Vrindavan – Where India’s Widows Go to Die

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Superstitious beliefs are generally perceived in light humor, like when a black cat crosses your path, or you look into a broken mirror. But what about the ones that could cause several women to live in poverty and destitution for the rest of their lives? Unfortunately, that’s the ugly side of superstition and it does exist in several rural, underdeveloped societies of India. Societies, where it is normal to believe that apart from being a financial burden, widowed women and even their shadows, bring bad luck. Within such circles, widows – both young and old – are shunned and forced to leave their home. Their bangles are broken, red vermilion (the mark of a married woman) is wiped away from the forehead, and they’re forced to wear nothing but white saris, before being turned away from home. Thousands of these homeless widows gather at one place, Vrindavan, where it is believed that death will bring them salvation. So they go there to live in ashrams, awaiting their turn to die.

Unfortunately, life in the ashrams of the holy city of Vrindavan is not exactly a bed of roses for the lonely and abandoned women. In fact, some of them are so poor that they have even left the ashrams and taken to the streets to beg for their food. The north-Indian city, with a population of about 55,000, is believed to have about 20,000 widows today. The ones who do stay on in the ashrams receive only one small plate of food a day, and live in the poorest of conditions. Young widows face a threat to their safety as well, due to sexual abuse and human trafficking.

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Viganella – The Italian Village that Built Its Own Sun

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Viganella is a small village in Italy located right at the bottom of a deep valley, and surrounded by high mountains on all sides. This means that naturally, every year from mid-November to early February, the region has absolutely no sunlight. The return of the sun’s rays on the 2nd of February was celebrated with joy every single year for several centuries. That is, until December of 2006, when the problem was fixed forever.

Thanks to the brilliance of Giacomo Bonzani, an architect and sundial designer, there now resides on the slopes of a mountainside above Viganella, a giant mirror that reflects sunlight into the town square. A place that had not seen the sun’s rays during the winter since the beginning of time, was now suddenly bathed in its glorious light and warmth. The mirror is 40 square meters in size, 8 meters wide by 5 meters high and is located about 870 meters above the village. What’s more, it is actually controlled by a computer software that tracks the sun and tilts and turns the panels of the mirror so that the rays are always reflected downwards. It has actually become a tourist attraction of sorts, since its installation over 5 years ago.

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Magic Mountain Lodge – Chile’s Water Spewing Volcano Hotel

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Ever wondered what it would be like to live inside a volcano? Now you can have your chance at a hotel that’s shaped like one – Magic Mountain. There’s even stuff spewing off the top (water, not molten lava) and cascading down the walls and windows. But it doesn’t look much like a volcano, not to me at least. I think it’s got this old-world charm to it, like a tower from Medieval times. Especially with the antique doors and windows, and a shaky wooden drawbridge to let people into their rooms.

The Magic Mountain Hotel is located in Huilo Huilo, a private Natural Reserve in the Los Rios region of Chile. The antique appearance ends with the exterior however, as the interiors are done up in luxury. There are only 9 rooms, named after bird species found in the area. Each of them overlooks the thick forest and wildlife outside, including toucans, iguanas, pumas and lizards. Guests even get a glimpse of a real-life volcano from the hotel – the enormous Arenal Volcano. Outside the rooms the special services provided to guests are definitely worth a mention. Hot tubs made out of huge tree trunks, overlooking the forest are a major tourist attraction at Magic Mountain, as is the world’s longest zip line running through the grounds.

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Believers Rock Out at Colombia’s Heavy Metal Church

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Some may find it blasphemous, but for the members of Pantokrator Church in Bogota, Colombia, Heavy Metal is a form of pure devotional worship. I know it’s pretty hard to associate screaming and head banging with the serene image of Jesus, but somehow, the 40-member-strong church is able to make the connection.

I wouldn’t blame you if you took one look at the people gathered here and assumed it was for some kind of satanic ritual. What else could one expect, with people dressed in black clothes, army boots with metal spikes and weird body piercings. But nothing good has ever really come out of stereotyping people. So a deeper look does reveal that the church-goers at Pantokrator (Greek for ‘All Powerful’), are pretty serious about their faith. The founder of the church is 24-year-old Cristian Gonzalez, who is also a heavy metal drummer. According to Cristian, it’s perfectly normal to worship through heavy metal music, when Jesus himself got involved with people no matter what their condition – prostitutes, thieves or tax collectors.

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The Mosuo Tribe – China’s Kingdom of Women

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There’s a popular one-liner that’s been doing the rounds on Facebook for a while now – “If women ruled the world, there would be no wars. Just a bunch of jealous countries not talking to each other.” While that’s something we’ve all laughed at and forgotten, there actually does exists a Chinese matriarchal tribe where things are seemingly always at peace. Also known as the Kingdom of Daughters, the Mosuo Tribe have been in existence for the past two thousand years in the Lugu Lake region of Southern China.

