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Southeast Asia: The Best Sights, Destinations, and Experiences (ASEAN Travel)

SOUTHEAST ASIA: The Best Sights, Destinations, and Experiences (ASEAN Travel)

No longer seen merely as an exotic counterpart to the Occident, South-East Asia has developed an identity all its own over the past few years. You will find very little homogeneity in ASEAN, with every country priding itself on a distant identity concerning culture, religion, cuisine, and traditions.

This vast region is an overwhelming mix of landscapes, from verdant, rolling hills, and isolated islands with white-sand beaches to thick forests and intriguing caves. You can enjoy a range of diverse experiences, and no matter what type of traveler you are, you will find that one special place that will have you returning repeatedly. There are beaches to bum about on, temples, and architectural marvels to visit, hills aplenty to hike, tea estates to unwind at and a whole lot of truly incredible foods to experiment with.

Because we know that you could spend your entire life trying to uncover all of South-East Asia’s treats and not make much headway, we have brought together a collection of the best, unique experiences on offer in the ASEAN countries.

Get off the highway and wander down little, hidden by-lanes where you will discover everything from forgotten tribes, to a mosque built of pure gold, and a swimming pool on top of the world.

Best Travel Ideas for Southeast Asia

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Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture Travels and Journeys

History and Architecture of the Achyutaraya Temple Complex, Hampi, Capital of the Vijayanagara Empire

Achyutaraya Temple Complex, Hampi

Achyutaraya (1530–42 A.D.) temple complex is an imposing and magnificent cluster of temples in Hampi. However, it is called Achyutaraya Temple, an inscription of 1534 A.D. refers to this as Tiruvengalanatha or Venkatesha temple, and King Achyutaraya built it in 1539 A.D.

Achyutaraya Temple Complex, Hampi

The temple consists of a garbhagriha, antarala, pradakshinapatha, sabhamandapa, mahasabhamandapa, kalyanamandapa, Devi shrine etc. All these are enclosed in two prakaras one within the other.

Achyutaraya Temple Complex, Hampi

The outer prakara has main gates at northern and western directions, whereas the inner prakara has the gateways at north, east, and west. All these gateways had gopuras, which are in ruined condition now.

Achyutaraya Temple Complex, Hampi

The square garbhagriha, which originally had an image of Lord Venkatesha, is now empty. Its doorway is ornamented and has Vaishnava dvarapalas and Gajalakshmi at the lintel. Above the garbhagriha is a Dravida type sikhara. The square sabhamandapa has four pillars in the middle set on an elevated floor in the centre.

Achyutaraya Temple Complex, Hampi

The mahasabhamandapa stands on thirty pillars set in five rows. The pillars exhibit typical Vijayanagara features. To the south-west is the Devi shrine and its garbhagriha is empty now. Its sabhamandapa has a sculpture, which has been identified as that of King Achyutaraya, the builder of this temple.

Achyutaraya Temple Complex, Hampi

The sculptures of this temple exhibit good workmanship. The bass-reliefs of combination of bull and elephant arrest our attention. The pillars in general are neatly executed with elegantly carved sculptures of gods and goddesses.

Achyutaraya Temple Complex, Hampi

To the west is a large and rectangular kalyanamandapa or marriage pavilion. It has over one hundred pillars with sculptures of Garuda, Hanuman, and Vishnu etc.

Achyutaraya Temple Complex, Hampi

In front of this complex are low-pillared mandapas, which had bazaars, or markets where merchants used to stock in heaps pearls and other precious stones and sell them. Many foreign travelers have graphically described this pearl bazaar the type of which never existed anywhere in the world except Hampi. That was the glory of Vijayanagara.

Achyutaraya Temple Complex, Hampi

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Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture Travels and Journeys

Herodotus and The Fountain of Youth

The Fountain of Youth, From mural at Manta Castle near Saluzzo, Italy

Herodotus introduced the concept of a mythological water source with the power of granting eternal youth

The Fountain of Youth is a mythical spring that is supposed to have the power of prolonging or restoring the youth of those who drink from or bathe in it.

Myths of such a fountain are to be found in various cultures, particularly throughout the Middle East. The first recorded mention of it is from the ancient Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484-435 BCE), who recounted a claim that there was such a fountain in Ethiopia. In the Middle Ages, stories about the Fountain of Youth circulated in the Islamic world and then spread to such European works as The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (c. 1356).

