Wayang Puppet Theater, Indonesia

A flickering candle and a capable storyteller are all these Indonesian shadow puppets need to take on enchanted forms and mystical powers. Shadows come to life in the artful hands of an Indonesian dalang (master puppeteer), an expert storyteller who animates flat leather puppets behind a backlit screen to create dazzling dramatizations of secular and religious tales.

Hundreds of years before the advent of moving images, these wayang kulit scenes—accompanied by ethereal gamelan music, played on xylophones, , drums, gongs, bamboo flutes, and strings—brought colorful myths, morality tales, Indian and Persian epics, political commentary, and social satire to center stage in the royal courts and rural areas of Java and Bali.

The term for puppetry, wayang, comes from the Indonesian word for shadow bayang. Wayang kulit, shadow puppetry using figures made from water buffalo hide, is considered to be the oldest freestanding puppet form; the earliest references to it date from the 800s. A court poet during the reign of King Airlangga (1035–1049) wrote: “There are people who weep, are sad and aroused watching the puppets, though they know they are merely carved pieces of leather manipulated and made to speak. These people are like men who, thirsting for sensuous pleasures, live in a world of illusion; they do not realize the magic hallucinations they see are not real.”1

While elaborately decorated and dressed three-dimensional wooden puppets are also part of a dalang’s repertoire, it’s the mystical movements of shadow puppets that light up the night.The complete wayang kulit troupes include dalang (puppet master), nayaga (gamelan players), and sinden (female choral singer). Some of the nayaga also performed as male choral singer. The dalang (puppet master) play the wayang behind the cotton screen illuminated by oil lamp or modern halogen lamp, creating visual effects similar to animation. The thin puppet is animated by the movement of hands connected with joints manipulated through rods handle made of carved buffalow’s horn. UNESCO designated Wayang Kulit from Indonesia as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003.

Travelers to Bali can seek out traditional performances of wayang kulit and watch as timeless tales take shadowy form in Indonesia’s iconic expression of Cultural Heritage.

Ref : http://education.asianart.org, http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/

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Forts of Rajasthan : Jaisalmer

Jaisalmer Fort is one of the largest fortifications in the world. It is situated in the city of Jaisalmer, in the Indian state of Rajasthan. It is a World Heritage Site. It was built in 1156 AD by the Bhati Rajput ruler Rawal Jaisal, from whom it derives it name. Deep in the heart of the Thar Desert is Jaisalmer,. Founded on what was the cross – road of lucrative trade routes, this remote settlement came to be celebrated for the valour of its rulers, and for the aesthetic sense represented by their palaces and havelis. The rich merchants engaged stone – craftsmen who worked delicately on the sandstone mansions they built, filling up facades with sculptural filigree, screen windows, delicate pavilions and beautiful balconies. Today, these veritable art – museums are still inhabited, and their colourful celebrations and festivals have placed Jaisalmer Fort firmly on the world tourism map.

Apart from the artistic havelis the Jaisalmer Fort is home to Jain Temples which are a must visit site. You will find these temples to be very old with high pilgrimage as well as archeological value attached to them.

Jaisalmer fort , over 800 years old, is the second oldest in Rajasthan. Two hundred and fifty feet tall and reinforced by imposing crenellated sandstone wall 30 feet high; it has 99 bastions, 92 of which were built between 1633 and 1647. Wells within the fort still provide a regular source of water. Even today, you will find that nearly one fourth of the old city’s population resides within the fort. If you are a student of cross-cultural merging, the subtle fusion of Rajput and Islamic architectural styles, visible in this fort, will catch your fancy. Ganesh Pol, Akshya Pol, Suraj Pol and Hawa Pol are a must see.

You enter the fort from its east side and pass through four massive gates on the zigzagging route to the upper part. The fourth gate opens into a large square, Dashera Chowk, where Jaisalmer Fort’s uniqueness becomes apparent: this is a living fort, with about 3000 people residing within its walls. It’s honeycombed with narrow, winding lanes, all of them paved in stone and lined with houses and temples – along with a large number of handicraft shops, guesthouses, restaurants. Fortunately cars cannot drive beyond the main square. The fort walls provide superb views over the city and surrounding desert – it’s fantastic to stroll around the outer parts at sunset.The fort stands proudly amidst the golden stretches of the great Thar Desert. Its massive yellow sandstone walls are a tawny lion colour during the day, fading to honey-gold as the sun sets, thereby camouflaging the fort in the yellow desert. For this reason, it is also known as the Sonar Quila or Golden Fort.

