Friday, May 18, 2007

Final resting place of Pakistan’s Founder

One of the must places for anyone visiting Karachi is Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan Founder and its first Governor General’s Mausoleum.

Located in one of the original (old) localities of the city, Jinnah Mausoleum is an architectural wonder. Constructed on a hill, the tomb is surrounded by lush green gardens landscaped in a form that represents an Islamic configuration while numerous fountains of various designs intercept it at different angles.

The cubic shaped monument with a dome atop is constructed entirely with white marble, which is not only unique to the Indian subcontinent but is also considered as one the precious ‘natural construction’ material.

Based on an award-winning design of an Indian architect, which was part of an international competition, the idea behind the building’s foundation was to construct a single but a strong monument reflecting the strong and powerful personality of the great leader. Even the title given ‘Quaid-e-Azam’ bestowed on him by his grateful followers, reflects this, which literally means ‘Great Leader’.

With four steep-arched doorways leading to the main grave - which itself is buried eight metres deep from the ground level - is enclosed in iron grill to prevent damage by people visiting.

While atop the giant stairs, a visitor can, on a clear sunny day, can experience a panoramic 360-degree view of the surrounding localities which once consisted of the whole of Karachi – before Pakistan existence.

Tasmania – The Apple Isle

Known, locally (Australia-wide) as the Apple Isle as the island is in the shape of the fruit, Tasmania is the smallest of all the six states of Australia.

Located at the south, the island is separated from the mainland by a wide channel called Bass Strait. Tasmania is mostly composed of unspoilt natural beauty, and hence, the locals and the Government (the state Government) promoted the isle as the “Natural State”. About 36 percent of the land is under parks and reserves.

The state consists of the main island of Tasmania and some 10 surrounding islands. Among other native wildlife, one of its most famous residents is the Tasmania Devil. The ‘Devil’ is a carnivorous marsupial found exclusively on this island. It is equal in size to a small dog but quite muscular. The name devil is given due to its vicious temperament and its growl, which at times, sounds like a high pitch screech.

Abel Tasman, an explorer, whose exploration in the region was financed by the Governor of Dutch East Indies, initially discovered the island in 1642. Hence, on discovering it, he named it Van Diemen Land after his sponsor. It was only in the nineteenth century that the British renamed it Tasmania.

Sultan Qutubuddin Aibak – Subcontinent’s first Muslim Ruler

While Shalimar Gardens in Lahore are famous monuments; partially for being the final resting place of their founder, the late Mughal King, Jehangir; Anarkali Bazaar, the other quisstentaially famous landmark of Lahore, can wax similar lyrics of playing host to the resting place of another great Muslim ruler- in fact the very first Muslim to rule this part of the world - Sultan Qutub-uddin Aibek.

Born into a Turk family in Central Asia, Qutub-uddin Aibek was sold into slavery when he was a young boy. His owner, a local Persian chieftain treated him like his own son, educating him with all aspects of military maneuvers and horsemanship. After the Chieftain’s death, jealous of his standing among them, chieftain’s other sons sold him to Mohd Khan Ghauri.

As Ghauri started conquering parts of India, he appointed Aibek, whose had rapidly risen among the ranks to become Ghauri’s most trusted general, as his Governor to oversee the new territory. In 1191 Aibek took control of this land and ruled it till his master’s death in 1206; after which, he became the supreme ruler of the region till his own death four years later. In doing so, he became as the first-ever Muslim ruler to rule (Northern) India.

Aibek initially chose Lahore as his seat of command, but later on moved the capital to Delhi, hence his rule came to known as the Delhi Sultanate. Being followed in succession by nine other ‘slave’ kings, his lineage also came to be called as the Slave Dynasty of Northern India.

He was a patron of the building-art and is known to have erected some earliest monumental stone buildings in Delhi and elsewhere. Two of the still-standing monuments, Qutub Minar and Quwat-ul-Islam mosque both in Delhi are credited to him. Though the Qutub minar was partially constructed by him, it not named in his honour as is commonly believed, but in honour of Khwaja Qutub-ud-din Bakhtiar Kaki, a saint from Baghdad, who came to live in northern India.

