Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Holidays in the Pusteria valley in South Tyrol

South Tyrol (Alto Adige in Italian) region in the north-eastern Alps in Italy is a beautiful land with snow covered mountains, grassy meadows, amazing lakes and breath-taking panoramas. We visited the tiny mountain town of Rio di Pusteria in this region for a short holiday.

An evening view, Rio di Pusteria, South Tyrol, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

The image above shows an evening view of Rio di Pusteria, nestled among the Alps mountains.

Historical background & General information

Rio di Pusteria is an old market town on the Rienza river, located between the Isarco and Pusteria valleys. Near the town, a sluice gate on the river creates the Pusteria lake.

Pusteria lake on Rienza river, Rio di Pusteria, South Tyrol, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

In olden times there was a toll station here, including a defensive fortress built in the 13th century. The ruins of this fortress are located towards the east of the city.

Ruins of the fortress, Rio di Pusteria, South Tyrol, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

Till the First World War, South Tyrol was a part of Austria. Thus, in this area, many persons speak German and all places have an Italian name and an Austrian name. For example, Rio di Pusteria is called Mühlbach (the mill on the torrent) by the German speakers.

Rio is a tiny town with less than 3,000 inhabitants. Its altitude varies from 777 to 1,414 metres. The city includes some neighbouring mountain areas, which are famous for their skiing-slopes.

Our holidays

We wanted to explore the nature in this region. Initially, we were thinking of staying in Bressanone city. However, we thought that to visit the lakes and the mountains, it would be better to stay in a smaller town, and thus we decided to stay in Rio. I did the online booking at hotel Rosenhof and we were very happy with our choice.

Hotel Rosenhof, Rio di Pusteria, South Tyrol, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

The hotel was beautiful and its owners were friendly. Our room on the top floor had a wonderful view of the surrounding mountains. The breakfast was huge and very satisfying. The hotel was close to the city centre and a couple of nice pizza restaurants.

Rio di Pusteria town

Rio is a tiny town, full of narrow cobbled streets and beautiful old houses with their balconies full of flowers.

City centre and the church bell tower, Rio di Pusteria, South Tyrol, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

The city centre has the St. Andrea church built in the Gothic style in the 14th century. It has an old part where the grandmother of Pope Benedict XIV, Maria Tauber Peintner was married in 1858.

Interior, St Andrea church, Rio di Pusteria, South Tyrol, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

The church includes a new part, which has beautiful modern stained-glass windows.

New stained glass windows, St Andrea church, Rio di Pusteria, South Tyrol, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

The city centre also includes a sky-lift station from where you can take the cable car to Maranza and from there to other mountains. Persons staying in a hotel in Rio get a free travel card which allows unlimited journeys on the sky-lift. I will write about Maranza in another post.

Cable car of the sky-lift to Maranza, Rio di Pusteria, South Tyrol, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

Walks around Rio di Pusteria

There are different hiking trails starting from Rio including the one going to Selvaggio lake from Valles and another, going to Malga Fane-Alm. These trails are for the serious hikers.

If you do not wish to do strenuous hiking, you can go for a walk towards the fortress ruins or along the Via Holden, which goes along a torrent passing near the city centre. It passes under the railway bridge.

The railway bridge and the torrent, Rio di Pusteria, South Tyrol, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

A little further down, when the torrent joins the Pusteria river, you can proceed along the river bank on a forest path for a couple of kilometres. We went for a walk on this road and found it easy and yet very stimulating.

A walk along Via Holden, Rio di Pusteria, South Tyrol, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

Conclusions

During our stay in Rio di Pusteria, except for a couple of walks, we did not spend much time in the town. Rather we used it as our base to explore the nearby mountains and lakes in Maranza, Braies, Neves and Dobbiaco. Except for Maranza, we didn't have enough time to explore the different mountains through the sky-lift even if we had the free sky-lift pass. Still we loved this little town.

