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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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Why travelling to Yamunotri is just not a pilgrimage!


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Yamuna river at Sayanachatti

When the District Tourism Officer of Uttarkashi, Prakash Singh Khatri told me that before taking us to Sayanachatti rest house in the evening, he wants to take us to a majestic waterfalls, enroute Yamunotri, which is hardly visited by anyone, I was thrilled. There were two reasons to get excited, having been to Kempty Falls in the morning, I desperately wanted to see some real waterfalls. Secondly, I wanted to explore the non-mythological aspects of this fantastic valley. That was also the brief for us during Uttarakhand Tourism’s first ever Blogger Bus in the state.

First view of the Narad Falls

Yamunotri has got all sort of mythological importance. It is indeed known as the source of river Yamuna. Although the actual source of river lies somewhere 14 kms up in the mountains, river Yamuna is worshipped at Yamunotri. Besides the mythology associated with the story of Yamuna itself, this place has many references to Mahabharata. Moreover, places like Janaki Chatti and Hanuman Chatti also associate this with epic of Ramayana. Every year, the annual Char Dham Yatra starts from Yamunotri and then proceeds eastwards to Gangotri, Kedarnath and finally Badrinath.

Narad Ganga river flowing down to Banas

But the charm of Yamunotri is not limited to this pilgrimage. There are many places around worth visiting, and above all, this also acts as a base for many treks in this region. Visit to Narad Falls (Narad Ganga) was actually just the prelude to the potential this region holds for the adventure seekers. I have trekked earlier in adjoining Tons valley. But both the valleys are well connected through trekking routes and also to other parts of state as well as neighbouring Himachal Pradesh.

Closer look at the Narad Falls

Narad Falls on Narad Ganga river was very interesting. This river is a tributary of Yamuna and meets Yamuna at Banas, where the road diverts to this place. Banas is between Hanuman Chatti and Phool Chatti on way to Yamunotri. Janaki Chatti is hardly 5 kms from Banas. Trek to Yamunotri starts from Janaki Chatti. Falling under Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, Banas is a small village in Naugaon block and also has a girls middle school. Mythologically Banas (बनास) is said to be a place which is abode of trinity of gods- Brahma (ब), Narayan or Vishnu (ना) and Shanker or Shiva (स). Well, you might not find too many references to it, its word of mouth and either you believe it or not.

Hot springs at Narad falls

Also read: Faith sees no fear at Yamunotri!

Colour of water has been changed due to high presence of sulphur
You can imagine how hot this water from the natural spring is

Narad Falls isn’t very high but has tremendous force that makes it look very beautiful. It is hardly a couple of hundred metres aways from the main road leading to Yamunotri but it is slightly hidden off-route. Hence not many people take notice of it. It was also the first time, I was noticing any natural destination dedicated to mythological saint Narad. There was another phenomenon. The falls had a natural stream of hot water running along the river at this place. Hot springs are not uncommon in this Himalayan region. But they certainly add to the charm of a place. Here at Narad Falls, the hot water from the spring has also been mixed into the cold freezing water of river into a pond to make it suitable for taking bath. This small valley thus has a falls, a hot spring, a temple, a bathing pond and a small trek to the base of the falls—thus making it fit for a small adventure trip.

Temple at Banas
Another view of Banas temple from the Yamunotri highway

You can watch a video of Narad Falls and the hot springs along it on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below

But this place is actually base for many bigger adventures. Actual source of river Yamuna at Saptrishi Kund itself is a tough trek of 14 to 18 kms from Yamunotri. Base for many of such high altitude treks is Kharsali village. This village also has a history. Kharsali is just across the Yamuna river from Janaki Chatti. Janaki Chatti is base for Yamunotri as last road head. Here the trek starts. During the Yatra season, Janaki Chatti is heavily crowded with thousands of pilgrims, ponies, porters and palakis and hundreds of vehicles parked there. For all those who are aware of this, Kharsali village provides a lot of relief as you can altogether skip going to Janaki Chatti on way to Yamunotri. Road to Kharsali takes a diversion from main road a kilometre before Janaki Chatti, hence you can escape the traffic jam that usually happens just before Janaki Chatti. You can park your vehicles at Kharsali and just cross a foot bridge on Yamuna towards Janaki Chatti and head to the trail to Yamunotri. Kharsali also has a few resorts to stay. 

