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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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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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Faith sees no fear at Yamunotri


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Yamunotri temple on the foothills of the Kalind mountain

Rubbing your shoulders against the ponies, fear of being hit by wooden sticks protubering out of palakis (पालकी), getting squeezed between rush of pilgrims on one side and rocky hillside on the other and a long tiring journey–nothing deters you from your faith that drives you to reach the Yamunotri temple on the foothills of Kalind mountain.

Janaki Chatti as seen from Kharsali village
Another view of the Janaki Chatti village during Char Dham Yatra season

Here faith sees no fear. And you have enough of motivation to do that, even if you are not a traditional pilgrim type–a breeze of fresh air, song of the river flowing deep in the beautiful lush green valley on your right and a majestic sight of snow-clad peaks of Garhwal Himalayas.

THE YATRA
Yamunotri is the westernmost shrine of this region. Hence it is traditionally the starting point of the Char Dham Yatra of Uttarakhand which then goes to Gangotri and then Kedarnath and finally concludes at Badrinath. There is a pattern in this pilgrimage–you keep moving from west to east. Two of these Char Dhams are the source of India’s two most important rivers- Ganges and Yamuna, which themselves meet down at Sangam in Allahabad. Other two are dedicated to two of the most important deities which happened to be source of two streams of Hinduism- Shaivite and Vaishnavite, i.e. Kedarnath dedicated to Shiva and Badrinath dedicated to Vishnu.
Waiting for the riders
Also all these four dhams are at almost same altitude zone- Yamunotri being lowest at 3293 metres and Kedarnath being highest at 3553 metres. Factually speaking, all these four dhams have trekking routes connecting each other. No doubt, these would have been the travel routes centuries ago for the pilgrims until the roads came up. Not just the route, there are many legends connecting these dhams, few of them dating as back as times of Mahabharata.
View of the Kalind mountain in backyard of Yamunotri
But another existing fact of interest is that out of the two dhams with river sources, only Gangotri is accessible by road, whereas there is a almost a six kilometer trek from Janaki Chatti to Yamunotri. Similarly, in the other two dhams of deities only Badrinath is accessible by road, while Kedarnath has to be reached by a arduous 18 kms trek from Gaurikund.
THE EXPERIENCE
A lot has changed in this region after the devastating floods of 2013. Being in the same region, all of them had to face to fury of the nature. Immediate after effect was the reduced number of pilgrims. But these four dhams command such a respect in the Hindu mindsets that, five years down the line, the number of pilgrims coming for Char Dham yatra has reached back to the pre-2013 levels. We were told that as many as 7000 pilgrims go to the Yamunotri temple from Janaki Chatti daily.
Happy with what life gives. Two porters with their dolis
That’s how the palakis are carried on the four shoulders

Personally, rivers always fascinate me and honestly speaking I will try not to let go any chance to jump in the lap of nature. Hence an invitation from the Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board to be part of its first ever Bloggers Bus was indeed a blessing in disguise. We were seven in all, four from Kolkata–Rangan Datta, Amrita Das, Subhadip Mukherjee and Anindya Basu; Namita Kulkarni from Mysore and besides me Swati Jain from New Delhi. (We will know more about my co-travellers in later posts. In the meantime you can click on their names to go to their lovely blogs). We travelled for six days in a bus in Yamuna and Ganges valley of Uttarakhand, exploring some so far unexplored areas. Yamunotri was the first major destination of the trip.

Walking trail alongside the valley
THE ROUTE
The trek to Yamunotri is a mixed bag. The trail is paved and has a protective railing towards the valley side throughout the trail. Although regular trekkers will find it easy, six kilometres is a no mean task at such altitude. At times it is steep enough to make you sweat and breathless, more so if you are not habitual of walking and being at an altitude of over 10 thousand feet. There are shelters every half kilometer or less. There are sitting places in these sheds. There is facility of drinking water and there are numerous shops on the way selling food, snacks and drinks. Walkers can even purchase a stick to support as a third leg. Down at Janaki Chatti, there is a well developed market selling almost everything of daily need.
Time to quench the thirst
Kalind mountain in full glory
Corns for the time pass!