City centre, Rio di Pusteria, South Tyrol, Italy - Images by Sunil Deepak

It was one of our most memorable holidays. In fact, I would like to go back one day to Rio di Pusteria for another holiday and this time, spend more time exploring the mountains through the sky-lift!

***

Sunday, 10 September 2017

An afternoon discovering Nagaon in Assam

Nagaon is a tiny sleepy town in Assam. I visited it some time back for work. I remember it because it gave me an opportunity to observe the traditional Assamese fishing in Kolong river.

Bhuyapatti bridge, Nagaon, Assam, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

The image above shows the Bhoyapatty footbridge on the Kolong river on a misty evening in Nagaon.

Nagaon town

The little town of Nagaon, 94 km to the north-east of Guwahati in Assam, is known as the birthplace of Shrimanta Shanker Dev, a sixteenth century social and religious reformer who had a profound impact on Assamese people and culture. Actually Shanker Dev was born in Bordowa, about 17 km from Nagaon.

Kolong river passes through the city centre of Nagaon, and is a tributary of Brahmaputra river.

Along Kolong river, Nagaon, Assam, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Reaching Nagaon is easy. Apart from the state buses, there are numerous private jeeps and vans starting from Khanapara in Guwahati and going to Nagaon. A.T. road, an important artery of transport in Assam, coming from Guwahati, passes through Nagaon.

I was in Nagaon for some work for just one day.

A Walk Along Kalong River

When I reached Nagaon, it was late afternoon. I found a hotel off the state highway 18, near the city bus stand. It was close to a footbridge on Kolong river, which went towards the Nowgaon Law College.

Online search about places to see in Nagaon did not provide any information. All the places to visit were outside the city, in the district or in the nearby areas - such as Kaziranga wildlife sanctuary, Laokhowa wildlife sanctuary, Chapanalla pond, Bordowa (birth place of Srimanta Shanker Dev) and Madhabthan (birthplace of Madhab Dev, a follower of Shrimanta Shanker Dev).

My work appointment was for the next day morning and I was free that afternoon. However, I was tired from the journey, and did not want to do anything tiring. Thus, I decided to take a slow walk along the Kolong river and discover a part of Nagaon town.

Close to the river there was a Naamghar, a Vaishnav praying place for the followers of Shrimanta Shanker Dev. Inside there were no statues. Instead the people prayed in front of the sacred book, Bhagwat Puran, which tells the story of Krishna. The book was kept in the centre of the temple, at the top of a pyramid like structure and lamps were lighted in front of it.

Naamghar near Kolong river, Nagaon, Assam, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Dheki-Jal Traditional Fishing Nets

After visiting the Naamghar, I got on the footbridge over the river. From there I saw a man fixing a fishing net in the river. Such fishing nets, placed in rivers, lakes and ponds are a common sight in Assam. It was the first time I was seeing someone actually making the whole structure, so I walked along the river bank to look at it from close.

Fixing the net looked complicated. There were about a dozen bamboo poles that had to be arranged in such a way to create a cantilever mechanism in which two bamboo poles were tied at one end, while their other ends diverged to create a wide arc. These two poles were linked to a whole system of supporting bamboo poles, so that putting a weight at the tied end of the cantilever bamboos, raised up the divergent end, while removing the weight, brought down the divergent end to just below the water surface.

Traditional Dheki jal fishing net in Kolong river, Nagaon, Assam, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

After fixing the poles, the fisherman fixed the fishing net to the diverging part of the bamboos and then lowered the net in the water. He was clearly an expert at making this fishing net, deftly balancing the poles into position and then fixing them without any help. The whole thing took him almost two hours of work.

Traditional Dheki jal fishing net in Kolong river, Nagaon, Assam, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

He told me that that he had been doing this kind of fishing ever since he was 14 years old. He also explained that this was called the Dheki jal.

I have seen similar cantilever nets in the sea in Kochi (Kerala), where they are called the Chinese nets. The principle for making them seems to be same, though they remain fixed in one place while the net made by this fisherman was temporary. Every few days, he moved to another place, leaving the river and the fishes to regenerate.

