Sunday, April 5, 2009

Repainting Eiffel Tower: new coat for a grand dame

Visitors to Paris will see a shinier Eiffel Tower over the course of the year. The Parisian landmark, which celebrates its 120th birthday on Tuesday, will get a fresh coat of paint by a team of 25 painters as part of its new look. The colour, however, will be the same shade of brown. This is the 19th time the Eiffel Tower has been repainted since it opened on March 31, 1889.

From TODAY, Traveller
Thursday, 02-April-2009

Maldives: We are one

The Maldives has initiated a new tourism policy aimed at increasing contact between visitors and inhabitants of the archipelago in the Indian Ocean.

The country’s tourism minister Ahmed Ali Sawad said the Maldives aims to do away with the “parallel world” where resort islands are kept separate from those inhabited by Maldivians.

“We’re pleased that guests seek the seclusion of a resort island,” Mr Sawad said. “But we also want to invite tourists to visit our communities.”

He added that the first step would be a ferry network linking the some 300 inhabited islands. This would enable tourists to “island-hop” and boost exchanges among the islanders themselves.

“Up to now in the Maldives, we’ve built for tourism first and benefited ourselves second. Now, it’s going to be the other way around,” Mr Sawad said.

He noted that the creation of luxury resorts in the Maldives have become the norm, whereas mid-priced hotels “have almost disappeared completely over the years”.

As a chain of islands, the Maldives will disappear if the sea rises by 2m. Last month, the country pledged it would go carbon neutral within 10 years as a way to highlight the impact of climate change. DPA

From TODAY, Traveller
Thursday, 02-April-2009

In the Halls of the ancients

With heritage sites and vibrant festivals, Tamil Nadu is a trip into southern culture

The world had a taste of what the Indian state of Tamil Nadu had to offer when Slumdog Millionaire composer A R Rahman walked off the Oscar stage in February with two gold statuettes.

One of Chennai’s most famous sons, the prolific musician and singer even performed his rousing, award-winning song Jai Ho for the Hollywood audience. Bollywood appeared in a posse of pink as Rahman made the Kodak Theatre his thumping ground.

That he’s a product of India’s song-and-dance culture is obvious. More than that, he hails from the capital of Tamil Nadu, a state known for its festive traditions.

Said Dr S Bakthavatchalam, the deputy director of department of tourism in Tamil Nadu: “In this land of fairs and festivals, every day is a celebration. Festivals are the high points of life where the spirit of worship is combined with joyous activity — song, dance and music – to unwind.”

The biggest festival of the year, the Pongal, takes place over four days in mid-January. It is the harvest festival of Tamil Nadu, when the Sun God is thanked and invoked for prosperity and a rich harvest.

The state has about 15 major festivals a year, says Dr Bakthavatchalam, adding that “the frescoes and the sprawling corridors in the cities of Chidambaram and Mamallapuram come alive during the classical and folk dance festivals every year”.

For shoppers, the Silk Festival in Kancheepuram in October is one of the major draws. The city situated 75km south of Chennai has “one of the finest textile traditions in the country”, according to Dr Bakthavatchalam.

“In Kancheepuram, silks are not simply woven, it’s an entire tradition, an art form. So much so that a trip to Tamil Nadu is considered incomplete without shopping for a Kancheepuram saree,” he said.

Lamps are the other signature product of the state, to be found in the towns of Swamimalai and Nachiarkoil. Here, visitors can see some of the most exquisite lamps crafted from brass or a combination of five metals.

“In Tamil Nadu, the art of brass and bronze casting is still strictly governed by the canons of iconography,” said Dr Bakthavatchalam.

Indeed, history and heritage distinguish the aesthetics of the southern state from those of the north. Where Mughal art and architecture — think the bulbs and towers of the Taj Mahal — dominate landmarks in the north, it’s ancient Dravidian designs that reign in Tamil Nadu.

Temples sport gopurams, or tiered, conical roofs that are meticulously carved and decorated to represent scenes from Hindu mythology. Think the lush depiction of images a la Little India’s Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple compared to the restrained, subtle art of the Taj Mahal.

Having escaped the Mughal influence that swept the north, the south is a fitting place to explore Hindu culture. One of the best examples is the group of monuments at Mamallapuram, a Unesco World Heritage Site situated 60km south of Chennai.

The village overlooking the Bay of Bengal served as the port city of the Pallava kings in the 5th to 9th century. Rock is the canvas here for artists to carve intricate depictions of Hindu stories.

