ऊँ at the Colombo World War Cemetery!

Every city has some hidden gems that normal tourists are unaware of. Every city also has a fabulous history whose all aspects are not known to us. What you need to do is to travel like a local and let yourself soak in the atmosphere. Many a times, while travelling to some secluded, not so popular places, you might not find tourists around you, at least not as much as you would find at popular tourist destinations. But that would be a good chance to know about the insights of culture and history of a place.

DSC08020That’s what happened to us in Colombo. Sri Lanka or erstwhile Ceylon shares a lot with India, in terms of culture and history. Britishers, after controlling whole of India, also occupied Ceylon in early 19th century. They controlled the whole Indian sub-continent as a single territory. And as history says, all the occupied territories of the Britishers fought for them in the Second World War against Germany. Royal Air Force and Royal Navy were stationed in Sri Lanka. They were also joined by 7th Australian Division and 1st African Division.

A journey to the colonial destinations of Sri Lanka brought us to the Commonwealth War Graves at Colombo-Jawatta. This cemetery is in honour of those soldiers who laid there lives while fighting for the British and allied forces in the Second World War. Commonwealth War Graves cemetery is right besides (or inside the campus of) Jawatta Cemetery, which is a Muslim cemetery belonging to the Trustees of the Jawatta Mosque. Jawatta cemetery is the biggest one with 625 headstones of war soldiers, laid on a one and a half acre plot of land. Its peaceful inside. The cemetery is maintained by National Botanical Gardens Department.

DSC08006The entrance to the cemetery incorporates the Memorial Tablets commemorating over 300 men who died while serving in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), whose graves either could not be found or, if found, could neither be permanently maintained nor (for religious or other reasons) moved to cemeteries where their maintenance for all time would be assured.

What we found most interesting that the Liveramentu Cremation Memorial also stands within this cemetery and commemorates over 150 men of the Hindu faith who died while serving in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and who were accorded the last rite required by their religion – committal to fire. So it was very surprising for us to find ऊँ (Om) and ऊँ भगवते नमः (Om Bhagvate Namah) inscribed on the grave stones inside the cemetery. A first such instance witnessed by me.

As per information by Commonwealth War Graves Commission, in addition there is also a memorial commemorating 28 Italian prisoners of war who died during 1939-45 and who are buried in Sri Lanka, stands within this cemetery. There is also a section dedicated to the Muslim soldiers from middle-east and African countries.

There is another Commonwealth War Graves cemetery in Colombo at Borella. It contains War Graves (including those of a German soldier, a German merchant seaman, a German interned civilian and an Austrian nursing sister); and a War Cross is erected. There are now over 60, 1914-1918 and nearly 300, 1939-1945 Commonwealth war casualties commemorated in this site. 4 casualties of the 1939-1945 war are unidentified.

DSC08008As history says, there was an air raid by Japan on Colombo on Easter Sunday (5th April) of 1942. Few days later there was an attack on Trincomalee too. All these lives were lost in these attacks and few other were killed when there ships were sunk. Trincomalee and Kandy also have such cemeteries. Family members of these war soldiers from across the world come occasionally to pay there homage to them.

DSC08009How to reach

Commonwealth War Graves is located 1.5 kilometres from the centre of the city of Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Torrington Avenue in the direction of Jaawatte. The war graves plot is in the rear left corner of the municipal cemetery.

Waiting for gates to open!
Waiting for gates to open!

The opening hours of this cemetery are 07:00 – 16:00 every day. There is no resident caretaker so the cemetery cannot be accessed outside of these hours. Actually, when we reached there, we too had to wait for the caretaker to come with the keys and open the gate as it was locked and there was no other tourist.

DSC08021Srilankan capital Colombo has an international airport and closest Indian Airport Trivandrum Airport in Kerala has non stop one hour flight to Colombo operated by Sri Lankan. The return journey between Trivandrum Airport and Colombo Airport hardly costs 16,000 Rs. There are also flights from Delhi, Chennai and Mumbai to Colombo.

