Back from Brühl, we went straight to the hotel where we "preened" and we got ready to celebrate New Year's Eve and the arrival of the New Year. In Germany, they simply say celebrate the night of Silvester. We were going well since we arrived at the hotel at 5:30 p.m. and had a reserved table at 7:30 p.m.

That allowed us to take a quiet walk and see the illuminated streets to the restaurant where we would dine and that we found through the internet. They offered a buffet of German food and glass of wine.

When we left the street it was deserted (it was 7:00 pm) and we thought that in this city the celebration of the New Year was going to be a "dud". Inside the houses, there was no music, no laughter, nothing at all. There were no cars and all shops and bars were closed.

The lighting of the streets was simple but pleasant. When we arrived at the restaurant we almost felt relieved to see that there were already people inside.

The place was decorated in a traditional German way and the employees were dressed in the regional dress. We were seated at a table decorated with candles and Christmas decorations. They offer us a welcome drink since the buffet had not yet been prepared. So far so good, but no music, no one having fun?

We felt so quiet and more when we found that the place had all the tables full. But the audience seemed to have gone to the movies rather than a New Year's Eve dinner.

Like everyone else, we had taken the welcome drink. The people and ourselves started asking for beer mugs since we still had no food and what happened? Slowly people began to cheer up, laugh and talk louder and louder. Even a Swedish couple that was by our side began to engage in conversation with us.



Finally, an hour later around 8:00 pm the buffet opened and the music started to play, but in a very subtle way. It was nothing high. The food we can not qualify as sensational, but it was quite good, especially the roast meat that was cut at the time and in sight.

To us, it was enough with a plate of different side dishes and another with meat and "kartoffelsalat". We spent our time chatting like Tarzan with the Swedish couple, waiting for the desserts to come out. Once they did, we gave a good account of them and asked for the bill for drinks and coffee that were not included in the buffet payment.

Around 21:30h we went to the discotheque in one of the premises of the Town Hall. There we had to wait due to a large queue of people to pass and security checks. We had booked it on the Internet. They announced it as the best place to see the fireworks that would celebrate the New Year on the banks of the Rhine. We thought it would have balconies or terraces to see it and if it was raining or snowing we would be sheltered.

We were also encouraged by the fact that a DJ was going to mix music from the 80s with current music and the price included a drink (which later was a thimble).

They put a stamp on our hand and we realized that it was to go out and see the fireworks and come back. It was not going to be able to see it from the building. In short, the night was nice and it was not as cold as we expected.

For years we were not going to dance to a disco, but the atmosphere and attitude of the people do not change much. Maybe now it takes a lot of Jason Statham style for the gym guys, with shaved hair, white shirts of two sizes less and thin tie. The girls opted mostly for the short dress and heels.

But we did not feel out of place because there were people of all ages. We were lucky enough to take a seat in one of the amphitheaters and from there we were having a good account of the people who "excelled" on the track. We could also dance without stress and enjoy the good music they put on.

And it was time to leave at midnight. People gathered to leave but in an order. We went down the stairs and left like everyone else in the direction of the Kennedy Bridge to see from above the fireworks over the Rhine.

People carried rockets, firecrackers and pyrotechnic devices that began to explode practically wherever they pleased. We looked at our watches and it was really 00:00. We immediately uncork the bottle of champagne and gave a first hickey wishing us happiness for the new year.

The show was incredible. It was one of the most impressive we've seen. The Rhine was almost on fire, with noise and light coming from everywhere. The boats circulated with people inside celebrating the event. On the banks and on the bridge they did not stop firing rockets. The police only expected an incident because they did nothing to prevent them from throwing themselves with some care. It was both an extraordinary spectacle and a dangerous one.

There each one took care of themselves and we realized that the whole city of Bonn woke up from the lethargy of its normal and slow life. After an hour without stopping of explosions of light and color, hundreds of bottles and remains of pyrotechnics began to accumulate in the streets. It was time to go back to the hotel and not tempt to fate.

Park Street is a symbol of the city of Kolkata. One of the favorite destinations of tourists from around the world, especially during the Christmas season, Park Street offers a huge amount of possibilities and attractions, which includes museums, pubs, nightclubs, five star hotels, bookstores, cafes, historic as well as modern restaurants, fast food hubs, music stores and parks in and out.

I went to Calcutta via a low cost airline, not without having been able to rest a little at the lounge of Mumbai. So I arrived in Calcutta without a hitch, just a few hours late from our initial schedule. When I arrive in Calcutta, it's a real leap in time, not so much the airport that is modern, but as soon as I see the famous yellow taxis, and travel the first few kilometers.

Seeing these old buildings dating from the colonial era falling into ruin makes me think of Yangon in Burma. I do not know what to expect, to see it there under these eyes. It is clearly different, at this moment. I have difficulty to understand how it is humanly possible to live in these conditions. So I see cows, trash, brothel, a lot of people and a concert of horns which is only the beginning.

