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Ancient Roman villa uncovered near Florence

​Florence, Oct 21 (IANS/AKI) Archaeologists have unearthed a luxurious ancient Roman villa complete with thermal baths and stunning mosaics near the central Italian city of Florence in what they described as an "exceptional" find.

"This is a completely exceptional building," said Federico Cantini, from the University of Pisa, who is leading the dig.

Such large and well preserved ancient Roman villas have only previously been found in Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, which Constantine the Great founded as the new capital of the Roman Empire in 330 AD.

The sprawling aristocratic villa, located in a private property in the village of Capraia, has a hexagonal design with intact coloured mosaic floors including an oval mosaic with a wild boar hunting scene in its central reception room.

An inscribed slab of stone at the site refers to the villa's owner, fourth century AD pagan Roman senator Vettius Agorius Praetextatus, according to Cantini.

Praetextatus, who at the time of his death in 384 AD was praetorian prefect at the court of Emperor Valentinian II, completely refurbished the villa, which originally dates from the first century AD.

The villa was abandoned and plundered in the sixth century AD.

NH7 music festival to kick off in Meghalaya on Friday

​Shillong, Oct 20 (IANS) Come Friday, and all roads in Meghalaya will lead to Madan Kurkalang in Bhoirymbong, Ri-Bhoi district for the seventh edition of Bacardi NH7 Weekender, one of the biggest music festivals in India.

The two-day festival, which will entertain the region's music enthusiasts on October 21 and 22, will see many maiden performances by international and national artistes.

The international artistes expected are Steven Wilson, Natty, Rhythm Shaw, River, Mali, The Ritornellos and Vertical Horizon.

While the Indian part will include Farhan Live, Kumail, What Escapes Me, Elephant In The Elevator and Wild Palms.

They will perform over the weekend at the Shillong edition, and are expected to make it a night to remember for all music aficionados.

Other popular local artistes who will be performing at the festival this year will be Papon and Lucid Recess from Guwahati; Soulmate: History of the Blues, Aberrant, Blue Temptation and Dossers Urge from Shillong; Alobo Naga & Band from Dimapur and Imphal Talkies from Imphal.

The Shillong leg of the festival will host five stages - Bacardi Arena, The Dewarists, The Breezer Vivid Village, Bacardi House Party and Insider.

"Following the overwhelming response we got last year, we decided to start the festival from Shillong again this year. So here we come again," Only Much Louder's COO Vijay Nair said.

"It was one of the best Bacardi NH7 Weekender editions we have ever had. The support we received during the weekend from everyone - the local and state authorities, our fantastic local production and security crews," Nair said.

He also praised their brand partners, and the fans - "who were amazing". 

The NH7 weekender will have imaginative stage designs, exquisite art installations, eclectic food options and a specially curated bazaar for artists, craftspeople, DIYers and hobbyist entrepreneurs to showcase their creativity.

"I am super excited about playing at Shillong. Me being from the region and add to it the beautiful setting - surrounded by hills that no city location can beat - makes the Shillong edition of the Bacardi NH7 Weekender provide for a great exposure along with quality music and fun," singing sensation Agaraag 'Papon' Mahanta said.

Papon also termed the Shillong leg of the festival as one of the best musical extravaganza unfolding in the Northeast. "The Shillong edition of Bacardi NH7 Weekender is definitely one of the best festivals I have played at, in terms of the vibe," he said.

Papon added that the region deserved such an initiative and the team behind OML has been instrumental in giving the region one of its biggest musical extravaganzas.

"The people of the Northeast deserved something like this, something of this magnitude. It's a remote region, so hats off to OML for taking the music to Shillong. It's great exposure for the region, and for the young people who are so talented with such great music traditions," the Assamese singer said.

Excited about his debut at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Shillong, noted singer Alobo Naga said, "We are happy and excited to be a part of the festival this year. Such music festivals are not only a treat for music lovers in the region as they get a chance to hear popular national and international bands and performers but also open doors for people from other parts of the country to travel and explore the region... a win-win situation."

Elaborate arrangements are being made by outdoor accommodation providers who are looking to house music lovers during the festival in tents and camps. Camp site Kite Manja, situated within 1.5 km of the venue, is planning to accommodate over 150 people. An additional 50 people will be provided with facilities if they bring their own tents. "On the first day of our tie-up with Make My Trip, we got 15 tent bookings. Seeing such a response, we have increased our capacity to 150 from our initial plan of 100 tents," Founder and Programme Director at Kite Manja, Jnandip Borgohain said.

