Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bali Surfing Holidays (Indonesia)

guest post by Paige Green

Surfers swarm to Bali year round in search of the perfect wave. With its warm waters and consistent breaks, Bali remains a top Indonesian and world surfing destination. Whether you stay in Bali or use it as a starting point for a wider Indonesian surf tour, Bali has over 20 top quality breaks, mainly on the southwest and southeast coasts of the island and the Bukit Peninsula. The beauty of surfing in Bali is that there is a wave to suit everyone, from beginners to experienced big wave riders. Bali is also not solely a surf destination. If the ocean’s flat, there are plenty of other attractions to keep you occupied!

If you’re interested in a Bali surf holiday, here’s a rundown of where you’ll find different levels of waves.


The breaks of Uluwatu (top photo) and Padang Padang are the most notoriously difficult and dangerous Bali waves, and located on the Bukit Peninsula. Uluwatu offers surfers a fast, long and hollow break that falls over a very shallow reef. Getting to the Uluwatu wave is an adventure in itself - surfers must get down the cliffs and emerge through the spectacular caves (photo right). In the monsoon season, the Uluwatu wave can reach 15 feet. Combined with its sharp drop, it should only be attempted by those aware of the dangerous conditions. Referred to as ‘Bali’s Pipeline’, Padang Padang has surprising ferocity and huge barrels. The sharp, shallow reef means that a wipeout can have serious implications. Padang Padang should not be attempted at low tide, and only surfed by cautious and experienced surfers.


One of the best places in Bali for surfing intermediate and friendly waves is Belian Beach. Located on the west coast of Bali, Belian Beach offers friendly left and right breaks that are more forgiving than other Bali surf spots. Nusa Dua (photo), a stretch of the Eastern Coastline, also offers intermediate level left and right waves. Nusa Dua is also home to some of Bali’s most expensive resorts, so you can treat yourself to some pampering and air conditioned luxury after a hard day of surfing!


Kuta (photo) and Legian Beach breaks are Bali’s best waves for beginners. At Kuta, surfing beginners can take advantage of the many surfing schools, stores, and rentals in the area. Kuta’s waves are friendly and consistent, making it the perfect place to learn to surf. Legian Beach, on Bali’s southwest coast, also offers good beginner surfing conditions. At Kuta and Legian Beach, surfing is not the only attraction. If you decide it’s not for you, then there are plenty of shops, bars and vendors to keep you busy!

Bali can be surfed year-round, making it the ideal surf destination. Add to this the affordability of travelling to and within Bali, the warm weather and the number of other entertainment and cultural attractions, and it’s easy to see why Bali remains a top surf and holiday destination. If you’re a student, travel to Bali is within your means. Cheap flights to Bali depart from a number of Australian cities. If you’re chasing that perfect wave, then Bali holidays could be the answer!

Photo Credits: Utuwalu Cave, Nusa Dua

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Journey Through English (London, England)

Perusing the treasures of the priceless literary collection of the British Library boggles the mind. Titled the The Treasures and epitomised by the foyer’s large naked statue of Isaac Newton leaning over with his compass to measure the universe, this exceptional history of words promotes the gathering of knowledge.

Much of the collection is a celebration of the world's most wide-spread language and the virtual world language with English being a mix of the mother tongues of Britain’s forefathers and invaders - a potpourri of Celtic, Viking, Latin, French Norman and Germanic Anglo-Saxon. Its development over a thousand years is strongly felt with the near indecipherable early English books, developing through the centuries to the language we speak and understand today.

The collection includes the only existing copy of Beowulf (above left). At 1000 years of age and one of the language’s earliest texts, it tells of the slaying of two monsters (or so the explanatory note tells me).

Three or four hundred years later and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (right) are starting to resemble English as we know it, though reading a few lines is painstaking work. The beauty of the handwritten works with its florid leading letters makes the text part artwork and part literary work but hardly light bedtime reading. What would a modern spell-checker do to the first three lines of Chaucer's most famous work?