My hotel was in the Esplanade. The mission of the day for my taxi is to take me there and what a mission. Suddenly, our driver, not finds himself asking his way several times. I was insisting that we be taken to our destination, I did not want to find myself somewhere in Calcutta, as good as my sense of direction.

Fortunately, we will eventually find someone who knew the hotel and finally arrived at our pied-a-terre. The entrance is quite discreet behind a staircase. I see a old elevator that can barely take 2 people. But the room is fine. The staff present arranged my train for Bodhgaya for the next day. After a good shower and a nap, I finally went out on the street.

I walked aimlessly in the first direction that came to me. I land at the Kolkata Municipal Corporation Headquarters, a municipal building dating back to 1876. It, as the name suggests, houses the city's administrative services and infrastructure management. When I sees the old dilapidated hotel just across the street, I think they do not miss a job.

At the end of the Hogg Street, I see the New Market in Lindsay Street which is in fact the oldest municipal market of the city. I walk on to the Oxford book store under the porch of Park Mansion. In the radius of the guides I look for a map of Sundarbans. I see a map of Bengal where I can see more details than in my guide.

I notice that the field of fine books is developing. The photographic works on India are more numerous than before but still very few books on Calcutta city yet very photogenic. In passing I stop to take a apple crumble cupcake and tea at the Flurys. It cost me more than the meal but it's quiet. It is the rendezvous of the golden youth and intellectuals of Kolkata. I enjoy the calm with the story of tea painted on the wall in front of me.

In fact my neighborhood, Park street is a street where there are many luxury shops, a big avenue then crowded for the festivities. I returned at 3 to take a shower and I fall asleep immediately. Walking back to Park Street I stopped in the very romantic Park Street Cemetery. In a totally different style, there was once again a very special atmosphere.

Located in the middle of a town in a square of forest that has survived the urbanization, this cemetery, which has been abandoned for almost a century, is home to hundreds of burials rivaling each other. From the size, originality of the form, or the location, nothing distinguishes the eternal home of a newborn from that of the Marquis of Hastings who was once the governor general of India.

I resume my walk to Russel Street. I leave when police officers approach me, asking me to follow them and tell me that photographing is prohibited in the area. Indeed, an official building was on your right. One of them wants me to show him and delete the picture. I try to explain to him that it is a film camera. I show him the viewfinder. The other more conciliatory policeman explains to his colleague that it is an antique camera and I get away leaving my name, address and the mention of antique camera.

At lunchtime I had lunch at Peter Cat in the Park Street area, an establishment frequented by the middle class where one queues to have a table. Here the menu is not vegetarian but rather very meaty, and the map of spirits, beers and wines is as consistent as the menu. Low chandeliers above each table create a cozy atmosphere. The waiters are all dressed in Afghan style. I order its famous Chelo kebab and pulao rice with a lemon soda and a black label.

At tea time, in the chai shop, a talkative Bengali holds my leg for half an hour, and gives me a little lesson on the economic problems and the expatriation of firms to China and communism in Eastern Europe. He explains to me with disconcerting ease that it is a natural selection.

At dinner after crossing Camac Street I went to Hakuna Matata located in a posh shopping arcade of chic boutiques, bars, restaurants and a movie theater. In the menu they have aloo phoolkopir dalna prepared with cauliflower and peas in a curry just strong enough. There is daab chingri with large shrimps served in half a coconut cooked in a coconut curry. There is also kaju kishmis pulao of fried rice with grapes and cashew nuts, slightly spicy. There is also a gondhoraj salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and lettuce, lemon.

The avenue is covered with Christmas decorations, garlands, lights. The crowd rushes, each wearing a Santa Claus hat, or red and black clothes.

Park street is filled with colorful fancy decorations, with the streets full of life and shops glow with their signs and showcases, while you travel a walk the sidewalks flooded with people. The Christmas in Park Street is a wonderful experience, with a merry bunch of festive people smiling even in the cold. On December 25, the streets are filled with crowds who celebrate in a very special way, waiting for the celebrations for the new year.

Under the dress of the lady, the area cultivates a energy which is much more radical. Heir to a mixture of cultural and underground culture, the street absorbs influences from UK, US to India. I stopped to buy records of Rabindra Sangeet written and composed by Ranindranath Tagore. The crowd spills as I arrived at the hotel. I listened to the songs of Tagore on my bed by candlelight drinking hot tea.

park street kolkata girls nightlife shopping christmas night restaurants

From the windows of the train, we can see the landscape changing when arriving near Bengal. The vegetation becomes much more tropical. We see rice fields, banana trees, palm trees and the climate is much warmer than in Varanasi from where we arrive.

The train arrives at the Howrah station at 9 pm. The train station of Howrah, the largest in Asia looks pretty, clean and not too crowded. We find the prepaid taxi stand in front of the station. We buy a ticket at the counter and take the taxi indicated in the queue. In Calcutta, taxis are beautiful yellow cars, often Ambassador, carefully bred.

