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Havana with Tony Wheeler – Lonely Planet Travel Video

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Havana with Tony Wheeler – Lonely Planet Travel Video

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Havana is the capital city, major port, and leading commercial centre of Cuba. The city is one of the 14 Cuban provinces. The city/province has 2.4 million inhabitants, and the urban area over 3.7 million, making Havana the largest city in both Cuba and the Caribbean region. The city extends mostly westward and southward from the bay, which is entered through a narrow inlet and which divides into three main harbours: Marimelena, Guanabacoa, and Atarés. The sluggish Almendares River traverses the city from south to north, entering the Straits of Florida a few miles west of the bay. In 1959 the city halted its growth, and since then has suffered a net loss of living units, despite its population increase.

King Philip II of Spain granted Havana the title of City in 1592 and a royal decree in 1634 recognized its importance by officially designated as the “Key to the New World and Rampart of the West Indies”. Havana’s coat of arms carries this inscription. The Spaniards began building fortifications, and in 1553 they transferred the governor’s residence to Havana from Santiago de Cuba on the eastern end of the island, thus making Havana the de facto capital.

The importance of harbour fortifications was early recognized as English, French, and Dutch sea marauders attacked the city in the 16th century. The sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana’s harbor in 1898 was the immediate cause of the Spanish-American War. Present day Havana is the center of the Cuban government, and various ministries and headquarters of businesses are based there.

Geography

The city extends mostly westward and southward from the bay, which is entered through a narrow inlet and which divides into three main harbours: Marimelena, Guanabacoa, and Atarés. The sluggish Almendares River traverses the city from south to north, entering the Straits of Florida a few miles west of the bay.

The low hills on which the city lies rise gently from the deep blue waters of the straits. A noteworthy elevation is the 200-foot- (60-metre-) high limestone ridge that slopes up from the east and culminates in the heights of La Cabaña and El Morro, the sites of colonial fortifications overlooking the bay. Another notable rise is the hill to the west that is occupied by the University of Havana and the Prince’s Castle.

Landmarks

  • Fortaleza San Carlos de la Cabaña, a fortress located on the east side of the Havana bay, La Cabaña is the most impressive fortress from colonial times, particularly its walls constructed (at the same time as El Morro) at the end of the 18th century.
  • El Capitolio Nacional, built in 1929 as the Senate and House of Representatives, this colossal building is recognizable by its dome which dominates the city’s skyline. Inside stands the third largest indoor statue in the world, La Estatua de la República. Nowadays, the Cuban Academy of Sciences headquarters and the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural (the National Museum of Natural History) has its venue within the building and contains the largest natural history collection in the country.
  • Castillo de los Tres Reyes Magos del Morro is a picturesque fortress guarding the entrance to Havana bay, constructed because of the threat to the harbor from pirates.
  • Castillo San Salvador de la Punta, a small fortress built in the 16th century, at the western entry point to the Havana harbour, it played a crucial role in the defence of Havana during the first centuries of colonisation. The fortress still houses some twenty old guns and other military antiques.
  • El Cristo de La Habana, Havana’s statue of Christ blesses the city from the other side of the bay, much like the famous Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro. Carved from marble by Jilma Madera, it was erected in 1958 on a platform which makes a good spot from which to watch old Havana and the harbor.
  • The Great Theatre of Havana, famous particularly for the acclaimed National Ballet of Cuba, it sometimes hosts performances by the National Opera. The theater is also known as concert hall, Garcia Lorca, the biggest in Cuba.
  • Hotel Nacional de Cuba, Art Deco National Hotel.
  • El Malecón Habanero, the avenue that runs beside the seawall built along the northern shore of Havana, from Habana Vieja to the Almendares River, it forms the southern boundary of Old Havana, Centro Habana and Vedado.
  • Museo de la Revolución, located in the former Presidential Palace, with the yacht Granma on display behind the museum.
  • Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón, a cemetery and open air museum, it is one of the most famous cemeteries in Latin America, known for its beauty and magnificence. The cemetery was built in 1876 and has nearly one million tombs. Some of the gravestones are decorated with the works of sculptors of the calibre of Ramos Blancos, among others.