The Fountain of Youth, 1546 painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder

In the sixteenth century, the Spanish historian Peter Martyr d’Anghiera, who wrote early accounts of the European exploration of the New World, reported a native story of a miraculous fountain on an island in the Gulf of Honduras, an inlet of the Caribbean Sea. While the explorer Juan Ponce de Leon was indeed given a charter to discover and settle a legendary island (Beniny or Beimeni), the popular idea that he sought the Fountain of Youth there seems to have been invented by the sixteenth-century historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, who maliciously added that Ponce de Leon hoped to cure his impotence.

However, the story about his search for the Fountain persists as a historical myth. Marcel Proust said in [[Remembrance of Things Past|Proust[Remembrance of Things Past, “The only bath in the Fountain of Youth would be … to possess other eyes.”

Few people take the story of the Fountain of Youth seriously today, but it remains a popular theme in literature and the arts (such as Darren Aronofsky’s film The Fountain, 2006).

It is also inevitable as a metaphor in discussing the modern concerns of prolonging lifespan and reducing the effects of aging.

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Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture Philosophy and Wisdom

Sparkling Romance with Norway’s Historic Hotels & Restaurants

De Historiske is a unique membership organization consisting of several of Norway’s most delightful hotels and restaurants.

De Historiske’s new range of short breaks is a huge success and Norway is more popular as a holiday destination than ever before. Their member-hotels offer unique adventures in Norway. Patrons staying at a number of their hotels, dining in their fabulous restaurants and taking wonderful boat trips can all be part of an amazing package. They offer different packages—each with unique theme—but all have one thing in common—patrons will have an experience of a lifetime.

Destination Weddings in Norway

You and Your Loved One Can Really Spoil Yourselves

Two of the most romantic locations for memorable breaks. Enjoy delicious meals in idyllic, peaceful surroundings. This short break starts at Hotell Refsnes Gods, only a stone’s throw from the Oslofjord. The hotel has an excellent reputation for delicious dining and well-stocked wine cellars, in addition to the inspirational art adorning its walls. The good life continues in the magnificent natural surroundings of Engo Gard Hotel & Restaurant, with its English conservatory-style heated swimming pool and Jacuzzi for relaxation and pampering.

Take a break from the daily toil and feel the benefits!

Sparkling Romance with Norway's Historic Hotels & Restaurants

With Nature at the Doorstep, Work Becomes the Furthest Thing

Whether you want time to socialize with your friends or enjoy a romantic weekend, you’ll find the perfect escape at the hotels’ castles, manors, inns and guesthouses. Do you want to enjoy activities while relaxing, or just enjoy the peace? Regardless of the hotel, you can be sure to end up in scenic surroundings, with top restaurants where traditional food meets modern cuisine.

Weddings, Celebrations, Honeymoons, and Festive Occasions in Norway

Weddings, Celebrations & Festive Occasions That Deserve Special Surroundings

If you are looking to hold a birthday party in unique surroundings, spend a romantic honeymoon or celebrate an important occasion with a special culinary experience, De Historiske are your natural choice. The genuine atmosphere is the reason why many people choose to celebrate special occasions at De Historiske. De Historiske’s surroundings are perfect for creating the relaxed atmosphere that is worthy of an important day—whether a birthday or a wedding day. Celebrations can vary from evening parties to grand events lasting from morning to night. They can also recommend family get-togethers, where the generations meet, in many of Norway’s historic picturesque surroundings.

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Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture Travels and Journeys

Resplendent Sculpture of Avalokiteshvara from Kurkihar (Bihar, India) from 12th Century

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara from Kurkihar, Bihar

The bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, a sculpture originated from Kurkihar, during the reign of Ramapala of the Pala dynasty, 11th-12th century. Kurkihar is the historical site was visited by Buddhist pilgrims in the ancient times including the Chinese travelers Fa-Hien and Hieun Tsang. It lies at a distance of approximately 22 km from the Gaya district.

This bodhisattva sits on a double lotus in lalitasana; his right foot rests on a lotus emanating from the base, suggesting that a prabhamandala was in place on another base. His right hand is stretched out, bestowing blessings and boons. The left hand holds a lotus stem which blooms over his left shoulder.

