Monthly Archives: November 2012

Palace of Versailles: France

France was the last stop in our Europe trip.

I realised during the tour that we were lucky we didn’t need to spend any time queuing up for tickets as all our tours were pre booked and we had a local guide. Otherwise there seemed to be hundreds of people waiting for tickets and to get in everywhere we went.

We started our trip with a tour of the Palace of Versailles. Versailles has been the capital of the kingdom of France for over a century, from 1682 to 1789. Nowadays it is a wealthy suburb of Paris, some 17 km away from the French capital, and remains an important administrative and judicial centre.

The first thing you must do is enter the golden gates. Once inside, the sheer size of the complex will leave you speechless.

This splendid and enormous palace was built in the mid-17th century during the reign of Louis XIV – the Roi Soleil (Sun King) – to project the absolute power of the French monarchy, which was then at the height of its glory. Its scale and decor also reflect Louis XIV’s taste for profligate luxury and his boundless appetite for self-glorification. Some 30,000 workers and soldiers toiled on the structure, the bills for which all but emptied the kingdom’s coffers. The château has undergone relatively few alterations since its construction, though almost all the interior furnishings disappeared during the Revolution and many of the rooms were rebuilt by Louis-Philippe (r 1830–48).

As you enter the Palace from the main entrance, you immediately realize that the Château de Versailles is all about extravagance and luxury. Gold accentuates everything from the gates to the statues ornamenting the exterior of the building, up to furnishings inside. Opulent chandeliers and loads of paintings, sculptures, and tapestries adorn the interiors. Each of the French kings who lived there until the French Revolution, added improvements to make it more beautiful. The major of these, were those by Louis XIV, who devoted many rooms and parts of the gardened to the sun – the monarch’s symbol – or one of the seven planets that revolve around the magical star.

Inside, you will see the Grand Apartments of the King and Queen that include the infamous Hall of Mirrors. It was here that the king crowed his royal power to visitors.

Once we finished with the Chateau, we went outside and start wandering through the garden. The garden is massive; it looked bigger that from Schönbrunn Palace , with flower beds to highlight the castle, statues, vases and busts decorated its paths.

The gardens are stunning and the music coming out from the hidden speakers made the ambience even better.

The section of the vast gardens nearest the palace, laid out between 1661 and 1700 in the formal French style, is famed for its geometrically aligned terraces, flowerbeds, tree-lined paths, ponds and fountains. The 400-odd statues of marble, bronze and lead were made by the most talented sculptors of the era. The English-style Jardins du Petit Trianon are more pastoral and have meandering, sheltered paths.

The gardens’ largest fountains are the 17th-century Bassin de Neptune (Neptune’s Fountain), a dazzling mirage of 99 spouting gushers 300m north of the palace, and the Bassin d’Apollon (Apollo’s Fountain) built in 1688 at the eastern end of the Grand Canal.

We couldn’t get over the size of the garden and the different hidden pathways you can find in it. Although we visited a small fraction of the gardens, you get a sense of their grandeur. While we were enjoying the romantic walk in the garden, out of nowhere it suddenly started raining heavily. There was nowhere to shelter so me and AS ran towards the palace, the way back was long and uphill. By the time we got to the shelter, we both were soaking wet. So we waited in the palace for the rain to stop before going back to our tour bus.

It looked really funny when we got to the bus as the sun was up again and we looked stupid to be soaking wet.

Please click here for more photos.

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Commercialisation of festivals: How much is too much?

Last year, I did a post called “When is the right time to put up the Christmas tree?” and I want to talk some more about it today because all the malls and shops in Australia have had their Christmas lights and Christmas trees up for more than a month now.

I really think it is a bit too early to start the Christmas decorations but the business minded people don’t care about these at all. They think of all these festivals as a money making opportunity. The impact of commercialization has marred the real meaning of religious and traditional customs. The shops and malls here never followed the values but instead everywhere there’s a lot of hype. During festivals, malls attract you with discounts and people go mad shopping.

As soon as Christmas is up, the shops will be filled with Easter eggs and hot cross buns in January, almost 3 months before Easter.

