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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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Beijing – Lonely Planet Travel Video

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Beijing – Lonely Planet Travel Video

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Beijing

Beijing is a metropolis in northern China and the capital of the People’s Republic of China. Governed as a municipality under direct administration of the central government, Beijing borders Hebei Province to the north, west, south, and for a small section in the east, and Tianjin Municipality to the southeast.Beijing is one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China.

Beijing is China’s second largest city after Shanghai, with more than 17 million people in Beijing’s area of jurisdiction. The city is divided into 16 urban and suburban districts and two rural counties; the city’s urban area has about 13 million residents Beijing is a major transportation hub, with dozens of railways, roads and motorways passing through the city. It is also the focal point of many international flights to China.

Beijing is recognized as the political, educational, and cultural center of the People’s Republic of China, while Shanghai and Hong Kong predominate in economic fields. The city hosted the 2008 Olympic Games.

Few cities in the world besides Beijing have served as the political and cultural centre of an area as immense as China for so long. The Encyclopædia Britannica describes it as, “One of the world’s great cities, and declares that the city has been an integral part of  China’s history for centuries, there is scarcely a major building of any age in Beijing that doesn’t have at least some national historical significance. Beijing is renowned for its opulent palaces, temples, and huge stone walls and gates. Its art treasures and universities have long made the city a centre of culture and art in China.

Architecture

Three styles of architecture predominate in urban Beijing. First, the traditional architecture of imperial China, perhaps best exemplified by the massive Tian’anmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace), which remains the People’s Republic of China’s trademark edifice, the Forbidden City, the Imperial Ancestral Temple and the Temple of Heaven.

Next there is what is sometimes referred to as the “Sino-Sov” style, built between the 1950s and the 1970s, with structures tending to be boxy, bland, and poorly made.[63] Finally, there are much more modern architectural forms — most noticeably in the area of the Beijing CBD and Beijing Financial Street.

Beijing of the early 21st century has witnessed tremendous growth of new building constructions, showing various modern styles from international designers. A mixture of both old and new styles of architecture can be seen at the 798 Art Zone, which mixes 1950s design with a blend of the new.

Transportation

With the growth of the city following economic reforms, Beijing has evolved as the most important transportation hub in the People’s Republic of China, and within the larger East Asian region. Encircling the city are five ring roads, nine expressways and city express routes, eleven China National Highways, several railway routes, and an international airport.

Rail

Beijing has long been the largest railway hub in China. There are railway lines from Beijing to Shanghai, Guangzhou, Kowloon, Harbin, Qinhuangdao, Baotou, Yuanping, Chengde, and Tianjin. As of 1 May 2009, Beijing Railway Station has 177 trains stopping daily, while Beijing West Railway Station has 220 trains.

These two railway stations serve as major transportation nodes in the city. The state-of-the-art Beijing South Railway Station re-opened in August 2008, and serves as the Beijing terminus for the Beijing-Tianjin high-speed train, the fastest regular passenger train service in the world, as well as all other high-speed CRH trains. International trains to cities in Mongolia, Russia, Vietnam and North Korea, all run through Beijing.

Several other railway stations in urban Beijing handle regular passenger traffic: Beijing North, Beijing East, Fengtai and other smaller stations. There are also a number of other stations serving suburban areas. Passenger trains in China are numbered according to their direction in relation to Beijing.

Roads and expressways

Beijing is connected via road links from all parts of China as part of the National Trunk Road Network. Nine expressways of China (with six wholly new expressways under projection or construction) connect with Beijing, as do eleven China National Highways.

Within Beijing itself, an elaborate network of five ring roads has developed, but they appear more rectangular than ring-shaped. Due partly to its design as an ancient capital, roads in Beijing often are in one of the four compass directions.

Beijing’s urban transport is dependent upon the five “ring roads” (Chinese: 环路) that successively surround the city, with the Forbidden City area marked as the geographical centre for the ring roads. The 1st Ring road is not officially defined.

The 2nd Ring Road is fully located in Beijing’s inner city areas. Ring roads tend to resemble expressways progressively as they extend outwards, with the 5th Ring Road and 6th Ring Road being full-standard National expressways – linked to other roads only with interchanges. Expressways to other regions of China are generally accessible from the 3rd Ring Road outward.