Jnandip said the festival has been a boon for the local economy as the flow of music lovers to the city will add to many more allied activities.

"Festivals like Bacardi NH7 Weekender provide lots of opportunities to local people in terms of employment. At our campsite, a lot of local population is working. A lot of visitors will come to Shillong in the next many days and this indeed is a big boost to the local economy," he said.

Now, undertake a culinary journey to Benaras

​New Delhi, Oct 19 (IANS) The grandeur of Benaras' exquisite food and the beautiful ambience of its ghats have been brought alive at an ongoing festival here that recreates a spread of the city's specialties and street snacks for the capital's food lovers.

The third segment of the "The Grand Trunk Culinary Journey", which began from Amristar and passed through old Delhi, at the Dilli 32 outlet at The Leela Ambience Convention Hotel here, will take you through the delightful dishes of Benaras till October 29.

To bring out the flavours of each mouth-watering delicacy, Executive Chef Rohit Tokhi and Chef de Cuisine Ashwani Kumar Singh travelled to Benaras to gather the secrets of the food geniuses hidden in the lanes of the Hindu holy city.

"The menu comprises of things from all the three meals that are served across the day in Benaras. There is chudda matar that people take for breakfast; there is batti chokha for lunch and dinner and other snacks available in the market throughout the day," Chef Tokhi told IANS. 

The lip-smacking dishes that are specially prepared by incorporating authentic influences and divine flavours from the city include tamater ki chat, bhaji and jalebi, besan ki katli, fresh thandai and more.

It would be best to start with one of the three drinks -- thandai, pista pan and lassi malai maar ke -- that are served in clay pots called purvas. The fresh thandai tastes absolutely heavenly, far superior to any of the ready-made mixes available.

The spicy, sour and flavoursome tamatar ki chaat was tasty and different from the street food in Delhi.

"In Benaras, people get this chaat from street food shops and avoid preparing it at home," Tokhi said.

Quite unlike the dahi vada here, its Benarasi version was sugared and thus failed to impress.

The vegetarian thali comprises of hare channe ka bhabhra, tarua, baingan kalonji, dum aloo Banarasi, paneer butter masala and kadi bhari threw up some unfamiliar dishes with different flavours.

What really stood apart was the the dum aloo Banarasi. Not all that juicy with no gravy, it was yum to eat with the five kinds of rotis on offer: sheermal, khamiri, ulta tawa, roomali and missi roti

However, the kadi bhari and paneer butter masala with unusual flavours didn't impress at all.

The most surprising element about the menu was the few non-vegetarian dishes, because when you imagine Benaras, you usually only think of vegetarian food going hand-in-hand with the city's sacred Hindu interests.

In reality, the non-vegetarian counter has the most palatable dish on the entire menu. Very different from the Chinese version, there was a chilli chicken that was an absolute delight to feast upon. It was succulent with an amazing Indian touch to it and an apt amount of spices.

Then, there was the gutwa kabab for those who enjoy kababs with a twist.

And finally, the desserts. These include madgal, launglata, kheer mohan, parval ki mithai and gur ki kheer. Of these, the kheer mohan was an irresistible concoction made from cottage cheese. The parval mithai with a stuffing of khoya was good but the gur ki kheer did not intrigue much.

Tiny Kerala island in NatGeo's list of world destinations

​Thiruvananthapuram, Oct 18 (IANS) Kakkathuruthucrows, a tiny island in Kerala's Alappuzha district has been listed in National Geographic's 'Around the World in 24 Hours', a photographic tour of travel-worthy spots across the world.

"It is a matter of pride for us to be listed by NatGeo, which is among the leading magazines in the world," said Kerala Tourism Minister A.C. Moideen.

The tiny island, also known as the 'Island of crows', that can be reached only by boats, was captured by the magazine photographers during the time of dusk when "the shadows lengthen and the sky shifts from pale blue to sapphire".

In a graphic description, the magazine said the sunset in Kerala is greeted by a series of rituals -- Saree clad women head home in skiffs, fishermen light lamps and cast nets into the lagoon and bats swoop across the horizon snapping up moths.

"If dawn is awakening and daytime illumination, then twilight is transcendence, a final burst of vitality before darkness falls," said NatGeo Expeditions.

The other destinations included in the magazine's list are the Northern Lights zone in Norway at 12.00 a.m., Hawaii at 5.00 a.m., Paris at 6.00 a. m., San Francisco at 7.00 a.m., Abu Dhabi at 8.00 a.m., Melbourne at 9.00 a.m., New York at 8.00 p.m., Budapest (Hungary) at 10.00 p.m. and Kerala at 6.00 p.m.


