Exploring the unexplored : Sat taal near Harsil in Gangotri valley


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Himalayas are filled with glacial lakes, actually a lot of them at various altitudes and in different sizes. All of them have their own distinct beauty. Their are many lakes which are single and many others attached to a single system. Many are mystical and a lot mythical as well. So having seen most majestic high altitude lakes in Indian Himalayas from Kashmir to Sikkim, it wasn’t a surprise at all to have heard about seven lakes known as Sat taal (सात ताल) in Gangotri valley of Uttarakhand, just above the village of Dharali. But what kept my interest was the fact that these lakes have been largely unexplored. Hence, despite very limited time to squeeze out of the hectic schedule of our Bloggers Bus trip organised by Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board (UTDB), we were off to the lakes.

Starting the trek from Dharali village on main Gangotri road

Trek was’t tough, somewhere in scale between easy to moderate. Lakes would not have been too majestic but were very interesting. Trek starts from Dharali village which is just three kilometres from Harsil on the road to Gangotri. Let’s do a photo journey to the trek.

Climbing through the Dharali village. You can see a now abandoned old house in the image below-

A view of Bandarpunch massif amidst the cloud cover as seen while trekking towards the lakes (below)

A closer look of Bandarpunch or Bandarpoonch (बंदर पूंछ) literally meaning tail of a monkey for its shape. Mythologically this reference is to Hanuman. This massif actually has three peaks- Bandarpunch-I (6316 mts) in the centre, Bandarpunch-II (6102 mts) towards west and Kalanag (6387 metres) towards north east.

Some huge rocks on the way to lakes (below). Presumably such rocks would have been used as shelter from rough weather. Tourism department now plans to develop such rocks as attractionLeaving the village behind and moving towards lakes through the forest trail (below)

Right opposite on the hills across the river Bhagirathi we can see the Mukhba village and the Ganga temple (below). This is the village, where Goddess Ganga is worshipped in the winters when the temple is Gangotri is closed.

Ganga temple at Mukhba

While right above the hill that we are climbing, we can now see snow  peaks above the tree line (below)

…and a closer look!And finally we reach the first of the lakes after almost one and half hours of trekking (below)

This is Mridunga taal (मृदंग ताल) also called locally as Madunga taal (below). It is at an altitude of 9600 ft. It is called so perhaps because the trees around the lake make a sound similar to ‘mridunga’. Though not big, but this is the most beautiful of the lakes.

The trail from first lake to the next one is slightly steep, but not tough one.

After trekking for another 15 minutes, we reach the second of the lakes. Actually, here we have two lakes close to each other. One of them has been now covered with stones and boulders rolling down from the mountains during rains and slides. This second lake is called as Dabria taal. Dabria refereed to here as stones. But the third lake is very interesting. Area wise, this is the biggest of all the lakes. But it is a lake in disguise. On the first lake, you will wonder where is the lake! As you won’t see a pool of water anywhere. What we see is a big meadow surrounded by deodar trees around. This setting will remind you of Khajjiar in Himachal Pradesh. But actually, this whole meadow rests on the lake bed. There is water beneath this green carpet (below) and as soon as you put a foot on this meadow (more towards the centre of it) you will feel the ground shaking (you can see the fellow trekkers jumping on this meadow to get that feeling of ground going up and down in the video linked at the end of the post)

This is called as Chadkia Taal and it it is at an altitude of 9918 ft. This name comes locally from this grassland based on lake water.

Looks like Khajjiar! Isn’t it!

Another two lakes are close by. Next one is the Rikh taal at an altitude of 9962 ft (below). The name Rikh comes from hindi name Reech (रीछ) for sloth bears. Presumably this area might be having a good number of sloth bears around.

The fifth lake is called as Bakria taal (below) and it is located at an altitude of 10,034 ft. It might have got its name as one of the favourite locations for cattle to graze.

These are the only lakes that can be seen. But that makes only five. We were told that other two lakes still remain unexplored and they are bit higher in the mountains. Still, legends say that there are seven lakes and hence they are called as Sat Taal. Most importantly all these seven lakes are perhaps fed with a single system. Since they are at different heights, water from the highest lake flows down to the next one and that continues. Water from the lowest one the Mridunga taal flows down to Bhagirathi river near Dharali (below). But changing weather and less snowfall has reduced these lakes into  small ponds.

Besides enjoying these lakes, this place is beautiful for trekking, hiking and may be camping. You have carpet of flowers at various places like the ones below-

You will largely see rhododendrons in red or orange colours in this region. But here you can even find rhododendron flowers in a mix of purple and while colours, like the one below-

As you go up, view keep getting better and better. This particular area is just behind the Srikanth and Draupadi Ka Danda peaks. On a clear day you can have a very clear view of these ranges while going up. But even on a cloudy day, you can have views like this to mesmerise you-

More from Bloggers Bus 1.0!

Read: Why Travelling to Yamunotri is just not a pilgrimage

Also Read: Faith sees no fear at Yamunotri 

Quick Bits: Dharali is just three kilometres from Harsil. So, though Dharali has a few hotels and guest houses, you can make Harsil as a base for the trip to the region. Trek from Dharali to Sat taal is a moderate one. A round trip will take at least three hours, depending on pit (photo) stops. You can even think of camping up in the mountains. Few operators at Dharali will arrange a camping and hiking trip for you. You can get in touch with Tourist Officer at Uttarkashi (GMVN rest house, Uttarkashi) or Sanjay Singh Pawar at Dharali (Mobile no 9410521508) for any help in this regard.

You can watch a video of all of these lakes and the trekking to them on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below

Have you ever explored such new areas on a trek in Himalayas? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.

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World’s first ANGRY BIRDS WORLD entertainment park opens in Qatar

You would have enjoyed the Angry Birds game, but now it is time to enjoy the Angry Birds entertainment park. And, it’s unique. The world’s first ANGRY BIRDS WORLD entertainment park has opened its doors to residents and visitors to Qatar, transforming the classic bird-flinging game into a cluster of high-octane attractions designed to entertain every member of the family. Located in Qatar’s largest fashion, dining and entertainment destination, Doha Festival City, the 17,000 sq.m park comprises an indoor space of 6,500 sq.m. 

Inspired by the popular digital game, the park offers its visitors a heart-pounding experience with many attractions such as the Blast Bomb – a drop and twist tower that features free-fall motion from a height of 11 metres, or Red Alert where visitors are hurled into an exhilarating 360-degree spin.  One of the park’s uniquely impressive attractions is the Big Tree, which offers both children and adults a fun edutainment experience encompassing science, music and art.  

For adventure junkies, the tree also houses “Own the Sky”, a 106-metre zip line that allows participants to cut through the air at rip-roaring speeds. Visitors can also test their physical strength with “Fierce Flight” – an incredible ropes course challenge.  

ANGRY BIRDS WORLD is a new addition to Qatar’s expanding urban and family entertainment offering, which tourism officials have marked as a priority in a five-year strategy designed to diversify visitor source markets. Qatar’s entertainment portfolio includes a range of exciting festivals, celebrating everything from food and shopping to music and comedy. The country’s longest nation-wide festival – Qatar Summer Festival – kicked off this June in tandem with the Russia FIFA World Cup 2018, with fan zones in venues and hotels across the country designed to give a taste of what is to come in 2022 when Qatar hosts the FIFA World Cup. 

