All posts by swamiupendra

Nothing engages me better than just travelling and photographing. Both are my first loves. Also love trekking, biking and anything that has a bit of adventure mixed into it. Successfully tried bungy jumping and rafting. Experienced an eight day solo high-altitude biking expedition and equally enjoyed a F1 track drive in a pilot car at sepang circuit. Nature pulls me- from snow capped mountains to deep seas... Alas! Still looking for a profession that lets me do just that. By the way... love humans as well!!

ASUS dumps its ZenUI for Android Oreo in its new Zenfone Max Pro M1

Right from launch of Zenfone 2 series in India, ASUS has always kept somebody as a close competitor in front of its eyes. I am not sure, whether it works as a strategy to give targets to your team or it backfires as a marketing strategy as it always acknowledges the competitor to be the one who has set the benchmark. Whatever the case might be, but ASUS has still not shied of adopting this trick. 

But it has changed one thing since launching of Zenfone 2 almost two and half years ago. That time it went on challenging the king straightaway- iPhone 6S Plus. Might be the target consumer for it that time would have been not the iPhone buyers, but those consumers who always dream of an iPhone but were aware that they are not going to have all the money in the world to buy an iPhone. iPhone or Apple as such continued to be the antagonist even for the Zenfone 3 series.

Also read: ASUS goes premium, in show and in phones as well

Since than ASUS has stuck itself to challenging competitors more from its segment.It was Gionee M5 plus against Zenfone Max, Oppo F1 Selfie expert against Zenfone Selfie and now Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro against Zenfone Max Pro M1 launched today. A pro v/s a pro! It was the global launch for the latest smartphone from the ASUS stable in Delhi. Clearly ASUS is repositioning itself in the under-20K Rs smartphone segment.

This phone is the extension of the Max series of phones meant for heavy power users. Hence ASUS has maximised it with some newest features, few of them are firsts for an ASUS phone, just like it is the Android 8.1 Oreo. ASUS has dumped its trademark ZenUI for this phone.

As for the other features, ZenFone Max Pro packs a massive 5000mAh battery, a 15.2 cms (5.99) FHD+ Full View display and a dual-camera system into an compact metal body. It is powered by the fast and energy-efficient Qualcomm® Snapdragon 636 Mobile Platform, with Adreno 509 graphics for enhanced responsiveness and outstanding gaming performance. The smartphone’s exquisite design features a stylish aluminum-alloy body and 2.5D-curved display glass, and is available in two stunning finishes: Deepsea Black, and Gray. But users will certainly miss the Corning Gorilla Glass protection in this price segment. The hallmark of the ZenFone Max Series is the huge battery capacity, designed for serious travelers and those who need maximum battery endurance. The ZenFone Max Pro (M1) has a high-capacity, high-density 5000mAh battery — the most powerful in the ZenFone Max Series — but here again users will miss the fast charging support, that is almost a norm now elsewhere. 

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

Immersive Display and Audio

The 15.2 cms (5.99) Full View FHD+ (1080 x 2160) display in the ZenFone Max Pro features stunning 450cd/m2 brightness, class leading 1500:1 contrast ratio and an 85% NTSC color gamut to provide users an magnificent visual experience. The ultrawide 18:9 aspect ratio and slim bezels provide a greatly expanded viewing area that makes viewing photos and watching widescreen videos incredibly immersive, and when browsing the web there’s less need for scrolling. Multitasking is also easier, as two apps fit comfortably side-by-side on the screen. 

Max Box

For powerful, immersive high-quality sound, the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) features a five-magnet speaker driven by an NXP smart amplifier that delivers higher volume with lower distortion. Compared to single-magnet speaker performance, the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) delivers 41% louder sound, 14% better low-frequency response and 12% less distortion. When coupled with Max Box, the volume can increase up to 2X louder. This Max Box comes free box packed with every unit of new phone. Interestingly, this Max Box will remind old-timers of the Audio Booster that came with Nokia 7210 Supernova almost a decade back. Actually that Audio Booster from erstwhile Nokia looked more durable and stylish in comparison to this Max Box from ASUS.

Also read: Its now dualfie time with Vision 3

Dual rear cameras

The ZenFone Max Pro (M1) comes with a dual-camera. Main one is a 13MP sensor with a f/2.2 wide-aperture lens. The secondary 5MP rear camera is a dedicated depth-sensing camera for bokeh effect in portraits and close-ups. Through the initial looks, the camera leaves much to be desired. It also has a 8MP front camera. It also has led flash light with both rear and front cameras. All other trademark ASUS beautification features are also there. ZenFone Max Pro (M1) shoots video at up to 4K UHD resolution.

