Yogyakarta Indonesia

Despite the official spelling, the name is usually pronounced and not uncommonly written — JOGJAKARTA or just JOGJA (JOGH – JAH).  YOGYAKARTA, also JOGTA or JOGJAKARTA is a city and a capital Yogyakarta Special Region in Java, Indonesia.  The city is named after the Indian city of AYODHYA from the Ramayana Epic.  YOGYA means “suitable, fit, proper” and KARTA means “prosperous, flourishing” (i.e. “a city that is fit to prosper” ).  The Dutch name of the city is DJOHJAKARTA.

Yogyakarta Indonesia

The area of the city of Yogyakarta is 32.5sq.km.  While the city spreads in all directions from the KRATON (the Sultan’s Palace), the core of the modern city is to the north, centred around Dutch colonial-era buildings and the commercial district, JALAN MALIOBORO, with rows of pavement vendors and nearby markets and malls, is the primary shopping street for tourists in the city, while JALAN SOLO, further north, is a shopping district more frequented by locals.  At the southern end of Malioboro, on the east side is a large local market of BERINGHARJO, not far from Fort VREDEBURG, a restored Dutch Fort.

Yogyakarta temples

At Yogyakarta’s centre is the Kraton and surrounding it is a densely populated residential neighbourhood that occupies land that was formerly the Sultan’s sole domain.  Evidence of this former use remains in the form of old walls and the ruined TAMAN SARI, built in 1758 as a pleasure garden.  No longer used by the Sultan, the garden has been largely abandoned.  For a time, it was used for housing by the Palace employees and descendants.  Reconstruction efforts began in 2004 and an effort to renew the neighbourhood around the Kraton has begun.  The site is a developing tourist attraction.

Yogyakarta malioboro

Nearby to the city of Yogyakarta is Mount MERAPI.  The northern outskirts of the city run up to the southern slopes of the mountain in Sleman Regency (Indonesian language : KABUPATEN ).  GUNUNG MERAPI (literally “mountain of fire” in Indonesian / Javanese ) is an active strato-volcano located on the border between Central Java and Yogyakarta, Indonesia.  It is the most active volcano in Indonesia and has erupted regularly since 1548.  The south of Merapi is KALIURANG Park.

Mount Merapi

Because of its proximity to the BOROBUDUR and PRAMBANAN Temples, and because of the Javanese Court Kraton, Yogyakarta has become an important tourist destination in Indonesia.

Yogyakarta Indonesia

Nine rock sites have been declared as Geo-heritage Sites : (1) ECOCENE LIMESTONE at Gamping in Sleman.  (2) PILLOW LAVA at Berbah in Sleman.  (3) Prehistoric volcanic sediment at CANDI IJO in Sleman.  (4) PRAMBANAN in Sleman.  (5) Sand Dunes at PARANGTRITIS in Bantul (6) KISKENDO Cave and a former manganese mining site at KLERIPAN   in Kulon Progo.  (7) NGLANGGERANG prehistoric volcano in Gunung Kidul (8) WEDIOMBO – SIUNG Beach (9) A bioturbation site at KALINGALANG near Wonosari.

Some of the cultural aspects of Yogyakarta are :
Yogyakarta Indonesia(1) Batik fabric production.  The most famous Batik marketplace is BERINGHARJO Market.  Yogyakarta Silver market(2) Silverwork, fine filigree jewellery and the production centre is in KOTAGEDE.
(3) Traditional Javanese dance performance, especially Ramayana WAYANG WONG dance performed in Prambanan and Purowisata.

WAYANG WONG dance Indonesia

(4) WAYANG KULIT, a traditional Javanese leather puppetry used for shadow plays.

(5) Contemporary puppetry and theatre, for example the Papermoon Puppet Theatre.

WAYANG KULIT puppet show

(6) GAMELAN Music, including the local Gamelan Yogyakarta which was developed in the courts.

(7) Annual traditional Javanese festivals such as SEKATEN or GEREBEG MULUD.
(8) Visual artists including the TARING PADI Community In Bantul.

Traditional Indonesian festival

To the east of the town, is the large Air Force Museum ( MUSEUM PUSAT DIRGANTARA MANDALA ) with 36 aircrafts in the building and 6 aircrafts displayed outdoors.  As Indonesia was for a period in the Soviet sphere of influence, this Museum contains a number of vintage Russian aircraft not widely available for inspection in the NATO sphere of influence.  There is also an assortment of Japanese, American and British aircraft.  There is also another museum —— Jogja National Museum.