Yamuna temple at Kharsali, this is the newer construction

Also read: World Environment Day – Where even the source is threatened

Front view of the Yamuna temple at Kharsali
Idols of goddess Yamuna at Kharsali temple

But there is lot more about Kharsali village. Locals take pleasure in claiming it to be the last Indian village on this side of the border towards China. But Kharsali is also known for its Yamuna temple. Every year in winters when Yamunotri temple is closed down, Yamuna is worshipped at the temple in Kharsali. On second day of Diwali on Bhaiya Dooj (भैया दूज या यम द्वितीया) Yamuna’s idol is brought down in procession to Kharsali temple. It is than worshipped here for next six months until Akshaya Tritiya (अक्षय तृतीया) when it will be taken again in a procession to Yamunotri temple. Kharsali also has s Someshwar Shani Temple. Shani (शनि) is said to be the Yamuna’s brother from her father Sun’s second wife. Shani temple at Kharsali is five storied and said to be 500 years old. 

Kharsali village

Kharsali is also the base for the proposed ropeway to Yamunotri. It also has a helipad which is used by helicopter services for Char Dham Yatra. On a clear day, you can view Swargarohini peak, Kalindi peak, Kalanag (black peak), Bandarpoonch range and few other mountains from Kharsali. Black peak is also said to be the source of Hiranayabahu river which meets Yamuna at Kharsali. Kharsali has developed itself into a trekking base with facilities for camping, porters, guides, equipments and lot more. Kharsali has many apple orchards as well as herbal gardens for traditional herbs of medicinal values. 

View of the Kalindi mountain range

Trekking routes

One of the most prominent trekking route from Kharsali is the one which links Tons valley to Yamuna valley via Bali Pass (4800 metres). This trek is done from both the sides. One can ascend either from Kharsali in Yamuna valley or  from Seema in Tons valley. Bandar poonch range is said to be source of another river Hanuman Ganga which meets Yamuna at Hanuman Chatti. From Hanuman Chatti, there goes another trek along the Hanuman Ganga river upto the Dodital. Kalanag (6387 metres) in the Bandarpoonch range is said to be the highest peak in Ruinsara-Yamunotri region. Normally this peak is done from the Osla-Ruinsara side. Seasoned old man Jayendra Singh Tomar of Kharsali village also told us about a beautiful trek from Yamunotri to Gangotri, This trek starts from Kharsali and goes through Sunapada, Mala, Sangasoo, Kanatal, Chaya Baamsaru, Dayara Bugyal and Bharsu towards Gangotri. A long but beautiful, unexplored trek. 

Sneak a view
Another view of the snow peaks on the way

So next time you think about Yamunotri, be sure that there are many things that you can do else than the routine pilgrimage to make your trip a bit adventurous. 

Have you trekked in the Yamunotri valley? How was the experience. Please share with us in the comments section below.

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Comics Festival unveils great new features this year


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Comic Book Festival
BOZAR © visit.brussels – Eric Danhier

There are not many comics festivals in the world like the now famous Brussels Comics Festival in the European capital. To mark its 9th year, from 14–16 September 2018, the Brussels Comics Festival contains its own batch of novelties. This year the brave Alix is celebrating 70 years of existence and will be honoured right through this weekend dedicated to the 9the art. Since its inauguration in 2010 by visit.brussels, the Comics Festival has come a long way. Launched after a year dedicated to Brussels about the 9th art, each year the Comics Festival welcomes nearly 100,000 visitors and more than 250 comics artists.

Comic Book Festival
Parc de Bruxelles – Warandepark © visit.brussels – Eric Danhier

This year, the Comics Festival will once again be taking up its place in Brussels park where the traditional tents will be pitched over 14, 15 and 16 September coming. Aside from the regular giant balloon parade or the rally of cars drawn from the huts of the greatest comics, the Comics Festival offers lovers of the genre talks, screenings, signings and other activities suitable for all.