Dual SIM slots and an expandable storage upto 2TB

The 2.5D-curved front edges make the ZenFone Max Pro (M1) comfortable to hold, with significantly less bulk than a standard 6-inch phone. The ZenFone Max Pro (M1) is available in two stunning finishes to match the user’s style: Deepsea Black and Meteor Silver. The ZenFone Max Pro (M1) comes with two SIM slots supporting 4G LTE, and an additional microSD slot to expand storage by up to 2TB. Its convenient triple-slot tray lets users install two SIMs and a microSD card in one easy step.

The ZenFone Max Pro (M1) is easier to use and more convenient than ever, with a new face unlock feature that lets users unlock the phone simply by looking at it — the perfect solution for messy or gloved fingers. In addition, ZenFone Max Pro (M1) sports a rear fingerprint sensor. Although both the features are yet to be tested in actual conditions for their efficiency.

A hands on experience

Special Launch Day Offers and Pricing

ZenFone Max Pro (M1) smartphone is also the first smartphone to be co-marketed and distributed online under the recently announced partnership between ASUS and Flipkart. It goes on sale from 3rd May 2018. Flipkart launches ‘Complete Mobile Protection’, India’s end to end post sale assurance at a special introductory price of just Rs. 49 in partnership with Asus especially with this phone. It offers comprehensive coverage and ultimate convenience to the customer with doorstep pick up and drop service. In addition, there is an extra Rs. 1000 off over regular exchange of models and to spread buying cost a special no cost EMI, upto 12 months on all credit cards and Bajaj Finserv Limited. ASUS ZenFone Max Pro (M1) will be available in two variants namely 3GB / 32GB for Rs.10,999 and the 4GB / 64GB for Rs. 12,999. There will be soon a third variant as well- a 6GB / 64GB with 16MP + 5 MP rear camera and 16 MP front camera. That will be available for 14,999 Rs. But only sometime later.

Also read: ASUS goes MAX with its new Zenfone

Vodafone also has an offer on ZenFone Max Pro M1 for benefits up to Rs.3200. Offers include, Free additional data, Free Red Sheild Device security plan for 2 years and weekly telecom and non-telecom offers for youth customers.

Have you used any ASUS smartphone? How was the experience? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Creating young artists at Bali Art Centre

View from outside

Taman Budaya or Bali Art Centre is a prime example of how traditional art forms should to be preserved. Built in traditional Balinese architecture this is a centre of learning and also a centre of excellent performances. It motivates young Balinese people to learn all the forms of traditional Balinese performing arts. Bali Art Center grooms young ones in traditional Balinese arts- dance, theatre, music, painting and lot more.

A scene from Mahabharata at Bali Art centre

A beautiful complex run by public money is a very sincere attempt to preserve the traditional forms of art. Interestingly, all these classes are completely free of cost for the children. Such art centres encourage them to learn and perform and thus keep the traditional art forms alive by transferring them to the next generation… A way to learn for all such societies!

Even the bridges inside campus have artistic designs

In Islamic Indonesia the Hindu majority Bali is fascinating example of co-existence of cultures. Equally fascinating are the attempts to preserve art and dedication among the young ones to learn.

Here is a photo journey of this excellent centre:

Kids striking poses in their training schedule-

rigorous training is quite hot!
Notice the name of the arena! An Indian feeling! Where gems are being polished!!

Amazing beauty! Read: Sea on Fire: Sunset at Bali Beach

Bali art centre campus is big and beautiful
Young student practicing theatre
While some learn sketch and painting….
….and many others learn traditional musical instruments

Art centre for wedding shoots? Read: From the Bali album- Royal attires for pre-wedding shoot!

Students are also assessed for there progress, when they perform on stage whatever they have learned
Time for some rehearsal before the show
Confident looking trainees for their evaluation

Bali has lot more to do. Read: White water rafting in Bali

Multi purpose open theatre with traditional architecture
Everything designed tastefully

When there are so many students around, then they ought to be hungry.  So there are plenty of options for them, like these ones-

A lady selling street food
Parents need to kill time as well, while kids are busy in training
A lot of options to eat
Young trainees having some refreshment in the interim

Moving in to Bali! Read: Bali from the sky- few captures

Besides imparting training, Bali art centre also preserves many artefacts and paintings.

This video is from such a class inside the centre, where young ones are learning the art of playing the traditional musical instruments.

Another video of kids taking training in Balinese dance. Such is the dedication that while watching this performance, you will feel as if you are viewing a stage performance, not a training class.

