A beautiful view of Mt Masanggang from Dochu La.

Panoramic view of Himalayas.

While driving to Punaka from Thimpu, we briefly stopped at Dochula Pass.  It was a foggy morning that day but after a while the sky cleared up and we got a magnificent view of the Himalayas particularly Mount Masanggang, the highest peak in Bhutan. We were really lucky that day otherwise for most part of the year the weather here remains foggy and chilly.

The Docula pass is at an elevation of 3100 metres and is 30 kms away from Thimpu. It is the starting point of Dochula Nature Trail.

It is here that the eldest Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo WangChuk built 108 Chortens to honour the Bhutanese soldiers who died fighting the Indian rebels in 2003.  The rebels were forced to exit Bhutan,  by the 4th King who had personally lead 700 of his men to this victory.

The Chortens are built in 3 layers, 45 chortens in the 1st layer, followed by 36 chortens and finally 27 chortens in the third layer, around the main Chorten. Each Chorten contains offerings such as grains and bronze utensils plus clay images of Bhuddha.

Each Chorten also contains a “soksing”, made up of a long square wooden pole wrapped in a silk cloth, which provides a connection with heaven from earth.

There is a temple called Druk Wangyal Lhakhang nearby which was built in honour of Druk Gyalpo (head of Bhutan state). In the open grounds, in the front yard of the temple, the Docula Druk Wangyal Festival is held every year.

It is a beautifully built structure and should on one’s must see list.

The Eight wonder of the World in making, in Bhutan?

His Eminence Trizin Tsering Rinpoche initiated the erection of World’s largest Buddha statue to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Bhutanese monarchy and celebrate the 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuck.

The place chosen was Kuensel Phodrang in the mountains overlooking the country’s capital, Thimpu.

By all means, it will possibly be the Eighth Wonder of the World as the statue is 169 feet – 51 m tall seated within the Buddha field or Pureland represented by the mandala in the background.

The statute houses 10,000, 8 inches statues and 25,000, 12 inches statues made in copper and gilded in gold. These are placed in multi-layered grid boxes. Names of each of the sponsors are separately inscribed on copper plates and are displayed in the meditation hall.

The total cost of the project was supposed to be US Dollars 100 million when the project started in 2006, with the statue itself costing 47 million. It was supposed to be completed in Oct 2010. By September 2015, when it opened most of the work has been completed but still, a lot of work is pending.

The outer walls of the meditation hall are adorned with beautiful murals. On all sides of the statue there are beautiful statues of dancers in various poses.

Legend has it that in the 12th century, Sonam Zangpo, a learned and well-known yogi had prophesied that a statue of the Lord would be built in the region to bestow blessings and happiness to the world. Guru Padmasambha, the learned Guru from India had also prophesied this.

View of the Thimpu valley below.

If you are in Thimpu, this is a very nice trek and it takes roughly about 2 hours to reach the top. Under the eyes of the huge Buddha is the nature reserve. In case you are not the walking types you could take a taxi right up to the top.

This place also offers amazing views of Thimpu below particularly at sunrise and in the evening at sunset.

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Why do Bhutanese paint phallus on their homes?

Travellers to Bhutan are often confused to see phallus painted on the outer walls of the houses or wooden phallus hanging or nailed on top of the front door. I was also amused to see this and decided to find out why.

 

I found out that this tradition started in 15th & 16th century by Lama Drukpa Kunley who was also known as a mad saint or divine madman. He originally came from Tibet and was the disciple of Pema Lingpa. He was fond of women and wine and would often demand these favours when travelling from one village to the other. His ways of teaching Buddhism were so unorthodox that it often shocked the monks.

When he came from Tibet he bought a wooden phallus decorated with a silver handle, which is now stored in Chimi Lhakhang, a monastery built near Lobesa village in Punakha, Bhutan. If you are women of childbearing age and visit Chimi Lhakhang, you will be blessed by the Lama by striking the phallus on your head.