There are other ways to cover the distance and most common is a riding a pony. You can hire a pony either for the round trip or the one way. Then there is a palaki where you are lifted and carried by four people on their shoulders in a seat. Then there is a doli, generally for kids and lighter people in which one people carries you on his back in a seat carved inside a basket. Now the problem is that everybody has to share the same walking trail to go and return from Yamunotri. At times and at certain narrow points the trail becomes quite crowded and there are instances of traffic jams, and even walking becomes tougher and bit of ordeal. Moreover, the cemented trail also becomes somewhat uncomfortable for the ponies and gets slippery. Imagine, there are around 2000 ponies at Janaki Chatti to take pilgrims to Yamunotri. But one thing for sure, despite few grims and whims here and there, everybody is fine with everything and considers it as a part of their journey to the deity.

THE SOURCE
Interestingly, just like Gangotri, the actual source of Yamuna river is also not at Yamunotri. As Gaumukh is further 18 kms from Gangotri, similarly actual source of Yamuna rives is said to be the Saptrishi Kund which is a small glacial lake fed be Champasar Glacier in the Bandar Poonch massif. This lake is said to be some where between 14 to 18 kms far from the Yamunotri temple at an altitude of over 16,500 ft. Saptrishi kund is also named so because of its mythological association with the seven great sages– Kashyapa, Atri, Bharadwaj, Vishvamitra, Gautama, Jamadagni and Vasistha.
Bridge just after the Bhairav temple
Shelters for the pilgrims on the trail to take much needed rest
Time to move again with the crowd
Pilgrims from all corners of the country converse here
Views like this keep you fresh and energised

Treks to this place are very less and hence very little information is available about it. It might be bit tough but not impossible one. Actually this is indeed a very beautiful trek and legends connect it to even Ramayana and it is often said locally that this was the place where Hanuman came search of Sanjeevani all the way from Lanka. Not for the legend, but certainly for its charismatic beauty, I hope to do this trek some day. Legends say that the actual source of Yamuna being so tough to reach, temple to worship Yamuna was built down in the valley at the present site. As the secretary of the Yamunotri Temple Committee Kriteshwar Uniyal said to us, that it was impossible for the lesser mortals reach at the original source.

THE SHRINE
Yamunotri temple has three-four main parts. First one is the sprout in the rocks from where river Yamuna emerges. That is the place where the river is worshipped by the devotees ritualistically. The sprout is covered by a cage to protect it. Then there is a proper temple nearby which has three idols- one of the Yamuna, second one of the Ganges and third one too of Yamuna which is taken out during the procession and festivals. Between these two sites is a hot spring called as Soorya Kund (Yamuna is believed to be the daughter of Sun god). The water in this spring is so hot that it is used to cook rice which is taken back by the devotees as a Prasad (blessing). We have seen this phenomenon at many places in Himalayas.
With the uphill journey over, time to hand the palakis
Porters having time to rest after a tiring climb
Meanwhile these innocents wait for turn to go downhill again
Remains of faith polluting the river!!
Temple and the river flowing alongside
Where Yamuna sprouts beneath the rocks inside the shrine
The main temple of goddess Yamuna

Then there are also bath ponds for the devotees to take bath before the pooja where the hot water is mixed with cold water of Yamuna to make it more bearable. There are separate baths for men and women. Besides, there are numerous shops lined up selling food, snacks, drinks, prasads, offering and souvenirs. There are also few options of stay for the devotees who are late and might not be able to return Janaki Chatti before dark.

 
Fast Facts
1. Janaki Chatti to Yamunotri temple is a trek of 5.5 kms. A normal person will take 2 to 2 and half hours to walk down the trail.
2. Ponies charge 1200 rupees one way and a palaki 4000 rupees one way.
3. Travelers are normally allowed to leave till 5 pm in the evening from Janaki Chatti towards Gangotri.
4. There is enough of water and food available on the way.
5. There are also sheds for the shelter from sun, rain and wind.
6. Always walk towards the hillside to be safe as there are lot of pulls and push from various elements.
7. Avoid travelling in dark on the walking trail.
View from the bridge that leads to the shrine across the river
How to Reach
Yamunotri is located in Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand at the far end of the Yamuna valley in westernmost Garhwal Himalayas. Janaki Chatti is the last road head. One can reach to Janaki Chatti by public transport i.e. buses or any private means- buses, taxi, personal cars, two-wheelers etc. All of them have to be parked at either Janaki Chatti or Kharsali village.
Walking back to Janaki Chatti
It becomes really crowded at times
Turning back for some lasting views
Meanwhile, he has found the best place to have a undisturbed power nap
A fulfilling journey comes to an end

Nearest rail heads are Haridwar, Rishikesh and Dehradun. Nearest Airport is Jolly Grant Airport at Dehradun. Dehradun to Yamunotri is roughly about 180 kms. Roads are generally very good up till Janaki Chatti baring for a few landslide zones. Route from Rishikesh to Janaki Chatti goes through Dehradun, Mussorie, Yamuna Bridge, Naugaon, Barkot, Syana Chatti and Hanuman Chatti. It is almost an eight hour journey from Dehradun to Janaki Chatti.