Samosir Island

Samosir Island

SAMOSIR ISLAND is a large volcanic island in Lake Toba, located in the north of the island of Sumatra, in Indonesia.  Administratively, SAMOSIR ISLAND is governed within SAMOSIR REGENCY.

The lake island was formed after the eruption of a super volcano some 75,000 years ago.  The Island was originally connected to the surrounding CALDERA wall by a small isthmus, which was cut through to aid navigation.

Samosir Island

At 640sq.km, SAMOSIR is the largest island within an island, and the fifth largest LAKE ISLAND in the world.  It also contains two smaller lakes— Lake SIDIHONI & Lake AEK NATONANG.  Across the lake, on the east of the island, lies ULUAN Peninsula.  The island is linked to the mainland of Sumatra on its western part by a narrow isthmus, connecting the town of PANGURURAN on SAMOSIR & TELE on mainland Sumatra.  TELE consequently offers one of the best views  of Lake TOBA & SAMOSIR Island.

Samosir Island

SAMOSIR is a popular tourist destination, due to its exotic history and the vistas it offers.  The tourist resorts are concentrated in the TUKTUK area.  The Island is the centre of the BATAK CULTURE, and many of the TOBA BATAK traditional houses (RUMAH ADAT) remain on the Island.  Most of the tourist accommodations are concentrated in the small town of TUKTUK, which is located a one-hour ferry ride across the lake from the town of PARAPAT.  The passenger ferry leaves from TIGA RAJA harbour every hour, between 8.30 & 19.00.  For those who run late, there is an option to take the passenger boat from AJI BATA to TOMOK until 8.30p.m.

Samosir Island

As you step down from the ferry at TOMOK, you will be greeted by a row of souvenir stalls selling an array of BATAK handicraft, from the traditional hand-woven ULOS cloths to BATAK bamboo calendars and all kinds of knick-knacks.

TOMOK itself is a traditional village, best known as the GATEWAY & INTRODUCTION TO SAMOSIR.

Pulau Ubin

Pulau Ubin panorama view

PULAU UBIN also called UBIN ISLAND, is a small island (10.19 sq.kms) situated in the northeast of Singapore, to the west of PULAU TEKONG.  The name  PULAU UBIN literally means GRANITE ISLAND in Malay, which explains the many abandoned granite quarries there.  To the Malays, the island is also known as PULAU BATUUBIN or GRANITE STONE ISLAND.

Pulau Ubin Singapore

The rocks on the island were used to make floor tiles in the past and were called JUBIN, which was then shortened to UBIN.  The island is known as TSIOH SUA in the Taiwanese Romanization of HOKKIEN, which means STONE HILL.  The highest point is at 74metres and known as PUAKA HILL.

Pulau Ubin scenery

Granite quarrying supported a few 1000 settlers on PULAU UBIN in the 1960s, but only about a 100 villagers live there today.  It is one of the last rural areas to be found in Singapore, with an abundance of natural flora and fauna.  The island forms part of the UBIN-KHATIB Important Bird Area (IBA), identified as such by Bird Life International, because it supports significant numbers of visitors and residential birds, some of which are ‘threatened’.

Pulau Ubin gate

Legend has it that PULAU UBIN was formed when three animals from Singapore ( a frog, a pig and an elephant) challenged each other to a race to share the shores of JOHOR.  The animals that failed would turn to stone.  All three came across many difficulties and were unable to reach the shores of JOHOR.  Therefore, the elephant and the pig together turned into PULAU UBIN, whilst the frog became PULAU SEKUDU or FROG ISLAND.

Pulau Ubin

PULAU UBIN first appeared on the map in an 1828 sketch of the Island of Singapore as PULO UBIN and in Franklin and Jackson’s map as PO.UBIN.  Since the British founding of Singapore, the island has been known for its granite quarries, on the island, supply the local construction industry.  The granite ‘outcrops’ are particularly spectacular from the sea, because their ‘grooves’ and ‘fluted sides’ create ‘furrows’ & ‘ridges’ on each granite rock slab.  These features are captured in John Turnbull Thomson’s 1850 painting —— GROOVED STONES on PULO UBIN near Singapore.

