Shaki, Azerbaijan


According to Azerbaijani historians, the name of the town goes back to the etymology of the Sakas, who reached the territory of modern-day Azerbaijan in the 7th century BC, and populated it for several centuries.  In the Medieval sources, the name of the town is found  in various forms ——- SHEKE, SHEKI, SHAKKI, SHAKNE, SHAKKAN, SHEKIN.

There are traces of large-scale settlements dating back to more than 2,700 years ago.  The Sakas were an Iranian people that wandered from the north side of the Black Sea through DERBEND Passage and to the South Caucasus in an area called SAKASENA.  The original settlement dates back to the Bronze Age.


The main Temple of the ancient Albanians was located there. SHAKI was one of the important political and economical cities before the Arab invasion.  Shaki is surrounded by snowy peaks of the Greater Caucasus, in some places reaching 3000 – 3600metres.  Shaki’s climate includes a range of cyclones and anti-cyclones, air masses and local winds  The mountain forests around the area prevent the city from floods and over-heating during summer.  The main rivers of the city are the KISH & GURJHANA.  During the Soviet Rule of Azerbaijan, many ascended to Shaki to bathe in its prestigious mineral springs.


A home to ancient Caucasian Albanian Churches, religion is highly important to the people of Shaki due to its historical religious diversity.  There are many Churches and Mosques in the city.  Some Churches, such as the Church of Kish, are thought to be approximately 1,500 years old.  The Khan’s Mosque —– OMAR EFFENDI MOSQUE & GILEILI MINARET are considered important places of worship in the city.

During 1850 – 1870, Shaki became international silk-production centre.  More than 200 European Companies opened offices in the city, while silkworms to the tune of 3 million roubles were sold to them in a year.  Shaki relies on its agricultural sector which produces tobacco, grapes, nuts, cereals, cattle and milk.  The main production facilities are the silk factory, gas-power plants, brick factory, wine factory, sausage factory and a dairy plant.


In 2010, Shaki was visited by 15,000 foreign tourists from all around the world.  The city boasts of houses with red roofs.  In pop culture, probably the most famous feature of Shakinians are their nice sense of humour and comic tales.  Shaki has always played a central role in Azerbaijan Art.


The city’s central and main open city squares are dominated by two Soviet Towers.  Many public places and private houses are decorated with SHEBEKE (a wooden lattice of pieces of coloured glass, held together without glue or a single nail).  The technique is complex and known only to a few artisans, who pass their meticulous craft from generation to generation.


The Palace of SHAKI KHANS,  of which was the summer residence, still remains one of the most visible landmarks of Shaki.  Constructed in 1762, without a single nail, it is one of the most marvellous monuments of its epoch.


The SHAKI CASTLE, built between 1743-1755,is near the village of NUKHA .  Protected by numerous bastions, the fortress is entered by two main gates from the north and south.  At the height of the KHANATE, the fortress contained a gated palatial complex and public and commercial structures of the city, while the residential quarter was situated outside its walls.  It was restored extensively between 1958 & 1963.

God’s unseen arm around us

There is an interesting story about a mother who wanted her young son to learn how to play the piano.  She had given him some lessons, and thought that if she took him to a live concert of a great pianist, he might gain inspiration to continue practising.
When they arrived at the concert, they took the front seats.  Suddenly the mother noticed that the boy had slipped away.  At eight o’clock, the stage was illumined by the spotlight as a sign that the concert was about to start.  When she looked up, she saw her son sitting at the grand piano, picking out the tune, TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE STAR.  Then she saw the great musician enter the stage and move towards the piano.
The musician whispered to the boy, “Don’t stop.  Keep playing”.  While the boy kept playing his simple tune, the musician leaned down behind him, and using his left hand played some notes on the left side of the piano to accompany the child with low. bass notes.  He then reached around the child’s back and put his right hand on the right side of the piano and accompanied the child with high notes.  Together, the musician and the child played and the crowd was thrilled.
This is how the unseen Hand of God helps us in our daily life.  Many times we try to do something knowing that we are incapable of succeeding, only to find out that we are mysteriously helped by some invisible force. We often think that we are all alone in the world.  We think that we have to face the challenges of life by ourselves.  But we do not realise that God’s help is always available to us.  At the right moment, we get a helping hand when we think all is lost.
As we walk through the byways of life, sometimes feeling discouraged that we are alone, we should recall how God is always with us.  His arms are always surrounding us, helping us with the high and low notes of life.  God’s arms are always around our back, surrounding us, loving us and protecting us.
—– Sant Rajinder Singhji  

This & That

(1)  Art like Morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere. —— G. K. Chesterton.
(2) The Traveller was active; he went seriously in search of people, of adventure, of experiences. The Tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him.  He goes “sight – seeing”.  ——- Daniel J. Boorstin.
(3)  In ‘individuals’, Insanity is rare.  But in Groups, Parties, Nations and Epochs, IT IS THE RULE.
(4) Dogs have ‘dichromatic vision’  —- they have two types of colour receptive cells and see colour within two spectrums of light —— BLUE & YELLOW.
(5) Sometimes we love with nothing more than hope.  Sometimes we cry with everything except tears. ——– Gregory David Roberts.
(6) Self – Mastery is the DNA of Life – Mastery.  Success on the outside begins with success on the inside.
(7) There are people who make things happen.  There are people who watch things happen.  There are people who say, “What happened ?”
(8)  A good sense of humour is like a good sense of intuition ——- PRICELESS.
(9) Today, I choose life.  Every morning when I wake up, I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain……… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices ——- Today, I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.
(10) I am a strong person, but every now and then, I would like someone to take my hand and say everything will be alright.



