facade. That is the Wilcza 72. It is a set of luxury condos. Notice the bullet pockmarked facade? That is a piece of wall from a building that was destroyed during the Second World War, now preserved behind glass.

Such remnants of history frequently present themselves in the mosaic of modern-day Polish architecture, giving the city a quaintly interesting mix of the old and the new. But while some pieces of bullet and bomb-ravaged walls have been neatly preserved for posterity, there are a few iconic structures of history that many Poles prefer to mask rather than exhibit.

palace of cultur and sciencesquare market

The Palace of Culture and Science that stands bang opposite the hotel, the Intercontinental, is one such example. At first glance this is simply an awesome structure that soars 231 metres high and occupies pride of place in the capital city’s square but, “it was a gift from Stalin and was used as the communist party headquarters. It was something we did not want,” says guide. The guide explains part of it was built using bricks taken from the rubble of buildings that were destroyed during the Second World War and “is a constant reminder of the devastation and of a past the Poles want to leave behind”.

The Palace also houses a clock tower that was apparently inspired by the New York Empire State Building. Stalin is said to have sent a secret team to New York to study the structure and methods employed to build it, then commissioned the Soviet architect Lev Rudnev to design a similar building, mixing it with Polish architectural building.

Many Poles at the time sneered at it because they felt it to be a monument representing Soviet domination, and the feeling still persists, with palace nicknamed, among others, Stalin’s Syringe and Pajac (meaning clown).

If you want to have the best view of the city, go to the terrace on the 30th floor, the guide suggested. It is the one place in the city where the building does not obscure the view.

Contrary to local jokes, the palace exudes an intriguing charm all of its own. The ground floor is a maze of rooms and corridors with ancient-looking lifts (and an elderly lift operator). But is also boasts cinemas, theatres, museums, bookshops, souvenir stores and a university – Collegium Civitas – spread across two floors.

The palace boasts 3288 rooms and has played host to not just communist party meetings but also some of the most famous events in Eastern Europe, including a concert by the Rolling Stones in 1967 and the Miss World pageant in 2006.

A 10-minute walk away flows one of the most famous rivers of Poland – the Vistula. Beginning its journey from the Beskidy Mountains in southern Poland, it cuts through Krakow before emptying into the Baltic Sea. “The Vistula once played a major part in shaping the history of Warsaw,” says the guide. “Stalin’s Red Army positioned itself on the right bank and waited and watched while Germany decimated the city on the left bank during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.”

For those who dozed off during the world history classes in school, the Warsaw uprising was the most tragic episode in the city’s history. Unwilling to wait out the Nazi occupation during the Second World War, the people of Warsaw rose up in revolt, enraging Adolf Hitler, who set about wiping out the city with bullets and bombs. More than 200,000 civilians were estimated to have been killed, mostly in mass executions, while any structure even remotely deemed cultural was dynamited and entire districts set ablaze. “Around 90 per cent of the city was reduced to rubble,” says the guide.

War over, Poland came under Communist rule, which lasted until 1989. But since then Poland has embraced westernisation with open arms – evident by, among other things, the large number of malls that have mushroomed all over the city.

Warsaw today is a picture postcard of a European Union nation’s success story. “It is the only EU member to have ducked the global economic downturn in recent years,” says Robert. But while industrialists and investors are flocking to Poland, keen to set up ventures and make the most of the business – friendly climate, there is a lot for tourists to enjoy too.

One of the best ways to get an idea of the real Poland is to take a trip to the Old Town, which dates back to the 13th century and once housed quaint castles, spectacular churches and a thriving market. Unfortunately it was one of the areas that sustained the most damage during the Uprising.

In Old Town, you will see the ancient buildings, these are new buildings reconstructed painstakingly using ancient etchings, paintings and photographs of the Old Town as blueprints.

Original bricks and decorative elements were sifted from the rubble and reused to give the buildings an authentic appearance. Completed as late as 1962, the historic centre quickly found a place on Unesco’s World Heritage List, which includes such diverse places as East Africa’s Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The UN body, whose aim is to protect and preserve cultural and natural heritage spots around the world, named the Old Town as an area of outstanding value to humanity.

At the entrance stands a 22-metre-tall pillar on which rests a bronze statue of King Zygmunt Waza, the monarch who moved the capital of Poland from Krakow to Warsaw in 1596. A large market square filled with souvenir stores and restaurants which is a tourist magnet, and one could spend hours there sipping a cappuccino and people-watching.