There are many and they are not expensive. On the other hand, the drivers do not always know the place where we want to go. We cross Howrah Bridge and we arrive in the busy little streets where is the hotel. The reception and the lobby is quite classy, and there is even a lift! On the other hand, the room is in a sorry state strewn with detritus.

The air-conditioning flees on the ground, and everything seems abandoned and it is a pity because it could be done better. It is large and very clear with its two large windows, a sofa, a large bathroom and is located on the top floor overlooking a quiet street. They assure us that they will clean! Finally, after the household has been nearly done, we settle down.

The walls and the furniture would need a good leaching, but we will be fine there. We have dinner at a local restaurant. There is no menu but plenty of dishes are brought like rice, dal, vegetables, very spicy shrimps, red spinach curry. In the neighborhood is Sudder Street, the street of backpackers and the atmosphere is very nice and cosmopolitan.

At the end of the street is the beautiful white building of the Indian Museum. Opposite is the large Maidan where are full of cricket grounds, a game very popular here. In the night, the neighborhood is full of people and small street shops abound.

Trip to Belur Math and Ramakrishna Math

Day 2

As we have a day before the departure to the Sunderbans Tiger Reserve, the travel agency offered to organize a day visit from Kolkata to Belur Math. A man wait for us at the exit of the train. We take a yellow ambassador taxi to face the traffic to a small Broadway style hotel. The room is spacious, with a sofa area.

After a shower we go with the guide and a driver. It is not very causative. He does not tell us where we are going, nor do he give us an explanation about the city, or its history. Not great as a guide, but it brings us to interesting places. We realize that he does not speak Hindi much.

On the banks of the Hooghly River in the north of the city is the Belur Math. Nestled among palm trees, flowers and manicured lawns, this vast religious center is home to the Ramakrishna Mission. The founder is the Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a philosopher of the XIXth century, who preached for the unity of all religions.

The main temple is a huge monument mixing several styles in cupolas, cathedral shape and Indian palace. We wait inside the opening. The faithful prostrate themselves before the statue by placing flowers and money in the donation box.

Other small shrines contain other statues or idols. A museum traces the life of Ramakrishna and his disciples. We meet one of their gurus. Through the streets there are many shops of religious objects, and dozens of photos of all sizes and colors stand out with Vivekananda, in different poses and costumes, as if he were a film artist. A little further up the opposite bank is the Dakshineswar Kali Temple a long striped yellow and red building, with many pointed roofs. It can be seen from the river. Ghats go down there, where pilgrims bathe. This is the place where Ramakrishna began his spiritual journey.

On our way back to Calcutta we stop at Kumartuli. The place owes its name to the sculptors of effigies of idols like Durga, Lakshmi, Saraswati and many others. The sculptors are always busy as the idols are ritually immersed in the sacred waters of the Hooghly on the occasion of religious festivals. They make idols of all sizes from the smallest to the giant ones before Durga Puja.

The first step is to make a straw structure. Then they cover it with clay. After drying, effigies are painted and customized with wigs, jewelry. We come back to Chowringhee. The Victoria memorial evokes a pantheon, between the white house and the Taj Mahal. Built in honor of Queen Victoria's 60th birthday, it was completed only after her death.

We enter the park between two stone lions. In front of the main alley, the queen looks a little absent, on her bronze throne. Behind it is the imposing white marble edifice with its cupolas and columns.

A statue of Victoria, much more majestic is under the big dome. Inside there is a gallery of paintings, one of photographs of the governor's house. The Calcutta gallery is the most interesting. It traces the history of the city, from the first inhabitants to independence, through colonization. The only problem is that everything is in English and there is far too much text.

At the back, the memorial is reflected in basins. After a ride in a carriage, the lovers find themselves on the lawns in the middle of the detritus. The park is pretty and well maintained. It is a pity looking at the lack of civility of some.

Not far away, the Birla Planetarium is one of the largest in the world. Sitting comfortably in chairs as in the cinema, we admire the projection of the starry sky under the dome.

After many months of preparation the adventure begins in Canada. Although I considered going through Vancouver, the time available and amount of things to see in the Rockies led me to opt out of Vancouver. Hence the title of the blog since our trip takes place in Alberta, where in the license plates of the cars we can see the famous Wild Rose Country phrase.

Day 1 - First Contact with Canadian Rockies

We got up early to catch the first flight of the day. I was able to take out the boarding passes the day before and choose the seats. As we do not have machines here we check in at the window. At Heathrow we had to change terminals but for the huge airport it really surprised me how well organized it is.

When we get off the plane we just have to follow the purple signs that are in flight connection. They take us to some buses that leave us in the terminal we go to in 10 minutes. Once there we pass the security check and wait for the next flight.