ZAKOPANE, the undisputed winter capital of Poland is just as charming in summer.  Take a lazy stroll up a hill or snowboard downhill —– the old town has the power to mesmerise everyone.


Even before you reach this modest peasant resort town, you want time to slow down and gradually come to a standstill.  The scenic road route from Krakow to Zakopane, in Poland, is enough to mesmerise you.  What you see on both sides are little picturesque hills dotted with pine trees and country-like mustard-brown wooden chalets  — a topography that is bright and yellow-green in summer and buried in purple-white snow during winter.  As your destination draws close, the TATRA MOUNTAINS seems to move towards you.

Zakopane cottage

The typical old-world cottages are what define Zakopane.  These pearls of architecture set on high, square stone underpinnings, have steep, shingled roofs and boast of folk furnishings.  There are huge verandas, attics covered with separate roofs and opulent wood carving decorations.  VILLA KOLIBA, is the first building erected in Zakopane style.  Artist Stanislaw Witkiewicz’s eccentric  design is a big attraction on this oldest street (KOSCIELISKA STREET) bordered with time-honoured houses.  A delightful residence converted into a museum since 1993, every little detail here —- from curtains, artefacts, historical photos to handicrafts and coffee pots —- bears a cultural stamp.

Zakopane street

Climb the hill outside the town to visit the Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in JASZCZUROWKA, built in 1904 – 1907 by Goral carpenters.  This beautiful, historic Church resembles the shape of a Highland hut.  Its ornate turrets, dainty detailing on the roof and the stained-glass windows are picture-worthy.

Tatras mountains

The TATRAS, the only Alpine mountains in Poland, charm you with sky-high rocky peaks and valleys, treasuring post-glacial tarns and unique flora and fauna.  Tatra’s solid-rock walls, with varying difficulty levels, are a perfect school for those planning to scale the highest mountains in the world.

Zakopane tatras mountains

Zakopane is also the winter capital of Poland, and if you have mastered the art of skiing and snowboarding, take the challenging ski routes from KASPROWY WIERCH, where snow sometimes remains till the month of May or enrol for beginner lessons on a number of easy slopes.

Zakopane trek

Zakopane hotel

When near the Tatras, OSCYPEK is an absolute must-taste.  Handmade in a very traditional manner using wooden tools, it is smoked cheese made out of salted sheep milk, and often served fried or grilled with fresh cranberry sauce.  If you are lucky, you may be able to catch a live folklore music performance by dapper, red-cheeked locals dressed in  their traditional costume of white shirt, vest and knitted pants.  Glass painting is another unique form of art practised in this region.

OSCYPEK Zakopane

Laidback or adventurous, foodie or nature-lover, ZAKOPANE offers something unique to everyone.


Kathakali – a feast for the eyes

Kathakali classical dance

Kathakali is one of the major forms of classical Indian dance.It is a “story play” genre of art, but one distinguished by the elaborately colourful make-up, costumes and face masks that the traditionally male actor-dancers wear. Kathakali primarily developed as a Hindu performance art in the Malayalam-speaking southwestern region of India, in Kerala. 


Kathakali’s roots are unclear. The fully developed style of Kathakali originated around the 17th century, but its roots are in the temple and folk arts (such as Kutiyattam and religious drama of the southwestern Indian peninsula), which are traceable to at least the 1st millennium CE.  A Kathakali performance, like all classical dance arts of India, synthesises music, vocal performers, choreography and hand and facial gestures together to express ideas. However, Kathakali differs in that it also incorporates movements from ancient Indian martial arts and athletic traditions of South India. Kathakali also differs in that the structure and details of its art form developed in the courts and theatres of Hindu principalities, unlike other classical Indian dances which primarily developed in Hindu temples and monastic schools.


The traditional themes of the Kathakali are folk mythologies, religious legends and spiritual ideas from the Hindu epics and the Puranas. The vocal performance has traditionally been performed in Sanskritised Malayalam.

Kathakali Arjuna

A Kathakali repertoire is an operatic performance where an ancient story is playfully dramatized. Traditionally, a Kathakali performance is long, starting at dusk and continuing through dawn, with interludes and breaks for the performers and audience. Some plays continued over several nights, starting at dusk everyday. Modern performances are shorter. The stage with seating typically in open grounds outside a temple, but in some places, special theatres called Kuttampalam built inside the temple compounds have been in use.

