Khmer Empire in Southeast Asia – Angkor Archaeological Park

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Angkor Archaeological Park
, located in northern Cambodia, is one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia.
Stretching over some 400 square kilometres, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire of the 9th to the 15th centuries, including the largest pre-industrial city in the world. The most famous are the Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations.

Angkor Archaeological Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. At the same time, it was also placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger due to looting, a declining water table, and unsustainable tourism. UNESCO has now set up a wide-ranging programme to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.

Angkor itself has no accommodations and few facilities; the nearby town of Siem Reap, just 6 km. south, is the tourist hub for the area.

Symbolism

The temples of Angkor are highly symbolic structures. The foremost Hindu concept is the temple-mountain, where the temple is built as a representation of the mythical Mount Meru: this is why so many temples, including Angkor Wat itself, are surrounded by moats, built in a mountain-like pyramidal shape and topped by precisely five towers, representing the five peaks of Mount Meru. The linga (phallus), representing the god Shiva, was also critical and while the lingas themselves have largely gone, linga stands (carved, table-like blocks of stone) can be found in many if not most rooms in the temples. There was also a political element to it all: most kings wanted to build their own state temples to symbolize their kingdom and their rule.

While early Angkor temples were built as Hindu temples, Jayavarman VII converted to Mahayana Buddhism c. 1200 and embarked on a prodigious building spree, building the new capital city of Angkor Thom including Bayon, Ta Prohm, Preah Khan and many more as Buddhist structures. However, his successor Jayavarman VIII returned to Hinduism and embarked on an equally massive spree of destruction, systematically defacing Buddhist images and even crudely altering some to be Hindu again. Hinduism eventually lost out to Buddhism again, but the (few) Buddha images in the temples today are later Theraveda additions.

One element that continues to mystify archaeologists is the baray, or water reservoir, built in a grand scale around Angkor: for example, the West Baray is a mind-boggling 8 km by 2.3 km in size. While it has long been assumed that they were used for irrigation, some historians argue that their primary function was political or religious. Not a single outlet is found in this reservoir even if it is inspected by eye or by NASA image scanning. Today, the moat around Angkor and the West Baray still contains water, but the rest have dried up.

Climate
Angkor is hot and sticky throughout the year, but the peak season is November to February, when the weather is dry and temperatures are coolest (25-30°C). The flip side is that the temples are packed, especially around Christmas/New Year’s, and hotel rates are at their highest. March to May is brutally hot, with temperatures reaching 40°C. June to October is the rainy season, and outlying temples and the roads leading to them can turn into quagmires of mud. However, this is also when the temples are at their quietest, and it’s still often possible to do a good half-day round of sightseeing before the rains start in the afternoon.

Getting There
Angkor is located about 20 minutes to the north, by car or motorbike, from central Siem Reap.
Siem Reap International Airport is the second largest airport in Cambodia. Its modern architecture is based on the traditional Khymer style. Its facilities are limited. There are separate terminals for international and domestic flights.

to know more or travel to the Angkor Archaeological Park , mail us on info@globetrotter.asia

 

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The City of the Taj – Agra

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Agra is the city of the Taj Mahal, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, some 200 km from Delhi.

Agra has three UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Taj Mahal and theAgra Fort in the city and Fatehpur Sikri nearby. There are also many other buildings and tombs from Agra’s days of glory as the capital of the Mughal Empire.

The city has little else to recommend it. Pollution, especially smog and litter, is rampant and travellers are pestered by swarms of touts and hawkers at every monument, mosque, temple or palace. That said, the sites are some of the wonders of the world and no trip to India is complete without at least one visit to the Taj.

While Agra’s heyday was as the capital of the Mughal empire between 1526 and 1658, the city was founded much earlier. The earliest reference to Agra is in the ancient epic, the Mahabharata, while Ptolemy was the first person to call it by its modern name. The recorded history of Agra begins around the 11th century, and over the next 500 years, the city changed hands between various kings, both Hindu and Muslim.

In 1506, Sultan Sikandar Lodi, the ruler of the Delhi Sultanate, moved his capital from Delhi to Agra. His son Ibrahim Lodi was the last ruler of the Lodi dynasty, as he was defeated in 1526 by Babur, the first Mughal ruler, in the battle of Panipat. Agra fell too, and became the capital of the Mughals, whose rule over Agra was uninterrupted except for a brief period between 1540 and 1556. In 1540, Sher Shah Shuri overthrew Humayun became the ruler of much of North India, including Agra. After Sher Shah Suri’s death his descendants proved unequal to the task of ruling the kingdom, and Hemu, a Hindu general of Suri became the effective ruler who would later crown himself King Hemachandra Vikramaditya just as the kingdom was facing an assault from the reinvigorated Mughals. In 1556, Hemu would be defeated and killed in the second battle of Panipat, and the Mughals regained Agra.

Mughals were great builders. Babur built the Aram Bagh (garden of relaxation) modeled after the garden of paradise, where he was eventually buried after his death. His grandson Akbar refurbished the Agra fort and built the Fatehpur Sikri, an entire city just on the outskirts of Agra. He also renamed Agra after himself, and the city was known as Akbarabad while it was in Mughal hands. Akbar’s grandson Shah Jehan would give Agra its most famous monument, the Taj Mahal, which is the mausoleum of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj is constructed in white marble. It took 20 years to construct, and is now universally known as a monument to love. Legend has it that Shah Jehan wanted a replica of the Taj constructed in black marble that would be his final resting place. There is no actual support for this theory, but even if it were true, it would have been unlikely to be eventuated. His son Aurangzeb was austere and pious, and had no time or inclination for the ostentation of his forefathers, preferring to spend his money on wars in South India. In any case, even during Shah Jehan’s reign, which was the period when the Mughal empire was at its height, the construction of the Taj put a strain on the resources of the empire and caused a min-famine around Agra. Shah Jehan was eventually buried in the white Taj, next to his beloved Begum.

