Approach Guides http://www.approachguides.com Approach Guides | Travel Apps & Ebooks Mon, 22 Sep 2014 20:21:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Madaba Map: Mosaic of Jerusalem http://www.approachguides.com/blog/madaba-map-mosaic-jerusalem/ http://www.approachguides.com/blog/madaba-map-mosaic-jerusalem/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 17:41:37 +0000 http://www.approachguides.com/?p=2872 The Byzantine church St George in Madaba, Jordan, is home to the “Madaba Map,” an impressive and by far the most well-known mosaic in the Holy Land. Floor map mosaic. Dating from the second half of the 6th century, the floor map mosaic depicts the geography of the Holy Land in the 6th [...]

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Madaba Map of Jerusalem. Photo by Jean Housen

The Byzantine church St George in Madaba, Jordan, is home to the “Madaba Map,” an impressive and by far the most well-known mosaic in the Holy Land.

  • Floor map mosaic. Dating from the second half of the 6th century, the floor map mosaic depicts the geography of the Holy Land in the 6th century. It is the oldest map of the Holy Land in existence.
  • Position in church. It occupies all of the floor space in the apse of the church.
  • Orientation implies Constantinople’s west-to-east viewpoint. The map assumes an oblique perspective, as if the viewer were standing atop a very high mountain and looking eastward (north is on the left). This is interesting since it is the opposite view that a viewer would have from Madaba in Jordan: a viewer in Jordan would look westward for a view of Jerusalem (north is on the right). The eastward vantage suggests that the artist was likely creating the mosaic based on a map prototype that was designed in the West, likely in Constantinople.
  • Key Jerusalem structures. The old city of Jerusalem stands out on the map. In the photo above, we have marked the most clearly identifiable structures of the 6th century city, most of which are still in place today: Damascus Gate, the north-south running Cardo and Colonnaded Street, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the old city walls, and Nea Church. The famous Temple Mount — the site of the ruined Jewish Second Temple; the Islamic Dome of the Rock had yet to be built — is conspicuously absent for reasons unknown.
  • Compare with Google Maps. Compare this map with our Google Map of Jerusalem. You will many of the same landmarks.

Another tip: Also visit Madaba’s Archaeological Park. It has the city’s most impressive small-tesserae mosaics, the highlight of which is the 6th century Hippolytus Hall mosaic.

Going to Petra?

Travel Guide and eBook to Petra, Jordan Petra’s temples and tombs — carved into the sandstone cliffs of Jordan’s Negev Desert — are a sight to be seen, standing witness to the greatness of the Nabataean civilization. Get our travel guidebook to Petra to explore the ancient city and its stunning architecture.

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Borobudur: Relief Scenes from the Life of the Buddha (Video) http://www.approachguides.com/blog/borobudur-relief-scenes-life-of-the-buddha-video/ http://www.approachguides.com/blog/borobudur-relief-scenes-life-of-the-buddha-video/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 16:39:09 +0000 http://www.approachguides.com/?p=2488 Borobudur, a massive 9th century Buddhist temple in Java, Indonesia, holds some of the best reliefs in the Buddhist world, recounting events in the life of the Buddha. Approach Guides’ founder David Raezer offers a tour of the eight best reliefs. This video is produced as part of our Insights Series in conjunction our guidebook [...]

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Borobudur, a massive 9th century Buddhist temple in Java, Indonesia, holds some of the best reliefs in the Buddhist world, recounting events in the life of the Buddha. Approach Guides’ founder David Raezer offers a tour of the eight best reliefs. This video is produced as part of our Insights Series in conjunction our guidebook on the subject “The Temples of Java: Borobudur and Prambanan

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Buddhist Stupa: Architecture & Symbolism http://www.approachguides.com/blog/buddhist-stupa-architecture-symbolism/ http://www.approachguides.com/blog/buddhist-stupa-architecture-symbolism/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 14:06:26 +0000 http://www.approachguides.com/?p=2478 The first and most fundamental of Buddhist architectural monuments, the Buddhist stupa serves as a marker for a sacred space, a symbolic representation of the Buddha’s burial mound. To understand the stupas and pagodas that you will see throughout Asia—including those in Angkor, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Indonesia, China, Japan—it is helpful to first appreciate [...]

