Malaysia : Truly Asia!! Selamat Datang!

IMG_6145When you talk about Malaysia, you think of Kuala Lumpur and when you think of Kuala Lumpur soon the  Petronas Twin Towers come to your mind.IMG_5937

Malaysia is an amazing country to discover with prehistoric rainforests and a melting pot of cultures.  Consisting of two regions separated by the South China sea: Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia located in the north part of Borneo. Malaysia is a multi ethnic, multi religions federation of 13 states and 3 federal territories.FullSizeRender

Kuala Lumpur, also known by locals as KL,  is the capital of Malaysia, with boasting gleaming skyscrapers, colonial architecture and many natural attractions.  It is divided into numerous districts, but the main one is the Golden Triangle.   KL  main attraction is of course the Petronas  Twin  Towers, but also the Batu Caves, Sultan Abdul Samed Building and the National Monument are worthwhile visiting.   And for the shopaholics a must visit are the Pavillion and Suria KLCC shopping malls.FullSizeRender (5)IMG_6503

The Petronas Twin Towers,  called in local language “Menara Petronas” are located in KL city center, they  are 452 mt. high and considered the tallest twin towers in the world.  The 88 storey chrome and steel towers are joined at the 41st and 42nd floors (175 mt above street level) by a 58 mt long double decker sky bridge.IMG_5935IMG_6536

A view from above:  Set on level 86 there is the Petronas observation desk where you can get a close up view of the tower’s spire as well as an exhibit of the tower’s history.FullSizeRender (4)

From the double deck skybridge you can enjoy amazing views of the city.IMG_6523

Just outside the Petronas there is a beautiful park ideal for jogging, walking paths and water fountains and relax before having a drink or dinner in one of many restaurants in the area.FullSizeRender

The Batu Caves are located 11 km. north of Kuala Lumpur.  Is a 400 million year old limestone hill best known as the place of the annual Hindu festival of Thaipusam.  The celebrations, which take place at the end of January, attract thousand of visitors who come to see the colorful spectacle of devotees, making it one of the largest gatherings in the world.FullSizeRender (3)FullSizeRenderIMG_6699

Sultan Abdul Samad Building  is one of the city’s most important tourist attractions and also an historical landmark in the city.  The Building, once the Secretariat for the Colonial British Administration, features strong gothic, western and moorish style influences with imposing porch, arches and colonnades.  Nowadays home to several Ministry Offices and used as location for Annual Independence Day parade.IMG_6755

But if you are tired of the city and  looking for a jungle escape, get on a car and drive to  the Taman Negara National Park (originally named King George V National Park) which is considered the oldest rainforest in the world estimated to be 1300 years. The abundance and diversity of nature is phenomenal being one of world most rich ecosystems.IMG_6793

Located at 4 hours drive from Kuala Lumpur plus 3 hours boat,  Taman Negara is the best place to have a natural forest experience.  There are many activities to do in the park, such as: day and/or night walking excursions under guide accompaniment, fishing, river cruises, rafting and canopy walks in 510 mt long suspension bridges between tree tops, where you can enjoy spectacular views at 45 mt. height.FullSizeRenderIMG_6812FullSizeRender (2)IMG_6808

The SABAH region is located in the Borneo Island, bordering with Sarawak, it is known also as “the land below the wind”.  It’s landscape is a mix of thick jungle, sun-kissed lands, towering mountains and undulating valleys.   It’s capital city, Kota Kinabalu, is a friendly city and offers a variety of places to visit.  Among those, the Mount Kinabalu National Park.  Mount Kinabalu is considered the highest peak in South East Asia, 4,095 mt.   The Park itself  offers nice trekkings for the  nature and bird watching lovers.

In the heart of Batang Ali Lake, in the SARAWAK region, we pay visit to the IBAN people, a community known for being headhunters in past times.  The IBAN is the largest tribe in Sarawak.  We are invited in their longhouse which is located along the lake.  In fact, many factors are taken into consideration when choosing a site where to build a longhouse: water, farmland, transportation and jungle resources.IMG_7097IMG_7098

Longhouses are traditional dwellings to almost 150 people and may contain thirty family rooms. The RUAI is the long covered gallery that runs the length of a longhouse and is the place where family members gather to do some works or simply to have a chat together outside their private rooms.IMG_7099

The TUAI RUMAH is the head of the longhouse. We are introduced to him as soon as we enter the longhouse and we are offered with a traditional drink called Tuak, a sort of alcoholic drink made from rice.FullSizeRender (1)

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We gave him our gifts (biscuits and dried food) which were later distributed to each family member living in the longhouse.  In return, they danced for us  traditional welcome dances  in their local costumes and we were asked to join the dance.

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Our local Guide, together with IBAN ladies, cooked lunch for us using one of the family’s fire.  We had roast chicken, rice and vegetable, fruits and tea to end our meal.  We all sit in the kitchen floor together with other family members and enjoyed our food very  much.IMG_7103

The Semenggok – Orang Utan   wildlife Center is the biggest rehabilitation center in Sarawak  to host wild injured Orang Utan or any adult or adolescent who need particular care.  Currently there are about 25 Orang Utans living in the forest within the nature reserve and they return to the Center at the feeding time.  This is the best opportunity to see them close, hanging and swinging on tree branches, mums and babies playing while eating their food.  Semenggok  has now become also a center for the study of Orang Utan (literally: “person of the forest”) biology and behaviour.

MALAYSIA:  a country of fascinating contrasts, worthwhile visiting,  in one word: Astonishing !!!

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I want to close quoting these words of a famous past times traveller Ibn Battuta:

“TRAVELING – IT LEAVES YOU SPEECHLESS, THEN TURNS YOU INTO A STORYTELLER”

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

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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.

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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 sq.mt.  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

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 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

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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.

SELAMAT TINGGAL!

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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
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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:

the MUSCAT GRAND MOSQUE:IMG_4313

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

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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

“MUSCAT IS A PORT THE LIKE OF WHICH CANNOT BE FOUND IN THE WHOLE WORLD WHERE THERE IS BUSINESS AND GOOD THINGS THAT CANNOT BE FOUND ELSEWHERE

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
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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.

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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.

MASALAAMA OMAN!!!

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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.

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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