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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The Kandy Esala Perahera Celebrations – Sri lanka

CGF_6505CGF_6525As the August moon waxes in the Buddhist month of Esala, one of the most important annual Buddhist celebrations takes over in Kandy, Sri Lanka.

The Kandy Esala Perahera celebration is held for 10 nights culminating with the mid summer full moon.  This ceremony, one of the oldest and most amazing Buddhist events, has happened every year since 300 ADCGF_6535CGF_6550CGF_6567CGF_6616CGF_6632CGF_6644CGF_6647CGF_6652

The Festival is held in the city of Kandy to honor the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha.

A replica of the sacred tooth relic (the original is kept and can be seen in the Dalada Maligawa Temple) is displaced in a golden casket and paraded thru the streets of Kandy in a procession of richly decorated elephants (more than 90), fire juggling acrobats, dancers, musicians, drummers, whip crackers, torch bearers lighting the roads, and dignitaries.

Legend says that the Buddha’s tooth was brought to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century AD from India, hidden in a tresses of a princess Hemamali in the 4th century AD.

OUT OF THE TOURISM ROUTES (My second trip to Iran – April 2011)

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“I go to Iran” I say to my friends. “Iran? But is it not dangerous?” they ask. “Not at all” I answer. “It’s the second time I go, but this time I want to do a different route off from the tourists tracks”.

So, together with my friends we decide for a tailored itinerary choosing to visit the North Western Iran, then down to Isfahan and up to North East to finish our trip in the holy city of Mashad.

It was the week after Norooz when we arrived in Tehran. You could still see the signs of the festivity: tables set with the symbols of their feast: specific symbolic items seven of which have names starting with the Farsi letter S (seen) And posters around the streets with Happy Norooz wishes to the population from their Spiritual Leaders and the President.

Although with regret, soon after our arrival, we leave immediately Tehran and start our planned tour.

We first drive towards the Alamut Valley, on the southern slopes of Alboz mountains, to visit the ancient fortresses. Landscapes from the top are really breathtaking. Crouched in an almost invisible way on the rocky ills, there are the ruins of more than 50 fortresses. They used to be the strongholds of medieval religious sects, known also as “Castles of the Assassins”. We visit the Hassan Sabah, the only one still in good conditions.

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SoltaniyehNo less interesting is the next day visit to Soltaniyeh, in the Zanjan province, to the Dome Gonbad-e-Soltaniyeh. With a diameter of 25 mt and 48 mt high, it is considered to be the greatest brick dome in the world, now listed in the Unesco World Heritage.

Driving through villages, where the time seems to stand still, we reach the archaeological site of Takh-el-Soleyman, once the spiritual center of Zoroastrian, the religion in Persia during the Sassanid period. No much remains of the original site, but the scenery and the location in between the mountains make this place really interestiImmagine 061ng.Takht e Soleyman

After the night spent in Takab in a modest hotel, we continue our journey towards Hamadan, a city located on the road to Baghdad and situated on a plateau dominated by Mount Alvad. City of ancient origin formely known as Ectbatana. Here we pay visit to a jewish site, the monument and tomb of Esther, the jewish wife of Xerxes I°, Ahasuerus king The very bad weather conditions do not allows us to visit much of this city so we proceed towards Bisuntun at the slopes of the Zagros Mountains to visit some beautiful bas-reliefs carved into the rock of religious subject and dating back to pre-islamic period.Immagine 087Caravanserraglio BisutunBisutunImmagine 076

Towards evening we arrive in Kermanshah, in a city in celebration and armoured at the same time. Indeed it is preparing for the visit of President Ahmadinejad, who will arrive in town the next day for a rally. Also the hotel we are staying is in fibrillation, it hosts the President delegation, his bodyguards or escorts already arrived one day before.Kermanshah

Kermanshah is a beautiful city enclosed by high rocky mountains, busy but nice and tidy. We visit Tagh-e-Bostan, located in a lovely garden, here you can admire beautiful bas-reliefs and carved niches dating back to the Sassanid period.Immagine 126Immagine 122

We leave Kermanshah, but before taking the road which will lead to our next destination (Chogha Zambil) we ask our driver to make a detour and drive towards the Iraqi border. We arrive till Mehran, which is the village on the Iraqi border, passing through the area where the Iraq-Iran war took place. You can still see the sign of this terrific conflict which lasted 8 years and made an high number of victims among the Iranian population.villaggio confine iraquenoio e irene sul ca

We are thankful to our driver for this unplanned visit and we proceed towards Chogha Zambil to visit the Ziqqurat.