Comic Book Festival
Parc de Bruxelles – Warandepark © Visit Brussels – Jean-Paul Remy

For its 9the year, this unmissable event for comics fans has its own batch of new features:

• The courageous Alix will be honoured throughout the festival. From the exhibition poster to the Balloon’s Day Parade, the Gallic hero will be present everywhere.

• There will be two exclusives exhibitions:

o “Alix–The art of Jacques Martin”:This is the show-piece exhibition of this year’s festival. In collaboration with the publisher Casterman and the Royal Museum of Arts and History (Parc du Cinquantenaire), it will be produced by all parts for the Comics Festival. This will bring together around 150 original drawings arranged by topic (historical references, treatment of women and homosexuality, treatment of the imagination, etc.) situated among the permanent museum collections in the Parc du Cinquantenaire and will be on display for 4 months.

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

o “Live in Fran Disco”–Thierry Van Hasselt/FMK(Wallonia-BrusselsFederation): This exhibition honours the winner of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation Prize for Comics (Prix Atomium 2017), Thierry Van Hasselt/Fremok for his work “Live in FranDisco”.

Comic Book Festival
BOZAR © Visit Brussels – Jean-Paul Remy

• A Smurf balloon will be appearing in the Balloon’s Day Parade.

• An exceptional comics improv contest: “Spirou vs Fluide Glacia: the clash!”In recent months, a curious tension has been noted in the relations between SPIROU and FLUIDE GLACIAL, two monuments of the comics newspaper press. No holds barred, it seems. As a sharp observer of this battle, Thierry Tinlot, former head editor of the two newspapers, has put himself forward as a referee and proposed an improv match during the comics festival! The only weapon of choice: humour! Players and artists will be defending the honour of their respective magazine. We’re talking here about Berco and Munuera siding with Spirou, and Mo/CDM and Ju/CDM with Fluide… Provided, however, this means the two publications don’t mutually destroy one another. This super-original face-off is taking place at BOZAR. In collaboration with the Belgian Professional Improvisation League.

• Lastly, there was one publisher missing from the Comics Festival. A very important publisher from the north of the country: The Comics Festival is proud to welcome Standaard Uitgeverij this year.

Comic Book Festival
BOZAR © visit.brussels – Eric Danhier

Second edition of the Atomium Comic Strip Prizes

Comic strips are an art that has fallen from favour in recent years. It has often proved difficult for professional comic strip artists to make a living from their work. visit.brussels, in close collaboration with the Brussels-Capital regional government, highlights the city’s support for creativity and brings together existing initiatives in awarding mainly cash prizes that will help the winners to finance their work.

Comic Book Festival
Parc de Bruxelles – Warandepark © Visit Brussels – Jean-Paul Remy

In 2017, as part of its 8th edition, the Comics Festival presented the Atomium Comic Strip Prize for the first time. Some 7 prizes, worth a total of 100,000 euros, were presented in September 2017 in BOZAR. Building on this success, the Comics Festival is reliving the experience in 2018, while expanding the concept even further: no less than 9 prizes will be given out for a total amount of 115,000 euros. The sponsor of the second awards ceremony will be French screenwriter Fabien Vehlmann, author of the series “Seuls” and “Spirou and Fantasio”.

Comic Book Festival
Parc de Bruxelles – Warandepark © visit.brussels – Eric Danhier

So if you love comics, then Brussels is place to be for you this September.

Have you ever been at Brussels Comics Festival? Share your experience with your favourite comic characters.

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World Environment Day: Where even the source is threatened

How often when we talk  talk of polluing rivers we discuss about the ways big cities are pushing their dirt into it. While talking about rivers, we cherish, how pure the rivers are at their source and then get polluted down the stream. In that sense, it was indeed painful to see the source of one of our most sacred rivers Yamuna at Yamunotri. It was pristine all around–weather, nature and the faith, but the condition of river was not at all that healthy. We have probably ourselves to blame.

Bottles, plastic and other garbage that river threw out at Sayanachatti, just 25 kms from Yamunotri.