The granite from PULAU UBIN was used in the construction of HORSBURGH LIGHTHOUSE.  TONGKANGS ferried the huge rock blocks ( 30 by 20ft) from the Island of PEDRA BRANCA, the site of the Lighthouse, in 1850 & 1851.  Later, the granite was also used to build the Singapore-Johor Causeway.  Most of the quarries are not in operation today and are being slowly recolonized by vegetation or filled with water.  Apart from quarrying, farming and fishing were the principal occupations of the inhabitants of the island in the past.  In the 1970s, as the granite quarries closed down and jobs dwindled, residents began leaving.

Pulau Ubin biking

PULAU UBIN is one of the last areas in Singapore, that has been preserved from urban development, concrete buildings and tarmac roads.  PULAU UBIN’S wooden house villages and wooden jetties, relaxed inhabitants, rich and preserved wildlife, abandoned quarries and plantations and untouched nature make it the last witness of the old KAMPONG Singapore that existed before modern industrial times and large-scale urban development.

The Singapore Government’s development projects on the island, in the last few years, has been controversial and debate has been able to find its way through government-controlled media.  Their main idea is that the East-West Line could be extended to PULAU UBIN from PASIR RIS.  Although the government has highlighted the area for future development, the island is unlikely to be urbanised, because many foreign tourists visit PALAU UBIN and it has become a tourist attraction.
Though recent government action has been limited to widening the paths for bicycles, building shelters for trekkers and other facilities for the growing number of visitors, it is already discreetly changing the face and nature of PALAU UBIN from “untouched” to “planned”, and paving the way for further developments.
In 2007, the Singapore Government decided to reuse the Granite Quarry in PALAU UBIN, because Indonesia might restrict export of granite to Singapore.  The future of the island is in the hands of the government, which may postpone its development in order to concentrate on re-developing existing space on Singapore Island and nearby PULAO TEKONG.  For now, PULAU UBIN is a haven as a former rural way of life and will most likely disappear with its last KAMPUNG Generation.

Ketam biking park Pulau Ubin

There are a few tarmac roads, but most roads are gravel.  There are a number of minibuses, jeeps and motorbikes, all bearing PU (for PULAU UBIN) numbered plates.  Schools visit PULAU UBIN for overnight school trips.  Although the locals try to keep the island un-urbanized, they need some small boosts of money to support them.

One of the popular tourist attractions on the island is CHEK JAWA.  A previous coral reef 5,000years ago, it can be said to be virtually unspoilt, with a variety of marine wildlife, such as sand dollars, cuttlefish, sea squirts, octopuses, sponges, sea hares and starfishes.  A boardwalk runs through the mangrove, allowing visitors to observe the plant and marine life at close range.  During low tide, a limited number of people are allowed to walk on the tidal flats.

Pulau Ubin resort

PULAU UBIN is home to one of the best mountain-bike trails ——- KETAM MOUNTAIN BIKE PARK, which was built in 2007.  The trail is approximately 8km long and features a wide range of terrain ranging from open meadows to thick jungle.  There are numerous steep but short climbs and descents.  The trail is well-marked with signs indicating the difficulty level of each section..  Rental bikes can be used, but most bikers bring their own bikes.  By cruising around the island, one can stop by beautiful lakes and other natural spots.  It is a great break away from the big and busy city of Singapore.

 This is truly a SECRET OASIS and the RUSTIC SIDE of Singapore.

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ISFAHAN historically also rendered in English as ISPAHAN, SEPAHAN, ESFAHAN or HISPAHAN, is the capital of ISFAHAN Province in Iran, located about 340km south of Tehran.


The city is located in the lush plain of the  ZAYANDERUD River, at the foothills of the ZAGROS mountain range.  The nearest mountain is Mount SOFFEH (KUH-e SOFFEH).  No geological obstacles exist within 90km north if Isfahan, allowing cool northern winds to blow from this direction.  Situated at 5,217ft above sea level, Isfahan has an arid climate.  Despite its altitude, Isfahan remains hot during the summer.  However, with low humidity and moderate temperatures at night, the climate can be very pleasant.  During the winter, days are mild while nights can be very cold.  Snow has occurred at least once every winter except 1986 / 1987 and 1989 / 1990.

