Traditional ‘paradise’ festival concludes in northwest Pakistan

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National flag being hoisted at the inaugural ceremony of Qaqlasht Festival in Chitral.
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Players trying to outperform one another while participating in a football match.
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Traditional Chitrali dance being presented.
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A view of the fireworks after the musical program during the Cultural Night.
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Deputy Commissioner Chitral Irshad Sodhar can be seen addressing the participants of Cultural Night in this picture.
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A view of a polo match during the festival.
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Traditional music being played at Cultural Night during the festival.
Updated 15 April 2018

Traditional ‘paradise’ festival concludes in northwest Pakistan

PESHAWAR: The four-day Qaqlasht Festival, a mix of sports, tourism and cultural activities that is described locally as paradise, concluded on Sunday in Chitral, the largest district in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Commissioner Malakand Zaheerul Islam was chief quest, while deputy commissioners of several districts, along with tourism corporation and police officials, were also present.
This year, for the first time, floodlights had also been arranged to ensure that sporting events could take place at night, said Qazi Jalal, a private consultant and one of the organizers of the event. “About 10,000 people visited the festival,” he added.
Hassina Shaukat, of the Tourism Corp. of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said her department had given 1.7 million Pakistani rupees ($14,706) to Chitral’s district administration to organize the festival.
She said that sporting events at the festival included “polo, tug of war, skeet shooting, paragliding, zip lining, marathon racing, volleyball, cricket and football,” adding that there was also a cultural night with local singers that was followed by fireworks on Saturday.
The first day started with football matches in which 24 teams participated. Out of these, two reached the final on Sunday. On the second day, there was skeet shooting in which players use a traditional and centuries-old rifle called “Siyah Kaman” (or “black bow”).
On Saturday night, the participants enjoyed a cultural night that included a music program and fireworks.
“Qaqlasht is locally described as paradise,” Chitral Deputy Commissioner Irshad Sodhar told Arab News.
A resident of Ayun valley in Chitral, Mohkam-ud-Din, told Arab News that he and his friends had reached Qaqlasht on the first morning of the event to enjoy the festival.
“When we were young, we remember that there were no specific days for the festival that was held in spring. However, the government has now fixed specific days for it in the month of April,” recalled Mohkam-ud-Din, 54.
Muhammad Pervez Lal, convener of the Jashan-e-Qaqlasht Committee, told Arab News that the committee comprised 50 members.
He added that tourists from different parts of the country had reached the festival and many had spent the night in tents there.
“The festival is about 1,000 years old, and it used to be a regular feature when Chitral was a princely state,” Lal added.


Syria juice vendor gears up for Ramadan as crisis bites

Updated 10 April 2021

Syria juice vendor gears up for Ramadan as crisis bites

  • The popular street vendor says he usually has more customers during Ramadan
  • On his daily rounds of the Hamidiyah covered market, dozens of customers approach him to quench their thirst

DAMASCUS: In a busy market in Syria’s capital, 53-year-old Ishaaq Kremed serenades customers and agilely pours tamarind juice from the ornate brass jug on his back ahead of Ramadan.
The popular street vendor says he usually has more customers during the Islamic holy month starting next week, during which many favor the drink to break their day-long fast at sundown.
But he says his trade of more than 40 years has also taken on new meaning since the war-torn country has been plunged into economic crisis.
“My main job is to make customers smile,” says the moustachioed father of 16, dressed in billowing trousers, a patterned waistcoat and red fez.
“What’s most important is that they leave me feeling happy — that whoever turns up stressed leaves feeling content,” adds the street vendor.
On his daily rounds of the Hamidiyah covered market, dozens of customers approach him to quench their thirst, often taking pictures of him and his traditional get-up with their cellphones.
As he nimbly pours juice in long streams into plastic cups, he distracts them for a while with a song.
A surgical face mask lowered under his chin, Kremed intones lyrics for a mother and her two young daughters, before handing her a cup of the dark brown beverage.
He takes his fez off to collect his payment, then places it back on the top of his head.
Another man, dressed in a long white robe, joins Kremed in a song then gives him a peck on the cheek as he leaves.
Syria’s economic crisis has sent prices soaring and caused the national currency to plummet in value against the dollar on the black market.
In a country where a large majority of people live in poverty, Syrians have also had to contend with several lockdowns to stem the spread of coronavirus.
“For three years, Ramadan has been different because of people’s financial worries,” Kremed says.
“When people come to the market, you see them bumping into each other as if they were in a daze.”
The Damascus government blames the economic crisis on Western sanctions, but economists say the conflict, the pandemic and the financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon are also major factors.
Some state institutions have temporarily been closed over the pandemic and the economic crisis, but for now, markets remain open.
Although he does his best to keep up a cheery demeanour, Kremed says he too is feeling the effects of the economic crunch.
Tamarind and sugar are becoming increasingly costly, he says, and not everyone has enough spare cash for a refreshment.
“People’s priorities have become putting food and drink on the table, before tamarind juice,” he says.


