The umbrella people: a visit to the craftsmen of Bor Sang in Chiang Mai

Umbrellas are pretty ubiquitous in Thailand – hardly surprising in a nation where the sun mercilessly beats down for months before the skies release their heavy monsoon rains that soak in seconds – if you’re caught brolly-less.

Umbrellas offer protection from the sun and rain but can play a cultural role as well as a practical one. They are an important symbol of royalty: Thai monarchs sit on thrones under nine-tiered umbrellas, the tiers representing the eight points of the compass and the burden of power. While in Buddhism, the umbrella represents protection from suffering and harm.

Umbrellas and parasols have a long history and have been developed the world over – usually to keep off the sun rather than rain. They’ve been found depicted on ancient Egyptian carvings in Thebes, and the ancient Persian capital Persepolis, and it is thought the opening kind, with ribs supporting fabric, were developed in China over 2,000 years ago. In many nations, umbrellas are seen as a symbol of power – the king of Burma used to be referred to as “The Lord of the 24 Parasols”.

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The story behind the famous umbrellas of Thailand is that they were brought back by a monk called Phra Intha, who travelled to Burma (Myanmar) and discovered the people making lovely umbrellas with mulberry bark (sa).

Being oiled, these umbrellas kept people dry as well as cool. Impressed, the monk took some examples back to his home of Bor Sang village in Chiang Mai and taught the people how to make their own. The talented artisans would add distinctive artistic flourishes, and the industry grew as umbrella making gave people work during the rainy season.

Bor Sang remains the centre of handmade umbrella production and they’re made in a huge variety of sizes, alongside large brightly colourful fans and gorgeous lamps. As it’s always a pleasure to watch master craftsmen working at their art, I went to Bor Sang, on a suitably rainy day, to look around.

Don’t picture a modern factory. The craftsmen in the village set up a cooperative in 1941 and the Bor Sang Umbrella Making Cooperative Ltd. is dedicated to maintaining the traditions and craftsmanship of the trade. You can wander around the open-sided wooden workshops and watch each stage of the umbrella making.

The first stage is the preparation of bamboo for the umbrella handle and struts. The workers sit on the floor and their knives move fast, slitting and splitting in a dazzling display of skill. It’s a wonder they don’t cut themselves, especially as most of them are casually chatting with each other as they wield their knives.

With the frame being made, the sa paper (although sometimes cotton or rice paper) is added. The workers turn the umbrella frames, some supporting the base of the smaller umbrellas between their toes. As they turn, the handmade mulberry cover is attached and strengthened and waterproofed with layers of lacquer.

umbrella3Finally comes the finishing touch – the colourful paint. This is what most tourists want to see because the talent of the artists painting the umbrellas and fans is amazing. Within a few minutes they create lovely patterns or pictures, generally of typical Thai scenes and symbols; such as, elephants, rice fields, sunsets and wildlife.

The umbrella artists won’t stop at painting umbrellas and handicrafts. They offer to paint the bags, shoes and clothes of tourists –so if you bring something to be painted, you’ll have a lovely souvenir.

From the examples I saw, it seems that darker items allow the bright colours to be seen at their best. One young boy was so delighted to have dragons painted on his shorts that I imagine his mother will have a hard time getting them back when laundry day comes.

The umbrellas are then fitted with a boss or ferrule at the tip and left to dry. The designs are so eye-catching that they are often bought as house decorations. Tourists were buying the smaller ones as souvenirs or ordering the larger ones, with custom art to be sent home, which the sellers are more than happy to do.

The umbrellas are so vital to the local economy, that they’re celebrated in a three-day umbrella festival every January. The Bor Sang Umbrella and Sankampaeng Handicraft Festival, sees the streets illuminated by lanterns and strung with the most colourful examples of the sa umbrellas. Of course, there’s a contest to see who can create the best and most beautiful umbrella.

In January, Chiang Mai is wonderfully cool so it’s the perfect time to explore Bor Sang and enjoy the festivities. And don’t forget to buy your own umbrella – the hot and rainy seasons are always around the corner.