Problem is, we are unwittingly perhaps encouraging what should have been discouraged downrightly. With the increasing connectivity, increasing number of travellers all the stops on the way are being converted into mini city hubs. With hundreds of buses coming daily during the Yatra time, we can just imagine the pressure being put on this fragile ecosystem. With this pressure comes the associated evils that target the environment. That needs to be checked or we will be letting things go out of control. Talking about cities? Condition of Yamuna just few odd kilometres from Yamunotri  had gone pathetic. We could see piles of garbage along the river. And that was what river had spewed out, what it swallowed and took along with it downstream couldn’t be seen here.

Shops along the Yamunotri trail

All along the almost six kilometre trail to Yamunotri from Janaki Chatti, you will find  countless number of shops and all of them selling bottled water, soft drinks and all other things in plastic bottles. Then there are other hazardous items too in tins and cans. It is anybody’s guess that a big number of bottles out of the ones used here will find its way to the river stream. And it could actually be seen clearly.

Remains of the faith!

Situation was more alarming at the source itself, the Yamunotri where the crowd converges. It has to bear the most of the pressure and without tough handling with some path-breaking moves, we won’t be able to control the situation. There are more shops at Yamunotri, cooking everything from rice to samosas and selling everything from coke to toffees.

People taking bath in Yamuna at Yamunotri

Not just the count of the travellers, this pristine area also has to bear equal number of animals, support staff, shopkeepers, administration and infrastructure. And that all is constantly increasing. How are we going to check this? How can we restrain, when it comes to the matters of faith? Something to ponder about on this World Environment Day!

What can we do to stop this pollution? Share your views 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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Riding this Eel is indeed electrifying

SeaWorld San Diego threw open Electric Eel —  San Diego’s tallest and fastest roller coaster with astounding loops, twists and airtimeon May 10, 2018. Featuring multiple-launch experiences, Electric Eel propels riders forward and backward as they speed through the ride’s station house accelerating to more than 60 miles per hour in seconds. Riders then rocket skyward nearly 150 feet where they will brave an inverted “heartline” roll and a twisting loop for an exciting feeling of airtime as riders crest the top before breathlessly returning to the station.

“Electric Eel will bring a whole new level of excitement to SeaWorld,” said SeaWorld San Diego’s Park President Marilyn Hannes. “This new, first-of-its-kind coaster at SeaWorld will give riders the rare opportunity to feel what it’s like to move like an eel as they twist and flip along nearly 900 feet of undulating track.”

Complementing the Electric Eel roller coaster is a hypnotic live eel habitat featuring a collection of moray eels. The eel habitat, located at the eastern edge of the Ocean Explorer realm and already part of the guest experience at SeaWorld, features large viewing windows where visitors can plunge into the world of the eel as they swim and dart through the caves and crevasses of their naturalistic deep-ocean environment.

The Electric Eel attraction area will also feature an interactive educational experience called  Mission: Deep Discovery, which will allow a team of one to four players to embark on a virtual deep sea adventure aboard a manned-vehicle while they encounter the marvels of the deep ocean.

“We always strive to provide new reasons to visit SeaWorld and give our guests experiences that matter with a blend of exciting rides and incredible animal and educational experiences,” said Hannes. “We want our guests from around the world to not only have a great time, but be inspired to care about the ocean and the animals that live there.”

Electric Eel joins Manta and Journey to Atlantis as the third coaster-type ride experience at SeaWorld San Diego. It is located on an approximately 2-acre site on the eastern side of the park between Ocean Explorer and Journey to Atlantis. The new coaster is an expansion of the park’s Ocean Explorer realm, which opened in summer of 2017 as part of the park’s largest new attraction premiere in its history, also including the inspiring documentary-style Orca Encounter; and the summer nighttime extravaganza Electric Ocean, a nighttime transformation of the park into a sea of glowing color and energy, inspired by the phenomenon of ocean bioluminescence. Electric Ocean is set to ignite at SeaWorld on June 16 and light up the park on select dates through Sept. 2, 2018.