Isfahan architecture

Isfahan is Iran’s 3rd largest city after Tehran and Mashhad.  It was once the one of the largest cities in the world.  It flourished from 1050 to 1722, particularly in the 16th century under the SATAVID DYNASTY, when it became the capital of Persia for the second time in its history.  Even today, the city retains much of its past glory.  It is famous for its Persian – Islamic architecture, with many beautiful boulevards, covered bridges, palaces, mosques and minarets.  This led to the Persian Proverb : ESFAHAN NESF-E JAHAN AST (Esfahan is half of the world).


The NAQSH-e JAHAN SQUARE in Isfahan, is also known as IMAM SQUARE (1602) is an outstanding example of Iranian and Islamic architecture.  The Square contains 2 mosques, a palace and a bazaar.  The square is the largest historical public square in the world after Tiananmen Square in Beijing and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The Square is surrounded by buildings from the SAFAVID ERA.


The history of Isfahan can be traced back to the Palaeolithic Period.  In recent discoveries, archaeologists have found artefacts dating back to the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages.  Today, Isfahan produces fine carpets, textiles, steel and handicrafts.  Isfahan also has nuclear experimental reactors as well as facilities for producing nuclear fuel (UCF).  Isfahan has one of the largest steel-producing facilities in the entire region, as well as facilities for producing special alloys.

Isfahan mosque

Over 2,00 companies work in the area using Isfahan’s economic, cultural and social potentials.  Isfahan contains a major oil refinery and a large air force  base.  Isfahan is also becoming an attraction for international investments, like investment in Isfahan City Centre, which is the largest shopping mall in Iran with a museum and has the largest indoor amusement park in the Middle East.

There are many places of interest in  Isfahan.
(1) CHEHEL SOTOUN ( The Palace of 40 columns) —- It was built in 1647.  It is called The Palace of 40 columns, as there are many columns, and in Iranian, 40 means “many”.  There are 20 columns and these are reflected in the pool in front, which might also account for its name.  The function of this Palace was for holding religious-national ceremonies and royal festivals and for receiving royal ambassadors and guests.  Its PERSIAN GARDENS is one of the 9 inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.  It contains some spectacular battle murals.


(2) SI-O-SEH POL (The Bridge of 33 Arches):  Built in 1602, it is highly ranked as being one of the most famous examples of SAFAVID Bridge Design.  It is beautiful whether there is water underneath it or not, and there is a basic eatery at the northern end.

(3) POL-e KHAJU (KHAJU BRIDGE) : It was built in 1650, and is the finest bridge in the Province of Isfahan.  This structure originally was ornamented with artistic tile works and paintings and served as a teahouse.
(4) VANK ARMENIAN CATHEDRAL : (Holy Saviour Cathedral) : The interior of this 7th century Armenian Cathedral is covered with fine paintings and gilded carvings and includes a wainscot of rich tile work.  The delicately blue and gold painted central dome depicts the Bible Story of the Creation of the world and man’s expulsion from Eden.


(5) HASHT BEHESHT (The Palace of 8 Paradises) : Built in 1669, reportedly for residence purposes of the king’s Harem, it is set with lush gardens, and if you do not want to go inside, you are free to roam in the gardens.


(6) ATASHGAH : A Zoroastrian Fire temple, dramatically set atop a rock on the outskirts of Isfahan and it provides a commanding view of the city (although much of it is covered in smog).

Borobudur Temple


BOROBUDUR or BARABUDUR is a 9th century Mahayana Buddhist Temple in Central Java, Indonesia.  In Indonesia, ancient temples are referred to as CANDI, thus the locals refer to BOROBUDUR Temple as CANDI BOROBUDUR.  The term CANDI also loosely describes structures, for example baths and gates.  The origins of the name BOROBUDUR, however, are unclear, although the origin names of most ancient Indonesian Temples are no longer known.  The name BOROBUDUR was first written in Sir Thomas Raffles’ book on Javanese History.


Most CANDI are named after a nearby village.  If it followed Javanese language conventions and was named after the nearby village of Bore, the monument should have been named BUDURBORO.  Raffles thought that BUDUR might correspond to the modern Javanese word  BUDA (ancient) —- i.e. “Ancient BORO”..  He also suggested that the name might derive from BORO meaning “great” or “honourable” and BUDUR for Buddha.  However, another archaeologist suggests the second component of the name BUDUR comes from the Javanese term BHUDHARA (Mountains).