Recognized as Unesco World Heritage, this 5 level pyramid dating back 3000 years is the best example of Alamia architecture in the world.

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Our next stop will be Sush, one of the great ancient cities of Iran which was the capital of the Achaemenid. Sush has been of great importance in Iran’s history to rival Persepolis. We visit the castle and the mosque.Immagine 176Immagine 166

We arrive in Khorramabad (Lorestan) for the night. Next morning we visit the Falak-ol Aflak fortress (Shapur Khast fortress). The original building is attributed to the Shapur, the first Sassanian period in the 3rd century AD. The fortress is a monument from the ancient city of Shopur Khast. Important past uses of the fortress are: a treasury for the Badr dynasty in the 11th century – government premises during the Savafid and Qajar dynasties and a military base and political prison during the first and second Pahlavi regimes. Now the castle hosts a very interesting Antropology and Archeology museum which is considered one of the richest museums in Iran.khorram abad castleKhorramabad minaretiKhorramabad stradaKhorramabad veduta

Next destination Isfahan. We arrive at mid afternoon. The beautiful Isfahan, also called “Isfahan nesf-e Jahan” (the half of the world). It is a pleasure to return in this lovely city. The emotion is strong also because this time I will meet with an Iranian girl met on the web: Masomeh. What a wonderful experience!Isfahan cupola

We visit again with pleasure all the places visited the year before: the beautiful Imam square, the mosques, the Ali Qapu palace, the huge bazaar, the oscillating minarets, Jolfa the Armenian quarter and at night the fascinating illuminated bridges on the Zayandeh river.IsfahanImmagine 233

At lunch, in a typical restaurant in the big square, I meet with Masomeh my friend. We immediately recognize each other and embrace as if we knew each other since long time. We spend the day together, we do shopping at bazaar, she would like me to go and meet her family and spend the evening with them. We end our meeting with a drive in a horse drawn cab around the beautiful Imam square. With much regret we say goodbye, promising each other to meet again soon in Iran or in Italy.Isfahan Rest. 1

We are close to the end of our journey. Three more places to visit.

Abyaneh, the charming quaint village once inhabited by the followers of Zoroaster. The village is nestled at foot of Karkas Mountain and crossed by steep and winding small streets made of mud and stone. As evidence of the ancient origins and isolation of this village, the older inhabitants still speak a variety of Farsi missing from centuries from the rest of Iran.Abyaneh AshuraAbyaned veduta

We had already visited it last fall in the beautiful warm autumn colors. This time we visit it in spring, less colourful but always authentic and spectacular. The hotel where we spend the night is characteristic, with lovely view over the village and the owner welcome was very warm and friendly.Abyaneh cupola moscheaImmagine 272

The next morning we leave for Qom, a very short visit, too short to appreciate in full the spirituality of this holy city.Qom 2Qom 7

But time is running short. In the evening we have a flight from Tehran to Mashad, North East Iran, where our Iranian tour will end.

On the road Tehran we still have time to stop in Kashan. And here I will meet another Iranian friend met on the web: Marzieh. We met at Fin Gardens. My God, she is not as I had imagined her! I thought to meet a petite girl but instead Marzieh is veeeeery tall!!! I soon recognized her beautiful light eyes! She had prrepared just for me some delicious cakes, which I shared soon after with my tour friends. A very short meeting but very pleasant!Marzieh1

*******WHO KNOCKS AT MY DOOR? *******

While walking along the streets of Kashan, have a look at the doors of the houses. You will see that some of them have two clappers, one for men and another for women. These two different models produce different noises, so who was inside the house knew in advance if to knock at the door was a man or a woman and so decide who should open the door. This was very important in a society where the women lived in “Purdah” (a cultural tradition preventing men from seeing women)

We arrived in Mashad the holy city late in the evening. An important place of pilgrimage for Shia Muslims. Mashad is the most important religious holy cite in Iran because of the impressive and magnificent Haram-e-Razavi. Mashad was a small village called Sanabad, but after the burial tomb of Imam Reza (Ali Ibn Musa – (8th Imam) it became a place of pilgrimage and its name changed with Mashad which means “place of martyrdom”. The view of this place is breathtaking. You can feel the spirituality of this site walking around the yards. It’s an emotional experience also for those who are not of Muslim faith.

