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Kinderdijk – A Day Trip from Amsterdam

Kinderdijk – A Day Trip from Amsterdam

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A windmill’s fan, up close and personal

Smart Photography, a leading photography magazine from India, carried my photo-feature on a day trip to Kinderdijk in their February 2017 issue.

Kinderdijk – A Day Trip from Amsterdam

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Rotterdam architecture as you step out of Rotterdam Centraal

The Netherlands is a small country at the Northwestern tip of mainland Europe. While the distances here are not much, this scenic nation offers plenty of heritage, funky architecture and other assorted visual delights to the visitors.

During my visit there last summers, I planned a visit to Kinderdijk. UNESCO has conferred World Heritage Site status on this 18th-century settlement. ‘I AMstredam’ (The Netherlands Tourism) and their associates – ‘Rotterdam Partners facilitated my visit there.

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Blaak, Rotterdam

They advised me to spend half a day in Rotterdam, checking out some post-war idiosyncratic architecture. They also advised visiting Maritime Museum and some of the other attractions dotting this modern city, before proceeding to Kinderdijk. And I followed their advice.

The Journey

I took a comfortable intercity train from Amsterdam Centraal. During the 70-minute journey, the train passed through some of the places I had heard of – Schiphol (Amsterdam’s airport is here), Leiden, The Hague, and Delft. All along the route, the countryside was picturesque.

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A multi-level Cycle Parking near Blaak, Rotterdam

As I disembarked at Rotterdam Centraal, I took a tram to get to Blaak. Blaak (or Block) is famous for whacky cube houses created by Piet Blom, a renowned architect known for creating conceptual structures. He tilted the cubes of normal houses 45 degrees and placed them on hexagonal pylons, to conserve ground space. These cube houses represent a tree, and therefore are symbolic of a village in a city.

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Markthal inside view

Rotterdam – Of Funky Architecture and more

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The mural inside Markthal, Rotterdam

Near the tram station lies another piece of quirky architecture – Markthal (Market Hall). It is a mega structure shaped like a tunnel with a height of 34 metres. It is indeed a market hall, but with a difference. The tunnel structure covering the hall has 228 apartments, about 4600 Sq. Mts. of retail space and another 1600 Sq. Mts. of space dedicated to hotels, restaurants, and cafes. And, this excludes a 4-level underground parking that can house over 1200 cars.

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Vertorama (Vertical Panorama) of Markthal, Rotterdam

The inside of Markthal has an 11000-Sq. Mt. mural titled Horn of Plenty. It is a creation of Arno Coenen and it depicts oversized flowers, fruits, seeds, insects, vegetables, and fish.

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Activity area inside Rotterdam Maritime Museum
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Simulation of a luxury liner’s dining hall, Rotterdam Maritime Museum
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A hall displaying medieval ships, Rotterdam Maritime Museum

Close to Markthal, a huge building on the banks of a canal houses the famous Rotterdam Maritime Museum. While the replicas and stories of the ships are displayed inside, the canal outside has a mock lighthouse and some real boats on display. Each day, by rotation, one of these historically significant boats is opened up for visitors.

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A mock lighthouse for providing some fun moments to
the visiting kids, Rotterdam Maritime Museum

To Kinderdijk

By now, my half-day in Rotterdam was over. So, I made my way towards the Waterbus jetty. Waterbus is a comfortable ferry that takes 35 minutes to cover this 25-kilometre distance. During this ferry ride, you get a gorgeous view of Rotterdam’s cityscape. Since this canal is navigable, you would also spot cargo ships making their way towards Rotterdam Harbour.

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Kinderdijk vista

Once the ferry docked at Kinderdijk, I followed the crowd towards the ticketing counter. Near the entrance, a signboard was proudly proclaiming Kinderdijk’s UNESCO Heritage Site status. Kinderdijk is a Dutch word that means Kid’s Dyke.

For those readers who may not remember – The Netherlands is thus named since the land is truly nether (low). Most coastal areas of the Netherlands lie around 7 metres below sea level. As keeping the seawater out was a priority, the Dutch came up with an intricate system of canals, dykes, and windmills to keep the land dry.

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The bridge in Kinderdijk that leads to the museum

At Kinderdijk

One such cluster of canals and windmills is Kinderdijk. It was built by the natives in the year 1740 CE. And this cluster continues to serve its original purpose of keeping the seawater out for over 275 years!

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Canal Cruiser taking tourists for a leisurely ride along the windmills

The entire cluster is spread over 79 acres (32 hectares) and all these windmills are functional even today. These windmills are private properties of native farming families. The only exception is a windmill that has been converted into a museum to give the visitors a glimpse of the native farming lifestyle.