Have you been to Taman Budaya or any such art centre anywhere else? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

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Tibetan wood carving : Craft for the Art

Different types of Dramyin

Tibetan wood carving is a sublime art. Everything from Dalai Lama’s throne to incense boxes and Chemar bowls, has imprints of it. The signs of art of wood carving can be traced to as far as 7th century Tsuglakghang in Lhasa constructed during reign of King Songtsen Gampo. Wooden table paintings were also unique and popular during those times. That was said to be another branch of Tibetan art. Subjects and pictorial composition of these wooden table paintings are similar to those of thangka paintings. 

Two well-crafted and decorated dramyins

Beautiful wooden engravings have lavishly decorated the columns, beams, doors, windows, cross beam supports etc in Tibetan monasteries and temples. Even shrines, platforms for deities, altars, stupas and other ritualistic objects were usually adorned with wood carvings. It has also been used in decorating traditional musical string instruments…like Dramyins and Piwangs.

Passang Tobgyal playing a Piwang

Motifs normally used in wood carvings are similar to other Tibetan arts. Various types of flowers, mountains, clouds, other elements of nature as well as religious symbols are represented. Since in Tibetan Buddhism there is a typical style of drawing of every symbol, hence craftsman have to master the art of carving the vast repertoire of motifs and designs. Tibetan culture is so much influenced by Buddhism that although wood carving itself is not a religious art but many the motifs used have religious significance.

A craftsman working on an instrument

Though not a flourishing art, because the younger Tibetan generation has different choices, still there are some craftsman, giving their life and dedication to wood carving. Passang Topgyal is one of such master craftsman at Mcleodganj. He studied Tibetan traditional art of wood carving at Norbulingka Institute at SIdhpur in Dharamshala for six years and now designs many items including traditional musical instruments. Most of them go as souvenirs with foreign tourists to different parts of the world.

Passang’s shop and the factory attached to it

Playing such instruments is now limited to monks at monastic functions. Although there are attempts to improvise these instruments by modernising them in use, while retaining their traditional design and craft. For example Dramyins are designed also to be used as electric guitars. 

Musical instruments at Passang’s shop

Lack of patronage among the younger generation for the traditional music as well as the craft is posing a huge challenge for craftsman like Passang to keep the passion alive and rewarding.

Imprints of a beautiful art piece!

So next time you go to Dharamshala, don’t forget to visit Passang Tobgyal’s shop.

Where: Passang Tobgyal’s shop of Tibetan Wood carving and Musical instruments is near Dharamshala Cantt on way to Dal lake (in Naddi village) from Mcleodganj. It is approximately two kilometres walk fro Mcleodganj town.

You can watch a short film on Passang Tobgyal on my YouTube channel by clicking on the thumbnail below.

Have you ever tried your hands on a traditional Tibetan musical instrument? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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Riding on the sea: Amazing Bali Mandara sea link


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It is not yet five years old, as it was opened only in September 2013, but it certainly leaves tourists coming to Bali in an awe. Almost 13 km in length stretching across the Gulf of Benoa, the Bali Mandara sea link is often referred to as pride of Indonesia. This beautiful sea link runs over sea and some part of it through protected mangrove forests, making it a beautiful experience to drive. It gives wonderful views from the road and the sea as well! It is claimed to be one of the “most beautiful” road stretches in Indonesia. The name Mandara is an acronym for Indonesian words — maju (move forward), aman (safe), damai (peaceful) and sejahtera (prosperous).

Toll gates with Balinese architecture style
Toll gates with Balinese architecture style

Bali Mandara Toll Road or Nusa Dua-Ngurah Rai-Benoa Toll Road is a toll road carried by a bridge 12.7 km in length. This highway connects the city of Denpasar and South Kuta, Badung Regency, Nusa Dua and Ngurah Rai International Airport, thus providing additional link to northern and southern parts of Bali. The reason behind construction of Bali Mandara Toll Road would have been to prevent traffic jams on the Ngurah Rai By Pass Road, but slowly it has also become an attraction of sort. This toll road was officially opened on 23 September 2013 by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Whole project took just 14 months to be completed. It was an amazing feat, considering that there was no sort of foreign help involved at any stage.

Aerial view of the sea link
Aerial view of the sea link
Aerial view of the sea link

Numerous academics, scholars and environmentalists had voiced serious concerns over the construction of the sea link, which could have deviated from its approved environmental impact analysis and perhaps dangerously affect both the mangroves and surrounding marine habitat. Local fishermen and nearby fishing villages also no longer have access to their previous fishing grounds. Indonesian authorities however claim that this infrastructure masterpiece was built with environmentally friendly and advanced technology. Undoubtedly, the views from the toll road are breathtaking. Even the local norms and traditions were respected during the construction. You can see the water below the road and green mangrove forests all over the place. To minimise the impact of construction almost 16,000 pieces of mangrove trees were planted after the construction of link was completed.