You can see a video of this trek to Yamunotri from Janaki Chatti on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

Have you ever been to Yamunotri? How was the experience? Please share with us 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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Brussels shines the spotlight on contemporary art

Brussels has become a hub of contemporary art. Few cities in world can boast of such a huge art scene as Brussels, be it in any form. The capital is fertile place for creativity and discovery. International artists are charmed by its many beautiful spaces dedicated to art. Collectors from all over the world, for their part, regularly visit the capital to find that one piece that makes all the difference. Several players help enrich the art scene: the WIELS, BOZAR, MIMA, the Centrale for Contemporary Art, the CAB Foundation, the Villa Empain, and let’s not forget the future Kanal Foundation either. Between museums and art centres, galleries and artists’ collectives, fairs and other events, Brussels is sharing its passion for art.

Salon Beurs Show at Art Brussels

Every year, Brussels celebrates contemporary art from April to May. From the unmissable Art Brussels fair to the Private Choices exhibition, not to mention the Affordable Art Fair, events will be showcasing contemporary art with both domestic and international artists taking centre stage. Here is a quick look at the fairs, exhibitions and unmissable events of the next few months.

Fairs

Art Brussels

Art Brussels

Art Brussels is celebrating its 50th birthday: This year’s fair is full of innovations. Since its creation, Art Brussels has developed into one of the biggest contemporary art fairs in Europe. The fair is an unmissable date on the international artistic calendar. No less than 147 galleries featuring art from 32 countries. Art Brussels has never been so international, although the number of Belgian galleries has also increased.

Dates: From 19 to 22 April 2018

Venue: Tour et Taxis

Poppositions

POPPOSITIONS 2017 Exhibition view ©Renato Ghiazza

Recognising the crucial role of contemporary art fairs within a globalised market, Poppositions aims to revitalise the ways that pieces are hung and presented, always experimenting and discovering ground-breaking ways of selling. It is more than a fair, it is an exhibition involving a continuous critical dialogue, whilst guarding against stand-based layout. The title of this year’s fair, In Watermelon Sugar, was borrowed from that of the post- apocalyptic novel of the same name by Richard Brautigan, published in 1968.

Dates: From 19 to 22 April 2018

Venue: Former Coppens Studio

ACAF

Since 2006, the special feature of this fair is that the artists themselves do the exhibiting. ‘Accessible Art Fair (ACAF) brings original art, with a mix of photography, design and sculpture, to a public that has been buying art since 2006.

Date: 19 April to 22 August 2018

Venue: Nonciature du Sablon

Blast from the past: Contemporary Art- Brussels’ cultural heartbeat in April

Themed exhibitions

The Brutal Play

The CAB Foundation presents The Brutal Play, a collective exhibition curated by Matthieu Poirier, who is gathering sculptures by ten artists, from the constructivist period through the minimalism of the sixties, to the present day.

Dates: Until 26 May 2018

Venue: CAB Foundation

Unexchangeable

It is often said that there is nowhere else that has as significant a proportion of art collectors as Belgium. It is striking, however, that with such potential, so few partnerships are formed between public museums and private collections. By means of a selection of historic and museum-quality works from the 80s and 90s, on loan from private collections in Belgium, the exhibition focuses on the value of a work of art. This exhibition tells the story of a pivotal time in the history of art, during which artists changed the paradigm of the uniqueness of a work of art through concepts such as the simulacrum, simulation and equivalence.

Date: 19 April to 12 August 2018

Venue: Wiels

Private Choices

The Private Choices exhibition lifts the veil over an important sector of the art field: collections of contemporary art and the art lovers who initiated them. More than ever before they play a major role in a constantly growing art world. This project showcases 11 Brussels collections gathering together works by Belgian and international artists, famous artists, and young creators, in an attempt to reveal the uniqueness of each of them. Through the choices made in collaboration with the collectors, what is revealed is a part of their vision of art and of life.

