SAMA-SAMA: Welcome to Brunei Darussalam (the Residence of Peace)


The small state of BRUNEI, enclave within its neighboring larger state of Malaysia, owes its fortune thanks to natural gas and petroleum resources.  Brunei is a peaceful Sultanate with a long history steeped in culture;  it’s a nature paradise with more than 70% of the country covered by tropical forest.

It gained independence only in 1984 but has the wolrd’s oldest reigning monarchy. The Sultan of Brunei comes from a family line that dates back over 600 years.


Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan, is considered to be one of the richest men in the world.  He is in power since 1967.  He rules under a national philosophy known as Malay Islamic Monarchy which promotes Islamic traditions and values and loyalty to the Sultan.

Once a year, and for just 3 days, at the end of the month of Ramadan, the 29th Sultan opens the doors of his fabulous palace  and, together with his family, he welcomes visitors to exchange ritual greetings.  The Royal Palace,  ISTANA NURUL IMAN (“Light of Faith”) is located in the capital city Bandar Seri Begawan, it has 1788 rooms, 257 bathrooms, and a surrounding park area of 200.000  It is considered to be  the largest royal palace in the world. The Palace was designed and created by Filipino designers and constructers in 1984.img_7378fullsizerender-1fullsizerender

The capital city is a rather small modern city with many new grey cement buildings, constructions which are the result of the  Japanese invasion and consequent city bombing.  Nevertheless,  it has many interesting sites which are worthwhile visiting.

First of all the two Mosques:

OMAR ALI SAIFFUDIN:  built in 1958 and named after the 28th Sultan of Brunei, it’s considered as one of the most impressive mosques in South Asia.  It’s located in the very heart of the capital city, surrounded by a peaceful lagoon where a replica of the royal barge reposes.fullsizerender14947826_10205444358426925_5311396984436123108_n


 and  JAME ASR HASSANAL BOLKIAH:  built in 1992 to celebrate the 25th year of current Sultan reign.  Because the Sultan is his dynasty’s 29th ruler, the mosque is adorned with 29 golden domes. Surrounded by nice fountains and gardens which leads you to the main entrance.14705786_10205444363787059_2970723834250128594_n14925732_10205444364387074_5542982706395289627_n14947937_10205444364147068_1013592599772681753_nimg_7374brunei-900x600

The Water Village (Kampong Ayer):  situated along the Brunei river, it’s a settlement area built on water and equipped with all modern facilities such as schools shops, mosque, clinic, police station, fire brigade, etc.  It is considered that almost 30.000 people are living the village.   The mode of transportation between the village is by water taxi or locally known as Perahn Tambang.   The Italian explorer Pigafetta, who visited it in the 16th century, has called it “The Venice of the East”.fullsizerender-3fullsizerender-1fullsizerender-5fullsizerender-2

Two hours from the capital city there is Temburong National Park: to reach the park you need to get a 40 minutes water jetty, then a car ride for 18 km and again a 30 minutes ride on a traditional longboat.15056343_10205509726981098_7959063644200868759_n

Temburong National Park is protected and preserved for scientific research and offers a rare chance to experience an incredible diversity of flora and fauna found in a virgin rainforest.14523251_10205403550606755_1696446734256681652_n

But to reach the canopy walk from the longboat banks it’s not that easy. An hard long, steep walkway in very humid, slippery conditions no matter the hour you start it.  At first sight the metal cage canopy appears to be as a scaffolding but the more you climb it, the more you are rewarded by the spectacular view around you which pushes you to go up and up and reach the highest peak 90 mt. high. 15094449_10205509727661115_7449266077191228546_n

Looking down the canopy it’s easy to believe you are standing at the top of the world.  Around you there is nothing but the vast rainforest spreading out in every direction.img_7315



BRUNEI, on the whole, is a pleasant small country to visit.  I found it very different than I expected.  Because of its wealth and richness, I was picturing a country with luxurious and glittering buildings where you could feel and notices the country’s wealth in every angle.  Anyway, I found the  trip experience enriching and I much appreciated  the kindness and hospitality of its people.















Madeira: the “Pearl of the Atlantic”

IMG_5796The Island of Madeira (the Wood Island) is situated geographically nearer to Africa than to Europe.  In fact it is only 500 km. from Moroccan coast and 900 km. from the Portuguese motherland.

