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Knowledge Update

6 Bali most popular year-end destination in Asia

Jakarta, Dec 16 (IANS) Indonesia's famous tour destination, the resort island of Bali, has been picked by prominent US travelling reviewer website TripAdvisor as the most popular year-end destination.

The latest international recognition for Bali has made Indonesia's Tourism Minister Arief Yahya upbeat about meeting the target for number of foreign visitors this year -- initially set at 12 million, Xinhua news agency reported on Friday.

The Indonesian government is now developing 10 new tour destinations across the nation, dubbed as New Bali, which are expected to compare with Bali in terms of attracting tourists.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has previously pledged to improve budget allocation up to five times higher to further boost tourism sector which has been declared as the nation's core business.

Bali offers diverse tourism attractions comprising adventure, underwater activities, tourism sports, cultural and traditional events and beautiful beaches.

Maldives tourism records remarkable growth in 2016

​Colombo, Dec 14 (IANS) The Maldives tourism industry has seen a remarkable growth this year, contributing to strengthening the archipelago nation's economy, the country's embassy in Colombo said on Wednesday.

"The growth has been achieved with the dynamic economic policies introduced by President Abdullah Yameen to transform the economy of Maldives," Xinhua news agency cited an embassy statement as saying.

Maldives this year unveiled seven new resorts, including Huravalhi Island Resort, featuring the world's largest underwater restaurant.

The government said 20 new resorts would be unveiled next year.

"With the opening of the new resorts and influx of tourism investments, the industry has become a catalyst for the governments key pledge of youth employment," the embassy statement said.

In addition to the new resorts in April, the government also launched the expansion of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport with a 3,400 metre long and 65 metre wide new runway to cater to the expanding tourism industry.

Upon completion of the expansion, 7.5 million passengers would be catered annually, creating thousands of job opportunities for the youth of the country.

Dubai Crocodile Park to open next year-end

Dubai, Dec 4 (IANS/WAM) The Dubai Crocodile Park project is 43 per cent complete and will open at the end of next year, said Juma Al Fuqae, Director of Property Management Department and Vice Chairman of the Investment Committee at Dubai Municipality.

Al Fuqae said the opening has been extended to allow more time for preparations at the venue which is being set up on the lines of Crocodile Parks in France, and is considered to be the first of its kind in the Middle East.

Once open, the park will enable hundreds of crocodiles to grow and reproduce naturally, and will house many types of Nile crocodiles, the largest fresh-water species in the world.

Talking on the environmental aspect of the project, Al Fuqae said the engineering and construction materials used in the project are environment-friendly and depend on renewable energy and waste treatment.

Australia's Dreamworld to reopen after fatal accident

Sydney, Nov 30 (IANS) Dreamworld, the popular theme park in Australia's Gold Coast in Queensland, is set to reopen on December 10, six weeks after four people died when a ride crashed.

The park was closed after two women and two men, between the ages of 32 and 42, were killed when its Thunder River Rapids ride malfunctioned on October 25.

Dreamworld CEO Craig Davidson said in a statement on Wednesday that Dreamworld and WhiteWater World would reopen following an "unprecedented multi-level safety review", Xinhua news reported.

An inspection in November resulted in 10 improvement and prohibition notices issued for the theme parks.

However, the Thunder River Rapids ride involved in the fatal accident would be demolished.

6,000-year-old pentagon house discovered in China

​Beijing, Nov 28 (IANS) Archaeologists have found ruins of a pentagonal structure in China's Shanxi province which is believed to have been a tribal meeting hall or a leader's office 6,000 years ago, authorities said on Monday.

The semi-subterranean house, discovered at the neolithic ruins in Taoyuan, a village in the province, covered a total area of 90 square metres, with surviving walls reaching a maximum of 50 cm, Xinhua news agency quoted Xue Xinming, a researcher with Shanxi provincial Institute of Archaeology, as saying.

The walls were painted with a mixture of grass and mud inside, and several holes were also found where wooden pillars were located to support the house and walls, said Xue.

A cylinder-shaped fireplace was also found underground in the house, which ancient people used for heating, cooking and lighting.

According to Xue, the pentagonal building was rare for that period as the prehistoric people only built structures larger than 80 square metres in the shape.

"Such a big building perhaps was an office of a tribe leader or a public venue for meetings or worship ceremonies of a major tribe," he said, adding it was the first of its kind found in Shanxi province.

Previously, a dozen prehistoric pentagonal buildings had been found in China, mainly located in Lingbao city in Henan province.

The discovery is part of findings from an excavation that began in August in Taoyuan to prepare for highway construction in the area, said Zheng Yuan, excavation team leader of the project.

Zheng said the total excavation area is 2,500 square metres, and aside from four house ruins, they have also discovered ruins of a pottery kiln and unearthed a variety of pottery pieces.

She said the excavation is important for researching society and life in the Miaodigou Culture, the most powerful period in prehistoric China, which was centred around the provinces of Shanxi, Shaanxi and Henan.

