Male Headgear (Udeng)

The first thing I noticed when I stepped out of the Denpasar International airport is the strange looking headgear that the Balinese men wore. I noticed that many men wore them, in different colors, but the pattern was more or less the same. Later I came to know that it is a part of their tradition. The headgear called an udeng or destar is symbolic of the Balinese Hindu Trinity.


It is a square piece of cloth (about a meter each side) folded and tied around the head. It may have an overall design but it is usually symmetrical. The wearer folds the cloth into a triangle rolls up the long end several times until the remaining triangle is small enough to cover the head, and ties it to the head.

Udeng is usually used during traditional ceremonies, traditional gathering, religious activities, religious holidays. It is also used by religious leaders on a day to day basis. The udeng is an expression of control of the mind. The human mind is expected to control the senses. We all know that our minds can be very busy even when we are resting.  Thoughts can be good or bad. Thus, controlling the mind is essential when going to a holy place.

There is a convention on the color and pattern of udeng which is used in a certain occasion. Udeng signifies that a man is taking part in a religious ceremony, whether in a temple, at the graveyard, or in a life-rites ceremony in the home.

  • White udeng is used for a temple ceremony or anniversary. Sometimes a dominant white with gold thread pattern, with very little decoration and motifs is also used.White is the symbol of pure thoughts and clean. When we are in the temple to pray to God, the mind must always be clean, with positive thought and no negative thoughts.
  • Black udeng is used only for funerals.
  • Red udeng and other colors are worn by Balinese gamelan musicians and dancers as well as by fashionably creative teenagers.
  • Batik udeng is worn for social activities such as town meetings or other traditional events

Various Believes

  • Some people believe that the udeng is a symbol of Garuda, king of the birds who guard our mind against all evil influences. They believe that’s the reason why udeng is used on the head—since the head is the seat of the mind.
  • Some believe that the tip of the triangle of udeng which forms a crest is a symbol of Hindu triad: Brahma, Wisnu, and Siwa.
    • The front wing-like vertical appendage symbolizes Shiva.
    • The circular base symbolizes Lord Vishnu.
    • The part wrapped around the head, which is like a half-moon or sun, symbolizes Brahma.
    • The whole thing may also be a symbolic yoni or female principle since Brahma is the creator of life.
  • Yet others say that udeng serve as a connector between God and human (like a radio antenna).

The entire udeng is tied to the head in such way that the point of the triangle faces toward the rear and the knot is centered on the forehead, then one side of the triangle is pulled behind the knot, making a crest look like the tuff of feather on the head of some birds.

The tied form of the udeng is as meaningful as its whole.

  • The right fold is higher than the left, symbolizing the supremacy of good behavior (dharma) over bad (adharma).
  • The knot must be in the middle of the forehead because it is believed that mind-focus comes from there.
  • The straight upward edge symbolizes a focus to worship.

Some men prefer to use different style of udeng to distinguish themselves from the crowd but some use a different kind of udeng as a mark of their social or religious role, for example: priest use a distinguished style of udeng as a sign of priesthood— they tie a knot on the back of the head and the triangle cover the head.

Next time you see someone wearing a udeng, remember that it is more than a headgear or a headband. It is a symbol of mind control.


Split Gates (Candi Bentar)

Split gateway (Candi bentar) is a classical Balinese gateway entrance found at the entrance of temples, houses, religious compounds, palaces, and/or cemeteries. It is also called Angkul-angkul. It is the entrance gates in the form of two similar and congruent structures with symmetrical reflection restricting the left and right side of the entrance. The candi bentar does not have a connecting roof at the top, so that both sides are apart perfectly and only connected at the bottom of the stairs.


It is commonly called a split gate because of its shape resembles a temple building halved perfectly. It is perfectly split in two, creating a passage in the center for people to walk through.  These gates resemble a mountain that was split into two exactly even parts.

To fully grasp the symbolism of the candi bentar, read about the legend of Mt. Meru. Mt. Meru is a mythological mountain where the gods dwell. It appears not only in Hindu mythology but in Jain and Buddhist stories. The Balinese believe that the original Mt. Meru, located somewhere on the Indian subcontinent, was transported to Bali by Shiva, where it was then split into two. The two sides also represent the Balinese concept of duality and the importance of maintaining a balance between dark and light forces.

Black and White Checked Sarongs

There are a few things you will notice when you drive through Bali. One of them is that some of the Hindu statues are draped with black and white checked sarongs. Near temples, it is used as decoration, for umbrellas and as the sarong for statues. You will also notice it wrapped around tree trunks, pillars, and rocks.

saput poleng

In between, you will find that yellow and/or white sarongs are also used for draping the statues and/or trees. This sparked my curiosity and I asked the driver for an explanation. 

saput poleng

In his broken English, he explained to me that they (the Balinese Hindus) believe that many objects also have a soul—meaning that certain inanimate objects may be inhabited by some sort of spiritually. They also believe in dualism which I felt is comparable to yin and yang. The Balinese philosophy of balance is called Rwa Bhineda which means two opposites. They believe that everything that exists as a duality, that two opposing forces are required to maintain universal balance. The existence of this duality brings a cosmic balance to the universe. So, if there is good, evil must co-exist to bring balance.

In short, the Balinese believe in coexistence—good and bad, joy and sorrow, night and day, brightness and darkness, and so on. They see the world in terms of opposites, good and bad, day and night, mountain and sea, etc. This duality forms the whole—one cannot exist without the other. They believe there is good and bad in everyone (and in the world).