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Private property, stay out – a sign outside a windmill in Kinderdijk warns potential trespassers

While the windmill’s mechanical parts dominate the interior, it still provides 3-storey living quarters to the farming family – from a functional kitchen to living room to bedrooms. As I went up the windmill museum and glanced around the topography, the sheer natural beauty of the landscape, dotted unobtrusively by these silent, solid structures, fascinated me.

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Living quarters inside a windmill

After walking about the place till sunset, I took the Waterbus back to Rotterdam to get back to my Airbnb in Amsterdam. During this quiet journey, I was reflecting on how necessity truly becomes the mother of invention. When you don’t have gills and need to keep the seawater out, you find truly innovative ways to pump out the water. As you think that this intricate system was invented over 275 years ago, you marvel at the technological advancement of that era.

While you visit the Netherlands, take a day trip to this UNESCO-endorsed heritage site and experience the serene beauty for yourself!

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Sharing 16 UNESCO Sites of 2016 in My Hundredth Post

Sharing 16 UNESCO Sites of 2016 in My Hundredth Post

Soon, we will all be celebrating the onset of 2017. Before 2016 bids goodbye, I have another milestone to celebrate – I am scoring a century! Yes, that’s right. This is my hundredth post. I wanted it to be a landmark in more ways than one. Hence, I decided this post would be about the UNESCO World Heritage Sites I visited during 2016. Coincidentally, there are 16 of these!

Instead of keeping this post chronological, I am going to mix it up a bit! Some of these UNESCO sites may seem inane, but each is loaded with solid reasons for inscription. I’ll be going over those too. So, let me start the sharing.

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Reclining Buddha, Cave Temple, Dambulla

#1. Golden Temple or Cave Temple, Dambulla, Sri Lanka

It lies around 150km East of Colombo, in central Sri Lanka. While the distance isn’t much, it can take you around 4 hours to reach here from Colombo.

While there are many caves sprinkled around the area, most travellers visit the 5 significant adjoining caves in the temple complex. The entire complex is still functional as a Buddhist Temple though it dates back to between 3rd century BCE and 18th century CE. Extremely well preserved, it was inscribed as a UNESCO site in 1991.

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Qutub Minar on a lunar eclipse night

#2. Qutub Minar, New Delhi, India

This 73-metre tall minaret is the tallest brick minaret in the world. It was commissioned in early 13th century by Qutb-al-Din Aibak and was completed by his successor, Iltutmish. Along with the other monuments in the Mehrauli Archeological Park, Qutub Minar has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

You may wonder why I talk of Qutub Minar – a monument near my home. Well, I know of many people who live in Delhi but have never visited some of the monuments here. So, no harm sharing about my visit here during this year!

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Nederluleå Church, Gammelstad, Sweden

#3. Church Town of Gammelstad, Luleå, Sweden

Stone church of Gammelstad was built by Sweden in 1492 as the first move to lay lien on the territory, as borders were not well defined in those days. A church town came about around this church.

Here, people would build cottages and would use them for stay during their big feast pilgrimage. Though privately owned, these cottages were not meant for permanent residence. These had no water supply, no heating facility, and no cooking arrangements. All that was and still is taboo as these cottages were meant for a spartan stay during the pilgrimage. And that is what defined a church town. As it stayed true to the initial intent, the church town of Gammelstad has earned a UNESCO World Heritage site inscription in 1996.

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Dressing up Buddha at Ruwanwelisaya Dagoba, Anuradhapura

#4. Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Considered to be the first capital of Sri Lanka (from 4th century CE to 11 century CE), Anuradhapura lies 205 kms North-East of Colombo. This distance may take up to 6 hours by road.

The excavated ruins consist of three types of structure – monastic buildings, Dagobas (bell shaped masonry), and Pokunas (bathing tanks). The largest Dagoba (Ruwanwelisaya) is 1100 feet in circumference. It got inscribed as a UNESCO site in 1982.

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Across this Amsterdam canal, you can spot the Anne Frank House

#5. Canals of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

More than one hundred kilometers of canals, about 90 islands and around 1,500 bridges are there in Amsterdam. The three main canals from 17th century – Herengracht, Prinsengracht, and Keizersgracht – were dug during the Dutch Golden Age. These form concentric belts around the city, the Grachtengordel.

These canals are the keystone of Amsterdam’s exemplary city planning and were inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010.

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A memorial commemorating indentured labour landings in Mauritius

#6. Aapravasi Ghat, Mauritius

Aapravasi Ghat (Immigration Depot) or Coolie Ghat has earned its UNESCO inscription in 2006 for being the first port that received indentured labour, many of whom settled in Mauritius, while the others made their way to the plantations across the British empire.