Japan's hot springs city plans 'spamusement' park

Tokyo, Nov 27 (IANS) Japan's Beppu city has figured out how to create a place that will calm your senses while driving your heartbeat through the roof, media reported on Sunday.

The mayor of Beppu, a city known for its hot springs, issued a posting on social media last week: "If this YouTube video hits a million views, I'll build a 'spamusement park' in the city." 

The hot-spring themed amusement park would be where you can soak in a tub while zooming down a rollercoaster, wearing only a towel, the Mashable reported.

In seven days, the video hit 1.8 milliion views and the mayor's office released a statement to the press celebrating the project's commencement.

It hasn't said when the park will be completed, but the city is now seeking creative types to submit ideas for rides and attractions at tghe proposed "spamusement" park.

Seychelles: As exotic as it gets

Victoria (Seychelles), Nov 21 (IANS) It was raining heavily when the inaugural SriLankan Airlines flight from Colombo touched down on the Indian Ocean archipelago nation of Seychelles and one could hardly make out the water cannon salute from inside the aircraft.

As the passengers deboarded at the Seychelles International Airport on Mahe island, each of them were handed out umbrellas by ground staff waiting at the end of the stepladder to get to the small arrival terminal a few steps away.

The sheer exoticness of the country will never fail to hit a first-time visitor, as this IANS correspondent was as he was transported from the airport to the resort on an island connected by a small bridge. A neat, well maintained two-lane road flanked by tropical trees -- greenery in all its grandeur -- connected the airport with the resort.

The quaint houses on the way mostly reflected the French architectural style. One learnt later that though the Seychelles was colonised by France and later by Britain until independence in 1976, the people of the country mostly retained the French culture.

Of the 115 islands that comprise the country that is around 1,500 km east of the African mainland, only the three largest ones are inhabited in a big way -- Mahe, Praslin and La Digue. Mahe, the largest of them all, is home to most of the country's 93,000-odd population.

A visit to the Seychelles National Botanical Gardens on Mount Fleuri on the outskirts of the capital Victoria starts with an interesting bit of trivia -- a popular myth in the country is that the coconut tree has male and female forms. And that popular myth has been given official recognition as shown by the immigration stamp on the passport, the contours of which represent the female form of the tree.

The wood of the Takamaka coconut tree is considered to be the most expensive in the Seychelles, according to Sandra, the guide assigned to our group of journalists.

"The French extract oil from the roots of this tree and 50 ml of this is sold for 300 euros," she said, adding that the oil is mostly used for skincare products.

Landscaped and beautifully maintained , the five acres of the gardens are also home to exotic and endemic tropical plants and a variety of spice and fruit trees. Fruit bats can also be seen hanging from the trees.

And then came the most anticipated event -- a visit to the giant tortoises enclosure. One look and you will surely do a double take. Tortoises. Huge ones!

Distributed across the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles, giant tortoises are herbivores that feed on leaves, fruits and low hanging tree branches.

"The world's longest lived animals with a lifespan of nearly 250 years, Aldabran giant tortoises are one of the two last existing species of giant tortoises," a board at the enclosure reads.

"Their ability to survive nearly three months without food or water contributed to their vulnerable status providing live meat for ships travelling the Indian Ocean during the 16th to 18th century," it stated.

Sandra, the guide, explained that it took three days by boat to reach the Aldabra Atoll, a Unesco World Heritage Site comprising four coral islands, and only seven visitors are allowed on the atoll on any given day.

After the botanical gardens, time for a tour of Victoria. Covering an area a little over 20 sq km, it must be one of the smallest and quaintest national capitals in the world.

Neatly maintained two-lane streets crisscross the town which is dotted with pretty, brightly-coloured houses with slanted roofs given the tropical rain forest climate of the place, and modern commercial buildings.

The Victoria Clock Tower at one of the street squares is a focal point of the town. Erected in 1903 as a memorial to Queen Victoria who died in 1901, the clock is a replica of the one erected in London in 1897.

With the Seychelles as a high-end tourist destination, world's top hotel brands are all here.

Beach time and Sandra immediately informed her guests that all beaches in the Seychelles were public. "That is the law," she said.

North East Point Beach is one such. Stretching over 1.5 km, the windswept beach is popular with tourists, especially surfers. Beach rocks -- masses of sand that have turned into rocks under pressure -- are indicative of how old the beach is.

Farther ahead is the Beau Vallon beach, once considered the best beach in the world and even now among the top 10.

A visit to the Seychelles is incomplete without a trip to Morne Blanc, the highest peak in the country, from where one can get spectacular panoramic views of the Indian Ocean and see tropical birds flying around.

A local meal at a Creole homestead that comprised steamed sea fish, chicken curry and lentils, or dhal as they call it, completed the experience.

Monarch butterflies to woo tourists in Mexico

​Mexico City, Nov 17 (IANS) Monarch butterfly hibernation sanctuaries, located in Mexico and Michoacan, will remain open for tourists from November 23, 2016 to March 31, 2017, an wildlife official said.

