Saturday, September 6, 2008

Fatehpur Sikri

Built from scratch in 1571 by Akbar in honor of the Sufi saint Salim Chisti, who had predicted the birth of a son, this grand ghost city is carved entirely from red sandstone. It was only inhabited for 14 years, after which -- some say because of water shortages -- it was totally abandoned. It's a bizarre experience to wander through these magnificent, architecturally fascinating sandstone arches, courtyards, and buildings.

The buildings combine a fine sense of proportion -- indicative of Akbar's Persian ancestry -- with strong Hindu and Jain design elements, indicative again of his embracing attitude to the conquered and their faiths. Upon entering, you will see Diwan-i-Khas, thought to be a debating chamber, on the right. Facing it is Ankh Michali, thought to be the treasury, which has mythical Hindu creatures carved on its stone struts. To the left is large Parcheesi Court, where Parcheesi (from which games such as backgammon and ludo were subsequently derived) was played with live pieces: the ladies of the harem. It is said that Akbar learned much about the personalities of his court and enemies by watching how they played, won, and lost. Surrounding the court are, from the left, Diwan-i-Am, a large pavilion where public hearings were held; the Turkish Sultana's House, an ornate sandstone pavilion; and Abdar Khana, where drinking water and fruit were apparently stored.

Walk between the two latter buildings to enter Akbar's private quarters. Facing Anoop Talao -- the four-quartered pool -- are the rooms in which he slept and his personal library with shelves carved into the walls. Also overlooking Parcheesi Court is Panch Mahal, the tallest pavilion, where Akbar's wives could watch the games and enjoy the breeze without being seen. Behind Panch Mahal are the female quarters, including Maryam's House and the Haram Sara Complex. The harem leads to Jodha Bai's Palace, a large courtyard surrounded by pavilions -- note the green glazed roof tiles. To the east is Birbal's House, a two-story pavilion noted for its carvings; beyond lie the servants' cells. From here you exit to visit Jama Masjid, a mosque even more spectacular than the larger one Akbar's grandson built in Delhi. Set like a glittering pearl amid the towering red-sandstone bastions, punctuated by a grand gateway, is the white marble dargah (tomb) of Salim Chisti, which has some of the most beautiful carved screens in India. It attracts pilgrims from all over India, particularly (given the good fortune he brought Akbar) the childless, who make wishes while tying cotton threads onto the screens that surround the tomb.
Again, the services of a good guide are indispensable to a visit here (don't bother hiring one of the "official" guides at the entrance, however).

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


The word 'hiking' is understood in all English-speaking countries, but there are differences in usage. In some places, off-trail hiking is called 'cross-country hiking', 'bushwhacking', or 'bushbashing'. In the United Kingdom, hiking is a slightly old-fashioned word, with a flavor more of heartiness and exercise than of enjoying the outdoors; the activity described here would be called hillwalking or simply 'walking'. Australians use the term 'bushwalking' for both on- and off-trail hiking. New Zealanders use 'tramping' (particularly for overnight and longer trips), 'walking' or 'bushwalking'. Hiking in the mountainous regions of India and Nepal and in the highlands of East Africa is sometimes called 'trekking'. Overnight hiking is called 'backpacking' in some parts of the world. Hiking a long-distance trail from end to end is referred to as 'thru-hiking' in some places.

Hiking is one of the fundamental outdoor activities on which many others are based. Many beautiful places can only be reached overland by hiking, and enthusiasts regard hiking as the best way to see nature. It is seen as better than a tour in a vehicle of any kind (or on an animal; see horseback riding) because the hiker's senses are not intruded upon by distractions such as windows, engine noise, airborne dust and fellow passengers. Hiking over long distances or over difficult terrain does require some degree of physical ability and knowledge.