Simo Hämäläinen, Senior Vice President, Brand Licensing at Rovio Entertainment, commented: “Our new world-class attraction based in Qatar is another clear demonstration of the global appeal of the Angry Birds brand. Rovio’s current licensing roadmap is strongest to date, bringing great new ways for our fans to enjoy Angry Birds. The brand’s future looks bright and is being spearheaded with the theatrical release of The Angry Birds Movie 2 in September 2019.”

ANGRY BIRDS WORLD constitutes one of the four major entertainment parks that are introduced by Trimoo and set to open at Doha Festival City, located along Al Shamal Road. Upon completion, the unique entertainment destination will be home to –  SNOW DUNES™ – the country’s first indoor snow park set in an ancient Arabian village; VIRTUOCiTY™ – the region’s first dedicated digital gaming and entertainment hub; and JUNIVERSE™ – the world’s first city in space that aims to inspire and entertain children.

Angry Birds World in Numbers 

  • World’s 1st Angry Birds World entertainment park 
  • Over 20 high-quality thrilling rides
  • Over 17,000 sq.m of mad fun (6,500sq.m – indoor  | 10,500sq.m – outdoor)
  • Trampoline Park – 1,300 sq.m
  • Roller Glider – 106m long
  • Super Slingshot Tower 42m high | capsule can reach 60m high
  • 1st indoor/outdoor karting track in the world  (1st multi-level karting track in the region, 261m track length | 11 Go Karts)
  • Over 70 arcade games
  • How about snagging450 sq.m retail area 
  • Refuel on the goMore than 7 Food & Beverage options

Have you ever been to a theme based entertainment park? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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A notched up performer in ZenFone5Z by Asus

Asus has brought back its ZenUI for ZenFone5Z, which it had done away with in its ZenFone Max Pro M1 just a couple of months back, but it promised to keep it as clean and as blot free as possible. Still that hardly mattered in all discussions around the launch of the new flagship smartphone by the Taiwanese giant.

In its first impressions Zenfone 5z looks like a good performer. Asus has tried to pump in many things into its body. So as it has positioned itself as competitor to the likes of OnePlus 6 in performance, it has also simultaneously got itself a notched up display to look like Apple iPhone X.  Packed in a aluminium body the phone comes in two colours- meteor silver and midnight blue.

So, a notched display in 6.2 inches screen size is what makes it look smarter and trendy. Got glass on the back and its 165 gm body is 7.7 mm thick. Overall its design has got that premium feel.

So while the notched up display feels great for the gamers, it also gives you the option to hide the notch and let it look like more normal phone.

Good for gaming lovers

Also read: Asus dumps its ZenUI in Zenfone Max Pro M1

Simple setting to hide the notch
Bezel size and the bottom chin also has been reduced quite a lot to give it a bigger display

Asus Zenfone5z comes with Snapdragon 845 processor paired with Adreno 630 GPU for graphics. It is currently the best octa-core processor from Qualcomm, the same one as in OnePlus 6. This chip should take care of its solid performance.

The Qualcomm power

Better still is the 6GB RAM to start with and a 8GB RAM in its top variant. So, it gives wonderful experience of working on many apps simultaneously without a lag in speed or performance, making multitasking more enjoyable. ASUS is also said to have worked closely with Qualcomm to incorporate more AI features in this particular phone to make it stand out among all other phones with the same chip set.

Power packed performer

Also read: Zenfone 4 Selfie – Putting a jigsaw puzzle together

Another feature that ASUS proudly talks about its latest flagship phone is its camera. Zenfone5z comes with a dual rear camera. Main camera has a 12 MP sensor and secondary camera has a 8 MP sensor for 200 percent wider shots (but reduced resolution of course).

Dual rear camera

It also has a 8MP front camera for selfies and video calls. While the rear camera can record 4K videos, front camera has the capability to record 1080p HD videos. Looks good on paper but camera capabilities always have to be tested on hand in regular use.

 Another aspect that ASUS talks a lot about its latest phone is the use of Artificial Intelligence. It has incorporated more user sensing abilities in this phone and one of the areas loaded with this is it its camera sensor.

Bringing more to the camera technology

Phone has better features to put it to more professional use, better portraits and low-light photography. But for all those, who still prefer to let their camera work upon itself, this phone comes with a lot of options even in the auto mode.

Scene detection using artificial intelligence

One of the intelligent features is the automatic scene selection and adjusting the camera sensors accordingly. This sensor is said to be so developed that it can even differentiate between a cat and a dog. While taking a photo, sensor identifies the scene and displays its selection on the screen.

Camera detecting a flower

This feature is indeed helpful for all those who don’t want to go in nitty-gritty of composing a photograph using manual functions. Phone also uses intelligence in sorting your images in the folders section. It segregates the solo and group pictures, selfies, etc, in different folders automatically so as to help you in better search of the images from your stock.

Folder view of the gallery section

Zenfone 5z also gives a wonderful audio experience and is said to be among the only phones which have used two audio apps at a time to give an exhilarating sound. This again is something, which needs to be tested more in normal conditions for a verdict.

Audio capabilities of the ASUS Zenfone5z

ASUS also claims to have brought AI into battery charging. It has got a 3300mAh batter, similar to OnePlus 6. It also supports fast charging which can charge the phone from 5 % to 100 % in just slightly more than an hour. Battery power looks good but still remains to seen how it performs while hard gaming or long photography sessions. For all those who are habitual of night time charging, ASUS claims to have brought AI to increase the battery life which is often victim of overcharging. When plugged in for night charging, it will only charge the phone to 80% and let it be like this whole night before charging it to 100% right before the morning. Asus says, it can double the battery life in this manner.

Intelligent charging!

Unlike its earlier phones, Zenfone5z comes with a Asus headset bundled in the box. Phone retains the 3.5mm headphone jack and also offers a USB Type-C port on the bottom. The phone comes with Type-C to mini USB adaptor to enable it to get charged with other chargers as well. It is handy and relieves your memory of the pressure to remember to carry its Type-C charger everywhere.

Headset

Zenfone5z comes in three variants and two colours. Price of Rs 29,999 makes it the cheapest phone with Snapdragon 845 chip. Even the base variant comes with hybrid slot to increase the storage.

Price

Besides the ICICI bank offer, the phone also comes with a Complete Mobile Protection Plan offered by Flipkart for Rs 499 only.  Phone goes on sale from 9th July (three days from now) exclusively on Flipkart.

Have you used any ASUS smart phone earlier? How has been the experience? Share with us in the comments section below.

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Experience bliss on a cruise holiday


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Norwegian Bliss at Port Miami

Planning a holiday with family or friends? Opt for an ultimate cruise holiday. Norwegian Cruise Line’s sixteenth ship ‘Norwegian Bliss’ has been designed for the ultimate cruising experience and will sail to Alaska and the Caribbean beginning June 2018. Take a look at the exciting activities available on board offering best of luxurious accommodations, gourmet dinners, live entertainment and much more.