Shah Jehan, in addition to giving Agra its greatest claim to fame, was also responsible for beginning its decline, as decided to shift his capital to Shahjehanabad, which we now know as Old Delhi, in 1658. Though Aurangzeb ordered a move back, this too was short lived, as he moved his headquarters down south to Aurangabad to be focus on his wars. Agra declined, and so did the Mughal Empire. The city was eventually captured by the Marathas, who renamed it back to Agra. In 1803, it came under the British, who situated the Agra Presidency there, and when India gained independence, the city was incorporated into the state of Uttar Pradesh, and did not gain even the limited honour of being the state’s capital, that distinction going to Lucknow, further east. It is now a tourist town, known for the Taj and a couple of other monuments.

Anyone interested in reading a novel based on the remarkable story behind the Taj Mahal’s creation should consider Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors. Beneath a Marble Sky is an international bestseller, has won multiple awards, and is being made into a movie by Hollywood. Other book (historical fiction) is The Taj by Colin De Silva.

Get There
Agra is 200 km southeast from Delhi and is one of the points of the tourist’s Golden Triangle of Agra-Delhi-Jaipur. Agra is also very well connected via rail and road with other nearby cities and tourist destinations.

Get around

Tongas, electric buses and electric tempos are readily available, and the best way to get to the Taj where no cars are allowed. Auto-rickshaws and cycle-rickshaws are available every where, remember to agree on fares clearly in advance. In case you are a foreigner, please ensure that you bargain everywhere and bargain hard! Generally things are available at 40% of the initially quoted fares.

The best way to experience the city is to take a walk on the Mall Road (Sadar). The street is full of handicraft and leather goods shops. You will also find plenty of food items quite unique to the city. Indian palate is generally very spicy. Please ensure that you carry antacid tablets in case you are not habitual to the spicy foods

As a guide, an auto rickshaw from Agra Cantonement station to the Taj Mahal is about Rs 80 (at least in off season); and a cycle rickshaw from the Taj Mahal to Agra Fort is Rs 40.

Things to see

Agra’s top two sights by far are the incomparable Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. When planning your sightseeing, take heed of the convoluted entry fee system: for Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Itmud-ad-Daulah, Sikandra and Fatehpur Sikri, you must pay a ₹500 levy to the Agra Development Authority in addition to the prices mentioned below. Once paid, the levy is valid for all sights, but only for one dayHowever, If you are not going to the Taj Mahal or happen to turn up on a Friday, then you do not have to pay the ₹500 levy but a smaller one if you are going to the other sites. Eg ₹50 for Red Fort

 to know more or travel to the Agra, mail us at info@globetrotter.asia

Giant drawings in the desert sand – Nazca Lines

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Nazca is a town in Peru’s Southern Coast region. It is most famous for the so-called Nazca Lines, a mix of long lines, geometrical figures, and giant drawings in the desert sand.
Today’s Nazca town is on the site of where the ancient Nazca civilization was based after the fall of its first capital, Cahuachi, in around AD 400. It has an exotic, dusty, desert setting but holds little enchantment in itself. It can provide between a few hours’ and a few days’ entertainment depending on one’s interest in the ancient Nazca people.

The ancient Nazca people

For much of their history, the Nazca people were based in the Ceremonial City of Cahuachi, an ancient pilgrimage center 28 km southwest of modern Nazca. The society emerged in around 100 BC and was active untill around AD 750. Its influence stretched from Cañete in the north to Acari in the south. The lower section of the Nazca Valley was likely chosen to situate Cahuachi due to its abundent underground water, which allowed extensive irrigation for improved agriculture.

This civilization was responsible for the famous Nazca lines, giant representations of animals and other designs that are also seen on Nazca pottery and textiles found at Cahuachi. Discovered pottery fragments also suggest that the Nazca people gathered in the desert to perform religious ceremonies, with objects being smashed as offerings to the gods in the sky. The fragments found in the desert among the Nazca Lines are mainly pieces of panpipes and whistles, suggesting the importance of music in the religious rites.

A series of natural disasters, climatic and tectonic, began to undermine the civilization in around AD 350. An earthquaked finished the capital, Cahuachi, in around AD 400, leaving the society to limp into oblivion for next few centuries from its new base in what would become modern Nazca.

Discovery of Nazca culture

Nazca culture first aroused academic interest through its pottery. In the 1890s, archaeologist Max Uhle was studying ceramic samples at the Anthropologisch-Ethnografische Museum in Dresden. The consignment contained many works from South America, including some striking and colourful work from the Nazca people. In 1901 he travelled to Peru to examine their origins. After months of searching he arrived at the Valley of Ica at a place called Ocucaje, where he met farmers who told him about the ancient cemeteries where these colourful ceramics were frequently found. Uhle excavated the sites and found Nazca ceramics at many of them. His work introduced Nazca culture to the wider world.

Discovery of the Nazca lines

The Nazca Lines were first spotted when Faucette, an early Peruvian airline, began flying from Lima to Arequipa in the 1920s. The pilots noticed lines criss-crossing the desert between the valleys of Palpa and Nazca.

The pilots’ discoveries led Toribio Mejia Xesspe, an archaeologist, to come to Nazca in 1926. His research arrived at the conclusion that the lines were part of ancient sacred roads. Xesspe never flew over the area and so only saw straight lines; he missed the figures.