One of the biggest concerns with traffic in Beijing involves its apparently ubiquitous traffic jams, although in recent years ITS has been implemented in many areas in attempts to alleviate the problem. Traffic in the city centre is often gridlocked, especially around rush hour. Even outside of rush hour, several roads still remain clogged up with traffic. Urban area ring roads and major thoroughfares, especially near Chang’an Avenue, are normally cited as high-congestion areas.

Exacerbating Beijing’s traffic problems is its relatively underdeveloped mass transit system. Frequently cited is the city’s subway system which has 8 lines for its 17 million citizens. In comparison, New York City has 26 lines for its 8 million citizens. Beijing’s urban design layout further complicates the situation of the transportation system.

Compounding the problem is patchy enforcement of traffic regulations, and road rage. Beijing authorities claim that traffic jams may be a thing of a past come the 2008 Olympics. The authorities have introduced several bus lanes where, during rush hour, all vehicles except for public buses must keep clear. Chang’an Avenue runs east-west through the centre of Beijing, past Tian’anmen. It is a major through route of the city.

Air

Beijing’s primary airport is the Beijing Capital International Airport (IATA: PEK; Chinese: 北京首都国际机场) near Shunyi, which is about 20 km northeast of city centre. With renovations for the 2008 Olympics, the airport now boasts three terminals, with Terminal 3 being one of the largest in the world.

Most domestic and nearly all international flights arrive at and depart from Capital Airport. Capital Airport is the main hub for Air China. The capital links Beijing with almost every other Chinese city with regular air passenger service. It is linked to central Beijing by the Airport Expressway and is a roughly 40-minute drive from the city centre during good traffic hours. Prior to the 2008 Olympics, another expressway, the 2nd Airport Expressway, was built to the Airport, as well as a light rail system, which is now connected to the Beijing Subway.

Other airports in the city include Beijing Liangxiang Airport, Beijing Nanyuan Airport, Beijing Xijiao Airport, Beijing Shahe Airport and Beijing Badaling Airport. Nanyuan serves as the hub for only one passenger airline, and these airports are primarily for military use and less well-known to the public.

Public transit

The Beijing Subway system opened in 1971, and only consisted of two lines until the opening of the northern arc Line 13 in 2002. Due to recent expansion, the evolving system now has nine lines, four of which are underground, and five are above ground. Line 1, along with its new eastern expansion known as the Batong Line crosses almost all of urban Beijing from east to west.

Line 5 serves as the north-south axial line. Fare is 2 yuan flat throughout. There is an extensive system nearly 700 bus and trolleybus routes in Beijing as of 2008, including three bus rapid transit routes. All public transportation can be accessed with the Yikatong card, which uses radio frequencies to be scanned at subway stations and on public transit buses.

Registered taxis can be found throughout Beijing, although a large number of unregistered taxis also exist. As of 30 June 2008, all fares on legal taxis start at 10 Renminbi for the first 3 km and 2.00 Renminbi per additional kilometer, not counting idling fees. Most taxis are Hyundai Elantras, Hyundai Sonatas, Peugeot Citroëns and Volkswagen Jettas.

After 15 km, the base fare is increased by 50% (but only applied to the portion of the distance over 15 km, so that the passenger is not retroactively charged extra for the first 15 km). Between 11 pm and 5 am, the fee is increased by 20%, starting at 11 RMB and increasing at a rate of 2.4 RMB per km. Rides over 15 km and between 11 pm and 6 am apply both charges, for a total increase of 80% (120%*150%=180%).

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Rajasthan: Land of Kings – Lonely Planet Travel Video

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Rajasthan: Land of Kings – Lonely Planet Travel Video

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Rājasthān is the largest state of the Republic of India in terms of area. It encompasses most of the area of the large, inhospitable Great Indian Desert (Thar Desert), which has an edge paralleling the Sutlej-Indus river valley along its border with Pakistan. The region borders Pakistan to the west, Gujarat to the southwest, Madhya Pradesh to the southeast, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to the northeast and Punjab to the north. Rajasthan covers an area of 132,150 sq mi or 342,269 km².

The state capital is Jaipur. Geographical features include the Thar Desert along north-western Rajasthan and the termination of the Ghaggar River near the archaeological ruins at Kalibanga, which are the oldest in the subcontinent discovered so far.

Rajasthan is one of the most popular travel destinations in India. Rajasthan is well known for historical monuments; Rajasthan Tourism is benchmarked for the warm hospitality and internationally awarded hotels & resorts. The major Tourist Destinations like Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Udaipur are well interconnected with all the major domestic and international cities.