Travel tips:

The umbrella making centre is open from 08:30 till 17:00 hrs. each day and can be found on San Kamphaeng Road some 8 km east of Chiang Mai city centre. It’s easy to arrange a tour or hire one of the city’s songtaeos to take you there.

Courtsey: tatnews.org

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How To Survive a Long-Haul Flight

I think it’s safe to say that no one enjoys long-haul flights. No one. But here’s how to safely survive a couple of days trapped in an aluminum cannister with your sanity intact.Some flights pass by in the blink of an eye; some drag on forever. The good news is that some flights are better than others and there are things that will help mitigate the journey along the way. Don’t also underestimate the power of dread; long-haul flights are intimidating if you travel infrequently, but it’s not near as bad as you think it is after the hundredth time.I’ve definitely flown my fair share, including some rough routes. The worst flight I’ve ever endured involved a 12-hour flight from Hong Kong to Istanbul, followed by another 13-hour flight from Istanbul to Los Angeles. Instead of traditionally flying over the Pacific, I basically flew in the other direction. The layover was eight hours long. (It was cheap and it was for the holidays, what can I say?)It should be noted that this advice mostly applies to people who are flying international long-haul flights in economy class. If you’re in business class, you might want to take your glass of wine and hang out on a different part of this site.

Seating

Like on any flight, a good seat is paramount. On a transcontinental or transoceanic flight, though, trust me, you want an aisle seat. No matter how much you hate it, there is no way anyone can avoid the airplane bathroom over a 12-hour period.

If you’re sitting in an airplane that has a three-row configuration—where there is a section of seats on the left side of the plane, followed by a middle section, and section on the right side—you should opt for one of the aisle seats in the middle section in particular. Though it may not seem obvious, this seat has several advantages.

Most importantly, it gives you easy access to the aisle and bathroom while also giving the people sitting in the middle seats two options to get to the aisle. This should automatically reduces your chances of getting climbed over (or having to politely exit your seat so others can get out) by 50 percent or somewhat significantly. The aisle seats toward the left and right section of the plane don’t have this advantage.

This logic doesn’t necessarily work with all seat configurations, such as those in a 2-4-2 layout where the odds are pretty much equal for either side. Instead, it is much, much more common to get a plane with a 3-3-3 or 3-4-3 seat configuration. You can bet the airlines are trying to cram in as many passengers as they can.

Moving

It’s actually quite important to keep the blood flowing while you’re sitting down for ages. Though it’s not happened to me personally, AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher suffered a transient ischemic attack, or a “mini stroke,” on a plane en route to Hong Kong a couple of years ago when blood temporarily stopped flowing to her brain.

For those concerned, some of the foreign carriers are pretty good at demonstrating in-flight exercises in their safety videos. (CNN also has an instructional airline yoga article, who knew?) I always use bathroom breaks as a periodic opportunity to stretch my legs and either hang out in the back of the galley, at least for a few minutes, or walk down the aisle once or twice.

Eating

In the days leading up to the flight, I would stick to fairly light and healthy meals. There’s nothing worse than sitting with a Mexican burrito like a stone in your stomach when you’re trapped in an aluminized tube of claustrophobia. When you combine this with large periods of no movement, you’re going to feel pretty gross.

Though some people suggest skipping the meal service to combat jet lag, this depends on your own personal discipline. (I have a particularly strong sense of smell and the olfactory cues kick in my hunger pangs. Even watching The Food Network is sometimes a form of masochism.) Airlines actually tend to serve more correct portions—think Asian and European sizes—so I just generally take whatever the flight attendant puts in front of me. However, if that’s not going to be enough, pack something that’s easy to snack on.

During the meal service is when the aisle seat particularly comes into handy. Once the food is served and half of the plane begins to digest their food, you can be sure that the bathroom is going to be pretty popular soon. Don’t forget the fact you’re most likely on a pretty big-ass plane, which means there are lots of people on board. If you wait too long to do your business, you run the risk of being uncomfortable in your seat while everyone uses the loo.