Ere begynneth the book of tales of Canterburye
compiled by Geffraie Chaucer of Brytayne chef poete
Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote

The blossoming of English can be seen through the ages with original manuscripts (some handwritten) of some of the languages most celebrated writers. Shakespeare is well represented with a copy of his First Folio and a selection of his sonnets (along with his mortgage document). Works from the Brontes, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and Oscar Wilde (below) extends to Lewis Carrol’s handwritten Alice in Wonderland (shown right). The handwriting is fascinating, some authors displaying near perfect penmanship while others demonstrate wild disorganised writing which wouldn’t pass muster in a primary school classroom.

Of course, English truly cemented its place when the bible was translated from Greek and Latin making such a key work available to the ordinary people of the day. An early King James Bible has its place in the sacred texts along with Codex Sinaiticus, the earliest Christian Bible (around 350 CE) and a Gutenberg Bible. Remarkably, the book associated with the first printed work with movable type is shown with the Diamond Sutra, a ninth century Chinese-printed Buddhist document – a printed work that predates the Gutenberg Bible by 500 years.

As a sidenote, I overheard an American mother explaining to her two tired looking children how one particular early Bible had been translated from English to help spread the word abroad. While the Latin language Bible almost predated English as a language, I was more concerned that the entire thrust of the displays seemed to betray her. Several startled people looked on, shook their heads but the mild English manners or sheer shock stopped anyone explaining more.

Almost exhausted after the literary collection, the Library also has a Magna Carta (actually they have quite a few), a wall full of ancient maps revealing the developing exploration of the planet, original scores from musical giants such as Mozart, Beethoven and Bach (along with Handel’s Messiah, shown right) through to some handwritten lyrics from The Beatles and a collection of major scientific works including efforts from such luminaries as Galileo, Newton, Leonardo Da Vinci, Harvey and Darwin.

Viewing all these treasures, I couldn’t help but wonder how the next thousand years will be represented. With almost nothing being handwritten and words being penned by a mix of word processors and spell-checkers, it is difficult to imagine the British Library’s Treasures of the Second Millennium would generate the same awe and wonder as the last - the painstaking work and artistry of the early texts, the remarkable formation of the language from a flurry of foreign tongues and the celebrated texts of famous authors through the ages.

Saying that, the English language continues to expand and enrich while languages only spoken in small pockets of the world are starting to be lost. The journey of the first thousand years is richly covered by the remarkable British Library, the treasures being the smallest fraction (though extensive enough) of the 150 million items (including 14 million books) and 300 kilometres of shelving in its extensive collection. What will the next thousand years bring the language and the library?

What would expect to see over the next thousand years for our language?

Note: All works shown are by courtesy of the British Library. Their extensive website includes an English language literature timeline.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Colourful Truck (Nigeria)

All over Africa, brightly painted trucks with overt religious messages (like Get out of my Life, Satan on this one) trundle up and down the roads carrying food, animals and products to the markets. Incredibly reliable for the rough roads and the age of the vehicles, their colour complement the exceptional colours of the clothing and jewellery. The trucks (including this one) were a great source of rides traversing Africa from town to town, north to south and a great chance to meet a wide variety of folks travelling to market, visiting a neighbouring village or crossing a border to work.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Luxury Holiday Locations - Sandy Lane, Barbados

guest post by Elegant Resorts

Sandy Lane - Barbados is a luxuriously serene resort hotel located in St. James on the Barbados West Coast near Holetown. Situated on the beautiful, calm Caribbean Sea beach amidst exotic, perfumed gardens and swaying mahogany trees, the majestic Palladian style architecture and gorgeous surroundings create the perfect setting for an unforgettable holiday. Couples looking for a romantic interlude will find it at Sandy Lane - Barbados. Families with children will appreciate the effort extended by the first-class staff to entertain young children through the teenage years at the popular Treehouse Club. Complimentary programs and fun are provided daily by a staff that is wonderful with children.

This is also a luxury holiday destination for golfers as they are treated royally with three world-class courses complete with lush grounds and stunning vistas of the Barbados coastline. The Old Nine, the Country Club Course and the Green Monkey Course are a golfer’s paradise. Enjoy the ocean view at the Clubhouse Restaurant while you sip your favorite wine from the 2000+ wine list.