Hikers often seek beautiful natural environments in which to hike. Ironically, these environments are often fragile: hikers may accidentally destroy the environment that they enjoy. The action of an individual may not strongly affect the environment. However, the mass effect of a large number of hikers can degrade the environment. For example, gathering wood in an alpine area to start a fire may be harmless once (except for wildfire risk). Years of gathering wood, however, can strip an alpine area of valuable nutrients.

Generally, protected areas such as parks have regulations in place to protect the environment. If hikers follow such regulations, their impact can be minimized. Such regulations include forbidding wood fires, restricting camping to established camp sites, disposing or packing out faecal matter, imposing a quota on the number of hikers per day.

Many hikers espouse the philosophy of Leave No Trace: hiking in a way such that future hikers cannot detect the presence of previous hikers. Practitioners of this philosophy obey its strictures, even in the absence of area regulations. Followers of this practice follow strict practices on dealing with food waste, food packaging, and alterations to the surrounding environment.
Human waste is often a major source of environmental impact from hiking. These wastes can contaminate the watershed and make other hikers ill. Bacterial contamination can be avoided by digging 'catholes' 10 to 25 cm (4 to 10 inches) deep, depending on local soil composition and covering after use. If these catholes are dug at least 60 m (200 feet) away from water sources and trails, the risk of contamination is minimized. Many hikers warn other hikers about the location of their catholes by marking them with sticks stuck into the ground.

Sometimes, hikers enjoy viewing rare or endangered species. However, some species (such as martens or bighorn sheep) are very sensitive to the presence of humans, especially around mating season. Hikers should learn the habits and habitats of the endangered species, in order to avoid adverse impact.

There is one situation where an individual hiker can make a large impact on an ecosystem: inadvertently starting a wildfire. For example, in 2005, a Czech backpacker burned 7% of Torres del Paine National Park in Chile by knocking over an illegal gas portable stove. Obeying area regulations and setting up cooking devices on bare ground will reduce the risk of wildfire

The Bulgarian Black Sea

The Bulgarian Black Sea coast is 380 km marvelous beaches with fine golden sand and natural dunes; calm and safe sea with low sloping sandy bottom and clear water; numerous mineral springs and beautiful nature. The Black sea water is amazingly smooth and is nearly fresh according to the Mediterranean and it is a real pleasure to swim or dive within. Holiday-makers have a huge selection of activities to choose from like yachting, diving, windsurfing, water skiing, snorkeling, underwater fishing and other aquatic sports.

The Bulgarian Black Sea Riviera (Bulgarian: Черноморие, Chеrnomoriе) covers the entire eastern bound of Bulgaria stretching from the Romanian Black Sea Riviera in the north to European Turkey in the south, along 378 km of coastline. White and golden sandy beaches occupy approximately 130 km of the 378 km long coast. The region is an important center of tourism during the summer season (May-October), drawing millions of foreign and local tourists alike and constituting one of the country's most popular tourist destinations. Prior to 1989 the Bulgarian Black Sea coast was internationally known as the Red Riviera. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, however, it's nickname has been changed to the Bulgarian Riviera.
The area's average air temperature in the summer is about 28°C, with the average water temperature at 25°C. There are more than 240 hours of sunshine in May and September and more than 300 hours in July and August.
The Balkan Mountains cross the country reaching to the edge of the Black Sea at Cape Emine, dividing the coastline into a southern and northern part. Parts of Bulgaria's northern Black Sea Coast feature rocky headlands where the sea abuts cliffs up to 70 metres in height. The southern coast is known for its wide sandy beaches.
The two largest cities and main seaports on the Bulgarian Riviera are Varna (third largest in the country) and Burgas (fourth largest in the country). Varna is located on the northern part of the coast and Burgas is located on the southern coast. The two cities' international airports, Varna Airport and Burgas Airport, are the main hubs servicing the region. In addition, the A1 and A2 motorways, currently in construction, would make the trip from the capital Sofia to the coast substantially easier and faster, while the A3 is planned to connect Varna and Burgas.