No matter what religion we follow, any festival has significance and value but when one commercializes festivals, that basic aim is forgotten and everyone involved is thinking, “What am I going to get on this festival?” In fact, in some instances; the festivals have been commercialized so much, that kids do not even know the significance of the festival and consider it just another holiday or just another chance to increase their material possessions.

In this way, festivals lose their real significance since their aim was first, to spread love and peace and second, to celebrate the festival keeping in mind the reason why the festival was being celebrated.

It is not only in Australia, the commercialisation of festival’s happening in Nepal as well. Previously, festivals like Dashain and Tihar were family occasions. Dashain was all about family get together and family feast and Tihar was celebrated by lighting small diyos and candles, having a small puja and burning a few crackers to rejoice the homecoming of Lord Ram from his exile on this day. Nobody cared about what you wore or what you got as a present, but instead all that mattered was having fun and appreciating the day for what it symbolized.

But today, Dashain and Tihar is all about the show of money with what one has bought for the occasion or how big the party was in one’s house, what you got as a gift etc. If parents have their kids overseas, how much money children have sent for the festivals?

Children don’t even know why they have the day off from school to celebrate that day.

Festivals are not meant to be opportunities for financial gain for brands and companies. They are meant to be occasions for religious observance and for people to understand and respect the meaning behind them. I really think, children should be taught about traditional festivals in kindergarten and we should keep the valuable elements of the traditional festivals and preserve them for future generations.

Mt Titlis: Switzerland

We woke up in the morning and were a little disappointed as it was not a sunny day. There was a little drizzle, but we had no choice but to continue on our trip to Mt. Titlis. The lady in the hotel told us that they have a good amount of snow in the mountains. We headed towards Mt. Titlis from Fluelen via Lucerne and Engelberg.

Mt Titlis is one of the most famous mountains in Switzerland which is located on the border between the cantons of Obwalden and Berne in Switzerland, overlooking Engelberg (Obwalden).

On our tour we were booked in to go to the top of the mountain and both me and AS were really excited. We knew there would be snow on the top so we were wearing our beanie , gloves with thick jackets.

So we took our tour bus to the bottom of the mountain. Once there, we were given tickets to the mountain. To reach the summit we needed to take a small ski gondola, change to a larger cable car and then onto the Titis ‘Rotair’ for the trip to the summit.

So we queued up to start the adventure. We got into the gondola with a Canadian family. The mum was a bit scared of the height so it was fun watching her reaction. The view was just awesome from the gondola and it was a great experience. I’ve never seen grass as green as those on the hills of Austria and Switzerland. The gondola first took us up to Trubsee, which is located at 1,800 meters.

Then we changed to another gondola to Stand which is at 2,428 was another thrilling experience.

Finally the first revolving Titlis Rotair cable car which rotates through a 360 degree view as it climbs towards the summit of the mountain giving a great view as it took us up to Mount Titlis.at 3020 m / 10’000 ft.

All together the journey took roughly 45 minutes from the valley below up to the summit. By that time both me and AS were very hungry so we decided to stop at the restaurant (which was as expensive as expected). A pizza the size of a small plate was nearly $30.00.

After lunch we went to the top of the mountain. It was too windy to ski and most of the slopes/lifts were closed. As with all mountains in Switzerland however, Mt Titlis is all about the views. The Swiss Alps are simply breathtaking and to even try to but their beauty and scenery into words does not even come close to doing them justice.

I am not too sure if a Bollywood movie was shot there but there was a cut-out figure of the Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan and actress Kajol from movie Dilwale Dulhaneya Le Jayeng. I know who would have been very excited to see this, Tasha! (I have been getting all these updates from her Twitter, Facebook and Instagram about the new movie starring Shah Rukh Khan).

I really noticed that Switzerland had high volume of Indian tourist when they served Indian meals in the restaurant and the bus,  coaches, the ski lifts and the restaurants were filled with Indians. Most of them seemed to be travelling with family which had grandparents, parents and grandkids. That is so lovely.

Mt. Titlis is a must do for anyone visiting Switzerland.

Please click here for more photos.

