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Interesting facts on the Paradesi Synagogue

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The Paradesi Synagogue in Kochi is a symbol of one of the great civilizations of antiquity. By far the oldest synagogue, built in 1568, it stands tall in terms of communal harmony and religious co-existence existing in the region, besides adding a sense of quant charm to one of the important sea ports of Kerala. ‘Paradesi’ literally translates to an outsider or foreigner in several Indian languages including Malayalam and Tamil. This is because many of the original members of the Jewish community have their roots in Kodungalloor, Europe and the Middle East.

A walk through the divine halls leaves anyone spellbound with the rare antiques and artefacts on display. The lamps and chandeliers leave out a sparkle alongside natural sunlight that penetrates through the large glass windows. The Belgium-imported glass chandeliers were first brought here in the 19th century. You will be fascinated by the hand-painted blue willow patterned tiles. The Jewish businessman Ezekiel Rahabi imported them from the city of Canton in China in the 18th century. The striking aspect is that each tile is distinct, and one can almost get carried away by the mystical surroundings and the transcendent beauty of the place.

There is a pulpit having brass rails in the centre of the room. The carve teak ark can leave you completely dazzled. It comprises four scrolls of the Torah (the Old Testament’s first five books) that have silver and gold encasings. Two gold crowns, special gifts from the King of Travancore and Cochin are featured here as well. There is a 4th century old copper plates bestowed as gifts by the King of Cochin. They feature inscriptions in Malayalam that detail out the special privileges granted by the ruler to the Jewish community. Another intriguing artefact is a rare oriental rug bestowed as gift to the community by Haile Selassie, the last ruler of Ethiopia.

Services, as such, are becoming a rarity due to the sharp fall in the community strength in Cochin. They are conducted only when the minimum number of ten members of an assembly is met.

Quick Facts on the Gandhi Mandapam in Kanyakumari

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The Gandhi Mandapam in Kanyakumari was constructed in 1956. The “father of the nation” Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes were kept here before they were dissolved in the sea. It boasts distinct architectural details to honour the life of the timeless Ahimsa (non-violence) champion. Incidentally, Gandhi had visited Kanyakumari in 1925 and 1937.

Shortly after India became a free nation, the great Mahatma was tragically assassinated by a Hindu fanatic in 1948; his remains were cremated and dissolved in various parts of India as part of the Hindu rituals. Kanyakumari became one of the sites where his ashes were removed on February 12, 1948, and a mandapam (memorial), a pillared structure open for public darshan (ritual), was fittingly raised on the site where his ashes had been laid to rest near to the Kumari Amman Temple.

The structure that was based on the Orissa style of architecture was built to precision to honour the great Indian leader. The central shape stands tall exactly at 79 feet, which was Gandhi’s age at the time of demise. Perhaps the most striking feature is the opening on the roof of the building designed in such a way it allows the sun lit rays to come through it on October 2nd, the birth anniversary of Gandhi, every year, and fall exactly on the spot where his urn was kept.

The maintenance of the museum was handed over to the Public Works Department of Government of TamilNadu in the year 1978. It goes without saying that while all Mandapams or memorials across the country serve the purpose of honouring Gandhi’s life and work, this is the only Mandapam that has harnessed the sun to honour the great soul!

Ten things you need to know about Tañon Strait in the Philippines

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Whether you are scuba diving with thresher sharks or whaleshark-watching at the Malapascua Island in the Philippines, the place to be is Tañon Strait.

1. It is the largest marine protected area in the region with a total area of 521,018 hectares, roughly five times bigger than the popular Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (97,030 hectares).

2. Situated between Negros Island and Cebu Island, the Tañon Strait connects the Visayan Sea and the Bohol Sea in the North and South respectively. Though it’s quite narrow (27kms wide), its water are pretty deep reaching 500mts.

3. Tañon Strait covers smaller, but popular protected areas such as the driving sites in Malapascua, Moalboal, Pescador Island, Mantalip Reef and Bantayan Island and several more.

