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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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

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

MY CONCLUSIONS

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

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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.

GUJARAT – India: the land of Mahatma Gandhi

A fascinating and unusual route to the discovery of Gujarat, an indian region still unknown and far from mass tourism. The region is very interesting and fascinating both for its art and for the tribal people who live there. A different India with a different charm.Arriving in Gujarat

The state is located between the deserts of Sindh and That near the border with Pakistan.  Here live people of Hindu and Jain faith, Muslims and Christians, ethnic groups and nomads.

Mahatma GandhiWe arrive at Ahmedabad, the capital city, where Mahatma Gandhi founded the Sabarmati Ashram and began his campaign of non-violence and non-cooperation.  In Ahmedabad you can still admire temples and mosques of the pre-mughal period and a beautiful fort.MosqueAhmedabad fortGandhi's house

Soon we move to the west of the country to the Run of Kutch, because the authentic Gujarat is the one of different ethnic groups scattered in various villages who live following traditions thousands of years old.Rabari manRabari women

The nomadic Rabari is the largest ethnic group dedicated to breeding of sheep and camels.  They move over long distances between Gujarat and Rajastan in search of better pastures.

Their costumes are brightly colored and wear gold and silver jewelry;  men have large and colorful turbans.Rabari man

In their homes prevails white and blu color, the interior is painted lime and inlaid and decorated with many  small mirrors.Rabari woman

We continue our trip towards another interesting place:  Palitana a place sacre to Jain faith people.  But to reach the temple we have to face a long stairway of 3700 steps that leads to the large complex of Jain temples: 836 temples where they worship 11000 deities.  The climb is difficult but once arrived we realized that it was worthwhile.Palitana

The faithful Jains aspire to visit this place once in their life not only for the sacredness of the place but also to admire the architecture of the temples.Jainist templePalitana

Our trip proceeds and after the visit to Mount Abu and to the Sun God temple,Mount Abu we head to KumbalgharghKumbalghargh to visit the important impressive looking citadel, surrounded by 13 hills.  Its fort, once considered impregnable,  has inside numerous temples of which the most important is the Badal Mahal, from where you can enjoy a wonderful panoramic view of the valley below.Kumbalghargh

We have reached the end of our tour in Gujarat, now we will head towards Pushkar in Rajastan for the traditional November fair.  But this is another story.Gujarat oldest womanGandhi nowadaysKumbalgharghLocal woman

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PUSHKAR – Rajasthan: The November full moon fair

Pushkar Camel fairAt camel marketcamel for salecolorful turbansDuring the full moon of the month of November, thousands of pilgrims and merchants gather in Pushkar, in the north west of India, one of the most sacred places for Hinduism.

They come here in long caravans of camels and carts to pray and purify in the lake – which is considered to be the miraculous place where Brama stayed – but also to participate to the largest cattle fair of all India.traditional costumessnake charmer

For 5 days spirituality and commerce merge together to create a fantastic atmosphere:  thousands of orange turbans and lively saris color the environment, while acrobats, musicians, camel races and tournaments  alternate with purification rituals.maharaja from Bikaner

A mosaic of colors and jewelry, a kaleidoscope of events and ceremonies.

The fair ends on the last night of full moon with the religious celebrations and with the participation of all people to a purifying bath in the waters of the sacred Pushkar lake.the scare lake

An unforgettable visit and experience.Pushkar lakeLake at night

MOROCCO – Land of Kasbahs

A journey to discover the beauty of Morocco, from the imperial cities to the stunning landscapes of the south.

From Marrakech to Ouazarzate, the fertile valley of the Draa and its palm trees.

The kasbahs, the beautiful fortified buildings in clay, now castles with no lord, but where you can still feel the atmosphere of a time just past.

The meeting with shepherds and nomadic berber people whose hard life is punctuated by ancient rhythms.

The saharian desert around Zagorà (called the desert door) last oasis before border with Algeria.

And the four Imperial cities, cities full of history, of art, of monuments. 4 dazzling cities, 4 timeless cities: Rabat, Fes, Meknes, Marrakech.  Designed as capital cities, center of empires that have marked the history of Morocco.  Their medinas teeming with life are a window on the past.

From the stories of the storytellers, Jemma El Fna in Marrakech, kasbahs in the south, the red sand in the desert to the green mountains in the north, Morocco is a country of diversity and variety.
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