Although his formal tenure as ruler was only four years, Qutub-ud-din did managed to establish a defined administrative system which was later followed by his successors. He was also a pious and a very generous person, locally famous as ‘Lakh Baksh’ or ‘giver of hunderd thousands’.

A very avid player of polo, Qutub-ud-Din Aibak died in Lahore in 1210 A.D., while playing the game. His original tomb was destroyed during the Mongol attack on Lahore in 1241 but was reconstructed during Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto tenure in 1971.

So next time you are in Lahore and plan to visit Anarkali Bazaar, make sure to include a quick visit to pay your respects to our region’s first-ever Muslim Sovereign.

‘Bon Bini’ - or “Welcome to Bonaire”

Bonaire is an island in the larger group of Netherlands Antilles, which themselves are governed by Netherlands. Within the larger group, Bonaire, together with Aruba and Curacao, forms the sub or lesser Antilles, called locally, ‘Leeward Antilles’.

Situated at the southern part of the Caribbean, though much closer to the South America, it was also inhabited, initially by the local indian tribe, Caiquetios, a sub-tribe of the larger nation of Arawak Indian who were also the main settlers of nearby islands.

Bonaire, among other activities, has been ranked, consistently, as the finest snorkelling and scuba diving destination in the Caribbean. And all these lie in the Bonaire National Marine Park that hugs the island from almost all sides.

But there are other activities to do as well. The fast winds over the island, provides ample chance for the daredevils to thrill themselves with windsurfing. For the other mortals, there is an assortment of wildlife and natural landscapes to enjoy.

Rhodes Island in the Mediterranean Sea

Lying midway between Cyprus and Turkey, the island of Rhodes is the largest of all the Dodecanese islands, lying in the eastern Aegean Sea. It is part of the Greek nation.

Among it’s various reasons for fame, its most recognizable is its being home to the Colossus of Rhodes – a giant statue of Greek God Helios - one of the Seven Wonders of Ancient World. It was later destroyed in an earthquake.

Being an island in the Mediterranean Sea, Rhodes has abundant of sunshine and sea breezes. The island has every type of locales – from beaches to lush green plains.

It is such a huge tourist attraction that wherever you go, you will stumble upon a tourist. For those who are more inclined for relaxed and serene locations, then the island of Rhodes is definitely not the place for you.

For others, here are some wonderful hotels to stay in:

Lindos Mare Hotel:
Vlicha Lindos, Lindos, Rhodes, Dodecanese 85107, Greece

Melenos Lindos Hotel:
Lindos, Rhodes, Dodecanese 85107, Greece

Spot Hotel:
Odos Perikleous 21, Rhodes, Rhodes, Dodecanese 85100, Greece

Atlantica Imperial Resort:
Kolymbia P.O.Box 4101, Rhodes, Dodecanese 85103, Greece

Rodos Palladium:
Lies between Kalithea and Faliraki PO Box 180 Kalithea, Rhodes, Dodecanese 85100, Greece

Golconda – City of Kohinoor and Hope Diamonds

One of the famous cities of India, Golconda is more famous for its stones than history. Or, actually it is two stones that have give Golconda its fame. Though, this city is quite closer to historical Hyderabad Deccan but that doesn’t brings it any popularity than the stones that it mines.

The stones that this article mentions are the carbonite minerals that are more commonly known as ‘Diamonds’. And the famous diamonds that this city has produced are the ‘Kohinoor’ and its equally famous counterpart, ‘Hope’ diamonds.

Kohinoor, which as the story goes, has been through some very famous hands, starting from Mughal Emperor Humanyon to Queen Victoria, former monarch of Great Britain. It now adorns the imperial crown that the current queen of her country, Queen Elizabeth wears on certain occasions.

The hope diamond, which is named after Lord Francis Hope, its one of the owners, it is now currently housed in a special vault in Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC.

Though, Golconda is part of the greater Hyderabad Deccan, the city was originally founded by the Kakatiya Kings in the 11 century. It was during the later-day Qutub shahi rulers that the city grew and prospered.