The 270.000 inhabitants live in a surface of 741 sq. km. and almost half of them in the capital area: Funchal.FullSizeRender 6IMG_6232

Madeira is a verdant oasis in the Atlantic, an efflorescent green island privileged by a very mild climate.  For this Madeira has been included in the UNESCO list of World Natural Heritage since 1999.

It has an extensive network of paths the “levadas” (walking trails) ranging from different grades:  Easy  –  Moderate  –  Difficult   depending on your ability and strength.  They much differ one from another and without too much change in elevation you can easily discover some of the remotest corners of Madeira.   Walking in Madeira is ideal all year around.  Summer months are not all that hot and winter months are mild.  The Miradouros offer you spectacular stunning views!!!IMG_6003

One of Madeira tourist attraction is its diverse vegetation.  About 140 of the roughly 760 plants species growing wild on the island are endemic, means they grow only in Madeira and nowhere else in the worlIMG_5896d.IMG_6031

One of these is the so called “Pride of Madeira”, a type of Echium that produces a lovely candle-like blossom mauve-blu color.FullSizeRender

Madeira owes its reputation as the floating garden;  much ornamental flora has been introduced from around the world.  Plants like Lilly of the Nile, Buganvillea, Hibiscus, Birds of Paradise, grow all along the roads.  The latter also called “Parrot flower” has become the botanical symbol of Madeira.IMG_5790

Funchal is the Capital, a city 500 year old, nestled in a great natural amphitheater facing the Atlantic.  Funchal is a city of flowers, lively and festive.FullSizeRender 3IMG_6342FullSizeRender 5IMG_6320IMG_6269FullSizeRender 9

It was founded by Zarco, one of the discoverers of Madeira in a place where it grew abundant the wild fennel, called “Funcho” in Portuguese language, hence its name FUNCHAL.

Typical are the old area of Funchal, most popular and lively, a maze of narrow cobbled streets animated by typical restaurants, shops and old houses with beautiful painted dooIMG_6354rIMG_6218s.IMG_5936FullSizeRender 2

The “Mercado dos Lavradores” (workers market) lively with its colorful stalls of fruit and flowers, attracts many tourisFullSizeRender 7ts.IMG_5941

Don’t miss a visit to the Monte.  A trip by cable car, an ultra scenic tour, until you reach the location situated at 600 mt. above sea level, in the back of Funchal.IMG_6345IMG_5092

Nossa Senhora do Monte, the patron saint of Madeira, is a place of pilgrimage for the inhabitants of Funchal, and the statue of the Vergin, which dates back to 400, is subject of great devotion.FullSizeRender 2

If the cable car to Monte was much exciting, no less it will be a second cable car that connects Monte to the Botanical Garden with a scenic route of 9 minutes over Funchal bay and the verdant Vale do Ribeira.IMG_5908

The Botanical Garden, besides having a beautiful view over the city, has an exceptional variety of plants and flowers from all around the world, arranged in terraces with impressive geometric designs.IMG_5910

But the Island of Madeira needs to be explored as every corner offers surprises and emotions.  There are many beautiful costal villages with their beaches, ports, fishermen and everyday life.  There are many holiday amenities where you can stop for days, good restaurants for lunch or snacks or for just a cup of coffee.IMG_6088FullSizeRender 3FullSizeRender 4IMG_5749IMG_5811FullSizeRender 6FullSizeRender

We were attracted by Machico, a pleasant small village, 16 km. from Funchal, and here we choose a lovely hotel sea view for our 10 days wander around the island.IMG_6152

Machico owes its name to a legend (or probably reality).  It is said that in the middle of year 300 a strong storm forced an English vessel to land on these shores. On board were two young lovers, Robert Machim and Anne d’Arset, who escaped from Bristol to get married.  But the two lovers died shipwrecked.  Their fellow sailors bury them there and soon left the island. But while on sail they are captured by pirates and taken to Morocco. Under torture they recount their adventure and the news of this mysterious island reaches the ears of Henry the Navigator who immediately prepares an expedition to find it. When he arrives and lands in Madeira he finds, under a cedar tree, the tomb and the cross with the names of the two lovers.  He then decides to name this place Machim (as the  he-lover English name), then changed to Machico.FullSizeRender 4IMG_5755