In the Mosuo tribe, women rule. To such an extent that their language doesn’t even have a word for ‘father’. Property is handed down from mother to daughter, and sons are treated as simple inhabitants of the house. Even after they are married with children of their own, the men continue to live in their maternal homes, while children live in the home of the mother. In fact, there isn’t even a concept of formal marriage. Couples who fall in love meet in the home of the woman, and continue to refer to each other as ‘friends’. Vows and bonds have no place in a “walking marriage” system where mutual affection is valued.

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The Flying Men of Bolivia’s Yungas Valley

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It truly amazes me how people are able to find great shortcuts in any kind of situation. A while ago, we wrote about Bamboo Drifting , which was a means to cross rivers in China by balancing on a thin bamboo pole. Deep valleys exist in the jungles of Bolivia too, but the locals have chosen flying over rowing, and it’s much faster. On foot, the journey would take a good 1 hour, as they’d have to walk down to the bottom, cross the river and climb up the other side. But 30 seconds is all it takes for the people of Yungas Valley to fly across.

No, they haven’t mysteriously sprouted wings, nor do they use any fancy machines. Their flying equipment is simple – 20 ropes strung across the valley with old rusting pulleys, 200 meters above the river and stretching as long as 400 meters. Several of the local cocoa harvesters, the Cocaleros, use the ropes every day to travel to and fro along with their goods. They tie themselves to the pulleys using strips of fabric, and glide across effortlessly. Branches and leaves are used as brakes to stop themselves so they don’t end up crashing into the other side.

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Rules Are Simple at Atherstone Ball Game – Just Don’t Kill Anyone

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Festival games are really fun to watch, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be in one like the Atherstone Ball Game. I’ve always followed the Spanish La Tomatina with interest, so when I heard about the Atherstone Ball Game, I had to find out more. Considered to be one of the oldest traditions of England, it is played in Atherstone, Warwickshire, as a part of Mardi Gras celebrations each year. For over 800 years, hundreds of men have gathered on the streets of the town to fight for a giant ball. The man who emerges in possession of the ball at the end of two hours of pushing, shoving and punching, is the winner.

The various traditions followed as a part of the festive day are quite interesting. The preparations for the game start early in the morning, with shop owners boarding up windows for protection. At 2.30pm, children start gathering under Barclays Bank. Pennies and sweets are showered on them from the balcony. Later, at around 3pm, the men start to assemble in anticipation of the ball game. A selected dignitary finally throws the ball into the crowd from a window above, and then all hell breaks loose.

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Silbo Gomero – Tweeting Is an Actual Language on La Gomera Island

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The Silbo Gomero language sounds as sweet as the tweeting of Nightingales. Listening to this beautiful means of communication makes me wonder if birds are actually able to talk to each other in the same manner. Because the people of La Gomera island in the Canaries certainly do one heck of a job of talking through chirp-like whistles.

Silbo Gomero is the name given to the language of whistles spoken on the small island of La Gomera, off the coast of Morocco. It is structured in such a way that the islanders are able to mimic the spoken language of the region – Castilian Spanish – through whistles. While there have been reports of other whistling languages in the world, Silbo Gomero is the only one that is fully developed and practiced by an entire community. It is so organized and thorough that every vowel and consonant can be replaced with a whistle. Depending on the pitch and the number of interruptions, the sounds can be distinguished from each other.

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Purga Nightclub – Where Every Night Is New Year’s Eve

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The holiday season is a truly magical time around the world. New Year’s Eve, especially, is seen as a time of hope and new beginnings, a time to forget the old and embrace the new. Most people are in high spirits, celebrating the coming of the new year with much pomp and gusto. But what if you got to celebrate it every single night of the year? Would it still be as much fun? Apparently it would, going by the success of ‘Purga’ – a nightclub in St. Petersburg, Russia, where every night is New Year’s Eve.

Everything that’s needed for a typical Russian New Year’s Eve celebration is available at the club. The Russian national anthem, the new year’s speech of Vladimir Putin on TV, fun costumes, decorations, contests, dancing and singing. Professional actors work at the club as ‘bunnies’, who are basically there to entertain people and make sure they forget all their worries. Ever since Purga was started way back in 2002, it has been popular in town, with table reservations being made at least a week in advance.

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El Diablo Restaurant – Cooking Food over an Active Volcano

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What could be more natural than having a barbecue party on a volcano? Apart from the obvious health and safety hazards, that is. But such things are not a concern at the El Diablo restaurant, where chefs actually cook food over the heat produced by an active volcano.