Built in the 9th century, the Temple was designed in Javanese Buddhist architecture, which blends the Indonesian indigenous culture of ancestor worship and the Buddhist concept of attaining Nirvana.  The Temple also demonstrates the influence of Gupta Art that reflects India’s influence on the region, yet there are enough indigenous scenes and elements incorporated to make BOROBUDUR uniquely Indonesian.  The monument is both a shrine to Lord Buddha and a place for Buddhist pilgrims.

Borobudur-temple (1)

The monument consists of 9 stacked platforms  —– 6 square and 3 circular ———– topped by a central dome.  The Temple is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues.  The Central Dome is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues, each seated inside a perforated stupa.  It is the world’s largest Buddhist Temple.  The journey for pilgrims begins at the base of the monument, and follows a path around the monument and ascends to the top three levels symbolic of Buddhist Cosmology : KAMADHATU (the world of desire), RUPADHATU (the world of form) and ARUPADHATU (the world of formlessness).  The monument guides pilgrims through an extensive system of stairways and corridors.  BOROBUDUR has the largest and most complete ensemble of Buddhist relief in the world.

Borobudur temple sunset

Evidence suggest BOROBUDUR was constructed in the 9th century and abandoned following the 14th century decline of Hindu Kingdoms in Java and the Javanese conversion to Islam.  Worldwide knowledge of its existence was sparked in 1814 by Sir Thomas Raffles, then the British ruler of Java, who was advised of its location by native Indonesians.  BOROBUDUR has since been preserved through several restorations.  The largest restoration project was undertaken between 1975 and 1982 by the Indonesian Government and UNESCO, following which the monument was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


In 1974, 260,000 tourists, of whom 36,000 were foreigners, visited the monument.  The figure climbed to 2.5million visitors annually (80% were domestic tourists) in the mid-1990s, before the country’s economic crisis.  Tourism development, however, has been criticized for not including the local community, giving rise to occasional conflicts.  In 2003, residents and small businesses around BOROBUDUR organized several meetings and protests, objecting to a Provincial Government Plan to build a 3-storey mall complex, dubbed the JAVA WORLD.

International Tourism Awards were given to BOROBUDUR Archaeological Park, such as PATA Grand pacific Award —2004, PATA Gold Award Winner —–2011 and PATA Gold Award Winner —– 2012.  In June 2012, BOROBUDUR was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Largest Buddhist Archaeological Site.

Borobudur Temple side

UNESCO identified 3 specific areas of concern under the present state of conservation : (a) Vandalism by visitors; (b) Soil erosion in the south-eastern part of the site and (c) Analysis and restoration of missing elements.  The soft soil, the heavy rains and numerous earthquakes lead to the destabilisation of the structure.  Earthquakes are, by far, the most important contributing factors, since not only do stones fall down and arches crumble, but the earth itself can move in “waves”, further destroying the structure.  The increasing popularity of the Temple brings in many visitors.  Despite warning signs, on all levels, not to touch anything, the regular transmission of warnings over loudspeakers and the presence of guards, vandalism on reliefs and statues are a common occurrence, leading to further deterioration.  As of 2009, there is no system in place to limit the number of visitors allowed per day or to introduce mandatory guided tours.  In August 2014, the Conservation Authority of BOROBUDUR reported some severe abrasion of the stone stairs caused by the scraping of the footwear of visitors, and it planned to install wooden stairs to cover and protect the original stairs, just like those installed in ANGKOR WAT.

Masroor rock-cut temple


Kangra is the most populous district of Himachal Pradesh, India.  Dharamshala is the administrative headquarters of the district.  It is also home to the MASROOR ROCK-CUT TEMPLE, also known as HIMALAYAN PYRAMID, and WONDER OF THE WORLD for being a likely contender for the UNESCO World Heritage Site (said to be India’s 1st Heritage Village)


Within the MASROOR ROCK-CUT TEMPLE complex there are 15 rock-cut temple in Indo-Aryan style and are richly carved.  It is a unique  “monolithic” structure in the sub-Himalayan region.


The main shrine contains 3 stone images of Rama, Lakshman and Sita, but the presence of the figure of Shiva in the centre of the lintel affords a strong presumption that the Temple was originally dedicated to MAHADEVA.  The Temple complex is located on a 2,500ft high hill., and also has a large rectangular water pond.  The Temple complex is believed to have been built by the Pandavas during their exile and the exact date is not known.  As per records, the ancient name of the city of Kangra was BHIMNAGAR (founded by Bhima), one of the Pandava Brothers.