Bhogate Sadekoo

One of the things widely eaten in Nepal after the festival of Tihar is, Bhogate Sandheko. Bhogate is called Pomelo (Chinese grapefruit) in English and is used in Nepal during Mha Puja and Bhai Tika. Bhogate Sandheko roughly translates to marinated pomelo in English.

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Pomelo is a crisp citrus fruit native to South and Southeast Asia. It is usually pale green to yellow when ripe, with sweet white (or, more rarely, pink or red) flesh and very thick albedo (rind pith).

Pomelo tastes a bit like grapefruit but is sweeter, less tart, and is not bitter. In Australia, we can’t find pomelo so the closest thing to Bhogate is grapefruit which is what I used in Bhai Tika during Tihar.

So like my mum used to, I tried to make Bhogate Sadekoo and am sharing my recipe here.

Ingredients:

  • 1 grapefruit/pomelo
  • 2  oranges  (I used oranges but you can use any fruit)
  • 4 tablespoons of  plain yogurt
  • 2 teaspoon of red chili powder (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoon of sesame seeds, roasted and ground
  • Salt to taste
  • Sugar to taste (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons of mustard oil
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (methi)
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric

Process

  • Peal grapefruit/pomelo and oranges and put it in a bowl .

  • Roast sesame seeds in a pan stirring constantly making sure it turns golden brown, not black.
  • Cool it and grind it.

  • Add yogurt, salt, sugar, sesame powder, red chili powder in the bowl with the pomelo and oranges and mix well

  • Heat a pan with mustard oil in it
  • When hot put fenugreek seeds in it
  • When the fenugreek seeds turn golden brown, take it off the heat and pour oil with fenugreek into the Bhogate mixture in the bowl

  • Mix it well

  • Bhogate Sandheko is ready to serve, yum yum yum 🙂

Loy Krathong in Parramatta

Sydney is so multicultural that every weekend there is some traditional celebration going on in different parks across the city. Two weeks ago we went to Parramasala and last weekend we were able to attend another amazing cultural event called Loy Krathong.

Loy Krathong takes place on the evening of the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar. It is also called Thailand’s “festival of lights” and it is the time of year when the waters around the country come alive with candlelight and look not unlike a massive fairy ballrooms.

The history behind the festival is complex, and Thais celebrate for many reasons.  The main rice harvest season has ended and it’s time to thank the Water Goddess for a year’s worth of her abundant supply, as well as an apology for polluting the waters. Some believe that this is the time to symbolically ‘float away’ all the anger and grudges you have been holding onto, and including a fingernail or a lock of hair is seen as a way of letting go of the dark side of yourself, to start anew free of negative feelings. If your candle stays alight until your Krathong disappears out of sight, it means a year of good luck.

To celebrate this occasion, Sydney’s largest water festival, the Loy Krathong Festival, was held in Parramatta at the banks of the river by the same name. The festival attracted more than 12,000 people from Parramatta, Greater Western Sydney and Asian communities from all around Sydney.

The festival started at 5pm but we were there by 7 pm. By then, there were lots of people on both sides of the river.

We started our journey from the main stage where there was some dancing going on. We watched a few shows and then started to look around to find out what else was going on.

I was really drawn to the crowd where there were tables and chairs set up to make your own Krathong that you could put in the river later in the night.

There is no equivalent word in English for ‘krathong’. You may hear people referring to it as a small boat, vessel, receptacle or container. In the run up to the festival, many shops and market stalls will display ready-made Krathongs, or in parts so you can assemble and decorate as you wish. In the past, krathongs were made from natural materials – usually a section from a banana tree trunk, crafted into a lotus shape by using folded banana leaves, and these can still be found for sale around the main festival sites. More recently, Thais have become more creative in their craft and design the krathongs from coconut shells, flowers, baked bread, potato slices, some breaking with the conventional lotus leaf shape in favour of turtles and other sea creatures.

It was really fascinating to see kids and adults trying to make the Krathong. I joined the crowd and here are some of my photos AS took during the process. I really didn’t know what to do but I was happy to watch people and learn. It was fun and it took around 10 minutes to finish it.