Egypt to unveil ‘portion’ of 3,000-year old city

Updated 10 April 2021

Egypt to unveil ‘portion’ of 3,000-year old city

  • Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass had announced earlier this week the discovery of the “lost golden city”
  • Items of jewelry have been unearthed, along with colored pottery vessels, scarab beetle amulets and mud bricks

LUXOR: Archaeologists near Luxor have unearthed just a portion of the “largest” ancient city ever found in Egypt and dating to a golden pharaonic age 3,000 years ago, officials said Saturday.
Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass had announced earlier this week the discovery of the “lost golden city,” saying the site was uncovered near Luxor, home of the legendary Valley of the Kings.
“We found one portion of the city only. But the city extends to the west and the north,” Hawass told AFP Saturday ahead of a press conference in the archaeologically rich area.
Betsy Bryan, professor of Egyptian art and archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, had said the find was the “second most important archaeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun” nearly a century ago, according to the excavation team’s statement on Thursday.
Items of jewelry have been unearthed, along with colored pottery vessels, scarab beetle amulets and mud bricks bearing seals of Amenhotep III.
The team began excavations in September between the temples of Ramses III and Amenhotep III near Luxor, some 500 kilometers (300 miles) south of Cairo.
Amenhotep III inherited an empire that stretched from the Euphrates River in modern Iraq and Syria to Sudan and died around 1354 BC, ancient historians say.
He ruled for nearly four decades, a reign known for its opulence and the grandeur of its monuments, including the Colossi of Memnon — two massive stone statues near Luxor that represent him and his wife.
“It’s not only a city — we can see... economic activity, workshops and ovens,” Mostafa Waziri, head of the country’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said Saturday.
Since the announcement, some scholars have disputed that Hawass and his team have succeeded where others had failed by locating the city.
Egyptologist Tarek Farag posted Friday on Facebook that the area was first excavated more than a century ago by a team from New York’s Metropolitan Museum.
But Waziri dismissed these concerns, saying previous digs had taken place further afield to the south the site.