Located on a Spanish island called Lanzarote, northwest of Morocco, El Diablo is a unique restaurant where the chefs have access to a volcano of their own. Of course, it isn’t like a lava-spewing mountain, because if that were the case there would be no question of leisurely eating. No, this volcano is more like a hole in the ground, through which volcanic heat erupts from the deeps of the Earth.

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Quick and Cheap: Divorce Hotel Opens in the Netherlands

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Couples on romantic weekend getaways tend to make a spur-of-the-moment decision to get married. And it is for this reason that several hotels, especially in places like Vegas, provide wedding chapel services. If getting married could be that easy, then why the long-drawn out process for a divorce? Well apparently, not anymore. It is now possible to get divorced over a weekend getaway too, thanks to the Divorce Hotel.

The concept of Divorce Hotel was developed by entrepreneur Jim Halfens, in the Netherlands. In a country where the average divorce settlement could be very heavy on the pocket and take months to complete, Halfens spotted a great business opportunity that could make things easier for parting couples. So all they need to do is check in at the Divorce Hotel over a weekend and all the necessary legal documentation to end their marriage is arranged for them. The service includes a mediator and a series of lawyers who help the couple split assets, arrange visitation rights and agree on alimony payments, all at a fixed fee.

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India’s Fascinating Fortune-Telling Robots

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Indians have long since been passionate about predicting the future. Horoscopes are created with the help of an astrologer on the very day a child is born and these documents are consulted from time to time during major milestones of a person’s life. Especially when a match is made as a part of an arranged marriage, an astrologer is duly consulted to make sure the horoscopes of the bride and groom are compatible with each other.

While all this may seem very strange to an outsider, for Indians it’s a part of normal and natural life. In fact , progress in terms of fortune-telling technology has been made too. In several homes, local astrologers have been replaced by computer software that serves the same purpose. One simply needs to enter their name and time/date of birth to receive a complete report of their past, present and future.

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Iglu Dorf – Living Like an Eskimo in a Luxury Igloo Village

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Looks like Igloo hotels are becoming more and more popular these days. A few weeks ago we wrote about the Igloo Village in Finland, and now we introduce you to Iglu-Dorf, a concept hotel that offers igloo villages in seven locations in Andorra, Switzerland and Austria. What’s different about these igloos is the fact that they are rebuilt every year, using 3,000 tons of snow from the Pyrenees and the Alps.

The history of Iglu-Dorf began with one extreme skateboarder’s crazy idea to spend the night in an igloo so he could be the first on the slopes the next day. Apparently being first is a matter of great pride for skateboarders, so he decided to build himself an igloo to make sure no one beat him to that first ride down the mountain. The next day he looked like the happiest person alive, and when someone asked him why he had a big smile on his face, he just pointed at the mountain and said “You see that line over there? That was me.” More and more people followed his example and asked to sleep in his igloo. The next season he built two igloos, then three, and that’s how the Iglu-Dorf igloo villages were born. Now the company builds 12 of them every year, in different locations around Europe.

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La Maison a Vaisselle Cassee – Outsider Art in Louviers, France

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La Maison a Vaisselle Cassée or The Broken Crockery House, is a very special place located in Louviers, France. I took a look at a few pictures and couldn’t help being reminded of the gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel. Of course, you can’t eat this one and there’s no evil witch living there.

This was the home of Robert Vasseur and his wife, who abandoned wallpaper and painstakingly decorated their home with mosaics made from broken crockery, seashells, twinkling china and glass. Born in 1908, Vasseur was a milk transporter and also worked in textiles. His strange passion for mosaic decoration started way back in 1952 when he first got the idea while doing repair work in his kitchen. He embellished an old cement kitchen sink with broken crockery mosaics and never looked back. Starting with that old sink, he expanded his idea to the interior of his house, the backyard, then the garden and later even the dog house. This went on for the next 50 years or so.

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Filipino Restaurant at the Foot of a Waterfall

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Located in the Quezon province of the Philippines, Villa Escudero is a nice hacienda-style resort with cozy rooms and an exotic atmosphere. But what brought its international fame is the waterfall restaurant that allows tourists to enjoy a nice meal right at the foot of a small waterfall.

In most cases, getting too close to a waterfall can prove deadly, but not at this particular restaurant, at Villa Escudero. Here, people are actually encouraged to take off their shoes and get as close to the falls as possible. Set right at the foot of Labasin Falls, this special place invites customers to taste popular Filipino dishes, while fresh spring water from the falls flows under and over their feet, making this an unforgettable experience. As you can imagine, it’s nowhere near as impressive as Niagara, but visitors who don’t mind getting their clothes wet can sit right under the rushing waterfall and get their pictures taken. Words just don’t do this fantastic tourist attraction justice, so I’ll let the photos and video do the talking.

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