Category: Destination Tips

All about the famous Thaipusam procession in Singapore

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Singapore is a land of high secular values; while you are in the “Lion City”, watching the famous Hindu “Thaipusam” procession is a truly spectacular mind-boggling, jaw dropping experience. As many as 40,000 people attend this annual colourful procession that comes along with compelling rituals, and normally falls during the full moon in the tenth month of the Tamil calendar – Thai (mid-January to mid-February in the English calendar).

travel agency packagesThe procession that begins in the morning on Thaipusam day has devotees walking all the way from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, located in Serangoon Road to Sri Thendayuthapani Temple located in Tank Road, which is about 3km away. Some lanes are cordoned to manage traffic during the procession.

This year saw some 10,000 devotees holding milk pots, symbolising fertility and abundance in Hinduism, and 250 “Kavadi” (“Burden Dance” for Tamil) bearers. The devotees spend the entire month before Thaipusam in religious spiritual preparation with a rigid vegetarian diet.

In the annual festival, organised by the two temples and the Hindu Endowments Board, Lord Subramanian, also known as Lord Murugan, the powerful Tamil God, is worshipped with utmost reverence, piety and devotion by devotees. Lord Murugan, according to mythological sources, represents youth, virtue and power, and is the annihilator of evil and dark forces. Devotees fulfil their vows and seek blessings of Lord Murugan by carrying pots as kavadis or offerings in the two-day long festival. Hundreds of volunteers join in to help manage the huge procession.

It is a heart-warming sight to see thousands of people cutting religious, cultural and communal barriers come together to witness this important celebration. It helps people remain intact and rooted both in a religious as well cultural context. The Thaipusam procession, over the years, has been a great way to establish multi-racial and religious interface that helps close gaps and deepen mutual understanding.

Quick facts & figures of Burj Khalifa in Dubai

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The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is an engineering marvel—an unparalleled combination of solid science and visionary ideals. The breathtaking structure stands really tall in terms of facts, numbers, figures and stats. Here are a few of them that will make your head spin even without your having to stand on top of Burj Dubai:

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The Burj Khalifa stands as high as 828 metres (2,716.5 feet) with more than 160 stories that puts it straight into the record books:

  • World’s tallest building
  • World’s tallest free-standing structure
  • Structure with the most occupied floor in the world
  • Structure having the world’s highest outdoor observation
  • Elevator having the longest travel distance in the world
  • World’s tallest service elevator

Tallest of the super-tall structures in the world:

The Burj Khalifa not only holds the unassailable record as the world’s tallest building, but it has also broken two other long-standing records: tallest free-standing structure, formerly held by Toronto’s CN Towers and tallest structure formerly held by KVLY-TV mast in Blanchard, Blanchard, Traill County, North Dakota, United States.

The Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) has formed 3 criteria (discussed below) that decide what makes a tall structure really tall. Burj Khalifa has clearly come out on top in all three categories:

Height to architectural top:

Measurement of height is carried out from the level of “the lowest, significant open-air pedestrian entrance” to a building’s architectural top. This incorporates spires, but does not take in flagpole, signage, antennae or other functional-technical tools or equipment. This measurement is the most common method and is deployed to define the CTBUH’s rankings of the tallest buildings in the world.

Highest occupied floor:

Measurement of height is carried out from the level of the lowest, significant, open-air pedestrian entrance to the highest occupied floor inside the building structure, leaving out the maintenance areas.

Height to tip

Measurement of height is carried out from the level of the lowest, significant, open-air, pedestrian entrance to the building’s highest point, regardless of function of the highest element or material. This takes in signage, flagpoles, antennae and other functional-technical tools or equipment.