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara sits on a Double Lotus in Lalitasana Wearing a girdle with pearls around his waist, the other jewels comprise a necklace, bracelets, arm-bands and a beaded sacred thread that drapes over his right thigh. Notable are the twin kirtimukha, faces, on his armbands. His hair, arranged in a coiffure on top of his head, contains an effigy of Amitabha.

Kurkihar: Relic of an ancient Buddhist Monastery

Kurkihar is a village about three miles north east of Wazirgunj. It deserves mention on account of the remarkable abundance of ancient remains. Carved slabs of large size and architectural fragments of all kinds are found in plenty, often built into the walls of houses. Votive stupas are to be found in abundance on the edge of a large tank, great quantities of large bricks of ancient make are still being dug out of the great mound. Some well-preserved statues had been removed by the local zamindar to his house, the most important of which is a figure of bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.

There is another collection of ancient sculptures in the courtyard of the temple of Bhagwati, among which is a singularly beautiful figure of Buddha in meditation. At Punawan, three miles to the south-west are more Buddhist remains. Here stood the once famous temple of Trailoknath which does not now exist.

A large mound that this village sits on the top of is the remains of what was a Buddhist monastery in antique times. The village hit the headlines in 1930 when one hundred and forty-eight bronze articles were dug out of this mound. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of all sizes, bells, stupas and ritual objects of the finest workmanship were recovered. Most of these are now on display in a special room in the Patna Museum.

The second of Kurkihar’s two Hindu temples still has a large collection of Buddhist sculptures in it that have been found in the area over the years. One of the best of these is a fine statue of Akshobhya Buddha just outside the entrance of the temple. Note the fourteen calved pillars in the temple also, they date from about the 9th century.

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Posted in Faith and Religion Music, Arts, and Culture

Caste System in India

Caste System in India - The division of society into four hereditary social classes

The caste system, also known as the varna system, is a hierarchical social structure prevalent in the Hindu nations of India and Nepal. Its origins trace back to the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, produced in India between c. 1500 and c. 500 BCE, and it is a central theme in the 700-verse Bhagavad Gita (c. 1000 CE).

The division of society into four hereditary social classes. The great Indian mystic poet Kabir said, “Now I have no caste, no creed, I am no more what I am!”

The caste system divides Hindu society into four hereditary social classes. Highest are the Brahmins, who are priests and teachers. Next come the Kshatriyas, who are political leaders and warriors. Third are the Vaishyas, who manage agriculture and commerce. The lowest are the Shudras, who work as servants for the other three castes. Those who are cast out of the varna system are known as “Untouchables” because contact with them was thought to defile the other castes.

Four factors contribute towards caste dominance: 1) land ownership 2) numerical strength 3) political power and 4) high ritual status in the social hierarchy. The dominant caste may not be ritually very high but enjoy high status because of wealth, political power and numerical strength. Caste pockets create locally dominant caste. People who belong to a particular caste prefer to settle in a particular area. Caste is often specific to a particular village or area or region. Local dominance can translate into regional dominance. Best example of the principle is the concentration and domination of Vokkaligas in south Karnataka in the old Mysore region and of Lingayaths in north Karnataka in the districts bordering Andhra Pradesh. These dominant castes are accorded high status and position and have control over all the fields of social life in that area.

Hindu texts justify this system based on karma and rebirth. A person’s actions in this life determine their gunas (qualities) in the next: Brahmins are characterized by sattva (intellect), Kshatriyas by rajas (action), Vaishyas by both rajas and tamas (devotion), and Shudras by tamas alone. These gunas predispose a person toward certain types of work, and society functions best when people do the jobs to which they are suited. Each varna has its own spiritual discipline: Brahmins follow jnana (knowledge), Kshatriyas pursue karma (action), Vaishyas practice both karma and bhakti (devotion), while Shudras undertake bhakti. In the twentieth century, Mahatma Gandhi criticized the social injustice of the caste system, and it was reformed as a result of his protests.

Caste Dominance and Caste System in India

It is the unity and cohesion of the caste as a group that makes the dominant caste more pronounced in village affairs. The dominant caste is dominant not because of any single factor but because of the combination of several factors. Land ownership is a crucial factor in establishing dominance. With the introduction of adult suffrage, numerical strength has become a crucial source at the disposal of a caste. A caste should have numerical strength if necessary to use physical force against the challenge of other power castes. But numerical superiority alone is not an important factor. In some of the surveyed villages the dependent castes have numerical strength.