To symbolize Rwa bhineda in everyday life, the Balinese use the metaphor of black and white. Black symbolizes evil ((devil, disease, sadness, etc.) while white symbolizes good (gods, health, happiness, etc.). The black and white checks symbolize that the good and bad work as one in every individual—symbolizing dualism in life. The goal is to make efforts to balance the two opposing forces for the sake of happiness for all of us.

The black and white trademark textile of Bali is called saput poleng. Saput means blanket and poleng means in two tones. The cloth has an equal number of alternating black and white squares. Together they symbolize the coexistence of opposites and the ultimate goal of harmony. The pattern and color combination symbolizes the harmonious balance between two of the most omnipresent and eternal opposites. Some of the saput poleng cloths will also include some grey or red squares.

  • The grey squares symbolize the transition between black and white or the transition between good and evil.
  • The red squares symbolize energy and passion.

Between black and white is grey, between afternoon and night, is sunset. The yellow sarong has another meaning. It aims to protect the secrecy and purity of the temple, and it is also a protection from any bad intentions.

Harmony and balance are highly regarded in Balinese Hinduism, and good is just as naturally occurring as bad. When a tree or a statue is draped in a saput poleng, it means that a spirit, life force or deity resides within it. The cloth supposedly keeps the spirit and its energy inside and protects the people from being disturbed.

Since saput poleng is the symbol of balance, the locals treat the trees or statues draped with it with a lot of respect. When the locals pass such sites, they show respect, in some way or the other such as honking the horns, dim the lights of the vehicle, or say a quick prayer. Some people would rather go around it. They believe if they fail to do so, it could anger the spirit inside the object which can bring them bad luck.

Saput Poleng is rarely used on shrines, except shrines dedicated to Durga, the goddess of death. It is also rarely visible in the inner, holiest part of the temple.

Later I did some reading about Rwa bhineda. It is embedded deep into Balinese life that it is part of their way of life. From a young age, Balinese are taught not to wallow too long in despair, for there will be a joy to balance it. Similarly, they do not celebrate too excessively because they believe good things and happiness is temporary and will eventually be balanced by sadness. It also teaches tolerance by emphasizing on appreciating differences, rather than antagonizing them. They embrace differences because these create harmony and balance.  They will not use differences as an excuse to show hostility or egoism. Differences are beautiful and must be balanced in order to create harmony in life. It truly is a great philosophy!

Bali is a beautiful place. As visitor’s, I believe that we should not just focus just on the beauty of nature. We should also try to take some effort in understanding the culture followed by the people. This way we can return back home with more knowledge and understanding!

Canang  Sari

During the drive from Denpasar to Ubud, Bali, we noticed small, square containers containing colorful flowers and pieces of snacks on the ground in front of houses, shops, and temples—even on top of statues—in fact almost everywhere. At first, I did not give it much attention, but after about half an hour into driving through Bali, my curiosity got over me I asked the driver about it. He was only too ready to talk about his land, religion, and traditions.


He told us that it is a daily Balinese offering called canang sari (pronounced chan-ang sah-ree)—canang means a small palm-leaf basket and sari means essence. Apparently, canang sari  is the simplest form of daily household offering to God. It is a part of Balinese Hinduism ritual for daily prayers, usually in the early morning or dusk. The canang sari is the symbol of thankfulness to the Hindu god.

The Canang sari is small square container woven from coconut/palm leaf, and it is filled with flowers, a bit of rice (or snacks made of rice), traditional herbs, and small portions of food the people have prepared in their house. The core material is made from betel nut, lime (not the fruit), tobacco, gambier, and betel nuts. These materials represent three Hindu deities: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Together they form the Tri Murti which is the combination of their powers, respectively, as creator, preserver, and distroyer.

Every piece in an arrangement in the container is selected for what it symbolizes, or which specific Hindu god it represents. The base tray is made of palm leaf and is a symbol for the earth and the moon. Decorations of coconut leaves symbolize the stars. With respect to the core materials:

  • Shiva is symbolized by white lime
  • Vishnu is symbolized by red betel nut
  • Brahma is symbolized by green gambier (it is an extract derived from the leaves of Uncaria gambir, a climbing shrub.)

The flowers are placed on top of these. The color and placement of the flowers also bear significance. They are also placed in specific directions.

  • White flowers pointing to the east is a symbol of God (Iswara)
  • Yellow flowers pointing to the West is a symbol of Mahadeva
  • Red flowers pointing to the south is a symbol of Brahma
  • Blue/green flowers that point to the north is a symbol of Vishnu


Each little basket is folded by hand using strips of coconut palm leaves before being filled with betel nut leaves, sugar cane, sliced banana, rice, sweet-smelling pandan leaves, lime and adorned with indigenous flowers of many hues. Each of the little baskets is topped with different gifts—burning incense stick, cigarettes, sachets of coffee, rice crackers, biscuits, coins and sometimes even a piece of deep-fried tofu. It is completed by placing on top of the canang an amount of money (coin or paper), which is said to make up the essence (the sari) of the offering.

The philosophy behind the offering is self-sacrifice in that they take time and effort to prepare. Canang sari is not offered when there is a death in the community or family. In Balinese Hinduism, the cosmos is divided into three layers:

  • Swarga (the heaven) where the gods live
  • Buwah, the world of man
  • Bbhur(hell), where demons reside.