I was really happy that I could witness the setting up of the traditional Dheki-jal. By the time, he had finished, it was already evening. I walked back to the footbridge and resumed my walk. Below me, I could see the fisherman's boat gently bobbling on the Kolong waters.

Traditional Dheki jal fishing net in Kolong river, Nagaon, Assam, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Back to the walk along Kolong river

After crossing the footbridge to the northern bank of Kolong, I continued my walk along it till the Bhoyapatti footbridge and then went back to the southern bank of the river. Close to the river was a Hanuman temple with a "chimaeras" or a Bahurupi statue of Hanuman, where a priest was conducting an evening prayer (Aarti).

Chimaeras statue of Hanuman, Nagaon, Assam, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Chimaeras is a mythical animal composed of different parts of animals and birds. One of the earliest examples of chimaeras in India is on an Indus Valley seal. One of my Italian friends who has been involved in excavations of some Indus Valley sites, uses the term "chimaeras" for Navagunjara-rupa of Krishna in Bhagwat Gita. I thought that showing Hanuman with different faces has the same concept and that is why I am calling it "chimaeras" statue of Hanuman.

Close to the Hanuman temple was the state bus stand of Nagaon. Passing through the bus station, I found myself at a Sai Baba temple at a street corner. Here too, an aarti was being conducted. However compared to the Hanuman temple, which was almost deserted, the tiny Sai Baba temple was packed with devotees.

Sai Baba temple, Nagaon, Assam, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

From the Sai Baba temple, I walked back to my hotel.

Shrimanta Shanker Dev Mission

Next day morning, I took an auto-rickshaw for Panigaon chariali on the AT road to visit the Shrimanta Shanker Dev Mission. With an eye hospital, a hostel for blind children, a disability centre for the distribution of technical appliances, a leprosy centre, an anganwadi training centre and many more activities, the Mission was a very active place.

Shrimanta Shanker Dev Mission, Nagaon, Assam, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

After discussions with the persons looking after the disability centre of the Mission, it was time for me to leave Nagaon.

Conclusions

Most persons just pass through Nagaon. Probably the only persons who stop are those who have families here or those who have some work.

It was a short visit and for me, the most memorable part of it was the time spent near the river to see the construction of the traditional Dheki Jal.

A Bihu straw sculpture, Nagaon, Assam, India - Images by Sunil Deepak

Let me conclude this post with an image of a giant sculpture of a bird made from straw in a field near Nagaon. Such straw sculptures are built as part of the celebrations of Bihu, a traditional Assamese festival.

***

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Boat parade at the Venice Carnival

Venice Carnival is a ten days long celebration in which colourful costumes and masks play an important role. One of the first events of the Venice Carnival is the Boat Parade or the Water Parade (Corteo Acqueo). It is a fun event where people row boats wearing funny costumes, usually without any masks, like the lady shown in the image below.

Fun Costumes, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

I love the refined elegance and colours of the medieval costumes in the Venice Carnival. However, during the last Carnival, I also wanted to experience the simpler joys of the Boat Parade. This post shares that experience.

Watching the Boat Parade

Venice is full of canals. Grand Canal is one of the biggest. Almost 4 km long it starts near the most famous square of Venice, San Marco Square, and ends near the railway station and bus stand. The Boat Parade celebrates the Grand Canal. Only rowing boats can take part in it - no motor boats are allowed.

Boats arrive near Giudecca island, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

During this parade, boats start around noon from the San Marco end of Grand Canal. The starting point is called Punto Della Dogana (Custom point), across the canal from San Marco Square, marked by the beautiful Santa Maria della Vita church. Passing under the Academy bridge and Rialto bridge, the parade ends in Cannareggio, not very far from the Venice Railway station. At Canareggio, locals set up stands with traditional food and wine, and the parade ends with a long floating party.

My Experience of the Boat Parade

I took a train and reached Venice around 10 AM. From the railway station I turned right towards the famous three-bridges and to Santa Croce, and then along the smaller canal towards Santa Marta which hosts the Venice University (Ca' Foscari). It was along the small canal that I saw the first boats with people wearing costumes who were going to the parade.

