FaithWorld

from India Insight:

Kashmir: we love you, we don’t love your mini-skirt

Imagine this: some tourists, from India and abroad, fly to Jammu and Kashmir, and are eager to escape the confines of Srinagar airport and to get themselves a lungful of that pristine Himalayan air.

Upon arrival, they are advised to visit the official clothier's outlet of the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department before they hit the
streets. They need to make a stop there so they can shed any "objectionable" attire and don a traditional pheran to respect the "local ethos and culture" of India's northernmost state.

Don't like it? Go home.

It's an impossible scenario in most parts of the world, but this idea -- already the norm in conservative Saudi Arabia -- is something that the Kashmiri religious group Jamaat-e-Islami, would like to import to Jammu and Kashmir.

The Jamaat fears that tourists wearing mini skirts and other objectionable dresses could derail "the [Kashmiri] society from the right track."

Labelling tourists' clothing, which often veers to the casual and the revealing (it's hot out there when you're visiting five monuments a day!) as “cultural aggression against the Kashmiri Muslims,” the group has accused women tourists wearing short dresses, mini-skirts and other skimpy attire from the West as agents of “immorality and immodesty”.

Zurich voters reject ban on “suicide tourism”

(Zurich city funeral services employees carry a casket from an assisted suicide clinic where a terminally ill British man died January 20, 2003/Sebastian Derungs)

Voters in Zurich overwhemingly rejected on Sunday proposed bans on assisted suicide and “suicide tourism” — foreigners traveling to Switzerland to receive help ending their lives. Only 15.5 percent of voters in the local referendum backed a ban on assisted suicide, while nearly 22 percent supported a ban on suicide tourism, final results showed. About 200 people commit assisted suicide each year in Zurich.

Assisted suicide has been allowed in Switzerland since 1941 if performed by a non-physician who has no vested interest in the death. Euthanasia, or “mercy killing,” is legal only in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the U.S. state of Oregon. Many terminally ill foreigners — particularly from Germany, France and Britain — travel to Switzerland to commit suicide, taking advantage of the Swiss rules which are among the world’s most liberal.

Once-armed Islamists talk tolerance by Egyptian temple

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(Mosque (R) in part of Luxor temple/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

The Egyptian Islamist group al-Gama’a al-Islamiya preached non-violence and tolerance of tourism this week outside a pharaonic temple close to the Luxor site where its members massacred 58 foreigners in 1997.

The group which took up arms against the state in the 1990s and played in a role in Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981, gathered followers by the Luxor Temple on Friday to espouse the peaceful activism it is pursuing in the post-Hosni Mubarak era.

The organisers had picked the location, by a mosque in the Luxor Temple complex, as a message to tourists “that there is no danger to their presence in Egypt”, Sheikh Assem Abdel-Maged, one of the group’s leaders, said in a telephone interview. “Some tourists attended the meeting and took photos and there were some meetings with tourists,” he said on Saturday.

from Tales from the Trail:

Golden Temple off Obama’s India agenda, Gandhi on

.INDIA/
U.S. President Barack Obama will not visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar during his trip to India next month, the White House confirmed on Wednesday

But he will make several other cultural stops, including two related to the revered Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, who is a hero to many African-Americans and was an inspiration to the U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King.

Obama is visiting the Gandhi Museum in Mumbai and will also lay a wreath on Gandhi's grave in New Delhi during his visit.

from Tales from the Trail:

No decision yet on Obama Golden Temple visit: White House

Hold onto your, er, hats.

Talk that U.S. President Barack Obama has canceled a visit to The Golden Temple in Amritsar because of a dispute over headgear may be premature, the White House said on Wednesday.temple

"We pick sites on foreign trips based on what the president wants to accomplish," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters traveling on Air Force One. Not, presumably, the outfit he might have to wear at a given site.

Obama had been expected to visit the Golden Temple in northern India, a pilgrimage site for Sikhs, during his tour of the country next month. But Indian media reports said Obama's handlers balked at the idea of the U.S. president wearing a headscarf or skullcap while touring the site.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Desperately seeking… Madonna? Enlightenment?