Culture

Havana, by far the leading cultural centre of the country, offers a wide variety of features that range from museums, palaces, public squares, avenues, churches, fortresses (including the largest fortified complex in the Americas dating from the 16th through 18th centuries), ballet and from art and musical festivals to exhibitions of technology. The restoration of Old Havana offered a number of new attractions, including a museum to house relics of the Cuban revolution. The government placed special emphasis on cultural activities, many of which are free or involve only a minimal charge.

Before the Communists, Havana cinema rivalled New York City and Paris. As Guillaume Carpentier put it in a Le Monde article, “with nationalisation, they closed one by one, for lack of maintenance, films or electricity… Havana, Cubans complain, is a cemetery of cinemas. It is also a cemetery of bookshops, markets, shops…”.

Tourism

Before the Cuban Revolution – and particularly from 1915 to 1930 – tourism was one of Cuba’s major sources of hard currency (behind only the sugar and tobacco industries). Havana, where a kind of laissez-faire attitude in all things leisurely was the norm, was the Caribbean’s most popular destination, particularly with US citizens, who sought to skirt the restrictions of prohibition America.

Following a severe drop in the influx of tourists to the island (resulting, primarily, from the Great Depression, the end of prohibition in the United States and the outbreak of World War II), Havana began to welcome visitors in significant numbers again in the 1950s, when US organized crime secured control of much of the leisure and tourism industries in the country.

This was a time when Cuba’s foreign minister boasted that Havana spent as much on parties as any major capital in the world, when the island was the mob’s most secure link in the drug-trafficking chain which culminated in the United States and when the country’s justified reputation for sensuality and dolce vita pursuits earned it the appellation of “the Latin Las Vegas”. Meyer Lansky built the Hotel Riviera, Santo Trafficante came to own shares in the Sevilla and a casino was opened at the Hotel Plaza during this time.

It was tourism’s association to the world of gambling and prostitution which made the revolutionary government established in 1959 approach the entire sector as a social evil to be eradicated. Many bars and gambling venues were closed down following the revolution and a government body, the National Institute of the Tourism Industry, took over many facilities (traditionally available to wealthy) to make them accessible to the general public.

With the deterioration of Cuba – US relations and the imposition of a trade embargo on the island in 1961, tourism dropped drastically and did not return to anything close to its pre-revolution levels until 1989. The revolutionary government in general, and Fidel Castro in particular, initially opposed any considerable development of the tourism industry, linking the sphere to the debauchery and criminal activities of times past. In the late 1970s, however, Castro changed his stance and, in 1982, the Cuban government passed a foreign investment code which opened a number of sectors, tourism included, to foreign capital.

Through the creation of firms open to such foreign investment (such as Cubanacan, established in 1987), Cuba began to attract capital for hotel development, managing to increase the number of tourists from 130,000 (in 1980) to 326,000 (by the end of that decade).

As a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies in 1989 and early 90s, Cuba was plunged into a severe economic crisis and saw itself in desperate need of foreign currency. The answer, again, was found in tourism, and the Cuban government spent considerable sums in the industry to attract visitors. Following heavy investment, by 1995, the industry had become Cuba’s main source of income.


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Malacca – Historical City,Malaysia

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Malacca – Historical City,Malaysia

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Malacca (Malay: Melaka, dubbed The Historical State or Negeri Bersejarah amongst locals) is the third smallest Malaysian state, after Perlis and Penang.

It is located in the southern region of the Malay Peninsula, on the Straits of Malacca. It borders Negeri Sembilan to the north and the state of Johor to the south.

The capital is Malacca Town. This historical city centre has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 7 July 2008.

Although one of the oldest Malay sultanates, the Yang di-Pertua Negeri or Governor, rather than a Sultan, acts as the head of state.