SeaWorld is open 365 days a year and is located on SeaWorld Drive off of I-5. Park admission is $89.99 for ages 10 and older; $84.99 for ages 3–9.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment™ is a leading theme park and entertainment company providing experiences that matter and inspiring guests to protect animals and the wild wonders of our world. The company is one of the world’s foremost zoological organizations and a global leader in animal welfare, behavioral training, husbandry and veterinary care. The company collectively cares for what it believes is one of the largest zoological collections in the world and has helped lead advances in the care of animals. The company also rescues and rehabilitates marine and terrestrial animals that are ill, injured, orphaned or abandoned, with the goal of returning them to the wild. The SeaWorld® rescue team has helped more than 31,000 animals in need over the last 50 years.

The company owns or licenses a portfolio of recognized brands including SeaWorld, Busch Gardens® and Sea Rescue®. Over its more than 50-year history, the company has built a diversified portfolio of 12 destination and regional theme parks that are grouped in key markets across the United States, many of which showcase its one-of-a-kind zoological collection. The company’s theme parks feature a diverse array of rides, shows and other attractions with broad demographic appeal which deliver memorable experiences and a strong value proposition for its guests.

Have a look at a video of this Electrifying Eel on my YouTube channel by clicking on the link below-

Have you ever had such an amazing roller coaster ride? Share your experience with us in the comments section below!

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Where To Watch Cricket In India

There is plenty to see on a visit to India. It’s a dense, beautiful and historic country that offers everything from pristine beaches and culturally fascinating small towns to big cities and historic buildings and monuments. You can travel to India to get to know the country, soak in some luxury, or do some more adventurous exploration. There’s just a little bit of everything to enjoy.

What merits some attention and isn’t always at the top of the travel guides, however, is the sporting scene. In particular, seeing cricket in India can be a very memorable experience. The sport is revered throughout the country, and though crowds and quality of play vary from one event to another (as is true of any sport), you stand a good chance of enjoying a spectacular atmosphere.

While catching the national Indian team in action beats all, your best bet of catching a good match is through the Indian Premier League. The IPL takes place over seven weeks until the end of May and is ultimately one of the richest (and therefore most hotly contested) competitions in all of domestic cricket. It features eight of the best franchises in the country facing off against each other in an event that actually isn’t that old – but which is fast becoming very popular. Here we won’t look at all eight of the teams’ stadiums, but instead will point to a handful that give you an opportunity to see great matches in beautiful or interesting venues around the country.

Eden Gardens – Kolkata

Eden Gardens simply has to be mentioned in a piece like this. It’s the largest cricket stadium in India and one of the biggest in the whole world, able to seat nearly 70,000 fans. It’s also a deeply historic venue, having first been built in 1864 (though it’s since been significantly reconstructed). For the IPL, Eden Gardens serves as the home of the Kolkata Knight Riders, a respectable side that finished in the middle of the league in 2017 and seems poised to do so again. Additionally, attending a match at Eden Gardens, you get a chance to explore a truly beautiful and fascinating city full of many of the different elements outlined above that make India great in the first place.

Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium – Hyderabad

Needless to say this stadium takes a certain level of prestige from having been named after Gandhi himself. That would make just about any venue feel special. But it lives up to the name. The park has hosted its share of thrilling matches for the Indian national team, and in the IPL serves as the home ground for Sunrisers Hyderabad – currently in first place in the league. If you get to see a match here you’ll also be able to check out some of the coolest sightseeing stops in the whole country, such as the ruins of the Golconda Fort (once a 14th century capital and stronghold) and the Charminar or “Four Minarets” mosque.

Wankhede Stadium – Mumbai

Once another massive stadium, Wankhede was actually renovated down in advance of the 2011 World Cup. As a result it feels a little more modern and a little more intimate (though it can still seat some 33,000 fans). So, despite its having been built in the mid-‘70s, it is in a way one of the more state-of-the-art venues in India. Wankhede Stadium is the home of the Mumbai Indians, and of course attending a match there you’ll get the opportunity to explore the biggest city in all of India.

These are just three of eight stadiums that are used in the IPL, but they’re certainly among the highlights, both in and of themselves and because of where they’re located. Any or all of them would be thrilling additions to any trip to India.

DO you love cricket? Have you travelled anywhere just to watch a game of cricket? Share your passion in the comments section below.