Heritage air-service to link 5 UP cities by 2017

Lucknow, Oct 17 (IANS) In a bid to promote tourism along its major historic cities, Uttar Pradesh would be kick-starting a "Heritage Air-Services" from next year, an official said on Monday.

This air network would be started in Lucknow, Agra, Varanasi, Allahabad and Kanpur, the official added.

The air service will have small aircraft that will fly between the selected tourist and heritage cities, an official said while adding that the state government was in the process of finalising the players for this ambitious scheme.

Principal Secretary (Tourism) Navneet Sehgal informed that apart from the air service, the tourism department would also be launching a new mobile application, cuisine festivals, single platform facilities for investors in the sector and a roadmap where in more footfalls were ensured in the state's tourist hot spots.

"A special emphasis is being laid on developing and strengthening the infrastructure in the places where tourists come in large numbers, but we are also trying to ensure that people from all over the country and the world also realise that UP is much beyond the ghats of Varanasi and the Taj Mahal in Agra," Sehgal told IANS.

Sehgal also said that in this bid by the state government, as directed by Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, a roadmap had been put in place and officials were working in this direction on set timelines. 

He also added that modern people friendly centres would be opened along the Heritage Arch - Agra, Lucknow and Varanasi.

World's tallest wood building has 18 storeys

Toronto, Oct 3 (IANS) The world's tallest wood building at 18 storeys -- about 174 feet -- is set to be completed four months ahead of schedule, showcasing the advantages of building with wood, officials in Canada said.

"This remarkable building, the first of its kind in the world, is another shining example of Canadian ingenuity and innovation, an apt demonstration of how Canada's forest industry is finding new opportunities through technology and innovation -- opening up a world of possibilities for our forest and construction industries," said Jim Carr, Canada's Minister of Natural Resources.

The mass wood structure and facade is for the University of British Columbia's Brock Commons student residence.

The structure was completed less than 70 days after the prefabricated components were first delivered to the site. Construction will now focus on interior elements, with completion expected in early May 2017 -- 18 per cent (or four months) faster than a typical project, a university statement said.

Brock Commons is the first mass wood, steel and concrete hybrid project taller than 14 storeys in the world. The building is expected to welcome more than 400 students in September 2017, the statement added.

The building has a concrete podium and two concrete cores, with 17 storeys of cross-laminated-timber floors supported on glue-laminated wood columns. 

The cladding for the facade is made with 70 per cent wood fibre.

"Brock Commons is living proof that advanced wood products are a terrific material to build with and support efficient assembly," Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, said.

World's highest glass bridge to reopen in October

Beijing, Sep 28 (IANS) The world's longest and highest glass bridge, in Hunan province, will reopen for China's Golden Week holiday in October, after a month-long safety overhaul.

The bridge over the spectacular Grand Canyon Scenic Area in Zhangjiajie, a Unesco world heritage site, was temporarily closed at the beginning of September, following a huge influx of tourists after its initial opening on August 20, Xinhua news agency reported.

According to the bridge management committee, after the reopening on September 30, tourists will be able to visit the bridge by swiping their ID cards on machines at the entrance, after booking tickets via the official website.

The bridge was closed for safety modifications due to the need for an internal system upgrade, as more than 10,000 people were visiting the site every day, exceeding the planned daily limit of 8,000.

During the revamp, the management committee installed an intelligent monitoring system to help control the population flow at the entrance and exit, and also prepared a free shuttle bus service to take visitors to the area.

The 430-metre long, six-metre wide bridge is paved with 99 panes of three-layer transparent glass and hangs between two steep cliffs 300 meters above the ground.

The bridge set 10 world records for its design and construction. 

A ticket for the bridge costs 138 yuan ($21). No personal belongings are allowed on the bridge except wallets and mobile phones. Visitors are not allowed to wear high heels and must cross the bridge without the aid of the railings.

Brand USA targets 2.8 million Indian tourists by 2021

​New Delhi, Sep 23 (IANS) Brand USA, the destination marketing organisation for the US, is attempting to drive enough Indian visits to meet its stated goal of 2.8 million tourists by 2021.

"Visitation to US, when it comes to Indians, has been great. We have had an increase of 17 per cent in 2015. The aim is to reach a milestone of 2.8 million visitors from India by 2021," Cathy Domanico, Vice President, Global Trade Development, Brand USA, told IANS on Friday.

Brand USA was established in 2010 by the Travel Promotion Act as the nation's first public-private partnership to promote the country as a premier travel destination.

The organisation's mission is to increase international visits to the US in order to fuel the economy and enhance the image of the US worldwide. 