At about 5 o'clock in the afternoon it was finally time to get on the flight, a Boeing 767 with individual little screens. With respect to the other intercontinental flights that I have taken, it has the advantage of a 2-3-2 configuration, so it is much more comfortable than the 3-4-3 of the 777 or the 747.

We took the window seat and the seats seemed quite large although the entertainment on board seemed pretty shabby. The controls cannot be removed from the seat and have little games, something that at least helps me enough to pass the time. Almost all the films are in English but with that accent with which the greatest of the dramas seems like a comedy.

When entering the plane in the seats, they leave us a pillow, a blanket and a small packet with a brush and toothpaste. From London we left with almost an hour of delay due to minor technical problems. So we had a good time waiting, although with the excitement of the trip it was not very long either. Throughout the flight we recovered great part of the accumulated delay. In the end we arrived only 20 minutes late.

As soon as the flight took height they passed by offering drinks and soon after dinner arrived, typical of the plane and not very good. I don't know why inflight everything tastes so poor. On this occasion we had to choose between beef and chicken paella. I chose the second and that pasty rice was anything but paella.

For dessert we had a piece of pretty rich chocolate cake. They gave us a glass of water, butter and a bread roll with spices and a salad. They ended up offering coffee or tea. During the flight they would pass from time to time offering juices and water. When there was little more than an hour and a half before landing they gave us breakfast, a sandwich, fruit, a kitkat, juice and coffee or tea. In this case, it was pretty good.

The 9 hours of flight as always are very long although once on land we almost do not remember how the trip was over. At 8:20 we landed at the Calgary airport. It's not very big. While we were going to collect the suitcases, we took the opportunity to take some pictures of the welcome signs.

Before picking up the luggage, we pass the immigration. The security asked us the typical questions of how long we were going stay and the places we were planning to go. When arriving at the belt with the fear that our luggage would not leave, we see they had already begun to leave. I had never seen so much efficiency, as ours went out in the first round, so we could already breathe easy.

Finally we passed a small control where we delivered the customs card that we had filled on the plane, and voila, we were in Canadian lands. Once we leave we go to the car rental company in front of the door. It is only necessary to cross the street where the taxis stop. There we picked up our car that we would not leave until the last day of travel.

In the office I was offered a full tank and I passed it because it was not worth considering the price of fuel in Canada. I was also offered to upgrade or get additional insurance to avoid paying the franchise a higher price. I said no to everything.

The car had enough space for our bags and also had air conditioning. I could not ask much for what I paid considering the rental rates in Alberta. Once mounted in the car the first thing was to place the navigator with the maps of North America installed.

After a few meters the GPS began to give us instructions and in a few minutes we were at the hotel. The room was huge and had a couple of armchairs, tables, desk, flat screen tv and ipod dock. It also had a mini-kitchen, that is, a sink, microwave, refrigerator, coffee maker and everything needed to prepare tea and coffee. The bathroom in line with the rest of the room was good with shower and bath.

After getting some soft drinks in the machines of the hotel (very expensive of course) and some ice from the free machine, we dined something we had bought along the trip. We prepared to rest.

Wild Rose Country of Alberta in the Canadian Rockies

Day 2 - Road to Banff

It was not hard for us to get up early because of the time change. So at 7 o'clock we went down to breakfast. By the way, breakfast was very good. There were both sweet (up to waffles) and salty items. There were juices, coffee, yogurt, cereals, sausages, various types of breads and pastries, plus eggs, bacon and sausages.

We wanted to make a technical stop in the center of Calgary to buy some things for the camping day. So we reach a Canadian store specializing in mountain accessories with very good value for money. Also, when we were leaving we saw the famous bells.

Since we were in the center and that we had plenty of parking time, we took the opportunity to take a quick tour around the city center. At about 11 o'clock we set off for Banff, a journey that takes about an hour and a half, along a freeway with very wide lanes and endless straight lines.

Immediately on the left in the direction of the march we can see the Canada Olympic Park, the place where the winter Olympics were held. There are three jumping trampolines on the top of a small hill.

As we went along the road to the Rockies several things caught our attention. The first is the size of the cars, and the rare thing is to see a normal car. Almost all are huge pickups and large SUVs, the same as those of the American movies. At about 1 we arrived in Banff. As it was early to check in at the hotel we decided not to reach the town and go to Lake Minnewanka that we had on the way to take advantage of the time.

It is a huge lake, one of the largest in the area but is not as impressive as others. We surround the lake by the path that leads to the Steward Canyon, where we find a wooden bridge. From here at this time we can not continue walking for the activity of bears in the area. On the shores of the lake as we walked we found huge banks of mosquitoes. I think nowhere else we saw so many.

Between some things and others we went to Banff to eat and settle. We left the car parked in the area indicated as parking at the end of Banff Avenue, before crossing the bridge over the river. As we were hungry we ate a salad in the first eatery we found on our way. There was also free wifi so we could look at the mail.