Mangroves around the road
Mangroves around the road
Approaching the beautiful mainland

Want to know about India’s oldest sea link? Read: Pamban bridge enters hundredth year!

smooth traffic on the toll road
Bikers in the two-wheeler lane

The road runs over the sea and was built using 33,835 concrete columns, some of them through an area of previously pristine mangrove forest. The road has a separate lane for motorcycles on both the sides, thus providing separate drive ways for two wheelers and four wheelers and making it more safe. The length of Bali Mandara Road is equal to Penang Bridge in Malaysia which too is 12.7 kilometres in length.

Massive structure on the sea
Many loops, flyovers on the link road
Already an attraction for the tourists

The road runs through a fragile environment and rough seas. Hence, there are many checks and controls involved. There are strict speed limits and all activities are thoroughly monitored. There is exhaustive system of CCTVs and also a wind monitor to keep measuring the wind sped. Anemometer are installed at every toll gate (Nusa Dua, Ngurah Rai, and Benoa). If the wind speed reach 40 kph or more than the movement on this road is controlled or stopped temporarily.

Travel with me to this Bali Mandara sea link through this video on my YouTube channel by clicking on the thumbnail below-

So next time you visit Bali, get a driving experience on this Bali Mandara toll road. It will certainly be worth.

Have you driven on this amazing Bali Mandara Road? How was your experience? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Embracing diversity with open hands, loving world my way!

Being born to a typical north Indian brahmin family is no mean task. There are many prejudices one gets to live with throughout their lives, there are so many strings attached and a long list of do’s and don’ts always hanging above your head. Many preconceived notions lay hidden under the skin and there is misconceived veil of purity always around. Everything making them misfit to be a world traveller.

We had been tourists since childhood owing to father’s railway job giving us privilege to travel and army postings of other relatives privilege to logistics. We were certainly not travellers. Sense of purity was always a hindrance to explore the world. There was indeed an ‘under the wraps’ attempt to ‘depurify’ us with an egg-curry by a then family friend but that didn’t help a lot. It turned out to be an pen and shut case. Things started changing only when I finally moved out of the house for my future endeavours.

Too good to be a food! Live food in Bali

But the first moment of truth arrived, when more than two decades ago, after completing a winter trek to Dalhousie and Kalatop, we decided to have a detour to Jammu and Patni Top. One evening after spending the day visiting temples of Jammu, we reached to a small restaurant for our meal. One of our friend wanted to have a chicken for food. Third friend was a brahmin and vegetarian too like me. He chose to sit on the other table, to not watch somebody licking a leg-piece. Somehow, I decided that I will not change the table and instead share the table with my chicken-loving friend. I not only shared the table, but also made no pretension to not notice him whatever he was doing. I enjoyed my dal-makhani but I also kept all eyes on his dish and actually enjoyed the way he was enjoying his food. That incident changed my perspective for good. It was a bold first step in direction of making me a traveller.

Too beautiful to be a food! Live food in Bali

I still had a long way to go. I was still a vegetarian and was still fighting some food prejudices. I can’t say, I have overcome them all, but I am sure I was on the right direction after that incident in Jammu. I remember that another day, too far at Sepang in Malaysia, where I was present as a sports correspondent to cover the inaugural season of A1 GP at the Sepang Formula 1 race circuit.

As an accredited journalist, I had the access to official food area. That was more than ten years back. After the Saturday free practice in the morning session, we were off to the lunch. And I had to admit that it was a huge shock for me, I had not been to any such place before. I had heard that Malaysia is a heaven for sea-food lovers, but I never expected to be at any place for lunch where all I could see around was crabs, prawns, and that too huge ones, hanging everywhere. Honestly, I was bit terrified at the onset, but than I worked upon my mind and instead of moving out to some other place for the lunch, I stayed there and managed my meal from whatever I could find for myself. I thought that incident to be as big as the Jammu one in my transformation towards a traveller.

Too cute to be a food! Live food in Bali

While I had adjusted to meat and chicken but fish was still a taboo because of its smell. That too was something for me to fight for. Time came for that too, when on a trip to Sri Lanka, we stayed for a night at Negombo. And our stay their also included a visit to the fish market in the early morning at the trading time. I still can’t believe I did that. But in an instinct I was inside the market deeper and longer than anybody else in our group clicking photographs while standing in the midst of piles of all types of fishes, prawns, oysters, crabs, and what not. And, to win a battle within, I didn’t even cover my nose. I kept talking to people in an attempt to know more about the market. But somewhere inside, I knew that I was doing it more for my own sake, to probably Say Yes to The World. And, I am glad, I did that.

