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Cosmonaut Country

Even the memorials to the Soviet space programme are punctuated with a sense of enigmatic hyperbole.

Down Cosmonauts Alley in north Moscow, where the wide boulevard is lined with busts of engineers, scientists and space-faring dogs, a gigantic titanium structure shaped like a rocket’s exhaust plume rises out of the ground.

This is the Monument to the Conquerors of Space, first designed to commemorate the Soviet Union’s early space victories when they put the beeping Sputnik 1 into orbit in 1957. At the foot of the monument, peering into the distance, is a life-size statue of rocket pioneer Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (the man responsible for the oft-quoted line: “The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever").

This sense of boundless vision is what makes the Soviet space programme so intriguing. While the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (Nasa’s) Apollo missions were a supremely well-engineered team project, the Soviet Union’s was a haphazard endeavour that relied on flamboyant genius and miraculous luck.

At the base of the monument is the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics filled with nearly 3,500 artefacts from the space programme—from a golden spreadeagled Yuri Gagarin greeting you at the entrance to a preserved life-support pod from the planned “Luna" manned moon missions.

The museum is open to visitors from 11am-7pm, daily, except Tuesdays.

Bonus

Biking to Baikonur

This is a trip only for the bravest of space nuts. The Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan is ground zero for everything space-related. Here’s where Gagarin took off in 1961, and where the monstrous N-1 rockets, which then Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev hoped would take them to the moon, were tested. Trouble is, Baikonur is a specially administered Russian zone that’s a 23-hour train journey from Kazakhstan’s capital Almaty. Opting for an official tour, either from Almaty or Moscow, is the best way to reach. Or you could bike across the steppes. It’s possible. For details, visit www.globalbiketours.com/tour/show/536 .

Getting there

Aeroflot has direct flights to Moscow from Delhi. Return tickets start at Rs23,622. You will need a tourist visa to enter Russia. Contact the Russian consulates in Mumbai (022-23633627) or Delhi (011-26110640), or visit www.visatorussia.com . For entry to the Baikonur cosmodrome, contact the Russian consulate.

Computex 2011 | Taipei, Taiwan

Technology Rules

Taiwan is an obvious and frequently overlooked geek destination. It’s home to many of the world’s leading technology companies—smartphone maker HTC, motherboard giant Asus, and bicycle makers Merida. It’s also the site of Computex, the world’s second largest annual consumer electronics expo.

An hour away from downtown Taipei is Yingge, the “Ceramic Town". Yingge is a small artists village that specializes in pottery. You’ll see rows of small kilns and workshops, as well as independent stores selling the work of local artists. Further out from the city are Taiwan’s many national parks—all of them are stunning and many let you roam around on a bicycle. Not to be missed is Nanya, a spot on the north-east coast with wonderfully bizarre sea-sculpted rock formations and a pristine view of the Pacific. To the south is Yangmingshan, known for its hot springs and hiking trails, and the Taroko National Park, with its waterfalls and temple shrines. After dark, hit the Shilin Night Market and eat the best pork buns and oyster omelettes in South-East Asia.

Getting there: Return tickets to Taipei on China Southern from Delhi via Guangzhou start at Rs30,314. You can also fly Cathay Pacific, via Hong Kong (from Bangalore), Rs32,350 onwards. Indian passport holders do not need a visa to enter Taiwan, but you will need to register yourself before arrival with the country’s immigration agency at https://nas.immigration. gov.tw/nase/. Taipei is connected to all of Taiwan’s tourist destinations by high-speed train. For details about Computex 2011, visit www.computextaipei.com.tw

Comic-Con International | San Diego, US

Strip Tease

Welcome to pop culture central. On your left, an honest-to-goodness flash mob of costumed zombies with fake blood splats over their ripped clothes shamble about convincingly. On your right, legions of Batmen and Wonder Women browse through new comics or playing a video game. Ahead, a queue of people with a shock of purple hair, wait to enter a special preview of a yet-to-air horror TV show. Spiderman creator Stan Lee is somewhere in the vicinity, signing books. In the evening, there’s a panel discussion on the use of cephalopod monsters in fantasy novels.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Welcome to pop culture central. On your left, an honest-to-goodness flash mob of costumed zombies with fake blood splats over their ripped clothes shamble about convincingly. On your right, legions of Batmen and Wonder Women browse through new comics or playing a video game. Ahead, a queue of people with a shock of purple hair, wait to enter a special preview of a yet-to-air horror TV show. Spiderman creator Stan Lee is somewhere in the vicinity, signing books. In the evening, there’s a panel discussion on the use of cephalopod monsters in fantasy novels.

The San Diego Comic-Con, which starts 21 July, is only incidentally about comics. Comics are there, often in significant numbers, but the event has mutated in the last 10 years to embrace every form of pop culture—manga and anime, horror and fantasy, board games and toys. Everything new and exciting in all these fields makes an appearance here first. It premieres network shows, films and documentaries months before they first air or release. Outside the event, there are Diego’s miles of beaches, ripe for surfing, sailing or jet-skiing. Mexico is an hour’s drive away, as is Temecula wine country.

Your interest in pop culture could be a curious little niche or gloriously mainstream—Comic-Con has something for everyone. All literary, cinematic and ludic condescension is discarded for the four days of the event. This is a celebration of fandom—of meeting with artists and creators who’ve shaped the way you think while dressed as a two-headed cow, or discovering that you’re not the only fan in the world of a cult Korean sitcom.

is an hour’s drive away, as is Temecula wine country.

Your interest in pop culture could be a curious little niche or gloriously mainstream—Comic-Con has something for everyone. All literary, cinematic and ludic condescension is discarded for the four days of the event. This is a celebration of fandom—of meeting with artists and creators who’ve shaped the way you think while dressed as a two-headed cow, or discovering that you’re not the only fan in the world of a cult Korean sitcom.

Getting there: United flies Delhi- San Diego via Los Angeles. Return economy fares start at Rs68,465. Entry to the US requires a tourist visa. Be sure to apply for it at least three weeks before your flight date. Pack a costume--superhero, zombie, vampire, etc.—to blend in with the crowd.

krish.r@livemint.com

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