The canang sari serve as a way to demonstrate gratitude and honour to those gods in suarga, who are the creators of life, while appeasing or satisfying the needs of the demons so that they remain where they are, undrawn to the world of man. It is offered every day thanking the God for maintaining balance and peace on earth, amidst the forces of good and evil, among gods and demons, between heaven and hell.


After making the canang sari, and placing it on its designated spot, the incense is lit, holy water is sprinkled on the canang sari with a flower, and a prayer is recited. The thought is, the smoke from the incense stick carries the prayer from the canang sari to the gods. Even this ritual is full of symbols: water, wind, fire, and earth. While praying and putting the offerings around the house or business, the women will wear a sarong and if this is not possible they wear a sash out of respect for the gods.  The final step involves the ceremonial sprinkling of holy water and application of a few grains of rice onto the forehead, the location of the third eye chakra.


Usually, the offerings are set on a pillar-like structure in the front yard of big houses and restaurants. They are considered to be a small version of a temple. I do not know what it is called and so I shall refer to it as a pillar. It is usually as high as a human figure. You can understand the social standing of the family. The richer families have a grand pillar with a lot of work/sculpture on it. Others are simple as shown in the figure above. I also came across stands made of metal frame on which the canang sari was kept!


In most cases, the body part of the pillar is covered with a black-and-white check or yellow sarong. Sometimes it has a small umbrella made of fabrics (usually black and white or yellow) in order to protect the offerings from the rain.

If you see canang sari on the ground when you are walking around the street, do not step over or step on it because it is considered as not respecting the culture and the religion. Especially the ones with incense that is still burning.

Each canang sari lasts only one day. The ritual is repeated every morning.

Bali, the Island of The Gods

If Kerala is the God’s own country, Bali is the Island of the Gods. I wondered why it was so called. I got the answer to the question the day I landed in Bali! The predominantly Hindu culture in Bali is certainly a change from the Muslim dominated country of Indonesia.

Religion is the soul of Indonesia, and in Bali, life rotates around temples and religious ceremonies. It is said that in Bali, there are more temples than there are houses. Temples are literally everywhere. There are elaborate temples like Taman Ayun or Uluwatu. But there are also a number of smaller ones in the villages. Every lane seems to have one. There are temples even in the family compound. The rich have their own temples.

So, Bali is aptly called the Island of the Gods.


We visited Ubud, Jimbaran, Nusa Lembongan, and Nusa Penida (Kuta, Semiyank, and Sanur were on-the-way passings)

We reached the Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport, also known as Denpasar International at 8.30 am (local time). During our drive from Denpasar to Ubud, Bali, I noticed many things. I was curious about many things I saw and asked the driver a lot of questions. Listing some of the questions I had:

I have also tried to provide the answers that I received from the driver/locals, topped with what I saw and experienced during my stay at Bali.

I shall slowly create articles for the other 5 pointers and link them… so stay tuned and visit back in a few days.

Day 3: Swarovski Crystal Museum (Austria)

Who hasn’t heard about THE Swarovski? Well, I recently found out that there is one person, my husband, who hasn’t heard of the Swarovski’s nor did he know what it was. For those who don’t know or are pretending not to know, Swarovski is the world’s leading manufacturer of precision-cut crystal. It is renowned worldwide for manufacturing crystal products of precision in many different forms, sizes, and shapes, with attention to detail. Their crystal products are the best in cutting, clarity, and brilliance!!

Well, we all, especially the ladies were excited to go to the Swarovski Museum. I am sure the men (read spouses and fathers) were equally concerned. I had gathered some information about the museum and so read about it on the ride to the museum. the drive was really wonderful, watching the scenic beauty and the snow clad mountains.



Swarovski was founded by Daniel Swarovski in the Austrian village of Wattens in 1895. Today, more than 110 years later, it remains a family-run enterprise under the management of fourth and fifth-generation descendants of Daniel Swarovski.


The Swarovski Crystal range includes crystal glass sculptures, miniatures, jewelry and couture, home decor, and chandeliers. The original Swarovski logo was an edelweiss flower. The current swan logo was adapted in 1988.


The Museum (Crystal Worlds)

The company runs a crystal-themed museum, Swarovski Kristallwelten (Crystal Worlds) at its original site (Wattens near Innsbruck, Tyrol, Austria). In 1995, for the 100 year anniversary of Swarovski, the multi-media artist Andre Heller created an amazing place with 14 Chambers of Wonder.

The museum is situated in the body of an enormous giant and Archaic figure from the Tyrollean mythology. For Swarovski Crystal Worlds, the multimedia artist André Heller designed 14 underground Chambers of Wonder dedicated to the versatile artistic interpretation of the material crystal.


More chambers were added later! Bathroom facilities are also worth a visit—it is equally spectacular with a WOW effect. Truly, stepping inside Swarovski is like stepping inside a magical crystal world.

  • Daily from 9:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
  • Last entry at 5.30 p.m.
  • Closed: November 4 to November 15, 2013

Chambers in the museum

The museum took us into a fairy-tale world. The museum is comprised of a series of rooms/sections called chambers, each with its own theme. As we walked from one chambers to another, seeing exhibit after exhibit, we were thoroughly in awe. It is truly a combination of creativity, art, design, innovation, and CRYSTALS.