Don’t you want to Say yes to the world? Why don’t you do it this way!

What was your moment of embracing this world? Please share with us all.

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Block the dates! Seventh edition of the Eat! BRUSSELS, Drink! BORDEAUX this September

On 6, 7, 8 and 9 September, lovers of good food and wine have a date with Eat BRUSSELS, Drink! BORDEAUX Once again, the festival will spotlight the big names in Brussels gastronomy and the wines of Bordeaux. The visitors can embark on a culinary voyage, tasting the signature dishes offered by the great chefs of Brussels. All amid the greenery of the Parc de Bruxelles.

For the seventh year of the Eat! BRUSSELS, Drink! BORDEAUX festival, the best chefs in Brussels are once again taking over the stoves in the pop-up kitchens set up in the Parc de Bruxelles. Each of them will offer a gourmet public his (or her) signature dish. A great opportunity to discover the talents of Belgian gastronomy in a pleasant, convivial setting. visit.brussels have been in partnership with Les Vins de Bordeaux for the last five years.

Over fifty wine growers and wine merchants will be present at the event to show off the full range of wines from Bordeaux – reds, whites, rosés and crémants – that will be the perfect partners for the dishes concocted by the chefs. The 6 families of Bordeaux wines are each represented in their own special pavilion. Bordeaux Red & Bordeaux Supérieur Red; Côtes de Bordeaux; Saint-Emilion Pomerol Fronsac; Médoc & Graves; Sweet Bordeaux; Rosés, Dry whites and Crémants de Bordeaux. The Bordeaux Wine School will offer workshops in which novices can be initiated into Bordeaux wines and the more experienced can enhance their knowledge.

New features in 2018:

– An updated offering: New chefs will be joining the event to fly the flag of their restaurants. Several signature dishes will also have a vegetarian version. Ten restaurants have already confirmed their attendance. Returning are Vincent, Garage à Manger, Brinz’l, Le Tournant, Augusta, Rouge Tomate, Racines and Stirwen. And two new participants have already confirmed: Crab Club and San Bol.

– New cheese and dessert bar

– The festival will have 4 new, original themes for the Masterclasses: Crus classés from Graves, grands crus classés from Saint-Émilion, grands vins from Médoc from the 2015 vintage, Sweet Bordeaux & Belgian cheeses.

– The eat! Awards: This year, the eat! Awards will make their appearance. They will reward the chefs who were most successful during the event.

Photo: VisitBrussels/ ©E.Danhier

Have you enjoyed any such gastronomical event? How was the fun? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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8 reasons to have Dead Sea in Israel in 2018 #BucketList


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Head to the world’s oldest and most popular natural health resort – the Dead Sea in Israel and if you are wondering why, than here is a reason, and actually eight of them.

1.       The Dead Sea is 3 million years old and the lowest point on earth at 1,388 ft below sea level.
2.       The lowest point on earth is also home to the lowest road on the planet, Highway 90 located 1,289 ft. below sea level on the Israeli shore.
3.       One of the saltiest water bodies on the planet, the Dead Sea has 10 times the salt concentration of ocean water creating the bucket list experience of floating on water.

Other side of Dead Sea! Read: Five things not to miss in Jordan!
4.       What if we told you that the Dead Sea isn’t a sea at all but actually a hypersaline lake ranked as the world’s deepest salt water lake.
5.       The world’s first and most popular health resort, the Dead Sea was a favorite among royalty with the likes of King Herod the Great and Queen Cleopatra.
6.       The biggest free spa on earth, the Dead Sea region has been attracting visitors from all over the world.  The mineral content in the water, mud and salt, the low content of pollen and other allergens along with low solar UV radiation, combined with the atmospheric pressure and the depth, have healing properties for various skin diseases, respiratory ailments and rheumatic pain.  A unique occurrence at the Dead Sea is of large amounts of asphalt which rises to the surface of the water.  Ancient Egyptians would import the asphalt from the Dead Sea region and used it to embalm mummies.

Also read: Extreme adventure in Jordan – Celebrity style!
7.       Yes, the famous Dead Sea Scrolls were found here; hundreds of well preserved Biblical and non-biblical manuscripts that helped reshape historic views on religion.
8.       Evidence shows that the Dead Sea may dry up within 50 years so we recommend a quick visit in 2018!

Still looking fo some more reasons to be there! If not, than time to pack up your bags…

Have you ever floated on Dead Sea? Enjoyed reading newspaper! Share your experiences.