Their later-day predecessors, the ruling family of Hyderabad Deccan, made this city more prosperous from the riches that it provided them.

The best literary café in Italy

One of the best-kept secrets of Naples is the literary café – Intra Moenia. Tucked away in one of the main market ‘piazza bellini’, the café is an unusual combination of publishing house and an eatery.

It’s quaint charm, or rather, the bohemian ambience, attracts the ‘creative’ crowd – writers, artists and those, free-spirited people. It often is the venue for literary gigs and lectures.

It lies next door to the National Archaeology Museum. The exterior includes a nice terrace and the café is surrounded by palm trees and exude a very relaxed atmosphere.

The interior, not very tastefully done, but nevertheless has a pleasant atmosphere. The walls are lined with books and manuscripts as well as posters of various authors.

All in all, it is an excellent place to spend a lazy afternoon, tucked away in local cuisine.

Lublin: Poland’s best-kept secret

One of the best-kept secrets of Poland is its eastern city of Lublin. Capital of Poland’s administrative region of the same name, it is its nation’s ninth largest metropolitan area.

Though, it doesn’t emerge on the normal, international tourists radar as its bigger counterparts like Warsaw and Krakow does, but it certainly posses as much charm as them.

With landmarks like the Lublin Castle, Lublin Cathedral, Lublin Holocaust Memorial and The Trinitarian Tower there is much to do for a casual visitor. Then there is the range of fantastic eateries, great pubs and wonderful road-side cafes.

Famous for sunbathing and bird watching – Comino (Malta)

One of the least inhabited islands in the Mediterranean Sea, Comino, lying between Malta and Gozo is a tiny limestone island.

Famous for being one of the best sunbathing, and bird watching sites, Comino takes its name from the herb Cumin that once flourished in huge quantities on this rocky outcrop. Being only 1.5 by 0.9 miles in shape, Comino is inhabited by only four permanent natives, and hence, is famous for its tranquillity and isolation.

According to historical records, farmers settled the island during Roman times, but later, it grew notoriety as a pirates’ hideout, as its limestone caves provided them a wonderful sanctuary.

Later on, the Knights of Malta - a Catholic Military Order that was the given the responsibility to safeguard the passage for migrants from Europe to the Holy Land during the Crusades – made it into their private hunting ground and were fiercely protective of the local game.

One of its famous natural attractions is its sheltered Blue Lagoon, which is a tiny cove, lined with pristine white sandy beaches and populated by rich Italians and Greeks, who are mostly vacationing residents.

Like many of its famous counterparts, Comino has seen its fair share of Hollywood fame. Count of Monte Cristo, Troy and Swept Away, were partially filmed on this island.

Castle Stuart - Your hotel in the Scottish Highlands

More famously known as the ghost hideout, than a stately home, Stuart Castle is an officially a hotel, or in this case – a Castle Hotel.

The current owner, Charles Stuart have spend a large part of his life renovating this magnificent fortress, which for over 300 years remained abandoned and roofless, with no person to call it a home.

The castle was originally constructed by the third Earl of Moray, James Stuart, on the land that was gifted to his grandfather the first Earl, by (his) sister, Mary, Queen of Scots in 1561.

Lying close to the famous Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle, in Inverness, Stuart Castle is basically, as well as, officially a ‘tower house’ with two circular towers linked by a central block. The furniture adorning it has been crafted by the 400 year-old reclaimed oak.

Fully restored and furnished in Jacobean elegance, the castle offers 5-star lodgings, with each room offering its own set of private privileges.

Kot Diji: The precursor to Indus Civilization

Situated some 22 kilometers south of the Khairpur city, along the main highway from Hyderabad, lies an ancient site, whose discovery in 1955 had historians rewriting history books about the rise of Indus Civilization in Sindh.

The discovery of the prehistoric site at ‘Kot Diji’, some 60 kilometers northeast of Moenjodaro, have shattered the myth of Moenjodaro and Harappa being the oldest inhabited cities of the famed ‘Indus Civilization’.