White Water rafting in Bali

Bali is know for its culture and beaches. But it is also a hot spot for adventure. A classic two hour visually spectacular rafting trip on the Ayung river in Ubud region of Bali is a mix of excitement, fun & breathtaking views. Carving through some of Bali’s most fantastic landscape, Class II & III rapids wind through deep valleys, cascading waterfalls, dense tropical rainforest and towering cliffs. An adventure worth an experience while in Bali.

There are a few rafting operators in and around Ubud and Sobek is one of them which was our operator for the trip. Rafting is a thrill and it helps when the instructors are lively and engaging. The base is just a few kilometres from Ubud town in the forest area. Rafters get into gear at the base and then trek downhill amidst deep forest to the river.

Rapid might not be high grade but was fairly long and thrilling. Two hour rafting trip has many surprises, including passing under waterfalls and through dense forests.

What was the most intriguing part was the reliefs and carving n the rock faces! With towering cliffs on both sides and deep river in between, how come anybody did this!! Big surprise…

As I said that though the rapid was grade II and grade III but it has some of its adventurous moments. See for yourself…

The rafting route exposes to beauty of the countryside in Ubud. Ubud is one of the most beautiful and hence tourist active region of Bali. Angung mountain is close to Ubud. Ayung river flows from the hill. Locally it is believed that the river water has medicinal properties. It might be true as there are many herbs in the forest and  river flowing through these medicinal herbs might be carrying their properties. It is believed that the water has a cure for skin diseases and joint pains. You will often find people taking bath in the river to get treatment. People often get out of all there clothes and keep their body immersed in water for hours. We found many during our rafting trip.

A perfectly enjoyable experience to have, while in Bali. It was another departure for us from the standard image of Bali. Worth to have experience.

You can also watch a video of this rafting experience on my YouTube channel-

Vagabond in Spiti Valley : Tabo

Just 48 kms before Kaza is Tabo. Tabo village houses one of the biggest and rare monasteries in Spiti. It is also considered to be one of the holiest. Tabo is right on the left banks of the Spiti river. It is a big valley down there and so much so that you tend to forget that you are at an altitude of 3280 metres and already deep inside the cold desert of Spiti.

First look of the Tabo village

Tabo is just before Kaza. So adventure drivers and riders going to Kaza are often in hurry to reach Kaza as it is the final destination in the Spiti. They are also tired of long journey during the day. That prevents them from spending ample time at Tabo. The other problem is that there travel itinerary is so prepared that they mostly move towards Kunjam Pass and Manali on way back or spend a day at Kaza visiting Ki (Kye or Kee) Gompa, Kibber and Lanza, as I did. One needs time to see Tabo monastery and best way is to come back the next day. It might also be ideal to come back and spend a day visiting Tabo and Dhankar monasteries.

Tabo monastery is said to hide some of the finest of all Indo-Tibetan art. Few people also refer it as Ajanta of the Himalayas for its sheer treasure of art. Tabo monastery has nine temples, stupas and cave shrines. All the ancient temples are made of mud and wood. Due to arid and dry weather of this region, they have survived for so long. Founded in 996 AD Tabo is said to be the oldest Buddhist complex which has been continuously operative since its inception.

Above the monastery there are number of caves carved into cliff face. Having seen such caves in many films, it was adventurous to visit them. These caves are being used for meditation for centuries. There is also a assembly hall in the caves and some paintings, chants on the rock face. These caves look astonishing. They were also used as shelter by monks during the winter. Even today monks will use few of them for meditation. Few other are abandoned and are decaying. Its a small trek from the Tabo village to the caves. While caves look narrow from outside, but many of them have ample space inside. Few also have different rooms inside and have properly laid down walls and smoothened floors.

Tabo monastery has huge collection of frescoes, thankas, manuscripts, murals, paintings depicting Buddhist pantheon, principles, life and teachings. The manuscripts and inscriptions tell in detail about the idea, history and life of this monastery. This monastery is also unique in this manner that while all other monasteries in the himalayas are perched on hills and cliffs, this Tabo monastery is located at the bottom of the valley on the banks of the river. The monastery still has around 50 monks living there. Dalai Lama has himself visited this place twice for Kalachakra festivals.