DMX, rap’s explosive, tortured star, dies at 50

Updated 10 April 2021

DMX, rap’s explosive, tortured star, dies at 50

NEW YORK: DMX, the hardcore hip-hop star whose raw, snarling raps chronicled the struggles of the American street and his own inner pain, has died. He was 50 years old.
The rapper’s longtime lawyer confirmed DMX’s death to AFP, with a statement from his family saying the artist, born Earl Simmons, died after nearly a week on life support following a heart attack.
“Earl was a warrior who fought till the very end,” the statement released Friday read, saying the rapper died at White Plains Hospital north of New York City, with loved ones by his side.
“He loved his family with all of his heart and we cherish the times we spent with him,” the statement read.
The rapper — who reigned over the late 1990s and early 2000s with hits including “X Gon’ Give It To Ya” and “Party Up” — was among hip-hop’s darkest yet most endearing stars.
He laid out his inner demons for the masses in gritty, hard-driving anthems, with a distinctive poetic vulnerability that gained him commercial and critical acclaim.
Raised in the New York suburb of Yonkers, the artist endured a grim childhood, growing up in housing projects with his mother and siblings where he suffered abuse.
Simmons was burdened with a reputation as a problem child, and shuffled in and out of homes for troubled boys for much of his youth.
At 14, he began struggling with addiction and entered a cycle of incarceration, both of which would persist throughout his life.
Even after achieving international celebrity for his artistry, DMX continued to have run-ins with the penal system, with charges including drug possession, animal cruelty, reckless driving, failure to pay child support and tax evasion.
But while his criminal record made headlines, it was his blunt, confessional raps delivered in his powerful, gravely voice that would cement the artist’s legacy, leaving an indelible mark on hip-hop and gaining him legions of fans.
“DMX was a brilliant artist and an inspiration to millions around the world. His message of triumph over struggle, his search for the light out of darkness, his pursuit of truth and grace brought us closer to our own humanity,” said Def Jam Recordings, the label with which DMX released some of his most iconic albums, in a statement following his death.
“DMX was nothing less than a giant.”
He began beatboxing in the mid-1980s, writing lyrics and peddling mixtapes.
The charismatic artist spent most of the 1990s making a name for himself in New York’s underground scene, especially in rap battle rings.
It was late in that decade that he grew into the blazing, urgent style of performance that would become his calling card, emanating a singular presence at once hypermasculine and sincere.
In the mid-1990s, he famously battled with Brooklyn’s up-and-coming star Jay-Z, who was then primarily an emcee, for hours in a smoky pool hall in the Bronx.
“It was dope. DMX, at the time, I had never really heard of DMX. I didn’t know who this kid was,” the producer Ski Beatz, who was in attendance, told the site HipHopDX.
“But to hear him rhyme live, I was like, ‘This dude is really ill’.”
DMX’s love of dogs was such that he integrated barks and growls into his teeth-baring brand of rap.
“Your dog will die for you,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1999.
“That’s how dogs get down, unconditional love. Humans are not really capable of unconditional love.”
He released his debut major-label single “Get At Me Dog” in 1998 with Def Jam, which came off his first studio album “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot.”
The record debuted at number one on Billboard’s top album chart and boasted another hit single, “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem,” ushering in commercial success that would last for years.
Defying his ferocious, testosterone-addled image, DMX also charmed with his goofier side, notably in an impromptu remix of the holiday classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” that went viral in 2012.
He was vocal about his commitment to Christianity, even expressing hopes of becoming a pastor.
DMX suffered from addiction to drugs including crack, which he said a mentor tricked him into trying at age 14 by lacing a blunt, exposure that led to a life of torment.
“Why would you do that to a child?” he said in an emotional interview on rapper Talib Kweli’s weekly podcast in late 2020. “I didn’t really have anybody to talk to.”
“In the hood, nobody wants to hear that... Talking about your problems is viewed as a sign of weakness, when actually it’s one of the bravest things you can do.”
Tributes poured in Friday from fans and fellow artists. T.I. called DMX a “cultural icon,” as Missy Elliott dubbed the loss “heavy for the HipHop family.”
“No one radiated more agony, pain, and atomic energy,” tweeted rapper Biz Markie. “The struggle incarnate.”
Snoop Dogg, who last year faced off with DMX as part of the Verzuz series, posted: “What they thought was a battle ended up being a family reunion. Of 2 Doggs who loved everything about each other thank. U. X for loving me back.”
“God’s poet,” wrote Nas. “I love you.”

What We Are Reading Today: A World on the Wing by Scott Weidensaul

Updated 09 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: A World on the Wing by Scott Weidensaul

A World on the Wing is a fascinating read, full of facts, maps and statistics about migratory birds and the effect that human-caused climate change is having on their various habitats around the world.
It’s a long book, but it’s packed with information and truly globe-trotting.
“Drawing on his own extensive fieldwork, in A World on the Wing Weidensaul unveils with dazzling prose the miracle of nature taking place over our heads,” said a review in goodreads.com.
Author Scott Weidensaul “tasks himself with communicating to both the knowing birder and the layman the epic scale of what’s happening in our skies every year, the whys and hows, while offering rays of hope through the gloomy storm clouds,” said Christian Cooper in a review for The New York Times.
“The success of A World on the Wing in navigating that challenge rivals the astonishing feats of the birds he chronicles,” said Cooper.
“A World on the Wing finds some of its most moving moments early on, when he charts the development of his own interest in birds.”


What We Are Eating Today: Granny’s Crumbs in Jeddah

Updated 09 April 2021

What We Are Eating Today: Granny’s Crumbs in Jeddah

Granny’s Crumbs is a Saudi homemade pastry business based in Jeddah. It offers world-class baked goods with a touch of cozy home style, inspired by the high quality and complex authentic recipes of England and Vienna’s famous cafes.
The grandmother of the family who run the business gained extensive knowledge of baking during her travels around the world, with the recipes inspired by how she then replicated the delicious baked goods for her grandchildren.
The signature is the multi-flavored, freshly baked Scottish scones, made with cranberries, pumpkin seeds, figs, and walnuts with white glaze. It also offers apple spice crumble, ideal with tea.
Granny’s Crumbs also offers a collection of sweet and savory baked goods that are free from preservatives and artificial colors. All fillings and flavors used are homemade too, with savory flavors for scones including parmesan, dried tomato, chilli, and olive, as well as a variety of toasted loaves, cakes, and breads, and delicious finger foods such as mini brioche with different toppings including chocolate, dried blueberry, cranberry, and raisin.