It is important to discuss the “rock-cut” technique and the place this temple complex occupies among the rock-hewn monuments in India.  The “rock-cut” style started in the reign of the Pallava King, Narsingha Varman (630-668 AD) during the 1st half of the 7th century.  It reached its climax in the Kailasha Temple at Ellora.  Though “rock-cut” caves are common in South India, yet, temples cut out of “free-standing rocks”, known to archaeologists and art critics, are only 4 in number ———- RATHAS of MAMMALAPURAM, KAILASHAS at ELLORA, Temple complex at MASROOR and the DHARMNATHA Temple at DHARMNAR.  The RATHAS & KAILASHAS are built in the DRAVIDIAN style, whereas the MASROOR & DHARMNAR ones are in the NAGARA style.  MASROOR beats its NAGARA rival (DHARMNATHA) in situation, size and execution.  The MASROOR complex has 15 Temples, whereas DHARMNATHA has only 8.


At MASROOR, the temples are not separate, but surround a central shrine, whereas in DHARMNATHA, the smaller temples are entirely separate from the main one.  Carvings and ornamentation, at MASROOR, are of a much superior order than at DHARMNATHA and the length of the latter is half that of the former.

Masroor rock cut temple

The DHARMNATHA group has been built in a pit-like hollow, whereas the MASROOR group is on top of a 2,500ft high hill range.  ONE LOOKS BELOW & THE OTHER LOOKS UP.  ONE DEPRESSES & THE OTHER ELATES.——-ROCK-CUT style is  much more difficult than the “structural” one.  In “structural”, the artist shapes the material as he likes, whereas in “rock-cut” the material determines the way the artist should move.  The limitation makes an artist’s creation, out of a rock, a most difficult task, and the ability with which the remote artist of the 7th and 8th centuries carried out their purpose is “superhuman”.


Although the remote location of these Temples protected them from the invading army of Mahmud Ghazni, and their stone construction prevented severe damage in the 1905 earthquake.

Mouthwatering Malaysia


Until the 15th century, the cornerstone of Malay flavour was a paste made with mainly roots —— lemon grass, small red shallots, garlic, fresh turmeric and galangal.  Spices and chillies were added later when the spice trade began. —— There is a main street food area called Jalan Alor.  Here the entire neighbourhood is dotted with stalls, selling everything from fish head curry to sambal and satay.  Malays can easily tuck into up to six meals a day.

Beef Rendang

Normally, the day starts with breakfast, then a mid-morning snack, followed by lunch.  A light bowl of noodles fills any gaps between 4pm and 5pm, and dinner is the main meal of the day.  To cater to this non-stop nosh, the hawker culture works around the clock to feed the hungry with platefuls of delicacies like satay, laksa, redang and roti jala.

Malaysian cuisine

Rendang made with tempeh (soya bean cake) is quite delicious.  Curries, mainly made with coconut milk, have their roots in Indian cuisine.  Malay culture is a smorgasbord of modern Indian, Thai, Arab and Chinese influences and has been strongly influenced by people of neighbouring lands, including the  Siamese, Javanese, Sumatran and Indians.  The influence of Hinduism was significant and the Malay were primarily Hindus before converting to Islam in the 15th century,  For 2,000 years, the traffic of traders between the Malayan Archipelago and India resulted in frequent inter-marriages, especially from Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.


A wave of Indian and Chinese immigration occurred again 200 years ago when the country needed labour.  A Malaysian meal is influenced by all these communities and usually consists of a curry, fried, grilled or steamed fish in a banana leaf, sambal, ulam and a dessert made with coconut, jiggery and rice powder.
laksa5For a bird’s eye view of Malaysian food it’s best to go from one ethnic plate to another.  For a travelling foodie, Ramadan is the best time to experience Indian Muslim style food  ——– a culinary assimilation of Indian and Malay cooking styles at Mamak stalls. ” Malay-Muslim” dishes are basically a range of curries, the most prominent one being the Malaysian chicken curry.  Every street stall has a secret recipe for curry.  While the curries have a distinct Indian element, they are prepared using a varied spice mix called “rempah” ——- a complex paste of spices and aromatics roasted and cooked together forming the base even as coconut milk adds body.
Another coconut infused dish is the noodle soup called Laksa.  This is a Nonya dish (Nonyas are a community of Malay and Chinese descent where Malay men mostly took Chinese wives)  Their cuisine is popularly known as “Straits Chinese” and is represented by popular dishes such as Char Kuey Teow (stir-fried noodles with bean sprouts, prawns, eggs — duck or chicken, chives and thin slices of preserved Chinese sausages and the ubiquitous Hainanese chicken rice of poached chicken in a bland but fragrant broth.  Of course, trust the Malays to re-jig the recipe, so go easy on the dipping sauce laced with chillies, garlic and ginger, which gives it a spicy kick that will make your tongue twist and taste buds salivate.
——— Fareeda Kanga