At 3 we went to the hotel, which I booked on the website of the hotel and did the check-in. I know it is a bit expensive but I chose the higher category room and had the advantage of being in the center of the city, a stone's throw from the shops. The price also includes wifi and free parking.

The hotel is quite good. The biggest advantage is its location and the fact that it includes breakfast. The next visit of the day was the Johnston Canyon. I had read that it is usually plagued by tourists, so it is recommended to visit it in the afternoon or early in the morning. We opted for the first option, arriving there before 5. We had no problem parking although we saw cars by the road and there were people but nothing overwhelming.

After taking a photo of the information booth to put in instagram that we usually do, we started the way with tranquility and taking pictures. In about 20 minutes we were in the Lower Falls. After the obligatory stop we continue the path next to the bluish river by the promenade enabled for that purpose. After another 25 minutes we reach the Upper Falls.

Given the time it was we decided to continue to Ink Pots but we were afraid that it would be night. So we gave up. After all we had many long walks and it was not a matter of spending all the energy in the first day.

We take a nice walk along the river, and we see a couple of waterfalls. To get there we take the Bow Valley road. However, once the trip is over we see many people. I was also struck by the Mistaya for its curves and the strength of its waters or the Maligne. Instead of returning to Banff we chose to follow the road a little to see the impressive Castle Mountain up close.

Given that they say that this is a good area to see a bear, but there was no luck in this regard. From here we returned to Banff since we still had to pay for food purchases and we wanted to go around the small shops in the center. The next day the famous Lake Louise was waiting for us.

The taxi for the airport is scheduled at 8:30. We plan to wake up around 7:30 to take a hot shower. Anyway, I was awakened by the noise in the street. In Delhi, it's amazing as sweepers sweep the streets, make piles but we never see anyone picking them up. Maybe there are garbage collectors who do it later?

While waiting for the taxi, we see the newspaper delivery men who roll the newspaper in a ball, surround it with an elastic band and send it to the recipient's balcony from the street. But sometimes it's harder than it seems at first glance.

The journey to the airport lasts almost an hour. At the airport, there are plenty of checks before arriving at the boarding gate. The plane is delayed by thirty minutes, so we wait. The flight goes well except the screaming of the little girl in front of us, a hyper spoiled little girl who will even refuse to put her seatbelt on arrival. It annoys the flight attendants who still keep their smile.

We see the Himalayan chain and managed to take a picture sneaking up to the business class. After arriving at the Bagdogra airport, we are literally beset by a pack of taxi drivers who all want to take us to Siliguri. Again, we are entitled to a crazy driver who takes the side of the road for a lane and he exceeds everyone. About an hour later, he drops us in front of the hotel.

The welcome is very nice. There is tea bags, coffee and a bottle of water are at our disposal. Three reasons have brought me here. The first is that Siliguri is the ideal base to the Indian northeast. Everything that interests me is more or less at hand with the ancient kingdom of Sikkim, the city of Darjeeling, as also Nepal.

There is even some state of the Seven Sisters, a constellation of states of the northeast of the subcontinent, such as Assam or Meghalaya. I do not know very well what I will do or where I will go. The second reason is a very narrow steam train that runs through the hills. From the plains it goes up to the city of Darjeeling and they call it the Toy Train.

The third thing that has brought me here is a bike riding experience. From the Siliguri station, everywhere there is transport to the city. All the vehicles becomes a firm aspirant to take us to the city. Saying that in Siliguri there is not much to see should be punishable by law. The guides qualify it in this way because it is not a city full of tourist landmarks, museums, monuments, open-air buses, or expensive restaurants.

Nor does it have an absurd ghetto of backpackers like Thamel in Kathmandu or Khao San Road in Bangkok, where you can take refuge from the reality of the country, going through a kind of magical door that takes you to a comfortable bubble with some touches of exoticism.

To say that in Siliguri there is nothing to see, is like denying life. It is as if we said that in India there is nothing to see. The truth is that in Siliguri there is no time to see everything. It is the pure life of a Bengali city of incessant activity, a diatribe very typical of urban India and a mixture of beauty-seediness-survival. Here every morning untouched children in uniform say goodbye to their mothers who bend down to sweep the entrances of their houses.

In my opinion, people in Siliguri are friendly for various reasons, cultural, educational and those that come to mind. I am afraid that one of the main reasons is the lack of tourists. If I managed to make an anti-travel guide that encompassed all the nothing to see in the world, the fortunate one who followed it would undoubtedly find the quintessence of the territories.

Tourists and travelers are like a plague of locusts. We arrive at a place and we go to the next one, hungry. And it should be made clear, not by going too smart, but simply to maintain an ethic and a certain seriousness when traveling.