Madeira is an island which has much to offer, under many aspects: the cultural aspect, nature and botanical aspect, beaches where to relax  and enjoy many  sea sport activities. good food and …. why not the Madeira wine!   But my last thought and appreciation goes to the Madeira inhabitants: gentle, friendly and much hospitable!IMG_6334



Beauty has an address: Oman

AHLAN WA SAHLAN to Oman, a country of breathtaking natural beautysultano-oman_qaboos-bid-said

Oman is a land of rich history and fascinating culture that dates back well over 5000 years.  Modern omani culture still carries many of the traditions of bygone eras. That’s why Oman is often referred as “true Arabia” because its ancient culture has been so preserved.

Souqs are still selling silver and frankincense, cattle and pottery, arms and weapons, in same way as many years back.FullSizeRender 3FullSizeRender 6IMG_4956FullSizeRender 13

CURIOSITY:  Featured on both the national flag and the one rial note, the Khanjar, the curved silver dagger, is the nation’s most iconic emblem.imgres

Omani people are considered for being among the world’s most hospitable: a traditional Welcome in the omani house is a strong hot coffee always served with dates and remember…… one cup is not enough…. you must accept at least 3 cups!!!

CURIOSITY:  Coffee drinking is part of everyday life in Oman.  More spicy than the western blend, this drink is a sign of hospitality, generosity and is always offered to guests.  You will find it in all hotels’s halls served in typical Dallahs (coffee pots) together with dates.bedouin

Oman spectacular land and seascapes offer many opportunities for adventures in mountains and deserts, canyoning, climbing, dune bashing or mountain biking.IMG_4615FullSizeRender 5FullSizeRender 2

Muscat   is Oman’s capital city, described as “Arabia’s jewel”. The city has retained its old-world character with many forts,  castles, mosques and towers doting the landscape. IMG_4411Among them a must to visit:


quietly imposing from the outside, this piece of modern islamic architecture was a gift to the nation from Sultan Qaboos to mark his 30th year of reign.  The mosque, with its second-large hand loomed Iranian carpet  in the world, can accomodate 20.000 worshippers.IMG_4315

the SULTAN Palace:FullSizeRender

a very modest palace, surrounded by beautiful flower gardens,  was built over the site of former British Embassy. The palace today is largely used for ceremonial purposes as Sultan Qaboos prefers as his residence a quieter seaside residence.IMG_4474

the MUTRAH Souq:IMG_4379

Located along the CornicheFullSizeRender 12

is a must visit when in Muscat. The Souq is like all traditional Arab markets where you can buy almost everything from antiques to textile, hardware and gold.  An experience not to be missed although you have nothing to buy.

In the afternoon you can enjoy a cruise on a dhow from the Yatch Club passing by the Old Muscat Port to Al-Alam palace located between the two portuguese forts of Mirani and Jalali.  Make a stop and wait for a spectacular sunset.FullSizeRender

CURIOSITY:  As described by a great Arab navigator Ahmed bin Majid-al-Majid


Drive towards south Oman,  crossing the spectacular Wadi Shab, to reach the town of Sur, an old Port on the Indian Ocean.  A quiet seacoast town famous for its Dhows shipyards and presumed home of the legendary Sinbad the Sailor.IMG_4644IMG_4576

A long drive thru Wadi Bani Khalid, a spectacular wadi  for its natural beauty,  takes us to Wahiba Sands a large sand stretch with dunes 100-150 mt high in the shades of color from orange to amber. Enjoy the dune bashing experience with a good skilled driver or, if you prefer, take a camel ride more safe but less emotional. Get up early the next morning and out from you tent you can assist to the stunning sunrise on the desert dunes.FullSizeRender 4IMG_4694FullSizeRender 5

NIZWA also called “Pearl of Islam”:  is Oman’s most historic town. This verdant oasis city, it was Oman’s capital during 6th and 7th century. Nizwa Fort, completed in 1650, was the seat of power during the rule of Al YaRuba dynasty. It’s famous also for its 40m tall round tower which is worthwhile climbing to have a fantastic view of date plantations around the town and the Hajar Mountains.IMG_4878FullSizeRender 3FullSizeRender 4

