Sunday, May 20, 2007

Galápagos Islands: Charles Darwin’s ultimate discovery

Often called Darwin’s Biological lab, it is here, that Charles Darwin, the great Biologist made his famous conclusion – ‘the theory of evolution by natural selection’.

Galápagos Islands are home to a range of endemic species (native only to this set of islands) that include the Land Iguana (giant lizards), Marine Iguana, the famed Giant Galapagos Tortoise, the Giant Galapagos Green Turtle, Vampire Finch (specie of birds) and the Sea Cucumber (marine species) - a delicacy among many South Asians.

Galapagos Islands is an archipelago, made up of 13 volcanic islands, 6 isles and 107 rocky outcrops or islets. With the oldest one dating back to some 5 – 10 million years ago. This group of islands are part of South American country of Ecuador.

During the centenary year of Charles Darwin’s main publication of ‘The origin of species’ in 1959, the Ecuadorian Government preserved the 97.5 percent of archipelago’s land as a natural park. The remaining part was left to the locals who inhabited them.

Later in 1986, about 70,000 sq. km of surrounding ocean was declared a marine reserve, second only to the size established by the Australian Government for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Enjoying the southern French hospitality at Marseille

One of the major cities lying on the Mediterranean Sea, Marseille has the distinction of being designated as the European City of Cultural for a year. This honorific title is bestowed every year on a city, which by virtue of its cultural venues and events, is given a chance to promote itself to the world.

Marseille has among some wonderful architectural monuments, has a rich cultural venues. There are museums dedicated to the city’s history, a maritime museum, as it is nation’s largest port and a art museum, among whose inventory, is a major Picasso exhibit.

For tourists, there are many hotels to cater to their relaxation. Some of the major ones are:

Mercure Marseille Beauvau Vieux Port:
4 rue Beauvau, Marseille 13001, France

New Hotel Vieux Port:
3 Bis Rue Reine Elisabeth, Marseille 13001, France

Sofitel Marseille Vieux Port:
36 boulevard Charles Livon, Marseille 13007, France

Exclusive Hotel Du Palais:
26 Rue Breteuil, Marseille 13002, France

Villa La Pinede:
Bouches-du-Rhone Maussane Les Alpilles, Marseille, France

Great Belt Fixed Link: Linking the Danish nation

One of the greatest engineering feats carried out by the Danes is the construction of the Great Belt Fixed Link in Denmark. So called, as it is a combination of a suspension bridge, an underwater tunnel and a box girder bridge. The whole combo spans the strait of Great Belt, connecting the two main islands of Zealand and Funen.

The link consisting of the Eastern Bridge, or the suspension bridge has provisions for both rail and road. It connects the connecting, man-made islet of Sprogo to the city of Halsskov on the island of Zealand.

The Western Bridge or the Box Girder Bridge is a road and rail bridge that links the city of Knudshoved on Funen Island with that of islet of Sprogo. From there onwards, the rail tracks then goes underwater through the eastern tunnel towards the island of Zealand.

The suspension bridge, also called the Eastern Bridge, has the world’s second longest free span of about 1.6 km. The longest is that of Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge in Kobe, Japan, which has a ‘suspension of 1.99 km. The total length of the Great Belt link is a little over 6.6 kilometers.

Previously, the strait would be crossed using ferries that would take as much as an hour, but nowadays with two bridges and the tunnel, it only takes 10 minutes.

This link is the biggest development project ever undertaken in the Danish nation. It cost some 21 billion Danish Kroner. The construction, after much debate, started in 1991 and finishing in 1997. It was formally inaugurated on June 14, 1998.

Flying within budget but in style

Fancy owning a private Gulfstream Jet, but doesn’t have enough dough! Well, you may just be in luck.

With private travelling in such a high demand with each passing year that companies have sprung up offering manageable options where executives and even others can travel in fancy styles.

If you do not a cool 12 million dollars to splash out for a brand-new Cessna, if you do have, say, half a million to spare, then you can very well become a partial owner of such an aircraft.

But you will still need to fork out monthly fees, as well as hourly rate of flying time, if and when you travel.

Companies like Netjets, offers deals, which in their parlance, is called fractional ownership. Having a fleet of over 600 aircrafts, ranging from seven-seater Cessna to a 20-seater Boeing Business Jet, NetJets can offer a choice in 15 types of small aircraft.
Or, if you do not wish to bog down with a princely asset, then you can always opt for a jet-card. Jet cards are like debits cards but of different values. These offer a range of flying time, though, mainly within the continental US, but for a wee extra charge, can take you anywhere in the world.