It is believed that in Bhutan, phallus were part of the ethnic religion before the country embraced Buddhism. Lama Drukpa advocated the use of the phallus symbol as paintings on the walls and hanging the carved wooden phallus on house tops.

Though in urban areas this trend is now declining but is still prevalent in rural areas. On a drive from Thimpu to Paro, you can see these paintings on most of the houses. You will find them in various colours and some even tied with ribbons like presents.

During the house warming ceremony, in Bhutan, four wooden phallus are erected on the corners of eaves of the house and one inside the house. A basket full of phallus is raised by men to the roof while women pull it down and this continues amidst a lot of drinking, dancing, and signing by all present. The phallus are painted in five different colours signifying five divine interventions.

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Why you should visit Bhutan once before you leave this planet?

Paro International Airport.

 

Bhutan has been on my bucket list for a long time, so when I heard that my friends were planning a trip, I tagged along.

I am so glad that I did because Bhutan is so beautiful, green, disciplined and has low population density, making it an ideal place to visit for a holiday.

It is really a surprise, that though it was recognised by United Nations, as a country only in 1974, it has been able to control its population. It has just over 774,000 people for an area of 38,394 square kms.

Bhutan measures its economic prosperity not in terms of GDP but in terms of overall health of the nation.

Stained happiness.

This is measured by four pillars, sustainable development, environment protection, cultural preservation and good governance which together form the Gross National Happiness (GNH).

It is really committed to protecting the environment and if anybody is found guilty of harming the sacred black necked cranes, which come in hundreds in Haa Valley or Phobjika during winters each year, that he is sentenced to life imprisonment.

As per their constitution, 60 per cent of the country must remain a forest and that is the reason why it is world’s only “Carbon sink” (it absorbs more CO2 than it produces).

Phobjika Valley or Haa Valley.
Phobjika Valley or Haa Valley.

Import and sale of tobacco is banned in the country and there are heavy penalties if you are caught smoking in public.

The capital city, Thimpu is the only second city in the world which does not have a single traffic light. Pyongyang (North Korea) being the other. The traffic is so systematic that when the lone policeman manning a traffic “signal” goes off duty at 5pm each day, the traffic continues the same way as if he was there.

Beautiful Thimpu.
Beautiful Thimpu.
Lone manned “Traffic Signal” in the heart of the city.
Beautiful Thimpu.

The only way to cross the road in the city is through the zebra crossing. People breaking this law are fined Rs 1200- on the spot.

Bhutanese lay a lot of emphasis on their culture and its preservation. TV was allowed in the country only 11 years ago and all Bhutanese nationals must dress in their traditional dress when entering Govt offices and in their work places.

The country is officially Buddhist and largely Hindu but the state does not interfere in dietary habits of its citizens some of whom consume meat, including beef, imported from India.

It is amazing to see that despite poverty Bhutan is the happiest country in Asia and its citizens are proud of their country. Though it is a constitutional monarchy they love their Dragon King, as he is called, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

Unlike some countries Bhutan walks the talk when it comes to Women’s Empowerment. We saw Hotels, Shops & Restaurants being manned by young women, also in each hotel we stayed, 95 percent of the employees were women.

Such a beautiful country, it should be on everyone’s “must do” list.

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Why I fell in love with Canberra?

Why I fell in love with Canberra?

Parliament as viewed from the National Museum.

Though I have regularly visited Australia for the past 12 years, it was my first visit to the Australian capital, Canberra. I have to admit that I am totally impressed with the City and it is not unfair to say that I am in love with it.

Among the various reasons why I feel that way is, the greenery and the low density of population. The city is surrounded by forests and natural reserves from all sides.

Though early European settlers in Australia started exploring Canberra in 1820, it was later designed by an American Architect and designer Walter Burley Griffin, who won the Federal Design Competition in 1911.