Mountain imperial pigeon

mountain imperial pigeon

MOUNTAIN IMPERIAL PIGEON also known as Maroon-backed Imperial Pigeon or Hodgson’s Imperial Pigeon is the largest pigeon species in its range at 17-20 inches long.
It has a fairly long tail, broad rounded wings and slow wing-beats.  The head, neck and under parts are vinous-grey with a contrasting white throat and brownish-maroon upper parts and wings, though the upper part of the body can be duller.  The under-wing is slate-grey and the tail is blackish with a grey horizontal line.  The combination of the maroon back with the large size, give this species a distinctive appearance.  Its call consists of a deep, resonant boom that is only detectable at close range.
mountain imperial pigeonsThough usually solitary, this species has been seen in groups numbering up to 20, especially when going to roost or flying up or down in mountains.  They can be difficult to see, since they spend their time usually in high canopy or fly fairly high over the canopy.
During the breeding display, calling birds “puff up their throats” considerably while singing and bow to potential mates.  Then the displaying bird engages in a “vertical flight” up from the perch, up 20-26ft in the air, and then glides back down with wings and tail “widely spread”.  In the northern stretches of the species’ range, breeding is from March to August, while in the southern parts of India and south-east Asia, they breed from January to May.  The nest is usually in a mountain imperial pigeon_fairly small tree, about 16-26ft off the ground and is a flimsy platform.  One or, rarely, two eggs are laid and both parents incubate.  They only leave the nest if highly pressed.
They feed on fruits and berries, especially figs and nutmeg, which are plucked and swallowed whole.  They will, occasionally, come to the ground to drink, as in the mangroves of Borneo, where up to 200 or 300 of them have been flushed at once.
It has a wide range in south-eastern Asia, where it occurs in Bhutan, Cambodia, India, China Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam.  It may be found from sea level to elevation of 8,370ft in the Himalayas and 7,200ft on Sumatra.  Being mainly a “foothill” bird, it probably only breeds above an elevation of 1,600ft, although feeding flocks below this height are common.  It is usually found in old-growth forests.  The species is generally fairly common where extensive stands of forest remain.



Hanami, also known as “flower viewing”, is a Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the “transient beauty of flowers”, “flower”, in this case, almost always meaning “cherry blossoms” (Sakura) or, less often, “plum blossom” (Ume).  From the end of March to early May, “Sakuras” bloom all over Japan, and around the 1st of February on the island of Okinawa.  The blossom forecast (sakura-zensen, literally, cherry blossom front ) is announced, each year, by the weather bureau, and is watched carefully by those planning Hanami, as the blossoms only last a week or two.


This Cherry Blossom Festival is held at Shinto Shrines during the month of April.  Excursions and picnics, for enjoying flowers, particular cherry blossoms are also common.  Many drinking parties are often seen in and around auspicious parks and buildings.  In some areas, the Plum Blossom is also viewed as well, though these flower earlier than the Cherry Blossoms.

hanami night

In some places “flower viewing” parties are held on traditionally fixed dates.  This is one of the most popular event during spring.  Ikebana (flower arrangement) is also a popular part of Japanese culture and is still practised by many people today.  There are also games, folk songs, folk dances, parades, concerts, kimono shows, beauty pageant and religious ceremonies.


A more ancient form of Hanami also exists in Japan, which is enjoying the Plum blossom (Ume) instead, which is narrowly referred to as Umemi (plum viewing).  This kind of Hanami is popular among older people, because they are more calm than the Sakura parties, which usually involve younger people and can sometimes be very crowded and noisy.