 

All about the Dambulla cave temple in Srilanka

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If you are in Srilanka (formerly Ceylon), the Land of Buddha as it is known, Dambulla Cave Temple is one place you shouldn’t miss no matter what. This ancient temple contains a series of five pre-historic caves and 157 statues of Lord Buddha in total. The several exquisite paintings on the walls and ceilings of the temple are a reflection of the popular Buddhist religious art of the olden era.

travel agency packagesThe history of the awe-inspiring caves, temple and rock dates right back to the 1st century BC. It’s not just the statues in the caves that could fascinate one, but also the several delicate and sinuous paintings on the ceiling and walls, produced with indigenous traditional paints.

The rich ancient history, archaeological significance and culturally artistic values of the temple were recognized by the UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 1991. The temple has stood the test of times for over twenty two centuries and never fallen shy of reverence, adoration and spirituality. Visitors may need to use the steps leading to the top of the rock for a panoramic view of the temple which is as awe-inspiring as its stunning interior.

It is thought to have been the home to pre-historic Srilankans as several burial sites were excavated in the past that are believed to be at least 2700 years old. However, it gained significance only after the rise of Buddhism in the Island nation. It is traditionally believed that the caves were converted into a permanent temple by Valagamba of Anuradhapura who went into exile from there at the time; he was then accepted as a refugee by South Indian usurpers. He spent the next fifteen years into hiding within the caves before successfully reclaiming his kingdom: he wanted to thank the gods and built the temple where he had sought refuge for years.

The numerable artefacts and statues that one can find inside the Dambulla is a true reflection of the artistic talents of the Buddhist era in Srilanka. A visit to the cave and a walk through it is worth every cent and an awesome day out.

 

All you wanted to know about the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondichery

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The Sri Aurobindo Ashram was formed in 1926 under Mirra Alfassa, popularly called by her followers as ‘The Mother’. The Ashram has progressed fast and steady under her inspired guidance from a small circle to two dozen followers into a widely followed diversified spiritual community with about 1200 members that includes about 400 pupils of the Centre of Education and the hundreds of devotees who reside nearby the Ashram, though the larger ashram community boasts of more than 2000 members.

Tour operators in coimbatoreNestled in a buzzing and bustling city of over 7, 00,000 people, the Ashram has never been a place known for tranquillity or relaxation, but a throbbing and pulsating centre of life set on the backdrop of a modern urban scene. This aspect is a reflection of Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy as his steadfast obeisance to the divine forms the core of the Yoga and all Ashramites are required to contribute positively by working productively everyday for the welfare of the community.

The best part about the Ashram is the sadhana or the spiritual discipline at the mind level as there are no needless rituals, no obligatory practises, no mandatory meditations or ‘by the book’ practises in Yoga. Sadhaks are left free to choose whatever that suits their pace and taste of learning. But the general principle of the Sadhana remains intact: one must surrender to the Divine and an opening to the Divine Force at work so that it may turn one into a spiritually and emotionally strong being.

Travel to the eastern part of Pondicherry to visit the Ashram, where the community members live and work in harmony in beautiful old and new buildings side by side in a sprawling area. The community life is focussed on the main building of the Ashram, usually known as “the Ashram”, with block after block of houses in which the Sri Aurobindo and the Mother spend major part of their lives.

At its centre, you can find a white-marble Samadhi (shrine) in a tree-shaded courtyard where the bodies rest in total peace. The members of the Ashram are provided with a healthy and decent life with excellent food, comfortable shelter, necessary clothing and essential medical care. The Ashram, managed by the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, also houses a fine library for study and various other facilities for a variety of cultural pursuits.

All you want to know about the Rock Fort Temple City at Trichy in Tamilnadu

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Tiruchirappalli (also called Trichy) is the fourth largest city in the state of Tamilnadu. Trichy is located at the heart of the state on the southern banks of the river Cauvery. Though there are several attractions in and around the city that tourists can afford to spend some time, the Tiruchirapalli Rock Fort, a historic fort and temple complex raised on an ancient rock, is the most popular tourist destination, often an integral part of the tour itinerary of the city. It is raised on a 273-foot high rock. You can find two Hindu temples inside the complex: the Shiva Temple and the Uchchi Pillaiyar Koil Temple.