Once you are here, this place seems to be from different world. While coming from big metros, one will not believe that life still exists in these areas. But its very enriching and needs to be visited with time in hand. Its a heritage like no other.

Tintin is calling for the Comic Strip Festival

Fete de la BD - StripfeestIf you love comics, then you will certainly love Tintin and when it comes to Tintin, Belgians love him. He is fondly considered as the first citizen of the capital city Brussels. No doubt that Brussels celebrates every year a festival dedicated to comics and comic strips. A unique event of this type anywhere in the world. Belgium has actually created a niche for itself in organising some exclusive festivals, and Comic strip is one of them. This year, festival will be from 2nd to 4th September. So, if you are a comic lover, then it is time to pack and head to Brussels. Here is everything you would like to know about this year’s edition of Comic Strip Festival.

Ninth Art

Belgium, and Brussels in particular, have been fertile ground for comic strips from the very beginning, so it’s entirely fitting that they dedicate a full weekend to the rich cultural heritage that is the “Ninth Art.” Since it began in 2010, the Brussels Comic Strip Festival has grown by leaps and bounds and acquired a reputation as a premier festival in the Ninth Art world. More than 100,000 people are now expected to attend each year as well as 250 renowned authors. And there will be a lot to entice everybody: The endless mazes of the Brussels Comic Strip Festival, the superb collector’s items from the great Journal Tintin Rally, and the impressive giant floats of the Balloon’s Day Parade. A wide array of offerings to delight little kids as much as grown-up comic strip fans and Sunday readers.

Fete de la BD - StripfeestAt the Brussels Comic Strip Festival, which will set up shop in the Parc de Bruxelles, there will be hundreds of signings, exhibits, a packed international pavilion, workshops, and activities in every direction. Sales, and contests awaiting festival-goers. This year the Brussels Comic Strip Festival will also provide the perfect occasion to celebrate several important anniversaries: the tenth anniversary of the Raymond Leblanc prize for Young Artists, the 70th anniversary of Le Lombard’s publishing house, as well as Lucky Luke’s 70th birthday. This is the chance to top off the weekend with a few extra surprises!

Finally, it should be noted that this year, the Brussels Comic Strip Festival will play host to a greatly expanded international programme. Just like the multiculturalism in Brussels, the stands under the tents and the outdoor activities will be conducted in various languages. French, Dutch and English will of course be widely present, but also Spanish, Italian, Finnish or even Korean will be heard. As to help the visitor to quickly identify the language in which an event will take place, a free programme of the Brussels Comic Strip Festival, mentioning all languages of all events, will be distributed in the tents.

Comic FestivalBrussels will show more than ever that it deserves the title of comic strip capital. Comic strip walls, museums, and bookstores will be in the spotlight while special comic strip activities will pop up around Brussels throughout the weekend and beyond. The whole of Brussels will be decked out in comic strip colours for the first weekend of September. The occasion to highlight the fact that Brussels is bursting with can’t-miss comic strip places: whether it is the 53 comic strip walls scattered around the city, the numerous specialised bookstores and museums, ninth art lovers have found their headquarters.

A Little Train will link these hotspots throughout the weekend. Free of charge, it will make its way through the streets of Brussels from the Brussels Comic Strip Festival’s marquee entrance. It will take visitors on a tour several kilometres in length, passing by, or stopping at, the Comic Strip Museum, the MoOF (Museum of Original Figurines), the Korean Cultural Centre which will present its second comic strip exhibition, comic strip walls, specialised bookstores, and other points of interest.A free Comic Strip Pass comes with this tour and offers discounts at museums and stores.

Comic stripsAnother way to explore these comic strip sites is to take advantage of the free guided tours led by professional guides specialising in comic strips. On one hand, there will be a walking tour of comic strip murals dotting the European capital: over the course of an hour and a half, the guides will share the unique history of the murals, these sections of abandoned walls decorated with comic strip themes. On the other hand, there will be a three-hour bicycle tour departing from, and returning to BIP (Brussels Info Place) that runs to Laeken, off the beaten path, and visits jewels like the Corto Maltese mural and the Parc de Laeken.