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Impressive interiors of San Agustin Church, Manila, The Philippines

#7. San Agustin Church, Manila, Philippines

San Agustin Church is one of the four Baroque Churches of Philippines that were inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1993.

The church building does not only seem imposing and indestructible, it truly is. It has withstood repeated calamitous damage at the hands of raging fires, enemy attacks and high-intensity earthquakes.

Its flat ceiling has been painted in a magical way to give an illusion of 3D bass relief work, just like what you see in the Gallery of Maps (Sistine Chapel), Vatican!

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Sanchi Stupa, Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh, India

#8. Sanchi Stupa, Sanchi, India

This Buddhist monument is the oldest brick monument in the country. It was commissioned in 3rd century BCE by Emperor Ashoka and was built over the relics of Buddha.

It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989.

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Bali Rice Fields

#9. Cultural Landscape of Bali Province

Volcanoes provide Bali with fertile soil. Combined with a wet tropical climate, that makes it an ideal location for crop cultivation. River water has been channelled into canals for irrigation. It allows the cultivation of rice on both flat land and mountain terraces.

Rice, water, and subak, (water-controlling cooperative social system) together have shaped the Bali landscape over the past thousand years. These are an integral part of Bali’s religious life too. As rice is seen as the gift of god, the subak system is considered part of Bali’s temple culture.

Together with their temples, five rice terraces of Bali covering an area of 19,500 hectare, became a UNESCO site in 2012.

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Polonnaruwa Buddhist Temple Ruins

#10. Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka

After the decimation of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa became the second capital of Sri Lanka. The most illustrious king who reigned was Parakramabahu I. His reign is marked by a distinctly superior irrigation system as he was obsessed with not wasting even a drop of water that descended from heaven. It was inscribed as a UNESCO site in 1982. Even today, Polonnaruwa remains an important Buddhism pilgrimage site in the country.

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The intricate system of windmills for keeping the sea waters out

#11. Kinderdijk, The Netherlands

When you are living 7 metres below sea level and you do not have gills, you need to keep the sea water out of your village. The residents of Kinderdijk, a settlement that is a 25-minute speedboat ride inland from Rotterdam, deployed an ingenious technique to pump seawater out – an elaborate arrangement of 19 windmills.

Though these windmills were commissioned in the mid-eighteenth century, they are still functional. They continue to fulfill the original purpose of keeping the land dry while providing 3-storeyed living quarters to the farmers who own them. A windmill-turned-museum gives you a glimpse into the local culture and lifestyle. This well-preserved traditional innovation has earned the windmills of Kinderdijk UNESCO World Heritage status in 1997.

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One of the water bodies in Singapore Botanic Gardens

#12. Singapore Botanic Gardens, Singapore

Created in 1859, the Singapore Botanic Gardens demonstrate the evolution a Pleasure Garden, to a colonial Economic Garden for research, to a world-class botanic garden that is both – a scientific institution and a place of conservation, recreation and education. This site got inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015. Incidentally, this is the only UNESCO site in Singapore.

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The Secretariat Building in the Capitol Complex, Chandigarh

#13. Capitol Complex, Chandigarh, India

In 2015, the architectural work of Le Corbusier got acknowledged by UNESCO as World Heritage, thanks to its outstanding contribution to the modern movement. This work is spread over 7 countries – Argentina, Belgium, France, Germany, India, Japan and Switzerland. Chandigarh’s Capitol Complex is a part of this UNESCO listing. While the Secretariat building is a typical Le Corbusier structure, the Open Hand Monument is an abstract installation in the Capitol Complex that has been adopted by the Chandigarh Administration as the symbol of the city.

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Le Morne Brabant forms the backdrop of the Crystal Rock

#14. Le Morne, Mauritius

These are two of the most recognisable spots in Mauritius! While Crystal Rock is just a fossilised coral reef, Le Morne Brabant got inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 for an unfortunate reason. This monolith was a hideout for slaves who would run away from their masters. When the Abolition of Slavery Act got passed in 1853, these masters went to Le Morne to give the good news to the slaves. The slaves misunderstood the intent. They jumped and committed suicide from this cliff!

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Visitors enjoying a lazy afternoon on one of the ramparts of Galle Fort

#15. Galle Fort, Galle, Sri Lanka

Built in 1588 CE and further fortified extensively from 1649 CE onwards, the fort is a living, buzzing township with multi-cultural population. The town planning of this habitation is typical of the Dutch (a sterling example being Amsterdam). It survived the notoriously devastating tsunami that hit 14 countries on 26th December 2004. It houses a few churches, one of which has been converted in to a mosque after Muslim accession of the fort. Additionally, the fort has a clock tower and a lighthouse.