IMG_4970Long  drives are never boring in Oman especially if you go  thru the spectacular deep Wadi Ghul  (better known as Grand Canyon of Arabia) lying alongside, to reach Oman’s highest mountain: JEBEL SHAMS  (literally SUN MOUNTAIN) peak at 3075mt.  It’s chilly up there but you will be so busy taking  photographs to the panorama around you that you’ll soon warm up.IMG_5056FullSizeRender 7FullSizeRender 6

Two hours flight from Muscat and you reach Salalah, the capital city of the Dhofar region in south Oman.   Salalah , nestled in the middle of a plain between the mountains and the Indian Ocean, is full of myths and legends that date back to biblical times. From the tomb of prophet Ayoub on Jebel Qara, to the ruins of the palace reputed to be that of the queen of Sheba.   And also in the countryside on the flanks of the jebels grow the Boswellia sacra a tree from which you can obtain the frankincense, best known to Christians as one of the presents to Baby Jesus by the Magi in the Nativity story.

Salalah is also second preferred residence of Sultan Qaboos, infact Salalah is his mother ‘s home town.IMG_5153FullSizeRender 8

The Frankincense Museum of Salalah is considered one of the country’s most important historical museums, a Unesco World Heritage site recognized for its cultural and archeological importance.IMG_5137

CURIOSITY:   while talking about Frankincense, let’s spend a word about the MAJMAR: Omani incense burner.  Ornately carved, used primarily for burning frankincense, a majmar is also used when a final round of coffee has been served and wafted around  guests’ body to signal that it’s time for them to say goodbye!!!!  A nice polite way to say “we have enough of you for today”!!!!FullSizeRender 2


But in Salalah you can also take a break and relax in the beautiful beach resorts on the idyllic shores of the Arabian sea on white sandy beaches.   Comfortably sit on a beach chair you will hear the gentle lap of the ocean in the warm afternoon breeze sipping a fresh drink.

FullSizeRender 11



I left the country with a “luggage” full of beautiful images, emotions, anecdotes and memories, but also with the aromatic wafts of frankincense smoke which pervaded every corner of the country from the traditional souqs to modern hotels.


FullSizeRender 10

FullSizeRender 9

FullSizeRender 7






Abu Dhabi “Father of the gazelle”

Marhaba to Abu Dhabi!!!!!

Welcome to Abu Dhabi, a city where 1000s of years of unique Arabian culture and traditions combine with modern city life.  An exciting city, cultural as well as political capital of United Arab Emirates.

A fast growing city emerging from the shadow of Dubai, its glamorous northern neighbour.IMG_5445FullSizeRenderFullSizeRenderFullSizeRenderFullSizeRender

In just 50 years Abu Dhabi has been transformed from little empty desert inhabited by nomadic tribes into a large city, which remains strongly attached to its culture and roots.FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender

Distinguished by a skyline of ultra modern high-rises, the city of Abu Dhabi sits on a T-shaped island, with nearly 200 islands dotted along its coast.

Abu Dhabi offers fantastic leisure activities: from city tours, desert safaris, sporting activities. You can  take a trip to AD Ferrari world , where you can experience the Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest roller coaster reaching speeds of 240 kmph.  Or you can  immerse yourself in the exhilarating Arabian -themed futuristic Yas waterworld: a  waterpark offering 43 thrill-a-minute rides, slides and attractions.IMG_5390IMG_5401

A MUST visit it to Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, one of the world’s largest mosques with a capacity for 41.000 worshippers.  It has 82 domes, more than 1000 columns, 24 carat gold chandeliers and the world’s largest knotted carpet.   Reflective pools surround the mosque.  The white and gold colours shining in the sun are transformed at night by a unique lighting system which reflects the phases of the moon.IMG_5362IMG_5384FullSizeRenderIMG_5368IMG_5348IMG_5353

Falconry is an ancient art in the Arabic world which dates back in the 7th century.  It is estimated that nearly 2000 falcons are employed on the Arabian Peninsula each year.