Special Comic Strip Festival activities

The Improv League, in addition to its performances under the marquees, will offer fans the chance to take full advantage of two weekend performances at the Marni Theatre. The Improv Match will obviously be enhanced with the concept of randomness: along with three comedians, the show will include two cartoonists. Together, they will share a funny improvisational moment, combining theatre and drawing. The Cinematek will also play along by presenting a comic strip film each day during the Brussels Comic Strip Festival weekend. Personalities from the comic strip world whose works inspired the film or vice versa will introduce “Paul in Quebec,” “The Army of the Twelve Monkeys,” and “Planet of the Vampires.” The films will be shown in their original language with subtitles in French and Dutch or English.

Comic StripIn addition to the five major publishing houses, and tens of small and micro publishers, the many merchants and BD booksellers and 250 authors present, the chapters of the Comic Festival will bubble with cultural, recreational and professional activities on first weekend of September. This year, the Comic Festival aims to launch on the discovery of the ninth art of close or distant lands. An international pavilion will welcome representatives from more than ten countries around the world, as well as their authors, their works and their curiosities.

Talks: For the third consecutive year, the Comic Festival programme is complemented by a double series of conferences, hosted by the authors and designers of all backgrounds. This year, the first series is entitled “Comics around the world”. Quebec, the guest of honour this year, and the participants of the International Pavilion will host discussions, round tables and presentations to lead visitors through the culture of the ninth art. The second series, “When Comics become teachers”, analyses how comics can offer everyone current topics, society matters and sometimes complex science.

Exhibitions: A number of free exhibitions will pop up under the big top. These vital partners are also bringing the renowned exhibitions and retrospectives of their author. It’s a chance to discover unexpected gems or original drawings! The Jeu de Bulles gallery in Brussels will also flaunt its impressive collection of pieces from the world of Hergé. Finally, the 22 cartoonists of The Cartoonist will celebrate the comic strip and its heroes in their exhibition, with which they have grown up and frequently referred to in their own drawings. And this is but a brief selection: the Centre belge de la bande dessinée, The Cartoonist, BD Enchères, Banque Dessinée, 501st FanWars Garrison and the 9th Art Gallery also provide a nice compilation of the most original surprises.

Comic FestivalWorkshops and entertainment: In addition to the necessary Spirou Festival and entertainment and games planned for the 70 years of Lombard, an infinity of other options are available to all festival-goers. Those who want to laugh uproariously can relax in the spectacle of the improvisation of the actors of the Ligue d’Impro, led by Quebec’s designers. Those who like to see things large can admire the giant fresco which Frank Pé will make during the Brussels Comic Strip Festival.  Those who want to engage in the delicate art of caricature can follow the advice of the Atelier 24. Finally, the “geeks” and fans of manga can meet in Belgotaku to hunt for manga treasure, to read or to learn to draw the Japanese way. For the most avid of new horizons, the International Pavilion will reveal the comic in all its diversity.

Finally, toddlers and youth will see their creativity challenged; they will have fun tinkering, becoming revampers or by colouring in the Kids Zone, or learn the ropes of humorous comics by creating their own board at the Macadam Valley stand. The more adventurous will visit the “Sky High Survival”, an inflatable structure over six metres high erected by Éditions Kana.

Tintin RallyThe journal Tintin Rally: The Brussels Comic Strip Festival is organising the journal Tintin Rally for the third year in a row. In what has become an essential weekend tradition, the race of vintage vehicles will gather nearly 80 collector cars. On Sunday, 4 September, vintage vehicles found in the journal Tintin from 1946 to 1988 will be invited to participate in the great rally. After a journey of about one hundred kilometres and a stop at the Hergé Museum, these cars will arrive in Brussels from 2:30 PM. The public will then be able to come and admire the myriad of auto bodies at Place des Palais/Paleizenplein next to Parc de Bruxelles/Warandepark where the festival of the Brussels Comic Strip Festival will be in full swing at the same time. This should be a delightful spectacle for people of all ages and interests. At the end of the race, a panel of judges will award the prizes for the cars that best match the journal Tintin.