I guess at the end it turned out great. What do you think? 🙂

From there we looked at the stalls and check out lots of traditional jewellery making, umbrella making, the art of painting umbrellas and masks, weaving, making a lotus lantern, as well as other stuffs where there were beautiful ladies in traditional dresses explaining what they were doing.

Then we moved on to the food stalls where there was a long queue. We did manage to get some curry puffs, spring rolls, taro spring rolls as well as duck salad and Thai green curry with rice.

With all this food we took a seat on the grass by the river and enjoyed the food and waited for the launching of Krathongs.

Once the official Krathongs were launched , I joined the queue and put mine into the water as well.

The river looked really beautiful with so many different designs and sizes of Krathongs floating on the water.

After that we went to the main stage where we watched Golden Lantern Dance, Candle Dance, Fighting Cock Dance as well as a Thai Puppet Show.  All of them were really interesting and fun.

After the show we went and crossed the bridge to go to the other side of the river where they had set up a Thai village as well as amusement rides for children.

At one corner there were fire dancers performing and there was also some free face painting going on. We also heard people singing Loy Karthongs songs in the competition.

Finally we finished the tour of all the stuffs and decided to sit at the top of a slotp on one side of the river and waited for the fireworks to start.

At 9.55, they started the fireworks and it went for more than 5 minutes. It was a really beautiful display. Finally we headed home after a good evening out.

There is no such thing as a happy period

I had talked about periods and mensuration on this post before.

Today I wanted to talk about it again because I read this in the news. I am sure most of you have already read it but for those who haven’t here it is.

Richard Neill complained on Facebook about pad-maker Bodyform; that he felt mislead by their years of advertising about periods. That, in fact, the company had lied to him about menstruation. He had believed that a woman’s period was a fun and exciting experience, thanks to advertising conventions that have become a genre all of their own.

Here are his exact words, “’Hi, as a man I must ask why you have lied to us for all these years.As a child I watched your advertisements with interest as to how at this wonderful time of the month that the female gets to enjoy so many things, I felt a little jealous. I mean bike riding, rollercoasters, dancing, parachuting, why couldn’t I get to enjoy this time of joy and ‘blue water’ and wings!! Dam my penis!! Then I got a girlfriend, was so happy and couldn’t wait for this joyous adventurous time of the month to happen …..you lied !!. There was no joy, no extreme sports, no blue water spilling over wings and no rocking soundtrack oh no no no. Instead I had to fight against every male urge I had to resist screaming wooaaahhhhh bodddyyyyyyfooorrrmmm bodyformed for youuuuuuu as my lady changed from the loving, gentle, normal skin coloured lady to the little girl from the exorcist with added venom and extra 360 degree head spin. Thanks for setting me up for a fall bodyform, you crafty bugger’.

I couldn’t stop laughing while reading it but I do understand where he is coming from. Even in this 21st century, TV advertisers are scared to say period or menstruation and use words like “that time of the month” so of course men will have no idea until they have to deal with it.

Look at some of the ads below.

When I was growing up, period or menstruation was a taboo subject. Until I had my own period, I really didn’t know what it really meant. There was a little information in Sex Ed class but definitely not enough information.  I knew women get period for 4 days every month from my mum and aunties but no one told me what it really is or what to expect.

The first time when I had my period, a ceremony was performed called Bahra which I have described in my post here. I had been to Bahra ceremony before but it was all about fun, party and gifts and nothing about period.

In the Hindu faith, women are prohibited from participating in normal day-today life while menstruating. She must be “purified” on the fourth day before she is allowed to resume her normal chores. I have seen all the female member of my family following this rule while growing up.

This follows description in Puranas (Hindu holy book) about Indra’s ‘Brahmahatya’ (act of killing of Brahmin) and the mitigation of the sin. Part of this sin was taken by women and is considered to be active during menstrual period. Therefore menstruating woman are forbidden from performing any rituals and contact with menstruating woman is also forbidden (with exception of small children).

For this reason they forbid women from entering a temple to worship or do any other religions acts when they are on their period, because they are considered “impure” at that time of the month.