A more worthy discovery of the lines was made in 1939 by Paul Kosok of Long Island University. Kosok came to Nazca to study the ancient irrigation systems, the puquios (see below). He surveyed the channels and noted that over 50 of the underground aqueducts were still in used. He was told of other, even older, ancient channels and so set out to the Nazca desert but found only long shallows furrows. He thought that perhaps these other ancient channels were located very far away and so hired a small crop-dusting aircraft to go and find them. On the flight he saw hundreds of lines and geometrical forms in the desert. He later recalled asking the pilot to follow one particular line and being somewhat surprised at it leading to a bird! Kosok later met Maria Reiche, who then devoted her life to studying and preserving the lines.

Nazca channels or puquios

After the fall of Cahuachi, the Nazca people still achieved some notable, though oft overlooked feats. An extensive series of underground channels, the puquios (a Quechua word to describe a natural spring), are one of the greatest legacies of the Nazca culture. This underground system is unique in South America, and perhaps the world, because of its very intricate construction. Over 50 underground channels were built over one hundred years starring in AD 400; many of them are still in use! Some of the best preserved channels are at Cantalloc, also known as Cantayo, where visitors can see a series of spiral blow holes, which were probably used to allow cleaning of the channels’ interiors and also to restore them after earthquakes.

Nazca ceramics

The cemeteries along the Nazca River contained the colourful ceramic works that first drew attention to the Nazca people. The high-quality work on vessels shows realistic and complex depictions of the ancient Nazca world: everyday life, animals, plants, fruits, birds, insects and gods are all represented. Vessels showing stylized creatures, including zoomorphic and anthropomorphic designs, sometimes contain over ten colours. Bridge-handle bottles with two landfills are the most common find, but spherical pots were also produced, as well as cups and glasses. The best examples of Nazca ceramics are in museums, such as the Museo Arqueologico Antonini in Nazca, the Anthropological and Archaeological Museum in Lima, the Regional Museum of Ica, and many others in Peru and around the world.

Nazca textiles

The Nazca people’s belief in life after death led to mummification of their corpses. The shrouds wrapping the dead were fine textiles, which still retain their quality and colours. The Nazca people, like many other pre-Inca peoples, believed textiles to be spiritually important, leading their textiles to be skillfully produced and depicting sophisticated artistic scenes on fabrics of cotton and the fibre of Andean camels. Samples from the ancient capital of Cahcuachi can be seen at the Museo Arqueologico Antonini in Nazca.

Getting There

There are frequent collectivos (small buses) to and from Ica. They leave when full, it takes 2-3 hr and cost 12 soles.

There are several direct overnight buses from Cuzco (14 hours) and Arequipa (9 hr). Delays can occur in the wet season. Prices vary between 60 and 170 soles.

There are also buses to Lima (Cruz del Sur and Oltursa buses go via Ica and Paracas) throughout the day and overnight, the journey takes about 6-8 hr.

Nazca is a small city that does not have a proper bus station. Most of the bus companies are situated on the northwest part of the city.

Get around

Getting around in Nazca is easy. You can walk almost anywhere and a taxi inside of town really costs around 3 soles although every taxi driver might try to charge you more.

The big hassle in Nazca are the touts that hang out at the bus stations and on the streets. They represent shady or nonexistent hotels and travel agents, claim to work for your hotel or to offer cheap flights for viewing the Nasca lines. Ignore them and have your hotel pick you up from the bus station.

Must See

  • Museo Arqueologico Antonini, Av de la Cultura 606 (follow Jr Bolognese about 1km east). Informative museum about the surrounding archeological sites. It also has a collection of pottery and textiles. In the garden there is a working aqueduct and a scale model of the lines. Entrance US$6.
  • Nazca channels or puquios at Cantalloc The pre-Inca Nazca people developed a system of underground aqueducts to irrigate the dry lands that lacked surface water. Therefore despite the harsh desert climate, the Nazca region hosts fields of cotton, corn, beans, potatoes and fruit still watered by over 30 of these underground channels. Nearby are various geometric lines etched on the desert. There are also the Inca ruins of Paredones.
  • Cemetery of Chauchilla For many years the Chauchilla Cemetery was looted by treasure hunters, who destroyed the place completely, taking away all the treasures the mummies kept in their tombs for centuries. Grave robbers just left behind the corpses, which can be seen today all over the ground. In addition to skulls and bones, visitors also can see several tombs centuries old, as well as long human hairs, ceramic fragments and others remains scattered on the desert surface. It is the only archeological site in Peru, in which ancient mummies are seen in their original graves, along with ancient artifacts, dating back to 1000 AD. This archaeological excursion is combined with the visit to a Nasca Ceramic workshop, where visitors will learn about the old technique of making Nasca pots and also a visit to the gold extraction centre to see an old way of extracting gold using huge mortars.
  • Chicchitara Carving Rocks, in the Palpa Valley.
  • The Palpa Lines

Nazca Lines

The Nazca Lines are the star attraction. Scattered over 500 km² of an arid plateau between the Nazca River and Ingenio River, they are huge representations of geometric patterns, animals, humans figures and thousands of perfectly straight lines that go on for kilometers. They were created by removing surface stones, revealing the lighter-colored soil below. They’re unquestionably ancient (dating back 1400-2200 years), and remarkably precise (with straight lines and clean curves). The images are so huge that they are only appreciable from the air, a fact which has led to speculation that the ancient Nazca people either had access to hot air balloons or alien helpers. Most academics attribute the lines’ precision to low-tech surveying techniques, but nobody actually knows who made them or why.

From the air

Nazca town is full of hotels and tour agents pedling flights over the lines in Cessnas, few, if any, will offer a decent price. A seat in a four-seater plane (two pilots, two passengers)should start from US$50 in the low season, don’t pay more than US$90. Haggling is necessary. An airport tax of 25 soles is usually not included in the price. Longer flights which include the nearby Palpa lines are also available.