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India Summer Days return to Karlsruhe and lot more in SouthWest Germany


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On the weekend of 14th to 15th July 2018, the INDIA SUMMER DAYS return to Karlsruhe under the heading ‘Baden-Württemberg meets Maharashtra’: a small piece of India right in the centre of Karlsruhe, with all its sumptuous colours, music and dance. India fans can indulge in live music, an Indian bazaar, culinary delicacies and numerous other cultural highlights, as well as Ayurveda and yoga workshops.  Last year India Summer Days were held for the first time alongside the “Pre-Festival” in the middle of the Günther-Klotz-Anlage.

SouthWest Germany, the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, is right in the heart of Europe and is bordered by France, Switzerland and Austria. Easy to get to, easy to get around, easy to have fun: that’s SouthWest Germany, a real four-season destination! With history and high-tech, romantic palaces and vibrant cities, natural beauty, glamour and fun, SouthWest Germany guarantees something for everyone. 

Also Read: Germany Unplugged – Holidaying in the SouthWest

Due to its varied historic and cultural heritage, South West Germany is abound in cultural monuments. Six of 42 UNESCO World heritage sites in Germany are located between the lake of Constance and the northern part of South West Germany. Ice Age Art in South West Germany, Historic Stone Age lake-dwellings on Lake Constance, the Frontiers of the Roman Empire , the Maulbronn Monastery and the Monastic Island of Reichenau. Worth mentioning as well, are the apartment buildings of the French architectLe Corbusier in Stuttgart, „the Weissenhof Estate“. Le Corbusier designed as well the master plan of the Indian City Candigarh in 1952 which was declared by UNESCO as World heritage in July 2016.

Wherever you go in Southwest Germany you are never far from a grand palace, a romantic castle, half-timbered houses – and something good to eat and drink. Stop in a café for coffee and cake; linger in a beer garden over a locally-brewed pint; taste wines at a traditional wine festival; sample schnapps and world-class gin in the Black Forest. Order traditional dishes in a Weinstube (tavern) and gourmet meals in Germany’s most Michelin-star studded region. In 2018 there are many foodie reasons to come to Southwest Germany, or Baden-Württemberg, as we call it.

Europa Park

In the heart of the border triangle, between the Black Forest and Vosges, lies the best theme park worldwide- Europa-Park. Whether Ireland, France or Spain ‒ 15 European themed areas with exemplary architecture, gastronomy, and vegetation are waiting to be discovered by visitors from around the world, embarking on a journey of discovery through Europe with over 100 attractions and shows and the promise of lots of fun and adventure for the whole family. The park’s own 4* hotels provide everything visitors need for a perfect family holiday or romantic wellness weekend with an authentic atmosphere and ambience unique to each themed hotel.

Shop till you drop! Read: Munich is a ultra-chic shopping destination

At India Summer Days, visitors will experience the great diversity of Indian culture and tradition in an authentic way. The focus will be on Maharashtra, Baden-Württemberg’s partner region in the heart of India, which has been linked to Karlsruhe for years. Last year Balaji També and a team of Ayurveda doctors, yoga teachers and cooks traveled from Atmasantulana Village, India, to the summer festival in Karlsruhe and offered many informative workshops on Ayurveda, Ayurvedic products, pulse diagnosis, Ayurvedic nutrition, healing music, meditation and yoga. Numerous other artists and musicians as well as yoga and Ayurveda experts will be arriving in Karlsruhe directly from India. This region has got special relations with Maharashtra. Stuttgart meets Mumbai wine festival also celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2014. The long and enduring town-twining between Mumbai and Stuttgart which dates back to 1968.

India Summer Days, Credit: jowapress.de

Susanne Schlung, Marketing Director of the State Tourist Board said after her recent visits to Mumbai and Delhi that  she could see a lot of interest in traveling to Europe and especially the interests of travellers who travel the second or third or….time to explore a region of Germany – such as SouthWest Germany. She was really surprised that a lot of the people she met during our stay, know of Cuckoo-clocks, the Black Forest with its delicious Black Forest cake and Baden-Baden with its Spas and Casino.

