• Panna

    Burning bright again

    Tigers are back in Panna, and how! (Published in the special Wildlife issue of Outlook Traveller in October. Click on the image to read the story in pdf form. Photographs

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  • Brick Lane

    The East Enders

    “Now this is the site where the body of Jack the Ripper’s fifth victim was found,” declares Emily, my guide at the Eating London food tour. That gets our complete

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  • Poppies

    Remains of the day

    Among the stories at the ‘Voices of the First World War’ exhibition at the Brighton Museum, is that of Subedar Manta Singh, who served with the 15th Ludhiana Sikhs. Manta,

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  • Temple

    Ringing in the new

    On any given Friday evening, Mylapore is at its festive best. Men dressed in white dhotis (unstitched cotton garments knotted at the waist and allowed to fall free), with thick

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  • Hanging on

    Losing the fear of flying

    I had never thought I would find myself 65 metres above the ground, hanging on for dear life. And doing this of my own volition. I am not the particularly

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  • Remarkable Rocks

    Roos of the game

    I so want the life Tim Williams has. He drives people around Kangaroo Island, showing them the local colour that comes in the shape of kangaroos and koalas, seals and

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  • The Lunchbox1

    Food for thought

    “Food is music to the body; music is food to the heart,” Gregory David Roberts wrote in Shantaram, his 2003 novel commended by many for its vivid portrayal of life

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  • Yodelers

    The Swiss Sound of Music

    Matthias Ammann puts his hands into his pockets, smiles at us, and yodels effortlessly. Of course he would. He has been yodeling since the age other children learn to gurgle

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  • Tiramisu

    Roman banquet

    My food walk in Rome begins with a near death-by-dessert experience. It is a balmy summer morning and our small group has met in front of a bar in Testaccio.

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  • Ghent3

    Footloose in Flanders

    If Eat, Pray, Love was a town, it would be Bruges. So pretty, so picture postcard that some guidebooks have described it as touristy and a tad fake. Our guide

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10 interesting facts about the Cologne Carnival

1. The Carnival is the highlight of Cologne’s social calendar, with the season officially beginning on 11/11 at 11.11 am. It then goes into silent mode until the new year, when the celebrations begin in full swing and go on till Ash Wednesday in February. Carnival week is usually one of the coldest spells in Cologne but also one of the best times to visit the city.

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2. The Carnival period after New Year is known as the “fifth season” of the year – just goes to show how seriously this city takes the festivities. There are private carnival parties, local neighbourhood celebrations, music performances and of course, drinking events through the weeks leading up to the final parades.

3. One of the traditions is that at the start of the celebrations in November, the “triumvirate” for the year, consisting of the Peasant, the Prince and the Virgin are presented to the public. They are all chosen from among the influential citizens of the city and are technically supposed to “rule” the city during carnival time.

4. The Carnival in Cologne is almost as old as the city itself, but in its present form, has been celebrated for less than 200 years. It may have been a homage to the winter solstice or a marker for the beginning of Lent season; the word Carnival from Carne Vale meaning “goodbye meat!”

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5. The highlight of the Carnival are the few days towards the end, with the boisterous street parades, also known (rightly) as the “Crazy Days.” It starts on a Thursday celebrated as Women’s Day, and Sunday marked for children and families, in the Schull-Veedelszoch (School and neighbourhoods) parade. There are alternative carnivals in several neighbourhoods, such as the “Ghost Parade.”

6. The big daddy of this parade is “Rose Monday” with the streets filled with celebrations for the entire day. The official parade goes on for 7 km, with over 13000 participants marching in costumes or sitting on floats, to the sounds of drumbeats and trumpets.

7. This finale has over 1 million people as audience and the best part (my favourite bit about this carnival) is that spectators are all dressed in costumes, most of them more interesting and quirkier than the marchers. From fluffy green dinosaurs to funny clowns with painted faces and groups of flower children straight from the 1970s, the audience takes costuming very seriously.