"Our goal is to really educate the trade and the destinations. The objective is to bring people beyond the gateways as they don't see much if they come through the gateways," Domanico said during the fifth annual "Brand USA India Mission" organised here to provide an opportunity to the US suppliers to engage with key decision makers through free flow one-on-one appointments.

"We have plans in work to accomplish our goal as there are a lot of prospects in tourism from India to the United States," she added. 

More than 258 million visitors travelled to California in 2015 from every corner of the world, 291,000 of them from India. Indian travellers stayed an average 19 days on their trip, spending $1,785 each, making them a valuable target for California tourism businesses, according to the Brand USA. 

"India is a very big country which has its population in billions. We want to focus on the luxury market and education travels. We will continue to work on the millennial market as India has more number of people under the age of 35 than most of the countries," said Domanico

Riyadh to establish company to upgrade capacity of holy sites

Riyadh, Sep 18 (IANS) Saudi Arabia has agreed to form a company to develop and increase the capacity of the holy sites in Makkah and Medina, local Al Eqtisadiya news website reported on Saturday.

The proposed company, which will be owned by the government, was approved days after the kingdom announced the success of the Haj season that brought together more than 1.8 pilgrims.

The company will be in charge of enhancing the efficiency of utilities and services such as electricity, water, air-conditioning and cleanness. It will work to separate the routes of pedestrians and vehicles.

To generate money, the company will invest in the holy sites to be tourist attractions throughout the year, especially the religious archaeological sites.

The company is expected to generate thousands of job opportunities for local manpower.

The company is part of many initiatives the country are adopting to get ready for post-oil era by implementing various economic and investment projects.

Tourism Education in UAE

Tourism Education in UAE

With an arrival of more than 10 million tourists every year, tourism has emerged as a promising business sector in the UAE. The country is flourishing with three national airlines and a huge number of tourism organizations such as travel agencies, tour operators, ground operators, hotels, and destination tourism authorities.  Capitalizing on the strengths and opportunities, the country presents an ideal tourism model to rest of the world.  Its strategic location, an optimum blend of natural attractions (sun, sand, sea) with those of man-made such as palm islands, sky scrapers, shopping festivals, well established infrastructure and availability of a range of accommodation, make UAE a perfect destination for a variety of tourists.  All this and a huge support and investments by government to diversify from oil sector have given a major thrust to tourism development and promotion.  Though the last few years cast a shadow on the UAE economy as well, yet tourism industry would be a thriving business in the times to come.

Subsequently, the tourism statistics in UAE are quite encouraging. According to WTTC (World Tourism and Travel Council), the direct contribution of Travel & Tourism to GDP in 2015 was AED64.9bn (4.2% of GDP). This is forecast to rise by 4.2% to AED67.6bn in 2016.

The total contribution of Travel & Tourism to employment (including wider effects from investment, the supply chain and induced income impacts) was 557,000 jobs in 2015 (9.6% of total employment). This is forecast to rise by 3.8% in 2016 to 578,000 jobs (9.8% of total employment). By 2026, Travel & Tourism is forecast to support 850,000 jobs (12.4% of total employment), an increase of 3.9% pa over the period.

The encouraging statistics supported by unique characteristics of the UAE such as political stability, low barriers to enter the market, a well-managed banking system and other supporting services and an excellent infrastructure, establishes a solid platform for the investors looking for a business opportunity. What makes UAE business support different from that of others is the clarity in their procedure, rules and regulations.

However, at the same time the tourism sector in the country is starving for suitable man power to work at all levels ranging from the top management decision makers to bottom level operational staff in various tourism and hospitality related organizations. As in many other business sectors in UAE, most of the human resource is being outsourced for tourism and hospitality. While there is nothing wrong in that but one should not forget the importance of training the newly recruited staff about the new markets, and more importantly about the country itself.  Many medium and big size organizations in tourism do have separate Human Resources department taking care of training requirements whereas the small size enterprises might find it challenging to spare their staff for such activities. Need of the hour is to understand tourism industry's functioning at a larger level and fuel a sustainable growth which is socially, culturally and environmentally viable. This is possible only when the people running this sector are equipped with holistic knowledge of tourism sector and take decisions accordingly. At the same time the educational institutes and varsities should also respond innovatively and effectively to the training and education needs of this ever growing sector. Although a whole range of tourism related courses, job oriented professional diplomas and certifications are being offered in the marketplace, their credibility remains questionable. Tourism sector aspirants should carefully analyze their requirement, affordability, availability and match it with the training program and the institute's credibility.

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