Sakura, originally, was used to divine that year’s harvest as well as announce the rice-planting season.  The custom was originally limited to the elite of the Imperial Court, but soon spread to the common people as well.  The Hanami celebrations involve the preparation of special dishes like “dango” and “bento” and “sake” is drunk as part of the festivities.


Smaller Hanami celebrations take place in Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines and China.  In the US, Hanami has become popular, because, in 1912, Japan gave 3,000 Sakura trees as a gift to the US to celebrate the nations’ friendship.  These trees were planted in Washington DC and another 3,800 trees were donated in 1965.  Theses Sakura trees continue to be a popular tourist attraction and, every year,  the National Cherry Blossom Festival takes place in the spring.

hanami japan

In Macon, Georgia, another Cherry Blossom Festival is celebrated every spring.  Macon is known as the “Cherry Blossom Capital of the World”, because 300,000 Sakura trees grow there.  In Brooklyn, New York, the “Annual Sakura Festival” takes place in May, at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.  This festivity has been celebrated since 1981, and is one of the garden’s most famous attraction.


Hanami is also celebrated in Finland, where people gather together to celebrate it in Helsinki.  Local Japanese people and companies have donated 200 Cherry trees, which bloom in mid-May.

So’n Doong cave

So'n doong

So’n Doong Cave (Mountain River Cave in Vietnamese), is the biggest known cave in the world, by volume.  It is located near the Laos-Vietnam border. 

so'n doong 1

So’n Doong Cave  was discovered by a local man (when he was a teenager) in 1991.  The whistling sound of wind and roar of a fiery stream, in the cave, heard through the entrance as well as the steep descent, prevented him from entering the cave.  It is not that easy to find this cave in the rugged terrain of Ke Bang jungle ——— contrary to several other cave entrances in this region.  So’n Doong Cave starts as a comparatively small hole.  Ho-Khanh did not enter the cave —– it was too steep and the prospect of falling into roaring darkness was not too attractive to him.


Only in 2009 did the cave become internationally known, after a group of scientists from the British Cave Research Association, led by Howard and Deb Limbert, conducted a survey from 10-14 April, 2009.  Their progress was stopped by a large 60m high calcite wall, which was name THE GREAT WALL OF VIETNAM.  It was traversed in 2010, when the group reached the end of the cave passage.  The Great Wall Of Vietnam is a steep, muddy and slippery wall.


This cave is one of the great natural wonders of the world.  According to the Limberts, the cave is 5 times larger than Phong Nha Cave, a nearby cave, previously considered the biggest cave in Vietnam.  The biggest chamber of So’n Doong is more than 5kms long, 200m high and 150m wide.  Due to these dimensions, So’n Doong overtook DEER CAVE, in Malaysia, in 2009, to take the title of the World’s Largest Cave.  The cave contains some of the tallest known “stalagmites”, in the world, which are up to 70m tall.

son doong

The most amazing feature of So’n Doong Cave is an enormous, giant passage in the central part.  In most places, it is at least 80m wide and 80m high and there is a long section where it is wider and taller than 140m.  The cave has its own climate and often there are clouds inside.  So’n Doong Cave has 2 major openings in the ceiling ———SINKHOLES.  One is called WATCH OUT FOR DINOSAURS (because of the environment).  Here there is a very tall waterfall.  The other ‘sinkhole, which is covered with lush jungle, is called GARDEN OF EDAM (ironic reference to the beautiful GARDEN OF EDEN, in Sarawak, Malaysia).  The “stalagmites” may be the tallest in the world ——- one such giant, here, is called HAND OF DOG, as it resembles a dog’s paw.

son doong 2

The So’n Doong Cave has formed in “fault zone”, where a river was captured for example its stream went underground.  Analysis of sediments show that the cave was formed at least 2 million years ago.  Behind the Great Wall of Vietnam were found CAVE PEARLS, the size of grapefruits.  These “pearls” were created by dripping water and their giant size could be explained by the big distance of water falling from the tall ceiling.
son doong wall

Sounds like a perfect place to develop tourism !!!! At the same time, the cave environment is ver fragile.  So’n Doong Cave is that UNIQUE, that it would be a huge loss if this “fragile beauty” would be lost forever.  Authorities, in Vietnam, seem to be indecisive about the development of tourism here.  In 2013, the first tourist group explored the cave, on a guided tour at a cost of US $3000 each.  Future exploration trips are planned.