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8. Participants in the parade throw candy and flowers at the audience, who fill the air with cries of Kamelle! and Strüzjer! respectively. Think of these numbers – 300 tons of candy, 700,000 bars of chocolate and 300,000 small flower bouquets. In return, they also allowed to demand Bützje, a quick, friendly peck on the cheeks.

9. Local beer (kölsch) flows freely during carnival time through the day and authorities turn a blind eye to the high spirits floating in the crowds. On Tuesday night, a straw puppet called Nubbel is burnt in many places, marking an end to the guilty pleasures of the carnival days. Most institutions – museums, the cathedral and even many restaurants – are closed during the big parade days, to reopen only on Ash Wednesday. On that day, people go to church and eat fish for lunch before returning to their normal lives.

10. To best enjoy the carnival, paint on a clown face, wear a quirky costume or just put on a red nose and stand at any point in the heart of the city, where the parade passes. And to be an authentic Jeck (Carnival fool), be sure to shout out “Kolle Alaaf!” at full volume – long live Cologne! This term, by the way, derives from All Av! meaning a “bottoms up” toast from the Middle Ages.

Kids in the Cologne Carnival

Kamelle! The cry rents the cold, crisp Cologne air. A few thousand kids are out in cute costumes, all bundled up against the cold, eager participants in the general colour and chaos.

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The official Carnival begins on Thursday with the Women’s Day, but Carnival Sunday is when families come out in full force. The streets are filled with children, accompanied by their parents, sometimes pushed around on strollers. Around 50 schools also participate, getting their kids to march in the parade in costumes created around a central theme.

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I particularly loved it when parents and kids wore matching costumes, like this father with his one-year-old daughter.

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The Carnival starts a few minutes past 11 in the morning, passing the street by my hotel just after noon. I got there early to watch the spectators and get some photographs. There were already hundreds of families out on the streets, the kids getting impatient by the minute.

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Participants in the parade throw small chocolates, toffees and candy to the crowds, and Kamelle! is the shout for “candy! I want candy!”

And to go with the demand, kids also stood with little bags to collect the goodies for the day.

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All in all, great fun. My first experience of the Cologne Carnival, also been my favourite.

Keeping warm the Kashmiri way

As Delhi winter draws to an end and the days get warmer, I am thinking of my brief stint with the cold and snow in Kashmir in January.

Different cultures learn to keep warm in different ways. While the Bhutanese, for instance, eat chillis to keep warm, Inuits use seal oil lamps and animal skins, and the Japanese huddle around (or under) kotatsus.

kotatsu
(image source)

kangriIn Kashmir, they use the kangri. It is somewhat like a personal heater; a mud pot filled with red-hot coal embers kept under your clothes and close to your body. When I first saw all these Kashmiris walking with their hands hidden under their voluminous robes (called pheran), I thought it was just a way to keep their hands warm – the local equivalent of putting them inside the pockets. But no, they are actually keeping their entire bodies warm with kangris, earthen pots covered by a wicker basket.

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Kangris are sold in shops everywhere, with vendors even carrying them around in local markets. Imagine the skill needed to hold a burning hot mud pot close to your stomach, but even kids carry them with insouciance, walking with one hand holding a kangri and the other, a school bag. I am told that kangris are also kept on beds, under quilts or blankets. And guest are welcomed at home with a kangri, as much as a cup of hot kahwa.

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kids with kangri
(image source)

Interestingly, the Japanese have a similar “belly warming” device, called haramaki. The original haramaki is armour a samurai would wear around his chest, but now refers to a narrow knit garment wrapped around the tummy to keep your core warm. They used to have a ruddy-duddy image, associated with the very old or with kids. But now, fashion houses have gone all out to make the haramaki a trendy, must-have accessory in both winter and summer.

So, it is true that if you call it high fashion, anything goes in Japan.

But if it is Kashmir you are still thinking about, see this lovely photoessay on the kangri. Like other forms of indigenous knowledge, the kangri is also fighting against more modern heating aids, but nothing comes close to its cost effective and eco friendly little pot.

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