Trichy Rock ForteGeologically, the high rock may be over one billion years old. There are other tourist attractions within the temple complex including the famous Nayaka-era fort and the Ganesha temple of the Pallava era. The fort was the scene of bloody battles between Madurai Nayakas, who used it as a military fort, and Carnatic, Bijapur and Maratha empires. The fort also turned the tides in favour of the British in India during the Carnatic wars, fought between many Indian rulers and British and French East India Company on either side.

The Thayumanavar Temple is located in the Rockfort complex close to the base of it and was built by the great Pallava king Mahendravarman I in the 6th century AD. The main deity of the temple is Lord Shiva symbolized by the lingam and is worshiped as Thayumanavar. Mattuvar Kuzhalammai represents Shiva’s consort Parvati. The presiding deity is eulogized in the “Tevaram”, the Tamil Saiva canonical work compiled by the Nayanars, the tamil saint poets belonging to the 7th century.

On the eastern side is the Ucchi Pillayar koil, a Hindu temple of the 7th century, is dedicated to Lord Ganesha who was born to Lord Shiva and Parvati. It is situated on the top of Rockfort. Legend has it that Lord Ganesha ran from King Vibishana in this place, after setting up the Ranganathaswamy deity in Srirangam.

The temple houses a large-sized Ganesha and other rare deities and is host to the annual Vinayaka (Ganesha) Chathurthi festival. Devotees take great delight in listening to the classical musical concerts performed by several legendary Tamil Carnatic musicians in the temple, a tradition that has been in practise for over 70 years.

You can also witness the “Pallava Caves” constructed by the famous Pallava rulers during 580AD on the southern face of the Rockfort. One needs to climb 344 stone steps that are carved inside the rock from its entrance and over the rock near the top so as to reach the rock temple.

 

 

 

 

Ideas on how to play winter sports on your family tour

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A happy family stay together, but the happiest family is one that tours and plays together and makes the most of it. It is the togetherness which binds the family together — strong and intact. But do the winters play spoilsport to your family tour and outdoor activities. Don’t be upset and take it in your stride. Every setback has its positives, and therefore, don’t let the season rob off the fun factor. Winter sports are meant for the whole family.  Here are some ideas that will make you a better player, of course, with your family on tour and especially, when it’s snowing hard and heavy.

ice-skatingPlanning:

Research and planning is the key. Ensure you go for a resort with a good ski school and nursery slope for the kids, but just enough to keep you in the mood too. Make sure you book early as possible as good ski schools are pretty much limited and get booked up early. Make sure you are in good shape before the holiday. Start working on your body’s fitness levels and agility before the start of the holiday season. Remember to check if your required equipment is working just fine.

Out & About:

It is a must that kids should be offered plenty of sun protection on their face to protect themselves from the harmful effects of the sun’s rays such as sun burn and UV goggles. You must check the rules on helmets; it is mandatory for children to wear helmets when playing or skidding on the icy slopes. You need to think about the different options you can come up to keep the kids engaged such as husky sledding or ice skating.

Just in Case:

Teach yourself and your kids ski etiquette and rules of conduct to stay away from unnecessary accidents and mishaps. It is recommended to invest in a winter sports travel insurance to protect your family, trip and equipments against any possible accidents and potential disasters. It’s important for kids to get trained on how to cope with emergency or crisis situations, example just in case you get separated in a crowd. Having an EHIC for every member of your family, when travelling in Europe, comes as an advantage in case you require medical treatment.

Winters doesn’t mean putting things in cold storage, especially family tours, sports and outdoor activities. Winters not only presents some unique challenges, but also every reason to travel outdoors and get going with the whole family. With the thermometer dropping, the festive spirit and fervour may well embrace the adventure in you!

