The Moscow Experience

“Moscow was, as some said, the most beautiful mistress a man could ever want, but never cross her: like any good woman, she might just cut off your balls for the hell of it.” 
― Marjorie M. Liu, Shadow Touch

Magical and enchanting with a mystical allure, Moscow is one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in Russia and the nucleus of its culture, polity and economy. It is also counted among the most expensive places in the world.

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“Follow the Moskva down to Gorky Park” and discover the scenic city, lined with towering domes atop splendid stone cathedrals. The heart of Moscow – the Kremlin on the Red Square, has a magnificent diamond collection in its Armoury which is definitely worth seeing. The Red Square is where you will also find St Basil’s Cathedral and The State History Museum, with Lenin’s Mausoleum at the centre. The famous St. Basil’s Cathedral was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible and built on the edge of Red Square between 1555 and 1561. Legend has it that on completion of the church, the Tsar ordered the architect to be blinded to prevent him from ever creating anything to rival the magnificent cathedral’s beauty. The church was named “St. Basil’s” after the popular “holy fool” Basil the Blessed.  A series of concentric circles and radial lines emanating from the Red Square make the city easily discoverable on foot.

As the centre of Russia’s cultural activity and history, a trip to Moscow is incomplete without a visit to its comprehensive museums. Tretyakov Museum is a treasure trove of Russian art and one of the best museums in the world. A fantastic collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art can be found at the Pushkin Museum. For a broad understanding of Russian history from the Stone Age to the present day, head to the State Historical Museum, housed in an enormous 19th century Revivalist building. To complete the cultural experience, catch an opera or a classical ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre.

Muscovites used to say: ‘For money, go to Zamoskvorechye, for a career, go to St. Petersburg, but for knowledge and memories, go to the Arbat.’ The Arbat is quintessential old Moscow, and more than 500 years old. The area between the Arbat and Prechistenka is a quaint neighbourhood of quiet lanes where each house transports you to old world Moscow. You can admire minimalist communist 60’s style architecture in the New Arbat.

Plan your Moscow trip now on Holidayen and say “Privyet!” to Moscow. And yes, practice drinking vodka before you get there 😉

The Best of Navratri

Navratri, the festival of nine nights, from October 5 this year, is dedicated to the invincible Goddess Durga and her nine avatars. Invoking Goddess Durga is considered by Hindus to be purgatory, cleansing the worshipper of all impurities and vices such as anger, greed, hatred and violence.

Legend has it that there was a powerful demon Mahishasura, who was granted supreme powers and immortality by Lord Shiva – the destroyer in the Hindu trinity. Intoxicated by his invincibility, Mahishasura started killing innocent people, necessitating Goddess Durga to be created by the trinity to destroy him. Durga, the divine feminine form of power and strength, fought with Mahishasura for nine days, beheading him on the tenth day. There is also the legend in Ramayana of Lord Rama worshipping the Goddess for nine days to gain powers and overpowering Ravana on the tenth day, which was henceforth called Vijayadashami (Tenth Day of Victory) or Dusshera.

As per the Hindu calendar, Navratri begins on the first day of the Ashwin fortnight which usually coincides with the end of the monsoons. The nine days of worship and festivities during Navratri are celebrated all over India, with beautifully decorated pandals dedicated to the Goddess, garba and dandia dances and special food.

We have picked five of the best places in India where the traditional festivities during this season are worth experiencing –

1. Gujarat

Goddess Durga is worshipped as Mother Amba with great fanfare in the land of garba and dandia, with Baroda and Ahmedabad leading the way. Traditionally, village girls with decorated pots dance from door to door. Gujarat is an overwhelming riot of colors this season, with people in traditional festive attire dancing the night away on all nine days. The Maa Shakti Garba holds the Limca World Record for the biggest garba in the world. The United Way garba is another crowd-puller, with rehearsals beginning months earlier.

2. West Bengal

Durga Puja is perhaps the most important festival in Bengal celebrated as a 5-day affair, with vibrant pandals housing beautiful idols as the nuclei of festivities. The numerous pandals in Kolkata are grand and ornate, and locals often spend nights hopping from one pandal to the next, from Mahashashti (sixth day) to the Visarjan (immersion of the idol in water on the tenth day). 