Geography

The state of Malacca covers an area of 1,650-km2, or 0.5 percent of the whole area of Malaysia. The state is divided into 3 districts: Central Melaka (Melaka Tengah) (314 km²), Alor Gajah (660 km²), and Jasin (676 km²).

Malacca sits upon the southwestern coast of Malay Peninsula opposite Sumatra, with the state of Negeri Sembilan to the north and Johor to the east.

Malacca is also situated roughly two-thirds of the way down the West coast, 148 km south of Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia and 245 km north of Singapore and commands a central position on the Straits of Malacca.

The state capital Malacca Town is strategically located between the two national capitals (of Malaysia and Singapore, respectively) and connected with excellent roads and highways.

Malacca still harbors no train station, though the terminal at Tampin, Negeri Sembilan is easily accessible. However, a domestic airport terminal rests in Batu Berendam.

The offshore Pulau Besar, Pulau Upeh and Tanjung Tuan are also parts of Malacca.

Economy

The tourism and manufacturing sectors are the two most important sectors in the state economy. Malacca has adopted as its slogan, “Visiting Malacca Means Visiting Malaysia” (“Melawat Melaka Bererti Melawati Malaysia“).

It is rich in cultural heritage and bears several places of historical interest.

Malacca is home to several modern shopping complexes to attract more visitors to the state.

Examples include Mahkota Parade Shopping Centre at Plaza Mahkota (City Centre), Dataran Pahlawan Melaka Megamall (which is situated on the historical field of Padang Pahlawan, where Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al Haj announced the independence day of the Federation Of Malaya), Melaka Mall Shopping Complex (formerly known as Kotamas Shopping Complexe), A’Famosa Safari and Theme Park and Plaza Melaka Raya at the Taman Melaka Raya.

Malacca also has its very own hypermarket and departmental store.

A few examples include Parkson Departmental Store (Mahkota Parade and Melaka Mall), Jusco Supermarket and Departmental Store (Ayer Keroh and coming soon near Melaka Sentral), Tesco Hypermarket and Giant Hypermarket at Bachang Utama; also a Supermarket at (Mahkota Parade).

Apart from tourism, Malacca is also a manufacturing centre for products ranging from food and consumer products, through high-tech weaponry and automotive components to electronic and computer parts.

There are at least 23 industrial estates that houses some 500 factories from the United States, Germany, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore.

Transport

Pulau Sebang at Alor Gajah district, a town 30 km north of Malacca town, is the nearest train station that serves Malacca. There were railway tracks from Pulau Sebang to Malacca before World War II but were dismantled by the Japanese during the war for the construction of the infamous Burmese Death Railway.

It was never rebuilt after the war though traces of the line remain.

Malacca has a bus station, Melaka Sentral which has air-conditioned waiting areas and separate areas for buses plying the town routes and for buses plying the intertown routes with regular bus services to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, and other places in Malaysia.

Batu Berendam Airport in Batu Berendam mainly serves chartered flights from around the region. It also serves as a flight school for Malaysia Flying Academy. It is now refurbished into a brand new international airport for the state of Melaka.

The Ayer Keroh exit at the North-South highway is the main entry to Malacca. There are two additional exits along the North-South highway, namely the Simpang Ampat and Jasin exits.

State government

Breakdown of State Seats Representatives elected 2008

Malacca is administered by its State Assembly and Executive Committee (EXCO).

The State Assembly represents the highest authority in the state and decides on policy matters. The EXCO is responsible to the State Assembly and comprises members who are appointed every five years by the political party in power.

It is headed by the Governor (Yang Di-Pertua Negeri) who is appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia.

The Chief Minister’s Department is the administrative pillar of the State Government, and is responsible for the overall administration of the State, as well as its political interest.