Why not visiting then the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital which is located not far from Abu Dhabi international airport. Guided tours, which last nearly 2 hours, include a visit to the falcon museum, the examination room, you can watch a bird having pedicure by the hospital doctors and if you are brave enough, you can hold in your arm these well trained raptors.  An experience you will never forget.IMG_5496IMG_5597FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender

You can also enjoy money spending in the many huge shopping malls spread around the city, and, if you cannot afford a stay, you can enjoy a coffee comfortably sitting at the coffee shop of the luxurious Emirates Palace Hotel.IMG_5431IMG_5435IMG_5433IMG_5443

All this and much more you will experience in this fantastic city.













ETHIOPIA- Lalibela, the Ethiopian Jerusalem – Timkat celebrations

Ethiopia is a fascinating country in the Horn of Africa. Its culture and traditions date back over 3000 years, with over 80 different ethnic groups with their own language, culture and traditions.
foto 5
The long history assures that there are many historic sites in this country.  In fact historians believe that Ethiopia may well be the beginning of mankind. The fossils of the oldest living mankind “Lucy” was discovered in Ethiopia.  The rest of it can be seen at Adis Ababa National museum.
The natural beauty, with high mountains, lakes, water falls as well as arid deserts are among the attractions of Ethopia.foto 2foto 12foto
In addition  Ethiopia offers to its visitors its unchanged traditions.
Lalibela, also known as the Jerusalem of Ethiopia, is a village in the mountains and offers its visitors  its monolithic churches carved from a single block and isolated by a deep trench, worked from the outside and perforated for doors, windows, arches and columns;  they represent a unique monument in the world.CGF_6898CGF_6901
During the coptic festivities, Lalibela becomes a place of pilgrimage for all the people of Abyssinia, a set of colors, dances, processions and prayer moments.CGF_7017
TIMKAT which means Epiphany in Amharic language, it is the most important and colorful event of the year. it falls every year around mid January and commemorates Jesus Christ’s baptism in River Jordan.CGF_7111
It’s a two day religious ceremony that begins early afternoon in the Timkat eve with the procession of the “tabots”  the holy replicas of the Ark of the Covenant – the sacred chests described in the Book of Exodus as carrying the stone tablets on which the 10 commandments were written.
They are wrapped in luxurious cloths and placed on the head of a priest to be carried out of church in procession with the clergy to the nearby body of water.CGF_7046
Accompanying the procession are thousands of church members and believers chanting, dancing, drum-beating.  As evening falls, the priest and the pious believers participate in overnight vigil around the Ark until dawn.  CGF_7079
Early in the morning at the pre-sun rise celebrations starts:  huge crowds, dressed with their “shamma”, white cotton dresses and small lCGF_6960bisittle candles in their hand gather around the water.  After, the chief priest blesses the water and celebration reaches its climax.fotofoto-1CGF_7048
These ceremonial processions take place in every city and village of Ethopia.  Timkat is one of the few opportunities for ethiopians to be close to the Tabot which is considered to be the most sacred item in Ethiopian Orthodox Church.CGF_7054
The festival ends the third day which is dedicated to Archangel Gabriel.  With parades, no less magnificent than the previous two days, the Arks are carried back to their respective churches.CGF_6709foto 6
 foto 9

BHUTAN: a country where happiness matters the most!!!

2013-05-07 05.22.29foto-2

Tashi Delek!:  is an auspicious bhutanese expression with a number of meanings such as wishing you well, congratulations, cheers, good luck!!

This pocket size country, sandwiched between India and Tibet, has preserved its cultural identity and protected its unspoiled environment.980313_4070750305653_1689641273_o980308_4070723784990_1867873069_o

It is the youngest democracy in the world and has become globally recognized for its adoption of  “Gross National Happiness” a term coined by his Majesty,  the 4th king of Bhutan, in 1972.  The concept of GNH consists of 4 pillars:  social economic development, conservation and promotion of culture, protection of environment and good governance. Its objective is to achieve balanced development essential for people’s happiness.2013-05-10 11.24.262013-05-13 04.06.46

The Bhutanese name for Bhutan “Druk Yul” means “Land of the Thunder Dragon” and opened up to outsiders only in 1970 but still now tourism is restricted: only a certain number of visitors per year is allowed and must travel as part of a pre-arranged package or guided tour.2013-05-07 10.29.202013-05-07 10.20.322013-05-10 04.06.17

2013-05-15 05.55.40

There are  no skyscrapers, no traffic lights, no car manufacturers but just pristine environment, fresh and clean air and water, blue sky with high mountain peaks perennial covered with snow, this is what you will find visiting this fascinating country.2013-05-13 04.08.00

Bhutan is an ancient land with unique customs and people with deep held beliefs. A land of dzongs and monasteries,  white stupas, colorful festivals, dances, are also main attractions of this country. A country proud of its unique culture and traditions: from environment to dress to language to religion; they manage to keep their rich heritage always alive.