One of the world’s oldest mountain ranges, the Aravalli Range, cradles the only hill station of Rajasthan, Mount Abu, and its world-famous Dilwara Temples, a sacred pilgrimage for Jains. Eastern Rajasthan has two national tiger reserves, Ranthambore and Sariska, as well as Keoladeo National Park near Bharatpur, once famous for its bird life.

Rajasthan was formed on 30 March 1949, when all erstwhile princely states ruled by Rajputs, known as Rajputana, merged into the Dominion of India. The only difference between erstwhile Rajputana and Rajasthan is that certain portions of what had been British India, in the former province of Ajmer-Merwara, were included. Portions lying geographically outside of Rajputana such as the Sumel-Tappa area were given to Madhya Pradesh.

Statistics

  • Population: 56.47 million (2001 Census, estimated at more than 58 million now)
  • Cities and Towns: 222
  • Major cities: Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Kota, Ajmer, Bikaner, Churu, Bharatpur, Bhilwara, Alwar, Sri Ganganagar ,Pali,Makrana, Bundi,chittorgarh, Didwana, Sujangarh, Nagaur, Sikar, Balotra
  • Roads: 61,520 km. ( 2,846 km National Highway)
  • National highways crossing Rajasthan: Delhi-Ahmedabad, Agra-Bikaner, Jaipur-Bhopal and Bhatinda-Kandla
  • Climate: Generally dry with monsoon during July-August
  • Districts: 33
  • Languages: English and Hindi commonly used, as well as indigenous Rajasthani languages
  • Literacy: 61.03%

Districts

Rajasthan is divided into 33 districts and seven divisions:

  • Ajmer Division: Ajmer, Bhilwara, Nagaur, Tonk.
  • Bharatpur Division: Bharatpur, Dholpur, Karauli, Sawai Madhopur.
  • Bikaner Division: Bikaner, Churu, Ganganagar, Hanumangarh.
  • Jaipur Division: Jaipur, Alwar, Jhunjhunu, Sikar, Dausa.
  • Jodhpur Division: Barmer, Jaisalmer, Jalore, Jodhpur District, Pali, Sirohi.
  • Kota Division: Baran, Bundi, Jhalawar, Kota.
  • Udaipur Division: Banswara District, Chittorgarh District, Pratapgarh District, Dungarpur District, Udaipur, Rajsamand

Transport

Rajasthan is connected by many national highways. Most renowned being NH 8, which is India’s first 4-8 lane highway. Rajasthan also has a good inter city surface transport system both in terms of railways and bus network. All important and tourist cities are connected by air, rail and road.

By Air: There are three main airports at Rajasthan- Jaipur airport, Udaipur airport and Jodhpur airport. These airports connect Rajasthan with the major cities of India such as Delhi and Mumbai.

By Rail: Rajasthan is well connected with the main cities of India by rail. Jaipur, Ajmer, Udaipur and Jodhpur are the main railway stations in Rajasthan.

By Road: Rajasthan is well connected to the main cities of the country by State and National Highways.

Wildlife

Rajasthan is also famous for National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries. There are four national park and wildlife sanctuaries named the Sariska Wildlife Sanctuary, Ranthambore National Park, Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary and Desert National Park.

Ranthambore National Park and Sariska Wildlife Sanctuary both are known worldwide for their tiger population and considered by both wild lovers and photographers as the best places in India to spot tigers. Besides, it houses several small wildlife sanctuaries and eco-tourism parks . Prominent among them are Mount Abu Sanctuary, Bhensrod Garh Sanctuary, Darrah Sanctuary, Jaisamand Sanctuary, Kumbhalgarh Sanctuary, and Jawahar Sagar sanctuary etc.

Demographics

Rajasthan has a mainly Rajasthani population. Hindus account for 88.8% of the population. Muslims make up 8.5%, Sikhs 1.4% and Jains 1.2% of the population.[5] The state of Rajasthan is also populated by Sindhis, who came to Rajasthan from Sindh province (now in Pakistan) during the India-Pakistan separation in 1947.

The mother tongue of the majority of people in Rajasthan is Rajasthani. Rajasthani and Hindi are the most widely used languages in Rajasthan. After independence, Rajasthani was used as a medium of instruction, along with Hindi and English, in some schools. Some other languages used in Rajasthan are Gujarati, Sindhi and Punjabi.


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