 

Best Places to Visit in Madurai – Part 2

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Let’s move along with our previous post on some of the must-visit places in one of Tamilnadu’s most bustling cities–Madurai. Here are a few places you can add to your travel bucket:

6.  Thiruparankundram Dargah (also, Sulthan Sikandhar Badhusha Shaheed shrine):

The Thiruparankundram Dargah is located at the top of the Thirupparamkundram hill. Housing the grave of the Islamic saint Sultan Sikandhar Badushah shaheed, this shrine is frequented by people of all religious faiths and stands as a symbol of inter-faith harmony, secular and pluralistic values. Devotees gather in large numbers during the annual Urs (anniversary ) festival to pay their respect to the great Sufi saint.

7. Gandhi Memorial Museum:

Situated across the famous Vaigai River and tucked in the Summer Palace of Nayak queen Rani Mangammal, is the Gandhi Memorial Museum, one of the seven museum galleries dedicated to the ‘father of the nation’ Gandhiji. It has some of the rarest collections of Bapuji such as the spectacles, shawl and the bloodstained dhoti (loincloth) worn by him at the time he was shot dead in 1948. Gandhi turned to wearing the dhoti only on his visit to Madurai in 1921 and termed it “national pride”. Don’t miss out on the Madurai Government Museum located within the same campus.

Koodal Azhagar Temple

8.  Koodal Azhagar Temple:

This is another famous temple in Madurai dedicated to Lord Vishnu and is one of the 108 Divya Desams, the holy shrines of Vishnu. Located near the Meenakshi Amman Temple, this temple holds significance as much as the Thirupallandu. According to legend, the great Tamil poet Periyalwar sung the first 12 verses of the 4000 Divyaprabadam eulogizing the Hindu deity Azhagar. The lord was so pleased that he appeared in the form of ‘Koodal Azhagar’. Koodal is also the ancient name of the city.

9. Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam:

The Vandiyur Mariamman Teppakulam is a huge square water tank spread over a sprawling 16-acre land. Constructed in 1646 by Thirumalai Nayak, this tank is situated 5km east of the Meenakshi Temple. In the middle of the tank is placed an idol of Lord Vinayaka or Vignesh resting on a platform. Legend has it that this place was unearthed when the earth was excavated to make bricks for building the Thirumalai Nayakar Mahal. The place was turned into a temple tank and was dedicated to Lord Ganesh, one of the supreme deities of the Hindu religion. The annual “Teppakulam Float Festival” takes place here with great fanfare and celebrations, during the months of January and February.  It is said that the water from River Vaigai flows into the largest temple tank in the state.

10. Azhagar Kovil Temple:

Situated at a distance of 21km from the city, Alagar Koyil Temple (or Alagar Kovil), dedicated to Lord Vishnu holds a lot of religious significance. Nestled in the foothills of the Azhagar (Alagar hills), the temple features an enthralling architecture; even more mesmerizing is the natural setting encircling this temple. The main deity the temple is Lord Paramaswamy, with the processional idol being Lord Alagar or Sundararajan, considered to be the brother of Goddess Meenakshi. The Kalyana Sundaravalli, the consort of Lord Alagar, has a separate shrine enclosed within the temple complex. You can also find separate shrines for deities Yoga Narasimha, Sudarshana and Andal.

Though built by the Pandyas, the temple known for its intricate sculpting, detailing and mandapams, was later renovated by the Nayak rulers. Many Theerthams are located nearby including the “Noopura Ganga”, believed to have descended directly from the heavens.

Madurai is just not about temples, it is also famous for its wholesale banana market, Murugan Idli Shop, Vilachery Pottery Village, Keelakuyilkudi and Samanar Hills and many more attractions that will bring out the complete ‘traveler’ in you. So if you come down south, Madurai is the place for you to refresh your spiritual as well as your nocturnal quotient as this city never sleeps at night!