Further south in the cities of Thanjavur, Gangaikondacholisvaram and Darasuram are the Great Living Chola Temples, world heritage sites built by the Chola kings in the 11th century. The monuments feature life-size sculptures and wall murals.

“For centuries, Tamil Nadu has been a centre of Dravidian art and culture,” said Dr Bakthavatchalam. “It’s waiting to be discovered.”
Jennifer Chen

From TODAY, Traveller
Thursday, 02-April-2009

Plzen: a Czech beauty

Plzen’s liquid gold flows strong in town of its birth

Order a beer at a restaurant or bar in Plzen, Czech Republic, and unless you’ve requested an ale, porter or stout, you’ll probably be served the clear, golden brew behind some familiar brands: Pilsner.

And this is its ancestral home.

Mugs of frothy beer served in this cobblestone-studded city south-west of Prague may resemble others the world over, but a trip to the local brewery confirms these are no ordinary suds.

The faintly-bitter lager first produced in Plzen more than a century ago gave rise to a style of beer that has since circled the globe. Much of today’s lager-style beer, in fact, owes its flaxen colour and crisp flavour to a brewing process formulated in this small metropolis in the Czech Republic’s Bohemia region. Its name still reflects its origins: Pilsner, Pilsener, or sometimes just Pils.

The beer’s precise birthplace, the Pilsner Urquell brewery, stands on the city’s fringes, enclosed by an ornate 19th century double archway. Its copper kettle-lined confines have changed with the times, but visitors can still see hints of the past, including a network of underground tunnels once used to store huge casks of fermenting beer.

The Pilsner Urquell factory of today is a marvel of modern brewing, operating 24 hours a day and churning out 120,000 bottles of beer per hour. But it has its origins in a brewing tradition that stretches back to the late 1200s, when King Wenceslaus II granted brewing licenses to more than 250 city residents.

But the quality of Plzen’s beer was poor, according to the brewery. This prompted the citizen brewers of Plzen to combine forces and build a modern beer-making facility, which opened in 1842, the same one that operates to this day.

A young brewmaster and reputed ruffian, Josef Groll, took the helm and began making the beer that became known as Pilsner lager, fermenting barley malt, hops and water at a low heat, and adding yeast that collected at the bottom of the mixture.

Among the beer’s defining qualities were its shimmering appearance and subtle bitterness from locally grown hops. Other ingredients specific to the region included soft water drawn from 100m-deep wells and malt made from barley grown in the Czech regions of Bohemia and Moravia.

The brewing of Pilsner Urquell has remained largely unchanged since Groll’s time. Ground malt and water are boiled three times in copper kettles, a procedure carried out perhaps once or twice in the making of other beers. Caramelisation occurs at the bottom of the kettles, producing flavourful compounds. The concoction is boiled with hops before being fermented at a low temperature, pasteurised and packaged in bottles, cans, kegs and tanks.

Julie Johnson, editor of All About Beer magazine, noted that the beer’s name, Urquell, means “the original source” in German. “Pilsner beer is the ancestor of the kind of global international lager style that makes up 90-something per cent of the beer we drink today,” she said, pointing to brands such as Budweiser.

In a nod to the beer born in Plzen, American brewers of the 19th century created “something that was much softer for the American palate,” she said. “That, in turn, has swept the world.”

Pilsner, and pale ales that emerged around the same time, stood out because “they were light, they were beautiful to look at”, Johnson said.

The beers owed their attractive look to malt made from barley that had been heated evenly using an indirect source — then a revolutionary technique. Earlier malt may have been partly burned, producing beer with “a darker and roastier taste,” she said.

The malt’s consistent quality yielded exceptionally clear beer, and its emergence coincided with the spread of glassware that allowed drinkers to admire its appearance.

“So you had a beer that appealed to the eye as well as the nose and mouth,” Johnson said, “and people were just struck dumb by how lovely and beautiful it was.”

Visitors to the brewery can sample Pilsner Urquell’s after the guided tour that ends in one of the underground cellars used to store barrels of fermenting beer in the days before refrigeration.

One guide, Katerina Sedlackova, attested to the qualities of Plzen’s namesake beer, offering cups of the drink. “You should know that Pilsner Urquell is very healthy,” she said, referring to nutrients such as vitamin B. “If you drink a cup of beer a day, you should stay healthy.” AP

Travelling there? Check from this site,

Pilsner Urquell, check this site,

The brewery, check here,

From TODAY, Traveller
Thursday, 02-April-2009