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**** MASHTEE ****

As for the faithful who complete the pilgrimage to Mecca receive the title of HAJJI, those who make the pilgrimage to Mashad have the right to add the title “Mashtee” to their names.

We conclude our Mashad tour visiting the tomb of Ferdowsi, an important Iranian poet. Ferdowsi is considered the saver of the Farsi language, the language he choosed for his poems in a period when Farsi was in danger of being replaced by the Arabic language.Mashhad at night

Here ends our second trip to Iran: a journey full of charm and authenticity, a different Iran, very particular, mystical in some ways but an Iran that never disappoints you!

I will conclude quoting the verses from the famous poem “SHAHNAMEH” of Ferdowsi:

“……. I have suffered during these 30 years, but I have revived the Iranians with the Persian language, I will not die because I will still be alive, as I have sown the seeds of this language ……..”

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KHODA HAFEZ IRAN!

Jambo Jambo – My Safari in Tanzania

IMG_1301Traveling teaches you  many things : to know,  to discover, to learn.

After returning from a trip, what is most fondly remembered are the emotions you have experienced.

Mine is a  journey in the african parks but with a touch of the unusual,  a contact with the most authentic and remote Africa.IMG_0996

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Our route leads through the endless Serengeti savannah dotted with acacia trees where you can find thousand of animals.

Through Lake Manyara with its birds: pellicans, cormorants and pink flamingos.

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The Ngorongoro crater in an unique and primordial environment. CGF_3109

And the important Oldubai gorges, an healthy environment, rich of charm where, among its rocks were found the remains of an Australopithecus.CGF_3943

But whereas on the one hand animals and landscapes lord it, on the other  there is the hospitality, friendliness and kindness of its people.

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Their friendly “Jambo Jambo” to every encounter, their smiles, their desire to communicate with you, coming from another “world”.  And their  “Acuna Matata” (no problem) in front of your mistakes when trying to speak with them in  a language unfamiliar to you, make your trip even more memorable!!!

And finally a Swahili proverb:

HABA  NA  HABA  HUJAZA  KIBABA”  (means  Doing things a bit at a time will get you to where you want to be)

KWA  HERI  TANZANIA !!!!

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ANTARCTICA – a black and white dream

An unusual cruise on the route of the pioneers of 100 years ago.  Antarctica, 1000 km beyond the end of the known world, beyond the far end of South America.

Everything starts from Buenos Aires, Argentina.  Direct flight from Italy.  We come from our cold winter to the scorching heat of south american summer, because this is the only suitable time to visit Antarctica.

Short stop to take breath and then further down to Ushuaia, the door to Antarctica situated on the Beagle channel.

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Today Antarctica belongs to no one and to the entire world.  A treaty between nations rules the presence of teams of the scientific bases and an agreement between tour operators has led to the creation of a committee of self-control to prevent a wild invasion of tourism in Antarctica.

The Akademik Sergey Vavilov vessel will be our ship, a russian icebreaker put it back and adapted as cruise ship.

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Everything was pleasant and appropriately transformed to accomodate demanding travellers. It’s now waiting for us in the dock of Ushuaia.

We embark, we are assigned our cabin;  it’s afternoon and we are ready to sail.

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On board with us there is a team of experts, their job will be to explain the secrets of this world.  An ornithologist, an anthropologist, a geologist,   a IAATO inspector to check that no one dares to do the least harm to nature and animals.  A doctor, always on the move between one cabin and the other, always ready and available to our calls and needs.  Then there are the pilots of the zodiac landing boats used in our daily excursions.

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We pass the legendary Cape Horn.  Then the Drake passage, hours and hours of open sea, strong wind and waves meters high,  but the Vavilov resists, it is used to face extreme sailing conditions.

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Joining us in this crossing, in the sky there are albatross, sea eagles and other rare seabirds.  And in the water, whales, orcas, penguins.