2013-05-06 13.41.35

Dance is part of  bhutanese people, in Bhutan everyone is a dancer. foto The main attraction are the cham or sacred dances many of which reenact stories about saints and deities. Chams are performed by masked dancers who wear decorated silk costumes and are accompanied by monk musicians chanting and playing.


Travelling around the country  you will be astonished to see so many prayer flags and prayerwheels!

Bhutan landscape is awash with prayer flags: horizontal flags known as “lung ta” (wind horse) and vertical flags known as “Dhar Shing” referring to prayer flag poles.   Prayer flags must be put up on a particular auspicious day in order to invoke good luck and increase life force.  They come in set of five colors:  white, yellow, red, green and blue representing the 5 elements:  earth, water, fire, air and space.2013-05-12 04.18.292013-05-13 06.21.49

Prayer wheels are usually found around temples and monasteries, attached to the walls so that people can spin them when entering or leaving the temple or monastery.  You can also find them built at water sources where the water running makes the wheel turning thus producing a continuous jingle sound which can be heard at far distance.2013-05-07 05.01.022013-05-14 08.07.27

Many religious and historical monuments dot the hills of Bhutan.  Its architecture is unique and is richly displayed in fortress, the Dzong, used today as administrative centers but also a religious part as monastery.  Dzong and monastries are not considered only as spiritual and historical attraction, but also a veritable example of bhutanese art, architecture, culture and way of life.   Taktshang Lakhang, known also as Tiger’s Nest monastery,  is one of the most important buddhist monasteries in Bhutan.  Situated in the outskirts of Paro,  on a vertical cliff at 3.000 mt ,  it is believed that, according to a legend, Guru Rinpoche flew on this cliff from Tibet on the back of a tiger, stopping and meditating in the monasteryfoto-1977508_4070742945469_1898492378_o


2013-05-12 12.35.06The Chorten, more commonly known as Stupa, are sacred structures containing consecrated items or sacred relics, such as written mantras, hair or pieces of clothing.  In white conical shape, surrounded by colorful prayer’s flags, they dot the country landscape.

Bhutan is a special country which has something to offer to every tourist whatever the preference may be: wellness, trekking, hiking, bird watching, water rafting, relaxing.
2013-05-09 09.18.162013-05-08 11.28.542013-05-09 06.11.352013-05-12 10.17.16277597_4070736145299_125214961_o

Bhutan, a hidden Shangri-La in the Hymalayas: breathtaking. stunning, unforgettable!!!!!  TASHI DELEK DRUKPA!!!!!DSC_8709-1


India: RAJASTHAN “The Land of Kings”

fotoWe usually shake hands when we meet, but here in India people join hands to the chest and say “Namastè” to each other meaning “I greet the divinity be in you”.  A traditional indian greeting of respect with spiritual and symbolic meaning.

India is a country to live fully, a country able to offer excitement and emotion, a country that evokes deep impressions.  But it is also a country of great contrasts where modernity, technology collide with extreme poverty, chaos, disorganization and bureaucracy.

This is our 7th trip to India.  We visited regions of the far north, east and west and down to far south.

This itinerary takes us to an intersection between a royal India and a rural India.

South of Delhi open the doors of the magnificent Rajasthan, almost a desert but also architectural gems, fabulous buildings which reflect in the waters of lakes.