Enjoying the sun and the sea-breeze in the Aegean Sea (Cyclades Islands)

With approximately 60 percent of the tourists visiting Greece, make a detour towards Cyclades, it is no wonder that it is a tourist haven.

Cyclades are a group of islands in the Aegean Sea, south of the mainland Greece. With some 200 islands of various sizes in close proximity, anyone who visiting here, often gets spoiled for choices for relaxation and enjoyment.

Though, they do have landing strips for small airplanes, but almost all the islands are accessible via speedboats, though, some many may be reached via rowing boats, given the sea remains calm.

For tourists, there a number of splendid hotels and resorts to stay in. Some of these are:

Anastasis Apartments:
Imerovigli, Santorini, Cyclades 84700, Greece

Ikies - Traditional Houses:
Oia, Santorini, Cyclades 84702, Greece

Hotel Tagoo:
Tagoo Area, Mykonos, Cyclades 84600, Greece

Santorini Princess:
Imerovigli, Santorini, Cyclades 84700, Greece

Petasos Beach Hotel & Spa:
Platis Yialos, Mykonos, Cyclades 84600, Greece

Fredensborg Castle: Danish Royals’ spring residence

One of the main royal residences, Fredensborg Castle is where Denmark’s royal family spends most of their spring and autumn months.

Located on the island of Zealand, on the eastern shores of Lake Esrum, Fredensborg Castle or Palace is also used to host important royal and state dignitaries.

The term Fredensborg literally means, Palace of Peace as this where Denmark and Sweden signed a peace treaty to end an eleven year conflict called the Great Northern War between the two neighbours.

The palace was designed by a Royal Gardener, on behalf of King Frederik IV, who himself took keen interest in its contruction. The construction took place during 1720 – 1726.

Though, the main building was constructed by 1726, it continued to receive various extentions in forms of a church, a Court Chancery building, which is now known as the Chancery House.

Dettifoss waterfall – Iceland’s largest falling body of water

Located in the northeastern Iceland, Dettifoss Waterfall is one of the largest waterfalls of in the country. It is situated on the Jokulsa-a-Fjollum River, which flows from the Vatnajokull Glacier. The Glacier, which itself is the largest glacier in Iceland is situated on the southeastern coast of the country.

Dettifoss is counted as amongst the powerful waterfalls among its mainland European counterparts. It’s flow is estimated, though, not properly documented, is somewhere between 200 – 500 cubic meters of water falling down per second. But then this all depends on the weather-wise ice melt.

The fall, a part of the Jokulsargljufur National Park, is 100 meter wide and has a drop zone of 44 meters towards the Jokulsargljufur canyon.

Sicily (Italy): Home of the ‘Mafioso’

Lying at the ‘toe’ of Italian peninsula, Sicily as some wrongly believe is not a province but an autonomous region of Italy. It is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, with a population of 5 million inhabitants.

With early settlement going back to some 8century BC, Sicily has a long and rich cultural diverse history. The very first settlement was at Syracuse in 734 BC. The first settlers were the Phoenicians and early Greeks.

From its early times, Sicily has seen tug of war over its possession by many empires of the region. It has swayed between Roman and Greek empires, between Italy and even Spain. It even changed hands from the Byzantine Empire into Arab conquerors during the ninth century AD.

The island is hence, dotted with architectural treasures and monuments, a testament to its rich history. It is also quite famous for being the ‘home’ of the Mafia or Mafioso.

Due to its rich historical background, it was only natural that the land gave birth to many artists of various types. Many poets, writers, artists, and sculpturers were born here. Notably among them were Luigi Pirandello, Giovanni Verga, Salvatore Quasimodo, Gesualdo Bufalino, Sigismondo d'India and Salvatore Sciarrino.

The other famous Sicilians were: Archimedes, ancient scientist; Frank Capra, actor and director; Giuseppe Sergi, anthropolist; and Vincenzo Bellini, opera composer.

Cylcades Islands: Pearls in the southern Aegean Sea

One of the many prefectures or ‘junior’ administrative units of Greece, Cyclades are a group of some 220 islands in the Aegean Sea. The islands are usually peaks of a submerged mountain range, with only two of these islands are volcanic in nature.