Two level electric-car race track

Race Track on Norwegian Bliss

Enjoy the blue sky above and turquoise waters below from the largest competitive race track at sea, a first for any North America-based cruise ship. Put your driving skills to test and experience a thrilling ride on the two-level competitive race track built at the top of deck 19, offering guests amazing views while twisting and turning at a speed of up to 30 miles per hour.

Open-air laser tag course

Laser Tag on Norwegian Bliss

Experience the first-ever open-air laser tag at sea on a North American-based ship. Get your friends and family to join you on a mission to search an abandoned spaceship and shoot for the stars in galactic laser tag. 

Heart-racing waterslides

Water slides on Norwegian Bliss

The ship’s Aqua Park includes two multi-story thrilling waterslides- the Ocean Loop which is a free fall slide with exhilarating loops that stretch down to the deck below; and the tandem Aqua Racer slide that allows guests to race side-by-side on inner tubes for more than 360 feet, both offering stunning ocean views. The not-so adventurous guests can enjoy the ship’s expansive pool, sundeck or six infinity hot tubs. Junior cruisers can splatter around and have a blast at the Kids’ Aqua Park, a watery wonderland of splash pads, water cannons, tipping buckets and slides.

Special kid’s zone

Splash Academy on Norwegian Bliss

Tiny cruisers, age six months to just under three years old, have a dedicated space to enjoy aboard Norwegian Bliss with the fleet’s largest Guppies playroom. For children between three to 12 years, Splash Academy offers fun activities while children from 13-17 years can hang out with their peers and make new friends at the Entourage. For video game lovers, Video Arcade is the place to be.

Ultimate pampering experience

Thermal Suite on Norwegian Bliss

After glacier trekking in Alaska or discovering hidden caves and sea pools at the Baths of Virgin Gorda in the Caribbean, Norwegian Bliss guests will be able to revive, refresh and recharge at the ship’s Mandara Spa that offers an ultimate pampering experience with its 24 treatment rooms, a full-service salon, barber shop and thermal suite. The luxurious thermal suite can transport guests to a deep state of relaxation, with unobstructed views of the ocean. Find instant stress relief in the spa’s hydro-therapy pool, whirlpools, steam room, dry sauna, sanarium and salt room.

Vibrant nightlife, Casino and Broadway style entertainment

Bliss Casino on Norwegian Bliss

Norwegian Bliss brings the best of live entertainment, electrifying deck parties and an expansive casino featuring hundreds of slot machines and table games to suit the likes of novice and pro gamblers alike. The Social Comedy & Night Club features sets from today’s most popular stand-up comedians, and then transforms into a chic nightclub late in the evening. Enjoy Broadway style live musicals like Jersey Boys, theme parties, grab a drink and groove to the music at legendary clubs and various lounges on the cruise.

180-degree observation lounge

Observation lounge at Norwegian Bliss

Guests will be in sheer awe at the 180-degree indoor Observation Lounge that offers expansive views at sea and features a full-service bar so guests can toast colourful sunsets with their favourite cocktail. More than 3,500 square feet of custom built floor-to-ceiling windows provide spectacular vistas while cruising past snow-capped mountains.

Luxury Spaces

Haven at Norwegian Bliss

Norwegian Bliss’ custom design offers guests the freedom and flexibility to ‘imagine Bliss’ and create their ideal experience at sea, with a wide variety of accommodations. The Haven located at the top of the ship is an exclusive enclave with private key-card access to the most luxurious, well-appointed and spacious accommodations. Studio staterooms with virtual ocean views are ideal for solo travellers and new connecting staterooms are best suited for large group or families traveling together.

Original as well as New Dining Concepts

Norwegian Bliss swimming pool

Foodies and cocktail connoisseurs will be able to dine, sip and savour to their heart’s delight with a breadth of dining and bar options aboard Norwegian Bliss, including signature favourites as well as exclusive new concepts. There are more dining options for you to enjoy than days of your cruise! The Waterfront, an outdoor promenade is designed to enhance guests’ connection to the ocean with al fresco dining, bars and lounge spaces and offer spectacular views of Alaska’s breathtaking scenery, wildlife and the Caribbean’s stunning turquoise waters.

Norwegian Bliss waiting for guests at port

Norwegian Bliss hosts excitement around every corner and delights guests with thrilling activities spanning the entirety of the ship. Get set and pack your bags for this blissful journey!

Have you ever experienced a cruise holiday on Norwegian Cruise Line ship? How was your experience? Please share with us in the comments section below.

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A guide to the best beaches in Chennai


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Chennai city’s location near the Bay of Bengal makes it a beach paradise. Apart from being a bustling commercial hub in the south, Chennai is famous for its long and pristine coastline that offers the best views, thrilling water sports and clean seashores to stroll on. Over and above that, you can indulge in some refreshing sightseeing and tasty street food at Chennai beaches. Here’s presenting the top 6 beaches in Chennai.

Best Beaches in Chennai

  1. Marina Beach
Pigeons flying over Marina Beach

One of the world’s longest urban beaches, Marina Beach is perennially flooded with tourists as well as locals. Even though swimming is not allowed at the beach, upto 30,000 visitors come to Marina Beach on a daily basis. Marina Beach is known for beach cricket. The beach is lined with statues of local and national legends, and features a jogger’s track, couple of swimming pools, an aquarium, a skating rink and over 1000 street food vendors. The promenade with high-mast lamps looks stunning at night. 

  1. Covelong Beach or Kovalam Beach
Fishermen at Covelong Beach

A fishing village located 40 kilometres away from Chennai, Covelong Beach is famous for its stellar sunsets. It’s on the East Coast Road enroute Mahabalipuram. The sands are white-gold and the waves bring a rush of blood to the head. This beach is famous for fishing and a number of water sports that attract many visitors. Surfing is a popular sport here. The beach is a great place to take solitary strolls or to feed the shutterbug in you. Popular sights near the beach are an old Catholic Church and a little fishing village. This beach is also known for its annual surfing, music and yoga festival.

  1. Elliot’s Beach
Sunrise at Elliot’s Beach

The cleanest beach in Chennai, Elliot’s Beach is also known as Besant Nagar Beach. The beach is relatively less crowded than Marina Beach and is famous for the Ashtalakshmi Temple and the Karl Schmidt Memorial, dedicated to a Dutch sailor who gave up his life to save drowning people. The waters of Elliot Beach are tranquil and inviting, ideal for lonely walks. The most visited site near the beach is the famous Velankanni Church. Popular authentic South Indian eateries at the beach you must visit are Anjappar Chettinad & Ponnuswamy Restaurant.

  1. Thiruvanmiyur Beach
Shores of Breezy Beach

Popularly known as Breezy Beach, Thiruvanmiyur Beach is located in the suburbs of Chennai. If you want to avoid the populated Marina and Elliot’s Beach, head on to Breezy Beach, which is clean and fairly secluded. Locals stroll on the clean promenade during evenings. The beach is calm and the air is refreshing. Popular activities on the beach are photography, yoga & meditation, and beach cricket. The beach is a conservation spot for Olive Ridley Turtle nesting season. You can enjoy delicious local seafood at one of its many food stalls.