The administrative complex houses the Chief Minister’s office, as well as the office of the State Secretariat. For administrative purposes, Malacca is divided into three districts under separate jurisdiction:

  • Malacca Central District & Land Office
  • Alor Gajah District & Land Office
  • Jasin District & Land Office

These offices render various services and facilities to the people in their daily lives.

Culture

The historic centre of Malacca was inscribed on the World Heritage List on 7 July 2008 together with George Town, the capital of Penang.

The Malays who are the original settlers of Malacca since 1400, form the largest community. The Malaccan Malays are rich in culture from their daily life to the building arts. The famous Malacca Steps or Tangga Melaka are common in front of many Malay houses in Malacca.

Two of the most important museums in Malacca are the Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum and the Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum.

Malacca is well-known for its food. Most notable of all is the traditional Malay dishes like ikan asam pedas, sambal belacan and cencaluk.

Belacan, a Malay variety of shrimp paste, is prepared from fresh tiny shrimp of a species known as keragu in Malay.

These are mashed into a paste and dried in little mashed lumps, pounded and formed into large balls, dried again for a week or so, wrapped in plastic and stored for future use. It is in this form that most of these blachan balls are sold.

Belacan is used as an ingredient in many dishes, or eaten on its own with rice. A common preparation is sambal belacan, made by mixing belacan with chili peppers, minced garlic, shallot paste and sugar and then fried.

The aroma from the frying mixture can be unpalatable to Westerners who have not become accustomed to it, but is an absolute delight to the Asian connoisseur.

Malacca is also famous for satay celup. Raw fish and meat are skewered onto sticks which is then cooked in a peanut sauce. The satay celup is often self-service where you pay for individual sticks.

There is also Nyonya-Baba cuisine which is a mixture of Chinese (mostly southern Hokkien or Fujian influence), Portuguese, Dutch, Indian, British and Malay cooking with most dishes being spicy in nature.

Interesting dishes of the Peranakan include Itik Tim (a soup containing duck and salted vegetables), Ayam Pong Teh (chicken casserole with salted brown-bean sauce which is usually served with potatoes) as well as the famous Nyonya Laksa.

Chicken Rice Ball is another dish popular with domestic Chinese tourists.

Breakdown of State Seats Representatives elected 2008

St. Paul’s Hill (A’Famosa)

The Portuguese colonised Melaka from 1511 to 1641. The first thing they did was build a fort overlooking the river, calling it A’Famosa.

As Melaka was the centre of struggles between super powers of the time, and suffered the constant threat of attack, the A’Famosa fort was critical in Portugal maintaining its colonial foothold in the Far East.

Within the fort walls were housing and food stores, a castle, a meeting room for the Portuguese Council and five churches.

A seven-month attack by the Dutch just about destroyed the entire fortress, leaving only the entrance façade and the structure of a church at the top of the hill.

Go for a stroll up St. Paul’s Hill on a cool late afternoon and wander among the majestic trees and historical remnants. Here, you can almost imagine the glories and miseries of the besieged lives the Portuguese would have led right here all those years ago…

Christ Church, Malacca

Christ Church: Constructed in 1753, the structure reflects original Dutch architecture.

The building houses hand-crafted church benches, jointless ceiling skylights, a copper replica of the Bible, a headstone written in the Armenian language, and a replica of “The Last Supper”.

St. John’s Fort

Reconstructed by the Dutch in the third quarter of the 18th century, the cannons in this fort point inwards towards the mainland because at that time, the threat to Malacca was mainly from inland rather than the sea.

Taming Sari Tower

Witness a host of interesting and historical sights of Melaka from a height of 80 metres of Menara Taming Sari.

Rest assured with the beauty of the vast scenic Melaka straits and the fast development of Melaka, your visit will be an unforgettable and memorable one.

Menara Taming Sari which located at Jalan Merdeka, Banda Hilir, Melaka was opened on 18 April 2008. The 110 metre viewing tower was designed based on the legendary Taming Sari Keris.

It will be the 1st tower in the country to have a fully revolving structure. The air-conditioned viewing cabin will be able to accommodate 66 people at one time.

