Saturday, March 17, 2012

Tulip Festival - Holland, Michigan

Yes, It is that time of the year (esp in US and the rest of north west of western hemisphere) when spring arrives. Roses, Tulips and Cherry Blossoms decorate the streets and gardens all over the towns and homes and for flower lovers like me, it is just the most beautiful and a happy sight to watch.
While searching for a destination for a weekend, I discovered the "Tulip Time Festival", which is the best tulip festival in the mid west and largest in USA, held from early to mid May around. It is held in an incredibly beautiful town of Holland, Michigan, not very far away from where I used to live
Visiting this festival is a day's affair and it is advisable to put the walking shoes on, so that the legs don't hurt later in the night. True to it's name, the place is a small scale replica of the very famous Holland in Europe. The distinctive architecture, names, culture and food - its all Dutch. 
You can start the trip from any point and as you go ahead, you will realize it's all a round about, but the central garden in the downtown is where usually people start. The whole circle is lined with up various colorful tulips and a beautiful fountain in between. There are approximately 6 million tulips planted all over the town. There is no dearth of photographers here, as you would have imagined. And if you go early in the season, you might as well have to stand up in the queue to get some photos. 
Tulips adorning the downtown garden in very beautiful patterns and colors
A street in the Downtown of the city, where in a couple of minutes, the parade is going to pass. 

Our next destination was towards the main street of the downtown where the parade was about to begin. The highlight of the parade is their Dutch costumes and dances. The are some amazing instrumental performances and I saw a cycle which I had only heard about before, with a very big front tyre and a tiny back one.
Scenes and performances from the volksparade (or people's parade) in the downtown. 

A small walk away from the downtown takes you to Windmill Island Garden (I do not remember the directions, but the good thing is they have put it all through the way, so you will definitely reach there!). While you can drive, it is suggested to walk, because the charm of the downtown and neatly laid out gardens are not to be missed for anything. Windmill Gardens have a great picturesque windmill in the middle, which stands out as a star attraction in the garden. The backside of the garden also features a lake, ducks and a canal, which we somehow skipped it as it started to rain (and also, with all the walking we did for the past 3 hours, we were very tired and needed a coffee, which we got from a nice little coffee joint in the downtown, a non Starbucks one!)Our next stop was the Dutch village. 
More colorful tulip beds near downtown in the Windmill Island Garden, approximately a 20 minutes walk away.

Neil's Dutch Village is a small ride away, can't resort to walk here. The place offers an exceptional insight to a traditional Dutch village, its shopping centers and the wooden show factories. The people are very friendly here and are always dressed in their native wear. The Dutch village offers a lot of valuable information on how the Dutch lived, their crafts, farming methods, their food and best of all, every evening, they have cultural music and dance shows, performed by the employees. We spent approximately an hour here (while we wanted to do more, but there was one last destination we wanted to cover!) and tried absorbing as much Dutch culture as we could, but it was also closing time, so we moved on to the final place - the tulip farms of Veldheer. 
Pictures from the traditional Dutch village, with the shopping centre, homes, architecture, their famous wooden dolls and shoes and very beautiful walkways.  

Veldheer's tulip gardens are a very familiar sight in every Indian movie watcher's eyes, picture Amitabh and Rekha singing Dekha ek Khwab from the movie Silsila, while it was shot in Amsterdam, we could at least catch the glimpse of a minuscule version of the same, and boy! you will be amazed with the beauty - that is for sure. Tulips are beautiful, but if that is all you see in an open space, in different colors, arranged in a pattern, you know a photographer has struck gold. This farm has nothing new to see, it has a windmill, it has some awesome cherry blossom trees and beautifully patterned tulips. However, in the middle of the farm, there are some chairs where you can just sit and relax. After a long day, we did relax in the middle of the fields for sometime, watching people enjoying themselves losing in the beauty of these farms. Its surprising how these shrubs that hardly grow a feet from the ground can take away your stress and leave you happy and smiling!
Veldheer Tulip gardens - entrance, windmill, cherry blossom trees and the tulip rows
PS - Please go early in the morning, if you intend to visit the place, there is a lot more to do and see than what we did in 6 hours, while that was less time spent, it was surely worthy of the visit. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Bali - The best was saved for last!