In fact, there is an opportune time to go. There should be a fairly short window when the flight attendants have served the food and are no longing blocking the path to the bathroom just right before the meal trays are collected. Now, for some reason, people like to wait until the trays are collected before getting up from your seat. This is actually your golden opportunity, should you choose to take it.

Though it’s annoying to hold up your tray table and set it back down to get to the aisle, it’s going to be a lot more annoying waiting for six people to finish using the bathroom. Going to the bathroom during this in-between time ensures you won’t have to wait later, and even better, it means that you still have a relatively clean bathroom before everyone else has used it. This is especially true if this just happens to occur after the first meal service.

Sleeping

Especially because international flights usually serve free booze, people often resort to alcohol to help them sleep. Unfortunately, not only is alcohol a depressant, it’s also a dehydrating agent, so I actually generally discourage drinking on the plane. When you combine this with the pressurized cabin of an airplane, its effects can be amplified. I also can personally tell you this as someone who once fainted in the middle of an aisle during a 9-hour flight from Singapore to Australia.

In terms of tangible objects, investing in a cheap eye mask and earplugs work magic, and I do mean *magic* in terms of improving the quality of your sleep and regulating your circadian rhythm by limiting light. Travel pillows do considerably less in comparison; pillows are one of those things you’re better off using the complimentary one onboard. Not only are most airline pillows sufficient, you’ll also have one less thing to carry on the plane with you.

Getting to actual sleep is a far trickier business. Some people swear by complete sleep deprivation; I prefer to do things a little bit less drastically, especially if you have to work in the days preceding the trip. That said, shortening your normal sleep by a few hours does help. (Last-minute packing does wonders!) It’s not necessary, however, to feel like you need to get on the time zone of your destination immediately. This will either occur eventually or not at all.

In frequent traveler circles, some people like to cite melatonin as one of the more natural remedies for visiting the Sandman. The truth is, though, this is really dependent on how your body reacts to it like any other drug. While I’ve had poor results, I know others who swear by it. I would prefer melatonin if it actually worked for me, but the alternative is using more traditional over-the-counter sleeping aids.

Though Ambien is one of the more popular sleeping-pill brands, I’ve had excellent results with Unisom. It knocks me out faster than a light on even half the suggested dosage. For a flight, I would suggest to take only a quarter of a pill. Personally, I’m not sure if I would try a sleeping aid for the first time on a flight without knowing how it affects me beforehand. (Its active ingredient is doxylamine succinate but clearly check with your doctor before trying it. It can also leave users slightly groggy.)

Unfortunately, there is a small segment of the population that just won’t be able to sleep on a plane, no matter what they do. This does happen to me from time to time, and I can tell you that it’s anything but fun. Torture is staring at the plane’s current route on the in-flight entertainment system in pure silence.

Jet Lag

Everything starts from the minute you book the flight. If it’s inevitable that you’re going to have a flight with a connection, try booking the connection at the end. Nothing is more draining than beginning a 12-hour flight after you’ve spent three or five hours flying across the country just to get to the hardest portion of it. This may or may not be possible depending on where you live – travelers that live in major hub cities often have the most choices.

If you’re fortunate enough to be able to reverse the connection so it happens at the end, this puts the hardest part, the long-haul portion, upfront. Not only will you have more energy to deal with the most taxing part of the flight, but by the time you make the connection, you’ll be exhausted. It sounds counter intuitive, but it’s actually not: by the time you reach the connection, you’ll end up sleeping through most if not the entire second leg. Most of the time, I end up passing the time in a wonderful, pure state of black unconsciousness.

The main thing I look at, besides connection points and costs, when booking flights more than anything else is the arrival time. One of the most important factors in beating jet lag has to do with remembering that it’s a lot easier to go to bed later than to wake up earlier. Keeping this in mind, flights that have a late afternoon or nighttime arrival are preferred. If you arrive earlier, all it means is that you’ll have to stay up a whole lot longer. (The key is to keep moving when you arrive until you have to go to bed; once you start resting, it’s game over.)