Best Places to Visit in Madurai – Part 1

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Madurai, the land of the glorious Tamil Pandya Kingdom, is the second largest city in Tamilnadu. This almost 3500-year old city is one of the state’s major destinations, and has remained since the cradle of Tamil civilization and culture, and the seat of learning. Often dubbed as the “Athens of the East”, Madurai resembles the ancient city in architectural style such as its many alleyways.  When the famous Nayaks ruled the city, several outstanding buildings and temples were constructed that still attract tourists and pilgrims in large numbers.  In a two-part series, we will bring you some of the must-see places in this ancient Tamil city.

madurai meenakshi temple

1. Meenakshi Temple:

There is no point in touring the city if you miss out on visiting the Meenakshi Temple, the cynosure of the city. The temple, apparently, was built around the Shiva Linga that you can find inside its sanctum.  The sacred temple is built in an area of 15 acres and comprises 4500 pillars and 12 majestic towers standing tall.  One of the most frequented temples in South India; you will have no problems even spending days inside the sanctum. You can also find Hindu couples gathered in large numbers, during auspicious days, to get married in the temple’s corridor. No wonder, it’s worth visiting the temple once in the morning and again for the night rituals in the evening.

2. Puthu Mandapam:

Feel free to venture inside the capacious Puthu Mandapam, pillared entrance hill that stands opposite the Meenakshi Temple. Built in the 17th century, this hall today is the lifeline of several tailors and small stalls selling scarves, fabric, designer jewellery, fashion accessories, art work and handicrafts. You can get the aforementioned stuffs and more at good discount prices and offers. You can also check good quality clothes, including near replicas.

3. Tirumalai Nayak Palace:

Located about a kilometre south-east of Meenakshi Temple is the renowned Tirumalai Nayak Palace constructed in 1636 by the famous Nayak ruler King Thirumalai Nayak. Considered as the city’s second major attraction, the palace is based on the Indo-Sarcenic style with an Italian architect helping in its design and construction. It was the King’s residential palace before leaving it open for public view. It seems like only a part of the original structure comprising the courtyard, entrance hall, audience hall and dance hall remains intact today. The structure saw some major renovation works with the Government recently spending substantial money on it.

4. Saint Mary’s Cathedral:

The Saint Mary’s Cathedral is one of the oldest Roman Catholic (RC) churches that was constructed in the year 1840. Situated on East Veli Street, the structure took its present form in 1916 with its architecture including two tall bell towers, and is a fusion of several Continental and European building styles.

5. Thiruparankundram:

If you think you still have some time left for strolling along Madurai, then you shouldn’t miss out Thiruparankundram, about 20 minutes south-west of the city. Thiruparankundram houses another ancient temple that is dedicated to one of Hindu religion’s supreme deities Lord Murugan (son of Lord Shiva in Hindu mythology), venerated as a Tamil God. On the hill top of Thiruparankundram, you can find a 14th century-old Islamic shrine (or Dargah) of the sufi saint Hazrat Sultan Sikandhar Badhusha.  We will be covering more about this shrine and few other attractions of the city in the concluding part-series of the article. Until then, it’s happy travel time from us!

What can you learn from the ‘Langar’ lessons of Golden Temple?

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The Golden Temple (or the Harmandir Sahib) in Amritsar is the ‘Mecca’ of Sikh community all over the world.  Considered the holiest Gurdwara, it is the most important pilgrimage site of Sikhism. If the architectural features of the Golden Temple are striking, even more unique is the ‘Langar’ (or Sikh community kitchen), which brings people of all religions and faiths together shedding all communal differences altogether. The main objective of this revolutionary concept started by the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Dev, is to feed the poor and the needy and unite people of all walks in the name of service to God and humanity.

Golden temple

This timeless tradition of cooking and serving food to people together paves the way to community sustenance and upliftment.  Visitors to the Gurudwara actively engage in Langar activities such as cooking food, cleaning utensils and visiting the local farmer markets and cattle diary, the main suppliers to the Gurudwara for feeding around 60,000 pilgrims every day.