Chambers in the museum

The museum took us into a fairy-tale world. The museum is comprised of a series of rooms/sections called chambers, each with its own theme. As we walked from one chambers to another, seeing exhibit after exhibit, we were thoroughly in awe. It is truly a combination of creativity, art, design, innovation, and CRYSTALS.

  1. Entrance Hall: The entrance hall at the Crystal Worlds welcomes you to a unique expedition. We were at first upset by the darkness, but as we got used to it, we realized that the darkness emphasized on the lighting of crystals. In the semi-darkness, we encounter glittering crystal works of art by well-known artists. This camber was designed by André Heller as a symbiosis of art and crystal. I remember a few things from this place:
    •  Centenary, the world’s largest ever manufactured crystal is displayed in the middle of the hall. It weighs a massive 300,000 carats. It has a diameter of 40 cm and features 100 hand-polished facets to symbolize 100 years of Swarovski.
    • You also get to see the smallest crystal in the world. This tiny crystal has a diameter of only 0.8 mm and has a cross-section with 17 facets. You can see and admire the largest crystal, but it is not possible to take a photo of the smallest as you have to look through a special magnifying tool.
    • Above our heads, hung a huge and marvellous chandelier, resembling a breathing jellyfish that changes its color. The chandelier weighs more than 500 kilograms.
    • Black Stallion is the replica Chetak, the historical brave horse of Maharaja Pratap. It is decorated with beautiful crystals. Daniel Swarovski Paris, was given the exclusive rights to recreate the precious horse jewel out of Swarovski crystals.
    • The Crystal Wall is the longest of its kind in the world and winds like a spinal column right through the  Giant. Millions of precision-cut crystals sparkle from behind the 11 metre high and 42 metre long transparent wall.
    • The “Crystal bearing Nana” by Niki de Saint Phalle embodies a self-confident, happy and liberated woman who lifts her arm in a defiant gesture. She holds a multi-coloured lustrous crystal in the palm of her hand, which she appears to have grown up with. The crystal in the woman’s hand can be considered as a symbol of felicity. The Nana also carries a phallus, evoking ironic discussion about the eternal interrelation of the sexes.
  2. Mechanical Theatre: The Whitings Mechanical Theatre of of Jim Whiting resembles a mechanical fashion show. The rigid things suddenly spring to life and clothes fly and dance through the air as if by magic. There were garments (covered in crystals) circling the room, mechanical mannequins walking, and more.
  3. Crystal Dome: This dome is a creation by André Heller and Susanne Schmögner. The Crystal Dome offers a kaleidoscope rich with colours.  With 590 mirrors covering its walls, light is reflected in all facets. This breathtaking spectacle is stylishly accentuated with music by Brian Eno.
  4. Winter´s Dream
  5. Crystaloscope: The crystaloscope is the biggest kaleidoscope of crystals in the world. The installation, designed by André Heller and therapist Peter Mandl. It casts variations of images that appear from the ever emerging crystal formations.
  6. Crystal Theatre: Created by Susanne SchmÖgner, it is a stage of fantasy. It is a crystalline fairy-tale world full of colour and mystery.
  7. Crystal Calligraphy: The desire to overcome all language barriers led to the conception of the crystal calligraphy. The verse on the wall of this Chamber is from the poem “The Wine of Lovers” by Charles Baudelaire. The chamber os bathed in blue-green light, by American glass artist, Paul Seide.
  8. Ice Passage: The Ice passage is created by Oliver Irschitz. The mystical passage reveals a very special force of attraction. Each step through the dark room becomes part of the design process. As soon as you set foot on unknown terrain, the icy, glittering world changes its face and reveals its secrets. You become both researcher and explorer. A light follows your each every movement and provides specific insights into a glistening world.
  9. The Giant´s Belongings: Created by André Heller, it tells the story of how the Giant lived before he settled down in Wattens. Some of his precious belongings and, of course, the gigantic little things he took with him on his travels provide information about his past.
  10. La Primadonna Assoluta: It shows two Solitaires in harmony. Against the brilliance of thousands of Swarovski crystals, well-known soprano Jessye Norman celebrated a spectacular performance in the Crystal Dome.
  11. 55 Million Crystals: Here, the world-renowned musician and conceptual artist, Brian Eno, presents a unique artwork. Ambient music, lighting, hand-painted image components and the latest computer technology merge to form a grandiose moving object. According to Brian Eno himself, “I would like to describe my work as music for the eyes, as painting in time, as an experience of the fourth dimension.”
  12. Reflections: Upon entering the Chamber of Wonder “Reflections”, you are immersed in a whirlpool of knowledge. So you can call it the Crystalline World History. Presented on the facets of 48 polygons, the entire world of crystal is documented in the form of pictures, graphics, illustrations and animated films: its origins, fascination and significance for science.
  13. Crystal Forest: Italian video artist, Fabrizio Plessi, gives the chamber a very special touch with a video installation. Plessi´s work unites contrasts from nature and technology —a unique composition made from natural and artificial elements and dedicated to the themes of fire, water and crystal.
  14. Timeless Swarovski: It takes us on a fascinating journey through the history of the Swarovski family. Here we gain interesting insights into the world of jewellery, objects, art and everyday objects. Feel the spirit and fascination of the Swarovski brand up close. The success story of Swarovski is primarily a tale about people with the courage and creativity to turn their visionary ideas into reality.
  15. Design in design: This is undoubtedly the biggest Swarovski shop in the world. It creats an illusion of journey through day and night created by interior architects and designers of Conran & Partners. When wandering around the shop, you will exerience the multifaceted atmospheric pictures of night turning into day and hence you will be guided by the different moods between light and darkness.