In fact, the discovery of Kot Diji site has pushed the birth of the Indus Valley Culture to as far as 3,000 BC, which shows that Kot Dijians were going about their normal daily lives, some 500 years, even before the people of Moenjodaro established their famous city. This has been proved further, by excavations at Kot Diji, that have produced various pottery items and house building patterns, which has also been found at Harappa.

Some of the pottery-decorative designs found at the Harappan site, such as the ‘fish scale’, ‘intersecting circles’ and the ‘piped-leaf’ pattern have been thought to have evolved from the Kot Dijian decorated elements like the horizontal and wavy lines, loops and simple triangular patterns. In fact, the Kot Dijian ceramics, though slightly different, in form and technique, are in no way less artistic, than the sophisticated back-on-red pottery of Harappa or even those of Moenjodaro.

One of the more interesting find at Kot Diji is a toy cart with wheels, which may had been the ultimate precursor to the dynamic bullock carts.

The early residents of the city may have been a hierarchical people, as excavations have lead to the discovery of two clearly defined areas. A citadel on a high level, separated by a defensive wall with bastions at regular intervals, possibly was for the ruling elite. While the lower area or the main town constructed with mud-brick houses built on solid stone foundations would had been the abode of the common man.

Archaelogists agree that Kot Diji and other sites in close proximity can easily be termed as the formative phase of Indus Civilization or as the Early Harappan Civilization. There is, however, no proof yet of the origin or the region from where these Kot Dijians arrived in the Indus Valley, though evidence suggest that Kot Dijian and later on, Harappan culture, both were an offshoot of the dominant Dravidian culture of the Indian subcontinent, but that is still under consideration.

Island of Newfoundland (Canada): Home to world’s largest estuary

One of the largest islands off the eastern coast of world’s second largest country by mass – Canada – is the Island of Newfoundland.

Not to confuse it with the state of Newfoundland, which is a separate administrative region, the island is Canada’s forth largest and world’s 16 largest.

Separated from its namesake region on the mainland by the Strait of Belle Isle, it is situated at the head of Saint Lawrence River, creating the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, which is the world’s largest estuary.

It’s small capital city, St. John is one of the oldest inhabited places on the Northern American continent. It was already established port and a commercial city, long before, New York, its’ closest commercial neighbour to the south, was even registered as a settlement.

Being able to boast of having one of the oldest English speaking settlements in the region, the island of Newfoundland is also home to some of the worlds’ finest natural sites.

The ‘Gros Morne National Park’, located on the west coast was recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its rich and diverse geological formations and remarkable scenery.

The ‘Terra Nova National Park’ on the island’s eastern side is home to the Bonavista Bay, a region diverse range of flora and fauna.

Then there is a major hiking trail that winds all along the eastern coast. The so-called hiking trail extends for 215 kms taking in some of the beautiful scenery that nature has gifted to this island.

Though, the main centre of the island is St. Johns, its capital, but there are other smaller towns like Cappahayden, Fort Amherst, Stephenville, Corner Brook and Sandy Point.

Southern Hemisphere’s Stonehenge down under

Are you interested in Rock Formations and doesn’t feel like going to the rainy and cold UK then head down south, to Aussie Land.

There you will find, among plentiful of sunshine as well as a splendid array of rock formations, assemble on the very shape and pattern of the famous and ancient ‘Stonehenge’.

The locals proud of their Irish ancestry, at Glen Innes – the self-acclaimed Celtic Capital of Australia – in New South Wales had constructed the southern hemisphere’s first and only standing rocks formation, called Australia's Standing Rocks.

This rock formation contains some 40 giant granite rocks, some of which weighs over 30 tonnes. Out of these 24 of these representing 24 hours of a day, act as a clock, calendar and compass, all in one.

These stones formations have been modelled on the ancient stones of the ‘Ring of Brodgar’ at Orkney, Scotland, an ancient site dating back to 2,500 B.C.

From the time of its completion, the Australian Stones have served as a gathering place on various occasions for locals belong to various communities of Celtic background.

Riga (Latvia): Famous for its architecture

Famed for its Art Nouveau architecture, and with a city centre that is protected as the world’s heritage site, Riga, the capital city of former USSR’s satellite region, Latvia, is truly an architect’s marvel.