Only consider booking in advance in the high season (December to March) as planes are going up and down all day and flights are generally only 30 mins, meaning that hundreds of people can be dealt with daily. Booking with flight operators directly at their airport sales desks allows for easy price comparison and ensures your money isn’t needlessly passed through brokers. Never deal with the touts at the bus stops, they will leave you very badly off. The cautious may choose to pay only after taking a flight but buying at the airport is safe enough. Flights run as required from 7AM-4PM, so don’t feel pressured, you’ll fly when you want to.

The pilots love banking their small planes hard (for good views of the ground) and motion sickness can occur. Take a motion sickness pill if in doubt.

From the ground

There is a observation tower (2 soles) along the Panamerican highway with a view of three of the figures and a lookout on a mountain. If you get airsick, this is the way to go. You can go there by tour, public transportation, hitchhiking, or taxi (around 50 soles per car for a roundtrip). Buses from Nazca to Flores, Cueva or Soyuz pass the tower. Flag a bus down for the trip back to town.

to know more or travel to the Nazca, mail us at info@globetrotter.asia

The most isolated islands on Earth – Easter Island

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Easter Island  (Spanish: Isla de Pascua, Polynesian: Rapa Nui) is one of the most isolated islands on Earth. Early settlers called the island “Te Pito O Te Henua” (Navel of The World). Officially a territory of Chile, it lies far off in the Pacific Ocean, roughly halfway to Tahiti. Known as one of the world’s sacred sites, it is most famous for its enigmatic giant stone busts, built centuries ago, which reflect the history of the dramatic rise and fall of the most isolated Polynesian culture.
The English name of the island commemorates its European discovery by a Dutch exploration vessel on Easter Sunday in 1722.

Ever since Thor Heyerdahl and a small party of adventurers sailed their raft fromSouth America to the Tuamotu islands, far to the north of Easter Island, a controversy has raged over the origin of the islanders. Today DNA testing has proved conclusively that the Polynesians arrived from the west rather than the east, and that the people of Easter Island are descendants of intrepid voyagers who set out from another island thousands of years ago. Legend says that the people left for Easter Island because their own island was slowly being swallowed by the sea.

In brief, the prehistory of Easter Island is one of supreme accomplishment, flourishing and civilization, followed by environmental devastation and decline. Although it is not agreed when people first arrived on Easter Island (with estimates ranging from several hundred to more than one thousand years ago), consensus seems to be that the first peoples arrived from Polynesia. Rather than being inhabited by mistake or chance, evidence has suggested that Easter Island was colonized deliberately by large boats with many settlers — a remarkable feat given the distance of Easter Island from any other land in the Pacific Ocean.

The first islanders found a land of undoubted paradise — archaeological evidence shows that the island was covered in trees of various sorts, including the largest palm tree species in the world, whose bark and wood furnished the natives with cloth, rope, and canoes. Birds were abundant as well, and provided food for them. A mild climate favored an easy life, and abundant waters yielded fish and oysters.

The islanders prospered due to these advantages, and a reflection of this is the religion which sprouted in their leisure, which had at its centerpiece the giant moai, or heads, that are the island’s most distinctive feature today. These moai, which the island is littered with, are supposed to have been depictions of ancestors, whose presence likely was considered a blessing or watchful safekeeping eye over each small village. The ruins of Rano Raraku crater, the stone quarry where scores if not hundreds of moai sit today, is a testament to how central these figures were to the islanders, and how their life revolved around these creations. It has been suggested that their isolation from all other peoples fueled this outlet of trade and creativity — lacking any other significant way to direct their skills and resources. The bird-man culture (seen in petroglyphs), is an obvious testament to the islanders’ fascination with the ability to leave their island for distant lands.

However, as the population grew, so did pressures on the island’s environment. Deforestation of the island’s trees gradually increased, and as this main resource was depleted, the islanders would find it hard to continue making rope, canoes, and all the necessities to hunt and fish, and ultimately, support the culture that produced the giant stone figureheads. Apparently, disagreements began to break out (with some violence) as confidence in the old religion was lost, and is reflected partly in the ruins of moai which were deliberately toppled by human hands. By the end of the glory of the Easter Island culture, the population had crashed in numbers, and the residents — with little food or other ways to obtain sustenance — resorted sometimes to cannibalism and a bare subsistence. Subsequent raids by powers such as Peru and Bolivia devastated the population even more, until only a few hundred native Rapa Nui were left by the last century.

Today, Rapa Nui National Park is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Its residents rely much on the tourism and economic links to Chile and daily flights to Santiago. As with many native peoples, the Rapa Nui seek a link to their past and how to integrate their culture with the political, economic, and social realities of today.

Getting there

Easter Island is extremely small, so it is possible to get around fairly easily. There are rental cars, generally jeeps, available from a few rental agencies in Hanga Roa, as well as a few dirtbikes. With a car, it’s possible to see most of the sites on the island in a few hours. Most hosts will also rent out their jeep to you (at a very competitive rate) if you simply ask. Be aware, you will not get insurance with your car hire. Bicycles can be hired on a daily basis. For those on a tight schedule, a rental car is really quite advantageous, and sometimes not much more expensive than other options and offering more independence for more curious or adventurous visitors than an organized tour. Bicycling may be tried, but note that aside from the main paved roads in Hanga Roa or the single smooth paved road to Anakena, roads to many main sites are of dirt and sometimes quite uneven and potholed, so the benefit of a car cannot be overstated for some parts of the island. Note that for motor scooters and motorbikes, a valid driver’s license specifically for these vehicles is required. Otherwise, driver’s licenses for cars will allow the use of cars or 4×4 quad bikes. Some example prices are as follows (all in CLP).