Sharing culture! Read: A culture feast at Upper Rhine Valley

Susanne said, “Due to the demand for smaller family groups, apartments and smaller busses for more people are more relevant. Small groups and individual travellers also like to try our lovely traditional food and beverages (beer and wine) as well as our high level cuisine in lots of Michelin starred-restaurants. But on the third or fourth day of their journey they need to have Indian food again. No problem; south west Germany has a lot of Indian restaurants to offer! Indians also like Shopping! So, in south west Germany they have lots of possibilities to go shopping – from traditional souvenirs , e.g. the Cuckoo-Clock at the Tiitisee-Shops up to designer wear in the Outlet City in Metzingen which is a 30 minute drive to Stuttgart or Wertheim Village in the north of SWG. Outlet City Metzingen offers at about 80 different luxury designer brands (such as Hugo Boss, Prada, Nike, Michel Kors, Armani, Burberry, Gucci & Jimmy Choo).”

Europa Park

German cars, especially Mercedes Benz and Porsche are well-known and loved in India. There are two museums in the capital city of SWG, Stuttgart, were one can see a lot of cars and learn something about the history of the cars. Traveling by train, which is very fast and convenient in Germany is also very popular with travellers.

Have you visited SouthWest Germany or Europa Park? How was the fun? Please share with us all!

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The Jewel of Arabia gets a stylish new gateway

The first phase of Oman’s brand new Muscat International Airport is currently operational and has increased passenger capacity to 20 million- up from the previous 12 million passengers recorded in 2017. The state-of- the-art airport has been designed to be the shining symbol of the Sultanate of Oman. The new airport is designed as ICAO category 4F airports which will be able to accommodate the world`s largest aircraft, Airbus A380 and the runway will enable independent parallel operations. The passenger terminals built with the latest technology are aligned with IATA Service Level A standards. The total gross area for the new Muscat International terminal building is 580,000 m2 with an overall airport land area of 21 km2. 

Salim Al-Mamari, Ministry of Tourism, Oman said “The government of Oman is focusing on Travel and Tourism as a part of its economic diversification strategy. The newly opened Muscat International Airport, brand new Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre, revised visa rules along with other infrastructure developments seen in the recent times determine some of the efforts to increase tourism in Oman. India is one of the key markets for Oman and we are certain that this proactive initiative by the Ministry will drive a lot of visitors from India. Since 2014, Oman has witnessed over 23% growth in Indian arrivals. In 2016, Oman received 297,628 Indian arrivals as compared to 256,210 arrivals in 2014 that is over 16% growth within 2 years. In 2017, Oman received 321,161 Indian arrivals which is remarkably higher, showcasing growth of over 7.90 % in just one year.”

Oman’s new international airport has already welcomed over one million passengers, as it celebrated its first month of operations. The airport will undergo further upgrades in three consecutive phases which aims to boost the number to 24, 36 and 48 million passengers per annum. Presently, the Muscat International Airport is ranked among the top 10 airports in Middle East and has recently won the 2018 World Travel Awards as Middle East’s Leading New Tourism Development Project 2018.

For convenient travel, the new terminal’s departure hall allows guests to avail of three entrance gates that seamlessly flow to the 96 flight check-in facilities that are well located. First & Business class passengers flying with Oman Air will be assisted separately at 12 check-in counters and 3 supervisor counters, all of which personifies Oman’s magnificent hospitality. With an array of shopping and dining outlets, guests transiting through the new terminal will experience unrivaled service. The extravagant duty free is every shopper’s paradise with world-renowned brands and close to 100 outlets ranging from perfumes to jewellery, fashion and travel accessories along with a dedicated store for traditional handicrafts. Arrive re-energized at your destination with a comfortable stay at the 4-star hotel within the airport complex which houses 90 rooms, delectable food lounges and swimming pools.

Quick facts:

  • Muscat Passenger Terminal Building total area – 580,000 m2
  • Other Airport Buildings total area – more than 30,000 m2
  • ATC tower height – 97 meters
  • 96 check-in counters
  • 29 passenger boarding bridges
  • 30 aircraft remote stands
  • 5,500 bags per hour baggage processing capacity
  • Two parallel runways, capable to serve world`s largest aircraft A380
  • Airside hotel (90 rooms capacity for 12 MPPA)

So be there and experience the Jewel of Arabia in a new magnificent way. Till then, enjoy this beautiful video.