4. Because Tañon Strait falls under the direct jurisdiction of the national government, three provinces, two regions, 42 coastal towns and cities and 298 villages, it has often been the victim of weak and inconsistent conservation policies of the seascape owing to conflicting and flawed government decision-making.

5. In 1998, the then President Fidel Ramos issued an executive order declaring it to be a protected area.

6. There are 14 species of whales and dolphins in the strait, accounting to nearly half of the 27 species of whales and dolphins in the entire country. It is the home to dwarf sperm whales, spinner dolphins, spotted dolphins and pygmy killer whales.

7. Some of the other rare sea species include the giant diamond-backed squid, rare chambered nautilus and highly-endangered dugong.

8. There are about 26 species of mangroves, 20 species of crustaceans, 70 species of fish and coral reef with a total area of 18,830 hectares.

9. Industrial pollution, illegal Commercial fishing, erratic policy-making of stakeholders and deleterious fishing methods are issues affecting the economic stability of the region.

10. These threats have negatively impacted the fish rearing in the strait, which in turn, have had hit the livelihood of 43,000 fishermen that are dependent on the protected area. A stark reduction of fish catch from 5kg a day in the 1970s to only 2kg today stands as a testimony to the appalling consequences of illegal fishing methods.

Hundred Years of Jallianwala Bagh – Things to Know About the Famous Memorial

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On the 13th April of 1919, one of the worst events in the history of freedom struggle unfolded when British Brig-Gen Dyer fired continuously at a mob gathered in Jallianwala Bagh in Amristar in the Indian state of Punjab. British sources mentioned that Jallianwala Bagh massacre left 379 dead and more than 1200 mortally wounded.

The Jallianwala Bagh isn’t a garden or park, but just an unused, irregularly-shaped rectangular ground which is about 200 yards wide and 250 yards long. Houses constructed with their back walls to the area had covered it on three sides. The fourth side comprises a boundary that is about 5 feet high, with several lanes narrow lanes that were used as exits. As General Dyer couldn’t get his armored cars through these intricate, narrow lanes, Dyer decided to employ his troops, 25 on either side of him and charged the mob on foot. Today, the site has been converted into a memorial that holds immense national significance in the memory of those who were brutally killed by the British forces on that fatal day in history.

The land which has a total area of 6.5 acres was acquired by the nation in 1920, converted into a memorial which was finally inaugurated by the first President of free India Dr. Rajendra Prasad in 1961. Some of the highlights of the Jallianwala Bagh memorial include Eternal Flame of Liberty, a lamp burning to pay tribute to the martyrs that is found at the entrance; a pylon having stone lanterns on four sides situated at the centre of a shallow tank in the garden; the Martyr’s well in which tens and thousands of men and women jumped in order to save their lives (now covered with a roof and walls); gallery which displays portraits of freedom fighters and several other historically significant events and historical evidences, and finally the bullet-laden walls—all symbolizing the great struggle for Indian Independence.

All you Need to Know About the Stone House, the First Stone Bungalow in Ooty

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The Stone House, fondly called “Kal Bangala” by the indigenous tribals of Ooty, Thodas, is the first bungalow constructed using Kal (Tamil for ‘stone’) to come up in this ravishing hill station of South India. It was built in 1822 by John Sullivan, one of the most revered personalities in Ooty, best known for establishing British settlement in this region. The British acquired the land from the local Thoda tribals at a measly price of one rupee per acre for the construction of the bungalow. Today, it stands majestically as the official residence of the Principal of Government Arts College, one of the finest buildings in South India, and a remarkable exhibition of progressive architecture and colonial relics.

The history of ‘modern’ Ooty also begins here when John Sullivan, then the Collector of Coimbatore, commissioned Mc Mahon and Keys to explore and survey the place. The duo just went through the motions until Sullivan himself decided to unravel the true beauty that lies hidden deep in its heart. He took personal interest in the construction of the building, and chose a lush green area abound with orchids, lichens, ferns and pine trees for the same. The building features a sloping roof in green. With a simple architecture, the Stone House is more like a British Cottage. It is supposed the living room of the building has a cosy fireplace. The building today can be witnessed only from the outside.