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The first and most fundamental of Buddhist architectural monuments, the Buddhist stupa serves as a marker for a sacred space, a symbolic representation of the Buddha’s burial mound. To understand the stupas and pagodas that you will see throughout Asia—including those in Angkor, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Indonesia, China, Japan—it is helpful to first appreciate the design of the earliest stupas, which can be found in India and Sri Lanka. These stupas exerted great influence on later designs.

Buddhist Architecture: Great Stupa, Sanchi, India.

Great Stupa, Sanchi, India.

The Indian Prototype: Sanchi Stupa

The Great Stupa at Sanchi, in central India, is one of the earliest stupas; it served as an architectural prototype for all others that followed. The world-famous stupa — first constructed by the 3rd century BCE Mauryan ruler Ashoka in brick (the same material as those of Sri Lanka) — was later expanded to twice its original size in stone.

Buddhist Architecture: Elevation and plan. Great Stupa, Sanchi, India.

Elevation and plan. Great Stupa, Sanchi, India.

In the most basic sense, as an architectural representation of a sacred burial site, a stupa—no matter where it is located in the world or when it was built—has three fundamental features.

  • A hemispherical mound (anda). The anda’s domed shape (green highlights) recalls a mound of dirt that was used to cover the Buddha’s remains. As you might expect, it has a solid core and cannot be entered. Consistent with their symbolic associations, the earliest stupas contained actual relics of the Buddha; the relic chamber, buried deep inside the anda, is called the tabena. Over time, this hemispherical mound has taken on an even grander symbolic association: the mountain home of the gods at the center of the universe.
  • A square railing (harmika). The harmika (red highlights) is inspired by a square railing or fence that surrounded the mound of dirt, marking it as a sacred burial site.
  • A central pillar supporting a triple-umbrella form (chattra).The chattra, in turn, was derived from umbrellas that were placed over the mound to protect it from the elements (purple highlights). Just as the anda’s symbolic value expanded over time, the central pillar that holds the umbrellas has come to represent the pivot of the universe, the axis mundi along which the divine descends from heaven and becomes accessible to humanity. And the three circular umbrella-like disks represent the three Jewels, or Triantha, of Buddhism, which are the keys to a true understanding of the faith: (a) Buddha; (b) dharma (Buddhist teachings or religious law); and (c) sangha (monastic community).

Around these three core building blocks were added secondary features.

  • Enclosure wall with decorated gateways (toranas) at the cardinal directions. The wall — with its trademark three horizontal stone bars (in the top image) — surrounds the entire structure. The wall is marked in light blue highlights and the toranas in yellow.
  • A circular terrace (medhi). The terrace—surrounded by a similar three-bar railing—supports the anda and raises it off the ground (black highlights); it likely served as a platform for ritual circumambulation.

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Top Three Favorite Restaurants: Florence, Italy http://www.approachguides.com/blog/top-three-favorite-restaurants-florence-italy/ http://www.approachguides.com/blog/top-three-favorite-restaurants-florence-italy/#comments Sun, 13 Jul 2014 17:43:32 +0000 http://www.approachguides.com/agcp/?p=615 During the five years we lived in Italy, we couldn’t get enough of Florence. The art, architecture, food, and wine, is simply amazing. Below we’ve included three of our favorite restaurants in the city. These restaurants consistently delivered world-class food and were the restaurants that we returned to again and again. Top Three Favorite Restaurants: Florence, Italy appeared first on Approach Guides.

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During the five years we lived in Italy, we couldn’t get enough of Florence. The art, architecture, food, and wine, is simply amazing. Below we’ve included three of our favorite restaurants in the city. These restaurants consistently delivered world-class food and were the restaurants that we returned to again and again.