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Tulips blooming! Kashmir calling!!

Asia’s biggest Tulip Garden at Siraj Bagh in Srinagar, Kashmir is now open for the year. Normally the garden opens with the start of April. But this year it has opened a week earlier owing to favourable weather conditions. We can also say that because the winter winded up a bit early and it brought the spring before time in the valley, hence the tulips also started blooming early. Hence the garden at Siraj Bagh on the banks of the Dal Lake was thrown open for the tourists on 25th March, a week earlier than last year. These are images from the park from the first day itself.

Blast from the past: Tulip garden at heaven!Not all the bulbs have bloomed, still some to go. It would be full by the start of April. It is indeed once in a lifetime chance to see more than a million tulips of different hues and shades blooming at a place which we call as paradise on earth. But remember Tulips don’t have a big life. Flowers will be blooming just for 3 to 4 weeks. So, you don’t have too much time in hand, if you want to see them this year, or else you will have to wait for another year. Moreover heavy rains or too much of heat, both can also destroy the bulbs. So, sooner the better. Interestingly, this Tulip festival also marks the start of the tourism season in Kashmir valley.

Life in paradise! Read: Never a dull morning in the Dal!In just ten years, this garden has become darling of tourists and locals alike. It has become one of the must-see destinations of the Kashmir itinerary in the months of April. This year the garden has been extended to add other plants like Hyacinths, Daffodils, Narcissus and other ornamental plants. In this season 40,000 Hyacinth tulip bulbs have been planted at a separate terrace.

Love Kashmir? Read: Kashmir we know less about- Kheer Bhawani at Tulmul To add the beauty of the already charming landscape, additional green spaces are being created to attract more visitors to this garden overlooking world-famous Dal Lake. This year free wi-fi service has been provided inside the premises for the visitors.

Formerly known as Siraj Bagh this garden was rechristened as Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden in 2008 when it was converted into a  Tulip garden. It is located on the other side of the Dal where all Mughal Gardens are located on the foothills of Zabarwan hills. Chashmeshahi is close by.

First day… first show! Watch a video of tulips blooming this year on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below

Have you seen the tulip garden at Srinagar? How was your experience? Share it in the comment section below.

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World’s largest cruise ship ready for the first voyage

The world’s biggest cruise-liner, Symphony of the Seas, has left the shipyard of Saint-Nazaire in France to embark on its maiden voyage in the Mediterranean. French shipbuilder STX handed over to U.S. giant Royal Caribbean International on Friday. The ship, which weighs 228,000 tonnes, is 362 metres long just 20 metres shy of the length of the Empire State Building. It is marginally bigger than its sister ship, the Harmony of the Seas, which STX France delivered to Royal Caribbean in 2016.

Love cruising? Read: Which are the world’s most popular cruises!

Majestic view of the Symphony of the seas

The Symphony will head to Malaga in Spain and spending its first season in the Mediterranean before heading to its home port of Miami. Michael Bayley, President and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, Richard Fain, Chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., and Laurent Castaing, General Manager of STX France, led the traditional flag-changing ceremony, which symbolizes the ship’s official delivery from the ship builder to Royal Caribbean.

Crew celebrating the inauguration

Symphony of the Seas will welcome her first guests on Saturday, March 31 for a one-time-only, 5-night preview sailing, calling on Naples and Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy. The ship’s maiden 7-night Mediterranean voyage departs Saturday, April 7 from Barcelona, Spain, where the crescendo of thrills will be brought to life by the 2,200 international crew members who proudly represent 77 countries around the world. Symphony of the Seas will homeport in Barcelona for the summer, visiting Palma de Mallorca, Spain; Provence, France; and Florence/Pisa, Rome and Naples, Italy.

The 25th ship in Royal Caribbean’s fleet, Symphony of the Seas is 228,081 gross registered tons, measures 238 feet tall and spans 1,188 feet long. She will welcome 5,518 guests at double occupancy in 2,759 staterooms, including 28 additional balcony rooms that overlook the ocean or signature Boardwalk neighbourhood. One Oasis Class ship, seven distinctive neighbourhoods, the tallest slide at sea with the Ultimate Abyss and countless adventures for guests of all ages, the family adventure of a lifetime has surprises at every turn.

Language of the cruise! Read: Cruise Lingo to help travellers talk the talk!

New Culinary Adventures

• Hooked Seafood: This upscale eatery atop of the world’s largest cruise ship in the Solarium serves up the real taste of New England-inspired seafood and unparalleled ocean vistas to match. Approachable and unassuming, the menu offers classic coastal favorites, such as lobster rolls, crab claws, signature fish sandwich, and a raw bar where oysters are shucked to order.