Though not quite doted as the other tourist destinations in Ooty, the building is a brilliant example of British architecture and exquisite ‘Raj’ culture that characterizes a significant period of the region’s history.

Ooty that remained cut off from the rest of the country gained increased accessibility to the outside world owing to the numerous developmental activities undertaken by the British officials such as laying of roads and highways and systematic clearing of forests. But it was the Stone house, the citadel of British power in this region, from where it all started. You can also find a tree in front of the Stone House known as the ‘Sullivan’s Oak’ and a man-made, L-shaped lake also excavated by Sullivan. Definitely worth a visit.

To Visit Stone House Contact Emperor Traveline for Package Details.

All about the Toy Train in Ooty (Ootacamund) or Nilgiris

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Riding in the Nilgiri Mountain Railway is a bandwagon activity for those visiting Ooty (Ootacamund) in the Nilgiris hills. The reason for Nilgiri Mountain Railway to draw attention amongst other activities is that it gives the riders the pleasure to sight steep mountains, in-depth valleys, rocky terrains, dense forests, darken tunnels and tea plantations along the rail track.

Though the construction began in the late 18th century, the railway was open to the public in the early 19th century. There are several toy trains that run between Mettupalayam and Ooty (Udagamandalam) via Coonoor. The trains are referred to as Toy trains because it works on a narrow gauge system to commute past the steep Nilgiris hills. In addition, the small tracks make the carriages smaller and resemble a toy. The track is 46 kms long and it takes approx. 250 minutes for the uphill and 210 minutes for the downhill journey. Hence, the time and money are worth spending the journey making the trip etched in memory.
In those days, these vintage trains worked on coal. Owing to recurring technical issues, sourcing quality coal, and forest fires, these engines have been replaced by oil-fueled steam engines. However, the retired engines are exhibited at the Nilgiri Mountain Railway museum in Mettupalayam for observation.
The highlights of this spectacular stretch and toy train include:
1. Recognized as Asia’s steepest track going from 1069 to 7228 feet
2. The only meter gauge and rack railway in India that uses pinion system to climb the clinches
3. The carriages have remained in same Blue and cream colour since its making
4. In 2005, this was awarded the UNESCO’s world heritage site
5. Featured in many documentary and other movies to highlight the strengths of Indian Railways
This cog train accommodates first class, middle class, and unreserved class. It costs Rs.205 per person in First Class, Rs.30 per person in Second (middle) Class and Rs.15 for Unreserved. For the ones, who wish to avoid the crowd and wanted the luxury of a cushioned seat, it is recommended to take first class. The schedule of each toy train is available online to look into and make reservations.
You can reach Mettupalayam railway station via Coimbatore, the nearest city that has a well inter-connected means of transportation.

All you must know about the Malapascua Island, Cebu in the Philippines

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If you want to visit an undisturbed and unspoiled island for your vacation, your best option would be the Malapascua Island in the Philippines, the land of beach bum’s delight. The Malapascua is a tiny island located a few kilometres away from Cebu in the Philippines. You can reach the island by a ferry from Maya port.

History says first the Spanish landed here on a stormy Christmas day and hence the island received its name as Malapascua (Mal=Bad, Pasco=Christmas). However, Malapascua was first discovered 30 years ago when a Swiss national named Freddy bought land on this island. Years later, it turned out to be one of the perfect beach destinations in the Philippines.
The island has the most beautiful, sleepy and sandy beaches surrounded by clear blue waters. The greenish palm trees make you feel relaxed and never let you go out of the island even if you wanted to. The people here eke out a living doing fishing, boat making, and coconut farming. They are the friendliest souls with whom you can dine with daily (they never treat you as visitors!).
Peculiar highlights:
– There exist many secluded beaches for you to go for diving, snorkelling, and swimming. Bounty beach is the most favourite one among the other beaches (Lighthouse, Langob, Lapus, etc.)
– When you go for diving, if you’re lucky, you may spot Thresher Sharks. However, normally you can get to see a few Seahorses, Shrimps, Crabs, Coral fishes, and Sea Slugs.
– Basketball and Cockfighting is a regular here (mostly on Sundays) conducted all over the island, is a favourite pastime with the locals.
– Lose yourself for a little while. Be a part of different fiestas that happen throughout the year (Food/drink, Disco, pageant, and lots more.)