The stage is mostly bare, or with a few drama-related items. One item, called a Kalivilakku (kali meaning dance; vilakku meaning lamp), can be traced back to Kuttiyattam. In both traditions, the performance happens in the front of a huge Kalivilakku with its thick wick sunk in coconut oil, burning with a yellow light. Traditionally, before the advent of electricity, this special large lamp provided light during the night. As the play progressed, the actor-dancers would gather around this lamp so that audience could see what they are expressing.

The performance involves actor-dancers in the front, supported by musicians in the background stage on right (audience’s left) and with vocalists in the front of the stage (historically so they could be heard by the audience before the age of microphone and speakers). Typically, all roles are played by male actor-dancers, though in modern performances, women have been welcomed into the Kathakali tradition.




Of all classical Indian dances, Kathakali has the most elaborate costuming consisting of head dresses, face masks and vividly painted faces. It typically takes several evening hours to prepare a Kathakali troupe to get ready for a play. Costumes have made Kathakali’s popularity extend beyond adults, with children absorbed by the colors, makeup, light and sound of the performance.

The makeup follows an accepted code, that helps the audience easily identify the archetypical characters such as gods, goddesses, demons, demonesses, saints, animals and characters of a story. Seven basic makeup types are used in Kathakali, namely Pachcha (green), Pazhuppu (ripe), Kathi(knife), Kari, Thaadi, Minukku and TeppuThese vary with the styles and the predominant colours made from rice paste and vegetable colors that are applied on the face. Pachcha (green) with lips painted brilliant coral red portrays noble characters and sages such as Krishna, Vishnu, Arjun, Nala and philosopher-kings.

Kathakali mask

Tati (red) is the code for someone with an evil streak such as Ravana, Dushasana and Hiranyakashipu. Some characters have green face (representing heroic or excellences as a warrior) with red dots or lines on their cheeks or red colored mustache or red streaked beard (representing evil inner nature), while others have full face and beard colored red, the latter implying excessively evil characters. Kari (black) is the code for forest dwellers, hunters, and middle ground character. Demonesses and treacherous characters are also painted black but with streaks or patches of red.


Yellow is the code for monks, mendicants and women. Minukka (radiant, shining) with a warm yellow, orange or saffron typifies noble, virtuous feminine characters such as Sita. Panchali and Mohini . Men who act the roles of women also add a false top knot to their left and decorate it in a style common to the region. Vella Thadi (white beard) represents a divine being, someone with virtuous inner state and consciousness such as Hanuman. Teppu are for special characters found in Hindu mythologies, such as Garuda, Jatayu and Hamsa who act as messengers or carriers, but do not fit the other categories. Face masks and head gear is added to accentuate the inner nature of the characters. The garments colors have a similar community accepted code of silent communication.



Mesmerising Arunachal Pradesh

Arunachal Pradesh

Virginal Arunachal Pradesh appears as a giant patch of green on India’s map. The country’s wildest and least explored state, Arunachal (literally, ‘land of dawn-lit mountains’) rises abruptly from the Assam plains as a mass of improbably steep and densely forested hills, culminating in snowcapped peaks along the Tibetan border. Arunachal lures travellers with the promise of adventurous journeys to remote mountain valleys and encounters with some of its 26 indigenous tribal peoples. Tourism infrastructure – such as hotels or even homestays – has yet to reach many areas; this is travel far beyond standard tourist trails.

5 Experiences to love in Arunachal Pradesh

1. Visit Tawang

Tawang Monastery is one of the best cultural experiences not only in Arunachal Pradesh but in all of India. While you’re in Tawang, you are just 30 km from both Bhutan and China.

Tibetan Buddhism (and even saying the Dalai Lama’s name) is illegal in China, so here you can see the people worship in peace and speak their local language.

Arunachal Pradesh

2. Hang with monks in Bomdila

Less than 10,000 people live in this highly elevated town. There are many tribes, like the Monpa and Aka.

You have to pass through Bomdila to reach Tawang and many people don’t stop… but you should! There are only two hotels here and the people are so kind to strangers passing through.

3. Eat ALL the momos

Tibet is in the blood of many people here in Arunachal Pradesh and that means MOMOS! These are the greatest invention of all the foods, of all time. Steamed or fried, plain or with chili sauce, you can’t go wrong. Ask to try momoloco, the Tibetan bread, and Thupka a Tibetan noodle soup. You are not going to do well here if you’re on a diet.

Arunachal Pradesh

4. Staying in homestays with local people

There are few hotels here and they aren’t what you might be used to.

You can request things like a boiled kettle of water to add to your shower bucket, or a space heater you can only leave on a few hours (or die from the fumes apparently).

But what’s better? Staying at a homestay. Sleeping next to a fire with a local family.

Eating dinner with your mom for the day instead of ordering room service. Learning how to make momos.

All the personal touches are worth taking a cold bucket bath in their outhouse in -5 degree temperatures because after you can cuddle up with their big blankets and cuddle one of the many cats!

5. Meeting the Apatani Tribe of Ziro Valley

I have saved the best of Arunachal Pradesh for last! Ziro Valley is home to the Apatani tribe and you can meet them.

They worship the sun and moon, give animal sacrifices, and have facial tattoos and nose plugs. You can stay with them in their home or just go for the day.

Beautiful Arunachal Pradesh