EDAN5232The Balloon’s Day Parade: On the occasion of the Brussels Comic Strip Festival, the 8th Balloons’ Day Parade will take place along the main streets of Brussels. Composed of famous Belgian comic strip characters, the Balloons’ Day Parade will give kids young and old the opportunity to see these gigantic balloons. This year, the Balloons’ Day Parade will take place on Sunday 4 September. For an hour and a half, a parade of giant balloons taking the form of comic strip characters will cross the city, turning it upside down. The Balloons’ Day Parade and the Comic Strip festival will plunge comic fans into the fantastic world of Belgian comics. Another brand new balloon representing a famous comic strip character will join this year’s parade.  The impressive sight of the balloons being inflated will begin in the morning at the Place des Palais. During the afternoon, Billy, Spirou, Tintin, Le Chat and their new friends will parade through the city centre. The route comes to an end at De Brouckère, where the balloons will be deflated. The Brussels Police Band will open the parade. In addition, folk groups from around Belgium will join this colourful parade to provide entertainment.

(All photos: courtesy Visit Brussels)

Asus goes premium, in show and in phones as well!

The launch of Asus Zenfone2 series was for mass and Zenfone3 series was launched for class. The difference was quite striking- in the phones of the new series as well as the launch event. Exactly an year ago launch event for the Zenfone2 series was in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and the event though hi-tech looked like a mass event. But Zenfone3 was launched in India on Wednesday in a Delhi 5* hotel for a select audience in a fashion show type atmosphere. There was a different feeling altogether for the event, and that applied to the new series as well. (See at the bottom a exclusive video of the event.) 

Huge anticipation!
Huge anticipation!

ASUS CEO Jerry Shen was there to announce the launch and marking the availability of the latest ZenFone 3 range of smartphones during the Zenvolution event, making India one of the first countries to have access to the stunning new line-up of smartphones.

Well, here I am not reviewing the phones or the other gadgets, but talking just about the show. Regional head for India & South Asia Peter Chang introduced the phones and the laptops. Besides the Zenfone3 series smartphones, launch was also for ASUS ZenBook 3 and ASUS Transformer 3 Pro PC.

Zenfone3 series smartphones are in four models- the basic Zenfone3 has two high-end versions- Zenfone3 Ultra and Zenfone3 Deluxe. There is also a low end version- Zenfone3 Laser.

Next were ASUS ZenBook 3, an ultra-sleek and lightweight notebook with a premium aluminum design, and ASUS Transformer 3 Pro,  which company claims to be the world’s most versatile PC.

What was similar from the last launch of Zenfone2 with this one was the fact that ASUS felt its competition with Apple both the times. While earlier it tried to compare its phones with Apple in terms of features, while this time it tried to match Apple’s premium feel as well. Hence were the prices which had a touch of luxury segment. Perhaps ASUS has realised that the way to consumers heart is not just by the features, but through the luxury feel as well.

The products were showcased in a fashion show produced by designer-duo Shivan & Narresh. Well, it looked impressive- Look for yourself-

And then, there was the show-stopper- leading lady of silver screen – Sonakshi Sinha. Another thing that haven’t changed from the last time was the brand ambassador. Sonakshi continues to be there promoting ASUS phones diligently. She was stunning in her dress and was all smiles. Look for yourself-

A great show put together by ASUS. But, wait for the reviews and then it will be left to see whether it has guts to steal the hearts of the Indian consumers.

See the video to have a feel of the electrifying launch-

Vagabond in monsoon at Gokarna & Om beach!

Konkan region is one of the best places in India to enjoy monsoon. Ancient temple town of Gokarna comes into this region and it is a perfect place for soaking into some quiet, relaxing moments. While talking about Gokarna, I am talking about not just Gokarna, but also about some nearby beaches, which largely fall into Gokarna as a destination. Gokarna is a temple town in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka and is very close to Goa. Gokarna is a small and remote holy town, with four of India’s most secluded and pristine beaches nestled nearby. It draws both pious pilgrims and hedonistic holiday makers with equal enthusiasm. There are many temples in this town and main one among them is the temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Gokarna town has its own beach, but that’s not as tempting as other beaches around the town. Town sees heavy rush during many festivals but while monsoon its calm and cosy. Monsoon has its own charm in the region.