Florence Trattoria by Russell Yarwood from Costa Mesa, United States

Il Cibreo

Il Cibreo is THE restaurant that you have to go to in Florence; it ranks as one of our favorites in all of Italy. We prefer the trattoria, over the more formal ristorante and café across the street (the formal ristorante & café are very good, but very expensive, and a little stuffy); in any case, they all use the same kitchen, the only difference being that the trattoria menu is more limited. Il Cibreo’s menu is based on traditional Tuscan cooking, before the introduction of pasta. The menu sticks by classic dishes — e.g., polenta, minestra di pane, pappa al pomodoro — but they are typically done with concentrated flavors in a more sophisticated way than your typical Italian restaurant. The secondi are also highly recommended, including their collo di pollo ripieno (stuffed chicken neck), polpetti di vitella (veal meatballs), and salsicce con i fagioli (sausage and beans) Note that the Trattoria does not take reservations, so keep this in mind, because you will likely have to wait for a bit to be seated.

Il Cibreo Trattoria: Via dei Macci, 122R; Ristorante: Via dei Macci 118r; Telephone 055 234 1100; closed Sundays and Mondays.

Al Tranvai

Another one of our favorites, this authentic trattoria is filled with locals enjoying traditional Florentine dishes like crostini, pappa al pomodoro, ribollita, and trippa (tripe). Along with these regional favorites, Al Tranvai will also serve very tasty fish dishes, typically on Fridays. The menu here is only in Italian, so we recommend picking up our Italian Food Guide, which includes an Italian – English food glossary and will help you identify the local specialties. The deserts here are also delicious and are all made in house. A note for gluten-free travelers, Al Tranvai will provide gluten-free (senza glutine) menu upon request.

Al Tranvai. Piazza Torquato Tasso, 14/r, Telephone 055 225197; closed Saturdays and Sundays.

Coco Lezzone

Coco Lezzone is the place to sample a real Florentine steak (bistecca fiorentina), cooked slowly on a grill; you must to call one day in advance to reserve una bistecca fiorentina (priced by the kg, that is, 2.2 lbs). Also try their delicious ribollita (traditional vegetable bread soup). The food in this unassuming family-run restaurant is excellent. When being seated, request to sit in the older front room as it is has a more authentic (old-school) feel and you get to watch the family interact with guests and each other.

Coco Lezzone (no website). Via Parioncino, 26/r, Telephone 055 287178; closed Sundays and Tuesday evenings.

Map

View Approach Guides’ Favorite Restaurants in Florence, Italy in a larger map

Do you have a favorite restaurant in Florence? Email us your favorites; we would love to hear your recommendations!

Cavolo Nero

*CLOSED* Cavolo Nero used to be one of our recommended restaurants in Florence. Located off-the-beaten-path (in the oltr’arno), it was a small and elegant restaurant that served excellent, fresh food that changes with each season. Cavolo Nero’s super-friendly staff helped navigate the menu and its wine list. Another plus? The wine and food was very reasonably priced.

Cavolo Nero. Via dell’Ardiglione, 22; S.Frediano; Telephone: 055/294 744; closed Sundays (call to confirm).

Tips on Eating in Italy: Reservations

We have definitely found that it is necessary to make reservations for dinner. Walk-ins are not as welcome. A reservation, made even a couple hours in advance, goes a long way and usually gets you a better table. Also, locals eat dinner around 20:30 (8:30 pm) in a city like Florence; however, dinner times may vary in small towns, so it is always best to ask someone what is typical for the area. For more information on what to eat in Florence, check out our Approach Guide to Italian Food.

Don’t Miss: Tuscany’s Local Specialties

Guide and eBook to the Regional Foods of Italy Each region of Italy has its unique specialties and distinct culinary tradition, and Tuscany is no different. Tuscany’s regional dishes are extremely varied and include soups, salumi, and meats. Top dishes include prosciutto di cinto senese, a highly-regarded salt-cured, air-dried pork leg that has a more robust taste than Prosciutto di Parma, ribollita, “twice-boiled” soup with white cannellini beans, cabbage, stale bread and onions, and bollito, a selection of boiled meats and often served with mostarda (mixed fruits pickled with mustard seeds).

Guide and eBook to Italian Wines Tuscany’s wine options are vast and the quality is high. We recommend seeking out Tuscany’s red wines — which represent a whopping 85% of total production — based on the sangiovese grape from DOCGs like Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Chianti Classico. For whites, look to wines based on the grechetto, and vermentino grape varieties.