Playmakers bar at the Symphony of the seas

• Playmakers Sports Bar & Arcade: Stretching the length of a reimagined Boardwalk, now touting fresh energy and swagger, the whole family can watch the home team play across 31 big-screen TVs, during the day and into the late night. The indoor and outdoor arcade, packed with over 20 games, offers the opportunity for friendly competition. The on-point menu of classic American bar food features everything from wings, burgers and popcorn shrimp to picture-perfect sundaes; as well as craft beers and cocktails.

• El Loco Fresh: Made-to-order tacos and burritos wrapped with fresh tortillas are among the Mexican “street food” favourites that will hit the spot for adventure seekers looking to fuel up with minimal downtime.

• Sugar Beach: The signature candy and ice cream shop is the sweet spot on the Boardwalk with more than 100 types of candies, a lineup of ice cream flavors and even DIY activities for the aspiring culinary artist.

New destinations for cruise! Read: Adventure seekers can now visit Havana on Empress of the seas

A view from balcony of the rooms around central park

New Ways to Play

• Battle for Planet Z: Royal Caribbean’s first glow-in-the-dark laser tag game brings two teams of eight head to head in an out-of-this-world adventure to determine who will claim the last planet in the galaxy.

• Escape the Rubicon: In the ultimate race against the clock, friends old and new must band together in the Rubicon submarine – a sophisticated, custom-built escape room – to solve a collection of puzzles before time runs out.

Royal suite with a loft

Unparalleled Family Accommodations

  • Ultimate Family Suite: A two-level, 1,346-square-foot suite filled with awesome thrills offers more than enough room for the whole family – and friends – to come together and catch up on “me time.” Features include an in-room slide, a private cinema with an 85-inch HD TV, a floor-to-ceiling LEGO wall, a 212-square-foot balcony complete with table tennis and a full-size whirlpool. Complete with a Royal Genie, who caters to every whim, there are many more surprises awaiting guests along the way.

Fly into cruise! Read: Cruisefly for Royal Caribbean cruises

A family suite at the Symphony of the seas

Beginning Nov. 10, Miami, FL. will become the ship’s year-round homeport, making Symphony of the Seas the first new Oasis Class ship to sail from the cruise capital of the world using Royal Caribbean’s new state-of-the-art Terminal A. The 7-night Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises will call on Perfect Day at CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s newly revealed destination in the Bahamas.

Aerial view of the helipad of the Symphony of the seas

Royal Caribbean International is an award-winning global cruise brand with a 49-year legacy of innovation and introducing industry “firsts” never before seen at sea. The cruise line features an expansive and unmatched array of features and amenities only found on Royal Caribbean, including jaw dropping, state-of-the-art entertainment and industry-acclaimed programming that appeals to families and adventurous vacationers alike.

Also read: Vagabond at a cruise- Super Star Virgo

On board, guests are catered to with the cruise line’s world-renowned friendly and engaging service by every staff and crew member. Royal Caribbean has been voted “Best Cruise Line Overall” for 15 consecutive years in the Travel Weekly Readers Choice Awards. The cruise line sails 25 of the world’s most innovative cruise ships to the most popular destinations in Bermuda and the Caribbean, Europe, Canada and New England, Alaska, South America, Asia, and Australia and New Zealand.

Have you been on cruise with Royal Caribbean Cruises? Share your experiences in the comments section below!

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A marathon on ice for preservation of water 


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Listvyanka, Russia, March 7, 2018 – Baikal Ice Marathon. (PPR/Carl F. Bucherer)

Located in Siberia, Lake Baikal is the largest, deepest, and richest freshwater lake in terms of biodiversity in the world. The annual Baikal Ice Marathon offers competitors from around the globe the opportunity to race across the frozen surface with the goal to help keep the water clean. One of the top 25 adventure marathons in the world, the Baikal Ice Marathon is both psychologically and physically demanding. The event is held at the start of March, when practically the entire lake is covered in ice. It is a long, cold, lonely 42.2-kilometre trail across the barren white landscape where progress is marked only by checkpoints positioned at 5 kilometre intervals. The vast open spaces, the bright rays of the sun, and the incredible, breathtaking beauty of the landscape help the hundreds of elite runners complete the course between the opposite shores.