  1. VGP Golden Beach
Seashore at VGP Golden Beach Resort

Around 20 kms from Chennai, VGP Golden Beach is a popular picnic spot. The Beach marks an important spot under VGP Universal Kingdom which is a famous entertainment park in Chennai. You can relax at private cabanas at the beach. Popular activities at the park are petting zoo, roller coaster, go karting, horror house, and a complete snow-theme park. The sunsets and sunrise at the beach are good for photography buffs. There are multi-cuisine restaurants and a bar. 

  1. Kasimedu Beach
Street food at Kasimedu Fishing Harbour

A lesser-known but spectacular beach in Chennai, Kasimedu Beach is enthralling and serene. It is a fishing harbour, not a sandy beach. The beach is ideal for early morning strolls when it is practically isolated. The Kasimedu pier and multiple fishing boats make picture-perfect sights. You can lounge about at the pier or play volleyball, which is a popular activity here. There are many boulders here and the locals and tourists indulge in casual fishing at the shore. 

Accommodation in Chennai

Treebo Niketana

There is no dearth of budget lodges and hotels in Chennai, but it makes no sense to stay at unknown and un-recommended places that may kill the spirit of your entire trip. To best enjoy the city’s beaches, pick a budget hotel that is conveniently located nearby, offering best-in-class services. Avoid haphazard physical hunting with online hotel booking in Chennai.

Book your stay at Treebo – India’s best budget hotel chain. You are given guaranteed amenities like breakfast, wi-fi and outstanding services. Low or mid-range, whatever your budget, rest assured you will find amazing hotel rooms to pick from. 

(All photos: Wikimedia)

Make the most of Chennai beaches by visiting these top beaches and have a special experience at each one of them. Leave comments below.

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eat! BRUSSELS, drink! BORDEAUX goes for big innovations in seventh year

On 6, 7, 8 and 9 September this year, the eat! BRUSSELS, drink! BORDEAUX festival will once again take over Brussels Park. The public will be able to go there to discover the signature dishes of about twenty Brussels chefs. To achieve the perfect balance and introduce new combinations, some fifty Bordeaux wine growers and wine merchants will be offering a wide range of wines that illustrate the simplicity, diversity, quality and accessibility of Bordeaux wines. A wonderful opportunity for Brussels residents and visitors to treat themselves to a delightful moment of relaxation and conviviality.

eat Brussels

The eat ! BRUSSELS, drink! BORDEAUX festival has again called on the best Brussels chefs. The seventh festival is full of innovations:

• A wider variety of restaurants. Several new chefs who have emerged from the Brussels scene will take part in the adventure to introduce the public to their emblematic dishes.

• For this year’s festival, a cheese bar and a dessert counter will be introduced to round off the chefs’ offerings. Every day, the cream of our cheese makers and pastry chefs will take turns introducing visitors to new flavours.

• This year, the Bordeaux Wine School is breaking new ground with the “secret gaming table”. The game is modelled on black jack and the participants are invited to bet on the characteristics of the wine in a blind tasting. The age of the wine, its flavours, its “appellation d’origine contrôlée”, etc. The bets are open and good humour guaranteed.

eat Brussels

Twenty-odd Brussels chefs

New chefs representative of Brussels are joining the celebration and will be enriching the festival’s offering. They will each be presenting visitors with a signature dish that symbolises their culinary identity, costing just 9 euros!

The unmissable TCHIN VITTEL zone

The TCHIN VITTEL zone offers visitors cooking workshops throughout the festival. In the company of the talented bistronomy chef Bruno Antoine, they will concoct their bistronomy box, which they will then be able to enjoy in a friendly atmosphere.

eat Brussels

Innovations

Dessert counter

Several great pastry chefs will take turns every day to complete the festival menu. They will be offering sweets lovers delicious dessert selections at the set price of 9 euros. Bordeaux wine growers and wine merchants will be glad to recommend you a wine that makes a perfect match for your dessert dish.

The chefs:

Nikolas Koulepis – Pâtisserie Nicolas Koulepis Anaïs Gaudemer – Cokoa Loic Henon & Joaquim Braz de Oliveira – Forcado Yasushi Sasaki – Pâtisserie Sasaki

Cheese bar

There is nothing like tasting a selection of cheeses accompanied by an excellent Bordeaux wine. Why not have a sweet wine with a blue cheese? This year, eat! BRUSSELS, drink! BORDEAUX is offering you the chance to meet several great Brussels cheese makers. They will introduce you to new flavours with their original selection.

The cheese makers:

Julien Hazard – Julien Hazard Affineur Véronique Socié – La Fruitière

Hélène Milan – Le Comptoir du Samson Octave Laloux – Saint Octave

Simply Bordeaux

eat Brussels

The Wines of Bordeaux, a key partner in the festival, are once again taking part in this gastronomical journey. The festival is a unique opportunity to discover the merits of the wines of Bordeaux and to meet nearly 50 Bordeaux wine growers and wine merchants who will share their passion in a congenial and relaxed way. These men and women who make the wines of Bordeaux will tell you their stories and share their anecdotes. These easy-to-drink, accessible wines, the result of the meticulous blending of several grape varieties, will thrill people’s taste buds. A unique opportunity to discover the new, fresh and fruity Bordeaux reds, the dry white wines, the rosés, clairets and sweets wines which make wonderful apéritifs and go well with all styles of cooking. Wine pairings devised for the occasion will also be offered for the chefs’ dishes, the desserts and the cheese boards presented at the festival.

The Bordeaux Wine School workshops

(c)VISITBRUSSELS -E.Danhier

The Bordeaux Wine School tent offers a straightforward and entertaining overview, so that you no longer mix up Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, can match food with wine or even, quite simply, put your sensations into words. This year in addition the “secret gaming table”, festival goers will be able to explore new workshops on the subject of wine and gastronomy. The Wine School is joining forces with the chefs attending the festival to present unexpected wine pairings. The mouth-watering Choco’Bordeaux will thrill gourmets’ taste buds… All the workshops will be accessible with the WINE PASS.

The Bordeaux “Master classes”: another way of exploring the wines of Bordeaux Comfortably installed in the very beautiful Salle des Guichets of the BIP Building, novices and well-informed amateurs are guided through the estates and regions of the Bordeaux grands crus. 4 master classes will enable you to explore a Bordeaux wine family in more depth:

  • Sweet Bordeaux Master Class: a master class on the original pairing of sweet white Bordeaux wines with Belgian cheeses
  • Crus Classés de Graves Master Class: the Crus Classés de Graves will be presented in Brussels for the first time. The 2014 vintage will take pride of place
  • Master Class on the great wines of the Médoc: the Conseil des vins du Médoc [Wine Council of the Médoc] will introduce 6 “appellations” by way of 4 different vintages (2005, 2011, 2012 and 2015)
  • Grands Crus Classés de Saint-Emilion Master Class: a stroll through the prestigious Grands Crus Classés of Saint-Emilion
eat Brussels

Enjoy cashless!