If you plan to make some purchases, here is some information:

  • All prices are listed in euro and include 20 percent value added tax.
  • Payment is accepted in all the common forms: common currencies, credit/debit cards, and as travellers checks.
  • Citizens of non-EU states receive tax-free shopping forms for all purchases over 75 euros. So remember to collect your forms from the cash register. Get the forms stamped by the customs authorities before you leave the EU.

After the tour, when we reached the Swarovski shop “design in design”, I found that my husband had disappeared very conveniently. My daughter and I spend some time looking around and admiring the display. Yes, we just window shopped till we received a call from my husband saying that he is waiting for us outside 🙂


After spending the morning at the museum, we planned to spend the rest of the day at Innsbruck, the capital of Tyrol. But that was only after having lunch at the Sahib Indian Restaurant!! 🙂

sahib What I DID NOT Like

We made our first communication for the Europe trip with MMT on 28th Dec 2012. We were told to confirm our booking by 3rd Jan or else, won’t get seats for that schedule of the package. Since we had planned to make this trip, we paid the booking amount of 20,000/- per head on 3rd Jan 2013.

We also had to send out scanned copies of our passport. My husband’s passport was in the renewal process, and so we said that we could give his only by mid Feb. It was agreed. By end Feb, they had all our passport details and then we were assigned to Shweta Grover, Sr. Executive, Outbound Operations. This is when the problems started.

1. Irresponsible: We kept following up to know what documents we need to keep ready for the Visa. Since both, my husband and I are working professionals, we wanted to do it in a proper pace, not in a hurry at the last minute. Finally on 28th March (a Thursday), MMT send a list of numerous documents required to process our Schengen visa and wanted them in 5 days time.

We rushed, got the required documents from the office (remember Sat and Sun were off for us), and send them to MMT.

2. Hopeless Customer Service: We had a tough time interacting with Shweta Grover, Sr.Executive – Outbound Operations. I called the MMT call center, entered my booking ID, and kept waiting for more than half an hour. Nobody took my call. I called again and again. Still no reply. I was always kept on hold for a long time. I wasted so many hours (yes hours) trying to locate Ms Shweta and talk to her about my queries and concerns.

If she would have shared her mobile number with us, we would have been able to locate her quicker and faster, but she refused to do the same. I again sent a curt and crisp email, to which she replied that she has been at her seat and that I must have tried a wrong extension—implying that I am stupid.

3. Non-communicative: After sending the documents for the Visa and transferring some more money, there was total silence from their side. All efforts to contact Ms Simran was futile, she was never at her desk (1800 102 8747 Ext.# 2620) or would never pick the phone—the phone would keep ringing. I actually wasted about a day and a half trying to locate her and talk to her.

Finally I sent a curt and crisp email to her with a cc to all others concerned (emails from the earlier communication). I should admit that when I re-read the email, I found it a bit too rude, but that rudeness got me a reply from Ms Simran on 2nd May. She wrote back saying that she had been at her desk all the while and wondered why we could not reach her. There was also a note saying that they received the passport with stamped visas.

4. Why last minute: Why is there such a delay in processing the Visa? When the booking starts in Dec-Jan, why is it not done at an earlier timeframe? Our friends who were to travel with us and booked their seats in early Dec 2012 did not get their Visas (reason unknown). They came to know about the fact that their Visa has been rejected only by 9th May, that too after contacting MMT.

Right from the start we were in sync regarding all the activities about the trip. When they came to now that we got our Visa, they waited for a couple of days and then started following up. They had started making preparations for the travel as well. The kids were very disappointed to be told just 5 days before the trip that they will not be going.

5. Wrong information: Initially we were told that the full and final payment has to be made a month before the date of departure (which is May 14th of 2013). With barely 2 weeks to go, there was total silence from MMT. We had to follow up time and again about what was happening and the status of the situation? I am very upset by the way things were handled!

6. Not Flexible: After we received our visa, we checked with the trip organizers about the actual date and time of our flight. They said that the tickets were not yet confirmed—they provided us with tentative time and date. This is just a week before we were supposed to leave from Mumbai. So, we requested if we could go to Doha 2 days earlier—we would take care of the visa (my brother-in-law stays there). MMT just had to book earlier tickets for us (as is it was not yet done).

But they were not flexible and refused to do it. According to them it was a group trip. We tried to reason that the people travelling to Doha were coming from different areas in different flights, at different times. The group will be formed from Doha where people from all over India (Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Cochin, Ahmadabad, Delhi, Surat, etc.) would meet. So even if we travel two days earlier to Doha, we could still be taking the same flight from Doha. But no—the lady Simran attending to us refused to even consider the request—some extra work for her I presume. A little flexibility from MMT would have made the trip a little more memorable and enjoyable for us.

7. Careless and irresponsible: We had specially asked for non- vegetarian food on the flight. Having travelled on International flights a number of times, we know that vegetarian food, especially on an International flight is useless. In normal language, it is crap. So, we specially told them not to order vegetarian food for us. When we received our online ticket (after numerous reminders) on 12th May, it showed that they had very conveniently ordered for special vegetarian food—a total disaster.

I immediately complained to the MMT contact (Simran again), who wrote back saying that she had done the needful. But we were served vegetarian food on our flight from Mumbai to Doha and from Doha to Milan and back too. We were literally hungry the whole flight time thanks to some careless and irresponsible person at MMT.