The Supreme Court of India has ruled against preferential treatment for medical students belonging to schedule castes (SC), schedule tribes (ST), and other lower castes, who were aiming for specialist medical training. The ruling, which could have widespread implications in India, stated that such favouritism was “contrary to national interest”.

While India’s 1950 Constitution abolished the notion of untouchability, many peoples’ attitudes remain unchanged, although the 200-million-plus Dalits represent a powerful voting bloc.

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Posted in Faith and Religion Music, Arts, and Culture

Megalithic Monuments of Hirebenakal near Raichur in Karnataka

Megalithic Monuments of Hirebenakal, Prehistoric Site, Raichur in Karnataka

The term megalithic culture is used to denote the culture of a group of people who built their large tombs with the help of mega (huge) liths (stone) or huge stones. Literally there are thousands of such tombs all over South India including Karnataka. In general terms they were the successors to the new stone-age people. After the megalithic period we enter into the early historic period.

Chronologically, the megalithic period lasted from about 10th century B.C. to 3rd Century AD., with lot of various dates in between. There is a great variety in their tombs and culturally they are the introducers of iron into South India. Though their habitation sites are rare, their burials have been found in groups in hundreds. They had learnt the technique of quarrying and dressing stones for the purpose of the building their tombs of different varieties. These tombs contain bones and other related grave goods including iron objects. After the systematic excavations of Brahmagiri megaliths (near Chitradurga) many other sites have been excavated which give us a glimpse into the life of the megalithic people.

Benakal Prehistoric Site, Karnataka

Megaliths at Hirebenakal in Raichur, Aihole in Bijapur, and Kumati have been studied in, great detail. Kumati is unique because it has stone anthropomorphic figures of huge size, not generally found elsewhere. Megaliths are locally known as Moriyaramane, Moriyara Angadi or Moriyara Gudda. They may be divided into many varieties on the basis of their external appearance as dolmenoid cists with port-holes, rock-shelter chambers, polygonal cists, dolmens with closed port~hole, stone circles etc.

The underground chambers generally contained various types of pottery with food and water along with iron implements used by the person, beads, other ornaments and skeletal remains. This shows that they had a strong belief in life after death. With the help of these objects, life of the megalithic people has been reconstructed. They belonged to an agricultural community and manufactured iron tools such as knives, axes, hooks, chisels etc. Perhaps they had a class system the details of which are not known. They practiced agriculture and lived in huts. Thus the megalithic people laid a firm foundation for the beginning of historical culture.

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Posted in Faith and Religion Music, Arts, and Culture Travels and Journeys

Expressionism: An Art Movement

Vincent van Gogh's The Starry Night

Expressionism is an art movement that emphasized the importance of self-expression.

The Dutch Post impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) saw the world differently from most of the Impressionist painters who surrounded him. Instead of capturing the light and colors of the natural landscape as a dispassionate observer, as the Impressionists had done, van Gogh looked inside his troubled psyche and discovered a new style of self-expression. Van Gogh’s art provided a mirror for his angst-ridden soul and, years later, it would lead to the formalization of an entirely new kind of painting.

Van Gogh once wrote in a letter to his brother, Theo, “Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I see before my eyes, I use color more arbitrarily to express myself forcibly.” Van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889) depicts the view from his sanatorium window at night, but its swirling sky and luminous stars are no faithful representation of what he saw; exaggerated and distorted, they suggest his inner reality. The Starry Night is now seen as a pivotal painting in the march toward Expressionism.

The Scream (1893) by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch Four years later came The Scream (1893) by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944), another icon of Expressionism. The painting depicted Munch himself, pausing while crossing a bridge and crying out in desperation from the blur of his anxiety informed world. Edvard Munch once said, “My art is self-confession. Through it, I seek to clarify my relationship to the world”

Like The Starry Night, Munch’s painting has the ingredients of Expressionism—the use of strong, nonnaturalistic colors and distorted lines—many years before the Expressionist movement had its “official” beginnings with the German artistic group Die Brucke (The Bridge), who met together for the first time in Dresden in 1905.

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Charles Baudelaire: In Praise of Cosmetics

Charles Baudelaire introduced the idea that no woman is so beautiful that her beauty would not be enhanced by cosmetics.