Dates: Up to 27 May 2018

Venue: CENTRALE for contemporary art

Melancholia

The Boghossian foundation presents its new exhibition entitled Melancholia at the Villa Empain. It addresses the origins and manifestations of melancholia. Existing in East and West since antiquity, it continually sends human beings to their lost origins, filling them with regret for a world that has passed.

Dates: 15 April to 19 August 2018

Venue: Villa Empain

Promesses d’un visage [Promises of a face]

©TravelMagazine

The Promesses d’un visage exhibition takes you back through more than six centuries of portraiture, through paintings, drawings, sculptures and photographs from the collections of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, as well as guest pieces. An object representing power or challenge, an instrument for social recognition or the expression of the subject’s rebellion, the portrait is a genre which has undergone a number of metamorphoses over time, right up to the habit of the selfie. Bouts, Memling, Rubens, Van Dyck, Gauguin, Ensor, Chagall, Delvaux, Bacon, Tuymans, Borremans, Fabre, Vanfleteren…

Dates: 23 April to 15 July 2018

Venue: Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

Voici des fleurs [Here are some flowers]

This exhibition pays homage to the work of Akarova (1904-1999), a renowned interwar era Brussels woman who devoted her life to music, dance, choreography, painting and sculpture. La loge is inviting contemporary artists to exhibit their own works side by side with Akarova’s works, and to make their own connection between her ideas and the dynamics of production.

Dates: 19 April to 30 June 2018

Venue: La loge

Events

Opening of the Kanal Foundation

The Kanal Foundation will be opening its doors on 5 May for a year before the refurbishment work begins. This future museum of contemporary art and architecture will be housed in the former Citroën garage a stone’s throw from the Senne. Throughout the year, this cross-disciplinary exhibition will be offering screenings, concerts, performances and exhibitions of works taken mainly from the Pompidou Centre collections. It is a chance to see pieces never before seen in Belgium in this raw space before it is closed for refurbishment work. The coming exhibitions will also present pieces by Brussels artists created especially for the occasion.

Date: Starting from the 5 May 2018

Venue: Fondation Kanal

So if you love contemporary art, you have many reasons to plan a trip to Brussels in coming months.

Have you witnessed the Art scene in Brussels? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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Traditional folklore and cool technology are woven together at Taiwan Lantern Festival

The 29th Taiwan Lantern Festival was officially opened, with the lighting of the lanterns in the Main Lantern area. The exhibition scale for this year’s festival reaches 50 hectares, making it the biggest lantern festival ever held in Taiwan. The exhibitions will feature the main lantern which depicts an indigenous child with a Taiwanese dog, portraying the theme of Loyal Auspiciousness. Besides this main attraction, the innovative designs area will showcase various exquisite traditional lanterns that embody traditional customs and auspicious themes; these are sure to dazzle people.

For the first time, full-field spotlights will be used to shine the latitude and longitude beams in the sky and present the Tropic of Cancer going through the mountains, sea and plains of Chiayi County. The design incorporates folk culture and will give people a brand new sensory experience. International tourists who visit the “2018 Taiwan Lantern Festival” and present their passport or relevant entry certificate from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on March 3-10 at the No. 1 Service Desk can receive a 2018 Year of the Dog DIY paper lantern, a limited edition gift and a voucher (valid from March 3-10), which they can use to access the Main Lantern Area to watch the light show.

On the 15th day of the first lunar month, the Lantern Festival, also known as the Little New Year, celebrates an important traditional folk activity for the Lunar New Year. Traditionally, residents celebrated by setting off firecrackers, displaying hand-held lanterns, and going to temples to look at beautiful lanterns. Amid the fun atmosphere, it’s also a time to wish for peace and prosperity for the country and people. Every year, during the Lantern Festival, throughout Taiwan, large and small scale celebrations are held. The biggest difference between the Taiwan Lantern Festival and the lantern festivals held in various counties and cities in Taiwan is that it integrates tradition and modernity.