One among the 10 per cent of buildings that were not destroyed during the war bears the address of one of the most famous women in the world. No 16, Freta Street, which stands on a narrow road leading from the Old Town to the adjacent New Town, was the birthplace of Madame Marie Curie – the first woman to win a Noble Prize (for the discovery of radium and polonium). On the balcony was a bright red bougainvillea in full bloom.

A tower-like gateway connects the Old Town to the New Town and close to the gate is a statue of the mermaid Syrena, who is said to have lived in the river Vistula. Syrena was responsible for luring a brother and sister – Wars and Sawa – to found the town named, yes, Warszawa.

After a short walk around the Old Town, you will be back on the bus to explore the rest of the city. Once you entered Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street, the guide instructed to look right to see the Holy Cross Church – an important place for Chopin lovers because part of his body is buried here. When Chopin died in October 1849 in France, where he and his family had moved from Warsaw, his body was laid to rest in Pere Lachaise Cemetery Paris. But in accordance with his wish, his heart was brought back to Warsaw and buried here.

The next day, you will be off to Oslztyn, the capital of the Warmia and Mazury Province in the north-eastern part of Poland that is known as the region of a thousand lakes. Home to cathedrals and ancient market squares, the one structure that attracts tourists is the Gothic castle of the Warmia Chapter, build during the 14th century.

statue of copernicusbridge over river lyna

At the entrance of the castle is a statue of Nicolaus Copernicus, the Polish mathematician, physician, polyglot and astronomer who revolutionised the concepts of the universe placing the sun, and not the earth, at the centre. Copernicus resided at Oslztyn Castle as economic administrator of Warmia and his room can still be viewed – complete with his astronomical table, the only surviving tool of his in the world.

Today the castle is a popular venue for concerts, art exhibitors, lectures, scientific sessions and film shows. Tourists are allowed entry on certain days when they can even try on medieval armoury and costumes.

There a bridge over the river Lyna with hundreds of padlocks hanging from its railings. There is a tradition here that those in love who attach a padlock to the railing and throw the key into the river Lyna below will stay together for ever, says the guide.

Courtesy by G.N.

Missing cub traced, may find new family soon


The cub that had gone missing ever since the body of his mother was shifted from the forest has been traced and is under constant watch by the department. The cub will soon find a new family.

At present the cub is showing signs of post traumatic syndrome and running away from foresters. It was doing so even on seeing Rana Madi, who was led to the dead mother by this 18 – month old cub. Officials following the developments said they want to cage the cub and carry out a health check before allowing it to move around on its own or be released in another group.

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On Saturday, foresters had the carcass of an 11- year old lioness, who had been gored to death by a buffalo herd. The carcass was found by a beat guard who had been led to the dead mother by an 18- month old cub.

Forest officials were surprised by this unprecendented incident, which was confirmed by the postmortem report. the postmortem pointed to the lioness having multiple fractures in her ribs and that she had died of an intestinal hemorrhage.

However, as the cub and mother were alone, the forest department will ensure a safe release of the cub in another group. “ we have in the past carried out such safe releases and orphan cubs have been accepted. The release is mostly done in groups that have cubs of the same age, so that the orphan is easily accepted”, says deputy conservator of forests Anshuman Sharma.

He said that the dead lioness had two cubs, one of which had died seven months ago.

“The department has identified a couple of groups in Khambha and Jambudi area and once the cub is caged it will get a safe monitored release in one of these groups,” said Sharma.

The officials said the department was observing the behavior of the groups identified before the cub can be released.

Courtesy – Times of India 

Rare Masked Booby spotted near Mahuva ( Bhavnagar, Rajkot, Gujarat, India )


The bird is usually found in tropical zones

Manoj Sanghediya, a 23-year old amateur bird watcher from Datardi Village in Mahuva taluka of Bhavnagar District ( Rajkot, Gujarat, India ), could not identify the large seabird that had fallen in his farm on Saturday.

But he was quick to rescue the sick bird that was unable to fly and take it to Mahuva Town. An environment activist, he often rescues snakes in his village.

masked booby in Mahuva

The bird that he rescued was Masked Booby, a large bird found in tropical zones of theoceans.