Though, it is not proved as to which specific civilization inhabited these group of islands, but carbon dating of the various female idols chisled out of the island cliffs suggest that there were people living here during the late Neolithic and Early Bronze period. Certain excavated sites at Saliagos and Kephala on the island of Keos showed the residents were familiar with copper.

Cyclades’ climates is generally dry and mild, with a great deal of mixture in its native soil, ideally suitable for agricultural crops like fruits, wheat, olives and even tobacco.
Therefore, some of its major exports include wine, olive oils and tobacco in various forms.

Historians suggest that the early Cycladic culture usually evolved in three phases between 3300 BC and 2000BC. It was this time that the other dominating Minoan culture of the Aegean Sea was at its peak and maybe, their influenced phased out the island’s initial culture.

Recently, tourists, other than from Greece, have ‘discovered’ the unique charm of the Cyclades island, along with those of others in the vicinity.

Derawar Fort: Guarding the eastern frontier

One of the oldest forts in this part of the former British India Empire, the Derawar Fort history goes back to almost 800 years (this age is disputed though).

An impressive part of our cultural heritage, the name Derawar is the corrupted term of its builder’s name Raja Rawal Deoraj whom is said to have it built to protect the area from invaders.

The imposing stucture is situated on the edge Cholistan desert on the top of the ruins of ancient Harappan civilization. It has been the ancestral seat of the rulers of Bahawalpur for decades.

The present building was built by Abbasi family or the Nawabs in 1733. Its walls are 30m high and there are 40 bastions, 10 on each side. The front area is guarded by a huge defensive tower at the main entrance. The boundaries were constructed from gypsum blocks transported from Uch some 65 kilometers away. The walls are built in mud tiles plastered and fresco painted.

The lofty and rolling battlements made of thin red bricks, ten on each side of the fort are visible from miles around. There are two old vintage guns mounted on pedestals in the dusty courtyard of the Fort.

The buildings inside include the Harem, Subedar's quarters, arsenal and a mosque. There is also a multi-roomed subterranean summer rest house of Nawabs called Sard Khana. The remains of a watchtower, a prison, the granary, a guard house and some 100 inaccessible tunnels and the rumored subterranean chambers with buried treasures of the former rulers. The once gaily painted rest house or baradari on top of the north-eastern bastion still flies high the flag of the former ruling family of the former Bahawalpur State as a symbol of their authority over the area.

However the fort nowadays is in very perilous condition mainly due to ravages of time and partially due to the negligence of authorities. There are huge ditches in and around the main boundary wall and the gates. Most of buildings have developed huge cracks. The underground cells and wooden structure is now infested with bats and being destroyed by termites. The day doesn’t seem to far away when the whole structure may crumble in one giant sand dune.

Derawar and Sadiq Garh are both crumbling as are the countless other palaces and villas that make this part of Pakistan unique. A call to preserve Bahawalpur's architecture is long overdue, but given the expense involved, it is perhaps more realistic to urge others to seek out and record what barely remains.

Desert Oasis – Al Areen Resort in Manama, Bahrain

Housing the biggest spa in the Middle East, the Al Areen Desert Resort in Manama, Bahrain is truly an oasis.

One of the newest resorts to be constructed by the Banyan Tree Group, Al Areen is one of the most luxuriant. With individual villas with their own pools going for US $ 1,500 a night, those with a few wads to spare, will be more than happy to indulge themselves here.

Situated in ones of most mystifying and Arabesque settings, with ancient mud forts in the vicinity and one of the oldest mosques in the region, close by, Al Areen resort offers a unique blend of luxury and tranquillity amid natural desert environment.

Guests can either frolic in their private pools, or tour the nearby, well-preserved forts or just go and visit the nearby wildlife preserve, where they will come to face with Arabian gazelles.

A picturesque town - Carmel-by-the-sea (California)

A beautiful, serene seaside town, south of Berkeley and San Francisco, Carmel in short, is a place, which once visited, a visitor may never want to leave. With its white sandy beaches, rocky, jagged cliffs, beautiful coastline, quaint little shops and trendy restaurants, Carmel has been attracting visitors for over 100 years.

Carmel is so small that it is literally spread in a one square mile radius. Originally developed as a colony for creative artists such as artists, writers and poets, it still posses a certain bohemian charm. Keeping that tradition alive, it still doesn’t, by law, allows any house numbers neither it allows anyone to put up street lights, lest, that people starting flocking to any particular artist house.