Other fine dining possibilities at Sandy Lane - Barbados include the L’Acajou, situated beachfront, and offering gourmet French international cuisine and fresh seafood; the Bajan Blue located beachside on the Lower Terrace with a menu that includes a sushi bar, a wine bar and grill, and fantastic nightly buffets with a variety of themes; and the Spa Café nestled beneath a cascading waterfall near the luxurious pool and offering a casual dining experience and cool, tropical drinks, while you lounge in the warmth of the Caribbean sun.

Sandy Lane’s room choices are nothing short of astounding. The Villa is an elegant five bedroom beachfront home perfect for families or groups. With a private entrance, pool and large Jacuzzi, the Villa is a private haven, cloistered from public view. The Villa’s own private staff includes a butler, housekeeper, chef and security guard, making Sandy Lane - Barbados the perfect hideaway. The two bedroom penthouses are almost 4,000 square feet in size and include a kitchen, patio dining area and whirlpool tub, all set amidst the beautiful and fragrant tropical gardens. Luxury two bedroom suites include balconies where you can enjoy the fantastic views of the rising and setting sun over the Caribbean’s sapphire waters. The colonial architecture, elegant furnishings and amenities afford each guest a luxurious and memorable experience.

Enter an awesome Romanesque building and climb the magnificent winding staircase to a world of pampered relaxation and personalized treatment at the Sandy Lane – Barbados state-of-the-art spa. This 45,000 square foot award winning facility offers the latest massage therapies plus a full menu of choices for a rejuvenating experience. Choose from deep tissue massages, hot stone treatments, full body scrubs and exercise facilities complete with personal trainers.

Sandy Lane’s Beach Club offers water sports and ocean cruise tours. The adventurous can even swim with the turtles or go sailing on a catamaran.

In addition to the fine amenities offered by the Sandy Lane Barbados resort, the Holetown area offers a variety of restaurants from beach bars to gourmet dining. Shop duty-free at Holetown’s many boutiques or enjoy a night on the town at one of the nightclubs.

The sophisticated Sandy Lane – Barbados resort has many return visitors to this tropical haven, and that speaks volumes about its excellent hospitality and numerous services and amenities. The luxury, the beautiful location and the service are all impeccable. Sandy Lane - Barbados has entertained royalty and many celebrities over the past fifty years of its history. This majestic resort provides the perfect romantic setting for honeymooners and anniversary celebrations. Catered facilities are offered for private parties. Many weddings are held each year in the beautifully manicured gardens and on the sandy beach. Luxury, elegance and tropical beauty abounds at the Sandy Lane-Barbados. Visit Sandy Lane - Barbados for a superior resort experience!

Photo Credits: golf, sunset, restaurant, turtle

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rafting the Dunajec (Slovakia / Poland)

For millennia, the jade green waters of the Dunajec River have carved a torturous path through the limestone crags of the narrow Pieniny Mountains creating a natural border between the modern countries of Poland and Slovakia. And for centuries, the Flisacy - a rugged, mountain version of the Venetian gondoliers – have been guiding and paddling their wooden rafts down stretches of the river carting fish, timber and goods.

Today, the raftsmen and their plť (the vowel-less Slovak word for raft) carry visitors on a relaxing and scenic jaunt down the emerald waters, gently bobbing along while unveiling breathtaking mountain vistas. Little appears to have changed over the centuries. With weathered complexions and clad in blue felt waistcoats hand-embroidered with colourful floral designs, the Flisacy steer the simple rafts (made of five hollowed out logs lashed together) along the gentle currents and sharp bends of the river skilfully maintaining course by wielding a two metre pole.

Leaving from Cerveny Klastor, a quiet village with a Carthusian monastery of the same name, replete with colourful frescoes, a museum highlighting the lives of the monks and a high-roofed chapel, the raft steers past the striking Three Crowns Mountain (see top photo) and through the trans-national Pieniny National Park.

The Flisacy, with their elongated Eastern European vowels, regale the passengers with folkloric tales in a mixture of English and Slovak, laughing uproariously and entertaining their visitors and themselves. Their national pride comes to the fore with the Slovak guide comparing housing standards by revealing an upmarket Slovak hotel on one side of the river with an old farming barn on the Polish side remarking that the Polish houses have free air-conditioning, half of one wall of the barn completely missing. On a more serious note, there is a slightly uneasy feeling of competition between rafting companies from the two countries.