Taman Mini Malaysia & Mini ASEAN

The Taman Mini Malaysia cultural park is located a few kilometres outside of Melaka, near the town of Ayer Keroh.

If you have an interest in traditional architecture and ways of life, this is a great place to go exploring. Each of the homes represents the architectural style of the 13 states in Malaysia and is furnished with various items, arts and crafts which depict the culture of each state.

Inside each house, you can find a range of genuine handicrafts originating from each state or county. The life-like figures ‘inhabiting’ each charming home on stilts are garbed in their respective traditional costumes.

Other attractions in the park include weekly cultural shows and traditional games. Basically, this is an opportunity to see all Malaysian architecture and heritage in a short all-encompassing outing. And it’s a nice break from the hustle and bustle of nearby urban Melaka.

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Varanasi – Lonely Planet Travel Video

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Varanasi – Lonely Planet Travel Video

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Varanasi also commonly known as Benares or Banaras and Kashi is a city situated on the left (west) bank of the River Ganga (Ganges) in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, regarded as holy by Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains. It is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world.

The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) is the chief cultural patron of Varanasi and an essential part of all religious celebrations. The culture of Varanasi is closely associated with the River Ganges and the river’s religious importance. The city has been a cultural and religious centre in northern India for several thousand years.

The Benares Gharana form of Indian classical music developed in Varanasi, and many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians resided or reside in Varanasi, including Kabir, Ravidas Their Guru Swami Ramanand,Trailanga Swami, Munshi Premchand, Jaishankar Prasad, Acharya Ram Chandra Shukla, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Girija Devi, Hariprasad Chaurasia, and Ustad Bismillah Khan. Tulsidas wrote his Ramacharitamanas there, and Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath near Kashi.

Varanasi is home to these four universities: Banaras Hindu University, Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies and Sampurnanand Sanskrit University. Residents mainly speak Kashika Bhojpuri, which is closely related to the Hindi language. People often refer to Varanasi as “the city of temples”, “the holy city of India”, “the religious capital of India”, “the city of lights”, and “the city of learning.”

American writer Mark Twain wrote: “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

Known Personalities

  • Madan Mohan Malavia, Founder of Banaras Hindu University
  • Lal Bahadur Shastri, Former Prime Minister of India
  • Ustad Bismillah Khan, Noted Sehnai Vadak
  • Pt.Ravi Shankar, Sitatvadak,Bharat Ratna
  • Bhagwan Das,Bharat Ratna

Etymology

The name Varanasi, has its origin possibly from the names of the two rivers Varuna and Assi for it lies with the confluence of Varuna with the Ganges being to its north and that of Assi and the Ganges to its south. Another speculation about the origin of the name is that the river Varuna itself was called Varanasi in olden times, from where the city got its name. This is generally disregarded by historians though there may be some earlier texts suggesting it to be so.

Through the ages, Varanasi was variously known as Avimuktaka, Anandakanana, Mahasmasana, Surandhana, Brahma Vardha, Sudarsana, Ramya, and Kasi.

Recent terrorism

In March of 2006 an bomb blasts from terrorists resulted in 20 people being killed and many injured. One of the bombs was planted in the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, a shrine dedicated to Lord Hanuman, while another was planted on a platform of the Varanasi Cantonment Railway Station, the main railway station in the city.

An Islamic group, Lashkar-e-Kahab, claimed responsibility for the terror attacks. In November 2007 Varanasi endured another bomb blast. The bomb was placed in the civil court of Varanasi. More than 20 people died and over 100 were injured.

Holy City

Varanasi is a holy city in Hinduism, being one of the most sacred pilgrimage places for Hindus of all denominations. More than 1,000,000 pilgrims visit the city each year. It has the holy shrine of Lord Kashi Vishwanath (a manifestation of Lord Shiva), and also one of the twelve revered Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva.