Then the sea becomes calm as a lake and around us we see a landscape in black and white. The first iceberg appears at the horizon.  But it’s the infinite silence that impresses you most and which wraps up everything.DSC_8687

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For days and days we see a succession of natural and breathtaking sceneries:  mountain peaks and untouched glaciers but also plains, expanses of snow, deep fjords, beaches, volcanos, icebergs, icebergs and again icebergs of all shapes and sizes.

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Two excursions a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, 3 hours each on board of the zodiacs.

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We leave our ship and fully equipped with boots, parkas, gloves and hats we take place in the zodiacs and go to explore this magic world.  The first landing is as fascinating as the last.  The meeting with the busy penguins that come near to you at tens is exciting.  Would like to touch them, caress, cuddle!  No, absolutely prohibited! You must not disturb or frighten them.  Unforgettable days!DSC_8736

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Other excursions allow us the sighting of many whales, seals and other Antarctic species.DSC_9170

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We visit a Russian base still active in Antarctica, we speak with the Russian personnel involved in the mission.  They are doing researches on the ozone hole.  They stay there for six months, by rotation,  longer it is not possible, they confess!Antartica 14

It is not only the charm of the distance, the excitement of arriving so far, not just the feeling of being out of this world to make you tremble with emotion when you step on this continent, but it’s realizing all this and you don’t think it true to be here as well!

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Let’s go to Libya!

A decision taken without much thinking!  We know already the Algerian Akakus, so why not visiting the Libyan one and make a comparison?

So here we are, dealing with visas, airline tickets and itinerary, in a week or so we are ready to leave.

This happens at the end of January 2011 and despite the mass uprising in neighbouring Arab countries it was not expected that this would have happened in Libya in the so near future.

The Libyan Airlines flight from Milan was full of people, mostly men, who went to Libya for working purposes.  Nothing was in the air, nothing presupposed such an imminent and dramatic occurence of turmoils.

Upon our arrival in Tripoli all was calm and quiet.  At Tripoli airport we got thru customs formalities with no problem at all and we soon obtained our entry visa.

Our Libyan adventure would soon began.

Libya is known as a country of starling contrasts and magnificent scenery.  A journey of fascination among the Mediterranean sea and the Sahara desert.  IMG_0068IMG_0206

A country that shelters some of the most interesting archeological ruins from roman and punic periods.IMG_0124

Tripoli the “White bride of the Mediterranean” where the minarets of the medina, the vibrant souks and the charm of the ancient city mingle with memories of Italian colonial rule.  IMG_0193

A memory still alive especially among older people.  During the Italian colonization Tripoli saw a large urban development.  The city was equipped with many facilities such as roads, railways, schools, banks such as to give to the city a modern look.  IMG_0181

Photos of Tripoli during the colonial era are hung everywhere in restaurants, shops and coffee shops, as to remember this positive past period.  IMG_0195

We visit Sabratha and Leptis Magna, sparkling on the sea, in a scene of great suggestion:  IMG_0124IMG_0113

two beautiful cities on the coast give us back all the charm of a distant era when the power of the Roman city  was expressed in great architectural forms.IMG_0070IMG_0166

And the beauty of the desert, where we literally sail into a sea of sand topped by high waves in a succession of soft shapes, breathtaking ups and downs and sharp edges. 

Nasser, our skilled Garamante driver, often drops out of the car, he explores the dunes, thinks and values what is the best track to go up or down the duneIMG_0331and give us the maximum emotion!

The Libyan Tadrat Akakus, mountainous, crossed by fossils rivers that have created, over the centuries, sandstone canyons on which walls men have left a real rock art gallery.

And then the lakes  Gabraoun,  Mafo just announced by clumps of palm trees and set among majestic dunes.IMG_0354

A journey thru gentle contrasts:  from warm wind of the desert to the sea breeze of the coast, from golden yellow sand to the blue turquoise of the Mediterranean!  All this is Magic Libya!

We leave Libya with regret, we would have liked to stop longer and visit it more thoroughly.  We plan to return soon.

But immediately after our return…… it happened!   We are all with you Libya and wish you a better future.   We will come again one day!