“When the Masked Booby was brought on Saturday, it was sick and exhausted. We contacted, Dr. Nayan Patel, a veterinary doctor, who earlier worked with forest department in Mahuva advised us to give glucose to it. We tried to save the rare visitor but it died on Tuesday evening”, said a wildlife activist from Mahuva Chirag Koradiya.

Bird conservationists say that the Masked Booby may have been exhausted and landed in the coastal area in a sick condition. It nests on small tropical islands especially without forests. It breeds in central and western pacific as well as off Mexico.

According to experts, Masked Booby are spectacular divers that can plunge diagonally into the ocean at high speeds. They mainly eat small fish.

“This could be the third time that a Masked Booby was reported to be seen on the Saurashtra coast,” Koradiya said.

Courtesy – Times Of India 

Most action-packed jungles


Tiger scouting, Chitwan National Park, Nepal

If you want to see a tiger that isn’t shuffling about in a zoo or on the front of a cereal packet, head for Chitwan National Park in the Nepalese jungle, where there’s a 75 percent likelihood of a sighting. There are also night tours to further help you glimpse this nocturnal beast. But even if you don’t, it’s still the perfect place to channel your inner Mowgli, with heaps of other wildlife on view, such as leopards, sloths and water buffalo. Travel is via a mixture of elephant back, canoe, jeep and foot.

Tiger Safaris  are accompanied by a zoologist and local naturalist guides. Jeep tours and on-foot tracking tours are available, best taken late November to early May.


Gorilla tracking, Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, Central African Republic

When a trip promises ‘long and uncomfortable journeys’ by plane, jeep and canoe, there had better be a super-bright light at the end of the tunnel. In the case of the Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, there certainly is – it’s one of the few places where tourists can track the majestic but critically endangered western lowland gorillas. Fewer than 2000 westerners are thought to have visited this stunning jungle region, which is also home to forest elephants, buffalo, crocodiles and red river hogs, and the local Ba’Aka pygmy tribe, who help with the gorilla tracking.

It can take three to eight hours to track the gorillas, after which you’ll move with the group or sit as they groom.

Feeling Heady In Hyderabad


The Taj Falaknuma Palace – the restored Nizam’s Palace – is yet another jewel in the crown of the city that boasts of the Charminar

taj-falaknuma-palace-courtyardTo enter the Taj Falaknuma Palace involves many steps. You drive to the entrance of the 32-acre palace; then, get on a horse carriage, which takes you to the entrance. You are greeted with vetiver juice. A flag bearer carrying a golden flag-pole bearing a coat of arms marches ahead as you climb the white staircase. Then the rose petal shower.

Taj-Falaknuma-Palace-bWalk into the Ritz Carlton in Miami or George V in Paris and all you get is a form asking for your credit card details. Here in the East, we take hospitality much more seriously, garlanding our guests, giving them a welcome drink, offering them attar and sandalwood paste, or, in this instance, showering petals on them.

cn_image_2.size.taj-falaknuma-palace-hyderabad-india-112405-11Built by Vicar Ul-Umra, the prime minister and son-in-law of then the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1893, the Falaknuma (meaning ‘mirror of the sky’) has had a chequered history. Sir Vicar as he was called, built and inhabited it for a mere five years when he heard that the Nizam was coming for tea. Tea extended to dinner and then overnight. Twenty days later, the Nizam was still in residence. What happened next was typical of the tehzeeb or etiquette of the era, when words were pregnant with hidden meaning. Sir Vicar watched his master’s delight in the palace and the curious questions: “How have you built a palace so wonderful?” He intuited that the Nizam coveted the palace that he had bankrupted himself to build and decided to give it to the Nizam as a nasr or offering. “Huzoor, I have built it for you,” said he. That same evening, three generations of Sir Vicar’s family, along with their retinue of staff, moved out of the palace. To give up something so substantial is not easy for any person, but that was the ethos of the era. The Nizam insisted on paying more than what the palace had cost to build. He presented Sir Vicar with Rs 68 lakh (10 lakh = 1 million), small change for a man who was on the cover of Time magazine with the headline, “The richest man in the world.” The Nizam had his own currency, airline, railways, a fleet of Rolls-Royce, some of which were used to dump the household garbage, and the 48-carat Jacob’s diamond that rolled about his table in lieu of a paperweight.