Shopping in Florence

No trip to Florence would be complete without dedicating at least some time to shopping. For those shopping-focused days, here is a list of our favorite stores that offer the best shopping experience in Florence – our list includes shops that sell unique items that you most likely won’t find outside of Italy or even Florence.

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Taj Mahal Architecture: Origins in Humayun’s Tomb (Video) http://www.approachguides.com/blog/taj-mahal-humayun-tomb-delhi-agra-india-video/ http://www.approachguides.com/blog/taj-mahal-humayun-tomb-delhi-agra-india-video/#comments Sun, 29 Jun 2014 17:06:00 +0000 http://www.approachguides.com/?p=2194 Humayun’s Tomb was built by the Islamic Mughal dynasty in Delhi from 1562-71, 85 years before the Taj Mahal. By comparing the two structures, you will see how the Mughals refined and perfected their original design to create their masterpiece: the Taj Mahal. Approach Guides’ founder David Raezer explores the how the design similarities between [...]

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Humayun’s Tomb was built by the Islamic Mughal dynasty in Delhi from 1562-71, 85 years before the Taj Mahal. By comparing the two structures, you will see how the Mughals refined and perfected their original design to create their masterpiece: the Taj Mahal. Approach Guides’ founder David Raezer explores the how the design similarities between the first tomb built by the Mughal dynasty in India, Humayun’s Tomb, and their masterpiece, the Taj Mahal. It is produced as part of our Insights Series in conjunction our guidebook on the subject “Highlights of India: Delhi & Agra.”

Taj Mahal Architecture: Origins in Humayun’s Tomb

Comparison: Humayun's Tomb and the Taj Mahal

Comparison: Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal

Facade Comparison

Similarities in the architecture of Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal

Let’s begin by looking at the similarities between the architecture of Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal. Both have large, rectangular pistaq entrances the tops of which break above the rest of the facade. They frame pointed-arch iwan niches. You can see this pistaq-iwan niche combination repeated on both facades. There’s a clear prototype for this arrangement in the earlier Timurid Madrasa of Ulegh Beg, which was built between 1417-1420 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

Timurid Madrasa of Ulegh Beg. Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Timurid Madrasa of Ulegh Beg. Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Additionally, both Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal have large bulbous domes that rise above the tomb at the center, they feature Hindu-inspired chhatri pavilions, and they have chamfered corners that give the impression of depth. Finally, they sit on elevated platforms, symbolic of their importance.

Differences between the architecture of Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal

This is where things get interesting! The Taj has Quranic inscriptions that communicate a clear narrative to the visitor. In the video, we zoom in so we can see them more clearly. They convey an apocalyptic message focused on judgement and the potential for salvation. Another difference is the color scheme. In Humayun’s Tomb, white marble is used exclusively to highlight key features, while at the Taj, entire tomb is white. The facade of Humayun’s Tomb undulates, with octagonal wings that flank the entrance projecting forward. These projections are eliminated at the Taj. Finally, the dome changes form. You can see how the Taj’s dome is more elevated and significantly more bulbous.

Layout Comparison

Both tombs employ what is called a nine-fold plan, in which eight rooms surround a central chamber. The tomb sits at the absolute center. In both the rooms are octagonal. The octagon represents a middle state between a circle (symbolic of the divine world) and square (symbolic of a human world) and is used to designate sacred areas. As for differences, Humayun’s tomb encourages visitors to move outward from the center, while the Taj encourages a rotation around the central tomb.

Comparing the flow of movement: Humayun's Tomb and the Taj Mahal

Comparing the flow of movement: Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal

And finally, to illustrate the most important point, we have overlaid the floor plans on the elevations. You can see that the Taj is significantly more balanced. It is a perfect cube with a 1:1 ration between its plan and elevation.