Contact Road2Travel for your glimpse into the majestic Rajput Forts and Palaces of Rajasthan

Worlds Extreme Road Trips: Manali – Leh

There can never be a perfect plan to ride on this highway, simply because the road conditions are different every year owing to landslides, amount of snowfall, glacial melts and the progress of Border Roads Organisation (BRO), an Army support organization whose job is to build and maintain all roads leading to the Indian Borders.

As one leaves Manali behind, the real climb starts near Rohtang Pass. Traffic along the Manali-Leh Highway ascends and descends through nail-biting mountain passes, fording across streams and glacial melts, which results in some hair-raising moments . The ever changing landscape is mesmerizing and spectacular. Expanses of snow-capped mountains, deep verdant valleys and small quaint villages you come across it all in this beautiful route .

By road the Manali – Leh route will take two days and the route is:

Manali – Rohtang – Kokhsar – Keylong – Jispa – Darcha – Zingzingbar – Baralacha La – Bharatpur – Sarchu – Gata Loops – Nakee La – Lachulung La – Pang – Tanglang La – Gya – Upshi – Karu – Leh

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) is common at high altitudes at elevations over 10,000 feet as Oxygen in the air reduces by roughly 40% at such heights. After the first 25 km, the entire highway is above 10,000 feet elevation. The first syptoms of AMS is headache, dizziness and shortness of breath. If you experience any of this make sure you stop and if possible descent 2000 to 3000 feet or look for medical help.

June to September is the time window when the Manali – Leh Highway is open and is considered as the only time for doing a road trip to Leh via the Manali – Leh Highway.

The 490km between Manali and Leh, is one of India’s most beautiful and offers the most incredible photographic opportunities the subcontinent can offer.  If you are interested in undertaking this exciting trip stay at our Hotel at Manali: Hotel Kalpna by R C Hospitality, and let Road2Travel make all your arrangements.

FORTS OF RAJASTHAN – AMER

Amer or Amber Fort is about 11 kilometers from Jaipur, in Rajasthan, India. It is considered as one of the best hilltops fort in India which makes it a major tourist spot near Jaipur. The fort is a typical example for Rajput’s life style in Rajasthan. This magnificent fort is situated alongside the lake of Moatha. Amer was once known as Dhundar and was ruled by the Kachhwahas from the 11th to the 16th century, until the capital was moved from here to Jaipur. Raja Man Singh built this fort in 1592 AD and Raja Jai Sigh I expanded and renovated it later. While many such old structures have been either destroyed or replaced by other things, this fort has stood against all the tests of time and invasions.

The Amer Palace & Fort is in a beautiful natural setting, located on a rocky mountain gorge and overlooking an artificial lake.  The craggy and rugged view from the complex from the outside betrays the beauty and culture that is on display inside with an amalgam of Hindu and Moghul architecture, a rich blend of white marble and red sandstone, and exquisite palaces, halls, pavilions, gardens and temples, which were built over two centuries by each of the then ruling Maharajas. The walls of the fort are covered with frescoes paintings, which depict the scenes of daily life. Some other walls are designed with mosaics and minute mirror works which is absolutely royal. While the exterior of the fort is rough and mighty, typical of the life of the gallant Rajputs- militant, adventurous, temperamental, and self indulgent, the interiors have a soft, comfortable and soothing ambience. Amer has a pure majestic look.

The Amber Fort is divided into 4 sections. An imposing stairway and a broad isle for elephants to walk up the ramp lead to the hilltop palace. Suraj Pol is the main gate which leads to Jaleb Chowk which is the main courtyard. Jaleb Chowk also served as an area for welcoming back the army who return home after winning a war. Here the army would then display their war earnings to the population at large. Leading to the palace is the main stairway which is situated in Jaleb Chowk.

Ganesh Pol is another imposing gateway painted with images of the elephant headed Good- Ganesh and Rajasthani Motifs. This gates leads to the inhabited apartments of the Kings.

The Amber Fort has a lot to be seen in its four sections:

Diwan I – Aam : Also known as the Hall of Public Audience this is the first huge room to come across, entered through an imposing stairway. The hall has a lattice gallery and a well proportioned 40 pillared beautiful pavilion made of a combination of marble and red sandstone. The pillars are elephant shaped columns and intricately carved suggesting the mastery of the artisans of Rajashtan.