I get this logic as in the olden days as there was issues with hygiene as there were no sanitary napkins or tampons available but it is bit silly to follow nowadays as well.

Even in Australia, in a room full of people, when I said, “I am having such a bad day because I am having my period.” I can see so many discomforted faces. Menstruation is completely normal and natural but no only men but women are also uncomfortable to talk about it.

I wonder why they forget that a woman getting her period means she is capable of having children which is the nature of life.

The worst thing is that lots of people ignore that there is PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) when women has some emotional reaction. It is not lazy or crazy but that women’s body does go through the process that makes her more emotional. I know in some women it is higher than other but deal with it every one and accept the facts.

Imagine if menstruation was for men and not for women. Do you think the same rule would have applied in this society? I am sure it would have been glorified instead of hidden.

Gloria Steinem wrote about what would happen if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not during the 1970s on this topic and I couldn’t say it any better. 🙂

  • Clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, worthy, masculine event.
  • Men would brag about how long and how much.
  • Young boys would talk about it as the envied beginning of manhood. Gifts, religious ceremonies, family dinners, and stag parties would mark the day.
  • To prevent monthly work loss among the powerful, Congress would fund a National Institute of Dysmenorrhea. Doctors would research little about heart attacks, from which men would be hormonally protected, but everything about cramps.
  • Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free. Of course, some men would still pay for the prestige of such commercial brands as Paul Newman Tampons, Muhammad Ali’s Rope-a-Dope Pads, John Wayne Maxi Pads, and Joe Namath Jock Shields- “For Those Light Bachelor Days.”
  • Statistical surveys would show that men did better in sports and won more Olympic medals during their periods.
  • Generals, right-wing politicians, and religious fundamentalists would cite menstruation (“men-struation”) as proof that only men could serve God and country in combat (“You have to give blood to take blood”), occupy high political office (“Can women be properly fierce without a monthly cycle governed by the planet Mars?”), be priests, ministers, God Himself (“He gave this blood for our sins”), or rabbis (“Without a monthly purge of impurities, women are unclean”).
  • Male liberals and radicals, however, would insist that women are equal, just different; and that any woman could join their ranks if only she were willing to recognize the primacy of menstrual rights (“Everything else is a single issue”) or self-inflict a major wound every month (“You must give blood for the revolution”).
  • Street guys would invent slang (“He’s a three-pad man”) and “give fives” on the corner with some exchange like, “Man you looking good!”
  • “Yeah, man, I’m on the rag!”
  • TV shows would treat the subject openly. (Happy Days: Richie and Potsie try to convince Fonzie that he is still “The Fonz,” though he has missed two periods in a row. Hill Street Blues: The whole precinct hits the same cycle.) So would newspapers. (Summer Shark Scare Threatens Menstruating Men. Judge Cites Monthlies In Pardoning Rapist.) And so would movies. (Newman and Redford in Blood Brothers!)
  • Men would convince women that sex was more pleasurable at “that time of the month.” Lesbians would be said to fear blood and therefore life itself, though all they needed was a good menstruating man.

 

Switzerland

I couldn’t be happier when we were in Switzerland. As I mentioned in my previous post, Switzerland was a dream come true for me and to be able to see and be in the place one has been dreaming from one’s childhood was a great experience. Snow-capped mountains, green rolling hills, no poverty and political neutrality is Switzerland, what more could I want. At that moment I felt really happy with our holiday. I knew no matter what other people said about Switzerland that I will be coming back again and again during my lifetime.

We were really lucky in Europe as we missed the rains during our tour.

Fluelen

While in Switzerland we stayed in Fluelen which is the farthest point of the lake from Luzern, a picturesque little place with the train station right beside the landing stage.

Every corner was an OMG moment looking at the beautiful scenery, the mind blowing engineering of the train lines and roads, and at snow on the higher peaks even in spring.

We stayed at Hotel Hirschen-Cafe Seehof which is a small hotel in front of the lake. Although the view of the mountains is breathtaking, there really isn’t much to do in the immediate area. The church beside the hotel is beautiful but when we went for a walk in either direction for an hour and we didn’t find many things to do.