Siliguri allows me to escape from this wheel of tourists. I reach a certain urban nirvana where I can open my eyes well with the assurance that what I have before me would be there even if I were not here, and it is not created for me. Towards the city center we cross a large bridge, above the Mahananda River, lined with homes looking like slums. The atmosphere is lively and rather happy. It's colorful, children play and laugh in the streets.

From this bridge we witness many scenes of life. It was the most interesting and informative place of Siliguri! In Kolkata, everything, absolutely everything could be done on the sidewalks but here it is in the water. Would it be a good solution to travel to the nothing to see and pass by the must? I would also have to do it quickly, before the others find out. Once on the main road I see a bus assault. Buses never stop at all if they can avoid it. If the passenger is an older person then they would stop.

The assistant, a guy hanging from the open door with his hand full of bills screams like a desperate one who communicates it to the driver by a code of blows in the bus body. One blow is a signal to stop, and two blows is a signal to continue.

After getting into a rickshaw that will take me to the main train station in the New Jalpaiguri Station area, I learn that the Toy Train to Darjeeling does not work since the last monsoon spoiled part of its layout. I will have to get into the mountains in another way.

I had read some excellent reviews about a motorcycle rental company based in Siliguri. At 45 minutes I have between my legs a beautiful Royal Enfield 500. Now it is me who travels my first meters down a dusty street wondering if I will survive India. And at the time I have it parked in front of my hotel.

The feeling is similar to that of the night of kings when I was a child. At 6 o'clock in the morning I will leave the one with the brown eyes asleep and I will take a turn for a Siliguri that has just awakened. I cannot believe it, as sometimes, what happens is even better than what was dreamed. India rolls around me while I happily wind the accelerator.

Japan is one of the most famous gastronomic destinations in the world and is also increasingly fashionable in the West since a few years ago here. We have made an express guide to Japanese food. The idea is that you can print it if you are traveling to Japan or simply plan to consult quickly. I have put enough of the dishes that I remember trying so far and I hope to expand it little by little. Nor is it wrong to help dismantle the widespread myth that the Japanese eat only raw fish and rice.

Let's start with the culinary Japanese icon par excellence. The sushi is a rice ball with some accompaniment on top. The rice must have been previously mixed with rice vinegar (komezu), sugar and salt as basic elements, sometimes leading to other condiments. The accompaniment that is put on top is usually raw fish or seafood, but cooked marinated fish, octopus, squid, egg or vegetables are also used. Before eating it gets wet in soy sauce in which a bit of wasabi has been mixed.

The typical sushi described above is called nigiri. But there are other types of sushi such as maki (cylindrical in shape, with the filling in the center and surrounded by a sheet of dried seaweed). There is the temaki (with the rice and the filling stuffed in a sheet of algae forming a cone). Special mention for the inari because it is something different. It looks like a dumpling because the sushi rice goes inside a tofu bag. It does not carry fish, seafood or any other type of typical sushi ingredient.

As the famous BMW ad said, driving is not the same as driving, and the same thing happens with sushi. It does not even look like the one they serve in specialized shops or bars of fishing villages that you buy in trays at the supermarket. Although I like them (both) a lot. My favorite is marinated mackerel followed closely by the sea urchin.

The onigiri (also called omusubi) is one of the best-known Japanese dishes. It consists of a rice ball filled with other ingredients, which is usually shaped triangular by hand. In fact, both names imply the action that is carried out with both hands for its preparation.

The onigiris are easy to make (only a little-cooked rice is needed and shape it with the hand). For generations, it has been a typical food of any field trip or picnic. In fact, in Japan, it is almost an essential element to taste, for example, under the cherry blossoms, in sports meetings, or to go to the mountains.



In addition to making them yourself, they can also be purchased easily and for very little money in the konbini. Here it is common to find a wide selection of flavors for a price between 80 and 125 円 (depending on the ingredient), or even less. These onigiris are packaged (with an easy-open system) individually and can solve an improvised or fast meal.

If we go back in the history of this dish, the rice balls are already mentioned in the Genji Monogatari, a novel written 1000 years ago by Murasaki Shikibu. In one of the scenes, the hand-molded rice balls (called tonjiki in the novel) are stacked on a mound and offered to the gods during a ceremony at the imperial court. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the soldiers who fought in the civil wars carried onigiri wrapped in long palm leaves. Since they are rich in proteins thanks to the bean paste (miso) that they had inside and that they later cooked using their own helmet (jingasa) as a container.

As I said, there are many different types of onigiri because there are many foods that combine perfectly with rice and can be used as "stuffing". To get even more variety you can mix small pieces of food with the rice before cooking. The ingredients combine well together, getting a light meal that is nutritionally balanced and colorful.

Currently, we almost always see the onigiri wrapped in nori seaweed, but for years this was very expensive and therefore very unusual. Another modern innovation is the use of molds of wood or plastic to give Kawai forms to rice balls, or putting on plastic gloves so that the rice does not stick or simply for hygiene, but even so there are understandings that affirm that the tastier onigiris are the handmade facts of the traditional way, perhaps because the affection put in their elaboration gives them a special touch.