Based on traditional culture, the Taiwan Lantern Festival each year uses the animal sign on the Chinese zodiac as the theme of the main lantern. It also pays attention to traditional customs in determining the location, construction and placement rituals. The Main Lantern’s base is designed based on the Chinese Eight Trigrams, which symbolises Taiwan’s traditional philosophy and culture. The Main Lantern lighting ceremony time is selected based on what is considered an auspicious moment. It also involves the traditional blowing of the whistle. (When the President lights the lantern, a team of people blow whistles 9 times, when the Premier lights the lantern, the whistles are blown 8 times and when the Minister of Transportation and Communications lights the lantern, the whistle is blown 7 times). In addition to that, drumming, and hitting the gongs precede the lighting of Main Lantern. And with traditional etiquette, and folk tales as the theme, we cleverly combine lanterns with scenario-based technology to create an ambilight-like scenery.

To bring refreshing results to the public, a number of initiatives have also been planned for the “2018 Taiwan Lantern Festival,” including the center of attention, the Main Lantern “Loyal Auspiciousness ” which for the first time will depict not only the zodiac animal of the year but also include a Taiwan indigenous child waving, so that spectators can feel as if the child is greeting them and sending them good wishes with a smile. With the vigorous development of mobile payments and the introduction of cashless bazaars, the public also can experience the convenience and friendliness brought by science and technology. In order to showcase Taiwan’s intention to promote the protection of the bay resources, the “Bayside Tourism Lantern Area” has also been established to demonstrate the unique vitality of Taiwan being surrounded by the sea. A National Palace Museum water lantern area has also been laid out, and set up a Lantern Festival environmental navigation area, an environmental live broadcast and digital carved water curtain projection.

Through years of constant innovation, the Taiwan Lantern Festival has become one of Taiwan’s premier folk festivals. It has been selected as one of the “World’s Best Festivals” by Discovery and praised by international media as a Disneyland without a roller coaster! Through the holding of the Lantern Festival, the development of various types of Lantern Festival celebrations in Taiwan will be further promoted and world-class lantern designing and making technology will be cultivated. Chiayi County sits in front of a mountain range and faces the sea. It is the only county in Taiwan that spans Alishan, Siraya and Yun-Chia-Nan, three major national scenic areas. In addition to enjoying the sunrise and sea of clouds on Alishan, visitors can also visit the villages of the Zhou indigenous tribe on the mountain, as well as the eco-rich Aogu Wetland, Ruili Scenic Area’s Yanziya, the Dongshi Fisherman’s Wharf’s famous White Sand Beach and eat delicious seafood, Fengtian Temple, which is dedicated to the worshipping of the Goddess Mazu in Xingang, and Bantou village cochin pottery village. Visitors also shouldn’t miss delicious local food such as Minxiong goose, Budai seafood, Dongshi oysters, Xingang peanut candy, and duck soup. Traveling to various tourist spots in Chiayi County during the day and enjoying the Taiwan Lantern Festival in the evening will surely be the best way to celebrate the festival.

In order to promote Taiwan’s unique activities, the Tourism Bureau Chiayi County of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications has been highlighting the special festivals of Taiwan in the past few years. In addition to the continuous integration and marketing of the Taiwan Lantern Festival, and other Lantern Festival events, such as the Taipei Lantern Festival, the Kaohsiung Lantern Festival Art Festival, the New Taipei City Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival, Miaoli Fire Side Dragon Festival, Tainan Yanshui Beehive Rockets Festival, and Taitung Bombing of Master Han Dan Festival, since 2013 has been promoting the “Taiwan Tourism Calendar” program, which integrates information on various large-scale special events in Taiwan, including the upcoming annual meeting of the world’s most beautiful bays in Taiwan (Penghu), the Taichung World Flora Exhibition (Taichung City), the 9th Asian Birdwatching Exposition (Chiayi County) and other international conferences and activities. Visitors from home and abroad are welcome to visit the unique and magnificent sightseeing activities of Taiwan’s folk festivals.

About Taiwan

Taiwan is located in the western Pacific Ocean 160 km (100 miles) off the southeastern coast of the Chinese mainland and is a convenient gateway to Asia for the Indian traveler.

FLIGHTS: A number of airlines such as China Airlines, Cathay Pacific, China Southern and Thai Airways fly directly or with a stopover, in to the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, the Kaohsiung International Airport and the Taichung International Airport from the Indian metros of New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore and Kolkata. Scoot Airlines also connects the cities of Jaipur, Amritsar, Lucknow, Chennai, Trichy, Kochi, Lucknow, Bangalore and Hyderabad with a stopover in Singapore to Taipei. The average flight time between India and Taiwan is of about 6.5 hours; and Taiwan is 2.5 hours ahead of India.