Going to the parade, Santa Marta, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

When I reached the big canal facing the Giudecca island, I followed the curve of Dorsoduro. Here I came across another group of persons, all dressed in pink jackets. They brought out their long boat for participating in the parade. It was a mixed group of persons, some young, some old and mostly women.

Pink group with their boat, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

For participating in the parade, no registration is needed, you just need a rowing boat and some costumes. Traditionally each area of Venice and neighbouring towns have their teams for the parade. Usually these are persons who do not row boats normally, so they need to do some practice and get into form since it requires stamina.

Boats arrive, near San Marco, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

Soon after I reached the tip of Dorsoduro called Punto della Dogana. By that time it was almost 11 AM and I could see boats full of people with colourful costumes on both sides of Grand Canal.

Boats waiting at Punto della Dogana, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

Many of the persons must have had their starting dose of wine or beer since they all seemed to be in high spirits. Their costumes were not elegant or refined. Many men, some of them with beards, were wearing women's clothes. Some were wearing mismatched costumes. Compared to the other days of the Venice carnival, when the emphasis is on exquisitely refined colour-coordinated medieval costumes, the ambiance was very different.

Fun costumes, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

My original plan was to watch the boats getting ready for the parade and then walk to Academia bridge to click some pictures. However, as I walked towards this bridge, I could see that it was choked with people. Even the narrow streets around the bridge were overflowing with people. It was impossible to walk there.

Crowded Academia bridge, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

So I walked back towards the starting point to click pictures of the boats as they went towards the Academia bridge. It was very beautiful.

Boats going towards Academia bridge, Grand Canal, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

After the boats passed, I waited patiently till the crowds dispersed from the Academia bridge and I could cross the Grand Canal for walking towards Rialto and Cannareggio. Many of the persons who had come to watch the boat parade were also wearing colourful costumes (like the group in the image below). These costumes were more elaborate, they were not the fun costumes of the boat parade. Thus the walk back to Cannareggio was a lot of fun.

Carnival costumes, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

By the time I reached Cannareggio, it was almost 5 PM. Boats had already reached there, taken their fill of wine and food and then were slowly turning back to go home.

End of the parade in Cannareggio, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

The image below has a boat going back from Cannareggio.

Coming back from the parade, Cannareggio, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

I loved the relaxed and fun ambiance of the Boat Parade. I found a place in a canalside caffe for a beer before going back to the railway station for my train.

Conclusions

My choice of going to Dorsoduro gave me an opportunity to spend a lot of time with boats and people as they were getting ready for the start of the parade. It was not very crowded and I really enjoyed this part of the day.

This choice meant that I could not see the boats passing under the bridges and the conclusion of the parade in Cannareggio. By the time I reached there, the parade was almost over.

Costumes and fun, Boat Parade, Carnival, Venice, Italy - © Sunil Deepak

However I do not regret my choice. The alternative would have been to go early, find a good place on Academia bridge or Rialto bridge and wait for boats to pass underneath. Since the carnival attracts thousands of persons, you can't do everything, you can only do one thing. May be another time I will go early and stand at Rialto bridge to look at the boats as they come across the Grand Canal!

***

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

World seen from the eyes of an eagle

We can't fly like eagles but we can see the world from the eyes of an eagle from an airplane. Seen from above, even the familiar can look different - a new point of view.

My work took me to different parts of the world. This post is about some special memories related to air-journeys. It is accompanied with some of my favourite pictures clicked from airplanes. The first image of this post (below) is of old Italian rural houses with fields, trees and towers. It was clicked close to the Fiumicino airport of Rome in Italy.


Flying from Kunming to Bejing (China)

One of my most thrilling air journey was in China in 1989. It was the end of May and we had taken a flight from Kunming to Beijing. On the way our plane had problems and we were forced to land in Xian. As we went to a hotel in Xian, we passed a big protest march in the city. A leader called Hu Yaobang, who was very popular with students, had died. Two days later, our plane was repaired and we reached Beijing. As we crossed Tianamen square, we saw groups of people protesting there. We were told that these were student protests.