8. Errors: My name on the ticket was Mr. Sajitha Jayaprakash. They changed my sex all together. They don’t even check that info? When we say that this is a family trip with our daughter, how can they book the tickets by the name Mr. Jayaprakash and Mr. Sajitha Jayaprakash—did not feel there was a mistake at all.

I would advice that an educated person, who can read, write, and understand English should take on such responsibilities.

9. Last Minute changes: On the nightof 11th May, we received an email saying that there is some change in the hotel reservations. Some of the hotels mentioned earlier were no longer valid.

10. Wrong promises: Initially we were told that in Europe, each person would get a bottle of water a day. After landing at Europe, we were told that there is no such thing—not even one bottle of water for a family a day. I am not complaining about it, but do not to promise things that is not going to happen.

11. Breakfast: This is the Europe part of the complaint. The first two to three days, the continental breakfast was good. After that, there was barely anything to eat. We had to depend on bread and butter/jam. Things would get over and inspite to repeatedly telling the hotel guys, they would not refill it properly. No scrambled/boiled eggs or fruits. Breakfast was very pathetic indeed. We understand that it is a budget travel, but treat people as human beings.

12.One more day at Paris: Last but not the least, we spent two days in Paris and saw the Eiffle tower and the Disneyland. We would have appreciated one more day Paris to see some parts of the city properly— Arc De Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Grand Palais, Petit Palais, Concorde Square, Magdalene Church, Opera Garnier, Louvre Palace, Conciergerie, Notre Dame Cathedral, Cite Island, Sorbonne University, Orsay Museum, Church of the Invalides, Military Academy, Trocadero Square, and Palais De Chaillot. Also the well known catacombs of Paris. All we saw were a few parts of the city sitting in the bus.

A precap of the European Summer Bonanze at: What I Liked

  1. Effective marketing: The marketing people are very effective. We interacted with Simran Kholi, Holiday expert, who gave us all the information. She was very informative and communicative. She was crisp, quick, and clear in her messages. She passed on her official mobile number to us if we had to get back to her with queries or questions about anything. Appreciate it very much. It was a pleasure dealing with her.
  2. Tour Director: In contrast to the painful interaction and experience with Shweta Grover, Sr.Executive – Outbound Operations, the tour director Manish Vakharia was professional, experienced, and well informed. He ensured that the group mingled to ensure there was a friendly atmosphere. He gave us pointers and told what to do and what not to do, how to do things, how not to do things, etc. which were very helpful.
  3. Indian lunch and dinner: We were impressed by the extra effort taken to arrange for Indian lunch and dinner.  Personally, I would have appreciated an option of having local food for lunch to get the feel of the place and the life style. But then no complaints….
  4. Good hotels: Except for one place, the hotels were good, nice, clean, and comfortable.

Day 2: Venice—The Floating City

Left the hotel at 9.00 am after a filling continental breakfast and proceeded to Venice. On the way, we passed through the famous Verona city. Three of Shakespeare’s plays (Romeo and Juliet, The Two Gentleman of Verona, and The Taming of the Shrew) are set in Verona. We were told that one of the main attractions of Verona is the balcony where Romeo used to visit Juliet.

Now, we did not visit the place, but being a romatic at heart, and having grown up on a good diet of Shakespearen plays, checked the Internet for more information and found a picture of the balcony, which I am posting here:


Balcony of Juliet’s house at Verona

Now, if we think a bit, Romeo-Juliet was but a play by Shakespeare. So, they survived in books not in this world isn’t it? So, how true is this balcone? Anyway, proceeding with our travel story, we took two stops on the way. Stopped at autogrill for a short break and stopped for lunch.


Stopped at Autogrill on the way to Venice.

We reached the place to get the water taxi at about 3.00 pm.  We sailed in a special water taxi to Piazza San Marco. Reached Venice at about 4.15 pm.

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The water taxi ride was very interesting. We kept looking all round and clicking photographs. Beautiful view. The ride took about 45 minutes and another 15 minutes trying to find place to dock….

 Venice is built on 180 islands that are connected by over 400 bridges, with hundreds of canals criss-crossing the town. It is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. Venice is known by many names: Queen of the Adriatic, City of Water, City of Masks, City of Bridges, The Floating City, and City of Canals. Venice is fondly referred to as La Serenissima meaning Queen of the Adriatic.

On the city tour, we got to see incredible sites such as the Bridge of Sighs, the Ducale Palace, St. Mark’s Basilica and the Clock tower which are part of this romantic city.

Bridge of Sighs

This bridge was designed by Antoni Contino and was built in 1602. The enclosed bridge is made of white limestone and has windows with stone bars. It passes over the Rio di Palazzo connecting the New Prison to the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s Palace.


The view from the Bridge of Sighs was the last view of Venice that convicts saw before their imprisonment. The bridge name, given by Lord Byron in the 19th century, comes from the fact that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the window before being taken down to their cells.  A local legend says that lovers will be granted eternal love and bliss if they kiss on a gondola at sunset under the Bridge Of Sighs.

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The Palace prisons were famous for being difficult to escape. However, someone did manage to demonstrate to the contrary. Casanova was a man with special gifts: a legendary seducer, but also amateur scholar, actor and for a short period even abbot. When they put him in the Piombi he was twenty-nine and had already travelled the world. But it was only after his escape that his destiny turned to fame and riches

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Casanova left the Piombi on the night between 31 October and 1 November 1756. Digging up the wooden planks with a makeshift tool he climbed out of his cell onto the roof and then down into an attic. Crossing the whole palace he reached the golden staircase where he was seen by a guard who mistook him for a politician who’d been locked in and let him out. A legend says he stopped for a coffee in San Marco square before fleeing by sea on a gondola.