Along with stunning limestone scenery and harsh cliffs, castles in various states of repair litter the high grounds, strategically guarding key grounds in times past. In more peaceful parts of the river, the forests and farmlands reflect superbly in the Pieniny waters.

Our journey briefly stopped at a wooden fence that indicated a border between Poland and Slovakia (no immigration post in sight though the sign says Attention National Border) and offers some feel for this potentially unusual border crossing, before resuming gently tracking the bends and curves of the waterway before arriving at a wonderful location for lunch.

Sitting over a plate of fresh pstruh (trout) and an unusual sheep-milk cheese, served with cranberry sauce, it is easy to fall under the gaze of the therapeutic Dunajec currents and the brooding beauty of the Pieniny. In a less travelled part of the world, the Dunajec and Pieniny are a treasured travel wonder worth exploring via the centuries old tradition of rafting.

Photo Credit: map

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Photo of the Week: The King Cheetah

The king cheetah is a truly regal and extremely rare animal. Only seen a handful of times in the wild over the last hundred years, the strikingly beautiful cat has a distinctive coat. Unlike the traditional cheetah spots on a golden background (the cheetah on the right of the photo), the king cheetah (left) features spots that have run together into erratic splotches as if the paint hadn't quite dried.

Famed for their speed as the fastest land animal, cheetahs are purpose-built speed merchants. With their long tails acting as a rudder, huge lungs and long sleek bodies, cheetah are majestic at full flight, effortlessly gliding along at over 100 kilometres per hour over short distances.

King cheetahs can only be born to parents that both have a recessive gene (though not necessarily the unusual coat) and hence are rare. Less than fifty exist at all, nearly all in zoos. At Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo (Australia), a city around five hours drive west of Sydney, a mother gave birth to four cubs (two are in the photo) of which two are king cheetahs - the only two king cheetah in Australia.

Indeed, cheetahs in general are a genetic wonder. All cheetahs are effectively identical clones with a belief that they neared extinction many thousands of years ago and were maybe reduced to one or two females. Though still endangered, it is a relief that the world can enjoy these majestic cats with their alert distinctive faces scanning the horizon.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Small World

guest post by

Landmarks have been aiding explorers in finding their way around for many years, with many being considered places of interest for the humble tourist. Whether natural or manufactured, there are plenty of famous and awe inspiring sights to see around the world.

Natural sites such as the Grand Canyon and the famous Mount Everest have been around throughout the ages, but what about man’s attempts at making iconic marks, sites such as the Eiffel tower, the Pyramids of Giza and the Taj Mahal? These haven’t been around that long if you compare them to places such as nature’s Son Doong cave; however they are able to attract the same respect and admiration.

Man-made landmarks are truly impressive, and are thought so highly of, that there are a few sites around the globe that have built miniature versions in gratification. Whether you’re just passing through, or have looked for hotels nearby, then these exhibits are worth featuring on your holiday to do list:

Mini Europe

A visit to Brussels, Belgium, will leave you with memories of the native country, especially if you were to stop by at Mini Europe. This Belgian gem offers the truly unique experience of a tour around Europe’s most beloved monuments in only a few hours. At the base of Brussels’ astonishing Atomium, Mini Europa as known by the Belgians attracts over 300,000 visitors each year.

Every one of the 300 monuments featured are made on a 1:25 scale, with Big Ben’s model scaling four metres high and the Eiffel tower’s ‘mini’ replica towering to an impressive fourteen metres.

Every piece has been designed and made with intricate detail; the model of Italy’s most recognised building, the Tower of Pisa (top photo), has been made with marble to make its appearance as genuine as possible, while Big Ben retains its chimes.

Mini Europe will make you feel as though you were a giant roaming Europe’s best monuments. Particularly noteworthy is that the majority of pieces in the display have been funded by their featuring countries.

There are package deals available for those wishing to visit the Océade or the Atomium as well as exploring Europe's finest sights and buildings in Mini Europe.

Epcot’s World Showcase

The Walt Disney World Resort in Florida is the most visited resort on the globe, as well as being the largest. Epcot theme park is one of four theme parks within the resort, stretching over an outstanding 300 acres, Epcot comprises of the World Showcase and Future World.