VISA: Indian Passport holders can enjoy Visa exempt entry into Taiwan for 30 days via an online system. The applicant must have at least one of the following valid or expired visas issued by UK, USA, Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, New Zealand or any of the Schengen countries.

  • Valid resident or permanent resident card
  • Valid entry visa (may be electronic visa)
  • Resident card or visa that has expired less than 10 years prior to the date of arrival in Taiwan

Photo credits : Taiwan Tourism Bureau

Have you seen any lantern festival? How beautiful it was? Share your views in the comments section below.

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A year to celebrate the art of Circus


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How fond we all were of circus in our childhood days. The animals and the acrobats and the jokers. Circus might be thing of past in some part of the world, but the art is still alive and kicking. Actually, there are lot of efforts to preserve and modernise this art. European capital Brussels has been leading efforts in this regard. There is no city in world better than Brussels when we talk about showcasing its different art forms. Similarly, Brussels is now for the next one year showcasing the art of circus. Brussels also has a focusCIRCUS.brussels for this specific purpose.

FocusCIRCUS.brussels aims to promote the vitality of Brussels circus arts, from March 2018 to March 2019, with an explosion of shows and performances in Brussels, a tour of 8 Brussels circus troupes in Italy and France, an avalanche of festivals, and many more initiatives. FocusCIRCUS.brussels kicks off on 12 March 2018 at BOZAR with a celebratory evening and the opening of Festival UP!.

© Sylvain Frappat

BRUSSELS’ BEST AMBASSADORS ARE ITS ARTISTS
FocusCIRCUS.brussels is an initiative of Minister Rachid Madrane, in charge of the Promotion of Brussels for the Wallonia-Brussels Federation. After contemporary art in Paris in 2016 (INDISCIPLINE) and contemporary dance in Berlin in 2017 (RADIKAL), FocusCIRCUS.brussels is the third edition in a series that aims to promote Brussels by showcasing its artists, with a project that’s bigger than its two predecessors.

“In the last few years, circus has become one of Brussels’ nest calling cards. Every year since 2015, I have supported a Brussels troupe with the presenting of a show as part of the famous Avignon festival. In 2018 several major events will be taking place, highlighting Brussels’ circus landscape. Notable among them will be the organisation, for the 1st time ever in Brussels, of the Fresh Circus #4 seminar – which gathers more than 400 circus professionals – and the new campus for the ESAC (Brussels’ circus arts college), one of the world’s most prestigious circus art schools. FocusCIRCUS.brussels was born of the desire to present the extraordinary vitality of Brussels’ circus arts to circus a cionados, novices, producers and all those who love Brussels.” exclaimed Minister Madrane excitedly.

This year-long celebration of the circus arts will be made up of two sections, both national and international. Visit.Brussels, Brussels’ tourism agency, is in charge of the organisation of focusCIRCUS.brussels. Patrick Bontinck, CEO of visit.brussels has said that, “Outside of the launch evening on 12 March at BOZAR, focusCIRCUS,brussels’s concept is not to create new initiatives because Brussels is already brimming with circus festivals and events. Organised in collaboration with Espace Catastrophe, ESAC circus college, the City of Brussels and the Halles de Schaerbeek, focusCIRCUS.brussels aims to promote Brussels and its circus scene by uniting, under one name and project, the four partner’s various events, and supporting them with their communication and distribution.”

FocusCIRCUS.brussels kicks off in Brussels on 12 March with a grand festive evening at BOZAR and the opening of Festival UP!, then continues until March 2019 with the UP!, HOPLA!, and Hors Pistes festivals, shows and performances by students from ESAC and the Fresh Circus#4 seminar. The international tour of 8 Brussels circus troupes in Italy and France starts in September 2018 and finishes in January 2019. Troupes will include Back Pocket, Carré Curieux, Cie la scie du Bourgeon, Cie Menteuses, Gaël Santisteva, Piergiorgio Milano, Poivre Rose, Claudio Stellato.

Have a look at some other snap shots of this years UP! festival-

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New Zealand celebrates Diwali with a Bollywood twist


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Diwali is not only celebrated in India but in many parts of the world and New Zealand left no stone unturned to have one of the best Diwali celebrations last weekend. Visitors were greeted with Bollywood dance moves, traditional music, authentic curries and a chance to enjoy and experience traditional and contemporary Indian culture.