The-Spectacular-Taj-Falaknuma-Palace-in-Hyderabad-11The Nizam’s family used the Falaknuma till after Independence, when they entertained India’s first President Dr Rajendra Prasad in 1951. After that, the palace fell out of use and into disrepair till the current Nizam’s estranged wife, a princess belonging to the Turkish nobility, decided to restore it. Princess Esra Jah reconciled with her husband, the current Nizam, who lives in Australia, during her son’s wedding. In 2000, she decided to restore the palace in partnership with the Taj Group of Hotels. By then, the palace was in an advanced state of disrepair. Water poured through the roof, rats were running around, the furniture and upholstery were chipped and broken, and cobwebs hung throughout the place. “I was among the first persons to see the palace and it was scary,” says the historian, Mr. Prabhakar.

It took ten years and countless iterations to get the palace back into its pristine glory. The walls were painted a hundred times to match the shade that Princess Esra had in mind: the colour of the sky at dusk. Today, the Falaknuma is a Victorian pastiche of many architectural styles. There are Corinthian columns, Italian frescoes, Carrara marble fountains, Tudor arches, Venetian cut-glass chandeliers, French trompe d’0eil paintings that make cement look like wood, fleur de lis on stained glass windows, English paintings and upholstery. “Not one of the objects or influence is Indian,” says Mr Prabhakar proudly. The result is stunning but a little disconcerting. It is as if the palace was airlifted from Europe and placed atop the hill in Hyderabad.

char minarThe city sparkles far below as Sufi singers sing on the Gol Bangla’s terrace. It is a city built for love, when Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah, whose portrait hangs in the Smithsonian, fell in love with a maiden called Bhagmati. In 1591, he moved his capital from Golconda to what was then a tiny village on the banks of the Musi village. He named the new city after his wife, Hyder Mahal. The city was modelled on Esfahan in Iran, with water-bodies for moon-watching, fountains, fragrant gardens and broad boulevards. When the bubonic plague hit the city, Quli Qutb Shah prayed to Allah to release his people from its clutches and built the Charminar (Four Minarets) in gratitude. Diagonally across from the Charminar is the Makkah Masjid, among the holiest shrines in India, built using soil and stones from Mecca. Ten thousand of the faithful can pray together here.

Today, the roads that radiate from the Charminar sell rhinestone-studded lac bangles that are a signature of the city. Countless shops glitter with these coloured gem-like ornaments. Vendors sell burqas, dupattas, vessels, fruits, knives, clothes, Unani medicines, orthopaedic massages and anything else that a person can need. It is a hub of humans and commerce. The Chowmuhallah Palace down the road is quieter. Built over 45 acres in the 18th century, it is now a museum and used for weddings and other ceremonies. Only 14 acres remain since the current Nizam fled to Turkey and then Australia to escape debt payments from his wives and concubines. I attend a wedding there one night. The palace is stunning when lit up at night. Tuberose garlands cast their heady scent and the aroma of slow-cooking biryanis makes the tongue pucker. This is a city that takes it meat seriously. Men can argue for hours over the right technique to cook patther ka gosht, or lamb seared on a stone slab.

lac benglesTextile expert Soraiya Hassan Bose belongs to an old family. Today, she and a band of weavers sell the state’s kalamkari and ikat weaves in her eponymous shop. Hyderabad’s hand-loomed, hand-woven textiles are known throughout the country for their quality.

Local fashion designers such as Anand Kabra use the state’s weaves in their designs and infuse it with a modern cut. Jewellery designer Suhani Pittie lives in a heritage mansion that houses her contemporary creations. Both are passionate about their home state and its rich traditions.

There are two Hyderabad today, one is the city around Hussein Sagar Lake; the modern city that attracts IT companies to its Hi-Tec City or Cyberabad. Then, there is the slower, more leisurely city that was created by kings and Nizams; the Hyderabad of slow-cooked meals and exquisite etiquette.

Courtesy by K.T.

Family Holidays – Kids Please


Five destinations guaranteed to put a smile on children’s faces…

1)      Orlando, Florida

orlandoThere are many reasons Orlando remains a top destination for families: the sun usually shines, there are hotels to suit all tastes, but above all, it’s home to two of the best theme parks in the world. Walt Disney World, Florida, is where you will find the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and the Hollywood Studios, plus the brilliant water parks at Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon. Trust us, even if you don’t consider yourself a Disney fan, resistance to the charms of the House of Mouse is futile – one ride on the superb Soarin’, Splash Mountain or The Tower of Terror and we guarantee you will be hooked and singing it’s a Small World for ever more.