Our last day in Bali arrived in no time, with so much to do and so little time! I have a habit to read about a place and make sure I know what I want to see, before even I go there. So, I knew my priorities. The last day had to be special. Now that it's all over, I cannot thank my guide more for saving the best for the last. 
It is not very difficult to find out the most interesting places to visit in Bali, and it is advisable to visit them because they are interesting for a reason. Three tourist spots were left in Bali, which we had to cover - Tanah Lot, Jati Luwih and Lake Beratan. Tanah Lot is accoladed for its majestic sunsets. However, it gets very crowded to go there in the evening. So, we decided to go there in the morning itself, however, Jati Luwih's lush green fields are something that one must savor in the full daylight. 
Tanah Lot is approximately 1 hour from Nusa Dua. Like I had mentioned in my earlier posts, Bali has loads of statues of gods, epics etc. The one below particularly stands out. It is a famous scene from Mahabharata with Lord Krishna as Arjuna's charioteer and Arjuna fighting with his own brother - Karna. 
When you reach Tanah Lot, the actual temple is a small walk away. However, an equally beautiful temple called "Pura Batu Balong" welcomes you. The temple is not so famous, per say, but the dramatic location, stretching in to the sea is a stunning view! As one walks and reaches to the actual temple complex, with vendors selling postcards, to professional photographers taking your photos, the waves start hitting you, and the sea starts making loud noises. This temple was built on a rock, which now is layered by the continuous hitting of waves on the rock. As the history goes, this temple was built to preserve the Hindu culture of the island, along with other temples like the Uluwatu Temple. Although the temple is famous for the sunsets, the number of tourists turned up in the morning, was no small. 
The next destination was in the Penaban region - called Jatiluwih. Jatiliwih literally means "truly beautiful". How many tourist places ever offer a look around their farms? One can hike on these hills or take a car to reach to the lookout place located on the top. We took the car, but I am sure, hiking is a better option, with much more to explore. The fields have to be viewed from the top of the mountain / hill. Till that day, I had never seen a place in my life which I thought was heaven on earth. Everything I loved was right there, nature, mountains, greenery, crowd-less, pollution-less, clouds, rain and the fresh smell of rain soaked grounds. I cannot insist more on visiting Jatiluwih, when on the trip to Bali. Artists also draw amazing paintings of Jatiluwih which symbolizes their traditions and the vast landscapes which this island has to offer!
We stopped at a restaurant in the Pangkung area, and this time, we actually drove around the hills in the middle of the fields. For once, I was so lost in the beauty of the region, that I could not even think of my camera, taking pictures or anything, but to just feel the serenity. The restaurants offer amazing view themselves, circling all around the hills. It started to rain as we moved ahead. We reached the final destination of our trip - Lake Beratan. A drive of one hour after the lunch was sleepy, but the picturesque landscapes kept me awake.
As we reached the lake, it was darker than usual. But since it is a hilly region, it rains and suddenly stops. The lake hosts a water temple, that of Lord Shiva. The temple here is an iconic temple and perhaps provides the most common image of the island. The temple complex is a very quiet place and people often sit there in the open, watching the mountains, lake and the temple. We spent about 30 minutes there, looking back at the 5 days spent in Bali. 5 days of lives, very well spent!
The scene from Mahabharata, in its Balinese version
Pura Batu Balong, Tanah Lot with the Nirwana golf course and the closer view of the temple
The most beautiful place on earth - Jati Luwih in Bali. The last three pictures are the view from a hill top restaurant, rain and rice paddy fields made the most memorable images that I can ever see!
Temple of Lord Shiva, Lake Bratan and the temple complex