For those, not inclined much towards building formations, Art Nouveau, is building design that incorporates curvilinear designs, floral motifs and flowing patterns. It usually peaked during the beginning of the twentieth century in Europe. Many famous buildings in around the world, though, many are in Europe, are fine examples of this exquisite architectural style.

Lined with finer examples of this style of building that includes both houses as well as public buildings; serve as a highly cultural and liberal port and commercial centre during the last days of Imperial Russia.

Though, like many of its counterparts in Eastern Europe, Riga too suffered under the cloak of communism, but now, as a capital city of an independent state, which has also been incorporated into the EU, Latvia has seen its former glory emerging. And with it, its architectural wonders too are getting a face-lift. One best example is Riga’s Graduate School of Law, which was recently restored.

Sheremetev Palace: A ‘grand palace’ hotel

One of the grandest palaces of the historical city of St. Petersburg is the Sheremetev Palace.

Situated on the banks of River Neva, is a pure example of Russian architecture of the eighteenth century. Though, it is not confirmed as who built this palace nor much is known about its financier, but according to records, its first aristocratic owner was Count Alexander Dmitriyevich Sheremetev of St. Petersburg, who purchased it in 1883.

Count Sheremetev, a direct descendant of the long-established noble family of Sheremetev, who by nature of their heritage, had extensive business concerns and was one of the main aristocratic families of the region.

The count’s family owned this palace till 1917, when it was forcibly taken by the state to housed state institutions.

Since its construction, the palace has changed many hands. It is now back in private hands, though, now more as a hotel than as a private residence.

Madagascar (Africa) - Home to five percent of all world’s flora and fauna

Home to about 5 percent of all plants and animal species, this forth-largest island, off the east coast of Africa is truly a nature-lover’s paradise.

The island of Madagascar, lying in the Indian Ocean, off the east coast of Mozambique in mainland Africa, this island is home of some of the world’s diversified flora and fauna, 80 percent of which is native to this island.

Of the fauna, the most famous are the lemurs, a kind of a primate, and in the flora department; six kinds of baobab species take the prize. These plants are found nowhere else in the world.

Some of the other animals that call this island home are racoons, marmots, sloths, as well some 3,000 species of butterflies, that are found no where else in the world. Then there are various kinds of birds and ducks as well as various reptiles.

In terms of geology, Madagascar is home to some of the strangest rock formations in the world. The eastern coast of the island is quite heavily forested, while the western side is a giant plain savannah. A chain of mountains, meanwhile, divides the land halfway in the middle.

Though, it lies in the African region, it is populated by Malagasy people, who are said to arrive not from Africa, the birthplace of humankind, but from Asia. These people, or rather, their ancestors arrived here some 1,500 years ago.

Today, 18 different ethnic groups, including the Malayo-Indonesian, Africans, Arabs, French, Indian, Creole and the Comorans, populate the island.

Louisiana Art Museum - The best art museum in Scandinavia

One of the best art museums in Europe is the Louisiana Art Museum, in the Dutch capital city of Copenhagen.

Situated some 22 miles north of the city, Louisiana Art Museum sits among some of the prettiest natural settings on the island of Zealand, overlooking the Sound towards Sweden.

Harbouring some of the great works of modern-day artists like Calder, Kiefer, Francis Bacon, Rausshenberg, Warhol and Picasso, the museum holds some six to eight major exhibitions every year, highlighting the great artists’ work as well as promoting the upcoming talent.

The museum also boasts a children’s wing, a café, a museum shop.

The peaceful environs of the museum, not just provide a place for exhibiting the artworks but also a fun and relaxing place for families, especially for the children to enjoy a day out.

It is highly recommended that while visiting Copenhagen, a visit to this exquisite place should be a must.

Corsica (France): Home of Napoleon Bonaparte

Though, the island of Corsica is a tourist haven, it is more famous for being the birthplace of eighteen century French Emperor and Commander, Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon, who was born, in the Corsican city of Ajaccio in 1769, was of minor noble by birth.