The Epcot World Showcase is a collection of eleven pavilions; each pavilion features the culture of a specific country and hosts attractions, food courts and shops characteristic of that country. A visitor is able to explore a selection of world cultures all within the space of a few hours covering nations as broad as Canada, China, France (pictured), Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Norway, United Kingdom and the United States.

Each pavilion is within easy walking distance of each other, and during your venture between them, you can enjoy live performances and displays from dancers, comedians and a spectacular firework display just before the park closes for the night. Of course, being in Disney World, there are plenty of characters walking around to greet children and adults alike.

Every pavilion within Epcot’s World Showcase has its own entertainment to suit its homeland culture, and the pavilions themselves keep with the theme of their respectable places. The French pavilion has its own Eiffel Tower, while a visit to mini China will greet you with ancient Chinese architecture and tranquil temples.


In the resort city of Carlsbad, California, you’ll find their very own Legoland. First opened in March of 1999, Carlsbad’s Legoland has come a long way in regards to entertainment and advancement. A sea life aquarium opened its doors within the park back in 2008, and was the first to in North America. They have also recently opened their own water park, a Legoland first.

The park has an array of different areas, including Miniland USA. Miniland USA showcases seven areas of the United States with the use of over 40 million Lego bricks. Each area replicates to a 1:20 scale its corresponding cities, and a model of the Empire State building can even be found in the New York area. Miniland USA took around three years to complete, and has accomplished what all Lego lovers wanted to do while they were younger, by creating a mini world in which to play.

Mini Siam

Mini Siam is an amazing display of Thailand’s most famed buildings. If you missed the real experience of the country’s temples, then Mini Siam is the perfect place to check out what you may have missed. You can also visit Thailand’s answer to Mini Europe with the addition of a few extra buildings from around the globe, such as the Sydney Opera House and the Statue of Liberty.

Mini Siam offers a 1:25 scale model of sites such as the Wat Arun (Temple of the dawn), the Anantasmakom Hall (The marble throne hall) and Bangkok’s Victory Monument. A great time to experience the park is near the end of the day, when the sun has started to set, as not only do you get to enjoy the sun setting over Thailand’s backdrop, but this is when all the exhibits lights come on to make your visit even more spectacular.

Photo Credits: Mini Europe Pisa, Mini Europe General, Epcot, Legoland, Mini Siam

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Modern Miracle in Yankalilla (South Australia)

Nestling into the rolling hills outside Adelaide, among sheep, cattle and, Yankalilla is a quiet, historic town. In the week that Australia’s first saint, Mary MacKillop is due to be canonised in the Vatican, tiny Yankalilla still hosts the first small schoolhouse built by St Mary’s Sisters of St Joseph order around 150 years ago.

However it is for another religious miracle that the town is known. In a humble and elegant stone church, an image of the Virgin Mary cradling the crucified Christ emerged from the wall of the church in 1994.

Looking carefully, a visitor can make out the familiar Pieta scene of an angled view of a slightly stooped Mary comforting Jesus, made famous by the superb Michelangelo sculpture in St Peter’s in the Vatican (shown below). Lit by the striking stained glass windows in the afternoon sun, the area has been left unpainted and framed to highlight the event.

Unusually, the event has occurred in an Anglican church – one of only two Anglican Marian shrines in the world (the other is in Britain). The location has become a pilgrimage site with visitors from all around the world arriving to view the venerable image or to collect holy water available from the church well.

As a sidelight, the Christening font originally came from Salisbury Cathedral in England and is 100 years older than the church and has a fine collection of graffiti from folks in earlier times who scratched their names into the marble.

Whatever your beliefs around such events, the picturesque and sparsely populated peninsula is sprinkled with world-class wineries and stunning beaches, now coupled with a hallowed and mysterious image in a humble stone church.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Photo of the Week: India Gate (Delhi, India)

In a similar vein to Paris's grand Arc de Triomphe, Delhi's India Gate proudly stands in the centre of twelve radiating streets near central Delhi. Standing 42 metres tall, the names of some 90,000 soldiers who lost their life in World War 1 (and other wars of the time) are inscribed into its light coloured brick, the moving tomb of an unknown soldier lies under the grand arch.