To get a good idea of when I should be sleeping on the plane, I usually immediately change the time settings to my destination on my phone once the aircraft is en route. Though it’s pretty tempting to pass the whole flight in a complete state of unconsciousness, sleeping the entire time can mess up your internal clock just as much.

The cabin crew is pretty good at giving visual cues during a flight; for instance, they’ll dim the cabin lights when it’s a good time to rest or turn them completely on and be in-your-face during specific intervals. The point is to not be deterred if you can’t sync your body exactly, but to sleep proportionately when you need to. Even if the best you can do is to flip flop the waking and sleeping portions of the flight, it will still help overcome serious jetlag.

If you’re on a long-haul flight, the chances are pretty high that we’re looking at a minimum time zone shift of six to twelve hours (unless you’re traveling north-to-south or south-to-north). If I sleep for half or up to three-quarters of the flight to anticipate an approximately 12-hour time zone change, I consider that a job well done. I find 6-hour time zone changes—give or take a few hours—are the hardest to acclimate to. If you’re flying east to Europe from the U.S. East Coast, you’ll run into these.

In a nutshell…

The thing about most of these tips is that what may work for another person may be completely different, but like anything, it’s only over time and with lots of practice does someone get used to flying long distance. Still, many of the strategies I mentioned can cut down significantly on the stress of flying. The important thing to remember is that, thankfully, the flight does eventually end.

Courtsey : maphappy.org

Himalayan Adventures – Gliding through the skies in Bir-Billing

Bir-Billing, located in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, is an adventure destination for paragliding. Bir-Billing is roughly a 2-3 hours drive from Mcleodganj – another tourist destination also famous for housing the monastery where His Holiness, The Dalai Lama resides. Bir-Billing is a well known destination among paragliders the world over and it also hosts annual pre-World Cup paragliding events with support from the Himachal Tourism Development Corporation, Government of Himachal Pradesh.

The nearest station to Bir-Billing is Patahankot, a drive of around 4-4.5 hours. In case of a bus journey, the Volvo bus from Delhi to Baijnath is the most convenient. Baijnath is a 10 km drive from Bir which is the landing point for paragliding. Billing, located a further 13 kms above Bir is the take-off point for the same. Either ways, Bir-Billing is an overnight journey from Delhi and takes roughly 12 hours to reach.

On the way to from Baijnath by road, one would be greeted by the sight of many paragliders flying in the clear skies as you come close to Bir. It is a rare sight in India. In fact it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it is a lot easier to spot para-gliders floating through the skies in Bir-Billing than spotting birds.

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Upon reaching Bir, the sight of lush green tea estates on either side of the road will greet you. In the months of April – May, the weather is quite sunny and hot during daytime. The temperatures however go down after 4 in the evening and by night it becomes considerably cool and pleasant. It is better to spend the night in Billing than in Bir as Billing is at a height of 2400 metres above the sea level and enjoys a much cooler climate. Moreover, the aerial view that Billing offers of the entire landscape down below is a sight to behold. To watch the early morning sunrise in Billing is nothing short of a magical experience. Billing not only offers beautiful sights of lush green landscape, but also boasts of a splendid aerial view and is a beginning point into the forest which leads to Barabhangal village after a 5 days trek. There is no other approach road to this village, located in a remote region in Himachal Pradesh, except through the mountains.

There are two options of going to Billing from Bir – either by trekking through the hills/walking up the road or by car through the motorable road made for vehicles. Those who are keen on burning some calories can opt for either the trek through the hills (a steeper but shorter route) or use the motorable road for walking up (longer but less stressful and tiring). If you wish to enjoy the lovely sights on the way to Billing, it is advisable to opt for the trek/walk instead of the easier option of car.