Please note: There are no ATM’s, pharmacies and paid laundry facilities on the island. So prepare yourself accordingly with enough cash in hand, clothes and medical kits. Also, there are no cars for you to take a pool drive or hire. It is better to walk along the beach and enjoy the paradise.
Both the warm (March- November) and the wet (December-April) seasons are recommended for visiting the island as there are no extreme weather conditions here.

All you must know about the Hippodrome of Constantinople in Istanbul

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The word “hippodrome” comes from the Greek word meaning hippos (horse) and dromos (way). It was built for conducting chariot races, the most admired sports of the Byzantine region (ancient Constantinople). Beyond races, this social centre served as an arena for social events including official ceremonies, celebrations, protests, executions, parades, and coronations.

Located in the historic region of Sultanahmet (also known as Istanbul), the Hippodrome was the seat of power in three consecutive empires. Between 203-330 CE (Roman), the emperor Septimius Severus got the first Hippodrome built which was small and unfinished. Between 330-1453 CE (Byzantine), the emperor Constantine I rebuilt the unfinished Hippodrome and extended it connecting it with the great palace of Constantinople. Between 1453-1922 (Ottoman), the Hippodrome was renamed as ‘Horse Square’, then mainly used for Chariot racing.
A few historic events:
1. From Egypt, the Obelisk of Thutmosis III was brought to Constantinople by the emperor Theodosius I. This was erected inside the Hippodrome and got named as “Obelisk of Theodosius”. This obelisk aged 3500 years still remains good even today;
2. During the Nika Riots in 532 CE, Byzantine emperor Justinian I ordered the execution of 30,000 people locked in the Hippodrome;
3. Throughout the Byzantine empire, this arena held the lives of about 40,000 people;
4. A-15 day long circumcision ceremony of the sons of Ahmet III took place in the Hippodrome during the Ottoman period in 1720;
5. Good performing charioteers were celebrated as heroes in days of yore. A lot of statues of several Charioteer were erected throughout the walls of the Hippodrome
Fall of the Hippodrome:
During the fourth crusade attack in the city, all the monumental structures in the Hippodrome were stolen by the invaders. Later, when the Blue Mosque and Ibrahim Pasa palace was built in the 16th and 17th centuries respectively, the arena was pulled down and forgotten long since ravaged by invaders.
Today, the large arena has turned into a public park with a road running around marking the racing track. Only the two Obelisks: the base of the Charioteer Porphyrios statue and the serpentine column will live forever for the rest of us.

All About the Masjid Kristal or Crystal Mosque at Terengganu in Malaysia

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From the absorbing and aweinspiring magnificence of the San Agustin Church at Intramuros in Manila, let us take a peek into the Islamic cultural heritage of Malaysia with the Crystal Mosque at Terengganu in Malaysia, which is no short of architectural beauty and grandeur.

The ‘Masjid Kristal’ or Crystal Mosque in Bahasa Malaysia was open to performing prayers in 2008. Its construction began in 2006 and was officially inaugurated in 2008. Kuala Terengganu is no less than an intriguing place to be with several attractions including the popular Islamic Heritage Park that was opened around the same time. Located near the Islamic Heritage Park is the Crystal Mosque that follows a distinct flavour of Muslim art and architecture. The importance of the mosque, which has four traditionallydesigned minarets, to the city is placed higher than to the religion of Islam itself.