The hall pavilion built by Raja Jai Singh I was used by the Maharajas to receive the general public and to govern over their kingdom. During proceedings and problem solving issues the King sat in the middle of the pavilion with all the important nobles and officers sitting on the northern side while the less prominent officials along with the general public sat on the western side, with the crowd spilling out in the adjoining courtyard. The southern part was kept clear for the royal ladies to watch the proceedings from their apartments.

Shila Mata (Devi) Temple:The temple is dedicated to Goddess Kali, Goddess of Victory and is located near Singh Pol. The temple has a unique black marble idol of Goddess brought from Jessore (now in Bangladesh) by Raja Man Singh in 1604. The temple gates are silver with images of nine forms of Goddess Durga (strength) and ten forms of Goddess Saraswati (knowledge). The mandap is made of white marble which is contrasting with the colour of the idol.

Legend of the idol: Before the war with the Maharaja of Bengal, Raja Man Singh prayed to the Goddess to grant him victory. Goddess Kali appeared in his dreams and instructed him to retrieve her idol hidden in the Bay of Bengal if he won the war. Raja Man Singh won the war, retrieved the idol form the spot and installed it in his temple.

Another temple dedicated to Goddess Kali, where Raja Man Singh always prayed before he left for any war. The temple is situated just before the entrance to the right side with a stairway leading to it. The temple is famous for huge silver loins and silver doors. The doorway to the temple has an image of Lord Ganesha, carved from a single piece of coral.

Diwan e Khaas: This is the Hall of Private Audience. Decorated with beautiful mirror work and carvings on walls and ceilings, the hall is also largely decorated with miniature murals made of coloured glass.

Old Amber Palace :Originally Amber fort was a place complex called Jaigarh Fort situated with in the Amber fort of today and was connected to Amber via fortified passages. The Jaigarh Fort is located above the Amber fort complex and was known to be the treasure vault of the Kachhwaha rulers.

Sheesh Mahal : This is the Hall of Mirrors located deep inside the fort and entirely filled with mirrors to lighten up the entire path. A single candle is enough to ward away the darkness of the night and the innumerable number of mirrors around light up as soon as one lit candle enters this hall.

Jai Mandir: Behind the Ganesh Pol, are a number of residential apartments of the Maharaja. Amongst them is Jai Mandir also known as Hall of Victory with inlaid panels, dazzling mirror ceilings, mosaics and sculptures. The hall has pattern made of glass that illuminate in the darkness just like twinkling stars (Convex mirrors)

Jas Mandir :Also known as Hall of Glory, this hall has pierced screen windows of alabaster that offer a beautiful view of Kesra Kyari (saffron bed) which is a garden with geometric designs.

Sukh Niwas : Opposite the Jai Mandir this is the Hall of Pleasure. It has a sandalwood door inlaid with ivory and a channel running down to the room. This helps in the natural flow of water to create an air conditioning effect to help cool the temperatures of the hall in the summer.

Zenana :This is the ladies house or royal apartments in which all rooms have a common entrance but separate chambers. The zenana surrounds a spectacular courtyard. Sitting right in their apartments the ladies could watch the proceedings in the Diwan e aam.

Gardens : Dil e aaram is the graden through which one enters the fort and the Charbagh garden is ornamented in patterns of Mughal Style.

The fort is a ten minute walk uphill and your little trek will be worth the wonders that it offers. You may also use the service of elephants to ride up to the fort from the bottom of the hill. The sound and light show should not be missed in the evening.

Road2Travel operates a Hotel in Jaipur and for your Rajasthan trip you are welcome to contact us. The best time to enjoy the heritage of Rajasthan is from October to March.

More than 10,000 travellers across 13 countries worldwide carry their smartphone as a must-have item

Forget the sun cream, magazines and guide books, new research released today by InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) reveals that of more than 10,000 travelers across 13 countries worldwide, the must-have item for a summer holiday is your smartphone.

According to the research by IHG Rewards Club, 64% of Indian travellers agree that their smartphone is the most important item to take on holiday and 76% agree that they will use it every single day. The research also revealed that, across the 13 countries, 1 in 10 travellers clock an impressive average of 70 hours online while on holiday – almost 20% of the actual time spent on a two week holiday.

IHG Rewards Club is the first and largest hotel loyalty programme in the world, with over 80 million members worldwide. IHG is one of the world’s leading hotel companies, with over 4,700 hotels around the world and a family of nine trusted hotel brands.

IHG Rewards Club members are IHG’s most valued guests. In line with its aim of rewarding them for their loyalty, it surveyed more than 10,000 of its members worldwide in order to gain further insight into their relationships with their loyalty programme and to learn more about  their travel needs.  