On 3rd June, I left Beijing and flew to Orlando in USA. In the hotel I was shocked when I saw the news about the tanks in Tianamen square. It was also a close brush with an event whose echoes had reverberated all over the world. Except for a couple of pictures of students in the Tienamen square, I didn't take many pictures during that fateful journey - I regreted it afterwards.


The image above shows a river near Beijing airport in China, it was clicked many years later.

Journey from Delhi to Guwahati (India)

The next couple of images are near the Guwahati airport. The first shows Brahmaputra river and the Saraighat bridge. On the right side of the river, you can see Neelachal hill that hosts the famous Kamakhaya temple. On the left side you can see the IIT Guwahati campus and in the middle of the river, the tiny island with the Umananda temple.


The next image is also clicked near Guwahati and shows a vast area covered by the Brahmaputra floods.


Journey from Santarem to Belem (Brazil)

The next two images are from north-east of Brazil. The first is from Santarem. You can see Avenida Tapajos along the Tapajos river and the famous Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of Conception painted in light blue colour.


The second image was clicked closer to Belem and shows one of the mighty strands of Amazon river going towards Atlantic ocean.


A sunset in Amsterdam (Netherlands)

The next image has one of most glorious sunsets that I ever saw during a flight. It was clicked as our plane was getting ready to land at the Amsterdam airport.


Houses - Capetown (South Africa) and Georgetown (Guayna)

It is a pleasure to look down from the plane and see the tiny houses, cars and people as they go about their lives. This image has houses near the Cape Town airport.


Houses are the subject of the next image as well. George Town, the capital of Guyana is criss-crossed with canals. This image was taken as our tiny plane had taken off from the city airport. In the distance you can see the Atlantic ocean.


Como lake (Italy)

The next image of this post is of Como lake in northern Italy, near the Alps mountains and  near the border with Switzerland.


Como is the most famous city situated along the banks of this lake where many rich and famous persons including George Clooney, Madonna and Sylvestor Stallone have their holiday homes. The Y-shaped lake is one of the deepest lakes in Europe.

Cristo Rei Sanctuary, Almada (Portugal)

The next image is from Almada in Portugal. In it you can see the Christ King sanctuary near the 25 April bridge which crosses over the sea and connects Almada to Lisbon.


Snow-covered Mountains - Alps and Himalaya

Flying over snow-covered mountains on a clear day is a special joy. While crossing the Alps, I remember different journeys when it was impossible not to gaze wonder-struck at the beautiful panoramas. The image below of the snow-covered Alps is from one such journey.


In Nepal, I never had good views of the snow covered Himalayas. However, during one journey, for a short time we saw Everest, as the peak appeared above the clouds. The next image has a picture of the Kunchanjanga peak.


 A carpet of colourful fields in East Europe

The next image was clicked while travelling from Vienna in Austria to Prague in Czech republic. I was fascinated by the neat fields with some of them in bright yellow (due to some flowers), that looked like a beautiful carpet.


Highway in Bologna (Italy)

I want to close this post with an image of Bologna. For three decades, we lived in Bologna, close to the airport. Sometimes, the flights passed right above our house. Yet, I never managed to click a picture of our home from air.

Among all the images of Bologna, I have selected one showing the highway exit to the trade-fair zone.


Conclusions

Over the past thirty years, air-travel has changed completely. Often old, tiny airports have been replaced by new, shining and modern structures.

One of my most terrifying journeys was in 1992 in a tiny two-seater plane in Santa Cruz (Bolivia), where it was raining hard. Our plane had tried but had not managed to take off and we had come to a screeching stop in front of a tree. I can still remember my nausea due to fear on that day.

I did not have a digital camera till 2005 and I have no pictures of most of my memorable journeys. Those journeys live only in my memories. Let me close this post with an image from the periphery of Prague in Czech republic - the buildings in this image remind me of things children make with Lego pieces.


***
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