Comparison of the floorplans and elevation of Humayun's Tomb and the Taj Mahal

Comparison of the floorplans and elevation of Humayun’s Tomb and the Taj Mahal

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Eat Slow Food in Italy http://www.approachguides.com/blog/eat-slow-food-italy/ http://www.approachguides.com/blog/eat-slow-food-italy/#comments Tue, 24 Jun 2014 13:29:31 +0000 http://www.approachguides.com/?p=2377 While researching our Regional Guide to the Foods of Italy, we traveled throughout Italy visiting local markets and eating in thousands of restaurants seeking out the cucina tipica (typical foods) of each region in Italy. We found that the best restaurants in Italy are those that remain true to the local cuisine. The country’s Slow [...]

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While researching our Regional Guide to the Foods of Italy, we traveled throughout Italy visiting local markets and eating in thousands of restaurants seeking out the cucina tipica (typical foods) of each region in Italy.

We found that the best restaurants in Italy are those that remain true to the local cuisine. The country’s Slow Food movement has championed this perspective and developed a great resource for travelers looking to eat local.

You will see Slow Food stickers on the doors of all of the restaurants that meet its criteria: sourcing food from local, high-quality artisanal producers; having a menu that is true to the local cuisine and achieves successful prepared results; and delivering good value for money.

Slow Food Logo

About Slow Food

Slow Food is a global, grassroots organization linking the pleasure of good food with a commitment to local communities and the environment.

Founded in 1989, this global, grassroots organization strives to prevent disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us. Since its beginnings, Slow Food has grown into a global movement involving millions of people, in over 160 countries.

The organization has published seventeen editions of the Osterie d’Italia guide, which promotes Italian regional cooking and has contributed to the revival of eating places that particularly reflect local flavor and character: restaurants, osterias, trattorias, and wine shops–all of which serve foods known for their quality, value, and faithfulness to tradition.

Osterie d’Italia (restaurant guide book and iPhone app)

  • Slow-Food-CoverGet the book or app. We recommend purchasing a Slow Food book, called “Osterie d’Italia.” It really helps with restaurant selection and does a great job at highlighting the most traditional dishes. Buy the book online before you go, or if you want to travel light, purchase it as an app.
  • Italian only. Unfortunately, the book is only written in Italian (a limited English version is available in some bookstores in Milan, Rome and Florence). However, even if your Italian needs some work, you can easily discern the restaurant names and the recommended dishes, which are highlighted in bold typeface.

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Sri Lanka: Dambulla Cave Temple (Video) http://www.approachguides.com/blog/sri-lanka-dambulla-cave-temple-video/ http://www.approachguides.com/blog/sri-lanka-dambulla-cave-temple-video/#comments Wed, 14 May 2014 14:38:57 +0000 http://www.approachguides.com/?p=2297 In this video, we take a walk through Sri Lanka’s magnificent Dambulla Cave Temple 2 (Cave of the Great King), which is filled with the country’s premier 18th century Kandy style sculptures and paintings.

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In this video, we take a walk through Sri Lanka’s magnificent Dambulla Cave Temple 2 (Cave of the Great King), which is filled with the country’s premier 18th century Kandy style sculptures and paintings.

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Sri Lanka: Polonnaruwa Vatadage (Video) http://www.approachguides.com/blog/sri-lanka-polonnaruwa-vatadage-video/ http://www.approachguides.com/blog/sri-lanka-polonnaruwa-vatadage-video/#comments Sat, 10 May 2014 19:45:30 +0000 http://www.approachguides.com/?p=2292 Explore Sri Lanka’s 12th century Buddhist vatadage (covered stupa temple) in Polonnaruwa. This video of the Polonnaruwa Vatadage is produced in conjunction our guidebook on the subject “Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle: Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, and Dambulla.”

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Explore Sri Lanka’s 12th century Buddhist vatadage (covered stupa temple) in Polonnaruwa. This video of the Polonnaruwa Vatadage is produced in conjunction our guidebook on the subject “Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle: Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Polonnaruwa, and Dambulla.”