The survey found that in India, the smartphone is fast replacing the traditional postcard with 59% of respondents saying they use it to text friends and another 43% to Skype friends and family back home, while on holiday. Globally, however, recounting holiday experiences with friends and family still remains one of the most enjoyable ways of sharing a holiday, with one in ten travellers saying this is as enjoyable as the holiday itself. Planning a holiday is nearly half the fun – (55%) of Indian travellers say it is the best part of a holiday and 43% spend over a day researching a holiday.

Susanna Freer-Epstein, Senior Vice President Customer Loyalty Marketing, IHG said,
“IHG is a brand and consumer driven company. We use insight to anticipate consumer trends and behaviour. This research shows how mobile technology is revolutionising the holiday experience – from enabling travellers to dream about and plan their holidays, to helping enjoy the trip itself and share their experiences with their friends and family.”  

In India the survey also uncovered that more than half (52%) of travellers check social media every day while on holiday, with over a third (34%) even saying they always check Facebook before going to sleep. Taking selfies is also increasingly becoming one of the most popular ways to share holiday experiences with 32% of travellers surveyed saying they use their smartphones for holiday selfies.

Courtesy

http://www.hospitalitybizindia.com

Excursion to Pulga Village from Manali

Any Holiday to Manali, a famous mountain town of India, is incomplete without a trip to Manikaran. Manikaran, in the Parvati Valley, is home to the popular Gurudwara (Sikh temple), Manikaran Sahib, the place also has a few Hindu Temples. Most travelers take this scenic drive along the beautiful Parvati River and after crossing Kasol , a backpacker village, reach Manikaran. But instead of turning back if you continue along the river, the road ends at a village called Barsheni. A couple of kilometers trek takes you to one of the most beautiful places in this area, Pulga. Pulga is a small ancient village with a breathtaking view of the Himalayas. A lot of foreigners frequent Pulga and stay their in guest houses or just pitch tents. Food is not a problem, there are plenty of eating joints. Pulga is fast becoming a camping place for children and families as well, since it is so close to the road and a easy walk through the pines. On your next trip to Manali do ask Road2Travel for information on trek to Pulga.

Can Traditional Bhutan Survive Tourism ?

Bhutan is commonly described as “heaven on earth.”  Heaven, though, has been getting a lot of visitors recently.

Travelers have started to take notice of Bhutan, great news for the nation that’s banking on tourism for economic grow. Now the hard part: preserving its cultural treasures.

In 2013, Bhutan had nearly 120,000 visitors—the highest in its history, according to the Bhutan Tourism Council. Americans made up the largest foreign market with about 7,000 visitors. Visitors from India, Bhutan’s neighbor, however, still dominate in terms of annual visitors.

As a landlocked country with a mountainous terrain and a largely agricultural population, Bhutan is turning to tourism for revenue.  And rightly so: its historic Buddhist monasteries nestled atop cliffs at high altitude, with majestic views of the Himalayas in the distance, make for the ideal photo op.

The Himalayan kingdom started welcoming visitors nearly 40 years ago.  But, it’s really in the last decade that Bhutan has seen an influx of tourists, especially those from beyond Asia.  The country prizes its natural beauty: in fact, Bhutan’s constitution carries a clause stating that 60 percent of its land will always be kept as forest.  At present over 72% of the land is forest. Bhutan is one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world known as the East Himalayan ‘hot spot’, the hub of 221 global endemic bird areas. The recorded number of bird species is over 670 and is expected to rise as new birds are discovered.

Despite its small landmass Bhutan has a remarkable abundance of flora and fauna and is one of the most biologically diverse regions of the world. The wide-range of climatic conditions allows for an unparalleled array of vegetation and wildlife to thrive within Bhutan.

Bhutan is swiftly developing its reputation as a premier destination for adventure sports. Set amongst the majestic Himalayas the kingdom is the perfect location for all manner of exciting activities including Hiking, Trekking, Kayaking, Rafting, Mountain Biking and Fishing. The lush, virgin forests of Bhutan offer a one-of-a-kind experience for travelers seeking adventure in an unspoiled and unexplored environment.

Bhutan has many activities available for those visitors seeking a place of solace, rest and recuperation.  Whether it’s a session of peaceful, contemplative meditation, a relaxing soak in a mineral hot spring bath or the all natural remedies of our traditional medicine Bhutan has just what you need to revive and rejuvenate your body and spirit

“Despite the rapid growth, Bhutan is still trying to keep its traditions alive and preserve the heavens for generations to come.”