The Ducale Palace

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The Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) is a palace built in Venetian Gothic style, and one of the main landmarks of the city of Venice. The Palace is the most representative symbol of Venice’s culture, which, together with the Basilica of SanMarco and the Piazzetta, forms of the most famous sceneries in the world.


Cleaning work going on


Work on the windows


For centuries the Doge’s Palace had three fundamental roles: as the Doge residence, the seat of government and as the palace of justice. This was where some of the most important decisions for Venice’s, and even Europe’s destiny were taken. It was turned into a museum in 1923.

Today, it is one of the 11 museums. The oldest part of the palace is the façade overlooking the lagoon, the corners of which are decorated with 14th-century sculptures.

Those interested in seeing the interiors, need to take the ticket that includes the guided tour to the itineraries and also access (without a guide) to the rest of the Doge’s Palace. The ticket must be picked up at Doge’s Palace This reservation is made through an agency authorized by Coop Codess Pierreci, official licensee of Venice Museums. Reservations must be made with a minimum of 1 day notice.

Pauly & C. (Compagnia Venezia Murano)

We were fortunate enought to be able to visit  this Venetian company that produces glass art, most notably Roman murrine, mosaics and chandeliers. There, we saw the demonstration as to how stained glass is made (not painting glass after the product is ready).


Enterance to Pauly

We also got to go around the store and see the display. My… they were mind blowing, mind bogling, awesome, and extemely expensive. A pair of wine glass cost Rs 14,000 and more. We were not allowed to take pics in the store—copyright issues 😦

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Over the centuries the malleability of glass has led to the development of different production techniques. They remain the techniques of true craftsmen, the pieces handmade by the master glassblowers of Murano.

St Mark’s Campanile

St Mark’s Campanile is the bell tower of St Mark’s Basilica is located in the Piazza San Marco. It is one of the most recognizable symbols of the city.


St Mark’s Campanile

The tower is 98.6 metres (323 ft) tall, and stands alone in a corner of St Mark’s Square, near the front side of the basilica. It has a simple form, the bulk of which is a fluted brick square shaft, 12 metres (39 ft) wide on each side and 50 metres (160 ft) tall, above which is a loggia surrounding the belfry, housing five bells.

The top of the tower is the best way to view Venice. The cost to take the elevator to go to the top is 8 Euros a person. There was a long queue and 8 Euros is a steep price. The belfry is topped by a cube, alternate faces of which show the Lion of St. Mark and the female representation of Venie. The tower is capped by a pyramidal spire, at the top of which sits a golden weathervane in the form of the archangel Gabriel.

The campanile reached its present form in 1514. The current tower was reconstructed in its present form in 1912 after the collapse of 1902. The tower is currently undergoing structural repairs in order to halt its subsidence.

St. Mark’s Basilica

The Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark is commonly known as Saint Mark’s Basilica. It is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, connected to the Doge’s Palace.


Originally it was the chapel of the Doge, and has only been the city’s cathedral since 1807, when it became the seat of the Patriarch of Venice, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice.

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In the upper register, from the top of ogee arches, statues of Theological and Cardinal Virtues, four Warrior Saints, Constantine, Demetrius, George, Theodosius and St Mark[ watch over the city. Above the large central window of the façade, under St Mark, the Winged Lion (his symbol) holds the book quoting “Peace to you Mark my evangelist”.


In the lunettes of the lateral ogee arches are four gilded mosaics renewed in the 17th century. In the center of the balcony the Greek Horses face the square.

The Clock tower:

It comprises a tower, which contains the clock, and lower buildings on each side. The lower two floors of the tower make a monumental archway into the main street of the city, the Merceria, which linked the political and religious centre (the Piazza) with the commercial and financial centre (the Rialto).


The clock is in blue and gold. It is inside a circle of marble engraved with the 24 hours of the day in Roman numerals. A golden pointer with an image of the sun moves round indicating the hour of the day. Within the marble circle beneath the sun pointer are the signs of the zodiac in gold (original from the 1490s), which show the position of the sun in the zodiac.


The winged lion of Venice with the open book, with a blue background with gold stars. The symbol of St Mark, a winged lion armed with a sword, became the city’s emblem. It is a simple symbol to represent civil virtues, strength and courage.


Below is the statues of the seated Virgin Mary and Child. On either side are two blue panels showing the time: the hour on the left (in Roman numerals) and the minutes on the right (in Arabic numerals).

Piazza San Marco:

After seeing these sights, we spend some time at the Piazza San Marco, commonly called the St. Marks Square. It is considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful squares with its boutiques, traditional cafes, and historic buildings around it.

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Besides being filled with people Piazza San Marco is also full of pigeons. Pigeons have long been a problem in the square. The pigeons have caused much damage to the delicate mosaics on St. Mark’s Basilicia and to other buildings around the piazza. So, recently the city passed a law that banned the feeding of these birds. Several attempts have been made to control the pigeon population but have not been even slightly successful.

