Nepal’s Cultural Heritage – Exploring Kathmandu Valley

The early morning sun reflects the brilliant white of the spectacular snow-capped Himalayas, as we start out on this day’s adventure. We are in Kathmandu. Today, we go beyond the city to explore the surrounding Kathmandu Valley. We’ve been told this is another world.

Ganesh, our guide, already awaits us this bright early morning. We cross the Baghmati River, bordering the city, and reach charming Patan. A mere twenty minute ride from the city, this is, indeed, another world. Lalitpur, as it is known locally – has an aura of tranquility and peace about it, so unlike that of frenetic Kathmandu. This is a town renowned for its excellent craftsmen and crafts. Walking down the narrow lanes, we come across the exquisite temples, traditional buildings and tiny shops and stalls of metal and wood artisans and stone cutters. We reach Durbar Square in the heart of the city, where we are mesmerized by the palace buildings, artful courtyards and graceful pagodas. The three main courtyards here are punctuated by wood and stone architecture, the crowning jewel being the Tushahiti, the Royal Bath, a masterpiece of stone architecture.

Hindu temples and Buddhist pagodas dot the city throughout, enhancing the peaceful ambience. We stop at Krishna Mandir, considered Nepal’s finest stone structure. Despite its solid stone construction, this Hindu Temple is delicate and light – magnificent in its form, with scones and friezes depicting holy Hindu scenes. We continue to the Mahabouddha Temple, a Buddhist shrine, its architecture in stark contrast to the Hindu temples. This terra-cotta monument, a work of art of 14th Century Nepalese construction, is made of clay bricks engraved with thousands of Buddha images.

On towards Bhaktapur, we stop at the Tibetan Refugee camp, where beautiful Tibetan carpets and other crafts captivate us. We pass through enchanting Newari towns where life continues in ancient traditions much as it did in former times.

Reaching Bhaktapur, we are struck by the bewitching beauty of this remarkable city. Known as Nepal’s cultural gem, a sense of timelessness prevails. More like an open, living museum, its opulence, ancient art and culture transports us to another era. The crowning jewel of the city is its Durbar Square – a UNESCO World Heritage Site where works of art in the form of unique palaces, temples and monasteries are set to the backdrop of the magnificent Himalayas.

Perhaps the most fascinating structure in the square is the 55 Window Palace, originally the seat of Newar royalty, which now houses the National Art Gallery. We admired the elaborately carved windows and doors of the building, and were left gaping at the breathtaking stone artworks and paubha scroll paintings housed in the museum. In Tuamadhi Square, we come across the Nyatapola Temple, a colossal five story pagoda, the country’s tallest Buddhist temple.

Though founded in the 12th Century as the capital of the Malla Kingdom, Bhaktapur really took on its present shape in the 18th Century, when most of its greatest monuments were built. Mostly terra-cotta masterpieces along the rich artistic Newar tradition, the buildings are supported by carved wooden columns, elaborate windows and doors, gilded roofs and spacious, surrounding open courtyards. The fascinating divine images portrayed reflect the religious beliefs and social outlook of their Newari craftsmen. The clusters of monuments that embellish the city’s brick and stone squares reaffirm Nepal’s tradition of social harmony and religious tolerance, where Buddhist temples rub shoulders with Hindu shrines.

Besides the many temples and shrines that preside over the city, Bhaktapur is renowned for its long history of Newari craftsmanship. At the Pottery Square, we encounter Newari potters busily shaping lumps of clay on their wooden wheels and skilled artisans creating everything from indigenous paubha scroll paintings and papier-mâché masks to woven cloths, wood carvings and metal works. Chancing upon the Gai-Jatra festival, however, was the highlight of our day. The tantrically inspired dances include images of the city’s protectress deities and are unique to Bhaktapur. As they were centuries ago, the festivals and dances are enthusiastically observed here. The day was a real treat for us and the younger family members, who were mesmerized by the spectacle.

In the Kathmandu Valley, we were transported to another world – a world of culture, art and heritage- a day where we were afforded easy sightseeing, rest and relaxation after our intensive trekking and rafting adventures.

Napa Valley Dining – Culinary Travel in California’s Wine Country

We think of California’s Napa Valley as one of the great wine centers of the world, but its other great boast is food. The Valley lies in the midst of some of the world’s most creative farmers and livestock growers, surrounded by an ocean of fish and the world’s most abundant variety of fruits, nuts, vegetables, artisan meats and rare foodstocks. In the restaurants and markets of the Valley, all this bounty arrives every day astonishingly fresh, often merely hours old.

Situated in the heart of all this abundance, it’s no surprise that Napa Valley has become one of America’s great culinary centers. Chefs love the area for the freshness and variety of its foods. The five million visitors who come to sample the wine country treats every year have created a bustling culinary scene.

It could be said that the better part of knowing a wine is knowing what food it goes with.