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Skogskyrkogården or Woodland Cemetery

#16. Skogskyrkogården or Woodland Cemetery, Stockholm, Sweden

Few cemeteries across the globe can boast being UNESCO World Heritage sites. Skogskyrkogården is one of those. Interestingly, this cemetery got inscribed in UNESCO list because of its landmark architecture that influenced numerous cemeteries across the globe. It is a brilliant blend of terrain, vegetation, and purpose. Interred grave of Greta Garbo, the heartthrob of Hollywood in 1920s and 30s, is also here (she passed away in Manhattan).

Now, while visiting 16 of these heritage sites during the year was fascinating, here’s looking forward to 17 or more during 2017!

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Windmills at Kinderdijk, The Netherlands

Windmills at Kinderdijk, The Netherlands

Windmills at Kinderdijk, The Netherlands

In September 2016 issue of JetWings International, my image from Kinderdijk, The Netherlands appeared in their regular BW section – Radar.

Windmills at Kinderdijk, The Netherlands

When you live seven metres below sea level, you need to keep the water out. The residents of Kinderdijk, a village about 12 km south-east of Rotterdam, deployed an ingenious technique for this purpose – an elaborate arrangement of windmills. Built around 1740, 19 of these windmills continue to survive and fulfill its original purpose of keeping the land dry. They also provide a three-storeyed living quarters to the farmers who own them. A windmill-turned museum gives you a glimpse into the local culture and lifestyle. This well-preserved innovation has earned the windmills of Kinderdijk a UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

Windmills at Kinderdijk, The Netherlands

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The last days of Vincent

The last days of Vincent

BLink, the weekend magazine of The Hindu’s BusinessLine carried this article of mine on Saturday, august 27, 2016

The last days of Vincent

Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum looks back at the most disturbed yet defining years of the Dutch painter’s life

Year 1881. It was at the age of 27 that Vincent Van Gogh considered painting as a full-time occupation. And it wasn’t until 1888 that the Dutch post-Impressionist artist had formed the style that the world remembers him by. In just two years after that — on July 27, 1890 — Vincent shot himself in the chest. The bullet wound ended his life in 48 hours.

The last days of Vincent
Through sickness and trouble: ‘On the Verge of Insanity’ is a study of the events that may have led to Vincent Van Gogh’s suicide

‘On the Verge of Insanity’, an ongoing exhibition at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum, delves into the last 18 months of the life of the tortured artist, who cut off his ear during an altercation with his friend, Paul Gauguin, the French painter. Vincent’s last days were spent in poverty while battling mental illness. During the few years he devoted completely to painting, he is said to have created over 2,000 pieces — over 850 oil paintings and the rest, sketches. That comes to about three works in just five days.

The last days of Vincent
Artist’s corner: Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is the second most visited museum in the Netherlands

Despite the frenzied pace, Vincent managed to sell just one painting during his lifetime. The buyer was Anna Boch, a Belgian painter, who paid 400 francs (around $2,000 now) to the impoverished Dutchman, who lived on his brother Theo’s kindness. A heavy drinker who didn’t eat enough, Vincent’s troubled behaviour sent him to a mental institution several times. And his violent fight with Gauguin led people to ask why a man as gifted as him would do any of this.

The last days of Vincent
A hearing: An audio transcript of a letter (from Emile Bernard to Albert Aurier) containing a description of the altercation between Paul Gauguin and Vincent

Van Gogh Museum’s latest exhibition looks into some of these controversial episodes: Whether or not Vincent cut off only a part of his left ear; whether he was forced into taking admission at the mental asylum; the reasons behind his fight with Gauguin, and his relationship with Theo in the troubled years.

The last days of Vincent
In his words: Pages from Vincent’s diary. The exhibition also showcases letters he wrote to friends and family

The display of information on Vincent’s mental condition — drawn from diagnoses by doctors as well as his correspondence — is punctuated with paintings that mirror the state he was in.

The last days of Vincent
Home for two: A painting of the Yellow House in Arles which Vincent shared with his friend Gauguin

Some of his letters are also available as audio clips in Dutch and English. Among the exhibits is a letter from the residents of Arles, the French town where Vincent cut off his ear, who begged the local mayor to have the painter institutionalised.

While the exhibition is a detailed reconstruction of events that led to Vincent’s suicide, it also includes posthumous diagnoses over the last century into the probable causes of his illness. Quite predictably, the answers are inconclusive.

‘On the Verge of Insanity’ runs till September 25; www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/whats-on/exhibitions

The last days of Vincent

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