Kuala Terengganu, like many towns and cities in Malaysia, was a charming and quaint fishing village. But the ‘eureka’ moment is when oil was discovered nearby, and a model town was built around it. The Crystal Mosque, glittery, splashy and modern with a dash of tradition, now, embodies the spiritual and traditional values of the region.

Architectural Specifications
Though you can find some actual crystal embedded within the structure of the mosque, the clear material that sticks out is glass. If you want to experience the full effect of its crystalline exteriors, it is recommended to visit the magical place in the moonlight, when it’s illuminated and almost seems surreal as a dream!

In addition, the Masjid Kristal, which can put up nearly 1500 people at one time, though more can be accommodated outside it during Ramdhan and Bakrid, is designed using steel structure in combination with the crystal and glass works.

How to get there?
You can reach Kuala Terengganu either by car or bus, but the easiest and fastest way out there is to take a flight through Kuala Lumpur, either on Malaysia Airlines or AirAsia. The Crystal Mosque, as you can view from anywhere even from a long distance, is easily reached by taxi, depending upon where you’re put up with, how inclement the weather is and how much time is left to travel.

The recommended time to visit the mosque and, in fact, the best time to tour around Malaysia or any Islamic country, you can think of, is during the blessed month of  Ramadhan, the perfect time to turbocharge yourself spiritually or treat yourself to the exotic local foods and drinks after breaking the fast. Do refer to an Islamic calendar to find out when Ramadhan falls and do your planning accordingly.

Why is Konya One Of the Most Culturally Rich Centres of Turkey? – Part 2

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The city of Konya boasts of mesmerising architectural beauty and cultural sophistication. Let’s now travel towards Sille, which is located 8km north of the city of Konya.  It houses the famous Byzantine Aya Eleni church and many rock chapels with breathtaking frescoes. We all grew up reading the witty tales of the legendary oriental ironist Nasreddin Hodja; but how of many of us know that he hails from Akşehir, located to the northwest of Konya? And interestingly, there is a mausoleum of the 13th-century humorist here. Other monuments that demand attention include the Altınkale Mescidi and the Ulu Mosque of the 13th century. Another mausoleum, the Sahip Ata Mausoleum has been transformed into a museum.

Enroute to Beyşehir, give yourself a break at Eflatun Pınar at the side of the lake to witness the outoftheordinary Hittite monumental fountain. There are many Seljuk buildings dotted around the gorgeous Beysehir located on the shores of Lake Beysehir, the third largest lake in Turkey. The lake’s south-western region is a national park, and one of the main wetlands of the country. You can see several prominent monuments across Lake Beysehir: the Kubad-Abad Summer Palace and the Eşrefoğlu Mosque. There is another palace belonging to the medieval era on Kızkalesi Island just on the opposite side of the Kubad-Abad Palace. Visitors get to relax and have some fun on the Hacı Akif Island. Çatalhöyük, some 45km south of the city, drew the earliest settlers to it from the Neolithic era, revealing details of the dawn of the early settlement of humans with fine and distinct examples of the oldest landscape paintings and domestic architecture forms, besides sacred artefacts of the cult of mothergoddess.

Next, let us take a trip to Karapınar, which is separated by 94 km southeast of Konya, having a number of crater lakes. The popular Mike Crater Lake, or simply “Make” near Karapınar, is a lake inside a volcano’s crater. There is another lake, Aci crater lake (Acigölü), about 3kms northwest side of Mike, which has a few exotic birds. Ereğl, one of Konya’s biggest counties, is flanked by yellow cherry trees.

If you have some time still left, visit the Ereğli Archaeological Museum displaying several Byzantine, Seljuk and Hittite monarch artefacts. The Ivriz Cultural Landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre at İvriz, features a small altar and two huge rock reliefs depicting a king and plentiful crops, all dating to the NeoHittite era. There is also a monastery that dates back to the Middle Byzantine Period, natural springs and two caves.