U.S. pop singer Madonna (C), accompanied by Brazilian model Jesus Luz (R), visits the grave of Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzhak Luria at a cemetery in the northern town of Safed September 4, 2009. REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen

"You're so beautiful!" a middle-aged American woman in a modern Orthodox Jewish headscarf called out across the street to a complete stranger as I was walking through the northern Israeli town of Safed the other day. Anywhere but Safed - also known as Tzfat - and I might have been more startled. But in this mountain-top retreat for Jewish mystics, both of an Orthodox and of less conventional persuasion, the public outburst of peace, love and understanding seemed entirely natural.

Depending on your national cultural references, it's hard to capture the spirit of Safed precisely - it is part hippie-haven, part devotional centre for hordes of black-clad Hassidic Jews; part Taos, New Mexico, part Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I have tried to sum it up in a story today. While the Orthodox who flock there in the hundreds of thousands every spring to pray at the graves of the founders of Kabbalah mysticism would doubtless take exception to the idea, for an international audience it is probably Madonna who has done most to put Safed on the map lately. The Queen of Pop, whose interest in Kabbalah has drawn many other non-Jewish celebrity emulators, paid a brief visit last year, while on tour in Israel.

The town originally came to prominence when a Roman-era Jewish sage, taking refuge nearby, penned what is viewed as the foundational text of Kabbalah, the Zohar. After a period when it was better known as the biggest Crusader fortress in the Middle East, Safed acquired new fame in the 16th-century when Ottoman rulers let Jews expelled from Spain settle there. They brought back to the Holy Land a Kabbalistic tradition that was substantially reinvigorated by rabbis in Safed. The town, where some believe the Messiah will appear, has since then been one of four holy cities for Jews, alongside Hebron, Tiberias and Jerusalem.

Swine flu fears hit religious tourism to Saudi Arabia

mecca-boymecca-minaretsStanding behind a wall of pearls and prayer beads in a shop in Mecca, souvenir dealer Mohammad Hamdi says business has never been so bad.  Shops, hotels and tour operators in Islam’s holiest city in western Saudi Arabia are counting the losses as many pilgrims, worried about swine flu, stay at home.

The haj, one of the world’s biggest religious gatherings, is still two months away but there has already been a marked fall in visitors for the minor pilgrimage known as umra, which can be done at any time of the year.

“In previous years people were buying a lot but now only a few come which is hitting sales,” said Hamdi, from Egypt. Hotel occupancy rates during the last ten days of the fasting month of Ramadan, when many perform umra, fell by more than a third to 55 percent compared to last year, said Walid Abu Sabaa, head of the tourism and hotels committee at the Mecca chamber of commerce.

from Environment Forum:

Holy water!

Aletsch glacier, the largest glacier in the Swiss Alps is seen on August 18, 2007. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Are the residents of Fiesch and Fischertal in Switzerland particularly pious, desperate or both? I wonder after learning that villagers there want Pope Benedict's blessing to stop the melting of Europe's longest glacier. That, after hundreds of years of praying for it to stop growing. Researchers predict winter temperatures in the Swiss Alps will rise by 1.8 degrees Celsius in winter and 2.7 degrees Celsius in the summer by 2050.

You can track the fate of the Aletsch glacier here, but don't expect to see a repeat of Spencer Tunick's 2007 naked photoshoot.

Undoubtedly, Switzerland's tourism industry has suffered this summer, with 148,000 fewer foreign visitors bunking at chalets and the like in June compared to the same month last year. Of course it's not clear if the decline was due to melting glaciers or the credit crisis.

from Photographers' Blog:

Angels & Demons by bus tour

With all the fuss kicked up about the premiere in Rome of director Ron Howard's film Angels & Demons, I thought it would be fun to hop on a bus tour based on the novel by Dan Brown. I must stress that I am not a fan of Brown's writing, but it's surely a different way to see many of the Eternal City's sights.

In the following audio slideshow the tour guide, who can't be named due to his company's policy, discusses the book and how it relates to the landmarks of Rome

Angels & Demons by bus in Rome from Chris Helgren on Vimeo.