Removed on India's independence in 1947, the smaller canopy used to contain a statue of King George VI of England. It has lain empty since with suggestions that a statue of India's famous independence fighter and spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi as an appropriate replacement.

Majestically located on a broad boulevard, India Gate stands elegant and serene in India's frenzied capital and is a must-see Delhi travel wonder along with the Red Fort, Humayun's Tomb, the 11th century Qutub Minar, the Jama Masjid mosque and the Indira Gandhi Memorial Museum.

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Book Review: Tea Time with Terrorists (Mark Stephen Meadows)

Stranded in Paris (if that is the right word when in Paris) when 9/11 struck, Mark Stephen Meadows was planning to travel home to the US. With airports shut and terrorist becoming the new word of the moment, Meadows decided to follow his journalistic instincts and explore the psychology of terrorism and the makeup of the people behind such acts. As his laboratory (“something like a Galapagos” in his words), Meadows selects Sri Lanka – an island nation with a self-contained evolution through terrorism.

The book starts like an action thriller – a dozen or so bombs going off in various parts of the capital Colombo in 1984 sending the country into chaos before sharply contrasting the relaxed, easy-going life that has been practised for centuries. Meadows describes Sri Lankan life: “Water is pulled from the wells, coconuts are knocked from the trees, fish are dragged from the sea, and the big tropical sun swings overhead, tying the days into each other in a steaming, sweaty rhythm of ancient customs.

Renting a motorcycle, Meadows headed north into Tamil country and home to the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) and scrabble set of other terrorist, free-fighter, drug smugglers and militant organisations. The Tamil Tigers are infamous for inventing suicide bombing, along with conscripting children, women bombers and linking financiers into militancy.

Throughout his journey, he arranges interviews with leading players in this three decade conflict, including the mastermind (Shankar Rajee) behind the multiple Colombo bombing. Each interview is conducted in a relaxed manner (often under intense security) over a cup of tea, such a symbolic and treasured element of Sri Lankan life.

I have never had tea smile at me. I push my nose into the steam and inhale an entire spice market in one breath. Cardamom and cinnamon and berries roll out with a sugary flavor that, despite being smelled, hits the sides of my tongue, making it water, and the smell also has a silver lining of something almost like a delicate soapy scent.

The book continues in its three phases and the contrasts between them – the rich culture and life in Sri Lanka (key symbols such as tea and the elephant are a consistent thread through the book), the savagery of the terrorist acts and the interviews with the leaders of the various organisation, each adding a further insight into the conflict. Meadows reflections on the interviews and his introspection and developing thoughts are probably the highlights of the book.

Remarkably Meadows opens all his interviews with the same question, getting hesitant, non-committal or clichéd answers to the differences between the Sinhalese and Tamil people. It is a constant reminder that the world often battles small differences far more than large ones.

I am not sure that Meadows ever completely comes to grips with terrorism and the reasons behind it and the psyche of the major protagonists. One militant leader hauntingly describes terrorism as follows:

Terrorism is simply targeting innocent people…Everything else fails…We are weakening the economy and making it feel our struggle. And by doing so we gain the attention we need.

As I suspect the case for most readers, I knew little of Sri Lanka nor the civil war before reading this book. All up, it is a fascinating read – part rollicking travelogue, part portrait of an ancient culture and country and part introspection into the grisly world of terrorism, all through the humble cup of tea. I heartily recommend it.

Disclosure: The publishers sent me a complimentary copy of the book for review.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Monster Minarets and Monuments (Delhi, India)

Currently hosting the Commonwealth Games, a sports event for the 70-odd nations that comprise the vestiges of the British Empire, Delhi is an intense, seething city of chaos – a sensory overload of bazaars, colourful people, grand monuments and striking contrasts. A melting pot of religions, Delhi is home to some of the richest, and poorest people on Earth – ramshackle constructions sit next to opulent edifices, tired hand-drawn carts are passed by gleaming European luxury cars. Huge British built boulevards compete with narrow aroma-filled laneways. With a rich history of rulers, each left their mark in architecture and grand buildings.

Among the most striking of Delhi’s sites is the Qutub Minar Complex highlighting eight centuries of Islamic rule through the middle ages.