Bicycle (24 hours): 10000, (8 hrs) 8000

Motor Scooter (8 hrs): 23000

Small Jeep/car (8hrs): 20000

Larger cars (8 hrs): 25000-40000

At the time of June 2010, fuel/gasoline cost approximately 500 CLP per liter.

One reliable, friendly, and relatively cheap rental location is “Paomotors”, found next to Supermarket Eixi. It seems the closer you get to Farmacia Cruz Verde, the higher the prices for various rentals.

Attractions

The biggest tourist attractions on Easter Island are, of course, the Moai. Please note that the Moai are archaeological features and should be treated with care as they are far more fragile than they seem. Often Moai will be placed upon ceremonial platforms and burials called Ahu. Do not walk on the Ahu as it is an extremely disrespectful gesture. Even if you see others walking on the Ahu do not do so yourself.

All of the sites, which can be visited for free, are mostly found along the coastline of the island. First time vistors may be struck by how many archaelogical sites there are around the island, where you can be virtually alone as the only people visiting. Each village typically had an ahu if not several moai, and thus on a drive around the south coast of the island, every mile contains several sites where you might see ruins.

Two exceptional sites are the volcanic craters of Rano Kau and Rano Raraku. The slightly inland quarry at “Rano Raraku” is where the moai carvings were born, out of the hillside of the volcanic rock where hundreds of laborers must have carved full-time. This 300 foot volcano remnant provided the stones for the great figures and is where a visitor can see various stages of the carving, as well as scattered partially-finished figures. A climb to the left side of the crater, over the top, and into the bowl, is well worth it. Hiking to the opposite lip of the crater, where the most moai are found, is one of the most dramatic sites on the island.

Similarly, Rano Kau is the remains of a volcanic cinder cone, which like Rano Raraku, is filled with fresh rainwater and has a mottled unearthly appearance that is breathtaking. The entry fee is 60 US dollars total for the two sites. Make sure you keep your ticket.

Easter Island features two white sand beaches. Anakena, on the north side of the island, is an excellent shorebreak bodysurfing location with a bit of north swell. Even the 1″ waves barrel (it’s also possible to surf in the harbor at Hanga Roa and many of the locals do so). The second beach is a hidden gem called Ovahe. Found along the southern shore of the island near Ahu Vaihu (along the road from Hanga Roa to Ahu Akahanga), this beautiful and desolate beach is much larger than that at Anakena and is surrounded by breathtaking cliffs. Note of caution: the path leading down to the beach is somewhat treacherous and unstable and best reached by foot – driving off-road (contrary to the misguided and somewhat callous actions of some tourists) on most of the island is illegal anyway.

Scuba diving and snorkeling is popular near the islets Motu Nui and Motu Iti (well known for “The bird man culture”) which are located about 1 km south of the island. There are three shops where it is possible to rent the equipment and from there get on a guided tour to the islets: Atariki Rapa NuiOrca andMike Rapu Diving.

An often overlooked but particularily fascinating and “otherwordly” aspect of Easter Island is its extensive cave systems. While there are a couple of “official” caves that are quite interesting in their own right, there is also real adventure to be had in exploring all of the numerous unofficial caves on the island, most of which are found near Ana Kakenga. While the openings to most of these caves are small (some barely large enough to crawl through) and hidden (amid a rather surreal lava strewn field that has been likened to the surface of Mars), many of them open up into large and inhibitingly deep and extensive cave systems. Note of caution: these caves can be dangerous in that quite a few run extremely deep. A person left without a torch/flashlight will be immersed in utter blackness with little hope of finding their way out soon…if ever. The caves are also extremely damp and slippery (the ceilings in some have collapsed over time from water erosion).

There are a few tour companies that do guided tours to Easter Island, a wonderful way to explore the best of the island and its culture without having to worry about breaking any local rules. A well-respected tour guide can show you aspects of the location and culture that you might otherwise never see or understand to know more or travel to the Easter Island mail us at info@globetrotter.asia

 

Victoria Terminus Station. Mumbai

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The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, formerly known as Victoria Terminus Station, in Mumbai, is an outstanding example of Victorian Gothic Revival architecture in India, blended with themes deriving from Indian traditional architecture. The building, designed by the British architect F. W. Stevens, became the symbol of Bombay as the ‘Gothic City’ and the major international mercantile port of India. The terminal was built over 10 years, starting in 1878, according to a High Victorian Gothic design based on late medieval Italian models. Its remarkable stone dome, turrets, pointed arches and eccentric ground plan are close to traditional Indian palace architecture. It is an outstanding example of the meeting of two cultures, as British architects worked with Indian craftsmen to include Indian architectural tradition and idioms thus forging a new style unique to Bombay.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is an outstanding example of late 19th-century railway architecture in the British Commonwealth, characterized by Victorian Gothic Revival and traditional Indian features, as well as its advanced structural and technical solutions. It became a symbol for Bombay (now Mumbai) as a major mercantile port city on the Indian subcontinent within the British Commonwealth.

The site on which this property is situated is associated with the origins of Mumbai as a city. Bombay Island had formed a coastal outpost of the Hindu in western India, but was not used for commerce. It was first passed to the Portuguese and then, in 1661, to the British. In 1667, the island was transferred to the East India Company, who was principally responsible for its commercial development. Merchants settled here from elsewhere, and the shipbuilding industry and the cotton trade prospered.