The Mexican Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) announced this on Wednesday, reported Efe news agency.

The monarch butterfly, characterised by its large distinctive orange, black and white patterned wings, migrates every fall covering 4,200 km from Canada and the US to spend the winter here.

Their arrival was observed in the last two weeks as thousands of Monarchs flew in the skies of the Mexican states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosi, Queretaro and Guanajuato.

CONANP called on citizens to participate in the campaign "Lets Protect the Monarchs". 

In August, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reported that there was a 40 per cent decline in illegal logging in the Monarch's main habitats here.


UAE, France to cooperate in safeguarding cultural heritage

Abu Dhabi, Nov 16 (IANS/WAM) The United Arab Emirates and France will cooperate to protect cultural heritage during armed conflicts.

This initiative will be launched by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and Francois Hollande, President of France, it was announced at the Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage Conference here.

The conference is being organised in response to the growing threats to some of the world's most important cultural resources arising from sustained periods of armed conflicts, acts of terrorism and illicit trafficking of cultural property.

The systematic destruction or looting of historic sites and monuments representing civilisations that go back millennia, like in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Mali, and throughout the world, are among the cases that have motivated the UAE and France to partner and to support Unesco's global mandate to protect cultural heritage during armed conflicts, according to Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority.

Taiwan offers much for Indian travellers with varied interests

​Taipei, Nov 3 (IANS) The island nation of Taiwan has something of interest for everyone -- scenic, lush-green mountains, lakes, hot springs, culture, cable cars, high-speed trains, museums, malls, amusement parks, beaches and a world class aquarium.

Taiwan, with a population of around 23 million, is not just an industrialised region churning out electronic and other products for global brands but a fusion of multi-cultural traditions and modernity.

The presence of different classes of lodging options in Taiwan and the newly-floated Scoot Airlines grabbing travellers with low fares, Taiwan can also be added to travel destinations for Indians.

It should however be mentioned that language is one issue to be managed here, as English is not widely understood. Also, vegetarians will find Taiwan a bit of a challenge, though hotels do offer vegetarian food. There are also some Indian restaurants.

Around 1.20 a.m. the yellow-painted aircraft took to the skies from Chennai towards Singapore -- the Lion City. Scoot offers different kinds of classes, including a baby-free class, so that travellers are not disturbed by crying babies. But one is helpless if the person next to you starts his/her roaring snore!

It was a new experience to have the piping hot, spicy and tasty Nasi Lemak Malay fragrant rice dish cooked in coconut milk at an unearthly hour of 2.30 a.m. several thousand feet above the earth.

Travel tip: Better carry a small bottle of water as the airline does not provide even a cup of water free.

We (a group of journalists and I) reached Taipei and were received by Francis Wu, an experienced tour guide assigned to us by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau.

The next morning we boarded the high-speed train (HST) to Zuoying, around 340 km from Taipei. The plan was to travel back over the next couple of days soaking in Taiwan's natural beauty and culture.

The train ride was smooth, sans noise and jerks even while changing tracks at over 230 kmph. The green mountains and farm fields that rushed past were a pleasant sight.

From Zuoying station we reached the YoHo Beach Resort at Pingtung for lunch where the Taiwanese food was good. Beach bummers can go to the popular Baisha Bay for a spectacular sunset, setting the mood for much more fun at the resort.

The other popular spot nearby is the Fu An, the God of Earth temple at Che Cheng. The big temple is built in a royal style and the Earth God is said to be very benevolent in acceding to your prayers.

One of the not-to-be-missed tourist spots in Pingtung is the National Museum of Marine Biology & Aquarium where one can watch dolphins and sharks, among others, gliding elegantly inside the overhead glass enclosures.

Walking through the glass tunnel, tourists can see coral reefs and hundreds of fish and also the manual feeding of stingrays by the aquarium's divers.

The stingray's underside looks like one of the ghosts in the "Casper the Ghost" comic and its wide mouth like the smiley emoticon!

At the Yunlin County en route to Tainan city, daredevils can try out the "Diving Machine G5", a high-speed 65-metre vertical fall at the Janfusun Fancy World, a major amusement park. There is also the "Sky Jet" that offers a high-speed 65-metre ascent and a free fall at the park.

The artistically inclined would find the private Chimei Museum housing sculptures and musical instruments interesting.

Yet another picturesque spot in Taiwan is the Sun Moon Lake located 748 metres above sea level that powers several hydel power plants.

From there, via a cable car ride enjoying the green valley below, one can reach the Formosan Aboriginal Cultural Village that narrates the story about the ancient tribes or Austronesans and also hosts cultural shows.

After flying sky lanterns and enjoying the waterfall at the Shifen village it was time to reach Taipei to enjoy the city by night from the 89th floor of the 101-storied Taipei 101 building.

And then it was time to scoot back to Chennai, of course with much reluctance.