New Zealand Police perform to Bollywood songs Munni Badnaam Hui and Chalti Hai Kya 9 se 12. Photo: Arthur Machado – Tourism New Zealand

Almost fifteen thousand people attended the annual Indian festival of lights at Christchurch. A group of six New Zealand police officers performed to famous songs of popular Bollywood Actor Salman Khan, such as Munni Badnaam Hui and Chalti Hai Kya 9 se 12. They also had a dance battle with an established dance group – Bollywood Dreams for which they underwent rigorous practice for two months.

39 Irish Step Dance group performing to Bollywood song – Slow Motion Angreza, from the movie Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Photo: Arthur Machado – Tourism New Zealand

The celebrations had other dance performances – one of which was 39 Irish Step Dance group and the other by Latin American Group – LatiNZone.  They performed on several trendy Bollywood songs which were received with immense appreciation by the Indian community present.

Latin American dance group performing to Bollywood songs. Photo: Arthur Machado – Tourism New Zealand

On asking about the festival and the varied performances, Thomas Shaji Kurian, Chairman of Diwali organising committee and Indian Social & Cultural Club (CHCH) Inc, said,The main focus of the celebrations is to ensure a seamless Indian cultural & Bollywood, food and Arts and Crafts experience to the wider community in Christchurch. Even in India (being so large with many different states with a diverse tradition) we do not get to see so many cultural and traditional performances under one roof and therefore this is a cultural treat even for the Indians. We also endeavour to involve the wider community to engage with the cultural and Bollywood performances. The popularity of the event built over 11 years has largely helped with roping in the wider community performance groups to engage with the festival.

Indian community in New Zealand celebrating the Diwali festival. Photo: Arthur Machado – Tourism New Zealand

A range of Indian food from 18 stalls kept hunger at bay, including south and north Indian dishes and traditional street food. Indian crafts such as lamp painting and Rongoli art works using coloured rice and flour were popular, as was the chance to dress up in traditional Indian clothing. Diwali celebrations concluded with firework displays, food stalls with assorted Diwali sweets, savouries and herbs, stalls offering henna paintings and people celebrating the conquest of light over darkness.

You can watch a video of the performances on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

New Zealand in nutshell:

Tourism New Zealand markets New Zealand to the world as a visitor destination. In the year ending July 2017, 3.66 million international visitors arrived in New Zealand: an increase of 9.5% on the previous year. International tourism is New Zealand’s largest earner of foreign exchange, pumping over $14.5 billion into the economy and directly employing over 188,000 people.

Visa procedure: One may forward their application to the TT office in Mumbai or Delhi, which will then be directed to Immigration New Zealand. A visitor visa for New Zealand is processed within 15 working days.

Airline connections: Connecting flights to New Zealand are available on Singapore Airlines/Air New Zealand, Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific and Malaysia Airlines with stop-overs in their respective hubs.  New Zealand’s international gateways are Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown.

Domestic services: You can fly between all New Zealand cities and most major towns using domestic air services. Air New Zealand and Jetstar are the main providers. Their services are complemented by regional airlines, charter companies and scenic flight operators.

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Hampi in Monsoon : Images from Hemakuta Hills

We are in UNESCO World heritage site of Hampi in Karnataka and have already went through the Virupaksha temple which is considered to be the most sacred of Hampi’s all temples. Right to the north of Virupaksha temple in Hampi is a big rock face which is known as Hemakuta Hill. It is not a big hill per say, but it is located very strategically. You can have a grand view of the Virupaksha temple and the Hampi Bazar from the top of the hill. There are ruins scattered all around.

Also read: Hampi in Monsoon – Virupaksha Temple

It is aptly also called as a canvas of rocks. And its actually a very amazing sight of the temple ruins around and the very strange rock formations. This rock hill has small temples, gateways and pavilions scattered all around.

There are also remains of a fortification. It is said that in ancient times the whole hill was fortified with stone walls. Traces of that ruins are visible even today.

There are many temples around the Hemakuta hills and they are called as Hemakuta group of temples. There are numerous shrines and mandapas included. There are said to be 21 Shiva temples on and around hills. Some temples also have architecture resembling to Jain temples. It is said that architecture of Hemakuta group of temples is different from Vijayanagara style of architecture.