Universal’s Islands of Adventure (www.universalorlando.com), meanwhile, is home to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – a mind-blowing recreation of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade, complete with rides, talking portraits and shops selling wands. Universal also has roller coasters such as The Incredible Hulk and a whole section dedicated to Dr. Seuss, which will appear to younger children and those who remember The Cat in the Hat books first time around. Just over an hour’s drive away is Daytona, with its glorious sandy beach, ideal for surfing, and the Nascar racetrack, where you can take a spin inside a real stock car. A holiday in Orlando is exhilarating, but exhausting and requires lots of advance planning.

2)      Rome, Italy

romeKids fans of Horrible Histories? Then take them to Rome, where at the Colosseum, one of the best preserved Roman Amphitheatres in the world, they can run around and imagine what life must have been like for the gladiators and animals that fought here nearly 2000 years ago. You can even enrol them at Gladiator school for the afternoon while you go off to explore the designer shops along the Via Condotti. They will marvel at the apparent traffic chaos by the impressive Vittorio Emanuele II monument where you can see foolhardy tourists riding Segways (our advice is not to try this); at the Trevi Fountain they can throw a short walk to the magnificent Pantheon, built in AD126. Rome is, of course, also a fantiastic place to introduce your children to the wonders of authentic Italian gastronomy where you opt for a pizza in Piazza Navona, pasta in Trastevere or gelati (ice cream) on the banks of the Tiber River, Rome offers a feast for all the senses.

 

 

 

 

3)      Sydney, Australia

australiaAs the Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge discovered on their recent trip to Sydney, this Australian city has heaps to offer – and while Prince George is perhaps a little too young to enjoy it right now, for children aged two and up, it is an absolute paradise of wildlife, history and, of course, all those fantastic beaches, including Bondi, which has a children’s pool and playground. At the excellent Featherdale Wildlife Park (www.featherdale.com.au) they (and you) can cuddle up to Koalas, hand-feed kangaroos, see dingoes or check out the crocs and snakes. No child will be able to resist the Tyrannosayrs exhibition at the Australian Museum (www.australianmuseum.net.au), a homage to the most feared of all the dinosaurs. Much-loved Luna Park has lots of rides and a giant Ferris Wheel, while children aged 10 and up (and their brave parents) will jump at the chance to climb the Harbour Bridge (www.bridgeclim.com). Sydney is a very easy city to get around and children will also enjoy a ferry ride over to Manly Bay, particularly if it is a bit choppy. If you have a few days to spare, combine a trip to Sydney with a visit to Uluru (Ayers Rock) or Queensland for the Great Barrier Reef and you will have a holiday to remember.

4)      Kerala, India

keralaIf you want to introduce your children to the fabulousness of India, vibrant, colourful Kerala, with its breathtaking landscapes, glorious beaches, distinct cuisine and amazing wildlife, is the perfect place to do it. Once firmly on the hippie tourist trail, it has evolved to become the hottest destination in India and it is easy to explore. Your children will see wild elephants and jungles, and magnificent natural wonders including the beautiful Athirapally Falls and the Chalakudy River; banana, rubber and tapioca crops; and at Periyar National Park they can look for real-life animals straight out of The Jungle Book, including, if they are very lucky, tigers. (Our advice is not to make any promises, just in case the big cats are feeling a little shy when you visit.)

5)      Stockholm, Sweden

stockholmStockholm is known for being cool city for adults. But it’s also officially one of the most child-friendly cities in the world, with a whole island, Djurgarden, dedicated to families. At Skansen open-air museum you will find traditional Swedish homes, experience life in the 19th century, and at its open-air zoo you can see native wildlife including adorable Swedish brown bears. For fans of Vikings and Disney’s Frozen there is the Vasa, a museum housing the only preserved 17th-century ship in world. There is lots of creative play to be held at Junibacken, dedicated to children’s character Pipi Longstocking and Emil. You may even persuade your kids to visit the brilliant Abba Museum (www.abbathemuseum.com), which has lots of interactive exhibits. Visit Stockholm in the summer, when it’s the midnight sun and there is a non-stop calendar of festivals to experience. Your children will enjoy the novelty of nights that never get dark as well as medieval performances, hot-air balloon races and fireworks against the bright sky. And you will also love exploring Nordiska Kompaniet, or NK, quite simply one of the most stylish luxury department stores in the world.

Courtesy by G.N.

Taj Goa – 4th Complimentary (July Onwards)

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