The main feature of this exceptional Islamic complex is the Qutub Minar or victory minaret. Reaching almost 73 metres in height, the soaring five-storey tower is the tallest brick minaret in the world and is seen on signage and advertising all around Delhi. Ironically too tall for calls to prayer, the minaret celebrates the establishment of Islamic rule in Delhi (which lasted until British rule in the 19th century) after victory over the last Hindu king in battle.

It is richly inscribed with ancient Koranic texts and verses that have stood the test of time. Indeed, the tower (and neighbouring mosque) is constructed on the site of a former Hindu site from the remains of 27 temples. Only three metres across at its top and built on rocky foundations, the temple has developed a slight lean though nothing to rival its famous cousin in Pisa.

In a nearby courtyard is a seven metre tall iron pillar that has defied scientific explanation. Bought from another site, the pillar is impossibly pure for its time, the 98% iron purity leaving the pillar completely free from rust despite its 1600 years of exposure to the elements. A legend describes that a person who can reach his arms around the huge pillar while facing outwards will have his wish granted. A simple fence prevents any attempts at modern divine intervention.

While architecturally striking with ornate inscriptions, the remainder of the complex is a slightly rambling collection of monuments, buildings and tombs including India’s oldest mosque. While many reminders of the Hindu faith abound (such as the squared pillars and images of the various Hindu gods), the builders managed to erase many of the Hindu images in the mosques.

The intricately carved tomb of Iltutmish celebrates the man who completed the minaret while the later tomb of Imam Zamin boasts the typical Islamic window screens.

Across from the minaret is a 25 metre roughened foundation to a more ambitious minaret. With plans to tower over the existing minaret, one can only imagine the immense engineering work required for the time. The idea perished with the leader and lays abandoned and worn, though strangely photogenic.

Somehow, the Qutub Minar Complex mirrors Delhi itself. Somewhat chaotic in its layout, the sight is attractive for its intricate carved buildings that have survived the test of time and the mesmerising towering minaret which continues to draw your eyes in wonderment wherever you wander in southern Delhi. What extraordinary times this minaret has overseen, eight centuries of life in one of the world’s most hypnotic cities.

Photo Credit: minaret detail

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Friday, October 1, 2010

Drinks Around the World: Chocolate Mocha Martini (Hotel Chocolat, Cambridge, England)

guest drink around the world article by Hotel Chocolat, which I can recommend for their superb chocolates.

The ancient university city of Cambridge lies fifty miles northeast of London, surrounded by the low-lying farmland of East Anglia. It’s small and picturesque car-free city centre – where cafes and shops sit amongst ancient university buildings and narrow cobbled lanes – is perfect for a walking tour of the sights.

On clear autumnal afternoons in Cambridge a light mist settles on the River Cam, and weak wintry sunlight bathes the crisp brown leaves littering the perfect lawns of the historic university colleges. In this season of shortening daylight, red cheeks and wrapped-up scarves; warmth, comfort and indulgence are craved. All these can be found in this sumptuous cocktail recipe from Hotel Chocolat – a British luxury chocolatier and cocoa grower, based in a town close to beautiful Cambridge.

To make this unusual gourmet chocolate cocktail, you’ll need a bar spoon or similar, a mixing glass, a chilled Martini glass and strainers.

Take a high quality double espresso shot, around 50mls of hot coffee, melt in two bar spoons of Hotel Chocolat Liquid Chocolat – 100% Cocoa and stir together to make an excellent high quality mocha.

Pour this into a mixing glass; add 2 shots (50ml) of vanilla vodka, and half a shot of gomme syrup to sweeten the rich dark chocolate and coffee flavours a touch.

Top off the mixing glass with ice and mix well in a shaker, then double strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a sprinkle of the delicious liquid chocolate powder and sink into an armchair by the nearest log fire.

Check out a video showing a Chocolat Mocha Martini being made.

This is a real winter warmer of a cocktail that mixes the rich bitterness of coffee and fine cocoa with the smooth sweet flavour of vanilla vodka. Hotel Chocolat is the only British chocolatier to own their own cocoa-growing estate, found on the Caribbean island of St Lucia. Further inspiration for cocktail recipes and other gourmet chocolate cuisine can be found on their website along with a wealth of information on fine single estate cocoa for the discerning chocoholic.

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