The volunteers mingle with the devotees to perform ‘sewa’ (voluntary service) as they cut and chop vegetables, peel and slice onions, roll and make ‘chapathis’ with their heads covered sitting with crossed legs on the floor in the Langar housed within the Golden Temple.  Take a closer look – the volunteers give in everything they can to sustain the efforts of the community kitchen and uphold the age-old sacred tradition. The scale of Langar in the Golden Temple can be beyond one’s wildest imagination.

One can learn a great deal of lessons from the Golden Temple including the art of building communities with haves and have-nots working together and sharing tasks and resources with another. The volunteers are also drawn by the ‘magical’ power to serve humanity and the role played by farmers, traders and merchants in donating 10% of earning to the Langar (also, known as “daswandh”).

If you are at the Golden Temple and miss out on serving at the Langar kitchen community, then you haven’t derived the full benefit of visiting the sacred site.

 

Best things to see in the KZN Midlands

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The KwaZulu-Natal Midlands is guaranteed to take your breath away with its beauty. Here are some of the best things to see in this majestic place.

Drakensberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nelson Mandela Capture Site

The Nelson Mandela Capture Site is one of South Africa’s more interesting historical sites. It was unveiled in 2012 by President Jacob Zuma, and is made up of steel columns, which represent Mandela’s imprisonment before being exiled to Robben Island. It is designed by artist Marco Cianfanelli. To gather more information about South Africa’s political history the site also features a museum.

Treetop Canopy Tours

If you love adventure Karkloof Forest Reserve situated 10 km outside of Howick is a must visit. Over the forest canopy you can go for long slides, enjoy a mesmerising 15-metre-high waterfall and view of the beautiful Karkloof valley. The canopies are the best way to enjoy the scenery.

Howick Falls

The Howick Falls is a popular tourist attraction and are located on the Umgeni River at 95 metres high. There are several shops selling souvenirs and curios, as well as restaurants. The legend is that a giant serpent-like creature called Inkanyamba resides at the pool at the bottom of the falls.

WESSA

A visit to WESSA (The Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa) is a bird lover’s paradise. The greater reserve is home to zebra, giraffe, and a variety of antelope as well as over 270 species of birds. Most of the reserve is located in the picturesque gorge below the Howick Falls.

Zulu Mpophomeni Township Experience

The award winning The Zulu Mpophomeni Tourism Experience (ZMTE) is a non-profit organisation. You will get to know the history of the area if you tour this picturesque township.

Drakensberg

The Drakensberg Mountains is stunningly beautiful. These famous peaks is a must visit though they’re not technically in the midlands. In 2000 the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many threatened species have been preserved here. This place is definitely not to be missed as there are more than 30000 San rock art images, rocky gorges, pristine steep-sided river valleys, and high-altitude grasslands.

Michaelhouse

Michaelhouse famous for its distinctive and beautiful architecture is one of South Africa’s most famous schools. Situated on a secure estate in the picturesque midlands it was founded in 1896.

Nottingham Road

You will easily miss this quaint little town of Nottingham Road if you don’t keep a close watch. The beautiful town has many interesting spots for visitors. If you love all things supernatural, a cosy pub at the Legendary Nottingham Road Hotel is a must visit. Locals believe that the Room no 10 in the pub is haunted by a lady ‘of loose morals’. Rawdon’s Hotel’s Nottingham Road Brewery is also a must visit when you are in town.

Chocolate and cheese tasting

Without a bit of cheese tasting at the family-run Swissland Cheesery a visit to the midlands wouldn’t be complete. Visitors can sample a range of goat’s cheese, including chevin and a mild blue cheese at the cheesery. It is also a great location where you will find grazing goats on lush green lawns. You can also learn about the traditional cheese-making practice that is followed here.