The town flourished, especially after the building of railway connections with the inland and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. With the development of trade, the Governor of Bombay planned a series of works aiming at the construction of a more representative city. This involved land reclamation and the construction of a magnificent ensemble of High Victorian public buildings along the seafront. The Victoria Terminus, the most impressive of these buildings, was named after Queen Victoria, Empress of India, on whose Golden Jubilee it was formally opened in 1887. The terminus, now called Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, was designed by the British architect Frederick William Stevens (1848-1900). Work began in 1878 and was completed 10 years later. Originally intended only to house the main station and the administrative offices of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, a number of ancillary buildings have been added subsequently, all designed to harmonize with the main structure. A new station to handle main-line traffic was erected in 1929. The original building is still in use for suburban traffic and is used by over 3 million commuters daily. It is also the administrative headquarters of the Central Railway.

The terminus is one of the first and the best products of use of industrial revolution technology merged with the Gothic Revival style, which was based on late medieval Italian models. This style was acceptable to both European and Indian taste, as it is compatible in its use of colour and ornamentation with the Mughal and Hindu architecture of the subcontinent. The skyline, turrets, pointed arches and eccentric ground plan are close to traditional Indian palace architecture. The centrally domed office structure has a deep platform connected to a train shed, and its outline provides the skeleton plan for building. The terminus dome of dovetailed ribs, built without centering (framing for an arch), was a novel achievement of the era. The interior of the building was conceived as a series of large rooms with high ceilings. It is a utilitarian building and has had various changes required by the users, not always sympathetic. Its C-shaped plan is symmetrical on an east-west axis. All the sides of the building are given equal value in the design. It is crowned by a high central dome, which acts as the focal point. The dome is an octagonal ribbed structure with a colossal female figure symbolizing Progress, holding a torch pointing upwards in her right hand and a spoked wheel in her left. The side wings enclose the courtyard, which opens on to the street. The wings are anchored by monumental turrets at each of their four corners, which balance and frame the central dome.

The facades present the appearance of well-proportioned rows of windows and arches. The ornamentation in the form of statuary, bas-reliefs and friezes is exuberant yet well controlled. The columns of the entrance gates are crowned by figures of a lion (representing Great Britain) and a tiger (representing India). The main structure is built from a judicious blend of India sandstone and limestone, while high-quality Italian marble was used for the key decorative elements. The main interiors are also lavishly decorated: the ground floor of the North Wing, known as the Star Chamber, which is still the booking office, is embellished with Italian marble and polished Indian blue stone. The stone arches are covered with carved foliage and grotesques.

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Memphis and its Necropolis – the Pyramid Fields from Giza to Dahshur

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The capital of the Old Kingdom of Egypt has some extraordinary funerary monuments, including rock tombs, ornate mastabas, temples and pyramids. In ancient times, the site was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

The ensemble at Memphis embraces a number of exceptional monuments of great antiquity. The step pyramid of the first pharaoh of the Memphis period, constructed entirely in limestone, is the oldest known architectural structure of this type, from regularly cut stone. At Giza, one of the oldest boats preserved today, the solar barge, was discovered intact in the complex around the Pyramid of Cheops. The archaic necropolis of Saqqara dates back to the period of the formation of the pharaonic civilization. The exceptional historic, artistic and sociological interest of these monuments bears witness to one of the most brilliant civilizations of this planet.

The capital of the Old Kingdom of Egypt has some extraordinary funerary monuments, including rock tombs, ornate mastabas, temples and pyramids. In ancient times, the pyramids were considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

The first sovereign of the unified Egyptian kingdom, Menes or Narmer, ordered the construction of a new capital in the area around the Nile Delta, the City of Menes, Mennufer, also know as Huta-Ka-Pta or dwelling of the Ka of Ptah, the most important sanctuary dedicated to the god of creative force, depicted as a ram-headed artisan working intently to shape humanity on his potter’s wheel. Of the grandeur of Memphis, as it was known to the ancient Greeks, all that survive today are a few ruins of the sanctuary of Ptah, from which have come many votive statues depicting pharaohs and dignitaries and monumental necropolises.

In the necropolis of Saqqara, the closest to the capital and the largest in the land, stands the first great stone pyramid. It was built as a mausoleum by Djoser, the founder of the Third Dynasty. This was a transformation of the earlier tombs, shaped like great brick rectangles, with the walls sloping inward and a flat roof, commonly referred to as mastabas. For the first time brick was replaced by stone. The pyramid is located inside a funerary complex enclosed by a curtain wall rising to a height of 10 m built from a fine-grained limestone. There are 14 false stone doors in the enclosure wall and a monumental entrance consisting of a corridor and a hall flanked by columns. The entry path leads to a plaza known as the Courtyard of the Jubilee. One side of this is occupied by a great stepped podium upon which were arranged the thrones of the Pharaoh; to the east and to the west of the podium sanctuaries were constructed.

The founder of the Fourth Dynasty, Snefru, transformed the structure of the tomb once and for all by choosing the now familiar pyramid shape with a square base. In the necropolis of Dahshur stands the Red Pyramid, named after the reddish hue of the limestone that was used to build it. To the south is the Rhomboid Pyramid, with its double slope on each of the four faces, apparently an intermediate form. With Snefru for the first time the annex construction appeared.

Credit goes to the son of Snefru, Khufu or Cheops, and to his successors Rahaef (Chephren) and Menkaure (Mycerinus) for the construction of the great pyramids of Giza. The pyramid is a symbol of the Sun, the great god Ra, whose cult became pre-eminent from the Fourth Dynasty; the Pyramid Texts, found in the funerary chambers of the tombs dating from the end of the Old Kingdom, speak of the transformation of the dead king into the Sun.

The ‘Horizon of Cheops’ was the name given to the Pharaoh’s tomb, the oldest and the largest. The entrance is located in the middle of the north side. In the interior the narrow passageway splits in two: one leading to a chamber carved into the rock beneath the monument, and the other to a small room called the ‘Chamber of the Queen’ and thence to the Great Gallery and the large ‘Chamber of the King’.