BORDEAUX has switched to a cashless payment system. Visitors can obtain their swipe cards from one of the ticket offices, put money on them and use them as they please throughout the festival. This swipe card picks up your credit and/or Wine Pass. To pay for your drinks, simply place your swipe card on the cashless terminal and payment for the credits or tastings is automatically deducted. The chosen formula is simple. One credit is worth 1 euro.

eat Brussels

The dishes

All the chefs offer their signature dishes, their desserts and their cheese boards at a single price of 9 credits (i.e. €9). The credits are valid all over the festival site for buying dishes, soft drinks, beers and/or coffees.

Bordeaux wines:

Bordeaux wines can be discovered through a tasting route. Visitors must acquire a Wine Pass for this purpose (charged to their magnetic card). This Wine Pass is available on presale until 30 June at the price of 15 euros. The price will then change to 16 euros (€20 at the door) and includes, among other things, no fewer than 10 tastings (7 “Tent” tastings + 3 tastings of your choice), one Wine School workshop, one Omer beer tasting and one Vittel water. A great way to discover the wealth and subtlety of the wines of Bordeaux.

Have you have enjoyed Bordeaux wines? How was your experience? Please share with us in the comments section below.

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When an illuminated castle brightens the summer at Heidelberg


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High above the German city of Heidelberg realms world’s most popular ruin. Is there any place more beautiful in this world than between the historic walls of the castle beneath the shining stars during a warm summer night? For sure, there is! Just this place, but filled with music and dramatic or funny works of literature. Every year this castle is the site for two of most dramatic events- the Castle Festival and the Castle Illuminations.

Illuminated castle.

The legendary Castle Illuminations every year capture the imagination of thousands of people – hardly any other city offers such magical nights every year. Castle illuminations commemorate the destruction of Heidelberg Castle by the French General Melac in the years 1689 and 1693 during the War of Palatinate Succession. Its origin however was of a romantic nature. In order to welcome his freshly-betrothed bride Elizabeth Stuart as custom demanded, Elector Frederick V (1596-1632) ordained great fireworks, thereby instituting a tradition which has endured to the present day. The illumination of the beautiful facade of the Castle is complemented today by a brilliant fireworks display, which bathes all the Old Town in an awe-inspiring light. One can also enjoy the spectacle from the water on a fireworks boat trip. This years the first of the illumination was on June 2nd. But you have two more chances to witness this on July 14th and September 1st, 2018.

Bengali Flares. Photo credit: Jan Becke

Bengali flares slowly bathe the Heidelberg Castle in a mysterious red firelight, as if the ruins were on fire once again in their long history. As the last times in 1689 and 1693, when the troops of the Sun King Louis XIV burnt down the castle, leaving behind the world-famous ruins. When the glowing Castle slowly dies down, the second part of the spectacle begins – the brilliant fireworks over the Neckar. 

Illuminated castle. Photo credit: Tobias Schwerdt

The Elector Friedrich V first had the fireworks staged in 1613, in order to provide a fitting welcome for his newly-betrothed wife Elizabeth Stuart. These fireworks laid the cornerstone for the later festivals of light held in the night sky over Heidelberg – celebrating its 400th Jubilee in the year 2013. The banks of the Neckar and the Philosophers’ Walk around 10 o’clock are the best locations to admire the Castle Illuminations.

Fireworks at Heidelberg. Photo credit: Robin Schimko

Heidelberger Schlossfestspiele or the Castle Festival has already started on 7th June and it will run upto 29th July. Come, visit this summer festival, and experience theatre and music art in the most beautiful way: having a view over Heidelberg. And, so great is the aura and the settings, that I am sure, you will feel it as an experience of lifetime.

Fireworks in Heidelberg. View from Nepomuk Terrasse.

This year’s performances include the famous Germans story of the young orphaned girl Heidi who joins her grandfather’s house up the mountain in the Suisse Alps. It will be presented as a play for children (6 years and older) and their families. A fascinating story about friendship and the warm and charming personality of a child.

Fireworks in Heidelberg. View from Philosopher’s walk.

Besides, “If I Were a Rich Man” is what imagines the milkman Tevye in the musical Anatevka. Would he stay in Heidelberg forever if he were rich? Maybe. The popular musical will be presented in German language. The public can expect Russian and Jewish melodies within the beautiful setting of the historic walls.

Castle festival.

A further highlight of this year’s program, also in the big yard, are Carlo Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters, directed by theatre director Holger Schultze. A servant hires in two positions at a time and is facing a lot of trouble. How is solves this pell-mell in the end can be seen this summer in Heidelberg. Moreover, the philharmonic orchestra will present exclusive concerts with international top-class artists and young upcoming stars.

Theatre performance during castle festival.

Heidelberg is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Germany. The picturesque ensemble of the castle, the Old Town, and the river Neckar surrounded by hills, which inspired the poets and artists of romanticism, still fascinates millions of visitors from all over the world. First mentioned in 1196, Heidelberg was planned and built, together with the castle, in the 13th century. Heidelberg’s heyday as the capital of the Electoral Palatinate began not least with the foundation of the university – today the oldest in Germany – in 1386. Heidelberg was one of the few major German cities to be largely spared the destruction of the World War II. Today Heidelberg Castle is said to be one of the most favourite destinations for international travellers in Germany. So, no doubt that every year more than 11.9 million visitors come to the city.

Heidelberg in autumn. Photo credit: Jan Becke

But besides rich history and ever blooming romanticism, modern Heidelberg is also an educational hub, known to students world over for its universities. It is home to Germany’s oldest university, as well as to numerous others, and to a host of internationally renowned research institutes and research-based companies. Another aspect of Heidelberg’s creativity is its literature. In Heidelberg, literature is omnipresent. Taking a walk through the city, one finds publishing houses, bookshops and libraries around every corner. Taking a look at the vibrant scene of writers, translators and theatre life, one discovers a high level of literary productiveness. No day without literary event, no summer without literary festival, no year without literary award winners. Literature is literally everywhere. Since December 1st 2014 the city is UNESCO City of Literature within UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network.

Photo Credit : Thomas Kunert

Heidelberg is just 78 kms south of Frankfurt. Thus Frankfurt Airport is best for air connectivity to Heidelberg. From Frankfurt, there are various means to reach to Heidelberg including Airport shuttles, buses and trains.

Have you ever been to Heidelberg? Have you seen the Castle Illumination there? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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Photo tour of Hemis on the eve of Tsechu festival


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The place where Hemis festival takes place every year

It is that time of the year again when one of the most revered monastery in the Himalayan region Hemis of Ladakh will celebrate its annual festival, the Hemis Tsechu. It is considered to be the most important monastic festival of Ladakh. This monastery is drawing in more and more tourists- both domestic as well as international. It is becoming very popular for tourists to enjoy and immerse in local culture. Once you are in Ladakh, you will certainly like to enjoy the monastic festivals as well. Hemis festival will be celebrated this tomorrow and day after, i.e. 23rd and 24th June 2018. So, here we are on a photo tour of this famed monastery in this post.