Pang : Thrill of being at highest transit camp in the world


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View of Pang dhabas (towards right) and the army transit camp (towards left), as seen from the way up towards More plains.

Pang is a magical place. It brings you to an entirely different world, like the one never seen before. At an altitude of over 15,300 feet this is also claimed to be the highest army transit camp in the world. Army claims the altitude as 15, 640 feet. For a traveller- a biker or a driver, Pang is in midst of two entirely different terrains. While coming from Sarchu is the rough routes of Kangla Jal while on the Leh side is the super-highway of More Plains. Both worth a journey of lifetime.

Dhabas around Pang, with ample facility for food as well as tents, beds for night stay.

Establishment at Pang would have been come up as a place for stoppage for armed forces moving to and fro to areas bordering Pakistan and China. Being an open valley close to stream and less windy in comparison to Sarchu would have made it ideal place for transit. When adventurers started taking this road journey, they also found place good for camping, as they will always feel assured because of close proximity of the transit camp, if in case of any emergency. Later on locals came up with restaurants here to provide food to travellers. Slowly camping facilities kept growing and now most of the dhabas have rooms and beds for bikers, trekkers, to stay overnight. Transit camp is still very helpful for locals and travellers in providing medical and communication facilities. I have often used paid satellite phone facilities at these transit camps on the way to inform about my well-being to my family.

More permanent sort of structures coming up at Pang, due to ever increasing numbers of adventure seekers.

But staying at Pang isn’t a mean task physically. It is quite challenging to stay at an altitude of over 15,000 feet. More so, when you are tired because of tough ride from Manali to Pang. Many travellers will feel acute AMS here. Still many locals will suggest to stay at Pang instead of Sarchu, despite its higher altitude because it is less windy.

Have a look at a video below of way to Pang and places around camp.

 

Another video below of route from Bharatpur to Pang, a magical view of mountains turning into gold when struck by first lights of sun!

Manali-Leh route is also known for its five high mountain passes. Have a look at a video below of all the five from Rohtang to Tanglang La

As I said Pang has some of the most fascinating terrains on its both sides and amazing roads constructed in them- sheer engineering marvel. Among them is the Kangla Jal. Flowing over a rocky bed at an altitude of 4878 metres, Kangla Jal makes for an amazing landscape. Kangla Jal is in a valley and there are towering mountains on both the sides. It is located where Miyar connects to Zanskar valley. A beautiful road has been carved into rocky sandstone formations making it a spectacular sight. But than it is also one of the toughest (often people say ‘the toughest’) water stream (Miyar river) to cross on Manali-Leh route. Water flows from the top and falls into the deep gorge overlooking Pang. Still, you won’t always find water here, as in the video below, it is completely dry (it was in late September). That is what makes it unpredictably beautiful. When there is water in the stream (mostly early in the season upto August) the flow of water changes as the day progresses and recedes towards evening. Old-timers will say that the best time to cross it is early morning when the sun if soft and the snow hasn’t started melting. Middle of the day will account for the most severe flows. Even for vehicles, life is tougher for bikes as they might have to cross kneedeep freezing cold water in great flow. A bit of challenge! However a newly laid bridge has made the life somewhat easy for bikers.

For those who love haunted stories, Gata Loops offers a couple. Very  interesting that a road of 21 hairpin bends taking up the mountain is also related to such stories. Gata Loops are in between Sarchu and Pang. Travel to these loops in the video below-

Pang is also the place where we see the unique soil formations on the mountains, and some very unusual structures. Vistas here are quite different, special colours of the sand & rocks as well as few images which have become iconic in this Manali-Leh journey for decades now.

Also read: Where Whisky and Brandy are ferocious Nallahs! 

Climbing up the mountain overlooking Pang and moving towards More plains

Factsheet: At an altitude of almost 4600 metres, Pang is 80 kms ahead of Sarchu. Tanglang La is further 70 kms from Pang and Upshi is another 60 kms from Tanglang La. It normally takes no less than three hours of biking to reach from Sarchu to Pang, depending upon the number of photo stops you are willing to take.

Have you ever stayed overnight at Pang? How was the experience? Please share your views in the comments section below.

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