It all started in the late nineteenth century when James Devendorf, an attorney drove down in his horse buggy and mesmerised by the pristine white beaches and virgin land, that he vowed to create a haven for artists.

Time it seems has stood still since first house was built here in 1902. There are many activities for those with a love of outdoor. Its main scenic point, Point Lobos State Reserve offers hiking trails, scuba diving enclaves and a chance to get a bit comfy with the local sea lions.

Beauty of Turks and Caicos Islands

Famous for being hideouts of sea-pirates during the seventeenth and eighteenth centureies, Turks and Caicos Islands have a very tumultuous political history.

These islands are part of an archipelago separately called Caicos Islands and Turks Island, both of which consists of separate large and small islets. Some inhabited, and some not.

Part of British Overseas Territories, these islands lie in the Carribean Sea, and have more common in terms of culture and economy with that of US, than with Britian. Even its currency and dialling codes are both American.

These islands like almost all islands in the Carribean Sea has also seen its fair share of celebrity fame. Some of its islands have been protrayed in films and TV dramas, while actors like Bruce Willis and Dick Clark have their homes here.

But the best part about this archipelago is, that it is one of the world’s great snorkelling zone, with a huge variety of underwater flaura and fauna.

Gourmet food at Carmel-by-the-sea, California

A beautiful seaside and serene town, Carmel-by-the-sea or just Carmel in short, is a place, which once visited, a visitor may never want to leave.

Apart from its many scenic beauty spots, a visitor can have the following five choices of restaurants to enjoy a good, hearty meal.

The Covey
8205 Valley Greens Dr. (Carmel Valley Dr.), Quail Lodge Resort & Golf Club, Carmel, CA 93923
Cuisines: Contemporary, Californian
Price range*: $30-75
Special features: Romantic, Outdoor seating

Village Corner
Sixth Ave. & Dolores St., Carmel, CA 93923
Cuisines: Mediterranean, Seafood
Price range*: $20-35
Special features: Romantic, Business, Child-friendly, Outdoor seating

Ocean Ave & Monte Verde St, Carmel, CA 93923
Cuisines: Mediterranean
Price range*: $20-35
Special features: Romantic, Child-friendly, Outdoor seating

Flying Fish Grill
Sixth Ave. & Dolores St., Carmel, CA 93923
Cuisines: Mediterranean, Seafood
Price range*: $20-35
Special features: Romantic, Business, Child-friendly, Outdoor seating

Le Coq D'or
Mission St & 5th Ave, Carmel, CA 93923
Cuisines: French, German, and Continental
Average price*: $35
Special features: Romantic, Child-friendly, Outdoor seating

Gone to the bananas - St. Lucia (Caribbean Sea)

One of the many islands in the Caribbean Sea, Saint Lucia is known more for its bananas’ production than as a tourist destination. Though, part of the Caribbean group of islands, it does cater to a large influx of tourist, but this industry is second only to that of Banana industry.

Named after the patron saint of Blindness, Saint Lucia, the island is a separate independent nation. Though part of the British Overseas Territory, where Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state and an elected Prime Minister the executive administrator, it had been a bone of contention between England and France in the past. So much so, that both countries fought 14 wars on its possession.

Like almost every other island in the region, this volcanic outcrop of an island was too, settled by Arawak Indians from nearby South America. European settlers began arriving here in 1500s after it was ‘discovered’.

The island’s main population is mostly of African descent with comprising of over 90% of the total population. Among minorities, there are a handful of Lebanese and Syrians too that are counted as full-time residents.

Saint Lucia is the only country in the region that has the distinction of producing two Nobel laureates –the highest per capita in the whole world. These notables are: Sir Arthur Lewis, winner of Nobel Prize in Economics in 1979; and Derek Walcott who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992.

The Garden Isle - Kauai (Hawaii)

The oldest and the greenest islands of Hawaii, Kauai is at number 4 in terms of land mass. And being the least commercially developed of all the Hawaiian Islands, it is also the most pristine of them all.

Called the ‘Garden Isle’, by the natives, due to its lush greenery, which is also due to it being one of the wettest areas on earth, Kauai is crowded with some wonderful natural attractions. It has excellent beaches with great diving and snorkelling sites, lush-green valleys, deep canyons and volcanic peaks that tower above 5,000 feet.