Entrance to the Hemis monastery

Also read: Thiksey is one of the most glorious monasteries of Ladakh

Another side of the main courtyard where the Hemis festival takes place
Local Ladakhi people in traditional dress at Hemis monastery

Hemis is also considered to be the largest monastic institution in Ladakh. This two-day festival falls on the 10th and 11th day of the 5th month of the Tibetan lunar month and commemorates the birth of Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, also known as Guru Rinpoche. He is believed to be the second Buddha and brought Vajrayana Buddhism to Bhutan and Tibet. A major highlight of the celebrations is the resident Lamas donning colourful silk costumes performing sacred masked dances (or a ‘chaam’) accompanied by music from drums, cymbals and long horns in the monastery courtyard. These dances mark the victory of good over evil. As the Hemis festival is held during the peak summer season, it attracts the largest number of people from within and outside Ladakh. The festival is a good opportunity for all the villagers and families to get together and socialise and also a good chance for travellers to interact with the local people.

Devotees in the main prayer hall of the monastery
Statue of Guru Rinpoche in the main prayer hall

Also read: Experience Ladakh like never before

Upper Residence also called as Padma Odling. There are many balconies on the first floor, belonging to Royal families. There is also a Great Bliss Palace Balcony, a royal families special balcony.

Known for its rituals of sacred tantric dances

The whole of the 10th day of the Tibetan lunar calendar is considered to be a holy day. Many people come early in the morning and worship. Some of them also visit at night or late evening. Although there is no ceremony in the evening, they worship and take the blessings on this day. The festival is known globally for its rituals of sacred tantric dances that are believed to bring blessings of the Gods for the well being of sentient beings as well as peace and prosperity in the world.

Sacred scriptures and old manuscripts are also revered a lot.
Other structures, residences, hostels for monks close to Hemis monastery

Also read: Eight reasons to go to Ladakh in July

A lock on the door to The Lower Residence (Padma Odling)
Way to Padma Karpo Temple (Tsom Lhakhang). Old structure of Hemis is a maze of various halls

Hemis monastery belongs to the Drukpa lineage, also known as Dragon Order of the Mahayana Buddhism. Gyalwang Drukpa is its current spiritual head who presided over the Naropa ceremonies in 2016. Buddhism in Ladakh has a very rich history. Hemis monastery also reflects the close bond between Kings of Ladakh and their patronage to Buddhism in this Himalayan territory. It is said that Gyalwa Gotsangpa Gonpo Dorje (1189-1258) came to Ladakh in 13th century and established the Drupka lineage here. He is also considered to be one of the most celebrated yogis of Himalayas. He was disciple of the 1st Gyalwang Drukpa Tsangpa Gyare Yeshe Dorje (1161-1211). Gyalwa Gotsangpa is said to have meditated in a cave on the edge of the mountain right above the existing Hemis monastery. The monastery now has a meditation centre in his name.

Prayer hall of the current Gyalwang Drukpa
Upper structure of the main prayer hall housing the statue of Buddha
Masks often used for the dances during the festivals

Biking to Leh? Read: Journey to the roof top- Five of the highest mountain passes in the world

A young monk at the Hemis monastery
Main statue of Buddha in the prayer hall
Another one of beautiful statues at Hemis monastery

Centuries later, another master from Drukpa lineage the 1st Taktsang Repa Ngawang Gyasto (1573-1651) became the royal preceptor of Kingdom of Ladakh. He was also popularly known as Staktsang Shambunath. With the support of King Sengee Namgyal (1616-1645) he founded the Hemis monastery. Taktsang Repa had also come to this region to spread the teachings of Buddha. He reached here in 1624 and first founded the Hanley monastery which was the first monastic institution of Drukpa lineage. Two years later he arrived at Hemis and was received by King Sengee Namgyal and other members of his royal court. His arrival resulted in the flourishing of Drukpa lineage in Ladakh and adjoining Himalayan regions. He and his successors became the spiritual gurus of the Ladakhi Kings. Annual Hemis festival is said to have been introduced by Gyalsey Rinpoche.

Various prayer halls an other rooms also have a number of paintings on wall, many of them centuries old

Paintings depicting principles of tantric Buddhism
Another painting of Maitreyi Buddha with golden paint

Hemis has more than 200 branch monasteries in the Himalayas and more than 1,000 monks are under its care. Hence it is considered to be a living monument and heritage of Himalayas and its people.

Across Leh: Khardungla might have lost the height but not the sheen

Some of the old structures struggling to remain intact
Where the lamps are lit!

Have you ever been to Hemis or any other Ladakhi monastery during the festival? How has it been? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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Pigeon Island in Trincomalee is a snorkelling haven


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Trinco Blu by Cinnamon is the perfect getaway for guests seeking to indulge in the unmatched serenity of some of the most beautiful beaches of the eastern coast of Sri Lanka. If you are seeking a bit of sea-side adventure, booking your holiday at Trinco Blu will not disappoint. The magnificent hotel offers a complete package of adventure-based activities like catch and release fishing, whale and dolphin watching (marine mammal safari) and snorkelling in the sea surrounding the Pigeon Island in Trincomalee.

Pigeon Island, a scenic isle situated in the eastern coast of Sri Lanka, has increasingly become a popular snorkelling site, since the end of the civil war in 2009. Situated around 13 km away from Trinco Blu by Cinnamon, Pigeon Island is indeed a snorkeler’s paradise, with live coral reefs inhabited with over 100 species of corals. This splendid marine ecosystem is also home to several exotic marine animals with over 300 species of fish and a variety of sea turtles.

Also read: Finding Nemo while walking underwater in Bali sea!

Hawksbill Turtle at Pigeon Island

The Cinnamon Nature Trails (CNT) team conducts responsible snorkelling and sea-side tours. During this exciting 3-hour excursion, you have the opportunity to snorkel to your heart’s content with shoals of colourful fish to keep you company. You can also observe species such as the juvenile and adult black tip reef shark and a variety of turtles such as the Hawksbill Turtle, Green Turtle and the Olive Ridley Turtle. To make the best of your snorkelling experience, the best time to visit would be from March to September.

Also read: Riding on the sea – Amazing Bali Mandara sea link

Sharks at Pigeon Island

CNT is the award-winning wildlife adventure tourism division of Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts which also serves as one of Sri Lanka’s leading eco-excursion providers. CNT’s in-house naturalists, experienced tour guides and wild life photographers provide excellent guidance during the sea-side adventures and ensure a memorable experience without causing any harm to the natural eco-system. Additionally, Cinnamon Nature Trails consistently works with the Department of Wildlife Conservation of Sri Lanka to protect the sensitive habitat of the coral reefs around this beautiful island.

Also read: Riding this Eel is indeed electrifying

Underwater marine life at Pigeon Island

Have you done snorkelling in Sri Lanka before? How was it? Share your experiences with us in the comment section below.