Its lovely to be in monsoon time here. After visiting Virupaksha temple as I was strolling on Hemakuta hills, heavens opened up and I had to take a shelter in one of the temples, and what a fantastic view that opportunity gave me.

It was raining and rocky slopes of the Hemakuta hills had converted into various small waterfalls giving me a very pleasant sight. Many small pools are also formed.

Rocks on Hemakuta hill are very strangely placed and you often wonder, how these rocks are balancing themselves . Looks very scary at times and equally amazing too.

Even few of the pavilions or mandapas on the hill look so weirdly placed as in the image below. One might often wonder if they have been placed here at later stage.

And this is one of the iconic images of gopuram of Virupaksha temple between the rocks of Hemakuta hills. The mythology of Virupaksha temple is closely associated with that of Hemakuta temple. This mythology and history predates to history of Vijayanagara empire. Most of the temples around Hemakuta hills appear to date between 9th and early 14th century. 

This region holds the mythology of marriage of Lord Shiva (in form of Virupaksha) and Parvati (in form of goddess Pampa). It is said that Pampa was the daughter of Brahma and performed many austerities to woo Shiva, who was meditating on Hemakuta Hill.

It is said that Shivs finally agreed to marriage.  When he actually did… it started raining gold on the hill. Gold is called Hema in the sanskrit and hence this place got the name Hemakuta. This wedding is still celebrated annually at Virupaksha temple and it is big occasion for local people to come here.

a watch tower… or?

This place also has many Shivlingas cut out of rocks. In the image below you can see three lingers in single formation.

There are also five lingas in single formation like in the image below. You can find many such formations in Hampi.

Hemakuta temples have very distinct architecture and surprisingly even these temples have a mix bag of architecture, including Trikutachla style in which there are three shrines facing east, west and the north with a common  ardhamandapa and a front porch. Going towards south on the Hemakuta hill, we will also a group of stone shrines facing in different directions (image below). East facing shrine is said to be the original Virupakasha temple. Its is called Prasanna Virupaksha or Mula Virupaksha. This temple is still under worship. Just behind this temple is another chamber with 3.6 metre high image of Anjaneya or Hanuman. his temple is known as Prasanna Anjaneya temple.

There is a double storied gate towards the south (image below) to access the Hemakuta hill (image below). Just see, how precariously close to this gate is this rock placed… was it there before or this accident happened later on?

Past the gate, you can see other temples down south including Krishna temple (image below). I shall be writing about them in later posts.

The top of Hemakuta hills is also said to be one of the best place here to watch sunset. Drawback of coming here in monsoon is that you don’t get to see that perfect sunset, as you can see in winters.Another amazing aspect of Hemakuta hills and its rocks is the holes in these big boulders (image below). They were of course man made and it is said that they were made to break the rock from that point, thus to make smaller stones from these huge rocks so that they can be used in sculptures or construction of temples.

See, in the image below- the rock has been broken from exactly the same point where holes were made-The stairs carved out of the rocks in the souther side of the Hemakuta hills. From the double storied gate, these stairs lead down to other temples.

It is often said that there is much more in ruins of Hampi than what is obvious. They have a rich history. Time spent on Hemakuta hills just makes you able to soak yourself in marvel that is scattered around you. You can easily spend more than couple of hours on this hill enjoying the architectural wonders.

Reaching Hampi: Hemakuta hills are just north of the Virupaksha temple in heart of Hampi. Hampi is located in Bellary district of Karnataka. Although closest big city to Hampi is Hospet, just 12 kms away. Hospet is also the closest railway station. Hospet is located on National Highway 63 which connects Ankola to Bellary via Hubli. Hubli is 160 kilometres from Hampi and has the closest airport to the erstwhile capital of Vijayanagara empire. Hubli is in Dharwad district and also has a railway station. There are also many daily trains from Hubli to Hospet which normally take between 2.30 hours to 2.45 hours to cover the distance. Actually Hubli is on railway line connecting Madgaon in Goa to Hospet. Similarly, you can also come by train from Pune-Kolhapur to Hubli and then move to Hospet. From Hospet you can even take a taxi or auto rickshaw to Hampi. Hubli is also the second biggest city in Karnataka after capital Bengaluru. Bengaluru is bit far from Hubli- roughly 335 kilometres.