That’s been Bhutan’s selling point: its quiet, spiritual, and earthy nature make it a good place to disconnect from the frantic ways of modern life.  As tourists pour in from around the world, the newly-formed democracy is trying to balance growth and modernization with heritage. The question is: can it be done in a mindful way?

Sitting outside the Druk Hotel in Thimphu, one of the oldest hotels in the country, it appears as if modernization has already arrived.  Three young Bhutanese men are preparing for a street fair with a live concert. U2 and Coldplay ballads blast into the town square as the men test the audio system. An elderly gentleman, sitting on the steps, facing the sound stage isn’t entertained. He says he just wanted to rest quietly before resuming his walk up to the stupa, a Buddhist shrine dedicated to the 3rd King of Bhutan. Disgruntled, he gets up and walks away.

Nearby, a hole-in-the-wall barber is snipping away.  He’s from the Indian state of Bihar and is styling a young Bhutanese mane into the latest hair craze: a sort-of disheveled, layered look for men, globalized by South Korean pop stars. The world has clearly reached Bhutan, and the young members, at least, are enjoying it, often to the chagrin of the older generation.

The rise in tourism has also meant more jobs for the younger generations. Over 2,000 people graduate from university each year in Bhutan, and they yearn for professional work. The government is hoping tourism can keep them from migrating to nearby India or Thailand.  There are over 11,000 travel operators in the country, and the industry employs nearly 30,000 people. Plus, its easy for entrepreneurs to start their own businesses—all you need is a computer and an Internet connection.

Tashi Tshering, a young Bhutanese man, operates a travel agency for filmmakers and documentarians.  He doesn’t see tourism as a challenge to tradition.  Rather, he says, “the promotion done by high end resorts have benefitted us a lot.  More people are aware of us.”

Bhutan is home to some of the world’s most luxurious hotels, often garnering recognition on international best hotel lists, and Aman Resorts is one of these, offering uber-luxurious hotels in remote locations. The resort chain has five properties in the small country and was the first foreign hotel operator allowed to build in Bhutan starting in 2004.

John Reed, the managing director for Aman’s hotels in Bhutan, moved to the Himalayan kingdom over a decade ago when Aman opened its first location in Paro. Prior to Bhutan, Reed was stationed in Bali and Myanmar. He recognizes that working in these countries, which have ancient heritage sites and pristine natural beauty, comes with cultural and environmental responsibilities.

Reed is originally from New Orleans and has been a long-time world traveller.  But, his stay in Bhutan has exceeded a decade now, making him more of a local than a foreigner.  He says that while Aman resorts creates a feel of “rustic luxury” at their properties in Bhutan, they are vested in supporting the local economy.

Mukesh Gupta, who operates the oldest travel agency for Bhutan, Bhutan Travels, disagrees. Raised in Darjeeling, India, Gupta attended St. Joseph’s School with a large community of Bhutanese children who were studying abroad. Gupta built friendships with these Bhutanese families and was asked to work with the Bhutanese government on crafting their tourism strategy in the early 90s as he developing his own travel company in Darjeeling.

Gupta has not been impressed by Aman Resorts, characterizing their properties as over-priced getaways for people who just want to stay at another Aman resort, not immerse themselves in local Bhutanese life.  “If you want to go luxury, there’s Taj Tashi or even, Uma,” he says, directing luxury traffic to Bhutan’s other expensive hotspots.

But the best luxury hotel, he says, is a completely Bhutanese venture: Zhiwa Ling in Paro.  “It’s high standards but with Bhutanese soul,” he says.  The owner rescued pieces from deserted monasteries to decorate the hotel. Much like rural Bhutanese homes, which house a decorated temple inside, the hotel has a temple on the second floor with rescued wood from the 400-year-old Gangtey Monastery. That’s the locally-driven model Gupta hopes the government will advocate.

While Bhutan’s tourism numbers are on the rise, peaking last year with gross revenues from tourism exceeding $63 million, the highest to date, the country still struggles during the low season. Most visitors go in the spring (April, May) or the fall (September, October). Adventure sports and mountaineering could lure in travelers during the off season, but they are still limited. Bhutan’s tallest mountain has not been climbed yet, thanks to environmental concerns and the locals’ immense respect for mountains.

Despite the rapid growth, Bhutan is still trying to keep its traditions alive and preserve the heavens for generations to come.

For a peak into this exotic Himalayan kingdom contact Road@Travel.

 Ref : http://www.thedailybeast.com

         http://www.tourism.gov.bt