We start our circuit from Mandawa in the region of Shekhvati.   Mandawa is a town rich in Havelis which are medieval merchants’ houses beautifully painted.  For this reason, this town has also been named “open art gallery” of Rajasthan because of the many fascinating havelis  that have lavishly painted walls.  Unfortunately most of them need much “face-lift”, but seems that architects concentrate more on the inside paintings and sculptures than on facades.IMG_4373IMG_4374CGF_2868


CURIOSITY:  The Dola Maru Legend CGF_2792

One of the paintings that often appear in the havelis walls illustrate the legend of Dhola and Maru, a local version of Romeo and Juliet but with a happy ending.  It’s the story of a princess Maru and a prince Dhola who, after having overcome many vicissitudes, they can crown their love dream, run away together and……live happily ever after.  


857869_3731843433193_1300684837_o 858010_3731841513145_832093987_o We proceed towards Bikaner, 4 hours drive from Mandawa, in the Thar  desert.  Bikaner is a lively and dusty place with a frontier-town atmosphere. It is dominated by  the magnificent Junagarh Fort, a strong imposing fort protected by mighty walls and considered one of the most beautiful forts in the world.  Bikaner old city is very pleasant,  you will find yourself walking in the middle of a maze of narrow streets animated by motorcycles, cycles and tuctuc, by shops selling all kinds of stuff, but…. watch out the train passing by through the streets of the city and stopping the flood of people!!!CGF_3071 CGF_3063

Other main attraction of Bikaner is the Camel Festival.  Every January camel owners from all over Rajasthan gather to this colorful festival dedicated to the “ship of the desert”  The Camel.  Festival opens with a parade of bedecked camels.  Celebrations include camel races, fur cutting design, camel milking, camel acrobatics. Thousands  of spectators  attend the shows which ends late at night with spectacular fireworks.


CURIOSTITY:  A nice cup of Masala Tea  

The best Masala tea I had in all my trips in India is the one sipped in  the streets of old Bikaner.  Made at art rule by a street seller, a cup of sweet hot masala tea is the best antidote to warm weather when touring in India.


859689_3731848553321_1771505812_o Not far from Bikaner, in Deshnok, there is the temple of Karni Mata, the holy  temple of rats.  There are differences in the legends about the temple, but local people version is that Karni Mata lived around 1500.  She was a mystic,  believed to be an incarnation of Hindu Godness Durga.  When the child of a storyteller died, Karni Mata tried to bring him back to life, but Yama – God of Death – had already claimed him.  Karni Mata decided, from then on, all storytellers would reincarnate as rats so Yama would no longer be able to have their souls.   Spotting a white rat is highly auspicious, but seems that only two or three white rats live in the community, this makes difficult your dream to come true.  You can have however more chances that an holy kaba walks on top of your feet:  this also is a sign of good luck for you.  Karni Mata has her own shrine inside the temple, surrounded by beautiful carved silver sculptures and guarded by silver lions.CGF_3249 858463_3731845753251_1184497999_o

A long drive takes us from Bikaner to Jaisalmer, the “Golden City” located in the Thar desert and close to the border with Pakistan.  Jaisalmer is a magnificent city of historic importance.  Like all other cities of Rajasthan, Jaisalmer too has its glorious past which goes back to the Rajputana period. Its name “Golden City” is due to the color taking its beautiful palaces at sunset kissed by the last ray of sunshine.  Romantic and charming,  in Jaisalmer you can still enjoy the atmosphere and traditions of past centuries of splendor.  Its fort acts as sentinel from its 80 mt of height to the desert that broadens at its feet.  Within its walls you can walk along narrow and characteristic streets that recall ancient medieval atmosphere, as well as visit beautifully carved and decorated jain temples.  And also,  Gadi Sagar Lake, an artificial pond surrounded by temples and shrines.  All this and much more you can find in  the “Golden City” of Jaisalmer.CGF_4382


We reach Jodhpur known as “Sun City” because of its bright and sunny weather throughout the year, but also as “Blu City” due to the indigo tinge of the whitewashed houses around the Mehrangarh Fort.  The painting of the houses is most believed to do with the prevailing caste system in India.  In fact Brahmins – the Priestly class – were the first to start coloring their houses blu to signify their domicile and set them apart from the rest of population.  Jodhpur has many beautiful palaces such as Mehrangarh fort, a spectacular hilltop fort situated on a steep hill.  It is one of the largest forts in India enclosed by imposing thick walls.  Inside its territorial boundaries there are several palaces which are famous for their intricate carvings and hidden courtyards all worthwhile visiting.  We could have stopped longer in this enchanting blu city but time is running out and Udaipur is waiting for us. 859563_3731865913755_1942939553_o


CURIOSITY:  Elegance on horseback

The “Jodhpur” are elegant horseman trousers generally of pale cream color.  They are wide above the knee and tight at the bottom. It seems that the designer Pratap Singh, soldier and horseman of Jodhpur has designed these trousers for the Golf team of Jodhpur Lancers.  Trousers soon spread and were adopted throughout the world.