Our joy knew no bounds when we saw the campsite which was our place to shack up for the night. A line of five colourful tents greeted us as soon as we reached our destination. The tents were pitched right under the clear skies and on the steep slopes which looked down upon the lush green mountains. Each tent can comfortably occupy two persons with their bags. If you wish to take a dump or pee, there is another tent created especially for that a few yards below the slope.

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If you are lucky, it might even rain and make the weather quite chilly. We did get lucky. We had come with our stock of booze for the night that actually helped keep us warm for the night. The same place which was hot in the afternoon had suddenly become very chilly at night due to the rainfall. It however was a night to remember for many reasons. It was after all a night out at a campsite in the Himalayas, lovely weather, and booze to keep us warm along with food cooked in a shack by the camp manager’s team. Most importantly it was a night spent under the open skies with thousands of stars shining brightly. It seemed like every star was trying to outshine the other stars. Thankfully, we were one of the few people present there in Billing that night to admire that beautiful sight where heavens seemed to be shining upon us. It seemed like the heavens had suddenly spread out its long black blanket with hundreds and thousands of stars stuck on it. Never before had I ever seen so many stars shine so brightly all at once in the skies. Thankfully, we had our share of booze to admire the lovely night. Thankfully, we were present on top of those hills to admire that beautiful sight.

The next day was the day of reckoning for us. As we got up in the morning, we were greeted by the sight of horses grazing around the hills. There is something really special about waking up in the middle of the mountains in the Himalayan range. The sight of this gigantic range which spans thousands of kilometres across multiple countries can make one feel insignificant and small. One look at these beautiful hills and snow covered mountains makes us realise that “our world” is just so small and there is so much more to explore.

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The weather on that morning was just perfect and we got ready for the ride with assistance from the organizers and our fellow pilots. Our introduction to the activity was quite simple. We walked up to the take-off point in Billing which was just 5 minutes from our campsite. The kits were already there and we were told that the instructions were very simple. The organisers told us, “You have to run as fast as you can and jump off the cliff. The faster your speed while running, the better your take off will be.” Very simple instructions indeed! Run down the cliff, jump off without a parachute and then hope that the glider opens up in time! That is certainly a perfect start to the day. But thankfully our fears were unfounded. Thankfully, gravity always does its bit and thanks to Newton’s laws of motion, the take-off was scary but safe. The entire thrill ride lasts for around 20-25 minutes with the pilot, who thankfully sits right behind you, controlling everything including the manoeuvring, speed and height. Our job is to sit there, scream and feel like a bird. At certain points we were flying high above the mountains from where I was gazing down on the planes below a few minutes back. The first 10minutes of the ride were quite scary as it took a while for the whole experience to sink in. The first 10 minutes of the ride were spent worrying about the consequences of an accident if anything went wrong. There was after all no chance of survival as we were flying way up in the sky without the comfort of a parachute. Thankfully, these fears were unfounded as the kits used for paragliding are tested and approved by competent authorities. The pilots too are skilled and well trained pilots who are equally concerned and cautious about safety.

The next 15 minutes were spent admiring the beauty of the landscape from a bird’s eye view. The whole experiences was simply mind numbing as we flew high over the mountain tops and tried spotting some of the prominent landmarks below. The goosebumps gave way to renewed excitement as we quikcly flew over the forests covering the mountains and the open plains right below these mountains. The landing spot for the activity too is a well maintained site. The landing can be a bit tricky if not done as per the instructions of the pilot. However if you pay heed to his advice a comfortable and smooth landing is easy to achieve. Our joy knew no bounds as we landed one at a time within a span of 10 minutes. We were literally jumping like mad-hatters and pounced on each other in a super-hyper and excited phase as we completed our rides. The entire experience was truly memorable and the flight towards the skies was surreal.

The Himalayas have always had a magical pull on me and this time it was no different. It was a new destination, a new adventure and a different experience altogether. Highly recommended for those who yearn for a high-flying experience.

courtsey : http://pranav84blog.wordpress.com/

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