As for the hotel, it was small and very basic so was a tad disappointed. But we were lucky to get the back room as our fellow travellers were complaining about the noise. Even though the front room had the stunning view of the lake and mountains, since the train tracks run along the lake, it was also a bit loud and guests in the front rooms couldn’t sleep. On top of that, every morning, a herd of cows walked past the hotel with big bells on their necks that made lots of noise as well.

Also the clock tower rang every 15 minutes even in the night, but honestly as both me and AS were so tried from walking the whole day during the trip, it didn’t keep us awake at night.

We had a couple of meals in the restaurant of the hotel and it was ok.

We got to see the real Switzerland in this town where there were less people, more natural beauty with the view of snow-capped mountains everywhere and the big beautiful lake which took our breath away.

Lucerne

Lucerne is a city in north-central Switzerland, in the German-speaking part of that country.

Complete with gable paintings, the covered, medieval Chapel Bridge forms the centrepiece of Lucerne’s townscape and is considered to be one of the oldest, covered wooden bridges in Europe. A further landmark of the town is the Museggmauer, a wall which, with the exception only of one of its towers, has been preserved in its original, well-fortified state.

Historic houses decorated with frescoes line the picturesque town squares as they do the ‘Weinmarkt’ square in the car-free old town. Lucerne is a city of town squares and churches. The Jesuit church dating from the 17th century is regarded as Switzerland’s first sacral Baroque building and the twin towers of the Hofkirche form an integral part of the townscape.

We also visited The Lion of Lucerne, a carving of a wounded lion on a stone cliff. The figure of a dying lion which was hewn from the face of rock in remembrance of the heroic death of Swiss guards killed during an attack on the Tuileries in 1792 is one of the best-known monuments in Switzerland.

And with its 112-metre-long Bourbaki panorama, Lucerne possesses one of the world’s few maintained, mammoth circular paintings.

Tradition and modernity stand side-by-side with ease in Lucerne, as the town has also earned a reputation for itself with innovative design. The futuristic Culture and Convention Centre (KKL), designed by leading French architect Jean Nouvel, is one the architectural highlights of the town. The KKL is also a landmark of Lucerne and venue for a wide variety of cultural events throughout the year.

Lake Lucerne cruise

Formed in the ice age by an ancient glacier, the lake can reach depths of over 700 feet. The crystal clear fresh water is home to swans, ducks and fish.

Once the tour of Lucerne was over we went on a cruise on the Lake Lucerne. The weather was overcast and cool, but the lake was nice. There was something very peaceful about this quiet lake tucked in between the Swiss Alps.

The cruise was really nice where we got to explore and admire nature at its best with gently rolling meadows, idyllic bays, dramatic fjords, and near-vertical cliffs. We also got to see Switzerland’s most significant historic landmarks like the Ruetli Meadow, where the Swiss Confederation was founded in 1291, William Tell’s Chapel, and the Schiller Rock.

Shopping

Lucerne has a great mix of retail shopping in a very small area. As Switzerland is not part of the European Economic Zone prices are more expensive than the rest of Europe.

Watches, timepieces and clocks are one thing that the Swiss are famous for. Rolex, Longines, Tissot, Omega, Tag, Swiss Military, Swatch were everywhere. But as we were time poor we went to just one shop and spent almost 500 Swiss franc buying watch , Swiss knifes and souvenirs.

Dinner at Lucerne

I think once you had the best, it is easy to get disappointed. When we went to dinner in Lucerne, we had fun but definitely not as much as in Prague.

The night started with people playing traditional Swiss music and singing Swiss folk song.

It was followed by the audience participation in Yodeling and drinking beer.

Lucky for me (and unlucky for AS) AS got picked to be on the stage; it was really funny to hear him Yodeling and gulping down the beer. I am sure he had fun.

Food wise, Switzerland was similar to most of the Europe. We were served Founde (Swiss cheese dish) with various salads. It was followed by Geschnetzeltes Kalbfleisch (strips of veal in mushroom sauce) with Rosti (grated and fried potatoes). And the evening ended with a serve of Swiss Chalet Desset (Meringue with applesauce and strawberry ice cream).

Please click here for more photos.