Charles Baudelaire, French poet and essayist For much of the history of humanity, the wearing of cosmetics by women has been viewed, in the West at least, as something associated with harlots and stage performers (with those two professions once being considered almost equally disreputable). As an early nineteenth-century song once asserted, it is nature itself that “embellishes beauty,” so what need would a virtuous woman have for makeup?

The French poet and essayist Charles Baudelaire (1821- 67) was raised in this culture of “naturalized beauty” and never really questioned it in his early years. But then, in the 1860s, the man who coined the word “modernity” began to question what Romantic artists and writers referred to as the “supremacy of nature.” In his book, The Painter of Modern Life (1863), he turned his attention to the nature of beauty in the chapter titled “In Praise of Cosmetics.” Charles Baudelaire wrote in his “In Praise of Cosmetics” (1863,) “I am perfectly happy for those whose owlish gravity prevents them from seeking beauty in its most minute manifestations to laugh at these reflections of mine … .”

Baudelaire had always felt especially drawn to the opposite sex, and was conscious of how society’s notion of beauty was changing in an increasingly industrialized world. His essay on beauty was a little too whimsical to be taken absolutely seriously, but it was nonetheless a triumphant defense of the notion that makeup can make the beautiful even more beautiful. “External finery,” Baudelaire wrote, is “one of the signs of the primitive nobility of the human soul.” Every fash ion is “charming,” and every woman is bound by “a kind of duty” to appear magical, to astonish, and to charm her fellows. Accordingly, nature could now be imaginatively surpassed by applying black eyeliner, which “gives the eye a more decisive appearance,” and rouge, which “sets fire to the cheekbone.” Baudelaire’s emphasis on the beauty of artifice over nature marked a significant departure from the Romanticism of the first half of the century, reflecting the rise of decadence and Aestheticism, to many of whose practitioners he was a hero.

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Posted in Leaders and Innovators Music, Arts, and Culture

The Undiscovered Charms of Xi’an, China

Sunset walk around City Wall in Xi'an, China

Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi province, is a beautiful city located in the middle of China with a civilization of long standing. It is treated as a capital of ancient China for over 1,000 years and has witnessed the replacement of 13 dynasties.

You will find a great number of historic interests all around the city when come to Xi’an for a tour.

Xi’an is far away from the sea and is situated on the loess plateau, the north of the Qinling Mountains, which results in the lack of precipitation and a dry climate. This climate and location, however, do form a fantastic place to live: no typhoon, no earthquake, no sandstorm and flood. In November, the city always becomes cold and you may take some overcoat in case of the chilly and dry air outside, but you don’t have to worry about the temperature inside for we have central heating system in houses.

There are so many interests in the downtown: the Bell Tower, the Drum Tower, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, the Small Wild Goose Pagoda, the City Wall, Datang Furong Garden, and Huaqing Hot Spring, etc.

Terra Cota Warriors in Xi'an, China

The scenery in the suburbs of this city is fascinating as well, the Terracotta Warriors and Horses, the wildlife in Qinling Mountains, the Temple of Dharma Gate, and the tomb of emperors. The Huashan Mountain is also a good natural landscape to go sightseeing though it is somewhat dangerous and you need to be cautious. It is not so easy to list and introduce them all, I hope you will come to Xi’an someday and feel the thickness of their history yourself.

Xi’an has good transport facilities, you can go to every destination by taking bus or subway, but the taxi in Xi’an is quite rare and strange, it is usual to wait for more than half an hour just for taking a taxi. Therefore, I recommend that preparing the public transportation for the historic interests before you come to Xi’an.

As for the hotel, my advice is it will be very convenient to go sightseeing if you choose to live in a hotel around the City Wall. You can go for a walk at the City Wall at night, appreciate the most magnificent sunset, and enjoy the delicious snacks at the night market in downtown.

Pita Bread Soaked in Lamb Soup in Xi'an, China

Not only is Xi’an famous for its long history and majestic interests, but the delicious native snacks as well. Pita Bread Soaked in Lamb Soup, cold noodle is famous all over this country and attracts a great many of tourists to Xi’an.

There is a famous snack street in Xi’an called “Huimin Street” just in the center of the city, Most of the native snacks are available at there and it is really a paradise for some Chowhound.

Xi’an is beautiful on spring and autumn, the flowers blossom on spring and the leaves gradually fall on autumn, at that time Xi’an is filled with vivid color, I am sure you will love it.

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Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture Travels and Journeys