Om beach is located 8 km from Gokarna. It derives its name from the two semicircular coves which join to form an inverted symbol of Om. It is the place where you can see many numbers of Hippi Sadhus doing their penance. It is also a major center for water sports activities such as surfing, water skiing, para sailing etc. Om Beach is the most happening beach, and is the only one that’s reachable by car or rickshaw.

The others are around a 20 minute hike away from each other through the hills and over rocks, or a short boat ride away. The last beach, Paradise Beach, is not much more than a tiny protected cove that’s a patch of hippie paradise. Gokarna town has plenty of hotels. Instead, find yourself a basic hut right on the beach. Om and Kudle beaches both have shacks offering accommodations, while places also open on Paradise and Halfmoon beaches during the tourist season from November to March. There are also a few new luxury resorts in the area. But during monsoon, its leisure being here with no rush. But then because of lesser number of tourists, there is also a chance of closed guest houses and restaurants. But then there will be always a better bargain.

Hills surrounding Gokarna are said to be mythological, with stories about them being related to Ramayana. It is also said that this is the are which was called as Kishkindha (किष्किंधा). There is a hill with reference to being as Hanuman’s mother’s place.

Getting there
The nearest airport is Dabolim, in Goa. From there it’s a four hour drive to Gorkana. Alternatively, trains on the Konkan railway stop at Gokarna Road station, 15 minutes from town, as well as Kumta and Ankola stations, both around 25 kilometers from Gokarna. Gokarna is also well connected by bus from major cities such as Madgaon in Goa, and Mangalore and Bangalore in Karnataka. Om beach is another 8 kms from the Gokarna town.

Its Japan all over at the Grand Place in Brussels, in flowers!

Flower-Carpet-2016_6We said some time back that it would be Japanese Kacho-Fugetsu & Koi at Brussels Flower Carpet this year. So the time has finally come and its Japan all over the Brussels Grand Place, and with beautiful flowers. This year’s Flower carpet is now open for the visitors today. The Brussels Flower Carpet is one of the most amazing flower shows in the world and also one of the most awaited ones. Hence here it comes.

A  look at the this years’s carpet-

After two years of preparation, the 20th Flower Carpet is finally on show in the Grand Place at Brussels for visitors to admire over the next three days. This year’s carpet at the Belgium capital celebrates 150 years of Belgo-Japanese relations and features a Japanese design in honour of the occasion.

Flower carpet making is a very specialised process which needs precision, knowledge and timing. So here are five facts you need to know about the 20th Flower Carpet:

  1. It is made up of 600,000 flowers. Most of them are begonias, but there are also dahlias, grasses and dyed bark.
  2. It is 75 m long and 24 m wide – that’s more than 1,800m² of flowers!
  3. It took a team of 100 volunteers eight hours to put it together.
  4. It was conceived by a young Japanese designer, Fuji Suzuki, who drew inspiration from Japanese representations of flowers, birds, the wind and the moon to depict the beauty of nature.
  5. It honours more than 150 years of friendly commercial, diplomatic and social relations between Belgium and Japan.

A look at this years carpet in making-

Practical info

The Grand Place in Brussels will be dressed in its Flower Carpet on 12, 13, 14 and 15 August 2016. The public will be able to access it on 12 August from 1 pm to 5:30 pm and on 13, 14 and 15 August from 10 am to 10 pm. The opening ceremony, fireworks and sound and light show will take place on 12 August at 10 pm. If you want to admire the carpet as a whole, don’t miss the panoramic view from the balcony of the Town Hall. Visits will be available from 10 am to 10 pm (last entry at 9:30 pm). There is a entry price of €5 but children under 10 get in free.

(All photos in the post courtesy VisitBrussels ©Wim Vanmaele)

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