The other two pyramids were known in antiquity as ‘Great is Chepren’ and ‘Divine is Mycerinus’ respectively. Each tomb forms part of the classic funerary complex first built at the behest of Snefru.


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Arriving in Timbuktu !

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Home of the prestigious Koranic Sankore University and other madrasas, Timbuktu was an intellectual and spiritual capital and a centre for the propagation of Islam throughout Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries. Its three great mosques, Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia, recall Timbuktu’s golden age. Although continuously restored, these monuments are today under threat from desertification.

The three great mosques of Timbuktu, restored by the Qadi Al Aqib in the 16th century, bear witness to the golden age of the intellectual and spiritual capital at the end of the Askia dynasty. They played an essential part in the spread of Islam in Africa at an early period.

Timbuktu is thought to have been founded towards the end of the 5th century of the Hegira by a group of Imakcharen Tuaregs who, having wandered 250 km south of their base, established a temporary camp guarded by an old woman, Buktu. Gradually, Tim-Buktu (the place of Buktu) became a small sedentary village at the crossroads of several trade routes. Quickly converted to Islam (the two great mosques of Djingareyber and Sankore appeared during the Mandingue period), the market city of Timbuktu reached its apex under the reign of the Askia (1493-1591). It then became an important centre of Koranic culture with the University of Sankore and numerous schools attended, it is said, by some 25,000 students. Scholars, engineers and architects from various regions in Africa rubbed shoulders with wise men and marabouts in this intellectual and religious centre. Early on, Timbuktu attracted travellers from far-away countries.

Although the mosques of El-Hena, Kalidi and Algoudour Djingareye have been destroyed, three essential monuments – the mosques of Djingareyber, Sankore and Sidi Yahia – fortunately still stand as testimony to the grandeur of Timbuktu.

The Mosque of Djingareyber was built by the sultan Kankan Moussa after his return in 1325 from a pilgrimage to Mecca. Between 1570 and 1583 the Qadi of Timbuktu, Imam Al Aqib, had it reconstructed and enlarged, adding the whole southern part and the wall enclosing the graveyard situated to the west. The central minaret dominates the town and is the most visible landmark of the urban landscape. A smaller minaret on the eastern facade completes the profile of the Great Mosque which has three inner courtyards.

Like Djingareyber, the Mosque of Sankore, built during the Mandingue period, was restored by the Imam Al Aqib between 1578 and 1582. He had the sanctuary demolished and rebuilt according to the measurements of the Kaaba at Mecca, which he had taken with a rope during his pilgrimage.

The Mosque of Sidi Yahia, south of Sankore, was probably built around 1400 by the marabout Sheikh El Moktar Hamalla in anticipation of a holy man who appeared 40 years later in the person of Cherif Sidi Yahia, who was then chosen as Imam. It was restored in 1577-78 by the Imam Al Aqib. Apart from the mosques, the World Heritage site comprises 16 cemeteries and mausolea, essential elements in a religious system as, according to popular belief; they constitute a rampart that shields the city from all misfortune. The most ancient mausoleum is that of Sheikh Abul Kassim Attouaty, who died in year 936 of the Hegira (1529) and was buried 150 m west of the city with 50 ulemas and holy persons from Touat. Equally noteworthy and from the same general period are the graves of the scholar Sidi Mahmoudou, who died in year 955 of the Hegira (1547) and of Qadi Al Aqfb, the restorer of mosques, who died in year 991 of the Hegira (1583).

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Tawang – India

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Tawang is one of the westernmost districts of Arunachal Pradesh and shares its borders with the state of Assam. Till the state was opened up for tourism, the land had remained a mystery for outsiders. It had acquired the reputation of the fabled Shangri La – one whose borders hadn’t been breached, a land of pristine beauty and a people whose culture had not been corrupted by the civilizing influences of the outside world. A territory heavily protected by the state government – both from tourism and economic exploitation – the Arunachal Government began the process of allowing in Indian national and foreigners only in 1998.

The land of Tawang is located at the bone chilling altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level and is entered through the breath-taking Sela Pass. Though it is cold the year round, winters are especially ferocious. The best time to travel to Tawang is from April to October, though those who enjoy the beauty of snow brave the high mountains passes even in the winters.

One thing is true, the origins of this beautiful land lie in a legend – Tawang owes its name to the imposing 14th century Tawang Monastery. Merag Lama Lodre Gyamtso was told by the 5th Dalai Lama to find a site for a monastery. The Lama wandered widely but could not find any appropriate place. He finally fell into a prayer wishing for guidance in his search. When he opened his eyes, he found that his horse was missing and wearily set out in search for it. The horse was grazing atop the hillock of Tana Mandekhang. Believing it to be a good omen, Merag Lama initiated the building of the Tawang Monastery with the help of the local tribal people. ‘Ta’ means horse and ‘wang’ means chosen and thus ‘Tawang’.

The valley is a sight for those who revel in the beauty of the mighty Himalayas. Locally, the Tawang Monastery perched on a ridge overlooking the western edge of the town is one of the popular tourist attractions. Many other monasteries and nunneries litter the landscape and one of the easier treks winds its way through these. Tawang has lately acquired fame as a trekking destination and treks of various difficulty levels and altitude-climbing pass through or depart from the district. The Jaswantgarh Army Memorial located 15 km away from town pays homage to the 3 soldiers who halted the forward march of the advancing Chinese Army for 72 hours during the 1962 Indo-China war.