Initially, Kauai was a separate kingdom, but later on joined the Kingdom of Hawaii, under the leadership of King Kamehameha. Much later on, it became part of US’s 5o state, when the government bought the whole Hawaiian chain of isles.

Like many of its counterparts, it too has seen its fair share of Hollywood fame. Parts of it have been featured in films, ‘Raiders of Lost Ark’ and ‘Jurassic Park’; musical ‘South Pacific’; and animation feature film, ‘Lilo & Stich’.

Natural Beauty of Saint John, US Virgin Islands

Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and named in honour of Saint Ursula as the Island of Eleven Thousand Virgins, the island of St. John in Caribbean was recently voted the region’s best-known destination.

Smallest of three US’s controlled Virgin Islands, (there is another group of islands with the same name that is under the control of UK’s government) the island is basically uninhabited as most of it is designated as a National Park.

Originally populated by Arawak Indians from Columbia and Venezuela in South America, they were later replaced by another warrior Indian group, Carib Indians. During the 16 century, Dutch government took controlled of the islands and use them for sugar plantations as the heat and fertile soil was deemed excellent for such plants.

In 1917 US government bought the group from the Dutch government for US 25 million and granted it’s a full District status, and its residents became full-fledge US citizens but without voting rights.

Anguilla - A snorkelling paradise in the Caribbean

Another well-known island in the Caribbean Sea is Anguilla. It is one UK’s Overseas Territory, where other than Defence, all powers lies directly with the Chief Minister, and the Governor is the Queen’s representative.

Local Amerindian tribes from South American countries of Columbia and Venezuela initially settled the island. Later, on being ‘discovered’ by Christopher Columbus, though disputed by some, English settlers began arriving in the 16 century.

It became the English protectorate and in the early 19 century, against the wishes of locals, it was incorporate into the British Empire. In 1967, it was annexed into a separate British Overseas Territory.

The name Anguilla derives its name from the word, ‘eel’, probably due to the island’s shape.

Anguilla is famous for its brilliant coral reefs. Not just the main island itself, but its countless uninhabited cays and islets, provide excellent places for snorkelling and fishing.

Architectural Treasures of Bahawalpur

One of the grandest and the largest Princely states of the former British India domain, Bahawalpur was originally a part of the great Sikh empire built by the formidable Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Located at an altitude of 400 feet and spread over an area of 27,530 square kilometers on the south side of Sutlej River, Bahawalpur is a true display of history, culture and archeological heritage.

Founded in 1788 by Muhammad Bahawal Khan Abbasi, a descendent of the Abbasid Caliphs of Baghdad and Cairo, the state has seen the rise and fall of various dynasties. The last to rule were the Abbasi family or Nawabs of Bahawalpur. The 13 princes of this family ruled over the State for more than 200 years (1748 to 1954).

The three main havelis or Palaces of the Abbasi Family are the Sadiq Garh Palace, Nur Mahal, Gulzar Palace and the Derawar Fort outside the city boundaries.

Nur Mahal and Gulzar Mahal
The Italian-style Nur Mahal and the Gulzar Mahal, both belonging to the former loyal family of the state are equally eye-catching and present a beautiful fusion of traditional, Mughal and Islamic architecture.

Sadiq Garh Palace
In the small town of Dera Nawab Sahib, there is another magnificent Palace known as Sadiq Garh Palace. This palace is the most beautiful of the three. Delicate and intricate paintings and displays chandeliers adorn this palace’s many rooms.

Collection of carpets brought in from different corners of the globe is spread in one of its large halls'. Beside these, various types of armaments of both European and Asian make and other gifts that must have been gifted to the ex-royal family of Bahawalpur are kept.

Baden-Baden: A quaint little German town

If you ever plan to visit the Black Forest in Germany, then do drop by Baden-Baden too.

A quaint little town, more famous for its Roman Era hot Baths then anything else, is situated on the western foothills of the magical and famous woodland, called Black Forest.

The repeated names indicate the city, Baden lying within the boundaries of the state of similar name, Baden-Wurttemberg. The state of Baden has been in existence since the Middle Ages, when it was quite powerful and was home to Margraves of Baden (Margraves are similar in position to the hereditary Counts of England), to whom it gave its name.

Baden-Baden was one of the luckiest towns to escape Allied bombardment during both the world wars. Though, it did played host to various military groups of various countries during other wars but it never suffered any casualties.