830397_3731867993807_952534271_o Udaipur, the white city of Rajastahn stands on the banks of Lake Pichola, often called “the Venice of the East”.  Overlooking the lake stands the splendid City Palace with balconies and cupolas, it ‘s Rajasthan largest palace and home, even today, to some Royal family members.  The Lake Palace, Jag Niwas, located in the middle of the Lake, is a beautiful example of architectural marvel.  Built as Royal summer residence was then converted into an heritage hotel.  The city is dotted with old havelis  and temples at every turn.CGF_5252CGF_5266

A long drive through chaotic villages full of traffic and dust takes us to Bundi.  A small town surrounded by the Aravalli hills.  Its main tourist attraction is the Taragarh Fort or “Star Fort”.  This is one of the most impressive and, in days gone by, impregnable forts of Rajasthan.  The Bundi Palace, on the hillside adjacent to Taragarh fort is notable for its traditional murales and frescos.  Visible from the fort and palace is the artificial lake where a temple dedicated to Varuna, the Aryan God of water, stands half submerged in the centre.  The reflection of the old city, the fort and palace can be seen in its waters.858215_3731872593922_1182027542_oCGF_5766



Curiosity: Face to face with holy cows

CGF_9547 At  any time you may find yourself face to face with a cow roaming freely.  In any place, village or town, emaciated cows, stunted and starved go around in search of food.  Often eat garbage, plastic, newspapers or adverts hanging down the walls of streets.  They leave their droppings on the pavement that, collected with bare hands, are placed in proper sites, then mixed with straw and attached to the walls of houses to dry.  These  “tiles” in the shape of cake are used to start the fire like firewood.


858423_3731879994107_677591904_o And now we are at the end of our trip in Ranthambhore Park with the only aim to see the tiger.  Ranthambhore  Park, the largest park in northern India is situated at the joining of  Vindhya plateau and Aravalli hills and is bounded by two rivers: Banas and Chambal rivers.  It supports a diverse range of flora and fauna and it is known for its tiger population and being also India Tiger Reserve.  It is named for the historic Ranthambhore fortress which lies within the national park. 830472_3731885834253_1521067913_o Curiosity:  Death or Dishonor

It is believed that at the Ranthambhore Fort it happened the first Jauhar (ritual mass suicide immolation) of the Rajput history. Hammir Deva, lord of the Fort, in XVI century went into battle against muslim forces.  Although Hammir managed to defeat them, all women hidden in the fort believed Hammir died in battle.  According to a Rajput habit, they preferred death to dishonor and committed mass suicide.  When Hammir came to know what happened to women he beheaded himself before the image of Shiva in the Fort.


India is a beautiful many-faces country, a country of rich cultures, colorful festivals, old traditions.  It’s a country that surrounds you and involves you in its way of living.  The feelings you have from a trip to India are unique and unrepeatable.  It’s the country of  extreme poverty, resignation accompanied by a total exasperated fatalism, innate religiosity.  A country where children spend the best years of their life surviving in the streets to work or beg, where families live their whole life in shelters made of cardboard along roadsides between piles of garbage, where the caste system still exists, where the tradition of dowry is still active and puts great financial strain on bride’s family. It seems to be also the reason of sex selection favoring the birth of sons over daughters: female foeticide that is aborting a fetus because female. Not to mention the living condition of indian women who live their lives under the shadow of inequality and discrimination.  They are the most disadvantaged people in indian society, though their status can vary significantly according to their social and ethnic backgrounds and also from urban and rural areas.CGF_2700



But there is also another India. The country of Information Technology and huge economic growth, the country of magnificent maharaja palaces, of luxury hotels for the very rich only and where to lower castes only entering is still denied.

The India of today is in many facets the same India as centuries ago.