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Aishwarya’s mom had a piece of bread/cake with her. Soumya made small pellets of it and tried to lure the pegions. She was so fascinated by this… pigeon lady 🙂

 Random Snapshots:

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 After spending a few hours on the islands, looked around one last time, trying to capture the beauty in the human memory. Walked back to the location pointed out by our tour manager so that we were on time for the water taxi!!

Day 1: Milan

 We went to see the Milan city straight from the airport. People were excited, children were super excited to travel in Europe.

Milan, the capital of Lombardy, is the second largest city in Italy. It is the economic centre of the country with financial services, car industries, media empires, and fashion houses. It has the world’s largest Gothic cathedral, a fifteenth century castle, art galleries and museums displaying works by the old masters.

 Galleria Vittorio Emanuele

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is a double arcade structure is formed by two glass-vaulted arcades intersecting in an octagon covering the street connecting Piazza del Duomo to Piazza dellaScala.  It is housed within a four-storey double arcade. But it is true to say that the Galleria is a landmark on its own right.

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 It is supposed to be the world’s oldest shopping mall. The Galleria is named after Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of the Kingdom of Italy. It was designed in 1861 and built by Giuseppe Mengoni between 1865 and 1877, who fell to his death from the structure during construction.  It is still used a shopping center and houses high-end store like Gucci and Prada.

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The tradition tells that if a person put its right heel on the bull’s genitals depicted of the bull from Turin Coat of Armsand turn on himself three times, this will bring good luck. This practice causes damage to the mosaic: a hole developed on the place of the bull’s genitals.

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Dumo (the cathedral)

It was an amazing moment to step out of the Galleria into Piazza del Duomo and experience the grandeur and magnificence of the Cathedral of Milan.  It took a few moments to realize the shear massiveness of the fourth largest church in Europe and the largest in Italy.  The marble that adorns the cathedral actually came from the Lago Maggiore region of Northern Italy.  For a building that took over four hundred years to build, it is absoutely breathtaking!

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Dumo is the name for a cathedral. The Milan cathedral is dedicated to Santa Maria Nascente.  It is the seat of the Archbishop of Milan. It is said that the construction of Gothic cathedral started in 1380 and took nearly six centuries to complete. The golden ‘Madonnina’ (Little Madonna) stands on the largest pinnacle. It was created by Giovanni Perego in 1774.


The Golden “Little Madonna”


The enterance door to the church

 The façade was completed in 1813 at the behest of Napoleon Bonaparte, who chose to be crowned King of Italy here. Some 135 spires and 3,200 statues are crammed onto the roof and into the facade.


Soumya and dad relaxing a bit…..


Soumya in awe….

  It is recommended to go to the top of the cathedral. When we visited, some repair works were going on. The cathedral is white marble, over a brick core, and has a cruciform plan. It was designed to accommodate 40,000 worshippers. It is an imposing structure. The first thing that comes to mind is how the hell did people manage to construct such a cathedral? If the outside was mesmerizing, the inside was awesome.


Stained glass window in the cathedral.


More stained glass windows in the cathedral.

During World War II the Madonnina was wrapped up in rags to avoid light reflected from the statue attracting American bomber planes. But the Duomo was terribly damage and was later largely restored, while the surviving wooden doors were replaced iwth bronze doors made by the sculptors Arrigo Minerbi, Giannino Castiglioni and Luciano Minguzzi. For the last thirty years its façade has been the object of continued restoration and cleaning works to counteract the disastrous effects of smog and city traffic.

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During the XIX century all the remaining spires were completed and the central bronze door, by the Milanese sculptor Lodovico Pogliaghi, was installed. The interior has 52 pillars that divide it into a nave and four aisles containing numerous sarcophagi and altars of great historical and architectural value. The façade is a real summation of all Italian architectural styles. The present arrangement of the façade dates back to 1888; it is the work of Giuseppe Brentano.


Piazza del Duomo

After enjoying the beauty of the cathedral, we stepped out into the Piazza del Duomo, the Cathedral Square of Milan. It is the main piazza (city square) of Milan. It is named after, and dominated by, the Milan Cathedral (the Duomo). The piazza marks the center of the city.


At the Piazza del Duomo, the Cathedral Square of Milan.


Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II

We sat there for a while to rest our aching feet and enjoyed the beauty of the Monument of Vittorio Emanuele II. then we decided to circle the cathedral before going out to the meeting place, where we had to meet Mr. Manish.


People playing awesome music on the streets


Soumya drinking water from the streeet fountain.

Statue of Leonardo. Just outside the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele (next to La Scala) is the statue of Leonardo. There is a sitting area around it. After looking around, Soumya and I sat here for a while observing the birds sitting on the heads of the statue.


Statue of Leonardo


A beautiful green tree.

One thing that I noticed is that about 90% of the people (young, old, boys, girls, women, men)weres moking and puffing. It sort of left me suffocated. Everybody seemed to be smokers.


It you are interested in seeing the famous works of art in the world, Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’, you will have to guarantee your visit by making reservations for the same. Reservations to see this legendary painting are limited and sell out quickly, sometimes months in advance. We did not see this. The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, is housed at Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, and has earned a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The famous fresco has enjoyed increased popularity since the publication of Dan Brown’s bestselling novel, The Da Vinci Code.

At 6.45 pm, we all boarded the coach, went straight for dinner. Enjoyed a nice Indian dinner at “Aangan”. After all the flight meals related goofup by MMT, we all were so very hungry and enjoyed our first dinner at Europe. Then went to the hotel (Idea San Siro) where stayed for the night!!