Hindus believe that bathing in Ganga remits sins and that dying in Kashi ensures release of a person’s soul from the cycle of its transmigrations. Hindus regard Kashi as one of the Shakti Peethas, and that Vishalakshi Temple stands on the spot where Goddess Sati’s earrings fell.Hindus of the Shakti sect make a pilgrimage to the city because they regard river Ganga itself as Goddess Shakti. Adi Shankara wrote his commentaries on Hinduism here, leading to the great Hindu revival. Vaishnavism and Shaivism have always co-existed in Varanasi harmoniously.

Varanasi is one of the holiest places in Buddhism too, being one of the four pilgrimage sites said to have been designated by Gautama Buddha himself, (the others being Kushinagar, Bodh Gaya, and Lumbini). In the residential neighborhood of Varanasi lies Sarnath, the site of the deer park where Gautama Buddha is said to have given his first sermon about the basic principles of Buddhism.

The Dhamek Stupa is one of the few pre-Ashokan stupas still standing, though only its foundation remains. Also remaining is the Chaukhandi Stupa commemorating the spot where Buddha met his first disciples (in the 5th century or earlier, BC). An octagonal tower was built later there.

Varanasi is a pilgrimage site for Jains along with Hindus and Buddhists. It is believed to be the birthplace of Parshvanatha, the twenty-third Tirthankar. Islamic culture has also had an influence on Varanasi. There has been some degree of continuous tension between different religious communities in the city.

Demographics

The population of Varanasi urban agglomeration in 2001 was 1,371,749; the sex ratio was 879 females every 1000 males. However, the area under Varanasi Nagar Nigam has a population of 1,100,748 with the sex ratio being 883 females for every 1000 males.

The literacy rate in the urban agglomeration is 77% while that in the municipal corporation area is 78%. Approximately 138,000 people in the municipal area live in slums. The crime rate in the city in 2004 was 128.5 per 100,000 which is higher than Uttar Pradesh rate of 73.2 but lower than the national rate of 168.8.

Transport

Auto rickshaws and cycle rickshaws are the most widely available public transport within Varanasi. In outer regions of the city, mini-buses are common. Small boats and small steamers are used to cross the river Ganga.

Varanasi is well connected by air, rail and buses with all the main Indian cities. Its distance from Delhi is 776 km. The Babatpur Airport is about 25 km from the city center (about 45 minutes by taxi) and it is well connected to Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Nepal. All the major domestic Indian carriers, including Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, Indian, Spicejet, and Alliance Air operate from here.

One of the major factors in Varanasi’s sustained existence as an inhabited city is its role as an established transportation hub between different cities. Dating to ancient times, the city was connected to cities like Taxila, Ghazipur, Pataliputra, Vaishali, Ayodhya, Gorakhpur, Agra etc.

The city was connected by a single road from Taxila going through Pataliputra during the Mauryan empire. This road was later renovated and extended by Sher Shah Suri during the 16th century and later came to be known as the famous Grand Trunk Road.

The traffic is slow-moving and chaotic inside the city. The first railway line to Benares was opened in December 1862: this was the line from Kolkata built by the East Indian Railway Company.

Tourism

Probably due to its unique culture, Varanasi is a major tourist destination for foreign tourists in India. A number of 3, 4 and 5 star hotels are present in the city, as well as more efficient housing for Western student researchers. All sort of cuisines are available mostly as street food due to rich and hospitable culture of Varanasi.

Varanasi is a noted centre for silk weaving and brassware. Fine silks and brocaded fabrics, exquisite saris, brassware, jewellery, woodcraft, carpets, wall hangings, lamp shades and masks of Hindu and Buddhist deities are some of Varanasi’s shopping attractions. The main shopping areas include the Chowk, Godaulia, Vishwanath Lane, Lahurabir and Thatheri Bazaar.Assi Ghat, a midway point between Godaulia in the heart of downtown and youth culture of Benares Hindu University, is the district where most young, foreign, long-term residents stay.

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