It is one of the 26 administrative regions of France and lies to the south of the country, just southwards of the coast of French Riviera. Known locally as the ‘Island of Beauty’, Corsica is one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean Sea and overall fourth largest after Sicily, Sardinia and Cyprus.

With 1,000 km of coastline, it is gifted with more than 200 beaches of various types – sandy as well as pebble beaches. Most of the island is mountainous in nature with more than 20 peaks of over 2,000 metres. Monte Cinto is the highest one peaks at 2706 metres.

Though, it is a tourist season all year round, but most of the visitors to the island usually come during the summer months, particularly in August.

There are various places of interest here from beaches to coral reefs that provide best scuba diving experiences. It being a mountainous island, offers some of the best hiking and biking trails in the Mediterranean region.

Lublin Castle: A castle with an enchanting history

Constructed on a hill, over looking the historic city, Lublin Castle was first built in the 12 century, first with wood, then later on supplemented with stones. Though, the castle is currently in ruins, a part of it, which ironically, is also its tallest structure, survives to this day – some 8 centuries later.

Though, the castle has changed hands, many a times, but during most times, it was further rebuilt.

During the reign of Casimir the Great, a 14 century ruler, the castle was strenghtened with stone and mortar. It was in the same period that the castle’s church, was also constructed to serve as the ruling family’s chapel.

Later on, the fortress was further modified under the watchful eyes of Italian masters, who were brought in to decorate the halls and the main areas. This was done as the castle became a favourite residence of the then current-day royal family - members of the Jagiellon Dynasty.

In the 17 century, the castle was felled out of favour with the royals and they moved out. It then fell into disrepair and only certain areas, including the chapel remained intact.

During the occupation of Russian imperial forces, it serves as a prison. Later on during the WWII, Nazis also coverted into a prison, holding amongst the many prisoners, the underground resistance fighters.

Currently, the neglected castle has returned to its former glory. It now houses the Lublin Museum.

Crete (Greece) - Home to Europe’s oldest civilization

One of the 13 administrative regions of Greece, the island of Crete is also its nation’s largest island.

Apart from being one of the major tourists attraction, the elongated shaped island, which is the second largest of all islands in East Mediterranean Sea area is home to Europe’s oldest civilization, Minoan Civilization.

This civilization which existed from 2600 – 1400 BC, was one of the major civilizations that existed during the Bronze Age, and is literally, credited as being the ‘parent’ culture of various current-day national cultures of the Mediterranean region.

Geographically, the island is situated some 160 kms south of the mainland, at the end of the Greek archipelago. Various seas on all sides surround it: Sea of Crete is to the north, while at the south; the Libyan Sea borders it. To the east is the Karpathion Sea, and Myrtoon Sea joins it from the west.

Apart from being the home to the oldest European civilization, Crete is also a very popular tourist destination. So much so, that fifteen percent of all arrivals to Greece comes from the islands’ main port city of Heraklion and that includes both the airport and the seaport.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Puerto Rico – A typical Caribbean destination

One of the many island nations occupying the Caribbean Sea region, Puerto Rico is one of the larger ones.

Part of the Greater Antilles Group, Puerto Rico is also its smallest island nation. Itself an archipelago, the island nation contains various large and small islands, called the keys.

Apart from the main island of Puerto Rico, the other significant ones are Mona, Viegues, Culebra, Desecheo and Caja de Muertos. Other than the main island, only the Culebra and Viegues are inhabited year-round. All the others are basically populated during the tourist season.

Lying south of the mainland US, with Miami being the nearest US port, some 2000 kilometres away, Puerto Ricans are US citizens by birth. This is due to the reason that their country is an ‘Unincorporated Territory’ of the US Government, meaning that only certain US Government rules and regulations apply to the locals.

Being in the Caribbean region, Puerto Rico is virtually a tourist paradise. And believe it or not, here, you can literally, travel on a road towards Paradise.

Puerto Rico offers the best of both worlds – natural, such as scuba diving among some of the worlds richest underwater flora and fauna; as well as urban enjoyment such wonderful local cuisines at roadside cafes, venues for shopping those small exquisite trinkets and various other local cultural elements, which adds a unique local flavour to such visits.