3. Karnataka

The 10 days till Dusshera are celebrated with gusto, with the 400 year old royal celebrations in Mysore attracting visitors from all over the country. The famous Mysore Palace is illuminated with about 100,000 light-bulbs, with cultural performances are presented before the king in the Durbar Hall of the Palace. The idol of Goddess Chamundeshwari, the deity of the royal family, is installed on a golden howdah on top of a decorated elephant and worshipped and paraded around. The festivities culminate with the ‘Panjina Kavayathu’ or torch light parade on the tenth evening, followed by a grand display of fireworks. The Dusshera exhibition on the Mysore Palace grounds is another attraction during this time.

4. Delhi

In Delhi, Dusshera is celebrated to commemorate the defeat of Ravana at the hands of Lord Rama. Ram Leela – the enactment of scenes from the Ramayana,is the main cultural event, held on the festive evenings in the city. The burning of the effigies of Ravana, Kumbhkarna and Meghnad on the last day of the festival, symbolizing the destruction of evil, is an event which sees massive participation from locals. The fireworks following the conflagration are worth witnessing. The oldest Ram Leela in Delhi is held at the Ramlila Maidan, but the celebrations at Subhash Maidan and Lal Quila are also spectacular.

 

5. Varanasi

Dusshera in Varanasi simply stands out for the vibrant yet spiritual atmosphere created during the 10 day period, when the entire city becomes a Ram Leela ground and chants of Ramacharitamanas can be heard in every gully. Colorfully costumed characters enacting scenes from the Ramayana can be found alongside the seers and devotees. UNESCO proclaimed the tradition of Ram Leela a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005, and the enactment at Ramnagar near the city is one of the most prominent performances. Lord Rama’s reunion with his brother Bharat on his return to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana is celebrated the day after Dusshera as Bharat Milaap.

Leiden

Leiden is a quintessential Dutch town, with gorgeous canals, charming buildings and cobbled paths, often called the most beautiful town in Netherlands. Rembrandt’s birthplace, it is also home to Leiden University, the oldest university in the Netherlands, founded in 1575, with impressive libraries and historic buildings. This is also where the first tulips were cultivated.

The city’s biggest and most popular annual festival is celebrated on 3 October  (simply called 3 Oktober), to commemorate the end of The Siege of Leiden, which occurred during the Eighty Years’ War in 1573-‘74, when the Spanish attempted to capture this defiant town. During the siege, a third of the people died and the rest would have also starved to death, had it not been for the Geuzen (Dutch nobility) led by the Prince of Orange who brought white bread, cheese and herring. Legend has it that some leftover Hutspot was found in a deserted Spanish camp, giving birth to a tradition. Since that year, Leiden celebrates the day with Hutspot and herring with white bread. The festivities typically take place over 2-3 days, involving parades, a funfair and other events. More on http://3october.nl/

Leiden has three national museums and several noteworthy and interesting sites. The Rijksmuseum van Oudheden (National Museum of Antiquities), Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde (National Museum of Ethnology) and Naturalis- Nationaal Natuurhistorisch Museum  (National museum of natural history) with the million-year old Java Man are definitely worth a visit. The Lakenhal, once the centre of the Leiden cloth industry, houses masterpieces by Lucas van Leyden, Rembrandt, Jan Steen and many other celebrated masters, with exhibits dating back to the 16th century. The Boerhaave Museum is the Dutch National Museum of the History of Science and Medicine, the highlight of which is the Anatomical Theatre with human and animal skeletons.

The crumbling De Burcht or ‘citadel’, one of the oldest surviving examples of a ‘motte’ castle in the Netherlands offers a marvelous view of Leiden from the top. The Stadhuis or town hall on the banks of the New Rhine is a remarkable, historic building with a Renaissance façade on the Breestraat.

A pedestrian shopping area, Breestraat has several specialty shops as well as numerous restaurants and cafes. In fact, the entire Pieterswijk area (of which Breestraat is a part) is well-known for its shops and boutiques. Of course, Leiden wouldn’t be Dutch without a windmill museum, so there is the customary Molen de Valk. A walking tour is a good way to experience the Wall Poems – Muurgedichten which can be seen on the exteriors of buildings.

Counting several other monuments and parks among its attractions, Leiden is a short half an hour ride from Amsterdam and definitely worth visiting during a Netherlands trip. Find a place to stay on http://www.holidayen.com/hotels.