Mochi are sweet rice cakes with a dense texture, almost like chewing gum or jelly beans. They are very popular during the new year and, despite government warnings, it seems that every year old people are choked to death by not being able to chew them well.

Donburi literally means "bowl" and is simply a bowl of rice with something on top. To accompany the food I recommend the Japanese beer.

January is the coldest month in south India. Always close to January 15, the Tamils ​​celebrate the traditional festival called Pongal. Here the solar calendar is still being respected for the determination of religious celebrations and traditional cultural events, and for the implementation of agriculture. This solar calendar, which is basically used by the Tamil population, is not synchronized with the North Indian calendar that we know as the Tamil New Year is set on what would be our April 14th.

Today is a special day for South India as the Pongal festival or the new year is celebrated! I spend the morning in the local cinema hall, as the atmosphere in the room is guaranteed with new release of Rajinikanth. The spectators express themselves with long and frequent whistles! Everything ends well in songs on kollywood dances that carry me with pleasure with popcorn to give company. I laughed like teens.

The tourist office organizes a trip to Bahoor, a village near Pondicherry with a small group. I was afraid it would be a tourist trap, but in fact we participated in an authentic evening amongst the locals. Watching the beautiful Kolam patterns on the front doors made me want to learn how to make! In January in Tamil Nadu, kolams are often made to celebrate the traditional harvest festival.

Besides the decoration and the symbol of prosperity, what I did not know is that these kolams made of rice powder, are intended to attract birds and other small creatures to feed on it, thus inviting other beings to their own home, that is, as a daily tribute to the harmonious coexistence of all beings.

On the other hand, it is not a religious celebration and all people, regardless of religion or creed, participate in this event, since it is a celebration of the prosperity associated with the harvest and the elements that contribute to it. The main point of the festival is to cook rice with fresh milk until it boils and spills out of the pot in which it is cooked. This overflow is considered a good auspice and indicates prosperity for the following year.

On the one hand, it is a simple but attractive spectacle, that of seeing and waiting for the boiling of rice. On the other hand, this rice boiled with milk becomes a delicious meal that seasoned with typical ingredients is served to all residents.

We also tasted pongal, a sweet dessert made from rice, cashew nuts, raisins, brown sugar and condiments such as cardamom, cloves and nutmeg. After returning back to the hotel we had a small local dinner at the restaurant with dosa and chutney. And it's crazy how time flies! The waiter mentions that tomorrow the restaurant will be closed because of a general strike in the major cities of Tamil Nadu.

A strike for what? It is to defend the ancestral game of jallikatu festival that is part of the Tamil tradition, also known as Ertajuvudhal or Manju Virattu. It is celebrated during the Pongal festival, where cattle are honored for their labor, the sun and generally agriculture. It consists of releasing a bull on a place where athletes try to kiss the animal with bare hands within a distance limit.

Pongal wallpaper

Day 2

Today is the Mattu Pongal, dedicated precisely to animals that help in agriculture. Although it is said of the cows this celebration includes all the cattle, for example the oxen used to pull the carts. On this special day, cows are given special food like fruits, sugar and they are given a certain freedom to graze or wander at will.

But above all, for this celebration the cows are decorated and garlands are placed, sandalwood paste marks and even the horns are painted. All this is, of course, also a symbol of auspiciousness and gratitude. Cows and oxen are groomed for the occasion and men paint their horns in many colors.

In the evening, the procession of wrapped ox carts decorated with balloons, trucks or decorated tractors are organized. The hordes of young people gesticulate while dancing on Happy Pongal. Huge speakers pour out loud music. Well I can tell you that the journey to the temple in oxcart is long and uncomfortable but what a mood!

I liked my experience of celebrating Pongal for several reasons. I was able to see a traditional festival up close and tasting, again and again, the delicious sweet pongal, and above all for being a participant in a celebration that has its base in the eternal rhythms of nature.

I had never experienced a total solar eclipse, but after being in Easter Island at the moment when the moon covered us with darkness at noon, I understand why eclipses create addiction. But let's start from the beginning. Why is there a traffic jam of literally hundreds of kilometers in this area? It took 4 hours to travel 60 kilometers on a 430 km trip.

We left the previous night in anticipation of a circulatory chaos. The journey was quiet, and just when entering the area of ​​totality began the most absolute of follies. Every few kilometers there were areas enabled with tents, signs, rest areas, gas stations, and food stores. At the end, we entered a camping area where hundreds of people began to assemble telescopes and equipment for the next day.

Immediately we started talking with the people around us. The nervousness about what was going to happen the next day was palpable in the environment. After assembling everything and doing some night photos we went to sleep as the next day was the great show.

We were tired and we slept like logs, but that did not prevent us from waking up very early. We began to prepare all the equipment. The area kept filling up and as the great moment approached it seemed that the world was going to stop. The moon made its appearance and began to partially cover the sun.