Your knowledge of wines is not that extensive? Then let the people who prepare your food make the selections from the bewildering array of wines and recommend what goes best with your food. If you’re on a culinary adventure, there’s no better way to sample the Valley’s flavors than through the recommendations of the local eateries – they’ll all have good wines.

Yountville is considered the center for fine dining. Best of the best here is surely French Laundry, top-rated again by Michelin for 2010 as one of the few three-star restaurants in America. But Napa Valley is bursting with fine eateries. If you don’t know your way around study some of the many guides and reviews. These are available everywhere: your hotel, your custom tour service, the wineries and attractions you visit.

And don’t forget the locals for advice. Uncork29 for example offers a good list of restaurants rated by locals. They rate ZuZu in Napa even more highly than French Laundry (try the Moroccan Barbecue Glazed Rack of Lamb with Mint & Red Curry Oil).

Choose particular meals or foods you want to try and venture out to the restaurants famous for them. Of course add your special requirements into the search. If you’re looking for some quiet or romantic time, look for ratings on restaurants that include decor, view, etc. If you want some outdoors activity consider a bicycle tour of the valley, stopping at wineries and restaurants along the way.

As a visitor to Napa Valley, you can do more than just consume your dining experiences, you can create them as well. You can learn to cook, and learn to shop like a chef. You can take home newfound culinary skills to keep your Valley experience alive long after your trip.

Culinary demonstrations and schools abound in Napa Valley. The Culinary School of America in St. Helena offers recipes and samples, and teaches both food and wine skills in restaurant demonstrations of just a few hours, ranging up to week-long courses and more. The school also leads in cooking with local foods and sustainable farming practices.

Or how about Gourmet Retreats in Calistoga? Taught by a trained chef, here you can pick up culinary skills in as little as five hours or stay for five days. As with most offerings in the Valley, it’s up to you. And you don’t have to stay where you learn. Getting around Napa Valley is very easy, with trains, buses, tour companies, and rentals of every kind. You can base in one place if you choose and venture forth daily to your attractions.

Would you like to learn to shop for your food in the farmers market, and then learn how to turn the ingredients into a culinary delight? Cooking With Julie in Napa offers just this experience. You select from the season’s finest and freshest local produce, fish, meat, cheese, fruits and artisan foods. Then you turn these into a 3-course lunch with wine. Not a bad life skill for one day’s adventure.

Napa Valley is NOT going back to school. You have permission to relax, enjoy, consume. But it will be hard not to pick up tips and tricks about wine and food from your stay in the Valley. You’ll take a better way of culinary living home with you, to enjoy until your next visit here, when you come back for more.

Discovering the Arts of Yarra Valley

While Australia has a wide definition and coverage when it comes to art and architecture, certain cities and regions have distinct and rich arts and culture that is worth discovering. In Yarra Valley in Victoria, there’s a combination of traditional or historical and contemporary art forms that any tourist or art lover will enjoy discovering and exploring.

Yarra Valley is more known for its rich wineries and tourist attractions. And as far as arts and culture go, it is not as definitive and highly recognized as other cities in Australia. But what differentiate the arts in this region are its historical and indigenous roots. From old, historic homesteads and estates to nature parks and indigenous gardens, architecture is preserved, cultivated, and enjoyed by tourists and locals alike.

Popular places to visit are the TarraWarra Museum of Art, the Healesville Glassblowing Studio, Gallery34 in Yea, and the Open Studios. Here you can find a mesh of traditional visual medium and modern art. The architecture of the TarraWarra Museum of Art already says a lot about its art. The building itself was built with a contemporary design but the pillars and enclosures are symbolic of traditional and archaic roots. Established in 2000, the museum displays Australian contemporary art and other works that date back to the mid-20th century.

The art of glassblowing is presented to you by artists Tali Dalton and Tim Bassett in the Healesville Glassblowing Studio. It is more of a tourist attraction than an art gallery wherein people can view sculptures and chandeliers and learn about the process of glassblowing. People can also enjoy making their own paperweights and other trinkets made in glass through classes and tours.

For a taste of modern art, the “New-york style” Gallery34 in Yea features a stylish interior design and contemporary art space. Selected artists and artisans from the region are given the opportunity to exhibit their works to the public. To enjoy a tour of the artistic side of Yarra Valley, you can participate in art walks and visit the Open Studios. Witness modern artists in their elements as their personal studios and workspaces are opened and artworks are displayed. Over 40 local artists will be featured in the Open Studios, giving tourists the opportunity to discover modern art in Yarra Valley.

While many artists, curators, and the people themselves embrace contemporary art, the historical roots still bleed through in modern architecture and art, representing a strong influence of indigenous culture. This may be a limitation to what contemporary art can be at this day and age, but the identity of Yarra Valley art is what makes it unique and interesting to tourists.