Listvyanka, Russia, March 7, 2018 – Baikal Ice Marathon. (PPR/Carl F. Bucherer)

Carl F. Bucherer keeps the commitment to environment

With their participation in the 14th Baikal Ice Marathon, Carl F. Bucherer once again demonstrated a respectful attitude toward the environment and the brand’s commitment to the value of preservation. The idea of participating in one of the world’s most difficult tests of strength and endurance was born in September 2017, when the Swiss watch manufacturer’s Executive Vice President Sales, Laurent Lecamp, and friend of the brand, renowned businessman, and four-time IRONMAN finisher Vladimir Voloshin first met at the opening of the Carl F. Bucherer boutique in Moscow, Russia.

Listvyanka, Russia, March 7, 2018 – Baikal Ice Marathon. (PPR/Carl F. Bucherer/Alexey Sedov)

Along with the values of the watch brand itself, both men share a passion for sport, considering it a source of inner strength and inspiration that allows them to move forward innovatively while preserving traditions. To prepare for the challenging race, Laurent Lecamp and Vladimir Voloshin, who live in different parts of the world, developed a groundbreaking formula for cooperation based on their shared outlook and values.

Due to extreme weather conditions, temperatures of –31°C, and a wind speed of 108 km/h, this year’s marathon had to be cut short after 21 kilometers, turning it into a challenging half-marathon with 153 participants. Laurent Lecamp and Vladimir Voloshin both finished 56th.

Clean Water Preservation Run 

Lake Baikal is located on the border of the Irkutsk region and Buryatia and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The lake’s shape is reminiscent of a giant crescent moon, stretching some 620 kilometers from the Northeast to the Southwest. Its width ranges from 24 to 79 kilometers. The ice marathon crosses over one of the most beautiful parts of the lake. As part of the Winteriad, a larger winter games festival that takes place at Lake Baikal, the Baikal Ice Marathon is held for a noble cause – the preservation of clean water. All of the participation fees from all of the athletes are donated in full to protect the lake and to maintain its purity and beauty. By participating in the event, Carl F. Bucherer is once more demonstrating their commitment to the value of preservation by supporting various international environmental projects.

Listvyanka, Russia, March 7, 2018 – Baikal Ice Marathon. (PPR/Carl F. Bucherer/Alexey Sedov)

A Strong Friendship 

The Baikal Ice Marathon marked the start of a close relationship between Carl F. Bucherer and Vladimir Voloshin. In April, Vladimir Voloshin will visit the company’s headquarters in Lucerne and the manufactory in Lengnau, Switzerland. “Being a friend of the watch brand Carl F. Bucherer is a great honor and a great responsibility at the same time,” said Vladimir Voloshin. “We complement one another perfectly because we share the same goals and values. Reliability, accuracy, and quality are extremely important to me, as these characteristics are what enable people to achieve good results in both business and sport.” Laurent Lecamp said: “Our shared experience of coping with extreme situations was unforgettable. It was proof that together, we can overcome any obstacle.”

Listvyanka, Russia, March 7, 2018 – Baikal Ice Marathon. On the left Vladimir Voloshin, Friend of the Brand of Carl F. Bucherer. On the right Laurent Lecamp, Executive Vice President Sales of Carl F. Bucherer. (PPR/Carl F. Bucherer)

Vladimir Voloshin 

With a career in international marketing that spans more than 20 years, Vladimir Voloshin has worked for global companies in the Baltic states, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, and Russia. He is the Managing Partner of Newman Sport & Business Consulting, founder of the international IRONSTAR triathlon competitions and the ROSA RUN festival, host and moderator of a talk show featuring business leaders and top athletes, and an expert speaker at international marketing conferences and at TED events. He is also the first President of the Moscow School of Management SKOLKOVO Alumni Association.

Listvyanka, Russia, March 7, 2018 – Baikal Ice Marathon. (PPR/Carl F. Bucherer)

Sporting achievements: 

  • Four-time IRONMAN finisher, participant in the IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii
  • Two-time IRONMAN 70.3 finisher
  • Two-time finisher of the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon and Abu Dhabi International Triathlon
  • Finisher of the Bosphorus Cross Continental Swim and the legendary Paris–Roubaix cycle race
  • Finisher of the Quintuple Ultra Triathlon (19 kilometers swimming, 900 kilometers cycling, 211 kilometers running)
  • Finisher of the 186-kilometer 24-hour ultramarathon
  • Finisher of the Marathon des Sables multiday 240-kilometer run through the Sahara Desert
  • Finisher of the HARD RUN 2017 50-kilometer ultramarathon
  • Eight marathons (pacemaker in six), 12 half marathons (pacemaker in 11) in Russia and abroad
Listvyanka, Russia, March 7, 2018 – Baikal Ice Marathon. (PPR/Carl F. Bucherer)

Have you ever run a race in ice? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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