Minutes before the magical moment, the area of the Tahai archaeological complex was a coven of different geek tribes. On the one hand, there were fans of astronomy and eclipse hunters, with their tripods, cameras, and telescopes covered with filters to worship the sun god. On the other hand, are the neo-hippies. They are willing to dance, to feel vibrations, and to merge in communion.

There are a handful of journalists and tourism professionals. And logically, the Rapa Nui people try to make the moment even more enjoyable. They offer us Pisco sour, dances and memories of the day in which we would live five minutes of astral spectacle, in the circus of the celestial spheres.



And in all this, I was walking around the area, taking pictures of the Moai, the dancers, and the geeks. From time to time I throw a glance at the sun protected by glasses for that purpose. It is true that it was noticeable that the moon covered the sun for minutes. But to my disappointment, there was no sudden sharp drop in light on the island.

I had time to talk a little with the Rapa Nui guide, who told me some things. He had lived an eclipse in another area of ​​Chile when he worked as a camera assistant for a television network. "When the eclipse is total, the wind will blow. It will be cold and all these people will go crazy, he assured laughing as a mischievous kid before my skepticism.

The clouds played to annoy us. For a few seconds, they acted as a natural filter that allowed us to see through the naked eye. But again, around me, there was as much light as before, although the tribes mentioned released the first cry of surprise. And when I thought that was going to be all that I would live that day, everything happened just as the guide had said.

By then there was a kind of tense calm, but there was a moment when everything suddenly changed. Suddenly, the light began to fade and the landscape began to take metallic tones. We began to get into ecstasy, prepare cameras, change objectives, run from one side to another as the light vanished in seconds. Hundreds of people stopped their vehicles on the sides of the road while the world seemed to go out.

The moment came when the sun was reduced to a black circle in the sky. The moon extinguished the light, the wind blew, the sea roared and all of us who were there exploded with surprise. We just vibrated standing there, open-mouthed, with the camera hanging, hands shaking, listening to the growing murmur of admiration around me and noticing how a knot of emotion closed my throat.

The previous minute is inconceivable for someone who has not seen a total eclipse of the Sun. The light vanishes in a spectacularly fast way. People start screaming, howling, jumping, running from one side to another with excitement.

I don't even know how to describe what can be seen at that moment. Let's begin with the environment. The sky does not darken as it does when it gets dark, but it takes on a silver, metallic, completely surreal color. The horizon in all directions becomes a color between orange and pink. Some stars appear in the sky, as also the planet Venus. In the meantime, people shout and whistle.

There are expressions of amazement in different languages. The temperature suddenly goes down. The Sun is now nowhere. In its place, there is a silver ring in the sky, surrounded by filaments like feathers of a wing. At a first glance looking up was like feeling in another reality on another planet. It is an experience so completely different that it can not be described. One can only feel ecstatic.

After two minutes of ecstasy, the whole process is repeated in reverse. The Sun begins to appear just behind the moon and suddenly the day returns in just a few moments. Just 2 minutes after the whole thing it seemed that nothing had happened. But if it had, people kept hugging, jumping, watching the pictures of their cameras and running madly to see the result.

Everyone who looked through our telescopes came to see our images, to share their enthusiasm, to invite us to play with them, and even offer a pickup! After having shared a moment like this one cannot help but enjoy humanity, the people, the sensations of all people who smile even with the image of the eclipse in their retina.



We leave while the stars begin to appear in the sky, between distant storms in the plains and the first silhouettes of the mountains. The light returned, the moon continued to haunt our ridiculous and wonderful planet. Men again pretended to be men, and the wind and the sea calmed down. We got on the bus and of course, the reality came back. It's been a while since I started writing these words and have barely made progress.

We're still stuck in a monstrous traffic jam. We see people outside the cars stretch their legs. People throw gasoline with carafes because there are lines to access the gas stations. We are exhausted. We know that we will be trapped in the car for hours, but what difference does it make? In a way, this is also part of having lived one of the astronomical events of the century, and we have lived it in a very special way.

After days like this, it is impossible not to fall madly in love with science, and with astronomy. Can something that you know will happen and that has a scientific explanation of the simplest to leave a man who claims to be rational on the verge of crying? Can the beauty of an eclipse cause a guy with gray hair to weep like a child? Well, to my surprise, yes. And my eyes still moisten days later writing this.



I understand that the reader of this blog now has a grimace of disbelief. I imagine that there are things that can only be understood if they are lived. Or that I'm clumsy with words and cannot explain myself better. But the truth is that now I understand why there are people who dedicate time and money to pursue eclipses, to see them at the best point in the world to observe them.

I presume that I am not the only one to have lived that way that way. The reddening of the eyes of some of those around me during the nearly five minutes in which the ones the sun went out is not due to the sun's rays. And the question I heard the most that day was, have you also been excited?