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SMURFS: A BELGIAN CREATION READY TO TOUR THE WORLD

Holy Smurf! Come along to an unusual immersive experience that will prepare Belgians (and all Earthlings) for Smurf life. In 1958, Belgian writer Pierre Culliford, also known as Peyo, fell in love with the mischievous little blue gnomes while writing a Johan and Peewit story (The Flute with Six Holes). Sixty years later, Smurf Village 2.0 has come to the Brussels Expo. Come and meet Peyo’s star creations from 9 June 2018 until the 27 January 2019 in Hall 4. Their empire includes more than 50 million comics sold in more than 90 countries, 272 TV episodes broadcast in more than 100 countries, 41 YouTube channels, 3 feature-length films and 4 theme parks. If you haven’t heard of the Smurfs by now, ghastly Gargamel will turn you into salt dough! 

2018: YEAR OF THE SMURFS

Only a country as Smurf-tastically surreal as Belgium could name 2018 the ‘Official Year of the Smurfs’. The Minister of Foreign affairs is mobilising his global network of diplomats for this special occasion. Brussels Airlines is also transforming an Airbus A320 into a colourful ‘Aerosmurf’ (take a look at the background). Over the years, Peyo’s little blue gnomes have become the most authentic ambassadors for Belgian humour and values. The Smurfs made their debut in the world of comics in 1958, as minor characters in one of Peyo’s earlier Johan and Peewit medieval adventures. In order to celebrate the Smurfs’ sixtieth birthday in style, the IMPS society wanted to use their copyright to the Smurf universe to create a major event to celebrate Peyo’s impressive legacy. This initial idea was coupled with the creativity and know-how of Stéphan Uhoda and his team. This association gave life to The Smurf Experience.

LED BY SEASONED PROFESSIONALS

The Smurf Experience is a fully immersive show. ASBL L’Usine à Bulles will be responsible for production and creation, as part of a co-production with DC&J Création. Meanwhile, operations will be led by Cecoforma (Uhoda group), an organisation specialised in communication and events. They are well known in Brussels and Wallonia, and have a strong international network. Leading this unusual project is Stéphan Uhoda, chairman of L’Usine à Bulles and CEO of Cecoforma. Born in 1953 in Liège, Uhoda is a culture and heritage aficionado. He joined his family’s service station business after studying at the University of Liège Administration and Business School.

Also read: Smurfs are coming to Brussels Ice Magic!

In 1978 he went on to manage the company. Cecoforma was involved in the technical assistance sector, in both Belgium and abroad. Uhoda diversified in 1990 after the Wallonia Region bought Cecoforma on behalf of the European Commission. In 2016, he acquired Dynamic Events, a B2B and B2C event management company. As a collector of contemporary art, Stéphan Uhoda has also invested in a number of cultural institutions in Liège. “Arts and culture are sources of inspiration for people, including entrepreneurs. The Smurf Experience is a project that is at the intersection of different kinds of work that the Uhoda group carries out. Above all, it was the product, the Smurfs, which convinced us to take on this project. The Smurfs are an amazingly powerful communication tool for spreading important messages,” says Uhoda.

To bring the Smurf Experience to life, L’Usine à Bulles called on seasoned professionals, starting with set designer Marcos Viñals Bassols from Barcelona. He studied interior architecture at the Institut St Luc, followed by set design at La Cambre. He has worked extensively with Belgian directors and producers. He was responsible for, amongst others, the set design for the Battle of Waterloo Memorial. “I was raised on comics, Peyo’s work in particular. Nowadays, children grow up to cartoon Smurfs on the TV, in cinemas or on YouTube,” explains the designer. “The main challenge to overcome in the Smurf Experience set was how to translate the expectations of the different target audiences (children and ‘big kids’) into something coherent.” Meanwhile, L’Usine à Bulles chose Mario Iacampo as executive producer of the project. He is the managing director of Exhibition Hub, an international exhibition creation, production and distribution company. They have worked on projects such as Van Gogh-The Immersive Experience and The Art of the Brick, which showcased Lego sculptures of American comic-book superheroes.

IMMERSION 2.0 IN SMURF WORLD

From 9 June, the Smurfs are in Hall 4 of the Brussels Expo for six months. They are inviting you to join them in an incredibly immersive world for an unusual adventure that is fun and educational in equal measure. Visitors will feel like they’ve been shrunk to Smurf-size (thanks to out-sized interiors and characters) as they explore the enchanted world full of discovery and danger. In nine unique spaces covering a total of 1,500 m2, visitors can get a taste of the Smurf lifestyle, speak their language and fight their longstanding enemy Gargamel.

What is the Smurfs Experience? By diving into a giant comic strip, visitors will go deep into a magic forest to reach the Smurf village. They will taste a magic elixir in Papa Smurf’s house that will turn them into Smurfs themselves. Far away, Gargamel is working on a terrible machine that will destroy the village’s climate, our climate. Visitors will have to brave the enchanted forest, avoiding terrible traps that lead to the infamous Gargamel’s lair. They will need all the Smurfs’ help if they are to capture the evil wizard and destroy his awful invention. The adventure has a happy ending and visitors are invited to the village party where they can learn the Smurf dance!

PERFORMING ARTS AND TECHNOLOGY

By using the latest technical innovations, this immersive Smurf experience has a realistic interactive dimension. Animated hologram Smurfs are incorporated in the spaces. A computer graphic Gargamel, trapped in a cage, interacts with the audience thanks to live motion capture. There are giant projections on tarpaulins thanks to video mapping and technology developed by Faceshift means visitors can look into a virtual mirror and see a Smurf version of themselves reflected back! There will also be several amazing virtual reality experiences for them to try out. “This technology was specially adapted for the Smurf Experience through the creation of unique content. One of the big moments in the Experience is a virtual reality section where visitors escape Gargamel and fly back to the village on a stork. It’s a gripping, realistic flight!” says producer Mario Iacampo. Dirty Monitor is the company which developed the different apps used in the Smurf Experience.

“We wanted to present the Smurfs as modern characters that have moved with the times, not as old trolls with white beards, no offence Papa Smurf. Since their inception, Peyo’s blue gnomes have always had this amazing capacity for reinvention and relevance. We have ensured that all the technology can be used by all our visitors, young or old,” adds Chloé Beaufays, the Smurf Experience spokesperson.

The performing arts are present throughout this ambitious show. Throughout the visit there are different activities involving characters in costume. Two of them are at the entrance in a comic strip frame to talk to visitors. Others work Grumpy Smurf, Lazy Smurf and Jokey Smurf puppets from a 120cm stand. “These actors share spontaneous interactive moments with the audience. They can adapt each performance to their reactions,” says Mario Iacampo.

DEFENDERS OF UNIVERSAL VALUES

Part of the show’s appeal is the values the Smurfs espouse: honesty, courage, tolerance, solidarity and generosity. They have healthy lifestyles and care about protecting the environment. “These universal values transcend age, gender and culture, and it’s in this spirit that the Smurf Experience was created. The Smurfs’ values encourage you to reflect on the modern world,” explains Véronique Culliford, the CEO of IMPS.