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Best Parks to See Tigers in India http://www.approachguides.com/blog/best-parks-see-tigers-india/ http://www.approachguides.com/blog/best-parks-see-tigers-india/#comments Sun, 13 Apr 2014 23:46:31 +0000 http://www.approachguides.com/?p=2281 When in India, seeing a tiger in the wild should be a priority on any traveler’s itinerary. And India’s centrally-located Madhya Pradesh province holds two of the best places to see them. After viewing the stunning Islamic architecture of Delhi and Agra or visiting the amazing

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tiger

When in India, seeing a tiger in the wild should be a priority on any traveler’s itinerary. And India’s centrally-located Madhya Pradesh province holds two of the best places to see them. After viewing the stunning Islamic architecture of Delhi and Agra or visiting the amazing Buddhist and Hindu caves of Ellora, Ajanta, and Elephanta, take a quick flight to Kanha National Park or Bandhavgarh National Park (outside of Khajuraho).

Why Kanha or Bandhavgarh?

There are only two wildlife parks in India that offer you the opportunity to ride into inaccessible (by car) areas of the park on mahout-driven elephants to view tigers up-close during the day (this is called a “tiger show”): Bandhavgarh and Kanha. In addition, both parks have a large tiger population, making them the two premier spots in India for sightings.

Information on Bengal Tigers

  • The tiger is the largest of all thirty-seven species of wild cats. Along with the lion, the leopard, the snow leopard and the jaguar, the tiger is classified in the genus “Panthera”, which comprises the group of big cats that are capable of roaring, due to a modification of the hyboid bone.
  • India is home to over half the world’s tiger population (this estimate was given to us by researchers at Kanha). As of March 2011, the current tiger population is estimated at 1,571-1,875 (the subspecies specifically being the “Bengal Tiger”), with the greatest concentration thereafter being in Southeast Asia (there are no tigers in Africa).
  • Tigers are the only big cats with stripes. The stripe patterns on each tiger, designed for camouflage, differ on each side of its body.
  • Males weigh 400-500 lbs and females 220-350 lbs.
  • Tigers are successful in 1 out of every 10-20 attempts to stalk and kill prey. Tigers kill their prey with either a bite on the back of the neck that serves to sever the spinal column or a bite on the throat that serves to suffocate its prey. An adult tigress needs to kill a fair-sized prey (200 lbs) 40-50 times per year, or every 7-8 days.
  • Tigers possess two sensory enhancements, neither of which is unique to this species: the tepetum lucidum, a reflective patch in the retina which improves vision in low light conditions; and the vemeronasal organ (VNO), sometimes called Jacobseon’s organ, which is located in the roof of the mouth. The use of the VNO is most obvious in the grimace known as flehmen, in which the animal wrinkles its nose and extends its tongue; the VNO is designed to evaluate the sexual receptivity of females.
  • Tigers have evolved as basically solitary animals (as compared to lions that exists largely in group formations). Both males and females are territorial and have specifically staked out areas in which each animal pursues prey.
  • Females nurse cubs for 20-24 months; gestation period of 105 days; average litter of 2-3 cubs, with high mortality rate (34% in first year, 17% in second), the most common reason for death being infanticide, the killing of the cubs by a new male looking to mate with the mother tiger.
  • Poaching is still a real problem, particularly because elements of the tiger are still in demand for traditional Chinese medicine.

Hotel. Kipling Camp. 07649/277218. www.kiplingcamp.com. Although it is far from luxury and a bit expensive, this is the quintessential (and first) camp in the area, to the best of our knowledge. It is located right outside of the entrance to Kanha. The camp appears to suffer a little from a staff turnover issue, however, it is more than adequate. You are here to see tigers and they maximize your experience on this front, running a morning and afternoon game drive led by experienced naturalists.

 

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The Faces of Angkor (Video) http://www.approachguides.com/blog/the-faces-of-angkor-video/ http://www.approachguides.com/blog/the-faces-of-angkor-video/#comments Fri, 17 Jan 2014 13:18:16 +0000 http://www.approachguides.com/?p=2082 The stone-carved faces are one of Angkor’s most iconic images. Explore what makes them unique in this Insights series video by Approach Guides’ founder David Raezer. It is produced in conjunction our guidebook, “The Temples of Angkor

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The stone-carved faces are one of Angkor’s most iconic images. Explore what makes them unique in this Insights series video by Approach Guides’ founder David Raezer. It is produced in conjunction our guidebook, “The Temples of Angkor

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