It has a population of about 380,000 and it is Australia’s largest inland city. It has many interesting sites for tourists. The major among them are –

The National Museum of Australia.  It opened in its current premises in 2001 and now showcases 50,000 years of Indigenous heritage and largest collection of Indigenous bark painting and stone tools. It is not be missed if you are in Canberra.

The entrance.

Another landmark is Australian Parliament which houses the Senate and House of Representatives which makes laws and policies in Australia. It is a massive and beautiful structure under an impressive flagpole.  The foundation document of democracy, The Magna Carta 1297, is also housed here. In the forecourt of the building is a large ceremonial pool and a central island which has mosaic based on an Indigenous painting by Michael Nelson Jagamara.

The Australian Parliament.
House of Representatives.
The Senate and the Legislation.

Next is the Telstra Tower, a steel structure, 195 meters high at the top of the Black Mountain from where you get a 360 degrees view of the beautiful Canberra. There are two viewing platforms. The tower provides communication services for the National Capital. It opened in 1980.

Telstra Tower.
Canberra as seen from the top of the tower.

Among other landmarks are the Australian War Memorial, dedicated to the Australians who lost their lives for the country. Lake Burley Griffin is also a big tourist attraction particularly in the evenings when a lot of people go for walks and cycling here. The National Bonsai and Penjing Collection has some high quality bonsai plants and again is very popular with tourists for view of the city.

The War Memorial
Inside the memorial.
An evening at Lake Burley Griffin.

 

 

 

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Top things to do in Southbank, Melbourne.

Melbourne is a beautiful city and has been rated as the most livable city for six consecutive years. The main business district in heart of town is called the CBD or the Central Business District. South of this suburb, 1 km down, lies the urban suburb called Southbank. On its north runs the Yarra river and to the east is St Kilda.

Before development began here it was an industrial area and now it is home to many high-rise buildings. There are many restaurants, hotels, bars and entertainment places.

If you really want to enjoy & know a city, you need to take a walk. In Melbourne, you can walk right up to the end of Southbank. The path lies next to Yarra,  is tree lined and particularly beautiful at night.

Most prominent landmarks down this route are given below. Check them out at leisure and enjoy Melbourne.

Sandridge Pedestrian Bridge. It is 178 m long and was re-opened in 2006 during Melbourne Commonwealth Games. Artist Nadim Karam has installed his very interesting artwork called The Traveller which welcomes the immigrants who arrived by train.

Polly Woodside Maritime Museum. Polly Woodside is an 1885 tall historic ship which has been rescued by the National Trust. It is originally from Ireland.

Eureka Skydeck 88. has the highest viewing platform in Southern Hemisphere. It is an absolutely must visit.

National Gallery of Victoria, oldest public art gallery and museum in Australia.

River Cruises, start and finish here.

Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and Seafarers Bridge.

Crown Entertainment Complex, housing the largest Casino in Southern Hemisphere with hotels, bars, live shows, movies, shopping and a huge Food Court.

Melbourne Arts Centre is more of an institution with three theatres, State Theatre, Playbox and George Fairfax Studio.

The Southbank Promenade, running from Southgate Shopping Centre to The Crown Entertainment Complex.

 

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To be a martial artist also means to be an artist of life, Bruce Lee

If you are in Hong Kong, you cannot miss the Hong Kong Heritage Museum which has a special section on legendary Bruce Lee.

It is situated out of town in Sha Tin and is best visited by public transport. There are two types of exhibits, permanent and temporary like the Chinese arts and culture. Among the permanent exhibits is life and legacy of Bruce Lee, a tribute by Shannon Lee, daughter of Bruce Lee.

I am was really keen to visit it and after going through it came back very happy. I suggest do not miss this one as it really celebrates the life and times of Bruce Lee.

Right from dancing Cha Cha (actual movie clip) to his stint in TV and later films, the Museum has it all.