Part of the mystery of the land also derives from its remoteness. The nearest big airport is at Guwahati. You need to journey a further 5-6 hours by road to reach Tezpur which is the last Assamese town of any importance this side of the Assam-Arunachal border. Buses and taxis to Tawang depart from this point. Since the journey lasts a full 13 hours by road, it is advisable to halt overnight at Bomdila. The next day, make your way through the beautiful Sela Pass to reach Tawang.

Entry Formalities:

Indian nationals need to acquire an Inner Line Permit (ILP) to enter the state. It is issued for a period of 15 days. Foreign nationals need to apply for a Restricted Area Permit which is now valid for a period of 30 days (up from the former 10 days) and has to come through a local tour operator.

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The Pushkar Fair – Rajasthan. India

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Pushkar, an important pilgrim centre in Rajasthan, is famous for world’s largest camel fair, The Pushkar fair. This fair is one of the main cultural activities of Pushkar. It is held in the month of November every year. Pushkar fair is well-known for its camel trading and other religious activities. Villagers come from different parts of the state and bring their cattle with them. The festival is full of folk dance, and music. Colourful shops make this fair a very charming cultural event. Camel races are also held during this vibrant festival.
This fair is held at Pushkar town, 11 km from Ajmer in Rajasthan for twelve days annually during October- November. This cultural and trade cum religious fair is an attractive and lively spectacle with Rajasthani men and women in their colourful traditional attire, saffron-robed and ash smeared Sadhus (holy men) and thousands of bulls, cows, sheep, goats, horses and camels in richly decorated saddles. Perhaps the largest cattle fair in the world, it attracts more than one lakh people from all over Rajasthan as well as tourists from different parts of India and abroad.
Trading of cattle, camel races and dazzling displays of bangles, brassware, clothes, camel saddles and halters make the fair colourful. Necklaces of glass beads from Naguar, pottery, printed textiles from Jodhpur and Ajmer are all on sale here. Farmers, cattle traders and breeders buy and sell their animals, leather whips, saddles etc. There are facilities for camel rides also.
This livestock fair coincides with the climaxing of a religious celebration. Pushkar is among the five main places of pilgrimage mentioned in the Hindu scriptures. It has a large number of temples including one of the only two temples dedicated to Lord Brahma in India. Hundreds of thousands of devotees take a ritual dip in the holy Pushkar lake on the day of the Kartik Purnima (full moon night of the Kartika month) and worship at the Brahma temple (Jagat Pita Shri Brahma Mandir). It is believed that Lord Brahma, the creator, wished to perform a ‘yagna’ following his long years of penance. During his sojourn in search of a place for yagna, Brahma dropped a lotus from heaven which created the lake Pushkar. It was on the Karthika night that a drop of nectar fell in this lake, thereby making it sacred. Pilgrims flock from all over India to be in Pushkar at this auspicious time. They also believe that all the 330 million Gods and Goddesses are present at Pushkar Lake during the occasion.
Camel trading is the main activity of Pushkar Fair. So many interesting events are held during this fair. Camel races and other events like the Puppet show, cattle show and Magic show are also the part of this event. Pushkar is also the sacred place for Hindus. Amidst chanting of Vedic mantras people take bath in the Pushkar Lake. Shopping is one of the main activities during this festival. Decorative items for Cattles, like saddles, saddle-straps and beads are sold. One can buy jewelry, garments, silver ornaments, bead necklaces etc. The trading which involves a great deal of bargaining between the cattle traders and the buyers add to the spirit of the fair. Apart from the religious rituals and trading, people participate in a number of cultural and sporting events. The variety of folk dances, dramas and songs lend colour and melody to the atmosphere that is already charged with excitement of the camel races and the cattle fair. The sweeping expanse of the desert becomes dotted with thousands of camels, stalls and camping families. The Rajasthan tourism Development Corporation has taken adequate measures to facilitate convenient access of the fair site and to accommodate the fairgoers.

Pushkar Fair is believed to be the largest cattle trade fair in the world and coincides with a Hindu religious celebration.

Event Dates:
20th to 28th November, 2012
9th to 17th November, 2013
30th October to 6th November, 2014
18th to 25th November, 2015
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The Great Migration- Greatest Show on Earth

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Not surprisingly, this impressive phenomenon is determined by the availability of grazing, which in turn is dependent upon rainfall. Essentially the wildebeest are taking advantage of the strongly seasonal conditions, spending the wet season on the plains in the south-east, and the dry season in the woodlands of the north-west. However, the sheer weight of their numbers also plays an important role in shaping the environment to their needs.

Members of the vast wildebeest herd give birth more or less simultaneously, usually over a period of three weeks sometime between January and March, when optimum grazing is available on the short grass plains at the base of the Gol Mountains.

The Migration is rarely ever the same in terms of precise timing and direction, as local conditions influence grass growth. This means that the wildebeest may move off the open plains earlier in some years and remain in the northern woodlands for longer in others.

The timing of the wildebeest calving is probably linked to the timing of the rut at the end of the rains in May and June. The wildebeest move off the plains at this time to a smaller area which is necessary to synchronise the rut. Interestingly, the rut itself appears to coincide with the full moon suggesting that the mating peak is triggered by the lunar cycle.

Typically, the wildebeest head north-west from the short grass plains to the Western Corridor of the Serengeti and its Grumeti River. This watercourse is their first real obstacle and gigantic crocodiles are waiting for the hesitant wildebeest to stumble at the crossing. From Grumeti, the herds move north, often spilling over into the Klein’s Camp Concession, before crossing the Kenyan border into the Masai Mara. Here again, they must cross a river, this time the Mara with its flotillas of hungry crocodiles. The mass of grunting wildebeest remain on the productive Mara grasslands until October or November. Then, as the storm clouds gather in the south, the vast herds return to their breeding grounds which, by the time they arrive, are once again green and lush and the cycle begins again.