In 2016, the Smurfs were chosen as ambassadors for 17 sustainable development goals (SDG) set out by the United Nations. 195 countries adopted these goals in 2015. The SDG correspond to three main objectives to be fulfilled between now and 2030: end poverty; protect the planet and guarantee prosperity for everyone. They have been chosen as the themes in the educational content incorporated in the Smurf Experience. Seventeen objects scattered throughout the visit embody the SDG and are accompanied by information sheets and projections. For example, there is a washing line for gender equality, a safe to reference the eradication of poverty and a rolling pin is a symbol of reducing economic inequality. There are also teaching materials for school groups which have been produced with the different education systems in the north and south of Belgium in mind. These materials are available in the three national languages.

“The SDG are a fabulous resource for making young children think about sustainable development,” says Marcos Viñals Bassols. “What’s more, as the Smurf Experience is expected to go on tour around the world, particularly in countries where children don’t necessarily know about the pressure our planet is under, this educational message takes on even more importance.”

A SHOW PARTLY FUNDED BY TAX SHELTER

With a 5 million euro budget, the Smurf Experience is an ambitious immersive show. A fifth of the budget came from Tax Shelter, which expanded to performance arts in 2017. Combining performance with innovative sound, image and set technology, the Smurf Experience corresponds perfectly to the newly expanded Tax Shelter framework. By using this funding source L’Usine à Bulles has collaborated with the DC&J Création cooperative, Tax Shelter specialists Inver, the Theatre de Liège and Theatre Jean Vilar.

The Smurf Experience also relies on the support of several private and public partners. Its main sponsor is Daoust, a Belgian human resources company that was named Business of the Year 2016 (Ernst & Young, L’Écho) and Best Career Transition Company at the HR Excellence Awards 2017. Daoust will be sporting Smurf colours throughout 2018. “The Smurfs are an important source of our national pride. Our collaboration with the Smurfs highlights the Belgian roots our family business holds dear. Beyond this Belgian spirit, this collaboration was a no-brainer as Daoust and the Smurfs share common values such as respect, friendliness and being family-oriented. These values are really at the heart of our famous “Welcome to the Family!” motto explains Giles Daoust, company CEO and recently named Young Top Manager in The Entrepreneur Awards.

Also read: Comic festival unveils great new features this year

BNP Paribas Fortis, as well as other public institutions (the National Lottery, Brussels Region and some of its organisations such as Visit Brussels, the Wallonia-Brussels Federation and the German-Speaking Community) are also lending their support to the Smurf Experience.

AN INTERNATIONAL CALLING

In 2019, the Smurf Experience will set out on a five-year world tour. The sets, the storyline and the technology incorporated in the show were planned so that they can be adapted to a range of audiences around the world. Several interested parties from Europe, the Middle East and Asia have been in touch, before the Experience had even been launched. Peyo’s little blue gnomes have succeeded in the fantastic feat of becoming ambassadors for Belgian heritage around the world.

ONCE UPON A TIME…

It all began on 23 October 1958 in the pages of the Belgian magazine Spirou. Johan and Peewit were the heroes of a comic set in the Middle Ages. A little voice appeared on the 36th page of their ninth story saying, “Can’t you look where you put your Smurfs? You nearly smurfed me!” Then a little blue-skinned gnome popped up from behind a stone. It led Johan and Peewit to the village. The Smurfs had made their début in Peyo’s world. Nobody could have imagined that this modest beginning would mark the start of a global phenomenon. As minor characters in “The Flute with Six Holes”, they could have disappeared after “the end”, but the audience’s enthusiasm made that impossible. From then on, Peyo took them on their own adventures, firstly in short stories in a smaller format, then in a series of full size albums the success of which grew and grew.

Thirty-six albums later, with more than 50 million albums sold around the world, the Smurfs have become international icons of Belgian comics. But these mischievous little blue creatures soon leapt off the pages and onto our cinema and TV screens, and digital platforms. ‘The Smurfs and the Lost Village’ came out in 2017. It was the third feature-length animated film starring Peyo’s mini heroes and the first full-length CGI (computer generated imagery) animation. A new 3D animated series is planned for 2020. The Smurfs also have their own official YouTube channel available in 41 languages. They star in musicals and are special guests at theme parks in Antwerp, Dubai, Malaysia and Moscow (in 2019), and soon they will be heading to China too.

PEYO: A MODEST, SELF-TAUGHT MAN

Pierre Culliford (known as Peyo) was born in Brussels on the 25 June 1928. He had to work from the age of 15, starting out as a cinema projectionist, then moving on to working in a cartoon studio. The studio closed and Peyo decided to move on to comics. He published comic strips in a wide variety of daily papers, but it was difficult at first.

He did not become successful until he joined Spirou magazine. With fellow artists Franquin, Morris and Roba, their work formed a milestone in humorous European comics. After the Smurfs appeared, Peyo continued working on the adventures of Johan and Peewit, as well as Poussy the cat, and he created Benoît Brisefer, a boy with super-powers (known variously as Tammy Tuff, Benny Breakiron and Steven Strong in English). However, the global success of the Smurfs meant they ended up taking up all his energy. He devoted himself to them and their destiny (in all its forms) until his death in 1992. There are qualities that were embodied in Peyo’s art and were key to the success and timelessness of his work: clear storytelling, a poetic sense of humour, an effective style and constant creativity, not forgetting key values which transcend generations such as tolerance, belief in the future and respecting others.

Studio Peyo was founded in 1964 and trained several big names in Belgian comics, such as Derib, Gos and Walthéry. Six illustrators (three of whom were trained by the father of the Smurfs) still carry on Peyo’s work today. One of them is Thierry Culliford, Peyo’s son, who cowrites new stories with Alain Jost and Luc Parthoens. The 36th album, ‘The Smurfs and the Dragon of the Lake’, came out in March 2018.

Some statistics about the power of the Smurf brand

• 700 active licences

• 100 million Schleich figurines sold

• 1 billion dollars of annual revenue generated by selling retail products

• Over 75 million video game downloads

• 1 Smurf Haribo eaten every minute around the world

60 YEARS OLD AND STILL GOING STRONG

The opening of the Smurf Experience on 9 June was one of the key moments in the “Official Year of Smurfs”, which is packed full of events.

• Since 24 March, one Brussels Airlines Airbus A320 has been flying with a Smurf makeover.

• In April, the studio that creates the Smurf comics created a special drawing for the 60th anniversary of the Atomium. It is on display in front of the kid’s sphere.

• On 24 May, the Expo Peyo, an exhibition telling the life story of the great comic artist, opened in the Centre Wallonie-Bruxelles in Paris (opposite the Pompidou Centre). The exhibition is on until 28 October 2018

• On the 19 June, a Smurf mural will be officially unveiled close to Brussels Central Station (next to the Hilton Brussels Grand-Place). A second fresco will be inaugurated in Rochefort.

• On the 31 August, the Smurfs will once again serve as mascots at the Memorial Van Damme athletics event.

• In September they will be guests of honour at the 9th Brussels Comic Strip Festival.

• In October, the Smurfs’ birthday month, (their actual birthday is 23 October), a heritage book about Peyo’s work will be released.

Also read: A lot for comic lovers in Brussels this year

Have you ever been hooked by cartoon strips like Smurfs?  How far you can travel to be part of this experience? Please share your experience in the comments section below!

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