He passed away almost 44 years ago but his legend still lives on. Though he was born in San Francisco, USA he grew up in Hong Kong. He went back to US when he turned 18 for studies. He had a fascination for philosophy and he merged it with martial arts and set up his own system, Jeet Kune Do.  He also set up his own martial arts training institute.

He delved into TV and later action films and found fame both in martial arts and show business. Some of his famous movies are The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, The way of the Dragon and Enter the Dragon.

Apart from various memorabilia from his life, there  a section dedicated to “Nunchaku” and an interactive setting of Bruce Lee demonstrating his warm up muscular features followed by Nunchaku.

In the museum you can see some documentary films featuring film clips and interviews with people closely connected with Bruce Lee’s life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If you have never been to Brunetti, you don’t know what you have missed.

 

 

(picture from the internet)

Yes, absolutely, if you have never been to Brunetti you don’t know what you have missed in sweeter things in life. Whenever I am in Melbourne, I have to make at least one visit to this iconic shop on Lygon Street.

History

The history of Brunetti started in 1985 when the family started trading in Faraday Street.  They set up an authentic  Roman Pasticceria. The founder, Giorgio Angele had started really young at the age of 10 and thus had tremendous knowledge of cakes and pastries.

When he was 23 years old, he came to Australia with the Italian Olympic Team as their Pastry Chef in 1956. After working for some time he got an opportunity to permanently migrate to Australia. Since then he has been behind this iconic brand.

Be it Italian coffee from the Bar, or Cakes from Pasticceria or Gelato or tempting savoury, Melbournians have been loving his creations. In 2005 they opened another cafe in City Square and now they have three more in the city at Camberwell, in Myer’s and in the Domestic Terminal at the Melbourne Airport.

This rich Melbourne experience has helped them expand internationally. Tanglin Mall in Singapore opened with a Brunetti in 2011.  Honestly, it is really difficult to choose what to eat here since each of their creations are masterpieces.

Highly recommended for a visit, next time you are in Melbourne. If you live there, what are you waiting for?

 

 

 

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The best Greek food I ever had.

Over the years Melbourne has become a multi-cultural city and now boasts of third largest Greek population after Athens and Thessaloniki. So now you can find some of the best Greek food money can buy in the city.

One such place is Jim’s Greek Tavern in Collingwood which has been serving authentic Greek Food as you would find in Greece. It is very simply done up with white walls and their focus is on simplicity. It is quite noisy, unlike any place you would have seen.

However, Melbournians simply love the classic dishes this place serves so you have to book in advance. It operates without a written Menu so you have to have faith in your server even though he may not be Greek.

Just let him take you through the pan fried Saganaki, or Calamari, slow cooked lamb before you make a selection. If you can’t choose he will help you in making the right choice of meat or seafood paired with the right dip. Let him suggest the wine too, I promise you won’t be disappointed.  Be assured whether it is the seafood or beetroot or Zucchini chips or even a warm loaf of bread you can be sure of an authentic Greek taste.

 

If you are in Melbourne or visiting it, don’t miss it for anything in the world.

 

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Taxi ride in an undersea tunnel

Hong Kong has many interesting things but what I find most interesting is the undersea tunnel called the Cross Harbour tunnel which connects the main financial and commercial districts across the Victoria  Harbour.

Come join me in a Hong Kong taxi through this thrilling ride under the sea.

 

The tunnel was opened to the public on 02 August 1972 and now is the most congested roads towards the Hong Kong Island in Hong Kong and the world with almost over 116 thousand vehicles crossing it daily. After this tunnel was opened Hong Kong travelled far way from those days of the Star Ferry and other small ferries. There is a toll plaza at the Hung Horn end and it has 14 toll gates.

The Victoria Harbour covers an area of about 41.88 sq km and there are several islands within the harbour like the Green Island and the Kowloon rock.

If you are visiting Hong Kong do not forget to take a taxi ride through the undersea tunnel.