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EXPLORING INDONESIA – My expedition to Irian Jaya

I cannot call it trip and I cannot call it journey because this is a proper expedition that leaves a sign in your mind,  in regions difficult to access, without any infrastructure.  An encounter with people absolutely primitive due to their complete isolation.  A not easy approach with peaceful ethnic groups wary of strangers but that slowly start to touch.
A wild blooming nature, sometimes insurmountable.  In these impassable paths we have walked to reach ethnic groups that have rarely been in contact with our world:  the Dani, the Jali, the Tiom.  We got to know their traditions and rituals, habits of life, their homes.
la famiglia Dani
To fully explore these lands and these peoples  we move only on foot, helped by 17 local porters, a trekking extremely tiring, days of walking from village to village, crossing valleys and mountains, rivers and forests.
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We arrive in Jayapura (Irian Jaya) from Jakarta.  It’s a short stop to relax and recover strength after an exhausting plane trip from Europe.
The next day another plane will take us to Wamena situated in a great valley in the center of Irian Jaya and from here our trekking will begin.io aereo
 
In Wamena, a small city, we have just enough time to organize our trekking:  meet with the local guide, buy all kind of food, vegetables, eggs, live poultry and find and negotiate with the 17 local porters who will be with us for all the expedition and will carry on their heads and shoulders our bags and all boxes of food.
mercato 2portatori
The next morning we are ready to go, 7 of us, friends from long time, accustomed to travel together and to stand one another.  Thanks God two of them are doctors!!!! Never know!!
io attraverso ruscelloThe trekking begins, our trekking shoes are brand new, our trousers nice and clean from laundry.  With backpacks on our shoulders and cameras ready to film we start our adventure.io attraverso fiume
The first tribe we meet after a day’s walk are the Dani.  We stop at the village of Sogokmo and we are welcomed by the chief village.  We are guests in their homes where we will sleep.  They allow us to use their “kitchen” to cook our dinner.
 
The night is cold, we sleep with our clothes on in our sleeping bags.  Here I have my first nasty close encounter with fleas that will accompany me for the entire trip (and beyond).
 
On waking up the next morning, we have a quick wash at the river, a hot tea and off we go again thru valleys to find other villages.io e pepi alla fontenoi in fila
 
The Dani people look rather primitive as they are wearing almost nothing except for some decorations on the body.
Men wear only the “koteka” a  sort of sheath for the penis.guerriero lancia
 
Women wear on their hips short skirts made of grass or bark fiber;  when outside the house they cover their backs, from head to thighs,  with a net also made of grass and they use it as a bag to carry the baby or the little big or to put vegetables.
 
They live in huts made of wood capable of retaining the warmth of a small fire and to protect the cold nights.
Women and children live in a separate hut from men.
 
Women use to embellish their faces and bodies with floral white paintings, while women who have just become widow have to paint the full body with yellow paint and keep it on until it rubs out.
 
We continue our trekking thru other Dani villages of Kurima and Tugma always staying and enjoying the local hospitality.io scaletta
 
We reach the village of Wesagalep and meet with the Jaly tribes that nothing differ in clothing from the Dani tribes.
We are hosted by a Jaly chief in his village and for the occasion a little pig is killed and cooked in our honour.  We take part to the ceremony and of course the banquet:  an unforgettable experience!.
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The days are a succession of moves, new villages, new encounters with men, women, children and old people.  We shake hands and they try to converse with us.  But even our local guide cannot help us:  their dialects are so different.
io ponte tibetano
 
We have the opportunity to participate to a performace of men fighting.  Their body totally decorated, their heads adorned with various types of feathers and caps, necklaces around their necks and long arrows and axes.  They fight to prove how strong they are and to show their ability to fight.
il retro della battaglia
 
We return to Wamena really stressed out and filthy!!! The first need is a hot bath, very hot indeed, but here is a utopia, we have to wash with cold water.
Mt flea bytes start to irritate me a lot.  My body is covered with red spots, I am itching all over.
Home Sweet Home, where are you!!
 
It has been really difficult, fatiguing, uncomfortable but what we saw and experienced will forever remain in our minds.  A world of awesomeness and strong intense emotions,  forgetting for some days that somewhere there is
“civilization”.
 
bimbo allattadonna bimbo in braccioguerriero con zanne al nasomummiaprimo piano uomop piano guerriero c lanciaguerriero neroio fiume in piena