Seeing a Kathakali Performance in Kerala

Demoness in Kathakali performance

For visitors to the Indian state of Kerala, one of the obvious highlights – besides exploring the Kerala backwaters by houseboat – is attending a traditional Kathakali performance. Dating back to the 17th century, these colorful musical performances offer up a combination of traditional dance and rhythmic music punctuated with wild shrieks and maniacal laughs. They are quite the experience!

So what is it all about? Plotlines are usually drawn from the Hindu classics such as the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the Puranas as well as folk mythology.

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Gyantse – Jewel of Tibet

Monk at the Kumbum in Gyantse, Tibet

Gyantse is easily the most beautiful and atmospheric town in Tibet. There is so much to see, we could easily have stayed a week – but, unfortunately, our 17-day adventure to Mount Kailash allowed for only one day in the photogenic town. Sometimes, you just have to make due with what you have.

To take full advantage of our single day, we started early; in fact, we were up and out before sunrise. This may sound a little too early, but the sun doesn’t come up before 8 AM in Tibet – China can’t be bothered to introduce time zones. Having said that, sunrise was the perfect time to catch Tibet’s stunning morning light.

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Colossal Olmec Stone Heads of La Venta

Colossal Olmec head at La Venta (Monument 1)

Parque-Museo La Venta in Villahermosa is one of the most unique, well conceived museums we’ve ever encountered. Created in 1958, the park-museum was designed to house relocated Olmec treasures that were threatened by petro-chemical development near the original La Venta archaeological site in northern Tabasco. Those priceless treasures include three colossal Olmec stone heads as well as many other very impressive examples of Olmec sculpture and carving.

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India’s Bhimbetka Rock Shelters

Masterpiece cave painting at Bhimbetka

The Bhimbetka Rock Shelters, a collection of more than 600 prehistoric cave paintings, was one of the main reasons we wanted to visit Bhopal, India. Boasting the oldest traces of human presence on the subcontinent as well as cave paintings dating back to the Mesolithic period, this just might be the best contender for the title of “the birthplace of India.”

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The Guarani Missions of Argentina and Paraguay

San Ignacio Mini, a Guarani mission

A trip through South America, as spectacular as it is, can often feel like one long story of conflict and open war between the continent’s native peoples and European colonists. Even today, there is a very palpable tension between these groups.

So as we were passing through northern Argentina along the border with Paraguay on our way to IguazĂș Falls, we were happy to discover a slightly different story. In the 17th century, Jesuit missionaries entering the area took a rather unique approach to conversion. They set out to create what some have termed a “Utopian” blend of native and European culture in methodically constructed communities referred to as reducciones.

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Hagia Sophia – The World’s Most Amazing Building

Massive interior of Hagia Sophia

Not so coincidentally, my favorite building in the world is in my favorite city in the world. Hagia Sophia, consecrated in 537 A.D., is one of the architectural greats. Considered simultaneously the greatest construction of late antiquity as well as the Byzantine world, Hagia Sophia reigned supreme as the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years until the construction of the Cathedral of Seville. In reality, there was nothing in the entire world that could compete with it from an architectural standpoint. (And there still isn’t in my mind.)

The Ottomans did their best to out-construct the wonder sitting in their backyard. And if we are talking about exteriors only, many would argue they succeeded with the Blue Mosque. But nothing compares with the cavernous interior of Hagia Sophia. There is something magical about the construction and the light, which clearly comes through in photographs; it almost looks computer generated. The building fills me with awe every time I see it.

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Plan your Visit to Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper

Leonardo Da Vinci's The Last Supper in Milan

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci is arguably the second most famous painting in the world after the other da Vinci masterpiece, the Mona Lisa. The superstar 15th-century mural is probably the most duplicated painting on the planet. It shows up on posters, placemats, calendars, mouse pads and any other flat surface humanity can print a picture on. It’s everywhere, and it has become one of Milan’s most famous attractions. For that reason, The Last Supper tickets are in high demand. Unfortunately, many visitors never get to see this artwork.

Access to The Last Supper is strictly limited to protect the fragile painting. Entry is only allowed every 15 minutes with a maximum of 30 people at any given time. This means visitors must pre-book online well in advance to secure a spot to see it. Continue…

Berlin Wall Art

For 28 years, the stark cement blocks of the notorious Berlin Wall reminded Germans and travelers to Germany that they were on the front lines of the Cold War. As the western city rebuilt into its cement cage, a traumatized population began to express their anger in paint.

What started out as graffiti on an architectural scar grew into extended visual commentaries on a divided nation caught up in the ultimate ideological battle. And then, the battle ended. As Germans rushed to tear Continue…

Makech – Beetles Worn as Living Jewelry

makech

We’ve seen some crazy jewelry over the years: neck rings, lip plates, ear plugs made with empty film canisters. But up to now, none of it has been alive. Makech (also written maquech) just might be the craziest piece of jewelry we’ve ever encountered. These giant bejeweled beetles are traditionally worn by Yucatec Mayan women for a night out on the town.

Thomas was so intrigued that he had to try one on for himself. Honestly, I don’t think it works with Continue…

Trujillo – Pyramids, Plazas and Playas

Huaca Arco Iris

As we mentioned in our post on Caral, much of northern Peru is gloriously neglected by the country’s mass tourism. It’s a vast area filled with colonial towns, great food and the crumbling remnants of unknown ancient cultures. It’s an adventurer’s paradise waiting to be explored.

As we bused north on the paved Pan-American highway to Trujillo, the number of seductive dirt tracks luring travelers off the road to remote archaeological sites was almost too much to bear. We passed a number of remote ruins which I would have loved to visit including Paramonga, the fortress of Chanquillo, and Sechin. Thank god for visa limitations, or Thomas and I would be here for another six months combing the desert, side valleys and mountains for hidden treasures.

But it’s just a fact of life, there is no way to see everything in Peru because this country is overwhelmed with world-class Continue…